Hillary’s Latest Shame? Let’s Consider.

I recently had a visit with a good friend who is a banker. (Public school teachers sometimes have such friends. And she’s a good friend, too.) She told me a story about her son’s asking her to help a buddy of his, please, get a job—or a shot at a job—at her bank. She had explained to him that yes, she could ask the appropriate others in the company to give the buddy’s application a look, but she couldn’t do any more than that—both because she has no truly good reason to recommend the guy and because she shouldn’t mess too much with the bank’s application and hiring practices, especially because she could in fact influence them. There were ethics involved. It may be worth noting that her son’s friend did not get the job.

I may not be representing her story exactly. But I think I have captured the gist, which has, I think, a clear and acceptable bottom line: a person in power can, without serious qualms, help a friend (of a friend) not be overlooked, but she shouldn’t offer any greater advantage over all the other candidates. I realize that, in a perfect world, this would be a kind of corruption. Certainly it gives an advantage to anyone who is networked, and that is quite clearly not truly fair to those who don’t have any connections at all.

But how many of those in power ignore all the networked friends, acquaintances, classmates, family members, and trusted friends of family members? Is Bernie that pure? Is the vice-president of your local bank? Is the owner of that favorite deli where you buy your lunch?

I ask this because Hillary Clinton is being raked over the coals, once again, for the apparently gross corruption revealed in a handful of emails that reveal that her aides facilitated meetings between a couple of power brokers and a supporter or two (I think the total really is two) of The Clinton Foundation.

Now, I really do understand that there is something unseemly here. Just as it is essentially unfair to improve, even slightly, a nephew’s shot at a job interview, it is queasy-making, at a much higher level of power, to help a fat cat get a sit-down with a major mover-and-shaker. But I invite all expert nerds to hack into the emails of every senator and representative, of every cabinet member and White House aide. Of every real estate broker. Is any one of them so pure as to never have done a small favor for a friend or colleague?

I recognize that there are reasons to find Hillary Clinton corrupt. I know that FBI investigators have found three Clinton emails that shared improperly marked but still confidential information. For this, apparently, we should “lock her up.” And yes, they have also found some insider favoritism regarding two Foundation donors’ making connections to some D.C. bigwigs. For this, I’m told, we should once again brand her as “unworthy of the office of the President” (no matter how much we must ignore Presidential history in order to assert that conclusion).

But should we, for this, also insist that she’s just as corrupt as the lying, manipulative, vicious, callous, narcissistic, and thoroughly bankrupt demagogue that is her opposition?

No, we should not.

If you’re looking for a squeaky clean, beautifully pristine person to lead the nation, you’ll have to look for a person who is so divorced from the way national leadership works that they actually have no idea how to lead.

And you certainly cannot give a pass to the malignancy who for decades has plagued New York City and the nation with his enormous of bravado, malice, fakery, greed, narrow-mindedness, and self-aggrandizement—and the bankruptcies that have made him rich.

It Is Correct to be Politically Correct

Following the killing of 49 and the serious injury of 50 others in Orlando, Donald Trump has once again risen to his drunken soapbox to proclaim that Americans continue to be mowed down – occasionally by crazy Muslims but more often by nuts of a more Christian stripe – solely because Obama and Crooked Hillary refuse to call the killers “Islamic Terrorists.”

This bemuses me.

It is worth noting , though Donald fails to do so, that Obama continues sending out drones to drop explosives on the heads of every Islamic Terrorist (or wedding party) he can find. He threw bin Laden’s corpse into the sea. He commands air strikes on ISIS every day. He has kept troops—advisory and otherwise—in both Iraq and Afghanistan in order to keep trying to quell the Muslim creeps who won’t say “Uncle.” There is, it seems, ample evidence that Obama recognizes the threat of Islamic Terrorism.

Yes, Obama does avoid the term. He is “politically correct” in that he cares about the political impacts of the words he chooses to use. (How careless and vapid he must be.)

The President explains that he doesn’t want to use any expression that suggests Islam and terrorism are somehow inextricably or inevitably linked. He does not want to hint at disparagement of a whole religion, even though he clearly knows there is a sect of that religion that is devoted to raining down horror on those who don’t share their twisted love of Allah. He does not, as he makes clear, want to give the terrorists any other tools with which to recruit more lost and frantic martyrs.

One can question that political calculation. Some might, for instance, decide that in their own speeches, press releases, interviews, or tweets, they will indeed use the term “Islamic Terrorism”; and they might do so without claiming that Obama and Clinton’s diction causes that terrorism to spread.

What one might do, it’s clear, is not what Donald does.

Because Donald wants to stomp his feet. He wants to get attention. He wants to make the mob swoon in ecstasies of righteousness. He’s hot to get the guys fired up. They’re set on rushing into the streets, eager to search for beaners to beat , rag-heads to roust. The shithead in robes? Who cares if he claims he’s Buddhist?

I know. Donald hasn’t called for attacks on those in saffron robes. But once the mob is all het up, they’ll settle for any Other.

The point is this: the hatred of “political correctness” boils down to a contempt for diplomacy, for any effort to take a stand without bloodying toes you never meant to crush. But the stomp and crush is what Trump lovers love. “Wipe away the niceties,“ they cry. “Fuck the sensitivities.”

And somewhere, Muslims hear that cry. As Mexicans do.

And so do I.

A 100-Word Rant (re. Trump)

I’m befuddled by and afraid of Donald Trump—and especially by his legion of fans who caterwaul at his rallies, who pummel the black and brown and young protesters gathered there, and who troll his opponents with death threats, racial slurs, and the grossest misogyny. Are they the economically and culturally dispossessed, made obnoxious only by their understandable insecurity, their sense that everything that once made sense is slipping away? Or are they merely the same old lunatic fringe that has always feared and despised the other? Are they now crawling out of the cracks when Trump turns out the lights?

I discovered a very clever web site: http://100wordrant.blogspot.com/. My students found it inspirational, and it left me with yet another way of expressing my considerable Trumphobia. There’s no practical, political use in spilling my predictable guts this way, but I need the therapy. 

A Teacher Against Trump

I started teaching English in public schools in January of 1975. 41 years ago.

In that long time, I have made a sincere effort not to shape my students’ political or religious beliefs. I have tried to deepen their analytical skills, their attention to detail in reading, their aesthetic sensibilities, their appreciation of art, and their love of and respect for language. But I have never wanted their thinking to blindly reflect my own opinions about the direction the community or nation should take, or the cultural trends deserving our support.

It seemed simple after all: the public school teacher, paid by public funds, must not insist, nor even imply, that their own political views should determine those of their students.

I admit that I have sometimes, though largely by accident, betrayed that trust. I have known, and sometimes acknowledged, that my students have discerned my political positions. But I have also, and explicitly, let my students know that sharing my political or cultural views is neither a way to guarantee nor preclude their success in my course. I have even suggested that students, in planning their essays, should avoid glibly taking a position they think I support – whether political or literary – for I will inevitably be hard on those who fail to make a strong case for our supposedly shared position. I do not want, I assure them, weak allies. And so I have, for four decades, made a sincere if sometimes faulty effort to free my teaching of political and ideological advocacy.

This year, I’m abandoning that position. This year I am openly contemptuous of Donald Trump.

This may not surprise my friends, nor even the few regular readers of this little blog, who know that I have never been shy about my opinions. But trust me when I tell you that, with my students, I have never before been so openly contemptuous of a presidential candidate. Especially not one who has garnered the nomination of one of the two major political parties of my lifetime. But I cannot, and will not, speak of Trump with any pretension of respect.

I would have been equally disparaging of George Wallace if he had earned a place on a national ticket. I would have dismissed David Duke and tossed aside Louis Farrakhan. I could not, however, throughout my politically involved youth, have imagined a bigoted, self-serving jackass like Donald Trump ascending to real political power. Now that he has, I must, as a dedicated teacher, take a stand against his odious bid for power.

What does an American teacher stand for if not for the essential values that have shaped out nation’s growth and standing in the world? What if not the Enlightenment principles that informed the founding fathers?

  • All of us are created equal.
  • All are entitled to certain rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • All must therefore be judged as individuals, based upon their actions and behavior.
  • No religious test may apply to full citizenship and the granting of those rights.
  • All are equal before the law.
  • All have a right to be left alone, so long as their actions threaten no others.
  • All have the power of reason—as Enlightenment figures such as Locke declared and American revolutionaries celebrated—so that all should have a voice in the governing of our republic.

These are among our fundamental principles. These are among the truths we have, ever since Jefferson’s declaration was approved, taken to be self evident. These are the ideals that may not determine economic policy, foreign policy, tax reforms, or entitlement programs – even while informing debates on those and other subjects – but they remain ideals we ought to share and strive to realize.

And Donald Trump ignores them, denies them, abuses them. He is the enemy of what our nation stands for.

How?

By announcing that all desperate Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, and thus denying that all are created equal and all are equally deserving of individual standing before the law.

By insisting that all Muslims must be banned from entry to the United States because some Muslims are terrorists.

By treating women as less than equal because they should be judged, as his statements and gestures have long made clear, by the structure of their cheekbones, the length of their legs, the cut of their calves, and especially the size and perkiness of their breasts.

By insisting that those who have garnered great wealth, including himself, are worthy of respect for no reason besides that accumulated wealth – no matter how many investors they have left broken in their path, no matter how many unions they have busted while seizing the laborers’ wealth, no matter how many times they have come out on top even while failing to offer a successful product.

By denying one of the Enlightenment’s primary values – a respect for science — and its virtually unanimous support for ecological concern and adamant insistence regarding human contributions to global warming.

By ignoring the Enlightenment’s core beliefs – that reason, logic, argument, and consistency should be the wellsprings of whatever guides us and our decisions – because he is a shape-shifter who plays with the media, his own personae, and virtually every position he has taken over the last several decades, always without offering reasons or arguments to explain whatever fleeting stand he is taking at any given moment.

And finally, by being the most obviously self-serving, narcissistic, inconsistent, bull-shitting and media-manipulating figure we have seen in the last several decades of American politics. (But I admit this repeats my previous point.)

However many times you think Hillary Clinton has changed her mind, if you follow the trajectory of those changes you will at least find the reasons she has offered for her shifting opinions. You may find the shifts convenient, and you may have no trust in her sincerity, but her points are not ridiculously unfounded. You cannot say the same for Trump’s bizarrely unexplained shifts. He is the ultimate chameleon, the man of no lasting substance, no set of principles.

But comparing Donald to Hillary is not at all my point. I am not a strong Clinton supporter. I am not now writing to support her run for the presidency, and I easily keep mum when my students speak well or ill of her candidacy. I cannot, in good conscience, do the same for those who embrace Trump’s rise in the polls. She’s one more politician. For better or worse, she’s following an established and reasonably acceptable path, no matter how much you may detest her positions.

Trump is in another category altogether. He is the anti-American. He is the yahoo who brings racism, homophobia, misogyny, and an avid contempt for thought and reason and history and scientific truth to his campaign and his platform. He is the enemy of my people and of my profession. He stands for all that an American educator must oppose.

This is an historical moments in which each citizen must take a stand, even if it means casting off propriety and custom. To pretend that Trump’s campaign is legitimate is to deny all that I know of our history and of our long-standing commitment to essential principles. To support Trump, even tacitly, is to pretend that I do not care about our heritage, our purpose, and what we have long claimed is our mission in the world. I will not be silent in the face of his affront. Not in this blog. And not in my classroom.

 

So? Who did I vote for today, in Connecticut’s primary?

This year’s presidential primary has been incredibly challenging. Not just for the country, but for me personally. Today, even as I entered the polling place, I had committed to neither Hillary nor Bernie.

I will certainly not face a similar problem in November. I will support whatever Democrat stands against Trump, Cruz, the ostensibly “reasonable” Kasich, or any other Tea-Party-satisfying person the Republicans might offer.

So what’s been my problem during this primary season?

Let’s start with the wide array of things I actually do support: the rights of women; the rights of black and brown and red and yellow people; the rights of people of all (or no) religions; the rights of those who cannot or simply will not embrace the heterosexual norm; the rights of all working people to know they are free of poverty; the rights of other people, in other nations, not to fear the armored intrusions of the United States; and, perhaps most of all, the need for governments throughout the world to do everything possible to protect our planet.

I know that no Republican candidate opens his clenched arms to the suffering immigrants who seek comfort in our nation. I think it’s clear such Republicans do not care about the Latino workers who have, through their labor, saved the agricultural and building trades of our country. I know that the vast majority of Republicans, both in state houses and in Congress, deny or dismiss the importance of global warming. I know it’s obvious that no Republican disavows the jingoistic fervor that has informed our hateful foreign policy stances prior to Obama’s also troublesome administration.

But I also know that Hillary Clinton is one of the chief architects and ongoing supporters of those hawkish foreign policies, from her rash eagerness to unseat the Libyan government to her unwavering support of Netanyahu’s oppressive regime. In 2008, I was still furious over her vote to grant George W the power to unleash the terrorism made explicit by the choice of “Shock and Awe” to characterize our invasion of Iraq. I might more easily forgive her lack of judgment and humanity if she were not still one of the most bellicose Democrats in our government.

On the other hand, Hillary is a brilliant feminist and resolute champion of women’s rights—reproductive, economic, and cultural. I have also long admired Clinton’s wonderful wonkiness, her mastery of details and her ability to field any question and to explain her position on any and all complex issues. She is so brilliant in so many ways. Besides, she ranked as one of the most liberal members of the Senate throughout her tenure representing New York in D.C., well to the left of Joe Biden and only slightly to the right of Bernie Sanders, so the insistent notion that she is in the thrall and pocket of Wall Street doesn’t survive a search for supporting evidence.

And then there’s Bernie Sanders. I’ve always been a fan. I am, after all, a somewhat bohemian Unitarian. I am proud to be a union member because unions empowered the working class, making it (at least for a while) the middle class. I am the son of a doctor and hospital administrator who always hoped single-payer health insurance would come to America. I am a teacher who believes that education is a road toward fulfillment, empowerment, and liberation, and who, as a result, certainly wants us to find some way of guaranteeing an advanced education for every citizen ready to prosper in college. And, just as I am delighted to have an accomplished woman on the verge of being our next president, I am tickled pink to see a Jewish socialist also in the running.

On the other hand, Bernie has a stridently self-righteous streak that leaves him dismissive of anyone not ready for his particular brand of revolution. And in the past, he has never been very successful as a revolutionary. He has “crossed the aisle” to strike the occasional deal, but prior to this exceptionally odd year in U.S. politics, he never showed the savvy—the congressional street smarts—to emerge as a real political force, a truly meaningful agent of change. I delight to see him having an influence on the Democratic Party policies now, and I hope he will, should he lose the nomination, keep up the ardent pressure on mainstream Democratic thinking. I love his values. I question his political abilities. I see him, should he be elected, as the next Jimmy Carter: a truly great man and sadly failed president.

So? Who did I vote for today, in Connecticut’s primary?

When I started writing this piece, I thought I would reveal my vote in the end. (You know…Relieving the tension created by my earlier inability to decide.) I did cast a vote. I did make a choice. But I also realize that the choice isn’t the point.

What really matters, at least to me, is that Democrats and independents recognize the absurdity and mindlessness of the Republican contenders. That we who support Sanders or Clinton absolutely must, in November, vote for whichever one wins the nomination. If you are sick of voting for “the lesser of two evils,” you have to get over it. The presidential election will not be about a lesser evil. It will be about a thoughtful and experienced candidate who deserves support because he or she stands in opposition to a yahoo who represents a reactionary, narrow-minded, cruel, racist, homophobic, and anti-science vision of the world.

Do you Feel the Bern? Are you High on Hillary? I applaud you, either way. But the two of you must not devour each other in the face of a truly great enemy. It’s already time to unite.

 

 

Senate: You May Not Consent, but You Must Advise

I have just read a New York Post editorial supporting the Senate leaders’ refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. [You can read the editorial here.] I don’t know anything about the author, Seth Lipsky, (and haven’t bothered to google him), but I know something about The New York Post, so I don’t fully trust the article’s accuracy, and I must wonder what Lipsky means when he claims that Obama “covets” such “kingly powers” as those held by “tyrants like George III.” All the same, I’ll accept the truths of Lipsky’s historical claims—while still offering my rebuttal.

According to Lipsky, Alexander Hamilton would side with Mitch McConnell’s right to refuse even to consider President Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Scalia. Lipsky cites The Federalist Papers and a few other primary documents to support his claim, so his argument can’t be taken lightly. I in fact trust his claim that Hamilton—and no doubt any number of other Founding Fathers—did not want the U.S. President to have a king’s power to determine what man (or woman, though the founders didn’t see her coming) would serve on a court that oversees the constitutionality of our laws. Still, it is important that we all consider evidence that has unfolded since Hamilton shuffled off this mortal coil, no matter what his Broadway popularity may be right now. It is also important, in judging McConnell’s position, that we consider the exact wording of our Constitution (and the grammarian in me enjoys this part).

Lipsky first mounts his argument by reminding us (with ALL CAPS in Hamilton’s original) of the Senate’s power to ADVISE AND CONSENT, thus emphasizing the limits imposed upon a U.S. President relative to those enjoyed by an English king. I think we can all rightly respond to this first point in Lipsky’s delineation of relevant historical points by saying, “Duh. We all know that the Senate has the power to reject a presidential appointee.” Lipsky goes on to explain that “The topic of Federalist 69 is the ‘real character of the executive.’ It makes it clear that in filling the seat once held by Justice Antonin Scalia, President Obama is at the complete mercy of the Senate — and should be.” To this, we can only say, once again, “Of course.” No one denies the right of the Senate to reject an appointee. Those of us in our sixties, and all who study a little history, can remember a variety of presidential nominees who have in fact been rejected. (Bork is my own favorite in that category, though dumping Clarence Thomas would have earned my vote.) In any case, Lipsky has so far scored no points.

He does go on, with some intriguing detail, to contrast Hamilton’s dislike of the New York Governor’s power with the more limited jurisdiction afforded a U.S President. In this discussion, however, he shines no light on our present controversy. The New York Governor apparently had tremendous discretion in making appointments to a variety of state offices, and the nation’s president, it seems, should (and ultimately would) have less power. But come on: We have, after all, accepted the fact that the U.S. Senate may refuse to “consent” to a president’s nominee.

 

It seems, in fact, that the real question, the one that matters, is whether they can—or should—refuse even to “advise.” On this question, Lipsky writes this:

For today, Hamilton puts paid [sic] to the notion being slyly advanced by President Obama and the Democrats that the Senate has a responsibility to give an up-or-down vote on the nomination of Judge Garland. That is constitutional poppycock.

We are in precisely the circumstances in which Hamilton foresaw that no appointment could be made. The Founders understood that the ability of the states, via the Senate, to check a nomination was one of the Constitution’s attractions.

And why not? They were revolutionary men. They were taking down a monarchy. They did not want to vest a president with kingly powers of appointment. They didn’t require the Senate to hold even so much as an up-or-down-vote.

Primarily, there is the claim that “Obama and the Democrats” (and also, one might note, a majority of the electorate, including Republican voters) are “slyly” advancing the idea that the Senate should at least acknowledge the candidate the president has offered. I have no idea what Lipsky finds “sly” about this. I am confident, though—and this is where our history since Hamilton left this world might matter—that no nominee, including those made in a president’s final term, has ever been completely ignored by the Senate. For Lipsky—or McConnell or any well-established obstructionist in Congress—to toss aside all that historical record and the clear Constitutional interpretation it represents is at best coy and at worst insidiously disingenuous.

Then there is the grammatical point. Lipsky claims that the Framers “didn’t require the Senate to hold even so much as an up-or-down-vote.” (This, his final argument, ignores the immediate question of the Senate Majority’s refusal to consider and thus to advise, but…oh well.) One might sincerely embrace Lipsky’s claim, I think, given a modern reading of the Constitution.  Article Two tells us that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the Supreme Court…” But to support Lipsky’s interpretation, one has to ignore the meaning of “shall.” It is a verb distinct from “will,” in that it emphasizes a requirement. If I, in the 18th century or in legal terms even today, were to say that I “will” make an appointment, I would be announcing my intention to do so. If I were to say that I “shall” make an appointment, I would be accepting an obligation to do so. The verb “shall” makes the point insistent, even obligatory. Other than careful lawyers, few of us still use the verb “shall,” just as few understand the real distinction between the related auxiliary verbs, “should” and “would.” But the framers lived and wrote by such distinctions. Lipsky should tune in.

And besides, “shall’s” sense of obligation is clearly confirmed by the fact that no Senate has refused to consider a presidential appointee. Senators have certainly opposed an appointment. They have rejected appointments. They have insisted that the President offer an alternative. In doing so, they have advised and they have refused to consent. They have thus met their Constitutional obligation. What they “shall” do they have done. If they refuse to advise, they prevent the president from doing what he is obligated to do, for he must not only nominate a justice; he “shall appoint” a justice. By refusing to advise, and to offer, at least in committee, an up or down vote, the Senate leadership is denying the president an opportunity to make another nomination for them to consider. As a result, he cannot, even though he “shall,” make an appointment.

Thus McConnell, Grassley, so many other Republican senators, and Mr. Lipsky are insisting that the Senate can do what they shan’t do. They insist on doing what they should not.

It takes considerable chutzpah for the Republican senators to claim they are acting on principle. After seven full years of obstructionism, commencing with McConnell’s announcement that his first priority was to prevent a second Obama term, this most recent spitting in the president’s face cannot be disguised as an effort to honor the voice of the people (as if that voice was unclear when Obama easily did win reelection). That they ignore the historical record and the obvious original intent of our Constitution’s framers makes their lies especially bald-faced.

 

 

 

 

Mourning: A True Story

In a huge and winter-wracked cemetery of the northern suburbs, brothers Patrick and Sean stand in their family’s plot, peering into one freshly dug grave. They wear overcoats. Sean’s is a dark blue mohair, its collar up and his silver hair breaking over the back in waves. Patrick’s is a herringbone grey, open at the throat beneath his beard, and his thin hair is wispy in the chilling breeze. They are laughing.

“What?” asks Jackie, wanting to know why they’re laughing. He pulls at his father’s sleeve and tries to see into the hole.

So Patrick lifts him and says, “Here’s where they’re going to put Katy, Jack.”

“Gonna drop her right in,” says Sean. “But look how the backhoe fucked up. Digging Katie’s spot next to his, they tore up the side of Mack’s own peaceful rest.” Sean points, and Jackie’s brother Robert and Patrick’s old friend Mary move in, as Alice eases over to Patrick’s side.

“They knocked the shit out of Mack’s coffin,” Patrick tells his wife. “You can see his arm. Look,” he points. “It fell out the side.”

Jackie says, “Grandpa’s arm?”

“Yeah,” Patrick answers, and they all gaze down. In shadows six feet deep, among the shards of the coffin’s side shattered by the teeth of the backhoe’s bucket, juts the dim arm they strain to see – a tremendously pale and bony wrist thrust from the sleeve of a tattered suit. “Grandpa’s arm,” Robert whispers.

“Maybe he’s waving hello to Grandma,” Jackie says, and Alice smiles down at her younger son.

But Sean says, “No way. If Mack knew Katy was on the way down, he’d of been out of that hole and over the next hillside before we even got here.”

Patrick glances up the hill, snow spotty on its slope, its trees shaking leafless with the wind. “And yet Katy insists on her spot beside him for eternity,” he says, and looks back at Sean, smiling. “I imagine he’s reaching out in hopes a bottle’s been dropped.”

Now Sean’s laugh rises and Patrick’s joins in, warm and round, and Alice, even while rolling her eyes, turns her smile towards her husband.

Mary tosses back her thick red hair, wraps the collar of her long coat tighter, and still looks into the grave’s shadows. “Can you believe it? Sheesh…what incompetents. You gonna sue or something?”

“I think not,” Patrick says.

“Why the fuck do that?” Sean adds. “I don’t think Mack minds the fresh air. Once they shove the dirt back in, no one’ll be the wiser. And sue for what anyway? Mack wouldn’t want any goddam lawyers involved. Besides, just look at those sorry assholes.” He thrusts his chin towards the two gravediggers leaning against the lowered shovel of the backhoe eight or nine graves away. Patrick puts Jackie down and Alice takes the boy’s hand. They join Sean in checking out the two workers, trying not to stare too obviously.

But these two are oblivious anyway. In smudged jeans and muddy boots, they lean and smoke and don’t talk. The shorter wears a snap-brim and his colleague a Yankees’ cap. Both faces are creased and tanned and chapped, and they squint into the wind and their cigarette smoke. Sean and Patrick, Alice and Mary, with Katy’s coffin on sawhorses behind them, silently agree that each of these guys looks just like the kind of bored and inattentive clod who, at a mother’s funeral, could bulldoze a father’s coffin and never say he’s sorry.

And they laugh.

How I Learned Not to Censor

When I was just a kid, maybe eight years old, my mom got a call from Tommy Degan’s mom. Tommy and I lived four houses apart, and along with several other pals, we played together daily. We pretty much always got along, and Mrs. Degan knew me well. But she was distressed by Tommy’s report of one recent visit to our house. And to our bookshelves.

It seems I had shared some pictures from my doctor father’s medical books. I had focussed on illustrations of bizarre and frightening diseases (of course), and chief among these were photos of African men who, because they suffered from a particularly grotesque brand of elephantiasis, were forced, if they were to leave their homes at all, to carry their horribly engorged genitals in wheelbarrows. Such images had titillated me, not because I cared much about genitals at that time, but because I was chillingly enthralled by any awful suggestion that the world could turn traitor on my body, or on those of my friends. Testes as large as sides of beef certainly fit the bill. I knew that Tommy would share my hair-raising thrill at the sight of balls that filled a barrow.

Tommy was indeed excited, even to the point of telling his mother all about it. And that inspired his mother’s call to mine.

I was not privy to that conversation, but I knew its upshot. After consulting my father (and perhaps after viewing the relevant illustrations herself), my mother told Mrs. Degan that, should she want to protect her child from medical pictures of medical realities, she should, if at all possible, make sure that Tommy never came inside our house again. My mother explained that the books on our shelves were available to her children, and to all their friends. She and my father were not in the business of keeping science from anyone’s kids. I actually don’t know how Mrs. Degan responded. I do know that Tommy and I remained playmates.

I can’t help but be proud of my mother—as if I should take credit for the woman she was.

I think my mother shared this story with me quite soon after Mrs. Degan complained. I think she believed that even an eight-year-old was entitled to know that I had corrupted no one at all by sharing truths I’d discovered while rambling through library shelves. I certainly know that she had thus affirmed my exploratory impulse, my looking for answers to any questions, for any truths that I could find.

I’ve long since lost touch with Tommy Degan. His parents divorced when he and I were in fourth grade, long before divorce was socially acceptable, much less the norm. My family moved away from their neighborhood soon afterward, and I, in various towns we moved through, became increasingly comfortable with the fact that we didn’t always think like everyone around us. That difference didn’t make us special, didn’t make us superior. But it made us independent. We thought for ourselves.

What other way is there to think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will I Always Vote Democrat?

The Democratic National Committee (DNC), to which I have often contributed, quite clearly favors Hilary Clinton’s campaign. Which is not surprising, but is somewhat distressing.

I am not anti-Hilary.

I expect to be thoroughly happy casting my vote for her in November 2016. But I greatly admire Bernie Sanders and will almost surely give him my vote in the Connecticut primary, simply to make my admiration clear to the powers that be. As a result, I am distressed to see the DNC pulling the rug out from under the Democratic Socialist’s campaign. (After all, I, too, am a Democratic Socialist, and have been since completing, in 1968, my high school history project on Norman Thomas. My grandfather was called a socialist for helping to establish, decades ago, the first teachers’ union in Alberta.)

But why am I distressed? Why do I fear the party’s bias?

First there is the DNC’s scheduling of most candidate debates on Saturday nights, when only the most wonkishly devoted political nerds will tune in. As a result, the rank and file will not hear the well-elucidated alternatives to Hilary’s presumptive party platform.

Secondly, in today’s news I learn that, while hackers have made all Democratic candidates’ information open to the competition, only Bernie Sanders’ campaign—which already fired a staffer for taking advantage of that open invitation—has subsequently been denied access to the information that any candidate needs in order to reach the voters.

I understand what really guides decisions by the old-boy-and-[recently]-girl network of the DNC. I know that they know I will vote for Hilary, or any other Democrat, no matter what neanderthal the Republicans cough up. My vote is secured. So why should the DNC fear alienating me?

Well, I urge the DNC to think long-term.

I am not devoted to the party. I am not convinced that Democratic candidates are typically or usually less corrupt than those from the opposition.

I, too, am a disgruntled and alienated voter – and have been for years.

The DNC must not assume that the present madness of the Republican candidates guarantees a fixed place in my heart for the Democrats.

You must, Dear DNC, build your role in our republic by refusing to play the tawdry game of one-ups-manship that sours almost every voter on politics.

You must, I urge you, build a secure place in our hearts.

In our sense of principle and concern, and of the health of the nation.