Pugilists

Jeff had been a boxer, a prize-fighter, what Grandpa Leslie called a “pugilist.”  Decades after his final bell, Jeff’s appearance bore witness to long-ago and subsequent physical and emotional bouts. 

Jeff’s dad was his trainer.  With a wry smile, the erstwhile combatant would recount, at the end of a round, crumpling in his corner with Dad leaning in, forefinger under Jeff’s nose, reminding his young contestant, “Remember lad!  You don’t have to block every punch with your face!”

We are all pugilists.  Having our “bell” rung too many times, we might recall the old trainer’s advice.  We  can cover up, block, weave, sidestep, counterpunch.  We don’t have to block every punch with our face!

Playing The End Game

I understand, the game of chess is seen as having an “opening,” “middlegame,” and “endgame.”  Apart from how the pieces move, that’s all I know about chess.  Looking back over eight decades, I see human Life has its “opening,” if we’re lucky a “middlegame,” and, luckier still, “endgame.”

Every game of chess begins with two rooks, two knights, two bishops, one queen, one king, and eight pawns on the predetermined squares at opposite sides of the board.  Each unique human Life begins with genes and environment arranging the “pieces” higgledy-piggledy across the board.  Compounding this challenge, our opponent and his pieces are invisible!

Through training and study chess players learn various openings, middle-, and endgame moves.  With no prescribed opening, success in the game of Life depends on experience, especially if we learn from our bad moves.  As I see it, most of us continue making, often repeating, bad moves until checkmate.

For me—I believe everyone— Life’s the first eight years, its “opening” moves, were decisive.  Caprices of nature and nurture arranged my pieces in close-to-ideal positions.  But, ten days after my eighth birthday, the phantom opponent took my King, Daddy, checkmate!  Game over. 

But I still had my Queen and faced the specter of a middlegame.  The only move I saw was somehow to protect Mama.  My game strategy became, “Be a good boy and don’t cause problems.” 

My sorely foreshortened opening made for an overextended middlegame.  With fractured, chaotic notions of how to move, to become a man, I blundered forward.  The ensuing two decades was, at best, a stalemate.

Through serendipity, pure dumb luck, I found a Master!  Psychiatrist, Dr. Eugene Chernel saved my game and my life.  His genius guided a lonely thirty-three-year-old bachelor, me, and a twenty-seven-year-old divorcee with two children, Karen, in creating a, I like to believe, minimally dysfunctional family. 

If three score and ten marks the end of the middlegame, despite taking advantage of my allotment of botched moves, over the past decade and a half I’ve been blessed with the sweetest endgame any man has a right to expect. 

What Happened to the Music?

August 7, 2021, at Radio City Music Hall, with Lady Gaga, ninety-five-year-old crooner Tony Bennett gave his farewell performance.  Had I been there, I’d have heard and understood virtually every word, without hearing aids.  This started me wondering: What happened to the music?   

A monotone with a tin ear, I may be the least qualified person to play ”Music Critic.”  I only report my experience.

After WW I, the Great Depression, and WW II, three decades of sacrifice and grief, on September 2, 1945, the Empire of Japanese surrendered.  The United States of America heaved a great sigh of relief!  Good Times were back!

I hypothesize that “Popular” art reflects the mood of a culture through a period.  Remembering songsters from the twenty-some years after WWII, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Harry Belafonte, Nat King Cole, Sonny and Cher, The Kingston Trio, Johnny Cash, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Peter Paul and Mary come to mind.  I heard and understood the lyrics, even Elvis and the Beetles!

With graduating from Brigham Young, three years in the Army, a decade living and working in Alaska, marrying Karen, moving to Oregon, raising a family, holding down a fulltime job, running marathons, and earning an M.S. in Psychology, music slid to the back burner of my mind.

Occasionally, I caught a TV snippet from some “Concerts” where, amid strobe lights and smoke, entertainers hopped like kangaroos, squalling, and wailing, busting up guitars and equipment.  But the onstage mayhem didn’t matter.  Audience members who did not already know the lyrics surely could not decipher more than the occasional stray word or repeated phrase.  “Luv ya baby, waha, waha, waha!  Luv ya baby, baby love ya baby, waha, waha, waha!”—bang crash!—“Oh baby I Luv ya baby, baby love ya baby, waha, waha, waha!”

These days, my music exposure comes from “America’s Got Talent.”  I should emphasize that my assessment is totally biased by an old man’s hearing and mind.  From my perspective most vocalists may as well sing in Mandarin. Here again I wonder.  Do the lyrics matter? The stunning staging, blaring accompaniment, and audience’s cacophony overwhelm the music.  On closed caption, I read a whole lot of repetitious, sophomoric sentiment. 

