Tag: #republicans

Romancing The Stone . . . er, The Tom

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Stock photo of turkeys

Getting under the hood

My son, Byron, and I went turkey hunting a few weeks ago in central Nebraska a couple of miles west of the little town of Wolback (population 257).

It was a guided trip with Gobble and Grunt Outfitters.  While by no means cheap, for city slickers like us a guided trip represents the best chance to get one of these gorgeous, tasty critters.  And also get a peek under the hood of a rural way of life that we, otherwise, have become almost entirely disconnected from.

Let’s cut to the chase

Might as well get right to it:  I got one bird; Byron got skunked.  But only because mine was the only bird we saw that we could legally take.  Mike, the owner of G&G honored their guarantee and invited Byron back, gratis, later in the season to try again.

Toward the end of the first day, our guide, Nick, set us up  in a “double bull” blind about 10 yards away from our three decoys on the edge of an alfalfa field.  After the obligatory crow calls to see if we got a quick response from a nearby tom, the three of us climbed into the blind. Where Nick then started using a mouth and slate call to imitate a hen and attract a love struck gobbler. 

And sure enough, there came the unmistakable “oble, oble, oble” behind us and to our left.  At which point Nick really got after it, yelping, purring and cackling to signify an amorous hen.  And a then switching to the frantic gobble of a strutter angry that a rival was muscling in on his harem.  As the responses drew closer and closer, time seemed to stand still.  Although my heart certainly didn’t.  Until, finally, what looked like a gaudy bowling ball appeared no further than 10 feet to our left.  Strutting like a little Napoleon, he turned to the right straight in front of us and sashayed forward to challenge our tom decoy.  Where he met his Waterloo.  See the instant replay above.

Country kitchen

We got back to the “hunting lodge” as the sun sank into a reddening western sky.  The home of Mike’s parents when it isn’t being used for guiding, the walls were covered with the heads and racks of huge white tail deer. Side tables displayed monstrous, stuffed gobblers.

Ray, the cook, lives in Wolback.  Apologetically, she told me that her grandfather was a “moonshiner” in town back in the ’30’s.  And about a tragic night years ago when her dad, and a sizable percentage of the town’s youth, were killed in a car wreck caused by the kids drag racing down the highway.

Of German stock, she’s a firm believer in carb loading.  Dinner that night was mashed potatoes and noodles garnished with a smattering of cubed beef and thin, gray gravy.  And some very tasty home-grown sweet corn that Mike’s wife raises and freezes.  Don’t let me forget the dinner rolls.  Or sheet cake dessert.  Did I mention the tossed salad sitting next to the Dorthy Lynch dressing?

Roger and his son, Hunter, a couple of good ol’ boys from Arkansas, shared our dinner table.  After hearing how their guide had driven nearly 400 miles that day in a monstrous Dodge Ram crew cab to get them three birds, I asked Roger, “what do you guys do?”

“We do baseole.”

“I’m sorry,” I responded, “what did you say?  Base hole?”

“No.  Base OIL.  We reprocess used OIL.”

“Oh.”

The Wicked Witch

After dinner, all 8 or 10 of us went out on the south facing front porch where more big pickups occasionally roared by on Highway 22 before they crested a rise and slowed into Wolbach.  Every room in the cabin was wired for radio. Occasionally the country western music and ag reports were interrupted by severe weather warnings about a storm cell boiling up to the west.  Coming from our right, lighting brilliantly flashed time and again, making the the branches of the bare, early spring trees in the front yard stand out in stark contrast.  And the black clouds overhead swell white.

I looked, but never saw Dorothy’s Wicked Witch of the West riding by on her broom.

Grease.  And gumbo.

The heavens opened that night.  And reduced the majority of the back roads we used the next day to a vicious combination of grease.  And gumbo.

Our guide, Nick, also piloting a huge pickup, was a last minute addition to the guiding crew because two of Mike’s regulars had medical emergencies.  Responding to an SOS sent out over Facebook, Nick applied, got the gig, and drove nearly straight through from his usual happy hunting grounds in New Jersey.   He only made it to Nebraska a couple of days before the season opened.  Which wasn’t enough time to really get the hang of the back roads that ran like rat mazes through this vast, rolling country.  Especially when Nick had to keep us on greasy roads and steer clear of ditches and deep ravines with one hand.  While holding his cell in the other.  And stealing looks at its GPS maps.  My seat belt remained buckled, my knuckles were white.

By the end of the day, the mud was caked on so thick I expect you’d have to take a hammer and chisel to it.  Before you went to the car wash.  But for all that, we never saw a bird we could shoot.

Strange fruit

We came up empty again the next day.  But it was at least under sunny skies and roads that were slowly drying out.

That afternoon, Nick set me up in the blind on the edge of a field of cut corn with a line of trees to my back.  He and Byron took off on foot to see what they could scare up in a heavily wooded ravine to the west.  Just emerging buds shrouded the tree tops in a faint green mist.

Time moved at a different pace.  During the three or so hours I sat out there in a folding chair, my shot gun pointed out over the field, maybe four cars went by on the dirt road to my left.  Traffic isn’t measure in vehicles per hour.  It’s per day.  And your average kindergartener could count that high.  A squirrel’s repeated “chrrrrrrs” was big news.

Several weeks before, record rain on top of a heavy snow pack had turned usually placid creeks into raging torrents in that part of Nebraska.  The evidence was plentiful on the far side of my field that ended at a row of trees before plunging into a stream that, again, was scarcely more than a trickle.  Trees from upstream that had been uprooted and swept away were piled up, helter-skelter, against the trees that were still standing.  Ten feet up in those branches, and who knows how much farther above the stream bed below, shreds of plastic fluttered in the gentle evening breeze.

As the evening shadows stretched across the field, I heard that “oble, oble, oble” again, to my back and up a woody draw.   My heart raced.  I strained to get a look.  But never saw anything. Byron and Nick walked up to the blind and we packed up.

Time to head home.

 

 

Still coming home

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Fiddling while Rome burns

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

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

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

But what about . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever happened to “Peace Now!”

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

The energizer politicians.

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They just keep going.  And going.  And going . . .

I don’t need to remind you of the Energizer Bunny commercials.  How can you forget them?  You know, the the mechanical rabbit with fake pink fur that relentlessly marches across your TV screen, pounding a big drum.

But this isn’t about bunnies.  It’s about that exceedingly large number of politicians out there who seem to think that the world just can’t possibly carry on without them.  But be forewarned:  I’m gonna’ name names.  But, given that this is an exceedingly target rich environment, I’m almost inevitably going to miss far more names than I actually hit.

Kickin’ butt.  And takin’ names.

Let me start with one of my least favorites:  Mike Coffman.  (I’ll concede, up front, Mike’s distinguished military record.)  But that record can’t insulate him from a jolt from the Energizer Bunny.  Between military tours, he’s held more political offices than you can shake a stick at:  several terms in the Colorado House of Representatives and Colorado Senate, Colorado Treasurer, Colorado Secretary of State, and then five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In the U.S. House, Coffman succeeded immigration hawk, Tom Tancredo (one of few politicians who actually kept his promise to limit his time in office).  In the House, Coffman began his career as the heir to Tancredo’s hard line position on immigration.  But only until that stance threatened Mike’s reelection chances when his House seat was redistricted and became more competitive.  At which point, he cast aside his immigration “convictions” in favor of a higher “principle:” getting reelected.  Which cadged Mike six more years in office.  But despite turning on Trump on “The Wall,” Coffman was swept out when the Democrats took back the House.

But did losing his House seat slow down Mike?  If you thought so, you don’t understand the Energizers.  No sooner had the ashes cooled on his last failed bid for the U. S. House, Mike announced he was running-again.  But this time for Mayor of his home town, Aurora.

Will Mike win this race?  No idea.  But I’m sure of this: even if he doesn’t, I doubt this Energizer Bunny is done pounding his drum.

Let’s get bipartisan!

But lest you believe that Bunnies only inhabit Republican hutches, there are, if anything even more on the Democratic side.  Take, for example, John Kefalas, who’s held a long string of elected offices on Colorado’s urbanized, northern Front Range.

John and I both came into the Colorado House in 2006.  John, however, left the House in 2012 to run for a state Senate seat.  He then resigned part way through his eight year term to run for a seat on the Larimer Board of Commissioners.

Again, I am glad to give John credit where it is due.  While we didn’t often see eye to eye on policy matters, he was, like many of our legislative colleagues, smart and hard working.  But John’s legislative career path was like so many of the others I see down there: a term limit (eight years) in the House,  eight years in the Senate (or visa versa).  And then: “What’s next?”  The bunnies are always on the lookout for the main chance.  In John’s case, it was the County Commissioner seat-which pays significantly better than a legislative seat.

The vacancy game

But my real beef with John and so many other pols like him?  After promising his supporters that he is “eager” to represent them in the House-or, in Kefalas’ case, the Senate-he resigned part way through his term when the prospect of a better deal come along.  And then runs for that “higher” office-either through the truncated vacancy committee process.  Or via a regular election.

In either event, running as a current office holder-the “incumbent”-is a huge advantage in terms of name recognition.  Which also makes it much easier to raise money: the lobbyists who control donor purse strings are eager to back sure bets.  And shy away from long shot challengers.

The Greasy Pole

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And now, one of our own, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, has announced he’s running for President.  That’s a pole certainly no less greasy than the one Benjamin Disraeli climbed in 1874 to become Britain’s Prime Minister.

Again, I wish our former Governor well.  I served under him for a few years.  He’s an amiable man.  Perhaps, in fact, overly amiable for our current, bitterly partisan zeitgeist.

But I’m compelled to say this.  After 8 years as Mayor of Denver and then 8 years as Governor of Colorado, is he really any different than all the other professional politicians out there?  Or is he just on the lookout for the next hand hold on the greasy pole that will get him to the top of the heap in DC?

Where he will be content to comfortably wallow with the rest of the denizens of the DC swamp?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the mouths of babes

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Too soon old, and too late smart

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

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

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

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Can you believe this?

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

Boy, is Bridget excited to have a baby brother!

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

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

“I’d rather be a mom.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Indoctrination.

Or entertainment?

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

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

Creative?  Or an assemblage of weary PC tropes?

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

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

The really bad guys.

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

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

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

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

And the good guys?

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

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

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

I like movies.  Just not this movie.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Decline And Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

The land of the midnight sun.

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

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

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

The man on the white horse.

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

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

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

History repeating itself.  Except on steroids.

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

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

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

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

For the love of money.  Blood money.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just because we can . . . does it mean we should?

The Island of Dr. Moreau

The Island of Dr. Moreau

Ever heard of vivisection?  It comes from Latin words meaning “alive” and “cutting.”  It’s the practice, in other words, of cutting living creatures.  Sounds pretty creepy.  And for that reason, the term’s largely fallen out of use.

But the word can also refer to what many of us have experienced as the beneficial effects of surgery.  What, after all, is surgery except “cutting” on “living” creatures?

But when H.G. Wells uses the term in his unsettling, 1896 science fiction novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau, vivisection takes on a much more sinister meaning.   At it’s most basic level, the story describes Moreau using vivisection in a series of cruel experiments to “uplift” animals to something approaching a “human” state.  In other words, changing a creature into something it wasn’t meant to be, something unnatural.

Now, Before Our Very Eyes . . .

Vivisection is back in the news.  And, for our purposes, high school sports.  Articles and reports abound (here and here) about males “deciding” they’re females.  And then going out and cleaning up in sporting competitions against real females.

It’s true, for a number of reasons, most of these male to female “reassignments” don’t involve surgery.  First, surgery’s expensive (up to $50,000 and not typically covered by insurance).  It also looks pretty gruesome-but, to be fair, to an untrained eye like mine, most surgeries probably look about the same.  Nonetheless, in 2016 there were about 1,500 male to female surgeries.

Chemical reassignment via hormones is probably more common-but the changes are less comprehensive, limited to things like muscle mass and facial hair.

The Sports Problem.

750x450 girls soccer silhouette

My problem with all this “gender reassignment,” at least in regards to high school sports, is that I don’t want my granddaughters to be forced to compete against what are really someone’s grandsons.  Like this state champion track star who if, with “her” square jaw and mustache, is a “girl,” then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

If my granddaughters take after their parents, they are likely to enjoy sports.  But to throw them in against boys, who are naturally bigger and stronger, in sports like soccer, lacrosse, and track isn’t just unfair.  It’s dangerous.

And it becomes outrageous when kids, whose birth certificate identifies them as a “male” can simply, on their own say so, declare themselves “females.”  To what end?  So they  can compete on a playing field that’s not just tilted?  But pitching wildly.  And then perpetuate the fraud by scooping up college scholarships which, under Title IX, are intended to be awarded to women?  (Don’t get me wrong-I’m not a big fan of Title IX. It’s resulted in the elimination of some 400 college sports programs that mainly attracted men.  That is, real men.)

Which makes me wonder:  how’s the #metoo movement going to handle this ploy to make women go to the back of the bus?

The Conceit Of The Far Left.  And Right.

The 20th century was the bloodiest in history.  Millions died at the hands of governments in the grip of savage ideologies which were determined to remake human nature in their own, brutal image.  The Nazi’s Übermensch.  The Soviet’s New Man.  The penalty for failing to fit the mold?  Death.  On a mass scale.  Thankfully, though the cost in blood and treasure was high, those cruel idols were overthrown.

However, now, well on into the 21st century, it seems the lesson of the impossibility and undesirability of fundamentally reshaping human nature has yet to be learned.  Except, this time, rather than concentration camps, gas chambers, and the Two Minutes’ Hate, individuals are remaking themselves. With vivisection.  Or chemicals.  Or the bare assertion that they are what they aren’t.

But It Doesn’t Stop There.

Did you see this story?  If you accept it, North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-Un, has spent billions attempting to clone an army of “super soldiers who will obey his every command.”  The article goes on to say that the hermit nation has a long history of human cloning experimentation.  Kim is also trying to insure his own immortality by cloning himself.

And Kim isn’t alone in the pursuit of super soldiers.  It’s an arms race that many, much more “advanced” nations, including ours, are engaged in.

And you thought Dr. Moreau was crazy.

So, just because we can, does it mean we should?  And even if “we” decide we shouldn’t, how do we keep this genie in the bottle if the “we” doesn’t include us all?  Will my grandchildren be forced to compete against “super” kids not just for athletic prizes?  But also for places in college?  And the work force?

Or, God forbid, on the battlefield?

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.

Quo Vadis Greece? Part II.

spencer swalm and friends in Greece

With some fellow Road Scholars at the amphitheater of Epidaurus, the center of the Greek healing arts.

Still Jet Lagged After All These Days.

Finally.  This morning was better.  I didn’t wake up until 4 a.m.  Rather than-boing!-bolt upright, bright eyed, bushy tailed, and ready to be “up and at ’em” at 2:30.  Yuck.

So, rather than lying futilely in bed, I got up at 4:30, watched some of Sense and Sensibility while I made the elliptical go ’round, showered, and had a bite of breakfast.  And then crawled back in bed for an 8:30 nap.  This, needless to say, this is no way to run a railroad.

I don’t, for the life of me, see how my sister and her husband do it.  World travelers par excellence. I almost never know, literally, where in the world they’re at.  Home an extended layover; jet lag as a life style.

And, when we talked about my Greece trip the other day, she told me it’s only gotten worse for her with the passing years.  Since I don’t believe I’m getting any younger, it makes me sorta wonder if my travelin’ days are over.  Is the pain worth the gain?  Brilliant suggestions welcome.

Anyhoo.  Enough of my aberrant sleep cycles.

Looking Back.

One of the ancient sites we “Road Scholars” visited as we bussed around mainland Greece was The Oracle of Delphi.  For those of you who’ve driven I-70 west of Denver, picture Glenwood Canyon-except with the ruins of a medium size town clinging to its rocky heights.  A good good size “church” (the unusual circular temple and where the priestess received ambiguous text messages from the gods), open air amphitheater (á la Red Rocks), a full service-including pool-gymnasium, a stadium/chariot racing track.  And so on and so forth.  A marvel of engineering and testament to the genius of the ancient Greeks.  Not to mention their dogged determination-it’s built entirely of stones, countless of which weigh tons.  Which had to be, somehow, quarried, bullied, and dragged to the site from miles around.

Serpent column delphi in Greece

The Serpent Column at Delphi

For my money, one of the more significant monuments at the site was the bronze Serpent Column.  Made by twisting together a large tripod that was used by the Greeks in their sacrificial rites to the gods, the column commemorates the united front the 31 fractious Greek city states presented to the invading Persian hordes in 479-480 BC to finally put an end to their predations.  First, at the land battles of Plataea and Mycale.  And then the decisive Greek naval victory in the Straits of Salamis.   Thus were the Persians prevented from strangling the nascent idea of democracy in it’s Greek cradle.

Looking Ahead.

But why is this ancient, bronze column, even in it’s less than perfectly preserved state, still significant? Because Greece, and the priceless heritage of Western Civilization that it represents, is under assault again.

Consider Lesbos, a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea, just off the coast of Turkey-the same land where the ancient Persian hordes came from.  Although the demographics of the latest wave of invaders may be in dispute, (Are they predominantly young males?  Or more diverse?), there’s no question that Greece is being invaded again.  And Lesbos is bearing the brunt of the invasion.

But the swarms of immigrants inevitably spill over into mainland Greece.  My friend, Dean, who arrived in Athens a week before me, spoke to a resentful young bus driver as he explored the city.  “I can’t,” he confided to Dean, “afford to get married or have children because the European Union forces us to take better care of foreigners than it does of our own citizens.”

Just the calumny of a bitter loser?  I doubt it.  Eleni, our very knowledgeable guide,  described the youthful brain drain from her county.  Greece has a dismal 24% unemployment rate; of those, 60% are young.  The country is only slowly healing from the 2007-2008 financial crisis; abandoned, graffiti scarred buildings pockmark the face of Athens.

The Real Crisis?

But, perhaps, money isn’t everything.   Nor are invasions.  Greece, and its culture, didn’t just endure 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman Turks.  It thrived.  It stubbornly retained it’s distinctive identity, which was rooted in the Greek Orthodox Church and, even further back, the Classical Hellenic legacy that it had bequeathed to Western Civilization.

Calling on these moral reserves and against long odds, Greeks repelled Italian aggression at the outset of World War II.  It was a point of honor to Eleni, our guide, that Greece fended off the Facist thugs of Germany and Italy longer than France did.  Thus delaying the Nazi’s invasion of Russia.  And which Hitler himself blamed for the German army being turned back, catastrophically, at the gates of Moscow in December of 1941 by the Russian winter.

Greece, in other words, is no stranger to invasion and tough times.  I discussed this with Dean.  “Perhaps things aren’t as bad as they appear in Greece. And even Europe.  They’ve done it before.  Perhaps they can turn back the invading hordes from the Muslim world again this time.”

“But,” he replied, “things might be different this time.”

The Serpent Column Today.

To put a contemporary “twist” on the Serpent Column, let’s imagine that the column represents not unified Greek city states, but a tripod of faith, the economy, and the government.  So, how are the legs holding up some 2500 years later?

I’m no expert on the Orthodox church.  But I do know that early on, as a result of Paul’s missionary journeys, the Hellenic world of the eastern Mediterranean was where Christianity first took root-and spread like wild fire.  Greek was also the language of the New Testament.

interior of greek orthodox church

The ornate, beautiful interior of one of the many small Greek Orthodox chapels scattered throughout the country.

But when I asked our guide, Eleni, about the current spiritual health of her national church, her answer was telling.  “It played an important role in helping our nation survive the 400 year occupation by the Ottomans.  But now,” she continued, “not so much.  Most homes, like ours, have a shrine to a favorite saint that we light candles to on festival days.  But the churches are largely empty.”

The second leg of the economy?  I’ve talked about that.  And, as you have no doubt heard, the picture isn’t pretty.

But the economic picture is probably made even uglier since Greece joined the European Union in 2001.   By becoming a member, Greece surrendered its ability to control its own currency, the drachma.  Thus, when the financial crisis of 2007 clobbered the economy, Greece was incapable of devaluing its currency-a commonly used response to an economic depression that attempts to jump start the economy by making exports less expensive for customers in other countries.  But with EU bureaucrats in Brussels calling the shots in Athens, no such luck.

And the government?  Well, let’s leave it at this:  even if the government is rock solid, when you kick out two legs of a three legged stool, you’re not left with much.  And that’s not even counting the scars left by the savage civil war of 1946-1949 and the military coup of 1967-1974.

 A Resilience We Don’t Understand?

One of the books on our “required reading” list for us Roads Scholars was Modern Greece:    What Everyone Needs To Know by Yale historian and professor Stathis Kalyvas.  A Greek himself, Kalyvas admits to being, on occasion, puzzled by the resilience his nation has displayed time and again in the face of invasion, economic collapse, and civil strife.

So, what can you say?  Perhaps the Greeks are just too hard headed to know when they’re licked.  Can the same be said, more broadly, of Western Civilization?  One can only hope.