Archive Page 2

06
Feb
09

Fotheringay

Sometimes you come across something that is just too beautiful not too share.  Written by the late, great Sandy Denny, it tells the story of the last hours of Mary, Queen of Scots, and is one of Fairport Convention’s most entrancing creations.   Denny’s vocals are deeply moving, as always, but pay particular attention to the haunting background vocals as well.

-Smith

How often she has gazed from castle windows all
And watched the daylight passing within her captive wall
With no one to heed her call
The evening hour is fading within the dwindling sun
And in a lonely moment, those embers will be gone
And the last of all the young birds flown
Her days of precious freedom, forfeited long before
To live such fruitless years behind a guarded door
But those days will last no more
Tomorrow, at this hour, she will be far away
Much farther than these islands, for the lonely Fotheringay

Sandy Denny

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23
Jan
09

Obama’s first mistake

In a post I wrote on election night, I said that “a part of me desperately wants to believe that Obama will be [a] breath of fresh air….[but] I remain profoundly afraid that he’s just not ready for the job.”   I didn’t vote for him, but I hoped that I was wrong about him not being ready, while fearing that I was right.  Today I got my first inkling that I might have been right.

In a front page story written by Joseph Williams and Bryan Bender which appeared in today’s Boston Globe, it was reported how President Obama is apparently ready to sign an executive order suspending trials at Guantanamo Bay, including the trials of the five suspected terrorists who allegedly masterminded the 9/11 attacks, as well as closing the facility altogether in a year’s time.  This is not surprising in itself; he said he would do that when he was running for office.

But here’s the sentence that froze the blood in my veins:  “Longtime advisers on the issue said Obama would probably establish a team to conduct a case-by-case review of the evidence against all 245 detainees remaining at the prison with the aim of sending as many as possible back home” (emphasis mine).

Sending “as many as possible back home”?  As in: let them go free?  Can someone please tell me why this would be a good idea?  The people held prisoner in Gitmo aren’t there because of overdue parking tickets, right?

Look, by all means review the cases as expeditiously as possible.  One can certainly argue that this should have been done already.  If you have evidence against them, try them.  If you don’t, release them.  That’s how our system of justice is supposed to work.  And admittedly, Gitmo has not always worked very well.

But it’s the “aim of sending as many as possible back home” part that’s really scaring me here.  My immediate problem with this is that the 245 are there because they are suspected al-Qaeda, Taliban or other foreign fighters who pose a threat to the United States.  This means it’s a safe bet that they hate America.  I think it’s also a safe bet that the years spent at Gitmo haven’t done much to change that.  So what do you suppose these guys are going to do upon their release?   Well, here’s a wild guess:  they’re probably going to engage in more terrorist activities.

Now I suppose it’s possible that the Globe reporters have somehow gotten it wrong.  There is also talk of relocating these prisoners to Kansas and or Pennsylvania.   This raises another thorny issue:  if we close Gitmo, where do we put them? It seems like nobody wants these guys.

All this really amounts to is a symbolic gesture from Obama (see, world? that bad man George Bush is gone!  It’s OK to like America again!)  Unfortunately, foreign policy isn’t about being liked, it’s about being respected, even feared.  People don’t attack you if they’re afraid of you.  If you have any doubt of that, ask yourself this: when was the last time Russia or China was attacked by terrorists (or anyone else, for that matter)?

I know this all sounds rather bellicose, but that’s just how it is.  Sure, the Bush administration cut corners and was ham fisted in some of its approaches, but stop to consider the difficulty of the job they had.  It would be nice if terrorists would all go around wearing Osama bin Laden t-shirts, but unfortunately, it just doesn’t work that way.  The terrorist’s stock in trade is secrecy.  Piercing that veil often takes extraordinary measures.  While you might not have liked the CIA’s tactics, you can’t argue with the results: there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11.

