Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Roosevelts


"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
 
Theodore Roosevelt

There are political dynasties, and then there are the Roosevelts of Hyde Park and Oyster Bay. All others are cheap imitations. The Bushes and the Roosevelts? It's like comparing apples and rotten mangoes. The Kennedy family, God bless 'em, doesn't even come close. The Roosevelts are the standard against which everyone who has come since are measured. The wannabes usually end up falling quite short. 

Chillin' with the Roosevelts
The Roosevelts are the Beatles of American political families. That may sound like a trivialization the most important and influential clan in the history of this country but, anyone who knows me will tell you that that's about as high a compliment as I am able to make. It's next-to-impossible for me to describe my admiration for these people. No matter how hard I try, I still end up understating how great a debt we owe to these decent, troubled, great and greatly  flawed  human beings. The scope of their mountaintop highs and deep-valley lows is a human drama that leaves even the most casual observer of history utterly mesmerized. This is a story wrought with tragedy - and enough screwball comedy to keep the laughs flowing. I've been reminded of this for the last three evenings watching Ken Burns' new documentary series, "The Roosevelts: An Intimate History". I'll be reminded again tonight, and every night till Saturday when the series concludes. 

For twenty-five years Ken Burns has been cranking out one historical series after another, and every one of them have been brilliant. He is in the process of working on several yet-to-be-released projects. One of them, a two-part documentary on Ernest Hemingway, won't be ready until the year 2020. I'm now at a point in my life where I can say, without a trace of self-consciousness, that I really do hope I live to see it. I'm definitely glad I lived to see The Roosevelts. It's the best one he's done thus far - and that's saying a lot!

I can't tell you who won the 1932 world series for the simple reason that, eighty-two years later, it doesn't make a damned bit of difference to our lives who won it. I can tell you who won the presidential election that year, though. Four score and two years after the fact that does make a difference. Think about this: On the evening of February 15, 1933, less than a month before entering the White House, a would-be assassin named Giuseppe Zangara attempted to murder Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami, Florida. The bullet, instead, hit Chicago mayor, Anton Cermak, who died nineteen days later. Had FDR been assassinated on the eve of his inauguration the presidency would have gone to his running mate, a not-too-visionary bigot from Texas named John Nance Garner. If Zangara's bullet had not missed its mark on that night, the entire history of the would - not merely the United States - would have been much different. "What if...." It makes the imagination tremble.

 "I should like to have it said of my first administration that in it, the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second administration that in it, these forces met their master."

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

To his own kind, FDR was a traitor to his class, or, "That man in the White House". He was not merely the most liberal president in the history of the republic, he was a radical - at a perilous moment when radical change was needed; not unlike it's needed at present.

If you appreciate the millions of acres of national parkland and animal sanctuaries set aside for posterity; if you're grateful for the Social Security check that you or a loved one receives each month; if you've benefited from one the of thousands of high schools, post offices, tunnels or bridges built in the nineteen thirties; if you have ever fallen on hard times and were forced to receive much-needed cash from the feds because you became unemployed; if you were a vet and the GI Bill of Rights afforded you a college education - in short, if during the years after the Second World War, you were able to live comfortably as a member of the middle class - thank a Roosevelt. What I just rattled off for you was the (very) short list. I have neither the time nor space to mention them all. This country owes so much to this family that it's impossible to catalog the debt. Sadly, most American are oblivious to it all. 

Lovely Eleanor
The series begins at Theodore's birth on October 27, 1858 and fades to black with the death of Eleanor on November 6, 1962. The 104 years and 10 days between those two dates comprise a saga that only could have happened in this country. Of particular note is the gut-wrenching story of Eleanor's upbringing. Abandoned by her adored father, scorned by her mother who was ashamed of the child's rather plain looks, she was an orphan by the age of ten; raised in a house run by a cheerless grandmother and two mentally unbalanced uncles. Anyone else might have succumbed to fate's cruelties at a young age. Her already fragile emotional constitution would be shattered further in 1918, fourteen years into their marriage, when she discovered that Franklin was having an affair. That she was able to overcome so much and become one of the most significant persons of the American Century is as much a testament to her inner fortitude as anything. 

While still young men, Theodore and Franklin were dealt incapacitating, personal blows that forever changed them. For Theodore it was Valentine's Day 1884 when his wife and mother died on the same day in the same house. In Franklin's case it was in the late summer of 1921 when he was stricken with infantile paralysis, never to walk again. Both men thought that their lives were over. The trumpets were yet to summon them to greatness.

"Black care", wrote Theodore Roosevelt, "rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough."

It's fifty-two years since the last survivor breathed her last breath. We are greatly diminished as a nation because they no longer walk among us. It almost takes away the fear of dying, you know?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING: 

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
A film by Ken Burns

This excellent, seven part series is available on DVD as of today. If you're unable to catch it on PBS, for whatever reason, pick it up today. Here's a link to order it off of Amazon.com:

 The Roosevlts: An Intimate History
 
As I mentioned before, it's the best thing that Ken Burns has ever done. There is a companion book available as well.

