Should Presidents Talk to Children?

After the 1988 presidential election and his two terms in office, Ronald Reagan spoke to the nation’s schoolchildren.

I would say that the most important thing you can do is to ground yourself in the ideas and values of the American Revolution. And that is a vision that goes beyond economics and politics. It’s also a moral vision, grounded in the reverence and faith of those who believed that with God’s help they could create a free and democratic nation. They designed a system of limited government that, in John Adams’ words, was suited only to a religious people such as ours.

Well, I don’t have very much of a quarrel with the very cheap weapon and so forth that makes it so easy for the wrong people to have a gun. I would like to see us concentrate on what I described in California: of making sure that anyone who buys a gun is a responsible citizen and not bent on crime.

Two decades later, in his first year as President, Barack Obama planned to address the nation’s student body at the beginning of the new school year. Immediately, controversy ensued. Parents were outraged that the Kenyan Muslim not be allowed to indoctrinate their offspring with his socialist doctrine.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future. We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Our current president recently addressed Boy Scouts at their Jamboree.

You know, in the Boy Scouts you learn right from wrong, correct? You learn to contribute to your communities, to take pride in your nation, and to seek out opportunities to serve. You pledge to help other people at all times. In the Scout oath, you pledge on your honor to do your best and to do your duty to God and your country. And by the way, under the Trump administration you’ll be saying “Merry Christmas” again when you go shopping, believe me. Merry Christmas. They’ve been downplaying that little beautiful phrase. You’re going to be saying “Merry Christmas” again, folks. But the words “duty,” “country” and “God” are beautiful words. In other words, basically what you’re doing is you’re pledging to be a great American patriot. By the way, what do you think the chances are that this incredible massive crowd, record setting, is going to be shown on television tonight? One percent or zero? The fake media will say, “President Trump spoke” — you know what is – ‘President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today.” That’s some — that is some crowd. Fake media. Fake news.
Thank you. And I’m honored by that. By the way, all of you people that can’t even see you, so thank you. I hope you can hear. Through scouting you also learned to believe in yourself — so important — to have confidence in your ability and to take responsibility for your own life. When you face down new challenges — and you will have plenty of them — develop talents you never thought possible, and lead your teammates through daring trials, you discover that you can handle anything. And you learn it by being a Scout. It’s great.

Afterwards, the Scout leader apologized for the president’s speech.

My Baby, the Long-Distance Runner (New York City Marathon Preview)

The route of the first New York City Marathon in 1970 was entirely inside Central Park. Of the 127 entrants, 55 finished. The lone woman entrant dropped out because of illness. The 2017 marathon route meanders through all five boroughs. More than 50,000 runners will finish the course.

This year will be special: my daughter, Maureen McGovern, will be running. Moe has finished sixteen previous marathons. This is her first time in the New York City Marathon. She is running to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Read her (and partly my) story here.

Keeping Up the Outrage

(This was originally published August 2016.)

footballBy not standing for the national anthem, Colin Kaepernick has disrespected the sacred ritual of football. The American concussion game is inseparable from patriotism. There has not been so much outrage since John Lennon commented that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.* Defenders of Christianity – as if Christianity needed to be defended against a pop-music star – organized burnings of Beatles records.

Two years after Lennon’s remark, at the Mexico City Olympic Games in the incendiary year of 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood, black-powerbarefoot, on the podium at the medal awards ceremony. Smith had won the gold, setting a new world record, in the 200-meter sprint. Carlos took the bronze. Instead of humbly holding hands over hearts during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner,” they each raised an arm, gloved hands clenched in fists, in what was considered to be a black-power salute. The silver-medal winner, Peter Norman, an Australian, did not raise a clenched fist, but wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge on his jacket, as did the other two. They were booed as they left the podium.

Smith and Carlos were pulled from upcoming relays and Olympic chairman Avery Brundage evicted them from the Olympic Village. Back home, both athletes, and their families, received death threats and had difficulty finding employment. They each played briefly in the NFL. Smith became track coach and taught sociology at Oberlin College in Ohio and later at Santa Monica College. Carlos was a counselor and track and field coach at Palm Springs High School.

Norman was allowed to stay in the Olympic Village, but was shunned 19682008at home. Although qualifying for the 1972 games, he was not selected for the Australian team. Norman’s time in the 1968 race, still stands as the Australian record. He died of a heart attack in 2006. Smith and Carlos gave eulogies and were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral.

John Lennon continued to have a successful musical career. A born-again Christian and rabid Beatles fan, Mark David Chapman felt betrayed by Lennon’s blasphemous remarks. On a night in 1980, Chapman waited with a loaded gun for Lennon’s return to his New York apartment building.

And Colin Kaepernick? Who knows? Outrage over a football player’s sitting down may tell more about us than it does about him.

Beatles2* John Lennon: Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Nobody knew that geography could be so complicated

“It’s very, very tough because it’s an island,” the president said, asserting that his government received “A+” marks for responding to storms in Texas and Florida. “The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean — and it’s a big ocean, a really, really big ocean.”

from The World’s Most Dangerous Beauty Salon

Sonny Boy 1 & Sonny Boy 2… and Randy Newman

Amongst the detritus of my youth is a vinyl LP “Sonny Boy Williamson & the Yardbirds.” The album was released in 1966, to capitalize on the growing fame of the British group. It is a recording of a 1963 concert with the Yardbirds backing U.S. blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson. Eighteen-year-old guitar novice Eric Clapton is in the band. The Yardbirds are remembered as a training program for rock guitar wizards. Jeff Beck replaced Clapton and Jimmy Page replaced Beck. (Page achieved greater fame with Led Zeppelin, the band that set the standard for rock ‘n’ roll debauchery.)

Rice Miller aka Sonny Boy Williamson

Sonny Boy Williamson was born in Mississippi in 1899… or 1909… or maybe 1897. His given name was Aleck… or Alex… or Rice – which might have been a nickname – Miller… or Ford. In the 1930s he was traveling the Delta, performing under the name Little Boy Blue. In the 1940s he became a star on the King Biscuit Time radio show. The sponsor felt they could sell more King Biscuit Flour if their star had a better-known name. Rice Miller took the persona of the late blues singer and harmonica virtuoso Sonny Boy Williamson. There was no Facebook or Twitter to tell radio listeners of the ruse.

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson

John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, born in Tennessee in 1914, was younger than his impersonator. He learned his trade in the Delta before moving north to Chicago. His RCA recordings and live performances were hugely influential in the Chicago blues scene and beyond. Muddy Waters and Little Walter were among his acolytes. In 1948, walking home after a performance in Chicago, Williamson was shot to death in a robbery. Rice Miller soon was claiming to be “the original Sonny Boy.”

Which brings us to Randy Newman. Many know Newman as the composer of musical soundtracks for “Toy Story” and other motion pictures. He is also the creator of acerbic and often misinterpreted songs satirizing prejudice (“Sail Away”, “Rednecks”, “Short People”), self-absorbed yuppies (“I Love L.A.”), and nuclear holocaust (“Political Science”) among other topics. He can also convey heart-breaking empathy. (“Louisiana 1927”) Newman’s just-released new album “Dark Matter” includes the song “Sonny Boy,” wherein the original Sonny Boy Williamson – “the only blues man in heaven” – vents his resentment about having his name and career stolen.