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10 Easy Habits to Separate Yourself From the Pack

26 May

10 Easy Habits to Separate Yourself From the Pack

By L. Stewart Marsden

Below are 10 suggestions to form as habits that should glean unexpected positive results wherever you are. While not talents, I would classify them as definite skills you can nurture. It’s surprising how doing things as simple as listed below will separate you markedly from the crowd. Assuming you want to be noticed that way, of course.

  1. Address anyone older or in a position of authority as Sir or Ma’am. You don’t have to be Southern to say Ma’am. Observe anyone who has served in the military and most of the time you will hear “yes Sir” or “yes Ma’am.” That goes for your own home as well.
  2. Remember to say “Thank, you” when someone does anything for you, whether holding a door or serving as a host. A generous tip at a restaurant is a way of thanking your wait person, regardless of their level of service. Everyone has a bad day, and a well-placed and well-timed “thank-you” may make their day. You like it when people thank you, right?
  3. Practice good table manners.
  4. Use the word “please” often.
  5. When writing, know the differences between they’re, their, and there; also to, too, and two. Especially on Facebook!
  6. Offer to help.
  7. Clear your own plate.
  8. Avoid profanity.
  9. Offer guests drinks or food first.
  10. Listen more than you talk.

You don’t have to be a goody-goody to adopt these habits, and many of us struggle to overcome other habits that don’t present us well to others. And you may have heard it takes 21 days to form a habit. According to the Foundation for Economic Education (, depends what kind of habit you want to form:

Indeed, overall, the researchers were surprised by how slowly habits seemed to form. Although the study only covered 84 days, by extrapolating the curves, it turned out that some of the habits could have taken around 254 days to form — the better part of a year! What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.”

Regardless the length of time it takes to form the 10 habits above, I believe you will find the efforts will pay off in the long run.

Disconnect – the first stage of Entropy

20 Feb


Disconnect – the first stage of Entropy

L. Stewart Marsden

Imagine a huge wagon wheel suspended from the ceiling, though not from a single supporting line, but from several lines, evenly spaced around its circumference. The lines are fastened to a single hub at ceiling level. Everything about the construct is symmetrical.

Imagine one by one the support lines begin to haphazardly disconnect over long periods of time. Weakened, the lines slowly unravel. Initially, the suspended wheel shakes slightly at the disconnection with the first line, but maintains its rotation, though a bit more wobbly. As more of the lines disconnect, the wheel becomes unwieldy, and its crash to the floor imminent.

That’s what I imagine is happening to our country and government. The supporting hub represents the ideal. The Constitution. The Declaration of Independence. The moral high road. Integrity. The pursuit of justice for all. Care and concern for the weak and downtrodden. The anti-bully. The believer of lost causes. The fan of the underdog. The optimist.

Every line of support to the wheel is tied to something to be reached for; such things as equality, non discrimination, freedom of religion, a government that serves its people at the local, state and federal levels, equal opportunity, freedom of expression, laws designed to protect and more. The lines have been more or less sturdy over the country’s nearly 250 years of existence. Some have grown stronger, some have been added, some are threadbare. Some are snapping and disconnecting.

Examples of disconnects that are disconcerting to me:

The Republican on the Democrat:
Democrats are out to destroy this nation and bring an end to God as the center of our democracy. They are out to spend this country into oblivion, and want to give away our great heritage to the lazy and the undeserving.

The Democrat on The Republican:
Republicans are only concerned about maintaining the status quos of money, power, and influence. Largely white, they are racists, and far-right judgmental Bible thumpers. They want more and more guns, and want to legislate women’s reproductive rights. They hate anyone who does not think, believe, or look like them.

The NRA is Satan personified, and interested only in promulgating an agenda of more and more guns and less and less gun control, which has resulted in schoolyards becoming the killing fields of America. Pro NRAers are largely Republican. They really don’t care about the blood spilt already due to the ease of buying a gun, or buying a semi-automatic weapon. Who needs a semi-automatic to kill a deer?

The NRA provides services that include safety instruction and education, the purchase and protection of wetlands, among others. Anyone who doesn’t like the NRA is an idiot, and doesn’t understand the whys and whats of the organization. Anti-NRAers want to take our guns away and destroy the 2nd Amendment rights we currently enjoy and revere. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before freedom of speech and freedom of religion are gone.

I could go on. These are, of course, extreme views represented. But when there is a disconnect and that line of support no longer exists, the extremists do seem to have the loudest voices and carry the most weight.

Largely, the disconnects I see (on social media, on news broadcasts, on talk shows, from DC and elsewhere) occur because “we” are no longer able to disagree, debate, compromise, and show unity despite our differences. It isn’t Russia’s fault the divides exist. We are dismantling ourselves, disconnected line by line. We want the fixes to occur in our state capitals, or in Washington. We are willing to abdicate our individual response abilities (not a typo) to people who largely seem to be interested only in self-preservation in office. And when you consider how well they fare in terms of their personal wealth, can you blame them?

