YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!!!

As soon as I read the headline and before I read the article, “Trump Announces, ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission”, I thought of Colonel Jessup’s tirade in the movie, “A Few Good Men”, “You Can’t Handle The Truth!”  I felt no different after I read it.

It seems our President and a good part of our population can’t or won’t handle the truth.  Worse, I believe a portion of our population knows the truth, they just don’t care to acknowledge it.  They like things just the way they are or rather they would like to cycle them back to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Am I cynical much?

I read the article but my thoughts continued to collide with the force of a cue ball breaking a rack. Dark thoughts of a time past that seems to be determine to resurrect itself.

“Trump Announces, ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission”. Hummm…I was a product of “Patriotic Education”.  It was called Civics, taught in the backdrop of the Civil Right struggle and the Cold War.  There was a lot of wrapping the Bible in the Red, White, and Blue to boot.  “Our God is better than your god,” with Biblical quotations to prove it. 

Civics wasn’t pure propaganda but there was propaganda.  I did learn about our constitution and our federal system, but I also learned that the self-evident truths of “All men are created equal” were weak aspirations in my part of the world, not necessarily a truth. 

As my blond haired, crew cut sporting instructor explained, “We have the retarded, the dummies and mute, ni@@#*s and Indians.”  Yes, he said that.  My memory is faulty, it could have been in US History rather than Civics.

One of the more troubling thoughts among many is how much this person meant to me.  How much I wanted to be just like him.  How I followed his lead to college and then on to teaching.  How I majored in history and taught it for most of forty-one years…most likely, because of him. 

It was the Sixties and as I have found in most men, there is good, there is bad, and I hope, there is change. Don’t you hate it when your heroes prove to be mere mortals?

In the article I read, President Trump decried what he called a “twisted web of lies” being taught in U.S. classrooms about systemic racism in America, calling it “a form of child abuse.” He made similar comments at Mount Rushmore in July.

“Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse, the truest sense,” Trump said. “For many years now, the radicals have mistaken Americans’ silence for weakness. They’re wrong. There is no more powerful force than a parent’s love for their children. And patriotic moms and dads are going to demand that their children are no longer fed hateful lies about this country.” 

At best, our President has an uncomfortable relationship with the truth. Most often, the truth and the President do not reside in the same zip code. I question what “hateful lies about this country” he is channelling.  It seems to me we are again wrapping the flag around our racism and using a religion to support it.

I do not want to beat a dead mule; I have written to this theme before.  Until recently, and even that depends on where you reside in our great country, we have never taught history from an all-encompassing point of view.  We have never taught history “warts and all.”  We seem to be afraid of the truth.

Most teachers try, but standards and textbooks have only recently begun to change, attitudes even less. Those teachers who don’t try should not be teaching. I still see a type of history being taught accompanied by cheerleaders sporting red, white, and blue pom poms. “Go, Fight, Win!”

Why would we not want to teach the truth?  Does truth somehow undermine our love for our country?  Am I wrong to believe we can be patriotic and love our country despite knowing we committed travesties along the way?  Can we not wish to correct those ills and make ourselves an even better country? Is it unbearable to admit to the wrongs of our forefathers?

Change. The word seems to be the truth we can’t handle and the resistance to change seems to come from my own contemporaries…those of us who were indoctrinated to believe “My Country, Right or Wrong” not that our country ever did any wrong.  Worse, many are not contemporaries but are those I taught.

Many former students have taken to pointing out, “We are not a democracy we are a Republic.”  To what end? Why do you make this argument?  Is there an ulterior motive?  Am I being cynical to believe people pointing this out have an agenda and a need to undermine?

The word “republic” has the same meaning as the term “representative democracy.” A representative democracy is a form of democracy in the same way that a ‘purple top’ is a form of turnip. We wouldn’t say it’s inaccurate to use “turnip” to describe a purple top turnip, so it’s OK to follow in the footsteps of many founding fathers, along with Webster, and Chief Justice Marshall and simply call our “representative democracy” a “democracy.”

I would also want to point out, at the local level many of our decisions are made as a ‘direct’ democracy. Again, I wonder about motives. I wonder about truth. I feel to the depth of my bones, many would rather have a more autocratic form of government even if it is led by a former reality TV star.

My brother will now say, chill.  Go out and walk, smell the flowers, have a beer, watch a football game.  He is right, and I will, but my cynical petty coats is showing cow poo and it stinks.  I have hope in our system but it is being undermined.  My truth is becoming, “We are what we are.  This is who we’ve been and we ain’t gonna’ change.” 

We are being taken advantage of.  I’m not the world’s most intelligent guy but even I can see the seeds of division that have been planted are flourishing, both within and without.  The far right and the far left are not our friends.  Neither are any of the autocratic leaders our President seems to want to cozy up to. 

No, not our friends. Neither is the media attempting to sell advertising, a President attempting to sell blivits, and congressmen and women attempting to sell themselves. (A blivit is two pounds of manure in a one pound bag. The origin is from Kalamazoo College around 1960.)

The President’s initiative to create “Patriotic Education” is a blivit and he is sowing more seeds of discord and playing to a base that includes those who believe equality for all is somehow taking their own rights away and an affront to God. 

Watercolor by John Coffee. Line from The Green Mile

***

Don Miller’s author’s page is found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR22iSzDHKzxCzPBS64mqKyX_iqjwVDmJXrd_1iVmF5be_YAnetohuhpwQI

Article quoted, Trump Announces ‘Patriotic Education’ Commission, A Largely Political Move, from NPR, September 17, 2020, Alana Wise, https://www.npr.org/2020/09/17/914127266/trump-announces-patriotic-education-commission-a-largely-political-move?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR3pJHVlB7rxiAiDhMXODozLxk0my-rRZNfaA94Y7ekugnE5Zqr8EhJ08II

The image, from JoeBlogs

Boycott the Boycotts

#BoycotttheBoycotts

Oh my, Ben and Jerry’s has squatted and fallen backwards onto a political cow patty…they have stepped in several over the years, but this is the one I’m sure will soil their starched khakis forever.  This time SOME members from the Right has called for a boycott.  This was a podcast chat or YouTube video with Jane Fonda.  Ole Hanoi Jane strikes again.  What did they discuss? I have no idea. #BoycottAllVideos

More food wars…more calls to boycott something.  Nascar, football…ice cream.  I say #BoycotttheBoycotts.

I’m really sick of calls to boycott.  It’s like listening to the greatest music hit of 2020. (As if there is any great music in 2020.) The ditty is good the first time, maybe the tenth time, but it gets so much air play, it gets old.   Calls to boycott because football players joining arms or wearing a “unity” or BLM sticker on their helmets?  That gets old.  Really unity? #BoycottUnityBoycott

When attempting to find a place to eat or a substance to eat how many of you Google, “What is the local ‘choke and puke’s’ political stance?”  No one right? Do you really?  Let’s see, boycott a bowl of “Booots on the Moon” because of a stand on Global Warming or White Supremacy?  I see, #BoycottBenandJerrys.

I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten Ben and Jerry’s ice cream but it has nothing to do with a boycott or a political stance.  I’m sure someone just shook their head in disbelief.  I don’t remember eating it, but I assure you it’s not because they are soooo liberal.  I mean I will eat at Chick-fil-a if I can’t get to Bojangles or Popeyes. Nothing to do with their conservatism…I just like my chicken spicy. More on that later.

Firstly, Liberals can make ice cream.  Secondly, when you are so far right, everything in the center looks radical. 

When I’m not making my own ice cream, I’m a Breyers or a Blue Bell guy, OUT OF HABIT…not politics.  Guess what?  I have no idea who makes Breyers or what their political slant is.  Same with Blue Bell.  I…COULD…CARE…LESS! 

As long as they aren’t serial killers, rapist, or abusers I…DON”T…CARE! Well there was Blue Bell’s  2015 listeriosis outbreak and Breyers cutting their milk content to the point some of their offerings were called ‘frozen desserts’ rather than ice cream.  #BoycottListeriosis, #BoycottFrozenDesserts! 

Boycotting is as ridiculous as the chicken sandwich wars from a while back.  God’s Chick-fil-a sandwich versus Satan’s Popeye’s sandwich.  I just heard Chick-fil-a is going to offer a spicier version of their chicken sandwich.  Does that mean they have gone over to the dark side? #BoycottGodlessSpicyChickenSandwich!

