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Brilliant at Breakfast title banner "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Railing Class
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on, loan from Ari.)
"This is 1888, isn’t it? I knew I was Jack. Hats off. I said Jack. I’m Jack, cunning Jack, quiet Jack. Jack’s my name. Jack whose sword never sleeps. Hats off I’m Jack, not the Good Shepherd, not the Prince of Peace. I’m Red Jack, Springheeled Jack, Saucy Jack, Jack from Hell, trade-name Jack the Ripper!" - Peter Barnes, The Ruling Class
or, You Get What You Don't Pay For

     We are all Jack Gurney, whether we like it or not.
     When Peter Barnes' The Ruling Class was made Great Britain's official entry at the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, American politics, always a box of spiders just waiting to burst out, was about to become even nastier and tumultuous than it always has been. Nixon's and Lee Atwater's Southern Strategy was about to pay off big time for C.R.E.E.P. (Committee to Re-Elect the President) and Nixon was about to bury Eugene McCarthy in one of the biggest and most humiliating landslides of all time. Liberalism was dead and Nixon was gleefully shaking his flaccid penis over its corpse after pissing all over it for the last four years.
     Then Watergate burst all over Washington like a popped, rancid boil. Its effects would last and reverberate throughout the Capitol and the entire nation for decades and every scandal both great and small, as if through an Act of Congress, had the suffix "-gate" attached to it in some sick political tribute to the most twisted and paranoid leader-freak since King Lear and Macbeth.
     But what Nixon would do, in recruiting the FBI, CIA and his own aides to spy on Democratic National headquarters, break into the Watergate Hotel and even Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and the subsequent botched coverup, would prove to be a mere Brooks Brothers dress rehearsal for the high crimes and misdemeanors that would follow in the succeeding decades.
     Heinous as they were (as was Iran-Contra, the invasion of Iraq, etc), at least they were crimes with motives and carried out by evil men we could at least understand to some degree. Greed, paranoia, thirst for power: They were all timeless themes immortalized in plays by the Bard of Avon and before him.
     And speaking of plays, I now take you back to The Ruling Class.
     In that movie, the late Peter O'Toole played Jack Gurney, a plainly insane paranoid schizophrenic who had inherited a peerage after the last Earl of Gurney accidentally asphyxiates. At first, Jack seems to be a harmless kook (or what the landed gentry call "eccentric"), one who thinks he's Jesus Christ and insists he will return to Earth a la The Second Coming to spread the Messiah's message of peace and brotherhood. He even sleeps on a cross and, while he's certainly not up to the task of fulfilling his duties to the peerage, he seems nice enough.
     Then Jack convinces himself he's Jack the Ripper. An arranged marriage backfires and the body count rises when Jack murders not one but two women. Before anyone realizes it, Jack's in the House of Lords giving an impassionaed speech about the need for the death penalty and corporal punishment and his peers in the Upper Chamber raucously applaud his conservative sensibilities...
     ...all without once realizing or even suspecting the man they're applauding is hopelessly, irredeemably, incontrovertibly and absolutely quite insane.
     Let me know if this is beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar, striking too close to home like a stalker just under your 13 year-old daughter's bedroom window.

Kings of the Heartless
     Mark Twain once famously said that Congress was the "only distinctly native American criminal class" and our elected officials rarely give us any reason to believe otherwise. Physical assaults on the floor of the Senate were not unheard of, duels were fought and elections were so brazenly and nakedly corrupt that people were encouraged if not forced to vote several times a day. Politics in 19th century America was a snake pit.
     Then the 20th century dawned and politicians, if not made more honest, were at least recognizing the necessity of acting more genteel. However venal, corrupt or duplicitous they were, these men at least were those who knew how to get things done. Railroads were built, frontiers expanded, social programs enacted, infrastructure created and maintained and, despite the greasing of a million palms, shit still got done and we surpassed Great Britain as the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth.
     Then came Nixon but we survived him. Then came Reagan then his milksop Vice President George HW Bush and we survived them. Hell, we even survived his idiot son (barely). Then a funny thing began happening.
     The inmates were given the keys to their own cells and allowed to run the joint.
     I take you to World War One and the movie King of Hearts.
     As with The Ruling Class, this was a box office flop that would later reach cult status. While taking place during two times in history and in two different countries, if one were to combine or juxtapose the two elements one would see a pattern emerging in this country that seems to be metastasizing like a social cancer.
     In King of Hearts, the British army retreats from a small town in France, but they've left behind a nice little surprise for any advancing Jerries who may occupy the town: They leave behind a booby trap, an enormous bomb set somewhere in the small town. And the only person who can stop it from detonating is a lone Scottish soldier, Private Charles Plumpick (Alan Bates), who doesn't know where the bomb is.
     And neither do the inmates of the local lunatic asylum who'd escaped after the townspeople had long since fled from the ticking bomb.
     Eventually, they crown him the King of Hearts and the question of the story is who is more insane? Those who have been diagnosed as such or those who start wars?
     The analogies are as tempting as low-hanging fruit or a large surplus to a Republican. In the first movie, Peter O'Toole plays a man who's elevated to the peerage after a tragic accident and winds up in the upper chamber of Parliament where his insane pronouncements have the ring of lucidity and authority to his peers. In the other, the lunatics at the asylum have taken over an entire town after the regular townsfolk had abandoned it.
     Very much in the same way in which the American voter had abandoned their own democracy, or what passes for it, giving the lunatics free reign. And now we're seeing a new breed of politician that includes in its ranks hypocrites, thugs, racists and even criminals.

"The Appearance of Democracy Must be Upheld."
     As Boss Tweed famously tells Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York, "the appearance of the law must be upheld." The same applies for the sham that is our democracy, a Potemkin village of sorts dredged up every two, four and six years. It's a rickety construct nonetheless propping up one of the oldest fallacies on the planet earth, that our Republic's democracy, our Great Experiment, is a successful ongoing one. If this persistent lie were to be abandoned for even one election cycle, our entire House of Cards would come crashing down around our ears.
     But a recent Princeton/Northeastern study recently discovered, after sifting through mountains of data and 1779 policy positions, that the moneyed elite really call the shots through Economic Elite Domination and Biased Pluralism, leaving Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and Majoritarian Pluralism gasping in the dust. Coincidentally, the report comes out just a week after the now-infamous McCutcheon VS the FEC ruling by the Supreme Court that allows those selfsame moneyed interests to pump unlimited amounts of money to unlimited numbers of candidates. As Americans are famously suspicious of politicians, the conclusion of the top 10% having much more political leverage than the bottom 90% hardly comes as a surprise.
     And it's those candidates, many of them getting into Congress, that are the focus of this article. Moreso than ever, we're seeing fringe lunatics, Tea Bagger thugs, morons and even convicted criminals sliding into the halls of power, so many Stuart Bests accepting money from astroturf outfits, 527s, right wing think tanks and, most conspicuously, money from billionaires like Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs. To give just a sample of what I'm talking about:
     Former Congressman David Rivera once ran a truck off the road in 2002 that just happened to contain campaign fliers for his opponent that attacked his character. Fellow Florida Congressman Allen West was kicked out of the military after firing a pistol near an innocent Iraqi policeman's head. Anti abortion extremist Rep. Scott DesJarlais pressured both a mistress and an ex-wife to have abortions. Unlike Rivera and West, who both got voted out the same night after one term, DesJarlais actually won re-election. A week and a half after getting sworn into the Senate, Mike Lee of Utah already began calling for the abolition of child labor laws.
     And one shouldn't need documentation to prove the staggering ignorance and sheer stupidity of people like Sarah Palin, Louis Gohmert, Michelle Bachmann, Steve Stockman and Joe Barton, just to name a few. It's not enough to say this is merely Overton's Window at work, that this is the shifting landscape of politics, the pendulum swinging, etc. It's outrage fatigue and understandable apathy on the part of the American electorate who had long ago come to the conclusion, long before the Princeton and Northeastern academics, that nothing they want or believe in, not even their vote, counts for shit. And it's this weary, jaded mistrust of not only politicians but the very concept of government itself, that gives counterfeit currency to the blatherings of deadbeats and moochers like Cliven Bundy and his homegrown terrorist sympathizers.
     At least Stuart Best had a conscience and only reluctantly read from the position paper given to him by these lunatic fringe groups. People like Bachmann, Gohmert, Cruz and Stockman actually believe in these philosophies. And they are now in power, listening to the soft whisper of riffled money rather than the vox populi.
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Thursday, April 17, 2014

44, 44 and 44
     (By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
     Hank Aaron proves we as a nation have advanced not one micromillimeter regarding race relations in at least four decades. But to begin at the beginning as Lewis Carroll advised...
     Four decades ago last April 8th (and I know I'm dating myself here), I was a 15 year-old boy watching the Braves play the Dodgers at the start of the 1974 season. Curt Flood's attempt to free his fellow players from the onerous yoke of the reserve clause was still a fresh wound in the hearts and minds of many who cared about the game. Baseball was changing, painfully as is always the case, not necessarily for the better. And, as usual, it fell to a home run hitter to bring back the love of the game.
     Babe Ruth did it with his astounding feats of hitting starting in 1920, his first season with the Yankees, and the first after the Black Sox scandal. Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, steroids or no, did it again in 1998 during their historic race to break Babe Ruth's other hallowed achievement, the single season home run record of 60 that he'd set in 1927. Between the corruption scandal of 1919 and the bad taste left in the mouths of fans after the 1995 strike, it fell to these men to rehabilitate the game and to remind us what baseball means and represents to Americans.
     Then on April 8th 1974, it was Hank Aaron's turn. He had matched the Babe home run for home run and was poised at 714. The Dodgers #44, Al Downing, threw That Pitch to the Braves' #44 and #715 sailed over the left field wall. You don't need me to tell you it was one of the greatest moments in baseball history, the night when one of the oldest and most cherished records in all of professional sports fell. It had been nearly four decades since the Babe had hit his last home run for that very same franchise.
     We'd heard that Mr. Aaron had received a lot of hate mail and more than his share of death threats as Ruth's record came closer and closer to being broken. In the four decades since, we white people would like to think, we'd moved on to a more tolerant, post-racial America.
     Then Hank Aaron unwittingly disabused us of that ridiculous notion by giving an interview to USA Today in which he said, 
Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he’s treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts.
     Nowhere had Mr. Aaron said the president's critics were racist, although he could have. Hammering Hank, as with every single active African American player (with the exception of Curt Flood) was conspicuously absent during the Civil Rights era. Yet, starting the day after the interview was published, both Aaron and the Braves front office had been inundated with hundreds of pieces of hate mail and, yes, even death threats, for Aaron calling attention to the persistent problem of racism. One ironic fact was never once did Aaron even use the word racism. The other ironic fact is the letters began their slime trail to the Braves front office on Jackie Robinson Day.
     As Bob Nightengale said in the pages of the same paper, "Yes, it was like 1974 all over again."
       Or, with a simple transposition, 1947.

Braves New World
     Luckily for us, the most virulent racists are stupid and predictable, making it effortless to spot them. The problem is knowing what to do with them once they are identified. We've criminalized hate speech but why racism and death threats haven't fallen under those same guidelines is a mystery I'll delve into on another day.
     Typically, much of the hate mail came from the deep south, starting with loyal Braves fans in Atlanta. One vowed to boycott all Braves games until Aaron is fired from his sinecure from the Braves organization. Another who thought enough of Aaron to buy his autobiography when thought of as a safe figurehead threatened to burn the book. Many others were too vile to print word for word.
     And Aaron proved once more an unlikely lightning rod for racism in this country, a man who has no track record for Civil Rights and no interest in racist-baiting, one who intended to spend his golden years as one of baseball's goodwill ambassadors. And then he was uppity enough to give an interview criticising the Republican Party for hamstringing the 44th President on the 40th anniversary of the 715th home run and the shit hit the fan.
     Ironically, if the Babe had been alive in 1974, he would have cheered on Aaron. Ruth had no taste for racism and he'd privately grumbled more than once, after playing the Negro League during pre- and post-season exhibitions, about the unofficial but viciously enforced "gentleman's agreement" that barred black men from playing major league baseball. I believe baseball historian and Ruth biographer Bill Jenkinson has the last word on the matter of Ruth's likely reaction to Aaron breaking his record when he'd written,
How would Babe have handled that episode in 1974 when Henry Aaron was passing him on the all-time home run list? First, Ruth would have been furious with anyone invoking his name to denigrate Aaron in any way. Second, being an unusually natural and honest individual, I don’t think that he would have engaged in the standard disingenuous but politically correct practice of saying that he was happy. My guess is that Babe would have said: “Well, I can’t say that I’m happy about my record being broken. But, if somebody is going to do it, I’m glad that it is a swell fellow like Hank Aaron.” He would have supported Aaron’s efforts without reservation. And here is the heart of the matter: if anybody had tried to harm Henry Aaron because he was breaking the Bambino’s record, he would have had to fight his way past Babe Ruth to do it. On this, I have absolutely no doubt.
     Agreed. Through sheer force of personality and a prodigious natural talent, Babe Ruth rose to become not only one of the greatest athletes of all time but an iconic American hero. It's tempting to say that America loved him so much because he represented the United States of America in every conceivable way. The Babe was, especially in his early years, brash, immature, undisciplined but so personally exceptional he literally and quickly changed a game that's loath to even the slightest change.
     But Ruth will never represent America in its totality because he was simply color-blind. He openly hugged black ballplayers and had good will for all and malice toward none. And one could make a plausible case that, when the Dodgers played the Yankees in the 1947 World Series, he might have rooted for his old ball club but silently cheered on a rookie Dodger player named Robinson who'd just smashed the color barrier six months ago.
     And he more than likely would've cheered the election of the first black president over 60 years later.
     Racism and bigotry is to be found all over the world. But there is a special, stubborn and particularly virulent streak of it that's peculiar to the United States, one that changes even more slowly than the famously conservative game of baseball. At both ends of this 40 year span of time between Aaron's fabled 715th shot and his interview with USA Today, Hammering Hank proves we have advanced not a single Baltimore chop toward racial tolerance.
     And even obliquely referencing racism without actually calling it out becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the Atlanta Braves front office will attest.
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Florida governor Rick Scott: Still feeding at the public trough
Posted by Jill | 6:18 AM
Florida, otherwise known as the Crazy State, has a governor who was elected despite having been at the helm of a company that pleaded guilty to the biggest Medicare fraud in history. Under the plea bargain settlement, Columbia-HCA agreed to pay $840 million in criminal and civil penalties.

Rick Scott said when he first ran for the governorship that his net worth was $218 million. At the time a blind trust statute apparently written specificaly to deal with hiding Scott's ill-gotten gains became law, he stated his end-of-2012 net worth was $84 million.

Like so many so-called fiscal conservatives, Scott made his millions stuffing his pockets with taxpayer cash. Now, no longer running a company that can bilk the government, unable to find a way to profit off of a federal expansion of Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act, he is running seven points behind former governor Charlie Crist.

So what does Rick Scott do? Well, you can't fault the man's initiative in finding new ways to redirect taxpayer money into his own pockets. On Thursday, Scott did a photo-op at 21st Century Oncology, a cancer treatment center in Fort Myers, promoting an increase of $30 million in the state's funding for cancer research and treatment over last year's $50 million:

The $60 million wouldn’t help companies such as 21st Century Oncology, which operates 179 treatment centers in 16 states and six foreign countries, but the $20 million in research grants could benefit smaller organizations not affiliated with universities.

"There’s something in this for us, and it’s not exactly the same as what’s in it for the University of Florida and other centers," said 21st Century Oncology Chief Medical Officer Constantine Mantz. "But to his credit, (Scott) has thought about some of the little guys in the state."

Mantz said most funding for its roughly 20-person research staff comes from drug companies and federal grants. He expects the company to "get in line" with research proposals, competing with others for a slice of the $20 million.

"We really have not had any ability to access state funds for any of our research activities, and so this is important for us," Mantz said.

But facilities like 21st Century Oncology will now, thanks to the sudden beneficence of Florida Governor Rick Scott, currently fighting for his political life in Florida.

Upon seeing this tremendously exciting development in cancer research in the Sunshine State, my cynical nose smelled a rat. Of course there was the obvious tactic of throwing around money in an election year, but the appearance not at a research hospital or university, but at a smallish for-profit health care facility, given Scott's history, made my spidey-sense go all a-tingle. What financial interest did Rick Scott have in this particular company?

And lo and behold, a two-minute Google search revealed this reprint from the Palm Beach Post from May 14, 2011:

On Friday, the ethics commission without comment accepted Executive Director Philip Claypool's recommended opinion, which confirmed that Scott would likely be shielded from potential violations of state ethics laws by creating the trust.

