Friday, March 25, 2005

An Open Letter To The Bush Brothers: Erring On The Side Of Life

In the photo from the Tucson Citizen, Jill Gwinn, 52, and her 13-year-old niece, are detained in connection with an egg-throwing incident outside Tucson Convention Center. The two were cited by police. Posted by Hello

Would that life were like the shadow cast by a wall or a tree, but it is like the shadow of a bird in flight.

---The Talmud

In other words, apart from the known and the unknown, what else is there?

---Harold Pinter

A hundred thousand words are flowers in the sky
a single mind and body is moonlight on the water
once the cunning ends and information stops
at that moment there is no place for thought.

---Han-Shan Te-Ch'ing

Hey Guys!

I don't know what it is about George, but everywhere I go the dude shows up. Buddy, my trip to Tucson this week was supposed to be strictly pleasure---and mostly it was!---but the whole place got knocked out of joint, which is typical for your "events", by your decision to have one of your "conversations" with us. We all remember how much you love Ohio and all the times you breezed through last fall. The one time I actually tried to catch a glimpse in Parkersburg, West Virginia, you left orders to greet me with a helmeted, black-uniformed, fully-armed SWAT team ( ). Well, I got the hint---so this time I checked my appointment book first---and, sure enough, I was not among the 1500 specially invited "guests" with whom you insisted on being surrounded at the Tucson Convention Center Monday ( ). Let's see, is that taxpayer money that pays for Presidential appearances?

So I spent Monday out in the Sonoran Desert. Wonderful wildflowers in bloom, and I think a golden eagle was calling up in those mountains. But I heard you 2 interrupted your other affairs to take an interest in the tragic Terri Shiavo case. It's certainly understandable because the whole country is talking about it...and the media covers little else. Jeb, I understand your government even extended your strong arm of custody her way to get rid of that husband ( ). Certainly the Christian Conservative thing to do, sanctity of marriage and all! And George, you told us in Tucson that " extraordinary circumstances like this, it is wise to always err on the side of life" ( ). I presume that's Life as in pro-life.

Of course boys, from your dossiers on war, interrogation of "suspects", and killing folks on death row, you lead the way in the political expediency of pro-life. (Interesting editorial in today's Forth Worth paper, George, about the 152 people executed in Texas while you were governor .) But I notice in the whole, difficult debate about the Shiavo case, one element has yet to be mentioned by anybody. Money. Surely a good person would cringe, especially during Holy Week, at the mention of cash in the argument---but its reality does emerge for someone who's been through any kind of significant medical procedure. I remember when we had to remind your father what shopping for a loaf of bread is like, so I know you haven't had to dirty your hands in your upbringing like the rest of us. When I noted to my doctor that recent X-rays she prescribed cost $2000, she said, "But the insurance pays for it." Yeah, and I have work-related insurance---so why do I even read the bills...except for the part that says, "You owe $10"?

My wife and I are in very large health insurance groups. I never was in a hospital until last year, and have paid a share of my health benefits through most of my 45 years of work experience. But this last year, various treatments for me have amassed colossal bills. I envision my attempts to continue to live have affected the potential income of colleagues in the Athens City Schools. I have concern about that and want them to know it. Were I in a smaller work situation, there is no doubt that fellow employees would be aware of my need for their help through our insurance plan. Employers sometimes try to get rid of staff who have chronic claims. Perhaps the Bush boys and their supporters don't need to think about these everyday needs, but I do have to.

I don't know anything about Michael Shiavo's insurance or monetary situation. I have no idea what 15 years of Terri's kind of care has cost---or if this issue even enters in. Boys, it's another angle on this I'm thinking about. Eighteen years ago next month, the issue entered my father's mind. I know it because he said so in his suicide note. I wrote the story about this a while back, and you may read it here~~~ . In a nutshell, my father faced a situation of increasing total care for his wife of 50 years. They were lifelong Republicans. At the time there was no insurance compensation for Alzheimer's, because the only diagnosis allowable involved an autopsy. I won't go into the details of his options and help offered by family right now, but I need to tell you ultimately it came down to seeing his savings and estate vanish in a flash. To prevent that (and leave a legacy for their grandchildren, he wrote) they carried out a secret suicide pact.

I don't think Michael Shiavo is facing anything like this kind of dilemma for himself, but there are increasing numbers of aging couples in this nation who do face it. Jeb 'n George, you're right: it is a complex case with serious issues. I think everyone's life becomes one, sooner or matter what simplicity we strive for. You guys have stepped up to the plate and put your beliefs on the line. But I don't see clearly what they really are. I wonder how open you are to theological "conversations." Your governments certainly reek of religious dogma, but on this Good Friday what is it about erring "on the side of life" that seems so mandatory? Can you imagine standing on the strength of love?

Happy Easter,

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Support Our Troops

The photo shows Glenn Miller setting up the Army Air Force Band at the Yale Bowl in July 1943.Posted by Hello

Old River Mountain a slab of rock
that blue heaven's swept to paint on
and written there an ancient poem
green letters worked in moss.

And 'tis my faith that every flowerEnjoys the air it breathes.

---William Wordsworth

It is good to know the truth, but it is better to speak of palm trees.

