Friday, August 18, 2017

Sinners, Saints and Everyone In Between

In Catholic art Satan, Adam/Eve, Nephilim, fallen angels, Judas Iscariot and other disgraced souls are often displayed in poses and with expressions that suggest isolation, shame and anguish.

Let that marinate. Some more. A little more. Moooooore. Okay. Why did I mention it? Don't cheat. Why is it important? Are you ready?

Sinners are prominently displayed in catholic art.

Not hidden. Not ignored. Not swept under the rug. Not tucked away in a place no one will ever visit. No, the most repulsive characters in the Bible are exquisitely rendered in beautiful and awe-inspiring artwork in churches, in squares, in cemetaries, on official buildings and museums.

Shame is the national pastime of Catholics. Remembering the liars, the betrayers, the Rebels and the disgraced (and their fates) is important to the development of faith and obedience. Secularly, from a literary point-of-view, these characters are allegory for the folly of pride, arrogance, hatred, disobedience and other vices.

If Americans were half as smart as they think they are, Confederate symbolism would be as well.

These so-called "heroes" of the Confederacy should be displayed like Biblical sinners in Catholic art...heads down-turned, faces showing their guilt, blood on their hands shielding their faces from unseen scornful stares--and the Coup de grace--a plaque that reads:

"Here stands the traitor, slaver, bigot and terrorist Nathan Bedford Forrest who dedicated his life to hatred and the murder of innocents. This statue, erected by We The People of these United States, stands so that future generations may know of his shame and remember the patriots who gave their lives to preserve this Imperfect Union and provide liberty and justice for all. Let no man, woman or child repeat the crimes of Nathan Bedford Forrest."

Boom! Two birds, one stone. Racists get to have their heroes on display and non-racists don't have to see traitors glorified in public places. Confederate symbols would not be insensitive to Black Americans and would grow to be a bitter poison twisting the bowels of people who long for the antebellum days. Not a glorious homage to the rebel spirit, but an allegory to the folly of bigotry. Win-win.

Unfortunately, Americans don't like "win-win..." they like "I win." So, you get what we had here last week: one group of children trying to out shout another group of children and an innocent life lost over...what? Nothing...that's what. Time and time again, America makes this same mistake, believing they can force others to their way of thinking and destroy any enemy set before them.

Unfortunately, ideas cannot be destroyed with cannons or wrecking balls. Not in the American Civil War. Not in World Wars I and II. Not in Korea, Vietnam, China or Russia. Not during the Modern Civil Rights Movement. Not in The Middle East. Not in Africa. Not in Cuba. And, we won't destroy it today by pulverizing monuments to hatred, now that the hatred in some Americans' hearts has reared its ugly head again.

Driving these people underground only ensures they will come back stronger, more virulent and more dangerous than they were to begin. If we have learn ANYTHING from the last CENTURY of ruining Middle Eastern countries is should be

Destroying the symbols extremists revere does nothing to destroy the extremist's reverence for extremism; it only serves as validation that his or her extremist beliefs are righteous and just.

I have often repeated the phrase: "we must be intolerant or intolerable things." However, the ONLY way to destroy an evil ideology is to replace it with one that is pure and good. Therefore, we must abandon our almost pathological desire to be right, to win and bend others to our will. We must be willing to be cursed, be spat upon, turn the other cheek and truly embrace our brothers and sisters. We must be willing to weather the storm of racist tirades, conservative indifference and  liberal tantrums. To get rid of the most intolerable evil, we must tolerate those possessed by it.

The road to the mind is through the heart. Where the heart leads, the soul follows. Traveling that road is an impossible journey for a vindictive, self-righteous and me-centric society, who only has a hammer and sees every problem as a nail. If we are going to change the minds of others--and eradicate the disease that is rotting away the soul of this once great nation--we must start by first changing our own.

P.S.: No Catholics were harmed in the making of this blog. Agree or disagree with the wars they fought, please show some love to those that answered the call and fulfilled their oaths to the Constitution with honor and bravery. Instead of continuing to revile each other, stop your congressional representatives from sending them to fight another immoral and unjust war. Don't screw it up this time, America. We may not get another chance.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

One Nation Indivisible

When I started to write this, my intention was to have a thought experiment where we pretended slavery didn't exist in America in the 1860s and I would ask "ok then, why did we go to war?"

I realized that was a fool's errand.

The South had an economic and political strangehold on America, and they wanted to expand that into the new territories. Furthermore, they believed the central government had no right to impede them.

How did they get control?

Through slavery.

The wealthiest agricultural magnates in the South--the 1%-ers of the Antebellum days--used forced labor to make ridiculous profits. They effectively lobbied to get disproportionate congressional representation based upon the slaves who were not free to leave the south. And finally, they successfully lobbied to have any escaped slaves returned. It was the perfect business model, protected by the authority of the central government--an authority they would later rebuke.

Forget about morality and essential liberty. Forget about the suffering of black people. Just put it out your mind. The only way to make government fair and representative and to make the market free--duties of the government enshrined in the constitution--was to abolish slavery.

The South needed to preserve and extend slavery to maintain economic supremacy. Abolitionists wanted to end slavery because it was immoral. Blacks wanted to end slavery because they had been languishing under the lash for 400 years. Poor white southerners wanted to end slavery so they could compete fairly. The North wanted to end slavery to break the back of the South. And, the government had a duty to end slavery because it was unconstitutional.

It was ALL about slavery.

Lincoln had a plan to preserve the Union and end the abomination of slavery. He wanted to gradually wean the south off the slavery tit through compensated voluntary manumission. It was not ideal, but it fulfilled the constitutional and moral obligation of the States in the most painless way possible.

How did the south react? They refused. They turned their back on the Union and attacked their former compatriots on the the grounds of states' right and the financial well-being of 1%-ers. They did not care about the constitutional need to end slavery. They did not care about loyalty to their country. They did not care about a free, competitive economy. They didn't care about the inalienable rights of slaves. They didn't even want to coexist in peace as two separate nations.

If this was anyone else except our great great grandparents, we would say the "Rebels" were selfish, disloyal, stubborn, immoral and foolhardy. But, because we idolize that prideful rebel spirit, we whitewash what they really did and what it meant.

At the point they seceded, raised a new flag and called themselves the Confederate States they were no longer American. They're history is NOT our history. Furthermore, when they attacked the United States, they became no different than Imperial Japan, Communist Russia, Nazi Germany or ISIS.

What loyal American patriot flies the black flag of ISIS? Who dons a swastika and gives the Roman salute? Who reveres the crescent and the hammer of communism? If any American of Islamic faith, Russian or German heritage did, they would be reviled. Japanese Americans won't even talk about old Imperial Japan. British expats never speak of the "good ol' days" when America was still British. Mexican Americans don't erect statues to the Spaniards who died in the Mexican-American War. Confederate symbols and "heroes," however... they are special. They have been (white)washed clean and, somehow, made holy.

We born in this country, we have a common history ALL can remember with pride--American history. Americans are pioneers, freedom fighters, liberators, innovators, discoverers, philosophers, makers of exquisite art and soulful music. We conquered the wild and reached for the stars. We harnessed the power of nature by splitting the atom and connected the world with the internet. We have fought genocide, famine and plagued. We destroyed fascism, totalitarianism and communism. We have spread freedom and democracy the world over. We were the original Rebels of modernity; all free, democratic republics are the progeny of America. It means something to be American. Despite all this deep American history, some Americans want to glorify the 4 years when we couldn't get our shit together.

And that... is truly sad.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Thank You For Your Service

File under: Learning How to Live

Due to the fact I live in the middle of nowhere, no internet service providers offer a reliable broadband service where I live. Therefore, you will often find me sitting in my car in a random parking lot, catching up on social media, whenever I travel into the city. Yesterday evening, I was sitting in the CVS Pharmacy parking lot, as I am wont to do. It was after dark, approaching closing time for most stores in the plaza. I was sitting some distance away from the store away from all the other cars. Having just finished an emotionally difficult telephone call, I began to draft an even more emotionally difficult text message. Peripherally, I notice a car pass in front of me turn and travel on around the lot. Being distracted, as I was, I did not notice this vehicle had circled back and pulled up on my rear.  Startled, I get a knock on the window and look up to find a county sheriff standing outside my door.

My immediate reaction was anger. All I could wonder is what yokel called the cops on me for sitting here, minding my business--not bothering anyone. I go on the defensive and a flood of legal knowledge and situational drills rush to the forefront of my brain. What seems to be the problem officer? Was there a complaint? Is there a reason you approached my vehicle? Do you have some reason to believe some sort of crime is occurring? Has the owner asked that I leave the premises?
Much to my consternation, the officer was not being confrontational, aggressive, authoritarian, demeaning or disrespectful in any way. This threw a wet blanket on my fiery libertarian zeal. It is much less vindicating to rage against the machine when the machine is not being a tool. I realized…this guy is just doing his job…we both just want to get through this and go home. I reminded myself that I do not have the right NOT to identify myself when operating a motor vehicle.  Being a jerk can only make things worse, so just shut up and go along with it.

With my hands on the steering wheel of the car, I informed the officer that I have no weapons in the cabin of the vehicle, but there is ammunition in the glove compartment and an unloaded firearm in the trunk. I ask if it is all right to turn the dome light on so that he can see into the vehicle. When he says it is ok, I do so…slowly. Now that he can see into the vehicle, I ask if it is ok that I retrieve my wallet from my left side front pocket. When he says it is ok, I do so…slowly.  While he is communicating with dispatch, I keep my hands on the steering wheel. He encourages me to “relax,” and states that it will not take long. My record is spotless, so I am not worried I will not be driving home soon. However, as I am sitting there, something I did not expect occurred: he struck up a conversation.

He remarks that I am very familiar with the regulations for carrying firearms and asks why I do not apply for a permit so that I can carry mine in the car with me. I remark that this situation would be much tenser if there was a firearm in here with me (the real reason is I am a notorious procrastinator). He quips, if I need it in an emergency I cannot ask the attacker to “hold on” while I retrieve it from the trunk and load it. We both laugh at that. We talk about our common interest, firearms, for a while: favorite carry options, EDC, favorite caliber, ranges to go to… Turns out we both favor the same round, for the same reason (although he is a Glock fanatic, sigh). He talked about the time while on vacation an officer stopped him after he fell asleep in his civilian vehicle in a hotel parking lot. We talked…lightly…about the subject of our tension: bad cops and bad interactions between them and the public. He professed that bad cops make his job harder and those like him want them gone. He admitted in a number of high profile cases that many of the shooters “got away with murder.” He states that is a pleasure to be able to talk with a member of the public about common interests and concerns, without animosity or distrust. I agreed and explained to him that my grandfather, a retired deputy sheriff, and father were both involved in law enforcement at one time, so I understood “both sides” of the issue.

He concluded the stop by shaking my hand and thanking me for the service of my father and grandfather. This heart-felt gesture touched me in a very profound way. For the first time in a long time, I felt a feeling of deep pride and connectedness to my father and grandfather. I let go of what was dogging me, and a sense of the peace and calm came over me. I finished writing the missive I was having difficulty writing and went home feeling unexpectedly inspired.

What I said about my father and grandfather was only mostly true and only in an esoteric sense. It was an olive branch—a peace offering—to build trust and extend empathy. The truth is I never knew my grandfather, as him and the family had estranged since before I was born. Further, I did not know much about his or my father’s experiences in law enforcement.  My father was not fond of talking talk about his former life, or overmuch about his father in more than a general way. Many of the stories from that time in his life seemed to take my father to a bad place; so, as I became wiser, I stopped asking about them.  I gathered that, ultimately, it was that life—law enforcement—that wedged into the cracks of my father and grandfather’s relationship.

I have only ever seen my grandfather in pictures. He was an imposing man with a genial smile, the spitting image of my father, save my grandfather’s rusty hair had not darkened with age the way my father’s hair had. I knew he did dote on his grandchildren. Much of what I knew about him when I was a child I learned from my eldest siblings and cousins; at one time, he was a constant fixture in their lives. I never heard my grandmother so much as speak his name in all the years she lived.
I did speak to him once, over the telephone. I was maybe eight or nine years old at the time. All these years later, I do not remember the sound of his voice, but I remember every word he spoke and how I felt, finally, to talk to my grandfather.  He introduced himself, “Grandpa Bane,” and asked me who I was. We spoke very briefly. He told me that he wanted to see me, gave me his number and told me to call him. Few times can I remember being as happy as I was that day. As I often did, I waited impatiently and excitedly for my father to get home from work; I liked to be the first person to greet him when he came through the door.  I wanted to tell him my grandfather wanted to see ME. Over the turbulent years, my father and I have had some tense, heated and emotional conversations. None, however, was as heart-rending and agonizing, for both of us, as when he had to tell me I would not be seeing my grandfather after all. I never did.  He passed away a short while later.

I thought about my grandfather for the first time in a long time on the drive home—whimsical things, not sad things.  Like, did he have a disarming demeanor and a strong handshake like the deputy? What would be his choice in firearm or caliber today? What would an old-timer like him think of mine? What would he have to say about the state of law enforcement today? Would he have wanted me to continue in my pursuit of a career in criminal justice? I thought about all the conversations we never had and, for the first time, thinking of them did not make me angry or bitter—it made me smile.

Now that I have forced upon you a boring story, a sad story and a sob story, what is your reward for all that? What is the lesson in all of this? One thing about law enforcement that my father did share with me was the importance of the beat cop. Officers in the community patrolling the streets, interacting with business owners and homeowners, being a visible deterrent to criminals are vital to strong, safe communities. A couple years ago in my hometown, my cousin—a bailiff himself—was waiting in the parent line to pick up his daughter from elementary school when a criminal shot him in the back during an attempted robbery. In the world we live, a criminal will shoot a father in front of his wife at his daughter’s elementary school over a cellular phone.  If not for the efforts of dedicated law enforcement officers—officers like the deputy, my father and my grandfather—I would not have felt comfortable sitting in my car, in that neighborhood without my firearm within reach. Police are not the enemy; evil people and the hatred in all of us is. Catharsis is hard to come by in the world in which we live, where not much ever makes sense and true closure is rare. I narrowly almost prevented myself from making peace with a demon that has plagued me all my life. Closed minds and closed hearts stubbornly clinging to principle and jaded perceptions prevent us as a society from embracing one another, healing our wounds and moving beyond the hurts of the past. If humankind is ever to reach its moment of catharsis, it has to click in each of us that we are all just people, people doing our jobs—if imperfectly—and we all want to get through this life to find our way home.