Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Night They Arrested Richard

Dr. Richard Rubin is a friend of mine. We met in St. Louis at a business meeting. After chatting a while I realized that he might be related to a school mate of mine with the same surname, and when I asked him we were both impressed by the coincidence that indeed we grew up in the same town in NY. We decided to meet for a beer and have been friends ever since.

Over the years I have developed much respect for Richard. In addition to being a philosopher, he is a software development expert and an accomplished photographer. He has the ability to explain complex concepts with clarity and patience. I feel lucky that I am able to call him a friend.

Sometime ago, before I started blogging, Richard had sent me this account of his arrest in New York City. Knowing him and his strong personal convictions, I wouldn’t have been surprised had he told me he was arrested for protesting at the Republican National Convention. The irony is that he wasn’t protesting; he was in New York City at the time of the convention by coincidence. His friend had seats for the U.S. Open, and he was meeting up with him in Manhattan.

Here then, with the author’s consent, is the story of his arrest.

My Own Arrest
By Richard M. Rubin PhD

It wasn’t for participating in the Republican National Convention protests in New York, but it might as well have been. On Tuesday, August 31, 2004 about 1800 people were arrested in Manhattan – a record for one day. It is more than were arrested in the 1968 Chicago police riot at the Democratic National Convention. In 2004, the New York City police fortunately did not beat up bystanders and protesters the way the Chicago police had in 1968. Instead, the New York police arrested protesters and bystanders preemptively. People were swept into jails on some pretext because protesters had announced they planned to do something that might not have been illegal, but which the police did not like.

In my case, I had planned to go the US Tennis Open in Flushing Meadow Park. My friend Jeff had obtained two tickets that morning from his firm, a large well-known brokerage company. We met in Union Square around 4 pm. A man held a sign saying that 2 Chronicles 7:14 showed that God was behind George Bush. The next day New York Times ran a photo of him that included another sign some passerby had made. The additional sign read “Confused man” and had an arrow pointing to the man with the Chronicles sign.

Nearby a bearded, rather eloquent young man addressed the crowd. He called the man with the sign a pseudo-Christian. “Why doesn’t he talk about the Jesus who threw the money lenders out of the temple?” the speaker asked. He then spoke about free speech at the top of his unamplified voice. “The police have seized bullhorns from speakers all over the city,” he said, “even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1947 that loudspeakers are fundamental to free speech…. Only dramatic tenors have free speech in New York today!” he shouted. He then railed against the police for being instruments of oppression.

When the speaker was done, having strained his voice, I went up to him and told him I agreed with almost everything he’d said, but wish he hadn’t been so hard on the police. “We’re really on their side,” I said. “They’ve been without a union contract for a year. The Democrats provided more money for police on the streets. The Republicans took it away. We should try to appeal to them.”

“No!” he barked, as if he were still addressing a large crowd. “The police are part of an oppressive system. Have you ever been arrested?”

“Thirty-five years ago,” I said. He looked at me blankly. It had been an arranged arrest in protest against the Vietnam War in the fall of 1969. The plan had been to interrupt the activities of the Draft Board on Varick Street in Manhattan. A crowd of about seven or eight hundred had gathered. The police asked all those who wanted to be arrested to form a line. About three hundred people were arrested. They took us down to a cell at Centre Street and held us for about two hours and then let us go. I remember that Dwight MacDonald and Murray Kempton were in the cell. The charges were eventually dismissed.

Jeff and I walked up Broadway. We passed a gathering of policemen and I spoke to one giving my pitch that he should attend to what the protesters were saying; that he might find something to agree with. He was non-committal, but said that Sunday’s huge march had been quite peaceful.

In Madison Square (at 25th Street where Broadway meets Fifth Avenue, not where Madison Square Garden is), we observed some protest gatherings, but did not linger. We were hungry and looked for a pizza place. I told him that I always liked Caruso’s Pizza in Penn Station and, not finding any other pizza parlor by the time we Sixth Avenue, Jeff agreed to try it.

But first we walked up toward Herald Square where something appeared to be happening. Jeff and I used to work together half a block from there across from the Empire State Building. Some protesters had gathered on Herald Square, a triangular (not square) island in between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. The police used orange plastic netting to control the flow of traffic and pedestrians. We crossed 34th Street to Macy’s when the police let us cross, but from there they would not let anyone cross to the east so as to walk by Herald Square itself. So we went back south across 34th street. There were thousands of people and hundreds of police. Police vehicles were parked everywhere forming pedestrian barricades. The police began donning riot helmets – a bad sign.

We headed toward 33rd Street, usually the best way to get to Penn Station from the Herald Square area. Penn Station, however, is under Madison Square Garden, where the RNC was taking place, and access routes were limited. 33rd Street was blocked. The police said to take 32nd Street. We turned right on 32nd and headed for the station. The street was barricaded on either side so that you could not cross in the middle of the block. At Seventh Avenue, across from Penn Station, the only way pedestrians could go was to cross the street. As we crossed I snapped black and white pictures in the waning light. A policeman in the middle of the street told me to keep moving. When we reached the west side of the street, just at the top of the steps leading down to the Long Island Rail Road, I was slightly ahead of Jeff.

Suddenly, Jeff was surrounded by several tall men in jackets and ties. Jeff, who is not short, seemed to disappear in this newly formed crowd.

As I was not accustomed to a friend being stopped and questioned – in fact it has never happened before in more than half a century -- I started asking questions. “What’s going on? Why are you stopping my friend?” A short, cheerful, bearded man in green T-shirt – he could have been one of Santa’s elves --eased himself between Jeff’s questioners and me. “Leave them alone,” he said. “They’re just doing their job. Do you have any ID?”

“Do you?” I asked. He revealed a badge that had been around his neck, which said he was a detective with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) police. “Now let me see yours,” he said. A tall man in a suit appeared on my left. He insisted that I produce an ID. When I asked for his, he said the bearded detective’s ID was enough.

As I removed my Missouri driver’s license from my wallet, I started asking about Jeff again. “What are they doing to my friend? He hasn’t done anything wrong.”

The bearded detective in the T-shirt had handed my license to a uniformed officer, who must have been the MTA’s in-house epistemologist, for he asked: “How do you know that?”

“I know him.”

The uniformed patrolman, seeking to show that my ostensibly empirical answer owed too much to sympathetic, but faulty imagination, emitted the following zinger: “Do you know everything he’s ever done?”

“Why don’t you wait for your friend downstairs?” suggested the green T-shirted detective.

“I’d rather wait here.”

“You’re blocking traffic.”

“Only because you moved me here. I can stand off to the side.”

The tall, unidentified cop in the suit said, “If you don’t move, we’ll move you.”

“Look,” I said. “We’re trying to get to the US Open. If I go down there it might be difficult to find each other. We might miss the train.”

Two uniformed policeman I had not seen before suddenly twisted my arms around my back and walked me toward the escalator.

Jeff’s story is briefer than mine, so it may be best to relate it now. As we reached the west side of 7th Avenue, a man in a jacket and tie, who was later identified as Detective Joseph Trimarchi of the MTA police, put his arm around Jeff. Immediately several others closed around him.

“We got him!” Detective Trimarchi shouted to the others. Jeff laughed. He thought it was some kind of joke. “This is serious,” said Trimarchi. “One more word out of you and you are flat on the concrete.” Trimarchi was red in the face. Ready to strike.

He showed Jeff a series of photographs of young men. “Who’s this?” he demanded. “Who’s this?”
Jeff said nothing.

“I want you to answer.”

“I don’t want to be flat on the concrete.”

Detective Trimarchi relaxed. He showed Jeff the photo of the man he thought Jeff was.

Jeff studied it. “It doesn’t look like me. Look at the eyebrows.”

One of the officers in the crowd around Jeff revealed his expertise in disguise by interjecting: “You could have had your eyebrows waxed.”

By this time I was being led away. Detective Trimarchi warned Jeff: “Don’t look at him. You look right at me.”

Another five minutes or so of fruitless interrogation followed. Finally, a lieutenant in charge of the investigation arrived, took one look at Jeff, and said: “That’s not the guy. Let him go.”

Jeff never found out what nefarious deeds the man in the photograph was suspected of.

It does hurt to have your arms twisted behind your back, so as I was being led to the escalator I said, “You don’t have to do this. I’ll walk on my own wherever you want.” I still did not think I was being arrested – merely moved out of the way. The two police officers holding me did not let go. “I am willing to co-operate with you,” I said getting louder. “Why are you doing this?”

“You’re not being very gentlemanly,” said the one on my left side.

“Neither are you,” I replied.

“That’s because I’m a woman.”

“Well, you’re not being very ladylike.”

By this time I was being led through the Long Island Rail Road waiting area.

“Why are you doing this?” I said even louder. “I am trying to co-operate. Passers-by stared.