Scott's holdings are mostly in large, publicly traded companies, but attorneys for the governor also provided specific details of five other investments with clear Florida ties. Scott's most controversial investment, Solantic Corp., an urgent care company he founded in 2001, wasn't part of the panel's review.

Scott last month said he was selling the company after pushing back against criticism that the firm could profit from health care initiatives his administration was advancing. But Scott and Burgess said Friday that the sale hasn't happened yet.

"We're just waiting for regulatory approval," Scott said, adding that he expected the sale to be finalized within 30 days.

Burgess said Solantic's sale to minority investors in the firm has been delayed by difficulty in transferring a number of licenses held by Solantic. The move could take as long as 60 days, he said. Scott initially refused to sell Solantic, then moved it into a trust held by his wife, Ann, while refusing to restrict the firm from seeking business from the state. The ethics opinion Scott sought and received Friday made no mention of his wife's assets.

While Scott spent $73 million of his own money on last fall's race for governor, his wife steered $12.8 million from the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust to her husband's campaign.

As questions lingered about Solantic's possible role in a state Medicaid overhaul or expanded employee drug testing sought by Scott, the governor last month announced the sale.

Scott has talked about putting his assets into a blind trust since the campaign. But it, too, is a lengthy process, Burgess said Friday.

Scott, though, insisted later, "It's formed."

Three of the companies detailed in Friday's request from Scott for an advisory opinion from the ethics panel are in the propane and natural gas transportation business. The fourth is Republic Services, the nation's second-largest waste-hauling company.

Scott also is a limited partner in a New York-based investment fund that has a controlling interest in 21st Century Oncology, which operates cancer radiation centers in Florida.

Now a limited partnership in the owner of the company at which this photo-op took place is not the same as being CEO of two major healthcare companies. But you have to almost admire Rick Scott's dogged determination to stuff his family coffers with as much public money as he can, while he can. It's the Republican way.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

It's been six months already
Posted by Jill | 11:48 AM

Time goes much faster when you get older. Both winters and summers seem shorter (this past winter notwithstanding). Every time you turn around, you're having another birthday. At 12:10 PM today it will be exactly six months since Mr. Brilliant took his last breath.

It's going to be 60 degrees out today here in New Jersey, and while there have been blizzards in April before, it does look like this horrible winter of 2013-2014 is finally over. The crocuses have been eaten by the bunnies (who are as big as Buicks this year) and the hyacinths are starting to come up. It's mostly sunny, breezy, and while there's still a touch of winter in the air, it's clear that spring has finally arrived.

Mr. B. used to love this first week of April. For all that his pagan soul should have celebrated the Vernal Equinox as the first day of spring, the eternal baseball fan in him knew that Opening Day was really when spring began. He never really got over his winter funk until the beginning of May, but at least with the arrival of baseball, balmy days were definitely within reach. This week is doubly poignant because Game of Thrones' fourth season starts tomorrow night and there's a marathon of the first three seasons on HBO2 this weekend. If he were here, he'd be sitting and watching all day, with the windows thrown open, enjoying both the dark universe of Westeros and the light at the end of the dark tunnel that is winter in New Jersey.

Other things are different too. The little cat sitting on the windowsill is now named Sammy, and he's grey instead of white, Maggie having left to join her dad on January 28. Eli, the soulful bi-color cat who joined us after Jenny died last summer and is now a tenuous link to that life that is no longer mine, is in the Jenny-spot on the sofa. He's adjusted just fine, especially after I got him a new friend whom he can groom and cuddle.

At first I was sure I would be all right. I had family visiting for the first two weeks. I started jettisoning junk almost immediately. Mr. B. had wanted his guitar and bass to go to Mike the Vet Tech in appreciation for how much he loved Maggie, never knowing just how much Mike would help in Maggie's final weeks. He had left instructions for some of his spiritual stuff to be sent to his longtime friend in St. Louis. I worked in the man-cave for about three weeks, holding everything from CDs and books to outright trash in my hands, waiting for them to either speak to me (keep) or not (toss). I took bags of trash to the dump. I had a garage sale. I donated clothes. Friends kept me so busy with dinners out that I was rarely at home. I went back to work after a week. I joined a social group for widows and widowers, whereupon I was told at the first meeting that I was still numb, that it hadn't hit me yet. I scoffed at that. I was strong and I would not be like my mother, playing the newly bereaved widow for the next decade.

And then Maggie died and the grief hit. Hard. Because when the vet took Maggie's still, lifeless little body out the door, the last real tie to that old life was gone. Ever since then I've felt like a fraud. Oh, I go through the motions. I go to work, where everyone thinks I am doing great. Some of them, who had let me rant when Mr. B. would lash out at me, or forget to do things he needed to do, or was just irritating, no doubt thought I was doing too well, that I had to be HAPPY that he was gone. I lied at work about how he died, telling most people it was cardiac arrest while in the ICU, because I didn't want a repeat of the scene last March when one colleague, upon hearing about his bladder cancer diagnosis and knowing that the last five years or so had been difficult, said "Well this must make you happy." No one who hasn't been in a marriage for over a quarter of a century really gets that you can sit in the car screaming with frustration, you can sit and crunch numbers to see how badly you'd get clobbered financially if you left, you can wonder how on earth you can be with this person one more day, let alone the rest of your life, and still love that person with a ferocity that you don't even know you have until there's a threat to him and you go into Tiger Wife mode.

