Tuesday, December 31, 2013

In 2014, I Resolve to . . .

  • To be kinder to all, especially Customer Service Representatives in the employ of cell phone giants, Internet providers, and cable television drones (and yes, there are sad tales and fever-pitched quarrels I could recount),
  • To abandon all hope of every comprehending the Ebenezer hearts and labyrinthine brain of anyone claiming to have Tea-Party leanings and those fond of Ayn Rand’s rants,
  • To exercise vigorously at least four days weekly and walk farther every day,
  • To become righteous about tracking the food I put down my gullet,
  • To add more natural wonders of this world to my journal,
  • To feel the wind against my face, the sun upon my shoulders, and the cool blessing of night upon my weariness,
  • To empathize and accept,
  • To forgive those who trespass against me,
  • To cherish myself,
  • To be grateful for love, and
  • Never ever to abandon hope because I know that
Photo by Megan Griffin, "Temple in Japan," 2005

every child lost at Sandy Hook and Plaza Towers Elementary has left behind a legacy: a resolve to hold fast to the love felt and seared into a heart;

that every adult and child lost to gun violence has inspired one more to speak up and stand out for justice;

that Trayvon Martin’s family inspires a nation of people still convicted, still determined to find justice for him;

that Moral Monday protestors would go to jail again in the name of fairness, democracy, and education;

that men and women find food for hungry people;

that Pope Francis was elected to heal a church and restore faith;

that smarter, better people than I ever hope to be will always come forward.

May your resolve endure for 365 days; may your dreams spring to life.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Santa, All I Want for Christmas Is . . .

Have you ever read Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl” or seen the animated version of the story? The small little figure walks among people preoccupied, in need themselves or hardened to the faces and needs of others. Too small to be so alone, too frail to endure, too young to be saddled with such despair, this child succumbs to Nature and man.

She is not fiction. She is not a cartoon character. She is every boy and girl who rise to go to school hungry. She is the child without a home, the one who climbs inside a car, metal and glass her only shield against frigid temperatures and elements that could turn her tiny toes black and diseased.

She and he are one in five U. S. children. Their parents may even hold jobs, but their income is insufficient. Some of these children will never become what they might have become because a simple accident of birth placed them in the lowest socio-economic class. Through absolutely no fault, no choice on their part, and no decision made by them, they are and will be at the mercy of fates far beyond their control.

Photo by Al Griffin

Some of them will wonder why Santa seems real to other children, but passes them by, not even leaving coal for their bitter disappointment. Some of them will watch images of steaming, golden roasted turkey and turn away for the images only stir hunger pangs that strike like lightning.

Surely these children know hope, and my Christmas wish is for them. May they receive food to fuel their growth. May they never wake to a certain knowledge that they stand apart from the warmth of Christmas. May Brotherhood be reborn.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, After-Christmas Sales: All Marketing Coups

I’ve never shopped Black Friday sales. For more than a decade, I prepared a Thanksgiving meal, packed it to-go, drove 2 ½ hours across a turnpike, heated everything, served it all, cleaned my mom’s kitchen, packed leftovers for family members, and drove another 2 ½ hours to sleep in my own bed. The day after Thanksgiving was my day to give thanks for peace, quiet, rest, and leftovers.

I also never felt motivated to go forth into crowds competing for two televisions on sale. I knew myself to be susceptible to impulses so I stayed home. I also learned to expect great sales for a wide array of merchandise year-round in every city and most villages. From the global marketplace, I learned that anyone anywhere can buy local, domestic, and international, especially if using the Internet.

So many choices, so much competition online appealed to me so I logged on before and after work for Cyber Monday—except now, I don't need to wait for one particular day. Now, I can choose between Cyber Black Fridays and Black Friday previews and Black Friday on Thursday or Wednesday and well into December. So now I shop when I need to shop. Lately that’s September and October so I can spread the cost and make Christmas a guilt-free festival.

But there are even better reasons not to fall for Black Friday or Cyber Mondays or after-Christmas sales. They are as manipulative as any other bait to fish for consumers.

First, not all Black Friday sale items are much of a sale. According to NerdWallet, an online site about money matters, one Black Friday deal offered a KitchenAid Classic Plus Stand mixer for $199, about $30 under the regular price at most stores. Target beat that price 20 days earlier, offering the same mixer on November 8, 2013 for $183.99. If the consumer had bought earlier from Target, his savings would have been $46 instead of $30.

In addition, caveat emptor--Let the buyer beware! Buyers should not assume that everything in a Dollar General or Wal-Mart or Costco is available at the lowest price anywhere.  Some items are great buys, but many are priced exactly the same or higher than at other stores. Smartphone apps are marvelous inventions, and one of them will let you know if the price you’re about to pay is the best price.

If this is standard marketing procedure, it stands to reason that some Black Friday deals are not bargains after all. NerdWallet also reports that “many items advertised on Black Friday [sold] for prices that consumers could have obtained … as far back as last year." Furthermore, The Wall Street Journal declares: “Attention Black Friday shoppers: You’re probably wasting your time," adding that most items advertised for Black Friday are available for the sale price or even less at other times throughout the year, including the holiday shopping season post-Black Friday.

Furthermore, some workers will have a few more hours to indulge in turkey, dressing, family quarrels, and football. As sellers attempt to one-up each other, sales begin earlier and earlier so those workers have no holiday, one declared in honor of our roots--although the true story of our roots little resembles the one taught to school children featuring turkeys, Pilgrims, and Native Americans.

If sellers make the holiday null and void by opening their doors earlier and earlier, then no proclamation will save it. Soon no one will expect any store to be closed on Thanksgiving. Restaurants will follow.  They will recognize the value in weary shoppers in need of sustenance.  Then homemakers, Domestic Gods and Goddesses, and weary grandparents will realize that the Roast Beast need not be the day’s labor in homes across the land when professionals can slather gravy and cranberry sauce for us all. Thanksgiving might transition into just another day, observed by some and barely noticed by others.

But, perhaps most important, those workers upon whom we depend for our delight, those football players near and far, concussed and clear-headed, will have lost a key factor in their contracts: extra-duty pay for playing on holidays. America will never stand for it! We want our football, endless, endless football, sometimes better than any tryptophan-ed turkey in lulling us into insensibility, sometimes better than the best cardio workout.

