Cristof and Teresa

In 1976, when she was 15, Teresa loved two things: her boyfriend, Javier, and English. So, her father, being fairly well-heeled and very smart, arranged for her to go from Venezuela to Cincinnati for the summer, where his pal from Venezuela, Cincinnati Reds star shortstop Dave Conception, watched over her. 

She loved everything about English and Cincinnati. But, like all teenagers, she had to go home for school. 

Strike one. 

Years later, in 1982, she came back to the US, this time to Camden, Arkansas with her first husband (“who will be not be mentioned again, por favor!”) She loved Camden, too (if that sounds strange, remember – Arkansas, not New Jersey). 

As you might imagine from the “por favor!”, the marriage broke up, so she returned to Venezuela. (I might add, this was before Venezuela became the mess it is today. In fact, it was pretty nice).

Strike two.

She studied management and wished she was in the US. That’s when her Javier, now in the US, found her and ”a beautiful love story began”. She returned, this time to Birmingham, Alabama and married him.

Home Run.

(What is the Supreme Law of the land?)

Also in the 70’s, a young Cristof, of flowing dark hair and earnest eyes, was working his way through architecture school in Pati, Italy, as a dishwasher, when he decided architecture was boring. What was fascinating was cooking. 

“My father loved cooking,” he says.  “He made sweet and sour rabbit. Amazing!” 

So he left school and went to Milan to train as a cook. That started a trek that took him to Dubai, Bahrain, Oman, Paris, and England, among other places and, eventually, Fort Myers, Florida, where he started the McGregor Cafe and hired Teresa in 1998. 

(The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers.)

He cooked many meals for many people, including the world famous French chef, Alain Ducasse who praised his cooking. “The best compliment I’ve ever gotten”.

He cooked for the Princess of Jordan, the Sultan of Oman, Pavarotti (“what a nice man!”), and, at the McGregor Cafe, Jimmy Carter, “so real, not a phony.”)

(Who is the Chief Justice of the United States?)

Restaurant work is very demanding. Successful restaurants – those that fill the seats all year – require 12-14 hour days of hard work and happy faces. By 2008, he was “how you say…burned out?” At age 40 and successful, he sold the Cafe and retired. 

(When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?)

But restaurant work can also really get into your blood. Less than a year later, stone bored, he drove by an old Florida house just up the road from the Cafe, bought it, and started “Cristof’s on McGregor”.  

He hired Teresa to manage the place so he could concentrate on his second love, cooking. (His first love is named Rachel, with whom he has “exactly the same age difference as my father had with my mother!”).

(When was the Constitution written?)

Cristof says he will never retire. Teresa doesn’t look like she will either. “I wanted to work with him. He’s like a brother to me.”

(Why do some states have more Representatives than other states?)

Was it hard to attain citizenship? 

“No”, says Teresa, with a slight accent. “I learned everything about my new country. I loved it. I am thankful every day.”

“No”, says Cristof. Shades of Italy linger in his voice, even at 60. “You have to show respect for laws, the country… and president.” He pauses. “When in Rome…”, he smiles without finishing the sentence.  

Then, to me, “you know what salt does to food?” (Uh…) ”Makes it sweat – like you and I do… releases the juices.” And off to the kitchen he loves.

Why do I write about these two people? Because, like you and me, they work hard, pay their taxes, raise healthy, contributing families, and are living the American Dream. Cristof and Teresa have done very well, just as many natural born Americans have. 

But they had to learn a language and culture you and I were born into.

(If both the President and the Vice President can no longer serve, who becomes President?)

And they had to pass The US Citizenship Naturalization Test, a test you and I never took or even saw. Some of the questions they answered correctly are sprinkled throughout this story. 

I’m sure you, like me, got every one of them right.  Right?

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Why Even Have The Mueller Report?

OK. It proved that the New York Times, Washington Post and others gave us real, not fake news. It proved Trump tried to have Mueller fired. It proved Trump’s lawyers know he lies through his teeth. It even found evidence of obstruction. But, according to Mueller, a sitting President can’t be indicted. 

So why even have the Mueller Report?

I suggest three reasons.

First, history. Mueller’s not a historian, but he might as well be, because he has provided a detailed history of what happened. And he did it now, not ten, thirty or a hundred years from now. More important, where most historians spend years, on their own, digging through dusty old records, Mueller and his 13 investigators researched original material and interviewed actual witnesses. They backed up most of their facts with second sources.  

So, just from a historical perspective, this material is pristine and invaluable. 

Second, it tells us one (at least somewhat) reassuring, fact: while many consider Trump as corrupt a President as the country has ever seen, at least some of his key people were ethical. Seven administration members, including Sessions, Rosenstein and McGahn, simply ignored Trump’s orders and refused to fire Mueller. That takes integrity.

Of course, we’ll see about those whom Trump put in their places.

Third, and maybe most important, despite all the verbiage and cable outrage, it wasn’t Mueller’s job to decide if Trump was colluding, obstructing, or doing anything else wrong. His job was to investigate and, if he saw collusion, obstruction or other crimes, take it to another branch of government: the courts. 

Prosecutors – Mueller included – don’t decide guilt or innocence; judges do. Prosecutors don’t decide punishments; judges do. 

There’s a good reason for this: the US Constitution.

Before 1787, most countries had kings, queens, emperors, and the like. With a few exceptions, these leaders decided everything from what you ate, to where you lived… to if you ate… or if you lived.  

Our forefathers changed all that. They deliberately avoided the idea of one person – the President – deciding guilt or innocence and/or punishment. Instead, they wrote a rule book of sorts that left the decision as to whether their rules had been followed to a third, completely independent, branch of government, the courts.

That way, there could never again be a King George, Louis XVI, or any other demagogue. As far as the founding fathers were concerned, morality was the purview of the Bible and other religious tomes. Government was simply responsible for insuring equal treatment under the law. 

The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and religion, but doesn’t make decisions about when that freedom has been breeched; the courts make that call. It guarantees freedom from search and seizure, but doesn’t decide when that has been breeched or what to do about it; lawyers argue the law and judges decide. It defines how states relate to each other, the importance of federal laws, and how to change elements of the Constitution. It lays out the framework of the government, but not what happens if, for example, a President exceeds his powers (Congress becomes the court in that case. The House decides to impeach and the Senate makes the judgement).

The Constitution is four pages of very carefully thought out rules that evenly distribute power to three separate branches of government, a deliberate odd number. 

The laws that have been written, using the Constitution as a bedrock, comprise hundreds of thousands of pages, and growing, every year.  No small irony there.

So, as frustrating as it may feel to read the Mueller report (four hundred times longer than the Constitution, by the way) and find no closure, we can take solace in the fact that 1) the facts are now cast in concrete, 2) there was at least some integrity and 3) the report was never designed to give closure or make moral judgement; it was only designed to set up the next step, whatever that may be.

Mueller did his job, meticulously. It’s now up to Congress and/or the Courts to do their job in one of three ways.

1) They can do nothing. 2) The House can start impeachment, although the Senate will definitely block it. 3) Congress can continue investigating and hope more facts will either exonerate Trump and his administration or prosecute them.

And there’s a fourth option. If those two branches fail at their job, we can do ours. We can elect a new Congress and/or a new President.

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A Really Nice Healthcare Story

“Black or Blue?” she asks.

The young man hesitates, before answering.  

An illustrator/author is a person who writes and then draws and paints pictures that clarify his writing (for people like me). Subjects can cover everything from comics to mythical creatures to science concepts. 

In the case of this young New York artist, it’s all three. His blog, Veritable Hokum started a few years ago with comics telling funny stories from history (my favorite is The Emu War (http://www.veritablehokum.com/comic/the-emu-war/). His book about myths, Gods and Heroes, came out last spring. The Invention Hunters, a series of four books explaining science concepts to elementary school kids, starts hitting store shelves this July.  

When he’s not illustrating his own books, he illustrates other authors’ books. Busy guy.

Illustrators (and artists) earn their living with one hand, like professional pitchers or quarterbacks. If a professional athlete injures that key hand, it can be career ending. Ditto illustrators and artists. With one important exception: professional athletes have multi-million dollar incomes to cushion disaster; freelance artists don’t.

This young man is typical, a struggling artist on the cusp of success. It isn’t easy. His latest deadline requires months of long days spent researching, writing, and illustrating concepts like magnetism, electricity, and leverage, in a form that appeals to school kids. (His solution: four goofball academics – The Invention Hunters – parachute into places with mysterious things they’ve never seen, like toilets and jackhammers. They guess – badly – at what these things do and how they work, until an elementary school student sets them straight.) 

After months of drawing, his hand becomes so painful, he can’t use it. He buys an arm brace. Nothing. Even a simple circle is impossible. 

Specialist’s appointments, if you can find one, are usually months off. He perseveres and finds one. He describes his pain and work deadline.

“Any opening in the next week or so?”  

“No. Goodbye.” 

 New Yorkers can be very efficient.

When a publisher calls with a contract to start illustrating another author’s new book that week, he has to turn it down. 

With no other choice, he takes his first break in over a year to visit his father in Florida for a week. Better to ponder his dwindling career in Florida sun than in New York sleet. Although he doesn’t say it, he is scared.

That’s when he gets lucky.

A friend of his father recommends a Dr. Douglas Carlan in St. Petersburg.  He gets an appointment for a few days later – with one call.  When they learn he doesn’t have insurance, instead of rejecting him, they allow a modest cash payment. They x-ray his hand. 

(Wait! What? No “your call is important to us”? No “we’re booked, try the ER”?  No “the doctor’s out; you can see the PA”? … What?)

Dr. Carlan actually listens as the young man describes his work, the pain in his hand, and his time constraint, then checks the x-ray and methodically and carefully examines the hand. He finds the exact pain center and diagnoses a severely inflamed ligament. He smiles and tells the young man there is no permanent damage. 

He writes a prescription for a brace and therapy: “There’s an office down stairs. Go right now and ask for Elizabeth. She’s really good.”

The young man goes to the ground floor. Elizabeth, who is leaving for the day, stops to listen to his story.

“I can’t take a lot of time, because I have to pick up my daughter, but…” 

She grabs some thick plastic sheets, one blue, one black.

“Black or blue”, she asks.

“Uh…black, please.” (He is from New York, after all.)  

As he answers, she is already measuring his hand.  She cuts three Velcro strips, then cuts the black plastic to fit his forearm, warms it on a machine to make it pliable, and gently wraps it around his forearm, securing it with the Velcro.

The pain, once part of his life and future fear, immediately begins ebbing away. While he is moving his fingers and marveling at his newfound freedom, Elizabeth writes down some exercises to strengthen his wrist. 

Then, “Sorry. I have to pick up my daughter. Call me if you have a problem!”

She waves and is gone. 

On the way home, the young man calls the publisher he had turned down. He asks if the contract is still open. The answer isn’t quite “For you? Yes!” But it is pretty close. 

Now that’s a happy ending.

Is this story just wishful thinking in light of today’s healthcare mess? Nope, it really happened. I know. I was there. 

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Avoiding Bad News

Attacks on the media have increased over the last few years.  They’ve been wrong and they’ve been right.

Some people think the “liberal” media has secret meetings where they dream up and coordinate anti-conservative news campaigns. To do that, as with any conspiracy, would involve thousands of reporters, editors, producers, and directors all working together. That would be like organizing thousands of wild cats – an impossibility of nature. 

So, wrong.

They’re right about one aspect though; newspapers, cable and broadcast news people tend to be liberal. And there’s a good reason. They see a lot more of the seamier side of life than do their viewers or readers. They report on murders, rapes, robberies, corrupt politicians, cops, and pedophile priests, and worse.  

More important, they report on the victims. That can crack belief in the status quo pretty fast. 

Seeing a 30 second news story about poverty in what some call a “ghetto” that you only drive through when you get lost, and reporting on life there are two entirely different things. Spending hours learning the details about everything from drugs, to toilets that don’t work, to rats, to cockroaches, to dirty water is eye opening. Doing the interviews with people who are hungry, sick or just broken, is not just eye opening; it is wearing, physically and emotionally. Being able to leave for the office or home after just a few hours or days immersed in that life, doesn’t leave it behind. Even though you can never fully understand, being just a visitor, those details stay with you from then on.

So, yes, people who report the news tend to be liberal. 

Actually, objectivity in news is a relatively recent phenomenon. Slanted – bad – news was common in the early days of the country. Thomas Paine’s pamphlets helped gin up anger at the British prior to the Revolution. Newspapers in the North and South fomented the Civil War. William Randolf Hearst’s papers either blew up the “Maine” or blew up the story and triggered the Spanish American War – take your pick. The media contributed to our entry into WWI and WWII.

The reason? Sell newspapers and ads.

It was the arrival of radio that helped bring objectivity and fairness to the media.  The Communications Act of 1934 required stations to give equal airtime to opposing political candidates. 1949’s Fairness Doctrine required honest, equitable, and balanced coverage of issues of public importance. That helped most papers, post WWII, to focus on objective – fair and balanced – reporting.

Good news.

It continued in broadcasting through to the 1980’s, when Reagan dropped the Equal Time Rule, reasoning that cable news would guarantee a variety of points of view. That spawned Fox News, which has never been fair or balanced, which was eventually followed and poorly imitated by MSNBC and the rest.

Bad news.

So here we are, back to the early days. Only now it’s not just slanted news, it’s primarily stories designed to scare us into following news more closely.

From headlines about “Breaking News”, which is frequently about something as mundane as traffic jams, to breathless follow-up reporting on traffic jams, news organizations now work on – not objectivity – but ginning up your adrenaline. One of the worst (or most effective) at this approach, in my mind, is ABC World News Tonight. They rarely even use complete sentences, just rapid-fire, breathless phrases. That’s scary. 

They – and the rest – also freely embellish objective facts with un-objective adjectives designed to generate emotion – usually fear. “We have sad news to report”, “It was a stunning setback”,  “This is a disturbing story.”

A friend of mine deliberately cut himself off from the most of internet, TV and radio for a few months. After going back to it recently, he said it was a jolt. It all felt quite scary. That’s good news for the media. The “fight or flight” approach is working. 

Not so good for us, though.

To avoid being ginned up by hyper-news, check out news entities that don’t live or die on clicks and eyeballs, that don’t try to adrenalize their audiences: PBS, NPR, BBC, CBC, The NY Times, Wall Street Journal, Inquirer, as well as AP News, Reuters, The Economist, to name a few.

They’ll help you save all that adrenaline for important things like sports, freeway driving, or finding a parking space. 

Or – Holy cow! It’s April 10th!! – doing your taxes!  (See?!)

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I’m Thinking About 2020

I’m not sure, and this is tentative, being based on the way things are today (as opposed to tomorrow), so I may change my mind down the road, because that’s the nature of these decisions, but I think I’m going to decide soon about my candidacy for President in 2020.

That is, I’m pretty sure. 

As for my qualifications, well, first of all, I’m over 35, even though my youthful good looks make that hard to believe. Fact is, I like to think of myself as over-35 in wisdom, but under-35 in terms of symbiosis with millennials and generation Z-ers. I have kids in both those age groups and I H-E-A-R you, guys! 

That’s the mark of a good politician, right? Time for the oldsters to move over, right? Let’s give some room to the people we’ve been paying so much to educate all these years, right? Am I right on this? Am I? Right?  

Right on!

So, while I like you, Joe Biden and your adorable “Favorite Uncle” thing, it’s clear you’re no longer qualified, because you are O.O.D. (Out Of Date). You may have bearing and the dignity of an earlier time. You may have revered old ethics like: telling the truth, respecting others and debating issues not nicknames.  

But you have a fatal flaw, old boy: you can’t go hugging and kissing strangers the way you used to. It may have felt nurturing and caring to you in the good old days of 3-4 years ago. But, hey, that was pre-Harvey Weinstein. It’s a new era and all men are suspect. Strangers just do not put an arm around each other any more, unless they’re taking a selfie.

Speaking of O.O.D, Hey Bernie! What’s with half-bald and half-white hair? It shows your age. Die it, blow-dry it, sweep fake hair over the bald part. And poof it!  You can’t be President with non-poofy hair.

If you don’t know enough to go to a men’s salon and get a professional dye job like half the guys in Congress, then you don’t know government. I, for example, have just a touch of white in my hair – enough to show real wisdom – but not so much it buries my infectious and youthful vigor.  

And, as a candidate, I have real hands-on experience. I was the President of my town Council for ten years. Sure it’s not a big town and the entire government can fit into the Manager’s Office, but in terms of debating and convincing the other Council Members to agree to a new law, the techniques are the same as in DC. We would all go to a local bar and hash out the particulars over a few pitchers of beer, offered free by the bar tender. (Just kidding. Two members once wanted to accept the free beer, but I refused. See how honest I am?)

I’ve always had moral authority. 

And that’s the key here. Moral authority. That’s why I like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Dem. NY). She’s got moral authority like me. She chased Sen. Al Franken all the way home to Minnesota for making politically incorrect hand gestures toward a sleeping woman, while he was still a comedian. He may have been a great Senator, but spontaneous playfulness, even in an earlier life, does not pass the Gillibrand test. (Look over here! I’m still talking to you, Joe Biden!).

And, I’m way ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was mean to her staff. Of course, I may – once – have been a little brisk to a camera operator when I was a TV director, but that was LIVE TV and the idiot wasn’t panning fast enough! —and… uh, I mean the football players were running too fast down the field… 

I could go through the rest of the Democratic field and illustrate my God given superiority to each of them (Beto is actually an out-of-work actor who once played Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington”. Elizabeth Warren throws chalk if you don’t pay attention. Booker really is too smart for his own good. And, who is Yang, anyway?). But that’s for later.

And besides, I’m still not sure. I’m a registered Republican and I’m waiting for a groundswell of public opinion. 

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