Friday, December 11, 2015

The Alphabet of Bigotry and Fear

Bigotry and Fear: Just what are we so afraid of that the idea of banning an entire group of people based solely on their faith has any traction at all? This country was founded by the pursuit of religious tolerance and freedom. It is ingrained in our very DNA as a nation of freedom and of law. It is guaranteed by the same First Amendment that allows fear-mongers and bigots to spew out their vile, hate-filled rhetoric and allows me to respond without fear of retaliation, reprisal, or persecution. Can a handful of extremists who use terror to further their agenda, or a handful of extremists who use language to further theirs, be allowed to win and thereby curb the freedoms our nation has earned? Who are the terrorists? How many of them are religious fanatics who, by their extremism, defile the very teachings they proclaim to defend? I keep reminding myself that thirty-one Americans are murdered at the hands of gun toting terrorists EVERY DAY on America's streets, another 59 Americans use guns to kill themselves, and 231 Americans are wounded by gun fire.  That's EVERY DAY.  The Sandyhook killer, the Aurora Movie Theater Killer, the Charleston Killer, the San Bernadino Planned Parenthood Killer were all home grown and non-Muslim.  Not to mention Timothy McVee, or a host of mass killers.  People who buy the rhetoric of reaction are being distracted by primal fears that come from deep seeded and naked bigotry.  Remember that the KKK could teach ISIS a thing or two about sytemized terror, and those folks were upright Christians and “Patriotic Americans.”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Killing Perspective

Killing Perspective: Today, I heard a man say that it's not Christians blowing people up. He could have added, we use guns instead. Memories are short: the single worst terror attack on record, not including 9-11, remains home grown Timothy McVee's bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. But the fear is up right now, fed hungrily by those who profess to wish to lead our nation. Donald Trump is the loudest and most extreme voice out there right now, but the sentiments of many Americans seem to be closely aligned to his. It feels ominous to listen, day after day, to the reactionary atmosphere that once again proves, all too sadly, that we as a nation and humanity as a species have made at best a fractional halting step to progress. This great country was founded upon and has expanded on the concept of freedom. It has been a struggle, and from time to time people come along who want to restrict the freedoms earned by the blood of those who came before. We cannot allow that to happen, and it is easy enough to prevent. But silence is not the answer. Repeating the same steps over and over again, while expecting a different outcome, is certainly not the answer. And voting against your own best interests, or worse, not bothering to vote at all, is definitely not the answer. Accepting without question the lies and hate-filled rhetoric of a sadly growing minority is the answer only if you wish to give up who you are and revert to being someone else's puppet. That rhetoric states that only Muslims are the problem (read enemy). In fact it is the idealogs and the religious zealots of any faith or persuasion who, once radicalized, choose to terrorize us with bombs and guns and vile words. We want to fight terror. We are fully engaged in a war against an emotional response to horrific events. Yet we indulge and ignore the real, daily terror on our streets. It is said, and said, and said, every time a multiple homicide makes the national news, that something must be done, yet the war on terror still ignores the Home Front. Eighty people die every day in America from gun-related incidents. Almost three thousand people lost their lives on 9-11. But every single month since, handguns and those who use them have taken ten 9-11's worth of lives, one by one, two by two, and sometimes in larger numbers. Every month. The tragedy in Paris equals a day and a half in America's normal. An American is about as likely to be killed with a gun as die in a car crash. Yet gun sales are on the rise. Congress readily passes legislation to deepen the restrictions on foreign entry into America. Some would like to see it stopped altogether. The House of Representatives, on the basis of trying to stop abortions from happening, voted to defund Planned Parenthood even though not one penny of that funding goes to abortions. Yet the same Congress cannot strengthen existing gun regulations or enact new ones. If abortion is the premature termination of an existing life, then every gun death is an abortion. How can anyone be pro life and do nothing about the slaughter on our streets? Do these people really have our best interests at heart, whether it is on the issue of foreign visitors and immigrants, women's healthcare, or truly fighting terror, or any other number of important issues that affect us day to day or impact our future and our children's future? If you think they don't. tell them so with your vote.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Hitler and Trump

Hitler and Trump: Today's political climate is desperately frightening, much more frightening than the possibility of any extremist act not devised by a fiction writer. The United States and its people seem to be taking a sharp right turn en masse and letting fear rule our minds – and our hearts. I too am afraid, but not because of what terrorists can do. I fear what we can become as we overreact to what terrorists can do. I have seen us erode our own rights. I have seen the rhetoric ramp up against specific groups to the point that many among us seem to agree that Muslims should be banned from entering America at all, and those who are here should be set up in concentration camps. The rhetoric is so horribly familiar. It is not supposed to fly here, but it does. Donald Trump seems to increase his poll numbers with every outrageous utterance, each more profane than the last. And with each utterance those we call enemies gain more traction, and more recruits. I often hear that making comparisons to the Nazis and Adolph Hitler is the last resort of a desperate debater. This is no longer true. The American political scene is devastatingly prejudiced and hateful. Many agree with the hate filled rhetoric. Many more, it is supposed, do not agree. But they are silent, and we all know that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to say and do nothing. Meanwhile, the war on terror (which is waging war on a tactic, not an ideology or another political force) distracts us from other issues of equal merit and far greater long term implications to ourselves and our children and their children. Our planet is dying. Well, the planet will not die, but life as we know it can, and is – and we would rather blow up things across the globe than save ourselves. It makes me wonder whether the great oil companies are actually financing the terrorists, the way a magician distracts with sleight of hand to keep our eyes away from the real truth. We need enemies. Enemies give us reasons to have soldiers to “protect us.” Enemies distract us from what Corporate America is doing, while the soldiers are positioned to protect Corporate's interests. We are being lied to: our hatreds, our fears, and our prejudices are being aroused, and I want to know why. More: I want to know why we are letting it happen. An astute observer of human nature once wrote, “The broad mass of a nation...will more easily fall victim to a big lie than a small one.” He added, “The art of leasdership...consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.” I think Trump is taking a few lessons from Adolph Hitler's playbook.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

In the Aftermath of Paris: Three Parts

In the Aftermath of Paris, Part One: ISIS Won On Friday, February 13, agents of ISIS carried out a coordinated attack of devastating effect at several venues on a warm, pleasant night in Paris, leaving 129 citizens of the world dead. France has been under attack by ISIS since the Charlie Hebdo attack in January, and before, yet the citizens of France and the residents of Paris are resilient, determined, and remain free. But, in America, ISIS won a great victory to their perverted eyes. If they want their own version of Armageddon brought down upon them to end the world, then of course attacking the world's greatest powers is bound to tempt that fate. Before the Paris attacks, ISIS apparently brought down a Russian passenger jet with a small home-made bomb hidden in a soda can. Yet it is in America where the terror seems to have the greatest effect. ISIS has not won in Paris. But it has in Washington and in at least 31 governors' offices throughout this land. ISIS won here without firing a single shot on US soil. They won because we let them get inside our collective psyche. We let them scare us to the point that we are willing to forgo the very things that make us who we are, for the sake of a false sense of security. In a recent poll, 65% of Americans now want boots on the ground in Syria. Two-thirds of the states in the United States are preparing to refuse Syrian refugees asylum in our country despite the fact that not one single refugee has been linked to any act of terror anywhere. One of the Paris attackers was carrying a Syrian passport, but it proved to be fake. In fact, every attacker on Friday was a citizen either of France or Belgium. They were home grown, like Timothy McVee in America. The House of Representatives has passed legislation to require individual sign-offs on all entering refugees by key security heads that would effectively disable those leaders from performing the rest of their duties. One Presidential candidate has even suggested that a national registry be mandated for people of Muslim faith. France seems to look at this tragedy differently. Not all Frenchmen, to be sure, but the ones I am hearing from are more concerned that every attacker was home-grown. Somehow each was radicalized and turned into a weapon of mass destruction. The French want to figure out how to be more inclusive and less racist as part oif their strategy to make their country as safe as possible. It happened to them, yet we in America take it personally. We seem to be clamoring for less inclusion and more racial profiling, with it spewing out the rhetoric of hate that emboldens and empowers the terrorists and gives them recruiting tools right in their bloodied hands. One thing terrorist attacks prove, if nothing else, is that they target their victims randomly without regard or concern for humanity. This is not the act of a soldier. It is the act of a criminal. This is not a conventional war. It cannot be won by conventional armies fighting in conventional ways. Boots on the ground helped create ISIS in the first place and will not be sufficient to destroy it. We must change our mindset, as the French seem to be doing. We need to disband the tools of hatred and recruiting. Meanwhile, we must label these terrorists for what they are: criminals. Criminals are watched, chased, caught, and brought to justice. ISIS won their victory last week. Ultimately, ISIS will fail in the “war” they are waging. Their acts go against the very God they claim to emulate. We must not let our acts betray the God or Gods each of us holds as our moral compass, or we become no better than terrorists ourselves. In the Aftermath of Paris, Part Two: Fighting ISIS I am a pacifist, so it is with great difficulty that I say the following. However, the events in Paris underscore for me that the world is at war with ISIS, and that ISIS is at war with the world. I still find it unbelievable that a mere thirty thousand “soldiers” can hold the world hostage with the threat of random and unrelenting violence, but it is what is happening. The old saying goes, if you want a war you will find a way to have one. If a terrorist wants to inflict terror, he will find a way. This said, the leaders of the West in particular are flat out stupid to think that conventional warfare will work. Has it yet? Boots on the ground helped create this situation in the first place because end strategies were never developed. At the end of World War One the “old men of Versailles” saw to it that the losing nations, particularly Germany, would pay for what they did and thereby ensured a second world war. But at the end of World War Two the Western Allies, at least, strove not to repeat the mistakes of the past, instead endeavoring to help the vanquished rebuild behind the Marshall Plan. But when we deposed Saddam Hussein we were ineffective in rebuilding the region mainly because we had no idea – and still have no idea – what the Middle East is like or how its politics operate. So now we face splinters of the terrorist group we originally targeted in Afghanistan in 2002, spreading throughout the world in small but effectively destructive cells. Armies and air strikes have not stopped them. Destroying the Caliphate their leaders are attempting to create will not flush out the hidden cells. Fighting ISIS is much more complicated, much more electronic and much less military, but we seem to be stuck fighting the last war. ISIS fights unconventionally and we must respond unconventionally. Simplify in the face of complexity. Redefine the enemy first: they are criminals, not soldiers. They are murderers, not patriots. Hunt them down with police and special and/or tactical forces, flush them out, capture, and bring them to justice, and, if necessary, kill them. This must be a coordinated effort between local law enforcement working in conjunction with international special forces and a world wide cooperative intelligence effort. We spend billions of dollars bombing Syrian and Iraqi sand; use that money to finance proper intelligence gathering, surveillance, personnel training and outfitting, and police action. It could become a bit like the Wild West out there but at least that is something Americans can understand. We cannot hope to stop every fanatic or crazy person from acting in explosive violence. Domestic America is proof of that with our bi-monthly massacres. But we can find radicalized individuals, one by one, and take legal action against them. We should never fight terror by inflicting terror, but we can remove its agents from the playing field, at least as effectively as our drone strikes and bombing runs, and I believe much more so. The other part of the equation is to truncate the radicalization of these angry young men and women, to find ways to redress their perceived grievances and re-direct their angry energy into forms that might actually help the very people they might attack. What I suggest is not perfect, and I offer no specifics because I suspect we will have to act on a one by one basis, but our own energies and resources would be better spent trying to fix things rather than destroy them. A good pacifist is also a student of war. It bears repeating: lesson one is, yesterday's tactics don't work today but today's generals always forget. Except for one, who figures out another way and takes the rest of us by surprise. We need to stop being surprised. In the Aftermath of Paris, Part Three: Coalitions France has been attacked. Russia has been attacked. America has been attacked. Great Britain has been attacked. Mali has been attacked. And more, and more – the list grows as the tactic of terror finds its expression written in blood. ISIS is not an American problem or a Russian or French one. It is not a regional problem confined to the Middle East to be left to the nations neighboring Syria and Iraq. It is not a problem of one state or nation attempting to conquer another, although one component of the very complicated situation is ISIS' apparent desire to create its own Caliphate. It is not a religious problem although many on different sides would make it so. ISIS is a world policing problem. If we simplify our approach to think of ISIS (and Al Qeada) as internationally illegitimate criminals and nothing more, we may begin to resolve the problem that bombs and troops cannot. Strip this enemy of any other legitimacy or label. Call them what they are and pursue them in that light. There are steps to be taken. A loose coalition already exists, but it must expand. The United States and Russia must coordinate their efforts and realize each other's political ambitions within the region. This is key – ISIS would love nothing better than to see a military confrontation between the two superpowers over Syrian airspace escalate into a new Cold War. Perhaps both Putin and Obama can agree to remove politics altogether until the simpler task at hand is fulfilled, namely, destroying ISIS. The rest of NATO and the world community should climb on board, with the United Nations taking a leading role through an empowered World Court backed by a coalition not of armies but of police. France might just lead the way, and the World Court headquarters in den Haag is ready and waiting to fill its docket. Americans in particular should start by admitting that we have no idea what is really going on in the Middle East, that we do not understand how Theocrats think, that we are out of our depth trying to tell the people there what to do and how to do it. But we can do things. We can offer massive rewards to ISIS members to bring in other ISIS members, or turn themselves in for “repatriation.” Spend what it costs to kill one to buy one instead. It won't get them all, but it may gut their numbers. We must address the core of the problem: desperate, angry young men (mostly men) who will jump to a cause for a sense of family pretty much at the drop of a hat. Testosterone is the enemy when combined with a certain fundamental belief in one's own invincibility. People under 25 are easily coerced into causes that are often violent. They develop an “us against the world” attitude, easily exploited. They can become convinced that inflicting fear is the same as earning respect. They measure respect earned by our response to the fear inflicted. Wars are not fought by soldiers fifty years of age or older. I think they should be. In the meantime, we must divert these young people from their destructive behaviors. We need to fight radicalization with education. We need to promote tolerance of all faiths and belief systems. We need to stop invoking God as an excuse to kill and maim each other. When faced with injustice and cruelty offer justice and kindness. We need to accept the responsibility to provide all peoples of the earth with basic needs for survival with dignity: among them, food, shelter,clean water and air, work, education, and healthcare. FDR said as much 70 years ago. It's time to act.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Custer, Kids and Company

It is September 9 already! The Dutch family has come and gone, leaving us with a taste for more, more, more. There was bad news on the doorstep with various health issues attacking various deeply loved family members. Labor day is passed, and we survived having our grandchildren for a three night weekend. While Nik and Holli went to San Diego on a whirlwind to attend a good friend's wedding. Baby CharleeRose had never been away from Mom for longer than a few hours, so we were expecting a difficult time with her. Plus, she is teething fiercely. But she came through like a trooper, especially with her big brother's reassuring presence and constant help. Bedtime was hard the first night, less so the second, less again the third, and overall I think our fourteen month old granddaughter had a pretty good time at Oma and Opa's. I believe it was harder on Mom and Dad to leave her; CharleeRose adapted to her circumstances. And when Mom and Dad came to pick her up she ran to greet them, then quickly turned on her heels to punish Mom ever so briefly for leaving her behind, as kids and kitties are wont to do. And once again for Diane and myself, the house was suddenly empty after a wondrous cacophony of people. With the Dragon Boat Races coming this upcoming weekend and six thousand people roaming the street of Lakeside looking for parking and good things to eat, Diane and I will be busy helping at Glacier Perks to answer an even louder cacophony, which will make the quiet home a welcome refuge until our next guests arrive at month's end. Busy is good. The irony for me is that the writing urge is returning just when I am too busy to fully give in to it. That's okay – I am like a keg of Malbec aging and swirling and perfecting the material inside me, fermenting if you will. The urge being back is a welcome thing, that part of me that had slipped into a back room or a nearly empty box in my mind, padlocked and safe but far, far away. Then I met a man in Gardiner. Gardiner is a small town on the northern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. I escorted my Dutch family there for a four day trip to the Park and back, with two exciting days roaming through as much of the Park as we could see given the number of people also trying to see as much as they could. We stayed in Gardiner, a quaint town of 800 that lives on the summer tourists but does not try to gouge them. The Yellowstone River runs right through the town, with most of the businesses and people on the north side. We stayed on the south side; our accommodations overlooked the small canyon and river below. There was much construction going on that side of the river, but we concentrated all our in-town time there and found a nice place for breakfast and another for dinner. It was at our second breakfast that a Gardiner native volunteered to help clear the table that would hold all five of us, to help his friend the waitress. Somehow that gave him the idea that it was okay to hold a conversation with us at three different points in our meal, and we politely let him. I am glad we did – his story was interesting even if he interrupted our meal three times to tell it. He told us how Gardiner got its name from a Colonel Gardner who served with Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn, in one of the two sections of Custer's army that were not wiped out. At this, my ears perked up – I had a completed but unpublished final draft of a book for younger readers on the Last Stand waiting for my finishing touches, so I knew a bit about the battle and was always alert for new information. Gardner, the man explained, settled in the area, only to disappear later in what was presumed to be an Indian raid on his camp. The town was named in his honor, but somehow they messed up the spelling and added an “i” to become Gard'in'er. There was a picture of the man on the wall right above my head. While we went on with our breakfast he apparently googled the man on his I-phone, to add that the only link he could find led him to the inquiry into Major Reno's conduct at the battle. The buzzwords all were there, and my curiosity was put into overdrive. So I looked up Colonel Gardner. Nothing. I looked through the roster of Custer's men and found a Private John Gardner, who died with Custer. I looked up Gardiner and got nothing relating to the 19th Century. Finally, I looked up Gardiner, Montana. It turns out that our uninvited breakfast guest was mostly wrong. The area became a town in 1880, but there were trappers and settlers in the region as early as fifty years before, one of them named Johnson Gardner. Gardner gave his name to the lush area at the headwaters of what is now Gardiner River. Calling it Gardner's Hole. In 1871, surveyors encountered two settlers who added the “i” to the name Gardner. One of them, J. C. McCartney, sometimes called himself Jim Gardiner and was known as Jim on the Gardiner, himself unaware of the earlier Johnson Gardner. McCartney and his friend established the first hotel in the region and the government established the first post office just outside the north entrance to Yellowstone in 1880 – and Gardiner was born. George Armstrong Custer and unfortunate Private John Gardner had nothing to do with it. But our guest lecturer had brought up Major Marcus Reno in his “search” report. He and I discussed how everyone wanted to blame Reno for Custer's massacre. Immediately, I realized my book needed one more chapter. Now I'm glad I waited to publish. There's a bit more work to do, and I've already begun. It goes to show: sometimes it pays to just listen, even when at first you are reluctant or feel the speaker is imposing. Best of all, the urge is back, the urge to speak on paper. But you get to choose whether to listen or not.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Smokey Mountains of Montana

The Smokey Mountains of Montana: It feels odd to sit at the computer trying to write again after a two week hiatis. Write what you know, Mr. Ford used to tell us in 9th grade English class half a century ago. It still applies. I know what I think, and I try to inform myself constantly, to keep current and to challenge my own beliefs. That's all good, as they say. But today I come to you with a firm and wonderful belief that has been reinforced these two past weeks: love is great. Love is fantastic. Love is the elixir that makes life worth living, even when the landscape is on fire. Four of my family members from the Netherlands spent the last thirteen days with Diane and myself, after also spending time with my brother in California. The time was too short, which in itself is a compliment to all concerned. Although it is good to get back to whatever passes for normal in our lives after a vacation, a good vacation is one you do not want to see come to a close. This was one of those. In the process of their visit Olaf, Anneke, Peter and Kim got to see America's top three National Parks, (in order of ranking) Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier. They got to see a bison hold up traffic for half an hour in Yellowstone, a grizzly bear almost casually chasing after mountain goats in Glacier. They got to see Old Faithful and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite, and got to drive up Going to the Sun Road to Logan Pass and then hike to Hidden Lake in Glacier. And they got to shop. We learned that half our party has the shopping gene but half does not. The second half was mercifully patient and cooperative with the first. And Peter, on a quest for the true American hamburger, got to experience home made in Monterey, Elk and Bison burgers in Gardiner, and the best regular beef in the world at Norm's News in Kalispell, where the motto is “Life is short; eat dessert first.” They also experienced the typical Fifties milkshake at Norm's replete with cherry on top and sidecar, but discovered that the milkshake at Glacier Perks in Lakeside where we live (and Diane works) is better even than Norm's. All in all, they and we got to share many simple yet fun things. Best of all, we shared each other's time, passions and interests with much common ground. Thirteen days going from two to six seem daunting on the surface, but these people are easy keepers and wonderful guests. And Meg and Jane, our dog and cat, loved them! The only damper on the whole trip was the air quality. With Washington State on fire, smoke has drifted over almost the entire northwest of Montana and hung there for days and days. Fires in our area even closed the road to Essex alongside the lower edge of Glacier and one day caused the airport to cancel incoming flights. It has never been this bad for this long, the locals tell me. So the Rockies became the Smokey Mountains of Montana for essentially the whole time our family was here. Otherwise, we would have gone to Glacier more than the two trips we did make, and would have found and hiked new trails. We would have gone to Many Glaciers, all the way around the perimeter of the park. Still, we had a great time despite the smoke in our eyes.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Duck, Donald!

Duck, Donald! The Donald may be done. His remarks to and later about Megyn Kelly during the RNC-Fox Debate are un-Presidential at best, if not outright sexist. The poor billionaire felt picked upon and singled out, and responded in typically unpleasant Trump fashion. The anger he speaks to as a candidate may now turn on him. He already sounded racist, now he adds misogyny. I am no fan of Fox News. I think of it as the network Jon Stewart used to parody and Rachel Maddow just shakes her head at night after night, both merely by playing Fox News clips. But I thought the questions their moderators posed were amazingly precise, aimed at deeper questions Republican voters had for each in turn. Mr. Trump was not singled out, as far as I could see. Each candidate faced tough questions asking him to explain his worth to America as a candidate despite this fact or that statement. The debate began with a loaded question not posed by Ms. Kelly, whether any of the candidates could not rule out a third party run. Only one raised his hand. After that, Trump was on his own, but he chose it. His answers were evasive and not illuminating regarding any concrete policies or agenda. In fact, he sounded like a politician. After the dust settled, the subject of conversation has not been Marco Rubio’s appalling position on abortion, or Mike Huckabee and Lindsey Graham hawkish view that our military is too weak and war with Iran is desirable. The fact remains that the candidate discussed most in America post debate remains Donald Trump. Wake up America! Pay attention!

And on the Subject of Iran

Listening to the first Republican Presidential debates, it struck me (although it did not surprise me) how completely and uncompromisingly opposed to the Iran Nuclear Deal these sixteen gentlemen and lone lady are. I understand the opposition: the Republicans are vehemently opposed to anything Democratic President Obama does or tries to do. Do not confuse these folks with facts. They will just state categorically the opposite as if it was the truth instead. It is disconcerting to read that even members of the President’s own party are rallying in opposition. Iran is a hot button issue, so much so that certain members of Congress and others interested in the Executive Office are clamoring for all out war. It amazes that these same, supposedly intelligent and considered individuals choose to believe that not only has our President bought a bill of goods, so have China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. So has the entire Security Council of the United Nations. These same individuals, on both sides of the aisle, seem to believe that an Iran unchecked and unmonitored is less dangerous than one which is carefully checked and monitored. They seem to believe that lifting sanctions as an incentive for expected behavior means those sanctions will not be imposed again if Iran fails to live up to its side of the bargain. They further seem to believe that our President has gone to bed with the hardliners in Iran who oppose the deal themselves. It is a quagmire of convenient thinking, a battlefield for idiots. Have they even read the document? Either these men and women are stupid, or something else is motivating their supposed angst, and they would have you and me as terrified of Iran as we once were told to be of Iraq. The passions run high. These men and women want war. They want huge conventional fighting forces that can mobilize at a moment’s notice. They have no idea of what the real world is like now, even after the mixed results of the past dozen years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. They think they can fight yesterday’s wars tomorrow. In the bargain, the United States, still by far the most powerful military force on the planet, looks less and less like a leader and more and more like a bully. The supreme irony would be if the United States Congress managed to stonewall this carefully negotiated deal or scuttle it altogether. At that point the Rogue Nation in the world would be us.

An Open Letter to Congress: War

An Open Letter to the Members of the United States Congress -- The War Within the States: It seems almost unanimous that all of you fear the threat of foreign acts of terror on United States soil. It is correct and proper to show concern and vigilance. Yet the total number of people killed in gun-related violence in America in just the past forty-eight hours is almost double the number of Americans killed by foreign-instigated acts of terrorism since the 9-11 attacks. Get your heads out of the sand. Better still, stop distracting a nervous public from the greater danger facing us: it is a war out there. Americans are at war with each other and with themselves. Gun deaths (murder and suicide) exceed 400,000 since the Trade Towers fell. That is 133 times more than died on that tragic day. Since that day, despite two protracted wars, the threat of ISIS today, and the activities of every terrorist both foreign and domestic, fifty times more Americans have died on our own streets and in our own homes, by our own hands, than perished in those wars. You can say: well, people will kill themselves and each other regardless. But guns, and handguns in particular, make that decision both immediate and irreversible. No other civilized country has violence statistics close to ours: it really is a war out there. And each statistic is a life cruelly and permanently aborted. Stronger gun control legislation is imperative. The bloodbath goes on and on, our culture calls this the new normal. We cannot allow that to be. You each have a semblance of power to effect meaningful changes and thereby save lives and guide our society to an evolution in attitude. There are reasonable steps that can be taken if bold men and women decide to take them. The killings must cease. The culture of killing must change. As legislators, you must find a way. The blood is on your hands every day you ignore, equivocate, postpone, or simply choose not to act.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

ANNIVERSARIES: Hiroshima, Voting, Hearts and Debates

Today, August 6, is a propitious day. It was seventy years ago today that the city of Hiroshima was destroyed by the first ever attack with an atomic bomb. Fifty years ago today, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson. This evening marks the first annual Fox News Decides Who Runs For President Among Republicans Debate. Six months ago today, I suffered my heart attack and I have not been the same since. I look the same. I act pretty much the same. But I have lost some of my stamina, my energy, my desire, my interest, my drive. I have them still, but they are just not as keen as they were. I find I just would rather not than do. Part of this, I am certain and I have been assured, is part of recovery, and that recovery cannot be set to a timetable. Part of it is chemicals – the chemical composition of my brain that tends toward anxiety and depression anyway. I think of myself as an exuberant individual, but now I feel subdued. I feel as though I woke up on February 7 in an alternate universe where Donald Trump is running for President of the United States; where cavemen govern Congress; where Winter came and went decades ago; where thousands of people can be displaced for the sake of a sporting event; where a country that once pledged never to start a war now seems poised to make it their business; where violence is accepted with a shrug: we just can’t help it, it’s just who we are. I still like to read, to watch, to listen, to comment, but the edge is gone. At least, the edge is shrinking proportionately to the realization that my power to affect change, or effect it, is also diminishing if it ever existed at all. I am still curious about politics and history and science, but I live in a world where fires of all kinds are burning out of control and I choke on their drifting smoke – and it makes me profoundly, desperately and utterly sad.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Fanfare for the Common Man

I learned early on that only a handful of names make the history books, and among those only a handful are remembered outside those pages. The common man – the common soldier, peasant, farmer, laborer, science researcher, letter carrier, teacher, Little League coach, homemaker, doctor, artisan, courtesan – does not. In our commonness, we scream for attention, and each of us is indeed exceptional – which means, of course, that no one is exceptional. But that’s okay: the common man and woman are the backbone, the foundation and the fertilizer of history, necessary and invaluable to the continuation of what is human. No individual life is common. Each is unique. I also learned that history is an agreed upon lie written chiefly by the victors, and that hating your enemy is far more effective than feeling indifferent. All men are brothers, I have heard it said. Even more importantly, no men are strangers unless they choose to be. Yet we see each other as enemies. Our enemy today could easily become our ally tomorrow against our ally today – it happens. In the confusion that creates the names remembered in our history books, the common man fights his brother, kills and dies and does terrible things while the truth is hidden under thick clouds of propaganda and hateful speech, again and again and again. There is nothing unique in that. It is old men who dream of blood, but young men who shed it. Let the old ones do the fighting and see how long the war lasts.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My Candidate for the Face of the $10

The Lady on the Ten: In the year 2020, Alexander Hamilton will step down from his place adorning the $10 bill, to be replaced by a woman. It will mark the first time that a lady has graced the face of one of our paper currency denominations. Of course, women have been used as models in the past for sculptors and artists to create the various images of our most iconic Lady Liberty on our coinage. That trend was fazed out during the middle of the 20th Century as coins bore famous American men starting with Lincoln on the penny in 1909, then Washington (quarter, 1932), Jefferson (nickel, 1938), FDR (dime, 1946) and JFK (half dollar, 1964). Dwight David Eisenhower was the first “real” person to adorn the one dollar coin in 1971, but he was replaced first by Susan B. Anthony and then Sakagewea, before the dollar program began its Presidents series. Accompanying the Presidential dollars were corresponding First ladies on the bullion $5 gold coin. But our paper money remained male, until now. Several candidates for the honor have been put forth, including Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, even Betsy Ross. Others I have not heard mentioned but equally deserving include Jane Addams, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rosa Parks, and more. Each, except perhaps Ross, was a mover and a shaker for social change. With that criterion in mind, I suggest another name, very highly thought of up here in Montana: Jeannette Rankin. Jeannette Rankin has many distinguishing characteristics, as a social worker, reformer, and peace activist. But her greatest claim to fame comes from the fact that, in 1916, Rankin became the first female elected to Congress in the history of the United States. Women did not yet have universal suffrage in 1916, but Montana women did. Several states in the West had approved by referendum the right of women to vote. In 1916, Rankin won a hard fought campaign and went to the House of Representatives. The first vote of that newly assembled House turned out to be yay or nay on America’s entry into World War One. Rankin, and 49 others, said no. She did not win in 1918, largely because the mining interests in the State opposed her, and they had more clout. It did not stop Rankin from outspoken activism. In particular, she championed women’s and children’s rights and remained an outspoken pacifist throughout her life. In 1940 she was persuaded to run again, after over twenty years. This time the voters of Montana returned her to the House, just in time for the vote to declare war on Japan. Again, Rankin voted no, saying that she could not in good conscience send another woman’s son to his death. She was the only dissenting vote in 1941. Hard as the other representatives tried to get her to make the declaration unanimous, she stood her ground. She did not run again in 1942. She lived the remainder of her life stubbornly simply, coming out to speak on her chosen issues whenever the time was appropriate. During the Vietnam era, Jeannette Rankin became a symbol for opposition to the war and even marched in peace demonstrations well into her 80’s. Although pacifism is not always seen as a virtue in America, Rankin was so much more than a staunch opponent to war. She was a dynamo, a force in American politics, and the first lady Congressman as well as the only person to vote against entering both WWI and WWII. She demonstrated two key American traits: fierce independence of thought, and the courage to stand up for her convictions no matter the opposition. Honoring her by placing her image on the $10 would honor us all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Resurrection: Something Light

The Acura is home. The Acura is safely seated like a sentinel in our driveway, about twenty feet from where I’m sitting. The Acura had major surgery, but fortunately less invasive than we feared. The heart transplant was not needed. Instead, the Acura got a valve overhaul, some bypass maneuvering, and a stent in one of the major arteries. The heart is beating at a regular clip and didn’t even need a pacemaker…Yet. But the Acura is old. Her shoes are still reasonably fit, and they are reasonable shoes. But her joints ache. She has arthritis. She groans when she turns, even a little bit. She has been resurrected from the probability of being traded for something younger (just like a man to think it, eh?), but joint surgery is not far off. Oh, well – I can relate. At least she’s clean. Really, really clean. It was the most expensive car wash I ever paid for, but I think it was worth it.

Trumped Up

Donald Trump is popular, and his popularity seems to be growing even as his words seem more abrasive. He represents a fairly large backlash, from those who have come to believe all the horror stories about what is happening to their country, afraid to lose what they have or think they have, and resistant to change. Change is coming. Good or bad, change is inevitable, and sensible people want to make it smooth and beneficial. They are willing to take the time, keeping an open mind for as long as possible, and dig deeper, whatever the issue or fear that confronts them. Donald Trump says “Bah, humbug” to all that. He says the American Dream is dead but he can revive it. He says he knows how to defeat ISIS but won’t tell us his plan. He says strange things about immigrants and war veterans that, judging from recent polls, must reflect the thoughts of many. He has tapped into a primal fear among those who see America slipping away into a socialist hotbed of liberal thinking. Not just slipping, plummeting. Hell, we elected a Black President, for Chrissakes. Even the supposedly conservative Supreme Court has turned bitterly liberal. The Donald speaks to that. He also speaks to the disillusionment we all have with the system that purports to be running our nation on our behalf. The system is broken, so many of us say, because the people we elected to hold office within that system cannot seem to find common ground for action. It is a complaint that has been registered frequently in the course of our history, but seems to be more steadfast, stubborn, and adversarial now than ever before. Donald Trump stands outside that system. When he opens his mouth the last thing he sounds is Presidential, yet his outrageous words express hidden sentiments many are afraid to express. He speaks for many about the dysfunctional family called American politics, like the crazy uncle who invited himself to dinner. The adults shudder while the children are amused.

Huckabee and the Holocaust

Huckabee and the Holocaust: Marching us to the ovens, Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has tried to steal the headlines for outrageous comments from the Donald. It worked, for a second or two. The Today Show invited him to their first half hour on Tuesday, and did little to challenge him as he stood by his comment that the Iran Nuclear Deal was akin to Chamberlain appeasing Hitler at Munich. I have used the Hitler comparison myself, many times, but have come of late to realize that all comparisons to Hitler are nothing less than an attempt to inflame ignorant minds (not stupid, there is a difference!), coming from someone with a certain lack of imagination himself. Like I said, I put myself there when I see historical similarities, but I try to back what I say with facts. When Mr. Huckabee talked about having seen the oven doors and made his comparison between Iran and Nazi Germany and Obama and Chamberlain, he missed several key facts. It is easy to look back 75 years and see our mistakes, but to impose what we know on the people who made their decisions before the facts is hubris. The Holocaust was well under way before World War Two began, and yet no one knew. Or, if they did, they blind-eyed it. To portray our involvement in beating Hitler as an effort to save the Jews of Europe is a lie. We did not know the extent of the horrors the Nazis unleashed until we began liberating death camps in 1945. Munich 1938 was a failed attempt to stave off another disastrous war, with the pain of the brutal War to End All Wars still fresh in everyone’s mind, particularly among the English and French. There were no sanctions in place and there were no large armies doing their maneuvers on Allied bases. Former ally Russia had turned Communist and was isolated from and feared by the West. The League of Nations was a wonderful concept that did not include Germany or Russia and had no authority to enforce any of its decisions on behalf of its members. Hitler’s Germany had pulled itself out of complete economic ruin and national embarrassment imposed by the Peace of Versailles. Then, on its own, Germany built the largest army in Europe and set forth to challenge the world. Jews were a scapegoat for German woes and ethnic cleansing became methodical policy. But none of the combatants, including the United States, entered World War Two over the Jewish Question. To say or imply that we did misses the truth as it was in 1933, 1936, 1938, 1939 or 1941. Those leaders at the time who knew or suspected what Hitler was up to either could not or chose not to do anything about it. Memory is convenient. Remember the parts we can use, forget the parts that are inconvenient. Retrofit new information to alter past reality. The leaders of Iran have used highly inflammatory rhetoric in verbal attacks on Israel and on the United States. The word war has gone both ways: Israel regularly threatens to bomb Iranian facilities if they prove to be producing material for a nuclear bomb, while American leaders constantly refer to Iran as a Rogue Nation and the Number One Sponsor of Terror worldwide. Neither side trusts the other, which is probably wise. But Mike Huckabee tells us not to trust ourselves or the other five nations who helped broker this deal, or the United Nations which supports the deal enthusiastically. We have huge armies and we have sanctions that can snap back into place instantly, as needed. Meanwhile we offer Iran the first step back into the family of nations. Isolated, like Russia in the 1930’s, or facing economic ruin, like Germany in the 1920’s, Iran is infinitely more dangerous to world peace. And, as a local newspaper editor wrote in his own editorial that was surprisingly favorable to the deal, there is always time to start a war. Lets try diplomacy. Memory is convenient, Mr. Huckabee. We ignore or forget all our alliances with terrible people who committed human rights violations, because it is convenient to do so. At this very moment we are working closely with Turkey in the fight against ISIS. The Turks are keen to deny and forget the Armenian Genocide of 1915 that they undertook with methodical efficiency. They also hate the Kurds in Syria, who are our allies, as much as or more than they hate ISIS. They are using the opportunity to bomb ISIS positions to attack Kurdish targets at the same time. Yet we call Turkey our ally and friend, because it is useful to do so and, honestly, how long should we hold a grudge? So, Mr. Huckabee, before you go making ludicrous comparisons to events long passed that you obviously do not fully understand, perhaps you should keep your stones to yourself.

Friday, July 24, 2015

DYI: The Lion of Waterloo

Did You Know? The Lion Mound of Waterloo: There is a hill near Waterloo, upon which stands a lion. It was built between 1826 and 1830, first the hill from the dirt that surrounded it, then the statue cast in nine bronze sections and assembled. There are 226 steps from the base to the top. From the top you can see what once was the battlefield called Waterloo, where nearly 150,000 men fought each other two hundred years ago.. But this is not a British monument to that battle. It is Dutch. Only a handful of events in human history have captured our imaginings for all time; so many among those are battles. Thermopylae. Hastings. Agincourt. Gettysburg. Normandy. At or near the top is Waterloo. Often portrayed as a British victory against heavy odds, the truth is that Wellington commanded an army of allies against a mostly French army of almost equal size. Reports vary, but Napoleon commanded around 77,000 men. Wellington’s force numbered 73,000, of which 20,000 were Dutch. The Dutch commander was the Prince of Orange, oldest son of the newly crowned King William I and destined to become King of the Netherlands upon his father’s voluntary abdication in 1840. Napoleon escaped his captivity in exile early in 1815, allegedly by inventing a palindrome to win a bet and his freedom: “Able was I, ere I saw Elba.” He immediately drew great support in France and launched a new campaign to regain all that he had lost three years before, and shatter the peace that had followed that exile. A strong force of allied forces amassed as quickly to oppose him, comprise mostly of British, Prussian and Dutch troops. The Princes of Orange time and again had proven to be formidable military leaders, and this young son of William I was no different. Two days before the critical battle, Dutch forces ignored a command from Wellington and engaged the French left flank at Quatre Bras while Wellington, shocked at the speed of Napoleon’s advance, quickly reinforced the Allies. But with defeat imminent, but before Napoleon’s main army could reach Quatre Bras, Wellington pulled all his forces into a strategic retreat to a defensible position just south of the village of Waterloo. On June 18, the two armies clashed head on, fighting a grave battle until the French were routed. Over 40,000 soldiers were killed or wounded on that single day. Among the wounded, young Prince William of Holland caught a musket ball with his left shoulder. He would never have full use of his left arm again. In 1826, his father ordered a monument built to honor both his son and the heroic Dutch troops both at Quatre Bras and Waterloo. Napoleon was finished. He later was exiled to an even more remote island, Saint Helena. He died there in 1821. To this day he is remembered as one of the greatest and most powerful men in human history, but Waterloo ended his final attempt at claiming dominance over Europe. It also stilled European lust for war, at least for a while.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Depression: The Blame Game

A lot of people don’t understand Depression. They say, “Look at your life, what do you have to be depressed about?” Depression doesn’t work like that. Depression is universal, democratic: it hits all stations in life, in good times and in bad, for specific reasons or none at all. It does not even need a reason to exist, it just does, sometimes for long and crippling periods. Not everyone gets depressed, but most of us do and some of us find Depression is a battlefield. On that field are many. You are not as alone as you might feel. It’s bad when the thing that matters most to do in the day is matching tiles in a Mahjong solitaire game on line. It’s bad when you start thinking to yourself, who’s gonna miss me when I’m gone? Writing a blog becomes a chore, let alone something longer or more intense. I laugh, I joke, I hide in plain sight (not very well, it seems). I could blame all sorts of circumstances, and some may contribute to timing. My grandson Chase turns one year old in two weeks and I can’t afford to travel to California to be there. My car is threatening suicide and I can’t afford to replace it. Death, my friend whom I never want to meet and of whom I am literally terrified, came knocking on my door last February, chuckling softly and whispering, barely audible, “Just visiting.” Donald Trump is popular. I have a loving family, a beautiful, intelligent and supportive wife, and I live in some of the most beautiful country in the world, yet I feel isolated and alone. I think I would feel that way in the middle of San Francisco right now. I have four children, all grown and two with families of their own, and still I worry. I haven’t sold a book in months, much less finished a new one, and I have more projects than I have time. Yet I don’t feel much like writing. A lot of people have it much worse than I do – I am overall very fortunate – but that’s irrelevant; it only means I feel guilty about being so blessed and yet depressed. But the Big D is its own self-contained and self-fulfilling Montser… and the closet door is open. Just saying it out loud, plus a good night’s sleep, helps. But the sadness is there. It cannot be ignored.


Insomnia: A man likes to practice the things at which he is talented, particularly the things he likes to do. Practice keeps him sharp, engaged, fresh, at the top of his game. I love to sleep. I’m good at it. I dream frequently and enjoy the world of my dreams. I seldom remember my dreams in any great detail but that does not matter. Dreams mean REM sleep, and that means 90 minutes of restful, mostly unconscious bliss. I just wish I were better at falling asleep and staying asleep. As a child and well into adulthood, I was horrible at getting to sleep. It would take me hours (I mean that literally), no matter what time I retired for the night. It wasn’t until marriage that I seemed to develop a rhythm that let sleep come within twenty minutes of placing my head on the pillow. That easier slippage into dreamworld lasted for years, with only occasional lapses. But now, over the past two years or so, dating back to the time my misdiagnosed chest pains made bedtime worrisome, insomnia returned with a vengeance. I have a hard, hard time. I rest. I know I rest. But sleep itself comes to me reluctantly and dances with me for short spells. Whether it’s an ache or a worry or a full bladder, I awaken and the struggle to return to sleep begins. Maybe that’s one reason people drink or take sleep aids – to relax and numb themselves. It’s especially bad when I know the alarm is set, as if I’m afraid to miss the awakening. I have learned one thing: you can’t force it. I’ve learned another: I hate being tired. And a third: I’m not so good at sleeping as I thought, although I try to set aside a third of every day for practice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What's Wrong with Summer TV?

What Happened to Summer TV? I just finished watching the eighth episode (of ten) of M. Night Shamayalan’s mini-series, Wayward Pines. I don’t know why. I stopped watching the summer series Aquarius after just four episodes. That one was set around the time of the Manson Murders about a fictional detective getting used to Black Power, the Vietnam War, new age hippies, and the Miranda Rule all at once. David Duchovny plays the cop, and I liked him – at first. But when Fox Mulder beat Charles Manson half to death I stopped caring even about him. The show was interesting whenever Manson was not part of the scene, but I saw Helter Skelter. I did not need a fictional recap without any character worth rooting for, someone who didn’t turn out to be a monster, too. Maybe if Duchovney had killed Manson before the horrible murders, that alternate history might have had some interest, but I gave up waiting. Wayward Pines started out strong and intriguing. People were disappearing after car accidents and reappearing in a hospital in a small town they could not leave. People who tried were executed. It sounded a bit like Harvest Home meets Shamayalan’s own The Village. But by Episode 5 and the Big Reveal, I didn’t care. The characters were flat, even the megalomaniac puppeteer running the show. He had been kidnapping people to populate a single town in the future to preserve the human race against what it had devolved into because of genetic mutation. Humanity had become a mass of cannibalistic Cro Mag’s, Man gone feral, in this – pardon the overused word – dystopian future. Why not just have Zombies? So he decided he had to kidnap them, lie to them, bully them and imprison them to keep them safe. His faith in the humanity he wants to preserve seems a bit jaded. Couldn’t he have found volunteers? Well, he did have some – experts to help run the town, the power grid, the supply lines, and the electric fence that keeps the others, our degenerate future, out. Couldn’t he show them the truth now, realizing that they would see their future rests with him? The villagers think the world has not changed, either in point of time or reality, and that they are nothing more than prisoners in some sort of diabolical experiment. Almost everyone, that is. Those in the know teach the children – the breeders of a future normal human race – the truth, and help them keep the secret from their clueless parents. Can’t ever let them know – I mean, really? And now we have apparently good people doing terrible things for what they think is the Common Good. All that deception and brutality would lead to rebellion, wouldn’t it? Which, of course, seems to be the point, but they did stuff like this with a much more deft hand on Sliders years and years ago. There are only two episodes left. I’ve invested this much time, I guess I’ll stick it through. I just fear the Great letdown, just as Dig brought me this past spring. That one gave us ten episodes leading to a great apocalyptic crisis, but when the crisis came it just fizzled into nothingness and a busted dam. If Joseph Stalin had only a village to run, it would be Wayward Pines, a dull and boring place from which there is no escape. I myself might prefer the Wild. I do admit that the plot sounds better on paper, or would if it were in any way original, but the presentation and the acting are bland and soulless. Take this future, please! The penultimate (thank God) episode was a bit more interesting, I admit, and the finale promises to be the Zombie Apocalypse redux. At least, Suits is back. And thank God for BBCAmerica. They gave us the fascinating and mysterious Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This one presents a reinvented history of England at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, when magic is an accepted reality but only studied, not applied. Then one magician begins to practice again, and his apprentice learns how to apply his skills for the greater good. Meanwhile, other powers awaken. Seven episodes, no waiting (except for the DVR to kick in), and absolutely no boredom or, for that matter, cannibals. And Doctor Who is coming!

What's Wrong with the Iran Deal

What’s Wrong with the Iran Deal? Short answer: not much. The critics of the deal are blustering and posturing out of a deep seated need to oppose the President of the United States. Any real and genuine concerns about the deal were hammered out in negotiations. I admit I have not read the document, but what I understand from what I have read about it tells me that the deal is, as our President tells us, the best possible alternative. I see no one in Israel or our own Congress offering up something better. And I do not understand how an Iran no longer engaged upon or capable of producing a nuclear bomb is more dangerous to the world than the Iran we have now. I find it odd that the same politicians who clamored to support the latest trade bill (which the majority of Americans oppose) without debate, now wish to undermine a weapons-limiting deal (which the majority of Americans support) before fully understanding its ramifications. People like to compare the Iran deal with appeasing Hitler at Munich in 1938. The comparison does not stand up. Hitler had already taken several bits of foreign soil; the Allies weakly conceded those captures on the mere promise that Hitler would stop, without any method of monitoring him or real consequence in place. The threat of war was not real to him. Militarily, the Allies were weak and weary. The Iran deal is all about inspections and consequence. Sanctions lifted could easily and rapidly be put back in place at the first infraction. Bringing Iran back into the community of nations we call the World could lead to positive steps by their new regime down the line, but, regardless, keeping them from building a nuke has to be a good thing no matter the politics of the regime. I think the better comparison would be to Nixon going to China. China was seen (by us, at least) as a dangerous threat. Even after Nixon went and came back, we were cautious, but China gradually became both a major player on the world stage and a major trade partner of ours, and Asia is more stable than ever before. Iran is not Hitler’s Germany. Nor is it Nixon’s China. Iran is one powder keg in an incendiary region of the world. Instead of defusing it, our so-called patriots in Congress seem ready to light the fuse with American blood. If that is their viable alternative, if they truly believe that war with Iran is in the best interest of Corporate America’s bottom line, they ought to tell us so, and why. And if we elect one of those bozos to be our new President, then we are even more primitive than I thought. Remember, too, that the United States is only one of six nations involved in the negotiations with Iran. The others are Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. You would never have seen that sort of unity in 1938. Thank you, Richard Nixon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In The Pink

My heart is rehabilitated. My heart has completed its sentence for its crimes against humanity – my humanity. There is still a part of my heart that earnestly believes that I am actually to blame and my heart is an innocent victim of my own physio-syncracies, but, of course, my heart is wrong. Otherwise, why would they call it “cardio-rehab?” At any rate, thirty-six plus sessions, miles on the treadmill, thousands of steps on the Newstep, and a cross state journey on a bicycle that never actually took me anywhere, and I have finished the program. I finished stronger than I started, which was the goal. I finished strong enough to put two coats of fresh pink paint on our guest room walls, even standing on a stepladder and sometimes on my head. I also have a contract, signed and sealed, between myself and my heart: no murder-suicides, please. So I am in the pink, and so will be our guests. The only question now that I am a graduate from rehab, what about probation?

A Brag, a Tear and a Whine

Black Heart Magazine just published a new piece by yours truly, “A Letter to Siegfried Sassoon.” You can see it on Black Heart’s Facebook page, and I wish you would please take a look! While you’re at it, Like my piece and feel free to peruse the other exciting pieces on the page. It’s been a while since I’ve been in print, mainly because I have been fairly quiet since the heart attack in February, so it’s particularly gratifying to be “back in the saddle again.” That’s my brag. My tear falls for James Horner. If you have never heard of him, I am sure you have heard him. Horner was one of the most prolific movie score composers in history, with over 120 films to his credit. Among them are Field of Dreams, Avatar, Troy, A Beautiful Mind, Titanic, An American Tail, and Glory, just to mention a handful. James Horner was killed when his single engine plane crashed in the Los Padres National Forest on June 22. He was 61. Finally, my whine. I have to report that my 1999 Acura is in catastrophic organ failure. I did not know that a car could suddenly have so many things go wrong. I also did not know how expensive automobile surgeons could be. And I wonder, after its Catalitic Conversion, will my car be born again? As I write, I am consulting a second surgeon to garner another opinion, but am still waiting. I will keep you posted. Meanwhile, that stupid lottery hasn’t fallen my way. What’s up with that? I mean, I’m old enough now, and I know I could responsibly buy a brand new car the minute the money funded – and, like, I could afford all that cheese.

Flags of Our Great Great Grandfathers

Flags of Our Great Great Grandfathers: Let us be clear. The controversy over the Confederate Battle Flag sparked by the tragedy in Charleston has galvanized a nation. But let us be clear as well that the flag is a symbol of the real issues, and I can’t help but wonder if the focus on the flag’s removal comes as something we can fix in the face of so much that we cannot. The irony is that the Battle Flag belonged to Robert E, Lee’s army and was never a representation of the Confederate States of America. That flag lives mostly in museums. As a matter of heritage, the battle flag serves as a reminder of brave soldiers fighting a lost cause, as well as of the primary hateful element of that cause, the maintenance of slavery. It is as offensive as the Nazi Swastika would be to anyone impacted by the brutality of that regime. Our great great grandfathers who bled in the Civil War need no flag to remember them by, certainly not at the expense of the sensibilities of descendants of those who were freed. The battle flag was not even an issue until the Civil Rights Movement erupted in the deep South. When African-Americans began working toward equality, the Jim Crow South began flying the flag in protest. It was never about heritage, it was always about hate, and although the ardor of that hate cooled as more and more people accepted each other on both sides of the issue and worked for change, the symbol remained. Much progress has come, but much work remains to be done. Every positive step, every show of mutual understanding, every conversation is a step in the right direction.

The Rising Count

On September 11, 2001, forever to be remembered as 9-11, just under three thousand people were killed in the terror attacks by Al Qaeda on American soil. Since 9-11, 26 people have been killed by acts of terror by foreign agents. In that same span, 48 people have been killed by acts of domestic terror. Since 9-11, however, over 400,000 people have been killed in the United States with guns, 215,000 of them by murder. 4,491 US Service personnel died in combat in Iraq, and another 2,259 in Afghanistan, meaning that thirty times as many Americans died on their home soil than in both long wars since the Twin Towers went down. It comes to about 32,000 violent deaths by gun per year. That comes out to 89 every single day. A citizen of this country is 2000 times more likely to be killed with a gun than by a lightening strike. Yet who and what do we fear? We run around panic-stricken that ISIS will launch an attack at any given moment, and we seem convinced that the way to stop gun violence is to arm everyone. It has been suggested that the tragedy in Charleston could have been prevented if the people in the prayer group had been armed, bringing their own firearms into their house of worship…Are we insane? I know the saying: it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people with guns that kill people. I also remember what a Black Belt expert in Karate once told me, “You can’t block a bullet.” I keep thinking about this in particular: why does a hunter need a handgun? 90 percent of our country sees a problem that has gotten out of control, yet no one with the ability to effect change has done anything as we encounter tragedy after tragedy. It looks like a civil war out there, but I was taught we already have been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt, a handgun encircled by the International No. Two years ago, Henry Porter of the Guardian wondered how long the world could stand by watching us kill each other because the nation is at a loss.

Reflections on the Charleston Tragedy

Reflections on Charleston, or, Family Tragedy: The tragedy of the mass shooting at Charleston last week lingers in our hearts and minds, another in a long series of brutal events involving multiple victims. Good men and women at prayer should have been safe within the walls of a house of God, no matter what religious preference or ethnic background they might have been, but hatred is an invasive parasite. And we are left to ask, how many galvanizing moments are we as a nation going to squander? There is much beauty to come out of this tragedy – in the power, the grace, and the forgiveness of those who knew the victims as friends and family. There is beauty, too, in the outrage, the galvanizing outrage that has seen an entire nation seem to pull together to demand that the Confederate Battle Flag be removed from the South Carolina capital grounds. The flag is not the issue, it is a symbol of the issue that underlines the tragedy: hatred. All arguments aside, the symbol is an affront to the memory of the dead. As our President so eloquently said in his eulogy for Reverend Pinckney on Friday, the flag represents not the courage of Confederate soldiers, but the wrongness of the cause for which they fought – slavery. If we examine the history of that flag’s placement on modern sites, we realize the flag was resurrected primarily in protest against the Civil Rights Movement fifty or so years ago, and not as a reminder of the valor of soldiers who died in battles a century before that. Conversations have begun, earnestly and openly, again. They focus on words and phrases familiar to us all: love, hate, race, racism, guns, violence, gun control, the nature of symbols, domestic terrorism, faith, forgiveness. But one word pops into my head: family. We are family, the song goes, but so many of us ignore that fact. It is a mindset that must evolve if we are to survive and function. No men are strangers, not really, not if their spirits are open. In that vein, I add that there is only one race, the human race; the rest is geography. And until that is accepted by all as true, when we love, share and celebrate the things that make us different and unique under a banner of unity, then we will truly be the Family of Man. Families have squabbles, dysfunction, estrangements, even violence. But, mostly, families have love, patience, inclusion, and the warmth of peace. In the aftermath of the losses suffered in Charleston, that is what I see.

A Blitz of Blogs and a Bunny Tale

A Bunch of Blogs Blitz and a Bunny Tale: It has been a while since I have written a blog – actually, I have been writing them but have not had the time to edit and post them. this incredible two week stretch on the American social and political scene has kept my attention, and each day has been more remarkable than the one before it, from Supreme Court decisions that have rocked the complacency of our culture and ensured insurance for so many who need it (including several near and dear to me), to the brave and emotional response of the families of Charleston to the tragedy there, to the ever growing, ever more comical yet ever more frightening Republican Presidential circus. No wonder I haven’t had time to write and rewrite! I’m too busy watching. The end result is that now I have a stockpile of blogs to share, and rather than lumping them into one long, disconnected piece, I have elected to bombard you with a bunch in a row, a blitz of blogs. Pick and choose and please read them all! I start off by noting that we have a new member of our foraging family that seems to find our front yard ideal for snacks, cool shade and safe haven. Some time ago someone in the neighborhood let loose a handful of market bunnies. The people left the area and the bunnies were left to find for themselves. Each year of the past three, a pair of them has adopted Chez Blokk’er as a home away from home, to disappear one day and be replaced by a new generation. This year we have two huge rabbits, mostly white with black markings. The one with the smaller markings is the bold one of the pair. But a third bunny showed up a few days ago, on the hottest day of the year. He is mostly white and much smaller than the other two, though not nearly as small as the native cotton tails. Di thinks he’s a Dutch bunny, which of course suits us fine. I thought he was dying, he looked so haggard. But a little rest, a shady spot by the Pokey Field, and a few carrots and grapes, and he has recovered fully. He now lives in the Pokey field and slips up onto the lawn in hopes of treats and to graze on the green. The other two have accepted his presence, although they are not yet frolicking together. I call all the bunnies him, because I hope none is a female. I guess I’ll know soon enough. I haven’t named them, and do not intend to – they are outside guests, runny babbits who merely share our space.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Measure of Success

How do you measure success? By financial gain? Readership? Praise? In a long ago motion picture, The Teacher’s Pet, a rom-com with the unlikely pairing of Clark Gable and Doris Day, Gable plays a reporter who takes a writing class from the daughter of a Pulitzer Price winning journalist. The reporter deeply admires the journalist as one of the standards of his profession. But when the reporter begins to read the other things the man had written, the shine comes off. The guy was ordinary at best, chronicling ordinary events. He won the Pulitzer based on one brilliant column, just one. Gable almost loses the girl over his sudden realization and the blunt way in which he challenges both the columnist and the teacher-daughter. By the end, though, Gable realizes that the one column was enough. It was genius. It was success. Of Richard Wagner, composer of, among other things, the Ring Cycle of operas, it was famously said, He lived sixty years, gave us sixty hours of music, of which six hours were brilliant; it was a good trade. I would like a lot of money, earned by my writing. It has not happened yet and I doubt it ever will. I used to measure success by that yardstick, and it kept me all but paralyzed. But, then, someone told me they liked what I said and how I said it. They did not know me, but they liked me. Someone else went to great pains to explain why my thinking was wrong. They took the time to provide me with a measured, thoughtful response. I knew my words had meaning and impact, however limited, and I had succeeded. Every time it happens, I know. And that’s enough of a yardstick for me.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Marco Rubio's Watergate

Marco Rubio’s Watergate: I do not like Marco Rubio’s politics. In fact, when Mr. Rubio expressed his concern that it was now Christians who were in danger of being treated with contempt and prejudice, I immediately wanted to blog on the suggestion. The first thought I had was: well, maybe it would be justice. Then I modified my thinking as unnecessarily cruel. I focused on the few. It amazes me how many self-proclaimed Christians, whose Teacher and Namesake was all about love and tolerance, themselves spew out hatred and intolerance at every opportunity. That sort of Christian deserves our scorn. I do not know what sort Marco Rubio is, but I sincerely hope he is not spokesperson for that extreme minority. I do not know if I like Mr. Rubio himself or not. I have never met the man. I doubt that I ever will. As a member of the Democratic Party, I should be glad for Luxurygate or Rubio Watergate or whatever the press winds up calling the recent “revelation.” But I’m not. It’s absurd. The argument is that Mr. Rubio is obviously not fiscally responsible. The reason cited is that he spent $80,000 to buy a boat. The truth is that Mr. Rubio was given an advance on future royalties for a proposed book, to the tune of $800,000. After allotting for taxes, Mr. Rubio immediately paid off $100,000 in student loan debt. It seems to me that he did the honorable and right thing – and something that is almost impossible for most students with loans to pull off. Only then did he splurge on a fishing boat the press wants to turn into a luxury speed boat. The substantial publishing advance was a windfall, found money over and above his usual income, and I see no harm in buying something special. In Florida, after all, boats are almost mandatory. As ocean levels rise due to unspeakable global warming, Marco Rubio has an escape plan. I would have spent a goodly part of such an advance on world business class tickets to Europe and an extended stay. But priorities differ.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why I Can't Really Run for President

Why I Can’t really Run for President: I cannot really run for the office of President of the United States. I am not withdrawing my name from consideration, just explaining why it cannot happen as things stand today. The first reason is, of course, fiscal. I have no money. I am not in debt, but over my bank accounts hover a swarm of moths. I have no Super Pac or billionaire backers. The Democratic Party only knows I exist insofar as I might contribute to them. Then there’s that pacifist thing. The third reason is more critical: it is illegal for me to serve (though not to run). I am foreign born. I was born in the Netherlands and naturalized when I was seven years old. This makes me ineligible by Constitutional Law. The concern that my loyalty might be compromised if we ever get into a shooting war with the Dutch overrides all other considerations. Arnold Schwarzenegger has the same issue confronting him, though if he were eligible I imagine finding money to back him would be easier than it would be for me. Of course, Ted Cruz was also born in another country, Canada, but he found a loop-hole: one of his parents, his mother to be exact, was an American citizen at the time of his birth. She was planning ahead. For me, though, there is no recourse unless the Constitution is amended. So I guess I should follow Arnold’s example. I could be governor of Montana, or perhaps the junior senator. They like pacifists. But then, I always said, if I couldn’t have the top spot, my settle?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Back in the Real World - Again

Back in the Real World Again: The Super Rich think you can save $20,000 a year over a working career of fifty years to amass that magic million bucks you will need for retirement. They think you can send your kids to university without help. They think that universal health care ought to come out of your pay bucket; pay as you go. They do not live in the real world. They think if you work hard you will achieve all your goals. They believe that any of us ought to and can work at something we like. They think you ought to be happy, content, and a spendthrift (even while saving all that retirement moolah) while working for the minimum wage. They don’t live in the real world – but they run it. I could dispute their convenient thinking. I could quote statistic after statistic (and have, from time to time). The fact is that most American workers get the job they can, not the one they want. They can’t save $20,000 a year. They need help to educate their children. They buy insurance for healthcare or live without it, gambling that they will stay healthy until retirement age, when they will be insured by Medicare, like it or not. Children go hungry every night in America. Worldwide, the situation is worse. One in three human beings on the planet have less to live on every day than the cost of a double shot espresso, let alone an iced mocha latte with non-fat milk. Staying home, the fact is that, like so many of My Fellow Americans who are retired, I have a modest pension after 32 years on the job, plus my and my wife’s Social Security, plus we each have a small part-time job to help meet our equally modest needs. Medicare Part B costs $105 per month each, and my supplemental plan costs $325, making health insurance our second biggest expense after rent. We don’t travel, we don’t go out to the movies or fancy restaurants. We are no longer part of the demographic, and yet we are the demographic. The real world, the world I see, is filled with people who live like us or who are working hard to get where we are, which seems to suit the Super Rich just fine.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Defining Abortion

This is the hot button issue among western faithfuls. People who are pro choice are called murderers, and people who are pro life are called dictators, while the people caught in the middle are women facing serious choices based upon serious considerations, and they are the ones who have to cope with their ultimate decision whatever it will be. I do notice how many men think it is their right (they call it duty) to tell women what to do with their bodies. As a white Anglo Saxon male myself, I would like to divorce myself from that hubris, if I can. Let us define our term, “Abortion.” Abortion is the premature termination of a life. It is, however, not confined to a fetus; it applies to any life prematurely terminated by war, poverty, disease, accident or willful acts of violence. Anyone killed by a radical extremist or by a wayward bomb in battle, felled by a preventable disease or by a lack of food to eat, killed in a car crash or slipping in a bathtub has been aborted. This means, to me, that anyone who opposes abortion must also oppose poverty and war, and is a hypocrite if he or she does not do so. That’s harsh, I know, but appropriate. The converse is also probably true: someone like me, who is also anti-war, -poverty, and –disease, ought also to be anti-abortion. But that’s where I break down in my logic. I am pro-life, but I am also pro-choice. I would advise someone considering abortion on all the possible alternatives and consequences of that choice, but I would respect their choice regardless. It is not my place to judge that decision. It is not my body, and it never will be. I cannot in good conscience dictate to any woman what she must or must not do with her own body or in response to her own circumstances. That is not my call. I do know this: somewhere in the world, every three seconds a child born into poverty dies. If you really want to stop abortion, start there.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

If I Ran: Platform Dance

Having offered myself as candidate for the office of President of the United States of America, I am pleased to announce that I have already secured three votes. I regret to announce that all three are not residents of the United States, and therefore their votes will not count in a US election. However, this does reinforce my image as being popular overseas. I now wish to outline some of the planks in my platform, the issues I consider important and the ideals and beliefs that guide me. I do not belong to any organized religion. This puts me in the fastest growing single group of classifications on religion: non-affiliated. I believe that organized religions are nothing more than groups run by boys’ clubs who exploit the very principles and teachings for which they supposedly stand. I do not believe that war is a viable means of diplomacy. I do not believe that a multi-millionaire should pay less by percentage in taxes than I do. I believe in a tiered flat tax with no exemptions, exclusions or loopholes. I believe in equal pay for equal work. I believe in universal health care not driven by nor tied in any way to profits. I am pro life and pro choice: I believe ina woman’s right to choose and I believe in giving all the support and aid humanly possible once that choice is made. I believe in science and scientists. I want to see scientific inquiry and exploration engaged upon for their own sake, and allow the benefits to come to us as they may – and they will. I believe in education. I want to see the United States’ education system gain ground with an emphasis on teaching, not testing; asking questions, not just answering them; thinking and not just regurgitation. I believe in curiosity, but I fear that curiosity is dying in America. I believe that campaign funding should be scrapped altogether. Let there be a national referendum in the spring to suggest the top five people in each party the people want to see run, then those among them who want to run get their message out on NPR and PBS for free. I believe in equality under the law, regardless of the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, the denomination of your faith, or the size of your bank account. I want to end poverty in America and throughout the world. Poverty and hunger are not a part of nature. They are human mismanagement. Look only as far as our own borders: one in four American children lives in poverty. You don’t see them, but they are everywhere. Every night, children go to bed hungry. Some of them live right here in my county, Flathead, Montana. Yet we spend so much on our killing machines, to protect our corporate interests overseas. Make no mistake: people in the United States suffer while we deploy troops throughout a world no longer fitted to conventional warfare. I think it’s time to admit and understand that the most powerful nation in the history of the world, both economically and militarily, is in it for itself and that we are its slaves, not its masters. Break the chains. Vote for me.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Pluto and the Crats

We call ourselves a democracy, but do we know what that is? Democracy is a form of government that is run directly by the people. This means the people gather and vote on issues, plans, etcetera. A teacher I had in college said this was impossible and unwieldy in populations over 2500; from my experience in Little League, I doubt if it is possible in populations over 25. We do not have a theocracy in America, wherein the Church runs the State. We do not have an autocracy, either, where one person, be he or she King, Queen or Dictator, runs the show. But we do not have a democracy in the US, either. At best we have something called Representative Democracy, where the people invest their power by proxy – or avatar, if you like – by selecting individuals to represent them and their interests. The idea of our state and federal governments is to provide representation in a smaller group so things might actually get done without waiting for general elections and national debates. But what we have is only partially that. With fifty states and one national government, we are really a Republic, in which those elected representatives have the power to govern. The hope is that the chosen representatives honestly and fully embody the wishes of their constituents, those who elected them, but the reality is that the selection process that brings candidates to us for choice runs on money and lots of it. Therefore, the rich have a chance to garner undue influence on those who decide to run, and many of those who run are rich in the first place. The common man and woman, the true democrat, only gets to choose from what has already been chosen. Ultimately, this all means that the rich are the ones who actually run the country, and that is called a Plutocracy. Pluto is no longer a planet, but Plutocrats abound on this one. And what plutocrats love best is for the rest of us to be silent. Silence is always taken as assent even when intended to express the opposite.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Not at My Best: The Lesser Purge

In the 1930’s, Joseph Stalin oversaw the murder of millions of his own people. While countless millions more were placed firmly under his absolute domination. He brutalized the farmers, gutted his military, eviscerated the intelligentsia and eliminated all opposition. Historians call it “The Great Purge.” I think it was the vodka. Last night I did something I had not done in, literally, years. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because yesterday was the anniversary of D-Day. Maybe it was Beau Biden’s very sad and very profound funeral service. I found myself wondering, “What will they say when I am gone and who will say it?” Result: a momentary pity party and I succumbed to demon rum, well, Johnny Walker. Perhaps it was the excitement of watching American Pharoah (sic) become the first horse in 37 years to win the triple crown of racing and I wanted to celebrate. At any rate, and for whatever reason (or perhaps, like the mountain, because it was there), our friend Joop had gotten new drinking glasses perfectly weighted in your hand and perfectly sized for a deceptively large double shot of whatever you might choose to imbibe. My villain of choice is Scotch; usually I indulge in a single shot or two on the nights we go to visit Joop. But last night, boasting beforehand how well I hold my liquor, I knocked back four full glasses of liquid smoke in just over an hour. I could not, would not stop myself. And I got, what’s the polite word, drunk. Blotto. In my cups. Wasted. Really, absolutely, totally teenage ripped. Fortunately, Diane was disinclined to drink, choosing coffee instead. She was wide awake and the Universe was not spinning around her head, so she drove us home. With great sympathy and patience she suggested that I hug the toilet and purge myself to get some of that poison out of my system, then maybe have a cup of tea. The task completed itself quickly and I was able to sit down for a while, drink half a cup of tea, and then lie down without that same Universe crashing onto me and crushing my skull from the inside out. “The Little Purge” had worked. And I swore: never again. And she said, “Never say never.” And I thought: even grandpa-types . . . And I woke up this morning thinking how totally and absolutely un-funny Joseph Stalin is.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

D-Day, 6th of June

June 6, 2015: D-Day remembered: Seventy-one years ago today, brave soldiers by the thousands attacked equally brave soldiers by the thousands, in one of the most daring and dangerous missions in war history. By the end of that very bloody day, thousands lay dead but the Allies had their foothold on the beaches of France, placing the German military in between two massive fronts and helping to bring about the end of the bloodiest and most cruel war ever fought. It was a remarkable achievement, both in terms of strategy and sheer determination, an amphibious attack against heavily fortified defenses, aided by a careful deception that fed into Adolph Hitler’s certainty that the Allies would attack at Calais, not the beaches of Normandy. Regardless of my personal hatred for war (or, perhaps, because of it) and my inherent suspicion over the motives of the war-bringers, I admire the courage exhibited that day and remain grateful for the sacrifices made by so many. I just wanted to say that. I was born six years after that crucial battle. My family lived through the German occupation of the Netherlands. They saw war from the point of view of the vanquished, the conquered, who were powerless to stop their country from being overrun, but who nonetheless stood tall and resisted that enemy, all the while preparing for the day their rescuers would come. It is impossible to say that the soldiers who landed in Normandy, or who fought through the hedgerows, or who parachuted into the flat near Eindhoven, or failed to take the bridge at Arnhem, or pushed back Hitler’s last gamble at the Bulge, that what they did was not justified or necessary. It was. History attests to that. They helped bring about the end of the fighting. They helped my family to regain their freedom. I am 65 years old. I did not experience that terrible war, but I have seen smaller wars, war after war after war, fought ever since. New people come up and want their turn, it seems, and we have not yet found an alternative to all that immortal aggression. And in that sense, I suppose, the dead of Omaha, Juneau, Utah, Gold, Sword and Point du Hoc died in vain. The chain was not broken. I think about this because I have had such good fortune to be touched by war only, though deeply, by association. Four months ago on this day I had a heart attack, and it makes me remember how many young, young men have died in battle long before their hearts could give out on them naturally. I have been stuck in lethargy since that date, writing a little, yes, yelling once in a while, yes, but overall licking my wounds. No more of that: I owe it to myself, and I owe it to the memories of men who would say, loudly and clearly, that war is wrong. That is my message. I can see times when it is necessary, but it is always wrong, and it is young men and women and children, and children yet to be, who pay the price for the folly and ambition of old men like me.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

First Steps and Excited Brother!

Bonus Blog: First Steps: Last night at eight o’clock, the telephone rang. Caller ID identified the caller as our son, Nikolas, so, naturally, Diane answered it. A piping voice, filled with excitement, came across the wire so loudly I could hear it from my chair six feet away. The voice belonged to Xander. He said, “Oma! Oma! You can’t believe it! You can’t believe it! CharleeRose took her first steps!” After a brief discussion of the event, we learned that CharleeRose, who will be one year old in two weeks, had decided to take off. She had been thinking about it for days, and yesterday she made up her mind. She was ready. While we were talking, she demonstrated her newly acquired skill by walking ten full steps before ponderously but gracefully plopping down on her bottom. Then she got up again, without the aid of any sort of prop, cheering herself on in the background. “Can I tell Opa?” Xander asked, then repeated the news for me. The delight was twofold: first, it’s always exciting to see, or in this case hear, those first steps. Second, Xander was so happy for his sister that he wanted to share the news with us – he asked his mom and dad if he could call us “right-away!” Little sister was very pleased with herself, and big brother was over the moon.

Talking About the Weather (in MT)

Talk about the Weather (in Montana): The air is cool this morning. Much needed rain has pummeled our lawns and the surrounding trees off and on for two days, with the chance of lighter showers this afternoon. Summer heat has not yet arrived, though our springtime temperatures have touched 80 degrees Fahrenheit twice in the past week. Two market bunnies, both mostly white with sharp black spots and stripes, have decided our lawn is a lovely place to graze. They are descendants of bunnies let loose by people who left the area four or five years ago, and now are pretty wild. They are cautious around people, but at the same time they are not averse to a carroty handout or a few unpeeled grapes. We have also seen more cottontails this year than ever before, the natural bunny for the area. Our white tailed deer have become a bit more scarce of late as the yearlings seem to be branching out on their own. Two young bucks with just the buds of a rack beginning to decorate their heads come by now and then, plus one doe who looks to be expecting. It’s late for that; we worry that the fawn to come will be big enough and strong enough to face the winter. Prognosticator Roy thinks winter will be as light for us as last year, or lighter, but what does he know? He isn’t a climatologist, or even a meteorologist. He’s just a watcher. Still, his final determination won’t be made until the July moth population invades Joe Blogz, where he works. Many moths equal a heavier winter. Smaller numbers indicate a milder one. Last year Lakeside had a very small moth incursion while Missoula down south had a heavier one, and Missoula had twice as much snow as we did . . . just saying. There’s poetry in the trees, swaying gently, catching water and storing it to drop ignominiously on your head when you venture out, or offering shade in the sunshine and a nearly safe haven for all sorts of creatures, and a lunch counter for others. There’s poetry in the lake, Flathead Lake, whose colors change with the sunlight like a mood ring on the finger of the planet. There is poetry in the wild turkeys who gather, the males on full display, the females with a “whatever” attitude, at the top of our driveway and then cruise through our lawn, maybe stopping to hunt for grubs or freebees. There is poetry in all the distraction from my own poetry, knowing that when the sun goes down I might draw inspiration instead. And the stars, the stars overhead on a clear and moonless night, are pinpoints of poems written long ago just waiting to be read.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Take No Offense

Blokker on Poets and Pundits – or – Take no Offense: I have spent much of my life trying not to offend. I have strong opinions, and I know that many people do not agree with all of them (although,, of course, I believe they should agree – I’m right, after all). I go out of my way in polite conversation to not offer an opinion if I think it will run contrary to the others in my party, believing that there are some things you just don’t bring up: politics, religion, climate change. Sports are safe, but you usually have to know something about the sport before you can safely comment. Subjects like abortion and immigration are taboo, and never bring up homosexuality. At least, until you know your company better. It is great fun to discuss such matters with people who agree with you, and easy. But tempers can flare and friendships can crumble when strong opinions clash. Conflict over coffee and trepidation at tea time are not subjects for the debating society. That being said, I try not to offend. I have this blog for that, where anyone can opt in or out just by the exercise of their eye muscles. Still, it amazes me how so many of the people I try not to offend seem to have no qualms about offending me.