Blue Ridge Parkway: Spring 2021

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.

Honeymoon suite, Vermont campground, 1986.

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.

Ominous clouds predict 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.

Sizzling Fat

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.

Adventure Motorcycling

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.


MEN'S ROADCRAFTER CLASSIC TWO PIECE SUIT by Aerostich MEN’S ROADCRAFTER CLASSIC TWO PIECE SUIT by Aerostich
Nikwas TX Direct Wash-In Nikwax TX Direct Wash-In

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 

Floyd, Virginia

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.

Peaks of Otter May 2021

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.

Mabry Mill

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.

Photo by Mabry Mill.
Mabry Mill. Photo by Blue Ridge Parkway Magazine.
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.

Peaks of Otter.  Copyright, Alarice Multimedia, LLC.

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 42a superb motorcycle route – although covered with TRUMP 2020 signs pushing The Big Lie.

Virginia’s Route 42.

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.

Joining Hands

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!”

Eric dialing in the GPS

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.

Political Potato Heads

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!
Dee Dee Ramone Potato Head bt Nacho Tamez and Leo Kambayashi of Media Bullys
Dee Dee Ramone Potato Head bt Nacho Tamez and Leo Kambayashi of Media Bullys
Mr. Tater Head.
He’s in the news.
Mr. Tater Head.

Mrs. Tater Head
She’s political.
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.

Pearl

Pearl
Pearl

 Pearl was my first recording, issued seven years ago (4-2014).

Verse 1

Justin was tired of it all, though he was only seventeen.

Little Queenie – his sister – drove him crazy and his brother was a drunk Marine.

His parents sold crack in the back of a bar called the Silver Spur,

And the only one he could count on was Pearl.

Verse 2

Justin met Pearl one day down at the SAV-A-Lot.

He bagged her groceries and she stop for a minute to talk.

“I once had a boy like you,” she said, “and I love him so.”

“But the Lord called him home and he had to go.”

Verse 3

He told her all about his life as he loaded up her Cadillac.

She said she’d check out his story and maybe call him back.

Two weeks later the phone rang, and he picked it up.

He knew right then his new friend had changed his luck.

Verse 4

Pearl became the mother that Justin never had.

A loving sister, a steady brother, and a sober dad.

When Justin turned eighteen, Pearl sent him off to school.

And he forever slammed the door on that house of fools.

Verse 5

Now Justin is a teacher at the university.

He picks up Pearl on Sunday, and they talk over tea.

She knows her son’s returned in the needs of another boy.

He picks up Pearl on Sunday, and they talk over tea.

She knows her son’s returned in the needs of another boy.

And giving him a real chance brings her joy.

The Tongues

The Tongues
The Tongues

Hate and fear?  They’re learned. 

The tongues,

The tongues will kill.

Lying lips

Cause blood to spill.

You saw

With your own eyes.

How all those lies

Allow crazies to

Thrive.

All that poison 

Comes

From older, 

Dirtier tongues.

Cause it’s learned.

Hate and fear are learned.

The jaws

The jaws will jack.

Just like addicts

Addicted to crack.

You saw

With your own eyes

Jaws jacking lies.

Will our country survive?

All that poison 

Comes

From older, 

Dirtier tongues.

‘Cause it’s learned.

Hate and fear are learned.

 The tongues

Revel in fear.

Love to spread hate

While choking back

Tears.

The tongues

Kill goodwill.

The tongues 

Exist only to squeal.

All that poison 

Comes

From older, 

Dirtier tongues.

Cause it’s learned.

Hate and fear are learned.

Where Are We Now?

By NYT Staff photographer Erin Schaff
By NYT Staff photographer Erin Schaff

Where are truth and love?

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.

Viral Humans

Like many of you, I spent the morning chatting with friends around the nation, self-secluded folks holding their friends’ welfare in their hearts as the latest plague descends.

Life-long friends in Nevada. Colorado. Minnesota. Illinois.  And they’re all saying the same things:

  • This pandemic will change the way we live going forward.
  • Truth always floats to the top, eventually.
  • The Earth shrugs off humans as needed.

My buddy in Reno is a medical doctor (psychiatry) and believes we are a virus, ourselves.  This is not a new idea:

I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals.

Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not.

You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area.

There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus.

Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.

You’re a plague.

-- Agent Smith (Matrix, 1999)

During our conversation, it occurred to me that humans have taught this viral concept to their offspring throughout the ages:

Genesis


Unsurprising, if God is truly Omnipotent. One of our Methodist ministers over the years, Larry Owsley, tells this wonderful story.

He’s a pretty bright guy, and was an advanced reader for his age when he climbed up into his grandmother’s lap and asked:

Can God do anything?

Oh yes, he can do anything, she said.

Can God seed the universe using comets containing DNA particles?

Her face turned red.  She thought for a moment.  Then said:

No, he certainly cannot do that!


My wife and I have avoided the fray, but we’ve heard about runs on toilet paper, guns, and especially ammunition.  Do you think all our bullets are produced in the U.S.?  That would be a logical assumption, but it’s a global business.

Send Lawyers Guns and Money …

The mayor of Champaign, Illinois recently signed an executive order banning alcohol and gun sales.

Back when Obama was first elected, I happened to be in a gun/vacuum-cleaner store — customers called it The Suck and Shoot — and the owner, a short fat man, climbed up on the counter and screamed:  “Get your guns now!  This bastard is taking your guns!  Better get your guns now!”

I live in East Tennessee, and that wasn’t surprising.  Having grown up in the Midwestern gun culture myself, I was not alarmed to see racks of machine-guns (semi-autos easily reconfigured) lining Mahoney’s Outfitters when I first moved to town.  Dan Mahoney, an Irish tenor with a beautiful voice, has soloed in our church choir for decades.  He doesn’t have to stand on the counter and scream.

Fear has already accomplished a stellar sales promotion.

A run on guns.

Whether we buy into the idea that humans are a virus or not doesn’t matter.

What matters is how we react to the situation. 

Call your friends. Call your loved ones.  Call the elderly in your church, parish, synagogue, or mosque. Let them know you are thinking of them, that you care.

My friends in Colorado and Nevada have millennial children nearly the same age as my own.  We know their characters.  This is their chance to shine, and we know how they’ll act.

There are a lot of good eggs in that petri dish.

Let’s pray they outnumber the grabbers, grifters, and scoundrels always emerging from the viral slime in troubled times.

 

 

Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Thirsty

Lots of bluster and fear mongering from the White House these days over immigration while the nation passes the potato chips and gazes mindlessly at videos of kids in cages, a few possibly sold to white slavers after their paperwork was lost under the current administration’s “supervision.”

Ironically, a natural event at our house recently spun a new perspective on this issue.

Squirrels are diurnal, but one interrupted us last week after dinner, retrieving nuts from the attic, we thought.

Completing a house project a couple of years ago, workers stepped all over the aluminum ventilation slats, so now they don’t fit the triangular space at the roof-crown where the air circulates. So we called the local rodent-remover, a friendly guy who put up a tube-trap after covering all the vents with wire.

I noticed a fat squirrel sitting in the yard watching the entire operation, so I wasn’t surprised to see the trigger torn off the next morning while the apparent perpetrator smiled from the bushes.

But a little nighttime noise turned into dismantle-the-house cacophony.

Sounded like a three-man wrecking crew with pry bars out there, and the morning light revealed all the aluminum around the wire torn up or off, and a hole bitten through.

Furthermore, several pieces of siding were torn free from the side of the house, and a hole dug through insulation.

“Looks like she got the babies out,” said my wife, her pinched face revealing battle fatigue after a sleepless night worrying about the innocent.

I wondered what kind of nuclear-powered squirrel could accomplish this?

Was it raised atop the transformer on the pole behind the house and unknowingly gene-altered into a super-charged Electro-Squirrel?

The mystery uncloaked the following evening when a 20+ pound matronly raccoon climbed the porch pole, lumbered onto the roof, and headed straight to the entry hole where the wire was destroyed.

***

As it happens, my Anheuser-Busch-fueled paternal grandfather owned a blue clay farm in the 1960’s that became Mark Twain State Park (Florida, Missouri), and he took my brother and I on midnight hunts. Those indelible images include:

A raccoon family -- back-lit by a full moon -- bawling at the top of an ancient oak. Baying blue tic hounds swarming under the tree, howls piercing my eardrums. Spurious white male "buddies" in holey overalls spitting tobacco juice and fingering triggers on loaded rifles while taking frequent hits off Mason jars.

The old Missouri law prescribing the death penalty for the proven killing of a man’s coon dog was recently replaced by large monetary settlements.

***

After retrieving my .410 pistol from the safe, loading it, chasing off mom raccoon with two scatter shots from forty-feet that didn’t appear to harm her much, and chasing her into the bushes, I heard the neighbor yell:

“What the hell you doing out there! Coon hunting?”

We reside in the center of a mid-sized East Tennessee city. Thirty-three years ago, when we moved in, I took a photograph of a black bear in the driveway. It crossed a double railroad track and a two-lane highway to get there.

How can anyone stop millions of mothers from doing whatever it takes to protect their children?

Oddly, many of these migrant haters are pro-lifers; for example, one of our local state representatives — who poses with his AR15 rifle on his web site — recently drafted a “heartbeat bill” that will effectively end legal abortions in the state.

A few weeks later, he signed his name to legislation that would eliminate healthcare insurance for 280,000 poor Tennessee children.

I hate abortion as much as anyone, but simultaneously wonder what’s to become of all the crack, heroin, alcohol-fetal-syndrome, and opioid addicted babies?

When I asked my right-wing friends this question, a few went dark in the face, snarled, then defamed me as a baby killer. For simply wondering what their plan may be. After making clear to them that abortion is abhorrent.

Interesting.


Perhaps people migrate for reasons we won’t admit, or care to comprehend. I read a wonderfully-written piece in the New Yorker a few years ago that explained how scientists took core samples from the bottom of the Red Sea, analyzed the sediment and matched them to migration timelines, and discovered that mass migrations occur during droughts.

Previously, scientists and historians believed invasions by outside forces (think Mongols), wars, or pestilence caused massive populations shifts. But this new evidence showed that people don’t stick around long when there’s no water.

Imagine that.

Saw this first-hand during camping trips out West at places like Canyon de Chelly and Chaco Canyon, where human life flourished from 1020 to 1090 A.D. before drought hit.

Canyon de Chelly
Canyon de Chelly

After hiking down to the river, we found several dozen school kids happily splashing. Four hours later we began to ascend the trail back to the car and they were still swimming.

“Don’t they want to see the rest of this fabulous scenery?” I asked their teacher.

“We’re from southern New Mexico,” he said.  “We drive two hours just to see ‘The Tree’.  They will be in the river all afternoon and the driver and I will have to drag them onto the bus.”

***

Our current president cuts off aid to Central America, backs the coal industry while simultaneously snubbing the solar juggernaut, sword dances with oil-heavy 9/11 perpetrators, denies climate change, then wonders why streams of people head north to the much cooler, much wetter, more fertile land of opportunity.

Looking back at the raccoon attack, I now realize that we'd just spent an outrageous sum eliminating huge trees in our yard -- trees threatening the safety of our house -- but simultaneously holding the livelihoods and homes of our squirrel and raccoon friends.

We're stumped as to why the mother raccoon invaded our house ...                                  Stumped?

So it turns out I shot a migrant mother for looking after her babies … one week after cutting down her home and grinding it into sawdust.

The realization that I’m just as careless and stupid as President Trump is a bitter pill to swallow, indeed.

In fact, I feel like dying my hair orange, golfing four days a week, eating cheeseburgers for breakfast, then spending my little remaining “executive time” tweeting unfiltered brain-poop to gullible semi-literates happily spooning it down with silver (the winking super rich) or plastic (the gullible poor).

We refuse to view the whole picture because then we’d have to change our behavior.

We watch white cops on the nightly news thrusting knees onto Hispanic necks, but refuse to acknowledge the boardroom boys thrusting coke up their noses. They created the pusher, and sacrifice one now and then to keep their noses sharp.

We avert our eyes from whale bellies bursting with plastic while grabbing a handful of straws to toss out the window on the way home from work so our families will never know we’re gnawing burgers between meals.

We avert our eyes from caged kids while cashing government vouchers enabling us to wall off our children from those smelly Puerto Ricans with the gall to want electricity, or those nasty Flint-water folks.

Americans all.

We avert our eyes from brown children torn from their mothers’ arms while penning heartbeat bills to “protect” the unborn.

We avert our eyes from the poor and hungry living in our midst, while pouring wrath upon mothers leading children to better, more secure lives.

There is no end to the raccoon parable; she’ll follow my dreams into the child-fraught future, images of her kids chilling my spine, exposing my thoughtlessness, shining light upon my shame, for God-knows how long.

Raccoons migrate when we destroy their environment and threaten their babies.

People migrate when we destroy their livelihoods, deaden croplands, and divert their water.

I’m not overlooking the bad elements trying to enter illegally, and neither are the Democrats.  They gave Trump  everything he wanted plus more — and he turned it down, though his base seems unable to process this simple fact.

The president’s moral inability to stand for all Americans — as he swore to do upon taking the office — magnifies the need for better screening at the border. The rich and the powerful appear to be his only concern when it comes to aid. The constant fear mongering serves no other purpose but to keep the lightly-educated agitated.

Send criminals and drug purveyors back where they came from, permanently. 

I’m all for it, and perhaps more conservative about eliminating them than you are. But the major cause of mass migration is climate change and lost jobs.

Until we pull back, look at the whole picture, and work together as a global team to improve the environment — which is certainly compatible with capitalism — well.

Pass the cheeseburgers. Wash them down with orange Kool-Aid while listening to the Fearless Leader’s mantra on how mamma raccoons, mamma squirrels, and mamma humans should protect their young.

Commonsense Frugality Applied to Run-Away Government

Have you ever noticed that Trump-Era right wing American gun toters desiring a continuing global military presence are often the same folks wailing for limited government?

Hello.

Ike warned us fifty-six years ago about the burgeoning military-industrial complex, the Orange Tweeter ran his presidential campaign on “draining the swamp”, the supposed budget-minded Republicans are now in charge, yet the national debt is projected to grow 10 trillion in the next decade.

Benjamin Franklin had his faults — ask most conspiracy theorists — and it was a known fact that he admired young women.

Imagine that.

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.

Franklin’s second paragraph thrusts a stick in the eye of the lazy man, but through today’s lens the idle appear to be on the same plane as the sick and poor, with 95 million able-bodied-men and women currently not seeking employment. They augment their means in various ways, but the underground economy / drug market is staggering, and recent consumer spending shows that the shadow economy is a beast.

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.

But the typical Trump voter is not the millionaire next door:   cultural anxiety, not economic anxiety, drove lower-income voters toward Trump.

***

Here’s how to apply Franklin’s commonsense rules to runaway government spending.

Global Military Expenditures 2012

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?

Are all the big toys effective military assets in the fight against global extremism?

Nope.

How can a $730 million B-2 Spirit keep a hothead from renting a truck and running over bicyclists?

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:

Domestic savings …

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.”

Benjamin Franklin trusted neither the elite nor the rabble.

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.

Hello?

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.

Imagine that.

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.

Just like their morals.

The Two-Tailed American Taliban

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.

Plum Crater
Plum Crater

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.

Republican Hillary Rhodhams married Democrat Bill Clintons, Donkeys hooked up with Elephants, and thought little of political boundaries.

There were setbacks (The Cold War, McCarthyism), but centrist America held firm.

Soldiers covered each other’s six during the war; they realized the value of compromise.

Republicans backed LBJ and pushed the Civil Rights Act of 1965 into law despite little help from the Democrats, who later voted in large numbers for George Wallace, though he represented the American Independent Party.  Reagan Democrats shoehorned The Gipper into the Oval Office.

Fast forward to 2017.

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.

The far left became fascistic by embracing extreme political correctness and by ripping down statues devoted to American history. For example, Charlottesville is about to spend $300,000 to destroy Robert E. Lee’s statue.

I can already hear the bitching: Lee led the pro-slavery South!

True.

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.

How did Lee react?

He stood up, let his reputation be damned, walked to the altar, knelt, then prayed beside the freed Negro shoulder-to-shoulder, announcing to the world its need for grace and forgiveness.

This is the man whose statue needs to be ripped asunder?

The latest far-left craze is to shell out what would amount to billions of dollars in reparations to the descendants of black slaves. Not indentured servants. Not yellow slaves. Certainly not the race of millions already living in North America who were cut from their mother’s wombs, crammed into concentration camps — an Andrew Jackson invention — death-marched to Oklahoma, systematically annihilated or liquored into submission.

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.

For example, our local state representative panders to Bible thumpers and gun enthusiasts. The remainder of his constituents count for nothing.

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.

One cannot make this stuff up. Look for yourself.

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.

Historically speaking, the last war the US fought over minority power took more lives than all other US wars put together — until the middle of the Vietnam War.

The majority of sensible Americans retaining principled integrity and common purpose cannot afford one more election thrown to either extremity of the Two-Tailed American Taliban.

Voting is a chore, but it beats the hell out of Civil War.  We need to cover each other’s six once again.