08 November 2016

2016 Veterans' Day Rant

I attended a luncheon recently meant to honor veterans, in anticipation of Veteran’s Day,
November 12. It was held in a small town, and the event was organized largely by local students. So one might excuse the occasional slip-up. But I had a few problems with parts of the program. First, the person singing the National Anthem was a last minute substitution, I think. She was not the person listed on the program, at any rate. She sang this difficult-to-sing song moderately well, but she sang, “…for the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming.” There was a poem printed in the program and read by a student. The printed poem referred to a “steal helmet.” Then there was this flag folding ritual, which has been popularized lately, which ascribes meaning to each of the thirteen folds of the U.S. flag. This is pure fiction. It is not listed in any officially approved flag etiquette, and I find it offensive. First, its emphasis is on Christianity and the Christian god. Second, one fold each is dedicated to “womanhood” and the “American father,” carrying on gender stereotypes that need to be examined. There are men, married to women who serve in the military, who also exhibit “faith, …love, loyalty, and devotion.” And it is not just the “American father” but also the mother who gives “[her] sons and daughters for the defense of our country....”
But the most offensive part of the ceremony is the representation of the 11th and 12th folds, for the “Hebrew citizen” and the “Christian citizen,” respectively. However, there is no fold for the Muslim citizen, no fold for the atheist, the Bahá'í, the Sikh, the Wiccan…. While it is remarkable that the “Hebrew” is accepted into this ritual, it is the only instance in the ceremony that diverts from traditional white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, cisgender “normality.” (http://www.snopes.com/military/flagfold.asp)

Finally, at these kinds of ceremonies, the various services are often recognized. When one’s branch is announced, one stands so those gathered can see which branches are represented, and so one can honor the branch in which one served. There are often a few Marines, who usually receive the most enthusiastic applause, as they should. On this occasion, when the U.S. Navy was announced, I stood, as did an older gentleman at our table who wore a Seabees cap. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only woman veteran there.

My husband likes attending these ceremonies. He is a lifetime VFW member and tries to recruit younger veterans to support this town’s dwindling post. But when we attend, most people assume I am there because I’m his wife, not because I’m a veteran. There was a debate on Facebook the other day when someone noted that if Trump was a draft dodger, Clinton had never served, either. Another person responded that back “in her day” women weren’t “really allowed to serve.” And that’s the attitude: unless you were in harm’s way, you didn’t serve. But I gave the service five years of my life – voluntarily, not because I was drafted. Ask a young person today if giving just two years of any kind of public service is a good idea, and he or she will howl like a wounded moose. So what’s my point? It makes me sad, and a little angry.

Next time, I’m wearing my sweatshirt that has emblazoned on it, “Never underestimate a woman with a DD214.”

Veteran’s Day – November 11, 2016. Remember that.

20 September 2016

Three Kittens in Search of a Home

Living in a rural area, on 20 acres, we encourage cats to take up residence to keep mice and snakes at a minimum. We feed the cats outside twice a day so they at least won’t be hungry enough that they are forced to eat birds to survive. Occasionally one or more cats will decide that a human is useful for scratching those hard to read places, for first aid, and even help with kittens. Often, queens remain mostly feral, but we try to get our hands on kittens to tame them in order to give them away or have them neutered when they’re old enough.

Sometimes, kittens fall ill, or queens disappear and kittens are abandoned. Once, a queen gave birth to a large litter. She was black, and all her kittens were black but for two. These were tuxedo cats, a chip off the old Mr. Mistoffeles, cats that are black and white, often with white toes or feet and white chests. After the litter was a couple weeks old, I watched the queen carry one of the black and white kittens out of her hiding place under the house and dump him on the sidewalk. He sat there wailing, and she didn’t return to fetch him. So we scooped him up and took him inside to raise through his kitten-hood. Two days later, mom carried his black and white brother out to the sidewalk and abandoned him, too. So we rescued him. They became Gerbil and Hamster, the Rodentia Brothers. The queen continued to raise her all-black offspring to weaning age. Once the Rodentia Brothers were old enough, they wanted to stay outside, and after a couple years, they disappeared. The life of an outside cat can be very, very short.

