Americana/History

There are a few quaint traditions that have faded from the culture but not from my memory. People wore poppies on Veterans Day. Everyone wore a carnation on Mothers Day, red if she was alive and white if not. Americans stood for the playing of the National Anthem, hands held over hearts. Sure, some still observe these traditions. Others do not. Many do not even know that they were common practices once upon a time.
I saw the disparity of memory and knowledge as I sat outside a neighborhood grocery store this weekend passing out Buddy Poppies for the Veterans of Foreign Wars and taking donations from those who cared. A few paused to talk. One offered to fetch me a cup of coffee for it was chilly this November 11th in Southern California. I could not help but wonder how many or how few understood the significance of the little red artificial flowers that I offered.

 
 

America

Many people in the United States are unhappy with its national anthem. Some complain that it's too war-like and mean. Others find it hard to sing. However, I believe that it has a redeeming value in the question that it asks: “Does that star-spangled banner yet wave?” I ask myself the same thing almost every morning now almost two hundred years after Francis Scott Key penned that question.
Key was a captive of the British while their fleet bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore harbor all day and night, until 3 am on the morning of September 14th. He wondered why the shelling had stopped. Had the fort fallen? That would seem the most likely outcome. The British had besieged the defenders since September 12th during which time not a shot had reached the British ships from the fort's guns. Thus, Key stood (popular myth has him standing atop the bulwarks, clinging to the ship's standing rigging to steady himself) as he strained to see which flag flew above the walls: The American stars and stripes or the British Union Jack. Alas, not a breath of air stirred and the flag hung limply from its standard, its nationality indistinguishable.

Why didn't Key ask one of his captors? Most likely, they couldn't have answered him. They were awaiting word from Robert Ross, the British general who led the troops that had disembarked at Sparrows Point, at the confluence of the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay, and were supposed to capture Baltimore. Ross's force had already captured and burned Washington. Surely they could brush aside the Maryland militia and recreate their victory in Baltimore. When Ross's courier arrived, they were stunned to learn that he was dead and that his forces had been defeated by Sam Smith.

 
 

America

A controversial television commercial put me in mind of an experience I once had at a engine parts shop in Newport Beach, California. A French yachtsman on an around-the-world cruise happened to be there shopping for a part when I arrived. This commercial reminded me of his complaints about Americans and all of the holidays they took off from work. Really? Aren't Americans the ones who work themselves to death pursuing the American Dream?
 
 

America

It's taken me a long time to get comfortable with the idea of term limits. How about you? For me, they seemed to be an admission that we couldn't be trusted with the vote, that we would simply cast our ballot mindlessly for the same person year after year. Or maybe there's some other reason for imposing term limits that has nothing to do with us. Maybe it's time to rethink it...
 
 

America

In his new filmAmerica, Dinesh D'Souza examines our love of country. He quotes Edmund Burke who famously said, “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.” D'Souza then purports to apply this test to America.
D'Souza has his point of view. Now, let me tell you another story...

I am the grandson of immigrants. Both of my parents were born in America of parents who emigrated here in hopes of building better lives. My mother's came from France and England. My father's came from an obscure village in the Carpathian Mountains, in a region then ruled by the Arch Duke Ferdinand of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, today known as Slovakia. They were Slovaks. All became coal miners in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

I know little of my mother's heritage. She was disowned by her family for marrying beneath her station even though they too were coal miners. Thus, I can only report on my father's history.

My father's family was dirt poor. They had no closets, cabinets, or cupboards in the home where he grew up. There was nothing to store in them. Indeed, the house itself was merely rented to them by the mine owner in exchange for their labor. A nail on the wall was sufficient to hang their clothes when they went to bed.

Father was afforded just a few years of elementary education before he was required to go to work in the mines as a breaker boy toiling over a rapidly moving belt where he helped separate the slag from the coal. In time, he became a mule skinner, leading the animals that pulled coal carts from the bowels of the earth. It seems a life with little hope of escape. Although it seems a bleak existence, the miners struggled to survive.

