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Time –– It’s All Relative

19 Oct

Time –– It’s All Relative

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

I wrote a poem years ago entitled “All the Clocks Are Broken.” In its simplistic rhyme and meter, it playfully touches on time and how fickle it is. For example, in anticipation of a great event, like a birthday or Christmas, the clock slows down to a crawl, making your toenails itch.

Or, the opposite, during an exam, the hands fly about the circular clock face.

Anything requiring the passage of time can teeter or totter, almost arbitrarily. Turning old enough to be able to do something:

  1. Join a club, team, or participate in age-related extracurricular
  2. Drive a car
  3. Graduate high school
  4. Buy alcohol or cigarettes (although the latter isn’t as popular as it was in my day)
  5. Get a body piercing
  6. Get a tat
  7. Vote
  8. Go to college
  9. Graduate
  10. Go to post grad school
  11. Graduate
  12. Go for a PhD
  13. Graduate
  14. Get a job
  15. Get an apartment
  16. Lose the body piercing
  17. Get a J.O.B.
  18. Get another tat … and more piercings
  19. Get married
  20. Buy a house
  21. Have children
  22. Feed, house and clothe the kids
  23. Take them to clubs, teams, and other extracurricular
  24. Get them a car
  25. Go to their high school graduation
  26. Sign the permission form for their first body piercing
  27. Move them into their freshman dorm room
  28. Smile weakly in reaction to their first tat
  29. Offer them their first glass of wine
  30. Attend their college graduation
  31. Co-sign for their first apartment
  32. Attend their post college degree graduation
  33. Co-sign their student loan for their PhD
  34. Celebrate their first job
  35. Take them and their fiancé out to dinner for the first time
  36. Go over the budget for the wedding
  37. Cry at the wedding
  38. Go on a cruise
  39. Downsize to a condominium
  40. Take pictures of the first grandchild
  41. Announce your divorce
  42. Move to an apartment
  43. Retire
  44. Move to a senior living facility
  45. Meet with the lawyer and finalize the will

Numbers one through 14 pass slower than molasses going up hill on a 20 degree day with a 45 mile-per-hour headwind.

Fifteen through 45 happen quicker than the snap of a finger. The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate finger*.

After a bit of time had spilled down the drain, I noticed something. The years aren’t like some straight roadway that disappears in the desert at some unseen infinite point. The years are more like a Slinky, recurring coils where the four seasons have claimed a spot on the circumference of each coil. Depending on what is going on, the Slinky of time stretches and compresses. For the first million or so years of the planet, for example, the slinky is stretched nearly to its limit. As life developed and evolved, and as humankind (oxymoron) grew in number and impact, the coils compressed.

Today, the Time Slinky is tightly compressed, almost to the point of the annual coils melding into one another.

That’s comforting to some extent. It means even though Time is zipping along at breakneck speeds for me, we will make it through this particular phase of time, and perhaps the coils will then relax, and begin to stretch out again, the tension loosen.

I hope so.

*The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate Award was a commentary staple on a popular television comedy show that ran in the late 60s through the early 70s – Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. More like a pfft on the Time Slinky. I always thought the finger on the award should not have been the index finger, but one over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Strange Fruit

13 Oct

 

Strange Fruit

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today I went on a search for one thing, and found another, quite unexpectedly. It was a cold splash of reality against my white, Anglo-Saxon heritage. I was searching for that silly beer commercial where the stadium vender, hawking his lager, has been placed in venues like a living room or a bathroom, and at one point, a cemetery during a burial. Funny.

That’s what I want when I go – a beer stadium vender shouting out “Ice cold beer, here! Get your ice-cold beer!”

Oftentimes YouTube puts another video – usually an ad – before the video you want to watch. You can skip it after 3 to 5 seconds if you like. And, just as normal, I click <skip ad>.

The “ad” in front of the beer commercial began with a close-up of a beautiful black woman with a large Afroesque hairdo, dressed in a beautiful slip-like dress, holding a microphone and staring up toward light that lightly bathed her. All else was dark.

She began to sing. I couldn’t place the song in my head. It was like a combination of Billie Holiday’s Summertime with some kind of mourning tune: melancholic and haunting. As she sang, visuals of forests and trees and other less-appealing imagery filled the screen.

On she mourned, and as she continued, I finally realized what the song was about. It was past events I had no touchstone with at all. But she did, and she did not have to reach so very deeply to urge that link to the surface of her voice.

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Every word, every phrase, every line, every stanza was delivered with that haunting voice. Then I looked up the song. It was first performed by Billie Holiday in 1939 from a poem written by Abel Meeropol published in 1937.

I did not know the poem.

I did not know the song.

I did not know the pain.

What I do know is this: an old white man can learn something new. I learned something new today – not that lynchings took place (I was aware of that), but something, finally, gripped my soul and squeezed. We (white culture) did that. Why?

The following is a link to that video, performed by Andra Day. There is also a version of Holiday’s performance of the song, as well as many more. Not too many are performed by white artists. Kathy Segal (Sons of Anarchy) did one. I don’t recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective

2 Sep

Perspective

By L. Stewart Marsden

Anton Ego, food critic, is a character in one of my favorite movies: Pixar’s Ratatouille. A sophisticated version of the Grinch, he seethes venom with his condescending reviews of the restaurant industry in Paris.

He says,

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”

It is metaphor to our current and perplexing nationwide conflict. Too easy to slip in the word “media” where Ego is talking about food critics. Or, perhaps, the extreme Right, or the extreme Left.

If you are familiar with the story, you remember he goes to investigate the hullabaloo over a new chef at a once-thriving restaurant.

There, a waiter asks if Ego knows what he would like for his meal.

Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, in addition to its devastation and carnage of Houston and the surrounding area, we are also left with perspective.

Facebook abounds with quotes and images similar to “America is NOT Charlottesville; America is Houston!”

Well, we’re both. Unfortunately. The perfect among us cannot hide nor eradicate the imperfect.

As a nation, we show the world our best and our worst. From the vitriol of antagonists who can’t stand one another, and are dedicated to sniping at every opportunity (we thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and read), to belittling and bashing one another; to hitching a thousand boats and driving thousands of miles to help with search and rescue and aid.

As Dickens wrote,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Perspective. We say that in the aftermath of tragedy: it put things into perspective.

Why does it take a devastating hurricane, tornado, illness, horrific event to grab our attention, shake sense into us enough for us to see (some of us, that is) that we are better than whatever it is that brings us shame?

It’s like we’re caught up in an emotional maelstrom that dulls all other senses and sensitivities. Perhaps a quasi-mob mentality, only the mobs are at either end of a see-saw. The vast majority of us just want none of it. Content to let things play out. Please, we say, can we not go back to normalcy?

We are all afflicted in one way or another.

Perspective. Not sure which is worse: the radical ends of the spectrum, or the sluggish majority that separates the extremes.

With disasters come the stirring of wills to be involved in some helpful way. Who is helped at the time is not dependent upon nation of origin, color of skin, gender identification, religious value, primary language spoken, political affiliation, economic standing, outstanding warrants, meat-eater or vegan, educational accomplishments. Or any other attribute that would normally keep us from deigning to be involved with that victim.

For a moment, we will have experienced what it is to give emotionally and financially and physically to a cause without regard to anything but the betterment of those who have lost home and loved ones.

This, too, shall pass.

Houston and the area will eventually get cleaned up. The snipers and critics have already begun to crawl out of the water-saturated woodwork and begin what they do best. The nation will breathe a sigh of relief at not having more than half the nightly news centered on all of the problems that do and eventually will exist. We’ve done our heartfelt and pocket-felt due diligence, and can return to normal.

And the carousel will start up again, slowly at first, and crescendo to spinning speeds.

Until the next disaster.

When,  once again, we will be presented with the opportunity to gain Perspective.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.

 

Hmmm.

Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html

Triggers and Charlottesville: From the Whys to the Whats?

14 Aug

Triggers and Charlottesville:

From the Whys to the Whats?

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When my son was diagnosed with childhood leukemia, I learned of a theory being studied to answer the question “Why?”

The thought behind the theory was the potential for cancer resides in many of us. Like a bullet, it rests harmlessly among the billions of cells from which we are comprised. At some point, an event occurs that “cocks the trigger.” Perhaps exposure to something in our food, or in the air.

In our case, we wondered if one of those inane plastic toy figures – like the soldiers in a box – that had fallen onto the baseboard heating unit in my son’s bedroom, was the trigger. We awoke in the dead of night to our fire alarms screaming, and dense oily smoke layering the upper half of his bedroom. The figurine had caught on fire. By the time we were awakened and I burst into his room, he had certainly breathed in the caustic smoke.

Or, perhaps it was the location of an electric power station, not half a block away. Studies were being done at the time on the effect of electromagnetism at a cellular level.

We wanted – needed – an explanation.

Why?

That question was never answered. Our attention, however, turned from the why to what we could do about his condition. At least that question had some answers.

Segue to Charlottesville and the conflagration that occurred over the weekend. Not so dissimilar from discovering you have cancer. And more readily predictable – especially the trigger theory part.

I wonder if Robert E. Lee were able to comment on the events of Saturday, what he would say. Lest he be cast as the trigger of this event, here are some of his recorded thoughts that contradict the fascist positions of the Alt-Right and the KKK:

  • In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral & political evil in any country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages.*
  • We should live, act, and say nothing to the injury of anyone. It is not only best as a matter of principle, but it is the path to peace and honor.*
  • What a cruel thing war is… to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors.*
  • I cannot trust a man to control others who cannot control himself.*

*www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/r/robertele753002.html

This is not, in my opinion, a conflict of anything but fear, hate, and a reckless loathing of anyone who differs from those who believe in White Supremacy. It smacks of a position that runs inexplicably across economic and educational stratification. And, it is not random.†

It is taught. It is the we/they mentality that boggles common sense. And it has been an underlying tear in this country’s fabric since the beginning. It cannot be legislated away. It metastasizes wherever separate but superior exists. It incubates for decades – for generations – until it erupts in events like Jim Crow, Selma, Watts, Charlottesville.

In the musical South Pacific, Lieutenant Cable addresses racism (Oscar Hammerstein, II) through the lyrics of You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The song, according to an article by Andrea Most that appeared in Theatre Journal in October 2000, was the “trigger” for lawmakers in the state of Georgia to introduce legislation outlawing any entertainment that contained “‘an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow.’[2] One legislator said that ‘a song justifying interracial marriage was implicitly a threat to the American way of life.’[2] Rodgers and Hammerstein defended their work strongly. James Michener, upon whose stories South Pacific was based, recalled, ‘The authors replied stubbornly that this number represented why they had wanted to do this play, and that even if it meant the failure of the production, it was going to stay in.’”**

**Andrea Most, “‘You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught’: The Politics of Race in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific” Theatre Journal 52, no. 3 (October 2000), 306.

In the cancer analogy, the triggers appear to be anything that threatens fearful people. And what is triggered seems to be anger and resentment at losing something that was once thought to be innate – the “superiority” of one race, one religion, one political spectrum.

From the beginning of time our ancestors have unknowingly set the stage for what occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. Carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate. It is not in the DNA.

What are you and I going to do about it?

 

†In holding on to that anger and resentment, nothing can be accomplished in the way of progress – certainly not resolution. A mentor once used the illustration of how monkeys used to be caught. A clear glass cider jar was “seeded” with peanuts, and a rope tied to its finger ring near the opening, which was tied to a stake. Seeing the peanuts, the monkey would easily slip its paw through the opening to grab a peanut, balling its fist to hold the treat. When the monkey tried to pull his hand out, his fist was too large to come out of the opening. Because the monkey would not let go of his prized peanut, he was easily captured. The simple moral is we are captured by our own stubbornness to hold onto things we ought to let go.

Little Big Man

28 Jul

Little Big Man

Megalomaniac

By L. Stewart Marsden

It sounds like a period of prehistory. Megalomaniac. Surely somewhere near the Jurassic Age. Thundering dinosaurs. Sharp-toothed carnivores. Crashing through the tropical undergrowth to come down on some innocent triceratops who stopped to munch on a tasty clump of ferns or moss.

Perhaps this will be called the Megalomaniac Age Administration, where the tendency looks to seep down from the top and infect nearly every layer of staff.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very, very frightening me.

– Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody

Was Alexander the Great a megalomaniac? How about Napoleon? Attila? Nero? Hitler? Stalin?

To some extent, I suppose you could say every great leader had the tendency. JFK, MLK, FDR, Patton, MacArthur, Sherman … Franklin, Washington?

How much of it is okay? What’s the dosage? A teaspoon every four hours? Where is the line between acceptable megalomania and that which is unacceptable and tragic?

And who came up with the idea? What entity thought, “Well, I think we need someone obsessed with him/herself and power so that change can be ramrodded down the throats of the common person?

Or, “The common people NEED a megalomaniac in order to attain a little perspective.

Who thinks that way? Probably the same mentality as when a father says to his child just before punishment, “This is going to hurt me more than you.”

You wonder what event in the lifetime of a megalomaniac triggered the condition? Parental abuse? Childhood bullies?

In those cases a person is a victim. It seems the abusers or bullies reflect megalomania more closely than someone who is victimized. Compensation, perhaps? Small stature? Small hands? Maybe a Stephen King-like event in the formative years?

One apparent result of megalomania: things end badly for that person and those close by. Family, friends, work associates don’t seem to fare well when the megalomaniac is toppled. I would use the word “peers,” but I don’t think a megalomaniac has any. That’s not so handy when it comes to facing a trial by jury of one’s peers if one is a megalomaniac. At least a trial is better than tar and feathering, regardless. Not that I would know.

That’s when the word “karma” inevitably comes into play.

Or so one hopes.

 

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

23 Jul

AC and the Fall of Western Civilization

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Today the weather is challenging to my comfort zone. It is hot, and has been for the last several days. It is also very humid, and to add more hardship, there is little or no breeze. By way of explanation, I live in the mountains, where temperatures are normally dozens of degrees cooler than that of my friends, who do not live in the mountains. We are experiencing an extended heat wave throughout North Carolina.

Another hope for your sympathy is my home is not air conditioned. I rely on open windows, ceiling and various portable fans to move air and keep the condo cool.

My father used to tell me how in the winter men would cut ice blocks from the Rock River that meandered close to Luverne where he grew up in Minnesota. As in Disney’s Frozen, these ice blocks were essential during the short, but hot Minnesota summers, and were stored in sawdust to keep them from melting. People used them in their ice boxes, the forerunner of the refrigerator. Horse-drawn ice trucks cobbled down the dusty streets, stopping at each house to parcel out the ice, followed by swarms of young boys and girls who hoped to snatch a fallen piece of frozen river water to suck on.

What we now take for granted was more than appreciated in that day. Now, our “ice boxes” not only make ice, but tell us via cellphone what to buy at the grocery store.

Technology is great, and I love how it has advanced everyday life beyond that of basic struggles for survival. With every advance, however, we lose a part of another essential ingredient to life: appreciation.

It may not surprise you to know that names like Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday and others worked on evaporation and cooling. James Harrison, an Australian, developed an ice-making machine in the mid 1800s, and at the turn of the 19th century, Willis Carrier (that name sound familiar?), invented the first electric air conditioning unit in Buffalo, NY. His goal was not to cool, but to dehumidify the air to aid in the printing process.

In the middle of the 20th century, Packard offered the first factory-installed air conditioning in a car.

There it is.

Today we go from air conditioned homes and apartments and drive in air conditioned cars to our air conditioned places of work.

It’s not just AC that has cast a pall on who we have become. I chose that as an overall metaphor for technological advances. Again, I pretty much like and use them, and am guilty of the same ignorance regarding how each works. I have become dependent on all these advances. Heck, I’m typing on an iPad Pro ordered online and delivered in two days! Think of all of the advances that had to be made to enable that! And I don’t know much about any of it.

In Jurassic Park (the first movie of the series), Dr. Ian Malcolm complains of the laziness involved in the genetic engineering of the park:

Dr. Ian Malcolm: If I may… Um, I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox …

I remember struggling in high school, and later in college, to solve a math problem using a slide rule (and slide rule doesn’t mean a baseball regulation for those who don’t know).

I remember sitting for hours on a chair in the kitchen, my ear glued to the telephone, having dialed the four- or five-digit phone number of my current girlfriend using a rotary dial.

I remember watching black-and-white television, and opting from three local stations for my viewing pleasure.

Today? I have a calculator on my iPad which I downloaded from the internet.

I have a smartphone that makes me accessible 24/7, regardless where I am located.

I have a smart screen that is connected to the internet via wifi, which gives me access to more channels and entertainment than I could ever hope to use.

You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it.

Again, there it is.

I’m not advocating getting rid of all technology – far from it. I’m warning that as we continue to forge ahead with our technology and as it takes us and our civilization to places we’ve only imagined (remember the Dick Tracy newspaper comic strip?), we need to take responsibility for it.

Air conditioning, for example, drains the power grid when the weather turns hot. Use of social media on the internet provides the user with relative anonymity, meaning the temptation to do or say things we might ordinarily not do or say becomes compelling.

Perhaps the onus for this abdication of responsibility goes back much further. The invention/discovery of fire? The wheel? The printing press? The bow and arrow? Gunpowder?

Are we flying too close to the sun, as with Icarus and Daedalus? I wonder. Where will it all take us?

The Perfect President

12 Jul

The Perfect President

By L. Stewart Marsden

I was thinking today – an achievement in and of itself lately – of the presidents of our nation during my lifetime.

Ike Eisenhower served during my early childhood years, and I remember little about him. He seemed grandfatherly, and my parents liked the heck out of him. I think both parties went after him to run on their tickets. Imagine that!

Then the Kennedy-Nixon race. In the debates, Nixon wouldn’t wear makeup, and his shadowy beard should have given all pause as a sort of foreshadowing (no pun intended). But Kennedy was a CATHOLIC! Forget the Southern vote. AND he talked funny! But he was handsome, and then there was Jackie. But he was a war hero (if PT 109 is factual … have to check Snopes on that one). With him, we went through the Cuber crisis, and the challenge to reach the moon. He reduced taxes (WHAT!?), and put civil rights on the back burner. And, of course, Dallas. So he is seared into history as the hero of Camelot, despite some seamy stuff with Marilyn and Bobby. Great men do have to have their pressure outlets apparently.

Then Johnson. Long ears. Belly scars. Back-room deals to accomplish surprisingly much in the areas of civil rights. But that damn Vietnam! Everyone in the family with the same initials. How he had wanted the presidency! How he suffered its curse.

Back from the politically-dead Nixon. Vees raised above his head with both arms and hands. Tapes. Missing tapes. Agnew. Phew! Bombing of Saigon – Merry Christmas! Paranoid surveillance of threatening people, like John Lennon. And, to his everlasting fame, Watergate. China legacy.

Gerald Ford. First error Nixon pardon? Sliding into the Oval Office through the back doors. Betty, tippling in the background. Stability?

Jim-mah Carter. Rosalynn and Miss Lillian – his stalwart women. Billy, his Hee-Haw brother. Ayatollah Khomeini, his nemesis. “Argo,” his movie detraction. Soaring gas prices and lines to the pump. His infamous “we are sinners” address to the nation. The outsider. The one-termer. The most misunderstood president ever?

Slow pan of a great western expanse – buttes in the background, massive white clouds in the sky – up big music. A rider approaches from the distance. He is dressed in white. His horse is white. He is white. Actor-turned-politician, ready to take one for the Gipper. Ronald and Nancy to the rescue. An insurmountable political tsunami where the Jerry Falwell’s and Newt the Grinch’s and Wheaties and Ovaltine take the day. “Tear down that wall!” Poland. Star Wars. John Hinckley. Dementia? Nancy in charge?

The “read my lips” president, George H.W. Bush, who defeated Michael “The Tank” Dukakis. NAFTA. Taxes? Desert Storm. Berlin Wall. USSR emplodes. Dan Quayle and Mr. Potatoe Head. Second one-and-done president since Eisenhower. First Republican president my dad had serious qualms about.

Billy “The Kid” Clinton (and wife). First bonus presidency, two-for-the-price-of-one. Kennedy-esque. National healthcare reform fiasco. Monica. Intrigue. Parsing is the new standard. Depends on what you mean by the word, “it.” Stand By My Man. Vitriol seeps from the political cracks in the DC sidewalks.  The white black man. Amazingly, second termer. Far-right radio commentators – Rush on the Rise. Gotta love those Arkansas Impeachments. Most popular president since WWII at his exit. Sax and violins.

Mr. Strategery, George W. Bush. 9-11. Iraq. Find those WMD’s please. Thank you, Florida and Jeb. Best First Lady since? Exploding deficits/national debt. Housing bubble pops. Banks too big to fail. Black October. Rev up the Nucular War Machine.

First Black President, Barak Obama. Birth Certificate? Muslim? Christian? Home church pastor rails. Osama Bin Ladin falls. Michelle shines. Ratings soar. Cooperation with Congress slumps. Hillary. Benghazi. Obamacare. Racist vitriol. Popularity polls dip. The great House and Senate divide. Barak ages in front of our eyes.

And then … Donald, a.k.a, #twitterprez. You fill in the blanks, ’cause he certainly won’t.

The perfect President is nonexistent. This need for perfection hies back to the Old Testament when the Nation of Israel wanted a King in order to be like all them other guys. They got Saul. Tall, handsome, wack-o. Then David. Statuesque model. Roving eyes. Murderer.

Hasn’t really changed much. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Not that any of our presidents had or have absolute power. That’s the genius of the Founding Fathers – who, I suspect, had their wives and girlfriends, sometimes at the same time, whispering in their ears, “And don’t forget about this ….!” Lucky for us they listened.

And lucky for us that none of our past Chief Executives was perfect. George had wooden teeth. Thomas was likely more agnostic than anything, withholding his stamp on the divinity of Jesus, and advising relatives to question boldly the existence of a god (my rewording of an article found on The Jefferson Foundation, Inc. on his religions beliefs1). Andrew Jackson did atrocious things to Native Americans. Lincoln was born before the NBA came to exist, and my relative, Ulysses S. Grant, was a renown tippler. Even FDR couldn’t stay true to Eleanor.

So what’s my point?

Quit looking for the Lone Ranger to come riding up with his VP, Tonto, to save us! The obvious lacks of our previous presidents protects us! These are men (and will eventually be women) who have feet of clay, to use a Biblical metaphor for those so inclined.

To not work on that premise is the surest way to usher in whatever cataclysmic Armageddon is ducking behind the horizon line of our future!

Are things good? Are we happy with Washington? Do we want to “Trow da bums out?” Yes, of course we do! But don’t be fooled into thinking that whoever we replace this gunk of goo with is going to be ANY better! It won’t happen! Ain’t in the cards! In the words of George W. H., “Wouldn’t be prudent!”

The people we elect have a job to run the country. For some reason they actually want the work (maybe because they get rich). I certainly don’t want to do it. Ain’t enough tea in China. You wouldn’t want me to, and I suspect you have no aspirations to that end either.

OUR job is to keep an eye on the foxes we put in charge of this very large, very complicated hen house.

That’s one responsibility none of us can afford to abdicate. It’s tiresome. It’s thankless. It’s frustrating. But you cannot complain (well, I guess you really could – but to no end) if you don’t pay attention. If you don’t register (you have time now, by the way, if you haven’t). If you don’t form your own ideas of how you’d like to see America survive. If you don’t vote this coming November.

Don’t tell me it’s useless or that it won’t make a difference. Hanging chads and margins of votes make a difference – first locally, then statewide, then nationally.

If you’re so inclined, let your representatives in DC or in your state capitol know your opinion. Smarter people than me long ago made up the phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

And this: United doesn’t mean we agree on everything OR anything! Again, to use a Biblical metaphor, the eye is not more important than the foot, and neither operates the same way in contributing to the body and its functionality.

As topsy-turvy as things seem right now, our system of government is working. Needs a little oil here and there from time to time. But it works.

Remember, the potential perfect president, who resides at 666 Main Street, Anytown, USA, is hoping you will quit and say “The hell with it.” And guess what? If you look for him, you will find him.

Please don’t.

 

1 https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs