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.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Vladivostok: Did You Know?

Did you know that the United States once invaded Russia? The circumstances are interesting: when the Bolsheviks took over control of the country and it became clear that they would sue Germany to get out of the war, several allied nations feared that the Russians would give over their weapons – what was left of them – to the enemy. They launched pre-emptive and limited invasions. President Wilson sent troops to offer a stabilizing presence in a volatile region of Siberia. The United States took the city of Vladivostok and held it, while a smaller force positioned itself near Archangelsk. Troops from France, Britain and Japan also sent “expeditionary forces” to spots in the civil war-torn country, but the Americans resisted pressure to engage the Bolsheviks. Still, memories tend to be long, especially for someone who thinks himself a victim; if we remember the actions our government has taken in the past, it might help us understand why people in the present might not completely trust us.

Monday, June 1, 2015

USA: the Most Christian Nation

The Most Christian Nation: Did you know that 70% of Americans consider themselves Christian? The number varies from study to study, but seems solid enough. That makes us the most Christian nation in the world. But the number is slipping, slowly. In fact, the fastest growing group among those asked is “non-affiliated.” This includes atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers, and all people who do not attach themselves to any particular faith, whether spiritual or not. “Non-affiliated” has grown by over 6% since 2007 and is actually the single largest category now, eclipsing the largest single faith choice among Christians, Catholic. Some Christian pundits are alarmed by this trend, but it appears to be a natural outgrowth of a maturing society that, hopefully, practices what it preaches in terms of religious tolerance, even tolerating non-belief. Incidentally, the Moslem population in America makes up barely 1%. Did you know that the largest Moslem nation in the world is not in the Middle East at all? It is Indonesia, which is 88% Muslim with over 200 million. And did you know that there are a million and a half Christians in Iraq? Another unspoken aspect of our blunder: Under Saddam Hussein, Christians in Iraq were free to worship as they wished. Hussein – awful as admittedly he was – did not mix politics and religion. According to This World on BBC News, May 24 2015 edition, with Saddam removed and secular chaos ensuing, that 1.5 million Christians have become targets of persecution, thanks largely to “Christian America,” which unleashed the chaos. It begs the question so many ask rhetorically: is the world better off with Hussein gone? Really? Does American hypocrisy know no bounds?