Because what no one who listened to me bitch about how I could never rely on him holding down a job, or helping out around the house, or remembering to do things I needed him to do -- all annoyances that may very well have, unbeknownst to either of us at the time, been due to what was happening inside his brain -- understands is that I would have taken him anywhere in the world, seen any doctor, spent every penny left to me by my mother, to make him well -- even if that meant more futile job searches and coping by playing Windows Solitaire for hours on end. Because when you have that kind of a bond, the thought of doing anything else is unthinkable.It's a bond that transcends how you may feel on any given day or week, or even those times when you feel like a caged bird, trapped in your own life. You forget that it's there during those times, but then catastrophe hits and you remember why you were there in the first place, what brought you to this place thirty years later and you know that your place is with that person, come what may.

There's a scene in the movie One True Thing, where Meryl Streep's character is telling Renee Zellweger's why she put up with her philandering husband. I've never forgotten this scene because even if you are not dealing with a philanderer and even if you don't have kids, this scene describes perfectly what it's about when you have been with someone a long time. Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of this part of the scene, so here's the text from the screenplay:

You make concessions when you're married a long time...that you don't believe you'll make when you're beginning. When you're young, you say, "Oh, I'll never tolerate...this or that or the other thing. But time goes by, darling. And when you've slept together a thousand nights...and you've smelled like spit-up from the babies when they're sick...and you've seen your body droop and get soft...and some nights you just think, "Oh, God, I'm not gonna put up with it another minute".

But you wake up in the next morning...and the kitchen smells like coffee...and the kids have their hair brushed all by themselves...and you look at your husband, and no...he's not the person you thought he was. But he's your life. And the kids and the house and everything that you do is built around him.

And that's your life. That's your history too. And if you take him out, that's like cutting his face out of all the pictures. It just makes a big hole and it ruins everything.

So you rant to your friends and you send e-mails and you crunch the numbers because it helps you get through those bad times. But you know in your heart that you are in it for the long haul. And when the long haul comes, you're amazed at how easy it is to rise to the occasion...and how much you WANT to.

Between the numbness' end and the arrival of the Grief Monster is the "woulda shoulda coulda" phase. This is where you re-live those last few weeks over and over and over again. I should have called his neurosurgeon on our anniversary when his incision site looked bruised and his speech was slurring and his hands were shaking, and if he got angry with me for doing it, he'd have to suck it up and deal. I should have insisted that we send his scans to Dr. Gary Steinberg at Stanford, who is the ONE real go-to guy for moyamoya in the entire country, even though he wanted to stay with his team at Sloan-Kettering and Weill-Cornell. I should never have gone home to strip the bed in an effort to save the mattress and stayed with him until they got him into his room in the ICU at Valley Hospital. I should have remembered to take the Movado watch I bought him off his wrist so someone on staff there wouldn't have stolen it en route. I should have read up on what seizures following a stroke meant, so that when they kept saying they had to find the right dose of anti-seizure meds I would have known what status epilepticus was and screamed at them to intubate and sedate earlier. I should have called Dr. Chess Club as many times as I needed to feel reassured, because Mr. B. was deteriorating every hour and I knew by Sunday night that whatever they were doing at Death Valley Hospital wasn't working. I should have talked to him more after he was moved to Weill Cornell even though he didn't hear me.

For months I played that tape over and over and over in my head trying to find the point at which doing something different would have changed the outcome. Finally, I was able to put it together that the alternative scripts involved either a) weeks, months, or possibly years in a nursing home with a trache and PEG, neither fully alive nor dead; b) weeks or months in a nursing home with a trache and PEG followed by learning how to walk, speak, feed himself -- and not having had his chemoradiation for months; or c) painful death from bladder cancer, probably within five years under the BEST of circumstances. Once I got to that point, I was able to stop the second-guessing.

But as I've written before, it's as if the earth is off its axis. My world is wobbling and it takes every effort I have to keep it from tumbling out of control. It's spring in New Jersey. It's a time of change...of rebirth and renewal. Soon the Christians will celebrate a resurrection. The kids will eat Cadbury cream eggs and not think about the Easter symbols' pagan origins. The sweaters will be put away and the brightly-colored tops will come out. For me it's a time of change and renewal too. I just don't know yet what that change is going to look like. I met Mr. Brilliant towards the end of the first third of my life. We were together for the second third. And I'm still trying to find a balance between a sense of loss and one of anticipation for this last third.


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Friday, April 04, 2014

Because in America, we don't give a shit about families, and we don't give a shit about people
Posted by Jill | 10:05 PM

This Cadillac ad neatly encapsulates everything that's wrong with us as Americans. Cadillac was always an evil symbol, especially in its heyday. It always stood for conspicuous consumption, for new money, for flashy clothes and pinky rings and showing off. Now it wants to stand for a reward for people who think life outside of work should not exist. Whether it's George W. Bush calling a woman who has to work three jobs to feed her family "uniquely American", or calling the long-term unemployed "takers", we have this idea that unless you're spending every waking minute either doing work or thinking about work, you are some kind of slacker.

I just got back from a three-day oncology meeting in Boston, where I spent a lot of time with one of my European colleagues. She's about to take off for two weeks in the Seychelles. She'll take three, perhaps four trips like this in 2014, because where she lives, people get vacation time. Lots of it. Six weeks to start. They don't take their laptops with them and they don't check their e-mail, and when they get back they don't have to pay in blood for having taken time off. They don't work weekends, either. They have two people on the same project that in the US there's only one assigned. On weekends they have fun. They don't spend their weekends running the errands or doing the housework they couldn't do during the week. Working yourself to death in Europe makes you a chump, not a hero. And despite the myth perpetrated by Cadillac, it doesn't make you a hero here either. You're still just another number, just another mindless cog in a vast machine. If you drop dead of a heart attack at your desk, they'll have someone in to replace you by the end of the week.

The group in which I work is still in the throes of a reorganization that's been in process for over a year. None of us knows what our title will be when it all shakes out, or to whom we'll be reporting. We're all told we can apply to jobs that will be posted, but it looks like it's all kabuki theatre -- that people have already been chosen for those jobs.