Entropy is a physics’ law that, simply put, states things tend towards disorder. In terms of history and the rise and fall of nations and empires, it seems to be true. What goes up, must come down. Greece, Rome, the Ottoman Empire, Germany …

George Santayana (and a host of others as well) warned, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Are we in jeopardy of repeating the failures and falls of others? Have we already begun the descent? Is there anything you or I can do to repair the lines of disconnect, and right our wobbling nation?

I have my opinions. Part of those opinions is that we are all blameworthy and culpable for our current status. No one is innocent –– at least, no adult. As part of the problem, I have to look within myself and judge what I can/should do. Pointing a finger elsewhere only exacerbates the situation. How have I contributed to the mess? How can I stop doing that? What are the reasonable and logical alternatives at hand?

What do you think?





New Intruments, Part I

10 May

New Instruments – Part One

Anticipation. Disappointment. Delight. Devastation.

In my early teenhood, a fad swept our little southern town: the baritone ukulele. The baritone is a size larger than the small Hawaiian instrument known then for playing those island tunes, and little else.

Kids around the town were popping up as groups — some rather large — to play the popular songs of the day, which happened to be folk tunes. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; New Christy Minstrels. Songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Black, Black, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Green, Green,” and so forth and so on.

I wanted a baritone ukulele. Badly. It’s the one on the far right of the picture showing ukulele sizes.

So, Christmas Day found me — like Ralphie — shoving my younger brother aside under the tree among stacks of painfully-wrapped presents for that instrument.

It was not to be. Oh, there was an instrument, alright. A ukulele. A little small Hawaiian piece made from blondish woods with four plastic strings. The one on the far left of the picture showing ukulele sizes. Little more in my estimation than those plastic guitar-shaped toys with the crank jutting out of the end of the sound box.

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe my reaction. Mom and Dad couldn’t imagine why I was not overjoyed.

After the holidays, my dad righted the error and took me with him to the music shop, where I picked out a real baritone.

If you are a golfer, you know the sign of someone who is more than a duffer is when you shake hands, and you feel the rough callouses gloving their hand. They are players!

So it is with anyone that plays a stringed instrument and has to practice and practice and practice. The tips of their fingers blister to the point of agony if they are as avid as I was. From the time I got home from school to deep into the night I was strumming and fingering cords and learning songs. My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent mine, would pound on the wall and tell me, “SHUT UP!!!” repeatedly to no avail. My finger tips were toughening.

I took my baritone everywhere. I even made a protective case for it using thick mil plastic and sheets I cut up, which I sewed together. Strap, too.

Every song I heard was a project to master. Over time, my ear for chords and progressions developed, and I could hear a song and KNOW what the chords were. It really didn’t matter that most popular songs were little more than three standard chords. All rock and roll songs basically use the same chords.

After a while, I grew weary of the baritone with its tinny sound, and began to eye the next step up: a full guitar.

This time Dad knew well enough to take me with him when he shopped for the instrument.

It was a beauty! A Terraga classical guitar! Six strings a bit more difficult than the four-stringed baritone, but, once again, I was determined. Nearly all of the popular songs on the radio were folkish in nature, AND, they had song books with the chords and everything!

I went away to school in the tenth grade. My guitar was my solace for what I thought was punishment for some of my, shall we say, less-than-perfect behavior. Only knew one guy at the school who was also from my small southern town. Walter. Glasses. Skinny. Yep, I was one of those who shunned the early nerds before they became kings of the hill.

I and my guitar gently wept that first semester of school. I was homesick and hated being at the school. The seniors on my dorm were Dylan fanatics, and played their albums non-stop. I began to hate Dylan with his nasal talk-singing style. Never mind he was the guy who wrote nearly all the songs I loved that were recorded by other artists who could sing and play their instruments correctly. Who would have thought Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Not me.

It happened just before Christmas holidays. A guy who lived down the hall came running into my room laughing and giggling about something. Time slowed to a frame-by-frame recording. John Rust (not his fake name) was a portly lad with curly blonde hair and was always red-faced. Anyway, he ran into my room with a bound, and leapt onto my bed. On the bed was my Terraga classical guitar. As his arch peaked, I could see his expression of hilarity turn into horror. His landing was pin-point.

The destruction of the Tarrega classical guitar was complete.

“Oops!” said John’s body language.

He managed to get out of my room before I killed him.




Part II: All is not lost and it is well with my soul

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

10 Feb

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More


Losing Touch With What It Means to Be a Kid

by L. Stewart Marsden

This piece was written a few years back, but in my opinion, is still relevant and will remain so until we come to grips with the issues that prevent our children from being able to range and roam safely. And until we adults put away our techno-toys and get outside ourselves.

At dinner recently I had to demand that my youngest children and grandchildren hand over their electronic gadgets from iPhones to iPads to Kindles and Nooks — innocuous-sounding replacements for true outdoor exercise. As well as table talk.

Am I not right?

Outdoor exercise. Hmmm. Today that’s the process of going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned school — and repeat the return trip, which is often spiced up with an air-conditioned mall or air-conditioned movie theater.

Sure, we’re the generation who brought you MacDonald’s and drive-throughs and empty calorie-laden drinks like Coke and Pepsi — TV dinners and more. But few of us were pudgy, ’cause we walked and biked miles every day through our towns and neighborhoods.

