Insert Catchy Title Here

You know those false images we all have?  The ones we know are false, but still use for jokes and assumptions and all kinds of other nuttiness?

You know the ones I’m talking about: rural folks are all inbred morons, city folks are all pampered incompetents, Germans are all evil and nasty, Canadians are all nice, Australians are all drunk…

All of those are illustrations of what I’m talking about….well, except for that last one.  That last one is pretty much true.

Here’s one I’m at least as guilty as everyone else in using, if not more so: Americans like to wallow in isolation and ignorance of the rest of the world.  Friends of mine in Europe love to point to stats like just 42% of Americans holding passports (compared to 76% in Britain, for instance).  Americans, they say, just don’t want to go anywhere, or see anything, that isn’t the US.

Now, as someone who has travelled pretty extensively, I’m gonna call bullshit on that one.  As someone who has travelled the length and breadth of Europe, I’m also gonna have to point out something that most of my European friends — especially those who have never been here to the US — like to ignore: America is pretty stinkin’ big.

Look at it like this; I’m about to drive 14 hours to go visit my family.*  If you aren’t aware, I now live in Montana, right outside of Yellowstone’s northern boundary, while my family is (mostly) still back “home” in northern Colorado.  NoCo is, in terms of the US, right-next-door…fourteen hours away.

*And get yelled at for my recent anti-Trump post, I’m pretty sure.  *sigh*

To put that little jaunt into perspective, a fourteen hour drive from London puts you in the Orkneys, for pete’s sake.  Want a nice long drive from Berlin?  You’ll get to freaking Romania in that same fourteen hours!

Okay, so why do so many Americans never leave North America?

Do you have any idea just how much there is to see?!  Add in Canada and Mexico, and I would have to drive a minimum of those same 14 hours in order to reach the “end” of any road (in this case at the Pacific Ocean)!

Travel is about something different for everyone.  It’s about different cultures, or different histories, or different scenery.  It’s about external activities, or about internal satisfaction.  It’s about education, or entertainment, or exploration.  It’s about whatever the hell you want it to be about, when you get right down to it.

Now, I’ve made jokes and comments about those who “never want to leave home.”  I’m guilty of using that “shorthand” of misguided and foolish assumptions to make a point from time to time, but all you have to do is remember something I talked about a few posts ago.  All you have to do is remember that key we writers — we humans — should never lose: perspective.

All that being said, here’s a little perspective for those who wonder why I picked this particular prejudice to make my (admittedly allegorical) point:

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Since I haven’t done one in a while, here’s a little musical accompaniment…because you can’t go wrong with a good song!

Wait, Didn’t I Once Promise to Ignore Politics?

So I’m sitting here, having coffee while I wait for a friend…

“Hey, I’m early, let’s kill some time with the news!”

Of all the good ideas I’ve had, that one is right up there with “…of course I’ll take you to an occupied bear den!  The cubs are super-cute when they’re at home…”

Ahem.

link_CRUqKZKKFRGAlAFTlfPdN5TEw3cvwdL4,w1200h627Anyway…the news…

I think I prefer the angry momma grizzly, thank you very much.

A few random thoughts and notes based on what I read, then, in no particular order:

  1. “Editing” the Constitution — *sigh* look, I know the language in there can be a problem.  I know the concepts and compromises from 200+ years ago can bring pain and outrage now, but “editing” our past isn’t going to solve anything.  It would be much better to use the language and concepts and compromises as the basis for teaching.  For teaching how things have changed…and how they haven’t.  Both the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are more aspirational than concrete, anyway, so they make wonderful tools for teaching middle and high school kids about reality — both the reality of now, and the reality of two hundred+ years ago.
  2. Whites Need to Speak Up…or Shut Up (which one kinda depends on who you are reading) — One of the things I’m not going to do is try to divine peoples’ emotions and motivations, and to advocate who should or should not be able to speak.  Skin color does not change the validity or honesty of what a person has to say, and that is flat out the only way to look at it.  To argue otherwise is to simply flip the script of racism, which leads to nothing but the tit-for-tat bullshit we are starting to see every day.  That being said, I’ve chosen to keep my own mouth shut and listen.  I listen because I don’t know.  Oh, I know the history and sociology and intellectual side of race and the US…but I don’t know.  I’ve never been pulled over because of what I look like.  I’ve never been followed by store employees because of my skin or hair.  I’ve never felt the sting of violence and hate and fear because I was other.  I’ve kept my mouth shut because I don’t think I can add to the discussion at this point.  Instead, I would rather let the eloquence of others speak with the power and authority of experience and authenticity.  But that is my choice, valid for me alone.  It in no way means that “no white person should ever discuss race” as I’ve read some suggest.
  3. Apathy vs Delusion — this election promises to keep poli-sci programs, not to mention generations of “political strategists,” busy with examples and lessons for generations to come.  Leave aside the names involved, and all of the emotion and judgments contained therein, and just look at the dynamics of the race itself: you have one candidate, running on a broad range of supporters that numerically should be able to dominate the opponent.  That range, however, has very little enthusiasm or energy.  They support, but they don’t do so with any real intent or drive.  On the other side, you have a candidate with a small base of supporters who in no way represent the nation at large, but have all the energy and dedication in the world.  They will believe anything — do anything — their candidate says, and they will do so in the most aggressive and offensive ways.  So, politically, which wins?  4 years ago it was passion and rage, running against a shrugging nonchalance, but will that hold true today?  If I weren’t living in the midst of this, it would make for an interesting modern lesson on the historical examples and dynamics I have studied for so long.  If I weren’t living it.
  4. The Company You Keep — As a child I was taught that your character is defined by what you do, and by the company you keep.  Now, that outlook has been put to the test more than a few times in some of the, uhh, “shenanigans” that have made up my life, but it is something I long ago took to heart and have tried to live by.  Enter Donald Trump.  If he is defined by what he does, and by the company he keeps… *sigh*.  Sorry, folks, but I’m lost with this one.  Since I don’t want to get into a 5,000 word diatribe — one that George Will did much, much better here — I’m going to focus on just one thing: Trump’s choice to keep company with traitors.  He has chosen to laud and irretrievably pin himself to the “heroes” of the Confederacy in the Civil War.  That is the company he has chosen to keep: those who chose to pick up a weapon and fight for slavery.  Sorry Donny, but that there is ‘nuff said…you are thoroughly defined.
  5. Recrudescence — yep, COVID is coming back, and it’s coming back hard.  Nope, conspiracy theorists and denialists, this is NOT just “another flu.”  Nor is it “fake news” made up just so the left can go after Trump and the hard right fringe that is today’s GOP.  Coronavirus and COVID-19 are very much real, and still very much a threat.  If you are getting your news on COVID solely from Fox News, Powerline, OANN and Townhall…well, I can’t help you.  You may have chosen to put yourself in an echo chamber — as is most definitely your right and privilege — but please do the rest of us a favor and stop assuming those echoes mean a damned thing to anyone else.

Okay, so this bit isn’t really a part of the “list,” it is just…

It is just a thought, and a (sorta) plea: people change.

Yes, this post went a little “rant-y,” but I couldn’t stop myself.  I have friends and family who still expect me to be the good conservative Republican I once was.  Sorry, folks, but I ain’t that person anymore.  I’ve changed.  I’d like to think for the better, but there is no question that I very much have changed.  One of the biggest of those changes is that I have no more patience for the willful ignorance and demented worldview that characterize both extremes.

Quite simply, I want nothing to do with either.

Live and let live, that’s it.  That’s what matters to me.  That’s also how I judge any and all politicians and others who claim to “lead.”

Every day I become more libertarian.  Every day I become more convinced that this overwhelming drive both sides have to dominate and rule the lives of everyday folks is what is driving us to a second civil war.  I wish I could say we could stop this slide, but I’m pretty sure we passed the tipping point years ago…if not decades ago.

But, hey, when that war comes, well…

No one does memory, and monuments, better than the Central Europeans — a reminder of the costs:

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I’m Ruined, By The Way

This was a day that started all wrong.  A day of driving and dealing with crowds and traffic.  A day of frustration and irritation.

At least that’s how it started…

How it ended?

It’s been fucking stunning.

I don’t use that word very often — stunning, not fucking…I use that one all the fuckin’ time — but when I do use it, I mean it.

The greens were lush and vibrant, bright and alive.  The grass and trees absolutely bursting with new growth.  The black rock and soil of the mountainsides rising in stark contrast above the valley floor, capped by the still-white peaks.  A sky as blue as a newborn’s eyes with just a hint of clouds to provide some contrast and context.

If you’re religious — or even if you’re lapsed and fallen, like me — it’s a reminder that the entire world really is a cathedral.  There was a sense of peace and serenity, to go with the feeling of purpose that seemed to permeate the air itself.

It was magic.

Okay, so what the heck does that have to do with the title of this post?

I went into town today.  When you live in a village of a couple of hundred, by the way, going into town is a necessary deal.  Now, instead of going to my preferred town of under 20,000, I went all the way into Bozeman.

Shit, I thought just seconds after getting off the highway, this is as bad as LA!

Okay, I grew up in LA, so I know just how stupid and wrong is that comparison, but it was still what I felt at the time.

Cars everywhere, driving like nutjobs…

People everywhere, crowding and talking and in general irritating the living crap out of me…

Smells and sounds and a feeling I haven’t felt since I left “civilization” behind…

I hated it.  I hated every single second of it.

