Thursday, August 27, 2015

Too Dreadful for Words

Alison Parker at the moment of her death
We got guns
They got guns
All God's children got guns....
The Marx Brothers
from the 1932 film, "Duck Soup"
When was the last time someone was murdered in this country on live television? You have to go all the way back to November 24, 1963, when Lee Harvey Oswald was gunned down by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters. To the best of my knowledge, it hasn't happened since. Given this nation's perverted obsession with violence, that's surprising. It'll happen again, though, and before long. Of that I have no doubt. Pretty sad, huh? Pretty sad indeed.
As traumatic as Oswald's killing was for the country over half a century ago, he was not a very sympathetic figure to be sure. What happened yesterday morning in Roanoke, Virginia was different. 
The naiveté of some of the more empty-headed talking heads was something to behold; in fact, it stunned the senses. Their rhetorical question went as follows:
Would this latest national trauma, viewed by tens-of-millions of Americans, finally compel the politicians in Washington to do what should have been done decades ago by bringing into being sensible gun-control legislation?
I answered that question with lightening speed:
They smile no more
Nearly three years ago, twenty innocent little girls and boys were slaughtered  - like rabid swine - inside their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Also murdered on that day were six women whose job it was to educate and protect them. If that blood-curdling tragedy was not enough to influence Congress to do what is morally right, do these silly people seriously believe that the bodies of two dead television journalists will be enough to get them to see the light? Are they kidding me?
Usually tragedies of this magnitude fail to shock me. When the first reports of the Sandy Hook massacre came through the airwaves on the morning of December 14, 2012, so help me I barely batted an eye:
"Oh, it's happened again, huh?" I said out loud, "And so close to Christmastime. Ho, ho, fucking ho."
As I said at the time, I long-ago adjusted to living in a nation where this type of unspeakable atrocity is as common as a morning moon in the western sky. You should adjust to it, too. It makes coping a helluva lot easier, believe me. Vodka helps, too - LOTS OF IT.
I have to tell you, though, that while this latest trauma in the American train-wreck didn't surprise me all that much, the images of the murders of  reporter Alison Parker, and cameraman Adam Ward were a horrifying thing to be an eyewitness to - and make no mistake about it, we are all eyewitnesses. Most of the news outlets - to their eternal credit - refused to broadcast the carnage. It did, however, make its way onto YouTube and Twitter. I saw the images. Watching the horror on Alison's beautiful face, hearing her screams of "Oh my God!", was too disturbing and depressing to try to put into words; I'm not even going to try. I'm sorry, I'm just not that articulate.
Alison Parker and Adam Ward
I won't mention the name of the demented asshole who murdered Alison and Adam. The cold-blooded bastard was obviously seeking attention on a national scale. Well, he's not going to get it here. Like the psychopathic little nerd who killed twenty-six innocent human beings in Newtown in December of 2012, he shot himself before he could be bought to justice. That's probably just as well. We want to hear his names - he had two of them - no more. Let us, instead, remember and honor the names of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. We owe them that much at least.
The person who committed this latest atrocity was able to purchase the weapon he used to kill these two innocents with relative ease. If nothing else, that nasty little fact should give the rest of us something to ponder.

Earlier today, a very nice woman who works as a physical therapist in the health care facility where my mother lives, expressed to me her opinion that, as a licensed, law-abiding gun owner, she would think it unfair were she suddenly denied the right to protect herself. I had to agree with her. But she went through the trouble of going through the process of licensing and  registration - not to mention instruction on how to use the firearm now in her possession. She also lives in New York State. The laws here are pretty sensible as far as guns are concerned. 

The problem is simply that, whenever someone is murdered with an illegal weapon in this part of he country, the gun-in-question is almost always traced to the south, where it was originally purchased and transported up I-95 (or "The Iron Highway" as it is euphemistically referred to by law enforcement) to be sold on the streets of our big (and not-so-big) cities. In the shit-for-brains regions of the United States, obtaining a gun is about as easy as obtaining a garden hose.

This is the reality of life in America. This is the way it's going to be for now on: Mountains of bodies, rivers of blood, too many broken hearts to assess. Have you yet had someone you knew and loved murdered by some homicidal jackass with a gun? If the answer to that question is "no", I'll make a prediction now that you'll no doubt find quite disturbing: You will. In the not-too-distant future the law of averages will guarantee it. Our gun culture is compounding by the year - and it won't be going away anytime soon. Now, doesn't that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside?

And. please, don't give me the NRA's argument (and if they haven't used it yet, they will - count on it) that if only Alison and Adam had the sense to arm themselves, they would be alive today.