For example, my father told me how wives would pack extra bread in the miners' lunch pails. The miners would break off a small piece and place it nearby. If the bread didn't disappear, it was time to escape the tunnel because it was assumed that the rats, the ones that regularly stole the bread, had abandoned the hole and the miners should follow. Interestingly, to this day, I am compelled to follow every story of trapped miners. I feel a bond though I escaped their fate.

Ultimately, my father escaped the mines by becoming a prize fighter, a barroom bouncer, a cab driver, and then a mechanic. He moved south to Baltimore and found employment as a maintenance machinist at the Lever Brothers plant. In time, he obtained his high school diploma, a college degree, and then graduated from law school. With his education completed, his fortunes rose until he could build a custom home on Chestnut Ridge north of Baltimore, overlooking the Worthington Valley where moguls bred some of the world's finest racing thoroughbreds. The distance between this poor son of coal miners and the wealthy grew very small indeed.

That is the America I grew up in. That is the America I love. How could I not? Unfortunately, the progressives launched a war on poverty and poverty won. As recent surveys prove, upward mobility such as experienced by my father, is becoming an ever distant dream. The great irony is that the disparity between rich and poor that progressives decry, is becoming greater ever since progressivism hamstrung the system that afforded my father and other Americans upward mobility.
Portrait of Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke [b. 1729 - d. 1797] Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher
The more we read Edmund Burke's thoughts, the better we see our present plight...

  • Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little
  • The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion
  • When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle – Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents
  • Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, can never willingly abandon it.
  • Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.
  • The true danger is when liberty is nibbled away, for expedience, and by parts.
  • All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.
...Does any of this sound familiar?
 
 

America

We used to get upset with government when pot holes weren't repaired. Guest blogger Bill Husztek sees little things like that as trivialized by government's failures these days.
 On March 30, 1981 President Reagan was shot down by John Hinkley, a lust driven nutcase. At that time newspapers noted that the Secret Service and Metropolitan police couldn’t communicate with one another because their radio systems were not compatible. The Congress decided to act on it and sent out federal monies to correct the problem. Since I lived in Hawaii, it made no difference to my safety.

Let’s assume for a moment that I believed that Government, bigger and better has all the answers to my fears and the troubles of our society. Let us further assume that on September 11, 2001, this Nation had an epiphany. We realized that we were in a crisis which only Government could deliver us from.

That date then became our new starting point for a safer society. I could relax. The Government would handle keeping me safe and secure.

From the unique perspective of one of 100 million citizens who, has been through this all before, I would point out to my Liberal, or Progressive friends a simple fact of reality.  Make no mistake in this. My personal safety is paramount. Whatever Government wants to do is okay by me as long as I am safe to live my life left alone!

If something is broken and, Government as my Liberal friends assure me is the way to fix all problems, then I say to them. Fix it, leave me alone to live my life in peace. But keep me safe! Then I will abandon my Conservative skepticism and  follow you anywhere.

In 2011 on 9-11,  the Pentagon was brought to its knees by a jetliner come missile in the hands of three terrorists. Sitting here at this desk that morning I may well have heard the plane as it flew overhead toward the Capital. It is certain, I felt the shock wave of that impact as it rattled the windows of this office.

From that 9-11 attack  there came a hew and cry about the Metropolitan Washington land of all the Populist Press asking one question.

After the event. Why didn’t the emergency services respond better?

In 2001, it was discovered that local metropolitan Washington emergency services were ham-strung by the fact that each jurisdiction had communication systems which couldn’t communicate with their neighboring jurisdictions or the Federal Agencies or the Military. The quick and simple solution was for them to come together and establish a common communications system over which they could all work and share for my safety.

My Congress and President flung billions of dollars into bringing My Safety up to a level where I could relax and go about my business without further fear.

As they worked to keep me safe, they found they had to take  my shoes off to fly on jetliners. I had to dump my toiletries in airports. They built walls and moats and hired multitudes of people all to keep me safe in my daily life. I could no longer enter any public building except my church without facing a personal search, and a metal detector.

If I set my briefcase or a lunch bag on the public sidewalk in Washington for a minute I could instantly become the center of a blitz of police action. If I were to take pictures of public buildings I became a person of suspicion if the guards didn’t like my look.

