Rant Alert: Why Teachers Have it so Good

“Teachers got it good they [teachers] get a great pension they never pay in the social security they get free lunches they only work 9 months a year and have weekends off.” – Facebook PhD

Note to self, don’t read the comments, it will take time out of your life you can’t get back and cause irritations you simply don’t need. Mr. Facebook PhD, “Have you ever used commas or periods?” Names have been changed to protect the mentally deficient.

I feel the need to clarify…no, I feel the need to rant since Mr. Facebook PhD refused to engage. Remember, don’t read the comments!!!!

Teachers do have pensions. In South Carolina where I taught until retirement, we contribute seven percent of our salaries to have a pension. Seven percent. Even after I retired and “double dipped”, a misnomer, I paid seven percent into my pension which didn’t increase my retirement one penny.

We also contribute to our own healthcare after retirement to the tune of $100.00 per month on average. It is, with Medicare, great healthcare unless you are becoming deaf, going blind, or losing your teeth.

Nationwide, most teachers pay into social security although there are some teachers that don’t, about 1.2 million. Their states chose to roll the dice that their state offered pensions would pay better. A few rolled ‘seven come eleven’ and others have thrown ‘snake eyes’.

Free lunches? “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” and most teachers have little time to gulp it down anyway. I’m sure there are school districts that provide teachers with free lunches but for over forty years I bought mine or carried a paper bag with a sandwich, yogurt, and a pack of Nabs. Oh, for those days of rectangular pizza slices with a side of corn and a cup of peaches.

I normally ate on the move making sure little Johnny or Jenny Sue didn’t do something stupid. My favorite duty station was restroom monitor…eating my turkey sandwich while breathing in ‘ode de urine’ making sure little Johnny wasn’t lighting up a blunt or flushing someone’s head in the urinal.

The final nail that caught my attention, the fallacy of having three months off in the summers and free weekends. “There ain’t no such thing as a free summer or weekend.” There are courses to be taken, instructional workshops to attend, standards to be reviewed, and yearly plans to be made during the summer…and now you must review your syllabus making sure nothing you teach or none of your reading material suggests CRT, Marxism, or why little Johnny has two dads or two mothers.

Weekends? Papers to be graded, grades to be recorded, and lesson plans that must be turned in first thing on Monday morning.

But what about your planning period? Parents to contact or professional learning communities or data meetings to attend…a quick trip to the restroom? Planning? Rarely does planning happen. Did I mention that most weekday evenings suck too?

As a side note, because many are confused, teachers are paid for the one hundred eighty days they teach and whatever planning days are added in. In our state, South Carolina, it is one hundred and ninety days. Federal holidays? Nope. Summer? Nope. Our one hundred and ninety days are divided into twelve months so that we don’t starve in the summer. Still many must take summer jobs just to supplement their families’ income if they can work it around workshops, we aren’t paid for…or paid little, to attend.

So, while we are paid over the summer, we are not paid FOR the summer. Further note, many school districts are moving to year-round school. Did the pay go up…nope, nope, nope, they are still on site for one hundred and ninety days.

Much is being written and there are myriads of opinions about teacher shortages. Good, experienced teachers dropping out, few new teachers entering the profession. Anyone who slept through my US History class has offered an opinion.

Many teachers have pointed to the increase in lack of respect from politicians, administrators, parents, and students. While lack of respect has certainly increased, it is not new. Teachers have never been recognized as ‘real’ professionals…we aren’t even recognized as real state employees unless it benefits the state.

When I first faced a class of smiling faces some fifty years ago, I was an anomaly of sorts, a male in a profession populated by females. At the junior high school there were only four males on staff. A principal, an assistant principal, a physical educator, and yours truly.

Male teachers were recruited to coach, not to provide mentorship in the classroom unless it was a blue-chip athlete. Coaches with history degrees were a dime a dozen which is why I added a physical science certification to put beans on the table…ridiculously small plates of beans. Yes, I was originally recruited to coach but am proud of my teaching career. I didn’t teach to coach, I coached to teach.

Why might you ask? Teaching was viewed as women’s work, a nice side job to keep the ‘little lady’ out of trouble and supplement the household income provided by the male who ‘did the real work.’ This was an improvement over the days when ‘schoolmarms’ had to quit if they got married. The view that teaching was a side job is one of the reasons teachers haven’t been paid as professionals until recently, if at all. Presently, women make up seventy-five percent of the nation’s teachers.

Another problem in what was once ‘textile country’, you don’t need to have much education to run a machine and uneducated workers don’t expect to get paid as much. “Keep ’em stupid, keep them poor” might have been a mantra.

That belief is a holdover from the textile days which ended in the Eighties and why we have a challenging time finding qualified technicians and engineers to fill our needs. We must recruit from other states and countries to maintain our 24th-place ranking in economic outlook.

Teachers tend to be looked down upon because of the “Those who can do, those who can’t teach” mentality which has been around much longer than the past decade. A family member once asked me in all seriousness when I was going to get a real job. Another asked me when I would graduate from teaching at a junior high school.

Public Education is in decline and parents, politicians and those who believe education should be used to fatten certain people’s billfolds (private schools) are throwing the dirt in its grave. With three hundred thousand teaching vacancies, many states are lowering their teaching standards to allow anyone who can breathe the opportunity to teach. Many parents believe this is fine as long as their schools provide free childcare and a couple of free meals during the day. One more slap in the face of dedicated teachers.

Public education hasn’t helped itself. Bloated administration costs, emphasis on testing instead of problem solving, passing everyone to elevate graduation rates, and a decrease in reading and math skills upon graduation have not endeared public education to certain groups, including me. We continue to lag in math and reading. There are more Facebook PhDs on the horizon, but these won’t be able to add and subtract either.

Add to this toxic brew, the politically motivated accusations of indoctrination, grooming, teaching CTR, teaching Marxism, etcetera, ad nauseum, I understand why good teachers are getting out and teacher education programs are sucking air. I had two choices of callings when I graduated from college. In this environment I would pick the other one.

I would like to emphasize three points that exemplify the problems found in South Carolina. This is an incomplete list.

We have formed a task force in South Carolina at Governor Foghorn Leghorn’s insistence to study teacher recruitment and retainment. There are no presently teaching teachers on the task force. These members are political appointees and the two who have taught haven’t in several decades.

A new state superintendent will be elected this November and one candidate running does not yet have the qualifications to run and no teaching experience. She has never stood in front of a classroom. I pray she will not meet the qualifications in November because in our state, she will be elected because so many people vote straight party ballots.

If education is fully funded in South Carolina this year, it will be the first time in over a decade.

If you want to know what is wrong with education try something different and it is not a task force. Ask a teacher and involve frontline teachers in problem solving…something we’ve really never done and probably won’t. Until then we will exclaim with pride, “Thank goodness for Mississippi.”

To sum up, a quote from former teaching peer, Brent Boiling, “Teachers at *** used to be like gourmet chefs…. creative and free to do their jobs as professionals. Now they’re McTeachers.”

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1pVsy-a3ZtRJ98EGHW-xrQS0R-IUosd_iDVGMICpugfL0tbofyolue8Yw

I’m Just Not Feeling it

“It’s not unpatriotic to denounce an injustice committed on our behalf, perhaps it’s the most patriotic thing we can do.”

