POLITICS AND CORRUPTION IN ROME — IMPERIUM, ROBERT HARRIS

Cover of "Imperium"

Imperium, by Robert Harris

Random House

Sep 7, 2010

Fiction – 496 pages

It’s déjà vu all over again as we travel back with author Robert Harris to Republican Rome just before it became Imperial Rome. In America, in 2013, we complain about corruption. We wonder about conspiracies. We brood darkly on the failure of government to address issues of inequality. We deplore the bribery of officials. The world, we say, is going to Hell.

Except that government went to Hell a long time ago and you could easily argue that government — all government — was always hellish. Compared to Rome, our government is a clean machine, as clean as a fresh snowfall. It’s all a matter of perspective.

English: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rom...

Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Roma Italiano: Bust of Cicero, Musei Capitolini, Rome (Photo: Wikipedia)

Reading history puts the world in which I live into perspective. Whatever problems we face, we — the human family — have faced them before. We survived. It’s important to remember our ability to survive is greater (for the most part) than our ability to screw up.

Imperium, by Robert Harris, is about a guy named Cicero. You’ve undoubtedly heard of him. Famed as a lawyer, even more famed as an orator, Cicero rose to fame and power during a critical cusp in history as Rome was about to change from republican to imperial. Julius Caesar had just stepped onto the stage of history. It was the beginning of the greatest imperial power the earth had ever seen … and the end of the greatest republic the world would ever know. Perspective.

Marcus Cicero started his journey to power as an outsider from the provinces. His first significant legal case put him head-to-head with the dangerous, cruel and utterly corrupt Gaius Verres, governor of provincial Sicily. Using his stunning oratorical abilities and displaying a dogged determination and persistence in the face of impossible odds, Cicero beats Verres in court. He then goes on to triumph over many powerful opponents, making friends — but far more enemies — along the way.

Cicero seeks ultimate power — imperium. His allegiance is to the Republic. Cicero’s secretary and slave, Tiro, is the inventor of shorthand and has become the author of this biography of his master. Tiro was at Cicero’s right hand throughout his career, by his side, through triumph and catastrophe. Through his voice the world of ancient Rome is brought to life.

It’s a fascinating story. Pompey and Julius Caesar stride across the stage of this deeply corrupt, depraved, dangerous and strangely familiar society.

imperium audibleRobert Harris is a brilliant story-teller and author of historical fiction. He lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics simultaneously exotically different from and startlingly similar to our own. I read it on Kindle, then listened to the very fine version available from Audible.com. I recommend both most highly.

This is part one of a duology.  The second volume in the American printing is titled Conspirata. In Great Britain the same book is titled Lustrum.

Both books are available on Kindle from Amazon and as a paperback from other sellers.

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DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE MASSACRE AT JONESTOWN

If you are my age or anywhere near it, you remember the Jonestown Massacre. Even if you are a lot younger than I am, if in 1978 you were old enough to watch TV news, you could hardly forget it. Now that fundamentalism is enjoying a rebirth and well-known political and religious leaders (who ought to know better) are urging others to murder or mayhem, it’s probably a good time to remind everyone where this kind of thing can lead.

There is nothing remotely amusing about this story. It was horrible when it happened and time hasn’t made it less so.

The Road to Jonestown

The phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” has become common parlance in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow.” It usually carries a negative connotation. The “Kool Aid” references go all the back to the 1950s when it was the typical drink for children on suburban summer afternoons. But the origin of the saying is something else, darker, and different. It has become the kind of bland rhetoric about which we don’t give a thought, but its roots lie in horror.

Before we talk about Kool-Aid, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to that particularly horrible episode of American history.

Jim Jones, cult leader and mass murderer, was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name was supposed to be a reference to “the people of the world.” While Jones called it a church, it was closer to a warped version of a Marxist commune. Initially, it was combined with a hodgepodge of Christian references that he used in his diatribes … supposedly sermons.

Regardless, it was never any kind of church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult. It made serious demands in the way of personal committment and financial support from its members and a level of obedience that is the defining quality of a cult.

Jones was the cult’s leader — and a homicidal maniac — but he had positive attributes. Jones and his wife Marceline were strongly in favor of racial integration. They adopted a bunch of kids from varying racial backgrounds. They were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. Other adopted children included 3 Korean Americans, a Native American, and a handful of white kids. They also had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family,” and he made a name for himself desegregating various institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed about this, note this ultimately climaxed in the murder of these children by their adoptive parents.

The Peoples Temple continued to expand through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned his Marxism. His preaching began to increasingly focus on impending nuclear apocalypse. He even specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on the town of Redwood Valley, California and before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went without nuclear holocaust, Jones abandoned even the pretenses of Christianity. The cloak came off and he revealed himself as an atheist using religion to give legitimacy to his views. Jones announced that “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones himself was a drug addict who preferred literal to metaphorical opiates.

As media attention increased, Jones started to worry the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger of revocation. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — probably with justification.

jonestown massacre anniversary

Jim Jones, cult leader

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation, leaving the United States completely and settling on a site that Jones had been working on since 1974. Located in Guyana, a poor South American nation, he modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place on 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water. It was much to small encampment, dramatically overcrowded Temple members were forced to work long hours merely to survive.

Jones figured his people could farm the land in this new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but his wealth was not shared amongst his followers. He barely used any of the money for himself and lived in a small, bare-bones shared house.

