Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Prague

June 21, 2017

A decade and a half ago, I took a few post-baccalaureate courses at our local university, Appalachian State. I had some educational strategies in mind. Those plans didn’t really pan out. Nevertheless, what I learned at that time sharpened some research skills that had been dormant in me since I had become a worker bee many years prior, in 1977.

In one education course that I took, we learned about a strategy called Compare and Contrast.

In the  years since that phase of life I have found Compare and Contrast to be a helpful idea when describing any two things.

In this case, I apply the method to two periods of time that are described in a book that I am presently reading. Under A Cruel Star, A life in Prague 1941-1968 was written by Heda Margolius Kovaly, and published in 1986 by Plunkett Lake Press of Cambridge MA.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_a_Cruel_Star

HedaPrag

The book is biographical; its focus is on one period in Heda’s life in post-war Prague, after we Allies had run the Nazis back into their holes.

Heda Margolius Kovaly was so fortunate to be a survivor–an escapee, no less– of the Nazi concentration camps;  Her book of which I write, Under a Cruel Star, begins with a harrowing account of her ordeal in sneaking out of the concentration camp at a time when the war was not yet over  then laying low as she slinked through Poland into the Czech lands and at last managed to sneak into  into her home city of Prague.

When she got to the city, Heda found the whole place bound up with Nazi paranoia. Which is to say: the Nazis were paranoid of losing what they thought they had conquered. At the same time, the locals–the Czechs and Slovaks–were still paranoid because that’s all they had known for the last six years.

After a while, the the Russians came in and “liberated” the place. Thank God.

But they had big plans for eastern Europe–Communist plans.

In the late 1940’s, the Soviets moved all their control-freak gear and Party personnel into the eastern European nations, including Czechoslovakia, Heda’s home country. In Soviet-controlled Prague, Czechoslovakia, the bossy Russians and their local Czech lackeys slowly and insidiously came to  dominate every aspect of life, with an intent to show the world how Communism, as prescribed by Marx, Lenin, Stalin et al, could be be accomplished.

Long story short, they made a big frickin’ mess of it.

Heda Margolius Kovaly and her husband were right there in the middle of all of it in the early days of Czech communism. Rudolf, her husband was appointed to an important job, a real plum of a job, as a project chief in the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

In her personal story, Heda gives an account of how Russian hegemony became more and more secretive, abusive, and cruel after the Communist coup in ’48. People were desperate for some kind of rebuilding of life, and they paid dearly for their willingness to accept the Soviet prescription for a better life. But it did not work out that way. 

The flaws in Communist ideology drove Czech life into a real dead end. Instead of life getting better for all the good comrades, life in Prague got worse and worse under the enforced Soviet regime. Heda  raises the question of how. How could the Czechs and others in eastern Europe have been so gullible and vulnerable to the force-fed communism?

The main reason these people had been rendered so vulnerable to Russian control and abuse is this: they had been extremely traumatized and debilitated by the incredibly oppressive, cruel Nazi occupation from which they had been liberated. Furthermore, on that side of Europe, the Russians were the liberators; they ran Hitler’s armies back into their holes. In that first  year of occupation, 1945, they were heroes.

After the war and all that life-shattering chain of events, the people of eastern Europe were worn out, broke, busted and disgusted. For the Russians, these people were easy pickin’s, with their hands stretched out, desperately seeking help and some resources to rebuild their cities and infrastructures.

And looking for somebody to tell them what to do, since they were still in a kind of wartime shell-shock.

But Russians came in with an agenda. It’s called communism. And the Ruskies did not have a lot of trouble getting these desperate people cranked up on a little Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist indoctrination. Power pounces on  a void.

Tank

Why were the people of eastern Europe so vulnerable to Soviet hegemony?

Part of Heda’s postwar explanation goes this way:

“Usually, the reasoning went something like this: if for purposes of building a new society, it is necessary to give up my freedom for a time, to subsume something I cherish to a cause in which I strongly believe, that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. In any case, we are a lost generation. We all might have died uselessly in the camps. Since we did survive, we want to dedicate what is left of our lives to the future.

“This streak of martyrdom was stronger that was generally understood. People felt chosen by destiny to sacrifice themselves, a feeling that was reinforced by a strong sense of guilt that characterized many who had survived the camps. Why was I alive and not my father, my mother, my friend? I owed them something. They had died in place of me. For their sake I had to build a world in which this could never happen again.

“This was where the misconception lay: in the idea that communism was the one system under which it could never happen again. Of course we knew about the communism of the thirties in the Soviet Union, but that was an era of cruelty that had ended long ago, the kind of crisis out of which all great change is born. Who today would condemn democracy for the Terror of the Jacobins after the French Revolution?

“The most eagerly embraced belief of the time was that no national or racial oppression could exist under communism . . .”

A couple of pages later, Heda arrives at this assessment:

“It was an insidious process and as old as the world. Had it not been for the war and the overwhelming need for change, we would have seen through it easily.”

Now here is where the Compare and Contrast (that I mentioned earlier) comes in.

That naive willingness to accept the communist game plan was in 1945, immediately after the trauma and desperation of the war.

Let’s fast-forward to 1952, after the Communist Party had been been running their postwar recovery show in eastern Europe for about seven years, and after Heda’s husband, Rudolf, a dedicated, very intelligent, workaholic apparatchik of the State had suddenly been arrested and imprisoned without explanation, without trial, and without any indication of where he was being held, or how long he would be detained, or when he might be released.

In her darkest days of disillusionment with the dysfunctional state of the State, in the grip of despair over the unsure fate of her imprisoned husband, Heda begins a chapter of the book by providing this description of what Czech life had become:

“Life in Prague. . . had acquired a totally negative character. People no longer aspired toward things but away from them. All they wanted was to avoid trouble. They tried not to be seen anywhere, not to talk to anyone, not to attract any attention. Their greatest satisfaction would be that nothing happened, that no one had been fired or arrested or questioned or followed by the secret police. Some fifty thousand people had so far been jailed in our small country. More were disappearing every day.”

