Gym Class Heroes


Bennett Junior High School, 1976

I stood there alone staring at the slats of the huge hardwood floor.  I was aware of the others in the room but I was trying desperately to be invisible.

I knew that there were two groups of people staring at me.  It was dead quiet, except for the far-off sounds of other kids doing whatever kids do in the quad of a junior high school.

As I stood in the gymnasium, a hulking brick building that made up one side of the quad, I wished I was out there.  I wouldn’t feel any more welcomed or part of something out there than I did right here, but at least I wouldn’t be trying desperately not to cry and end up making this situation far worse than it already was.   In my mind I was pleading with some unknown force to save me.  I don’t know who because I knew nobody would help me.  I tried to believe in a god who, even if I believed existed, had betrayed me over and over again, so my hopes weren’t high.

The two groups of boys in their regulation blue gym shorts and white T-Shirts started to stir and mumble.  The gym teacher, Mr. Freeman, was a big, tall, hearty, white-haired man.  He had two personalities – gruff or laughing.  Most of the time he was gruff – all business, but when he laughed, he did so with his whole body.  He had capped teeth and a smoker’s laugh, which, at the time, I thought odd for a gym teacher.  But this was in the 1970’s.  You could still smoke inside parts of hospitals. On this day, like most, he was in a gruff mood.

I wasn’t afraid of Mr. Freeman.  He always treated me with respect, although I have no idea why.  In fact, most teachers treated me with a great deal of respect.  I was never really afraid of adults that I wasn’t related to.  In fact, I felt more comfortable with adults than with kids my own age; or any age.  I related more to adults.  Most of the time I felt like an adult trapped in a kid’s body.

In those last moments of studying knots in the wood grain of the hardwood floor. I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat, and then I heard him say, “Do you ‘captains” have any clue what you are doing’?.  The two teams of boys who had been picked by the aforementioned captains, and the captains themselves, shifted uncomfortably.  I don’t recall how the two team captains were selected.  I don’t recall getting a vote.  But two had been chosen and the age-old, archaic ceremony of picking whom each wanted on their basketball team for this gym period, went on as they always do. The pecking order was well established.  The athletic kids and buddies of the captains were picked first. Then that middle group, who were not so popular but in some way acceptable in the school’s hierarchy, was selected for a team.  And then, in the final, gut-wrenching moments, as the “remainders” were scoffed at, and as the captains begrudgingly pointed and waved over a few to his respective team, the remainders weren’t staring at the captains or at the floor anymore.

We were staring at each other.  We were pleading with each other.  We were imploring someone in this group of misfits to honorably accept being the last one picked.  We had sympathy and empathy for each other.  It was also an intellectual fight to the death. We were terrified.

I was one of those remainders.  And on this day it turned out that there were an uneven number of boys.  So when the picking got slim, the remainders all knew that someone would be the final one standing with no hope of having an obvious home among the two teams of boys.

That’s where I stood in that moment – fixated on the hardwood floor, when I heard Mr. Freeman clear his throat and ask the team captains if they knew what they were doing.

I didn’t know what Mr. Freeman meant and I don’t think the captains did either.  As Mr. Freeman waited those few seconds after his question, I don’t think he really expected an answer.  And I stood there, trying desperately to block out who I was, and where I was, and what was going on around me.  I fought desperately to hold back tears.  I ran through different scenarios in my head at lightning speed as to how I could flee, and hide.  I accepted my fate, once again, and the humiliation and abject terror on not being wanted by anyone.  I tried to make my eyes and my soul as dead as possible, hoping that nobody would see the fear.

Then, I heard Mr. Freeman’s voice again.  “If I were you, I would have picked Steven first, and do you know why?”

Silence.

What the hell was he talking about?  I lifted my eyes from the floor, up toward him and he was looking back and forth between the two team captains.  Mr. Freeman continued:

“Before we picked the captains and picked the teams, what did we do?  We practiced shooting baskets, dribbling the ball, passing the ball, just a little warm-up, right?  Well, did any of you notice that Steven here has one of the best senses of rhythm and timing I’ve seen in a long time?  Did you watch him run down the court while dribbling the ball in front of him, or at his side?  Did any of you, and especially you team captains, take an honest look at the field of players, or had you already decided which of your buddies you wanted on your team.  Timing and rhythm is an essential part of being a good basketball player and if I were you, I would want him on my team.  He should not be standing there because nobody picked him.”

No. No. No. Oh God. No.  Please don’t look at me.  What was he talking about?  Was that true?  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  I’m not good at sports.  I’m not good at anything.  Why is everyone looking at me? I don’t have anything special about me, or anything someone should take notice of.  Nobody has ever said anything like that before.  I’m just the overweight, non-athletic 12-year-old, trying to get through the 7th grade without anybody seeing me.  I don’t know what he’s talking about.  PLEASE don’t involve me.

