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Slow and Furious

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 2 comments

 

 

While running almost daily over these past five years — I’ve been yelled at, flipped off, and nearly run off the road.  I’ve fallen down flat on my face, busted open a kneecap, and been accosted by mean school children who called me “fatso.”  I’ve been chased by a pack of angry pit bulls.

By my estimate, I’ve run approximately 5,000 miles in six different countries on two continents.  Along my way, I’ve gratuitously dropped perhaps 9,500 F-bombs, some expletives mumbled, others screamed at full volume.  This averages out to nearly two F-bombs per mile of running — double that average when running anywhere in South Florida because of oppressive humidity and playing dodge ball among world’s worst drivers.  Indeed, I’ve learned that fury can be quite the devilish motivation, especially when skirting and sidestepping cars and trucks and forced to constantly be on the lookout for maniacs distracted by smartphones who simply do not see or fail to yield to the doddering 6-foot tall, 225-pound, 55-year-old blob off on the shoulder heaving desperately for air along busy boulevards and tricky avenues mostly lined with speeding traffic.

Fuck running.  But I do love it so.

I can’t explain the contradiction, really.  Aside from the giddy self-satisfaction of enduring the elements of the not-so-great outdoors, often battling the extremes of temperature and topography, the closest sensation I can relate to is that running has become an alternative form of meditation.  One becomes addicted to mental and physical rhythms of the body in motion.  I’ve even perfected the art of dozing off while running, as odd as that seems.  I’m almost never tired nor do I feel worn out after running.  I never ache after running.  I’m more alert and alive than ever.  I only feel tired and listless when — for whatever reason — I miss a run after a day or two.  I ache when I do not run.

I guess in some ways running is a drug.

Today was the hottest day ever in the history of Las Vegas.  Since this city was founded in 1905, that means this was the hottest day ever recorded in 112 years.  Oh, that means the high reached a blistering 117 degrees.

I ran five miles at precisely 4 pm today, right when the temperature peaked at the all-time high.  Yes, this was planned.  This was by design.  If I’m going to run, I’ll run.  If I’m going to sweat, then I won’t candy-ass it by running in the morning when it’s just 98.  I want the full fast and furious version of running to the extreme.

Mind you, this isn’t a sick brag even though I’m a master of sick bragging, but rather a demonstration of what simple dedication and strong willpower can do.  Those who know me best probably know, I’m not particularly motivated nor hard-working most of the time.  But I do make it a personal mission to run about six days a week, no matter what the weather conditions.  This “sacrifice” averages out to about six hours per week, hardly time-consuming given all the time most of us waste doing far less productive (and counterproductive) things in our lives.

The coldest temperature I ever ran in was a bone-chilling 5 degrees once — at South Lake Tahoe.  That run, which lasted only a few miles, nearly killed me.  The trouble was, South Lake Tahoe is at 7,100 feet and running at that high altitude puts tremendous stress on the lungs, especially if you’re not accustomed to the conditions.  I can’t say it did much good to breath in all that cold air either, as I contracted bronchitis and was coughing my head off for the next two weeks.  Yes, I do admit — one can take this running thing to the extreme.

But, for whatever reason, the heat has never bothered me.  I’ve run in 100-degree weather hundreds of times, and never experienced the least bit of discomfort.  Sure, after sweating like a beast I smelled like a farm animal afterward, but that was nothing a good shower couldn’t cure.

Here’s a shot taken yesterday while eggs and runners were frying on the sidewalk.

 

 

Many things that bring us down are beyond our control.  Some of us lose our jobs.  We go broke.  We lose friends, and sometimes even our closest family members are no longer among us.  We may work harder than others and such effort may take us nowhere.  Other times, something effortless results in a huge bonanza.  Life can be wildly random.

Running is the one thing over which I do have total control.  All decisions and movements are mine.  All effort is my own.  Every step forward is, in and of itself, a very small victory.  Satisfaction is the ultimate reward.

Most days, I run between 2 and 5 miles.  It takes me about an hour to run the full 5-mile course in my neighborhood, which is positioned on a gradual slope.  Running on a flat surface is much easier than running on slopes when paths are sometimes up and sometimes down.

What’s toughest for me are the hills.  Hills are murder on the legs.  There’s a quarter-mile stretch of my daily run which is all uphill.  My legs feel like rubber afterward.  They shake and want to collapse.  That part of my run isn’t getting easier.  To the contrary, it’s getting more difficult.  I suspect that losing some muscle mass due to age, even if it’s a little, has something to do with this.

As for vanity, I gave up worrying about extra weight or carrying a stomach a very long time ago.  I’ll never have a perfect body, so why worry about it?  Why obsess over weighing a certain number, when it seems more practical to do your own thing and let physics and biology take its course?  I’ll never be disappointed in not weighing a certain number because frankly, I don’t fucking care.  I’m going to eat my buttery meals and drink my wine, and then run when I can to stay as fit as a can.  Why bother with worrying?

That would be my advice to those who, like me, may carry a little extra weight and want to lose it.  Don’t worry about losing it so much as doing things you enjoy which might burn off some extra calories.  It’s really not that difficult it you make the time.

Some readers may think their busy schedules excuse them from exercise.  I don’t buy that excuse.  I used to work long hours, day and night.  I also used to travel more than half the year.  Consider that since I’ve begun running as a ritual, I’ve run the following number of times in these cities:

London, England — 2

Cannes, France — 20

Eindhoven, Holland — 10

Dublin, Ireland — 6

Cork, Ireland — 1

Ft. Lauderdale, FL — 25

West Palm Beach, FL — 30

Hickory, NC — 6

Laurel, MD — 6

Atlantic City, NJ — 20

Philadelphia, PA — 3

Pittsburgh, PA — 5

New York, NY — 1

Rome, NY — 10

Gary, Indiana — 5

New Orleans, LA — 30

Shreveport, LA — 9

Dallas, TX — 1

St. Louis, MO — 10

Phoenix, AZ — 1

Los Angeles, CA — 35

Escondido, CA — 20

South Lake Tahoe, NV — 12

Reno, NV — 2

Flathead Lake, MT — 2

Fargo, ND — 3

Sacramento, CA — 2

Las Vegas, NV — 1,200

Looking back, my toughest runs were in South Lake Tahoe, Flathead Lake, MT (due to elevation) and Gary, IN (due to it being a shit hole).  The easiest runs were almost always along oceans, which means along flat surfaces while enjoying gentle breezes.  I never had a problem running in South Florida, or Atlantic City, or even New Orleans during the summer.  Flat = good.  Hills/Altitude = bad.

The longest run I’ve ever made was 12 miles, which was 18 months ago in West Palm Beach.  That distance won’t break any world records, but I was very deeply satisfied I could still run that distance without stopping at my age.  That said, I did encounter a terrible chafing problem afterward where the meat of my thighs has rubbed together so much the skin was raw.  It wasn’t pretty.

Injuries are a customary hazard with running and all serious runners will encounter them at some point.  My view is, you have to just run through the pain and discomfort.  I don’t recommend this to everyone, of course.  Each body is different.  So, please do listen to pain signals within the body, especially if you are just starting out.  For me, I know I can work through discomforts.

Twice, I had lower back pains so bad that I could barely stand up without assistance.  This is something that just flares up out of nowhere about once a year.  Each time, I stretched and ran through the pain and then felt much better afterwards.

Another occasion, I was running along Okechobee Blvd. near the Palm Beach Kennel Club dog track.  Racing rough a crosswalk at a busy intersection, I made a giant misstep, missed the curb, and smashed by face onto the pavement.  In the process, I busted a kneecap that turned bloody but looked much worse than it actually was.  That caused me to miss a few days, but after the swelling went down, I made it a mission to return and race through that intersection, this time, bouncing over the curb like Rocky racing up the famous steps and thrusting his fists into the air.

The worst injury I suffered was seemingly benign and invisible, but which is, in fact, very painful, even to the point of causing debilitation.  Plantar Fasciitis is a knife-like pain up through the heel, which suddenly hit me a few years ago.  I can’t explain the sensation other than to say that even taking a small step is excruciating.  That stopped me from running for about six weeks, the only real stretch of time I’ve missed in five years.

I’ve tried to share the ups and downs of daily running from time to time with readers.  Some readers have even contacted me privately to say they will try and get healthy and will try running — to which I reply, bravo!

If it hits 118 degrees, I know where I’m headed — outdoors to the pavement.

 

 

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Are Great Pop Musicians Washed Up by Age 30?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Music and Concert Reviews | 1 comment

 

 

Recently, I read an intriguing retrospective of the dreadful Paul McCartney solo studio album, Ram — released 46 years ago today:

[COUNTERBALANCE:  PAUL MCCARTNEY’S ‘RAM’]

Recorded in the spring of 1971, Ram was McCartney’s second post-Beatles musical overture.  At the time, the lackluster album was universally eviscerated by critics.  In one of the kinder and gentler reviews, Rolling Stone described Ram as “incredibly inconsequential” and “monumentally irrelevant.”  Spoiled by a steady assembly line of Lennon-McCartney classics from the preceding decade, the public didn’t care much for the new music either.

Aside from the stellar Band on the Run, released a few years later in late 1973, most of McCartney’s other solo projects consisted of mostly patchwork collections of erratic inconsistency, while engaging on occasion, far more often mere trinkets of Paul’s much-celebrated earlier works.

By 1982, when McCartney crossed his 40th birthday, he’d all but retreated from the cutting-edge cliff of innovation de facto morphing into the world’s highest-paid nostalgia act (albeit, still a remarkable live performer filled with boundless energy, even today at 75).  If pressed to tell the truth, most hard-core Paul fans would probably have a difficult time naming a truly great McCartney-composed song released within the past 35 years.  For whatever reason, Rock’s Mozart has become Muzak.

To be fair, McCartney’s post-Beatles stuff has always been unfairly judged against the gold standard of pop music genius.  Expected to continue the greatest creative run in recorded musical history indefinitely, when Liverpool’s Fab Four plugged in their prehistoric instruments (by today’s standards) and changed everything within the eye blink of seven-year stretch, most fans and critics looked to McCartney as arguably the most talented of the group, and therefor best suited to transition as a solo artist and simply pick up where he left off right after the painful band break up in 1970.  Yet despite some valiant solo efforts along the way, McCartney has failed to deliver anything remotely close to the catalog of masterpieces when the far more youthful icon — still in his 20’s — wrote (or co-wrote) an astonishing collection of more than 300 songs, many the soundtrack to a generation.

How could the same creative source of ingenuity who penned “Yesterday” and “Eleanor Rigby” (by age 24), followed up by “Hey Jude” and “Let it Be” (by age 27) fade into a has-been, creatively speaking?  Indeed, how does the same musical sage who composed so many classics later record and release so many utterly forgettable songs?

_____

Do great pop musicians run into creative gauntlet by age 30, and if so — why? [Note:  For purposes of discussion, I made “30” the creative cutoff.  But it could be 29, or 31, or 32 — the point being that musical creative talent diminishes perhaps over time]

The evidence does seem pretty convincing.  In my introduction, I picked on Paul McCartney because he’s one of the best-known musicians in history and his career is easier for us to judge over a longer stretch.  However, I could have said pretty much the same thing about the Rolling Stones or The Who — the two other legendary bands of the 1960’s trifecta.  I could also have plucked several other rock icons — including David Bowie, Elton John, Queen, U2, or Bruce Springsteen and made a similar argument that most of their creativity reached a peak prior to their 30th birthday.  Then there’s Bob Dylan, arguably the greatest songwriter in our lifetime, who pretty much peaked by age 34 with Blood on the Tracks.

Let’s take a closer look at the Stones.  While Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have clearly stood the test of time (and then some), they haven’t written or recorded anything remotely close to the temblor of Beggar’s Banquet (1968) or Let it Bleed (1969), or Exile on Main Street (1972) in nearly four decades.  By the time the Rolling Stones had released their most memorable stuff, Jagger and Richards, the band’s primary songwriters, were both age 28.

The Who penned and recorded an astonishing burst of great music between 1965’s My Generation up through 1973’s Quadrophenia.  Then, Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend turned 30, and it’s been all downhill since, at least from a cutting edge creative standpoint (to be fair, Keith Moon, a seminal force, died in 1978 at age 32).

This discussion isn’t limited only to white males of a certain era.  It also applies to female songwriters and many soul and R&B artists, as well.

Consider Carole King, a monumental force of songwriting who — after spending years in the shadows penning hit songs for other artists — enjoyed her own personal breakthrough with Tapestry, released in 1971.  At the time, she was 29.  King remains a vibrant performer.  However, like McCartney and the Stones and the rest, she’s not written anything particularly memorable in the last 35 years.

Stevie Wonder was a child prodigy and a bombshell of musical creativity.  Wonder was one of the first R&B artists to seize full musical control of his material, intentionally choosing to write his own songs and experiment with new sounds when many Black artists remained under the thumb of record company executives.  The years between 1970 and 1977 for him were as fruitful any artist in history.  Wonder hit is creative peak in 1977 with the release of the epic album masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life.  At the time, Wonder was 27 years old.

_____

What explains such an apparent decline in musical creativity, at a relatively young age?

Other genres of popular expression don’t seem to suffer an age lapse at all.  Consider that over the years, many painters, writers, and comedians have produced their greatest works well into the 40’s and 50’s and beyond.

With writers, advancing age has been shown to be, not an inhibitor, but an elixir of creative inspiration.  Few writers make much of an impact while still in their 20’s.  But over time, as one masters the use of language and art of expression, (good) writers do tend to become better at their craft.  I’m not sure if it’s the same with architects or scientists, who must also call upon vast reservoirs of knowledge and experience.  However, it seems quite clear that virtually all artistic avenues crowded with older people doing better work now than yesterday, and destined to improve on their efforts tomorrow.

So, what makes music — or at least pop music — so much different?

Thoughts?

__________

Note 1:  Keep in mind, I’m strictly discussing musical creativity, not musical performance.  Many performers put on a great show well into their 50’s, and beyond.  However, very few write good music well into their 50’s, and beyond.

Note 2:  Consumers of pop music do tend to skew much younger than average.  This would explain why many of the most popular musical acts are teenagers and in their 20’s.  There’s simply more profit to be made catering to this younger audience.  Hence, younger and fresher artists get far more opportunities and perhaps even greater creative latitude than older more experienced artists.

Note 3:  Audiences could be as much to blame for the lapse in creativity as anything else.  Most audiences prefer to hear hit songs.  Most audiences don’t want to hear new (unfamiliar) music.  So, there’s pressure on older acts to deliver stale material and no longer push creative boundaries.

Note 4:  Finally, there’s obvious complacency which sets in once a musician is a multi-millionaire, earning royalties for the remainder of their lives.

 

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The Cuba-Saudi Arabia Paradox

Posted by on Jun 16, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, Rants and Raves, What's Left | 1 comment

 

 

Today, President Trump rescinded the normalization of United States-Cuba relations.

In a rambling politically-charged speech delivered in Miami this morning, Trump said that he intends to return to a failed foreign policy which has harmed both nations, divided families, and was so grotesquely counterproductive that in fact, it created the longest-lasting political dynasty in the history of the Western Hemisphere.

Fidel Castro, who died last year, rule Cuba from 1959 until 2006 — a span of 47 years.  Despite numerous attempts to depose him from power, he outlasted nine American presidents.

[READ MORE HERE]

Here’s a short historical timeline:

(1)  Prior to Castro Regime coming to power, the United States fully supported a brutally corrupt military dictatorship (Battista) which murdered as many Cubans within a seven-year period than the Communist government over more than five decades.

(2) The US rejected Fidel Castro’s peaceful overtures during the first year of his rule. When Cuba nationalized US oil refineries in 1960, that ignited a secret and illegal war run by the CIA using Cuban exiles and the Mafia to overthrow the government.

(3) US-backed forces, which included those Cuban exiles, financed by the Mafia, INVADED a sovereign nation, without any provocation in 1961 — in the Bay of Pigs.  The invasion was a disaster.  Predictions were embarrassingly wrong that Cubans would rise up and join the revolt.

(4) The US attempted to assassinate a foreign leader numerous times. Some of these illegal methods tied were laughable — like sending Castro poison pens and exploding cigars.

(5) Cuba’s economy floundered, largely due to a US-imposed embargo which lasted for 50+ years. Nonetheless, this policy backfired badly. Castro’s rule in Cuba LASTED LONGER than ANY leader in the history of the Western Hemisphere. The embargo only hurt the Cuban people. That’s the very definition of a failed policy.

(6) Americans were denied traveling to Cuba for years, based on concerns about human rights in Cuba. Meanwhile Americans have been free to travel to numerous other regimes run by murderers and military juntas all over the world. Furthermore, the US opened up diplomatic relations and even encouraged investment on other far more dangerous Communist regimes, including the USSR and PRC.

(7) President Obama finally became the adult in the room and recognized the embargo as a complete failure. In 2015, he opened up travel and investment in Cuba and American businesses flooded into try to pluck the economy, hoping to make a buck. Deals were in the works for hotels, resorts, banking, etc. which would certainly benefit US interests and the Cubans themselves.

(8) There’s now overwhelming support for the US opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba, except within the rabid Cuban exile community, which is largely comprised of the old remnants of Battista’s henchmen who once terrorized the country.  Many of these opponents of normalizing relations are descendants of landowners who hope to gain financially if the current regime fails.  The last thing they want is a peaceful and prosperous Cuba.

(9) Trump nixed Obama’s US-Cuba deal, returning to an outdated and failed Cold War mentality where the island nation is forcibly isolated from travel and tourism and investment. Although other island nations remain economic basket cases (Dominican Republic, Jamaica, etc.) while Cuba maintains a strong sense of pride and national identity, Trump now throws us back to a counterproductive Reagan era policy that will only harm ordinary Cubans and keep families divided.

(10) Parroting “human rights violations,” Trump rails against Cuba in a speech today in Miami, just a few weeks after praising an 11th Century regime which CRUSHES all dissent, which imprisons all protesters, which cuts off heads and limbs, which supports global terrorism more than any nation in the world, and which makes women third-class citizens with the same rights as slaves. Oh, and Trump also signs a $150 billion arms deal with these Saudi fucks, while at the same time blasting the Cubans.

Absolutely disgusting.

 

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My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy

Posted by on Jun 10, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 1 comment

 

 

My Take on the Bill Maher Controversy:

(1) If you fear the occasional provocation, then don’t watch the show.

(2) If you don’t want to risk being offended, then don’t watch the show.

