Enemy At The Gates (Part Three)

All too convenient for my liking:

The most populous city in the Western Hemisphere, Mexico City; with over 20 million inhabitants becomes the epicenter of what is becoming an epidemic.  Mexico is a country not exactly known for its strict border policy, and as the US/Mexico border is porous already, infected people can slip through very easily.  People vacation all over Mexico…and we just came off of Spring Break time where thousands of young people flock to Mexico.  They bring it back.  9 cases (all students who were exposed to someone who just came back from Mexico) in New York City should scare the shit out of anyone with a modicum of intelligence.  DO THE MATH.  Remember EXPONENTS?  Keep that in mind as I pose this frightening scenario: MILLIONS OF COMMUTERS INTO AND OUT OF NYC DAILY.  New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania…all breeding grounds.  One case in the Central US, almost LITERALLY the center in Kansas; several cases in California.

An illness of this nature does not simply appear out of nowhere within days.  It had to have been engineered, and most likely (in my opinion…and I must stress this, MY OPINION) planted in the Western Hemisphere’s most populous city.  Who, what, or why doesn’t really matter now does it?  It just is.

Make no mistake about this despite what the Government is telling you now: this is an epidemic soon to be pandemic.  Read the Internet.  Do your homework.  Do not be satisfied with the information that is being disseminated to you from the mainstream media.  Trust the Net; trust people ON the Net who should begin communicating via IM within days.  It is inevitable that once things start getting worse, communication between people from all parts of the globe will be more important than ever.  Communication not based in rumor, but based on fact.  We will all need to become bloggers and reporters now.  We will all need to be vigilant.

Most importantly, we will all need to be human.

Enemy At The Gates (Part Two)

This says it all.  I have reprinted the conclusions from the Levin Report on the Inquiry Of Detainees In Us Custody.  A link to the full report will be provided at the end.  Weep for our nation, for this is our heart and soul and conscience that has been ripped away from us.  The criminals responsible for this absolute and total perversion of the rule of law need to be brought to justice; no matter how high up in the Chain of Command they were:


Senate Armed Services Committee Conclusions

Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.  Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 2: Members of the President’s Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed.  National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.

Conclusions on SERE Training Techniques and Interrogations

Conclusion 3: The use of techniques similar to those used in SERE resistance training –  such as stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, and treating them like animals – was at odds with the commitment to humane treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.  Using those techniques for interrogating detainees was also inconsistent with the goal of collecting accurate intelligence information, as the purpose of SERE resistance training is to increase the ability of U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations and the techniques used were based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions.

Conclusion 4: The use of techniques in interrogations derived from SERE resistance training created a serious risk of physical and psychological harm to detainees.  The SERE schools employ strict controls to reduce the risk of physical and psychological harm to students during training.  Those controls include medical and psychological screening for students, interventions by trained psychologists during training, and code words to ensure that students can stop the application of a technique at any time should the need arise.  Those same controls are not present in real world interrogations.

Conclusions on Senior Official Consideration of SERE Techniques for Interrogations

Conclusion 5: In July 2002, the Office of the Secretary of Defense General Counsel solicited information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) on SERE techniques for use during interrogations.  That solicitation, prompted by requests from Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II, reflected the view that abusive tactics similar to those used by our enemies should be considered for use against detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 6: The Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) interrogation program included at least one SERE training technique, waterboarding.  Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques.  Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques.  Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.

Conclusions on JPRA Offensive Activities

Conclusion 7: Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) efforts in support of “offensive” interrogation operations went beyond the agency’s knowledge and expertise.  JPRA’s support to U.S. government interrogation efforts contributed to detainee abuse.  JPRA’s offensive support also influenced the development of policies that authorized abusive interrogation techniques for use against detainees in U.S. custody.

Conclusion 8: Detainee abuse occurred during JPRA’s support to Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force (TF) interrogation operations in Iraq in September 2003.  JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton’s authorization of SERE instructors, who had no experience in detainee interrogations, to actively participate in Task Force interrogations using SERE resistance training techniques was a serious failure in judgment.  The Special Mission Unit Task Force Commander’s failure to order that SERE resistance training techniques not be used in detainee interrogations was a serious failure in leadership that led to the abuse of detainees in Task Force custody.  Iraq is a Geneva Convention theater and techniques used in SERE school are inconsistent with the obligations of U.S. personnel under the Geneva Conventions.

Conclusion 9: Combatant Command requests for JPRA “offensive” interrogation support and U.S. Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) authorization of that support led to JPRA operating outside the agency’s charter and beyond its expertise.  Only when JFCOM’s Staff Judge Advocate became aware of and raised concerns about JPRA’s support to offensive interrogation operations in late September 2003 did JFCOM leadership begin to take steps to curtail JPRA’s “offensive” activities.  It was not until September 2004, however, that JFCOM issued a formal policy stating that support to offensive interrogation operations was outside JPRA’s charter.

Conclusions on GTMO’s Request for Aggressive Techniques

Conclusion 10: Interrogation techniques in Guantanamo Bay’s (GTMO) October 11, 2002 request for authority submitted by Major General Michael Dunlavey, were influenced by JPRA training for GTMO interrogation personnel and included techniques similar to those used in SERE training to teach U.S. personnel to resist abusive enemy interrogations.  GTMO Staff Judge Advocate Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver’s legal review justifying the October 11, 2002 GTMO request was profoundly in error and legally insufficient.  Leaders at GTMO, including Major General Dunlavey’s successor, Major General Geoffrey Miller, ignored warnings from DoD’s Criminal Investigative Task Force and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that the techniques were potentially unlawful and that their use would strengthen detainee resistance.

Conclusion 11: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers’s decision to cut short the legal and policy review of the October 11, 2002 GTMO request initiated by his Legal Counsel, then-Captain Jane Dalton, undermined the military’s review process.  Subsequent conclusions reached by Chairman Myers and Captain Dalton regarding the legality of interrogation techniques in the request followed a grossly deficient review and were at odds with conclusions previously reached by the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Criminal Investigative Task Force.

Conclusion 12: Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II’s effort to cut short the legal and policy review of the October 11, 2002 GTMO request initiated by then- Captain Jane Dalton, Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was inappropriate and undermined the military’s review process.  The General Counsel’s subsequent review was grossly deficient.  Mr. Haynes’s one page recommendation to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld failed to address the serious legal concerns that had been previously raised by the military services about techniques in the GTMO request.  Further, Mr. Haynes’s reliance on a legal memo produced by GTMO’s Staff Judge Advocate that senior military lawyers called “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate” is deeply troubling.

Conclusion 13: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.  Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Conclusion 14: Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II’s direction to the Department of Defense’s Detainee Working Group in early 2003 to consider a legal memo from John Yoo of the Department of Justice’s OLC as authoritative, blocked the Working Group from conducting a fair and complete legal analysis and resulted in a report that, in the words of then- Department of the Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora contained “profound mistakes in its legal analysis.”  Reliance on the OLC memo resulted in a final Working Group report that recommended approval of several aggressive techniques, including removal of clothing, sleep deprivation, and slapping, similar to those used in SERE training to teach U.S. personnel to resist abusive interrogations.

Conclusions on Interrogations in Iraq and Afghanistan

Conclusion 15: Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force (TF) interrogation policies were influenced by the Secretary of Defense’s December 2, 2002 approval of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at GTMO.  SMU TF interrogation policies in Iraq included the use of aggressive interrogation techniques such as military working dogs and stress positions.  SMU TF policies were a direct cause of detainee abuse and influenced interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

Conclusion 16: During his assessment visit to Iraq in August and September 2003, GTMO Commander Major General Geoffrey Miller encouraged a view that interrogators should be more aggressive during detainee interrogations.