Compare Heda’s postwar description of the the Czechs’ willingness to accept Russian hegemony– when the liberated people were compliant to help bring in the communist agenda for rebuilding the nations– Compare it to her description of how things actually turned out seven years later.

You’ll find a big difference there, a huge contrast, like the difference between day and night.

But here’s the good news. In 1989, the peoples of eastern Europe–Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Slavs and others, cast off the chains of Soviet domination, and the light of liberty began to shine again.

We need to help them strengthen the good that was gained in 1989.

Smoke

Overcoming Mediocrity and Alienation with Freedom

June 10, 2017

Trying to fix this world is no easy task. Many people have pondered about what is wrong with it, and some have offered remedies about how to correct the perpetual problem of human activity and its destructive effects on our collective life on this planet.

For instance, about a century and a half ago, a very smart German fellow named Karl Marx theorized that the prosperous owners of the world’s production facilities should be replaced by the working folks who keep all the nuts and bolts turning. If this transition of ownership could be accomplished, the world would eventually be a better place, or so Karl thought.

Vladimir Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades got a hold of that idea, and they enforced the Russian Revolution of 1917. After they deposed the Czar and his Romanov dynasty family, and after the revolutionaries had manhandled power unto the people for purposes of taking control of the “means of production,” the newfound Communists of Russia took a stab at running the country, with their sights sent on the entire world.

There was some confusion in their ranks about exactly what needed to be done; Lenin and his diehards had to push Trotsky and his people out of the picture, but that wasn’t really enough purging to settle all the issues. So later, in the 1930’s, Joe Stalin took it upon himself to purge the revolutionary and bureaucratic ranks of all questionable persons who couldn’t get with the (Stalin’s) program.

Well, that was a sinister and bloody affair. Meanwhile, further down the map in Europe, Hitler and his Nazi goons were making a big bloody mess of Germany and the surrounding countries, and that whole conflagration turned into one hell of a humongous World War, in which we Americans had to go over there and help the Brits and the French, et al, put an end to it.

After the Big War, the Communists were still in control of Russia, and Stalin was still running the show and the gulag, and the working out of the Marx-theorized dictatorship of the proletariat and so forth. Part of the strategy of the International Communist plan to save the world from Capitalist abuse was to spread the revolution into other parts of the world.

After World War II finally skidded to a long-overdue frigging halt, when the dust settled in Europe, the continent was pretty much divided down the middle between the freedom-cultivating Capitalist Allies and the pushy Russian Communists. There was a kind of imaginary dividing between these two entities, which Winston Churchill called the Iron Curtain.

Over here in the West, we were flat-out tired of making war. The Nazi war machine had worn us out, even though we won. And the Russians, although they were certainly tired of fighting the war, were also tired of the whole damned war thing.  Nevertheless, the Ruskies were still quite stubborn in their resolve to save the world from Capitalism.

So they began a new, very big project to impose their Russian version of Communism on the rest of the world– Starting, mainly, in eastern Europe where they were already occupying those post-war-torn Nazi-disaster zone nations, most notably Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

BrshnvK

Recently I picked up a book, from my precious local library, about people and events in Communist-occupied postwar eastern Europe.

   https://www.amazon.com/Prague-Sprung-Notes-Voices-World/dp/0275945367

David Leviatin’s Prague Sprung  presents a penetrating view into the Communist world of power mongering as it existed from the 1948 takeover until the overthrow of Russian hegemony in 1989.

In his book project, David interviews many Czechs who, as members of the Communist party, performed roles in the development and administration of Czechoslovakia.

During one interview, David Leviatin speaks to Miroslav Jindra about his career as an educator. Jindra’s training as a teacher of English and Czech language began in 1948 when he entered Charles University in Prague. After graduating he taught languages at both elementary and college levels.

During that time Mr. Jindra encountered there, however, a double-minded mindset that tended to complicate everything. It seemed that academic excellence and enquiry were not the first priorities. Rather, he found that behind the surface of the institution was a certain Marxist mindset which was being promulgated by the Communist regime. The politicos in charge of Czech education had an agenda, and it was more about political control than academic enquiry. Consequently, to function in such an academic environment was no simple matter.

“I belonged to the group of people who developed some sort of maneuver, some sort of defending mechanism, because otherwise it was impossible to survive. I learned at the same time to be as inconspicuous as possible. If you were very good, you were conspicuous. Something would happen to you. If you were too lazy, you were also conspicuous. This is what we now call the tendency to mediocrity.”

Jindra goes on to  explain that the Russian takeover of his country in 1948 was followed by a period of radical leftist change, which was imposed methodically by Communist taskmasters. But later, during the 1950’s their doctrinaire extremism began to run out of steam. The demands of economic and political reality required more practical applications of human motivation and activity. By the 1960’s narrow-minded apparatchiks who had imposed Stalinist cruelties had to tone down their rhetoric and their programs as it became apparent that something was wrong.

By 1956, Khrushchev’s admission of Stalinist abuses and crimes initiated a shockwave of reassessment that rumbled across the whole communist world.

As Jindra states it: “They found out something was wrong.” So the Stalinist phase of world communism began to morph into something else.

But Khrushchev’s admission wasn’t the only crack that was then appearing in the Soviet wall of oppression.

Also at that time, in 1956, the partisans of Hungary, next door  to Czechoslovakia, rose up in undisguised anger against their Russian overlords. As a Czech speaking about their 1956 news of the Hungarian uprising, Miroslav Jindra says:

“We were told that the Revolution in Hungary was endangered by some reactionaries, but everybody knew what happened there.”

Which is to say, everybody knew what (really) happened there.

