Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Let’s get maladjusted on MLK Day

January 15, 2018



Today is Martin Luther King’s birthday, a national holiday celebrated on the third Monday in January. This is a part of a speech King gave in London, December 7, 1964, just days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway.


I have added the appropriate gospel quote from the first evangelist, Mark:

When his family[a heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
Mark 3:21


You know, there are certain words in every academic discipline that soon become stereotypes and clichés. Every academic discipline has its technical vocabulary. Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” You’ve heard that word. This is the ringing cry of modern child psychology. And certainly we all want to live well-adjusted lives in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.




But I must say to you this evening, my friends, as I come to a close, that there are some things in my own nation, and there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.


I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence, for in a day when Sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence; it is either nonviolence or non-existence. And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and thereby disarming the whole world, may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation. And I assure you that I will never adjust to the madness of militarism.




African-American revenge

December 14, 2017



96% of African-American Alabamians voted against Roy Moore.
98% of African-American women voted against Moore.


Part of a historical memory. Doug Jones prosecuted the Klansman who was responsible for the  murder of the four children in Birmingham 1963.


70% of white Alabamians voted Moore including 63% of white women despite Moore’s creepy history with underage women.
Most know the brutal cracker, Jim Crow history of Alabama.
This was payback time even though Moore said that “God is always in control.” Some theology.The same theology that is dragging the evangelical community into irrelevance if not heresy.


It shows the importance of voter registration and getting voters to the polls.
The same strategy will defeat Trump. Arguing with these people is counter-productive.

Don’t water the rocks.


Ex NBA star and Alabama-native Charles Barkley urged fellow citizens to stop looking like idiots.




Barkley was dead on in his warning to Democrats: this is a wake up call. We’ve been stuck in a time warp for a long time.The Dems have taken the black vote and poor vote for granted for far too long.


Barkley was  spot on in his criticism of the Clintons’ embrace of Wall Street and their amnesia regarding the Democratic history.The reason for donald Tump was hilary Clinton.

It’s time to get off their ass and make life better for blacks and poor white people.

Me and Coach Wooden

December 7, 2017


In Canto 3 of Dante’s Divine Comedy the author says

Master, what is it that I hear? Who are
those people so defeated by their pain?”
And he to me: “This miserable way
is taken by the sorry souls of those
who lived without disgrace and without praise.
They now commingle with the coward angels,
the company of those who were not rebels
nor faithful to their God, but stood apart.


Over the centuries these sentiments got telescoped into something Dante inferred but never said: He put those who are neutral in the everlasting fight between right and wrong in the lowest place in hell.


Dr King probably thinking of Dante however did say  that “ The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”


In two books which I wrote I was critical of the legendary basketball coach John Wooden who was voted the best coach in US history.


Wooden was a beautiful human being, a serious but apolitical Christian who did remain mute in the Vietnam War while his volatile centre Bill Walton left practice to sit in against this horrific war which ended up with the death of probably 2 million Vietnamese civilians, 58,000 US soldiers and over 60 thousand American vets who took their own lives.


My friend Steve bristled at my criticism of Wooden. Now Steve is a basketball nut who had a different take on the coach. i knew very little about Wooden except that he was highly respected at UCLA for 26 years. Steve insisted that Wooden and I had much in common and he asked me to read legendary player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s memoir Coach Wooden and Me.




Well I fell in love with Wooden! And Abdul-Jabbar. This was a great love story! Steve was right. i saw the coach in a different and kinder light. I stopped being judgmental and was able to contextualize the lovely man. His Christianity was genuine though highly American-centric, faith, flag etc. As a WW ll vet he could not break through his nationalism to criticize his country’s murderous debacle in South-east Asia. And he did go ballistic when young Walton with no discernible religion left practice to join sit ins against the war.

I immediately thought of Billy Graham like Wooden a very decent human being, a huge cut above today’s clownish televangelists. He was created by the Luce’s Time Magazine in the late 40s as the perfect evangelist for post-war America. A fine preacher, albeit of emotion-laden altar calls with little substance or analysis behind them. Graham was a dyed-in- the- wool fundamentalist who used his influence to peddle American exceptionalism, military power, and the suburban captivity of the gospel.

As Scottish  preacher George McLeod told him decades ago, “Billy, your theology does not make it past the gate post.” In short Graham was long on emotion and very short on any critical social analysis. He was a status quo man who never did get the civil rights movement, the peace movement or the women’s movements as authentic inroads of God’s Spirit.Civic and political engagement defined me as a vatican ll biblical justice believer.we were in the same church but different pews.

I loved Wooden’s values, most of which I shared. He was a man of deep integrity, humble with rock-solid values He was the real deal. Family,faith and then team and winning. He was in his mid 50s when he coached Abdul-Jabbar.I quit coaching basketball when I was 42! Bigger fish to fry.

Jarvis tornament 67


The 60s were tumultuous.Things were in flux and in many ways John Wooden was caught in this vortex of change. Players who often saw him as time-bound relic, a bit out of touch came to appreciate the profundity of his values. He was no phony. I realized that he did the best he could with his rural Indiana background. Nemo dat quod non habet Aquinas correctly stated. Nobody gives what he does not have. Wooden’s Christianity was deep and personal but lacked a prophetic dimension. He shied away from societal critique. He did however stay true to those personal and individual values. Wooden lived to be 99, loved by so many.

At a personal level and as a former coach I was happy to learn about another side of Coach Wooden. He refused to allow his players to dunk. Me too. We both saw that power move as pure ego, a demeaning and disrespectful gesture to the opposition. Shake hands, coach.



I guess in many ways I  was a moldy fig, out of step with the times but in step with John Wooden.

Thanks, Steve




Holy Saturday came early

November 28, 2017


COVERThe SeasonEfficiency, technique, drill, new plays, scouting, coaching manuals. All this was mere prose to me. I was interested in poetry and the mystery of the human person. Most coaches it appeared to me had the words while I was interested in the music.

The Season p.26


On Saturday  November 25 at 2 PM I returned  as an older pilgrim to a special formative place of my teaching life, the gym at the old Mimico High school, now a middle school called John English.

MimicoCentral StG


i was astonished as so many people from my past crowded in for the launch of The Season a book i wrote about our extraordinary 45 and 1 season 50 years ago. Each surviving player, six of them, wrote their memories of the year and I added some  journal entries I had of that annus mirabilis.


One of the guards from that team Don Crocker reminded me of a line from Freddy Shero of the Philly Flyers as they were about to play for the Stanley Cup: “Win tonight and you walk with these men forever.” Anybody who played sports knows the truth of this statement. Bonds are created and not easily sundered.




Before the official program started which included  a showing of the film Basketball which played on the CBC in May of 1967 and was introduced by the director Don Shebib, the gym was alive with animated conversations. However in the back of my mind I was hearing Bob Dylan singing Just Like a Woman


Ah, you fake just like a woman, yes, you do
You make love just like a woman, yes, you do
Then you ache just like a woman
But you break just like a little girl

And Absolutely Sweet Marie and  and especially Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands.

Sadeyed Lady of the Lowlands

Where the sad-eyed prophet says that no man comes,
My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?


Dylan’s epic album Blonde on Blonde had just been released and that became the soundtrack of our practice.

We had but seven players and I wanted to press the whole game. That meant these kids must be in shape. Run them till they almost dropped. I did to Blonde on Blonde

At our Jubilee meal 50 years later they all reminded me of that.



The afternoon became a dreamscape for me. The local Etobicoke paper,The Guardian  gave the event a big play, a warm feel good story, well told by reporter Cynthia Reason. It was a Canadian David and Goliath tale of a small school which for one year became virtually unbeatable. along with the players’ reflections I added the rest, a kind of an essay on how I understood coaching, best summed up from this line from J.D. Salinger


Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he never wrong?” (Seymour: An Introduction).



So the basketball court for me was on fire with meaning. With these young men in this small box of a gym in a suburb of Toronto a hardwood floor became a temple of transcendence. What we were doing was important. This personality building experience was an event of cosmic importance. I had moved from room 206 to a gym – “from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.”


I was very lucky to meet as principal of John English Middle School (the former Mimico High) Craig Howe a fellow educator tilling the sacred soil of the young. Craig immediately resonated with the idea and came in on his weekend to set the gym up. Along with my stellar guard Art Rutledge’s dynamic daughter Jess, they organized the whole event. My beautiful grandchildren sold the $15.00 books.


In my brief remarks I tried to sum up my raison d’etre for the sacred calling I strove to incarnate.
50 years have gone by but the memories remain and the relationships as well.
We were an unbeatable team and as I have often joked I was the guy at the end of the 7 man bench. But it never ended there. I  was also the guy who broke bread and shared my life and passion with them. I knew at the timeI would never have a team like this but it never fazed me. Is this why I coached?

Every team has its wonders and joys, the young people you meet on the holy ground of a hardwood floor.and these ikons of the divine kept showing up every year.they gave me as much pleasure as the 67 team. Two smart point guards,  Mark Fenwick and Gerard Carlse, 10 years apart from my Neil McNeil teams came on Saturday.They knew they were loved just as much.

I wrote many of my Neil players and told them that indeed I was once a basketball coach but now I am just a good friend.

My mantra: Don’t call me coach. That’s American for a one dimensional cartoon. I am a teacher. Sometimes I teach in a classroom, sometimes on a hardwood floor and in summers on a ball diamond. In the latter part of my downward mobile teaching life, I taught on picket lines.
Winning the only thing? Not. What about dying and rising after defeat? What about friendship, way more important than those twin impostors, victory and defeat? What about those twin lubricants, tears and laughter which oil the rough edges of life?
I was given the gift of the pearl beyond price: the player is more important than the game. This lesson I learned from the masters of my youth, common good men, a war vet, an Irish-American priest, a Jewish playground trainer and a nonpareil boy’s club coach, Carmen Bush. i simply played it forward. I cast my bread on the water and it came back a thousand fold.

Holy moments,like the above, sacramental in nature, have accompanied me my entire life. In this regard .I have often quoted the wise words of the German mystic Meister Eckhart (d.1328) which are germane in this context:
If at the end of your life the only prayer you could utter was Thank you, that would have been enough.
Simple gratitude is my response.

To the young men who raced up and down that small Mimico gym, to the small suburban community of Mimico who welcomed ayoung untried latin teacher,vobis multas gratias ago!

Gracias a la vida!

Copies avaalable



I Was Once a Basketball Coach pt.2

November 13, 2017

COVERThe Season

The book The Season I  dedicated to the small community that nourished the team. The community was Mimico. The team was called the Marauders. I watched it all build in the meals we shared and the community we created. I was a 27-year-old teacher, and despite my aversion to the title, they called me “coach.”

Below is an excerpt from The Season


Intuitively as part of my DNA, “breaking bread” was very important. The idea certainly hints at scripture where meals were key in the ministry of Jesus. While there were no “last suppers” with players there were many suppers in restaurants like George’s and in private homes.these were sacramental occasions.


Commensality, that is eating and drinking at the same table, is a radical notion. Anthropologists I imagine probably had a field day with this idea – as well as sociologists. But let’s simplify this.




Something special is transpiring. In the hierarchical world of education in those years, teachers never ate with students.To me, this supposedly radical idea shattered boundaries, broke down barriers, redefined who was in and who was out. This commensality I guess was a secular liturgy.




I never used ‘religious” language with players or students but I deeply believed what was happening had some transcendent meaning which could not be measured, described or even spoken about.


So what did this have to do with coaching?


The answer is nothing and everything.


As said before my essential self-definition was as a teacher, one with a deep calling which took me way beyond the classroom.


Mirabile dictu (amazing in the telling) here we are 50 years later sharing an agape, a love feast, 50 years after our unforgettable season. We were but 7 players whom I ran into shape.

MM 1967

A MHS agape at VIBO November 9, 2017

Art Rutledge, Gary Balogh, Ted, Don Crocker, Larry Trafford. Missing Peter Knopfler living in Mexico, Ernie Kocuper flying in next week from in Roberts Creek,B.C. and triste dictu, John Smith now playing in a higher league

We launch our book November 25 in the same small gym where we unleashed our full court presses with such devastating effect.

Anybody wishing a copy of the book



I Was Once a Basketball Coach pt.1

November 11, 2017


The Marauders, a name from an imperial past, not one to cherish or embrace.
But that’s what they called our team. I had no say in the matter but i did have a say in what I tried to teach, even in my early life as a teacher.
50 years have gone by but the memories remain and the relationships too.


Straight Outta
We were an unbeatable team and as I always said I was the guy at the end of the 7 man bench but I was also the guy who broke bread and shared my life and passion with them. I knew at the time i woud never have a team like this but it never fazed me as every team has its wonders and joys, the young people whom you meet on the holy ground of a hardwood floor.
“Don’t call me coach” I would often say. I was a teacher. Coach always carried too much American baggage. Winning was the only thing. Not even close.
I learned from the masters of my youth, common good men, war vets, priests, playground trainers and a non-pareil, boys club coach.



Carmen Bush
I was given the gift of the pearl beyond price, the player is more important than the game. I ignored what Pascal called “the twin imposters success and failure.”Efficiency, technique, drill, new plays, scouting, coaching manuals. All this was mere prose to me. I was interested in poetry and the mystery of the human person. Most coaches it appeared to me had the words while I was interested in the music.


How sweet the sound of this music  over the decades.It compelled me to play it forward.My bread was cast upon the water and came back to me again and again as i tilled the sacred soil of teenage lives.and i actually got paid for this.


So as we came to our 50th anniversary I wrote a book about it.

COVERThe Season

Dinner With DiMaggio: fast food

November 7, 2017


Dinner with DiMaggio is a book written about the relationship of a star struck Italian American doctor Rock Positano and Joe DiMaggio the great New York Yankee outfielder. Positano was 32 when he treated DiMaggio who was 40 years older. The relationship developed into a personal one and the highly secretive ball player allowed the acolyte to fete him all over New York.The book is a series of meals always paid for by the Doc.
Accompanying him to all sorts of events,” writes the author, “I saw a stunning array of famous, rich, powerful people who were in awe of him and wanted to get close to him. The intensity of their admiration surprised me.”


It shouldn’t have. America is a celebrity culture and reading this fawning book it shows us once again how supposed grown ups surrender their own dignity and moral agency to a sports hero like DiMaggio.


The book is cringe-inducing.


DiMaggio was a very limited man, a failure at marriage and parenting, he was noted for his bitter opinions about any Yankee who became more popular than him. A case in point was Mickey Mantle who arrived in New York as the media age exploded. The supremely gifted Mantle soon made people forget DiMaggio. Make no mistake the Yankee Clipper was a Hall of Fame player who could do everything well on the diamond but he was a deeply insecure person with jealous rants against a variety of people .Most notable in this category was fellow paysan Frank Sinatra whom he accused of pimping DiMaggio’s ex-wife (of 9 months) screen goddess Marilyn Monroe to the Kennedy brothers. He never reconciled with the Voice. He also had little time for Yankee Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.


The son of a Sicilian fisherman DiMaggio actually became a Republican who loved war criminal Henry Kissinger and George Bush (43) a real “stand up guy.’


Paul Simon famously wrote about Dimaggio in his song Mrs.Robinson ”where have you gone Joe DiMaggio,our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”


The answer was a pedestal from which he became very isolated.From this rarified position he became a prisoner encased in a shallow life where nothing was demanded of him. he simply got used to “being godded up” as the great New York sportswriter Stanley Woodward accused younger writers of divinising athletes. But Joe demanded fealty which Positano and Joe’s craven lawyer Morris Engelberg happily gave him to the detriment of their families.


“Living easy is dangerous” famously said Friedrich corrodes a person’s soul and infantilizes him so that he never has to grow up. That was Joe DiMaggio.And what of the suckers who bowed before the golden idol? That should be the question that this book raises.


DiMaggio got a great kick out of snubbing Bill Clinton whom he despised.there were many others in this category. Joe did have a soft spot for kids recognizing his own neglect of his son Joe Jr.


Engelberg made DiMaggio very wealthy simply signing his autograph thousands of times. When he made personal appearances he had to be introduced as “the greatest living ball player.”


DiMaggio had a great appeal to Italian-Americans who in the 40s were low on society’s pecking order.In the post-Mussolini era, Joe became an Italian ikon, hence Francis Ford Coppola’s intro to this idolatrous book.


This is a sad story and it is only 3 pages from the end as Joe is nearing death that we get a blinding insight: ”Marilyn, Frank and me were all working class kids. No one taught us this fame and fortune racket. In our own way it wounded us all.”


Dinner with DiMaggio is a fast food meal with very little to nourish us.At best it is a warning about the perils of celebrity and the absolute necessity of of deepening our interior lives lest we fall for “the fame and fortune ,low-calorie racket.”


Pride a rarity in Israel

October 16, 2017


I the LORD have called unto you in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and submitted you as the people’s covenant, as a light unto the nations” Isaiah 42:6.



Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz


There are many Israelis who deserve my pride and admiration, never mind the melody of HaTikvah which still manages to extract a tear, even though its lyrics have turned debatable over the years. The problem is that the moments of pride are increasingly few and far between.


A disgruntled prime minister who excels at spreading poison, along with corrupt government, embarrassing parliamentarians, shallow discourse, overbearing religion, growing nationalism, flourishing racism, diminishing tolerance, a democracy fighting for its life and the collective denial of 50 years of occupation and disenfranchisement of Palestinians – all of these have made pride a rarity and shame seem completely routine.


Many Israelis and perhaps even most Israelis would angrily reject this depiction, but for me and many Israelis of my generation, that’s the greatest shame of all. Nostalgia for the Israel that once existed has become toxic, often described as nothing more than condescending snobbism, but I would still venture that at least the dreams were rosier then. But even after one abandons the naive vision of an exemplary Jewish state that is a light unto the nations, the fact that Israel is resolutely dismantling the foundations of the proud and decent liberal democracy that it once strived to be is crushing. The reasonable assumption is that even a legion of Wonder Women can’t save us from ourselves any more, but at least on the eve of Rosh Hashanah we can pray that over the next year, pride will beat out shame. Chemi Shalev

Penguins—Victims of SportsWorld

October 11, 2017


Look at them, all those white boys meeting with Donald Trump unwilling and probably unable to understand how pathetic their actions are.
Sidney Crosby, by all reports a very decent human being, comes up with the lame,”it’s not political”excuse. It is very political. It was political when fans boycotted South African rugby tours, when Mohammed Ali refused induction into a war described by comedian Dick Gregory as “white people sending black people to kill yellow people.”




Rabbi Heschel reminded us “By whatever we do, by every act we carry out, we either advance or obstruct the drama of redemption.” There is one world and sport is not divorced from that world. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Sidney Crosby blinded by their celebrity status, by their cocoon-like existence “obstructed the drama of redemption.” They failed the test of solidarity.


Crosby like so many cultural icons and media celebrity is sadly encased in that parallel universe called SportsWorld. In that rarified bubble, whether they like it or not, celebs  are “godded up” by fans who place them on this pedestal where nothing of societal commitment  is ever demanded of them. They are not bad people but they are indolent and intellectually slovenly because they can be when all their physical needs are looked after.


“Living easy is dangerous,” Nietzsche reminded us and these millionaire hockey players and billionaire NFL owners are unable to break out of their pampered world. Where have you ever seen any Canadian hockey star break through the confining walls of SportsWorld and become an advocate of social justice? The examples are few and far between. Even in retirement these hockey ikons accept their elevated cultural status. In effect they never grow up.


Probably the most succinct statement I have read on the victims of SportsWorld was that of Raptor’s guard Kyle Lowry: “I am a citizen before I am a basketball player.”
It is sad to see all these largely Canadian white faces used as stooges by a White house which has become the enemy of the common good, the poor and the environment.
It is depressing to see these white robots mired in f their white privilege unable to show some solidarity with the largely Afro-American football players daring to challenge a racist America.


The perils of SportsWorld.

Evil in Vegas: the craven politicians

October 4, 2017

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut who once represented the district containing Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed in a 2012 school shooting. had some blunt and prophetic words after the latest and greatest mass murder in US history.


Words which will probably go unheeded as so many of these politicians are bought and paid for by 2 lobbies: guns and Israel. Talk about Love and Marriage.Guns and Israel always go together. Israel is one of the biggest gun runners in the world.its latest shameless sale was to Myanmar. Nuff said and scusi while I digress.


All over the major networks you hear the word “evil” attributed justly to the sick shooter, a sad undeveloped human being who caused such community havoc and so much pain to innocent people.


You want to talk evil? Focus on the craven politicians who yearly fail the test of integrity and decency. This is institutional evil, corruption on a grand scale which easily surpasses the sin of the deranged murderer.


Murphy reminds the world:

“Nowhere but America do horrific large-scale mass shootings happen with this degree of regularity. Last night’s massacre may go down as the deadliest in our nation’s history, but already this year there have been more mass shootings than days in the year.”

“This must stop, It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren’t public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It’s time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.”

And it’s time for all Americans to cease saying that America is the greatest country in the world. America leads the world in but 3 categories:

1.Number of incarcerated citizens per capita,
2 .Number of adults who believe angels are real, and
3 ,Defense spending.

Finally as we all know, the United States has more guns and gun deaths than any other developed country in the world.


Time to get off its ass.






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