AUSTRALIA: CAULDRON OF EVIL

Everyone knows I love being an American. As I write this, Donald J. Trump has just wrapped up two weeks as President of the United States. Weird, right? In that time, he has threatened such diverse enemies as Mexico and Chicago, Illinois with intervention by “troops” and “feds.” Since the President makes most of his announcements via Twitter, we’re not sure what any of that means, but we know he’s serious. Hell, he seems serious about everything. He doesn’t seem to be a fellow who enjoys a good joke.

In years past, I have beseeched our leaders to crush our international threats, primarily Canada and the allegedly “Great” Britain. I even went so far as to draw up complex nation-building plans. My warnings went unheeded, and today we remain at the mercy of our Anglo overlords. Many have no doubt wondered why I haven’t addressed the third side of the Triangle (or “Tri-Anglo,” as I call it) of Terror, the demon state Down Under.

The so-called “Commonwealth” of Australia is an island nation located somewhere way far away from civilization, unless you call Papau New Guinea and New Zealand civilized. Maybe it’s not island, just a small continent. In any event, Mr. Trump had a heated phone call with the Prime Minister of Australia–whose name escapes me–about an agreement for America to accept refugees from Australia. According to Presidential tweets, this agreement is “dumb” and he’s not having any of it. If  I know Mr. Trump–and if I don’t, who does?–he won’t stop there. I’m still uncertain if he knows who our friends are, but he knows our enemies. In fact, no President in recent memory could make enemies faster.

With President Trump in office, I have new hope. Australia is as good a place as any to start. I say accept every refugee we can hold from Australia, as long as they aren’t actual Australians.

I know what you’re thinking: Hey, those Aussies are like Americans. A lot of them are blonde. They speak English. If you’d bother to even lightly scratch the surface, you’d see this for what it is–a subterfuge hiding threats to our very way life.

A common and deadly conceit lulls most Americans into inaction when it comes to foreign lands. We believe that foreign people must look and speak differently in order to be threats. While these are certainly telling signs, they tell only part of the story.

Any  similarities between Americans and Australians are mere historical accidents. Like the United States, Australia was founded when England sent its undesirables to another continent. In the case of Australia, they were really undesirable–mostly a bunch of convicts. The Brits probably thought they were sending them to Austria where they would fit in. Regardless, they ended up being shipped off just about as far away as possible. Shouldn’t that be a clue, people? On the other hand, our country was settled by a bunch of buttoned-up, glum religious nuts. That alone makes us superior and them a dangerous criminal element.

Here is Australia:

australia_political_map

Major cities include Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane. It speaks to the intellectual paucity of the inhabitants that they soon exhausted real names and simply made up names for other cities and towns. Thus, the land is littered with names such as Wollongong, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, Bong Bong, Cock Wash and Mount Buggery.

What I know of Australia comes from movies and Wikipedia. It should come as no surprise that I’ve never been to Australia nor do I intend to go. Let me explain.

As we examine Australia, let us consider the three characteristics which make any country worth its salt:  1) Its language; 2) Its sports; and 3) Its people.

LANGUAGE

Australia has no official language. Think about that. What kind of savages can’t even settle on a language? Most Australians speak English, which will come as quite a surprise to you if you’ve ever heard any of them speak.

To be precise, they speak “Australian English,” which combines normal English with an accent that can only be attributed to the country’s well-known love of alcohol. They sort of sound British but not really. Where the Brits sound haughty and intelligent, Aussies come across as menacing and quite possibly insane.  “G’day, mate!” is an acceptable form of address as is vomiting on the ground when staggering out of one of their many road houses. Here is a typical Australian exchange:

Bloke No. 1: G’day, mate. I’m stoked to hit the turps, but I’d need a mate’s rate for a slab.

Bloke No. 2: Fair dinkum. I’ll drink with the flies. You gotta make a quid.

Bloke No. 1: Everything’s costing big bikkies. It’ll come good once I give it a burl.

Bloke No. 2: Good on ya.

Here’s a pointer when trying to interpret their speech: Just assume they’re talking about drinking.

I will admit that Australia gave us Mad Max, and that’s no bull dust as they might say. When the original Mad Max was released in the United States, the dialogue was re-dubbed into English. That’s right. English was dubbed into English. That’s all you need to know about this “language.”

SPORTS

Three popular sports in Australia are cricket, Australian Rules Football and something called net ball. The irredeemable nature of the culture of this nation is best explained by a brief description of each.

Cricket combines croquet with the more boring aspects of baseball. The pitcher is called a bowler. They throw the ball and one-hop it to the batter. The batter hits it with something akin to a flat-sided baseball bat. Players run back and forth and scores (runs) are made at some point. After several hours, the game or match or whatever the hell they call it mercifully ends.

In the nascent days of ESPN, the Worldwide Leader didn’t have rights to baseball, basketball, football or any other sport followed by the modern world. As a result, it broadcast Australian Rules Football. Like cricket, it combines several perfectly sane sports into one. American football and soccer with a touch of rugby (okay, that one’s not sane) are rolled together in face-paced game which appears to have no rules whatsoever. The only redeeming feature is that it is often violent. I have no proof that the players are all drunk, but they should be.

Net ball is a game where a metal hoop is secured to pole, and players try to throw a ball through the hoop. The hoop has a net attached for the ball to pass through. Sound familiar? You might call it basketball, if didn’t look like this:

net-ball

Seriously? I watched it on TV once. Once. No dribbling. Awkward passing. White people. That’s right. It’s 1930s basketball played in the 21st century.

THE PEOPLE

I’ll admit the we have common ground with the Aussies. We, too, weren’t welcome in England and had a God-given right to terrorize and subjugate the native dwellers in our new land. That’s where the similarity ends.

