Tag: conservativethought

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump and The Wall: smart like a fox?

Or dumb as a stump?

At the library where I blog, there’s a table displaying IRS information booklets.  An ever present reminder that tax season is, alas, upon us.

But in addition to the booklets, there was, up until a few days ago, a sign declaring that “Due to the Federal government shutdown, IRS services may be unavailable or delayed.”  Which, given that about 8 out of 10 Americans get refunds, probably made the blood freeze of about 8 out of 10 library patrons.  You know, the ones counting on refunds for little things like house or car payments.  Or even groceries.

But who, now that President Trump has caved on the wall, are probably breathing a sigh of relief.

Blinking first

The shutdown lasted for 35 days, the longest in the nation’s history.  Of course, the hold up was over funding for the wall on the southern border to limit illegal immigration.    It was President Trump’s signature issue during the 2016 election and it played a large part in why he’s President.   He’s demanding nearly $6 billion for the wall; not even enough to finish it.

Democrats in Congress who, since last fall’s elections, have a solid majority in the House, flatly said “No!”  They claim the wall is “immoral” and ineffective-despite having voted to fund a wall on the southern border in the past.  And despite Democrat support for the massive amounts of US aid that we provide Israel (well over $3 billion for defense), which, at least in part, has helped fund their highly effective barrier.  And despite the fact that walls have proved their worth in terms of border security and limiting conflict in many countries all around the world.

Was it a fit of absent mindedness?

But, in retrospect, the truly puzzling question about this Mexican standoff is: why now?

Republicans firmly controlled both houses of Congress for the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency.  Many of those Congressmen were swept into office on the President’s broad coat tails.  Sure, lots of incumbent Republican Congressmen were firmly ensconced in the DC “swamp” that Trump promised to drain.  They had few warm feelings for an outsider like Trump.  And they never really bought into the President’s “big, beautiful wall.”

But in the end, it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t have given the President pretty much anything he asked for in terms of the wall.

So why did he wait until Democrats, the true “never Trumpers,” took control of the House to push the issue that, above all others, landed him in the Oval Office?

This article suggests that the wall just got lost in the shuffle of starting up a new administration.  This one, from the New York Times, suggests the issue is more complex than it appears.  But neither are persuasive for me.

The wall is political life.  Or death.

So the real explanation for this two year delay?  Who knows for sure.

But this much seems pretty certain to me.  When the President surrendered on this issue, his reelection prospects took a nose dive.

The otherwise reliably Democratic, industrial states of the upper mid-west, the fabled Blue Wall, the states that Hillary was so confident of winning that she virtually ignored them, but in the end voted for Trump, can easily flip back Blue.

And, if they do, Trump will probably have the Presidential rug jerked out from under him.

But who knows?  Most pundits counted Trump out of the Presidential sweepstakes before he even got to the bottom of the escalator at Trump Towers.  So just maybe, like the wily Mohammad Ali, The Donald is doing the rope-a-dope.

We shall see.  But, unfortunately, don’t hold your breath.

 

 

 

 

 

Gimme Shelter.

Sunset photo of Colorado State Capital buildingProject Sanctuary At The Winding River Ranch.

Rand Case.  Now there’s a name you don’t hear everyday.  And neither had I until I met Rand during my last door to door campaign for the Colorado House about four years ago.

Of course, after doing it thousands of times, I pretty much had my line of front porch patter down cold:  small business owner, Colorado native, all three kids graduates of Cherry Creek schools, a son that served eight years on submarines.  Something, almost invariably, made a connection.

In Rand’s case, it was the Navy and submarines:  he’s a graduate of the Naval Academy. And served on subs.  And, for good measure, he’s also a Colorado native: grew up in the profoundly land locked little tourist town of Grandby, just south of Rocky Mountain National Park and west of some of the most rugged peaks on the Continental Divide.

Not Just War Weary.  But Actually Doing Something About It.

But by then in my political life, when I met someone with a military connection on the campaign trail, I usually couldn’t refrain from saying something about my weariness of our endless wars. The broken bodies.  The broken minds.  The broken families.  And for what purpose?  To enrich defense contractors and to justify Congressmen’s boasts about bringing home that tainted defense “bacon.”

And that’s probably why Rand also told me about Project Sanctuary.   Run by and for veterans, it’s an organization that recognizes, as it says on the website, that “The whole family serves, and the best way to ‘support the troops’ is by supporting the entire family.”  Rand serves as board secretary.  Most of the other board members are vets as well.

True Grit.

But the real impetus for the organization came from registered nurse, Heather Ehle, who, in 2007, saw the need, set up a card table in front of a local grocery store, and began asking for money for 6 day family retreats.  The retreats focus on three aspects of the lives of returning vets:  assessing the need for help, reconnecting families at the 6 day retreats, and offering up to 24 months of ongoing support.  All services are free of charge.  In their effort to take soldiers from “combat ready to family ready,” they now offer programs all across the country.

My wife and I had our first in person exposure to Project Sanctuary at their annual fund raiser.  Heather, I’ll confess, spent a good deal of time in the spotlight that evening.  And the program planners seemingly lost track of the maxim that the “brain can absorb only so much as the rear end can endure.”  Heather, especially, was a bit too much for my wife.

But it was also clear that Heather was a hero to the many vets and their spouses in attendance that night.  Moreover, who but someone endowed with enormous self confidence and grit, could raise an organization from nothing to one that has now impacted 1,000+ families in just over 10 years?

KP.  Babysitting.  And PTSD For Kids!

So, I decided to volunteer for a retreat-the 149th since PS began.  But I started by dipping my toe in the shallow end at a nearby retreat at the Winding River Ranch, just outside Grand Lake, Colorado.

Initially, I thought I might be helping with cooking-something I’m pretty good at.  But fortunately, they had that covered.  Cooking three meals a day for 50 some people for 6 days is no mean feat.  So I did KP:  putting out food for the cafeteria style meals, washing dishes, sweeping floors after meals.  You know, the glamorous stuff.

And, while parents were in sessions where heavy topics like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) were discussed with trained counselors, I helped babysit the younger kids.  Sharon Harris, a licensed play therapist, did a great job coming up with diverting games that usually managed to sneak in a lesson about family team work or some similar moral.

It was heartbreaking to learn that there was a session for kids to help them cope with the PTSD that’s sunk its claws into their families.

When the lights went out at 9 pm, I slept the sleep of the righteous.  Despite a stuffy, far from luxurious room and a roommate I’d never laid eyes on before.

Husband Caregiver.

Two of the little kids at Winding River were beautiful, blond twins who rode in the back seat from Georgia with their parents who, after going through the program themselves, were now back as volunteers. Although you wouldn’t know it if you saw him on the street, the father’s among the walking wounded.

At breakfast one morning, I had the opportunity to speak with the wife-who described herself as a “husband caregiver.”

“How,” I asked, “is the care you get from your local Veterans Administration?  The VA hospital they recently built here has been a scandal.  About a $1 billion over budget and years behind schedule.  Has President Trump’s effort to introduce choice into the VA helped?”

“The choice program might be a good idea” she answered, “but it’s still snarled in red tape.  The GP we’re assigned to has about 7,000 patients.  There’s no was they can keep up with it.  And with that kind of workload, there’s a lot of turnover among doctors.  That’s why,” she concluded, “PS is so important to us.”

Walton’s Warriors.

Bonnie Walton was another PS staff member that I met.  When I started speaking with Bonnie, I had no idea of why she was on staff.  So I asked.

“Because my husband, Brian, and I went through the program. And it was great.  But, despite that,” she concluded, “he ended up committing suicide.”

Talk about a gut punch.  And Brian is only one of what the VA estimates could to be up to 20 service members per day who commit suicide.  But there is some hope; Brian is the only Project Sanctuary graduate who has taken his life.

And, to try to make sure that Brian is the last veteran that kills himself, the organization started Walton’s Warriors.  Although the program is multi-faceted, it’s built around “peer mentors”: vets who’ve wrestled with the same demons that have lead so many to despair and death.  Who then volunteer to be trained and ready to help others.

“Get Out Now!”

Colorado House of Representatives

When I served in the Colorado House, the Iraq and Afghan wars were still raging.  And the vet suicide issue was rapidly making its way to our attention.

In response, a bill was introduced that set up a state program providing “early intervention” mental health services for returning vets.  For obvious reasons, it was one of those bills that got unanimous support.  Members lined up to speak in favor; the phrase “early intervention strategies” was uttered repeatedly.

But while I had every intent of voting for the bill, I sat at my desk, stomach churning, a scowl on my face.  I was debating whether I should speak.  And what I should say.

Finally, mind made up, I got in line to take my turn at the mic.

When I got there, I first turned to my left to thank the sponsor, Dave Young.

“But,” I went on, scanning the entire chamber now, “how about this as an early intervention strategy?  GET OUT NOW!”  With that, my “speech” was done.

The Colorado House of Representatives operates under certain rules of decorum.  One of those is that members and spectators should observe a respectful silence when we are in session.

My fellow legislators observed the rules after my little talk.

But before I’d left the podium, a small group of spectators, above me and to the left, erupted in cheers and clapping.  I still don’t know who they were.  But the Speaker of the House, presiding over our deliberations from just behind me, immediately gaveled down the gallery, crying “Order, order!”

The Real Question.

So, here we are, nearly 20 years on from 9/11.  And we’re still not entirely out of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Not to mention all of the world’s other hot spots where our military’s presence will probably do no more to insure this nation’s peace and security than all the blood and treasure we’ve squandered in the Middle East.

And even when we do finally get out, the horses have already left the barn-and we’re not gettin’ ’em back: the vets whose lives and families have been shattered.  Whose wounds, both mental and physical, have left the VA hideously overtaxed.  And have left organizations like Project Sanctuary to pick up the pieces.  Whose efforts, although valiant, are little more than a drop in the bucket.

So what’s the real question?  Just this: Have we, finally, learned our lesson?  Yes, it may be an old saw, but we can’t be the world’s cop.  Nor, and just as importantly, does much of the world want us to be.

