Saturday, January 20, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 20, 2107

On mornings like this, expressing one’s feelings is difficult. Finding solace takes some digging unless you’re a libertarian. They’re happy. No government in our country is, after all, their lifelong dream. Talk about “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” We’ll re-visit them when our rivers start burning again.

I guess some members of our president’s political party are happy. I’m not sure all of them are, but they could have prevented his train wreck at any time. I suspect the party’s radical fringe has the more thoughtful members locked into behavior-prisons from which they would just soon escape. Perhaps, several “Thomas Becket Moments,” “Saul of Tarsus Transformations,” or “John Newton Transfigurations” might have saved us.

Too late now, though.

Me? I’m just happy I don’t have to explain our country to my cousins in Germany. I’m sure that some of their ancestors felt the same way in 1936.


I’m happy that the sun will rise in a few moments and the intemperate weather has subsided to the point where I can walk outside and enjoy the rebirth of “… my own little postage stamp of native soil,” as William Faulkner described his own world years ago.

I’m happy that YouTube still has posts of David Oistrakh playing Sibelius.

I’m happy that Joseph Conrad was born.

I’m happy that a person of African-American descent in our country can dine in restaurants, attend movies, pursue an education, and become President.

I’m happy Jonas Salk discovered a way to prevent polio and chose not to, in the ways “Big Pharma,” file a patent, so it would be available to the “least of those among us.”

I’m happy that it only took our planet 3.5 billion years to produce a Vincent van Gough from single-celled prokaryotic cells.

I’m happy that our American political system was blessed by the (much too brief) participation of a Barbara Jordan.

I’m happy that John Lewis survived Pettus Bridge.

I’m happy that Bob Dylan has lived a long life.

I’m happy that my best friend is sleeping in the next room and hasn’t grown tired of me.

I’m happy that I can still breath, think, and walk.

I’m happy that my cadre of close friends are, to a person, some of the finest people our country has ever produced, and that I will never have to apologize for the actions of any of them.

I’m happy that I served my country, albeit that I didn’t particularly want to at the time. Now, though, it scares some, pisses off some, and impresses a few, not a bad tally.

Finally, I guess that I’m happy in a way that I probably won’t be around to see our planet take its last gasp, that is to say unless those younger than I decide to take control. That doesn’t appear likely this morning, but I’m happy that the great pendulum of history swings fore and aft, that there hasn’t been a ship of state drop anchor for an extended length of time since the Egyptians, and that, as Lewis Mumford said, “trend is not destiny.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 19, 2018

There’s something we need in America. Forget statues of Confederate soldiers. They fought for slavery. The Abandoned Woman: she deserves a monument. That’s who deserves honor and glory.

Who do I mean? Let me give you a composite from my personal experiences over the years. The following is no single person. She is, though, as real as the computer on which I type. Everything I’m going to describe is true. It all just happened to different people I’ve known. Consider a woman’s story.

She didn’t attend college. Instead, she worked so her husband could. Or, perhaps she married straight out of high school to a promising young man and began raising the child they conceived together and she birthed. (Notice I didn’t say “his child.” That term makes me nauseated).

Things went well until after that first child. Then she changed. The change showed on a face beleaguered by the strains put on her by colic, colds, bad tempers, diarrhea, teething, accidents, or the many other trials of nurture that go unseen by husbands and friends.

Perhaps the change manifested itself by a weight gain. Maybe the “ten” her husband described her as, to his friends, while the two had courted slipped to an “eight.” Maybe she wasn’t as “hot to trot” as she had once been. Maybe she just got older.

Her husband changed too. He was becoming successful, a change he felt entitled him to the same marriage benefits as always. Besides, the more successful he became, the more the younger women at work admired him. His wife should as well, even as she washed his dirty underwear.

Then he met “Bambi” and everything changed. He hated to do it, but, dammit, Bambi was still a “ten,” maybe even better. One night his desires and disappointments collided and his wife and child were banished to a friend’s house. She found a cheap apartment for the two of them. Divorce followed.

What’s an abandoned wife to do? First a job. She still had skills, though they were rusty. She found a job typing and sued for child support. The judge, an old friend of the ex-husband’s boss, awarded an amount that was 21 dollars a month less than the cheapest child care center she could find. It cost her “ex” so much that he had to forego membership in a more prestigious duck club. He was kind enough to remind her of that often.

Once a month he would pick up his son for the weekend. It turns out that Bambi’s family owned horses. The son would come home after the weekend spent with his father and talk incessantly about riding horses and how much he looked forward to the next visitation. Oh, and why couldn’t they have a horse?

The “father-son ecstasy” would not persist. Soon, Dad and Bambi had their own child. It drew the attention. Then, the same weak moral standards that caused Dad to abandon his first family finally cost him his job. Both the visits and the child-support payments became “iffy.” In those days, there was little recourse from an all-male judicial system.

The woman just worked harder. Sometimes there was a second job that still allowed her care for the son. Maybe she attended night classes. Maybe she found herself in a better job, training men to fill the position just above hers. She thought of dating, but men wanted an unencumbered “ten” for serious involvements. Even if she were still “hot to trot,” men weren’t interested in long journeys, just short sprints around the track.

Why a monument to her? Just this: she survived, and that survival should be an inspiration to us all. Despite the abandonment, the privation, and the fact that she worked for sixty cents on the dollar compared to a male counterpart, she survived. It was a feat accomplished by a work ethic and a monumental determination that might be compared in some aspects to the strength of African-Americans during the Jim Crow era.

Yeah, I think she deserves a monument. After all, she didn’t start out on her own with a gift of a college education and a million dollars. She’s worth, though, a lot more than that.

Why do I preach about it? Because I’m as guilty as the next person, and maybe self-awareness is the first step toward redemption and reparation. Oh yes, and maybe I respect success produced from a strength that was forged from the heat of adversity more than I respect success by inheritance.

To Moms

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 17, 2018

One of the things that cause me despair these days has to do with my college education. I decided at first to study architecture. The only problem there was it took talent, and I had none. I ended up in urban planning, a more fitting, and surprisingly well-paid career. I flourished, but never regretted my efforts in architecture. They proved most fruitful in both my professional and public lives.

See, they taught me that problems exist to be solved, and that solving them is one of life’s noble callings. Further, it taught that difficult problems can be addressed with a combination of facts, analysis, education, study, application, and cooperation.

Does it always work? No. Is there a better way of solving problems? Not that I know of. Then what is causing me despair?

Simply this: at our higher levels of government, I see no effort to solve some of the most serious, dangerous, and emotionally-charged problems that our country faces. This unwillingness to collaborate on addressing problems appears is chipping away at the fundamental tenants of a democracy that once was a shining light for the world. That democracy is now becoming a world-wide laughing stock.

When solutions are proposed in Washington, or many state capitols, they are the most potentially disruptive, cruelest, polarizing and mean-spirited ones that can be devised. Is there an alternative? Maybe.

Some years ago, the federal legislature passed, and the president signed into law a bill very favorable to religious and other institutions but not so for public bodies, including cities. One of the provisions of the act stated that solutions proposed by those public entities had to be the “least restrictive possible.” That’s not a bad stricture for many issues—perhaps not for pandemics, but for most things. Current proposals by the federal government, however, tend to verge on the most restrictive and, as I say, disruptive solutions possible. One feels obligated to say, “physician, heal thyself.”

As for the poor, the disadvantaged, the forgotten, strangers from another land, or those whom nature didn’t produce as a Caucasian heterosexual, the attacks are particularly heinous and the neglect most heartbreaking. The most terrifying and confusing aspect of all this is that the very worst of the persecutors are the ones who most loudly claim direct guidance from The Galilean.

Is either political party blameless? No. But as the actual or cultural descendants of those who froze in the Ardennes, suffered for a woman’s right to vote, ended slavery, or hung from trees as “Strange Fruit” in our American South, we have the right to an elected president who seeks to unite, not divide us. If that individual refuses to do so, we have the right to demand that the political party represented take action for Americans and not for party.

It’s too important that it doesn’t. How can America be great when some of her children died of hunger last night? When war profiteers are using their power to convince us to invade again. When those who have everything demand more? When there are sick and dying in America, lying alone in forlorn places with no medical care. When there are those who love America, and would become a part of her heritage if only their plight could be viewed with human compassion instead of retribution. When there are those who are not allowed to live in peace as nature made them. When young boys are imprisoned in a ghetto hovel awaiting the day they are given their first gun and sent forth as a drug runner.

The list goes on, and we tweet our thoughts instead of proposing actions. As for me, I think I’ll go look in the mirror at the face of one of the guilty.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 16, 2018

Mornings I wander the net, landing on interesting places at times. Today I hit Dick Cavett’s interview of the writer Eudora Welty. One comment that Cavett allowed her to make stuck to me like a snowflake to a leaf. She was talking about being in Paris and he asked if she wrote while she was there (and not in Mississippi). “I didn’t mean to write there, because I was too busy looking,” she said. How illuminating.

Could something a Southerner saw in Paris contribute to Why I Live At The P.0.? (Read it before you do anything else). Maybe, just maybe.

The only thing I see so many people looking at these days is their cell phone. If we lose the eyes of a Eudora Welty, will we lose the voice of a potential William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper Lee, James Baldwin, Kazuo Ishiguroor, or other? Hard as one might look, there is no material, or inspiration, for Snow Falling On Cedars inside the soldered guts of a cell phone.

Perhaps that is why I, personally, find modern fiction so hard to plow through and so tiresome to read. Mostly, they are balls of angst wrapped tightly with the life-strands of weak and helpless characters who are being “borne ceaselessly” into their own Purgatory. Many read like a bad PBS mini-series (not the many excellent ones, but the ones that go from one case of human frailty to another). One will find neither a Barkis who “is willin,’” nor a Peggotty who is amused and amenable, therein.

One thing Welty did, and she did so many things well, is to set the tone for the colorful southern character. I’m not sure Southerners, if we can lump their vast diversity into one definition, are any more colorful than anyone else. But, like the image of the empty-spirited Vietnam Veteran with his broken wings, Southerners are forever stuck in society’s stereotype.

Yes, Eudora Welty helped to form the Southerner’s image. But she did it so well, and without apparent malice aforethought.

Widening our lens, Southerners, as I say, are like everyone else. I used to think they differed in that the white ones hated African-Americans more than their “other-world” counterparts. The presidency of Barrack Obama disabused me of that notion.

Next, I thought that maybe Southerners, who do tend to express themselves well, could articulate their hatred of other races more adroitly than big-city northerners. Then, Donald Trump came along.

I guess the lesson is that each of us mentally, or actually, visits our own personal Paris from time to time. Some look and see. Some don’t. Those who look may see things that, though never outwardly manifested, may inspire and help them gain immortality.

Oh yes, those who don’t look while in their particular Paris may also gain immortality. Too often, though, it results in placing them on the wrong side of history.

Miss Welty: Definitely on the right side of history 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 15, 2018

I’ve always appreciated the rewards that come from hard work, honesty, and dedication more than those from accidental benefits. Take American citizenship for example. I did nothing to deserve it. I did, though, appreciate it enough to serve the country when asked to. Four years of your life pays back a tiny bit for all the benefits from undeserved luck. Or so it seems to me.

It can rankle to watch those I call “members of the lucky sperm club” prance around in their $5,000 suits or designer outfits, many having never served their country at all, enjoying their privilege while raining insults on the least of those among us. Many of them have never worked a day or sacrificed a moment to gain their position in our world. Good fortune: it favors individuals as well as countries.

Let me tell you about a woman I know. She wasn’t born in America. She hails from a city on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. She came to this country on a visitor’s visa. She met a man from Texas and married him. They became neighbors of ours at the farm we own in rural Arkansas. We are proud to call her and her husband our friends.

He grew up living with his family, and three others, on one-fourth of the enclosed rear of a flatbed truck, traveling from harvest to harvest across the heartland of America, far from the gilded towers of Manhattan.

We were honored by helping her prepare "Green Card" papers that had to be delivered to Memphis early one morning. It was our further privilege to sponsor her. At the time, her husband worked until midnight each day, so we set our alarm and met them at the remote house of a woman who put the finishing touches on the paperwork for us to sign. Then, off they went toward Tennessee, with neither sleep nor rest.

The next evening, they came to our house, all smiles, with a small gift of thanks. Later, I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony in which she became an American citizen.

They’ve had their ups and downs since, but they have survived and raised two wonderful children, one of which is now almost halfway through a college education. Along the way, for a few years, they cared for four abandoned children, keeping them out of the foster care system until their parents took them back.

On special occasions, she treats us to the best tamales this side of Mexico City. He helps me keep some of our antique farm equipment running. When she’s not cooking, tending house, or working, she knits head coverings to donate to kids undergoing cancer treatment at St. Jude’s hospital in Memphis. We exchange gifts at Christmas and smiles and waves much more often.

Don’t ask us, if you would, whether we would choose her and her family, or the Trumps, as friends and neighbors.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Morning Thoughts: January 14,

At the risk of belaboring the point, I think there is something else that bothers me about using intemperate language toward other countries.

My father’s family immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s. They came despite the fact that our country had recently suffered over 600,000 deaths in a fight over whether to allow the enslavement of one race of humans by another. Immigrants evidently saw promise in the new land instead of a tragic and incoherent history.

My father attended a one-room school in rural Arkansas. His grandfather barely spoke English and still owned a pair of wooden shoes he had brought over from Germany. His father had been subjected, as a youth, to indentured servitude. Ties to the old country were strong.

Daddy would have been five or six when America entered the First World War. His schoolmates echoed the opinions of many important members of our government toward the country of our ancestry. I’m not sure they whether they called it a “shithole” country or not. But the children called my father a “Dirty Hun,” despite the fact that one of his uncles wore our county’s uniform.

Later, as the second of the world wars initiated by our ancestral country and its allies raged, America was fairly certain of who our friends and enemies were. But history is fluid and its meanderings unpredictable. The enemies of today may be the friends of tomorrow. Hatred is a weak anchor with which to moor our ship of values. Americans should have realized that by now.

Some have. Some haven’t. Many of our mothers and fathers, coming out of America’s greatest economic depression, watched, in horror, the results of a nation’s people slowly allowing themselves to be led and governed by men who loathed and abominated minorities. The resulting millions of dead cry out to us from the pits of history, pleading for us not to repeat the mistake.

Will we? My reading of history tells me that the seeds of World War Two didn’t instantly produce full-grown plants from a once-dead land. They sprouted first as an identification of scapegoats on which to blame current problems. They flourished as minorities suffered demonization and good people watched in silence. They grew limbs and leaves as minorities lost the right to human decency and their friends and neighbors went about their business.

Then the orators took over. Intemperate language became acceptable, even lauded. Hatred became the norm. War became the solution of choice. Isolation of the educated and ghettoization of the powerless went unchecked. Eventually, the ovens appeared, next, the smoke columns.

Maybe the crops of that war all germinated the day a young boy called a classmate a “dirty Jew.”

Maybe the fruits of those crops blossomed the day the Fuhrer denounced an entire race as vermin.

Maybe those crops fed the troops who invaded country, after country, that the Fuhrer had denounced in intemperate terms.

Too often, our mouth is the gateway to our heart. Let us hope that one person’s mouth is not the gateway to our nation’s heart.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

It is ironic that I was visiting some of the finest people on the planet when I heard about the obscene words uttered about countries less fortunate than ours. I was, in fact, with leaders of our state’s cities. They serve those from a great diversity of areas. All are doing monumental jobs of facing increasingly complex problems, jobs aggravated by members of society who no longer view racial harmony and love of humankind as a way to address those problems.

As with our cities, the founders of the countries of our planet were not all motivated by a desire to seek a new life and a willingness to oust native cultures that stood in their way. Some are peopled now by descendants of humans transported to their countries in chains, their bodies shackled together head to foot in spaces barely 18 inches high. Those lucky enough to survive the sea journey faced a life of misery and spirit-killing slave labor.

We express wonder that some of their descendants don’t see hard work and enthusiasm as keys to happiness.

The volunteer immigrants sought land rich in resources and relatively free from Nature’s resistance. The flourished as much from natural conditions as they did from personal initiative.

We acknowledge their hard work.

At the same time, we should always bear in mind that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.”

As with our sister countries, the cities of our state have faced a great variety of historical and natural forces. Some cities, once located in pockets of poverty, despair, and backwardness, have found the changes of times generous and bountiful. They flourish, not so much from the actions of former residents, but from the almost accidental turns of fortune.

Other cites watched as the socio-economic dynamics of the world rolled over them like a hurricane of destruction and ill-will. Again, because of nothing their former populations did or did not do, they struggle like “boats against the current,” most often being “borne back into the past.”

I thought about this all the way as I was driving home yesterday.

I thought about times I have been in the luckier parts of our state and have heard otherwise good and decent people describe, to my face, the area of our state from which I come. They use the same terms that the president, of this great and fortunate country of ours, uses to describe those countries occupied by the less-blessed of our brothers and sisters.

I thought of the summer nights I have spent sweating in the Arkansas Delta, meeting in a rural church, windows open and mosquitoes so thick we could scarcely see one another. I remembered how, many times, I was the only white face in a room full of folks in desperate need of potable drinking water for their families, or some other basic need of life.

I thought of cities in our state that once provided goods and services for a population thriving on an agricultural or manufacturing economy, but are now deserted wastelands since those employers mechanized or moved to enjoy near-slave labor in those countries we now call “shit holes.”

I thought of a friend from El Salvador, who fled a country of devastated by natural disasters as well as from gang warfare that results, in part, from the desires of people in our country to purchase illegal drugs. He performs a job once done by three people and is a model of what our country needs to face the future. He has never written a piece, or spoken to a crowd, urging Americans to hate or distrust one another. This, in my book, makes him a better citizen than Franklin Graham, the commentators on Fox “news,” or politicians who use hate and distrust as election vehicles.

The Galilean urged us to love one another and respect other cultures, even the Samaritans of his day. We could use people who would live by his counsel to run our country.

I thought about the young child on the porch of a shack in our state’s forgotten rural areas, a child siting cold and hungry waiting for his mother to finish “earning” enough for a hit of crystal meth. Yeah. He’s living in a “shit hole.” But he’s our son. What will we say, or think, when he's old enough to get his first gun?

I remembered a piece I had read earlier in the day. An opinion writer said our president simply said aloud what many Americans were inwardly thinking. I hoped it wasn’t true, but I started to tear up. For a moment, I felt the Galilean join me.