Tag: republican

People and grassroots?

750x450 co caucusOr money and tech?

Did you see it?  Probably not.

It wasn’t more than a twitch on Twitter.  But earlier this year, Rob Witwer announced that he’d resigned from the Republican Party and re-registered as an independent.

So what else is new?  After all, unaffiliated registrations have been steadily rising for years and now account for nearly 40% of the Colorado electorate. While registered Democrat and Republican voters have declined to about 30% each.

But Rob’s different.  He use to represent a sizable chunk of Jefferson County in the Colorado House.  I served two years with him in that body.  He was a smart, articulate, straight shooting legislator who served his constituents well.  He’s also the co-author of The Blueprint, an insightful account of how a handful of wealthy Democrats turned our red state blue.

So how does this help?

At least in part, Rob explained his action by saying:

“Becoming an independent is not a protest against the GOP so much as a recognition that the major parties have morphed into a malignant duopoly whose primary function is to amass power by dividing Americans against one another. This is immoral. And unsustainable.”

Now if Rob were speaking of how things are done in Washington, D.C., I could probably go along.  The amount of money and raw power that sloshes around in the “swamp” is enough to corrupt all but the most incorruptible.

But Colorado’s different.  Our Constitution mandates that we balance our state budget every year.  The annual budget bill, and each session’s most important legislation, usually has broad, bipartisan support.  By comparison with D.C., Colorado is a paragon of political virtue.

And even if we do have our share of partisan wrangling, how does registering as an independent help?

The real impact of being an “independent.”

Now, again, Rob’s a sharp guy.  But from what I see on the Colorado Secretary of State’s website, Rob’s just done a couple of things that don’t make much sense.

First, he’s disqualified himself from participating in our caucus system for nominating political candidates.  They’re only open to someone affiliated with one of the major parties.

“So what?” you ask.  “No one goes to them anyway.  And no one understands how they work.”

For you, the caucus skeptic, here’s some things to consider.  A caucus is like a mini-political convention consisting, usually, of a few dozen folks in your immediate neighborhood.  At a nearby school or church, delegates are elected to go on to the higher assemblies where candidates for offices like President, governor, congress and the US Senate are selected.  It’s serious stuff.  And sometimes uncomfortable.

Like when, at my last caucus, I put myself forward, despite the disapproving looks of several of my neighbors, to represent Donald Trump at the state convention.

But the point is that the caucus system is personal.  Face to face.  Grassroots.  Low cost. Generally civil.

And the alternative?

But Rob, along with all other “independent” voters, has now opted into a primary election system that’s just the opposite.

From beginning to end, it’s money, money, money.  From the hired gun signature collectors to the huge sums of money that gets dumped into scurrilous TV and mail campaigns ahead of the June primary.  Since when wasn’t there’s enough money spent on nasty ads during the fall general election that we need to get the TV smear campaigns rolling in April for the June primary?

And talk about impersonal.  With the anonymity of social media playing an increasingly dominant role in mass campaigns, you too can have your inbox endlessly spammed with vicious campaign emails from before the primary until after the general election.  Congratulations!

At least with the caucus system, only the delegates to the various conventions are subjected to this sort of social media abuse.  And, remember, they volunteered for it.

So, Rob, it would be nice to think that your action will heal our “malignant divisions.”  But don’t hold your breath.  In fact, by further weakening the caucus system, there’s a pretty good chance that things might get worse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Emerald Mile

750450 rafting grand canyon

Or how the Sierra Club was bought and paid for on immigration

Until a few months ago, I had no idea what The Emerald Mile is.  Or was.  But my sister, as is her wont, helped straighten me out.

Over lunch, she the put on the hard sell:  “The Emerald Mile is a fabulous book.  You need to read it.  It’s about the fastest run that’s ever been made though the Grand Canyon in a little, wooden river dory.  Sure, there’s a little environmentalism thrown in. But it’s basically a great adventure story.  My kids loved it.  You will too.”

So I listened to an unabridged version.  And the book’s, indeed, a good one.  The story of three crazed “river rats” who pulled off this hair raising feat by getting slingshot through the Canyon on the back of a raging Colorado River at the height of a hundred year flood is compelling.

450x675 emerald mile

But wait.  There’s more.

But the story of the record breaking run down the river is, in many ways, mostly a peg on which to hang the much bigger story of human interaction with one of our nation’s most iconic natural wonders.  It’s a story that revolves around two polar extremes:  the dam building, engineering geniuses who bent the Colorado’s raging spring floods to man’s purposes. And, in the process, turned the river into an enormous, usually docile plumbing system.

At the other pole are environmental groups, with the Sierra Club in the vanguard, who eventually brought the dam building to a screeching halt.  But not, of course, until after some of the Canyon’s most stunning features were submerged in watery graves.

Much of the book is devoted to a history of the Sierra Club and it’s long time Executive Director, David Brower.  It tells how the Club went from little more than an “alpine picnicking society”, to, under Brower’s leadership, an organization espousing a militantly environmentalist, anti-immigration agenda.

And then, because of strings that were attached to a gift of more than $100 million from David Gelbaum, a pro-immigration, Jewish oligarch, the Sierra Club reverted to its picnicking club roots.  When he made the contribution, Gelbaum told then Sierra Club director, Carl Pope, that “if they ever came out anti-immigration, they would never get a dollar from me.”  Pope, like an obedient lap dog, laid down and gratefully licked the hand that fed him.

See here, as well, for the story of how Gelbaum upped his purchase price for the Club to $200 million.  And how the Club has come out for virtually unlimited immigration.