We’ve had some pretty effective boycotts over history.  Stamp Act’s “Taxation Without Representation”, The Montgomery Bus Boycott, Gandhi’s Salt March and Boycott, US sanctions against South Africa to end Apartheid and free Nelson Mandela.

Yeah, the Ben and Jerry’s Boycott of 2020 fits right in with those.  That will stop all their liberal shenanigans, supporting Black Lives, calling out White Supremacists, videoing with Jane Fonda.  A real travesty.  #FreetheChocolateChip…#BoycottJane #BoycotttheBoycotts

Most boycotts are pointless and harmful. Have you considered what a successful boycott might entail?  LOST AMERICAN JOBS!  You know those athletes you are grinding on?  They are already rich.  They probably didn’t start out rich, but they are now.  The owners are rich.  The networks are rich.  They can outlast you. 

What about the towel guy, or the court sweeper, or the Zamboni driver?  The guy that runs out to mop up sweat from LeBron’s brow? What about the janitorial staff?  The equipment guys?  What about the guy in the paper hat that scoops your chocolate chip mint into your cone?  They are the ones who will pay for your stupid boycott. #BoycottProSportsBoycotts

#BoycotttheBoycotts!  If I don’t like the pregame political statements I’ll wait until it’s over turn it on or put my hands over my ears, close my eyes and yell “La, La, La, La” at the top of my lungs until it is over.  I suggest you do the same. I won’t turn it off and walk away.

If my ice cream is made by a right-wing wingnut, I’ll eat it if it is deliciously sweet and creamy.  I won’t eat it but once if it is not. 

If a protest for social justice is so reprehensible you wish to boycott it…you should boycott me.  #BoycottMe

Well, I’m going to prepare brunch for my bride now.  Guess what I’m not going to do?  I’m not going to worry about the political statements made by the chicken that laid the egg, the corn that grits were ground from, or the pig who gave its all for my sausage.  The farmer who supplied them?  We’re good regardless of what sign he puts in his field. 

I’m not going to worry about the stance of the workers who picked the broccoli, mushrooms, and spinach that will make up the filling of my omelet.  I don’t care if the cheddar cheese maker is a liberal or a conservative, a libertarian or a flat earther. 

I may have a bowl of ice cream later while watching a football game…it may be Ben and Jerry’s…it may not.  #BoycotttheBoycott!

***

The image is from Aaron Fooks, Protest Pointless Boycotts, The Chimes. https://chimesnewspaper.com/23827/opinions/protest-pointless-boycotts/

Stop by Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0G7zFoynNmQ5cF2WE-usnYnFgJUY_9NjLXDIRhTJmS5F_ipFre6D0NGOk

Historia Arcana

“The deeper you penetrated into the true South, a Protestant land of moral absolutes, Baptist blue laws, tent revivals, fire and brimstone, heaven and hell, good and evil, black and white, and damn little room between.”  Greg Iles, The Bone Tree

And bitter hypocrisy thrown in for good measure.

According to a “too large” number of my Southern brethren, racism hasn’t existed in a while…and if it does it is reverse racism.  All groups supporting social justice and the removal of monuments and flags are Marxist and radical, and the worst danger facing our country has nothing to do with the reactionary right.  Our President has even given us a new group to hate, the “radical fascist” which sets my teeth on edge just thinking about it.

Histories are written by the victors…or are they?

In the middle of the Sixth Century, the last great ancient Western historian, Procopius of Caesarea, wrote Historia Arcana which translates to The Secret History.  He hoped it would never be published, and it was not until well after his death.  It was to be his if needed, ‘get out of jail’ card.

The history chronicled the seedier sides of Byzantine Emperor Justinian, and his wife, Empress Theodora.  It is not a glowing history and shows the author’s disillusionment with the Byzantine Empire.  Justinian is portrayed as cruel and incompetent, Theodora, vulgar, and lustfully insatiable.  I feel some of Procopius’ disillusionment today.

No, it is not the history Theodora and Justinian would want to be published and it was not published until nearly a thousand years later.  The sixth-century power couple would go on to be sainted by the Greek Orthodox Church.  Their hidden history remained hidden until it no longer mattered.

I have seen the same with some of our own “sainted” folk.  The heroes of Southern culture and heritage.  In the South, we guard our “historia arcana” with a tenacity unmatched by the rest of our nation.  Families of now-departed men and women hope their histories remain secret.

I’m reading Greg Iles’ Natchez Is Burning trilogy and stumbled upon the above quote on the first page of the second novel, The Bone Tree.  The original book, Natchez is Burning, while fictional, is based on a period in our history that anyone south of the Ohio River would like to forget.

The novel is fictional but based upon historical facts…the treatment of African-Americans during the Fifties and Sixties and how white men got away with the murder of black men and women simply because they could.  A period we are being asked to move on from without recognizing how evil it was or how events from forty or fifty years ago…or one hundred and sixty years ago…or four hundred years ago could actually affect the time we live in now.  Just move on…there is nothing here.

Any Southern town, large or small, has its share of “secret” histories…histories that display our dirty unmentionables, the soiled petticoats displayed as we try to navigate the deep mud puddles of Southern history before quickly dropping our antebellum gown to cover our ankles and muddy shoes.  Like Justinian and Theodora, it is a history we would prefer not to read in print and only speak to in whispered tones if we speak of them at all.

The mud stains are still on our shoes but we do our best to make sure they are out of sight.  Historical accounts we have purged from our memories it seems…or at least the “dark” part of our histories.  Histories so well hidden, a Southern, seventy-year-old retired history teacher didn’t know they existed.

Accounts we claim never existed at worse or were not as bad as were made out at best.  “Why can’t we just move on?” is a question reserved for the propagator, not the victims.  Maybe I should again pick up Faulkner, O’Conner, Williams, Yerby, or Gaines again.  Even in their fiction are large kernels of truth.

Men and women are human, with human failings.  Men and women can be both good and bad at the same time.  Bad…good old Baptist guilt or Calvinist repression, not necessarily the point.  This is more collective guilt…a collective guilt we refuse to accept or acknowledge.  The guilt we have turned into a “Lost Cause” and “Forget Hell” is only reserved for one side of the argument.

As we debate the removal of statues and memorials, the elimination of one hundred and sixty-year-old eulogies made of cloth, disclaimers added to eighty-one-year-old motion pictures, and the changing of aging athletic nicknames and mascots, we pontificate about what seems to be different histories from the same place and from the same time.  Some pray to the gods of the status quo, the good old days, while others are breaking under the burdens we refuse to remove.

Good men doing bad things or is it bad men doing good things…or is it just human nature to cover or change what is unpalatable for us?  Is it human nature to resist change or just a Southern cultural trait?

There is the fear factor too.  Fear that somehow we will lose control of what we have controlled for so long.  Similar to the old question asked by good Protestant ministers so long ago, “What will we do when they run off with our wives and daughters?”  We still look for boogie men under our beds and label them as Marxist or radically “fascist” whatever that is.

I do not know where to stand on statues and memorials.  I know, despite my deep Southern roots, I will not stand next to them in defense.  My great, great and great, great, great grandfathers may be rolling in their graves.

Our statues and memorials are tributes to men and to histories most unsavory but they themselves are not history.  They should not be celebratory, should they? They are reminders of not only heritage but the hate some of that heritage rests upon.

Having taught history, I never used a statue or memorial as a teaching tool but that doesn’t mean they can’t be used as teaching implements…provided those monuments are teaching the “real” histories which are found not on lists of gallant Confederate dead etched in stone or on mountains, but in the pages of primary documents and historical works.

We must focus less on gallant propaganda and more on the facts.  We need to recognize that our history didn’t end with the beginning of the Civil War.  We need to question why some men died to “make men free” and why others resisted…no matter how bitter the taste of the fruit of that resistance might be.

All countries have shame.  We are not unique.  Many countries have tread on the weak for national and economic gain.  We are no different.  We are not even the only country that has not come to grips with the travesties we have committed.  We are not the only country to ignore our travesties and attempt to squash the message of those tread upon.  Unfortunately, as a child in the Fifties, I bought the propaganda of American Exceptionalism.  I really believed we were supposed to be better than other nations.

I  admit to ignoring problems in hopes they might go away.  They do not.  They only grow worse and ours has festered for over one hundred and fifty years.  I have also learned when faced with an issue, the most unappealing and unappetizing option is probably the correct one.

Here in the Bible Belt, we are filled with religious indignation and justification toward anyone who questions authority…unless it is a fellow Christian of a certain race.  It is as if by conforming to a God’s will we give up the right to think on our own.

Here in the Bible Belt, we have tied our Christianity to our politics, and any afront to our politics is perceived as an affront to our religion.  I am seeing this more and more concerning “peaceful” protesters and reactions to “other” religions.  Too many “good” Christians wrapping their Bible in a flag and calling their racism and bigotry patriotism.

As I read Iles’ quote I thought back to my youth and own privilege.  I grew up a Methodist Protestant, graduated from a Lutheran institution of higher learning, and committed the mortal sin of marrying three Baptist women.  If at first, you fail….  I once considered taking up the mantle of religion…God does work in mysterious ways.  It is my historia arcana.

Moral absolutes were something I obviously had a problem with as did others.  I have just now learned others did a better job of covering theirs up and have throughout history.  In towns large and small, men and women have been willing to hide their moral absolutes away when it suited.  Good men and women doing bad things and praying for absolution on Sunday morning? Justinian and Theodora?  Or was I just cursed with the ability to see grays in among the blacks and whites?

I remember the revivals and the Blue Laws, the hellfire and brimstone sermons conjuring the smell of sulfur.  Hot and sticky Southern Sunday morning humidity with funeral fans working against the oppressive heat.  The preacher pounding his Bible before issuing his alter call, a closing hymn…benediction, please.

There was no gray, only heaven or hell, no in-between.  I remember the Wednesday night and Sunday morning Christians, the amen corners, the tv evangelist, and faith healers.  Billy Graham’s piety on display in black and white while George Beverly Shea sang “How Great Thou Art.”

I remember being taught from the pulpit, white was good and black was bad.  When white was virtuous and black was evil.  I remember when we used the same arguments a lifetime ago that we recycle now.  I remember our historia arcana and feel the shame that we can’t seem to overcome it or even admit it.

***

Iles, Greg The Bone Tree: A Novel (Penn Cage Book 5) (p. 1). William Morrow. Kindle Edition

The image is from The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture’s online portal.  https://nmaahc.si.edu/

Don Miller writes on various subjects that bother him so and in various genres.  His author’s page is https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR2syCHGI2Eb96lK63frT528V_cBY995j2m_hd_LOLFPdV4KqqoZQn1J7Fs

Shut up and Listen

 

It’s time for white folk to just shut up.  We are not listening.  We are shouting down the message.

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick peacefully took a knee and we (White Folk) shouted him down.  Athletes who joined him were called sons of bitches and threatened with firings.  A blonde-haired news pundit told an athlete to “shut up and dribble.” Conservative radio wrapped their racism and white nationalism with the US Flag and made it about disrespect instead of listening.  Award winners who dared to use their medium as a platform were told to just accept their award and shut up.  Be quiet so we don’t have to listen.

Why? It’s easier to be tone-deaf if you don’t have to listen.  You can be happy and secure with your head stuck where the sun never shines.

Four years later, what has changed?  I’m being kind, I could have asked twenty years later? Or thirty….  Nothing.  Systemic and institutional racism is still in place along with the double standard that is our justice system…and white people are still attempting to shout down those who are affected the most.

You dare to question this great country?  Just shut up and sit down, or move.  “Don’t like it here, go back to your shithole country.”  If we shout long enough maybe a bigger story will come along during the next news cycle to make people forget.  People do forget…white people.

White folk needs to shut up and listen.  Violent protest is not constructive…you are preaching to the choir if preaching to me.  It ain’t about me.  The white folks who have the most to lose are using it to drown out the message.

Our forefathers put the system into place, and we have guarded the fire of discrimination as if our lives depended upon it.  Not all, I believe the loudest shouters are in the minority and are the ones guarding and fanning the flame of racism and intolerance.

It is time for the silent majority to shut out the shouts of the minority haters and decide what we believe in.  We can’t afford to sit on a fence that may burn down from under us.  Shit or get off the pot because it is not the responsibility of people of color to destroy an oppressive system.  A system, we, as in whites, put into being…and have maintained since the end of the Civil War.  We must be the ones who dismantle discrimination and we can’t do that without listening.  We have to make dialog possible…by shutting up and listening.

“But things are better aren’t they?”  I don’t know.  I’m an old white guy.  Maybe you should go ask a friend of color…and listen quietly and intently.

I don’t believe white people get to make up the rules for acceptable protest.  We don’t get to share cute memes of MLK’s nonviolence without also sharing his quote “Riot is the language of the unheard.”  To do so is as hypocritical as “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” when we have a system that openly disparages, marginalizes, and discriminates.  

Before we shout about violence, we need to accept our own.  My lifetime memories are full of scenes I’d like to forget.  As a student of history, I am aware our history books are full of glossed over white initiated violence in the name of expansion, manifest destiny, imperialism, and racism.  Glossed to the point it doesn’t exist.

King’s peaceful protests were met with burning buses, police dogs, and water hoses. King’s belief in non-violence got him killed.  Murdered by a white man with a gun, trying to maintain the flame of white supremacy.

“Oh, but that was long ago, people just need to get over it.”  People can begin to get over “it” when we admit and accept our sins and the sins of our forefathers.  I don’t believe we’ve done that.  I think we have done nothing but shout our excuses and what-about- isms.

The riots from the Nineties disappeared from our rose-colored sight and out of mind…and little was accomplished. The same with protests from more recent history.

I’m an old white guy who doesn’t understand how burning down your neighbor’s house because you are pissed is positive.  I won’t ever understand it.   My time and energy, and yours, would be better spent listening with an open mind and attempting to understand why there is so much anger and frustration.

If you find it easier to believe in leftwing plots, led by George Soros or Bill Gates, the Democratic Party, Antifa or the Illuminati…if you believe it is a rightwing plot, led by Donald Trump, the KKK, The Church of QAnon or other far-right groups, you are part of the problem because you would rather face made up problems than real ones.  The real one is too painful.

Are they organized, certainly but I don’t believe it is a Dark State plot.  Activism is not a dirty word and it is not anarchy.  Are there bad players at work  Sure, but you are allowing them to shout over the message.  You are not listening.

You are the ostrich with your head in the sand or worse if you don’t believe people of color have a reason to be mad.  You are shouting instead of listening because you don’t want to hear the truth.  You are afraid to listen to the pain, anger, and frustration of your neighbors because you might have to acknowledge we live in a racist system.  You are helping to fan the flame whether you want to or not.

In 1968, King died from an assassin’s bullet. The white shouts were almost the same as today.  The streets were burning and National Guard troops patrolled American cities. The cries were of anger, sadness, and frustration.  We didn’t listen.  We were too busy shouting about radical agitators as we watched the newsreels loop.  We wouldn’t shut up long enough to listen.  It was 1968 or is it right now?

In 1992, LA burned after four LA policemen were acquitted of the beating of Rodney King.  They were caught on camera for the nation to see.  The National Guard was on patrol again and there were the same shouts, the same excuses.  We didn’t listen.  It couldn’t be about a racist system.  It was 1992 or is it right now?

Do we repeat the same sins by drowning out people in pain or do we shut up and listen?  Are we willing to push for meaningful change or wait for the next tragedy to drown it out and return to the status quo?  Are we willing to change?

George Floyd’s death was awful, but it only cast a light on one symptom of the disease.  The disease isn’t terminal yet but it is moving swiftly in that direction.  Shut up and listen before our racism kills us.

 

***

Featured Image:  https://steemit.com/life/@domioanna/just-shut-up-and-listen

Don Miller’s author’s page https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1IWVKrQFOwlgUOn0jXI0N85XUF4AFM-IgNPqW7PE1GGK23l7PJUvho9Fs

 

Boy! I Say, Boy! You Can’t Quarantine Stupid

 

In 2015 I wrote about our Southern reluctance to embrace change.  In the post, “Sot in our Ways”, using a regional pronunciation of the word set, I chronicled our propensity for looking backward.  The phrase forward-thinking is not a part of the vocabulary for many who surround me.  With the invasion of the Corvid-19 virus, I’ve found we haven’t changed in the five years since the original was published…in fact, we’ve become even more resistant with the current political environment.

Our Foghorn Leghorn sounding “guv’nah” (No insult intended, I like his Southern accent.  One should look for something to like in a person)…our governor, Henry McMaster, seems to be resistant to the idea of issuing a “stay at home” order, making my state, South Carolina, a bastion of coronavirus dissent in the region of the Southeast.  Governor McMaster has instead called on all South Carolinians to “use common sense.”  I am afraid…very afraid.

To his defense, according to Charleston’s Post and Courier, Governor McMaster doesn’t believe he can legally issue a stay at home or shelter-in-place order on what I assume are First Amendment grounds.  Judging from the number of people driving around and on the lakes, I would say a large percentage of his constituents agree with him.

Consequently, at this time, he has issued twelve executive orders, closing schools, and other nonessential businesses…wait, schools aren’t essential? Despite these executive orders, SOME have ignored the orders at worse, or tried to find ways around it at best “cuz yur takin’ way mah rights”.  No, you can’t quarantine stupid.

The governor closed furniture and shoe stores while deciding liquor and gun stores were essential.   I wonder how many spouses of either gender will be drunkenly maimed or killed by newly purchased firearms before the quarantine is over.  “Put on your high heeled sneakers….”   (I heard this morning there has been a spike in domestic crimes.  Who didn’t see this coming?)

Breaking News:  As of 5:00 today, April 7, we will be under a “Home or Work” order which will change little that wasn’t in place at 4:59.  It does limit the number of people who can be inside of businesses at one time.  It does not force church closures but it is suggested.

As a retired history teacher, I am quite familiar with our last major attempt at dissent…that was in December of 1860.  I hope our modern-day dissent doesn’t reap the same outcomes ‘cause the last one didn’t go too well.  South Carolina lost 18,000 to 21,000 men, or one of every fourteen white South Carolinians in the Civil War, due more to disease than by shot, saber or Minié ball.  It seems we didn’t keep very good records concerning our slave or civilian populations but I’m sure you could add a few of them to the overall number.

Sorry, back to modern times.  While the US response to the budding pandemic was slow, a great many states in the South were even slower to react against Corvid-19, not just South Carolina,  There are eight other states reluctant to issue stay at home or shelter-in-place orders, none Southern unless you count Arkansas.  We have a large portion of our population who believes not staying at home is somehow “standing up to tyranny”.  I did not know a virus could be so tyrannical but explains why gun stores are still open.

Southerners just don’t like being told what to do by that damn Yankee “gubment” in Washington or its ‘flunkies’ in Columbia.  It doesn’t matter if sheltering might be a good thing to do, might save lives.  It’s the principle of it all, I guess.  Ain’t nobody tellin’ me what to do no matter how stupid I look or if it kills me.  Remember the famous last words, “Hey Y’all watch dis!”

As I drove through the nearby town of Travelers Rest, my facemask and latex gloves already in place, I noticed the downtown streets were somewhat deserted.  That was because everyone was at Walmart or down the road at Lowes.  Lines to the Chik-fil-a Drive Through stretched out to the street.

I used to like my Walmart; it had a higher class of a redneck than most.  Not sure now.  Social distancing be damned, the parking lot was wall to wall with no one particularly concerned with keeping a six-foot cushion.  When I broke down and grocery shopped this early Sunday morning I saw few wearing gloves and fewer wearing masks.  Social distancing?  Not likely.

I think we are confused by the social part of social distancing.  Our teachers did a great job teaching what it means to be social…not so much on distancing.  It’s the opposite of being social.  We shouldn’t be social.  I’ve heard physical distancing used, maybe Guv’nah  Leghorn should use the term.  “Boy!  I say, Boy! Maintain your physical distancing!”  I don’t think it will matter…someone will hear physical and think it means we should get freaky. 

It’s all a government coverup anyway.  Right?  A test run to sweep away our rights just like when the United Nations was invading us during the Obama years.  They’re here to steal our guns….  They didn’t get yours?  You didn’t see them?

Friends and former student’s social media posts make me wonder how we became so susceptible to conspiracy theories.  I remember intelligent kids…maybe I’m losing my memory or maybe they weren’t as bright as I thought.  They don’t seem to know which is going to kill more of us; the virus, the new 5G network or the Democrats attempt to crash the economy to get at Trump.  Let’s combine a few conspiracy theories, shall we?

You did know the coronavirus was created by the Chinese government to weaken our economy. driving down the stock market so they can purchase what little of the United States they don’t already own?  Or, is it part of a human depopulation scheme by the world-class villain, Microsoft’s Bill Gates?  Or, did it stem from a tainted batch of children’s blood that the world’s liberal celebrities drink to stay young?

None of those are correct and have nothing to do with a tainted, undercooked bat sandwich either.  It is a Turkmenistanian bioweapon transmitted over the airways by the 5G death ray, all financed by George Soros, and genetically engineered by Bill Gates to target conservatives only.  I’m sure there is a counter-theory involving the Koch Brothers and liberal bones being burned and crushed into fertilizer.  

Attempting to be humorous, I posted my theory with a LOL emoji in response to a meme.  I had people agreeing and commenting on what that dastardly George Soros might do next.  “For real?” Mentally I see many nodding their heads in agreement.  I actually saw a similar theory expressed today.

Dammit, folks! Everything is not a conspiracy.  Sometimes things are just…things…a deadly coronavirus is just a deadly coronavirus.  Every attempted change is not a bad thing.  Do you resist changing your underwear?  Don’t answer that, just think about it and if you don’t, do so now.  Personal hygiene is important even if not taking the quarantine seriously.

Six feet, wash your hands, keep your hands out of your nose and mouth, stay at home unless you are an “essential.”  For sweet Baby James’s sake, self-quarantine for the good of mankind.

From a smart former student, something I found hopeful,                                                    “It’s okay to take this Coronavirus pandemic seriously…and still find joy in life.  It’s okay to worry about what will happen next week, next month, or next year…and still, make jokes and laugh with friends.  It’s okay to be fearful… .and still have faith that God’s will is going to be done.”

Be hopeful, just be smart.

Addendum

Before my Southern friends and family tar and feather me, I do know there are idiots and conspiracists in all regions.  It is not just a Southern reaction.  I pick on “us” because I know “us”…and if the shoe fits….

The quote is from Katie Orr, a former Tamassee-Salem student, now a teacher, and mother.

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?

The image of Foghorn Leghorn https://www.pinterest.com/susiewjones/foghorn-leghorn-best-cartoon-ever/

If you are interested in reading ”Sot in our Ways”  https://cigarman501.wordpress.com/2015/09/24/sot-in-our-ways/

Textile Strikes, Labor Unions, and Ella May Wiggins-History Repeated

 

During research for a novel I hope to write, I ran across the novel, The Last Ballad, written by Wiley Cash.  Cash’s novel is a fictionalized glimpse into the life and final months of union organizer and balladeer, Ella May Wiggins.  The story was inspired by actual events that hit a little too close to home.  Cash paints a historical picture that is both historically accurate and vivid, yet is as dark as the interiors of the textile mills he writes about and the lives of the people forced to work in them.  It’s a novel I wish I could have written.

Image result for ella may wiggins

Wiggins, a spinner at Bessemer City’s American Textile Mill #2 with a history of bad choices for many right reasons and some not so right, was shot and killed in 1929 during labor unrest leading up to the Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina, April 1,1929 and ending in the collapse of the strike after Wiggins’s death in September of the same year.

It was the end of the period called “The Roaring Twenties” which for the textile workers and farmers of the South, were anything but roaring.  While Wiggins did not live to see the great Wall Street crash, times were already hard for those who toiled in textiles, many who had just earlier been left destitute from falling farm prices.  As my grandmother often stated, “We lived so hard we didn’t notice the Great Depression.”

For anyone with empathy, the book is a tough read.  It is painful on many levels, not just Wiggins’s death.  It is disturbing because I see a certain parallel with “history repeating itself.”

I grew up a “hill milly”.  My youth was tied both to the fields of corn and beans of my grandparents and to the textile mills of my parents. By the time I cleaned the cow manure off my boots and traded square bales of hay for the lint, heat, and noise of the Springs Mills’ White Plant in Fort Mill, South Carolina, conditions, pay, and hours had markedly improved from Ella May’s day.  Improved, but still some of the hardest physical labor I ever did under some of the most taxing physical conditions.

On my first day, I was two months past my fourteenth birthday.  I was summer labor, a spare hand, working a six until two shift at whatever hell my second hand decided.   Doffing cloth, filling batteries, taking up quill and skinning them were my primary chores.  I must have done okay, I was invited to continue, working weekends during the school year.

The early shift allowed enough daylight in the evening to pull four additional hours hoeing corn, picking beans or tossing square bales onto the bed of an old flatbed for two dollars a day.  I was bone-weary at the end of the day and slept the sleep of the exhaustedly pure of heart, but in my immature brain, I was rich.

A dollar sixty-five an hour, time and a half for overtime over forty hours, plus the six dollars a week I got for tossing hay.  $93.80 a week before taxes for seventy-two hours counting four overtime hours…all hard work.  That was in 1964 and I wasn’t as rich as I thought.  My parents took half my take-home pay for room and board and I was forced to save half of my half for the college days looming in the near future.

My week’s take came out to about fifteen dollars a week in my pocket…more than what Ella May made for seventy-two hours in 1929.  Six days a week, twelve hours a day for $9.00 a week in conditions you can’t believe unless you lived it. $9.00 to house, feed and clothe herself and her five living children.  She had lost two children in early childhood who developed rickets due to malnutrition.  She was pregnant at the time of her death.

Image result for springs cotton mills fort mill sc

South Carolina has never been receptive to unions…the South has never been receptive to unions.  As of 2017, only 2.6 percent of the Southern workforce was unionized. During Ella May Wiggins’s day, unions had only just begun to move south and were met with a solid, often violent, effort to keep them out.

On my first day at Springs, a cousin, Charlie Wilson, took me aside and yelled his whisper above the din of eleven hundred looms, “Never mention the word union if you want to keep your job.”  I’m not sure I had heard of the word at the time but never mentioned it even though many days I doubted I really “wanted to keep my job.”

Despite the mind-numbing sound and physical labor, I was spoiled and didn’t know it until I went to work for another cotton mill during my college days.  Springs Mills was a Cadillac of cotton mills.  Well lit, it was reasonably modern and technologically advanced, cleaner than most, with a family atmosphere.

The two mills I worked at in Newberry, SC, during my college years were everything Springs wasn’t including an “every man for himself” atmosphere.  Dimly lit, the old Draper looms were contrary and dangerous, the closed painted over windows a reminder of what was just on the other side…bright sunshine and clean air as opposed to the oppressive, lint filled atmosphere and heat inside.

As I lived through a week that saw a major drop in the stock market and a toilet paper panic, I am somberly amused at some of the similarities that exist today as in those thrilling days of yesteryear.  Conservatives attempting to hold the line, liberals clamoring for change.  Name-calling, finger-pointing and unfortunately threats to our democratic system if not our very person.

I hope most threats are coming from internet trolls with nothing to do as we “hunker down”, self-isolating ourselves from the coronavirus, worrying about where our next toilet paper score might occur.  We can’t even agree if this disease is a health threat or simply the flu blown up by a liberal media controlled by communists and George Soros.  I digress with tongue in cheek.

The reason for the Loray strike were workers protesting for better working conditions, a forty-hour workweek, a minimum $20 weekly wage, union recognition, and the abolition of the stretch-out system, a system that doubled worker’s labor but reduced their wages as textiles fell on hard times after The Great War and the drying up of government contracts.

An estimated 1,000 strikers at Loray Mills, Gastonia, 1929. -- Millican Pictorial History Museum

The numbers and issues may be different, our responses have been eerily similar.  It would be during the middle of the Great Depression before minimum wage, the forty-hour workweek and child labor, along with the Social Security safety net, would finally be addressed…all maligned at the time as at best socialism, at worse communism, both a threat to American capitalism and the owners it made rich.

In 1929, company men labeled any check to unlimited capitalism as Marxist, socialist or communist, and yes there were more than a few of them around. Ella May’s National Textile Workers Union certainly had communist ties, not that Ella May and her fellow workers knew what a communist was.  She was simply seeking a better life for her children and herself.

I see the same labels raised when we debate increasing the minimum wage, health care, safety nets or educational opportunities.  Labeling has become quite acute with both our political parties battling to pass a coronavirus relief bill.

Union enrollment is on the decline while finger-pointing increases.  There is no middle ground.  Signs of the time…or as my Evangelical friends shout, “Signs of the Apocalypse.  The time is nigh.”

I wonder if we are nearing a tipping point when the national guard, new wave strikebreakers, and the police force will be employed to evict and expel people whose opinions simply differ.  Couldn’t happen, could it?  Yet in 1929 it did, and the violence would continue well into the Thirties.

Violence spurred by unchecked capitalism, fears of communism and being forced to work side by side with those of a different race.  All supported by a sympathetic conservative media, and government “for and by” the “Captains of Industries.”

On April 1, 1929, eighteen hundred workers walked off the job at Loray in Gastonia, mostly women, some marching with babes in arms.  Management evicted them from company housing, throwing their meager possessions into the street.  One striker was killed, many beaten.

The North Carolina National Guard was called out on the third of April, violence erupted sporadically over the next several months.  The police chief was killed, strikers and company men shot or beaten, and in September, a truck carrying twenty-two strikers was chased down and shot up.  The pregnant organizer and singer of ballads, Ella May Wiggins, was killed, shot through her chest.  Her children sent to an orphanage until their eighteenth birthdays.

Image result for ella may wiggins

A general wave of vigilantism washed across the countryside, company men arriving in the middle of the night, forcing strike participants out of the county in exile.  These were their neighbors, people they knew by name, people they might have worked with just a few weeks before.  People threatened with bodily harm if they returned.

The struggle continues today just not in US textiles.  Textiles left the South for climates more receptive to low pay and long hours.  There are a few specialty mills around but we simply can’t compete.   Our standard of living requires we have a higher level of poverty than places like China, India, and Pakistan.   Hopefully a higher level of empathy for our workers…but I am unsure.

***

I recommend The Last Ballad.  Again, I warn you, it is a painful history brought to life by Wiley Cash.  It is a history I was unfamiliar with even though I possess a history degree and lived within an hour of Gastonia and the Loray Mill site.  We Southerners have a tendency to overlook or twist some of our more unsavory histories.  This one seems to have been ignored.

The book may be purchased on Amazon or if you have a library card, downloaded to a Kindle or computer with a Kindle App for free.  Yes, I’m cheap.  https://www.amazon.com/Last-Ballad-Novel-Wiley-Cash/dp/0062313118

Image result for The Last Ballad

Don Miller is a retired educator and coach.  He writes on various topics and his author’s page may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Images

Featured Image:  A member of the NC National Guard forcing two female strikers back. https://wilsoncountylocalhistorylibrary.wordpress.com/tag/ella-may-wiggins/

The first image is of Ella May (spelled Mae on her grave marker) Wiggins just before her death, https://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article175129556.html

The second image is of a young girl tending spinning frames in the early 1900s  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/83457399315355531/

The third image is of Loray Mill strikers who walked out on April 1, 1929.

The fourth image is of the truck that carried Ella May Wiggins to her death.  https://www.shelbystar.com/news/20190405/1929-loray-mill-strike-gastonia-violence-makes-waves

 

To Block or Not to Block….

 

Alert:  This ain’t about football…

I unfriended and blocked a poster on my social media account.  I normally have a hard and fast rule, I don’t block people unless they become threatening.  Stupid and illogical are okay…well they aren’t okay, but I like knowing those who are stupid and illogical…but if you are threatening, WHAM!  YOU ARE SACKED LIKE Y. A. TITTLE!

I went against my rule yesterday simply because I became tired of the irritation.  The poster, a woman I may be related to due to the twisted branches of my family tree and by marriage, became an irritant. It should have been a minor annoyance, reminiscent of jock itch.   Seeking relief from the itch I blocked her going straight to Defcon One using a good dose of Atomic Balm.  I’m unhappy with my decision, blocking was not the soothing anodyne I expected.

Like-minded friends engaged in the unarmed combat of social media have asked me on more than one occasion, “Why do you put up with So and So?  You have more patience than I do.”  It is not about patience, I taught school for forty-one years and coached for forty-five.  My patience ran out a long time ago.

Until yesterday, I had an easy answer to my friends’ questions.  My act of blocking would be an admission that I gave the “block-ee” control over me.  I am logical, I can argue my point…except when I’m not…and can’t.  I believe blocking is an admission of their control over my thoughts and my inability to positively argue my position.

The comment I made to her post was about empathy for someone, a public figure, who “might” be suffering from a family member’s terrible illness.  Her original post discounted his pain and made it about politics.  I countered with logic, she tried to check me with conspiracy before browbeating me with, “Since you are such a liberal maybe you should block me and go back to watching CNN.”  That isn’t the exact quote but captures the flavor of her comment.  At least she didn’t use the descriptor snowflake.

Sure, I lean middle-left but I’m not a raging radical and haven’t watched CNN in forever plus a day.  She had triggered me and I dropped the hammer on her.  I answered her with, “Done but not because you are a conservative….”  I blocked her before I could add, “…but because you are not a nice person and have the sympathy of a gnat and the empathy of an amoeba.”  Sorry amoebas and gnats.  Did I drop the hammer on her…or on me?

I had blocked her simply to be rid of her.  My attempted expungement failed.  Her Ka lingers like the smell of fried fish or liver and onions from the previous day’s supper.

Another reason I don’t block people derives from a saying from Sun Tzu’s  The Art of War.  “Know your enemy” …except they’re really not my enemies.  It’s easy to think of them as enemy combatants but they are Americans who simply share a different point of view and how does one argue logically if you don’t know your countryman’s position?  She was simply another American with a different point of view…and a nasty personality.

Blocking people with different opinions leads to interacting only with people who share your own beliefs and opinions.  I would think this “vacuum” of only like opinions might help move us farther and farther apart from those who disagree with us.  It moves us farther and farther from discovering common ground.

Walt Kelly’s intellectual opossum Pogo comes to mind. “We have met the enemy and he is us” or in this case, me.

Image result for we have met the enemy and he is us

As soon as I touched “Enter” one of the voices in my head smirked and made itself known, “You just did exactly what she wanted.  She gets her jollies from being blocked.  She’s bragging right now about how she melted a liberal snowflake.”  

My real voice agreed, “Yep if you can’t take the heat stay out of the kitchen. ” Another head voice added, “and you just gave her control over YOU.  You let her bully you into blocking her.”  I’ve also allowed her to trouble my thoughts since.  I’m not sure how to counter my ruminations.  I’m certainly not going to send another friend request to her.

The one logical voice in my head tells me my triggering is the dislike for PC culture taken to a level of bullying.  Sometimes it is best not to say exactly what is on your mind if your intent is to win friends and influence enemies.

I’ve never believed the “words can never hurt you” rhyme.  I hope my own dislike for political correctness is tempered by my humanity, empathy, and the belief people should be treated with respect until all else fails.

I’m not sure I did that.  I’m not sure all else failed.  The same voice also points out, “She ain’t worth the effort to analyze.”  Maybe.  Maybe I’m trying to analyze me.

Many more of my illogical voices are yelling too but as is their nature, quite mindlessly.  All they do is confuse an already confused issue.   

Like two offensive linemen unsure who should block the three hundred pound gorilla in the gap across from them, both decide it is the other guy’s responsibility and the quarterback pays the price as the gorilla, untouched, smashes him into the turf.  I think our country is paying for our confusion…and for the lies told to us that we pass along without a fare the well of research.

Oh well, I’m not sure writing this has helped but the morning is breaking and there should be enough to do around the foothills of the Blue Ridge to take my mind off this subject.

As I wrote this, the sunrise through my French doors was a brilliant orange making the ridgeline look as if it was on fire.  When I went out to enjoy the first hit of my cigar, I found the temperatures quite nice for early-February.  Since then, the rain has put out the fire and the temperatures have receded to normal February levels.  After temperatures in the seventies, thunderstorms, and tornadoes…it snowed.  It appears Mother Nature is confused too.

Sunrise

An early morning jog to go with my walk might just the “soothing salve” I need.  The pain of running seems to displace all other pains and takes my mind away from everything but the pain of putting one foot in front of the other.  I guess it is just replacing one pain with a more acceptable one.

Good day to all.

***

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Images:  The featured image: The Wisconsin Badgers appear to have a body on everybody except the guy crashing from the backside.  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blocking_(American_football)

In this 1964 photo, New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Tittle kneels after being sacked by John Baker of the Pittsburgh Steelers.  “A dazed Tittle on his knees in the end zone, helmet off, blood trickling from his balding head.”  https://www.newsobserver.com/sports/nfl/article178031466.html

A colorized version of Walt Kelly’s cartoon strip, Pogo.   https://www.myjewishlearning.com/rabbis-without-borders/we-have-met-the-enemy/

Houston Texan’s QB, DeShaun Watson, pays the price for a missed block.  https://texanswire.usatoday.com/2018/12/21/texans-qb-sean-ryan-deshaun-watson-nfl-high-sack/

A view from the ridgeline above my house.

 

Hidden in the Shadows

I hadn’t entered a Roses…since…since…I worked in one during my college years.   I took a summer off from working textiles to take some summer school classes and needed a part-time job to keep my head above water.  I scored the position of stock room supervisor…a lofty title ruling over a staff of exactly one, me.

Today my wife had sent me to Roses on a quest, not for a holy grail but for a special type mop that Walmart didn’t seem to carry.  It became more than a quest.

The man called to me from the shadows created by the storefront at Roses.  I heard him but I couldn’t see him right off.  I could hear him but wasn’t close enough to understand him.  Cupping my ear with my hand I walked toward him.

He was an old man of color, skin a deep coffee with just a hint of cream.  He was clean-shaven, with skin smooth and clear.  His eyes were bright and twinkling although a bit sunken I thought.  He was dressed in old clothes consistent with an old man…something I might wear.  A faded army field coat over a blue and white plaid shirt worn over, threadbare, shiny khaki cords.  I saw slender ankles disappearing into scuffed but polished tie-up shoes.  The clothes were worn but clean.  The jacket and shirt swallowed him and later I noticed his belt caused his pants to bunch around his waist.  He held a cane across his lap.

His smile showed oversized false teeth, “Captain, can you spare some change?  I need a little food to keep the wolves away.”  His voice was deep and gravelly and somewhat melodic.

I am leery of panhandlers and have seen the video of one getting into her Mercedes after a long day of standing on the street.  As she placed her hand-lettered, cardboard sign in the trunk of her E class the interviewer asked a why question.  She ignored the microphone thrust into her face and roared off into the sunset without answering.

I looked at him with a sideways fisheye and reading my mind, he volunteered without me asking, “Naw sir, I ain’t drunk no al-ke-hall in over five years.  I’m just a little short between gubmint checks.  If you can’t hep me I understand.”

As I pulled out my wallet, I asked the old man, “If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?”

“I just turned sixty-nine last week.  I’s born November 13, 1950.”

I was stunned.  The old man was six months younger than me.  It was almost a kick to the danglies.

“I’m six months older than you.  April 9, 1950.”

He grinned, “Yeah?  Looks like I might have a bit mo mileage on my speedo.”  I nodded and thought, “I sure hope so.”

Looking in my wallet I found three twenties and two ones.  “Listen, I’ll be right back,” and went in to complete the search for my holy grail but failed to find it.  No mop with my wife’s specifications.  I called her admitting to my failure and explaining what I was about to do.

The old man was still there…funny how I thought of him as an old man still.  “Come on, let’s go across to Wendy’s and I’ll spring for a burger.  What do you say?”

He paused and pondered…finally, I tried to assure him, “Look, I’m harmless, come on.”

He stood and I slowly walked with him finally helping him into my old Ram 1500.

Once in the truck, he volunteered, “Ya know, I ain’t homeless.  I live over yonder in them gubmint houses.  I just come up short this month.”  He signed,  “Pay my bills or eat.  Tough choice sometimes.”

I glanced at him, “No need to explain.  I’ve had hard times too.”   Compared to him I knew I was lying.

“My name’s Don, incidentally.”

He extended his hand, gnarled and callused, “I’m Herbert…Herbert Perry.  Pleased to meet chu.”

Once inside he held back until I prodded, “Go on get what you want, Herbert.”

He stepped forward and in his gravelly voice slowly asked the woman behind the counter, “Kin I get me one of them double burgers with bacon?  How’s your coffee?  Fresh?”

I stepped forward and added, “Throw in an order of fries for him and a second double burger with bacon.  Also, large vanilla Frosty.”   One of the voices in my head laughed saying, “Eatin’ high on the hog ain’tcha?”

We sat in a corner, him eating his burger, me drinking my Frosty,

“My son comes by an looks in on me but he’s out of town.  He goes to where the work is with his company.  In Colorado now…been gone a month.  ‘Posed to be back this week.  He’ll slide me a bit of money until my check comes in.  Doctor’s bill cut into my social and the little bit of retirement money I get from Southern Weavin’.”

“What’s wrong if you don’t mind me asking.”

“I got the sugar and neuropathy.  Medicare don’t quite cover it.”

Food or medicine, what a choice.

“Did you grow up in Greenville?”

“Naw, down near Orangeburg…little place called St. Matthews.  My parents and grandparents were sharecroppers.  We moved to Greenville when the mills started hirin’ coloreds in the late Sixties.  I finished my senior year at Sterlin’ High.  You know of it?”

“Yeah, I drove a bus during summers takin’ kids to the pool at the old Sterlin’ gym.”

He laughed…”I reckon you looked like a pimple on a black face didn’t you?”

I laughed, “Yeah, I did.  But the people were nice and the kids…they were kids.”  I went on to explain my choice of vocations, a teacher and a coach for forty-five years.  I began teaching just after schools were totally desegregated.

“I worked at Southern Weavin’ until the jobs went south.  Nearly thirty years.  I did odd jobs after that.  I’ve always been good with my hands.  Dorothy, my wife, was a nurse until the cancer got her.  I kind of fell into a bottle for a while.  I crawled out about five years ago.”

“It happens.  You say you got a son, any others?”

The conversation shifted to families, children, and grandchildren.  I was happy an old black man and an old white man had so much in common.

“Captain, you not going to eat that burger?”

“No, that Frosty filled me up…I thought I’d let you take it home for supper.”  I didn’t fool him at all but we both ignored the lie.

“Why you doin’ this?”

I shook my head, “I don’t know.  Someone in my head told me it was the right thing to do and I hope I’ve made a friend.”

He nodded, “Could be.”

“Why don’t you let me take you home.  That way I’ll know where my new friend lives.”

I again watched his slow trek to the truck and offered him a hand.  He was quiet for the short trip to his home…a government-supported group of duplexes.  It was well maintained but had a gridded and boring sameness.

Kids, home from school, played along the streets.  Chasing each other, along with Frisbees and colorful balls.  Carefully I wove through them and at his direction pulled up to a corner unit and got out to help him down.  A little girl of my granddaughter’s age ran up to him.  Wearing a pink Minnie Mouse tee-shirt, she hugged him around his knees.

“Where you been Mr. Herb?”

“My friend and I just went for lunch Lizzie.  You go on and play now I’ll be out in a bit to watch chu.”

To me, he added, “Somethin’ about the noise kids create makes you forget your troubles.  I likes to sit out and watch ‘em.”

Leaning on his cane, “I ‘preciate the meal.  Maybe you come by sometimes and I’ll stand you one.”

I nodded and smiled, shook his hand and walked back to the truck.  I watched him slowly hobble to his door.  Turning, he waved as I cranked my old truck before disappearing into his home.

As I drove home, I had time to think.  I was reminded of an old phrase from some educational advertisement and adjusted it to “A mind is a terrible thing….”

I wondered how many people were having to make decisions on whether to eat or pay for a prescription.  How many people became homeless.  Bankrupt because they got sick.  I also gave a silent thanks for more blessings than I deserve.

In this country we continue to tout ourselves as the greatest in the world, we have people dying because they can’t afford health care…people who don’t have to die.  People who are dying because of corporate greed.  Being told to “pull themselves up by the bootstraps…or get another job.” How many are hiding in the shadows?

We have a family member who has “the sugar” and neuropathy.  He also lives in government-subsidized housing and his “social” doesn’t quite cover some months.  He is not an alky or drug addict.  He made some bad business choices and picked the month’s just before the Great Recession to try and start a company, sinking all of his resources into it.

The company went under and everything went with it.  His home, his car, his equipment, his country club membership, his life.  He went to work cleaning offices or selling everything from shoes to his soul, his wages garnished to pay off the loans made in good faith that had been sunk into a business that sank like a stone because of greedy mortgage lenders and Wall Street tycoons.

He has survived but could just as easily been hidden in the shadows.  Survived because of the family…but what of those who have none.  One “social” check short of the street.   Eat or buy meds, buy meds or pay the rent.

I tire of pontificators spreading the lies of the “welfare queens” living on the taxpayer’s teat.  Are there abuses, of course.  There are always people who play the system…some might say that billion-dollar corporations paying no taxes might be playing the system.  An excessive number of “welfare queens” are retired or disabled folk.  In many cases, they are people working multiple jobs to keep the wolves away.

Enough of the rant…  I hope I’ll follow through with my thoughts…Herb is a bit old to be adopted but maybe I can shine a bit of light into his shadows.

Don Miller writes on various subjects, some that bother him so.  His author’s page can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Tin Soldier

The grilled chicken thighs and fingerling potato salad are just memories now…even the leftovers.  Later in the day ribs and chicken wings were served at the Bennett Fourth of July fest along with Carol Ann’s killer potato salad.  I’m sure there will be lingering side effects to an evening of eating and drinking what I normally don’t eat or drink.  Still, I almost feel sacrilegious not having pulled pork as a side with the ribs.  Anti-American?  No, just trying to cheat the Grim Reaper a few seconds longer.

Despite the enjoyment of seeing friends, some for the first time since the last Fourth, I would prefer a small gathering with my bride and two blind puppy dogs to be my only concession to the celebration of the Fourth of July.  Very sedate until the crazies above us begin to set off M-80s and Cherry Bombs.  Not very patriotic by some people’s standards.  Typical…or rather than typical, maybe it is simply the new normal for me.  I celebrated my own birthday in the same way.

I’m truly not feeling it.  Not feeling it but certainly thinking about it…it being my patriotism.

I am patriotic and wish my country a happy birthday.  I simply don’t believe everything wrapped in a red, white and blue flag is patriotism.  I’m not blindly patriotic…odd perspective for a guy who grew up during the period of “American Exceptionalism” and the indoctrination I now associate with the Cold War Sixties.  “My Country Right or Wrong”, “The only good Commie is a dead Commie”,  “I’d rather be dead than Red.”  I remember my eighth-grade civics class being equal parts academic and propagandistic …maybe more propaganda than substance as I sit pondering.

I watched a recent news program, not fake news if we can still believe the black and white photographs the program featured.  I had certainly seen them before.  Black and white photographs high lighting certain moments in time…in history…my history.  Some were colorized photos but there was something stark and depressing about the ones in black and white.  The photos triggered memories of the old black and white film clips I saw featured during the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  “And that’s the way it is…” or was.

John Kennedy standing in front of a map trying to explain where Vietnam was, later his son saluting as his father’s body rolled past.  LBJ looking haggard stating he would not run again.  A photograph of a naked Vietnamese child, Phan Thi Kim Phuc, running from a napalm attack.  Major General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner after Tet, bodies laying a ditch outside Mai Lai.  Much different photographs from the ones I saw from World War Two.  Different and as I look back, projecting the loss of a certain innocence I wish I could find again.

Growing up I always believed we were the stalwart protectors of what was right and just.  A courageous country wearing white hats or knights in shiny armor.  We were the virtuous and righteous battling the minions of the devil.  Shining a light on the cockroaches of evil and sending them scurrying from sight. Vietnam and Watergate took my innocence and not in a good way.  Bobbi Jo Bedell did that but I doubt either innocence will be returned to me.

Black and white pictures of Richard Nixon, arms raised with fingers veed in victory…later a finger pointed at the camera, “I am not a crook.”  A color shot in front of Marine One, Nixon’s arms raised with fingers veed despite his disgrace.  Like an alcoholic wanting to recover, I hoped we had reached rock bottom.

I feel I’ve witnessed our decline firsthand.  Like my vision, it has taken place in small increments.  My failing eyesight was gradual until sharp lines became fuzzy and my arms became too short to bring the written word in to focus.  I’m not sure if we can make lenses strong enough to correct the vision of our nation.

Declines of civilizations are usually slow and all civilizations decline.  It is inevitable. Some disappear totally. Most don’t disappear due to a cataclysmic event, but rather, they die rotting from the inside.

A rotting social, economic, political system mated with an ineffective and excessive military brought the Roman and French Empires to an end.  It was gradually at first before running downhill like a runaway freight.  They collapsed under their own excesses and attempting to maintain the status quo.

I’ve been witnessed our rot for fifty years and I wonder if we have reached the point of no return.  I certainly believe our white hats are stained and our armor dented and rusty.  We are more concerned about filling our pockets than being the “shining light upon the hill.”

Some reading this will say “We’re still the best country in the world.”  Maybe, but what are we doing to keep ourselves on our lofty pedestal?  Is it a pedestal that exists only in our minds?

We deny science and accept myth.  We politicize religion and use it as a weapon against our fellow man.  We choose partisan politics over the good of the many and create a bogey man and call it socialism.  We create social outcasts with our hatred and more and more enemies with our bombs.  Our greed is more important than the planet we live on.  As a country, we are living on other people’s money and giving it to people who don’t need it…or deserve it.

My biggest worry is our hatred and greed which seems to drive everything else.  I’m reminded of the old Billy Jack movie from the early Sixties.  Not the movie exactly, the theme, “One Tin Soldier Rides Away” by Caste.

As a battle rages over a perceived treasure, the valley people kill the mountain people, who would have given them their treasure had they just asked.

“Now they stood before the treasure

On the mountain dark and red

Turned the stone and looked beneath it

Peace on earth was all it said.”

 

Others will read this and suggest that maybe I should relocate to another country since I hate America so much.  I don’t hate America, I hate what America has become…if it was ever anything else.  To quote James Baldwin,

“I love America more than any other country in this world,

and, exactly for this reason,

I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

Usually, essays have a closing statement which draws everything together and ties a bright red bow around it.  I can’t do that because the story is still being written and the end hasn’t been reached.  What that ending is, is up to us.  We must find common ground or “There won’t be any trumpets blowing Come the judgment day.”

 

Featured Image:  By The Late Mitchell Warren (Author of “The End of the Magical Kingdom” series) http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

Video:

Don Miller’s author’s page can be found at http://subversify.com/2010/10/15/who-is-the-one-tin-soldier/

 

Embracing the Fringe

“Americans are being held hostage and terrorized by the fringes. That’s what’s going on here. It’s not like fifty percent of Americans thinks one thing and fifty percent thinks another thing. No, fifteen percent on each side are effectively controlling the conversation and seventy percent of us don’t hate each other.” -Arthur Brooks, president of the “center-right” American Enterprise Institute

I don’t know where Mr. Brooks got his numbers, or whether the number is dead on seventy, but I agree with the assessment.  There is a very vocal and active group on both sides of the political spectrum, far removed from the center, sowing seeds of division and we are allowing it.  We are embracing the fringe not realizing, it is the fringe…it is not the mainstream, but I fear the mainstream is shrinking because of it.

Any anarchist, white-supremacist, radical, reactionary, religious nut, atheist nut or Russian troll, can sit behind a computer, pound out a meme reflecting the worst-case scenario or out and out lie, and we just pass it along, accepting it is fact.  Any talk show or talk show host can scream at the top of their lungs and do the same.  Why?

One, we are lazy, and I’ve been guilty of assuming the source is on the side of the “angels” instead of assuming they are playing the angles.  After all, it must be correct, it’s on the internet.  It must be true, so and so has a radio program and he/she said it was true.  We are too lazy, or busy, to actually take the time to do research.  I suggest if you are too busy to research you might be spending too much time on social media.

We seem to be into worst case scenarios and conspiracy.  A recently proposed abortion law in Virginia brought out howls and vivid “pictures” of babies being ripped from their mother’s wombs and murdered.  The intent of the proposal was not to give women the last minute, “free out” to motherhood but to give them a choice if their life was endangered or if the baby could not survive.  The proposal has been put down, it is not law, but women in Virginia will not have the choice of saving themselves or saving their child.  A terrible choice at best, but one that has been taken out of the hands of the people who should be making the choice.

We broad stroke everything.  “All Republicans are racist or Nazis.” “All liberals want open borders and abortion on demand.”  “All Christians want to turn the US into a theocracy.”  “Muslims are taking over our country and want to institute Sharia Law.”  “The Trump administration is full of Nazis and everything is ‘fake news’.”  “This radical Representative wants to turn us into a Communist nation.” “The wall, the wall, ad nauseum.”

While there may be kernels of truth espoused by the fringe, it’s not THE truth for most of us in the middle are believing, those on either side of the political center, even most of our elected officials…but I fear the middle is shrinking…fearing the fear.

The hardest untruths to overcome are our own biases.  The extreme fringe plays on our biases.  Propaganda is not new, and it was never our friend.  We live in an age where propaganda assaults us in ways even Hitler and Goebbels couldn’t envision.  Whether it is a liberal or conservative bias in a news source, an active Russian agent, or little Johnny sitting in his momma’s basement trying to be cute, we must learn to recognize when a used car salesman or talk show host is puffing.  We must realize EVERYTHING IS NOT A CONSPIRACY, and every point has two sides and both sides may have valid beliefs.

What I’ve noticed?  Some of the worst offenders are “seasoned” folk like me.  We seem to want to hold on to what is more comfortable…what we are familiar with…even it is wrong.  We are uncomfortable with change or with different.  I understand why I really do.  The problem? The world is changing faster than we can accept and we don’t recognize it anymore.  The world we live in vastly different than the world we grew up in…and it is not going to change back no matter how much we kick, scream and drag our feet.  That doesn’t stop us from “wanting”.  We latch on to rabid headlines or graphic talking points supporting “the way it used to be” or the “way we think it should be.”

Despite a changing world, we don’t have to change our core values, but we must become aware that there are people living in our world trying to destroy us, internally and externally, using our core values against us.  We can also hold on to our core values without assuming everyone who does not share them are “out to get us and need to leave the country.”  They have core values too that may not too different from our own…if we get to know them.  We need to research over a broad plane instead of looking through the wrong end of a telescope.

I am much more assured we will withstand the external assault than I am the internal division.  I am saddened over our apparent hatred.  As we call each other inflammatory names, my heart breaks a little bit every day.  I am not a libtard and you are not deplorable but we can be hateful to each other.  We don’t have to be.  We can find common ground.

Words do carry weight.  Before you throw a verbal stone, at least check your sources.  Do we need to help Boris and Natashia catch “moose and squirrel?”  Do we need to help ourselves destroy each other?  Do we really need another civil war?

Postscript: This post was written prior to the State of the Union Address and will be posted the morning after.  I won’t watch the President’s speech and the Democrat’s response…or Bernie on YouTube. It is easier for me to read the transcript without hearing the emotion.  I fear both sides will be heavy on puffing and light on substance anyway.  I read that the President will call for unity and nonpartisanship. I hope he will follow through and that both sides listen.  I’m sure the fringes will explain everything you and I need to know in the days to come.

The initial quote came from an interview by Politico.  The entire article, ‘Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes’, An exit interview with the American Enterprise Institute’s Arthur Brooks may be accessed at https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/05/13/arthur-brooks-american-enterprise-institute-interview-218364

If you are unfamiliar with the term, “puffing” refers to “extravagant claims made by sellers in order to attract buyers.” It is the exaggeration of the good points of a product, a business, real property, and the prospects for a future rise in value, profits, and growth.  https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/puffing/

Please take an opportunity to peruse Don Miller’s author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM