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Why I weep

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I cry easily these days. There’s so much to cry about. The pandemic, and the lives upended, the economic pain it’s brought to so many of my friends and my city. And I cry because of Trump, and the stain upon our country and the presidency. I’ve been reading biographies of great Presidents lately: Robert Caro’s “The Path to Power,” the story of Lyndon Johnson’s later career, and David McCullough’s “Truman.” Those books make me cry, too. Reading of those men, who did so many great things, who worked so hard for liberal democracy, it’s almost impossible to comprehend the mediocrity currently in the Oval Office, doing his best to undo it. Then, too, the history of those presidents echoes my own history. As I grow old, and peer into the grave, it gives me comfort to revisit my past.

Caro writes with great power and vividity of the assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy, when LBJ ascended to the presidency. Caro’s description of those four days in 1963—Friday Nov. 22, Saturday Nov. 23, Sunday Nov. 24 and Monday Nov. 25—the four most tumultuous, horrifying days in American history–the flight of Air Force One from Dallas to Washington, D.C, with two Presidents, one dead, the other living, and the slain President’s widow—the arrival of Bobby and Jackie, in her blood-splattered pink suit at Andrews Air Force Base, with the coffin—the insanity of Oswald’s murder by Ruby, live on T.V.—and the funeral procession itself, the grandest State event in American history—I, along with everyone else in America, watched nonstop on television. I cried then, and I cry now, 57 years later.

I went to YouTube to relive that experience, not from any ghoulish interest in the macabre, just…because. And more tears. They came unbidden. The sound of the muffled drums…in relentless, repeating cadence…from the White House to the Capitol, and the next day, to Arlington…the drums, and the clip-clop of the horses on the cobblestones, including the riderless steed Black Jack, with empty saddle, and boots reversed in the stirrups…and the steady, mournful tread of thousands of uniformed sailors, soldiers, marines, and air men in somber, grievous march…not a sound from the crowd of hundreds of thousands lining the wide avenues, except for an occasional sob…but those muffled drums, stately, filled with pathos, like a beating heart. And I cried.

Why do I weep at something from so long ago, something that, to millions of Americans, is as distant, as buried in history as the death of Davy Crockett at the Alamo? I weep, because those muffled drums beat, not just for John F. Kennedy, but for me, and for all of us…for America. The flag-draped casket, drawn on the same catafalque that had carried Abraham Lincoln’s, contained, not only the mortal remains of the President, but my heart, and the hearts of the world. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee…Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.

This is why I cry, so many years later. John F. Kennedy brought us what is best in our lives. Now, instead of gallantry in the presidency, we have greed. Instead of courage, we have corruption. Instead of heroes, we have a hooligan. I cry, too, because old men weep, as they realize their lease on life will soon expire. None of us has the luxury of knowing the moment of our death. But as the death of John F. Kennedy, at such a young age, at the height of his promise—as that reminds us, our demise might meet us at any moment. Now. A minute from now. Without warning. And so old men cry.

At JFK’s funeral, and at Jackie’s request, a military band played the official U.S. Navy hymn (Kennedy had been in the Navy), “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (you might recall it from the movie, Titanic):

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm does bind the restless wave,
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to Thee 
For those in peril on the sea.

As I was walking in Oakland yesterday, pondering these thoughts, I passed a bookstore with a shelf out on the sidewalk: paperbacks $1 each. The first one I saw, literally, was Profiles In Courage, JFK’s Pulitzer Prize-wining 1956 book. These things are never coincidences. The book was a 1964 reissue of the original, but with a twist: Robert Kennedy wrote the new Foreward, on Dec. 18, 1963—less than a month after his older brother had been killed. The still-grieving Robert wrote, in words that are as alive today as then:

“[John Kennedy’s] life had import, meant something to the country while he was alive…It was his conviction that a democracy…must and can face its problems, that it must show patience, restraint, compassion as well as wisdom and strength and courage, in the struggle for solutions which are very rarely easy to find.”

Imagine a President whose life has import. Imagine a President with wisdom, strength, compassion and courage. For that reason, too, I cry.


Why can’t BLM exorcise their own demons?

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The Oakland Police Department just sent the community a notice: A large Black Lives Matter demonstration is planned for Saturday night. The notice said that OPD supports peaceful protests, but it warned demonstrators that after dark “agitators” might hide themselves among the larger crowd and wreck havoc downtown.

“Might”? Try “definitely will.” And the larger crowd will watch and do nothing, because the truth is, they support the rampage by their hear-no-evil, see-no-evil inaction.

