Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Surly Bonds of Earth - 30 Years Later

The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, from their official November 15, 1985 photograph. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"

President Ronald Reagan
Address to the Nation after the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
January 28, 1986

Mrs. Juniper was three-feet seven inches tall, soaking wet. She was in charge of the 'Audio-Visual' Department in our high school, which consisted of a couple of televisions and three or four VCRs. Still, she took her job seriously and - considering some of the other teachers who graced those halls - she was benign. 

On this day, she'd set up in the A/V Room a television and seating for 30-40. She was showing the live broadcast of the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger and anyone was invited to watch. It was my lunchtime and it had been my intention to watch the launch, as a 'civilian' was going into space for the first time, teacher Christa McAuliffe. 

I got delayed, however. Thirty years later, for the life of me, I can't remember what delayed me. Considering this was during the final two years of my high school tour of duty - which were the only two years that are worth remembering - I'm guessing it wasn't because someone knocked me out in the hallway, or because I was having a gastrointestinal emergency.

Whatever it was that delayed me, I was in a room adjoining the A/V area, with about a dozen other teachers and students, when Mrs. Juniper opened the door to the room and breathlessly screeched, "IT EXPLODED!" Everyone in the room knew what Mrs. Juniper was talking about - we all knew that watching the live broadcast of the Shuttle launch was something that Mrs. Juniper had really wanted to do - particularly because Mrs. McAuliffe was a teacher.

The room went silent. We all stared at each other. Until 9/11, all of us in that room thought we were living through our own, once-in-a-lifetime, "Where were you?/JFK Assassination"-moment. I can still see the expressions on the faces of the others in that room, even if I can't make out the identity of those faces.

We all rushed after Mrs. Juniper, who by now was sobbing, and followed her into the A/V Room to watch the rest of the broadcast. There had been about two dozen students who had been sitting in the room when the Challenger exploded. I was able to glean from them a bit of what had happened. What I remember is how guilty more than a few of them felt: "I was cheering!" one girl told me incredulously. On the TV screen, it hadn't been at all clear initially that there was anything wrong and many in the classroom were still clapping in approval of the launch when a camera panned to McAuliffe's parents - Ed and Grace Corrigan - in the observation area; her mother's head was buried in her father's arms and that was the first indication to most viewers that something was wrong. 

Almost immediately it was announced that there had been an "incident". By the time I got to the room, it was being broadcast that there had been an explosion but that there were reports that the cabin had successfully jettisoned the rockets and that a search party was en route to the suspected landing area. That momentary grasp at straws lasted only a few minutes before it was clear that there would be no survivors.

I don't recall much of the rest of the day, other than waiting to hear from President Reagan from the Oval Office that night. Such a different time. Before the Internet. Before cell phones. Hell, I didn't even have cable television in my section of Philadelphia in 1986. Such a different time. It actually mattered that we hear from the President. It meant something. And that's not a criticism of our current or past presidents since Reagan. It's just a statement of fact that - before the 'information age' - we looked to our President in a much different way than we do today.

Whether you were/are a fan of Reagan or not, one thing that I think is indisputable is that his finest moment was in those brief comments he made that night. Somber. Reassuring. He was, that night, someone we needed to hear from. To know that we'd be ok.

Such a different time.

Nowhere was it more clear that the world was different than to flash forward 17 years - after 9/11 - to the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003. When the Columbia crashed, our first thought was terrorism; in 1986 that possibility didn't even enter our minds. The thought that some under-sexed thugs in a fifth-world country could shoot our Space Shuttle out of the sky was as foreign to us in 1986 as the thought that airplanes could be turned into missiles.

A different time indeed.

The number one song on January 28, 1986, was Dionne Warwick and Friends with "That's What Friends Are For." The number one movie at the box office was The Color Purple. And the number one television show was...The Cosby Show.

The Cosby Show

A very different time indeed.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Separate...Not Equal

Three years ago this week, I was in isolation [in my bedroom] in the aftermath of a dose of radioactive iodine therapy to treat any remaining cancer left after my thyroid - which had two tumors the size of Baltimore - was removed. After the dosage of radioactive iodine, the person needs to be isolated from being in contact with anyone to whom they don't want to possibly emit radioactive nasties.

So, I spent seven days in my room. Now, on the surface this doesn't sound bad at all, right?  But the first half of that week I was still on a low iodine diet [also known as the "Holy Shit, This Food Has No Fucking Taste" diet]. Then, once I could go back to eating food with taste, the radioactive iodine left my taste buds dull so I still couldn't taste anything [and couldn't until February as I remember]. 

So, isolation isn't that great.  I've come to realize, though, that the experience three years ago was really symbolic of what had happened in years past as well as a foreshadowing of what would come in the years thereafter. The fact is, I've been in isolation for more than ten years. My old friend, the dictionary, defines isolation as, "the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others". My circumstances have certainly placed me separate from others. 

The major life experiences that my peers have had have been separate - and often very different - from what my experiences have been with many of those same life events. This isolation takes many forms.  It's most notable, though [ironically enough], when I'm not alone. For it is when I'm with others and I'm hearing about their shared experiences with life that I realize that my situation has been/is completely separate from the others - who have had the "normal" experiences. So, even in a group, I can feel isolated.

The isolation was exacerbated by my first move - 90 miles away. It certainly separated me from others, but that was my choice and if I was isolated, well, that was what I asked for - to be separate from others so as not to be constantly reminded that I'm separate from others. Then the second move -  350 miles away - really put Operation Isolation into action. 

In the five years I've lived here I have made zero friends; worse than that, zero strong acquaintances - that same dictionary defines a 'strong acquaintance' as, "someone who would piss down your throat if your heart was on fire". Haven't met any of those. This town talks about how welcoming it is and what a great place it is to raise kids, and live a full life and yadda yadda yadda. Not in isolation, it isn't, I can tell you that.  I realize that I'm not extroverted and that - again - I was looking for isolation to some extent. But you would think it impossible to not make one strong acquaintance by accident in five years, even if you were a raging asshole [and while I may be an asshole, I take umbrage at the charge of 'raging'].

The recent experiences [cancer, out of work, near death, etc. ] have only separated me even more.  At my job, I supervised many people and had anywhere from 10-15 peers that I would - before last July, anyway - have considered strong acquaintances [see above for definition]. Since leaving the job, I've been contacted by three of them.  Three. And that was back in July. Since that initial "Go fuck yourself!" from them, I've heard nothing. So I left not only a job but the only social network I had.


Isolation: separate...and most definitely not equal.


By John Lennon

People say we got it made.n
Don't they know we're so afraid?
We're afraid to be alone,
everybody got to have a home.
Just a boy and a little girl,
trying to change the whole wide world.
The world is just a little town,
everybody trying to put us down.
I don't expect you to understand,
after you've caused so much pain.
But then again, you're not to blame.
You're just a human, a victim of the insane.
We're afraid of everyone,
Afraid of the sun.
The sun will never disappear,
but the world may not have many years.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

More Math: 62.5% + 90% = No Parade for You

I've had an epiphany this football season - which is appropriate since football had
been a religion with me for about 40 years. That sudden realization was this: my favorite team is never going to win a Super Bowl. Not, 'probably never'; not 'may never'; not 'unlikely to' - never. That's not just pessimism or dark thoughts - that's a mathematical fact. They've played a bunch of these Super Bowls - I hear there have been 49 championship trophies awarded - and never once was that award given to the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles - the aforementioned favorite team. Never.

Now, if you had a friend who kept trying to run up the same mountain 49 years in a row, and yet never reached the top, you'd tell him, "Asshole: quit running up that mountain!"  That's what I feel like doing with football -  I want to stop running. Why do I watch all those games [there are 256 games each season and I watch about 40% of them either in full or in condensed versions on NFL Game Pass or whatever the hell they call it]? Why do I watch four hours of pre-game every week? For who? For what? [See Waters, Ricky - 1995]

In the 1966 season, after which Super Bowl I was held, the NFL was made up of the following 15 teams:

Cleveland Browns
Dallas Cowboys (5)
Philadelphia Eagles
St. Louis Cardinals
Green Bay Packers (4)
Chicago Bears (1)
Detroit Lions
New York Giants (4)
Washington Redskins (3)
Pittsburgh Steelers (6)
Atlanta Falcons
Baltimore Colts (2)
Los Angeles Rams (1)
San Francisco 49ers (5)
Minnesota Vikings

While the AFL was made up of the following nine teams:

Buffalo Bills
Boston Patriots (4)
New York Jets (1)
Houston Oilers
Miami Dolphins (2)
Kansas City Chiefs (1)
Oakland Raiders (3)
San Diego Chargers
Denver Broncos (2)

So, the Eagles were one of 24 teams "present at the creation" so to speak. Look at that list again. One more time. Nine of those original 24 never won a Super Bowl. They are: the Eagles, Cleveland, St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona [pending two more wins, of course]; Detroit, Atlanta, Minnesota, Buffalo, Houston/Tennessee, and San Diego. So, 62.5% of those original 1966 eligible teams have gone on to win at least one Super Bowl.

Now, there have been 49 Super Bowl championship trophies. Of the 15 original teams who went on to win a Super Bowl, those teams have won a total of 44 of the 49 trophies. That's right: the Super Bowl has been won by one of those 15 teams 90% of the time. Ninety percent. The five Super Bowls won by teams other than those original 15 from 1966 were the Baltimore Ravens [2], Seattle Seahawks, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New Orleans Saints.

With these odds [again, 15 teams have won 90% of all Super Bowls], I can no longer in good conscience continue to be addicted to football in general and the Eagles in particular. They simply - for reasons that clearly have to do with more than just X's and O's - cannot and will not ever win a Super Bowl. If you are suffering like me - i.e. your team has never/will never win a Super Bowl - you should take another look at those 15 teams and choose one of them to become your new team so that you at least have a fighting chance of finishing a season happy.

As you can see, then, it doesn't matter if the Eagles hired Doug Pederson or Norm Pederson [ok, Norm spelled it 'Peterson'; sue me] as their new coach.  They are never, ever winning the Super Bowl.

That's just the: "Norm!"

Monday, January 18, 2016

8,130/200 = 1 -- The New Math

So, today marks 200 days without a job. Let's play with numbers: that's 55% of a calendar year. Before that, I'd gone 8,130 consecutive days with a job. So, 200 seems a paltry number compared to over 8,000, right? A blip. Of course, if you're not careful, a blip can become a trend and soon a trend becomes a permanent reality.

More numbers: to hold a job for another 8,130 consecutive days, if I started today, I'd have to work until April 22, 2037 - when I'll be 68. And still about 20 years from being able to retire. But that's a post for another day.

Of course, I won't be starting a new job today, but you get the point. 8,130 days is a long time; 200 days is not. Yet, as each day passes, it feels like the two numbers are getting closer to being equal. That is, it's starting to feel like I've been out of work longer than I worked. I'm not there yet, of course. But another six months of this nonsense and I can really see coming to a point where it'll feel I've been out of work longer than I worked.

When I did some stand-up comedy in the late 1990s one of my jokes was: "Do you realize I'm only five inches shy of being a midget? Of course, I'm also only five inches shy of being a eunuch." This is sexist, but being a male, being without a job is not unlike being without a penis - although at least you can still urinate without a bag - for now - without the job. It is completely emasculating to be out of work. I've never, ever been the sole 'breadwinner' by any stretch. But, over the last eight years, the income discrepancy between The Wife and I was such that I was making a considerable percentage of our family income.  It was never anything I spoke of; never anything I consciously considered; but subconsciously I knew that I was the man of the house, providing for his family and doing the manly thing.

That is no longer the case. I'm no longer providing anything; I'm a consumer of revenue, not a producer. There's unemployment, sure, but that's short-term and is barely enough to cover my Vicodin-Rum-Coke smoothies.

A friend pointed out with sympathy-if-not-delicacy recently that this feeling of emasculation was perfectly understandable: "They took your dick away from you," sayeth the friend in speaking of the individuals who caused me to end my streak at 8,130 days. As big a pain in the ass as the job was; and as evil and conniving and just plain mean as others were, it still was a salary and a sense of pride and a sense of doing something important; of being somebody important; of having made something of myself. Sure, it wasn't the career I'd envisioned, but it was a career, it was on the surface successful and it had been on a steady upward trajectory for 22 years. We don't even realize how closely our identity is tied up into the job/career we hold until it is gone - both the identity and the job.

And a certain something that used to be between my legs.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Part II Book Review: Destiny and Power - The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, By Jon Meacham

The 1988 campaign saw a different George Bush.  Meacham argues that the Newsweek cover-story citing "The Wimp Factor" so infuriated Bush that it contributed to his harsh tone in the '88 campaign.
One of the more famous examples of the "angry" Bush was the Dan Rather interview in late-January 1988.  While CBS had told Bush that it would be a political profile, Roger Ailes got wind that it was going to be a Dan Rather 60 Minutes-era ambush interview on Iran-Contra.  Ailes reminded Bush that - if it got too heated - he could refer to Rather's walking off the air the previous September when the news was delayed for a tennis match. As soon as Rather went in on Iran-Contra, Bush fired back, "I don't think it's fair to judge a whole career, it's not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set in New York? Would you like that? [Rather had actually walked off a temporary set in Miami]." It was a success for Bush. As Meacham notes, "Rather came off as rude. Bush came off heroic. Reagan agreed, saying that Rather had 'stepped on his own dick'."

By Memorial Day Bush had secured the nomination but was trailing Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis in the national polls. In the Bush camp, the numbers made Roger Ailes determined that they had to go after Dukakis now before they went into a permanent fall. The Willie Horton case actually came about from a reading of the transcript of an earlier Democratic debate in which then-candidate Al Gore asked Dukakis about the furlough program that let Horton out.  In the debate, Gore had said, "Eleven of [the furloughed prisoners] decided their two week passes were not long enough and left. Two of them… Two of them committed other murders while they were on their passes." The Bush team couldn't believe that this hadn't become a major national issue at the time. While it had been a huge story in Massachusetts, it for some reason had not gone national.

The story of the man, Willie Horton is a horror.  As Meacham recalls, "Horton was a convicted first-degree murderer in Massachusetts who had received a weekend pass in April 1987 and fled to Maryland, where, over the course of a horrific twelve hours, he raped a woman twice at knife point after pistol whipping stabbing and tying up her fiancĂ©. In Maryland, Horton was convicted of rape and kidnapping and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus 80 years." Newspaper publicity in Massachusetts about the story did in fact help to get the furlough law changed. Meacham writes, "While the [original furlough] program had been signed into law under a Republican governor, the Horton disaster occurred on Dukakis' watch, and Dukakis had vetoed a bill that would've kept first-degree murderers from benefiting from the furlough."

As controversial as the "Willie Horton ad" would be [more on that shortly], the decision to choose Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle as his running mate was the most talked-about aspect of the campaign. Meacham says the call on Dan Quayle was Bush's and Bush's alone. Bush had gotten to know Quayle during the Reagan years, when Quayle had moved from the House into the Senate in 1980.  Indeed, he was one of the few members of the 1980 class of Republican senators to have won reelection in 1986. Quayle was decidedly conservative, and Ailes - who had worked on Quayle's campaign was a big fan of the Indiana Republican.  As Meacham writes, "Bush liked the idea of a Vice President Quayle on the grounds of novelty and generational change." In the end it came down to Quayle or Bob Dole.

Almost all of Bush's people figured it would be Dole. When Quayle was announced, then, the new candidate had had almost no advance work done for him to prepare for his joint press conference with Bush. Indeed, Quayle had only one hour's notice from the time Bush called to offer him the job to his press conference. When Meacham asked Bush why he didn't tell anyone about Quayle, why the secrecy, "Bush was candid. This had been his first opportunity in eight years to make a call on his own, he said, and he was eager to do it just that way: on his own. 'Sometimes, you just get tired of having people tell you what to do all the time,' Bush recalled."

Not as much discussed at the time, but of longer impact than Quayle, was another development from the Republican Convention.  Bush's "Read My Lips" promise on not raising taxes. The phrase - part of Bush's acceptance speech - had been controversial with aides ahead of time. It came from Ailes. Campaign aide Dick Darman tried to get it out of the speech but speechwriter Peggy Noonan kept putting it back in. That would come back to haunt him. But that was down the road. For the time being, Meacham called Bush's speech fantastic.  "Bush had done something he did not often do, something he had found difficult since absorbing his mother's injunctions to focus on others....he had spoken eloquently about himself and his own view of the world. [He had said] 'I am that man' [for the White House]. For him it was a bold statement."

With the campaign underway, Willie Horton was introduced to the nation. Ironically,
the famous commercial was produced not by Bush but by an independent group, the National Security Political Action Committee.  It was called "Weekend Passes" and ran for only 28 days on cable television, ending October 4, 1988. James Baker publicly denounced the ad on behalf of the Bush campaign [but did so only after there was only three days left of it's run on TV]. Plus, the Bush campaign aides flaunted Horton around in off-the-record sit-downs with the press. Lee Atwater had said in June, "If I can make Willie Horton a household name, we'll win the election." And Ailes joked to a reporter "The only question is whether we depict Willie Horton with a knife in his hand or without it." Ailes, Atwater, Baker and Bush all claimed that there was no collusion between the campaign and NSPSAC on the ad, although the Bush team did air a generic ad showing prisoners moving through a revolving door [some were white, some Hispanic, some African American].

Why did the American people choose Bush? Meacham answers, "The American voters turned to [Bush] in 1988 for many of the same reasons so many others had turned to him in smaller ways for so many years across so many different assignments: because experience and intuition suggested to them that things would be safe in his hands....There were few others...who so convincingly conveyed the ineffable sense that they were fit for command."

And, in looking at the Bush presidency, Meacham astutely sums up what transpired over the next four years: "Bush came to the Presidency a decent and caring man whose experience in life and in government had taught him that there were few simple problems and even fewer perfect answers...The political tragedy of George Bush came in the last eighteen months or so of his presidency, when he seemed a caretaker at a time when voters were in the market for a dreamer. His White House years are a story of the rise and decline of a president who reached an unprecedented pinnacle of popularity only to fall, dizzyingly, to defeat at the polls."

Those four Bush years included the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. When the Wall came down, Bush was determined not to gloat over it, lest it antagonize hard-liners in Russia or East Germany. Meacham writes, "As the Wall fell, Bush was pragmatic. He kept his options open and resisted alienating rhetoric or sweeping declarations. He led by checking here and balancing there, understanding that a world in convulsion was inherently unstable, and everything in him was about bringing stability, or a semblance of stability, to the unruliness of reality."

By his second year in office, domestic issues - namely, the deficit and the economy - were center-stage. By May 1990, Bush realized that he would have to go back on his "Read My Lips" pledge if he was to get an agreement with Congress that would right the country's economic ship, particularly to counter soaring deficits.  The first indication of Bush's willingness to move away from "Read My Lips" came on May 9, 1990, when the White House released a statement saying that there would be no preconditions to the budget talks. Conservatives rightly interpreted that to mean that new taxes were on the table. By the next day, as Bush told his diary,  "the shit hit the fan."

The actual decision to raise taxes was Bush's and it came in a meeting with Congressional leaders on June 26, 1990.  At the meeting, House Speaker Tom Foley came right out and asked the President if he would he agree to increased taxes. Bush said,  "OK, if I can say you agreed [too]." Meacham says, "with those seven words, George H.W. Bush reversed himself on the key domestic pledge of the 1988 campaign." Bush told Meacham,  "It did destroy me.... The problem with the tax pledge was the rhetoric was so hot. Peggy Noonan, you know 'I'm the man' and that kind of stuff. I felt uncomfortable with some of that. But it was persuasive - the convention loved it. When people ask me as they do now 'Did you make any mistakes?', I say 'Yeah, one was to say no more taxes, period - I won't raise taxes.' It was a mistake, but I meant it at the time, and I meant it all through my presidency. But when you're faced with the reality, the practical reality, of shutting down the government or dealing with a hostile Congress, you get something done."

Meacham is critical of how Bush handled the communication of this change to the American people.  While Bush's immediate task was clearly to explain this shift to the American people, "for three days - an eternity in politics in the modern age - the president did not appear in public to talk about what was going on, or why he had done what he had done." One of the problems is that the original plan was to only release the news about the new taxes only after a new budget deal was done - so that both pieces of information would be released at the same time. Instead, only the 'no taxes promise-break' was before the public, and Bush didn't hold a press conference until June 29th.

Again, Meacham is hard on Bush - not for going back on the tax pledge - but for his clumsy handling of how it was rolled out. Meacham suggested that Bush could have said, "Because of existing law, [government] spending, if left unchecked, could one day lead to draconian automatic cuts or ruinously higher taxes or both that might damage an economy and culture accustomed to a larger federal role in the life of the nation. So why not say so, explicitly and dramatically, to the American people, beyond the context of a hastily called news conference at 9:30 on a Friday morning in summer just before the Fourth of July holiday?" Meacham said that one of the reasons had to do with a habit of Bush's that often served him poorly, " [In the budget announcement], the president fell prey to a tendency to assume that other people were living inside his head with him and understood what he was doing and why he was doing it. He governed by making the decisions he felt were right and then moving onto the next item of business. He was no [Calvin] Coolidge, to be sure, but neither was he an FDR, who used the radio to educate the public, or Reagan, who believed speeches matter. Bush really did not - at his peril."

The budget deal marked the beginning of the end of Bush's reelection chances - and this was before the height of his popularity after the Gulf War. Politics changed in the Republican Party in the late-1980s and the budget deal became a rallying cry for forces on the right. As Meacham notes, "[Newt] Gingrich represented a conservative worldview in which Ronald Reagan, the rightful king, had been replaced by Bush, a pale usurper who was now betraying the tax-cutting principles on which the Republican presidential ascendancy of the 1980s had been built....The shifting means of politics helped make the [Right's] break with Bush possible. Because of talk radio and cable TV and sophisticated direct mail, Gingrich and his allies no longer needed the classic party apparatus in the way they once had. They could reach conservatives on their own, and many conservatives were responsive to populist messaging, even if that populist messaging targeted not just Democrats but establishment Republicans - including the most establishment Republican of them all, the president of the United States."

Bush's attention soon turned back overseas again with Saddam Hussein's invasion and occupation of Kuwait, with his troops poised on the border of Saudi Arabia.  If Hussein had been permitted to keep Kuwait, he would've been in possession of 20% of the world's oil reserves. If he managed to take Saudi Arabia, he then would control over 45%. Despite this, Bush at first ran into Arab reluctance when it came to forcibly removing Hussein. Bush particularly feared the Saudis would try to buy themselves out by paying off Hussein to leave Kuwait.  According to Meacham, "had Saddam chosen to do so, he most likely could have moved into [Saudi Arabia] in this period and seize control over at least some Saudi territory."

One of Meacham's most surprising revelations is that Bush was prepared to risk impeachment over removing Hussein from Kuwait. According to Meacham, Bush had determined that - if he went to Congress with a war proposition - and it was vetoed, "[Bush] would still, he thought, go to war, and he would take the consequences. To a degree he kept hidden from many of his closest advisers, before whom he largely maintained the mask of command, Bush in private fretted the Congress might impeach him if he launched a full-scale military operation in the absence of congressional approval and if the ensuing war went badly. Bush alluded to this possibility in his presidential diary on five different occasions, ranging from Wednesday, December 12, 1990, to Sunday, January 13, 1991." Indeed Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii told him, "If you're wrong about this, you are going to be impeached by the Congress."

Of course, Congress did support the resolution as did the U.N. Security Council. The war went exceptionally well. Hussein was removed from Kuwait - which was the aim of the resolutions. The long-since debated question of whether Bush should have pursued Hussein into Baghdad is addressed by Meacham, and the perspective of the 2003 Iraq invasion points out the great complexity of the question that were not as clear before 2003 - when it was assumed that invading Iraq and capturing Hussein would have been relatively easy.

Seven years after the Gulf War, Bush wrote about his reasons for stopping at Kuwait. "To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. It would have taken us way beyond the imprimatur of international law of bestowed by the resolutions of the Security Council, assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working so hard to establish." That reads like the argument used by opponents of George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

When Bush declared victory on February 27, 1991,  "Bush had done something virtually no one would have thought possible only two years before. He had risen further in the eyes of the American public than Ronald Reagan ever had - further, in fact, than any other president in the history of public opinion surveys. 89% of Americans polled by Gallup approved of Bush's performance in these weeks.

Here Meacham again unlocks a never-before-known story: in the weeks after the war's conclusion, Bush descended into an unprecedented [for him] depression, leaving him often despondent. Meacham says it stemmed from a gnawing feeling that the popularity was ephemeral and impossible to sustain, but also because he hated leaving Hussein in power. While he didn't want to invade Iraq, Bush had hoped the Iraqis themselves would overthrow Hussein after the war. Leaving Hussein in power, for Bush,  felt incomplete. Indeed, Bush actually said in his diary that if the victory had come six months later he might've retired and not sought a second term.  "Confession: I wish that this were six months later, because what I think I do is say 'I'm getting a little old or a little tired; somebody else ought to have a shot now'." Bush was gloomy and emotionally adrift.

There was also a medical reason for Bush's malaise. He was suffering fro Graves' disease, diagnosed in late-spring 1991. Meacham writes, "For a time in 1991, America had a president who struggled to present a steady face to the world even as he contemplated standing down from the 1992 campaign." Meacham argues that the thyroid condition contributed heavily to Bush's appearing more lethargic over the last 18 months of his presidency.

For Bush, the 1992 campaign was one long paper cut. Bush considered Bill Clinton a draft-dodger and untrustworthy; he was certain that Ross Perot was clinically insane; and he believed Pat Buchanan to be borderline insane. His disdain for his opponents posed a quandary: he didn't really want to run again in 1992. But he felt he was more qualified than any of the others. It wasn't bravado, or ego alone: he truly believed he was the best option and that it was his duty to keep these men from becoming president.

Of course, he failed. Bill Clinton won 43% to Bush's 37% and Perot's 19%. Clinton won in the Electoral College 370-168.  Bush told Meacham that the loss - even though he didn't really want to run in the first place - caused a pain that never went completely away. "It was terrible. God, it was ghastly. Your whole life is based on trying to accomplish stuff, and losing hurts. It hurt a lot. My problem was the feeling of letting people down, letting the people around you down. You know, who really believed in what we were doing. And you let them down. That was the sad part for me, and I felt very strongly about that. I still do."

That hurt was abated somewhat by George W. Bush's election in 2000. At his son's request, Bush #41 worked closely with Clinton on fundraising for victims of a southeastern tsunami and then Hurricane Katrina.  Amazingly, the two men developed a close friendship. The rapprochement between Clinton and Bush #41 didn't, however, extend to Hillary. "I don't feel close to Hillary at all," Bush said. "But I do to Bill, and I can't read their relationship even today."

Meacham directly addressed Bush's feelings about the administration of his son.  The senior Bush told Meacham that he did feel that his son's White House had a public tone that was harsher than it needed to be. He questioned his son's use of the term "axis of evil" [made up of North Korea, Iraq and Iran] - Bush #41 felt the rhetoric was too hot. The senior Bush put the primary blame on the tone on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney.  The senior Bush doesn't believe those who say that Bush #43 wasn't in charge making the final decisions, but he believed Cheney in particular had a disproportionate amount of influence. Meacham writes, "To the elder Bush, the Cheney with whom he had served from 1989 to 1993 seemed a changed man."

In conclusion, President Obama has the final word on Bush.  During a conversation with Meacham, Obama said, "I would argue that [Bush] helped usher in the post-Cold War era in a way that gave the world it's best opportunity for stability and peace and openness. The template he laid in a peaceful and unified Europe and in what for at least twenty-five years was a constructive relationship with Russia and the former Soviet satellites, and the trajectory away from nuclear brinksmanship at a time when things were still up in the air, was an extraordinary legacy."

Extraordinary indeed....I stand corrected.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Part I: Book Review - Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

I confess that I was one of those who skewered George H.W. Bush while he was Vice President and President. I always thought he knew more about Iran-Contra than he said; that he was just a rich, out-of-touch patrician with a sense of entitlement. I volunteered for Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992 and was there at the Capitol as the Clinton's walked the Bush's to Marine One and watched them as they flew back to Houston. "Good riddance," I thought at the time.

But, oh how time changes perspective. By the late 1990s, I'd reassessed my opinion on Bush - after learning that President Clinton had inserted a cigar in a rude place on an intern - suddenly Bush looked a lot more presidential.

And so comes Jon Meacham's new biography, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush. I've enjoyed two previous works by Meacham [American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House and Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power]. Writing a biography about a president who is still living, however, is a greater challenge than culling through the archives of the dead. Meacham, however, had extraordinary access to Bush himself and to primary materials concerning Bush's long, long career. Meacham interviewed Bush over a period spanning nearly a decade [2006-2015]. In addition, Bush gave Meacham unfettered access to his diaries.

Perhaps anticipating criticism because the book is quite supportive of Bush, Meacham writes, "This book was written with the cooperation of the forty-first president and of his family and many of his lieutenants, but it is an independent work. No one, including President Bush, had right of review or of approval."

I interrupt this review to make one of those criticisms right now: nowhere, in over 600-pages of text, does the word "AIDS" appear. Not once. To not even mention one of the greatest health crises under Bush's terms as Vice President and then President is a callous and blatant oversight.

Now, back to the review.

Meacham argues that - although seemingly a cliche - for George Herbert Walker Bush, it really was about family, honor, duty and country.  Bush also, however, had a hidden, driving ambition that made him competitive and often left his opponents severely underestimating him. Meacham's thesis - which runs throughout the 601-page book - is simple: "The nation was fortunate that George H.W. Bush was in power when the crises of his time came, for his essential character, his experience, and his temperament armed him well to bring the decades-long Cold War to an end, to confront the aggression of an irrational dictator, and to lead the nation toward fiscal responsibility. An imperfect leader, he was nonetheless well-matched to the exigencies of his historical moment."

Bush first made his mark as a war hero.  He was sworn into the Navy on June 12, 1942 - his 18th birthday. After nearly a year of training, he was commissioned as an officer of the United States Naval Reserve on June 9, 1943, receiving his wings as a Naval Aviator. Not yet 19-years old, it is believed that Bush was the youngest flying officer in the Navy.