(3) If you are bothered by salty language or objectionable words, then don’t watch the show.

(4) If you demand politically correct content at all times, then don’t watch the show.

(5) If you demand that writers-comedians-performers adhere to a strict safe zone of family-friendly content, then don’t watch the show. In fact, don’t go *any* adult comedy show, because many stand-up acts are far *more* “racially insensitive.”

(6) If you accept the premise that Bill Maher has always been a risque comic who sometimes says and does inappropriate things, but are STILL offended, then don’t watch the show.

(7) If you don’t see a far bigger picture that Maher is an experienced comic who has built a successful career while offending people indiscriminately, then don’t watch the show.

(8) If you called for Maher to be fired but haven’t done jack shit to object to far more incendiary material put out and sold by Sony Records and other major record labels, then don’t watch the show.

(9) If you fail to weigh Maher’s lifetime of countless words and actions, which reveal an *indiscriminate* attack-dog persona without regard to race, then don’t watch the show.

(10) If you can’t tell the difference between the abject cruelty of a “nigger joke” which was/is a deplorable example of rampant racism versus Maher’s self-deprecating attempt at humor, told off-the-cuff in an unrehearsed setting, then don’t watch the fucking show!

 

There are thousands of television channels available to you for alternative mainstream entertainment which won’t ever risk offending you. For every Bill Maher, there are 100 preachers trying to pluck you wallet. For every Bill Maher, there are thousands of scripted shit shows which never take a risk, nor will ever make you think.  Go there. Make that choice on your own.

One not need be a fan of Bill Maher or agree with his politics to see that this is a very troubling episode. In fact, he should be supported by everyone who values free expression, and is a fan of uncanned humor.

My Conclusion: Maher should NOT have apologized. His apology was especially troubling, given Maher’s long advocacy of free expression and self-professed championing of anti-political correctness. It’s also a severe setback for ALL comedians and artists everywhere which will inhibit future exploration of touchy subjects.

Out.

 

Note:  To follow the Facebook discussion on this topic, please click HERE.

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My Colonoscopy

Posted by on Jun 2, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal | 13 comments

 

I know.

Yuck.

A colonoscopy.

Who wants to read about that?

Well, since you’re already into the fourth paragraph of today’s feature, I’ll take this as an indication you’re either innately curious, or sick enough to wallow in the joy of my misery.

Fair enough.

At age 55, I’m told that puts me at higher risk for colon cancer.  Gee, that would really suck to be diagnosed with any form of cancer.  But if I do get such a scary diagnosis, I sure as shit don’t want it in my ass.  Excuse the pun.

Most of us put off unpleasant procedures like this until — sometimes it’s too late.  Especially men, like me who often feel invulnerable.  Since I don’t feel any pain down there, why worry about it?  That’s the all too-familiar tune.  Sure, I get annual medical check ups.  I visit my dentist regularly.  I go through a vision test and get new glasses whenever I can.  So, why would I voluntarily subject myself to such an intimate intrusion by undergoing a colonoscopy?

In other words, if it’s not broken, why fix it?

My ass works just fine.

I won’t gross you out with too many gritty details, but the downside of putting off a colonoscopy is a slow death in the most miserable way.  Unfortunately, I happen to know this firsthand.  Marieta’s father died from colon cancer about 20 years ago.  Losing him was painful enough.  But to see such a strong and kind man like Marieta’s father, who was once worked as a Bucharest policeman, bed-ridden during the final six-months of his life was a terrible ordeal to bear, especially since colon cancer was entirely treatable, if it had been caught in time — in other words, if he’d had a colonoscopy.

Marieta lost her father that way, and she certainly didn’t want to lose me, especially in the same manner.  So, prodded on by her insistence — what most of us husbands would call “nagging” — I finally agreed to undergo my first colonoscopy, earlier this week.  In fact, we agreed to go in together as a couple.  She decided to have one too, on the same day.  No, we didn’t get a 2 for 1 discount.  We didn’t even get frequent flier points.  Cheap ass insurance company.  Like having Spirit Airlines insurance with a $5,000 deductible.

The procedure is relatively quick and simple, which I’ll get to in a moment.  It was also completely painless.  However, the prep was a bit annoying, especially for a foodie, like me.  I was instructed forgo all food and drink for a 24-hour period prior to the procedure.  No, not even a glass of wine.

The horror.

Being a Type-A personality, I took these medical instructions to the extreme.  I didn’t eat or drink anything (except for water) for 40 hours straight.  I’m not sure that qualifies me for any Guinness Book of World Records, but I think I deserve some kind of Evel Kneivel award for my immense sacrifice.  I don’t believe I’ve ever gone so long without eating or drinking anything in my entire life, except once when my car broke down in West Virginia and I deduced starvation was preferable to eating anything in that state.

To my surprise, fasting was much easier than I expected.  Perhaps being a Muslim and doing the Ramadan thing — which means not eating for 30 days — isn’t such a big deal, after all.  Besides, it’s a pretty effective way to lose weight.  Maybe I’ll convert, at least to the fasting part (not!).

On the same morning when the 2017 World Series of Poker officially began, an annual event in Las Vegas which I’d worked steadily for more than two decades, while players from all over the globe — including hundreds of friends of mine — were congregating together in gambling’s biggest and most prestigious event, I was having a rubber tube inserted into my ass.

How far the mighty have fallen.

The prep was critical.  They make you drink this clear liquid, which tastes like artificially flavored citrus soda.  I was told there are some yucky-tasting prep kits.  But I was prescribed one of the really good ones.  I must admit, it sure was tempting to spike the prep drink with a little vodka (my new creation — the colonoscopy screwdriver).  But I was a good boy.

Anyway, I drank two full dosages of the prescribed citrus drink and for the next 24 hours I felt like I was riding a motorcycle through central Mexico.  Fortunately, there were no major disasters.  There were, however, a couple of really close calls.  Football is called “a game of inches.”  Well, the prep game of having a colonoscopy is kinda’ like that, too.  Then and there I realized there are advantages to having house cats.  One just gets used to poop and vomit on the floors.  What’s one more little “accident?”

Our procedure was done at an outpatient facility here in Las Vegas.  From the moment we entered, I was impressed with how professionally things were run.  I was taken to an admission section, asked several questions about my medical history, and then was asked to disrobe.  No lap dance.

They gave me a gown to wear, which was this weird thing that was very poorly designed.  It opened in the rear, which meant my entire backside was exposed to the world.  Worse, the strings in back were inaccessible.  Much as I tried, I couldn’t reach around and tie it.  So, I finally just gave up.  I figured these medical people have seen just about everything by now, so I walked down the hallway like some doddering old mental patient with my ass hanging out until someone ran over from the nurses’ station and tied my bow up like a pretty Christmas present.

Next, they laid me down on a stretcher with wheels and then some people with masks on came over and started wheeling me into an operating room.  I didn’t like the looks of those people with the masks.  They looked scary.  I thought this was just a colonoscopy.  It was supposed to be 20 minutes, in and out.  They looked way too serious.  Maybe they saw something on my chart.

By then, it was too late.  I was placed in a small room with all kinds of electronic equipment.  Next, a woman stuck a needle in my arm and told me I’d be getting something called “saline solution.”  I asked, “why.”  She replied this was to keep me fully hydrated.  I insisted that I wasn’t thirsty, but if some Chateauneuf du Pape could be pumped into the bag I sure would appreciate it.  No one thought that was funny. Medical people have no sense of humor, or maybe they just don’t know French wines.

Anyway — next, an even more serious-looking man who resembled one of those silver-haired doctors you see on TV came into the room.  He introduced himself Dr. Something-Or-Other, “the anesthesiologist.”  I wasn’t there to take notes, nor remember names.  All I knew was, he was expensive.  Marieta had done some advance research on the anesthesia they typically use.  She disovered it’s the same stuff Michael Jackson was addicted to.  I did not find this news comforting.

Next, Dr. Anesthesiologist punched the “play” button on a stereo system, and all of the sudden Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” came on with the volume cranked up to “7,” blasting out of Bose speakers.  I know they were Bose, because I saw them with my own eyes.  I know this firsthand because I was there.

My colonoscopy was about to begin….

[You have to click the music for the full effect……do it, and then read on]

At about the second stanza, a soft rubber mask was placed directly over my mouth.  I was instructed by someone with a calm voice to inhale deeply.  Then, I was told to roll over on my side and tuck myself  into “the fetal position.”  I looked at a clock on the wall.  It read 8:16 am.  As for the doctor, I still hadn’t seen him yet.  My only worry was that he’d clipped his nails sometime this week.

My deep breathing continued.  The music played.  I’m not sure how long I stayed conscious, certainly not until the first chorus when the saxophone solo came in.  I went totally blank within about 30 seconds.

The next thing I remember was opening my eyes.  A nurse was standing at my side.  I was still laying in the fetal position.  I wondered — when are they going to start my colonoscopy?

Oddly enough, I had a short dream.  I also noticed drool coming out the side of my mouth and dripping onto the pillow (hey, you knew this story wouldn’t be pretty).  I recalled the clock time flashed 8:16.  I wondered what time it was now and when they would start the procedure.

I rolled over onto my back trying to find the clock hanging on the wall.  It wasn’t there.  The music was off, too.  In fact, I wasn’t even in the same room.  What the hell happened?