Coming from the questionable gene pool of convicts, the degradation of the Australian people is etched into their leathery, sunburned faces. True, they gave us Mel Gibson, a handsome man by any standards.  Despite our best efforts, they haven’t had the common decency to take him back.

The native Australians are the Aborigines or Aboriginal Australians. They were there first. They’re now relegated to what they call the “Outback.” Outback is another word for “barren wasteland.” It’s kind of like a gigantic American Indian reservation. One place they live is called Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara. Okay. I guess they came up with that on one of their famed benders.

Their idea of a good time is to drink beer until nauseous. They eat things called quandog, muntries, goanna and witchetty grubs. Are these plants, animals or something else? I don’t know, and I’m not interested in finding out. They love vegemite, a goop they spread on toast. Vegemite is made of leftover brewer’s yeast combined with vegetable and spice additives. It is described as salty, slightly bitter and malty. Yum. Politics aside, President Obama summed up this delicacy with this reaction:

“So, it’s like a quasi-vegetable by-product paste that you smear on your toast for breakfast – sounds good, doesn’t it?”

I know little of their undoubtedly bizarre religious practices. I recall reading somewhere that they have a high percentage of atheists. What does that say about a land so vile that it destroys one’s belief in the Almighty? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

I know nothing of the literature or art of Australia. That’s just as well.

As noted above, Australian cinema gave us the Mad Max films. That’s good. If you want to know what Australia is like, just watch one of those films. They could be documentaries as far as I’m concerned. The latest one didn’t even star an Australian. Brit Tom Hardy and South African Charlize Theron were the stars. They didn’t have much dialogue but at least I understood it.

What about their music? AC/DC, I’ll give them that one. Angus and Malcolm Young grew up in Sydney, but they were Scots. What about Men At Work, the band with the popular 1980s song “Down Under?” True, they were an Australian band, but lead singer Colin Hay was also Scottish. Seems Australian music is more properly Scottish music.

Back in the 1980s, they sent us their most famed comedian–Yahoo Serious. Yes, that was his name. He was just about that funny, too. We sent him back. Here’s an Australian joke:

What’s the difference between an Australian wedding and an Australian funeral?

One less drunk at the funeral.

They have all manner of odd animals. The emu is a bird that can’t fly. The koala is a bear that’s really a marsupial. It’s like a raccoon or some other varmint. Of course, the place is lousy with kangaroos and crocodiles. I know that doesn’t have anything to do with the Australian people, but it’s worth nothing for some reason.

Queen Elizabeth II is the not only the Queen of England, she is also the Queen of Australia. Why? Who knows. Her reign there makes as much sense as it does in England.

WHAT NOW?

You may be surprised that I do not advocate immediate military intervention in Australia, as I have with Canada and Great Britain. The Brits took care of this problem for us by sending these misanthropes way the hell to the other side of the world. I’ve looked at a globe, and I’m not even sure you can get to Australia from here.

We don’t have to do anything. Iran recently tested a missile, and the President put them “on notice.” Let’s do the same with the Aussies. You’re on notice, you Foster’s chugging, vegemite-eating bunch of convicts. So, there.

Step out of line, and we’ll build a gigantic sea wall trapping you on your island Hell.  Oh, and guess who’s paying for it? You’ll all be living out in Woop Woop then, mates. Until then, hooroo!

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2017

BREXIT EXPLAINED IN 10 QUESTIONS (AND ANSWERS!)

As I write this, it’s been almost two weeks since Brexit. I initially called in the Brexit but was quickly rebuked for doing so. Brexit occurred on June 23, 2016. On the off-chance that future generations have electrical power to access this blog, they will doubtless be horrified by my rudimentary understanding of this cataclysmic event which will have been taught in all schools, if they are any schools in the future. By the time you read this, Europe will have descended into total chaos, cannibalism will be commonplace and the United Kingdom will have been discarded in the ash bin of history. I write this for my contemporaries in the hope that I can explain what happened and what is to come.

  1. WHAT IS BREXIT? 

It is the BRitish EXIT from the European Union. Get it? BR-EXIT? It’s a clever portmanteau borrowed from the earlier Grexit, which was the GREEK withdrawal from the EU which didn’t happen. Brexit is actually just a vote which took place in the United Kingdom on June 23, 2016 to approve the UK’s leaving the European Union. By the way, the United Kingdom is made up of a bunch of countries besides Britain or Great Britain or England or whatever the hell they want to be called. This should be called Ukexit, but that sounds too much like a Baltic country. Plus, that has the added disadvantage of being pretty much unpronounceable.

2.  WHAT IS THE EUROPEAN UNION?

That’s a damn good question. The European Union (EU) is a politico-economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. It has an area of 4,324,782 km (1,669,808 sq mi), and an estimated population of over 508 million. The EU has developed an internal single market through a standardised system of laws that apply in all member states. EU policies aim to ensure the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital within the internal market, enact legislation in justice and home affairs, and maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries, and regional development. Is that clear enough? HAHAHAHA! I copied that from Wikipedia. I have no idea what any of that means.

3.  WHERE IS EUROPE?

All the way across the Atlantic Ocean but before you get to Russia. England is actually an island, and I’m not sure it’s really part of Europe (with or without Brexit). Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Belgium, probably Switzerland and Portugal and a lot of other countries are over there.

4. IS AMERICA PART OF THE EU?

Another excellent question. The simple answer is “no.” If you Google it, you’ll see that America isn’t in Europe. Oddly enough, some members of the EU aren’t in Europe, either. Americans aren’t going to be part of any such foolishness as this. Remember, too, that we made our own exit from Europe in 1776. Nevertheless, we should go ahead vote to exit the EU right now, just to make clear that we’re not going to be part of these shenanigans. Before we get too high and mighty, bear in mind that we are about to elect either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton president. Maybe we should vote to exit our own country.