Conclusion 17: Interrogation policies approved by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, which included the use of military working dogs and stress positions, were a direct cause of detainee abuse in Iraq.  Lieutenant General Sanchez’s decision to issue his September 14, 2003 policy with the knowledge that there were ongoing discussions as to the legality of some techniques in it was a serious error in judgment.  The September policy was superseded on October 12, 2003 as a result of legal concerns raised by U.S. Central Command.  That superseding policy, however, contained ambiguities and contributed to confusion about whether aggressive techniques, such as military working dogs, were authorized for use during interrogations.

Conclusion 18: U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) failed to conduct proper oversight of Special Mission Unit Task Force interrogation policies.  Though aggressive interrogation techniques were removed from Combined Joint Task Force 7 interrogation policies after CENTCOM raised legal concerns about their inclusion in the September 14, 2003 policy issued by Lieutenant General Sanchez, SMU TF interrogation policies authorized some of those same techniques, including stress positions and military working dogs.

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.  Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody.  What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely

My father proudly served this country in the Korean War.  He was placed in constant danger, although for years he always told us he worked in the motor pool in Ft Bliss, Texas.  He didn’t.  He was doing other things for his country; things I cannot write about.  But he was in harm’s way, and at any time he could have been subjected to the Chinese “brainwashing” techniques…the very same ones we used over the past eight years on detainees.

Make no mistake: I want to ensure that my children will never have to endure what I did as a survivor of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center…but I am an American, and Americans don’t torture.  Torture and oppression and totalitarianism is what we oppose and we have fought against; we do not export it ourselves, live under it ourselves, nor become inhumane in the process of the defense of liberty.

We are Americans WE DO NOT TORTURE and those who created this policy, and if possible, those who acted outside the established boundaries of the Army Field Manual should be prosecuted as war criminals.  No exceptions.  I will be DAMNED if I had to survive a horrific terrorist attack only to see my beloved country lose its soul and its conscience in the process.

I would rather I died than see that happen.

THE FULL LEVIN REPORT:

http://armed-services.senate.gov/Publications/Detainee%20Report%20Final_April%2022%202009.pdf

The Enemy At The Gates (Part One)

“We have met the enemy, and he is us” – Walt Kelly (Pogo)

It began slowly over the course of the 2008 Presidential Election; spurred on by Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media propagandists like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.  Then it began to slowly creep into the campaign in full-throttle: that President Obama is a Socialist.  By true definition of that word, he most certainly is not; the fact that he is left-of center cannot be denied…but that does not make him a Socialist.  It’s one thing for these Right Wing nut jobs to simply go off and call the other guy a lot of names; hell, George H.W. Bush called Governor Michael Dukakis, “a card carrying member of the ACLU” (like that was a frightening thing?  It was also a dumb thing to say because the ACLU even champions Right Wing causes when warranted and is apolitical).  OK, so the Socialist tag got stuck in the campaign; you deal with that, and the Obama Campaign handled that with great aplomb.  It’s when the train REALLY started to jump the track that got me worried, and still scares the living daylights out of me.  It should scare the living daylights out of you too, and for the next several posts; I’m going to hopefully wake you up to the very real possibility that the Right Wing may very well be conspiring to overthrow the legitimately elected government of The United States of America.

Over the past decade, the Right Wing has moved ever so much further away from just the traditional “cut taxes and deregulate everything” footprint that was the bedrock of the old Republican Party most of us used to know.  The GOP has become a shadow of its former self, and has absolutely no resemblance to any kind of sane political movement.  It has become the refuge of fringe Christian religious fanatics that could be very well even more so than their Islamic or Jewish counterparts, quite simply because they have a chance to regain power every 4 years and have the entire US Armed Forces (plus nuclear arsenal) at their disposal.  These are people who WELCOME death and destruction, as it will send their souls toward heaven where they will be united with Jesus once again.  Oh boy.  I’d say it was a bad novel if it wasn’t true, but it is…and this is only one arm of the GOP that is working against not only the United States, but Humanity as well.

The other arm of this political hydra are the Corporate and Military special interests.  They lie in bed together like Brad Pitt and Angelina Joile do, and perform all sorts of acts that best be left off this page; but the general outcome is this: someone gets fucked.  In this case, it’s the American people…smoke ’em while you got ’em.  I hope that was as good for you as it was for me; because essentially since Eisenhower warned us against the rise of the vast Military-Industrial Complex in 1960 that’s what’s been happening to us.  People are out today protesting high taxes; well guess where vast amounts of the Middle Class’ money goes?  Yup, that very sweet hooker we’ve had a thing for since the 1950’s.  President Obama steps in, and is beginning to tell these guys that the rules of the game are going to be changed a bit.  The Military is going to have to spend wisely; the era of the no-bid contract is over.  Those nice, shiny missile defense grids with secret decoder rings are not going to get built.  Corporations are not only going to be accountable to shareholders, but the American public who is itself essentially the majority shareholder in a few of them.  There’s going to be a few rules for those guys as well.

Now we come to probably the biggest, single-most source of waste and fraud and taxpayer dollars: Health Insurance Companies and Pharmaceutical Manufacturers.  The American people have LITERALLY been held hostage by these two special interests since 1947, when Harry Truman’s plan for National Health Care fizzled.  In that time, Corporations pay more to insure their workers; people are forced to pay more out of pocket despite having insurance; and forget about the cost of certain drugs…I’ll save a personal horror story that recently happened to me for another time…but THAT is where EVERYONE makes money.  And it’s not just the GOP who is bought, paid for, and has sold its soul to on this issue…it’s the Democrats as well.  The President wants to shake up this unholy duo as well as it not only costs citizens large sums of cash, but the Federal Government as well.

Let’s review: Right Wing Nut Jobs (w/Religious Fanatics)+Military Industrial Complex & Large Corporations+Health Care and Pharmaceutical Companies= the new base of the GOP.  Let’s wrap that all up into the flag while tying yellow ribbons on the old oak tree for wars we should never be involved with…PLUS A LARGE TELEVISION NETWORK PUSHING, AND INCITING some of the more fanatical elements of this cabal.  THIS is where I have a problem; THIS is where I saw the train start to go off the tracks toward the end of the election…when we started dividing parts of the country into “Real America” and not; between who IS an American, and who is not; and most disturbingly, calls at some of the McCain/Palin rallies for very awful things to happen to our current President (then candidate).

I honestly thought it would die down after the election; all the hate and the fear and the lies and the deception from the Right.  Instead it has picked up steam; it is being pushed forward proudly by a television network who aids and abets this ideology of Neo-McCarthyism.  People are dismissing it as people being sore-losers from the last election; and perhaps some of that is right.  But did ANY of the elected politicians call to “rise up and defend America” like Michele Bachman did after the last President Bush won?  Others have called for the same thing…what is this “rise up”, other than to essentially promote treason; and by the very definition Fox News should be called “The Sedition Network”.

Because, ladies and gentlemen…if we don’t get a handle on these crazies now, we will lose this country forever and be mired in a conflict that would make the Civil War pale in comparison.

NEXT: The hard evidence of the right wing’s desires to take back power at any cost.

“It is only necessary to make war with five things: with the maladies of the body, with the ignorance of the mind, with the passions of the body, with the sedition of the city, with the discords of families.” – Tacitus

Spring Break

We will be taking a short break for Spring and to coincide with my kids’ vacation schedule.  The next posting will be on Tax Day, Wednesday April 15th.  Enjoy the break, and Happy Easter and Happy Passover to those that celebrate those holidays.

Phases

My friend’s wife is dying.

That’s about as simple as the situation is, and as horrible as it is.  She is young, and was struck down by an illness that literally hits one in a million people.  Her body has been slowly killing itself for the past four years, and my friend could do nothing but watch his wife slip away from him day by day with absolutely no chance for a cure.  All he could do was be by her side and make her as comfortable as possible.  Now, she has chosen hospice, and it is only a matter of time before I get the phone call confirming the inevitable.  Thus begins another phase of my life, as friends begin to slip away from me.

When I was younger, I had experienced the deaths of many friends.  This was the 70’s after all, and drugs and alcohol were rampant and we did stupid things…like drive while under the influence of SOMETHING.  The first death of a close friend involved a closed casket, because most of his body was scattered all over the Staten Island Expressway.  I had three friends hit the wall of a Deli on a sharp bend in the road while doing 80 miles an hour.  All three died; one of them sat next to me just a few months prior at our High School graduation.  Another friend died while committing suicide; another after contracting meningitis; and yet another after being struck by a car while on the way home from coaching a bunch of kids in Little League practice.

All of this happened by the age of 18.  I had seen more than my share of funerals and wakes; so much so that I get ill sometimes while attending a wake.  All funeral parlors smell the same to me; the sweet sickly smell of perfume and flowers covering up death; our own morbid way of somehow getting closure with the deceased.  I do not mourn for the dead at these events.  I mourn for the living; for the survivors and loved ones be they friend or family.  I worry about how their lives will be, now that this one life was taken from them.  I was at the age a few years ago of weddings, and births, and the occasional death of a parent or grandparent.  Now I am approaching another phase of my life it seems, and it appears as if I may be entering a part of my life where I begin to lose my friends and family at a more rapid pace than before.

In a way I was a part of death on September 11th.  I saw death and I walked upon its dust.  In some strange way though, I never felt like I was going to die on that day…don’t ask my how or why, I just did.  What I didn’t bargain for were the years of madness and alcoholism that followed, which I guess was my death in this life (the one I am conscious and aware of).  I have a belief that there is something beyond this existence.  I am a great believer of reincarnation, although I am not sure if you reincarnate on this earth or another place.  I believe that were are a part of the Universe trying to understand itself and that each of us help it to do so as we struggle to understand ourselves.  I cannot imagine the meaning of my life without that belief, but it has taken me a number of years to come to that conclusion.  Perhaps I am wrong, and when my life ends it will be the simple extinguishing of an insignificant flame on some insignificant planet in the corner of the galaxy.  For now, anyway…I have my beliefs.  I guess you could say they give me some comfort; and there’s more to tell you as to why, but let’s just say one day I was given an glimpse into something wonderful and leave it at that.

So in a few days, perhaps longer…who knows…I will be on a plane to Arizona.  I will be scared out of my wits (I hate to fly),  Xanaxed to the hilt, and desperately trying to keep it all together on the way out there.  Once I arrive, I’ll be fine but then comes my role as a friend.  I know damned well he’d do the same thing for me if the roles were reversed; but this is when you know someone for over thirty years, and you have passed through many of the phases of your lives together.  Although we had been in sporadic contact over the past few years, we remain friends.  We were at each others weddings; my wife and I would double date with he and his wife often (including a most memorable 31st birthday for me).  He is one of the most philosophical and deep thinkers I have ever met in my life, and yet I do not know how he is going to react to this.  I do not know what kind of service it will be, because neither of them were religious in a traditional church-going manner.  If I had my guess, it would probably be a small memorial service knowing their low-key personalities.  No matter how it is conducted, and no matter who attends it regardless of individual belief systems, I only know that I seek comfort and am confident in one thing.

Her time done, she will have moved onward to the next phase.

Once Upon A Time…

Once upon a time, I used to get cigarettes for .65 a pack and $6.50 a carton.  Now that same $6.50 may not even get me ONE pack

…I used to have no conveniences of a cell phone, computer, and web sites that constantly kept me apprised of my friends’ doings and them of mine.  Now, I have no privacy, even if I wanted it without becoming a hermit

…people used to by records and CDs.  Now, people buy downloads and don’t give a damn about audio quality.

…I could afford to go to a Yankee game, and maybe even take someone else.  Hell, Tess and I used to buy tickets on the same day, get decent seats, and have a hell of a good time relatively inexpensively.  Now, I can’t even GET seats, let alone afford to take my kids.

…I could set foot in NYC without getting panicked.  Now, that is not the case; so that pretty much eliminates any concerts, or Yankee games.

…I used to fly on a plane with no fear.  Today, the only way I am going near a plane is if I’m being evacuated.

…my 12 year old daughter was my baby girl.  She still is, but like the post I did the other day, she is very much making me feel like an adult today.  She is going to her first school dance tonight.  And thus begins my illustrious career in being the Girlfriend’s Father From Hell!

Oh sure, they call it a “dance”; they’ll be playing music, there will be a slushy machine there for the kids too.  My daughter will not be attending with a boy (at least one that I know of, anyway), but I’m certain she has a crush or two going on. They’ll all break up into their cliques and probably wind up texting each other on their cell phones rather than talk to one another.  That’s the problem with this generation: they have TOO MUCH technology; they don’t truly understand certain qualities of humanity, like actual verbal interaction between people.  I just don’t get this whole text message thing.  I mean, it’s one thing to send a quick blurb that you’re coming home or going out or something pithy that need not turn into a conversation.  These kids manage to write entire paragraphs on the new cell phones with the QWERTY keyboards that pop out of the side.  In my day (I cannot believe I just wrote that), IF you were lucky you got a phone extension in your room…at 16.  Now, my 12 year old blissfully chats and texts her way through life.

I just got back from being outside with my youngest daughter, who’s eight.  She was kicking a soccer ball around the yard, and she’s quite good at it too.  She’s the athletic one in the family; she was the only girl in her class last year to get the Presidential Physical Fitness Award.  She takes gymnastics, has the shape and form of a gymnast, and she’s very good at that as well.  It’s definitely the double recessive genes on my side of the family; both my father and brother were athletic, not I.  I am the only Irishman on the entire planet who cannot play basketball; I’m lucky to be typing right now considering how many jammed fingers I have from attempting to catch a pass.  I was quite good at soccer though, that being the only sport I truly enjoyed playing as well as watching.  I grew up during that first “great soccer awakening” of the 70’s, when Pele played for the NY Cosmos and the sport started to take hold in this country.  It’s too bad most Americans don’t appreciate a game that the rest of the world is absolutely bonkers over.

While I was watching my daughter play, I decided that I need to check-in a bit and just enjoy my moments with the kids now, before it’s too late and they’re off to University.  Next thing you know, I’ll be walking them down the aisle and giving them away to (hopefully) a better man than I.  I cannot believe how fast the past 12 years of fatherhood have gone, but at least I’m sober now for them and for myself to remember these moments, so that one day I can look back on an old photo album with them.  I’ll be sitting there with them and my grandchildren, and then they will say, “Pops, tell us a story about mommy”.  And I’ll begin it with a familiar refrain…

Once Upon A Time…

“Disneyland will never be completed.  It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” – Walt Disney

Help! I’ve Turned Into An Adult!

A few weeks ago, I went in to the Optometrist to get a new prescription for my contact lenses and eyeglasses.  I’m quite nearsighted, and have been since I was about 8 years old; which is when I started wearing specs.  I started using contact lenses when I turned 18 the better to show off these baby blues; (and no, they are not colored by the lenses because only the Universe makes this particular shade of blue).  In the past 3 years or so, I’ve been doing what most middle aged people do when they read a paper: they hold it at arms, length and pray that the instruction manual that has been translated from the Chinese into Cyrillic and then into English makes some sort of sense.  What I can’t figure out is why I’ve suddenly gone farsighted in addition to being nearsighted…it makes absolutely no sense to me at all.  So, I wear bi-focals when I’m wearing my cheaters, and up until two weeks ago, I had no problem with my contacts.  Now, I need reading glasses on top of a stronger prescription.  The amazing thing is that I can read a sign half a mile down the road, but I can’t even look at the computer screen without these cheap reading glasses.

Face it…I am now an adult.

Oh, there’s more: my oldest daughter got her first detention the other day.  We won’t go into the details, except to say she beat me by three grades and definitely has her father’s temper and way with words.  I calmly dealt with the situation, affording her the same courtesy that I never was shown as a child, and tried to sort through things logically.  Ok, that worked fine.  Then yesterday, my youngest daughter not only forgot her project for school, but she got a note sent home that she, like her father, loves to talk.  She talks more than anyone on the planet; so much so that her seat was moved several times in the past few weeks.  Not a happy camper was I; but I dealt with that situation with the dreaded “No television for a day or two” punishment.  Needless to say, she tried every angle to get that nefarious predicament removed from her life and I wasn’t having any of it.  Looks like not only have I become an adult about things, but I’m becoming more like a parent, sounding more like a parent, and acting more like a parent.  I’m still trying to decide which TV Dad I resemble, and I’m convinced it’s a cross between Tim Taylor and Mike Brady with a little bit of Steve Douglas thrown in for good measure.

The final piece of the adulthood process came today when my daughter’s new cell phone arrived.  Her old one went belly up last week, and the kid was going through a withdrawal worse than I was when I went to rehab for booze.  After shelling out full price for the phone (thank you Sprint for being so flexible; we’ll happily wave goodbye to you in December when the contract runs out), I had it sent via UPS to the house.  It was SUPPOSED to be activated already; in theory, all I had to do was turn it on, the old phone would have been removed from my account, and the new one added.  Oh…I remember now, this is Sprint I was dealing with!  The phone arrives, and I read over the set up instructions…and couldn’t find the battery cover.  A stinking battery cover!  And neither could my wife!  Not only that, the very detailed diagram of the phone didn’t contain its exact location.  Perplexed, we went on the internet and found the answer.  Forgive me for thinking that the entire back of the phone was supposed to be removed to access the battery compartment.  I was looking for something sane, like a recess somewhere in the device.

Now, I’m no stooge when it comes to electronics.  I can set up home theater systems, computers, wire just about any electronic device you can think of.  My wife is extremely tech savvy too; and here we were, two 40 somethings trying to figure out where a battery cover was.  The activation didn’t happen as planned, so I went on the Internet to activate the phone that way.  They asked me for the number ON the battery as confirmation; so now, I had to navigate that cover once again and locate the number.  Needless to say, the number was too small for even my reading glasses and a 100 watt lightbulb to discern; so I called customer service who activated the phone.  Cheerfully now having said device in operational form, I went out to pick up my daughter who was delighted when I drove up and waved the phone at her from the car.  Once we got home, I asked her if she could find the battery compartment…just to see if it was a middle aged adult thing, or a common sense thing that the manufacturer screwed up on.  She found it immediately; oh, she also never saw one of these phones before either (at least up close).  So now, the text queen is happily typing away on her slide out QWERTY keyboard giving her thumbs a workout.

Yup, I’ve officially been christened an adult and a father under fire in the past few days.  I can’t read without my glasses, my kids are getting into age bracket behaviors that I have to deal with simultaneously, and I can’t find a damned battery cover on a phone.  I did manage to get a very cool ring tone assigned to me by my daughter: it sounds like a bad 70’s porno soundtrack, with the “whaka-whacka” funky back-beat.  Absolutely perfect for this child of the 60’s and 70’s.

I wonder if Mike Brady would have found that battery cover?

“Thirty-Five is when you finally get your head together, and when your body starts falling apart” – Karen Leschen

Publishing Schedule Beginning April 1

While hopefully not being an April Fool, I’m going to try and streamline my workload so that my posts will appear on a regular schedule.  It will give me more time to take care of my other writing (a novel) and be a Dad around here so that I’m not rushing to write something.  It will also give me a couple of days to look at what’s going on and see just what it is I have to say.  I will not write something for the sake of it…I MUST have something to say.

This Blog will now have new posts on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays beginning April 1.  Obviously, should situations warrant, publication might occur on other days; but there are my planned publication dates.

Just thought I’d give everyone a heads up, and hopefully keep everyone (including me) from guessing when the next new post will be.

1,096 Nows

Three years ago, I woke up.

I’m sober three years today, and quite frankly; I didn’t even think I would last out a year, let alone three of them…or 1,096 days (but who’s counting?).  I look at that number and think and how much money I saved, never mind saving my liver!  Well, there is that for which I am truly grateful; and outside of my teeth, I really didn’t screw up my health.  All my internal organs check out fine (and have since then, although I’m due for one of those extremely uncomfortable procedures gentlemen get); the eyesight’s a bit worse, I’m now having to use reading glasses on top of my contact lenses and I have a set of eyeglasses with bi-focals as well; and I have two very cranky discs in my lower back that constantly give me pain and annoyance.  And I managed to fix those teeth by getting a whole set of new ones.  While I can eat a steak with great relish now, or tear into ribs with joyous abandon; I always carry a spare set of adhesive strips for my upper dentures, and make sure they’re well glued before we venture out.  These are the little things you appreciate when you stop drinking to alcoholic excess and kill yourself slowly without knowing you are doing so.

Then there are the unquantifiables.  How can I put a price tag on the respect my children now have for me?  How can I truly say how much I love my wife, even though I may not necessarily show it all the time and I can be the biggest pain in the ass to live with?  What do you say about a woman who stood by me in the darkest days, managed to deal with more crap than she ever bargained for when she signed up for this marriage thing, and keep the whole family together simultaneously at great cost to her own sanity?  That, in and of itself, cannot even be put into words and somehow, “thank you” would seem more of an insult than a compliment.

I actually enjoy eating decent meals again, especially since I’m not falling face first in my mashed potatoes like I did one Thanksgiving.  Cooking has become a great passion again, and that spiffy new kitchen we put in a few months ago has been getting quite a workout by both myself and eldest daughter Kate, who enjoys making a good meal as much as I do.  That’s where her and I bond; she’s stirring the gravy constantly while I’m slicing up the roast (like we’ll be doing tonight); or I’m trying to pass on to her a recipe handed down to me by my mother that’s been passed on for generations; or I’ll have a germ of an idea and she’ll start adding things to it and before you know it, we have ourselves a new dish.  (Now if I can only get her to clean up after herself in the kitchen…).

I like going out to small and quiet restaurants more so now that I’m not drinking, because I can actually appreciate the food (duh!).  I can’t really deal with the Olive Gardens or TGI Friday’s of the world; just give me a nice quiet Chinese restaurant with a varied menu from all parts of China, but most especially Szechwan.  Dear God, I love spicy Asian food!  And I can actually taste and enjoy it again!  On the other end of the spectrum, give me a nice small family run Italian Restaurant that serves the basics.  A great Chicken Parmesan, a lovely Lasagna, a silky smooth Veal Marsalla…all hallmarks of the classic Italian establishment.  A nice traditional sports bar/restaurant serving American classic fare is another great pit stop for my hunger.  These types of places are sprinkled all over the Jersey Shore, and we have a few excellent places by us.  One restaurant cuts its own steaks, and as a result the NY Strip is to DIE for.

Now, you think I’d be fatter than Oliver Hardy after reading all of that.  I’m not; in fact, I’m quite the opposite…but I am now at the proper weight for my height for the first time in my life.  I’ve always had a quick metabolism, and have never had a weight problem (unless you count being underweight as a problem).  My two weaknesses are Coca Cola and cigarettes; hey, we all have our vices.  Besides, quitting drugs and alcohol was easier than trying to quit smoking.  I knew guys in rehab who were counselors and former heroin addicts, who said quitting smoking was harder than kicking smack.  That’s pretty scary.  So I simply choose not to be scared, that is until the prices become completely astronomical like they are in New York and California.  The sad part about all those “sin taxes” that States build their budget on is when people really do stop smoking, their revenue stream goes down…so eventually everyone else gets taxed.  Think about that one the next time they raise cigarette taxes in your State you ex-smokers and non-smokers; because you’re going to pay for it eventually!

All of these simple things (and more) were made possible by faith in the Universe unfolding as it should (sometimes); hence the sub-title of this blog.  Writing has kept me sober more than any AA Meeting did in the two and a half years than I regularly attended  them.  That’s what works for me; for others it’s AA; and still for others it’s something else.  The bottom line is you accept you have a problem, and you deal with it and live with it the best you can.  It’s not God that will save your sorry ass, it’s YOU.  You and a lot of love and support from friends and family.  I couldn’t have gotten this far without my family; my two beloved daughters alone are enough to want me not to have a drink (even though they will drive you to drink sometimes!).  Gracie, who is starting to get to know her Daddy better, as I am starting to get to know her better.  She was the neglected one in all of this mess, because she was born August 12, 2001; just a month before all hell broke loose in my world (and the rest of the world too).  She’s never really had a Daddy that’s been stable, until the past two years at best.  I say two years because the first year of sobriety is as much a haze as your last year, because you’re learning how to live your life and do things again without a drink in one hand.  So I’m trying to be more attentive to her and pay more attention to her than I have in the past; because I’ll be damned if I rob another child of their childhood.

Then we come to my rock of faith, my oldest daughter Kate.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much this child has kept me on course; and during my darkest days, pretty much kept me functioning.  She played mother hen around here when my wife went back to work in 2005, and kept things going…at the expense of her childhood.  She had to grow up more than she should have; but this is what alcoholism does to families.  I cannot repay her enough in this lifetime for her unfailing faith in me as a sober man, and as a grateful father who always had a cup of coffee ready for me to start the day.  The kid was 8 years old at the time the house of cards collapsed and I started on the pathway to recovery.  A special kid, that is for certain; and if it’s at all possible, I love her even more today than ever.

Then we come to my wife; Keeper of The Flame, Vanquisher of Demons, awesome mother, breadwinner, and simply an amazing human being.  After what she has gone through over the past eight years, she should write her own book to be a companion piece to the one I’m writing now.  She watched two buildings collapse knowing that her husband worked two blocks away, as she was holding a one month old daughter with a 4 year old daughter who was trying to make sense out of the whole thing.  She had to deal with a husband who had PTSD, was later diagnosed as being bi-polar, and was a raging alcoholic all while trying to hold down the fort when I was still working.  Now, being the primary source of income (thank God she is a Registered Nurse) she is dealing with having to work when she’d much rather be at home as a Mom.  This role reversal is not to her liking, to put it mildly.  Yet she goes on, and on the days when she’s not being a Mom she is out helping Humanity.  I would have left me a long time ago if I had to deal with what she did.  She stayed.  She didn’t abandon her life partner, even though he deserved to be left in the dust.  We both take our wedding vows seriously, and these past few years have tested every single one of them.  But there is no one on the planet who I love more, and would rather be in a foxhole with.

This is what alcoholism and recovery looks like.

I started this piece ostensibly to be one with some philosophy behind it; and it wound up veering off into great steaks, cigarette taxes, and thanking the people who made today possible.  This is as much about them as it is for me.  It’s about living in the now and being so lucky to have just that single moment; just like the one I am having now writing this post.  This moment will never come again, there will be some like it, but never THIS moment. It’s a way of life…life in moments and scenes and pictures on a wall somewhere in the back of your mind.  THIS moment IS the future and the past all rolled into one.  The sooner you realize that all you have it what you are living in; you kind of have a different outlook on things.

All because for this moment, I chose not to drink.  I choose to imprison my malady rather than have it imprison me.  I can’t tell you that I’m never going to have a drink again; any alcoholic who says that is either full of it or doesn’t understand exactly what the issues are.  But for now, I choose not to drink; no Group is going to help me; God isn’t going to help me (because if there is a Supreme Being, She created all this and left it to its own devices); books aren’t going to help me.  Not even my friends and family can do that; all they can do is be there when it counts and when I need them.  And it all comes down to one simple thing:

Living in the moment, understanding that it will never pass this way again, so make sure it’s a damned good moment.  Then you will never have regrets about your past, and you can accept your future with eyes wide open.

“He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sun rise.” – William Blake

There Is No “I” In Keyboard

You may have been wondering why I haven’t written much lately.  It’s kind of hard to write a first-person Blog of opinion when the “I” key on your computer keyboard was hopelessly stuck.  It was a veritable writer’s nightmare, and it happened through a very interesting set of circumstances, on my birthday no less.  Quite the unexpected birthday gift that managed to keep on giving, and it did not make me a happy camper.

In the well over 20 plus years I have been using computers on a regular basis, at home or at work, I have NEVER once spilled ANYTHING on my keyboard.  Ever.  Not so much as a drop of water, a sliver of spittle, a scintilla of snot.  Not a damned thing.  So, I had just completed the last of two blog entries (to make up for much lost time) on my birthday.  I was feeling pretty good, having done my best at trying to play catch up; so I reached for my Dr. Pepper and 4 (count ’em) FOUR drops fell directly on my keyboard.  I could see them…they were right there.  The instant horror that hit me at that moment was positively indescribable, but it certainly looked as if there would be no serious damage to the keyboard.  I wiped up the offending beverage, cleaned the keys off with an alcohol swab, turned the keyboard over, shook it to ensure that nothing was inside the circuit board itself, and turned it and the computer off.  This is all what you are supposed to do in the event of a spill (the equivalent of a nuclear attack on your PC or Mac).  I wasn’t too happy about the situation, but all I could do was to wait a few hours and see what happened.

After having a lovely birthday dinner with my wife and daughters, we returned to the house, and I pressed a few random keys on the keyboard.  No problems; so I fired up the Mac and made the Bluetooth connection between the keyboard and the computer.  I went to a message board that I normally go to, and started to reply to a topic, when I typed a word with the letter “I”.  What transpired was a word that came out with “iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” as part of it, and unless you’re typing Welch or are a literary narcissist, this was not a good thing.  I tried hitting the key to dislodge it, but it wasn’t having any of it.  I tried more alcohol swabs, an eyeglass cleaning towelette, both of them to no avail.  This was not a good situation at ALL.  I mean, it wasn’t a major spill!  It was only four drops of Dr Pepper!  And of all the letters to get stuck…”I” is one of the most used in the English language, and seeing as my memoir is in the first-person and so is my Blog, this was disastrous.

I spent some time reviewing the various keyboards out there (quite frankly, I wasn’t happy with the native Mac keyboard; it always felt clumsy and uncomfortable to me), and got one that I am MOST happy with; it’s like typing on a cloud  AND it’s black; got to have a black keyboard…it is a MUST, especially if you are a smoker.  With a white keyboard, you see every little fingerprint; every stray ash that might have crossed over on to a key through the air..  This is also a Bluetooth wireless, but its made by a third party (Logitech) that produces some incredible pieces of technology.  My mouse if a Logitech MX Air; I can use it as a standard mouse, or just kick back in my chair and use it like a remote.  I’m sure it will come in handy one day when I have everything wired to a central entertainment system via this Mac (or another).  In a way, this has been a blessing and in fact has kind of been a late birthday gift from the Universe.

So be forewarned, I’m back…and I’ve got a ton of stuff pent up ready to write about.  As long as my ash tray, cigarette, and beverage stay FAR on the other side of the desk, that is.  On the ‘morrow, Ladies and Gentlemen…

“If you do not the expect the unexpected you will not find it, for it is not to be reached by search or trail.” – Heraclitus

The Kobayashi Maru Scenario

If you’re a complete and total fan of “Star Trek: The Original Series” (like I am), you know that there is a test that is given to all cadets at Starfleet Academy; a no-win situation from which there is absolutely no possibility of extracting yourself…a test called The Kobayashi Maru.  It’s name is derived from a stranded star-liner that you have to rescue that has drifted into enemy (at that point in the show it was Klingon) territory; your mission is to get in, get those passengers out, and avoid being turned into cosmic dust by the Klingons.  Everyone who has ever taken the test has failed, because it is the ultimate no-win situation.  The only one who did manage to pass it and defeat the computer was then Cadet James T Kirk, who did a little bit of reprogramming so that he could beat and win the simulation.

Right now, we are in our own Kobayashi Maru scenario: how can you possibly bail out the banks and other large financial institutions on one hand, without incurring the complete and total wrath of a disgusted American public on the other?  While the decisions made at these financial institutions were unconscionable, and those who profited from them deserve our scorn at best and a firing squad at worst; the situation involving the sheer volume and intricacy of the derivatives and credit default swaps makes it almost impossible NOT to bail them out further.  Recently, a listing of the companies involved directly with AIG and who received funding from them made it clear that the tentacles of this beast extend to all levels of our economy.

As the saying goes, “Damed if you do, and damned if you don’t”.

As a recovering alcoholic/addict, I can tell you this: the very last thing you wanted to do when I was using was give me money…because I’ll give you three guess as to where it went.  The current situation with AIG is very much in the same category; it seems that the more money we throw at it, the more they spend on corporate trips involving $25,000 facials; and $800,000 BBQ  events as well as the infamous $162 million in bonuses to the very same people who brought down the world’s economy.  On one hand, it absolutely needs to stop…and stop NOW.  On the other hand, the financial instruments that were concocted by those geniuses of monetary wizardry are so complex and are in almost every single sector and Financial Institution of the world’s economy.  To allow AIG to fail completely is to virtually assure nothing short of the complete and total collapse of the planet’s economy…PERIOD.  Notice how I used the word, “completely”.

The American taxpayer owns roughly 80% of AIG, and why we (the Congress and the President) simply cannot stop these so-called “Retention Bonuses” by simple declaration that we are not paying them at all.  Of the 73 total employees who were paid to be “retained”, 11 of them no longer work for AIG in any capacity.  Some retention, huh?  One economist had the best idea I’ve heard so far out of the myriad that have been put forth already: spin off the Derivatives Unit into its own entity, declare bankruptcy and begin an orderly reorganization of that unit, and thus by virtue of the fact that that unit is in bankruptcy, all contracts for those bonuses become null and void.  Simple and elegant; and probably the one scenario that makes the most sense.

The problem with some of the other scenarios involving taxation of these bonuses at amounts ranging anywhere between 60-91% is the fact that you may actually be breaking the law in singling out a group of taxpayers unfairly, and that might not fly with the Supreme Court.  You could potentially pass legislation (which the Congress is trying to do as I type this) and pass it retroactively as another means of recouping the money as well.  What everyone seems to be overlooking here is not only the fact thet the American Tax Payers are on the hook for these funds until they can be returned, but these clowns get to keep their bonuses!  I just don’t want the money returned, I want to make sure that these crooked and immoral bastards that got us into the mess never see a penny of that money; and whatever they did see is captured and returned.  THAT is what bothers me more than the actual spending of the money, which by hook or by crook we shall surely get in one way or another.

So then we are left with the very pressing question of, “What next?”.  For one thing, our current Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner needs to be thrown out the door, along with Larry Summers, he himself an architect of  the dismantling of Glass-Steigel when he worked for President Clinton.  President Obama needs to jettison both of these guys NOW and retain some credibility in the matter while he can.  I don’t think you’ll see a dry eye from either Republican or Democrat on the Hill.  Right now, you have an excellent man available for Treasury Secretary in Paul Volcker who was a former Federal Reserve Chairman and a current Obama economic advisor.  He would absolutely sail through Congress in the nomination process, and I’d feel a hell of a lot more safe with a man of his stature and experience at the helm than the boy-wonder Geithner, an ex-NY Fed Chairman, who’s a little too cozy with the Wall Street bankers involved in this mess.  He is claiming that he didn’t know about the bonuses until a few days before they were to be paid out.  One problem with this logic: as Chairman of the NY Fed, it was almost impossible for him NOT to know , because he helped to administer the first bit of TARP money that went out to the Corporate Paupers a few months ago.  I firmly believed he tried to (and did) cut some sort of deal with AIG to limit the bonuses; and he tried to get away with it without telling his boss until the last minute.  President Obama was then in the unenviable position of having to explain how he pretty much got an end-around by Geithner.  No matter how you slice this, this does not look good for this Administration.

As of last night, a statement from Rham Emmanuel was released that said Geithner’s job was safe.  That’s usually code for , “His ass is on the way out the door”; and coming from Emmanuel, that is almost like Darth Vader changing Admirals on the Death Star on a rotating basis (after they failed miserably at their assignments) in “The Empire Strikes Back”.  Geithner will take the fall for this, make no doubt; and he will be fired, and not allowed a graceful exit.  Volcker will be approved in record time, and we will have a grown-up at the Treasury Department sitting in the cabinet room within 4-6 weeks.

We will still have our own financial Kobayashi Maru Scenario; but at least we’ll have a guy who can do a little reprogramming of the computer sitting in the Center Seat.

“I don’t like to loose…I don’t believe in the no-win scenario” -James T. Kirk,  from “The Wrath Of Khan”

Happy Birthday! The Bombing Begins In 5 Minutes…

So, I get up this afternoon (late night last night, remember?) and start catching up on e-mails, cards and greetings, and the news.  On the MSNBC page is this little tidbit of information: “Russia May Base Bombers In Cuba; Venezuela Also Temporarily Offers Island Site As Moscow Eyes Caribbean” Happy Birthday, indeed!

Well, Joe…you called it; the President now has his first “official test” and it doesn’t come from some two-bit dictatorship or a bunch of radical religious extremists.  It comes from an ex-Superpower who wants to get back into the game DESPERATELY, a make-believe President whose strings are being pulled by the former one (and current PM), and that very same Prime Minister who used to be a member of the KGB and would love nothing more than a return to the good old days.  Don’t just shrug this one off as posturing Ladies and Gentlemen, because this is much more serious than the media would have you believe.  You have a few things that make this a very dangerous situation:

The Monroe Doctrine, for starters.  James Monroe over 200 years ago pretty much declared “our” sphere of influence and “our” hemisphere off limits to foreign intervention and interests.  It was the first, bold, and VERY brash policy statement of the young Republic; and up until 1962, no serious breach of that protocol has ever transpired.  The Cuban Missile Crisis was the first legitimate test of the Monroe Doctrine, and that pretty much ended with the Soviet Union going back with its tail tucked between its legs.  We DID guarantee Cuba’s autonomy, and a promise not to invade it in exchange for the Soviets promising not to stage any bombers or missiles in Cuba.  So here you have a contract and a doctrine in place that keeps the peace.

Next up is NATO.  We’ve been allowing the former Eastern Bloc nations (that once provided a “buffer” for the Soviet Union during the Cold War) to join NATO.  In yet another piece of Foreign Policy brilliance, the Bush Administration decided that it would ask Poland (of all countries!) to house an “Anti-Ballistic Missile System” aimed at preventing any warheads from Iran (should there BE any) from reaching Europe.  It could also be used to attack the Russians if need be, despite its so-called “defensive” posturing.  We have hundreds of warheads on American soil that can be called “defense” too…so if I were the Russians, I’d be just a tad upset at this prospect.  The Obama Administration has offered to talk to the Russians about this situation in exchange for their cooperation in preventing Iran from obtaining The Bomb.  Either those talks didn’t go well, or the Russians are upping the ante by trying to do to us what we are trying to do to them.

The Wild Card in all of this is Hugo Chavez.  Just what the hell does he want?  He has a lot of power given his vast oil reserves, he’s also looking to fill a void that will be left when Fidel Castro dies.  Raul Castro is also looking perhaps to stave off any regime change by the US when his brother is 6 feet under.  So between these two guys, they are more than happy to invite the Russian Bear in for a visit…a long one.  The confluence of all of these factors puts Obama in a very un-winnable situation.  He can work through Diplomatic channels so that this doesn’t happen at all and no one loses face (obviously the preferred route), withdraw the missiles from Poland (which can’t happen WITHOUT losing face unless the Russians agree to help with Iran AND withdraw their Cuban Plans), or bomb the base in Venezuela where the Russian Bombers would be temporarily headquartered.

There is only one option he can take NOW that shows the US resolve to protect its sphere of influence, and show that it will protect its citizens at any cost: BOMB THE VENEZUELAN AIR BASE NOW BEFORE ANY RUSSIANS ARRIVE…NOW BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE.

With that base taken out of the picture, it will at least make the Russians think twice before going into Cuba.  The Russians cannot bomb Poland in retaliation without starting a major war with the United States and the rest of NATO.  Chavez can scream bloody murder all he wants and threaten to (or actually) cut off the oil to the US…but it will do him no good, because we’ll just have to go in and ensure that the oil keeps flowing…by a very nicely timed coup or assassination attempt by the CIA, or military action.  Who the hell is going to stop us in our hemisphere?  Who the hell is going to stop America from protecting itself and its shores from a very real and tangible thread that can be seen, felt, and touched on our doorstep?

It’s extremely rare that I sound like a Right-winger, but on this point there can be no compromise.  Mr President, bomb that Venezuelan air base NOW while we still can and take a lot of the other options off the Russian’s plate.  It will at least give us time to negotiate with the Russians from a position of strength about missiles in Poland and bombers in Cuba, rather than the reverse.

“When you are skinning your customers, you should leave some skin on to heal, so that you can skin them again.” – Nikita Khrushchev

OK…So It’s My Birthday…

I’m 48 today.

That’s something I’m still trying to get a grasp on.  I can go back over a few memorable birthdays: my 40th, where I did a drunken Wallenda dance on a pier trying to get on a ferry to Hoboken to catch the last train out of there because the PATH wasn’t running.  My 30th, where I worked on what was to become the worst hangover of my life( the following day) in an evening of drunken revelry with my then alcoholic manic-depressive girlfriend, not realizing that in just over a decade I’d be in the same condition.  My 18th birthday where I had my first “legal” drink (yes, the drinking age was 18 and the age you could by cigarettes was 16) and smoked in front of my parents for the first time in a Chinese restaurant that had that tacky tiki 70’s decor.  These were memorable; these were occasions, these were events in my life.  Today just seems completely inconsequential, and where my birthday used to have some special quality to it…it just seems like another day to me, only I’m older.

Perhaps I AM getting older.  I hear the words of my parents coming out of my mouth, and I try and stop that from happening before it happens but it’s impossible to do so.  My eyesight is getting worse; I’m nearsighted with a terrible case of farsightedness…go figure THAT one out.  I’m also a bit crazy, and my back is giving out on me.  My teeth are gone, but I have a fabulous pair of dentures (that look amazingly real) that allow me to eat steak again.  Also on the bright side, I don’t drink anymore and I eat very well and very healthy.  True, I still smoke like a chimney…but I need at least ONE vice…everyone does.

So here I am at 2am…older, definitely wiser, and unable to sleep.  I guess it’s just like every other day.

“Last week the candle factory burned down. Everyone just stood around and sang, ‘Happy Birthday.’ ” – Steven Wright

Is Stat-en-Island?

Henry Hudson is sailing into NY Harbor when he looks over to his left.  There’s a bit of early morning mist, and he’s trying to make out what he thinks is land, so he turns to his First Mate and says, “Is ‘stat an island?”.

If you’ve ever lived on Staten Island, you already know that joke about how the place got its name by heart, and have already figured out what this post is going to be about.  From 1966-1992, I grew up on this unfortunate piece of rock that lies between Brooklyn and New Jersey, never quite having an identity of being either a true New Yorker (Staten Island is technically one of the 5 boroughs that make up NYC) or something else.  Just what that something else was, I really wouldn’t find out until I left that veil of tears in 1992 for the Jersey Shore, where I spent many a summer and a happy day in my youth, teens, and 20’s.  All of my side of the family has moved to the somewhat better pastures of the Garden State, but my in-laws still reside there.  Undoubtedly, the place has changed for the worse, which is probably why I have such a deep hatred for it now.  I consider my time spent there an accident of life; but as in all misfortunes, we learn from them…if you allow yourself to.

I was born in Brooklyn, and that is my Hometown; it always has been and always will be despite the fact I only lived there for 5 years.  I have many great memories of that place: riding the Els and the subways to Downtown Brooklyn to go shopping at A&S department store; the A&P around the corner where I would drive the counter person nuts while our coffee was being ground because I would constantly be ringing the little bell on the counter; my mother dragging me out all over Brooklyn in all kinds of weather to visit her friends and their kids.  I did not by any means lead a sheltered existence.  We lived in a nice sized apartment in a small building one block away from the El and down the street from a bowling alley.  The building had a small yard that would be open to tennents, and on the 4th of July there would always be a BBQ.  I had my first taste of hamburgers on the grill at these events, likewise I had my first taste of pizza at a whole bunch of places throughout the Borough.  I always went to Coney Island or Manhattan Beach to swim in the summer, and occasionally my Dad would take me to Sheepshead Bay to watch the boats and for some food at Lundy’s.  All of this was packed into the first five years of my life, and more.  Every day there was always something to do, always an adventure as I would be whisked away all over Brooklyn and occasionally into Manhattan to visit my Dad’s office or go to the Christmas Show at Radio City.

In May of 1966, we moved to the then up-and coming borough of Staten Island.  The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge had just be opened in 1964, and easy access to the rest of the city had become possible.  We moved to a new development of duplex-style two story homes in mid-Island, and at the time we moved there, only a school across the street and the 5 duplex homes on our street and the 10 down another were the only ones around.  Surrounding us was nothing but woods.  Nothing.  Cue up the sound of chirping crickets now, please.  While I surely had many new areas to explore as a youngster (along with the other kids my age on the block who also moved from Brooklyn or other parts of NYC), it was a VAST change of pace from what I was used to.  Public transportation was also at a premium: there was one rail line that ran the entire length of the borough (we had a train station just a few blocks away from us) and buses traversed every corner.  There was just one little problem: not enough roads for the buses to run on, at least in our neck of the woods.  So I learned to WALK, and so did my mother.  One mile walks to stores were not unheard of in all kinds of weather.  Of course, that is until she learned to drive…oh boy.

My mother is not the greatest driver in the world, to be frank; I’ve told her this on a number of occasions where I’ve been met with the “I’m a good driver!  I know what I’m doing!” responses.  She is the only person from Brooklyn who doesn’t drive like one; nor is she a person who drives like she is Staten Island despite having learned there.  Those people would cut off their own mothers in a toll both line if a new one opened up, or simply swerve in front of you because they could…and got a kick out of doing so.  When you learned to drive in either place, you became the Incredible Hulk the minute you turned on the ignition; my mother became Gracie Allen.  She is NOT an aggressive driver, and most time she has a bird’s eye view…as in other people flipping her the bird.  Still, it was important for her to learn how to drive on SI because without a car, you were up the proverbial creek without the paddle.  At least the walks in the snow with us dragging the old portable shopping cart behind us were over.

I later found things to keep myself occupied as I grew up: as the new houses were springing up all over the neighborhood, we would ask the builders if they had any spare wood so we could make a tree house or club house in the rapidly vanishing woods.  Many times, they complied; other times, they pretty much told us where to go.  That’s when they received a visit from a bunch of 10 year old Sorpranos who decided that they would take what was rightfully theirs anyway; and if the builder found out the next morning, the older brothers of a few of us would “negotiate” with said builder…usually by mentioning certain relatives in either the Bronx or Brooklyn who they might know.  The situation was always resolved by peaceful means, and we could go on building our clubhouses…and they were truly a thing of beauty.

One clubhouse we built had three floors, and we had a sawed off ladder from a firetruck that ran through all three floors; it had a top hatch with a sun deck that led to a bridge to a tree-house lookout.  It took us weeks to build that, and we hung out in it just to…well, hang out.  The older brothers of some of the guys (the ones who protected us from big nasty Mister Builder) used it to drink beer and smoke weed in (as their fee for “protection”)…which wound up being the eventual cause of the fire that burned it down to the ground.  Yeah, like all kids in NYC, despite our relatively bucolic settings, we were exposed to drugs…a lot of them.  Panama Red, Mexican, Acapulco Gold, Thai Stick, LSD, Mescaline (those incredible brown capsules)…I did them all.  As a matter of fact, there were plenty of places to do them that were probably better than in any other part of the City: the woods (which were rapidly disappearing because of development), or the beach or sometimes even in a friend’s basement if their parents were cool…I mean, this WAS the 70’s.  People were smoking pot and swapping wives for Christ’s sake…and it happened in our little corner of the world too.  The best times I remember were keg parties or clam bakes down on the beach where bonfires would roar until dawn built out of wood that had floated ashore from the polluted water covered in oil and kerosene.  Occasionally the fire would blow up, but you’d duck and just continue partying.  It was a heady time…and all around us, change was happening.

The borough that was once the quiet forgotten one began to become more populated.  The roads became so overcrowded that it takes almost an hour to drive the 12 mile length of the Island on several of the main roads; it was one particular day where because of a special event, my wife and I could literally not even get off the island for over two hours.  It was that day, I swore that the buildings, the roads, the people who were moving to the Island (all the lowlifes from the other boroughs…and by that I just mean people who had no class, or thought they did) would no longer constrain me.  I convinced my wife (then my fiancée) that the time had come to leave this all behind and go to the Garden State.  I figured, it took me 90 minutes to commute from that rock; I might as well use that as my radius for finding us a nice place to live when we were married.  We both loved the beach, so that seemed like a great place to start.

Within a few months, we landed an apartment with a terrace overlooking the ocean (and I mean we were right ON the ocean) in Long Branch, NJ.  We were three blocks from both the Hospital where she got a job, and the train station where I would commute to my job in Manhattan.  The complex had a beautiful pool in addition to the beach, great restaurants and bars and nightlife all within walking distance for us (no DWIs, thank you).  For me, I had just gone to heaven; I had always wanted to live on the ocean (I grew up very close to the ocean and bays on SI) on the Jersey Shore, and now I had my wish.  One day, I will return to an apartment on the ocean somewhere when I am much older and ready to go to that vast sea of the Universe myself; but back in my 30’s, that was pure delight…and I was off that rock, that unfortunate geographical mistake of my life called Staten island.

It’s not so much I hated living there all the time, I didn’t; it’s just that every time I came home from college or wound up visiting friends and family when we moved to NJ…something from my youth would disappear.  A restaurant; a street off the ocean where there was nothing had condos squeezed in;  a bakery that had been in the same family for 50 years had a new owner…and every single inch of space that could be used to put some type of domicile was used.  What was once a pretty nice place to live had all of the worst elements of suburbia, Brooklyn, and Queens all packed into it…literally packed.  The people were nasty and unfriendly, classless jerks who had the IQ hovering somewhere above a slightly educated dolt.  It no longer was what it was…it became an aberration of everything that was bad in society and over-development.

So yeah, I’m now a Jersey Guy and proud of it.  I’m also from Brooklyn, and when I get angry, my accent suddenly changes and you can hear the Midwood in me coming out in all its glory.  At least I can say one thing about where I am now and Brooklyn…at least they are honest places; places with character and a tradition and a history that is not compromised, unlike that rock…that veil of tears…

Good riddance, and may it never darken my life again.

“When you finally go back to your old hometown, you find it wasn’t the old home you missed but your childhood” – Sam Ewing

Absent With A Pretty Good Excuse

I’ve been remiss in posting over the past week for a couple of good reasons.  One is that there is so much going on with politics these days, I just can’t pick one topic to sink my teeth into without my head exploding.  Rush?  Please…if I go off on that whole fiasco, you’d end up with a book instead of a post.  Likewise with the way the economy is all over the place.  The one topic I REALLY want to dive into though is the fact that from late 2001 until just before Inauguration Day 2009, this country was effectively a dictatorship.  This was confirmed after 9 memos were released by the Justice Department detailing the extent the Bush Administration was willing to go in order to carry out its Neocon agenda.  Now THIS is something I can write about, and probably will do so tomorrow; I’m just waiting for late breaking news on it today and the usual Friday News Dump where more info might come out.

The next reason I haven’t posted is because I feel I had nothing to say over the past few days.  One thing I will never do is post something here for the sake of posting something; there has to be a reason behind it.  If I can’t say it well, then I’d rather not say it at all.  Hey, at least no one can fault me for bad quality control!

So look for something tomorrow.  In the meantime, I’ll be ordering a pizza…