Monday, September 30, 2013

Blast From The Past: The -Weathermen- Teabaggers Want To Destroy The Government!

Killer Keller chimed in today with a nice Op-Ed about the Dumbos/Teabaggers havin' a 60s Moment in 2013. Killer also paid tribute to Frank Rich's earlier 60s-take on Randy Paul (R-KY). If this is (fair & balanced) time-travel, so be it.

[x This Modern World]
Tea Party Freedom Fighters
By Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

Tom Tomorrow/Dan Perkins

[Dan Perkins is an editorial cartoonist better known by the pen name "Tom Tomorrow". His weekly comic strip, "This Modern World," which comments on current events from a strong liberal perspective, appears regularly in approximately 150 papers across the U.S., as well as on Daily Kos. The strip debuted in 1990 in SF Weekly. Perkins, a long time resident of Brooklyn, New York, currently lives in Connecticut. He received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Excellence in Journalism in both 1998 and 2002. When he is not working on projects related to his comic strip, Perkins writes a daily political weblog, also entitled "This Modern World," which he began in December 2001. Earlier this year, Dan Perkins, pen name Tom Tomorrow, was named the winner of the 2013 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning.]

Copyright © 2013 Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins)

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Sunday, September 29, 2013

This Just In: The Leading Cause Of Death Is... Birth!!!!!

From where this blogger sits, at his laptop, the kitchen counter is in view and the array of four pill bottles is a melancholy view. This blogger has been prescribed with a beta blocker, an anti-coagulant, a loop diuretic, and a hypertension reducer. All of this since the first of July as the path to the neighborhood pharmacy seems to grow steeper and steeper. Today, Lewis Lapham has given this blogger a supply of aphorisms to quote to the cardiologist at his next office visit. This medico is known to the blogger as "Cardio Girl." So, for the month of October, this blogger will be dancin' with the Cardio Girl. After the first of November, all bets are off. If this is (fair & balanced) stoicism, so be it.

[x HNN]
Memento Mori
By Lewis Lapham

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It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.
— Woody Allen

I admire the stoic fortitude, but at the age of 78 I know I won’t be skipping out on the appointment, and I notice that it gets harder to remember just why it is that I’m not afraid to die. My body routinely produces fresh and insistent signs of its mortality, and within the surrounding biosphere of the news and entertainment media it is the fear of death — 24/7 in every shade of hospital white and doomsday black — that sells the pharmaceutical, political, financial, film, and food products promising to make good the wish to live forever. The latest issue of my magazine, Lapham’s Quarterly, therefore comes with an admission of self-interest as well as an apology for the un-American activity, death, that is its topic. The taking time to resurrect the body of its thought in LQ offered a chance to remember that the leading cause of death is birth.

I count it a lucky break to have been born in a day and age when answers to the question “Why do I have to die?” were still looked for in the experimental laboratories of art and literature as well as in the teachings of religion. The problem hadn’t yet been referred to the drug and weapons industries, to the cosmetic surgeons and the neuroscientists, and as a grammar-school boy in San Francisco during the Second World War, I was fortunate to be placed in the custody of Mr. Charles Mulholland. A history teacher trained in the philosophies of classical antiquity, Mr. Mulholland was fond of posting on his blackboard long lists of noteworthy last words, among them those of Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Thomas More,and Stonewall Jackson.

The messages furnished need-to-know background on the news bulletins from Guadalcanal and Omaha Beach, and they made a greater impression on me than probably was expected or intended. By the age of 10, raised in a family unincorporated into the body of Christ, it never once had occurred to me to entertain the prospect of an afterlife. Eternal life may have been granted to the Christian martyrs delivered to the lions in the Roman Colosseum, possibly also to the Muslim faithful butchered in Jerusalem by Richard the Lionheart, but without the favor of Allah or early admission to a Calvinist state of grace, how was one to formulate a closing remark worthy of Mr. Mulholland’s blackboard?

The question came up in the winter of 1953 during my freshman year at Yale College, when I contracted a rare and particularly virulent form of meningitis. The doctors in the emergency room at Grace-New Haven Hospitalrated the odds of my survival at no better than a hundred to one. To the surprise of all present, I responded to the infusion of several new drugs never before tested in combination. For two days, drifting in and out of consciousness in a ward reserved for patients without hope of recovery, I had ample chance to think a great thought or turn a noble phrase, possibly to dream of the wizard Merlin in an oak tree or behold a vision of the Virgin Mary. Nothing came to mind.

Nor do I remember being horrified. Astonished, but not horrified. Here was death making routine rounds, not to be seen wearing a Halloween costume but clearly in attendance. The man in the next bed died on the first night, the woman to his left on the second. Apparently an old story, but before being admitted to the hospital as a corpse in all but name, it was not one that I had guessed was also my own. I hadn’t been planning any foreign travel, and yet here I was, waiting for my passport to be stamped at the once-in-a-lifetime tourist destination that doesn’t sell postcards and from whose museum galleries no traveler returns.Minus three toes destroyed by the disease, I left the hospital four months later knowing that my reprieve was temporary, subject to cancellation on short notice. Blessed by what I took to be the smile and gift of fortune,I resolved to spend as much time as possible in the present tense, to rejoice in the wonders of the world, chase the rainbows of the spirit, indulge the pleasures of the flesh, defy the foul fiend, go and catch a falling star.

I had been outfitted with a modus vivendi but no string of words with which to account for it, and so for the next three years at college I searched out writers who had drawn from their looking into the face of death a line of poetry or the bulwark of a philosophy. I don’t now remember how accurately or in what sequence I first read, but I know that with several of them — Michel de Montaigne and Seneca the Younger, Plutarch, W.H. Auden, and John Donne — I’ve stayed in touch.

