August 2012

Fits and Starts

I am of two minds when it comes to America. One is detached, analytical and historical based. I see America as part of a “continuum” that stretches back 2500 years to Greece. We are part of a Western European tradition and trajectory that—through fits and starts—pushed the “individual” to assert his rights (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”), to emancipate himself from the tyranny of either church or state (nation or tyrant).

I do feel a pride in our accomplishments. From an historical perspective, however, America was created out of a cauldron mixed with racism (slavery/Jim Crow) and genocide of Native Americans. That is fact. Yet, for two hundred years we have tried—again through fits and starts—to “level” the playing field so that all Americans may freely participate in our democracy and prosper from the fruits of their own labor. This has been a wrenchingly tough slog, particularly for America’s oppressed (minorities, women and impoverished). And, much unfinished business remains.

We all must recognize that nothing lasts forever. This includes nations, governments, even people. America has had a great ride, historically speaking. We (white people) were fortunate that North America was apart from Europe. Our ancestors settled a continent with incredible natural resources of fertile land, bountiful water and phenomenal mineral/energy deposits. Our Founding Fathers embraced Enlightenment ideals of deism, science and representative governance. Understand, of course, that what they established (the United States) counted blacks as three-fifths a human being and limited participation in our democracy to white men with property. That is our history.

And—through fits and starts—all white men eventually did achieve the right to vote. And after the Civil War, emancipated male slaves, too, achieved voting rights. Of course, Jim Crow was implemented and for the next 100 years it was much more a “paper” right than a “real” right. Is it not particularly perverse that our white ancestors gave the right to vote to emancipated male slaves decades before they considered women (their wives and daughters) worthy of that right?

We’ve arrived in 2012 a deeply divided, polarized nation. We have a long history of an evolving (expanding) democracy. Yet, arguably, we are not evolving as a nation, as a people. Many Americans are reactionary when it comes to religion, race, sexual orientation, nationalism/imperialism, progressive governance and the environment/climate. Some resistance to change is understandable. All of us, to varying degrees, want certainty in our lives. Yet, historically—through fits and starts—what was once thought unfathomable or unrealistic (women voting, eight-hour work day, environmental protections, Medicare, etc.) became reality because someone tilting at a windmill of injustice became many pursuing just that — a better, more just America.

Fits and starts. The Republicans are convening (in an angry fit) in Tampa and what we are viewing is a reactionary, last-gasp carnival of essentially older, whiter Americans who remember an America that never was and long for a future that will never be. They bark and bray about an America that has lost its way.

But it is “these” Republicans who are the wrong side of history. While I may dispassionately assess the state of America today (too reactionary, frightened and insecure), I do not despair. The Republican vision will not prevail long term.

The Republican Convention is just one of the many historical “fits” that has preceded yet another human start (step) forward.

You may weep while watching but do not lose hope. Buck-up Kiddos.

What’s Wrong With Republican Men?

What is it about “modern” women that Republican men just cannot seem to stomach? Is it that women have minds of their own? Is that it? Or, is it that they have bodies Republican men want to manage? What a shame, huh, that “those” bodies come with minds unfortunately attached, well, at least in Republican circles.

Republican autocrats, ur, excuse me, Republican politicians nationwide feel they are on a quest to save women from themselves. How so, you might legitimately ask? Women have bodies, their own for example, that they simply cannot mange without the “authority” of the state. Ironically, tragically, that is the Republican position.

The typical American woman is incapable of managing her own body. Because of this obvious “biological” fact, Republican public policy argues that the state (government) is morally obligated to supervise “her” fertility, “her” sexuality, “her,” in other words.

Big Brother may be dead in the old Soviet Union but is alive and well in the American gulag (gutter) of Republican politics.

I return to my opening question, what is it about women that Republican men simply cannot tolerate? Is it that women are, in fact, too stupid to manage their own lives, their own bodies? Is that it? Women are simply too stupid. Or, is it that women are obviously too emotional to handle that task? You know, women are so awash in “monthly” hormones, well, their judgment, empirically impaired. Or, does Republican misogyny stem from Biblical pronouncements such as Genesis 3:16-19, “Your husband shall rule over you.” Husband, state, what’s the difference? Get a bridle on that gal.

Republican men nationwide, it would appear, are on a mission from God to save women from themselves. Interesting, however, America is not a theocracy.

What is it about female sexuality that so absorbs Republican men? Why would any reasonable, sane man have the temerity to think that he can legislate what a woman does with her body? Birth control? Abortion? Family planning? If and when to have a child? If and when to have a “fourth” child? These are so inherently personal, individual matters that it boggles the mind as to why Republican men are so intent on introducing the state into such private business.

Perhaps, as has been observed, all American women should incorporate their uteruses, then maybe Republican legislators would keep their hands (laws) off them. Are you laughing yet?

No. Because you have a Missouri Republican U.S. senate candidate (Todd Akin) arguing last week that, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.” This Republican despot, ur, excuse me, honorable six-term member of congress was explaining why he opposed abortion rights even in a case involving your raped daughter and if, gosh, she unfortunately found herself pregnant.

Golleee, Gomer, I wonder what an illegitimate rape feels like?

I do not have a complete answer (Do you?) as to why Republican men do not sufficiently respect women to allow them the management of their own bodies. I do know that for the past thousands of years men have treated women like chattel, property to be managed and disposed of at will. It has only been in the last 200 years that there has been any movement for female equality.

Perhaps Republican men today are the last gasp of a dying, reactionary order. For our daughters, we can only hope.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

Sometime during the spring of 1966 my family and my father’s best friend’s family were on a picnic in Stone Park, just outside my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. The war in Vietnam was raging and the topic was always on people’s minds. The two fathers got into it over whether or not they would recommend that their sons volunteer to fight in that war.

My father’s position was that under no circumstances would he recommend that I, or my brother, “serve” in Vietnam. He reasoned that Vietnam was an unjustifiable war that America had no business waging and that his sons would be fools to enlist.

My father’s friend offered the “My country right or wrong” cliché, popular at the time and that his four boys should serve. They went at it, hot and heavy, the remainder of the picnic. Their friendship was never quite the same after this heated exchange. It, too, became a casualty of Vietnam.

I was recently listening to a TV interview with a woman who was discussing the economy and the “quality” of her life, all the while straightening up her garage with her young daughter. Abruptly the conversation shifted to her son enlisting in the Army. Eyes welling, her voice cracked as she said she was unsuccessful in dissuading her son from enlisting, that she had had a prolonged year-long conversation with him during his last year in high school. He would enlist against her misgivings.

What should a parent, in this case a mother, do to protect her child? I am immensely grateful for the sanity of my father regarding Vietnam. There was no family expectation that I go to Vietnam, actually just the opposite, that I lucidly avoid the potential death, disfigurement and violence of that ill-conceived tragedy. Survive. Thrive.

Here are the latest figures regarding military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a recent AP report, 45% of the 1.6 million veterans of those wars are filing for disability benefits for injuries that are service related. That is nearly one out every two returning war veterans are requesting injury compensation.

As a mother, what do you say to a child for them to grasp the idea that warfare is not a lark, that “To be all that you can be” means that, today, there is nearly a 50% chance that you will, my son, come back “less” than what you were. Physically, mentally or emotionally.

At this point, the conversation quite reasonably shifts to the legitimacy of the state’s argument for war (and any claims for our children to fight them). Arguably, America had one justifiable war the entire 20th century, that being WWII. We wrongly, immorally invaded Iraq and why occupy Afghanistan when it was Osama Bin Laden needing taken out?

Democrats and Republicans alike are militaristic fools and jingoistic blowhards. Our military is tragically and repeatedly used for fool’s errands and rather than strengthening—making the nation more secure—we are more fearful, more of a garrison state than we’ve been since the American Civil War.

The trajectory of the West (since Ancient Greece) has been a focus on the individual and his/her ability to reason. The state tells you it needs your child as cannon fodder. Think. What do you logically, reasonably conclude regarding that request? Act.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

An Appeal To The Maitland City Council

If you have only two pennies, spend the first on bread and the other on hyacinths for your soul. – Proverb

In 2000 while serving as an elected councilman for the city of Oviedo I convinced my fellow councilmen to put on the ballot a $10 million initiative to construct “my” vision for a combination “Crealdé” style arts center and performing arts theater.

I had identified a 40-acre parcel, of which 10 acres were buildable for a theater and arts facilities. I anticipated multiple classrooms for art, galleries and a 400-500 seat theater that 18 wheelers could back into and unload productions. I envisioned an Oviedo (Eastern Seminole County) theater troupe. I also planned to have a full “institutional” quality kitchen adjoining a large meeting room (adjoining galleries) to host banquets and community groups. All this surrounded by gardens and walkways through the remaining 30 acres of tree-covered lowlands, with outdoor art liberally interspersed.

I announced to the Orlando Sentinel that if the voters didn’t want an Oviedo Arts Center that they should not re-elect me. The center was approved by approximately 35% of those voting. It and I lost. My loss of public office was inconsequential. I am not at all disposed to the process of “running” for office. While serving, however, I had accomplished my immediate goal of dealing with “roads” in Oviedo.

I deeply regret not convincing another 16% of the electorate that such a center would be a community asset of inestimable long-term value. That it would, among other things, distinguish Oviedo as a unique and leading community within the Orlando Metro Area.
Mine is no cautionary tale. I failed because I did not convincingly convey a clear vision of how art (its creation, display and accessibility) makes for a richer (in every sense of the word) community. You must invest to profit.

The arts are the best insurance policy a city can take on itself. –Woody Dumas, former Mayor of Baton Rouge

The City of Maitland is at a crossroads. You have what many cities across America could only wish for. An established art treasure in the form of the Maitland Art Center. It has a long, illustrious history. A history of national repute. The Center requires “significant” municipal financial support to fix long overdue structural issues. It needs an unqualified Council endorsement and assurances that, going forward, the City of Maitland will commit the financial resources to ensure that this community treasure flourishes.

In the third year of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln ordered work to go ahead on the completion of the dome of the Capitol. When critics protested the diversion of labor and money from the prosecution of the war, Lincoln said, ‘If people see the capitol going on, it is a sign that we intend this Union shall go on.’ Franklin Roosevelt recalled this story in 1941 when, with the world in the blaze of war, he dedicated the National Gallery in Washington. And John Kennedy recalled both these stories when he asked for public support for the arts in 1962. Lincoln and Roosevelt, Kennedy said, ‘understood that the life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of the nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose- and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization. –Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

The Maitland City Council is being tested. Demonstrate leadership/vision. Invest and your community profits.