Plowing Trump: Counter-Proposing a Way for Dems

I’ve payed attention to New York Times columnist @TomFriedman for years and like him a lot. He has another recent installment describing his support for Bloomberg over any other candidate, and this longtime Bernie hopeful is with him on that. I agree 100% with everything his thoughtful article laid out.

But Friedman’s current proposition has one flaw in its logic, it is a fatal one, and it is the same one that Liberals fully ignore when they take the rare step of what they think is interacting with Conservatives. (No kudos to Conservatives there, they’ve been dismissing Liberals for a lot longer.) The proposition ignores they way public office holders are elected by people who have pre-existing interests.

I’m not sure whether it’s possible for anyone to beat Trump in November. If it’s to be done, it has to be done with an awareness of the mechanics of the 2016 election. Clinton may have won the popular vote, but enough people voted for Trump in (in)correctly-gerrymandered places to create a new paradigm. What the DNC can’t do is put up another candidate that is so repulsive to rural Americans that they are galvanized to strike a match and set the entire federal government (as they understand it, including the constitution, as they don’t) afire.

We know they could. Because they did.

Trump’s not going to lose by the Left being right-no-I-mean-really-really-morally-right about issues. Friedman’s proposition would give DNC loyalists the same fuzzy feeling we all get from Remember The Titans. But the first thought that would come to analytical Conservatives and askance Independents like me would be that the DNC called a huddle and the fusillade is gonna be awesome. Which means the second thought of many of us, and the first thought of all MAGAs, will be that they’re under attack. That is the condition when the Teflon King most galvanizes his sycophantic legion.

The only needed adjustment could occur in that same closed-door meeting  we imagine preceding Friedman’s article, except for there to be cabinet positions open to a few good Republican names. They do exist. Fitzpatrick’s a very good one. So is John Kasich, and he’s got a world of name recognition. I’ll bet these reluctant party loyalists would make a private commitment with a promise of precisely-timed public announcement. I’ll bet they could even get Susan Collins, which would be a huge kidney shot to the RNC. It’s like E.J. Dionne, another analyst I admire, seems to say in his book:  “…leadership can come only from Democrats and disaffected Republicans courageous enough to stand up to Trump.”

That kind of scrum could plow the field.

I Like Funerals.

Bobby, the first of the five Matteson siblings, is a remarkable artist whose work is in the homes of most creative thinkers in the Northeastern United States, and many worldwide. (It was in mine 22 years before I ever had a conversation with him.) Susan had only just brought a close to 35 years of educating young minds. Gerry travels the world as an industrialist, and is as creative with the written word as he is successful in business. Billy, capable of exquisite craftsmanship, chose the career of maintenance man, which Bobby has said “is a description which falls far short of his abilities.” Barbara, 11 years younger than Billy, the delight of a family who’d thought they were done having children, operates a hair styling salon, teaches shotokan karate, and is my fiancée.

Last Thursday morning Billy succumbed to the surprise of esophageal varices. He was discovered by Rosalie, his partner of 25 years, after having died of blood loss. Thus began days of painful remembrance, phone calls, paperwork, writing, photo processing, and tears. It was difficult for anyone to gather the energy required to do any of these “necessities.”

Nevertheless I must acknowledge a realization: it comforted me a couple of days later when I caught myself actually looking forward to the funeral. Despite the fact that Barbara and I should have been miserably exhausted because neither of us could sleep the night before, I had more energy that morning than I’d had all week. I couldn’t help feeling positive at the thought of seeing those I’d come to know better in recent years, all gathered for the common purpose of offering respect to Billy. I am nearly fifty. At this point of thinking more clearly and worrying less about others’ judgements, I’ve elevated the thought to a conscious level: I like funerals. This despite the extraordinary heartache they bring to people I love.

Billy.