5.  NOW THAT BRITAIN IS GONE FROM THE EU, WHAT HAPPENS?

Whoa, whoa. No one has left the EU. The UK only voted to leave. Oh, and the vote isn’t binding. It’s more like a strong suggestion. It’s like telling your wife you want a divorce. Well, hell, so do a lot of people, but you have to take some action. Now, they have to work out the details. Or not. They can always decide not to do it. That’s right. They can stay in or leave. Pretty much the same position they were in before the vote.

6. OKAY. ASSUMING BRITAIN EXITS THE EU, WHAT HAPPENS?

Hard to say. People who fear an apocalyptic one-world new order say it’s all good. Those who embrace a world economy say it’s bad. Young people hate it. Old people like it. Scotland hates it (for the most part). A bunch of things will happen. The British pound (that’s their goofy money) will suffer or not. The UK will break up or stay together. Germany will probably try to take over the world. (That’s not really part of Brexit. It’s just something the Germans like to try every now and then). People will buy gold, because that’s what people do when things happen.

7.  WILL OTHER COUNTRIES VOTE TO EXIT, TOO?

That seems doubtful mostly because there’s no cool names to use. France would Frexit. That’s okay, I guess. Germany would Gerexit. No good–sounds too much like Jurassic and they don’t want litigation with Steven Spielberg. Spain with the Spexit? Nah. The names for the other countries are equally uninspiring. They’ll all have to stay put.

8. HOW DOES THIS AFFECT AMERICA?

Ah, this is perhaps the most important question. The immediate effect was twofold: 1) the stock market dropped sharply; and 2) millions of Americans went on-line to find out what Brexit means. I was told by three people that the stock market would drop at least 20% in the next week and that it would take years to recover. It dropped a few percentage points and recovered in a week. So, I guess you never know about Brexit. I’ve been told that it’s a sad time for Anglophiles (who, by the way, are not people with sexual interest in geometry). The dollar is now worth more in England, which would be great if they sold anything I like. It might be a good time to hire a butler or a chambermaid on the cheap.

9. WHAT HAPPENS TO THE EURO?

The Euro, of course, is the EU’s weird-ass money. I guess Euros are kind of like dollars but with pictures of foreigners on them. Get this–England doesn’t even use the Euro. Why are they bitching? They still use pounds and shillings and farthings and quid and other dubious forms of currency. Regardless, the Euro will most certainly be affected, more or less, to some not inconsiderable extent. It definitely bears watching.

10. WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

The future is a frightening place, full of great possibilities and even greater dangers. Your greatest failures always lie there. I am a male in my 50s. With rare exception, people my age view the future through a prism of despair. The world is falling apart, young people are useless and the future is bleak. In another, they have become their parents.

Things will happen. People will claim to have predicted these things. Blame will be assigned and credit taken. As the old song goes, “There’ll always be an England.”

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2016

 

DEAR PETE…A FAN’S LETTER

Dear Pete:

Let me start by saying that I am a fan. I grew up in the 1970s when the Reds were The Big Red Machine. I followed that team as closely as a kid living in Harlan County, Kentucky could, being over 200 miles away. Many nights, I sat in the basement listening to Marty Brennaman and the Old Lefthander Joe Nuxhall call games on WSGS out of Hazard, Kentucky.

You’re in the headlines again for all the wrong reasons. Newly discovered evidence indicates that you bet on baseball while a player for the Reds. You even bet on Reds games. You’ve denied all this in past. I’m sure you will again.

A lot of folks believe you should be reinstated by Major League Baseball and honored as one of the game’s greats. Major League Baseball Rule 21 (D) says something altogether different:

Any player, umpire, or club or league official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

This is posted in every clubhouse in baseball. There is no gray area. Was there something about this you didn’t understand? Maybe you just thought you wouldn’t get caught.

These new allegations, if true, are the end of the road for you and Major League Baseball. I take no pleasure in this. In fact, it pains me to watch this play out.

You were one of the idols of my youth, along with Johnny Bench, Roger Staubach, Dan Issel and Wilt Chamberlain, sports stars who seemed bigger than life. You, though, were different. You were a regular guy who just happened to be a great baseball player. As a kid, I knew I couldn’t do the things the stars did, but you made it seem that hard work made anything possible.

All Reds fans from those days remember when you left for the Phillies after the 1978 season. We had suffered through the indignity of seeing Tony Perez traded and now you were gone. Of course, we didn’t blame you. We blamed the Reds, in particular General Manager Dick Wagner whom we viewed as a villain on par with John Wilkes Booth.

I was as happy as anyone when you returned to the Reds in the middle of the 1984 season. With you as player-manager, the team responded, playing better baseball for the remainder of the season. A year later, you were the Hit King. By then, I was a grown man, but it still thrilled me to watch you play.

By 1989, I was in my second year as a lawyer. I heard about your suspension at work.  I was outraged. There had to be a mistake. Later, when you were permanently banned from baseball for gambling, I still didn’t believe all the allegations. Sure, you bet on horses. Maybe you even bet on other sports. But you wouldn’t bet on baseball. Your denials rang true to me. You loved the game too much to compromise it by violating its most sacrosanct rule.

That you may have bet on baseball was just not possible, even as the evidence mounted. I continued to believe you even after you accepted a lifetime ban. You accepted this indignity, I rationalized, only to stop the kangaroo court of Major League Baseball from falsely declaring that you had bet on baseball games. You were in the Star Chamber where accusation amounted to conviction. I couldn’t blame you for falling on your sword.

