There Is So Much

This is going to be a short one…because really, there is so little that I can say which will be able to encompass the sense of grandeur that I am currently feeling. There is no particular reason why I’m feeling especially in awe of anything tonight, but as I sat down to write, I was overcome by just how much there is in the world. It struck me, quite suddenly, that there is literally something everywhere that has a story, a history, a means by which it came into being, and behind all of those things is a person. While we clearly have the capacity for causing havoc, we humans can also do great things and things beyond things even. Despite our shortcomings, I still find us a generally loveable bunch.

I have a treasured book by museum director Niel MacGregor titled, A History of the World in 100 Objects. In my opinion, what makes this stocky collection so brilliant is that it’s just as visually appealing as it is wonderfully written. MacGregor does a fantastic job of giving us a guide through some of the British Museum‘s most telling treasures. Within the included selections, we are told a story through the provenance and lives of, what might at first glance appear, disparate objects. Far-flung and meticulously collected objects such as a bird shaped pestle from Papua New Guinea, a coin with the head of Alexander the Great from 305 B.C. from Turkey, the homoerotic Warren Cup from near Jerusalem, and a feather helmet from Hawaii from the 18th century all weave the story of human material culture from way back when. History is just filled with things, each of them swollen ripe with the lives of our ancestors.

It’s easy enough to take the things we are surrounded by for granted. A toaster is after all just a toaster — but is it? A mailbox seems boring enough until we recount the relatively short history of postal systems in the world, and when we consider that for most of postal history, it’s all been delivered by foot. It seems to be nothing new that humans have been telling stories, and sending them out into the world for others to enjoy. As the world grows ever more connected, and we are brought closer together by another miracle thing called the internet, which by now has it’s own mythology and heroic figures attached to it, I hope that we will still take a few moments every now and again to just look around and realize that everything, even the most mundane of objects around us,  was just an idea that someone had at one point or another.

There is an abundance of potential just waiting to help us bring or ideas to fruition. We are inventors more than we are adventurous discoverers. We are the ones who are capable of so much creative potential that we have created other things to distract us from creating. Everything has a story. Everything is someone’s idea. We’ll be alright.

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Gun Crazy

This one hurts. I am livid about the gun-related tragedies that continue to unfold on a regular basis in the USA and I find that this particular issue troubles me to such an intense degree that involving myself in it only leaves me angry, frustrated, and ashamed of my fellow citizens. But, I simply cannot be quiet. Again, the nation has endured a tragedy which has become so commonplace in the United States that fatigue has set in and many people are happy to simply look the other way. Many people, I am sure, feel that there is nothing that they can do. Yet, that is exactly what those who are profiting from the continual slaughter of innocent Americans want. Placid acceptance that their product is ubiquitous with all that is American is just what those who manufacture, sell, and trade guns designed for the sole purpose of killing humans want. Groups like the NRA seek to prop up their own agenda, for their own means, for their own profit margins…and if we have to die in order for that to happen, then that’s that! We are the only industrialized nation in the world where this happens…over and over. We have the most guns per capita of any country on earth. We have a second amendment which grants us the right to bear arms. Well, one of the definitions of the verb, to bear, is to endure (an ordeal or difficulty) — I, for one, am tired of bearing arms.

I have heard both well-founded and poorly constructed arguments as to why gun control is unnecessary. Some say that it would be ineffective and that those set on harming others would find a way to get the guns. My response is – how do you know? We cannot draw that conclusion until we have tried it. You can be sure that if weapons manufacturers found that they no longer made profits in the United States (don’t forget dear reader, those illegal arms, were manufactured and purchased at some point), they would move on to another market and there just  might be fewer possibilities to illegally get one’s hands on weapons designed for war. Why are we now perpetually at war with each other? Maybe gun control won’t work…but there is some evidence from around the world that it just might. Another argument those who insist on possessing these arms spout out is that they don’t want the government being the only ones with weapons in the country. To that I always point out that; first, we are a representative republic with power invested in democratically elected officials and institutions (for the moment), and therefore, we are the government–that’s the whole idea! Second, I ask them where the endgame for that logic leads? Should civilians have access to nuclear weapons? Most sane people agree that civilians should not be able to purchase nuclear grade weapons…that’s control, that’s regulation. Who draws that line?

Some would argue that the second amendment draws that line, and promises us the right to bear arms…but it doesn’t specify which kind of arms. So, why not nuclear arms? The truth is, we accept controls on most of the rights afforded to us by the constitution for the good of public safety. Afterall, the first amendment guarantees us freedom of speech. Yet, most people would agree that shouting FIRE! in a crowded cinema and causing an ensuing stampede is, and should remain, illegal on grounds of endangerment. I just can’t, for the life of me, understand why we cannot extend that very same reasoning to the gun control debate in the USA.

