Tag: #colorado

Still coming home

750x450 endthewar

Fiddling while Rome burns

I spend many hours blogging at my local library.  They regularly host events on a wide variety of topics.  I rarely take one in; its tough enough for me to keep on track without one more distraction.

However, recently a program called “Still Coming Home” caught my attention-so I attended.  Organized by the Colorado Humanities council, it was billed as a program featuring veterans reading what they’d written about their war experiences.

In a small, dimly lit auditorium, the barrel chested first speaker read his account of a drunken brawl he’d been involved in after Marine basic training at Camp Pendleton before he shipped out to Vietnam.  The second, also a Marine and a Vietnam vet, read his account of how he, again drunk, had taken down and properly disposed of a giant but tattered American flag that was being used as a mere advertising device by an auto dealer on Havana Street, one of Denver’s main drags.  The third, this time a younger Marine and vet of one of our current, perpetual wars, read about how his experience had led him to enroll in a Catholic seminary.

But what about . . .

The was a brief time for questions and answers after each speaker.  Before asking mine I waited till everyone else in the audience had their chance.  And, to be frank, the questions from other audience members were softballs; about writing style and whatnot.  So then, a bit nervous, I asked each speaker in turn, “What’s your opinion of the ongoing wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria?”  Then I shut up.

To a man, they opposed them.  But the last speaker-by then he knew what was coming-asked me a question: “But what’s your opinion of the wars?

“Well,” I responded, “initially I was an enthusiastic supporter.  But now I’m completely opposed.  After nearly 20 years, I can’t see that we’re doing any good.  As far as I can tell, about the only thing we’re doing is making a bunch of defense contractors wealthy.”

At that, one of the previous speakers, exclaimed, “Amen!”

I didn’t, but wish I had added, that Israel is probably the main beneficiary of our wars because they do such a great job of deflecting Muslim anger away from the Jewish state. And turning it on us.  Oh well, this won’t be the last time I suffer from delayed intelligence.

Whatever happened to “Peace Now!”

I came of age during the 1960s, the height of the Vietnam War.  The country bristled with anti-war rage:  kids burning their draft cards on college campuses, protest marches, riots, rock concerts.  And the protests played a big part in bringing our involvement in Vietnam to an end.

So, 20 years on in our current perpetual wars, what’s changed?  Why have we become a nation inured to war?  It’s certainly not that the death and misery have gone away.  Either for us. Or, for that matter, our enemies a half a world away.  And these wars are every bit as futile and costly as Vietnam ever was.

But here’s one thing that has changed: the draft is gone.  Sure, they’re still protesting on college campuses.  But not, as far as I can tell, about our endless wars.  Instead, college students are fiddling about “big” issues-like the largely imaginary slights to the LBGTQ community.  And the countless other whiney groups that indulge in identity politics.  While their largely white country and urban poor cousins join the Army, travel to distant, sandy lands.  And get their legs blown off.

And, as far as I can tell, things aren’t likely to change so long as things don’t change.

 

 

 

 

Project Sanctuary Redux

Project Sanctuary Bus at Snow Mountain Ranch

What is impossible for man is possible for God

Well, here I am again.  At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars.  Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.

Much is the same.  Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies.  Plenty of opportunities to unwind:  ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit.  Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.

And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat.  The Post Traumatic Stress workshops.  The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions.  The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.

A Well Oiled Machine

Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.

One of those was the Johnson family.  The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse.   His wife is Felicia.  They live near San Antonio, Texas.

My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.

“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”

“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade.  But my mom home schools us.”

“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well.  How many brothers and sisters do you have.”

“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”

“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut.  “And you guys all drove up here?”

“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”

“Amazing.  And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”

“I want to be a farrier.  We have a horse and I like to work with them.

“Not easy work,” I said.  “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”

“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone.  I cut myself.”

But wait.  There’s more.

That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.  

“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids.  And that you have a blog.  How in the world do you do it all?”  

Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”

“I have a blog also,” I said.  “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”

“It’s about Christian homeschooling.  And I post once a week.  Here’s my card.”

“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read.  “That’s a good one.  I’ll definitely take a look.  Here’s the card for my blog.  With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”

Life with an open hand

In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy.  He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill.  Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions.  I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.

Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.  

Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children.  Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right.  And Protestants had it wrong.  “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception.  And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits.  It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives.  Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”

Mike’s argument impressed me.  But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child.  The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me.  And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.

I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics.  But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours.   One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith.  One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones.  A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them.  A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top.  But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.” 

 

There’s A Clean, Well Lighted Place

750x450 a clean well lighted place

And Then There’s Family Promise

No less a literary titan than James Joyce once described Ernest Hemingway’s short story, A Clean, Well Lighted Place, as ” … masterly. Indeed, it is one of the best short stories ever written…”

And there was a time when, as a youth who aspired to write the mythic “great American novel”, I would have unquestioningly agreed; I was a big fan of anything by Hemingway. However, I’m now, at best, ambivalent about the author.  Like many of his stories, booze and “nada” are central to A Well Lighted Place.  Which, I suppose, isn’t surprising given the horrors that Hemingway and the 40 million other members of his “Lost Generation” endured in the trenches of World War I.

But I was reminded of the story last Saturday as I was waited in a clean, well lighted place, i.e., my church, to shuttle a van full of homeless Denverites to their next stop in the Family Promise program.  And, it is to be hoped, their next stop on a road that will eventually lead them out of homelessness and to a place they can call home.

What they do.  And how they do it.

750x450 family promise

Started in 1982 from a businesswoman’s chance encounter with a homeless woman, Family Promise has grown into a national organization engaging 180,000 individual volunteers and 6,000 faith congregations.

On several occasions during the year, our church hosts families referred to us by the organization.  The accommodations are anything but fancy, but they’re clean and well lighted and safe.  Teams of volunteers feed our guests.  The bathrooms include showers.

During the day, families stay at a downtown Denver location where long term planning for employment, housing and financial stability are the focus.  It was my job, this time, to drive the van to that location.  On previous occasions my wife and I have helped provide dinner.

You can lead a horse . . .

I’ve lived in Denver my entire life.  And there’s little doubt that I’ve been blessed.  So, I’m certainly not as well acquainted with the tougher side of life with which others are familiar.

But sheltered existence or not, no-one who drives around town can miss the countless beggars and panhandlers that are seemingly a permanent fixture on so many street corners.  This is particularly noticeable to me because I remember seeing few, if any, of these people growing up here.

I hope that Family Promise can make a dent in the problem.  Especially for those-and you’ve seen them as well-who have kids sitting by their side as the mother (don’t think I’ve ever seen a man doing it) holds out a hand to cars at the red light.

But I fear that making a dent in the problem will be tougher, and more complex, than we imagine.  One of the issues that defies easy solution is the deinstitutionalization of individuals with mental illness.  This “reform” may have seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  And relieved severe over crowding at Pueblo’s state hospital.   But how many of those patients wound up begging on street corners?  And not really interested, or able, to lead lives off the street?

I don’t know.  I just know what I can do.  And invite you to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there came a time, after I became a Christian, that I soured on Hemingway.  His nihilistic atheism.  His misogyny and the way he treated women as mere objects.  His he-man bravado on African safaris and lion hunts.  And the tough guy bravado in the many war stories he wrote from personal experience.  And, finally, the alcohol and even binge drinking that played into so many of his novels.

 

 

I, Claudius

Decadent Rome.  Decadent America?

I don’t really remember how I, Claudius got on my Netflix radar.  I think it was my sister who suggested it.  But in any event, it took months, even years, for it to work its way to the top of my queue.  But I’m glad-I think-that it eventually did.

1976 BBC TV series, the show depicts the early days of the Roman Empire.  From the Pax Romana of Augustus, to Tiberius, and then to Caligula the Empire sank ever further into corruption, depravity, luxury and ruthless violence.  There’s a brief respite when Claudius, who escaped assassination only by playing the part of a harmless idiot, assumes the throne.  But at the death of Claudius (probably at the hands of his wife Agrippina), the loony excesses of Nero lead the Empire over the cliff to ruin.  And so, with a whimper, ends the line of emperors that began with the mighty Augustus.

Allowing for dramatic license, the show actually seems pretty accurate.  Moreover, the show was a huge commercial success and was voted by others in the British film industry as the 12th among the 100 best TV programs of all time.  

Fine.  But what’s ancient Rome got to do with us?

Good question.  But, unfortunately, I fear that the excesses of the Roman actually have quite a lot to say to the America of our day.

Start with something simple: the relative burdens of “empire.”  Ours, with its globe girdling military presence, dwarfs anything Rome ever ruled.  The Pentagon “estimates” that we have 5,600 bases around the world.  Which, when you’re fighting perpetual wars, isn’t all that surprising.

And the sheer cost of our military?  The U.S. spends more on arms than the next six countries combined.  And four of those six could be considered allies.  Keeping the Empire’s barbarian hordes at bay eventually bankrupted Rome.  What makes us think we’re any different?

As depicted in I, Claudius, the Legion’s elite Praetorian Guard routinely interfered with politics, making and unmaking Emperors and even assassinating some, such as Caligula.  Now, under Trump and for years before him, key cabinet posts are filled by generals and admirals.  Are we to the point of having our own version of Rome’s lawless and cosseted Praetorian Guard?  Perhaps not yet.  But who can make a persuasive case that is not the direction in which we’re trending?

And then there’s Harvey Weinstein

weinstein sketch

By today’s standards, I, Claudius is pretty tame sexually.  But what it lacks in today’s explicit, pornographic images, it makes up for with suggestion and imagination.

For example, there’s the scene where Caligula (who’s declared himself the incarnation of the god Jupiter), suspends his nude, very pregnant wife by golden handcuffs.  (She‘s also his sister. And, as is only fitting for a god’s consort, is a goddess herself.) As her nervous titters morph into horrified awareness, he proceeds to disembowel her because the unborn infant “might become a threat to my rule.”  Which, judging by the standards of the rest of this despicable bunch, is a reasonable prophesy.  

At the outset, we only see the woman’s back.  And, fortunately, the relatively prudish 1970’s era camera diverts its eye even further at the end of the scene so that we only hear the woman’s hideous screams from the other side of a closed door as she’s butchered.

But no such luck with the low life Harvey Weinstein and his vile film, Pulp Fiction.  Harvey and the film’s director, Quentin Tarantino, hold nothing back: gore, graphic sex of all varieties, drug fueled orgies, you name it. (I couldn’t bear to watch this stinker through to the end.) Sure, I know most critics fawned over it.  But so what?  The cowering sycophants around Nero and Caligula did the same for their “gods.”

But what’s really troubling about Pulp Fiction isn’t so much the film itself, but what it’s enthusiastic reception has to say about our larger culture.  What can you say for a nation that celebrates all the varieties of perversion and violence that were on display in this movie?  Probably the same thing you’d say about a decedent Roman empire that did very much the same thing.

Is it too late for us to draw back from this yawning brink?  I’d say no; it’s never too late.  But I’d say that this is equally true:  those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.

In other words, I, Claudius is a show all concerned Americans should watch.  Carefully.  And learn from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crawling off the marriage altar

750x450 angle of repose

The trouble with living sacrifices

I’ve been a member of The Bookies book club now for going on two years.  We’re four guys, all current or past members of the same church.

Some of the books we’ve read left me hungry for more.  Hanna Coulter, by Wendell Berry, for example.  Others, like Helen MacDonald’s,  H is for Hawkkept me doing the math on how many pages I had to wade through before the end hove into view.

We just finished Angle of Reposeby Wallace Stegner.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.  Ostensibly, it’s the story of the hard luck lives of an engineer and his wife as they wonder between mining camps and ne’er do well irrigation schemes in the American west in the 1870’s and ’80’s. Dank, dark tunnels and dry irrigation canals torment Oliver Ward and his wife, Susan, with the allure of riches that remain forever just beyond their grasp.

Angle is the sort of book that left me hungry for more.

The crucible

The book really isn’t about the brutally tough existence of miners in hard scrabble towns like Leadville. (Although, as a Colorado native, it was a nice bonus to read a story celebrating places that I’ve driven through and been familiar with ever since I was a kid.)

The novel is actually about a highly improbable marriage.  The union of two people who could scarcely be more different.  But having made a quality, although probably ill-advised decision to marry, Oliver and Susan Ward personify the notion of “not sweating the small stuff.  And it’s all small stuff.”

The Wards are the kind of people the Psalmist probably had in mind when he wrote,

“Who may live on your holy mountain?
. . . the one who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind.”

Time and again, politicians, speculators and less honorable men cheat “Grandfather;” the story’s narrator is Oliver’s grandson, Lyman Ward.  Who, in turn, is a Berkeley university history professor trapped in a broken body-and time.  Stegner’s depiction of the “liberated,” braless hippies that swarm like so many intellectual gnats around Lyman’s typewriter provides what little comic relief the novel affords.

The story ricochets back and forth between people, place and time.  Sometimes it follows Oliver to his preferred environment, the rough-as-a-cob West, where civilization scarcely rises to the level of a veneer.  Sometimes it follows Susan to her preferred environment in the East, where where she occasionally escapes from the miseries of the frontier to revel in a civilization thickly encrusted with fine art, elite schools for her children, and literary salons.  Lyman, looking back from the tumultuous 1960’s and the ruins of his own marriage, tries to make sense of all he surveys from the wheel chair planted in front of his typewriter.

The two shall become one

Oliver and Susan Ward’s marriage is littered with disappointments, tragedy and betrayal.  By the end of Angle of Repose, their union is little more than a dry husk.  But a union it stubbornly remains.  Held together, probably as much as anything, by the conventions of society.  And the couple’s recognition that their’s is the hand to mouth existence described in Ecclesiastes:

‘Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
 If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.”

Those who do not learn from history . . .

Lyman Ward is depicted as a meticulous historian in Angle.  He sympathetically reconstructs the lives of both of his grandparents from from the voluminous letters that flow between Susan and her well-to-do Eastern confidant. In so doing, Lyman, by the end of the novel, changes from a dispassionate chronicler of his grandparents’ lives.  To a student of their lives.

Lyman sees the parallels in their familial stories.  How Oliver, a virtual emotional cripple, had helped drive Susan to a desperate act of unfaithfulness.   And yet how, through it all, the two remained faithful to the quality decision they had made so many years before.

And now, how Lyman’s own wheel chair bound existence had contributed to his wife’s similar fate when she took up with the surgeon who amputated Lyman’s leg.

But there, the stories diverge.  On the one hand, it’s “until death do us part.”  On the other, it’s a bitter, never to be forgiven divorce.

. . . are doomed to repeat it?

But unexpectedly, almost as if by dues ex machina, Lyman’s ex-wife, Ellen, shows up in the novel’s final pages.  No longer married to the sawbones who’d cut Lyman’s leg down to size, Ellen’s reappearance as someone willing to help care for her ex-husband is a puzzle.  After all, by the 1960’s, the societal conventions that had held marriages together in Oliver and Susan’s days were long gone-if, indeed, marriage itself was still was still held to be conventional.  And financial necessity in marriage?  Gone the way of the not-so-great Great Society.

So, what’s up with this last twist in the plot?

Although nowhere explicitly stated (like the rest of this elegantly understated novel), it’s probably about forgiveness.  About how Lyman learns that Oliver’s failure to forgive Susan didn’t maim just her life.  But, even more, his.  

And that, as the historian of the family, Lyman, of all people, was not doomed to repeat his grandfather’s error.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disorder

750x450 disorder (1)

MSMS:  My scary movie syndrome

Understand.  I have a slight tremor anyway.  It’s a side effect of the medication I take for my bipolar syndrome.  And, I suppose, a natural consequence of getting older.  But it doesn’t come close to preventing me from spending inordinate amounts of time poking this keyboard trying to turn out something that might grab your attention.

And, understand further, that I’m a coward when it comes to spooky movies.  On the first date with the woman who became my wife of what is now nearly 40 years, I, for some crazy reason suggested we see Hitchcock’s Psycho.  Before the credits rolled, I was reduced to a whimpering mess, eyes closed, my head cowering behind her back.  Why she consented to marry me after that display remains, to this day, a mystery.

And then there’s the night before last.  As is my wont when watching DVD’s, I was grinding away on the downstairs elliptical.  Marleen was in the mountains, skiing with my sister who was visiting from Albuquerque.  So it was just me and DisorderIn a quiet house with nightfall rapidly coming down outside.  But by the time it was over, I was palsied like a leaf in a hurricane, barely able to get the disc back in its Netflix sleeve and rush it back to the outer darkness from whence it came.

But . . . I watched it again a few nights later.

Bread crumbs

I got to it, of all places, from one of my favorites, Far From The Madding Crowd

Matthias Schoenaerts is the common denominator: the strong, silent type.  But in Disorder he’s a veteran- and victim-of one of our endless wars: the conflict in Afghanistan.  His unsettling portrayal of the mood swings of a now body guard for hire suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was more than enough to keep me on the edge of my figurative seat while on the elliptical.  And keep me glued to the couch when I otherwise would have climbed down from the elliptical and started doing sit-ups.

But it wasn’t because I needed to see the subtitles in this French language film-the dialog doesn’t carry the show.  It was far more that the long silences and the eerie sound track were punctuated by jump-out-your-skin sneak attacks as Schoenaerts defends co-star Diane Kruger’s creepy mansion from invasion.  Even the last scene, which turned out to be perfectly benign, made my skin crawl the first time around.

But as I said . . .

I’m a coward when it comes to scary movies.  But I liked this one anyway.  How Kruger slowly, grudgingly allows Schoenaert to earn her trust and respect.  In part, because, he, a hardened soldier with plenty of issues of his own, unobtrusively shows her how to be a better mother to her young son.  Over a bowl of cereal.

But if fingernails-on-the-blackboard suspense isn’t your cup of tea, Disorder might not be for you.  But I’ll give it this much:  it made me come back for a second helping.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Far From The Madding Crowd

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD

A real, live white male hero?  Not possible!

I’ve watched it more times than I want to admit.  But, as Sergeant Troy, the film’s anti-hero says just before he stops a richly deserved bullet to the heart, “Honesty in all things.”  So.  There you have it.  Guilty as charged by my wife, who more than once has cast a wondering, skeptical glance my way as she goes up the basement stairs while I spin the elliptical, watching Far from the Madding Crowd yet again.

I like Carrie Mulligan as the impetuous, strong willed Bathsheba Everdene.  And Mattias Schoenaerts as the wise, steadfast Gabriel Oak.  I like the marriage bond that finally unites the two.  I like that, right from the outset, “a baby or two” is recognized as the natural and desired outcome of marriage.  I like the defiant heterosexuality.  And the picture’s equally defiant sexual modesty, even prudery.  I like the gentle, English countryside. And the Victorian conventions that bound it together.  I particularly like that the film makes no effort whatsoever to appease the vast array of aggrieved minorities and pressure groups that Hollywood has seemingly come to believe are its primary raison d´être.

The thrill is gone

But all good things come to an end.  Especially after the furnace is stoked cherry red.  But in due course, I’m confident the thrill will be back.  And what’ll I do then?  Climb aboard the elliptical.  And watch it again.  Even knowing each of it’s twists and turns.

And which is something you might want to consider doing yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the mouths of babes

400x500 cowgirl

Too soon old, and too late smart

Tuesday mornings have gotten to be one of the best of the week for me.  I get to go to my daughter’s home, take my four year old granddaughter by the hand, and walk around the corner to Duffy Roll.  There, we both tuck into one of their delish “minis” over a cup of joe (for me; Bridget can’t stand the stuff) and orange juice (for her).

That delightful “chore” done, we pull out one or two of the books we’ve carried along and, with the sun streaming through the windows, I read to her.  Titles like “Every Cow Girl Needs A Horse”; the kid is pumped about going to the National Western Rodeo in a few days.  And “I Wonder Why I Blink”; I swear that her mom is letting her cheat off her anatomy notes from nursing school days.

By then, it’s time to walk back home, get her buckled into her car seat (which, in my estimation is like most child safety devices: almost entirely adult proof-at least for an old curmudgeon like me).  And head to her preschool, where I give her a kiss and a hug before she circles up on the floor with her buddies.

400x500 wonder

Can you believe this?

This little weekly ritual all got started nearly nine months ago.  Why nine?  Because that’s when my daughter felt a need to get a little break from raising two still very young daughters.  While holding down a part time nursing job.  All while coping with the stress and strain of growing a third little munchkin.  Which, we were eventually delighted to learn, will be our first grandson.

Boy, is Bridget excited to have a baby brother!

But, at least initially, I wasn’t so thrilled to help out every Tuesday morning.  “After all,” I thought to myself, “I may be retired.  But I still need to spend a lot of time working on my blog and the other stuff I do.  This babysitting thing is really going to cut into my day!”

You probably can’t believe the thought even crossed my mind.  And, at this point, I’m ashamed to have to ‘fess up to it.  Yet there it is.  But now am I ever glad that Bridget’s mom asked.

“I’d rather be a mom.”

Not long ago, as we walked home after reading about how our muscles and bones work in, I Wonder Why I Blink, I asked, “Do you think you might like to be a doctor or a nurse when you grow up?  You already know a lot about the various parts of our bodies.  Your mom’s a good nurse and helps little kids.  Maybe that’s something that would interest you.”

“No,” she answered, without skipping a beat, “I want to be a mom.”

Now, do I really have any idea what this bright little four year old is going to do for an occupation?  Of course not.  No more, in all likelihood, than she really does.  But I definitely admire her aspirations.

She doesn’t know it yet, but society will probably pressure Bridget to change her mind.  As if aspiring to be a “mere” mom is a second class calling.

But Bridget’s answer was also very revealing.  It says a lot about her mom.  And, for that matter, her dad.  How she admires them.  How she loves them.  And how they love her and her little sister.  And their new baby brother.

Shoot for the moon. Miss, and land among the stars.

So, here I am.  Initially a bit resentful at being dragooned into spending one morning a week with my granddaughter.  But also thinking that, at least, I’ll be able to pour a few drops of wisdom from my “vast reservoir” into the empty cistern of this little child’s mind.

But what really plays out?  Just the reverse.  Little Miss Sunshine turns my Tuesday mornings into one of the brightest days on my calendar.  And then takes me to school on straightening out my work and family priorities.

So, Bridget, you hang in there.  Pay no attention to your old papa.  Or any of the other nay sayers.  You’re definitely on to something.

 

 

 

 

 

Indoctrination.

Or entertainment?

Well, here we go again.  Yet another retrospective on a film I saw while trapped, eyes wide open, on the flight to Greece last spring.  It was the wildly popular and critically acclaimed, The Shape of Water.  The possessor of the ultimate in Hollywood’s Good Housekeeping Seal of PC approval, it won Best Picture at the 2018 Academy Awards.  Not to mention cleaning up in a bunch of other categories.

Oh, that I could have slept.  Or, with apologies to Mrs. Browning, How do I dislike thee?  Let me count the ways.”

Creative?  Or an assemblage of weary PC tropes?

For the few of you that may have missed it, the story revolves around a sexually intimate relationship between a young, mute cleaning woman, Elisa, and a lizard like sea creature.  Only in Hollywood.

But, I have to confess, right off the bat, that I’ve probably made my first mistake.   Bestiality probably isn’t a weary Hollywood stereotype.  Yet.  But give it time.  With the success of Shape, who knows what kinky delights show biz, even now, is conjuring up for us?

The really bad guys.

As everyone knows, a gang of bad guys is de rigueur in a red blooded Hollywood production.  And, in the case of Shape, the gang is-horror of horrors- a 1950’s era nuclear family:  husband, wife and a couple of kids.  And believe me, there’s plenty not to like about the Strickand family.

The husband, an Army Colonel, is a knuckle dragging Cold Warrior whose preferred method of “interrogating” the sea creature is chaining him up and poking him with a cattle prod.   Now, if you’ve followed this blog at all, you know I’m no fan of our bloated military:  here and here.  But the depiction of Strictland’s character is nothing more than a one dimensional caricature of the villain in a black hat.

The wife?  A ’50’s era house wife whose bouffant hairdo matches her empty head.  And the chubby, boob tube watching kids?  Put it this way:  the world would be a be a better place if these brats were both unseen and unheard.

But the most serious charge against the Strickland mob? They’re heterosexual.  And exemplars of “white privilege”.  So, in the all seeing eye of Hollywood, there’s no need for a trial: the entire gang is guilty by definition.

And the good guys?

No, that’s not a trick question.  It’s as easy as is seems.  Figure out who the bad guys are.   And then look for their opposites.

In père Strickland’s case, it’s Giles, the sensitive, oppressed homosexual who helps Elisa free her sea creature lover from the clutches of Colonel Strickland.

And the antipode of Strickland’s wife?  The sensitive, oppressed black cleaning lady who joins forces with Elisa to let my sea creature go“.

I like movies.  Just not this movie.

As you’ve gathered by now, I watch quite a few movies.  Most often Netflix choices while I’m working out on the elliptical in our basement.  Movies are among the most transparent windows into our culture that are available to us.  But the movies that I usually favor tend to be years, even decades, old.  Give me Hollywood’s Golden Era almost every time.  And movies made during the Golden Era are, perhaps, most revealing in showing how far Hollywood has fallen.

And Shape is, indeed, transparent.  Transparent in its distortion of institutions like marriage and family that have served as the bedrock of civilization for millennia.  Transparent in its contempt for the regard that most Americans still, at least in theory, have for these institutions.  And, therefore, transparent in its contempt for most of its audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Decline And Fall

750x450 northern lights

North To Alaska!  I’m goin’ north, the rush is on.

In fall of 1975, after graduating from CU Boulder with a European history degree, I headed North to Alaska to find my fortune.

An intrepid friend of mine, Jimmy Gray, had done it.  A few years before, he’d gone to Alaska’s North Slope and gotten a job working on the oil pipeline.  Like everyone, I knew the working conditions were brutal:  long hours, isolation, frigid temperatures. But, working on the pipeline paid more than almost anything else someone like me could do.  And, if you didn’t blow it, in a year or two you could have a sizable nest egg.

And, that’s what Jim did: his few years on the pipeline gave him a financial kick start on life.

But, for me, no dice.  By the time I got to Anchorage, for every unskilled job opening on the pipeline, there were at least 10 applicants cooling their heels in the union hiring hall waiting for a call that never came.

So, I went to plan B.  First, driving bus for the Anchorage school district.  And then, when school let out, driving taxi around Anchorage during the night shift-it was still dark at night when I first got to town.

The land of the midnight sun.

500x600 decline fall

Ever tried to work the night shift and then sleep during the day?  It isn’t easy; if I got five hours of sleep after driving taxi for twelve hours at night, I felt lucky.

So, I had plenty of time to read.  And I spent most of that time reading the second volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  It’d belonged to my dad; his neat, cursive signature is still just inside the cover of both volumes.

Originally published about the time of the American Revolution, the book spans centuries and thousands of pages.  While modern scholars may quibble that it’s outdated, to a babe in the woods of history like me, it was a work of astonishing scholarship.

The man on the white horse.

At this point, decades on, do I remember much of what was in those thousands of pages? Not really.

But I do remember this much: the vaunted Roman Legions, which had originally conquered most of the known world during the time of the Republic, played a big part in bringing down the Empire.  Why?  Because the Legionnaires and their generals that had started out being the servants of the Republic wound up being the corrupt and cruel masters of the Empire.  They were better at court intrigue than at keeping the barbarians at bay.  Again and again, they made and unmade emperors. Sometimes in a matter of days; 193 AD is known as The Year of the Five Emperors.

And the very size of the empire became it’s Achilles heel.  With a frontier that stretched over thousands of miles and three continents, border incursions and wars were never ending.

History repeating itself.  Except on steroids.

Now, the American empire dwarfs the Roman empire.  And we suffer from many of the same distempers.

In eastern Europe we poke the nuclear armed Russian bear by pushing NATO right up to the Russian border.  In the South China Sea, rather than minding our own business, we delight in bearding nuclear armed China.  And this is not to mention our perpetual wars in the Middle East.

But, astonishingly, our own southern border remains a leaky sieve to a region rife with drugs and the murderous gang warfare that has left nearly 300,000 dead.  And anyone who has the temerity to suggest that the border be walled off is “racist”.

But did you see the news?  Trump is pulling US troops out of Syria.  Now, if he could just man up and do the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Those tribal, dark-age regions have been at war with one another for millennia.  And there’s nothing we can do to stop it.  So, yes, Virginia, I guess there is a Santa Claus.

For the love of money.  Blood money.

Our enormous military establishment has very little to do with national security.  And much more to do with money.  We spend more on arms than the next seven nations combined-several of whom are our allies.

And now the military is proposing that we spend morelots more.  Enough so that we can not only continue, indefinitely, to fight the low intensity wars in the Middle East that have become back page news.  But also to “rearm” to fight major conflicts against countries like Russia and China.

So, the defense contractors and their lobbyists will be on easy street.  As will the generals and admirals.  And their obedient political pets in the US House and Senate.

But what happens if we, the people, dare try to turn off the spigots?  Who knows?  But when a general on a white horse-or tank-comes riding into Washington, DC demanding that the gravy train start rolling again, don’t say you weren’t warned.