As much I believed you–and I did–two things nagged at me. One, why would the Commissioner’s Office be out to get Pete Rose? You weren’t a bad guy. In fact, you were one of the good guys, a shining example of how to play the game. Two, why was Commissioner Bart Giamatti so convinced of guilt? Giamatti was no dim bulb. He was a man of great intelligence, both a scholar and an avid baseball fan. It made no sense.

Then I read the Dowd Report, the investigative report prepared by former federal prosecutor John Dowd, a man whose named you have dragged through the mud over the years. The report supports only two conclusions: (1) You were guilty as charged based upon overwhelming proof; or (2) you were so thoroughly despised that dozens of people would conspire to destroy you. I was wrong. You lied.

Of course, you remained defiant, that is, until you finally fessed up in 2000. I guess you knew you would never be reinstated unless you came clean, so you admitted to gambling on baseball. In your typical fashion, you didn’t confess in a meeting with the Commissioner or with any humility. Instead, it was part of a book, My Prison Without Bars. Almost immediately, you began hawking autographs with the inscription: “I’m sorry I bet on baseball.” I can buy one on PeteRose.com. Pete, you still can’t get out of your own way.

You know baseball history. Baseball was almost destroyed by gambling in the early 20th century when the Chicago White Sox fixed the 1919 World Series against, ironically, the Reds. After the Black Sox scandal, gambling on baseball was the third rail of the rule book. Touch it, and you’re finished. Anyone who bet on baseball would be banned for life–no exceptions.

You know about Hal Chase, first baseman for the New York Giants. Prince Hal was an early example. He was banned in 1921 for betting on his own team. Chase was a particularly scurrilous character who was also rumored to have fixed games as far back as 1910. The rule was clear–bet on baseball and leave the game forever.

Dowd estimated that you may have been in debt over $100,000 at the time you were banned. The new revelations show that some of this debt may have been owed to a bookie connected with organized crime. Did you really mortgage yourself to the Mob while we were cheering your return to Cincinnati?

This latest revelation isn’t the first indication that you bet on baseball while playing. In his book, Pete Rose: An American Dilemma, author Kostya Kennedy offered several anecdotes of such gambling, even from your own mother! I suspect we’ll now start hearing more such stories. Hopefully, you’ll remain silent. When you defend yourself, things seem to get worse. Regardless, your time for confession has long since passed.

You taught me that my heroes do, indeed, have feet of clay. I believed you because I wanted to believe. I wanted to believe you loved baseball just like I did back in those days when you were a hero. Instead, you trashed the game by committing its gravest sin.

Your apologists–and there are more than a few–compare this to steroids. That’s a false analogy for a number of reasons. First, no one ever threw a game because of steroid use. Second, during the so-called Steroid Era, performance enhancing drugs weren’t even banned. Finally, you–of all people–should have been above this.

I’m not suggesting that you ever threw a game. I’ve never heard even a rumor about that. If I did, though, it wouldn’t be hard to believe. That’s where you’ve taken yourself.

What about the Hall of Fame? Contrary to some people’s belief, the Hall of Fame is not run by Major League Baseball. It has its own rules. Frankly, its rule declaring you (and all other banned players) ineligible is, at best, silly. Allow the voters to decide. Prince Hal never got in, even though he was regarded as one of the best players of his day. The Steroid Era stars have found the doors to the Hall closed to them despite none of them being on the permanently banned list.

As far as the ban goes, I have no sympathy for you. You knew the rule. You’ve done well because of your banishment. Unlike some, I don’t begrudge you making money hawking your autographs and photo ops. With your lifestyle, cash is probably a necessity. If you can make money off your own downfall, so be it.

In the twilight of your career, you chased the hits record of another notorious star, Ty Cobb, hanging on well past the point of being an effective player. It is ironic that you were so driven to secure your place in the record book, while so cavalierly disregarding the game itself.

So, make no mistake. You accepted a lifetime ban that was richly deserved. You knew that. Don’t act like it’s an injustice. It isn’t. You knew the rule. You knew the penalty. That’s actually that’s the epitome of justice.

The most surprising part of all this is that I’m still a fan. I’m a fan of No. 14 who strutted with his chest out. Charley Hustle who ran to first on walks. I see you rounding second with your helmet flying off and then diving head first into third. You made kids like me love baseball. It seemed like more than a game. It was important. It mattered. I just wish you’d felt the same.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2015

Four Years and Four Forecasts

I often make predictions.  They are often correct.  By “often” I mean “sometimes.”  For example, I once predicted that every match in the World Cup would end in a 0-0 (or “nil-nil” as we futbol fans say) tie.  I was correct 68% of the time.  I also  predicted that my son would be placed on academic probation based upon his failure to attend any of his classes.  Correct again.

Oh, sure, I also predicted that New Coke would be a hit and that Milli Vanilli would launch a successful comeback.  It strikes me, though, that predictions mean nothing if I don’t share them with someone.   That way, others can perhaps benefit from knowing what’s going to happen or not.

I had an aunt who was a fortune-teller.  She had a crystal ball and everything.  Madame Ruth, she was called.  So, this may be in my blood.  Come to think of it, she was only my aunt by marriage.  I guess I got it somewhere else.

With this in mind, I offer a few predictions for the coming years–four for each of the next four years.  Let’s call it the 4×4 Forecast:

2014:

  • Beginning immediately, the word “Lebron” will be uttered during every ESPN Sportscenter broadcast until 30 days after the death of Lebron James in 2062.
  • Justin Beiber will  do something embarrassing in public.
  • A politician will become embroiled in a sex scandal.
  • You will inadvertently “sext” one of your former teachers resulting in a torrid May-December romance.

