Saturday, August 10, 2019

Remembering My Friend Khris...

It was 21 years ago I walked into Gentry.   A small dingy little piano bar in Chicago, on Halsted Street.   I hadn't planned on going in.  But as I walked by I heard this amazing voice singing "How Lucky can you get?" from the musical Funny Lady., 

As I stepped inside,  the singer at the piano looked up,  saw me, and suddenly stopped playing.  For a moment I thought I had inadvertently crashed some sort of private party or event.   The guy at the piano looked me up and down  said " You! Sit down here!!" and pointed to a seat at the piano.

It would be the first of many many nights,  I would sit at that piano  while Kris Francis played, sang, and cracked jokes.    It was the start of a friendship that would forever change my life.    Khris became a dear friend, and more than that a very real and powerful LGBT role model for a young man in his 20's who was terrified of coming out.  

Over the weeks, and months that followed  that first night sitting at the piano, Kris would make me laugh, always make me sing, and more than anything else, he made me brave.    When I finally did come out to my family the first person I told afterwards was Khris. His reaction was true to form;  "About f*ckin time kid...".  Then he gave me one of his enormous hugs.

People often refer to Khris's act as "tease comedy".  I always felt that was a misnomer.  As a member of the audience at one of his shows,  you were part of the show.    People who knew him soon realised to be singled out and "teased" by Khris was in fact,  a tremendous compliment.   You were not so much the butt of the joke as you were IN on the joke.   His barbs and zingers always came with a wink and smile.     His musical repertoire was pretty standard.  He'd start in the 50's move through the 60's and 70's then touch briefly on the 80's.  His progression would stop there because has he so aptly put it; "I have taste."

We would keep in touch after I moved away from Chicago,  When I first lived in  San Francisco,  we would make time to see each other whenever he was back home in Hollister.   When I moved to London, I tried in vain many times to get him to come visit. But his work schedule in Maine and on Cape Cod along with caring for his Dad back in CA made it impossible to find the time,

He always make it a point to reach out and check in  and ask  how I was doing, and always to  swap gossip about our mutual friends and share his latest jokes.    But more than anything,   he was always there for me as a friend and a sounding board.    A few weeks ago he suffered a bad fall and injured his spine. leaving him half -paralyzed, developing  sepsis and pneumonia. Yet even then,  he still wanted to make us all  laugh, and remind us to look after each other.

His condition sadly got worse,  When I visited him in the hospital last Saturday he seemed like he was trying to say goodbye,  and I wouldn't hear of it... I still don't want to believe it.   Yet the truth is my friend Khris is gone.   Passing away yesterday morning..

I will miss  him  every day. The world is a darker, sadder place without him.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Measuring Donald Trump Against the Scout Law...

Recently I found myself in a back and forth on Facebook with a dear friend and Scouting colleague who expressed dismay at my criticisms of President Trump accusing  me of  hating  the President, and cited the Scout Oath and Law as partial reasons for his support of Donald Trump.

He went on to say that  President Trump has given most of his  salary as President to charity, and  insisted that that Trump  just wants to protect our freedom, jobs, safety and borders  ,My friend closed his comment with the assertion that he was an "independent" politically,   and while he didn't like everything about Trump,  he was mostly tired of what he saw as the moral failings of the Democrats.

Recently I made a visit back the  BSA Summer Camp I attended when I was a boy.  Lining the road into camp were 12 carved wooden signs. Each with a point of the Scout Law on them.   Years later I staffed a summer camp in Western Massachusetts  where the steps leading up  to the camp's dining hall each had one of the points of the Scout Law engraved on them.