I’m tired of people calling for prayer to solve an issue that is within our own power to solve. Delegating this gaping national mistake to a metaphysical power outside of us only allows us to persuade ourselves that we are powerless to change, that we needn’t feel ashamed of ourselves for permitting college students, concert goers, and first graders to be murdered again and again. These prayers are not working…or maybe they already have. Maybe we’ve already got exactly what it takes to make sure that this never happens again. Maybe it is well within our own power to end this national tragedy…and we do nothing! Evidence proves that after a mass shooting such as the one in Las Vegas gun purchases increase in the country. That means that every time our innocent citizens die full of bullets, we reward the weapons industry by fattening their pockets. It is insanity! I refuse to submit my rational mind to insanity! NEVER!

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You Better THINK (‘Bout What You’re Trying To Do To Me!)

There is seemingly nothing of actual importance to deal with in the United States of America these days, not the great swathes of the country demolished by hurricanes, not the ever increasingly erratic president who creates African countries and publicly calls anyone he perceives as fodder (which is apparently everyone) names, not the painful racial division and ongoing racial discord within the country – none of that seems especially poignant. However, according to my Facebook feed and the ongoing news media cycle, one cannot escape the meaningless feud that the president and “conservatives” have decided to engage in surrounding the issue of standing for the national anthem during sporting events. Seriously, the level of outrage and indignant chest pounding over this non-issue is baffling! I just can’t quite comprehend why this is an issue so worthy of the entire nation’s attention!

First and foremost, I believe it is blatantly clear that the first amendment protects both standing as a sign of reverence during the national anthem and also the opposite – not standing. By choosing to kneel, citizens (whether they happen to be multi-millionaire players or not) are practicing their first amendment rights. Naturally, others have the right to free speech, to disagree, to dissent, to adamantly and spiritedly debate the patriotic merits of such actions, but we must never forget that there is absolutely no law establishing a test of loyalty to our country. Just as we are free to choose where, when, and how we will practice our religions (or not practice them), we are free to decide how we personally interpret our patriotism and roles as citizens. To suggest that another citizen should perform the same rituals and prescribe to the same nationalistic behaviours as I do, is (and I do not say this without fully understanding the implications of my words) pure fascism. Under fascist regimes, the entire populace, either by force or by conviction, subjugate their own personal opinions to the norms of the state, for the glory of the state, because there is nothing other than the state. The citizen is no longer an individual, but rather a simple, nearly meaningless unit within the collective vessel of the state.

For all of the fiery rhetoric that many conservatives spew surrounding their wish to limit the role of government, to uphold the centrality of the individual against the notion of the nation-state, and their often convinced positions against anything which might benefit the collective, they sure do seem to rally around an ideal of patriotic conformity like a plague of locusts. By allowing the president of the United States to publicly, and in the capacity of the office, call someone a “Son of a Bitch” for not subscribing to the same brand of involved citizenship that he feels is standard, we are allowing for the erosion of our standards of individuality; our freedom.

If you, dear reader, think that the current occupant of the office of president of the United States of America cares what another multi-millionaire does at work, then you are, I am sorry to say, too far gone for me to reason with. By calling a player who chooses to fully exercise his first amendment rights differently than others might a, “son of a bitch,” the president insults not only the player, not only the player’s mother whom he has decided is a bitch, but also every American citizen! Though this should not be surprising, and I seriously am amazed at how I can continue to be so unpleasantly surprised by this accursed man, I am shocked at how the American people have not taken him to task over his demand that dissent be punished. Our entire country is built on the idea of dissent! The colonists, in the ultimate act of dissention, chose to act out of their greater sense of freedom, out of a belief that the individual and their conscience is of far greater importance than the whims of a monarch, an established church, or an unjust law or tax, and birthed a nation.

I do not know exactly what the solution to any of this should be. I am a writer, not a constitutional expert or policy wonk, but what I do know for sure, is that I am tired of seeing messages on my feed detailing how the flag (an arbitrary national symbol subject to change),  or the national anthem (which is just a song after all and cannot feed your children or pay your mortgage), are somehow superior expressions of one’s love of nation and people. There is no greater expression of love, in my opinion than freedom, and that includes the freedom to not do what everyone else thinks you should do. Love of nation, in my eyes, is much more colorful than red, white, and blue, and much more nuanced in lyric than anything Francis Scott Key could pen. Indeed, love might just look like a rich man wearing a helmet and bulky padding, on one knee, begging for his fellow citizens to simply THINK!

“People walk around everyday, playing games, taking scores —

Trying to make other people lose their minds.

Well, be careful! You’re gonna’ lose yours!

You better think! Think ’bout what you’re trying to do to me! 

Yeah, think! Let your mind go, let yourself be free! 

Oh, Freedom! Freedom! Yeah, Freedom!

Freedom!”

– Aretha Franklin

Think,” Aretha Now (1968)

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Looking For Something To Read? – Gilbert Adair

Most people have a favorite author, or singer, or performer, or something to that effect. At some point in most people’s lives, they will be lucky enough to stumble upon a piece of poetry, an essay, or a three-minute pop song that really speaks to their condition. This is one of the wonders of art. It connects with myriad people in ways which are often very individual yet simultaneously universal. The joy of seeing your favorite film for the one hundredth time, is a joy that can be shared by anyone who has something that they are drawn to because of its beauty, its honesty, or its revelatory capacity. I believe that is one of the primary functions of art – to remind us that we are human…whatever that means exactly…and I do believe that we are still figuring it out.

My favorite author is Gilbert Adair. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re not alone. Many people don’t know who he was, and here I really must use the past tense as he died in 2011 of a brain hemorrhage after a stroke which left him blind. It was a thoroughly tragic end for the British writer and film critic who was able to carve out a niche for himself within the already microscopic world of the novella. One wonders how he managed to ever eat, but there are still means for writers to get by; writing film reviews for newspapers, writing and rewriting scripts for Hollywood, etc. Not being terribly celebrated, the Scottish born writer even jumped on the detective novel bandwagon with a series of books that have proven popular enough to still be in print. It is his novels, or rather dashing novellas, that I first discovered and which have sustained my deep fascination with this writer.

The closest many ever came to his work might have been through film as a couple of his books were handed over to the screen. Love and Death on Long Island, a 1997 film based on the novel with the same title doesn’t quite capture the anguished sovereignty of the aged protagonist’s infatuation with the younger b-movie heart-throb that the lean and coy novel is rife with. Love and Death is Adair’s reimagining of Mann’s Death in Venice and I find it just as compelling. Whereas Mann’s masterpiece carries one to the antique grandeur of a turn of the century Venice during a cholera plague, Adair takes us to the quotidian opulence of suburban Long Island – a place I imagine to be just as plagued. The choice of setting hints at Adair’s fascination with America, its shortcomings, and youthful egotism. It can be read within a weekend with ease and I certainly recommend it for anyone who has seen the film, and especially for those who haven’t. We all know it’s worth reading the book first!

Adair’s biggest success came about through a film adaptation of his novel, The Holy Innocents, the tale of an American student who becomes involved in a love triangle with a brother and sister while holed up in their aged parents’ apartment in 1968’s Paris. Of course, the student protests are the backdrop, but all of the action save the last chapter or so, happens either at the cinema or in the apartment. The film was titled, The Dreamers (2003), which is a dreadful name for the story. I’m not sure if that was director Bernardo Bertolucci’s decision, but the renaming was, in my opinion, a big mistake. It captures none of the violence that having done nothing at all, about anything at all, entails and that is so brilliantly played out in the book. I must admit however, as is always the case with this director, the cinematography is brilliant and the script remains loyal to the novella. If you have the time, it’s worth diving into both the book and the film…it’s heady though, and you’ll want to make love and possibly run like a madman through the halls of the Louvre, but isn’t that what art is supposed to make you do anyway?

Finally, the haunting, Buenas Noches, Buenos Aires, is the story of a young Englishman who comes to Paris to teach English in a language school and finds himself smack in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. It is more than a chilling history of an epidemic which has still not drawn to an end, but a story of great psychological depth which could have easily been expanded, but in his mastery, Adair sparingly apportions the story so that we finish the book still hungry. Despite the often morose undertones, the nearly macabre frivolity toward life which plays out in the pages, Adair manages to leave us wanting more. I believe that this book will someday assume its rightful place within queer literature and hopefully within the greater literary context as a whole. This one is not for those who prefer lighter reads, but I can promise you that it is worth it.

The great thing about novellas is that they give one the satisfaction of finishing a whole book, but in half (or even less) the time. You can pop these into your bag and read them on the train, or in the line at the supermarket, or on your lunch break. Adair was just that good. Good enough to make his work feel like a guilty pleasure while concurrently confronting his reader with portrayals of people at their neediest, most visceral, and most compulsive. I sincerely encourage you to give Adair a shot, and I am sure you’ll at least consider him for your new favorites list.

 

 

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Embracing Darkness

As the earth tilts away from the sun here in the northern hemisphere, darkness harkens. Shorter months, and a clock which is more and more likely to contain fewer hours of daylight are becoming the norm and though there are still brilliant moments of autumnal light around midday, the evenings are now cool and dim. I’ve already written about fall and how I’m learning to love it, and I’ve also already written about how I adore the sun, but lately I’ve also been considering more and more what exactly the coming darkness might offer.

I suppose it’s only natural that humans are uncomfortable with the darkness. It must have been quite harrowing having to survive nights as primal humans against the natural world. Our eyes, while able to adjust, are better suited to the daylight, yet I am sure there is much to discover in the folds of the night as the seasons change. The nightlife references parties, fun, drinking, and that special blend of glamour and hedonism that humans are able to assume in the kindness of the night. Away from the light, there is also a kind of freedom which allows us to embrace our complex selves, our private fantasies, our irresponsible and reckless selves. That’s not quite what I’ve been touching base with as of late however.

There is also the long dark night of the soul – whereby, I am told, one endures great spiritual tribulation and is born again with a kind of renewed faith at the break of day. Perhaps my more cerebral tendencies have prevented me having to experience this thus far, but if such a spiritual trial should come my way, I hope that it will be quite literally at night, when time stands still and there is only my own self and the darkness to contend with as I wrestle the metaphysical. And, if at the first sliver of tomorrow I am renewed, then let it be with a fully embodied memory of the previous hours, let me not forget the darkness.

Looking out my window in broad daylight, there is a enough to remind me of this place that we have made for ourselves, yet that same window only some hours later faces me blankly with a colorless void and I am comforted in knowing that at the end of the day, there is still only me and my mind to contend with — and that is certainly enough! Sometimes the dark is equated with danger, evil, ignorance, uncertainty, fear, dread, angst, hopelessness, etc., but in my case, there is only a sense of calm. A sense that it may soon be time to rest, to slip into the canopy-covered jungle of the unconscious — subconscious — dreamland.

I’m pretty sure that I’ll always have a strong preference for the long days of summer, but slowly, like the creeping evening here in mid-September, I am learning to lean into the night, to be calmed by its silence, and relieved by its inability to reflect light and therefore to expose. Hidden things are still things of worth. Secrets are not as bad as we’ve all been led to believe. They are held in the vast unknown of the night and have their time to dance. But, come morning, they recede again into the spectrum of our public selves. Their time is held safe and, in these early autumn days, it grows and expands so that we might as well.

Turn off the lights.

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I’ll Be A Hurricane

There’s a lot on the TV news circuit (and online) regarding hurricanes at the moment. In the U.S. there was recently Harvey in Houston, and now it looks as if the Caribbean and Florida are getting hit hard by Irma. Naturally, I’m wishing that all of those in the area had time and means to get out of the path of the hurricane, but I’m not naive enough to believe that to be totally true. There are always some hardliners who insist on staying put no matter how dire the forecasts. Humans are intensely connected to their places in the world and I can somewhat understand the need to remain with one’s possessions, yet on the other hand, I can’t imagining owing anything that I want to keep more than my very life! Still, I sincerely hope that all of those who are having to deal with this will pull through and rebuild and carry on with life. Nature, so it would seem, is ever ready to prove just how very much we don’t control the world in which we live. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Coming from the south of the U.S. and having lived in New Orleans, I know first hand the wrath of the Atlantic hurricanes. Yet, I must admit a deeply primal sense of awe and respect for, and perhaps even kinship with, the storm. What I remember as most striking about the great wind and rain, was just how still it caused one to become. The sheer force of the elements, and the innate knowledge of one’s powerlessness, turned one to stone. Only a pebble perhaps, but something solid and heavier than normally. Rarely, do we have the opportunity to be so solemnly still in our day-to-day lives. Rarely, do we have to face our absolute powerlessness in the face of the host we live upon. Every now and again however, some natural phenomenon jolts us from our sleep, and we are reminded just how chaotic the winds and rains, the highs and lows, can be as they roar around a center that is stillness itself. There is definitely a lesson there.

It seems, unfortunately, that these kinds of storms will only become more frequent. Things will get worse before they get better. We will have to find a calm center in which we can grab moments of respite as our lives, and those of our neighbors and loved ones, get tossed round the way things can so often be tossed round in this world. It’s difficult to know what to do or say in such events. Most everything sounds contrived and shallow. Not that there’s anything wrong with contrived and shallow necessarily, but for people who have lost everything they’ve ever worked for, and maybe even family members, it’s important to remember that platitudes do nothing at all for the suffering; only right-intentioned action can alleviate the symptoms of despair. I encourage anyone reading this, at any given time, hurricane or not, to donate to the Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations. They are the ones who do the real work of rebuilding lives, sometimes from the molecular level up. They are the only ones, with the collective power of souls who have dedicated their lives to helping others survive, that can offer anywhere near a fitting response to such tragedy.

http://www.redcross.org/

So please, go on and donate, and when you’ve finished just sit still a moment. Contemplate for just a short while on how you are helping those around you weather the gusts and stinging rain of the hurricane that rages around you. While you’re at it, go on and put on Grace Jones’ Hurricane (2008) album and listen as she accompanies you through revolutions of air and water and sound. What power is it that you have in this world?

“I can scheme, I can lie, 

I’ll take care of you, til the day you die. 

I can hold brush, I can push broom, 

When I walk by, flowers will bloom.

And I can be cool, soft as the breeze, 

I’ll be a hurricane, ripping up trees!”

– Grace Jones

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Can’t Help Falling in Love

I detest winter. As I’ve mentioned here before, I love the sun and summer. But, I do have to admit a soft spot for fall (or autumn) as well which is good as I can feel that, at least here in Germany, it’s right around the corner. Actually, I love summer and fall for some of the same reasons and while that may sound a bit contradictory depending upon what the climate is like wherever you are when reading this, I am happy to explain. What follows are four ways in which I find summer and fall to be similar and reasons why, despite knowing exactly what fall foretells, I’ve grown to love it.

1: Color, Color, Color

If summer is a festival of bright, sun-inspired colors then fall is a keyed down and introspective dance of colors. Fall is more indie folk whereas summer is clearly EDM. The earth-toned, deep reds and oranges of fall make me feel nearly as warm as their more vibrant summer counterparts, but without all of that heat induced energy just beneath the surface. Whether the trees or the clothes, the colors are just as giving as the summer colors, but less intense.

2: Clothes

I really dislike being weighed down by heavy clothing, yet I am a big fan of layering. The great thing about fall fashion is that it offers the best of both worlds. During these transitional months, before our bodies have to be buried under the utilitarian density of winter clothing in order to stay alive, we get to enjoy clothing that can be light but also cozy. In many ways, I associate fall styles more with the summer and less with the winter because of the aforementioned use of color and their relative freedom. If summer clothes are spring break (wet, wild, and barely there) then fall clothes are the last week of school…casual enough to let everyone know you’re taking it easy, but there’s still enough there to let people know that you could be doing something meaningful if you wanted to be.

3: Food, Glorious Food! 

As much as I love the lightness and freshness of summer inspired foods, I have also come to appreciate the spice tinged warmth that accompanies many fall dishes. Summer food is colorful, playful, and meant to refresh, and fall foods are just the same, but in a slightly different way. As with clothing, the fall food colors are more earth-based and deeper. They hint at what lies beneath. I like a little mystery and there’s always that little extra heartiness which accompanies fall treats. I can’t get enough!

4. Holidays

As a U.S. American, my two favorite holidays are Independence Day and Thanksgiving. One of them is right in the glory of the summer sun, and the other near the end of November and brings to mind all of the wonderful blessings I have in my life. If I’m lucky, I’m able to surround myself on both occasions with friends, family, and friends who have become family, and enjoy food, laughs, the notions of both freedom (open to individual interpretation) and gratitude (also open to individual interpretation). I can’t think of anything better.

Happy fall everyone!

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What Happened: Hillary Clinton and the Four Horsemen

Former Secretary of State, Senator, First Lady, and American heroine, Hillary R. Clinton will release a collection of essays on September 12, and I am on tenterhooks! Some of the contents have already been made public, but only snippets. We know, for example, that Sec. Clinton regrets not having confronted Trump at those infamous debates/town hall meetings where he would brazenly introduce the American public to the kind of inpudant behaviour we’ve all come to expect from him. We even know that her Methodist pastor may have borrowed a bit too much from a prayer commentary that he sent to her the day after her defeat and which is included in the book. From all accounts of those who have been advanced copies, we will get to see a Clinton with her guard down — an unpolished Clinton, which is something we haven’t seen for a very long time indeed. As excited as I am to read, “What Happened” (Simon & Schuster), I have some ideas of my own about what happened, namely among those, that Clinton was sabotaged on all sides by men, some of whom she considered allies. Here’s my take:

While I realize the gigantic step forward that Barack Obama was for the United States, I also believe that he was a nearly complete failure as president. Now, I am a diehard Democrat, but from his poor attendance record in the senate, to his incomplete sentence of a 2008 campaign slogan (Yes We Can…what?) and then 2012’s not-even-trying–  Forward, he never inspired anything in me other than eye rolling. Unlike so many who were enamored with his charisma and message of hope (remember when he won the Nobel Peace Prize for simply not being George W. Bush!?!), I was suspicious from the beginning, not of his intentions necessarily, but about his legacy. I could never figure out what exactly his long-term plan was for our party, and clearly, there wasn’t one. In the end, his legacy will be a personal one, having left the party to pretty much fend for itself. And, considering his lackluster efforts to support Clinton on the campaign trail (continually upstaged by one of the classiest and most clever First Ladies in history, Michelle), I was shocked to learn that when it became clear she had lost the archaic and tumorous electoral college vote, she apologized to Obama for what she felt was her failure to ensure his political legacy. If anybody doomed the Obama legacy is was the man himself. He should have been calling her, apologizing to her, and lamenting the loss of his political progenitor at his own hands. Obama failed Clinton and he failed the party. He deserves to be forgotten.

The next misogynist madman who brought the blade down on Clinton’s political head — the ever demented Bernie Sanders. The only person I could ever imagine being a more embarrassing chief executive than that aged, bloated clown we’ve got now, is Grandpa Sanders. Honestly, in a campaign season riddled with exceptionally horrid events, I consider it a win for the entire human race that Sanders was at least able to keep his teeth from flying out as he harangued and  babbled his way through the fantasy landscape inside his ancient and contradiction laden mind. What I find most objectionable about Sanders is that he returned to the senate after the campaign as an Independent…which is exactly what he was all along. Knowing that third-party candidates struggle to get votes within the confines of our thirsty-for-reform political apparatus, he quickly registered as a Democrat in order to attempt to usurp the party’s youth from a more seasoned and measured Clinton. He sought to snatch the nomination for a party that he had never worked a single day for, something he had never attempted against a Democrat male. This is no coincidence. As anyone with grandparents can attest, the old and infirm often hold antiquated and contemporarily offensive attitudes that, while not explicitly expressed, are obvious. Their advanced age and internalization of previous social norms which no longer exist, or at least shouldn’t exist any longer, is obvious. Bernie thought he could take what he had never worked for and that he could get away with it, not because he thought himself a true political maverick, but because his main opponent was female. Ask any woman if their hard-earned success has ever been usurped and attributed to a man before. Any woman. Go on, just ask — although, I know you already know the answer. Let Sanders go and give his best efforts to a Democratic Socialist Party which might offer the nation a third viable political alternative, or let him remain the Independent he is, but please keep him away from my party, he has caused enough damage.

Don’t think for a second that I’m going to forget that slug Paul Ryan! Remember when Republicans weren’t ideologues and it was still possible to actually debate with them without being called a communist!?! I mean before Reagan. I mean before they’d all read the disjointed, poorly structured, meandering, anti-intellectual, anti-literary verbal vomit of Ayn Rand. I know it hasn’t been Ryan alone that has dragged the itinerant tramp called the Republican Party full-fledged onto the wacky laissez-faire capitalist acid trip of Randian Objectivism, but he is certainly its most active proponent within the party and  as 54th Speaker of the House of Representatives, its current poster boy. Without going into the epistemological failures of Rand’s philosophy (yet while giving her kudos for being an immigrant who became a best-selling author and creating a wave of influence that is still being felt today for better or worse…or just for worse, really), I’d like to point out that Paul Ryan has the charisma and staying-power to actually mold the Republican Party into something new and pertinent. I believe that a democracy functions best when various well-researched, well-formulated, political stances can peacefully coexist within the spirit of fair debate and willingness to learn from each other. My gripe with Ryan is mostly that it’s just a pity that he can’t come up with his own ideas for the advancement of his party and has instead decided to incorporate Rand’s “philosophy” into his political identity. According to him, he even gives Atlas Shrugged out as Christmas gifts and also makes all his interns read it. What an incredibly cheap and crap gift! Also, how do you make someone read something!?! Ryan needs to drop the psuedo-political trickery and implement some solid ideas so that his party may be able to come up with something better than an orange reality TV star next time. Ryan has helped to create a party that will do anything, just anything, to hold power and advance their ideology, even cripple a candidate that they know is more deserving, more qualified, and possibly the whole country in tow…I believe there is blood on his hands.

Finally, and I’m going to be brief here because I have so little to say regarding the 45th president, is Donald Trump. A former TV star, real estate mogul, rich kid, and comedy central roastee, has become the president — it’s official, hell has frozen over!?!? Having been a former Clinton contributor himself, it was strange to see him creeping behind the steely Secretary as she fielded debate questions, but given his desperate need for attention, and his undying ambition to be tackier, gaudier, ruder, louder and more bloated than anyone else in the room, in the country for that matter, it’s not at all surprising that he has gone on to fail in nearly every regard as chief executive. Donald Trump can’t even control Donald Trump. His unquenchable ambition allowed him to turn on his former ally and to humiliate her in what is perhaps the world’s most public arena. If he will do that to someone whom he formerly called a “friend” just imagine what he’ll do to the American people for whom he has never lifted a finger in his life.

So there you have it. There’s my two cents (minus the Russian collusion and so much more) as to why the United States passed up the most qualified and fit candidate for the presidency in history. It wasn’t about emails, it wasn’t about her health, it wasn’t about her personality, it was about her gender! What about 45s tweets? His age? His incorrigible attitude? His lack of respect? His admitting to sexual assault? None of this seemed to matter in his case. See, it’s still a man’s world. Clinton was derided not by the perfect storm of political mishaps, not by an unforgivable blunder, not even by a blemished record, she ultimately hit the wall, because the American people are still misogynists. Because she is always going to be a woman.

You got what you wanted, boys. The ultimate air-head frat boy now occupies the white house. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but you’ve brought this on yourselves…No, rather on your wives and daughters…some things never change.

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Climate Change Solution: Pie

Where I live, it’s been raining A LOT! Now this isn’t particularly striking in and of itself, but the summer never really happened. There were a couple of days right at the start that were really sunny and warm and it really looked like it was going to be a proper summer, but that soon waned and there was never any real comeback. I realize that weather isn’t yet an exact science, but I also feel like all the weather apps and reports on TV are useless. Even looking out the window, or indeed sticking your head out of it, doesn’t help. I’ve got no idea what’s going on, but almost everyone you ask agrees that something is up. Everyone! I’ve never actually spoken to one of those ostriches who think the whole thing is some sort of farce. I sincerely believe that those who deny climate change are doing so for their own peace of mind. Denial, for them, is perhaps a more comfortable refuge than the reality that we are presented with. What is this new reality? Well, we just don’t know.

I am convinced that the climate, indeed the whole planet, has been changing and cycling and such for as long as it has existed. We are not the first humans to have to cope with climate change, and we hopefully won’t be the last. What is concerning, is that we may be the last generation who will remember at time without extreme weather patterns. We may be the last ones who will remember what distinct seasons are like. The optimist in me tells me that I’m not looking at all of the positives and that humans are highly adaptive and will find a way to survive. The realist behind my eyes sees exactly what’s happening and thinks that other guy in there is a moron! Usually, I sit somewhere perplexed between the two of them. I wish I knew more about this whole issue other than what my senses allow me to experience, but alas I don’t. Also in terms of empirical evidence, we don’t have eons of weather records to draw upon. Weather history is patchy. What we do have though is research by contemporary scientists, and they mostly uniformly believe that we are experiencing rapid climate change and the process has been exacerbated by humans.

The weather is no problem — until it is. I’m not sure what the plan is for when the sea levels rise and start flooding coastal areas that are currently extremely populated, but I’d bet it’s safe to say that there really isn’t one. That’s that lazy habit we have of just pretending that what’s happening, isn’t really happening. Basically, ignore it and it may go away. Normally, I’d be fully on board for such an uncommitted strategy, but something tells me that this time is different. Somewhere, my animal-self tells me that we are in for a rough ride. As I have no skills which would help me to survive in the event of a sudden environmental apocalypse, I’d really prefer it if we could figure something out relatively soon. Like this week. Please. If I’m told exactly what to do, and that there may be pie in it for me, then I’ll do just about anything. The environmentalists fail to grab public attention, I believe, mostly because they forget to bring snacks.

I’ve been thinking about the weather a lot lately as I’ve been hearing reports about the inhumane heat in India, some parts of Eastern Europe, and the opposite chilly and wet summer we’ve been having here in Western Europe. So maybe that’s why it’s on my mind. Also, I never bring a jacket on days when I need one, and then on days when I do remember one, the climate goes balmy and I just end up sweating through my clothes. Basically, if possible, I’d like us to finally stop debating whether or not climate change exists and settle on what we’re going to do about it. Just tell me what I need to do and I’ll do it…if there’s pie.

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The Art of Losing Gracefully

I’m from the South of the United States and that involves a lot of baggage that maybe doesn’t come along with being from another part of the country (I’m guessing). The first thing most people comment on when they find out that I’m from the South is my lack of accent. While it’s true that I don’t sound particularly “Southern”, I usually silently wonder what the implication is there. I don’t have the accent — okay, is that simply a voiced observation of the obvious or is there more to it? Also, what is a Southern accent? If by Southern accent one means that tired, slow, grammatically mangled, and exaggerated beyond belief trope from TV, then no, I don’t have that accent and I’ve never met anyone who does. A Southern accent should be measured, not necessarily slow. It is a genteel language that, depending upon where in the south one is, might hint at English, Scottish, Irish, French, Spanish or Haitian/Caribbean heritage. Southerners can usually hear the Appalachian Scotch-Irish (Yes, we say Scotch-Irish for those poor souls from the English-Scottish borderlands who were first sent to and then fled the Ulster Plantation to practice their largely Presbyterian faith in a world without the constant intimidation of the Church of England) elongation of vowels in many of my words, or the occasional lilt here and there. For whatever reason, I never picked up the full breadth of the pronunciation from my surroundings, but it’s still there. And it’s not going anywhere! I’m not going to lose it.

The notion of loss is the central point of this entry. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, just yesterday, we witnessed an ugly and painful reminder of the unhealed wounds and reconciliation work that still isn’t complete in the South. At least one life was lost when an angry white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters to the racist march that descended upon the mostly affluent, liberal, college town of Charlottesville. The governor has instructed them to leave, for while we must tolerate dissenting and even repulsive opinions, we cannot allow ourselves for an instant to condone violence as a viable response to peaceful protest. We certainly have enough problems in the United States with casual violence and I’m nearly certain that we can all agree that we don’t need more. What makes all of this even more insane than it already is, is that it started over a statue! An inanimate, lifeless, likeness of the confederate general Robert E. Lee. Remember, the one from the U.S. Civil War? The war that ended in 1865? The one the South lost? …yeah, that one! It was finally planned to be removed –and good riddance!

I have some perhaps obvious questions surrounding the planned removal of the statue, primarily, why was there a statue of this guy in the first place? Since when do we need statues of losers? There are countless other figures of Southern culture which embody the spirit and heritage unique to the region that are far more deserving of a statue than a slaver. Furthermore, why do people care so much about a statue that it can eventually lead to death? I love art as much as the next guy, but it’s just a statue! Now, had white supremacists not jumped on the opportunity to magnify this mundane event into something beyond all reasonable proportion, that’s all it ever would have been — a statue, but of course the power merchants will seize any chance, no matter how banal, to incite chest beating and torch grabbing. It’s all so asinine!

What real Southerners know is, that our real culture didn’t die one bit with the loss of the Civil War, but was made fuller and richer. We lost the war because we had it coming. The cataclysmic race war that brought Abraham Lincoln to the point of physical and mental hell, was not fought in vain. Freedom had to be won. We were wrong. Of course everyone suffers in war, and I am not so naive as to believe that the U.S. government (even in 1865) was so benevolent as to fight a civil war solely on the premise of freeing non-whites for the fun of it, but there was a great moral wrong engrained in our union that had to be erased. We do not need statues to commemorate men who fought in any capacity, whatever their reasons were, to uphold such a moral failing. We lost, and there is nothing worse in my book than sore loser!

So, let’s do what civilized folks everywhere do; what Southern people do. Let’s make right what we can make right, and let’s help our neighbors, and let’s move on together. Let’s sit with each other in the evening when the inhospitable heat has subsided and eat with each other, let’s tell our stories, let’s drink our tea so sweet and chilled that we can’t help but hug each other. I know a South that is kind, thoughtful, conservative but not close-minded, proud of the past but with brave eyes cast toward the future, a front porch South, a flower bed South, a church pew South, a rusty sign South, an accented South that always sounds like home.

Sometimes, when people meet me they don’t realize I’m from the South at all, and if they don’t catch that little bit of grits and butter in the way I talk, you’d better believe I’m sure to let them know that I’m a Southern boy and that’s the way I intend to stay. Nothing lost. I’m also sure to let them know, that the South I come from is as colorful as any Yankee city they can build. The South of the 21st century is a gumbo, in fact it always has been! We’re every color and creed you can imagine and we are not going to let some hate filled bigots claim our heritage as theirs for a single minute. We have learned our lessons. We know who we are.  We know we are more than any statue or flag could encapsulate. We know where we’ve been, and most importantly, we know where we are going…all of us…together!

A Spanish moss draped lane in historic Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

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