― E.A. Bucchianeri, Brushstrokes of a Gadfly

Happy birthday America! Two hundred forty-six years young. The grand experiment…the shining light on the hill…an example for the free world. I think we need a transfusion or take off our rose-colored glasses.

I’m just not feeling it. Oh, I went to the annual Bennett July Fourth eve cookout and gorged myself on ribs, pulled pork, and Carol Ann’s potato salad. But I’m not feeling the patriotism. Even after talking with a young man (57) who had spent the past eighteen years in China, I couldn’t feel it. It was just a backyard cookout to me, and I didn’t stick around for the fireworks. I’ll probably watch the fireworks on TV but then I will think about the fireworks on January 6, 2021,

I’m not feeling July 4, 2022. I am feeling a bit overstuffed from last night. That’s not a good thing either.

The Fourth of July is supposed to be a celebrated, a day to commemorate independence, a day of freedom…”let freedom ring.” It took seven years of war to gain that independence and when the gunpowder cleared there were many still not free. Should I dwell on that?

I try to take comfort in the history of our nation. We’ve rarely been totally united as a nation. Our history is rife with examples of discord, and few examples when we all marched together, in step for a cause. Somehow, we’ve muddled along despite the discord. Well, there was that four-year period during our Civil War. The best I can say is we have a voice that is allowed to express our discord.

The thought really is only responsible for a small portion of my malaise and indifference. I’ve been in my malaise since 2016 and it is darkening. It isn’t my malaise; it is my country’s malaise, my country’s failure to come together on anything. Rare is there common ground. It is us versus them and them are the traitors.

Malaise: an indefinite feeling of debility or lack of health often indicative of or accompanying the onset of an illness. A vague sense of mental or moral ill-being. That is according to Merriam-Webster and sums up how I feel about my country. I fear we are on our death bed.

A post came across one of my social media platforms that gave me pause, “I don’t think America deserves a birthday celebration this year.” That’s what I’m feeling. I’m also feeling that there might not be many more birthdays to celebrate…at least in our country’s present form. America the Beautiful may have an incurable illness and facing life support.

I read a quote made by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “When a whole nation is roaring patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart.” Fain is a somewhat archaic word that means pleased or willing.

I hear and see posts from people who, by their own voice, call themselves “patriots” and point fingers at people with opposing opinions calling them traitors. This accusation is not even implied, it is boldly printed or yelled. It is on their standards as they march on city streets, wrapping themselves in Old Glory, their faces covered lest someone might see who the “patriots” are. I never thought I would be accused of being a traitor for doing what I thought was right…even if that thought was wrong.

These people are wedges. If you ever spent time splitting wood, you know the function of a wedge…to split. I believe people are being indoctrinated, nay…groomed to be wedges. Whomever is responsible is doing a bang-up job. I’ve never seen us so splintered…not since 1968 and I think 1968 falls short of the mark when compared to present day, July 4, 2022.

On a personal note, I used the words indoctrinated and groomed purposely. I see it all the time when reading about the educational shenanigans in my home state. Mostly they are directed toward my former peers, teachers.

Along with Critical Race Theory and the word “woke,” these are dog whistles or buzz words to further turn people against each other. They are used to wedge apart teachers and parents and liberals and conservatives.

To what end? To destroy public education in favor of for-profit private schools? That is what I think. Just “follow the money.” Propaganda ads reigned supreme as “big money” from out of state fueled one of the sides and our deep red state ate it up. The same is true when the government gets involved. I am so happy I’m a retired teacher. I guess I could retire as an American.

Last quote and I’ll quit beating a dead mule.

“… patriotism lies in supporting the values the country is supposed to cherish: equality, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. When our government compromises, undermines, or attacks those values, it is being unpatriotic.” Howard Zinn, WW II vet, historian, playwright.

I believe January 6, did just that. January 6th compromised, undermined, and attacked our democracy. As I have watched the congressional committee my depression has grown. I consider myself to be a sane man most of the time. I don’t know how anyone could watch the videos from the January 6 Insurrection and not believe it was exactly that…an attempted insurrection.

It was an attack on our democracy and I believe on some level, planned. I don’t know how you can question what occurred.  I don’t know how you can question what the congressional committee has unearthed.  

Yet people do. They question the election, the motivations, come up with more and more bizarre theories. My malaise grows when I think that many applauded as they watched it unfold on their televisions.

Happy Birthday these dis-United States of America. I’m not sure you were ever as great as I thought you were but I’m damn sure you are not as great as you could be.

Some will say, “If you are so unhappy, maybe you should move to another country.” Well, my retort is unprintable.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that over half our population lost the right to control their own bodies this past week. I fear more losses will occur.

Don Miller’s authors page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2YOthoDURrlEvGPVx2PXKdydIqxQqHnp9KNhjdK8ez-tm8sQjz8C4gUPo

Culture of the Gun

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”                 – attributed to Albert Einstein

As a retired teacher I have suffered over the deaths at Uvalde…and Columbine…and Sandy Hook…and…so many more. Late in my career I participated in “active shooter” drills and helped to produce strategies to counter an attack. We locked our doors even though the only thing between us and an active shooter was a five-eighth piece of sheet rock.

Since the brutal deaths of nineteen students and two teachers in a Texas school, barely a week after the shooting of six, one killed, in a California church, and ten killed in a New York grocery store many have opinions on what needs to be done to ensure the safety of our children and ourselves.

Most of the reactions follow a familiar path, “thoughts and prayers”, media outcries for change, pro-gun rights folks debate anti-gun rights folks including deflection, time passes with nothing happening except more guns are bought until the furor dies and we are again shocked with the next mass shooting. The debate begins again and honestly…we don’t seem to be as shocked as we once were.

I’ve seen suggestions from arming teachers, my least favorite out of myriads of least favorites, to we must “harden the targets.” That sounds like something from a war zone or a “sh!th@le” country. All ignore the underlying issue. A culture that embraces violence over diplomacy and access to weapons to execute that violence.

Another suggests “evil exists, and laws will not change that.” The next time a highway patrolman pulls me for speeding I think I’ll try that one out. No, I’m not equating speeding to murder, but the comment has me wondering why we have laws at all. Laws are for honest people?

Let me be fair. It is not just about school, church, or supermarket shootings. It is the drive by in LA, or gang violence in Chicago or Baltimore, or the drunken good ole boy who decides to William Tell a PBR can off his friend’s head and misses a bit low with his hunting rifle.

It’s about four students wounded while walking to their prom. It is about gunfire due to road rage and looking cross eyed at the wrong person. It’s about good old boys strapping AR-15s to their back when they get a coffee at the local coffee shop. It is about a lack of empathy and ignoring the sanctity of life in favor of an amendment.

In 2020, gun violence became the leading cause of youth death’s surpassing automobile accidents. Most were suicides. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2020, 54% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides (24,292), while 43% were murders (19,384). The numbers came from the CDC and were backed by other sources. According to CNN, personal safety tops the list of reasons why American gun owners say they own a firearm, yet 63% of US gun-related deaths are self-inflicted.

