15 January 2017

I Belatedly Offer My Top Ten Films of 2016



1 Manchester by the Sea (Lonergan)
2 Paterson (Jarmusch)
3 Moonlight (Jenkins)
4 The Handmaiden (Park)
5 Hell or High Water (Mackenzie)
6 Nocturnal Animals (Ford)
7 The Lobster (Lanthimos)
8 American Honey (Arnold)
9 Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Waititi)
10 Silence (Scorsese)

Honorable Mention: Elle (Verhoeven) Don’t Think Twice (Birbiglia)  Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Schaffer/Taccone)  Certain Women (Reichardt)  Christine (Campos  Jackie (Larrain) Hail Caesar (Coens)

Best Actor: Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea)  Runners Up -- Jake Gyllenhaal (Nocturnal Animals), Chris Pine (Hell or High Water) Colin Farrell (The Lobster)
Best Actress: Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals)  Runners Up -- Natalie Portman (Jackie), Rebecca Hall, (Christine) Sally Field (My Name is Doris)
Best Supporting Actor: Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals) Runners Up -- Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water), Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea)
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis (Fences) Runners Up --  Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea), Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

10 January 2017

Kevin: A Great and True Friend 1950-2017

Kevin (on the right) and I celebrating a Cal football victory last September.

Shit.

Kevin died. He was among the best friends I ever had and I will miss him for the rest of my life. At this writing I am zipping back and forth through various stages of grief -- with the exception of acceptance because that is simply a long way off for me. I’ve had enough.

My best friend died in 2002 leaving two step sons and his own son, a toddler at the time. My father died six years later and though he was 92 he had been in great health until a fluke fall. Another good friend and former co worker succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2011. He had been a hale and hearty man who played and coached sports. My brother was taken in his sleep in 2012. Though he’d had health problems his death was a shock. Now Kevin, who also had endured heart problems but who recently seemed to be perfectly fine. He died in his sleep  (just as did my brother). Several former students have also died in the past few years not to mention other relatives and acquaintances.

Life sucks.

I first saw Kevin in a drinking establishment that I was frequenting in the early 1980s. I always sat at a table either with a date, a friend or alone. Often there would be a four or five person contingent of loud, boisterous gay men congregating at the bar. They were clearly having a grand time and I couldn't help noticing their reveling and laughing. Several years later I was at a 12 step meeting when one of those gentlemen walked in. He was new and a bit nervous. Since I recognized him I had reason to strike up a conversation and assure him that he was in the right place. He appreciated me reaching out.

I didn’t see much more of him for the next few months until one faithful day. It was the morning of the annual Big Game (Cal vs. Stanford in football) and I had just boarded the train to Palo Alto. I was alone. All of the people I’d gone to football games with were still partaking copiously of alcohol so I had no one to go with. Just before the train pulled away someone asked if he could have the seat next to mine. It was Kevin. He’d not noticed it was me until I’d looked up and responded.

We chatted for the whole train ride. We had much in common, particularly our love of the University of California and its football team and our struggles to overcome addiction. We arranged to meet after the game and ride the train back to SF and the subway to Berkeley.

That was November 1989, I had one daughter at the time and another arrived 13 months later. My wife and children met Kevin a few times and he always, always, always asked about them. He clearly shared my pride in my offspring.

For 27 years I saw Kevin regularly at Cal football games, men’s basketball and women’s basketball games (in the off season we regularly met for coffee and 2-3 hour conversations). For the last 12 years we sat together at women’s games, spending as much time yakking as we did watching the games. Besides sports and addiction issues we chatted about music, TV, movies, travels, politics and family. Every year Kevin would go back to his native Hawaii to visit family. He spoke lovingly about the islands and his trips as well as his three siblings. I briefly met his youngest sister but felt as if I knew his family quite well. When his oldest sister called me last night with the news about Kevin, she told me how often they had heard about me. I was deeply touched to know that Kevin spoke of me to his family.

Last Friday night the Cal women hosted their first home game in three weeks. I was looking forward to the game and seeing Kevin and catching up. He wasn’t there. This was odd as he usually arrived very early and save me a seat. He’d always email or text me if he was going to miss a game. I emailed Kevin that night and kept checking for responses through Sunday morning. None came. This was a particular concern because Kevin was always quick to reply to emails, especially now that he was retired. I went to Sunday’s game hoping he’d be there with an explanation for missing the game and not responding. He wasn’t. I texted him. I was worried. This was so unlike him.

Last night my cell phone rang. Caller ID indicated that it was Kevin calling and for a second or two I was relieved and happy as I answered the phone. It was not him. His sister had found his cellphone, seen my text and was calling with the news I’d feared since Friday night.

Kevin could talk and talk and talk. He generally dominated our conversations. But he was interesting and always asked me questions and listened. Plus he was family. Those occasions he got on my nerves (which were few and far between) I let it go. Kevin was too much fun to hang out with to let a little thing interfere. And they were always little. Kevin and I never exchanged angry words and I was never upset with him.

I’ll miss our running jokes. I’ll miss our email exchanges (I would always sign off with a Go Bears! But he always out did me with a GO BEARS!!!). I’ll miss comparing the era we grew up in with today. I’ll miss sharing observations about Cal players and coaches. I’ll miss our poking innocent fun at strangers from afar. I’ll miss our frank discussions on alcoholism and sharing stories about our abuse and how we managed to survive. I’ll miss his rigorous honesty and his perspective and his compassion and his righteous indignation about some of the idiots in political power. He hated Donald Trump with a passion and not living through his presidency is the only blessing I can imagine about Kevin’s premature departure. I'll miss his reliability, his story telling, our sharing of reminisces and his warmth, kindness, dignity and hatred of Stanfurd.

I sometimes shared my writings with him and he always responded with compliments. Not everyone I know does that. I was most touched after sending him blog posts about our recent trip to New York. Twice he told me that my writing of that trip was so vivid he felt like he was there.

Kevin lived by himself and was celibate the entire time I knew him. But I never for a second felt that he was lonely. He knew how to enjoy the world and fill his life with pleasure. He was manager of the apartment he lived in and was always doing service for AA. Kevin’s heart problems started last Spring and in partial response he took Tai Chi, Hula and a dance class. He was also — in his own words — a chatty Kathy and knew people most everywhere he went. This was a richer man than most millionaires can ever expect to be.

As I mourn the loss of another person who was close to me, I take great comfort and even joy in having had the pleasure of spending so much time with him. While I struggle with grief and the void his departure creates in my life, I know that in the heavens there is a star shining ever brighter now -- for he is within it.