2015:

  • The return of Jesus Christ will receive scant notice in the press as it will occur on the same day as Prince George utters his first word.
  • Kim Jong Un will be photographed looking at stuff.
  • One of your close friends will obtain a copy of the Gay Agenda and recruit you into homosexuality.
  • Revisionist historians will connect the late Junior Samples to the Kennedy Assassination.

2016:

  • Texas Governor Rick Perry will stab Jim Lehrer with a fountain pen during a televised debate in an effort to buy time to think of an answer.
  • Abe Lincoln will leap from the grave sometime during April.
  • You will see someone you are sure you know but you will not remember his or her name.
  • As expected, a Clinton takes the White House.  Not so expected, it will musician George Clinton who will rename Washington, D.C. “Funkadelphia.”

2017:

  • In early March, the EPA will surprisingly announce that global warming is actually a good thing.
  • Violence will break out among radicalized Anabaptists resulting in numerous suicide buggy attacks on barns throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.
  • After having experienced Same Sex Divorce, the LGBT community will lead a campaign to ban Same Sex Marriage.
  • The Chicago Cubs will win the World Series.  (Okay, I just made that one up.)

So, there you have it.  Four predictions a year for four years.  Some of it will happen.  Or not.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

 

 

Staring Into The Abyss: Street Life

 “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche

I recently spent a few days in Washington, D.C. I have been to our Capital before, but this time I had a few hours to play tourist. Two of my law partners and I strolled the National Mall and surrounding area. Seeing the Capitol, White House, museums and other landmarks, one of my partners noted that it made her proud of her country. Indeed, one would have to be a jaded American not to feel the same way. I know I did.

I was in Washington on business. I had been asked to speak at a conference at the United States Department of Labor. Such things, of course, make one a big deal.

As we walked from our fabulous hotel two blocks from Capitol Hill, we approached several workers preparing for their day. They wore hard hats, boots, work gloves and those reflective vests which one hopes draw the attention of distracted drivers. These men were assembling scaffolding on the sidewalk and running industrial extension cords for whatever project awaited them.

As we neared the workers, I noticed that were negotiating their way around several piles of trash on the sidewalk. I thought it was a shame that among all those impressive sights, our nation’s capital couldn’t keep its sidewalks clean.

Then I saw the feet. They were sticking out from under a pile of carpet felt. Then I saw another pair beneath a pile of rags and plastic. Between the feet was a body. Wedged between two buildings was another man, swaddled in rags and staring blankly. These could have been corpses or garbage, but they weren’t. They were people–men huddled against the elements, awaiting nothing.

My concern that morning was that my feet hurt from the previous day’s sight-seeing. I also had my talk to give. This, of course, was very important, too.  I was living a world away from those fellows.

The day before, I had walked by that same spot and noted that the building housed the Mitch Snyder Arts and Education Center for the Homeless. I’m embarrassed to admit that my reaction had been to dismiss this as foolishness. What kind of do-gooder thinks the homeless need art? I even cracked a joke about it to one of my partners.  This Mitch Snyder must have been some rich guy who thought art would help.  How about some beds?

When we walked back to our hotel several hours later, the scene was much the same.  The workers were still working.  The piles of humans were still there, too.  Pedestrians disinterestedly passed both.  We crossed to the other side of the street.  On that side, those piles didn’t exist.

It struck me that’s how my life works.  I live in suburbia.  I have a job.  And a family.   Those men don’t exist in my world, although even in the college town of Lexington, Kentucky, I am no more than a 15 minute drive from them.

Who are these people?  Most assuredly, they are wracked by some combination of mental illness, addiction and poverty.  We know that many of them are military veterans–the same men we breathlessly laud for their service to our country, reduced to nothing so much as refuse.  In fact, one would expect common garbage to be removed from the sidewalk.  People, it seems, are a necessary evil.

At this point, one might muse “There but for the grace of God go I,” the well-known idiom attributed to 16th century martyr John Bradford as he saw prisoners being led to execution.  How many of us really believe that?  Not many, I suspect.  You may be imbued with an arrogance that you are somehow protected.  Family, friends and God will shield you from this fate.

I no longer believe that I am either graced or protected.   At the risk of offending my readers, I have no use for a God who arbitrarily graces me while He curses my brothers.  If I embrace that I am so special then I must also accept that others–through no fault of their own–have been ignored or even damned by that same God.

Those men on the street have families.  They are sons, siblings-even parents.  They have had friends and lovers.  Each story is different but all share a common thread.  Somewhere, somehow, they fell to the point where I saw them in Washington or in Las Vegas on New Years Day this year or here in Lexington.

I learned about some of these men from a friend of mine.  He lived this same life years ago.  Born to parents who neither wanted nor loved him, he suffered a childhood of abuse and neglect.  In his teens, he was homeless and a budding alcoholic and addict. Into adulthood, mental illness gripped him as he drifted from town to town unable to hold a job or establish anything most of us would call a “life.”

The good news is that my friend overcame his addictions and for several years worked and made a life for himself.  Fate, though, can be cruel.  In the past few years, as he approached middle age, my friend suffered disabling illness which has threatened to take away this life.  He gets along as best he can with the help of friends and doctors, and is grateful for all he now has, as meager as it may seem to me.  Yet, he will occasionally look at me and ask:  “What did I ever do to deserve this?”  I have no answer. Now, when I consider all that I have in my life, I ask the same question.  I have the same answer.

What of Mitch Snyder?  My judgment was wrong.  I have since learned that he may well have been the greatest advocate the American homeless ever had.  He is credited with forcing the District of Columbia–largely by public shaming–into providing shelters for the homeless.  A common tactic was to publicize the funerals of those who froze to death on DC’s streets.  His public fasting directly led to the donation of an empty Federal building as a 1400 bed homeless shelter–the largest in America.  In the end, Snyder couldn’t conquer his own demons.  In 1990, at age 46, he hanged himself in that shelter.   His Community for Creative Non-Violence continues his work.