Their collective counsel continues to confirm me in the opinion reached in Athens by Epicurus in the fourth century B.C., transmuted into verse by the Roman poet Lucretius at about the same time that Caesar invaded Gaul, and rendered as equations in the twentieth century by Ernest Rutherford and Niels Bohr. If it’s true that the universe consists of atoms and void and nothing else, then everything that exists — the sun and the moon, mother and the flag, Beethoven’s string quartets and da Vinci’s decomposing flesh — is made of the elementary particles of nature in fervent and constant motion, colliding and combining with one another in an inexhaustibly abundant variety of form and substance. No afterlife, no divine retribution or reward, nothing other than a vast turmoil of creation and destruction. Plants and animals become the stuff of human beings, the stuff of human beings food for fish. Men die not because they are sick but because they are alive.

Old-Fashioned Death

“Death… the most awful of evils,” says Epicurus, “is nothing to us, seeing that when we are, death is not yet, and when death comes, we are not.” My experience in the New Haven hospital demonstrated the worth of the hypothesis; the books I read in college formed the thought as precept; my paternal grandfather, Roger D. Lapham, taught the lesson by example.

In the summer of 1918, then a captain of infantry with the American Expeditionary Force in World War I, he had been reported missing and presumed dead after his battalion had been overwhelmed by German poison gas during the Oise-Aisne offensive. Nearly everybody else in the battalion had been promptly killed, and it was six weeks before the Army found him in the hayloft of a French barn. A farmer had retrieved him, unconscious but otherwise more or less intact, from the pigsty into which he had fallen, by happy accident, on the day of what had been planned as a swift and sure advance.

The farmer’s wife nursed him back to life with soup and soap and Calvados, and by the time he was strong enough to walk, he had lost half his body weight and undergone a change in outlook. He had been born in 1883, descended from a family of New England Quakers, and before going to Europe in the spring of 1918 was said to have been almost solemnly conservative in both his thought and his behavior, shy in conversation, cautious in his dealings with money. He returned from France reconfigured in a character akin to Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff, extravagant in his consumption of wine and roses, passionate in his love of high-stakes gambling on the golf course and at the card table, persuaded that the object of life was nothing other than its fierce and close embrace.

Which is how I found him in the autumn of 1957, when I returned to San Francisco to look for work on a newspaper. He was then a man in his middle seventies (i.e., of an age that now surprises me to discover as my own), but he was the same vivid presence (round red face like Santa Claus, boisterous sense of humor, unable to contain his emotions) that I had known as a boy growing up in the 1940s in the city of which he was then the mayor.

A guest in his house on Jackson Street for three months before finding a room of my own, most mornings I sat with him while he presided over his breakfast (one scrambled egg, two scraps of Melba toast, pot of coffee, glass of Scotch) listening to him talk about what he had seen of a world in which he knew that all present (committee chairman, lettuce leaf, and Norfolk terrier) were granted a very short stay. Although beset by a good many biological systems failures, he regarded them as nuisances not worth mention in dispatches. He thought it inadvisable to quit drinking brandy, much less the whiskey, the rum punch, and the gin. At the bridge table he continued to think it unsporting to look at his cards before bidding the hand.

My grandfather’s refusal to consult doctors no doubt shortened his length of days on Earth, but he didn’t think the Fates were doing him an injustice. He died in 1966 at the age of 82 on terms that he would have considered sporting. The grand staircase in his house on Jackson Street was curved in a semicircle rising 30 feet from the entrance hall to a second-floor landing framed by a decorative wooden railing. Having climbed the long flight of stairs after a morning in the office and the afternoon on a golf course, Roger Dearborn Lapham paused to catch his breath. It wasn’t forthcoming. He plunged head first through the railing and was dead — so said the autopsy — before his body collided and combined with the potted palm at the base of the stairwell. He had suffered a massive heart attack, and his death had come to him in a way he would have hoped it would, as a surprise.

An Immortal Human Head in the Clouds

About the presence of death and dying I don’t remember the society in the 1950s being so skittish as it has since become. People still died at home, among relatives and friends, often in the care of a family physician. Death was still to be seen sitting in the parlor, hanging in a butcher shop, sometimes lying in the street. By the generations antecedent to my own, survivors of the Great Depression or one of the nation’s foreign wars, it seemed to be more or less well understood, as it had been by Montaigne that one’s own death “was a part of the order of the universe… a part of the life of the world.”

For the last 60 or 70 years, the consensus of decent American opinion (cultural, political, and existential) has begged to differ, making no such outlandish concession. To do so would be weak-minded, offensive, and wrong, contrary to the doctrine of American exceptionalism that entered the nation’s bloodstream subsequent to its emergence from the Second World War crowned in victory, draped in virtue.

Military and economic command on the world stage fostered the belief that America was therefore exempt from the laws of nature, held harmless against the evils, death chief among them, inflicted on the lesser peoples of the Earth. The wonders of medical science raked from the ashes of the war gave notice of the likelihood that soon, maybe next month but probably no later than next year, death would be reclassified as a preventable disease.

That article of faith sustained the bright hopes and fond expectations of both the 1960s countercultural revolution (incited by a generation that didn’t wish to grow up)and the Republican Risorgimento of the 1980s (sponsored by a generation that didn’t choose to grow old). Joint signatories to the manifesto of Peter Pan, both generations shifted the question from “Why do I have to die?” to the more upbeat “Why can’t I live forever?”

The substituting of the promise of technology for the consolations of philosophy had been foreseen by John Stuart Mill as the inevitable consequence of the nineteenth century’s marching ever upward on the roads of social and political reform. Suffering in 1854 from a severe pulmonary disease, Mill noted in his diary on April 15, “The remedies for all our diseases will be discovered long after we are dead, and the world will be made a fit place to live in after the death of most of those by whose exertions have been made so.”