America, it’s time to come home.

A War Like All Others.

750x450 ancient greeceThose Who Can’t Learn From History, Are Condemned To Repeat It.  But Why?

An old friend and I are planning a cruise to the Aegean islands this spring.

I’ve known Dean for decades.  First, back in the ’80’s, when we were brought together by our mutual loathing for rail mass transit.  But 21st century Denver’s unreasoning lust for a 19th century technology won out in the end:  FastTracks, as we predicted, is billions of dollars over budget and decades behind schedule.  The long, miserable track record of other failed projects like this around the county made no difference to voters.

But why?  Because they swallowed, whole hog, the Chamber of Commerce’s line of light rail BS.

Somewhere along the way, however, I lost track of Dean.  Which isn’t really the right way to put it.  I had it from a usually reliable source that he had actually died after a long bout with prostate cancer.

But then one night, as I was opening mail in my “campaign headquarters” (my grown son’s former bedroom), what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a check from Dean to help fuel one of my runs for the Colorado House of Representatives.  “What,” I thought, “a check from beyond the grave?!”  No, of course not; the guy I met a few days later for breakfast, while, like me, somewhat worse for wear, was no ghost.

In any event, we’ve booked a cruise this spring to see Greece and the Aegean islands.  So, I’ve been boning up on my Greek history.

Athens, Sparta And The War That Doomed Greece.

One of the books I’ve listened to is Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).  Considered one of the two fathers of the study of history, Thucydides was an Athenian and an eyewitness and participant in the events he described.

In effect a civil war, it was fought with the savagery that is typical of internecine conflict.  Its conclusion marked the end of Greece’s Golden Age, and left its two primary combatants, Athens and Sparta, burnt out husks of their former selves.

The other father of history, Herodotus, also a Greek, chronicled the earlier Persian Wars (499 to 449 BC) that pitted the overwhelming might of the Persian empire against a ragtag band of Greek city states led by Athens and Sparta.  Against all odds, the Greeks prevailed and the nascent idea of democracy was not strangled in its Athenian crib.

As the Peloponnesian War began, Athens was near the pinnacle of its influence, wealth, and matchless cultural achievements.  But from a scrappy democracy, imperial pretensions were beginning to appear.  What had been the “coalition of the willing” that had banded together to turn back the Persian threat a mere 18 years earlier, was now a restive Athenian empire: the Delian League.  Athen’s increasingly heavy-handed treatment of League members provoked its rival, Sparta, and contributed to the outbreak of the war.

Initially, Pericles, the Athenian statesman and general, persuaded his fellow citizens to adopt a defensive strategy, withdrawing behind the “Long Walls” that connected the city to Piraeus, the nearby port where its battle tested and nearly invincible navy lay could launch raids against Spartan territory.

More than Athen’s equal on land, Sparta pursued a scorched earth policy, squeezing Athenians into their walled city where they watched their olive trees and vineyards being ravaged.  But the Athenians, with their control of the sea lanes, could securely resupply themselves.

Stalemate: both sides settled in for a grinding siege.

Athens:  Democracy to Bullying Imperial Power.

But the crowded conditions behind Athen’s walls caused a devastating plague to break out in the war’s second year.  Thousands perished, including Pericles and most of his family.  Thucydides himself contracted the disease, but survived, writing about it in gruesome detail.  Social order collapsed, since most Athenians believed they were doomed anyway.

Remarkably Athens was able to rebound from this calamity.  Over the next 15 years, and with increasing ruthlessness on both sides, the war dragged on inconclusively.

Until Athens, in 415 BC, under the generalship of the brilliant, but unscrupulous Alcibiades, launched a massive sea borne invasion of Syracuse.  Like Athens, Syracuse was a democratic a city state.  It’s crime was that it was a Spartan ally.

The invasion ended in disaster for Athens, with its fleet at the bottom of the Mediteranean and the entire expeditionary force either slaughtered or sold into slavery.  While the war dragged on in desultory fashion for years thereafter, the ending was a foregone conclusion: ruin for all of Greece.  The way was cleared for Alexander the Great to subjugate the entire peninsula.

But why?  Because Athens had gone from the birthplace of democracy. To a bullying imperial power.

America, Israel And Our Unnecessary Wars.

The United States has now been fighting wars in the Muslim Middle East for nearly 20 years.  We’ve kicked over more hornets’ nests than you can shake a stick at: Afghanistan. Iraq. Libya. Syria. Yemen.  All fruitless.  All enormously expensive.  All blood soaked for both us and our opponents.  All with no end in sight.

But why?  To make the world safe for Israel.

The Jewish dominated, neoconservative movement has played an enormously influential role in American foreign policy since at least the 1960’s.  Although it’s tenets have varied based on the needs of the moment, in recent years the primary focus of neocons has been Israel and the Middle East.  The movement has deep roots in the Jewish American community.  It grew out of the Jewish monthly magazine, Commentary, originally published by the American Jewish Committee.  The American State Department, rife with neocons, has become a virtual low-level department in the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs when it comes to the Mideast.  When Israel says “Jump,” our State Department asks, “How high?”

President Trump’s appointment of David Friedman, an Orthodox Jew, to be the US ambassador to Israel does nothing to dispel this perception. Friedman is cut from the same extreme right wing cloth as Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Friedman’s Senate confirmation hearings were contentious, with a number of Israeli and American Jewish groups opposing it.  Friedman denounced his Jewish opponents in what can scarcely be described as diplomatic terms:  they are “far worse than kapos”-Jews who betrayed their fellows in the Nazi death camps.  While Friedman later attempted to walk back this language, his liberal Jewish critics weren’t mollified.  Several Jewish members of Congress opposed the nomination, as did five former US Ambassadors to Israel, who declared him “unqualified.”

No more helpful was the President’s recent announcement that the US embassy will be moved to Jerusalem.  Nearly every former US ambassador to Israel thought it was a bad idea.

The Israel Lobby.

And when not actually in government, Israel also exercises enormous influence over our foreign policy through a network of organizations described by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the Harvard School of Government in The Israel Lobby.  According to the authors, “No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.”

Of course, Mearsheimer and Walt have been accused of anti-Semitism.  Anyone who dares criticize Israel is, in the view of the Lobby, anti-Semitic.   It’s the perfect weapon for shutting down any reasoned consideration of what would be America’s best interests in the Middle East.

Why Not An Honest Broker?

In 1956, Israel, England and France invaded Egypt and took control of the Suez Canal after Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the waterway.  While the invasion was a military success, it was a diplomatic disaster for the three allies.

Under President Dwight Eisenhower, America was not yet in thrall to Israel; “Ike” played the crisis down the middle.  The three aggressors withdrew from Egypt.  The canal, which Egypt had blocked with sunken ships, was reopened.  America still had the standing to act as an honest broker in the Middle East.

No more.  In virtually the entire world, we are viewed as Israel’s handmaiden, its useful idiot.  Is it an accident that we are fighting wars with so many Muslim countries that surround the state of Israel?  And which consider nuclear armed Israel (although Israel is coy about its bomb) a threat to their existence?

Is America First?

One of the main reasons I was an early supporter of President Trump was that he promised to put “America First.”  Is it surprising that some Jewish scholars, commentators, and organizations have criticized the President for even suggesting that Israel be moved down the pecking order?  Unfortunately, with our never ending Mid-East wars, it appears that the Lobby is continuing to have its way.  And that Israel is back in the position to which it has long been accustomed: “We’re number one!”

Your Neighbor As Yourself

spencer neighbor pic

My wife and I went to Spokane recently to visit our daughter, Jocelyn, and her family.     I’ve gotten to know the city pretty well over the last 10 years or so.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, our older daughter, Lauren, got a nursing degree from Eastern Washington State in Spokane.  Lauren met her husband, Haden, at Whitworth, another Spokane university.

At least in part because she wanted to be near her sister, Jocelyn got a degree from Whitworth.  Where she also met her husband, Aaron.  They were married there on a beautiful, but searing late summer evening at a vineyard overlooking the Spokane Valley.  They now have a year old daughter, Lucy.  Named after, you guessed it, Jocelyn’s favorite sitcom.

I can’t tell you how many times Marleen and I have flown back and forth from Denver to Spokane for all these doings. But it’s a lot.

I wish I could still say that Spokane reminds me of what Denver probably looked like back in the ’50’s.  But I don’t think I can.  The city seems to be in the throes of a development frenzy that is more like Denver’s than the Spokane I remember from even two or three years ago.  Cranes and construction everywhere.  Half the downtown streets closed for one reason or another.

But, enough whining.  There are still plenty of aspects of the town that will make many more trips there rewarding.  And, as is invariably the case, they deal primarily with people.  Since it has been years since my wife and daughter Lauren have been in Spokane, they now primarily ripple out from Jocelyn and the roots that her family has sunk into the city’s flinty, volcanic bedrock.  Near their fixer-upper home in the South Hill neighborhood, it appears that hideous, black monsters of the underworld are forcing their heads into lawns that are perfectly manicured around them.

Since they were in college, Aaron and Jocelyn have attended New Community Church.   At that time, the church met in what was a store front in a shopping center.  The ceiling of the dimly lit sanctuary pressed down from just over the heads of congregants. The music of the band on the stage careened wildly around the room, beyond the ability of the sound crew, including my son-in-law, to tame it.  Just the ticket, in other words, for the many college students who go to church there.

This year, however, the church bit the bullet and bought a large old church, steeples, stained glass, organ, and all, from an aging congregation that was ready to fold its tent downtown.  And now, after several weeks of scrubbing and painting, New Community has moved into it’s new home.  The acoustics are still unruly beneath the domed skylight over the sanctuary, but now the energetic singing is matched by the light that pours in through the rose windows.  And the Light that is defused, as it always has been, through the faithful preaching of the Word.

They might not like me to say so, but the congregation is pretty much white-bread.  Which is fine with me.   Lots of young, white couples with little kids.  A stubborn remnant of the historic American nation which, despite the efforts of our political elite to extirpate it by electing a new people through mass immigration, endures.