Here are some links to a few other pieces I've written over the years about this extraordinary family:

April 12, 1945-April 12, 2012:
 http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2012/04/april-12-1945-april-12-1012.html

Theodore Roosevelt: The People's President:
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2008/01/theodore-roosevelt-1858-1919.html

First Lady of the World:
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2012/11/first-lady-of-world.html

New Deal at 80 - Nixon at 100
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2013/01/new-deal-at-80-nixon-at-100.html

I've Been Consulted by Franklin D:
http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com/2013/07/fdr.html

His Tragic Valentine:
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2014/08/trs-dark-valentine.html

Obama Could Learn from FDR:
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2010/11/obama-can-learn-from-fdr.html

The FDR Library Revisited:
http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2012/02/fdr-library-revisited.html 
 
Snoozin' with the Frankster - Hyde Park, 12 February 2012

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Black and Tan Fantasies


The Tan Man
It's quite interesting and hardly surprising. It is now comically apparent that there are no depths which the loony right wing won't sink in order to defame this president. What they lack in intellect they more than make up for in sheer gall. I'm referring to what I'll call "Tan Gate".  You would have thought that the president had goose-stepped into the White House press room donning an SS uniform with a swastika arm band. But it wasn't just the extremists who joined in the fun. Some "serious" journalists had to take a stand, like the reporter from Time Magazine (I'll be merciful and omit his name) who tweeted, "I'm not sure that tan suits him". Remember, this was at a session where Obama was briefing the press on a major crisis occurring in the Middle East. The whole affair was touchingly infantile.

I've done a smidgeon of research this morning and I've been able to find images of every president going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt dressed to the nines in tan. Apparently Herbert Hoover never wore one - but J. Edgar did - often. As did their sainted Ronald Reagan. Tan wasn't in vogue when Abraham Lincoln was living in the Executive Mansion, but I think that the shade would have suited him quite well had that been the case. I guess there must be something ominously threatening about a black guy in tan. We should commission an expert in human behavior to look into all of this.

Jack in Tan
This reminds me of all of the fuss that has been made over Barack Obama's use of the teleprompter. Forget the fact that every president since Eisenhower has used them; ignore the ample evidence that Reagan would have been rendered mute without them; Obama seems to be the only president in the history of this diseased country that has abused his teleprompter privileges. It's time to impeach the son-of-a-bitch. Maybe it's a blessing for Obama that comedian-turned-fashion-critic, Joan Rivers, didn't live to see this assault on the good people of this wardrobe-conscious nation. She most certainly would have put that uppity commie bastard in his place.

But seriously, folks....Did you ever get the feeling that you were living in a really dark satirical novel? That's sort of the way I'm feeling this morning. Life is beautiful.

Shameful Teddy
FUN FACT: When Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders charged up San Juan Hill in 1898, their uniform was roughly the same color of the suit Barack Obama is being criticized for wearing today. Ain't that a hoot? At the time (and this may shock some people) not a word of criticism was made about it - nary a freakin' peep! So what, I ask you, is the big deal here? 

 The historians of a century from now are gonna have a rib-tickling blast looking into the utter stupidity that this president found himself up against during his two terms of office. Why are so many people in such a snit about the color of a suit? Where are their priorities? What the hell is the matter with them? Does anyone have an idea? Is there a doctor in the house?

If anyone reading this has access to the Obama White House I've got a dandy idea. Since he is going to send these freaks into spastic apoplexy no matter what he does, no matter what he says - no matter what he wears - at the next press briefing have the prez come out wearing the gaudiest, powder-blue leisure suit he can find - with bell-bottoms and a collar so wide that the tips of it reach to his shoulder blades. I mean, if these people are going to get angry anyway, give the assholes something to get angry about!   
FOR THE RECORD: I have three suits. One of them is tan. I'm a good American. HONEST I AM!

Some day Barack Obama is going to sit down and write the memoirs of his eight-year stint as president of the United States. When that day comes I have a great subtitle for the book: "Damned if I Did, Damned if I Didn't". This poor guy never had a "loyal opposition" with an honest disagreement with his policies and programs. Since the day he took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, he has had to contend with a confederacy of dunces and lunatics, hellbent on sabotaging his every move regardless of the national well being.

 There's something seriously wrong with this picture.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

AFTERTHOUGHT:

I had the chance to meet Joan Rivers once. The year was 1985, and I was working a metal restoration gig outside of a shop directly across from the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. She was curious about my job and we engaged in a conversation that lasted a few minutes. This may astound some of you, but she seemed an absolutely kind and lovely woman. It's a memory I've cherished ever since. God rest her soul. 

SUGGESTED LISTENING:


Grand news for all of you Beatle people out there in Pepperland: Their entire catalog has been released today on vinyl via the lost and lamented art of mono mixing. When these incredible records were made a half century ago, the lads themselves would only sit in on the mono mixing sessions, leaving the stereo production to the EMI engineers. At the time, stereo was the exclusive hobby of a relative handful of hi fi enthusiasts. Not many people had stereophonic equipment in the mid-nineteen-sixties. Although most of us prefer the stereo mixes, these recordings offer something different that should be experienced by the discerning fan of the Fabs. No-less an expert than John Lennon once proclaimed: "You haven't heard Sgt. Pepper until you've heard it in mono." That's good enough for me.

These recordings are The Beatles as they wanted the world to hear them. Here is a link to listen to a few samples:

 
http://www.thebeatles.com/monovinyl/#


A splendid time is guaranteed for all!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Reach for the Skies, America!


From the Second Amendment:

 "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

I'm sorry, am I reading that wrong?

On American soil
A little news item in this morning's paper caught my attention pretty quick. There has been a stampede nationwide to purchase as many models as possible of a particular, Russian-made AK 47. You see, Obama has just initiated a ban on importing them as part of the sanctions against the former Soviet Union because of their involvement in the Ukraine conflict. As a result, they have literally flown off of the shelves at gun stores all across this ruined land. As far as anyone can tell, there are no more of the things left. That's what is known as a good news/bad news scenario. 

Good News: There is one less dangerous weapon available. 

Ban News: In the last week America has become just a wee bit more lethal than it was the week before. Isn't that nice?

Recently our national dialogue (such as it it) has been engaged in a discussion on the "militarization" of America's police forces - not only on the left but also among the libertarian types. I understand full well the alarm that many are feeling at the prospect. But let me, just for the moment, play devil's advocate: Look at what the police in 2014 are up against. There is a huge percentage of the population that have become armed and quite dangerous. In certain parts of the country it is now cheerfully legal to carry semi-automatic, rapid-fire people-killing machines out in the open (in Texas for instance - SURPRISE!

