JONI MITCHELL AT 75

Joni Mitchell in November 2018 at age 75

Yesterday, November 8th, was Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday, an occasion celebrated by friends and well-wishers at a concert in  L.A.  The iconoclastic Canadian singer-songwriter did not perform, gone mostly silent since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.  Yet throughout her legendary career, Ms. Mitchell penned words and sang notes that spoke to the human condition like few before or since.  

In one of her most acclaimed songs, Both Sides Now, she sang how she’d “looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions, I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

While clouds were Mitchell’s metaphor for both life and love, she was equally perceptive with “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day” as even in acquiring experience we lose time in the exchange. 

Yet if the ethereal Ms. Mitchell is to be fully appreciated, it is in the realization that only those who have the capacity to see both sides, who can stand, at times only fleetingly, in the shoes of another, who may one day comprehend their own illusions as carefully constructed mechanisms meant to help navigate the great yawning maw that confronts each of us everyday. 

It is only when we can see beyond our own narrow self-interest that can we come to grips with our humanity such that it might dovetail with the illusions of others, and thus acknowledge life as a pitching current in which we all move inexorably to the see (sic).   Continue reading “JONI MITCHELL AT 75”

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ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA

How’s this for being on the horns of a dilemma? (September 6, 2018)  Either stay with a duly elected but “amoral” president who “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, or go with an unelected cabal made up of “many of the senior officials in (the president’s) own administration (who) are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations”?  

Oh, my!

The blame, dear friends, lies not with the one called Trump, though he is the locus of the dilemma.  No, he is who he is, as he has been for many, many decades. There are no surprises there. Nor can blame be apportioned to the swath of America who voted for him in November 2016. 

They didn’t love him (OK, some did), they just hated you, the Washington establishment, for your mindless disregard that left them without a sense of their traditional homes, jobs, infrastructure, affordable education, etc. Trump wasn’t their guy so much as he just wasn’t yours. He was  the cudgel you gave them to say NO with and they swung it enthusiastically.

No, this erratic, unfit executive belongs to the Republican Party and its leaders who cynically sought to ride the raging bull long enough to pass tax cuts, strip away regulations, and pack the judiciary before the beast would need to be put down.

“Why are we putting so many resources in South Korea?” he wonders. 

“To avoid WW3!” says SecDef James Mattis in utter disbelief. 

Amorality aside, he just doesn’t know any better. Studying was never his thing. Making stuff up on the fly is what got him this far in the family business. Do not expect him to change now because the responsibilities are exponentially greater.

Unfortunately for us, that leaves him particularly unprepared for the task at hand, like a TV actor after the writers have left. This is a president without Mark Burnett to produce the show.

But as Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told Brett Baier on Fox News, “In the last 100 years, the Republican party has held the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives in only 20 of those years. And we are not going to squander that opportunity.”

That’s the key understanding. “We are not going to have this very long, so let’s make the most of it.”

This is purely a transactional relationship. Regardless of his qualifications, ride this guy until he implodes, gambling that you can get what you want before the country gets what it deserves. In a binary world of Trump-Clinton where one choice will impact the Supreme Court for a generation in your favor, the choice is a no-brainer (just like their president). So hold your nose, say your prayers,  and pull that voting lever.

Of course, in for a dime, in for a dollar. So when insiders lay open the sucking chest-wound of an administration led by a virtual child, McConnell has nothing to say about the scathing New York Times Op-Ed from a senior White House official talking about resistance within the administration to many of the dangerous inclinations of the amoral president. This is realpolitik in its purest form. Continue reading “ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA”

RIP JOHN MCCAIN

With the passing of Senator John McCain at his home in Sedona, Arizona on August 25, 2018, we find ourselves both a greater nation for having had him amongst us, but now a lesser one for having lost him. Today, the enduring qualities of duty, honor, and country that animated his life, and helped guide the nation through his six decades of public service have lost one of their great champions. This is especially so when compared to the qualities exhibited by the man who currently sits in the Oval Office, or rather, is next up on the 10th tee. 

Perhaps only tangentially apropos, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden penned an article this past week regarding what he called the mythologizing of football and its over importance in the American psyche. Three things, wrote Layden, led him to his keyboard.

…a young athlete’s death (in Maryland), football fans’ frustration with rule changes designed to damage fewer brains, and a millionaire coach (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer) getting wrist-slapped for apparently ignoring an assistant coach’s repeated abuse against a woman…Each case is part of a football ecosystem in which the game itself is propped up as bigger and more important than anything that stands in its way. 

And since disquieting news comes in threes, last week also saw the Dayton, Ohio school board announce a new academic standard for athletic eligibility, whereby students must now maintain a minimum 1.0 GPA on a scale of 0 to 4 in order to play sports. That’s right, students must achieve a grade level of D to remain eligible, a standard which suggests that athletic eligibility is more important than the education it was once meant to support. 

The passing of Senator McCain with his old-world sense of duty, honor, and country; Tim Layden’s observations about the inflated role of football in today’s America; and Dayton’s new scholastic eligibility regulations are not isolated indicators (Going Soft).  Instead they represent the latest reminders of a troubling erosion in the standards that designed, built, and fortified this nation over the course of two-plus centuries.

As ever, the road before us is twisting and beyond our GPS ability to ascertain. Yet if we come together and remain true to the principles embodied in John McCain, those challenges will be ours to manage and control.  Conversely, if we continue in our headlong rush to split apart, we risk careening off the righteous path bestowed to us by our forefathers while reengineering society’s basic underpinnings and values, values which today already proclaim “I like people who weren’t captured”, “truth is not truth”, and “crime is not crime”.

RIP, John McCain. May your memory continue to light our path and strengthen our resolve in what promise to be troubled times ahead.

END

DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentines Day 2018, I decided to resurrect the following exchange between my brother Marek and me as we join families around the country searching for answers to truly vexing questions.  Our sister, Teresa, added her view while on holiday in Melbourne, Australia. Continue reading “DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS”

BELICHICK, BRADY & KRAFT

Starship Enterprise

Star date 18:20-1 – Maybe in the VFL, the Vulcan Football League, Coach Spock (Bill Belichick) would have traded 40 year-old quarterback Tom Brady and kept 20-something Jimmy Garoppolo without any questions or concerns. Black and white, Xs and Os, all very logical. But Mr. Spock is not the captain of this good ship Enterprise, the New England Patriots. The overly emotional James T. Kirk is. And that’s Robert Kraft, the team owner.

So logic notwithstanding, the owner made an emotional decision to keep his surrogate son Tom Brady, irrespective of his age and the wisdom of his HOF coach. Yes, Kraft seems to be saying, we may take a long term hit by keeping Brady and getting rid of Garoppolo – like the Lakers did signing Kobe Bryant to his final two-year contract. But I’m willing to take that hit for the service that Brady has given to the organization.

Not just the five Super Bowl titles, but the 13-3, potential MVP, season he’s currently having, but for all the times he has taken less than market-value money in order to give general manager Belichick more to work with to improve the team and keep the winning tradition going.

There is something beyond Xs and Os involved here. With his fifth Super Bowl title last year, and in the manner in which it was done, Brady didn’t just confirm his G.O.A.T. status on the field, he transcended the game. Kraft understands that, embraces that, while Belichick isn’t paid to think in such emotional terms.

He might not like Kraft getting involved in player decisions, but if he can’t see the logic in this one case, then he isn’t the Spock we all know him to be.

This may be the one case where both men are right  Now it is up to Brady to make Captain Kraft’s decision look just slightly better.

END

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

While the big ball of Waterford crystals will be shining tonight as it drops in New York’s frigid Times Square, the crystal ball predicting what 2018 will bring remains decidedly clouded.  But as 2017 comes clanking to a close, we are again reminded how societies work, in a series of open-ended recalibrations that determine how traditions that at one time may have been considered sketchy, but acceptable – you know, like slavery – or that may have once been thought of as boyishly charming – you know, sexual harassment – suddenly change to being legally actionable.

America fought a Civil War that ended slavery, if not the malice in men’s hearts. Men chasing women, on the other hand, is at one very basic level a Darwinian predicate. But in our modern society where the roles of the sexes have blurred and more categories along the male-female continuum open every day than new Starbucks locations – Forget ‘LBGT’… Canadian teachers now asked to learn ‘LGGBDTTTIQQAAP’ – the line that separates playful courtship from sanctionable behavior never fully settles. Just consider this one Biblical proscription as an example, remembering there are many who read such admonitions as timelessly applicable.

“Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; rather, she is to remain silent.” 1 Timothy 2: 11-12.

The rush of #MeToo stories that have spilled out across the media landscape like a dam-busted flood in 2017 testify to the long building pressure behind the allegations. But rather than question why it took so long for these women to come forward, understand, instead, the feelings of isolation and illogical self-recriminations (“what did I do?”) that attended those incidents when they first happened, and therefore maintained their sheltered silence over the long dark years. Not so different than how the actions of predatory Catholic priests preying on young boys came to the surface only after decades of omertà.

So from Judge Roy Moore to Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Matt Lauer, Russell Simmons to the Big P-Grabber himself in the White House, what we see is that even the hard lines of political dogma that have split this country into primary political palettes of reds and blues bleed away in this even more definitional construct of human sexual interaction.

Yes, sisterhood is once again on the rise. But I wonder, is it fifth-wave feminism, or just another in the endless reactions to the aberration that is the Donald Trump presidency? Because what doesn’t revolve around that tangerine sun these days? Continue reading “WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?”

MEASURING PRIVILEGE AT UCLA

Let’s not kid ourselves, the cost of labor in any industry is tied to scarcity.  And in the world of sports, talent is rare and accordingly, often accommodated with positions of wealth and privilege. We are about to witness how far that privilege stretches in Westwood, California.

According to ESPN, there’s a big internal debate within the UCLA community about what sanctions to levy against the three freshman basketball players caught shoplifting in China on a recent “goodwill tour”.

UCLA freshman accused of shoplifting in China address the press upon returning home. (l-r) Cody Riley, DiAngelo Ball, and Jalen Hill. (photo NY Daily News)

Some in the Bruin community believe that Cody RileyLiAngelo Ball, and Jalen Hill,  should be suspended for the entire season, if not expelled from school. Others say that a half-a-year suspension would be sufficient punishment. Interestingly, we note that half a season would coincide with the start of Pac-12 conference play.

All three players were confined to the team hotel in Hangzhou, China after being arrested for shoplifting at three high-end stores nearby.  They were not permitted to leave the country with the rest of the team until their legal process was completed.  Fortunately for them, President Trump had recently completed his 12-day Far East trip, and was able to prevail upon Chinese President Xi Jinping to intercede on behalf of the young men.

Upon their release and return to the U.S., the players were contrite at their first press conference, thanking President Trump and the State Department. They all “feel terrible” and “take full responsibility” and “have learned my lesson from this big mistake”, promising “not to make a bad decision like this one again.” LiAngelo Ball’s father, the outspoken LaVar Ball, called the incident, “no big deal” while he was in China with his son. Others believe differently. Continue reading “MEASURING PRIVILEGE AT UCLA”

MANDATING PATRIOTISM

With the advent of free agency, the day when players would stay with one team for the majority of their careers has gone the way of leather helmets and high top cleats. Today, pro athletes move from team to team with the speed of a pre-game wind sprint. Increasingly, stars notwithstanding, fans are rooting for team colors as much as for the players wearing them.

But with NFL players continuing their protests against police brutality during the national anthem, NFL TV ratings, game attendance, and merchandise sales have also continued to decline as fans pull back in their own counter-protest. The situation has left NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a delicate no man’s land.

On one side are the players, 70% of whom are African-American, men with real-life attachments to the disorders and denials of daily black existence in America that their athletic prowess has afforded them fiscal and physical, if not emotional, separation from. On the other side are the fans, 90% of whom are not African-American, because that is the racial makeup of the nation. And that 90% watches the 70% on Sundays to escape the news that has brought the players to their knees. Continue reading “MANDATING PATRIOTISM”

SACRED MILITARY

The men and women of the military have long been held in the highest regard, no matter the society, no matter the era. In the United States, it is no surprise considering that its first president was the military man who delivered independence from England.  Yet recently I have heard people ask, “why is the country is so over-the-top in celebrating the military, treating them like they are sacred human beings? They signed up for this. They are doing a job.”

True enough, but the job they do, like the police and firefighters, can put their life at risk. That sacred duty is what separates the force from the civilians they represent and serve. But nothing occurs in a vacuum, and support for the military is no different.  The current state of the military’s relationship with the greater society is a perfect example of how history can inform, and why understanding its arc can help bring differing sides into greater accord, if not full agreement. Continue reading “SACRED MILITARY”

AMERICA PAST TIME

Though baseball came to be known as the American Pastime in the 19th century, football largely usurped that mantel in the age of television. So much so, that beyond these borders the game is called American Football to differentiate it from what Americans call soccer, but what the rest of the world knows as football.

In this age of globalization, the National Football League is trying to market American football overseas with games in London, Mexico City, and soon in China. However, the growing awareness of the games’ inherent violence, and its consequences to the long-term health of its players are contributing to a lessening of interest in the once and still mighty sporting juggernaut. Add the current backlash against players expressing social dissent on the field – #takeaknee- and the danger to its own well-being is magnified.

National pastimes are based on mutual understandings and shared experiences. But as the makeup of the nation continues to change, there are fewer elements linking us together. We still have the E Pluribus but are quickly losing the Unum. Like track and field events that don’t amount to a unified track meet, but are merely individual events that share the same venue, so are myriad Americans increasingly sharing a land, but fewer and fewer of its common values or past national assumptions. Continue reading “AMERICA PAST TIME”