For Trump, all allegations of wrongdoing are political
I have heard it said that human beings have an infinite capacity to ignore facts that are not convenient. That thought comes to mind this week as we anticipate a former President of the United States being indicted in New York on charges of committing a felony. That potential indictment comes against a legal background where several other indictments are simultaneously being contemplated by prosecutors in other states.
I remember a time 50 years ago when millions of Americans were ignoring the fact that Richard Nixon had committed criminal acts. It was unthinkable. No President had ever been indicted. And now millions of Americans are ignoring the fact that Donald Trump may have committed crimes. How is this possible? The answer is Propaganda.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Holocaust Encyclopedia: “Propaganda was used as an important tool to win over the majority of the German public who had not supported Adolf Hitler. It served to push forward the Nazis' radical program, which required the acquiescence, support, or participation of broad sectors of the population. Combined with terror to intimidate those who did not comply, a new state propaganda apparatus headed by Joseph Goebbels manipulated and deceived the German population and the outside world. Propagandists preached an appealing message of national unity and a utopian future that resonated with millions of Germans.”
Today the propaganda is much more sophisticated and is disseminated not only through online sources, but in mainstream media like Fox News, which we have recently learned did not believe its own propaganda but disseminated lies for profits. They thought it was what their audience wanted to hear.
What this propaganda does is allow people to ignore the inconvenient facts about Donald Trump. It allows them to ignore the evidence. This means that rather than address the known accusations, they attack the prosecution. They say the prosecutor is a puppet of liberal billionaire George Soros. They say this despite the fact that there is no evidence of any direct contributions by Soros or any evidence that the two have ever met or even talked. (I often wonder what Republicans are going to do once the 92-year-old Soros dies.)
In a thinly-veiled intimidation effort, House Republicans called for the New York prosecutor to testify in a House inquiry about “politically-motivated prosecutions.” And that in a nutshell is the Trump defense. No matter what crime he commits, if he is prosecuted, the prosecution is politically motivated. He has no respect for the justice system. Instead, he calls for his supporters to fight the justice system. This is a threat to our democracy and it’s how far the poison of propaganda has infiltrated our national bloodstream.
There was a time not long ago when politicians of both parties who were indicted would routinely assert their faith that the judicial system would find them innocent. They did not call for their supporters to break them out of custody like some Mexican drug lord.
If Hillary Clinton, Hunter Biden or even Joe Biden was charged with a crime, Democrats might similarly assert a belief in their innocence, but they would then have faith that the judicial system would vindicate their beliefs. They would not attack the system. This is the difference between Democrats and MAGA Republicans.
We all have to get back to having faith in the government of the United States, and not just in one individual politician. We need to stop ignoring inconvenient facts. We need to learn the lessons of Germany.
Facing the reality of getting older
Stopping to smell the roses at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, England.
The Rolling Stones had a hit in 1966 with a song called "Mother's Little Helper." The song was essentially about the epidemic of tranquilizer abuse. Librium had been introduced in 1960 and was an instant hit, particularly with depressed housewives. The verse of the Rolling Stones song begins:
"Kids are different today, " I hear every mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she's not really ill, there's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of her mother's little helper
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day
Listening to this song today, what strikes me is the line that opens the song and separates each stanza of the verse -- "What a drag it is getting old."
That line hit me last week as I watched James Taylor sing on television. Taylor recently celebrated his 75th birthday. Up until now I have been happy that his voice seemed unaffected by age unlike formerly great singers such as Gordon Lightfoot (84), Neil Diamond (82), Paul McCartney (80) and Linda Ronstadt (76). But now I can't deny the fact that age has finally caught up to James Taylor. His voice was thin and sounding old in two separate performances this week. And that's sad. Between the number of singers of my generation who have been dying recently and the number who have lost their voices, it certainly is a drag getting old.
Actually, I think one of the worst things about getting old is not being able to do things you used to do. And it's bad enough watching the aging process in others when you're young, but as you reach retirement age, aging becomes real for you. Climbing stairs, getting into cars and just walking great distances are progressively more difficult. I think the physical deterioration is worse for people like athletes, singers and dancers, whose great talents are dimmed by age.
Next month I will celebrate my 70th birthday. I have to acknowledge that I have a much closer relationship with doctors that I had a decade ago. Although I have no life-threatening illnesses, in a few days I will have my third surgical procedure of the year. This one will attempt to ease my sciatica. So I have all the aches and pains and physical breakdown that comes with getting old.
But I also have the pleasure of having time to enjoy life. I can wake up every day and, after walking around the house to get the blood flowing and the sciatic pains to subside, I can go for a walk in a park and literally take time to smell the roses. I can drive to spend time with my three grandchildren. I can enjoy the museums, libraries and restaurants in my area on a weekday without crowds and without rushing. I even have time to devote to volunteer work in my community. All in all it's a wonderful life, despite the aches and pains. No stress; no anti-anxiety drugs needed.
I have seven decades of memories to contemplate. I can look back at wonderful trips by land, sea and air to some of the most beautiful places on earth. I have pictures on the walls to constantly remind me. And best of all, I can plan new trips without having to worry about the demands of a job.
So while from a physical standpoint it undoubtedly is a drag getting old, from a fulfillment and happiness standpoint, it can be some of the best years of our lives.
“Living” is a small film with a big heart
What would you do if you suddenly found out you had only six months to live? That is the simple premise of Living, a wonderful British film now making the rounds of American cinemas.
The basic story comes from a novella by Leo Tolstoy called “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” That was adapted and made into the film Ikiru (translated as “To Live”) back in 1952 by the renowned Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. And now Kazuo Ishiguro has adapted it again and set it in 1950s England. Oliver Hermanus directs.
Living stars Bill Nighy in probably the greatest performance of his long career. He plays a bowler-hat-wearing British civil servant Rodney Williams who gets terrible, life-altering news. Ishiguro has chosen 1953 London as his setting because it epitomizes the era of the soulless bureaucrat. The film shows the almost mechanical way Mr. Williams and his colleagues commute to an office where the chain of command, propriety and respect governs their actions in every way. The system does not allow for independent thinking or emotion. They all know their place. Each is just a cog in a wheel that may or may not serve a purpose. Theirs is not to question why.
