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The Les AuCoin Blog


Do I Have a George Bush Story For You!

The Washington Post ran a piece the other day about the fanatical competitiveness of the Bush clan. Now, this is a topic I know a wee bit about. Back in the Eighties my son Kelly and I watched George H.W. Bush throw the mother of all tantrums in the House Members Gym on Capitol Hill.

The sight of the Vice President of the United States having a meltdown during a pick-up game of paddle ball isn’t, uh, something one is likely to forget.

But I’ve gotten ahead of myself. During the Reagan years, when Kelly played prep basketball, we’d slip into the Member’s Gym on Saturday mornings for one-on-one scrimmages, tips on turning a dribble into a quick pull-up jumper, and lessons on taking the guesswork out of foul shots. At the end of every workout, when we were pooped, I would use those near-game conditions to have Kelly shoot 100 free throws.

Early one Saturday, Kelly told me in the locker room that he had forgotten his sneakers at home. Sigh! Luckily, three things make this gym distinct. Once a congressman, you have lifetime access if you pay your dues (you even keep your locker); two, Bush is an ex-congressman, and, three, if you need something, custom dictates that you just borrow it from someone else so long as you put it back. Lockers were not secured because everyone trusted each other (at least back then!).

In the empty gym, we went around to find a fit. After repeated disappointments, we arrived at a locker stenciled, “Geo. H.W. Bush”. What the hell, I thought, everyone’s equal here. I reached in and pulled out a pair of white high tops, size 10 1/2 to 11.

As Kelly laced up I flirted with the idea that I might have learned something the KGB didn’t know about the man One Heartbeat Away From the Presidency. But Kelly was waving me to the court and there we spent the next two hours in a spirited workout. Afterward, we discussed what happened on the court as Kelly showered and dressed and I prepared for a steam bath. Then–crash!–double doors at the front and rear entrances to the gym flew open, and six men in dark suits and earpieces fanned out across the facility, poking into nooks, crannies, even the sauna.

“You don’t want to miss what’s coming next,” I told Kelly. Sure enough, within minutes the Veep and three of his former congressional colleagues strode in and made for the locker room.

I had one foot in the steam room when I heard Bush shout out in that familiar nasal voice.

“Eeeeew!” cried the to-be leader of the Free World. “My shoes are warm!” I cut short my steam bath and spotted Kelly in a green chair at court side, watching the Veep and his pals play a doubles match. I guess that Bush decided real men can handle warm shoes. I dressed quickly to get near Kelly in case more trouble erupted.

It did. One of the Veep’s volleys landed so close to out-of-bounds that a furious argument erupted with my 16-year-old son positioned directly at the line.

“In!” Bush screamed.

“Out!” shouted Rep. Sonny Montgomery a Mississippi Dixiecrat.

The argument escalated until the Vice President of the United States spun around to glare at Kelly. “Kid!” he roared. “In or out?”

“Out,” Kelly said coolly, without hesitation. He could have been hanging out at our neighborhood park. What happened next left me slack-jawed. Glowering at my son, the Vice President jumped until his knees almost struck his chin. With clinched fists and a carmine face, he let out a blood-curdling “Noooooooooooo!” His pals doubled-up with laughter.

That day taught me several things about Kelly.

He isn’t easily intimidated.

And he can more than fill big shoes.

[For the Washington Post article click here.]

The Case Against $ratch as $peech & Corporations as People

As we stagger toward the end of this political spending orgy election campaign, take a look below, if you will, at the finest argument I’ve seen against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That ruling–arguably the worst since the Dred Scott Decision–is, of course, the one that lets the rich dump unlimited wealth on the political windsocks of their choice. (Hint: few of recipients are friends of the 99%.)

If left to stand, Citizens United will destroy democracy by transferring functional control of the nation to the plutocracy. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a blistering dissent against the court’s majority–and read it aloud to demonstrate the depth of his opposition. The dissent appears below. Arm yourself with its arguments because only a popular uprising against Citizens United will lead to its undoing, as was the case in Dred Scott vs Standford. Continue Reading

This Poem Spoke to Me This Morning


by Wendell Berry

I know I am getting old and I say so,
but I don’t think of myself as an old man.
I think of myself as a young man
with unforeseen debilities. Time is neither
young nor old, but simply new, always
counting, the only apocalypse. And the clouds
—no mere measure or geometry, no cubism,
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, or art either.
Even the old body is new—who has known it
before?—and no sooner new than gone, to be
replaced by a body yet older and again new.
The clouds are rarely absent from our sky
over this humid valley, and there is a sycamore
that I watch as, growing on the riverbank,
it forecloses the horizon, like the years
of an old man. And you, who are as old
almost as I am, I love as I loved you
young, except that, old, I am astonished
at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

“VII.” by Wendell Berry from Leavings. © Counterpoint, 2010.

If Only We Had the Compassion of a Good dog

Monday’s story out of Alaska’s outback, about the dog that saved his master’s life after a snowmobile crash, made me recall a discussion in an Environmental Ethics honors seminar I taught at Southern Oregon University a decade ago. It centered on our ethical “duty”–yours and mine–to an animal such as a dog. Is the creature a “sentient” being, able to perceive and feel like a human? If so, is our ethical duty equal to our ethical obligations to humankind?

Several students, filled with GPA-earned self-regard, would not budge from the 19th Century philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. The philosopher who famously held that the lesser status of animals demands of us a lesser ethical duty than we would accord fellow humans. To wit,

[So] far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious and are there merely as the means to an end. That end is man.”

Cut to the story out of Alaska, and the man injured and immobilized in Alaska’s outback. The story’s right here.

Amber, a two-year-old golden retriever, snuggled up to his owner throughout the long night to keep him warm. The next morning, Amber went barking after other snowmobilers, and led them to where her master lay with two dislocated arms and an injured neck.

Soon the victim was helicoptered to Anchorage’s Providence Alaska Medical Center. He credited Amber for saving his life.

Somewhere, some of my former students may have read this story in the newspaper. If they hadn’t outgrown Kant, I hope they will now.

The world would be a better place if some humans possessed the sentience of a good dog.

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