That’s when the nurse spoke up.  She said everything went smoothly.  No complications.  She told me they’d removed something called a polyp, which would later be tested at a lab.  Most polyps turn out to be benign, I was told.  I couldn’t believe the procedure was already done, so quick.  I didn’t feel a thing.  I didn’t even remember a thing.  I slept better than a baby with a hangover.

Within 30 minutes, Marieta had joined me waiting in the recovery unit.  We were wheeled out together and by 9:30 we were out the door on our way home.  The two-hour start-to-finish procedure basically gives us ten years peace of mind, that we don’t have to worry about colon cancer.

While the prep period certainly wasn’t fun with the mandatory “cleansing” stage, and missing meals was annoying, the actual procedure of undergoing a standard colonoscopy (including polyp removal) is relatively simple and worry free.  I’ve had haircuts that were more painful.

So, why share all this?

During the course of my writing, I’m never quite sure which topics will resonate with readers.  I seriously doubt this column will become a reader favorite.  Surely, there will be some wisecracks, most intended in good fun.

Aside from the laughter, please do take a moment to think about this seriously.  In the U.S. 50,000 people die from colon cancer every year.  Chances are, you know someone who has been diagnosed with the cancer.  Most of these deaths would not have happened if the cancer was caught in time.  It’s highly preventable.

Honestly, I would never have agreed to do this procedure unless Marieta absolutely insisted.  Unless she nagged.  I also thought getting a colonoscopy would be both embarrassing and painful.  I was wrong on both counts.  It’s not embarrassing, unless we make it so.  It’s also not painful.  I didn’t feel a thing.

If today’s article motivates just one person to have a colonoscopy, and something gets diagnosed early, this will be well worth it.  So, don’t put it off — especially if you’re someone in a higher-risk category.

Ten years from now, I hope to have another colonoscopy.  And in twenty years, another.  And, thirty years from now, on my 85th birthday, yet another.  Think of it this way.  It sure beats the alternative.

Don’t put it off.  Do it.  It’s easy.

It’s logical.

 

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Poker’s Shining Moment

Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Blog, Essays, General Poker, Politics, What's Left, World Series of Poker | 3 comments

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.02.47 PM - Edited

 

A Personal Note:  The 2017 World Series of Poker begins this week.  This will be the first WSOP in 25 years which I don’t plan on writing about, or attending.  With poker becoming a faint glow in my rear view mirror, this seems like a suitable occasion to clear out some personal files and post a few (previously unpublished) articles that were written up last year, but never posted.  These next few days, I’ll post some behind-the-scenes leftovers of my final series.

 

There was a time not too long ago when Ryan Laplante might have faced ridicule, and even hostility inside a poker room.

Why?

Because he’s an openly gay man.

Years ago, before being who you are was acceptable to many, the shackles of unwavering expectation sired a strict conformity.  If being gay was widely viewed as unacceptable, then being out about it was downright scandalous within many social and business circles.

It took a while, far too long many would insist, but the poker community became an unlikely coadjutor in the broader at-large struggle for gay rights, and in some peculiarity even progressively far ahead of other arenas of society, especially male-dominated sectors, like sports.  This wasn’t at all expected, and was surprising even, given poker’s jaundiced past where one’s masculinity was once tethered to a cowboy hat, a smoky cigar, and a dirty joke.

But poker turned out to be a most welcoming scene for those considered a little different.  Just about anyone and everyone was permitted to sit down and play — male or female, black or white, gay or straight — so long as the minimum buy-in was posted and no one tried to impose themselves on the competition.  Sure, unrestrained prejudice still burgeoned systematically away from the tables outside the poker room, but was muted once the cards were dealt.  To its credit, poker has acquired a startling egalitarian quality.

This seemingly odd kinship between serious-minded poker players and disparate subcultures which have been the targets of varying degrees of discrimination, including the gay rights movement, came to pass by means of the shared common experiences of society’s outcasts.  Like gay people, poker players too, were once cultural castaways, often viewed with suspicion and mistrust.  Perhaps it’s the ability to identify with those who have historically been excluded from the traditional mainstream.  Perhaps this is what makes serious poker players of today generally more tolerant and accepting of others different from ourselves.  Poker players would be among the first to challenge the old adage that being normal is no virtue.

Indeed, we must accept our differences.  That is because so often, we play, we work, we socialize, and we engage is so many activities with others who are not like us.  Sometimes, they are even the opposite of us, and oppose the very things we believe in.  Welcoming those who are different from ourselves isn’t just good for poker — it’s the right thing to do.

_____

Getting here was a rocky road.

There was the time not long ago, July 2007 to be exact, when Rep. Barney Frank made an unlikely appearance at the World Series of Poker, held in Las Vegas.  At the time, Rep. Frank, who represented a congressional district in Massachusetts was the only openly gay member of Congress.  He was also a tireless advocate for legalizing online poker in the United States.  Although Rep. Frank didn’t play poker at all, and knew very little about the game, he viewed our cause as his own.  And so, Rep. Frank became arguably the most unlikely proponent for legalizing online poker.  He introduced pro-poker bills in Congress.  He appeared frequently in media and often went out of his way to bring up initiatives supported by the Poker Players Alliance (PPA).  His appearance at the biggest poker event of the year seemed to be an ideal setting in front of a friendly audience.

What could possibly go wrong?

I was there, that afternoon, when Rep. Frank — joined by other dignitaries at the Rio — took the microphone to say a few words to rally public support, just before giving everyone the customary tournament opening, “Shuffle Up and Deal.”  However, when Rep. Frank was introduced by name, the crowd’s reaction turned out to be an embarrassment.  About half the room containing a few thousand players, completely ignored the introduction.  Only a few clapped.  Others booed.  A few hecklers hurled shameful insults at Rep. Frank.

I was standing near one particularly boisterous section of the crowd, positioned next to Rep. Frank when I heard someone yell out — “faggot!”  Right there, I nearly lost it, and yelled something profane back into the crowd.  That didn’t help the matter, of course.  It was just my gut reaction.

I was so angry afterward that I had difficulty staying in the same room among so much indifference and hostility.  Desperate for an emotional sanctuary, I walked back to the main casino at the Rio with Rep. Frank.  Along the way, I made a feeble attempt to explain that this wasn’t truly representative of the way most of us felt about what he was doing for poker and the players.  “Don’t worry about it,” Rep. Frank replied.  “I’ve been hearing shit like that all my life.”

_____

Years later, a young poker player named Jason Somerville made his first appearance at a WSOP final table.  That’s a really big deal, especially to a player who has serious aspirations of making poker a career.

Before the finale began, it was customary to introduce each player to the crowd and the viewers watching on the live stream.  It was pretty simple, really.  We normally announced the player’s name, hometown, occupation, plus a tidbit or two provided by the finalist via something called a “Player Bio Sheet,” usually completed the night before.  Some players used this rare occasion of making a final table to call out their friends and supporters.  Others listed interesting things about themselves.  Pretty standard stuff.

Somerville decided to use this occasion to send an important message.  On his bio sheet, Somerville wrote that he was an openly gay man and was active in the fight for equal rights and protections.  He hoped that this public acknowledgement on a major stage would encourage others who were watching, particularly those who might still be comfortable about disclosing something still viewed as controversial at the time.

We customarily followed the wishes of each player, unless something written on the bio sheet was terribly inappropriate (which alone might make for another good column, someday).  After all, this was Somerville’s time to shine under the public spotlight.  If he wanted to acknowledge something personal about himself, then who were we to censor his wishes?

Unfortunately, the announcer didn’t honor Somerville’s request on the bio sheet.  It was simply ignored and the occasion was mostly forgotten.  Somerville never made an issue of it.  But the incident did stick with me, long afterward.  I thought we made the wrong judgement call that day by not following the player’s request.  Then again, at least we avoided a possible repeat of the Barney Frank episode from four years earlier.

One can never predict quite how a crowd will react — especially a poker crowd.

_____

[Reminder:  This previously unpublished article was written June 14, 2016]

Ryan Laplante won the largest non-Hold’em tournament of all time at the 2016 WSOP, defeating a field of 2,483 players in the $565 buy-in Pot-Limit Omaha event, good for a hefty payday of more than $180,000 — plus his very first gold bracelet.

Then, he woke up Sunday morning to the news of a terrible tragedy.

The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 took 49 lives when a madman stormed into a popular Orlando nightclub and gunned down more than four dozen people, mostly young gay men.  Since the attack occurred very late on a Saturday night, most of us didn’t hear the news until the following day.

The scimitars for poker and the real world do not often cross.  It’s as if what goes on outside the highly-competitive, almost circus-like arena of the WSOP stands as some kind of island or desert mirage apart from the rigors and ritual of reality.  I recall that a major tournament was even played on the very afternoon of the morning right after the events of 9/11, a disgraceful decision by tournament organizers made considerably worse by the callousness shown by the dregs of humanity — those morally-bankrupt poker players who bothered to show up to play, all while the towers of our national identity were still smoldering in ashes.

The Orlando shooting was certainly shocking, as all terrorist acts are, but to most of us — it didn’t touch us personally.  The deranged gunman who targeted people just for being gay wasn’t personal for me (or others) in the same way it was so very personal to Laplante, and presumably many others.