I looked back and forth between the two team captains, yeah, two “fellow seventh graders”, and I implored them silently not to believe Mr. Freeman and without words, gave them permission to continue looking down on me.  I was nothing.  Nothing to see here.  Go about your business.  I can handle the humiliation.  I’m used to it.  I’m comfortable here.  Let’s just forget all of this and go about our business, separately.

While my eyes shifted back and forth between the captains, and occasionally back down to study the grain in the hardwood floor, there was mumbling, and whispers that I couldn’t make out.  And Mr. Freeman may have said more things but I had tuned him out, too.  And then my internal turmoil was interrupted by Mr. Freeman nudging me from behind, gently, not forcefully.  It was more like an encouragement.  I came out of my haze and the two team captains were saying “I’ll take him” and the other one said “No you had the last pick, I’ll take him”. And they went back and forth a few times until Mr. Freeman nudged me far enough along and he decided which team I would play on.

I don’t remember a single thing that happened after that.  I don’t remember whose team I was on.  I don’t remember a single name of any of the kids that were there.  But as I sit here 35 years later, I still remember the smile on Mr. Freeman’s face when I stood with my “team”.  He looked at me.  And I looked at him.  We never spoke about it.  Not during that day in gym, or ever again.  And from that day on, I do remember that every day in gym class when it was “basketball” day, I wasn’t picked last anymore.

Some kids were afraid of Mr. Freeman, many simply didn’t like him.  He had some measure of silent joy in being able to intimidate kids.  He was loud and unrelenting.

I wasn’t one of those kids.  I understood him.  What I didn’t realize is that he understood me.  Because of that day 35 years ago, and for every day since that I am reminded of him and what he did for me, he is my hero.

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December ’09 is a slow news month


We seem to by in a news cycle where there is a lot going on, yet none of it is important enough to write about.  And so the bloggers, and the main stream media, begin to fill up the pages and the TV screen with something that can only be called “stuff”.

Does anyone really care about Tiger Woods personal problems?  I don’t.  And neither should you.  All of the wasted file server space used up by people writing articles and opinions about who Tiger slept with or had an affair with; it’s a crying shame.  Who cares?  Let him live his life and handle his problems on his own,  just like the rest of us.

Amanda Knox, did she, didn’t she.  Who cares???  Her family, yes, and friends, of course, but the rest of us have no say in the matter and will never know the truth.  I don’t care if the Italian court works like the American system.  I don’t care if Italians are prejudicial in their court judgements against outsiders; because I don’t plan on going to Italy to kill anyone.  Who the hell cares?  It’s just another murder trial.

Obama took a while to decide what to do about Afghanistan.  He did what any smart person should do – think long and hard about his options and then make a decision and stick to it.  Done.  Do we need to debate it to fill air time?  I don’t think so.

And even I am guilty.  I just wasted how much electricity, and file server space, to write this post about how there truly is nothing to write about that isn’t already being said, or thought.  I’m glad I don’t own a cable news network.  I’m glad I don’t have to fill 24 hours each and every day with noise, so that the advertisers have some place to show their products.

Here’s what I think is going on in the world that we should be thinking about:  We all have friends, and/or family, who are hurting, and to some degree, suffering.  Maybe it’s the kind of hurt caused by personal crisis:  sickness, abusive relationships, or love that seems to be dying.  Maybe it’s the kind of hurt that is financial: mothers and fathers who can’t feed their kids, or people wondering how they will avoid eviction or foreclosure.

We should be writing about, and watching TV that deals with, taking care of each other.   Random acts of kindness are under-rated.  Whether it’s holding the door for someone or helping a woman in the parking lot clean the snow off her car.  Now we’re talking about stuff that matters.  Lend an ear, lend a hand, lend a dollar.  Listen to what people around you are saying.  Some of them have a difficult time asking for help.  But if you really listen, and watch, it’s not hard to figure out what someone needs.  It might just be a hug, as corny as that sounds.  What if a big, smothering, maternal or paternal hug is all someone needs today.  What will that cost you.  Or maybe it’s money, or food, or a ride, or a job.  Just do it.  And do it thanklessly.  You shouldn’t do it for recognition, or glory, you should do it because you are human.

I’m not saying all of this simply because it is the holiday season.  As far as I am concerned, even Christmas is not worthy of writing about.  Unless someday (in my wildest dreams) Christmas is no longer about buying presents and instead is about helping each other.   Unless Christmas is no longer about gifts for the sake of buying gifts, then Christmas is not worth wasting more space on a file server somewhere; and it’s not worth filling up the airwaves.

Why don’t we all take this opportunity to take advantage of this “inconsequential” news month.  With the exception of families with loved ones overseas fighting in wars that we shouldn’t be fighting, everyone else should start to make a list, and check it twice.  And on that list should be thank you’s, and donations, and meals you made for someone who can’t get out of the house, and packages for troops, and treats for your dog, and all of the things about which writing words on a page are worthy.

Voices of my Father


As I watched the Inauguration of Barack Obama today, I deliberately chose not to blog.  I wanted today to be a time of observance and reflection.  As I watched the happenings and while I felt moved and occasionally welled up, there was something missing for me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  I have been emotional at other times during the Obama “movement” including Election Night itself.  And as President Obama began his speech today, I listened intently.  It was a strong, powerful, moving speech, filled with honesty and clarity of purpose.

I don’t think there has ever been a time in history when so many people gathered in Washington D.C. to see an inauguration.  Not in my lifetime anyway and perhaps not ever, not even for John F. Kennedy, my father’s political hero.  Of course, this is a television/internet era.  So not only were there record crowds on the National Mall, there are record TV audiences and record internet traffic on Live Coverage sites.  But for the first time ever, there were crowds around the world, around the Planet, to watch this truly unique, and world-changing event.  From Kenya to Israel to Japan, they all celebrated today.  Yet even knowing that, there was still something missing.

After President Obama’s speech, and after most of the early fanfare, and the departure of the ex-President by helicopter (what a wonderful sight – that made me cry), my phone rang.  I didn’t answer it because I decided I did not want to be interrupted today, no matter who it was.  If it was urgent, I would call back whoever it was.  I quickly looked and saw that it was my mother and let it go to voice mail.  I figured she was going to ask me some question or tell me some story, or whatever, I knew it wasn’t so important that I needed to stop what I was doing; what I wanted to do at that moment was watch these historical events unfold on television.  I was glad I had a high definition TV; it is truly a grand TV-watching experience,  But still there was someting missing.

After a brief while, I checked my voice mail.  It was my mother, of course, but the tone in her voice was different.  I could tell she was a bit choked up, a bit emotional.  For a brief moment I though “Uh, oh” what happened. 

Throughout the Obama campaign, and  throughout the election, my mother and I didn’t really agree.  She didn’t have the same passion for politics and change that had come to be part of my life.  I didn’t feel she understood how important all of this was to me   Barack Obama winning the Presidency will always be one of the highlights, if not THE highlight, of my life.  Similar to what JFK was to my father and her.

As I listened to her message, she told me in a quivering sort of voice, that she had just finished watching the Inauguration.  And as the words came out of her mouth, I was a bit astonished.  She said “I was thinking about your father, and how proud he would be; how happy he would be at what was happening today”.   My father died in 1984.  In the reality of our family, my father, his beliefs, his politics, his point of view, are rarely, if ever talked about.

So I thought for a moment and the tears came to my eyes.  The man who was so distant as a father, but taught me so much from afar, was with me today.  By not teaching his children about racism and bigotry, we didn’t know it existed.  As he helped ex-cons by giving them jobs when no one else would, and as he helped the first black family in our neighborhood get a mortgage when no local bank would give them one, we never knew.   He helped that same family renovate the electrical service in their own.  They paid him weekly, maybe $5.00 a week until they paid off what they owed.  My father told them to just pay what they could, when they could.  My father quietly did his part to try and end racism and bigotry in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  He did not boast or brag about what he did, he simply did it.  And this is what Barack Obama talked about today in his speech.   Obama said that America was ready to once again take the lead; in terms of diplomacy, inclusion, fairness, world peace, equality, and all of the tenets upon which this country was founded.  Indeed all Americans are created equal.

So it came full circle for me.  I finally understood why I was emotional throughout Obama’s campaign, his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, his victory speech at Grant Park in Chicago on the night of November 4, 2008, and today when he put his hand on the Lincoln Bible where he swore to protect and defend America and uphold the Constitution.  It was the voice of my fahter.  Not his actual voice, in fact just the opposite.  It was his silence in not pointing out what racism was, or what bigotry was.  We werent’ told about it because he didn’t want us to even fathom the thought of it.  I grew up not knowing that some people thought there was a difference between white and black, jew and christian, rich and poor, gay or straight.  He didn’t want to teach us about racism for fear that we would participate in it.  Instead, he led through quiet example.  Never judging people based on the differences by which some found it so easy to judge.  

Dad, you did the right thing.  I didn’t learn about racism and bigotry until I was in my very late teens; I learned it from the world.  And it was a terrible thing to realize.  I must admit that I did judge people.  I judged the ones who wanted to deny others their  basic human rights.  Even today some still try to do it.  But not Barack , Dad,  He’s a different kind of guy.  When I look at him I don’t thnk “he’s black”.  I think, “he’s cool, he’s smart, he’s of my generation and he thinks like me, only smarter”.  You would really have liked him.  Thanks Dad.  I found my JFK. 

And so I blogged after all.

The Bush Presidency for Dummies – 8 years in 8 minutes


On the eve of the Inauguration of Barack Obama it is natural to reflect upon from where we have come and how we got to this one moment in history.  We can all sit around and argue about what went right or wrong with the Bush Administration but to do so the opposite side would have to admit that indeed Bush made mistakes.  They must admit there is a possibility that he lied, or worse, committed crimes.  That in and of itself is a tough thing to find.  Even today with Bush’s approval rating at 18%, it is still the voices on Fox News who refuse to admit the truth and the voices on CNN who don’t want to admit that there is a reason to reflect.  They simply want to move forward. 

Keith Olbermann put things in perspective by encapsulating Bush’s 8 years into 8 minutes; a time frame of the mistakes and lies.  It is worth a watch.  And if you combine what he says (video highlight below) with his “Special Comment” today (you can easily find that on MSNBC (countdown.msnbc.com), how we need to move forward is clear.   Start here, just take a listen:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/vp/28699663#28699663

For those with a slower computer be patient.  It has to load and the player will show a short commerical; but it’s well worth the wait.  You can just copy/paste the URL above into your broser as well.  While you’re there check out “Special Comments” about prosecuting torture.

Thanks,

Judgement at Washington-berg


For the first time, I saw the 1961 movie called “Judgment at Nuremberg”.  Spencer Tracy played Judge Dan Haywood who presided over the 3 Judge Tribunal who were given the task of hearing the cases of 4 German Judges charged with war crimes while under Hitler’s rule.

The defense of 3 of the 4 judges on trial was that they had no idea that Hitler had gone to such lengths with Concentrations Camps and that everything they did in their roles as judges was for the their country, their precious, righteous Germany.  The fourth judge on trial, Ernst Janning, admitted that there was no way that he, nor the others on trial, could not have known about the mass killing of millions in their own back yard.  He admitted to sentencing Jews to go to the concentration camps, admitted to false allegations, sterilization of Jews, torture, murder, you name it, these judges were involved in it.  Janning went on further to say that a man can not hide behind his patriotism to commit such atrocities.  Janning was most ashamed of himself because he was one of the most respected judges in the country, a man who had written several books on the rule of law and justice itself.

Some of the actors in this movie were quite astonishing.  A young Maximilian Schell played the part of the defense lawyer with incredible passion and credibility.  His character spoke to tribunal judge Haywood in Haywood’s chambers arguing that Germans were so eager to forget the past and so eager to live in denial of what had really happened under Hitler, that whatever judgement Haywood passed down would be overturned on appeal so that the Germans never had to admit to it in their own minds.

In the end each judge on trial received a life sentence.  BUT, within 10 years each judge that was on trial (and many others not depicted in the movie) were out of jail, free, and in many cases living in other countries.  As for the Germans, they then had to deal with communism and the bisection of their country, all the while still hating America for attempting to make them see the truth of the Third Reich.

This brings me to the war crimes of the Bush Administration.  Were they any better, were they any different than the judges on trial at Nuremberg?  The Bush Administration condoned and actively participated in torture and rendition.  They did it all in the name of their country, their patriotism and loyalty to the United States.  Is Guantanamo Bay really that much different from a concentration camp?  I don’t want to belittle what happened at a concentration camp.  The murder of 6 million people can not be compared directly to holding suspected insurgents against their will for 7 years.  But does it matter how bad a war crime is on a scale of one to ten?  A crime is a crime.

Barack Obama said he wants to look forward.  On the 1/11/09 edition of “This Week” on ABC, Obama said that the new Attorney General is the “lawyer for the people” of the United States.  So I can see that he doesn’t want to be directly involved in prosecuting George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the many minions, because the country is hurting.  There are so many things on which he needs to concentrate and act quickly.  But if you read between the lines he is saying that if the Attorney General, this “lawyer of the people”, is directed by those people to take action against Americans who committed war crimes then so be it.  And I say, let the criminals pay.

Some will say it is simply not true; no war crime were committed.  They will call us crazy.  They will call us “liberals”.  They will call us call kinds of things.  But many Americans, and in fact many people from around the world, do believe that the Bush Administration committed crimes of torture.  For the sake of our sanity, for the sake of our reputation around the world, and for the sake of justice itself, we need to investigate and prosecute anybody, regardless of their position, who committed war crimes; crimes against the Geneva Conventions.   And what better way to show the world that we are ready to take our place as a beacon of hope and change, and all that is right in the world, than to show George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney being escorted to their prison cell for the rest of his life.

We can not allow ourselves to be like Germany after World War II.  We can not stick our heads in the sand. We can not live in denial.  Would it be easier to just look forward, never look back, and pretend that none of it happened?  Yes it would.  But since when do we as Americans take the easy way out.  If we wanted to do that we would have left Europe to its own devices during World War I and World War II.  We would have let Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait.  And we would never answer the call from anywhere in the world that truly needed our help due to natural disaster or evil invader.

America is an experiment.  We are a young country, comparatively, only a few hundred years old.  When compared to most of the other super powers of the world whose history goes back centuries, we are in our infancy.  America is an experiment in democracy.  Our ideals and our freedoms are the reason why so many have come here, and why another so many hate us.  But we can not stop being the shining city on the hill, even if we have to expose our raw nerves, expose the underbelly of our society, the ones that commit war crimes, and we need to punish them to the fullest extent of American and International Law.

When will it be our turn for “Judgment in Washington”?

It’s time to get back to politics


Today is December 29, 2008, only 29 days until Barack Obama will take the oath of office and become the 44th President of the United States.  I just finished watching “60 Minutes” from last night.  I had it on my DVR which is set up to tape new episodes of “60 Minutes”.  I just forgot about it until I went through my list of things taped, but unwatched.

“60 Minutes” did a retrospective of Barack Obama’s rise to political power from the day before he announced his candidacy back in February of 2007.  I forgot how long ago that was.  “60 Minutes” told the whole story.  About his start in politics, issues of race, Reverend Wright, the Muslim smear attacks, the DNC, the night of his historic win, and everything in between.

I forgot about those agonizing days and months when I was keeping up with all things Obama.  I forgot my frustration over the lies and right-wing smear campaigns.  I forgot about election day and waiting hour by hour, watching the return come in.  I was watching MSNBC and this part I did not forget  There is some question as to who made the announcement on MSNBC.  But it was Keith Olbermann, another hero of mine, who said those fateful words “Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States.”  I could hear the shaking in his voice.  I begin to sob.  I could not believe it was finally over.  If you want to see and hear it again, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1HSnnDfCks. It is so difficult for me to watch this piece of video and not have tears come to my eyes.  Have we forgotten already?

There were so many emotions going on that night.  I know how hard Keith worked on behalf of Obama.  He was the one clear, strong voice in the Media who never faltered from his mission.  Now, I know that journalists are supposed to remain neutral.  But much like Edward R. Murrow, one of the most famous and respected Journalists ever to grace the television screen, Olbermann stuck up for his own personal beliefs; sometimes crossing the line between Journalism and Opinion, just as Murrow did against Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthy’s witch hunt against communists.  Sometimes, wrong is wrong, and a journalist who knows the truth must simply speak it.

I believe that both Olbermann and Rachel Maddow had a profound influence in the 2008 Presidential Election.  And good for them.  It is a pleasure to see the year-end lists that every media outlet does for bests and worsts of 2008.  The pleasure stems from how long we have waited to chastise these people publicly.  People like Bush, Cheney, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Sarah Palin, and all of the other right-wing crazies whose time has come after 8 long years, to bury themselves back under the rock from which they came.  They fooled enough Americans for long enough to get eight years out of of George W. Bush, but no more.  We simply aren’t going to take it any more.

As I sit tonight looking forward and back, I find myself only wanting to look forward.  I don’t want to forget the past, I just want to put it where it belongs, in the past.  Barack Obama has worked hard at choosing an eclectic and amazingly smart group of people to join him in his cabinet.  I look forward to whatever Obama has (maybe up his sleeve) to offer us.  I believe it will happen quickly.  A lot of changes will take place early on so that Obama can set himself up to move forward and get this country back on its feet.

I hope for transparency but also understand that some things simply can not be transparent.  I believe that if Obama exposed all of the morally wrong and simply evil deeds of the Bush Administration, America might not believe we can get ourselves out of it and may loose hope.  Right now he needs America to be strong, to stand behind him, and be ready to offer their assistance and sacrifice anywhere the President asks for it.  The next few years will be amazing and I am glad I am here to witness all of it.

I’m happy that the President Elect is taking some time off with his family in Hawaii.  He was probably suffering from almost complete exhaustion.  When is the last time you think he might have gotten a good 8 hours of sleep to recharge over night.  I want my President rested, strong, and confident; with a clear head to make the right decisions.

What makes makes a good President?  Many things, but here’s how I see it.  There are things that Barack Obama has said and done that I don’t agree with.  But I trust him enough to lead us down the right path.  I don’t have to agree with everything he says or does, I just need to believe in him and trust him.

We will get there.  Wherever “there” is to you.  We’re not used to trusting our elected officials. It’s a new concept, or at least a lost,concept.  Barack Obama’s priorities are to bring back trust to America and bring back the respect America has around the world.  What will American Politics look like in four years?  Let’s hope we’ll be in the midst of a new era; an era where we can’t believe how far we’ve come because it seemed so out of reach back in 2008.

Obama Wins and it’s a new game in town


I know I should be a gracious winner.  As gracious and incsive as Barack Obama was in his victory speech and as gracious as John McCain tried to be in is concession speech.  I say “tried” because he still refused to stop the booing when he mentioned Obama’s win.   McCain couldn’t muster up the decency to tell the crowd that booing is not acceptable.

But there is a part of me that needs to vent.  I just need to say:

So long Hannity and O’Reilly and the rest of the knuckleheads at Fox.  You make me sick and your team LOST.  You are irrelevant.

So long to Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Sarah Palin.  Your talking points memos have no place in this world except maybe to line bird cages.  You are both irrelevant.

And to the blow hard, politically abusive Rush Limbaugh, your tactics didn’t work, your lies didn’t work, you are irrelevant.

To people like Mary Matalin, Mitt Romney, Rudy “9/11” Giuliani, and Tucker Bounds, it’s time for you to just SHUT UP and I would prefer also that you GO AWAY.  You are irrelevant.

And especially to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney whom I believe should rot in hell for the crimes they have committed against the American people and against the U.S. Constitution; you and your cronies are irrelevant.

All of the people mentioned above will pay the price.  Looking back, these people could not think of one nice thing to say about Barack Obama, who is, by any measure, an intelligent, thoughtful, inclusive man deserving of at minimum an inferred compliment.  But no, they just couldn’t bring yourselves to do it.  And so they will pay the price by being considered “out of the loop”, and “on the wrong track” and nobody will want to hear your opinion anymore.  Not even the new Republican Party that will emerge from the muck as something new and different; or perhaps old and familiar, back to their roots, so to speak.

The Presidential Election of 2008 was not just an election and was not just about politics.  The Obama campaign was a movement.  As defined by Random House a “movement” in this context means: “a diffusely organized or heterogeneous group of people or organizations tending toward or favoring a generalized common goal”.  That is exactly what President Elect Obama tied to do through his entire campaign.  And he stayed on topic for almost 2 years.  None of the people mentioned above in this post, and many, many people not mentioned in this post, ever recognized the difference between an election campaign and a movement.  They missed the boat and missed the historical significance of what happened on November 4th2008.  Americans stoop up to be counted and stood up to say “We’re not going to take it anymore”.  The Republican tactics of fear don’t work and were not appreciated by the electorate based on exit polls.  Every negative ad, every mangling of the truth, or outright lie convinced a few more Independents and Republicans to vote Democrat

I’m sure you saw the people around this country who gathered in predetermined locations to await and then celebrate the victory of Barack Obama.  But did you see the hoards of Americans who gathered spontaneously in town squares to do the same thing.  You probably caught this phenomenon on television but did you also notice people from countries all over the WORLD who gather to celebrate America’s huge step forward.  The American Dream is an experiment that has so far lasted 232 years.  And when times are tough, like they are now, Americans can unite for the greater good.  And Americans can think for themselves independently, they can analyze the conditions set before them, and they have the ability to think and look forward instead of backwards to what used to be.  I don’t care how it sounds but for the first time in my life I am truly proud to be American.  That doesn’t mean I wasn’t proud before; it means I am MORE proud.

So when have Americans ever poured into the streets to celebrate and support the newly elected President of the United States.  For that matter when have Americans ever done this to celebrate anything, political or otherwise.  One on-air personality from a cable TV show said that it was possible that the first moon landing/walk may be the only other event in history that created this level of pride and exuberance.  I don’t know because I was too young to remember, but that sounds accurate to me.  And we’re talking about GOOD NEWS celebrations not bad news vigils.

The political torch is being passed to a new generation and a new philosophy.  I am at the cusp (the older side, unfortunately) of a generation who doesn’t see color, religion, sexual orientation, and more as divisive issues.  We doesn’t see differences, but rather similarities.

The right-wing cancer on the American phsyche is finally in remission.  Those of us with clearer, more mature heads have been waiting for this day since it all went wrong when Ronald Reagan took office in January of 1981.  Since that time we have been on a course, either stemming from the President himself or the Republican-controlled Congress, that grew progressively more extreme in its Evangelical values.  For whatever reason, a large group still believes in this philosophy; they believe in subscribing to culture wars.  They believe in “us versus them”.  They believe in exclusion over inclusion.  If you ever watched the critically acclaimed televisionshow called “Jericho” which was about the aftermath of a large scale terrorist attach on the United States, you would have seen the not-so-subtle overtones of what it is like under the Bush Administration or under Republican rule in general.  Americans pitted against Americans instead of Americans helping other Americans.  We are nothing if not generous with our time, money, and support of those in trouble or less fortunate than ourselves.  But the fundamental idea of America’s generosity was swept out when Reagan was swept into power in 1981.  I am overjoyed that America’s self-esteem and its zest for inclusion has returned with gusto.

As for Barack Obama I hear people, including myself, refer to him (before today) as “Senator Obama”, “Barack Obama”, or “Mr. Obama”, or just plain “Obama”.  He has earned the right to be called “President Elect” and/or “President”.  But for some reason, my admiration for him and the fact that he makes me feel included, makes we want to call him “Barack”.  Just plain Barack.  He is the only political figure in my life that I have ever wanted to meet and the only one with whom I ever wanted to sit down and have a chat.

In closing I want to say that I have only recently involved myself in politics.  Barack’s speech at the DNC in 2004 started it all for me and then I began my own personal grass roots movement through communicating with friends and family, acquaintances, and visitors to my Blog.  Prior to this election I voted in every election for President, Governor, and/or Senator.  However, this is the first time I truly “fell” for a candidate.  If it is possible to love somebody that you have never met, then that’s what happened to me.  Love comes in many forms.  In my case my love for Barack comes in the form of respect and admiration.  He makes me want to be a better person; a better American.

I look forward to the future of America and the World.  Maybe someday I’ll forgive myself for not being as gracious as I could have been.

Hero of the Week – 10/15/08


Peter Dezell, coach of Chicago’s “Our Lady of Perpetual Help” varsity football team, gave a 12 year old boy named Patrick Nicholson a chance.  Patrick was born with down syndrome.  Patrick’s older brother was on the football team and when Patrick would ride with his mom to pick up and drop off his brother, Patrick would wonder why he couldn’t be involved, too.

Coach Dezell gave Patrick an extra jersey one day and asked him to help him out as an assistant coach.  Patrick flourished as part of the team and two years later, he has come out of his quiet shell, has stopped running away and hiding behind trees when someone talked to him, and is now running a tight ship on the football field.  Patrick is very good at what he does.

The coach was up against some parents who said that Patrick would be a distraction.  The coach stood his ground.  For a man to stand up to scrutiny and to push back against public opinion for something he knows in his heart is right, Coach Peter Dezell is my hero.  And so is Patrick.

Special thanks to the CBS Evening News alerting me to this story.

Racism in the 2008 Election


The latest statistics I’ve heard indicate that 15% of voters admit that race will still play a role in their decision for President.  The statistics don’t say whether or not it will be a positive role or a negative role, just that 15% will take race into consideration.  I was not raised to consider race in anything, so it is something I don’t understand.  I didn’t know what racism was until at least high school and even then I didn’t hang around with a crowd that was racist so it wasn’t something I thought about.

In the early 1970’s I was in grammar school at Verplank Elementary School in Manchester, Connecticut. I learned how to jump rope, Double Dutch style, from my friends Janet Cooper and Audrey Gaines.  I got so good at Double Dutch that I was better than they were.  But they weren’t mad.  The were proud of me.  We were friends.  I knew that they came to school every day on a bus.  I knew that they lived in Hartford and that is where the buses took them home to every night.  But I didn’t know why, or think about why.  I didn’t care why, I didn’t even question why.   I think I just assumed that there weren’t enough schools in Hartford.  It certainly wasn’t something that I thought was out of the ordinary.  In fact, I was jealous that they got to ride the bus (until I got older and actually rode a bus to school every day).  My parents never mentioned anything about busing and it wasn’t talked about in school.  It wasn’t until many, many years later when busing kids from the inner city out to the suburbs became an issue again sometime in the 1990’s that I even realized that my grammar school was part of desegregation.

My 3 older brothers went to a vocational technical school in Manchester as well.   My oldest brother had a best friend named Eric Coke.   They were much older than I was back then.  My oldest brother and I are only 6 years apart but back then it seemed like generations.  Eric lived in Hartford.  Eric would often stay at our house on weeknights when they boys had a night game or something and it was just easier for Eric to stay with us rather than have his parents or mine drive back and forth to Hartford.  He would come to our house for things like Halloween and dress up with all of us.  We used to laugh because back then with the Polaroid instant cameras, the quality was so bad, and Eric had such a dark, very dark, complexion, he would disappear in the picture unless he smiled.  It wasn’t something racist to us, it was just a funny matter of fact.  We laughed, he laughed, we went trick-or-treating, and that was just another normal day at our house.  I was the youngest of 6 and we’re all about a year apart.  So having one more, or two more people around wasn’t unusual.

Many years after my father died in 1984, my mother and I met for lunch somewhere.  We got to talking about the old days.  I was still in my “I’m going to write a novel” phase.  So I started asking a lot of questions about my father, his past, his upbringing, etc.  My mother told me a story about how my Dad helped the one and only black family in our neighborhood get a mortgage.  He spent weeks going from bank to bank with this man until somebody would give him a mortage.   I didn’t know any of this.  And I certainly didn’t know that banks could be so blatantly racist as to not give a black man a mortgage for a house in a white suburb.  Of course it happened right before I was born.  But it wasn’t something my father bragged about and it wasn’t part of our family story.  It was just something my father did because that’s the kind of man my father was.  He didn’t brag about it because he didn’t want to teach his children that people were different and those differences led to people being treated differently.  I think he wanted to shield us from the evils of life as long as he could.