GO BEARS!!!

08 January 2017

It's a Lucky Life, Even in Death


We shall find peace. We shall hear angels, we shall see the sky sparkling with diamonds. -- Anton Chekhov

I’d never had any real trouble in my life. No legal problems, health issues, accidents or fights. My life was all pretty tame. Sure I’d had anxiety and a little depression once, I was fired from a job during college, I broke an arm in high school. But nothing serious. Not even a traffic ticket, or a stay in the hospital or more than a few months of meds. I’d had steady employment too and earned enough to buy a house and, with my with Edna, raise a family — three kids. Like everybody else I’d read about terrible things happening to other people like being run over by a drunk driver, or being in a plane crash or being wrongfully accused of a crime. All that stuff seemed so far as if I was watching a TV show. Didn’t apply to me at all. Not part of my life experience. None of my family or friends had experienced anything particularly out of the ordinary. Yeah sure a cousin died in and industrial accident and a friend got cancer and a few other people I knew suffered various minor mishaps, but it was all run of the mill stuff and never touched my immediate family.

But my luck ran out. Fact is I always knew I was a lucky guy. Meeting Edna, for example. That’s a story right there, but suffice to say it was a series of fortunate circumstances that led to our meeting and what became a gloriously happy marriage. Also the good health and absence of injury can be ascribed at least in part to luck. No illusions about it, dame fortune had smiled on me since the day I was born and until the day I died.

I was on my commute home. It was a Friday and I was looking forward to my weekend and relaxing and spending time with the kids. It was going to be one of those rare weekends with no plans, no obligations. Completely free for me to set my own agenda. Usually there’s a recital, or soccer game or dinner party or a big chore on the schedule. Not this weekend though. What could be better?

I was sitting on the subway train  reading the evening paper. There was a story about a hiker who’d gotten lost and survived for six days in the mountains before being rescued. One of the many “glad it wasn’t me” kind of items that I’d been reading all my life. At one stop I noticed this big burly guy getting on the subway car at the same time this even taller, bulkier fella was getting off. They bumped smack into each other. They started to exchange angry words when --  whattaya know --  they recognized one another. And they were not friends. Not at all. In fact it just so happened that they were real bad enemies. One cussed at the other and the other cussed right back. The bigger fella threw a punch and tagged the other guy on the shoulder. So the guy that was hit pulled out a knife. This was happening just a few feet in front of me. If I’d wanted to see this confrontation, I had the best seats in the house. In fact, it was like watching live theater up close only it wasn’t a play but a dangerous situation. So like I said the one guy who had been getting on pulled the knife. Well the other fella backed up a couple of steps and what does he do but pulls out a gun. The knife carrier immediately lunges at the gun wielder trying to stab him. The other fella moves back to avoid the blade and then fires his gun. But he’s off balance and the bullet whizzes past his enemy and hits me right in the abdomen. So ended my string of luck.

What had happened between those two after that is a mystery to me. I bled like crazy and was in considerable pain until I passed out. For reasons unclear to me it took forever for me to be attended to and transported to a hospital. By the time I got to the emergency room I was done for. I died on the gurney just as the attending doctor was sorting out my situation. It was a permanent end to my mortal luck.

So now I’m an angel. Not since I was a little kid and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” did I believe there was any such thing as an angel. That was basically all just bible stuff as far as I was concerned. I always thought that the main messages of the bible were just great but that the stories themselves, like of Jonah and the whale or Lazarus being brought back from the dead, were just that, stories, stories meant to teach a moral or shine light on theological point. Now I don’t know because here I am an angel and so anything is possible.

Backtracking a bit, what happened was when I died my soul lifted out of my body and I saw a bright light. Just like you hear people talk about when they come back from being clinically dead. Before I headed for the light I looked down and saw my earthly body on the gurney and the doctor and two nurses looking at me. It was weird all right, but I wasn’t the least bit frightened or sad. Somehow the thought of Edna and the kids having to mourn and then make do without me didn’t make me tear up or anything. I was overwhelmed with a sense of happiness and wholeness and acceptance. It sounds insensitive and self indulgent that I should be oblivious to my family's suffering but it wasn't. Trust me on this, some day you'll see.

The next part is kind of hazy. I clearly remember seeing my dad (who died four years ago, my mother is still hanging in there) my grandparents and various other deceased relatives and friends. It all seemed quite happy although at no time did I have a sense of exactly where I was and what was happening. And no, we weren’t all on clouds. To tell you the truth I don’t know where we were. Physically I felt at the same time like I was in perfect health and like I had no physical feeling at all. There was certainly no pain, or hunger or thirst and the closest thing to emotion was satisfaction and the sense of acceptance I mentioned before. I had no thoughts of the future and the past was my Earthly life and I felt like I could look at all 47 years all at once and see everything that had ever happened to me like it was a three dimensional movie.

Time was not a thing at all. It just didn’t exist and no I can’t explain it other than to say that the whole concept of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years etc. was totally gone. That absence felt just great.

So like I said I saw a bunch of people who had pre deceased me and we had happy communications (even my Uncle Ron who I’d never gotten along with) and without saying a single word. Talking, per se, didn’t exist, ideas and concepts were exchanged with what I guess you'd call mental telepathy.

One of the messages I got was not from anyone I’d known. My sense was that it came from some higher authority. Not God, but an entity of some importance who sort of told you what’s what. I was quickly given to understand that I was to serve as an angel and that I would know what to do when I got there. Next thing I know after receiving that communique I’m on the job and what an interesting one it is. The first thing about it is something you’d never guess. Sure I’m looking after a few people on Earth, and no they can’t see me or hear me, but the really odd part is that I’m not serving in the time period I left or even a future one. No sir, I’m back in the 18th century. On top of that I’m in France. City of Caen in the Normandy section, close to where the D-Day landings were.

I never spoke a lick of French when I was alive but darned if I can't understand every word anyone says. And if there’s someone speaking a language other than French or English, I get every word of that too.

I’m mainly responsible for these two brothers and their sister. One of the boys is in his early twenties and his siblings are in their late teens. They still live with their parents and a baby brother but I don’t oversee the rest of the family. The parents run a shop and its a pretty big one and they need their older children to help out. The oldest is supposed to take over the shop. The other lad in my charge is hoping to move to Paris soon, he wants to be a writer. Seems the girl is destined to marry but she's the sharpest of the lot in my estimation, always has her nose in a book and keeps a detailed diary. If ya ask me she could be a pretty fair writer herself.

