Saturday, December 8, 2012


"At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge," said the gentleman, taking up a pen, "it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time.  Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir."

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?"  demanded Scrooge.  "Are they still in operation?"

"They are.  Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh!  I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge.  "I'm very glad to hear it."

"Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude," returned the gentleman, "a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink and means of warmth.  We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.  What shall I put you down for?"

"Nothing!" Scrooge replied.

"You wish to be anonymous?"

"I wish to be left alone," said Scrooge.  "Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer.  I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry.  I help to support the establishments I have mentioned -- they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there."

"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."

"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.  Besides -- excuse me -- I don't know that."

"But you might know it," observed the gentleman.

"It's not my business," Scrooge returned.  "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's.  Mine occupies me constantly.  Good afternoon, gentlemen!"

Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew.  Scrooge returned his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.

                                   ~ A Christmas Carol, Stave the First, Charles Dickens

There were many in the England of the 1840s who cursed Charles Dickens. He was popular and he wrote discomforting things about the status quo, things that threatened the quo of those with status. How dare he? But time passes. We’re elevated the lessons of Dickens’ novella to canon taught us in many forms. Yet here we find ourselves 169 years later and the Scrooge of Scrooge and Marley is still alive and well, unreformed, unreconsiled with his nephew, uncaring that Tiny Tim will die, forging further links on that weighty chain of ledgers and cash boxes.

Let us consider, please the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This treaty states that the signatories will respect and promote equal human rights for people with disabilities. It was modeled on the U. S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This Convention the United States signed during the administration of George W. Bush. However, as an international treaty our Constitution requires that it must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the United States Senate. Thus it was that the Senate held a vote on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.

The treaty had the solid support of Senate Democrats as well as some notable Republicans including John McCain of Arizona, Richard Lugar of Indiana and even Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire. Former senator and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, himself a disabled World War II veteran, came to the Senate floor in a wheelchair from his hospital bed at Walter Reed Hospital to support the treaty.

There was a time in our history when that support would have meant certain passage for the treaty but we live in greatly devolved times. Since the 1960s and particularly since the Reagan Administration the Republican Party has increasingly fallen under the thrall of the racists, bigots, John Birchers, NRA fanatics, “Objectivists”, “Libertarians”, religious fundamentalists and the lunatic subscribers to Human Events all of whom came out to oppose equal rights for people with physical or mental disabilities but who, unlike themselves, have a current diagnosis.

Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma led the opposition and brought in that paragon of logic and decency, former Senator Rick Santorum to argue both that because we already have the ADA the treaty is superfluous and that it would open the United States to interference with our “sovereignty” should other nations intervene to impose on us laws we already have. With the typical lunacy of this group of right-wing extremists they saw no contradiction in their arguments. They did, however, collect 36 other senators on the side of wrong and injustice to vote with Lee and Inhofe to kill the treaty. Passage required at least 66 votes but managed to garner only 61.

And lest we think of this as an aberration caused by 38 men whose tinfoil hats are protecting them from the controlling messages from those U. N. Black Helicopters that they are certain hover somewhere nearby I would offer the further embarrassment of the Republican lunatic fringe in the Senate. Where the defeat of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was patently insane this next act is so thoroughly craven that it beggars all comparison.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky thought he had a surefire way to embarrass his Democratic colleagues. On Thursday, December 6th he called up a vote on a bill which would have given President Obama authority to bypass Congress in raising the Federal debt ceiling. The vote would require a simple majority of senators. Most probably McConnell figured that the bill would quickly fail a Senate vote after which Republicans could taunt that even Democrats refuse to support the President’s proposals.

Majority Leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, took the matter to his Democratic caucus and returned to the Senate floor to say that he thanked Sen. McConnell for calling up the measure and that he was happy to vote.

Suddenly Sen. McConnell found himself painted into the same inescapable corner in which he’d thought to strand the Democrats. So what was his reaction? He mounted a filibuster of the vote on the bill he himself had called to the floor.