Bush's plane was a TBF Avenger torpedo bomber. 40-feet long, 16-feet high, with a 52-foot wing span. Bush was assigned to the USS San Jacinto, flying his first combat mission on May 21, 1944, from Majuro Harbor in the Marshall Islands. On September 2, 1944, Bush's plane was hit and he realized it was going down. Despite this, he stayed in the cockpit long enough to drop his bombs and hit his target. He gave the order to eject to his crew then did so himself. The Japanese tried to shoot him while he was descending to the sea and while he was in the ocean awaiting rescue. Bush's crew [William "Ted" White and John "Del" Delaney] was killed and never found. As Meacham recounts, "The loss of White and of Delaney remained with Bush for the rest of his life." Bush told Meacham, "it worries me - it terrifies me" even decades later.  During that interview, Bush spent much time, Meacham writes, "reflecting on the proposition that he could've done something differently, something that would've ensured their survival on that desperate Saturday in September. Bush's fundamental question: 'Did I do enough to save them?'"  Although Bush was now eligible for a return stateside for shore duty, he refused. He resumed his missions until he was ordered stateside in November 1944, before being reassigned for new duty in the Pacific. It was shortly after this that Bush married Barbara Pierce.

At the encouragement of  friend of his father, George, Barbara and their young family moved to Texas to forge a life in the oil business, leaving behind his life as a Connecticut Yankee. For the next decade-and-a-half Bush built up an independent oil career. As Meacham writes, "through the 1950s Bush worked hard to raise money in the East in order to press ahead in Texas. For Bush, raising capital required charm, smarts, and drive. Though few people could have been as well positioned to have access to big money men than Bush, he still had to make the sale, and then produce." It was good preparation for a career in politics.

Bush's gravitation toward politics no doubt stemmed from his father's political career. Prescott Bush served in the U.S. Senate from 1952-1963  In 1963 George Bush was elected  Harris County Republican Party Chairman. He decided to challenge incumbent Democrat Ralph Yarborough for the U.S. Senate in 1964.  In the Republican Party in 1964, the main battle was between the supporters of arch-conservative U.S. Sen Barry Goldwater of Arizona on the right and New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller on the center/left.  As Meacham points out, strictly in terms of upbringing Bush should've been a Rockefeller Republican.  But. "by the time of the 1964 campaign, Bush had been away from the East for 16 years. As an oil man, he had grown more conservative - not radically so, but notably so." Bush and Goldwater were both opposed to key elements of the landmark Civil Rights Act,  advocated states rights, opposed Medicare and President Johnson's War on Poverty, the admission of Communist China to the United Nations,  and both opposed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Although Bush won the Republican primary [after a runoff] Yarborough beat Bush 56% to 44% at the polls. Bush was not finished with politics. In fact, by 1965 he was getting ready to run for Congress.  To prepare, he sold his company, making a profit that - in today's dollars - would be the equivalent of $8 million. Bush won the congressional seat in 1966.  It was a strange time for Republicans. As Meacham notes, "Bush came of political age in an odd time - a moment when Republicans were at once supportive of [Lyndon] Johnson in Southeast Asia and wary of him domestically." Meacham argues this may help explain Bush's own understanding of partisanship in Washington. "The political lesson of Bush's formative first years in public office was that the President of the United States - in this case Johnson - was neither wholly right nor wholly wrong."

The assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 had a profound effect on Bush and his views of civil rights.  He voted in favor of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, despite Republican opposition, which centered on attracting disaffected white voters to the GOP by opposing civil rights.   The law banned discrimination in the housing market, enabling home buyers of any color or ethnicity to purchase real estate whenever they could afford it. "While many whites were disaffected over changes in culture and race," Meacham writes, "Bush shared some of those worries, but, while no liberal, he was attuned to the shifting cultural, political, and demographic realities, and hoped that his party would engage with a changing America rather than reflexively resist it."

After giving up his Congressional seat for another failed Senate attempt in 1970 [this time to Lloyd Bentsen], Bush was sought after by the Nixon Administration.  Richard Nixon appointed Bush as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations in early 1971.  After a successful tenure there, Bush was tapped by Nixon to head the Republican National Committee [RNC] - a thankless task in the Watergate era. Bush took over as RNC chair on January 23, 1973. That year Bush would travel 97,000 miles through 33 states delivering, 101 speeches, holding 78 news conferences and making 11 national television appearances. All of this as Nixon crumbled under Watergate. As Meacham writes, "Bush wanted to believe in Nixon. The idea that a President of the United States would lie to the country for selfish political ends was anathema to Bush."

Even after the edited White House transcripts - showing Nixon as a paranoid, vulgar narcissist - Bush still opposed dumping him. His support of Nixon is one of the few examples of Meacham turning critical of Bush. In what for the most part is a biography of praise, Meacham writes that, "The stand Bush took - of cautious support until it was beyond any question that Nixon had participated in the cover-up - was hardly a profile in courage.  It was, rather, that of a conventional politician, of an ambitious man who chose to defend the powers that were - which, not incidentally, were the powers that had championed and promoted his prospects in public life."

When Nixon finally resigned, Bush was on Gerald Ford's short-list to become Vice President.  Once Nelson Rockefeller was tapped for that position, however, Bush had three other positions he desired: Secretary of Commerce, Chief of Staff, or Ambassador to China.  He was given the latter.  Meacham argues that the China position changed Bush. Meacham writes, "The man who came to China liked action, movement, phone calls, results. The man who left China understood that diplomacy was a long game and that change could come rapidly or glacially depending on the circumstances of a given country and given situation"

In late-1975 Ford asked Bush to take over the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. He was shocked. If taking on the RNC during Watergate was a challenge, taking over the CIA in the midst of multiple congressional investigations into CIA secret operations over the previous 25 years was Herculean. In Bush's mind, accepting the CIA position meant the end of his political career. As with the RNC task, however, Bush took it on and received much praise in helping to restore morale to the agency during his brief tenure at Langley.

After Jimmy Carter's defeat of Ford in 1976, Bush left government and prepared for a presidential campaign in 1980.  His biggest rival would be former California Governor Ronald Reagan.  By 1979-80, both men were in agreement on lower taxes, fewer government regulations and a muscular foreign policy. They disagreed on abortion, the primacy of tax cuts [Meacham explains, "Bush feared that drastic reductions in taxes without spending restraints risked higher deficits and possibly inflation."].  Bush favored the Equal Rights Amendment, Reagan did not; Bush did not favor a pro-life constitutional amendment, Reagan did. Bush was not a big tax cutter; Reagan was.

Bush stressed his youth and vitality vs. Reagan's age as he launched his campaign on May 1, 1979. Early results were positive. Bush won the Iowa caucuses in late-January 1980. The trouble began with a second debate scheduled for Nashua, New Hampshire. Bush believed he and Reagan had agreed that only the two of them would be on the dais - that the other candidates would not be afforded a spot in the debate. Reagan, however, claimed to have never agreed to that. When the debate came on February 23, 1980, Bush sat stone faced on the dais as Reagan brought the other candidates onto the stage with him, demanding equal time for them. The debate sponsor [the Nashua Telegraph] threatened to declare a forfeit with Bush the winner if the others didn't leave the stage. Reagan asked to make a statement but the moderator refused to allow it. At that point, dramatically, Reagan grabbed the microphone and thundered, "I am paying for this microphone" and the audience erupted in delight - all while Bush sat on the dais saying nothing and not even acknowledging the others.  Finally, the other candidates left the stage - but not before one of them, Kansas Senator Bob Dole told Bush caustically, "I'll get you someday you fucking Nazi." Bush's lack of action looked terrible., Reagan won New Hampshire.

While Bush won Massachusetts, Reagan won South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Illinois. Bush then won Connecticut. Reagan won Kansas, Wisconsin and Louisiana. But Bush refused to quit. It would be while campaigning in Pennsylvania that he would utter the three words that nearly cost him the vice presidency.  While discussing Reagan's proposed economic policy, Bush called it a "voodoo economic policy" and "economic madness". From that, Bush press secretary Pete Teeley coined the term "voodoo economics" and a phrase was born.

While Bush would win Pennsylvania and Michigan, Reagan took Oregon which pushed him over the 998 delegates needed for nomination. Bush - after heated discussion - agreed with his friend James Baker that it was time to withdraw. In Baker's mind, there was still the vice presidency to consider, and every day Bush remained in the race made it less likely that Reagan would ask him to be on the ticket.

For Reagan, though, there was really only one person he wanted on that ticket - Gerald Ford.  Bush remained a backup choice in the event Ford declined the offer. Meacham reporters, however, that Reagan did not want George Bush.  The "voodoo economics" remark set Reagan off unlike anything any of his advisors had ever seen. Reagan also resented Bush's implications that he was too old. Although Ford had rebuffed Reagan in a previous offer of the number two spot, after watching Ford's address to the Republican National Convention, Reagan decided he must have Ford. This time when offered the position, Ford asked for 24 hours to think about it.  Meacham argues that Ford reconsidered because Ford was still itching to get back at Carter, "the pull of power was strong, the desire to exact retribution against Carter great. Ford was a politician, and the allure of politics had not faded - that much was clear from his prolonged flirtation with seeking the presidential nomination [in 1979]. The vice presidency wasn't everything but it was something - and it was possible that Ford, a former president, could make it into something even more."

Over those 24 hours, Ford's team put forth a series of demands [including a major role in the budget, foreign policy, and defense] that the Reagan team agreed to. But there was one person on the Reagan team not convinced: Nancy. That fact and an unfortunate interview Ford gave to Walter Cronkite the night that Bush was scheduled to address the convention ended up costing Ford the number two spot. Reagan watched the interview live [as Bush did while getting dressed in preparation for his speech] as Cronkite asked Ford about Reagan's pride in taking on a man [Ford] "who...has said, 'It's got to be something like a co-presidency'?" Reagan heard the term 'co-presidency' and went ballistic.  As Meacham points out, "In fairness, Ford's reply to Cronkite did not endorse the 'co-presidency' idea," but all Reagan heard was "co-presidency" and he was done with Ford. Ironically, watching on TV, Bush later said he had the opposite reaction, assuming the performance was confirmation that Ford had already agreed to be on the ticket.

Still, Reagan hesitated about Bush.  'Voodoo economics' and Bush's pro-choice stance bothered him. Finally, Reagan aide Richard Allen asked him, "If you could be assured that George Bush would support this platform in every detail, would you reconsider Bush?" Reagan said he would reconsider Bush.

And so, it would be Bush. While it is true, as Meacham accurately points out, that, "Bush had emerged by default", it is also true that, "Whatever reservations he had about Bush, Reagan also knew that no one would ever mistake Bush for an extremist of any kind.  He was the safe pick, popular with moderates and popular enough with most conservatives. Reagan seems to have become convinced that if he could not have Ford it was still a good idea to have someone politically close to the Ford constituency."

Reagan-Bush defeated Carter-Mondale 50.75% to 41% [John Anderson polled 6.6%]; winning the Electoral College 489-49. Meacham delves into the vice presidential years by noting that, "As Vice President, George Bush was neither as irrelevant as many thought nor as powerful as many feared.  His diaries of the period - sporadic but still revealing - show that he spent the Reagan years working hard to be useful to the president, struggling, from year to year and election cycle to election cycle, to convince the base of the party that he could be trusted with the Reagan legacy."  As for how Reagan viewed Bush, Meacham believes that - for Reagan - "Bush appears to have been kind of a human Marine One - a perk of the office that made life easier. Like the presidential helicopter, Bush was always there, an accepted and natural part of the daily action."

Although at the time there was some doubt, the two men developed a tremendous relationship. If Ronald Reagan enjoyed the Bushes, Nancy Reagan did not. And she made no effort to hide her contempt of them for eight years in the White House. The Bushes were rarely invited to the private quarters and Nancy excluded them from everything she could within reason. As to the reason(s) behind this, Meacham offers some theories but doesn't give an opinion as to why Nancy had such animosity. The theories include 1) Nancy's lingering anger over the 1980 campaign; 2) cultural differences between the two families; 3) the show business universe of the Reagans - there can only be one leading man/lady - made it inevitable that Bush would be suspect.

Meacham praises Bush's handling of the assassination attempt, as do most scholars. Ironically, Bush's first stop on the morning of March 30, 1981, was at the unveiling of a plaque at the Texas hotel where President John F. Kennedy spent his last night. Another irony:  Bush's plane that day was the same one used by Lyndon Johnson when he flew down to Dallas to join JFK on November 21,1963. When Secretary of State Alexander Haig reached Bush in flight over Texas to alert him to the assassination attempt, the connections was terrible. Bush only heard the recommendation from Haig that he come back to Washington - the rest of the conversation was static. It wasn't until he got Haig's telex aboard the flight back to Washington that he knew that Reagan himself had been shot. Bush couldn't help thoughts of the parallels between himself and LBJ in 1963. As Meacham writes, like LBJ, "Had Bush come to Texas as Vice President - and would he leave it as President?"

Bush addressed the nation from the White House briefing room at 8:20 pm, with a brief statement. Meacham notes, "To Bush, no other message mattered more than that Reagan was president, was on the mend, and all would be well." The measure was received by the public and Bush's stature rose considerably.

That reputation remained steady until the 1984 election, when Democratic nominee Walter Mondale named U.S. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro of New York to the number two spot. Running against a woman seemed to have impacted Bush and caused him, at times, to appear unhinged. Bush would describe Ferraro in his diary as "mean". Then Barbara Bush called Ferraro a word that rhymes with "rich" [Barbara called Ferraro to apologize, and she accepted]. Despite these contretemps, Reagan-Bush annihilated Mondale-Ferraro, carrying 49 of 50 states.

Almost immediately, Bush began planning for 1988. What would become one of his biggest obstacles began in 1985 with the decision to negotiate with Iran for the release of American hostages held in Lebanon.  In assessing the Iran component of "Iran-Contra", Meacham writes, "the record is clear the Bush was aware that the United States, in contravention of its own stated policy, was trading arms for hostages as part of an initiative to reach out to modern elements in Iran." Bush himself told his diary - after the story broke in November 1986 - "I'm one of the few people that know fully the details, and there is a lot of flak and misinformation out there."

As for the "Contra" component, Meacham takes Bush at his word that he did not know about the diversion of the arms proceeds going to the Contras. Meacham argues that the fact that Bush offered to take a lie detector test to support his claims of a lack of a role in the Contra affair is proof to him that Bush [and Reagan, for that matter] was in the dark about the funds to the Contras.  Such an offer for me, however, does not prove or disprove culpability. A cynic could argue that - as a former intelligence man - Bush could be uniquely equipped to pass a lie detector test regardless of the facts.  I don't buy that argument in toto, either, but I remain unconvinced that Bush and Reagan didn't know more about the Contra end then they let on

Meacham concludes the chapters on Iran-Contra by citing the final Iran-Contra Special Prosecutor's Report: "There was no credible evidence obtained that the vice president or any member of his staff directed or actively participated in the Contra resupply effort that existed during the Boland Amendment prohibition on the military aid to the Contras. To the contrary, the Office of the Vice President's staff was largely excluded from meetings where Contra matters were discussed."

Bush does not escape criticism from Meacham, however, on the Iran component, saying Bush failed Reagan as a policy advisor in July 1985. Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger had both counseled against dealing with Iran. Meacham says they were right and Bush was wrong. "The arms for hostages scheme was misguided, and Bush should have known it. As Reagan's anti-terror advisor, [Bush had] rightly opposed ransom in principle. Concerned about the hostages, over-optimistic about building bridges to Iran, and generally inclined to support the President, Bush backed a doomed policy. As the scandal erupted, the Vice President joined Shultz and others in wanting to get out the facts. But not before first trying to hide them."


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Falling Up the Steps

"Thank you, thank you, thank you...."

As I sit here on this snowy Tuesday morning, enjoying one of the few benefits of being unemployed [namely, not having to go out in this shit], I'm thinking of steps. Not forward or backward, but up or down. We took the Christmas tree down this weekend. Now, that's never a jolly time, but this year it felt particularly sad. Today, staring at the space where the tree stood, it's [at least] one step down. Why? I think because this year, for me, the tree represented more than just Christmas. It represented hope for a new beginning for me, for us. It represented a significant number of steps upward. Very, very high - higher than I'd been in years.

Alas, in a short month - like the tree - that feeling of ascension is gone. In it's place is a downward spiral I'm trying desperately to reverse. When I helped to put up the ornaments on the tree a month ago, it was the first time in years that I'd really looked at a lot of them. They all brought back memories and - for the first time in a long time - memories were no longer making me sad in early December.  Not from the height I'd reached. By the first full week of January, however, memories are back to not being my friend and so I let The Wife take the ornaments down.

Down. That's where I am now. Why? What happened between December 12th and January 12th? A friend has a theory that makes as much sense as any: I simply was too high on life after nearly losing mine on Thanksgiving. The height at which I was flying was simply unsustainable. I couldn't possibly keep flying that high. I was bound to fall. And, you know what they say about the higher they fly, and falling, and....well, you know what they say. So, the fall was further [or felt further] once I came back down. Perhaps even further down than I was pre-Thanksgiving.

So, now, it seems the key would be to get back up to somewhere between where I am now and the altitude at which I was flitting around a month ago. I suppose having a sense of humor about being out of work [see the start of this post re: snow] is a healthy attitude.  There's at least one positive in this nightmare. I'm also grateful that this is the first January in four years that I didn't have to do that God-awful low-iodine diet in preparation for my annual "Did your cancer come back" scan. I truly am grateful for that. I still have to do the bloodwork and see the doctor, but it's nice to be able to taste my food on January 12th for the first time since 2012.

So, there are two small steps upward - grateful for not having to drive in the snow this morning and grateful that I no longer have cancer - to get me some place between the lowest low and the highest high to a healthy, sustainable level.

Of course, for every two steps up, there may be one or two steps [hopefully no more] down. There are things going on in The Family that are reminiscent of last August/September. I realize that's going to be an ongoing trial - probably for years - and so it's going to be there threatening to knock me down a step or three. A new job that I like would go a long way toward helping me to stay a step up. Realistically, though, that probability recedes which each passing day. When you've been out of work six months, employers are skeptical. When you've been out of work a year and you're a male, employers don't even call to express their skepticism. They just go on to the next resume.

So, as I look at the space formerly occupied by our tree, the goal is to figuratively fill that space with something positive.  This morning, this blog entry serves as my first attempt at my first
step(s) up.