As to my specific duties, well that’s pretty hard to explain. Now there are certain things I can protect them from and others I can’t. For example I see a tree is about to fall on one of them as they’re walking I can influence them to stop and think about something so that the tree hits the ground before they're under it. Or if one falls off a horse and is about to break their neck, I can twist them mid air so that they get nothing worse than a bruise. Things like that. I don’t, however, have complete power. Some things will happen and I’ve no control over them try as I might. I figure that those things are God’s call.

But I get to do more than bail them out of jams. I listen to their prayers (believe me it helps, I just can’t tell ya how) or give em a nudge when they’re thinking of doing something. For instance it could be something they should do and I can influence them to do it, or it could be the opposite and I can deter them. These things are my call. I’m surprised at the autonomy I have as an angel. Except of course God, or whoever, can override me. Sometimes I’m trying to help them but they do the wrong thing anyway. I don’t question why. That’s not my role.

I’m also there to listen to their musings and I have access to their inner thoughts. You’d think it was kind of weird but it’s just part of what I do. Now you may be wondering how it is I can oversee three people who are not usually at the same place at the same time. The thing is I can be with all of them simultaneously no matter where each one is located. Sounds weird but that’s just the nature of my current existence. I don’t question it or wonder about it.

The rest of the family has an angel too. I can’t see let alone interact with the angel but I can feel her or his presence. I also know that not everyone has an angel. I’m guessing Hitler didn’t and serial killers don’t but it’s not the kind of thing I can be sure of.

I like my, for lack of a better word, “life.” I feel lucky to be guardians of such nice, smart and attractive people. I also know — and don’t ask me how — that I’ll have other such assignments and that I’ll always feel contentment and best of all I’ll see Edna and the kids at some point.

It’s kind of a strange thing. Here I am dead and I feel just as lucky as I did when I was alive. Actually, even more so.

05 January 2017

The Author Has Fun With Words and Includes a Photo of Rihanna Although She is Nowhere Mentioned



Sometimes I can’t identify with myself. At other times I can’t identify myself. And there are other times when my identity is subsumed by my personality. I see issues regarding my personality to be highly personal. So much so that I don’t share them with myself.

I’m not altogether sure why myself is one word. It seems that there is me and what is mine, as in my. There is the self and indeed many selves. So when I refer to the self that is mine I think it should be my self.

On a number of occasions people have said to me: "speak for yourself. " Oddly, in none of those instances have I just said: "speaking on behalf of the group...." Therefore it should be evident that I  have been speaking “for myself.”

People sometimes say, “speaking of witch,” but then they don’t say anything about a witch. What the heck?

I’m perplexed about people saying: in other words….But then they use the same kind of words from the same exact language.

In court, witnesses are asked to say what happened “in your own words." If a person has her or his own words, how can we expect to understand them? It’s better to use words in common usage. So obviously they are not going to use their "own words."

Sometimes people write: what I’m trying to say…..Why not just “say” it?  It’s as if the person wrote: “here is a sentence explaining my meaning.” Silly.

I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating: when people say or write, “don’t get me wrong” I always decide that I will indeed “get them wrong.” Nobody tells me how to “get” a person or what they say. I reserve the right to be all wrong.

Some people “I self identify as….” one way or the other. My question is why not just say “I identify as….” We assume the self part.

Is it okay to like words that are negatives? For example I like the word egregious. It’s a word that means conspicuously bad. But I like the word. Is that weird? I also like mellifluous which is a positive word meaning to have a smooth, rich flow. So I like all kinds of words. Like perpendicular. According to Merriam-Webster, it means: “standing at right angles to the plane of the horizon:  exactly upright.” Nice sounding word. Here’s another word I like, obsequious. Of course this refers to giving fawning attentiveness. A lot of people would use kiss ass instead but I like obsequious better.

Here’s something fun. I’m going to put those four words I like into one sentence. Watch.

Gunther had made an egregious mistake by placing the items perpendicular, but his obsequious employee, speaking in a mellifluous voice, praised Gunther for his ingenuity.

Not bad, eh?

There are many more words I like for their definitions, such as sensual, sumptuous and gorgeous. Oh, I just remembered, I really like the word cacophonous. Many of the words I like are longer ones — like sesquipedalian, which, interestingly enough, describes itself. It’s the use of long words. Words like, oh say, sesquipedalian. Similarly you have grandiloquent which is pompous or extravagant language. So it too is a word that describes itself.

Some words are overused like “awesome” which used to mean an expression of awe or inspiring awe (actually it still means both those things). Awesome is used for anything and everything now. First it was for things like “it was an awesome party” or “we had an awesome time.” Now — goodness me, it’s a catch all. You can tell a waiter your order and get the following reply, “awesome.” Come on! The fact that I’m having a Caesar Salad is not in any way shape or form something that should engender or inspire awe. It’s just a freaking salad.

I’ve always loved words but in my current incarnation as an ESL teacher they are of great professional importance. I have to explain words and idioms and how they are used and not used. For example a student might say, “so we must do this homework for tomorrow?” I’ll point out that while their sentence is just fine and dandy (actually I never say fine and dandy while teaching) people don’t use "must" like that anymore. Instead people say: “so we have to do this homework for tomorrow?” Must is still used as in “I must have left the folder on my desk.” But virtually no one says that they “must go to an appointment.” I make a distinction between what you can say and what people actually do say.

For some reason students coming from all over the world want to use the word moment as in, “in this moment I am planning a trip.” I have to give them the news that, while still very much in use, moment is not utilized in such a way. Instead people say, “right now” or “currently.”

Excuse the digression (digression is another word I like) but why is it called “Facebook”? It’s not a book and there’s much more than faces on it. They never explained that in the movie, The Social Network. I have a limited knowledge of Facebook as I shy away from it. I'm not even signed up for it. I think Twitter, Instagram, and two blogs are sufficient. How much more of me could anyone take?

Back to words....

If “it goes without saying” then logically you shouldn’t say it. Even better (or worse) is when someone says, “unless I’m mistaken.” You can use that for pretty much anything. “Unless I’m mistaken two plus two equals four.” Or. “Unless I’m mistaken, rabbits weigh up to 390 tons.” Then there's "unless I miss my guess." People don't say that much anymore and I think it's just as well.

Often when I part from a person I'll say: “have a good one.” Other people do it too. But we never specify what “one” represents. Maybe I'll start saying, "having two good ones," just for shits and giggles. That's an odd combination, shits AND giggles. The first is disgusting and the second fun. Why are they together? Someone else can look that up, I''m not that interested.

When someone I know enters a room I’m prone to saying, “there she is.” Unless it’s a male in which case I say, “there he is.” I make no apology for this and don’t even know why I brought it up.

Next time someone says to you: “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” I believe it behooves you to say, “well then I’ll need a list of all the things you don’t do so I’ll know to avoid them.” Or. “What if something you wouldn’t do is something I do regularly with no ill effect and that I in fact enjoy?”  Just saying.

I like “just saying” and “so it goes" and most of all, “asking for a friend.”

If you are very very very old like I am (I have distant memories of running away from dinosaurs) you may remember that peole used to say “skip it.” Not any more. Now it’s “forget about it." Also no one is bashful anymore, a person is “shy.” Also you never work for an “outfit” anymore. But you do wear an outfit. Sometimes people say "I'll pass." I prefer it when people say “no thank you." "I'll pass" does not sound polite. Because it isn't. Speaking of which, “my bad” is not nearly as polite as “I’m sorry, its my fault.” At best "my bad" acknowledges responsibility for a mistake but in no way does it signify any regret.

Relationship language is a bit weird. For example: “I’m seeing someone.” Really? I see lots of people. In line with that is, “they’re not seeing other people.” Sounds kind of silly. Also silly sounding is, “they’re serious.” Really? No laughs? No fun? It’s all very “serious.” Finally there is “I’ve met someone.” Hey, I’ve met a lot of people, what’s the big deal?

This has been a blast. Out of sight. Really cool. Awesome. Terriff. Neat. Boss. Super. Far out. Boffo The best. Sick. Bodacious. Incredible. Dynamite. Swell. Primo. Groovy.

Well for me it has been. I'm speaking for myself.

31 December 2016

Goodbye 2016, You Sucked

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, their deaths capped off a terrible year.


"Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream, it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it. How do you think someone who dreams about us would feel when he wakes up. Feeling ashamed?" - From Ingmar Bergman's Shame (1968).

"Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love! "

The above was tweeted earlier today by the US president elect. I think it sums the “man” up rather well. He is utterly lacking in any class or grace. Never mind the fact that he brings to the highest office in the land not a shred of understanding for his position nor any empathy for the people he was “elected” to serve. His presidency — however long it may last — could prove to be the undoing of the United States. Democracy as we know it is in grave danger. Corporations will be unregulated to such an extent that they will attain unimaginable profits while the poor plunge even further into poverty. Capitalism was an interesting idea but it is clearly an out of control monster that devours everything in its path and must be under the strictest of controls.

He is liar. A cad. A cheat. A hypocrite. A narcissist. He lacks ethics, morals or values. He is an inspiration to racists everywhere. Not to mention sexists, idiots and the lowest form of life and conservative evangelicals who have perfected the art of hypocrisy to an extent that even the president elect can only aspire to.

So will begin 2017. A year that — difficult as it may be to imagine — might be worse that 2016.



So there’s that. There’s also something else troubling: the social fascism of millennials. Recently Steve Martin tweeted about the death of Carrie Fisher “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be witty and bright as well.” He was lambasted for being sexist because he had the gall to point out her beauty and list it ahead of her other attributes. Martin deleted the tweet. Outrage is easy. Manufacturing outrage is easy. In today’s world with comments, opinion, sentiments and just plain old sentences flying about social media, finding some silly thing to get riled about is a particularly simple matter.

People with common sense came forward and defended Martin and raged at the raged. As one person commented: “I’m so tired of all this binary thinking and heartless self righteous anger….” Exactly. You can’t use these words. You can say anything about these or those people. These people can’t make jokes about those people. You shouldn’t say that or even think this. Increasingly we are seeing — from the left, mind you — strictures on free speech that will mute social commentary, dialogue, humor, expressions of grief and truth telling. Words and expressions are being taken away. Thin skinned self righteous millennials are particularly guilty of moral indignation and consequent hissy fits anytime someone steps over a line that none of us knew even existed. Somewhere Cotton Mather is smiling.

All is not bleak. It just feels that way. This feeling, of course, stems from horrible national and international events but is worsened by the losses of still more deaths of beloved celebrites, the aforementioned Ms. Fisher and then her mom, Debbie Reynolds are only the latest in a long line who have died these past 12 months. No word on whether anyone born this year is capable of filling the void.

But I look forward to the coming year. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said. (We could sure use his like today.). I hope he’s right. It is worth noting that the world is in many respects a safer, cleaner place than it ever has been. In more and more countries women are gaining more rights and protections as are gays, children, the elderly, the handicapped and other minorities. However, there is — as we have seen in the US — blowback with the rise of racist national groups and xenophobia, but that is inevitable. Hopefully we shall overcome. It has happened. Pessimism gains no one anything, other than an excuse to sit out the struggle. And struggle we need.

There is music, there is art, there is literature, there is film, there are still some uncorrupted sports competitions. There are parks, forests, beaches and other natural wonders. There is instant communication and air travel. There is scientific progress. There are advances in medicine. There is love. There is hope. And I don’t mean Bob.

So what's next? How about this? "Whatever happens, it's time to bury neoliberalism. We need genuine wealth + power redistribution. Only a real left can fight fascism." - Naomi Klein



23 December 2016

A Little on Weather, a Bit About Christmas, a lot on Trump (yuck!) Then Something on Mental Illness and Finally Back to Christmas

Joulupukki, or Santa Claus to you non Finns


It’s cold, rainy and windy. Typically one adds: outside. I don’t see the point. If you are blessed with four walls and a roof and your windows are closed you should be experiencing neither rain nor wind in your domicile. Cold is another matter. This requires a heating system and proper insulation to avoid frigid weather. So as I was saying, it is cold, rainy and windy. My reaction to this is: huzzah! It’s December, it’s nearly Christmas and it is most appropriate that we have what many call “foul” or “bad” weather. I call it beautiful weather because I’m just the slightest bit odd. I guess you could scratch the “slightest bit” part. I find sunny cloudless days to be boring. Oh I don’t mind them now and again, particularly after a good hearty storm.

Despite my leftward political leanings and my indifference to religion and to the notions of god, jesus and virgin births, I love the Christmas season. I’ve made much of this fact in the past. The religious over tones of the holiday don’t bother me so much because I was raised with them and now find it simple enough to ignore them. The commercialization of Christmas is something people have been complaining about since I was a child (yes Christmas started before I was born ) and furthermore those complaints date back at least as far as the early 1900s. I like the break from the usual that Christmas provides. The colors, the trees, the gift giving, the huge meals, the family gatherings, the carols and Jolly Old Saint Nick himself. Plus you’ve got some darn good Christmas-related films (not to mention a plethora of bad ones) and a few good Christmas specials on TV. Most of these are from 50 years ago.

I have many other things on my mind besides Yuletide. I was asked recently what I thought would happen under a Trump presidency. Anyone who tries to predict the next four months, let alone the next four years, is full of it (I’ll leave to your imagination what “it” is). I challenge anyone to correctly predict the next four weeks. We are in unknown territory. The United States has never had a president who in anyway resembles this unbalanced individual. The potential for serious havoc being wreaked is unmeasurable. It does seem likely that Trump will violate the constitution (much as he has violated women) and suffer an impeachment. Indeed its hard to imagine this not happening. How much damage will be done in the meantime is incalculable. The president elect is a prolific liar, notoriously thin skinned, utterly capricious, malicious, narcissistic and totally incapable of understanding the niceties of diplomacy.

Meanwhile the country may well be torn asunder. Virulent racists are crawling out from under rocks, spewing their hatred, sometimes on the internet, sometimes in speechs, sometimes through graffiti and vandalism and sometimes directly at a person of color. Trump’s election has emboldened white nationalists, nazi wannabes, the KKK and all manner of racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islama phobic nut jobs. There will come a point when shots will be fired -- literally -- people will clash in the streets and more bombs will be explode. Because Trump has assembled a cabinet chock full of million and billionaires who have no regard for anyone beneath their station (i.e. the overwhelming number of the people they serve) we can expect massive indifference and devastating funding cuts to little things like education, research, alternative energy, housing and the social safety net. The Affordable Care Act may suffer and there’s but little question that — at this extremely critical time — efforts to combat climate change will be cast aside. It’s dumbfounding and depressing that we will have a president and his cabinet who deny what the rest of the world knows and what over 90% of climate scientists says is a verifiable fact. The inmates will be running the asylum.

Will Trump trample on basic first amendments rights? He may try. Will he ever release his tax returns. On a cold day in hell. Will he ever hold a press conference. Probably one, eventually, and likely he won't like the experience and it will be nigh on impossible to get him to do another.

As I alluded to earlier, I am very far to the left of the political spectrum (something I will address on this blog in the very near future). Trump’s election and his forthcoming presidency are pushing me farther to the left. My reading of late has included a lot about Vietnam, Nixon, Watergate, and most especially the radical movements of the Sixties and Seventies including two sets of memoirs by former members of the Weather Underground. Trumpism may well lead to a huge revival of radical leftist politics. It will unquestionably further arouse the progressive populism that Bernie Sanders stirred last year. It is conceivable that, in the long run, much good could come out of Trump’s buffoonery. It may lead to a meltdown of conservative politics and do severe damage to the republican party. Meanwhile the Democrats could move further left. They may, ala Bernie, stop trying to compete with republicans for moderates and state their case from the position of a purer form of liberalism.  Republicans successfully shifted far to the right in the Eighties with much success. Since FDR was president, Democrats, at least those who have earned the presidency and others in power, have betrayed their progressive roots in order to seduce conservative Democrats and die-hard moderates. While Obama did as much as he could given congressional interference to carry out strong liberal domestic policies, his foreign policy did not differ significantly from that of his predecessors from either party. Drone strikes killing civilians and damaging US status, were carried out pell mell. The fight against terrorism has gotten nowhere fast.

But enough about depressing topics. My own personal depression has abated significantly recently with nine of the last ten days seeing yours truly perfectly happy. I bring a message of hope to fellow sufferers that there are good days in your future no matter how bad it feels now. I’ve had some dark days that suggested my permanent condition would be one of terrible melancholy. I’m not out of the proverbial woods yet but I’m enjoying what I can one day at a time. Having experience with a 12 step program makes a lot of things in life easier to cope with. I have also been coping with the diagnosis that I am bipolar. I wasn’t surprised to learn that this was the case but I was amazed and hugely disappointed that something so obvious was not previously recognized. Especially since I bear all the characteristics of someone on the bipolar spectrum. Indeed I was ultimately quite relieved by the diagnosis as it gave me a label for some of my “problems” and one that I share with a great many people.

I am happy today and I look forward to enjoying tomorrow when I will be with daughters, wife, nieces, nephews, their spouses and their children and my sister-in-law for a traditional Finnish Christmas Eve celebration. Damn it I like Christmas and don’t care who knows it. Trump on the other hand….

17 December 2016

A Most Fateful Walk



Bill Allen, 38, of Wicketsborough Connecticut went out to get a loaf of bread one night last year. It was a little after 8:00 on a cold autumn night. Three days later he was in a Turkish prison being raped by Bahar Aslan, a suspected murderer. It seems that Bill Allen, photography store owner and notary public, bore a striking resemblance to a Russian spy, one Yuri Ivanovich.

In the aftermath of his abduction no one back in Wicketsborough, nor anywhere else in the US, had the foggiest notion where Bill Allen was. His wife of 15 years, Debra Allen and his daughter Lisa (9) and son Buster (nee Robert) (6) were, unsurprisingly worried. So too was the family dog, Chester, (4) who could sense unhappiness within the family circle. The Allen’s cat, Rusty seemed to be carrying on as usual.

A month prior, Bill Allen had been in New York city to check out some new photography accessories being previewed at an exhibition. At some point while strolling through Manhattan, Bill was spotted by a Turkish agent who was in New York tailing a Saudi operative. The agent notified his superiors who sent a man to do what used to be called in movies, a tail job. Allen’s resemblance to Yuri Ivanovich was unmistakable, right down to their short blonde hair parted on the left. It also was a fact that Ivanovich, very much wanted by the Turks as well as other nations, had not been seen in two years. Apprehending the Russian spy would be quite a coup as he was the bearer of many secrets that the Turks dearly wanted.

What no one then knew was that Yuri Ivanovich was no longer of this Earth having drowned while fishing in Australia and subsequently being feasted upon by a seawater crocodile. What remained of him could hardly be used to certify identification, especially given the amount of time said remains had been in the water.

That fateful night two Turkish agents had lured Bill Allen toward their van under the pretext of asking for directions. Bill was a notoriously trusting fellow who had no reason to suspect that anything was amiss. He took things at face value. Sadly for this trusting fellow, the agents very neatly and quickly rendered Mr. Allen unconscious and tied him up in the back of the van. By the time the man who resembled a Russian spy regained consciousness, he was somewhere over the Atlantic. Needless to say Allen had no clue what was happening to him and was quite frightened. Actually more like terrified.

