A Beautiful Loser – Bob Seger

One of the more surprising posts I have written was a tribute to one of my favorite artists, Jim Croce. I wanted to introduce him to new audiences as he passed away in the early 1970’s, yet it has been one of the more frequented posts I have written as many have fond memories of his music. Another favorite artist is Bob Seger. His combination of great lyrics and rock and roll sound is not often matched. His memorable songs are many in number and it is hard to decide which is my favorite. It is probably equally as difficult for other fans of his.

Unlike Croce, Seger is still with us and my wife and I have had the good fortune to have seen him concert. It was later in his career, but I have found that artists doing a later tour are much more appreciative of their audience. Seger was no exception. I use this title as “Beautiful Loser” is among my favorites. It resonates with me as we all are fixer uppers. None of us is perfect, but the song title reminds me we all aspire to be better than we are and we want it all – but we will fall short of that goal. We want to be the most beautiful loser we can be. The chorus goes as follows:

“Beautiful loser….where you gonna fall….when you realize…..you just can’t have it all.”

But, the list goes on. “Night Moves” is his most played song as he sings of how young teens are learning and experimenting with lustful romance.  They are “working on mysteries without any clues” which is a wonderfully expressive line. Yet, there are many classic lines throughout. Another example is “Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues.” It is a song that bring back many memories, both the excitement and the angst.

Some of his songs show how similar we are. He vividly portrays the uniformity of male lust under “Fire Down Below” whether you are “the mayor with your face hidden from the light” or the “lawyer or the cop.” He shows it is a universal trait across all US geography. If he wrote it today, maybe he would tease in whether you are a Tea Partier or a progressive, we all have the fire down below.

Another big favorite of mine is “Against the Wind.” I think the story it tells is so reflective. “We are older now, but still running against the wind.” Like Beautiful Loser, we are doing the best we can, but sometimes it feels like the odds are against us. So, just do the best you can. And, he laments as an older person “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” He sadly remembers the excitement and anticipation of it all when he was younger.

Others worth listening to include:

– “Main Street” which is one of the few songs by anyone that sounds better live with the haunting guitar sound. The intent of the song is how the memory of a “long lovely dancer at the club downtown” haunts him to this day.

– “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” was great even before a young Tom Cruise lip-sang to it as a teenager with his air guitar in “Risky Business.” The women reading this can thank me later for giving them a reminder of a young Cruise.

– “Feel Like a Number” resonates to this day, as we are an employment number, a social security number, a user code, etc. We have desensitized ourselves to each other and he saw it even then when he cried “I’m not a number, dammit I’m a man.”

– “Fire Lake” was not a huge hit, but is a great storytelling song – “You remember Uncle Joe, he was the one afraid to cut the cake.” The song has much deeper meaning, but I love that line as it remind us all of relatives we have.

– “Her Strut” which is down and dirty rock and roll. “I do respect her but, I love to watch her strut” pulsates to a great rock and roll beat. I have never wanted to look up the spelling of “but” as I wanted to leave it to my imagination.

– “Turn the Page” about an aging rock star, “Still the Same” whose title describes the song, “Like a Rock” which is a good song, but was burnt out by a commercial marketing pick-up trucks, “Hollywood Nights” another great sounding live song,  “You’ll Accompany Me,” We’ve Got Tonight” sung with Sheena Easton, “Roll me Away,” “Travelin Man”and Katmandu” are all terrific songs as well.

I am certain I left out someone’s favorite, so please forgive me. Please do comment with songs that resonate more with you. For those who have not listened to a fuller body of his work, give the above songs a try. He reminds us of ourselves. We are all doing the best we can to be “beautiful losers.”

It is all of our responsibility, including the NRA

I have never been a fan of the blame game. As a former manager of people, it is extremely rare to see a one-sided communication problem. I am also not a huge fan of people trying to place their share of the blame on someone else. I think the recent posturing of the NRA on our complex gun death problem in the US is highly offensive, not only to me, but to many, including responsible gun owners. Truth, be told, our gun death problem in the US is all of our responsibility, and yes, that includes you NRA.

The theme of this post has been altered over the course of the week, as I have read two of the best pieces of journalism on this topic from two bloggers, who I want to give the loudest of shout outs. I would encourage you to read “Can we talk about gun laws?” at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com as well as “Starting this year off with guns a blazin” at www.diatribesandovations.com. The authors of these blogs have written several good posts on the topic, but you will get a keen sense of their concerns and issues by reading these two posts. All, I can add is “Amen, sisters” to their work. Yet, if you did want to read more about my concerns, I would guide you back to two posts of mine – “Gun deaths and the bigger context” last month and “Another day in America – a 16 year-old kills 13 year-old friend” penned back in August.