Rhino, the blogging cat
This brings the story around to Figaro, a very prolific tuxedo queen, who would allow us to pet her but never get close enough to arrange for her neutering. She could be counted upon to give birth to two litters every summer, and one of her first litters included Rhino, for those of you who know me. One of her last litters (she eventually disappeared) included a little runt female we called Socks. She was very thin, but Figaro raised her to weaning age, and we could never catch her to tame her. Sure enough, early the next spring, she was grossly pregnant. I worried that she’d survive the birth, she was such a little thing, but she did. She had about four kittens, weaned them, and went on to have two more litters that summer. By the next summer, we had several female cats, some that we’d raised in the house and were hoping to neuter. (This all takes time and money, folks, and we’re poor teachers.) One of our house-raised queens (a calico named Bailey) had a little of about five around the same time Socks gave birth. We weren’t sure how many kittens Socks had, but she’d been bigger than ever before, and as usual, nursing was stripping all the fat off her body, no matter how much we supplemented her food. She’d had a bad experience in her usual birthing den, so she was hiding the kittens under an outbuilding, and we couldn’t see them, even to count them.

Meanwhile, Bailey disappeared and her five kittens were hungry. Feeding five kittens every two hours for a week or more is quite a chore, and we were living in a little 14 x 24 cabin after our house burned down, with a dog (Cocoa) and the cat, Rhino. Knowing that cats can be like four-legged hippies and sometimes take care of one another’s kittens, I placed the five kittens (two black, two calicoes, and a ginger kitten) near the opening of the out building where Socks was. I went back into the house and checked about every 10-15 minutes. One by one, each kitten disappeared, having been adopted by Socks, except the ginger kitten. After an hour, she still hadn’t accepted the ginger kitten, and it was getting dark, he was howling with hunger, so I took him into the cabin and started to feed him. That was Wally.

Socks raised nine kittens that round, and luckily didn’t have any more kittens that summer. She was terribly thin, and we didn’t want her to have any further pregnancies, but we tried in vain, all though the following summer, to tame her enough to catch her and take her to the vet. But she always trusted up with her kittens, so many of them were tame.

As if she knew she was getting to the point where she needed help, she brought one kitten, a survivor
out of about four, up to the house this spring. We named her Peaches, and the dog, Madra, was obsessed with her. But a few weeks later, she disappeared. We’d been noticing that few kittens made it to weaning age, and many suffered from eye infections and upper respiratory infections that ultimately killed them. We rescued one of Sock’s kittens last summer (2015) that was so sick, we took him to the vet. He’s become a house cat, along with Tippy (probably also Socks’ because he’s a tuxedo cat), Timmie, and Frances, a rescued kitten that had been abandoned in one of our boats sitting in the yard.

Socks immediately became pregnant again, and she was huge. She gave birth near one of the out buildings, but armadillos, raccoons, and possums have taken up residence around there, so she moved all five of the kittens to areas near the house. She had them hidden in the weeds next to the cabin, but it was in the roof’s drip line. One night, after the Food Guy had gone to bed, April (cabin resident) informed me of the storm, and we dashed out to put the kittens somewhere dry. Socks let me pick up her and a kitten, which would have been a good thing, until I slipped on the wet concrete on the porch and they both went flying. We still managed to move all five kittens to the porch and dry them off. Then Socks moved them out to the out buildings.

