Kennedy brothers; left to right John, Robert, Ted.Image via WikipediaI’m still reminiscing my way through True Compass by Edward (Ted) Kennedy. I’m knee deep in the Civil Right’s movement and the Vietnam War years are just revving up. Ted Kennedy knew Martin Luther King because they were contemporaries. We all owe MLK a lot. He could have advocated violence and that would have torn America up, but he didn’t. He stressed peaceful resistance. “Black” Americans bore the brunt of the white backlash, but his tactics allowed for a national mood of shock at the hatred and sympathy for the cause of civil rights that violence might not have produced. Then we lost Martin Luther King.

Then we lost Bobby Kennedy who had been successfully campaigning for the Democratic nomination for President. These were very bad days for America. Something was very wrong. Ted Kennedy, personally gut-punched for the second time in five years, describes how his life reeled out of control for several years. It it difficult to imagine the pain in his life. His brother Joe, dead in World War II, his sister Kick, dead in an accident, his dad unable to communicate due to a stroke, Jack, assassinated and now Bobby, also assassinated. How does one family absorb all of this. And we know there was more to come. Although Senator Kennedy discusses Chappaquiddick he maintains that it was an innocent accident and one that he never, ever got over. He is gone now and that is the last word on that.

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Senator Kennedy and Me

I’m reading True Compass by Edward (Ted) Kennedy. It’s like a time machine to my life. Those Kennedy boys (and girls) were a bit older than me and a lot richer, but we lived through the same events and changes.

Jack was actually a participant in World War II, but Teddy was too young. I missed World War II completely except that all my cousins were in the military and I remember how imposing and important they all looked in their uniforms. But that was at least 10 years after the war. Dwight David Eisenhower (Ike) was my first president, his election slogan, “I Like Ike”,” perfectly designed to appeal to a child. He had a presidency that was sweet with success and the optimism of the 50’s. He was a war hero. He had little or no controversy to deal with. Everyone was so happy the war was over. They just wanted to sing and dance and drink beers and buy homes and raise families. They wanted life and comfort after years of blackouts.

Jack and Jackie were American royalty. I really did experience this presidency as Camelot, although the national dialogue was heating up. Communism was as close as Cuba and the South was in upheaval as our African-American citizens insisted that their rights be respected once and for all and Caucasian-Americans had to be persuaded to agree. Although this sounds so civilized, we all know it was not.

I do remember where I was when Jack Kennedy died. I was in front of a jewelry store in the town where my college was located. I was a Freshman. The jeweler broadcast his radio outside his store. We all listened in shock, walked back to school in tears, and sat for several days in the student lounge in front of the TV watching the shooting over and over, the swearing in of LBJ, and the funeral with John-John standing with his sister Caroline and with Jackie saluting his Dad as the funeral procession went by. America was in grief and in shock. It was the end of our rosy days.

Feel Your Way

E. S. Curtis (1904): Canon de Chelly – Navajo....Image via WikipediaThe universe is the trickster – the Navajo’s certainly have that right. It is a master of sleight-of-hand. Look over here, something will happen over there. Take the overview, something will begin on the “down low.” Never take too long to breathe your sigh of relief, always expect the unexpected. We humans don’t like this uncertainty. We like to be able to predict, to plan, to put a plan into action, to succeed and when successful to enjoy our success for a long, long time (like forever). Sometimes this happens. Sometimes, however, when a person, or a family, or a country get to feeling comfy and complacent, there is a zap!

They tell you you have a pension for the rest of your life and then, zap, they take it away, or they want to take it away.

They tell you you have a job and then jobs go away.

They praised you for being such a hard worker. You were a success. Now they imply it’s your fault that you don’t have a job.

It’s just the universe. It’s big. If it has a plan that plan is too vast to comprehend. To us it looks like some kind of randomized chaos.

Who are “they”? Are “they” susceptible to the same uncertainties as us. Probably, although they seem invincible the “they” we refer to keeps changing. I’m guessing there is no way to prepare for all uncertainty. Sometimes a savings account just isn’t enough. Sometimes our religious beliefs just don’t seem like enough. We just have to “feel” our way through life and rely on each other.

