1968 or 2018: Which Claims Annus Horribilis?


For those contemporaries sharing a length of life similar to Mary and me, we are at a fifty year mark from the year 1968 and we clearly remember the impact that year had on our lives. Anniversaries as such are instances for reflection and sometimes celebration. Is there much to celebrate in comparing the two years, 1968 and 2018? It seemed useful and interesting to me to look at that year and see how (or whether) the incidents occurring fifty years ago have been resolved or evolved to their present state. 

There are three basic persons in my audience to address this comparison. There are those who are those contemporary friends who had just graduated from high school like Mary or had graduated from college like me that year, or perhaps they graduated a few years earlier…we were looking at early adulthood in 1968 and managing all those choices associated-with possible jobs, future spouses, or recent marriages, and how we were going to address the myriad issues facing the world, the States and our lives as a result. Those are not slight issues to consider. Then, there are those in the  audience who had not yet been born in 68, but who, in 2018, are nearing middle age. You have already addressed those early life issues and the year 1968 may be viewed as mythical one, one in the historical rear view mirror that intrigues and brings to mind its youthful music scene, the Hippy generation, the drug scene and the time when the political world of the United States started its downward trajectory towards the lamentable state in which we find ourselves today. Then, the third audience members are those current students and recent graduates entering their early adulthood for whom 68 is ancient history, as are the antique acquaintances present in their lives who lived it and sometimes talk about it. How will they look back fifty years from now and measure this year? They have yet to make their important life stage decisions facing them in the next decade. How is 2018 going to influence those decisions? It is wearing on me, but it  has been nothing like the annus horribilis of that earlier year.

In 1968 Mary graduated just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and two days later Robert Kennedy was shot in her home town at a venue she knew well. I had just finished my college basketball career (in that year Lew Alcindor played for UCLA and played in the first nationally televised basketball game in Houston against that team-this game was a harbinger of March Madness) and was in a car with four black basketball-playing friends when the radio announced the murder of MLK. 1968 being an Olympic year and the Games held in Mexico, basketball was still a major focus in my life, as was my getting a physical to determine my fitness for military service and the on-going draft at that time (you can imagine how important the Vietnam War was for us of draft age). GD1656772@Sen-212Just after RFK was murdered, I and fourteen other recent graduates from the area colleges donned USA jerseys to play against the Mexican Olympic team as their warm up to the games later that summer. We traveled along the Mexican border towns playing international rules and having fun with the local cuisine and liquids. Those games in Mexico City are most remembered, perhaps, because of two raised black fists and a supporting Australian sprinter who wore their emblem on his jersey. All of us who had come of age by 1968 know where we were when JFK, MLK and RFK were killed. After MLK was shot,


the United States’ black population once again seethed, rioted, reacted to racial injustice and formed groups that were determined to make their marks. The Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Stokley Carmichael and the Black Nationalist movement all eclipsed the work of the NAACP. MLK’s relatively elevated agitation and escalation of demands paled in comparison to these more radical groups. For Latinos, La Raza was an important voice and the efforts of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta and the National Farm Workers Union brought Latino discrimination and social conditions to the fore and into the business and governmental negotiating rooms. Recently La Raza rebranded itself to assume an altered reality in today’s America, less confrontational and hoping to still be the voice of the brown vote. Here is a rundown of the significant events by the month.

It was not only in America that youth were speaking out and carrying their arguments to the streets. In Paris particularly, but more disturbingly in Prague, GD5893413@Emotional-scenes-as-c-8303the liberal ideas voiced in those two cities met with strong condemnation. may paris riotsOne by the leadership of Charles DeGaulle and the other by the reactions of the Soviet Union. Czechoslovakia was pushed back decades in that year, not coming back to the liberal world in government until the Velvet Revolution in the early 90s. The French will have to do with the loss of their Algerian province, as well as the weakening hold on all of their colonial possessions. All countries were looking for self-rule and untethering from colonial control and they either sought out the United States or the USSR for assistance. Those diplomacy games were not played nicely and the wars fought around the world had the taint of Cold War in their prosecution. While the fall of the Wall seemed to be a harbinger of change, one could argue the US mismanaged the end of the Cold War and it is now heating up again. I could be that one of the weapons in that war is a video tape yet to surface. 

China was in its Cultural Revolution, shutting down any remnants of Western life in the country. It will be the last gasp of Mao before Deng Xiaoping reforms China’s markets and it opens up to the world in the 90s. The Democratic Convention in Chicago that year was a horrible example of democracy at work. North Korea captured the USS Pueblo that led to one of the most dangerous confrontations between the USA and the Kim regime. As-fellow-troopers-ai-4657My Lai was one of our country’s worst military disasters, leading to the prosecution of its perpetrators as war criminals. Today, North Korea is still a major wart on the world’s diplomatic scene, Conventions are now no longer necessary it seems, and one wonders how the franchise is going to be protected, respected and if those voters can be trusted with the legitimacy of their efforts to gain sufficient information to make their valuable vote focused on the economic, environmental and existential future of the United States….and the world (for we Americans wield more power than most other citizens in affecting these three factors on the world stage).

While much of the world in 1968 was tense about socialism, independence movements, youthful liberal movements and frustration with the American involvement in Vietnam, America’s politicians were consumed by what was best for themselves. The Gulf of Tonkin vote demonstrated the Congress’ anemic attempts at securing the truth before escalating a war. How different was their ineptitude when compared to the spineless Congress who has not held a most reckless president accountable. In Vietnam,  This was the first televised war and NBC provided video content to our home television screens that eventually became an indictment to the war’s prosecution. Imagine a news anchor today having the influence Walter Cronkite did when he called out LBJ’s administration and opined that the war was not going to be won. Johnson knew he was in trouble.


The Beatles had matured and released the White album, while the Supremes traveled to Berlin to perform in that still-walled city. Led Zeppelin performed its first public concert. 2001 A Space Odyssey was released and we are now nearly two decades past its prescient elements in 2018. Yale was about to admit its first females. The requirement to wear seat belts became law. The Jumbo Jet came into service. Rowan and Martin debuted in 1968 as a harbinger to political sketch comedy that has blossomed into the myriad voices that sometimes serve as the news in today’s comedy world. The Graduate was both a great movie and a lens on our world. Think of ‘plastics’ as a job opportunity and wonder today at how much of this stuff we have clogging up our world to the determent of everything. Then there is the duo Simon and Garfunkel and the other great artists of that year that are classic today and still revered. Women’s Rights groups became more important, more focused and more politically relevant. Today we are seeing a much needed rejuvenation of their efforts and we can hope for more progress, finally.

In comparison, then, even though race relations were raw and blacks and latinos took to the streets and the government buildings to chant their displeasure or call for their own narrow populist solutions in some instances, the black and brown vote matters today. The GOP has been very aware of this for the past fifty years and it has done a dismal job of seesawing between its Southern Strategy, trying to build a broader tent and being more compassionate, and MAGA. Today’s GOP is in complete disarray. It hopefully looks poised for a massive drubbing in November, which should take it to the point of redressing, yet again, its tent pole spreading discussion that it ignored in 2008. It banked on the white reaction to a black president, was surprised, lost some to Never Trump or leaving the party- if surprised is the correct word and historians will belabor a better phrase for decades to arrive at a satisfactory description- when Trump won and each Republican no matter how low or high has been trying to figure out who she is, what the party stands for and if they even are Republicans in its MAGA world. 

Of course, the efforts since 68, with Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan’s nonchalant and awe-shucks approach to ignoring the poor and disenfranchised (read blacks, latinos, LGBT and anyone who wouldn’t benefit the board rooms or the military), the Bushes mishandling of foreign policy that further alienated the US in the world, the GOP has at least been consistent in the Jack Kemp/Paul Ryan belief that Ayn Rand’s attitude of self-reliance and stepping over the body should always come first.  Also, their attempts to give gerrymandered power (as did the Democrats) to their efforts and their support, starting with Reagan, to give voice to talk radio and divisive rhetoric that appealed to an angry base, successfully divided America into clear Red and Blue patches that may be our undoing. Hopefully it will only be the GOP’s undoing and the party will split into its two or three factions which will define either their economic goals first, the populist goals first, or their isolationist/social issues goals first. All of the platforms discussed by the factions in the GOP do not involve an inclusive, realistic or pragmatic solution to the future of America (thanks, George, for this link). Our country has always been one that has always allowed immigration, even while it mistreated for quite some time the then current flavor of the immigration wave. Since 68, there have been waves of Vietnamese and Hmong because of our mishandling of Southeast Asia; Somalis, Afghans, Iranians and Arabs because of our mishandling of the Middle East; South Asians because of our economic strength and their strong attraction to the higher education options and Silicon Valley’s allure; and Chinese because of their own economic miracle since 1990. 