I am somewhat of a loner.  I don’t like people all that much.  I have always hand-picked the people who are an integral part of my life.  There are a lot of reasons to hate people.  They are crazy.  They are selfish. They are self-centered.  They are dumb, racist, bigoted, loud, misinformed, uncaring, childish.  The list goes on an on.  I can’t image that of all the reasons there are to hate people, someone is going to go with color????  I was raised better than that.

I did not have the best of childhoods and I never really identified with my parents.  They never truly understood me and I did not understand them.  I don’t recall them being very affectionate and loving and I don’t recall really loving them all that much.  Of course that has changed and I have re-evaluated many things over the years.  I learned to understand my mother better and I learned that I am so much like my father that it’s scary.  The big difference between me and him is I don’t have a problem telling people how I really feel.  But when I look back and think about all the things my parents did, and didn’t do, I thank them because I was not raised to hate anybody.  I was not raised to hate those who were different; different from me, or different from the norm, or different from what society said they should be.

I know I am probably living in a fantasy world about the subject of racism.  When I first heard Barack Obama give a speech at the 2004 DNC, I was in awe of him.  I thought, “what a great President he would be”.  And I never even gave race a minute of thought.  I just thought to myself, “Finally, someone who is smart and can inspire me and others to be proud Americans”.

So to me, even if one person refused to vote for a man or woman for President simply because of skin color, that’s one too many.

How did America end up this way?


First, anyone who voted for George W. Bush can start with blaming themselves.  I am a firm believer that if President Bush was never voted into power as the President of the United States, 9/11 never would have happened.  The anger behind those attacks was a direct result of what he and his father have done, much of it leftovers from the 1991 Gulf War, and the rest a result of Bush 43’s attitude and policies toward the Middle East itself.  Of course we can start with the fact that Bush was never actually voted into the office of President but that is a whole other post.

This weekend Bush went to Israel to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.  He received a cold, no, icey reception from the Middle East as a whole, and turned their celebration into a political attack on the Democratic Party.  Was that really appropriate?  But then, when has Bush ever been approrpriate.

While there, Bush begged the Saudi government to assist America by reducing oil prices, increasing production, etc.  Their response was a flat NO.  It’s not that they don’t care about America, or Americans, they want to ensure that Bush’s legacy is the worst it could possibly be by the time he leaves office.  And they will succeed.  Bush has destroyed the reputation of America that has been built over decades and even centuries.  Mostly beginning with World War 1, with the big punch being World War II, America established itself as the one superpower in the world.  We were the envy of the world.  People around the world wanted to come here and live the dream.  In the last 7 years, those same people either don’t care about us, don’t look up to us, or actually want to destroy us.   How could that happen in 7 short years.

Bush isn’t alone in his success at reducing the country to the red-headed stepchild of the world.  Cheney, Rice, Rove, Rumsfeld, and a host of others have lied, twisted facts, committed treason, completely ingnored the U.S. Constitution, and have generally made their own rules and walked around the world with a cocky “I can do whatever the hell I want” attitude, all the the expense of every American.

Michelle Obama was verbally attacked recently, again, for saying something like “This is the first time in my adult life that I am proud of my Country”.  This statement was taken a bit out of context but I understand what she was trying to say and I agree.  Growing up, I never had to worry about being proud to be American, it just came naturally and I didn’t think about it much.  It wasn’t until we, as a country, hit rock bottom by going into Iraq and creating this war, ignoring Afghanistan where Osama Bin Laden actually is to try and weed him and to make him pay for his crimes, and our government officials being caught in lie after lie, manipulation after manipulation, and secret after secret that I realized I had to question my pride in America.  You can not tell me, not one of you, that at no point in the past 7 years have you questioned your pride in your country and what the people running it have done.  So Michelle Obama was thinking what I was thinking, I believe.  “For the first time in my adult life (meaning I can’t remember ever having to think about or question my American pride as far back as I can remember), I am proud of America (meaning we have smartened up as a nation and seen what the Republican party has done to us as a nation and have decided to bring forth some real candidates for change).”

So if you are looking for someone to blame for gas prices at almost $4.00/gallon (and soon to be $5), hatred of America across the globe, the attacks of 9/11, a failing education system, crumbling infrastructure, a national debt, and personal debt, unparalled in the histroy of this country, blame yourself first, if you voted for Bush, not one BUT TWICE.   And if you can’t own up to it now, what will happen next?  Will you cover up your mistake by making more mistakes?  World leaders, and indeed citizens of the world want America to be run by the Democrats because they look forward to the return of the dependable, realistic, compassionate, smart, and moral America that they are used to dealing with, and look up to.