Monthly Archives: July 2011

Babes in Government-land…

I’ve had enough. I’m tired of dealing with babies.

This whole Debt Ceiling “crisis” has made it clear to me that, with the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, we are dealing with political babies.

As a parent of three grown children, I know what a pain it is to deal with babies.

First of all, babies don’t know anything. All they know is what they want. And when they don’t get what they want, they cry.

Wahhhhh! Wahhhhh! Wahhhhh!

I will never understand why so many working class Midwestern Americans voted for these Tea Party-GOP babies in 2010 – but they did.

And now, political adults – both Democrats and Republicans – find they must contend with all these whiny, itty-bitty, small minded ultra-conservative babies in the U.S. House of Representatives who have no clue what it is to govern the greatest democracy in the western world.

As though they were simply playing with blocks in the safety of their padded playpens, these know-nothing GOP babies have no clear idea of the impact that their actions will have outside of their playpen.

I hope that the Government Adults – President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McChinless, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Speaker “Boo-Hoo” Boehner – are finally able to quiet the Tea Party babies and put them down for a long nap, just in time to raise the Debt Ceiling and move on with the grown-up business of government.

Ssssshhhh. Don’t wake the Tea Party-GOP babies.

Government is way to complex for infant children.


Filed under Politics

27 and Dead…


Published: July 23, 2011

 Amy Winehouse, the British singer who found worldwide fame with a smoky, hip-hop-inflected take on retro soul, yet became a tabloid fixture as her struggles with drugs and alcohol brought about a striking public career collapse, was found dead in her home in London on Saturday. She was 27.

For many rock and roll fans who saw such reports about the sudden death of Amy Winehouse – one fact jumped right out: her age. 27-years old.

As of this writing, the cause of her death is not known. The London police said that, “at this early stage it is being treated as unexplained.” But nobody will be surprised to learn that the artist who hit the charts singing, “They tried to make me go to rehab, but I said ‘no no no’” probably succumbed to her addictions.

Thus, we add Amy Jade Winehouse (September 14, 1983 to July 23, 2011) to the list of rock stars that died at 27 years of age.

The list got started early – with the death of the pioneering bluesman Robert Johnson on August 16, 1938. Legend had it that Johnson went down to a lonely crossroads and sold his soul to the devil for the ability to play guitar with a genius that inspired future rockers like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Paige. His death is full of mystery, too. But we do know that he was 27-years old when died after drinking from a bottle of whiskey that was poisoned with strychnine.

27-year old Brian Jones had recently been kicked out of The Rolling Stones when he was discovered at the bottom of his swimming pool on July 3, 1969. His death, too, is shrouded in mystery and unproven suspicions of foul play.

The coroner’s report concluded that Jones’ untimely demise was “death by misadventure”, noting that the troubled rocker’s liver and heart were greatly enlarged by drug and alcohol abuse

Canned Heat was a hit at Woodstock in the summer of 1969, but a little over a year later, the band’s leader, singer, and principal songwriter was dead at the age of 27. Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson died of a drug overdose on September 3, 1970 in Topanga Canyon – not far from where I live. Wilson had reportedly tried to kill himself twice before, and some say his death was a suicide, though he left no note.

Either way, Wilson is at home on this ignominious list, as suicide and overdose are the most common causes of death for these 27-year old rockers.

Just two weeks after Wilson’s death, an accidental overdose took the life of Jimi Hendrix on September 18, 1970. The virtuoso guitar god took a lot of sleeping pills on the day he wound up face down in his own vomit. The Belgian sleeping pills he took were far more powerful than he realized. He may also have been mixing pills with red wine. According to the doctor who first attended to him, Hendrix asphyxiated in his vomit, which was mainly red wine.

A little more than two weeks after 27-year old Jimi passed away too soon, rock music fans were stunned by another tragedy: the death of the great Janis Joplin due to an accidental heroin overdose.

The heroin that 27-year old Janis took in a Hollywood motel on October 4, 1970 turned out to be much more potent than normal. In fact, several of her dealer’s other customers also overdosed that same week.

The stunning deaths of rock superstars Hendrix and Joplin were followed in less than two months by the sudden demise of a third future Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member. The Door’s charismatic and controversial front man, Jim Morrison was found in the bathtub of his Paris apartment, dead of an accidental heroin overdose, on July 3, 1971. One of rock’s legendary heartthrobs, Morrison was also just 27 years old when his heart stopped beating.

A deadly mix of morphine and alcohol claimed the life of country rock pioneer Gram Parsons on September 19, 1973. The gifted and influential singer and songwriter was just two months shy of his 27th birthday when he died in the desert of Joshua Tree, California from an overdose of morphine and booze. In fact, it’s been written that the amount of morphine Parsons took was enough to kill three people.

You may want to look up what happened to Gram Parson’s body: it’s one of the strangest rock legends of all time.

