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A Window is Required: August 27, 2017

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Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen was in the news this week, angering the hyper-partisans by warning that we face a repeat of the last economic downturn without appropriate financial regulation. She was not the first Fed chair to be targeted by elected officials. LBJ, president during the Summer of Love, had, two years before Haight-Ashbury, summoned Fed chair Bill Martin to his Texas ranch, where he bullied him about interest rates, for manipulating rates can create short-term prosperity, with obvious political benefits, for the party in office. Martin, who served under five presidents, caved. Nixon would pull the same stunt, fueling inflation. Who remembers WIN, whip inflation now, the mantra of the Ford administration? This economic pressure on folks who had generally thrived in the post World War II economy set the stage for the revolution of greed that would seize the nation in 1980, permanently replacing the virtue of the common good with the vice of selfish-interest. Short-term political gain produced long-term harm to our national character. Continue reading →

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Choose Your Own Adventure: August 20, 2017

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Back in my day… oh no, here it comes!… nope, not walking miles barefoot through snow to get to school…that would be Blue Hill in October, but I grew up where there was little snow, plenty of shoes, and school buses… Back in my day, when we were triangulating sound waves and flashes of light to locate enemy artillery, we used a slide rule. The thing was, the technology was already obsolete. The world had moved on and we were stuck in the past. There was this thing called radar. The first drones were being developed at Fort Sill, where I did my basic training. Soon there would even be computers on the battlefield. But not yet.

So we lived in this limbo of not yet, the old not letting go. The result was low morale, low combat readiness, lots of drinking and pot-smoking, and soldiers getting thrown out of the army. I was lucky, keeping myself busy with church, so stayed out of trouble, at least the worst trouble, though I was far from the perfect soldier. Continue reading →

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I’m Sorry, Dave : August 13, 2017

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There is a reason I love the hit Netflix series “Stranger Things.” I was actually that geeky kid with a bad haircut and thick glasses staying up too late playing Dungeons and Dragons. I was always a little more Lord of the Rings than Star Wars, though I have read my share of science fiction over the years… Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Frank Herbert’s Dune series, even Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, though the fact that Card is a hatemonger has taken the shine off of his work a little bit.

I never, however, read anything by the con artist L. Ron Hubbard, nor have I read anything by Arthur C. Clarke, the co-creator with Stanley Kubrick of the 1968 film masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey,” though I have seen the film. And yeah, I don’t get the ending either. Continue reading →

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Monkey Souls and Human Hearts: August 6, 2017

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It started with the simplest of things, a parent defending a child he loved. The parent was Paul Haggis, Hollywood screenwriter, director and producer, and the injustice was his church’s support for Proposition 8, a 2008 effort to ban marriage equality in California.

Haggis, a 35 year member of the Church of Scientology, was not the first to leave. L. Ron Hubbard’s own son fled, on the run until he took his own life. But Haggis was a big Hollywood name in a cult that viewed Hollywood stars as a path to legitimacy, and others would soon follow, including the actress Leah Remini. A cult that once successfully infiltrated the US government and still keeps people in prison conditions in their SeaOrg, destroying lives in this country, has found itself on the defensive, with one book, documentary and television series after another chronicling the abuse and the insanity. Continue reading →

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Death of the Hippie: July 30, 2017

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On April 25th, 1970, three years after the Summer of Love, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and close friend Bebe Rebozo ate dinner with President Richard Nixon at the White House. After dinner, they went to the screening room, where they watched “Patton” starring George C. Scott in the title role of the famed World War II general. The film had been released 23 days earlier, and it was already Nixon’s sixth time watching it. He was spending way too much time in front of a screen. Kissinger would later say of Nixon “When he was pressed to the wall, […] he would see himself as a beleaguered military commander in the tradition of Patton.”