American has always striven for innovations that made things quickly, cheaply and companies moved wherever these things could be done with those two goals preeminent. Both parties made decisions to support cheap and quick, much to the detriment of the rural dweller, the ghetto dweller, the migrant laborer, and the regions that could not adapt quickly to the shifting nature of production and supply, whether that is energy, agriculture and industry. Those goals have not always made America great, but it has made it wealthier and more diverse and more economically checker-boarded, In the last fifty years, government decisions have not looked at the pie and given every American the chance to move up its social ladder by seeking to fairly divide this enlarging custard. Both parties have not taken their political power and responsibilities on board with the whole country in their sites. Local constituencies, corporate growth and wealth, and the reactionary growth and decisions of those weakened white voters have made this country one that is a strange dichotomy. It loves charity and claims Christian values, but seems to act contrary to the teachings of Christ and nearly all of the world’s religious values often. It has become one of the most violent countries in the world with the highest prison population. Those two factors and truths should alone call for reform and redirecting our social construction efforts. The politicians, though, have taken the structure of our political institutions and made decisions that supported incumbency, local spending, resistance to national solutions and infrastructure, and continuing to choose quick and cheap over the environment and a well-ordered future. Most other developing, and certainly the developed countries, have looked further down the road in their decisions. 

The view of the moon in 1968 has given way to startling discoveries in space that have changed the very paradigm of thinking and understanding, though our comprehension of the meaning of this change is not shared in a societal way, but only by those interested in what it all means. It will take more than Neil Degrasse Tyson, self-appointed spokesperson for exactitude and cosmic meaning, to focus us on things other than Breaking Bad and the newest Netflix iteration and distraction, even though I am personally a big fan and root for his success in defining excellence and wider understandings of our place in the universe. 

Race relations have both improved to the point of having Black Panther become one of the most successful films of all time, while we still have significant issues when a US president can successfully equate white supremacists’ desires to speak their mind to those who took issue with their racist, separatist, exclusionary goals. From raised fists to taking a knee,


or from I Am a Man to Black Lives Matter, the discussion and the disgrace still linger at the fringes too much, though we are getting closer on some levels. From Martin Luther King Jrs’ clear voice, we now have Barack Obama, Charles Blow or Ta Nehisi Coates voicing options for America as an inclusive country, while signaling the dangers for not becoming more inclusive.

Technologically we have moved a long way from requiring seat belts which, along with other technical innovations, brought down traffic mortalities. We now are moving towards a world where we may not ‘drive’ a car anymore, and there are so many built-in distractions that take away the monotony of driving that they could take us back to the levels of the pre-seat belt deaths on the roads- think texting deaths. If Elon Musk has his way, we may shift completely off fossil fuels in the next fifty years. Self-ownership of an automobile may be either prohibitive or economically unnecessary. There are so many computer decisions made by a car today it is impossible for nearly all of us to pop the hood and find and replace an ailing part therein. Spark plugs are no longer spark plugs that we could unscrew ourselves and replace, for instance. 

Oh yes, OJ Simpson won the Heisman that year….

I look forward to what that last constituency to whom this blog speaks, the recently enfranchised youth who will vote in November. While my own generation had hopes and made efforts to move the political needle in a proper direction for change and improvement, we have failed on many levels. The baton is handed over to these new adults and I like what I’ve seen so far. Hopeful, as always.

Enjoy these links to the year 1968



















The Miracle of the Moose: Why Do Moose Enjoy Licking Cars?

Stories about Befriending a 1000 Pound Twig Eating Giant…and a bit more

cow and calf

The elements of art, with superb cinematography, storytelling, environmental issues, appreciation for the lives of animals and the cycle of life, sheer wonder at the act of carrying out a mission for a year in difficult circumstances, and learning to love a section of the world that gets few visitors, is the topic of the moment. If you have ever appreciated a program or film and wondered how it was done, what went into the collection of the data and the many questions that come to mind as you absorb the final product, this program, for nature lovers at least, is a real treat. Yet, as with anything stunning, there could be a back story that is much more complicated. In doing a bit of research for this blog, I found links to stories about nature that continue to corroborate the danger and tragedy facing us all from our mismanagement of nature. Sorry, it is inescapable. The Beauty and the Beast are synonymous in this blog.

PBS aired a program called, The Life of a Twig Eater. The cinematographer, Hugo Kitching, who captured nearly all of the footage for the program took on a most unusual project, lasting a year in preparation, collecting the images and then editing the final cut. The director and producer of the film, Susan Fleming, said it was a gigantic effort over 15 months and 500 hours of film to put this project together. While filming another movie on coywolves, who did not want anything to do with humans, was more difficult, the only advantage this film had over the film about wolves is that moose are particularly tolerant of human contact once they get to know you. Even so, Kitching noted that he once got too familiar with a bull moose that butted him in the gut. You will have many questions after viewing the program and the synthesis of the viewing by me follows.


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The setting for the film is Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, a wilderness area of over 4000 square miles. This is an area a little smaller than the state of Connecticut. Kitching’s job, in order to find out why the moose population is plummeting in North America, was charged with following a moose cow and her calf for a year to gain an insight into their lives. Young calves survive the first year of life with a 30% survival rate. A039_C028_0713F3What were the contributing factors to such a low number and what can we expect in the future? The predators are mainly wolves and bears, though the environmental changes, new pests and other factors contribute to the problem. For instance, it is possible that an adult moose to play host to over 100,000 ticks in a year, with the winter hosting especially detrimental to their health.

hugoKitching is featured in the Twig film, and you might think he was alone for 15 months in the Jasper wilderness. Yet, he had often had a support team with him, even though the video clip choices in the film obviously find him in solitude with a moose cow and calf his only companions. Those moments did not come easily or without sometimes weeks of hiking after clues as to where a moose might be. In those over 4000 square miles, the number of moose is startling low. The film mentioned sitings of a low of ten and a high of fourteen over various years. The viewer will even find out why moose like to lick cars. I wondered as I watched about the struggles with the weight of gear, the immense size of the mosquitoes (they were apparent in many shots) and the extremes of topography and weather, and how Kitching managed each night (I would not like living in the grizzly’s world). How far was he from his subject as he got up in the morning. He packed in food and gear, but for how long at a stint? He was clean shaven sometimes and sporting a growth in other shots. You will get to know the mom and daughter and wonder at their plight. That they are 1000 pound vegetarian mammals that eat 50 pounds of water plants, leaves and twigs a day is one of the wonders. Kitching sometimes hiked for weeks without seeing a moose. And, to hear and see, once again, of another example of the evidence of human activity destroying habitats hundreds and thousands of miles away from where the destructive activity is occurring is cripplingly despairing. If you have the time for The Twigs viewing, you will be rewarded. If you look at the other links at the bottom, you will find other wonderful options to see the wonders of nature. I recommend the one of Song Birds.






https://youtu.be/1nxpugAvA08  Algonquin Fall


Kitchings Filmography 


Camera; Sequence Work (2015)


Director of Photography (2014-2015)


Additional Cinematography (2014)


Additional Cinematography (2014)


Camera Assistant (2014)


Camera; Sequence Work (2013)


Additional Cinematography (2013)


Camera assistant (2013)


Additional Cinematography (2013)


Producer; Fixer (2012)


Camera; Sequence Work, Producer (2011)


Director of photography; Producer (2010)


Director of photography; Producer (2010)


Director of photography; Producer (2010)


Director of photography; Producer (2009)

The Digital Age and The Future of Fake News: Will We End Up Believing Anything….or Only What We Want To?

View this BBC prepared video clip before reading further….

The digital age is progressing at a rate that threatens Moore’s Law. Within the next few years it will be possible to view a video clip of your favorite character, even yourself if you want to get involved in the software, doing just about anything imaginable. Only, it won’t ever have actually occurred and some unspeakable portion of our population is probably going to believe it to be true. Who will determine veracity? Where we once relied on a society of journalists sorting through evidence, digging, putting their lives and reputations on the chopping block to find out what happened in meetings, sift through obscure or hidden documents, and interview all the relevant persons involved in incidents, now we face another horrible factor in the issue of news gathering and the ultimate writing of history. Now, technicians and engineers will need to be utilized to determine if a photograph, a speech or a video are fake or not. Will it matter that there are disclaimers. The True Fake News is about to hit us and hit us big. We will never be the same after that point, in my opinion. Perhaps we will devise a digital fingerprint that would be present at all recordings, video or audio, that can corroborate a person who wishes to have her recordings verified as authentic. We’ll see.