Alison Parker and Adam Ward were focusing on their jobs. They were ambushed. They were doomed. They never had a chance.
Don't hold your breath waiting for change to come. That's not going to happen - not now, not ever. Every Republican in Washington (and way too many Democrats to count) are in the pocket of the National Rifle Association. I imagine the only thing that would reverse this intolerable situation would be an epidemic     of random shootings of our elected representatives (with a handful of NRA spokesmen thrown in just for shits and giggles). That would change things overnight - you'd better believe it, Bubba! But it would be wrong for me to hope for such a deplorable trend in our national affairs - and I'm not even gonna go there. I'm just trying to make what I feel to be a very valid point. And besides, violence isn't my thing. It isn't your thing either, I'm sure....I hope.
I am going to end this piece by repeating (for the one-hundredth time it seems) a paragraph I wrote on the morning after Newtown. Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but it needs to be said yet again....and again and again and again....
The NRA types love to jabber away - like diseased little myna birds - about "freedom". We need to come to grips with some unpleasant realities. A society that lives in dreaded, mortal terror, wondering when and where the next massacre of innocents will take place, may indeed be many things - no argument there; "Free"  they are not. Let's just stop kidding ourselves here and now, okay?

And while you're at it, get used to living in a nation in ruins.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

by John Lennon

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed and hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world....

A really pretty anthem pleading for love and understanding by one of the more celebrated victims of gun violence in America.  He's gone and he's not coming back.

Please, we need to take a long, hard look at what gun violence does to the people we love:
John Lennon, New York City morgue, December 1980
AFTERTHOUGHT, 8/28/15, 8:50 AM:
The headline in this morning's New York Daily News says it all:
Since Newtown, 84,523 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.
We cry. We get angry. We demand action.
Then we forget....Until the next time.
Pretty sad indeed....

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Dems' Dilemma

 "I don't belong to any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."

Will Rogers
It must be awfully confusing being a registered Democrat these days. I used to be one and I do indeed recall being quite confused and quite often. This might sound like heresy to those of you who (like yours truly) lean a tad to the left, and I know that many of us dream of following the ear-shattering precedent of the first African American president being followed into office by the first woman president. It's a beautiful dream, and maybe it could possibly happen in 2016. My only problem with that little scenario is that Hillary Clinton is not that woman. The Democrats are making a huge mistake if they decide to go down that road. Too much is at stake in 2016 to risk handing the Executive Mansion over to a party that has lost is reason.
I don't mean to imply that she would not make a fine president. The fact is I just don't know the answer to that question. This much, however, I can say beyond a molecule of doubt: she's a lousy candidate. As far as the email/server scandal goes, while there may be little (if any) evidence of criminal intent, there is a whole lot of proof  that she is reckless - arrogant even. The Democrats - professional and casual - may really want to think this through.

As has been noted previously on this site, the last time one Democratic administration succeeded another Democratic administration on Inauguration Day was on March the fourth, 1857 when Franklin Pierce tossed the keys to the White House to miserable old James Buchanan. It hasn't happened since. It could happen finally in 2016. In fact, given the quality of the of the current crop of circus clowns who are passing themselves off these days as Republican wannabes, the possibility of a Democratic victory next year is very good. If one or more of the losing candidates decides, in a furious hissy fit, to launch to launch a fourth (or even a fifth)  party uprising (Donald Trump and Ted Cruz being likely possibilities) it won't matter whom the Democrats nominate. The election is in the bag in that case. That might very well happen; then again, it might not. Why risk it all on Hillary Clinton? If the Democrats are smart (the jury's still out on that one) they'll be very careful what they wish for.

Let's look at our options, shall we?

Martin O'Malley
Martin O'Malley: Governor of my ancestral state of Maryland. You didn't even know he was running, right? Don't feel bad, most people don't. Although he doesn't seem to inspire much enthusiasm, that could possibly be because the media seems to be giving him the cold shoulder. He's an intelligent fellow and progressive where it counts. Besides, we haven't had a president named Martin since Van Buren in 1841. We're way overdue, don'cha think?

 Lincoln Chafee: Again, a candidate that no one realizes is running (Even I forgot he was a candidate until I was reminded this morning - and I'm supposed to be on top of these things!)  He was probably the last surviving "liberal" Republican before they became extinct. He got out of the GOP a number of years ago while the getting was good and became a Democrat. George W. Bush was apparently the last straw for this guy.

Bernie Sanders: What can I say about Bernie? The man had me at "hello". So far, his campaign appearances are drawing the biggest crowds. Is it because he's saying the things that need to be said - things that no other candidate is even thinking? I think that there might be something to that. Feel the Bern.

Joey and Lizzie
And it's not too late for Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren to throw their respective hats into the ring. Old Joe would probably not be a great candidate, but I've no doubt that he would make an excellent president. As for Liz, she leaves me speechless - the most inspiring progressive to come down the line since Eleanor Roosevelt.

I'm going to be profanely frank with you: If the Republicans ever again seize control of the executive and the legislative branches of our government, if they're allowed one more appointment to the Supreme Court - this country is completely fucked. Look what happened the last time. I just don't believe we need to go there again. I'm being understated, in case you haven't noticed. Hillary Clinton is quite beatable; all of the potential Democratic hopefuls are I suppose. The only hopeful news on the horizon is the non-ignorable fact that the GOP is in the progress of imploding. Thank heaven for these little silver linings.

Will the party of FDR start exploring their options? I wouldn't bet the farm on it.  The Dems have this positive genius for taking a goblet of fine champagne, an turning it overnight into a worthless cup of donkey piss. Have you ever noticed that? 

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Pete, Jeff and Tom Degan

The painting at the top of this piece was done back in the Idiotic Eighties by my brother Jeff Degan. Every talent that I possess he can match and then some. I can barely draw a straight line. It is probably the one greatest regret of my life. I'd give anything to be able to paint.


The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
by William L. Shirer

If this isn't the longest thing I've ever read, it's damned-near close to it: 1,250 pages. William L. Shirer was an American newspaper correspondent stationed in Berlin in the late   twenties and mid-thirties. In 1935 he was hired by Edward R. Murrow to cover Germany for CBS News, and remained at his post until December of 1941 when Hitler declared war on the United States. This book, published in 1960, was fifteen years in the making. It's a difficult read - not in one's ability to comprehend it - but in the meticulous way Shirer documents the atrocities inflicted upon this planet by these hideous bastards. Here is how I would summarize The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich:

The "rise" part is pretty depressing, but that "fall" bit is just oodles of fun to read about.


Didn't It Rain
by Evelyn Freeman

I was driving home from Monticello, NY yesterday afternoon, having attended a funeral of a friend, when what has to be the most cranking, foot-stomping gospel recording I've ever heard in my life came over W-FMU. I damn-near lost control of the vehicle.

This was recorded in 1962. CAN I GET A WITNESS!!!

Friday, August 14, 2015

what the....BERNIE SANDERS??

"We have a collapsing middle class. We have more wealth and income inequality today than we've had since the 1920s....And what big money can do is put an unbelievable amount of TV and radio ads out there to deflect attention from the real issues facing the American people."
-Bernie Sanders
Bernie is gaining. His rallies are attracting larger and more enthusiastic crowds than any other candidate currently seeking the nomination of either party. People are responding; they're moved by the obvious sincerity and sheer chutzpa of this Brooklyn-born senator who represents the Green Mountain state. They're feeling "the Bern". Finally, a "main stream" politician is saying the things that need to be said - that are begging to be said. He is speaking the unthinkable. Worst of all (or "best of all" for my sinister purposes) Bernie Sanders is driving the Democratic Party establishment crazy. The guy is even packing them in in Louisiana....LOUISI-FREAKIN'-ANA!
As if that weren't bad ("good") enough, polls among the voters of New Hampshire, a crucial primary state, show him leading Hillary Clinton decisively. This latest surge in Bernie's numbers got me to thinking that something smelled extraordinarily fishy earlier this week when a rally he was attending was interrupted by two women who stormed the podium, seizing the microphones and shouting that black lives matter. Of course they matter. Certainly they matter to Bernie Sanders, a man who was actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement before these gals were born - at a time when Hillary Clinton was a "Goldwater Girl". On this point, as on so many others, his credentials are unimpeachable.  Of all the candidates running at the moment (I've lost count of the number) why the hell would they pick on Bernie? The whole affair looked decidedly suspicious to me. I'll be interested to see if there's a pattern that develops in the foreseeable future. Gee, who could possibly have a motive for tarnishing his image among African Americans? That's all I'm saying on the subject - for the time being. We'll leave it at that.
The consensus of opinion, at least among professional Democrats, is that a somewhat gruff Jewish guy with an Al Smith-like, New York accent - whose suits are obviously purchased off the rack - cannot possibly win the White House.
Oh, please.
This was the same rationale that I heard eight years ago when an obscure, black politician from Chicago with the strange name "Barack Obama" had the audacity to announce his candidacy for the presidency. They said then that it would never happen. Even Bill Clinton, "the first black president" (as he was referred to pre-Obama) implied as much. When Barack was swamping Hillary silly  in the 2008 primaries, Bill said it meant nothing, noting that even Jessie Jackson managed to pic up a state-or-two on Super Tuesday in 1988. Obama changed everything.
"If a financial institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist."