To protest this immigration sell out, Brower resigned from the Club’s board, saying:

He [Brower] also criticized the Sierra Club leadership for not taking a stronger position against increased immigration into the United States, which in 1998 was the subject of a divisive internal debate over club policy.

”Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of the problem. It has to be addressed.”

BS talks population control.  And money walks.

When I was in the Colorado legislature, on two occasions I ran bills that would have mandated that all Colorado employers use the E-Verify system to assure that job applicants are legally eligible to work in the U.S.  Illegal immigrants, of course, are usually drawn to this country for jobs.

On both occasions, Colorado environmental organizations opposed E-Verify.  Why?  Because, according to Pam Kiely, an environmental lobbyist, “We have to control world population first.  Then deal with the United States.” (Environmental groups, like most organizations with similar interests, run in packs.  The Sierra Club was one of the pack. Pam was speaking for the Club).

Pam’s logic doesn’t pass the smell test.  Why?  Because the U.S. has the fastest growing population of any industrialized nation in the world.  America accounts for all population growth among advanced countries.  And by 2050 we’re likely to add over 110 million people.  Imagine what 110 million more people will do to your commute.  The price of housing.  The pressure on our national parks.  And virtually all of that is attributable to immigration; the native born US population has stabilized at the replacement level.

Practicing what you preach on population control

Well, Pam, good luck with that strategy for controlling the world’s population.  I can just see the Club lecturing countries with sky rocketing populations like Oman, Niger and Tanzania about getting their population houses in order.   While ignoring what population growth and immigration is doing to the Sierra Club’s own country.  And the world’s population grows from our current, astounding number of over 7 billion.  To an unfathomable 11 billion by 2100.

So, Sierra Club members, party hearty on your exotic cruises.  And keep buying those coffee table books.  While your bought and paid for leadership ignores America’s mushrooming population.  And the tides of immigrants continue to lap up against the shores of places like the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellow Stone, and the Grand Tetons.

Ted Kennedy’s Immigration Love Child

The Immigration Act of 1965

Not long ago, I had lunch with a couple of guys I know well enough to say with confidence that they’re both politically conservative and active outdoorsmen: my brother and brother-in-law.  But when I brought up immigration, we parted company.  At least in part.

“Did you see the article,” I began, “about our national parks being overrun and ruined by visitors?  Immigrants, and their children, make the US the world’s only advanced industrial country whose population is growing.  And,” I continued, “population growth can’t be doing anything but make the situation worse. How is adding between 100 and 150 million new residents by 2050 going to help the environment.”

But isn’t legal immigration fine?

“But,” my brother in law responded, “you don’t have a problem with legal immigration do you?”

“Actually,” I said, “I do.  In fact, I have a big problem with legal immigration.”

“In 1965, Ted Kennedy pushed an immigration reform bill that continues to dramatically change the demographic makeup of our nation.  We went from a country that was overwhelmingly northern European, to one, where, in your kids’ lifetimes, they’ll be strangers in a strange land.  They’ll be part of a shrinking minority by as soon as 2045.”

Playing fast and loose

Kennedy denied that it was his intention to change America’s demographics:

“During debate on the Senate floor, Senator Kennedy, speaking of the effects of the act, said, “our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset”.

How wrong Kennedy was.  Although native population growth has tapered off at the replacement level, explosive immigration levels, combined with chain immigration, illegal immigration, and the high rate of births to immigrants, have caused the US population to soar.

“Not be flooded with a million immigrants” a year?  How about more like two to three million.  

The stupid party

The 1965 bill was sponsored in the Senate and House by leading Democrats.  When it came up for a vote in Congress, only 74% of Democrats supported the bill while 85%, of Republicans voted for it.  What’s up with this?

Two things.  First, southern Democrats still exercised a disproportionate share of legislative influence by sticking together under the skilled leadership of Richard Russell of Georgia and his crafty use of the Senate filibuster.  Russell understood the long term impact of the bill.  And couldn’t care less that opponents branded southerns as “racist” for refusing to support the legislation.  Russell foresaw that the Act was going to make ours a nation with a large component of virtually pre-industrial, Third World people that would be bitterly divided between the haves and the have nots.  So, southerners voted “No”.

And, second, most of the Republicans who supported the bill probably didn’t understand the complex and longterm ramifications of the legislation.  And what is equally likely, even those Republican who did understand what was being done, were unwilling to be associated with those benighted, racist southerners.

Is immigration a suicide pact?

And now, with so much of the nation, including a preponderance of the Democratic party, in the fevered grip of identity politics, what is the likely fate of white people who, in only 20 short years, be a minority in the nation their forefathers founded?

Will whites be afforded the minority protections that an overwhelmingly white, male political class granted to minorities when whites were in the majority?  Things like affirmative action?  And the Voting Rights Act?  Surely you jest.

Or is it more likely that minorities will double down and, using their new found majority status, pass reparations legislation that would force whites to compensate them for injuries and grievances that, in some cases, are centuries old?  And, on top of this, continue to demand preferential treatment under existing civil rights legislation.

In which case, when does the dwindling white beast of burden simply collapse?

Nemesis

When the ’65 Immigration Act was signed by President Johnson, America was still in its post World War II, imperial glory days.  But no empire is eternal.  Including the American empire.  And the truism that “the bigger they are, the harder they fall,” remains true.

Because as an empire metastasizes, it assimilates increasingly dissimilar, indigestible, and resentful populations.  Think of the Romans and restless barbarians that eventually sacked the Eternal City.  The British Empire, on which the never set, but to whom the American colonies gave the boot.  And, yet more troubling, the polyglot, dysfunctional, and even dangerous city that London has become with uncontrolled immigration.