What we have to expect is many conspiracies claims, accusations of fake news and elements of what used to be called yellow news. Even then, there will be enough of a proliferation of counterfeit stories that some of them will make it through the net into the future and they will become historical fact. Hmmmm. In many ways, that is the same as it has always been. Much of history comes from speculating about the nature of a conversation between two people. After any such meeting, there are two versions of what happened and rarely does either person write down what happened. Even if he did, would it be reliable. How do you feel about the autobiography of Richard Nixon? Useful as it is on a very important level, but certainly biased. But how much of it is true?

Along those lines in history, what really caused the beginning of the Great War? Did those communiques between cousins matter most, was the difficulty of getting the true story straight between the Austrians and the Serbs most important? Did the Brits figure the news wrong? There was plenty of information to keep all the belligerents holstered, but they tumbled stupidly into that war. The big difference between reporting then and now is the digital nature of how information is moved about and that may need more of investigation, regulation, defining and adjudicating. Indeed, starting today the 44 Congressmen are going to be delving deeply into this matter and the times of self-policing the internet may be at an end. We have become a most sloppy world in many ways for the dissemination of information and the digital age and the sheer numbers involved is changing everything.

What must we consider in looking for the truth going forward? For the past five hundred years, there has been a trajectory followed by some that included verifiable evidence and sorting through either deductive or inductive logic to proffer a thesis and possible conclusion. Within the adherents of that group, individuals also allowed for many more versions of why things happened and what to do about those options. Tolerance for a lot of versions of the truth have always been there, as have societal frustrations with that fact. In the twentieth century there were many attempts to crush opposing viewpoints in many societies, with wars fought to stop the more egregious supporters and leaders of those authoritarian governments. Now, we are finding it difficult for a variety of reasons. It will be critical going forward to have all the world’s constituents looking at the situations abounding and dealing with them with tolerance and, more importantly, understanding the nature of veracity and provability. Again, I am dubious there and worried for the methodology and therefore the possible conclusions individuals and societies may arrive at in their policy decisions.

I just saw a picture this morning of three men, Mike Pence, Donald Trump and John Bolton, together.the three That is one of the most troubling photographs I’ve seen in this administration. What those three could discuss, the mindset they each bring to the table, is horrifying. Think back to those few individuals in 1913 and 1914 as events in Europe started to arise and governments, nearly all headed by non-democratic monarchies, had their few leaders discussing what was happening, why it was happening, and what it could do to threaten their citizens. The wanted to make decisions to be able to control the outcome. But, were their reputations most important? Their keeping power? How do we compare the motivations of those kings and a French republic’s leader in making the right decision to those three men in the photo this morning? Ouch…

Think of Charles Blow, a very frustrated journalist sorting through his world and offering his opinions about what is happening and what to do about it. To quote him, “In a way, America is being governed by the dimmest of wits on the most unscrupulous of networks. The very thought of it is horror-inducing.” c blow Or that a former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, has posed a question (with unfortunately no blueprint to get a satisfactory answer) about doing something about Trump before it is too late. “Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident.” Her thoughts provoked several responses, but our national news platforms did not address her ideas equally or in some cases not at all. Some of the responses were not supportive of her views, and they, too, were part of our mix on dealing with the truth-who is Madeleine Albright in the overall voice on news and history? The leftist Salon’s writer, Andrew O’Hehir took most offense at the article, though I found it contained nearly all of my sentiments. Another, the Sputnik News (new to me and leaving me wondering a bit) took on a similar venting. NPR was very kind to Ms. Albright, staying within the confines of promoting her new book on Fascism and offering little in the way of opinion about her decisions made as Secretary of State that history might want to explore in more detail. In a bit of an effort to see if Fox News said anything about Albright’s recent statements about Trump, I found no joy. They may have ducked their responsibility as a news provider there. What are the theses forwarded by her, what is the evidence provided to back up her assertions, what method of making decisions should be followed? After reading her column, she did not offer enough specifics for her case, but she must have assumed we all have ample background knowledge in our own stores of memory with which to work; she was writing to the audience of the NYTimes. That is the problem going forward. How is this democracy, and others to function going forward? That was the conclusion and query the editor of The Salon came to, also.

As we go forward, greater vigilance, more education focusing on what is news, what is bias and what is true objective journalism (perhaps in itself an oxymoronic statement), is going to be critical for the survival of all democratic systems. There will be great changes made in the next few years. Perhaps the discussions and questioning surrounding the Mark Zuckerberg hearing at Congress today will offer a view of how social media platforms will have to respond to their part in dissemination of information. Many people consider Facebook at platform through which receive most of their news. We need to have a discussion of the First Amendment and the responsibilities of government and the citizens in keeping this founding principle front and center. Looking at the long game, where education and its curricular choices- pitting public schools (all of which lay under the control of state governments) against the independent schools (some of which are elite, secular schools and others parochial and purposefully narrow in their curricula), or simply opting for home schooling- are always issues that we have had difficulty addressing. Indeed, setting up a curriculum that addresses digital information is problematic. Training older teachers to understand the nature of the game, how to manipulate the device, be aware of what can be found, what can be stored, shared, parsed and passed on, is daunting. Few of them would know about 4chan and the kids will always be far ahead to the teachers in expertise. Talking about ethics, morality, privacy, security and objectivity when so many of the young generation accepts what an algorithm tells them is also problematic. We have much to do in the next years and decades. I hope we take this seriously.

For further illumination, there are more links below….









Puro Yakyū (プロ野球) 

Don’t miss this!!! A non-American is giving us lessons at our own game (actually, with the Greek Freak in the NBA, we have another example, too). Ohtani Shohei, the young Japanese phenom, is turning the baseball game on its ear with what he has done in a short two weeks. Get tuned in soon……


Sports are such a societal indicator. Each culture has its own love and affinity that it has developed regarding specific sports. Of course, the blending of cultures through history has made some interesting hybrids. Within each culture, there are historic memories of great import related to successes or incidents involving a sporting event. Some are nationally recognized and others are specific to regions and local affiliations with a particular sport or team. For instance, nearly all of Maine is part of the Red Sox Nation and follow the Patriots with few exceptions. Somewhere in the midpoint towards NYC there is a blending and mixing that dilutes the fanbase towards pinstripes or one of the other New York teams, leaving the Nation behind.

All of us have examples in our own lives when a sporting event, be it a high school, college or professional team, or a particular individual who caught our attention and gave us great satisfaction, can be put forward to bring a smile or remember the time when the event or the athlete caused joy in our lives. For me, I rather prefer the memories when some act of integrity and kindness was associated with the sporting event, or some overcoming of great odds through practice and perseverance. I am not drawn to the athlete who preens and touts his excellence, or the one who commands the field and cocks her head in arrogance. All sports figures will be brought to earth and humility eventually, as the very game involved has expectations of skill that must diminish with age. That is the beauty of life’s lessons in sport.

himeji castle

the castle in Ohtani’s hometown

But, the musing that interests me this week regarding sport is the arrival of the phenom in baseball from the island of Japan, donning his red trimmed jersey of the Angels in Los Angeles. He is doing what hasn’t been done in American baseball since Babe Ruth played nearly a hundred years ago, going both ways as a pitcher and batting when he is not pitching (he is in the American League, which plays a different form of baseball than the National League, one of those strange mixtures that hasn’t been blended out of the game like the combining of the ABA and NBA, or of the NFL and the AFL.

It’s not novel that a Japanese player has come across the Pacific to put on an American uniform: many have done it and done it exceptionally well. In fact, our chauvinism separates their prior accomplishments and we divide the statistics and records made in Japan from those earned here. Makes some sense, but to call our end of year tournament the World Series may need revisiting in some years’ time.

What do the Japanese players bring with them…and what do they send back to their homeland after they arrive here? It is a supremely beneficial arrangement in both instances. A Japanese player is almost always ethically superior to our players, humble and respectful, diligent in his attention to tradition and preparation, and always deferential to others, peers and fans alike. This is culturally bred into all their players, though, so we should not be too surprised.

How did the Japanese find baseball? No, it was not after World War Two like basketball being introduced to the Austrians in the abandoned upstairs ballroom of the Cafe Central in Vienna. It was in the early Meiji Era when Japan first opened up to the world after their civil war in the 1860s, which had been brought on by the Black Ships of America arriving in Tokyo Harbor and forcing the issue. The Meiji emperor wanted to reach out, to bring Western technology, culture and ideas to Japan. In the 1870s, an American professor was hired to teach at Tokyo University and he introduced the game to the Japanese. It went through the sieve of Japanese culture and became the giant of a sport that it is in the country to this day, in spite of the militarization of Japan in the 30s and 40s, their humiliation by the USA in defeat in 1945 and all that has been added to Japanese culture in the past century.

Japan’s version is very much like our own, and also radically different. The fans behave differently, they sit in stadiums differently, of course they eat different food at the parks, and the relationship to the rules and umpires is very different. In the younger levels of the game, there are coaches, but they are kept at a respectful distance during actual games. Honor and exactitude are elevated to levels unthinkable in the United States.

shoheiohtani2-getty-ftr-040818jpg_3z39vdc2qcp211f4kjj0n924jThe individual who has now stepped onto the diamond and the field in Los Angeles is a young Shohei Ohtani. His father gave in simple advice, honor yourself and everything about you and your country. His actions are inspired. He is maybe the biggest story in sports right now and I just wanted you to take advantage of the early hour of the season to catch on to the ride that is happening. I suggest you read the ESPN article first, but each of the links below has superlatives aplenty and should awe you in some way. Also, it will be worthwhile and endearing to compare and contrast the way the Japanese approach the sport by reading the links below when you have time.












Media?/ What goes into describing what it is and how important it is for you to answer that question correctly?

In perusing Al Jazeera recently, one of the thousands (actually, to be true to the term today, there are billions) of media platforms available to have a lens on the world in the 21st century, I was intrigued and also moved to blogging about what their description of the media actually is/are. Again, the historian in me pops into my fingers and I feel it is imperative to place this question and that term into proper context. This generation, this nation and how the individuals in both gain knowledge from that media is a worrisome thought…for me anyway. Al Jazeera offered five examples of 20th century literary and philosophical individuals who were very aware of the changing nature of media and how those who controlled it might claim dominion over culture and the individuals in societies.

What is media? In Googling such a question, I prefer this one that came up near the top and on the first page, an serious issue with seeking information in the first place, to be sure:  Communication channels through which news, entertainment, education, data, or promotional messages are disseminated. Media includes every broadcasting and narrowcasting medium such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, billboards, direct mail, telephone, fax, and internet. Media is the plural of medium and can take a plural or singular verb, depending on the sense intended.  http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/media.html

Media and the process: Before going forward, what your age is as you read this will help determine what is happening in your own mind and there have been studies done regarding the type of media your generation utilizes. How do you process information? It will be on and done from some media platform. If you are under 25 years of age or so, you are probably not going to stick to this blog (or paragraph) and follow through with the eight to twelve minutes it will take you to read it. You typically found this article on your phone and I probably got the average 20 to 30 seconds before another distraction occurred. You went on to the one of the other 400 to 500 clicks on the phone you will make in your day. The composite of these clicks will be your take on the world. What did they tell you? If you have time (probably directed at us Baby Boomers, who still rely on television for our media fix), watch this CBS Sunday Morning clip by Ted Koppel (a fellow bboomer bothered by the answers to his questions) exploring how “news” is disseminated on platforms and distilled through engines like Google. It will explain the importance of learning, and very importantly in this learning, history, and being informed to be a good citizen and for the survival of a democratic republic. For instance, recent stories about Sinclair Broadcasting Company and its owner, are very seriously troubling.

How we learn and become informed about the world around us (indeed, what footprint on the world do you make and how much of it do you access in any day or month?) is critical to this blog’s purpose. Al Jazeera’s posting gives me a caveat to discuss what they put on the list of factors to gain knowledge. The five persons they reference have disparate philosophies, which is important to note, yet each is a critic of the modern world for specific reasons. Also, gaining information through a media platform is one thing, but the concept of news, of what is currently happening in the world, is the most important issue for me to expand upon as what is news and what incidents, individuals and issues are placed in front of you (the old ‘front page’ of a newspaper) is perhaps the most critical factor to consider in this blog. I mentioned to my students in the last decade or so of teaching that I felt the three most important words (read that as ‘issues’) that will be most important in their lives of the 21st century are  fair, sustainable and understanding. Fairness requires those engaged in its meaning, distribution and support to incorporate legal, ethical, societal, environmental and economic factors within any discussion of fairness in issues. Sustainable also requires those engaged in its meaning, distribution and support to incorporate legal, ethical, societal, environmental and economic factors within any discussion of sustainable in issues, with the contrasting goals of economics and the environment constant in the discussions. Understanding implies a theory of knowledge, how do we know what we know. All the same factors are involved, but more importantly, all individuals need to appreciate the concept of critical thinking, as in today’s world, with algorithms, semiotics and megacompanies controlling the messages and platforms of distribution of ideas, the threat to understanding is even more profound than it has perhaps been at any other time in history.

There are five individuals the Al Jazeera article features to present their ideas. The first deals with the French philosopher Roland Barthes. roland-barthesHis specialty was making the world aware of the dangers of semiotics and simplification of messages. Maybe he did not think of it as a danger, but recognized and wanted all of us to know that the post-war “modern” world was substituting commercialism, advertising and visual bites of news to replace the gods and powers of earlier days. The post-war world built its images to the public and presented a new mythology. His kind of motto was, “no power, a little knowledge, a little wisdom and as much flavor as possible.” Perhaps his ideas were the precursors to the term post-modern and fully empowering the individual. Critical thinking, or perhaps the absence of it, was a consideration. At least Barthes, who was active decades ago, took the perspectives of life and choices in a novel direction, even if it threatened the pantheon of excellence and traditional acceptance of the notables in history, culture and philosophy.

The second example on Al Jazeera was Noam Chomsky. noam-chomskyThis individual has always been in my pantheon for his championing of independent critical thinking and his opposition to corporate control of the world. While his views might seem problematic when taking my three issues of importance- Fairness, Sustainability and Understanding- Chomsky’s approach to each, I believe would be to consider the group, the environment and to take as many factors into consideration as possible, with the natural base considered prime in all decisions. His worries for us now center on money in politics and culture, destruction of the environment and the inability of man to solve basic uses of resources without greed and violence perpetrated on the lowest of the food chain (think Bernie on speed). He champions Humboldt as the solution for us all if we organize our education system in a way that allows each individual to explore, to inquire, to comprehend and to create. The curriculum should not be discipline-oriented but inquiry oriented. His world would be like the perfect Sweden, I suppose, though I’m not sure how he would defend this imaginary country from all the rest of the world’s citizens who would clamor for entry.

The third example was Stuart Hall, the Jamaican-born iconoclast who counseled against all the traditional definers of culture, which he thought were controlled by governments, corporations or outmoded traditional thinking. His motto, loosely, “experience lived, experience interpreted, Hsu-Stuart-Hall-and-the-Rise-of-Cultural-Studies.jpgexperience defined.” Culture is a constant battle for expression, with winners and losers, with the outcome defining what is important. He wanted as many views and ones that allow criticism and deconstruction to determine best value and best practice. He only recently died, but his contribution was to give every individual her voice in looking at how someone else wanted to have the control over telling you what was important to you. He would have engaged fiercely in the discussion of the media conglomerates controlling social media today, even if Google claims adherence to not doing harm, he would declare, “show me!” His views should be understood by all, but my own personal preference would still look to the historical claims, the giants in their fields and how all those giants in history contributed to adding a tessera to the mosaic of the world’s understandings and their contributions carried forward to us today. I don’t necessarily believe it is the best world we (the collective humanity) could have built, but we should be able to get at a closer look of a successful solution from the understanding of the successes and failures made along the way. That, though, is an extremely optimistic view of us, the collective we, as each of the three men offered by Al Jazeera to this point each rail against the capitalistic, corporate, elite-centered world of the West and strive for that more perfect union. Seems all those earlier adherents to such a philosophy were often taken out by some method. The Al Jazeera video clip on Hall is intriguing.

The fourth example is Marshall McLuhan, famous for “the media is the message.” Another iconoclast, which leads the reader of Al Jazeera’s piece to conclude from its constellation of choices that they feel one should be suspicious of your source and look for a marshall_avatar_400x400polyglot input to gain insight into issues. I find this problematic as countered in the previous paragraph. I am not dissuaded from this view by the article as I progressed through it. These men are trying to make sense of the modern world, a noble ambition. But, our world is not divorced from previous ones. There is value for assigning esteem and heroic achievement to many incidents, inventions and individuals in history. Yet, I do concede we are in heady waters at present..think Sinclair and my comment about four decades ago to Joe McEvoy, who has lived most of his life outside of the States and wondered what was going on with us then..I told him then, “Joe, we have a lot of very stupid people in this country.” We, the collective we of Americans, are not doing well of late, either.

Said_550.jpgThe last voice presented is that of Edward Said. His book on Orientalism is fabulous and he rightly called out the West for subjugating much of the world and falsely dominating the world’s discussion with its several hundred year power grab. How the world adjusts going forward to a more egalitarian representation of culture, defying what is most important on the world stage, and defining the world’s direction will offer us all a better solution, hopefully.

As we move forward into the new world of Wakanda and Black Panther, where Black Lives Matter, where Parkland Florida’s youth are asserting and entering into the political fray, where internationalism has influenced all of the arts for the good, perhaps we can become more inclusive. The international political scene belies that feeling, though, with all the populism, nativism, exclusionary decisions, tariff wars and protectionism, and too many examples of bullies and brawn winning the day. I applaud the voice of Al Jazeera in at least warning the individual to look at many and varied views before deciding.


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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7VA95JdbMQ  semiotics video clip



“Ich würde alles geben, um diese hinkende kanadische Hündin in die Finger zu bekommen.”: Klaus Barbie and his efforts to find the American spy Virginia Hall, who had a prosthetic leg she named “Cuthbert”.

When viewing a program on PBS a few days ago about women in World War Two France, the Resistance was an obvious focus, but so too were the many other women who assisted, fought or worked in some way to make the occupation and control of NAZI Germany as difficult as possible wherever the country was. France, though, was a unique country in World War Two in many ways. With the fall of France in May of 1940, the country was split between the occupied north and the Vichy south, as France’s leaders and many French citizens chose collaboration over confrontation in both areas. Indeed, too many French citizens actually preferred NAZI ideology over the socialism, communism and ethnic diversity that many felt offensive to their lifestyles and beliefs. This will be a major issue for the country post-war, continuing to this day. Those women who had collaborated had their heads shaved after the war as a sign of shame.

Of course, many nations took on the NAZIs and each nation’s women had distinct roles to contribute to the war effort. Probably no nation’s coterie served so well with such significant numbers as those women of the Soviet Union. Some even became excellent snipers in the Soviet Army. 220px-Roza_ShaninaIn France, though, there was a special significance to a woman’s role in the Second World War. It had been one of the early adherents to war with Germany along with Britain as a result of the NAZI invasion of Poland in September of 1939. When the Phoney War ended in the spring of 1940, France fell quickly. After this French males were often either fighting for the Free French outside of their country or prisoners of war because of the May invasion. Men of fighting age, especially in Paris, were viewed suspiciously by French and German alike. Women in France up until that time were treated with chauvinistic attitudes by the male counterparts and France had still not allowed women to vote at the outbreak of war. The war will have a profound effect on French male’s attitudes, but their old thoughts did not go quietly. The women, meanwhile, were left with several routes to survive the occupation.

For the French women, who had no choice but to live in France for the four years of occupation and to live either directly under NAZI control in the north or be subjects of the collaborating Vichy French rulers south of the Loire, they had to choose how best to cope. For many it meant to resist in whatever way they could. For some, they became Résistant women, where they took on the role of couriers of messages and weapons, since they could move freely and without suspicion. Some women even joined the Maquis, though this was predominantly a male force.


Some took on more dangerous roles of assisting in the transport of downed aviators, who followed an underground railroad, called the Comet route, that stretched from Belgium to Spain.

For the next nearly four years the Allies, based in Great Britain, assisted those French who would help with the war effort from within France. The British SOE set up communications, with their specific groups called MI5 and MI9, as did DeGaulle’s Free French. When the Americans joined after December, 1941, their own OSS became involved in espionage throughout Europe. One of the most famous and brave of the females helping with the Resistance was a Belgian who settled in France and set up the Comet Route to assist downed airmen in getting to Spain and back to action. comet_2509840bHer name was Andrée de Jongh, though she preferred her code name, Dédée. In her early 20s, she led over a hundred airmen to safety and survived arrest, interrogation and imprisonment in a concentration camp. She was one of the few women recognized for her efforts after the war.18jongh.650

For the Americans, one of the most exciting examples of female involvement in v hall goatespionage was Virginia Hall. Born in Baltimore to a well-to-do family, from childhood she was destined to do things differently. She had hoped to become a diplomat, but in her mid-twenties while traveling in Europe Virginia suffered an accident that led to her lower leg being amputated. She was fitted with a prosthesis she affectionately called “Cuthbert”.

This did not dissuade her, though. She was in France when the war broke, and she made her way to England to join the SOE. They sent her back undercover as a stringer for an American newspaper in Lyon, where she set up underground routes for agents, escaped prisoners and downed airmen, as well as training the French underground to set up a network that could communicate with their counterparts in England. Of course, there were double-agents working with the NAZIs and her description was given to the NAZIs. She was fortunate, though, as they 800px-Klaus_Barbie_Vertical_Portraitdid not know her name nor her nationality. Klaus Barbie was in charge of her area, Lyon, and he wanted to capture her more than anything else he was doing. The German comment at the title refers to Virginia as being Canadian, which shows how incomplete the NAZI information gathering was. Though Barbie was unsuccessful with Hall, he was infamous for all else he accomplished in the war.  Our own record regarding Barbie was less than honorable, but at least he was eventually brought to justice.

After North Africa fell, the NAZIs occupied Vichy France taking control of the whole of France, which made Hall’s work untenable. She hiked over the Pyrenees to safety, doing so in the cold and snows of November and claiming Cuthbert was giving her a bit of trouble on the steep, icy trails over the mountains. The SOE said if Cuthbert was not able to keep up she should “eliminate” the problem. They were unaware that it was her trusted prothesis.

Once out, she was arrested and sent to a Spanish imprisonment camp for six weeks. A smuggled note made to the American Consulate, which secured her freedom. She was given a job in Spain, but found it unfulfilling. She wanted to be in the fray. Hall elected to return to England where she joined the American OSS and was sent back to France in the disguise of an elderly dairy worker. Once North Africa had fallen and the Germans instituted a labor relocation of French males to Germany to assist in the factories there, the support for the Vichy leadership, which had been acceptable to tepid in the first two years, waned. Hall’s efforts in espionage on this venture, with her fluency in French and German, dyed grey hair and loose-fitting dress, belied her role as spy. She shuffled to hide her limp and sold cheese and dairy goods on the streets, often to German officers, who were unaware of her German language skills. Les_Marguerites_Fleuriront_ce_Soir_-_Flickr_-_The_Central_Intelligence_AgencyHall was trained to operate a radio and sent information gathered on the streets from barns in the countryside at night throughout the next year and a half. The Germans tried to pinpoint her locations, but she always moved about. Her units and her work were critical in the D-Day landings and with units associated with Operation Jedburgh leading up to 1944.


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After the war she was given the Distinguished Service Medal, one that Truman wanted to present to her publicly. But, as she still wished to work for the newly organized CIA, it was done in private. She continued to work for the CIA until ridleyher retirement. There is a movie about her life in the works, with her role played by Daisy Ridley,  and several books mention or are devoted to her work in the war.  She was affectionately known as the “Limping Lady”.

Women got the vote in France, finally, in October of 1944. Still, the men wanted them to go back to the old ways and stay out of the way. They would be surprised by the changes that would occur in 1950s France.













The Arrogance of Justice Antonin Scalia…Can a History Lesson, Now Learned by America’s Youth, Change Laws?: The 2nd Amendment, the Supreme Court and the NRA- Time for a Change….How Much, Though?

Parkland, Florida and the students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have given the NRA plenty to worry about regarding the Second Amendment. What I love seeing lately is that students, American students, are learning their history lessons and are focusing their arguments on attacking a gun culture of the United States that is the most outlandish, indefensible and least supported by precedence, Constitutional Law and, most importantly, the overwhelming sentiment of the American public.

ftn-studentpanel-032518What started as an angry reaction to the shooting quickly became a reasoned and well-articulated movement led by these students to seek real change. Those several leaders (five of them were interviewed on the Sunday shows, with one noticeable contrary student voice opposing their position who would rather defend schools than attack the NRA) have focused on the NRA as the money supplying factor that needs to be eliminated, and that weapons meant to kill fast, far and in great numbers are best left in the hands of the military and taken off the streets, and therefore the school yards, of America. Included in their demands are age restrictions, background checks, waiting periods and compiling lists of unacceptable weapons and individuals who would be excluded from purchasing a weapon. If they stay within those charges, with more than 70% of the public behind them and a significant number of NRA members accepting of these limitations, the NRA may survive to its pre-2008 stature. If the time between now and November gets messy, perhaps Justice Stevens’ call for greater action will be followed and the 2nd Amendment itself may come under attack. History can lead those students and the public in making a sound choice on all the factors in this issue. I hope this time really is different and that we will make the necessary changes. The power of the NRA over Congress reached its apogee only after GOP efforts in the Bush administration to give them more power were successful. We can reverse course on how we look at gun laws. Let’s learn a bit of history.

Constitutionalists have always understood the nature of the 2nd Amendment, written in the 18th century, when it was possible for either a state of a large militia to oppose a federal army. The arming of a citizens’ militia, which would support the United States, was an acceptable arrangement to dissuade groups from opposing federal decisions regarding foreign policy for the United States, and to make sure no one state or group had more fire power than the federal government. States rights, and especially the nature of “the people” described in the amendment were supplemental considerations related to the 2nd Amendment for nearly two hundred years. Until the 21st century, states were left to decide how best to adjudicate their gun laws within this understanding and within their boundaries and most restricted individuals’ usage of some weapons, in some areas forbidding weapons altogether. When John Ashcroft in his position as Attorney General opened the discussion further, the NRA pounced. We could argue their success has made this country a much worse place to live since then.

Today, questions about the Second Amendment center on bans on assault weapons, mandatory background checks, waiting periods, and other restrictions on gun sales or use and the NRA, once accepting of these restrictions, fights them all. Gun control legislation varies widely among the fifty states. As the 20th century unfolded, the attitudes towards guns in America changed somewhat, but not towards allowing more powerful weapons on the streets, but decisions supporting restricting the types of weapons and allowing states to figure out what was best for each state. In the past two decades, some states and the Supreme Court in particular, gave individual citizens a much clearer power to decide what they wanted to do in the public arena. For instance, it is now possible for a student to bring his weapon to college in Texas.

The comments by Attorney General John Ashcroft in the Bush administration of 2001 altered the argument and quickly got the argument onto the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and allowed the NRA, which had worked with Ashcroft to orchestrate his comments and his letter to the NRA, to start their move towards the ideological behemoth they are today. That Ashcroft had overstepped the parameters of his job, which was to protect the law of the land and to be the lead prosecutor of that law, rather than to comment on his own personal opinion about whether it was right or not, goes without question. The Republican Party started its concerted efforts to move the Supreme Court in a direction other than the one that it had held up for two hundred years and which had been confirmed in its 1939 judgement. Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia. This judgment, though, was problematic in that some weapons were still acceptable for ownership, while others were considered unacceptable for a militia.

Over the course of the last century, state and federal laws, reacting to mob violence, assassinations and civil unrest, have been altered to address issues the 18th century did not have to face. Concealed weapons, silent weapons, weapons with high killing capacities and those that did not use the barrel of a gun to distribute their charges have become available, mostly through development of weapons for war and mass destruction, and the government stepped in to forbid, or at least highly tax citizens in the 20th century to curtail their availability. Changes in understanding were applied in 1934, 1938, 1968, 1986, 1988, 1990 and 1993, but the big change came in the 2008 Supreme Court Case, District of Columbia vs Heller. Gun restriction advocates have spoken to the damage this decision has done to the American public. Scalia, in his majority opinion, one that was, in my opinion, arrogant and ill-advised, also noted a clarification of the decision:

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.[8][9]

Scalia often claimed his logic was superior to all other people and in this vote, a 5 to 4 vote, he had four other adherents to his poor decision-making skills. Justice Stevens was in the minority and is now thinking maybe it’s time to repeal the 2nd Amendment. Even the Donald made his usual morning twitter evacuation showing his worry about the November election. It is possible for much to change at that time….hmmmm.

90The NRA has become an evil animal in the past two generations. I don’t understand their mentality. The world they envision is not a kind one, not one that loves its fellow man, one that is suspicious and violent. Using a rifle to shoot at a target, a duck, a deer or some other animal that may be found in large numbers and requires a unique skill to kill, is an acceptable option for any American. But, using a AR 15 to blow away whatever it is pointed towards is not justifiable on any level in my opinion anywhere in public in America. (By the way, it seems if you wanted to purchase one, it is possible) It’s purpose is to provide overwhelming firepower in a fire fight against a known enemy of a nation where the other side is wearing a uniform. That, too, has always been a problematic and ethical question for me, as the leaders who sent those soldiers into harm’s way better have a goddam great reason for doing so, and must consider the welfare of the soldiers on both sides of that fire fight. Any extension of weaponry used by a soldier, Marine, sailor or air force personnel anywhere in the world is acting as an agent of each citizen in the United States. This should always be considered with ethical and universal considerations in mind.

As the youth movement of the 60s churned out the changes, for good and bad, that it did, one can argue as to the motivations of those baby boomer kids. Things did change. I am so intrigued with today’s youth who turned up in D.C. and in hundreds of other cities around the world last weekend. They want something so basic…to feel safe. We should be able to do that. They might just accomplish it by simply registering a few million new voters, getting them all out to the polls, and having them vote out anyone who accepts any NRA money. It will be a rattling change, one that causes backlash and condemnation from Fox and Friends, but it would be a sign of a new direction for this country: a direction towards a more democratic country where an individual vote returns to its true valuation and one where big money is pushed to the side. Next are the 50 mile marches they call for to champion their cause. Bring on their stories…..ftn-studentpanel2-032518-1530364-640x360

















The 2nd Amendment is for You | Trigger Your Lawful Rights.


We’ve Failed Our Children | It’s Time to Put the Guns Down

History and the Iraq War: How wrong was the Huffington Post?

Waking up the other morning to my initial coffee read, my first choice for perusal at that time came from an article in the Huffington Post. Admittedly, I expect a strong slant from them and stories that often align with the digging and slinging that may sometimes assuage my anger at the present predicaments in American politics. But, just as often I end up throwing wet towels on a lot that is presented by their staff. Today is damp towel day on this article.

The tenor of the argument in the article is the Democratic Party of today was built on the mistake made invading Iraq. It poses the Democrats belatedly and anemically reacted to the Republican efforts to focus on Hussein and Iraq and therefore were first complicit before becoming adversarial and then using politics to attack anything the GOP did regarding Iraq. This led to the excerpt below forming within the author’s narrative….

“From fabricated intelligence, a media and political establishment that largely accepted the administration’s spin, unrealistic expectations, poor planning and a culture of militarization, the affair became a cautionary tale of what happens when the public ― and more importantly, the people who are supposed to represent them in Washington ― sleepwalk their way through foreign policy and let politics dictate war.”

I believe there was a strong chorus of opposition to the US going into Iraq. True, some members of Congress caved to the pressure of fearing being accused of softness towards terrorists, and Hussein was a problematic boogyman. It is important to keep history in the forefront of any discussions about foreign policy, especially in today’s troubled times and with John Bolton coming out of the dustbin he belongs in to add his alarming voice to the fray. Misinformation and spin is not new in the world of foreign policy and the press is critical for any democracy to hold its leaders to account. What is the press now, though, is a serious consideration.

In 2002 and 2003. I recall a large, vocal opposition who called out the reports of WMD and these were aired by responsible media outlets. The Valerie Plame story is emblematic of what was happening at that time. The 1973 War Powers Act was passed by Congress in an attempt to curtail Executive Power and to return to what Congress viewed as their Constitutional prerogative, that any war be declared by them. After the Gulf of Tonkin and Johnson’s own fear of being labeled soft on communism, which he felt would make his re-election in 1968 untenable, he chose obfuscation and deception to get Congress to give him special powers that eventually led to his failings in Vietnam. It also coincidently led to his own personal decision not to run in the ’68 election. As a Senator LBJ was dubious of victory in Vietnam and his own visit there as Vice President didn’t give him much more confidence about victory. But, he felt his duty was to follow precedent of prior presidents’ decisions on foreign policy to maintain our allies confidence in our commitment  and Johnson therefore stuck with what Eisenhower and Kennedy had bequeathed him. Note here, that in the history of that ’68 election Nixon was behaving in ways that are considered treasonous and that his record in Vietnam after 1968 was dismal and also brought this country no honor.

Both Eisenhower and Kennedy were troubled over Southeast Asia, as was Truman. History will continue to parse their decisions. Eisenhower had two polarized factors driving his foreign policy; The Domino Theory and the opposition to Truman’s NSC-68 conclusions. These are mutually exclusive and his reliance on the Domino Theory brought the country into an era from which it is still trying to extricate itself: The US must exert its power to favor US interests throughout the world or risk losing ground to an opposing ideology. The traditional Republican abhors wasting public funds and bloated bureaucracy, but, can the GOP be the true guardians of waste and a bloated government and still make good decisions about how the US projects itself in the world? It seems they are failing on both.

The point is, that when comparing the modern GOP (from the postwar to today) to the Democrats, there is a clear distinction of which is the more trustworthy on foreign policy. Even Eisenhower was aware of his own party’s desires to support megacompanies making money off the sale of military weapons and he also worked tirelessly to change the direction of military planning as part of the American foreign policy. The GOP will successfully resist those efforts in every subsequent administration, though.

The Reagan administration under David Stockman furthered the cutting of budget growth policies that had become normalized in the preceding years. The famous claim of supply-side economics, where trickle down is the expectation and which was championed by Stockman and Reagan, is the main argument we have not fully and adequately addressed. It is still alive and we must resolve this issue above all others. It will also deserve a few blogs in the future to address adequately. We now know in history that Reagan reversed course and hoped his faulty economic logic would not be discovered before the markets tuned in. He did not escape. He also raised taxes after first eliminating some.

For now, let’s return to the issue of the GOP and spending for their favorite programs, and trying to bleed the others that progressives hold dear. In the Iraq War of the second Bush, the Neo-Cons were not honest. It seems they were trying to make a case for a straw man Hussein connected to Al Qaeda and that this did not make sense. The WMD claim allowed them to use fear to get our troops into Iraq. It has proven a disaster from which Obama tried to extricate the country and also mishandled it. Afghanistan is in its fourth decade of war and is no closer to resolving whether it is indeed a country at all. Osama is gone, but the opposition and extremism is not.

Then, returning to the above excerpt: “From fabricated intelligence, a media and political establishment that largely accepted the administration’s spin….”  Did the CIA provide intelligence that was fabricated? H.R. McMaster’s book, Dereliction of Duty, outlined the failure of military leadership in the Vietnam era to properly define and defend military planning for a victory in Vietnam. It either demurred or equivocated in its responsibilities to the civilian leadership, therefore becoming a tool of the politicians. His recent firing and the appointment of Bolton will bring about exactly such an arrangement…..again. Bolton, though, will be a bit different in that he would rather bomb and blast than talk.

The tension between the civilian and military branches of government has been chipped away by later presidents, both Democrat and Republican. We need to ask, “Whom can we trust to declare war and what process will allow the proper intelligence to be gathered and analyzed to make the decision which is best for America’s future?” It is up to the Congress and those individuals in the Republican Party with the country’s best interests at heart to start clarifying what is news, how to protect ourselves best, and how to access the most reliable intelligence to root out wrongdoing, support our allies and weaken our adversaries advantages. The present circus is not do that job well.







Am I An American?: A Visit to the National African American Museum

mainphotoA trip to Washington D.C. should include a visit to the new African American Museum on the north end of the Mall. Whether you are a foreign visitor, a racist, a progressive, or certainly of Black heritage, it will leave you moved in ways that cannot be ignored. We have lived on this continent for somewhere in the neighborhood of ten millennia or possibly even much longer. There is some debate about who first arrived in more recent times, the Chinese or perhaps the Vikings, or whether Columbus was the first to introduce Europeans to this new version of “Indians” that were anything but that when all the dots were connected. Our present political climate is partly populated by some fairly ignorant individuals who have been given legal stature to claim they are Americans simply by being born here- Jus soli, which is something that has been changed legally, interestingly, as Americans are ‘flexible’ like that.  Over the years we have changed the definition of who really gets to claim citizenship. But the ignoramuses about whom I speak are ones that claim they know what America really is, and it is not my America about which they speak. But, what is America and am I really part of it?

Why a trip to the National African American Museum pushes this query would be self evident once you descended to the third level below ground, a strange mixture of Wakanda and Hell. It is here that you see the absolutely stunning examples of African culture, with its beautiful art, fabulous cities, abundance of Eden-like expressionafrican

and civil organization worthy of any great community in history. Into that world came a group of men from northern countries that had benefited from a modicum of invention and technological progress and these men used their advantage to dominate, enslave, colonize and claim as their own over four centuries the lands of Africa. Those brutes had been able to convert a Chinese invention of pleasure into a weapon of terror. These men used their metallurgical skills, the Chinese powder and scant ethical arguments to impose their wills on the Africans living along the coast of the continent. In the process, as is the saying, the rest is history. africapartition-1885-1914The rest of the Third Floor below Ground is Hell for those wonderful Africans. The possibility of a true Wakanda was dashed by those foreign interlopers. As one ascends the ramp upward, she moves chronologically through the African who was ripped from his homeland’s experience, as well as those who were her descendants through the five centuries of this diaspora. It is not a nice story for the most part until recently. Yet, there were some fabulous individuals, some stunning stories of heroism and accomplishment in the face of overwhelming adversity.

The museum is so wonderful as to offer its facts clearly, chronologically and as completely as possible in the space provided. The planners of the museum have offered its visitors plenty of space, ample time, and, for the most part, clearly organized and well-represented examples of the particular history of how those who actually did make America great arrived here and how those whom I feel are the ignoramuses, and maybe not really American in ideals, have treated the presence of those Americans who came here against their will. If you make the prerequisite and attentive preamble through the exhibits, one cannot escape the varied, erratic nature of how this history unfolded. What is dominant in the understanding of what you should take away from this museum is, that until very recently, in the five hundred year history of transhumance involving the movement of persons from the eastern side of the Atlantic to the lands and islands of the Western Hemisphere, no one of African descent wanted to make that journey.

Still, when many of those early Africans arrived, there were myriad opportunities for them to live very different lives. There were so many skills available among them, such expertise that proved essential to the regions in which they lived, that their presence provided impetus for great changes to be made to the lands they inhabited. A very few were resourceful and escaped their slavery (for that is why they were brought here in all circumstances) and founded communities that offered some independence. Though never was there an opportunity for prolonged periods of isolation from ‘others’ in the area and these individuals were eventually subsumed into the history that would inextricably follow for them and their descendants. This history would not be a pretty one and it was not their fault for this to be so.

As an historian, what impressed me most about the museum was the quality of the below ground exhibits and their wealth of regional and chronological information that surprised and enlightened my love of history. The major understanding I took away from our six hour visit to the museum was that “who was a slave”, who was “white or black” and how Americans and who was an American changed over time. And, it was very much related to where you were on the continent that generated the discussion and description of such claims. Since I have primarily Appalachian roots, with some descendants coming from the eastern coastal regions of Virginia and earlier roots from England and the Isle of Man, I have a very specific regional history to my own claim for being American. In my own life I was born in California, which added a new wrinkle to who I would become I as an American. Then, travel outside of America and a lifetime of learning have led me to questioning what an American is…..and if I am one. My passport says I am…but one can get a new passport.

What I took away from the museum, based on the tenor of today’s society, where racism is rising, where some Americans claim dominion based on their own perceived superiority or precedence, or where exclusivity is proclaimed and expulsion or barring admittance of those not on the inside is more acceptable, is that I am often troubled more often about the history of America than I am happy to be part of it. In looking at the regions that accepted, promoted and defended slavery, those areas cause me concern. The absence of contrition by many of those area’s inhabitants, even up until today, (as of this writing, there have been nooses left in the Segregation part of the museum by “Americans”) is evidenced by comments and the voting pattern emanating from the polling places representing their democratic choice for governance. The history of each of these troubled reasons does not give me hope for the near future, either, as their acceptance of a ideological stance that is not supported by science, by humanism, by justice for all, or by any norm accepted in the progressive understanding of what most religions consider the duty of their adherents, leads me to wonder if these areas really are America. Yet, they are inside of the boundaries of the country and the democratic process could decide that they are the majority. If that were to happen, I guess I am not an American.

In looking at the map of which states elected the Republican Lincoln as president, a very problematic race in which four major parties competed for the most votes for their candidate, election1860mapI agreed then and find an affinity today for the ongoing decisions made in most of those states now. While I understand the motivations for ideologically conservative fiscal concerns in society that drive voter patterns in these areas in today’s elections, and that many of the states who voted against Lincoln obviously were against central, federal control, for me more significantly their racist, pro-slavery stance was probably their greatest motivation in most voters’ minds. That still concerns me today as it seems the racist views, populist sentiments and white supremacist views espoused by many in the GOP today are still prevalent. Are they espousing American values. They seem to think they are by their red hats. Has history evolved now to the point where this perspective must be denied, legally, literally and physically? If so, I could still accept the moniker of claiming American citizenship. If not…….

What I took away from the museum was the narrative on race that was at best problematic, but at times offered an enlightened perspective and a more progressive solution to the issue of race. I was heartened to learn of the long line of white Charles_T._Webber_-_The_Underground_Railroad_-_Google_Art_Projectabolitionists who worked tirelessly to address the wrongs against people of color in this country. The examples where individuals, groups, associations, cities, states, territories and sometimes kingdoms promoted policies that favored individual freedoms regardless of the color of one’s skin were there, even if these examples were quashed eventually, though never with finality. If you look at the Spanish policy in Florida, mainly as a snub to the English, of granting freedom and legal status to blacks in the Florida territory controlled by Spain, then this was one of the most positive events in our history for the black inhabitants. Some escapees managed freedom in isolation for a period of time and the regional powers allowed this for a time. There were neighboring countries like Mexico and Canada that always offered a better life to escaped blacks, both of which continued to be beacons of hope for blacks seeking freedom for hundreds of years. Towns, like Fort Mose, Rosewood, Seneca Village, Five Points Manhattan, Weeksville, Greenwood, Freedman’s Village, Allensworth, Davis Bend, Muchakinock and black towns in the Cowboy-in-Newton-KansasOld West territories like Newton all found some period of time when blacks took care of themselves, developed their political will and economies, and had a limited about of control over their destinies. Yet, these communities were very much anomalies in our history and did not thrive, let alone survive.

Most of our history was built on the premise of white superiority and control of a black’s rights, intellect and contributions. Indeed, at one point white Americans were so threatened by black intellect that it became illegal for them to learn to read and write. I would claim this is never an acceptable value to promote as an American. These positions have proven to be a poorly defensed thesis and are now under attack by all that is logical, scientific and fair. Yet, for selfish, deceptive and wholly dishonest reasons, many white citizens perpetuated (and still do so) their myths, broke any opposition and controlled the discourse, political power and societal structure that gave them the upper hand. It is nice to see that power diminish as one worked his way up the ramps to the light coming through the exterior mesh covering of the museum, where more fairness appeared in the exhibits, where America could see the benefits of unleashing the black potential. There were whites who were always part of the attempt to have fairness gain traction, but it was predominantly the blacks themselves promoting fairness as the root reason for the discussion. Black leaders were too often the sole voices speaking about changing the American paradigm regarding race.

The above ground three floors celebrate the accomplishments and contributions black society has given the American society. In those halls and exhibits, it is so, so clear that an American’s experience is inextricably intertwined with so many ‘others’ that no one person (save perhaps our original inhabitants, native Americans) can claim a distinction of being the ‘real’ American. We allow Jus soli and Jus sanguinis, and myriad paths to naturalization in America. That has always been to our benefit as a nation. If you look at the black contributions to science, industry, culinary, sports, film, music, art, dance, philosophy, literature, politics, education, the military, justice and legal system and many other facets of culture, America’s fiber and every thread of its history is influenced by black contributions. By the time you get to the top floor, you understand this is not a museum looking backwards only, but one that will continually need amending as the contributions continue. There is a section for education, exploration and digitization to accommodate much of this process.

If the pendulum does not swing further towards rewarding the leveling of the playing field- if it is not apparent that the system is clearly supporting the rule of law and universal application of expectations for the law to treat all citizens with deference and to support their individual civil rights, no matter their gender, race, ethnic background, religion, sexual persuasion of economic status, then that is not the America I have defined in all of my lessons in my forty year teaching career and have championed with every posting, discussion, deliberation and proclamation. Then, I would clearly have to say that, no, I am not an American, regardless of this country’s adherence to Jus soli.900

Obama at the reception at the museum






David Brooks! : David Brooks?

As you know, my blog topics love exploring issues. Can David Brooks, the NYTimes journalist who leans to the right, be an issue? I believe he must spend much of his day thinking if he is really a Republican. There are often times of late when listening to him, either on the PBS Friday segment, or reading his columns about his disdain for the president, the present cabinet, and often the members of his own party, that he is clearly not a Republican. I have wondered, too, why he didn’t take the moral way out, like George Will, and forsake the party completely. His recent column highlighted this query and quandary.

In this piece, Brooks spoke to morality, both personally and for a political party. But, two excerpts bear baring:

First: “And the Democrats are just as capable of tribalism as the Republicans, just as capable of dividing the world in self-righteous Manichaean binaries: us enlightened few against those racist many; us modern citizens against those backward gun-toting troglodytes.”

Second “Moral character is always the same essential things. Putting a higher love, like nation, over a lower love, like party. Going against yourself — feeling that urge to lash out with the low angry insult, and instead rising upward with the loving and understanding response.”

When George Will untethered himself from the party, he was taking the moral high ground. He didn’t say he had changed his mind about the Republican issues, he simply felt that the party’s leaders had left these issues in the cold and that he could no longer support them or the party. The issues, my favorite, are always what should be front and center.

If you lay out an argument, give a premise, support why you think the public should understand it from a particular perspective, then hopefully your audience will consider which of the factors comprising the issue is most important to her-and possibly agree with your rendering of the argument if it is done well. The factors to include within your argument are the impact and importance of the economic, environmental, ethical, personal, societal, religious, medical, security-based, cultural, regional or gender factors possibly within any issue. Think of the bridge collapse in Florida and see which of the above factors rises to the top with you. Government regulation will probably rise up in your mind in this issue- but even this thinking pushes one in the US to thinking about local, state of federal regulation. The Florida school shooting is another issue of late: the young adults (if I choose the word adolescent here, it gives a different slant to the issue) and their movement is looking at shootings in schools. But, what factors should they emphasize? It seems cutting off the influence of the NRA in politics is the simple response. It may work, vote anyone who accepts money from the NRA out of office. Or another, we are now considering a replacement for the CIA head who has overseen torture and destruction of evidence. Was she evil or a good soldier. Hmmm.

Now, back to Republicans and Democrats. What is the Brooks approach to issues that confront him? In this article, he talks about the basics of ethics as his most important factor. We’ll get back to that after this paragraph. But, note that other pundits are parsing the election results based on other factors and these have real consequences in politics. David Leonard looks at the issue of abortion, a great one to expose the importance of which factor within an issue is most important to you. Please read this column to see how quickly these factors pull on reasonable thinking for any one of us. Or, the National Review column on the same issue. Lamb picked his own factors on which to concentrate in his very regional approach to the issues. He chose opiates, universal health, local economic factors of importance and a tax reform that means more to the lower and middle class citizens. Did those who voted for him choose these, or did they react to the Republican candidate’s obvious weaknesses or their rejection of the Drump’s support for him? The Democratic Party will certainly try to figure out which factors are most important going forward to the November election.

To look at the Brooks column and the two excerpts, we can see how a reasoned approach to those comments gets us further down this small, specific path, leading us only to a small, specific place. Do we want to go there in the first place? The first one: claims of tribalism or Democratic Manichaeans I take issue with, as do I with Brooks equating that to being enlightened or modern. This was far too simplistic on his part, and in my opinion just plain wrong. As an historian, I will pit my evidence of Republican Manichaeanism against any Democratic administration. Democrats are far more pragmatic in their approaches and the Republicans too often don’t choose evil as their mantel, but only use evil as a red herring to push an economic agenda for the military/industrial complex Eisenhower warned against. Also, take a look at a Republican rally picture and compare it to a Democratic one. There is much more inclusivity of all kinds in the latter photograph….always, not tribalism. Enlightenment is a troubled path, as an philosophical idea it continues to accept more relativism and inclusion and should not be ideological. Modern? What is that? Post-Modern? What is that? A Democrat can be just as protective of the past as anything else she holds in her political quiver. Issues must consider everything. Clinton got in trouble for using the generalizing term deplorables. Why would Brooks do the same with troglodytes? Are these people really deliberate in their ignorance, or rather deliberate in their beliefs. I appeal to education and that there is hope in fixing stupid. We’ll see. Fight or flight…stay tuned. March 24th is a welcomed antidote to stupid for Mary and me.

Second example: Moral character; this involves ethics. Ethical considerations are only a part of the factors in any issue. He is arguing here that they have not risen to the highest level of consideration in the political arena. That is not the true definition of political activity, though. Pragmatic considerations, compromise and dealing with the process are all part of politics. Unless you are cynical and Machiavellian, political processes throughout the democratic world are very different and therefore exhibit different expectations and efficiencies. It is worth considering now if our own US political system is inefficient, or perhaps broken. If so, how do we fix it. The Republican Party will have to fix itself, which may mean breaking in two, or three. The Democratic Party is also in a quandary. The public will need to get educated to see which emerging party it supports in a majority. Education, knowledge of history, exposing all the factors in an issue are critical. Just don’t watch FOX as your primary source, but only to get a slant, is my recommendation. Listen to someone like Christiane Amanpour, or Judy Woodruff, or Fareed Zaharia to get a reasoned discussion and to expose the various factors of the issue discussed. I used to champion Charlie Rose, though one factor in being human brought him down in spite of the many positive factors that made up his character. The world is complicated. David Brooks, perhaps, should follow his advice and become that Democrat he probably already is.