Oh, I Understand Plenty

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I honestly and sincerely swore I wouldn’t write about politics again this election season but conditions impress upon me the need, the obligation, the responsibility to speak.

This year, many commentators are wondering aloud how we could have gotten to the place we today occupy – an ignorant, narcissistic sociopath is a major party’s nominee for the presidency. And, let’s not be coy, I’m talking about the Republican nominee, Donald Trump.

In the course of the period of my lifetime, barely one-fourth of the total period of American history, politics have devolved to the level of apes – no, this unfairly devalues ape society. When I was younger, Republicans stood for something understandable and American – main street sensibility, small central government, an ethic of hard work, economic opportunity. I may not have agreed with all of it but I understood and appreciated it as a coherent political philosophy.

What today’s Republican Party stands for isn’t beyond my comprehension exactly, more beneath my contempt. Today’s GOP is proudly bigoted, ignorant, racist, sexist and materialistic. It is anti-American, at least as I understand and use that term.

Let’s get concrete.

A man of color has occupied the White House for almost eight years. Republicans have never accepted him as the legitimate president of the United States. They have done everything possible to thwart his due exercise of office. Indeed, they have tried to de-legitimize him at every opportunity.

How? By supposing out loud that he was born in Africa, that he is a secret Muslim, that he is a sleeper agent of a terrorist cell, that his election and re-election were illegitimate.

He’s been made out to be foreign. We’ve been shown pictures of him with a bull’s eye on his chest, dressed as a witch doctor, as Adolph Hitler, in minstrel-show blackface. The entire media apparatus of News Corp (Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, et al.) was purposefully arrayed against him in vile and personal attacks.

And why?

Simply because of the color of his skin.

The same rough-justice mechanism is now being deployed against the Democratic Party’s next standard bearer for the unpardonable crime of being a woman.

Here is the truth: American demographics are our destiny.

Some years ago, Republicans made a pact with the devil – the Tea Party and other anti-American extremists – in the vain hope of remaining politically and socially relevant. It was a fool’s bargain. Our country is changing, has changed. Any party that caters to white male resentment as its backbone is doomed. The fact is, Republicans are already dead; they just can’t bring themselves to acknowledge it.

And yet, TV pundits feign confusion about what’s going on in the American political landscape. As if they didn’t know.

I beg you, in the deepest way I know how, to say it simply, plainly and out loud: the Republican Party has staked its life on appealing to the basest instincts of a declining portion of the American electorate and it will die as a result. And it will die very soon. And there is nothing the party hierarchy or its craven media whore can do to stop it.

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Terma (or τέρμα)

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Note dear reader: I will not come close to capturing the real essence of the subject of this post but I promise to do my absolute best. Simply, he is too large to get right on paper.

He was a force, that much is certain. He was with us often, always it seemed, on that trip to Greece several years ago. He filled the room with his sheer presence. Not overbearing exactly, like some boulder rolling down a hillside; he was more like a professional entertainer that was always on. Amusing but exhausting.

He was my uncle Taiki, now recently departed.

When we arrived in Athens after a very long day of flying and connecting, he whisked us to the family house in the city, where we settled in for a multi-hour feast. He sat, as I remember, between Erika and me and served as more or less constant, which is to say non-stop, translator.

He told me stories about the family and gave Erika a crash course in must-know Greek. The word for fork. The word for knife. The word for glass. And on. And on. And on, throughout dinner.

He told me how superior the Greek language was to the vulgarity of English. In English, we have one word for rock, he said; in Greek, there’s rock, and pebble, and stone, and boulder. And on. And on.

He called me something that sounded like “Brunt.”

One day, a few days later, he loaded us into the back of his van and took us all to the Temple of Poseidon at Sounio, which turned out to be, as promised, among the most beautiful places I have seen on this earth.

When I pulled out my camera to get some photos, Taiki seemed genuinely offended. “Rocks,” he said. “You came all this way to take pictures of rocks?” I tried to laugh it off but he had none of it. “You like rocks?” he asked. I said I found the temple magnificent, or whatever word I had to express that feeling in Greek.

With that, he vaulted the barrier, walked to a column and broke a piece of marble off in his thick hand. He came back, jumped the chain again, shoved the piece of the ancient and glorious temple into my hand and said, “There. Now you’ve got your rock.”

Taiki looked much like his aunt, my grandmother. The fair hair, the piercing blue eyes, the rolling walk that so many have who’ve grown up in an agricultural life. We visited the family farm, on the Gulf of Corinth. Taiki showed me the family’s olive press, the fields where my grandmother played as a little girl, the boat the family used to catch the calamari we had for lunch that day.

And there were the stories. Some, frankly, just too good to be true, even when washed down with liberal amounts of the family’s homemade retsina. He was a general in the Greek army, politically connected, a lemon farmer, a raconteur, a lover of life and his family.

When, during our visit, he would get to be too much, Erika would tell him to stop by saying a word Taiki himself had taught her, terma. And, like the gentleman he was, he would smile and stop (for a few minutes, at any rate).

According to the Urban Dictionary, a Taiki is “…a male who is an oddball combination of an artist, a gentleman, and a ninja.” How very accurate.

And, as Erika can still tell you, the Greek word for fork is πιρούνι. Thank you for that, Taiki. 

Terma.

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He’s Simply Perfect

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Now, finally, several months into this dystopian circus, media pundits and Republican Party officials are wringing their bony hands, wondering how it happened. How, they ask in their pathetic and whiny columns and commentaries, could a person like Donald Trump be on the verge of gaining the presidential nomination of a major American political party?

As if they didn’t know a single thing about the real America.

In point of fact, Donald Trump is the absolutely perfect man to represent today’s America to the world. He is a more accurate mirror of our country’s character than any major candidate for the presidency.

  1. He is vulgar.
  2. He is impressed with all the external trappings of money. He is all surface and shuns substance at every opportunity.
  3. He is racist, sexist and bigoted.
  4. He embraces greed.
  5. He practices a faux Christianity, without any grounding in or awareness of the foundation of the real religious tradition behind it.
  6. He is full of phony man-bluster, a classic limp-dick, chickenshit bully. Never engaging in any actual fighting but consistently threatening something big and severe.
  7. He doesn’t read, doesn’t know history, doesn’t understand government, or how things work. He is proud to demonstrate his ignorance, as Sarah Palin did on the campaign trail before him. Her endorsement spoke volumes about his suitability for the presidency, his suitability to represent us.

He is, in short, the perfect man for the job of representing America.

 

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Phoenix Convention Center Saturday, July 11, 2015. (Cheryl Evans/The Arizona Republic via AP)

Losing It

12/08/1957 SanFrancisco 49ers vs Colts .. Fans on rooftops behind Kezar Stadium

 

I found professional football a wondrous thing when I was first introduced to it, back in the 1960s.

Games between near-mythic gladiators were listened to on the radio, or read about in Monday’s newspaper, where reporters used the power of language to bring readers into the experience and atmosphere of the game. Home games weren’t broadcast on TV in that dark era, so it was either attend in person, listen on radio, or read about it. The networks only broadcast top-tier games on TV and our Forty-Niners weren’t in the top-tier in those days, not even close. When they played the NFL’s best teams (and weren’t home) we could have the pleasure of seeing them go down to ignominious defeat live.

When home in those days, the Forty-Niners played in Kezar Stadium, named for city benefactress Mary Kezar, which sat at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park and adjoined a quaint residential neighborhood of Victorian homes. It was just down the hill from the University of San Francisco, which supplied some of the team’s early stars, and was as close to the geographic center of town as was possible to find for construction of a football stadium. Regular attendees knew not to drive there – such was madness. They walked, or took a bus.

The turf, maintained by the city’s parks and recreation department, was often muddy and brown. All the seats were plain wooden benches. Food was modest. Beer was cheap and free-flowing. Fans were the local hoi polloi. But when you were at Kezar, you knew damn well you were in San Francisco, watching the local boys play some football.

Kezar wasn’t luxe in any sense of the word but it was intimate. Fans were on top of the field and each other. A community was created every home game day. Season ticket holders became family with one another and, by the end of any game, with more casual attendees as well.

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And, by God, the Forty-Niners, although never big winners at Kezar, were always quirky originals and fun to watch.  On the offensive side of the ball, John Brodie, Ted Kwalick, Gene Washington. On the defense, there was Dave Wilcox, Rosie Taylor, Jimmie Johnson, Mel Phillips. Most players, certainly those without marquee status and million-dollar contracts, had off-season employment or owned small local businesses.