Remember what happened a few months ago in Nevada? When a team of rangers began to move in to evict the cattle of a rancher named Cliven Bundy from publicly-owned land they had been illegally grazing on for twenty years, an army of those half-witted militia assholes moved in to "defend" Mr. Bundy's "rights". What exactly those "rights" were they never made clear to no one's surprise. Some of these yahoos had brought their women and children with them. The rangers were forced to back off,  fearing a bloodbath. When one takes into consideration the horrifying  possibility of what might have transpired it was the wise thing to do. 

The problem is that these fools got a propaganda boost that has made them crazier than they already were. "See?", they're saying to anyone who will listen, "We took on the big, bad gub'ment and we won!" Many of them then headed down to the Mexican border to "protect" America from the flood of children fleeing drug violence and right wing dictatorships in Central America.

A FRIENDLY MEMO FOR FOREIGNERS:
You're out of your fucking minds if you bring your loved ones on a vacation to the "Land of the Free". We're not free at all. In fact we are now a nation of sheep being held hostage at gunpoint. I just thought you should know.

Of course this all makes for very amusing copy. It really is a funny thing to behold a once mighty nation the throes of willful self-destruction - and I don't mean solely on the issue of guns. When a people consistently vote against their better interests and then wonder why they are falling into the abyss, that's always good for a giggle. I'm completely serious when I say that the fall of America is the funniest thing I've ever had the joy to witness in my fifty-six years of life on this planet. I don't want to see this country destroyed, but it's going to happen regardless of what I think. In fact it's happening right before our very eyes. I might as well sit back and make the most of the ride into oblivion. I'll be making some tasty lemonade out of this barrel of nasty tasting lemons. Cynical you say? Yeah, maybe. I look at it this way: We're given two choices in life -  to either laugh or cry. I choose the former. So sue me.

In closing and for the record, I'm against the militarization of the nation's police force. But (for the time being anyway) I'm gonna give the poor sods the benefit of the doubt. They're up against a potential uprising of homicidal jackasses with beer bellies, low IQ's and bad breath. Can you blame them for being a tad paranoid? I can't.

Get used to living in a nation in ruins.

Oh yeah, and keep voting with the conservatives.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Bowling for Columbine
a film by Michael Moore

It's already a classic and should be viewed by every thinking American. You can get it for a good price on Amazon. Get it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mr. Rick's Smilin' Mug

This man has good reason to smile

I was distraught. Texas Governor Rick Perry's indictment on two felony corruption charges was more than enough to put a certain damper on what had been an otherwise pleasant day. My dream of Rick (or someone as delightfully goofy as he) being nominated at the Republican convention two years from now had gone up in a cloud of smoke. This can't be happening, I thought to myself. I was damned-near ready to pack it all in and start a blog about classic film comedy when who do you think should come to the rescue: None other than Chris Matthews!

In a very reasonable essay on his excellent MSNBC program, Hardball, Chris calmly explained to me something I should have been smart enough to understand at the outset. Far from disqualifying him from from obtaining the nomination in 2016, this major brush with the law will only enhance him in the eyes of the halfwits and crazy people who now make up "the base" of the Republican party. Of course it will! "I should have known better" as the Beatles said.

Although I'm not in the habit of coming to the defense of Mr. Rick, the details of this case are just a bit fishy. What it comes down to is this: The governor is charged with two felony counts of trying to force the District Attorney of Travis County to quit her job by cutting off funding for her office (which quite inconveniently had been probing corruption in Texas state politics). At one point the D.A, in question, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Perry used that as an excuse to shut the office down. Ms Lehmberg was eventually convicted and served three weeks in the Travis County jail. It's interesting to note that had she carried a loaded, semi-automatic weapon into a crowded church service she would have been perfectly within her rights in Rick Perry's Texas. Weird!

Dirty politics? No doubt. But two felony charges? That seems a bit extreme to me. Democratic party or Republican, Texas is such a fucked up state - extreme and completely corrupt - you just never know with that place.

MEMO TO MY COUSINS, THE FABULOUS BARRAS FAMILY OF PORT ARTHUR: Get out while the getting is good, kids. Love ya!
 
Clueless
So there is a bit of jolly good news upon the horizon. A half century ago someone as heartbreakingly dumb as Rick Perry would never have been taken seriously as a candidate for anything (let alone president of the United States). It's a different world today. The "party of Abraham Lincoln" (What would I do without quotation marks?) has lowered the bar into the sub-basement. You'll recall that in 2000 they nominated a nincompoop named George W. Bush, don't you? Apparently the bar has been lowered nationwide. Not only did he receive enough votes in the general election that he was able to steal that election, he was re-elected four years later! The day following that contest a British newspaper asked on its front page how fifty-nine million people could be so dumb. How indeed?

I wonder if the Founding Fathers ever dreamed that things would get as weird as they've gotten. Just a thought.


The real irony in play here is the startling fact that the only thing that is going to hurt Rick Perry with the lunatic base of that disgusting party will not be his appalling lack of vision and insight; it will not be his alleged corruption; nor will it be his very real intellectual limitations ("Oops!"). What's going to hurt Rick Perry in the 2016 primaries will be his occasional decency. You may recall that in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Rick offered shelter to the refugees of that disaster (most of whom being of the nasty non-white variety). You may also remember that during the 2012 primary debates ("Oops!") he told an audience of jeering yahoos that a state which refused to educate the children of illegal immigrants had "no heart". If anything kills his chances for the nomination in two years it'll be that

As the pundits and talking heads never tire of reminding us, two years is a lifetime in politics. In American politics it can be the equivalent of a couple centuries. It's impossible to accurately gauge where this is all leading to and how it will all end up. All I can tell you for certain are these two facts:

1. On Inauguration Day 2017 - for the first time since 1857 - one Democratic administration will hand over the reigns of power to another Democratic administration.

2. The campaign of 2016 is going to be a satirist's dream. If you thought that 2012 was a clown show, fasten your seat belts, kiddies!

We really do live in amusing times, do we not?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Here's a link to the Chris Matthews/Hardball segment mentioned above:

http://www.msnbc.com/hardball-with-chris-matthews/watch/perry-s-indictment-might-help-him-with-gop-320662595998?cid=eml_mhb_20140822

Matthews is as good as it gets.

A Little Family History


My father was part of a committee of local Democrats that met President Kennedy at Stuart Air Force base in Newburgh, NY in October of 1962. This was at the time the Cuban Missile Crisis was brewing up. Dad is in the background on the far right. At the time he was a candidate for the NY State Assembly. He did a bit better than I did when I ran for the state senate forty years later - although not much better.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

His Tragic Valentine

Alice Lee and Theodore Roosevelt

February 14, 1884 was the darkest day of his very crowded life.

On his twenty-second birthday, October 27, 1880, Theodore Roosevelt married nineteen-year-old Alice Hathaway Lee. He had been relentlessly courting her for a year and a half. "See that girl over there?", he once asked a friend, "I am going to marry her. She won't have me, but I am going to have her!"

The marriage was a successful one and both Alice and "Thee" (as he was known to his friends and family) were desperately in love with one another. By the late winter of 1884, the couple were expecting their first child.

On February 12, 1884, while Theodore, in his capacity as Assemblyman, was attending a session of the New York State Legislature in Albany, he received a telegram that Alice had given birth to a baby girl. A few hours later, he received a second, more ominous wire telling him to return to New York City at once.

When he arrived at his home at 7 West 57th Street, he was met at the front door by his younger brother, Elliot.

"There is a curse upon this house. Mother is dying and your wife is dying, too."

His mother, Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, age forty-eight, died in the early morning hours of the fourteenth. Alice died late that afternoon while her husband held her in his arms. It was the fourth anniversary of their engagement. It was Valentines Day.

A few months later, an inconsolable Theodore Roosevelt memorialized his beloved Alice:

"She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; as a flower she grew, and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had always been in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single great sorrow; and none who ever knew her did not love and revere her for her bright, sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure and joyous as a maiden; loving, tender. and happy as a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be but just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her - then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her. And when my heart's dearest died, the light went from my life forever."

He virtually never spoke Alice's name for the rest of his life. He would never even mention her to the daughter who was named for her. Over thirty years later when President Woodrow Wilson remarried two years after the death of his first wife, Roosevelt was harshly critical of Wilson for doing so. It apparently evaded his memory that he had done the same thing when he married Edith Carrow in 1886; so completely had he wiped Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt from his memory.


Poor old Teddy thought his life was over on St. Valentine's Day 1884. He had no idea that the mountaintop was yet to come. 

When death finally came to him on January 6, 1919, he was young by today's standards; less than three months past his sixtieth birthday. And yet Theodore Roosevelt would pack ten lifetimes into those sixty years.
`
Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

TR in 1912
SUGGESTED READING:

Edmund Morris' MASSIVE three-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt was over thirty years in the making. I'm smack-dab in the middle of it at this writing. As you probably know (or have guessed) by now, Franklin Roosevelt is my favorite president. But if you gave me a choice as to which man I would prefer to spend the evening with sitting before an open fire and talking to, Teddy's my choice. FDR preferred small talk and gossip. TR talked about things that mattered - and everything else. He is - in my opinion - the most interesting person in American history - and the most brilliant.  

SUGGESTED LISTENING

Here is the voice of Theodore Roosevelt from the long ago campaign of 1912:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch5XlY4nKJI

Can you imagine a Republican talking this way today? I can't.

Dear Abbey
SUGGESTED VIEWING:

My friend, Abbey Arletto, has started a blog that showcases photography from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. If she hasn't exactly strapped us into time machine, she has done the next best thing. Here's a link:

Once Upon a Town

It's like communicating with the dead. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams With Tears

1951-2014

This has almost been too depressing to even contemplate. I laugh easily, but it's difficult to make me really crack up. Robin Williams could make me howl. All I can tell you is that, as a lifelong connoisseur of comedy in general - and comedians in particular - his sudden, stunning death is indeed a milestone event. It's right up there with Christmas Day 1977, when Charlie Chaplin passed into eternity.

A few months ago I wrote a small tribute to Sid Caesar who died on February 12. I ended it by saying that he was the last of the great comedians of the twentieth century; that they're all gone now. A reader gently took issue with that statement. In a private email he told me: "You're wrong on that point, Tom", he asserted, "We still have Robin Williams!" I stood corrected.

Many years ago I read a book by Steve Allen called, "Funny People". Each chapter was an appreciation of a different comedian. At the end of the segment on Peter Sellers (who had only recently passed away), Allen said something that has always stayed with me. He wrote (and I am paraphrasing - it was over thirty years ago that I read this book): His talent as a comic actor was so unique that other comedians can only admire him. They cannot possibly emulate him.

The only other comic that ever walked this earth for whom that assessment would be true is Robin Williams. 

With Pam Dawber
Like everyone else over forty, my first exposure to the genius of Robin Williams was through the medium of television. I always refer to the nineteen-seventies as "the dark ages of American comedy". Mork and Mindy, like ninety-five percent of the sitcoms of that overrated decade, was a dreadful program - with a bad premise, awful writing, terrible acting - take your pick. The only thing that set that show apart, and made it watchable, and the only reason I viewed it whenever I had the chance (I didn't always have access to a TV in those days) was because of the cosmic lunacy of Robin Williams. He would toss the awful script onto the sound stage's scrap heap, and let his imagination roar into the stratosphere. You could see at times his fellow cast members (Pam Dawber in particular) struggling to keep their faces straight while Robin let loose with a verbal meteor storm. It truly was something to behold. There had never been anyone like him before. 

Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Williams was to comedy what Billie Holiday was to song. Lady Day had the unique gift to be able to take the most mediocre of material and turn it into a thing of beauty. So it was with Robin Williams.

His career in motion pictures was an evolution unprecedented in the history of that medium. His first film, a send-up on "Popeye", was a dismal flop. Within a few years. however, he would receive an Academy Award for his role in the film Good Will Hunting. The last time a "non-actor" won that coveted prize was when Bing Crosby received it for Going My Way in 1944. And let there be no doubt: Robin Williams will be remembered as one of the best actors of his era.

A lot of ink is being wasted this morning in a vain attempt to analyze why so gifted and beloved a performer would take his own life. Predictably, columnists and taking heads are discussing "the tears of a clown" theory. Let's call it "Pagliacci Syndrome":

Although I laugh and I act like a clown
Beneath this mask I am wearing a frown

John Lennon

I would venture to guess that the reasons behind Robin Williams' final, desperate act are a bit more complicated that that. Suicide is usually a lot more complicated than that - as is mental illness.  

There are times when something as awful as this may seem the anticlimax of a tortured life. Other times it may be a thunderous crash on what had been an otherwise blissful day. Whatever the circumstances, it leaves the survivors in torment and wondering: Why? Why? Why? We desperately seek answers we may never have to questions that are almost as elusive. 

Most people can whistle the M*A*S*H theme song. Very few of us know the lyrics. The title of that tune is, "Suicide is Painless". Don't you believe it for a second. Just ask any survivor.

Lenny Bruce
The sad fact of the matter is that the funniest people in the history of the human race were possessed of a darkness that, in many instances, destroyed their careers and prematurely ended their lives. The list is impressive: W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, Max Linder, Charley Chase, Lenny Bruce, John Belushi - brilliant clowns whose God-given talent for making the rest of the world laugh was scalded by an inexplicable thirst for self-destruction. In fact, of the aforementioned comedic geniuses, only Keaton's life had a happy ending. George Carlin and Richard Pryor spent decades trying to overcome their problems with substance abuse; Jackie Gleason's chronic alcoholism was well known to most of us while he was still living; Both Peter Sellers and Jonathon Winters suffered periods of mental illness throughout their lives. Even Charlie Chaplin was subject to episodes of severe depression and melancholy.

The only two comedians I've ever known of who were fully secure in their beings seem to have been Laurel and Hardy. But then again, the definitive biographies of either of those two gentlemen have yet to be written. It wouldn't surprise me if we were to discover tomorrow that Stan and Ollie were also beaten down by the very act of living.

Robin Williams may have been in very good company, but it was tragic company to be in nonetheless. Maybe we should commission a reputable theologian to compose a "Comedian's Prayer". I believe they could use one.

We may never know why Robin Williams decided that the world would be better off without his presence in it (For the record: IT IS NOT). That he was a gifted, complex, and tortured man is well known. Perhaps it is the people who perceive life's comic absurdity most keenly are the ones most sensitive to humanity's tragedy and despair. That would seem to me to be the most logical explanation. The truth of the matter is, I just don't know. I wish I did. In the last eight months I've been seeking the elusive answers to some of these questions in my own life as well.

Robin Williams was part of our international consciousness for thirty-seven years. And while we were lucky to have him in our lives for as long as we did, the matter in which he died is just so difficult to accept. That's always the case when someone you love takes their own life, you know? It matters not if the victim is sixteen or sixty-three.

He was a true American original. One-hundred years from now they will still be talking about and appreciating the artistry of Robin Williams much in the same way we pay homage to Chaplin and Keaton today. His like won't be passing this way again. He's gone and he's not coming back. This is just so sad. Isn't that funny?

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Here's Robin Williams on the Tonight Show in 1991 with Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon. This is as good as it gets:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iqdSagycCWc

He was a hoot.

IMPORTANT INFORMATION:

Here is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you have ever felt the urge, keep that number handy. Your friends and loved ones would miss you. Don't you know that you are loved? You are, you know!

peace....

For a more complete listing of some recent pieces on this site, please go to the link below:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan  

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Post #550: Random Observations

I should have been a teacher!
The following assortment of spastic commentary are selected from various things I had posted here and there out in the Facebooksphere or illegibly scribbled in my notebook.

Benny, don't be that way!
1. Israel's Teachable Moment:

I have this peculiar quirk in my personality: When I see a dead child, I don't label the body as a dead Muslim or a dead Jew or a dead Christian or a dead Seventh Day Adventist - I see a dead child. Israel didn't do itself any favors this week with its assault on the people living within the Gaza Strip. Please, spare me the propaganda line that tries to get me swallow the nonsense that they were defending themselves against Hamas terrorists. They blindly bombarded the place, killing hundreds of innocent people who didn't have to die. Benjamin Netanyahu is not only a bloviating hothead, he's a goddamned war criminal. The Obama administration should cut Israel off until it rids itself of the bastard. Seriously.

2. The War Against White People

“This is a part of the war on whites that’s being launched by the Democratic Party. And the way in which they’re launching this war is by claiming that whites hate everybody else. It’s part of the strategy that Barack Obama implemented in 2008, continued in 2012, where he divides us all on race, on sex, greed, envy, class warfare, all those kinds of things.”

Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama

As a white person I am sick and tired of the constant persecution.

Why can't I eat at the lunch counter of my local Woolworths? Why am I denied my right to cast a ballot for those who represent me? Why do I have to sit at the back of the bus? Why am I always referred to as "boy"? Why is my woman never referred to as ma'am? Why are my children forced to travel many miles to inferior schools? Why do I have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good as any black man?

 I'm sorry, I'll stop.

3. A Really Neat Idea from the NRA

The front page of the New York Daily News a couple of days ago said it all. They ran a photograph of the late Ray Charles holding a gun (a scene from the film, The Blues Brothers). The story that accompanied the photo said that Dom Raso, an online commentator from the National Rifle Association's website, is advocating a campaign to arm blind people. I swear to you I didn't even bat an eye when I read that one. I've come to expect that their ideas are going to get dumber by the day. Wait and see - next they'll be advocating the arming of toddlers. I almost hope the NRA has their way. Carnage is the mortal enemy of writer's block - and it's great copy to boot.

Suspects only
4. Murder in Goshen

Something dreadful happened in the village of Goshen, NY this past Saturday; something that hadn't happened in the memory of any living person: A human being was murdered in cold blood.  The victim's name was Helen Ann Mills. She was an eighty-one-year-old grandmother. The little house she lived in at 84 Green Street was then set aflame.

Having been born in Goshen nearly fifty-six years ago, having spent most of my adult life here, and having grown up a mere two minute walk from where Mrs. Mills died, I can say, without a moment of hesitation, that this is indeed the most horrific thing that has ever happened in this village.

I did not know Helen Mills personally, but I do recall her kind and gentle smile in chance encounters with her on the streets of the village. To her family I offer my sincerest sympathies.

`
Here is what needs to be said: Much wrath has been dispensed in the social media directed at the two young people who have been charged in this awful crime. Indeed, we would be less-than-human not to be outraged - even ashamed - by the hideous brutality of such a deed. But please, let's not forget that Devin Giordano and Jennifer Molyneaux have yet to be tried by a jury of their peers. They deserve a fair hearing. We deserve it, too.

5. All Sarah All the Time

So help me Mitch Miller I could scarcely believe it. SARAH PALIN HAS HER OWN TELEVISION NETWORK. Isn't that a scream? All Sarah all the time. The only thing more hilarious than the fact that this blubbering twit believes that there are people out there stupid enough to pay the $9.95 monthly fee is the fact that she's correct. It appears that they're signing up by the thousands! It's so amusing being a citizen of this troubled nation these days. It really is!

7. KILL THEM WETBACKS!

On American soil
There are three things that do not make for a good combination: A low IQ, a beer gut, and a semi-automatic weapon. This past week, some of the Cliven Bundy crowd, the clowns that threatened to shoot it out with US marshals in Nevada two months ago, have made their way down to the Mexican border. These cowardly assholes want to "protect" this grand and glorious land of ours from the children that are now fleeing for their lives from ultra-right wing dictatorships in Central America. Isn't that something? Most of them proclaim to be "Christian". I'm sure Jesus is just brimming with pride.

Something to think about: If the Tea Party jackasses ever have their way, a lot of us will be fleeing to Canada.

8. The Further implosion of Michele Bachmann 

Speaking of children seeking political asylum, our gal Michele this week said that President Obama wants them in America so he can use them for "medical experimentation". To paraphrase the late Molly Ivins:

If this woman gets any dumber we're gonna have to start watering twice a day. 

Strange days indeed.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

AFTERTHOUGHT:

The photograph at the top of this piece was taken on June 5 inside of Mr. John Swanwick's high school class in Red Hook, NY. He asked me to give the kids a lecture on the life and career of Charlie Chaplin. I had more fun than the law should allow. I really should have been a teacher!

SUGGESTED READING:

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
by Edmund Morris

This first volume of a three part biography of TR is the best book on the man ever put to paper. Theodore Roosevelt was a force of nature: incorruptible as the rising moon, and our most brilliant president (I would give him a slight edge over Thomas Jefferson even). Old Teddy is a sad reminder of the lamented history of the once-admirable Republican party. The book covers the years from his birth on October 27, 1858 to the moment he became the 26th president of the United States on September 14, 1901 at the assassination of William McKinley. If you're half the admirer of Theodore Roosevelt that I am, Morris' trilogy is essential reading.

My own little homage to TR written six years ago:

http://tomdegan.blogspot.com/2008/01/theodore-roosevelt-1858-1919.html

He was as good as they get.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BLAME THE BLACK GUY!


On the night he took to the podium ten years ago Tuesday, few would have dared dream  how far this guy would go. For a lot of them, that dream turned into their worst nightmare.

 "I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents’ dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible."

Barack Obama speech to the Democratic Convention
27 July 2004

On Election Night 2008, America was faced with a simple, eight year challenge, and the whole freaking world was watching:

How would this nation, built as it was on the lacerated backs of black people, deal with the elevation of the first African American to the presidency?

I'm not saying that most white Americans failed that challenge; the majority of us are sophisticated enough, I think, to understand that we're on the edge of a new dawn in this country, and that very soon - and in the lifetimes of most of you reading this - America will no longer be "a white man's country". The problem here is the fact that a significant minority of people broke down with a severe case of spastic apoplexy at the very sight of a KNEE-GROW family living in the executive mansion. While it is always oodles of fun to watch a right-winger suffer a complete nervous breakdown, their unhinged, delusional reaction to the administration of President Obama raises more-than-a-few troubling questions.

Most disturbing has been the reaction of the Tea party crowd - particularly in the South. Something like this was never supposed to happen. A damn darkie livin' in the same house that the sainted Ronald Reagan once called "home"??? Pass me mah smellin' salts, Esther! They had taken it for granted that Pennsylvania Avenue was an exclusive, all-white neighborhood. Barack Obama is viewed by them as the block-buster from hell. 