For all his efforts, I suppose Snyder never conquered homelessness, either.  Don’t ask me for the answers.  I still wonder why I have so much while others have so little.  I do know that money alone isn’t enough.  If you think this can be remedied by handing out checks or jobs, I disagree.  Visit one of your local homeless shelters and talk to the residents.  Few can handle money, much less a job.  We can do better offering them food and shelter, but that can be limited help.  My friend told me that always avoided shelters because they were “too dangerous.”

Snyder was right when he thought that those men on the street should enrage the public, but they don’t.  They make  us sad, even a tad guilty perhaps, but few of us rage against it.  Even worse, a fair number of us condemn such people as drains on society, symbols of those who can’t–or won’t–take advantage of all our great country has to offer.  This is, after all, the Land of Opportunity.  Each man and woman can do anything he or she sets out to do.  If that comforts you or eases your guilt, go on believing it.  I’ve come to believe that opportunity isn’t doled out equally nor is success measured the same for everyone.  For too many, survival equals success.

A person born to my circumstances has little excuse for failure, while my friend mentioned above can easily be forgiven.  I’m not naïve enough to think that we can eradicate homelessness anymore than I would believe that we can assure success for everyone.  Nor do I think my observations are great revelations.  It’s not like I just discovered this problem, but I don’t think I’ll see it the same again.  Something about the juxtaposition of my privileged stroll down the street with men living on that sidewalk gave me new perspective.

If nothing else, the next time I’m patting myself on the back for something, perhaps I’ll consider those men.  No one’s life is easy.  We all have our trials.  I suppose we all run the same race, but many of us had a head start.

©2014 http://www.thetrivialtroll.com

Dying to Get High

Since Philip Seymour Hoffman’s body was discovered on February 2, 2014, I’ve pondered whether to write about it.  What can I add to the flood of coverage?  Maybe nothing, but here goes.

Let’s stop being ignorant about drug and alcohol addiction.  We once embarked on a well-meaning, but painfully naive, campaign to JUST SAY NO to drugs.  Perhaps one day a high-profile drug death will force us to JUST SAY NO to our collective ignorance of addiction.  Addiction is disease, plain and simple.

Many of us think of the famous and talented has having something we don’t, an edge that we’d love to have.  This is largely true.  Addiction, it seems, is the great equalizer.

That Philip Seymour Hoffman was a great actor is undeniable, so, too, it seems is the fact that he was a drug addict.  Being a great actor is a mark of distinction.  Being an addict is not.  The addict is like a character from a Tom Clancy novel, operating in the shadows, doing his best to conceal his true identity.

Hoffman gave many fine performances as an actor.  His skills are now a footnote to his life.  He will be largely remembered for how he died, not how he lived.  For all its trappings, this is one element of the price of success.  Anonymity is gone.  Fame–or infamy–take its place.

Hoffman is not afforded the vague obituary of the common addict.   You know some of these people.  Their obituaries say they died “suddenly” or “unexpectedly” or after a “brief illness.”  Perhaps they died of “heart failure,” another common euphemism for overdosing or drinking oneself to death. There are no requests to support cancer research or hospice care in lieu of flowers.  They are relegated to the same types of amorphous remembrances as suicide victims.

Hoffman died like most addicts–alone.  By all accounts, he had been clean for over two decades, only to relapse in the past couple of years.  It took him two decades to build his enviable career.  It took his addiction less than two years to kill him.  If you are familiar with addiction, you’ve seen this same story play out before.  Regardless of how glamorous one’s life may have been, this death is not.

The addict’s death is an ugly death.  Google Chris Farley’s name, and one of the images you’ll see is his body after his overdose death.  Ugly might be a mild word.

The chances are that every person reading this knows an addict.  Perhaps you are one yourself.  If so, you know the power of the addiction.  Maybe you are one of those for whom addiction is a sign of weakness or poor morals.  If so, consider:

  • Have you ever taken an illegal drug?
  • Have you ever taken a prescription drug that belonged to someone else?
  • Have you ever taken a legal drug but not followed the directions?
  • Have you ever had a drink of alcohol?
  • Have you ever been drunk?

Some folks-very, very few–can answer “No” to all of those questions.  If so, you have avoided the risk of setting off your addiction.   If you answered “Yes” to any of those, you are simply one of the vast majority of us.

The great puzzlement of addiction is that most people–indeed, the overwhelming majority–can do all of the above without becoming an addict.  Life for an addict is different.

The simplest (and best) explanation I’ve ever heard for why we drink or take drugs is this:  We like the effect.  That’s hard to admit for a lot of us.  We want to think we are wine connoisseurs or that we “experiment.”  The truth is more blunt:  We like the effect.

The addict likes the effect, too.  His world, though, is different.  He obsesses about the effect.   When he consumes a drink or his drug of choice, he likes the effect, but then craves more.   In his last days, he can’t quite get the desired effect.  More is better but never quite enough.

I am certain that most people reading this cannot relate.  You may have a drink or two at dinner and think “I better slow down.  I’m starting to feel this.”  Maybe you smoke a joint to relax.  For the addict, that drink or joint lights the fuse.  His response is “I’m starting to feel this.  I need more.”  As F. Scott Fitzgerald said “First you take a drink.  Then the drink takes a drink.  Then the drink takes you.”

Hoffman, Lenny Bruce, Judy Garland, Whitney Houston, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, River Phoenix, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin–all well-known drug deaths.  A similar list could be compiled of the famous who drank themselves to death.  Actors, athletes, politicians–the lists are practically endless.

These are the addicts we know about.  Consider all the ones we don’t. They include your friends, neighbors and even family.  Maybe you, too.