People are dissatisfied with Congress. The remarkable thing is that more people don’t understand that it is the Republican minority, especially in the person of Mitch McConnell, that has denigrated Congress thoroughly since 2009. We cannot have a Congress, House or Senate, that does the work of the nation as a whole while we have the craven partisanship of Mitch McConnell and the lunatic paranoia of Lee, Inhofe, Rand Paul, Eric Cantor and the rest of the escapees from the right-wing asylum. Luckily, if the Republicans continue bringing forward candidates like the crop in 2012 there’s some reason to believe that a House majority and a 66 Democrat Senate may be in our future and a period in which Congress can redeem its reputation should not be far behind.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


[Another old post from the soon to disappear Lion and Pen web site is this originally posted November 3, 2006]

I now offer for your delectation one Pastor Ted Haggard. Kind, smiling, Pastor Ted of the New Life Church adjacent to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Pastor Ted who is a graduate of (where else?) Oral Roberts University founded by a man who made his fortune as a televangelist and tent show huckster pulling chicken livers from suffering rubes and claiming that god had just allowed him to draw out their cancers. Pastor Ted who believes, "The Holy Bible, and only the Bible, is the authoritative Word of God. It alone is the final authority for determining all doctrinal truths. In its original writing, the Bible is inspired, infallible and inerrant." He also believes that, "we don't have to debate about what we should think about homosexual activity, it's written in the Bible." Pastor Ted who was, until today, President of the National Association of Evangelicals and claims to have an identity of views with our Fearless Leader, Dubya, as well as having a long association with that pillar of traditional values, James Dobson of Focus on the Family. Yes, kind, smiling Pastor Ted, quick to condemn same-sex marriage and homosexuality seems to have been living in a world with a slight disconnect from our own...I mean apart from the half-assed fundamentalist world (forgive the tautology).

You see that one of the things that kept Pastor Ted smiling was his 3-year affair with a male prostitute from whom he also bought crystal meth. Now, we have to allow that Pastor Ted claims not to have used the crystal meth (only his teeth and brain cells know for sure!) but then he surely must still have it, mustn't he? Isn't that a lot like not inhaling? Or was he just doing an errand for his buddy, Dubya?

I do want to be clear here. If kind, smiling Pastor Ted is gay, I wish him well. It may have some ill effects on his wife and 5 children, but accepting his own sexual identity is generally a good thing. But pardon me while I roll on the floor and hold my sides that are about to split with laughter. Kind, smiling Pastor Ted hasn't much to dispute with his fellow fundamentalist hatemonger, Fred Phelps, when it comes to homosexuality. That he's been getting "massages" from a male "masseur" for the past 3 years just goes off the scale on the hypocrisy meter. This one is even more fun that watching Fox News make Mark Foley a Democrat! And, I'm sure that the fun is only starting as there are bound to be rousing statements from other icons of the cynical exploitation of religion and its unquestioning followers like Dobson, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Chuck Colson and the rest of the "Jesus is a Nazi too" crowd.
The gag may be waving the flag
That began with a mystical hand
Hip hooray!
The American way
The world is a stage,
The stage is a world of entertainment
- Howard Dietz (Arthur Schwartz - composer)

Oh, how I love it!


[Another venue in which I have posted some other writing is about to disappear if anything on the Internet can truly be said to disappear. i found a few pieces that seemed worth saving by reposting here.

The following I originally posted on June 1, 2005.]

Memory is a strange and wonderful thing, a thing that has been central for me for most of my life. I always had a great capacity for memory of facts, of texts, of poetry of lines for a play but of places and their sights and sounds and smells. Memory can play tricks on us, but one of its most delightful and yet most cruel tricks is recalling in perfect, exquisite detail places, things and people lost along the way.

Sunday, March 13, 2005, Anna and I and our friend Rick Gager, went to the Mt. Baker Theatre here in Bellingham, Washington to see some movies. Mt. Baker is a movie palace decorated in the Moorish style popular in the early 1920's. It has just undergone a full restoration and is much as it would have been if I'd been alive and going to the movies to see Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow or Chaplain's The Tramp as new releases. So the theatre itself is something of a time capsule. One walks off a street in February, 2005 and into a lobby that actually once hosted Clark Gable, Loretta Young and Jack Oakie while they were filming The Call of the Wild nearby.

We had come to see a program of silent movies that were to be accompanied by members of the Theatre Organ Society on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ which is on an hydraulic lift beneath a trap in the stage floor, downstage centre.

When we arrived we found that we were going to get an opening act that we hadn't counted on. The Bellingham High School Showstoppers mixed choral group was going to perform. We were a bit wary, but decided to stay. Anna and I were glad we did.

The kids in the Showstoppers were disciplined and excellent singers. Their teacher clearly selected most of the music. Her selections were far more problematic than the students' singing.

There was a delightful bit of Renaissance harmony. All Ye Who Music Love by Baldassare Donato, executed flawlessly and a fine rendition of the lovely ballad, My Funny Valentine (I think that Richard Rodgers mostly went down hill after Lorenz Hart died). But they opened with Happy Together, a 1960's song that you can't forget no matter how desperately you try. Rather than building on the beautiful success of the Donato piece, we got a rendition of One Tin Soldier, the title song from the gawdawful movie Billy Jack. My Funny Valentine which, with Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered), is one of the greatest love songs not written by Cole Porter or the Gershwins, we got an credible version of You Are the Song followed by a minor key, bluesy version of If I Only Had a Brain that didn't work and was never going to no matter who sang it.

The girls left the stage as I whispered to Anna that we know that their music teacher is certainly our age. The guys did a song called The Handsome Butcher that I'd never heard before and wouldn't care if I never heard again and then launched into The Auctioneer. Suddenly, I was no longer in the Mt. Baker Theatre. I was sitting in front of an oval TV screen in a living room that hasn't existed for over forty years watching the Tennessee Ernie Ford Show. This was a bit of Time Travel that I hadn't counted on. I literally hadn't heard that song in forty-five years.

That, of course, made me realize that music teachers, particularly, carry a part of the past, their musical taste fixed when they were the age of their students, forward into the future. How else can I explain why my Elementary School graduating class in 1963, under the direction of a music teacher old enough to have studied with Pythagoras, did a medley of Victor Herbert songs. I still have unpleasant flashbacks to...

Slumber on, my Little Gypsy Sweetheart,
Dream of the fields and the groves.
Can you hear me, hear me in that Dreamland,
Where your fancies rove?

Despite the fact that Victor Herbert would have had to have been composing operettas when dinosaurs roamed the earth to have been popular in our music teacher's girlhood, that's obviously what happened, just as it had happened with this music teacher in Bellingham, Washington in 2005. My elementary music teacher grew up when Victor Herbert was the hot composer of "proper" music as opposed to that bawdy jazz that
Negros and Jews were composing and playing. She (I have forgotten her name) wanted to pass down to me and my classmates an appreciation for Herbert's "proper" music.

She was too late. Cartoons from the late 1920's and early 1930's with soundtracks by Cab Calloway and others had already insinuated themselves as happy, bouncy music by the time I was in first grade let alone graduating from eighth. Singers on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town and other variety shows had already put Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Rodgers and Hart and Harry Warren tunes in my head.

So there I was remembering the elementary music teacher whose name was long gone from my memory inspired by memories of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing The Auctioneer and surveying a living room - clock, pictures, wallpaper, bric-a-brac on the mantlepiece - gone before my eleventh birthday. That song sent me off into Memories of a Lost Time just as surely as that madelaine dipped in tea had sent Marcel Proust ambling down the corridors of memory.

Layered in there too was being in a movie palace from a lost time and the original purpose of the afternoon outing, to see some silent movies.

The guys next did a somewhat overwrought version of the Neil Sedaka chestnut, Calendar Girl, and we were ready for the girls to return. After a finish with the whole choral group that included I Believe, a song that always makes me feel that I need an insulin shot to get excess sugar out of my system, the Showstoppers stopped the show. They were wonderful kids who gave a wonderful performance. Their performance resonated with me in more ways, on more levels than most of them will ever realize.

We saw Laurel and Hardy's Soup to Nuts, Harold Lloyd in The City Slicker and a Little Rascals two-reeler called Hide and Shriek with an absolutely brilliant organ accompaniment that put all three of us, indeed the whole audience, into a time that none but a few of us ever knew. Still it was a time at which all of us could laugh.

In the end, still laughing over Stan and Ollie's slapstick, we walked out into the late afternoon light of 2005. But I can still see my Aunt Helen's living room before the fire in 1960, the lamps with their crystal pendants on each end of that mantlepiece, the other bric-a-brac reflected in the huge mirror over the fireplace and a Dickensian scene of a coach pulling into an inn yard on the wallpaper. I still wonder at my own time capsules of days and places and people gone. I wonder at those many rooms off the corridors of memory, at the few that will not open because I no longer have the key and the many doors that spring open unbidden and the few forgotten ones accidentally unlocked by the accident of a sight or smell or taste or a song like The Auctioneer.