It is a fact that it took a finger to pull the trigger, the gun didn’t do it on its own, and these Pew and CDC statistics do not reflect accidental gun deaths or where guns were a contributing factor but not the cause of death. It is also true that we live in a gun rich environment. Five percent of the world’s population owns 44-46% of the world’s civilian firearms depending on the study you might be reading. According to a recent CNN study, we own more guns than we have people, one hundred-twenty guns per one hundred people.

According to a Scientific American study in 2015, assaults with a firearm were 6.8 times more common in states that had the most guns, compared to the least. More than a dozen studies have revealed that if you had a gun at home, you were twice as likely to be killed as someone who didn’t.

Research from the Harvard School of Public Health tells us that states with higher gun ownership levels have higher rates of homicide. Data even tells us that where gun shops or gun dealers open for business, killings go up. There are always exceptions to the rule, but some politicians would have you ignore the overall data and quote the exceptions rather than the rule.

In an article by Fortune Magazine published by Yahoo, Gun rights groups spent $15.8 million on lobbying last year, compared to just $2.9 million in lobbying from gun control groups. Beyond lobbying, gun groups have contributed $50.5 million to federal candidates and party committees between 1989 and 2022, with the vast majority going to Republicans. They spent especially heavily in the 2020 election, with $16.6 million in outside spending.

Oh, but the Second Amendment…. I’m not going to debate it except to say that one side always ignores two words, “well regulated.”

Will there be a change after Buffalo and Uvalde? If history repeats, why would I expect there would be change. I don’t believe I am an overly cynical person but why would I expect change? Guns are as much a part of our culture as mom, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Other than exchanging duck and cover drills for active shooter drills little has changed.

Our history is rife with violence, mostly involving a gun. Our country was born from violence and expanded using violence. Do we have a greater propensity for violence than other countries? I don’t know but other countries have done a better job of curbing theirs.

We have violent games, violent movies glorifying the gun and the heroic figure welding it. I’m just as guilty. Several of my novels include violence…gun violence but the good guy with the gun always saved the day…unlike real life. 

When I read my comic books, Zane Grey, or Louis Lamoure, I knew it was fiction. James Arness or John Wayne wasn’t really gunning them down in the streets. After I became a history student, I found out their fiction was…based on fiction. There were few gunfights in the streets and the Gunfight at the OK Corral lasted about thirty seconds. My novels are no different.

Other cultures have violent games, movies, and literature, but they don’t have real-life violence like we do here. Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the violent. Maybe we should look at the underlying issues that lead to violence and attempt to correct them.

It is mental illness. I believe someone who goes out and kills nineteen children is mentally ill…but that doesn’t give him a free pass. Other countries with much lower murder rates have mental illnesses too. Could it have something to do with our health system? Maybe we should work to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

It is parenting. Probably but why? Single parent homes? Parents having to work multiple jobs leaving their children to their own devices. Cycles of poverty? We don’t seem to care much once a child is born.

Criminals will always find a way…yes probably. Why are we not cutting off access at the source? Gunmakers and smugglers? Everything is done after the murder instead of trying to prevent it. Could it be gunmakers and politicians are making too much money off the sale of legal and illegal firearms?

Maryland was one of the outliers in the Pew study. Strict gun laws but a higher number of gun deaths. Sixty-five percent of the guns used in violence in Maryland that could be traced came from other states with laxer gun laws. I don’t know the numbers but the same can be said about Chicago, I’m sure. Just something to ponder.

Cain killed Abel with a rock. Yep, if the Bible is to be believed. I would rather confront a killer walking around with a bag of rocks than a bag of thirty round magazines and a rifle or pistol to put them in.

Along the same lines, “We’ve taken God out of … fill in the blank.” There are many countries who aren’t considered “Christian Countries” who have much lower gun homicide rates. Research Shinto Japan and while you are at it research their gun laws. Japan has a very violent history at times. Somehow, they decided to overcome it as did other less Christian countries.

It does seem we have lost our appreciation for the sanctity of life…all life. Our hatred for others leads us to violence. Disagreement has become life threatening. Some Christians will say it is because we have become Godless, I will say that some Christians have driven me from organized religion because they are Jesus-less. If you can’t appreciate the Earth and the people who live on it I want no part of you.

I don’t expect any of this will change anyone’s mind about guns…or violence…or mental illness and I don’t believe any effective change will occur. Gun violence is too engrained in our culture, and we pass it on to our children. I fear it is who we are.

***

For clarification, Albert Einstein had many thoughtful quotes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” was not one of them. The quote, or a similar quote, first appeared in an Al-Anon article in 1981. There is no evidence Einstein ever said it.

Research cited


https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-is-clear-gun-control-saves-lives/

https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/26/world/us-gun-culture-world-comparison-intl-cmd/index.html?fbclid=IwAR2vEhlMbsPbVhwBEXTyXtC6iUkx2VAkGf37uCdLzyMABlHEDSPSANOacV0

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/lobbying-gun-rights-groups-hit-152634408.html

Hooray For Me…

And the hell with everybody else.

I grew up in a world where people were supportive of each other, regardless of political viewpoint.  If you were a liberal, conservatives might look at you side-eyed and shake their heads, but they supported you as a human being. They might talk about you behind your back, call you a ‘quare’ bird, but it was usually in whispers and in all honesty, where I grew up there were few liberals…still are few liberals.

I don’t know where that world has gone.  I hope, pray, that it is just a vocal minority but they seem to have developed a loud “hooray for me and the hell with everybody else” attitude.  Sounds selfish to me but then who am I to accuse?  I’ll just say if the shoe fits wear it. It is my opinion.

The most vocal don’t believe that falling sick to Covid is worse than getting the vaccine or the “jab” as they like to call it.  I detest hearing “I don’t need it. God will call me home when he deems it is time.”  I hate hearing “It is no worse than the flu.” Some three hundred and fifty thousand more were called to their heavenly home in 2020 than in 2019 and we seem to be on a similar schedule for 2021.

Where does free will fit into this?  If I choose to roller-skate on a crowded boulevard during rush hour and am crushed by a beer truck, is that God’s will?  Where does “data” figure into this? “Oh, don’t waste my time with data, my mind is made up. There is a chance I’ll survive and if I don’t, it’s God’s will.” Not my god.

It appears that some of the same vocal minority believe storms, wildfires, and changes in climate patterns are a symptom of an angry god rather than the prodrome of a sick planet. Yep, science is for sissies, and New York got flooded because of liberal leadership despite the fact Ida traveled from New Orleans to New York over several conservative states.

Somehow the liberal media and all the world’s liberal leaders have figured out a way to keep a secret.  A worldwide plot to eradicate conservatism with facemasks, vaccines, windmills, and solar panels.  Covid and Climate Change are all hoaxes or a plot.  All we must do is take vitamins, exercise, eat well, and sweep out our forests.  If that doesn’t work, animal dewormer…yeah, I know they make it for humans too…for parasites. Just say no to windmills and solar panels while you are at it.

I’m trying to picture my parents, Ernest and Eldora Miller, members of the “Greatest Generation”, standing in a picket line, or screaming at a school board about the evils of Satan’s mask mandate and waving placards denouncing returns to Marx’s virtual learning. I can’t picture it because it would have never happened.  It is almost too humorous to consider.

Lord help us if someone mentions “lockdown.”  Oh, that slippery slope toward communism.

How did wearing a mask or getting a “jab” lead us to arguments about freedom?  Do you want the freedom to infect your family, friends, and the old guy you passed in the checkout at Wally World? 