Within twenty-four hours, this president, who had promised during his campaign to bring an end to the war in Vietnam, authorized the invasion of Cambodia. Continue reading →

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Before the kleptocrats: July 23, 2017

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Imelda Marcos, she of the thousand pairs of shoes and former First Lady of the Philippines, has been called a kleptocrat, though some could argue that this is not technically true, as her husband was the one plundering the common good. Fortunately, the definition of kleptocrat has evolved, as it is sometimes hard to tell where someone is lying, cheating and stealing from the nation and where they are lying, cheating, and stealing as a business model, a problem we are coming to know all too well. So a kleptocrat can best be understood as one who uses any powerful government position for corrupt and enriching purposes. Continue reading →

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out: July 16, 2017

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They are not a gang you’d want at your sock hop. Ryder, Longman, Steever and Joey Welcome hijack a subway car full of passengers in the blockbuster 1973 novel “The Taking of Pelham 123.” So powerful was the story that it has already been translated into film three times, the first just a year after publication. The MTA, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, decided that no train can ever again leave the Pelham Bay station at 1:23 am or pm, insuring that there would never again be a real train with the call sign Pelham 123.

North of the Pelham Bay station, just across the Westchester county line, is the village of Pelham, and it is there that you will find the corporate publishing home of a very different gang, one you might not mind at your sock hop, though they fictionally live in the beautiful hamlet of Riverdale, where you will often find Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead hanging out at Pop’s Chock’Lit Shop. Continue reading →

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Against a Sicilian: July 9, 2017

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Our summer worship theme is all “Peace, Love, and Rock & Roll,” because other formulations of the “and Rock & Roll” slogan aren’t exactly church-friendly, if you know what I mean. But before we get to 1967 and the Summer of Love, I have to take you back for a moment to pirates.

Things are desperate. Buttercup, a beautiful young woman, has been kidnapped by not one but by three villains, a giant, a swordsman, and an evil genius. Her would-be rescuer is no hero. In fact, the Man in Black is not only a pirate, he is a dread pirate, which is the worst possible kind. And now, having bested the giant and the swordsman, the Man in Black is facing the smartest of the bunch, the Sicilian, Vizzini. It is to be a game of wits, to the death, because there are two goblets, and one contains a deadly poison. Dialogue, dialogue, verbal sparring, blah blah, then Vizzini secretly switches the goblets, chooses, and drinks. When the Man in Black tells him that he has chosen wrong, Vizzini replies “You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha, you fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous of which is ‘never get involved in a land war in Asia,’ but only slightly less well-known is this: ‘Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!’” Continue reading →

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Fake News: July 2, 2017

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While wonks, historians and constitutional lawyers are forever going on about “The Federalist Papers,” the rest of us, not so much. We heard about them briefly in U.S. History class, maybe more than briefly if you were smart enough to be in Advanced Placement, which I most certainly wasn’t. After high school, “The Federalist Papers” got pushed aside to make room for more important matters, like employment and beer bongs. Then along came the smash musical Hamilton, and suddenly an entire younger generation was talking, or more accurately singing along, about the founding of our nation. Not only do they know who wrote “The Federalist Papers,” they even know how many were written by those slackers, John Jay and James Madison, and how many were written by the ten-dollar Founding Father, the great Alexander Hamilton. What the musical doesn’t teach them, however, is that while three men contributed to the papers, they were all published under a single pseudonym, Publius. Continue reading →

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Pirates: June 25, 2017

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The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland opened in 1967. It was the last attraction that Walt himself helped develop before his death. Today there are Pirates rides in five Disney theme parks, though nothing can touch the newest, in Disneyland Shanghai, which uses the latest technology, projections and animatronics. No, I haven’t been to Shanghai, except on YouTube.

The movie franchise has played a major role in recent updates, framing the whole script of the Chinese ride, and Jack Sparrow, the lovable and zany lead character of the series has popped up in the various other iterations. His appearance was quite literal recently, when Johnny Depp, the actor who plays Sparrow, put on his pirate costume and interacted with guests on the California version of the ride. Continue reading →

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