Like other diseases, addiction doesn’t discriminate.  The rich and poor; black and white; male and female; young and old–addiction throws a broad net.  The addicts I’ve known include doctors, lawyers, accountants, realtors, salesmen, ministers, carpenters, brick masons, electricians, janitors, politicians, housewives and many others.  Money, success, failure, poverty–none of this matters.

You may be of the stripe who say “Lock ’em, up!”  While I disagree, I understand the sentiment.  It is more comforting to think we can hide it.  Looking at it is tough.  There is shame in it.  And fear.  We’ve stuffed our prisons full, yet our friends and neighbors still die.

There is good news, though, among all this sorrow–and it is sorrow, by the way, destroying the lives of the addicts and all those who care about them.  Addiction is treatable.  Make no mistake here–it is not curable.  The clean addict or sober drunk is one drug or drink away from disaster.  Ongoing, effective treatment can and will prevent that.   Our attitude toward addiction remains a great stumbling block.

The stigma attached to addiction is daunting, worse perhaps than mental illness.  While we’ve grown accustomed to taking a pill for this or that , we still shrink at the thought of a drug addict or alcoholic among us.

Shaming the addict into the shadows with the threat of prison or ostracizing him won’t work. I’ve never known an addict who enjoyed his or her addiction in its chronic form.  No one sets out to be a drug addict or alcoholic.  Sanctimonious preaching won’t cause a great revelation in the mind of the addict.

Why don’t they just straighten up?  You might as well ask a cancer patient why he “doesn’t just get well.”  I once heard that no one was ever shamed or browbeaten into Christianity.  Treatment for addiction works the same way.

If we consign addiction to the dust bin of moral failure, we simply accept it as a human frailty.  It is much more than that.  Likewise, it is not a bad habit.  Leaving one’s dirty clothes in the floor is bad habit.  Drinking or drugging oneself to death is not.

Addiction is a disease of the mind and body.  The addict’s mind drives him to his drink or drug while his body craves more.  Addicts aren’t “partying.”  They are dying.

Addiction has one distinction that other diseases do not.  Often, the addict has no desire to stop.  The disease convinces him that he has no disease.  I can think of no other chronic, fatal illness that has that so affects its sufferer.  As a result, getting help for an addict is difficult, even impossible in many cases.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

I suspect that if a terminal illness swept through our population like addiction has, we would bring every possible resource to bear on its eradication.  Of course, it is foolish to think we can eliminate this disease.  As long as there are human beings, some will want to change how they feel.

Perhaps if we take addiction out of the shadows and remove the stigma, we can make some progress.  If every drug or alcohol death were publicized, we would be horrified by the numbers.  For all his fame, talent and wealth, Hoffman died the addict’s death.  He leaves children to mourn him and puzzled friends.  The next time you hear of an overdose death, think about your friends and family.  There’s probably an addict lurking among them.

©www.trivialtroll.com 2014

Help A Drowning Man

phil

I am awash in a sea of bad information. How did this happen? I’ve spent too much time in the ocean of social media where information is plentiful, but accuracy is sacrificed for speed and volume. How does this happen? The easy answer, of course, is that people are idiots. This knee jerk response is just as flawed as the flotsam vomited out on social media even as you read this. People love outrage. More precisely, they love to be outraged. This is especially true when politics and religion are involved. This causes otherwise intelligent and thoughtful folks to randomly post thoughts, memes and links which are related to reality only by the thin thread of having originated from someone’s mind.

Another answer might be that I spend too much time on social media and should do something else like a read book.  No thank you, Egg Head.  That ain’t happening.  We need to work together.

Phil Robertson is now the millstone around my neck.  If you don’t know who Phil is, then good for you.  You aren’t into social media and perhaps spend your time writing poetry.  If so, you’re probably not reading this anyway. Phil is a “reality TV” star.  His show, Duck Dynasty, is entertaining.  It certainly seems scripted to me, but what do I know?  Perhaps Phil and his family became multi-millionaires while bumbling about like…well…reality TV stars.

I won’t rehash what Phil did.  There’s no point in doing so.  He said things that pissed people off or made people happy.  Outrage ensued.  Many folks–again, otherwise intelligent–have risen to his defense by citing his right to “free speech.”  One poster on Facebook said “What the hell happened to free speech in this country?” The answer is nothing, because Phil’s opinions have nothing to do with free speech.  “But, but, but…he got FIRED!!”  You are correct.  He did get fired.  Free speech, unfortunately, doesn’t prevent that.  “YES, IT DOES!” you screamLet’s read the First Amendment of the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

[Note how I helpfully highlighted the part about “Congress.”]   Congress has made no law regarding speech which affects Phil at all.  In fact, no government official has done anything to Phil.  Maybe you love what he said about gay people and African-Americans.  If so, you have found some common ground with radical Islam.  Maybe you’re a Libertarian sort who supports everyone’s right to speak his or her mind. I really don’t care.   But, let’s all agree to never invoke the First Amendment again on this issue.  We’ll all feel better.  I know I do.  Thanks.

It’s not only the plain language of our Constitution which cause confusion.  Easily verified claims also drive us to hysteria.  Here’s a favorite example. Occasionally, a meme makes the rounds about Presidential and Congressional pensions. It reads:

WAGES

Salary of retired US Presidents……………………….$450,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of House/Senate members……………………$174,000 FOR LIFE

Salary of Speaker of the House……………………….$223,500 FOR LIFE

Salary of Majority/Minority Leaders………………….$194,400 FOR LIFE

Average salary of a soldier DEPLOYED IN AFGHANISTAN ……$38,000

Average income for Seniors on Social Security …………………$12,000

I think we found where the cuts should be made! If you agree, pass it on!

