FULL COURT PRESS …

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I once watched an American president stand on a press conference stage and say (with a straight face) that American surgeons were cutting out people’s tonsils based on pay charts. AND NO ONE QUESTIONED IT! I was like, “WHAT?!?! They’re doing what?!?! Is that true!?!?” I’d actually still like to know.

If what (then) president Barack Obama said in that press conference was true, it would’ve been the biggest medical scandal in American history.

But instead of someone standing up and asking what I was yelling at the the TV screen, “Mr president, are you asserting that there is a systematic and concerted effort by American surgeons to mutilate people for money?” it was just taken for granted to be true and everyone went about their business. Really?

This was part of President Obama’s pitch to the American people for the ACA. And instead of journalistic curiosity, we got compliance and even complicity. And Mr Obama got press questions like, “what has been the most enchanting part of the presidency for you, so far?” Again …really?

If you watched (NOW) president Donald Trump’s recent press conference and got clammy hands and heart palpitations, fearing the free world is in jeopardy, I understand. But if you couldn’t see how someone would be standing up cheering it on …then you have no idea what’s happening right now. And what’s BEEN happening for a while. Clearly, a lot of people don’t.

The press hasn’t done its job. We all know which side everyone is on. It’s just that one side refuses to be honest with us. George Stephanopoulos is a Democrat operative. We all know this. He has talked openly about being on strategy calls with Democrats right before going to air. That’s fine, George. But just admit it. Don’t try to sell me on your “objectivity.” Sean Hannity may be a tool, but he is at least being honest about who he is.

When George inserted a “war on women” narrative (that did not exist) into the 2012 campaign, a lot of us rolled our eyes, knowing what was going on. And what was going on had nothing to do with journalism. But instead of Mitt Romney looking at him and saying, “Dude …what on earth are you talking about? That’s the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard,” he tried to prove a negative …which you cannot do.

Republicans fall for this over and over again. It’s one of the reasons I dislike them so much. They often can’t make their own case and they constantly allow themselves to be presumed guilty of something.

And so we trudged on, listening to pretty faces and well-trained voices tell us things that are at best, spin and at worst …false.

But now, there’s this brash New Yorker facing them down and calling them out. And even though I find it to be the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in American politics, I somehow find myself rooting for Trump …and I don’t even know why. I NEVER supported his campaign. But I support dressing down pompous hypocrites …even if it plays like a reality show.

He’s not doing it the way I would do it. It’s all ham-fisted and inarticulate. But at least he’s barking back at an institution that literally NOBODY trusts anymore.

An old, sage manager told me once, “the world needs music …but that doesn’t mean it needs YOUR music.”

And that’s where we are with the free press. The institution itself is sacred. But that doesn’t mean David Miur or Katie Couric or Bill O’Reily are sacred. They’re just personalities. And you can’t confuse personalities with “the free press.” Donald Trump isn’t afraid to see them as just people. And they hate that.

Now …to be fair …Trump DID start all the fights with them. But they’ve taken the bait in a way I honestly can’t believe. Maybe it’s from years and years of not doing your job.

People knew the country wasn’t headed in the right direction. And they wanted a change. They saw their health care premiums skyrocket and the whole system get weird. They saw American cities burning after every new grand jury verdict. They saw business regulation stagnating growth. They saw “red lines” get ignored and beheadings get dismissed and stupid, eye-rolling “re-set” buttons get pushed.

They saw marches and boycotts and laws being passed over things like transgender bathroom issues that they didn’t even understand.

This is where our politics and news narratives have been leading us. Instead of soaring concepts that spur us to greatness …we’re talking about toilets.

I’ve heard of full-grown adults in California who actually believed that state would never get rain again. Because drought was a permanent state of normal …due to climate change …that was making the earth’s water evaporate. Seriously …I …whatever. Well, guess what? There’s rain now. Lots of it. And somehow, the three quarters of a TRILLION dollars spent on the American Recovery and Re-investment Act didn’t shore up the dams needed to stop it.

Sometimes it feels like angry children have been running things and journalists have been reporting it in such a way as to not get wished into the corn field.

NOW, they apparently want to be brave.

My 10-year-old son recently took a tour of the Nissan plant with his 4th grade class. He told me later he wanted to own a Nissan Leaf when he grew up, because it was the most “earth friendly.” I said that was awesome. He should buy what he wants. But he pressed, “no, dad …seriously it doesn’t use ANY gas. It’s all electric, so there’s no damage to the environment. You just plug it in.”

I very gently reminded him that when you plug something in, you’re most likely using coal generated electricity. So he might just be trading one fossil fuel for another. Still, totally cool to buy whatever he wanted. But he insisted, “dad …the electricity THIS car uses is from the sun only. No coal!” I just shook my head and smiled. No matter how much reality I try to introduce into his life …he prefers fantasy. Because he’s 10.

If you want to understand what’s happening between Donald J Trump, the press and the nation, it basically comes down to this: reasonable people have gotten tired of arguing with, and being treated like, 10-year-olds …so they elected one.

Have a nice four years of news.

R

MY TEACHER …

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I’m not as angry as I used to be. I listen more. I have empathy where I used to have contempt. It’s a lot easier for me to imagine myself in someone else’s shoes. Almost too easy. I want good things for people I don’t always like. I’m patient. I need less. I’m more thankful for every small kindness shown to me. And music …sweet, mysterious music …means more to me than it ever has.

I’m tired all the time. My body is a wreck from years of interrupted sleep, causing schizophrenic cortisol levels. I can’t verbally formulate sentences as fluidly as I once could. Prolonged periods of extreme stress do weird things to a person’s brain. I make a living with mine. And some of it has been sacrificed and compromised.

I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes …or cared. My hair must stay utilitarian and easily managed. I don’t know what it looks like most of the time …or care. My work schedule is sporadic at best and most of the time an afterthought. I am a slave to a maddeningly regimented schedule. And if I miss one beat of it, someone could get injured …or even die.

All of the above can be said of and about my wife …and probably more. We share all of it.

All of these things we share are the result of something called Angelman Syndrome, a disorder my 14-year-old daughter has. It is a deletion or mutation of the 15th maternal chromosome. It was named after doctor Harry Angelman, who was the first physician to catalog symptoms and treat people with this disorder. People afflicted with it are sometimes referred to as “Angels.” And I think that’s just about right. Because, despite the round-the-clock caregiving they require, they bring something angelic into the world.

I don’t write about my daughter as much as I used to because she’s a young woman now and I want to respect her privacy. She faces incredible challenges every day. And as I watch her struggle to perform basic tasks like holding a fork or brushing her hair, I realize that it’s not my place to embarrass her for the sake of “awareness.” The prevailing wisdom is that she knows she is like she is …and that breaks my heart …every. single. day.

This morning at 6 am, she was frustrated with what I had on TV. She used every sign she knows (which are only a couple) to tell me what she wanted to watch but I couldn’t get it. And it brought tears to her eyes. My JOB is to “communicate” …and I can’t talk to my own daughter about something as simple as the TV channel. This happens a dozen times a day, in almost every facet of life.

In a little more than 3 years my wife and I have to go to court and get legal guardianship of her again …when she turns 18. And we will begin the process of setting up a life for someone who requires assistance for everything from eating to going to the bathroom; bathing to going to bed. She also requires someone to be watching her every waking moment, so that she doesn’t play with knives or touch hot stoves or rip up mail or smash a TV screen with a blunt object …or a hundred other things that could injure her or someone else.

Friends and colleagues don’t always understand why I’m not more available to them – why I can’t just jump in the car and go meet for a beer without it being scheduled days in advance. And then when we ARE having a beer, they continually ask me “how I do it” or say things like “I could never handle what you handle.”

I get very uncomfortable in those conversations. And I don’t like having them. I’m not a hero. I’m not a super dad. I’m a man trying to raise a daughter. Nothing more. My wife and I are trying raise her with dignity and honesty as best we can. And while we’re trying to teach her how to choose between two colors …she’s teaching us more than we could’ve ever imagined.

She’s teaching us that lots and LOTS of things don’t actually matter. She’s teaching us that an honest smile means more than a fake Saturday night. And that if you’re going to love …love all the way. Anything short of that is not love at all. It’s something …but it isn’t love. She’s teaching us that life is too short and sweet to get angry at Facebook memes and politics with which we disagree.

My daughter wants everyone to meet and hug. She wants everyone to speak politely. And if a conversation gets heated around her, she gets upset. She smiles at everyone …the less attractive the better. She is prone to positivity and wants to laugh more than she wants to cry. She’s content with enough. She’s grateful for anything you give her and excited about it. She doesn’t have the luxury of a refined political point of view. So, if you play some cool tunes and dance with her, she will find something about you to like …even if she might disagree with you in some theoretical political universe. We could all take lessons from her. I do. Every day.

Angelman Syndrome is a horrible thing in and of itself. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And the fact that my precious innocent has to live with it makes me keep my fists up to the world. And I will fight for her until my death …literally. And then I can only hope and pray that someone will step in and take my place.

Maybe there will be a cure someday for her condition. They say it’s theoretically possible. And I would love nothing more than to have a conversation with her before I die. I’m sure the first words out of her mouth will be, “Dad, if people only knew how much you cuss around me in private, they’d be appalled.”

But who knows …a cure might mean she has to re-learn to do everything. Or learn to do it the first time.

All I know is while we’re fighting to make our children whole, they might just be making us whole in the process. At least that’s the case at my house.

And in my life I can honestly say that I learned more from a “damaged” chinese orphan than I leaned in 35 years of life before her.

People are always looking for angels. Well, I live with one. So if there’s a heaven, I’ll know exactly what to look for when I get there.

R

A GAME OF CHANCE …

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“Dad I when I grow up I want everything in the world to be free. Nobody charges for anything.” This was how the morning-drive-to-school started with my 10-year-old son.

“So, how do you get paid for anything if everything is free?”

He kind of halted. I don’t think he’d thought it all the way through. But he never misses an opportunity to argue with the wall …

“Well …if NOBODY gets paid for anything, then nobody NEEDS to get paid for anything. We all just do what we love for free and so does everybody else and it’s all just there for whoever needs it.”

At 10, he is already more dialed in to socialism than most socialists …but I digress.

Then I asked the tough question: “What if someone we REALLY need in our society doesn’t actually LOVE what they do? Can we force them to do it for free anyway? Isn’t that slavery?”

That’s where he decided to think more about it. I’m sure he’ll have an answer soon enough. Trust me …he will.

My 10-year-old has the luxury of thinking everything should be free because in his world, everything IS free. He was riding to school in a car he didn’t pay for, full of gasoline he didn’t have to buy or produce or refine. He was wearing clothes that just magically appeared in his closet …a closet that has always been there in his room …that he doesn’t pay the mortgage on. He didn’t build it or pay for the construction.

But I did. I bought, built and supervised every stick of wood that went into it. I made the trips to Home Depot. I know what it cost …and why.

We live in a world that doesn’t SEE the money anymore. Money is not paper. It’s ones and zeros that show up through direct deposit. Our lives do not require physical currency. We can literally go through entire weeks, months or years without ever needing any “cash” on our person. It’s all FROM an account TO an account. Keystrokes. Swipes. Pin numbers. It’s all so easy …it almost seems free.

But I believe this newfound transactional commerce has lulled us into a civil war over the very thing my son was talking about in the car. Because we don’t actually “pay” for things in the traditional sense anymore, we place a different value on everything.

All of my entertainment is piped into my house. I send a few digits to an account and …BOOM …Netflix is there for me. It’s the same with all my utilities, services and luxuries. In fact, I can do ALL my Christmas shopping on my iPhone or computer if I want. The only reason I left the house this year was because I still like being around people …sort of …in small doses.

Music is at the forefront of this new swipe-and-serve economy. In fact, it was the first canary in the coal mine. And guess what? Whether you know it or not, the canary got black lung and is still recovering.

I’ve spent the better part of a year making a documentary with three friends about the dying industry of content (particularly song) creation.

It’s all very complicated but put simply: When you stream a song, the streamer gets paid, the record label gets paid and the recording artist gets paid. The only one they forgot to put in that equation was the person who created the underlying work. And so, as the masses change how they consume music, an entire profession disappears from the American landscape. Families lose houses. Kids’ college funds get raided. Middle aged men and women have to start their lives from scratch.

But don’t worry …it’s not that many people. Just the ones who write your favorite songs.

Enter Chance the Rapper …

This uber talented young man just went home with some Grammy hardware for his mantle, this week. HIS new music model is not much different than my 10-year-old’s idea. He gives his music away for free. He says he doesn’t want to be limited by commerce. And he will make his money touring and selling merchandise.

He’s not alone in this. A lot of youngsters his age are joining the ranks of the “free music” movement. And I totally get it. You can pull down the very pillars and foundations of the music-business-controls-you machine if suddenly they can’t make money on your back. YOU control what you do. They don’t. And no one has to wait to get what you have to say. It’s all there for the taking …as it should be …in the world of 10-year-old economics.

As an aging man in this business, I would simply offer a few words to keep in mind, if you are young and staring at the genesis of your career …

Chance is 23. And his career is red hot …at the moment. Money and offers are everywhere for him right now. It’s raining opportunity in his life. But one day …not that long from now …he will be 33 and someone will be ten years younger and ten years hotter (and cooler) than he is. He might have a misstep with a project or (God forbid) injure himself in a way that keeps him off the road. His intellectual property (on its own merit) has literally NO value. Because he has given it no value …from the beginning.

I’ll bet he doesn’t give the t-shirts and hats away for free. He certainly doesn’t do free concerts. He has told you – the public – that everything in his orbit has value …except the music itself.

I’m 49. I was once the hot, upcoming artist who was going to tour year-round, have multiple income streams and look good on a product cover forever. But my story got halted by a chinese orphan and a radio programmer in the northeast. And just like that …I was ushered out of the spotlight.

But it’s cool because they tell you (while putting you out to pasture), “you’re a great writer, man. You can ALWAYS write!” So …I write.

But if the thing you’ve written has no value, then CAN you write? And what difference does it make if you do?

As hot as Chance the Rapper is right now, if he called me to collaborate on something with him, I’m not sure I would do it. Because I can’t for the life of me figure out how I would get paid from it. If he’s giving the music away for free …what’s in it for someone who doesn’t tour with him or who isn’t making his t-shirts?

Every society decides what it values. We’re in the middle of deciding the value of music right now …in real time.

My Ghost Town Troubadour buddies and I just shot more of our documentary in New York City. And, while there, we played a free show at The Bitter End. The girl who sang right before us was very excited that she had just beed added to Pandora (or Spotify …they’re all the same to me).

My weathered colleagues and I just smiled at each other. There’s no way she could see, from her 20-something stage view, the future of car payments and house payments and weddings and kids and medical bills and unexpected disasters and taking care of an ailing parent and all the things that life might and will throw at her.

If she’s lucky she will have created some music that people will want to sing or dance to or get married to or graduate to or get buried to. And THAT should always be worth something …whether she can be there personally to sing it or not.

As a creative, I’m learning to navigate a new economy. I do a lot of things for free. I’m do this thing you’re reading for free. And people always say, “learn to monetize.” That’s a big, popular word, “monetize.” They say you have to do a dozen things for free to find that one thing someone will pay you for. It’s all bait for something else …down the road. But at some point we have to decide what we actually value.

And right now, music – one of humanity’s greatest natural resources – is being used as bait for something else …somewhere else. Music is just a loss leader for t-shirts and concert tickets. That’s because people who make music will do it for the love of it. But people who make t-shirts don’t do it for the love. They do it for the money. If they don’t get paid …t-shirts don’t get made.

And that leads us back to my 10-year-old son’s utopian dream.

These days, for those who earn a living from intellectual property and royalty based income …that dream is starting to look more and more like a nightmare.

R

HAMILTON …

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Hamilton is the hottest show on Broadway.

When I first heard of the show’s production, I remember all the the hubbub over the “white people need not apply” casting call. But art has a way of finding transcendence. I always try to remember that. So I reserved judgement.

Now, months later, I was in New York, and got an unexpected ticket (thanks to a good friend) to witness this juggernaut first hand. And I was going to see what this phenomenon was all about.

Curtain up …

As a music artist, I was dazzled by the hip-hop style lyrical flourish. I’ve never seen that on a Broadway stage. Bravo. But the craft of the show (which is second to none) wasn’t what really grabbed me. I found the deeper concept coursing through the bloodline of the work itself, more important than the rhythms and the rhymes.

As the story and artistic expression unfolded, I began smiling to myself. This was genius. And by the first song in, I realized why it was so important for this piece to be performed by people of different races …not white. This wasn’t an exclusionary move against white people. It wasn’t “reverse racism.” This was a re-imagining of true, historical events in a way that allowed us ALL to participate …in the 21st century …without the ever-present distraction of race.

The brilliance of watching George Washington being re-interpreted as a black man allows you to examine what the man actually DID …rather than being constantly halted by what he LOOKED like.

And as I watched the two dark-skinned men next to me and the asian couple in front of me and the Muslim woman behind me all mesmerized by this re-telling of the birth of the American experiment, I realized they were seeing this through different eyes than mine. Now THEY got to feel a part of something extraordinary based solely on its merits, rather than feeling excluded from it because of powder wigs, harpsichord music, the King’s english …and pasty whiteness.

One might say, while watching Hamilton, that we get to judge the people who formed this country based on the content of their character …rather than the color of their skin. Seems like another great American might think that’s a good idea.

Alexander Hamilton (the actual man) was all the things the musical says he was: Bastard child of a (probable) whore, orphaned at 12; wayward immigrant to the new world; self-educated nobody from nowhere special. And yet he literally helped change the world as it had been known to that point, and created the one in which we all live today.

That is the very essence of individualism: the idea that no one has to be bound by their background or standing or the shade of their meat suit. THIS, my friends, IS what America is supposed to be about. And Hamilton makes that point over and over again.

Before I got on the plane for New York, a day earlier, my father and I had lunch together. He was recounting his involvement with some civil rights events in the 60s. But he also spoke about how confusing it could be for people at times.

One of his best (white) friends worked behind one of those infamous, segregated lunch counters. He was just a teenage kid with a job, not realizing the moment he was living in. A black woman walked in to protest. Then, she pulled out a pistol and shot his friend right between the eyes …at point-blank range.

Those types of things don’t fit easily into the “peaceful protest” narrative.

My father got a far-away stare and said, “son, these things aren’t always as cut and dried as people think they are. My involvement with the civil rights movement sometimes leaves me with mixed emotions. People are people and they can be bad OR good …no matter what their skin looks like. That’s why you have to take them all one at a time.”

Three hours later, I was in a city that is literally engulfed in surface diversity …meaning it is diverse in how it LOOKS.

But is visual diversity really the only kind of diversity we need?

I think there are three stages to racial freedom:

1. Classic racism.

You start out your life with people who look and act like you. And sometimes (not always …but sometimes) you’re taught that “other” is like this or like that. “They” do this and “they” do that. “They” are better runners or “they” are better at math or are “they” are horrible drivers. I mean come on …you know how “THEY” are. And so you become a racist on some level …probably without even knowing it.

2. Apologetic racism.

This is where most white people (who think they have achieved true racial enlightenment) get stuck …and stay. You decide that there is inherent VIRTUE in “other” just because it’s “other.” You want to right the wrongs, now. You believe “those poor people” NEED you to help them. You want to embrace all races (except your own) and celebrate diversity …of skin only. You’re still kind of a racist …you’re just really, REALLY sorry for it.

But the final and most important stage is this:

3. Individualism.

Once you realize that anyone from any background or race can rise or fall, kill or nurture, cut or heal, help or hurt, create or destroy – only then are you truly post racial.

Once you see a person as an individual …not just part of a group …they are harder to hate. THAT is true racial equality.

These days we seem to be more interested in what someone looks like than we are in what they THINK like. And if we’re not careful we’re going to have a society of different LOOKING people who all think the same way. And that is dangerous. Group-think is where everything falls apart …no matter what color it’s packaged in.

Hamilton takes us to stage 3 of racial enlightenment, whether it knows it or not. And we get to see INDIVIDUALS arguing and fighting over how to form a nation. And how a diversity of opinions and personalities can create something beautiful and strong.

Did that nation commit sins based on race and color? You bet. Is it still trying to get it right? Absolutely.

But as I landed in back in Nashville, on a plane full of white and black and brown men and women, and took my Chinese daughter to a prom for people with special needs – people of all different shapes, sizes, colors and races – it just felt like we might be moving in the right direction. Forward …not backward. Forward to the place where absolutely nothing about the exterior matters …except that smoking dress or dope tux you’ve got on.

The true diversity of Hamilton isn’t just the color of the skin on the stage. It’s the diversity of thought that is represented in the story. That story goes on …

And THAT kind of diversity …diversity of thought …is the most important of all.

R

LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE …

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I have this theory. I wonder if our interpretations of ancient texts – yes, even the bible – aren’t often misunderstandings of skewed translations of things that are true but …not exactly what was meant. You know …we miss one little punctuation mark here or misinterpret two little umlauts there and viola …we’re instructed to marry our sisters and only eat goat feet. And if we don’t, we can’t get into heaven.

Please …Christians …don’t crucify me with emails. It’s just a thought.

I’ve always been intrigued by the biblical “lamb’s book of life.” It’s supposed to be a book – a complete record – of everything everyone on earth has ever said or done. Even as a youngster, listening to my father preaching about this huge book, I secretly questioned the size and scope of such a document. It would have to be volumes and volumes of mundane text.

I always imagined how it would be full of “got up and brushed teeth …watched a bird on the window sill …yawned …etc” before we got to anything juicy. And I always hated the idea of having to stand there and listen to every single thing every single person ever said or did. It sounded like the most horribly boring day imaginable.

But what if that “book” was something like “Facebook.” What if God wasn’t writing it all down at all. What if WE were writing it all down …voluntarily? Now THAT’S a lot more interesting. And it also works in concert with the notions of consciousness and confession and the confronting of one’s own self.

What if, at some judgement we have completely misinterpreted, you have to come face to face with YOU. What if it’s not some third-party judge imposing a narrative on you that is in dispute. What if it’s actually YOU having to come to terms with YOU? YOUR own words. YOUR own thoughts. YOU wrote them …yourself.

For reasons such as this (and many more) I am a fierce defender of the first amendment. I actually think you SHOULD be able to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. Because if you were to do something like that, we would know what kind of a person you are. We would need no judge and jury. You’ve removed all doubt about who and what you are willing to do. It’s the purest judgement of all. The judgement of one’s own words.

Freedom of speech isn’t just a right so everyone can speak without being arrested. It allows us to assess dispassionately. It was a genius move to make it the very FIRST right. Because of it, I can sit back and let you tell me exactly who you are. I don’t have to judge or make assumptions or speculate. If I am quiet enough, for long enough …and you are verbal enough, for long enough …I will know everything I need to know about you. You will tell me. I won’t have to guess.

This is why we should never shut down speech. MORE speech is important. It’s necessary. Even if we hate what someone is saying …let them say it. They are writing their own judgement of themselves.

What we say and sing and write is everything. It’s the story of who we are …and who we’re not. This is why I so adore songwriting. It is the ultimate glimpse into the soul. If you write enough songs, we will know who you are as a person. You will tell us. If someone writes great songs, they might seem like a horrible person on the outside …but there’s a gem in there, somewhere. The songs tell all.

I strongly suggest that everyone on planet earth write a memoir about themselves and their lives. Everyone has a fascinating story whether they believe it or not. But more than that, I can tell you from personal experience that writing about yourself makes you face hard truths about who you are. We all see ourselves as the innocent hero of our own story. But writing about yourself honestly, often reveals your own prejudices and downfalls and imperfections and low-road patterns.

We’re watching people riot right now because they are upset at certain kinds of speech. I don’t know about you, but I’d love a day …just any old day …without a freaking protest in this country. But I digress …

While we’re waiting on that day, I think we should keep in mind that speech – especially speech we abhor – is important. All of it. Shutting it down is the wrong thing to do. Illuminating it is the answer. Make people come face to face with their own words. Make them hear themselves. Allow them to show us who they are. Then let the world judge.

I get at least one private message a week asking me how I can tolerate keeping this person or that person in my social media circle and on my feed. I purposely keep people on the hard right and the hard left. And I welcome them equally. I do this because I want to hear what people – ALL people – have to say. I’m just observing. Those people are writing the record of their lives …whether they know it or not.

Maybe one day we will stand before a heavenly judge. If we do, trust me …I’ll have plenty to answer for. But I want my book to be honest and heartfelt and thoughtful. I don’t want it to show someone who backed down from conflict or disagreement. But I also don’t want it show someone who disrespected or discounted. I certainly don’t want it to read like some “to whom it may concern” angry letter.

I always ask myself, when I write a song or a blog or a book or a post, “would I want this said or sung at my funeral?” And maybe, more to the point …my after life.

If we’re all writing our own judgement story, and some angel is gonna read all this one day, I want mine to be a good read …with humor and grace and a full heart. Not just a bunch of insults hurled at people I didn’t like.

Because God knows with my grammar and spelling it’s gonna be hard enough to get into heaven.

 

 

R

THIS HITLER NONSENSE …

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I am not an expert on Hitler. But my father is.

He toured post-war Germany extensively in 1957 and ’58 as a child performer. And he often recounts the stories. He befriended  teenage Lebensborn children (if you don’t know what Lebensborn children are …well …before you post anymore about Hitler you should read about them). He visited an SS widow and got a peek at her husband’s uniform and Luger (that he’d committed suicide with), she had stored in an old trunk, in the attic.

These and other intense experiences in Germany sent my father on a life-long quest to understand this sociopath (Hitler) and the country that allowed itself to be dragged into one of the darkest chapters in world history. My dad is a Hitler/Nazi buff the way Indiana Jones’ dad was a Holy Grail buff.

As the son of a man with this hobby (one might call obsession) I learned a lot about Hitler and the Third Reich just by osmosis, growing up. My father would weave WWII stories into his sermons. He would talk about new books he was reading on the subject. When I was nine-years-old I bought him a book on the battle of Stalingrad for Christmas. Not a tie or a pair of socks. A book …on the battle …of Stalingrad. Yeah …it was kinda like that.

The thing my father and I have often discussed, through the years, is the eye-rolling art of comparing American presidents to Hitler. It is such an absurdity we find it amusing …and frustrating. It’s often just a punch line. Like the Soup Nazi wasn’t really a Nazi. He was just mean. The Nazi part made it funny. You know …over-the-top. Like “grammar Nazi” or “spelling Nazi.” Nobody is really a “Nazi.” It’s our representation of something we consider jarring, strident, intractable and inhumane.

But the truth about Nazis isn’t funny at all. It’s bloody and horrible and gut churning. And it involves machine guns and butchery and inhumanity on a scale that takes your breath away. Nobody is really a “soup Nazi” …unless they served it in a concentration camp.

The idea of comparing an American president to Hitler is just as absurd …from any angle, in any context. The American system ITSELF pretty much prevents “Hitlers” from showing up. And America ITSELF is anathema to what Hitler was trying to create. An American ANYTHING or ANYONE is hard to fit into the Hitler model. It’s just not apples to apples.

There are some fundamental things to understand about Hitler:

1. He took over a small, failing state that didn’t have separated government, enumerated powers or checks and balances. It’s difficult for a guy like that to show up here, in this system.

2. His entire political career was violent from the beginning. There was always death in his wake. He didn’t just suddenly “turn” violent. It was a pattern …as it always is with sociopaths. This is THE most important thing to watch; the violence. I always keep an eye on who is rioting …breaking things …throwing rocks and bombs. It doesn’t make them Nazis. But it signals how far they’re willing to go.

3. He entered office with his own personal military construct (the SS) with allegiance to him ONLY. They would carry out things the regular military would never carry out: i.e. the murder of private citizens and political opponents. Nothing like that exists or COULD exist in America. We simply wouldn’t allow it.

4. He didn’t start out just killing Jews. He started out euthanizing people with special needs …for the betterment of the care-givers’ lives. (You can decide which side of the aisle favors the extermination of “inconvenient” people).

5. He disarmed the population, then nationalized healthcare and education. (Two-out-of-three of those are Bernie Sanders moves …But, guess what? Bernie isn’t Hitler either …not by a long shot)

The list goes on and on. But the deal is this:

Hitler was a real life murdering sociopath. He wasn’t just a charismatic speaker who incrementally fell into bad behavior. He wasn’t just a racist corrupted by unfettered power. In other words, you or I probably couldn’t end up being Hitler. A garden variety KKK leader probably couldn’t end up being Hitler either …or a community organizer …or a New York real-estate tycoon. It’s not that easy or simple.

NONE of our American presidents have ever been Hitler. But the people of Germany certainly thought FDR was a murdering dictator when B-17s started dropping bombs on them. This is why you have to KNOW what you believe and why you believe it. Good guys and bad guys are often in the eyes of the beholder. And they often look similar in the fog of conflict. I would imagine Japanese Americans in internment camps wondered if their president was Hitler-like. Nope. Horrible act …but not close to Hitler.

To that point, ironically, the American president who could’ve actually been likened to Hitler (before Hitler) in some of his methods was …wait for it …Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln broke more constitutional law than any other president in U.S history. He imprisoned political opponents without due process. He suspended habeas corpus. He was personally responsible for the deaths of six hundred thousand people.

He invaded countries that had declared their own sovereignty and forced them back into a union they didn’t want to be a part of. He unilaterally annexed Nevada, without 60 thousand residents, (a pre-requisite for becoming a state) in order to carry it and win the 1864 election. In other words, he pretty much rigged it.

And when he was killed by one of the highest paid and most famous actors of his day (ironic …don’t you think?), the actor screamed “thus always to tyrants!” (in latin) because the man thought he was being a patriot for ridding the world of a dictator. But he wasn’t …and he didn’t.

Lincoln did all of those things to end and win the Civil War. And today we love him for it …as we should. Because in the end, his vision was right …even though his methods were suspect in the heat of the moment.

When people think they’re seeing a Hitler, they might actually – sometimes – be seeing something closer to a Churchill. Before WWII everyone thought Churchill was the big bad wolf. His own people hated him and thought he was a Hitler type character (again …pre-Hilter). But he just kept saying, “guys …I’m telling you. This Hitler guy is the real problem. Not me.” And he turned out to be right. There’s a difference between an abrasive leader who makes you uncomfortable …and a despot.

Now, people are comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. And the countdown has officially begun, to …well …I don’t know …but something really bad. I get that someone who is combative with the press and who wants to vet refugees and shut down open immigration fits the bill some are always looking for when it comes to finally getting their “Hitler” villain.

But if you study enough about it, you realize the guy vetting and banning refugees is probably not Hitler …the guy CREATING refugees probably is.

If we keep looking for Hitler in every United States president we disagree with, we’re not going to recognize the real one when he actually shows up …in a different country.

R

CONTINENTAL PRIVILEGE …

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I have a son in China. Well …not really. He was almost my son. Maybe he should’ve been. He is probably around 17, now. And I think about him almost every day …

During the dramatic adoption of my daughter, we had to rush her to the Chinese hospital twice in two days. This wasn’t the beautiful hospital, tailor made for photo ops. This was the utilitarian, open-air, urine-trough-in-the-floor, blood-and-puss-on-the-examination-table triage hut, the Chinese didn’t want Americans to see (I was asked to put my camera away several times). I’m always amused at theoretical communists who’ve never actually SEEN it in action …but I digress.

As the over-worked nurses were trying to put a needle in my daughter’s head, suddenly, high-pitched Cantonese was being yelled into my right ear. I jerked around, startled to find a very loud, tiny, determined “peasant lady,” complete with dirty head-scarf, missing teeth and weathered, cracked skin, yelling at me.

At first I didn’t know what was happening. But then, on closer examination, I saw that she was holding a 3-year-old boy (about) on the examination table next to her.

He was smiling at me and wearing a red sweater. I still see that sweater in my dreams. The peasant lady was showing me his teeth and his hair while she jabbered on incessantly. I had no idea what was happening. Finally, our translator pulled away from the drama playing out on our own exam table, and told me the woman was trying to give me her son to adopt and take to America.

I thought, in my semi-shocked state, that this was some sort of joke. I laughed a little, trying to lighten the mood. But the translator said, in her slightly broken english, “she serious. She has never seen American before. Thinks this her only chance to get son out of China.”

And that was the day I fully understood birth privilege. This woman and I were only separated by the fact that we had been born in different places …as different genders …under different governmental systems.

Some people roll their eyes at concepts like “white privilege” but I believe it’s a real thing.

Although I cannot change the skin into which I was born, I understand all too well that I write and create and LIVE from the perspective of a white male. And that comes with a certain amount of privilege in this current culture (at least for now).

Once you understand your privilege, it’s up to you (individually) to try and balance it. But the tricky thing about privilege is that everybody has it in some way. And it can play out in paradoxical ways. My daughter was born into less privilege than that little boy. But ironically, his “male privilege” kept him trapped in China. And her LACK of privilege (being born a female orphan) got her out of China …and into more privilege than he will ever know. Life is interesting.

Since that day in that hospital, I’ve tried to level my white, male, American privilege in ways I really don’t care to talk about …because it’s no one’s business but mine. But just know that YOU have some sort of privilege too. White women in America probably have more privilege than black women. But black women in America have more privilege than that peasant woman in China. Privilege is a global thing.

One of the biggest privileges on earth is being born in the United States. We all kind of know this. And many feel guilty about it. But there is also a certain privilege to being born on the North American continent. Why is that?

Being born in Canada is certainly its own privilege. And believe it or not, being born in Mexico has its own privilege when it comes to immigrating to the US.

You see, they didn’t allow me to bring that little boy back from China. There were armed guards and public officials and government agencies LITERALLY everywhere, blocking that from happening. The little peasant lady and her son were ushered away from me by two men in uniforms. She didn’t understand the protocol. And as she was being led away from me, she was still yelling and trying with all her might to get her son out of rural China, to a better life.

What she didn’t understand is you can’t just go to China and pick out a kid and bring them home. There are processes and forms to fill out and back ground checks to do. And there’s a lot of cross talk between both countries and their various adoption and immigration agencies. This is how things have to work.

Even though I still dream of that little boy …I simply could not take him home with me. And some days I have a hard time reconciling that. But laws and borders are serious things. We all know this in the abstract. It just gets difficult to accept when human lives are caught in the middle of that realization.

We’ve had an open southern border in the United States for decades. And we’re the ONLY organized nation on planet earth that allows people to simply walk across that border and live here. We’ll only try to catch you at the point of entry. But if you make it past the guards, you’re pretty much home free …literally.

Nobody else does that. You can’t do that in Canada or even MEXICO. Definitely not China. And reasonable Americans have often wondered to themselves, “Should we build some sort of wall or fence? Don’t we need a secure border? And maybe a vetting process of some kind for people who want to come here? That seems reasonable to me. Am I wrong about that?” But no one wants to say that out loud because they don’t want to be labeled a racist.

No U.S president in my lifetime has ever tried to truly address this …until now. And the can of worms has been opened.

The truth is we who were born in the U.S do have privilege. It’s absolutely true. But, in our attempt to level that, should we keep our borders open and simply allow people to walk over? If so, then why can’t I go get that little boy from China and bring him over? I’ll tell you why. Because he doesn’t have continental privilege.

He was simply born in the wrong hemisphere.

The fact is, if we gave the southern half of the U.S back to Mexico, people from Mexico would still be crossing into Utah and Colorado. Because Mexico has some problems. BIG ones. And people want to get out of there. And THAT’S the issue you have start squaring once you drill into your own privilege.

The ultimate goal is not to have all 7 billion people on earth come to America. That is not physically possible. But what IS possible is to support countries who are moving toward more freedom and equity. And call out counties who aren’t …and help move them in that direction. If China were a better place, there would be no peasant women trying to give their sons to Americans. If Mexico were a better place there would be no inflow of people racing to get out of there.

But laws and borders are necessary. Even if you think the enforcement of such things is unseemly.

If people from Mexico are simply allowed to cross the border without process, then why do we have customs? Why do we have to carry passports? Why do we have border check points going in and out of our countries?

If walking across a border is acceptable, just because …you know …IT’S RIGHT THERE …then someone owes an impoverished teenage boy in China, 14 years of a better life in America …with me.

R

 

PUPPIES …

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We hadn’t planned on actually getting a puppy. We were just window shopping at the animal shelter. But when we went to put Buster – the cutest little fuzz ball I’d ever seen –  back in his cage, he reached his paw out toward us and motioned for us to come back. My wife crumbled. “There is NO WAY we’re leaving that baby here!” she exclaimed. And so, the first of our several adoptions took place …that day.

Buster was the best puppy I ever had. He was well mannered and smart. He never cried and he house trained in about two days. He was perfect.

One day I was walking him down the street to drop some bills in the mailbox at the end of the road, where we lived. It was a busy street and I always held the leash tightly. But as I opened the box to drop the envelopes in, the leash loosened in my hand just long enough for Buster to lunge away and chase something out in the street. It was literally in a flash. Just as he did …he was instantly run over by a car going too fast.

The man behind the wheel didn’t know what he’d done. But he’d run over Buster’s hind quarters, basically like a speed bump. I saw the whole thing happen. And it was horrible to watch.

The driver unbelievably just shrugged it off and kept going, as if nothing was wrong. And he left my perfect puppy yelping and squirming in the middle of the street. I raced out to scoop him up. And as I reached down, he clamped down on my finger so violently he almost severed it. But I kept trying. I knew I had to get him out of the road. Finally, I was able to lift him and walk him to the animal hospital that was mercifully two buildings away.

The entire time we walked he was biting at me and yelping and basically out of his mind.

When I entered the hospital they rushed over to help us. Apparently I was bleeding pretty badly. I didn’t even realize it. The vet on call said the pup was in so much pain he was just lashing out at whatever was close. And he could see by the ashen look on my face I was kinda in shock as well.

They cleaned my wounds and sent me home. They sedated and ran tests on Buster. And they said if he could go to the bathroom by the end of the day, he was probably, miraculously going to be okay.

As it turned out …Buster WAS okay. The vet off-handedly quipped that there might have been some damage to his hips but it probably wouldn’t even show up for ten to fifteen years. That sounded pretty good to me. You always think ten to fifteen years is going to be long enough.

I’ve always remembered how rabid and angry sweet little Buster looked and acted that day. It wasn’t really him. It was just the pain he was in. He loved me – he love EVERYBODY – and would never want to hurt anyone. But I was there and I was touching some traumatized nerves in his fluffy little body. He couldn’t control his response. And so I got bit a few times. But I knew he was just acting out of instinct.

These days, we all seem to be lashing out at each other so much. And I understand it. Politics and religion are intimate pieces of our lives. We are directly affected by such things. And so we have these exposed nerves that are constantly being touched as we scroll through our “feed” or read our “wall.”

And with all those nerves exposed, social media has become a place for us to do battle instead of a place to congregate and learn or have fun or share life. No side of any argument ever wins. We reinforce what we believe or we throw bombs at the other side.

But I think we’re all just puppies, writhing in the road. We’re acting out of instinct. When someone lashes out at me, I try and remember Buster and how much pain he was in that day. At the root of all the anger and vitriol and sarcasm and ALL CAPS and exclamation points and profanity, there’s a wounded puppy in there somewhere …just biting what’s in front of them.

After fourteen years, Buster’s hips did finally give way to crippling arthritis. Time caught up to him. After the kids came along, he pretty much lived with me in the studio, on the ground floor. And by the end of his life he could barely walk, much less get up steps.

On the night before we had to put him to sleep, I took him out one last time …around 1 in the morning. He tried his best to go to the bathroom. But his hips kept giving out and I had to hold him up. Finally he just laid down. As I scooped him up to carry him inside, he almost snapped at me …like he had done all those years ago. But he caught himself and licked my hand instead.

I was hurting him. I knew it. But this time I think he knew I was trying to help him. We were old friends, and we’d been through a lot together. Millions of thrown balls …bags and bags of treats and chew toys …hours and hours of ear rubs on the couch.

I don’t know if dogs remember those things. But his eyes seemed to say, “Thanks, pal. I know you love me.”

And now Buster isn’t here anymore. But I keep a picture of him in my office. And the bites aren’t the things I remember. It’s all the other stuff …the really, really good stuff. The fun stuff. The sweet stuff.

Maybe we can all grow old together, friends. Maybe one day we’ll stop biting and snapping at each other. Maybe, when we work through our own pain, we won’t be so quick to inflict it on others.

Because as long as you’re focussed on the bites, you forget how cool dogs …and friends …are. And how much you miss them when they’re gone.

R

WOMEN …

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“Dad, it’s just science. Girls are superior to boys IN EVERY WAY. Everybody knows that.”

My (then) 9-year-old son was adamant about this.

I tried to tell him gender doesn’t matter. I tried to tell him that everyone was different …special …unique. But it was falling on deaf ears. And I realized my son is being raised in the world of “girl power,” beta males and Homer Simpson dads. He’s never seen a father or husband be right or smart or clever in ANY TV commercial in his life. The man is always the foil. He doesn’t know he’s supposed to be a hero. Because the male hero archetype is being systematically removed from the culture. Nobody needs a man to complete, help, heal, fix or rescue them. We get it. And so, males are currently a bit adrift.

Men are in the process – literally as we speak – of going from Viking marauders to domesticated care-givers, complete with soft hands, gentle smiles and baby front packs. And it’s actually wreaking havoc on our testosterone levels. There is science that backs this up.

I always wanted to elevate myself beyond my gender. I refuse to allow my wife to care for me in any way when I get sick. I’ve driven myself to the ER several times with kidney stones. I will not be the “man/baby” with the cold. I wash and fold my own clothes. I vacuum. I change diapers. And I never require sex. I’ve chosen booze to take its place …but I digress.

This has nothing to do with my wife or our relationship. This started years before I met her. I never wanted to be “that guy” …the stereotype …the simpleton, easy to bash. I was raised during the “me” generation, and Hellen Reddy let my 7-year-old self know exactly how it was going to be. I was sent the signal from my youth, “YOU are the problem, young man.” And so I guess I’ve spent my life trying to not be the problem.

Enter a 70-year-old alpha male, child/billionaire/president, driving women insane and into the streets. I understand the marches I suppose. But I sure wish someone had marched with a sign decrying all the Muslim nations that actually DO abuse women …again, I digress.

The truth is, here are a few points where a lot of men (okay – just me) are coming from regarding women and marches and such:

1. We hear you the first time.

This march that attracted millions of women, was pretty much a lot of women telling us …

* “We refuse to allow mysogonist billionaires to get away with disrespecting women!”  Got it. Trump bad. 50 Shades of Grey, good. K …

* “You can’t just grab us by the privates.” Got it. We’ll pass the message on to the Donald. In exchange, could ya’ll tell Madonna that threatening to blow up the White House is kind of a thing?

* “We are NOT giving up the right to terminate our potential offspring.” Got it. Even if I can see a foot print in your belly …you get to get rid of it. Check. More on that later …

EVERY single man I know, knew all of this already. But thanks for reminding us …again. Because we love that. Especially when you scream it at us.

*** As an aside …were the vagina costumes on Pinterest or something? How did that many people know how to find/make one? Anyway …moving on …

2. We’re not trying to make more money than you.

This 78 cents on the dollar thing is a good sound byte figure. But it’s misleading. There is literally no place in America where someone can systematically hire women at lower rates than men …BECAUSE they’re women. At least not legally. This has been against the law for over 40 years. You can only make something a law so many times. There is no “man pay chart” and “woman pay chart” at any company, anywhere. We all know this, right?

But there ARE market forces in play. Take movies for instance: All actors don’t get paid the same thing because of the market. And a lot of that market is, ironically, driven by …women. More women will go see a Brad Pitt movie than they will a …oh …I don’t know …Ashley Judd movie. Film people know this and offer Ms Judd the amount they can project based on her past box office performances. They’ll do the same with Brad. And no matter how many laws are on the books, those two numbers will never be equal. The market simply won’t allow them to be.

Incidentally, this is the same reason I don’t earn as much money as Harry Connick Jr. And we both have pianos and penises …I’m assuming.

When you factor the dozens of variables into the equation, the pay discrepancy between men and women is actually less than a nickel per dollar.

3. You (ladies) body shame each other. We just like your bodies.

Marilyn Monroe was a size 14. And I don’t care. Men don’t sit around and talk about who is a size what. Women are the ones who focus on all that stuff. We don’t really even know the difference between a size 6 and a size 10 …or a size 18. We think you’re hot just like you are. We’ll take you being nice to us over flat abs any day.

4. Sometimes we NEED to fix it.

We know you always say you don’t want it fixed. You just want us to listen. But trust me on this …fixing it is WAY easier than listening. And we break so much stuff, we should fix some things, sometimes. At least let us THINK we’re fixing it on occasion. We need to feel useful.

5. Motherhood and fatherhood are viewed very differently.

I understand the part of the recent march that focussed on reproductive rights. As much as I think abortion is an abomination, I am on record as not wanting to imprison women who have one (as long as I don’t have to pay for it …I think that’s fair). But think of this …

When you demand the right to “choose,” what is that “choice” you’re asking for, exactly? You’re demanding the right to choose MOTHERHOOD or not. That’s pretty much the core of it. You want the right to say, “I’m not ready for this and so I am terminating it.” Okay …fine.

But if a man decides HE doesn’t want to be a father …he’s labeled a “deadbeat dad.” I dare say if a million men marched in the streets to demand their right to NOT be fathers, we would call them cowards and pigs and dismiss them as horrible human beings. As someone who CHOSE to be a father, I certainly would.

But maybe I should re-think my view of deadbeat dads if we all get to decide, POST PREGNANCY, if we actually want that responsibility or not. In the spirit of true equality, why does a man have to be a dad if he doesn’t want to be, if a woman doesn’t have to be a mom if she doesn’t want to be? Just a thought …

Finally, you should know ladies, that most of us men ARE trying to be good fathers and good husbands and good citizens toward you. We’re pretty sure we’re on our way to just being sperm donors and strong backs in your future society (I’m already out on both counts).

But we’re not trying to subjugate you. We don’t want you to shut up and sit down (well …at least not sit down). We don’t think of you as less than us. To the contrary, most conversations I have with my bros are about how much smarter women are than us. We know you’re not servants. We don’t want to rape anybody (at least the large majority of us doesn’t).

Just like my 10-year-old son, we think of you as superior to us in almost every way. And we’re actually cool with that.

We still just don’t quite understand you. That’s probably because we’re not all that smart in the first place. So, grant us a little grace.

The only definite thing we’ve figured out so far is …we’re pretty sure you’re all crazy.

R

PS – that last line was a joke. PLEASE don’t send pages and pages of emails. I’m winking and laughing. Laugh along with me! Seriously …only send a paragraph at the most. I just can’t read it all. I know every detail is important but …cut me a break. I have chores to do! Seriously …

THE WHISPER …

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When I snapped at Oprah on the TV, my sister-in-law bristled. I retorted, “probably not” under my breath in response to Oprah’s declaration that the next four years were going to be “GREAT!” She was discussing the freshly minted president Obama and she and Will Smith were beside themselves in elation.

My sister-in-law was also happy about the new, young president and was interested in why I didn’t share in the glee. “Why do you say that? How do you know it’s not going to be great?” she asked.

I took a breath and smiled. “Because the expectations are too high. NO one can live up to that,” I replied as I pointed toward the two unhinged celebrities.

She was taken aback. Clearly she was thinking my response was going to be political. But it was not. My response was simply a comment on human nature. And I honestly felt a heaviness for Mr Obama when he entered office because too many hopes and dreams rested in his hands. No one should have that kind of power. And no one should have that kind of weight on them.

Today, we swore in a new president. Some are rioting in the streets and some are dancing. And both sides are wasting their time. Donald J Trump will leave office (in four-to-eight years) with just as much unfinished business as any other president. Just like Mr Obama did …just like Mr Bush did …just like EVERY other president did.

He will do some good things and some bad things and he will definitely be human …just like all his predecessors. If he’s a good president, he’ll set a positive tone for the country and govern in a way that allows people freedom, promotes their prosperity and doesn’t get them killed. And in this unpredictable world …that’s harder to do than you may think.

In this president’s case, the expectations may be so low that he has nowhere to go but up. But I wish we didn’t still hang so many of our aspirations and dreams on the outcome of ONE election. I’m truly saddened by people who seem to have gotten so wrapped up in the presidency that they are moved to tears one way or another. That fascinates me. I don’t believe I’ve ever spent tears on someone seeking or leaving public office. It’s not like they’re in the playoffs. At any rate …

Patton is one of my all time favorite movies. In the final few minutes of the film there is a narration given by George C Scott as Patton. It recounts a certain tradition of Roman conquerers. As they rode, in the lead chariot, through the teeming streets of Rome, they no doubt felt that they were at the center of the universe. But a captured slave would always be standing next to them, in attendance. And the slave would whisper in their ear, as they drank in the adulation of the people …

“All glory is fleeting.”

So …congratulations, Mr President. I hope you are the best president of my lifetime. I hope you do the job well and leave the country better than you found it.  But I also hope that if you have enough power to make me happy or sad, rich or poor, hated or loved, cared for or not cared for, that you will divest the office of that power before you leave.

And I hope you always hear …the whisper.

R