The team of that era and the place they played football couldn’t be any more different than today’s Forty-Niners or their stadium, sitting as it does in the midst of low-rise corporate office buildings, the Santa Clara Convention Center, a moat-like parking expanse and a dull and aging amusement park. The setting is classic American suburban, therefore automobile-based. Parking lots of various sizes encircle the stadium like the camps of a besieging army.

The stadium itself was all I imagined it to be from reading about it and seeing it on television – plastic, generic, electronic, corporate. The slope of the stands make most seats feel farther from the field than they are. Openings on the northern and southern ends dissipated fan noise and connection to the game and each other. Big screens broadcasting field action live compensate for poor visibility. Corporate logos are everywhere.

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The architectural feature that dominates the stadium is the luxury suite/press box building, essentially a non-descript soulless high-rise of glass and metal, which could be any of the surrounding Santa Clara office buildings, or, really, any corporate campus building in Anywhere, USA.

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In short, there is no sense of particular place or setting.

The economics of professional sports have changed since the 1960s, to be sure. The NFL, itself a nonprofit institution that earns over $12 billion in revenue from ticket sales and merchandizing, takes in additional $billions in corporate sponsorships, in-kind contributions and underwriting – and that amount is expected to grow 5% in the coming year. The average NFL team is worth something like $2 billion.

Running that sort of business requires commitment to amenities for sponsors and fans: luxury boxes, gourmet food, (gasp) seats with backs. And it requires maximizing revenue through instruments like seat licenses, high season ticket prices and fees. So, in a perverse way, it is altogether fitting for an organization like that to do its business inside something like Levi’s Stadium.

In that narrow way, the place is perfection, unlike, of course, the team that plays there.

In every way, the San Francisco Forty-Niners football team I saw last weekend were the worst possible exemplars of American football. No quirkiness. No drama. No dash. No personality. No fun. Rudderless. Aimless. Passionless. Unsuccessful and unengaged.

The Forty-Niners are awash in logos but drifting away from the very characteristics that made them, and the game they play, so special.

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Paris

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At this moment, I would be truly remiss if I didn’t say a few words about Paris.

Paris is a place I love, a place the world loves. It is the cultural, artistic and intellectual capital of the civilized world. It is a place to see the world’s greatest art, opera and dance. It is a place to sit for hours and talk. It is a place to read and learn, to wrestle with serious ideas, to meet people of widely varying cultures and philosophies. That’s one side of the city.

Paris is also a place to eat, drink and be merry. Coffee and croissant at a sidewalk cafe. Red wine and conversation with a lover. Cassoulet at a small neighborhood place filled with people speaking all the languages of all the peoples of the earth.

I knew about Paris long before I ever visited; it felt excitingly familiar the second I landed. Comfortable yet challenging. Classical yet avant garde. Friendly yet thrilling.

I don’t understand the cowards who would want to destroy Paris and I don’t want to. I loathe the people who did this; I despise them. They are beneath my effort to understand them; as I would not expend one ounce of energy in trying to understand the thoughts of an ass.

My hope today: may the infantile, insignificant and ignorant asses who make up the ranks of ISIS die in the vile agony of their own making.

They have accomplished nothing by killing people in Paris, the world’s city of light. Unlike their petty and juvenile “movement”, the beauty of Paris will live on forever.

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Inspiration Is Where You Find It

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It may be a time of unusually depressing news, or I may just be getting older, but there’s plenty to be down about these days. Examples: the wave of humanity from Syria meeting human indifference in Europe and North America; the ignorance and bigotry posing as ‘religious freedom’ in Kentucky and elsewhere; the clown-show going by the name of the campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency.

That said, three things have given me inspiration and hope today and I do so want to share them.

The first might seem rather random but life is that way sometimes. Later today, at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, Grambling State University’s football team will play the Golden Bears of the University of California. No, that’s not it; this isn’t a sports story. Besides football, Grambling, an historically-black institution of higher education, is known for it’s high-octane, high-energy, up-to-date and hip marching band, called “The Best Band in the Land.” Yesterday, that band practiced at Richmond’s John F. Kennedy High School, to the delight and, yes, inspiration of the benighted school’s students.

Now, Kennedy is known as a tough school. It’s big and it’s urban. There have been violent incidents. Its students don’t tend to be among the state’s most accomplished. But yesterday, they got to see a high-performing unit of college kids who looked a lot like the high school kids and, by all reports, the results were glorious.

The message they brought to Kennedy, along with their music, was summed up by band member Jamie Taylor, who is from Oakland,  “You have the potential to do anything that you put your mind to,” he said . “I didn’t think that I would be able to do it, balancing classes and everything, but I’ve done it and I’m just so happy and I’m proud of myself, as well as my peers.”

Here’s hoping that message was absorbed by the Kennedy crowd.

The next source of inspiration came over the radio, on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s program Day 6. The program host, Brent Bambury, interviewed two Canadians who, a generation ago, were refugees from Vietnam, or boat-people as they were called back then. These people know well the feelings of today’s Syrians hoping for some measure of charity, if not hospitality from Europeans, from whom they’re hoping for refuge. Some years ago, they had been in the precise position, herded into camps, made to wait for sponsorship from some unknown someone in a position to help.

They knew the struggle. You could hear that in their voices. But they also knew the relief when, in their cases, good-hearted Canadians took them in. And the result? They have become hard-working members of their communities, good citizens and credits to their nation. Turns out their gratefulness extends pretty deep. They’re organizing other Vietnamese-Canadians, themselves mostly former refugees, to help today’s Syrian refugees by extending the promise they found, in Canada, by sponsoring as many of them as they can.

Canada had made all the difference in their lives, they reckoned in the interview, so they had an absolute obligation to humanity that necessitated their engagement in this latest human crisis. I listened to Bambury’s program in complete awe and gratitude.

Finally, with all the cheap drama about and purposefully wrong-headed reaction to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis and her denial of civil rights to gay and lesbian couples, I was completely delighted to read today the front page of my local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle.

You see, routinely, every single day, day in and day out, without much, if any, particular difficulty, couples come into San Francisco’s gorgeous and historic City Hall to get marriage licenses and get married. The city clerk dispatches the job efficiently, without prejudice or judgment. Couples leave, tearfully, happily and then go to parties or lunch, then on about with their lives, as they themselves see fit, according to their own conceptions of divine direction, or whatever inspires them.

Seen any man-woman marriages crumble as a result? Are the end-times just around the corner as a consequence? Not that I’ve seen, and I’m around City Hall at least once a week. (But, you know, I’ll be keeping my eyes open.) Know what I do see? Couples in love. Supportive families and friends taking pictures and, every so often, crying too.

If these particular stories don’t give you inspiration, then go find some of your own. I bet you’ll find some if you’ll only look.

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Oh, Canada

The Glacier at Lake Louise
The Glacier at Lake Louise

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to revisit the beautiful Canadian Rockies. They were just as I remember them from a visit I took about 25 years ago, with my then-fiancee. (Good story for another time, she and I are now spouses.)

The scenery was, of course, breathtaking. One morning, we rose at 5:00 and boarded canoes to witness the sun rising on the glacier at Lake Louise. It was magical, a spiritual moment of the type you (or, rather, I) can only find in nature.

The Banff National Park has many such places and moments in store for visitors, of whom there are many, from many different lands. Considering the number of visitors we saw, the openness and cleanliness of the park is nothing short of a miracle. Or it would be back home in the United States. In Canada, people take community responsibility seriously. There is scarcely any litter to speak of. People pick it up.  There is little, if any, graffiti on public structures. Canadians who live within the borders of the park take just pride in their place and the condition in which visitors find it.

Can you, my fellow Americans, even imagine?

Of course, this civic pride isn’t just in the national parks. Canadian cities are bright and open, clean and vibrant. There is a public spirit I don’t often find at home.

And there’s more. Canadians are polite and helpful. They act like grownups. They wait in line and take their turns. They ask if they can help. They don’t run red lights and wait for pedestrians. They build community centers and athletic facilities. Canada offers a public health system that guarantees healthcare for all, just by virtue of being there. And, then, there’s the issue of guns.

At dinner one night, our waitperson asked where we were from. When I said San Francisco, he said, “You must feel naked without your gun, eh?” When I asked him what he meant (Because, God knows, I don’t often pack heat.), he said that he assumed all Americans carry guns around. I tried to correct the impression but I suspect he’d seen too much TV and was having none of it.

Imagine living in a clean, polite, safe country like that.

There is much, I believe, about Canada to admire. And every single time I’ve visited, I’m reminded of that.

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