“Why are you resisting?” said the officer on my right. He tightened his grip.

“I am innocent!” I shouted. “Stop doing this!” The pain in my shoulder from the twisting grew worse.

“Why are you digging your nails into my hands?” he asked.

They took me to an MTA police substation near the waiting area across from Caruso’s pizza. I had to remove everything from my pockets, my belt, my hat, my watch, and my shoes. My backpack and camera bags were taken. The male officer who had escorted me put on gloves and felt me all over: my back, my chest, my legs my buttocks, and my groin. I was placed in an empty cell. For the next five hours I would be the only prisoner in the holding area.

The holding area had two cells and the open area in which I had been examined. Outside and across from my cell was a wooden bench opposite windows through which I could see police officers passing back and forth. To the right I could see into the office where they worked. The door of this holding area – a metal door with a window -- was sometimes shut and sometimes open. Every so often a policeman trying to get through it would have to go somewhere else or signal to someone to get a key.

The door to my cell was an old-fashioned barred cell door with a skeleton key lock. The lock was so tricky that every time someone tried to open it, it took at least two minutes to get the damn thing to give way.

The young officer who had examined me stood in the waiting area. He looked quite despondent.

“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Are you Ok?”

He didn’t answer or look at me.

“Are sure you’re, OK, Officer….” I read his badge. “Officer Preddy. I’m OK and I’m in here. What’s with you?”

He just shook his head slowly. He then muttered something like “If only you’d moved.”
From then on I was left mostly alone – which was mostly quite boring. Perhaps five or six officers came in and out of the area holding area from time to time to ask a question, bring me water, or to conduct some other business. They were not harsh with me. If I needed water, an officer brought a bottle. When I needed the toilet, some one let me out – struggling a minute or more with the door, of course. When I asked how long I’d be there, the answer was I had to let the process move along. The process was slow and inefficient. It involved much walking back and forth, typing into a computer, making a complete inventory of the belongings they had taken from me, an inventory in which every credit and bank card was listed separately, sending my fingerprints to the state capital in Albany waiting to be told that I was not wanted for some crime other than the still unmentioned one for which I was being charged.

The highpoint occurred when it came time to take my fingerprints. Instead the old method of rolling your fingers in ink, an officer places your hand a plate of glass and a computer takes a digital picture of your fingers. This state-of the-art fingerprinting computer was in the holding area outside my cell. When Officer Preddy first tried to use it, the computer screen had a message that confused him. So he called someone and said, “It says the memory is low. I’ve never seen a message like that before what do I do?” After trying without success a few suggestions from the person on the phone, he hunted on the floor and behind the stand supporting the computer for its plug, which he pulled out and then put back in again.

Once the computer was functioning, it took about half an hour to take my prints (the old ink method would have taken, tops, three minutes). Three officers tried to get the computer to take my prints and each encountered some insurmountable difficulty. Finally, they located an officer who had had more experience with the device. He did eventually succeed, but not without a great struggle.

First the computer program asked to see my whole hand. If it didn’t like the way my hand was placed -- and it could be quite fussy -- it told the officer holding my hand to try again. Once the whole hand had been recorded, each finger was recorded separately. If the computer did not think the individual finger matched the finger in the image of the whole hand, the officer had to try that finger again. If, after several tries, that didn’t work, the officer had to rerecord my whole hand and then rerecord each finger, including those that had already been accepted. Sometimes previously accepted fingers were rejected on the second pass, causing the cycle to start over again.

Detective Trimarchi – the one who had interrogated Jeff -- came down. When I told him what happened, he said he would try to get my charge reduced to summons. I still hadn’t been told what I was being charged with. He showed the picture of the man he had mistaken Jeff for. It didn’t look like Jeff, except that they both were white, thirtyish, and not fat. Jeff told me later he thought it must be what an African American feels like when stopped for driving while black.

Later, Detective Trimarchi passed by and I called out, saying: “I guess you weren’t able to get it reduced to a summons.”

“No,” he said, somewhat sadly. “It went all the way up the hierarchy.”

It turned out that the arresting officer had been a captain. Some remarks from the officers suggested they were annoyed at their superiors for having to spend so much time processing what was clearly a nonsensical case.

“You know this is going to be dismissed,” I said to Trimarchi.

“I know,” he said. “Let’s hope there’s a lesson in this.” I’m not sure who for.

The officer I came to know best was named Joe Interdonati. He bent the rules slightly and handed me my cell phone to make calls. This was quite helpful as one of the numbers I needed was stored in the phone. Joe listened to the conversations and wrote down the numbers I called afterwards. I called Jeff, who as it turned out, was sitting a few yards from me in the public area of the MTA police substation. He was not permitted to see me and was told only that it would take longer for me to get free than it did him.

I also called my wife, Rebecca, who was somewhere in SoHo and had planned meet me in Flushing Meadow Park (where we’d left car) after the tennis match. “Take the train back to Glen Cove,” I told her. Beck, having lived most of her life I in St Louis, is less familiar with New York streets than I am. By the time she reached the vicinity of Penn Station (where I was still being held), all streets leading there seemed blocked by the police. More than once, in different locations, police officers told her that she could only get to Penn Station if she had the unused portion of a round trip ticket – an assertion that had not even a microscopic correspondence with reality. Two young New Yorkers, who turned out to be brothers (doubly so, I suppose, as they happened to be African Americans), took Beck in their care and managed to navigate the maze of closed streets to get her to the only LIRR station entrance still open. Leaving this first set of benefactors behind, she descended into the station where she encountered two middle-aged women. She told them what the police had said about needing a round-trip ticket. “That’s ridiculous,” said one of them. “You can just buy a one-way ticket from any machine.”

One reason I was in Penn Station until about midnight was that my captors could not at first determine where to send me, and, once that had been decided, they needed to locate an available patrol car to transport me, and then get clearance to put me in it and drive. This clearance was apparently quite difficult because of all the RNC security. When it became clear that all the belongings I had been forced to shed would be held for me in Penn Station, I asked Joe if I could pack my cameras in their bags myself, so as to minimize damage. He said they would take good care of them, but then he left and came back with the cameras and their bags and put them on the wooden bench outside my cell. “Now don’t do anything crazy,” he said as he jiggled the door of my cell to let me out.

Sometime later, as my time to leave approached, Officer Preddy took me out, handed me my shoes, and instructed me to remove the laces. When I asked why, his reply was an echo of Alice’s Restaurant: ”In case you try to hang yourself.” Even later as I was getting ready to leave, the laces were still on the wooden bench. I asked Joe about them and he said, “Here, put them in your pocket.” He gave me two sheets of paper –receipts with an inventory of my possessions they were holding.

Joe said he had to put handcuffs on me. “Now, Joe,” I said. “Suppose I was a teacher you had had in school. Would you still put handcuffs on me?”

“It’s for your protection and mine. It’s the rules.”

To assist him in taking me downtown, Joe had called for an officer named Kevin Slavin, who was more familiar with the routine at 100 Centre Street, where I was to be booked, and therefore could get me through more quickly. I asked him when I’d be getting out. “Probably not until 11 in the morning,” he said. “You have to go before a judge and they’re not going to get a judge out of bed for you.” Kevin and Joe took me to the patrol car. Later, when my 82-year-old mother expressed outrage and shame that I had been led through Penn Station in handcuffs, I told her: “Mom, the people in the station saw a guy in handcuffs. They didn’t know it was me. If I go there tomorrow, no one is going say: that’s the guy the cops dragged through here last night.”

The driveway between 33rd and 31st Street was filled with security personnel of various sorts. Joe drove carefully. Only once, when he had to reverse direction on a one-way street that had become blocked, did he put the patrol car’s flashers on. I asked Kevin about his work. He said he been with the Transit police for 7 years and lived in New Jersey. “You don’t have to live the city?” I asked. “No, our jurisdiction is all through New York State, so there are no rules like that.” He said his family had been in the police force for three generations. His father had been a captain.

At Centre Street, at least a dozen protesters were waiting at the bottom of a dingy stairway with plastic handcuffs on their wrists. Mine were metal and were starting to hurt. Kevin said they’d soon be off. “There’s a lot of upset people here,” I said to him, referring to the protesters. “I understand the police in New York have their own complaints. They protest wherever Mayor Bloomberg goes.”

“But we’re peaceful,” said Kevin.

“And these people weren’t? I was peaceful, too.” Kevin scooted away to figure out how best to get through the maze of checkpoints. Joe and I were alone for awhile, so I asked about his family. He’s divorced with a one-year-old daughter. He sees her all the time. Then I asked: ”Who are you going to vote for?”

“Bush,” he said without much commitment. “He seems to support some things I like.”

“I’m surprised to hear that,” I said. “With the Democrats, under Clinton, there was more money for police officers. The Republicans took that away.”