Kids today don’t know what outdoor play means. They don’t know what it means to survive and thrive for a full 12 to 14 hours in the neighborhood — wading down creeks to catch crayfish, or stealing those smudge pots street workers put out and lit to warn motorists of roadwork.

Or climbing trees to build really great tree houses 50 feet in the air.

Or blowing up coke bottles with M80’s and cherry bombs.

Or swiping playing cards and clothespins from your house and fastening them to the spokes of your bicycle. Two or three bikes equipped like that sounds like a Hell’s Angels gang! And who doesn’t like or wanna be a Hell’s Angel?

THAT was being a kid!

Nobody had allergies. Nobody cried or whimpered at the sight of blood. Or mud.

We didn’t have Wii controllers, we had Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, and plastic machine guns with full military combat regalia.

We hurled Dixie cups filled with flour to mimic grenades.

We played all over the neighborhood until the sun had set for an hour and our moms had to come out looking for us.

We were easily entertained by a box of stick matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Okay, that might have been extreme.

Comedian Bill Cosby (he whose name can never be mentioned again) said in a comedy bit he knew adults were out to kill the kids. His proof? Whirligigs, jungle gyms, and see-saws.

He left one out: the Flexi Flier. Not the sled, but the steel-wheeled running board vehicle, shaped like a bullet and designed for death-defying fun!

This crazy craft was great for areas like a flat, concrete paved parking area where there were no cars. Problem was, there were no flat, concrete paved parking areas with no cars in my neighborhood.

In my neighborhood, the street was paved, but with that rocky pebbly stuff — not asphalt. You know the kind: if you skated on it with your key skates (if you don’t know what these are, you will not understand anything else in this blog), and you tried to sing the word “buh” it would come out bubbabubbabubbabubbabubba.

Sidewalks — a concept that escapes current city planners — ran parallel to either side of the street. Sidewalks were constructed in squares of roughly three to four feet. Trees planted next to these sidewalks grew their roots under these squares and pushed the units out of kilter. This is an important thing to note and remember if you were a Flexi Flier rider.

The Flexi Flier design:


It looked like a sled. Not those molded thingies that are devastating our forests of plastic trees, but a thing of beauty! Made of real wood, and real steal. Painted with an American Eagle on top in multi-colors, and lacquered to a sheen. The metal steering and “bumpers,” painted bright red. It WAS a sled, but with four steel disc wheels rimmed with a half-inch of hard black rubber. Two wheels in the front, that could turn if you had muscles like Charles Atlas; and two at the rear.

Yes, a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Kind of like a BB gun was.

The Three Ways to Ride a Flexi Flier:

One knee position
You positioned one knee on the bed of the flier, and bent over forward to grab the imagesteering handles with each hand. This position was ideal on those nonexistent flat, carless parking lots. You would propel yourself with the other leg, hung out over one side. It was kind of like a huge skateboard with front wheels that turned. The kid in the photo is a random selection. The fact that he has no shoes or shirt or long-legged Levi’s on tells me he’s an idiot.



Stomach position
imageFlat on your stomach with your hands on the steering handles, and if you were a short kid, your legs extended over the back end of the Flexi. If you were tall, you bent your knees and rode with your feet in the air. Like a snow sled. This is undoubtedly the preferred position.

The kid on the left (a detail from a painting by Francene Christianson) is living a fantasy life. Probably somewhere in California, no doubt. Who the hell had flat and even sidewalks back then? Where’s the challenge in that?

Sitting up position
Buttox positioned over the rear wheels, and hands firmly gripping either side slat, you put your feet forward on the steering handles. Not as aerodynamic as the one knee or stomach positions, and you definitely could not operate the state-of-the-art front brakes.

There are no photos of this position. I suspect because few survived and blood and gore had not become a fare of the local evening news yet.

The wheels of the Flexi were steel disks with a hard rubber rim about a half-inch thick. imageOn the steering handles were metal nubs that extended out over the front wheels. If you twisted the handles forward, the idea was that those nubs would rub the rubber rims — kind of like disc brakes — and the Flexi would ostensibly and eventually stop. After maybe half a mile when gravity or a curb brought you to a halt, it did. There was no way to quickly stop a Flexi that had built up momentum other than turn towards a bush hedge, tree, or brick wall. And uneven sidewalks.

imageIf you sped down a sidewalk and had built your speed up to maybe 15 to 20 mph — remember, you are about six inches above ground level — and you hit an uneven place in the sidewalk? Well, the Flexi would pretty much stop dead, and you would continue on — Flexiless.

Face, chin, chest, stomach, knees — pretty much any clothing on your front side — was rubbed away as your body slowed to a stop.

It wasn’t unusual to have a full body scab from head to toe from a Flexi mishap. It hurt like hell, but was an unmistakable badge of pride.

Alas, Flexible Fliers pretty much went the way of whirligigs and jungle gyms and see-saws. Fearful mothers and greedy lawyers pretty much did all that great fun in.  Plus kids today are wusses. If you don’t know that term, you probably didn’t understand anything above.

Keep your iPhones, iPads and iEverythings. It’s your loss.

The Pledge of Allegiance: who wrote it and why, how it changed through the decades and how controversial it remains

2 Apr

The Pledge of Allegiance:

Who wrote it and why,

How it changed through the decades

and How controversial it remains today

By L. Stewart Marsden

Pledge of Allegiance

NatPubSchCelColumbusDayBadge1892Driving my middle daughter to school the other day, she asked why public school children begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. A sophomore in high school, she thought the practice was out-of-line in terms of what she thought was worshiping a flag.

I confess I didn’t know much about how the pledge came to be. I knew that over the years it had changed — that the words “under God” were added later. On June 14, 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower signed into law the resolution sponsored by Louis Rabaut, Rep-D from Michigan so doing. I was a little more than five months shy of turning age five.

So I grew up saluting the flag on a stick that protruded from a holder at the front of the classrooms and reciting the pledge as I knew it:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation under God with Liberty and Justice for all.

When a kid I saw the 1939 cartoon depicting Porky Pig struggling to learn the pledge. That was a hallmark moment for me, and is embedded in my mind. Porky fell asleep by a flagpole, exhausted and frustrated at trying to learn the pledge. The American flag waving above, he dreamed of a sit-down with none other than Uncle Sam. The eight minute forty-three second production is hard to find, and is otherwise segmented on YouTube — cutting out the Uncle Sam dream.

“You don’t know why you should learn the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag?” asks Sam. “C’mon over here and I’ll show you.”

What follows is a mini-survey of American history from the colonization of the eastern seaboard, to the Declaration of Independence, signing of the Constitution and westward expansion. Truncated and highly patriotic, the propaganda still stirs my heart. You can view the film at

The internet and Google opened vast information as well as very opinionated viewpoints on the pledge.

How did the pledge come to be? Who wrote it? How has it changed over the years? What is the controversy that surrounds it? Which state public schools still have children say the pledge, and which don’t?

I also wanted to know beyond the controversy of the reference to God, how do we stand as a nation on the assertions that this nation provides liberty and justice for all? If the pledge was first penned in 1892, what significance does that bear on liberty and justice for all though the decades to the present? Some form of the pledge has been in existence for going on nearly 125 years.


Francis J. Bellamy

Francis J. Bellamy

The origins — Francis J. Bellamy and — a money-raising scheme?

Francis J. Bellamy was about 37 years old at the time he penned the first version of the Pledge of Allegiance. As his father and uncle had, Bellamy served as a Baptist minister for about 10 years, and apparently due to his unorthodox views was asked to leave the ministry.

According to Israel Wayne in his post, The Socialistic History of the Pledge to the Flag,

“[Bellamy’s] theological views were far from Biblical. He refused to believe in the virgin birth, the resurrection or the ascension of Christ, and somehow erroneously insisted that Jesus Christ was a socialist, like himself. In 1889, Francis co-founded, under the influence of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, the Society of Christian Socialists.”

Again according to Wayne, the socialism Bellamy and his cousin espoused was the belief that the federal government was to be depended upon and revered. A far cry from communism, wealth and its accumulation were not

Edward Bellamy was far better known than Francis due to his writing — and especially for his novel Looking Backward 2000 – 1887 (1888). In the 1930s the book was touted by such luminaries as John Dewey and Charles Beard as “among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”

Francis joined the staff of Youth’s Companion, a family magazine owned by one of the members of his Boston congregation.

                “Assigned to the magazine’s promotions department, the 37-year-old Bellamy set to work arranging a patriotic program for schools around the country to coincide with opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition in October 1892, the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Bellamy successfully lobbied Congress for a resolution endorsing the school ceremony, and he helped convince President Benjamin Harrison to issue a proclamation declaring a Columbus Day holiday.”

Part of the plan for the ceremony was a pledge, which remained unwritten until the very last.

Daniel S. Ford, the magazine editor, assigned his nephew James Upham and Bellamy to create the pledge. Bellamy was to create the work, and Upham to market the pledge to sell American flags, a fund-raising effort to support the magazine and other of Ford’s work.

Later Upham challenged the authorship of the pledge when it gained national attention, but Bellamy’s son was able to produce documentation establishing his father as the true creator.

 Why was a pledge necessary?

Wayne lists six reasons Bellamy and others embarked on the enterprise. It should be noted that Wayne represents a more conservative Christian point-of-view.

  1. To embrace the federal government as the panacea for all social ills, and the need for “unreserved trust and dependence on the State.”
  2.  The financial motive of selling of flags. “By 1892 the publication had already sold flags to approximately 26,000 schools, but Ford was convinced that they had not yet exhausted the market. Ford commissioned his staff to sell a flag to every school in America. The task was to encourage the NEA to tack on an official “pledge to the flag” for the celebration of the then upcoming National Public School Celebration for Columbus Day, thereby ensuring nearly universal participation in flag ceremonies (and thus, flag sales).”
  3. By playing on patriotism in his marketing of the Columbus Day celebration, Upham successfully infiltrated the NEA (Bellamy was chosen as the chairman for the celebration) and saturated the public school system. Financial motivation aside, the long-term effect impacted what had previously been student memorization of parts of the Constitution, which eventually waned in favor of pledges and patriotic songs.

                “ … most schools that used to have students memorize and recite sections of the U.S. Constitution, The Declaration of Independence or some other founding document from America’s inception, did away with teaching students what American law says, and focused only on oaths and vows. Now when nearly all students pledge allegiance to the Flag, they think the phrase “wall of separation of church and state” is a stated tenet in our Constitution on which the (Democracy) stands, with tolerance and diversity for all.”

4.  Promote the need to fund government schools. Wayne comments that underfunding had been and remains to be a prevailing symptom of the plight of public education.

5. With the division caused by the War Between the States still a rift in the nation, Bellamy wanted to assuage old wounds and promote unity.

6. Government officials felt that a pledge would serve to create a rock bed of loyalty among the rising tide of immigrants.

 “If new immigrants from foreign lands had felt hope of finally being accepted into a nation that looked past skin color and offered “liberty and justice for all,” they would have undoubtedly been disappointed by Francis and other Pledge promoters views on non-white citizens. Not only did the NEA not offer integration of blacks into the “public” schools until 1966, Francis himself said the following, “There are races, more or less akin to our own (author’s note: he means Anglo-Saxon), whom we may admit freely, and get nothing but advantage from the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”

It took Bellamy about two hours of concentrated effort to write the pledge.

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands —
one Nation indivisible — with Liberty and Justice for all.


Said Bellamy of the words chosen,

 “It began as an intensive communing with salient points of our national history, from the Declaration of Independence onwards; with the makings of the Constitution…with the meaning of the Civil War; with the aspiration of the people…

 The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches. And its future?

 Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends, ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all…” []

 The original delivery of the pledge prescribed specific body motions . . .

                 “The original Bellamy salute, first described in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who authored the original Pledge, began with a military salute, and after reciting the words “to the flag,” the arm was extended toward the flag.

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side. [The Youth’s Companion, 1892]

 Shortly thereafter, the pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart, and after reciting “to the Flag,” the arm was extended toward the Flag, palm-down.

 In World War II, the salute too much resembled the Nazi salute, so it was changed to keep the right hand over the heart throughout.”


The controversy over “under God”

Why did Bellamy, a minister, omit the words “under God” for the original pledge? It seems at first glance ironic. Yet with the background on Bellamy’s socialistic views, the omission becomes more understandable.

Again, Wayne asserts Bellamy’s and those behind the movement dedication to a secular government. The inclusion of “in God” would have been antithesis to that state.

The pressure to add “under God”

Dwight_D._Eisenhower,_official_photo_portrait,_May_29,_1959Dwight David Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, but he was first in two religious regards, according to a PBS article God in America. He was first to write and recite the prayer at his inaugural ceremony. This remains a singular distinction. He was also the first president to be baptized while in office.

“Nobody goes through six years of war without faith. That doesn’t mean that I adhere to any sect. A democracy cannot exist without a religious base. I believe in democracy.” — Eisenhower

Reared in Kansas, Eisenhower’s parents were members of the Brethren in Christ Church, a Mennonite derivative.

Of his inaugural prayer, Eisenhower said,

“. . . there was embedded in me from boyhood, just as it was in my brothers, a deep faith in the beneficence of the Almighty. I wanted, then, to make this faith clear without creating the impression that I intended, as the political leader of the United States, to avoid my own responsibilities in an effort to pass them on to the Deity. I was seeking a way to point out that we were getting too secular.”

He supported Rabaut’s legislation to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance early in his administration. The looming Cold War with Russia created an atmosphere where religious leaders throughout the nation were up in arms so to speak . . .

In this 1950s Cold War atmosphere, it was not difficult for [Billy] Graham to equate patriotism, loyalty, and the quest for happiness with a Christian ideal. The response to threats abroad

and turmoil in American society … was an awakening of religious impulses.” (Billy Graham, A Biography, by Roger Bruns)

The bill to add “in God” to the pledge was signed by Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today’s world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

Will they? From that day forward? For how long?

On June 27, 2002 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California voted 2-1 that the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the words “under God” violate the Constitutional separation of church and state. If allowed to stand, the ruling would apply to schools in the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit. (

MichaelNewdow0207The decision was made in the case of Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al. filed on March 8, 2000 on behalf of Michael Newdow and his daughter. The court ruled on June 27, 2002 that the pledge violated the Establishment and Free Exercise of Clauses protected by the Constitution because of the words “under God.” It therefore could not be recited in public schools. The court further held Newdow could challenge a practice that interfered with his right as a father to direct the religious education of his daughter.

The Elk Grove school district appealed to the Supreme Court on April 30, 2003. The court granted the petition to consider if Newdow had standing as a noncustodial parent to make his challenge, and if the school policy in fact violated the First Amendment.

On June 14, 2004 the Supreme Court announced its unanimous judgment to reverse the 9th Circuit’s decision. The court reasoned (in a 5-3 decision) that Newdow “lacked prudential standing” to challenge the school district’s Pledge of Allegiance policy in federal court because he was concurrently involved in a California family court dispute with his daughter’s mother, and because the mother stated that she wanted their child to recite the Pledge as worded with “under God.” The five justices ruling against Newdow’s standing did not address the constitutional question. Justice Scalia recused himself, and the remaining three justices concurred with the majority opinion to reverse the 9th Circuit Court, but dissented on the issue of standing.” []

For many who hold to more conservative religious views, challenges to the inclusion of “under God” are more than irksome. For others, these two words cause much consternation over the issue of separation of church and state.

To this point Congress has done much to protect and make the phrase immutable and invulnerable, putting into law only the President may make changes to the pledge. However solid the state of the pledge, all is irrelevant if the pledge is not uttered. And where it has been recited most often throughout the decades is within public schools at the beginning of the day across the United States. That has changed.

According to a March 23, 2013 article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the number of public schools that practice reciting the pledge is waning.

Turns out, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has become passé, considered by some to be an outdated and unnecessary ritual with a constitutionally questionable religious reference and false promises of liberty and justice for all.

Others skip it just to save time.

At Alvarado Elementary in San Francisco, students used to recite the pledge when there were daily morning assemblies. Now they don’t.

Todd David’s fifth-grade son knows it in Spanish and English. His second-grade daughter doesn’t. “When I said it to her, she said, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, Dad.’ “

It’s difficult to know what percentage of US public schools still follow the tradition of saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Memes abound on social networks. Blogs do too.

states_pledge_mapA whopping thirty-six states require public schools to lead recitation of the pledge.  Another six states give schools the option of requiring it.  Clearly, it’s absurd to claim that “we no longer
do” the pledge.  Further, many who have objected to the pledge being used in public schools (which isn’t quite the same as being offended by it) have done so because of the phrase “under God,” which wasn’t part of the original pledge at all.  It was added in 1954, sixty-two years after the original pledge was written, during the fear-mongering era of McCarthyism, when invoking God was a handy way for those with political ambitions to prove they were hard on Communism.  My own father grew up saying the pledge without the “under God” insertion.  Anyone who is advocating a true return to tradition would more sensibly call for a return to the secular version of the pledge.


Back to my daughter’s thought that saying the Pledge of Allegiance might actually be the same as worshipping false idols — clearly a no-no in the Old Testament. Does that, then, apply to modern-day Christians?


In his blog, Benjamin L. Corey says yes.

“Should a Christian recite the pledge of allegiance at all?“

Admittedly, I never once asked myself this question until the last year or two. Once I really started to consider the issue from all sides, I was actually really disappointed that it had taken me so long to actually see this issue for what it was. In the end, I have become convinced that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is something that a Jesus follower probably shouldn’t do.


At the other end of the spectrum, editors of Got support the pledge:RNpledgememe

There is nothing sinful about saying a pledge, as long as the pledge does not take away from our commitment to the Lord Jesus. The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States certainly does not contain any wording that would usurp the authority of Christ in our lives. The Bible, therefore, does not forbid the pledging of allegiance to our flag.

A pledge is a formalized promise, and there is nothing wrong with making a promise. When a couple gets married, they exchange vows, pledging faithfulness to each other—in the old phrasing, “I plight thee my troth.” When a witness takes the stand in a courtroom, he promises to tell the truth. And when a person lays a hand over his heart and recites the pledge to the flag, he is promising loyalty to his country, recognizing that we are all “under God.”



Once again, it seems that strong belief either way is the result of thinking about it. A wayward dalliance for many. People with too much time on their hands. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Like trying to correct a slice or hook for a golfer — or helping a basketball player overcome poor performance at the free throw line. Don’t think about it. Don’t — as a mentor of mine would often say — cogitate on it.

The controversy and the angst over the Pledge of Allegiance is a wonderful example of those freedoms and liberties the very same pledge espouses. You and I have the freedom to disagree over whether “in God” should be included, as well as whether or not public school children should either be remanded to or have the choice of repeating the pledge each school day.

As my dear brother-in-law often says, “Ain’t America great?”



Celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the Americas. Columbus Day.
But it’s ironic that the debate centers on a reference to God that an ordained minister left out. And we can be sure that Bellamy, if he was like most writers, would have balked at anyone tinkering with his prose.
“Edward wrote novels including, Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888), a critique of American capitalism and its sequel Equality (1897). Edward depicted the year 2000 as being the date that competitive capitalism would have been stamped out in favor of what he called a “cooperative commonwealth.” The theories in the book inspired many “Bellamy Clubs,” which led to the formation of a Nationalist Party, that advocated the federalization of public services. In 1891, Edward founded the “New Nation” in Boston, an organization that for some time promoted his leftist views. Edward had other interests, such as psychic phenomena, which he explored in some of his writings, but for the most part, he limited his novels to socialist concerns.”
“During their lifetimes, Edward Bellamy’s name was much better known than Francis’s. Even today, with almost the whole nation reciting Francis’s Pledge, perhaps more people know the name of Edward Bellamy, although neither are recognized by the vast majority of Americans.”
“… Nationalist movement. Francis worked as a lieutenant in the campaign to nationalize the American economy gradually and peacefully. Occasionally Edward and Francis were mistaken for brothers since both were involved in Nationalism and were only five years apart in age.”
 “In 1935, the philosopher John Dewey and historian Charles Beard ranked Looking Backward among the two most influential books published between 1885 and 1935. Some economists ranked it just behind Marx’s Das Kapital as most influential book on economics published in the nineteenth century. Mark Twain was fascinated by the book and invited Edward Bellamy to visit him. William Dean Howells said that it moved the nation more than any other American work. (Howells eventually became a socialist who followed Tolstoy’s type of Christian Socialism.)”
 SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish Religious discord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinions. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs, that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bonds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation.6 Though these words were penned by James Madison over two hundred years ago, they resonate with equal clarity today. The locations may have changed, but the religious bloodshed continues. Madison’s cure for this disease was simple: the greatest protection against religious strife and bloodshed is to guarantee equal and complete liberty for all with regard to matters pertaining to religion. It is this guiding principle that serves as the foundation of the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. The insertion of the words “under God” by the “Joint Resolution to codify and emphasize existing rules and customs pertaining to the display and use of the flag of the United States of America” (the “1954 Act”),7 and the continued governmental “suggestion”8 that these words be repeated daily in our children’s classrooms, is an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of conscience of every Atheist.

Where do these ideas come from?

21 Dec

Where do these ideas come from?


When I first began my online writing studio, Writing Odds n’ Ends, or, Ramblings from the mind of L. Stewart Marsden, I had no idea where this road would take me, nor where the ideas would come from.

I started with the few poems I had already written: The Bone-Pickers, and All the Clocks Are Broken.

The first occurred as a result of going to the parceling out my parents’ worldly possessions. I wrote the poem mentally, scribing it with each painful leg of the process. Those of you who have gone through it know what I mean.

And of course, the clock poem is the quintessential commentary on how time seems to slow down when you don’t want it to, and vice-versa.

I also uploaded Stinky and the Night Mare, the paper adaptation of a story I made up in order to get my two daughters to sleep. It was one of several stories, that included Cathy the Fish, which came about with my two oldest when my son, Graham, was hospitalized with leukemia (Graham’s Story), and an ongoing saga that never was finished — The School of Hard Knocks — (clap your hands once) — Texas, a kind of Lemony Snicket-esk story about three children who were completely unmanageable, and who were shipped to Texas by their parents. You know, one of those stories with a moral.

Then I sat and waited. For hits. For likes. For any kind of recognition by the Wild Blue Yonder WordPress community. Like a faucet nearly — but not quite — closed, those hits and likes and comments slowly dripped and accumulated.

That was in November of 2011, the eleventh to be exact.

Since, I’ve posted about 250 or so poems, 89 short stories (actually there are less, but I’ve written several chapters in several short stories, and at least ONE of the stories is my granddaughter Jasmine’s work), and all kinds of commentary, a play, parts of two novels — one historic (I call them histrionic) and one a young adult). Most are finished in want of editing. Some are incomplete (my apologies to those who began the App Man series only to have it come to a standstill after 9 chapters. I am “cogitating” on the plot and how to bring it to a climax and a close).

Today I’ve received more than 19,000 hits on my studio. BFD.

Nearly 1,500 people are following my blog, but it’s hard to tell. The vast majority are not riveted by my posts. The sun comes up whether or not they read my latest post. I have no illusions.

I wondered at the beginning where the ideas would come from. In fact, I worried about it. I was in the process of a marital split, and figured my brain would be zombified by the experience.

Actually it was quite the opposite. To be sure, the strain of the separation and divorce provided the main gas for my writing engine. But, over time, I switched to solar, if you get the point.

In the spring of 2012 I participated in the annual April poem a day project. It was great discipline to sit down and force myself to write. Like the country song, some days were diamonds, but some days were stones. Even though I knew I wasn’t a good poet, I persisted. As with photography, I figured that if you write a lot of poems, one or two might actually be good.

Many ideas assaulted me in my sleep — awakening me and keeping me sleepless until dawn, when I finally was able to grab my iPad and write either the poem down, or begin the story.

I found myself not really caring if readers on WordPress liked my posts. Likes don’t do anything for the writer. It’s like a popularity contest. It’s the WHY someone likes or dislikes a piece that becomes the core concern for the writer. Hence, I don’t normally read something and hit the “like” link. I comment. I figure the writer will benefit one way or the other.

After three years being online, I’ve been surprised at the amount of output and the variety. I’m still unsure about my poetry, though I sense it maturing in quality. And, those damn eerie stories I write continue to backlog. I now have at least three — maybe more — ideas for short stories, although my short stories are becoming longer, as with The Pied Harpist of Nashville series. Fellow writer and now friend, Clara Bush, has suggested I start writing novellas, which is her forte. I recommend you reading her stuff, by the way.

So, again, where the hell does this stuff come from?

When I write a poem, it doesn’t take very long. Something grabs my attention — usually something very mundane — and it simmers until it comes to a boil, and I have to write it down. There are other digestive similes, but you can imagine them on your own time.

I’ve joined a couple of groups. One is an online poetry group on LinkedIn. A thousand members. VERY intimate group. (Sarcasm is the wick of inspiration). I’ve also been a part of a writer’s group — an hour trek — that proved not so helpful. And I’ve helped to organize a local writer’s group, which is a bit more satisfying because we’ve worked on a different approach to the writing group critique aspect (Google Hickory Writers’ Group).

Here’s the thing: the ideas come when you run the machine. It’s kind of a self-lubricating process that depends on you penning every day — or on a regular basis, at least. It’s also dependent on you becoming extremely aware of what’s going on around you, and grabbing hold of every moment, memory and opportunity to reflect and say something.

Hard work, it is, says Yoda.

Nothing comes easy. And all of the other stereotypical comments about how people end up doing and being and becoming.

Priming the pump.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then let’s begin with a simple assignment to get the juices flowing: today, observe something mundane (common) that happens during your day. It may be stepping out of a cab, or seeing some homeless person hock on the street. But take note of the common and mostly unobserved things that happen during your day — and write about it. Start with a paragraph. Or a line of verse. Anything.

And keep doing that.

Look at Matisse and Van Gogh — what did they capture on their canvasses but a moment in time? What did Ansel Adams do but frame a brief moment of nature in his viewfinder and press a button?

Do that.

In the everyday, mundane moments of life are the metaphors OF life.

That’s where the best ideas come from, I suspect. I challenge you to find me in error.

Leave a comment one way or the other. I hate “likes.”

God’s Political Affiliation

24 Oct

Okay — let’s get this election controversy settled once and for all. Here’s a ballot regarding God’s Political Affiliation.

Those of you who care about the election results will reblog this. As with all other heart-rending pleas to reblog something, only about 3 percent of you will reblog it (and, yes, I can guess who you are).

Let those of you who know for sure, cast the first vote and reblog.


God's Political Affiliation

God’s Political Affiliation



An experiment

18 Oct

The following is an experiment. It is meant to prompt thought, debate and response. If you have no interest, please skip over this.

If you would like to engage and be a part of the experiment, by all means be my guest.

This is an opening description of a fictitious character named Sedgwick. All you know is contained in the paragraph below. What you think and how you react to Sedgwick is purely you.


Read the paragraph several times. Then respond:

1. Tell me about Sedgwick. Where is he from? How old is he? What are his parent(s) like? What sets him apart so to have the personality he has? Anything else?

2. What words did you key onto in making your mental image of Sedgwick?

That’s it. If you would answer the above in the comment box (if you don’t see one, tap on the title An Experiment, and scroll down) you have my momentary appreciation. When I die, my appreciation goes with it, so you see it can never be the undying sort.


Here beginneth the experiment:


Sedgwick was a gay and carefree lad. At least he was certainly happier and less encumbered than others of his same age. Perhaps that was due to his being overly naive, or more protected from the outer world. Nevertheless, he was who he was, and was strongly encouraged by his mother to ignore those who were not as enlightened and confident as he.

I’m going to save you THOUSANDS of dollars!

11 Jun


I’m going to save you thousands of dollars,

(and headaches)


What a hook! So you’re thinking, just how can Skip save ME $$$$$$ and ######?


Over the next few months, I’m going to blog about my experience at getting my children’s book, Stinky and the Night Mare, published. Now, it’s not through Harper and Row or any other big company that has paid me billions of dollars up front. And, it’s not me going through the trials and tribulations of doing it all myself.

It’s somewhere in between.

This will be more a diary of my experience, with pics, etc., as I can get them. The whole painful/joyful process.

But, that’s not all!

I am ALSO going to have a second diary on my experience writing a play, and the process of formatting it, getting it read, and hopefully produced.

Yes, I know most of you are aspiring poets and novelists, nonfiction writers and the like. Writing a play may not even be on your radar, much less your forte.

But I may as well do both, as both are on my immediate TO DO LIST!

And here’s the nice thing. I’m giving you the benefit of my experience for free!

That’s right! F-R-DOUBLE-E  free!

Tomorrow or the next, you will see a new link on my website for a new page: Follow Along. For those of you who want to know the specific day/date (remind me to tell you about the FREE HOT DOGS TOMORROW billboard I saw while visiting in California as a kid), it will be either Thursday, June 12, or Friday, June 13, 2014.

There’s a remote possibility is could be as late as Saturday, June 14, but I’m usually pretty good about following my schedule.

When you open that page, you will see a link, Stinky and the Night Mare publishing experience. A second link, The Last Stand, writing a play, will be below.

I invite you to come along for the ride, and to share your own experiences, as well in the comment sections. Click on either link — or BOTH — if you like.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

IWACA Summer Issue is now posted

1 Jun


Summer issue of IWACA now online

The second-ever quarterly issue of IWACA is now available online.

I am pleased and honored to be one of the featured artists in the issue, and am excited about the future of Stinky and the Night Mare, as well as subsequent Stinky stories!

IWACA stands for indie authors and creative artists,  and is an excellent online compendium of resources for independent creative types. Not only poets and storytellers, it features illustrators, photographers, and other related artists; as well as services that include professional editing and more.

And, a subscription is FREE! The quality of the magazine makes its value to its readers equivalent to The New Yorker, in my opinion.

If I may be a predictor of things to come, IWACA should become a mainstay periodical for every independent artist. Probably won’t be able to stay a quarterly for long!

Click here to go to the online site. Advisory: it is not formatted for download to mobile devices, so use your laptops or PCs.

If you would like information on how you can be featured in an upcoming issue, email IWACA at contact (dot) iwaca (at) gmail (dot) com. (Formatted to avoid spammers).