I cursed and cussed and stressed until I realized I can never go back to that kind of life.

Not to go all hippy-on-a-commune on you, but my days of living in a place like that are pretty definitely over.  I can’t do it anymore.

But even that wasn’t what made me realize I was ruined.  Nope, it was the drive home.

South of Livingston, Montana lies a place called Paradise Valley.

The greens and blacks…

The whites and blues…

The smell of fields freshly mown for hay…

The pace of life determined by…well, by life itself rather than by the artificial urgencies that so characterized my morning.

That is how I realized I was ruined.  How the hell could I ever leave this?  How could I leave the wilderness and the fields?  The bears and the wolves?  The elk and the bison?  It’s all right outside my damned front door.

Sometimes, living in the middle of all this, it can be easy to take it all for granted.  It can all become “commonplace”, and so be overlooked and forgotten.  But then…

But then…

But then, you have a moment of magic.  You have a glimpse of perfection, and you remember just what the hell it is that truly matters.  You can keep the cities and the cars and the crowds, thank you very much, I’ll take a few seconds of perfection — a moment that’s fucking stunning — over all of that.

Memorial Day is More Than Pandemics and Politics

Tomorrow is Memorial Day.  It doesn’t feel like it, not in this terrible year, but nor does it feel like the normal facade of cook-outs and three-day weekends and other mundanity.

Even now, even today…

6CF962AA-3326-4234-A532-EE72B142A6C5Strike that.  Especially now, especially today, we have to take the time to remember just what this day means.  Just why it is more than tiny little flags someone else stuck on a grave in between hot dogs and runs to the store for more beer.  Unfortunately, I have this fear — more of a certainty, to be honest — that this Memorial Day, and all that it means, will be lost under the cloud of COVID-19, political hatred, and the brewing unrest and discord that hangs over it all.

IMG_0720So I sat down to write a post about Memorial Day.  I sat down to use my own words and knowledge to put a drink on the bar (you can read about the origins of my use of that phrase here) for those we have lost, then I realized I was just repeating myself.  Instead of doing that, I am going to break one of my semi-rules and repost here something I wrote a couple of years ago.  I’m going to repost it because it still works…and it stills carries all the meaning in the world.

I Have No Words

I’ve never heard the drums of war.

I’ve never lived the reality of combat.

As a writer, and as a student of history, I try to learn and to understand, but that understanding is merely intellectual. I know the truth as it has been told to me, but I have no true understanding of the reality.

For this Memorial Day post, I am not going to use my own words. My own words are as inadequate as they are disconnected from that reality. No, instead I am going to use the actions and words of those who know.

From Lieutenant Bob Kerrey, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart:

“Too often, Memorial Day becomes just another three-day weekend, a holiday that marks the beginning of summer, the opening of public pools, the excitement of children who know that the school year is about to end.
The holiday doesn’t have to be this way. It can be more. And it can be more with just a little bit of an effort. You don’t have to give much to get a lot.

If you have not suffered a loss, think of someone who has. Consider what they gave. Consider what they are giving now.

In my case, I will take a few minutes to quietly remember the men I knew who died before this day had a meaning for them. They were too young, too free of terrible memories, too unburdened of wondering if they were good men.”

—Quoted from “How I remember my lost military comrades” in today’s New York Daily News. Read the whole thing.

I wasn’t sure how to approach today’s post, until Lt. Kerrey gave me the idea. Below are the formal citations for several Medal of Honor winners, one from each service…every one of them posthumous.

9E6A169B-35E3-4F55-AEAA-185BC0FD1E30Commander Ernest Evans, USN — Medal of Honor, Bronze Star, Purple Heart
— Killed in action October 25, 1944 in the Philippine Sea

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Johnston in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Comdr. Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the Johnston, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him.”

02E7682F-7CE5-4185-A483-4B74F35F1CE9Corporal Jason Dunham, USMC — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action April 4, 2004 in Husaybah, Iraq

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a Rifle Squad Leader, 4th Platoon, Company K, Third Battalion, Seventh Marines (Reinforced), Regimental Combat Team 7, First Marine Division (Reinforced), on 14 April 2004. Corporal Dunham’s squad was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the town of Karabilah, Iraq, when they heard rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire erupt approximately two kilometers to the west. Corporal Dunham led his Combined Anti-Armor Team towards the engagement to provide fire support to their Battalion Commander’s convoy, which had been ambushed as it was traveling to Camp Husaybah. As Corporal Dunham and his Marines advanced, they quickly began to receive enemy fire. Corporal Dunham ordered his squad to dismount their vehicles and led one of his fire teams on foot several blocks south of the ambushed convoy. Discovering seven Iraqi vehicles in a column attempting to depart, Corporal Dunham and his team stopped the vehicles to search them for weapons. As they approached the vehicles, an insurgent leaped out and attacked Corporal Dunham. Corporal Dunham wrestled the insurgent to the ground and in the ensuing struggle saw the insurgent release a grenade. Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast. In an ultimate and selfless act of bravery in which he was mortally wounded, he saved the lives of at least two fellow Marines. By his undaunted courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty, Corporal Dunham gallantly gave his life for his country, thereby reflecting great credit upon himself and upholding the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.”

32EEA3A4-2B54-4B49-BA84-94A9A2B68421Private First Class Anthony Kaho’ohanohano — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action September 1, 1951 near Chup’a-ri, South Korea

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty Private First Class Anthony T. Kaho’ohanohano, Company H, 17th Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against the enemy in the vicinity of Chupa-ri, Korea, on 1 September 1951. On that date, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano was in charge of a machine-gun squad supporting the defensive positioning of Company F when a numerically superior enemy force launched a fierce attack. Because of the enemy’s overwhelming numbers, friendly troops were forced to execute a limited withdrawal. As the men fell back, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano ordered his squad to take up more defensible positions and provide covering fire for the withdrawing friendly force. Although having been wounded in the shoulder during the initial enemy assault, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano gathered a supply of grenades and ammunition and returned to his original position to face the enemy alone. As the hostile troops concentrated their strength against his emplacement in an effort to overrun it, Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano fought fiercely and courageously, delivering deadly accurate fire into the ranks of the onrushing enemy. When his ammunition was depleted, he engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat until he was killed. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s heroic stand so inspired his comrades that they launched a counterattack that completely repulsed the enemy. Upon reaching Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s emplacement, friendly troops discovered 11 enemy soldiers lying dead in front of the emplacement and two inside it, killed in hand-to-hand combat. Private First Class Kaho’ohanohano’s extraordinary heroism and selfless devotion to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 7th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.”

48954FA8-0C46-452C-9FB6-C552CE83FFEECaptain Steven Bennett, USAF — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
—Killed in action June 29, 1972 in the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam

“Capt. Bennett was the pilot of a light aircraft flying an artillery adjustment mission along a heavily defended segment of route structure. A large concentration of enemy troops were massing for an attack on a friendly unit. Capt. Bennett requested tactical air support but was advised that none was available. He also requested artillery support, but this too was denied due to the close proximity of friendly troops to the target. Capt. Bennett was determined to aid the endangered unit and elected to strafe the hostile positions. After four such passes, the enemy forces began to retreat. Capt. Bennett continued the attack, but, as he completed his fifth strafing pass, his aircraft was struck by a surface-to-air missile which severely damaged the left engine and the left main landing gear. As fire spread in the left engine, Capt. Bennett realized that recovery at a friendly airfield was impossible. He instructed his observer to prepare for ejection, but was informed by the observer that his parachute had been shredded by the force of the impacting missile. Although Capt. Bennett had a good parachute, he knew that if he ejected, the observer would have no chance of survival. With complete disregard for his own life, Capt. Bennett elected to ditch the aircraft into the Gulf of Tonkin, even though he realized that a pilot of this type aircraft had never survived a ditching. The ensuing impact upon the water caused the aircraft to cartwheel and severely damage the front cockpit, making escape for Capt. Bennett impossible. The observer successfully made his way out of the aircraft and was rescued. Capt. Bennett’s unparalleled concern for his companion, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty, at the cost of his life, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.”

A10772B0-7E3C-45E9-AA55-14010FBA02F4Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, USCG — Medal of Honor, Purple Heart
— Killed in action September 27, 1942 near Point Cruz, Guadalcanal

“For extraordinary heroism and conspicuous gallantry in action above and beyond the call of duty as petty officer in charge of a group of 24 Higgins boats, engaged in the evacuation of a battalion of marines trapped by enemy Japanese forces at Point Cruz, Guadalcanal on 27 September 1942. After making preliminary plans for the evacuation of nearly 500 beleaguered marines, Munro, under constant strafing by enemy machine guns on the island, and at great risk of his life, daringly led five of his small craft toward the shore. As he closed the beach, he signaled the others to land, and then in order to draw the enemy’s fire and protect the heavily loaded boats, he valiantly placed his craft with its two small guns as a shield between the beachhead and the Japanese. When the perilous task of evacuation was nearly completed, Munro was instantly killed by enemy fire, but his crew, two of whom were wounded, carried on until the last boat had loaded and cleared the beach. By his outstanding leadership, expert planning, and dauntless devotion to duty, he and his courageous comrades undoubtedly saved the lives of many who otherwise would have perished. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”