Pete Ham’s suicide on April 24, 1975 closed one of the saddest chapters in rock and roll history. There was a time when Ham’s band, Badfinger, was a serious contender for The Next Big Thing after the breakup of the Beatles – but their wonderful, melodic music could not overcome the twin evils of terrible management and awful recording deals. Despondent over has band’s troubles, Ham hung himself in his garage. He was, of course, 27. His suicide note included an indictment of Badfinger’s business manager, Stan Polley: “P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard. I will take him with me.”

Almost two decades later, another rock and roll suicide shocked the world. But while Pete Ham’s glory days were behind him when he put the rope around his neck, Kurt Cobain was a superstar still in his ascendancy when he took his own life on April 5, 1994.

Cobain went out like Ernest Hemingway, putting a gun to his head.

Sublime front man Bradley Nowell managed to make it a few months beyond his 27th birthday – but just before his band’s breakthrough third album went multi-platinum – Nowell was a dead man. The promising talent who wrote and sang such fabulous songs as “What I Got” and “Wrong Way” did, indeed, go out the wrong way from a heroin overdose on May 25, 1996.

So now, Amy Winehouse is gone, too. Just 27 years old. But the music remains. In fact, if you made a playlist of songs from the 11 artists noted in this article, it would probably be the best album you’ll hear all year.

And that would be the better way to remember them.


Filed under Music

The (New) American Crisis.

American patriot Thomas Paine served in George Washington’s army during the Revolutionary War as an aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene. In the desperate winter of ’76, the war was going badly — and Washington’s valiant, weary, and ill-equipped troops were in retreat.

The revolutionary cause was in dire jeopardy, when Paine took up his pen to rally his nascent nation’s flagging spirits.

Realizing that “it was necessary that the country should be strongly animated,” Paine wrote a series of popular pamphlets collectively titled The American Crisis. The first of these broadsides was published on December 23, 1776 – and General Washington found it so inspiring that he had it read to his soldiers at Valley Forge.

Today, as we suffer through this trumped-up Debt Ceiling crisis, it is once again “necessary that the country should be strongly animated.”

Therefore, with apologies to Thomas Paine…

These are the times that try Progressive’s souls. Some summer Liberals and sunshine Democrats will, in this crisis, shrink from their core values; but he that stands by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid now, deserves the love and thanks of every working man and woman in America.

The GOP-Tea Party, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. The Grand Debt Ceiling Bargain we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is Tax Fairness – with increases on the Wealthy, Big Business and Wall Street only — that gives Shared Sacrifice any real meaning.

Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon The Common Good; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as The Full Faith and Credit of The United States should not be highly rated by Standard & Poor’s. (Though such a Downgrade looks increasingly possible.)

The GOP, with Fox News to enforce its Bullshit, has declared that they have a right (not only NOT to TAX) but “to BIND all working people in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” to economic slavery, for so unlimited an economic power can belong only to George Bush’s God of Prosperity, the Koch Brothers, Republicans, Millionaires and Billionaires.

We have none to blame but ourselves, but no great deal is lost yet. All that Boehner, McConnell and Cantor have been doing for these past few months is rather a Ravage than a Conquest. They have over-reached and will be quickly repulsed by the voters. By 2012, with a little resolution on the part of working class Americans – resulting in a Democratic landslide — we will soon recover.

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up the American People to Economic Destruction by Tea Party Fools and GOP Corporatist Greed, or leave President Obama and the Democrats to perish who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of Default by every decent method which wisdom could invent.

Neither have I so much of the infidel in me, as to suppose that The Almighty has relinquished the Government of The United States, and given us up to the madness of small-minded religious zealots like Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint; and as I do not, I cannot see on what grounds McConnell, Boehner and Cantor can hold Americans over an economic barrel.

‘Tis surprising to see how rapidly a panic (like this artificial Debt Ceiling Crisis) will sometimes run through a country. Yet panics, in some cases, have their uses; they produce as much good as hurt. Their peculiar advantage is that they are the touchstones of sincerity (Democrats) and hypocrisy (Republicans), and bring things and men to light, which might otherwise have lain forever undiscovered. They sift out the hidden thoughts of Conservatives, and hold them up in public to the world.

I shall not now attempt to give all the particulars of our negotiations with the GOP; suffice it for the present to say, that the Democratic Party and President Obama, though greatly harassed and fatigued, bore these Debt Limit negotiations with a manly and bipartisan spirit. All their wishes centered in one, which was, that the country would turn out and help them to drive the Republicans out come the Election of 2012.

I have been tender in raising the cry against the Tea Party radicals, and have used numberless arguments to show their danger, but it will not do to sacrifice our country either to their folly or their baseness. The Time of Decision is now arrived, in which either Tea Party Republicans or Democrats must change our sentiments, or one or both must fall.

