Rethinking the Past

These are tempestuous times, and I’ve been thinking about heritage as seen from a modern perspective.

In my genealogical pursuits, I learned that three of my great-grandfather’s older brothers did not return from the Civil War. I haven’t looked for any of their cousins, etc., but that’s a real thing. What did they sacrifice their lives for? What was going through their heads? Did they really die to defend slavery?

Two rebel generals, Virginia plantation and slave owners, chose to fight for their home state instead of against it only a few decades apart. One is regarded today as the father of his country while the other has recently fallen into disrepute. Setting the entire long-standing issue of States’ Rights vs federalism aside, it is now entirely about the institution of slavery, and General Lee and my 2nd-great uncles were all on the wrong side.

If the South had not seceded and taken up arms against the United States and Lincoln had not issued the Emancipation Proclamation, when might slavery have ended? It doesn’t matter, because they did and he did and the 13th Amendment was ratified in December, 1865. Within 10 years, the Democrats opposing Reconstruction had control of the House of Representatives, and shortly thereafter Reconstruction ended and soon segregation became a thing through the first half of the 20th century.

As for General Lee, he chose to defend rather than take up arms against the 207 year-old Commonwealth of Virginia in a war with the 70 year-old United States of America. Other people have made similar choices, but that really only looks good if you win and Lee lost. The 44th Georgia Infantry was with him.

As I see it, the problem is less with the Confederacy and more with the white supremacists who have co-opted its symbols. Not unlike the swastika, which used to stand for something far different from fascism, the former Confederate battle flag has become the flag of white supremacists including the Klan. I get that and agree that it needs to go. It saddens me a bit because I’m sure it meant something different to the men who marched and fought and died under it, but the symbols are tainted. Let’s put them away.

We have done some stuff in our national quest to make America great that was pretty despicable in any age. Just about every step white America has taken has been over the body of a Native American, from my ancestor who came ashore on Appledore in the Isles of Shoals to my ancestor who moved his family from Laurens County, SC, down to Henry County, GA, to take possession of some prime land recently redistributed from some Cherokee who had recently been dispossessed and sent off on the Trail of Tears.  (Andrew Jackson isn’t a big issue for some reason.) Still, we persist in our mythology that we’ve ever been and remain better than we are.

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Philosophical Thoughts

Here’s the thing with me and my philosophy of life: I have one and I don’t know or care much what one calls it.

By the time I was in Middle School, I didn’t believe in much.  I think by then I’d decided that there was no heaven or hell per se, and I thought it was more likely that we just kept being reborn over and over again until we’d got it right. It occurs to me that I never thought about what happened if/when one “got it right.”

When I was able to begin enjoying Japan I learned about zen practice. One of the attractions of Buddhism was that it taught that, if something in their teaching didn’t work for me, I could leave it out; but that always struck me as kind of a cheat. If I disregarded everything having to do with Buddhism from a zen practice, was it still zen?

Recently I started reading the Stoic philosophers,  I am and for some time have been aware that I am not well read or well cultured but I heard that VADM Stockdale had relied heavily on his recollection of the writings of Epictetus during his time in Hanoi. I might say that it hasn’t taught me much “new” except where “virtue is its own reward” came from. So far I’ve mostly read Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca – Romans – and very little from the earlier Greeks. No, I am not going to get all mushy about Stoicism. My observation I’m sharing today is that many people seem to get distracted by the name of things.

There is an online conversation ongoing about whether Buddhist practice influenced Stoic practice because there are several similarities.  Zeno of Citium began his teaching on a stoa in Athens in the 3rd century B.C.E. while the Buddha is supposed to have begun his teaching a century earlier. I doubt they talked, much less collaborated. I’ve never done a past-life regression, but I doubt that either of them knew me back then, and I came up with a philosophy reasonable similar to theirs in pre- to early adolescence in a small farm town in Illinois. I’m looking for a little more insight, a little more clarity. I’m not looking for a name for my philosophy.

It occurs to me that this sort of thing seems to happen a lot. There’s a surprising (to me) diversity in philosophies, but all of the major world religions have more similarities than differences – or so it seems to me. Most of the Native American religions I’ve heard about emphasize living in harmony with “nature”. People say that there are differences in how we define “virtue” but I think we all know what is innately good.  How we rationalize not doing what we know is good is all over the map.

I think we also spend an enormous amount of time and energy on things that we cannot control instead of focusing our resources on things we could control. I have a friend who hates her job and has as long as I’ve known her. I used to get caught up pitching possible alternatives to her to each of which she’d immediately come back with why she couldn’t. Epictetus wrote: “First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do.”