So dear shoppers and couch-athletes, resist the call of one-day sales such as Black Friday! Stay home. Feast and indulge. We’ll all be better for it.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

“… there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness” (Wendell Berry)

“… there’s a world of pleasure in contrariness” (Wendell Berry

Moyers and Company celebrated Wendell Berry, the man, his prose, poetry, and political activism, in an encore presentation of a program that aired earlier in the fall. I enjoyed both programs and encourage you to watch them both or read the transcript of each episode at the links provided. I promise you won’t regret the time you spend.

What struck me during the encore program was Berry’s answer to Moyers’ questions about despair and hope during this political season of denial and nay-saying. Like the anecdotal ostrich, people who wield power seem to have tucked their heads under the surface, content to ignore the hue and cry to protect Earth, feed hungry children, and deploy resources to make lives better. They have instead engaged in getting, acquiring, and hoarding.

Berry eschews these. Replying to Moyers' question about despair, Berry offers wisdom derived from experience, faith, and scholarship. He grants that all things seem endangered by capitalism, the siren song of wealth, and declares"

“’No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it … can for long disguise its failure' to conserve the wealth and health of nature. ‘Eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of biodiversity, species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up … thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores, natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness and therefore the profitability of war’” (Cited by Moyers from Berry’s 2012 lecture as a Jefferson Lecturer in behalf of the National Endowment of the Humanities)

Photo by Al Griffin

A state like the one Berry describes is reason for despair, but Berry has not forsaken hope and demonstrates his optimism through activism. He advocates for sustainable farming and the humane treatment of animals used for food. He sat in the Kentucky Governor’s office four days after all other efforts to communicate the harms of slicing away whole mountaintops in order to claim the coal therein failed. More important, he speaks to the strength and peace derived from being contrary.

“Going against men, I’ve heard at times a deep harmony thrumming in the mixture, and when they asked me what I say I don't know. It is not the only or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way." Berry is also one among many, including Vandana Shiva about whom I’ve written in the past. She and many more are:

“The ones who are committed. These people. The country and I think Vandana could tell you, the world, is full of people now who are doing what I just said, seeing something that needs to be done and starting to do it, without the government’s permission, or official advice, or expert advice, or applying for grants or anything else. They just start doing it.”

One final and perhaps esoteric reason for hope, according to Berry, is the fleeting nature of this life and all things. Berry points out:

Snapshot by Connye Griffin, Taken from the Water, Autumn 2013

“The poet, William Butler Yeats, said somewhere, ‘things reveal themselves passing away.’ And it may be that the danger that we’ve now inflicted upon every precious thing reveals the preciousness of it and shows us our duty. Some of us, these people and their friends and allies that now cover the world, these people are free to acknowledge the preciousness of the precious things.”

In closing, let us remember the fictional icon, Atticus Finch, that inspired this blog. He stood up, stepped up, and never lost hope even when a suit of despair fit more comfortably. He believed in the power of one to make a change, and so does Berry who admits:

“… it’s dangerous to do acts of civil disobedience. I [Berry] think once you’ve crossed that line, well, something is settled.” Something rests within us when we summon contrariness for causes worth fighting for. May we all find our inner beings at rest while being contrary.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Affordable Care is So Much More than a Website

Opponents lament that the Affordable Care Act is a train wreck leading to economic collapse. They place a dollar value upon human life and believe suffering is inevitable for some, especially those who do not work as hard as they should. I say:

Tenet, the First.

Human life is not quantifiable except perhaps in intellectual exercises between actuaries and insurers.

Tenet, the Second.

Suffering should be alleviated. We must apply imagination, compassion, and collaboration to foster health and defend human dignity for all men, women, and children here and abroad. Time-tested, universal theologies, philosophies, moral precepts, and ethical considerations direct us to do so.


While opponents cry and fuss that a twitchy, glitchy web site is proof positive that the Affordable Care Act has failed, will fail, and cannot succeed--ever, we must remember that even without a functioning web site, the Affordable Care Act has delivered these benefits:

  • Approximately 20% of 14 million people shopping for health insurance in the marketplace for individual health insurance (as opposed to group insurance provided by an employer, for example) will NOT be rejected because they happen to have been born with twitchy, glitchy genes or cells that one day sprang to life as cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, diabetes, or any other of the thousands of diseases and problems that afflict us. In other words, a pre-existing condition will NOT force individuals to bear the full costs of their health care or die prematurely because they cannot afford health care.
  • No longer will insurers be able to use your premium dollars for overhead, administrative, or marketing costs. The 80/20 rule requires insurance companies to spend 80% of your premium dollars on your health care, and if they do not, return some portion of your premium dollars directly to you or reduce your future premium. In 2013, about 8.5 million Americans received refunds.
  • Young people without full-time employment from an employer offering group health care insurance are often unable to afford comprehensive health coverage, but now their parents can continue to protect them against catastrophic injury or disease until they are 26 years of age. The number-one cause of bankruptcy and repayment default is medical, affecting approximately 2 million Americans. More than 56 million will fall behind or forego some other responsibilities, saving for the future among them, because of the high cost of medical care. So the ACA is vital to America’s financial health, too.
  • No longer will individuals fear the loss of their insurance because they have reached annual or even lifetime policy limits.
  • More preventive screenings are now available with no out-of-pocket cost. No longer will insurers be able to require insured enrolled members to pay more than basic premium dollars for mammograms or colonoscopies and other preventive screenings.
Opponents have also tried to persuade us that Americans already enjoy the best health care system in the world and the best quality of life thanks to our health care. They lie.

“Among 19 countries included in a recent study of amenable mortality [mortality not related to health care], the United States had the highest rate of deaths from conditions that could have been prevented or treated successfully.” Barriers to health care and health insurance are factors in this outcome.

The Affordable Care Act is GOOD for America. It was legislation long, long overdue. It is SO MUCH more than a twitchy web site. It is SO MUCH more than regulation and reform. It is life-sustaining for individuals and the nation.

Tenet, the Third.

Remember that adorable dog in the movie Up? He wore a device to translate his thoughts into words humans can understand, but his doggie nature proved just how easily dogs can be distracted. While introducing himself, the dog suddenly swings its head and cries “Squirrel!”

Dear America, consider yourself as that dog, engaged in short bursts of conversation about health care until someone throws a squirrel into the room. That squirrel goes by the name of harsh criticisms about twitchy, glitchy web sites and fears about broken promises. That squirrel turned your attention from the real issues and sent you chasing after a distraction.

You’re not dogs, America! Focus, listen and learn. Above all, know how the Affordable Care Act serves fellow citizens.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Autumn Leaves. 2013. Photo by Al Griffin

I’m grateful for laughter, especially the laughs provided by these comedians: Jimmy Fallon, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, Kevin Hart, W. Kamau Bell, Key and Peele, and Louis C. K. I can count on at least one chortle, giggle, guffaw, or smile while watching any one of them.

I’m grateful for those among us who live like Atticus. They stand for something and someone; they dare to make a difference for us all. They are men and women like Leymah Gbowee, Pope Francis, Senator Bernie Sanders, Moral Monday protestors, Jill Stein, Margaret Flowers, Representative John Lewis, Mariana Chilton , and so many, many more.

I’m grateful for those who do the work that few of us can. They are firefighters, public defenders, social workers, teachers, counselors, airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines, and guardsmen along the coasts and inland. Most agree to put their lives in jeopardy for us. Most work for subsistence salaries, their own families often benefiting from public programs.

I’m grateful for writers long gone and brand new, for high speech and low, for ideas that carry me far beyond my own horizon. W. H. Auden, Matthew Arnold, William Wordsworth, and William Carlos Williams bid me pay attention; their words return to me often. John Updike’s A Great Scarf of Birds perfectly describes a delight I witness daily.

Little Scout Finch whispers great lessons of love and courage. Delores Claiborne soldiers on, her vision bleak, her expectations lower than low. Carol Shields, Joy Kogawa, and Kevin Powers reveal the human condition in language poetic and poignant. 

I’m grateful for glorious sunrises, awe-inspiring sunsets, cleansing rains; for soft breezes whispering through pine needles, supporting eagles on high, cooling my brow in summer.

I’m grateful for the pelicans, gulls, coots, and ducks, each bobbing upon the waves, waiting for fish below. Their water ballet entertains me daily.

Heron, Lake of the Ozarks, 2013. Photo by Al Griffin

I’m grateful for neighbors who watch over me and my property, for fellowship, and for gracious unbidden smiles. Several are avid fishermen, most follow one sport or all of them enthusiastically, and a few attend church regularly while many worship in Emily Dickinson’s cathedral--the great outdoors. Most of them are elderly in the eyes of the world, but all are vital with cares, woes, joys, and interests.

I’m grateful for a devoted husband who remains curious and keen. He and I have sculpted each other into creatures more beautiful.

More than anything else, I’m grateful for a grandchild. Through her eyes, I see the world’s gems anew.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tyranny of the Minority

Earlier this month, Hawaii Representative Jo Jordan, a gay woman who does not hide her sexual identity from her constituents, voted against marriage equality in Hawaii. She did so even though, by her own admission, she has no “conviction” on the matter. In one interview, she revealed that she believes, as a gay woman, she should have the right to marry, but emphasized that she never set out to be a spokesperson for an LGBT constituency nor is that her job. She explained that she sympathizes with the religious fervor opposed to marriage equality in Hawaii and that she wants to vote for a bill that will stand the judicial tests ahead.

Some of Representative Jordan’s reservations may have to do with the exemptions and exceptions that will almost certainly become part of Hawaii’s law. These include religious sensibilities. For example, the House’s response to the Hawaiian Senate bill added a provision to exempt ministers from being held liable if they refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for a gay couple. Other amendments that did not pass after more than eight hours of debate include allowing parents to exempt their children from sex education if it promotes LGBT marriage, protects businesses from being forced to employ LGBT employees, and grants religious institutions the right to discriminate against LGBT citizens.


The spirit behind these amendments is not unique to Hawaii. An Oklahoma-based company, Hobby Lobby, has sued for the right not to provide employee health coverage that includes the so-called morning after pill because the owners, David Green, wife, and family, claim Right to Life religious conviction. The Greens have subsequently used the Citizens United decision to explain that a corporation’s First Amendment guarantees should not exclude religious expression and that the Affordable Care Act mandate regarding contraception that facilitates aborting an egg, fertilized or not, implanted or not, is unconstitutional as it restricts the Greens’ freedom to exercise their religious convictions.

What these two seemingly disparate legal debates have in common is religious conviction. The Greens of Hobby Lobby and Hawaii’s anti-marriage equality forces believe that no individual should be required by law to support any policy, law, order, or civil code that violates his or her personal convictions. If this religious right is upheld across the land, then let us all beware.

None will be safe from religious intolerance in the name of religious conviction. At one time early in this nation, founders believed that the Native Americans were godless heathens, exceptions on this earth, forsaken by a European god.  This rationale allowed colonists to seize land and slaughter entire communities, then thank God for His protection afterward. Similar unfounded sentiments were held against African-Americans. As Harper Lee notes in To Kill a Mockingbird, a fictionalized account of racism in Alabama, the founders failed to note biblical admonitions against holding human life as property, defending their rights and superiority with other scripture and theology.

Religious divisions are central to understanding Afghanistan and Iraq. Tribal interpretations of Islam place the Sunnis and Shi’ites at odds, one suppressing the other, one even trying to exterminate the other. Religious intolerance was a factor in Hitler’s methods to divide and conquer a country, then the world.

By logical extension, if Hawaii’s exemptions hold through judicial tests and the Greens prevail in their lawsuit, then any individual may oppose government. I may righteously refuse to pay taxes that go to making war for verily, I doth not believe that boys and girls should be uprooted, taken from their homes, and taught to kill. I would ask that my tax dollars be diverted to exploring the final frontiers, specifically the oceans and space. Verily do I know and can declare with supporting evidence that NASA and scientific inquiry stimulate our economy and create jobs. I would also demand that attention be paid to protecting clean water, clean air, and solid ground for the benefit of all to come after me for I believe in good stewardship, not just by tithing ten percent of my net worth to a church, but by committing to protect this planet upon which I happen to be. Aware that this would require corporations to spend some of their profits on research, development, and retooling, I would still insist even if those corporations turn down their lucrative tax breaks and subsidies in an effort to deny government oversight. I have faith that the temporary unsettled effects could be overcome so fare thee well, I say.

Perhaps more important, I would refuse to participate until and unless my tax dollars went to alleviate suffering here at home. No American citizen should lack for shelter, adequate food, and clean water. That is my most deeply held personal conviction.

So beware, Hawaii and David Green. Be careful what you ask for; it may actually set precedents that will unlock Pandora’s box of individual freedoms. What would the world look like if I refused to grant you the same rights that I claim for myself. Methinks, verily, that be anarchy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Still So Far to Go

In 1959, Little Rock, Arkansas, Central High, nine Black students walked a gauntlet between National Guardsmen and angry protestors in an effort to uphold the law of the land prohibiting segregated, unequal education.