For ballast, there are also some older couples at the church-which is important.  Our daughter and her husband hit a pretty rough patch in their marriage a while back.  One of those older couples took Jocelyn in while she and Aaron worked things out.  As a small token of my appreciation, I was very pleased to be able to prepare dinner for them with a wild turkey I shot which we had frozen and brought along from Denver.

At the heart of New Community are the many small groups that get together in homes around town, often on a weekly basis.  Jocelyn and Aaron have been active in theirs for years.

Hope and Derrick have also been part of their small group since college days.  Hope is a labor and delivery nurse that was at Jocelyn’s side when she gave birth to Lucy.  Hope also gave birth to her first right around the same time.  Derrick is in medical school.  They, to put it mildly, have their hands full.

But despite their medical training, Derrick and Hope, don’t quite seem to have this baby thing figured out: surprise!  Kid number two came along about a year after the first one.  Did it make any difference that Hope was still nursing?  Evidently, not in God’s economy.

www.kcengland.com

A foot shot of Jocelyn, Lucy and Aaron

– – –

The second Great Commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But to say that this is only a command doesn’t do full justice to Jesus’ words.  This is also an observation of a law of the universe that can’t be broken, pretty much like he law of gravity.   It might as well say, “You WILL love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

As young, white people Aaron and Jocelyn and Derrick and Hope face extraordinary challenges to living out the Second Commandment.  They are swimming upstream against a relentless barrage of leftist propaganda from the media, the political establishment of both parties, educational institutions, business, and, sadly, too often from the church itself, that merely because they are white, they should hate themselves.  You know, “white privilege.” and “black lives matter.”  In other words, the monotonous drum beat of the Left.

But assert that all lives matter, or even worse, that white lives matter, and the best you can hope for is the all purpose epithet, “Racist!”  And the worst?  A riot and a vicious beat down by thugs.  These racial crimes have been perpetrated all over the country.

The question is, of course, are white people willing to endure the slings and arrows that will come their way as they try to swim up stream to put themselves in a position to love themselves and, hence, their neighbor?    Not, of course, to claim that they are perfect.  Or that their forbearers were without fault.  But to claim that they, like everyone, are a mix of light and darkness, of good and bad.  And that they, like all humanity, are in need of grace.

And not to just wage this fight for themselves, but even more importantly, for their children.  It won’t be easy; there are already plenty of threats to the well being of their kids.  Affirmative action, which pretty much puts a target on their backs simply because they are white.  And, of course, particularly white boys.  Mass immigration, both legal and illegal, which, in only 30 years, threatens to make them strangers in their own land.  And if you think it’s easy to go against the grain to oppose either of these wildly politically correct orthodoxies, then you just haven’t been thinking.

This temptation for white people to, somehow, believe they are doing the world a favor by hating themselves plays itself out in a host of very practical ways.  But at it’s root, it is a spiritual question.  Do they believe the culture they represent, Western Civilization and their Judeo-Christian heritage, is worth preserving?  Or should it, along with themselves and their descendants, be consigned to the dust bin of history?

Charles Murray, the Harvard educated sociologist with the American Enterprise Institute, is, ahem, controversial.  His most inflammatory work, The Bell Curve, argues that there is a connection between race and intelligence.  It has caused the Left to lose its diminuitive, collective mind.  And helped trigger a riot at Middlebury College when Murray attempted to give a speech there this year that resulted in a left leaning female professor who was playing host for Murray being attacked by the college Brown Shirts.  For her thought crime of believing in academic freedom, she wound up in a neck brace.

Another of Murray’s books, Human Accomplishment, attempts to analyze and quantify human achievement world wide by quantifying the amount of space allocated to individuals in reference works.  It’s a fascinating book; you should read it.  But take care.  If you’re a leftist or a doctrinaire feminist it may drive you to another riot.  According to Murray, more than 80% of history’s highest achievers in the sciences, arts and philosophy are “dead white males.”

They are, in other words, representatives of Western Civilization and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So what does all this mean for my Spokane daughter and her family and their church friends?  Just this: rather than apologizing for who they are, they should be proud of it.  In fact, they have every bit as much a right as anyone to be proud of who they are and what they represent.  And to ignore, if they can, the claptrap of the political elite, the liberal media, Hollywood, big business, the “white privilege” and “black lives matters” crowds.

And if they don’t?

Well, here are some dystopian, alternative futures they should ponder.  Especially if they believe their kids fall into the category of neighbors worth loving as themselves.

First, James Burnham’s, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.

Burnham identifies the World War I as the “seminal catastrophe” that marked the beginning of the West’s decline.  And World War II was nothing more than the continuation of the catastrophe: a brief intermission to allow the combatants to catch their breath before continuing what Churchill described as a conflict in which “torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves.”

But, as Burnham goes on, the real disaster of these bloody cataclysms wasn’t some external event, it was spiritual.  They may have caused the West to lose its collective nerve, to commit suicide.

And what will be the weapon of choice for this civilizational suicide?   Who knows for sure?