I have questions. I presently do not believe in transplanting organs. I reflexively object to the idea of viewing bodies as a scrapyard of interchangeable parts, and it’s super-expensive. Our bodies are expending themselves as we speak anyway, and we can save way more lives with humanitarian relief programs than we’ll ever be able to (temporarily) save with transplants. Having said that, yes, there are a very few people to whom I would give any organ they needed. What would a Stoic Sage do?

Posted in Life, Morality/Ethics, Philosophy/Ethics | 5 Comments

Looking Ahead

I feel as though I’ve said this before, however, the overwhelming problem I see with a two-party system of government is that, in order to have any voice in government, one must align with one party or the other. The result, predictably, is as we saw in the 2016 General Election when about 25% of registered voters went Republican, about 25% went Democrat, and about 40% said, in effect, to hell with it and didn’t vote at all. For the record, I have a bit of a grudge against the 40% who didn’t vote at all.

With only 70 weeks left until the Mid-Term Election, I’m hoping to find one or two candidates for Duncan Hunter’s Congressional seat who are not committed to either major party. I believe government can only serve as intended when no single party has a legislative majority. I want them to always need to collaborate outside of their own party. Until then they have no incentive to adopt a moderate position on anything.

48 weeks before the California Primary Election, 5 candidates have declared for the 50th Congressional District as Democrats. Republican Duncan Hunter may be holding off his declaration until he knows for sure whether or not he’s going to jail for misappropriation of campaign funds.

I don’t see any Democrat winning this District, but if anyone could it might be Josh Butner. He’s a Warrior which plays well here, a retired Lieutenant Commander Navy SEAL If I’m being candid, a guy like that who’s retired to a small ranch in East County doesn’t say “Man of the People” to me, but it should play well in this District.

Glenn Jensen, as a former Republican who felt the need to convert, is kind of interesting to me. I’m a little sad that he converted to a Democrat, but I can listen to him.  Having said that, with a background as an anti-war protester going back to my day, he hasn’t got a prayer.

Pete Beauregard, bless his heart, looks like at least a half-dozen politicians I never liked and a couple of whom went to jail. That isn’t being completely fair to him, and I should listen to what he has to say for himself. He was a Navy Corpsman back in the day and appears to have continued to serve his fellow man as well as himself.

Gloria Chadwick is already a career quasi-government bureaucrat having spent the last 18 years directing a community hospital district. After quickly scanning her website I see that she’s opposed to Duncan Hunter and appears to be sincere in her commitment to public service (whatever that means).

Ammar Campa-Najjar seems to be highlighting his minority background. That’s not a deal-breaker for me, but neither is it the first thing on my wish list.  More to the point, this is a pretty conservative district and those “Yes We Can” references will probably put him behind the Green candidate if there is one.

I am not going to run for Congress so don’t even start with that. I’ll work for somebody I believe in, but I am not a front man.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The 800 lb. Gorilla

A hero and role model of mine, Ronni Bennett of Time Goes By returned to her blog today just six days after surgery for pancreatic cancer. If you have an eidetic memory you may recall she’s a big reason I blog because I admired the way she wrote and her commitment to the process. She’s also a contemporary of mine give or take a few years, and now she’s also a cancer survivor. I don’t know that I’ve dealt with my being a cancer survivor here.

In my mind, I have prostate cancer. I had it removed eleven years ago, but, of course, cancer is a cellular disease, and there’s no way at this time to do a complete assay of every cell. I have a test for Prostate Specific Antigen done whenever my primary care doctor orders it, but that isn’t as reassuring as one might think because it’s never been 0.0 ng/mL and it goes up a bit every time they test for it. I figure I’m walking around with unexploded ordnance in me, and one of these days it’ll be back. This has worked for me for eleven years. I don’t belabor it and have no idea whether or not that will be what finally takes me. Until my annus horribilis when I was diagnosed, then broke my femur, then had the blood clot, and then finally the surgery, I was betting on the heart or maybe the liver.

Nobody was more surprised than I was when I turned 70. Over a lifetime of poor decisions, I have smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish, eaten way too many fats and carbs, throw in cancer, and – pfft – why not? There are a couple of people I’ve hurt whom I shouldn’ have hurt, but I expect I’ll take whatever lumps I have to come for that.

I was not prepared for Ronni to have cancer, especially pancreatic cancer which is notoriously difficult to catch at a treatable stage, and I’m – well, I’m relieved that she’s recovering so quickly. I’m keeping good thoughts that she’ll keep on ticking for at least another 11+ years as I have.

None of you all reading this need to be getting that shit, either.

Posted in Life | 1 Comment

Everything Has Two Handles

“Everything has two handles, the one by which it may be carried, the other by which it cannot.” – Epictetus, The Enchiridion, (43)

I need to acknowledge that I appear to be going through an existential crisis after the General Election. For the past several years I’ve been trying harder to do what is right and true, and I felt like I was making some progress after years and years of hedonism. I wasn’t unconscious of the weight I was pushing against, but I held that people were capable of differentiating right from wrong and when brought to their senses, would generally choose what is right.

I may have been wrong. I need to find a way forward.

It is entirely possible and appears very likely that the President-elect will, in fact, overturn as many of President Obama’s Executive Orders as possible as he has said he would. It is that very likelihood that makes urging the President to issue more Executive Orders at this point a likely waste of time.

I cannot and/or will not spend the next four years – assuming I have them – in a snit over who occupies the White House. In my opinion, that is a fool’s game that will only assure my unhappiness for no good purpose. The issues are very real, but my capacity to respond to them is limited.

I am saddened that our nation has come to this. Those who love us will not choose to exploit our fears. Sadly there is a lot of that going on now, and it pains me that we appear to be unable to enjoy a holiday without looking over our shoulders for terrorists. Fear is becoming the new normal. In my opinion, this gives our enemies their victory; they cannot hope to defeat us head on, but we are playing their game by their rules.

At the end of the day, this guy somehow managed to win against all reason. My task is to find a handle by which I can carry my share of the load going forward. I will not respond to fear with fear, to hate with hate, and I have no intention of going on the warpath every time his administration does something with which I disagree. I think that’s likely to happen a lot.

I will cherish my family and friends, and do a little community service here and there. I am ashamed that I do not know if I can put Max into a kennel and deploy to a Red State for another disaster.


Posted in Philosophy/Ethics | 3 Comments

A Word for SPC Clifford Ray Dudley and LCPL Dennis Ray Ashley

These two men have by now been laid to rest at the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery in Corpus Christi on November 10, 2016. Neither man had a next-of-kin or any known family so the community, via at least 2 local television stations (KZTV10  and KRIS6), invited members of the community to honor their passing.

I unapologetically talk shit about Texas, but that the local media would support such a community response for 2 former servicemen moved me. It’s hard for a lot of us to find our way after our military experiences, and this demonstration of support by the Corpus Christi community is noteworthy.

Fair winds and following seas to Clifford and to Dennis, and thank you, Corpus Christi.

Posted in Life, Military | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Our Perception of Reality

All across the world – where such things are permitted – there are demonstrations against the outcome of Tuesday’s election. It came to me that people appear to believe that throwing a hissy actually works, possibly because it has worked for them in the past. Then it came to me that the Greatest Generation went on to become the worst possible parents.

As I thought about this it came to me that Americans born during and soon after the Wilson administration would have lived in a somewhat Trump-esque world of haves and have-nots shortly to survive the Great Depression and then World War II. It was entirely natural that they would have tried mightily to protect their children from lives such as they might have experienced, but it left us weak. My generation, in turn, came to believe that it was not only possible but our entitlement to “have it all.”

There’s a big ongoing discussion on Stoic messaging about when it is appropriate to begin teaching children principles of Stoic philosophy. When is it appropriate to teach a child that, over a lifetime, wisdom and virtue are preferable to hedonistic pursuits? When they begin to walk? When they begin to speak? When their parents were born? I can only shake my head; I’ve already fucked that up and passed it on.

It’s about to get real.

For better or for worse, the process worked and the United States has elected a new President who has a Republican-led legislative branch and a Conservative judicial branch. The President-elect has said that it’s time now to heal our divisions and unite for the common cause despite the campaign just completed on his behalf and for his benefit, and despite the realization that he has never – not by word or deed or perhaps even thought – demonstrated any prior inclination to do so himself.

It’s a little late for hissy fits.

Posted in Philosophy/Ethics, Politics | 4 Comments

My Post-Election Rant Regarding Political Engagement

“Every nation gets the government it deserves.”
Joseph de Maistre , Correspondance diplomatique, 1811

We live in a democratic republic. People always respond to that by telling me that our government has morphed into something else, but whom do we “blame” for that? We live in a democratic republic.

I am among those who have voted for a “third-party” candidate for President. Neither time was in a close election, but both ended with the greater of two evils winning the election , in my opinion. If I only pay attention for as little time as possible every four years during a Presidential election cycle, I am as much a part of the problem as everyone else who says they don’t bother to vote because their vote doesn’t matter. They’re right. America was never intended to run from the top down.

America was founded as 13 independent states in a loose confederation. Within 10 years it was determined that we stood a better chance of surviving and flourishing as united states, but even then the framers of our Constitution were careful to cede only just enough power to the federal government as necessary to suit the purpose. Then we got careless – perhaps reckless.

The story of America is that we came with a vision, we built what we needed to build, and then we moved on leaving it to others to maintain what we’d built. The thing is that those others we leave to maintain our way of life, for the most part, have no skin in the game; for them, it’s business and business is all about profit.

How did we wind up having to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to become President of the United States? I’ve thought a lot about that question this year and concluded that it’s our own fault. We say that we love America, but we leave it to others to maintain America for us.

Some of us have become enamored of “reality television.” There’s little if any story line to keep track of, just hours of mindless entertainment to take our mind off our “troubles,” Voila! Donald Trump becomes the Republican candidate for President.

Some of us hold onto the illusion that professional politicians – unlike professionals in any other business in the world – serve each of us, and only us, equally without prejudice, and move up in government based solely upon their contributions to the well-being of their constituents. That’s how everyone except Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump become candidates for President.

Maintenance requires commitment and work. If I don’t maintain my car it won’t last 250,000 miles. Don’t get me started on my four divorces. If someone – anyone – tells me that they are committed to a career in public service and only want what’s best for me I’m going to ask questions; and I have learned that it is better to start asking those questions before their constituencies soar into the tens of thousands.

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Thoughts on Where Our Heads Are At

One of the things that I encounter throughout the day now is the near-constant chatter about polls and what they all mean. Of course, this is entirely self-inflicted – if I stopped listening for actual news, I wouldn’t be exposed to all of the extraneous noise – but listening for news is a lot of what I do for the Red Cross.

There is one poll that matters – only one – and that’s the election. All of the rest is, in my opinion, just fortune tellers trying to read portents and omens, and it wastes bandwidth.

One question that does come to mind when I’m not successful in dismissing it is whether or not all of this chatter creates its own weather, so to speak, as fires sometimes do. Does all the speculation about what Hillary Clinton e-mails might be on Anthony Wiener’s electronic media in itself reinforce the effect intended by Clinton’s opposition? Then I scold myself because I have absolutely no control over how politics is covered in the media; and, since there’s little or no identifiable useful information in any of it in the first place, I need to put it out of my mind and get back to work.

Someone – I want to give them credit but didn’t catch who said it aloud – reminded me of Juvenal’s comment on “bread and circuses”:

…Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions – everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.  Juvenal, Satire 10.77-81

We expend so much of our time on Earth and our wealth to no discernable purpose whatever. I suspect it has always been so because who wouldn’t prefer play to work, but when there’s work to be done who is to do it.

Who sets out with no expectation or at least some hope that they’ll be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor someday. And then what’s the harm if we can do so with a bit more fruit from a bit less labor. I get that. We can’t all get away with that over the long term.

I have a lot of work to do, and I do sometimes wonder if it’s to any worthwhile purpose at this point. If I ever do develop any meaningful philosophical insights, what will that do for mankind? I suspect not much, The effort does keep me out of the honky tonks and bars, and my mind active, so there’s that.

Posted in Philosophy/Ethics, Politics | 1 Comment

Thoughts on Entitlement

Day before yesterday, Sunday, a friend I know to be kind and generous reposted the screed about how it makes no sense that we provide assistance to “others” while “our own” have unmet needs, and it hurt my heart. I never like to see that come around, but that it was posted by her was hard for me to accept.

Speaking for myself, I had no active role in choosing to be born a white male in the most prosperous political subdivision of the time built on the bones of an indigenous population and slaves. I was born in Moline while others were being born in Aleppo, Al-Fallujah, Kosovo, Somalia, etc. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I had a chance. I had a good foster home, a free public education, survived my 20 years in the service, made a few dumb-ass choices, and still have made it to within spitting distance of my 70th birthday. What right could I possible claim to withhold a share of my good fortune?

The American version of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of affordable health care are problems to be sure, and you know how I feel about this country’s lack of care for its military veterans; but, in this country, they are due to a lack of will. So is our failure to do what we can for those in need around the world. We are still very much the same people who sent the MS St. Louis and her passengers back to Germany in 1939.

What does it mean to say that we are “proud to be an American” or to “make America great again”? I see no greatness in this.

Posted in Philosophy/Ethics, Rant | 2 Comments