His premonition is now the just-over-the-horizon prospect of life everlasting bankrolled by Dmitry Itskov, a Russian multimillionaire, vouched for by the Dalai Lama and a synod of Silicon Valley visionaries, among them Hiroshi Ishiguro and Ray Kurzweil. As presented to the Global Future 2045 conference at Lincoln Center in New York City in June 2013, Itskov’s Avatar Project proposes to reproduce the functions of human life and mind on “nonbiological substrates,” do away with the “limited mortal protein-based carrier” and replace it with cybernetic bodies and holograms, a “neohumanity” that will “change the bodily nature of a human being, and make them immortal, free, playful, independent of limitations of space and time.” In plain English, lifelike human heads to which digital copies of the contents of a human brain can be downloaded from the cloud.

The question “Why must I die?” and its implied follow-up, “How then do I live my life?,” both admit of an answer by and for and of oneself. Learning how to die, as Montaigne goes on to rightly say, is unlearning how to be a slave. The question “Why can’t I live forever?” assigns the custody of one’s death to powers that make it their business to promote and instill the fear of it — to church or state, to an alchemist or an engineer.

For 40 years during the Cold War, the American government, both Democrat and Republican, deployed the shadow of death (i.e., the constant threat of nuclear annihilation) to limit the freedoms and quiet the voices of the American people. The surveillance apparatus now waging the perpetual war on terror is geared to control a herd of trembling obedience.

The settled opinion that Americans don’t deserve to die — not their kind of thing — protects the profits of the insurance, healthcare, pharmaceutical, and media industries, puts the money on the table for the cruise missile, the personal trainer, and the American Express card that nobody can afford to leave home without.

“I Am Ready to Depart”

My grandfather didn’t shop the markets in immortality. Neither did my father. Although markedly different in character and temperament (his turn of mind was contemplative, his sense of humor skeptical), he shared my grandfather’s scorn for the wish to live forever. What for? To do what? To suffer the trauma of modern medicine and endure the mortifications of the flesh in order to eat another season of oysters, go south for one more winter in the sun?

He had earned his living as the president of a steamship company and the vice chairman of a bank; he had devoted his leisure to the study of history and the reading of literature. He didn’t believe in miracles or magicians, as wary of divine revelation as he was of economic forecasts and predictions.

In his late seventies he wrote a will stating that his life was not to be artificially prolonged. The hospital machinery he regarded as sophisticated instruments of torture, up to the standard of the Spanish Inquisition. He would have agreed with film director Luis Buñuel that “respect for human life becomes absurd when it leads to unlimited suffering, not only for the one who’s dying but for those he leaves behind.” He also understood, as had Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1811, that “there is a fullness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance.”

During the last three years of his life, my father began to show signs of bodily malfunction (arthritis in his hands, forgetting where he put a letter or his hat), but on the weekends when I drove up from New York to his home in Connecticut, he never once complained of his afflictions. He spent his time planting the property with the seedlings of white oak and red maple trees and rereading the authors who had been his lifelong boon companions, many of them the ones whom I had met in college.

Our conversation was lighthearted and anecdotal, my own reference to Aeschylus having been killed by a turtle dropped on his head by a clumsy eagle topped by my father being reminded of Seneca’s observation that “death is a punishment to some, to some a gift, and to many a favor.” It wasn’t hard to know in which categories he placed himself. Among the poems he admired was the one composed by Walter Savage Landor on the occasion of his 75th birthday:

I strove with none for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved, and next to nature, art;
I warmed both hands before the fire of life.
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

And so was Lewis Abbot Lapham on the night he died in December 1995 at the age of 86. A snowstorm had delayed my usual time of arrival in Connecticut, and when I sat down in the chair next to his bed, he greeted me with what proved to be his final remark, “It’s a hard life, Doc, and not many of us make it out alive.” For the next two hours I sat there holding his hand, neither of us saying anything, listening to wind play upon the windowpanes. He had packed his bags, checked out of the hotel, and was waiting in the lobby for the car to take him to the airport.

I neither hope nor expect to be among the chosen few who make good their escape from the wheel of fortune and the teeth of time. Or that having been granted a 60-year extension on the deadline for a last noteworthy thought or phrase I’ll have reached the serenity of soul to which Thomas More gave a last and living proof while mounting the scaffold to his execution and saying to the headsman with the axe, “See me safe up, and for my coming down let me shift for myself.”

If my luck holds true to its so far winning form, death will drop by uninvited and unannounced, and I’ll be taken, as was my grandfather, by surprise, maybe in the throes of trying to write a stronger sentence or play a perfect golf shot. If not, I’ll hope to show at least a semblance of the composure to which many of the authors in the latest issue of Lapham’s Quarterly bear immortal witness.Certain only that the cause of my death is one that I can neither foresee nor forestall, I’m content, at least for the time being, to let the sleeping dog lie. Ω

[Lewis Lapham was the editor of Harper's Magazine from 1976 until 1981, and from 1983 until 2006. At present, Lapham is the founder and editor of Lapham's Quarterly. His most recent book is Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration (2007). That same year, he was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame. A native of San Francisco, Lapham studied history at both Yale College (B.A.) and Magdalene College, Cambridge.University.]

Copyright © 2013 History News Network

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Whoa, Dude! TMI!

Sarah Bird unwittingly enacted a scene from one of her most recent novels, How Perfect Is That? where her hapless heroine, down-at-the-heels Blythe Young, tries to survive in Austin as a recently-divorced woman on the wrong end of a prenuptial agreement. Blythe attempts to earn a living as a "caterer" and secures an event that will be attended by the beautiful young women of Austin society. However, Blythe has no credit and no funds for the food and drink that would be expected at such an event. So, in Bird's telling, Blythe resolved to cover the humble origins of her menu items by spiking the party punch with a mixture of grain alcohol, Welch’s grape jelly, and Rohypnol. The latter is the "date-rape drug." Suffice it to say, Blythe's even as a disaster. At the 2012 Texas Book Festival, life imitated art as Sarah Bird mistook a dose of Ambien for a dose of propranolol. Ambien is a powerful sleep aid and propranolol, a blood-pressure medication that quiets a pounding heart, fluttery pulse, and other forms of stage fright. The result was a disaster for Bird who was not fit to moderate a panel discussion of anything, let alone a consideration of a pair of excellent novels. Sarah Bird, like her protagonist Blythe Young, was hoist by her use of pharmaceutical chemicals at a major social event. If this is a (fair & balanced) profile in self-revelation, so be it.

