(Originally submitted 2 years ago about a chance meeting)
Last evening he reacted with amazement. "You gotta be kidding me!" I had just mentioned I was writing about him. I thought for a moment he might object. As it is, I hope he forgives me for the details I may have gotten wrong.
It was one of several encounters I had happened upon with this impressive, self-deprecating man. I often stop by the local library, and that's where we kept bumping into each other. The first time, he was trying to recover a lost file on a library computer. I tried to help him, unsuccessfully as it turned out. We talked about the coming election. He was for McCain, I for Obama.
Then he told me a little of himself. He is a war hero from the Vietnam era. That's my description not his. He seems hesitant as he talks about it, and he talks about it sparingly. "I just went a little crazy," he says. His "craziness" saved others who were in mortal danger, pinned down and taking enemy fire. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for bravery. That medal is awarded for any of several acts, but when earned for bravery in combat, it is the fourth highest possible military citation given by the U.S. Armed Forces.
For years, modesty and uncertainty of how it might be regarded prompted him to keep the award stored out of view. He would not expose this symbol to derision. It was his father who changed his mind. His dad had served in the Air Force in World War Two, flying over the Empire of Japan with General Curtis Lemay. He confessed to his son that he felt just a little envious. The younger veteran was incredulous and so his father explained, it was that hidden Bronze Star. The son objected. The old man was a hero many times over. He pointed to the many ribbons, medals, and awards the elder hero had on his own wall. "But I never earned a Bronze Star," the father stated simply.
They are everywhere, these heroes who have our lasting thanks and admiration, earned in far off lands. They are lucky to have made it back, and we are blessed in having them back. A choir director, members at church, workmates, and casual acquaintances are among them. There are many more unknowingly met in bank lines and pharmacies, the routine encounters that are part of everyday life. I have a letter from a onetime coworker, recently assigned to Afghanistan. He has my prayers until the moment he returns.
My friend in the library had a special relationship with his dad. They each shared an admiration of the other, quiet and well deserved. The last act of that regard came as the son gazed into an open casket. He placed next to his father the Bronze Star that had been awarded for an act of desperation decades ago in a land far away.
The father had chosen his son well.
Fewer people see themselves as religious than ever, especially young people. About a quarter of those under 30 describe themselves as "atheist" or "agnostic" or "nothing in particular" according to a Pew study this year.
Could younger people simply be more secular? Scientific explanations for the mysteries of life might have more appeal than the simplistic selfcenteredness of literal biblical interpretation. Comedian Lewis Black discusses on stage those who insist that humans and dinosaurs co-existed. "...these people are watching The Flintstones as if it were a documentary." Critics of religion on the scientific front, Richard Dawkins and others, have some fun with this.
I think a purely materialistic view leaves a bit of a hole in spiritual experience. The way-back machine in my brain sometimes brings to me a decades old conversation with a psychology professor who explained that consciousness is an illusion. The question of just who is around to be fooled was of no concern to him. The great late priest and theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, performed a sort of intellectual jujitsu with a counter proposal: Atoms and electrical impulses possess a sort of proto-consciousness.
None of this seems like a problem for those under thirty. Although a higher proportion will say they are not religious, the proportion who describe their beliefs in spiritual terms is pretty constant. About two out of three say they strongly believe in God, which is about the same as in previous generations. More simply go it alone.
"Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively," says a religious leader. "They just want to experience God." This would explain the growth of non-traditional services. Contemporary music combines with more participatory worship to provide a more active spirituality.
I identify with contemporary worship. I attend both kinds of services at our church, but I am more enthusiastic about a release from old traditions and passive rituals. The identification of Olde Englishe with holiness, and centuries old hymns with piety, leaves me a little cold.
I suggest that the politicization of Christianity by extreme conservatives has also alienated those who might find more appeal in the actual teachings of Jesus. The idea that God loves you and joins you in hating gays and immigrants finds its adherents, but alienates many more who might find meaning in a more worthy message.
I encourage folks to seek out the fellowship of those with similar spiritual outlook. I see benefit and nourishment in walking in spiritual journey with others. So I am always hopeful that folks will seek out their Church, Temple, Synagogue, Mosque, or Ethical Society. When Jesus taught us to pray, first person pronouns were in plural. It was "we" and "us," not "me" and "I."
Nobody needs to walk alone.
Most people can't bear to sit in church for an hour on Sundays. How are they supposed to live somewhere very similar to it for eternity?
- - Mark Twain
Nuggets of internet gold:
Ned Williams at WisdomIsVindicated laughs at those of us who have opinions about Arizona's law without having read the actual legislation. He is right, of course. Most critics of the law have never even bothered to read the 1935 bill in its original German.
- Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST is in the midst of family tragedy. We wish him and his family godspeed.
Have a safe weekend. Pray for someone in pain. Recovery gains traction, but it is very slow for many thrown out of work.
Every once in a while, politicians go against the voters, sometimes on issues that make no sense to a rational person. Politicians don't care how people feel. They care how people vote. Sometimes there is a difference. Think wedge. Wedge issues are often used to peel enough voters from the opposition to make a difference without losing other voters.
When Ronald Reagan was nearly assassinated in 1981, his Press Secretary, James Brady, suffered grievous head wounds. He and his wife Sarah campaigned for reasonable gun laws. And it looked like a winning issue. Huge majorities wanted lethal firearms restricted so that maniacs, kids, and criminals would have a harder time getting them. It was an idea whose time was long past.
But conservatives saw an opportunity. Those opposed to any restrictions on firearms got insane about it. The NRA went national with conspiracy theories and slippery slope arguments. Life long Democrats were switching.
So a huge majority wanted at least some controls over guns, but did not care enough about the issue for it to affect their votes. A small rabid minority opposed any controls at all and, boy did they vote. And vote. And vote. Democratic office holders today would rather chew on tin foil than even think about containing gun violence. A proposal to keep guns from suspected terrorists is going nowhere. No kidding! From terrorists.
Not all wedge issues go against conservatives. George Bush used his stumbling Spanish, only slightly worse than his English, to appeal to conservative voters of Latin descent. The Bush-Cheney administration were enjoying success in appealing to Spanish speaking Americans. Those who had migrated to the United States, and their children and grandchildren, are proud of their adopted country and often identify with those whose patriotism is voiced the loudest. Then Republicans appealed to popular fears.
Most voters want to crack down on immigration. Some are passionate about those who are here illegally, but resist any increase in legal immigration. Culture issues, language, and pretty much anything that identifies newcomers as different undergird prejudice. Fear about jobs is a big item, although the evidence is that even illegal immigrants benefit the economy.
Most Americans want to crack down on immigrants, but fall short of active hatred: Not enough, in itself, to cost many votes. But there are pressures in a shrinking party captured by the far right. Those who actively hate are courted by GOP candidates. Vote for us. Republicans hate those you hate.
But those conservative Spanish speaking voters? Their numbers are growing, and the work of Bush and Cheney has faded. Think about it. How much would it take to get you to vote for candidates who hate you?
All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian.
There is not a lot to like about Nikki Haley, if you are a liberal Democrat, like ... well ... me. She terms efforts to make health care available to those with pre-existing conditions as "unconstitutional takeover of healthcare." She wants, instead, to guarantee "access to healthcare using free market principles." If Adam Smith's hand leaves you out, too bad. She likes to bash immigrants. She wants to "reform" the tax code to put less of the burden on wealthy folks, and more on working people. And she is currently being attacked by a conservative blogger who purports to be a former lover.
The sex lives of public officials were once considered private. JFK's dalliances were known to a small group, and suspected by most everyone else in the press. But the ethic in those innocent days was that private lives were to be made public only when official performance was affected, or when it was pretty much unavoidable. Wilbur Mills (D-AR) went from powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, to ex-powerful anything after being stopped for driving under the influence in 1974. His passenger, stripper Fanne Foxe, tried to run away and ended up taking a bath in Washington's Tidal Basin.
In the 1980s, the standard of none-of-our-business was trampled on the path to Gary Hart. In the 1990s Bill Clinton became the target. The argument against Clinton was simple. If he couldn't be trusted not to cheat on his wife, how could we trust him in office? One wit asked if we were afraid he might sneak off one night and, behind our backs, balance the budget of Belgium. Christopher Hitchens characterized such views sarcastically. It was none of our business, he suggested, what Bill and Monica did in the privacy of their own Oval Office. Voters were outraged, and in 1998, they turned out in droves to punish ... well ... Clinton's accusers. It was the first time in 176 years that the party of a sixth year administration gained seats in Congress.
As public piety became more pronounced, and bombastic morality became the rule, a new factor was introduced. Sex lives might not be the business of the public, but hypocrisy was. So those who touted their own morality, or attacked that of opponents, became fair game. Newt Gingrich had been an accuser of Clinton while conducting his own affair with an assistant. One Republican speaker after another was lost as private lives became public.
Three years ago, State Rep. Bob Allen (R-FL) an anti-gay activist was arrested soliciting oral sex from an undercover policeman. State Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-CA), another anti-gay activist, was stopped by police for DWI a few months ago as he drove from a gay bar. Outings got bigger. John Ensign, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, and Ted Haggard fell. After a while, the hypocrisy rationale disappeared and curiosity itself became the standard. Today, purse-lipped television personalities demand apologies from Tiger Woods.
There is little moral rant in the public presentation of Nikki Haley. Her accuser is a less than reputable conservative blogger with criminal history of domestic violence. She should be opposed and defeated. But only because she supports the mistaken policy positions of Nikki Haley.
You're here today because the president suffered a terrible moral lapse, a marital infidelity. Not a breach of the public trust, not a crime against society, the two things Hamilton talked about in Federalist Paper No. 65 -- I recommend it to you before you vote -- but it was a breach of his marriage vows. It was a breach of his family trust. It is a sex scandal. H.L. Mencken said one time, "When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money,' it's about money." And when you hear somebody say, "This is not about sex," it's about sex.
- - former Senator Dale Bumpers (D-AR), January 21, 1999
At the Impeachment Trial of President Bill Clinton.
Senator Bumpers successfully argued that the case was about sexual
indiscretion and therefore none of our business.
Recall, the Congress passed a war resolution against Japan. Germany declared war on us two days later. We never formally declared war on Hitler's Germany, and yet we fought the war.
The speaker was J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, currently scaring all rational thought out of John McCain, as he campaigns for McCain's Senate seat. It was Norm of TV's Cheers joining in a bizarre mind meld with President George at his W. Bushiest. The US had never declared war on Germany?
We've all had experiences with clueless folk endlessly impressed with their own knowledge. He may never have actually said it, but Will Rogers is widely credited with a remark about a politician, "It's not what he doesn't know that bothers me ... it's what he knows for sure that just ain't so."
A work acquaintance once explained in detail how dinosaurs had disappeared because of a giant meteor. He reconstructed it in dramatic fashion. The big rock had hit the world with such force that plants all over the earth jumped out of the ground, uprooted, leaving the dinosaurs with nothing to eat. People hear things wrong and believe what they hear. Minor variations grow until they become urban legends.
But some urban legends are not the product of things heard wrong. Prejudice and malicious intent form the basis of much misinformation. Hayworth was in a serious policy debate, and was trying to demonstrate that declarations of war are a mere constitutional technicality, not needed in the modern world. He could have just looked up Article II Section 8, but why bother?
Common wisdom of the everyone-knows-it's-true-so-why-bother-to-check variety is what I hear in everyday discussion. Since much of the debate in my life has come from conservatives, I have come to expect it from the right. Thus, I have heard "everyone knows" that founders did not really want any separation of church and state, the federal government was infested with Communists after World War II, Joe McCarthy was a brave and solitary hero.
These neighborhood barroom opinions are now to be taught as fact in Texas and beyond. Texas' Board of Education has been captured by a hard-right group who will
They have not yet gotten around to teaching the Hayworth version of history. The US still declared war on the Nazis on December 11, 1941.
Those of us on the liberal side of the fence are still treating the Republican embarrassment at the naked lady place scandal, as Rachel Maddow delicately put it, mostly as a delightfully bizarre public relations development. It is that. Ohhh yeah, it is that! But what made it especially harmful was not that the general public started laughing at the GOP central committee. It is that the public started laughing at Republican contributors.
Two body blows (so to speak) landed. The first was the lost and found presentation for GOP campaign fund raisers. It had been left at the Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande, Florida and turned over to media people. It presented potential donors as two distinct groups. I like that premise. "There are two kinds of people. Those who think there are two kinds of people and those who don't." I vary between thinking of that and it's brother formulation: "There are three kinds of people, those who can count and those who can't." This one was so extreme it was, all at once, strange, repugnant, and funny.
Anyway, back to the two kinds of people. There are two kinds of Republican donors, said the GOP presentation. There are big blowhards with loads of money and huge egos, who can be flattered and stroked into giving. Then there are small, frightened, racially motivated little people who give the few dollars they have because they are scared of the word "socialist" and they hate the black guy in the Oval Office. Lest the point be missed, the word "socialist" was splashed across the screen to show how to scare the little munchkins into giving. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the President of the United States was shown in white face. So the GOP sees egotistical big shots on the one hand, timid little racists on the other.
Then the big bomb hit. A few donors were treated to a sex club featuring lesbian themed bondage shows. This was defended by one local Republican committeeman. When "dealing with young people, it's probably a good idea to go off the beaten track..." (OMG!) "...a little bit and do things you think they might like." Can it get worse? "...everything that's cool from a pop culture perspective is Democratic" opined another GOP voice. "If you've got a little insecurity complex, but you've got money -- what a cool group to hang out with." All funny. All demeaning to the Republican Central Committee.
Except embarrassing the party isn't what hurt. The clear message was delivered to everyone who briefly considered contributing to the cause. The GOP considered them to be egotistical, easily frightened, racially primitive, sexual deviants, who could be cynically manipulated. Now think about your willingness to contribute to your favorite cause if you discovered that sort of thinking. Imagine if that image of you was screamed to all your friends. The bottom line is that GOP cash on hand is about 70% lower than this time in previous election years.
So the party is now doing the smart thing. Weeks later, after a suitable silence, they are firing people. Top people. You see, there are two kinds of Republican officials. Those who never, ever humiliate potential contributors, and those who get tossed out onto the street. There is no third kind.
As you may of heard, the Chairman has asked for the resignation of Rob Bickhart and Debbie LeHardy from their positions in the Finance department. While we appreciate their service to the RNC and wish them well in future endeavors, the Chairman felt it was important to restructure the department in order to continue to improve on our strong fundraising numbers.
- - Doug Heye, Republican National Committee, May 7, 2010
Announcing two in a series of top level firings