In 2008, the President Obama “Hope” t-shirts and posters were everywhere, so popular that the image became iconic. You don’t see the image much anymore, with President Obama’s approval ratings sinking in the direction of the 40 percent level, according to the Real Clear Politics average. However, the “Hope” t-shirts are still being sold at a souvenir stand at Reagan National Airport for $12.99 apiece — although they don’t command nearly as much shelf space as brightly colored, generic “Washington D.C.” hoodies.
Yesterday morning in Washington, D.C., I walked past Ford’s Theater. A small, quaint red brick building among the modern concrete structures of downtown Washington, the theater looks as it did 150 years ago, on that terrible night when Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth.
It’s wonderful that Ford’s Theate still exists; so much of American history has been erased in our never-ending quest for bigger and better that it’s gratifying to see a place that played such an important part in our history has been preserved. So, too, has the house across the street where our greatest President died, and Edwin Stanton aptly said “Now he belongs to the ages.”
America being what it is, however, you won’t be surprised to learn that, among these sober living memorials to a dark chapter is a cheesy souvenir shop called Honest Abe Souvenir, which was having it’s grand opening as we walked by. Because, after witnessing the place where American history took a grim turn and a great man breathed his last, who wouldn’t want to buy an Honest Abe mug or T-shirt?
I’m not quite sure how a cabbie would determine “marital status” or “family responsibility” or “political affiliation” or “source of income” or other non-visible qualities. I do know that if one asked me about any of these topics he wouldn’t need to discriminate against me — I’d never get into a taxi with a complete stranger who asked me such intrusive personal questions. (It’s nerve-wracking enough to trust that complete stranger to drive you to your destination without incident, without wondering whether the personal inquisitiveness means he is a complete nutcase, if not an axe murderer.)
Although the list of protected characteristics is long, it is not exhaustive. It appears D.C cab drivers could still refuse to transport someone who smells awful, or displays visible signs of complete insanity, or is brandishing a hand grenade.
In Profiles In Courage, John F. Kennedy wrote of eight United States Senators who, at different times in the nation’s history, took brave stands against prevailing opinion, risking their careers by voting against popular causes or opposing what they believed was wrong.
Boy, things have really gone downhill since then. Now the people running for the Senate seem to be more interested in demonstrating their cravenness than their courage.
Consider Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic candidate for Senate in Kentucky. In her meeting with the editorial board of the Louisville Courier-Journal she was asked repeatedly whether she had voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012. And she declined to answer the question — again and again and again. It’s a pathetic performance by a candidate who is attempting to hide behind the “sanctity of the ballot box.” And Grimes is not alone. Other Senate candidates this year also are declining to answer questions about whether they voted for President Obama.
When someone is trying to be elected to a position that will make them one of only 100 members of the United States Senate, and if elected will be serving during the final two years of the Obama Administration, I don’t think it’s unfair to ask whether they voted for the President. If a candidate running as a Democrat is unwilling to answer that question, what does that tell you about that candidate’s ability to be open and transparent, actually tell you what they believe, and let the chips fall where they may? Why would anyone — regardless of their party affiliation or political perspective — trust a candidate who won’t directly answer a question about who they voted for in the last presidential election?
This is a big problem. We don’t have candidates who actually believe in anything — other than getting elected. In my view, if you’re not willing to simply answer the question Grimes was asked, and then add whatever additional caveats you think are appropriate, you are simply too gutless to hold a job that requires both responsibility and leadership.
Yesterday UJ and I decided — unwisely, it turned out — to go to a sports bar to watch the Browns. The place was crowded with hopeful fans, so we had to share a long table with a couple. As the game started, an old guy asked if he could sit at the table, too.
We said sure . . . and then I was surprised to see that, rather than sitting in an open chair farther down, the guy sat right at UJ’s elbow. During the game he kept chattering away and interrupting, clearly hoping to engage us in conversation. At first it was weird and annoying, but eventually it got to be so absurd it was funny. As the Browns’ horror show mounted, it became one source of humor in another otherwise grim Browns debacle.
It reminded me of an experience Kish and I had on a trip. When we passed through a common room in a hotel, an older man was sitting there with a few bottles of wine and invited us to come back for a “wine tasting.” Kish felt sorry for him and said we should join him, so later we did. The guy turned out to be a colossal know-it-all who chattered away non-stop, overriding the comments of others and one-upping every observations and anecdote. No matter the topic, he knew more about it than you did. Name a place, even a remote spot in a foreign land, and he had had an extraordinary experience there. It was an amazing performance — so extraordinary that when Kish and I finally escaped the onslaught, we also got a few laughs out of it.
Although they produced a few chuckles, the incidents with the Wine Guy and the Random Browns Fan were kind of sad, too. I can see going to a bar to watch a game on satellite dish that’s not on regular TV; I’ve done it before. But I’ve never tried to intrude on the conversations of others, and I’ve certainly never bought a few bottles of wine in hopes of enticing random people to sit and listen to my boring tales. (That’s what a blog is for!)
There must be a lot of lonely old guys out there, searching for positive human contact.
Mention “aging” to someone in their 50s — like me — and you’re likely to provoke a grim expression. We feel the aging process in our muscles and bones, we get that ugly twinge after a sudden move, and we see it when we look in the mirror and notice the grey hairs, the wrinkles, and the pathetic turkey neck.
But what if aging could be slowed? What if therapies and treatments could be developed that would decelerate the ravages of time, or stave it off altogether?
Scientists are looking into the possibility that gene therapy, hormone treatments, and other approaches might have that effect and have been using some of the new treatment concepts in experiments on animals. Economists believe that treatments that successfully delay aging — and thereby allow people to be productive and healthy longer — could have enormous economic consequences.
Speaking as one of the aging generation, I’m all in favor of seeing whether reasonable treatments can be developed. At the same time, however, I question whether heroic efforts should be devoted to deferring the effects of aging when there are many other public health issues that also need attention. And a public health focus on aging makes sense only if the years that are added are healthy, sane, active, non-institutionalized years. When you regularly visit a nursing home and see how many Americans are living their final years, you can legitimately question whether living longer is inevitably a great thing.
America has enjoyed many blessings. Two of the more obvious ones are extraordinary national parks and exceptional women singers.
On the latter category: if you haven’t already done so, give a listen to the Norah Jones CD The Fall. Sure, I know it’s been out there for a while. So has Zion National Park. That doesn’t make it any less amazing.
You could spend days talking about incredible female voices in American music. Judy Garland. Rosemary Clooney. Aretha Franklin. Patsy Cline. Janis Joplin. Linda Ronstadt. Gladys Knight.
In The Fall, Norah Jones holds her own with this impossible competition. Her smoky voice, with its deliberate pace and terrific lower register, adds an incredible depth to her songs. Listen to I Wouldn’t Need You and December if you don’t believe me.
Friday night, after a great night out catching up with old friends and a few cold Blue Moon Beligian Wheats, is just about the perfect time to listen to Norah Jones.