On what should have been a day of celebration instead had become something far more surreal.  Laplante had been scheduled to receive his gold bracelet on that Sunday, barely 12 hours after the Orlando murders.  Moreover, as was the custom on occasion, I was to be the fill-in emcee privileged to award Laplante his poker amulet.  As horrific images of the Orlando nightclub shooting aftermath were being shown on televisions throughout the poker arena, we were about to award an openly gay man with poker’s supreme honor.

One of the perks of working in an executive position at the WSOP is the occasion to take something to a whole new level.  Indeed, this was a time for elevation and we owed it to ourselves to aim especially high.

That morning, during my drive from home to the Rio, I pondered the unprecedented quandary of just how to handle the upcoming daily gold bracelet ceremony.  This wasn’t just any day.  This wasn’t just any winner.  This wasn’t just a typical five-minute ceremony, with no lingering afterthought.  This was a celebration blunted by a terrible tragedy, fronted by a remarkable young man of courage and conviction fully prepared to use this occasion to educate us, heal us, and make us all better.  It was about making the event bigger than just himself, bigger than all of us.

When I met with Laplante just moments before he was to take the stage and receive his gold bracelet, it became instantly obvious he’d been thinking the same thing.  Gleefully standing upon a stage and going through the usual routine in light of terrible events just didn’t seem appropriate.  What did seem fitting however, was to have Laplante’s fiance, Chris Katona standing on the stage with him to present the bracelet in front of the poker world.  Typically, this honor is reserved only for poker legends and sometimes the relatives of players, mostly wives and parents.  Having two men in a committed relationship onstage together in celebration would be a poker first.  Stung by the tragedy, but also empowered by the occasion to do a pubic good, Laplante agreed with the alternative plan.

At about 2 pm during a tournament break, I took the microphone.  I introduced Laplante as the latest poker champion.  Then, the stage was all his.  No one knew what he would say, nor what to expect.  No one knew how the huge audience — comprised almost exclusively of poker players and tournament staff — might react.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.11.32 PM - Edited

 

Once Laplante took possession of his gold bracelet, next he stepped up to the podium.  Few players opt to speak at these events.  I think I understand why.  Public speaking can surely be scary.  Many players don’t really have much to say.  Besides, no one comes to the WSOP to hear a speech.  Everyone wants to play poker.

This time, the room fell silent.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.05.40 PM - Edited

 

Rather than post my recollections of the speech given my Laplante, instead I’ll let this short video clip (provided by Card Player) speak for itself:

 

 

After the speech ended, everyone in the audience rose to its feet and applauded simultaneously for what seemed to be the longest duration in anyone’s recent memory.  The memorable occasion didn’t make up for past sins, the ill treatment of Rep. Frank or the refusal to acknowledge people for who they are.  The cheers weren’t some false notion that everything now is okay.  But it was a big step in the right direction.

June 13th, 2016 was was very good day for poker.  It was a day to be proud, not because we are, or we aren’t gay.  It was a day to be proud because we’re human.

 

Screenshot 2016-06-13 at 8.07.27 PM - Edited

 

Note:  Special thanks to photographer Antonio Abrego for the photographs.

 

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When Is It “Too Soon” to Joke?

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Politics | 2 comments

 

 

On November 22, 1963 at a nightclub in New York City, stand-up comedian Lenny Bruce decided to go on with the show.  Just hours after President John F. Kennedy was declared dead, Bruce walked onstage in front of a uneasy audience.  No one in the crowd knew what to expect.

According to witnesses, Bruce wallowed around the stage for several moments, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, perplexed about how to proceed.  He didn’t know quite what to say.  Finally, after this awkward silence, Bruce stepped up to the microphone and blurted out, “Boy, is Vaughn Meader fucked.”

Not everyone will get that reference, so here’s the cliffs:  Vaughn Meader was a fellow comedian, a one-trick-pony who specialized in doing Kennedy impressions.  The previous year, Meader had even released a Grammy-award winning album which sold millions.  The Kennedy assassination also meant the death of Meader’s comedy career.  As things turned out, Bruce was right.  By 1965, Meader was broke.  He was fucked.

While the boundaries of good taste have since been blurred to the point of obscurity, society back in Bruce’s time was much more rigid.  Among the many idiosyncrasies which established Bruce as an insurgent of comedy was his willingness to take enormous risks during his act and directly challenge authority.  He ventured into once-sacred territory no other comedian during his day would dare touch.  For this, we was arrested several times and charged with crimes.

Although Bruce was unfazed by obscenity laws and other legal restrictions on free speech, he still had to be particularly nervous about cracking a joke like that on the day Kennedy died.  His joke might have bombed.  His audience could have stormed out in anger and disgust.  No one really ever knows how comedy will play out until, when invisible boundaries of expectation are crossed, and it’s too late.

A generation later, things for comedian Gilbert Gottfried didn’t go so well.  Shortly after 9/11, Gottfried attempted a polemical stand up sketch during which he made several references to the terrorist attacks.  The act wasn’t received well at all by the audience.  Someone in the crowd yelled out, “too soon!” — presumably speaking for a majority which viewed making light of the deaths of thousands of people as highly inappropriate and insensitive.

Over the years, comedians have been confronted with mixed reactions to cutting edge material alluding to tragedy.  When is it “too soon?”  That’s hard to say.  Indeed, the passage of time seems to be the only salve which gradually eases the sting of shock and pique of pain.  A more cynical explanation could be that time allows us a mourning period to anesthetize ourselves.  Whether we care to admit it or not, we begin to forget.  Time becomes an unwritten statute of limitations for alleviating the guilt of believing human tragedy can be funny.  Nervous muted giggles can and does eventually become bellowing laughter.

Today, we’re free to laugh about many of history’s worst tragedies.  Take Lincoln’s assassination, for instance.  There’s a popular witticism many of us have used on occasion, which goes:  “But other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”  That quip is intended to downplay misfortune in comparison to something that’s far more consequential, and it’s widely understood.  No one today would dare consider this remark insensitive, perhaps because everyone connected to the tragedy died a very long time ago.  But that sure as hell would have bombed had any comedian of the day used that line at Ford’s Theater in late 1865.

Yesterday, there was another terrible tragedy, this time in Manchester, England.  Many people died when a terrorist planted a bomb which exploded at a pop music concert.  Within hours, some people had taken to social media where they attempted to crack jokes which many viewed as “tasteless.”  The most noteworthy of controversial comments came from David Leavitt, a writer.  He posted to Twitter:  “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too.”

In defense of Leavitt, I think the selected means of communication is very important here.  Social media is understood to be an unfiltered forum of expression. That’s what makes it a useful tool, sometimes.  Using an extreme example, no one (least of all Leavitt) would make insensitive remarks at a hospital where the victims’ families are gathered.  However, social media is widely understood to be a continuous lightning blast of free expression.  It’s the world’s biggest bar during happy hour.  Anything goes.

Let’s acknowledge as fact that Twitter is a younger, edgier, often sardonic forum of expression.  It’s not like your grandmother’s kitchen table, or the bus stop, or a Kiwanis Club.  Many people sign onto Twitter precisely for the entertainment value of quips and barbs — especially from the famous.  Isn’t that kinda’ the point (for a lot of readers?).  Hence, suddenly professing some moral objection to insensitivity while also perpetually blood-thirsty for scandal does an absurd contradiction.

Predictably, the public backlash to Leavitt’s Twitter post was swift and resounding.  With hours, Leavitt had to issue a public apology.  But the damage had already been done.  The dregs of the junk press pounded on the Leavitt wisecrack like a pack of wolves.  The very worst of the media mucus, TMZ — which has created a cottage industry empire out of outtakes with salacious shock value — had a field day.  What a disgraceful double standard.

I wonder — might we all be inflicted by these same double standards?  Are we hypocrites?  How can a joke be unfunny one day, and then funny the next?  Do we grant greater latitude to some people when they tell an off-color joke, while judging others far more harshly for an identical act?  Why do some among us receive a free pass on certain critical remarks about human tragedy, the ills of society, or race — while others who say identical things get vilified?

Here’s one possible explanation.  I think there’s an inherent desensitization to victims who are different from us.  The more alien they seem, the easier they become targets.  In the Manchester bombing incident, it’s easy to make fun of the torturesome music that’s popular with teenage girls.  Just as I remember years ago when the Union Carbide toxic gas leak tragedy in Bhopal, India killed hundreds of people, jokes were circulating in the streets within hours.  Presumably, those jokes would not have been told (not so fast, anyway) if the victims were our neighbors or our fellow countrymen.  It’s far easier to laugh at something the further we’re removed from the horrors.

For another reaction, I’ll borrow a (slightly edited) Facebook post from my friend, stand-up comedian Roger Rodd:

If you call yourself a comedian, and you have any rule book whatsoever for any premise, or you’re any part of the “too soon” police, you aren’t a comic.  You’re just another speech fascist.  That does not mean I feel sorry for, nor do I defend those who do insanely offensive premises, poorly timed material, or make asinine statements on a stage.  I simply defend their right to say it — and pay the price when it isn’t funny, well received, or costs them work or the respect of others….As a comedian, you’re either with free speech or you’re just another sanctimonious asshole of a SJW.  Judgement of material is the right of the audience — PERIOD.  That is not the right of anybody posing as a comedian.  Free speech BEGINS when somebody says something you DON’T like.

Comedy = Tragedy + Time.  Such a ridiculous equation.