Why are we not supportive of humankind?  Somehow humankind has become a triggering word too.  Why should we worry about people in other parts of the world not named Afghanistan?  That pesky, “Love thy neighbor” thing in the Bible? 

Does this mean my parents were unaware at best or stupid at worst?  No, they were concerned about their family, friends, neighbors, and people they had never met.  Old Ernest and Eldora saw a way to make life better for all.  They were concerned about the human collective except the most vocal will take offense to me using the word collective.  Collective is just too close to communal, and we all know where communal leads. To the great communist devil hiding under our beds.

Somewhere in the dimly lit past, I remember loading up after church into our 1953 Ford Customline and driving to our small school, standing in line with all the people I had just been in church with at the cafeteria.  My parents, grandparents, brother, and me.  Why?  To eat lunch? No. To receive the Salk vaccine on a sugar cube.  No one was protesting and polio disappeared.  Imagine that and I grew up in a most conservative place.  There was no discussion of mandates.  There didn’t need to be.

What happened to us?

Commander Spock of Star Trek fame uttered these words in the movie “The Wrath of Khan,” “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Captain Kirk answers, “Or the one.” I agree with Spock even though he was a fictional character.

Many will say that Spock’s utterance is too utilitarian, the doctrine that an action is right if it promotes safety and happiness, and that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the guiding principle of conduct.  I certainly believe sacrificing oneself for the greater good is an individual choice but no one, not me or anyone else, is asking you to sacrifice your life.  I believe the data supports that and they are not going to take your guns either.

Do some people have potentially deadly issues with the vaccine and is it worth the fear?  Sure, but a very small percentage, 0.0017 percent have died after taking the vaccine through June 14, 2021.  People died from the polio vaccine.  Look up the Cutter Incident and it was caused by a mistake. 

Do the vaccinated still catch Covid? Yes, but look at the vaccination numbers versus unvaccinated and the recovery rate.  YOU LOOK IT UP. The data shows you are much more likely to recover if you do get it and are less likely to get it, period.

For those from the “Don’t confuse me with the facts group”, it would appear, logic has disappeared, worse, it appears logic is purposely being distorted. That worries me the most. People are getting sick. People are dying because hospitals are being filled with the unvaccinated.

To be clear.  Do mandates take away freedoms?  Of course.  What I’m saying is, we shouldn’t even have to mention mandates.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, mostly uplifting non-rants. His author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1smB-fmScUP0JbtXJZaCzDQXYPuJKLT-n4oLUE6ojWkNkHcug5ZFWD8DE

Of Birds, Grandmothers, and Eisenhower Republicans

Continuing to write chapters in my head from the unwritten book entitled Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes, I find myself meandering along a twisting path and disappearing into Alice’s rabbit hole, again. Maybe I’ll encounter a hookah smoking caterpillar. The Mad Hatter has already taken up residence in my head.  A bit of hashish might calm him.

It is a dark, raw, and dreary day here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  It is the kind of day rabbits and wild pigs should be tucked safely in their burrows, huddled together for warmth.  I am warm, sitting in front of a fire, watching my birds gorge themselves on sunflower seeds and suet. You can add a squirrel or five and an occasional “Chester”, a name my wife has given to the ground squirrels that seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate.  All are eating me out of house and home.

I’m drawn to thoughts and mental photos of my Grandmother’s bird feeders.  I don’t remember squirrels in attendance but there were plenty of little chipmunks around. 

My grandmother would be proud of my collection of avian acrobats.  Cardinals, woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, and sparrows have been joined by gold and purple finches, their spring mating colors beginning to show. Cardinals are pretty but they are mean.  They take nothing off anyone, not even the squirrels.

Below the feeders, towhees, robins, doves, and a brown thrasher dig, waiting on “manna” from heaven to fall from the feeders.  Same with two chipmunks.  Where are the mockingbirds and catbirds?  I really must get a platform feeder with some fruit offerings.

On clear days my Red Tails cavort, riding the thermals and gleefully whistling to each other. But it is not a clear day.

Yeah, Nannie would be proud…until the impeachment trial lit up on my TV screen.  I doubt she would have any pride in anything I watched and I should have stayed tuned into the chipmunks.

My grandmother was an Eisenhower Republican.   Maybe I am too…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I know that Eisenhower nor Kennedy would recognize their respective parties today.  I also know the transition didn’t occur over night. It has been a treacherous highway we have traveled and appear to continue to travel.

As I researched “Ike’s” childhood and early life, I realized how similar my grandparent’s forefathers and mothers resembled the President’s.  Their forbearers, German, Scot, Irish and English, probably arrived in the New World via Pennsylvania like my forbearers.  My forefathers and mothers headed South through Virginia, North Carolina, to finally South Carolina and a hard scrabble existence as farmers, drummers, and cabinet makers. There might have been a huckster or two among them.

President Eisenhower’s forbearers headed to Virginia and then west to Kansas, south to Texas and then back to Kansas.  His family lived in poverty as hard times struck the mid-west.  Ike worked on a dairy along with his brother, helping his mechanic and dairy farming father scratch out a living.  There are a lot of similarities when faced with a hard scrabble life.

When I was a child, my grandmother forced me to read.  My grandmother’s tutelage was fully supported and enforced by my parents.  Sometimes quite painfully enforced. During summer vacations I would be led to meet the county bookmobile and forced to pick books to read.  It was decided I would pick three, all to be completed before the ancient, converted school bus returned two weeks later. Over time I found myself picking four or five books on my own.

I remember one choice chronicled Eisenhower’s early life.  How he almost lost his leg to a freak football injury.  Refusing an amputation, he somehow survived and grew up to be General Eisenhower of WW II fame and the Thirty-Fourth President of the United States.

He was a heroic figure and, despite the warts we all have, I understand my grandmother’s adulation. He certainly wasn’t perfect, and with twenty-twenty hindsight, it is easy to see missteps as he dealt with the recovery from WW II, the escalating Cold War, and building Civil Rights movement.   It should also be easy to see his positives. Despite not being able to stop nuclear proliferation, it was one of the most prosperous times both economically, scientifically, and artistically.  In some ways it might have spoiled us.

The first election I remember was the 1956 election, Eisenhower running for a second term against Adlai Stevenson.  It had no significance for a six year old. I was still playing cowboys and outlaws. I remember it because my grandmother seemed to be concerned.  She left her radio on all night awaiting the election news.  From my bed in the corner of her room I remember her whispered prayers. She shouldn’t have been worried.  It was a landslide for Eisenhower.

Despite the duck and cover drills in case of nuclear attack I experienced as a child, I can’t help but wish an Eisenhower incarnation had been elected to deal with Covid-19 and the social unrest we are experiencing.  I liked his attitude of diplomacy first. I know today’s responses would have been different and so would the outcomes. 

I remember or studied later his responses to Polio and the Salk vaccine, Sputnik, McCarthy, fireworks in the Middle East and Asia, carrying out Truman’s executive orders desegregating the military, an interstate system…even if was built to move the military rapidly from one place to another.  A response might have been the wrong one in hindsight, but there was a response, usually with diplomacy first. There was no inactivity. 

Then maybe I’m deluding myself.  Is it the differences in Presidents or the differences in Americans? 