Aren’t you outraged?  This is patently insane.  Why would these people get paid for life!?!?!  What kind of country do we live in?  That’s a valid question but not because of this.  The above information–while outrageous–is incorrect in almost every way. None of these people–not even the President–gets full salary for life. It simply is not true. Does this stop folks from being outraged about it? Of course not. Variations of this meme have been posted many times on social media.  The comments are fairly frothing with their condemnation.   Here’s my suggestion:  When you see something that is so inane as to make you want to immediately post it on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, stop and think.  Since you’re probably on the Internet at the time, do a simple search.  Check the facts.  You’ll be amazed how easy it is to confirm or counter such things.  Again, we’ll all be better for it, and you won’t look like an uninformed ass.

Then there are the half-truths, those items of interest based in reality but twisted into something sort of whole truth.  Here’s a meme making the rounds:

veterans

The House of Representatives passed a budget bill cutting pensions for veterans.  (Not “Veteran’s”).   That much is true.  The reduction is actually a reduction of the cost of living increase for certain pensions.  It’s what I call a “Government Cut.”  A “private cut” is where you make less money next year than you made this year.  It only applies to certain veterans–ones deemed young enough to re-enter the work force.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  This seems like a bad idea.  We’ve worn out our military with endless wars.  The least we could do is leave their pensions alone.  On the other hand, don’t worry about veterans actually getting a cut in their pensions.  The private sector, where there are no pensions anymore, is the only place that happens.

This is a prime example of excellent propaganda. Take a grain of truth, twist into something outrageous and scare everyone. Remember that Hitler got elected by scaring the hell out of people. There’s a reason he had a Ministry of Propaganda.  It works.

Finally, there are those debates that rage over opinions.  Most of these involve politics or religion–two topics which civilized people never discuss.  Bear this in mind:  There are two sides or more to each such debate:

  • Obamacare:  POINT–The program is already failing and far too expensive for the country to afford.  Socialized medicine will lead to reduced services for everyone.  COUNTERPOINT–It’s the law.  Give it time, and the kinks will get worked out.  If socialized medicine is so horrible, why do we provide it to our military veterans.  Wouldn’t they be better off buying their healthcare in the market?
  • Phil Robertson:  POINT–He’s free to speak his mind and express his faith.  Leave him alone.  COUNTERPOINT–People are also free to be offended by his comments.  We don’t have to leave him alone.
  • NSA: POINT–The Government is only gathering data. They have no way to do anything with it. COUNTERPOINT: Yet. There is nothing more un-American than spying on your citizenry.
  • TAXES: POINT–Let’s raise taxes on the highest earners. This would quickly fix all our fiscal problems. COUNTERPOINT–Our government has a history of spending every penny it brings in–and more. Until we fix that, more revenue won’t help.

These few examples show how it works. There are two sides to all theses issues. It just depends on your political prism.

Of course, acknowledging differing opinions isn’t our way. God forbid that we be asked to actually respect another’s views.  We prefer to be right.  In fact, we demand it, even when we are wrong.  I am fortunate to have friends from all walks of life.  Their politics range from Left-leaning Communists to budding Neo-Nazis.  The Right’s take on current events is a combination of moral outrage, moral superiority (always Christian), the U.S. Constitution  (if you don’t like something, it’s unconstitutional) and some nostalgia (such things as whipping children are fondly recalled).  The support Republicans and like all Ayn Rand quotes.  The Left approaches these issues from a different angle, of course.  They are intellectual titans ready to make fun of religion (always Christianity.  They don’t say anything about Islam, Judaism, et al.), cite obscure authors, and engage in relentless name-calling often involving obscene language.  They support Democrats and love to quote Barack Obama, Mahatma Ghandi and hate all Ayn Rand quotes, even though most of them are atheists like Rand.

Here is a typical social media exchange regarding Mr. Robertson, who has eclipsed war, world hunger and random violence as the issue of the day:

  • Original Post:  I stand with Phil!  The Bible says that we will be persecuted for Him! Christians have freedom of speech, too!  Our country is being destroyed!  I will never watch TV again!

[See how our friend has concisely encompassed the significant elements of right-wing rage.  The Bible, persecution, morality, patriotism and broad and incorrect legal principles.]

A response from the Left naturally flows:

  • Comment:  You can stand with that bigoted, homophobic, racist if you like.  I have never seen his show.  In fact, I do not own a television having traded mine for a Navajo Dream Catcher.  Freedom of speech is not an issue here–offensive, racist, homophobic rhetoric is.  The Bible supports all manner of prejudice.  I suggest you read the collected works of Bertrand Russell instead.

[Our Leftist chum has countered with his own salvo.  He engages in name calling that far exceeds anything Mr. Robinson has done but does so from a perch of intellectual superiority. He is above mere TV watching.  He concludes his concise commentary by inferring that atheist mathematician/philosopher Bertrand Russell is a better source for moral guidance than the Holy Bible. Well done.]

This exchange will continue with many additional posts by these and other commentators.  The Right will contend they are right because, well, they are right…or Right.  The Left will froth and name-call, even resorting to the use of vulgarities to make their points.  Ultimately, no one makes any sense and everyone is angry.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I have engaged in this foolishness on occasion, especially when legal principles are misstated.  I forget my advantages in this regard:  1) I have actually read the Constitution; and 2) I graduated from law school.  I, too, have been called names.  One Lefty even called me a racist for correctly noting that the ubiquitous George Zimmerman is Hispanic.  I countered with own my stream of obscenities.  It’s easy to fall into this trap.  I do not judge.

Let’s all commit to work as one to make all this easier for me.  After all, wouldn’t the world be a better place if things suited me?  Don’t be a racist, homophobic, liberal, conservative, Communistic Neo-Nazi, Bible-thumping Atheist.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013