The use of the Scout Oath and Law as a political metric  or compass  is something that deeply resonates with many of us for whom Scouting has been an integral and formantive part of our lives.   I certainly have gone back to those twelve points many times in my life, for guidance. And always when I step into the Voting booth. So, in response to my friend I decided to assess the 45th President of the United States against  those familiar twelve points.
  • TRUSTWORTHY. - Donald Trump is a pathological liar. He has no concept of the truth. He will say ANY thing if it supports his position or will make him look/ feel good.
  • LOYAL– Donald Trump is loyal only to himself, certainly not to any of his 3 wives, not to his employees and not to the United States. Ask Jeff Sessions, or even better, ask Rex Tillerson how loyal Trump is.
  • HELPFUL - Trump has gutted education programs like head start, Pre-k , Pell Grants all designed to help Americans learn , grow and achieve. He has made the LEGAL immigration process as difficult as possible as a political tool to stoke a racist voter base. Creating obstacles to both Americans and would-be Americans for no other reason than it plays well with less than 30% of the electorate.
  • FRIENDLY- Trump is a vulgar clown who trades in obscenities and insults. Juvenile nicknames, crude and even bigoted insults that would get most any Scout kicked out of camp is daily fare on the Presidential Twitter feed.
  • KIND – Trump has ripped children from their families (Lied about it being an Obama policy) then housed them in cages and sought to deliberately punish asylum seekers. He has made cruelty official US Government policy
  • OBEDIENT – The Hatch Act, the US Government records Act, Federal Election campaign finance laws, The Freedom of Information Act all routinely violated. In addition to multiple cases of alleged obstruction of justice.
  • CHEERFUL - Cheer is something Trump engages in at the expense of others, be it a disabled reporter, or women of color serving in congress or disaster victims in Puerto Rico. For Trump ridicule of others is a staple.
  • THRIFTY - He has exploded the national debt and the US budget deficit. With unpaid for tax cuts, and reckless spending on his own vanity. (The 4th of july "event" and his "Wall" to name just two.) He has spent more taxpayer money on GOLF trips in 2 years than the Obama Administration spent on ALL Presidential travel in 8 years.
  • BRAVE – Cadet Bone Spurs lied to avoid service in Vietnam then mocked men who did serve. He is a coward.
  • CLEAN – Trump may be a germaphobe but apparently that is not a deterrent against grabbing women by the pussy. He has been credibly accused by 19 women of sexual assault.
  • REVERENT - Trump’s God is himself, He is a serial adulterer, who has multiple credible accusations of having paid for women to get abortions. He has stolen, he covets, he lies, so if the ten commandments are one of your political metrics? Then supporting Trump suggests either hypocrisy on a biblical scale, or total ignorance of what the scriptures actually say. 
It is not hatred of Donald Trump, Rather, it is horror at what he is doing and how he is doing it. You cannot support Trump and use “I am an independent and I hate both parties” as an excuse. It’s like people in Kentucky who cheer the gutting of environmental laws because they have bought into the idea that letting an Aluminum factory ( a Russian financed Aluminum factory , but that is a whole other issue…) dump lead into their drinking water, is somehow “owning the Libs” When in reality it is just poisoning their kids     

If we use the Scout Law as our metric, the case is only too clear.    To support this President,is to be a willing participant in enabling  the worst in all of us,  The ungodly, the treasonous and the horrific, all because the imperfect annoys you

That isn't being an independent, It is being an enabler of all that stands in direct conflict with the values Scouting represents.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wisconsin's Republican Rainbow Riot.

Meanwhile back in Wisconsin... (From the Associated Press) -

MADISON, Wis. — Flying a gay pride rainbow flag over the Wisconsin state Capitol for the first time Friday drew backlash from conservatives, including a pair of state lawmakers, who said it was divisive, while Democrats hailed it as a sign of inclusivity.

The flag flap erupted after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered the raising of the flag to recognize June as “Pride Month.” The move drew a fast rebuke from state Rep. Scott Allen, who tweeted, “Is this any more appropriate than erecting the Christian flag over the Capitol?”

Allen, who describes himself on Twitter as “Child of God/Family Man,” said in a follow-up message to the Associated Press that the rainbow flag “advocates a behavior or lifestyle that some Wisconsin residents may not condone. Therefore, it is divisive.”

Really?   So the Nativity Scene in the WI Capitol Rotunda EVERY year , next to the massive Christmas Tree covered with CROSS shaped ornaments is what....? Just one more sign of just how "oppressed" the poor triggered members of Wisconsin Family Action, are?

It’s always interesting that “Conservative Christians” claim any form of recognition of the basic civil rights and human dignity of LGBT people is somehow “an attack” on them. But since none of the civil rights or societal benefits that these people enjoy are impacted by a Rainbow flag flying over a building; What opponents of equality are really saying is that giving LGBT Americans the same level of civic respect that they enjoy makes them mad.

