Caitlin died 31 years ago on Monday, November 7 at 2:42 pm. I still remember the exact time. I still remember how sound suddenly came back and assaulted my senses after not being able to hear anything except for my heart and the beep of monitor to which she was still connected. I still remember walking to the car and running into two of her doctors in the hallway, Petra and Jaime.
Weird the details that your mind stores away, only to bring to the forefront without warning.
I heard this song in an episode of Bosch, which I’ve been binging. Bittersweet serendipity.
…“My birthday began with the water- …..Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name ……..Above the farms and the white horses …………….And I rose ………….In rainy autumn ….And walked abroad in a shower of all my days.” ~ Dylan Thomas, from “Poem in October”
Sunday evening, cloudy, 66 degrees.
Today is the birthday of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (October 27, 1914-November 9, 1953). The Poetry Foundation has a good biography and selection of his poems, or you can visit the official website, Discover Dylan Thomas, here.
I still remember the circumstances in which I read my first Thomas poem: I was an undergraduate, working in the newsroom, and one of the editors brought me a handwritten copy of his most famous poem (below) and asked me to type it as she wanted to give it to her father. I realize now what I was unable to fathom at that time, that her father must have been ill.
I remember being moved by the words as I typed them, so moved that in the ignorance of my youth I decided to write my own version. I know, right? Ah, the unfounded arrogance that only the young possess.
I showed that version to one of my writing professors, and she very kindly pointed out that perhaps there were some poems that should not be rewritten, or updated, or mangled by an overwrought young writer (she didn’t say the last part).
Yeh. It was that bad, but I digress . . .
Anyway, listening to Thomas’s deep, melodious voice read his own work enhances the impact of the words and phrasing of his poems. The wonder is that Thomas was able to retain his mellifluous speaking voice in spite of how much he drank and smoked, as opposed to, say, Charles Bukowski. whose voice was scratchy from booze and cigarettes.
More later. Peace.
Today is also the birthday of poet and writer Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932–February 11, 1963), who I have featured here several times before.
Dylan Thomas reading his poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”
Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
“The antidote to a government controlled by a powerful few, a government that divides, is a government by the organized, energized and inclusive many. That’s what this moment’s about. That has to be the answer.” ~ President Barack Obama, speech at U. of Illinois (September 7, 2018)
Sunday afternoon, sunny and lovely, 69 degrees.
I know that I’m on a political bent as of late, but how can I not be? So much is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep all of it straight. It’s no secret that I’m an ardent liberal, but more than that, I’m a patriot. I believe in this country, and I believe in the Constitution. And the current state of affairs is breaking my heart and making my blood pressure go crazy, so I try to ameliorate the effects a bit by writing about them or by sharing some of the more significant items such as what I’m featuring today.
Former President Barack Obama addressed an audience at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in September 2018, and although this speech was delivered over a year ago, I believe that his message is particularly important and relevant in these dark days of our republic. I’m not going to put the entire transcript here because it’s always better to hear Obama’s words as opposed to reading them—he remains a powerful orator, capable of grabbing and holding an audience with his words and cadence. It’s a striking contrast to the bluster and fumble of 45.
I have pulled out just a few of the more relevant snippets:
The point Washington made, the point that is essential to American democracy is that in a government of and by and for the people there should be no permanent ruling class. There are only citizens, who through their elected and temporary representatives determine our course and determine our character.
More often it’s manufactured by the powerful and the privileged, who want to keep us divided, and keep us angry and keep us cynical, because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.
It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.
It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t threaten the freedom of the press because they say things or publish stories that we don’t like. I complained plenty about Fox News, but you never heard me threaten to shut them down or call them enemies of the people.
It shouldn’t be Democratic or Republican to say we don’t target certain groups of people based on what they look like or how they pray. We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies — not follow them. We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers.
You cannot sit back and wait for a savior. You can’t opt out because you don’t feel sufficiently inspired by this or that particular candidate. This is not a rock concert, this is not Coachella. We don’t need a messiah. All we need are decent, honest, hardworking people who are accountable and who have America’s best interest at heart.
If you are tired of politicians who are all for nothing but “thoughts and prayers” after a mass shooting. You’ve got to do what the Parkland kids are doing. Some of them have not eligible to vote yet. They’re out there working to change minds and registering people. They’re not giving up until we have a Congress that sees your lives more important as a campaign check from the NRA. You’ve got to vote!
When everything around me begins to fall apart, I often find comfort in the words of others. Bukowski’s poem below seems especially relevant at the moment:
Aside: I’m really impressed by the YouTuber who makes these poem companion videos.
Happy Birthday to T. S. Eliot (September 26, 1888-January 4, 1965), poet, literary critic, essayist, and publisher (“The Waste Land”)
Belated Happy Birthday to WILLIAM FAULKNER (September 25, 1897-July 6, 1962), Nobel Prize Laureate and author whose work I always have to read at least twice to really understand (The sound and the fury).
“I’m walking through goldenrod in new shoes, shoes I got for a song— like the one I’m singing now that pleases the cicadas, the one that would make Schubert cry. And I love the way the ash is the first tree always to turn” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Yellow Landscape”
Monday afternoon, cloudy and warm, 86 degrees.
So the forecast was wrong, of course. More warm weather in store, but fall is definitely looming. The Gold Finches are buzzing the late summer thistles, and the air is taking on that clear expectancy—not the stillness of a hot summer afternoon, but hesitant, as if awaiting autumn’s redolent aspect. Right after I mentioned how certain trees are already losing their leaves, I came across Keith Ratzlaff’s poem that mentions ash trees losing their leaves first. Serendipitous.
Last night I dreamed about Eamonn; he had just broken up with someone he had been dating, and she was a real piece of work. She sent someone to kill me with a knife. My dreams can be truly frightening at times. Anyway I chose today’s lovely song to go with today’s poem, which reminds me so much of my father, and it is bittersweet to think of him naked to the waist in his backyard on a late summer afternoon, taking a bite out of something he has just picked from his garden. God I miss him so very, very much.
Corey is cutting down trees in preparation for cold weather so that we don’t run out of wood this winter. Last year we were able to rely on Dallas to supplement what we had. This year that won’t be an option, so he’s getting ready. It’s odd to think of all of the small ways in which we depended upon Dallas and he on us, and now he’s gone. I still haven’t grieved for him. There has been no sense of closure, and I find myself angry at people I don’t even know, his kids, but I also do not know the circumstances of their estrangement. I don’t kid myself that Dallas was innocent, as I knew him too well to think that.
Nevertheless, I am still angry, and things feel incomplete, a caesura in time, if you will.
“There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk.” ~ James Salter, from All That Is
Odd little thing around the homestead: We have swarms of flies that we can’t seem to get rid of; they are everywhere, every room, and not just a few. There are too many to count. Corey has put up fly strips (which I really hate, but they work), and they are covered in dead flies within hours. It’s very strange. It’s as if there are unseen carcasses hanging around the house, attracting these swarms, and you might assume that the house is filthy with waste and masses of trash, but I assure you that it is not.
The flies buzz me as I sit typing; they buzz me as I try to sleep. It’s making me crazy. I really, really hate flies. They are nasty creatures, living on manure and rotting flesh. I have a fly swatter in the bathroom, and I swipe at them each time I go in there, even to wash my hands. The dogs are afraid to follow me into the bathroom now, which bothers them as they think that I may go in and disappear forever. I wonder if flies are just a common pest around these parts, as the saying goes, just another part of living in the country with which I am still unfamiliar.
I remember that last summer we had masses of ladybugs, and I worried about the dogs then as ladybugs can infest the roof of a dog’s mouth, and it’s something to be wary of, but that never happened. So are the swarms of flies like the swarms of ladybugs? Corey did a bit of reading, and there is something that can be added to the big bug zapper that hangs outside; I wonder if it’s worth spending the extra cash to get something like that.
“And I’m singing because who else but a dog could be so happy at finding me here? And I’m singing because yesterday I needed something to hold, and he laid his gold head in my hands.” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Yellow Landscape”
Other strange things: I remember saying to Corey months ago before Dallas kidnapped him for stud that Napoleon was such a spoiled horse that I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to come inside. Well . . . he did. The other day I walked into the living room holding my lunch on a plate, and Napoleon saw me and proceeded to walk through the front door and stand expectantly in the living room. It was crazy—a horse in the house? Really? Who has such things happen?
We do, obviously.
Corey backed him out and put up the gate that we use to keep dogs and goats outside, and the irony is that Napoleon could step over the gate or knock it down quite easily, but it was enough to stop him. So now he stands outside the door and pokes his head inside as if to say, “where’s my treat?”
I have now managed to spoil dogs, cats, goats, a bee, and now a horse. I regret nothing.
“The other day the ash tree lost its leaves in a single afternoon.” ~ Keith Ratzlaff, from “Creation Story”
I searched high and low for the source of the Oscar Wilde quote in the header, but alas, my search was in vain. I don’t believe that it comes from De Profundis or Dorian Gray; I rather think that it’s from one of his poems, but I don’t know which one. Anyone out there have a clue?
Speaking of Oscar Wilde, I really liked the depiction of Dorian Gray in the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, as depicted by Reeve Carney. He was beautiful and thoroughly charming but also a bit scary, just as Wilde depicted him. I happen to think that the series was well done and ended too soon after only three seasons. The show’s creator, John Logan felt that the series should end with the death of Vanessa Ives, portrayed by the wonderful Eva Green. I’ve always loved her; she’s so intense looking, which is what made her perfectly cast for that particular series. I also liked her in the 2011 series Camelot as Morgana, but that one only lasted one season.
Bit of trivia for you: Josh Hartnett from Penny Dreadful has two children with Tamsin Egerton, who played Guinevere in Camelot.
On that note, I think that I’ll close for now. More later. Peace.
Music by Foo Fighters, “Home”
Green Pear Tree in September
On a hill overlooking the Rock River
my father’s pear tree shimmers,
in perfect peace,
covered with hundreds of ripe pears
with pert tops, plump bottoms,
and long curved leaves.
Until the green-haloed tree
rose up and sang hello,
I had forgotten. . .
He planted it twelve years ago,
when he was seventy-three,
so that in September
he could stroll down
with the sound of the crickets
rising and falling around him,
and stand, naked to the waist,
slightly bent, sucking juice
from a ripe pear.
Tuesday morning, cloudy with approaching storms, 82 degrees.
I have an appointment in Abingdon today with the Neurologist. It couldn’t have come at a better time considering I had one of the worse episodes I’ve had in a very long time and am still feeling the effects. Here’s hoping that it goes better than the last one in which she spent most of the time telling me what she could not do for me.
Here. Have some Tennessee Whiskey. I wouldn’t mind having some myself.
“They’re sending out requests for money, saying they might go bankrupt in their legal fight with New York. They’re going through all of this drama of saying they need money, while they are spending money on all these things that can’t even be justified.” ~ ROB PINCUS, Gun Rights Advocate
Saturday evening, sunny, and warm, 83 degrees.
I’ve been working on this post since this morning, and it’s now after 8 p.m., so I’m dog tired and hurt all over. Just thought I’d share that tidbit.
So you are a proud member of the NRA. Fine, truly. It’s your right as an American citizen to belong to anything you choose. I may not agree with you, but that’s my right as an American citizen. We get to disagree about things. Again, a free and open society allows for that. Here’s hoping we continue to be a free and open society for many years to come, a society that endorses freedom of the press and your right to be a safe gun owner.
But allow me to elucidate for you a few NRA facts about which you may be unfamiliar, a few facts about exactly how the NRA spends your membership dues. You may be surprised . . . or maybe not. But first, a few background facts about the organization.
“It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house . . .” ~ Lt. Col. Allen West, Ret., NRA Board Member, in a blog post (May 14, 2019)
NRA Background Information:
The NRA was co-founded in 1871 by William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. Prior to 1970, the organization was primarily non-partisan, but during the 1970s it became increasingly aligned with the Republican party.
This nonprofit group (501c4) has an annual revenue of around $400 million and enjoys tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” organization. As such, it is not required to disclose its donors. It is, however, required to file a tax return declaring its revenue sources, which includes membership dues.
Wayne LaPierre was appointed executive vice president in 1991 and still serves as CEO. But did you know that LaPierre’s early career included working for Democratic lawmakers in Virginia? Irony, huh?
Nine US presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump. Three US vice presidents, two chief justices of the US Supreme Court, and several US congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.
NRA membership dues after 2018 hike: Regular membership fees when not running promotions: annual $45, two-year $75, three-year $100, five-year $150 and lifetime memberships $1500, 60 monthly payments of $25 (Interestingly, these rates differ depending upon which site you are exploring, but I got my information directly from the NRA site.)
Since 2013, the NRA has cited is membership as being around 5 million.
According to Newsweek and multiple sources, the NRA’s membership typically gets a boost after tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
The NRA received twice as much money from nearly five times as many donors in the seven days after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting than it did in the seven days before the shooting.
Even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days after February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting showed 97 percent of surveyed gun owners support universal background checks for gun purchases, the NRA still opposes such legislation.
According to Rick Newman on Yahoo Finance: The NRA’s political spending takes two forms: money spent on lobbying, and money spent on elections, whether direct donations to candidates or spending on their behalf through a political-action committee. Required disclosure forms show spending of $5.1 million on lobbying and $54 million on elections, or $59.1 million total.
According to an article by Mike Spies in The New Yorker, the NRA has “reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, but it has substantially increased its spending on messaging.”
The NRA receives most of its income—$164 million in 2016—from dues paid by its members, and contributions, including money donated to its political-action committees, brought in another $104 million in 2016.
“I can think of no other non-profit organization that compensates their Executive Vice President the kind of salary and benefits that Mr. Lapierre gets relative to how much employees receive. I also cannot understand how a person like Mr. Lapierre treats the people that work for him like his own personal indentured servants . . . ” ~ Andy Lander, former NRA employee of 13 years in an open letter
Facts of which you may be unaware regarding questionable NRA membership totals and expenditures by the upper echelon of the organization:
On NRA membership, real and not-so-real:
A Newsweek review of the tax exempt records, known as 990 filings (full text of 990 from 2015 here, and 2017 here), shows wild fluctuation in membership numbers from year to year, but also an overall decline in membership revenue between 2007 and 2016.
According to an article in The Trace, there was a “22 percent drop in membership revenue—from $163 million in 2016 to $128 million in 2017. Dues from members accounted for just 40 percent of the NRA’s total revenue in 2017 — the lowest percentage in a decade.”
Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, said the group uses a few other tricks to pad its numbers: counting lifetime members who have died, counting annual members whose memberships have lapsed in the 13 month: “one method he and his colleagues used was to continue counting annual members on its rolls even after their membership lapsed, at least for another month, in hopes they would renew.”
On the big, big costs associated with keeping the EVP/CEO:
CEO Wayne LaPierre, gets paid very well. In 2015, the last year for which the group’s tax return is available, LaPierre earned $5.1 million in total compensation. That’s more than the CEOs of Alaska Air, CME Group, Church & Dwight, Dish Network or Garmin earned that year.
A comprehensive article in Business Insider states that “in 2017, the most recent year available, NRA paid LaPierre a salary of $1,366,688, plus an additional $67,289 in ‘other compensation from the organization and related organizations,'” according to the company’s 2017 990 tax form. That brings his total compensation that year to $1,433,977.
In 2015, the NRA paid a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment to LaPierre, which will become even more startling later in the post.
La Pierre will continue to earn a salary even after leaving the NRA. State records show that LaPierre’s contract “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced.”
“The litany of red flags is just extraordinary.” ~ Marc Owens, former head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises
A Pro Publica article contends that in July 2018, a half-dozen of the organization’s accountants produced a document detailing the most egregious issues that needed to be addressed by the audit committee tasked with conducting NRA fiscal oversight. The audit committee document was part of an effort by NRA accountants last year to address a broad array of questionable transactions and business arrangements that they believed could threaten the organization’s tax-exempt status.
The “List of Top Concerns for the Audit Committee” details a range of questionable transactions and business arrangements involving several top NRA vendors and executives. Violations of the organizations procedures and policies included hiring staff without HR knowledge, reimbursement of living expenses beyond HR policies.
The transactions involved top NRA executives, favored vendors, and consultants, including Josh Powell, LaPierre’s former chief of staff. The organization’s 2017 tax filings revealed that Powell had racked up more than a hundred thousand dollars in personal expenses—including a housing allowance—paid by the NRA.
That being said, it appears that the biggest infractions came from the very top.
On LaPierre’s Questionable Expenses:
A leaked document shows that LaPierre likes his clothes—for purchases dating back to 2004 From the Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills the total for designer suits was $274,695.
Fox News reports that the CEO billed the group’s outside ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a summer intern, according to newly revealed NRA internal documents.
Among the travel expenses billed to the NRA’s former ad agency are more than $200,000 in “Air Transportation” costs during a one-month period in late 2012 and early 2013, in part related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas.
The Fox News article also states that “The documents, posted anonymously on the internet, provide new details of the clothing, travel and other expenses totaling more than $542,000 that Ackerman McQueen Inc. alleges Mr. LaPierre billed to it. (The NRA is now in litigation with its former ad agency)
But it wasn’t all vacations and travel expenses for LaPierre and his spouse: The NRA also spent tens of thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses for hair and makeup artists for Susan LaPierre.
“This is like the worst kind of corporate waste because buying the house does nothing to advance the interests of the NRA. How can you explain that? It’s not like he’s been underpaid.” ~ Daniel Kurtz, New York attorney specializing in non-profit law
About that nine-bathroom house on the golf course:
The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2019 that in 2018 LaPierre was in talks with the NRA’s former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, to facilitate the purchase of a 10,000 suqare foot house in Dallas that was priced at $6.2 million at the time: “The discussions about the house purchase occurred early last year, shortly after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Mr. LaPierre was concerned about his security and was interested in another residence besides his publicly known address in northern Virginia.” (Oh irony, thy name is LaPierre…….)
LaPierre’s wife, Susan, did quibble with one design detail, according to an email ThePost reviewed. She thought the men’s closet may not be large enough.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight.”
An aside: Before the big falling out and all of the drama, Ackerman and McQueen had a 38-year relationship with the NRA, and in 2017 (the most recent available records), the NRA paid the ad agency and its affiliates over $40 million. This relationship could be a post all by itself, and that’s not even getting into the whole Ollie North aspect.
Ackerman says they were setting up an LLC, WBB Investments, for LaPierre so that his home buying would not become public.
Even though the NRA claims that not a dime of its money was spent on the proposed purchase, a good faith check for $70,000 was in fact wired to WBB Investments towards the home’s purchase.
And finally, did you want that coffee with or without the retirement option:
Remember that insignificant sum of $3,767,345 the NRA paid into LaPierre’s retirement fund in 2015?
According to the NPR article, a copy of 2019 National Rifle Association pension documents obtained from a source showed that the NRA’s pension obligations were approximately $134 million at the beginning of this year, but they had only set aside $93 million to meet those obligations.
FYI: There are 786 people in the NRA’s pension plan, of which 223 are currently employed by the organization. The company has underfunded pensions affecting hundreds of former and current employees—even as LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, according to the group’s most recent financial disclosures.
Perhaps the coffee cutback is only a reflection of the bigger cash problem facing the NRA. In May, they sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claiming that the state’s zealous regulatory efforts against its Carry Guard insurance program had cost the NRA “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue, legal fees, and other damages.
So that’s just a capsule of how the NRA gets and spends some of its money, and granted, this post ended up being much longer than I had anticipated. What I take away from this is perhaps three things: Bloating at the top of organizations seems to be universal, and those in charge tend to forget all of the people they stepped on to get there. Second, the original mission of the NRA has been lost (advancing rifle marksmanship). Gun education and safety falls somewhere in the bottom of priorities.
And finally, and this is good news for those of us who really are against the organization’s upper echelon and the out-of-touch messaging, their belt tightening has affected their political spending: The group shelled out just under $10 million on House and Senate candidates in 2018—less than half of what it spent on congressional races in 2014 and 2016 (emphasis mine).
(The above information can be found anywhere on the internet, but I’ve tried to use as many sources as possible so as to be thorough and as unbiased as I can be when discussing the NRA. I’ve also sought the original documents that were leaked on the web. All links are included unless a statement is considered common knowledge.
Tomorrow’s companion post will focus on the downfall of NRA TV.