Monday, October 02, 2017

Our American Hobby, Las Vegas Edition, October 2, 2017

At 8:15 am on Monday, October 2, 2017, CBS is reporting the numbers out of Las Vegas as "50+ killed, 400+ hurt." Another white man. American born. No significant police record. With multiple automatic weapons, of course. There is no other way to kill and wound that many people, short of explosives.
We have seen this happen in elementary schools. We have seen this happen in high schools. We have seen this happen in movie theaters. We have seen this happen in nightclubs. What we have not seen is anything change after any and all of these previous incidents.
Now? I doubt it. 
Except, possibly, for one thing. 
This was a country music festival.
This attack on country music fans carries with it somewhere between a possibility and a likelihood that many of the dead and wounded are members, or are closely related to members, of the National Rifle Association. 
This is the NRA's strongest demographic.
Will this be the moment that Americans realize that the NRA gives not one shit about human life? That the NRA has not bought and paid for members of the House or the Senate to guarantee anyone's freedom? That the only interest that this trade association has is selling more guns? And the bigger, stronger, more deadly, therefore more expensive, the better?
Profits are all that matter to the National Rifle Association.
They don't give a damn about children.
They don't give a damn about young adults.
They don't give a damn about people in a nightclub frequented by LGBTQ men and women.
They don't give a damn about christians at prayer in their church.
They don't give a damn about people gathered in a movie theater.
They don't give a damn about our military personnel on their bases.
And we are about to learn that they don't give a damn about people gathered at a country music festival.
Their own people.
Their own demographic.
Their own gun owners.
They don't give a damn about anyone or anything but profits from the sale of guns.
And now, I would guess, we won't even give a damn when the NRA's fraud is finally left exposed for all the world to see. Their only interest in gun owners is as marks to turn over more money to gun manufacturers. Their only interest in your freedom is in your freedom to die at the hands of a gun nut.
No one outside the military needs automatic weapons. No one outside the military needs these voluminous magazines that makes it possible to fire so many rounds that the smoke in a hotel room becomes so thick that it sets off the smoke alarms. That, by the way, is how the police figured out where this shooter was. 
He shot so many times that the fire alarms went off.
We have decided that it does not matter that our democratic process was pirated by Vladimir Putin and his minions.
We have decided that it does not matter that we are led and represented by a raving lunatic who lacks the impulse control of the average two year old.
We decided long ago that it does not matter if numbers of our fellow citizens, including our children, are murdered indiscriminately on a daily basis.
Now we will decide if the NRA's own people can join this list of It Doesn't Matter, if, truly, no one and nothing matters but profits from selling guns.
I know what I expect that answer to be.
I sure would like to be wrong.

Sunday, July 30, 2017


I was a bit anxious at the outset. More than a bit, actually. Because when I first thought about this summer prior to school's dismissal in late May, I thought that it had been quite a long time since I had spent a summer responsible for a child. Sheer terror set in as I thought about it, because I quickly realized that I had never been at home, every day, all day, with a child for the entire summer, and, since Grandmommie teaches Summer School each year, that was exactly what was about to happen. 
And suddenly, late 50s did not seem like a good time to try to learn how to do that. Granddaddy was sweating it, big-time!
Three weeks would be simple. My parents take Kaly to Vacation Bible School each summer. They continue to choose to be religious, and that's their business, not mine. And you try to tell great-grandparents that they can't have their great-grandchild. Then, she had been accepted for a week of the school system's CLUE Camp. (CLUE-Creative Learning in a Unique Environment-is the Shelby County Schools program for gifted children.) Finally, Grandmommie had registered her for a week of camp at the Memphis Zoo, given her love for that wonderful place and its animals.
Kaly thoroughly enjoyed each of those weeks, especially Zoo Camp, and that just raised the bar for the remaining time of Hanging Out with Granddaddy.
I was determined that we wouldn't sit in the house watching TV all summer. Which was kind of silly, because one thing we have learned about our granddaughter, since she came home in mid-October, is that she really doesn't watch TV. So that one was easy. The iPad, however, was a genuine challenge. And I was no more interested in a summer of small screen than I was of giant screen.
I knew that one day would be Library Day. That is a summer tradition for us. Even when she wasn't living here, we did our best to have a significant library visit each week in the summers. Then, I knew that for at least a generation, Malco Theaters' Summer Movie Camp had played on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings throughout the summer, and the movies tend to be pretty good. They certainly were again this summer! (Rio 2, Mr. Peabody and Sherman, Penguins of Madagascar, Trolls, and Horton Hears a Who) Hard to beat for $2 apiece per film! Also, the Orpheum Theater's Summer Movie Series always includes family films. This year, we caught the annual Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (That's the Gene Wilder version. You know, the GOOD one.), and The Princess Bride, one of the greatest films ever made.
And, in checking on options, I found that Memphis Botanic Garden was holding Mudpie Mondays and Adventure Fridays. On Mondays, the kids were able to make old-fashioned mud pies for the garden fairies who live in the My Big Backyard part of the Garden. Fridays brought a presentation on something fascinating about the natural world each week. (Mosquitos: why they bite us, and how to run them off, for example) Each of those activities was followed by some time in the Garden's spray park, where it thunders for two minutes to signal that the rain is about to fall, every 30 minutes. Then I discovered that our wonderful Brooks Museum held Wacky Wednesdays. The Brooks is our fine arts museum, and they had volunteers to help the kids make a piece of art (Wire Sculpture was her favorite), then they showed several short films from Caldecott and Newberry Award winners, then they provided a bingo game that encouraged the kids to tour the museum to find the pictures shown on the game cards. Then we threw in a few Saturday morning visits to the Memphis Zoo for animals, the Teton Trek fountain, and picnics. We also mixed in a few Lazy Days, just to take it easy.
I think that I have never had so much fun in one summer. It has been an absolute blast spending it with this delightful little girl, who has so much personality, so much confidence, such an intellect, and her mother's beauty. 
She made this intimidating prospect of a whole summer a great deal of fun for an awfully anxious old Granddaddy!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Our Historic Good Fortune

We were incredibly fortunate that George Washington was on the scene when the Revolutionary War broke out, and again, when the Articles of Confederation failed miserably, and we moved to our present form of government.
We were incredibly fortunate that Abraham Lincoln was on the scene when the approximately 90 year struggle over slavery (referring strictly to the time when there was an independent American government) broke out into warfare.
We were incredibly fortunate that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was on the scene, first, when the Great Depression was at its peak, to restore a sense of hope and institute the New Deal to get the country moving again, economically, and then again when war came to America again in 1941.
We were incredibly fortunate that, in 1962, John F. Kennedy was on the scene when the Soviet Union put nuclear missiles in Cuba, and our military leaders wanted to attack them. His cool prevented World War III from breaking out, and got those missiles removed.
We were incredibly fortunate that Barack Obama was on the scene when the worst economic disaster since 1929 befell the world in 2008. His judgement and determination contributed mightily to saving the world economy.
We are incredibly fortunate that, in 2017, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron are on the scene. Since the United States has decided to abdicate our responsibility to lead the world by inexplicably allowing in office an utterly ignorant and ill-mannered buffoon, we depend mightily and totally on these statespersons who know, and are committed to, the traditions, the values, and the principles that have sustained the western world in this post-World War II period. This critical moment, as each of those described above, is no time for ignorance and arrogance as policy.
At least the citizens of Germany and France know that.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Colin Kaepernick Exercises Freedom of Speech; "Patriots" Livid

I've seen many versions of this ignorant crap floating around since the 49ers quarterback sat out the national anthem the other night. Many of them have said something to the effect of, "Our military didn't fight and die so you can disrespect the flag." 
Yes, they did.
Because in this country, we are guaranteed the freedom of our speech, the freedom to dissent, and the freedom to seek redress of grievances. And the freedom of speech, in particular, is a guarantee to speech that is NOT popular, NOT the norm, and NOT what the majority of people think. Because you don't have to protect popular speech, normal speech, or the speech of the majority. That speech is protected by its bulk.
I've read others saying, "there oughta be a law..." It would be unconstitutional. And, before the case was decided by the Supreme Court, it would be a law that demanded to be violated. Just like the Jim Crow laws in the south that led to the Civil Rights movement. The prime defense in the Nuremberg Trials at the end of World War II, when the surviving Nazi bigwigs were put on trial for their war crimes, was, "I was just following orders." It didn't work. It never works. We are each responsible for ourselves. You abide by an immoral law, you are an immoral person. Such a law would never stand.
I admire Colin Kaepernick. He took a stand, or a seat as it were, based on his clearly articulated grievances with our country. I think he is right in his named grievances. Clearly, there are major issues for people of color in the United States of America. I also admire that he, apparently, made the decision to take the heat that will be heaped upon him now. There is no more draconian institution in America than the National Football League. Since Kaepernick has been a marginal player, at best, since the year he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he will likely be fined, may be suspended, and I doubt anyone in the league would criticize the 49ers if they released him. But, remembering the parallels again, John Lewis was beaten half to death, Martin Luther King was murdered, Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were murdered, James Meredith was shot, Medgar Evers was murdered, and on and on and on, for standing up for what they believed. America may guaranteed the freedom of speech, but there is no guarantee that you won't be killed for it, either literally of figuratively, by the most un-American of Americans. 
But no matter how loudly the popular speech today may condemn Colin Kaepernick for sitting, this country was built precisely on the principle that he, indeed, could do it. And I'm grateful to him, and every other American, who has taken this country at its words. Those in the Constitution. Not the words of Fox "News" or Rush Limbaugh or Donald Trump. But the words, largely written by James Madison, perfected by the Constitutional Convention, ratified by the original states, and accepted by every state that has joined the Union since. They are the only words that matter. And Colin Kaepernick was genuinely American and patriotic in trusting and relying on them.
Whether you like it or not. Especially if you don't like it.

Monday, July 04, 2016

July 4, 1976

Forty years ago today, I was in Washington, D.C. As a part of the Marshall County High School Band, I marched in the National Bicentennial Parade in our nation's capital. I don't know how the Marching Marshalls were selected as Kentucky's entrant. I don't know who it was that went to George Milam, the band's director, and explained that the minister at First United Methodist Church had been reassigned to Jackson, Tennessee, but he had this kid who had just finished ninth grade and played the tuba, and could the kid possibly go on the trip anyway? I don't have any idea why Mr. Milam agreed to that request, except that he was just a terrific guy. He had decided that for this once in a lifetime opportunity, he would invite his just-graduated seniors to make the trip, and go ahead and bring up the just-finished ninth graders, too, to make the band as big as possible.
The immediate problem was that Dad and Mom and the sibs were moving a couple of weeks before the trip, and there would be no way for me to get to practice in Draffenville, Kentucky, from Jackson, TN. Enter my grandparents. Granddaddy was in his final appointment before retirement at Murray First UMC. They agreed to put me up and put up with me, and tasked my uncle, Bill, a Murray State student at the time, with transporting the 15 year old nephew back and forth for rehearsals. I can only imagine how thrilled he was with that assignment.
Logistics in place, rehearsals completed, we boarded the buses for the longest, farthest away from home trip I'd ever been on. Mr. Milam was an educator, so he wasn't interested in the easy way out of just going up for the parade on July 4, and returning home as quickly as possible. He planned an extravaganza that gave us six days in Washington after the parade.
The parade was incredible. It was eight miles. It was July. It was Washington. It was 100% wool uniforms. I'm not sure to this day how I survived. Hot and itchy is not my best thing. We got it done. And that night, after the parade and showers, we went to the National Mall for the show. Johnny Cash sang, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller spoke, and there followed the greatest fireworks display that to this day I have ever seen. All of this at the base of the Washington Monument.
After that, in the following days, we saw the Lincoln Memorial. We visited the United States Capitol. We went to the White House. We saw the prototype of the Lunar Module that Neil Armstrong had piloted to the surface of the moon at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. We saw the Supreme Court building. One of the last stops we made before setting out for home was the National Archives, the home of our nation's most significant documents.
The United States' Constitution was there, each page of it, the size of a newspaper page in my recollection, in a separate case, and there were several of them. We could walk right up to them and read everything it said. And displayed above, in its own case, one that rose from a vault that reached deep into the ground in case of nuclear attack, built during the Red Scare of the 1950s by the Mosler Safe Company of Ohio, was The Declaration of Independence.
I had already, on that trip, found the Lincoln Memorial to be a sacred space. I cannot begin to put into words the experience of standing before the great sculpture of a seated Abraham Lincoln in that magnificent, open hall, on that first trip, or on another, just a few years ago. I had that same sense as I stood before The Declaration of Independence. While the Declaration largely fell by the wayside, especially after the 1787 writing of the Constitution, its reputation and prominence began to rebound as the nation approached the 50th anniversary in 1826. The coincidence of the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, two of the last three living signers of the Declaration on July 4, 1826, that exact 50th anniversary (Charles Carroll of Maryland lived until 1832, when he died at the age of 95), contributed to its return to prominence. But it was Abraham Lincoln, in his Gettysburg Address's references to it, that made the Declaration once more a living, breathing document. Lincoln recalled the breathtaking aspirations, the dreams of all humanity, and the determination to pursue them, that mark the writing committee's work as an eternal expression of all that we believe that we can become. (The committee was comprised of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York. Adams proposed that Jefferson write a first draft, and when it was done, Adams and Franklin acted as editors before the committee presented it to the Continental Congress)
That trip was one of the greatest things that ever happened to me. It fed a love for American history and our American institutions that lives in me to this day, and will continue throughout my life. It made many of those things that I had already read about real. I'll forever be indebted to whomever it was that asked George Milam to include me. I assumed for many years that it was one or both of my parents that asked for that kindness, but they both insisted again, just this afternoon, that it was not them.
I wish every American could make that trip, and especially those who are filled with such contempt for Washington, our government and its institutions, and the dreams and expectations that the Declaration describes. For as far as I am concerned, contempt for those dreams and expectations is simply contempt for Americans, as we are, truly, those who consider Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness to be Unalienable Rights for All.


Saturday, June 04, 2016

Muhammad Ali

When people think of Muhammad Ali, I hope the boxing comes to mind second. I agree completely that he was The Greatest, the best boxer who ever lived. But I hope his courage is what people will remember first.
He was brave enough to stand up against the Viet Nam war in 1967. He refused to be inducted. He refused to run away to Canada. He was ready to go to jail. He lost his title. He lost his livelihood. He lost three years that would have been, as good as he was before and after, his best years as an athlete. 
He was reviled. He was hated, passionately. White people, and many black people, had no use for him, whatsoever. And he knew that was going to happen. He took it all on. He did it before Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy broke with President Johnson over Viet Nam. He did it three weeks after Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his sermon "Beyond Vietnam" at the Riverside Church in New York City. (Dr. King would be murdered one year to the day from the moment of that sermon.)
He had been a friend of Malcolm X, before they had a falling out. He was a friend of Dr. King, as the FBI's wiretaps of Dr. King documented. He was acquainted with Jacqueline Kennedy, and certainly aware of Robert Kennedy's assassination. He knew what the cost could be, of standing up for what he believed. 
He did it anyway. 
He told the truth, with courage. He would not go to kill Vietnamese people, people, he declared, who had never called him that N word. Black people in America in 1967 had seen the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act enacted into law, but they had not seen them enforced throughout the nation. They certainly had not seen the hearts and minds of all Americans changed. The black people of Ali's generation had seen fathers and uncles and friends come back from fighting for America in World War II, and as soon as they got home, be reminded that they were not equal, and they certainly were not genuinely free by any definition. 
He stood up. With courage. Knowing the consequences.  
And he paid the price. He lost. He lost a lot.   
But then he won. 
The Supreme Court reversed his conviction. He fought again. He became the champion again. And he became beloved. And did it all without the loss of his integrity. Because of his courage.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

General Stupidity

There seems to be a lot of fretting about the united methodist general conference today. I haven't followed it, and hadn't intended to comment, as life is far too pleasant since having escaped that organization several years ago. I have one friend inside the dragon, and a few acquaintances of one distant level or another. And after some significant amount of puzzlement/despair/frustration/anger on their parts, well, here are my thoughts.
It is mystifying to me that people of good will are still shocked when conservatives act like conservatives. That club that claims to be a church was long ago taken over by operatives of an extreme right-wing crew that had already succeeded in comandeering most of the rest of America's religious clubs. I have become very grateful to Bishop Dick and his lackies for teaching this to me. After all, why should I have wasted any more of my life? There is no such thing as church. There is simply a club that rewards those who play along with the conservatives, and massacres those who don't.  Never having been much of an ass-kisser, I'm better off out.
The leaders of the club pretend to be things they are not. For instance, many of them continue to insist that a "church" is not obliged to worry about what is wrong and what is right. They simply need to plot a course that will allow them to keep their members, and, more importantly, their members' money. Which is interesting, because the ones who keep threatening to leave if they don't get their way are the conservatives. Think Texas republicans' constantly stated desire to secede. They aren't going anywhere. They are just playing games. Now, if there were any such thing as a church, you would think that distinguishing right and wrong and standing with right might be fairly important to it. The methodist church just wants to talk about "making disciples," and address the continual loss of members and money over the last 40 years. 
When you pretend to be a church, and you won't stand for what is right and against what is wrong, you won't draw in new people. You'll just sit around watching the angry old conservative assholes slowly die off.
While your club dies, too.
I've been to enough funerals.