The Frankster
Of all of their paranoid hallucinations regarding this boringly moderate president, the one that tickles me the most is the right's perception of him as this wild-eyed, borderline communist. Whenever I see someone denouncing Obama as "the most liberal president in the history of this country", that tells me one of two things: 

(1) The person is lying, or....

(2) he/she has absolutely no understanding of the history of the country they profess to love so much. 

Haven't these knuckleheads ever heard the name "Franklin Delano Roosevelt"? FDR was not merely a "liberal" - he was a radical! In a time that was in desperate need of radical change, Roosevelt was made to order. It is that type of administration that is desperately needed again, too. That is what I was praying for when Barack Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009. A lot of us lefties have been bitterly disillusioned.  

The president has been taken to task, by the left and by the right, for not "reaching out to" and "working closer with" congress. Are they kidding? What good would that do? It is unrealistic to expect a sane, rational human being to try to deal with a cabal of people who have lost their freaking marbles. HELLO???  

All that one can possibly hope for at this late date is that, by the November midterms, the voters of this country wake up and understand the the damage that the GOP is collectively doing to their once-great nation. That's the only chance Barack has to go down in history as a good, even great, president. If his administration is judged by future historians as being a failure, most of the blame will not be his. Look at all of the grief and obstruction the man has had to put up with. Hats off to the guy for being able to accomplish anything!

Mr Speaker
It's now a little over three months until Election Day. It is going to be an amusing ride between now and then to say the very least. John Boehner is now in the process of suing the president for merely doing the job that he was elected to do. To make matters funnier still, the right wing is openly talking about impeaching him. What "high crimes and misdemeanors" he is guilty of they haven't made quite clear. Expecting any of these clowns to make sense is a lesson in futility. The reality of a black president is just too much for them to bear. In fact, it's made them crazier than they already were. Not to imply that this hasn't been loads of fun to watch - it has. More fun than the law should allow.

As the months transpire between now and November, their lunacy only promises to get even loonier. I cannot emphasize this enough: These are really interesting times.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY


 A nocturnal meditation:

She was the personification of a shooting star. It appears upon the horizon, rapidly making its way across the night sky; illuminating the heavens in a brilliant and beautiful light. Then, in an instant, it's gone.

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

You'll Never Walk Alone
by Frank Sinatra  
`
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-z8VpLEHHk
`
I love the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein. So sue me. The revisionists will have us believe that he was incapable of writing nothing but sentimental schmaltz. Perhaps a case can be made for that argument. I, for one, think that sentiment is a beautiful thing. 

Walk on through the wind 
Walk on through the rain 
Though your dreams be tossed and blown 
Walk on, walk on 
With hope in your heart 
And you'll never walk alone 
You'll never walk alone. 

That's poetry, baby!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fascist Barbi in 2016


Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in to see you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

Jiminy Cricket 


BREAKING NEWS: God wants the president of the United States to be impeached. How do I know this? Because Sarah Palin says so.

Sometimes I can't believe my good fortune. I'm the kind of guy who loves a nice train wreck - of the figurative variety you understand. At a time when I've learned to live with the idea that my circumstances could not possibly get any better, that this is as good as it is ever gonna get, Lady Luck blows another passionate kiss in my direction. It was proven to me this morning that Sarah Palin is contemplating a run for the presidency two years from now. When asked point blank by Fox Noise's Greta von Susteran if she was going to go for the big prize she coyly replied. "Never say never." I realize that that's not much of a statement of intent, but it's all I have to go on. Oh, please, fate! Oh, please! Oh, please! Oh, please!

Somebody pinch me. 

But it gets worse (or "better" for my purposes): Our gal Sarah might even be contemplating running in a third party uprising. That's right, kiddies! As she has been hinting in recent months, the Grand Old Party just isn't extreme enough for this jabbering twit. She apparently wants to bring U.S. politics into Nazi territory. Isn't that sweet? Do you think that's an extreme take on where they're heading? Consider the following quotation:

"I think we would be totally in the right to do it....Ignoring as a nation things that are worthy of death is very remiss."

No, that wasn't Herman Goering talking. That was some moron named Scott Esk, a candidate for the statehouse of Oklahoma (where the wind comes sweeping down the plain). He was advocating the execution of gays and lesbians. Nice. It should be noted here that since making that idiotic statement, the Republican National Committee has not lifted a gnarled finger to distance themselves from or reprimand this demented asshole. 

Somebody cue the band:

Deutschland! Deutschland!
Uber Alles!

I've written before on this site about the day John McCain announced his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate. The place was Dayton, Ohio. At that time the only thing I knew about her was that she was the governor of Alaska. I could not come up with a mental image of her in my mind - she was that unknown to me. The moment she stepped forward and opened her mouth, she reminded me of Sally Field. Not Sally Field as Norma Ray - Sally Field as Gidget. I immediately went to the computer to get some information about her. The first thing that caught my eye was the date of her birth: February 11, 1964, a date I could clearly remember. That was the day that my maternal grandmother, Loretta Doran Clements, died unexpectedly in South Bend, Indiana. (ATTN FAB FOUR FANS: It was also the day the Beatles played their first concert in America). 

But other than those two coincidences, there was nothing in her paper-thin biography that warranted any attention. It was clear to me that the Republican party was about to commit electoral suicide with a candidate who was clearly and pathetically out of her league. On the day John McCain announced his choice of running mate, I knew that Barack Obama would be the next president of the United States. It was a fairly easy call.

McCain  wasn't too keen on the idea of Sarah Palin on the ticket. His choice had been Joe Leiberman. A former Democrat and a Jew to boot? As conservative as old Joe obviously was, those two nasty little facts were enough to give "the base" a severe case of spastic apoplexy. Sarah was their gal. And she ended up hanging around John McCain's neck throughout the duration of the campaign of 2008 like some half-witted albatross.  By "going rogue" as she did, she virtually destroyed the Senator's lifelong ambition to serve as chief-executive. But for Sarah Palin, John McCain would be sleeping in the Oval Office at this very moment. Can you imagine the torment the poor guy must live with each and every day? Oh, those damnable might-have-beens!

As I wrote way the heck back in 2010, when someone like Sarah Palin can make it as far as she has, it can mean only one thing and it's not a particularly good sign. We are living in a culture that has been custom-tailored for idiots. When a person who can barely put two coherent sentences together without the aid of a state-of-the-art teleprompter becomes one of the best-selling non-fiction authors of the decade, that's usually a pretty good indicator that society is spiraling downward at a fairly decent clip. Fasten your seat belts, kiddies!

This is too good to be true. Whether she seeks the nomination as a Republican or Tea Partier (DIRTY LITTLE SECRET: They're now two separate parties) is beside the point. All that I know for certain is that 2016 is going to be the most mystically weird and wonderful campaign season in the history of this diseased land. For those of us who thrive on the gales of laughter provided to us by Sarah Palin and unintentional comedians like her, these are indeed sweet times to be alive.

Honestly, I never dreamed that my luck would get this good.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Game Change
Directed by Jay Roach

Based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, "Game Change" tells the sad (and riotously funny) story of the political catastrophe that was the McCain/Palin campaign of 2008. If it's not available from the friendly, independently-owned video store in your neighborhood (HA! Like they even exist anymore!) here's a link to order it off of Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dmovies-tv&field-keywords=Game+Change

See this movie. We're talkin' "Essential Viewing" here!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rolling Out the "I" Word

Degan back in the Days of Dubya
`
One of the main reasons I have never regretted leaving the Democrats over sixteen years ago was because of their spineless, cowardly behavior during the sick and twisted reign of George W. Bush. Think about it: Here was the most corrupt, mind-jarringly incompetent chief-executive in the history of human folly, a man who led his clueless countrymen and women into a war that never should have been fought, for reasons that were based on lies, the result of which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of human beings - and not one of those worthless Democrats had the political courage to call the little bastard on the carpet by initiating impeachment proceedings against him. 

Don't hold your breath waiting for the goddamned Obama justice department to do the right thing by prosecuting both Bush and Cheney (not to mention Donny Rumsfeld and Condi Rice) for the atrocities committed against the human race on the killing field of Iraq. The precedent has been forever set in granite: Any United States president will, henceforth, be able to get away with murder - that would include mass murder on an unimaginable scale.

Now then, doesn't that make you feel all warm and squishy inside? I just knew it would.


Say what you want to about the right wing in this doomed land. What they lack in brains they more-than-make-up for in chutzpa. They're now seriously talking about impeaching the sitting president for the failure of his immigration policies. Sarah Palin has condemned the prez for what she calls "years of abuse" (she wasn't specific on that point) and then went on to proclaim that Obama's failures at the border were "the last straw". It's my opinion that a former governor who walked away from her job for no other reason than to make a shitload of money in the private sector is the last person on the planet who should be proposing that anyone be forcibly be removed from office. The fact that this blabbering nincompoop was once selected for the second spot on a national ticket defies any sense of rationality. Gee, we do live in wonderful times, don't we?

Will they really go through with something as outrageous as that? If they regain the senate and retain control of the house in the fall they will - count on it. Will the American electorate make it happen? There's the cockeyed optimist inside of me that thinks that by that time they will have had-it-up-to-here with the GOP's obstruction and indifference to the national well being. Then there's the gambler inside of me that remembers the old adage that "no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people". We shall see.

Sellers as Dr. Strangelove
`
That they're even having this discussion at all is further proof (as if more was really necessary) that the Republican party has lost its mind. This is black comedy at its finest. Move over Dr. Strangelove! Just when you come to believe that the freak show couldn't possibly get any freakier they lower the bar even further. That a failed policy (which has been failing for decades by the way) can be defined as "high crimes and misdemeanors" is a rib-tickler in itself. Someone should make this into a movie. And what actor alive possesses the comedic genius to take on the role of Ted Cruz? Where have you gone, Peter Sellers?

Maybe this is all a ruse; a distraction to take the people's minds off of the train-wreck that the GOP has become in recent years. That's always a distinct possibility. Whatever their motivation it's a knee-slapping joy to behold. The sad thing about this whole, demented affair is the fact that it'll be generations before the American people dare to nominate an African American for the office of president. So insane has been the reaction of the racists out there to the boringly moderate Barack Obama, I just can't see it happening again in my lifetime. I'm just happy to have lived to see it happen at all.

As disappointing as Obama has been in a lot of respects, I don't regret casting my ballot for him. Think of the alternatives.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY  

SUGGESTED READING:

John F. Kennedy 1917-1963 - An Unfinished Life
by Robert Dallek 

Of all of the books I've read on the subject of the life of John Kennedy (and I've read damned-near all of 'em, folks!) this is arguably the best. Mr. Dallek presents us with neither hatchet job nor lullaby, but an insightful, well-researched inquiry into the life and times of a good and great man who was greatly flawed. Still, we're all better off today because, a half century ago, Jack Kennedy sought the presidency.

Don't let it be forgot that once there was a spot....

I'm sorry, I'll stop. 

SUGGESTED LISTENING:

Bo Diddley
by Bo Diddley:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jrIK7YB0tE&list=RD3jrIK7YB0tE

Please, if this isn't the greatest rock 'n' roll record ever recorded, I don't know what the heck is. From 1958, the year I was born.