Friday, May 31, 2013

End Of the Month

And not a moment too soon. I'm not sure I've ever had a month where so many good things happened in the midst of so many frustrating things, and all I know is that I am finding it harder and harder to maintain an even keel. This week, especially, has been strange; it's been only four days, but it's been one thing after another of aggravation and issues, even while many other people are stepping up and helping me out.
I'm also getting to the point of the year that I don't like, when the weather is heating up. I know most people are the opposite, but I don't like summer, never have, and with highs in the low 90's yesterday and today, I'm not really wanting to do much of anything outside the house. We also temporarily are down to one bed; my new one was supposed to come yesterday but deliveries got delayed, and now it looks like it may not come today, either. Sabrina is at her mother's tonight, so I can sleep in there tonight should I have to, but I know a lot of this feeling is feeling somehow incomplete that the bed is not here yet, and having to sleep on the couch last night isn't helping my general sense of foreboding.
Then there is the kitchen light, which hasn't worked in weeks. My usual electrician needs some lead time, but had not responded to my request from a couple of weeks ago, and I finally re-reminded his wife yesterday--who had blanked out and forgot to tell him I needed him to come over. So that won't get fixed till next week, either.
Last night, I went to the Endicott meeting per normal. Two of the other four home group members with some time at least told me they weren't coming, which is getting to be normal practice for both of them. One didn't show up at all, which is not unusual for her, either, and the fourth got there after she finished her job, which was about 7:30. Which is when five of the other six people who attended the meeting arrived, too. If one guy hadn't showed up--and wanted to talk a little--right around 7, I would have bagged it. Endicott has always been more casual than most meetings, and I know that's part of its charm and appeal to those of us that like it. But I have to say I'm getting annoyed that no one else that's part of the group seems to be able to make and keep a commitment to being there on time, never mind early, for the meeting every week. Home groups are supposed to be meetings that you can make "regularly," but in my mind, every other or every third week is really stretching "regularly" like a rubber band, especially since the members in question don't attend any other meetings at all...tonight's meeting will not have that issue. It's a group conscience night, and the meeting will have its normal 60-80 people at it. It's the only church basement in the world that isn't cooler than the upstairs part of the building, so it will be uncomfortable. I'd blow it off except I haven't seen my lady friend in about two weeks for more than a couple of minutes, and the way her and mine weekends are playing out, if we don't go somewhere after the meeting tonight, it may be at least another week before we get another chance to. It's part of having a life full of children and other people in recovery that we're not all up in each other all the time, and in general I like that. But this has been a little over the top recently. And I'm forming some opinions about some other people in our circles that I'm not sure I want to hold. Maybe they've been having a goofy few weeks, too, but--let's just say I've said "Really?" more than once in the last couple of weeks.
Contributing to my general malaise this morning is the knowledge that I have to go to Syracuse this morning for a pep talk from the agency CEO. I know what he's going to say, because he addressed those of us at the Leadership Meeting a month ago, but it's mandatory. I mind the address, which usually isn't even an hour, less than I mind driving an hour to hear it. Some years he does come to Binghamton; this year is not one of them, which fits into the general way things have been going lately.
And the reason the bed may not come today is that I learned, via Facebook when I got up this morning, that my friend who runs the furniture store the bed is coming from was at the ER most of the night with a neck issue. The last FB post was several hours ago. I was supposed to meet him at his house real briefly on the way to work this morning to go over plans to get the bed here today, but with CT scans and such last night, he may not even be home yet, and I doubt he will be up if he is. The bed is a minor annoyance; I'm a little concerned for his health right now. It's only recently that he's become a part of my life again, after years of estrangement, and I am coming to enjoy his company very much. I'd hate to see anything happen to him, especially since he's roughly my generation and I don't like to see people my age going to the hospital for any reason.
Time to make the donuts, or at least my daughter's breakfast and lunch. Drudge and trudge all day long.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Coach Fired

The Rangers were eliminated by the Bruins on Saturday. Yesterday, in a move that took many by surprise for its timing, if nothing else, the team fired coach John Tortarella. As a Ranger fan, I have mixed feelings about the move. Tortarella isn't essentially different from the coach whose team led the Eastern Conference last year; it isn't like he forgot how to coach this year or made a series of bonehead moves. But coaches do have a shelf life, and it sure seemed at times this year like Tortarella's had expired.
The problem with high-intensity coaches is that eventually the players will tune them out, and this seems to have been the case in New York. Tortarella is a rather prickly personality, and he clearly has, in the words of former Ranger goalie and broadcaster, a chateau bow-wow that some players never seemed to be more than a step away from. It was clear that he never embraced Marian Gaborik during his entire time there, to take the most obvious example, but there were other players that he certainly didn't seem to get the best out of, and one of the reasons why was an almost infantile fascination with what they couldn't do well and ignoring what they could. He was notably irascible with the media, too, which didn't help him in the long run, especially since the New York media is firmly ensconced in the pocket of General Manager Glen Sather, who apparently is going to be given a free pass on honest looks at his own competence until eternity simply for occupying the GM's chair on a team that he inherited teenagers Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier on...but I digress.
Tortarella's Ranger teams were noted for two things. One was the incredible emphasis on shot blocking, which worked for a time but was exposed this year as a decidedly mixed blessing, and even more so in the playoffs, where both Washington and Boston simply held onto the puck several times while Ranger players slid out of view before pulling the trigger, resulting in a few goals off rebounds. Critics were out in force yesterday stating that the shot blocking isn't real necessary on a team with one of the best goalies in league history playing for it. I'm not sure that Henrik Lundqvist is going to be the all-world goalie he has been without the team in front of him dedicated to shot blocking, but he certainly would still be effective. And the shot-blocking leads to a lot of injuries, and certainly deadens the offense capability of the team's players. The second was a deficient power play; the Rangers were consistently awful with a man advantage for Tortarella's entire tenure there, culminating in the sick joke that passed for the power play the entire season this year. There is too much talent on this team to not have a good power play, and I can easily see this being the vehicle that a new coach rides to improving the team's record next year.
Tortarella has many strengths, too; few teams can hold a lead like his, and his conditioning emphasis works well in a league with many back-to-back games. He received some criticism for his handling of young players, but on balance he was and is good with youngsters; they get a chance to play much more than with some coaches. But it just seems clear that he wore thin on many players, and the timing of the firing suggests that many players indicated after the season that they would prefer to see him go.
I had one consistent beef with Tortarella; the awarding of ice time to players who didn't deserve it, and the lack of it given to other players who could play some. The presence of Darren Powe on this team puzzled me from the time he arrived, and the player he replaced, Mike Rupp, was a gigantic stiff, too. Stu Bickel; was given a full season's worth of games to prove he was an AHL player. This season was almost sacrificed on the altar of Jeff Halpern. Brain Boyle has been given a role way out of proportion to his skill level.  And conversely, Tortarella never embraced Arron Asham, an enforcer who can actually play some, this year, jerked Chris Kreider in and out of the lineup, seems not to understand that Michael Del Zotto has the potential to be a Mike Green on the blue line and instead focused on making him a stay-at-home defenseman, and keeps playing with line combinations like a toddler plays with blocks. He also rides Lundqvist like a donkey, when Martin Biron is perfectly capable of playing every fifth game.
I don't particularly like any of the names being bandied about as candidates for the next coach. I really hope it isn't Lindy Ruff, and I really don't want to see Mark Messier. An announcement isn't likely for a few weeks yet.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Very Strange Story North of the Border

Without a doubt, the most surreal story of this year has been the bizarre tales coming from Canada's largest city, Toronto, in the last few days. The mayor, Rob Ford, has been a controversial figure since long before his election in 2010, and won the job with a plurality in a very active three-way race (hmm, sounds like an upstate New York city I could name). His father was a politician, too, and he himself has been a rather visible business owner most of his adult life. His campaign was marked by a couple of verbal salvos that resulted in him being the defendant in a defamation case, and his career on the Toronto City Council before his mayoral campaign resulted in others calling him a "goon" and a controversy about stupid remarks he made about people with AIDS. Up until a few weeks ago, he seemed to be Canada's answer to someone like Chris Christie--a conservative blowhard type whose strength was his undeniable connection to constituents.
But the revelations of the last few weeks--wow. He has always been known as a heavy drinker; there was a DUI in his past. But first there were revelations that his older brothers were the main hashish dealers in Toronto during his youth. Then there were allegations that the mayor himself smoked--and smokes--crack, followed by denials, followed by an alleged video showing him smoking crack, then the guy who owned the video turning up dead, and now Ford's most senior aide has been fired for going to the police after he was told to do whatever it takes to get hold of said video.
Wow.
There have been political figures who have been rather heavy-handed before, but I'm not sure I've ever seen this particular combination of traits before. I mean, Marion Berry was caught smoking crack, but to my knowledge his family wasn't involved in drug dealing, and he was never indirectly linked to killing people. This is like an HBO TV series unfolding before our very eyes, and I have not a clue how this is going to play out. Is there some fire to all this smoke? Will the aide go public with more unsavory details? Will more dead bodies turn up as the mayor lives up to his goon reputation? Is it all nonsense? I find myself nearly ashamed of myself for scanning the news every day looking for more details and further information. But at least it is interesting and out of the ordinary, a break from the depressing "we are ruled by idiots and the 1%" narrative that American politics has degenerated into.
Stay tuned. This is probably going to get better. And if you see a news story with "Ford" or "Toronto" in the headline, read it. You won't be sorry.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Book Review: PROMISES TO KEEP

I'm a sucker for sports autobiographies, and especially of athletes that I remember well from my youth. So I was kind of excited to see Floyd Little's Promises to Keep in our library recently. Little was one of the best running backs in the NFL in the late 1960's and early 1970's, with the Broncos when the franchise was a laughingstock. Little was also a local icon because of his career at Syracuse prior to turning pro, and I felt a special affinity for him because he was, like I was in high school, very small compared to those around him on the field and still was able to excel.
The book was rather disappointing. For one thing, at least half of the book is taken up with his long battle to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which took place a couple of years ago, 35 years after his retirement. There is no doubt he belonged; I wrote an article, back in a previous career, for a football publication that advocated for his election. But the way he carries on about it in this book, you'd think he was still campaigning for election. He's also a bit of a name-dropper, and there is surprisingly little indication of what he has done with his life since 1975. The stories of his playing days are welcome reading, though, at least to someone of my generation, who remembers everyone he is talking about. This wasn't the worst book I have ever read, but I was hoping for a better read, especially since it is rather long as these sort of books go.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Defining "Clean"

A rather large controversy is bubbling up within our fellowship once more. It started locally with a revision of the guidelines to our subcommittee that brings meetings into places where addicts cannot freely attend meetings on their own, and escalated over the weekend when a convention in Syracuse, which many people in recovery from the Northeast attended, prominently featured a speaker who militantly expressed both the fact that she is has been prescribed Percoset for chronic pain for many years and also her belief that she has sixteen years clean. Our local meeting yesterday morning was dominated by a number of people with substantial clean time, including me, expressing views on the Syracuse matter, while the guidelines matter promises to be a long, controversial struggle for some time because the practice of replacement drug therapy has become so widespread in drug treatment programs across the land.
I'm going to put in my two cents first regarding the first issue; simply, my views are still evolving. I've written on the subject of Suboxone and Methadone in this space before. My views are colored by knowing that at least two people I've been close to over the years, a sponsee and a good friend, have successfully completed Suboxone regimens. The friend was on it for a longer period of time than I would have thought necessary, but as far as I know she eventually weaned off it before leaving the area. The sponsee expressed misgivings about being on it as long as he was, and discussed the matter with me while it was happening; I told him at the time to follow the doctor's instructions rigorously because it seemed to be having a beneficial effect, and he's been off it for a long time now. Neither of these people would be terribly affected by the current controversy, which is, at heart, about being eligible to carry the message of recovery into institutions, because neither was or has been overly active in either that subcommittee or other areas of formal service in Narcotics Anonymous. I still think that Suboxone, on an individual basis, has a place in the lives of recovering people, and I don't think that they are "using" like some of the militants do. However, on the particular question at hand--whether people on Suboxone and Methadone technically meet the clean time requirements for speaking in meetings conducted by the Hospitals and Institutions subcommittee--I am swinging round to the idea that they shouldn't. There are enough distractions in early recovery, enough confusion, enough potential pitfalls to sidetrack and sabotage the addict who is just getting clean. We as a fellowship do not need to add to the chaos by even hinting that there is a possibility that there is a role for drugs in a long-term"clean" life and lifestyle. That message is going to be given and received from a bunch of other sources soon enough for the person in early recovery; they really shouldn't be hearing it from people associated with Narcotics Anonymous. The first few weeks of anybody's recovery are crucial as to their chances of staying clean, and more importantly, the first messages that are received have the most staying power in our minds. I have been clean for well over five thousand days now, and have attended well over a thousand meeting since getting clean--but if I had to write down a dozen meetings that I actually can remember what was said and heard things that profoundly affected me and stuck with me, at least half of them took place in late 1998 or sometime in 1999--in my first year clean. So yes, the content of the message that H&I carries into institutions does matter, a great deal.
And the older I get and the more I see how we are evolving in the larger society, the more I am becoming convinced that the entire recovery process is in the midst of being co-opted by Corporate America. When I worked in the halfway house a dozen years ago, I was stunned by the amount of medication many of the clients were on, and I recall a conversation with a couple of people who had been working there much longer than I had about what a cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry people in chemical dependency treatment programs were. It's much more so now than it was then. I remember the MICA (mentally ill chemical abusers) program was just getting off the ground at that point in time at that facility, and I was again stunned--by how completely ineffective it was. Nobody in that first year it existed stayed clean long enough to get a glow in the dark keytag, and I can't recall anyone completing the program without relapsing well past the time I stopped working there. I can also tell you that the institution 1) receives an obscene amount of money for operating this program, 2) almost every client that is part of this program is taking anywhere from four to a dozen meds on a daily basis, and 3) success rates, as defined by staying clean long enough to get a black (two years) keytag, are minuscule--maybe one out of twenty, if even that high. It doesn't work. But a lot of companies, doctors, and other people sure make a lot of money off it. The increased prevalence of Suboxone, especially, is at least partially due to the piles of money that the regimen makes for those pushing it on the people taking it. I'm not sure how it is now, but the number of people in early recovery on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds used to be staggering, and created all sorts of problems for those taking them (and for those charged with keeping the peace in a facility with thirty-six people in early recovery living in close proximity to one another). Two women of my recovery generation who have been clean for at least the entire twenty-first century were on Effexor and Prozac for several years after getting clean--and both told me that they had serious, serious problems, physical and mental, when they stopped taking them--actually, let's call it what it was: withdrawal.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but putting people in early recovery on all sorts of meds is, I am becoming more and more convinced, morally repugnant and wrong. It is like finding money for Big Pharma: 1) there is a captive audience that is legally required to follow medical advice or pay severe consequences, like imprisonment; 2) this population is already predisposed to allowing drugs to have a primary role in their life; and 3) there is an entire subsidiary industry built around it that is also feeding at the trough. It is a predatory practice, plain and simple. And if you notice, the only people in the world who have loud and sustained objections to the efficacy of Twelve-Step programs are those associated with the medical and pharmaceutical industries--and the real reason is that it threatens their exploitation of a very vulnerable population. It is a depressingly familiar story that has played out all over American society in the last several decades. It is just another elaborate justification of another instance of wealth extraction by Corporate America.
Yes, I've gotten a little off-track from a discussion of whether those on Suboxone and Methadone are clean. But in recovery, we learn to get to the exact nature, in order to be able to make effective and lasting change in our lives. And in this matter, the pernicious influence of Big Pharma is the tap root, the underlying cause of the surface controversy. The entire program of Narcotics Anonymous is based on the principle of Good Will--and anything that arises out of profit motives is not, by definition, based in Good Will. And drug replacement therapy is, however many layers of obfuscation is laid on top of it, motivated at least partially by profit motives. If it isn't, then let Big Pharma give it away, or at least sell it at cost.
Didn't think so.
On a individual basis, the answer to whether someone on Suboxone or Methadone is "clean" isn't so clear cut. There are some people who really don't have much of a choice about being on it--if you're part of Drug Court and mandated to follow medical advice or go back to jail, and your treatment team tells you that you need to be on Suboxone, then realistically you are going to be on Suboxone; I don't think anyone in their right mind would expect someone to choose incarceration for the sake of being "cleaner." I don't have any problem with people who are on regimens picking up clean time milestones, as long as they are following those regimens and working toward eventually being off it. We are members of the fellowship when we say we are, and attending meetings and trying to recover should not be discouraged in any way. Do people abuse Suboxone or relapse when it's time to be weaned off? Of course they do. But it's not like it's the only or even primary reason for relapses; almost everybody that is part of any Twelve-Step fellowship has at least one relapse (definitions vary as to what is a "relapse," as well; I define it as "using a drug or drugs for the purpose of getting high after attending a meeting of a 12-Step fellowship," but I will frankly tell you that at least part of the reason I use that definition is that, by using it, I've never relapsed--there aren't many of us around who haven't relapsed, but there are a few in NA in this area. I can't speak authoritatively for those who attend AA as their primary fellowship, but I personally have never met a person who attends AA regularly who has never relapsed--or "slipped," to use their preferred terminology. There are others who use different definitions, to be sure) as part of their story. It isn't like there's a Clean Time Committee that checks out people's stories before they are allowed to pick up keytags and medallions, anyway. There's an assumption that people are telling the truth, and a lot of leeway is given on an individual basis. Even the people who are very strident on this issue, that feel that being "clean" means total abstinence from all mood-altering, mind-changing substances, have never, to my knowledge, given someone on Suboxone or Methadone a hard time when picking up medallions or keytags.
The issue has been whether they are eligible to carry a message of recovery into institutions. As a fellowship we are necessarily bound to follow our literature. The literature has several passages addressing this issue, and while interpretations vary, those who stand on the side of "no, it isn't clean time" have more of a case--basically, the only argument in favor of those being on those regimens as being "clean" is the passages about being under a doctor's care and taking medicine as prescribed. On a individual basis, this does work for me, as I have said. But on the larger issue, of sharing a message of Narcotics Anonymous in a facility or institution, it no longer does, I have to say. We have enough issues that already dilute the clarity of the message of recovery; we really don't need to invite questions regarding the pillars of the program itself to people who have little or no understanding of what being clean actually means.
We have to establish boundaries somewhere.
The second issue is less complicated, as far as I am concerned. I don't care if it's under a doctor's supervision or not-- there is no way that someone who is taking five Percs a day should be addressing a convention audience from the podium. The fact that apparently the speaker was quite aggressive about her "recovery"--it was reported to me that she actually took the bottle of Percosets out of her purse and was brandishing it like a trophy while sharing--appalls me. My issue is not necessarily with the addict; as I said previously, an individual's recovery is not really held to the same scrutiny as a message being carried to a larger audience. My issue is that whoever was responsible for finding speakers for this event--and by "whoever," I am assuming it was a committee, not an individual--badly dropped the ball and failed in their responsibility to the fellowship at large. Whether we like to believe so or not, conventions and events do have a wider audience, both in increased numbers attending the actual event and the widespread practice of taping the speakers for dissemination through CD's to addicts all over the world. And I am sorry, but to allow someone who is so openly on a narcotic pain medication such a wide forum to claim sixteen years of clean time is inexcusable, and it is inconceivable to me that the people who gave her that forum were unaware of what she was going to share. This is not even debatable. At least with Suboxone and Methadone, there are very limited numbers of drugs that address the ostensible medical issue involved. As far as pain relievers--there are literally hundreds of drugs available for the purpose, the vast majority of which are not narcotic. I am not a Nazi on this question; I have taken one controlled substance, Nucynta, during my recovery, and I know others who have been given things like Vicodin and Oxycontin for various reasons. But the difference is that, unlike this woman (apparently), they were prescribed for a specific circumstance (in my own case, for dealing with post-surgical pain when I had my feet operated on last year; I took it twice within 48 hours of the surgery, when the pain was preventing me from sleeping. I still have the other four tablets in the bottle in my medicine cabinet) for a specific period of time. That meets the logic test, that meets the standards that are in the literature. Taking five Percs a day for "chronic pain" because a doctor signs off on it may, I grant, improve the quality of life for this woman. But it doesn't meet any recognized definition of clean time in the literature of Narcotics Anonymous, in my opinion. Again, on a individual basis, I might raise an eyebrow if I was at a meeting and she picked up a medallion for more time than I have, but I certainly wouldn't object.
But there is no way she should be carrying a message of living a life of abstinence and recovery in a forum like a convention. Because she is not. I can't really blame her for sharing her story, because it is her story. My problem is that she was given that slot by people who ought to be more aware of the responsibility they take on when putting together events where the message is carried more widely than on an individual or group level. It brought back very uncomfortable memories of The Message in this area, when concerns other than a message of recovery were the primary determinants of whether addicts were given a forum to share in. We've moved away from the Message in the last couple of years in this area, and on balance, I think we're all much better off for it; there sure seem to be more people staying clean, which is the point of the entire exercise. But even beyond that--the fellowship is functional in a way it hasn't been in a long time. Yes, there are tensions at times, and conflicts, and some controversies. But on the whole, I have to say that messages of recovery are both available to anyone who wants to hear them and respected by those who may not be recovering in the exact same fashion. Our local Activities and Events subcommittee has made a conscious effort in the last couple of years to broaden the messages being heard here. We have had several new groups spring up across a wider area of the Southern Tier. There are several meetings a week that draw fifty to ninety people each. The  Area Service Committee is not the pissing match among skunks that it had been for years. And all this has come to pass because the people with experience, the people who have been part of the fellowship in this area for many years, took it upon themselves to improve the quality of the message being heard around here, and they did that by 1) becoming more diligent about practicing principles in their own recoveries, and 2) making conscious efforts to ensure that, in the words of our literature, that "the ties that bind us together are stronger than those that would tear us apart." I have been a small part of that process, part of the larger whole, and I actually feel more proud and good about my part in that than in any individual accomplishment of my own recovery process over fourteen and a half years. It took a long, long time before I became, on balance, more of a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. But it has been the most rewarding experience of my recovery.
And I am saying this because I was able to let go of my ego and my preferences and my beliefs in many areas. I was able to set those aside in the spirit of humility, to understand on a truly deep level that surrendering to the principles of the program involves a heartfelt belief in my own fallibility. Put bluntly, I'm not always right, and intelligent as I am and as much experience as I have, others have as much or more to offer other addicts than I do. We're all in this together, and God expresses Himself to us in a group conscience. If you believe that God is present in all of us--and I do, as do most of us--than it stands to reason that the larger the group, the more of what God might have to say to us will sink in. We have been able to do that in the last couple of years here.
But it also means that when a large number of us are fairly certain that a message of recovery is not being carried in some way or fashion, that consensus needs to be heeded. I don't know who put together the Syracuse event. I don't know hardly anyone from Syracuse; my recovery experience, deep as it has been, has been confined to a very small pond. I have heard things from others with more exposure to other areas, and I do have the experience of having lived through the Message years here. I would guess that the speaker extolling the Percs of recovery the other day is a crony of someone on the speaker selection committee, and either that any objections were disregarded or (more likely) weren't even expressed, because the group of people putting on this event all run in the same circles, that there wasn't much diversity in their recoveries--or more bluntly, they were part of the same clique. That used to be the case here, and we all suffered for it. It isn't the case here now, and we've all benefited from it. I am very sure that no speaker at the upcoming speaker event we have this coming weekend is going to be waving a bottle of Percosets at the podium. There will be a variety of messages heard, of varying experiences of working a program of Narcotics Anonymous.
But the experiences shared will be of working a program, by clean people who are sharing how to live a life without the use of drugs. Not by people who are sharing a more refined and more respectable way of living a  life dependent on the use of drugs. And if my view makes me an NA Nazi--well, give me an armband with a swastika on it.
And if it's too tight and begins to hurt, I'll take a Motrin. I'm not going to run to the doctor and get a prescription for Percoset.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book Review: MIRROR EARTH

I'm not quite a science geek, but I do have more of an interest in science matters than a lot of people do. Mirror Earth, by longtime Time science writer Michael Lemonick, runs through the search for planets around other stars--how far we have progressed in the last few decades, what equipment is needed, and a lot of the interaction between the people who do the actual searching and analyzing of the data. There are now hundreds of planets catalogued that have been found, including several stars that have confirmed solar systems. So far, there has not been a true "mirror earth", a world at the right distance away from the right kind of sun that is the right size that one could be fairly sure that life existed on. But the search goes on and will for many years, even if, as in so many other things, the United States no longer spends a lot of time and money on space work and so the lion's share of new discoveries are going to fall to the European space consortium and the Chinese.
That point sickens me, honestly. Finding stuff is space is cool, and there have been many, many practical applications of things that have arisen out of space exploration that have made life here a lot better. You can't tell me that allowing the 1% to become even richer is better for us than finding the money for space exploration, and space exploration is way down the list of things we should spend more money on than we do. And while concentrating on space telescopes may not seem practical, getting more college-age kids involved in science is, and maybe we could find better uses for science applications that blowing up mountains for coal and fracking and devising more ways to wring fossil fuels out of the earth. Just sayin'.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Little Nervous

My daughter just sent me a text message; she is on her way to the airport, about to board a 6 AM flight to Washington, D.C. She and my niece are going to spend the Memorial Day weekend with my sister, who lives down there. She's never flown before, and is a little nervous about it, but mostly she is excited about finally getting to do something that most kids should get an opportunity to do more than they do: play tourist in their own country. But she's looking forward to it, and I'm glad that she will have the experience of seeing things like the Lincoln Memorial and other bits of our nation's heritage. God knows I'm not going to be able to take her to any of these things in the near future.
I didn't sleep well. Most of it was due to having a couple of cups of coffee at the meeting last night, but a bit of it was allowing someone to get into my head last night. This person means well, I am sure, but some of the things said kind of allowed doubts to creep in where there weren't any. The intellectual side of me says that the person doesn't know what they are talking about on this subject, and that my own eyes and ears are certainly more accurate barometers of where matters stand in an area that is important to me. But, combined with seeing and talking with someone from the past last night at the meeting, I have to admit that there is a little bit of nervousness creeping in. I'm fairly sure that this is just a temporary thing, that when I read this piece a couple of months, I'll have trouble remembering what I was even referring to. But it's still present this morning.
I was tempted to stay in bed when the coffee pot sounded, but I'm getting up because I do have something to do this morning. After years of sleeping on a twin mattress, I am finally, unexpectedly, getting an opportunity to have a queen-size bed in the home, for no cost, and it will be delivered here late this morning. I have to get the old bed out of there and move around some things to make room for it, and then at some point I have to go buy queen sheets today. I'm not going to get into the details of how this came to be; it was nothing illegal or underhanded, to be sure, just that the source may not want to be deluged with people looking for similar consideration. I will just say that I am very, very grateful to the individual who is making this possible, and that I am grateful beyond words for what has transpired between us in the last fourteen months or so, and for the miracles given to those of us who work a recovery program to the best of our abilities.
And on that front, I have to say that I am a little down this morning because a guy I've known for years, but only recently have started becoming close to, after he came back to the rooms, is going out of town for the next week. It's nice to have friends, and especially this guy, who has so much to offer those that he chooses to have in his life. He's visiting family in the South, and I know he's going to be all right, but he's been a part of every recent day, and, corny as it sounds, I'm going to miss him while he's gone.
Tomorrow is looking a little busy, too. I will see Rachel for a time in the afternoon, and I am supposed to meet with my new sponsor before the meeting tomorrow. There might be a recovery barbecue tomorrow afternoon, although prolonged exposure to some of the people that I know are going to be there sometimes messes with my head. There is another barbecue Monday that I am definitely going to, one that I am sure that my lady friend will attend with me, and then I get to give Don his medallion Monday night. Sabrina will be back home Monday as well, if all goes according to plan. So it will be hopefully a nice weekend.


Friday, May 24, 2013

But For The Grace of God

...go I. That was my first thought when I saw someone I went to high school with splashed across the television news yesterday. She was a year behind me in high school, and has been struggling with addiction issues for some time now. She has made some attempts in the past at trying to recover, but I hadn't seen her in that setting for months. She was arrested for grand larceny, and the story was accompanied by video footage of an in-store security photo of someone that looks a lot like her lifting a wallet at a local supermarket earlier this month.
Addiction is never pleasant, and it becomes even less so as age accumulates. One of the reasons I have stayed clean all these years is that I simply cannot fathom living the life I was leading at 34 at 50 years of age, from a physical standpoint; part of the physical breakdown that I feel on a daily basis at this point in my life is due to the abuses I put my body through in my early 30's. I've been very lucky in my own recovery, in that I have had the time and the resources to be able to rebuild a life. While I went over the cliff in the late 1990's, at least I had already completed college with a couple of degrees and had a decade of experience in business management, which were things I could and have counted on as I embarked on another career track after committing to recovery. And even then, it was and has been a long, slow journey just to achieve and (barely) maintain a lower-middle-class existence. I am not complaining; the rat race and pursuit of the chimera of "success" was part and parcel of my disease of addiction, and my needs, as opposed to wants and desires, are invariably met. But I also caught a break in that when I was trying to climb back to my feet, the general economic and social atmosphere was, if not exactly friendly to doing so, at least not a hindrance. I could take an entry-level position in a non-profit without starving ten years ago. There were opportunities for someone who worked hard and who had talent to advance in their early and mid-40's.
I don't think that is true today, in this geographic region for certain and I suspect in most if not all areas of the country. And it certainly isn't the case for people who are at or near the threshold of fifty years of age. I have been extremely fortunate to be able to continue working for my employer for several years now, in that we have been able to continue to get funding for the program I head--and one of the reasons I have honed my grant-writing skills is that I have no illusions about being unemployed for any reason at this point in my life. It would be a bitch to find another job anywhere, and it is extremely doubtful that I would ever land in a situation that is as good for me and my family ever again. One of the things that happened at my job yesterday was a seminar regarding upcoming changes in the health insurance that our agency provides for its employees. While it isn't completely ideal, on balance it isn't bad at all, and the fact that it isn't predatory and that it is even offered is something that many people in my age bracket don't have in their lives. I can't imagine looking for a job at 50 (or 52 or 55 or 58) and hoping to get decent health insurance, several week of paid time off, full-time work with the flexibility I have, or an agency vehicle to help with work-related travel expenses.
And if I was coming out of rehab and drug treatment at this point in my life--the chances would shrink even further. I am sure that this woman is feeling lower than whale shit this morning for a number of reasons, and one of them is that her employer was about the most patient and understanding employer for employees with troubles of this nature that exists--but that even they have walked the full mile with her and she is likely to be let go, if she hasn't been already. And really, what other prospects does she have at this age? For many, it is a negative feedback loop, a trap that only serves to perpetuate the cycle of addiction--"there's no hope of improvement, so I might as well keep getting fucked up." For those of us in the recovery fellowships, one of the greatest lifelines we provide is that there is a hope of improvement, and we're not blowing smoke--but it's a tougher sell, to be sure, the older the addict is when they are starting the process. Most addicts who put together clean time get and stay clean in their mid-to-late 30's; they are old enough to have suffered for a long time and for the youthful "partying" ideas to lose luster, but they are young enough so that there is at least a chance to begin again and build a life with some reasonable expectation of actually being able to do so. At 44 or 49 or 56, it's a harder go, and even we can't deny or put a more positive spin on it, especially if one doesn't have a wealth of experience or education to fall back upon. I always tell people who are in recovery and who have managed to put it down for even a few days that they might as well give it their best shot and hang on by their fingertips, if that's what it takes, because not only are they not guaranteed any more chances, but that it's going to be hard enough as it is to move forward even if they hang around. As a matter of fact, I had substantially this conversation with this same woman roughly a year ago.
And she wasn't able to stay around. And now the hole she was in has gotten even deeper.
At this point in my life, I am no longer surprised by vitriolic reactions of non-addicts to those who have addiction issues. There are some people who are only able to define themselves and their place in life by feeling superior to others. There are others who mean well, but whose ways of communicating their concerns and care are ineffective or negative, because that's what they've known their entire lives. I was saddened by a friend of mine's comments when he saw the item about the arrest in the media; there was some intemperate language and character judgments made that were not kind. I know this guy well, and I know that his heart is, despite the way he expresses himself at times, in the right place. This is someone he grew up with and cared about, and it is puzzling and maddening to him when people throw away their lives in the service of addictions that he has never fallen prey to. While I don't condone the reaction, I do get where it is coming from, and I fully relate to the frustration he feels... but I know that the anger and judgment is not an effective strategy. I talked to him a bit last night after I saw what he said, and I told him that, more than anything else, our mutual friend needs some compassion more than anything else at this moment, compassion and prayers if you are so inclined. Believe me, the voices in her own head are saying even worse things to her, and she knows exactly what she did and how low she has sunk. No one thinks, when they are teenagers, "Well, I think I'm going to be a drug addict when I grow up. I really, really hope I disappoint all my family and friends, and cause some really bad pain and damage to my children." She knows. And while the frustration and the hurt in those around us boils up, and the temptation to lash out is very hard to resist---kicking people when they're down is not ultimately helpful. All it does is make it harder to eventually get up again. One doesn't have to approve of the behavior, but showing compassion and charity never really hurts us and doesn't cost us anything at all, and often is the glimmer of hope that keeps someone who doesn't know if they have the strength to try to pick up the pieces to take steps in that direction.
And for about the hundred thousandth time, I am filled with gratitude for the fellowship of Narcotics Anonymous and the role it has played and plays in my life. I've been clean since the fall of 1998, and it is very, very rare anymore for someone to openly express disdain for me and pass judgment on me for the things I did in active addiction. I paid my legal consequences long ago, and the life I lead today bears no resemblance to the life I was leading then. But there sure was a time when I was facing what the woman who was in the paper yesterday is facing, when almost all of the "normal" people I knew were at best afraid of me and disgusted enough with me that they avoided me, and in more than a few cases were not shy about expressing revulsion and contempt for me. The one group of people that I was always welcome around were the people in NA. They didn't hold what I was facing against me. They didn't call me names. They didn't tell me, "You can't be around here." They didn't tell me what an asshole I was, what a jerk, what a loser I was. They didn't tell me that they were ashamed of me, that I was somehow a ball and chain that dragged them down in some way. They didn't tell me I was a moral reprobate, that I was scum, that I was a piece of shit that should spend the rest of my life under a rock somewhere or that I should be imprisoned indefinitely or that I was forever stained and doomed to a miserable existence for the rest of my time on this earth and I was going to burn in hell for eternity after I died, too.
One thing I have never heard in a Narcotics Anonymous setting is "How could you have done what you did?' We all know how you could do it, because we did it too--and we also know that those things are not who we truly are, and that is possible to move past those things and make a new life while making lasting amends for the those things we did. No, it isn't a badge of honor or some sort of war trophy, but rather a recognition that when the disease of addiction is rampant and unchecked, our bodies do things that we do bear responsibility for, but also that those things are not the true expressions of our hearts and our souls. People in recovery fellowships follow the words of Jesus of Nazareth much more closely than many ostensibly religious and moral people do, in that they truly love the sinner while hating the sin. And I can tell you from my own personal experience that being shown that love and that acceptance made all that has followed possible. And not only I, but my daughters and my family and my friends and those who have come after me to the rooms of recovery and those I have worked on behalf of in the jobs I have held since getting clean, have all reaped the benefits of that acceptance and good will exhibited toward me.
If you know this person, try to find it in your heart to not pass judgment on her this morning, but rather to find it in your heart to pray for her. She needs help, not approbation. She needs support, not shunning; if she could have beaten what she is facing by herself, she wouldn't be in the news today. There's enough hate and nastiness in the world, and it is the currency, even more than drugs and money, of the world of addiction. This is one area where fighting fire with fire does nothing but burn it all to the ground... spray some water on the fire. Show some compassion, ask God to help her, or, if you can't manage that, at least don't add to her troubles. It's going to be difficult enough for her to recover as it is.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Junior Varsity Wrap

It has been very, very strange the last few days having Sabrina home right after school. Since basketball tryouts started in November, I can count on one hand the number of days she was here at 4 PM. And this is just a hiatus, I'm sure; City League is going to start within a week, and there was some noise being made about trying to field a team of kids on JVs that are still eligible for the 14-and-under BAGSAI league this summer (cost would be about $80 per kid, which I can handle; more in a few sentences). But for now, her knees and hands can garner some well-deserved healing time.
The season was mostly successful. Being an 8th-grader on the JV team is a success even before the season starts, but she did become much more accomplished as a catcher as the season progressed. The primary pitcher on the team is not the easiest pitcher to be a catcher for; she is much more accurate than she was as a very wild/fast 11YO, but still averages about eight walks a game, and she is another 14YO who at times acts like it, making for some tension. But they persevered, and other than getting out of the crouch to field bunts, Sabrina's catching is first rate now. Her arm is good enough so that, should she get adequate fielding (or, to be blunt, if the fielders covering the bases get to the base in time or hang onto the ball when they make the tag), she can get a number of outs a game on the bases, which is invaluable at this level. Her hitting was inconsistent, to be kind, she had two major hot streaks and two ice-cold streaks and ended up hitting an even .300 with some power. She's not overmatched, by any means, but a lot of the things she has had to work on for years remain problems (the pitch around the eyes, getting affected by umpire calls she doesn't agree with). But she is only 14, and she is definitely part of the Patriot future.
Although I am less sanguine about that than justice and right would dictate. Family politics remains a gigantic part of the athletic world; Binghamton is not unique in this aspect, I have been assured by virtually everyone I know whose kid plays sports, from Texas to Massachusetts. But this is what I know and see every day, and I have to say I find it very concerning that one of the golden children all of a sudden decided to she wanted to start being a catcher toward the end of the season. The fact that this kid's mother is being bandied about as a possible assistant coach for the proposed BAGSAI team arches my eyebrows, as well. I want to stress that I don't have any issue with the kid herself; she's nice and gets along with all of the other kids, as far as I can see. Sabrina's not terribly worried about the development, both because she thinks there is no way this kid is ever going to be much of a catcher (possibly true) and because she insists that the varsity coach is immune to politics (and Sabrina is already a favorite of the varsity coach due to her intensely strong work ethic). I hope she's right. But on this level, as much as I think this JV coach isn't a bad guy and doesn't do a bad job coaching, there were some curious decisions made regarding who plays and who doesn't. There were two players, sophomores, who played every game that were automatic outs for almost the entire season, and one of them wasn't good in the field, either--and they were South Side money scions. The kid mentioned above is another offspring of South Side money. There is another kid who made the team as an underage player whose skill level seemed to be more appropriate to Modified--although in her case, I can understand if the motivation was to not let the modified coach screw her up (which she most assuredly would have done; all sources tell me that Modified was even more of a train wreck this year than it was a year ago), but the fact that she turned out to be a somewhat difficult personality might also be coloring my views (and I have grown to intensely dislike one of her parents). One of the best kids on modified last year was buried on the bench all season, for reasons I simply can't fathom; her injury at the beginning of tryouts should not have cost her her chance to play. Another kid is a liability in the field at present, but at least one of her flaws can be improved with about ten minutes of instruction (which never came), and the fact that she can hit--well-- seemed to not matter a whit, curious on a team when there had to be seven kids (out of fifteen) who didn't hit .200 this year. There was another kid on the team whose roster presence remains a complete mystery to me even after a full season; there is no there there, to borrow a phrase.
The team was 5-11, and I have become resigned to the fact that my dreams of a few years ago of a state champion are not going to come to pass. The travel team mentality around here is too great, and I can see that softball has become a sport where the opportunities to improve presuppose both significant income and two-parent involvement, both of which are in shorter supply in the Binghamton school district than in most others of comparable size in this area. Sabrina is not likely to be on travel team this summer; she is not one of the four kids called up to varsity for their sectional games (one of the kids who was is a great kid and a good friend of Sabrina, and conspicuous by being a good teammate--one of the few who invariably shout encouragement or "nice play" to her teammates from the outfield. But she is another South Side kid, and while she isn't a bad player by any stretch, she wasn't an obvious candidate for promotion, either). She will try out for travel team for next year in August, and likely make it then, but she will have this summer off, at least. Sabrina is likely going to be on JV again next year; both varsity catchers are juniors. She is going to be attempt to play more first base in the summer; she is already a good first baseman, there is a spot opening on varsity at that position, and the primary JV first baseman this year isn't going to fill it. That means I have to get her a regular glove within a few weeks, but that's something I will gladly do. But this was a much better year, all things considered, than last year. She is in competent hands, and she held her own against quality opposition.
She still has a future in this game.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Banana Republic

There were four separate items in the news yesterday that highlighted just how screwed up this nation has become, and how much of a banana republic the United States of America really is:
1) The administration of Barack Obama has chosen not to prosecute any of the people affiliated in any way with the global banking giant HSBC for their laundering billions in illegal drug money in Mexico. It wasn't like it was happening under the radar; Mexican cartel members allegedly constructed wooden boxes designed to fit the exact dimensions of teller windows to deposit their gains, and made several trips a day to many banks. The reason given by Administration officials was that jailing anyone would cause "disruption" in the world financial markets. Yeah, I bet it would... unbelievable. I guess too big to fail isn't quite right anymore; it is also obvious that "too big to jail" is the operative password. The wealthy, even in ideal societies, always get a better shake legally than you or I would, but when they can do whatever they want with impunity, then any pretenses are gone. We live in a banana republic, and we are as corrupt and dysfunctional as a regime like the former Soviet Union was.
2) Even as I saw the news footage from Oklahoma two nights ago with horror, I wondered how long it would take before the state's federal representatives asked for disaster aid. A day, as it turned out. And while normally this would not be news, in this case it is, because both Oklahoma Senators were very, very vocal back in the fall about not wanting to give disaster relief to the East Coast in the wake of Sandy. And sure enough, my personal candidate for Absolute Worst Asshole in the Senate, James Inofhe, stepped right up to the Hypocrite's Podium, baldly stating that his request for aid for his state was "in no way similar" to the Sandy aid request. His colleague Tom Coburn may be an even bigger asshole, but at least he's a consistent one; he said that he wants "offsets"--in other words, robbing Peter to pay Paul-- before he will vote for disaster aid for his own constituents. This is on top of Rick Perry, governor of neighboring Texas, who also was against Sandy disaster relief, asking for aid to help with the fertilizer plant explosion a few weeks ago... these Republican Southerner politicians are the  biggest hypocrites on the face of the earth. They are still fighting the Civil War, and they are tumors on the body of humanity. And the people that keep putting them in office are even worse. If I were your benevolent dictator, I'd give Oklahoma back to the Indians and Texas back to Mexico. What POSes they really are.
3) Speaking of crazy Republicans, there were a couple of items in the news about Congressional staffers for Republican members of Congress who (anonymously) ripped their employers to the media, stating that some of them "are living on Mars" with some of their ideas about what happened in Benghazi in the fall. The facts don't matter to them. One was quoted as saying that the supposed "stand down" order was given to four people, and that not doing so would have made a bad situation worse. Another was quoted as saying that holding Hillary Clinton responsible for not sending drones to Benghazi to bomb the crap out of the mob was "stupid" because the drones in question, based in Germany, are not armed, and "everyone with a brain knows it." This is not a loyal opposition; this a bunch of assholes who are resolutely committed to obstruction and lies as a means of trying to gain and hold power. They are the Nazis and Bolsheviks before the Revolutions; they are fully aware of their bullshit and duplicity. They are, not to put too fine a point in it, traitors, in that they are willing to lie, repeatedly, to achieve political gain. And they should be treated as such. This is Whitewater all over again; there is nothing here, but a substantial number of people in Congress, backed by forces dedicated to looting this country of whatever wealth is left here into their own pockets, are going to continue to throw tantrums and make shit up to try to make a minority of the yahoos out there think there is.
4) Speaking of Whitewater, some moron in the New York Times actually called for Kenneth Starr, he of the Whitewater clusterfuck investigation, to be reappointed as special prosecutor for another non-scandalous "scandal", the alleged targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS. One, the "targeting" is pretty standard practice when you have allegedly non-partisan "citizen groups" acting like PACs. Two, the Tea Party groups involved were not the only groups looked at, and the only group that actually lost their tax-exempt status was a liberal group (imagine that). Three, whatever excesses there were are being dealt with; a couple of IRS people are in legal trouble. There is no need for any "special" prosecution; regular criminal procedure can handle this just fine. Lastly, thinking that Kenneth Fucking Starr could be effective investigating a theft of acorns in a squirrel cage is ludicrous; anyone but the diehard Republican right acknowledges that his "investigation" of President Clinton was the biggest waste of time and money in the history of American politics. Kenneth Starr was lucky to escape "investigation" for his performance twenty years ago.
While Republican assholery is more brazen and open, it is important to realize that there is no true counterweight. The "Democratic" party is merely a less obnoxious wing of the rich and wealthy cabal that actually runs this country; they may not be openly exploitative and aren't dedicated to emptying the pockets of the great mass of us. But they are hardly on our side. This system is broken, and it's not going to be fixed without a major, major bloodletting.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Disaster In Oklahoma and Thoughts on Mortality

A lot of things happened yesterday in my world, but they all ended up paling next to the national news. Near Oklahoma City, a huge tornado--the news footage made it appear that the twister took up about half of the horizon--blew through a town and destroyed a school with the children still, for the most part, inside. At least twenty kids and thirty-seven people overall are dead, and the number is sure to rise as the rubble gets cleared away.
I don't have anything especially profound to say about it. In  a general way, I feel horrible the way I do when something happens to children anywhere. As a parent, you never lose that dread that of losing a child to death before your own time has come. My fear has lessened only marginally as my children have gotten older; the fact that all three of mine are now teenagers only moves anxieties to a different plane. And I still do not know what I would do should something happen to any of them, but I suspect that life would never seem whole again. And I can tell you that, if for some reason, all three of them departed the earth at the same time, I would likely join them on the other side before much time had passed. They mean the world to me; they really do. I can't imagine finding the will to go on should they not be here.
We are dealing with the specter of death in this house this morning, on a much smaller scale. I have not had a dog in my house since Sabrina was born, but her mother has had two for the last several years, and yesterday one of them succumbed to the wasting illness that has been affecting him for a year (he was the skinniest Rottweiler I ever saw, by the end). I'm not a fan of big dogs, normally, but this one was a good dog, and Sabrina absolutely adored him and Xavier her. She was totally devastated yesterday afternoon when the news came, cried for the remaining daylight hours, and went to bed while it was still twilight. There wasn't a whole lot I could do or say other than to offer love and encouragement, and I was rather pleased to hear that somebody in her mother's circle is paying to have the dog cremated and the ashes kept; a friend of mine that I asked for advice said that was what he did to help his own kids through the loss when their family's dog died in the wintertime. I don't know how it's going to go when she gets up; I suspect that she is going to be mopey for the rest of the week at least, and it has already taken the edge off her upcoming trip to Washington this weekend.
And the part of my mind that is subject to irrational fear is starting to churn, as that reality sinks in. My sister lives in Washington, and finally circumstances have broken right to allow Sabrina a chance to visit her. I feel bad that my finances and job situation have never allowed for any kind of extensive travel during Sabrina's lifetime. She has never been to New York City; by the time I was fourteen, I had been there (after moving away from there) three hundred times if I had been once. She's never been on a vacation with me further away than Lake George, and isn't likely to go anywhere this summer, either. So I jumped on the chance when my sister offered to have her come for the holiday weekend; God knows I will never get the chance to take her there...But it involves flying, which is something I've never liked and something she's never done before. I know all the statistics about how safe flying is, but it's my kid, and I'm not going to be on the flight (she is going with her cousin), and you better believe that I am going to feel some anxiety until the plane lands in DC on Saturday and then, again, on Monday, when I see the plane land on the runway at our airport.
I know that ultimately, we're all in this world together. But I can do without sharing some experiences that others go through, and the mourning that is happening in Oklahoma this morning definitely falls into that category.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: EATING ALIENS

The title of Jackson Landers' Eating Aliens grabbed my attention, and this offbeat little volume is well worth checking out. Landers is a hunting guide and hunter, and the aliens he is referring to are invasive species all over the United States and nearby (the Bahamas) countries. His idea, simply, is that anybody can make a dent in the problem of invasive species by killing them and--serving them as food. To this end, he tracks down, kills, and prepares (and tells you how he cooked them, too) animals such as wild pigs, lionfish, carp (several varieties), two kinds of iguana, and several animals I never heard of that do not live around here. There is something for everyone here; the nuts and bolts of hunting in various locales, the effects these animals have local ecosystems, what can happen if they are unchecked, and odd trivia (some idiot let zebras loose in central Texas hill county, and there is now a small population there, for one example). He didn't get everything he was after (the two most numerous animals he listed in the beginning of the book, starlings and pigeons, he ended up not being able to cull for a number of reasons), and a few of his suggestions aren't going to fly. But most of these animals can be eaten, and according to him, most of them are quite good on the plate. And if a demand for these creatures can be established, it might go a long way toward restoring the health of many damaged ecosystems suffering ruin after some fool let aquarium fish or exotic pets into the local environment. And best of all, it's a short book and can be tackled on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Book Review: MAFIA PRINCE

An unspoken shadow over the lives of most men of southern Italian and Sicilian ancestry in the eastern United States is that of the Mafia. Regardless of whether one's family is connected or not, regardless of even any reasons for anyone to think so, as someone whose family roots go back to Naples, I have lived with suspicions and innuendos for my entire life from non-Italians. It is much worse if, like me, your Italian family is from New York City; there is an assumption that there is a connection that can be impossible to overcome.
And it doesn't help when there is a little bit of fire to the smoke, not at all. The exact degree of involvement in the Mob that members of my extended family had remains a matter of conjecture and controversy within my family to this day, and I am not going to get into extensive detail over it in a public forum like this. Suffice it to say that there was some. And so, reading Phillip Leonetti's Mafia Prince was a peek into a somewhat familiar world for me. Not that I was a prince or that my family was deeply involved, because we weren't on the level of Leonetti, who ended up being an underboss in the Philadelphia Scarfo Family after spending literally his entire life involved in the Mob. But much of what is described in this memoir was and is somewhat familiar to me.
The reality of the Mob is much, much different than the somewhat glamorous portrayal of the movies. I remember my father telling me, in the 1980's, that the only way into the Mob by that time was killing someone. I remember all the connected guys in this area who used to come to my father's place of business, and with few exceptions, I loathed them. The contempt for making an honest living Leonetti writes of was manifest in these creeps, and their sense of entitlement, especially among the minor league set that made this area their home, was certainly unwarranted. I assumed at the time, and have seen or heard nothing in the intervening years to change those assumptions, that my father, although not directly involved in much of the criminal activity around here, was given a lot of respect and was not subject to the petty intimidation or extortion that these guys used to try to routinely use in their dealings with businesses around here, because my uncle in Brooklyn was well-connected. But a lot of the guys that spent the 80's and 90's in the papers being prosecuted for Mob activity were louts and thugs.
And that is the picture Leonetti paints of the Atlantic City/Philadelphia organizations--a bunch of violent creeps. Almost all of them ended up in jail over the last thirty years, and the determined push of the federal Justice Department to break the back of the Mob during my lifetime has borne fruit. Leonetti is able to write this book because he turned state's evidence many years ago, did his (reduced) time, and has lived more or less the straight life ever since. One doesn't completely shake the attitudes and belief system of a lifetime, and there are some aspects of Leonetti that show through, twenty-five years after leaving the Mob, that are distasteful to me. I am also aware that not everyone is going to find this book interesting. The tales of violence and criminal enterprise are endemic, and the reliance on nicknames is annoying in the extreme (and overblown, I think, by the media. I remember when the Bufalino guys were on trial around here, and there was nary a press story without a series of nicknames attached to the principals. I knew who almost all of those guys were, and with one exception, I never heard anyone use the nicknames attributed to these guys in the newspapers. Leonetti uses the nicknames a lot, and maybe among those truly immersed in that life, they were used regularly).
But mostly what this book inspired in me was revulsion, not for the author so much, and not even so much for the guys in the Mob that I have known, well or slightly, over my lifetime. Rather, it was for the wannabes, the ass-kissers and flunkies--"soldiers," in mob parlance--who did most of the petty, dirty work and garnered few of the rewards. One in particular always grated on me in this area; he wasn't even Italian and so had no shot at being "made," but he thought he was hot shit by virtue of his association with the minor league provincial Mob that called Endicott home, and he expected to be treated like Don Corleone everywhere he went. My father got along with this cretin's father, who wasn't terribly honest but was a decent man, but couldn't stand this puke and wouldn't give him the time of day, and the guy eventually got his just rewards by getting taken advantage of in a huge way by that flaming asshole Billy Martin after the latter's last retirement from the Yankees. I don't know where this boil on the ass of humanity eventually ended up, but I'm glad it's not around here, and the problem with the Mob isn't so much guys like Leonetti, but guys like this, who basically have no aptitude for anything other than sponging off others and think that they're somehow superior to civilians. Reading Leonetti speaking of some of his crew members, I immediately thought of this jerk, and haven't been able to push him completely out of mind since.
The book is somewhat dated; Leonetti's been out of the Mob since 1987, and hasn't testified in a case since the late 1990's. He did change his life, and has more or less made a transition to a relatively honest lifestyle, although, as I mentioned, there are still some attitudes there that I find distasteful. But this book serves as a true window into the gangrenous world of organized crime, not the stylized and idealized crap of the movies and television.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Not Enough Hours

I have my own particular method for determining my quality of life at a given moment. I don't hate my job, not by a long shot, and I am very lucky in that I have a tremendous amount of flexibility in being able to do it. At least 80% of the time, I have minimal contact and responsibilities to those over me in the agency food chain, meaning I am free of micromanaging. I have grown my program to the point where my day-to-day responsibilities are not onerous to me at all; most of what I now do is administrative work, something I have always found less than burdensome. Writing reports, managing budgets, and supervising the work of others are all things that have always been strengths of mine. Writing comes easily to me; I will  never be one to struggle over grants or progress reports or responses to inquiries. Except for the period of time when my drug use was out of control during the 1990's, I have always been able to manage my own money responsibly, and since being put in charge of my program's finances a few years ago, I've been able to stay on top of its finances very well, with the result that I am able to respond quickly and effectively when asked to deal with budget matters. Supervising has not always been a great strength, but in general I have always supervised people the way I like to be supervised, and the results have been generally good--my program has had very little turnover compared to others both in the agency and the field. I am sure those that answer to me have not loved everything that I ever done--but they have stayed and they have been able to keep our program functional while increasing their skill sets.
But as agreeable as my job is to me, I know my life is going pretty well when I regard it, only half tongue-in-cheek, as a hindrance to living my life. There simply have not been enough hours in the day recently to take care of all the things I want to take care of. Granted, softball season is a large investment of time and energy, and that ends today. But there is also my garden and yard work; I am nowhere near where I normally would be with it in mid-May, and all the improvements I wanted to do when I was thinking about this stuff in the winter are undone except for removing the last Hedge From Hell. Most days, it is all I can do to find the twenty to thirty minutes to make sure everything is watered, and I haven't even planted half the space I intend to yet. My recovery commitments have been growing by leaps and bounds, too. I now have three sponsees, and am starting to formally work with a sponsor again, and with the end of softball, our men's group is going to begin meeting again next week, as well. I'm making three meetings every week, and the noon meeting when my schedule permits, and as a result, I have become more involved with more people in the fellowship than at any time in the last decade. Guys call me, ask me to do things with them, and in general are looking to have me involved in their life. My evolving relationship fits into that mold, as well; she has been busy with her college work, but she is also deeply involved with the fellowship, and it provides a point of convergence for us, a common culture that allows us to see and be around each other more than we otherwise would be able to. And this time of year makes for other time constraints, too, for both of us; her daughter just graduated from college last weekend and is making plans to come home this coming week, and my eldest comes home today after her completing her freshman year, which means she will become a regular presence in my life again for a few months.
But hell no, I am not complaining. I would rather have the days be full, and trying to find time to spend with people who matter to me, than be sitting here after dinner at night watching television for four hours. There are a lot of times I would rather not spend forty hours or more a week at the office--but I realize that my standard of living depends on it, and so I do it. It would be tempting to take off at noon and go home and mow the lawn, or clean the house when I am supposed to be at work--but that's not really an option. I do have a lot of time off coming to me, and I have scheduled a couple of weeks off in the summer (not consecutively). I hope to spend some of one of those weeks on a vacation of sorts with my daughter (dependent on what happens with travel team softball) and part of the other at the NA World Convention in Philadelphia (hotel rooms are all booked, but I might be able to crash in someone else's room, hopefully, or stay with people I know who have ties in Philadelphia) at the end of August.
This weekend is fairly typical of how it has been going. My lady friend is out of town with her girlfriends at an NA event in Connecticut today, and some of my friends are at another NA event up near Buffalo. I actually wanted to go to the Buffalo one, but Sabrina has a season-ending softball tournament this afternoon. I have to get her to the field at eleven, which means I have about four and a half hours to do laundry, clean the guinea pig cage, and go to Wegman's and Price Chopper to take care of the weekly food shopping. I am anticipating getting home around five or so, which will leave me about two hours to take on the yard; I have to cut at least the front yard in the next couple of days (I was watering the garden box yesterday and noticed that when birds are hopping through the grass, I lose sight of them, which means the grass is too damn high, even for someone like me who really doesn't hold himself to suburban standards of home care). Then I will mop and scrub the kitchen floor when I come in for the day around dusk. Tomorrow morning, I am supposed to meet with Ray to kick off our working together before his home group at 10:30, and I am supposed to talk with my newest sponsee, who told me yesterday he is going to make the meeting, after it to set up our schedule for working together. Then it's off to pick up Sabrina, rush home to see Rachel and Jessica to celebrate Rachel's belated birthday, and that should take us to dinner time. I think I am forgetting something, as well, somewhere in there.
One thing I am not complaining about, as you can see, is boredom. I would so much rather it was this way then just sit around the house or be cruising the Internet for hours on end. I've barely been on Facebook for two months now--probably to the relief of much of my friends list. But it's all good, and I need to wind this up and get the day underway.








Friday, May 17, 2013

Gone for Thirteen Years

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of my father's death. Part of me feels bad that I didn't make a bigger deal out of it. There are people I know, and I stress that I am not making fun of them or taking issue with them, that do things like write major Facebook posts about how much they miss their dead parent(s) or attend memorial masses and the like. I've never been terribly comfortable doing things like that. But I have to say it didn't even dawn on me until after dark yesterday that it was the anniversary, and for that I feel bad, to a degree.
But only to a degree. My relationship with my father was very complicated. There was a great deal of love there, to be sure, but there was also a lot of twisted feeling that I am still, after all this time, sorting through. I think I have come to a better realization than most people ever do that our parents are people--with all the attendant psychological baggage, the tension between better and worse natures, that people carry with them. My father was undoubtedly a generous man in many ways, who provided for his family the best he could (and that was very well indeed), and who in some areas instilled a very good code of ethics (helping those that matter to you, being considerate of other people in matters like time and keeping pledges made, that you get out of anything what you put into it, and that the best way to counter adversity was to work as hard as it took to overcome it). In other areas, I have since come to believe that his approach and ways were not so good. The verbal abuse--and yes, family of mine, that is what it was--left scars I never dreamed ran so deep. The notion that moral compromises in the matter of making money were acceptable caused a great deal of damage, as did the practice of putting up masks of conviviality and camaraderie to reprehensible human beings in order to keep them spending money in your place of business. The hypocrisy in spiritual and theological matters left a strip-mined soul in this child of his, one that fourteen and a half years of recovery has only begun to fill in. The contempt for authority I can understand due to his upbringing, but it took me a long time to realize that it was misguided and unhealthy in the degree he exhibited it, and that he used it mostly as a justification for his own greed and questionable moral practice was, and is, difficult to swallow or reconcile with the value system he claimed he wanted his children to practice.
I do miss him in many ways. He was my father, after all, and I do know that he loved us in his way. But I am also not so blind as to not see that, considering his values and his temperament, that the life I live today would not have sat well with him. He treated my brother, who also departed from the script in some ways, with undisguised contempt, and my brother frankly incorporates more moral compromises into his life than I currently do with mine. I am grateful that I have been spared both the sight of his physical decline--he would be going on 83 years old today had he lived this long--and the nastiness that would have accompanied the changes that I have made. Although to be real, those changes would not have been made had he lived. There is a very real chance that I would be dead had he lived, because there is no way I would have found the courage to make some of the changes I made if he was a real live presence in my life. The shadow was too deep; human beings do not grow in deep shade. I have come to accept that had he lived, drug use would have become part of my life again; he simply kicked up feelings in me that I could not handle without the use of drugs. And using drugs again just might have finished the suicidal free fall that had been accelerating in the late 1990's.
I can say that today without blame or (almost) entirely without rancor. I firmly believe that there are no coincidences, and that he died when he did, and in the way he did, because it was, both for him and for us, time for him to go. I loved him and love him, and appreciate all the things he did for me and the rest of my family. I have accepted that he did, for the most part, the best that he was capable of doing. But I also know that the inherent contradictions in his makeup and his value system would have cycled back to a place where the bad outweighed the good, and I am not sorry about any of the changes that I (and the rest of us) have made in our lives since May 16, 2000. I am happier than I was then, by an almost infinite amount, and I know so much more--and apply that knowledge without fear of ridicule or ostracism--about how to live a happier and more fulfilling life. And my ultimate thoughts and feelings about my father are those of pity. I now see that he spent his entire life looking for meaning and purpose. In recovery terms, much of his energy was devoted to pursuing money, property, and prestige, and he did so in the belief that these were the things that made for a good and rewarding life. He achieved material success and a level of material comfort that a poor boy in Depression Brooklyn never dared dream was possible.
But it never made him happy. I spent the first 3/4 of my life around this man, and he was never happy, never satisfied, never at ease or at peace. I'm not that way all the time, not by a long shot--but both on a deeper level and for periods of time on the surface, I'm happier and more satisfied than he ever was. It doesn't mean I love him less or don't miss him to say so. I sincerely hope that something miraculous happens on the other side of this life, and that he is, wherever or however he may be experiencing consciousness now, finally happy and at peace.
Because he sure as hell wasn't while he was here. And that, I don't miss at all.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Stupid or Evil?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that that morons rule not only this country, but the rest of the allegedly civilized world, as well. And that's actually the preferred view: the only other alternative that remotely fits the available evidence is that we are ruled by dishonest assholes. To wit:
1) The euro zone is now officially in a deeper recession than in 2008-9, entirely--entirely--as a result of huge budget cutting and austerity measures across the continent.. There is more than enough evidence that prosperity is not resulting and is not going to result from these measures, yet the powers that be doggedly pursue their aims with the zeal that only those motivated by unjustified faith can summon up.
2) In this country, there is a nearly universal failure on the part of those in our government to realize that the great majority of Americans are not doing well economically. Unemployment is still very high, and I suspect that the drops that have occurred in the rate in the last 18 months or so are the result of people having stopped looking for work, not being rehired. The sequestration is our own version of austerity, and while it hasn't been as pervasive or draconian as Europe's, it's having a negative effect and will have much more of one in coming weeks as furloughs of federal workers begin and other government spending begins to be affected.
Rich people are doing well, and that's all that matters to those in Washington. Because rich people are their constituency, and rich people devote what meager percentage of their resources to voters they do to trying to convince people that straw men are the ones doing the damage. Benghazi! Illegal immigrants! Gummint spending! Deficit! Muslim terrorists! Dang liberals!... the list is endless, and endlessly dishonest. The problem with the United States of America is the greedy assholes who have appropriated ungodly amounts of money to themselves as a result of actions undertaken over the last thirty years or so that have hurt the average man/woman/child. I cannot believe that anybody in a town like this one, that has seen a corporate behemoth treat us like IBM and its successor companies have treated us, can hold a belief that anything other than unchecked corporate greed is responsible for society's ills. Yet there are lots of them out there, and I am reminded that no grifter or con man can succeed in their chosen craft without a supply of willing foils. It's easier to blame the druggies and those with darker skin, and conveniently forget the fact that the people who used to live here used to have jobs, benefits, and disposable income that was taken away not by drug dealers, but by guys in suits who decided that a company that was the envy of the world could cut safety corners, move operations to less socially responsible states and countries, and didn't owe its workers anything at all beyond a job.
There is one way to prosperity. When people are working, they earn and spend money, on more than necessities. Everyone benefits. Rich people still will make money, lots of it. Just not all of it. But for a long time now, "all of it" has been the aim. And not to be too dramatic about it, but this is how, eventually, revolutions happen. The most ironic part of today's Tea Party idiocy is that the ones the ignorosi claim to be emulating would have nothing but contempt for today's sorry sheep, who are merely tools of the real powers that be. The American Revolution was a rather messy affair, much more violent and with less idealistic motivations than we are commonly taught--but I will say this much for the Patriots of that time and place; they never bought into the bullshit that today's Tea Partiers do, not by a long shot. They knew whom their adversaries were--the rich elite in Great Britain and their flunkies in the colonies. And those were the ones who were tarred and feathered, who were driven out, and who were deprived of power and influence, not the poor and dispossessed and those already suffering from economic injustice.
We don't need to fix the deficit, or make any grand bargains, or repeal or tweak Obamacare. We need fucking jobs, and we need either deficit spending or high taxation on those that have the goddamn money to achieve that goal. Anything else you hear is nonsense at best and deliberately misleading designed to allow a select few to continue looting our nation and more specifically the 99% of us who do not benefit from the status quo at worst.
3) And ignoring our true long term issues isn't a winning strategy either. It didn't get nearly as much press attention as it should have--but the global atmosphere gets measured regularly, and last week confirmation came that the levels of carbon dioxide have passed 400 parts per million, well past the danger zone for greenhouse effect runaway warming. I have a sinking feeling that it is all for naught anyway, that the world is going to be literally uninhabitable for human beings within two generations. And no one with any power and ability to do something to even begin to meaningfully address the problem gives a shit. This is not a uniquely American issue, by the way; there are a lot of people across the world who are only willing to let other people address the problem... the mass die-off is coming. I really think that it will be a miracle if my children reach the age that my parents did, and it's very likely that they won't want to, that the world we know will be an unrecognizable meteorological hell in just a couple more decades.
4) But what can we expect, when we have the collective attention spans of gnats? Less than two weeks ago, three women who had been missing for more than a decade were found in Cleveland, having been held captive by a monster of a man. And within a couple of days, everyone in the media, it seemed, was like "oh, they're back with their families and the healing can begin." No one seems to understand that healing is not going to take place, that these women are scarred forever. They were taken away as teens, they were held prisoner for ten years, regularly sexually assaulted and degraded, and denied contact with other human beings during the time of life when most socialization takes place. Two of the three women reportedly have major physical damage, in addition to the psychological trauma. But the media, except for that in Cleveland, have lost interest already, because it blows up the happy ending narrative that we are force-fed all the time... I'm more aware of this issue because I've been in recovery for so long than most people, and especially most men, are. But one doesn't just "get over" sexual trauma in a few days or weeks or months or even years. I have lived with two women who were raped, one more than once, and have known many others who were in abusive relationships and/or were molested or otherwise traumatized as children. And I'm not sure that the damage is ever undone, even in the best of circumstances--but I am sure that without a lot of time and without a great deal of understanding and help from others, it's never going to be. And the little media coverage that has ensued past the first 48 hours seems to almost have an attitude about the fact that the women are not willing to go in front of cameras and talk about the last ten years of their lives all day every day. It really has been irritating to me. This story is not over, but the focus should not be on the healing. The focus should be on both making sure this doesn't happen any more, and finding out how this guy got away with this for so long in more or less plain sight.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: AMONG THE ISLANDS

Among the Islands is the second book I've read by Australian scientist Tim Flannery. This one chronicles his expeditions on the islands of the western South Pacific, in the general vicinity of New Guinea and Australia, in search of mammals that had not been seen in decades, or even discovered at all. Flannery gives some good information about the way biodiversity and evolution works on islands, and there are a fair number of interesting anecdotes about encounters with traditional tribesmen in places like Guadalcanal and New Britain. But my enthusiasm for his work dimmed when I found out that the animals he found he had to kill to study, and then my enthusiasm for this book vanished when it dawned on me that he was writing of expeditions that took place in the 1980's. This book seems to be an attempt by the author to cash in on the success of "The Weather Makers," his surprise best-seller from a couple of years ago. I've read worse books, but honestly, there was nothing in this book that couldn't have been more adequately covered by a ten-minute blurb on the Discovery Channel.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Through the First Round

I wrote in this space two weeks ago that the Washington Capitals were a paper tiger, that their late-season "surge" was nothing more than the result of playing a bunch of games against the four sorry teams in their division, and that Alexander Ovechkin, who ended up leading the league in goals after a slow start, was the primary beneficiary of the soft schedule, scoring nineteen of his goals in the eighteen divisional games the team played. I wrote that I expected the Rangers to win the series. I did not write that I expected the Rangers to win it easily, even though I did.
It took seven games, but the Rangers did get by the Capitals, punctuated by a 5-0 rout in Game 7--in Washington, no less-- last night. And before we relegate the Capitals and their captain to the dust bin for another year, let it be noted that Arron Asham, the Ranger fourth-liner/goon, outscored Ovechkin in the series. If regular season rules had applied, the Rangers would have been 4-1-2 against the Caps, and in every one of the three games the Rangers lost, they outplayed them. The Rangers were, clearly, the better team, and the best player on the ice in any game the Rangers play against a team other than Pittsburgh is Henrik Lundqvist, who has not been scored on in two games and is carrying a gaudy 1.65 goals against average and .947 save percentage into the second round. For all the Rangers' offensive deficiencies, they did score four goals or more in three of the seven games.
But it all isn't cream and cookies. Asham may have scored more goals than Ovechkin, but he scored two more goals than Rick Nash, the Rangers' alleged sniper. Nash is looking more and more like Marion Gaborik; if he doesn't wake up soon, the Rangers aren't going anywhere. The Ranger power play, bad all season, was bad in the Washington series, too, and their next opponent, Boston, is much more dangerous killing penalties than Washington is; this could get ugly in a hurry. Marc Staal and Ryan Clowe remain out with long-term debilitating injuries, and while Steve Eminger and Chad Kreider didn't kill the team in the Washington series, playing them regularly is not going to be help the cause against the Bruins.
But I am actually aglow with excitement at the prospect of playing the Boston Bruins. The last time the two met in the playoffs, the main stars on the Bruins were Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito (before Espo became the face of the Rangers for a decade and a half). When I first became a hockey fan, when I was in grade school, the Bruins were the Big Bad Bruins, and were the hurdle the Rangers could never get over. The first season I remember in any detail was 1969-70, when the Rangers pulled off a miracle to even get into the playoffs; the Bruins dispatched them in six games en route to the Stanley Cup. Two years later, the Rangers and Bruins met in the Cup Finals, with the Bruins winning in six again; this was the series that made my father swear off hockey, as it turned out more or less forever. And the following year, the Rangers hammered the Bruins in five games in the opening round, and my admittedly hazy memory is that despite the long Stanley Cup drought that the team was in the midst of enduring, no one was all that disturbed that the team lost to the Blackhawks in the next round--because they had crushed the Bruins. Much like the Yankees and Red Sox, the two teams hated one another; this was the day of massive brawling and cheapshot hockey, and the Rangers and Bruins engaged in both regularly in those years.
Several things happened in the mid-1970's that took the edge off the rivalry. Realignment put the teams in different divisions, so they stop playing each other ten times a season. The Islanders not only came into existence, but quickly became good enough to become the bane of the Rangers' existence, and other divisional rivalries, most prominently against the Flyers, began to occupy Ranger minds and hearts, and the Bruins also, in a similar vein, became much more preoccupied with the Canadiens and the Sabres. And lastly, the biggest, most shocking trade in the four major sports in my lifetime took place in late 1975 that flipped the rivalry upside down and confused both fan bases, although the Bruin fan base recovered more quickly: Esposito and Carol Vadnais came to New York, and Jean Ratelle and Brad Park went to Boston. It is impossible to understate the impact of this trade; both Esposito and Park have admitted that they actually considered suicide rather than report to their new teams, so identified were they with their old teams. It would be like the Yankees trading Derek Jeter to the Red Sox for David Ortiz, or Joe DiMaggio for Ted Williams in another era. It was years before the Ranger fan base embraced Esposito, or Esposito New York.
It also hasn't helped that the teams haven't been good at the same time virtually at any time since the early 1970's. The Bruins were the main challenger to the Canadien dynasty of the late 1970's; the one chance that the rivalry had to re-spark went by the boards in 1979 when the Bruins lost in overtime in Game Seven in the semifinals to Montreal, with the Rangers awaiting the winner to play for the Cup. Both were sort of OK in the mid-1980's, but couldn't get out of their divisions. The Bruins were the main foil for the Oilers in the late 1980's, while Esposito was decimating the Ranger roster as GM. The Rangers were a league power in the early/mid-1990's, just as the Bruins entered a down phase. Neither team was good in the late 1990's or this century before the lockout, and their paths have not crossed in the last few years after both have reemerged as consistent playoff teams. Until now.
The Bruins won the Cup two seasons ago, but struggled to win both early rounds that year, and indeed it took a miracle (three goals to tie a seemingly lost game in the last seven minutes to take Toronto to overtime last night, and then an overtime winner) to even get to this series. The Bruins certainly can be taken; their strong point is top to bottom quality in their forward corps. Their defense is ordinary, their goalie isn't as good as Lundqvist. The teams played three times in the season's first three weeks; when the Rangers were struggling, the only team that they beat for about two weeks was Boston. The only team that Gaborik was good against was Boston, and Nash had a good game against them, as well. Which points out the key to the series.
The Rangers are not going to get by with Arron Asham leading the way. Nash, Brad Richards, and Ryan Callahan have to put the puck in the net against the Bruins. If they do, the Rangers win the series, probably fairly easily; the Bruins have one Norris Trophy guy on defense (Zdeno Chara) and five never-weres and going-to-be-good-but-aren't-yets on the blue line, and I can't see that bunch keeping a dialed-in Ranger offensive set in check. The Bruin goalie is Tuuka Rask (Finnish is one of those languages that doesn't translate well to English, apparently), who is decent but hasn't historically been a top playoff performer; the Bruins got by the Leafs in spite of Rask. The Rangers really ought to win this series, on paper, and don't have the history of failure against the Bruins like they did against the Capitals. But if they are going to, they need to fix one other area, too: their abysmal record in overtime dating back to the Messier years. I don't have the numbers in front of me, but the Rangers are something like 2-15 in the last twenty years in overtime in the playoffs, while the Bruins are a great OT team, and two of the three Capital wins were in overtime in the first round. My personal belief is that Lundqvist is so good in shootouts during the regular season that the team doesn't play with urgency in overtime, and that carries over to the playoffs every season. Whatever the cause, it's a real problem, and one that has to be overcome.
I think they will manage to do so. The Rangers should make it one more round before running into either of the two teams that they can't beat, Pittsburgh or Ottawa.