---Arabic Proverb

The photo shows Glenn Miller setting up the Army Air Force Band at the Yale Bowl in July 1943.
This really is an open letter to an old friend of mine. If he replies and permits me, I'll post it...and perhaps we may have a little forum. My friend is about my age, went to college with me, and even shared a dorm room for a time. We also shared an abiding love of jazz music---a devotion that has carried our friendship through thick and thin for 45 years. Over the past decade we have parted company politically, a much more extreme move on his part than mine. He has voted for Bush and supports the war effort, I guess, wherever it takes us. He has kept me abreast of conservative thought---and I am not going to make a wisecrack there, because he and I both know how daunting profound conservative philosophy can be. He suggested that if I would agree not to send him anything by Arianna Huffington, he would respond by not bothering me with Ann Coulter. He thought it might be better for the serenity of both of us if we stayed away from those women. We've kept that bargain...although since California deemed the brilliant Arnold Schwarzenegger what they needed for that state's salvation, Arianna has fallen rather more silent than she used to be---whereas Coulter is calling Helen Thomas an "old Arab." I'm not sure the deal is even anymore.

Anyway, on to the matter at hand: this is Glenn Miller's birthday (1901-1944) and I'm listening to old records. Miller's band was not a jazz band, and he emphasized that himself. He did not mean to belittle jazz by saying that. He just felt that what he needed to do was somewhat different...and he succeeded as did no one else, before or since. He fashioned a band, full of the very best musicians of the day, that could and did play extremely hot and swinging jazz arrangements, but mostly it was a music dancing in romantic moonlight. My friend and I know we don't keep Glenn Miller in the jazz section of our diverse collections, and we don't look to that band for brilliant soloists or breathtaking arranging breakthroughs. Tex Beneke won some jazz polls for his tenor sax, but his jaunty style really never got adventurous. Bobby Hackett, of course, was a jazz player, but his gentle health never allowed him to keep the kind of hours, company, and environment the music's shamans seem to require...and so necessarily his most popular work was playing his lush trumpet for Miller and Jackie Gleason. In fact, he played rhythm guitar for Miller, only switching to trumpet for solos on pieces like Serenade In Blue.

Glenn Miller had wonderful sidemen, who also turned up in bands after the war that played jazz. Zeke Zarchy, Johnny Best, Billy May, Al Klink, and Ernie Caceres were all capable of careers in jazz, but mostly accepted the security of recording studios to the grueling life on the road. Of Miller's arrangers, both Eddie Durham and Benny Carter were jazzmen but wrote very little for Glenn. Most of the work of cranking out the unbelievable volume of arrangements for this band was divided among Jerry Gray, Bill Finegan, and Billy May. All 3 had bands after the war, but only Finegan ventured occasionally into real jazz work. But all this was the civilian band...and as some of you know, Miller chose another path.

At the very height of his popularity in 1942, Glenn Miller enlisted in the United States Air Force, disbanded, and reported for duty. Maybe we should stop right here and consider what that meant. If you lived through that time, the very feel of what it was like is engrained in your soul. I'm sure that is true for you wherever you were, but Stateside it meant ongoing and constant sacrifice. Gasoline, food, rubber, everything was rationed. If you ran out, you had to wait...and that might mean standing in line all day for whatever commodity it was you needed. For Miller, giving up a wildly lucrative and necessary career to join the Service was not such a reach as it might seem today. The band was "necessary" because it sang songs of romance and hope that represented our optimism and morale. Many of us got our first glimpse of love to a Glenn Miller song. That even reached all the way down to 1951, when I first heard his 10-year-old record of Moonlight Becomes You. Miller was assigned the Army Air Force Band in October 1942, and that meant Uncle Sam was serenading us and the guys in uniform too.

The Air Force Band had a full string section and rather more jazz artists as well. All the recordings that exist of it are from air checks as the band toured bases here at home. A couple of guys from the civilian band went with him, chiefly Jerry Gray to arrange, but mostly it was a new crew. Most significant were Mel Powell, arranging and playing piano, and Ray McKinley on drums. Chuck Gentry and Peanuts Hucko were in the reed section. Bernie Privin and Bobby Nichols played trumpets. It was a huge orchestra to carry around, but Miller wanted to do more---and kept petitioning his command to take it to the Front, in Europe. He kept up that pressure for a year, and finally in June 1944 the whole band shipped out to England. There are recordings of Miller broadcasting from Britain in German, relentlessly encouraging folks who could hear to have courage and listen to the sounds of freedom. As many of you know, in the fall of 1944 the plan was to move the band onto a tour of the continent...and Glenn was flying across the Channel to finalize plans when his plane apparently was shot down. He was lost.

Listening to this music today, and immersing myself in memories of my wartime childhood, I am realizing what supporting the troops meant to us in those days. We had paper drives. We worked on scrap drives. Everything that could be reused was. Bottles were returned to the milkman or the store, washed and filled up again. You even got a few pennies back for a deposit you had left. To a kid my age it was unthinkable to walk past a discarded bottle along the road. You hopped on down to the corner store and got yourself a Hershey bar for it. Scrap drives involved everything---newspapers, tin cans, old clothes..anything that could be fashioned into something to help out the war effort. It was recycling with a vengeance.

These days I can't drive anywhere without seeing the Support Our Troops magnets all over the SUVs in front of me. What are these people really doing to support the troops I wonder? I mean, besides the magnets. What are we being asked to do? I remember before the Gulf War, when Bush's father was president, the Saudis cut off our oil for a while and there was a big energy crunch. The President was up in Maine, tooling around the harbor in his cabin cruiser. A reporter asked him if he wanted to encourage the people to conserve oil. He laughed. He laughed! Today, to support the troops we're supposed to go shopping. We're supposed to buy more stuff. We're supposed to invest our savings in globalized corporations. Since everyone can watch us on TV all over the world now, everyone can see what terrible sacrifice we're going through over here. They see the full parking lots at Walmart and they feel our pain. Times have changed, eh buddy? And maybe the idea of Freedom has too. No more Glenn Millers. I wonder how much body armor could be made out of the metal in those Support Our Troops magnets.