It's not just that these people are upset that LGBT Americans have equal rights, they are upset that gays and lesbians have any rights at all. They see equal rights for anyone they don’t like as an attack on them. 

For years now , whenever the subject of LGBT equality comes up as part of our national discourse, We here these claims that it is“Divisive” and it is an "attack" on “religious liberty” So I decided to look up the word `attack' in the dictionary. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines it as: 

Attack Pronunciation: &-'tak Function: verb 
1 : to set upon or work against forcefully 
2 : to assail with unfriendly or bitter words 
3 : to begin to affect or to act on injuriously 
4 : to set to work on 
5 : to threaten (a piece in chess) with immediate capture 

Hmmm… to set upon or work against forcefully huh? Ok, so if we take this argument seriously, for LGBT Americans to have EQUAL treatment as Irish Americans with the Irish Flag for St, Patrick’s day, or the Nativity Scene, Christmas Tree and Menorah in the Rotunda for the Holidays, or a State proclamation for Black history Month. For LGBT Wisconsinites to be given that SAME level of civic respect means Christians can't  practice their religion?   
Uh.. ok.. How exactly?

Does that rainbow flag mean that Rep. Scott Allen must now fly a rainbow flag over his house? His Church? Does it mean he can now be fired for being not Gay? Does it mean he can be denied Housing, Health Benefits or service from any business because he is a “Child of God/Family Man,” ? Does it mean he will need to limit his travel because other countries  will pass laws that say as a Heterosexual he is considered a threat to the state? Does that Rainbow Flag flying over the Capitol for 26 days mean that the life of Allen, or anyone like him has changed in any way? 

No of course not. 

The pride flag bothers Rep. Allen because a group he doesn’t like is being shown the SAME level of respect that he demands. Well, it turns out there is a word for someone who is irrationally fixed on the artificial preservation of inequality that they feel is in their favor. Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines it as:

Pronunciation- 'bi-g&t Function: noun 
Etymology: Middle French, hypocrite, bigot
1: a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices .

Friday, May 31, 2019

How to Protest Trump's UK Visit

To my friends in the UK,

If you plan on protesting the Trump visit there next week. Here are your ultimate protest signs
 Forget the Baby Trump balloon. What we learned this week is THIS is Trump's Kryptonite. His ego is so fragile it can't take ANY reminder of just what a failure as President he is.

He is SO insecure about being compared to better, smarter Americans, that should he catch even a brief glimpse of these images, it will drive him totally off the rails. So trigger the Man-Baby and watch him implode

You want to reduce Donald Trump to a quivering incoherent mass of rage tweets? Simply print out these out and blow them up, and wave them at his motorcade at every opportunity

Monday, May 27, 2019

Memorial Day Voices...

I have posted the speeches below  because it it worth noting that today is a day that (should) transcend politics,

That being said. Memorial Day is one of those moments when the President of the United States must speak, for, to, and about our nation. Giving voice to the legacy of sacrifice, to which we all owe an unpayable debt for the freedoms we enjoy.

President Reagan - Memorial Day 1986 
at Arlington National Cemetery

President George HW Bush's Remarks - Memorial Day, 1989
at the American Military Cemetery in Anzio, Italy.

President Bill Clinton's remarks - Memorial Day, 2000
at Arlington National Cemetery


President George W. Bush's remarks - Memorial Day, 2002
at Arlington National Cemetery


President Barack Obama's remarks - Memorial Day, 2016
at Arlington National Cemetery

And today, Memorial Day, 2019.  When the 45th POTUS stood  before our Military Men and Women, and addressed them along with the rest of our nation and the world .... THIS is what we got,

President Donald Trump's remarks - Memorial Day, 2019
onboard the USS Wasp, docked in Japan.


I lament the loss of that "Presidential Voice".  The truth of this day is far too great to be reduced to a tweet or a glib panto performance.  What we saw today from the current occupant of the Oval Office  was not Presidential.  It was just plain embarrassing.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Seeing the damage that has been done...

For the past few days, I have been in Washington DC on a business trip. Thankfully my meetings ended early enough in the afternoon to give me some time to once again, play tourist and explore the Nation’s Capital. While here I also had the opportunity to attend the National Police Unity candlelight vigil for Law Enforcement officers who were killed in the line of duty last year.

I remember the first time I came here.  It was when I was in grade school, when my family took a trip during Spring Break. My second time was a few years later to participate in the “Kids to Kids” International Satellite demonstration as part of the American Council for Better Broadcasts annual conference. Aside from two other brief visits to attend the 1989 and 2000 Inaugurals I have not been back  until this past weekend.

For someone who has spent a good part of my adult life as an expat living outside the United States, visiting Washington DC is always in interesting experience. The City always had a certain majesty to it. A palpable sense of history and American exceptionalism. Embodied in granite and marble. A story told in museum exhibits, and  by grand statues and fountains at intersections.    It is a city that was designed to convey American Greatness, to inspire and humble foreign visitors and place the machinery of government in a stately setting, apart from the politics of any one particular state.

There was some of that, this trip. The candlelight vigil for fallen law enforcement officers and their surviving families was a powerful moment and one that made you feel grateful for the heroic men and women who stand on that “thin blue line” to serve and project us all.  It was  a humbling experience to stand there among the crowd of  Law Enforcement offers, their families and friends as the names of the fallen from each state were read aloud.   A sobering reminder that the men and women who have made protecting public safety their professional calling, often pay the ultimate price.

I made it a point to visit four things while  here. The first was for the Star Trek fan in me. The original  model of the Starship Enterprise from the first Star Trek TV series.  It has been  restored and is now back on  display in  the National Air and Space Museum. The first time I saw the model, it was hanging in a forgotten corner of the Museum’s gift shop. Now it stands proudly near John Glen’s Mercury capsule and Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”.

After satisfying the SciFi geek in me, I made a more serious pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II and Korean War Memorials. The WWII Memorial is , I think after the Lincoln Memorial, the most impressive on the National Mall. With it’s two opposing towers commemorating both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of that war it is a fitting tribute to the generation that truly did save the world from fascism and tyranny.

The Korean War Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial  and  was dedicated  in 1995.  With its ghostly figures moving through the brush,  it is especially powerful when you see it just after dusk when the memorial's lights first turn on. It is a powerful and moving tribute to what is often known as the “forgotten war”.  The memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

I don’t care who you are, or what your politics are, but if you visit the Lincoln Memorial and are not deeply moved by the experience,  there is something wrong with you .  With it's walls inscribed with both the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's second inaugural address, the interior of the memorial reads like a  marble storybook of the greatest challenge our nation has ever faced, and the tall quiet man from Illinois who truly gave his full last measure of devotion to preserve that nation.

Off to the right side when you enter the memorial itself,  there is a small gift shop with your standard collection of refrigerator magnets, postcards, and Abe Lincoln bobble-head dolls. After paying my respects to the memory of our 16th President I went into the little shop to see what they had.

It being May there were groups of middle school students from all over the country visiting the city. Everywhere I went I would see them in their matching t-shirts and lanyards being shepherded by tired and harried teachers constantly checking to see they hadn’t left anyone behind at their last stop.

There was a group from Texas at the memorial and the shop was full of young students jostling to get souvenirs . A group of girls were excitedly talking to each other alternating between speaking Spanish and English.

One girl turned to a friend and suggested she get a souvenir magnet that had the likeness of Lincoln over an American Flag.  Her friend examined the magnet then said “why would I want that? Her friend replied that Lincoln was a “famous President of our country”. 

Her friend then audibly scoffed and said “We speak Spanish, our country  wants to get rid of us, so why should I care about America or a President, when the one we have now hates Latinos?” 

I stood there speechless from what I had just heard this eighth grader from Houston TX say.  One of her Teachers standing near by looked at me sympathetically and shrugged. Then ushered the group out of the shop and back down the steps towards their bus.

I followed them out, pausing before the massive statue of Lincoln. Half expecting it to stand up out of the chair, chase after that young girl and tell her that America is better than the racism of one man or his followers. I wanted to bring her back inside to where the Gettysburg Address is carved in stone and read it to her,  

I wanted to tell her how the man memorialized here  felt that she was as much a part of the fabric of this nation as anyone.  How he had given  all he had,  that full last measure of his devotion to the idea that America was has much hers as it was anyone's
I wanted to take her to the spot only a few feet away, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood as he spoke of his dream of an America where a child like her is judged not by the color of her skin but by the content of her character.  But she and her friends were gone. Moving away into the early evening,  their voices a mixture of Spanish and English fading into the background.  I walked over to the MLK inscription and paused for a moment. I then moved to the side and sat down on the smooth white marble steps,  looking out at the National Mall with the Washington Monument off in the distance.  

As I sat there I couldn’t help but think about what the last two years have cost us as a Nation. I felt utterly defeated, knowing that there was nothing I could have said to that young girl that could have possibly countered the messages of racism xenophobia and hatred she hears on a regular basis coming from the President of the United States. 
The American Presidency is first and foremost about stewardship. You are the caretaker of  American greatness, NOT the owner of  it.  It is not a mantle you can claim,  it is duty you fulfil. Even the smallest of men who have held that office felt the need to rise above their own failings to meet the expectation.that the office is greater than its occupant. 

You are the steward of something far greater than yourself. Something too big ever be reduced to a glib slogan on a cheap red had made in China. The Presidency is about making the promise of America,   “E Pluribus Unum” out of many, one, real for as many of our citizens as possible.

We have had weak Presidents. We have had fearful Presidents, We have had Presidents who lacked intelligence, saw compassion as weakness, and who didn’t understanding their duty and even disregarded the truth.   But never before have all those human flaws congregated in one man who then became President. That is until now. 

Donald Trump sees the Presidency as a show. It is all about him. He will never see the need to serve something greater than himself, because in his mind there is nothing greater than himself. 

Washington DC is the ultimate “company town”. The machinery of government is the only real constant in this city.  Many here have taken comfort in knowing that like so many others that came before him. Donald Trump will one day be gone, and things will then get back to normal.

 But even that has been damaged by Trump.  His temper tantrum shutdown of the Federal Government earlier this year  took a heavy toll on people here, and you get the impression that this city has not yet fully recovered.  As I  walk the streets I get a sense of loss for some of the majesty that so awed and inspired me years go. Instead, it feels like just another city, trying to get through the day. 

Donald Trump has made being President all about him, at expense of nearly everything else the Office is meant to represent.   At the expense of truth,  at the expense of America's credibility on the world stage and  worst of all,  at the expense of an eighth grader from Houston Texas' faith in the idea that the President of her country is there to work to help make her dreams possible.  

 Donald Trump has  inflicted such damage on the American Presidency and to  the very things that office is sworn to preserve and protect, that it may well take an entire generation to repair it. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together...

The world is a much sadder place today...

From NBC News :

Tim Conway, who made generations of Americans laugh on TV shows such as "McHale's Navy" and "The Carol Burnett Show," died Tuesday morning, his publicist said.

Conway won multiple Emmy Awards, most recently in 2008 for his role as a guest star on the comedy show "30 Rock" in which he played Bucky Bright, an old, long-forgotten television star.

The actor's big break in Hollywood came on "McHale's Navy," when Conway was cast to play Ensign Charles Parker. He was nominated for a best supporting actor Emmy in 1963.

But he'll probably be best known for his work on "Carol Burnett," the iconic 1970s sketch comedy show that included the likes of Burnett, Conway, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and Vicki Lawrence. Conway won Emmys for best supporting performer in 1973, 1977 and 1978 for his "Burnett" work.
He stole many a scene on "Burnett," with cameras often catching Burnett and Korman struggling — and usually failing — to keep straight faces after something Conway had said or done something hilarious.

"I’m heartbroken," Burnett said in a statement Tuesday, shortly after Conway's passing.

"He was one in a million, not only as a brilliant comedian but as a loving human being. I cherish the times we had together both on the screen and off. He’ll be in my heart forever.”

I grew up watching Conway on the Carol Burnett show. Now even years later it doesn't matter how many times I have seen this, it has me on the floor doubled over in laughter.

Tim Conway was 85.