“I don’t think much about politics,” he said.

“Joe, Joe, people here ask why other countries hate us so much. It’s because we don’t pay attention to politics. We vote for lower taxes or for fighting back --even if it’s fighting back without thinking. We don’t realize how much our vote affects the people in those other countries. Think about your vote, Joe. Don’t throw it away.”

He said nothing.

Kevin returned to shepherd me through the various entry points, including a doctor who asked if I had been checked for tuberculosis lately. My handcuffs came off, Joe and Kevin left, and I was taken with several others to a large cell. Before entering, we were given food to take inside: a choice of cheese sandwich or peanut butter (my choice), an apple, and a small container of 2% milk. The food was a relief. The aborted attempt Jeff and I had made to get to Caruso’s Pizza had taken place 6 hours earlier and I had already been hungry then. There were two pay phones in the cell. I called Glen Cove to see if my wife had made it back to my parents. My mother answered. Beck had just come in, having walked from the station. It was after 1 am.

There were about two dozen protestors in the cell with me. A man with a brown goatee and wire-rimmed glasses had been with a group that had attempted to march from the old World trade Center site to Madison Square Garden. He was among 200 people arrested after they had gone only a few blocks. He said he’d been held since 11 o’clock in the morning.

A younger, somewhat heavyset man with a serious look wore a T-shirt that he might have made himself. It was dull orange with large black letters. The fill in the letters was uneven as though they had been made with brush strokes. More likely, it had been silkscreened to have that effect. The letters read “FUCK BUSH.”

A guard saw the T-shirt through the bars. He called another guard over. “Look at that,” he said with genuine enthusiasm. “Hey, stand up and let us see. Oh yeah, that’s nice. You could make money off of that.”

(I should add, even though it might be hard to believe in a story about New York, that in all my exchanges with police that day, including the excited moments outside and going into Penn Station, no one, neither the police officers nor I, uttered any of the extreme words of the English language.)

Some in the group started talking politics. There was much criticism of the police. I said, “Don’t be too hard on the police. Lenny Bruce, the comedian who died in the sixties, was hounded by the police for things far tamer than many comedians today do as matter of course. Toward the end of his life he said that he felt sympathy for the police. Say you want to start a society, he said. Ok, so you need a few rules. We eat here, we sleep there, and we put the shit and the garbage over there. So one day you’re trying to get some sleep, when some guy comes over and starts dropping garbage on you. You say, Whoa, wait minute, fella! We’ve got these rules. We sleep here the garbage goes over there. So you try to go back to sleep, but the guy keeps dumping garbage on you. So what do you do?”

“Beat the shit out of him,” said one of the young men in the cell with me.

“No,” I said. “According to Lenny Bruce, you find some dumb looking strong guy and you say to him: You know we have these rules. We eat here, we sleep, there, and we put the shit and the garbage over there. Well, you see that guy over there. He keeps putting his garbage where we sleep. So why don’t you take him and keep him over with the garbage for a while. The dumb guy thinks about this and then he says: Why can’t you do that? So you explain: You see, I’m a nice guy. I don’t do stuff like that.”

“I don’t get it,” a young man said.

“The police are victims, too,” said another. “They’re just doing other people’s dirty work.”
A guard called my name. “Are you with this group?” he asked.

I wasn’t exactly -- technically, I was a non-RNC arrest – but I didn’t want to be isolated again. So I asked for clarification: “Do you mean do I know them?” He looked as if I’d spoken Finnish, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away.

Soon my name was called again along with several others. “You’re going to court,” I was told. Kevin was wrong. It was not yet 3 am.

Those of us called were led down several hallways through several locked doors. Once when we were waiting in corridors for a door to be unlocked, I took the time to relace my shoes. As I was sitting, a guard asked, “What do you guys have against Bush? Other than that he’s an asshole?”
“That’s it,” said someone in our group.

The guards led us to a locked holding area. Not all of us there were strongly opposed to the Bush presidency. A 17-year-Hispanic had been arrested for jumping the subway turnstile. “So what’s with Bush?” he asked. He listened as a few of us rattled off a litany of complaints. He was quite naïve, but interested. He didn’t know it was quite so bad.

The conversation turned to the police. The young man said: “The one who got me: he found some weed in my pocket. He said, You won’t need this, and he took it from me. He didn’t bust me for it, but he took it. You know he wanted it for himself.”

The holding area had three booths with open windows through which prisoners could talk to their attorneys. Soon, my name was called and I went into the booth on the left. A man introduced himself as an attorney who would be representing me during the arraignment. He read the charges the first time I’d heard them: disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. I told him the charges were preposterous. He suggested that we should try to get an Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD). An ACD means that after six months, if you engage in no invidious conduct, the charges are dismissed. I was not familiar with this and was a bit confused. “But I’m not guilty,” I said.

“You can plead not guilty, but then you’ll have to come back to go to court.”

“I live in St Louis.”

“Then you better take the ACD.”

“If I take the ACD, am I admitting guilt?”

“Not at all,” he said.

“Then OK.”

A short time later, I was called to appear. It is rather disconcerting to appear in court in jeans without a belt, without having washed, without having shaved in about 18 hours. But the court was grinding through cases so fast it hardly mattered. It turned out that the ACD was not an option. When my name was called the prosecutor mumbled something I barely heard. The defense attorney said, “Refused!”

The judge set a court date and my attorney handed me a piece of paper with the date on it along with his business card. The court moved on to next case and suddenly no one cared whether I was there or not.

I walked into the street, got my bearings, and found a subway station where I waited about half an hour for a train. I got off at Herald Square. It was perhaps 4:30. The crowds were gone, but – this was New York – the streets were not empty, even at that hour. There were no barricades and it was easy to walk the long block along 34th Street to Penn Station.

At the MTA police substation where I’d spent the evening under guard in the inner sanctum, I handed the receipts listing my belongings that Officer Joe had given me to the officer at the desk, whose name was Wilson. He went through a door and came back a few minutes later with my camera bags, backpack, hat, watch, and wallet. I looked in the wallet. There were no credit cards or bank cards. Officer Wilson looked at one of the sheets of paper I’d given him and said, “I don’t see anything on here about the cards.” After searching some more he came back and looked at the sheets again. “Oh,” he said, “the second one’s not a copy. They’re listed here. Just a minute.” He disappeared again and was gone a long time. When he came back, Joe was with him with the credit and bank cards in his hand.

“They had to find the guy who put them away,” said Joe. “How did you get out so soon?”

“They got a judge out bed, just for me.”

After some brief conversation, during which I packed my gear, I thanked Joe for having treated me fairly. I didn’t mention the handcuffs. He had obviously felt it was beyond his discretion to forego them.

I left Penn Station and caught the number 7 train to Queens. It was a long ride to the Tennis stadium. Tired people like me going home just before dawn and other tired people going early to work rode the train with me. Measured in minutes, the walk to where we’d left the car (well past the tennis stadium -- more than a mile from the train station) was nearly as long as the ride on the el. Halfway to the lot I came upon a policeman in a patrol car parked under a street lamp.

“I left my car in the lot south of the Expressway yesterday afternoon.” I said. “I hope it’s still there.”

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’ll be there.”

“Can you give me directions?”

He did.

“Beautiful night,” he said.

It was.

And the car was still there.

-- Richard M. Rubin

Postscript: In December of 2004 (nearly four months after the incidents described here), with the help of a young lawyer from the New York County Defender Services named Leila Sayar I received an ACD. Six months afterwards, this adjournment automatically turned into a dismissal of the charges.

My wrist still hurts, but not badly.

Richard M. Rubin is a software developer with Tower Grove Software in St Louis MO. He is also an adjunct instructor in philosophy at Washington University.

All rights reserved. Republication of this article in any form without permission of the author is prohibited.

Saturday, October 29, 2005


I have been reading Tunesmith's Mirror for quite some time.

There's some good sense to be found over at his place. He is easy to read and gets right to the point. If you have some time, why not pay him a visit?

Some recent posts that I liked:


Assumption of Good Faith.

Which Way to America?

Friday, October 28, 2005

Jorge's Revenge

I grew up on the North Shore of Long Island. We lived in a relatively affluent town, however my neighborhood was textbook blue-collar. None of us were what you would call poor. Our parents drove used cars, shopped at Sears, and only ate at restaurants on extra-special occasions. Pizza on a Friday night was a real treat.

Summer of 1970. I was 13 years old. My neighborhood was all white. Catholics, Protestants and a couple of Jewish families. Sometime in June of that year, a family of Columbian immigrants moved in. They had been in the country for about 5 years, so all of the children spoke perfect English. They were a big family, perhaps 7 or 8 kids. Carlos was in my grade, and his brother Jorge was two years behind us. They were good kids. Carlos was big for his age, dark skin and black hair, handsome and confident. He didn’t have to fight to prove himself; we knew he could easily kick any of our asses if he wanted to. He didn’t want to. He was a cool kid and wanted to be friends.

One of the boys on the block, Gary, was a real bully and a bit of a delinquent. One time he drove his mother’s car to Delaware. He had switched license plates with one of the neighbor’s cars as a ploy to evade the police. He rolled the car into the street in the middle of the night so his mother wouldn’t hear it start and he was off. The police didn’t catch him. He was low on gas and had spent what little money he had on food. He had to call his mother collect. She took a bus to Delaware and drove him home. He ended up being grounded for about 3 months for that stunt, but it made him a legend in the neighborhood. He was all of 12.

Gary played rough, and we were afraid of him. He could beat the crap out of two of us at a time. Not that we ever tried; we just knew. By the time I’d hit 13, I’d learned to avoid out-and-out fights with him. He had beaten me up in the past more times than I cared to admit. You never knew when he was going to strike. If you wanted to hang out with the boys in my neighborhood, Gary came with the territory and you accepted it.

When Carlos and Jorge entered the picture, Gary was smart enough to know that Carlos wouldn’t take any crap from him, and it was assumed by all that he would protect his brother Jorge, so those two were apparently immune to his tricks. By that summer, I had made friends with kids that I met in school from the next neighborhood over, so I was a part-timer. My new friends were into sports and academics, and I felt more comfortable with them. When I had nothing else to do I would still hang with the local boys. This meant that I didn’t always know what was going on. One, night, what was going on, was that Gary decided that it would be great fun to out of the blue, without any warning, punch one of us in the balls! Since I hadn’t been around, I had no idea when I sat down on the curb with my legs spread that I was about to experience excruciating pain.

Pow! I was in agony and I felt like I might puke. I was doubled-over and gasping for air. Eventually I got up and limped home with tears in my eyes and the sound of Gary's evil laughter fading into the night. I took a hot bath and was little sore but otherwise fine by the next day.

What I didn’t know was that he had gotten Jorge earlier that same day when I was off playing softball with my school-friends. I learned later that Carlos was smiling and did nothing as Jorge silently walked home. No one saw Jorge for the rest of that day, so he wasn’t even there when it was my turn. The following night I was back again, and like the rest of the boys, except for Carlos, Jorge and Gary, I sat there with my legs crossed and on guard. Jorge was standing up. We weren’t paying a whole lot of attention to him. Not only was he younger than us, he was also small even for his age, and he never said too much. Gary wasn’t paying attention to him either; why should he?

Jorge was small, but he was an extremely good athlete, and had been playing soccer since he could walk. He was fast on his feet, and quick-witted as well. He casually moved himself closer and closer toward Gary, who was sitting there with his legs wide open, not a care in the world. Jorge had long pants on, which wasn’t out of the ordinary for a summer night in our neighborhood. He also had on his boots, which had gone unnoticed by all of us except for Carlos, who must have had a bit of a secret grin on his face.

I will never forget what happened next. I can’t remember why, but we were all laughing about something, and Gary was leaning back with his hands behind his him. In a flash, Jorge soccer-kicked Gary right square in the balls. Really, really, hard. The look of shock, pain, and disbelief on Gary’s face, which had turned blue, was absolutely priceless and is engraved forever in my memory. “Finally,” I thought, “he got his!” Gary started to sputter and cough as he regained his wind, and then he began to cry. The rest of us were stunned into silence, except for Carlos, who was laughing quite heartily. When he stopped laughing, I think he said something like, “I told you not to mess with Jorge, but you didn't listen.” Gary rolled a few feet, and then got up and hobbled his way home. We didn’t see him again until two days later. I’m not sure, but I think this was a turning point in his “bullying” career.

What I am sure of is this: small as he was, no one in our neighborhood ever again "messed" with Jorge, especially not Gary.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Money Talks

Recently I have been thinking about the fact that we Americans are raised with the axiomatic belief that money buys privilege. The two obvious advantages of being rich are not having to work a regular 9 to 5 job and the power to buy lots of things. Beyond that, though, is this idea that the rich are exempt. They can show up at a popular restaurant on Saturday night at 7:00 PM without a reservation and be seated immediately. They can buy a fast car and speed with impunity, because they can well afford a speeding fine and the best legal representation. Their children can go to the finest schools even if they don’t have the grades. We are raised with the belief that this is how it should be, and many of us dream of such a life. In America, we think everything is for sale.

What started me down this path is this: Gasoline is now averaging close to $3 per gallon. This forces the average person to make some choices. Do less driving? Carpool? Take mass transportation? Find a vehicle that gets good gas mileage? For the rich person, though, what is the expectation? I think the prevailing attitude of most people is, “Let them get 10 miles per gallon in their gas-guzzlers. They can afford it.” They are exempt, because we tend to look at the dollar cost, not the cost to the society. They do not feel like they should have to conserve if they can afford not to, and lots of people of average means tend to agree.

What happens when it is food or water? What if the availability of safe food and water becomes limited? Would it be acceptable for rich people to buy more than their share, reducing the available supply for the rest of us, hoarding it for a rainy day or reselling it at inflated prices? Do we also believe that this is how it should be?

I think that all of us would be well to consider that we do not have much of a sense of community in this country. Instead of trying to achieve the common good, we are bred to aspire to wealth so we can be exempt from the responsibilities and obligations of the community, and personally, I think that sucks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Bloody Shite

I don’t like the term “Anglophile” but I have to live with it. I can’t remember exactly when it was that I became enamored with the English, but I know it is wrapped up with discovering The Beatles.

I was always intrigued by accents. I can hear nuances in people’s speech that other’s often miss. One day I asked a woman if she was from Baltimore and she said “How did you know?" I told her she sounded like it, and she said that she didn’t even know that there was such a thing as a “Baltimore accent.” She spoke like my boss, who was from Baltimore. I hear rhythms and patterns in addition to changes in vowels. I hear little things. New Yorkers, for instance, stand “on” line, while everyone else seems to stand “in” line. Mid-Westerners like to use the superfluous “at,” as in, “Where’s it at?”

My English accent is atrocious, on par with “Dick Van Dyke’s.” I hate to admit it, because I can do an excellent Indian accent – the Indian developers here at my office will attest to that. My Irish accent is passable to Americans. On a good day I can do a fair Italian accent as well. The one I want to do is English, and the more exposed I am to the English, the worse my accent gets.

In any event, I love England, English rock music, English Beer, English people and their culture. “Black Adder,” “Fawlty Towers,” “Upstairs Downstairs” and “The Office” top my list of favorite television shows of all time. [The Viscountess and I are going through “The Office” for the third time right now, and it just gets better. If anyone has a Netflix membership or has the money to buy the series on DVD, I can’t over-emphasize the brilliance of that show. Fortunately the DVD has English subtitles. Not to be missed.]

Back in the 90’s, when I was still a trainer, I did a lot of traveling across the U.S. My employer was an English company, and many of my co-workers were from the U.K. I would blow into a town for a week, and if I was lucky there would be 2 or 3 consultants from the company at the customer site. We’d go to dinner together and grab a pint. It was especially fun in those dark-days that presaged my divorce, but that is a different story for a different day.

At this one particular account, there was a Scotsman, and he used the word “shite” incessantly.

“How was the movie?”

“It was Shite!”

“Have you had a look at that program yet?”

“It’s shite!”

“We have to work late tonight.”


Well, as my brother would say, for whatever reason, that really “snapped my carrot.” This was 10 years ago, and I have been saying “shite” ever since. Somewhere along the way, I added “Bloody.” It has become my mantra. It is my default meme. I use it as an expletive when I get angry. I use it when I’m happy. I say it under my breath. Sometimes, I’ll just say it for no good reason at all. The funny thing is, in my experience, you don’t often hear anyone from the U.K. say “Bloody Shite.” At least until I got to London.

I had to travel to London on business about 6 times in the span of about 18 months. Believe me, it wasn’t all beer and skittles flying coach, adjusting to the time change, and being away from the Viscountess and the duke and duchesses. Still, it was a dream come true for me and I had a wonderful time.

The Brits were amused by my antics. They enjoyed “taking the Mickey out of me” and were very amenable to me returning the favor. They were much looser around the office than we are here in the USA. There was a line that you didn’t cross, but that line was about a parsec to the left of the one in the Atlanta office.

As an example, we used a call tracking system called "GEMS." One day, one of the guy developers started calling it “SMEG.” I laughed, and one of the girl developers asked, “Why is that funny?” I said, a bit cautiously, “you know, smegma?” She said, “What’s smegma” and before I had a chance to turn red and say, “look it up” one of the other guys blurted out, “Knob cheese!” and they all broke out laughing. Needless to say, that isn’t the way it would have come down in Atlanta.

