Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Dead Raccoon That Is Trumpcare

What The Failure Of Trumpcare Can Tell Us About What’s To Come

I believe President Trump made the best of a bad situation in withdrawing his healthcare proposal. Admitting that he lost is not something that comes easily for Trump, but distancing himself from a sure-fire disaster is second nature.

We’re finally getting a sense of what the Trump Presidency is like. Make bold promises, offer the moon, and then rely on others to carry out the hard work once the deal is agreed to. The promise on the campaign trail was to immediately repeal Obamacare, and replace it with something much better. Clearly, Donald Trump had no idea what that something better was, but he figured somebody in the senate was smart enough that they had been busily preparing for the moment when they might have a chance to repeal the ACA and replace it.

He was wrong. He left things in the hands of Paul Ryan, who was confident, articulate, and absolutely out of touch with reality. Trumpcare was in fact Ryancare, and Ryancare might just as well have been called Randcare (Rand as in Ayn, not Paul). Ryan’s idea was that if you were poor or you were sick that people like you should not burden people like Ryan’s opportunity to get Lasik eye surgery.

Now I don’t consider our government to be much of a democracy, but there are limits to what any government can get away with. Even brutal dictators have to show some semblance of concern for the poor and unfortunate. Even Adolf Hitler had to disguise what he had planned for the untermenschen.

So Trump/Ryan/Rand care was dead in the water. Rule number one that astute politicians learn is not to stand next to a dead raccoon or people might associate you with the stink. Given that the dead raccoon is sitting on top of his head, Trump was unable to distance himself from it. Fortunately Obama had a stinky raccoon of his own, and Trump was savvy enough to put that in front of the public’s nose and point to it as the cause of the stench.

Now Obama’s raccoon wasn’t quite dead, but it never was a very healthy animal. It was the spawn of a most unlikely coupling. In fact, there is good reason to believe that it was Mitt Romney and not Barak Obama who was the biological father. It doesn’t matter, it bore the Obama name, and therefore President Trump could never let it live. You see, Donald Trump can never tolerate anything that has the name of another man. He’s like the sultan in 1,001 Nights, who takes a virgin bride each night and has them beheaded in the morning before they can cheat on him. The thought of other males in his domain is unacceptable. Trump is the alpha-male and any other who challenges him must be eliminated.

So with Trumpcare dead, it was best to shift attention to Obamacare. Let’s put aside for a moment all these health care plans mean something to sick people and even well people who are afraid of needing healthcare someday, because Donald Trump never cared about that end of things. Trump cared about scoring points with the voters and Obamacare was a vulnerable program. Still is, especially since the Republicans have done nothing to nurture it and everything to wound it. Again, let’s not worry about those people who are actually in need, let’s worry about scoring political points.

Donald Trump will let Obama’s lame child live, all the while tripping it whenever it walks by, depriving it of food and scaring off those who would try to help it out. Let it shamble weakly towards its grave, the whole while taunting it and by extension any other male who would attempt to put their name to something that is rightfully Trump’s. That’s what alpha-males do.

But here we have exposed Donald Trump’s weakness: his unending need to feed his ego. Here should be the game plan of Democrats going forward, to rename every proposal the Republicans put forth from here on out. Donald Trump comes up with a tax proposal that would reduce taxes for the wealthiest Americans? Call it The Ryan Code. Instantly Trump will lose all desire to support it. A new war in the Middle East? Call it McCain’s war if you want peace. This must be done for every plan President Trump comes up with, every single one. Except Trumpcare. Leave that stinky thing firmly perched atop the president’s head.

P.S. The raccoon in the picture is not dead, it is only sleeping. I would never post a picture of a dead raccoon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Magic, Belief, and the Art of the Elevator Pitch

I was doing a book sale/signing last weekend with a group of local authors I know. We were one table among a myriad other vendors selling their wares. I’m not really one for talking about myself but I did grow up with a few performers in the family and understand the necessity of hawking one’s wares. So I talked to people and did point out the books we had for sale. But then somebody asked me what my books were about and suddenly I sounded like Maimonides attempting to describe God. All I was able to say is what my books weren’t. Yes, my books involved magicians, but they weren’t the kind that waved their wand and turned people into animals. I mean, they’re stage magicians, but they don’t have supernatural powers. Well, they sort of do have supernatural powers but not the typical kind of powers. I mean they can see into the future or talk to the dead, sort of, but it’s not from saying hocus pocus and gazing into a crystal ball…well, not exactly.

And I could see in the eyes of my potential customers that the light had faded and they soon walked on towards other booths. I had failed to make a connection. And instead of getting to the root of why I had failed to make a connection, I closed the chapter in my mind and started thinking about something else. You see, when things become uncomfortable, when questions arise which cause us to question our reality, we humans often have a tendency to change the subject or look the other way. We become comfortable in the world we have fashioned for ourselves even if it is not helpful to us.

Fortunately, my fellow author, Tara Meissner (this isn’t a plug, but buy her book Stress Fracture) told me something like “you don’t have an elevator pitch. They were looking at your books and you couldn’t even tell them what they were about. Why would someone buy your book when you can’t even explain what it’s about?” At which point that trigger response in me wanted to reply something like “It’s art, baby, don’t even try to categorize it. Don’t label me, because labels are limits.” Fortunately before I could say anything stupid like that, she followed it up with something like “It comes off as kind of arrogant”.

Aw, cut to the quick. And I knew she was just being honest. More than that, she was right. She tried to beg off it a bit as though she thought I might be offended but I knew just what she was talking about and agreed with her a hundred percent. Of course, we all need others to point out the obvious from time to time, especially us authors or, dare I say it, artists. See, as an author, I see the picture as it exists in my mind, as it should be, rather than as I have actually put it down into words. A writer first has to conceive of an idea, and then put it into words. If you cannot put it into words so that others can share what you have conceived, then you are not a writer but a dreamer. Which is totally cool, too. The world needs more dreamers, they are beautiful people. It’s only bad when you are a dreamer who thinks he is a writer, then you are a delusional dreamer. So in order to be a writer you have to express the ideas you have given birth to. You have to awaken those same ideas in the minds of others that you yourself have experienced. And if you aren’t able to tell people why they should read your books then you are doing a poor job of it.

It’s just that I’m a writer, not an advertising agent: on that I am firm. For me it is the writing and not the sales that must always be my motivator. I hate the term “elevator pitch” because it suggests to me some sleazy self-important climber sucking up to a superior or a client in whatever manner is necessary. And that’s what I’ve spent a lifetime avoiding being. I have to place honesty above all other considerations.

Okay, but I should be able to explain what I do honestly, shouldn’t I? Below is one attempt to do so. It might sound a little pompous, or arrogant. It might sound grandiose. I guess I’ll have to risk it. Perhaps it is not merely misrepresenting myself but having people see me too clearly that I fear.

I write about real magic. I write about what is left after you get rid of all the illusions. And the world is full of illusions. We never really are able to cut our way through the illusions. But magic is the belief that there is something beyond the illusions, that in smashing through the simplistic answers we more closely approach the reality, though we may never see it fully. To disbelieve in magic is to believe that there is nothing more than illusions, that beyond them there is simply nothing. Ultimately, neither answer will have definitive proof. Ultimately it is a choice, the choice of limiting ourselves or giving ourselves up to an unseen and invisible something that turns mundane existence into a miracle. We create magic within our souls, by choosing to believe, by opening ourselves up to something beyond what we are presently aware of.

Perhaps it is a decision to believe in God. Or at least just believe, believe in something even if I cannot express in words what exactly it is that I believe in. Life after all is not about living the life that we can understand but the life we can briefly catch a glimpse of. It is being humble in order to grasp the vastness of the universe we exist in. And it is having faith in that universe. It is believing you are a part of that universe, and it and you have a common goal/destiny, potential for harmony. It is believing that the division between you and the outside world is an artificial distinction we draw because we have not yet pierced the veil of illusions to reach what lies beyond.

I guess I have not worked it down to an elevator pitch yet. In time I’m sure I can winnow that down to a couple of sentences in order to give people an idea of what it is I write. Until then I’m afraid I’ll be staring at the walls of the elevator anytime someone else enters.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A New Short Story For You, Prayer Shawls

Prayer Shawls


The word was mouthed soundlessly into folded hands, so that anyone who might have seen Betty Volk would have believed the old woman was deep in prayer.

Her eyes were cast forwards, but it was not the crucifix in front of her which held her gaze. To the left of the altar was a display of shawls, made by women of the church to be donated to patients at the local hospital. But there was one in particular that demanded her attention. That shawl, that bright, gaudy shawl captured her attention like a neon sign, making all else about it seem drab by comparison. Everything else—the other shawls that were on display, the green pennants behind the altar, the chalice into which Christ’s own blood soon would be poured—nothing else mattered. Those garish colors stung at her heart like knitting needs plunged by hateful hands.

She closed her eyes, trying to drive away the malice it aroused in her. But closing her eyes she saw the face of Mabel, the woman responsible for her pain. She saw that glib smile that passed for kindliness to so many who knew her superficially. She saw the woman who bought her clothes new rather than from Goodwill and rummage sales the way she and most of the others in the knitting club did. She saw Mabel’s hands, hands that had not been worn down by years of work the way her own had.

She opened her eyes again, saw her own gnarled and misshapen fingers in front of her. Once she had been capable of producing such finery that she would have put anyone of them to shame. Now pain gripped her hands so tightly it brought tears to her eyes while she had knitted the prayer shawl that was on display with the rest of them.

Hers was a simple blue shawl, tasteful, but thick and well constructed. Mabel’s was a flimsy thing, made more for show than comfort. Dear God, it looked more like something a lady of the evening might wear, not something to keep an old person warm. Betty had used yarn donated by a parishioner, but Mabel… Where did she even find such yarn?

It betrayed the whole idea of charity, betrayed those who had contributed yarn for the project. It was all about vanity for that…Bitch…Mabel. The hatred rose again in her, a hatred so burning and alive it almost made her feel young again, almost made her feel capable of things she had never even considered in so many years. She was old—oh, so old—but there were passions that were still sharp in her. It seemed that all that was once good in her had been taken by time, while those passions that should have mellowed with age, should have been conquered at long last by maturity or simply dissipated with the ebb of vitality, still lingered in her.

Lust. Dear God, it still possessed her, though nobody would ever want to consider the idea. Pride. It still determined her behavior, though there was precious little for her to take pride in at this stage of life. Jealousy. She prayed that she might be free of it, but somehow it seemed more difficult to pray with any degree of focus nowadays. Age and human frailty had overridden and overcome all that was once best in her. And while she once believed in the superiority of spirituality over the physical, time had taught her many bitter lessons. It seemed as if her inability to straighten her fingers to pray somehow prevented her prayers from coming out straight. She was merely clay, a poor vessel for holding the virtues she wished to possess.

She had spent the better part of mass obsessing over the shawls, over her hatred of Mabel. She mumbled the required responses and amens without really being aware of what she was saying. At some point the priest had pointed to the shawls and explained to the parishioners that they were to be donated to the sick at the local hospital, but Betty took no pride in her accomplishment, spoiled as it was by thoughts of Mabel.

Lost in thoughts that had taken hold of her despite her attempts to drive them out with prayer, she suddenly became aware that the priest was now in front of her. It was time for communion, and he was delivering the host first to those in the front row, those like herself who were too old and infirm to stand in line like the rest. She opened her mouth to have the host placed upon her tongue, then took hold of the chalice and drank perhaps deeper than she should have of the wine.

A thought flashed through her mind, powerful and compelling. For an instant, the idea of spitting into the chalice so that Mabel might unwittingly drink from it came to her. It filled her with revulsion, and she choked it down quickly into the dark recesses of her mind. She concentrated on the host within her mouth, hoped to find strength and salvation from its presence within her.

She swallowed determinedly, lowering her gaze once more to her hands folded in prayer. But the thoughts continued to come from the dark areas within her.

Her eyes closed, the blackness within her became more overpowering. The prayers she silently uttered seemed to be lost somewhere in parts of her mind no longer accessible by her aged spirit. Within a gap where memory could no longer find the words, she heard the voice of Henry talking soothingly to his mother.

Henry. What a despicable little lickspittle. Mabel’s youngest, her special child, her baby. Spoiled brat, more like it. She had ruined that child. She never allowed him to grow up, never let him become his own man. And now here he was, middle aged, and still living at home. Taking pleasures in things someone with a bit of youth to them should not be bothered with.

He should have had a wife, should have had a life. Instead, his life centered around his mother. And when she passed, what would he have then? Bah, what a waste of life.

She turned her head to see Henry arm in arm with Mabel. It was disgusting. It looked more like man and wife than mother and son. It was unnatural, that’s what it was. And Mabel, she was lapping it all up. Her child was like the shawl, not something with a value in and of itself but a thing to garner attention for her.

Henry stood back so that Mabel might receive the host, then he followed. Such a dutiful child. You could see the thought in Mabel’s eyes, could see the pride she took from his debasement. Anything to get attention, anything to have all eyes on her.


Very well, thought Betty. If it’s attention you want, it’s attention you will receive.

Having received the Eucharist, Mabel moved to the left where a deacon awaited her with chalice held in front of him. She walked right in front of Betty, noticed her and gave her one of her fake smiles. And in that moment the darkness took control of Betty.

Betty had her cane in one hand. Henry was now taking communion. For a moment, Mabel was without the support of her son, without which she might well have needed a cane, just like Betty. With a deftness that surprised her, Betty moved her cane subtly in front of her, directly between the legs of Mabel, throwing her off balance. Betty looked up at Mabel’s face to see the smile die, turn to surprise and then fear.

It pleased Betty. For a moment she felt young again, felt the thrill of excitement and accomplishment. She could still make her mark on the world.

Betty watched it all as if it was occurring in slow motion, as if at last time had slowed down for her, as if time was finally giving something back. Mabel came down hard, harder than even Betty would have imagined. The surprise and fear that was on Mabel’s face was now wiped away and replaced by agony. She lay there, motionless.

Apparently, beneath the fine clothes she wore, she was every bit as frail as Betty. In that moment, the regret began to well up in her, but the thrill she felt at what she had done never really left her. She felt that she was still alive, still capable of doing big things, even if what she had done was horrible. She was alive, she could right injustices. She still had power.

Henry was hunched over his mother now, who was lying face down. He attempted to roll her over but his actions were accompanied by a piteous shriek, the old woman’s voice an insufficient tool to express the pain it must have caused her. Betty looked at Mabel, whose face was now turned towards her. Blood dripped from her nose in gobs, but she knew that was not the main source of her pain. It was a hip, Betty could see that by the way she responded when Henry had sought to move her. She could sense that it had shattered like an old piece of stained glass.

Gone was any semblance of pride or sense of superiority from Mabel’s countenance. So wrapped up was she in her own pain she didn’t even care about how undignified she appeared with the blood pouring down her face, the grimace of agony on her face that rivaled the one carved into the face upon the crucifix. Pity rose in Betty once again. Like a pendulum, pity and satisfaction moved through her. She had the natural revulsion at seeing another human being in pain. And then she remembered the smile that had been on Mabel’s face and the pendulum swung back again. Betty preferred the look Mabel had upon her face now.

For a brief moment, she forgot where she was, and permitted a smile to come to her lips. Then she remembered and wiped any sign of satisfaction from her appearance. She looked at Mabel, but she hadn’t noticed, so wrapped up was she in her pain. Henry too, had no attention for anyone other than his dear mother. Relief surged in her, until she averted her gaze and saw another member of her knitting circle. Flora had a look of horror on her face, but it was not Mabel she was looking at. She was looking at Betty.

Flora knew. Betty was certain of it. Betty could tell by the way Flora could not avert her gaze, although she tried to look away.

Yes, Flora knew. It was time to close her eyes, to appear deep in prayer as she contemplated what to do about Flora. She would have to be dealt with.

Friday, March 3, 2017

My Grandfather Was A Refugee And Helped Build This Country

I would like to thank the United States of America for welcoming my grandfather, Alex Rozoff, who was a refugee from the Russian Revolution. Things were tough in Russia, which is why he left. It must have been damn tough because he left the only home he had ever known to come to a place where he knew no one and could not speak the language.

It must have been hard for him, but somehow he managed to land on his feet. It was a time of mass immigration and there must have been a sizable Russian contingent in the states, one that was willing to help him in one way or another. He got a job at Youngstown Sheet and Tube and worked there for forty years, worked there until a brain tumor stopped him from working and eventually ended his life.

It was hellish work, the kind of work his son and his son’s sons wanted no part of. Without any proof backing this statement up, it might well have been the work conditions he endured that contributed to his condition. After all, workers back then had nobody looking out for their safety or questioning what chemicals were being used. In fact nobody was looking out for the workers at all. Things got so bad that they decided they had to look after themselves. They went on strike for better wages, better working conditions, and a chance at a decent life. Things must have been bad for someone so far from home to risk everything he had in order to fight for a better life.

It must have been bad too for those workers in the mill who were born in this country. You see, all those immigrants that were let inside our borders weren’t brought in because the U.S. had a mission to help the poor and the dispossessed. Sure, words to that effect are inscribed upon the Statue of Liberty, but that was a gift from the French who wanted to believe the U.S. was something special, a beacon to the world. It was a symbol of our promise, not a reflection of our reality. No, the U.S. wanted cheap labor, that’s why we opened our borders to tens of millions of people from all over the world. The U.S. wanted it, and by that I mean the rich people who owned the politicians who made the rules wanted it. You see, they had been using cheap domestic labor for a while now. They had been getting away with it for decades, promising that once U.S. industries reached a place of prominence that it would then be U.S. labor’s turn to share in the good times.

Of course, the rich industrialists never had any intention of sharing the profits equitably. Promises are just a tool in the capitalist’s tool belt to help motivate those who earn profits for them. But it is a tool that can only be used so often before the workers can’t accept the status quo anymore.

That’s when the immigrants started pouring in, to awaken the working slobs from the delusion that they had some degree of power. All of the sudden a working class that was beginning to feel its strength had to contend with competition from beyond what they believed was a closed environment. All those promises they had been given in return for their blood and sweat and sacrifice were swept away in a flood of foreigners willing to work for a fraction of what U.S. labor was already being given, which wasn’t enough to begin with. You see, those foreigners were just looking to survive, they’d take promises of better days to come, just as the U.S. workers once had.

I can imagine just how much the U.S. workers hated those foreigners. If they weren’t taking their jobs then they were driving down wages. They were taking over neighborhoods and driving up rents. Those damn foreigners were living five families to a house. They stunk like garlic or other unfamiliar spices. They worshipped God differently, they spoke a different language and made people feel alienated in their own country. IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.

So it must have been really hard for those foreigners and their coworkers who were born in the U.S. to somehow come together and join a union. They had a hell of a lot of differences to overcome, and there were assuredly company forces working really hard to drive a wedge between them.

But somehow they managed to pull together. Somehow they realized they were on the same team, that they all wanted the same thing, a decent life for the people who did the work and created the fancy mansions for the bosses. They faced the private muscle that the company hired, and they faced the government troops that were sent in because in the end the government always works for the people wealthy enough to make a politician understand that he is in office only because of the power and influence of the people who write the campaign checks.

I won’t lie to you, the struggle was real. It was very real. It was real in the way that most of us, living in an imaginary world constructed for us by a very powerful propaganda machine, do not wish to contemplate. There was blood on the streets and there were cracked heads, and there were threats of so much worse. Those who took to the streets, who walked off their jobs, risked so very much. Perhaps they were capable of doing so because they had already learned how precarious life can be. Perhaps there were many who, like my grandfather, had already left all they had known behind in search of a better world. Perhaps it was because they had been born in a time when values and convictions meant something, when a secure life wasn’t more or less assured to you so long as you didn’t make waves.

I don’t know for sure what was going on in the mind of my grandfather, or the tens of thousands of men who stood with him, or the tens of thousands of wives and mothers who stood with them. I really wish I did because I’m sure I’d be a better person for having a taste of it. It must have been something special, because what they accomplished is nothing short of amazing. When people are able to put aside their differences—real as well as imagined—in order to work on their mutual interests, there is where greatness is to be found. That is how the world is changed for the better, that is where we as humans discover just what we can accomplish and how absolutely wonderful it is to be a human being.

We are capable of great stuff. We can send people to the moon, we can transform the planet. We just have to do it together. We have to put aside our differences and understand the goals we share. And we have many shared goals. The examples of what we can achieve for the individual by working together are endless. We just have to start looking at them, learning from them, honoring our fathers and forefathers by showing once again what we can do by working together for the common good.