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.
A few years later these immigrants didn’t want to work so hard — and they loved the cash that free labor cotton raked in — so they enslaved 10.7 million fellow human beings. A team of these slaves built the White House and Capitol building under the immigrants’ lash.
White supremacists — the seed of these same immigrants who sucked down the generous natives’ food supply, enslaved fellow humans, and now slaughter school children — nearly finished the job by stabbing Capitol policemen in their heads with American flag poles and grinding democracy into the dirt with a gigantic Big Lie.
Mission almost accomplished.
Only one more insurrection and white supremacists will be free to build chimneys and eliminate all those who believe the sky is blue and water is wet.
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.
In 2017, 1.7 million Americans had substance use disorders with an addiction to prescription opioid pain killers. A little over 650,000 Americans had a heroin addiction (with some overlap between the two).
In 2017, approximately 47,000 Americans lost their lives due to opioid overdoses.
National opioid prescribing rates started increasing in 2006 and peaked in 2012 at 255 million with a dispensing rate of 81.3 prescriptions per 100 Americans. In 2019, the dispensing rate had fallen to 46.7 per 100 persons with over 153 million opioid prescriptions dispensed. However, some counties had rates that were 6 times higher than the national average.
Opioid overdose deaths increased from around 21,000 in 2010 to nearly 50,000 in 2019.
Roughly 21-29% of people given prescriptions for opioid pain relievers misuse the medications. Up to 12% of people who use opioids to treat chronic pain treatment go on to develop opioid use disorder.
Around 4-6% of people who misuse prescription opioids later go on to abusing heroin.
8 out of 10 heroin users started out by first using prescription opioid pain pills.
OPIOID ABUSE STATISTICS IN THE UNITED STATES
1.6 million Americans have an opioid use disorder.
10.1 million people report misusing opioids at least once in the past 12 months.
Among opioid abusers, 9.7 million people misuse prescription pain pills, 745,000 abuse heroin, and 404,000 abuse both prescription pain pills and heroin.
STATISTICS ON OPIOID-RELATED DEATHS IN THE U.S.
Every day, 136 people die from an opioid overdose in the United States, including prescription and illicit opioid drugs.
Overdose deaths in the U.S. involving prescription opioids (including methadone and semi-synthetic opioids) numbered around 3,500 in 1999 and increased to over 17,000 in 2017.
From 2012 to 2015, there was a 264% increase in deaths related to synthetic opioids.
In 2019, more than 71,000 Americans died from drug overdoses. Of these, over 70% (roughly 50,000 deaths) were overdoses involving opioids, including prescription pain relievers, heroin, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
From 2018 to 2019, the overall opioid-involved death rate increased by over 6%. While prescription opioid-involved deaths and heroin-involved deaths declined by 6-7%, the synthetic opioid-involved death rate increased by more than 15%.
Between 1999 and 2019, nearly 500,000 Americans have died from an overdose involving an opioid drug.
STATISTICS ON COST OF OPIOID ABUSE IN THE U.S.
Misuse of prescription opioids alone costs the U.S. more than $78 billion a year, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, criminal justice costs, and addiction treatment.
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.
When I was twenty-three, I found myself unemployed and living in my girlfriend’s room in her parents’ beautiful brick home on the South Side of Chicago in an affluent white neighborhood slipping into descent after the M.L.K. riots of 1968.
They kept me upstairs in her room and visible, with girlfriend sadly relegated to the basement.
Wonderful folks, actually, and I am thankful for them.
I remember wandering the streets day-after-day-week-after-week begging for work, sliding in and out of tawdry bars – sticky-floor flyblown dives I’d never venture into for a drink on my own — but places I now prayed would hire me because I’d just spent $250 attending Professional Bartender’s School and earning a Professional Bartender’s Certificate after wasting a week pouring colored water out of fake liquor bottles into appropriate glasses.
Armed with this “certificate”, I wandered into dozens of Chicagoland watering holes, but no one would hire me.
Sheila’s Puke Shack owner S. Hardnutter threw me the stink eye the second I dangled the Professional Bartender Certificate in front of her narrowing eyes; then she pointed me toward the door.
Each night I’d limp home on sore feet and sit on my girlfriend’s bed and despair.
I remember a lone tear running down my cheek one night, followed in a few seconds by spontaneous laughter.
My mind ran to Iron Eyes Cody – a pure-blood Italian, we found out later – who made an environmental television advertisement as an American Indian saddened by the rape of the land, a single tear running down his cheek, which miraculously prodded Americans into picking up roadside trash.
For a while.
Swinging for the fence the next morning, I took a train downtown and hit all the major bars on Michigan Avenue, earning a ubiquitous thumbs down.
Fingering the last $10 in my pocket, I stood at the corner of Walton and Michigan Avenue, eyeballing The Drake, where visiting Queen Elizabeth bedded down.
Too classy for my zero experience, I reckoned.
Looking southeast — across the street at the old Palmolive Building — I saw the Playboy Club‘s flashing siren-lights.
Shrugging off the gut instinct to stop wasting my time, I walked inside and told the smiling Bunny at the door that I needed to see the human relations rep.
Who turned out to be my girlfriend’s sister’s best friend.
“You’re in luck!” she smiled.
“We need a bartender pronto, and you can start Monday morning!
“Get here at ten for an orientation on lunch, which starts at eleven.”
One night, only two months after donning the brown polyester Playboy bartender outfit, I was working that same back bar, where they keep rookies out of sight from the general public.
Bunnies, bottles, glasses, and drinks were the only objects in my vision when we heard a sudden commotion in the banquet room.
“Lynyrd Skynyrd just walked in,” said Nina, a six-foot-two-inch black beauty South Sider with popping biceps and a bunch of older brothers. I’m six-four and she looked down at me from those heels. Her biceps sprung while her lips snarled.
“Rednecks from hell,” she added.
The partying immediately intensified and I slung drinks like a three-arm robot. About twenty minutes later, a scream filled the air:
“Get your hands out of there! I’ve already got one asshole in there!” Nina shouted.
I prayed she didn’t backhand whichever idiot made the move.
The other Bunnies told me the band fell silent, rose slowly on wobbly legs, and trudged up the stairs to the Red Room while patrons observed how scrawny they looked.
I’d seen them live at the RKO Orpheium in Davenport, Iowa in 1974 and they were absolutely wonderful, playing Free Bird before it was released.
Aerosmith opened that show and played Dream On before it hit the airwaves.
Knocked us out of our bell bottoms.
Ed King was in Skynyrd back then, a stocky blonde dude from California, but this was 1979 and these greasy-looking rockers weaving on their feet in stained denim had a sad feel about them two years after the fateful airplane crash that cored their creative apple.
Good thing Nina didn’t knock their teeth out and retire them for good.
Another bartender — an American Indian named Warren — told me The Who was playing at the Stockyards the next weekend.
So my brother Jim, girlfriend Kim — a nursing student at Northwestern — Warren, and I piled into my blue 1952 Chevrolet.
City buses actually moved over to avoid that giant hunk of straight-six powered steel.
As we walked up to the ticket counter, we noticed Warren was missing.
While we stood in the lobby waiting to enter, Warren arrived, nervously chattering:
“Here, eat this fast!”
Warren’s outstretched palm revealed three large lozenges.
What’s that? asked Jim.
Quaaludes, said Warren.
We don’t need any Quaaludes, said Kim.
The cops watched me buy them, and if they find them on you you’ll go to jail, said Warren.
Idiot, I cursed as we choked down the large pills.
Except for Warren.
Suddenly three undercover cops surrounded us, frisked our pockets, found the Lude on Warren, and cuffed him.
I never saw him again and suspect he had outstanding warrants in other states, having just slipped into Chicago from Las Vegas.
If you’re lucky, you learn from such mistakes and take a little time to get to know folks before befriending them so hastily.
The concert sucked. Big time.
The International Amphitheater — on the South Side next to the infamous Stock Yards where my great great grandfather rustled cattle after he rounded them up from Canada to Mexico — was a giant cement box.
The only musical chords you could make out were the first and last of each song.
Everything in between attacked your ears like a swirling vortex of vulture screams.
Townsend leaped, Daltrey pinwheeled, Jones tried to keep up, and Entwistle glowed. Fans directly in front of him showered him with roses all night long.
Before the concert, a friend named Pat who dated English-major Bunny “Mary” — they married forty years ago right after they graduated — said he was driving Entwistle to the concert.
Meet us in the parking lot after the show, he said.
Pat earned an MS from Northwestern and retired decades later from East Stroudsburg University as a full professor and plays weekend gigs in NYC with folks like Woody Herman (now deceased) and Phil Hill.
But at that moment in his life, Pat paid for his education by driving a limousine, wearing the black leather gloves, black tie, short coat, and little black hat while discovering local celebs like Phil Donahue were tightwads at tip-time.
Furthermore, the limo’s garage was on the West side of Cabrini-Green, a notorious housing project where electricity often failed and residents peed down elevator shafts in frustration.
Pat’s only avenue to the parking garage ran in front of this public housing nightmare — completely razed in 2011— and he ducked down in the seat returning to the garage as bullets previously shattered two passenger windows on his watch.
During the middle of the farting elephant contest inside the concert hall, I looked over to see both Kim’s and Jim’s chins resting on their chests, drool leaking out the sides of their mouths.
They appeared to be paralyzed from the face back.
Once that Quaalude ignited, the sensation resembled drinking a gallon of beer in five minutes. I’ve never done that, but that’s the best description I can come up with. Super drunk super fast with sleep on the near horizon.
Perhaps you saw the Jeff Goldblum Quaalude scene in The Big Chill. That’s how it works. One minute you’re having an engaging conversation. The next?
When the cacophony finally subsided, I led my stumbling charges to the parking lot, and there was Pat in the driver’s seat and John Entwistle in the backseat, waiting.
One of my musical heroes, ten feet away, his signature about to grace my autograph book.
Then Kim and Jim began to sway.
Spinning slowly like two tops on their final rotations.
Suddenly, they stopped swaying and stood at attention.
A pregnant moment elapsed.
Then they fell — simultaneously — onto their faces.
Pat covered his countenance with his hands. John Entwistle smiled and waved like he’d seen this all before.
I waved back, rolled them over, wiped gravel from their mouths, and dragged them by their coat collars back to the rusty-blue 1952 Chevrolet with the big dent in the roof.
Our shadows long and lean in the limo lights.
My first trip abroad (I was twenty-eight, on summer break from a suburban Chicago high school) found me walking through Hyde Park in London, on my way to a train to Camden where my old next-door-neighbor Jim Ringenberg was playing the Electric Ballroom with his bandJason and the Scorchers on the Fourth of July.
Even 27 years later, I still think 4 July 1985, at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, was one of the most thrilling performances I've ever seen. The lead singer wore a western suit; the bass player looked like a punk riverboat gambler, with black trousers and waistcoat, and bootlace tie; the guitarist was a metaller, with long hair and leathers; the drummer, spiky-haired and ratty looking, had a confederate flag flying where one of his toms should have been.
The park bustled with activity and all at once a vivacious young woman dressed in a stylish white top, white shorts, white socks, black rollerblades, and a black Sony Walkman strapped to her side charged directly at me, so I side-stepped into the grass as she twirled around, smiled, caught her breath, and then took off again.
As I turned to watch her skate away, three bodyguards dressed in black jogged by, giving her thirty yards.
A fan magazine later wrote she’d been listening to a particular Dire Straits song that week, as they were about to Skateaway at Wembley.
The President of Bangladesh
In 1999 I spent the month of February in Bangladesh, touring the nation and living in rich folks’ homes on a Rotary International assignment.
Rotary helps people all over the world, and are at the brink of eradicating polio on the planet. We were there to tour Rotary-built hospitals and wells they’d dug before acid leaching out of the Himalayas poisoned them.
At the end of our stay, we returned to Dhaka, a city so sprawling and crawling with human life that the exact population is unknown.
Then the nation went on strike for three days. The air cleared, revealing what some believe to be the exact location of the Garden of Eden.
Soft breezes. Palm trees. Perpetual 78-82 degrees. The sweet smell of bougainvillea filling the air.
Suddenly, the strike broke up and hundreds of thousands of two-stroke motors fired back up.
By three in the afternoon, I could not see my hand clearly in front of my face.
When I returned to the US, I spit up black tar for three weeks.
At the end of our stay, we visited the government palace and met the President, a figurehead position in Bangladesh.
Like America needs.
Seriously, the executive branch has gained way too much power in recent years, and a single person isn’t up to the job.
So I propose we create an executive cabinet split among political parties (50/50 at the moment), twelve men/women with talent, courage, vision, and clean records to run the nation.
A team dedicated to preserving and extending American values of truth and dignity — not the deep purses of special interests, major corporations, or foreign nations — an honest executive branch taking the heat for failures, and the credit for wins.
While a “figurehead” president flies around kissing babies, breaking champagne bottles on new ships, and slapping backs at Rotary Club meetings.
Golfing with other big wigs. Tweeting pleasantries to all fifty stars on the flag about how we’re working together and solving problems like the virus, global warming, education, and childhood hunger.
Bringing folks from disparate backgrounds together, healing wounds, and modeling the advantages of unity.
What a concept.
The grey-bent toddlers currently throwing hissy fits over vote counting have one foot in the grave and the other on the banana peel of history. Perhaps their selfishness will one day magically disappear?
So as we’re sitting in the anteroom, I’m wondering what this Bangladeshi president looks like. Oman Sharif?
Then we’re called into his office. We sit and wait. Suddenly …
In walks Groucho Marx.
A dead ringer.
We casually sip tea and eat shortbread biscuits while exchanging small talk.
I snort loudly into my tea when Groucho lifts his eyebrows several times making a remark.
We say goodbye, the President shakes our hands and smiles, we leave.
Your lower lip is bleeding, said a college outside the palace.
Had to bite them, I said.
Me too! she laughed as we doubled up, shook hysterically, and stomped our feet on the palace steps.
While teaching at a junior college in East Tennessee, I spent one day a month in Nashville as president of the faculty, meeting with the governing board, and Maya Angelou happened to be in town one evening I was there.
A newspaper article said she’d receive $50,000 for a one-hour performance.
No one is worth $50k an hour, I thought to myself. After the show, where she’d sung (made us all cry), danced (made us all laugh), told her story (tears upon tears), and read poetry (enlarging our souls), I thought:
That was worth $150,000. She got ripped off.
Then I walked across the street into a bookstore where I browsed for twenty minutes when all of a sudden I felt a spiritual presence by my side.
When I turned, Maya Angelou looked me in the eyes, smiled, and said hello. I mentioned how much I enjoyed the show. We talked for ten minutes.
After five or six questions concerning my background, how I used my time, mission work, church, and family life, her eyes saw straight into me, and she spoke of things about myself that I knew were there, but feared. Because if I acknowledged those gifts from God, I’d have to act on them.
So tears drip onto the paper today as I scribble these notes.
Furthermore, the caged-bird sang once again on Tuesday.
And the entire world applauded, then danced in the streets.
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:
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.
When I was twenty-three, I found myself unemployed, and living in my girlfriend’s room in her parents’ beautiful brick house on the South Side of Chicago in an affluent white neighborhood slipping into descent after the M.L.K. riots of 1968. They kept me upstairs and visible, with girlfriend relegated to the basement.
I remember wandering the streets day-after-day-week-after-week begging for work, sliding in and out of tawdry bars – sticky-floor flyblown dives I’d never venture into for a drink on my own – but places I now prayed would hire me because I’d just spent my last $250 attending “Professional Bartender’s School” and earning a “Professional Bartender’s Certificate” after spending a week pouring colored water out of fake liquor bottles into appropriate glasses.
Armed with this “certificate”, I wandered into dozens of Chicagoland watering holes, but no one would hire me. Sheila’s Puke Shack owner S. Hardnutter threw me the stink eye when I dangled the Professional Bartender Certificate in front of her narrow eyes, then pointed toward the door.
Each night I’d limp home on sore feet and sit on my girlfriend’s bed and despair. I remember a lone tear running down my cheek one night, followed in a few seconds by spontaneous laughter because Iron Eyes Cody – a pure-blood Italian, we found out later – currently starred in an environmental television ad as an American Indian saddened by the rape of the land, a single tear running down his cheek, which miraculously prodded Americans into picking up trash.
Swinging for the fence the next morning, I took a train downtown and hit all the major bars on Michigan Avenue, earning a ubiquitous thumbs down. Fingering the last $10 in my pocket, I stood at the corner of Walton and Michigan Avenue, eyeballing The Drake, where visiting Queen Elizabeth bedded down.
Too classy for my zero experience.
Looking southeast — across the street at the old Palmolive Building — I saw the Playboy Club‘s flashing siren lights. Shrugging off the gut instinct to stop wasting time, I walked inside and told the smiling bunny at the door that I needed to see the human relations rep.
Who turned out to be my girlfriend’s sister’s best friend.
“You’re in luck!” she smiled. “We need a bartender pronto, and you can start Monday morning. Get here at ten for an orientation on lunch, which starts at eleven.”
The Playboy Club turned out to be a mixed blessing. Although I was able to rent my own place and start saving, the nature of the business fired up already simmering jealousies.
I’d graduated from college the previous December with an English degree and accepted the only job I could find – once again through nepotism – when Future-Mother-In-Law told me about a job opening at her school, a junior high in Chicago Ridge.
The permanent teacher was taking a year off after giving birth, and a succession of substitutes tried and failed to make a stand with her students, kids from blue collar families with moms and dads who worked long hours and didn’t have much time to spend with their offspring, so they threw money at them instead. Blue collar kids accustomed to bullying each other in the absence of parental guidance.
At six-foot-four-two-hundred-twenty-pounds I became substitute number seven immediately following Christmas break. That semester – my first in a classroom by myself – gave me the confidence to carry through the rest of life.
Years later I chatted with a man at the airport as we waited for a plane, and during the conversation we uncovered the fact we’d both taught junior high English on the South Side of Chicago.
“How long did you last?” I asked.
“One year,” he said.
“What did you do after that?”
“I quit, joined the Marines, and went to Vietnam for a vacation,” he said.
That semester I taught English to kids with names like “Toots” and “Doobie” and was required to coach 7th grade girls’ basketball; unfortunately, the 8th grade girls’ basketball coach was a conniving blonde bombshell who sensed the unease in Future-Mother-In-Law and went right to driving her nuts by sitting next to me during games, flirting whenever FMIL was in eyesight, and wearing a string bikini to the Indiana Dunes when the three of us accompanied a busload of kids at the end of the school year.
FMIL hadn’t really taught long, this being her second attempt. She’d left the profession in her early twenties to raise four children through high school while her husband, a prince, worked at US Steel.
During her free time all those years she soaked up daytime television, eventually becoming brainwashed by sexy-soap-opera-actors teaching her to trust no one – especially me – while the hot blonde simultaneously poked out of a white see-through hand-crocheted bathing suit on blazing Indiana beach while Little Richard sang Tutti Frutti from the top of a telephone pole.
When the junior high job ended and the bartender’s school landed me in the Playboy den of iniquity, my days with girlfriend dwindled.
A clean-cut Iranian floor manager named Sami started me off in a service bar out of sight from the public with liquor bottles in overhead racks, a double-sink, an ice machine, mixers, and a cash register at the end of the stainless-steel counter. The bus boys were Palestinian, the cooks Mexican. If you learned early on to treat the women right, all worked smoothly.
Bunnies would approach this portal with drink orders, and I’d pile beverages on trays before they sashayed on high heels and kidney-pinching bunny suits back to thirsty Joes elevated to Playboy Key Holders with an annual credit card fee.
The bunnies were kids like me, trying to eat under roof while putting themselves through school, putting together a stash to make a move in life, trying to survive the dollar-draining nature of the big city. There were long ones, tall ones, big ones, brown ones, black ones, round ones … crazy ones.
And although I stayed true, my girlfriend came to visit during lunch one day — at my request — and stood in the doorway of the little service bar as I mixed drinks and piled them on bunny trays. As each female appeared, we talked business, and I often called them by name. The window I pushed drinks through revealed bunnies from their waists to their chins. Neither girlfriend nor I could see hip-tags or faces.
“How do you remember their names?” asked girlfriend as she gazed open-mouthed at the exposed set of breasts arching into the bar window.
“See that mole?” I said as “Carla” arrived with an empty tray. Having grown up on a hog farm in Western Illinois, I was not especially enamored with big breasts, though I admired their magnetic ability on the average Joe’s iron head.
Blood boiled up the chin of girlfriend’s face, onto her cheeks, then up her forehead, and with a turn of her heel I was suddenly alone in the Windy City, bereft of my only reason for being there in the first place.
Several months later, I’d worked my way up to the “night shift” at the main bar and enjoyed meeting out-of-town folks in the midst of convention bacchanals, though many of the women — upon reaching alcoholic euphoria — lashed out with tongues more lascivious than any deranged Roto-Rooter man ever wagged.
One night, just after midnight on a slow shift with few people at the bar, management uncloaked in their black suits and fired every bartender on the floor.
“You were the only one not stealing,” said Sami. “We’d been sending in people to sit at the bar and observe for two weeks now. What these dirt bags do is ring up a lower amount than they sold, then put the remainder in their pockets. Oldest trick in the book.”
One of those rounded up and kicked out of the revolving door was Howie Wong, the first bartender Hugh Hefner picked for the original Chicago Playboy Club on Walton, not far from his mansion on North State Parkway. Howie was taciturn and unfriendly, so I never knew him well.
But three months later I was walking down a side street and above a newly-painted door an electric sign flashed: Howie’s. Taken aback, I stepped inside and there were the six recently-fired bartenders, along with Howie at the cash register, preparing to open their new digs. Turns out they’d pooled their purloined cash – Howie dipped for decades – and opened this business. Together.
“How’s this going to work?” I asked. They just smiled and shrugged their shoulders. Six months later Howie’s was history, naturally.
Which brings me to the point of this essay.
Prisons would be more effective if we piled like-minded criminals atop one another.
As the world lurches toward nationalism and the rule of authoritarians, we need a way to deal effectively with run-away dictators.
Imagine islands – the Aleutian archipelago comes to mind with its Alaskan fresh air breeziness – islands exclusively housing like-minded criminals. Redneck Racist Island harboring Dylann Roof wannabes. Female Redneck Racist Island next door, ten thousand Rosanne Barrs separated by churning seas and hungry flesh-eating fish.
Black Racist Island covered with Al Sharpton wannabes. Criminal Mexican Island. Catholic Priest Pedophile Island. White Collar Embezzler Island. White Collar Crook Island. Rapist Island. Man-Trapping-Liar-About-Rape Island.
The unending torture of individuals imprisoned under these conditions would test the “cruel and unusual” clause under the Eighth Amendment, but this treatment would be justified due to its effectiveness and ultimate benefit to society.
Can you imagine a self-aggrandizing, constantly lying, narcissistic blowhard in a green parka – absent makeup – wielding a hand-ax, a book of matches, and some fishing gear, and marooned for life on a frozen slag heap in the middle of an ocean with hundreds of other convicted narcissistic blowhards and a few Kodiak bears on Russia Money Laundering Island? A pleasing and peaceful thought, indeed.
Perhaps the perfect prison doles out the perfect punishment.
For those of you who bless your children by reading to them, check out “The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s the story of a girl who loves pulling the wings off of insects, but her bullying comes to a bad end:
An evil spirit soon took possession of Inge, and carried her to a still worse place, in which she saw crowds of unhappy people, waiting in a state of agony for the gates of mercy to be opened to them, and in every heart was a miserable and eternal feeling of unrest. It would take too much time to describe the various tortures these people suffered, but Inge's punishment consisted in standing there as a statue, with her foot fastened to the loaf. She could move her eyes about, and see all the misery around her, but she could not turn her head; and when she saw the people looking at her she thought they were admiring her pretty face and fine clothes, for she was still vain and proud. But she had forgotten how soiled her clothes had become while in the Marsh Woman's brewery, and that they were covered with mud; a snake had also fastened itself in her hair, and hung down her back, while from each fold in her dress a great toad peeped out and croaked like an asthmatic poodle. Worse than all was the terrible hunger that tormented her, and she could not stoop to break off a piece of the loaf on which she stood. No; her back was too stiff, and her whole body like a pillar of stone. And then came creeping over her face and eyes flies without wings; she winked and blinked, but they could not fly away, for their wings had been pulled off; this, added to the hunger she felt, was horrible torture."If this lasts much longer," she said, "I shall not be able to bear it." But it did last, and she had to bear it, without being able to help herself.
The perfect ending for a bully’s sad life.
Similar to an immortal history book full of verifiable facts, I reckon.
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.
Our current health care mess is more a political debacle than a substantial challenge to the intellect when it comes to solvency.
We can do better by providing excellent health care to allAmericans while lowering the overall cost, though it may slightly burden the wealthy and middle-class folks in order to reach the prize of truly affordable health care for all.
In the 90’s I taught at a local community college and one of my students – who was abused as a child and neither fully-supported nor fully-educated – struggled her entire life with health issues, racking up hundreds of thousands of tax-payer-swallowed medical bills over the course of her too-short life.
Multiply this situation by millions – many citizens are now hooked on opiates – and one can see how this particular demographic could force a single-payer Medicare expansion into near-future reality.
While I was researching this article, it was obvious that
the “facts” coming from sites linked – in one way or another – to private insurance companies were quite different from those emanating from neutral sources.
The insurance-linked information sites apprised the cost at $32 trillion while the neutral sites announced it would actually lower costs. The truth often lies at the midpoint, a hefty sum indeed. But our current direction, and the soon-to-be-announced Obamacare Lite are simply untenable.
Limiting Congressional health-care benefits to their own
plan for the rest of us would be a start. But don’t expect a sitting Congressman to write that bill. And now Republicans are replicating the major mistake Obama committed in his first term, which was to push a secret backroom inviable bill into law while briefly holding the majority and babbling they’d better pass it first so “you can see what’s in it” later.
Fast forward to today and it turns out that the ACA is actually a step above what the current Trumpcare plan offers the truly needy, a plan that boils down to “the rich get richer”.
An alternate path – leading away from the debacle of Obamacare/ Trumpcare – is fairly simple and workable: expand Medicare using a single payer plan while dropping Medicaid altogether.
“So what is single-payer health care? Essentially it involves expanding the present Medicare system to cover everyone and eliminating private insurance (with the claimed accompanying savings of hundreds of billions of dollars).
"Additional features would include the absence of means testing, no concern for pre-existing conditions, the restoration of independent doctors and hospitals who negotiate with Medicare and would be chosen freely by consumers and one public agency processing and paying bills.
“Because it would be unneeded with this system in place, the present Medicaid program for the indigent and its associated administrative costs would be eliminated. Proponents suggest that costs could be contained and quality maintained through more efficient review by the single insurer. Costs would be financed through a progressive income tax.”
Sounds good, aye? Well, unless you’re a millionaire and break in to a cold sweat at the clause “costs would be financed through a progressive income tax”.
Like me, you’re probably reading between the lines here.When “eliminating private insurance” pops out, one’s mind – if the slightest bit of pragmatism is embedded there – questions the odds of cash actually drying up in the UnitedHealth, Kaiser, Humana, Aetna, and Cigna Rivers.
“In the 2012 election cycle, the insurance industry contributed a record $58.7 million to federal parties and candidates as well as outside spending groups. Of the nearly $55 million that went to parties and candidates, 68 percent went to Republicans, who have long been the recipients of most of this category's giving.”
Admittedly, private insurance companies may suffer at first with a single-payer plan, but people with cash would buy supplemental insurance beyond Medicare basics and sustain the industry; jobs would shift to government positions aimed at administrating the new system and would therefore mitigate unemployment.
With the GOP in power, we’ll likely get Obamacare Light if they can scrape up the Senate votes, which fattens the coffers of the already-wealthy while neglecting the truly needy.
However, the worm may turn in 2018, and if a new Congress actually functions, we’ll be able to bring down costs and increase quality with a single-payer Medicare expansion while simultaneously closing the income gap.
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.