JUST MUSING: “Another crazy billionaire from New York…”

If the Republican administration and Congress repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, the former status quo revisits us, meaning twenty million people will be without insurance, possibly incapable of affording a market-based replacement policy.  I am not sure the administration or Congress cares.  The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) makes clear the Act represents a fundamental sea-change in health care in this country, particularly as related to the treatment of mental health and substance use disorder:

The Affordable Care Act provides one of the largest expansions of mental health and substance use disorder coverage in a generation, by requiring that most individual and small employer health insurance plans, including all plans offered through the Health Insurance Marketplace cover mental health and substance use disorder services. Also required are rehabilitative and habilitative services that can help support people with behavioral health challenges. These new protections build on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) provisions to expand mental health and substance use disorder benefits and federal parity protections to an estimated 62 million Americans.

Years ago, during a Saturday meeting with students enrolled in a trial advocacy class at the University of Houston Law School, the pre-meeting discussion moved from gossip, classes, to regional differences.  Listening, not listening; unfamiliar with any of the names, never part of the conversation, waiting on the clock to strike the anointed hour before beginning.  One of the students was an African American female from Detroit.  She started down the ill-advised road, meaning she turned the conversation toward regional differences.  I attempted to stay out the conversation, listening, not listening; diverting my attention to the traffic below, casting periodic glances at the time, the oleanders swaying in the medium, counting the number of boards interwoven/interlaced in the alcove.  The sun remained affixed on the other side of the room, staring, not yet making its journey over, across the room.

She didn’t stop at any of the visible stop signs.  Continuing, never taking a breath, openly questioning, “I don’t know why I’m here”, “I was accepted to at least two other law schools located in the northeast”.

Interspersing choice words, “backward”, “different”, “in the North we” … words designed to invoke a difference, assertions of superiority; driving a chasm.  Directing words at the six other students, five females, one male, all white Southerners; erecting walls, using truths, half-truths to evoke myths, northern myths, as much a part of America’s historical lore and the War of the States.

Dividing to strengthen her sense of self-worth, ignoring commonalities, not recognizing everyone has a crazy Uncle Donald, irascible, stupid; forever a tad bit narcissistic.  Tortured accents, fly-away, fly-over hair (blue-grey, black-grey-dirty white, brown/grey/black/blue), commonalities not seen solely in the South.  Generations’ past styles, mouthing the inappropriate, crazy, stupid-crazy souls, a universal commonality, as common as the universe of males suffering from male-pattern baldness, our crazy Uncle Donald, everyone got one.  Digging and picking inappropriately, wrong place, wrong time, from crotch to ear, to nose, to mouth.  Shocking everyone by the choice of movie, “Has anyone seen Finding Dory”, with the rest of us remaining perplexed, not able to tell if he is serious or not, or if it’s just more craziness.

Telling stories thirty years old, always beginning with, “I use to”, followed by and the word, “boy” and too many exclamation points.  Forever non-hip, even when trying to be hip; two steps forward, five back, stumbling over the table, breaking the table on step three, every time, every time, step three.

Touching every female relative the wrong way, a generational repulsion, none willingly to ride with him, stay in the same room, hastening a retreat when he smiles and moves one inch in their direction. “Uncle Donald” … always followed by that exclamation point, slanted eyes, and a look of disbelief, directed at anyone who would dare suggest any other conclusion than crazy; crazy yesterday, today, tomorrow.  My, my, my … I’ve digressed.

The African American female never crossed the line of attempting to compare her relatives to theirs.  No she didn’t go that far.  She might as well have done so; hers were the words of myth-making.  Somewhat akin to “Mexicans will cut you”, “Black people will shoot you”, “Southerners are backward.”  Seeing their eyes and body movement, the appearance of pride (in their southern heritage), causing her to abruptly change course, seeking support and affirmation, searching the room, turning to the only other African American in the room, me.  I couldn’t.  I wouldn’t.  I didn’t, lend support, suggesting instead she should look at transferring to Wayne State.   “If we’ve that stupid, move back.”

Years ago the New York gifted the rest of us another billionaire scion.  Traversing the country in disguise, living a vagabond’s existence, dressing out-of-type, hiding, secreting his wealth, killing, discarding the body, possessing enough money to structure more than an adequate legal defense – yes, he did.  He sure did.  Killing a white man, oddly named Black, cutting him up in discrete parts, discarding the parts against the wind, into the surf … Lord knows where ….  His acts, actions, conduct were never identified as “not as sophisticated.” No one categorized the behavior as the fundamental character trait of rich white men from New York. Never distinguishing them from others, refusing to apply the adverse label to the region, the small sub-group (rich white men existing in the unique world of the nano-percent).  Everyone agreeing, even those who have a tendency to trend toward urban myths, the conduct was that of a demented soul, and nothing more.

Myth-making represents the blending of facts, half-truths and flat-out lies.  Sometimes working to type, other times against type; always working toward a desired end, casting aside “the others” in order to bind a targeted group.  Done both orally, in writing, consciously and subconsciously, part tradition, evolving and perfecting over time; dividing, driving wedges, sustaining itself against logic to make the myth-maker more confident in himself/herself/themselves.  Oftentimes packaged differently, combed-over, dyed – the packaging matters not – the message is essentially the same, to convince the listener of the difference.  “We will be great again.”  “They’re different from us.”  “We are superior.”

Sometimes we have to just say no, and work against type.  Other times we have to ignore the persuasive messaging, no matter how wonderfully packaged.  No matter how well delivered, even when our conclusion seems illogical at the time.  A crazy Uncle Donald with money doesn’t mean he is any different than other crazy fools showing up at family affairs.   No one, in none of our families, dare assume our Uncle Donald is anything but crazy.  Crazy, always has been, always will be, crazy, money or no money.

“You are kidding me, right?  Please – that’s Uncle Donald – enroll him in the Affordable Care Act, get him help while we still can, and pass the peas.”

*          *          *

Today the oleanders remain in place, swaying gently against the southern breeze.  Last time I checked, the sun still tracts east to west.  Today, tomorrow, the day after, we must cast aside half-truths and lies, no matter how discomforting; a necessary elixir to protect “the others”, to protect ourselves.  If not, we should be free to believe that all billionaire white men from New York are crazy.

JUST MUSING: “My view of the inaugural address – now, say something nice” …

A habit I have had for as long as I can remember; digging inside my ears with twigs, molding paper into a cone, reshaping the paper clip, any object deemed safe at the time – removing wax, satisfying an itch, nervous energy.  Pencils, pens, nails, a blade of grass, the same purpose; each having a different feel; each serving the same purposes.  Watching others winch, putting the instrument of comfort aside; sneaking, secreting, soothing, turning away when detecting, those interfering in my quest, attention wane.  In middle school, the point on the pencil broke.  I think it broke.  The point was no longer there, sitting there trying to remember whether there was a point, telling myself there wasn’t a point.  Touching the side of my ear, feeling something, something I didn’t remember being there.  It is said we discover our bodies at that age, let’s say I was no different than any other child.

My definition of a habit is “an act done habitually.”  Regularly, conducted at no particular time, schedule.  Mine cued by no setting, mood, act of others.  Digging while others talked; to satiate a non-existence itch; exploring around the ear canal, directing attention elsewhere; feeling the non-existent itch.

The same as those who place objects in their mouths, outside other’s knowledge, directing energy elsewhere, supporting the habit, much like supporting any other habit.  Dare say a habit safer than alcohol, narcotics, jaywalking in Mexico City – See the cars – count – count- count … on two … go, go, go … run – run – run!

Digging deep, twirling, pushing as close as possible to the ear drum – clinching the muscles around the mouth, tightening, muting sound, so as not to bellow like a hound, preserving a tradition, a persistent, long-held habit.

Straws, keys, the point of a small screwdrivers inserted over, “Don’t do that!”


Knowing what he/she/they were screaming about. Hearing, not hearing, knowing, absolutely, having seen that face before.  Knowing I shouldn’t do what I was doing; still doing it, a habit.  I did.

Never confessing about the lodged pencil lead; telling no one.  Couldn’t be that bad, could it?  Passing physicals, not as if I took many, never hearing a complaint about wax in my ears, or any strange object; moving forward, nodding, thanking the health care provider, reaching out and securing the papers handed to me, moving out of the line.

“Ears look good.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yep, I’m sure.”

“Thank you … .”

“Give this paper to the school.”

“Okay, thank you.”

Tiring of the irritant, making one more attempt.  Dislodging the point three/four years later; dislodging with the point of another pencil; lifting the tip, recognizing immediately the central nervous system was intact, radiating pain, filling the cranial cavity, sending a message to hands, feet, a synchronized pain, extending them, separating them, as if shocked.  Struggling to remember the anatomical chart for the head; seeing images instead, consequences of pushing too hard, piercing the brain, forever dumbed-down.

Can I say … no harm, no foul?  Of course I can.  Of course, I will.  I do.  I do.

Lifting, rolling, winching, stopping, working up additional nerve, waiting for the pain to dissipate; touching the lodged object again, lifting, rolling in the opposite direction, taking a deep breath; stopping, putting the right hand over the right hear, realizing sound still carried in the left ear channel, taking a break – I did.  I did until I succeeded, removing the gift I gifted to myself years before.

I had tried oil on past attempts; water at other times – to no avail – the object of my attention remaining secured and secreted in the recesses.  The success – that time – came after the third attempt.  Refusing to quit, desiring comfort on both sides, digging, twirling, pushing a little deeper until I succeeded.

On today’s date (January 20, 2017), I dislodged an eraser.  A rattle at first; forward, backward, seeming to disappear, causing renewed memory, , rebirth, and wonderment, “What on earth?” A journey down the familiar; this time caused by shaking too hard, while listening during the inaugural.  The same shake I heard my elders exercise when hearing foolishness.

A … “My, my, my” … shake.

A, “Bless your heart” … shake.

A, “You’re kidding me, right” … shake.

Incredulity, disbelief, hostile words scrolling out before my eyes, invading in another mode and manner, entering both ear canals, touching the left first, the right, the uncoordinated shake followed.  Like a dog, with a tic lodged in the inner ear canal, engaging immediately in distressed behavior.

Too many unexpected/expected words, a rapid invasion, pushing the foreign, forgotten object backward, forward, in the other direction again, compelling the unanticipated reaction; shaking violently came first, words of damnation followed.  Listening, shaking rapidly, tilting leftward when the movement was felt, extending both hands, capturing a pink eraser.  Now darkened, ossified, retaining its’ identified molded form.

When it occurred? – I don’t know.  How it occurred? – That’s obvious!  Every now and then there was a dull spot in the ear, causing another habit – the lifting of my left paw, scratching the unknown irritant, dislodging from thought the reason, justifying the self-inflicted tic’s presence.

Listening to the speaker push the envelope, pleasing his base, encouraging hate, dividing, doing what he said he would do.   Wondering why I was shocked.  Admitting the source of my anguish after the election, grinding my teeth during sleep, writing and tearing the mythical paper into pieces at the same time, awakening; arguing with the imaginary, questioning whether I was being unreasonable, irrational.  I didn’t think so.  I hoped that I am not – being irrational.

Why do I muse?  Not because of the eraser, not because of my historical, disturbing habit; digging to make the heart content.

I muse to say what I learned.  Say something nice sometimes, even to those who wish your demise.  That’s it – that’s my dose of niceness, the contribution to civility.  Words of carnage, dislodging another foreign object, showing the nightmare is real.

JUST MUSING: “Nat Hentoff: Rest in peace my friend…”

Some years ago, I received a call seeking my agreement to represent an anti-abortion group in the State of North Carolina.  The caller was making the call on behalf of the Free Speech Coalition.  I recognized his name, searched in the recesses for his facial features, seeing, not seeing, seeing, remembering, having met him when in Washington, D.C., speaking to the group the year prior.  The call was made because the State of North Carolina was seeking the membership lists of an anti-abortion group.  The caller believed the stance in representing the Klan and the protecting their membership list was the same issue faced by the anti-abortion group.

“Don’t you agree?”

“Yes sir, I agree.”

“Good.  We believe the abortion protesters are within their constitutional rights to protest and thought of you.”

“Am I going to represent their interest in the Free Speech Coalition’s name?”

“Our group is not prepared to put our name on the defense unless we can achieve unanimity of our membership.”


“Yes, unanimity.”

“You will not achieve unanimity, not on abortion.”

“We are going to try.”

“Aren’t there women groups part of your membership?”

“Yes, there are.”

“You’re not going to achieve unanimity.”

*                *          *

 On today’s date (January 8, 2017), the news services announced the death of Nat Hentoff.  The New York Times aptly describes Hentoff, “an author, journalist, jazz critic and civil libertarian who called himself a troublemaker and proved it with a shelf of books and a mountain of essays on free speech, wayward politics, elegant riffs and the sweet harmonies of the Constitution… He was 91.”  Nat never denied being a troublemaker, bragged about his riffs, and reached out to other troublemakers around the country, telling their stories, interviewing, sharing, encouraging.  Prone to tell on himself by admitting to following others’ action; laughing out laugh, as they talked, as he talked.  Wondering why opposites never understood “free speech for me meant free speech for thee”, instead knowing well they believed Free Speech for Me – But Not for Thee.

Writing, poking, sending copy, asking for comments, always listening, seeking better, wanting better, plying his trade until late into life, all Nat’s wont.  Correcting enemies, chastising friends, expressing opinions, taking contrary positions, even if those positions differed from the approaching crowds, yelling for his scalp, while standing his ground, holding the Constitution aloft in one hand, a pen in another, laughing all the while.

“Mr. Griffin.  How are you doing?”

“Mr. Hentoff.  How are you doing?”

Such were his words, the last conversation with him.  A conversation which took place the day after argument at the Supreme Court (Santa Fe v. Doe), made early, taken early, 7:00 a.m. on March 30, 2000, meaning he made his call at 8:00 a.m.  He didn’t introduce himself.  No introduction was needed.  I recognized the voice, the laugh.

“They underestimated you; the other lawyer, the ACLU, the press.”

I didn’t ask him what he heard.  I didn’t ask him what he meant.  I didn’t need to.  I had learned to trust him over the years, the instincts, his commentary, writings, books, having interacted at that point for fifteen years.

“I think so.”

“One day when you are in New York, let’s sit down and talk.”

“I will.  I will.  Thank you for calling.”

Nathan Irving Hentoff was born in Boston on June 10, 1925, the son of Simon and Lena Katzenberg Hentoff.  His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants, and he grew up in the tough Roxbury section in a vortex of political debate among socialists, anarchists, Communists, Trotskyites and other revolutionaries.”  Worlds apart from my existence, separated by decades and landscape didn’t mean we didn’t periodically share our views on the world, the Constitution, disregarding distance and time.

Mr. Hentoff wrote for The Village Voice for 50 years, and also contributed to The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Down Beat magazine and dozens of other publications.  He wrote more than 35 books — novels, volumes for young adults and nonfiction works on civil liberties, education and other subjects.”  In 1998, Nat wrote Living the Bill of Rights:  How to be an Authentic American.  The book’s publication was too preceded by another call.

“I have a new book coming out.”

“Wow, wonderful.”

“I’ve dedicated the book to you.”

That’s it; that simple.  Other than telling me he would call me when the book hit the stores; that’s it.  He did both – dedicated the book to me (“To Anthony Griffin, for whom the Constitution is a daily and demanding companion”), and called when the book was published, talking to a staff member, conveying the message.

I picked the book up the same day, standing in the aisles of Barnes and Noble, struggling to contain embarrassment, tears, repressing any attempt to act like a groundhog, burrowing, burrowing, burrowing into the carpet, attempting to disappear.  I called when I returned to the office, thanking him … hearing his voice, knowing the laugh, envisioning him pulling on that distinctive beard, intermingling salt with pepper, pepper with salt, laughing, laughing, laughing-out-loud, at those who would as soon decree his demise.

Absolutely, I traveled to New York over the twenty year period of my repeatedly telling, his telling, and retelling.  We never had that lunch.  I didn’t need to.  Always understanding the representation of the Klan; laughing louder when I retold the call of the Free Speech Coalition and their not being able to obtain unanimity (Free Speech of Me, Not for Thee); supporting my arguing the prayer in school case when others sought to remove me from lead counsel in order to substitute another of a different hue; reading my work, offering constructive criticism, when he was under no obligation to do so.

Always comforted by his writing, periodic calls, verbal support, and the extended hand crossing boundaries, states, jurisdictions and municipalities, affirming worth, holding the Constitution high reminding the rest of us to continue believing.  There was no need to meet.  No need to have lunch.

Rest in peace my distant friend, rest in peace.

Just Musing: “Happy New Year” …

With time’s persistent march into the New Year, celebrations unfold around the globe.  Resolutions in all probability outnumber the celebrations and are more firmly grounded.  Be it resolve.  I promise.  I promise.  I really promise.

The first part of my statement is readily understood (resolutions outnumbering the celebrations).  The second part (more firmly grounded) is a bit more obscure, more appropriately explained by the use of metaphors.

One definition of a metaphor is “a thing regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract”.  Be it as it may, let sports be our metaphor.

Last night (December 30, 2015), Ronda Rousey suffered a first round defeat, failing in her comeback attempt in a mere forty-eight seconds.  For the uninformed, Rousey is an American mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter.  She was the first woman to earn an Olympic medal in judo, and at one time, in her world (MMA), she was deemed invincible.

On November 15, 2015, Rousey suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Holly Holm.  A defeat which stripped Rousey of the mantle of invisibility, exposing her weaknesses, taking away the fear which possessed others when they entered the ring to scale Mount Everest.  Her defeat last night was a byproduct of the 2015 fight.

On January 8, 1990, Iron Mike Tyson entered the ring as the heavy weight champion of professional boxing; holding WBC, WBA, IBF titles.  Tyson was invincible in the eyes of the public and to those who dared challenge his pugilist skills.  He was undefeated at the time (37-0).  Betting odds against his demise? – 42-1; master of the sweet science of boxing.

History tells us Tyson was defeated in the tenth round, one of boxing’s greatest, unpredicted upsets.  A defeat which stripped Tyson of mantle of invincibility, casting aside the notion he was made of iron, certitude, hardened, incapable of defeat.  The defeat exposed Tyson’s weaknesses, stripped the fear from other’s eyes, contributed to Tyson’s downfall and hastened his exit from the game.  Bear with me.  I will attempt to make sense out of this musing.

By the time Rousey and Tyson achieved greatest, they had already tasted defeat.  Defeat is as much part of life, as victory; standing in our paths, grounding doubt in our souls, shadowing the possible, mirroring possibilities, sowing doubt.  To reach the point of critical fights – Rousey – Tyson – any of us – have to overcome defeats, while dedicating time to a chosen crafts/professions, in turn utilizing skills, talents, and our gifts from the Gods.  No matter how talented, no matter how prepared, skill and preparation falls to the wayside unless accompanied by belief.

Be it resolved … next time will be different.

Rousey may never fight again.  The second defeat may compel her to walk away; wipe the tears away, recognize time has spoken.  She may well elect to return, stepping back in the ring, accepting her weaknesses, while also seeing something new, confidence in the eyes of her opponents.  They – her opponents – flat out believing they can defeat her, having seen the last two fights, smelling doubt, fear; believing, knowing, they are just as good as the last opponent, willing to take on the challenge.

Both Tyson and Rousey elected to come back after their first defeats.  Tyson was never the same fighter.  The same seems to be Rousey’s fate.  Whatever path Rousey takes going forward, after the second defeat, is her decision to make, part of life.  Be clear however, Rousey, Tyson, the fight game, is not why I muse; digressing a little too far afield, too many references to blood sports, one too many metaphors.

Be it resolved is more than a promise; as real as blood, sweat and tears.  Whether the promise is broken the first hour, first day, or on day 364, it matters not.  Resolving promising, looking to the future, celebrating a new year, is a method by which we renew of belief in life, the possibilities, a belief in ourselves; stepping back in the ring, accepting the challenges no matter the disappointments, no matter previous accomplishments, starting anew.  Promising to do better, resolving, no matter the frustrations, fears and odds against us – living life, part of life – budding, flowering, enlightening.

World events, local politics, wars, deaths, hate notwithstanding, renewal.  “I resolve.”  “I promise.”  “I resolve.”  “I will continue living, fighting, challenging.”

Taking the next step, stepping over and around disappointments, making decisions, living because living means hoping for the best, a New Year, resolute.  Wanting the same for others, for ourselves, our cultures; over obstacles, accepting humility is much a part of life, resolving, believing, in different forms, across cultures (Nowruz (Persian New Year), Spring Festival (simplified Chinese 春节; traditional Chinese 春節; Pinyin: Chūn Jié), Tết Nguyên Đán or Tết (Vietnamese New Year), Enkutatash (Ethophia), New Year’s Day (for those whose follow the modern Gregorian calendar as well as the Julian calendar)),  … through song … poems, … dance … words … love … stories, believing in life.

Ghosts of New Year’s pass? – Maybe, sometimes, a possibility.  Anything is possible.  So be it resolved … Happy New Year.