This is usually the part where the hand wringers start whining about “torture”, which I always find ironic, given the amount of suffering the victims of the 9/11 attacks must have gone through before they died.  Come to think of it, what is the score on that account?  Let’s see, that would be: People Who Died on 9/11–2,985 vs. People Who Have Died at Gitmo: 0.

Yes, torture, in this case water boarding, isn’t very nice.  But last time I checked, neither is blowing up buildings and killing innocent people.  It amazes and disgusts me that some in this country have more sympathy for terrorists than for their victims.

In a nutshell:  if you have information about past or (more importantly) pending terrorist activities, I want our government to get that information out of you, by any means necessary.  Now since I’m basically a softie, I’m all in favor of giving you the chance to volunteer this information, well, voluntarily.  But if it turns out that the only reason you’re giving up this information is because it’s the only way you can think of to stop the pain, I’m fine with that.  Almost 3,000 people (maybe more) died on 9/11.  If subjecting you to some temporary discomfort will prevent that from happening again, then so be it.

I still have hopes that Obama will be a good president, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s off to a bad start with this one.  If he closes Guantanamo, he has made the world a more dangerous place for all of us.

-Smith

19
Jan
09

My Auntie’s Dead

Not exactly how I wanted to kick off my return to the blogosphere, but so be it….


When I was a very little boy, my Aunt Patty, my mother’s older sister, used to take me with her everywhere.   I can still remember driving with her in the front seat of her blue 1959 Chevy Impala as she would run her various errands with me as her sidekick.  These excursions inevitably wound up with a treat for me, such as a candy bar, or, if I had been particularly well behaved, an ice cream.

One of these trips wound up at a local candy store.  The woman behind the counter took a shine to me, and asked me my name.  For reasons that, to this day, are really not clear to me, I replied, “Stephen Schwartz….and this is my Aunty Patty Schwartz”.

I have no idea where, at the age of three or four, I had even heard the name Schwarz, let alone why I decided at that point to adopt it as both my and my aunt’s nom de guerre.  But this story remained my aunt’s favorite over the years.  She told it at almost every family gathering, and seemed to especially relish the retelling whenever I introduced her to a new girlfriend.

She loved telling that story, but loved even more the memories of those days before she was married, before my sisters were born, when she could just pick me up at a moment’s notice and spend the day with me.

But I will never hear her tell that story again.  She died on December 30th, at the age of 73.

My Aunt Patty was living proof that life is not fair.  Over the course of her life she endured financial hardships brought about by circumstances beyond her control.  Her lifestyle was abstemious, and yet she suffered from a variety of illnesses, including diabetes and cancer.  Although she drank alcohol only occasionally, she suffered from cirrhosis of the liver, coming literally within hours of death before a new liver could be found.  And even though she never smoked a day in her life, she suffered from a lung disease which is what eventually killed her.

If anyone had a right to be angry and bitter at the hand life had dealt her, it was my Aunt Patty, and yet this was never the case.  The truth is that I never knew a more relentlessly cheerful woman.  While she came across as mild mannered, she was in truth one of the strongest and most resilient people I have ever known.  No matter what life threw at her, she handled it with unfailing grace and courage.

I remember how once, when I was visiting her during one of her  stays in the hospital when she was being treated for lymphoma, I remarked at how she always seemed to be in a good mood in spite of all the misfortune she had to endure.  She replied, “What’s the point in getting mad?  You take what life gives you and you do the best you can.  Every day that I‘m alive is a blessing.”  And I remember how amazed I was at how calm, even serene, she was in the face of everything she was going through.

And now she is gone.  I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that I will never see her again.  While I realize that death is part of life, it is still a very hard concept for me to get my mind around, that I could be close to someone for almost fifty years, that they could be a regular part of the landscape of my life, and then, suddenly, not be there.  Not now, not ever again.  There is now one less person in the world who loves me.

And there is, of course, the guilt.  As an adult, I became so preoccupied with my own life that I did not always have enough time for the Aunt Patty’s in my life.  I often wondered if her constant retelling of this story was her way of telling me, “We were close once.  Why aren’t we still that close?”