It wasn’t long before I had them to saying “Bloody Shite.” They associated the phrase with me, and they would say it around me to my total and complete satisfaction.

It was to my benefit that I was a liberal and originally from New York, because most of the Americans that visited the office were not, and they were very pleased that I was not like the rest. They were completely perplexed when Bush got reelected, and were happy to know that it wasn’t my fault.

[Oh yeah, and the food really is bad there, that is not a joke.]

Anyway, working in London was fantastic. Nobody drove to work, and at least twice a week the group went out and got “pissed.” They were on a 37 hour work-week, so it was expected that on Fridays you would take a long lunch and have a few pints. Back to the office for an hour or two, and then off to the pub for a few more. I can’t hold my liquor, so I didn’t even try to keep up with them. I was drinking half pints and lots of water.

It was a blast.

One particular Friday night, about 8 of us decided to go to Piccadilly Circus, because one of them had a friend tending bar at a “Cheers” nearby. We walked to the train, but the line to buy tickets was extremely long. The ticket machines were all broken. I had a pass, as did the majority of the people, but this one couple did not. There was a ticket office right inside the station. The bloke (Chris) that didn’t have a ticket tried to negotiate with the transit policeman to let him and his lady friend into the station so they could buy their tickets, but he would have none of it. The rest of us were witness to the debate. Personally, I thought it was hilarious. Chris became Michael Palin and the policeman was John Cleese. As the debate ensued, I turned to Lee, who was one of the funniest people that I have ever met, and I said to him:

“In my mind, if I were to imagine such a situation, the Englishman to my right would fold his arms, look me in the eye and say, ‘It’s bloody shite is what it is!’"

He folded his arms, looked me in the eye and said, “Well mate, in your mind, you’d be wrong, because this is such a situation, and I, the Englishman to your right am saying, “It’s f*cking bloody bollocks, and that policeman is a right c*nt!”

I laughed so hard I that I almost cracked my ribs. London beats the hell out of Atlanta.

[Update 26-Oct-2005 10:53 AM EDT - XTCFAN was nice enough to send me this photo of the Tower Bridge that he snapped on his last trip.]

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Scarecrow People

I'm busy as a Dominoes on Superbowl Sunday, as a radio station switchboard when the DJ says, "Front Row Tickets to see Coldplay call now!," as a hooker at a televangelist convention, so I thought I'd share this graphic I got yesterday from a friend.

[Update: 11:42 EDT 25-Oct. 2005:
After posting I realized that in my haste I had missed a golden opportunity to share the lyrics from one of my all-time favorite XTC Songs. From their most excellent album, "Oranges and Lemons." ]

Scarecrow People
by Andy Partridge

Hope you enjoyed your flight,
In one of our new straw aeroplanes,
You’ll find things here are just like what you’re used to.
There’s lots of waste and razor wire,
And no one gives a damn about the land,
We just stand around and stare like you folks do.

For we ain’t got no brains,
And we ain’t got no hearts,
It’s just that wild old wind that tears us all apart.
We’re the scarecrow people,
Have we got lots in common with you.
And if you don’t start living well,
You’re all gonna wind up scarecrow people too.

Hope you enjoyed your meal,
It’s only gas and chemicals,
We thought that you’d prefer something not nature made.
Now while you’re here can you advise us,
On a war we’d like to start,
Against some scarecrows over there, a different shade?

For we ain’t got no brains,
And we ain’t got no hearts,
It’s just that wild old wind that tears us all apart.
We’re the scarecrow people,
Have we got lots in common with you.
And if you don’t start living well,
You’re all gonna wind up scarecrow people too.

We don’t have no tears here,
No one hopes or cares or fears here,
For the old, the sick, the poor and them what taint you.
We thought we’d base our civilization upon yours,
’cause you’re the smartest animals on earth, now ain’t you?

We don’t have no love here,
There’s no need to rise above here,
No one wants to write a book or try to paint thee.
We thought we’d base our civilization upon yours,
’cause we’re all dead from our necks up, now ain’t we?

And we ain’t got no brains,
And we ain’t got no hearts,
It’s just that wild old wind that tears us all apart.
We’re the scarecrow people,
Have we got lots in common with you.
And if you don’t start living well,
You’re all gonna wind up scarecrow people too.

And I ain’t got no brains,
And I ain’t got no heart,
It’s just them other humans tear my soul apart.
I’m a scarecrow person,
Have I got quite some message for you.
For if we don’t start learning well,
We’re all gonna wind up scarecrow people too!


Don't forget this week's Top 10!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Soldiers of Christ

A church marquee near my home recently boasted this message:

“Knowledge starts with the fear of God.”

How stupid is that? That is the exact opposite of what I know to be true. Ignorance starts with the fear of God. Knowledge starts with unbridled curiosity, free from the fear of God. The fear of God stops the advancement of knowledge dead it its tracks. The fear of God is responsible for countless deaths from wars, witch-hunts, crusades and pogroms.

My friend Simon turned me on to this song by Jill Sobule, from "Happy Town." Her voice and the music are both beautiful, and the words nail it.

Soldiers of Christ
by Robin Eaton & Jill Sobule

Our lord loves the family, our lord loves the saved
Our lord love the unborn babies and the NRA
Our lord hates the liberals, the faggots and their friends
We're soldiers of Christ and we're here to defend

The way it used to be
The way it ought to be
The way it's gonna be again

In the days of Cain and Abel
In the days of crusades
In the days of inquisitions
They made the damned behave
Before emancipation
Before Roe and Wade
Before they taught the little children
That they evolved from apes

The way it used to be
The way it ought to be
The way it's gonna be again
When we're in heaven you'll be sorry then

Our lord loves the sinner as long as he don't sin
He knows the thoughts you're thinking
He knows with whom you've been
And our lord loves this country, he's with you at the polls
He knows the lever that you pull
He's keeping track of souls

The way it used to be
The way it ought to be
The way it's gonna to be again
When we're in heaven you'll be sorry
When we're in heaven you'll be sorry
When we're in heaven you'll be sorry then
Gonna be sorry then!

Friday, October 21, 2005

This Weekend

I am in a good mood today. This week we have been watching “Nova: Origins” and that puts The Oil Mafia right in perspective. The universe is thought to be 14 billion years old. The earth, around 6 billion. When they talk about geological time, they use the word “only” in the same sentence as “a million years.” This nonsense with these self-servative neo-cons screwing everything up is not even a speck, not even a ripple. Neither is my 70 or so years if my luck continues to hold out, so come Monday I’ll probably again be railing against stupidity and injustice, but not today. Today I am happy and I’m not going to let those fools screw-up my weekend.

I try very hard not to celebrate Fridays and lament Mondays. I want to celebrate every day. I’m 48 years-old, and I’m realizing that Pink Floyd was right:

“Every year is getting shorter
Never seem to find the time
Plans that either come to naught
Or half a page of scribbled lines.”

[Incidentally, the guitar solo in that song ranks with my absolute favorite guitar solos of all-time. David Gilmour was all about tone and melody and feel, and that solo brings chills even now playing in mind from memory.]

Anyway, where was I?

I get mildly annoyed with the whole “Not bad for a Monday” and “Thank God It’s Friday” banter that I hear every week. If I find myself at my desk Monday morning, it means I wasn’t laid-off last week, I didn’t have a heart-attack, and everything is more or less ok at home. Mondays are all right. I want to enjoy every single moment that isn’t traumatic. We all know by my age that you might get to a point where you’ve outgrown making stupid decisions that help fate to screw-up your life, but it only shifts the odds slightly. At any moment it could all come crashing down, and should that be my destiny, I want to at least be able to say that when things were good, I knew that they were and I took full advantage. Monday morning at work doesn’t look so bad when you are spending Monday morning in ICU.

Still, here it is. It is Friday at the office. People are saying “Finally Friday,” “What do you got going on this weekend?” and “Thank God its Friday!” and I am all over that.

See, me and the Viscountess are lucky. We’ve been together for nearly 10 years, married for 5, and we are still really close. Even now I think of her as my “new girlfriend.” We are both in the same business, but at different companies. We earn enough money where the list of “things that we need but we can’t afford” is almost always blank. Sure, we got a list of “things we want but we can’t afford” (A trip to Italy via Perillo Tours, a housecleaning service, a wine cellar!) but we don’t dwell on it. We have no right to ask for more than what we have, and we know we are very fortunate to be in this position.

An important key to our success as a couple is that we have similar tastes in music, which believe me is as good an indicator as any as to whether two people are compatible or not. In fact, one of the things that piqued my interest when I first met her was that when I told her that I really liked XTC, she said, “‘English Settlement’ is one of my favorite albums.” Ask any XTC fan “How cool is that?” I mean, if one of you likes Journey, Styx, Kansas and Air Supply, the other one better like them as well, and not like XTC, Kevin Gilbert and Joe Jackson and hate those other groups, or you’re likely headed for a divorce! I’m certain that had she said to me, “XT who? I really like ELO and Michael Bolton” I woulda been outa there faster than you can say “What church do you go to?”

We share the same religious beliefs too. We both are members of our own church, which is The Church of the Benevolent Hedonist. Every Sunday morning we stay in bed and sip coffee while the So-Baps are donning their suits and dresses and rushing off to church in their SUV’s to listen to some evil bastard who lives off of doughnations tell them how to live and what to do. Try to tell me that dragging yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning, putting on uncomfortable clothes, going to some stupid church where you are surrounded by hypocrites who are actually HOPING that the world ends soon so they can be whisked away to paradise while you, a sinner, get to stay and watch the pissed off messiah wreak havoc on your sorry-little asses is better for your marriage and your family then sleeping in, having a cup of coffee together and just enjoying the peace.

Back to this weekend.

We bought a big screen TV in 2000 (you know, the dark ages back before The Oil Mafia restored morality to the office of the president and fixed our wagons good!) when we both were still getting bonuses at work. We upgraded our surround system piece-by-piece since then and we now have a pretty nice set-up. We got this ridiculous big-chair that we both sit in together. It is not a love seat. It is a huge chair that is really designed for one person. We don’t care. We are the king and queen holding court in our green canvas throne. At about 9:00, we pour two ice-waters in our huge goblets (mine with a twist of lime,) and two glasses of red wine. (Usually it is jug wine, but tonight I think I'm going to splurge and buy a bottle of Berringer Knight's Valley Cabernet, probably not '95 though!) She sits there crocheting or playing solitaire on her work-supplied laptop (with Google always just a click away in case we need any information about this actor or that movie) and I have the remotes. To some people, this might seem boring – we might appear to be in a rut, but to me this means that every damn thing is under control and there is nowhere I’d rather be at that particular moment.

As Andy Partridge once wrote in "Season Cycle," from XTC's brilliant "Skylarking" collection:

"Everyone says 'join their own religion to get to heaven'
I say 'well bless my soul, I'm already there!' "

I think tonight we will be watching “All About Eve.” Whatever else the weekend might bring is still an open book, but if I get the chair, the wine, the movie and of course the lovely Viscountess, on Monday when someone says to me, “Not bad for a Monday. How was your weekend?” I’m going to say, “It was fantastic. How was yours?”

Out of context, but this bit from The Velvet Undergound's "Sweet Jane" just came to mind, and I'm just jammin' with this post, so ...

Some people they like to go out dancin
and other people they have to work. Just watch me now
and there's even some evil mothers
Well there gonna tell you that everthing is just dirt
you know that women never really faint
and that villians always blink their eyes
that children are the only ones who blush
and that life is just to die
But anyone who ever had a heart
they wouldn't turn around and break it
and anyone who ever played a part
They wouldn't turn around and hate it
Sweet Jane, Sweet Sweet Jane

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Welcome Soundsurfr

I met Soundsurfr in the 11th grade. I’m certain I’d seen him around, but it wasn’t until I found myself sitting next to him in Trig that I actually got to know him. For whatever reason, we connected almost immediately and have been the closest of friends ever since. Many of my political and religious ideas have their roots in conversations that we have had over the years. He is an electronic engineer by trade, but is also a fine musician, a technically adept audio engineer, wine enthusiast and sailor. Indeed, I can remember the day he told me he bought a sailboat, and I said, “A sailboat? Why not a motorboat?” Unlike, me, he is quite capable of the Mr. Spock eyebrow maneuver and only uses it when it is entirely apt. He lifted that eyebrow and said with that familiar gleam in his eye and wry grin, “If you’d ever actually been sailing, you’d know the answer.” Needless to say I was converted.

Of all the things that “Sound” is, to me more than anything else he is a scientist. He is unrelenting in his requirement for verifiable evidence of any claim made by any and all who enter into a debate. He is quick-witted and eloquent, and while he has mellowed with age, I think it is still safe to say that he doesn’t suffer fools for very long. He is just a little more merciful with them than he was in his youth.

It is with great pleasure that I direct you to Soundsurfr’s new blog. Please stop by and welcome him to the fray.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Farewell Homefront Radio

Homefront Radio has taken his blog offline. This is a pity. He is an excellent, insightful writer with much to add to the current debate. His main reason for discontinuing is that he has been suffering with some health issues and feels that he must concentrate on getting well, and blogging is at best a distraction. Moreover, he has been receiving some rather nasty e-mails from some “Christians” and doesn’t want to waste any more time on the negativity of such exchanges.

From one of his e-mails to me:

"I got some particularly vicious emails from a pack of Christians saying my suffering was obviously judgment from God for my sinful ways. They said any kind of medical help was a waste of time and taking doctor's help away from people who really deserved it."

Nice. Jesus must be proud. I guess that they are referring to The Gospel According to Falwell where Jesus kicked the crap out of the homosexual and then prevented Mary Magdalene from washing his wounds, saying, “Dad-damned homo! Go back to Sodom and start shopping for your asbestos suit.”

He continues:

"Being stupid, I tried to reason with them. I should have remembered you can't do that with Christians, for if they had capacity for critical thinking they wouldn't believe in the bible to start with."

"Being indoctrinated myself as a kid to have a moderately knowledgeable working of the bible, I threw the Beatitudes back at them, specifically The Gospel According To Luke (around 6:24 or so): "

'Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.'

"(Not that I believe in heaven, mind you, but *they* do, and I knew it would get up their nose). "

"Then things got *really* nasty. They seemed to find it bizarre that a homosexual can touch the bible without bursting into flame. It was when they said my mother had obviously failed to raised me properly and said they hoped her cancer returned that I just suddenly thought:

"I am so weary of this".

Well, there it is then:

They hope his mother’s cancer returns.

What is it with these people?

I have been thinking a lot about homosexuality and the whole Christian problem with it. Jesus never even mentioned homosexuality. He did however say that sex with anyone outside of your marriage is a sin. If you get divorced and have sex with someone else, that is a sin. If you have sexual thoughts about someone who is not your spouse, that is a sin. So I must conclude then that Christians are to make no distinction between homosexual sex outside of marriage and heterosexual sex outside of marriage. They are equal in the eyes of their saviour.

I wonder how many of these Christians adhere to Jesus’ rules regarding sexuality? I wonder how many of them realize that if they made love with their spouse prior to marriage (never mind someone they met at a bar or a party after donning a fresh pair of beer-goggles,) or if they got divorced and remarried and made love with their new spouse that they are guilty of exactly the same sins as the homosexuals that they are constantly judging and berating?

I was raised a Christian, but I can’t claim to be one for many reasons, least of which is the fact that I don’t believe in any supernatural tomfoolery. I did learn a few things. Some of the things that I learned was:

You can’t be a Christian if you are a racist.
You can’t be a Christian if you help to make poor people’s lives more miserable.
You can’t be a Christian if you are pro-war.
You can’t be a Christian if you care more about wealth than about suffering.
You can’t be a Christian if you are constantly judging the actions of others.
You can’t be a Christian if you are pro-gun.
You can’t be a Christian if you are mean to homosexuals.

Need I say it?

You can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican.

Mr. Homefront Radio concluded his thoughts on this subject with the following:

But here's the simple reason i'm glad i'm not a Christian. Being filled with hate all the time just takes so much work. Where's the joy? No matter what hardships life brings me I have my few days of bitterness and then I move on and concentrate on the good that's left. Imagine a life where all you do is look for the faults of others and scream disgust and point fingers of blame? Where's the simple love for life in an existence like that? I have no idea what my immediate neighbors here get up to. If they need help, i'll give it to them, but other than that it's simply none of my business.

I often quote John Lennon quoting Mal Evans in situations like this:

“Everything is the OPPOSITE of what it is…”

Farewell Simon. Please continue to grace my blog with your sage advice and insightful commentary. I hope you get well soon and live a long and happy life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Silverbeard, The Christian Poat

I lived in St. Louis from 1989 through 1991. St. Louis has its own culture; it isn’t the South, and it isn't the Midwest. One day I might go into what it was about St. Louis that made me want to get far away from there, but not today. I apologize in advance to my friends who still live there, and can only say in my defense that I would go back to NY in a heartbeat if I could afford to, and most of them don’t even want to visit my hometown for a weekend.

Today I want to tell the story of “Silverbeard, The Christian Poat” (rhymes with “coat!”)

By the time 1990 rolled around, I had gone from strong atheism to a comfortable agnosticism. I couldn’t claim to know anything about the unknowable, but I was pretty damn sure that The Christians, The Muslims, The Jews, The Hindus (at least they have the Kama Sutra!), the Scientologists, the whomeverians, all of ‘em had it equally wrong. Not much has changed since then, except that then I was more tolerant of religion than I am now. Then I thought even though I couldn’t subscribe to belief in the supernatural, it wasn’t all bad. People could get comfort and a sense of community from a shared mythology. There was some good to be found in a pleasant fairytale.