As these posts point out, the gun death issue is not about addressing mass murder, although that is a part of the equation. The bigger question is how do we address the gun deaths that occur every day? The issue is complex and one solution is not the answer. That is another key reason the NRA’s posturing is so lame. It will require a series of solutions to address this issue and one of those solutions will have to be tighter gun restrictions. And, if you don’t believe me check out the positions of Ronald Reagan and the first NRA president in the aforementioned post on “Can we talk about gun laws?”

So, please consider the following issues and potential solutions:

Tighter gun restrictions: This has to be part of the equation and the easiest thing to do is reinstate the Brady Law” which was advocated by Ronald Reagan, who as president was the target of the bullets that also hit James Brady. This law expired in 2004 and its lapsing is a clear sign of poor stewardship on Congress’ part.

Civil Discourse: This may be the major issue causing gun deaths. People get in arguments with family, friends, fellow patrons, fellow sports fanatics, etc. over stupid issues and do not know how to civilly disagree. There has been a huge increase in fan violence at sporting events, which is an example of this behavior. Yet, now when people get into arguments, someone has a gun or can easily get a gun and an impulsive decision will end a life. Folks, walk away. If you do not take offense, then you are not offended. Most of these arguments are not that important and some are ludicrous such as wearing another team’s colors. It is OK to disagree with someone and it is OK for them to disagree with you.

Drunk and disorderly: I mention this following the above comment. This is a key reason fan violence has increased. The players taunt (which is a disgrace, as they don’t seem to taunt when they screw up), so the fans think it is OK to taunt. When you are inebriated your judgment goes out the window. This causes fights in bars, sports bars, restaurants, etc. which have been escalating when someone goes to a car and gets their weapon. You can’t stop drunks as many show up at the game drunk from the tailgating, but the venue owners have to take responsibility and throw drunk assholes out.

Poverty: this is another major issue effecting gun deaths. In impoverished areas, crime opportunities increase and so does gun utilization. We have to find more employment opportunities and provide help climbing the ladders out of poverty. Ideas have to work within the community building off their assets and perserving dignity. I often quote Malcom Gladwell, but in his book “The Tipping Point,” New York City reduced crime in subways by doing several things, one of which was constantly repainting over the graffiti. The criminals saw that if they are this concerned with something as basic as painting over graffiti, then they are likely to be tough on crime. Plus, it helps people take pride in where they live.

Law Enforcement: Listen to the people fighting crime. Provide them with resources and tools. Law enforcement has advocated putting serial numbers and tracking the sale of bullets back to the seller. Why? It will help solve crimes. The NRA is against this. For the life of me, I cannot fathom a reasonable answer to why they believe this. If I am a law biding gun owner, then tracking my bullets does not affect me one bit. When we listen and support the people on the ground fighting crime, crime goes down.

Mental Health Care: Access has to improve. The stigma of getting care has to change. The statistic I cited a month ago by a behavioral psychologist and former collegue of mine was validated by another source. In short, 20% of people have or will have some mental health issue. It could be mild depression to being bi-polar. 10% of claims, on average, of an employer’s healthcare plans in a given year will be mental health claims. So, our imperfections sometimes manifest themselves with a need for a counselor’s care or prescription medicine. My friend’s mantra when advising clients is to make sure more of the people getting medicine are also getting therapy from a counselor to talk about their problems. She can demonstrate through data that quality of care outcomes improve for the patient and cost of health care will decline for all. Many people live with mental illness. It does not have to be debilitating. Nor does it need to lead to a crime. This is a key reason to have background checks and waiting periods on gun sales. Once someone acts on an impulse (depression is higher on college campuses, e.g.), a life is over and it cannot be retrieved.

Funding of changes: I saw someone say “put more armed guns in schools, but don’t increase my taxes.” That statement sums up America in a nutshell. We want services, but we don’t want to pay for them. There is a bigger issue here, but to keep it on topic, I live in a county that addressed budget issue by only accepting a school board bugdet with many fewer guards in schools. To the earlier point, they also reduced the number of psychologists and school counselors on site. If we want services, we have to step up and pay for them. One of my pet peeves is after cuts are made to services, services decline (it could be fewer social workers handling more family cases, e.g.) and then people complain “how could you let that happen?”