I have no excuses.  Laziness, apathy, and a tendency to put things off till tomorrow all lead to my denying this woman who loved me as a son something that would have made her happy: some time with me.  And no matter how guilty I now feel, I can’t give her that now.  It is too late.

I now wonder how much unhappiness I caused her.  She was on the phone every day with her sisters and friends.  Perhaps it is not as bad as I imagine.  Now I will never know.  Perhaps I don’t want to know.

At the wake, I marveled at the idea that this dead body I was praying over had, only a few days previously, been a living person, with thoughts, emotions and feelings.  And I am left to ponder: what becomes of these thoughts, emotions and feelings when the body that houses them dies?  Do these things that truly make us what we are die with us?  Do they, and we along with them, truly cease to exist, as the Existentialists would have us believe?

If this is the case, then the universe is simply a bad joke.  Why, in a universe that has been around for over 14 billion years, and shows every sign of going on for another 14 billion, are we only allowed 70 or 80 years, if we’re lucky?  Furthermore, we, alone of all the creatures on earth, actually have the capacity to contemplate this fact, which only leads to further unhappiness.  So we get to spend 80 year alive, and then several billions years dead.  And we get to spend our 80 or so years thinking about it.  What’s the point?  The Existentialists would answer that there is no point, and that, to me, is dismal beyond imagining.

So is there any chance that our thoughts, feelings, and emotions live on?  Is there, as some would call it, a soul?  I believe the answer is yes.  It is, perhaps, more of a hope than a belief, but to me it is the only way that any of this makes sense.

It is not that my continued consciousness is necessary for the universe to make sense.  I realize I’m not that important.  But I do believe, or at least want to believe, that the physical universe apparent to our five rather limited senses represents only a fraction of what we call “reality”.   The world’s religions, diverse as they are, all represent man’s desire–need, really–to come to terms with this nagging idea that we live in a reality we don’t understand, that the part of it that we do see is only the tip of the iceberg.  Otherwise, our ridiculously brief time on this planet seems to count for very little in the long run.

–Smith

23
Dec
08

Merry Christmas, or whatever

Yeah, I know, I said I wouldn’t post until after the first of the year, but this is important to me, so here you go…

Recently, a woman came into my store asking for some help picking out cigars for her husband, which she informed me would be part of his Christmas present.  She was a pleasant, educated woman in her thirties, with red hair and freckles.  When it came time to pay, I noticed the name on her credit card was “O’Brien”.  Feeling that I was on safe ground here, I wished the woman “Merry Christmas” as I handed her credit card back to her.

From the look she gave me, you would have thought I’d told her to go fuck herself.

What is wrong with people nowadays?  Yes, I’m all in favor of cultural sensitivity. There is a time and a place for “Happy Holidays”.   Had this woman not been so obviously Irish, (or had not informed me that the cigars were a CHRISTMAS present) I might have retreated to the safety of that vapid phrase.

But when did “Merry Christmas” become the semantic equivalent of an insult?

Sometimes I think it’s just laziness.  By saying “Happy Holidays”, people give themselves a cheap way out.  After all, taking the time to find out which holiday the person actually celebrates, and then wishing them the appropriate compliments of the season, only takes a modicum of time and effort, and yet even this seems to much trouble in our increasingly impersonal, desensitized world.

And by the same token, what is there to get so uptight about, anyway?  If a Jew wished me “Happy Hanukkah”, I know I’m not going to get all bent out of shape over it.  I would simply take it in the friendly spirit in which it was intended and wish him “Happy Hanukkah” in return.

I do not know if the man known as Jesus of Nazareth was divine. I do not know if he performed miracles. I do not know if he was resurrected from the dead.

And I’m not sure I even care.