All Hell Breaks Loose

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown resident. During his visit to Jonestown, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low considering the more than 900 residents of Jonestown, keep in mind the congressional party had not been able to talk to most of the “fellowship.” The number of those who might have wanted to leave could have been much more. We’ll never know.

Ryan began processing the paperwork to repatriate Temple members who wanted to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan.

Eventually the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave. Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire on them, killing Ryan, one Temple defector,  three members of the media, and wounding eleven others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He invited all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown.

He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe that anyone was fooled by the play-acting. Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones offered Temple members a set of choices. They could stay and fight imaginary invaders. They could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the jungles of Guyana. Or they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their committment and gave them cups of liquid that they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poisonous — but one day it would be.

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

Don’t Drink the Poisonous Fruit-Flavored Beverage

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored beverage similar to Kool-Aid.

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is still a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer that he would accept. Death and lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out to his followers that Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?)  which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution in short order. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is just as creepy as you’d expect.

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which — still baffling to me at least — the followers did as they were told. I will never understand why. Probably that’s a positive sign indicating I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers must squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed as well, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered out onto the ground, where eventually just over 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful of survivors escaped Jonestown — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands or playing basketball when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a gunshot to the head, though it’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so and may have preferred the gun to cyanide, having just seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

What’s With the Kool-Aid?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind obedience, as the Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without objection. According to various accounts, the primary beverage used at Jonestown was actually Flavor Aid (sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”) — although there is evidence both Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were used.

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. Kool-Aid was introduced in 1927 in powdered form. When Americans thought about a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” came immediately to mind.

So, although Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both present at Jonestown, the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” has become entrenched in popular lingo.

Personally, I never touch the stuff.

WHY TERM LIMITS ARE A TERRIBLE IDEA — AND ALWAYS HAVE BEEN

Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?

Why do you want amateurs making your laws?

Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.

When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.

The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?

The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.

A little more history

Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.

Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.

Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.

Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid

Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?

Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.

Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.

Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.

Skill and experience count

Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.

We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.

Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob DoleTed Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.

Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators

Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?

Garry and Tip O’Neill

If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.

If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress

We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?

We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.

The President doesn’t run the country

Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.

Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault

The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.

It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.

Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.

AMERICAN PIE CHART

I just read a post that details how poorly America fares — statistically — stacked against other countries. Our health care (probably one of our worst problems and clearly still unsolved) is an area in which we rank poorly. Shamefully.

CapitolBuilding

We aren’t the richest country or the most productive. We have relatively high unemployment and our purchasing power per capita is unimpressive. We get salaries that sound good, but the cost of living overran our paychecks long ago. We’ve lost more jobs to automation than outsourcing. One machine, one robot replaces a dozen or two workers.

US_Income_Distribution_1968 (1)There are few jobs for unskilled laborers that can support a family. We manufacture too little, depend too much on service-based work.

Americans are convinced their government is awful. Corrupt. Really, our government is merely inefficient and quagmired in oppositional party politics. The answer is electing better people. In the U.S., you get the government you elect. While you complain, you might want to look in a mirror and consider if you’ve done anything to deserve better. Funny how after morons are in office, nobody voted for them. How did that happen?

Statistics are fragments, not a story. We’re having hard times and I doubt we’ll see the end of them quickly. We have work to do. Rethinking where people will work and what they’ll be paid.

We need to figure out what we want from our government — really. Without the hyperbole and entrenched party positions. For all that, we don’t exactly live in Hell.

Statistics need context. We are not even close to a seriously corrupt nation, regardless of perception. I’ve seen corruption. We’re amateurs.

I wonder if Americans would really like living in one of those top-rated countries, like say Finland. Where 90% of your salary goes to taxes. You get great services and a safety net. You won’t wind up living in a crate and you’ll never die because you can’t afford surgery or medication. But there’s payback. You will live under socialism.

Yes, I have lived in a socialist country. It’s not terrible. It’s not the nightmare portrayed by Conservatives. It’s not heaven, either.

US_Income_Distribution_2009Mostly, it means working harder or better doesn’t get you a promotion, more money or even recognition. You are whatever your G rating is and move up  by seniority. It’s secure, but dull. Not much incentive to work harder or think creatively.

Mind you, plenty of people can’t imagine living any other way. Lots of others would rather be here and would happily take their chances on capitalism. They think we complain too much. They have a point.

A friend of mine lived in Belgium for 15 years.

He described it this way: “In Europe, if they don’t say it’s allowed, you can safely assume it’s forbidden. In the U.S., if they don’t tell you it’s forbidden, you know it’s allowed.”

That’s a huge difference. This country isn’t statistics. It’s history, national character.

Like every other country, we have our strong points as well as serious problems to solve. We’ve made some progress, more in some areas than others. But unlike small homogenous countries — like Finland — we’re a conglomeration of people from everywhere, different in more ways than we are the same. We’re never going to be like those other countries. We like our freedom too much.

We are what we are. Good and bad.

BORING STUFF YOU IGNORED IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Back on Facebook, the site I love to hate. Someone who ought to know better is saying “Here’s a suggestion: To solve this government shutdown, call a general election and let the people decide what should be done. Should we continue with the shutdown or go back to running the government? Sounds simple to me!”

Election day 2012

And getting the response:  “What’s simple to us is hard for our elected officials!”

It’s not hard for our elected officials. It’s impossible and illegal for our officials — elected and otherwise.