With the billions of dollars to spend on improving my safety, local jurisdictions made going to the National Mall for a 4th of July celebration an impossibility for me. No longer could I take my cooler with its assorted foods and drinks, my umbrella and blanket, to any out door venue in the area. My wife’s purse had to become a gallon or less sized transparent baggie. I was now safe from those nefarious evil-doers.

Then last week, while I was fortunately out of town, an un-armed mad woman with her 1-year old child strapped into the back seat drove wildly up and down Washington streets, crashing barriers down at the White House and then the Capital building. Nothing was impervious to her little Japanese built sedan as she wreaked mayhem on the Nation’s Capital. She was finally shot in her back and killed, as she drove away from police by a fusillade of pistol fire! Theoretically those bullets passed close to her co-conspirator 1-year old daughter in the back seat.
How asked the local Populist Press, could this have occurred? After all she was chased down Pennsylvania Avenue from White House to the Capital all the while  pursued  by a whole herd of Secret Service Government Motors black Suburbans. All with their lights and guns blazing. She evaded them. How? Asked the Press. How I wondered?

Why didn’t n the Secret Service phone ahead to the Metropolitan Police, the Park Police, the Capital Police and all the other Police who thrive in the city of Washington. Why didn’t they get on their state of the art communications, i.e. radios, and warn the others that they were in pursuit of an unarmed mad terroristic mother of a one year old?

The police chief of the D.C. cops coldly informed the Press that her officers were so used to seeing the stately massive SUV Suburban GMC vehicles traveling with their lights flashing at outrageous speeds that they believed they were engaged in business as usual.

When the perky little Populist Press reporter asked, “Why didn’t the Secret Service  use their radios to communicate the danger to the Metropolitan police forces? She was answered imperiously.

Our communications systems aren’t compatible. We can’t talk to each other. We will need more money to fix it.

So, to my Liberal friends I pose this question. Do you think that they ever will?
 
 

America

Did Harry Reid have to drive himself to the office? Did Al Qaeda receive their rockets? Were assault rifles sent to the Mexican drug cartels? Would the laws of physics prevail? Would water boil? These are a few of the things that troubled my sleep last night. Well, the government shut down and amazingly the sun still rose in the sky this morning. Looking towards the sky, I saw birds on the wing and all seemed right with the world.
Imagine my surprise when I turned on the television and it worked. Every part of the system from the broadcast studies to my receiver at home via the cable network worked. Even more amazingly, there were no reports of mass hysteria and riots. Then, after firing up my computer, I discovered that the Internet was working and I was able to post this message of joy.

Of course, as soon as I checked my email, there was a message from the White House. “The government was shut down.” I was beginning to doubt it since the world hadn't yet spun off its axis. Furthermore, the White House staff proclaimed, “It's the fault of the Republicans.” Now I knew. All was right in the world.

My wife was concerned about our Social Security checks. Those comprise a significant portion of our monthly income. Joyfully she announced that benefits would be paid despite the government shutdown. Also, the Post Office would still be in operation to deliver them. How? Aren't they operating at a loss? How can they continue without the government borrowing more money to keep their doors open and the mail trucks rolling?

So, what does it mean that the government is shut down? I guess we'll have to wait and see. It better be something really bad or people may discover that they're just as happy without it.
 
 

America

If the following sounds disrespectful I have achieved my purpose. The person currently serving as President of the United States has no claim on my respect. I am merely glad that I completed my military service long before he became the Commander-in-Chief. 
Picture
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I listened carefully to the President's speech regarding Syria and remain unconvinced that he knows what is going on or what to do about it.

Strategic bombing such as he proposes in retaliation for Syria's purported use of chemical weapons, has never worked, not once in all of history. Only Reagan's tactical strike targeting Muammar Gaddafi personally achieved its intended goal. Only if the Administration can produce compelling evidence of Assad's complicity in an actual violation of International Law would I support such a limited attack.

Moreover, the proposal to take control of Syria's remaining chemical weapons is totally impractical, thus further demonstrating the President's lack of experience and competency. Such weapons are dispersed over more than 50 military installations in Syria, most in the middle of active combat zones. How could any personnel arrive their safely with the equipment needed to secure or destroy those weapons? No, the President is merely grasping the tail end of a poor idea advanced by others to extricate himself from the diplomatic mess that he's gotten himself into.

The greatest damage of this event is that the President has surrendered world leadership to a sociopath in Moscow. What little prestige he had remaining is now lost forever. He should play golf and leave governing to the adults. 
 
 

America

I found the following cautionary tale posted on Facebook by a family member. Whether or not the events described actually happened isn't important. I'm sharing it because it's true...
I was in my neighborhood restaurant this morning and was seated behind a group of jubilant individuals celebrating the coming implementation of the health care bill. I could not finish my breakfast. This is what ensued:

They were a diverse group of several races and both sexes. I heard a young man exclaim, “Isn’t Obama like Jesus Christ? I mean, after all, he is healing the sick.” 

A young woman enthusiastically proclaimed, “Yeah, and he does it for free. I cannot believe anyone would think that a free market wouldn't work for health care.” 

Another said, "The stupid Republicans want us all to starve to death so they can inherit all of the power. Obama should be made a Saint for what he did for those of us less fortunate.” 

At this, I had more than enough. I arose from my seat, mustering all the restraint I could find, and approached their table. “Please excuse me; may I impose upon you for one moment?” 

They smiled and welcomed me to the conversation. I stood at the end of their table, smiled as best I could and began an experiment.
“I would like to give one of you my house. It will cost you no money and I will pay all of the expenses and taxes for as long as you live there. Anyone interested?” 

They looked at each other in astonishment. “Why would you do something like that?” asked a young man, “There isn’t anything for free in this world.”
They began to laugh at me, as they did not realize this man had just made my point. 

“I am serious, I will give you my house for free, no money whatsoever. Anyone interested?” 

In unison, a resounding “Yeah” fills the room.

“Since there are too many of you, I will have to make a choice as to who receives this money-free bargain.” 

I noticed an elderly couple was paying attention to the spectacle unfolding before their eyes, the old man shaking his head in apparent disgust. 

“I tell you what; I will give it to the one of you most willing to obey my rules.” 

Again, they looked at one another, an expression of bewilderment on their faces. 

The perky young woman asked, “What are the rules?” 

I smiled and said, “I don’t know. I have not yet defined them. However, it is a free home that I offer you.” 

They giggled amongst themselves, the youngest of which said, “What an old coot. He must be crazy to give away his home. Go take your meds, old man.” 

I smiled and leaned into the table a bit further. “I am serious, this is a legitimate offer.” 

They gaped at me for a moment. “I’ll take it you old fool. Where are the keys?” boasted the youngest among them. 

“Then I presume you accept ALL of my terms then?” I asked. 

The elderly couple seemed amused and entertained as they watched from the privacy of their table. “Oh yeah! Where do I sign up?” 

I took a napkin and wrote, “I give this man my home, without the burden of financial obligation, so long as he accepts and abides by the terms that I shall set forth upon consummation of this transaction.”

I signed it and handed it to the young man who eagerly scratched out his signature. 

“Where are the keys to my new house?” he asked in a mocking tone of voice. 

All eyes were upon us as I stepped back from the table, pulling the keys from pocket and dangling them before the excited new homeowner.

“Now that we have entered into this binding contract, witnessed by all of your friends, I have decided upon the conditions you are obligated to adhere to from this point forward. You may only live in the house for one hour a day. You will not use anything inside of the home. You will obey me without question or resistance. I expect complete loyalty and admiration for this gift I bestow upon you. You will accept my commands and wishes with enthusiasm, no matter the nature. Your morals and principles shall be as mine. You will vote as I do, think as I do and do it with blind faith. These are my terms. Here are your keys.” 

I reached the keys forward and the young man looked at me dumbfounded.

“Are you out of your mind? Who would ever agree to those ridiculous terms?” the young man appeared irritated. 

“You did when you signed this contract before reading it, understanding it and with the full knowledge that I would provide my conditions only after you committed to the agreement.” 

The elderly man chuckled as his wife tried to restrain him. I was looking at a now silenced and bewildered group of people. 

“You can shove that stupid deal up your a** old man. I want no part of it!” exclaimed the now infuriated young man. 

'You have committed to the contract, as witnessed by all of your friends. You cannot get out of the deal unless I agree to it. I do not intend to let you free now that I have you ensnared. I am the power you agreed to. I am the one you blindly and without thought chose to enslave yourself to. In short, I am your Master.” 

At this, the table of celebrating individuals became a unified group against the unfairness of the deal.

After a few moments of unrepeatable comments and slurs, I revealed my true intent. 

“What I did to you is what this administration and congress did to you with the health care legislation. I easily suckered you in and then revealed the real cost of the bargain. Your folly was in the belief that you can have something you did not earn, and for that which you did not earn, you willingly allowed someone else to think for you. Your failure to research, study and inform yourself permitted reason to escape you. You have entered into a trap from which you cannot flee. Your only chance of freedom is if your new Master gives it to you. A freedom that is given can also be taken away. Therefore, it is not freedom at all.” 

With that, I tore up the napkin and placed it before the astonished young man. “This is the nature of your new health care legislation.”
I turned away to leave these few in thought and contemplation -- and was surprised by applause. 

The elderly gentleman, who was clearly entertained, shook my hand enthusiastically and said, “Thank you, Sir. These kids don’t understand Liberty .” 

He refused to allow me to pay my bill as he said, “You earned this one. It is an honor to pick up the tab.” 

I shook his hand in thanks, leaving the restaurant somewhat humbled and sensing a glimmer of hope for my beloved country.
"Any man who thinks he can be happy and prosperous by letting the American Government take care of him; better take a closer look at the American Indian."
                                                                 -- Henry Ford
 
 

America

Once upon a time, we had choices worth making. Truman or Dewey. Eisenhower or Stevenson. Kennedy or Nixon. Johnson or Goldwater. The lines were distinct. The parties were well differentiated. Then something happened. The lines blurred. Both major parties abandoned their principles and values, and focused on building collations of voters, promising to champion groups with agendas so diverse that a promise to one is as good as a threat to another. As a result, many voters abstain out of dismay and those who attend the polls hold their noses as they cast their ballots.
I began to suspect that the problem begins long before election day. Someone appears to be making choices for us, deciding which choices we will have. This past Monday, I went in search of them. I attended a county-wide central party committee meeting.

I wasn't alone. There were many first-time attendees there. It seems that I'm not the only one beginning to suspect that there's a problem that needs fixing. We were welcomed with warm smiles and firm handshakes by the party stalwarts. Two party hopefuls pitched appeals for party support in next year's elections.

The first candidate was a likely young man determined to be the next secretary of state for California. Not only did he make a good appearance and speak well, but also he had a compelling story to tell. Remember the City of Bell, California? That's the one where five of six elected officials were convicted of multiple counts of misappropriating funds and paying themselves huge salaries while raising taxes on residents. The City Manager was also convicted and became the face of government run amok. Interestingly, the candidate I listened to was hired as a consultant to turn the city around, and he did. Magnificently. Bell now has an excellent credit rating and one of the most transparent budgeting processes in municipal government. This candidate focused on engaging the public in the city's decision-making process. Citizens who used to refer to their city hall as “The Kremlin” now participate regularly in self-governance. He accomplished all this during a time while other California cities are following Detroit into bankruptcy courts.

This candidate for the party's nomination went on to outline how he believes that he can use the power of the Secretary of State to repeat his performance and help the state and other counties and municipalities duplicate the success he had in the City of Bell. It sounded reasonable.

The second candidate is a member of the California legislature who has set his sights on being the next governor. He used his experience tilting at windmills in his present office to incite the assembled party faithful to his cause. Unfortunately, he mistook oratory volume for passion. He began by whipping up the crowd with complaints about the social policies of the incumbent. His message may have had its appeal to many among that audience, but I imagine that this approach will invite the opposition to incite their base by focusing on their particular social agendas while ignoring the larger issues of California's economic woes.

Now, which candidate will the party support in the primaries and which will it not? Those are the questions that will be answered long before you or I reach the polls. Personally, I don't think that I can wait that long. Do you?