Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mass Murder for Laughs


"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Wayne LaPierre

This is beautiful. Finally a mass killing we can all get a few giggles out of. 

It happened on Sunday in - OF ALL PLACES! - Waco, Texas. Three rival bike gangs (or "clubs" as they prefer to be called) found themselves at the right place at the wrong time. In this case, that place was an establishment called the Twin Peaks Diner. Someone said the wrong thing to the wrong person; or perhaps it was a long smoldering tiff that exploded at this particular instant. Whatever the case, before anyone could figure out what was happening, these nitwits were shooting at each other - in a public place where small children were present. When it was over, nine of these idiotic bastards lay dead. Isn't that something?

I not going to apologize for finding the humor in this latest bloodbath in America. In a shit-for-brains state like Texas (where carrying concealed weapons are not only legal, they're encouraged) this sort of "incident" should be expected from time-to-time. This wasn't Newtown, Connecticut, where twenty-six people, most of them children, were slaughtered in cold blood. These were grown men who apparently had their "manhood" put to the test. Scores need gonna be settled, Bubba! Some folks're gonna pay some dues! Right. 

Which brings me back to Wayne LaPierre's insanely idiotic quote about good guys with guns stopping the bad guys with guns. Everyone of these assholes thought that he was "the good guy" taking out "the bad guy". Can't you see how screamingly funny this is?

Yeah, this is the "freedom" that the NRA types love to scream about. How free would you have felt had you been a patron of the Twin Peaks Restaurant on the early afternoon of May 17, 2015. Say you were dining out with your spouse and two children, minding your own damned business when, out of the blue, bullets are whizzing all about you? I dare to venture the judgement that you would not have felt very "free" at all. Call it a stupid hunch on my part if it'll make you feel any better.

There still is a bit of confusion as to whether or not any of the dead were killed by the police - and one person, a Vietnam vet whose family says that he has a history of involvement with bike clubs/gangs but was not part of any of the groups involved in the Twin Peaks melee, might have been an innocent victim. The police apparently pleaded with the owner of the place not to allow this meeting to happen. They know a potential tinderbox when they see one.  The owner refused to comply. MONEY! MONEY! MONEY!

Interestingly enough, all is quiet from the halls of the right wing scream machine this morning. I guess that that's to be expected under the circumstances; but can you imagine the howl ensuing from their amplifiers had the shooting been between the Crypts and the Bloods - two notorious, predominantly African American gangs? Fox Noise would be on the story twenty-four/seven. They really haven't much to say about this one, though. A story as ugly as this tends to smudge up their rose-colored lenses just a tad, if you know what I mean. Texas is rugged, American individualism at its finest. Texas is for MANLY men. Keep the propaganda flowing. Ignore the blood. Ignore the bodies. Oh, beautiful for spacious skies....

FYI: Members of biker gangs (at least the few who bother to vote) tend to be EXTREMELY right wing. Those swastika tattoos that too many of these clowns wear on their biceps do not necessarily symbolize their commitment to civil rights.  No, there won't be much outraged bloviation out of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh on this score - count on it.

This will probably the last time for a while that we'll be able to get a good giggle out of a shooting of this magnitude. This time the victims were not too innocent or untainted by time and fate. They were just a bunch of bad asses who wouldn't have walked into a public restaurant armed and dangerous if they hadn't been looking for trouble. Their loss isn't too important. The next time (and it's coming sooner than you think) will be a real tragedy, one quite possibly more unspeakable than that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 15, 2013.

Fasten  your seat belts and get them hankies ready, kiddies!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Something to think about

Teddy and Will, 1909
SUGGESTED READING:

The Bully Pulpit 
by Doris Kearns-Goodwin

I'm now at the point in my life where I believe that Doris Kearns-Goodwin is incapable of writing a bad book. Every one of them have been a gem - and this one is hardly the exception to the rule.

This is about the friendship of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft - and the eventual disintegration of that friendship. The  thing I am most impressed with is learning how far ahead of his time Taft was as a progressive. What also impressed me was his relationship with his wife, Nellie Herron. Theirs was a real partnership in all respects - a quarter century before Franklin and Eleanor. That said, any well-written book that has TR as a central figure is always going to be a good read. I cannot recommend this one enough.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Brother Knows Worst

Big Brother is Watching
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My hopes for a Jeb Bush candidacy - yes, a Jeb Bush administration even - are slowly dying like rancid grapes upon a withered vine. I so wanted Jeb to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention next summer. Any time a Bush is in the running for as prestigious a gig as the presidency of the United States of America, it's always good for a million laughs. Whenever they win the Big Prize, it gets funnier still - in a dark, Dr. Strangelove kinda way. The Family Bush are to satire what Buster Keaton was to comedy. True, theirs is comedy of the unintentional variety, but that doesn't make them any less knee-slappingly hysterical. I suspect a Bush 45 period in our history would constitute a new golden age of American political satire.

But, alas, it seems as if none of this is going to happen. Apparently Jebbie Boy didn't get the memo: 

Try to avoid any mention of your half-witted brother, Jeb. You've got a big job ahead of you. Trying to convince this country to take another direction - particularly in lieu of the fact that the current administration has spent six-and-a-half years cleaning up the mess that Dubya left behind - is going to be excruciatingly difficult as it is. Try not to compound those difficulties. Send Dubya out of the country AND DON'T EVEN REFER TO THE LITTLE BASTARD AT ALL - Ya dig?

Poor ol' Jeb must have been out of the office when that memo arrived on his desk. When asked on Monday if - knowing what we know now regarding the faulty intelligence (lies) that preceded the American invasion of Iraq in 2013 - would he still have authorized it if he had been commander-in-chief at the time? Incredibly, the answer he gave was an unhesitating "yes". The invasion of Iraq, the worst military blunder in American history, was a grand 'n' dandy idea according to this knucklehead. To no one's surprise, Jeb started to furiously back-peddle in the days that followed. A day or so later he told reporters that he had "misunderstood" the question. By the end of the week he stooped about as low as is possible for a politician stoop - and don't forget that those Bushes are champion stoopers: He said that such hypothetical inquiries are a disservice to the troops who fought and died in Iraq. How touching.

Wait, it gets worse (or "better" for my purposes). In a meeting in New York with a group of his mainline, financial supporters, Jeb let loose with this nasty little bombshell: 

His most trusted, sought-after adviser on Middle Eastern policy is none other than (WAIT FOR IT!) George W. Bush! You heard me, campers! The imbecilic frat boy whose eight year reign of error and incompetence is the man Jeb goes to whenever he seeks council on affairs in that part of this troubled globe. Here's something else you might want to take into consideration: Of the twenty-one foreign policy advisers who are now guiding him in his yet-to-be-announced campaign, seventeen of them are part of the team of killer-clowns who got us into this mess to begin with - including Paul Wolfowitz - the same schmuck who testified to congress way back when that the war in Iraq could be done on the cheap, and that the cost would be paid for by Iraqi oil money! 

No, you're not hallucinating.

As I've said (my greedy purposes aside) if this country is ever again foolish enough to send another member of that disgusting family to the Oval Office - to the White House for God's sake - we'll deserve everything that happens to us. If that should ever happen, I'll have an easy enough time making the best of it. It'll be a bit trickier for the rest of you.

I just had the funniest thought: Do you think that Jeb will assign Dick Cheney the task of finding him a running mate? Wouldn't that be a scream?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Zero
SUGGESTED READING:

Zero Mostel
by Jared Brown

Zero Mostel (1915-1977) was one of the great comic actors of the twentieth century. He is best remembered as Tevye in the original Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof and as Max Bialystock in the funniest movie ever made, The Producers. Most people are unaware of Zero's struggles in the nineteen fifties. At the end of the forties, making a fortune as a performer in nightclubs, on the radio and in the movies, this great actor and clown was blacklisted by the House un-American Activities Committee, for the simple reason of his leftist views. He spit in HUAC's eye by refusing to name the people of his association who leaned even slightly to the left of center. For an entire decade, what little income he was able to generate was as an artist. This excellent 1989 biography is about the rise and fall - and eventual mountaintop triumph - of as brilliant a talent as ever lit up the American night.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Message from Meghan's Dad


In the nine years I've been writing this blog, I've only once turned it over to another author. Today is the only other exception to that rule. My friend, Brian Sager, has a message that is as beautiful as it is urgent. It was written on Saturday, May 9, on the eighteenth anniversary of the birth of his daughter, Meghan Marie. I knew this little gal. Losing her was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Can you imagine what it must have been like for her mother and father, or her two brothers? I can't even contemplate it - and I've been trying, believe me. The forum is yours, Mr. Sager:

**************************

Meghan Sager, 2013
Today marks an anniversary of one of the greatest gifts I was ever blessed with. Today would have been my daughter Meghan’s eighteenth birthday. 

I had many nicknames for Meghan: Meg, Meggo, Magoo (which morphed into “Goot”, which she hated), Sweet Pea (which she liked), and often, “the Amazing Meghan”. Perhaps it’s a father’s pride, but Meghan was, quite simply, the most amazing person I have ever known. I am very proud of all of my children, but Meghan was unique in her pursuit of excellence in everything she did. She wasn’t always “the best”, but she was pretty darned good at anything and everything she tried, and she tried almost everything. She was good at everything she did because, no matter what was at hand, she gave it her all. 

As most of you know by now, Meghan passed away almost a year and a half ago. I “hear from her” now and then, in the song of a bird, or the twinkle of a star, a tune on the radio, or the laughter of a little girl in a pretty dress in springtime. She helped me finish nursing school, she helped me find a job, and she’s helping me be a better man in so many ways. Many have said to me “I don’t know how you do it (deal with the grief)” or “I can’t imagine what you are going through”, and that’s a good thing, because it’s something no parent should ever need to understand or have to go through. We do, because we must. That’s the simple answer. There is no acceptable alternative. 

Such a tragic ending cannot be allowed without something of value to be learned, something to help others, something to prevent such loss from happening to someone else. I wanted to share a few things I have learned or maybe re-learned.

1. Time is limited, so make the most of it. We cannot know when “our time is up” or when we will lose those dear to us. Get after that “bucket list” now, not when you are too old or too broke or too tired. Try to enjoy every moment because there are only so many….
`
2. MAKE the time to let those you love know you love them. Drop the grudges. Be first to apologize. Be first to forgive.
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3. Given the choice between “enjoying life” and “making a few extra bucks”, choose “enjoying life”. That doesn’t mean call out sick to binge watch “House of Cards”, but if a unique opportunity presents itself, take it!

4. Love your family (seriously?!?) Sounds like a no brainer, and I know you do, but what I mean is take a moment to just look at them and enjoy the wonderful people they are. Acknowledge their flaws (to yourself and without dwelling on them), but more importantly, appreciate their strengths and help them build on them. If you were building a house, you’d want a good, strong foundation and go up from there, same with a family. Fix and reinforce the foundation and build.

5. Believe. You are not alone in this world. I am convinced more than ever of a higher power in this world. Common themes of love, kindness, forgiveness and giving are universal to all faiths. Focus a little more on the spirit of the message and less on the letters in the message… jmho….

6. Clinical depression is an illness, not a weakness, and is just as serious and can be just as deadly as cancer or heart disease. It is also far more common than we realize. One in twenty teens will suffer major depression at some point. Too often the tendency is to simply medicate. I can tell you personally that strategy can have fatal consequences. Treating depression with Prozac alone is like trying to build a house using only a screwdriver. It can be a useful tool, in conjunction with others, but by itself is often ineffective (or worse)

7. And finally: GIVE. The support we have received from friends and family and the community has been tremendous, and it is amazing how a simple card, a hug, or a plate of pumpkin bars can lift the spirit when the heart hangs low. If you see or know of someone going through a hardship, reach out. It DOES make a difference! Small efforts can be huge helps. Don’t worry that now “might not be a good time”, it might actually be a great time. Just be understanding if the other party can’t receive your intentions as you would have liked. Remember that they are the ones going through the hardship and might not have the clearest of minds at that moment. Find peace in making the effort, it IS the thought that counts!

Through the generosity of friends and family, we have established a memorial fund to honor Meghan. Among the goals of the fund is to advance awareness of depression among teens and advance the spirit of kindness and caring in our community. A key part of this is the Meghan Sager Memorial Scholarship, which is issued annually to Goshen seniors who demonstrate several of the same traits Meghan had, such as academic achievement with an interest in sports, languages, music, theater, or volunteerism, but above all, have consistently displayed exceptional kindness and caring for their fellow students and community. 

Last year we awarded two $1,000 scholarships to two amazing young women and look forward continuing this spirit of giving. This fund is now facilitated by The Community Foundation of Orange and Sullivan. Please consider including the Meghan Sager Memorial Fund in your charitable contributions. Thank you!

Brian Sager
`
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Here's a link to make a donation to the Meghan Sager Memorial Scholarship Fund:

http://cfosny.org/our-funds/scholarships/the-meghan-sager-memorial-fund/

You'll never know how much I adored this kid.

Still we will remember Mama's little girl.

Autumn 2005: Miss Meghan reaches for the lost chord while two
devoted admirers look on in wonder and awe.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Post #588: Random Observations

A quiet, gentle place
`
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry—
This Travers may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll—
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.


Emily Dickinson

Miss Meghan loved to read. I wonder if I ever recited that poem for her. I hope I did. Come to think of it, I'd almost bet that she could recite it herself.

These are just a series of disconnected musings that were posted about, here and there. In honor of the memory of my beloved, little friend, I'm going to make a serious attempt to keep it positive this morning. Wish me luck.

********************************

1. A Lost Thought

By chance, I found this posting that I made on New Years Eve 2012 on my Facebook page. I don't even remember writing it:

Here is where I would like to be right now: It's a place deep in the woods in the middle of a blizzard. It looks to all the world like an ugly cinder block warehouse. But inside it's beautiful - with all of the comforts of home; with a complete library of books, music and films. It's a place of laughter and thought; joy and contemplation. The world is going mad outside of the door and beyond the woods. Inside it is serene.

Yeah, I was probably intoxicated at the time but, drunk or sober, it's a sweet thought. I want to go there.

2. Think Peace

Resentment is cancer. Try to envision yourself embracing someone who has broken your heart. It will enable you to dance beneath the diamond sky. It doesn't matter if one hand is waving free or both. Keep on dancing!

3. The Ashra Sanctuary:

I'm in love with Tracy Murphy. Her farm in Newfane, NY is totally dedicated to creating Heaven on Earth for animals. This is what she lives for and she is indeed living a beautiful life. Her entire being radiates love. I think that she's a saint; the creatures under her tender care certainly think so. She'll throw her head back and laugh at that description, but that's only because she is blessed with humility. It's next to impossible for me to be hurled into the depths of despair. All I need to remember is that Tracy Murphy walks among us. 

4. Another Oldie:

The following was posted on this site on Christmas Day 2006:

Keep your eyes open for the miracles all around you. And remember the simple truth that there is more music to be found in the laughter of a single child than can be found in all of the symphonies ever composed by all of the composers who ever lived.

I should etch that one in stone but I've misplaced my chisel.
 
********************************

See? I kept it positive. That was trickier than you might imagine. Then again, that was also one of the shortest pieces I ever wrote. At least give me an A for effort, alright?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 

A Nocturnal meditation from the wee hours of July 28, 2014:

 She was the personification of a shooting star. It appears upon the horizon, rapidly making its way across the night sky, illuminating the heavens in a brilliant and beautiful light. Then, in an instant, it's gone.

A gentle remembrance:

Happy birthday, Miss Meghan. We love you and we miss you like nobody's business.

SUGGESTED READING:

Little Bird
a poem by Melladee Lydia Makelacy

 http://writerquake.blogspot.com/2013/12/friday-flash-55-little-bird.html 

A total stranger reaching out across a continent to a family bowed in grief. 
`
Meghan Marie Sager
Here is a link to donate to the Meghan Sager Memorial Scholarship Fund: Every year at graduation time, money will be awarded to fund the college tuition of students whom, like Miss Meghan, excel in scholastic achievement and good old-fashioned human decency and kindness. Please give as generously as you're able to:


I cannot begin to articulate for you how blessed I am to have been even a mere footnote in the biography of this kind and witty, beautiful and brilliant girl. No one who was fortunate enough to know her will ever get over losing her.

Still we will remember Mama's little girl.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Time for Bernie

Photo courtesy of Jenni Siri

"The major issue is how do we create an economy that works for all of our people rather than a small number of billionaires, and the second issue directly related is the fact that as a result of the disastrous Supreme Court decision on Citizens United, we now have a political situation where billionaires are literally able to buy elections and candidates. Let’s not kid ourselves. That is the reality right now."

Bernie Sanders

Consider this: The last Vermonter to live in the White House was Calvin Coolidge. He left office on March 4, 1929. There hasn't been another one since. It's about time we elect another resident of the Green Mountain State to the presidency. This time, though, let's be bold and send the anti-Coolidge to Washington! I've got just the guy for the job, too!

Finally! An honest-to-goodness, capital "P" Progressive to prove to the rest of the world that Hillary Clinton is not a foregone conclusion - and that maybe the Democrats have a little more imagination than seemed to be the case only forty-eight hours ago.

Most Americans have no idea who Bernie Sanders is. That is bound to change in the next month or so.  Bernie is a "public servant", a term that has been perverted over the years: Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell are not - and never have been - "public servants" Bernie is the real thing. For a third of a century, first as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, then as a congressman, then as a senator, Bernie's agenda has been The People's agenda. He is the first candidate since Harry Truman who is not at all beholden to the interests of corporate America. His announced intentions to seek the presidency is a rare stroke of jolly good luck for all of us.

A not very telegenic Brooklyn-born Jew as the nominee of the Democratic party? I know that the Republicans must be salivating at the very idea. They shouldn't. For every day that goes by, it's increasingly apparent to people that "the party of Abraham Lincoln" has devolved into an organized criminal enterprise. He'll never gain much ground with the folks in the deep south, but the rest of the country should not be written off. All you need to do is listen to what the man has to say, and what he stands for. Bernie has called for a political revolution in America. Finally, a politician with the courage to say it! I think we might very well find ourselves at the dawn of a new era of good old days. Wouldn't THAT be cool!

"What Wall Street and credit and companies are doing is really not much different from what gangsters and loan sharks do, who make predatory loans. While the bankers wear three-piece suits and don't break the knee caps of those who can't pay back, they still are destroying people's lives."

Hillary & Elizabeth
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To those of you who might admonish me with the words, "But Degan, it's time for a woman to serve!" I would only respond by saying that I agree; we're long overdue for a woman chief-executive - two centuries overdue to be exact - but not Hillary Clinton. I was hoping that Elizabeth Warren might throw her hat into the ring but apparently that's not going to happen. She says she's not interested and she means it. Other than Bernie and Sherrod Brown of Ohio (and maybe one or two others) she's the only senator who has stood up (and stood out) as a true, unapologetic "LIBERAL", never trying to flee from the term the GOP has managed to turn into an expletive during the last three decades. I would have happily supported a Warren candidacy - giddily even! Since that's never going to happen (at least not in 2016) we need to confront the grim reality that a Hillary candidacy has the very real potential to self-destruct, or that a second Clinton administration within the confines of a single generation could blowup in our faces. As I've said too many times to count, with Democrats like her, who the hell needs Republicans? Seriously.

"Balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly, the sick, the children and the poor - is not only immoral, it is bad economic policy. It is something that must be vigorously opposed. "

Although not a Democrat (his independence being all the more reason to admire him) Bernie Sanders, more than any other Democrat in Washington today, has not forgotten the political legacy that has been bequeathed to generations of progressives by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. Should registered Democrats across the country be naive enough to hand the nomination to Hillary Clinton, we'll have no other choice than to cast our ballots for her on Election Day 2016, she being the lesser of two very distinct evils. The only bright spot, as far as I'm concerned, is the undeniable fact that as unpalatable as she is as a candidate, she is so much preferable to anything the Republicans are bound to puke up that a vote for her would be the only choice of anyone entering the voting booth with a bare grasp of the issues facing America today. I'll tell you this, though: If I'm forced to make that choice, I'll be holding my nose.

 "Let us wage a moral and political war against the billionaires and corporate leaders, on Wall Street and everywhere, whose policies are destroying America."

They'll accuse Bernie of waging class warfare. That's exactly what he's doing - and he ain't taking any prisoners, pardner.

It can't be emphasized enough that we should not make the mistake of assuming that a somewhat  gruff, Jewish guy is unelectable. That's what people were thinking (if not saying out loud) eight years ago when a black politician from Chicago - NOT KENYA! - announced his candidacy for the presidency of the United States. It's a different world than the one our parents grew up in. This country very soon will no longer be run by elderly white Protestant guys with beer bellies and bad breath. Bernie Sanders' time has come. Join me while we make some history.

 "Of course the Republicans have long wanted to privatize Social security and destroy it. But Social Security has been the most valuable social program in the history of the United States."

Yeah, it's time for Bernie alright. High time.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY 

SUGGESTED READING:

Gail Collins has an excellent piece in this morning's New York Times on the candidacy of Bernie Sanders:

Bernie Sanders Yells His Mind

As always, she's right on target and as witty as they come.

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

George Harrison's 1978 LP, which was simply called "George Harrison", is not widely remembered today; none of the tracks on it come easily to mind for most people - not even a lot of fanatics of the Fabs. Although critically well received, it didn't sell particularly well at the time of its release. A year later you could pick it up in the cut-out bin for under two bucks. I've never been able to understand this because, for my money anyway, it's his best record - better than All Things Must Pass even. In fact, it's his masterpiece. Every track on it is an absolute gem. Here's a link to listen to it in its entirety:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5nwTVLIIJYI

One more Bernie quote for the road:

"If you ask me my view on the environment, on women's rights, on gay rights - I am a liberal. I don't have a problem with that at all. Some of my best friends are liberal."

Gotta love the dude. Ya just gotta!