If you talk directly to them, they’ll deny it. “Oh, we don’t agree with the looting and vandalism.” Then I ask them why don’t they stop it? There’s a lot more of them than the agitators. “Oh, we couldn’t do that,” they explain. “Why not?” “Well, that’s not why we’re there. Besides, what are we supposed to do?”

Oh. I get it. The peaceful protestors provide cover for the agitators, and they know it. And they’re against the agitators. But stopping the agitators—which they could easily do—well, that’s just not something they’re prepared to do.

Here are two recent grafittis from my neighborhood. This one is scrawled on a sidewalk:

Black Lives Matter

Kill Cops

Fuck Christians

Fuck White Trash

This one is on a car bumper:

MORE WHITE BODIES MORE ACCOUNTABILITY

This is what the Black Lives Matter movement has gotten in bed with: Psychotic, homicidal madness.

Imagine, if you dare, the inside of the mind (I use the term loosely) of the persons who wrote those awful things. These are murderous, feral human beings, obsessed with fantasies of torturing and killing other human beings whom they hate. This is the Taliban – the Gestapo – Pol Pot’s thugs – Manson’s family – Boko Haram – ISIS – the Zodiac serial killer – driven by furious impulses, unbalanced, insane. Can you imagine what would happen if they ever took over? It would be a Reign of Terror, with heads lopped off, bullets between the eyes, no trials, no juries, just the violent eruptions of angry, sick people. And this is what Black Lives Matter chooses to be associated with.

Give me one reason why 5,000 peaceful BLM protestors in downtown Oakland could not intervene to stop a few dozen crazies as soon as they pull the crowbars out of their pants and start smashing. It can be done – it should be done – but it won’t be, because the peaceful protestors aren’t really serious when they say they deplore the violence. You can’t deplore something and then allow it to continue happening in your midst.

There will be violence this Saturday night in Oakland. There will be more stores looted (never to reopen, because who wants to do business in a city where they’re trashed every few months?). There will be more car windows smashed, more fires set, more rocks and bottles thrown at cops who are too afraid to arrest anyone for fear things will get out of hand and some ambulance-chasing “civil rights” lawyer will come for their scalps and bankrupt them. And large tracts of Oakland will continue on a downward spiral under a weak, ambitious and ineffectual Mayor, Libby Schaaf, whose only hope is to survive her term of office without being recalled and wait for Dianne Feinstein to drop dead or retire so she can run for the Senate. (Fat chance, Libby.)

Look, I know this is an inconvenient truth for dedicated BLM believers to hear. But somebody has to speak truth to power, and it might as well be me. Black Lives Matter is at a crossroads. They’ve already gotten good things done, and launched an important national conversation. But they’re in danger of becoming just the latest cause du jour that fades away, the way Occupy was before they committed suicide for the same reason: a failure to confront and stop the violence in their midst. Violent extremism in the defense of anything is no virtue. Like it or not, America is a moderate country. People want change; they support the principles of Black Lives Matter, and they know the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is horrible and wrong. But they’re not ready for violent revolution. And they don’t want to see their towns destroyed.


We need good newspapers now more than ever

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It didn’t come as a surprise to me that “digital revenue exceeded print for the first time ever” at the New York Times during the second quarter of 2020. During those three months, the Times added 669,000 new online subscribers, compared with only 493,000 new subscribers to the paper’s print edition. (By the way, those are pretty impressive numbers for the newspaper Trump calls “the failing New York Times.”)

For many years—at least since I started blogging, in 2008—pundits have been predicting that print is dead, long live digital. And it may finally be starting to come true. If so, count me among the recalcitrants. I’ve always subscribed to real paper newspapers, and I still do. I’ve taken the San Francisco Chronicle for at least thirty years. I like the experience of going to my doorstep first thing in the morning and (hopefully, but not always) seeing my paper there, usually wrapped in yellow plastic. I like sliding the paper out of its wrapper and looking at the headlines on the front page. It would be easy enough for me to get the digital edition only (and I’d save a few hundred dollars a year), but the experience wouldn’t be the same.

I have to admit to an additional motive for subscribing to print. It is more expensive, but I appreciate that my money is going to support good reporting. I see it as a kind of tax: if I value solid, honest, independent journalism, I have to put my money where my mouth is. Great reporters don’t work for nothing.

(After all this, you might think that I subscribe to the New York Times. In fact, I don’t. I would, but the paper wouldn’t be delivered to my home early enough, California time, for me to read it over my breakfast and coffee, which is my preferred time. I feel a little guilty about that, but my habits are pretty fixed at this point in my life. So the San Francisco Chronicle is my home paper; it’s reliably there by 6 a.m., and I’m an early riser. The Chronicle is not half the paper as the Times. I wish it were. But it does a decent enough job of reporting on local issues.)