Not only that, but we do not have any mechanism that allows a plebiscite wherein everyone gets to voice his or her opinion and The Government has to Abide by Our Vote. How would that work, exactly? To which part of our legal system does that belong? Judicial? Legislative? Executive?

I’m pretty sure we have to pass laws via the legislature. To change laws, we have to get rid of old laws via the judicial branch and/or enact new laws. Which brings us back to the legislative branch. Or to put it another way — congress. If you don’t like the bozos in congress, don’t vote for them. What? You didn’t vote? Well then. I guess you got what you deserve.

The executive branch (aka The President) can’t enact laws. He can use his influence to try to get congress to create laws he likes. He can veto laws he dislikes although presidents do not use their veto much. It’s a thing. Oh, and congress can overturn a veto if enough members of congress agree. Like that’s going to happen.

So — after we have this entirely illegal “public opinion election,” who will enforce “the will of the people”? To the best of my knowledge, there is no force of law to public opinion. There never has been.

Returning to Facebook, I post a little something. Because I love it when I absolutely, positively know no one is going to pay any attention to me. I say: “You can’t just ‘call an election’ in the U.S. This isn’t Great Britain where members of parliament vote “no confidence’ to jumpstart a new election. The U.S. has scheduled elections. Beginning and end of story. The Constitution specifies how and when elections will be held. You can vote down a government in England. You cannot do it here.”

Everyone ignores me. Probably because I’m so smart.

So what can you do about all the stuff you don’t like? Between scheduled elections, you are free to gripe, whine, wail, argue, rant, piss and moan … but you can’t vote until the next scheduled election.

Green is for going.

Green is for going.

It’s one of several fundamental differences between our government and parliamentary governments (like England, France etc.). Americans are always saying how superior our government is, yet they don’t seem to know how it works. Hmm.

So I love it when folks call for an election to change something they don’t like. As if the United States has ever or could ever “just call an election” and “let the people decide.” Even in a parliamentary government — which is nominally more responsive to public opinion — you can’t just “call an election” anytime citizens are displeased with what’s going on.

Somewhere in every government throughout history a lot of citizens are/were/will be unhappy with whatever the government is or isn’t doing. If you had an election every time a bunch of people were mad at the government, we’d always be in the middle of an election.

Wouldn’t that be fun!

You are not required to like what’s going on, but if you want to participate, you need a fundamental grasp of how your government works. The boring stuff you ignored learned in grammar school. Today, you’re all grown up and your government is boring. I know. It’s not fair.

Feel free to ignore me. I should never read anything on Facebook. It just pisses me off.

 

If Other People Took On A “Government Shut-Down” Approach… THE BYRONIC MAN

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

“You have cancer, which is horrible. The treatment is chemotherapy which should help but I think there should be something better, so I’ve decided to let you die. I will be charging you for the treatment, though.”

“I realize we lost the big game, but we really wanted to win, so we’ve locked the gates of the stadium, and no one is allowed to go home until you change the scoreboard and give us the game ball.”

“I can see you spent a lot of time setting the menu and preparing Thanksgiving dinner, but I think the way turkeys are raised is inhumane, so I’ve set fire to the house.”

“Well, the brake pads are thin, your radiator hose is cracked, and this timing belt has had it.  I can fix it all, and would be happy to, but I also noticed that the door latch is sticking, and I just hate doors, so I’ve put your car in the back lot until the door falls off.”

“I am aware that I voted for you, but that was on the assumption that you had the ethics and intellectual ability to put the good of the people you serve ahead of childish games, feeble-minded combatism, and partisan posturing, so I will be voting for someone else in the next election.”

Oh, wait. That last one makes sense, doesn’t it.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

Well put, my friend. Horrible but funny.

See on thebyronicman.com

JUST DIE ALREADY

That’s the message. The ACA doesn’t affect me directly since I’m already on Medicare — except that the out-of-pocket costs of Medicare have been going up each year. Higher deductibles and premiums, less coverage for the money and the doughnut hole in prescription coverage just keeps going and going and going. They are nibbling away at the coverage. Slowly and surely.

Coffin

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been a rapid downhill slide into worsening medical care. As long as was on MassHealth, the Massachusetts version of “Obama Care,” I was fine. I got medication for cheap or free and if I was sick, they took care of me. Thank God I had cancer while I was still covered under MassHealth!

The day I turned 65, they tossed me off of MassHealth. I had thought I was protected because of my disabled status. I received Disability payments rather than Social Security. Being officially disabled automatically entitled me to Mass Health. But, they had a simple solution to the conundrum.. They reclassified me and took me off disability, switching me to standard Social Security. It’s the same money, but without any protection. Wow! I was no longer disabled — a miracle indeed.

Did I get really get richer or healthier? Nope. The Great Minds who designed the system decree when you hit 65, you are healed of your disabilities and can can live on 1/3 the amount of money you needed just days before. Poverty is redefined to levels so low you couldn’t afford maintenance on a refrigerator crate.

Apparently The-Powers-That-Be believe the benevolent folks who hold our mortgage and other debts will knock 2/3 off our payments because they understand we are older and poorer.

In your dreams.

poor-old-man2

I knew it was going to happen but I’d been trying not to think about it. I knew because it happened to my husband when he turned 65. Bang, no more MassHealth. You’re on your own, buster. Garry has fewer major health issues than I do, a situation that is not guaranteed to last forever but so far, so good.