Socks and the torments of motherhood
However, the next day, they were back in the weeds in the drip line, so the Food Guy managed a kind of shelter from both the rain and the sun, and this is where they stayed until the kittens became more mobile. Socks was letting us pet her and pick her up occasionally (mostly to show her where food was), and the kittens were all becoming tame. They all had names – the three tuxedos, Snip, Zorro, and Grits; the tabby, Nancy; and the grey and white echo of his relative Rhino, whose name is Kevin. We watched them carefully, and when it became apparent that their weaning was nearly complete, we managed to catch Socks and take her to the vet to be neutered, feeling happy that we could at least let her live the rest of her life in some kind of kitty retirement and not sacrifice her health raising three litters every summer. We carted the kittens off to be vaccinated and wormed, and congratulated ourselves on a plan well executed. Then Grits became ill. It wasn’t the usual upper respiratory infection, but she was listless and wouldn’t eat. He was vomiting and losing weight. The vet gave her an antibiotic injection and a supplement to build up her nutrition intake.
Chitlin, when we didn't
 think he'd make it.

She rallied for about a day and then fell ill again, but now, all the tuxedo cats were exhibiting the same symptoms. Perhaps this was a virus they were passing around? I decided if they weren’t better, after the weekend, I would take them all back to the vet. By Monday, Zorro was fading fast. The only one that didn’t seem affected was Nancy. Even Kevin seemed a bit listless. I had an 8 o’clock class 40 miles away, so I decided to drop the kittens off at the vet when they opened at 7:30 and make a dash for Waco. I had a flat tire along the way.

They vet called that afternoon, and it wasn’t good. We’d lost Zorro, and Snip and Grits weren’t looking good. Kevin and Nancy had fevers. They had all tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). They couldn’t be outside cats, and they couldn’t live with us for fear of infecting our four house cats. We’d try to find them homes if they survived. The immunizations had probably zapped their immune systems to the point that they became susceptible to some virus that wouldn’t have even bothered them, if they weren’t FIV positive. They could live relatively normal lives, just not with us.

The next day, Snip died. I thought we’d lose them all. But Nancy, Kevin, and Grits made to through. We kept them at the vet clinic for the weekend because we were going away and there’d be no one to care for them. I tried to find them homes. So now, they live in the dog’s kennel, and sometimes they go out and hangout with their mother, who recovered from her neutering fine. She probably caught the virus from some roaming tomcat. It’s possible that Chitlin, from one of her litters last summer, as well as one of our yard cats, Fuzzy, who has never been able to raise a kitten to weaning age, are also infected. We’ll have them tested during their annual checkups. If all the big inside cats are sleeping, we let the little ones play in the living room. Kevin has a neurological problem I have yet to discuss with the vet, so she has trouble walking. It hasn’t slowed her down – she runs and runs until she falls down, and then she gets back up and runs some more. Nancy is a troublemaker, and Grits is a scairdy-cat. My dream is that someone would adopt all three of them so that they could all live together for as long as they can.

Kevin, Grits, and Nancy
FIV is not like human AIDS. It cannot cross species and infect humans or dogs or hamsters. It is classified as a lentivirus (or "slow virus"). FIV is in the same retrovirus family as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), but the viruses are quite different genetically, and the proteins that compose them are dissimilar in size and composition. The specific ways in which they cause disease differ, as well.

These three have the chance to live relatively normal lives, if they live inside and are neutered. They probably need to be monitored more closely for illnesses than most cats. They may be susceptible to illnesses as they get older. But we just couldn’t put them down because they might not live to be 18 years old. These are happy, energetic kittens who think they have the whole world ahead of them. I’d like to give it to them.

02 August 2016

In the Words of David Byrne: How Did We Get Here?

I have been tempted in the past six months to write a blog regarding the political atmosphere, but I hesitated because, first, it will be dated by next year (perhaps), and because there are more educated, informed, and motivated people out there who could do a better job. However, I have finally given in to the temptation because I have the need to say a few things.

Wading In

The current political climate in the United States is a combination of many developments in our recent history, even our long history. I do not pretend to offer an exhaustive list, but some of those are the civil rights movement, racial equality and racial profiling, the evolution of crime (in the sophistication of gangs and the weapons they use), which makes the job our first responders – especially the police – have to perform ever more dangerous. It’s the education system that acts more like an unqualified babysitter than a place of learning, more concerned (because of the way we measure “success”) with standardized tests results than teaching our children to think critically and logically. Perhaps this is an outgrowth of the trend toward anti-intellectualism, examined in Richard Hofstadter’s 1963 book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, in which he wrote, that Republican candidate Eisenhower had a “conventional mind, [and was] relatively inarticulate,” compared to the Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson, “a politician of uncommon mind and style, whose appeal to intellectuals overshadowed anything in recent history.” It is the bastardization and development of the attitude that intelligence and learning are something to be avoided, that feelings matter more than facts, that the educated person is somehow a threat. It’s the knee jerk reaction to “political correctness,” which began as just an extension of how to behave in polite society and became something to be rebelled against because it was seen as some kind of infringement on speech and behavior.

All of these issues deserve a book, or a series of books, in order to investigate how they developed into the cultural changing attitudes with which we are now contending. But, because of time and space, I’m going to simplify it – perhaps doing the explanation an injustice because these are some complicated issues.

The Anti-Intellectual Movement

The Republicans took the ball of anti-intellectualism and ran with it. Nixon sided with the “silent majority” and “hard hats,” and his Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to protestors and critics as an “effete core of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” Spiro Agnew – the only Vice President to resign in disgrace, pleading no contest to a charge of federal income tax evasion in order to avoid charges of political corruption. He was fined $10,000, sentenced to three years’ probation, and disbarred by the Maryland court of appeals. Reagan (remember, his background before the governorship of California was movie acting and radio) asked us if we wanted to abandon the idea of self-government in favor of the “intellectual elite” in “a far-distant Capitol” running our lives for us. We should remember that.

Conversely, Eisenhower might not have been quick with a quip, but as a five-star general, he had a keen knowledge of national security. Nixon knew to rely on Henry Kissinger and Daniel Moynihan for foreign and domestic policy, even though he was keenly aware of these topics and well-read and Reagan wrote his own speeches. And if the evidence shows George W Bush to be somewhat lacking in intelligence, at least he surrounded himself with people such as Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz. But as talk show hosts and the Tea Party have slowly taken over the role of heralds of the conservative movement, the overall push from the Republican Party, in spite of a few remaining thinkers such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, is one of “indiscriminate, unthinking, all-consuming anger” (for more on these ideas, see Max Boot’s July 31, 2016 NYT article at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/01/opinion/how-the-stupid-party-created-donald-trump.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0.

The Civil Rights Movement and Reality TV

The civil rights movement brought racial inequality and the injustices of segregation and Jim Crow laws to the forefront. It resulted in laws that corrected wrongs that had been permitted to exist for far too long. But, in the end, it could not change prejudices. And while the laws that were enacted discouraged systemic bigotry and inequality, they could not change people’s hearts. There’s a song from the 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, South Pacific, the lyrics of which note that one has to be “carefully taught” “to be afraid / Of people whose eyes are oddly made, / And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade.” So in those homes with unchanged hearts, the teaching continued. My parents told me that everyone was equal, but sometimes their words or actions did not bear that out.

Somewhere in there, our entertainment industry became lazy. There was the studio era, when big stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara made movies that were (usually) well-crafted, evocative, and profitable. Television came along and we were entertained by hokey sitcoms and big production “variety shows,” such as The Ed Sullivan Show. Movies such as Ben-Hur, Hawaii, and The Sound of Music, cost a lot and didn’t always deliver (although those three did). Star Wars became the boilerplate for the modern big-production movies, and syndication in television became a way for companies to keep making money from old television shows. With the rise of cable, there just wasn’t enough talent – or syndicated shows – to go around. Scriptwriters and others began to demand higher pay. So television resorted to “reality” TV – little or no writing required, no actors, no sets, just televised voyeurism. And while movie producers still came out with The Lord of the Rings or Avatar, there were plenty of Dumb and Dumber and Sharknado. Reality television isn’t real at all. Television producers cast these shows for maximum conflict and entertainment. They put the “cast” in situations that will embarrass them and humiliate them, and then the producers reap the profits. Art is supposed to uplift and educate; it is supposed to remove us from the everyday and expose us to the beautiful, thoughtful, and intriguing. But that takes effort; it takes intelligence. And, in spite of rising numbers of high school graduates and college degrees, many Americans have no concept of history, geography, politics, or economics.

The Middle East and Fear-Mongering

All this was going on while things were heating up in the Middle East, the economy was getting ready to tank, manufacturing and other businesses were escaping overseas to avoid paying taxes, petroleum prices skyrocketed, and Wall Street and banking took on a life and morality of its own. And don’t forget 9-11. Nothing is the same as before 9-11. And when times get tough, people often turn to religion for answers and comfort. Except people weren’t flocking to churches like they used to, so preachers took it upon themselves to politicize the pulpit, to try to explain the hard times in terms of religion, in terms of their sometimes limited view of the world. People who never learned to think for themselves, to research questions, to question authority, began to fill the coffers of those churches (in many cases) that gave them easy answers for their fear, their unemployment, their bad health, their descent into poverty. People who couldn’t tell you where Israel or Palestine are on the map, listened to those who told them what to think about those countries. They might know that Iran was at one time Persia, but they know it only as a Trivial Pursuit answer, not as a cultural and historical fact.

An African-American in the White House

Then, in 2008, the United States elected an African American to the White House. They even re-elected him in 2012. This did not sit well with those who had been “carefully taught.” While much of America celebrated this milestone in our growth as a nation, some saw it as a threat. And when the witch hunters couldn’t catch him or his family in corruption, scandal, or secrets – in spite of birthers and other campaigns – they just blocked his efforts to bring about the change he promised. If he managed to make change, they kept hammering away at it. For example, Congress attempted to repeal ACA – “Obamacare” – about 60 times (counts vary – it could be as high as 62).

The Stampede for the Republican Presidential Nomination

When events started to gear up for the 2016 Presidential election, the Republicans had a herd of moderate and conservative candidates who thought they were the answer to all the political, economic, religious, cultural, societal, and educational problems our country was experiencing – 17 of ‘em! And they ran the gamut from weird, Dominionist Ted Cruz to moderate Ohio governor John Kasich (who the NRA hates for his support of an assault weapons ban in 1994). Trying one more time (but not for long) was former Texas Governor Rick Perry, yet a third Bush, and – who can forget – the enigmatic Dr. Ben Carson. But the one who no one gave any credence to was rich-guy, reality show host, beauty pageant creep, and all-around blowhard, Donald Trump. In his announcement for his candidacy, he managed to insult people of Mexican heritage in the U.S., and the country of Mexico itself. He claimed to know a lot about everything. And he worries about Obamacare because “…Obamacare kicks in in 2016, really bigly.”

As other Republican candidates fell away like the scales off a dead fish, Trump referred to the size of his johnson at a debate, expressed his admiration for tyrants such as North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi. He mocked a disabled reporter and degraded women. While the media broadcast their daily “Ha-Ha Look What Trump’s Done Today” bits, Trump’s popularity grew among those who felt alienated from their government, who have feared for nearly eight years that Obama was going to take away their guns, who distrusted politicians for reasons that their preachers and Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and Fox News asserted without verification or grounding in fact. Their fear escalated as Black Lives Matter movements grew in the wake of black deaths in police custody or during arrest. They worried about things that Duck Dynasty told them to worry about. They could tell who was genuine because Dr. Phil “taught” them. While reciting to every veteran they could identify, “Thank you for your service,” they called for ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria and re-escalation of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. While nodding in agreement while Fox News condemned civilian deaths in the Middle East, they listened to Trump call for a return to waterboarding and the killing of terrorists’ spouses and children. While calling Clinton dishonest, they lauded Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns and his business-by-bankruptcy philosophy of personal finance.

Slouching Toward Bethlehem

And suddenly, because people don’t know how to think critically, because of this screaming, angry anti-intellectualism, because the world is now experiencing life with terrorism – as people in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Palestine have experienced for decades – because of people whose jobs depend on spreading hate and discontent, suspicion and  distrust, because people have been encouraged to believe that feelings are as valid as facts, because – whether they realize it or not – some would do anything to keep another black president from living in the White House – because they see “Black Lives Matter” as meaning “Yours doesn’t matter,” because of a host of events and circumstances that have all collected, “turning and turning in the widening gyre,” Trump became the Republican presidential candidate. And if you point out the facts, if you catch him in an untruth (which is pretty easy to do), especially if you provide proof that Trump is lying or contradicting himself, then it may be that you are being an elitist, a snob, a know-it-all. Or you’re met with a sweeping generalization or an irrelevant conclusion. Because, in some horrifying echo of Pol Pot’s concept of Year Zero, when teachers and other educated individuals were stripped of their rights and starved, it is now those intellectuals, critics, and protestors who are being vilified. Remember, Pol Pot refused to purchase any goods or services from foreign entities – sort of “Making Kampuchea Great Again.” Of course, it didn’t work, and Cambodia was starved back into a rural, subsistence-only society, and the cost was between 1.7 million and 2.2 million lives, about half of those being executions. But that’s a slippery slope argument, isn’t it?

Charity Begins at Home

So maybe I’m exaggerating and also simplifying the problem. I understand that the Clintons have been careless and sloppy. But I can’t find any proof that they did anything out of malice – like bilking employees and contractors. Sure Bill has had a problem keeping his marriage monogamous, but he’s never made lewd remarks about Chelsea. Their foundation may have some financial snarls, but it does great good. CharityWatch.org gives it an “A,” reporting that it costs a mere $2 to raise $100 and its overhead is a mere 18% of it program percentage. Compare that to the Wounded Warrior Project, which earned a “C” from the organization, with $28 needed to raise $100, and an overhead of 48%. Yes, independent watch groups are split on the effectiveness of the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Foundation. Trump has no charitable foundation, in spite of his self-proclaimed great wealth, but relies on his celebrity status to attract money for various organizations, some sound, some not. The online NewsExaminer.net calls Trump as ranking among the “least charitable billionaire in the world.” 
“Although Donald Trump has described himself as an “ardent philanthropist,” he has only donated $3.7 million to his own foundation. In comparison, a wrestling company has given Trump’s foundation $5 million.”

Yes, It’s a Post 9/11 World

I understand that this world is not the world of Lincoln (also a Republican) or even the revered Ronald Reagan. It may even be decidedly different than the world George W Bush knew as President. But it is not reality television, it is not a celebrity contest, not a beauty pageant. It is not a place where, all political correctness aside, we can accept behavior or words that mock or demean minorities, religions, women, military generals, immigrants, the LGBT community, or anyone different. You can’t say you honor the soldier at one moment and ridicule its officers or the parents of the fallen in the next. You can’t claim to want to make a better place while calling for the return to torture, advocating abandoning allies, admiring despots, calling for violation of the Geneva Conventions, or – even sarcastically – inviting Russians to hack into U.S. computer systems. You can’t “fire” the enemies of the U.S., or people who disagree with you. You can’t ban the press.

Numbers Are Changing

No one’s going to take your guns. No one’s going to limit your free speech. No one’s going to make you give up Christmas or your religion or your language. But think on this. NBC News reported in June 2013, that census results project that the white majority in the U.S. will be gone by 2043.
“Non-Hispanic whites make up 63 percent of the U.S.; Hispanics, 17 percent; blacks, 12.3 percent; Asians, 5 percent; and multiracial Americans, 2.4 percent. About 353 of the nation's 3,143 counties, or 11 percent, are now "majority-minority."
U.S. Census.gov shows that as of July 2015, the female population in the U.S. reached 50.8% of the total population. I refer you to the URL below to consult FBI statistics regarding numbers of murder victims and how they died, from 2010-2014 (more recent than most Googled statistics that end in 2008). In 2014, about 68% died as the result of firearms. https://ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/expanded-homicide-data/expanded_homicide_data_table_8_murder_victims_by_weapon_2010-2014.xls

Yes, people will commit murder no matter what, but do we have to make it easier for them with automatic weapons? In semi-automatic mode, an M16 can fire bursts of 45-60 rounds (that’s bullets) per minute. When fully automatic, the M16 can fire bursts of 700-950 rounds a minute. Each projectile travels at about 3,110 feet per second. That’s about 2,045 miles an hour. To compare, the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats was set in September 2012 by George Poteet, travelling at 439.024 miles per hour. I mention this only to illustrate the magnitude of potential damage a semi-automatic or automatic weapon represents, compared to other firearms. It is a weapon designed for war, creating a curtain of projectiles intended for maximum death and damage, without the need for good aim or pinpoint precision.

Be a “High Information” Voter

With the Internet at our disposal, at home, on our tablets, on our phones, there’s no reason not to look stuff up. There’s no reason to accept much of what public figures tell you until you’ve done your research. Don’t rely on other public figures to tell you what to think. Make up your own mind after careful consideration. I know it takes time, but four years can be a long time after a poorly considered decision. Even Rush Limbaugh calls the Tea Party and Trump supporters the “low information voters.” It’s why the Electoral College was created – as a compromise between Congress electing the President and a popular vote – some of our forefathers didn’t think the average voting American was smart enough to elect a President. The “Old Oligarch” stated in Athens 2500 years ago that “among the common people are the greatest ignorance, ill-discipline, and depravity” (http://www.hoover.org/research/are-we-smart-enough-democracy).

Many of the framers of the Constitution, however, did not believe that a ruling elite could be trusted with unlimited political power that wealth and position would provide them. The expansion of governmental agencies, and the mere size of the U.S. electorate makes being a “high information voter” a difficult task. But don’t take the easy way out. Let people who know how to make duck calls make duck calls, and you decide, with facts and trusted opinions of people who you trust and respect. Don’t jump on the bandwagon because it looks like a fun ride.

25 February 2016

Dulce et decorum est...

This year marks the 50th year since we started bombing North Vietnam, a strange anniversary, to be sure. However, as part of this commemoration, some organizations have taken it upon themselves to try to make amends for the way Vietnam era vets were treated in the 60s and 70s. When the debate about the invasion of Iraq started, some of those who objected argued that, since it had no real objective other than to take down Saddam Hussein, it would end up “just like Vietnam.” The Vietnam War has become the means by which we measure war. “This [fill in the name of a war or conflict] will be just like Vietnam” has been the opposing argument for all conflicts. However, during those arguments about Iraq, people were quick to point out that they were opposed to the war but NOT the military. Even those who supported the war expressed concern that an unpopular war might result in the abuse of military personnel. No one wants to treat the soldier, sailor, airman, pilot, Marine the same way they were treated in the 60s and 70s.

As part of this 50th anniversary commemoration, events are being held all over the U.S. to which Vietnam vets are invited. They are lauded during these events and offered a considerably belated “welcome home” by the attendees. I attended one of these events recently, but it didn’t sit well with me. Granted, I attended under protest because my husband asked me to go with him. We are both Vietnam era vets, but he served in-country while I did not. We don’t talk much about how we were treated during the war, but it is an unspoken agreement that we were sometimes treated badly. So we attended this event, held in a local church, sponsored and organized by the Daughters of the American Revolution…women who not only celebrate the military service of ancestors who lived more than 200 years ago but sometimes act as if this makes them better than other people. They also invited a state senator and a state representative, as well as an Air Force veteran who had been a Vietnamese prisoner of war. They invited a local musician who played “The Green Berets” (which I hate) and Toby Keith’s “American Soldier.” Most remarks, as well as much of the music, assumed the veterans gathered were male. And I’ll admit that besides me, there was only one other woman, also a Navy veteran.

The state senator, while conservative and supportive of many things I do not support, had a sense of humor, was himself a veteran and had also been critically burned during the attack on the Pentagon, September 11, 2001. His remarks on the whole were heartfelt and sincere. However, the state representative, whose father was a Vietnam veteran, has spent his whole life in agriculture and politics. He did not serve. He was born in 1972, so perhaps he was a bit long in the tooth to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. Yet, while not having lived through the Vietnam era, he still had the nerve to divide those who were adults then into two groups – those who were selfless and served in the military and those who were “self-serving (his words) and protested the war. There are several problems with this claim, the first being that if the men and women who served during the Vietnam era were arguably protecting our freedoms, then they were serving (and some were fighting and dying and putting themselves in harm’s way) to protect that very right to protest. Sure some of the protestors went to extremes; some treated those very men and women who were “protecting” in a negative way. But that’s the price of free speech. Either everyone gets to protest within just law or no one does. You can’t make a million exceptions. (And, yes, some broke the law.) 

But I’d like to clear up a misconception that many civilians (by “civilian” I mean those who never served) hold. That is the misconception that all members of the military are flag-waving, dyed in the wool, radical patriots. That’s just not true; and it’s probably less true today – with the all-volunteer military – than it was during the Vietnam era. You can’t argue that a draftee is a patriot. You can’t argue that someone living at the poverty level who joins the military to earn an income is a patriot. I wonder what the results would be of a survey that asked all officers and enlisted persons if they even considered they might have to go to war when they signed that contract with the government. Most of these people are in their early 20s. If one is to believe current neuroscience, the part of the brain that evaluates consequences of one’s actions isn’t fully formed until one is about 25. You join, you train, then you find yourself in a jungle, surrounded by the enemy, or triaging wounded in a field hospital, or sending patrols of 18- and 19-year olds out to look for the enemy, or acting as public relations liaison for the executive officer in a Force 1 hurricane, or a military journalist cataloguing stories of veterans who have seen multiple tours in a war zone. But you do your job because that’s your training.

Don’t get me wrong. I was proud to have served. Having been in the U.S. Navy opened doors for me, molded my character and personality, and had a positive effect on my entire life. I can imagine what it’s like to be a civilian because I was one before I joined, and I’m a civilian once again. However, you cannot know what it is like to serve unless you have served as well. So don’t presume to know what I think about war or politics or life in this country. Don’t presume you know why I served, because you don’t. And don’t think that a prayer, no matter how passionate or sincere, can heal old wounds or five decades of neglect. As the two-hour ceremony ended, veterans were asked to depart down the center aisle of the church and other attendees were encouraged to move to the end of the pews near the aisle and wave their little American flags and welcome us home. It was nice, if a bit embarrassing. But these people were not the ones who treated us badly. These people are not the ones who need to apologize. The only apology needed is really from the government back then, Johnson, Nixon, and their aides, and the Pentagon officials who sent us all out to fight and support a war that ended so many lives and wounded so many more.

If you truly are grateful for a veteran’s service, if you truly regret his or her being in harm’s way for you (so you could build a career and stay safe at home, going out for dinner and spending time with family) then find a way to keep anyone else from having to do that. Stop sending men and women off to die. And if that can’t be done, then you go. See what it’s like.

...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,
Obscene as cancer, 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. (Wilfred Owen)