In Europe, it's not unusual to get a year of paid maternity leave. But here in America, the myth is that we're "crazy hardworking believers" and that's why we do it. We do it for pools and Cadillacs, or so they tell us, when the reality is that we do it so we can delude ourselves that management has any idea who we are and that we can't be replaced tomorrow with some other drone. We do our job better than anyone else? So what? They'll live without it if it'll save a few bucks, or get them a younger or prettier version, or can send it overseas and not have to think about it.

I could post this three-minute rant by George Carlin every single day:

Charles and David Koch don't work any harder than you do. Neither does Donald Trump. Maybe Mark Zuckerberg does, but you can bet he won't be when he's sixty. But we've internalized this idea that we have to Work Hard. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. Until we drop dead.

All of which brings us to Daniel Murphy.

Daniel Murphy, for those who aren't familiar with him, is the second baseman for the New York Mets. Murphy isn't a natural. He works hard to learn how to field his position. He's got a decent bat and a mediocre but improving glove. He's not Derek Jeter, or Big Papi, or some other big-name ballplayer who can do whatever he wants. But here's what we now know Daniel Murphy is: He's a mensch. He's also persona non grata on New York sports talk radio.

What is Daniel Murphy's crime?

He missed the first two games of the season after his wife gave birth by C-section on Opening Day.

Mike Francesa: "You see the birth and you get back." Craig Carton: "Assuming your wife is fine and assuming the baby is fine...you get your ass back to the team and you play baseball." Boomer Esiason: "I would have said 'C-section before opening day."

Daniel Murphy: "It's going to be tough for her to get up to New York for a month. I can only speak from my experience -- a father seeing his wife -- she was completely finished. I mean, she was done. She had surgery and she was wiped. Having me there helped a lot, and vice versa, to take some of the load off. ... It felt, for us, like the right decision to make."

And good for him.

It isn't often that baseball makes it into the chick-o-rama into which Melissa Harris-Perry's weekend show sometimes devolves. But this story sure as hell did, and the fact that Chris Hayes is taking some time off following the birth of his SECOND child put it smack into MSNBC's radar.

It's good that we're having this discussion. It's good that Boomer Esiason apologized, but the fact that so many male sports announcers feel that your team (i.e. your JOB) should always come before your family, is troubling. But they're not alone. They're just a microcosm of what all of us who experience transitions in our personal lives go through.

And of course, since I'm rather self-involved these days (hopefully understandably so), I started thinking about the "widow brain fog" that seems to happen to about 95% of people of both sexes who lose a spouse. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how "done" you may have felt at times in your marriage, no matter if your life is "easier" without having to deal with someone who's angry and depressed and lashing out at you, losing the person with whom you've spent half your life tears a chunk out of your soul. You are not the same. You may FEEL the same for a while, but after the numbness wears off and the grief kicks in; the realization that this person Will Never Come Home, that Opening Day has come and gone and he is not here, that there's a Game of Thrones marathon leading up to the premiere of Season 4 and he isn't here to watch it or share Season 4 with you, that you are going to grow old alone -- well, it changes you. And you do not run on all cylinders. You dream every night that he is still here and wake up every day feeling like you've been hit with a sledgehammer. You're exhausted all the time. You're an intruder in your own life. But most of all you realize that time is short and life is fleeting. And you want to be able to smell the roses. The average duration of bereavement leave in this country is three days. From what I've been able to gather, it's not much better in Europe. If you need more time, you have to burn your vacation time -- IF you can get permission to do it. OR, you can look into a leave of absence, which is what I did, and I'm sure my experience is typical. If you are, say, suicidal and under the care of a mental health professional, or even better -- hospitalized or on suicide watch, you can get a disability leave. This protects your job and keeps you on company-paid health insurance. If your manager agrees, you can take a personal leave for a pre-defined period of time. It is unpaid, your job is NOT protected, you are on COBRA for health insurance (which decreases the duration of COBRA coverage if you leave your job), and if you are not ready to come back on the pre-defined day, you are assumed to have resigned voluntarily.

All things considered, I'm doing better than most people in my position. But I'm definitely not firing on all cylinders. If I could take four weeks off, say, with assurance of my job being there when I got back and continuation of health insurance, even if it was not paid, I would probably be doing a lot better. But I can't, and I'm not. One thing I'd like to do for activism in my retirement years is advocate for better bereavement leave or other accommodation for loss of a spouse or child. Because NO ONE can "suck it up and deal" after just three days.

Daniel Murphy is protected by the Players Union, so he will not suffer any consequences other than shitty remarks by talk radio rabble-rousers. But most Americans are not. Most of us are expected to show up every day, be tethered all the time, and show our dedication so we can delude ourselves that we have "job security." We give a whole lot of lip service to families in this country, but where the almighty dollar is concerned, we don't have a shit about families -- or people, for that matter.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Panic in Gunland
     It's difficult to remain solemn and respectful in the wake of yesterday's newest shooting at Fort Hood that claimed four lives and injured 16 others. Certainly, the tragic subject matter doesn't exactly readily lend itself to satire and snark.
     That's why we have people like Pat Dollard and Dana Loesch, "people", for want of a better word, who sally forth, heedless of social conventions by going where no wingnut has gone before, contemptuous of the Obama-era czars of basic human decency.
     Because, according to former talent agent Pat Dollard (Breitbart's Big Government, Big Hollywood, Big Douchebag, etc), we should murder all the Muslims over this before the identity of the shooter has even been ascertained. Steve Douchey of Fox and Friends With Benefits wasted no time blaming Obama for the Fort Hood shooting within the first 24 hours, even going as far as quoting a mouth-foaming right wing moron like Gateway Pundit who gave Douchey his talking points for the day like a moth-eaten Karl Rove.
     Point in fact, the shooter was no more Muslim than the President was to blame for this. The alleged shooter's name was initially reported as being that of Army Specialist Ivan Lopez, an Iraq war veteran who served four months in Iraq and was being treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So, if you want to blame a Commander in Chief for this, look no further than George "Don't Burn the Oil Fields" Bush.
     Of course, it took Dana Loesch no time flat to show what a class act she was by showing more sympathy for her fellow gun clutchers who won't lose their guns over this than the 20 victims of this latest Ft. Hood shooting. Cristina Hassinger weighed in on Loesch by saying... Well, why don't I let the principals speak for themselves?