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I love words. It doesn’t matter if they describe ideas or things or even people. Sometimes it is just the sound of them. Sometimes it’s what they stand for. It’s intangible and so enjoyable that I can’t help starting a list:

theodolite, string theory, chaos theory, chiaroscuro, onomatopoetic, giddy, kaleidoscope, hubris, organdy, tulle, damask, osmosis, abattoir, hideous, deliquescence, Abyssinian, acacia, ad infinitum, affluent, aflutter, anthropomorphic, mirepoix, mise en place, burgundy, aubergine, azure, charcoal,elegant, tectonics, bedrock, sweetheart, bizarre, diaphanous, glitter, cous cous, seraglio, souk, symphonic, concerto, cantata, Chantilly, inertia, tapestry, forest, aviary, tranquil, momentum, rhythmic, apiary, darling, hiccup, diamonds, thyme, spiky, stiletto, cachet, deep, craggy, magenta, ruby, pearly, skitter, Michelangelo, Chopin, tumult, glowing, pandemonium, stellar, grid, plane, spatula, equation, golden, lemony, satin, melodic, tempestuous, tsunami, divinity, sacred, glamour, spicy, serene, honey

I could go on and on, but I won’t. The list is personal. You probably need to start your own. I hope all your favorite words aren’t of the Anglo Saxon variety, but there’s a certain strength in that and it’s not my call to make.


Here is a list of the books recommended by independent booksellers:

Little Bee, Chris Cleave “Nigerian refugee in England”
Tinkers, Paul Harding “Life, love, loss and the beauty of nature”
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese
The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barberry
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford “Japanese-American, Seattle, WWII”
Sarah’s Key, Tatiana deRosnay “Great read”
The Angel’s Game, Carlos Ruiz Zefron
The Imperfectionist, Tom Rachman “International staff of English language Rome newspaper”
Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes “Vietnam”
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson “Charming”
Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, T.J. Stiles
Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
Sacred Hearts, Sarah Dunant
Dead End Gene Pool, Wendy Burden
Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Billy Clegg


I smoked cigarettes for 40 years. I don’t recommend it but I did love my cigarettes and I still miss them sometimes. In my case I really believe I was an addict and I still am. If I smoke one cigarette I will not be able to stop, so I have to smoke my pen. I was hounded into quitting. It got so it was impossible to find an acceptable place to smoke. Even in my home I had to blow my smoke outside so it wouldn’t make my cat sick. I don’t know if cats get lung cancer, but I kept thinking about how little her lungs are. I just couldn’t do it. I felt more and more like an outcast and I could see that I would be banished from polite society if I didn’t quit.

Smoking did not ever agree with me. It destroyed my sinuses, ruined my sense of smell and therefore my ability to taste. It gave me a constant dry cough that probably irritated everyone no end and eventually made me feel ill every time I puffed, but still I smoked. Now I am glad I quit. I wrote a fictionalized memoir about a cigarette addict named Zoe Taylor. You can read her story on my other blog You have to be 18 to read Zoe’s story. I post a new chapter every Friday. Start with the Introduction and click through the chapters in order. Travel back to the hippie days.

Unmanned Drones

Unmanned drones have very obvious advantages. We can see our enemy but they don’t know we’re watching. Drones can cover rough terrain where we can’t go physically without great risk to the lives of our soldiers. They can target and kill small groups (of people) with great accuracy.

We can all, I think, see the dangers of this kind of technology. We know it changes war by depersonalizing it. We all saw Star Wars. Soldiers do not meet face to face. There is no warning. An attack comes as, literally, a bolt from the blue. We know drone pilots can pinpoint a group of people, but we also know they can not differentiate between civilians and combatants. We can all agree that one day everyone will have this technology and then the “enemy” of the moment could be hovering over our own neighborhood to drop a bomb on us at anytime. Our relatively impregnable status – gone. Even though this technology seems so helpful to us now shouldn’t we just bury it, develop military amnesia, ban it. I guess this is just the beginning of robot armies and the total annihilation of humankind from the face of the earth. We never backtrack. You can’t really un-invent something.

Sad Chronology

If you have an interest in politics you probably have an interest in history also. It would be tough to make good decisions between opposing views without some historical perspective (along with a basic construct for the future). Apparently it’s tough to make good decisions even when we do know the past. Sadly I organize American history (and could, in fact, organize all human history) by our wars. American wars furnish a chronological scaffolding for all other events.

Recite the wars with me (leaving out battles, skirmishes, and massacres):

French and Indian War
Revolutionary War
War of 1812
Civil War
Spanish American War
World War I
World War II
Korean War
Vietnam War
Desert Storm
War in Afghanistan
Iraqi War
War in Afghanistan

And we supposedly only fight in self-defense. What would our history be like if we were actually aggressors? And how is our history different from that of any other nation except for the names of our encounters? Will it appear to denizens of the future that we went to war for better reasons than other nations? Will human endeavors ever be free of war?

Our Best Behavior is Required

Politics always interested me because in America the people are supposed to be the government. We say who represents us and we are supposed to tell our government what we would like them to do, although how they know who to listen to with all the opposing opinions, I’m sure I don’t know. I guess they listen most to those who elected them.

We have certain humanitarian ideals which make me proud to be an American so I tend to support people who I think uphold these humanitarian beliefs. However, to maintain our position as a world power, which is necessary to accomplishing our humanitarian ideals we must have a healthy economy. Our capitalist economy is sometimes at odds with our ideals. We have to have balance between idealism and economic realities.

I hate to see my country experiencing financial difficulties and I hate how our tight financial circumstances are curtailing our more altruistic instincts. If our economic health doesn’t improve will we get more and more selfish and contentious.

I also hate to see my country reviled around the world. I know we have meddled in other governments, sometimes for national security reasons, sometimes for financial gain and sometimes, because our ideals kicked in. I know we seem to have a zeal to “convert” countries around the world into democracies, which is somewhat arrogant and pretty unrealistic in some cases. I can see that some countries cannot help but be our natural enemies because they have so little regard for the humanistic concerns that motivate us. I don’t think we can afford to go to war with every country whose leaders don’t live up to our beliefs.

We have to walk the fine lines of diplomacy and make our case to the world through the way we treat each other. We’re a little behind the curve on this I would say. I hope we can solve our problems with our economy and our environment and our energy requirements without losing sight of our ideals. Our planet is feeling so little out here at the edge of the universe.

Coming Down Off the Hill

I live in an economically challenged city with a very expensive university. This university is on a hill above the city and for many years only came down to do research and dispense charity. Although they have given us many hours of wonderful sports to enjoy they have never offered special tuition rates to residents of the city. For many years they had an off campus division devoted to serving part time and evening students, but costs were the same as for on campus courses. Most city and area residents of middle means or below have to go out of town to college.

In many ways (besides sports) we are very lucky that this university is so successful. It puts us on the map of the state. It is probably responsible for the richness of our cultural life. After all, we have a very good symphony orchestra which would most likely not have lasted here without the patronage of the university. We used to attract major ballets, we have a famous authors lecture series, we have several options for theater including the university student theater.

This university shows signs lately of trying to interact with the city in a more positive way. Our city is dying. The university is trying to help resuscitate it. They want to create a “corridor” to connect the university and the city. They made a tangible contribution to the city when they moved their architecture students studios to a downtown location (near the most vibrant downtown area.) Now they want to add bicycle lanes to this corridor which connects the university and its architecture students. The push for bicycle lanes seems more than a little self serving. In a city that gets an average of 100 inches of snow each winter, bike lanes sound expensive to design and maintain given the economic and meteorological climate. Although it seems low on the priority list of a city that is basically empty, it may have some unforeseen benefits. Anything that brings the university down off the hill and gets them to interact with the rest of us, to lend us their considerable talents, should have some positive outcomes. Already it has attracted an architectural and an engineering firm back into downtown (albeit, it to that only vibrant neighborhood.)

It is still also true that most people from the area cannot even think about going to this school. Most of us have to start at the community college and transfer out of town to finish our college educations, and maybe we end up living the rest of our lives elsewhere.

I believe if you wanted to forge a lifetime relationship with a community you would offer the people in that community a way to lift themselves up – well publicized scholarships or special fee rates. There is a lot of resentment in this community along with our appreciation and gratitude. We want our university to stay, but we would like to be able to pursue our college careers here, in our own city.