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/

 

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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

True Believers?

 

True Believer?

true believer. noun. One who is deeply, sometimes fanatically devoted to a cause, organization, or person

  1. (ecclesiastical) A strict follower of a religious doctrine.
  2. (idiomatic) One who sticks to one’s dogma or beliefs irrespective of the facts

 

I wish I was a “true believer,” all smug and sure of my beliefs on politics and religion.  I’m not.  As I interact with those who are, I find myself questioning my own beliefs and other people’s motives.  They say I only need to read the Bible to find the answers.  According to Biblegateway.com, there are over two hundred different translations of the Christian Bible in over sixty languages…”Which translation is the true word?”

There has been a positive outcome to my self-imposed abasement, my metaphorical self-flagellation.  I’ve found I am continually trying to answer the question, “What do I really believe” and continue to question my God as I make my quest.  I also wonder if “questing” is a sin.  According to some of these same “true believers”…maybe.

I grew up in the Methodist Church.  A very structured, high liturgical Methodist Church in a then-rural area with very “give me that old time religion” religious values.  In a previous writing, I might have referred to the church of my youth as a very “tight-assed” church.  “Tight-assed” as in very conventional, very orthodox…just like me at the time.

I have become less so as I have grown older but still consider myself a ‘way too’ conventional person who’s a want-to-be flower child.  Know any flower children hiding in an inhibited and repressed body?  I just can’t seem to dance like no one is watching. No matter how much I wish to be the aging 60’s hippy, I’m still…just…too…tight-assed.  Maybe if they legalize that there “marijahoochie….”  My Mother is rolling in her grave.

I left my tight-assed little rural church in 1968 and went on to attend a tight-assed Lutheran school of higher learning and received a liberal arts degree in history and education.  Again, a very conventional ‘I went to Vespers and Chapel kind of education’, and even considered becoming a man of the cloth until Greek and Latin got in the way.

For some reason, some “true believers” have been deemed my education “totally useless” even a “waste of time”.  With my recently vilified “Liberal Arts” diploma, my equally liberal advanced degrees in secondary education, I taught and coached for forty-five years, warping the minds of our youth.

I taught in schools that are being denigrated by some of my political and Christian right (far right?) friends as “hotbeds” of liberalism.  According to them, instead of teaching the three R’s we quote Marx and Lenin, create project-based lesson plans on the ‘Joys of Communism’ and begin every school day with a silent prayer to the Vodun Goddess Mahu.

I might have exaggerated a bit, but one exfriend deemed I had no worthwhile, “real” life experiences and did not understand “day to day” struggles of “real” men.  “As weak as preacher’s piss,” he said.  I’m guessing his educational experiences weren’t very positive.  Another brought by vocabulary in to question, “Simply showing off” because I used the term cognitive dissonance.   Well, bless your heart.

Reality is: teachers do none of the above, they do have the day to day struggles and I’ve known few weak ones.  Teachers are forced to teach to a test they’ve never seen or been allowed to ask questions about and administered at the end of the year.  They have little time to devote to politics or religion, liberal or conservative.  Also, I talk like I talk.

Teachers do pray, silently just after cursing under their breath, every time there is a full moon, the day very being. Teachers pray to Jehovah, Yahweh, “Sweet Baby Jesus wrapped in fleece” or the patron saint of educators, Saint John-Baptiste de la Salle.  They pray to anyone listening for survival and until “true believers” walk in their shoes, they should be quiet and sit down.  Too strong?  Sorry…now be quiet and sit down.

I don’t like combining politics and religion…or teaching for that matter.  Tying “a” religion to politics is destructive to both…and is against the Constitution, something “true believers” seem to forget unless it is the Second Amendment.  The recent political battle between Progressives and Populists has pulled the middle toward opposite poles and taken religion with it…or maybe religion began the tug of war.  It bears pointing out, neither side is being productive doing it.

Despite my heresy…or blasphemy, I talk to God daily, multiple times.  As I ponder what I am typing now, I continue to ask to be “refreshed” and shown the true light.  I get no answer and take his or her silence to mean, “You’re on the right track, Bubba.”

Most of my conversations with Him revolve around my beliefs.  I continue to search for the path and question why so many “true believers” seem to express so much hatred toward their fellow humans.  Their expressions seem to be so contrary to the Good News I’ve read in the Gospels of Jesus Christ.

Let’s be clear.  I’m not speaking of all “true believers”.  Just those who believe theirs is the only way, those who are so sure of themselves religiously or politically, those who believe there is only black and white.  Those whose beliefs are hurtful to those who have no sin other than to be different.  Those who cross the boundary between deeply believing to extreme fanaticism.

My problem, if it truly is a problem, is that I view life in shades of gray.  There is no black or white…and no one hundred percent certainty.  There is no ‘ALL’ or ‘EVERY’.  There is only uncertainty.

An Indian philosopher, Bara Dada, in a quote restructured and attributed falsely to Gandhi, said, “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians, you are not like him.”  I don’t believe this is true of all, but I believe the number of “not like Christ” Christians are growing to the point that I self-identify as a “Christ Follower” and not with a specific religion…I know, I still attend a Baptist Church.

Please don’t take my rant as being “holier than thou.”  I’m not.  Refer to the paragraph beginning “My problem….”  I just don’t understand why we are arguing our beliefs as if they were playing a rival football game…or a war.  “My god is better than yours?”  I should also point out, I have atheist friends and friends who practice non-Christian beliefs.  They seem to be more “Christ-like” and embracing than me.

I have just now realized my concerns are not about beliefs…it is about actions.  Your actions tell me all I need to know.  I believe words carry the same weight as actions.  My actions and words have weight.

It doesn’t matter what you call your God or god.  Be it Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh or Joe, do you rationalize your hate with your religion?  How do you rationalize it?  Maybe I’m not the one who needs to self-evaluate…but I will continue to do so.

For more gentle rantings https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image is the Church of Uncertain sign near Uncertain, Texas 

 

 

Wake up?  I am Awake What About You?

I was told to wake up by a former student.  I hold no ill will toward him and am happy he gave me a topic and a reason to vent.

I realize I don’t know everything, but I am awake.  Sometimes I wish wasn’t, just caught in a bad nightmare or watching bad horror movies.

I was young, but I wasn’t asleep during the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, used to stoke up war fever against Vietnam and communism.  I watched Cronkite describe the Tet Offensive and the destruction of any belief in victory. I cringed at the Mai Lai Massacre and its attempted cover-up.  I read the Pentagon Papers which uncovered the secrets of our clandestine involvement in Vietnam and its neighbors from Truman to Nixon.

I watched hollow-eyed veterans come home to a disrespect they didn’t deserve.  I saw the aftermath of the student massacres at Kent State and Orangeburg…something we the people didn’t deserve.  I viewed the Vietnam protests on my black and white TV.

The evening news showed protesters threatened with thirty caliber machine guns in Chicago and journalist Mike Wallace thrown to the floor for asking a question before being escorted out of the Democratic Convention.  Carnage raged outside the convention center as Daily’s minions used batons and tear gas to disperse protestors.

I experienced the Civil Rights era with government attempts to discredit Black leaders and the Black Panthers…something we still attempt to do today unless we need a good quote to make a point or someone to focus hatred upon.  1968 WAS a time when we really shouldn’t have believed our FBI.  No J. Edger Hoover probably wasn’t a crossdresser, but he was a paranoid racist at his best.

In real time, I watched people of color marginalized, beaten, bombed, and their buses set on fire.  Their votes suppressed by men who looked like me flying a flag from old time’s there not forgotten.  With reports from several states, how has that changed?

I lived through the assassinations of two Kennedys, a King and attempted assassinations on two Presidents.  I don’t believe Oswald or Jones did their evil alone but have no definitive proof, so I don’t spout off about it or embrace conspiracy theories.  I don’t believe in conspiracy theories about bombs being sent through the mail.

I witnessed, in black and white, the murder of a sovereign Asian countries’ president and a military coup but didn’t know we were complicit until well after the fact.  Complicit in attempted assassinations on Castro and the Bay of Pigs?  Yeah, those two and others.  Still, until the Seventies, I believed we wore the white hat in our gunfights at high noon and were better than assassinations, coups, and invasions.

Watergate and Contragate?  I witnessed the hearings that followed, a President riding off into the sunset and a Marine Colonel falling on his own sword so another President didn’t have to ride off to California.

Wake up?  Bullshit!

Gerald Ford told the nation their great nightmare was over.  Bill Clinton comforted the people of Oklahoma City and the nation after a mad bomber killed over a hundred and sixty.  George W. Bush left an elementary school reading to reassure a nation when planes crashed into skyscrapers, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.  Yes, as we continue to point out, they were imperfect men, but they knew how to act in times of national distress.  They knew how to calm and unify.

Why do I need to wake up?  There is plenty of evil to go around, and I’ve lived through much of it, much of it created and covered up by our own government.  I don’t need to embrace loudmouths who make a living spouting conspiracy and pointing fingers at the other side.  Maybe we should wake up and realize they are nothing more than small-minded hatemongers attempting to make a buck.

When you share their hatred and conspiracies, you become a part of the problem.  Maybe you should wake up and realize when you share hate you become the problem that is undermining the nation and your friends and neighbors.  We need compromise, not a conspiracy.

More rants and musings at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The image was liberated fromhttps://www.lifehack.org/648887/how-to-detect-a-wolf-in-sheeps-clothing