Tears were constant that day. But for every awkward moment so common to funerals, I saw a dozen hugs or handclasps or sentences that were warmer and firmer and longer and more sincere than we get to enjoy in everyday times. There were observations and descriptions and appreciations, much of which was by way of wisecracks at Billy’s expense. This irony was well suited for celebrating Billy in the pillared funeral parlor, properly set with photos of his many rescued dogs, his one-finger salute, and him in his underwear with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Few in the room hadn’t experienced Billy’s unique cocktail of machismo, crude humor, and sensitivity, and all had been affected by it. Several, who I never knew had such powers, spoke eloquently of Billy despite their pain. I was particularly proud of Barbara when she approached the podium and composed herself long enough to share—despite background photos of her brother protectively towering over her as a toddler—the terrifying story of how he had been permitted to babysit her exactly once. Then, after an overwhelming presentation of his own, elder brother Bobby offered shots of Billy’s half-empty bottle of Jim Beam, using Billy’s own skull-shaped shot glass. I was honored to join the line, right behind Barbara.

Billy Matteson has been the loudest and most diverse of this communicative, varied family. Less than two years older than me, he had achieved levels of mastery that I’ll never approach. We have a beautiful table in our home, with roses carved into the wood, that Billy made from a barrel. He enjoyed horseshoes with his friends and family, and created increasingly sophisticated horseshoe pits to play in. His masterpiece, however, was Wyntop, the palatial estate that he was in the process of restoring, project by project. You would be astonished by the incredible, many-angled, thatched roof, ornamented by copper snow guards, valleys, gutters and down spouts (which he coated in automotive clear-coat, so that they still enjoy their orange glow years later). Each renovated room was completed meticulously; ornamented but subdued. I feel honored when I’m in the home, anxious to hear stories of construction details.

Click on the picture for the slideshow I made to honor Billy and his family. It starts with this photo, which is arguably the perfect shot of Billy: in front of the Wyntop estate; next to his rescued, bipolar pit bull Grendel; in one of his signature brightly-colored shirts; happy.

The highlight, from my (and, I like to think, Billy’s) demented perspective, is the grand-daddy of all horseshoe pits. Each spike is surrounded by angled, staggered walls to redirect overthrown shots; the throwing area is outlined by a two-layer handmade fence; there’s a mounted bottle opener for the requisite beverages; the entire facility is illuminated, stadium-like, for all-night tournaments. Its natural-wood elements perfectly blend with the surroundings, particularly the roof created by centuries-old maple trees that predate the estate itself. It is an arena that elevates its lawn game to a gladiatorial duel. Only Billy could do this.

Driving home, I came to appreciate that the same can be said about funerals as about life’s brightest moments: I’m with the people I most wish to be with. I’m driven to deep introspection. I’m emotionally overwhelmed. It’s an unforgettable time. Afterward, I’m forever changed.

I remained energized all that day, so much so that I called Florida to rip my septuagenarian mother’s head off for not letting me get high speed internet installed in her house yet, and so was keeping me and my children from seeing her and my dad face-to-face more often, in lieu of adding that money to my inheritance. “I’m getting it for you now,” I shouted. “While I can!”

Her iPad is on its way. Thanks, Billy.

The Ethics of Caring for Outdoor Cats

That’s an interesting title, because not too long ago there was no other kind.

Feral cats recover from neutering surgery in cages at the Philly Animal Care and Control facility. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

It now seems  common for members of our Saran-wrapped society to grow as appalled by the site of a cat on grass as they do seeing an unaccompanied child walking on a sidewalk. This article covers the ethical strengths and flaws of arguments on all three sides of the issue. No one is comfortable.

Then again, where is it written that any of us should be?

Penser à des amis à Paris

I am sad to my core about the fate of the regal cathedral in our first ally’s City of Lights. Various BBC reports have provided additional, suprising information about this tragedy.

Had fire crews not entered the building, “without doubt it would have collapsed” said French Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nuñez. He explained that multiple fires ignited in the towers, but were successfully stopped before they could spread.