Me, on the other hand … well. I’m just about to hit the second anniversary of the two tumors which cost me both breasts  – the definition of a bi-lateral mastectomy. I had cancer twice — simultaneously. Those two-for-one sales are a killer.

Essentially, I’m getting no care at all, not even checkups. My insurer has too few oncologists. I hope for the best and don’t think on it much. Usually. Except at night, when I’m trying to fall asleep. Then, I wonder what’s really going on in my body. It is not the sort of thinking conducive to peaceful sleep.

I have evolved into a cardiac disaster area. I need a new mitral valve and other things. Turns out that my Medicare Advantage Plan (an oxymoron if ever I heard one) charges $50 per day co-pay for cardiac rehab. Since there is no way we can come up with that money, I can’t afford cardiac rehab. With all the deductibles, I’m not even sure I can afford the surgery itself … and I’m not sure they’ll perform it if I can’t do the rehab. I’m trying real hard to find something funny here and not doing such a great job.

HealthCareCosts

I’ve been considering using Magical Thinking as a medical alternative. Magical Thinking is holistic medicine for the hopelessly deluded. Rather than medication and surgery, I pretend I’m fine and kaboom — I’m fine. Problem eliminated. Magical thinking is cheap, efficient and much less stressful than actually dealing with the problem.

Okay, back to earth. I’m getting a message from the ether and the message, ladies and gentleman is (wait for it) … “Just die already.”

If I could afford $220 per month more, I could get a policy without deductibles. Ironically, that’s exactly what it costs me monthly to keep the house heated. On the budget plan. Could I skip heating and trade up for better medical insurance? But this is New England. It gets cold.

Or, for an additional $200 per month (which we don’t have) — plus the cost of Medicare — I could get a Medigap policy that would cover everything Medicare doesn’t cover. I’d need a prescription plan separately and no plan covers that big doughnut hole in the middle of prescription coverage. Kind of a moot point since I don’t have the money. Hell, we have more month than money now. More? From where? Our generous government entitlements?

If I don’t take care of the bad valves, I will die. If I delay too long, the chances of the surgery working well become increasingly poor. I can’t afford the surgery, not really … and the alternative is?

The message comes through loud and clear. I’ve outlived my usefulness. Just die already.

With the shut down of the government by those opposed to the ACA (let’s call them “Republicans” and be done with the niceties), with the GOP apparently believing “Just die already” is a reasonable message to send to me and lots of other people, I have to wonder how I wound up here. We worked hard our whole lives. We deserve better than this. I try not to be whiney about it, but it hurts to find oneself discarded, marginalized, back against the wall with the wolves closing in.

How did the United States become this ugly, mean-spirited country that would rather close down than offer medical care to its poor, its children, its senior citizens? How did we come to this? Who are we, anyhow?

I know. I get it. Just die already.

The Constitution of the United States

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

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We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

For those who have never read the Constitution — and for we who may need a refresher (it being a long time since school days), here is a link to a transcript of the Constitution by which ALL Americans are sworn to abide.

Regardless of party. Regardless of whether or not we like the President. We are a nation of laws, not extortion.

We are all supposed to care about this country. We can disagree, but holding the government for ransom and putting it in harm’s way — for ANY reason — is wrong. Unethical, immoral and unpatriotic. Maybe worse. We have laws for a reason.

Democracy is a slow, frustrating form of government. Totalitarianism is far more efficient. Is that what we want?

Rent “Seven Days in May” or find it on Netflix. Either version. Consider its message. Consider what message we are sending to the world right now. Shame on us.

See on www.archives.gov

“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy — Central Intelligence Agency

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See also on Scoop.itForty Two: Life and Other Important Things

“Moe” Berg: Sportsman, Scholar, Spy

Morris “Moe” Berg, a professional baseball player who also served his country as an intelligence officer, lived a life many can only dream of. A true Renaissance man, Berg graduated from Princeton University, passed the New York State bar exam and learned eight languages.

Moe Berg - Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934

Moe Berg – Catching for the Senators, 1932-1934

After graduating from college in 1923, Moe played 15 seasons of major-league baseball as a shortstop, catcher and coach. Pictured are his cards as coach of the Boston Red Sox in 1940 and as catcher for the Washington Senators (from 1932 – 34).

Mixing Baseball and Intelligence

Berg’s entrance into the field of intelligence began when he, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other baseball greats formed an all-star team and traveled to Japan in the mid-1930s for exhibition games.

Proficient in Japanese, Berg talked his way into one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo. He climbed to the rooftop alone and used a movie camera to film the capital city’s shipyards. Reportedly, the US used Berg’s footage to plan bombing raids over Tokyo in World War II.

OSS Intelligence Career Highlights

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Berg initially joined the White House’s new Office of Inter-American Affairs but left for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1943. He became a paramilitary officer and carried out various intelligence operations in Europe, including parachuting into Yugoslavia to evaluate resistance groups there.

Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940

Moe Berg, coaching for the Red Sox, 1940

By 1945 Berg had been tasked to determine whether Nazi Germany was close to having a nuclear weapon. Using his language skills and charm, he managed to locate and chat with Werner Heisenberg, a top physicist in the Third Reich. Berg accurately determined that the answer was “no.”

Berg stayed with the OSS until it dissolved in 1945. Afterward, he served on the staff of NATO’s Advisory Group for Aeronautical Research and Development.

A Word from Berg

Before his death in 1972, Berg said, “Maybe I’m not in the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame like so many of my baseball buddies, but I’m happy I had the chance to play pro ball and am especially proud of my contributions to my country. Perhaps I could not hit like Babe Ruth, but I spoke more languages than he did.”

The baseball cards pictured here are held in the CIA Museum’s collection.

Afterward

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once described Moe Berg as a most unusual fellow.

When the war ended, Moe Berg found himself unemployed. He did receive occasional intelligence assignments, including a visit to the Soviet Union, where his ability to speak Russia was valuable. Traveling with other agents, when asked for credentials, by a Soviet border guard in Russian-dominated Czechoslovakia, he showed the soldier a letter from the Texaco Oil company, with its big red star. The illiterate soldier was satisfied and let them pass.

He lived with his brother Samuel for 17 years and, when evicted, spent his last final years with his sister, Ethel. A lifelong bachelor, he never owned a home or even rented an apartment. He never learned how to drive. When someone criticized him for wasting his talent, Berg responded: “I’d rather be a ballplayer than a justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

I thought maybe this was urban legend, but this is from the C.I.A.’s own website, so I guess not! How come this hasn’t been made into a movie? It reads like one!

See on www.cia.gov

THE WHOLE GUN THING – I DON’T GET IT

I don’t get it. I’ve been listening to arguments against gun control since I was a child. When I was six, I didn’t understand why anyone would not want guns regulated. I do not understand it today when I am 66.

Our family has a Red Ryder Daisy BB rifle with which we shoot paper targets. My son inherited his father’s target 22. It’s a pretty thing. Holds a single shell and is intended for competition target shooting. My son keeps it clean, oiled, and unloaded. I assume it works, though no one has used it in a long time.

Red Ryder BB gun

I like target shooting and I’m a good shot. I’ve never killed anything, not counting bugs … and you won’t get any apologies from me on that score. If insects stay outside, that’s okay with me. In my domain? Bugs get as dead as I can squash them.

But the whole gun thing. The fascination with guns, the passion for them. The belief that we need to have them because if not, “they” will take away our freedom? Who are “they” and what exactly do they want? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have anything much that anyone would want. Frankly, if you want it that badly, geez, just take it. I’m not going to die for anything I own. They’re just things.

WHAT FREEDOMS DO YOU WANT?

At the risk of asking a stupid question, what freedom are “they” coming to take away? My right to have a blog? Is this blog so important that someone is going to bring the swat-mobile to stop me from posting? How about my right to take photographs? Does anyone care that much? The right to pay my bills? You can have that freedom. Please, take it. No guns required. My right to own a car? That’s pretty well-regulated already. Watch TV? Charter Communications owns me. Feel free to take Charter Communications, however. Just leave me WiFi.

How about phone calls? I’m in thrall to the cable company and AT&T already. Could the government be worse? I tend to doubt it. My calls — and yours — are already monitored by the NSA. Seriously, exactly what freedoms are “they” going to take and why would “they” bother?

Virtually every aspect of life is regulated. You can’t cut hair or sell insurance without a license. You can’t own or drive a car without a license, registration and insurance. Most places, you need to get a license to build an extension on your house, change the wiring, remodel your kitchen or put up a new roof. You need a license for your dogs and cats.

We aren’t connected to town water or sewage, so we pay whatever it costs to keep our well healthy and our septic functional. If they ever put in city water and sewer, I’m sure we’ll be required to hook up and pay some ridiculous amount of money to do it.  With all the perils, I prefer my own water. As of this writing, the air is free. If someone figures out how to regulate it, I’m sure they will. And sin. That’s free, but there’s always (heh) syntax.

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So what is such a big deal about requiring gun licensing and registration? We control and limit citizens’ access to pretty much everything. Why are guns sacred? Don’t talk to me about the Constitution. We have reinterpreted the constitution to align with the realities of modern life over and over again. There is no reason guns can’t be treated the same way as anything else.

The arguments against sensible gun control are stupid. If we control who can drive a car and how that car can be driven and there are a staggering number of traffic regulations enforced with considerable vigor, why can’t we exert at least as much control over weapons? You can’t drive drunk, how come you can walk around drunk with a gun? To whom does this make sense? Not me. I’m flummoxed by the illogic.

I would never want to limit my right — or yours —  to own a car, unless there’s good reason. Such as eyesight so poor you are not able to safely operate a vehicle. Or your having been arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or being unable to pay for at least minimal insurance and registration. Or you can’t pass the driver’s test. It would be irresponsible to give licenses to blind, drunk, or incapable drivers, wouldn’t it? How could equivalent oversight not be appropriate for guns? Seriously?

Butch Cassidy’s gun sold for $175,000.

MY “SO SIMPLE IT’S ALMOST STUPID” GUN CONTROL PLAN

To own a gun, you have to pass a test to make sure you know how to shoot and care for a weapon. You become obligated to keep it out of the wrong hands. You need to be able to see well enough to properly aim a gun and be able to hit a target. You need pass a background check so we know you aren’t a felon or a dangerous wacko.

You have to register your guns. All of them. You must know where they are and you may not lend them to anyone. If a gun is lost or stolen, you must report it. You need gun liability insurance on every weapon you own that contains a firing pin. If a weapon registered to you gets used in an illegal act, causes harm to others — with or without your consent — you are responsible for damages. If you don’t go to jail, you can still wind up in court.