Living in Intelligence Resigned, GA for the last 10 years has shown me otherwise. When people believe in lies, when they base decisions on mythology, all of us suffer. In my experience, the ugly truth is always preferable to a bright and shining lie.

But in 1990, I was still married to the mother of my children. I had 4-year-old 1-year-old daughters. My youngest was still in R&D. My ex was a Methodist and wanted to put our oldest into Sunday School. I wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I didn’t think a Methodist Sunday School in Creve Coeur MO. could harm her. And it didn’t.

One Sunday morning, perhaps her second or third visit to Sunday school, I had left her in the classroom and was walking back to my car, when a gentlemen approached me.

“Looking for something?” Seemed like an honest question, so I said, “No. I just dropped my little girl off at Sunday School and was going to go grab some coffee.”

“Oh, would you like join us? We have a little group of parents who get together during Sunday School class, have coffee and talk about parenting etc.” I couldn’t see any harm in that, and I thought that maybe I would even make a new friend or two, so I cheerfully accepted his offer.

He escorted me to a room that was rather like a break-room in an office. Sink, coffee pot, refrigerator, 4 or 5 tables and chairs, some books, and some pictures on the wall of Jesus, the folded hands etc. No stained glass or saints, like what I was used to from my Catholic nightmare. Seemed a bit cozy. About 14 people, mostly couples, but a few people who like myself had left their spouses home with a little one or were single parents. There was also a Russian lady who seemed to be affiliated with the church, and turned out to be probably the nicest person there.

I was introduced to the group, and there were smiles and handshakes all around. One guy stood out from the crowd. He had on a ski-sweater, was sporting a silver beard and mustache, and seemed to be the center of attention. He was forty-something, handsome and confident.

The gentleman who invited me in turned out to be the moderator of the group, and he said something like, “Last week our assignment was to imagine that we were awakened in the middle of the night to find out our home was on fire. We were able to save our family and one material possession. Today we were going to discuss what possession we saved and why it was important to us."

This sounded interesting, and I thought, “this won’t be so bad…”

Silverbeard said, “Of course it would be my poams!”

I’m not going to pretend here that I didn’t know he meant “poems” but had I been able to raise one eyebrow like my hero Mr. Spock, that would have been the time to do it.

“Poems? Who are you into?”

“What do mean?”

“Who do you read?" (I should confess that it was a bit disingenuous for me to ask, because I don’t really read much poetry myself, but I couldn’t resist, because then as now, if I get a whiff of baloney, I want to get to the source of it.


“Well yeah. Walt Whitman? e.e cummings? Browning?”

Blank stare.

I couldn’t help myself: “Ogden Nash?”

“Oh, you mean which poats do I read? I don’t read any po-tree. Haven’t since high school. I just write ‘em. One day I had nothing to do and I started writing pomes.”


The next week I walked in a little late, and they were discussing AIDS.

One of them was saying, “It is really tragic when an innocent child gets it, like from a transfusion.”

Then Silverbeard says, “Yeah, I feel really sorry for people who got AIDS and didn’t deserve it.”

There went the virtual eyebrow.

“Some people deserve to get AIDS?”

“Yeah, you know. The homos and the drug addicts, and Magic Johnson! Those people are sinners and deserve what they get!”

Magic Johnson?

I looked at the others for a hint of indignation, but I got mostly nothing. The Russian lady sort of frowned, and one couple kind of looked at me to see what I was going to say.

When I get angry, I am certainly capable of reducing a half-wit like that to a red-faced sputtering pile of excuses and threats, but by then I had lost my taste for that sort of thing. Besides, it almost got my ass kicked a few times in the past, so I had learned to hold my tongue, and this really wasn’t the place to do that anyway.

“Um, I don’t think God works that way. I mean, some people may do things that we as Christians (taking a liberty here for context), believe to be immoral, but you got guys like Saddam Hussein out there killing people by the thousands. How come God doesn’t give him Cancer or AIDS or something?”

Silverbeard was silent, but you could tell he was angry. I could sense that most of the rest of them didn’t like what I said either. The one couple who looked at me and sort of nodded in agreement, and the Russian lady said, “You are right, God doesn’t do that!” and then changed the subject to the upcoming bake-sale.

The final straw came the next week. It was getting close to Christmas, and they were talking about how each year they adopt a poor family and buy them presents. This year they were assigned a family that lived in a bad neighborhood.

Silverbeard: "Well, after we buy the presents, we’re going to have to drop them off in that neighborhood. One of us can stay in the car and keep it running. It will be on a Sunday afternoon, so I hope there won’t be any trouble. Normally we are supposed to speak about the word for a little while, but I think we should just drop off the presents and get out of there as quickly as possible. Every night in that neighborhood you can hear gunshots!”

I’m not going to pretend to a nobility or bravery that I don’t have. I’ve been in neighborhoods like that, and all I can think of is getting the hell out of there in one piece. I’m not proud of that fact, but it is the truth. So I said:

“Isn’t it a sad commentary on our society that people have to live like that. Gunshots every night. Here we are, scared to even go there on a Sunday afternoon, and they have to spend each day and night there, trying to raise their kids and earn a living.”

Silverbeard: “Yeah, but we’re the wrong color for that neighborhood. Those people are used to it.”

No one said a word. Not the one couple, not even the Russian lady. They looked at me and I looked at them. I wish I had thought of something witty and sarcastic to say at that moment. I can’t remember exactly what I said, but it was probably something like, “I have to go.”

I turned and left without saying “goodbye.”

Don't forget this week's Top 10!"

Condi admits what we've all know for some time.

The plans of our Christian president.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Definition of Friendship

When Mark David Chapman pulled the trigger on that coldest night in December 1980, he robbed the world of a visionary who seemed to finally be at peace with his own inner demons. John Lennon’s anger had largely dissipated and was being transformed into a dignified wisdom. It was indeed a tragic turn of events, and was made that much sadder by the fact that he had finally found happiness and balance in his life.

As with any pre-mature death, there are also the very private tragedies of the loved ones and the close friends of the victim. His son Julian, who had virtually been ignored by John-the-Rock-Icon and John-the-Activist during his formative years, was at the beginning of a new father-son relationship and was abruptly deprived of that experience. Then there was his five-year-old son Sean, who was extremeley close to his dad, and of course his eccentric un-charismatic widow.

And what of Paul McCartney? The two of them had forged a friendship and partnership that yielded some of the best music of the 20th Century. They were equal in every respect, trying to out-do each other but also improving upon one another’s work to the point of perfection. After the bloody breakup of the Beatles, Paul was alone. Who had the nerve and the credibility to say, “You can’t sing that – it's rubbish!”

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, John’s anger was at a fever pitch, and Paul was on the receiving end of some very nasty commentary. While John was firing off songs like “How Do You Sleep?” that were direct put-downs and insults directed at Paul, and saying mean-spirited things about him to the press , Paul was taking the high-road. He recorded responses like “Too Many People” containing some subtle and vague references, and “Let Me Roll It’" which lyrically had nothing to do with John, but was a spot-on re-creation of a John Lennon record replete with sparse instrumentation, heavy chordy guitar, low-register bass part and simple drum beat. The vocal was soaked in reverb, and it sounded exactly like John Lennon in parts, as if Paul was saying, "See, I know what you are about," but he refrained from the sort of attacks that John had leveled toward him. While John reveled in his anger and pain, Paul seemed to be oblivious to suffering, and content with smoking pot, loving his La-La-La-La-La-La-lovely Linda and making silly and innocuous records. It seems in retrospect that John may have been envious of Paul’s effortless bliss.

When John was murdered, he was elevated to legendary status in the public’s eye, but to Paul McCartney he was still the brilliant but flawed friend and bandmate from Liverpool who had turned against him. During the Beatle years, they truly were equals, but in the aftermath of John’s death, Paul was starting to be perceived as a lightweight and was getting the short-end of the stick in the respect department. The fact that he had recorded some of the sappiest and most ridiculous songs of his career in the 70’s did nothing to help him in this regard. As a result, he had to suffer John Lennon getting credit for songs that he himself had written, and what could the man say? Any sort of criticism or rebuttal would only have served to make matters worse, so he had to put on his best face and move on. On a few occasions, when Paul was honest about Lennon the man, he was quickly taken-to-task for being disrespectful and envious.