Two singers are exempt from my crotchety-old-man’s opinion of today’s music.  On AGT, Jimmy Herrod’s melodic and articulate “Tomorrow,” “Pure Imagination,” and “Glitter In The Air” recalled Bennett, Sinatra, Belafonte, and the rest.  I love Lady Gaga!  Her articulate and beautiful voice gives the lyrics significance.  And, I understand virtually every word.       

I hypothesized that “Popular” art reflects the mood of a culture through a period.  Might the, to my ears, deafening volume, lousy articulation, and inane lyrics of so much of America’s music today reflect American’s culture today? 

A potpourri of discord:  As a candidate, President, and former President, Donald J. Trump prides himself in lies, divisiveness, and hatred, the very antithesis of the truth, inclusiveness, and respect for others on which America is founded.  President Trump called White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis “very fine people.”  As the capstone for his Presidency, Trump organized, coordinated, and ordered a seditious assault on our Capitol, Congress, and Constitution. 

Beyond the Oval Office: Spurred by their ex-president’s groundless, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and a rigged election, many Republican state legislators who were happy with election protocols which installed their guy in the White House, scramble to pass Jim Crowe era regulations disenfranchising folks who, under those same protocols, helped deliver Joe Biden’s landslide.  A minority of US citizens refuse to accept CDC and NIH assurances that masks block virus and COVID-19 vaccines scientifically proven to be safe and effective.  A charming city, Portland, Oregon, is desecrated and vandalized by mindless thugs.  Among the most thankless of jobs, school board and election workers ask law enforcement for protection from angry citizens and death threats.

Where did our country veer from the paths of civility, decency, mutual respect, and common sense?  Columbine?  Then Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, and all the rest!  The decade preceding 2019, America’s homicide rate ranged around 5 per 100,000.  In 2020 it jumped to 6 per 100,000, a twenty percent increase.  Through the first ten months of 2021, homicides are on track to leap twenty-five percent over last year and forty percent over 2019.

The first six decades of my life, virtually everyone had a “home,” however mean or meager.  Today homeless Americans’ tents and tarps border highways.  They live in cars and RVs on city streets.  The even-less fortunate block urban sidewalks with shopping carts and meager bundled possessions.

The material and moral rift between America’s top five percent and the rest of us became a chasm.  Ironically and sadly, too many ninety-five percenters are duped into championing the five percent’s White-Male Oligarchy! 

Vagaries of genetic and environmental, often beyond our control, favor some and curse others.  At heart we are all the same.  Folks who do not appear, speak, believe, or behave, as I do, merely want what I want: To be treated with kindness, respect, and love. 

What happened to the music?  What happened to America?

I Wonder? (Again)

I’m told folks refuse COVID-19 vaccination for fear of negative, long-term consequences and/or they don’t want Government telling them “what to do.” 

Regarding long-term consequences, vaccination advocates point to the rigorous scientific protocols and testing which make America’s National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Gold Standards for certifying vaccines and other medicines are “safe and effective.“

Regarding being “told what to do,” for “the common good” our government formulates statutes and regulations mandating certain actions and forbidding others.  Do my anti-COVID-19-vaccination friends refuse to comply when the Government “tells them”:

  • To vaccinate children for measles, whooping cough, polio, and the rest?
  • To pass tests and be licensed to drive a motor vehicle, practice Medicine or the Law?
  • To license their motor vehicle?
  • In Oregon—surely other states—to insure their motor vehicles?
  • To use seat belts?
  • To obey traffic regulations, signs, and lights?
  • To buy a license to catch fish or kill wildlife?
  • Not to steal other people’s money or property?
  • To pay taxes?
  • Not to murder?

I wonder?

See How It Feels

Reposted of folks who missed or forgot.

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It’s said, debate arose among Churchmen of Medieval Europe regarding the native language of man.  Greek or Latin?  When prayer, scripture, Plato and Aristotle failed to address their question, the learned Clergy devised a scheme which, a millennia later, became the hallmark of Science: an experiment.

Newborns were isolated never to hear human speech.  Anticipating what enlightened researchers would label “extraneous variables,” the infants were fed, diapered and clothed but otherwise experience the barest of human contact.   Hypothesis: Unsullied by hearing human speech, the subjects would reveal humankind’s native tongue.  The outcome was inconclusive.  The subjects never spoke.  Denied nurturing they died.

A millennia down the road, Bulgaria’s child welfare system deteriorated to conditions eerily reminiscent of this—I hope apocryphal—Dark Age experiment.  In 2007 BBC exposed “Bulgaria’s Abandoned Children.” Vacant-eyed infants peering through cribs bars, naked bodies nodding on cold plastic pots, legs hardly able to support skin-and-bone, emaciated orphans scraping  metal bowls, frantically competing for a fragment of potato.  The psychological impact of this horrendous experience was inescapable.  The Daily Mail’s Rosa Monckton reports,  despite being warehoused cheek-by-jowl, due to a “lack of interaction, children in Bulgarian institutions grow slowly mad.”

The tragedy exposed, organizations and individuals rushed to foster and adopt.  Documentaries recount the myriad physical and emotional challenges American families confronted in attempting to rescuing these profoundly damaged little people.  For me one scene stood out: an out-of-control boy throwing objects, breaking pictures and mirrors, punching holes in the wall.  When a desperate Mom attempted to placate him the seven-year-old punched her in the stomach, “See how it feels!”

For a long time this cryptic exclamation puzzled me.  Surely anticipating that rescuing a physically and emotionally stunted child could well upend her family’s life, this woman who jumping through bureaucratic hoops, assuming significant financial expense, overcoming myriad unforeseen obstacles, was thanked with a punch to the gut!  “See how it feels!”

See how what feels?  Lady with the big house, see how it feels to stare through crib bars for days on end.  Lady in the king-size bed with its sweet-smelling comforter and  half-a-dozen pillows, see how it feels to lie in a moldering nightshirt on a dank mattress day and night.  Lady with cupboards, refrigerators, and freezers stocked to feed an orphanage, see how it feels to experience constant gnawing hunger, to fight over a handful of spoiled beans.  Lady on her sterile white toilet in her porcelain and chrome bathroom, see how it feels to squat amid naked, emaciated, near-zombies swaying on cold plastic pots.  See how it feels to hurt lady!  Really to hurt.  See how it feels

It goes beyond Bulgarian orphans and caring moms.  “See how it feels” is the heart of so much human suffering.  When it hurts too much, we slug someone in the gut.

“See how it feels” is the taproot of abuse.  Through irrational thinking, we believe we can be rid of suffering by giving it to someone else.  Child abuse, spousal abuse, elder abuse, colleague abuse, employee abuse are attempts to, if not alleviate, at least have someone know our pain. Sick, tired, injured, insulted, frightened or just had a bad day, we come home, kick the dog, shout at the spouse, beat the kid.  Some walk into a kindergarten, church or synagogue with an AK47!  See how it feels to hurt, really to hurt!

“See how it feels” triggers violence, rebellion, revolution.  Feeling marginalized, abused, deprived we lash out at power.  See how it feels to be insulted, ignored, used!

“See how it feels” America!  When we crash airliners into your World Trade Center, see how it feels to have one of Earth’s the oldest cities, our home, bombed, demolished, leaving economic and cultural chaos behind.  As you grieve your three thousand, see how it feels to have tens-of-thousands of our innocents massacred in your unprovoked assault.  

In your grand cities with their skyscrapers, streets crowded with cars, sidewalks crowded with shoppers, homes with electric power, hot and cold water, heating and air conditioning, see how it feels to live in mud huts, tents and refugee camps, sometimes for generations.  As you cruise highways paved with asphalt from beneath our feet, see how it feels to walk in sandals down a rutted track.  In your Super Markets, shelves stocked with so much food more than a quarter goes to waste, see how it feels to be painfully hungry, to die from starvation!  See how it feels America.  See how it feels to be marginalized, exploited, humiliated.     

“See how it feels” has a corollary: Misery likes company.  The former attempts to alleviate my suffering by hurting you.  The latter finds vicarious relief knowing others suffer.  Fueled by the paparazzi, devoid of moral stricture, the “National Inquirer” and other tabloids capitalize on this.  At the checkout counter, with a laid-off spouse and three-year-old running a hundred-and-two degree temperature at home, about to charge another cart of groceries to a nearly maxed-out VISA, seeing “Hillary’s Breakdown,” “The Pope’s Love Child,” “Obama’s Porno Addiction,” “Tom Cruse Dying of Aids,” even the rich and famous suffer, offers fleeting respite.

In 1935, misery likes company found creative outlet when Bill W. and Bob S. expanded peer support from church, synagogue, Elks, Rotary and Masons to the suffering’s broader world.  Over ensuing decades their Alcoholics Anonymous model expanded to drug addiction, mental illness, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, suicide, suicide prevention, those impacted by suicide, murder and violent death, grief, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Parents of Murdered Children and more.