I still think I’ll characterize myself as an Eisenhower Republican…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I just heard a squirrel land on my bird feeder…or was it my grandmother spinning in her grave.  She was not a Kennedy fan, at least at first. He was a rich, Massachusetts’s Catholic after all.  Unlike Eisenhower, my grandmother grew up in a world so different from Kennedy’s it might well have been another planet. I doubt she was a Nixon fan either as history played out.

Oh well. The rain has slacked off and my bird feeders need to be refilled. It is another day and there will be no trial coverage. Since there is a chance of winter weather on Tuesday my grandmother would agree that I need to make sure my wood stores are replenished. “Yes ma’am, I’ll get those bird feeders first.”

For more pig trails and rabbit holes https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3oAjNYooKiVzCcXTBVNofhw-T3ZwvoWeD90Y-Uv_KI1Y8lpyLBOC-HK2M

The image of Eisenhower is from Wardlaw Museum, University of St. Andrews.

YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!

As soon as I read the headline and before I read the article, “Trump Announces, ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission”, I thought of Colonel Jessup’s tirade in the movie, “A Few Good Men”, “You Can’t Handle The Truth!”  I felt no different after I read it.

It seems our President and a good part of our population can’t or won’t handle the truth.  Worse, I believe a portion of our population knows the truth, they just don’t care to acknowledge it.  They like things just the way they are or rather they would like to cycle them back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Am I cynical much?

I read the article but my thoughts continued to collide with the force of a cue ball breaking a rack. Dark thoughts of a time past that seems to be determine to resurrect itself.

“Trump Announces, ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission”. Hummm…I was a product of “Patriotic Education”.  It was called Civics, taught in the backdrop of the Civil Right struggle and the Cold War.  There was a lot of wrapping the Bible in the Red, White, and Blue to boot.  “Our God is better than your god,” with Biblical quotations to prove it. 

Civics wasn’t pure propaganda but there was propaganda.  I did learn about our constitution and our federal system, but I also learned that the self-evident truths of “All men are created equal” were weak aspirations in my part of the world, not necessarily a truth. 

As my blond haired, crew cut sporting instructor explained, “We have the retarded, the dummies and mute, ni@@#*s and Indians.”  Yes, he said that.  My memory is faulty, it could have been in US History rather than Civics.

One of the more troubling thoughts among many is how much this person meant to me.  How much I wanted to be just like him.  How I followed his lead to college and then on to teaching.  How I majored in history and taught it for most of forty-one years…most likely, because of him. 

It was the Sixties and as I have found in most men, there is good, there is bad, and I hope, there is change. Don’t you hate it when your heroes prove to be mere mortals?

In the article I read, President Trump decried what he called a “twisted web of lies” being taught in U.S. classrooms about systemic racism in America, calling it “a form of child abuse.” He made similar comments at Mount Rushmore in July.

“Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse, the truest sense,” Trump said. “For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. They’re wrong. There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children. And patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.” 

At best, our President has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth. Most often, the truth and the President do not reside in the same zip code. I question what “hateful lies about this country” he is channelling.  It seems to me we are again wrapping the flag around our racism and using a religion to support it.

I do not want to beat a dead mule; I have written to this theme before.  Until recently, and even that depends on where you reside in our great country, we have never taught history from an all-encompassing point of view.  We have never taught history “warts and all.”  We seem to be afraid of the truth.

Most teachers try, but standards and textbooks have only recently begun to change, attitudes even less. Those teachers who don’t try should not be teaching. I still see a type of history being taught accompanied by cheerleaders sporting red, white, and blue pom poms. “Go, Fight, Win!”

Why would we not want to teach the truth?  Does truth somehow undermine our love for our country?  Am I wrong to believe we can be patriotic and love our country despite knowing we committed travesties along the way?  Can we not wish to correct those ills and make ourselves an even better country? Is it unbearable to admit to the wrongs of our forefathers?

Change. The word seems to be the truth we can’t handle and the resistance to change seems to come from my own contemporaries…those of us who were indoctrinated to believe “My Country, Right or Wrong” not that our country ever did any wrong.  Worse, many are not contemporaries but are those I taught.

Many former students have taken to pointing out, “We are not a democracy we are a Republic.”  To what end? Why do you make this argument?  Is there an ulterior motive?  Am I being cynical to believe people pointing this out have an agenda and a need to undermine?

The word “republic” has the same meaning as the term “representative democracy.” A representative democracy is a form of democracy in the same way that a ‘purple top’ is a form of turnip. We wouldn’t say it’s inaccurate to use “turnip” to describe a purple top turnip, so it’s OK to follow in the footsteps of many founding fathers, along with Webster, and Chief Justice Marshall and simply call our “representative democracy” a “democracy.”

I would also want to point out, at the local level many of our decisions are made as a ‘direct’ democracy. Again, I wonder about motives. I wonder about truth. I feel to the depth of my bones, many would rather have a more autocratic form of government even if it is led by a former reality TV star.

My brother will now say, chill.  Go out and walk, smell the flowers, have a beer, watch a football game.  He is right, and I will, but my cynical petty coats is showing cow poo and it stinks.  I have hope in our system but it is being undermined.  My truth is becoming, “We are what we are.  This is who we’ve been and we ain’t gonna’ change.” 

We are being taken advantage of.  I’m not the world’s most intelligent guy but even I can see the seeds of division that have been planted are flourishing, both within and without.  The far right and the far left are not our friends.  Neither are any of the autocratic leaders our President seems to want to cozy up to. 

No, not our friends. Neither is the media attempting to sell advertising, a President attempting to sell blivits, and congressmen and women attempting to sell themselves. (A blivit is two pounds of manure in a one pound bag. The origin is from Kalamazoo College around 1960.)

The President’s initiative to create “Patriotic Education” is a blivit and he is sowing more seeds of discord and playing to a base that includes those who believe equality for all is somehow taking their own rights away and an affront to God. 

Watercolor by John Coffee. Line from The Green Mile

***

Don Miller’s author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR22iSzDHKzxCzPBS64mqKyX_iqjwVDmJXrd_1iVmF5be_YAnetohuhpwQI

Article quoted, Trump Announces ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission, A Largely Political Move, from NPR, September 17, 2020, Alana Wise, https://www.npr.org/2020/09/17/914127266/trump-announces-patriotic-education-commission-a-largely-political-move?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR3pJHVlB7rxiAiDhMXODozLxk0my-rRZNfaA94Y7ekugnE5Zqr8EhJ08II

The image, from JoeBlogs

Echo Chambers

 

“An environment in which a person encounters only beliefs or opinions that coincide with their own so that their existing views are reinforced, and alternative ideas are not considered.”

After three rousing interactions on my Facebook page, more than one person questioned, “Why do you allow this person on your Facebook page?  Block them!  Unfriend them!”  In defense of my rightwing friends, it was not the same person on all interactions and I have a very right-leaning friend’s list.

The three though, had a very clear message, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.”  Granted, they were arguing with someone whose mind was also made up and sometimes stumbles over “the facts”.

One of the many voices in my head points out, “That doesn’t answer the question. Why is this person on your wall?”  The voice is shrill and edgy…fingernails on a chalkboard ear-piercing.

It is painful to deal with derision, contempt, and  humans with “a cranium harder than a brick, one he or she has managed to stick up their ass.”  Somehow they were able to fit their square peg of a brickbat head into their round hole.  I guess my head is hard and square too.

Such encounters are painful.  I feel I am attempting to referee a game I do not understand.  “The rules, the rules…are what?” shouts my real head voice.  A game between large monsters with sharp teeth and claws.  It is impossible to argue or officiate without suffering wounds.

One more time, a different voice commands, “Answer the fracking question.  Why?”  He sounds like my highschool football coach who would never have used fracking.

Again the real voice in my head answeres, “I don’t know.  I am trying to write my way into understanding.”  Let’s try this.

I do not think it serves me well to only communicate with people who think like me.  As much as Dennis Praeger, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, and now, conservative darling Candice Owens, turn my stomach at times, I force myself to listen to them.  There are others, some local, and I spend a great deal of time shaking my head in disbelief…but I listen or read, and I attempt to understand.  Hopefully, those who don’t normally watch CNN are doing the same.

I cannot listen to them for an extended time, but I like to know what “friends” who identify with the far-right, I hope far-right, are thinking and why.  As much as I disagree with their closed and reactionary minds, sometimes they stumble over an acorn of truth, no matter how far they twist it to fit their message.

You can be against abortion and still vote Democrat, or be for stricter gun control and vote Republican.  Can’t you?  The echo chambers would tell you no.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”  Sun Tzu.

The Gandhi voice in my head asks, “Do you really look at the other side as enemies?”

My real head voice stomps its foot like an elementary school girl, “Why do you keep asking me more questions? I haven’t answered the first one yet.”

The far-right and far-left…they are enemies of us all…enemies of “truth, justice, and the American way” to quote Bill Kennedy, the narrator on the old Superman TV show, the one with George Reeves as Superman.    See that is a lie. It was coined on the original radio show, “The Adventures of Superman”.  Now all of the voices in my head sound like Kennedy.

I digress.

The far-right and far-left are enemies of fair and truthful American political discourse.  They are enemies of all I hold dear; truth, justice, and what I thought was the American way.  The radical left and reactionary right seem to be the only ones talking…screaming.  They provide us with worse case scenarios or outright conspiracy theories.  Truth and justice mean nothing.  Their American Way is not mine.

I feel alone in my little spot, slightly left of center.  I am sure there are people who feel the same way who are slightly right of center.  For some reason, I not hearing from either group.

I fear our political bell curve more resembles a Bactrian camel than a dromedary and the two humps are being pulled farther and farther apart depending upon which conspiracy is being presented.  Like a slow moving glacier, I feel both sides drifting farther and farther apart and the ice under my feet becoming thinner and thinner.

“That is just not true,” says a voice who sounds like the Daily Planet‘s Perry White.  His might be the voice of logic, “The middle is not thin, just quiet. “

From what I have read there are about forty percent of us feeling we are standing on thin ice.  Forty percent of us who are political party orphans.  Forty percent who have not been helped that the Republicans have shed their liberal wing and the Democrats have shed their conservative wing.  Choices should be blurred not stark.

To the original question, Clark Kent queries,“Why do you allow them to ramble on and on?  Why do you engage with a symbolic broad sword and chain mail?” 

Shaking my head, “I fear locking myself into an echo chamber and why don’t you find a telephone booth and help me.”

Clark hangs his head, “There are no telephone booths anymore, only echo chambers.”

Echo chambers present us with either perfect reverberations of our own cognitive dissonance or creates noise distorting or covering up the message we are attempting to hear.  It depends upon which surfaces the sound bounces off of.

Neither is productive. One provides undeserved comfort and a feeling of righteousness, the other, manipulate the message because we can’t hear it for the noise.

So…that is why I don’t block people unless they are threatening.  That is why I allow locomotives to run out of control until they derail.  Maybe Superman will come along to save the day.

Stepping out of the echo chamber is at best as uncomfortable as jockey itch or at worst, as painful as an unnumbed root canal.  Seeking truth can be painful that way.  Echo chambers twist the truth.

Stepping out of the echo chamber and listening intently will help you determine if your agenda is “built upon shifting sands.”  Open the door of the echo chamber and step out.

“Everyone who hears these words of mine (Jesus), and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house, and it fell—and great was its fall.”

***

Just for the heck of it, the 1951 opening sequence from Superman.  Thank you YouTube.

The Featured Image used is from https://countercurrents.org/2020/06/echo-chambers-post-truth-era-and-the-fear-of-missing-out-a-millennials-tale/

Quote by Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Biblical quote  Matthew 7:24–27, World English Bible

Don Miller’s author’s page my be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR153Ecvm-S8rh39n1zuxHHUQPrep-MkKu21vMvRFIGr84Zg2lrqopw4ICQ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unredeemed it Would Seem

As I read the book, The Redeemers by Ace Atkins, a quote caught my eye and stung like an accidental splash of toothpaste to the same eye.  Am I the only idiot figuring out a way to get toothpaste in his eye and actually doing it more than once?

Is comparing a quote to a stinging eyeball a horrible analogy?  “His quote stung like toothpaste rubbed in my eye.”  It explains why I’m using an Ace Atkins quote instead of one of my own and why I try to avoid using analogies.  “Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.”

The quote from the book, “There is nothing that Southerners hate more than self-examination,” resonated and sparked my own self-examination of the paradoxes which surround me.  The quote was thoroughly accurate as far as my own moral failings are concerned and honestly it is more about my own self-examination.

Before I’m accused of broad stroking an entire group of people, I’m not.  If this shoe doesn’t fit, don’t try to force your foot into it.  That is on you, and you may find your foot, along with your shoe, stuck in your mouth and my foot stuck somewhere else…metaphorically of course.  I’m not talking to or about you if the shoe is not yours.  If the shoe fits…well that is between you and your lord and I just want you to ponder as I do.

The South has been accused of having many paradoxes, like pointing out someone’s moral failings while ignoring one’s own or railing against someone else’s corruption, moral or monetary, while disregarding the corruption or moral failings of your favorite politician if it advances your political agenda.  All one must do is look at the histories of our state governments to find notable examples.  Wilbur Mill’s reelection after running afoul of Fannie Foxe, the “Tidal Basin Bombshell” comes to mind.  Southerners haven’t cornered the market on moral failings or paradoxes, we just get caught with great style and dash.

Some paradoxes are quaint or cute, others not so much.  As you might imagine, my essay will eventually turn from cute or quaint.  It will turn toward paradoxes that revolve around religion and politics.   I’m sure other parts of the country have their own paradoxes…and issues with religion as it relates to politics but again, we Southerners do it with such elegance.  

“Religion, Religion! Oh, there is a thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.”  The words shouted in Jimmy Buffett’s ditty, Fruitcakes came to mind when country-western icon Vince Gill and his wife, the “Queen of Christian Pop” music Amy Grant were discussing the paradoxes of their relationship during an interview.  Vince pointed out that they weren’t that different.  They were singing to the same clientele.  He was singing to the drunks and hell raisers on Saturday night, and she was singing to the same drunks and hell raisers, now recovering, and praying for redemption, on Sunday morning.

