Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Summer of the Passing Parade

It's time to turn our attention away from the manufactured drama of the Conventions to become immersed in that other dishonest spectacle: The Olympics.  Yes, the bureaucrats weasel their way to the top and demand to stay in place.  Countries and cities are thrown into financial ruin over the prize (?)  of hosting the games.  Bribes and drugs emerge as scandal but always live for another day. And yet . . .

I love watching the Olympics.  The Parade of Nations gives a glimpse of how things could, but never seem to be:  people from around the world wearing their national identity as they peacefully walk side by side.  The games are a benign way to harness the human urge to compete and excel.

The Conventions and the Olympics have the power to stop us in our tracks.  Last week the Muslim father woke us up with his profound dignity.  I will be looking (and hoping) for a "John Carlos moment" in Rio.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

We All Need A Laugh

Al Franken is suffering from a previous career inferiority complex.  The evidence is his steadfast refusal to be funny.  For his entire first term as Senator he did not appear on TV.  He preferred to attract no publicity.  He was probably devoting himself to his conversion therapy aimed at scrubbing away all of the SNL lingering inside.

Now that he is "safe" he has been popping up here and there for interviews.  When coaxed to give us just a little of that old twinkle, Al stays serious . . . very serious.  He made an appearance at the Democratic National Convention with Sara Silverman.  I still can't believe he stood there and let Sara show him how it's done.

C'mon Al, everyone says we need diversity.  And authenticity.  And, if Republicans keep control of the Senate, our sanity is going to depend on some comic relief.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Not My Words

I have a simple cure for the outbreak of plagiarism infecting the Republican Convention.  Politicians, family and hangers on:  Write Your Own Speeches!  Then, subject them to the various web sites that catch famous phrases that may have seeped into your brain.  Or, if you don't want to spend the time or the effort to craft your speech,  at least attribute the words to the person who actually came up with them.

Peggy Noonan leaped from obscurity for delivering to Ronald Reagan the famous "touch the face of God" line in his Challenger disaster speech.  "Faulty o-rings" would have left us infinitely more shaken and sad.  Did you know that she lifted the phrase from a poem written by John Gillespie Magee, a pilot who died at 19 during WWII?  (Yes, I googled that.)

See what I mean about attribution?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Living Small

As I was reading my friend Gerry's blog about marriage, I thought us oldsters face the fact that the big decisions and the high stakes lie in the past.  And, along with them lies the drama and excitement attached.  Is that depressing or comforting?  Most likely, it's both.

Keeping attached to the newness of today for me involves living "small."  A new job, a new love affair, or new home becomes new book, new class, new restaurant.  Or even, unwrapping a new bar of soap.  Boring?  Remember, we can put danger, guilt and regret in the rear view mirror too.

And if you fall into the trap of "I've seen all this before,"  just think of President Trump.  C'mon, it may not be small but this is definitely new.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Hope -- Then and Now

My friend Margaret Power teaches history at IIT.  Along with two of her historian colleagues, she has written a new book:  Hope in Hard Times.  I am proud that they used the title I suggested.

The book traces the history of Norvelt, a federal subsistence housing development in Pennsylvania.  Margaret grew up just seven miles away.  The story begins during the Depression and New Deal and continues to be relevant this 2016 election year.  Margaret and I talked recently.

Joan:  Tell us about Norvelt.

Margaret:  During the height of the Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt learned of the plight of unemployed miners in Southwest Pennsylvania.  Her leadership was instrumental in creating Norvelt (incorporating her name).  Norvelt provided a dignified life to the destitute miners and their families.  It was a success!

Joan:  What is the significance of Norvelt in today's political landscape?

Margaret:  The all white inhabitants of Norvelt still adore Eleanor Roosevelt and the New Deal.  For years, the community was pro-union and pro-Democrat.  That changed in the 1980's.  Today, they look back at their parents and grandparents as the hard working deserving poor caught up in an economic calamity.  Now they vote Republican and don't want their tax money to go to those they consider the undeserving poor.  The majority of Norvelters voted for Trump in the primary.

Joan:  Many of us feel that we continue to need hope in hard times.  What sources of hope do you draw upon?

Margaret:  I used to be a Republican from SW Pennsylvania who held racist ideas.  I have changed, so I know others can too.  The young people I teach are much more progressive.  They are the future of this country and this world.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I watched the ESPY Awards show last night because I am a sports fan and I love this stuff.  It proved to be an important, dramatic, and incredibly moving look at our American selves.  The evening began with four of our superstar basketball players, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Paul, urging their fellow athletes to become more socially and politically active.

The Arthur Ashe Courage Award went this year posthumously to Zaevion Dobson.  Zaevion was a 15 year old football star.  He was hanging out with friends when they were caught by gunfire.  He shielded the girls with his body -- saving their lives while losing his own.  His mother gave a stirring speech as she accepted the award.  Arthur Ashe died during the AIDS epidemic.  This is our American story now.

Craig Sager, the TNT broadcaster, who is battling leukemia, received the Perseverance Award.  I wish we could fight racism and gun violence with the unity and purpose we address to cancer.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Not Miss Lonely Heart

I have succumbed to surveillance.  Surprised?  An old leftie, former ACLU employee, fan of Edward Snowden.  Okay, it isn't all of me that big brother is watching (big doctor?) but absolutely the most vital part.

I am currently hooked up via electronic monitor with my heart doctor.  (This wasn't the last hook up I had in mind.)  The surveillance idea hit me when the nurse called to inform me that for six seconds my heart had skipped a beat.  "Don't worry", she said, "but we will keep you informed."

So, my heart has no privacy -- and I guess I am grateful.

Remember the classic tune "Heart and Soul?"  Maybe I still get to keep my soul here with me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Forever Young

My friend Gerry said it best.  Commenting on his ode to his grandson's first July 4, he said:  "When you are new, everything is new."  I think that's what my friend Lail and I had in mind when we made a pact to "die young."

Looking around my life at what is wearing out (computer, carpeting, TV, please not yet my heart) I realize this needs to be offset with what can still be unexpected, challenging, stimulating.

One of my favorite new expressions is "Stay woke."  What that means to me is: keep paying attention, keep being interested, don't let firm habits turn your head away from the still to be discovered.

So here's to new books to read, new shows to get excited about, new classes.  And, maybe even a new friend who may come along if my eyes are open.