Given all the above, it’s crucial to point out, “News” notwithstanding, we very rarely lash out from purely malevolent intent.  Whether we suffer in silence, beat up on the next object or person we see, or take perverse comfort in knowing others suffer, the lion’s share of human behavior has unconscious roots.  The horrors inflicted by a sociopath derives from mental processes humankind may never fathom.  We don’t really want to hurt others; we just want the pain to stop.

A Rock and A Hard Place

At heart, I seem to be a Socialist.  If hearing this sets off alarm bells, please bear with me.  I define “Socialism” as “Free Enterprise with a Conscience.”

Conservatives say Liberal social programs kill individual initiative.  I agree.  Arguably, to survive too many lower middleclass and poor Americans depend on unemployment checks, subsidized housing, Social Security, food stamps, and other government programs.  Farther down the income scale this is more apparent. 

At the same time, buried in arcane legalese and regulations a host of schemes and grafts exclusively benefit the rich.  Precious few of us know of the handouts thousand-dollar-and-hour lawyers, shrewd MBA’s, lobbyists, and legislators have crafted to ensure that the fortunate five percent do very well indeed!  Tax breaks and loopholes allow millionaires, billionaires, and billion-dollar corporations to minimize and dodge taxes, leaving an overstressed middle class to pick up the tab. 

An unarticulated corollary to the Conservative view is the poor need various forms of government welfare because they are innately stupid and lazy.  As I see it, the money we “earn” and have is decisively determined by where we draw that first breath!

As a kid, I sometimes felt overworked and underappreciated.  Today, I see how incredibly lucky I was!  I was born to hardworking people in a hardworking culture; I learned to work!  Born in East L.A., Southside Chicago, as one of 50% unemployed on our 326 Indian Reservations, physically or mentally handicapped, who would I be today?  Food stamps, subsidized housing, on the street, in a gang, prison, dead?  

In my meager understanding, Socialism encourages Free Enterprise while looking after those who, mostly through no fault of their own, cannot “earn” their way in the marketplace.

Under Capitalism financial profits must always prevail.  Caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, corporations maximize profits while appearing to serve their consumer’s and society’s “general welfare.”  Those who doubt this, don’t understand Capitalism, don’t believe in Capitalism, or lie.

Of uncounted examples of Capitalism putting profit over people, two: First, Big Tobacco’s putting profit above public health, at enormous social costs is open and notorious.  From “42 Facts About How Smoking Effects Your Health,” a couple: Smoking is America’s leading cause of preventable death, disease, and disability.  Smoking costs America $300 billion a year for medical care and lost productivity.  And 40 more.  Questions?

Second: Before a Senate subcommittee, former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen cited internal company documents revealing, among other facts, Facebook curries young users despite knowing of detrimental impacts their health, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of “astronomical profits,” executives misstated and omitted key details about what was known regarding Facebooks and Instagram’s ability to cause harm!   

The Grand Old Party

President Donald J. Trump’s January 6, 2021, assault on America’s Capitol, Congress, and Constitution exposes the level to which a Madman will stoop to become America’s first Emperor!  I’m bewildered that, reportedly, the former president still maintains ironfisted control over the Republican party.  Ominous as this may seem for Honest Abe’s Grand Old Party, indeed America, all is not lost.

In runup to our recent Presidential bout, Conservatives George Conway, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, Jennifer Horn, John Weaver, Ron Steslow, Reed Galen, and Mike Madrid’s “Lincoln Project” took “Trumpism” to task.

After the  2019 bell, like a punch-drunk pugilist, the GOP staggered to its corner to clear its head and hear from trainers and coaches.  Of course, there are Republicans Heavyweights who fight fair, no low blows, no trash talk, no attempts to bribe the referee and judges.  Sane folks who are stepping forward to rescue their party and America from Trump’s Totalitarian Fantasy!

In his first impeachment trial, Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins voted to convict.  Less than a year later, Republicans Bill Cassady, Richard Burr, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey followed suit.  In 2021 Republican Representatives David Valadao, Adam Kitzinger, Peter Meijer, Fred Upton, John Katko, Anthony Gonzales, Tom Rice, Jamie Herrera Butler, Dan Newhouse, Liz Chaney voted to impeach.

Representative Liz Chaney’s castigation of Trump’s January 6 insurrection, vote to impeach, and scorn for Trump’s “stolen election,” led minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans to boot Liz from their leadership.  Nut-case death threats forced Chaney to spend $58,000 on private security.

Speaking out against Trump’s claims of a “rigged election” and “voter fraud,” Illinois Representative Adam Kitzinger was the first Republican to call for the President’s removal from office.

Advise from a Democrat: In 2024 Republicans should forget 2012 and rally behind Mitt Romney!  After four years of insanity and embarrassment under a sociopathic, Malignant Narcist, Mr. Clean would go far toward resurrecting the GOP’s longstanding commitment to ethics, morals, and decency.   

We need sane Democrats and Republicans.  Unchecked, Liberals would mortgage the Farm to rescue down-and-out Neighbors.  Unchecked, Conservatives would mortgage the Farm, to build hundred-room mansions and Five Star, Luxury Resorts for them and their Gazillionaire Buddies!

Conservatives look after humankind’s survival instinct.  Liberals remind us of our reasons to survive: Relationship and Love.

Sourdough Autumn

He dipped the two-gallon bucket into the spring and set it on the bank.  With both hands, he grasped a spruce limb to force protesting back and knees erect.  He paused to survey the twenty yards to the top of the bank.  Three times he set the bucket beside the trail to draw deep breaths.

A dozen paces from the bank’s crest, the sod-roofed log cabin nested in white-barked birch.  From up-pointing tips of caribou antler nailed to the frame, a two-by-five-foot door hung from buckskin hinges.  A sixteen-inch, four panel window let light inside.  Beside the door, rip-sawed from a fourteen-inch diameter birch, a three-foot long bench rested on wooden legs.

He set the bucket on the packed earth, dropped the sweat-stained, brown, felt hat on the bench, pulled a blue bandanna from a rear pocket, and sat.  He mopped the mat of white hair, broad forehead, ominously kinked nose, leathery cheeks, and full beard.  Laying the bandanna aside, he reached for a tin cup on a nail beside the window.  In long gulps he drained two cups from the bucket and returned the cup to its nail.

From a pocket of a dun Felson jacket hung beside the window, he retrieved the stub of a pipe and red tin of Prince Albert.  He scraped the bowl with a twig, tapped it against the bench, and blew through the stem.  He packed tobacco with a forefinger, struck a wooden match against the bench, let the sulfur burn off, drew short puffs, and watched the tobacco glow.     

At under six feet tall, after decades of wicked Alaskan winters and torturous summers scant evidence remained of shoulders and arms which, day after day, had driven a single-jack against the butt of a star-drill in a quartz vein.  Now, forearms and biceps hung like empty leather pouches. 

There had been fishing, hunting, some trapping, but always it was only about getting the gold!  On Upper Willow Creek pea- and a hen’s-egg-size nuggets nested in a pan of glittering “fines.”  On the Little Su a coffee can filled with coarse gold and one palm-size nugget!

Winters were one of twelve, $10-a-night steel cots, mattress, sheet–$11 for a laundered sheet—blanket, and pillow, in a twenty by thirty-foot room at  the Palace Hotel.

By spring Anchorage’s Montana Club, High-Hat, D and D, and The Outpost, Seven Card Stud, cheap likker, slow-eyed women, and shifty characters, left barely enough cash for a handful of caribou jerky, flour, coffee, salt, and bag of beans. Fish, rabbit, ptarmigan, with luck a caribou, would feed him through the summer. 

Each fall, after cashing in his bullion, he stuffed an Alaska Railroad roundtrip ticket to Fairbanks in the empty pouch at the bottom of his pack.  When “breakup” ice clogged Cook Inlet, in Robert Service’s words, “skinned to a finish,” 30-30 slung over his shoulder, pack on his back, he boarded a rail coach north.   

Between Anchorage and Fairbanks the Alaska Railroad enjoys the distinction of a score of unscheduled stops where Dreamers and Madmen plunging into or escape from “The Bush.”  At one of these he got off to paw his way through Devil’s Club, Wild Rose, and alder to a rock overhang where, camouflaged under a 6 by 8 foot canvas tarp, his pick, shovel, pan, and bedroll lay cashed.  It was time to pan another lonesome stream and pick away at another craggy outcrop.   

From his hilltop perch, the old prospector surveyed a hundred miles of spruce, birch, alder, meadows, rivers, streams, lakes, and muskeg bogs.  On the hazy horizon, like a ragged igloo, the Koyukon people’s Deenaalee, “high one,” Chechako’s “Denali,” dominated a pristine sky.

On the polar route from Oslo, Delta Flight 243 drew a chalk line on the blue slate, ten thousand feet above the summit.