During my 10 years as a firefighter I fought many fully-involved fires in large structures, though none nearly so precious. I’ve had the priviledge of visiting Notre Dame on three occasions, and think I have a small idea of the imperative the crews must have felt yesterday. The firefighters worked through the night, causing the overwhelming fire to be declared “under control” after only 12 hours, with no loss of life and only one firefighter “slightly injured,” according to Commander Jean-Claude Gallet. Many artistic treasures and religious artifacts were saved. Among them was what is celebrated to be the original Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore as he carried his cross, along with the robe worn by King (later St.) Louix IX when he brought it into France in 1239. These items were fearlessly recovered by Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, already respected for his ministry to the dead and wounded when he entered the Bataclan music venue in 2015 after Islamic State terrorists murdered 89 people using guns and explosives, and for surviving an ambush in Afghanistan when 10 soldiers were killed. These are examples of the kind of French bravery and resolve we’ve seen throughout history.

A few years ago, along with my daughter Sammy, I even attended a mass at this singular monument. It is impossible to exaggerate how vital this place is to our humanity. At once it represents us at our best and at our worst. Throughout the world, people are pledging to help rebuild it. I am among them.

Spandex Enthusiasm

I often disdain the unworthy enthusiasm of those who reserve early seating for release dates of today’s superhero movies. Not a one of you have forgone the kiss of a girl or endured a wedgie for your crimes. I do so wish you all could have felt what it was like to read these stories in 22-page installments with a month between issues, and experience what we all had to go through for the privilege. There was a line outside C.A.V.E!, the comics shop I owned immediately next to the Keswick Theater in Glenside PA, almost every Wednesday, or New Comics Day. (C.A.V.E! stood for Comics, Adventure, Video, Excitement! Lit by flourescent tubes, my sign adorned a near monastery to spandex-clad imagination, decorated in the manner of the Batcave. The name was created with the help of my friends. To us, it was a perfect description.)

Similar to the way in which fans will attend midnight premiere movie screenings today, people did a lot to try to accelerate their first glimpse of a new story. My friends Jim, Kurt, Mo, Mike, and others often pulled all-nighters on Tuesdays and took the 2 am journey with me in the Batvan — yes, it was what you’re thinking — toward my distributor in center city Philly. All this just for the joy of fighting motion sickness while they, with neither seats nor windows, were first to read their fave titles as I zigged and zagged back home along Lincoln Drive. Worse, they’d help me sort the hundreds of new issues and get them on shelves by 11 a.m., a deadline so difficult to meet that all hands, nauseated or not, were welcome.

I remember one such morning when only my not-a-fan wife-at-the-time could be cajoled into losing sleep and helping me pick up, sort, and display the week’s haul. A couple of C.A.V.E.men (as we called our subscription club members) showed up early to buy their X-Men issues. They were 9-year-old kids, playing hookey. As was the case each Wednesday, we couldn’t allow them in ‘til 11 so everyone would have a fair shot at something that might sell out. I was well practiced at rejecting protestations and smiled at them sympathetically as we stood on the inside of the locked glass door.

One of them huffed in resignation, then threw up his hands and said, “Ugh! Middle-aged people!!” We were 29.

Yoga “Versus” Christianity

 

The title of this column is so tasteless, isn’t it? “Yoga versus Christianity” sounds like the line shouted into the microphone at a Saturday afternoon World Wrestling Federation match. Yet it is the antagonism that some people of faith apply to the two concepts. 

Both Christianity and yoga provide terrific and precious benefits, and are complementary. But Christianity and yoga aren’t in the same category, so couching them as being in “conflict” isn’t even appropriate. It’s like saying, “exercise versus nutrition.”

Yoga can seem scary to an American of Christian faith, because it is unfamiliar, and even uncomfortable. A Christian might ask, “Since yoga was founded in Hinduism, isn’t the use of yoga a form of prayer to false Hindu gods?”

In a word, no.

Indeed, it is possible that yoga predates the very Hindu gods that some Christians worry about praying to. While the origins of yoga continue to be debated by academics, it is generally agreed that Yoga was created more than 5,000 years ago as an ascetic practice to develop unity with the divine universe (“yoga” is derived from yuj, a Sanskrit word meaning “to unite”). Yoga is not a religion. Yoga is not prayer. It is a toolkit that can be used in a number of ways, as any set of tools can.

For example, yoga is among the best physical exercises one can perform. It is rare in its ability to increase both strength and flexibility in the same practice. Rarer still, yoga is an exercise that can be used to lower blood pressure and stress levels. It can be used as a social bond. As a student of meditation, I enjoy its use as a methodology toward serenity. It requires an open-minded submission to its practice, and I like things that challenge my preconceptions. Yoga is designed to do exactly this. Its variety of tools — focused breathing, chanting, balancing, twisting and stretching — are not a threat. In fact, for millennia and for millions of people, they have been and are trusted, intimate, and nurturing.

Meanwhile, yoga does not have any ecclesiastical significance whatsoever. I was raised in a devoutly Christian family. As a karate teacher and as something of an A-type personality, I was curious about the overtly peaceful nature of the yogis and yoginis (male and female yoga practitioners) that I had met. When I began my practice, it did not impinge on my spiritual beliefs. In fact, the provision for meditation provided a forum for me to practice them. When I meditate, whether through prayer or yoga practice, I defer to God in humility. I am reminded that I am but a small part of the universe. I am afforded the opportunity to think deeply, seeking to be the best part of it that I  can be. And in so doing, I began to understand the peaceful joy of the yogis and yoginis I had met. 

Yoga is a celebration of spirituality, like Christmas is. Practicing yoga makes me no more a Hindu than buying gifts at Christmas makes me a Christian. Of course, I can choose to spend all of my holiday time in material fixations, or deny the validity of Christmas with a fundamentalist argument that Jesus was more likely born in March. Similarly, I could spend my entire yoga class concerned only with pose alignment or working up a sweat. In both instances, though, I would rob myself of a wondrous opportunity for spiritual reflection.

Consider the journey of Jessica D’Angelo, chief instructor at Hot Flow Yoga. “When I first started to practice yoga, I was doing it primarily for the physical benefits,” she said. “I’d heard that it was the ultimate exercise for building a strong core and healthy spine, and that it developed long, lean muscles and optimal flexibility. 

“After about a month or so,” she continued, “I started notice of how positive I felt after classes. I noticed how yoga would get me out of a funk like no run on the treadmill had ever done. It helped me unwind after a very long day at my job. I even noticed that my sleeping patterns we more regular and uninterrupted. My yoga practice was following me ‘off the mat’ and becoming a positive influence in my life.

“As I started to delve deeper into my practice I realized that yoga made me closer, or more connected to my own faith. I was in awe at the gift my body was to me. I was closer to God. Now, for me, every yoga class is a celebration of spirit.”

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.  — Thích Nhất Hạnh

Bruce Costa lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

This article originally appeared in Bux-Mont Living.
© Bruce G. Costa

Empty Handed

 

On Saturday, September 15th, 2001, we chose to drive in to New York City.

I still don’t know what we were thinking. Five days after the devastation my wife and I both remained unable to shake our depression, or to bring any of the normalcy of life back into our routine. Perhaps our impatience with our children and each other imparted on us the requirement of an event, one similar to that enjoyed by the country’s religious peoples the day before, on Mr. Bush’s national day of mourning. If this was the case, our need wasn’t conscious; Janet and I looked at each other blankly as we attempted to think of what our journey could contribute. Reports had indicated that rescue workers were being overwhelmed with food, and even volunteers to help clear the rubble were far in abundance of the seemingly insurmountable need.

So, with a trunk that contained only our needs, we crossed Pennsylvania and New Jersey and soon began the long, slow arc into the Lincoln Tunnel. The children anxiously poked their heads through the sunroof as the stuttering traffic gave us a painfully long, first view of the decimated New York landscape. Like a great, disharmonious scale, Manhattan seemed to teeter about the Empire State Building, Uptown glittering toward the left, Downtown smoldering on the right.

The tunnel delivered us into the somberness that pervaded all of New York, unfamiliar and immediately apparent. Police manned barricades at every corner, and passersby greeted them respectfully. Many returned a pleasant smile. Some furrowed their brows with pain. Others looked angry.

I drove randomly, without a plan. Our intuition told us to get to the thick of things, to let our senses fill as they could not through the telescopic view our television provided. I thought we might park as far south as allowed, then simply stumble about, and pray.

Our trip through Midtown delighted my children. Indeed, Times Square and the Empire State Building remain daunting places, larger than their young eyes can imagine. Their unfamiliarity with the former ambiance and skyline of the city benefitted their joy. I let myself come out of my fog and appreciate the youngsters’ small reservoir for sorrow. They chirped at one sight after another and, in the privacy of our car, I joined them.

Soon we found ourselves in Greenwich village. It was sunny there; not cheerful, but warm. We easily found free street parking and began walking at a pace more casual than appropriate to the distance my wife and I knew we needed to cover. But we felt both melancholy and secure as our children toddled through this immense urban neighborhood.

We quickly gained an understanding of the distracted city that no two–minute news clip could communicate. Every corner, every phone booth, every mailbox was pasted with the faces of the missing. Countless restaurants displayed hundreds of postings on their facades, placed by the desperate, the mourning, and those not yet willing to mourn. And always there were candles, ubiquitous and silencing, lit by families of the fallen, relit by we who couldn’t bear to let them extinguish. There seemed no need to head farther downtown to join the grieving community.

It was very difficult to be in a hushed Manhattan. Few spoke. We felt compelled to read all details of each missing person: every tattoo, every scar, every clothing choice made early that Tuesday morning. And, in this difficult instance, our multitude of ethnicities proved a great advantage. The pretense of obliviousness seemed wonderfully gone from our multicultural society. At a time when every distinguishing characteristic was a valuable piece of information, skin color was boldly proclaimed: dark, pale, sunburned, olive. All of the varieties of brown provided to our species were listed on those pages, just as that spectrum stood, shoulder to shoulder, beautifully meshed, studying them.

My wife and I had cried often during the first four days of this horror. We were glad to be free of tears so far into our journey, allowing such anguish to be given to others more in need of its powerful cleansing. After all, we felt somewhat guilty being in New York. Were we just irreverent tourists? I had been selectively using the camera in my pocket. But while we had done our best to explain the situation clearly to our young children, we could see that they did not understand the reality of a situation that I strongly believe belongs to their generation historically, uniquely. We knew to not force a reaction out of them. We had chosen to immerse them in its presence, but remained uncertain of that decision, its affect on them, and its courtesy to a suffering community. We wished to keep our sorrow private, so as to not tread on the grief of those who found the tragedy immediate. It was an intent as improper as it was futile.

We came upon a firehouse in Greenwich Village. It was a captivating place: a narrow old portal that offered a shiny chariot of hope. On its bay door was an oil–painted mural: the truck emerging with a colorful crew, a Dalmatian and, in the shotgun seat, Uncle Sam. But that door was closed, blocked by an avalanche of flowers, candles, and letters of admiration and love. We imagined that truck crushed and burned, along with its valiant crew. Our prayers blended with those of the dozens gathered there, and we found new tears.

At countless smaller shrines we stopped to pray, read, cry, or relight candles. Their photographs gave glimpses of nights out, family gatherings, parties, lunches, and many, many weddings. Some paper faces were becoming familiar, others broadened our awareness of the depth of the catastrophe. Every picture seemed to have been taken during a happy time, a former life, another world. There were also photocopied lists of items needed: gloves, boots, goggles, protein bars; I agonized at the realization that many of these items sat unused in my home. There was a listing from the ASPCA asking for volunteers to assist trapped animals. Another face of the disaster I hadn’t considered: how many victims were unmarried pet owners? Given the multitude of the missing, perhaps hundreds. And there were signs, posters, and banners, begging for peace.

Eventually we came to Union Square. As large as the block–sized park is, it was dwarfed by the affection of its inhabitants. Here an acoustic guitarist sang his sorrows. There two hundred Tibetan Buddhists chanted for peace. Spread across the ground were huge, artfully printed sheets with black markers and countless words of praise and condemnation scattered upon them. My children contributed their thoughts, as did I. One young man handed out cards and pens as yet another way for people to express their feelings, which he would then pass on to fire fighters. I asked if I could send my card in the next day. “Just hand it to a cop,” he said. “Give ‘em a boost, y’know?”

Then there was the prominent, concrete circle of Union Square, the scene so well publicized by television cameras, magazines and newspapers. Would that the postage stamp lens of a TV screen could translate its grandeur and, at the same time, its humble veneration for the missing. Hundreds gathered about to view its display, as we had at other impromptu memorials. But this was different, more intense. In another context it would have looked a mess, items strewn haphazardly about as they were. But this place was irreproachable. I looked at the people surrounding the elegant, spontaneous shrine. Many were in reverence. Some were in agony. One woman, speaking on a cell phone, wrinkled her face in pain, then buried it in a hand wet with her tears. All stood in silence and studied the scene, piece by piece, learning of the fallen, civilians and servicemen, tattooed and clean shaven, parents and singles, all loved by flowers, candles, cards, posters, prayers. This was the epicenter of the citywide funeral that Manhattan had become.

Darkness fell, bringing with it the glow of the ever-present pyre emitting from the disaster area. It looked like the rising of countless souls. We ambled toward it mindlessly, like moths. But a glance at our map showed that the southernmost point we could reach, Canal Street, was still far away. Our young children had been walking for a long time. We chose to return to the car.

It was a good choice. Our path crossed a playground bustling with kids. As ours climbed over the equipment, Janet and I were amazed by the place. Everyone was so happy. The parents’ eyes were full of love and smiles, not tears. We all seemed safe in this welcome retreat.

As we drove south, ambulance after ambulance passed us. We were delayed momentarily while one pulled into a building to our left. I looked up, feeling an odd mix of strength and dread. We were in front of Saint Vincent’s Hospital, the primary facility receiving victims of the attack. Behind that brick facade were hundreds of dead and injured. I found myself praying more emphatically during this fortunate, brief traffic inconvenience than I did at any other time during my visit to New York City.

As we expected, each road continuing south from Canal Street was blocked by police barricades. Only a couple of officers manned each blockade: state police, city police, or a combination thereof. Their task was simply to limit the foot traffic farther south to those unfortunate enough to have their homes in that area. Here, too, people were polite, generous and selfless. A middle aged woman rolled her European consonants against an officer’s thick New York vowels until he finally got his request for identification across. A block later, we found other officers charmed by the thoughtfulness of a local resident, who brought down a tray with coffee, cups, and condiments. All present—once again there were hundreds—could look south and see the glowing smoke. It was yet another place for reflection and sorrow. We stayed for a long time. Then, off to the right, we saw a different, brighter glow. I was moments away from my lifetime high point of American pride.

We followed the lights and discovered South Seventh Avenue, the road that the President had travelled the day before. The street provided a thoroughfare for massive dump trucks, filled to the top with concrete picked free of precious cargo. Also departing and arriving were rescue workers, some traveling by the bus load, others riding in a cart or jeep, still others walking out in pairs, or alone. An unfortunately positioned Mobil station was blocked off from traffic. Its selfless owner, however, used its bright bays as a rest stop where weary rescue workers and donated goods could find one another. I admired his energetic efforts to accommodate the filthy, footsore rescuers so in need of his hospitality.

During my observation I heard the unlikely sound of enthusiastic cheering. At the nearby street corner, standing shoulder to shoulder before the corner barricades, hundreds of people gathered. Now past midnight, they stood with no other goal than to give heart to the weary workers. Their cries rose and fell with the passing of vehicles, large and small. My family was overcome. Children were lifted to our shoulders, and we hurried to contribute our enthusiasm to this unrehearsed expression of gratitude.

It was a magnificent finish, to contribute our admiration to the selflessness of the Americans of New York City.

Bruce Costa lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

© 2001 Bruce Costa

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