What I do know is that he preached a message of love, tolerance, peace, and forgiveness at a time when his people were looking for a leader who would overthrow the Romans and return Israel to its former glory. I know he was spurned by the religious establishment of his day.  And I know that he really, really, pissed off the government. Like so many who came after him, he was murdered because he would not back down from saying things he felt needed to be said, even to the point of surrendering his own life in the process.

Imagine what the world would be like if people really did live their lives the way Jesus of Nazareth extolled us to: love your neighbor, forgive your enemies, judge not lest you be judged.

If one can grasp those ideas, then one has truly grasped the very real meaning of Christmas. And so, whatever your beliefs, please allow me to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

-Stephen P. Smith

11
Dec
08

See you next year…

As many of you have no doubt noticed, there hasn’t been a whole lotta bloggin’ goin’ on in these parts.  I have noticed that some of you have been kind enough to visit and leave comments.  Yes, I have noticed.  I’m sorry I haven’t been very good about responding in kind.

The truth is, I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging these days.  I have been spending a great deal of both on my son.  I won’t go into detail here.  Suffice to say, that for many of our service men and women coming back from the hell hole known as Iraq, their toughest battles await them after they return home.  My son is such a one.  And like most parents, his problems are my problems.

In short, I only have so much time and energy to spare, and my son is more important to me than my blog.  That’s just how it is.

But all is not doom and gloom.  I am happy to say he is doing remarkably better in the past few months, which means that I am doing better.

I will be back, after the first of the year.  But to try to resume blogging during the holidays is just too unrealistic, and I really don’t want another false start here.

So many thanks to those of you who have hung in there with me, and I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday.

-Smith

19
Nov
08

Life is short…..screw everyone!

integrity1

If there was any doubt in my mind that our society is in a state of steep moral decline, those doubts were erased when I found out about this odious little company.

Now look, I’m not a Pollyanna.  People have been cheating on their spouses since the days of Neanderthal man.  What bothers me here is that now, in the 21st century, the very term “immoral behavior” has become quaint and irrelevant.  Now, it’s Big Business.  Now, it’s all good.  Forget about this little thing called morality, forget about your wedding vows, forget about your spouse’s or your children’s feelings.  There is no more shame in our society, no real notion of right and wrong.  If it feels good to me, then it must be okay.

The very idea that sometimes you just have to say “no” to yourself because what you’re about to do is wrong seems to have become as outdated the top hat and corset.

Once you buy into the mentality espoused by these people, then really, anything is possible.  Life is short, right?  So, for example:

Life is short…..embezzle from your employer!
Life is short…..plagiarize!
Life is short…..steal from your kids’ college fund!
Life is short…..steal gas from your neighbors’ cars!
Life is short…..cheat on your math test!
Life is short……tell her you love her if it gets you laid!
Life is short…..lie through your teeth if it gets you what you want!
Life is short…..desert the military!
Life is short…..stiff the waitress!
Life is short…..lie on that job application!
Life is short…..don’t pay that child support!
Life is short…..use your child support to buy cocaine!
Life is short…..don’t waste time spending it with your children
Life is short…..well, I think you’re getting the idea.

Life is short.  That is the justification for doing whatever the hell you want, to whomever you want.  Nothing else matters, nothing else is important or even relevant except your own personal gratification.

I seem to remember when I was a child I was taught something known as The Ten Commandments.  “Oh, there you go, Smith, bringing religion into it again!” I hear you say.  No, not really.  Allowing for the religious bent of the Bible that obviously colors the first four, aren’t the other six really just a social compact?  Let’s see, what do they really say?

Respect your parents.
Don’t kill people.
Don’t cheat on your spouse.
Don’t take things that don’t belong to you.
Don’t accuse anyone of something they didn’t do.
Don’t covet someone else’s spouse or property.

Gee, I dunno.  These kinda work for me.  It seems to me that they’re pretty hard to argue with, irrespective of your religious beliefs or lack thereof.  You don’t need to believe in God to accept the fact that some actions are just plain wrong and immoral.

I once had a boss who told me he valued integrity even more than honesty.  A callow youth in those days, I asked him what the difference was.  He said to me, “Integrity means doing the right thing when no one is watching you.”  And yet we live in a society in which concepts like respect and honor are seemingly less and less relevant.

To what extent does our society still value things like honesty and integrity?  I’m really starting to wonder.

-Smith

13
Nov
08

Get healthy, or else!

cheese-puffs

I read this rather disturbing article in the Associated Press today, in which it is reported that “Manchester is hoping to fight fat with a reward system that works like a retail loyalty card. But instead of earning credit for opening their wallets, residents will be rewarded for keeping their feet on the treadmill and their fridge stocked with healthy food.”

Now, on the surface, this might seem like a good idea. Heck, I could stand to lose a few myself, and who wouldn’t want to be rewarded simply for doing the right thing? But if you look a little under the surface, this becomes troubling.

First and foremost, I have a problem with the government sticking their nose into my personal life, no matter how benevolent the motive may seem. It’s a short but steep slope from “We’ll reward you for being healthy” to “Get healthy, or else!” Right now, they’re offering the carrot, but who’s to say that once we accept this latest incarnation of Nanny government that the carrot won’t be replaced with a big and expensive stick. For example, what’s to stop the government from offering two tax tables, one for people who meet its definition of “healthy”, and those who don’t. As an overweight man who loves to smoke, I know which table I’d be paying under.

“Ah Ha!”, you say. “Smith, you big fat smoker you, you’re a drain on the health care system! Look at me: I’m a non-smoking vegetarian who runs five miles a day! You and those like you should be like me!”

To which I say: that’s the price you pay to live in a FREE COUNTRY. (Remember that phrase?) You have to put up with my bad habits and I have to put up with yours. Chances are, you are not entirely vice free yourself. And even if you are, I have news for you: unless you get hit by a bus, you too will grow old and become a drain on the health care system. It happens to almost all of us.  Your wonderful “healthy lifestyle” won’t save you in the end.

Those who believe in the Nanny government and who wish to control us realize that they cannot do so without uniting people against a common enemy. For Hitler, it was the Jews. For McCarthy it was the Communists. For Nanny government advocates, it is: Bad Health. These people feel they can enact all manner of government intrusion into people’s lives, as long as it is being done in the name of Good Health.  Good Health has become our new Golden Idol.

And for some of you who were nonplussed at my recent post about the 2008 election, know this: this is exactly why I have never voted Democrat. It is why I remain profoundly concerned about the Obama presidency. This sort of thing is far, far more likely to occur in the United States under a Democratic government.

Says Timothy Armstrong, coordinator of the World Health Organization’s global strategy on diet, and quoted in the same article, “I haven’t seen any evidence that it works, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it…as public health officials we really don’t have the luxury of waiting to see what works and what doesn’t. We really do know that, in terms of curbing the obesity epidemic, all of society needs to play a role”.

It takes a village, right Timothy? And naturally, this is being funded by (who else?) the taxpayers.

Just so no one gets the wrong idea here, let me state flat out that I realize that this program is benign and well meant. And yes, I realize it’s happening in England, but our two countries are so closely linked culturally that it’s no stretch to imagine it happening here. Just look at what the Boston Public Health Commission is trying to get away with. People are getting fatter (probably because they’ve stopped smoking). But I become deeply troubled when the government starts using its leverage to try to force me to live a certain way, because I realize how quickly and easily the can change from benevolent cajoling to a direct order.  I believe that, deep down, the Nancy Pelosi’s of the world don’t really want to be agreed with, they want to be obeyed.  Once people allow themselves to buy into the idea that Nanny government is taking care of them, anything is possible. “Get healthy, or else!”.

Now where did I put those Cheesey Puffs?

-Smith




taking up a glowing cinder with the tongs and lighting with it the long cherry-wood pipe which was wont to replace his clay when he was in a disputatious rather than a meditative mood" ~ Dr. John H. Watson ************************
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