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The nation, as well as individual states and counties can tax your weapons and refuse to license weapons deemed inappropriate for private owners. If you want a weapon that is considered unsuitable, you will have to get a different license, not to mention provide an explanation.

Simple, isn’t it? We license cars because cars are potentially dangerous; you can kill someone with a car. All this regulation doesn’t mean we don’t own cars. Obviously we own a lot of cars. We simply try to control who is allowed to drive and keep track of who owns what. It doesn’t mean we can keep every drunk off the road, prevent all accidents or stop joy-riding kids, but we do the best we can.

I have yet to hear a coherent argument against this plan — probably because there isn’t any. Guns should be regulated like every other dangerous thing.

Criminals and Gun Violence – SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG, Richard Paschall

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News - Sunday Night Blog – Richard Paschall

Despite news stories that would suggest the opposite, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy are fond of pointing out that the city has endured less shootings than in recent years.  If that is truly the case, then the shootings in past years was under reported by local media.  You can believe that they are all over it now. Local news in most big cities follow the mantra, “If it bleeds, it leads,” and shootings have become the lead stories all too often in the Windy City and around America. Chicago has become the topic of national newscasts and unfortunate late night talk show jokes.

Mayor Emanuel and his predecessor, long time mayor Rich Daley, have worked hard to get guns off the streets and out of the hands of criminals.  They worked to restrict gun sales, limit concealed carry and ban guns at certain locations.  In light of gun violence, it seems logical that city leaders would lead the charge to get guns out of the hands of the type of people who would shoot up a city park.  Unfortunately their efforts have met the fight to let criminals have their guns.  “Who would be against the efforts of our elected officials to make the city streets safer?” you may ask.  Is it just the gangs?  Are the gangs using their drug profits to oppose the city in court?  Is it the Mafia and their high-priced attorneys?  Is it some Tea Party extremist?  No, it is none of those although the last might be close.  It is the National Rifle Association that is working hard to let criminals have guns and keep violence on main street America.  They have money.  They have lawyers and they like taking Chicago to court.

Yes, one of the roadblocks to taking guns away from criminals is the NRA.  They will now point to recent shootings as proof that we can not have gun control.  They will again try to force feed us the argument that gun control will mean that only criminals will have guns  and we will all be at their mercy, as if we are not now.  The NRA will use their usual scare tactics to defend their extreme position that actually allows criminals to get more and more guns.  They will then attempt to sell us on the idea that all of those guns in the hands of criminals means we can not have gun control laws.  Somehow they seem to think that arming the bad guys is proof that the good guys should not have to face any sort of restrictions on buying guns.  If you think this philosophy is a bit twisted, you are right (or perhaps I meant left).

The “slippery slope” argument is at the top of the NRA’s philosophy about gun control laws.  They seem to think that if there are any restrictions to buying guns, soon there will be more and more restrictions to follow and eventually  all the good guys will have to give up their guns to the federal, state and local governments.  It does not matter that this argument make no sense and the Second Amendment will protect them.  They continue to fight the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago through misleading pronouncements and court challenges.  Consider the common sense ideas of the state and city along with the extremist, Wild West position of the NRA.

Attempts at restricting private sale or transfer of guns to criminals have been challenged.  Reporting lost or stolen guns has been challenged.  Restricting concealed carry in certain public places has been challenged.  The NRA has won a battle against the State of Illinois in Moore v. Madigan.  That would be Lisa Madigan, Attorney General for the State of Illinois.  They claimed that the State efforts to enforce its laws left people “defenseless” outside their own homes.  They also backed McDonald v. Chicago in a fight against Chicago hand guns laws.  Their direct fight in NRA v. Chicago was later consolidated with the McDonald case.  While the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld the Chicago law, the fight went to the Supreme Court where the much of the Chicago ordinance was struck down, leaving the city to attempt a less restrictive ban in 2010.

The State of Illinois was forced in July to adopt a concealed weapons laws, which angered city officials.  The law forced changes on the City of Chicago.  City officials, however, refuse to roll over to the wishes of the NRA.  They are now attempting to ban guns in bars and restaurants that sell alcohol.  They feel guns and booze don’t mix.  They expect the NRA to back the Dodge City mentality and challenge them in court.  Apparently, there should be no checking of hand guns at the door, but Marshal Dillon is not around to toss the bad guys in jail like an episode of Gunsmoke so this may not go well.  Perhaps all disputes will be settled by a duel in the street rather than shooting up Chicago saloons.

If Al Capone were still alive he would be proud of the efforts of the NRA to let Capone and Frank Nitti keep guns on the streets of Chicago.  As for Eliot Ness, the NRA would keep him and the Untouchables busy in court with challenges over any attempts to enforce the law, even common sense laws.

Marilyn Armstrong‘s insight:

Despite all the palaver that the availability of guns does not affect crime levels, this is so obviously ridiculous and self-serving by gun enthusiasts that it really isn’t worth arguing. I think everyone who hunts, competes in shooting sports and has some kind of genuine reason to own a weapon should be allowed to do so. I also think that all guns should be better regulated, insured, and kept track of.  Here is an opinion from Richard Paschall, SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG. Well worth reading.

See on rjptalk.wordpress.com

WHAT’S THE SCOOP?

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It seems to me the importance of whatever is going on in the world has an inverse relationship to the amount of attention it gets in the press. By “press,” I’m referring to newspapers, radio, television and other traditional news outlets, newer stuff like social networks, websites and blogs. Plus even newer sources of information such as newsletters and email. “Press” is the collective dissemination of information from a wide variety of perspectives and mediums. These days, it’s a free-for-all. If you care about truth and facts, you will need to do some independent reality checking.

News is loosely defined as whatever news people say it is. Whether or not this actually is news is subjective. The control of news content is not, as many people think, in the hands of reporters or even editors and publishers. Whatever controls exist are defined in corporate boardrooms run by guys like Rupert Murdoch who have no vested interest in keeping us well-informed. The news biz is about power, politics and money. Mostly money. It’s business, not public service.

That would, in theory, make “independent” sources — bloggers, for example — more “honest” … but don’t bet on it. Everybody’s got an agenda. Independence doesn’t equate to accuracy or honesty. They may not be beholden to a corporation or sponsors, but that doesn’t make them neutral or fair. They may be … but then again, maybe not. I’ve read blogs so blatantly lacking in any kind of journalistic ethics it shocked me. I am not easily shocked.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Pri...

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin acknowledge applause during a Joint Session of Congress in which President Jimmy Carter announced the results of the Camp David Accords. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure exactly when news stopped being stories about important stuff going on in the world and became whatever will generate a big audience likely buy the sponsors’ products. Money has always driven the news to some degree, but not like today. Now, everything seems to be driven by the bottom-line. It hasn’t improved the quality of the news. Once upon a time, important issues and stories got a free pass, an exemption from needing to have “sex appeal.” Significant news got on the air even if it wasn’t sexy or likely to sell products. Not true any more.

For a brief shining period from World War II through the early 196os and perhaps a bit beyond, the “Ed Murrow” effect was a powerful influence in American news. Reporters were invigorated by getting respect for their work and tried to be “journalists” rather than muckrakers.

When I was growing up, Walter Cronkite was The Man. He carried such an aura of integrity and authority I thought he should be president not merely of the U.S., but of the world. Who would argue with Walter Cronkite? He sat next to God in the newsroom and some of us had a sneaking suspicion God personally told him what was important. If Walter said it was true, we believed. Thus when Cronkite became the guy to get Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat to sit down and talk — the beginning of the Camp David Accords — it seemed natural and right. Who was more trustworthy than Uncle Walter? Who carried more authority? He walked in the glow of righteousness.

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He always made my mother giggle. It was not Walter, the reporter or man who made her laugh. It was his name. “Cronkite” in Yiddish means ailment, so every time his name was announced, my mother, who had a wild and zany sense of humor, was reduced to incoherent choking laughter. It was a nightly event. Eventually she got herself under control sufficiently to watch the news, but the sound of her barely contained merriment did nothing to improve the gravity I felt should surround the news.

To this day, the first thing I think of when I hear Walter Cronkite’s name — something that less and less frequently as the younger generations forget everything that happened before Facebook — is the sound of my mother’s laughter. That’s not entirely bad, come to think of it.

Walter was one of Ed Murrow’s boys, his hand-picked crew at CBS News.

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I can only wonder what the chances are of any of us living to see a return to news presented as news and not as entertainment. Where reporters and anchors check and doublecheck sources before broadcasting a story. Today, Jon Stewart’s comedy news The Daily Show gives us more accurate news than does the supposed “real” news, I like Stewart, but I don’t think this is the way it’s supposed to be.

For a look at the how we got from there to here, two movies spring instantly to mind : Network – a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Sidney Lumet starring Faye DunawayWilliam HoldenPeter Finch, and Robert Duvall. Its dark vision of the future of news has turned out to be very close to reality. Too close for comfort.

The other, for veterans of the TV wars, is Broadcast News, a 1987 comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by James L. Brooks. The film concerns a virtuoso television news producer (Holly Hunter), who has daily emotional breakdowns, a brilliant yet prickly reporter (Albert Brooks) and his charismatic but far less seasoned rival (William Hurt). When it first came out, it was almost too painful to watch.

And finally, Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom …the HBO series that gives the most realistic look at how it works and sometimes, how it fails … and why it matters.

The world goes on. We think we can’t survive without this or that. We think the world will go completely to Hell without real news and serious reporters but we survive. Maybe the worse for wear, but trucking along. Nonetheless, I’d like real news back on the air. I’d like to see a return to fact-based reporting. I know how old-fashioned that is, but I wish I could believe what I read, what I see, what I hear. I miss being able to trust the information I get. I would like to be less cynical or at the least, discover my cynicism was misplaced.

Just saying.

Daily Prompt: No Fair — AS SEEN ON TV

The advertisement pointed out a truth. Any company which needs to depend on binding contracts and punitive early withdrawal fees to keep customers from fleeing to other providers isn’t doing a good job. I was nodding agreement when I realized that the source of the advert was Charter Communications, one of the biggest thieves in the corporate world. Cable companies are — for good reason — the most hated service providers in these United States. The rage many of us hold towards our cable companies is intense. Mine alone could probably, if harnessed as raw energy, power a small city.

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Yet there they are. The biggest, baddest bald-faced liars, deploring the business practices of other companies — companies that have marketplace competitors. Unlike Charter and other cable providers who have a monopoly on services for the areas they “service.”

We don’t choose them. We have no choice. If we want digital service — Internet, television and sometimes telephones — we have to use them. It’s un-American, wrong, infuriating. It’s no fair!!

We’re not fleeing to other providers because we can’t. The way these services are structured, there’s only one game in town. For us, it’s Charter. For other’s, it’s Warner or Comcast or whatever.

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe anyone can argue that Internet, television and broadband are luxuries rather than necessities. Yet the last time I talked to someone at Charter’s customer disservice, she told me I don’t need Internet service. Don’t need a telephone. Or television. I think I swallowed my tongue. I don’t remember. I was so angry my mind went hazy and the remainder of the conversation is (probably mercifully) a blur.

I almost chipped a tooth watching that ad on television. The level of misleadingness (is that a word? it ought to be) was profound. How dare they? Aren’t there any laws about this sort of thing? What happened to truth in advertising?

My office by window lightWhat happened to truth?

All of us have a great many things about which to be angry. If I get started, I might never stop. I would never run out of things I’m mad about, that are unjust, unfair, totally not okay but with which I have to put up because I have no choice.

The state of the economy, the state of the world, the state of everything.

The horrible way companies treat us while taking our hard-earned money. The lies we are told by corporations, by our elected representatives. By supposed news purveyors. Even by people we know and believed we could trust. Not to mention (okay, I just mentioned them) the lies we tell ourselves. I hate those most of all because it’s so hard to find someone to blame.

I try not to think about it because it’s just going to make my blood pressure go up and that wouldn’t be good.

But honestly. Talk about nerve! Charter Communications, distributors of the most over-priced, erratic services. With the worst customer service on earth. They are taking the moral high ground? Really? Mind you these are people who manage to so alienate their customers they lose money while holding a monopoly, a company that would never survive actual market competition and which apparently is unlikely to survive even with the deck stacked in their favor.

How come we don’t form an angry mob and storm their offices? I’ll go if you will!

Lips that touch liquor …

Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil.  To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition including defining “intoxicating liquor” for anyone who needed an explanation.

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The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor or if you could get a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before and whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.

Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.

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Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class.

There are no fewer gay people because we made their lives difficult any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people. Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want?

How is that better or more moral? This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. And as often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before. Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.

Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920. No one has had a drink since! The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.

We are the FBI. You will obey.

Publicity photo of Robert Stack as Eliot Ness ...

Garry has an undying devotion to old television series, amongst them “The Untouchables.” Robert Stack as Elliott Ness. Dum-de-dum-dum. The FBI enforcing … (ta-da) The Volstead Act. Prohibition! Holy Moly!

What a great show. When the cops are annoyed with you, they can beat the living crap out of you and if that doesn’t get you to spill your guts, they’ll toss you off the moving train. You have a problem with that? You too are disposable. They don’t pretend you have rights. You know you are dirt under their feet and they treat you accordingly. Like dirt under their feet.

This is a show that never made the slightest apology for being racist or pretended to have any interest in fairness, truth or justice. Violent and single-minded, they pursued people who broke a stupid law: a constitutional amendment to tell people they shouldn’t drink. We needed that.

Compassionate and restraint were for sissies. Nor were they overly worried much about legalities. They said “We are G-men. You will obey!” And everyone did. This is the FBI at its purest. They are not merely above the law. They are the law.

My favorite moment in tonight’s show was when the boys, ignoring even a nod to international law, take the FBI bus into Mexico to track down the guys who kidnapped their witness. “The bus broke down three times and the trip took 10 hours,” said the stentorian voice of the narrator.

“So what?” I said to Garry. “We live in the country. That could describe my last trip to the grocery store.”

Simple solutions to complicated problems. I love television. Especially 1950s television.

Where I was that day

On September 11, 2001, I had just gotten back from overseas. I’d been in Israel, a business trip. While there, I picked up some kind of nasty bug that kept me very close to home — and a bathroom — and so, I was at home when the phone rang. Sandy and I were in my bedroom, sorting through some clothing. It was Owen — her husband, my son — on the phone.

“Turn on the television,” Owen said.

“What channel?” I asked.

“Any channel,” he said. “Do it now.”

I did. “The World Trade Center is on fire,” I said.

“A plane hit it,” he said. And as I watched, another plane hit the other tower and the world spun round and nothing was the same after that.

HittingTheTowerSandy and I just watched, silently. Owen was watching at work, on the other end of the phone line. Then, a tower was gone.

“Oh my God,” I whispered. “The tower is gone. Gone.”

Then, the other tower fell.

Nothing remained but a cloud of dust and a giant pile of toxic rubble. Information started to come in. One of my co-workers was supposed to be on one of the planes that had hit a tower. I called, but Herb said he had changed his mind at the last minute. He had felt he didn’t want to go on that flight. He’d take a different flight, later in the day.

“God whispered in your ear,” I said, as did everyone else that day. “God whispered and you listened.”

Close as we were to Boston, everyone was calling friends, family, trying to find out who was where, who was not, if anyone knew something. We watched television, we waited. Garry got home from Channel 7. He said the newsroom had been a very strange place that day. Very strange. Never stranger.

We knew the world had changed. We didn’t know how much. We didn’t know it would be forever.

Firefighters-9.11

12 years later, we know. It will never be the same. So many differences, some subtle, most not-so-subtle. It was the end of our belief in our invulnerability, though surely Pearl Harbor should have done that years before … but that was a “real” war, somehow different. This was an enemy we didn’t know we had, didn’t know was out to get us. Didn’t recognize the hatred behind the rhetoric, a hatred so blinding it would exempt no one from the fire.

It’s 9/11 again. A good time to remember who lived, who died, and how the world has changed.