[x TM]
The Big Sleep
By Sarah Bird

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A year ago this month, I was nervously preparing for my star turn at the 2012 Texas Book Festival. Two hundred and sixty people in my line of business—torturing the alphabet for fun and profit—were converging on the Capitol grounds, and I was going to play the big room, the Senate Chamber, at high noon. I would be moderating my dream panel, “War and Absurdity,” with two authors I admire extravagantly: Ben Fountain, who wrote the best book I read last year, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2012), which looks at America’s disturbing tendency to conflate war and spectator sports, and David Abrams, who wrote perhaps the funniest, FOBBIT (2012), about the inhabitants of a forward operating base in Iraq. Both novels had been dubbed the Catch-22 of the Iraq war, and since I’d been beavering away on my own tome, Above the East China Sea, concerned with how the price of empire is always borne by the young, I was doubly excited to have this conversation.

Anxious about being the dim bulb amid the illuminati, I had labored mightily over an exhaustive list of questions that ranged from penetrating to hard-hitting. Just to make absolutely certain that I would be the sort of steely, unflappable examiner not seen since the Spanish Inquisition, I dropped my trusty bottle of the public speaker’s secret friend, propranolol, into my purse. Like many actors and musicians, I’d long relied on the blood pressure medication to ward off the pounding heart, fluttering pulse, and clammy hands of stage fright. Armed with pills and pages of high IQ–affirming questions, I felt relatively calm.

And then, as my car approached the Capitol grounds, I recalled that the festival attracts 40,000 book lovers— 40,000!—and a squadron of kamikaze butterflies hit. As I spiraled upward through a parking garage, I snaked a trembling hand into my purse, felt for the bottle of pills without glancing down, extracted two, and popped them in.

Should I note at this juncture that I’d accidentally tossed a bottle of Ambien into my purse rather than harmless blood pressure meds? Or that I’m such a lightweight that on the occasions when I do use the sleep aid, I hold one pill in my hands like a squirrel with a nut and chip off a flake with the tips of my incisors—which has the added benefit of making a single blue beauty last through a week of otherwise sleepless nights? Or that parking my car is the last thing I recall from my big day at the Texas Book Festival?

From this point forward, we will have to rely on deduction and eyewitness accounts to piece together the suspect’s activities on the day in question. After getting out of my car, I must have crossed several busy streets, made my way over to the Capitol, and ascended the fairly steep flight of stairs into the building. Friends told me later that they hailed me but that I ignored them. That I had an odd “blank” expression on my face and that they sensed “something was wrong.” The word “zombie” appeared in some reports. Apparently, I made it through the rigorous security screening at the entrance. Because an official Author/Moderator badge was found later on my person, I know I must have checked in at the private apartment just behind the House Chamber that Speaker Joe Straus was kind enough to make available to the festival as a green room. And there I settled in.

It was around then that a festival volunteer approached literary director Clay Smith to report that “a moderator is asleep.” Smith, besides dealing with sick moderators, malfunctioning microphones, and prima donna authors demanding cappuccinos and Brazilian blow-outs, was also contending with the fallout from Hurricane Sandy. Thanks to that Frankenstorm, six authors, including the main attraction, Pulitzer winner Junot Díaz, had to cancel at the last minute.

In the Speaker’s apartment, the already-beleaguered Smith found his moderator, the one who was supposed to facilitate a high-brow, paradigm-shifting discussion in half an hour, slumped on a bench, mouth open, eyes glazed—visualize your favorite alcoholic aunt ten nogs into Christmas dinner. When he roused me, I insisted that, in spite of the drool, I was ready to get out there and kick some panel ass. To prove it, I’m told, I attempted to make myself a mug of hot tea. Instead of my usual milk, however, I poured in orange juice until the cup overflowed.

Maybe it was the scalding tea dribbling on his feet or perhaps it was my bovine gaze that convinced Smith that his moderator was not ready for her close-up. With assistance from a heartier-than-average writer, Smith was able to wrangle me into a room in the back, where I could achieve the total horizontality I’d been teetering toward like a rhino with a tranquilizer dart between the eyes.

Fortunately, the quick-witted Smith promptly found my sheet of questions and enlisted as my substitute the writer Amanda Eyre Ward, who filled in so beautifully that friends sitting in the balcony later wrote to tell me what a great job I’d done. Michael Merschel, of the Dallas Morning News, even said that the animated remarks occasioned by my questions were “still worth talking about a couple of days later.” Obviously, comatose is my best moderating mode.

My steadfast husband, George, was summoned to rescue me, and after sleeping the rest of the day away, I came to and, for a few buoyant moments, shielded by Ambien’s blessed amnesiac properties, was bemused by the outlandish dream I’d had and by the fact that my special panel outfit was scattered all over the floor. Why, it looked as if someone had undressed me and just dumped the clothes wherever.

It wasn’t until I began rushing to get ready that George entered the room and sketched in the outlines of my lost day. Each detail sent me skittering further down the ex–Catholic schoolgirl’s well-greased chute into the Vortex of Shame. Mortification crushed me.

My always-sympathetic sisters tried to snap me out of my funk. The younger one said, “This sounds like something from a Sarah Bird book. You can use it in your work.” Ah, yes, the writer’s all-purpose ticket to redemption: use it in your work. That bucked me up, until I recalled that this incident sounded like something from a Sarah Bird book because it had already been in a Sarah Bird book. The one where the thoroughly reprehensible caterer protagonist drugs a party of socialites with a mixture of grain alcohol, Welch’s grape jelly, and Rohypnol. That was so not the art I had ever wanted my life to imitate.

We all have our daily humiliations, the first drafts of life that we fix in editing before we step out the door and face the world. But this? Passing out in the state capitol? It was so irredeemably public. I considered the standard means of seeking redemption: going into rehab or finding Jesus. But those were the easy ways out. No, defaulting again to all I’d learned from the nuns, I decided that confession, a public mea culpa, was my only hope for salvation. That evening I composed a Facebook post admitting to the world that I had roofied myself and offering apologies and thanks to Ben Fountain, David Abrams, Amanda Ward, and Clay Smith. “I will get over my embarrassment,” I wrote, “but it’s going to take a while.” Before I sent it, I hesitated and considered my new life as a known loser who not only was dependent on a gaudy array of chemicals to function but couldn’t keep her drugs straight.

Sitting there, I recalled my only other experience of blacking out. It had occurred more than forty years ago when I was nineteen and working as a summer intern in a hospital psychiatric unit in San Diego. Most weekends my surfer boyfriend and his gang of whoa-dude buddies would drive down from Seal Beach in an Econoline van and pick me up from the flophouse for retired merchant marines where I was renting a room, then we’d head south to Mexico. In those years before “cartel” became synonymous with “chain-saw beheading,” a favorite destination was an undiscovered stretch of beach between Tijuana and Ensenada.

We’d camp out on the hundred-foot-high cliffs above the waves, eat Dinty Moore stew out of the can, smoke weed, and drink Ripple or some other wine-adjacent beverage. I favored an impertinent little vintage known to oenophiles and bag ladies alike as Pagan Pink; I could almost finish off an entire glass without throwing up. My inability to party hearty nearly disqualified me from being an official beach bunny. Early most mornings, the whoa-dudes would clamber down the steep cliffs to surf the southern swell while I stayed up top reading books by R. D. Laing, Erving Goffman, and other radicals in the anti-psychiatry movement and working on the baby-oil-and-iodine-anointed tan required of all surfer girlfriends.

Then, one memorable evening, a smoky Mexican stranger joined our merry crew: Jose Cuervo. Tequila, which went down as easy as water, with just as few immediate effects, appeared to be the golden river that would carry me to full beach-bunny status. The last words I recall saying were “I’ve found my drink! Glug, glug, glug.” I came to late the next afternoon as I was being taken across the border in the back of the van, wedged in among a sodden pile of wet suits. Confinement had been necessary because of my inebriated insistence on dancing along the hundred-foot cliff. The surfer boyfriend said he’d had to literally sit on me to keep me from boogalooing off the edge. In this feral band, that passed for tenderness. I was touched and interpreted such protectiveness as proof of a love eternal, one that would last until I once again walked in on him in bed with one of my friends.

I had a similar loved-and-lost feeling—combined with crushing embarrassment— that night last October, when I finally hit the “Post” button on Facebook. I cringed, expecting my screen to fill with invitations to twelve-step with friends who’d gotten sober, maybe a few stern Scripture citations from the high school pals who were wont to impart such advice whether requested or not. Or, worse, nothing. Simply the silence of friends politely turning away.

Instead, dozens of posts carried well wishes from generous souls, all with the same message: we’re human, we make mistakes. Not long after, Ben Fountain emailed to say he’d quoted one of my questions in an essay he was writing for a British magazine. David Abrams got in touch to ask if I’d interview him for Booktalk Nation. A kind friend came by with a gorgeous bouquet and a card with a photo of a dog about to pounce on a cat above the caption “Life is one damned thing after another.”

As I crawled out of the spiral of shame, I thought about that long-ago boyfriend sitting on me, and tears filled my eyes. Was it because forty years had passed since I was a teenager dancing on a cliff? Or was it because I’d burned my mouth and ruined my blouse with scalding orangey-brown tea? Maybe a bit of both. But mostly it was because I realized what a small price a little humiliation is for learning how many friends stand ready to catch you when you fall. Ω

[Sarah Bird received a bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 1973 and a master's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in 1976. Bird was an editor and contributor for the former Austin magazine Third Coast. She authored five romance novels under the name Tory Cates before publishing her 1986 comic novel Alamo House, set on frat row at a Texas university. Bird is the author of eight other novels: Virgin of the Rodeo (1993), The Yakota Officers Club (2002), The Boyfriend School (2003), The Mommy Club (2003), The Flamenco Academy (2007), How Perfect Is That (2009), and most recently, The Gap Year (2011). Bird's upcoming novel will be Above the East China Sea (2014). Bird was the 2010 Ralph Johnston Fellow in the Dobie Paisano Writing Fellowships Program of the University of Texas at Austin which allow two writers to live and work for that year at the Paisano Ranch, J. Frank Dobie’s 254-acre retreat west of Austin.]

Copyright © 2013 Emmis Publishing (dba) Texas Monthly

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, September 27, 2013

Forget The A-Train... This Blog's Got A Teabagger Quatrain!

The state of the nation should be funny, but as Molly usually said — " 'Tain't funny, McGee." The Teabaggers are beyond ridiculous and they make the Taliban look sensible.They deny everything: reality, history, science, compassion, and whatever else is good in the human spirit.When the government shutdown occurs, the loons will have done to this country what the Somali terrorists wreaked upon Kenya. If this is a (fair & balanced) rejection of yahooism, so be it.

[x The Nation]
Everything I Need to Know About the Legislative Process I Learned At A Tea Party Rally
By The Deadline Poet (Calvin Trillin)

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If we can’t win the game,
If we can’t have our way,
We’ll take the bat and ball.
Then no one gets to play. Ω

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2013 The Nation

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sorry Butcher: Randy Thinks He's Dandy, But This Teabagger's A Real Gagger!

In his former life at the NY Fishwrap, Frank Rich served as a drama critic and the savagery of many of his reviews gave him the sobriquet: "The Butcher on Broadway." While The Butcher has left the NY Fishwrap for a column-writing gig at the NY 'Zine, he brought his butcher-tools along for the crosstown ride. Today's carcass is Senator Randal Howard "Rand" Paul (R-KY), one of the 4 Horsemen of the Tea Party/Baggers (Florida's Rubio, Texas' Cruz, and Utah's Lee are the other wacko-birds.) If this is (fair & balanced) damnation by faint praise, so be it.

[x NY 'Zine]
It’s Hard To Hate Rand Paul
By Frank Rich

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In the Labor Day weekend scramble set off by President Obama’s zero-hour about-face on Syria, the only visible politician in Washington who knew just what he wanted to say and said it was the junior senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. Appearing after John Kerry on "­Meet the Press" that Sunday, Paul reminded viewers of Kerry’s famous Vietnam-era locution, then said he would like to ask him a question of his own: “How can you ask a man to be the first one to die for a mistake?”

There were no surprises in Paul’s adamant opposition to a military strike. But after a chaotic week of White House feints and fumbles accompanied by vamping and vacillation among leaders in both parties, the odd duck from Kentucky emerged as an anchor of principle, the signal amid the noise. Paul’s constancy was particularly conspicuous in contrast to his presumed Republican presidential rivals in 2016, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, and Ted Cruz. Though each of them had waxed hawkish about Syria in the past—in Rubio’s case, just the week before—they held their fire over Labor Day weekend, stuck their fingers to the pollsters’ wind, and then more or less fell in with Paul’s noninterventionist bottom line once they emerged. It’s not the first time that Paul had proved the leader of the pack in which he was thought to be the joker.

This has been quite a year for Paul. Not long ago, he was mainly known as the son of the (now retired) gadfly Texas congressman Ron Paul, the perennial presidential loser who often seemed to have wandered into GOP-primary debates directly from an SNL sketch. Like his father, Rand Paul has been dismissed by most Democrats as a tea-party kook and by many grandees in his own party as a libertarian kook; the Republican Establishment in his own state branded him “too kooky for Kentucky” in his first bid for public office. Now BuzzFeed has anointed him “the de facto foreign policy spokesman for the GOP”—a stature confirmed when he followed Obama’s prime-time speech on the Syrian standoff with a televised mini-address of his own.

But even before an international crisis thrust him center stage, Paul had become this year’s most compelling and prescient political actor. His ascent began in earnest in March with the Twitter-certified #standwithrand sensation of his Ayn Rand and Gabriel García Márquez. He has, in the words of Rich Lowry of National Review, “that quality that can’t be learned or bought: He’s interesting.” In that sense, he’s kind of a Eugene McCarthy of the right, destined to shake things up without necessarily reaping the rewards for himself.

Though he has been at or near the top of near-meaningless early primary polling, he is nonetheless a long shot to ascend to the top of the GOP ticket, let alone to the White House. And a good thing too: A Paul presidency would be a misfortune for the majority of Americans who would be devastated by his regime of minimalist government. But as we begin to imagine a post-Obama national politics where the Democratic presidential front-runners may be of Social Security age and the Republicans lack a presumptive leader or a coherent path forward, he can hardly be dismissed. Nature abhors a vacuum, and Paul doesn’t hide his ambitions to fill it. In his own party, he’s the one who is stirring the drink, having managed in his very short political career (all of three years) to have gained stature in spite of (or perhaps because of) his ability to enrage and usurp such GOP heavyweights as John McCain, Mitch McConnell, and Chris Christie. He is one of only two putative ­presidential contenders in either party still capable of doing something you don’t expect or saying something that hasn’t been freeze-dried into anodyne Frank Luntz–style drivel by strategists and focus groups. The other contender in the spontaneous-authentic political sweepstakes is Christie, but like an actor who’s read too many of his rave reviews, he’s already turning his bully-in-a-china-shop routine into Jersey shtick. (So much so that if he modulates it now, he’ll come across as a phony.) Paul doesn’t do shtick, he rarely engages in sound bites or sloganeering, and his language has not been balled up by a stint in law school or an M.B.A. program. (He’s an ophthalmologist.) He speaks as if he were thinking aloud and has a way of making his most radical notions sound plausible in the moment. It doesn’t hurt that some of what he says also makes sense.

The sum of his credo can be found in his unvarnished new book. Titled Government Bullies: How Everyday Americans Are Being Harassed, Abused and Imprisoned by the Feds (2012), it’s a repetitive catalogue of anecdotes showcasing ordinary citizens and small businesses that have been hounded by idiotic government regulations or bureaucrats or both. The most universal of these horror stories is the one that happened to Paul himself—a Kafkaesque manhandling by TSA airport inspectors that’s bound to hit home with anyone who has passed through security at an American airport. Paul’s other tales of woe are no doubt equally true, and often egregious. The problem is that out of such grievances he builds a blanket case for castrating or doing away with most government agencies and regulations, from his father’s bête noire the Federal Reserve to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration (not to mention the requisite three or four Cabinet departments on any right-wing politician’s hit list). So instinctive is his defense of commerce against government interference that he defended BP during the Gulf spill (“Accidents happen”) and condemned the Obama administration for putting its “boot heel on the throat” of the oil giant. It’s the same ideological conviction that led him, in his 2010 senatorial campaign, to revive the self-immolating Barry Goldwater argument that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was flawed by its imposition of racial integration on “private enterprise” like, say, lunch counters.

What separates Paul from many of his tea-party peers is his meticulous insistence on blaming Republicans and Democrats alike for the outrages he finds in every tentacle of the federal Leviathan. He also takes a moderate rhetorical tone, far removed from that of the other right-wing politicians, Fox News talking heads, and radio bloviators who share his views. “I believe no one has the right to pollute another person’s property, and if it occurs the polluter should be made to pay for cleanup and damages,” he writes in one typical passage. “I am not against all regulation. I am against overzealous regulation.” There’s no “Don’t Tread on Me” overkill in his public preachments. He harbors no impeachment fantasies and not so much as a scintilla of Obama hatred even as he leads the charge against what he sees as the oppressive government nightmare of Obamacare. This has been the case from the start. When Paul began running for the Senate, it was during the red-hot tea-party year of 2009, with its tsunami of raucous town-hall meetings and death threats to the president. Paul gladly accepted Palin’s endorsement, but never succumbed to those swamp fevers. Though the liberal editorial page of the Louisville Courier-Journal was dismissive of his views during his Senate race, it went out of its way to observe that the man himself was “neither an angry nor resentful person” and was instead “thoughtful and witty in an elfin sort of way.”

Paul’s opponent in that primary, the Kentucky secretary of State, Trey Grayson, was endorsed by a Who’s Who of the Establishment, from McConnell, the state’s senior senator, to the neocon compadres Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani. Polls showed that primary voters favored Grayson’s national-security views over Paul’s by a three-to-one ratio. But Paul won in a landslide, a feat he easily replicated against his Democratic adversary in the general election. Since that rout, the balance of power between McConnell and Paul has reversed.

It’s not every day you see a party’s leader in the United States Senate play sycophant to a freshman two decades his junior. But having failed to stop Paul, McConnell is desperate to be in his good graces as he faces a possible tea-party challenge from the right in his reelection bid next year. This has led him to hire a longtime aide to both Pauls, Jesse Benton, as his campaign manager even though Benton isn’t precisely in awe of his new client: He was caught on tape saying that he was “sort of holding my nose” to take on the assignment, and was doing so mainly because it “is going to be a big benefit for Rand in ’16.” McConnell is holding his own nose over that and much more. He has signed on to Paul’s pet cause of legalizing the farming of hemp for industrial use—a development that would seem as remote as John Boehner’s declaring himself a Dead Head. And to the astonishment of those who regard McConnell as the epitome of Republican orthodoxy, he threw in his lot with Paul on Syria too, becoming the only one of either party’s leaders in either chamber of Congress to oppose intervention.

McConnell’s self-interested stand on Syria is but an addendum to a large and substantive sea change in GOP foreign policy, much of it attributable to Paul. The complacent neocon Establishment has been utterly blindsided. Just ask Bill Kristol, who had predicted that only five Republican Senators would join Paul in opposing military action in Syria—a vote count off by more than 400 percent. And just ask Christie, who attacked Paul’s national-security views this summer from what he no doubt thought was the unassailable political and intellectual high ground—only to find out he had missed the shift in his own party’s internal debate. In retrospect, both the Christie-Paul brawl and its antecedent—the interparty debate that followed Paul’s thirteen-hour homage to "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" in March—are signal events in understanding how Paul’s stature and allure keep growing among Republican voters while his rivals seem ever smaller, shriller, and impotent.

What drove Christie to launch a strike was Paul’s fierce response to the latest revelations of NSA domestic snooping. Paul had judged James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, the villain of the case and had compared Edward Snowden’s civil disobedience to that of Martin Luther King and Henry David Thoreau. “This strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now and making big headlines I think is a very dangerous thought,” Christie declared in a forum at the Aspen Institute, and for good measure tossed in 9/11 (“widows and the orphans”) lest anyone doubt that Paul and his ilk were soft on terrorism.

The New Jersey governor spoke with the certainty of a man with good reason to believe the party’s wind was at his back. The Wall Street Journal editorial page had earlier dismissed Paul’s anti-drone filibuster as a “political stunt” designed to “fire up impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” Kristol had mocked Paul as a “spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican Party.” McCain had dismissed him as one of “the wacko birds.” (He later apologized.) And after Christie spoke, the same crowd piled on. The Long Island congressman Peter King likened Paul not just to antiwar Democrats of the sixties but to “the Charles Lindberghs that said we should appease Hitler.” Christie’s Aspen performance was “fearless” and “electrifying,” said the neocon pundit Charles Krauthammer, and “an extremely important moment.”

But not everyone on the right believed Christie had thrown a knockout punch at the infidel within the GOP. Writing in Commentary, Jonathan Tobin noted that other conservatives had been echoing Paul’s condemnation of the “national security state” and accused as unlikely a subversive as Peggy Noonan of defecting to the “old line of the hard left.” Even the ultimate GOP tool, the party chairman Reince Priebus, had praised Paul’s filibuster as “completely awesome.” Tobin worried that a “crack up” of the “generations-old Republican consensus on foreign and defense policy” would be at hand if others didn’t follow Christie’s brave example and stand up to Paul and his cohort before “they hijack a party.”

The truth is that that consensus cracked up long ago—done in by the Bush administration and the amen chorus, typified by McCain, Kristol, and Krauthammer, that led the country into the ditch of Iraq. As Reason, the Paul-sympathizing libertarian magazine, pointed out approvingly, Paul’s filibuster “could have been aimed 100 percent at George W. Bush and the policies the Republican party and the conservative movement have urged for most of the 21st century.” And he had gotten away with it despite the protestations of the old conservative guard. Christie may think he can rewrite or reverse this history by attacking Paul, but he’s in denial. Bellicose exhortations consisting of a noun and a verb and 9/11 reached their political expiration date with the imploded Giuliani campaign of 2008.

Indeed, Paul’s opposition to Bush-administration policies is essentially the same as Obama’s when he rode to his victories over Hillary Clinton and McCain. An Ur-text for Paul’s argument against Syrian intervention can be found in Obama’s formulation of 2007: “The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.” Like Obama the candidate, Paul was in favor of the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan, against the war in Iraq, skeptical about the legal rationale for Guantánamo, and opposed to the Patriot Act. That’s more or less the American center now. Well before the Snowden NSA revelations, the public was consistently telling pollsters that the federal government was untrustworthy and too intrusive. So low is the public’s appetite for military action abroad that only 9 percent of Americans favored an American intervention in the Syrian civil war in a Reuters survey at the end of August. Once the horrific images of the chemical-weapons slaughter in Damascus became ubiquitous, the percentage of those favoring an American military response still remained well below 50 percent. The more vehemently the strange bedfellows of Obama and the Journal editorial page argued for action—and the more prominently Paul argued against—the more public support fell away. A Journal–NBC News poll taken in the week after Labor Day found that only 44 percent of Americans approved of a limited military strike, and just 36 percent of Republicans.

In response to Christie’s Aspen fusillade, Paul asked why his fellow Republican “would want to pick a fight with the one guy who has the chance to grow the party by appealing to the youth and appealing to people who would like to see a more moderate and less aggressive foreign policy.” After the exchange of barbs died down, Christie retreated. Asked his position on a Syrian intervention after Labor Day, he proved a profile in Jell-O, announcing that he would pass the buck on the issue to the New Jersey delegation in Congress, led by a Democratic nemesis, Robert Menendez. McCain has blinked too. When Paul called for cutting off American aid in response to the generals’ coup in Egypt, McCain condemned him for sending the “wrong message” and making a “terrific mistake”—yet he and other GOP Senate hawks came crawling back to Paul’s position just two weeks later.

Paul’s independence from his party on national-security issues resembles his father’s, but he is careful to sand down the libertarian edges; he refuses to accept the label “isolationist,” calling himself a realist in the George Kennan mode and paying deference to the United Nations Security Council. He sounds more mainstream than his dad, and is. His fear that American missile strikes would serve mainly to pour still more oil on the fires of the Middle East is so prevalent in both parties that it was impossible for the liberal host of CNN’s Crossfire, Stephanie Cutter, to bait him into the hoped-for partisan fisticuffs on the revamped show’s debut episode. Paul can hit a bipartisan sweet spot on occasional domestic issues too. His push to reform mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders brought him an alliance with the liberal Democratic senator Patrick Leahy and has now been belatedly embraced by the attorney general, Eric Holder.

None of this means that Paul has any serious chance of appealing to centrist and liberal Democrats in significant numbers in a national campaign. He labors under most of the same handicaps as the rest of his party. He has no credible commitment to serious immigration reform. He is an absolutist on guns and abortion. He is opposed to gay marriage (though trying, like many Republicans these days, to keep the issue on the down-low). In a speech at the Reagan Library this year, he acknowledged that the Republican Party will not win again until it “looks like the rest of America,” but his own outreach efforts have been scarcely better than the GOP’s as a whole. His game appearance at the historically black Howard University backfired when he tried to pretend that he had never “wavered” in his support of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 even though his recent wavering was a matter of public record, captured on video.

While Paul has tried to stay clear of the loony white Christian-identity extremists who gravitated to his father, he had to sacrifice an aide who was recently unmasked as a onetime radio shock jock prone to neo-Confederate radio rants under the nom de bigot “Southern Avenger.” What was most interesting about the incident, however, was the response of another cardinal of the waning GOP Establishment, the George W. Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who argued that Paul’s harboring of the Southern Avenger illustrates why it is “impossible for Rand Paul to join the Republican mainstream.” By that standard, the party would also have to drum out Rick Perry, who floated the fantasy of Texas’s seceding from the union, along with all the other GOP elected officials nationwide who are emulating Perry’s push for voter-suppression legislation in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s vitiation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That Gerson would hypocritically single out Paul for banishment in a party harboring so many southern avengers is an indication of just how panicked the old GOP gatekeepers are by his success. They will grab anything they can find to bring him down.

And they will keep trying. As a foe of the bank bailout of 2008 and the Fed, Paul is anathema as much to the Republican Wall Street financial Establishment as he is to the party’s unreconstructed hawks. Those two overlapping power centers can bring many resources to bear if they are determined to put over a Christie or Jeb Bush or a Rubio—though their actual power over the party’s base remains an open question in the aftermath of the Romney debacle. What’s most important about Paul, however, is not his own prospects for higher office, but the kind of politics his early and limited success may foretell for post-Obama America. He doesn’t feel he has to be a bully, a screamer, a birther, a bigot, or a lock-and-load rabble-rouser to be heard above the din. He has principled ideas about government, however extreme, that are nothing if not consistent and that he believes he can sell with logic rather than threats and bomb-­throwing. Unlike Cruz and Rubio, he is now careful to say that he doesn’t think shutting down the government is a good tactic in the battle against Obamacare.

He is a godsend for the tea party—the presentable leader the movement kept trying to find during the 2012 Republican freak show but never did. Next to Paul, that parade of hotheads, with their overweening Obama hatred and their dog whistles to racists, nativists, and homophobes, looks like a relic from a passing era. For that matter, he may prove equally capable of making the two top Democratic presidential prospects for 2016, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, look like a nostalgia act.

This leaves Paul—for the moment at least—a man with a future. If in the end he and his ideas are too out-there to be a majority taste anytime soon, he is nonetheless performing an invaluable service. Whatever else may come from it, his speedy rise illuminates just how big an opening there might be for other independent and iconoclastic politicians willing to challenge the sclerosis of both parties in the post-Obama age. Ω

[Frank Rich joined New York magazine in June 2011 as Writer-at-Large, writing monthly on politics and culture, and editing a special monthly section anchored by his essay. Rich joined the magazine following a distinguished career at the New York Times, where he had been an op-ed columnist since 1994. He was previously the paper's chief drama critic, from 1980 to 1993. As a theater critic, he was known as "The Butcher On Broadway." Before joining The Times, Rich was a film critic at Time magazine, the New York Post, and New Times magazine. He was a founding editor of the Richmond (Va.) Mercury, a weekly newspaper, in the early 1970s. Rich is the author of a childhood memoir, Ghost Light (2000), a collection of drama reviews, Hot Seat: Theater Criticism for The New York Times, 1980-1993 (1998), The Theatre Art of Boris Aronson (with Lisa Aronson, 1987), and The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina (2006). Rich is a graduate of the Washington, DC public schools. He earned a BA degree in American History and Literature from Harvard College in 1971.]

Copyright © 2013 New York Media

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2013 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves