I’ve never shared an entry from my personal diary before, but today I got up and read the newspaper and discovered:
On November 8, 1923, Adolf Hitler launched his first attempt at seizing power in Germany with a failed coup in Munich that came to be known as the “Beer-Hall Putsch” (AP).
In 2016, Republican Donald Trump was elected America’s 45th president, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in an astonishing victory for a celebrity businessman and political novice. Republicans kept their majorities in the Senate and House (AP).
And now this sad Trumple-Thin-Skin, a dictator-wannabe with a failed coup attempt of his own under an extra-large belt is now throwing a third hat into the ring after losing his first two elections by a combined eleven million votes in order to avoid further prosecution, claiming such a step toward justice would be purely “political”.
If you look at the situation democratically, the writing’s on the wall.
One year ago: A U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection issued subpoenas to six more associates of former President Donald Trump who were involved in his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election (AP).
Diary Entry / 8 November 22
Election Day. Full moon. The fate of our nation will be determined today.
That’s been said many times in the past. But today, it’s especially true.
"The risk is that an election denier serving as a state official could try to manipulate the results in 2024 so that their preferred candidate wins — even if they don't receive the most votes," said States United Action head Joanna Lydgate (MSN).
This is the second nail in democracy’s coffin. When the Supreme Court voted in 2015 to allow corporations, foreign or domestic, to pour unlimited funds into any politician’s campaign chest, well.
The corpse began to stiffen.
In a written statement, President Obama said the high court had "given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics." He called it a "major victory" for Wall Street, health insurance companies and other interests which would diminish the influence of Americans who give small donations (Fox News)
If the Republicans carry the House of Representatives today and begin to lionize integrity and brain-challenged folks like Jim Jordan, Rosemary Taylor-Greene, and Lauren Bobert, well.
The Fourth Reich is well underway.
Poking a stick into your wife’s womb and overthrowing elections are just the warm-ups.
In high school, I worked two summers on the Hennepin Canal, a relic of the 19th Century connecting the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers allowing mules to pull barges from Rock Island to Chicago.
Although it was a “failure” — due to the simultaneous widening of locks on those big rivers that made it quickly obsolete — new engineering techniques required to construct it made the Panama Canal possible.
One summer day, while I painted the Lock 22 bridge red with a hand brush — the last guy to do so since 1974 — a fellow worker just returned from Vietnam showed me his photographic scrapbook.
Full of dried Vietnamese ears linked together with twine to make belts.
Full of dried Vietnamese noses woven together with fishing lines to make necklaces.
He was proud of it.
Sensing a wave of bile rising to my throat, I turned away in disgust. He’d married a neighbor girl, but I consciously never crossed his path again.
My draft number was 61 in 1972, but this was 1974 and the war was over. Looking back, it may have been a good time to go into the service because I wanted to be a photographer/journalist and the bullets wouldn’t fly with fury again until the Persian Gulf War in ’91.
But those pictures made those ideas untenable, even though this was the Watergate era, the apex of newspaper journalism when everyone — it seemed — wished to be Bernstein or Woodward and the military would let me write and take pictures without a gun in my hand.
When I was a bartender at the Playboy Club (’79-’80), I’d hang out at the Billy Goat just to smell cigar smoke and catch a glimpse of my hero, Mike Royko, chomping a cheeseburger. The quintessential Chicago journalist who pitched softballs with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
This song is my tribute to those who served in Vietnam.
One of my best friends fought as an M-60 machine-gunner on a PBR craft, which was a twin-engine fiberglass pleasure boat built for speed and outfitted with twin M2HB .50 caliber machine guns forward in a rotating shielded tub, a single rear M2HB, one or two M60 light machine guns mounted on the port and starboard sides, an Mk 19 grenade launcher, and a Jacuzzi drive so it could enter the shallow water.
He speaks little of the combat he encountered in Vietnam, but I’ve shared hotel rooms with him and he gets up in the middle of the night, pounds the headboards with his fists until they’re bloody, and battles demons all night long. Talks to his service comrades throughout the night, those who lived, and those who died. The few battle stories he has shared make me wonder why he sleeps at all.
A cherished mentor escaped the draft by going to college, but his younger brother served in the Army and volunteered for a rescue mission — even though he was at the end of his tour and knew he was going home to his family in a month. Refusing to turn his back on his buddies when they needed help, Randall Maggio paid the ultimate price.
This song does not pay justice to anyone who served in the Vietnam War. I’m not even sure where it came from. Suffering a long songwriting drought, I tuned the guitar to an open chord, and there it was. The melody requires only the picking hand.
But I do know the pain and suffering that war caused still lives today.
I see it in my friends’ eyes, hear their screams in the night, and feel the anger they exude when confronted with the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Randall’s brother Drex and I went to the Traveling Wall in Chicago one summer, but he couldn’t get near it. I could see the veins in his forehead sticking out, his fists clenching.
Vietnam was invaded at least eight times — in the modern era alone — before our attempt. We couldn’t even learn from the French, who were defeated by the same guy who kicked our ass. We won a majority of the battles and killed an estimated one-million-one-hundred-thousand Vietnamese and Viet Cong, but lost the war for the very same reason the French limped home in disgrace.
Inadequate Education Mixed with Greed and “Christian” Nationalism
When a Supreme Court member’s moral stance is “I love beer!” and a ten-year-old has to carry her rapist uncle’s baby to full term — or risk being charged with murder — then it’s obvious we don’t even know our history going back a mere fifty years.
We’d already learned those lessons — as polio taught us about vaccines — but lightly-educated politicians in high places are now forcing the idea into ten-year-old brains that it makes perfect sense to murder their incestuous rapists because they’re going to face a murder charge, anyway.
A preacher I admire once said from the pulpit: "We want you to read your Bibles. Make no mistake. But please don't pick them up all at the same time because the resulting dust storm would blot out the sun."
-- Reverand Bill Carter, Holston Conference, UMC
Now we have to learn them all over again via death and destruction.
I tried to research how many times Afghanistan’s been invaded, but I grew weary when I got to ten. We couldn’t even learn from the Russians, who slunk home with their tail between their legs after the Taliban blew them out of the sky with US Stinger missiles carried by Tennessee mules.
There Was a Time is dedicated to those who served in Vietnam and live with its consequences to this day.
Our undying gratitude will never be enough, will never repair what’s been torn asunder.
It’s a gruesome yet beautiful, redeeming love story about this crazy homeless liberal dude with long hair, one set of clothes, and dirty sandals who possesses an open heart, and an open mind, and then He opens doors and cares for immigrants (He was an immigrant himself), plus the sick and poor. Lepers.
His best friends lived hand-to-mouth and stank of fish.
Wealthy “conservative” Pharisees and Sadducees don’t give a damn about the sick and poor who have already been born — they make it as hard on women as they possibly can — and they absolutely HATE the liberal.
They try to “own” Him several times, but His wit makes them turn away in shame.
“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.”
They accuse Him of being “woke” after His Sermon on the Mount opened everyone’s eyes with the concept of grace: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”
The story is set in the past and the Pharisees and Sadducees don’t have AR-15s yet to turn Him into Holy Goo (not to be confused with the Holy Ghost), so they have to nail him to a tree.
But He wins in the end!
You’ll have to read it to see how.
It parallels exactly what you see on Fox, but with the lies cut out. And it gives you comfort when you read the END OF THE STORY.
I teach creative writing two days a month at a local state prison: Northeast Correctional Complex, Mountain City, Tennessee. I wrote a column here about The Lifer's Club, and how they serve the community.
A letter recently arrived from one of my students, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons. It's been sent to every major newspaper in Tennessee, and several in Virginia and Georgia. One reporter asked for my phone number in an email, then never called. No one else responded except a reporter in Memphis who said he was "too far away" to do anything about the situation.
If you have any connection to power, possess a conscience, and wish to alleviate the misery these fellow human beings are experiencing, please help.
At this point, I cannot reach anyone who cares.
To: Tennessee Newspapers and Fellow Christians
From: Anonymous Inmate, TN Prison System, NECX
Date: 3 March 2022
Dear Media Representatives and Fellow Christians,
This is my first time writing a letter imploring help due to institutional issues. The Tennessee Department of Corrections is in a state of crisis. Staffing has been in decline for roughly the past ten years due to the depredation of our previous commissioner, Derrick Schofield. His successor, Tony Parker, made no changes to Schofield’s policies, and thus nothing improved. Parker has announced his retirement effective November of this year.
The staffing issue came to a head in 2021 with COVID’s fallout, and most Tennessee prisons are in a perpetual state of pseudo-lockdown. Our facility had faired the best in the state until recently, and actually maintained a state of semi-normalcy until October 1st.
Our staff began leaving in droves this summer due to issues with our current warden, Bert C. Boyd, who has been in charge of this facility since mid-2019. Simply put, he treats his staff like garbage but Nashville won’t can him. At the “town hall” meeting outside the prison on September 30th, community members and ex-staff aimed their grievances at Boyd. Whatever was said, about seventy more staff, each with a year’s paid leave built up, didn’t show up for work the next day.
We’ve been in lockdown since October 1st. Boyd calls it “restricted movement” because “essential” inmate workers still get to work (i.e., kitchen, laundry, suicide watch, and of course, the TRICOR industrial plant). For purposes of this letter, I’ll refer to it as a lockdown. I am an inmate who leaves his cell less than eight hours a week and has to defecate three feet from another man with a sheet in between.
Since October 1st there have been no religious programming, no educational programming, no parole-mandated pre-release programming, no incentives, no leisure time or law library access, and we are fed three cold meals a day on Styrofoam trays.
Some weeks we are allowed out of the cell on weekdays for a few hours. Other weeks, we are allowed thirty minutes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a shower and a phone call. On weekends and holidays, nobody comes out of their cell unless they have a visitor.
The few remaining officers are often made to work sixteen-hour shifts, and there is only one officer to watch two units. The emergency call buttons have been disabled since Schofield came into power, so if you have a serious medical emergency while the officer is in the other unit, you die. One man had a stroke and wasn’t able to get attention for thirty minutes. Then, medical refused to send a wheelchair so it took another thirty minutes for him to reach the infirmary with assistance. Apparently, medical has been told: “not to respond unless the inmate is non-responsive”. Thankfully, this particular individual survived.
As staff continues to resign, gangs have gone wild. It turns out the locking mechanisms on the doors are extremely easy to defeat, so gangs move about at will.
Holes were found pried in the complex’s fences, allowing gangs to rob the “incentive” units. The administration responded by adding padlocks to the cells (in violation of fire codes), which the “problem” units promptly jammed or broke.
The inmates’ legal aides were considered “essential” workers for a few weeks, to absolve the administration of denying us access to the courts (four legal aides can’t serve the function of access for over 1,500 inmates). However, on November 4th, the gangs broke into the library and stole surge protectors and other equipment, and since then, even legal aides have been denied library access.
Before legal aides were given the boot, one created a flyer supplying information about civil rights complaints filed against Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi for analogous circumstances, as well as contact information for the U.S. attorney’s office.
Our assistant warden saw the flyer and said: “I’ll nip this in the bud,” and made a beeline for the mailroom. The mail has been noticeably delayed since then.
On November 22nd, a gang staged an uprising in Unit 11 and took control of the unit for the day and part of the night. The local sheriff’s department and the Community Emergency Response Team from Nashville had to be mobilized to regain control of one unit.
If the gangs had coordinated, they could have easily taken the prison and staged a mass escape. The incident was reported on the news as: “Fight at Northeast Correctional Complex” leaves one inmate hospitalized”. A friend of mine was on the cleanup crew and spoke of bloodstained shirts, pepper-spray-soaked blankets, and hundreds of rubber bullets strewn about the unit.
I intended to file a grievance over denial of access to the courts, but it turns out the grievance sergeant is among those who have abandoned ship. When the associate warden was asked how grievances will be resolved, he responded: “We’ll do the best we can.” Our facility now has no system for resolving internal paperwork.
The mental health of the inmate population has declined severely with this ongoing situation. I serve from time to time as an inmate observer (suicide watch), but I resigned due to a shift-hour change and the horrific conditions to which observees are subjected.
They are often kept in cells with feces-smeared walls, dressed in nothing but a paper or cloth gown, and sleep on a bare concrete slab. Guards neglect and sometimes even mock the detainees. One man was so mentally out of touch that he would lie on the slab in his own waste, and when a guard told him to get in the shower, he stood in the shower for an hour without turning on the water. I personally heard a mental health administrator cuss out a man for being on his third trip to the program for cutting his wrists.
Those still serving as observers say the caseload has doubled, and the smell is so bad from the mentally ill flinging waste through the door cracks that the observers have to be stationed in a break room outside the corridor.
Now our warden is planning to restrict our phone accounts to only allow one ten-minute call per day because he can’t stop inmates from breaking out of their cells to make calls. This will further restrict our ability to contact lawyers, as well as our families during the holidays.
The situation is being covered up to keep the public blind to its severity, but if this continues unabated, something bad is coming. We see no light at the end of this dark tunnel. The feds or the National Guard should have been called in long ago.
Thank you for your time and attention.
(Name withheld in fear of retaliation)
The following letter was sent to Tennessee State Representative Scotty Campbell after the inmate's letter arrived:
Dear Senator Campbell,
My name is Michael “Gene” Scott, and I volunteer two days a month to teach composition at NECX. The enclosed letter was written by one of my students, who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.
This letter will be published openly on my website (genescottbooks.com) for the world to see.
Prison officials at TDOC were also contacted, and we expect them to ignore the issue until something really bad happens. We want to be on record that we contacted everyone with influence before that occurs.
Copies of this letter have been or will be sent to every major newspaper in the state.
Should you doubt the veracity of the enclosed letter, please investigate. We’d love to learn of any more truths that need to be exposed about NECX, its warden, and elected officials sitting on their hands while gangs run free inside. We stand by this account and welcome an investigation into the truth of the matter.
Thanks for showing a little interest last month, but the situation has deteriorated markedly while the public waits for positive action. Each new day equals new horrors pressed onto human beings inside NECX – both inmates and staff – humans you swore an oath to protect.
Please let me know what you are doing to keep the people of Johnson County safe when it’s only a matter of time before the bloodshed spills over the walls.
Travel may be the one expense that makes us richer. Although it is often fraught with short-term displeasure, the long-term effect – if you survive – is brain enhancing, life-rewarding.
Thirty-five years ago, my bride-of-one-day and I climbed aboard a used 1979 Honda Goldwing GL, a wedding gift from my parents, and rode up the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive to the middle of Maine and back.
People we met on that journey still live in our memories – John Belushi’s doppelgänger (bugs in teeth, leather football helmet, and an ancient black BMW R60/2 ridden only at night), and a couple in a canoe tossing-and-catching a newborn baby high into the air while rowing across a lake. Dad ran anti-drug program; mom was a headless woman in a circus act.
You can’t make that up.
This spring we reprised a section of the route – from Mount Pisgah, North Carolina to Waynesboro, Virginia – with a twist.
Friends Eric and Judy Middlemas joined the expedition with Eric leading my 2011 Can Am on his Honda 500, and Judy riding shotgun next to Lana in the car. We helped each other carry bags into hotels each night, and enjoyed meals together. Now and then we’d cross paths on the Blue Ridge Parkway, when the women weren’t “researching winery tours”.
The Mount Pisgah Inn
Our first stop, after a ninety-mile ride through gorgeous Western North Carolina mountain scenery – GPS set on Avoid Major Highways – was the wonderful Pisgah Inn.
The views from the dining room are spectacular, but the cuisine is even better. Where else can you get “Trail Mix Encrusted Mountain Trout”? I chose the pastry-fresh Chicken Pot Pie – not indigenous to the Southeast – but perfected by Pisgah Inn’s chef, who briefly transported me to Wisconsin via taste bud memories.
We enjoyed the easterly views from our hotel balconies before turning in, and although black clouds were pouring in, I decided to go outside and look west one more time. The sunset’s beauty mixed with ominous rain clouds predicted the next day’s adventure.
The next morning beamed warm and beautiful, but five minutes after we headed north the rain poured down and never quit. I’ve been soaked on rides before, but not to the bone. I hesitate to show this photograph (for obvious fat reasons) but the rain was so intense it soaked through my thick raincoat, an electric jacket, and three layers of tee shirts. I thought the tingling was a little intense, but I had no idea it was burning the skin. I’ve since recovered and the scars are gone, but I won’t forget to plan better next time.
As glorious as the Blue Ridge Parkway may be, there is nowhere to hide from rain. We saw two motorcyclists standing in one of the many tunnels we drove through, accidents waiting to happen on a dark rainy day with low visibility. We just kept riding.
When we arrived at Blowing Rock and checked into the motel, I immediately jumped into a hot shower to raise my body temperature. Eric – even more exposed with no handlebar or seat heaters plus a smaller windshield – felt hypothermic.
When planning to head out on the open road, consider torrential downpours. I’ve motorcycled for 50 years (age 15 to 65) and have covered much of the United States, but was never soaked to the bone and beyond. A heavy raincoat, two tee-shirts, and an electric-jacket didn’t do the job. Like an idiot, I’d left my motorcycle suit at home due to the high spring temperatures.
But an Aerostich suit will eliminate that threat if you soak it in TX-Direct Wash-In. If you get hot, open all the zippers and add ice to the pockets as needed.
I’ll never ride a long distance without it again.
Blowing Rock, North Carolina
One-hundred-ten miles north of Mount Pisgah lies Blowing Rock, famous in literary circles for Jan Karon’s “Mitford Novel Series” as Karon lived there many years and details in the novels point to local landmarks and inhabitants. Flocking tourists enjoy “At Home in Mitford Walking Tours”, lectures by local historians, “Mitford Days” and exhibits in the wonderful downtown park. These books aren’t for everyone, but they do offer escape from our present situation into a world many still desire.
What Kirkus Reviews in 1996 called Karon's "literary equivalent of comfort food" would seem to appeal primarily to middle-aged women who don't care to hear about sex or violence or to read any swear words, not even "damn." (Karon says that at the age of ten she got a whipping from her grandmother after she wrote a story containing "a word that Rhett Butler used.") -- The Atlantic, January 2002
The name “Blowing Rock” is born of Indian legend.
The Blowing Rock. Photo by Todd Bush.
It is said that a Chickasaw chieftain, fearful of a white man’s admiration for his lovely daughter, journeyed far from the plains to bring her to The Blowing Rock and the care of a squaw mother. One day the maiden, daydreaming on the craggy cliff, spied a Cherokee brave wandering in the wilderness far below and playfully shot an arrow in his direction. The flirtation worked because soon he appeared before her wigwam, courted her with songs of his land and they became lovers, wandering the pathless woodlands and along the crystal streams. One day a strange reddening of the sky brought the brave and the maiden to The Blowing Rock. To him it was a sign of trouble commanding his return to his tribe in the plains. With the maiden’s entreaties not to leave her, the brave, torn by conflict of duty and heart, leaped from The Rock into the wilderness far below. The grief-stricken maiden prayed daily to the Great Spirit until one evening with a reddening sky, a gust of wind blew her lover back onto The Rock and into her arms. From that day a perpetual wind has blown up onto The Rock from the valley below. For people of other days, at least, this was explanation enough for The Blowing Rock’s mysterious winds causing even the snow to fall upside down. -- The Legend of Blowing Rock
Over the years we’ve enjoyed visits to “The Republic of Floyd”, a quaint little village with a hippy lifestyle theme offering lots of good food, music, art, and recreation. The Hotel Floyd is a treasure, each room appointed differently from local sponsors.
Hotel Floyd sponsors a Floyd Center for the Arts Gallery located across from the front desk. When checking in, out, or just exploring the hotel, take a peek at some of the displayed artwork created by local artists.
At the Floyd Country Store, you can enjoy performances from some of the finest musicians in the country. Friday nights feature gospel music and dance bands. Saturdays include an eclectic group of performers. And, Sundays feature bluegrass bands.
The next morning Eric and I stopped for lunch at this icon, enjoying a good meal and greeting the women as they pulled up and began exploring the mill before we rode ahead.
The historic Mabry Mill is perhaps the most iconic structure on the entire Blue Ridge Parkway. Experience live milling demonstrations, as this gristmill still grinds flour more than a century since its original construction! See the nearby Matthews Cabin, blacksmith shop and interpretive area. Here, National Park Service staff conducts demonstrations on blacksmithing, carding, spinning, basket making and other traditional Appalachian crafts. -- Mabry Mill Restaurant
The Peaks of Otter
If you’re ever in the vicinity of Bedford, Virginia, visit the National D-Day Memorial commemorating those who perished securing Normandy beaches. Soldiers from across the nation sacrificed their lives on this day for America’s freedom, but Bedford took the biggest hit:
By day’s end, nineteen of the company’s Bedford soldiers were dead. Two more Bedford soldiers died later in the Normandy campaign, as did yet another two assigned to other 116th Infantry companies. Bedford’s population in 1944 was about 3,200. Proportionally this community suffered the nation’s severest D-Day losses. Recognizing Bedford as emblematic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served on D-Day, Congress warranted the establishment of the National D-Day Memorial here. -- National D-Day Memorial
If a quiet picturesque rest spot is required after visiting Bedford, The Peaks of Otter fills the bill. Right off the parkway, this lovely spot offers hiking, rowing, and tasty meals. They were just up and running after the pandemic when we arrived, and friendly service and gracious hosts out-dueled newly implemented software clogging the computers. The local hospitality often outweighs inefficient government when tourism is key to economic survival.
Virginia Route 42
We finished the parkway and rode up to the gate of the Skyline Drive, which ventures another 105 miles north into Maryland, but pressing business at home turned us south to spend the night in the burgeoning village of Waynesboro, which offers a variety of excellent restaurants.
Riding home with the Alleghenies and West Virginia beside us, we tooled down scenic Route 42 – a superb motorcycle route – although covered with TRUMP 2020 signs pushing The Big Lie.
Just as I was pondering (philosophically, mind you) how to pull my pistol and eliminate some of that trash, we were stopped by a fallen tree lying across the road.
Had we arrived thirty seconds earlier: splat.
Eric, a retired Ph.D. holding several patents in the field of chemistry, dismounted along with his Type A attitude from the Honda and loudly asked: “Anyone gotta a chain saw? We need a chain saw!”
A minute later an old gentleman oozing work ethic and a lifetime of labor sauntered up with an ancient mid-sized Stihl and several of us pitched in to clear the scene in just a few minutes.
Which is emblematic of our culture these days: as long as there’s a mutual problem to solve, we work together like beavers.
But give us some free time – like a year sitting around during a pandemic – and we prefer to stab each other in the butt. The search for grace continues while un-grace blocks the way.
Ironically, I’m currently reading Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace? which delves into the age-old question: why do Christian’s hate so much?
“C. S. Lewis observed that almost all crimes of Christian history have come about when religion is confused with politics. Politics, which always runs by the rules of un-grace, allures us to trade away grace for power, a temptation the church has often been unable to resist.” ― Philip Yancey, What's So Amazing About Grace?
And it appears we’re right back in history’s saddle of un-grace, riding beside Henry the VIII, Oliver Cromwell, and seven wicked popes. Power for the sake of power never works out in the long run. History.
So we’ll take a lesson from volunteer tree cutters and stay in the saddle of grace as long as we can.
Long motorcycle adventures calm the spirit. If one is lucky enough to to enjoy the history and beauty of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it will raise awareness of our mutual blessings, and our need to share God’s unending grace with those we encounter along life’s way.
Our way of life — our egalitarian society based on open democracy — depends on it.
Note: Eric and I will ride the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in July. Stayed tuned for tales of further adventures.
Have you ever noticed how everything is political now? Even Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. So let’s focus on what’s important! Plastic! Tater heads!
Mr. Tater Head.
He’s in the news.
Mr. Tater Head.Mrs. Tater Head
Mrs. Tater Head.Doesn’t matter
How many died
Of the Covid.It’s Mr. Tater Head.
He’s the Man.
He’s political.So let's focus
On what’s important:
Plastic Tater Heads.Mr. Tater Head.
Lost his sex.
He’s a eunuch now. Mrs. Tater Head
Lost all her parts.
She is barren now.Baby Taters
Come from somewhere.
From the plastic patch?Mr. Tater Head.
He’s lost his sex.
He’s a eunuch now. So let's focus
On what’s important:
Plastic Tater Heads.
Where are we now?Where has America gone?Where are we now?Is this the swan song?Where have the morals gone?Taught from above?Where are the morals now?Where are truth and love?Where are the Christians now?Since lies are King?Where are the Christians now?Does money mean everything?Where are the brains now?That death and ignorance reign?Where are the brains now?They took the chump train.They took the chump train.
They took the chump train.
They took the chump train.
Whenever my life begins to feel too “cushy” – which is often since I’m a spoiled American Baby Booming corpulent white male with a loving/doting wife, a squared-away son, a reasonably functional family, early retirement, and a supportive church family – I sign up for a mission trip, foreign or domestic.
Which cures the spoiled-brat syndrome pronto.
If you embark on such an adventure, expect: crushed legs on long flights, strange food clogging the septic system, strange water unplugging the septic system, flat-hard hotel beds, endless oversize bags full to maximum 49.9 pounds of cement-grade calcium carried up and down steps via human chain, sleepless nights filled with the cacophony of poultry crowing contests and spontaneous dog fights, mission beds made of burlap and two-by-fours, water-less showers until Angel Plumbers work their magic, twelve-hour days spent mostly on the feet, the ringing sound of eighty voices banging around the cement walls of the clinic, three languages bouncing in a Babel of towering intensity.
So, why do we subject ourselves to that?
Probably for the same reason soldiers return to Afghanistan seven-or-eight times. Why firefighters rush into burning buildings. Why doctors continue to practice medicine into their eighties, serving a network of friends they’ve made over a lifetime.
They do it for the tribe.
Opinion: we are designed by the Creator to function in small groups, say twenty-to-sixty people – all carrying different abilities (spiritual gifts) – a tribe where everyone has a job, everyone is respected for their contribution, and everyone is connected to a purpose outside their own agenda.
“In 1753, Benjamin Franklin wrote to a friend about a curious phenomenon in the American west. White prisoners rescued from Native American tribes were seizing the first chance they could to flee into the wilderness and rejoin their captors. There were no reports of native warriors migrating in the opposite direction. Perplexed, Franklin concluded that the errant whites must have become ‘disgusted with our manner of life’ despite being shown ‘all imaginable tenderness’ on their return.” (Source).
Sebastian Junger, author of Restrepo and The Perfect Storm, recently penned a book titled Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, which focuses on the War in Afghanistan and veterans’ mental health. Junger writes: “Today’s veterans often come home to find that, although they’re willing to die for their country, they’re not sure how to live for it.”
Instead of focusing on job training and social re-conditioning, we treat vets like pariahs and load them up on drugs while ignoring the root cause of their distress and side-stepping psychiatric care, which is expensive and time consuming. We treat veterans as if they aren’t worth our time and effort after they return with lost limbs and shattered psyches. The suicide rates for white males over sixty-five, many of whom are Vietnam vets, bears witness to these unresolved issues.
“In 2008 active duty and veteran military personnel abused prescription drugs at a rate that was more than twice the rate for the civilian population. In 2009, the VA estimated that around 13,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from alcohol dependence syndrome and require veteran mental health treatment for this problem.” (Source)
After listening to Junger’s podcast, it occurred to me that we are indeed better beings when connected to a well-functioning small group, which is why churches, synagogues, mosques, Boy Scouts, Rotary, Lions Clubs, Crips, Bloods, and Hell Angels exist.
The last three will probably lead to harm, but the call of the tribe is embedded into our nature, and that is why making a conscious decision to serve on a positive team is a healthy choice.
The March 2018 medical mission I joined to Ixtepec, Tatoxcac, and Xochiapulco, Mexico offered unending examples of a high-functioning tribe than I can list (starting with the angel who swapped her airline aisle seat twicefor my leg-killing window view); furthermore, this team comes together bi-annually to bring medical care to under-served residents in the rugged mountains northeast of Puebla, Mexico. Nearly half of the folks treated were indigenous, speaking Totonaca, a native language “not closely related to other native languages in Mexico.”
Which required three levels of translation: English – Spanish – Totonaca — and back again.
This year I was the “optometrist” which meant that I helped 320 folks find workable reading glasses over four days using two Bibles (the KJV, and a Totonaca New Testament), a spool of thread, a needle, a flashlight, and a pocket knife to cut plastic. The spectacles were donated by the generous Lion’s Club Tribe.
My Spanish interpreter – Fany (pronounced Fanny), from the Methodist College in Puebla – was coming off a semester of concentrated French, so the combination of suddenly switching to English while simultaneously deciphering an unknown indigenous tongue wore on her along with all the physical challenges, yet she hung on to gain a second wind and finish the week admirably.
Local teens connected to the Ixtepec Methodist Church also saved the week by giving fully of themselves, obviously loving and cherishing their elderly by listening carefully to their needs, then translating them into Spanish, where Fany would pass it to me, and then back again. Three hundred twenty times in four days.
Multiply that by the entire cohort of volunteers (approximately 120), and you begin to perceive the amount of coordination it takes to make this mission work.
Plus eleven months of planning and preparation up front.
Sebastian Junger claims that we need three essentials to live healthily and harmoniously: 1) we need to feel competent at what we do; 2) we need to feel authentic in our lives; and, 3) we need to feel connected to others.
Looking back at the suicide statistics, it must be noted that the Hispanic males take their own lives in much fewer numbers than Caucasian males.
“White men over the age of 65 commit suicide at almost triple that overall rate. These men are also eight times more likely to kill themselves than are women of the same age group, and have almost twice the rate of all other groups of male contemporaries.
Disparities along ethnic lines for elderly males are also substantial. Compared with white males ages 65 and older, African American males (9.2 suicides per 100,000), Hispanic or Latino males (15.6), and Asian or Pacific Islander males (17.5) in the same age range had significantly lower suicide rates.” (Source)
Research on the “why” is thin, but after spending a week in Ixtepec, casual observation of the culture exposed a deep connection to family, community, nature, and God: all characteristics of a healthy tribe.
In contrast, the phenomenon of disconnected angry white American males sitting in dark rooms drinking alcohol and absorbing CNN or FOX is ending badly.
Our Mexican patients exhibited a wide range of physical needs – missing teeth, scabies, parasites, allergies, an entire gamut of untreated ailments testing the knowledge and experience of the mission doctors, nurses, and pharmacists – but the local populations’ connectedness to the spirit, energy, patience, and genuine good nature lifted the hearts of all servants, Mexicans and Americans alike.
Pablo, a minister from another province, traveled to Ixtepec with his teenage son, both patiently washing, drying, and treating foot ailments. Ricardo and LuLu traveled from Nicaragua to lead the translating team, and three other college students traveled with Fany from Puebla to sacrifice their free time and comfort to serve their country.
The exact ratio of Mexican-to-American servants on this mission is unknown, but it seemed like 3:1 as local teens, the church pastor’s family, and other Mexican missionaries – plus half the congregation – pitched in to make it work. Villagers lined the street to tote heavy bags down to the church the minute we arrived, and waited patiently for hours on end — often in the rain and wind – to receive their annual medical care.
The Ixtepec-Tatoxcac-Xochiapulco clinics succeeds because everyone has a job – or three – everyone is valued for their contribution, and all are connected through Jesus Christ.
No matter where our travels take us – Johnson City, Ixtepec, Tasmania, wherever– if two-or-more are gathered in His name, we are connected. We are also connected by our willingness to serve, to share that last full measure of devotion that propels The Tribe.
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Romans 12:1 NASB
My two previous mission trips to this beautiful mountainscape northeast of Puebla occurred in the late Nineties, and I must say there is a noticeable improvement in infrastructure – the highway from Puebla to the mountains is new and modern – plus the thirty-two years of medical mission work is revealed in the faces of the people, who look much healthier. Even the dogs show fewer ribs.
The visiting team stood in awe of these patient, hard-working, community-loving, God-present, spiritually connected folk – The Tribe – functioning as it’s meant to be.
Meanwhile, reality-show Americans continue to back-stab each other on social media, ignore common values, highlight differences, suck down opioids and alcohol in record volumes, endlessly eyeball the latest fear-mongering headlines slanted to feed personal preferences, and commit suicide in record numbers.
"How do you become an adult in a society that doesn't ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn't require courage?" -- Sebastian Junger, Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Those who serve rely on the tribe: church family, Sunday school classes, spouses, and relatives, all connected through Christ – who finance our way, who donate medicine, eyeglasses and crutches, who pray for and bless our service with their love.
We certainly relied on the tribe in Mexico who fed, housed, worked diligently beside us, and have served faithfully for over thirty years.
From desert wanderers seeking the Promised Land … to disciples sharing the Good News … to medical missions serving the needy in foreign lands … The Tribe functions with efficiency through its unselfish connection to The One.
I don’t know about you, but I’m sticking with The Tribe.
Obama picked Janet Yellen to lead the nation out of the an economic depression caused primarily by greed, which the present Orange Tweeter drinks with a ladle.
Regulations continue to die by the handfuls as we drive the economy right back into the 2008 hole hedge fund managers drove us into, a hole now ready for a second suck since we’ve already forgotten the purpose those regulations had in the first place.
Janet Yellen, first female federal reserve director and the leader of the rebound, lost her title to a Trump appointee despite the fact that previous presidents — who exhibited realpatriotism — retained successful federal reserve chairman regardless of party. She’s declining her seat on the reserve now that a sacred white male wears the crown. If it ain’t broke, Trump’s bound to fix it.
Trash talkers assailed Michele Obama because she’s healthy and eats well, yanking veggies from school cafeterias in a fit of misplaced revenge — who needs health care? — while their corpulent spawn returned to the trough, happily sucking pizza and inhaling grease to their diseased hearts’ content. At least they can’t talk trash with their mouths full.
Trash talkers so lazy and greedy they couldn’t drive to their fabulous oaisis, paying Amtrak to haul their sorry butts over to the Greenbrier, lying just a day’s drive from Washington, all transportation and lavish opulence foisted onto the backs of Everyman tax payers.
Enter trash truck.
Note: it was nice to see Republican office holders attempting to revive (unionized?) trash truck employees forking over payroll taxes for fully-subsidized Congressional health care and luxury trips.
This writer salutes all manual laborers across America run over by the government train in uncountable ways each and every day, just as I mourn those lost in the tragedy.
Which is one more reason this monstrous irony requires a spotlight.
You have to hand it to the Grand Old Popinjays.
Democrats remain rudderless because they lack a true leader.
Democratic Congressmen make “suggestions.”
Here's how weak Democrats are at the root level: one of the first things President Obama did after his inauguration was speak to all the school children of America. At the time I taught black and Hispanic high schoolers, so I projected the speech on the big screen and said when it was over:
"I know it's not a level playing field yet, but this has to be encouraging."
After a short pause, one of the black males in the back yelled in reply:
"He ain't black!"
The reason Republicans dominate? They have a simple plan and they are entirely unified around it.
Destroy anything Obama ever did.
(Regardless of the needs of fellow citizens).
It’s something small, and completely contrary to their own perception of patriotism, but at least it’s a semblance of organization, a mighty weapon in the face of none.
Benjamin Franklin had his faults — ask most conspiracy theorists — and it was a known fact that he admired young women.
But when it comes to having a clear vision on accruing wealth, Poor Richard nailed it:
There are two ways of being happy: We may either diminish our wants or augment our means -- either will do -- the result in the same; and it is for each man to decide for himself, and do that which happens to be the easiest.
If you are idle or sick or poor, however hard it may be to diminish your wants, it will be harder to augment your means.
If you are active and prosperous or young and in good health, it may be easier for you to augment your means than to diminish your wants.
But if you are wise, you will do both at the same time, young or old, rich or poor, sick or well; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.
-- Benjamin Franklin, statesman, author, and inventor (1706-1790)
First, Franklin starts the “American myth” that happiness is tied to the pursuit of property. We have more stuff therefore we win begins here. But it is true that we decide our own financial fates, and Americans differ widely on their pursuit of savings.
The advertising industry raises its ugly head in paragraph three, making stuff a “need” in the hearts of North Americans and fanning the fire of want. Ironically, one of Franklin’s many nicknames was The Patron Saint of Advertising, which he mastered early on.
Apply the last paragraph to your life and its ongoing change of circumstances and good things will happen. The Millionaire Next Door hit home with many who’ve since reaped the benefits of Franklin’s (and Stanley’s) advice. There are now more than twice as many millionaire households than there were in 1996, and 10.1 million US households now report a million dollars worth of assets.
Here’s how to apply Franklin’s commonsense rules to runaway government spending.
We have to ask ourselves, do we need to police the globe? Has doing so improved world peace? Or has it fired up the military-industrial complex to thrive in a Brave New World of Endless War?
It’s obvious that our military wants exceed our taxpaying grasp, especially with new cuts about to favor billionaires and corporations. But does the average American really want to police the globe?
Since endless wars come at such a high cost, shouldn’t we fall back, assess the hot spots, employ better technology — in terms of rooting out evil, not nuking the earth into oblivion — and emasculate the bad guys with focused strikes?
I’m all for rooting out the bad guys, both foreign and domestic. But instead of spending on R&D for pinpoint technology, we’re filling our docks with billion dollar warships and our airfields with million dollar airplanes to fight conventional wars that no longer exist.
On the Other Hand
Here’s how we relate to a few other countries when it comes to saving cash:
What’s made America uniquely bad at saving? Perhaps America’s mix of wealth and diversity, the very staple of the American identity, is the culprit of its spending habits. In 2008, several researchers studied the stereotype that minorities spend more than whites on “visible goods”—like clothes, shoes, jewelry, watches, salons, health clubs, and car parts. They discovered that, even after controlling for income, minorities save less than whites and spend more on such conspicuous consumption goods. But the story wasn’t just about race. White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.
The Atlantic, 2016
Let’s look at that again: ” White people in poor U.S. states spent more of their income on visible goods than whites in higher income states.”
The sitting president, however, is all about lifting up the elite at the expense of the rabble.
The Orange Tweeter, exhibiting bouts of sociopathy mixed with narcissism, seems incapable of focusing on any issue longer than a nano-second, and his sinking popularity now represents roughly 31% of the electorate.
Draw your own conclusions on what percent of this group falls into the “rabble” category (those still smarting from the deplorable slap), and what percent of Trump supporters are billionaires wanting to rake in more loot in the short term.
My personal guess is that moderate Republicans hoping to work across the aisle to solve the many pressing issues of the day would be a minority within that 31%.
Just a guess.
Yet the nation continues to treat world and domestic affairs like a football game — we win, you lose — without considering the simple fact that we’re actually all on the same team.
Yes, we can nuke any nation on earth into oblivion. Then the fallout blows over on us.
Yes, we have conventionally bombed nations into near-oblivion, but then they thrive after we go home, though most of the cash ends up in the hands of the upper-class.
You can’t enjoy small government and big military simultaneously.
But Trump voters aren’t interested in logic. The rabble still believes they’ll grow fat on the scraps tossed down from the elite’s tall table of big tax cuts and military-industrial-complex stock-and-bond windfalls.
They’re throwing commonsense to the wind, these lower-middle-class lovers of commonsense.
The polarization of America continues at a rapid pace, but we weren’t always at each other’s throats.
Following WWII, soldiers of both political parties returned home to marry, buy homes, spawn babies, and pursue careers. My great uncle William Plum grew up dirt poor in Minnesota where his large family regularly snared deer and headshot rabbits to survive the Great Depression before losing their farm.
Uncle Bill joined the Navy after Pearl Harbor, reached officer status, and returned to take advantage of the G.I. Bill and earned a Ph.D. in physics – at the University of Missouri – before joining the fledgling NASA program. Showing promise, he was assigned to the team building the lunar rover. Here’s a picture of Astronaut Charles Duke standing next to Plum Crater with the lunar rover and earth in the background.
I have no idea of Uncle Bill’s political leanings. It doesn’t matter; we’re proud of him.
Soldiers returning from battle worked together and built America into the greatest nation in history.
They socialized, drank, attended church together, and cared for each other’s families.
Congress is totally dysfunctional – each side refusing to employ compromise and address the growing needs of its representative constituency – while the majority of voters remain solidly in the middle, holding fast to traditional values.
The far right / far left have morphed into close-minded self-aggrandized (nearly) identical twins of dysfunction … forming a virtual rope of the proverbial dog’s tail, now shaking the whole animal into paralysis.
These combined extremes embody The Two-Tailed American Taliban.
I can already hear the bitching: Lee led the pro-slavery South!
But here are other facts about Robert E. Lee you may not know.
First, he was offered the Generalship of the Army of the Potomac by Abraham Lincoln because he was a faithful Federal officer, the best in the land.
After wringing his hands for a few days, Lee concluded he could not destroy his native state. Then he worked his way up to leadership of The Army of Virginia with brains and audacity on the field. He treated everyone – black and white alike – with respect. There is a case to be made that Lee was to Davis what Rommel was to Hitler.
Secondly, he exhibited grace and forgiveness after the war. “Before and during the War Between the States I was a Virginian. After the war I became an American“.
Richmond’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church was the only religious institution left standing in the Capital of the Confederacy following the national conflagration. One Sunday at the beginning of peace, Lee sat in the pews at the end of a service, waiting for communion.
At that moment the large double doors flung open and a black vagrant appeared in the portal. When the man walked to the front and kneeled at the altar, an audible gasp filled the room.
Never-mind the descendents of 600,000 Union soldiers who fought to end slavery. My relatives Michael and Jonathan Batdorf from Neponset, Illinois ended up in Andersonville after their capture at the battle of Lookout Mountain. Michael’s grave marker is #4618. Thirty-thousand-one-hundred-ninety-two Union soldiers died inside Confederate prisons during the war.
They don’t count.
Similarly, far-right-wing-alt-conservative-nationalists don blinders.
Micah Van Huss’s idea of legislation is allowing parents to carry guns to soccer games, defunding diversity grants, establishing the Bible as the Official State Book, granting college students the right to pull pistols on campus, and allowing the ownership of pet skunks.
Furthermore, modern American far-right-wingers want to eradicate public education, ignore climate change, openly grab women’s genitals and toss pregnant women back into back alley coat hanger abortions.
They want to send hard-working tax-paying Catholic conservative Hispanics back to Mexico after dumping American corn on their market, stealing their agricultural livelihood, and forcing them to migrate to keep their families alive.
Modern far right-wingers want to imprison millions – mostly black males – for using street drugs … while simultaneously chomping opiates … and renaming the WAR ON DRUGS … now that it’s a white problem … “a terrible disease”.
Therefore it is incumbent upon the majority – those of us still banking on commonsense and unity of purpose – to ignore this vicious intertwined tail, bob it, or outvote it.
Voting in large numbers — and bringing our majority to bear — is the only practical choice.
Extremists of both colors appear deaf to fact and blind to logic and run almost entirely on emotion and news slanted to their personal preference.