Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sailing To Oblivium: June 22, 2017

It’s easy to let despondency win these days. Have we reached the “tipping point” in the moral collapse of America? There are signs, sure enough.

- There seems to be no end of corporate money dedicated to ending America as we know it.
- Too many people, many of them otherwise decent human beings, seem totally unable to forgive America for having elected a man of color as president.
- We have a president who, free from evaluation by any traditional measure of moral or ethical standards, suffers no harm from the most egregious words and acts imaginable.
- The heads of federal agencies are, for the most part, headed by individuals dedicated to the destruction of their agency.
- We may have the worst Cabinet in the history of the country, according to some observers.
- We have a horrifying percentage of “one-issue” voters—whether the issue be tax cuts, guns, abortion, or race—who would vote for Charles Manson released from prison and granted the right to run for office, if he promised to support them on their one issue.
- We increasingly place corporate profits over the survival of the planet.
- We are one heart attack away from a Supreme Court that would remove any individual right in favor of corporate wealth.
- We have so-called religious leaders in America who, unlike the Pope in Italy, have joined the forces of hatred and divisiveness, and are leading their followers to the precipice.
- We have dropped a notch from irrelevance to ridicule in the developed world.
- The United States Senate secretly drafted, with enough votes for a rushed passage in all likelihood, a bill that would affect every person in America. (Stop for a moment and let that one sink in).
- We hear rumors of worse things to come, that the Koch Brothers, for example, are nearing enough political strength at the state level to initiate a constitutional convention at the federal.

So how am I able to retain any level of optimism?

One: This is America. We lived through Jim Crow, the Great Depression, the nightmare of 1968, Nixon, Iran-Contra, and the Great Recession. We can live through this if only we retain our balance.

Two: No matter how high a summer thunderhead rises, it always collapses from its own weight. So may the forces of greed and malice.

And Three: There is something my sainted mother used to tell me. She’d say, “Son, the darkest part of night is just before dawn.”

And Mother was always right.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sailing To Oblivium: June 21, 2017

My  personan experience suggests that mixing religion and politics doesn’t work. When I use the Sermon on the Mount as a guide, my candidates lose.

When I consult the 25th Chapter of the Gospel of  Matthew for support, my candidates lose.

When I rely on Matthew 7:12 or Luke 6:31, my candidates lose.

I’ve learned to keep away from the Seventh Chapter, Verse 1, of Matthew as well. Judging others seems to be a sure-fire winner for politicians in our country these days. Not only politicians benefit from it, the so-called evangelist Franklin Graham has used the art of judging others to become a national icon.

Let’s face it. My candidates always lose when the Galilean helps me choose.

I could go to the vengeful, jealous, and ultra-harsh god of the Hebrew Bible and do better, I suppose. In fact, I suspect that some people read about the treatment of the Midianites as recounted in the Book of NumbersChapter 31 (only the virginal girls were spared after the war—given to the Israelite soldiers) and say “Mister we could use a man like Holy Moses again.” It works. Their candidates keep winning.

Maybe I would just do better to base my political decisions on platforms, plans, perspicacity, and past performance. I see far too many of my friends making all their political decisions on one issue that they feel is governed by religious belief. Pardon me if can’t help believing that a one-issue voter is a dangerous American. Prey to charlatans who promise to side with them on that one issue, they fail to see that, while “the trains may be running on time,” so to speak, people are being sent to their destruction, sometimes on those very same trains.

In the long run, I’ll stay friends with the Galilean, but vote, as I see it, for the practitioners of good government over the promisers of perfection.

Where will our chosen path lead?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Sailing to Oblivion: June 20, 2017

Odd thing is, there is not a city council in this country that could pass a law the way our United States Senate is doing. Why? One wonders.

Why would we hold local politicians to a higher standard than national ones? Local ones may make decisions that affect us more directly, “where the rubber meets the road,” and all that. But they lack the power, as individual bodies of government, to destroy the economy, the world, or our planet. The ones in Washington can accomplish all those things, and now seem hell-bent on doing just that, and doing it in secret. Why? One wonders. As a social-media post asked recently, “Why is everything not enough?”

Further, my experience with city governments, and it is an exhaustive one, demonstrates that the leaders most often seem to be trying to build something, solve a problem, or make ends meet. They, in the vast majority of cases, attempt to look after us.

But we watch them, the women and men who run our cities, just the same. We make the operate in the sunlight. We make their methods transparent. We make their records public and available to the press. We hold them accountable. We do, in a surprising number of cases, kick them out it they don't do right. More often than not, they behave accordingly.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our senators did the same? Perhaps they would if we started selecting them by performance and not by party.

That is the question I ponder after reading the news of June 6, 2017.

Just wondering.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Sailing To Oblivium: June 19, 2017

My late father-in-law always claimed it started after World War Two. I think the first tangible sign was when we started letting boys wear baseball hats to the supper table. Now we let grown men wear cowboy hats during memorial services.

It is this lack of civility and the abandonment of even the barest hint of social propriety that has washed over our nation like a noxious flood. It leads to women wearing the white dress of virginity to their fifth wedding. It leads to individuals wearing shorts to funerals. It leads to such acts of tackiness as putting dark meat in a chicken salad. Where have our standards of decency gone? Is classlessness the new etiquette?

We see it manifested to extremes now as individuals block supermarket lanes while talking on their cell phones, sometimes discussing, in a loud voice, intimate details that would embarrass a confessional priest. Oh, and our politicians. Let's not forget them. Just today, E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote an interesting piece about the loss of civility in the national political arena.

Civility is not merely disappearing in our lives. It bespeaks, to many at least, a sign of weakness that, somehow, makes the practitioner of it a limp-wristed pansy. A beloved and highly popular TV character’s favorite phrase is, “Never apologize. It’s a sign of Weakness.” Wow. That one will get you far in life.

That’s actually a line lifted from a John Wayne movie She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, from 1949. It was more or less a stupid line then as well as now. A better one would be “Never explain. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies wouldn’t believe it anyway.” That’s a line from a long-forgotten episode of the TV series Four Star Playhouse, delivered by the late David Niven.

I bring up films and TV shows because that is where we seem to get our behavioral guidance these days, not from Grandma’s knee but from professional wrestling shows. Too many people don’t stop, it seems, to consider one thing. As David Letterman pointed out once, these incidents at pro wrestling matches in which one of the wrestlers is removed, bloody and unconscious, from Madison Square Garden, and rushed, via stretcher, to the emergency room, are not, for some reason, reported in the next day’s New York Times. One has to wonder why.

It seems that things no longer have to be real in order to be true and effective. Maybe that is intended. Maybe it serves some insidious purpose to downgrade reality in the minds of our people. It did occur to me once that the main difference between a video game and real war is a sucking chest wound.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sailing to Oblivium: June 18, 2017

They weren’t the kind of men who normally heaped praise and adulation on another. What was going on? I took a seat on the near edge of the circle.

Then it came clear. Here was a bunch of senior men, woodworkers all, taking turns praising the owner of our local lumber store. One by one they were going around stating their greatest blessing for getting to buy lumber from him. You can’t imagine.

When they came to me, I hadn’t had time to think. “Tell us,” one man said, “what is your greatest blessing in getting to deal with this great man.”

“I don’t recall,” I said. They all laughed.

It is comforting to know that we still find humor during these strange times in America.

What isn’t comforting to know is that while we are laughing, another institution that helped make our country great is being dismantled in a systematic effort to strip us of individual protections, rights, and comfort.

What isn’t comforting to know is that while we are laughing, children are going to bed hungry, innocent people are getting shot on our streets, our oceans are becoming barren, and veterans, their widows, and their orphans are being stripped of the promise of succor promised by Abraham Lincoln in 1865. All that time, presidential power is being wasted on the re-kindling of a nearly 60-year-old cold war against country whose leader who died a year ago and whose people take no harmful actions against our country.

What isn’t comforting to know that almost an entire presidential administration is under investigation for wrongdoing and that, if toppled, we will see a new president who doesn’t believe in the most basic building blocks of science.

What isn’t comforting to know is that a foreign country, our sworn enemy for more than 50 years, likely affected the results of our county’s most recent presidential election.

What isn’t comforting to know is that the prestige of America in most parts of the world is melting as fast as the polar icecaps.

What isn’t comforting to know is the level of anger and sadness that is covering our cities, landscapes, and neighborhoods.

Speaking of Lincoln, it is written that he used humor to ease the cosmic pains of the terrible struggles he led the country through. Maybe it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we do as well.

That’s what the news of June 18, 2017 brings to mind.

President Lincoln with his generals after Antietam,
America's bloodiest single day. They say he relied
on humor to ease his pain. Can we?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sailing To Oblivion: June 17, 2017

We teach it in public administration classes. “Where you stand depends on where you sit.” We see it a lot lately.

Whether it’s the sexual assault trial of Bill Cosby, the comedian and actor, or the investigation of our presidential administration, there is a temptation to view events from our particular sitting spot. It is the sort of thing that can send social media into an uncontrollable frenzy. It can even lead to mayhem and violence. It is what I think of as I experience what appears to be another tack into the sea of disbelief, as we sail to Oblivion on June 17, 2017.

Where we stand depends on where we sit. That would be “Miles Law,” named after the Truman-era bureaucrat who coined the phrase.

We saw it as a symptom of our patriarchal society recently. While Trey Gowdy and his minions had freedom to unleash whatever fury they chose on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, somehow the tender sensibilities of current Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to be protected from the tough questioning of Senator Kamala Harris, Democrat of California.

One can only imagine the sort of slobbering venom that hate media would have produced had Secretary Clinton said, “you make me nervous.” Men do tend to get a free ride in our society, many times because strong women do exactly that—make them nervous. Like Ginger Rogers, who matched every dance move of Fred Astaire, only backwards and in high heels, we men expect our sisters, in this travail of life, to accomplish more, with less acknowledgement, while maintaining a soft and compliant smile. Like plantation owners in the old movies felt about their slaves, we are sure that, in their hearts, they love us.

No wonder they—the strong women of America—regard us men as complete idiots. They don’t have to run around yelling “lock him up, lock him up.” They know that, given enough time, he’ll lock himself up.” Or that’s surely how it looks from where they sit. So many times, the truth lies not in the smile but in what is hidden behind the smile. Miles Law is in operation. It’s just that we have no inkling of where they are mentally sitting.

Meanwhile, from where the men reside, that hegemonic position espoused since the writing of the Holy Bible, it seems only natural to be treated as superior, protected from harsh judgement, given a leg up in our endeavor and always given the benefit of the doubt. It’s the way the Universe was formed. It’s the way things are. Justice carries men along like a mighty river carrying a boat. It is only natural

Or is it? There is another actor in this drama: time. And one can’t think of the inexorable role of this particular actor without recalling the famous ending of Fern Hill, perhaps the most famous Dylan Thomas poem,

“Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.”

You want me to be quiet where?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Sailing Inrto Oblivion: June 16, 2017

Shakespeare said it, “… for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We see it already in this week’s tragedy. Various political viewpoints are already beginning to view it through the prism of their own belief structures. I see it simply as a further step into collective madness. When will it stop?

We see it through the scope of history as well. On January 30, 1068, Viet Cong and NVA forces launched a massive attack on cities throughout South Vietnam. I was just outside of one of those and can testify that it wasn’t a pleasant time.

By all accounts, American and South Vietnamese forces were victorious. The Viet Cong never recovered from their losses and it took a long time for the NVA to regroup. For the otherwise hapless South Vietnam forces, it was their finest hour. They fought like demons alongside us. I saw piles of dead bodies, purportedly Viet Cong, piled like tree branches along key intersections, warnings I suppose.

It didn’t matter. The press, tired of the reports from our generals that all was going according to plan, was incensed that an attack of this scope could occur under the very noses of those generals. Their voices, thereafter, ranged from wariness to opposition.

The American people, quite frankly, war-weary already, began to realize that too many of their young men would die in that far-off place. It was time to bring them home.

Even the ones fighting wondered what was happening.

In North Vietnam, they treated it as a setback and regrouped. The VC melted into the jungles and dug in to wait.

In Washington, men just scratched their heads, and a president decided to call it quits.

Why was I involved in this mess? I don't recall having ever believed the reasons they me.

Each actor in the event viewed the results differently. There is even the lingering belief by some Americans that we could have “won” that war. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”

How sad. As hard as we might believe in the successes, it didn’t matter. Had we stayed another 20 years, the VC and NVA would still have been fighting us, just as the Taliban will be fighting us in Afghanistan 20 years from now.

It just doesn’t matter what we believe. The facts don’t care. They flow beneath our loyalties, prejudices, and predispositions like a weary river, “headed somewhere safe to sea.” No, the facts don’t care what we think. Nor, anymore, do the victims.           

That time of our living greatly? It sure as hell wasn’t 1968.

The photograph that proved violence
is not always effective, That it can prove
to be counter-productive, in fact.