Spaghetti Junction Podcast Episode #99

The latest episode, #99, is available on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and Podomatic!

Is this the new normal? Defying the constitution? Ignoring constitutional checks and balances? Creating divisive wedges between segments of our citizenry? Putting our alliances and economy at risk? No! And this must be Job-One! Respond with action, not more rhetoric. Trump bludgeons and enables with rhetoric; we need to challenge with ideas! In the shadow of this noise we mourn the passing of Toni Morrison. NPR said she brought power to the Black vernacular and is the standard by which all other Black writers will be judged. She stands in stark contrast to what is happening in this country today – she never allowed a new normal to go unchallenged. They called him the Left hand of God; why don’t we have leaders like this in our political world? Change is brewing in baseball. Change is brewing in America; what will be the new normal…? In the Spaghetti Junction!

Spaghetti Junction Episode #41

 

[btx_image image_id=”24″ link=”/” position=”overlapright”][/btx_image]The Spaghetti Junction Podcast takes its name from the large boondoggle of highways found in large cities. The convoluted nature of intertwining highways is as daunting as modern life. Everything is connected, but we’re not sure how! Each week I explore some facet of politics, arts, and sports that wind and ripple significantly through our lives. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Podomatic, or Google play as The Spaghetti Junction Podcast. This is a transcript of episode #41: 

H.L. Mencken described conscience as an inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. Think of me as the inner voice at Spaghetti Junction that’s looking out for you. Episode #41 poses these questions: First, Do you ever know who you are? Really? Second, The day the laughter stopped? Buster Keaton said that? Finally, Do sports and politics mix? For some its a non-sequitur. What are they watching?

MUSIC ROLLOVER

[btx_image image_id=”424″ link=”/” position=”left”][/btx_image]POLITICS

Sometime in the eighties, I discovered and then became a believer, if you will, in Sanford Meisner and his approach to acting. It worked for me; furthermore, when I began teaching his approach it worked for my students to amazing success. They became so much more available to the moment. I remember fondly how they always looked amazed when I asked them to listen and watch because the other actors will tell you who you are. In some ways, the character background work espoused by Method actors was busy work. According to Meisner, all you had to do was listen and the world will tell you who you are. Meisner did offer this qualifier: this is true when working with quality writers!

I began rethinking this Meisner phenomenon after listening to an Ezra Klein podcast recently, in which he interviewed Lilliana Mason, the author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity. I cannot urge too strongly that you listen to this podcast. Google The Ezra Klein Show “The Age of Mega-Identity Politics. It’s more than an hour long but time well spent, especially the conclusions discussed regarding the evolution of a new cleavage in the American Political spectrum.

If the world, as Meisner contends, tells us who we are, can we resist? Can we change our identity? Under what circumstances would we change? At first blush, change sounds possible; but, the more I read about mega-identities that have permeated our lives, I am becoming skeptical. Changing our identity is not simply flipping a switch, or parting our hair on the opposite side; it’s an entire makeover not just of how we think of ourselves, but how we dress, where we live, and what we do each and every day of our lives; more importantly, how we see the rest of the world. That’s a far more daunting task then one might anticipate. It’s why Mr. Kayne West is absolutely wrong when he says slavery was a choice because it lasted more than 400 years. There never was a choice. For many, that is true today.

Identity, it seems, is closely linked to self-esteem, there is ample evidence of that in the sports world, where so many people equate their identity with professional or collegiate sports teams. In so many cases this fandom is rabid! When their team loses they become despondent, some almost catatonic while suffering the humiliation of the defeat. Equally telling is the search for someone or something to blame: the refs, dirty play by the opposing players, or simply cheating — the ultimate conspiracy. It’s a short step to hate, and as we have seen in so many situations, an even shorter step to violence.

A telling bit of research was discussed by Klein and Mason. They did an experiment with a partisan group of people wherein two social programs were described, one very stringent, the other more generous. They randomly assigned these proposals to the people regardless of their political affiliation, telling them that it represented their party position. They were then asked to defend their choices in an op-ed piece constructing arguments for positions they did not intrinsically hold! They did so, magnificently. In another experiment, they were told that social benefits would be distributed to each member of the groups in the amount of 5 dollars per person, then they constructed alternative distributions that changed the amounts based upon the party and asked if they would support such decisions. They discovered that participants would accept less than five dollars, if their party won, despite their receiving less than five dollars. In other words, both these examples demonstrate it’s about winning, not doing the right thing. Political identities have become hugely influential.

In 1998 Franklin Graham wrote an op-ed article about Bill Clinton QUOTE. “Private conduct does have public consequences,” Graham wrote in a 1998 Wall Street Journal op-ed titled, “Clinton’s Sins Aren’t Private.”

QUOTE. ”Just look at how many have already been pulled under by the wake of the president’s sin: Mr. Clinton’s wife and daughter, Ms. Lewinsky, her parents, White House staff members, friends, and supporters, public officials and an unwitting American public.”

He continued, saying, QUOTE. ”the God of the Bible says that what one does in private does matter. Mr. Clinton’s months-long extramarital sexual behavior in the Oval Office now concerns him and the rest of the world, not just his immediate family. If he will lie to or mislead his wife and daughter, those with whom he is most intimate, what will prevent him from doing the same to the American public?” UNQUOTE.

Yet today Franklin Graham insists that because Trump denies the Stormy Daniels incident, we should take him at his word, and furthermore, it is a private matter between Donald and Melania. I think this is a rather compelling spelling of hypocrisy! Again, it’s about winning. The religious right has made a Faustian bargain with Donald Trump.

Ezra Klein suggested that we think of our minds as being truth-seeking machines, when in fact they operate more like a press-secretary, justifying our beliefs. Ultimately, this identity philosophy is about winning and losing only, because identity is tied to esteem and anything that endangers our self-esteem, we resist, especially if we are thought to be in competition and thereby at risk.

This apparently happens in Congress, too, where legislation is not a compromise between competing philosophies, but a zero-sum game where legislation is framed as one side must win, and the other must lose!

This is profoundly disturbing. What is the outcome, the endgame for this era of Donald Trump? Is it game over? Do we evolve, and if so, in what direction. If we don’t evolve, do we just slowly sink into oblivion, a footnote in the arc of history?

Miss Mason suggests that it is far too early for that conclusion. We are, she says, still in the process of sorting out a new cleavage among American Politics, and its expression is nascent. The cleavage of the 60s with its push for social justice had nowhere to go because there was no party of social justice. Today there is one. What we have today is a cultural war (incidentally, this is the 50th anniversary of Hair!) One outcome might well be a civil war, but I would hope better angels would prevail. Still, We are in the process of separating ourselves into two major groups: one, on the right, that is conservative, Christian, and white. The second, on the left, is liberal, non-white and atheist. I take exception to her characterization in that while I am liberal (for the most part), I am white (not non-white), and not exactly an atheist! I simply believe the proclamations set forth in the Declaration and Constitution matter.

The X-factor in all of this is the element of self-esteem. When so much of your identity is tied to politics, religious preference, racial integrity, and cultural identity, there is a risk when the stakes are high. With so much crossover among identities, it’s simply too much baggage to drag from one place to another. Should Donald Trump prevail, many of us will feel that our identity as liberal, multi-cultured, ethnically compassionate individuals with tolerance for people who do not look or pray as we do, is existentially threatened. Real compromise can only happen when we experience the humanity of others. That is no easy shift in this polarized environment.

There are those who pooh-pooh the cultural issues and claim that Donald Trump was and is about economics. They will point to a recent PEW research that says among non-college educated voters who voted for Barack Obama, 20% of those voters switched to Donald Trump. Trump did this by calling out the Americans as Losers, repeatedly! Not exactly the best political slogan. The difference is that he not only called them out for being losers (unlike himself), and did it repeatedly, but he also identified a reason why! He pointed to a scapegoat: Mexicans and immigrants in general. There’s more to his pitch, for sure. But this was the opening gambit that made people listen. “You’re losers (not like me) because of foreigners.”

I think the election of Donald Trump was more nuanced than landing on any of the following solely: race, economics, religion, and culture.

To be sure, There is no substantive data that suggests that immigrants and/or religious persecution are responsible for wage stagnation and the shift of manufacturing jobs outside our country for cheaper labor, or simply automation. It’s not that simple, folks. Donald Trump would have us believe that our problems are due to immigrants and religious persecution. What has Trump done to mitigate those economic concerns? A tax cut that primarily benefits big business? Reducing consumer protection? Removing restrictions on clean air? Removing restrictions on government lands? Rattling sabers in such a way as to threaten nuclear war? Sowing distrust and dissension among our allies? Undermining the integrity of our institutions, freedom of the press, and first amendment freedoms? Praising fascist regimes for anointing their leaders for life and suggesting he should be president for life?

Unemployment may be down, but most economists describe the economy as sluggish, and the repercussions from loosened restrictions have yet to be felt — its too soon. As for the Tax Cut, there is little direct uptick in wages, as much of the tax cut has gone to buying back stock and enriching the top investors and major companies. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research: QUOTE. The labor force participation rate, the percentage of civilians 16 years and older working or actively looking for work, now sits at 62.8 percent. The last time unemployment fell below 4 percent in 2000, that rate was near its all-time high of 67.3 percent. UNQUOTE. Trump is trumpeting these numbers this week and attributing it to him. The reason given for the drop, however, is that more people dropped out of the labor pool entirely. Remember, too, these job reports were once described/dismissed as rigged by Trump during Obama administration. Now, they are correct! How convenient. And, he always claimed that people dropping out of the labor force was why the unemployment rate was so low under Obama.

He hasn’t done anything, but attempt to erase the presence of Barack Obama. Issues. This is where we need to attack Trump — on issues, not behavior. Behavior gets turned inward and portrayed as attacks on people’s self-esteem. When you do that, they get angry and fight.

Up is down, and down is up, in the Spaghetti Junction. It may take generations for people to gather the impetus to change. Illustration: It took almost two generations for Southern Democrats to leave the Democratic Party for the Republican tent. This conflict is for the long haul, and we better be ready. I still trust Meisner, and fundamentally I believe we have the capacity to resist what the world wants to tell us while continuing this inexorable march toward inclusiveness. My students learned fairly quickly. I hope we do, too. It’s just right.

[btx_image image_id=”23″ link=”/” position=”overlapleft”][/btx_image]ARTS AND LETTERS

Parallels or metaphors are a powerful tool for perspective. It’s a distancing that allows us to separate the forest from the trees, to see the real underlying issues without the clutter of distracting noise; unless our reach exceeds our grasp. This was the case recently in my hometown op-ed page. I’m afraid a conservative columnist’s reach in his recent column entitled “The Day the Laughter Stopped” exceeded his grasp.

The columnist in my hometown paper attempted to trace a direct line from a Fatty Arbuckle incident, through several trials that resulted in Arbuckle’s acquittal, to the Hayes Office and movie censorship. He quotes Buster Keaton’s contemporary remark, “The day the laughter stopped” as the tragic tipping point for censorship — by the elites, he says. The implication of the remaining column is that somehow our recent White House Correspondents dinner is more emblematic of the day the laughter stopped. I’m afraid not.

This columnist seems to ignore the historical facts that included much more than Fatty Arbuckle being improperly prosecuted for manslaughter for breaking an actresses hips in a moment of intimacy, from which she subsequently died. That’s rather when the laughter started! Please, Hollywood was as rampant with sexual harassment then as today. Furthermore, this columnist chooses to ignore that the Catholic Church played a significant role in the development of this code for films. The industry tried to keep that a secret. Fatty Arbuckle is nothing more than a historical footnote to Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo. The columnist claimed that “film became answerable to the elites!” Oh, my. I simply had to answer this egregious misrepresentation of fact and consequence. Film did not have to be acceptable to the “elites”, it was Hollywood’s attempt to police themselves before an almost certain government intervention, and the process had significant input from religious centers, especially the Catholic Church. To this day, I remember as a young person my parents lamenting the Catholic Bishops inserting themselves into this censorship code.

But to suggest that the creation of the Hayes Office led to Keaton’s proclamation, while true in terms of timeline, is hardly accurate socially, or in context; and as a lead into his argument regarding the recent Correspondents dinner, it is misleading! The sanctimonious whining following the dinner is enough, already!

In the columnist’s words, “Humiliation is not funny.” No sir, it isn’t, and tell that to the myriad number of people humiliated by word or tweet from Donald Trump — on a daily basis. The writer then stretches his parallel further trying to compare school behavior among cool kids and nerds or gays (not a reference to homosexuality he says) His take away is that the queer people will rise up against the cools, as in the Christmas Story when Ralphie punches the bully.

Well, we now have hypocrisy in the building!

I do not support the lengths to which Ms. Wolf went to “Roast” a decidedly deserving administration, because I do not believe sinking to Trump’s level carries the fight in a meaningful way. Make no mistake, however, the mocking hateful rhetoric of the roast was not substantively different from Donald Trump on the campaign trail, or from the White House on his phone at 5 AM. Spare me your outrage, Sir. Where were you during the campaign and the ensuing year and a half of a crude narrative spewing from the White House, from press briefings, from campaign styled rallies and twitter accounts.

These are historic times. This past weekend was historic: Albert Pujols reached 3000 hits and Donald Trump reached 3000 lies. Another historical note, this past week was the 50th anniversary of Hair. Not much has changed, truly.

And Yes rest assured that Ralphie will rise up and punch that Bully Trump where it hurts most — in the ballot box.

[btx_image image_id=”161″ link=”/” position=”overlapleft”][/btx_image]THE WORLD OF SPORTS

We try to address issues of sports and politics because sports and politics are intertwined with so many aspects of our lives; in some ways, it’s the canary in the mine shaft. Some approach sports as pure entertainment, an escape, from the very entanglements of politics. Unfortunately, sports is about as free from politics as film or literature. It’s convoluted in the Spaghetti Junction, and everything seems to inform each other.

It was admirable that we could turn to sports to show a solidarity among Americans following the 9/11 events, trumpeting a sense of strength and resilience by participating in sport as though nothing had happened. Those terrorists could not interrupt or change our lives. We refused to let them, and we all gave ourselves a well-deserved pat on the back for doing so.

The very fact that the Saints could play in the Superdome so soon after Katrina was yet another symbol of our resilience and strength of character, again trumpeted loudly as the spirit of an exceptional people. We reveled in our self-congratulatory praise for how we handled a crisis. They were crises, and we did handle them, to our credit.

But just as the arts hold up a mirror to our real lives, so too does the world of sport. It too is a microcosm of our everyday life – whether it’s the creeping corruption, alcohol or drug abuse, sexual predation, and more… like it or not, whether we want it or not. Our values play out on a diamond, a court, a gridiron, a course, or whatever the surface may be. We are human, after all, in every circumstance, large and small.

I read an article recently by a Washington Post columnist who expressed great discomfort with sports writers venturing into political analysis – especially Sports Illustrated Magazine. He led the article with the following quip: QUOTE. There’s a famous old Woody Allen joke that: “those who can’t do, teach. And those that can’t teach, teach gym.” Well here’s a modernized version of this old saw. Those who can’t do, write. And those who can’t write, write about sports.

One of the most amazing revelations about the shameful and unpatriotic antics by NFL players who are taking the knee or even lying on the ground stretching during the national anthem has been the near-universal approval by sports journalists. The left has infiltrated the locker room, and sports commentators now all think they are social reformers and muckrakers. Fake news is now endemic on the sports pages too. UNQUOTE.

Now, this strikes me as elitist and obviously arrogant to assume a sports writer incapable of recognizing and commenting on social implications within the world of sport. They are writing about what they saw, heard, and felt. He continues QUOTE. Apparently, Colin Kaepernick and his fellow kneelers are modern-day Jackie Robinsons. By the way, Jackie stood for the flag and the national anthem. So did other sports pioneers of racial equality like Jesse Owens and Arthur Ashe. UNQUOTE.

This is a decidedly narrow construction with no understanding of the real history, the real circumstances of their assimilation or pseudo-assimilation. I guess the racial epithets endured by these athletes when they broke the color barrier don’t matter. The painful process each of these athletes experienced playing-sports-while-black is, in his mind, irrelevant to the fact they were allowed to play. The truth is they were allowed to play under duress. In this writer’s mind this is apparently irrelevant because they played and toed the line. Did they have a choice? No, West; they did not have a choice. He then writes QUOTE. The tone of nearly the entire issue is in the headline of the first story: “Stick to sports? Not possible when the passions stoked by protests and the president threaten to subsume the games themselves.” Do the editors even realize this is a non sequitur? It is the protesters, not Donald Trump, who stoked these fires months ago, and it’s the very acts of protest that are subsuming the games themselves. UNQUOTE. NON-SEQUITUR??? This is not a writer. This writer needs to read more deeply, and widely.

The protesters didn’t start this whole process; rather, it was the tendency by so many police departments to shoot and kill unarmed black men for driving-while-black, walking-while-black, smoking-while-black, or simply breathing-while-black. The players did not disrespect the American Flag so much as a call for it to live up to its promise. That sounds patriotic to me! For a major columnist with a national paper, this myopia is alarmingly narrow and bigoted. Remember his quip? Those who can’t do write, and those who can’t write, write about sports… which is exactly what he is doing because he is unwilling to think, let alone write.

This Washington Post writer perfectly mirrors the conversation of Mason and Klein referenced earlier. His political identity and professional identity are mega-identities that overlap to the point where he cannot recognize the humanity of the protestors plea, nor the humanity of the players themselves. They are foreign to him because he is cocooned within his own echo-chamber and insulates himself by claiming they are the offenders. They are paid to play, so shut up and leave the opinionating to him. By that measure, all of us are paid to work, and work only. None of us has the right to express an opinion wherever we might be in our lives. Balderdash!

Trump brought this on by manipulating the average citizen into believing that the source of our problems was immigration, and from there he said bad deals were made, while he has failed to negotiate a good deal on anything… in the Spaghetti Junction.

[btx_image image_id=”366″ link=”/” position=”right”][/btx_image]My friends, the rot of hypocrisy is everywhere around us in the Spaghetti Junction. The long game here appears to be a re-alignment of coalitions/groups/identities within this country that directly challenges any reading of the Declaration and Constitution. Resistance is not simply a matter of voting, but being aware of the subtle slips into autocracy that we are experiencing, not only in our political world but the spheres of arts and entertainment. Perspective is a precious commodity for our collective health. We can’t afford to give up on politics because it’s tough and some people are dishonest. Challenge. Challenge. Challenge. Challenge policy rationally, not from anger, hostility, or opponent profiling. The fight is only beginning — in the Spaghetti Junction. I certainly appreciate Jeremy’s comment that I ask the questions that need to be asked. We are trying to make sense of this Trump conundrum and the challenges he presents to our country. The question that hangs over all is why will Donald Trump not call out the Russian attack on our election process? He avoids Russia, and the evidence is overwhelming.

Thanks for joining us today. If you like the Spaghetti Junction please like us and leave a comment at podomatic.com, iTunes, or Google Play. Likes and comments are coin of the realm in the world of podcasts that open us to a wider audience.

Episode #2

What follows is a transcript of Episode #2 of the Spaghetti Junction Podcast:

ROD: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…

SOUND BRIDGE ROLLOVER…

ROD: Welcome to Spaghetti Junction — At the intersection of everything; because, today, that’s how life is. Often messy… confusing, off-putting, and contradictory. My name is R.E. Harter, and I’ll be your host, asking questions at the messy intersection of life, art, sports, and politics: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast.

MUSIC LEAD-IN…

H.L. Mencken described conscience as an inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. Think of me as your inner voice at Spaghetti Junction. Episode #2 poses three questions. First, Has Our Reach Exceeded Our Grasp? Secondly, Have You Noticed How Complex Plots Have Become? And finally, Will History Judge LeBron Differently?
SOUND TRANSITION…

EPISODE 2, SECTION 1

At the conclusion of the Constitutional convention, a woman asked Ben Franklin: “Well, Doctor, what have we a Republic, or a monarchy?” “A Republic,” He replied, “if you can keep it.” I worry that we can’t. Keep it… Franklin addressed the same convention with these words: ”when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.” Sounds familiar. What’s the contemporary expression? Ripped from the headlines…?

Stories of conflicting passions among families and friends during the Civil War are well documented, and serve as inspiration for countless novels and movies laying bare those internecine schisms. These interfamily feuds were a go-to plot twist for many movies and novels: The outcast cowboy still fighting the civil war or avenging the murder of his family. Today, the predictable local police investigation thwarted or upstaged by a federal investigation involving national security is widely used. These stories of internal schisms are ubiquitous, and should serve as a warning.

There is a part of me that knows I don’t truly appreciate the depth or breadth of those Civil War era emotions — until now. Until recently, I accepted intellectually divided families and divided allegiances during the Civil War; but, I did not truly comprehend the veracity of emotion, or mental carnage that often followed. My life includes no modern experiences equal or analogous to those Civil War fractious disputes. The head is not the heart, and that matters. Stories move us because they resonate with some internal emotion, and experience.

We are now considerably more narrow: in our interests, our focus, our experiences; our thoughts are not very deep. How deep can one get in one hundred and forty characters. We live in a virtual reality of few consequences — there’s always a do-over available; but, living is not a game.

Consider our mostly known or accepted history: A melting pot of immigrants; and one nation under God…

Our melting pot — that historic crucible for changing or melding identities into a new brand — no longer melts; but, separates into tribes. Identities matter now. We are not mixing to create something new; we are separating to become homogeneous. Both of my parents grew up in bi-lingual homes; but, were only allowed to speak English because: “They were going to be Americans.”

Our Founding Fathers were acutely aware of the challenges facing this young republic that spread across a continent with distinctly different local needs and interests. We possessed at that time a certain homogeneity, or shared experience: We were basically white, mostly Christian, spoke the same language, shared a revolutionary experience, identified with similar cultural values, and believed in English Common Law. The revolutionary philosophy was, however, more expansive with its declaration that “All_ men are created equal, and that _they_ are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Monuments and edifices erected subsequently continued to extoll this revolutionary spirit: “Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore… Send these…”

And they came; they came with skills, ideas, trades, energy and a passion for freedom. They came ready to assimilate, to meld, with this grand experiment in democracy: that is rule by the majority; but with respect and equal treatment for the minority.

The assimilation was not always easy, and there are plenty of movies and novels that chronicle this issue of assimilation. Cities within cities became very much the norm for the major urban locations. Large metropolitan cities all had a Little Italy, China Town, Jew Town, or a Ghetto.

Hardly a school child exists who can not identify the words posted inside the Statue of liberty readily; at least I hope. Few probably know or recognize the entire sonnet, which changes substantially the meaning of the Statue of Liberty. The French offered Miss Liberty as a tribute to revolution and democracy, but the sonnet by Emma Lazarus changes that focus from revolution to immigrants. Listen to the entire sonnet… Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

We are at odds with our history… and that’s troubling.

I often wonder how many Americans could identify the Pre-amble to the Constitution, or the opening of the Declaration of Independence? Not many, is my guess. Our narrow comprehension of history seems to suggest that as a democracy our reach has exceeded our grasp! We spoke eloquently for years of our melting pot, and recited the few lines from Emma Lazarus’ Sonnet; but I don’t think we ever grasped its meaning. Now that we have achieved a diversity that threatens our “selfie” as a white dominant race of Christians, we dig our heels into the ground looking to preserve something we never set as a goal: a homogeneous religious and social culture. We have this notion of separation of churches — other than mine — and state.

The oft repeated mantras of our founding principles and the images of freedom and the pursuit of happiness, equal opportunity, and the American Dream seem hypocritical in light of our own genocide with Native Americans, or Civil War. Fear of the multicultural world has bread distrust, hostility, and fear because, quite frankly, it’s a threat to our power and position.. The founding fathers distrusted the mix of religion and state, many were atheists or deists: the expression endowed by their creator is a deists construction, not Christian.

In this country the left and the right do not talk to each other, but talk at each other. Our circular news cycles further erode any willingness to engage the other side. Rather than look for commonality, we look to demonize and destroy. Within the past ten years democracy has turned back on itself. The people don’t chose their representatives, the representatives chose their constituency, and two significant efforts to disenfranchise minority voters in Texas and North Carolina have been rejected by the Supreme Court.

With the rise of political purity, the necessity to protect ones position has resulted in an attack on the Fourth Estate, the press. Media, the narrative goes, run fake stories and lies. All media is left leaning and favor progressive stories, while conducting witch hunts on the right. Destroy the credibility of the Fourth Estate, and it is a slippery slide to fear and distrust of all institutions. The only destination is anarchy.

This polarization has reached down to my personal life, in that I have seen acquaintances and their families wherein the family members are so extremely conservative or progressive that they cannot talk to each other. They have experienced emotionally charged discussions that have deteriorated into name calling and an unwillingness to discuss rationally without crutch support from internet talking points. Furthermore, everything is seen as somehow politically motivated. Their interactions are guarded, fragile, and frankly tiresome – if they occur at all. This is the Civil War revisited.

George Will is a well-established elderly Conservative columnist who has left the Republican Party, and who openly challenges the mental health of our sitting president. George Will is about as even tempered as they come, and exhibits tremendous self-control, but he is angered. This should serve as a warning.

We have to talk without the echo-chamber affect. We have to respect and engage if we are to meet this existential crisis for our democracy. ”when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views.”

Even our present Constitution didn’t get it right the first time. The first ten amendments called the Bill of Rights was added after the fact, and through the years the rights and privileges of all citizens have been clarified, amended, or expanded. The only venture taken into social engineering was the 18th Amendment that outlawed alcohol- prohibition. The 21 Amendment repealed prohibition.

Keeping our republic will be a challenge since we are not schooled nor practiced in critical thinking and are hopelessly challenged to remain vigilant, knowledgeable, and active in our participation in governance. We are too much “into ourselves”. Patience, perspective, and open minds regarding what is good for all is necessary for us to survive. It starts at home and in the schools. The journey is long and we’d better start now…

SOUND TRANSITION…

EPISODE #2, SECTION 2…

Television programing is no longer dominated by short-stories. Instead, we have seasons long narratives that have become as complex and convoluted as our daily life. Call them Novel-length Movies.

This is not a criticism, but bears considering. We are not fed endless short-stories any longer, but are teased into viewing novel length movies of very generous breadth and complexity.

Recently, despite my initial resistance, I found myself succumbing to the appeal of Bosch, an HBO series chronicling the work of an LAPD detective, who is seemingly ethical to a fault, but unliked by most of his fellow officers. The many silent sequences of him peering out from his high on a hill condo to see the vista that is Los Angeles, repeatedly tells us he is introspective and complex. He is basically an ethical cop in an unethical world, and even he succumbs to an unethical action — for the most ethical of reasons. Hollywood money purchased the digs — a mildly successful movie based upon his character supposedly bought the condo; but he has come to eschew Hollywood.

I enjoyed watching the episodes and found him to be compelling, with anecdotal insights into single parent frustrations and problems. He never lets anyone get too close. He has moments of intimacy; but one questions how intimate they really are, because there is always this wall of responsibility as a cop that separates him from the world. During the three seasons of episodes I watched this divorced cop had two liaisons with women, the first a fellow officer, and secondly with an Assistant DA. Work and his responsibility to his badge always interceded and he coldly breaks off the relationships when work and relationship get too close. The press is alternately investigative, but also somewhat hysterical for dirt.

Bosch is basically accused by his fellow officers of bending the rules to get convictions. I never understood the rule-breaking cop tag, so much as his smug superiority that was always born out – with the exception of a blond porn actress who murdered her husband/producer… But, I suspect that’s sitting out there for him to solve too. She will return. Bosch is not so much insufferable, as relentless.

His irritable best is seen in a scene with the police chief who squashed an untruthful investigation into his culpability in a murder. When the Chief, expecting a thank you, tells him not to worry because the investigation is quashed, Bosch’s reply is: “Good, you’re just doing your job.” The not so surprised chief actually smiles and notes that they are “now even.” Bosch went to extraordinary lengths to help capture the chief’s son’s murderer.

The salivating press, ever present, and ever sniffing out the worst among the cops makes for an interesting contemporary point. Given our current world and the polarization of the population, Bosch’s integrity in a world lacking in ethics under constant scrutiny by a scandal-starved media looking for another Watergate moment is a chilling reminder of how complex and convoluted our world has become.

Movies made from books are often knocked for not being able to capture the entire book faithfully. This may change, because with the development of Bosch and other series like it, our story-tellers are nearly offering novel length movies over extended number of seasons, creating a new palette for binge watching of a particular series on Netflix or Amazon Prime or others.

Bosch is confirmation of the unethical world and the ensuing struggles for domination that we see in our day to day world… in the Spaghetti Junction.

Episode 2, section 3

The expected clash of titans, the NBA finals, between Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers begins this week. The backstory is compelling and well known: Revenge or Repeat is the meme!

The body of work to this point in LeBron James’ career qualifies him to be considered among the best to have ever played the game. He has played in seven consecutive NBA finals, losing only once to date in the post-season. Closing out the Celtics he surpassed a record point total in post-season, eclipsing the great Michael Jordan. During a furious comeback in the Boston series a video clip of Lebron’s athleticism outwitting a Celtic defender while sweeping to the basket to lay it in, went viral. The complaint was “He carried the ball!” He probably did… So?

Watch any NBA team, not just the elite ones, and I guarantee you will find multiple instances of _/carrying the ball/_, as well as _/steps/_! Modern players engage in frequent walking and/or carrying of the ball. It’s not right; it’s not the game; but, it’s a judgement call referees don’t always see because of the speed and intensity of the game. They are looking for more flagrant violations; and, two men covering ten moving behemoth parts, is not easy. Sometimes you can’t see through these mountainous bodies and flailing extremities. Fast and furious is a movie franchise, as well as an NBA meme.

Still, for LeBron James, respect seems to come begrudgingly. He was not even included among the finalists for the MVP award this year – one of his statistical best.

History will be kinder to LeBron.

Free from all the incessant chatter about MJ, the Event, his early failures in the league, James will get his due as one of, if not the most complete player to play the game. He will meet or exceed championships attained by MJ, I am confident.

Why will it take time? Why are we not jumping on the bandwagon now; God knows, fans love to jump into the pool of hyperbole and declare this or that the best, the greatest, the most superior to ever wear the uniform!

It’s complicated, I think. The fans want to anoint a player as the best ever. It’s an unwritten rule of fandom.

I suspect his self-annointed _/King James/_ moniker, and the _/Event/_ eclipsed his talent to a large degree. We seem to like humility among our athletic heroes. While Ali also called himself the greatest, his showmanship and poetry seemed to mask the hype with a certain likable honesty and integrity. I’m not suggesting LeBron lacks integrity. There is something bordering on _/un-likable/_ that gets in the way. He doesn’t float like a butterfly and sting like a bee! It’s a personality thing, I guess.

Michael Jordan always appeared approachable; not so much, LeBron James. Fans honored MJ; he never demanded honor by calling himself King James. There is one other element that may have traction too. As LeBron pointed out so succinctly during a press conference following racist rants painted on his house. “Racism is not dead in this country.”

This gets complicated, but I think it’s there; much as it was there with Barack Obama — too smart and too well spoken. LeBron — too intimidating, and too gifted.

Time will mute the whispers and background chatter, and we shall be left with an impressive resume of accomplishments that will put him among — if not at the top — of the Mount Rushmore elites of basketball.

Fans bestow greatness, and some don’t like it when greatness is thrust upon them. I’m not saying it’s right; I’m just saying this is the Spaghetti Junction…

It’s a messy place, this Spaghetti Junction. But, it’s all we have, and our attention must be focused on how it all relates, if we want to keep it all!

This has been Spaghetti Junction. Thank you for joining us. Special thanks to Podomatic, Audiojungle and music ideas, and also to Austin and the guys at Composite Creative. CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE AND BLOG AT REHARTER.COM – THE WRITER’S STORM…

I’m R.E. Harter, for The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…

MUSIC OUT…

 

 

Podcast Premier!

Writer's Storm

 

The premier of The Spaghetti Junction Podcast has finally arrived, and I am excited to begin working on it in earnest.

I have written short stories, screenplays, and one novel, most of which do not satisfy me in any way. The process is satisfying; but, that’s not entirely enough. Yes, yes, yes… I know the process is what matters. I understand fully the ethic of expressing wherein the fulfillment is in the process. The theory even makes sense.

Feedback is something that is essential, too. For that reason, I have also embarked upon a podcast of social and political journaling under the title of The Spaghetti Junction Podcast. The intertwining of politics, sports, and the arts is a messy place; but, one that needs observation and comment. I shall publish an episode each week on the intersection of politics, sports, and arts. I hope to stretch my writing experience in a meaningful way, in addition to exorcising my own demons in this chaotic atmosphere of late.

In addition to the podcast on line, I shall also post a transcript of each episode. You can listen to the podcast at this link: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/rodney-harter1/episodes/2017-07-11T08_51_44-07_00

Episode #1 follows:

 

SOUND LEAD IN

ROD: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…!

SOUND BRIDGE ROLLOVER…

ROD: Welcome to Spaghetti Junction — At the intersection of everything; because, today, that’s how life is. Often messy… confusing, off-putting, and contradictory. My name is R.E. Harter, and I’ll be your host, asking questions at the messy intersection of life, art, sports, and politics: The Spaghetti Junction Podcast.

MUSIC LEAD-IN…

H.L. Mencken described conscience as an inner voice which warns us that someone may be looking. Think of me as your inner voice at Spaghetti Junction. Episode #1 poses three questions. First, Is bias a fake story? Secondly, why must we listen so hard to movies? And finally, What has happened to the heart of sports?

SOUND TRANSITION…

EPISODE 1, SECTION 1

There is an obsession among people today for bias, that scary little monster hiding under every journalist’s computer, ready to skew the tone and quality of an article toward a predetermined end. Bias entered my world with the expression *a right-wing media bias*, True on some levels. The argument goes as follows: Mainstream media sees the world through glasses bearing a left-leaning prescription, and news-opinion is skewed to favor positions on the left. Mainstream media marginalizes and discards the right, allowing no fair play on the media stage for competing thought.

Bias today is easily seen in the framing of news stories describing the chaos swirling around Trump. I have showed a personal bias by describing the Trump White House as “…in chaos.” Multiple examples of bias on both sides of the political spectrum are available by scanning headlines — or the absence of stories about certain events. Headlines are revealing by how titles frame the story: Ivanka Trump Is Not Happy; Everyone Gets One Scoop of Ice Cream; But, Donald Gets Two… Gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, Sixty Minutes, and Ted Koppel. Reporters during the afore mentioned era based their reporting upon fact and not ideology. Still, the prevalent cry of media bias today is strong and repeated ad nauseam — again, another bias! Do you see how easy it is?

But, everyone has one — or more — such biases. French Vanilla ice cream is a strong bias for this writer; yet, some people will not walk across the street for a free dish of French Vanilla. Biases exist in a variety of forms for a variety of things, tastes, preferences, and other items of choice.

But, critical thinking should not stop with identifying biases as a basis for discounting certain reporting; rather, we should focus on the source of this bias. What generates bias is more valuable as a reference point for discussion and possible consensus. Public opinion often discounts the why because the writer intends to discard all criticism as bias, rather than discover the truth. Bias for key lime pie should be universal as should a bias for the LA Dodgers.

Not all biases originate in dishonesty. A Dodger bias is beyond reproach.

A bias against capital punishment is very reasonable when considering the number of innocent convicts sent to death row — which seems to have little impact as a deterrent. A bias against abortion is justified by some on the basis of religious beliefs. This writer believes there is no justification for killing other than self-defense. The exposed context frames the real argument. Context matters.

Consider this context: The U.S. constitutional fabric contains a wrinkle called separation of church and state; but, the same wrinkle appears to be viewed as separation of churches – other than mine — and state. We brag about a melting pot because we have no relatable experience for assimilation. Ask first generation Irish, German, or Italian immigrants — if you can find them — about the real struggle for assimilation.

Recently, an article appeared recounting the commencement address President Trump made to the Navel Academy graduates. The Commander-in-chief claimed that no president in history has been so maligned and treated unfairly by the press. The facts are unassailable: a tsunami of bad press during this slightly more than a hundred days in office overwhelmed Trump’s administration. The context, however, is important.

Lies, distortions, changing stories, impulsive and unstable, obstructive behavior have all contributed to an impassioned scrutiny by the press. He deserves all of the attention, He is a one-man wrecking ball, stirring controversy and spreading distrust for America among the world’s leaders. The context is littered with Trump faux pas of his own making. No one decided that the strategy would be to lock arms and block anything the President attempts to do. Trump’s actions, and words, have raised serious concerns about his temperament and suitability for the job, in addition to a general lack of understanding how government works. He has no interest in the details of governance, nor the capacity to discover any major themes or ideas. He thinks he is the CEO of a large company, ordering whatever he wants done, and expecting results. If there is a problem, he is not above the back room deal of scratching a back for a reciprocal action. That’s not how government works.

This is not liberal mainstream media bias! A special prosecutor has been named – this is serious.

The right chastised Michelle Obama for not wearing a headscarf in Muslim countries, neither did the Trump ladies. The right screamed loudly because Obama refused to say Islamic Terrorism; neither did Trump. The President slammed Obama for his golfing vacations away from the White House; Trump has out spent Obama’s two terms in less than 200 hundred days! Republicans claim Obamacare is collapsing from its own weight; in reality, there are issues because Congress refuses to implement funding as designed. Republican states have balked at using the extended Medicaid funds or Medicare. Think of it in this fashion: you have a stool that will support your weight; you don’t like that it will support your weight, so you cut off one of the legs and then claim its a poorly designed stool! Republican attempts to limit voter registration among minorities has been overturned by the Supreme Court. These are inconvenient facts, not fake stories. We live in a world where ideology trumps facts. The NY Times has uncovered fake stories planted by the Trump Administration in an attempt to prove susceptibility to fake news; neither NY Times, CNN, nor Washington Post have fallen for the tactic. They vet their stories.

A local columnist here advised Trump to use a strategy often used in civil courts: Even if your story is true, you have nothing on me.” True, we don’t have that understanding now; but, a special investigation has been named because there is enough smoke to warrant a deep look. Let’s follow the money.

How do you and I manage our daily lives while this chaos swirls about? While our country is led by a man-child who has no capacity for details of governance, and only the the most shallow understanding of history? We have to pay attention; stay in touch with our Representatives and Senators. We have little history of such diligence, since much of our electorate is apathetic.

Bottom line: We have less to fear from nuclear madmen than the fact that information in this internet age has been weaponized against the weakest link of our democracy — our average citizen, poorly educated, and poorly informed on issues that matter. It all goes back to our schools – and Betsy DeVos has no clue.

MUSIC BRIDGE…

Rod: Discovery is a remarkable thing. Learning something new energizes our mind and body in ways that are profoundly healthy! Recently, I made a discovery that makes my spirit rise somewhere over the rainbow! You laugh!

I have spent many years working in the theater, a cultural phenomenon that has enjoyed a remarkable history, as well as troubling times. Regardless of the times, the essential demand that an actor must be seen and heard has not changed. Movies and made for television films, or extended series do not seem to follow that essential core quality, especially where dialogue is concerned.

Frequently, there are stretches of dialogue that escape my ears entirely, an unhappy situation that I tried to attribute to my advancing age. Until recently…

I began rewatching movies from thirties through to the sixties and discovered that I missed nothing at all! I heard every word! Certainly our modern technology has not caused us to lose intelligibility!

I am old enough to remember the laments over Marlon Brando and his mumbling in On The Waterfront, or Streetcar Named Desire. An acquaintance who witnessed his Broadway performance in Streetcar said, “It was mesmerizing; I could almost smell the baloney on his breath.”

I have revisited Streetcar and heard everything.

We’re on dangerous ground when realism comes to mean unintelligibility because that’s the way life is. There’s enough unintelligibility in our daily lives now, we do not need to encourage more- especially in our story-telling — unless that’s the thrust of the story. Words matter; they have impact on us, and the people around us — our children!

Recently, President Trump described the Manchester bombing as perpetrated by losers. Losers. I would hope our leaders have the capacity to inspire us, not incite us with bullying rhetoric commonly found on a playground. Name calling during the primary campaign distressed me greatly: Crooked, Low-energy, Lying, Pocahontas, and more…

Words matter, and I would hope our movie makers realize that their story-telling is not enhanced by an inability to communicate.

An old Basil Rathbone Sherlock Homes movie absolutely enchanted me with its stage speech and perfect diction. If that means I’m old; so be it…

MUSIC BRIDGE…

The current sports world is awash in bigger, faster, stronger; and that
s also true of our world in general. I sometimes wonder if the heart of the games isn’t diluted by skills we don’t really appreciate or understand. The natural urge for a competitive edge has led us far afield from natural development. Science has given us drugs and supplements that perform miracles on our body. I recently read of one supplement that will give you a ripped physique and it doesn’t require that you go to the gym! Competitive sports? I don’t think so.

Baseball was always an event of gamesmanship and strategy. Can you hit it where they aren’t? Oh, pitchers were not slow, nor did they always pitch safely. We know also, that many pushed the envelope of legality by scuffing the surface of the ball or adding something extra to it – spit! Among other things. This gamesmanship added to the lore of Baseball popularity. We appreciated this imaginative resourcefulness because it didn’t change the player, it was part of the competitive game.

Football has always been violent, but somehow rugby has escaped the troublesome physical dilemma of modern football. And rugby players don’t wear pads and helmets! Football appealed to our interest with multiple options and simultaneous events with some demanding physical strength required. In this current era of bigger, faster, and stronger, the speed and size is lethal! Players are beginning to retire at an early age because they don’t want to be a mental vegetable at age 50. Admittedly, I have no real appreciation for the speed and size of the game today, compared with the physically challenging game of my youth. I marvel more at the athlete’s willingness to put himself at risk than his specialized skills. Beast mode sums up the attitude.

The spacing and ball movement of the Warriors reminds me more of the basketball I played everyday after school. Again, bigger, faster, stronger, has changed the game. I Turned on television to watch an NBA playoff game, and a game of rugby broke out. Stop me if you can, at the rim. Physical intimidation is a large part of the game, a large part of our world.

We need a competitive spirit that we can appreciate and understand. In 1963, Warren Spahn faced Juan Marichal in a sixteening inning scoreless duel. After the thirteenth inning of this scoreless game, Manager Alvin Dark asked the 25-year old Marichal if he had had enough. Cepeda remembered Marichal barking at Dark, “A 42-year-old man is still pitching. I can’t come out!”

The spirit of the game. How do we preserve it and keep it fascinating? The competitive spirit must be maintained between players, not by adding scientific enhancement. Spahn’s gut spirit against the gut spirit of Marichal, no chemical enhancement, no equipment advantage, just two men competing.

The intimidation factor of many games today reflects an unhealthy intimidation element within our social fabric. It’s not enough to be better, we must trash our opponent, destroy him, in order to really win. We see this carried over into politics…

It’s a messy place, this Spaghetti Junction. But, it’s all we have, and our attention must be focused on how it all relates, if we want to keep it all!

This has been Spaghetti Junction. Thank you for joining us. Special thanks to Podomatic, Audiojungle and music ideas, and also to Austin and the guys at Composite Creative. CHECK OUT OUR WEBSITE AND BLOG AT REHARTER.COM – THE WRITER’S STORM…

I’m R.E. Harter, for The Spaghetti Junction Podcast…

MUSIC OUT…

 

London Has Fallen

I watched London Has Fallen on Netflicks when an impulsive moment seduced me to watch a movie with dinner last night, since I was “Home Alone”.

Images can have a dizzying impact, tipping our equilibrium. It is amazing how some images unleash connecting thoughts in a frenzied rush, or eruption. (I almost said ejaculation, but decided it was one connection too far…!)

th-10
Follow spot of headlights

SURREAL LIGHTING

5:30 in the morning is dark these days, and my headlights are like a follow spot on a darkened stage: focusing my attention precisely. The reality is I’m looking for deer; we’re approaching the season of running. I’m on the way to the fitness center for my morning spin-class, when the traffic light changes. A vehicle turns left crossing through the beam from my headlights.

It’s a tractor trailer of caged chickens unwittingly going to slaughter. Passing through my headlights, the image is surreal, awash in bright white light, and suddenly my brain is awash, too, in connecting thoughts around these unsuspecting chickens going to a slaughter that most likely is not humane – if current reports surrounding the industry are accurate.

Concern for the feelings of our food is, I’ll admit, a rather recent development, in as much as we’ve slaughtered impulsively for centuries. This too feeds the rush of thoughts triggered by this garish parade of fowl in garish white light.

th-8
London before it fell!

London Has Fallen adds to the thoughts on slaughter, war, violence, duplicity, ego, hatred, revenge, religious fervor, and other blind emotions, and juxtaposed with Obama and his long-view of the world, they collided in my mind during a murderous spin class! My muscles screamed as loudly as my brain. The muscles won, for the short-term.

IMAGES RETURN

I am once again home alone contemplating those still surreal images from the morning darkness.

th-7
Another glimpse of London before the fall.

London Has Fallen pits The Shining Light on the Hill against the darker forces of terrorism, hatred, and religious fervor. It’s about as jingoistic as it can be, and would no doubt raise the blood pressure of anyone haling from the Mediterranean part of the world, as well as those of a certain religious persuasion living in this country now. There are classic confrontations where each side explains itself, sort of… The terrorist is avenging murder of woman and children, and attempting to change the world order. Our fearless Secret Service Agent, protecting the President from a nefarious plot to murder the world’s leaders and publicly execute our President via the internet, exudes patriotism, duty, and courage to defend our way of life. In fact, in a somewhat cheesy moment at the end the agent is drafting a letter of resignation while the Vice-President, Morgan Freeman, addresses the country to remind us of our need to be vigilant if our way of life is to survive. The Agent hits the delete button!

OH, PUH-LEASE!

The film is full of those obligatory scenes where the secret service are in hand to hand combat with the terrorists and scream “Fuck you!” before finishing them off. In one spectacular chase, a terrorist on a motorcycle is trying to climb into the presidential vehicle and fights with the Secret Service hero. The terrorist hollers “Fuck you!” – not your terroristy kind of language, you understand. The driver steers the car close to the tunnel wall and says “No, Fuck you!” The body of the terrorist is separated from his body. The secret service dude looks at the helmeted head and throws it out the passenger window!

Somewhere in a ubiquitous desert terrain, the master mind of the plot is called by Morgan Freeman. The master-mind tells Freeman that he may have won this battle, but it is just the beginning of a war they will carry to the USA, and the world will change. Morgan tells the Arab to look out his window – he does and sees a blinding light, just before a smart-bomb destroys his compound and much of the surrounding buildings and people. Roll credits.

th-6
The Thames River in London

I must admit the film was suspenseful and I was inclined to look away because I didn’t want to see some of the violence. Lots of CGI as most of the land marks of London are destroyed.

One of my favorite descriptions of good conflict is right vs. right. Each side is fighting and hating because of a regrettable loss of life – women and children: innocents. Our Secret Service agent has a pregnant wife giving birth to a child he may never see because of this event.

Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

Enter Barack Obama and a long view of history and his presidency. Indulge me, here: Allow breaking news flashes of FBI reopening an investigation because they’ve recently discovered something – don’t know if it’s relevant; but, they will nevertheless reopen the investigation ten days before the election. Read as: Edgar Hoover lives! Now splash a breaking news banner of the Bundy’s acquittal of taking over a Government building and threatening violence. The reason presumably because the government couldn’t prove intent, despite the hours of footage where they claimed a willingness to sacrifice their lives! They were armed. This was not a sit in at a lunch counter, folks! Along the bottom of your mind’s vision put a small ribbon of text running across the screen describing Native American’s protesting a pipeline that could pollute their homes and violate sacred burial grounds. Post on FaceBook alternate team names as racist as the Cleveland Indians big-toothed logo – like: New York Jews, The Philadelphia Blacks, The California Chinks.

th-9
White light!

Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

To be called a shining light on a hill, our history is checkered where human rights are concerned. There’s no denying the continued existence of The Ugly American. The Declaration of Independence and Statue of Liberty, reinforced by a constitution describe a nation quite different from reality.

I try to understand our conservative breathern. I try to understand our Libertarians. I try to understand the religious right. I try to understand business. I try to understand needs that are broad based and applicable to all involved. I try to understand leadership and vision. I just don’t understand now. The sandbox we play in is too crowded and nobody understands freedom. Freedom is not doing what you want to do when you want to do it. It’s the negotiation between peoples to live in respect of others. The freedom to piss on somebody’s grave is not freedom – it’s simply disrespect.

We say one thing and do another.

Obama (and I shall miss him in the Oval Office) put this all in perspective and pursued a long view policy which was immediately criticized unfairly for being an “apology tour.” There was no apology tour! There is only the ignorant voices that fail to appreciate reality. The Arab or Muslim world did not just rise up and start killing infidels for the heck of it! We stole their land, their oil, their countries and put in puppet leaders who further corrupted the situation. We are reaping what we have sewn.

THE LONG VIEW IS NOT A WEAKNESS

The long view is not weakness; it’s a strength born of recognizing reality and the overwhelming need to deal with that reality. This long view is the essence of why a democratic republic is desirable – if, as Franklin is supposed to have said, “you can keep it.” An intelligent, informed electorate that aspires to a virtuous governing.

Obama has been virtuous and graceful, remarkably unflappable. You mention Cicero. The President and Cicero would have much in common. Politics and philosophy. I think Cicero put politics above philosophy; and, Obama is perhaps the opposite: philosophy over politics. He has no use for the smoozing style of politics. We’re hear to do a job for the good of all. Just get on with it. He doesn’t need six months of dithering over coffee and donuts, or beer and pretzels.

How many times do we hear from athletes that one must man-up to their mistakes. I’ve heard people proclaim the litany of “manning-up” all my life. We do it when it’s convenient; reality is not always convenient. The history of the USA, relative to what we say about it, has not always been conveniently explained.

th-11Chickens being driven to slaughter. White light splashes against the unsuspecting caged fowl…

The last image is a ribbon running at the bottom of my mind: J. Edgar Lives. Regrettably.

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The Root of All Calm

Cupboards slamming are always a reliable sign that Frank is angry. The coffee cup rattling in the sink is an equally accurate barometer. The only thing preventing the complete destruction of the phone in his hand was the tiny internal voice reminding him that his new smart phone cost over six-hundred dollars. The chill was instant. Money is the root of all calm.

He told himself this frequently.

Unfortunately, money to calm was not forthcoming. His dream result was evaporating before his eyes, and fearing a sudden relapse in mood, Frank placed the smart phone smartly on the counter; thereby, freeing him to entertain any sudden wellspring of emotion with less potential consequence. It was the only rational thought he processed in the past ten minutes, since checking his smartphone and discovering an email that smarted terribly.

“The pace is too fast, and we’re not certain he is conflicted or simply a screw-up,” ya-da, ya-da, ya-da. That hurt.

Frank sat down in a chair at the kitchen table, massaging the two-day growth of beard on his face. His oatmeal stared up at him, cold and coagulated like the stupid paste he used in grade school art projects. The oatmeal was a maddening clump of… Gunk! Much like his life! He could hold the bowl upside down, and it still wouldn’t fall out! This was his life, a coagulated, formless clump of pasty gunk. He considered turning the bowl upside down to see whether the nasty gunk would fall out. Maybe if the bowl struck the wall with some velocity…The same tiny voice whispered in his brain, Anger is irrational.

Oh, that’s helpful.

“What’s the matter with you?” Leslie strolled into the kitchen her arms loaded with laundry. She glanced into the sink and sighed heavily. “You broke another one. Is it really necessary-“

“I’m sorry.”

Leslie said something, a statement that cried for vocalization, begged airing; but, was muted, or garbled on purpose. She dumped the dirty clothes on the floor and pulled open the laundry doors, and began loading the washer.

“Are you going to tell me; or, just sit there sloshing self-pity… and breaking coffee mugs?”

“I’m entitled-“

“No you’re not.”

“What? You too?”

“I assume you heard from the agent.”

Frank’s reply was limited to standing abruptly and grabbing the water kettle from the range top and filling it with water, the whole pot.

“Just how much tea are you going to make?”

“I’m going to boil this water for some tea and the remaining water I’ll pour over my head.”

“My, aren’t we dramatic.”

“They told me I was so close, Lez. Close! There were only a few inconsistencies that needed to be addressed, probably the result of all the revisions. But, this evaluation sounds like it’s back to square one! They want me to hire an editor to fix the issues.”

“That’s what they do. What are you going to do?”

“After I pour the boiling water over my head?”

“You’ve invested a lot of time in this project. Don’t you want to see it through?”

It is true. Frank spent an enormous amount of time on his opus these past three years, eight revisions in three years. There were months of fevered work, often interrupted by days or even weeks of blockage; or, as Frank was prone to explain, a period of incubation. A new burst of energy produced yet another frenzied push, culminating in the anxiety of shoving the manuscript into a Post Office If It Fits It Ships box.

Waiting followed. The watched clock syndrome, or watched pot that never boils followed the ubiquitous email: Your manuscript arrived today, and we eagerly await reviewing your work. It was during this time that Frank put his life on hold. He wrote almost nothing, except letters, emails, or cards that Leslie passed off to him because You are the writer.

“I wondered about that. There were times when I wanted the story to slow down, you know.”

“Maybe I not the writer we all think I am. This might be one long shaggy dog story about ineptitude. Tilting at windmills. Chasing rainbows.”

“I think it’s good. I’d buy it now and feel comfortable telling others to buy it. The race is not always to the swift.”

“Self-help proverbs are no help! If it’s a race, then the race belongs to the swift. There will be no gold medals handed out at the Olympics this summer for the slowest time in the one-hundred yard dash, or the two-hundred yard medley. Those, those, proverbs or aphorisms are maddening, cloying, and simply unrealistic. It’s not a race, life is not a race; it’s achievement. I’m not achieving! Apparently.”

“It’s a metaphor-“

“The tortoise won because the Hare was stupid! In any race that really mattered, the tortoise loses, big time.”

“Don’t dumb it down.”

The kettle began screaming for attention. Frank and Leslie both stood waiting. Frank finally made himself some tea.”

“What are you going to do?”

He shrugged. A writer needs to communicate. These were worrisome times for Frank, because he simply wanted to shut down. Say nothing, write nothing, think nothing. This was one of those times, and it was maddening for him no doubt.

Later that night, Frank lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Leslie finally slipped into bed, pausing a moment as if unsure whether Frank was awake or asleep. She slid in a little further than was her custom, and put her hand on Frank’s chest.

“Frank?”

Frank simply sighed.

Leslie pulled her hand down Frank’s chest to his stomach where she paused. Impulse let her hand travel further south massaging an apparent sleeping member. There was only a modest response to her manipulation, and she increased her attention. But after several minutes and only the most modest of response she pulled her hand back.

“What are you doing?”

“Apparently, not enough.”

Frank smiled in the dark; she could see his white teeth in the dark. A cheshire cat smile, and she laughed.

Frank rolled over to Leslie. “Don’t stop now. The race is not always to the swift.”

“How convenient.”

“Yeah.”

Back to Author

Extra Innings

Not much had changed; that alone was amazing. Sure, things were fuller, greener, a trifle larger; but everything still looked like home. My memory’s fullness was enhanced by the fullness of years.

My car paused at the foot of the driveway as I scanned the entire property and recalled fond memories of growing up while playing basketball in the garage, baseball in the street, and bike-riding endless loops around the neighborhood till my butt was raw. I sat here in the middle of the street because traffic was not heavy; residential was an apt description.

Duty called, and I pressed the accelerator, guiding the car up the slope and past the side of the house to the back door. Mom had passed some years ago, and Dad lived a solitary life waiting for his time, I guess. That bothered me and my brother. Neither of us lived in state, and work did not allow many opportunities to travel.

Eighty-two years is a goodly number of years, and my feeling was that he needed a downsizing for reasons of finances and health. Look at the yard! I got out of the car and looked at the overgrown backyard. Mom’s once pristine gardens were wild and woolly! She’s probably marching around heaven slamming cupboard doors just as she did in life when upset and unable to do anything about it. Yes, Dad needed some downsizing. I can only guess what the inside looks like!

“Well if it isn’t the prodigal son! Come on in, Jimmy! Good to see you, son.” Dad was standing there with the door pulled open. I smiled and stepped into the breakfast room. We exchanged a man-hug with the requisite manly slaps on the back. Machismo, you know!

Looking over his back to the table beyond I saw a cluttered mess of breakfast dishes, legal pad, pens, and newspapers. The bloated Cheerios sitting in a dry bowl concerned me most. There was no way of knowing how long the bowl had been there.

“To what do I owe the honor of your visit?”

I’ve been in New York for a few days on business and thought I would stop in for a day to see what’s happening on the home-front.”

“Same-ol’ same ‘ol! You’re looking fit!”

“Thanks, Dad. I thought we might go out for lunch and ah, talk.”

“Now that’s a preamble if I ever heard one.”

“Come on, Pop! I just wanted to make our visit a little special, you know-”

The phone rang, and Dad scrambled to the breakfast counter and the handset.

“Hello?” Dad turned to the window and walked to it talking on the phone. “Yeah. That bad? My son is visiting, but I’ll just bring him with me… Yeah, on the way.” He hung up the phone.

“Gotta bad accident down by Don and Bob’s. Three cars and request for a jaws of death. Come on, you can take me.”

Before I could say anything, Dad started for the door, and then did an about-face causing a collision in the vestibule.

“Sorry, almost forgot my cards.” He hustled into the house and returned moments later stuffing cards in his pocket.”

“What cards are those?”

“Come on, son! We’re burning daylight.” Before I could respond he was out the door and into my car.”

I smiled. “Sure thing, JOHN!”

At my Dad’s insistence, we barreled down Bay Road to Lake Road. “You remember Don and Bob’s I assume?”

“Dad!” Mikey, my brother, and I grew up at Don and Bob’s. They had the best hot sauce for their hamburgers, bar none! And the french fries were simply heaven.

“Well step on it! I gotta do the jaws thingy.”

Jaws thingy? I couldn’t bring myself to question it, so I sped out of the driveway and drove out to Bay Road while also trying to make some headway with my goal of downsizing Dad.

“I’ve been thinking, Dad. The yard may not be huge, but it does require some care -”

“I’ll get to it, son. Jeez, just like your mother! I ain’t hiring some no-account Guinea pizza boy to manicure my lawn! I’ll get to it.”

“You need help with housekeeping, too. There’s no telling how many days those bloated Cheerios have been on the table. And your clothes! Did you put them through a wrinkle machine!”

“This morning! I poured the Cheerios this morning! And, these are my work clothes. Excuse me GQ! Now step on it, son. Lives are at stake.”

Approaching the divided highway at Don and Bob’s, I saw several police cars, lights flashing frantically. “This is an accident, Dad!”

“What do you think I’m talking about?”

I pulled behind the last cop car. “But what are you-”

“Volunteer rescue squad!” He didn’t close the door but broke into a run. That’s what I said, a run at eighty-two years of age!”

I watched in amazement as he jumped among a group of men half his age and taking the jaws of death cut open the door in a matter of moments. Doctors scrambled into the car and removed the man and women, placing them in an ambulance.

Dad removed himself from the crush of excitement and was talking to a group of people. I got out of the car and started walking to the crowd while my father talked with a mature woman, wrote something on the back of the card, and gave it to her.

I finally caught up to him as he headed back to the car. He pulled out his phone and answered it.

“Dad! Over he-”

“Excuse me, sir.” A uniformed cop stepped in my path. “Please stand back; this is an accident scene.”

“That’s my father.”

The cop turned around.

Johnny! Ol’ Johnny Rogue Johnston?”

“Johnny What Johnston?”

Dad swept past me, grabbing my arm. “Come on, son. Gotta run.” His other arm shot up to the sky in a wave. “Hey, Fred! How are them rug rats? Grown up any?”

Dad didn’t wait for a reply from anyone. Ever. Despite the situation. This was all too familiar.

He was now rapping on the windshield urging me to move my ass in a New York moment!

I got in and turned on the car, exhausted from watching and trying to figure out Dad!

“Now what?”

“Home!” he trumpeted. Gotta change clothes and get some more cards. Needed at the Thompson Funeral Home tonight-”

“Funeral Home? What the hel-”

“I work there. They need greeters and folks to play host during funerals. A guy’s gotta make a living! And it beats Wal•Mart all to hell!”

“But a funeral home! Daaaaaad!”

“You ever taken a close look at the women in Walmart?”

“This is ridiculous. You’re 82 years old, and you need to step it down-”

“Step what down? Life? The hell with that! I’m 82, and at my age the only way I meet females, suitable females, is at accidents and funerals. Why do you think I have these cards?”

He handed me a card: “Johnny ‘Extra-Innings’ Johnston, retired, widowed, self-sufficient, and far from finished.”

…Ok… I was wrong, OK. I was stupidly wrong. Damn. Coming face to face with your own failure is devastating!

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Pimento Cheese and the Duke

“It’s a very simple question, son. Have you tried it?”

man-under-car-440The old man could be maddening with his off-topic filibustering. Even worse, he never seemed to emerge from beneath the car he was under. The old man was a mechanic; the station had been in business for thirty-some years. His father had seen more than his share of mechanical evolution. He didn’t understand most of today’s cars, powered as they are by computerized systems. Fortunately for Ernie, there were enough of the old-fashioned pre-computer cars running around and requiring maintenance because it was cheaper to fix the old geezers than to mortgage your future on a new hybrid miracle-mystical battery powered street-rod of tomorrow. Sometimes it’s smart to be behind. Ernie often said he was happy to be on the edge of the economy instead of the bleeding edge of business.

“What does that have to do with my dilemma?”

“Everything and nothing, I imagine.” Something metallic clattered to the ground. “Damnit!”

“You all right?” No sound came from beneath the car. “Dad? Are you all right?”

The dolly trundled suddenly from beneath the car revealing Ernie on his back, looking straight up at his son. “I’m fine! These stupid hands just don’t always work right. What do they call it? Motor skills? Yeah. Well, it’s a fine thing for a mechanic to lose his motor skills.” The dolly retreated beneath the car, followed by the usual sound of metal on metal tinkering away at something.

Jess wanted to laugh at his Father’s attempt to diffuse the moment. He had a way of doing that. In reality, it might be a talent. Jess was too tired and frustrated to talk about pimento cheese sandwiches, no matter how good! They could be heavenly; but, it wouldn’t be of any comfort.

“No I didn’t taste it. I’m not hungry. I got too much on my mind.”

“Yawght to. Damndest thing. She substituted cream cheese in her pimento cheese, and it is to die for! Nearly melts in yer mouth. I ate two sandwiches for lunch. Mother, I says, you ought to patent this concoction, make a fortune, like Famous Amos Cookies.”

The thud was sharp and brutal. What followed was the jangle of metal on concrete as any number of hand tools bounced, skidded, or tumbled across the concrete floor with a penetratingly jarring punch of colliding metal, too. When it was finally quiet, Ernie rolled out from beneath the auto. Ernie stood up and looked around.

“What happened?”

“Absolutely nothing! The story of my life. I have lived thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have
told me nothing, and probably cannot tell my anything, to the purpose. Excuse me, you just told me a secret ingredient to Mom’s pimento cheese sandwich.”

“It’s good, and you should try it.” Ernie bent over and slid onto the dolly. Once down, he walked himself back under the car and began working again. “So that’s what your pissed about-”

“The deck is stacked against me, Dad! No matter where I go, what I try to do, there’s some gate keeper telling me I’m not eligible for access!”

“I’ve been trying to give you advice most of my days. I guess you think there’s some kind of teacher’s manual comes with this business, and the answers are all in the back of the book. I don’t know what the answer is for you, but I’ve spent most of my time trying to tell you what the answer is for me.”

“Pimento cheese sandwiches.”

“With cream cheese instead of cottage cheese! Now that’s some living, son.”

“It’s not what I want.”

“And that’s ok, too. But, if what you want is one of them – whaddyacallit – Reuben sandwiches? Well, I don’t have no clue how to construct one of them kids. I don’t even know what all’s in it! You think you’re frustrated? Ever stop to consider your mother and me? Ever wonder what we think, wish, or hope?”

Jess folded his arms and leaned against the car; his head bowed.

“You wanna know what frustrates me? To have the quality of my speaking judged by the quality of your listening. You’re continually listening from somewhere I don’t recognize.”

Jess nodded his head and forced his weight up over his feet, away from the car. He slowly walked out from the shaded garage bay and into the sun. Ernie looked over his shoulder to see his son framed in the bay opening, standing in the bright sun.

“Jesse!”

Jess stopped and turned back. “Yeah, Dad?”

“Wait up.”

Ernie rolled the dolly from beneath the car and stood up. He looked hard at his son.

“What is it, Dad? I gotta go.”

“I want you to listen closely to what I’m gonna say, because I don’t know how else to say it, son. My speaking and your listening are often two different gears that don’t seem to mesh, you know.

Jess stood very still in the sunlight; Ernie shifted his weight a little, standing in the cool shade of the garage bay.

“I was brought up on John Wayne movies, you know.”

Jess sighed and let his head sink.

“But there was only one movie ever puzzled me, and you remind me of that movie right now. The Duke was hunting a captive niece, and he brought her home finally. At the end of the picture – and I pretty well figured out the Duke was the old west – he stood in the sun and couldn’t come inside because his world was elsewhere.”

“The Searchers, Dad.”

“Yeah, might be. Anyway you’re framed in this garage bay opening and I’m feeling the opposite. I’m stuck in here and can’t get out.”

The mystery of connections is that they are always a surprise, like now.

“I know you’re in a hurry. I was hoping you could stay a little longer and share one of your mother’s pimento cheese sandwiches. They really are to die for!”

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The Blovian Experience

th-2Blovian, North Carolina, is a small town bounded by speed limits of fifty-five miles per hour both north and south of its own forty-five mile per hour limit. There are no traffic lights and there is but one significant crossroad within the three-quarter mile Blovian township. The town’s police force was recently doubled, from one patrolman to two… and the second officer drove an unmarked black SUV. It didn’t take long for the unmarked car to become marked by the town’s two-thousand inhabitants. The officer’s aggressive ticketing of speeders earned him a nickname, Barney.

Blovian is laid out in square blocks on either side of the four-lane highway. There are only a few businesses located on the highway and almost no homes. The residential area expands east and west of the highway. Two quick stops, a post office, one bank (with abbreviated hours), a Taco Restaurant, a diner, Family Dollar, real-estate company, antique stores, and one small textile plant are among the businesses calling the Blovian highway home.

The street names of Chicago, Baltimore, New England, Philadelphia, with cross streets named for trees or fruits suggest a location other than the rural south of North Carolina. The names speak to aspirations earlier doused by the economic realities of Blovian’s developing neighbors. The healing power of mineral springs lost their attraction quickly, and the promise of a healthy future never materialized. Still, the town has a certain charm embraced by its inhabitants. The town was designed as a resort with expansion planned and prepared. The anticipated migration of Yankees, happened further north and west – just twenty minutes away. Things happen. Plans unfulfilled; dreams abandoned. People sometimes blame themselves; when, the reality is serendipity rules the day. Literally, geography is destiny. Bill and Emma don’t really understand destiny, they do appreciate responsibility.

Bill pulled his SUV off the road and onto the grassed median, parking behind a dogwood, and juniper bush. He flipped the switch on his radar and recording devices.

Come to papa…

His cell phone jingled and flashed Momma Bear on the screen. He slid the touch screen slider to accept.

“Hey sexy! This is Papa Bear, what can I do you for-“

“Oh, hush! Please. I’m in no mood!”

“What’s up, sugar.”

“Gonna be one of those days, I can tell. The natives are restless and it’s barely 9am. Miss Ellie has crapped on the floor, Father Richard is performing exorcisms over his cereal, and Jane… Well, Jane is being Jane… berating everyone and screaming for everyone to shut up and go home. And Linda, well Linda is just walking around in her usual fog, asking everyone ‘What’s wrong?’”

“Sounds pretty normal to me. Look, I’m camped on the median waiting for all the meat-head drivers who can’t read signs, babe. Gotta run. Forty-five miles per hour is the speed limit for a reason. Why do they think those signs are for everyone but them?”

“Listen to me, Bill-“

“Oh, shit. Here’s a fifty-one. Chevy Impala. Sorry Emma but I got to get on my horse-“

“Oh wait a minute, Bill. Let it be his lucky day-“

“Emma! I gotta-“

“What’s it gonna matter if one gets away? You can’t get’m all anyway. I gotta talk-”

“What’s it gonna matter? Are you serious-“

“There might not be time later. I’ve still got homework to do before my class tonight.”

Bill dropped the phone away from his ear and watched the Impala speed on up the hill. After a moment of repeated “Bill! Bill! Listen to me!” he raised the phone to his ear, while mentally noting a black BMW with dark windows pulling off the road. The windows probably exceeded the legally allowed tint.

“Bill, are you there? Bill?”

“I’m here.”

“I’ve only got a few minutes. Listen to me, there are some things I need for you to do. I’ve got to cover this house until four this afternoon and then go to class, the homework for which I have not finished.”

“There’s plenty of time. Those old people just bounce around in the rooms-“

“What do you know about what goes on here? Yeah but I have to do all the work others don’t do. I swear these girls are so far up Claudine’s butt. And I still have to do the dishes, laundry, clean up the kitchen, and all the med-tech stuff-“

“Babe, those folks are just waiting to check out anyway. I’m trying to prevent people from checking out! I’ve got work to do too, sugar plum!”

“Somebody’s got to help with these other things too, baby! You gotta stop by Harris Teeter and pick up a rotisserie chicken and bread for supper, Kelly and Kylie won’t be home from school until 5, I’ll be there by 6:30. Make a salad and heat some bread for the chicken. Oh, and deposit your check before noon.”

“Yeah.”

“Well don’t sound so enthused!”

“I got a community to protect, Sugar! I’m sick and tired of these people ignoring the posted speed limit, as though they don’t know speed kills!”

“Oh come on, Bill. Cool it. You get so hyped-“

“And you don’t? You’re always complaining that no one does their job-“

“That’s because they don’t!”

“Well, no one pays attention to the rules of the road, either! We have speed limits for a reason!”

“Ok, Barney! And please deposit your check before noon!“

“Well, you’re always complaining about the negligence of others and then the stupid care-givers that get in the way and actually do more harm than good-“

Bill and Emma argued a little longer before Emma simply ticked off her to-do list for Bill yet again and hung up. Bill worked his speed gun with a vengeance, and within two hours time, he pulled two pickups, three sedans, a Boxster, and a tractor trailer. Speed was not going to kill this day. The Boxster could surely afford to pay.

Emma spent her morning lecturing everyone who came through the building on how to handle the Alzheimer’s patient and the dietary needs of each person. Then, she grabbed her computer and sat out on the patio doing her homework for her nursing class tonight. She had to wipe off the table littered with cigarette butts. She cursed the foolish people still smoking after all these years of warning and advertising focused on the hazards of smoking.

These folks are in the healthcare industry, too. If I ruled the world…

Bill tucked his citation book inside his jacket pocket, pleased with his work this morning. When he did he discovered the check that needed to be deposited before noon, when the bank closed. Fortunately, everything was close by in Blovian. He pulled into the bank with fifteen minutes to spare.

The doors pushed open as he entered but that’s all he remembered until his phone rang ten minutes later. He raised the phone to his ear.

“Sgt, Wilson, speaking.”

“Bill! You gotta help me!”

“Help?”

“Linda is gone. I can’t find her? I was doing my homework and had to pee. When I came in I didn’t see her in the living room, so I checked her room and she’s gone!”

“Where could she go?”

“Hell if I know! But she’s gone…. Bill?”

Emma could hear heavy breathing on the phone.

“Bill? Are you there?”

The only sound Emma heard was a choked sob.

“What’s wrong? Bill?”

The voice was halting and slowed.

“They’re dead, Emma. Anita and Bethany. I walked into the bank, and they were lying on the floor-“

“Oh, my God. No.”

“Anita was still alive when I came in. She was gurgling blood and said two words, “Black BMW.”

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