The years went by, and the legend of John Lennon continued to grow. Songs such as “In My Life” aged very well, and contrary to what John had said in interviews, Paul maintained that he had written the music and melody to John’s sublime lyrics. While most musicians and a subset of Beatle fans knew that the majority of the Lennon-McCartney catalogue was penned by one or the other and not as a team, due to the publishing credits on the songs, many people mistakenly attributed some of Paul’s best work to John Lennon. After suffering this for many years, Paul began to put his name first in the writing credits of songs like “Yesterday” which he indeed had written alone. Seems petty from the outside, but Paul still appears to feel as if he had been cheated by history, and looking at it from his perspective, I think I understand.

I believe that had John lived, the two of them would have reconciled their differences and perhaps even recorded together once again in the 35 years since. We were all potentially robbed of the fruits from that reconciliation, but Paul was deprived of the return of his best friend, and of his own self-image as the other-half of the finest song-writing partnership of the 20th Century.

From Paul’s latest effort, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard,” comes this song, which Paul has stated publicly is not about any one individual.

Riding To Vanity Fair (Click here to listen.)
By Paul McCartney

I bit my tongue
I never talked too much
I tried to be so strong
I did my best
I used the gentle touch
I've done it for so long

You put me down
But I can laugh it off
And act like nothing's wrong
But why pretend
I think I've heard enough
Of your familiar song

I tell you what I'm going to do
I'll try to take my mind off you
And now that you don't need my help
I'll use the time to think about myself

You're not aware
Of what you put me through
But now the feeling's gone
But I don't mind
Do what you have to do
You don't fool anyone

I'll tell you what I'm going to do
I'll take a different point of view
And now that you don't need my help
I'll use the time to think about myself

The definition of friendship
Apparently ought to be
Showing support for the one that you love
And I was open to friendship
But you didn't seem to have any to spare
While you were riding to Vanity Fair

There was a time
When every day was young
The sun would always shine
We sang along
When all the songs were sung
Believing every line

That's the trouble with friendship
For someone to feel it
It has to be real or it wouldn't be right
And I keep hoping for friendship
But I wouldn't dare to presume it was there
While you were riding to Vanity

Thursday, October 13, 2005

I Love Joni

Funny thing is, I once hated her. Back in 1974, when “Court and Spark” was released, and “Help Me” found its way to the play-lists, I didn’t understand the song. I was 16. Didn’t understand the sax part at all. Didn’t understand the lyrics, the production, nothing. The first few notes of that song would send me into one of my juvenile classic rants of incoherent profanity and anti-whomever-was-my-target-at-the-time invective.

That all changed when in 1976 “Hejira” was released. The stations started playing “Song For Sharon,” which was amazing when you consider that it clocked in at 8:30! People can say what they want about every generation bathing in the nostalgia of their youth, but very obviously radio was better when I was a kid. In 1974, I was still in high school and hadn’t yet dabbled in marijuana. That all changed in 1976. That was the year that I gave in and decided to find out what it was that everyone was going on about.

I found out.

How can I ever know if the over all affects of an illegal drug were positive? When you take the left fork, you can’t go back and take the right one and have it be the same as if you’ve never taken the left. You now have the experience of the left, and the passage of time. So I can’t ever know. I do know that everything changed for me, and I believe it was for the better. I was able to see myself in a completely different light. I stepped outside of myself and looked in, and saw an angry, self-righteous idealist and no longer wanted to be him. I am what I am, and some might say I haven’t changed since then, but at least I saw it inside of me, and have tried to temper and mitigate those tendencies.

My best friend had gotten a Camaro for his High School graduation present, (his family was a tad more financially well-off than mine – I think I got $100 and Cross Pen and Pencil set!) and we both stayed local for our college educations. He had a pretty decent stereo in the car for the time. My mind was now an open book when it came to music. I realized that I could like anything if I thought it was good based on the intrinsic musicality and artistry of the piece, regardless of my prejudices and preconceived notions.

It was one night in ’76 or ’77. We were on “the ride” which was basically cruising the back roads of Nassau county after having smoked a bowl, talking about life and listening to music. “Song For Sharon” came on, and I probably told him to turn it off, as I hated Joni Mitchell. He turned it up, saying, “this is a great song.” As I did then, as I do now, I listened to the music first. Lyrics on initial auditions are ignored. I listened to the instrumentation and the melody, and I was swept away by the sound, the majesty of that record.

I learned perhaps a year later that the lyrics of that song seem to be about what many of her songs seem to be about, which is her personal struggle of being a free-spirited artist who longs for the intimacy of long-term relationships, but also fears them and finds herself doing things to sabotage them. Sad.

Over the years, Joni has become one of my favorite artists. Her music is unique, and over time went from folk, to pop, and then to blues, world-music and jazz. She is a creative and accomplished guitarist, a respectable pianist, and sings like canary. Her lyrics are literate, poetic, deeply personal and conjure up vivid images in the mind of the listener. Her songs are often melodically complex, and sometimes require repeated listens before their beauty can be completely realized. One song in particular that comes to mind is the title track from “Hejira.” It took a few years before I “got” that one, but now it is one of my favorites.

She lost some of her creative spark after the release of Hejira, but taken as a whole, her artistry ranks with the best that the 20th century had to offer.

Song For Sharon
By Joni Mitchell

I went to Staten Island, Sharon
To buy myself a mandolin
And I saw the long white dress of love
On a storefront mannequin
Big boat chuggin' back with a belly full of cars...
All for something lacy
Some girl's going to see that dress
And crave that day like crazy

Little Indian kids on a bridge up in Canada
They can balance and they can climb
Like their fathers before them
They'll walk the girders of the Manhattan skyline
Shine your light on me Miss Liberty
Because as soon as this ferry boat docks
I'm headed to the church
To play Bingo
Fleece me with the gamblers' flocks

I can keep my cool at poker
But I'm a fool when love's at stake
Because I can't conceal emotion
What I'm feeling's always written on my face
There's a gypsy down on Bleecker Street
I went in to see her as a kind of joke
And she lit a candle for my love luck
And eighteen bucks went up in smoke

Sharon, I left my man
At a North Dakota junction
And I came out to the "Big Apple" here
To face the dream's malfunction
Love's a repetitious danger
You'd think I'd be accustomed to
Well, I do accept the changes
At least better than I used to do

A woman I knew just drowned herself
The well was deep and muddy
She was just shaking off futility
Or punishing somebody
My friends were calling up all day yesterday
All emotions and abstractions
It seems we all live so close to that line
And so far from satisfaction

Dora says, "Have children!"
Mama and Betsy say-"Find yourself a charity."
Help the needy and the crippled or put some time into Ecology."
Well, there's a wide wide world of noble causes
And lovely landscapes to discover
But all I really want right now
Is...find another lover

When we were kids in Maidstone, Sharon
I went to every wedding in that little town
To see the tears and the kisses
And the pretty lady in the white lace wedding gown
And walking home on the railroad tracks
Or swinging on the playground swing
Love stimulated my illusions
More than anything

And when I went skating after Golden Reggie
You know it was white lace I was chasing
Chasing dreams
Mama's nylons underneath my cowgirl jeans
He showed me first you get the kisses
And then you get the tears
But the ceremony of the bells and lace
Still veils this reckless fool here

Now there are 29 skaters on Wolmann rink
Circling in singles and in pairs
In this vigorous anonymity
A blank face at the window stares and stares and stares and stares
And the power of reason
And the flowers of deep feeling
Seem to serve me
Only to deceive me

Sharon you've got a husband
And a family and a farm
I've got the apple of temptation
And a diamond snake around my arm
But you still have your music
And I've still got my eyes on the land and the sky
You sing for your friends and your family
I'll walk green pastures by and by

By Joni Mitchell

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
That shell shock love away
There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's just as natural as the weather
In this moody sky today
In our possessive coupling
So much could not be expressed
So now I'm returning to myself
These things that you and I suppressed
I see something of myself in everyone
Just at this moment of the world
As snow gathers like bolts of lace
Waltzing on a ballroom girl

You know it never has been easy
Whether you do or you do not resign
Whether you travel the breadth of extremities
Or stick to some straighter line
Now here's a man and a woman sitting on a rock
They're either going to thaw out or freeze
Strains of Benny Goodman
Coming thru' the snow and the pinewood trees
I'm porous with travel fever
But you know I'm so glad to be on my own
Still somehow the slightest touch of a stranger
Can set up trembling in my bones
I know - no one's going to show me everything
We all come and go unknown
Each so deep and superficial
Between the forceps and the stone

Well I looked at the granite markers
Those tribute to finality - to eternity
And then I looked at myself here
Chicken scratching for my immortality
In the church they light the candles
And the wax rolls down like tears
There's the hope and the hopelessness
I've witnessed thirty years
We're only particles of change I know, I know
Orbiting around the sun
But how can I have that point of view
When I'm always bound and tied to someone
White flags of winter chimneys
Waving truce against the moon
In the mirrors of a modern bank
From the window of a hotel room

I'm traveling in some vehicle
I'm sitting in some cafe
A defector from the petty wars
Until love sucks me back that way