The eventual Republican nominee will call Bernie a "radical". If he gets the nod by the Dems (still wishful thinking, I concede) that label will more-than-likely be the only true statement to come out of the GOP during the entire campaign of 2016. Bernie Sanders is a radical in the exact same way Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a radical. At a time in history where radical change in an insanely corrupt system is desperately needed, that's the type of person we need heading the executive branch of the government. What we don't need are Wall Street stooges like Hillary Clinton - or any Republican you care to mention.

This is many things. Rocket science it is not.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Frank - The Voice
by James Kaplan

I've said before of Frank Sinatra that while I wouldn't give you two cents for the man, I just can't say enough about the artist.  Since finishing this excellent biography of the Frankster this morning, my opinion has been revised somewhat. Sure, Frank could be a schmuck - and Kaplan doesn't attempt to hide his substantial flaw's - but he also digs deep into the man's psyche in an attempt to explore what made him into (first, the person, and secondly, the artist) he became. There is a deep connection between the two. This is the best non-fiction book I've read since A. Scott Berg's "Lindberg". I understand Frankie a little better this morning. I even like him! Go figure.

Here's a link to order it:

"Frank: The Voice" only covers the years 1915 to 1954, roughly half his life. I assume Volume Two is in the works; I certainly hope so.


I Think of You
by Frank Sinatra

From  his first stereo recording in the spring of 1957. This is Frank on the mountaintop.

Friday, August 07, 2015

POST #600: Random Observations

With my niece, Marieke Pennings, August 1, 2015
Six-hundred postings in nine years, two months and five days: That is a milestone! Here are a series of disassociated thoughts and observations accumulated whilst merrily spreading rose pedals through the lunatic asylum that American politics has become in the early years of the twenty-first century. These really are extraordinary times.

1. The First Debates of the Season:
In case you happened to miss last night's latest installment of the Clown Car Show, all I can say with any degree of certainty is that - lacking a molecule of substance - it was at the very least amusing. Not to anyone's surprise, Donald Trump fell flat on his face minutes in when he refused to pledge not to mount a third-party uprising if he is not the nominee. As you might imagine, that didn't go over too well with the assembled throngs. The Donald's flash in the pan will start to wane very soon. It was a laugh riot watching poor old Jeb Bush walking the virtual tightrope between the mindless extremism of "the base" and the "moderation" that he understands is the only way he can be elected or nominated. Surprisingly, Marco Rubio was the only candidate of the ten who didn't appear to be pathetically out of his element - which is damnation by faint praise given the current appalling ideological state of that party. A very amusing evening indeed.
2. Hillary's Coronation

On the Democratic side, things appear to be almost as hopeless and rancid. The only candidate to come down the pike in generations does not have much of a chance of taking the nomination next year - or so it would seem to the pundits at large. But something is happening and they don't know what it is. Bernie Sanders has been packing them in wherever he goes, more so then any other candidate - Republican or Democrat; he's saying things that desperately need to be said,  telling people what they desperately need to hear, speaking the unspeakable. And these same people are listening; he's getting through to them, touching them in a way no politician has been able to do since Bobby Kennedy!

But we might as well face the unsettling reality that the big money in the game is on Wall Street stooge, Hillary Clinton In spite of the fact that, barring a major scandal (time will tell whether or not the e-mail controversy has legs) she's more than likely the next Democratic nominee.

I don't care. I'm supporting Bernie. I'm funny that way, you know?

3. What Happened?

This is a question that was posed in the first paragraph in Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times this morning:

This was, according to many commentators, going to be the election cycle Republicans got to show off their “deep bench.” The race for the nomination would include experienced governors like Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, fresh thinkers like Rand Paul, and attractive new players like Marco Rubio. Instead, however, Donald Trump leads the field by a wide margin. What happened?
Answer: The Koch Brothers happened. The Tea Party happened. George W. Bush happened. Dick Cheney happened. Clarence Thomas happened. Jerry Falwell happened. Ronald Reagan happened. That's no political party; that's an organized criminal enterprise.

4. So long, Jon

Immediately following the GOP spectacle, at 11 PM, Jon Stewart signed off after seventeen years as host of Comedy Central's Daily Show. I guess that going out on top is a good rule of thumb. The Beatles did that and left us eternally wanting more. But, like the Beatles' break-up forty-five years ago, this is going to take some getting used to. If I were him I would have waited until after he 2016 elections to depart; But I'm not him. I'm sure his reasons for leaving are sound. His exit from the scene is a tragedy for every political junkie and lover of satire in the country. Au revoire, Jonny!

Stewart is, without a doubt, the most influential comedian in the last fifty years - more so than Lenny Bruce Richard Pryor and George Carlin even - which is a feat in itself. His was one of the most informative programs on television - and the funniest. Poll after pathetic poll showed that the viewers of the Stuart program were better informed about current events and affairs-of-state than the viewers of Fox. What does that tell you?

And a comedian shall lead them.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


Here's a link to the Krugman piece referenced above:

It just doesn't get much better than Mr. Paul. Seriously.


by Cilla Black

She was born Pricilla White - until a newspaper typo inspired her to change it. Cilla Black was one of the shining lights of the mid-sixties British invasion. She passed away this week at the age of seventy-two. This is a remarkable film of her at EMI's Studio One in 1966, recording "Alfie".

They're starting to fade away.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

The Donald Comes Home to Roost

As I've said on this site too many times to count, as indescribably funny as the 2012 GOP primary season was, 2016 is going to be even funnier - we're talkin' side-splitting here. Here we are, just five months shy of the Iowa Caucus, and the unintentional laughs emanating from these accidental comedians seem to be in limitless supply. We're now just a couple of days away from the first debate of the 2016 campaign. I'm not gong to miss that one for anything! The utter implosion of the Republican Party really is a delightfully funny thing to behold. Somebody pinch me.
And it gets stranger by the minute: As of this date, the frontrunner in all the polling of potential Republican primary voters is Donald Trump. How could it have possibly come to this? What the hell is wrong with these people? When asked why they would prefer The Donald as their standard-bearer next year, a disturbingly large percentage of his "constituency" have the same, inexplicable answer:

"He's one of us."
As the late Jack Parr liked to say in his day, "I kid you not".
Der Gipper
The fact of the matter is, with so many candidates in the running (Is it seventeen? I've lost count), Trump is merely sucking up the most oxygen in the clown tent. I really don't believe that he will be nominated at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Then again,  that's what I said thirty-five years ago regarding a feeble-minded, washed-up "B" movie star; I said the same thing twenty years later about a half-witted frat boy from Crawford, Texas. I had better check myself. With the United States as seriously dumbed-down as it has become during the last four decades, it's probably a good rule of thumb not to dismiss the possibility of something that at one time would have been seen as impossible - or at least highly improbable. Expect the unexpected; foresee the unforeseeable. Yeah, American politics has gotten that weird. They're coming to take us away. HA! HA! HEE! HEE!

The biggest fear these days for the movers and shakers within the Grimy Old Party is that, once denied the nomination, Trump will mount a third-party uprising. This is a distinct possibility.  He has got the money to go all the way to November 2016 - and beyond - and what better way to "up his brand" so to speak. As an ex-presidential candidate, his speaking fees would go through the freaking roof - and remember there are just oodles of folks out there who would be stupid enough to pay a small fortune in order to watch the Donald - IN PERSON - waxing idiotic on any topic imaginable. Was this a great country or what!

And then there is the Ted Cruz factor, which could prove to be a major headache. Old Teddy Boy is just mean and spiteful enough to take his ball and go home if the score doesn't turn out in his favor. A fourth party uprising is always a possibility - especially if they end up nominating someone like Jebbie, who is viewed by the knuckleheads within the Tea Party as - get this - "too much of a liberal". Thursday evening is going to be very interesting; very interesting indeed.

Donald Trump has thrown a nasty little monkey wrench into the electoral process to be sure. A half century ago, no one in his or her right mind would have taken a Trump candidacy seriously. It's a different world. Trump is the price that the GOP is forcibly paying for spending the last forty years pandering to a constituency of extremists, imbeciles and crazy people. The chickens have come home to roost - with a vengeance, baby!

Did I mention that Thursday night is going to be very interesting?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Franklin and Winston
by John Meacham   
Although I purchased this book when it came out over a decade ago, I only got round to reading it this week. It is the story of the relatively brief, fortuitous and complicated friendship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. The outcome of the second world war was never the foregone conclusion that a lot of people believe it was. Humanity is indeed lucky that these two characters were able to get together to defeat Hitler and Nazism three-quarters of a century ago.
Jon Meacham is a first-rate historian.