Don’t Solve for a problem and cause a bigger one: This is also one we need to avoid. Arming teachers in schools or allowing guns on college campuses are attempts to solve for a small occurring problem but lead to a bigger one that will occur daily. I don’t care how trained you are, there are very few people who can stand up, aim correctly and fire at another person shooting back. Teachers would be better served to get their children to safety rather than playing Dirty Harry.

Entertainment Violence: Hollywood and games creators. Yes, you do have a role. The NRA is correct on this. I often frequent a local video store as I like the library feel of browsing for movie gems. On one wall are all the current releases. This is anecdotal, but my guess is 75% are violent movies either with weapons or horror based themes. The bad guys have to die, it is that simple. The same is true of the games. The bad guys have to die. This is not the first time Hollywood is full of shit on an issue. Just like the NRA, they tout first or second amendment rights. Yet, they are both hypocritical as they want to push the sales of their products. I can assure you if well done biblical movies sold $100 million plus, they would push them more. And, we parents need to talk openly and monitor some these violent games. We should also vote with our feet and stop buying these games or attending these movies.

Religion must be inclusive: I am a broken record on this topic. The thing I detest most is bigotry from the pulpit. When a faith leader preaches a religion of exclusion and promotes we/ they issues, I believe they have let their God and parishioners down. Religion is at its finest when it is inclusive. It is at its worst when it excludes. I have delighted in Alastair’s post on www.kattermonran.com on “Why I love humanity…” where one of the pictures is of a boy holding a sign next to a man holding a sign which says “God Hates Fags.” The boy’s homemade sign is “God Hates No one.”

If there is anything we each can take away from the above, I would at a bare minimum ask you to remember three things. First, stop this we/ they bullshit. Do not tolerate it because it puts us in adversarial positions. We stop listening to people’s opinions and make everything a competition. For example, the NRA is right about Hollywood, but wrong about their own role.  Second, have civil discourse with others. It is OK for them to disagree with you. If you cannot discuss amicably your issues, walk away. Third, understand that solutions to problems have to be muti-faceted. There are no panaceas. The problems are complex, so single purpose solutions don’t address the problem. Question others when you hear simplistic solutions.

Many thanks for reading. Please feel free to offer comments or share with others. We have to bang this drum and keep banging it. We have to greatly reduce gun deaths in our country. This is not something we want to lead the civilized world in as we do.

The Legacy of Watergate Lingers On

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a movie I had not seen in a while, so I decided to watch it again. “Nixon” starring Anthony Hopkins in the title role was made in 1995 and directed by Oliver Stone. Hopkins had a little trouble looking the part, but he more than made up for it with his terrific version of President Richard Nixon. Joan Allen played his wife Pat Nixon and does a splendid job as well. Seeing the President’s wife role played behind the scene was illuminating as we only got to see a stoic supporter of her husband in real life.

As you watch the film, you have to remind yourself you are seeing an Oliver Stone directed version of the facts. Setting that aside, having lived through Watergate, President Nixon did authorize and cover-up some very bad things, so he resigned before he would have become the first president to be impeached. There a few moments in my life where I can remember where I was when a major event happened. Nixon’s resigning was one of those moments. I was actually attending the very first football game of the newly created World Football League. They actually broadcast his speech as the start of the game was delayed.

I have read several books about Watergate and the peripheral actions: “Blind Ambition” by former White House Counsel John Dean and “Will” by one of the Nixon ‘plumbers’ Gordon Liddy  and watched three movies – “All the President’s Men” about the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who broke the story (must see), “Blind Ambition” a mini-series starring Martin Sheen as Dean, and “Nixon.” And, like millions around the world, I watched the Watergate Senate hearings which were run by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina.

Yet, seeing “Nixon” after several years left me disturbed all over again. However, in addition to being disturbed by the crimes committed by Nixon, his Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, Dean’s predecessor and Nixon confidante John Ehrlichman, Attorney General John Mitchell and several others, I had an unfortunate illumination into contemporary politics that is disturbing. You see the legacy of Watergate lives on in certain places and we need to continue to shine a bright light on actions that are not conducive to fairness and good governance. What do I mean by this statement?