This ties into the role of journalism as a whole. Most politicians hate reporters—not personally, but the way the Fourth Estate tends to ask embarrassing questions. Republicans, Democrats, they all resent having to be answerable to pesky, inquisitive newsmen and women. Which is exactly why we need news reporters. Can you imagine the sinister things Trump and the crowd around him would get away with, if there was nobody there to shine a light on the darkness? The danger to journalism, it seems to me, isn’t that print is threatened by digital, but that the field is being taken over by giant news conglomerates that have their own pecuniary interests. I like reporters who dig for the truth and then tell it, regardless of the political or financial interests of management. Good newspapers manage to keep a firewall, not only between the editorial side and the business side of the company, but between the two sides of editorial that often are at odds with each other: the “front page” news reporting and the “op-ed” pages. The Wall Street Journal is, or has been, a good example: their op-ed pages are truly deplorable, with rightwing hacks shoveling up great steaming piles of garbage. Yet at the same time, the Journal’s frontline reporters are (or used to be) free to write up the facts as they find them—facts that are often damaging to the Trump family.

I find it troubling, to say the least, that so many people have tuned out the news in their lives. Too many of them seem to believe that all reporting is bullshit. They think they can live their lives without getting tangled up in the affairs of the country. Such thinking is wrong, stupid and dangerous. You may think you’re not involved in or affected by the political clashes that occur in Washington, D.C., but you are: what the Congress decides, what the President signs, affects every one of us, from the safety of airplanes to the development of new drugs, from a woman’s right to choose to a gay couple’s right to marry and adopt children, from whether we go to war or don’t. The cleanliness of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat is dependent on the Congress giving adequate funding to regulatory agencies. People would be well advised to follow politics more, not less.

And that’s why we need newspapers. Thomas Jefferson said it best: “Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”


Why old people get crotchety

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Maxine sent me one of those funny lists that make the rounds on social media. This one was “Commandments for Seniors.” Number 4 was: “Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.”

By coincidence, someone told me yesterday that “Old people get crotchety,” she said, the remark clearly aimed at me. It prompted me to wonder what “crotchety” means. I Googled it. The regular Merriam-Webster dictionary says:

subject to whims, crankiness, or ill temper; a crotchety old man, a crotchety critic

The more contemporary Urban Dictionary says:

An adjective used to describe an old person. More specifically, someone who seems to hate life in their ‘golden years’ and feels the need to take it out on others. These are the people who should be sent into the surface of the sun.

Wow. Harsh.

Well, time to put on my thinking cap and reflect on this. All my life, I wanted to be nice. I wanted to be liked. I probably subjugated a lot of my negative feelings towards that end. No matter how angry, resentful or judgmental I felt, I pushed it down, because to express such emotions was inappropriate. And the truth was, for most of my life I was a nice, sunny person.

When you get older, that starts to change. It’s not an overnight thing. You don’t suddenly wake up one morning and find that you’ve become cranky. And yet, it’s true that older people do tend to be crankier than younger people. (Of course, these days everyone is so ready to be insulted that we’ve become a pretty curmudgeonly culture. But old people are more curmudgeonly than most.)

To understand why, re-read #4: “Your people skills are just fine. It’s your tolerance for idiots that needs work.” I’ll speak for myself. “Idiots” are all over the place. The young woman who just moved into my building, for instance. I was nearing the elevator when she was exiting it. She opened the door, saw me, nodded—and then let the door close behind her, without holding it open. Not the biggest sin in the world, but still, it’s the reason why so many old people complain about “Young people these days…”.

Another form of “idiot” are the people who refuse to wear face masks in crowded public spaces, of which Oakland has many. I look into their faces and while I can’t read their minds, it’s human nature to make inferences concerning what people are thinking. And what I see in the minds of unmasked people is arrogance. They’re like walking, talking middle fingers, telling the rest of us to go fuck ourselves. Like I said, idiots.

And then there are Republicans, led by their fuehrer-in-chief. The biggest idiots of them all. I really like America (or the idea of it, because after all, that’s what America is: an idea), and it galls me to see these Republicans systematically crushing my country and trying to make it into a white, straight, male-dominated Christian theocracy. These Republicans are idiots.

Another thing that happens when you get older is you stop caring what people think or say about you. You’ve spent the better part of your life wanting to be thought well of. Like I said, you’ve repressed your negative emotions for decades. And what has it gotten you? Nothing. People are just as idiotic as they’ve ever been, maybe even more so. You know you might not have a lot more time on this Earth before the game is up. You begin to wonder why you’re trying so hard to be nice and polite when what you really want to do is punch some idiot in the face.

Of course, you can’t go around punching idiots in the face. Not advisable! But you don’t have to smile at them anymore and pretend that you don’t know they’re idiots. You give yourself permission to call a spade a spade. If it walks like an idiot and talks like an idiot, then it’s an idiot!

I suppose part of the psychological underpinnings of this is impatience. The world would be such a better place if people acted more kindly and decently and rationally. America seems like it’s spiraling out of control, going to hell in a handbasket, and idiots are running around, doing idiotic things, as if everything were just hunky dory. And you want to say to them, Time is running out! You want to be the Prophet Isaiah, screaming

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes! Cease to do evil! Learn to do well!

But you can’t. You’re just an old man who sees too much and is powerless to make anyone change. So you sigh, and get on with things, and get crotchety. But is it because we “hate life,” as the Urban Dictionary says? That definition was obviously written by a young person. No, we don’t “hate life.” We love life. After experiencing so much of it for so long, we see exactly how wasted so much of life is on Earth, when it could be so glorious. So we get pissed. And that’s okay. One generation passes, another arises, and life goes on. And guess what? If you’re young, I guarantee you that, if you live long enough, you’ll be crotchety too.

Have a nice week!


Herman Cain got what he asked for

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I really don’t see why anyone should be surprised or upset about Herman Cain’s death from COVID-19.

After all, he chose to go to trump’s Tulsa rally. Everyone with a conscious brain knew then, and knows now, that it was completely insane for trump to have a crowded indoor, maskless rally at a time when the virus was surging in Oklahoma. Cain was 74 years old and not in the best of health. He chose to go to the rally without a mask, and without respecting social distance. He put paying homage to his boss, trump, ahead of his own life. Bad choice. He has now suffered the ultimate consequence.

R.I.P. Herman Cain, wherever you are.

Where I come from, we know about this thing called Karma. It basically means you get what you deserve. If you make really stupid, horrible choices, then stupid, horrible things will happen to you. This isn’t vengeance on the Universe’s part. It isn’t because God hates you. It’s because that’s how this stuff all works. Herman Cain chose to be an idiot. He must have had loved ones who begged him not to go to Tulsa. He didn’t have to. But Herman Cain went. He got infected. He got real sick. And now he’s dead from COVID-19.

I said all this on social media and, man, did I get slammed. “How could you be so callous?” they said. As if it was horrible for me to speak simple words of truth. But I’ll say it again here. Herman Cain got what he deserved. If someone told you not to go into the lion’s cage because the lion is dangerous and might kill you, and you went anyway and got killed, whose fault is that?

Now, some people are questioning if Cain actually got infected in Tulsa. He might have picked up the virus someplace else, they say. The extraordinarily right wing, toxic commentator, Ben Shapiro, is leading this charge: There is “no evidence” Cain caught COVID-19 in Tulsa.

But rational people know that the evidence that he was infected there is overwhelming. All those people were screaming their adoration of trump, cheering, hooraying, and with every exhalation, they released airborne droplet of spittle that easily carried the virus—droplets that were breathed in by maskless people and went straight into their lungs, in that confined, hot space.

In the immediate aftermath of the rally, coronavirus infections in Oklahoma soared. The Tulsa Health Department, which began reporting an alarming increase of COVID-19 cases weeks before trump’s rally, noted that, in the weeks following the rally, Tulsa County saw “a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in the area,” with at least 5,005 additional infections. Can anyone in their right mind possibly doubt that Herman Cain died because he went into that petrie dish of viruses without taking adequate precaution? No, and people like Ben Shapiro now join the ranks of other Republican sociopaths in helping their party kill Americans.

How many deaths will it take for one Republican in national leadership to admit the truth? COVID-19 is destroying America. The trump regime, led by a pathological liar, continues to this day to refuse to do battle with the virus—perhaps because it’s people of color who are dying, not rural, white Republicans (although that’s changing fast). Meanwhile, the president who for six months insisted coronavirus is not a problem now is pretending that he has to cancel the election because coronavirus is a problem—at the very moment when the polls show him losing to Biden, and the Senate about to flip blue. Just more lies, only this time, they’re increasingly desperate, increasingly pathetic, coming from an increasingly deranged and disconnected president.

For the last 3-1/2 years, we’ve wondered when “the tipping point” would come, that fabled event that finally would show reasonable Americans that trump is a catastrophic failure. Well, COVID-19 may be just that. The virus proved that the emperor has no clothes, and is stark-raving mad.


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