The Big 50

From the Omaha World Herald:

After 50 years, Nebraska’s Radio Talking Book Service is finding new ways to help blind people
Emily Nitcher May 7, 2024 Updated May 10, 2024

As 11 a.m. approaches, Ryan Osentowski waits for his cue.
He puts on a pair of headphones and gets ready to speak into the microphone in front of him.
Any second now, MeMe Smith and Larry Thornton will finish the first hour of reading that day’s editions of the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star on Radio Talking Book Service.
“It is time for our star across the glass here, Ryan, to take over the mic because we’re going to take a short break …” Thornton says, looking through the studio window at Osentowski.
Osentowski, the station manager, takes it from there.
“Thank you very much, Larry and MeMe …,” Osentowski says before introducing a string of advertisements and public service announcements.
The break will give Smith and Thornton, both volunteers, an opportunity to stretch their legs and rest their voices before jumping back on air to finish reading Nebraska’s two largest newspapers to thousands of listeners from Omaha to Scottsbluff in the Panhandle.
For 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Radio Talking Book Service provides programming for listeners who are blind, low vision or print impaired. It broadcasts over the radio and internet on radios and smart speakers given to listeners at no cost.
“We are providing for a group of people that most people don’t care about,” said Osentowski, who is blind.
Smith and Thornton’s broadcast lasts about two hours. Then Osentowski fills the 22 other hours of the day with pre-recorded programming from more than 80 volunteers who provide more than 90 hours of programming a week.
The volunteers also read 21 regional newspapers like the Fremont Tribune, Grand Island Independent and Columbus Telegram. They read the weekly grocery and department store ads so people can plan their shopping trips around what’s on sale. One volunteer reads recipes, making sure her broadcast corresponds with upcoming holidays and events.
The voices on the radio have changed as volunteers come and go, but this year marks 50 years of Radio Talking Book Service being a constant source of news and entertainment for the people who need it.
Osentowski used the recent tornadoes in Nebraska and Iowa as an example.
“What just happened, sure, people can listen to their radio and television, but what about the aftermath?” he said. “Who’s going to tell them about the damage in Elkhorn? Who’s going to read them the newspaper? We do it. We bring information from newspapers, magazines and the otherwise printed word that they can’t read themselves.”
Most of the listeners, 82%, are over the age of 65, said Bekah Jerde, executive director of Radio Talking Book Service. She said many of them have aged into vision loss and want to reconnect to the things they used to enjoy. One woman told Jerde she subscribed to The World-Herald for 50 years and missed it when she could no longer read it herself.
Services for the blind change with the times
While the mission of Radio Talking Book Service has remained the same since Dr. Craig Fullerton founded it in 1974, technology has not. That led to some tough conversations between Jerde and others in 2016.
In 2015, the service had 574 documented listeners. Listenership had plummeted for several reasons, including the 2009 requirement that television stations stop broadcasting analog signals. Suddenly, Jerde said, thousands of listeners could no longer use their TVs to hear Radio Talking Book Service.
“In 2016, you were looking at all of it and you felt that heavy question of relevancy and how can we move forward?” Jerde said.
The answer came in the form of streaming, smart speakers and more intentional programming.
Now, when listeners request access to Radio Talking Book Service they can choose between a radio or a smart speaker making the broadcasts available to anyone with internet service. That includes those in rural areas the FM signal won’t reach.
The service added more newspapers to the lineup going from seven to 21. It added a statewide newscast in Spanish. And launched audio description services for people attending local theater performances, exhibits, parades and more.
It also downsized Radio Talking Book Service’s office at Omaha’s 7101 Newport Ave., near Immanuel Medical Center.
Little by little, Jerde said the numbers have climbed again. In 2024, it had about 12,000 listeners.
“I’m excited for the next 50 years because I think we are relevant in so many ways,” Jerde said.
Radio Talking Book Service does not receive state or federal funding. Jerde said about 60% of the service’s funding comes from private foundations and grants, 18 to 20% from individual donors and 17 to 19% from civic organizations.
Most states have a radio reading service like what is provided by Radio Talking Book Service in Nebraska. They can share programming which Jerde said helps fill gaps if volunteers get sick or can’t make their recording.
‘Blind people are human beings’
Jerde and Osentowski said the service couldn’t exist without the dedication of volunteers who take time to read the material so it can be broadcast throughout the state.
Volunteers find the service through word of mouth. Jerde said one man recruited three people from his spin class. Some volunteers, like teachers, have experience reading out loud, but it’s not required.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to be commercial, but it just has to be someone who is vested emotionally in the material,” Osentowski said of the recordings.
Jerde said they ask volunteers to read everything. In the past, volunteers have skipped articles in newspapers or magazines about art exhibits or mushroom foraging because they thought it might make their blind and low-vision listeners feel bad.
Jerde said it’s not the service’s job to limit subjects available to listeners because they are so varied in their interests and capabilities.
Cami Cavanaugh Rawlings, who hosts a program called Community Conversations, once booked a fireworks expert for the show. After initially feeling good about the booking, Cavanaugh Rawlings began to question the choice. Do low vision and blind people go to fireworks shows?
Cavanaugh Rawlings consulted Osentowski. Of course they do, Osentowski said.
Give Osentowski the time, and he could spend all day listing the misconceptions about blind people. No, blind people don’t have super senses because they can’t see, they’re not all musically gifted and they don’t all have guide dogs.
“Blind people are human beings,” Osentowski said. “We’re limited in the fact that we can’t see, but we still have the same gifts and curses that everyone else has got.”
To learn how to get a radio or how to volunteer, visit Radio Talking Book Service’s website at

I hope you enjoyed reading the article as much as we did. Thanks to Emily Nitcher for her wonderful article. Kudos to Nikos Frazier, who was the photographer who took all of the pictures that I removed from this blind-friendly, text-based version. Screen readers don’t dance with pictures. I’m not trying to undercut the Omaha World Herald, who originally published the article, or the Lincoln Journal Star, who just reprinted it. I’m merely pasting this in my scrapbook because I think it’s a milestone for me and for our organization.

The funniest part of this whole business is that I was supposed to be back in Denver long ago. Three months after I came to Omaha, I was dead sure that moving here was a mistake. Yet, here I am six-and-a-half years later, doing a job I love in a city in which I’ve grown comfortable. Yes, the sidewalk situation still sucks and I now travel almost exclusively using ridesharing instead of the bus, but whatever. Omaha is okay for me.

As for RTBS, it’s the best job I’ve ever had, bar none. That is in no small part thanks to Jane Nielsen, Bekah Jerde, MeMe Smith, Cami Rawlings, the artist known as Queenie, the three angels at our front desk, a very supportive board of directors, our faithful listeners, and the dozens of volunteers who color our world with their presence every week.

As I’ve written in other entries here, I understand the employment situation from every angle. I’ve been unemployed, I’ve worked in jobs that were stressful, toxic and soul-crushing, and I’ve held jobs that were just all right, but that didn’t really challenge me. None of them come close to the fulfilment I get every day when I go to work at RTBS. I hear a lot of my blind friends complain about their jobs. Every time they do, I sit back quietly and thank God that I paid my dues long enough to hold a job I love, working with people whom I love and respect. I’m not lauding my situation over anyone else. I’m just counting my blessings.

Sure, the job isn’t perfect. Nothing in life is. But it’s perfect for me at this moment in time. We are lucky and humbled to have made it to 50. That is an amazing accomplishment in the nonprofit world. Here’s to another 50 being Nebraska’s audio companion.

Ryan Osentowski – RTBS Program Director

Bad Seed

I’d like to have a good laugh over the latest lament of the Columbia student protesters. They’ve occupied Hamilton Hall and now they are outraged that no one is bringing them food and water. They think they have a right to burritos, Red Bull and melatonin gummies on…like…humanitarian grounds or whatever. This is the height of white, entitled, western arrogance (everything the students think they are decrying) and they are incapable of absorbing the irony.

Yes, I’d like to laugh, but it’s really not funny. When the University of Florida arrested protesters and released a statement saying, in part, “The University of Florida is not a daycare,” I let out a silent cheer. Hell! Yeah! Bounce these snot-nosed brats out into the street and show them that their actions have consequences.

The sad truth is, while these students must accept responsibility for what they are doing, the adults are the ones who have failed. We have failed the children, we have failed our institutions of higher learning and, in many ways, we are failing society.

About 20 years ago, I was listening to the Sean Hannity Show on radio when a college kid phoned in. He said something like, “I’m a conservative student in college. How do I deal with my professors who are way left?”

Hannity’s response was, “I feel ya, kid. My best advice to you is to just go along, take the good grade and make your way in the real world after you graduate.” I’m pretty sure I heard similar conversations play out on the Rush Limbaugh Show in the ‘90’s.

I think this is what a lot of moms and dads across America have been doing since the 1960’s when widespread campus activism first appeared. They simply looked at Junior’s grades at the end of each semester and said, “Good job, sons and daughters. Keep it up.” They never really bothered to ask what the students were learning. They never pushed back when Junior started spewing nonsense about anti-colonialism, decadent western capitalism, or the theory of intersectionality. Mom and dad would just smile and nod when the grades came home and would happily write another check for the college when the tuition bill came due.

Well, the bill is really coming due now.

The first evidence of it came during the pandemic when students had to learn remotely while schools and campuses were closed and mom and dad started to figure out what their high school and college brats were being fed. Then, they really started to wake up when the race riots broke loose in the summer of 2020. Remember the kerfuffle over Critical Race Theory? It feels like ages ago. Then came the firestorm of trans rights, men on girls’ sports teams and shared bathrooms between all genders. Yeah…the good old days.

Parents started forming committees to protest at schoolboards. Conservatives started trying to make more serious runs for public office in hope of beating back the forces of anti-Americanism. Donors began to hesitate before cutting their university of choice another check. A lot of parents started saying, “Where is my kid and what have you done with him/her/then/it?”

Now, with the explosion of antisemitism and flagrant lawlessness that has erupted at colleges across the country, Mr. and Mrs. Mom and Dad are really awake. But…too little, too late. We’ve now raised a generation of anxiety-ridden children who have been indoctrinated to the idea that traditional learning with an eye toward critical thinking pales in comparison to so-called lived experiences and education through activism; said activism being of the leftist persuasion.

But it’s not just the parents who have failed. Gutless cowards who sit in the administrative offices at these elite colleges have also failed.

I spent some time with a headshrinker about eight years ago. The most important thing she taught me was that personal boundaries matter. If you don’t construct both internal and external boundaries in your life, you will always be adrift in some way. This was one of the most valuable life lessons I ever learned. I wish I’d learned it earlier.

By not demonstrating to these kids that their actions have consequences, these administrators are proving that boundaries don’t matter. This is why the Columbia kids who have now occupied a campus building are demanding amnesty for their actions. They don’t want the evidence of what they’ve done to dog them for the rest of their lives. “But they have a point, squishy adults cry in response. Didn’t we all do dumb things when we were young?” Of course we did, but we didn’t break windows, harass students based on their ethnicity or religion and occupy a building in the name of a conflict happening thousands of miles away.

And who do these students have to look to? Radical professors who have indoctrinated them with a one-sided ideology without the benefit of balance. Administrators who ignore one deadline after another for the sake of supposed empathy. Politicians who will use these protests for their own ends. And, of course, the ultimate failures in adulthood, two presidential candidates, neither of whom are worthy of holding the highest office in the land.

Sidebar: One aspect of the current campus drama that I really love is the cherry picking of constitutional rights. These kids are protesting in the name of their First Amendment rights as guaranteed by a document authored by a bunch of imperialist, slave-owning white men. I believe they are standing on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Yet, when it comes to freedom of the press, they are far less tolerant. Check out all of the videos on YouTube and see what happens to journalists (professional, student and civilian) who try to interview standard protesters or video the activities of the protesters. You will find it very instructive.

I never thought I would live to see the day when the word adult would be used in the noun, adjective and verb form, but here we are. Well, no matter how you implement the word, America has failed the adult test. And who will answer for these failures when Jewish students end up dead? Because that’s where I think this is heading. Who will pay the bill when there’s life blood on the ground?

Finally, on a separate but related note, I mentioned that today’s youth seem incapable of absorbing irony. Well, here’s the ultimate irony in all of this. Every time pro-Hamas students block Jewish students from entering a building in the name of so-called antizionism, they reinforce why Israel must exist. Every time people tear down hostage posters, they remind Jews of why they really aren’t welcome or equal in western society. Every time politicians employ anti-Semitic slogans, or deliberately misuse inflammatory words like, “genocide,” or “apartheid,” they remind Jews that there is only one government in the world that will really defend them. Every time they deny or downplay the mass rape and slaughter of Israeli citizens in the name of so-called, “resistance,” they show their true evil. There will always be Jews who will stand with the anti-Semites, for both good and bad faith reasons, they too will soon learn how things really are.

Will they learn too late? God only knows. But sooner or later, their bill will come due and they will have no choice but to pay it.

This is a very adult concept, isn’t it?

It is 7:48 Pm Central Standard Time as my fingers type these words. I see tweets indicating that the NYPD may be about to raid Columbia. Good luck, kids. You won’t like jail food, but at least you’ll be hydrated and won’t starve to death.

Faugh! Go tell it to Nika Shakarami.

The Juice

I don’t remember exactly where I was on June 12, 1994, when Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were brutally murdered. Based on the timeline, I’m sure I was in Selleck Hall on UNL campus, attending summer classes. I was probably hanging out in my room watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when the news broke like distant thunder in a dark sky. I don’t remember where I was during the tense Ford Bronco chase either. I was probably taking a nap.

I do remember exactly where I was and what I was doing on October 2, 1995, when the verdict in the trial of the century was read. Like most of America, including children in classrooms across the country, I was tuned in and watching. I was in my room on the second floor of Selleck Hall’s main building, located right next to the elevator and directly above the famous dining hall. I was lying on my bed in front of my small TV with my room door open, as many guys on the floor did during the day hours. I watched in horror as the court clerk read the verdict, finding O.J. Simpson not guilty of murder. I remember hearing crying from the courtroom, as well as someone screaming, “No!”

What happened next is seared into my memory. A guy named Kenji, an African-American student who lived across the hall from me, began screaming and shouting. They weren’t screams of anger, outrage or fear. They were celebratory in nature, as if his football team just won the Super Bowl. I lay on my bed and choked down my anger as several other voices on the floor also joined in the cheers and whooping.

That moment was when I really got it for the first time. I saw the great racial divide that exists in America. Sure, I’d watched the Rodney King drama unfold three years earlier, but the names and voices from L.A. were just concepts coming to me out of the air. And sure, I’d been lectured at by sanctimonious professors in classrooms about racism and such. The Simpson verdict was when I really got the point.

In that moment as I listened to Kenji rejoicing over the liberation of a guy who butchered the mother of his kids, I hated the fucker. I didn’t hate him because he was black. Kenji and I served together in Selleck government and I always liked the guy. But now, I hated him for cheering on a rich asshole who literally got away with murder.

Nine years later, I was attending an NFBNewsline seminar in Baltimore. I was in a room known as the Quadrangle, a large space that held four beds. I had three roommates. Two of them were black. Somehow, the subject of O.J. Simpson came up. I remember feeling outnumbered and attacked as I stated that I was dead certain that O.J. had gotten away with murder. The two of them laughed at me. I remember the laughter to this day. It was scornful, mocking and derisive. They were confident in their assurance that O.J. had been framed for murder. Based on the way Nicole and Ron’s throats had been cut, it had obviously been done by gangsters to whom O.J. owed gambling debts. The murders were a warning to O.J. to either pay up or die. That’s why he ran. He feared for his life.

These two guys are suckers, I thought. They actually think that O.J. was innocent. They are buying into a conspiracy theory that has no basis in fact.

Now, after the death of O.J. Simpson four days ago from cancer at age 76, I have come to doubt my initial impulse. It was born of reflexive vexation for being mocked as if I were a loveable but simple child. Looking back on it, I firmly believe that both men knew full well that O.J. was guilty. They knew the truth for what it was, but they chose to advance a certain narrative in solidarity with their community. In other words, they were gaslighting me. They were gaslighting a dumb hick from Nebraska who didn’t know what it was like to grow up black in Atlanta. They were contemptuous of a white boy who just didn’t get black anger in America. They were chiding a clueless idiot who didn’t understand the healthy, well-earned suspicion that many black people harbored toward the police. That Ryan O. was a nice enough guy, but he was naïve at best, ignorant at worst. Yes, they had very good reasons to lie to me, but they were lying none the less.

How do I know they were gaslighting me? Because, I’ve experienced it time after time after time over the past 10 years. It’s been done again and again for the same reasons. The pattern is sickeningly familiar. The reasons are varied, from supporting a certain political candidate to protecting society from an invisible disease to condemning a foreign country for defending itself. But the motives, benevolent at the beginning and sinister as they mushroom, are always the same. If the stakes are high enough, the lie is a noble one. It has to be told to serve a greater good. If you choose not to believe this lie and engage in a full-throated support of it, you are the problem. You are racist. You are sexist. You are Islamophobic, or transphobic, or whatever the cause du jour might entail. You are bigoted and close-minded. You’re a dupe for the invisible puppet masters pulling the strings. You are the true enemy and you deserve to be canceled, shunned, ridiculed and maybe even to have righteous violence visited upon you.

How ironic that the reasons for those noble lies often come back to the doorsteps of those who are rich, powerful and influential in society. Maybe they are politically influential. Maybe they are culturally influential. But, at the end of the day, they have money and success, so morality must take a hit in the name of service to a certain community.

I’m not writing this to relitigate the O.J. trial. If anyone is interested, there are hours and hours of retrospective analysis and raw historical footage that you can view from any lens if you wish to understand what it was like to live through that time. I’ve already said that I believe he was guilty and that he got away with murder. Unless the real killers should magically turn up with smoking gun evidence, my view on this will never change.

My reasons for writing about this now are merely to take note of the fact that our modern age of mass gaslighting didn’t start when Donald Trump first ran for president in 2016. It didn’t start when he won that election. It didn’t start when COVID-19 broke free into the world. It didn’t start when George Floyd was murdered. It didn’t start when a violent mob assaulted the U.S. Capital on January 6, 2021. It didn’t start when Russia invaded Ukraine, or Hamas raped and massacred thousands of Israeli citizens on October 7, 2023.

It didn’t even really start when certain voices began to excuse 9/11, or when Bill Clinton avoided paying a political price for the Monica Lewinsky affair. To my mind, our modern age of mass gaslighting started on October 2, 1995, when an entire segment of the country knew that a rich and powerful man murdered his wife and an inconvenient bystander and got away with it because he had the means to hire the best lawyers that money could buy, and they carried his water anyway, knowing damn well that the story wasn’t true. The modern gaslighting age started when the internet was only in its infancy, cellular phones were a rare luxury and you actually had to go to the library to do research. DNA was a semi-magical concept shrouded in the respectability of science, but still elusive to the masses.

How the acquittal of O.J. Simpson on double murder charges has served the larger interests of the African-American community is beyond me. I certainly know how it served the activist class, including certain journalists, pundits and academics who have a vested interest in the racial grievance game. But how it served the interests of the average, decent mom and pap folks who just want to make it through life with their fair share of dignity, respect and opportunity that goes beyond their skin color…I have no idea.

Supposedly, video has surfaced of one of the jurors from the O.J. murder trial admitting that everyone on the jury knew that he was guilty, but they wanted revenge for the Rodney King beating in 1992. I appreciate the candor. I’d rather hear unpleasant truths than be lied to for the advancement of some self-serving fiction. On the other side of it, the implicit understanding is that O.J.’s subsequent conviction for robbery in 2007 at the hands of an all-white jury was payback in kind for his skating on the murder charges in 1994. He served 10 years in prison, which was merely a fraction of what he actually deserved, but at least it was something. In the meantime, it looks as if O.J. was able to get away with not paying the bulk of the hefty judgement against him leveled by the Goldman family in the wrongful death civil suit.

And so, round and round we go, tit-for-tat. Each side in the grievance game can hold up their chosen avatar when the argument comes. The white folks have O.J. Simpson, who should’ve died of cancer while serving a life sentence in prison. The left has Mark ‘scumbag’ Fuhrman, who still enjoys being a celebrity contributor on Fox News. It appears that this is how we will be playing the grievance game for the next while. There does not appear to be an off-ramp on this doom carousel. Only God will decide when he’s ready to turn off the music.

I have no idea what became of Kenji. We were never close. I do hope he’s well. I do know that one of the two gentlemen I argued with in the Quadrangle became very prominent in NFB leadership. I heard from reliable sources that he ran cover for Fred Schroeder long before the sexual scandal broke in 2020. How appropriate that he had a chance to sharpen his gaslighting skills and that he could be useful to the so-called, “greater good.”

Incidentally, I do recommend the limited series, American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson, aired eight years ago on F-X. There are some unfortunate casting choices to be sure. Cuba Gooding Jr. was a terrible choice to play O.J., and John Travolta was cartoonish as Robert Shapiro. But the story is saved by excellent performances by Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark, Courtney B. Vance as Johnny Cochran, David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian (Kim’s dad) and especially by Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden. The writing is thoughtful and deliberate, taking no definite positions about guilt or innocence amidst the growing circus of the trial. If you can find it, it’s well worth your time, unlike the successive ACS series concerning the Bill Clinton impeachment saga. I have not yet watched the five-part documentary, O.J. Simpson: Made in America.

God bless the Brown and Goldman families. God bless O.J.’s kids. They didn’t ask for this. And God help America. You can turn off the music any time now, Big Daddy.

Burn Notice

On July 23, 2020, David French wrote a column for The Dispatch titled, “Dump Trump, But Don’t Burn Down the GOP.” His premise was simple. The GOP should eject Donald Trump, but many who were carrying his banner should be given grace and space to mend their ways. After all, how do you fight the president of the United States when he’s your party’s standard bearer?

I was in earnest agreement with David French. Remember that, at the time that he wrote those words, America was still in the grips of the pandemic, as well as a summer of rage in which ravenous mobs were burning, looting and toppling statues in the name of the slain George Floyd. Sure, Trump had to go, but the GOP was still the best alternative to the Democrats and their tacit approval to the marauders.

French’s column was written before the 2020 election, before the COVID vaccines became available, before January 6, before the FBI raided Maralago, before Russia invaded Ukraine, before Trump’s many indictments and legal losses, before Fox News settled a massive lawsuit with Dominion Voting Systems, before the Israeli-Hamas war and, most important, before Joe Biden’s advanced age became a glaring liability.

Now, here we are in March of 2024. After a lot of quiet desperation in many quarters of the right, the primaries have come to not. Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswami and Mike Pence all proved to be paper tigers in the face of Trump and what he represents. I have never seen a primary season that was so full of hope and promise early on, only to crumble into utter futility before it had ever got started.

We are now left with the choice between a doddering old man who can barely walk and talk, and a narcissistic man-child criminal who, if he should be re-elected, will enter his second term with a vengeful hit list.

Who’s responsible for this predicament? Sure, you can blame the primary voters. It’s no small matter that Trump had been given up for dead before he was indicted. The other candidates gave it their best shot in the debates and their various campaigns, but the politics of normality proved to be a grand exercise in futility. The voters merely responded to the choices before them and they chose.

Sure, the voters gave us Trump for a third time, but here’s the real question. Why was Trump in a position to run again? Why was he not impeached and convicted after January 6? The evidence was ample that he was complicit on some level. If there doesn’t turn out to be enough evidence to convict him in a court of law, so be it. But impeachment is not a legal process. It is a political process designed for the exact crisis that Trump sparked when he sicked the mob on the U.S. Capital.

If Trump had been impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate, he would have no longer been eligible to run for office again. We would not now be facing the beggar’s choice that has been forced upon us by the two parties.

Mitch McConnell, who is leaving at the end of this year, is chiefly to blame. He could’ve picked up the ball and run with it while the fence was still being rebuilt and feelings were raw in the days after the siege on the capital, McConnell is a master political chessman and should have foreseen what would happen. But, he didn’t. Instead, he is rumored to have said, “We’ll just let the Democrats take care of the son of a bitch.” Now, with the end of his long political career in sight, did McConnell finally unload on Trump? Nope. He endorsed him once again.

Shortly after Trump left Washington, Kevin McCarthy went to Maralago and kissed the ring. He didn’t have to go. He could’ve turned his back on Trump once and for all. By going to Maralago and bending the knee to Trump once again, McCarthy re-legitimized the man who, to this day, traffics in wild conspiracy theories about stolen elections. Theories which, not inconsequentially, have been shot down in courts of law again…and again…and again. As for Kevin McCarthy, Trump’s loyal fan base rewarded him by granting him the shortest gig as Speaker of the House in history.

The GOP didn’t have to run Liz Cheney out of town on a rail. If they truly believed she was a threat, they could’ve kept her close and tried to manage her, even as she sat on the January 6th Committee. But they didn’t. Liz Cheney is out of office and is on a book tour peddling her memoirs. The only other vocal Trump critic, Senator Mitt Romney, will be gone next year.

So, here we are. The GOP controls the House, but only by a razor-thin majority that keeps getting thinner as more and more decent and honorable congressmen head for the door after wearying of a toxic, dysfunctional climate that has been hijacked by MAGA sycophants that care more about performance than policy. After bargaining and clawing his way to the speakership, Kevin McCarthy lasted eight months before he was ousted by the nutjob Freedom Caucus. His successor, Mike Johnson, doesn’t look like he’ll fare any better. No major policy achievements can be had in the House while chaos holds sway at the top.

It looks as if the only functional branch of government is the judicial. The Supreme Court is doing its job. The current conservative majority was a win for President Trump 1.0, but now he has promised to cast aside the Federalist Society and go with more MAGA judges should he be returned to office. Wow. I sure am heartened by this.

Some have argued that many Republicans were scared to impeach Trump because they were in fear for their lives. This is a reasonable concern. Threats of violence leveled against those in political office are well documented. But here’s the problem. In our current scenario, we’re going to get violence no matter who wins in November.

If Trump wins, as many polls suggest that he might, the radical left will take to the streets and resurrect their rage-fueled tactics in Washington. The Democrats have long established a permission structure for leftist street justice. November, 2024 will be no exception. In fact, I think the summer of rage will be a picnic compared to the violence we’ll see if Trump wins again.

If Trump loses, he sure as hell won’t go gently into that dark night. He’ll scream about rigged elections again and his rabid followers will mount another siege on institutions of power. By not impeaching Trump and downplaying the seriousness of the January 6th riot, the GOP has negated its credibility as the party of law and order.

Either way this country goes, we’re screwed.

And I have barely touched on the various shit shows going on outside of our borders. If Russia, China, Iran or Canada decides to escalate, America is ill-equipped to defend itself. Our military recruitment is down. Our education system is in tatters. Our happiness index is now outside the top 20 countries. Social media has infected our discourse with a noxious blend of simplistic and juvenile banter. It really is a dark time for the rebellion.

What is the solution? I have no freakin’ idea. We’ve painted ourselves into a very, very dark corner and I don’t see a way out that doesn’t involve blood, fire and death. Think I’m being melodramatic? Replay the last decade in your mind and tell me I’m being a fear monger. I only have one immediate answer for all of this. BURN DOWN THE GOP!

They have faced their moment of truth and they have utterly failed the test. The first time around, Trump was an unknown quantity who took the country and the GOP by storm. No one was prepared for him. No one knew how to deal with him. No one could manage him. Any accomplishments of Trump 1.0 were overshadowed by his shoddy leadership during the pandemic, let alone his unforgiveable conduct after he lost the 2020 election. But now, every single GOP politician, operative, pundit and voter knows exactly who and what they’re getting if they pull the lever for him again. They can lie to themselves and those around them, but they know.

Sadly, this won’t stop anyone from engaging in rampant self-delusion. I have a dear friend (I won’t say her name because I love and respect her), but she has watched her local GOP party be hijacked and taken over by MAGA thugs who don’t give a damn about political pragmatism. Mouth-breathers like Matt Innis, who take their marching orders from Steve Bannon, only want to stand atop the battlements in all of their tumescent glory and watch good men like Congressman Don Bacon and Governor Jim Pillen fall. She has witnessed their strong-arm tactics first hand and she is disgusted. When I tell her that these people are a result of unchecked Trumpism, she doesn’t argue. “I know,” she says with a sigh. Yet, she is bound and determined to vote for Trump in November because, “Biden is worse.”

Is Biden really worse? I think he’s a disaster, just as President Kamala Harris would be a disaster. President Harris is who we’ll likely end up with if Biden is re-elected. There’s no way he makes it through another four years. He didn’t have the brains or balls to carry us through these times of tumult 20 or 30 years ago, let alone now. Biden is a windy scumbag who only got where he is because he rode Obama’s coat tails. So, thank you, President Obama, for giving us President Biden and very likely President Harris at some point.

I’m sure as hell not going to vote for Biden. Unlike those idiots at The Bulwark, I don’t see Democrats as the reasonable alternative to Trump. They have their own internal strife and authoritarian tendencies that will only become more apparent as they continue to hold on to power. My solution is more conservative candidates. No conservative Democrat has a prayer right now.

This, barring any legal or medical intervening event, is the choice that awaits us in seven months. It’s like going into a restaurant and being handed a menu with only two choices; a cat shit sandwich, or doggy diarrhea stew. Either way we go, we’re gonna wake up with brown teeth.

Sidebar: RFK Jr. is a crackpot. He is not going to be the next president of the United States. Any support for him is wasted. No Labels can’t get it up. Cornel West isn’t even worth a conversation.

Still, at least Biden is a remnant of the institution. If the psycho left wants to burn them down, that’s on them. The revolution always eats its own in the end. Just ask AOC, who can’t even go to the movies without being harassed by pro-Hamas goons. That’s not within my purview. I was once a loyal GOP member and it is no longer a party that I recognize or respect. There are still many good people in it, but they are quickly becoming a minority.

While many state parties across the country like Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Arizona and Nebraska descend into turmoil and financial ruin, Trump has driven Ronna McDaniel out of leadership of the Republican National Committee. You see how her loyalty was rewarded after she stuck by him during his presidency and the aftermath? In her place, we now have Lara Trump, who got the job as co-chair because she is Donald’s daughter-in-law. Yeah…nepotism always works out so well. Observers have noted that a resolution demanding that the RNC not use its coughers to pay for Trump’s mounting legal bills was dead in the water. A dollar given to the RNC will now likely pay Trump’s lawyers, not any struggling state party. It’s also noteworthy that almost none of the people who served in Trump’s first administration have endorsed him this time around. And yet, Trump prevails with a growing list of endorsements from full-throated supporters to reluctant hangers-on.

So, burn it down. Burn it all down. Not literally, of course. I am unalterably opposed to political violence in a free society. But the GOP must be decimated in its current form. Starve it of all oxygen by withholding your time, your money and your public support. Cast your votes for individual candidates based on character and policy, not slogans and shit talk. Don’t volunteer for your local parties anymore. Spend your time and energy in other ways that feed your soul with productivity and happiness. Let the GOP die the death by immolation that it deserves. The only way they will die is if they lose…and lose…and lose…until they become tired of losing and throw themselves upon the mercy of the bankruptcy court.

This brings up an interesting point. Sometimes, you can find glory In losing. Just ask the left, who loves to revel in victimhood. It’s possible that figures like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Green enjoy losing. But do we really want to lose a possible war with China? Do we really want to see abortion become national law? Do we really want to see the national debt continue to skyrocket? Do we really want to continue with a flood of unchecked immigrants pouring over our southern border? Maybe psychos like Jim Jordan and Lauren Boebert do, but I sure as hell don’t. But if we stick with Trump, we will pay a price that America just can’t afford.

What does David French think now? Who knows. He left The Dispatch a few years ago and now writes a column for the New York Times. I like David, but I’m not giving the NYT a dime. Best of luck to him as he will inevitably write something that will displease the leftist jackals who now run the paper. This is where the media should be a comfort, but sadly, they’ve de-evolved into megaphones for their various echo chambers. Outlets like The Dispatch, where my pal Rachel Carver now freelances, are about as effective as a wet candle in a black-out.

My only further advice is that everyone reading this should buy a gun and put it under lock and key for a few months. This is not a joke. It is not my characteristic flippancy. It’s not a call to violence. November is going to be very bloody and all good people should be prepared to defend themselves against shitbirds who will take advantage of the coming chaos to line their own pockets and settle scores. If you’re Jewish, sleep with one gun under your pillow and another one strapped to your ankle. When shit hits the fan, y’all will be catching flak from both sides.

Finally, my apologies that Jeffrey Donovan and Bruce Campbell did not appear in this entry. Sorry for the false hope. It’s 2024. You all should be used to false hope by now. Sam Axe for president!

Somethin’ From the Oven

In the autumn of 2012, the NFB community was shaken to learn that the national office was laying off 19 staff members at its headquarters in Baltimore. For those of you uninitiated readers, understand two things. The National Federation of the Blind was considered to be the largest and most influential voice of the organized blind in America. Also, employment is a much sought after, often elusive goal for blind people. As I have explained elsewhere in these pages, the NFB often served as the intersection between community and employment for many of its members.

So it was understandable why my friend Amy got roaring drunk on the eve of the convention of the Nebraska affiliate of the NFB in October, 2012. Amy was a loyal member of the Federation and had been an employee at the national office for about two years. Her job was safe, but some of her friends and coworkers were not. Amy wasn’t sure if her situation would continue to be secure going forward. So, she got shitfaced, then spent the next day nursing a hangover with crackers and water in her hotel room as the convention kicked off.

At the time, I was living in Colorado. I happened to be back in my home state standing as godfather to my new niece, if you can believe it. I attended her christening, then went to the NFBN convention the next day. It was a strange feeling being back amongst my fellow blind Nebraskans. I felt like an outsider looking in.

The sharpest memory that comes from that weekend was provided by Jim Gashel, fellow Coloradoan and national representative for the Baltimore headquarters. For those unwashed in the blood of the lamb, each state convention gets a national rep who comes with the proxy of the national president of the organization. It Is customary for each rep to deliver a report to the assembled convention body during the general session, as well as a keynote speech during the evening banquet. For me, it was often an excuse to go hit the head and grab some NABS snacks in the back of the room.

During Gashel’s remarks, he brought up the topic of the mass layoffs in Baltimore. This was 11 years ago, so I’m paraphrasing, but his remarks went something like, “Dr. Marc Maurer made the very difficult but necessary decision to lay off a portion of the staff.” At that point, a few people applauded, then quickly ceased when they realized that the applause was not going to swell.

What happened next was pretty stunning. Gashel said, with no sense of empathy or irony, “No, go ahead. That’s an applause line.” So, people applauded on mass. Amy and I were dumbstruck. Did the audience understand that they were applauding the loss of 19 jobs? Of course, they were really applauding Marc Maurer’s courageous sacrifices that had to be made for the greater good. Whatever the angle, it was tactless, heartless and cruel.

I remembered Gashel’s applause line later on that evening. Our state president pulled several students aside and gave them a stern talking-to. Apparently, they were laughing and chitty-chatting during Gashel’s banquet keynote speech. His wife Susan was offended by their irreverence and lack of respect, so she let the higher-ups know of her displeasure. And, the kids got a lecture. I don’t know if they got sent to their rooms without any of Nancy Oltman’s prize-winning cake.

Think about the dichotomy of those two situations for a moment. Gashel wanted everyone to applaud the termination of 19 jobs from the national office, but there was no sense of loss or regret in his words. Later, his wife gets pissed at a couple of college kids for a lack of respect. Absorb these disparities and you’ll have a decent snapshot of the culture within the NFB.

Sidebar: Nancy Oltman’s cakes were the stuff of legends around Nebraska NFB circles. They really did put Pillsbury to shame. Some people paid hundreds of dollars at fundraising auctions just to own one of her cakes.

I was thinking of that fateful convention and Jim Gashel’s applause lines two days ago when I learned that Blind Inc., one of the three NFB training centers in Minneapolis, would be closing at the end of this week. Their official statement on the matters reads as follows:

“The Board of Directors of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Inc. (BLIND, Inc.) regrets to announce that we will temporarily suspend all of our programs and services as of January 1, 2024.
We take this action with heavy hearts. After extensive deliberation over our current financial and organizational obligations, we believe suspending operations at this time in order to make future plans is the best and most responsible available course of action. This decision comes after a review of compounded circumstances that have developed over a period of years, leaving our organization with inadequate resources to advance our mission at this time. One factor of this evaluation is that our current building, the Pillsbury Mansion, which is on the national historic registry, needs millions of dollars in renovations that must be done in a manner that preserves its historic character. Unfortunately, we have determined that we are not in a position to undertake the necessary building renovations while still providing quality adjustment-to-blindness training.
We recognize that this decision will be painful to our students, our dedicated staff, and to all of our supporters in the community. We acknowledge that it comes at a particularly difficult time, with the holiday season and new year upon us. We were not able to find a viable way to alter the timing of this decision. Our leadership is working with the National Federation of the Blind, Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Colorado Center for the Blind to help during this transition.
We deeply appreciate all of the work everyone affiliated with BLIND, Inc. has done over the past three decades to help blind people build the skills and confidence to live the lives they want. Our high-quality training has impacted thousands of people, not only the many students that have walked with us, but also the blind community who connect with the positive philosophy and high expectations demonstrated from our alumni and friends. With the continued support of our board, partners, and community, our goal in the coming months is to re-imagine what adjustment to blindness training can be, and to reopen our doors with fresh approaches and insights and on a sound financial footing.
BLIND, Inc, established in 1986, is a training center and community of blind and low-vision people, proudly affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. We believe blind people can do anything. Every day, we encourage and challenge each student. When you believe in yourself and experience a thriving community of positive blind people, nothing can hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Our mission and values will continue to guide us to dream without limits, be bold, and work with love. Thank you for your support.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Blind Inc. staff. Nothin’ says lovin’ like being fired for the holidays. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” “Frosty the snowman, was a jolly happy soul.” “Riccobono took an axe, and gave the center 40 whacks.” Hope you can find work in 2024, cuz we may or may not be back.

I have to say that this statement is a slight step up from Gashel’s callous “applause line” comment. At least they acknowledged the shitty timing of the decision. Still, you can hear the martyrdom dripping from each word, even amidst the boiler plate sloganeering. “Live the life you want,” indeed.

The underlying sentiment is pervasive within the NFB, but as I’ve learned after talking to others in the nonprofit sector over the years, it is not unique to them. The critical importance of the mission is often weaponized against anyone who wants to openly question the maltreatment of employees, or to suppress employees who wish to economically advance within the organization. “If you truly appreciated the lord’s work that we’re doing here, you’d understand that we have to sacrifice you to save others, Hell, if you really love us, you’ll applaud your sacrifice on the altar of the greater good.” I have no doubt that this message is being implicitly or explicitly transmitted to the soon-to-be former employees at Blind Inc. during this yuletide season.

I could parse and deconstruct the statement, but it would be futile at this juncture. There’s just too much I don’t know. I do seriously wonder why it wasn’t possible to relocate the program to more modern and affordable surroundings, but I’m sure a certain segment of the blind elite would find questions like this pedestrian and sophomoric, so I’ll just leave it lay. It’s also quite evident that there is a hell of a lot more going on here than just issues involving an outdated building. Many hard questions will need to be asked and answered over the coming months. Every dues-paying member of the NFB should be outraged by this sad development. I wish the general membership had the intestinal fortitude to press the leadership for the answers, but I am skeptical of any such outcome. I am also highly skeptical that there will ever be a Blind Inc. 2.0.

But back to 2012 for a moment. Lest Amy be embarrassed by my portrayal of her, I have to admit that she wasn’t the only person who got shitfaced that fateful October weekend. After the banquet, I began consuming alternate quantities of Fat Tire and something called a, Cattle Prod. My memories are really sketchy, but I think a Cattle Prod involved the fusion of Royal Crown Cola and Jack Daniels Whisky. I can’t be sure. By 1AM, I have a very fuzzy memory of being wheeled back to my room on a hotel dolly. Apparently, I sang karaoke versions of “Love, Me,” and “Mamas, Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” If you’re curious how it sounded, you can probably find a recording of it somewhere on the internet. It’s every bit as embarrassing as you might guess. I also vaguely remember drunk dialing my girlfriend in Denver and hugging a lot of people. I’m a big lovie bear when I drink.

At 4AM, I woke up on my hotel room floor, my pants around my ankles and a cold puddle underneath my stomach. I won’t mention my roommate’s name because he’s respectable now.

At 8AM, my dad called and said they’d be over to pick me up in an hour. So I showered quick, said goodbye to my fellow blind, all of whom seemed reserved in their expressions of affection toward me, and I went to our family cabin, where I tried to shake off my monstrous hangover and put on a good face in front of my new goddaughter. To this day, that convention drinking bout was the worst black-out episode I’ve ever had.

Two weeks later to the day, at the banquet of the NFB of Colorado state convention in Boulder, Julie Deden won an award for her exemplary service to the organization. I got so angry, I started banging my empty coffee cup on its saucer until someone in leadership told me to quit it or get out. I think I was on Fat Tire number six or seven at that point.

The next morning, I shamefully slinked out of the hotel without saying goodbye to anyone. I went home to my apartment, tried to sleep, and wound up with the dry heaves on the bathroom floor at about 11:30 AM. There, retching and grunting with bile in my throat, I looked in the metaphoric mirror and decided that I might…might have a drinking problem.

That part was easy. The part where I had to admit that I might…might have an NFB problem didn’t come for many years. But that, gentle readers, is a story for another blog entry.

As for Amy, she worked at NFB headquarters for a few more years. She eventually left the national office and moved to San Francisco, where she happily now shares her crackers and water with the homeless.

Does anyone remember Jim Gashel’s letter of, “caring concerns,” that he published two years ago in the wake of the NFB’s internal investigation of the sexual misconduct scandal? One can’t help but read it (particularly Section II) and get the sense that Gashel was being relegated to the storage closet of history. I read it and gave it the applause it deserved. I have no idea where Gashel is now or what he’s doing, but I doubt he’s in the unemployment line.

Before I depart, let me say that I’ve been pretty flippant in this entry. It’s what I do. But I genuinely feel bad for the men and women who got laid off from Blind Inc. Most paid NFB underlings are decent, hard-working people who honestly want to make a positive difference in the lives of the blind. Whatever incompetence transpired behind the scenes, the workers at Blind Inc. didn’t deserve the holiday shit sandwich they just got. As I’ve stated before, blind people can’t just lose their jobs and pick up and work for Uber or Chipotle to carry on through from paycheck to paycheck until a better job comes along. I really, really hope they’ll be all right.

Merry Christmas.

Silence is Complicity

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason I maintain this blog is so that there will be a record of my thoughts, feelings and actions if I should die unexpectedly. Who was Ryan O? What did he believe? Did he measure up to the standards that he set for himself? This blog will not persuade anyone of anything. It will not move the needle. I’m just another American nobody with a series of opinions. Let the record reflect that, after a certain point in my life, I tried to do the right thing when it mattered most. Or maybe I’m just writing down my thoughts so as to keep my own reality solidified in a world that seems to be tilting ever more toward the psychotic zone.

I think I’ve been pretty consistent in these pages in condemning sexual assault and misconduct. For those of you that are so inclined, check out my entries throughout 2016, particularly in Mid-October. Check out my very lengthy, very emotional entries in early 2021. Weigh those entries against what I’m about to write here.

Last Sunday, a clip of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal went viral on social media. Dana Bash was interviewing her and asked why politicians and women’s groups who claimed to stand against sexual violence were not more forceful in their condemnations of Hamas terrorists on October 7. Jayapal hemmed and hawed in typical politician fashion. The noteworthy part was when Bash pushed back on her, refusing to let her get away with the typical progressive stratagem of deflecting all criticism of Hamas back on Israel.

A day later, Jayapal came out with a statement, but it was too little, too late. Any reasonable person can and should read Jayapal’s tepid and tardy statement as a reaction to being publicly shamed. This was not a statement born of principle and conviction. It was a move born of embarrassment and damage control.

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood came out with a generic statement condemning Hamas. The United Nations for Women organization also recently came out with a statement condemning the actions of Hamas against Israeli women on October 7. All of these bodies, who claim to speak for women, did so only after mounting criticism that they were too slow to acknowledge that Israeli women had been systematically raped, tortured, kidnapped and murdered during the attack. It is also not a coincidence that the statements began to drop after female hostages were released from Hamas captivity.

Today is December 7. Two months ago, Israeli endured the worst attack and loss of life in one stroke since the Holocaust. The simple fact is that female politicians and activists, as well as groups purporting to speak for women, have been shamefully silent on this issue. This despite the fact that, unlike many claims of sexual violence which ultimately boil down to ‘he said/she said’ there is ample evidence that mass rape did in deed occur. In fact, the perpetrators bragged, laughed and celebrated their brutality against Israeli women. They took live videos of their assaults, posted them to various social media accounts and shared them with sympathetic parties. The only doubt fostered as to the depth of depravity of these crimes come from conspiracy nuts, leftist extremists and useful idiots for the cause of Hamas who want to water down the events of that bloody day.

Here is the bitter pill with no chaser. The brutal truth is that the left has now experienced it’s Hollywood Access tape moment. It faced the same test confronting Republicans in October of 2017. And, just like the bastions of “conservative” politicians, activists and common voters six years ago, the left has now failed the test.

No one likes to be the villain of the piece. No one likes to think that their actions, or inactions, result in a villain achieving power. This is why people are so emotionally malleable. They can lie to themselves, to others and to their god of choice, all in the name of justice, righteousness and principle. But it’s bullshit.

It’s all well and good to speak supposed truth to power when you’re in a friendly crowd. It’s all fine to pick a fight and throw bombs when you think you’re going to gain a lot of “likes” and “shares” from it. But it’s quite another when you run the risk of speaking your truly held beliefs, only to be ridiculed, threatened, taunted, mocked and maybe even assaulted because of those valid views. That is the honest to God meaning of conviction, and once again, we learn that those who scream about justice in public come up well short when it really matters.

Do you think I’m waggling my finger here? If you do, then you haven’t been paying attention over the past eight years. I’ve been largely alone since Trump came to power. Six years ago today, I walked away from a community from which I derived a good deal of my self-worth. Four years later, I walked away from the other major community from which my identity sprang. IN both cases, it was because of the issue of sexual predation. So, with all due respect, fuck you if you think that I’m enjoying myself here. Being a man without a country really sucks.

I honestly don’t understand why progressives have to make it an either/or scenario. Why can’t they say, “Sure, we support the Palestinian right to statehood and we want them to be free of Israeli oppression, but wanton rape and murder are a bridge too far.” By not taking this position right out of the gate, they’ve destroyed any credibility they had in the realm of sexual justice for women. All the counter forces have to do is stand up and parrot New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. “Silence is violence, but not when it comes to Israeli rape victims.”

So, if progressives love call-out culture, let me employ it here. Shame on all of you who rightfully spat fire over Donald Trump’s callous admission of his assaults on women, only to hold your tongue when video evidence was set before you of a woman begging for her attackers to kill her after being gang-raped. Shame on all of you who stridently attacked Brett Kavanaugh based on hearsay testimony, while ignoring video images of a woman crawling on the ground with her pants full of blood. Shame on those of you who screamed about the systematic cover-ups of sexual abuse in the National Federation of the Blind who now downplay the forensic evidence of female corpses that had their pelvic bones crushed from violent and repeated rape. Shame on those of you who proudly posted #MeToo on your social media feeds, but who now turn a deaf ear to the testimonies of the hostages who are now home, and refuse to call for the release of the remaining hostages who are very likely still enduring repeated rape and maybe worse. Shame on those of you who are reading this right now, who know I’m right in all that I say, but who refuse to speak up because…you don’t want to ruffle feathers, or make people uncomfortable, or maybe show your true colors.

Donald Trump knows he can, “grab ‘em by the pussy,” whenever he wants because scores of people from politicians to law enforcement to church ministers will defend him, regardless of the evidence. Now, the Hamas terrorists who raped, murdered and pillaged, and who have sworn to do it again and again and again, hold the same comfort. They know that a collection of western idiots will give them either passive or active permission to act on their blood hatred and brutalize women as they see fit. If silence really is complicity, than all of you are guilty. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

The reason that the left remained silent for so long isn’t particularly complicated, even if they claim otherwise. Just as they believe in, “good trouble,” or, “good violence,” maybe they actually believe in, “good rape.” Rape as a form of resistance to the so-called occupation of Palestinian land. Stop for a moment and examine this rabbit hole from a slight remove. See where it takes you? It does go to a very dark place, indeed.

My ultimate message today is the same as its been all along. Sexual assault is not a partisan issue. It affects everyone, no matter what their gender, race, political stripe, sexual orientation or ideology. If you want to sit on the sidelines and ignore it, that is your choice. If you want to pass yourself off as a courageous defender of justice, then be consistent in your message. Otherwise, you’re nothing but a hypocrite and a fraud and your contradictions will follow you.

I stand with Israel. I stand with survivors of sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances may be. If I haven’t done enough to combat it in my past, I’m trying to do my bit now. Can those of you who invoke the cause of justice make the same claim?

One last point. KFAB radio personality Jim Rose recently delivered one of his morning monologues on this very topic. It was one of his best. He forcefully condemned the silence on the part of women’s groups toward the brutality against Israeli women. It was a moment worthy of applause…until you realize that Jim Rose will gladly pull the lever for Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee for president next year. What a shame. Hypocrisy seems to be the order of the day.


Let me start this entry off with a caveat. If you are a person who is absolutely genuine in your concern for the Palestinian people who are now caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas, none of what follows will apply to you. If you are using concern for the Palestinian people as a shield for other purposes, you can kiss my ass.

For the past three weeks, my emotions have alternated between shock, sorrow, disbelief and mounting rage over events transpiring in the Middle East. I was deeply shaken by the surprise attack on Israel on October 7. I was heartened by the support Israel received from many of the leaders of the West in the following days. I was disgusted, though not surprised, by the pro-Hamas rallies that came so quickly after Jewish blood was still wet on the ground.

What I was not prepared for was the rapidity from which much of the media narrative would shift from a compassionate or neutral tone toward Israel to one of sympathy for those in the Gaza Strip, while mixed with a growing skepticism of Israel’s motives, tactics and end goals. I’ve been paying attention to Israel now for 20 years, so I expected the media and many politicians to turn against Israel at some point, but I figured it would happen after Israel ramped up its ground assault in Gaza. I did not think it would take mere days.

The best example of this tonal shift, of course, was the Israeli bombing of a Palestinian hospital that wasn’t. The New York Times lead the charge in labeling the attack as coming from Israel. When President Biden visited Israel the following day, he had to inform the world that the rocket had actually been fired from Gaza and fell far short of its target. Yet, it took the NYT six days to correct the narrative. To this day, certain members of the progressive left such as Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib still maintain and trumpet this spurious, libelous story.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. Social media swarmed with deniers questioning everything from whether or not babies had been beheaded, whether women had actually been raped, whether children had been kidnapped, or whether the videos, many of which were taken by Hamas terrorists and proudly flaunted on social media, were authentic. This forced Israel into the position of having to validate the attacks by holding special screenings for journalists, posting graphic photos of dead babies on the internet, and justifying its strategy to the western world.

And then came the campus rallies. Angry young people marching on free, comfortable, entitled colleges, chanting and screaming slogans that they’ve been taught in classrooms without the benefit of any critical analysis. Then came cowardly, mealy-mouthed administrators issuing tepid, toothless statements trying to soothe everyone while condemning no one. Then came a group of terrified Jewish students locked in a library at Cooper Union with an angry mob of pro-Hamas supporters banging on the doors and screaming taunts and epithets. The students had to be escorted from the building by armed cops.

The only silver lining I can find in all of this bloody business is that the masks are finally off. If the bigoted right wing of the Republican Party was drawn out of the closet during the rise of Donald Trump, the anti-Semitic bigoted left is now feeling free to crawl into the light under the umbrella of the Democrat party. Supposed anonymity on the internet, masks in public and the comforting yoke of permission granted by a cadre of media, intellectual and academic elites gives these people cover to reveal who they really are. Let them have their reckoning in public, rather than the quiet solitude of the voting booth where they expose their hearts to no one but God. We will remember them.

I doubt anyone reading this is familiar with the three D’s as connected to antisemitism. I don’t blame you. I had never heard of them until recently. The three D’s are, demonization, delegitimization and double standards. Demonization is the historical pattern by people of blaming the Jews for all of the woes of the world; economic, political, social, etc. See Adolf Hitler and Louis Farrakhan for further reference. Delegitimization is the practice of downplaying or denying the right of Israel to exist, or questioning or denying the existence of historic events, such as the Holocaust. See Ayatollah Khamenei and Nick Fuentes for further reference. Double standards are the practice of applying standards or expectations to Israel or other Jewish persons that would not otherwise be applied to other countries in a similar situation. See most college professors, media pundits, leftist politicians and CAIR for further reference.

These three D’s, reflected in the charter of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, perfectly illustrate what Israel and Jews across the world are up against. Yet, the working definition of antisemitism as brought forth by the IHRA has been adopted by numerous countries, including the US, Australia, Germany, Canada, the UK, Spain and Italy. Strange how so many civilized countries can so easily agree on a working definition in peacetime, yet can buck at the notion of applying such definitions when the theory is put to the test.

As a tribute to the three D’s, I have implemented my own system for countering antisemitism. They are, the three F’s. Fuck you, fuck off and fuck yourself.

If you are a pundit, politician, journalist, college professor or even an Uber driver who uses terms like, “moral equivalency,” “apartheid,” “occupiers,” “ceasefire,” or “decolonization,” then fuck off!

If you are a “protester” who tears down posters of Israeli child hostages and wears paraglider stickers at your pro-Hamas, anti-Israel rally, then fuck you!

If you are someone who is, “just asking questions about the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the October 7th Massacre, when there is ample evidence available, then fuck yourself! You’re not really asking questions. You’re planting poisonous seeds.

If you’re someone who uses the Israeli-Hamas war as an excuse to instigate harassment, discrimination or even violence against Jewish citizens in your own country, then fuck you, fuck yourself and fuck right off!!!

Let me (ahem ahem) just ask a few questions before I finish up.

What does the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine, it will be free,” really mean? How many people who gleefully chant this slogan at rallies also love to employ the word, “genocide,” when speaking about other minorities?

If the Jewish people were to leave Israel, or be forced out, where would they go?

If the United States had been told to, “control your rage,” or “don’t escalate,” in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, what would our response have been?

How many of the progressives who are calling for a ceasefire have also called for Hamas to release the hostages?

What do pro-Palestinian protesters in the West really know about the workings of the Israeli government? How do they square their western values, such as pro-homosexuality, overt feminism and diversity with the treatment of women, gays and other minorities by Hamas?

Why did the Palestinian people elect Hamas as their government in 2006, after Israel had already relinquished the Gaza Strip to them? It wasn’t as if Hamas was lying about who and what they were. Unlike the Nazis, who went to great lengths to conceal their crimes, Hamas has been perfectly clear in their goals. They want to eradicate Israel and the Jewish people from the Earth. I’m not trash-talking here. Look it up.

And for you Jewish leftists who are still anti-Israel, when are you gonna wake the fuck up!?

Let me hasten to add that criticism of Israel as a country is fair game. No country is above reproach. But when masked students project vile, anti-Semitic slogans on to a library on an American college campus under cover of darkness, there’s something else going on that goes far beyond criticism of Israeli policy. When people are sharing pictures of the Star of David in a garbage can, that’s not pro-Palestinian, or even pro-humanitarian. That is pure evil.

The worst part of this whole business is that I used to view the rise of Nazism and the subsequent Holocaust as, just history. It was a horribly fascinating period of history that I was sure wouldn’t…couldn’t happen again in our modern world. I don’t think that way anymore. Between the rise of Donald Trump, the bending of the knee to authoritarianism along the entire political spectrum, and recent events in Israel and abroad, I now have a much clearer understanding of exactly how and why the events of the first half of the 20th Century occurred. It happened before and I am certain that it will happen again. Between Russia, Iran and China, I have no doubt that we will be in World War III before long.

Against this dark and ominous backdrop, I can only make one final statement. It is a statement that comes without equivocation or nuance.

Let history bring down the sword of war upon us all. My neck is my own, for the saving or the severing. I stand with Israel. I stand with my fellow Americans who are Jewish. I stand with the Jewish people of the world.

Death to Hamas.

Kiss My Cinnabons

Welp, I’m about a year overdue, but I did promise that I would render my final verdict on Better Call Saul. Last night, Dana and I watched the BSC episode concerning Mike’s backstory, which turned out to be the Mike high point of the series. Today, I engaged in a thread by the one and only Wes Craven, in which he expresses bafflement at the notion that Better Call Saul is perceived by some to be superior to its predecessor, Breaking Bad. Perhaps this is God’s way of telling me that it’s time for me to hold forth, so here goes.

First, anyone who believes that Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad should be given an acid bath in Jesse’s tub. I have written elsewhere about my opinion of the two shows, but now that both are complete, I stand by my initial assertion that Bob Odenkirk is simply not leading man material; certainly not in the way that Bryan Cranston was. This becomes more evident as BSC moves along and becomes more serious. As the story calls on Jimmy/Saul to plumb the depths of his complex core, I don’t feel it in the way that I did with Cranston.

It is ironic that I began the show fully invested in Mike’s character, while caring little about Jimmy. At the end, I was largely underwhelmed by the Mike arc. Unlike BB, which revolved around Walter and Jesse, it felt as if BSC ran along parallel tracks. The characters of Jimmy and Mike seldom intersect. When they do, the moments are fleeting. One gets the impression in BB that Saul and Mike are in it together, but the prequel doesn’t bear this out. Also, the drug stuff involving Mike, Nacho, Hector, Tuco, The Cousins, Gus and Lalo all feels anticlimactic. We know Gus is ultimately going to prevail over Lalo. We know that Hector winds up stranded in a nursing home at Gus’s mercy. We know The Cousins live through BSC, only to be killed by Hank in BB. We’re supposed to care about Nacho’s fate, but really, he’s a small cog in a bigger wheel. When he finally kills himself with a ‘fuck you!’ to Lalo, it has a meh feel. The worst part is the cold fact that we know that everything that Mike does in the name of providing for his granddaughter will ultimately come to not. Why is any of this dramatically interesting?

The Jimmy arc is more compelling, particularly in the early seasons when Chuck was alive. We don’t need long, clever musical montages of Saul selling burner phones and representing hookers in court to know why he does what he does. Chuck is the reason. But once Chuck dies, Jimmy’s story becomes less absorbing to me. He eventually transfers his feelings of hostility from his dead brother to Howard Hamlin, but of course, this doesn’t end well. I think the best moments of the series happen between Jimmy and Chuck. Both are right about each other’s flaws and both are powerless to do anything about it while they are locked in their sibling antagonism.

This brings me to Kim. Many critics and fans fell in love with Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s sometime girlfriend, partner, friend and eventual spouse. In the growing age of strong female characters, Kim is supposed to represent the moon to Jimmy’s sun. Yet, it never feels earned to me. At first, Kim appears to be a strong, confident, intelligent woman who deals with a career setback and eventually goes out on her own. Then, she becomes Jimmy’s enabler, aiding him in his con games. Her code is, “The mark deserves it.” Then, she becomes his wife. It seems she loves taking the dark ride that Jimmy offers…until she doesn’t. She pushes Jimmy to go after Howard, but ultimately, she appears to fall victim to her own sense of guilt and regret when things turn fatal for poor Howard. Her story ends as she is living a self-punishing life of dullness, complete with a monosyllabic sex partner. When she breaks down in a less than convincing crying jag on an airport shuttle, we’re supposed to bleed for her, but it feels like a female trope meant to wring sympathy from a jury.

My problem with the Kim character is that she feels like the result of an identity crisis born in the writers room. Yes, she is a woman of conflicting passions and morality, but none of it feels particularly self-aware. It’s as if the writers are engaged in a game of tug-of-war with Kim. Will she be good or bad this week? Will she be Jimmy’s conscience, or the devil on his shoulder? Unlike Walter White’s descent into pure evil, which felt organic, this feels patched together, as if we are seeing sign posts planted along a highway that is in a state of constant disrepair.

Finally, the ending. I started out lukewarm on the finale of Breaking Bad, but my appreciation for it grew over time. Conversely, I started out really liking the finale of Better Call Saul, but like it less and less as I process it more. Given all we know about Jimmy’s character, I can’t believe that he would throw himself upon the mercy of the court and take 76 years in prison just because he loves Kim. That is simply not in keeping with anything that we’ve learned about the character. Yes, it was cathartic to see Jimmy confess all of his sins in court, particularly his role in the suicide of his brother, but the confession also felt inorganic to me. I did like the flashes we saw of Jimmy’s life as Gene in Omaha. We always knew the criminal life was too much of a temptation for Jimmy to resist. I like the idea of Carol Burnett serving as Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s undoing. I just don’t buy that he’d throw himself on the sword to save Kim. Nothing we saw in the previous 61 episodes indicated that he was capable of that level of self-sacrifice.

A big problem with BSC is what critic Hannah Grace Long calls, “Prequelitis.” You see it all over the place with Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman, Game of Thrones and all other stories of an origin nature. When you’re writing a prequel, you can’t help but do a certain amount of dot-connecting. This is how Jimmy meets Mike. Check. This is how Mike meets Gus. Check. This is how Gus outwits the cartel. Check. Man we even get Gale Boetticher singing the periodic tables. Cool, or superfluous? You be the judge. Unlike Breaking Bad, which had a clear canvas on which to paint, Better Call Saul is bound to be a bit contrived. This leads to storytelling that is choppy, uneven and sometimes, disappointing. You can’t help but compare the prequel to the original. You can’t help but build up your expectations based on previous work. And when those expectations are not met, many fans can’t help but be disappointed. It is as inevitable as a heroin addict choking on her own vomit.

Vince Gilligan once said that Breaking Bad was really about the in-between moments. BSC was even moreso, but too often, it fell down on the job due to the viewing audience already knowing where the story was supposed to go.

The best example is Mike. In the episode, “Five-O,” Mike confesses his sins to his daughter-in-law after he relocates to Albuquerque. He asks her, “Can you live with it?” The next time we see Mike with his granddaughter, they are playing happily together. Given the nature of the crimes Mike admitted to Stacey, one would think she would have a hard time forgiving him, but she appears to do just that without any explanation as to how she made that emotional journey. This is something Breaking Bad would never have done. It couldn’t. In BB, we already know that Mike has a great relationship with his surviving family. Therefore, BSC doesn’t have to go to the trouble of showing us how Mike gets there. This is lazy writing in the service of prequelitis.

I’m high-lighting the weaknesses of Better Call Saul, but it really is a solid series by prequel standards. The writing is very good, especially compared to most other dramatic fare today. If you like Breaking Bad, BSC is worth a look just to see how all of the pieces fit together. But when people try to tell you that BSc is superior, give them a verbal box cutter.

Last Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Breaking Bad series finale. I will be watching it this fall as a commemoration. I never tire of the show and still feel it is the best television series of all time. Better Call Saul is worthy, but Heisenberg’s shoes are impossible to fill. Anyone who tells you otherwise is engaging in wishcasting.

And Bethany, if you’re reading this and want to argue with me, come do it in person in Omaha. We’ll debate it over a pint at a place called Brazen Head pub. They don’t serve fried chicken with meth batter, but their fish and chips are excellent.

The Death Sound

This entry is going to be more or less scattershot. Pretty rough and unpolished. I figure it’s best to just write down what I’m thinking and let the shit sort itself out, come what may.

I did not spend last weekend as I originally planned; that is, hanging out with my cat. Instead, I took the bus to Iowa to support a friend at a funeral. She was mourning the loss of her long-time partner, who died by his own hand. It was not a fun trip, but it was a necessary one.

The thing I remember most about the service was the sound that my friend made as she went to the altar where his urn was being kept. As she bid him her final farewell, she emitted the death sound. This is a somewhat melodramatic but accurate way to describe the mournful sound that a loved one makes when he/she has had someone ripped from their life unexpectedly. I don’t care if you’re a part time community theater player or goddamn Meryl Streep. You cannot duplicate this sound unless you’re experiencing it firsthand. It’s also not the sound that you hear when attending the memorial service of someone who has died in a natural or totally expected manner. I’ve been to funerals for my grandparents and a few aunts and uncles. I also attended a friend’s funeral last year after she succumbed to kidney failure. The grief was muted, but genuine. The tears were sincere, but expected. It was nothing compared to the death sound.

The death sound is a series of cries and sobs that are suffused by a wailing or keening quality. It is raw, audible heartbreak, pain, loneliness, loss and despair, all wrapped into a series of breaths and cries that swoop and dip from bass to treble. It can last for a few seconds, or a few minutes, but in the moment, it seems as if it will never end. It is the closest thing you will hear to the sound of a person’s soul as it shatters in front of you. It is a siren song of complete and utter brokenness that is enough to freeze the blood and maul the spirit.

There are no words to respond to the death sound. There are no actions that can provide comfort or any sort of soothing to lessen the pain. All one can do when they witness this rending of the heart is to try to be a rock in the midst of a tremendous earthquake. You stand there helplessly and watch as a close friend endures the battering ram of a life storm and you wonder when (or if) they will ever recover.

I’ve heard the death sound twice. Once was last weekend. The other time was six years ago when another close friend lost her husband to cancer. I hope I never experience it again… But I know I will. The pain of sudden loss and wrecking ball grief is as unavoidable as blizzards, tornados, hurricanes or dickhead politicians.

Aside from the deep sadness I felt for a friend who was beyond comfort, I also felt a fire tide of anger. The man who died by his own hand was “honored” by a Christian funeral. Yet, he was not Christian. As far as I know, he was not religious in any sense of the word. The closest that he came to religion was to appreciate the gifts of nature by spending time outdoors. The fact that he was given a Christian burial, complete with worship songs and a rambling, impotent sermon from an ignorant pastor, made more of a statement about the living than it did about the dead. The Christian trappings served only to protect the feelings of family members who could not reconcile who this man was in his life. In lying about him to cushion their own grief, they did serious harm to those who knew and were closer to the deceased.

This is Christian hypocrisy at its worst! It did nothing to endear me to any church or any denomination that would tell bald-faced lies about one who has passed, thereby dishonoring his memory,, just to help the survivors save face in the eyes of a chosen few who were sold a convenient narrative. After all, what is the purpose of a memorial service but to honor the memory of someone who has died? This wasn’t honor. It was an exercise in goddamn deception and denial.

I can tell you for a fact that the way that my friend was marginalized and disrespected was a twisted knife in an already open wound. She knew more about the man who died than a lot of other people there, yet she was treated like a stranger in an alien land. Aside from a small group of friends who gathered around her to try to offer consolation, no member of the family initiated engagement with her. It was infuriating.

Here’s a side question. Do all of you fucking self-professed Christians who behave like this, treating certain friends and family members one way in private and another one in public when your Christian brethren are nearby, think that God doesn’t know? Do you think he can’t see behind all of your masks? If you believe that God is all knowing and all seeing, don’t you suppose that your ass is gonna get judged when your time comes? Who were you really protecting at the funeral? Was it the man who passed away, or was it yourselves? Why didn’t the dipshit pastor walk up to my friend and say, “Ma’am, I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you.” Do you think that by ignoring the 500 pound elephant in the room, you can just wish it away? Do you suppose that, if you pray hard enough, God will just scrub away reality? Fuck. That.

I’m gonna be honest. This episode fucked with me a little for a few days. I’m over it now. I’m calm and collected and back in my routine with my kitty nearby to lend physical and emotional comfort in the absence of human affection. But I sure as hell won’t forget what I saw. I’ll never forget the death sound, or how it might have been lessened, if only for a brief instant, by a small measure of warmth and compassion.

As it stands, the memorial was a farce. The real service occurred with a small group of friends gathered on the patio of a restaurant somewhere in Iowa, drinking beer, eating burgers and telling stories about the man who left this world all too soon. In this scenario, the Christians were the liars before heaven and earth. The socially branded transgressors were the authentic truth-tellers.

I freaked out some of my Facebook followers, because the day after the service, I wrote a post making my wishes known should I be killed in a bus crash or something. I really appreciate the kindness and concern from others. I’m doing pretty well, actually. It’s a great time to be alive and autumn has come to be my favorite time of year. I haven’t had dark thoughts in years. I can definitely say that owning a cat and having a stable job that I love helps immensely.

Still, if I should die. I’ll write my wishes here as just one more place where they can be found.

I don’t want a church service. The fact is that, despite a few flirtations over the years, I am not religious. I believe in God and Jesus Christ, but frankly, I don’t want anything to do with church. Too many people wearing false faces, seeking the approval of their fellow men and worshiping false idols in God’s name. My ultimate guiding authority is the Constitution of the United States, including the First Amendment. I want my memorial to be a place of openness where everyone can come and talk about me honestly. You don’t need to trash-talk. You don’t need to white-wash. Let the tears and the laughter come freely and honestly. Pray or don’t pray openly and without fear or favor. Everyone is welcome, except predators. The best way to honor me is to find the back room or patio of a bar and grill somewhere, play some good music, drink beer and eat unhealthy food and have a nice celebration. It will not be a true tribute to Ryan O. unless George Strait is included in any playlist.

As for my remains, cremate them and dump my ashes in Johnson Lake. That is my happy place. Do not bury my ashes at the Colorado Center For the Blind. I loved Denver, but that time has passed. I hope the people who take the boat out include close family members and a couple of my closest friends. After I’m overboard, have a drink of your choice (and a cigar if you want) and tell a few stories on me.

Finally, September is suicide prevention month. The mental health crisis is real. The pandemic only exacerbated it. If you’re in trouble, for fuck sake, get help! Choose to live. It won’t be a picnic, but it will be worth it.

The man who took his own life left a teenage daughter behind. I encountered her, but I didn’t meet her. I’ll be praying for her. I hope God can help her through the dark night to come.


In the autumn of 2016, I was seated in a banquet room in Denver at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, swigging beer number three (or was it four) listening to Kevan Worley, the bumptious and loquacious master of ceremonies, as he berated the sound guys from the stage.

“Hey! Sound guys! I’m just gonna say…Where we are…where we wanna be!” he bellowed. Then he said, “If our sound guys can handle it, we’d love for anyone listening on our stream to give us a call on Skype and say hi.”

I pulled out my phone and sent a text. “You should call in,” I wrote.

Two minutes later (or was it five) my phone rang. I answered and the warm, familiar voice said in my ear, “What’s the number?”

Five minutes later (or was it 10), Kevan eagerly grabbed the mic (again) and said, “Folks, we have a guy on Skype who wants to say hi. Maybe you remember him. Tom Anderson, from Kansas.”

The room exploded in the loudest ovation that I’d ever heard at an NFB convention anywhere. It was a riotous, joyous shriek that kept going and going. Eventually, much of the crowd burst into the chant, “TOSTY! TOSTY! TOSTY!” In my beer-fogged brain, I remember a thought emerging; this is the most authentic, heartfelt cheer I’ve ever heard at a convention. At the point, Tom had been absent from Colorado for almost 18 months.

In May, 2015, Miles Thomas Anderson retired from the Colorado Center for the Blind as a Braille instructor after a 27-year career. I left work early to attend the party. It was a strange, almost surreal affair that was dampened by an accidental power outage that left the CCB in total darkness throughout the entire proceedings. The good lord was making a statement that was unmistakable. The CCB was losing a light that could never be replaced.

Tom could often seem nonplussed when speaking publicly, but he took the occasion with his usual good grace and humble humor. The party was well-attended, including many VIPs from the national office in Baltimore. Many of his former students were in attendance as well. It was clear that Tom was leaving a professional legacy that was vibrant and strong. I remember the speeches from the leadership seeming canned and perfunctory, counter to the tributes from his students, which all seemed natural and sincere.

A year before Tom’s retirement party, I was hired as a summer counselor for the CCB youth program. I was set to be a cane travel instructor. It was the most tempestuous, heartbreaking three months of my life. Two weeks of training were not nearly enough to prepare me when the students came to the CCB. On the third day after they arrived, a latecomer named Andrew joined us. He was a soft-spoken lad who seemed overwhelmed by everything at the center. At one point I asked him, “How ya doing?” He said, “I haven’t even had a tour yet.”

So, I gave him the nickel tour. At one point, we came to the braille room in the basement, in which were housed shelf upon shelf of braille volumes. Andrew and I walked through the door and were greeted by Tom’s customary, “Hi, Ryan.” It was at that point, with the smell of the library in my nostrils and Tom’s warm greeting in my ears, that I began to relax a little.

After Tom explained the braille room, I sent Andrew upstairs and lingered with Tom for a moment.

“How you doing?” he asked.

“Tom, I think I’m in over my head,” I said as I exhaled a cloud of pent-up anxiety.

“Well, you’ll be alright. Just take it one day at a time and try your best to listen to what your students are telling you.”

As I walked out of Tom’s library I thought, if I could be half the teacher that Tom was, I would count it as a win.

As it turned out, I didn’t even come close. Not even in the ballpark. But then, Tom Anderson was (and is) a tough act to follow. He was a steady, unassuming leader without exuding the forceful qualities that are so often sought and projected within the power players of the NFB. There was nothing artificial or disingenuous about Tom Anderson. When he spoke in his halting, tentative style, you knew that he was not selling you anything that he did not believe in his own heart. When he spoke of the history of the National Federation of the Blind, he spoke with love and affection. When he imparted the NFB’s positive philosophy of self-empowerment, he spoke in the spirit of gentility, not in hackneyed clichés. When he spoke critically of the organization, there was no self-serving aspect to it. Tom did not trash talk other people for his own personal gain, even when they deserved it. His honesty was always tinged with compassion and an empathy that came from a real and humble place.

I’ve alluded to the fact that Tom was not the best public speaker. He could sometimes stutter or fumble his words, as if he were searching through his vast book knowledge to pull out just the right modifier or qualifier. But the veil of hesitancy fell away when he spoke of his faith. He orated upon the subject of the love of God with a rising, staccato-like barrage of verbiage that resembled the thunderous “click-clack” of a Perkins braillewriter. Tom Anderson was an unashamed Christian. There was a reason why he was always asked to deliver the invocation at both state and national conventions. When his words turned heavenward, his timber would sharpen and his voice would rise and fall like the tide, sometimes bordering on tremulous passion for his holy savior.

Everyone who knew Tom Anderson knew where he stood with regard to questions of the power of the almighty Jesus Christ. Yet, I don’t ever remember Tom castigating anyone who did not share his view. He was not a fire-and-brimstone preacher man who hurled pronouncements of doom for those who did not accept the holy word. I remember him more as a stalwart messenger who spoke of his witness openly and unreservedly, but who did not cast stones at others. Tom was that rare kind of Christian that I respected. He always appeared to live the beliefs that he preached to others. I remember vowing that, if I ever got married, I would want Tom Anderson to officiate my wedding. How sad that this will never come to be.

I remember when I first met Tom in the summer of 2001. I was visiting the CCB for a three-day stay and met him in the braille room. I spoke to him of my belief that braille was paramount in the learning development of blind children. Naturally, he agreed. Then he asked me, “What would you say that you struggle the most with in your braille?”

My answer was automatic. “The slate and stylus.”

“Ok,” he responded. “So, I want you to slate me one page of contracted braille telling me about yourself.”

So, I wrote Tom one page of braille talking about myself. When I was done, I slapped down the stylus and said, “My right hand hasn’t been this sore since I watched The Spice Channel a few months ago.”

My companion who was with me at the time gasped, sure that I had offended Tom’s pious sensibilities. For his part, Tom threw back his head and laughed. It was a warm, infectious sound that drifted through the room like the smell of freshly baked bread. Tom was a strong Christian, but he was not a prude. He did not swear, but he did not police the language of others out of moral purity. Later that day, we all sang Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” with Tom singing the loudest while stomping on the floor as if he were leading a revival.

Tom and I kept in touch after he left Colorado. Through the power of WhatsApp, we spoke about the changing nature of politics, the changing culture of the NFB and of small things such as new-fangled iPhone apps, country music and books worthy of attention. When I moved to Omaha in October of 2017, Tom was a stable presence throughout my emotional turmoil. “Colorado is not the center of the universe,” he would tell me. “The Midwest really is a great place to live.” I took a measure of comfort knowing that Tom was just down the road in Overland Park.

Tom and I were closely aligned politically, which often made us feel like outriggers in an organization ubiquitous with professed liberals, many of whom were drifting toward progressivism. But Tom professed his political views in the same manner that he spoke of his faith. He was open and honest, but not a firebrand. He bemoaned the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican Party, but ultimately, he set upon the path I could never tread when he seemed to accept that Trump was a force that had to be dealt with reasonably, if not fully embraced.

In the past year or so, Tom and I drifted apart a little. I must confess that I pulled away just a bit. I drew back instinctively after January 6th. In discussing it with Tom, I was disconcerted to hear him describe the attack on our nation’s capital as, “civil disobedience.” Recent Facebook posts from him seemed to take a turn toward anti-vaccination, a position that is distasteful to me. In a world where so many people that I once loved and respected seem to have gone off the map, I didn’t feel I had the heart to fully reckon with the idea that calm, gentle, reasonable Tom Anderson may be losing his marbles. For me, a certain remove served as a measure of self-protection.

August has been a month bookended by death and loss. My uncle passed away at the beginning of the month after suffering a stroke on the 4th of July. We were not close, but I have fond memories of him from my childhood and I grieve for his remaining family. Two days ago, a close friend suffered the loss of her long-time partner. I didn’t know him, but watching her suffer the ravages of his death will be painful. But, of all the losses I’ve felt of late, the one that impacts me the most is that of Tom Anderson. When I heard of his passing last week, it was a bolt from the blue.

I was not prepared when I heard the news that he was gone. My first thought was one of anger, toward myself. I wish I had given Tom the same benefit of the doubt that he gave so many others when he taught all those years. If nothing else, Tom earned respect from me. If I was going to write him off as another Christian broken by Donald Trump, at least I should have given him a fair hearing before making my final judgment. Now, I will never know where he truly stood. I will never have the chance to thank him for all he did to inspire me during my time in Colorado. I will never be able to bid him a proper goodbye.

And yet, knowing Tom’s belief system as I did, I know that he is with God right now. I know he can see into my heart and can see my regret at not keeping in touch. I know that he is following the word of his lord and savior and that he has forgiven me. Someday, perhaps I’ll be worthy of that forgiveness.

As for Tom’s legacy, I will always remember him as a light that touched a great many people. Tom believed in the power of the written word and its ability to transform lives for the better. Whether he was reading Harry Potter, Lonesome Dove or The Bible in braille, he was always reading something. May that spirit continue to flourish amongst the blind of the world.

God bless you, Tosty Andersox, and thank you for all that you have given to us. We love you and miss you.

God’s speed, my friend.

PS: If you want to know while we all called Tom, “Tosty,” find someone who knew him and ask them. The best way to keep Tom alive is to speak of him.