Not a direct quote but the crux of one paradox.  It’s also one of the cute or quaint paradoxes.  There are a lot of “Sunday morning and Wednesday night Christians” who will enjoy ‘several’ too many shots of brown liquor on a Saturday night and pray for forgiveness through a blinding hangover on Sunday morning.  Bless our pea-pickin’ hearts and please help me remember exactly what sins I committed last Saturday night…or I really don’t want to know.

Saturday night might be relative.  I know Fannie Foxe’s foray into the Washington Tidal Basin took place on a late Monday night and while not stopping Wilbur’s reelection to the House of Representatives, might have derailed his dream of a much higher office.

I live in the Bible Belt and like a stereotypical big-bellied sheriff’s Sam Brown Belt, we wrap our religious mantle tightly around us…except when we don’t.  Sometimes we even make jokes about it.

“What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist? The Methodist will say hello to you in the liquor store.”

“How does a Baptist get into Heaven?  They bring a casserole.”

Only recently were we less conservative, Jesus loving, Agnostic, Deist, Buddhaptists allowed to enjoy a store-bought adult beverage during a Sunday lunch out on the town as Blue Laws were relaxed.  While I struggle with my religious beliefs, I do believe in something, “I believe I’ll have another drink.”

Like the good Methodist turned Baptist turned Dudeist that I am, anytime I publicly order a beer I look around first to see if any of my former students or my church peers are in attendance.  I’m still gonna order, I’ll just make sure I avoid eye contact.

Religion even gets intertwined with our eating habits.  We had an advertising war that took on religious overtones.   An anti-LGBTQ, we ain’t gonna open on a Sunday, chicken sandwich chain was purported to have divine support over the spicy, straight from Satan’s “sin city of the South”, fried chicken chain.  Chanting and making the sign of the cross with crossed fingers, “My God loves X’s chicken sandwiches better than those of the Devil’s Minion!”  See, we can be insanely funny.  Accent on insane.  Yep, I like the spicy chicken place better…”Get thee behind me Satan!”

Insanity could explain some of our choices during election cycles.  I lean left in a deeply Southern red state and sometimes I believe we’ve lost our ever-loving minds…just not as badly as some other deep red Southern states. In the most recent cycle, a deep South state almost elected an accused pedophile rather than electing a… gasp…Democrat.  Politics over family values just as Jesus intended.

We tend to wrap our religion tightly with the flag along with our patriotism and tie them all together…I’m just not sure which flag, the national flag, or the Confederate Battle Flag.  If we were on the side of the angels why did God allow us the South to lose?   Did someone sin?

Some Southerners will ridicule and threaten to tar and feather you if you don’t stand for the National Anthem at a football game while wearing a “Forget Hell” belt buckle and flying the battle flag from their pickup trucks displaying several Sons of Confederate Veteran bumper stickers.  Confusing ain’t it.

I have “bigly” concerns over our touting of the “sacred” Second Amendment while ignoring the parts of the First Amendment that include “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Certain more conservative than me religious groups would like to put iconic stone tablets into every government building or school but would get a might squirrelly if a coven of witches wanted to honor the goddess of fertility, Ostara…by dancing ‘nekid’ on the town square next to the Confederate War monument.  Beware of what you wish for, it may have unwanted repercussions.  One should be just as unconstitutional as the other and I don’t wish to live in your theocracy.

Paradoxes aside, a quote by Flannery O’Conner, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted” sparked more self-examination.

I am haunted by the days when I sat attentively beside my brother, in between our parents on the short pew no other church member would dare sit on because “That’s where the Miller’s sit.”  Haunted days before I began to think for myself and question motivations.  Days when I didn’t wonder if Jesus’s message was being bastardized and the Bible weaponized.  Days when religions had not moved so far right…or is that the paradox.  Have I just moved left?

Don Miller writes on a variety of subjects, non-fiction, and fiction.  You may access his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffett

The featured image is from https://imgur.com/gallery/D0FKLsK/comment/1073493907.  I actually had this done.  A cyst on my wrist was thumped with the family Bible and for a time disappeared.  It came back, much like my self-examination and self-ridicule.

Tin Soldier

The grilled chicken thighs and fingerling potato salad are just memories now…even the leftovers.  Later in the day ribs and chicken wings were served at the Bennett Fourth of July fest along with Carol Ann’s killer potato salad.  I’m sure there will be lingering side effects to an evening of eating and drinking what I normally don’t eat or drink.  Still, I almost feel sacrilegious not having pulled pork as a side with the ribs.  Anti-American?  No, just trying to cheat the Grim Reaper a few seconds longer.

Despite the enjoyment of seeing friends, some for the first time since the last Fourth, I would prefer a small gathering with my bride and two blind puppy dogs to be my only concession to the celebration of the Fourth of July.  Very sedate until the crazies above us begin to set off M-80s and Cherry Bombs.  Not very patriotic by some people’s standards.  Typical…or rather than typical, maybe it is simply the new normal for me.  I celebrated my own birthday in the same way.

I’m truly not feeling it.  Not feeling it but certainly thinking about it…it being my patriotism.

I am patriotic and wish my country a happy birthday.  I simply don’t believe everything wrapped in a red, white and blue flag is patriotism.  I’m not blindly patriotic…odd perspective for a guy who grew up during the period of “American Exceptionalism” and the indoctrination I now associate with the Cold War Sixties.  “My Country Right or Wrong”, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie”,  “I’d rather be dead than Red.”  I remember my eighth-grade civics class being equal parts academic and propagandistic …maybe more propaganda than substance as I sit pondering.

I watched a recent news program, not fake news if we can still believe the black and white photographs the program featured.  I had certainly seen them before.  Black and white photographs high lighting certain moments in time…in history…my history.  Some were colorized photos but there was something stark and depressing about the ones in black and white.  The photos triggered memories of the old black and white film clips I saw featured during the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  “And that’s the way it is…” or was.

John Kennedy standing in front of a map trying to explain where Vietnam was, later his son saluting as his father’s body rolled past.  LBJ looking haggard stating he would not run again.  A photograph of a naked Vietnamese child, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running from a napalm attack.  Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner after Tet, bodies laying a ditch outside Mai Lai.  Much different photographs from the ones I saw from World War Two.  Different and as I look back, projecting the loss of a certain innocence I wish I could find again.

Growing up I always believed we were the stalwart protectors of what was right and just.  A courageous country wearing white hats or knights in shiny armor.  We were the virtuous and righteous battling the minions of the devil.  Shining a light on the cockroaches of evil and sending them scurrying from sight. Vietnam and Watergate took my innocence and not in a good way.  Bobbi Jo Bedell did that but I doubt either innocence will be returned to me.

Black and white pictures of Richard Nixon, arms raised with fingers veed in victory…later a finger pointed at the camera, “I am not a crook.”  A color shot in front of Marine One, Nixon’s arms raised with fingers veed despite his disgrace.  Like an alcoholic wanting to recover, I hoped we had reached rock bottom.

I feel I’ve witnessed our decline firsthand.  Like my vision, it has taken place in small increments.  My failing eyesight was gradual until sharp lines became fuzzy and my arms became too short to bring the written word in to focus.  I’m not sure if we can make lenses strong enough to correct the vision of our nation.

Declines of civilizations are usually slow and all civilizations decline.  It is inevitable. Some disappear totally. Most don’t disappear due to a cataclysmic event, but rather, they die rotting from the inside.

A rotting social, economic, political system mated with an ineffective and excessive military brought the Roman and French Empires to an end.  It was gradually at first before running downhill like a runaway freight.  They collapsed under their own excesses and attempting to maintain the status quo.

I’ve been witnessed our rot for fifty years and I wonder if we have reached the point of no return.  I certainly believe our white hats are stained and our armor dented and rusty.  We are more concerned about filling our pockets than being the “shining light upon the hill.”

Some reading this will say “We’re still the best country in the world.”  Maybe, but what are we doing to keep ourselves on our lofty pedestal?  Is it a pedestal that exists only in our minds?

We deny science and accept myth.  We politicize religion and use it as a weapon against our fellow man.  We choose partisan politics over the good of the many and create a bogey man and call it socialism.  We create social outcasts with our hatred and more and more enemies with our bombs.  Our greed is more important than the planet we live on.  As a country, we are living on other people’s money and giving it to people who don’t need it…or deserve it.

My biggest worry is our hatred and greed which seems to drive everything else.  I’m reminded of the old Billy Jack movie from the early Sixties.  Not the movie exactly, the theme, “One Tin Soldier Rides Away” by Caste.

As a battle rages over a perceived treasure, the valley people kill the mountain people, who would have given them their treasure had they just asked.

“Now they stood before the treasure

On the mountain dark and red

Turned the stone and looked beneath it

Peace on earth was all it said.”

 

Others will read this and suggest that maybe I should relocate to another country since I hate America so much.  I don’t hate America, I hate what America has become…if it was ever anything else.  To quote James Baldwin,

“I love America more than any other country in this world,

and, exactly for this reason,

I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Usually, essays have a closing statement which draws everything together and ties a bright red bow around it.  I can’t do that because the story is still being written and the end hasn’t been reached.  What that ending is, is up to us.  We must find common ground or “There won’t be any trumpets blowing Come the judgment day.”

 

Featured Image:  By The Late Mitchell Warren (Author of “The End of the Magical Kingdom” series) http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

Video:

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

 

Embracing the Fringe

“Americans are being held hostage and terrorized by the fringes. That’s what’s going on here. It’s not like fifty percent of Americans thinks one thing and fifty percent thinks another thing. No, fifteen percent on each side are effectively controlling the conversation and seventy percent of us don’t hate each other.” -Arthur Brooks, president of the “center-right” American Enterprise Institute

I don’t know where Mr. Brooks got his numbers, or whether the number is dead on seventy, but I agree with the assessment.  There is a very vocal and active group on both sides of the political spectrum, far removed from the center, sowing seeds of division and we are allowing it.  We are embracing the fringe not realizing, it is the fringe…it is not the mainstream, but I fear the mainstream is shrinking because of it.

Any anarchist, white-supremacist, radical, reactionary, religious nut, atheist nut or Russian troll, can sit behind a computer, pound out a meme reflecting the worst-case scenario or out and out lie, and we just pass it along, accepting it is fact.  Any talk show or talk show host can scream at the top of their lungs and do the same.  Why?

One, we are lazy, and I’ve been guilty of assuming the source is on the side of the “angels” instead of assuming they are playing the angles.  After all, it must be correct, it’s on the internet.  It must be true, so and so has a radio program and he/she said it was true.  We are too lazy, or busy, to actually take the time to do research.  I suggest if you are too busy to research you might be spending too much time on social media.

We seem to be into worst case scenarios and conspiracy.  A recently proposed abortion law in Virginia brought out howls and vivid “pictures” of babies being ripped from their mother’s wombs and murdered.  The intent of the proposal was not to give women the last minute, “free out” to motherhood but to give them a choice if their life was endangered or if the baby could not survive.  The proposal has been put down, it is not law, but women in Virginia will not have the choice of saving themselves or saving their child.  A terrible choice at best, but one that has been taken out of the hands of the people who should be making the choice.

We broad stroke everything.  “All Republicans are racist or Nazis.” “All liberals want open borders and abortion on demand.”  “All Christians want to turn the US into a theocracy.”  “Muslims are taking over our country and want to institute Sharia Law.”  “The Trump administration is full of Nazis and everything is ‘fake news’.”  “This radical Representative wants to turn us into a Communist nation.” “The wall, the wall, ad nauseum.”

While there may be kernels of truth espoused by the fringe, it’s not THE truth for most of us in the middle are believing, those on either side of the political center, even most of our elected officials…but I fear the middle is shrinking…fearing the fear.

The hardest untruths to overcome are our own biases.  The extreme fringe plays on our biases.  Propaganda is not new, and it was never our friend.  We live in an age where propaganda assaults us in ways even Hitler and Goebbels couldn’t envision.  Whether it is a liberal or conservative bias in a news source, an active Russian agent, or little Johnny sitting in his momma’s basement trying to be cute, we must learn to recognize when a used car salesman or talk show host is puffing.  We must realize EVERYTHING IS NOT A CONSPIRACY, and every point has two sides and both sides may have valid beliefs.

What I’ve noticed?  Some of the worst offenders are “seasoned” folk like me.  We seem to want to hold on to what is more comfortable…what we are familiar with…even it is wrong.  We are uncomfortable with change or with different.  I understand why I really do.  The problem? The world is changing faster than we can accept and we don’t recognize it anymore.  The world we live in vastly different than the world we grew up in…and it is not going to change back no matter how much we kick, scream and drag our feet.  That doesn’t stop us from “wanting”.  We latch on to rabid headlines or graphic talking points supporting “the way it used to be” or the “way we think it should be.”

Despite a changing world, we don’t have to change our core values, but we must become aware that there are people living in our world trying to destroy us, internally and externally, using our core values against us.  We can also hold on to our core values without assuming everyone who does not share them are “out to get us and need to leave the country.”  They have core values too that may not too different from our own…if we get to know them.  We need to research over a broad plane instead of looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

I am much more assured we will withstand the external assault than I am the internal division.  I am saddened over our apparent hatred.  As we call each other inflammatory names, my heart breaks a little bit every day.  I am not a libtard and you are not deplorable but we can be hateful to each other.  We don’t have to be.  We can find common ground.

Words do carry weight.  Before you throw a verbal stone, at least check your sources.  Do we need to help Boris and Natashia catch “moose and squirrel?”  Do we need to help ourselves destroy each other?  Do we really need another civil war?

Postscript: This post was written prior to the State of the Union Address and will be posted the morning after.  I won’t watch the President’s speech and the Democrat’s response…or Bernie on YouTube. It is easier for me to read the transcript without hearing the emotion.  I fear both sides will be heavy on puffing and light on substance anyway.  I read that the President will call for unity and nonpartisanship. I hope he will follow through and that both sides listen.  I’m sure the fringes will explain everything you and I need to know in the days to come.

The initial quote came from an interview by Politico.  The entire article, ‘Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes’, An exit interview with the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks may be accessed at https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/13/arthur-brooks-american-enterprise-institute-interview-218364

If you are unfamiliar with the term, “puffing” refers to “extravagant claims made by sellers in order to attract buyers.” It is the exaggeration of the good points of a product, a business, real property, and the prospects for a future rise in value, profits, and growth.  https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/puffing/

Please take an opportunity to peruse Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM