Archive for December, 2012

A Gratitude List for 2012

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

By Bob Gaydos

The last few years I’ve practiced the habit of making a gratitude list at the end of the year. Nothing formal. Just a kind of memo to myself about the the good things in my life and even in the world we live in.

Some people might find this corny or even delusional, given the state of much of the world. For me, that’s the reason for doing it. I have learned that if I focus on the positive people and situations in my life, the rest of the nonsense, over which I have little or no control, tends not to bother me, or at least not nearly as much as it used to. And positive stuff tends to follow.

I think this is how I got through the most inane and insane election season in a long time. Yes, I am grateful that Barack Obama was re-elected president. But I never for once took seriously the ship of fools the Republicans offered as possible opponents, including the zombie who eventually survived, Mitt Romney. After his opponents devoured him in the primaries, the man had no brain of his own. But the real saving grace in that scenario for me was that, even if Romney somehow won, he was still smarter than George W. Bush, and we survived eight years of him in the Oval Office. (Note to self: If you live in a country that elects George W. Bush president twice, you really can’t take politics too seriously.)

Worse than being too concerned about other people’s absurd political views, of course, is taking one’s own views too seriously. Hello, tea party members, how’d things go in this past election? Not so good, you say? All your extra- terrestrial, misogynist candidates lost? Yeah, I’m really kinda glad about that. I’m not so thrilled with what you’ve done to the Republican Party, but then, their party members chose over and over again to adopt your dumb (there’s no other word) positions on social and economic issues and, whaddya know? Americans rejected them one by one across the country.

For that, I am truly grateful, because I am a big fan of sanity and compassion.

What else? Well, I’m grateful the Mayans were wrong about that end of the world thing and that that mystery planet, Nibiru, didn’t destroy us. (Actually, I just threw those in to placate the folks who believed that stuff.)

That brings me to the personal stuff. I am grateful I have two healthy, smart sons who speak to me, friends who can be counted on (yes, even Facebook, which helped me find new ones), a brain (or is it a mind?) that still functions fairly well and lets me share these thoughts, a blog that lets lots of people read them, if they choose, an abiding sense of curiosity about the world, and a willingness, even in retirement, to accept new people, habits and thoughts into my life.

The latter have to do with a new diet and exercise regimen I have undertaken in the past few months, which I mentioned in a previous blog.

This is easily said, not so easily done. But this is not one of my old New Year’s resolutions that evaporates with the new year. So far, so good. I‘ve lost weight and had to buy new jeans and hoodies, because the XXL sizes are too big on me now. There are actual signs of muscle. Fruits and vegetables are not the enemy. Sugar is a stranger. I haven’t finished reading “Wheat Belly.”

I have profound gratitude for the surprising willingness I discovered to actually make these changes and to trust that this is the right new path for me to take, and for those in my life who make it easier, even enjoyable, to make the journey.

Happy New Year.

The Limits to Our Rights

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

The hand wringing over the Second Amendment continues in the days and weeks after the Newtown Horror. In op-ed columns and letters to editors some people who support the gun lobby have expressed concern that any attempt by the government to regulate gun traffic somehow betrays the spirit of the Bill of Rights.

The framers didn’t limit the people’s basic rights 221 years ago so why should we allow limitations now, the question goes. This is specious in two important respects. For one thing, taken to its no-limitation conclusion, we may soon hear an argument by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates suggesting that to prevent someone from possession of flame throwers, nerve gas and nuclear weapons somehow deprives us of our right to bear arms. It sounds absurd, but deep down you know that someone, sometime is going to test this position.

Then there’s the generally overlooked fact that we have always placed limitations on the rights handed to the people in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

–The limits on free speech – including the cry of “Fire!” in a theater, calls to violence, conspiracy, slandering, and libeling – have been detailed almost to the point of cliché. But platitudes or not, they remain limits on what are generally believed to be – but are not – absolute freedoms in the First Amendment.

–The First Amendment also prevents the government from establishing an official religion, but violations of this occur almost every year around this time. Invariably, some local bodies somewhere in America allow the placement of a Christmas tree, a crèche or a menorah on municipal property, thus violating the spirit of the First Amendment.

–The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” which might come as a surprise to the two-thirds of the states with capital punishment statutes on their books.

–And then of course there is the explicit limitation in the 27 words of the Second Amendment itself: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It’s confusing in its brevity, and this puzzlement is what keeps the fight over the amendment alive. The right of the people to keep arms shall not be infringed, yet the militia – comprised of the people – will be not just regulated, but well regulated.

What does “well-regulated” mean? I suggest that my interpretation of those two words is as valid as the NRA’s, maybe more. Here’s what I mean:

No, you may not possess a hand grenade, an Abrams battle tank or an assault rifle, all of which are designed to kill large numbers and not a white tailed deer or a couple of ducks. Those weapons are for the military.

And yes, background checks on the criminal and mental health histories of prospective gun buyers will be conducted with fervor and honesty. If this results in an extended long waiting period, so be it.

What America needs are politicians with the courage to inform the National Rifle Association that the working definition of “well-regulated” will not be written by NRA flacks.

Another Take on Guns

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

By Brian Fleming

Note: This article first ran as a letter to the editor of The Warwick Advertiser.

I went to a Christmas party in Warwick and like many other Americans I spent most of the time discussing gun control in America with friends. The evil incident in Connecticut has sparked a debate that will not die. My entire adult life I have been a registered Republican and I have almost always argued from the right. However, when it comes to the subject of handguns possessed and carried by non-law enforcement civilians I just cannot agree with my friends on the right.

I feel that I am as qualified to speak on the subject as anyone else; after all I have legally owned and carried handguns in New York State for 26 years. I grew up in New York City, I joined the NYPD at the age of 20 and I have stared down the barrel of a gun several times. I have been shot at and I have also fired my gun in self-defense, but in the line of duty. I now carry an Orange County Carry Pistol Permit as a retired law enforcement officer. I know what it’s like to carry a gun and not to carry a gun. I have heard arguments and stories of legal gun owners successfully defending their property and their lives, but I have also heard of more tragic stories.

Adam Lanza was able to access his mother’s legally owned guns and commit this heinous act. That is the bottom line. Every legally possessed gun in America cannot be properly secured. There will be guns accessed by children.

I feel that we have to take an honest look at the laws in this country for the sake of our children. Many people want to own and carry guns because it gives them a feeling of power. Most will not admit this, but it’s true. When someone is carrying a gun, they act differently. They face a situation, sometimes escalating it, instead of avoiding it. When I fired my gun in 1992 in self defense, I was off duty. It was after I ran down two thugs who had just robbed a store in Queens. They turned and tried to shoot me. If I did not have my gun that day, I would have never run after them and they would have gotten away. No one would have fired any guns that day. On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla. No matter what you believe happened that night, if Zimmerman did not have a gun, Trayvon Martin would be alive today.

As a Father, who was heartbroken after hearing about the Connecticut killing of those innocent children, I feel I have to be honest about how I feel, even if it means disagreeing with friends.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 12/20/12

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012


By Carrie Jacobson

Darkness creeps in early on these short, thin days, wrapping its fingers around the thin afternoon light and trying to squeeze the joy from our souls.

How do we celebrate the birth of Christ when children are being shot and killed? How do we find the joy of the season and the blessings of family and friends when our leaders are focused on the argument instead of on the solution? How do we share our happiness when it seems to be in such short supply?

I think we just do. I think we just decide to share whatever we have, whatever we can muster. A smile is as welcome a gift as any. Laugh with me and we will feel the wonder of the season. Sing a song together and we are celebrating the birth of Christ. Touch my heart and you will multiply your own joy.

So let’s sing songs tonight. Let’s light candles in the dark, and smile at strangers and hug the people we love. The darkness can not win if we decide to triumph.

Obama: ‘Enough, on Behalf of Our Kids’

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman opened fire on students and staff members, killing 20 children and six adults. Photo by Adrees Latif/Reuters

“Guns magnify impulses. Assault weapons and high-capacity clips multiply victims exponentially.”

Jeffrey Jampel, New York Times website commenter


By Emily Theroux

Two days after the horrific slaughter of 20 first-graders and six adults by a suicidal rampage killer armed with a semi-automatic rifle, witless Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert had the basic lack of human decency to use the gunman’s monstrous act for political gain.

Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, died in a hail of bullets while trying to tackle shooter Adam Lanza, during a brave but futile attempt to save more of the nascent lives in her care. On Faux News, the wingnut congressman projectile-vomited obscene National Rifle Association propaganda:

“I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up, so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off, before he can kill those precious kids.”

Oh, really, Louie? And exactly how would that fantasy scenario have gone down? By the time the principal “heard gunfire,” most of those children would already have been mowed down. By the time she unlocked the cabinet, Lanza would have shot her in the back. (And in the hellhole of that darkened Colorado movie theater back in July, armed vigilantes probably would have shot themselves, each other, and many of the people they were trying to protect.)

The Newtown shooter held all the cards: premeditation, deadly intent, the “magical thinking” of mental aberration, the power burst of adrenaline, and the perennial advantage of surprise. He also had a green light (even though it only inadvertently lit the pathway for a maniac looking for easy firepower) from elected politicians  and National Rifle Association lobbyists.

Gun apologists like to defer responsibility for shooting rampages in America onto happenstance, or God’s anger at secular humanists for “kicking prayer out of the public schools,” or individual lunatics who would surely have resorted to bombs if they had been prevented by gun-control laws from acquiring firearms.


Among mainstays of the far-right firearms rationale:

1) If more people carried guns, these incidents could be thwarted.

2) Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. If people didn’t have access to guns, they would just use something else.

3) Such mass shootings always happen in states with gun control laws, which are strict enough as it is.

4) The guns Lanza used were legally registered to his mother, so his apparent mental issues wouldn’t have prevented the rampage weapons from falling into his hands.

5) “We need 30-round magazines for target shooting.”

6) The Second Amendment guarantees the absolute right of all American citizens to own as many guns as they want (according to a controversial 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority).

7) “We have the right to defend ourselves.


Targeting NRA talking points with rapier of reason:

1) People who keep guns in their homes or cars for purposes of protection from intruders, muggers, or murderers (including Nancy Lanza) are more likely to injure or kill a family member or loved one” (or themselves) than to use a gun against a threatening outsider, according to Washington Cease Fire, a Seattle gun-control organization that ran a campaign of bus ads urging people “to think twice about owning guns,” after a series of gun accidents killed or wounded three young children (two of them after being momentarily left by their parents in cars with loaded handguns “hidden” under the seats.

A 2011 survey by the Harvard School of Public Health indicated that the health risk of keeping guns in the home is greater than the benefit. “The presence of a gun makes quarrels, disputes, assaults, and robberies more deadly. Many murders are committed in a moment of rage,” wrote Dr. David Hemenway. “For example, a large percentage of homicides – and especially homicides in the home – occur during altercations over matters such as love, money, and domestic problems.” The survey presented no credible evidence that guns reduce injury during a home invasion.

2) Adam Lanza’s attack wouldn’t have ever occurred (or to have been as lethal to so many victims) if he hadn’t had access to semi-automatic guns, and it wouldn’t have taken place “in the blink of an eye” without a 30-round ammunition clip. (By contrast, on the same day as the Sandy Hook school massacre, a deranged man in China attacked 22 elementary school students with the deadliest weapon he could get his hands on in a country with strict gun laws: a knife. Death toll? Zero.)

3) Connecticut does prohibit assault weapons, but the Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle used by Lanza is exempt from the ban. Republican legislators riddled the 1994 federal ban as well as similar state bans with numerous loopholes that limited the definition of a banned “assault weapon” to include fully automatic firearms (already banned since 1934) and only certain semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines with at least two of five features: a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher, and/or a flash suppressor. Most NRA supporters claim the definition is bogus anyway, because even though the high-capacity magazine allows you to shoot much faster than a non-automatic gun would, you still have to pull the trigger each time you fire a semi-automatic.

This point may soon become moot, since the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management announced plans to “immediately” sell the Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster – after the California teachers’ pension plan suggested it might reconsider its $750 million investment with Cerberus in the wake of the elementary school tragedy. (Making this move even more imperative was the fact that Martin Feinberg, the father of the firm’s owner, billionaire financier Stephen A. Feinberg, happens to live in Newtown, Connecticut and pronounced the shooting “horrendous, truly horrendous.”)

4) You could easily argue that Nancy Lanza was just as disturbed as her son. Described by her own sister as an adherent of a doomsday survivalist cult, she was an avid gun collector and knew her son was mentally unbalanced. Nevertheless, she taught Adam and his brother how to fire guns at shooting ranges. Should she have been able to legally purchase a semi-automatic rifle and multiple-round magazines?

5) The grave danger to our children from semi-automatic firearms and high-capacity magazines far outweighs the fleeting pleasure of pretending to mow down “bad guys” (or federal agents, depending on the imaginative and ideological bent of the individual target shooter). The 30-round magazine used by Lanza was designed to allow soldiers to fire as many rounds as possible (and at a lightning-fast clip) at enemy troops or insurgents, with an optimal goal of killing them while surviving the encounter.

As Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey pointed out on The Ed Show, semi-automatic rifles equipped with high-capacity magazines were designed for use by the military, not for hunting or target shooting. (An Olympic marksman doesn’t use an assault weapon to hit a bullseye, as my husband pointed out. “It’s a power weapon, not a precision weapon,” Lance explained.”You don’t shoot assault weapons to take precise aim but to cut your target in half.” After I heard him out, I rather wished I hadn’t.)

6) Until four years ago, most federal judges agreed with the historic interpretation of the Second Amendment, whose purpose was “to ensure that the ‘state armies’ – ‘the militia’ – would be maintained for the defense of the state,” according to Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court. The amendment, as Cass Sunstein recalled the justice saying in 1991, “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

The D.C. vs. Heller decision in 2008 may have granted a right to bear arms to individuals for the first time, but it didn’t obviate many forms of gun control, Sunstein observed.“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” wrote none other than Antonin Scalia, arguably the court’s most radical member.

7) The truly fanatic gun-rights fringe (folks far to the right of the NRA – like Larry Pratt, executive director for the past 30 years of Gun Owners of America) wants access to assault weapons for what 2010 Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle called “Second Amendment remedies.” Far-right conspiracy theorists have been stockpiling guns and ammo since the president’s first term – not to be used by “a well-regulated militia” to defend “the security of a free state,” but to shore their movement up against the federal government, in case Obama should suddenly ban all gun sales, and proclaim the dreaded “One World Order” – which is considered a very real threat by survivalists.

Others, however, are beginning to disagree. Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan just vetoed a bill, passed the night before the shooting, that would have allowed concealed pistol license holders to carry concealed pistols in churches, schools, and day-care centers. And lifetime NRA member Joe Manchin, the junior senator from West Virginia, uttered words that would have been considered heresy a week ago: “I don’t know anybody that needs 30 rounds in the clip to go hunting.”

With the number of gun deaths expected to exceed traffic fatalities for the first time by 2015, reasonable people need to start paying attention.

Emily Theroux can be contacted at

Helping Children Cope with Tragedies

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Nadia Allen

Mental Health Association in Orange County joins Americans in mourning the loss of those killed in the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn. Our thoughts and sincere prayers are with the families of the victims and everyone who is affected by this horrific event. Additionally, we express our hope for the full recovery of those who were injured.

At this point, we do not know the motivation behind this senseless act. We do know that events like this will impact families, the Newtown community and the nation. Many may feel at risk and may experience feelings of anxiety and fear. Parents may be groping with how to discuss these and similar events with their children.

Mental Health America has developed guidelines to help Americans respond and cope with tragic events, which can be found at To guide discussions about the shooting, MHA offers the following suggestions for parents as they communicate with young people in the area and across the nation:

• Children sense the anxiety and tension in adults around them. Furthermore, like adults, children experience the same feelings of helplessness and lack of control that tragedy-related stress can bring about. Conversely, unlike adults, children have little experience to help them place their current situation into perspective.

• Each child responds differently to tragedy, depending on his or her understanding and maturity, but it’s easy to see how an event of this magnitude can create a great deal of anxiety in children of all ages. Most likely, they will interpret the tragedy as a personal danger to themselves and those they care about.

• Whatever the child’s age or relationship to the damage caused by tragedy, it’s important that you be open about the consequences for your family, and that you encourage him or her to talk about it.

• Talk honestly about the incident, without graphic detail, and share some of your own feelings about it.

• Encourage young people to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings, and validate the young person’s feelings and concerns.

• Limit television viewing. It can be difficult to process the images and messages in news reports.

• Recognize what may be behind a young person’s behavior. They may minimize their concerns outwardly, but may become argumentative, withdrawn or allow their school performance to decline.

• Keep the dialogue going even after media coverage subsides. Continue to talk about feelings and discuss actions being taken to make schools and communities safer.

• Seek help when necessary. If you are worried about a young person’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at their school or at your community mental health center.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives and everyone who is affected by these shocking events. And we join in applauding the brave actions of individuals who prevented greater harm.

It will likely take many days to understand the reasons and motivations behind this national tragedy. Many have pointed to mental health as an issue. It must first be emphasized that people with mental health conditions are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. Furthermore, we have science-based methods to successfully treat persons with even the most severe mental illnesses. A very small group of individuals with a specific type of mental health symptoms are at greater risk for violence if their symptoms are untreated.

It is also important that, as a community, we assist persons with signs and symptoms of mental illnesses to seek treatment. Although rare, when a person becomes so ill that he/she is a danger to themselves or others state laws provide a way to provide them help even if they don’t believe that they need it. The best strategy, however, is to have an accessible system of care that is easy to use, well funded and provides effective services.

Science has not developed tools to predict reliably individuals at risk for violence. But we can reduce the small risk of violence in those with certain mental health conditions by investing in proven intensive, coordinated community-based mental health services and making certain that they can access these services.

We do not know if the mental health system failed in this situation or if there were missed opportunities or if effective treatment might have averted this tragedy. It’s our sincere hope that we can find answers and create solutions that prevent this tragedy from ever happening again.

If you are worried about a young person’s reaction or have ongoing concerns about his/her behavior or emotions, contact a mental health professional at their school or at your community mental health center. We encourage you to call MHA’s 24/7 Helpline @ 1-800-832-1200 and/or text MHA’s TEXT 4 TEENS @ 845-391-1000 for information, referrals, or to simply talk or text with a trained listener.

Nadia Allen is executive director of Mental Health Association in Orange County. MHA is a private, not-for-profit agency seeking to promote the positive mental health and emotional well-being of Orange County residents, working towards reducing the stigma of mental illness, developmental disabilities, and providing support to victims of sexual assault and other crimes. 


Chag Sameach, Bill O’Reilly!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

Dear Bill O’Reilly,

I’m writing to wish you a chag sameach, which in case you didn’t know means “joyous holiday” in Hebrew. Oh, I know you celebrate Christmas this time of year and I hope you and your family have a joyous one. I also know you think people like me are waging a “war” on your beautiful holiday. We aren’t. Maybe no one has tried to explain this to you before because it’s easier to just get mad and assume you are being an ignoramus (not an unreasonable assumption considering some of the things you’ve said about other matters). But in the spirit of the season I prefer to give you the benefit of the doubt.

When I say “people like me” I include Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, persons of other non-Christian faiths or backgrounds, Wiccans, agnostics and atheists. There are a lot of us in this country, Bill, all with different ways of celebrating in a special way during this time of year. Over the past few decades, many Christians have become aware of this and are now more inclusive when extending holiday greetings to people other than family and friends they know are also Christians. I can’t speak for the broader “people like me” grouping but I appreciate this gesture of inclusiveness. From what I gather, it strikes me as a very “Christian” thing to do. At the same time, when a well-meaning stranger wishes me a Merry Christmas, I usually smile and say, “Same to you.”

But when I see you on TV complaining about the “war” on Christmas I’m struck by the anger in your voice. You sound mad sometimes even when you say, “Merry Christmas!” as though you’re uttering a defiant cry against tyranny: “Take that, you atheists!” Clearly you are missing the point; so maybe I can help.

Try to look at it this way: Suppose you as a Christian were a member of a small minority in the U.S. Suppose the majority were Jews of varying levels of observance and affiliation, but virtually all of whom celebrate Chanukah. Imagine yourself getting a haircut a month or so before Christmas and your barber says, “Are you getting ready for Chanukah yet?” Turn on the radio to listen to music and you hear “The Dreidel Song” on every station. (I guarantee you would soon be feeling like I do when I hear “The Little Drummer Boy.”) Even beautiful, spiritual Jewish holiday songs will get on your nerves after a couple of weeks. You would rather hear “Silent Night.” You go home and almost every house aside from yours has a menorah in the window. As Chanukah draws near, a group of neighbors and/or strangers stand in front of your home and sing Jewish songs, including the annoying “Dreidel.” You want to watch a movie on TV and they are showing “The Miracle of Chanukah” and “A Rugrats Chanukah,” or maybe a classic nostalgic film from the 1930s: “Yiddle With His Fiddle,” starring Molly Picon, or “Tevye the Dairyman,” starring the great Maurice Schwartz.

Now let’s add some hypothetical historical context: Suppose it had been the Christians who were forced to convert to Judaism or die during the Crusades and the Inquisition. Suppose the Holocaust had been the other way around. What if there had been pogroms against the few remaining Christians in Eastern Europe even after World War II was over. Perhaps I should add a few words about pogroms.

According to the Jewish Virtual Library, pogrom is a Russian word designating “an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another.” During the 1980s one of my best friends at work was a young man who had graduated from Fordham University after attending Catholic schools as a child in New York. Before he met me he’d never heard of a pogrom. I explained that Jewish people in Eastern Europe were the frequent targets of murderous mob violence at the hands of Christians, and that these events often took place during the Christmas or Easter holidays.

Maybe you already knew about the pogroms, Bill. But a reminder certainly can’t hurt.  I’m only a generation or two away from family members who feared for their lives when Christmas and Easter came around. Please know that I don’t associate you or other Christian Americans with any of the events I’ve mentioned, just as you don’t hold me responsible for what happened to Jesus (or at least I hope you don’t). When I was growing up there were some kids who called me “Christ killer” and “dirty Jew.” But maybe now it will be clearer to you why some people may have a somewhat different perspective about the holidays than you do.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of things I enjoy about Christmas, especially the “peace on earth” and “goodwill” aspects. I like the festive lights. And I even enjoy some of the music: I never get tired of hearing Nat Cole sing “The Christmas Song.” And  I know it’s been said many times many ways, Bill, but I suspect it has never been said quite this way to you: CHAG SAMEACH, BILL O’REILLY. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Michael can be  reached at






A Bizarre Explanation of Newtown

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

Not since Jerry Falwell looked into a TV camera 12 days after 9/11 and blamed the attack on lesbians, the ACLU and People for the American Way (among others) has an American politician uttered the vicious outrages Mike Huckabee has spewed in the days after the mass killings in Newtown, Conn.

Soon after the bloodshed, Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister who has expressed presidential ambitions, was asked by Fox News how God could have allowed the massacre of 20 little children and six adults. His response defines the word “cruel” and displays a breathless lack of humanity.

It was all our faults.

At a time when the people of Newtown and another 300 million people of the United States needed comfort and a kind word, Huckabee decided to browbeat us by declaring that the shootings were the result of a lack of prayer in the public schools.

We have to be responsible for where our arguments lead us. I follow Huckabee’s reasoning like this: Whose fault is it that there is no compulsory prayer in the schools? I could compose a list of names, but the shorthand answer is the Supreme Court. And who sits there? Nine men and women appointed by a president. And who picks the president?

That would be us.

And among “us” are residents of Newtown, a place where it is unlikely that townspeople never marched on a school board meeting to demand a restoration of school prayer.

I don’t think God works this way; making little girls and boys pay for the inaction of the older people in town.

“It’s an interesting thing,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “We ask why there’s violence in our schools but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”


Huckabee doesn’t get it. Making school violence an “interesting” subject reduces the Connecticut tragedy – parents facing the incomprehensible truth of life without their children – to about the level of urgency and importance as trying to do the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Times. A new movie is “interesting.” The murder of babies is not “interesting.”

And “systematically removing” God from classrooms?

In fact we have done no such thing.

Some students pray in school whenever they wish, maybe before an algebra exam, maybe to thank God for another day, or for a dad’s recovery from illness, or for a date for the prom. But these are personal entreaties made by individuals, maybe in a whisper, maybe in silence. The First Amendment may rule against organized prayer in public institutions but prevent praying in schools? Kick God out? Never happened. Never could.

Most ministers understand that no one is powerful enough or, for that matter, stupid enough, to try to remove God from the schools. It can’t be done because, the clergy will tell you, God is with everyone all the time – even in school. Does Huckabee think that a mere schoolhouse door is going to keep the lord out?

Huckabee, continuing with the grace and mercy of a stampeding buffalo as Newtown parents arranged for the funerals of their babies, said, “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

Of course we should be so surprised, and maybe a little astonished that someone with a public persona could be so insensitive to the misery and pain that has overcome Newtown.

Blues in the Valley

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

By Russ Layne

A beer and a hot-blowing blues band could be the best antidote to … the blues. If you have a hankering for this uniquely American jazz form, think of the Hudson Valley, which is, in fact, a blues hotbed.

So what are the blues? Very briefly, they’re the melancholy music we associate with Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and which originated as an amalgamation of African music and slave spirituals mixed with the purely American 12-bar sound.

It got its start in the Mississippi Delta region and fought its way north, first to St. Louis, then west to Kansas City and finally landed back east in Chicago, its American home.

Such blues luminaries as Billie Holiday, Lester Young and Janis Joplin are long gone, succeeded by performers such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, and B.B. King. Their generation, in turn, paved the way for some younger blues performers, many of whom live and perform here in the valley and have been instrumental in maintaining an interest in the blues.

Developing that interest isn’t difficult. It just takes three or four chords on a guitar and two or three shots of a favored drink and anyone can sing the blues though not necessarily become the next Bill Perry, Ted Horowitz. David Keyes, Slam Allen and others now rooted in the valley.

The late Bill Perry was born in Goshen on Christmas 1957 in Goshen, led his own band and played guitar for Richie Havens. Perry was a big hit in Europe playing for large, enthusiastic audiences. He was 49 when he died in Sugar Loaf in 2007.

Among contemporary players is Ted Horowitz of Monroe, known in jazz and blues clubs as Popa Chubby, a nice – sometimes not so nice – kid from the Bronx. Popa, like Perry before him, records for major blues labels and has a big following in Europe.

Several years ago, after playing a blues assembly program for the students at Warwick Valley High School, Popa was approached by a shy but precocious drum student, Chris Redden. A few years later, after more training, Redden toured with the Popa Chubby Blues Band. Popa’s sometimes tempestuous side doesn’t always make him easy to work for. So from time to time, Chris and his brother John take a break from Popa and perform as the Redden Brothers Band.

David Keyes, a blues piano/vocalist who lives in Sloatsburg, has performed with Gladys Knight, Chuck Berry and the late Bo Diddley and Odetta. He also has appeared in such Broadway fare as “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “Lennon,” and “Urban Cowboy.” Keyes doesn’t forget his hometown roots, and several times a year, when he’s not on the road, he plays at Rhodes Tavern or Sunnyside’s with no cover and no minimum. He also plays the Turning Point in Piermont for which there’s a small fee.

Then there’s Slam Allen of Sullivan County who spent eight years performing with the great blues harmonica player James Cotton.

Attend a Slam Allen show and you never know when he’ll walk off the stage with his guitar, sit right down next to you, and finish the song. He’ll have you grinning, laughing and wondering what’s so blue about the blues. Recently at Brian’s Backyard BBQ in Middletown, in the middle of a set, he handed his guitar over to a 14-year old kid in the audience. Surprise. The kid was hotter than Brian’s hot sauce.

Here are some Hudson Valley clubs to keep an eye on for blues shows:

–Brian’s Backyard BBQ on Route 211 between Middletown and Montgomery.

–Sunnyside’s on Route 17 in Sloatsburg has been around since 1928, long enough to have fed such people as Bing Crosby, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jimmy Durante.

–The always packed Rhodes Tavern on Route 17 in Sloatsburg.

–The Turning Point in Piermont occasionally presents such nationally known players as Marcia Ball, the Nighthawks, and the Robert Ross Band.

Russ Layne is executive director of the Sugar Loaf Music Series, which he founded 29 years ago.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 12/13/12

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

The Winter Church











By Carrie Jacobson

Last week, I met with Joe Skelly, who is, as far as I know, the world’s only prosperity coach.

And what, you may ask, is a prosperity coach? Just what it sounds like! Joe is helping me raise my income and lower my fear while I do what I love – paint.
His fee is $100 an hour, and we are going to meet once a month or so for an hour. Our goal is to double my income the first year, then redouble it and re-redouble it. He has a track record of success, and I am game to try.
I think that the whole idea of prosperity coaching is a fascinating concept, and the first session was energizing and exciting.
One of the broad ideas he shared with me was the notion that words – and your subconscious – create your reality. If you find yourself thinking negatively – “Florida was a bust for me, ” for example – my subconscious will do everything it can to make that statement true, and make me right.
So Joe’s answer is that, if you find yourself thinking negative thoughts, add “up until now.”  Florida was a bust for me … up until now. And just like that, everything changes!
He gave me dozens more great ideas, and already they have opened up my future and given me a taste of the very real prospect of increased prosperity.
Joe does his work in face-to-face sessions, and also over the phone, if you live out of the area. If you want to get in touch with him, you can call or text him at 757-675-6569. He has not paid me for this – I am truly excited about it and wanted to share it with all of you!
The crows were at it again this week, and so I called the ornithology lab at Cornell, where I know a crow expert works, and asked.
Yup, they said, the crows are dropping the pecans down the pipe just to hear the noise! They told me about some other crows who’ve been spied sliding down metal roofs, just for the heck of it. Amazing.
Don’t know what I’m talking about? Click here!