Into this ordered existence comes the monkey wrench of a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Mr. Williams, a widower, has no idea what he should do. He finds that he can’t bring himself to talk to his son about his condition. His first thought is to kill himself. So he withdraws half of his life savings and heads for a seashore resort hoping to live for the first time before he ends his life. There he meets a writer who takes him for a night on the town. Mr. Williams is invigorated and replaces his bowler hat with a trilby to signal his new attitude toward life.
He returns to his civil servant job in London, but now he is no longer content to just do his job as part of the bureaucracy. Now he rocks the boat to actually accomplish things. Now he is concerned about his life and work having meaning. Now he is living.
I won’t reveal any more of the story, but strongly recommend you see this film. There are no car chases, no superheroes, and not a single gunshot. If you want an antidote to Top Gun, see Living. It’s a charming, quiet film that touches the soul and makes you think about the way you live. Bill Nighy has been nominated for an Oscar and I’m rooting for him. This is a stellar performance. Screenwriter Kazuo Ishiguro also has a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
I have to say that the poignant ending of the film brought a tear to my eyes to my surprise and delight. Art that moves me and provokes thought is the only art I find worthwhile these days. But while films like this are very enjoyable, they’re not for everyone. If you go to the movies to see spectacle, save your money.
I think it has been a trend in all the arts in this century to prefer spectacle to thoughtful storytelling. Bigger is better. I see it on Broadway where shows like The Lion King and Harry Potter have replaced straight plays of the sort formerly written by Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. And those few new straight plays that can still be seen on Broadway all seem to be British imports like Leopoldstadt.
Fortunately, because the new technology to make a film has dropped the cost, independent filmmakers (particularly foreign filmmakers) can give us the little stories that Hollywood no longer can. The trick will be to make the public aware of these films so that they can earn enough money to continue to be made. So here’s to the “small” film with its big impact on our souls. Living is among the best of that genre.
Capitalism and government -- perfect together
Capitalism has been demonstrated to be the best economic system ever invented. By providing incentives to motivate people to be industrious, it leads many from poverty to wealth.
This being said, unregulated capitalism is a social disaster that has no regard for the public good. Without regulation, capitalism gives us monopolies, price fixing, unhealthy working conditions, child labor, depressed wages leading to unconscionable wealth disparity, and outright industrial disasters.
A current example of the last of these is the Norfolk Southern freight train derailment earlier this month that devastated East Palestine, Ohio. Norfolk Southern had reduced its train crews to a bare minimum and failed to upgrade its braking systems, thereby sacrificing public safety to corporate profits. We have seen this scenario time and again. The Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills are two examples.
If corporations are left to their own judgment about risks to public safety, they will more often than not take extreme risks that are likely to increase profits. That is why government regulation is necessary. It levels the playing field for all companies and makes sure that the playing field is safe. But for too long now the zeitgeist in Washington has been “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Our lawmakers have been instructed to remove regulations and “get out of the way” of big business.
A good example of what happens under deregulation is the airline industry. Longstanding regulations that created a strong industry were repealed in the 1980s. What has been the result? There are fewer airlines and fewer flights to choose from, higher prices, less air service to secondary markets and separate charges for baggage and food. There has been a similar result in the communications industry where a small number of companies now control a majority of the radio and television stations. This means fewer voices and (since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine) no requirement to provide equal time to opposing viewpoints on important issues. This opened the door to blatantly partisan communications outlets and the fractured red/blue society we now have.
Since the Reagan Administration, the Justice Department has practically given up on antitrust law enforcement. So it should not be surprising that there are fewer choices in just about every part of American industry. While the corporate world professes to worship at the altar of free market competition, the reality is that their goal is always to lessen or eliminate competition entirely. It is an immutable law of industry that unless hindered by regulation, all businesses tend to try to become monopolies. And monopolies are almost never good for the public. This is why we need strong antitrust laws and effective enforcement.
One particularly egregious example of corporate greed that needs to be checked by government regulation is the pharmaceutical industry. Americans pay the highest prices for drugs in the world. Why? Because there is no ceiling on prices here as there is in other countries. In the United States, if you’re sick and need the drugs, you pay whatever extortionate price the drug company sets. That includes life-saving drugs like insulin whose price recently increased 200% in ten years. And this month we learned that Moderna planned to charge $130 for its Covid vaccine (developed with government funding) that costs it $2.85 to make. Clearly government regulation is needed here. And if the drugmakers fear the effect on their bottom line, I suggest that they stop spending billions of dollars a year on television advertising and limit their advertising to doctors who are the only people who can legally prescribe them.
Despite all the problems that are inherent in unregulated capitalism, I still think that this can be the best economic system if we can simply make companies act like they care about others. This is where the government comes in. Government needs to protect the public from the effects of corporate greed by appropriate laws. Laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act address that responsibility. We need more like them and they should be enforced vigorously.
I have often heard corporate greed justified by the corporate officers saying “we have a fiduciary duty to the stockholders to maximize profits.” But what they forget is that all corporations are chartered by the government. Their very existence depends on the government. As a result, they owe a duty to the nation to be good, law-abiding, patriotic citizens. The true promise of capitalism is realized only when government brings law and order to the marketplace. Regulations are thus a necessary part of the equation. Business + government regulation = a just, prosperous, and happy society for everyone.
Answering the call of the open road
On the road outside of Cannonville, Utah
I love road trips. There’s nothing like the feeling of the open road for me. The road holds the promise of wondrous sights and sounds as the miles on the odometer flash by. I never feel more alive than when I’m heading out on a road trip. Anything is possible. The anthem of this call of the road has long been the Steppenwolf song:
Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way
People ask me all the time what it’s like to be retired. They worry that they’ll be bored. I always tell them that retirement gives you the gift of time. For probably the first time in your life, your time is your own to do with as you please. Every morning is a blank page ready for you to write on it whatever adventure you find. But first you have to get off the couch and on the road.
I like to get started at first light. I load up the car with snacks and beverages and head for the interstate. The real adventure doesn’t begin until I’ve left my neck of the woods behind. Once you get out in areas where the cars dwindle and nature is all around you the adventure can begin. I sometimes play a game with myself that I randomly choose a compass point and head that way with no particular destination in mind. I get off the road at an exit that looks interesting. Often I get off looking for a place to eat that is not fast food. There are thousands of little roadhouses with great burgers and fries and often local delicacies as well. I’m talking about the kind of places with a jukebox and dollar bills on the ceiling.
Occasionally, I leave with a destination in mind. Last year I drove from New Jersey to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The route took me through some beautiful countryside in western New York and then along Lake Erie. The beginning of trips like that are particularly magical because you know you won’t be sleeping in your own bed that night. James Taylor captured the feeling in his song, “Sweet Baby James,” that he actually wrote on a road trip from Massachusetts to North Carolina:
Now, the first of December was covered with snow
So was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Though the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frostin’
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go
As you may have guessed, music is an absolutely essential part of any road trip. Over the years the music has changed with the technology. In the beginning, there was just AM radio and the adventure included what strange local stations you would find. And if your adventure really took you to remote places like the tip of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia or the mountains of Colorado you might have no radio at all. These days, with satellite radio and the ability to source music out of your phone, there is nowhere that the music doesn’t play. I find satellite radio to be a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that you can listen to a deejay like Phlash Phelps for hours and hours without commercials and without losing the signal. But at the same time, you are missing out and passing through the coverage areas of many terrestrial stations that truly reflect the character of the location. I think it’s important to occasionally turn off the satellite radio (or your personal road trip playlist) and seek these out along with local cuisine if you want to really experience the places you drive through.
While I have enjoyed being “on the road” for half as century now, I have to say that technology has improved the experience. I don’t miss all those paper maps of yesteryear. GPS elevated road trips to a new level of enjoyment. GPS means never having to say “I’m lost.” While there were adventures to be had while being lost, there was also stress that detracted from the enjoyment. Now, I can get “lost” in the sense that I am on road I have never seen before, but I can also have the GPS bail me out once I need a restaurant or a motel. This is particularly handy at night.
I was born at a time when people routinely hitchhiked. That was a way to get a hybrid hiking/driving adventure. Talk to anyone who hitchhiked in the ‘60s and ‘70s and they will have at least one great story. There was always adventure and an amazing act of faith in the act of getting into a car with a complete stranger who wasn’t your Uber driver. It’s hard to imagine today that people ever trusted each other enough to do this. But young people at the time shared a common bond, a brotherhood. If you got into a car where the driver was listening to “our music” you felt safe. And the people you met always had interesting stories to tell.
I think that the person who did the best job to show what adventures can be found on the roads of America was Charles Kuralt. His “On the Road” reports for CBS were wonderful. Kuralt and his cameraman Izzy would just get in their RV and drive around the country looking for the little stories of humanity in all its quirks and wonder. And that is the spirit I recommend for all of us. If you go out looking for America you will certainly find adventure. You will be living your best life.
I think it’s appropriate that I close with the immortal words of one of the most famous road warriors, Willie Nelson:
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
Amen, Willie. See you down the road.
A strategy for addressing the issue of gun violence
It’s time to repeal the Second Amendment.
OK. Now that I have lost all the knee-jerk gun rights absolutists, the rest of us can have a reasonable discussion of what to do about the epidemic of gun violence.
Just last year, the Constitutional right to abortion was overturned because a group of committed people, many of them very religious, found the killing of unborn babies by a doctor’s knife to be intolerable. But many of those same people would have us take no action whatsoever if that same baby was born and (while still a baby) was killed by a gun.
I happen to be pro life whether the child is killed by a doctor or by an armed teenager. And yes I recognize the difference between born and unborn, but dead is dead. Although in my mind, the more tragic death is the death of a three-year-old child, not a 3-month-old unborn child.
So how is it that there is a right for just about anyone to have military -style weapons that are used daily to commit mass murder? Don’t tell me that that’s what the Founding Fathers intended, because history shows that not to be true. The 2nd Amendment was never viewed by courts as guaranteeing an individual’s right to own a gun unconnected with service in a militia until the Supreme Court made that ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. So for 217 years after the passage of the 2nd Amendment, there was no such recognized legal right.
Traditionally, when the Supreme Court has made a constitutional ruling that has brought unwanted consequences for American society we have had two choices: (a) bring a new case and try to get the disastrous ruling overturned, or (b) pass a Constitutional Amendment to nullify the ruling. The anti-abortion lobby tried both and eventually succeeded with the former. What can the anti-gun lobby do?
I think while passing a Constitutional Amendment to repeal an earlier Amendment is possible (that’s how Prohibition was ended) the easier course is to bring a new case and hope that current events might return the Supreme Court to the position it has taken in all of America history apart from the last 15 years.
And what has happened in the last 15 years? The gun abuse fallout is so infamous that all I have to do is say the names Newtown, Uvalde, Santa Fe, Roseburg, Oakland, Rancho Tehama, Santa Monica, Marysville, and Parkland and you know the horrors. These mass shootings just involved schoolchildren. There are hundreds of others involving adults. Is this enough to make a difference? Possibly. Here’s why.
The first time the Supreme Court considered gun rights was in the case of United States v. Cruikshank in 1875.This was a case where the Ku Klux Klan was trying to prohibit freed slaves from owning guns. The ex-slaves claimed that their 2nd Amendment rights were being violated. The Supreme Court ruled against them, writing that the 2nd Amendment: “was not intended to limit the powers of State governments in respect to their own citizens” and “has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government” The Court went on to say “the second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed, but this, as has been seen, means no more than that it shall not be infringed by congress.” Therefore, any state law that restricts gun ownership was beyond the purview of the 2nd Amendment.
I am aware that the Supreme Court just last year disavowed this approach in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, but that was a 6-3 decision and three of the six justices in the majority filed concurring opinions that showed the possibility that their vote on this particular issue could be swayed if the facts of the case before them were different.
So rather than trying to amend or repeal the 2nd Amendment, I think the faster course to get the Court back to its original position on the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to argue that it was intended to prohibit only federal and not state gun laws. Let’s put the issue in the laps of state legislatures just like abortion is now.Why should the right to use a gun have broader protection than the right to use a scalpel? Each should be regulated in accord with local community standards.
I know this solution will not entirely please either side in this debate, but that’s the nature of compromise on hotly-contested issues like this.
So while I think that a total ban on guns with high-capacity magazines is something Congress should do, if all we can get passed right now are state laws to that effect, let’s do that. And when they’re challenged, let’s appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. And, like the anti-abortion forces, let’s do it again and again and again until it works.
We have to try everything we can to stop the gun violence that exists in no other country. So perhaps limiting the availability of certain guns as other countries have done is worth a try. If it doesn’t work, we can always change course and try something else. But doing nothing, as we have this entire century, is not acceptable.
The American economy is facing the debt penalty
In the year 2000, the national debt was $5.6 trillion. After the Bush Administration, it was $10 trillion. After the Obama Administration, it was $19.5 trillion. And after the Trump Administration, it was $27.7 trillion. In fact, through both Republican and Democratic administrations, the national debt has risen continuously every year since 1957.
The debt has risen because Congress likes to accomplish things, and accomplishing things is usually expensive. And at the same time, Congress hates to raise taxes, and so paying for those things that exceed tax revenues is usually accomplished by simply borrowing money.
Back in 1917, Congress initiated the debt ceiling. Initially, back then it was just a way to give the Treasury the equivalent of a line of credit. It allowed the government to borrow money without each new bond issue being put to a vote (which had been the previous practice). But the debt ceiling has never stopped Congress from spending more money than it has when the need arose. That's why the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960.
Just to be clear, the debt ceiling is just an arbitrary number that Congress sets in an optimistic (some might say facetious) attempt to curb spending. But since they control the ceiling as well as the spending, with the stroke of a pen the ceiling goes higher and higher to accommodate what they want to spend. Obviously the debt ceiling is an inefficient way to curb spending since it has been raised so often. The real answer is to spend less or tax more. Since neither of these is politically palatable to a Congress with no backbone, we continue with this game of "I put it on the bill. I tear up the bill" that Louis Renault employed at Rick's Cafe. In sum, there is no accountability.
However, every once in a while, the party out of power gets sanctimonious about the economy, claiming they are "shocked, shocked" that profligate spending is going on here. And their solution to stop the spending that their party sees as unnecessary is to hold back their approval of raising the debt ceiling. They use the threat of running the U.S. economy off a cliff as leverage to attack the other party's spending priorities. And let us be clear, not raising the debt ceiling would be an economic disaster the likes of which this nation has never suffered. First, we would have to immediately either cut spending or raise taxes by $1.5 trillion. Then, if we defaulted, the interest rate the government would be charged for future loans would skyrocket, creating more expense, greater budget deficits and requiring even greater spending cuts or tax increases in the future.
Clearly, Congress has some hard choices ahead. If they decide some spending is necessary for the country, they are going to have to raise taxes to pay for it. We can't keep piling on the debt. In 1957 the national debt was 57% of gross domestic product (the monetary value of all the goods and services we produce in a year). Today, the debt is 123% of GDP. This is unsustainable over the long term.
Playing chicken with raising the debt ceiling is not going to curb spending. We have seen this demonstrated over and over in the last 65 years. That's just political gamesmanship. Congress needs to be fiscally responsible. They need to spend wisely. But once they spend, they commit us all to pay the bill. Defaulting on our obligations by failing to allow the Treasury to borrow what is needed to pay the bills will be fatal to the country's credit rating. Raising the debt limit is not a choice; it's an obligation. Congress has already spent the money. We have to pay for it by either raising taxes or borrowing. Failing to raise the debt limit will be economic suicide -- the debt penalty.
And once they raise the debt ceiling, Congress should abolish it and replace it by a simple solution. Every spending bill should have a provision that the Treasury is authorized to borrow whatever funds are necessary to pay for it. This is the way almost every other country in the world conducts their spending.
We have to stop the partisanship that treats lawmaking as a sport. Our lawmakers are elected to pass laws for the good of the country, not to rack up wins against the other party. It's up to the voters (the people who ultimately have to pay the bills Congress racks up), to elect lawmakers who will vote with the greater good in mind. Let's start by eliminating the debt ceiling as a political football.
93-year-old shows that love is the real fountain of youth
Dr. Buzz Aldrin married Dr. Anca Faur on his 93rd birthday
It was in the news last week. On his 93rd birthday, Dr. Buzz Aldrin married a woman he called his "longtime love" and reported that they were "as excited as eloping teenagers." This was the fourth marriage for Aldrin, an Apollo astronaut who was the second person to walk on the moon. The bride, Dr. Anca Faur, is 63.
This news story led me to wonder what compels people to marry at such an advanced age. It seems to me that most people in their 90s are winding down their life and content to be observers rather than doers. But every once in a while we hear about these nonagenarian weddings (usually in nursing homes). But why?
It's simple. Love is something that keeps us young. Human beings are social and love is the ultimate social emotion. We first encounter the joy of love at a young age and I think new love takes us back to our first love. We become, in the words of Aldrin, "as excited as eloping teenagers." In short, love keeps us young. It is the fountain of youth that has been sought for thousands of years.
Aldrin has made frequent stops at the fountain, having married before in 1954, 1975 and 1988. He had been single for a little over a decade before tying the knot with Dr. Faur, who has been his companion in recent years. Faur is a medical doctor who presently serves as the executive vice president at Buzz Aldrin’s company, Buzz Aldrin Ventures.
Aldrin grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, where his former middle school is now called Buzz Aldrin Middle School. He attended West Point and graduated third in his class with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering. He joined the Air Force, learned to fly fighter jets, and flew 66 combat missions in Korea.
After the war, Aldrin enrolled at MIT, where he eventually completed his doctoral degree in astronautics. Soon after that he applied to be an astronaut. His application was initially turned down because he wasn't a test pilot, which was then a requirement. By 1963, the requirement was changed so that you could have either test pilot experience or 1,000 hours of flying time in jet aircraft. Aldrin had more than twice that, and he was accepted as the first astronaut who did not have test pilot experience and the first astronaut to have a doctorate.
Aldrin went into space on Gemini 12 and then Apollo 11. He was aboard the Eagle next to Neil Armstrong when they landed on the moon on July 20, 1969. When Aldrin stepped onto the moon a few minutes after Armstrong, he looked around and pronounced the view "magnificent desolation." Ever since, he has been the answer to the trivia question: "Who was the second person to walk on the moon?"
Aldrin has obviously led a full life and his marriage at the age of 93 shows us that an important part of having a full life is having a life partner you love. So as Valentine's Day approaches, here's to love, that special something that keeps us all "as excited as eloping teenagers."
Here's a look at a charming tune from an underrated band
Does the name "Sixpence None the Richer" ring a bell? Probably not. But that Christian rock band had a hit song in 1999 that you probably know if you were a fan of "Dawson's Creek" or the movie "She's All That." The song, written by Matt Slocum, is "Kiss Me."
Slocum formed Sixpence None the Richer with Leigh Nash after the two met at a church retreat in Texas in the early 1990s. The name of the group comes from the C.S. Lewis book "Mere Christianity." It expresses the futility of materialism. The group moved to Nashville after a few years and was signed to a record deal. They had only moderate success. But their third album included "Kiss Me" that was released as a single in 1998. It was featured in the third season of the popular "Dawson's Creek" TV series and that exposure made it take off.
And if that wasn't enough exposure, the teen romantic comedy "She's All That" starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook also featured the song prominently. There's a great video of the song showing the group and featuring clips from the movie at https://youtu.be/v45F0YesdZM.
"Kiss Me" has a folk rock sound that was a throwback even in the 1990s. It opens with a jangly 12-string guitar riff reminiscent of Roger McGuinn’s work with the Byrds. Underneath the guitars is the romantic sound of a concertina adding atmosphere. After the four-bar opening, Leigh Nash begins singing. Her voice is phenomenal, and Matt Slocum's lyrics are pure poetry:
Kiss me, out of the bearded barley
Nightly, beside the green, green grass
Swing, swing, swing the spinning step
You wear those shoes and I will wear that dress
Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon's sparkling
So kiss me
Kiss me, down by the broken tree house
Swing me, upon its hanging tire
Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat
We'll take the trail marked on your father's map
Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight
Lead me out on the moonlit floor
Lift your open hand
Strike up the band and make the fireflies dance
Silver moon's sparkling
So kiss me
I think "Kiss Me" is a charming pop song. Hearing it always makes me smile. There aren't enough songs like that in the world. "Kiss Me" showed Slocum's promise as a songwriter. Unfortunately, the group didn't have hits with any other original songs. But they did have success with their covers of The La's "There She Goes" in 2000, and Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over" in 2003.
The band broke up in 2004 and Leigh Nash and Matt Slocum have been pursuing independent careers ever since with periodic reunions of Sixpence. I think there is a lot of talent here and hope to hear more from Leigh and Matt. But for now, we can bask in the youthful exuberance of "Kiss Me."
Ignoring character in our leaders is dangerous
Abraham Lincoln governed according to a moral code
Character used to matter in our elected officials. It mattered that Nixon was dishonest about his role in the Watergate coverup. It mattered that Gary Hart and John Edwards had extramarital affairs. But then suddenly in 1995, when the person having the extramarital affair was President Clinton, it didn’t matter, at least to Democrats. And so we continued down the slippery slope to 2023, where politicians lie to their constituents, admit that they are liars, and still remain in office.
We have gone from a world where allegations that a candidate cheated on a high school exam would lose him votes, to a world where a candidate can openly admit “embellishing” his resume and still keep his seat in Congress. The bar of integrity for public officials gets lower and lower all the time.
I am here to say that character still matters. It matters because so much of governing takes place outside the public’s gaze. When politicians make those important decisions behind closed doors I want to be able to count on their character. I want to be able to count on their character not only to influence their decision making, but to guide their candor to the electorate. I want them to be guided by a moral code above the urge to score a win for their party. I want to be able to trust the people I elect to “do the right thing.”
In the 2008 campaign, Senator John McCain showed character when he corrected a supporter who said that his opponent was a Muslim. He showed character when he cast the deciding vote to save the Affordable Care Act from his own party’s attempt to overturn it.
How did we get to a world where self-professed evangelical Christians back a candidate who they openly admit does not measure up to their moral and ethical principles? I think it started back in the Clinton Administration, at the dawn of the extreme divide that has come to dominate our politics, when Democrats chose “their guy” over their principles. They chose sticking with a flawed President in 1996 over a man of character. And once you lower the bar on character, and choose your candidate by his team jersey rather than the person wearing it, you have made a deal with the devil. Oh sure you may win some things in the short run, but eventually you will lose your soul.
And in the second Clinton Administration, we saw a man who was a Democrat in name only. He made immoral cuts to the safety net for our poorest citizens, and then he signed a repeal of the Depression-era legislation that restricted what banks could do. And that eventually led to a financial crisis in 2008.
So too during the Trump Administration, Republicans got some things they like such as tax cuts and conservative judges. But while they were getting those things, they were losing their moral compass on foreign policy, deficit spending and the national debt. As Republicans used the label “socialist” to scare voters away from Democratic Party candidates, their President was getting chummy with Communist leader Vladimir Putin, and choosing to believe Putin over the CIA about Russia’s efforts to influence American elections. And worse still, they were silent while Trump exercised more and more autocratic power like Putin without any checks from a Republican Senate.
We have reached a point where character matters so little that a core principle such as the power of a President to make Supreme Court nominations throughout his term depends on who the President is and how close we are to an election. There is no morality here; it’s purely about power and winning. If our public officials had character and a sense of justice, the Republicans would have allowed Garland’s nomination to proceed and the Democrats would have allowed Barrett’s to proceed as well. They would do this not because it gains them political advantage, but because it’s the right thing to do. But it takes character to choose morality over party loyalty. That is what being a patriot is all about.
Abraham Lincoln was a great president not just because he freed the slaves and fought to save the Union, but because every action he took as president was out of a sense of morality. He did things like instituting a draft and suspending habeas corpus that made him extremely unpopular. He did them because he thought they were the right thing to do for the country, regardless of the political ramifications for him. He fully expected to be a one-term president. In the words of biographer Jon Meachem, “Lincoln’s motives were moral as well as political—a reminder that our finest presidents are those committed to bringing a flawed nation closer to the light, a mission that requires an understanding that politics divorced from conscience is fatal to the American experiment in liberty under law.” [emphasis added]
In a representative democracy such as the United States, we do not get to vote on what the laws will be and how the government will operate. All we get to do is elect lawmakers who we think will act as we would — people who share our values. Character is more determinative of a candidate’s values than their platform or stump speech. We need to be able to trust them to act according to a predictable moral code. Otherwise, we are just rolling the dice and hoping for the best.
A profile in courage on this sad anniversary
It's been two years since that momentous day, January 6, 2021, when right-wing extremists stormed and sacked the Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of the election of Joe Biden. Throughout the afternoon, the mob shouted "Hang Mike Pence" and even erected a mock gallows. They did this all because the vice president would not bend to President Trump's will to have him refuse to accept the election results that showed that Trump had lost. Fortunately, on that day, Mike Pence did not bend to the will of the mob. He chose to put country over party. He chose the Constitution over insurrection. And the country was saved.
But you may not be aware of another vice president who faced an even greater dilemma. In 1860, John Breckinridge of Kentucky was vice president when he was nominated by the Democratic Party to run for president against the Republican Abraham Lincoln. Dissension in the country over slavery was so pitched that the Democratic Party actually split in two. The northern part of the party nominated Senator Stephen Douglas for president, while the southern part of the party nominated Vice President John Breckinridge.
On election day, Lincoln received 180 electoral votes and Breckinridge came in second with 72 electoral votes. Douglas was a distant third with 12 electoral votes. In those days, the new president was not sworn in until March and the election results were certified by Congress in mid-February.
And so it was that on February 13, 1861, Vice President John Breckinridge (like Mike Pence) was acting in his role as President of the Senate to certify the results. He would be called upon to certify Lincoln's victory against himself.Breckinridge was sympathetic to the Southern cause and in fact had carried the entire South in the election. He knew that certifying Lincoln's victory was likely to lead to the South's secession from the union. And he knew that the result would be civil war. So there was tremendous pressure on him not to accept the election results.
In fact, there had been whispers of a conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. It was rumored that Henry Wise, the former governor of Virginia, was raising a 25,000-man army to march on the capital to prevent Lincoln from taking office. Another rumor had several thousand secessionists arriving with concealed arms, bribing federal troops, and seizing government buildings.
Massachusetts Representative Henry L. Dawes warned that "a conspiracy had been formed to seize the Capitol and Treasury, to get possession of the archives of the government, and to prevent the counting of the electoral vote and the declaration of the election of Lincoln." The aim was to establish the Confederacy as the de facto government with Breckinridge as its president.
It all came down to the question of what Breckinridge would do on February 13, 1861. Would he follow the Constitution and accept his defeat and officially certify his opponent's victory? Or would he yield to the pressure of secessionists and the allure of becoming president himself? The greatest fear was that secessionists would seize the two boxes containing the certificates of the electoral vote as they were carried through the corridors of the Capitol. To their credit, Congress took the threats seriously and hired a hundred plainclothes police from New York and Philadelphia who were stationed along the route from the Senate to the House.
The House chamber was full as the Vice President entered with aides carrying the two boxes. Breckinridge moved to the Speaker's chair. Congressman Dawes recalled that Breckinridge was "pale and a little nervous but firm on his feet and unfaltering in his utterance" as he announced "I therefore declare Abraham Lincoln duly elected President of the United States for the term of four years from the fourth day of March next." Dawes noted that Breckinridge did his Constitutional duty "with Roman fidelity...and the nation was saved."
Breckinridge later became a Confederate general. But on that momentous February day, Breckinridge valued his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" above his personal feelings.
And so too on January 6, 2021,Vice President Mike Pence did his Constitutional duty and the nation will be forever grateful. It was the one bright spot of a very dark day in the history of the United States.
Remembering one of my favorite Christmases
I was recently visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past. I had come upon a videotape that I shot in 1987. When I saw the date on it, I wanted to see a scene I remembered shooting back then of my two children, David and Jennifer.
Specifically, it was the day we took my daughter Jennifer home from the hospital after her birth. David had been staying with his grandparents. As he arrived home, I took out my video camera to record the first time he ever saw his sister. It’s a memorable scene for just how sweet David was to his new sister. After checking her out to be sure that she had the requisite two hands, two eyes and a nose, David brought over a musical toy that he loved, and wound it up to play music for his baby sister. He was barely old enough to talk, but already the perfect big brother.
After watching this heartwarming scene, I let the tape roll, and in a few minutes I came to Christmas Day, Jennifer’s first Christmas. Of course, she was not old enough to really participate, but her almost-two-year-old brother was enjoying his first real Christmas.
I think his favorite gift from Santa that year was an Alf doll that he slept with for months. You may recall that “Alf” was a sitcom that won the People’s Choice Award as the Favorite New TV Comedy Program of 1987. It was about a talking dog who was an alien whose space ship crashed into a suburban garage. The family took him in just as the family had in E.T., which had been released five years earlier. Of course, Alf was much funnier than E.T. Anyway, this was probably the first primetime television show that David ever saw, and he loved Alf.
But watching my video of Christmas, 1987, I am struck by the fact that this was one of my favorite Christmases of all time. There’s nothing that brings the holiday alive like the joy of young children on Christmas morning. Seeing the video showing the unfettered glee in David’s eyes experiencing his first Christmas, brought me right back to that happy day, now 35 years into the past. I could feel the parental anticipation as David’s eyes widened as he discovered each of the presents under the tree. I think that having children around sends Christmas into a higher plane. And once they grow up and leave, it’s never the same again. That is, until grandchildren.
This year I will get to see how my grandchildren experience Christmas. I won’t see them on Christmas Day, but soon after. I’m sure they will still be filled with that Christmas energy that usually lasts until they have to go back to school. I almost have to pinch myself to believe that these are the children of those two youngsters on that videotape from so many Christmases ago. Life goes on.
My wish to everyone is that you have the chance this year to experience Christmas through the eyes of a child. The holiday that originated with the birth of a child is rich with joy because of them. But as long as we can summon those childhood memories, the spirit of Christmas will always be with us.
Wars in the season of “Peace on Earth”
It’s that time of the year again. The stores are full of Christmas shoppers. The mail is full of Christmas cards. Houses are decorated with Santa, Frosty and Rudolph. The Hallmark Channel is running Christmas movies around the clock. America is a Christmas festival. But if someone acknowledges that there may be other holidays being celebrated simultaneously with Christmas, and so employs the greeting of “Happy Holidays,” they are immediately branded as warriors in the War on Christmas. The truth is they are simply being polite.
The idea that there is now (or ever has been) an organized War on Christmas in this country is ludicrous, as is every other “War on” we have come up with in my lifetime. I’m sure you’re well aware of them. Among them was the War on Poverty, The War on Drugs, the War on Crime, and the War on Terror. It seems as if there’s a cause, we’ve got a war.
But why does social action require a war? I think it may be because, especially since World War II, we have romanticized war as the best way to defeat evil in the world. And truth be told, the U.S. has had a winning record on wars in the past two centuries. So if someone wants to show determination, they create a war. But these “wars” never succeed. After decades of wars against them, we still have rampant poverty, drugs, crime and terrorism.
That’s why I think we should refrain from ever using the word “war” in our social activism. Mothers Against Drunk Driving had more success than a War on Drunk Driving ever could. Everytown for Gun Safety is more effective than a War on Guns. Black Lives Matter is superior messaging to a War on Racism.
I think that in the 21st Century we are finally getting far enough removed from World War II that war is no longer seen as the best way to bring about change. In addition, our years in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the decline in the popularity of war rhetoric.
But war rhetoric is still employed in a defensive manner to signal that a group is under attack. In addition to the War on Christmas, we hear about the War on Gays, the War on Women, the War Against the Jews, even the War on Boys. This type of hyperbole should also be avoided. It just denigrates the integrity of the cause.
For example, I talked earlier about the War on Christmas. While I do not think there is a threat to Christmas coming from non-Christians, I do think there is a threat to the integrity of Christmas coming from extreme capitalism. We have been aware of the threat for decades. It was the subject of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” nearly 60 years ago, where the children whisper about Christmas being run by “a big eastern syndicate.” And Linus reminds us what it’s really all about. It’s a Christian religious holiday. It’s not about the gifts. The Grinch found that out.
So as we enter the season of Peace on Earth, maybe we can have a truce in the culture wars. The only war we should be fighting is a war against wars.
Leroy Anderson provides music to stimulate your imagination
It's a light orchestra piece that warms the heart of percussionists the world over with its use of sleigh bells, temple blocks and a whip. It's the musical masterpiece that takes us on an imaginary ride in a one-horse open sleigh. It's the Christmas song whose lyrics never mention Christmas. It's none other than Leroy Anderson's wonderful "Sleigh Ride." You can listen to a nice version of it with visuals at https://youtu.be/nuSl9PKx6M4.
Like many other Christmas songs, "Sleigh Ride" was written in the heat of summer. It was 1946 and Anderson was just out of the army and living in Woodbury, Connecticut with his wife and infant daughter.
Trying to think of anything to bring relief from the summer swelter, Anderson imagined the one-horse open sleigh of "Jingle Bells" fame as it makes its way through the back roads of Connecticut and into the woods. He could hear in his mind the clip-clop of the horse's hooves as it pulls the sleigh on the path through the winter wonderland. Alongside the rhythmic equine sounds, Anderson imagined the sleigh's bells jingling all the way as the horse navigates the twists and turns of the snow-covered woods. And then the sleigh comes out of the woods into an open meadow and the driver cracks the whip to signal the horse to giddy-yap and go. And finally as the sleigh approaches the farmhouse, the driver pulls up the reins, the horse whinnies and the ride comes to an end.
Leroy Anderson was an impressionist composer in that his music was designed to paint pictures in your mind. Some examples of his impressionist works are "The Typewriter," "The Syncopated Clock" and "The Phantom Regiment." I recommend you seek these out. He was an arranger for the Boston Pops for many years and so his work is widely known and played to this day by pops orchestras, especially at Christmas.
In "Sleigh Ride," Anderson uses temple blocks to suggest horse's hooves, while sleigh bells, a glockenspiel and a whip complete the winter picture. When the horse hits the open meadow and picks up speed, Anderson brings in a joyous Dixieland jazz arrangement. In the midst of that frivolity, Anderson gives the trombones a five-note Da-Da-Da-DA-Da sequence that evokes a marching band at a football game. (Anderson began his musical career arranging songs for the Harvard band.)
Speaking of marching bands, I played in one in high school and this piece was always a favorite at our winter concert. The drummers, who ordinarily were relegated to playing repetitive snare drum patterns, here got to rock out on blocks, sleigh bells and even a whip. And as a trumpet player, I got to end the piece with my best imitation of a horse whinny. It was challenging and a lot of fun.
Anderson was a busy man working on several compositions at once in the late 1940s. So while the main section of "Sleigh Ride" completed in 1946, the introductory part was not completed until February, 1948. The completed work was first performed by the Boston Pops in May, 1948 and recorded the year after. In 1950, Mitchell Parish (of "Stardust" fame) was hired to write words for the tune, and it really took off as a Christmas song.
Anderson always said that he wrote "Sleigh Ride" as a winter piece and never considered it to be connected to Christmas. But the public loved Parish's lyrics: "Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingleing too, Come on, it's lovely weather for a Sleigh Ride together with you." And I guess if "Jingle Bells" can be a Christmas song, so can "Sleigh Ride."
I invite you to close your eyes and listen to "Sleigh Ride" and other light orchestral works by Leroy Anderson and visualize what the composer is trying to convey. I admire his artistry. His works, like the works of Norman Rockwell, are accessible and easy to understand. It's not Beethoven or Chagall. But artists like these have their place in our culture. They provide enjoyment to millions all over the world.
So hop aboard the imaginary sleigh, sit back and enjoy a "Sleigh Ride" courtesy of Leroy Anderson. The best part is that you can do it without the fear of Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
A fabulous movie that shows us why journalism is important
Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan play two determined reporters in the new thriller "She Said."
Back in the early 1970s there were two Washington Post reporters named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein whose persistent investigative reporting uncovered a criminal conspiracy to cover up a break-in at Democratic National Headquarters by a group working at the White House. Their reporting led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. Their subsequent book, "All The President's Men," and the marvelous 1976 film adaptation starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, inspired a generation of young journalists.
Forty years later, the reporters are women and the wrongdoing involves sexually predatory practices in Hollywood. The investigative journalism of Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor at The New York Times led to the conviction of Miramax Pictures head Harvey Weinstein and inspired a worldwide movement against sexual harassment in the workplace. The new film documenting their persistent efforts to uncover the truth is called "She Said." Carey Mulligan and Zoe Kazan are marvelous as the two reporters whose dogged determination not only to uncover the truth, but to convince the victims to come forward, blows the cover off a system that had promoted silence for decades. Andre Braugher and Patricia Clarkson are wonderful as senior editors who guide the two reporters. Written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and directed by Maria Schrader, "She Said" is an edge-of-your-seat, real-life thriller. As a former journalist, I think it's among the best newspaper movies ever made.
Journalism has had its ups and downs in the last 50 years. Most of the serious investigative reporting has always been done by print journalists. But the business of print journalism has been constantly threatened in the past few decades. First there was 24-hour television news begun by CNN in the 1980s. Then came the internet in the 1990s. As the public shifted to these new information sources, the information they were getting became more and more bare bones. Television and the internet outlets like Google, Facebook and Twitter provided basic headlines they mostly copied from what the print journalists were reporting. But even worse, incentivized by a system that rewarded getting as many eyeballs as possible, some television and internet sites simply made things up. Journalistic integrity suffered as the news from these "new sources" was time and again found to be biased or outright fabrications.
Meanwhile the serious journalists were experiencing a new world of cutbacks and outright shuttering of hundreds of daily newspapers every year. More than 2,000 newspapers have closed in the last 30 years. More than 360 have closed since just before the start of the pandemic. And even among those that have survived, as advertising in print newspapers shrunk, so did the budgets for investigative journalism. Most newspapers could no longer afford to have reporters working on one story for several months. Fortunately, a few big city newspapers have survived (so far), and The New York Times, which employed Twohey and Kantor, is among them.
"She Said" is a remarkable story because it shows how important investigative journalism is. A healthy press was recognized by the Founding Fathers as essential to democracy. People need accurate information to be able to govern themselves. That's why freedom of the press was protected by the First Amendment. The press was considered the Fourth Estate, an essential part of society that acted as a check on the three branches of government.
Films like "All the President's Men" and "She Said" show how important that role is. The health of our democracy depends on the health of the press. We need to support serious journalism by subscribing to newspapers. I still prefer to hold a print newspaper in my hand, but they're all available online now.
I encourage everyone to see "She Said" to remember why we need good journalists. I hope that it inspires a new generation of curious writers to pursue a career in journalism.
Our democracy needs more people like Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, writers who speak truth to power, who cast light upon dark deeds. For as Justice Brandeis noted: "sunlight is the best of disinfectants." And I think our society is in need of some serious disinfectants right now.
Tales of the Tarantula turned 10 today!
I live in the shadow of a baseball icon
The fork in the road in Montclair made famous by one its most famous residents.
Three and a half years ago I moved to Montclair, New Jersey, the longtime home of Yankees great Yogi Berra. We have a Yogi Berra Stadium and a Yogi Berra Museum here.
The town is so proud of our former resident that we have a Plymouth Rock-style memorial to him at the intersection that led to his house. The boulder is inscribed with his famous quote: "When you come to a fork in the road... Take it." While that may seem like crazy fortune cookie prose, in fact it was simply Yogi's directions to his house.
There are lots of cooky sayings that are attributed to Yogi. Many are things he never said, or said in a different context. But it's undeniable that Yogi was the poet laureate of baseball with sayings like "I always thought that record would stand until it was broken" and "Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical."
Some other Yogi favorites are "It's deja vu all over again," You can observe a lot by watching" and "It ain't over till it's over."
Apart from his colorful sayings, Yogi was a phenomenal, Hall of Fame-level baseball player. He was an 18-time All-Star and won 10 World Series championships as a player—more than any other player in baseball history. Berra is one of only six players to win the American League Most Valuable Player Award three times. He is among the greatest catchers in baseball history.
Yogi played baseball before free agency. In 1957, as the highest-paid player in baseball, he made a pitiful $65,000. That's why he (and most other players) always had second jobs. To make money, Yogi endorsed products like Yoo-Hoo, and he owned a bowling alley with his Yankee teammate Phil Rizzuto. The Rizzuto-Berra Lanes were a fixture in Clifton, New Jersey for decades.
Yogi was one of kind and the world is poorer for his passing in 2015. In the inimitable words of Mr. Berra: "The future ain't what it used to be."