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An Open Letter to Trump Supporters

Posted by on May 17, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 8 comments

 

 

Changing your mind isn’t a sign of indecision, nor weakness.  Rather, it’s compelling evidence of an open mind reacting appropriately to new information and changing circumstances.

 

Dear Trump Supporter:

This isn’t a lecture.  This isn’t an attack on you.  This isn’t a challenge to your beliefs.  This isn’t a threat to your values.  This isn’t a wag of the finger, nor a snickering “I told you so.”

Rather, this is an appeal to your intelligence.  This is an overture towards reason.  This is a petition for sanity.  This is a plea to do what’s right.

This is about your support for President Donald J. Trump.

Surely, there are many reasons, some justifiable, why you backed Trump — the candidate.  There are reasons you voted for Trump — the nominee.  There are reasons you continue to profess your unwavering support for Trump — the President.  In some cases, these reasons are probably based on noble intentions — doing what you think will keep the country safe and trying to make things better.

Certainly, there are compelling reasons for you to be angry about what’s happened to America.  Fed up with the status quo, you opted for change.  So, you let a raging bull into the presidential china cabinet.  Hoping to drain the swamp of corruption, you wanted a barroom brawl.  You want asses kicked and heads to roll.  Congratulations.  You got what you wanted.

You also wanted to stick it to liberals, the establishment, and the media elite — all of which which you view with mistrust and resentment.  Even though Trump represented just about everything that’s gone frantically wrong with the country over a generation — as a hopelessly out-of-touch celebrity-tycoon owing his notoriety to bombastic delusions of grandeur exploited on a second-rate faux-“reality television” show — Trump promised to ride into office riding the white horse and “Make America Great Again.”  That’s not just a catchy campaign slogan.  It become a national aspiration, particularly for the tens of millions who are dissatisfied and disenfranchised.  Trump’s temper tantrums and brutish insults weren’t viewed as a disqualification for high office, but instead were confirmation of a new and refreshing authenticity, a crude contortion which instantly became an attribute when pitted against society’s straightjacket of political correctness.  Trump’s appeal to our baser instincts — I totally get that.

Yet, it might surprise some of you to know that many of us here on the Left are angry, too.  We held our collective noses while we painfully pulled the lever for Hillary Clinton, even after she and her corrupt cronies at the Democratic National Committee treacherously rigged the primary system against Sen. Bernie Sanders, or any threat to the shady political machine.  Trust me when I say, your outrage against the Democratic Party (which isn’t to be equated with liberalism) isn’t unfounded, nor misplaced.  Truth is, we on the Left also are having our own sort of Tea Party, and this bitter battle promises to continue as we try to win the hearts, souls, and minds of the American working class.

So, you voted for Trump.  And we voted for Clinton.  Yet, we still share similar hopes and convictions.  Disagree?  You want a safe and secure America….so do we.  You want a thriving economy….so do we.  You want honesty in business and government….so do we.  You want good-paying jobs….so do we.  You want to defeat terrorists….so do we.  On and on.  We probably have lots more in common than you might think.

The problem is — by now it’s become pretty obvious that Trump isn’t our savior.  He’s not going to deliver the things you wanted.  He’s already toppled the pillars of his own campaign promises, whether it was “locking her up” or gutting the Iran nuclear deal (which is proving to be a success).  He’s not making Mexico pay for anything.  He’s not moved on revamping our domestic infrastructure.  Sure, he’s constantly bombarded from Democrats, much of the media, and even a few courageous members of his own party.  However, most of Trump’s wounds aren’t the result of obstructionism or hate.   Trump’s wounds are entirely self-inflicted.

It’s come time to re-evaluate your support of this man and ask serious questions about what he’s doing to this country.  Unfortunately, the 40 percent or so of Americans which still support Trump the President gives him more than enough license to hit several more icebergs on this maiden journey into what’s become uncharted historical waters.  However, I’m not sure how many more hits to the right bow we can take before democracy and America’s once-proud standing in the world eventually takes in such a massive leak that the whole shining city on a hill ultimately sinks to the bottom.

I’m begging you to rise up and show some courage.  I know, this isn’t easy.  Given constant peer pressure within our own echo chambers, combined with our own stubborn refusal (some argue a behavioral instinct) to admit that sometimes we’re wrong — this takes a certain valor that’s become scarce within our combative political climate.  Social media, worst exemplified by Twitter and Facebook, now gives everyone “a record.”  How unfortunate.  Whereas before, we could change our minds freely about important people and current events, now it’s not quite so easy given that pride and personal reputations are at stake.  Through our words and posts on social media, we’ve all become painters of a proverbial floor leading to our own constrictive corners, from which there is no escape.

But let’s try and rise above this.  Let’s agree that changing your mind isn’t a sign of weakness, nor indecision.  Rather, it’s solid evidence of maintaining an open mind and reacting to new information and changing circumstances.  Changing your mind reveals enlightenment.

Contrary to Lady Gaga’s hit song, at least when it comes to politics — we weren’t “born this way.”  We weren’t born with any predetermined set of political beliefs.  Rather, we learned them.  Our opinions evolved.  How do they evolve?  Well, most of us change our beliefs based on new experiences and exposure to better, more compelling arguments.  Like science, political philosophy must be evidence based.

Shouldn’t I face the same scrutiny and be asked similar questions?  The answer is — yes.  This might surprise some folks, but many years ago I was a conservative.  Since 1980, I’ve cast ballots for John Anderson, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, John McCain, and even Pat Buchanan.  I also dabbled in Libertarian politics, for awhile.  So, wasn’t born with a hard-core liberal political and world view.  However, personal experiences and first-hand observations (admittedly quite atypical given who I’ve worked for the past — from the Republican Party to the U.S. State Department to the Turkish Government to several gambling-related companies) gradually swayed me towards my current position.  I presume this current position too, shall change over time.  [Also important:  I read a lot.  Some ideas I rejected.  Others I embraced.  That enchantment of new discoveries continues to this day and shall be a part of who I am tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.  Let this discovery also be yours.]

One presumes that most of you reading this have changed your opinions over the years, too.  Perhaps you’ve evolved on gay rights, or gender quality, or global intervention, or health care.  I don’t know.  Maybe you’ve come to support Title IX because you had a daughter enrolled in college.  The possibilities for new platforms are endless as we turn the pages of our lives and write future chapters.  The country, power structures, and the people in it — everything changes.  Constantly.  Let’s face it, this isn’t Eisenhower’s America anymore.  We aren’t going back to any good old days.  There is no “again” in making America great.

Trump has now been on the national political stage for about two years.  He’s been President for nearly four months.  Many of you probably expected him to grow into the position.  Many of you thought he would mature into a respected world leader.  Many of you thought he would say and do the things that might unify our country towards a greater common purpose.  Many of you thought he would eventually become — simple as it sounds — Presidential.  Even the fiercest of critics (myself included) falsely believed Trump would be swayed by the immense gravity and majesty of the Oval Office and morph into something resembling a reincarnate of “Give ’em hell” Harry Truman or a “Rough Rider” Teddy Roosevelt.  That optimism did seem plausible.

Yet, over and over and over again, we’ve seen that misplaced faith tested, tattered, and finally trashed.  Let’s face it.  There is no new Trump.  There is no Presidential Trump.  There is only the same old Trump that we’ve seen for the past four decades and well-known all along via all the bogus real estate deals, the multiple bankruptcies, the charges of fraud and federal fines, the cringe-worthy daddy-daughter stuff, the utter desperation to stay famous at any cost to anyone around him, while miraculously somehow managing to remain a humorless, friendless, petty-minded, pitifully insecure tiny man who has sadly dragged us all into the sewer and made the United States presidency all about his own bitter personal vendettas, who lacks the intellectual curiosity, the historical knowledge, the honesty, the humility, the personal judgment, and the panache to hold the office of the most powerful man in the world.  We’ve all been duped.  We’ve been conned.  We’ve been swindled — and most frightening of all, there’s still more than 1,000 days to go in this abomination of a crumbling comedy sketch of an administration, that is, unless what we fear might be the most grotesque case of espionage ever to inflict the American consciousness is proven to be true.

Mounting evidence shows Trump to be a dangerous steward of our trust.  Sure, everyone makes mistakes.  Even beloved presidents and great people of history have erred.  Moreover, all politicians lie.  But the Trump Show is unlike anything we’ve seen before.  Sure, we’ve had incompetent presidents in the past.  We’ve survived occasional instance of corruption.  But this has reached a laughingstock level of ludicrousness once thought to only inflict Banana Republics.  In America, this kind of thing was supposed to be impossible.

Keep this in mind.  You can do the right thing and abandon your support of Trump and still maintain who you are and what you believe.  Forgive me for being redundant, but this is important.  So, I’ll scribe it again:

You can do the right thing and abandon your support of Trump and still maintain who you are and what you believe.

Yes, you can uphold the principle of conservatism or faith or whatever else motivates you.  You can still champion Right-wing causes.  You can still adhere to the mantra of faith, family, and country…..AND realize that Donald J. Trump is a deranged child-monster.

Fortunately, many of your fellow conservatives have already come to this obvious conclusion.  These are hard-core conservatives with plenty of chops.  They not only see the looming Russian conflicts as terribly troubling.  They now realize that a maniacal madman is holding American democracy hostage inside the Oval Office.

Noted conservative stalwarts George Will [George Will pens scathing attack on ‘unfit” Trump for ‘disorderly mind,’ and ‘limitless gullibility’] and Charles Krauthammer [Krauthammer Diagnoses Trump: ‘Beyond Narcissism,” Has Infantile Hunger for Approval] are both above reproach when it comes to carrying the baton for the political Right.  To their credit, as evidenced by repeated scathing criticism of Trump, they’ve proven most capable of rising above petty political partisanship in favor of country (and fact).  Both have written a series of blistering columns questioning Trump’s mental well-being and fitness for the office.  If you don’t trust two of your own fellow conservatives who have come to the conclusion that Trump is hopelessly truncated by his own deficiencies, then what will it take?

How about this?  Ann Coulter.  She’s no snowflake.  But after the latest Russia-gate daily disaster broke a few days ago, where Trump and his flunkies couldn’t even get their cover-up story straight, even the darling of the far-Right finally admitted that Trump was “grotesque” and “a disappointment [Ann Coulter Calls ‘Grotesque Donald Trump a Disappointment].

I know.  Many of you continue to hold out hope and maintain optimism.  Changing your mind does takes courage, and it’s much easier to stay the lazy course.  But blind support for a bad person with worse ideas isn’t worthy of respect.  Blind obedience has been the downfall of many empires.

No, this isn’t a reality television.  Donald Trump isn’t an entertainer paid to amuse you,  War and unemployment and human suffering aren’t categories on a game show.  Now, it’s real.

Trump promised to change the American political landscape and international arena, and he’s certainly accomplished that.  But things are not better.  President Trump isn’t even regarded as the leader of the “free world” any longer.  Colluding with the Russians, recklessly handing over sensitive intelligence to our adversaries, enriching himself and his companies, creating plum positions of power for members of his immediate family, threatening the free press, repeatedly lying about trivial events — the list of ugliness grows longer by the day as to why Trump has lost our trust, and no longer deserves yours.

Discarding your support of President Donald Trump is the best way we can Make America Great Again.

 

Respectfully,

 

Nolan Dalla

 

 

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Restaurant Review: Gilley’s (Treasure Island — Las Vegas)

Posted by on May 15, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Restaurant Reviews | 5 comments

 

 

If you’e on the prowl for shitty barbecue, may I respectfully suggest the ghastly catacomb of rotting animal flesh which fronts the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, better known as Gilley’s Saloon, Dance Hall, and Barbecue.

This might be the worst restaurant on The Strip — including the hot dog hustler parked out in front of Pawn Stars 24/7.  If there’s a more dire dive of disappointment in this city — I’ve yet to succumb to such culinary depths.  Virtually everything about Gilley’s sucked — from the utterly flavorless incarceration masquerading as a main course, to the scatterbrained service staff which can generously be described as uninformed and indifferent to every customer necessity and desire.  Did I mention yet that I didn’t particularly care for the place?

I’m just getting warmed up.

Allow me to elaborate, and even go on a bit of a rant.

Two of us wasted blew spent $110 (with tip).  Still, we left hungry as toothless wolves.  Mind you, we weren’t enticed by any more of the tasteless travesty plopped upon our table at Gilley’s — just famished for anything for fucks sake, even that stale hot dog down the street that sure as shit would have hit the magic spot after 90 minutes inside Gilley’s pushing my food back and forth across the plate like I was playing chess.  We ordered one adult beverage each (one domestic beer and a house margarita).  So, subtract standard gratuity and two drinks, and the food still came out to about $35 a piece.  For half that figure, a five-minute drive could have landed us instead at Rollin’ Smoke Barbecue, a heap of picnic-tables nestled on an industrial strip crammed under a busy interstate, which are the local experts at feeding the hungry for $16 a lip-smacking plate, complete with all the delicious trimmings (and no tipping required).  Live and learn.  Sometimes, you don’t get what you pay for.  Sometimes you just get fucked.

Seriously.  How do you royally screw up good ole’ Texas barbecue, when that’s supposedly the house specialty?  You’ve got one job, people.  Do your job.  Good grief, how can someone actually put his (real) name on this place?

Of course, Gilley’s was never known for the food.  It’s more like a poor-man’s pick-up joint for shit kickers driving Chevy trucks worth more than their mobile homes.  Long neck beer bottles, $24 t-shirts, mechanical bulls mounted by drunk girls wearing thin-string bikinis — a sort of contrarian “we don’t give a shit” Times Square-South tourist trap where you expect to be fucked in the ass without the grease and pay twice the going rate for the privilege — that’s Gilley’s in one sharp spur of a sentence.

Gilley’s was created by country-western singer Mickey Gilley (who apparently is still alive according to his Wikipedia page and deserves to be charged with crimes against humanity for opening this abomination).  The bar and saloon first achieved fame in 1980 as the filming location for the hit movie “Urban Cowboy,” starring John Travolta, back when he was still the cute feather-haired Kotter kid and long before he turned into a psycho for the cult of Scientology.  The Houston suburb of Pasadena instantly became the Gilley’s flagship property and turned the notoriety of a brawling backroom brimming with barstools into a bustling multi-million dollar business, ala a Hard Rock Cafe for the country music crowd.  Years later, the (now imploded) Frontier Hotel and Casino housed Gilley’s initial venture into Las Vegas.  Then, following a six-year void when Gilley’s was demolished into dust and the last remnants of the mechanical bull had been trucked off to a garbage dump in Pahrump, Giley’s rebooted and 2.0 opened just as short walk away, at TI.

Our first hint of the disaster to come should have been as clear as the gorgeous 75-degree day.  Gilley’s front room was only about one-third filled to capacity during what should have been the busiest time of the week — 6:30 on a Saturday night.  When it comes to restaurants, if empty tables in prime time could talk, they usually scream — this place sucks!

Gilley’s is divided into two sections — a honky-tonk dive bar corded off towards the rear with a giant concrete dance floor and the famous bucking mechanical bull.  All this looked about as appealing as standing out in a parking lot watching someone change a flat tire.  I can’t imagine the unfathomable experience of spending a Saturday night (or any night of my life) sardined in-between line dancers of cowboy-hatted and belt-buckled yahoos guzzling Coors Light like it’s tap water at $7 a pop with a line stretching to the flooded urinal like Garth Brooks was playing a free concert inside.  Not my thing.  Then again, I didn’t come for the bull.  I came for the pork.

To be fair, Gilley’s does have at least one redeeming aesthetic quality, which is it’s ideal location.  It’s perfectly situated near the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Sands Blvd. — across the street from the Wynn, the Venetian (which continues to be boycotted), and Fashion Show Mall.  Giant plate-glass windows looking out onto The Strip makes for prime people watching, although by the time I’d begun ingesting my sad excuse of a meal, those on the outside had become the object of my envy.

Full barbecue dinners with multiple meat options plus two side dishes range in price from $28.95 up to $55.95 (for fucking barbecue!).  Fortunately, as things turned out, less turned out to be more.  We both ordered the economy portion ($28.95), which was a blessing in disguise since the ribs (and side dishes) were so inexplicably bland, my taste buds seemed to numbed by an overdose of Novacane.  What happened to the flavor?

Indeed, there was something mighty peculiar about the pork ribs I ordered.  They weren’t salty.  They weren’t spicy.  They weren’t sweet.  They were sort of like — nothing.  Like something unearthed at an archaeological dig and tossed into a plate.  The pork ends resembled a grizzled jerky.  The barbecue sauce was so astonishingly flavorless that I did a first — hopelessly attempting to salvage the dining disaster by doctoring the sauce up with a shot of Tabasco.  How to describe the taste?  Think of boiled cafeteria-style ribs where every sliver and ounce of flavor was completely eviscerated out of the poor unfortunate animal which gave up its miserable life for the abomination of this appalling dining experience.

If the pork ribs were a disaster, then the baked beans turned out to be a magic show of disbelief.  Advertised on the menu as marinated in a zesty barbecue sauce and baked in molasses, the (canned?) beans could have possibly salvaged at least a star on my Trip Adviser review had they been the least bit tasty, or edible.  Not that I’m familiar with prison food on a firsthand basis, but those beans belonged in Leavenworth.  Slaves in chains eat tastier fare.  After two bites, and a napkin of mush, I gave up on the beans and pretty much knew the entire meal was a disaster.

One thing you sure have give to Southerners is — they usually know good food.  They (we) especially know good barbecue.  It’s just part of our DNA.  Just like you can’t open up a shitty Chinese restaurant in San Francisco or a lousy cheesesteak grill in Philadelphia and expect to stay in business, how Gilley’s has the balls to bill itself as the place for authentic Texas-style barbecue is jaw dropping.  Then again, if Guy Fieri can bill himself a master chef in this town, perhaps any fiction can be fabricated as fact.

Oddly enough, in some places the food really sucks but the service can partially compensate for a bad meal.  That’s happened to me — more times that I can recount, unfortunately.  Not this time, however.  You’ve got to really hand it to Gilley’s.  At least they’re consistent.  We were seated at the farthest possible table away from the entrance, despite plenty of available seats much closer to the front.  Once the bored waitress dressed in a cowboy hat and ass-kicking boots appeared with an accent that sounded like she was from Connecticut, things quickly went down hill from there.

For starters, I asked our server about a rib recommendation, eager for something that resembled Tony Roma’s — which has long been the gold standard for baby backs.  Well, our waitress had never heard of Tony Roma’s, a terribly bad sign that immediately disqualified her as our resident expert on rib commendations.  Next, when I asked for a baked potato — standard fare in any respectable barbecue joint, especially with a Texas theme — I came up rolling snake eyes.  “We don’t have baked potato,” she snapped.  Silly me, expecting something so goddamned simple as a baked potato to be on the menu.

I opted instead for (jail) beans, plus a side of onion rings.  Unlike the Bloomin’ Onion, a crispy oil-infested heart-stopping delight of debauchery served at Outback Steakhouse which are absolutely terrible for you, but which are about as short-term joyous as a hit of crack cocaine, my Gilley’s onion rings must have come straight from the deep freezer to the heat lamp.  Holy mother of god — even the onion rings were bland!  How is this even possible?  How do you murder the flavor out of onions?  As for other customary accompaniments in many rib joints, no bread was served.  There was no complimentary appetizer.  Nothing.  The waitress even forgot to bring a lemon for the iced tea.

I’m not quite finished yet.  Another bitch about Gilley’s — no bibs.  Baby bibs are typically provided by any respectable establishment specializing in ribs.  That way, the front of your shirt doesn’t end up looking like a Jackson Pollock painting.  Bibs are especially critical in popular rib restaurants where men wear ties.  Every restaurant in Memphis and New Orleans offers a bib to patrons.  Nothing ruins a tie faster than a blotch of reddish barbecue sauce.

After my third rib and second spill upon my yellow shirt, I glanced up at my sad-looking dinner companion and mumbled — “hey, this isn’t very good, is it?”  Wanting to be polite and no where near the asshole I can so often be, he just looked shrugged his shoulders and explained that he was really, really hungry.  I felt like I’d enlisted in the fucking Army.

After this torment of a meal was over, we dutifully paid our check, left a most undeserved 20 percent gratuity, and then bolted for the front door.  Despite walking past several employees who were standing around, including a hostess podium staffed by Gilley’s girls who seemed bored out of their skulls, no one bothered to say, “thank you,” or “please, come back again.”

Then again, don’t bother with the customary salutations.  We won’t be back again.

Gilley’s really fucking sucks.

 

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Killing Bill O’Reilly

Posted by on Apr 20, 2017 in Blog, Book Reviews, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

 

 

Bill O’Reilly’s crime is pretending to be a writer.  In his awful ghostwritten books for which he parsimoniously takes credit as author, O’Reilly intentionally and maliciously contorts some of the most memorable events in history, orchestrating willful acts of deception destined to mislead and confuse millions of readers.  O’Reilly is a historical alchemist pimping fake history for a fast buck.

 

Conservative blowhard Bill O’Reilly is leaving his decaying throne at FOX News, the veritable sewer of scum he’s ruled for two decades as the circus-network’s clown and ringmaster in residence.  [See Footnote]

That O’Reilly is departing one of television’s most highly-visible and lucrative perches — at least temporarily, until likely being re-hired elsewhere by some desperate channel seeking a ratings-driven battery jump — is a good thing.

However, public humiliation and media scrutiny isn’t likely to end O’Reilly’s twisted carnage as a chronic fabricator of history.  In his wretched “Killing….” series of books, O’Reilly recklessly distorts actual historical events, therefore misleading millions of readers.  His sloppy narratives of what he insists (really) happened to Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton, and most recently Reagan have been debunked incessantly by virtually all academics and credible historians who are far more familiar with the actual account of events than O’Reilly.  The truth be damned, though.  In today’s expository pop culture where one historical account seems as good as any other, where crackpot conspiracy theories grease public interest, O’Reilly’s literary manure has matured into a rose garden of best sellers.

O’Reilly’s ghostwritten alchemy began with “Killing Lincoln,” published in 2011.  At least 12 major errors were instantly discovered by real historians, including one that was repeated numerous times throughout the book.  O’Reilly claimed that Abraham Lincoln made the most important decisions of his presidency inside the Oval Office, which is described in some detail.   That might seem plausible, until checking historical accounts available to anyone curious enough to pursue them and discovering the Oval Office wasn’t added on to the White House complex until 1909, some four decades after Lincoln’s death.  There are many more glaring errors, which can be read HERE.

That was just the beginning.   Hundreds of books have been written on John F. Kennedy and his assassination has been covered to the point of, well — overkill.  Credible authors have spent years, and in some cases decades, tirelessly researching the controversial 1963 murder from every conceivable angle.  Some of these alternative interpretations of what happened are more convincing than others.  Yet somehow, full-time television personality and protagonist Bill O’Reilly — lacking any research skills nor access to new information on the crime of the century — pounced on the Kennedy Assassination in order to make a fast, easy buck.

Churning out what would become a book a year, O’Reilly’s hasty-written follow-up to the surprising success of the Lincoln narrative resulted in “Killing Kennedy,” published in 2012.  If the Lincoln narrative was bad, the recount of Kennedy’s killing was appallingly worse.

Not content with tarnishing the historical record of those terrible tragedies which befell both Lincoln and Kennedy, next it was Jesus Christ’s turn to relive some agony on the cross.  “Killing Jesus,” published in 2013, purportedly told the real story of what happened to the Christian messiah all those years ago when someone like O’Reilly would have been served up as lion food to screaming mobs thirsting for blood.  In an appalling display of narcissism, O’Reilly’s name even appears on the front cover above Jesus’, and in equal font size (the author’s name is in larger print than the previous two books — Lincoln and Kennedy).  Once again, O’Reilly and his accomplices concocted a maelstrom of falsehoods.  One religious scholar uncovered no less than 133 errors which can be seen HERE.

Emboldened by the glaring gullibility of his faithful viewers-turned readers, including millions who inexplicably dismissed scathing book reviews by real historians and were all too willing snatch up whatever rolled off the assembly line of O’Reilly’s fake history factory, General George S. Patton became the next victim of crazed pseudo-fiction.

“Killing Patton,” released in 2014, alleged the former Soviet Union murdered one of America’s most iconic generals.  Truth is — shortly after World War II ended, Patton died from injuries sustained in a freak auto accident.  Lacking any supporting evidence, and often contradicting actual facts, O’Reilly hatched his theory designed to appeal to a plentiful audience of conspiracy buffs, mostly the sick paranoid souls who’ve come to infect the American political right.  When discussing his book, O’Reilly told ABC News:  “I think Stalin killed him.  Patton was going to go back to the United States and condemn Stalin and the Soviet Union, tell the American people these guys aren’t going out of Poland, they’re going to try to take over the world.  And Stalin wanted him dead.  And I think Stalin got him dead.”

In this fourth book, O’Reilly once again returns to his exalted status, as his name is printed in larger typeface than Patton, the book’s subject for 350 cringe worthy pages.  O’Reilly’s name is also capitalized, whereas poor Patton gets the equivalent of riding in economy class.  Read historians’ reaction to the book HERE.

Most recently, Ronald Reagan became the latest debris in O’Reilly’s twisted tornado of historical deception.  Lincoln, Kennedy, then Jesus and Patton might have been fair game.  Some bending of truths might have even been forgiven by his readers before, but now Saint Reagan was the new target.  Predictably, when in “Killing Reagan,” was released in 2016, conservatives finally revealed a conscious and screamed — “enough!”  Right-wing critics from columnist George Will and David Brooks, to the hallowed National Review unmercifully shredded O’Reilly’s completely unfounded bogus claims that Reagan’s 1981 assassination attempt lead to mental instability over the next seven years of his presidency.  Here’s where O’Reilly really crossed the line among many of his conservatives compatriots.  Read more about the epic clash between O’Reilly and Will HERE.

The book on Reagan should have been easy to write.  Of the five historical events covered by O’Reilly so far, that shooting and aftermath of a presidency is the most recent.  Countless witnesses to what happened inside the White House during the Reagan years are readily available to this day, only a generation later, and would likely have contributed helpful information, particularly to someone of O’Reilly’s stature.  Surely, the Reagan Library was also contacted, which contains the most extensive accounts of Reagan’s presidency.  Alas, neither O’Reilly nor his writer-sidekick Martin Dugard ever bothered to conduct any research there.  Ed Meese, Jim Baker, George Shultz, nor any of the other key figures who served in the Reagan Administration were interviewed, either.  “Here’s an interesting approach to writing history,” George Will remarked.  “Never talk to anyone with firsthand knowledge of your subject.”

Wham.

Given the scathing criticism of each his five books, how to explain them selling by the millions?  My theory is that much of the political right has become so insular they’ve drifted off in an alternate twilight universe of reality.   Not content to purchase nor accept more conventional and respectable fact-based interpretations of history by pointy-headed scholars from leftist academia, instead they seek explanations elsewhere. When one of their own such as O’Reilly comes along, the words (no matter how wrong) are taken as pure gospel, even when unmasked later as falsehoods.

Credit O’Reilly for two things which he’s very good at — theatrics and marketing.  Despite the obvious ideological misgivings, his undeniable popularity with millions of devotees provided a rare golden opportunity to do some serious good, that was sadly squandered.  Indeed, I wish he’d used his lofty platform for could be a noble purpose –promoting the majesty of history and encouraging the discovery of new information on many of the most important events which have shaped who were are and our world.

However, O’Reilly isn’t promoting history in his books.  He’s killing it.

 

Footnote:  The most thoughtful account of Bill O’Reilly’s firing by FOX-News was written by Paul Harris and can be read in full HERE.

 

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