None of the Turks spoke to their captive, not even to answer any of his questions. Their silence continued after the airplane arrived and he was driven to the prison. As a tactic of many agencies when having captured a foreign spy; Allen was left to wonder at his fate even as he was thrown into a prison cell alongside the aforementioned Mr. Aslan.

One might wonder if the Turks were at all suspicious of the fact that their captive was not speaking a word of Russian and that his English was fluent and without an accent. However the late Mr. Ivanovich was known to be fluent in several languages betraying nary an accent in any of them.

It was five days before Bill Allen was brought out for interrogation. By this time he had cried, screamed, wailed and nearly gone insane contemplating the horrific and unknowable events that had visited him. He was ordered to sit in a chair at a table facing two Turkish men in suits. The room was absolutely sterile ,windowless, clean and stark. A bright overheard light shone on the middle of the table. A uniformed guard stood by the door.

Mr. Allen was addressed as Yuri Ivanovich by one of the men across from him and spoken to in Russian. The confused and terrified Mr. Allen cried that he didn’t understand them and demanded to know what was happening. He then sobbed. One of the two men then spoke English to the prisoner saying that they would “play this portion of the game” his way. He then asked Mr. Allen, “what have you to tell us?”

Bill Allen, owner of a photography store and notary public, wailed that he didn’t even know where he was or why he was here. “Very good Yuri Ivanovich, we’ll just have to allow you more time in your cell to decide that you will talk to us and tell us everything we ask.”

The men started to get up. Bill Allen, in a loud, desperate, pleading voice cried, “wait! what did you call me? You’ve got the wrong guy. I'm not even Russian!”

“Surely,” one of the men said, “you can do better than that. Why don’t you quit this charade and save us all precious time by talking to us.”

“I’ll talk! I’ll talk!” insisted Mr. Allen.

The two men retook their seats. “Let us start by you telling us who was responsible for the killing of our man in Athens and why he was killed.”

Bill Allen was dumbstruck. He did not possess a great intellect. Yes he’d managed good enough grades in school, but he merely learned what was required and possessed no intellectual curiosity. He was a simple man of simple tastes who, besides spending time with his family, enjoyed nothing so much as watching TV with his wife. But it was now clear to him that he was mistaken for a spy, probably a Russian one, as he correctly believed that that was the language they’d spoken to him in.

“Do you think I’m a Russian spy? Is that what you think? You’ve made a mistake, a terrible mistake. My name is William Allen, I own a photo shop in Wicketsborough. That’s my hometown, you see. You can ask anyone there about me. I have a wife and children and they must be desperately worried. Oh please, take me to the American embassy and we can straighten this whole thing out. I’ve just got —- ”

“That’s enough, Mr. Ivanovich,” said one of the men as he raised a hand. It seems you’ve chosen not to cooperate. I must say you are a splendid actor. I could well imagine you fooling many people.” Then the man nodded at the guard.

“But I’m not acting. I really am who I say. I can’t even speak Russian.” But the guard pulled Bill Allen out of his chair and led the sobbing man back to his cell and into the loving arms of his cellmate.

Three days later Bill Allen was brought into the same room and seated in the same chair across from the same people with the same guard at the door. Questions were asked and innocence was pleaded. Allen grew nearly hysterical and the two men calmly watched. Then one stood and slapped the prisoner across the face. Then hit him in the chest. Then spat in his face. Then slapped him again and yet again Then punched him in the stomach.

“You see, Yuri Ivanovich, we can talk calmly or we can be rough. In fact, if we talk calmly you will soon have your own room and be served very nice meals. So what do you say? Will you cooperate?

Bill Allen’s face was crimson and there were flecks of blood on it and his shoulders. His chest ached and it had taken awhile to breath normally after the punch to the gut. He had never been struck before and had never even played a contact sport. The poor man was sobbing uncontrollably, large strings of snot were streaming out of his nose. It was then that two men began to consult with one another, speaking quietly in Turkish. They expressed doubts that this was really Yuri Ivanovich. For one thing, said the man who had struck him, he is so soft, hardly like a Russian agent. Yes, said the other, and this sobbing like a woman does not seem to be acting, it’s too good. Plus, they both agreed, no Russian agent, particularly not one as notoriously tough as Yuri Ivanovich would sob at all, let alone so passionately.

Mr. Bill Allen was placed in a room with a small, but comfortable bed with clean sheets. There was even a window that looked out onto a field. The photograph store owner had not seen the outdoors since going out for the loaf of bread. He was also given clean clothes and allowed a shower.

There he stayed for three more days, receiving decent meals and fresh water to drink. Bill Allen was far from happy but in his misery he was suffering less. He was left to wonder why the change, as welcome as it was, and what to expect next.

Meanwhile the Turkish agents conducted a rigorous investigation (or more precisely had fellow agents in the US do it) into the background of William Allen of Wicketsborough, Connecticut. It took three days to receive a report saying that the man was just who he claimed to be. As for Yuri Ivanovich, there was no trace of him and more importably for Bill Allen, no record of him ever being in Connecticut. Indeed there were reports that he’d last been seen in Australia.

Now it had to be decided what was to be done with Bill Allen. Turning him over to the American embassy was out of the question, it would be far too embarrassing and injurious to US-Turkish relations. There was talk of merely shooting him and burying his remains where they’d never be found but that was dismissed on humanitarian grounds. Finally it was decided to put Mr. Allen right back to where they had taken him. Just leave him on the street where he had been abducted. He could thus re-unite with his family and surely no one, at least not in an official capacity, would believe his story — if he could himself to tell it.

So it was that Mr. Bill Allen was heavily sedated and flown back to the United States. By the time he was in the van — the same one he’d rode to out of Wicketsbourough in, Allen was awake, if groggy. He was alone in the back left to his thoughts having no clue where he was going.

Allen was dropped off on the same street where he’d been picked up at virtually the same spot at the same time of night. Even his loaf of bread was replaced. He wore the same clothes he’d had on that night, nearly two weeks ago. The driver of the van and his companion drove off as soon as they had deposited Bill Allen.

Bewildered, dazed, confused and terribly anxious, the poor man walked on wobbly legs the two and half blocks to his home. When he walked through the front door his wife Debra screamed — half in delight and half in shock. Lisa and Buster, who had been staring numbly at the TV set, leapt to their feet, crying “daddy, daddy, daddy” over and over again. Chester barked and jumped wagging his tail furiously. Rusty looked up from his perch atop the sofa, licked a paw, then resumed his slumber.

Amidst all the weeping and hugging and kissing, Mrs. Allen finally asked her husband what had happened and where had he been. Bill Allen veritably staggered to his easy chair and plopped down. He looked up lovingly at his wife, smiled at his kids and said, “you’d never believe me, not in a million years.” On the walk home Mr. Allen had wondered what he could possibly say to anyone about his disappearance. The real story would seem bizarre and beyond belief. His own recourse was a lie. One he was still trying to concoct as he sat down.

“For heaven’s sake, Bill, tell me!” his wife demanded.

Mr. Allen paused a moment then said, “I don’t know, I guess I fell or something and got amnesia because I can’t remember a thing. The last thing I remember is paying for the bread. The next thing I knew I was staggering down the street with a blinding headache, knowing that some time had passed since I left for the store."

"I wonder where you could have been? People were looking all over for you. Your disappearance was on the local TV news and in the papers. Anyway we're just so glad you're home.

"I'm confounded by all of this too. So tell me, how long have I been away?”

“Almost two weeks, Bill, 12 whole days.”

“Well, I’ll be darned,” Bill Allen replied.

11 December 2016

A Bout of Insomnia Evokes Memories of Hangovers



“I drink too much. The last time I gave a urine sample it had an olive in it.” - Rodney Dangerfield

Hey guess what I got to struggle with last night? My worst ever case of insomnia. Woke up at 12 something, 1 something, 2 something, 3 something and when I work up at 4 something there was no getting back to dreamland. I had both tossed and turned to no avail and so finally got up and spent an hour on the computer. I tried at last to sleep on the sofa and did so quite fitfully for 90 minutes before giving up on that too. So guess how I feel now? If you said like warmed over ostrich vomit you are correct.

The day after a bad night of sleep recalls the many hangovers I used to suffer. In fact one day a few months ago I woke up after not sleeping well adding to this I was severely depressed, had an upset stomach and a headache. If my wallet had been empty and I’d only recalled parts of the previous night it would have been exactly like a hangover.

When I was drinking, hangovers were just part of the deal like being sore after a good workout. Sometimes there’d be a point in the evening at which I realized that if I continued imbibing I’d be in for that morning after feeling. Usually I said, “aw screw it” and carried on nonplussed.

The typical hangover consisted of a blinding headache, achy bones, weakness, queasiness, guilt, anxiety, regret and a dash or two of depression. Hangovers varied according to what you drank.  I found beer hangovers to be the most tolerable unless the evening’s grog had consisted of heavy malts. Those could produce some dozzies. Wine hangovers were the ones most likely to cause nausea. Hard alcohol made for the worst headaches. Mixing drinks could also be lethal. The worst though was the Irish Coffee hangover. Whiskey, sugar and coffee are a brutal combination plus the concoction kept you up longer thus allowing you to drink more. Irish coffee hangovers made suicide seem an inviting option.

Hangovers could be blunted in two ways: drink plenty of water before going to bed, take two Tylenol. The problem is that you’re often too sloshed to think of it. As for hangover cures I found the best thing to do was to sleep as late as possible. After rising a shower would be in order and then, if at all possible, a hearty breakfast. But no matter these, the only real cure was a hair of the dog. A beer or two would take the edge off and if you could stop at a buzz you were usually good for the day. The risk, of course, was going beyond a few and starting in another evening of bacchanalia.

Another addition to hangover woes was cocaine, the more you’d partaken the worse the morning after. The cocaine itself could cause a nasty hangover and the copious amounts of liquor that the coke kept you awake to partake in furthered the damage. You may wake up next to a stranger. I did twice. In one instance I had no idea what her name was and we clearly been "intimate" the night before. Upon waking up she left and I never so her again nor did I discover her name. I remain particularly ashamed of that night/morning. I also woke up a few times to find vomit not far away. In one cases it had splashed upon a new book I'd just purchased that featured stills from all of Humphrey Bogart's films.

Drunks are perfectly happy to discuss and compare hangovers. The imagination runs wild in describing the hangover. One regular description was that a hole had been bored into the brain and sand had been poured in. There was also the claim that jackhammers were busy at work inside one’s head. Of course some swore off alcohol for a few days, a week or even longer when in the throes of a nasty one. You could tell a drunkard by the fact that the drinking would recommence well short of the goal. Often that very day. A real sot wouldn’t bother with promises and just get on with the drinking.

The real problem with hangovers was the guilt, shame and regret at what you did remember and the horror associated with large chunks of the evening that you had no memory of. God knows what you had done. Sometimes you can strain your brain and recall an image or person or a snippet of conversation. The worst was when the whole evening was a blank. You may well have insulted someone, flirted with the wrong woman, made a fool of yourself in front of the right woman or just made an ass of yourself in front of everyone. Sometimes you’d see a fellow reveler the next day and hear something to the effect of, “boy were you a mess last night” Or, “do you even remember last night?” Sometimes it wasn't so bad as in, “you were hilarious last night.” I once had a woman tell me what a good dancer I’d been and how funny I was. I neither recalled dancing nor making jests.

One day I woke up with no memory at all of the previous night. Total blank. Later that day I went to meet the people I’d been with that night at our favorite watering hole. They weren’t there. I asked around and someone told me that they’d gone to another bar. Funny, nobody told me. When I entered they turned their backs to me and pretended I wasn’t there. A collective cold shoulder. Freezing cold. I had a love/hate relationship with the most prominent member of our group and I’m sure that while in my cups I’d brought up every grievance I’d ever had with her. I slunk off, chastened, never to see “the gang” again. No matter, I moved out of the town shortly thereafter.  Some years later I heard that the aforementioned woman had died of cancer while still in her early forties. I regret to this day that I didn’t make amends with her.

When you have a serious pain somewhere your body is telling you that something is wrong. Similarly if you are ill there is cause that sometimes requires investigation. With that in mind a hangover is certainly an internal memo to your brain and body that what took place the previous evening did damage and is to be avoided in the future. A heavy drinker is not interested in that missive.

One of the great joys of sobriety is the complete and total absence of hangovers. Other ailments come along but they do not visit us out of our stupidity and there is no shame, no empty wallet and no gaps in the memory.

If you partake every now and again but rarely get tipsy and do not suffer hangovers, I congratulate you. Mind you I don’t understand this ability at all. Even today when I see or hear of someone having “a couple of drinks” and truly no more, I’m dumbfounded. How is it possible? Sure there were a few occasions when I stopped after one or two but they were the exception.

Now the exception is when I wake up not feeling well. Life can get better — provided you get enough sleep.

04 December 2016

The Author Tries to Positive With Moderate Success He Also Praises Two Recent Films and it Should be Noted that Rihanna is Nowhere I Just Used a Photos of her Because She's my Celebrity Crush



I wanted to write about how annoyed I get with bicyclists and people who talk on cell phones in public and how ridiculous cigarette smokers are but I decided to go into a more positive direction which means I’ll also not be talking about commuting as it’s nigh on impossible to have anything positive to say about commuting other than, “today's commute was relatively free of agonizing delays and horrible incidents.” So the gist of all this is that I have to be positive. Oh my lord that can make for some boring writing. Plus how positive can you be in the age of Trump?

Challenges. We claim to like them. I remember as a middle school teacher we were supposed to stop referring to students who were a pain in the arse as “bad kids” or “trouble makers” or even “difficult.” They were to be known as “challenging students.” Oh good a “challenge.” It will be a real “challenge” to teach this kid, hell it might be a real "challenge" to get the little bastard to stay in his seat.

But again I fear that is being negative and my purpose here is to spread sunshine, rainbows, fairy dust and moonbeams and do so in the age of Trump. Speaking of that buffoon. Could his election mark the decline of the US? Sure, some would argue that said decline started awhile back. Maybe with Watergate, or Vietnam or either of the Red Scares. But the country has remained propped up and holding its own although still dispensers of terror from the sky often in the form of drone strikes which have the nasty habit of incinerating innocent people. But at least the US stood for something. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure what it stood for, maybe, to quote the great Groucho Marx, “it stood for plenty.”)

Now we’ve got a megalomaniac bigot with conflicts of interests positively bursting from the seams whose appointing every regressive person he can find to dismantle as many progressive changes as we’ve been able to manage recently. The first Twitter Troll in Chief. The most thin skinned of all presidents, and the least prepared and maybe the one least interested in the job. My goodness a president who can make George W look bad. Seems impossible.

That leads me to another topic, people often say, nothing is impossible. Horseshit. Many things are impossible. It is impossible for me to leap over a ten story building, it is impossible to drink a gallon of battery acid without ill effect, it is impossible for a two month old baby to life an adult elephant. Here is the definition of impossible courtesy of the good folks at Merriam-Webster: Definition of impossible a : incapable of being or of occurring :  felt to be incapable of being done, attained, or fulfilled: insuperably difficult. 
 So if you say someone did the impossible you are guilty of grammatical fiction. You may, however, say that someone has done something that was previously thought to be impossible. Our we clear on this?
So that wasn’t all so positive so maybe I should change the topic. Maybe. Then again maybe I’m just not in the mood. Funny thing is that as I write this I’m enjoying about my sixth day in a row with little or no depression*. Longest streak since April. Maybe I’m cured. Yeah I doubt it too. But its good not to be slumped in a chair looking deep into nothing, seeing nothing, hearing nothing feeling only existential pain and wondering if there was ever really such a thing as happiness. Along came some new meds. So now I skip merrily down the street tossing daises in the air and singing a happy song. Oh joy.

Actually I do want to make a point about bike riders: stay off sidewalks, obey the traffic laws, and don’t intentionally ride slowly in front of cars. And another thing, keep your fucking bikes off public transportation. They take up space, bump people on the train on the platform and on the escalator.

Sorry that was another example of a lack of positivity on my part. I’ll try harder. Here we go: I saw a cute squirrel the other day. Reminded me that I grew up with a walnut tree in my backyard which was regularly visited by squirrels. Most of them were skittish and did not like to fraternize with homo sapiens. I remember a few who would approach you if you had a nut in your hand and one particularly bold furry friend who actually took a nut from my hand. I also recall a rabid squirrel. What an awful racket it made and how fearsome it seemed. Amazing that a little furry tailed creature can be so frightening -- but it was -- particularly knowing that its bite would pass along rabies. As a child I was given to believe that the cure for rabies came from a very long thick needle that caused almost as much pain as would rabies.

Movies. I’ve seen two fantastic films this year, the best I’ve seen in theaters since Birdman. The two are (drum roll) Moonlight and Manchester By the Sea. Both have received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and have won some of the early bird film awards for 2016. So in saying they are great movies I’m not exactly breaking new ground. Still this is encouraging, especially in light of the fact that I’ve seen some other very good films. I keep thinking that the movie industry is dying but they keep cranking out the odd excellent film every now and again. It doesn't always seem so because of the flood of stupid comedies and ridiculous action films and zombie films that permeate cineplexes throughout the year.

What’s so good about Moonlight and Manchester is that they don’t pander. They are not targeted to a particular demographic, they aren’t reboots of older films, on another in a series of a franchise or a cinematic version of a comic book. They do not have dazzling special effects, a big Hollywood mega star, a booming soundtrack. They are not rife with cliches or at all predictable. They are honest original films that tell human stories. That’s really all you want out of a film along with good cinematography, proper direction, editing and locations that compliment the story. (Well this part was kind of positive.)

The Holiday of Christmas Season is open us. That means many of you will go to your battle stations to help fight for or against the War on Christmas. The forces trying to “protect” Christmas are in a much superior position. They have great economic strength, millions of adherents to the holiday and traditions galore. One might even argue that there really is no war to speak of. People saying Happy Holidays in place of Merry Christmas may at times be silly and at other times appropriate, but in any case its nothing that’s going to tackle the behemoth that is Christmas. Nor will the removal of a nativity scene or the failure to put a Christmas tree in a public space nor anyone responding to Christmas with an emphatic “bah humbug!” Yes the very notion of a War on Christmas, perpetrated by right wing loonies is laughable. Deck the halls, everyone.

Notice in the above paragraph I did not write: The so-called War on Christmas. I had so-called. It is called that. Why do we need to put a so-called in front of terms? Often it is to demean the term. Why not refer to everything as so-called? The so-called Rocky Mountains, the so-called Jennifer Lawrence, the so-called open heart surgery.

So how’ve I done? Being positive is not so easy. Not when you are in a constant struggle with depression and not when Trump and his gang of conservative zealots is about to pillage the US. But one must try. Optimism never hurt anyone and indeed has helped many. Provided of course that one makes any efforts at their disposable to see that their optimism is not misplaced. Cynicism is an easy trap to fall into and does no good. It’s baby brother pessimism is hardly any better. As Oscar Wilde once said, “a cynic sees the price of everything and the value of nothing.” If we don’t have hope we are lost.

Keep a good thought, everybody.

* I wrote this bit last week. Since then my streak went to seven days then abruptly stopped and now I'm on day four of having the blues. So it goes.