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Mixed Messages

14 Nov

Mixed Messages

L. Stewart Marsden

Every night during the evening news more comes out regarding sexual abuses men in power are alleged to have committed – either recently, or in years past – as a result of their power, position and influence. In an earlier blog I pointed a finger not only at the culture men are accustomed to as well as the lack of training boys receive at the hands of their parents in learning not to objectify girls and women, but the seeming lack of restraint on the part of the entertainment media, Hollywood and music stars, advertising and the fashion world in promulgating sensual and salacious themes and imagery.

As I sit and watch the accusations, confessions and denials, I wonder “when will this stop?” Like so many floodgates that have burst open (mass shootings, hateful political rhetoric and more), I’m uncertain who will draw the necessary lines in the sand for each and declare “No more!”

Then I receive a text from my youngest, who is looking for a dress for the prom. She asks, “What are your thoughts on this dress?”

What are my thoughts? WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS? She’s 14 years old, are my thoughts. There are Harvey Weinsteins and Roy Moores out there! There are hot-testosterone-blooded teenage boys out there!

And I think, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?

But she’s not, of course. Thinking. She’s responding to the arbitrary guidance of her age group, who are also NOT thinking.

So I reply, “Looks like a cocktail dress for an adult woman.” Never mind what I was really thinking.

She explains, “What does that mean[?] I’m shopping for a dress for my winter formal.”

Winter? Not enough cloth to keep you alive! I think. But I say, “You’re too young for that dress.”

She replies in a huff, “Based on you and Mom, I’m gonna end up wearing a skirt that goes to my heels, and a hijab.”

And I think, Yeah, I could go with that. But I send her this pic, with the comment, I like this one …

Fourteen. The song Sunrise, Sunset goes through my head.

You chuckle. I’m obviously a prudish stick-in-the-mud, you think of me.

What? Wait!

The problems we face with the current outrage over sexual harassment is multi-faceted. And my youngest daughter, if I tell her how guys are visually-stimulated, and how they grow up without any sense of sexual responsibility, and how in their tiny brains (about the size of gonads) only process from a biological urge to propagate –– she will laugh me off. “Oh, Dad!”

Yesterday the November 16 issue of Rolling Stone arrived – a subscription my youngest son (22 yrs) has. Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, and Larry Flint might get a little red-faced at the cover – upset some other magazine encroached upon their empires.

Cosmopolitan, along with GQ and a host of other magazines ply their pictorial pornography in the checkout aisles of Walmart and Rite Aid for all eyes to see.

And none have it over the “Adult-only” content available on the internet.

But what gets me are the entities expressing outrage and creating distance between themselves and the growing number of those accused of sexual aggression.

Really?

Mixed messages.

Had guests over the other night. We watched a re-run of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Amazingly, the show was entertaining! And not one untoward reference to extramarital sex or sexual conquest (vis a vie Friends, 2 1/2 Men, Sex and the City, etc.). Remember when Eddie Murphy’s humor on SNL was void of profanity?

I’m not a prude. Far from it. I won’t approve my daughter’s purchase of that particular prom dress, and suggested some more modest alternatives. I’ll let you know how that works out.

And I’m NOT saying that if she, too, were to become a statistic of sexual abuse, the onus would be on her. But I want her to realize what words like provocative and sexually alluring mean. Each has its appropriate place in a committed relationship.

As we untangle the various scenarios of abuse, I hope we are also able to close various gaps of mixed messages. It’s not only male and female involved in this issue, it’s whole industries. The question is whether or not those industries will admit culpability and do the right thing. I’m not going to hold my breath until that happens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Treatise on Gun Control

9 Nov

 

My Treatise on Gun Control

L. Stewart Marsden

I once had the idea that Detroit should outfit all automobiles with paintball guns on the hoods of their products. Automatic rack-and-pinion pivoting devices that could zero in on some a**hole who doesn’t know what they’re doing behind the wheel of a car. The idea is that the bad drivers will have cars covered with paint splats. Red, blue, yellow – a veritable rainbow of responses to those folks who drive down the highway at 80 mph texting, or putting on makeup, or (and I’ve seen this) reading a damn book!

Nuts! Cuckoos!

The idea is you see a multi-splatted car and you avoid the hell out of them. At some point the sheer weight of the paint slows the car.

Now look – all you law-abiding and devoted-to-safety gun owners – you must agree that there are fools and wack-os out there that should NEVER get behind the wheel of a car! We’ve come a loooong way legislating safety features, laws, and requiring drivers’ training to cut down the spillage of blood, bones and brain matter on our highways. Haven’t heard too many complain about seat belts, infant car seats, air bags (well, when they work), road-gripping tires.

Here’s the other thing about driving: NO ONE DRIVES A HIGH-OCTANE FORMULA ONE RACING CAR ON THE STREETS! Unless it’s a race, of course. But even then, there are RESTRICTIONS!

The sad thing is, apparently vans and trucks and cars have now become a weapon of choice for the America-haters.

Guess what? Automobiles are NOT protected under the Bill of Rights! They are a privilege as, I believe, should be gun ownership. With privileges come responsibilities.

So, segue onto the subject of Gun Control.

The very word “control” seems to cause a great many pro-gun people to shift mental gears to mean “we’re gonna take your guns away from you.” Gun registration as well as being licensed to own and use a gun is also suspect. Too many “Seven Days in May” conspiracy stories, I guess. By God, everything is a conspiracy.

Take a breath. Inhale. Exhale.

Just like the process of training someone to use a car for work, for recreation, to get from Point A to Point B safely and with the least amount of danger to others, gun controls are a good thing.

“Guns don’t kill people …”

Exactly! Nor do cars, but idiotic, psychotic, unprepared and uncontrollable drivers.

“Stricter controls will not keep guns out of the hands of criminals …”

True. And cars will also be stolen, or used as getaway means and end in death and destruction. But you still have to turn your lights on in the State of North Carolina when it rains. The vast majority of automobile drivers are responsible people. Where have I heard that before?

We have central databases where every vehicle operation violation is recorded. We have tags on each car that indicates the vehicle passes a mechanical inspection on an annual basis. We have license renewal requirements, so that each driver must reapply for an operator’s license. We require auto insurance. We have stricter licensing requirements for bus drivers, and truck drivers. Even moped operators must now get a license to drive on public throughways.

Who’s complaining? Virtually NO ONE!

Is it a hassle to go annually to the DMV for a new license plate sticker? Damn right it is! Is it costly time-wise and wallet-wise to have my car inspected annually, and maybe have to replace that headlights or taillights or windshield wipers?

Why do I tolerate this overbearing scrutiny and control? Because I’d rather drive to the beach than walk. Or take the bus. Or the train.

We have an agency in place that can be utilized more effectively in filtering out at least some of the wack-os and, as 45 says, folks with mental health problems, from buying and possessing a gun. The ATF. Will it be overwhelmed? Only if it does its job. Heck, think of the number of people who will need to be employed to handle the load? What a boon! And, a self-financing procedure. Like the DMV.

So, first, enable the ATF to process licensing, with local offices (just like the DMV). Compared to the cost of someone being killed by a gun (jail, court, attorney fees, lost income of the victim, hospital costs). Take the licensing process out of the hands of the Sheriff’s departments so that the load can be handled, and so that consistency of process is guaranteed.

Second, enact laws that require regular licensing (like driver’s licensing). I get my license, I get a DWI or speeding ticket, and I lose my license, or it is restricted. I get a gun license, and within the year I am convicted of a felony, or go through drug rehab, I lose my license. A point system like that in the driver’s license. Further, that anyone diagnosed with a mental disorder that could affect the patient’s ability to legally use a firearm be reported to the ATF. By the way, licensing would require mandatory training (NRA?) as well as passing a written AND, initially, firing range test.

Third, require that a gun owner purchase and maintain liability insurance for each firearm purchased. Just like owning a car where accidents happen. The insurance companies will love this, and the cost of owning a firearm just for insurance will curb the number of guns a person can afford to own.

Fourth, require that firearms are also inspected on a regular basis by qualified people to ensure accidents don’t occur because of mechanical malfunction. Require recall letters from manufactures for such problems, as well as a guarantee of repair or replacement.

Fifth, as with a car, require that a private owner transact the sale of a firearm to another person through their local ATF office. Failure to do so would be a felony crime.

Sixth, require that the loss, theft, or decommissioning of a firearm (dismantling) be reported to the ATF. If to the police, that the police alert the ATF electronically.

Seventh, restrict the sale of types of firearms and add-ons (bump fire stocks, hair triggers, silencers, magazine capacity, etc.).

Eighth, require the registration of ammunition and its sale – as do the pharmacists with prescriptions. Lot, box, shells. Shell casings could be barcoded.

And I could go on. The point is that while a few advocate no guns at all, most of us realize that won’t happen – regardless of the 2nd Amendment. And certainly no law or restriction is going to be absolutely effective. There will always be those outlying circumstances and people who defy logic and sanity.

But – IF the laws are enforced with due diligence, perhaps some of the tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, and other non-terrorist initiated massacres, will be avoided.

Deer hunters, skeet shooters, biathlon athletes – even those who want/need a deadly way to protect their home and family members – will be able, within the law, to do those things.

Expensive? You bet. So is a car.

Cost of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle: between $500 and $2,500;
Cost of 500 rounds of ammo: about $150;
Cost of a bump-fire stock: $1,500;

Cost of a human life: priceless.*

*According to the EPA ( https://www.epa.gov/environmental-economics/mortality-risk-valuation ), the value of a human life was $7.4 million in 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

If God is for you …

2 Nov

If God is for you …

L. Stewart Marsden

By now, unless you live under a rock, you know the Houston Astros won the World Series last night over the LA Dodgers.

No doubt, in some interview, some Houston ball player is going to thank God for the events leading up to the franchise’s first World Series win. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t fault anyone for thanking God for strength to endure something.

I also suspect there are those who are convinced that God engineered the victory. All of the sponsors are thanking Him, as is ESPN, for the full seven-game event. One of the most exciting events in baseball drew unprecedented viewers. Thank God!

This, after God apparently judged Houston earlier in the fall with Hurricane Harvey. Now I can say that with some certainty because all of the insurance companies that had to and are digging through their coffers call the weather event an Act of God. Therefore we know God did that. I haven’t checked in with Westboro Baptist Church to see what exactly God was judging through the storm’s devastation. No doubt some pretty bad things.

Apparently God then had second thoughts, and decided He’d been pretty tough on the Texas Gulf area. Like when he was surprised at Abraham’s commitment to sacrifice his son in obedience. “Wow!” He said. “Didn’t really think he’d go through with it!”*

At the same time, God had been busy judging California through massive fires. Either that, or He has a lot of stock in the NAPA Valley wine companies, and figured the price of a bottle of Pinot is going to go through the roof.

Everyone from the New York area knows that the once Brooklyn Dodgers skipped west years ago, and needed to be punished. And since the Yankees were upended by the Astros in league championship play, this was poetic justice. I think the Eleventh Commandment* is “THOU SHALT NOT LEAVE BROOKLYN!”

Whatever His reason, God favored the Astros, and shook things up before giving them the final “Well done” nod.

Do I really believe this? Take the notion forward a bit and the following holy conclusions would have to be reached:

The New England Patriots are NOT satanic;
Peyton Manning really IS funny;
If you don’t own an iPhone (whatever the latest edition), you really are less of a person;
Colin Cowherd is the last word in sports commentary;
45 is God’s man.

*While not scriptural in terms of the exact words, I figure if the Televangelist Pastards (borrowing this term from a friend) can make up stuff like this and get away with it, then sell tap water as Miracle Water, then I can take a little poetic license.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.