But unlimited Third World immigration would probably do the trick.  There’s even been a dark novel on the subject, The Camp of the Saints, by award winning French author, Jean Raspail.  In it, impoverished Indians commandeer a hulk fleet, come around the Cape of Good Hope, and, like the volcanic outcroppings in Jocelyn’s neighborhood, force their way into the perfectly manicured environs of the French Rivera.  From there, they lay waste to the rest of Europe.  And then the world.  The West, having lost its nerve, lays down and allows itself to be overwhelmed.

Far fetched?  Not hardly.  Consider what some are calling The World’s Most Important Graph.  While it deals with the exploding population of Sub-Sarahan Africa rather than India, you have seen the images of illegal immigrants surging across the Mediterranean and pouring into Europe.  Pay particular attention to the U.N. produced Utube at the end of the graph that tries to persuade us that such immigration is not only inevitable, but desirable.

–     –    –

When my wife and I fly to Spokane, we invariably take Southwest-I’m not even sure there’s another choice.  The plane is always packed and prices have gone up commensurately.  But really, how much longer can they expect our super-sized populace to wedge themselves into their mini-sized seats?

But one compensation for Southwest passengers is that the airline doesn’t take itself too seriously; some of their attendants could make pretty good stand up comedians.  And the best opportunity for these frustrated comics to show their stuff? The inflight safety lecture.  I wonder, in fact, if Southwest has ever been sanctioned by the FAA for their light hearted approach to a procedure the other airlines seem to treat as an opportunity to anesthetise their passengers to the ordeal they’re about to endure.  Not sure.  But Southwest’s has even been considered newsworthy.

But there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the numbing repetition: you have to love yourself before you can love others.  What else is the significance of the direction to “put on your own mask before assisting others around you”?

Those who are heirs to the astonishing achievements of Western civilization need to realize that they serve no one, not themselves, not their children, not any other potential neighbor, by failing to put on their own mask first-before assisting those around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Kindness of Strangers

pot of beans on fireI practiced law for 10 years, which, according to one of my favorite gag lines, “was about five years too many.”  But law was by no means my only career mistake.  And today, shortly after having cleaned out my office in preparation for retirement, is not a bad time to reflect on a life that could serve as an illustration of Malcolm Muggeridge’s autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time.

But, in such a target rich environment, where to begin?

An image that easily comes to mind is in the upper reaches of Gore Creek, beneath Red Buffalo Pass and above Vail in about the spring of 1975.  Alone with my backpacking gear, I had parked my ’69 VW Bug at the foot of Vail Pass when it was still a two lane road, and hiked several steep miles up the trail to timber line.  I pitched my yellow pup tent on a huge ledge, just as the sun was setting down the valley to the west.

As I sat there admiring the view, a small herd of deer cautiously emerged from the dark shadows of the forest to graze in the lush meadow beneath me.  Then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, they vanished; something had spooked them.

Not too far away, a faint column of smoke rose from another campsite.  On my way up, I had talked briefly with the man, about my age, who was camped there.

“Mind if I sit down for a bit?”

“Go ahead,” he replied, “make yourself comfortable.”

I lowered my pack, found a smooth spot on the log on the opposite side of the fire from him, and took out my water bottle.  The grass around the rock fire ring was gone, beaten down to ash smudged dirt.  Pinto beans seethed in a soot encrusted pot over the flames; I didn’t see anything else on the menu for dinner.

Assuming that he was in need of my back packing expertise, I said, “It’s going to take forever  for those beans to get cooked at this altitude.”

“That’s ok,” he replied, “I have time.  I’ve been up here about a month.”

“Wow,” I replied, regretting I had said anything about the beans.  “You’ve been up here since before the snow melted.  What have you been doing?”

“I got home from Vietnam a while back.  I wanted to get away and try to clear my head.”

Vietnam: that miserable war had just wound down to it’s miserable conclusion.  But, unlike our current miserable wars, at least it did, finally, come to an end.

I don’t remember much else about that encounter.  And it’s likely that I wouldn’t remember it at all if it hadn’t been a sort of echo of my own experience in the Gore Range that weekend:  camping alone, seeking direction. Having just graduated from Colorado University with a European history degree, I wanted time alone to think and pray about what I was going to do with my life.

The decision facing me was a binary career choice:  law school or seminary to study church history.

Why nothing beyond more schooling?  For one, I had actually grown to enjoy the academic life since becoming a Christian two years earlier. Unlike my first years in college, I had taken school much more seriously, was learning how to write, and had excelled in most of my classes.  One semester, for the first time, I got straight A’s (not counting the Russian History class that I had dropped when I got so hopelessly behind.)

But there was also an element of fear, fear of facing the real world.  School was a safe, familiar environment.

A few weeks before, at a loud graduation party a friend who was getting an engineering degree asked me over the din of Led Zeppelin, “What are you going to do when we’re done?” When he heard that I was thinking of law school, he scornfully asked, “Why don’t you get a real job?”  I had no ready answer.  Maybe this time in the Gore Range would help.

I had submitted law school applications at CU and Denver University.  And for the graduate program at Princeton seminary for church history.

With my checkered academic record, the Colorado University law school rejected me outright.

The Denver University law school was only willing to admit me to the night program.  And, to make that achievement even more dubious, it was about then that DU was in financial hospice care; they were probably admitting anyone who could fog a mirror.

With the encouragement of a German History professor who took an enthusiastic liking to me, Robert Pois, I applied to Princeton Seminary.  They rejected me, but I figured there were plenty of other places out there where you could study church history.  True, I had only the vaguest idea of what I would do with such a degree: even I knew that the job prospects for teaching history at the college level were dismal.  Nonetheless, I stubbornly clung to the notion that this was an option worth keeping open.

I was certain of one thing, however: I wasn’t going to seminary to become a minister.  To this day, I can’t attempt much more than speculation about why I was so averse to that career path.  It wouldn’t have been without precedent in my family.  My grandfather Swalm was a Nazarene pastor.  My uncle was a Nazarene Army chaplain in Korea; he was killed by friendly fire during the chaotic retreat down the peninsula in the first few days of that war.

Yet another war in a far distant part of the world which, even now, threatens to drag us into a conflict that should be none of our business.

But it wasn’t just family history that could have led me into the pulpit.  Since shortly after becoming a Christian, I had been an enthusiastic participant at the Hillside Church of the Savior. It was a Jesus Freak  church that met in the home of Gene Thomas.

Like Gene himself, the house was a hulking, physically unattractive structure overlooking Boulder Creek just north of the CU campus.  On Sunday evenings, the place would be packed with students sitting on the floor and the overstuffed chairs strewn through the house.

Before church began, dinner would be served; one evening I made split pea soup for 100 in the Thomas’ cramped kitchen.  The congregation, many of whom looked like the main reason they had come was for a free meal, formed a line around the dining room table and then found a place to sit.  How much split pea got spilled on the carpets?  Plenty, I expect. Very young families were just making an appearance at the church; infants on blankets, some discretely at their mothers’ breast.  Gene’s wife, Gerri, put up with a lot.

Dinner over, Doug Bush led the rousing choruses on his ringing, 12 string guitar.

Gene, whose day job was operating his phone answering service, would then perch himself on a stool at the foot of the stairs that led to the second floor.  From there, he made Jesus’ parables come alive.  He was generous with his talents and resources, nurturing young leaders, allowing his home to be overrun each week.

I was baptized by one of Gene’s young assistants in the CU swimming pool; it wouldn’t have made sense for Gene to haul his bulk in and out of the pool.  My parents came from Denver to see me get dunked.

For my last two years of college I shared a two story house with a few other guys from the church in Boulder’s “The Hill” neighborhood just west of the campus.  To this day, it’s a good memory; one of my roommates became a brother in law.

Years later, after I had moved back to Denver, I learned that Gene had been forced to resign when it came out that he was a homosexual.  When I heard it, my stomach was tied in a knot of disbelief.  With a new Believer’s naivety, it was unimaginable.  But, it would not be the last time my church life was touched so nearly by such a resignation.  Gene died in 2012, survived by his wife of 63 years and a host of grandkids.

Somewhere along the way, I spoke with one of the guys at the church, Bobby Winters, about my career dilemma.  Young, in his 20’s, bold in sharing the Gospel, he was nonetheless dying from kidney failure.   His intense face had already taken on a sallow, yellow pallor; he died when his first kidney transplant failed and a second organ couldn’t be found.  His advice was straightforward:  “Have you prayed about it?”  He asked the question with a calm certainty that my answer would be forthcoming.

“I have,” I replied.  But I said it with what I hoped was a poker face that didn’t betray my uncertainty.

My problem with prayer is long standing:  it’s more like daydreaming than prayer.  Much of what I did that weekend was daydream.  And, truth be told, not much has changed for my prayer life in the intervening decades.

So, how was the decision made?  Not by me.  I flipped a coin.  Not much of a career counselor.  So, sometime during the weekend, it came up “law school.”  And that’s what I did.

In “A Street Car Named Desire” Blanche DuBois utters the play’s most famous line:  “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”  So have I.  And despite having treated Him at times like a stranger, He’s been kind to me far beyond my just desserts.

On My Honor

 

Philmont_Scout_Ranch_entrance_signI had breakfast with Jeff Brandel a while back.  An attorney, he serves as the chair of the Arapahoe District of the Denver Area Boy Scouts.  He also volunteers as a leader in his son’s troop.  Busy guy.

I wanted to talk with him about how the Scouts are responding to the seemingly infinite number of bizarre sexual controversies that society has thrust on an organization which, as the founder, Robert Baden-Powell, said, was intended to be “a game for boys under the leadership of boys under the direction of men.”

Like Jeff, I’ve been involved in the Scouts for years.  First, when I was a kid.  They gave me my first taste of backpacking on the eastern flank of Mount Evans, where playing delightfully chaotic games of Capture the Flag in willow choked meadows are fond memories. And which I now look back on with an almost unbearable wistfulness since my NPH has put any hope of repeating such experiences forever beyond reach.  At least on this side of that particular manifestation of Paradise.

When my son, Byron, joined when he came of age I was enthusiastic.  Although he never made it to Eagle (neither did I), he went on some great high adventure trips, including one to the Florida Sea Base.  Although he disputes the point, I still contend that this trip played a part in one of the best decisions he ever made: enlisting in the Navy.  Together, in my pre-NPH days, we did a 10 day backpack through Philmont Scout Ranch.

Perhaps the best way of summarizing the impact Scouting had on our family?  Something that Byron’s sisters said over dinner one evening after he had finished regaling us with tales of his latest weekend outing: “We sure wish the Girl Scouts did the kind of things the Boy Scouts do.”

After a several year hiatus when Byron left home, I re-engaged with the Scouts for what, I admit, were initially mercenary motives. The upper echelon leadership of the Denver Area Council is widely considered to be one of the most influential group of business movers and shakers in town.  An insurance agent, I was hoping for some scraps that fell from the masters’ table.  But, not being a particularly good salesman, the crumbs were few and far between.

Nonetheless, while I came for the money, I stayed for the values.  The Scout Oath and Law, which the boys memorize and recite at every meeting, embody the enduring principals that are the bedrock of a successful civilization.  And if culture is the dog that wags the tail of politics (and my eight years in the Colorado House persuades me that this is a truism), we must have some organizations, like the Scouts, that stand in opposition to the relentless and nihilistic promotion of sex and violence that Hollywood and MTV have on offer.  So, feeling an obligation to do my part, I enlisted as a volunteer for the Arapahoe District for several years.

And, although they never asked for it, the Scouts now find themselves at the sharp tip of the spear in the culture war.  An initial salvo was fired at the Democratic National Convention in L.A. in 2000, when a group of Eagle Scouts were invited to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening ceremony.  For their trouble, they were booed by some delegates because the Scouts didn’t, at the time, allow homosexuals to serve as adult leaders.  Despite efforts by the main stream media to push this event into George Orwell’s 1984 memory hole, there is plenty of evidence that it did,  indeed, happen.

A full accounting of the Left’s war on the Scouts is beyond the scope of this post, but you can get the flavor of it here.

So, now retired and wanting to re-re-engage with the Scouts, I asked Jeff over our recent breakfast, “How goes the war?”  And, specifically, what was the impact on Scouting of the admission of homosexual and transgendered (whatever in the world that signifies!) Scouts and leaders?

“You know,” he answered, “I’m surprised by how little difference it has made.  I haven’t heard anything more about it.  Nothing from the Troops or parents.”

The answer was not entirely satisfactory-I guess I was expecting something more confrontational.  But I was upset about what was happening to an organization that was supposed to be a game for boys.  And restless enough to begin writing a post that, however, wound up in a terminal cul-de-sac.  Was the post too angry?  Or badly out of step with the relentless niceness of the Scout oath and law? Or just a mean spirited manifestation of my own personal pique?  I wasn’t sure.  After all, I was not an expert on the issue and I had only followed it from afar in the media-a less than reliable source on such a vexed topic.

And there the post remained for several weeks until I, along with other leaders in the Arapahoe District, received an email from Jeff.  The body of the email praised the work of a group of adult Scouts that had produced an understanding with the Denver Archdiocese that would allow the organization to continue using Catholic facilities despite the decision to admit individuals professing virtually any sexual preference.  The email contained such phrases as “great work,” “gratified,” “positive program,'” “supporting . . . the Boy Scouts.”

Unfortunately, however, the self congratulatory, happy talk of the email was a jarring contrast with the stern missive from Archbishop Aquila that came as an attachment to the email and appeared under the heading “Scouting in the balance.”

These are the Archbishop’s opening sentences:  “I was dismayed to learn this past January that the Boy Scouts of America decided to end their practice of more than 100 years that allowed only boys to be members.  They did this by permitting transgender boys to join troops, that is, girls who struggle with gender dysphoria and are living as though they are boys.”

He goes on to describe the Scouts’ decision to be part of a “slow retreat in the face of the secular culture’s advancement of an LGBTQ agenda.”

Bishop Aquila concludes with what is not exactly a ringing endorsement of the organization: he names several other “acceptable alternatives” to the Scouts that “currently are not problematic.”

The Archbishop’s words are thoughtful and concerning.  If you are like me, and Scouting and what it stands for are important to you, I urge you to read them for yourself.

A couple of closing thoughts:

  • I predict that the LGBTQ crowd that is baying at the heels of the Scouts won’t rest until it has driven them out of a Church that holds that homosexuality, as Aquila put it, is “contrary to the natural law and the Church’s teaching on sexuality.”  Unfortunately, with the political and economic pressure the LGBTQ lobby can bring to bear, I place little confidence in the Scout’s promise to defend the Church in a lawsuit-at least vigorously-when push comes to shove.
  • And even if it did, it’s probably a losing battle.  Again, culture is the dog that wags the tail of politics.  And in this fraught age, everything is political.  Even the games of young boys.  So, at least for the time being, the culture has decided:  when it comes to sex, pretty much anything goes.
  • What remains undecided is whether we, as a culture, want to continue riding along with a dog that promises to drag us into waters where “here be dragons.”