Tag Archives: americana

565. Great (?) Men

This post was begun December 5, 2018, before the shutdown, right after watching President Bush’s funeral. Most of the posts from that time until now were already written to make time for some non-writing activities, so I watched the Federal shut-down from the sidelines. I will summarize my take in one sentence.

Another damn-fool stunt by the Damn-Fool-in-Chief.

Now back to December fifth.

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As I watched President Bush’s funeral this morning, I was once again struck by an understanding of how Trump became president. I am not going to offer similarities between the two men; I would be hard pressed to find any. I will suggest instead that the nation’s response to Bush One’s death tells us uncomfortable things about hero worship, individual liberty and responsibility, and America’s closet love affair with The Great Man.

America threw off a king in 1776, and has been in the habit of electing would-be kings to the presidency ever since.  They even asked George Washington to become king. He refused. If there has been a president since who didn’t want the powers of a king, I apologize for lumping him in with the rest. I don’t think I will have to apologize to many. Maybe none.

I get that. I also get that without a combination of arrogance and obstinance, and a massive need for power, no candidate would ever get through a campaign. Obama strikes me as a nice guy, someone I would like to know personally, but he had the need. Bush II was touted as the candidate you would most like to have a beer with — and I would, even though I never considered him competent. Vote for Bush II, hell no; share a laugh with him, of course. Bush II had the need. Bush I had the need. They all had the need for power.

You can be pretty sure that any humility shown by any president is feigned. Was Lincoln humble? He appeared humble, but I seriously doubt that he was. Overwhelmed and saddened by what fate had saddled him with, certainly, but a truly humble man would have withdrawn in favor of someone more qualified.

But Presidents don’t believe anyone else could be more qualified; if they did, they would never make it to the White House.

I understand the motivation of Great (?) Men; I don’t really understand why Americans, who otherwise cling to their liberties, continue electing them. Perhaps they are convinced that the alternative to the Great (?) Man is the wimp. Or maybe it’s just the John Wayne syndrome gone wrong.

Here’s what happens. There is trouble in the town. Every man knows what needs to be done. But only one man has the fastest gun and the toughest fists. So (the Lone Ranger) (John Wayne) (Chuck Norris) (millennials, fill in your own selection, I’m out of touch with current heroes) takes care of business because he is The Great Man.

That’s adequate for TV, but not for governing America. Presidential power has been growing at Congressional expense for several decades. Why? Maybe at the core it is because the President is one man and Congress is many. Is it just part of the American myth that the individual stands up to the mob?

Maybe.

I get it — but I don’t buy it.

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560. We All Learn

Race has a persistent and powerful influence on America for something that really doesn’t exist.

Take the whitest non-albino in America and stand him on the western border of Kansas. Take the blackest black in America and stand him on the eastern border of Kansas. Now line up all the rest of us in a single line, whitest to blackest, in between those two. There would be no break in the continuum.

That should be no surprise to anyone. We have had black slaves (and their descendants) and white immigrants in America rubbing up against one another for four hundred years.

For four hundred years, white DNA patterns have been entering black America through force and black DNA patterns have been entering white America by passing. Lately, that DNA has been going both directions for kinder, gentler reasons.

It’s all been a giant blender — powered at first by hatred and eventually by love —- mixing up the vanilla with the chocolate. There is no use pretending that we are two races any more.

Right!

Try telling that to a white guy. Or try telling it to a black guy.

Clearly, there’s more to the story.

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When I was growing up in rural Oklahoma in the fifties, the idea of two separate races seemed real and normal, but theoretical.

In my small town and the countryside around there were no black folks. Also no Jews. Nor Mexicans. No Italians either, come to think of it. There was one Catholic family who lived there briefly, but they didn’t last.

It was white, white, white, and Protestant, for as far as the eye could see, with one exception, —— Eddie. I’ll leave it to you to guess what word went into the blank; hint, it began with “N”.

The gentleman didn’t live in my community, but we saw him driving by in his pickup from time to time. He lived somewhere north; I never knew where. I never met him. I only knew him as a blurred, black face in a passing vehicle.

All the adults knew him and spoke well of him. He minded his own business; he took care of his family; he was a good farmer (wherever his farm was); he was quiet and he went his own way.

Now, if I weren’t talking about race, that would sound like a description of The Quiet Man. The archetype. The lone cowboy who rides into town, minds his own business and bothers no one. But don’t cross him because he takes no guff from anybody.

Nope, that’s not it at all. Not even close. But take away the last sentence — the one about “don’t cross him” — and change it to “gives no offense to anyone but quietly backs away”. Now you are closer to the truth. You have just defined the difference between The Quiet Man and Uncle Tom.

The Quiet Man knows his worth; Uncle Tom knows his place. Even growing up in whiteland, with no blacks around, I knew the difference.

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In my childhood, the only black folks I saw other than a blur on the highway, were on television. They were marching in Selma and across the South. And yes, now we are getting to why this post is coming on Martin Luther King Day.

My father called them troublemakers. He liked the phrase “outside agitators”, as well. I disagreed. I looked at the black people being washed down southern streets by fire hoses and said, “They’re right. We’re wrong.”

I didn’t say it out loud. I didn’t say much of anything out loud in those days except, “Yes, sir.” But a few years later when I escaped to college, I had decided for myself that black folks were as good as I was.

Now that may seem a rather obvious decision to you, but a lot of people from my generation and the one that followed never got the message. You see a lot of them now at rallies for a certain orange faced politician.

Martin Luther King and the tens of thousands he represented showed me an alternative to my father’s thinking. I thank them for giving me another option.

555. Calf Quilt

So what, you may ask, is a quilt doing in a writing post?

No writer just writes. My wife and I both discovered quilting in the mid-eighties. For me, it was an art form in which I could satisfy myself. My painting always lacked something, to my eye, but quilts are colorful geometric things with utility. I could make a quilt and not feel artistically inadequate.

For about a decade we have been deeply involved in putting together a quilt show for my wife’s guild every other year. In 2017 I took some time off from this blog, and I may have to do so again this year.

All this is simply to point out that if posts get scarce this month, nothing is wrong. I am just busy with a different piece of my life.

552. Links to Christmas

Tomorrow is the big day, when nobody should be on the internet, so I’ll have my say today. This is the fourth Christmas season since I began this website, and every year I say the same thing. I love Christmas.

I stand with Dickens, who called Christmas “a good time; a kind and forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.”

Over the years, I have posted many Christmas or Midwinter posts. If you are new to this site, here’s your chance to check some of them out.

My first year I posted a list of Christmas books, covering pretty much every aspect of the holiday. That same year, I talked about Dickens’s five Christmas novellas. Everybody knows A Christmas Carol; here is your chance to check out the rest.

When the ghost of Christmas Past appeared, Scrooge asked, “Long past?” and was told that she meant his past. My own early Christmases on the farm wouldn’t make a Christmas card, but I told about them in Twas the Season, posts 1 and also 2. I also talked about the Nostalgia for those days that never were .

Everyone talks about Mary and Jesus, but what about Jesus and Joseph?

Christmas itself has a history beyond the biblical story. It has always fascinated me, and I summarized what I have learned in three posts from 2016, Old European Christmas, Colonial Christmas, and Here Comes Santa Claus.

In 2016 and 2017, Christmas was overshadowed for my Latin friends by a grinch with an orange face and wild yellow hair. I wrote about Christmas for Lupe two years ago and about Jose, Maria, y Jesus in Trumpland last year. I didn’t have the heart to tackle the current occupant one more time this year. Maybe by next year I won’t need to.

Anyway, whether you check out any of these links or not, Merry Christmas.

549. The Saturn Rockets

Saturn V

This post is called The Saturn Rockets, plural, because there were two if you speak loosely, or three if you are picky. If we were looking at all of the rockets of the Apollo program, we would have to add Little Joe. Getting men to the moon was a complex operation.

The pre-Apollo manned missions used modified military missiles as launch vehicles. Atlas was designated for Mercury, but delays in achieving reliability caused the first two Mercury flights to be sub-orbital on Redstone missiles. Gemini used Titan II missiles throughout the program.

The Saturn rockets are often said to be designed from the start as space launch vehicles, not military missiles. That is a somewhat limited view. The program that eventually produced the Saturns began in 1956 and ran through an amazing number of paper iterations before anything ever left the ground. “Saturn” development was simultaneous with the developments of Atlas, Titan, and other military missiles, and kept changing as those other missiles refined rocket technology.

The same infighting family of scientists and engineers developed Saturn and all American military missiles, the same set of companies built them, and the same government paid for it all. Saturn was developed through NASA and was never planned to carry warheads, but the entire American manned space program was a child of the cold war. The civilian vs. military distinction is a bit of sleight of hand.

By 1959, the possible types of Saturn rockets had been reduced to eight configurations. Eventually three were built.

Saturn I was designed to put spacecraft into low Earth orbit. Saturn V was designed to put men on the moon, and later tasked with launching Skylab. See 297. Skylab 1 and 298. Skylab 2.

Remember Little Joe? That was an existing rocket that was used early to test out the Apollo capsule’s abort mechanism.

Ten Saturn I rockets flew;. Five were in Saturn development flights. Five others carried early, unmanned versions of Apollo spacecraft, as well as Pegasus micrometeorite satellites.

The Saturn I was replaced by the more powerful Saturn IB (shown at left) in 1966. Saturn IB became a workhorse for heavy, low Earth orbit launches.

The first Saturn IB topped by an unmanned CSM was launched in a mission then called Apollo 1. Later, after the deaths of three astronauts in the capsule fire, there was a mass renumbering of past flights in order to call their mission Apollo 1. It was an entirely understandable gesture, but it causes confusion to this day.

Two more Saturn IBs were launched in 1966, then the first Saturn V was launched. The next launch was to test an unmanned LEM in low Earth orbit. That flight fell to the Saturn IB which had been involved in the “Apollo One” disaster, since the capsule fire had not damaged the launch vehicle. Another Saturn V launch in 1968 completed the unmanned phase of Apollo.

On October 11, 1968, the first manned Apollo craft achieved orbit. Manned missions are what we all remember, but by that time there had been seven abort tests, sixteen launches of Saturn I, IB, and V vehicles, and twelve major ground simulation tests.

Apollo 7 was the only manned Apollo mission to use a Saturn IB. Apollo 9 was also a flight to low Earth orbit, but it used a Saturn V because it was  a full, close-in dress rehearsal and first launching of a manned LEM.

The other ten Apollo mission used the Saturn V, cementing a picture of that rocket into everyone’s mind.

After the end of Apollo, a Saturn V launched Skylab. Three subsequent launches of Saturn IBs took up the astronauts who manned it.

The last manned use of Saturn IB was to carry an Apollo CSM to rendezvous with a Soyuz vehicle in 1975.

546. Where Do You Get Your Ideas (1)

Everybody who doesn’t write, wants to know where writers get their ideas. Everybody who writes knows the answer is, “Everywhere,” and also knows that answer won’t satisfy anyone.

I think that those who ask really want to know is where we get the initial idea, the one that sets everything in motion. For instance, I have one like that which I haven’t used yet. It’s a winner for sure. It has hippies and drugs and the . . . nope! I might still write that one, so I’m keeping it to myself.

I’ve actually already told the origin stories of one novel, one series and one fragment. You can check them out if you want. I have one more answer that covers four stories, and that answer is Scrooge.

My fascination with Dickens’s classic began during the Christmas season of 1970. I was a new college graduate, married, waiting for my date to enter the Navy. My immediate future looked grim, and possibly short.

The musical Scrooge was released that year and it went straight to the heart when my wife and I saw it in the theatre. I immediately bought the videotape, even though I had no way to play it at the time. I knew I didn’t want to lose that powerful story of redemption.

In the  years that followed, I read the original story several times, along with the other four Christmas stories that Dickens followed up with in later years. I also made a collection of other Christmas Carol movies, some good, some dull, some awful. Every actor seemed to want to play Scrooge.

Five years after the release of Scrooge, I started writing novels. I concentrated on science fiction and fantasy, but deep down I wanted to write my own Christmas classic. And yes, I know, there are ten million other writers who have had the same idea.

I won’t go into detail, but over the years the idea grew from one story to three.

Nathaniel Gunn returns from a long voyage on a trading ship to Philadelphia in 1791 to find his wife dead from disease and his two children apparently dead as well. Throughout the following Christmas season he gives away his money to the needy around him, but it does his heart and soul no good until he has to give away the one thing that means the most to him.

The children, who are not really dead, make their painful way back from their uncle’s farm toward Philadelphia. Along the way they find themselves taking shelter with a family of Moravian’s, the Christian sect that was that era’s the strongest advocate of Christmas, long before it’s celebration became generally accepted.

These two stories are bracketed by a later story. Nathan, the son, finds himself in New York in 1823 where he befriends the despondent Clement Clarke Moore.

Those stories grew out of a desire to bring early Christmas to the new world, and tie the birth of Christ to the birth of the nation. (The first congress met in New York in 1789 and Philadelphia in 1791, before moving on to the newly built Washington City.)

It needs writing. Maybe someday if I can find the time . . .

Those were literary and historical ideas. Meanwhile, there was a purely visual idea that also came out of Scrooge. I’ll tell you about it in two days.

Continued Wednesday.

540. Where Are the Vets?

Here are some statistics, tailored for those who read this blog. I know most of you are young. I see your pictures on your likes, and I check out your websites.  I’m not young, so I see changes you may not be aware of.

Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and both presidents Bush all served in the military in wartime. Regan and Bush Two served stateside in wartime; the others all saw combat.

Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump did not serve.

In the current House of Representatives only 70 of 435 have served in the military. In the current Senate, only 13 of 100 have served. Those numbers will go up slightly with the incoming congress.

Veterans were not so under represented in previous congresses.

These figures relate the the reduced number of persons in the military. That is not quite the same as a smaller military, since the persons now serving tend to spend more years in service. Draftees from previous eras tended to go home as soon as they were allowed to do so.

I come from a long line of draftees. My father served in Europe in WW II, was wounded, and remained during the occupation of Germany. His younger brother was drafted, trained, and was on a ship “heading for Japan to die” (his words) when the US dropped the A bomb. He ended up in the occupation of Japan. I joined the Navy, Vietnam era, but not by choice. My draft number was 41, which meant my number was up (in both senses of the word) before I finished college. And no, I did not see combat.

I hated the draft and I still do, but it had one positive aspect. It leveled the playing field. More Americans had to step up, whether they wanted to or not, and that led to more protests. Without the draft, we would have been in Vietnam much longer.

Today is the hundredth anniversary of the end of WW I. All those veterans are gone. WW II ended in 1945. Very few of the vets from my father’s generation are still around.

America left Vietnam in 1973. Any vet who saw that day at age 18 would be 63 today. That was also the last  year American’s were drafted.

I’m not suggesting a return to the draft, God forbid. I have no particular agenda at all; I just want to give you this to think about.

A country which everyone has to defend, or at least has to stand in jeopardy of military service, is a very different thing from a country that depends on a volunteer military.

Better? Worse? That will be your decision going forward.

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The numbers in this post come from PBS.