As context, Nixon is a prime example of how power can corrupt. While he did oversee some good things – passage of the Environmental Protection Agency, opening markets to China and the Soviet Union and overseeing job growth while he was president –  he sold his soul to the devil to get there. He was beholden to some huge oil/ gas industry funders and the likes of J. Edgar Hoover, who was actually far worse than Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the movie “J Edgar.” Nixon was also extremely paranoid and went out of his way to squash his enemies and do one thing that eventually led to his undoing. He taped his conversations in the oval office.

Where the movie haunts me looking at today’s events through its lens are in two areas. First, the decisions made by our Supreme Court and other actions that allow wealthy donors to exorbitantly fund election campaigns with little repercussion is very alarming. When you see examples of the pressure put on Nixon and his predecessors by wealthy business interests, it shows how easily the office can be used to their advantage. This past election season we saw a group of funders literally trying to buy an election. Whether you agree or disagree with the positions of the Koch Brothers, the fact they can pony up hundreds of millions of dollars to promote a campaign goes well beyond believing in a particular cause. They are buying a center of influence and that is not right. There are several points in “Nixon” where you see an earlier version of people like the Koch Brothers telling Nixon what they wanted him to do. We must modify this type of funding for the next election process.

Second, I saw too many similarities to today’s Republican Party in this movie. I saw the moral majority being referenced in different ways as the only way to combat the liberal eastern establishment. I saw references to the religious right as the only way to defeat the demonistic protestors who did not want to fight a war where we were bombing innocent people in Cambodia and Vietnam. I saw references to the people who disagreed with his version of America as communists, which held additional  importance given Nixon’s role in crucifying Alger Hiss and others before he became Vice President to Eisenhower. And, still fresh in my mind, I saw the purposeful manufacturing of evidence against people to game the election. It was so severe that one of the impeachable crimes listed was defrauding the election process in 1972.

You see Watergate was only part of the crime against Nixon. Nixon created a White House based spy agency that was called the “plumbers” so they could plug leaks to the press. They also bugged and broke into the National Democratic Party Headquarters based at the Watergate Hotel complex. But, they did more than that. Under the guidance of Jeb Magruder, they disrupted their adversaries’ campaigns. In particular, Senator Edmund Muskie was a target, as Nixon did not want to run against Muskie. He wanted to run against the more liberal Senator George McGovern. Their antics got Muskie to drop out of the race.

To me this equates to the fairly recent action of President George W. Bush to manufacture evidence (the infamous weapons of mass destruction) to lead us into an invasion of Iraq. And, to make the story complete, one of George’s men, Scooter Libby took the fall for the distortion of evidence and discrediting of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame (check out the fairly recent movie “Fair Game” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn). Libby worked for Karl Rove, a name we all know these days. Libby’s falling on the sword ended the affair, but speculation by smarter people than me abound about further culpability.

Yet, the more troubling resemblance is the blatant manufacturing of stories and data to discredit the opposition deployed by the current Republican Party. I like to add both parties do their fair share of perfuming pigs, yet with the puppeteering of a news agency to distribute calculated messages, the GOP has this down to an art form. I left the GOP to become an Independent for three reasons – their stance on global warming, their unhealthy embrace of the evangelical right, and their higher preponderance to fabricate information. This last point is not said without due consideration as it is extremely important to my thought process. You may not agree with me, but this is how I feel.

Our country needs good dialogue around the issues using good information and not someone’s version of the facts. I see a political system that needs to change to weed out the problem areas. I agree, in part, with my friend Mrs. N who says the wealthy never had it so good in our country. We need to assure the American people they do not become the Robber Barons of the 21st century. I don’t want the “haves” gaming the system to a degree they can spread misinformation and disinformation to get what they want. I have said it several times before, given the weakness of the GOP platform and candidate they put forth as contrasted with an imperfect President who had done a better job than given credit for, this election should not have been as close as it was and the President should have won in a landslide. The monied interests made it close.

I want the GOP to return to legitimacy as our country needs them to be so. Many in our country are like me, socially liberal, but economically conservative. I want us to help people climb ladders out of poverty, but I want us to invest in them and not just give them money. In the long run, that helps no one. We need thinkers and leaders with good hearts and good heads. We do not need monied interests calling the shots telling people how to think. And, we need to squelch the legacy of Nixon and get rid of disinformation and misinformation tactics.

I will leave you with Nixon’s line which he repeated often trying to convince the American people as much as himself. “I am not a crook,” he would say. Unfortunately for us, yes you were President Nixon.