Why this even needs to be said…

A rare political post from me. I keep up with the news, but don’t discuss it online as much as I used to. Why disease prevention has become a partisan issue is beyond me. And it’s annoying because the recklessness is just prolonging how long we will deal with this. Fall is going to be bad. Ignoring science under the guise of “freedom” won’t keep you healthy, and so many will die in the coming months who could have been saved. Irony is making a mandate saying there can’t be a mandate that’s put in place to protect the public’s health. What?

If you don’t want the vaccine, fine – but then at least wear a mask. Germs and diseases don’t care that you’re inconvenienced.

‘Beautiful Things: A Memoir’ Review

This will be a somewhat lengthy review. Because there’s no other way to do this memoir justice. If at all.

I remember it clearly. Barack Obama is running for the Presidency in 2008 and a journalist corners him. He’s asked to comment on Sarah Palin’s daughter, Bristol, who has just disclosed that she will soon become a teenage mom. Despite the nastiness and cruel attacks from Palin, Obama doesn’t bite. He shakes his head, says he won’t be judging anyone, and wishes them the best. Then he reminds the journalist his mother was a teenage mom. End of story. Let’s move on. Don’t try that again.

Oh, how different things are today. The treatment of Hunter Biden, a private citizen, by political opponents of his father is something that truly captures how low the MAGA movement is willing to go to stay in power. To ridicule those as if we don’t all have skeletons. I seem to recall that GWB was addicted to cocaine. Nixon was an alcoholic. Cheney shot someone. And they were public servants. Hunter Biden is not. Before reading this book, I knew little about Hunter Biden except for the fact that Trump and his cronies were literally stalking him and/or using him as a punch line to distract from the embarrassing amount of corruption they themselves perpetuate. Trump was also attempting to get dirt on Biden from Ukraine in an effort to destroy a formidable opponent he knew was widely respected, Joe Biden. Not only did the Ukraine mess lead to Trump’s second impeachment (Ass.), but it continues to perpetuate conspiracy theories about Biden’s business interests that are just not true (looking at you, Fox News and Qanon).

What’s even worse is that during the time the Trump family and their rabid supporters harassed Biden by repeatedly asking ‘Where’s Hunter?”, he was struggling through some of the most debilitating days of his drug addiction. Imagine having a stomach flu and someone decides to eat sushi and anchovies in front of you with little consideration for your well-being or your gag reflex. That’s what this was. Salt on a wound. I remember being worried about Hunter Biden. This man I’d never met, and will never meet. Then I got angry and started to mouth off online in his defense.

Captured on film: Mad Laney defending Hunter Biden

Yep. I was pissed. Because is this what we do now? We take a vulnerable person and drag them publicly through the mud, knowing the harm it could cause? We all know how stigma makes addiction and disease worse. Drug addiction will always be taboo or even mocked but you still expect better from the highest office in the land. Then Joe Biden won the election. And Hunter wrote a book. And I needed to read it. Because dude survived the hunt.

I devoured this beautifully written memoir in a day. At the core of his message of love, acceptance, and perseverance is Hunter’s brother, Beau, who died far too young yet made an impact as deep as a moon crater. Hunter’s adoration of Beau and his deep connection to their father, now our President (thank heavens) sort of took my breath away. Is that what family is? I’ve never known it, but damnit if there isn’t something more beautiful. I loved reading about his childhood as a politician’s son, his demerits in school (lol), and his tireless work for people struggling after natural disasters all while he himself silently drowned in self-destruction and self-doubt.

Before I delve further, I think it’s necessary for me to point out that I read this from the perspective of someone who also never got to experience the love of a biological mother and has had my own share of loss. I also looked at it through the lens of my day job as a Probation Officer. I’ve been that person to drive a withdrawing probationer to detox, or paid for their dinner, or fight with their insurance company. Yeah, “those people”. The people struggling through drug court. The mother who drove drunk with her children in the car. The guy who beat his girlfriend up with a bat when he was fucked up on PCP and now hates himself. Or the Wall Street bro who has to stand in line at the methadone clinic first thing in the morning so he can get through the rest of day. None are bad people. Not one. They do bad things. But they aren’t bad. And neither is Hunter Biden. I guarantee you too will find a connection. Whether it’s Biden’s middle class childhood, his grief at losing his mother and infant sister, his determination to make it on his own without the help of his father, becoming a father himself, his failed relationships, or his whirlwind romance with his wife Melissa. It’s life. And it’s messy, confusing, awesome, and complex. While the stories may be different, the feelings are the same.

Biden’s account of his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine is not for the faint of heart. If you’re uncomfortable, good. That’s the point. And my God, does our boy have a tolerance to somehow survive week-long binges. There were several points where I asked myself how he was still alive or not in prison. And I say this as someone who has found people dead following an overdose, and put people in prison. Despite living an affluent lifestyle, none of that matters when your addiction leads you to the seedy, unforgiving underbelly, which it did for him and will for anyone who goes down that path. And if you are thinking of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a movie I hate, you aren’t too far off from what Biden’s life was like. Unlike other memoirs I’ve read on drug addiction, this really gets into the nitty gritty of crack cocaine use. How insidious it is. How chaotic it makes you, as you stay awake for two days straight. The time, money, and self-respect you waste looking for that next high. The wash, rinse, then repeat lifestyle that both confuses, exhausts, and aggravates the ones you love. How you try to hide your use, followed by the inevitable case of the fuck-its. And through it all, you remember that regardless of love, support, money, or the completion of the most expensive treatment programs, sobriety cannot and will not be achieved unless you find it within you to ferociously fight Spartan 300 style and say enough is enough. I’m worth more. I’m conquering this. And even after you’ve kicked it down a well, it takes work to prevent it from climbing back up.

At several points in the book Biden talks about his brother’s welcoming blue eyes and how that drew people to him. I got the sense that he doesn’t see that exact same feature in himself. Yes, the shades of blue differ slightly but the kindness and absence of judgment gazing out at us still reigns supreme. He could have used this memoir and his platform to drag Trump, Trump’s children, the media, and especially the Republican Party for enabling it all. But like his dad, he doesn’t. And that is a sign of pureness of heart and maturity that many connected to politics lack. Drug addiction, poor decisions, sleeping with prostitutes, and bad divorces don’t determine how good we are inside. And my sense, even though he’s now sober, is that he is still coming to terms with the decisions he’s made. Of course, that’s natural. All the while, he’s still his father’s son and his brother’s brother. And his current path of recovery and telling a story that needs to be told is more important and will touch more lives than he’ll ever be able to fathom. So go ahead, MAGA. Try to hunt him down. No one has put Hunter Biden through more pain and heartache than Hunter Biden.

Warning: This memoir could possibly trigger you if you are currently struggling or in recovery. So, take breaks if you need to stop and remember the beautiful things. After all, you can’t truly appreciate all the world’s beauty unless you’ve witnessed the ugly.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Available on Audible, narrated by Hunter Biden.

‘A Promised Land’ Review

Thanks, Obama.

I feel like no review I write could do justice to this incredible memoir. I learned so much, and feel changed having read it. 

A Promised Land, the first part of President Barack Obama’s memoir, gives us insight into what it was like to be the first black President of the United States. He starts with why he went into politics to begin with after college, due in large part to his frustration with not being able to make an impact on a larger scale for disenfranchised communities. He goes on speaking of his time as a Senator, Presidential candidate, then finally our President. And within those big professional achievements, he gifts us with moments from his childhood, his marriage to the fiercely loyal Michelle, and his greatest achievement of all: fatherhood.

You always hear that being President is a tough job, and we take that at face value. Of course, we know it must be hard because of the power it holds, but why is it really? You want to know the nitty gritty? Obama will tell you. Campaigning is tough. Some not so nice words can be exchanged, even when you are on the same team. Once you’re in office, he makes it clear that any issue that comes to the President is problematic, and could not have been resolved at a lower level of government. Everything is complicated, controversial, and/or exhausting. His dealing with foreign dignitaries was especially interesting because he knew he represented every single one of us, and that he often had to be tough and make people uncomfortable through spirited debate and diplomatic means to ensure America and our allies were heard. A tall order.

As for the politicians here at home, Obama doesn’t hold back with how the usual suspects on the other side of the aisle gave him the finger no matter how many times he extended his hand. Looking at you Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Chuck Grassley. Ya’ll basic. An interesting story Obama shares is about the time Biden was trying to make his case for a law to be passed, only for McConnell to look at him and say “you must think I care”. I point this out only because it brings me great joy to see that Biden is McConnell’s President now, and he has no choice but to listen, and care. But, I digress.

Much to the GOP’s chagrin, Obama didn’t give up despite their goal to make him a one term President. (And what kind of “goal” is that, anyway?) What resulted was leadership that repaired the economy, reduced unemployment, revived the auto industry, introduced necessary climate change regulations, gave us access to healthcare, and punished the monster who was the mastermind behind 9/11. This progress was all a struggle to implement because the previous administration had its focus on the wrong things, putting us behind in so many areas that required money and attention. Obama acknowledges that his own presidency was not perfect, and that no administration will ever be. 

Obama struggled with decisions that involved military intervention, not because he didn’t understand the intricacies of carrying out missions, but because human loss is always a probability. And I think this is was a sincere concern for him, but one he made because he was up to the task. To think, he was criticized for visiting the soldiers at Walter Reed on a weekly basis by Fox News. We would come to miss his caring nature because once he left the White House, the Presidency was taken over by a “f*ck your feelings” mentality.

Obama has this uncanny ability to keep calm during what would have put many of us over the edge. The discrimination he endured (and still does) should give everyone pause. Because even on his worst days, he still stood strong and rarely acknowledged the total bullsh*t coming out of the GOP and its favorite network, Fox News. And should he have fought more? Would it have stopped the constant barrage of misinformation that snowballs when something is not worth acknowledging? I don’t know. I don’t think so. Because no matter what the issue is, the people who want to twist the narrative will find a way to do so. The inklings of the racial discord that erupted after his term was always present, both hidden and in plain sight, and there was no stopping it when we later got a leader who seemed to enjoy dividing our nation. 

My favorite parts were when Obama spoke of the love for his mother and grandparents. And how much they shaped and impacted his life, so that yes, he developed an enduring respect for our promised land. I would be lying if I told you it doesn’t make me angry to know that his roots were ever called into question, when the reality was that he was raised by proud working Americans, who are now gone and unable defend his honor. What a gross example of taking advantage of a person’s loss.

Peppered in the pages of the memoir is the reminder that Obama is not too different from us. Yes, he was President. But he watches basketball, smokes when he is stressed out, curses when he’s pissed off, and is happiest when he is with his family (Bo and Sunny included). He never, not once, lost sight of the honor and privilege of his title. He was even embarrassed by all the nervous energy that surrounded his presence the moment in walked into a room. Obama had an appreciation for the employees in the White House, and acknowledged that many were people of color who he struggled to have clean up after him. His empathy extended to those in his administration, who worked the 16 hour days he did, but had a commute home, unlike him.

The book is over 700 pages long, and the audiobook is 29 hours. So, I can’t possibly cover everything, though I’d love to. 

My recommendation is to listen to the audiobook, because he narrates it. And there are ways he phrases things that will make you laugh at loud, and only he can do it. Always the superior orator, you will have no issue sitting back and relaxing as you learn about the highest office in the land from a modern President who would still give you the shirt off his back, even if you voted against him.

I look forward to the second part of his memoir, as that will cover the end of his term, and his life today.

The Obama Presidency took backbone, determination, sacrifice, and the audacity to believe in change. But he did it. And for that, I am grateful. So, thanks Obama. 

No, really.

Thank you.

Rating: 5/5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️