There Was a Time

Maggio Vietnam Wall RubbingIn 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.

Lock 22
Hennepin Canal, Lock 22. This is what it looks like today.

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.

Mike Royco

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.

M60
M60

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.

Randall Maggio
21 years old

Randall Maggio Medals

The Maggio Way
The Maggio Way

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 Memorial Wall

Vietnam was invaded at least eight times — in the modern era alonebefore 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.

Kill My Rapist
Kill My Rapist!

And now polio is back.

One has to wonder if sheep wormer will be prescribed for this new outbreak.

“Christian” Nationalists say they pray to Jesus, who as a Jew believed life begins at birth, not conception.  They don’t even know the God they’re praying to, much less read and comprehend a Bible that explains love conquers, and that we should render unto Caeser what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.

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

They do not know the horrific harms connected to a mixture of church and state foisted upon innocents across the centuries.  Our own brewing Civil War is a direct descendent of those historic horrors.

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.

Taliban and Stingers
Taliban and Stingers

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.

 


There Was a Time …

Verse 1

There was a time when I was sixteen.

Didn’t have a guitar, and had no self-esteem.

There was a time when I turned eighteen.

Still unexposed to anything obscene.

Bridge

Then a letter came by the US Mail.

It said I had a choice:  Vietnam or jail.

Verse 2

I went to war. Yes, I did, and now

I flop around at night like an ocean squid.

I went to war. Yes, I did, and now

I flop around all night wondering what I did.

Chorus

We fought for the helicopter company Bell.

We fought for Dow Chemical as well.

Don’t ever get on the wrong side of The Man.

Do your stint and eat the Spam.

Vietnam or jail.

Verse 3

There was a time when we thought we’d win.

But the real enemy was lurking within.

That same country that sent me to war

Slaughtered my son at the Capitol’s front door.

Bridge

He was a fine policeman they said.

Then they jabbed a flag pole into his head.

Chorus

There was a time before we sold out.

There was a time when we had no doubts.

There was a time when we thought we’d win.

But the real enemy was lurking within.

 Copyright: Alarice Multimedia, LLC.

Full Circle

Growing up on a hog farm, I saw hogs eat each other.  Especially when the “lunch” hog was sick, injured, or different in any way.

Every now and then you saw a hog born with both set of genitals. Hermaphrodites became prime lunch if they happened to be sick or weak.

When I read Orwell’s Animal Farm, these words rang true:   All animals are equal.  But pigs are more equal.   

So, to all my friends peeing their pants over immigrants on the border, I offer you something to consider:

The basic facts of American history.

After the Pilgrims landed, the natives showed them where the winter food stores were hidden in case they needed help. 

Those immigrants then ate the whole store and starved the Indians out.

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.

Capitol
Credit:  Peter-Waddell

These particular immigrants treated other human beings like animals, splitting up families and breeding women like animals.

Now they are upset because a few of the slaves’ offspring act like animals.

Lately, these immigrants are slithering into public schools and mutilating school children they fear will one-day act as if they were animals and outnumber them.  

Fast forward to today.

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.

They are now banning books.

They are now politicizing school boards.

My own novel was banned by the local library because it exposed the East Tennessee opioid culture.

This blog will put me up the chimney.  Indeed.

Only one more insurrection to go and we’re all in immigrant cockroach autocratic anti-Christ heaven.

Where immigrant cockroaches have nothing left to fear, nothing left to hate, nothing left to shoot, no one left to slaughter, no one left to beat, and nothing left to eat.  Except:

Each other.

A Cry from Behind Prison Walls

Northeast Correctional Complex, Mountain City, Tennessee
Northeast Correctional Complex, Mountain City, Tennessee.

Dear Readers,

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.

In struggles,

(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 Christian service, and wonderingly yours,

Michael “Gene” Scott

 

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.

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.

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