Now, the American empire, with a tip’o the hat to Teddy Kennedy, has replaced its formerly homogeneous populace with a Tower of Babel of fractious races and tongues.

Barbarians at the gate

Thus, the illegal immigrant caravans storm our southern border.  While President Trump jawbones the wall rather than actually building the wall.  Speeches that are probably meaningless now that a divided Congress can’t even agree on keeping the government open.  Much less fund the wall.  Speeches that are more like fiddling rather than the “big, beautiful wall” we were promised.  And which wall may very well go up in smoke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembrance of things past.

750x450 stew potLike a fish out of water.

You’ve seen, of course, that Sears is going bankrupt.  From its humble beginnings selling watches, Sears grew to be the world’s largest retailer, selling everything from insurance to car batteries.  Before, that is, it went into a long, painful, and, now, terminal decline.

My wife, Marleen, and I were married in November of 1979.  That’s 39 years ago.

Marleen’s uncle, Bud Pickford, was a long time Sears employee.  For our wedding, he and his wife, Peg, gave us a set of Sears stainless steel cookware.  There was a large pot for pasta, soup and the like.  And a frying pan.  Both of them were in use last night at our home.  The original small grooves etched on the bottom of the pots have been worn nearly smooth; countless trips through the dishwasher have left the bakelite nob of the lid cracked.  The bottom of the fry pan is a richly burnished black.  The sauce pans, after decades of faithful service, fell apart years ago.  Bud and Peg, along with their quirky senses of humor, have also been gone for decades.

My wife, to put it mildly, has had a rough few days with a nasty stomach bug and an even nastier reaction to antibiotics.  Talk about your cure being worse than the illness.  A few day ago a neighbor rushed her to the Sky Ridge hospital ER room when they couldn’t track me down.  When I got there, she was in more pain than I’ve seen her in since child birth.  They gave her some pain killers and we eventually went home.  At 3 a.m., I rushed her back.

750x450 spencer stew

After last night, however, I’m convinced she’s finally turned the corner.  Why?  Because I made this delicious  recipe from Bon Appetit in the Sears frying pan.  It’s buttery richness is enough to turn any stomach that isn’t in pretty much perfect working order.  Marleen even went back for seconds!  Except that rather than pasta, I served it over roasted sweet potatoes.  More flavor. And healthier (slightly) to boot.  I warned her, however, that if another trip to the ER had to be made, she was Ubering it.  She took that crack in the spirit in which it was intended-and even sent our clan a Telegram recounting it.

But chanterelle mushrooms?  Who, aside from a few high brow French chefs, had even heard of them when those Sears pans were made?  Now, the most affordable place to get these still pricey seasonal delicacies is where my wife picks them up, the defiantly déclassé Costco.  A store that was scarcely more than a twinkle in its founder’s eye when we got those pans.

But the point of this little tale of domestic agony and ecstasy?  Where does 39 years go?  Sure, those pots are showing their age.  But not nearly so much as I.  We’ve welcomed three wonderful children into our lives.  And now four, nearly five, grandchildren.  And so much more has happened.  How could a life so full and eventful go by so quickly?  After all, time is the only medium that we actually know.  But the way it seems to so rapidly slip between our fingers is perpetually strange to us. Why?

C. S. Lewis, perhaps the best known of 20th century Christian thinkers, offers a winsome explanation in his little book, Reflections on the Psalms:

“For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished by it.  ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty.  It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water.  And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

By “land” Lewis was, of course, referring to that “heavenly country,” that New Jerusalem the saints of old yearned to one day see.  And which, in the fullness of time, they will.

There I Go. Part II.

600x450 marcus asmus

Truckin’ Like The Doodah Man.

As Jane Austen’s novel, Pride And Prejudice, works so deliciously toward its satisfying conclusion, Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper says of Darcy’s sister, “. . . and so accomplished!-She plays and sings all day long.”

Also true of my Albuquerque sister, Linda.  But playing and singing is just the beginning.  Yes, she’s good on the piano and guitar. And she’s sung in choral groups that have taken on some of the most demanding works in the repertoire.

She’s also multilingual, including fluent Swahili.  During her career teaching English as a second language, heaven only knows how many languages she picked up.

A serious birder, she has somewhere near near 6,000 species, of the world’s 10,500, on her life list.  A good enough seamstress, in her younger years, to make her husband, Jim, a work suit.  (My wife’s also very good, but that’s something she never even attempted.)

And, something I particularly admire, she’s given to hospitality with their elegant adobe style home that she largely decorated.

After retirement, and nearly single handedly, she ran a school for children in Tanzania for several years. She’d gone there originally to climb 19,340 foot Mt. Kilimanjaro-which she did.  But she fell in love with the people of Tanzania.  However, this was where the force of her irresistible personality ran up against the rock of African corruption.  Despite hiring a personal guard, the rock prevailed.

She wrote a book about getting up the mountain called, Climbing Kili.   She still writes.  But, now I think, mostly indignant letters to the editor about Trump, guns, and New Mexico’s notorious drunk drivers.

Did I mention that she and Jim are inveterate world travelers?  Oh, yeah.  I did.

I could go on.  But I’ll leave it at this:  of us four siblings, Linda best fits “and so accomplished!”

On To Taos.

But I get ahead of myself; I haven’t even gotten to Taos.  Let alone Albuquerque.

From Cimarron and lunch at the St. James, I headed west and then turned right on 38 to drive the northern half of the loop around the state’s highest peak, Mt. Wheeler.  The shortest day of the trip, it was a scenic cruise to my room at the Taos Inn, where they’ve been welcoming guests since 1936.

Not sure what came over me, but while at the Inn, I sprang for a whimsical, colorful painting by Mark Asmus of a matador leading a parade of bulls past the Taos library.  Entitled Mayhemit was one of a series based on quirky police blotter reports.  Marleen wasn’t amused.  When will I ever learn?

Going Nuclear.

The next morning, and at Linda’s suggestion, I headed northwest from Taos on US 64.  Good thing, too.  Otherwise, I might’ve missed the “High Bridge” over the thin, green ribbon of the Rio Grande, an airy 800 feet below where I iPhoned this picture.

Rio Grande Gorge

Rio Grande Gorge

That third day was the longest of the trip.  A favorite among bikers, I saw more motorcycles on the sensuous two lane road than cars.  Punctuated by views that seemed to stretch out forever, by the time I’d loped around to Española, my right knee was feeling every inch of it.  Badly in need of a break, I pulled into a taco joint that, at best, looked greasy.  But, apparently, it’s tough to get a bad Mexican meal in New Mexico; the food was fine.

The couple in the next booth, although a bit rough rough around the edges, were very friendly.  When I started off with, “You look like you know your way around here.  How do I get to Los Alamos?”, he was ready with an answer. “No problem. Go left out of the parking lot, take another left at the first light, and then go left at the highway.  That’ll take you right up to Los Alamos.”

Model of the Gadget

Model of the Gadget

Forty-five minutes later, I was standing in front of a mock up of “The Gadget,” the nuclear bomb that had been built at Los Alamos and then tested in the New Mexican desert.  And which, thankfully, brought World War II to a swift conclusion, sparing American and Japanese casualties that some have estimated could have run into the millions.

Road’s End.

Given the highly toxic and sometimes dangerous experiments that took place at Los Alamos, Santa Fe seems a bare hop, skip and a jump down the hill from where the nuclear age dawned.

And, after a restful night at the elegant Four Kachinas B&B in Santa Fe, it was not much further to Albuquerque. Where I dropped off my six banger Camry at Hertz. And where Linda picked me up.  What’s the saying?  “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”  Probably not the smartest thing to have flit across one’s mind when visiting your sister. But it was going to be tough to top the journey.

However, if anyone could do it, Linda and Jim could.  They’d gotten a jump on it early that morning by taking Marleen on a day long excursion to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Reserve for bird watching on the lower Rio Grande.

And they were just getting started.

It’s All Greek To Me. Part I.

Greece - Swalm 1

On As A Passenger.  Off As Cargo.

I just returned from my trip to Greece.  As you may remember from a previous post, I went with Dean, an old friend.  A few, quick reflections.

Go If You Can.  And, For My Money, A Good Touring Company Is Worth It.

We went with Road Scholar, a pun that says a good deal about the sort of people who sign up for the trips this company leads around the world: retired college professors, libriarians, and such like.  But there wasn’t a final exam on the vast amount of information that our extremely knowledgeable and friendly Greek guide, Eleni Petroutsou, imparted to us during the course of the week we spent with her bussing around the mainland. And then continued aboard the smallish ship, Aegean Odyssey,  cruising from island to lovely island for the following week.

Greece sunset view

No, the real exam came months earlier:  our bank accounts.  And it was a tough one.  On more than one occasion I heard the old gag, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.” But, since I estimate that at least 60% of our 30 some Road Scholar participants were retired government workers (Dean estimated more like 90%), they might just as well have said, “We’re spending the inheritance of the children of the taxpayers who are so generously supporting us.”  But who would snicker at that?

Your Required Reading.

Well in advance of the trip, the company sent us a hefty list of suggested books on Greece.  I ordered most of them.  And read most of those. Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi left me cold.  So did Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, which surprised me given its exalted reputation.  Of these two books, I followed the sage advice that I heard somewhere not long ago, “There are too many good books to spend time on ones you don’t like.”

By now, you know I’m a sucker for history.  A couple of the books I’d recommend would be Modern Greece, What Everyone Needs to Know and Introducing the Ancient Greeks, From Bronze Age Seafarers to Navigators of the Western Mind.  

Modern Greece was particularly interesting.  Like many others, I suppose, I’d imagined that Greek history ended pretty much ended 2400 years ago with the close of the classical Golden Age and didn’t start again until the financial crisis of 2008.  Wrong.  Before winning its War of Independence from the Ottomans in 1821, Greece endured 400 years of Ottoman/Turk occupation.  While our guide Elani did her best to play things down the middle, there was little question as to where she stood in regards to Greece’s long and glorious, but at times, tormented history.

For those really interested in cramming, here are some of the others:  The Parthenon, Athens, The Greeks, An Illustrated History, Greek Mythology, A Traveler’s Guide.  (I gave this one a pass also; seemed like a bunch of implausible fairy tales.  Although our expert guide made a good case that these apparently anarchic stories often go a long way toward explaining the more obscure aspects of the prehistoric Greek world.)

On my own, I also took the new Kindle my wife gave me for Christmas for a spin, rereading Zorba the Greek (the first time was decades ago).  I should have listened to my own better angels and quit long before I reached the bitter end; talk about unbridled nihilism.   Why this book is so widely praised is a mystery to me.  Well, not really.  It must be for many of the same reasons that Hollywood cranks out so many profitable stinkers.

And the worst of it?  It didn’t even have the courtesy to lull me to sleep on the excruciatingly painful and interminable flights to and from Zorba land.  Airlines!  Where they keep making the seats smaller.  And the people bigger.

Cruisin’

On the last day of the trip, I was savoring breakfast on the sun drenched fantail of the Odyssey in the port of Piraeus.  You know, my usual morning fare: an unlimited selection of eggs, meats, fruits, cereals, cheeses, grilled vegetables, juices, desserts, etc., etc.

Now, does that goofy headline make sense?  “The kind of cruise where you get on as a passenger.  And get off as cargo.”  Remarkably, however, when I fearfully stepped on the scale on my return home, I actually seemed to have lost a bit of weight.  Guess that airline food is good for something.

That morning was also a last chance to visit with some of my fellow Scholars. Among them was a woman, Kristen, from Telluride, Colorado.  She and I had a tenuous connection through my cousin’s daughter, Denver chef Carrie Baird.  Carrie was a near finalist in this year’s Top Chef Colorado show.  At least one episode had been filmed in Telluride.  Kristen had seen some of the shoot.  You heard it here: six degrees must be a reality.

As we lingered over breakfast, a cruise ship about the size of a small-correction, medium-sized city shoe horned it’s way into port and pulled into a slip to our right.  The monster towered above our heads and took at least five minutes to lumber past us.  Lilliputian by comparison, I don’t doubt that our vessel would have been able to cut neat figure eights in the leviathon’s swimming pool.

And that was the beauty of the Aegean Odyssey.  Plenty big enough for all the creature comforts.  But small enough that our relatively modest passenger manifest didn’t completely overwhelm the equally smallish, quaint island villages where we made landfall.

And Eleni wasn’t just a smart cookie.  She also had sharp enough elbows to make sure that we got into town, saw the antiquities, and did our scholarly thing ahead of the leviathons’ mobs that usually followed so closely on our heels.

 

 

 

 

Hail, Caesar!

LGBTTQQIAAP. Or something like that.

I am so over radio talk shows.  I’m not a sports talk guy, either. And while I enjoy classical music, it definitely plays second fiddle to a good recorded history or novel while I’m on the road.

I’m currently listening to Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar by Tom Holland.  Though it was pretty much chosen at random from the library’s shelves, I got lucky.  (Some reviewers, of course, like the book, some don’t.)  While it’s impossible for an untutored amateur like me to keep track of the enormous cast of characters that turn up over the course of 14 CDs, the gist of the story is pretty straightforward:  ancient Rome’s first several emperors after the fall of the Republic were, on the whole, a very unsavory bunch.  And even though it’s been 2,000 years since they ruled the world, their names still have the power to conjure up a rogues’ gallery of cruelty, treachery and deviancy: Caligula, Nero, Tiberius.

The catalogue of crimes and sins run the gamut:  parricide, matricide, and and pretty much any other of variation of “cide” that you’ve heard of-and probably some you didn’t even know existed.  Incest was endemic.  (And probably goes a good way toward explaining the madness that keeps turning up like a bad penny in the dynastic line.)  Pederasty?  No big deal.  Nero, in a rage, kicks his beautiful, pregnant wife, Poppaea, in the stomach, killing her and the baby.  Seized with remorse, he has a young boy who looks like Poppaea made into a eunuch and marries her(?) with great pomp and ceremony.  You can’t make this stuff up.

Nor was virtually any other deviant sexual coupling out of bounds.  One book reviewer says that Holland, certainly no prude, “can’t quite bring himself to describe them in full.”  That’s a mercy-since there’s plenty that’s not left to the imagination.

Holland also makes it clear that he shares his ancient sources esteem for the “simple, republican virtues” that were rapidly giving way in the face of the degeneracy and luxury of the empire.   In doing so, he thus gives these monsters credit for at least this: they were moral agents.  In other words, they were capable of acting in reference to right and wrong.  They weren’t mere puppets hanging from the strings of their genes or hormones.

Now What?

So, where do we stand now, 2,000 years on?  Is moral agency an archaic notion that must give way to puppetry?  Increasingly, especially in reference to our sexuality, the answer seems to be, “Yes.”  The evidence?  LGBTTQQIAAP.  A bewildering array of initials that would tax the imagination of even the most creative of Rome’s sexual free thinkers:  Lesbian.  Gay.  Bisexual.  Transgendered.  Transexual.  Queer.  Etcetera.  And so on.  And so forth.

Must all these exquisitely fine gradations of what, for millennia, have been seen as abnormal expressions of human sexuality be granted moral immunity because, as their advocates contend, they’re genetically hard wired into our DNA?  Which is another way of saying, at least in regards to our sexuality, we’re no longer moral agents?  Apparently so.

But what does this say about us as people in a larger sense?  Who can doubt that sex plays a central role in who we are as humans?   But, if our sexual conduct is beyond our control, can we still be considered the only creature whose defining characteristic is the capacity for rational thought and action?  And, if so, where does it all end?

Two potential resting places come to mind.

First, what we do with ourselves.  But isn’t it obvious that we are already well beyond this stopping place?  Old taboos are viewed, at best, as quaint.  And, more realistically, hurtfully repressive.  What is LGBTTQQIAAP, if not an affirmation of this?

When I was in junior high, our gym teacher taught us boys a sex-ed class.  While we squirmed in discomfort next to our fathers, the teacher soberly warned us about the dangers of masturbation.  Now, kids that age are introduced to, and not discouraged from exploring, all manner of previously unexplored frontiers of sexuality.   At Ivy League campuses BDSM clubs are officially sanctioned.  And what takes place beyond the “hallowed halls” of academia I will certainly leave to your imagination.  The instinctual animal reigns supreme.

And then, of course, there’s what we consensually do with others.  And this certainly seems like a secure stopping place.  It definitely should be.  It’s the clear message we are getting from the outrage being expressed over the sexual harassment scandals currently so rampant in high places.

But how do we restrain the animal instincts of people when the culture teaches that, at least when it comes to sex, we aren’t moral agents?  You tell me.  And if your response is that we need to make the laws tougher, I don’t agree.  There aren’t enough cops or prisons.  And do we really want to live in a sexual police state?

I sat through more than one sexual harassment training session when I served in the legislature.  They’re about as close to a bad joke as you can get.  If an adult who has the moxie to get elected to office isn’t smart enough to have a grasp of the principals of decency that a kid should have learned in grade school, heaven help us.  (Which is, in actuality, where we should be looking for help.  But to even suggest such a solution would probably be considered, in many quarters, worse than the illness itself.)

Otherwise, we might just as well revert to the practice of having malefactors go to the black board in front of the class and write, 100 times, “I will not harass that woman over there. Or do something worse.”   Which public humiliation would, no doubt, be a far more effective deterrent than sprinkling platitudes over an anonymous training course.   Nonetheless, even I will concede this for an indoctrination session:  while we don’t need to be told the difference between right and wrong.   We do, occasionally, need to be reminded.  

What’s Next?

“Predictions,” as Yogi Berra famously said, “are difficult, especially about the future.”  Nonetheless, I’ll go out on a limb.  Or, rather, two limbs.  You decide which is more likely.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is among the best known dystopian predictions of what the future holds for us as sexual beings.  It’s the world of the feelies. And shaming if one isn’t sufficiently sexually freewheeling. And the dream world of soma.  Are these predictions any more outlandish or disheartening than what we’ve seen come to pass in reality?  Probably not, given that we live in an era when same sex marriage has become, in remarkably short order, about as American as apple pie.  And an era where, like the few, stubbornly retrograde dissenters in Brave New World, to question what has become the new, conventional wisdom about things sexual is to risk being consigned to the outer darkness.

But nothing grows to the sky.  The pendulum swings.  There is another limb, even in popular culture.

Consider Ground Hog Day; it sketches out an alternative, more hopeful vision.

Counted among the finest comedy films of all time, it features Bill Murray, a self -centered, low life weatherman who, trapped in a time warp, is condemned to relive the same day, over and over.  But who eventually comes to understand that to live, he must die to self.  The turning point shows Murray, arms extended, throwing himself to his death from a tall building.  When he rises the next day, he begins living for others rather than just himself.  And rather than trying to manipulate the film’s beautiful and virtuous romantic interest into his bed, he wins her heart through acts of service.  Before the credits roll, they are planning their wedding.

Another film that represents a tender, green shoot pushing into our our burned over sexual landscape is Blast From The Past.

Also a comedy that packs a punch, it features a hilarious, perfectly “square” family that locks itself into a bomb shelter under Los Angles in the mistaken belief that the Cuban missile crisis resulted in nuclear armageddon.  When they emerge 35 years later, their cute suburban tract home has been over run by porn shops, irradiated, “mutant” prostitutes who “can be whatever sex you want,” and lowriders that lurch down LA’s mean streets.

Adam, the son who was born just as the family went into the shelter, is sent on a mission to get enough supplies to last until the mutants kill each other off.  He meets the foul mouthed, but reluctantly honest Eve, and hires her to help him navigate the many perplexities of la la land.  Including getting a non-mutant wife.  Eve scoffs at the idea of marriage, asserting that “Everyone is divorced. Just talk to my divorced parents.  Talk to my divorced brother and sister.  Everyone knows that marriage bites the big one!”  She does, however, concede that she might be able to “help get you laid.”

As the movie progresses, though, Adam’s relentless courtesy and old fashioned decency takes its toll on Eve’s cynical, thoroughly modern heart.  Near the end, Eve is fingering her wedding ring in a house that is a replica of the suburban home where the story began.  Except it’s out in the country, situated in a new Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve share with his parents.

Eve reflects that, “Adam says that this is simply how things work.  First, the parents take care of the children and then the children take care of the parents.  He says, historically, that’s how it works.  Whenever Adam gives me such obviously incorrect information, I just smile and look out the window.  Why spoil his dreams?  They’re such wonderful dreams.”

Dream?  Or Nightmare?

Because I know how to use Google, rather than because I was able to labor through James Joyce’s Ulysses, I know that it contains this line: “History is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake.”

So, as the Romans would say, quo vadis:  which way, America?  Toward an admittedly less than perfect dream of a man and a woman committing to life together where, in the sometimes fiery crucible of marriage and family, they learn that life’s most important lesson is to die to one’s self? And live for another?  It’s not easy.  It’s not meant to be.  But it’s been designed to help prepare us for something infinitely better.  A place where the dross that can make this life, at times, a nearly unbearable nightmare, is finally left behind.  For a joy that surpasses our wildest imaginings.

Or will we settle for something far less?  Where, by indulging the insatiable, apparently infinitely variable demands of our sexual selves, we are merely preparing ourselves to be gluttonous beholders of our own distorted image in a nightmarish house of mirrors from which there is no exit.

The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight

navy chief petty officersWe were recently on a family vacation in Cape Cod.  And when I say family, I mean family.  There were 10 of us in a house we rented a few blocks from the beach.  A lot of togetherness.  But we still had a great time-although when it came time to leave, I was ready.

Marleen and I had flown into Boston a few days ahead of the rest of the crew to take in some of the city’s sights.  One of the things we did was walk most of the Freedom Trail; a sidewalk tour that takes you past many of the locations where key events that led to our break with the Mother Country occurred. Well worth doing next time you’re there.

An unexpected bonus along the way was to witness snatches of the advancement ceremonies for an incoming class of Navy chief petty officers.  At intervals, we would see men and women in uniform, sometimes in formation belting out a spirited rendition of Anchors Aweigh, sometimes lounging around waiting to move on to their next rally point.

Prominent in the news when we were in Boston was the most recent of the four sleek Navy ships that have been involved in collisions with lumbering commercial vessels.  And which have resulted in the deaths of numerous sailors since the first of this year.  The latest incident, involving the destroyer the John S. McCain, resulted in the Navy ordering an “operational pause” for the entire U.S. fleet of 277 vessels to review safety procedures.

uss constitution

I ruminated on this alarming record during our remaining days in Boston, which included a visit to “Old Ironsides.”  Officially known as the USS Constitution, the beautiful three master looked her best, having just come out of dry dock following a two year restoration.  By then, our son, Byron, had joined us as we toured the ship.  Byron is our “Navy guy,” having served with distinction during his eight year career helping to run the reactor aboard the ballistic missile submarine, the USS Nebraska.

By the time we got to the beach on Cape Cod, we were joined by our son-in-law, Haden, who is the family’s “Marine guy.”  He did two tours in Iraq; the second was agonizing for our daughter, Lauren, who was all but engaged to him during his deployment.  “All but” because Haden is the kind of guy you would want your daughter to marry; he called and asked my permission when he got home.

At one point on Cape Cod, when the three of us were together, I asked Byron about the Navy chief advancement ceremonies Marleen and I had seen.  “I don’t know a whole lot about them,” he answered, “but given that they were going around seeing the sights in Boston, I expect that they have something to do with naval heritage indoctrination.”

“I’m sure,” I continued, taking the conversation in a different direction, “that you guys have seen the news about all Navy vessels that can’t seem to keep track of where they’re going and run into merchant ships.  I’m thinking of writing a post on my blog and calling it ‘The Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight.'”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Haden.  “With all the wars and deployments the military is stretched pretty thin.  I wouldn’t want to be in the military right now.”

I could have guessed what Byron would say:  “I agree.”  By the time his commitment was up, he couldn’t wait to get out.  In addition to the frustrations of military bureaucracy, exhausting, long watches were a way of life, even in the reactor space.

But despite their qualms, I decided to go ahead.  If the news stories are right about the military being overextended, and I don’t doubt they are, shouldn’t it be talked about?  Especially since, as it so obviously is, a life and death issue?

And, yes, the title of this post may be irreverent.  But is it inaccurate?  Despite spending trillions of dollars, has the U.S. military been on the winning side of a major conflict since WWII?  You decide.  Korea?  Seventy years on and it’s threatening to explode into an unprecedented calamity.  Vietnam?  You’re kidding.  Grenada?  I said “major.”  The Cold War?  Perhaps.  Unless we “succeed” in provoking Russia, a nation with a vast nuclear arsenal, into a shooting war. As so many of our warmonger Washington politicians seem to want.  Afghanistan and Iraq?  Out and out disasters.

Dwight Eisenhauer, President and Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the last major war we won, warned the nation in his farewell address of what he called the “military industrial complex.”  It’s an iron triangle of defense contractors looking for lucrative arms deals, Congressmen who want to bring home pork barrel projects for their districts, and a top heavy military bureaucracy out to aggrandize itself.   In 2015, the U.S. spent more on the military than the next seven nations combined.

Judging, in short, by this record, the U.S. military seems better at spending money-than winning wars.  Perhaps not too surprising.  Since when did “complexes,” rather than armies, win wars?

When we got home, I discussed the Navy’s problems again with a friend who, over the years, has repeatedly astonished me with the depth and breath of his knowledge; he may be the closest thing to a polymath that I know.

“You know,” he said, “there is another problem in the Navy that’s been largely buried.  It’s not just that tired sailors are falling asleep when they should be standing watch.  There’s a lot of sleeping around since Obama mandated that the Navy go coed.  Pregnancies are way up. That means ships are short handed.  And,” he continued, “it’s a politically incorrect thought crime to even notice it.  Obama did his best to deep six the story.

– – – – – – – – – –  – –

I attend a men’s Bible study most Wednesday mornings.  We’re currently making our way through the books of Samuel in the Old Testament.  A central figure is King David; one of the episodes in the book, known to most school children, is that of David and Goliath.

Our gifted teacher, Rich Pilon, (a Navy vet, by the way) has said repeatedly that a central theme of the story is, “Leadership matters.”  There are abundant examples in the book of the disastrous consequences of poor leadership at the highest levels:  corrupt priests whose selfish miscalculations result in slaughter and national humiliation.  Lustful kings, including David himself, whose misdeeds shatter families and nations.

The problems in our military aren’t, for the most part, caused by the Navy chiefs that Marleen and I saw along the Freedom Trail in Boston.  Like so many others in our all volunteer force, they are no more than cogs in the wheels of a dysfunctional military Borg.

Our political leaders too often see these sailors as tools to allow them to brag to the folks back home about all the jobs they’ve brought to the district.  And use them as petri dishes to try out misguided social experiments in the cause of political correctness.  And then abuse them by entangling our nation in endless, futile wars at a terrible cost to our soldiers and their families.

Defense contractors and lobbyists look on them as little more than a justification for their fat, steady paychecks.

And our top heavy military brass?  Well, I won’t say it.

 

 

 

 

Wet, whacky and wobbly

Large Luxury House

A large custom built luxury house in a residential neighborhood. This high end home is a very nicely landscaped property.

I first noticed it while going door to door in my fourth and last campaign for House District 37 in 2012.  Because the district was very competitive, every two years I always had to ring thousands of Republican and unaffiliated doorbells between April and election day in early November.

Under the best of circumstances, campaigning in this fashion is always time intensive.  If I got to 100 houses during an 8 hour Saturday, I was doing well.  Fewer on weekdays after work, even if I stayed out ’til is was nearly dark on the long summer days.

But after having done so much of it, it wasn’t hard for me to sense that it was taking longer to go from house to house than it had during previous campaigns.  True, it was never a short walk between houses because cutting across lawns was, according to my mentor and master campaigner, David Balmer, strictly verboten:  “It’s ok for the mailman.  But you don’t want to let your constituents see a politician walking across their manicured, suburban grass.”

So, I would take the sidewalk to the drive way, up the drive to where the walk forked off to the front porch, up (usually) a few stairs, and ring the bell.  Then wait to see if someone answered.  If they did, especially on Saturdays, they might want to talk for several minutes.  And then reverse the process to the next house.  Again, under ideal circumstances, slow going.

But try as I might, I couldn’t walk as fast as I had in prior campaigns.  It felt like there was stickum on the bottom of my shoes.  And, just as weird, was the fact that I wasn’t comfortable walking down even a few stairs unless there was a handrail.

“What was going on?  I was an expert alpine skier, wasn’t I?  I could ride my mountain bike on rugged single track trails.  I’d backpacked all over the state on rocky, rutted trails.  Heck, in my youth I had been a technical rock climber.  And now a few stairs were making me nervous?”

It hit me again with equal force when the session got underway the following winter.  Legislators interact with lobbyists routinely; I was no different.  Many of them are very professional looking women who work the marble hallways of the Capital all day (and sometimes late into the night) in stiletto heels; it looks brutally uncomfortable.  But, try as I might, I couldn’t keep pace with these women as we walked the 75 paces from the House chamber to my office.

A woman several inches shorter than I.  In high heels.  And I couldn’t walk as fast as they did.  What’s going on?  Frustration is scarcely adequate to describe my feelings.

I began talking to my doctors.

Maybe the titanium hip that had been put in several years before was going bad.  The orthopedic surgeon who did the implant x-rayed it and tested my blood for some sort of titanium poisoning.

Nothing.

The same result when I talked to my GP at an annual physical.

I see a psychiatrist about once a quarter for my bipolar condition.  I complained to him.  “Can my medication be making me walk like this and not feel secure going down stairs?”

He did a simple battery of physical tests, like balancing on one foot and walking a straight line down the hallway in his office while he watched.

Again, according to him, nothing.  (After we later learned what was really going on, he repeatedly offered a “mea culpa” for his oversight.  He’s a brain doctor after all.)

But after complaining a few more times in subsequent visits, he finally decided I needed to see a neurologist and gave me a referral.

It took a while to get in, but the appointed day finally arrived: my wife and I sat in the waiting room.

It didn’t strike me as odd until later, but the doctor didn’t have his nurse escort us to an exam room for the usual preliminaries.  Instead, he personally met us in the waiting room and watched me get out of my chair and walk across the room.

I’m convinced he knew what I had even before I got across the room.  Of course, some tests had to be run to confirm his impression:  brain imaging followed by a spinal tap.  (Take it from me, you haven’t lived until you have had an evening to think about a spinal tap before it’s done the following morning.)

But sure enough, the initial diagnosis was right:  normal pressure hydrocephalus (NPH).   Sometimes referred to as the “wet, whacky and wobbly” syndrome because of the most common symptoms. I’ll simply say that I had the first and the third.  And add that I hope to be able to avoid the second.

The usual treatment was what was prescribed for me:  another hole in my head to implant a shunt to drain excess fluid from my skull to my abdominal cavity where it is reabsorbed.

Has the shunt been a miracle cure?  Not hardly.  In fact, I have sometimes been resentful when I read stories of others in my situation that do seem to experience full recoveries.

But there is no doubt that the shunt has slowed the progression of the condition.

Thankfully, the wet has definitely improved.

Am I whacky?  I suppose some might say so.  But I contend that I’m still cogent.  At least I hope so.  And hope to continue so for a good while beyond what is my 66th year.

Unfortunately, I’m still wobbly, especially going down stairs; I religiously cling to the hand rail when one is available.  But I work out regularly and vigorously, including twice a week with a trainer.  He hounds me mercilessly on my posture, virtual posture Nazi.  And how could this possibly do anything but help?

NPH has made me more observant of the old people around me (I grow old…I grow old…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.).  The stooped posture.  The shuffling, wide gait.  The caution at the curb.

It took the doctors years to figure out what was wrong  with me.  And I am certainly not alone.  The Hydrocephalus Association estimates that of the 700,000 American with NPH, less than 20% receive an appropriate diagnosis.  NPH is commonly misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.  Or simple aging.  But the facts are that it is one of the few causes of dementia that can be treated.

The penultimate take away?  If you, or a loved one, is wet, whacky, and wobbly, don’t rest until you get answers that make all the pieces of the puzzle fit.

And the last take away?  This getting old stuff isn’t for sissies.