     Undeterred, Dana then made herself the victim in true right wing fashion after she got into it with TBogg, who put the results up at his place, Panic in Funland:
     After sniffling that SHE was the one being harassed on Twitter by the daughter of the slain Sandy Hook principal "for bring(ing) the victims into this", the loathsome Loesch really let TBogg have it between the eyes, uh, somehow, for something only she can tell us.
     O, the inhumanity. O, the inanity.
     So, the moral of the story, kiddies, is that it's always the black guy's fault no matter what, we should slaughter every Muslim in America for something a Latino does to people they don't even know and right wingers should be allowed to attack whomever they want then whine about being swarmed by the blue meanie birdies on Twitter when their targets hit back. And feeling persecuted is sure a strange tack to take considering loonies like Loesch have almost all the guns and ammo.
    And every shooting becomes a referendum on the rights of gun ownership whether or not the black guy said he wants to take away your guns. The running theme in the gun control debate is that on the far right, more sympathy is shown for gun owners, even those carrying out these crimes (Yeah, Zimmerman, I'm looking in your direction) than for the innocent victims of these crimes. And the fact that eludes these cordite-huffing psychopaths is it's not us gun control proponents they have to worry about but fellow gun-clutchers like themselves.
     You know, Wayne LaPierre's "good guys with guns."
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Saturday, March 29, 2014

North Carolina is looking better by the day
Posted by Jill | 3:48 PM
So yesterday we heard that our esteemed governor, Chris Christie, had been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing by lawyers who are his political allies, that he paid for with a million dollars of New Jersey taxpayer money. What a surprise. What was at least a little surprising, was the misogynistic viciousness of the report, which blamed the closing of local lanes to the George Washington Bridge last September on Alex Forrest Bridget Kelly, as some sort of irrational, psychotic payback to her alleged former lover, Christie ally Bill Stepien. Or something. And then there's Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer, painted by the report as a delusional liar.

Hey 57% of women who voted for this thug last November -- how do you feel about him now?

I've been wanting to move to North Carolina for years. It's not that I love the climate, Goddess knows I don't. But I've been tired of New Jersey for a long time. The road rage. The traffic. The potholes. The big hair and chewing gum and the lack of realization that the characters on "The Sopranos" were NOT people you were supposed to want to emulate. People who say "Down the shore." Springsteen and his ersatz Woody Guthrie schtick composed in his bigass house in Rumson. I've lived here since 1958, and I've had enough.

Back in 2005, I survived a layoff where I was working. In a way, it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. Mr. B. was unemployed at the time, it was the top of the housing market, and we could have sold the house and headed south without looking back. But I did survive, and then he got a job, and so we stayed. He never really wanted to go anyway. He always refused to believe me when I came home from my sister's and talked about all the geeky aging hippies down there who thought the way we did, and about the venues that had more of the music we like than New York City had, and how yes, you could get good Indian food in Durham. He just could never get past Jesse Helms. Now granted, we'd be moving to the Triangle, not to the areas where they still marry their sisters, but even that area was still represented by Jesse Helms.

It's not that it's so much better now, especially since 2010, when disappointed Obama voters stayed home in droves, allowing a wingnut contingent that makes the teabaggers look sane to take over the statehouse in Raleigh and the governorship. They've enacted one of the most restrictive voter registration laws in the country, tried to enact a law that would allow the state to establish a state religion, and introduced legislation to ban making scientific predictions of sea level rise. Governor Pat McCrory is a puppet of Duke Energy. The state is a workshop for the worst kind of retrograde legislation, to the point that a once-hot destination for high-tech companies is in danger of becoming another Alabama.

But not if Moral Mondays has anything to say about it.

Whether the Moral Monday movement, which started in North Carolina but has spread to Atlanta, can be effective or if it is just another bunch of white progressives marching with signs, remains to be seen. If there's a place where even bad Democrats are better than any Republican, it's in North Carolina, where another four years of wingnut rule could very well turn North Carolina into another polluted, ignorant southern cesspool. Maybe the state needs me.

Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse.

Because right now I feel like an alien in my own life and in my own house. When Mr. B. was here I used to say that the time before I met him felt like someone else's life. Now the thirty years I spent with him feel like someone else's life, and I am trespassing on it. The Job That Ate My Life, the house that's now eighteen years into the five-year remodeling plan and still needs another $40,000 worth of work just to get it ready to sell -- none of it feel like mine anymore. The man-cave still has a fair amount of Mr. B's effluvia in it -- the stuff I didn't donate or toss when I was still numb enough to do it. Nine suits in 42L and 44L waiting to be donated. Dressers that are falling apart and need to be dragged downstairs and put out for pickup day. Three boxes of comic books that need to be triaged to see what's worth selling and what is just junk. Records. CDs. Bits of a life now gone for good. The upstairs bedroom has a bed frame but no bed, the bed having been carted away by ServPro as hazmat nearly five months ago. His size 13 sneakers are still in the hall. In the linen closet are a dozen sand-color towels to be donated because when I have the upstairs bathroom done, it won't go with sand-color towels. So much stuff from a life that is now compleely alien to me. And that's why I feel the pull -- to get off this insane merry-go-round of impossible deadlines and office politics and 7-day work weeks, to head south and find a place that doesn't have three unused rooms -- maybe a house with a front porch and a screened porch in back and a deck and pine trees and a shed where I can set up a commercial kitchen and make 20 flavors of granola to sell. To set up a widows/widowers meetup group for old hippies. To sleep more than five hours a night. To stop and smell the flowers. To breathe. To live.

Because one thing I've learned is that none of us knows what tomorrow will bring. When I stood at my mother's graveside in December of 2012 with Mr. B. at my side, I could not have fathomed that less than a year later he would be gone too. I look through the boxes of photos that I still haven't organized from my mother's house and get smacked in the face at how many of the people in them are gone. Mom. Lionel. Generations of pets. Mr. B. And those of us still left aren't getting any younger. In a way it's a relief that when I'm gone, they can just light a bonfire and burn the whole mess if they want to. Because after a generation or two, who remembers who is whom in family photos? And after that, who even cares? All we have is now. I want to have some contentment in my now. Because EVERYTHING in life is only for now.

Power-mad thugs like Chris Christie should think about this.

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From Bridgegate to Bridgetgate
"My million dollar lawyers said I was innocent because... hormones! Now someone make me a sammich!"
(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)

     If the mainstream media was worth the biomechanical electricity required to hit a button on a remote control, it would've long ago pointed out the screamingly obvious fact that a sitting chief executive does not have the final say over his guilt or innocence in a scandal by hiring a million dollar-a-pop white shoe law firm. That's up to legislative ethics committees and, if necessary, courts of law.
     Or, as NBC's own website says,
Critics have pointed out Christie's close ties to the chief of the law firm and said that the report lacks crucial testimony from those most deeply involved with the lane closures, including Kelly, Stepien, former Port Authority staffer David Wildstein and Port Authority Chairman David Sampson.
     Yes, indeed. Just as the FBI was blocked from interviewing potential crucial witnesses (that would be the bin Laden family) in the first days after 9/11, the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher either blocked themselves or were instructed to never interview exactly the very principles involved in the Bridgegate scandal that closed all but one lane on the GWB starting on the first day of school last year. The most conspicuous absence of depositions was that of Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie's former Deputy Chief of Staff.
     And yet, despite David Wildstein's charge that Christie knew about the lane closures before, during and immediately afterwards, this law firm that enjoys very cozy ties with Christie announced with all the credibility of the 9/11 and Warren Commissions that Christie's innocence in the matter "rings true."
     Unfortunately and amazingly, NBC's Carrie Dann, who wrote the article,  either elected to ignore and was blithely insensible to the rampant misogyny of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's whitewash job. Essentially, it almost completely chokes off accountability at Bridget Kelly herself and faults to a far lesser extent Wildstein himself, the guy who actually ordered the green lights turned off at all but one lane on the GWB leading from Fort Lee.
     As John Amato at Crooks and Liars correctly points out,
They show no proof of their misogynist allegations, but they include them anyway, Why is that you ask? Because this is not a real internal review report, but a document that's sole purpose is to exonerate Chris Christie. Why they thought going gonzo on Bridget Kelly was a good idea I have no clue. Maybe they believe like Bryan Fisher, that women are an inferior species and make a handy scapegoat.
     Which isn't to say we should have a pity party for Kelly, plainly a partisan political operative with a little bit of power and thought absolutely nothing whatsoever of inconveniencing countless thousands of motorists for four days straight in the interests of petty political revenge inspired by a desire to curry political favor from a man she knew would be pleased by this. And the "probe", plainly written entirely by men, shamelessly makes repeated references to Kelly's emotional instability, a terminated relationship and basically coming thisclose to mentioning the word "hormones."
     Yet, at the very least, the report still reveals Christie as a boob who hadn't the slightest idea of what his senior staffers were doing under his nose and during a re-election campaign. At the very worst, it shows Christie as every bit the Jersey leg breaker he is by commissioning an internal probe costing the New Jersey taxpayers, at minimum, $1,000,000 to take down one woman who was but one member in a conspiracy designed solely to exact revenge on a Democratic mayor who withheld his endorsement of Christie during his bid for re-election. And it shows he is all too willing to use the tried-and-true Republican tactic of misogyny to justify his actions after the fact.
     The very fact that Christie saw no problem billing the New Jersey Treasury $1,000,000 or more to have a law firm whose top dog is buddies with Christie in the interests of distancing himself from a scandal that just won't go away and to save his sinking 2016 presidential aspirations speaks volumes. The very phrase "internal probe" has about as much credibility as a crocodile in a camouflage suit.
     And imagine the furor that would've arisen if it had come out that one of President Obama's Deputy Chiefs of Staff had ordered a lane closure of a major bridge because its Republican mayor withheld his endorsement of Mr. Obama's own re-election bid in 2012? John Boehner and Darrell Issa would have burns and callouses on their hands from the lynching ropes they'd be endlessly gripping.
     Considering Christie's countless evils against the people of New Jersey, the Department of Education and a growing line of victims littering the wayside of Christie's potholed road to Pennsylvania Avenue, it's amazing that it took this long for one of those scandals to finally stick to his rotund body. And the more Christie tries to distance himself from this scandal, the more he lambastes former aides and school chums, the pettier and smaller he looks and the more he resembles the vindictive Chief Executive whom David Wildstein said knew about the lane closures and did nothing to mitigate them.
     Indeed, for someone who's obviously adept at lane closures in the interests of petty political revenge, Chris Christie knows precious little about closure itself.
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