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Burn Baby, Burn

I remember it as if it was yesterday. The acrid smell of smoke wafted through air. The hot and humid night made sleep all but unreachable. The skyline glowed with the orange light of burning buildings. Yet, I laid there with eyes closed hoping to slip through the gates of the dream state. But it was difficult with the distant sound of machine gun fire, the rumble of tanks and armored vehicles less than a quarter mile distant. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Division’s troops had arrived, but the violence was irrepressible. The official death toll was rising, but from a reliable insider, I learned it was much higher than the public was led to believe. I was living in a war zone and frankly, it wasn’t a lot of fun.

US-RACE RIOTS-DETROIT

Near my home (AFP/Getty Images)

This wasn’t Vietnam. It wasn’t the Middle East. The year was 1967. The city was Detroit. Riots engulfed the city. A police raid on a speak-easy sparked one of the deadliest and destructive riots in the history of the United States. I was a young, married man with an expectant wife. We were afraid that if “the time” came, we’d be unable to get to the hospital. It was an exciting time.

It was a time of turmoil and tumult as our nation was being transformed and awakened. Vietnam, civil rights, a music revolution, the space age, and people were turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. I was already pretty open-minded, even for a twenty year old. But it was hard to understand what’s happening on the inside when you’re looking in from the outside. I had friends in the inner-city. I spent time in the inner-city. But the fact is … I was a young white boy of some privilege cast into a bizarre reality and the best I could do was guess about what I was seeing and hearing.

I must confess that as I watched news reports, I was conflicted. I was far from alone in wondering why “they” were burning “their” own neighborhoods. Never mind that simply by defining matters with words like “they” and “their”, I was, in a subtle way, answering my own question. If it was “their” neighborhood, then by definition, I must be a part of “our” neighborhood. One might reasonably conclude they were different … and they were. In that difference rested much of the unrest that fueled the war that raged in my home town.

With the passage of fifty years almost to the day, I’ve learned and experienced much. But I’m still not fully capable of explaining why the rioters laid torch to homes and businesses in their own backyards. Much of Detroit still carries the scars of that week in 1967. Many neighborhoods never recovered. In retrospect, it seems like a more appropriate course of action would have been to burn our neighborhood. After all, with my pedigree, I was deemed to carry some of the responsibility for their state of hopelessness. Perhaps that was the intent of some of the rioters and that was the reason tanks were stationed at East Jefferson and Alter Road only five blocks from my home. Alter Road also happened to be the boundary line for the more affluent Gross Pointe Park. That’s another way of saying, “our neighborhood” rather than “their neighborhood”. Such boundary lines existed between cities. They also existed between ideas, opportunities, and lifestyles. They could burn theirs, but they couldn’t burn ours.

Now I look back fifty years and I still wonder. Why were there “ours” and “theirs”? Why were “they” so unhappy with “theirs”? How unhappy do you have to be with your world to destroy it? Is it the smart thing to do? I still guess, but with a little more accuracy than before. I’m sure the answer is complex, but from my non-expert perspective, I harken back to the song “Me and Bobby McGee” where Janis Joplin sings, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

From my standpoint, as Detroit burned, people were losing homes, jobs and whatever remained of hope. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. There was precious little to gain unless you count the color television sets some carried from the flaming hulks of retail stores in the neighborhood. I wondered at the time – how many of those looters had homes in which to watch TV after the flames were finally extinguished?

It was all a nightmare, something that couldn’t happen in my country. After all, this was the United States of America. Those things only happened in third world countries, not here in the good ole USA. But I heard the gunfire with my own ears. I smelled the burning buildings. I saw it all and it was real, very, very horridly real.

Some people viewed it as a one-time thing. It could never happen again, could it? Yet, it’s happening as I speak. A large group of people are burning their neighborhoods. On every newscast, in every news magazine, in nearly every blog, I see the flaming embers of our homes rising skyward. A group of Americans large enough to elect a person who is clearly dishonest, clearly rooted in self-interest, a narcissist with an ego bigger than any seen since Nero, and with such a glaring level of incompetence in the art of governance and with an indescribable lack of knowledge of foreign relations, human relations and economics is putting torch to the American dream.

In 1967, we were in the midst of a revolution where people were fighting for recognition and inclusion. Fifty years later, a counter revolution has been launched – one that divides, one that creates hate for specific groups, one that robs from the poor to give to the rich. The flames are being fanned by those who don’t seem to understand that they are the victims of their own wrath. The chickens have elected the fox as the mayor of the hen house.

The parallels between Detroit in 1967 and America in 2017 are striking. In both cases, a large group of people has risen up demanding recognition. Both groups elected to destroy the neighborhood. In Detroit, some of those who burned and looted legitimately felt they had nothing to lose. What makes this uprising infinitely more inexplicable is that the neighborhood that is burning isn’t “theirs”, it’s “ours”. And this time, we do have something to lose. The losses will be material and spiritual.

Pittsburgh, not Paris! Are you kidding? America is aflame. Assuming you’ve been watching, you should notice by now that “the rule of law” is in serious jeopardy. The moral high road that once ran through the heart of America is closed to all traffic as truth has lost its currency. The President offers whatever pabulum necessary to appease the masses. “I’m going to be the jobs creation President,” he sings as he destroys relations with our primary trading partners. I doubt you have to hold a degree in economics to see that words and actions are fighting like two cats in a burlap sack. Fake news is the order of the day. He destabilizes the Middle-East while enriching himself and his cohorts. The only real jobs he’s creating with his policies are for your children and they’ll be on the frontlines of the next war.

detroit troops

Not in America?

Just as was the case in 1967, a neighborhood is being engulfed in flames. The major differences this time are – it’s our neighborhood and we have a lot to lose. I fear the day will come when we look back on this time and say, “That was when America was great.”

Trump’s Trolley Kills Five

trumpyWell, America … you have murdered the trolley workers. Their blood is now on your hands. Let me be clear; a minority of Americans can rest peacefully, albeit, fearfully. They at least tried to pull the lever. They just couldn’t get enough help from their fellow Americans who “voted their consciences” or didn’t vote at all.

Ok, I get the feeling your face is dressed in confusion. “What the hell trolley is he talking about? Who died?” Let me back up and explain.

The “trolley problem” is a well-known thought experiment in the field of ethics. You remember ethics? They used to be common in the halls of government in this country.  In the trolley problem, you are confronted with a serious dilemma.

A trolley car is out of control and careening down the tracks where five workers don’t see or hear it coming. If nothing is done, the five workers will assuredly die. You see this and happen to be standing by a large lever. If you quickly pull the lever, the trolley will be directed onto another track where you see one worker who will unquestionably be killed. Do you pull the lever to save five lives at the expense of one life?

If you pull the lever, you will be directly responsible for the death of one man. If you don’t pull the lever, you didn’t have a direct role in anyone’s death. There are those that will argue that you are responsible for five deaths, but you can legitimately say you did not personally take action that resulted in these tragic deaths. That’s the gist of the trolley problem. Kill one person or take no action and allow five to die.

After a few days of the Trump administration, sane people all around the world are shaking their heads. An increasing number of Trump supporters are shaking their heads. We’ve been subjected to a sequence of utterly insane actions from “The Donald”. It only promises to get worse.

Yet, in November past, huge numbers of Americans didn’t vote or they voted their consciences and wouldn’t vote for the viable alternative because they didn’t “like” her. They stood by the lever and watched as the trolley ran over America’s future. The magnitude of the slaughter is already immeasurable and it’s just getting started.

The trolley rolls on and some Americans still stand idly by staring at the lever. Some now deal with the lever by intentionally looking in the other direction. If you don’t watch the carnage, you can’t be responsible for it can you?

A seemingly intelligent friend is now dealing with the situation by not watching, listening or reading the news. An ostrich with its head in the sand can’t pull a lever. People that haven’t even heard about Trump’s completely nonsensical way of paying for his nonsensical “great wall,” can’t pull the lever. They – with intent – ignore the existence of the economic realities of how tariffs work (a tax on Mexican imports is paid by Americans, not Mexico) and aren’t going to be thrilled watching as their food choices dwindle and the prices increase on those remaining. After we get to that point, it’ll be too late to pull the lever.

Trump supporters and non-supporters alike are shaking their heads on the immigration ban. Immigrants from seven countries are barred, while immigrants from others such as Saudi Arabia, aren’t included in the ban. You remember Saudi Arabia don’t you? That’s the country at the center of the Wahhabi Sunni sect, the most radical and dangerous Muslim group in existence. The overwhelming majority of the World Trade Center terrorists were from Saudi Arabia. But they’re not on the list. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that Trump has extensive business dealings there. Wake up and pull the lever!

Trump fires the acting Attorney General because she gave him her best legal advice as she promised during her confirmation hearings. Pull the lever!

Trump removes the generals from the National Security Council and replaces them with a radical right wing pal. That kind of thing worked for some German leader in the 1930s didn’t it? Pull the damn lever!

Trump appoints someone to head the Department of Education that has absolutely no experience with public education. The lever! The lever! Pull the lever!

Trump puts a guy with a B.S. degree in Animal Husbandry in charge of our nation’s nuclear arms.

This insanity goes on without end and no one’s pulling the lever. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of the trolley car barreling out of control and screaming down the tracks. Whatcha gonna do? You can pull the lever or not. Either way, someone’s future is already bleak. Either way, you are responsible. But if no one pulls the stinkin’ lever, America’s going to be run over and it ain’t gonna be pretty. Do something or do nothing.

 

A Death in the Family

graveNo one’s getting out alive. One of the few constants in the universe is that there is an ultimate end to everything. If we’re to believe all of the philosophical euphemisms surrounding death, we shouldn’t fear it. It comes to all things. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is inescapable. All things are ultimately buried, even if only metaphorically.

When the end comes, whether it be expected or a sudden and shocking event, the process of grieving begins.  People deal with their grief in different ways, some constructive, others not so much. In her landmark book, “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross spoke of what she called the five stages of dying: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although she directed her words to those who were dying, the five stages also apply to those forced to grieve the loss of a loved one.

As the “survivor”, I too am confronted with the five stages. I seem to be following the classic path, but having that knowledge doesn’t seem to mitigate the suffering. I remain intermittently distraught and withdrawn. Anyone who has gone through the five stages knows you can bounce back and forth as you move toward the inevitable “acceptance”.

When I first learned of the illness, my initial reaction was indeed denial. There was just no way it could be happening. As the months went by and evidence of the disease manifested itself more and more, I gradually replaced my denial with anger, at times, fairly extreme. I’m sure friends wondered why I wasn’t my usual jovial self. Occasionally, I was overtly unpleasant.

As a non-believer, I wasted little time in the bargaining phase. I’ll confess that I did contribute a substantial sum of money in the hope that it would be used to reverse the progress of this ugly ailment, but most of my time was spent in anger. I have moved on to the depression stage. My sense of humor has gone dormant, hopefully, not dead.

The only remaining stage is “acceptance”. I’m definitely not there yet. In some respects, I hope I don’t get there. To accept is to surrender. Submission has never been one of my finest attributes.

The funeral is scheduled for Friday, January 20th. I truly hope it helps me get out of my current funk, but optimism is in short supply. The funeral takes place in Washington, D.C. as a new President is sworn into office. Together with many of my fellow citizens, I will mourn the death of civilization as we’ve known it for all my lifetime. It has been said that American democracy was an experiment. It appears that in the wake of our past election, that experiment has failed.

I mourn the death of civility in American politics. I lament the passing of a great country where people of all races, religions and lifestyles had nearly gained the respect of their fellow countrymen. I shed a tear at the departure of the era of truth where honesty mattered. I’m white, male, financially comfortable and in good health. By those measures, I should be celebrating. But I can’t bring myself to turn my back on others who face the loss of their hard earned freedoms. I don’t want to see the rise of hate, a new era of bigotry, the face of misogyny and a world of misology.

I’ve never liked funerals. I especially am not going to like this one. From dust to dust.

 

Making Amerika Great One Swastika at a Time

aunt-beulahBy Aunt Beulah

Aunt Beulah is a former comatose pseudonym who woke from her slumber when the country lobbed a grenade through her nursing home window.

Is it not refreshing to see America and its citizens finally paving The Path to the Moral High Ground? It’s about time we jumped on High Horse and galloped over the Constitution of the United States of America. Just between you and me, I feel the US Constitution and Bill of Rights, not to mention the Declaration of Independence, are pretty lame. After all, the Founding Fathers of this country couldn’t even be bothered to establish a State religion or mention Christianity at all in any of these documents. I’m almost positive that was an oversight, although I can’t be sure as I wasn’t there and there was no Twitter. Perhaps they were sidetracked while separating church from state and couldn’t find their way back to the pew to ask for guidance. Damn Deists. Horrifying Humanists. Sensible Secularists.  What were they thinking by leaving the construal of those documents to the commoners?!

I, for one, think we owe white nationalist groups, evangelicals and self-abused women a debt of gratitude for electing someone as our president with the fortitude to bypass the governing documents of this country so he can make America great again. Someone like Donald Trump. Or Donald Trump. His thin skin, tiny tweeting fingers, and keen grasp on reality was instrumental in illuminating the malignant tumor of hate festering under our noses in the dank swamp of America’s fringe. Putrefying long before political correctness drove it underground, that oozing tumor popped to the surface like a pus pocket, spraying the country with a sickly yellow infection that turned half of this country into a cesspool of hate-filled cholera. What a relief that the tumor is free at last. Now we can get on with bleaching the country.

Did I mention that a Big Thanks also goes out to those who “voted their conscience”? Not sure what lurks in the gray matter above those brain stems but their moral compasses tossed them Through the Looking Glass into the clutches of the charlatan Red King. At least they can bury the Bill of Rights with their scruples intact so all is right in their world. Without actually checking the Trump box on the ballot, they guaranteed their conservative values would remain mired in the medieval bogs of millennials past but can say without blinking, “Don’t look at me! I didn’t vote for him!”

Lastly, kudos to those who sat out the election in their living rooms watching The Price is Right or Let’s Make a Deal or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, because they didn’t like either candidate, or any candidate for that matter. They all had at least one dog in the fight but won’t realize it until the canine crawls bleeding onto the porch and dies at their feet. Guess what, you lost your right to lament the state of the country from this point forward so don’t even go there. Stick your head in the cat box and think about what you’ve done.

On a particularly low note, with the KKK on the loose again we should give serious consideration to repealing every civil rights act back to1866 beginning with 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Republican power is there. Hell, we chose the right man for the job – Donald Trump has a 43-year head start in that arena (forgive my language, ladies. I don’t mean to make you swoon. You’ve probably run out of smelling salts by now what with the ribald, raucous rallies that swirled around The Elected One. But you shall overcome. Or be overcome by grabbing, trolling, vicious, self-entitled narcissists.)

I wonder… did we choose to erase fifty years of progress due to food additives? Or mind-numbing drugs? Perhaps we are simply waxing nostalgic and long for the Sundays when we packed our picnic baskets anticipating a bit of entertainment after church.  Still dressed in our Sunday best, we strolled to the town square to watch the torture and lynching of blacks while we ate lunch under the trees. The number of sub-humans and inferiors to choose from has grown exponentially to include all people of color and religious affiliations so there will be years of fun to be had after Sunday worship.

On Liberty Island stands a statue. Perhaps you know of it or have actually visited the site. Written on a bronze plaque attached to the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty is a sonnet by Emma Lazarus titled, “The New Colossus”. A section of the sonnet reads:

                      Give me your tired, your poor,

                        Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

                        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

                        Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:

                        I lift my lamp beside the golden door. 

 

With the current climate of this country being what it is we should add a caveat: As long as “these” are white Christians and speak English, preferably without an accent (forgive me First Lady Elect). On a side note, Emma Lazarus was a New York City-born Jew, and a woman, from an immigrant family with roots in America that predate the American Revolution.

 

All of that being said, I congratulate us all for putting our best foot forward as the country aspiring to lead the free world with what we like to label as our Christian ideals. Way to trip and fall off the Plane of Values. This country, America, land of the free and home of the brave, was once a shining beacon to the world with a “lamp beside the golden door”. Wait, what do you mean no one can see the beacon through the fog of hate? Is the light on? Oh, Martin Luther King-on-a-tree-branch. Who forgot the match?

 

Haunting Voices from the Holocaust

prisoners_1567234i

Most of my formative years were spent in a working class, Jewish neighborhood in Detroit. I went to a grade school that was overwhelmingly Jewish. I was immersed in the Jewish culture and knew it as my own. I’m a richer and better person for those experiences.

I vividly recall many discussions of the Holocaust. I can still close my eyes and see the number tattooed on the arm of Beverly Hearn’s mother that bore witness to her experience as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II. I was aghast to see the pictures of the starving prisoners on their liberation day and of the trenches filled with the emaciated corpses that didn’t live to see the end of the war. We were told to never forget the horrors that had been perpetrated just a few years earlier. “It must be remembered so that it never happens again” we were instructed.

There was a very active group of Nazi war criminal hunters as I approached my adolescence. I still remember the publicity and excitement when, in 1960, Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann was captured in Argentina and taken to Israel to stand trial. He was hanged in 1962, but the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, continued to search for more war criminals. That search has continued well into this century.

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Maybe the Sky IS Falling!

Sky FallingThe advent of the internet is in a league with the development of nuclear weapons. Both changed the world. And hand-in-hand, they may shepherd humanity to its ultimate end. The threat of nuclear holocaust has hung over the human race since the Enola Gay laid waste to Hiroshima seventy years ago. As these weapons spread to ever more parts of the world, the threat only increases.

But the internet? How can it be the atom bomb’s bride and carry the bouquet of humanity’s doom?

As with any marriage, some things are best left unsaid or at least, not spoken until they have been thought through thoroughly. The internet has removed a set of checks-and-balances that has served humanity for eons. The instantaneous communication of the internet acts as the midwife of our doom.

When I was a child, a postage stamp (there was no such thing as email) cost three cents. A letter took about a week to go from Michigan to my cousins in Tennessee. However, for an extra penny, you could buy an “Air Mail” stamp. Your letter actually got to fly on an airplane to get to its destination. It cut delivery time down to about three days, a modern miracle of efficiency.

Today, with the internet and programs like Skype, I can converse with voice and video in real time with friends in Australia for free. Through social networks of all types from Facebook to Twitter, I can share thoughts with literally tens of thousands of people all over the world in an instant. In some respects, that is nothing short of fabulous. But so are a few other things that would quickly bring an end to civilized society, for example, unrestricted sex, free euphoria inducing drugs and x-ray goggles. Too much of a good thing can be quite bad. Unrestricted, instantaneous communication is one of those things. Continue reading

Corruption – It Couldn’t Happen Here

San Miguel de Allende (73 of 1220)“There’s too much corruption” said the cab driver. “It’s everywhere. People like me don’t stand a chance.”

We conversed in Spanish as Lalo wound his way through the narrow streets of San Miguel de Allende in the mountains of Central Mexico. Between heavy traffic and an excess of tourist for the holiday weekend, it was apparent we’d have plenty of time for our discussion of the life of a small business person in this beautiful city.

A cab driver in this and other cities in the area rents the cab. He has to put his own gas in the car, wash it and do the minor maintenance. The company takes care of any major repairs. Depending upon the demand for cabs on any given day, Lalo might or might not clear enough to pay the company. It’s in his last hours of work that he gets enough business to feed himself and his family. Lalo works twelve hours per day, six days per week.

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