As citizens of eastern Europe found themselves, over the years, mired deeper and deeper in sloughs of Communist Party control,  they were cornered into a new, schizo way of thinking and speaking. Euphemism– saying what is generally known to be true but saying it in a way that would not be objectionable, or even understood by, Communist party officials– became a necessity. Saying what you meant without really saying it become a finely honed, stealthy strategy–even a mindset– of mounting resistance.

Eastern Europe came to be something like a kettle put on low heat; it took a long time to boil. It didn’t actually boil over until 1989.

There were many Soviet oppressions that provoked discontent and bitterness among the people of eastern Europe.

Here’s one bitter bi-product of Soviet oppression in  particular, that Miroslav Jindra’s narrative brings to this reader’s attention. But it was not an obvious one. Rather, it is subtle thing, and it slithers into the fearful comrade’s mind like a serpent: alienation.

Think about it this way. Have you ever been in a job where you wanted to do good work, but could not, because your micro-managing boss or co-workers were obsessed with unimportant details instead of actually accomplishing good work?

That’s what was going on in the world of Soviet political correction.

From page 66 of David Leviatan’s Prague Sprung, educator Miroslav Jindra speaks of the doublethink that was required to function as faculty member at Charles University, in Prague:

“In 1976, I was invited to come back to the faculty since two people had retired and they needed some help. There were some very good people in the faculty. If you had some contacts with them, you were quite safe. On the other hand, there were some very nasty people in the Party, people who were not qualified as experts, as specialists, who were just political figures. Their task was to watch over what we said. If you were careful enough you could evade them. We didn’t have any intellectual freedom at all. We had very limited area to maneuver. If you were clever, you could. I think that quite often I managed to tell the students what I wanted to tell them, but maybe I didn’t tell them directly. I tried to make them find out for themselves.

But it’s a big relief now (circa 1991). I don’t need to think over anything, my next word. This was crazy. It was double-thinking.”

The mindset that requires fearful, constant double-minded euphemism is destructive. When truth cannot be plainly spoken, a kind of collective schizophrenia takes hold of a society. This is what the history of communism has revealed about human nature. In State-controlled regimes, Party-appointed–or even self-appointed– micro-managers who are obsessed with political correctness and petty rules dominate everything that is allowed to happen. The end results bring mediocrity, which is the opposite of excellence. For serious teachers, students or workers who want to discover truth and strive for productivity, alienation plagues them and drags them into sloughs of discouragement and despair.

By the late 1980’s, the peoples of eastern Europe–and even the Russians– were sick of the double-minded burdens that the communist State had been demanding of them, so they overthrew it. The revolution began with bold people like Vaclav Havel in the Czech lands, Imre Nagy in Hungary, Lech Walesa in Poland.

Eventually leaders such as Yeltsin and Gorbachev got a hold of it. The rest is history. Gorbachev took Reagan’s advice; he tore down a wall. That certainly to helped to get the ball of liberty rolling.

Much to the doctrinaire Communists’ surprise, the people of Germany turned out to be more than willing to help in tearing down that Berlin wall–piece by piece. Freedom is irresistible when you get a whiff of it.

But freedom is not easy to attain. In America, we are fortunate to have prospered in the liberty that was attained, at great sacrifice, for us long ago. That liberty has since been assured and secured by men and women who are willing to defend it. We defend it, not only militarily, but also politically, academically, and economically.

Let’s keep it that way. Freedom is a way of life that we don’t want to lose. Let us not squander it.

King of Soul

What about them Ruskies?

March 22, 2017

The inner workings of our democratic republic were brought into my awareness a couple of days ago as I was listening on NPR to Congressional hearings while mixing concrete for a deck stairway addition to my home.

They say that multi-tasking is not something you can effectively do. I have never believed that, so I try to do it all the time.

On that particular day, which happened to be the first day of spring, it felt good to be outside on a sunny morning in the slowly warming upper-40’s fahrenheit air, doing a constructive work in the yard while at the same time tuning into the hearing being conducted by Chairman Devin Nunes of the  House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

While trying to learn about the delicate and bullysome governance of our great nation while getting some work done, I make mental note to self: good luck with that.

So there I was  in the morning sunshine mixing concrete and it felt great in our cool early morning Blue Ridge mountain air.

And there was something about the experience that I would like to convey to you because I feel it is important that citizens make themselves aware of some of the issues that confront those men and women whose job it is to govern, and to work productively within in an immense, arcane federal bureaucracy the purpose of which is to keep our nation going.

Maybe its because I’m an old guy now, 65, that the first thing that jumps out in my mind is a deja vu of the Watergate hearings in 1973. As I was hearing our Representatives speak about Mr. Flynn, President-elect Trump, the Russians, FISA, unmasking this or that person, and possible unauthorized dissemination of classified information about a US person, etcetera etcetera blah blah blah . . .

My mind was flashing on the summer of 1973 when I was watching the Senate Judiciary Committee as they gathered info about the White House “plumbers” who broke into an office in the  Watergate hotel in Washington. During those hearings there was talk of Mr. McCord, Mr. Mitchell, and John Dean, and there was administrative finesse being displayed by Chairman Sam Ervin.

That was the last time, you see, that I listened attentively to a Congressional hearing.

Of course there is no real relationship between that Watergate fiasco 44 years ago  and whatever is going on now with this present wiretapping allegation brouhaha  as it relates to presidential politics.

But there was a connection in my mind between these two situations that are so far apart in time.

Perhaps what triggered the memory in my mind was the repetitive mentions of certain phrases being spoken by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers. I kept hearing certain answers:

Hearings

“I can’t comment on that.” “I’m not going to comment on hypotheticals.”

. . . can’t comment on individual persons, US persons. . ., can’t answer; it would depend on. . ., not going to comment on a news article . . . , not at liberty to talk about communication within the executive branch . . ., I’m not going to answer. . . same answer . . . “same answer.”

At one point, Director Comey allowed this personal admission:

“That’s not something I can comment on. I’m trying very hard to not talk about anything that relates to a US person.”

My first thought was that these two Intelligence Directors were perhaps not as forthcoming as they should be, because, you know, their inquisitors were members of Congress who represent We the People, etc.

But then I realized that these guys are doing their jobs by not just spouting information about the US persons whom they are striving to protect.

My second thought was about how much grace the Congressional questioners were extending to these reticent public officials, by tolerating, without objection, such a continuous string of  those “I cannot answer that”  responses from Directors Comey and Rogers.

Reflecting on it now, two days later, the conundrum is best represented in this statement by Representative Terri Sewell:

“So Director Comey, I know you cannot discuss whether any investigations are ongoing with ‘U.S. persons,’ and I respect that. I think it’s important, though, that the American people understand the scope and breadth  of public, open source reporting of Mr. Flynn’s actions that led to his resignation. And while we can’t talk about . . . an investigation, I believe that we here at HIPSI, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence,  must put those facts into the public domain.”

As the hours wore on, I came to understand that there is a very delicate balance going on here, in a very complicated world.  Irresponsible exposure of information that has been gathered about US citizens would be a violation of (Director Comey’s and Director Rogers’) sworn duty. At the same time they are duty-bound to protect US citizens, they are duty-bound to investigate people, both native and foreign, respectively.

This is no simple task.

Even though I managed, in the several hours I listened to all this, to mix 1360 pounds of concrete and place it strategically it in the ground in my yard, this labor that I did was far easier, I concluded, than the task that has been appointed to Directors Comey and Rogers.

To those two public servants, I am moved to say:  Thank you, gentlemen, for your service.

I did, nevertheless, notice a pattern developing in all this Congressional enquiry that flooded my earbuds as I labored through the day.

The Directors’ hesitant refusals to answer all questions were frequently preceded and/or followed up by lengthy statements from the Representatives who were questioning them.

At first, I thought this was just the politicians grandstanding, running their mouths to convince the public of their eloquence in the grave matters of national security.

By the end of the day, however, I had figured out that the Representatives were using the public forum to inject information from their own research into the public record. This too, is important.

I see it as public education, much more important than, say, how bathroom assignments are administered in public schools.

For instance,

Rep. Andre Carson says “There’s a lot at stake here for Russia.”

I’m paraphrasing Rep. Carson’s message here.  He went on to explain . . . This is big money, lots of implications.  If they (the Russians) can legitimate their annexation of Crimea, what’s next? Are we looking at a new ‘iron curtain’? . the United States, as leader of the free world, is the only check on Russian expansion. . . At the Republican convention in July, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Trump himself changed the Republican party platform to no longer arm Ukraine. So, the same month that Trump denied Putin’s role in Ukraine,   Trump’s team weakened the party platform  on Ukraine, and . . . this was the same month that certain individuals in the Trump orbit held secret meetings with Russian officials, some of which may have been on the topic of sanctions . . . this is no coincidence in my opinion. . .

Now  is there something to this, does it even matter, does this amount to a hill of beans in all the gigabytes of data streaming across cyberworld . . . I’m wondering? while mixing my concrete.

And here’s another sample of the Committee’s exchange:

Rep Frank Lobiando: . . .if you can describe the use of Russia’s active measures during the campaign. . .

Rogers: So we saw cyber used, we saw the use of external media, we saw the use of disinformation, we saw the use of leaking of information, much of which was not altered, . . . release of cyber-information

And yet another random snippet:

Rep. Jackie Speier:

“You know, I think it’s really important, as we sit here, that we explain this to the American people in a way that they can understand it. Why are we talking about all of this?”

Thanks for asking, Jackie. I understand a little more than I did five hours ago, but I’m just one sand grain on the shores of America.

Meanwhile, I got something done today on the old homestead.

Concret1

And I must conclude that we’ve made some progress in our relations with the Ruskies since I was a kid in the early 1960’s. Back then, the big question was whether they were going to blow us to smithereens with nuclear bombs!

It seems we’ve come a long way since then. Maybe our peace-seeking has something to do with demolishing that infamous wall over in Berlin, the one where President Kennedy said “Let them come to Berlin. Ich bin ein Berliner,” and later President Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

In this life, there is a time for tearing down, and there is a time for building, and there is a time for listening, and a time for trying to figure a few things out while while listening and while building or tearing down, as the case may be . . .

Concret2

This has been going on a long time, but now, in modern times, the stakes are higher with all them nukes in the ground somewhere.

Be careful, gentlemen.

Glass half-Full

Alabama. How ’bout you?

November 19, 2016

Alabama.

Alabama sticks in my mind, going way back.

To get from Louisiana to Georgia, you have to drive through that Sweet Home state of Alabama, the state where folks drive around with a license plate that says: Stars fell on . . .

Alabama, whatever that means.

I’ll tell you what it means. it means crucible.

It means the place where America’s deepest hopes and deepest fears about building a great nation and living out the ideal of all men and women being created equal by Creator God, the place where all those deepest hopes and deepest fears clashed in the thoroughfares of history on a highway between Selma and Montgomery,

and on the steps of the state capitol when President Kennedy sent soldiers in to compel George Wallace to do his job and allow the black folks of Sweet Home to vote and to go to school and to University.

And then later, years later, George Wallace issued a public apology for his former racist bullshit way of doing things. And I remember this video I saw online just a year or two or three ago of Wallace sitting in a wheelchair, his daughter by his side, telling the black folk and all of us, all the people of America, that he was sorry.

I mean I saw this, so to speak, with my own eyes, (online.) It all happened in my lifetime.

This George Wallace who was speaking in my hometown, back in the day, 1968, when he went to the Louisiana legislature and spoke there and he said if they’d send him to Washington he’d take all their suitcases from all them bureaucrats in Washington and throw them suitcases in the Potomac River, and when he said that all the Louisianans who filled that legislative chamber laughed.

But such hyperbole was not a rhetorical stunt unknown to the folks of the bayou state, many of whom in that room that day could still remember what Huey Long had said back in the day,  1930’s.

‘Course we all know it didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Dick Nixon went to the white house that year instead the Alabama governor. Hubert Humphrey was the one who lost big time that year because Wallace peeled off a bunch of them riled-up southerners from the Democrats.

I mean, Hubert got a raw deal in Chicago, but we can’t be crying in our beer forever. He was a nice guy. God bless him, Hubert. May he rest in peace; and, for that matter, may Richard Nixon rest in peace.

We all have our faults.

All of this has happened in my lifetime, y’all, which wasn’t so long ago and it’s still happening today.

We have seen serious changes during these 65 years. I’m not making this up.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MhOZt5-Jl8

Maybe I’m just dreaming it, but if I am just dreaming it, well shut my mouth.

But as I was sayin’–I’m talking’ ’bout Alabama now–the place where all of our darkest southern closets got blasted open, oftentimes on nataional TV, to reveal them skeletons in them closets, them skeletons of racism that most Alabamans have now left in the dust of history but every now and then someone drags them old skeletons out of them closets.

Dogs sicced on freedom riders, four martyred girls in 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham.

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

So these days, November 2016, y’all can rant in the streets all you want to, but I’m here to tell you that this new Attorney General appointee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, him about whom the Dems are so upset, while they be trying to affix the R-word to Senator Jeff’s reputation just because he be from Alabama, and yet I see on Resurgent this morning these photos of Jeff Sessions holding hands with Rep. John Lewis

   http://theresurgent.com/seriously-trump-the-pictures-of-jeff-sessions-they-dont-want-you-to-see/   

as they were commemorating the stand taken back in the day, 1965, when Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, young John Lewis and many others who, being with them all together of one accord and holding hands, marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge while trying to walk from Selma to Montgomery but then them Alabama troopers sent out by the old Wallace, not the later-repentent Wallace, stopped them civil rights marchers on the bridge and beat the hell out ’em.

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/selma-montgomery-march/videos/bloody-sunday   

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

As the poet said, and still says, the times they are a-changin’.

And so they did, and they still are.

Hence, just a year ago as I was cleaning a laundry room at work and listening on the radio to John Lewis’ account of that infamous Bloody Sunday event, as he was recalling it to Terri Gross or Diane Rehm or some other radio luminary, and I remember what Rep. Lewis said about being beat up and it was some bad shit going down but they lived to tell about it and ultimately they prevailed all the way to the steps of the Alabama state capitol and beyond, and Dr. King spoke and it really stuck with me.

So now in November 2016 I’m seeing this jpg of Sessions and Lewis holding hands on the Edmund Pettus bridge and

this has all happened in my lifetime, y’all.

Please don’t tell me it was a dream. Let me have my dream. I have the dream, all God’s children, remember, wait for it . . . don’t you have a dream?

I mean, this all happened in my lifetime y’all.

Alabama, please ya’ll don’t forget this excruciated crucible of our great American dream, where the blood of saints and sinners was shed for the liberty of us all. If you ever go there, remember you’ll be treading on holy ground, ground made holy by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb,

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/birmingham-church-bombing   

but that was before the stars fell on Alabama. Now people there have seen the light, or at least I hope they have. I’m willing to give them a little grace, and some space, to cross our next bridge.

How ’bout you?

Glass half-Full

America Bleeding

November 7, 2016

In the middle of my teenage years, back in the day, I was a high school student. On the other side of the city where I grew up, our state university provided education for thousands of students who had already matriculated to the college level of learning.

Here is a picture which I lifted, by iPhone helicoptering technology, from a book that I recently perused. The image depicts a campus walkway, circa 1965, where students are going into and out of the LSU student Union building. A few years after this photograph was snapped, I became one of those students, 1969 version, who traipsed from class to class on the campus of LSU.

LSUnionWalk

The book from which this image is lifted is linked here:

  https://www.amazon.com/Treasures-LSU-Laura-F-Lindsay/dp/0807136786

This morning, while viewing this photo as part of the research for the novel that I am now composing, I found something interesting about it. Take a look at the apparel that these students are wearing. Most of them are clothed in solid colors, which, in this photo, registers as either black or white. On almost every student whose garb depicts this black/white arrangement, the black is on the lower half of the body–the pants, or skirt part.

Considering the way Americans dress nowadays, this seems to be a boringly plain, regimented arrangement. It is, however, perhaps a little more dignified than what we might see at a typical 2016 visit to, say, Walmart, McDonald’s, or any college or university.

Notice, however, that six of these students in the picture are wearing a clothes motif that stands apart from the black/white pattern. And in every one of these six individuals, the fashion statement is the same:

Plaid.

Six students are wearing plaid.

This was a new trend in youthful clothing  during the mid-1960’s. It was, however, the beginning of a virtual tsunami of color that would be be flaunted in the coming years, in the clothes and fashions of young people. By the end of the decade, this small bursting forth of crisscrossed chromaticism would metamorphose into a riot of  self-expressive color displayed uninhibitedly on our young bodies. Thus would we baby boomers strive, in our own threadish way, to find and establish own generational identity.

My memory of this elaborative fashion development began in my eight-grade, 1964-65. The pattern retained in my mind from that time is a certain kind of plaid:

Madras.

The Madras plaid came from India, specifically a city there named Madras, which has since had its name changed to Chennai.

What was really groovy for us back in the day was that Madras plaids had an earthy, handwoven look. The fabric itself had curious little irregularities in it. . . little clumps in the thread, and variations in the weaving. The look and feel of it was a departure from the American stuff, which was obviously machine-made, bland and boring.

So we started wearing the Madras plaid in–I think it was–about 1965. This photograph seems to have captured the very inception of that style-shattering sea-change in our thread preferences.

A very attractive feature of the Madras was this: it bled.

When you washed your plaid shirt, or pants, the colors would “bleed.”

With each washing, the threaded pigments would migrate slightly out into the white regions of the fabric.

This was way-cool.

It was groovy. All that color was leaping out of the grooves of regimented style, testing the compartmentalism of society, violating the tick-tacky of conformity, even setting the stage for a fading American resolve to retain our post-WWII position as policeman of the world.

But this fashionable Madras bleeding was but a small shriveling on the torso of the American corpus writ large.

At the same time, in the mid-1960’s, America was bleeding real, red blood, and it wasn’t cool.

It was hot blood, 98.6 degrees.

America was bleeding in Vietnam.

America was bleeding in the ghettoes of the cities.

America was bleeding in Selma.

America was bleeding in Watts, in Detroit.

America would bleed in Orangeburg, at Jackson State, at Kent State.

But that was nothing new.

America had bled at  Lexington and Concord, at Yorktown.

America had long been shedding blood in the cotton fields, and at the trading blocks in New Orleans, in Charleston.

America had bled in Kansas, and at Harpers Ferry, Fort Sumter, Antietam.

America bled at Gettysburg and Appammatox.

America bled at Little Big Horn and at Wounded Knee.

America bled through the hands, the arms and backs and feet of thousands of immigrants who drove steel stakes into the railways that stretched all the way from Boston to San Francisco.

America bled at Haymarket, Chicago

America bled prolifically at Verdun, Amiens, Flanders

America hemorrhaged at Pearl Harbor, at Normandy, at the Bulge, at Iwo Jima  and Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

And America continued its bloodletting in Korea, at Inchon.

America bled at Ia Drang, at Khe Sanh,  at Saigon and Hué and Danang.

America wept bloody tears at My Lai.

America bled from Kuwait to Baghdad

America bled in Beirut and Mogadishu, and in Kosovo.

America bled at the Word Trade Center on 9/11.

America bled at Fallujah, and in Helmand, Qandahar and Kabul.

America weeps for the blood shed at Mosul and Aleppo.

America weeps, America bleeds in millions of D&C’d in uteri.

We have always been bleeding somewhere. It is the way of all flesh.

And America is still bleeding; she is bleeding now.

As to which way we will be bleeding tomorrow, that remains, until 11/9, to be seen.

Glass half-Full 

A Boomer Looks Back

September 5, 2016

VietMem2

Now that I’ve been growing up for 65 years, I am at last approaching some semblance of adulthood.

During the course of my baby’boomer lifetime, I have seen some changes; some of them I am actually starting to comprehend.

Now I look back on it all and find myself wondering about some things, but quite sure about some other things.

Several years ago, my wife and I spent some vacation time on the island of Maui, in the great state of Hawaii. While driving one afternoon down the western slope of Hale’akala volcano, we happened upon a memorial to a great man named Sun Yat-sen.

In his lifetime, during the early 20th century–1911, Sun lead many of his countrymen in a revolution that deposed the old monarchy of their country–the Chinese Qing dynasty. But before that happened, he had spent some time in Hawaii; that’s why there’s as statue of him there.

At the base of Sun Yat-sen’s memorial a quote from him is carved in the stone, and this is what is said:

LOOK INTO THE NATURE OF THINGS

Ever since I saw that, I have been working that pearl of wisdom into my way of living as much as I can. And this principle of living and learning has been not only a motivation for me toward acquiring useful knowledge, but also a source of great joy and satisfaction.

This principle is expanded in the Proverbs of the Bible: Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it. Proverbs 16:22.

Now this may seem like a philosophical idea, but it is really very productive in the living of real life. Here’s a nuts n’ bolts example:

In 1992, when I was still a young man of 41, working as a carpenter to provide for our three children, and for my wife who had not yet become a nurse, and for our household, I took a job with a construction company remodeling (a refurb job) an old K-Mart. My job was to tear old stuff out from around the inside perimeter of the store and replace it with a newer style of retail display.

I had been visiting K-Marts ever since I was a teenager in the 1960’s. So I had been seeing those retail structures for most of my life. But to look behind the facade, into the structure, and then to reconstruct the structure based on newer, more modern components–this work experience held a strange satisfaction for me, as well as a source of income for a season of our life.

Working on that K-Mart was more than a paycheck; it was a joy to behold as the various phases of reconstruction unfolded beneath my hands and before my eyes.

Look into the nature (or structure) of things!

Many years have passed; now I’m looking back on it all. Part of the outcome from this reflection will be a novel that I am now researching and writing. It is a story that takes place during the time of my youth; it has become a cathartic process for reconciling the difference between what I thought I knew then and what I now know about that turbulent period of my g-generation’s growing up.

Ours was the generation whose maturing was said to be delayed because Dr. Spock wrote a book about child care that–as some have judged it–convinced our mothers to spoil us.

While there may be an element of truth to that judgement, I have noticed in my conversations with some people lately that there is category of folks in our boomer generation who were definitely not spoiled:

Those guys and gals who fulfilled their duty to our country by going to fight the war in Vietnam–they found themselves in a situation where they had to grow up in one hell of a hurry.

What I am seeing now is, in my g-generation, there was a great divide between: Them that went, and them that didn’t.

While I was college freshman in 1969, trying to figure out what life was all about, and marching against the war, those guys who who went to ‘Nam were required–and yeah I say unto thee–forced to figure out how to keep life pumping through their bodies and the bodies of their buddies who fought with them.

Those soldiers who went over there had to grow up a lot quicker than I did.

I did not go to Vietnam. My lottery number in 1970 was 349, so I literally “lucked out” of it.

During that time, a time when I was stepping lightly through ivory-tower lala land, our soldiers on the other side of the world were trudging through jungles, heavy-laden with weapons and survival gear. While I was privileged to be extending my literacy skills,  they were committed to learning how to kill the enemy before he kills “us.”

Now it turns out my research about the ’60’s is swirling around two undeniable maelstroms of socio-political showdown: civil rights and the Vietnam war.

So, in my project of looking into the nature of things in the 1960’s, I am learning about that war and how it came to be a major American (undeclared) war instead of just a civil war between Vietnamese.

One thing I have found is that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara undertook a similar project in 1965. When he was in the thick of it all–as one of the best and brightest industrial leaders of that age, having been recruited as an insider in the White House, then calling the shots on major events, wielding incredible military power on the other side of the planet, in the heat of the moment and in the fog of war, he found himself wanting to know. . .

how the hell did this happen? how the hell did we get here?

McNamara’s question lead to a .gov-commissioned research project, paid for on our taxpayer dime, and ultimately made public by the primary researcher of that undertaking, a former Marine Lt. Col. named Daniel Ellsberg.

Look deep into it. In Ellsberg’s case he looked deep into 7000 pages of military documentation, starting in the 1940’s and going all the way through Tonkin Gulf in 1964.

Look into the nature of things.

I’ll let you know in another year or two–when the book is done– what my search dredges up from the streets and battlefields of our g-generation’s  search to find meaning and fulfillment, and maybe even a little justice and mercy thrown in.

But one thing I want to say, now, to THEM THAT WENT:

Although things did not turn out the way we had intended, there isn’t much in this life that actually does end up like we thought it would.

You went and did what the USA asked, or compelled you, to do, while many of us were trying to pull you back to stateside.

Thank you for your service. We’ll need many more of your stripe before its all over with.

Glass half-Full

Listen: Boomer’s Choice

The Two Trees

July 3, 2016

It’s no accident that the first human story in the Bible is about a man, a woman, and two trees. One tree is referred to as the tree of life and the other is called the knowledge of good and evil.

Here’s a pic, so you’ll a have visual to help you visualize the scene. Images are, as you know, so important these days on the internet, because it is generally thought that text is boring and doesn’t really get the point across like images and icons do. So here’s a pic of two trees; you can get an idea of what the man and woman might have been dealing with:

TwoTrees

You’ll notice that this image is a little faded, but that’s okay. The photo itself is over 5000 years old, so I was quite lucky to obtain it for this presentation.

As you go through life you will come across many different people, places, things. Sometimes you know what to think about them; other times you don’t quite know what to think. So knowledge itself can be a sketchy thing, especially when it comes to knowing the difference between something that is good and something that is not good. Occasionally you may come across something that is so “not good” that it can be classified as “evil.”

Death that results from a car accident, for instance, is a bad thing, but not necessarily evil. On the other hand, if some jerk runs you down deliberately on the street and kills you, that would be evil–both the act itself and the person who did it.

If someone gives you an apple and you bite into it and it tastes good, then you know that it is good, so to speak. This is knowledge that comes from tasteful experience.

If someone gives you a mushroom, will you just bite into it like you would bite into an apple? I hope not, because some mushrooms are poisonous, while others are not. To be able to identify a poisonous one from a nutritional one would require knowledge. If a friend of yours grows a portobello mushroom and gives it to you for your dining pleasure, that is is good. The mushroom is good in your salad or some other prepared dish. You could even say the person is good because of their generosity to provide this tasty proteinous food for you.

If, on the other hand, a person knowingly gives you a poisonous mushroom, this is evil. The mushroom itself is not evil, because it has no evil intent; rather the person who knowingly gave it to you is evil. So to know the difference between good mushrooms and bad ones is knowledge; not only that– it is useful knowledge.

Now, understand this: there is a difference between knowing something and believing something.

If you wake up at 5 a.m. and it’s still dark outside, you still know that the sun will rise and and day will come. This is not a matter of faith; what you believe about the sun coming up has nothing to do with whether the sun actually does come up. The sun rises to a new day, every day, whether we believe it or not. We know this.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the day will be a good day– that is a matter of faith. Because your believing that it will be a good will probably make a difference in whether you do have a good day or not. Furthermore, it you believe that there is a God who is good and can make any day good even if bad people are trying to screw it up for you, then that is a matter of faith.

And more furthermore, if you believe that a good God can give you good instruction about how to discern between good and evil, that is also a matter of faith. And you can believe it if you want to, no matter what anybody says. And if someone comes along and tells you there is no evidence to support the existence of God or the tree of Life or any other good thing that you believe, you tell them to go jump in the lake.

Because knowledge can only take you so far in life, in liberty, and in the pursuit of happiness, while a little faith fan take you a lot farther. In the days ahead, we should remember this. All the humble people of the world whose well-being is founded in faith should retain, no matter what happens, their right to believe.

And the people who think they need to make everybody conform to some proven facts and the big data–they don’t know what they’re talking about. To hell with them.

In this picture, see if you can guess which one is the tree of life and which one is the tree of knowledge.

TwoTrees

I’ll give you a hint. Both of them are growing on a planet that has survived very long ages of warming and epochs of cooling. As you ponder and choose among the trees of life and the many branches of knowledge, try to cultivate a warm heart with a little faith, while still keeping your cool and being wisely analytical. And it will go well with you.

Also, watch out for snakes.

SnakeRoot

Glass Chimera

California Water

June 26, 2016

There is a fair wind that blows eastward off the Pacific. It renders the state of California a most agreeable place in which to live and prosper. In the middle of that state’s long coastline the San Francisco region is kept– perpetually it seems– pleasantly cool in summer and moderately warm in winter.

And so, a most amicably crisp climate cloaks the Bay area with weatherilogical favor.  Sharp, brilliant sunshine is tempered  from time to time by the marauding presence of this deep dark fog; it rolls up from the ocean like some kind of commandeering trade midst on a mission.

Tumbling across the coastal ranges, these magnificent, mist blankets drape down into the Silicon valley like an overly ecstatic angel investor. As far as precipitation, it doesn’t seem to amount to much, but surely it helps to periodically clothe the Bay area in a perpetual curtain of mystery, and the Peninsula in a cloud of digitally enhanced inspiration.

Such fairly weatheric environs does not however, assure sufficient water for the millions of people who live there. And so, many and many a year ago, the powers that be among Bay Area movers and shakers put their heads together and devised a plan or two to bring water from the far (160 mile far) east so’s people could have water to drink and bathe in and live in.

Over there on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains they found a deep valley in which a cold river flowed so luxuriously. It was on the northwestern end of the Yosemite area. A river ran through it; Tuolemne River. Men put their arms and legs and picks and shovels and machines together and built a huge dam there. Beginning in 1919, they labored on the project through 1923; but one delay or another kept dragging the project along. Finally, they got the thing going, delivering water to the coastal regions, long about 1934. They named the reservoir Hetchy Hetch.

So Hetchy Hetch catches water for San Franciscans.  From the air, I think it looks something like this:

SierrWatr

Down in the deserty California southland, similar projects had already been undertaken, but on a larger scale because that arid region requires more massive hydrous acquisitions, and from farther regions. About 1905, San Fernando valley-dwellers and their Los Angeleno neighbors set their sites on the Owens Lake, which is found beneath the eastern slope of Sierras in southern end the Owens Valley, about 233 miles northeast of their dry metropolis-in-the-making.

An engineer named Mulholland was the ramrod of their hugely ambitious aqueous project. By the time of its completion in 1913, 3900 workers had labored on its very long mountain-valley-through-desert 233 mile course. According to Wikipedia, the Los Angeles Aqueduct project

. . . consisted of 24 mi (39 km) of open unlined canal, 37 mi (60 km) of lined open canal, 97 mi (156 km) of covered concrete conduit, 43 mi (69 km) of concrete tunnels, 12.00 mi (19.31 km) steel siphons, 120 mi (190 km) of railroad track, two hydroelectric plants, three cement plants, 170 mi (270 km) of power lines, 240 mi (390 km) of telephone line, 500 mi (800 km) of roads[15] and was later expanded with the construction of the Mono Extension and the Second Los Angeles Aqueduct.[16

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Los_Angeles_Aqueduct 

History shows, then, that Californians have, to say the least, gone to great lengths to get their water.

Owens Lake, the original low-hanging-fruit that initially attracted thirsty southern Californians, had pretty much dried up by 1926, provoking the water-seekers to set their sights and sites farther afield, farther north up into the Owens River of the Owens Valley, all the way up to an endorheic basin called Mono, where Mono Lake languishes in the dry heat. By 1941, the slakers of Los Angeles had extended their aqueous acquisitions to Mono’s sparsely hydrous resources, which now seem to be going the way of the Owens buffalo, as a visit to the Mono Lake Committee will confirm.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mono_Lake_Committee   

Last Friday, I caught a view of Mono Lake as we began our flight home to our most-hydrous misty Appalachian domicile, after our son’s wedding in the San Francisco Bay area.

Mono Lake, being an endorheic, 13-mile-by-9-mile, big-but-diminishing pond is surrounded by salty, dusty particulate deposits which appear as white beaches around its perimeter.

However, the most notable feature of my Friday aero-view was a long plume of smoke drifting eastward from Mono Lake’s western shore. I later learned that a fire, which had begun at a marina, has been raging away on that Sierra slope for several days.

SmokLake

I hope they can stop that fire.

And I would like to propose a toast: to all the Californians– best wishes for responsibly sufficient water conservation activities in the years to come. Cheers! May you live long and hydrate.

Glass half-Full

Reminds me of kids’ whisper game

February 6, 2016

Honestly, I think we can do better this this, but maybe not.

The horserace groupthink has taken control of our TV people this year. It happens every election year, but this year worse than ever.

A perfectly deplorable example of how  tribal infighting trivia has taken over vid-journalism has been dissected by Michael Brown, writer for Townhall.com.

I’ll not explain the whole ridiculous chain of events; his exposition is quite sufficient:

    http://townhall.com/columnists/michaelbrown/2016/02/05/draft-n2115304

Now what I’m thinking is this: It would seem appropriate that the voting citizens of our nation would be considering, in this election year:

~ why our .gov owes so much more money than it can repay to its creditors,

~ and what can be done about it,

~ how we can minimize pollution without being ruled by climate-banging control freaks,

~ how we can reconstruct a manufacturing sector that is relevant to 21-century needs and economics,

~ how our great, unprecedented military capability and its supportive infrastructure cannot be put to good use in making the world a better place for our people and for the nations,

~ how to help men and women stay married so they can raise their children together,

~ why we cannot effectively educate all our children and prepare them for life-well-lived in the 21-century

~ how to judiciously keep the golden door of opportunity open to the homeless huddled masses of this strife-torn world

~ how to get people fed and housed without castrating nor sterilizing their personal independence and initiative,

~ how to encourage, by our policies, personal and collective responsibility instead of systemic dependency,

~ how to make peace, and encourage constructive cooperation, between cops and citizens in our cities,

~ how to enrich, through our common efforts, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all our people who care to make an effort to improve themselves and their children and neighbors,

~ how to select a President and Vice President without all this fluff and bullshit.

So it would seem appropriate that we would build and patronize a communication system that would enable us to talk about these problems in the context of national politics, instead of:

why one candidate tried to take a few days off from the rat race and how it has no effect on what’s happening in Iowa or New Hampshire or Peoria or Pennsylvania or even Pennsylvania Ave.

Maybe some of you hyped-up vid-journalists need a break. Take some time off, go home, like Ben did. If you need someone to replace you in the interim, give me a call. I’m currently unemployed, and gladly will I take your mic and your twitter feed and show you it could be done better. Besides, I’ve never been to New Hampshire.

King of Soul