We now know that Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Eskimo, and White students may sit side-by-side, shoulder-to-shoulder to learn--except in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama where illegal immigrants have been banned from accessing and attending institutions of higher learning. Some students banned in Georgia gather to study anyway. They wish to maximize the fine minds they’ve been given by birth, but they won't receive college credit for their scholarly work. 

In Birmingham, Alabama, 1963, fire hoses knocked down men, women and children being civilly disobedient to protest segregation. The nation was horrified by the excessive force, the sheer brutality shown.

We now believe that segregation is wrong, that true to our Constitution, all people should have equal opportunities--except our professed beliefs do not match the evidence. Even though Whites are no longer a majority, they still enjoy an exclusive educational setting while Black and Hispanic children attend schools populated by their own races, and these schools are not funded equally either.

We seem to have learned little after those dogs were set loose on children or fire hoses lifted in 1963. In Davis, on the University of California campus, 2011, a lone university police officer fired pepper spray into the faces of students staging a sit-in to protest a 32% tuition increase from 2010 and proposed budget cuts in order to balance California’s deficit. In other cities across the land, Occupy Wall Street protestors were rousted, some even struck with Tasers or sprayed with mace because they were there. 

In 1968, outraged by desecration of the U. S. flag in protest against the U. S. involvement in Vietnam and drafting boys to serve, Congress passed a bill prohibiting shows of contempt against the flag.

From 1969 through 1989, in separate cases, the U. S. Supreme Court whittled away at the legislation banning displays of contempt for the U. S. flag. Now we believe that even burning the flag is exercising one’s Constitutional right to free speech.

But we still seem uncomfortable with free speech. In 2011, Madison, Wisconsin, union members, many teachers, staged a protest against legislation stripping them of collective bargaining rights. They lost their rights anyway and were locked out in the cold. And in 2013, peaceful protestors gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina for Moral Mondays, a passive resistance movement to protest legislative efforts to rob a woman of sovereignty over her own body. The protestors went to jail, and women lost their rights anyway. Legislators didn't care for or heed the speeches of peaceful protestors.

How far we’ve come since 1957. What a long road lies before us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Gotcha! Politics

When I began teaching, I taught in the image of those who taught me. If they pretended to be the sage on the stage, leaving little space or time for questions, contemplation, or discussion, then I put on the same costume. If they shamed students for failing to complete a task, then I pulled myself into a haughty posture and ladled shame.

I learned to be a better teacher, and I am heartily sorry for all those moments when I was less wise than I pretended to be and for any student victims of my inexperience.

When I retired my Sage costume, I enjoyed a much better relationship with my students. I became a coach, setting up plays for them to execute, cheering on their instincts and leaps of imagination. I stopped playing Gotcha! and started playing Huzzah! I cheered for students’ insights and inferences drawn from text and evidence; I didn’t expect them to have answers that only I could know after higher education and a lifetime of learning.

In Gotcha! games, teachers, like attorneys in court, never ask a question for which they have no answer. Good Gotcha! players also know the students are almost always unprepared to summon the correct answer.

Gotcha! games are nevertheless prominent in our culture, especially in our political culture. We can’t wait for an Edward Snowden or a smoking gun left behind for the press to find. These are chum in the waters for talking heads to yammer about who should have known and had the gift of prophecy in order to avoid the latest debacle, narrative, or obfuscation. 

The current round of accusations about NSA and Chancellor Angela Merkel is a Gotcha! Game, especially when played through House hearings. Representatives pose questions, barely listen to the answers, then like sages on the stage, deliver the answer that they believe should be the truth. And they continue to spend taxpayer money for inquisitions about Obamacare, Benghazi, IRS scrutiny, and so much more, all in the hope of a John Dean answer when they might glean some tidbit that will serve the narrative they wish to deliver.

But Gotcha! gets us deeper down the rabbit hole where no light penetrates. We can’t debate or evaluate the merits and harms of the 2001 USA Patriot Act as long as we focus upon shaming and blaming. We can’t discern truth from lies or set another course for health care, foreign relations, and U. S. law either. Perhaps most important, Gotcha! gets us statements buried in last-minute legislation to prevent a government shut-down. Senators actually inserted a requirement to revisit the legislation in order to afford them primary re-election cover. They voted for keeping the government open and lifting the debt ceiling if they were promised the opportunity to later vote declaring that they erred when casting the first vote. This sort of maneuver simply provides plausible deniability, bamboozles the incumbents’ constituencies, and deflects future Gotcha! moments.

We need to play Huzzah! instead.  We must celebrate those who noticed the suffering of citizens and created a method by which more people can access the many-tentacled delivery system known as U. S. Health Care, and we must stop shaming and blaming if we also find imperfections. Our political culture becomes one in which most people refuse to play simply because the outcomes are so negative. It also becomes one that reduces our culture to a series of notches on the handle of a gun. Players rack up wins and losses without regard for the townspeople who may be hit by stray bullets: So what if some people go hungry; too bad if innovation and infrastructure wither; who cares if the greatest number of people struggle. We won. We gotcha! Now shut up and pay up.

That’s no way to nurture and cultivate growth and wisdom. Public service inside and outside the classroom is far too important a mission to do it so badly.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Autumn's Blush

Autumn’s blush is upon us, urging us to gather wood for the hearth. Red Apple cider simmers on the stove, cinnamon sticks adding fragrance, spicing the sweet flavors. Caramel thickens upon the glossy green apples, sealing in the good, fresh taste of summer.

A nearby bluff exploding in Autumn's color as seen from our boat

Our labor calls to us, forcing us outside to sweep leaves into piles and when the wind is kind, burn them slowly, releasing signals upon the heavy air. The odor reminds us of the chimneys that will soon send smoky ribbons aloft.

Summer’s wear gives way to long sleeves, closed toed shoes, and pants that cover our ankles. We adjust to the weight of fleece and wool and flannel for these comfort and warm us. 

Yellow blooms give way to orange gourds, and blue skies grow rare, more often smothered and stirred into clouds heavy with late rains. Those red wheelbarrows and small red hollies revive us.

We add color to our lives with candles aglow, twinkling lights, soft lamps in dim corners. We stack books beside the bed where they will carry us into afternoon naps. We must store energy for the long cloistered days ahead.

The Boy Scout within makes sure we have snow-melt or sand or kitty litter on hand, some even sacked and stashed in the trunks of our cars. We also stock up for days when we may not be able to travel: bottled water, canned tuna, broth, tea, coffee, popcorn, marshmallows, a bit of chocolate, and pure vanilla extract. Even if we know better than to make snow ice cream, it’s irresistible so we need plenty of vanilla.

The freezer holds meat, proving our confidence in the power of power companies to restore light and heat. The pantry hides three-dozen candles. They prove that our optimism has been tempered by experience with the dark and cold.

We take walks hoping to catch a glimpse of deer and wild turkey. Above, the eagles return from other air to prepare their nests for the next generation. They remind us to use the Autumn to make ready for the Spring.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Khaled Hosseini's Lesson: ... "cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color" (from And the Mountains Echoed)

In his third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, Saboor, Hosseini’s protagonist for the inciting incident of the novel, tells his children a bedtime story in which an impoverished, desperate father, Baba Ayub, must sacrifice one of his five children to an all-powerful div. Like Sophie of Sophie’s Choice, Baba Ayub must choose which child will be the sacrificial child. 

Qais, the name chosen for the charmed and much loved three-year-old, is the name that the father withdraws from a bag of names so at dawn, Baba locks Qais outside where the father must listen to the child’s terrified shrieks and his small fists pounding on the door to his home, his known universe.  After Qais’ cries have faded, Baba Ayub cannot endure the memory of the last sounds from his child or familiarity with his own cowardice for he teaches himself to believe that he sacrificed Qais to save himself.  Baba becomes incapable of living and loving the family that remains until one day, with all the weight of a father’s duty upon him, Baba Ayub begins a quest to rescue Qais, kill the div, and return his child to the father who loves him beyond measure. Even though the life that Baba Ayub can offer is one of penury, he must try even if he dies in the attempt. He has nothing to lose, nothing for which to live.

When Baba Ayub finds Qais and threatens the div’s life, the div reveals the true fate of all the children it’s claimed over many years. The children thrive in a lush garden. They grow in play, not want and work. They face a future in which they may choose to stay or go for the div has benevolently granted them free will while teaching them perfect empathy.

"from the Garden," a photo by Al Griffin

The div also reveals that Baba Ayub’s choice was courageous, not cowardly. Had Baba not chosen one, the div would have killed all his children. Indeed, many other fathers refused to choose, unable to contemplate a life burdened by their consciences. This revelation is a balm to Baba Ayub’s open wound, but the div complicates Baba’s healing by requiring that Baba choose between taking his son and denying Qais readmission or leaving his son and never returning to see him.

Baba Ayub chooses not to let Qais know he is near and not to take him back to a life of labor and deprivation. The father displays perfect empathy, acting in a way some might describe as cruel to achieve a benevolent end. The father sacrifices his own selfish desires to allow the younger life to flourish. For such selflessness, the div provides Baba Ayub with an elixir of forgetfulness. Just as Qais no longer remembers the family from which he was taken, Baba Ayub will forget the child, the agony of having to choose, the cries and tiny fists begging for entry, and the arduous journey undertaken to bring Qais home again. The father will know peace of mind and heart.

Readers are left with the div’s wisdom, acquired over the many, many years of a long life, and it is this: cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color (Hosseini).  Baba Ayub is cruel in order to be benevolent for his other children, and ironically, Baba’s cruelty results in unimagined benevolence for Qais. The div grants Qais a blessed life on fertile soil to promote empathy and service and goodness in him without plaguing him with desperation and regret, without memories of the family he lost, of being severed from his family. The div also graces Baba Ayub with forgetfulness so that his original act of cruelty becomes lost to him. He can sleep peacefully with no memory of that fifth, charmed child.

The div also gives the children a carefree life, one in which the darker motives in the human heart need not emerge. They have no opportunity to learn about envy or injustice or unbearable losses, and because they do not, they will, according to the div, live their adult lives trying to make all others as content and happy as they are.

Would that our own children could grow in such an ideal garden, one wherein some do not envy others, where none are bullied, where fair play and equal opportunity are daily occurrences, and where all children win by competing with their own personal bests rather than defeat and failures. We could insure that such a garden come to pass. We could insure that children never go hungry, that their sicknesses will not burden them, that their talents and passions are never denied, that they are safe from guns and gunmen, ignorance and fear.

We can believe that providing a strong social net for them is our highest calling and in such belief, we will forget our own sacrifice to bring about such a garden. We will sleep peacefully because we have striven to make all others content and happy as is their due for no other reason than that they live.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ducking for Cover in Order to Win the 2014 Primary is an Excuse! Do Your Duty Even If You're Not Re-Elected!!

Several films that follow the rise and fall of political figures include a scene like this one:

Candidate: I can’t say that!

Campaign Advisor: You must.

Candidate: That runs counter to everything I stand for.

Campaign Advisor: No, that runs counter to everything you STOOD for.

Candidate stares, truth making the hairs on the back of his neck rise. He says nothing.

Campaign Advisor: Look, I know those words are not part of you, part of your reasons for running for office, but you can’t accomplish anything if you can’t be elected and to be elected, you need to court this constituency and to court this constituency, you need to say “that.” When you say that, you’ll have more funds to continue your campaign and win a chance to say what you want to say when you want to say it.

Candidate yields. Cut to Candidate behind a podium, speaking into a microphone the words he never wanted to speak.

The first time I saw such a scene, I acknowledged a certain level of cynicism in the hearts of the producers, script-writers, and director. I knew the film-makers merely held a mirror to the political process to explain why first-time candidates begin with noble goals and aspirations to serve the greater good, but soon, abandon those goals and aspirations in favor of time spent with wealthy donors and lobbyists, listening to marketing designed to achieve ends that serve the donor or lobby group without regard to the costs that others must pay.

I now look upon those scenes with disgust and disdain. To speak words and enact legislation not in the best interest of most people is simply malfeasance. Shape-shifting to be elected and to retain office has led us to this dysfunctional place. Politicians pander. Politicians promise. But they don’t deliver for the majority, only the minority, and they must stop. They must be willing not to win an election. They must be willing to perform according to their duty as enumerated in the Constitution. They must care more about the safety, health, and welfare of the nation and its residents than they care about their own paychecks or continued employment as an elected leader.

Moreover, the guy who sells his soul and his words to the highest bidder never manages to become what he hoped to become. He never accomplishes the ends to which he ran when he decided to run for elected office. He becomes a shill, more concerned about continued employment than life, liberty and pursuit of happiness for the people.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Home-Grown Anarchists

Senator Harry Reid is a soft-spoken man. Even when speaking into a microphone, he doesn’t manage to raise his voice enough to sound convicted or convincing. His counterparts in the House--Speaker John Boehner or the real G.O. Tea leaders, Representatives Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor--speak forcefully, their passion apparent though restrained in the true spirit of self-righteous zeal.

Perhaps this difference between Senate and House leadership is the root of media's attention. Boehner, Ryan, and Cantor’s scripted rhetoric gets lots of air time while Reid’s does not. He just doesn’t seem to command attention. Right now, he should because he characterized the current architects of an impasse as anarchists, and I agree, something I can’t often say about Senator Reid. His attempts to read a murky crystal ball for answers about the future of filibusters is just one of his many mistakes, but he has read the Tea leaves better: The G.O. Tea is a party of anarchy.

First, let's review the meaning of anarchy: a state of confusion and disorder. It may manifest as insubordination and disobedience. It follows then that an anarchist is a person who promotes disorder or excites revolt against any established rule, law, or custom by being insubordinate and disobedient

These days in these United States may be accurately described as days of confusion and disorder. Printed evidence exists proving that the G.O. Tea Party intended to disobey its duties in spite of having sworn to uphold those Constitutional duties upon taking office. In fact, Republicans met and vowed to undermine President Obama and his agenda on the night he was elected. Disingenuous declarations to the American people by the GOP is additional evidence that they wish to promote disorder and excite revolt against President Obama, the Affordable Care Act, and many other departments and programs enacted as law. They use the paint of propaganda to persuade people that health care should be the privilege of those able to afford it while those poor souls who cannot work or lack work sufficient to support basic needs must sicken and die. But the duty of Congressmen is not to propagandize, divide, and demonize, not to defy, deny, and demonstrate their willingness to let people suffer. Their duty is to submit legislation for examination, defend it with facts, and accept the judgment of voting constituencies.

These are not only days of confusion and disorder, they are days when insubordination and disobedience are held in high regard. G. O. Tea Party members and sympathizers declare that their freedoms are in jeopardy, but they are free to travel to and from the nation’s capitol city, free to spout truth and lies, free to meet and plan, free to make and give money, free to pursue happiness and avoid suffering, free to provide for their families, free to wear placards and tees that depict duly elected officials as Batman’s Joker or history’s villains.

[Thanks for the image.]

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer felt sufficiently free and empowered by her Right-wing constituency that she pointed a finger in the face of the nation’s president, a gesture that would not be abided by most parents of willful children, but one she defended by claiming to be animated by nature and accusing the President of being “thin-skinned.” G.O. Tea Party members and sympathizers cheered her show of disrespect. South Carolina’s House Representative Joe Wilson enjoyed similar acclaim after he jeered, “You lie!” during the President’s State of the Union address in 2009. His bodacious critique defies all custom of decorum and may become a paradigm for this era of incivility.  I expect better from leaders of both parties, any state, and any national office.

I expect them to live up to and exceed a basic standard of professionalism, including and especially by doing their duty not to engage in razzle, dazzle, insult or injury, but G.O.Tea Party members refuse, as others have pointed out, to accept a law duly passed and litigated. This is perhaps the most telling proof of Congress’s dereliction of duty, of its anarchic leanings. Congress has an enumerated Constitutional duty to raise revenue and fund laws duly passed. Instead, amendments to the first budget bill to the budget proposal specifically removed a key Affordable Care Act funding provision, a tax on medical equipment in full knowledge that doing so would increase the deficit and cripple a law. Their professed determination to save us from drowning in federal deficits was subsumed in their opposition to a law they cannot and will not debate or amend.

Furthermore, GO-Tea Party members seem confused or disingenuous about the function of a debt ceiling. Their rhetoric suggests that raising the debt limit would give President Obama license to spend, spend, spend us into becoming a broken, bankrupt nation. But facts do not support them. Here are just a few:

President Obama is not solely responsible for the national debt.
President Obama is not the architect of the federal budget.
The Constitution gives check-writing responsibilities to Congress, not the Executive branch.

[Thanks for the pointing finger!]

Thus, whoever sits in the Oval Office may legitimately point a finger of blame at Congress for any deficits and remedies are within their purview. If doing so fell within my purview, I would charge every House Republican and each of the seventeen Democrats who voted to shut the government down in order to defeat Obamacare and crush the government with two counts: 1) hypocrisy that strains belief and 2) treason. They are engaged in a campaign to confuse and disobey. They do not cherish this nation or the documents upon which it was founded.

The Tea Party-Libertarian incarnation of the Grand Old (Republican) Party is traitorous. Its avowed purpose is to overthrow the government as we know it. People must vigorously oppose the G.O. Tea and its rhetoric by switching their political party affiliation, becoming well-informed about gerrymandering, and by voting for candidates who believe in the Constitution and government. It can and often has served us well.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

We Can Rely upon the Kindness of Strangers

My husband and I followed our Garmin to a gluten-free, nut-free, dairy-free bakery advertised in the St. Charles (Missouri) Summer 2013 Visitor’s Guide, available at hotels and the Visitor’s Center on historic Main Street. Our last stop before leaving for home, we planned to carry out a few sweet treats to enjoy for breakfast the next day, but alas, the storefront was empty. A neighboring business owner reported the bakery had closed its doors 90 days before, long after the guide was laid out, published and distributed.

We weren’t at all unhappy. The storefront was on one of just a few commercial blocks in a planned community within the purview of St. Charles. New Town of St. Charles, MO came to be about a decade ago and its online presence suggests it may be complete in twelve to fifteen years. 

What we saw was an extensive community where residents ride bicycles to those commercial blocks or farms where locally grown plants and foods are available. Many of the homes resemble fine, old farm houses, some are in the gingerbread Victorian vein, and several are town homes. Few had much land front or back, and many had no attached or unattached garage, leaving cars parked curbside. Nevertheless, the community charms. I can imagine residents inviting me inside for a glass of lemonade and freshly baked cookies. 

As we left New Town, we tried to find a farm we’d seen by the highway, but the roads didn’t run neatly north, south, east and west. There were short runs at a 45-degree angle followed by curves cutting through hybrid corn fields that blocked our view. Soon we were lost, about to reprogram the GPS when the engine died. Having just experienced a complete loss of power in our van, we tried not to panic and soon realized we’d forgotten to buy fuel when the electronic warning told us to do so.

"Sunshine on a Stem," Al Griffin Photography

We groaned, then prepared to wait for AAA, a great gift to ourselves, one that has always paid off handsomely for us. AAA plucked my husband from the dark on a busy interstate and towed the van to a reputable repair garage--at least according to the tow truck driver and Google. We lowered the electric windows to enjoy an absolutely perfect day when billowy bright clouds float high in a clear, blue sky. The temperature held in the high 70s, and a fine breeze rustled through the corn and into the windows of our car.

But we had no time to summon AAA. Several cars stopped to help my husband push the car as far off the road as reasonable, passengers in those cars offered help, and one knew exactly where the nearest Coop set, the closest place to buy fuel.

“They’re so nice,” she said. “They’ll let you borrow a gas can. I can run you up there and bring you back.”

We didn’t hesitate. She had a friendly dog with her and an even friendlier manner. She left with my husband in the shotgun seat.

While alone in the car, several more cars and lots of pickup trucks paused to ask if I needed help. One woman offered to give me her name and phone number in case someone frightened me or tried to harm me. I declined, telling her I could call 9-1-1 but stressing how much I appreciated her thoughtfulness and concern.

And that’s the lesson here. Sometimes when we lose our way in strange lands, we find we’re not alone at all. People step forward to give what they can according to their talents.

"Waning Days of Summer" Al Griffin Photography

Several pickups did not stop, but every one of those was driven by a single male and a few had company logos on the door. I believe those drivers realized that a woman alone may not appreciate an offer of help from a lone guy and those employees probably recognized that their employers might object if they stopped to help me. I didn’t resent their choices; they seem good ones to me.

Having read Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” I know that older gals can come to harm when they meet strangers on side roads so I waited, safe in the knowledge that most people look out for each other, that we’d only made a wrong turn, nothing more sinister. The kind-hearted woman brought my husband back with gasoline and told us how to get back to that farm where we bought delicious homegrown tomatoes and apples. We’ve enjoyed them all week, and with each bite, I smile.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hey, Starbucks, Take the Lead, Please!

Starbucks declares that it shares my concerns about the environment and strives to be a good steward. I have no reason to doubt the company's sincerity even if it may be profit motivated; after all, climate change affects terrain and growing conditions in coffee-bean producing places so Starbucks' bottom-line could be affected, but doesn't our commitment to every cause begin in healthy self-interest? So I welcome Starbucks to an important cause: the earth and us on it. I also challenge Starbucks to lead by posting a sign reading,

Idling cars release polluting particles. Join us in good environmental stewardship. Select a parking place, turn off your engine, and come inside. Thank you.

Snapshot by Al Griffin: "Somewhere in Alabama," 2010
The line of idling cars waiting for service at Starbucks' drive-through windows may be tempting, but it isn’t good for us, the air we breathe, or the earth we hope our children and grandchildren will enjoy so together, let's take one small step for mankind: just commit. Pledge not to add a few seconds or minutes of pollution by avoiding drive-through lanes.

I am so committed to this small, easily taken step that I created a petition at www.change.org. Please visit the site and sign your name.

Your signature merely commits you to park your car and walk inside Starbucks and every other fast food place you visit. Here is the text of the petition:

Climate change is fact. A major cause is man-made carbon emissions, including those from personal and public automobiles. An idling engine emits as much pollution as a vehicle does when driven. Not being one of several cars in long lines at drive-through lanes is one positive act to help reduce carbon emissions. So please, commit to find a parking place and walk inside.

Perhaps with commitments from many people, i. e., with many signatures on this petition, we can ask businesses to join us by offering an incentive to those who shop inside. A reduction of 5% before taxes might add up to mere pennies for consumers (just 25 cents on a $5 tab), but such an incentive would prove the business's commitment to reduce its carbon footprint, to live green, and to clean up the air we breathe. Together, we can make a difference so please stop your engines, especially during summer months when lines are longest.

Join my cause please, Starbucks and McDonald’s and Arby’s and Hardee’s and Burger King and frozen custard stands and all those other places where you can choose to pollute or get a bit of exercise. For my part, I’m parking and turning off the engine.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To the Precipice and Beyond on the Rocks Below

I try to learn by reading and listening. Saturday morning, weekday early evening, and between television seasons, evening news programming raise my consciousness about current events. Analyses from NPR and PBS as well as my own insights drawn from articles in The Nation, Mother Jones, and online sources enrich my understanding. Speakers on C-Span also help to shape my thoughts, the ones I pass on to you.

This past week, the talking heads on television burbled and bubbled at a low boil about the state of the GOP. Those on MSNBC prophesy that the GOP cannot fare well by adopting exclusionary models reminiscent of a segregated South. Across the land, pundits believe that restricting the voters’ access to a ballot will only inspire minorities to stand in ever longer lines. Men and women, even a few on FOX, contend that denying a woman the right to sovereignty over her own body must be eschewed by those on the Right lest they lose their way to the White House. Again and again, self-proclaimed opinion-aires remind the GOP that their tent must be bigger, big enough to shelter immigrants, welcome minorities, entice women, and call card-carrying union members of both genders.

But Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative think-tank veteran and human torpedo responsible for sinking the Equal Rights Amendment initiative, refused to heed the advice of those pundits when she let the world know that voter identification and other restrictions have nothing to do with voter fraud. She explained to fellow conservatives that changes in access to the vote are needed to hurt Democrats, writing:

“The reduction in the number of days allowed for early voting is particularly important because early voting plays a major role in Obama’s ground game. The Democrats carried most states that allow many days of early voting, and Obama’s national field director admitted, shortly before last year’s election, that ‘early voting is giving …[Democrats] a solid lead in the battleground states ….’’

So the states where the GOP can push through laws quickly have accommodated an assault upon Democratic voters. The intent of those laws is exclusion, not inclusion.

Another GOP/Tea Party national figure, Representative Paul Ryan, declared that "We don't want a country where abortion is simply outlawed. We want a country where it isn't even considered.” Like Missouri’s Todd Akin, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, and Texas’s Jodie Laubenderg, Paul Ryan is unapologetically anti-abortion. Akin, Mourdock, and Laubenderg also suggest that their understanding of rape and basic human biology is as wrong-headed as the GOP posture on climate change.

Anti-immigration legislation and sentiments also prove that the GOP prefers a smaller tent even though the national Republican Party chairman, Reince Priebus, disagrees. What I believe, what pundits and editorial spokesmen and women do not say is that Priebus is not in charge. In fact, neither the Tea Party nor the Republican Party under anyone’s chairmanship is in charge. Those parties are simply tools with which Big Money leverages influence.

"Loose Change," a photo by Al Griffin

The real GOP policy-makers, the true ideologues, and the puppeteers are Big Money, including the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, and Corporate America, aided by the U. S. Supreme Court with whom Big Money often dines.  Big Money also influences those on the left, notably in the area of education policy and practice, but it owns the Tea GOP. They have whipped Tea GOP members into a froth, teaching them fear and envy. You’ll recognize the narrative lines:

Union thugs are sucking the States’ economies dry.
Union thugs refuse to negotiate and must be denied the right to strike.
Right to Work legislation will draw business to states like dung draws flies.
Government needs to slash spending.
Government should be less intrusive--except, of course, in bedrooms. Government must reorient and/or punish homosexuals, and it must stand as the good father protecting and restraining promiscuity in women.
Government regulation is strangling small business.
Neither government nor business can afford to repair the nation’s infrastructure, protect and preserve the environment, provide a social network for those falling into poverty, or serve our veterans in a timely manner.
Health care is not a human right, but a privilege reserved for those most productive.

And my personal favorite, one that’s been around since Ronald Reagan cast his spell for smaller government, deregulation, privatizing government roles and subsequently rose to power, looming as large in the public psyche as Harry Potter among Hogwarts' graduates:

Trickle-down economics will allow everyone to prosper.

"Chump Change," a photo by Al Griffin

The Tea GOP learned to vote against its own interests by believing those narrative lines. They voted to break up unions and supported Right to Work after Big Money spent big money to teach them how to vote. Tea GOPs would do it again, too, because it appears they haven’t connected the dots: Right to Work weakened unions that stood between management and worker to secure benefits, shorter work weeks, and higher pay. Now that each of those has flatlined or begun to plummet, Tea GOPs simply deny and blame someone else--usually Democrats, immigrants, and/or the poor--anyone but themselves and certainly not Big Money.

The Tea GOP has also learned not to trust their brothers, leaders, or themselves. They envy the pennies that any other guy takes from what they perceive to be their entitlement to get ahead while remaining blind to the truth that their own pennies buy precious little these days. Utility companies charge more. College tuition has soared out of reach and well ahead of the rate of inflation. Homes, cars, red meat, fresh produce, and clothing cost so much that many American workers cannot afford to buy those, but seeking to increase profit even more, Big Money moved its production to other countries where workers have no benefits, work longer hours, and expect little income in exchange for their labor. Still the unemployed worker blames immigrants for stealing jobs that actually no longer exist. Big Money wants them to remain uninformed, deaf and blind to the truth that Big Money cares nothing for their ability to seize the American Dream. Big Money is thoroughly narcissistic; it feeds itself and lets the common man starve.

So pundits, please, stop admonishing the GOP Tea Party. It’s not listening. It doesn’t care, and no one would miss it if it imploded. The Tea GOP is a false front, a fa├žade masking the real machinery, and that machinery believes it can state, repeat, declare, and lie without consequence. It can afford billboards, direct mailers, slogans, catch phrases, entire networks, and vituperative media personalities with extra layers of flesh thanks to the many pounds of flesh they have carved from their opponents in a spirit of righteous zeal. Big Money has 501 c4s to spare and hungry scholars who will produce, upon command, whatever study Big Money needs. Like the legendary Mafia, patronage buys friends and commands unwavering loyalty. Those scholars hope to, one day, become "made men and women, sitting at board room tables on floors high above the people they harmed by their reports and missives.

The Tea GOP and GOP Tea can spew, spit, spin, and sully. It can block, refuse, obstruct, reject, and fret. It can shut down the government and lead us all over that fiscal cliff, but it will endure as long as its members are spineless and ambitious. They exist to serve Big Money and hope to curry enough favor to step from politics into the private sector and a six-figure salary of their own. That's the new American Dream, and it has absolutely nothing to do with the public good.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Syria in September

As the talk shows endlessly hypothesize about what the U. S. should or should not do for the world in Syria; as Congress questions two veterans of foreign wars, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and debates resolutions; as at least one senator demands to know what the outcomes will be as if the strategists hold crystal balls; and as citizens weigh in, I find myself torn.

Yes, the world should never again ignore the suffering and torment of people. Innocent men and women in Rwanda held fast to the hope that the U. S. would intervene to save them. We didn’t and up to one million men, women and children were slaughtered.

We intervened in behalf of the world during WWII, but not before Hitler invented and implemented the final solution. At least six million died then.

Our footprint has also fallen in Bosnia, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Laos, Cambodia, and countless other places.; for our costs in Iives lost, disrupted, and irrevocably altered, the world has not always judged our interventions kindly. In Japan, for example, our use of firebombs took about 100,000 lives and left many survivors without shelter, food, or clean water. During an interview for the documentary, Fog of War, one of the architects of the firebomb raids, Robert McNamara used the firebombs as a cautionary tale about the use of force. Even in war, McNamara explained, proportionality must be a significant consideration. In other words, later in life, McNamara believed that killing 100,000 and leaving as many more to suffer in order to break the Japanese morale and will to fight was wrong; the death toll was out of proportion when considering the results.

McNamara was also the Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. When McNamara began to urge President Johnson to withdraw from Vietnam, Johnson asked McNamara to resign, and he did. Nevertheless he shares in the blame for the U. S. presence in Vietnam because of his first seven years as Secretary of Defense. Worse, he shares the blame for the use of napalm, first deployed against Japan and in Vietnam. Napalm and Agent Orange not only burned buildings and forests, they scorched the earth and melted the flesh from human beings. Both were chemical agents that enhanced the destructive, killing power of fire.

And therein lies my dilemma about Syria. How can we claim to stand on higher moral ground when we have deployed chemicals against enemies after the world agreed, we’re told, not to use them?

Mustard gas was a weapon of choice in World War I. Its horrors informed Wilfred Owen who concluded in Dulce et Decorum Est

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin,
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Few survived the gas, and those who did were forever disabled, teaching the world to eschew chemical warfare, but its use has persisted, and our hands are unclean. We cannot claim the higher moral ground against a despot who has used chemical gas against his own people, at least until we admit our own violations and invite the world to join us in swearing off such cruel attacks. They are not and cannot be delivered without human collateral damage. Chemicals fall upon the guilty and the innocent, the perpetrators and the victims as do drones, the source of much Middle Eastern hatred for us and our might. If we wish to lead the world, shouldn’t we lead the world in peace rather than hypocrisy and chemical weapons?