And what is a Tea Party Republican? Good God! What is he? I should not be afraid to stand with a hundred brave, steadfast Democratic Union Men against a thousand Tea Partiers. Every GOP-Tea Party member is a dupe or a coward; for servile, slavish, and corporate-interested fear is the foundation of Tea Partyism; and a man under such misguided influence, though he may be selfish and confused, can never be brave.

But, before the line of irrecoverable separation be drawn between American Liberals and Conservatives, let us reason the matter together: FOX News is as much rejected by reality as the American cause is injured by FOX News. Rupert “Phone Hacker” Murdoch and his Corporate Paymasters expect you to take up arms and flock to their standard. Your opinions are of no use to The Right, unless you support them without thinking, for ’tis Zombies, and not Thinking Men, that they want.

I once felt that kind of anger, which a man ought to feel, against the mean principles that are held by the Republicans. “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have prosperity.” But today, let every Progressive American awaken to his duty. For though the flame of liberty may sometimes cease to flare, the embers can never expire.

I call not upon a few, but upon all Progressives: not on this Blue State or that Purple State, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the heat of the summer of 2011, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.

If President Obama and the Congress cannot avoid the ignominy of National Default, it matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil will reach you all. The far and the near, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike.

The blood of Democratic children will curse their cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the Liberal that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little GOP minds to shrink; but the Progressive whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto Election Day.

Let them call me Liberal and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to GOP politicians who are stupid, stubborn, worthless and brutish — and fleeing with tax-cutting, budget-slashing terror from the orphan, the widow, and the unemployed of America.

There are cases that cannot be overdone by language, and there are persons who see not the full extent of the evil that threatens them. It is the madness of folly to expect statesmanship from Republicans who have refused to do political and social justice. The GOP’s first object is, partly by threats and partly by false promises, to fleece the American people before agreeing to pay their lawful debts.

I see no real cause for fear. I know our situation well, and can see the way out of it. The sign of fear has not been seen in our Liberal Camp. Our new Progressive Democratic Army is recruiting fast, and we shall be able to open the 2012 Campaign with tens of millions of voters, well educated and mobilized.

By perseverance and fortitude we have the prospect of a glorious issue; by cowardice and submission, the sad choice of a variety of evils — a ravaged country — crumbling cities — infrastructure without repair, and a shrinking Middle Class without hope — our homes turned into foreclosures, and our children to provide for, whose American Dream will be less than our own. Look on this picture and weep over it! And if there yet remains one thoughtless FOX viewer who believes it not, let him suffer the consequences unlamented.

Awake, Senate Democrats! Arise, President Obama! The GOP is mercifully inviting you to barbarous destruction (in a bipartisan fashion, of course), and men must be either rogues or fools that will not see it. I dwell not upon the vapors of imagination; I bring reason to your ears, and, in language as plain as A, B, C, hold up truth to your eyes.

Let the Bush Tax Cuts expire! Cut the Pentagon’s bloated budget! Let Medicare negotiate deals with the Drug Companies! Collect a fair share of taxes from Corporations and Wall Street Financiers that have reaped such an ungodly percentage of our National Treasure! Leave Social Security and our National Health alone! Do these things, and the blessings of Prosperity will be upon our Nation once again.


Filed under History, Politics

Growing Up in the Space Age

The Space Shuttle Atlantis took off from the Kennedy Space Center on Friday morning, July 8, 2011 – and as I write this, it’s still out there, flying through space on NASA’s final shuttle flight. The last voyage of Atlantis marks the end of three decades of the U.S. Space Shuttle program – and 54 years since the dawn of the Space Age.

At 53 years of age, I am a true child of the Space Age.

So, why didn’t I feel a greater tug at my heart when I witnessed this last Space Shuttle launch? For the first time in my lifetime, there will be no manned space program – and few people seem to care. New York Yankee captain Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit (a home run, no less) and the World Cup dramatics of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team have gotten more airplay and headlines than the end of a momentous era in American history.

Why hasn’t NASA’s Space Shuttle program captured the American imagination the way the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs did? Maybe it’s because we stopped our manned explorations at the Moon – and didn’t put our footprints on another planet. Maybe it’s because we don’t really understand what the International Space Station is all about. Maybe it’s because we got bored with 130 Space Shuttle flights. Or it might be because the amazing Hubble Space Telescope has shown us that the universe is so vast that man has no hope of conquering it.

As seen by The Hubble Space Telescope: Those aren't stars, folks. They're galaxies.

All I know is that there was a time when American astronauts getting launched into space was the coolest thing ever. Long before we ever heard of “The Right Stuff”, guys like John Glenn, Ed White, and Jim Lovell were even bigger stars than Major League baseball players.

From take-off to splashdown, the manned space flights of my boyhood were always the biggest events of the year.

We were on our way to the Moon. And it was glorious.

My wife Victoria was seven months old when the Space Age began on October 4, 1957 with the Soviet Union’s launch of its Sputnik 1 satellite. The Russians beating us into space freaked Americans out so much that we actually invested heavily in education – especially in science and math – for fear of falling behind. (Fortunately, Eisenhower’s Republican Party was in the White House, not John Boehner’s cynical GOP.)

Just four months after Sputnik, the U.S. put its first satellite, Explorer 1, into space – and the Space Race between America and the Soviet Union was underway.

Explorer 1 was launched on January 31, 1958 and two and a half months later, I was born. That same April week, the Russians sent a dog into space.

Laika, a 3-year old Siberian Husky — nicknamed “Muttnik” by the American press — was rocketed into orbit atop a modified intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s clear that PETA was not operating in the Soviet Union at the time, because Muttnik’s capsule was not designed for recovery. Laika had already passed away in space by the time her capsule burned up on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.

The Russian and American space programs were racing to be the first to put a man in space. But first, lower primates were used as guinea pigs. I was eight months old and still in diapers when the first space monkey was shot into the heavens. On December 13, 1958 the U.S. Army launched a squirrel monkey named Gordo on a suborbital flight. Gordo went up and down safely — but he died during recovery due to equipment failure.

A year later, on December 4, 1959, a rhesus monkey named Sam rode a Mercury capsule 55 miles into space. Unlike the unlucky Gordo, Sam was recovered alive in the Atlantic Ocean.

The next month, Miss Sam took her turn in space, successfully testing the Mercury capsule’s escape system on a 58-minute test flight.

Go, Space Monkeys, go!

I was approaching my 3rd birthday by the time the U.S. Space Program worked its way up the Evolutionary ladder to a chimpanzee named Ham. The 4-year old chimp blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 31, 1961. Ham’s job was to show that live animals aboard a spacecraft could carry out their jobs during launch, weightlessness and re-entry. Ham passed the test with flying colors, survived the mission, and retired to the National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C.

A little more than two months after we put a chimp in space – the Russians launched a human being.

Four days before my third birthday, on April 12 1961, cosmonaut (“sailor of the universe”) Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth aboard his spacecraft Vostok 1.

The Soviet Union had won the race to put a man in space — but The United States of America wasn’t far behind.

Three weeks after Gagarin’s flight, on May 5 1961, astronaut (“sailor of the stars”) Alan Shepard made a suborbital spaceflight in the Mercury capsule Freedom 7. The first American in space was a Big Deal.

Three weeks after Shepard’s voyage, President John F. Kennedy redefined the ultimate goal of the Space Race, declaring, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”

President Kennedy congratulates astronaut Alan Shepard, the First American in Space.

That was some pretty exciting stuff. That was Big Thinking. Kennedy’s ambitious and optimistic vision would ultimately light the way to an era of American dominance in science, math, and computer technology as we raced the Soviets to the Moon. (Tea Party nihilists? Are you listening?)

Almost a year after the Soviets put a human into orbit, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth on February 20, 1962. Glenn’s achievement was the first I actually remember being aware of as a child, though I was not yet four years old.

A pilot in the Marines, John Glenn was from my home state of Ohio (and would later become a long-serving Senator) – and my fellow Clevelanders were all abuzz with the thrill of our favorite son’s achievement.

A little more than 7 years later, the entire world would be transfixed by the words and actions of another astronaut from Ohio.

The same year that Glenn orbited the Earth, the U.S. introduced Project Gemini to the world.

Gemini was a two-man spacecraft designed so that American astronauts and NASA technicians could develop and practice all the technologies, maneuvers and skills needed to get to the Moon, including the docking of two spacecraft and voyages that were long enough to simulate flying to the Moon and back. Later in ’62, President Kennedy Speech made a speech at Rice University in Houston, summing up the rationale for putting a man on the Moon.

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

As kids in the mid-1960’s, we could not get enough of the Gemini program.

Each new launch, each new astronaut and each new spaceflight broke new ground.

Each daring Gemini mission gave us another marvelous achievement, a new source of profound and positive wonder, two new spaceman heroes — and, of course, a cool new plastic model kit to buy and build.

With two tiny astronauts to glue into their seats in that 2-man Gemini capsule.

In March of ’65, astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and John W. Young aboard Gemini 3 became the first to change their spacecraft’s orbit.

In August of ’65, the crew of Gemini 5, Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad, spent 8 days flying in space, long enough for a lunar mission.

By December of that same year, Frank Borman and James A. Lovell had extended that record to 14 days aboard Gemini 7.

Grissom, Cooper, Conrad, Borman and Lovell became household names — and Americans swelled with pride as each Gemini mission brought new accomplishments, and took us another tangible step closer to our national goal of beating the Soviets to the Moon.

In 1966, I was a second grader making my First Holy Communion at St. Rocco’s Church — and Gemini was in its last year, with five missions to close out the program.

Two Gemini astronauts who made spaceflights that year — Neil Armstrong (Gemini 8) and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin (Gemini 12) — would play even larger roles in the next phase of NASA’s drive to make good on JFK’s lofty lunar pledge: the Apollo Program.

Neil Armstrong prepares for his Gemini 8 flight & Buzz Aldrin's Gemini 12 spacewalk.

Astronauts David Scott and Neil Armstrong during tests prior to their Gemini 8 space flight.

To us kids, Apollo was even cooler than Gemini because the space capsule was bigger – and there were now three astronauts to glue onto their seats in our models. But our excitement would come a bit later.

Because the first news we kids heard about the Apollo program was not good. In fact, it was the first bad news we’d ever heard out of NASA since the race to the Moon began.

And it was reallybad news.

The doomed Apollo 1 astronauts testing equipment in their capsule. Gus Grissom is at right.

I was almost 9-years old on January 27, 1967 when the first Apollo crew died in a fire that swept through their capsule during a dress rehearsal for their upcoming mission. The loss of three American astronauts was shocking. We kids had heard that lots of Russian cosmonauts had been killed over the years – their deaths whitewashed by the censored Soviet press — but “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were the first casualties in the omnipotent U.S. Space program that we knew about.

Seeing the grim pictures of the charred Apollo 1 capsule in the newspapers that I delivered changed the way I (and all my buddies) viewed the space program. We were reminded that spaceflight was a dangerous, deadly business — and that no team, not even NASA, wins every time.

It was a lesson we would re-learn two decades later.

Following a series of unmanned Apollo launches that tested every aspect of the program’s equipment and technology, Apollo 7 was the first manned Apollo mission after the tragedy that claimed the lives of Grissom, Chaffee and White.

From October 11 to 22, 1968, Apollo 7 astronauts Wallly Schirra, Donn F. Eisele, and Walt Cunningham orbited the Earth for 11-days — testing Apollo’s life-support, propulsion, and control systems.

After the Apollo 1 tragedy, Apollo 7’s technical success gave NASA the confidence it needed to send Apollo 8 around the Moon two months later.

1968 was an exciting year to be a fourth grader. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy shook my liberal parents to the core (I can still recall my confused father waking me to announce that “Rosey Greer just killed Robert Kennedy”) — but Detroit Tigers pitcher Denny McClain won 31 games during the “Year of the Pitcher” and Batman was in its final season on TV. Plus — America finally got within reach of the Moon.

Apollo 8 took off on 21 December 1968, and became the first manned spacecraft to orbit another heavenly body when crew members Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders flew around the Moon ten times. I’ll never forget that epochal Christmas Eve broadcast, beamed from Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, in which the crew read passages from the King James Bible’s Book of Genesis. It was the first time we ever saw an Earthrise – and it was one of the most-watched television broadcasts worldwide.

But, half a year later, even more people around the globe would be glued to the progress – and triumph — of another Apollo mission.

In the days leading up to the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon, you could get a cardboard model of the Apollo capsule and the Lunar Module at Union 76 gas stations. Of course, I got mine.

The Revell model kit was even cooler because it also included the Lunar Lander: the strange, spider-legged craft that two of the Apollo 11 astronauts would ride down to the lunar surface and park in an area called the Sea of Tranquility.

For an 11-year old 5th grader, this was the Greatest Adventure You Could Possibly Imagine. And what made it even greater is that the mission’s commander was a fellow Ohioan, Neil Armstrong – and Armstrong was tapped to be the first man to set foot on the Moon!

Armstrong would be joined on the Moon by Buzz Aldrin – and Apollo 11’s third crew member, Michael Collins, would cruise around the Moon in the command module like a cosmic getaway driver waiting to pick the Moonwalkers up, their pockets stuffed with Moon rocks after the Big Lunar Heist.

Armstrong, Collins & Aldrin: The Apollo 11 Crew.

The lunar lander, Eagle, is landing...

It was the greatest TV show ever – and my Uncle Archie and his family came to our house on Cleveland’s west side to watch the Big Event on July 20, 1969.

At least 500 million television viewers around the world watched as citizen-astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to step onto the Moon.

And, while I hate to call out a fellow Ohioan, Armstrong clearly flubbed his big, history-making line!

Armstrong meant to say, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” But our hero didn’t say “one small step for a man” as he put his historic footprint on the Moon — he just said, “one small step for man”.

Pedants would say that rendered Armstrong’s great quote redundant – but at the time, nobody cared.

I still remember the pride I felt delivering The Cleveland Plain Dealer on my paper route early the next morning – trumpeting one of those very rare headlines that took up the entire front page.

(The New York Post does it everyday — but Rupert Murdoch doesn’t run any real newspapers.)

Downstate, in Neil Armstrong’s hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, my fellow paperboys were delivering the same triumphant news.

Apollo 11 made good on President Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon within the decade.

Americans had won the race to the Moon.

We didn’t know it yet – but Apollo 11 was the high water mark of the U.S. space program.

Later Apollo missions also had their highlights. In February 1971, Apollo 14 Commander, Alan Shepard (the first American in space) became the fifth man to walk on the Moon – and the first to play golf on the lunar surface.

Shepard took out a modified 6-iron and after a few Moon Mulligans, he hit one good shot.

Now that astronauts were playing golf on the moon, I guess we needed a golf cart up there, too.

In July of ’71, Apollo 15 became the fourth mission to put men on the Moon – and the first to break out the lunar rover! To kids like me, it looked like the ultimate dune buggy. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin tooled around in the rover, traveling 17 miles across the lunar landscape. The lunar rover was another Space Age innovation – and another cool model to build.

The end of the Apollo Program meant no more moonwalks, moon rocks, lunar rovers…

And a lot less public passion for NASA — and our national space exploration program.

I graduated from St. Rocco’s grade school in 1972 – and I was a freshman at Cleveland Central Catholic High School when Apollo 17 made the sixth and final lunar landing in December of that year.

There would be four long years of high school and four years at Northwestern University before Americans finally got back into space.

During my college years, I might not have thought about space travel at all if it weren’t for Professor J. Allen Hynek’s Astronomy course. Hynek had a passion for space exploration and believed it was foolish to assume that humans were the only intelligent life in the universe. Founder of the Center for UFO Studies, it was Hynek who coined the term “close encounters of the third kind.” (He even got a cameo in the Steven Spielberg’s movie.)

Professor Hynek impressed me with the vastness of space – and while I nearly failed Astronomy, I somehow managed to talk my way into his Honors Astronomy class.

It was a small class of about twenty students, dominated by discussion and Hynek’s wonderful, enlightening stories. My final grade rested on the strength of my final presentation – and I chose my subject wisely: the Space Race.

Professor Hynek had worked with the Air Force and NASA since the days of project Blue Book. He knew nearly every NASA administrator and astronaut personally – and he took my final presentation as a series of cues to launch into anecdotes about his personal experiences during those thrilling years when Americans strove to conquer the Moon – and succeeded. Basically, I co-hosted my presentation with Dr. Hynek. And I got an A in the class.

But by the time I graduated from NU in 1980, the excitement of the Apollo missions seemed like ancient history. NASA wasn’t pushing on to Mars. That was disappointing. So were Watergate, the Iranian Hostage Crisis and the Arab Oil Embargo. And some paranoid cynics were even claiming the lunar landings were faked!

The disillusioned mood was captured in Capricorn One, a 1978 movie in which the U.S. government stages a Mars landing hoax.

Americans needed a morale boost in 1981. Frustrated voters gave us President Ronald Reagan and NASA gave us the Space Shuttle program.

The Space Shuttle was kinda cool at first. I mean, come on – a reusable space vehicle that could land on a runway like a plane? That was really neat.

But by the time the first shuttle, dubbed Columbia, was launched on April 12, 1981, it had been exactly 20 years since cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space — and no American had been in space in more than 8 years.

NASA’s second space shuttle, Challenger, made its maiden flight on April 4, 1983. Nearly three years later, on January 28, 1986, Challenger was on the launch pad, ready to go on her tenth mission.

By then, the Shuttle Program was taken for granted by many Americans, including me.

Without a sexy, inspirational objective like taking a man to the Moon to fire our imaginations, the astronauts on the space shuttle missions seemed more like lab technicians in space, performing experiments, testing equipment, and building a space station whose purpose was ill-defined and unappreciated by the general public.

Then, just 73 seconds after lift-off – Challenger’s tenth mission turned into a spectacular reminder of the grave dangers of manned space flight.

Challenger exploded during its ascent, killing all seven astronauts on board, including Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year old elementary school teacher. Christa’s starring role as the first teacher in space attracted more attention to this launch than most of the previous shuttle missions.

Largely because of space pioneer teacher Christa McAuliffe, school kids across the country were watching the launch in their classrooms (just as we’d done at St. Rocco’s two decades earlier.)

In a few shocking, fiery moments, the Challenger Disaster became the most indelible image of the Space Program since Armstrong took that first step on the Moon.

And we all learned about “O-rings.”

Seventeen years after Challenger blew up, the Space Shuttle Columbia came to ruin on the opposite end of its journey: Columbia broke up on re-entry into the atmosphere on February 1, 2003, killing all seven crew members.

In a way, Challenger and Columbia were tragic bookends to a Space Shuttle Program that has been largely unsung in the course of 130 missions. This week’s final voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis closes the Shuttle Program’s page in the epic Space Age adventure series that has been so much a part of my generation.

Bon Voyage, Atlantis. Prayers for your safe return.

A Parochial Coda:

After serving 24 years as a Senator from Ohio, my boyhood hero, John Glenn – the fist American to orbit the Earth – became the oldest person to go into space.

Glenn was 77-years old on October 29, 1998, when he took his second record-breaking spaceflight, this time aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

I had the privilege of meeting Senator John Glenn 23 years before his space shuttle flight when I was a high school junior visiting Washington D.C. as part of a Close Up Program trip.

The year was 1975, and it had only been 13 years since Glenn had flown his Mercury capsule in orbit around the Earth.

He seemed larger than life as he spoke to us in that Congressional committee meeting room. He was a real hero — a guy with The Right Stuff.

John Glenn was born on July 18, 1921 – and next week he’ll celebrate his 90th birthday.

Happy birthday, John!

Thanks for the memories.


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A Music Message from Ms. Maura!

Help Ms. Maura get
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Ms. Maura on Women of Substance Radio
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30) Ms. Maura’s “I Don’t Wanna” will be played on
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Women’s World Wow!

Did you see that game? Can you believe what you witnessed?

The Women’s World Cup quarterfinal match between the United States and Brazil was one of those incredible, triumphant and uplifting moments that only sports can deliver.  If you got up on Sunday morning to watch the game – and hung on through regulation time, stoppage time, overtime, and overtime stoppage time – you saw one of the most dramatic sporting events ever played.

The U.S, scored in the first two minutes on an own-goal – which meant a Brazilian defender knocked the ball into her own net.

Then, in the second half, the referees tried their best to hand the game to Brazil. A questionable red card dealt to a U.S. defender meant that the Americans had to play a man down for the rest of the match. Worse, that horrible call in the box led to a penalty kick for Brazil.

American goalie Hope Solo made a brilliant stop on the ensuing penalty kick – but the referee mysteriously ruled that there was a foul on the play! (We still don’t know why.) Brazil got a second chance at the penalty kick and evened the score 1-1.  Later, Brazil’s star forward, Marta, scored a go-ahead goal.

Then, Brazil started flopping and feigning injury – and all the lame stalling tactics that demean the great game of soccer in the eyes of true soccer fans.  It looked like the Americans were doomed. But the U.S. team did not quit. With scant seconds left in stoppage time of the second overtime — American forward Abby Wambach headed in the tying goal.

Minutes later, the game was decided by penalty kicks.  Actually, the game was decided by a penalty kick save.

U.S. goalie Hope Solo stopped one of Brazil’s shots – and her dramatic save was the margin of victory.

Congratulations to the never-say-die U.S. Women’s Soccer team.

What an amazing sports moment!

On to the World Cup Semifinal – and to the Championship! 

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Pausing Amid the Political Hysteria…

As President Obama negotiates with Democratic and Republican Congressional leaders on the critical issues of raising the debt ceiling and reducing the Federal budget deficit, each breathless (and very sketchy) media report on the progress of those negotiations has been received in the Progressive Blogosphere with hand-wringing, whining, and melodramatic condemnations.

The President, it appears from all this premature carping, is ready to sell out Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, your home mortgage interest deduction, the public schools, and FDR’s White House portrait to appease the all-powerful, Tea Party/GOP who are willing to sacrifice the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government on Grover Norquist’s anti-tax altar.

With the debt ceiling deadline approaching in less than a month, it’s more doom and gloom for Democrats. Obama, we hear from disenchanted liberals, is just GOP-lite. We need to mount a primary challenge. Or vote Green Party in 2012.  Or just stay home.

Because that worked so well for disappointed progressives in the 2010 mid-terms, right?

Because handing the House of Representatives over to Speaker John Boehner and the militant Tea Party jihadists sure showed those spineless Democrats a thing or two, didn’t it?

Aren’t you glad, you jaded bloggers on Daily Kos, TPM and The Huffington Post, that President Obama doesn’t have Nancy Pelosi to appease in these debt ceiling negotiations?

Oh, that’s right. If Nancy Pelosi were still the Speaker of the House – there wouldn’t even be negotiations over the debt ceiling.

It would be a pro forma vote of approval just like it’s always been.

Now, let’s get back to these White House negotiations over the debt limit. I’m pretty sure that, in order to avoid disaster, a Grand Bargain will be reached that will gore just about everyone’s ox to some degree.

But even if President Obama was not a man with liberal inclinations (and I think he’s shown that he is), he is a successful politician. He can see that an overwhelming majority of voters would rather see taxes raised on millionaires and billionaires than have their Social Security and Medicare benefits get cut.

And that’s true across party lines – especially among independents.

John Boehner can read those polls, too. But, even if Boehner wanted to strike a Bob Dole-like bargain with Obama to raise taxes on the rich (or what I like to call “restoring tax fairness”) in exchange for entitlement reforms that reduce waste and save money but don’t screw working people – he can’t do it. Because he’s got Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party Visigoths willing to wreak havoc on America’s credit rating in order to protect Exxon Mobil’s government subsidies and low tax rates on capital gains and other passive income for billionaires like the Koch Brothers.  (Euphemistically referred to as “the job creators.”)

The Visigoths are shown here doing to Rome what the GOP is doing to the U.S. MIddle Class.

So, the Republicans have their backs to wall in these negotiations, too. And President Obama knows it.

Of course, if scoring political points were all our President cared about, he’d be taking a much harder line in public – and that would win him praise from progressive bloggers and pundits yearning for a hard-knuckle approach. But that’s what you do in an election campaign – not when you’re trying to govern. (Remember how well the tough guy, no compromise, jam it down their throats approach served the country when that nasty little bully George W. Bush was in charge?)

President Obama is serious about bipartisanship. He always has been. And, in this case, bipartisanship may just mean giving the GOP enough rope to hang themselves in 2012.

So, let’s just see how this debt ceiling brinksmanship plays out. It’s the best drama of the summer. And I’m sure it won’t have an entirely happy ending for anyone.

But, if Obama has to make some concessions you don’t like, please remember this…

Would you rather President Romney – who made his millions buying US companies and out-sourcing the jobs overseas — were presiding over such critical White House  negotiations in the summer of 2013?

Would you like President Pawlenty choosing the next two Supreme Court justices?

Would you like President Bachmann…?

I’m sorry. I’ll just stop there. I don’t want to add any more crazy to this summer’s political hysteria.


Filed under Politics

Viva La Super-Rica!

During the July 4th holiday weekend, my wife Victoria and I were passing through Santa Barbara, California on our way home from a visit to the Santa Ynez Valley. It was lunchtime – and that meant an opportunity to introduce Victoria to a local treasure:  La Super-Rica.

Wherever I go, I’m always in search of the quintessential local experience. And Vic and I love to patronize the Mom & Pop establishments rather than the franchises. So, lunching at La Super-Rica made perfect sense. It was a chance to do what Santa Barbarans do when they want to enjoy a neighborhood treat.

The author waits patiently at the end of the line...

La Super Rica is a taqueria located in an unassuming little one-story building on the corner at 622 North Milpas Street in Santa Barbara, about 5 minutes (and a world away) from the swanky boutiques and bistros clustered in the upscale shopping district near City Hall. I don’t know how long it’s been around – but at some point the legendary foodie Julia Child anointed La Super-Rica with her gastronomic gourmet imprimatur, and long lines have been snaking out its doors ever since.

This day was no different. The line of homemade Nicaraguan taco devotees waiting to order was already quite long by the time Victoria and I arrived. Victoria saw everyone queued up in the searing mid-day heat and gave me a “this has better be worth it” look. I’d eaten at La Super-Rica once before, so I had no fear that she’d be disappointed.

As long as the line kept moving at a steady pace, I knew that culinary joy awaited us on the other end.

It took about a half-hour for us to reach the doorway into the restaurant – where we were rewarded with our first glimpse of the menu posted overhead.

I already knew I was going to order a #14  — a tasty combination of cheese and chorizo that I have never experienced anywhere else.

I urged Victoria to try a #7 — a tri-tip taco with grilled peppers and onions (basically a fajita taco).

In the mood for a cold cerveza, we also ordered two Dos Equis. Like the Most Interesting Man in the World, I don’t always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Owing to the heat, we also ordered a couple of Diet Cokes. After our wait in that hot line, it was time to re-hydrate.

Once we ordered our food, it was time to negotiate two plastic seats at one of the dozen or so tables crowded into a remarkably small patio dining area for a restaurant that could easily seat twice as many patrons.

1. View to the patio. 2. The tables. 3. Where the orders are picked up.

Hard work in La Super-Rica's kitchen...

Surveying the seating situation, it was clear that some selfish scoundrels had snuck in the back door and taken seats while the rest of their party was still in line waiting to order. (That’s not cool at La Super-Rica.) Victoria let the malefactors know that their sin was obvious to all, and those of the guilty who were capable of shame slunk away and made room for those – like us — who had already ordered.

It was a Mexican standoff of sorts. No shots were fired. No one was hurt. But justice was served.

Soon after, our food was also served: steaming and delicious.

#14 & #7

We liberally applied the hot salsa and pico de gallo – and enjoyed our spicy and tasty tacos. I could have eaten twice as much – just to keep enjoying the taste. But what we ordered was filling enough. The only problem was – it was all over too quick.

All that anticipation…waiting in line…ordering…jockeying for a table…waiting for the food to arrive – and I wolfed it all down within minutes!

When you make your pilgrimage to La Super-Rica, my only word of advice is, “Pace yourself, amigo. Pace yourself.”


Filed under Random Commentary