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                   Café Talk

Thursday
Oct052017

The American Marriage of Freedom and Death

Since the Las Vegas mass shooting I’ve heard it said that the 59 deaths and the 527 injuries are the price we pay for our freedom. I’m assuming that by extension the one mass shooting every day* and the 90 deaths and 200 injuries due to one-on-one weapon violence every day are also the price of freedom. Death and injury by weapon violence in the United States is so commonplace it is taken for granted by the citizenry. Killing each other is as American as apply pie.

It is an interesting and disturbing concept that to be a patriotic American you must suport weapon ownwership  and accept the link between killing and freedom. I am not saying that people after Las Vegas were claiming freedom is maintained through the killing of our fellow citizens. Of course they were not. I am saying that many defenders of the 2nd Amendment insist that the killing is an acceptable cost of maintaining the right to own weapons and thus our freedom. It's almost as though there is a kind of organic link between the two. Take away the primary source of the killing, our weapons, and our freedom dissolves.

It might surprise many in the United States that there are countries around the world where people are just as free as Americans and do not associate the safeguarding of their freedom with weapon ownership and the killing of fellow citizens. The link between maintaining freedom and citizen on citizen killing is incomprehensible to them. The notion that death is some kind of unavoidable byproduct of having freedom is nonsensical. The claim that enduring the continual killing of citizens by citizens is an unfortunate requirement of a free people is insanity.

When I lived in Great Britain, after every mass shooting in the United States people would ask me to explain why Americans continue to kill each other when steps could be taken to at least reduce the slaughter. They would explain that after the massacre of sixteen children and one teacher in Dunblane in 1996 the British government, with the support of the people, enacted gun control. Since Dunblane there has only been one mass shooting and death by gun violence has gradually gone down. They would point out that after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, when thirty-five people died and twenty-three others were injured, the Australian government legislated for gun control which resulted in a dramatic fall in gun violence and no more mass shootings. 

Of course I talked about the 2nd Amendment and did my best to explain the importance of the US Constitution. I spoke about the incredible power and wealth of the National Rifle Association and its influence on our elected state and federal officials. But it didn’t really help. When I said that the right to own weapons is more important than the lives of our children, people just stare in disbelief. And why should they understand the outlandish reality that in the United States the concept of freedom is intimately married to the killing of citizens?

Ironically, those of us advocating for at least anemic gun control would never suggest the United States consider the measures taken by Britain and Australia to protect its citizens. We would not be so naïve and foolish. This is America, after all. No, we are simply pleading for at least humble beginnings to stop the carnage. Make it illegal for mentally disturbed people to buy weapons. Make it illegal for potential terrorist to buy weapons. Make it illegal for everyone to buy weapons that are more suited for warfare then hunting and home protection. But even these commonsense restrictions are unacceptable. The NRA fought for and won the right of people on the no fly list, that is people the FBI suspect might be terrorist, to purchase weapons. Why? Apparently to protect our freedom. (There is more to say here since the vast majority of mass shootings are done by “normal” American white males.)  

For a society to marry freedom to death in such a visceral and pseudo religious way is an indication of a serious social pathology. While we accept regulation in other areas of our lives, absolutely no regulation is allowed when it comes to our sacred weapons. We have a zillion regulations and laws protecting citizens from dangerous cars and kitchen stoves, flammable furniture fabric and scolding hot coffee, dangerous toys and dangerous medication. If a fire in a high rise kills residents, we learn what happened and take steps to prevent it from happening again. If a car proves to be dangerous, it is recalled. Our safety culture is alive and well. But when it comes to weapons, that harm and kill people every day, absolutely no regulations are allowed. No adjustments to make the weapons less dangerous are allowed. No restrictions on who can purchase a weapon are allowed. No restrictions on what kinds of weapons can be sold are allowed. The government is not even allowed to study the impact of gun violence on the nation.

This kind of societal behavior is simply bizarre and sick. To accept that one cost of our freedom is killing each other each and every day is a sign of a corporate social illness. And note. We are not talking about the killing of a common outside enemy threatening our freedom. We are talking about the killing of fellow citizens. We are killing each other. Only a violent and pathological society could accept such a reality.

People have been saying that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom. What they should be saying is that self-imposed death is the cost of freedom in the United States. It is a uniquely American pathology.  For only in America have people reified an ancient clause and thus accept a philosophical, pseudo theological, political, and psychological fusing of freedom and death.

* The FBI defines a mass shooting as four or more people killed and/or injured during a single shooting incident.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Oct032017

A Book, a Website, and a Film

This past week I’ve been introduced to a book, a website and a film project and I think all three are with sharing with you.

The Book

First up is a book of short stories edited by M LeMont called As Fate Would Have It, a collection of eclectic stories you might like. From the book’s blurb:

This is the new genre of FEARLESS writers– Six Authors with Eight compelling short stories that are a heady mix of adrenaline, suspense, and adventure. Some of these stories will make you laugh out loud. Some will make you cry. Others will shock you. However, you feel, they all will evoke emotions and make you think. As an avid reader & passionate writer, I’m always on the lookout for ideas and collaborations that enhance the pleasures of writing and reading. What started out as a casual conversation with one author turned out to be an exciting collaboration venture; the idea of bringing together my favorite authors who each had a distinct style of writing and riveting, thought provoking stories to share, into a single compilation was both refreshing and invigorating.

The book has just been released as an eBook and so far the reviews are pretty good. But  I need to come clean. I have a story in the book entitled The Poetry of Being Human. One review said this about my story:

The story that I immediately connected to was, The Poetry of Being Human. Literary voice with a message about unrequited love, lost connections and a perspective into the perils of daily life in El Salvador and Nicaragua during a revolution. The rumination of how women were treated within the culture was yet another layer I appreciated. This was an exceptionally written story and I was thrilled to discover it. This is the sort of text I can read again and again.

So if you want to read The Poetry of Being Human you can find it in As Fate Would Have It. However, the story is also in one of my books, Notes from 39,000 Feet which is a collection of thoughts, reflections, essays, and two fictitious short stories.

The Website

My Sister, Our DeathSecond on my round of things that might interest you is a new website. The site is simply called Elizabeth Gray-King. Elizabeth is an unusual and interesting person. She says on her About Me page:

I'm a strange combination of person. When I describe myself on days I teach project management, I explain that each day, I wear three hats. One is that I'm an ordained minister in the United Reformed Church. Ordained since 1988, my work moved from local ministry to broader ministry, mostly giving project support to the work of the Education & Learning Committee, but also to Safeguarding and Mission. Another hat is that I'm a project manager in my marrow, and with collegues in our company, Gray-King & Gray, I've been interim manager, research manager, mentor, organisational development supporter and much more. Now, it's mostly teaching project Management for charities via the Directory of Social Change.

The third hat, and the one most visible on my website, is that of artist. I'm known as an artist theologian, using my artwork to illustrate complex concepts and to explain some of my own theological thinking about who God may be and how we may relate to God.  

Elizabeth’s website focuses on her art work, though it also includes her blog. I have admired her paintings for years, but her drawings were new to me. I loved them and share one here.

Elizabeth is a fascinating person, talented and intelligent. I very much encourage you to visit her site and do communicate with her if you wish too.

 

The Film

Finally, on my roundup is a film project. The film is called Nēar. The film touches an entire spectrum of inclusion. It follows seventeen year old Julian, played by Skylan Brooks (Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete, Southpaw, Netflix' The Get Down, Crown Heights).

Julian is a shroom dealing orphan who has moved out of the group home and is living on his own in Stockton, California. In the film, Julian has been hospitalized because he is suffering from a disease called “Danon, ” a heart condition that kills boys between the ages of 7 to 17 within months. He escapes from a hospital deciding to find his estranged father, his only remaining relative.

Nēar is a project in the making. It will be the first American feature film shot in one take. As the film’s publicity says: “Yes, one take, not Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman, not Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, and not last year's indie one-take German breakout Victoria, but Nēar.” 

Click on the above link and have a closer look at the details.  

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep272017

That Uncomfortable American Flag Code

Millions of Americans are once again having seizures because they think others are disrespecting the United State flag. We seem to go through this from time to time, the last infliction being in the 1960’s. This time it started with Colin Kaepernick kneeling on one knee during the national anthem at a San Francisco 49ers football game. He said the following concerning his protest:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

To be honest, other than the good folks at Fox News there wasn’t an overwhelming response to Kaepernick’s actions or his statement. Only a few players followed his example and after a brief storm things quieted down. However, things changed when Trump essentially called the protesters sons of bitches and said they should be fired. A small protest morphed into a huge protest even migrating into baseball, basketball, and entertainment.

While Kaepernick did say he did not want to “show pride” in the flag, his stated reason for protesting was and is about the oppression and the killing of “black people and people of color.” In a way white people find it difficult to understand, people of color are under assault. Depending on who you are and where you stand, the protest remains a nonviolent action against oppression or is instead an act that disrespect the flag, national anthem, and military.

I have never revered flags or songs but I do recognize that others do, so a quick few thoughts for those who see the protection of the Stars and Stripes paramount.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." Today we hold Flag Day on June 14 of each year. The design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777.  

What I suspect few Americans know is that there actually is a Flag Code. On June 14, 1923 the National Flag Conference adopted the National Flag Code. Some minor changes were made at the Flag Conference in 1924. Congress became involved on June 22, 1942 when it passed a joint resolution which was amended on December 22, 1942 to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. If you do indeed revere the flag, you might want to read the Flag Code found in United States Code Title 36 Chapter 10. You will find it interesting.

According to my computer it is 4515 words long. You will find the following topics:

  • National anthem; Star-Spangled Banner.
  • Conduct during playing
  • Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery
  • Display and use of flag by civilians; codification of rules and customs; definition
  • Time and occasions for display
  • Position and manner of display
  • Respect for flag
  • Conduct during hoisting, lowering or passing of flag;
  • Modification of rules and customs by President;
  • Design for service flag; persons entitled to display flag;
  • Design for service lapel button; persons entitled to wear button;
  • Approval of designs by Secretary of Defense; license to manufacture and sell; penalties;
  • Rules and regulations;

Basically more than you every wanted to know about a flag. And as it turns out, knowing all is rather inconvenient for those who condemn others who disrespect the flag.

Since the current unrest centers on disrespect of the flag for so many I want to draw your attention to Respect for flag section. It begins:

No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.

The section includes the things we are familiar with: the flag should not touch the ground; it should not be displayed with the union down (upside down); etc. But there are some prohibitions that may surprise you:

  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery;
  • The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling;
  • The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature;
  • The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown;
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

Now, let’s let a few pictures  do the talking.

The flag should not be used on clothing!
The flags should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever!


 

 

It’s obvious that millions of Americans and numerous companies and corporations disrespect the United States flag according to the Flag Code. Country Western singer see no problem wearing the flag. Budweiser thought it a good way to sell beer. What is fascinating is that putting the revered flag on a can of beer or on women’s underpants is fine, but kneeling during the national anthem while the flag flies on high is deemed unpardonable. Where the flag is patriotic. Using the flag to sell products is capitalism. Kneeling to protest the assaults on and murder of African Americans is unforgivable.  

One last thought. What is more distrespecting of the American flag, which is, of course, just a symbol for what the country is and strives to be? Kneeling or racism? I suspect Kaepernick and the other protesters would be okay with the flag if police would stop shooting and killing unarmed African Americans, racist oppression would cease, justice was truly colorblind, and there actually was equality in these United States. Rosa Parks was not protesting buses. The NFL players are not protesting the flag.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Sep202017

Three Bangkok Cafés I’ll Never See Again

Café First ~ Walley House Restaurant

In Bangkok I stay in a small but pleasant hotel on the Chin River, a tributary of the Chao Phraya River. It’s called Hotel Mystic Place. It was my first day in Bangkok and I couldn’t sleep so at about 11:45 pm I left he hotel looking for a place to get something to eat. What I found was the Walley House Restaurant.

As far as I could see, the Walley House was simply a number of small tables, all for two people, hugging the walls of a narrow alley. The alley walls were dirty yellow. Plants hung from green posts located every six feet or so. Strung from pipes running along the walls, also painted green, were bells ringing in the breeze. There was corn hanging from the rafters. Outside the alley entrance were tuk tuks raced by and filthy beaten down dogs stood, no doubt smelling he food. One dog walked up to my table, looked at me, then curled up by my feet. It didn’t ask for anything. The Walley House was down and dirty, but the food was good, the Singha beer was cold, and I couldn’t sleep.


Café Second ~ Tha Tien Pier Café

I hopped on a Chao Phraya Express Boat running a watery taxi service on the Chao Phraya River. I alighted at Tha Tien Pier because I was told there was a large reclining Buddha in the area. And indeed there was. From my reckoning, a huge reclining Buddha. The temple was being worked on and there were colourful broken tiles in numerous piles. I took what looked like a green leaf as a souvenir.

As you walk up the dock at Tha Tien Pier immediately to your right is, what I called, the Tha Tien Pier Café. It was constructed of a potpourri of wood, corrugated steel, old signs, and was built over the water. I sat at table for two on the riverside and watched three young boys swimming in the river, which was filthy. There was a latter built onto the dock which they eventually used to escape the trash and plastic bottles floating on the water. Still, the looked happy enough.

All the tables were old worn wood with Formica surfaces chipped and peeling. In front of me were three drunk Thais sharing a bottle of whisky. Across the river was the Wat Arun temple and as I sat there numerous monks came across the river, walked up the dock, past the café, and continued, presumably, to the temple the reclining Buddha. One, however, stopped and took a seat in the café not far from me. He was dressed in the traditional saffron civara and sat quietly drinking a Lipovitan-D. The waiter completely ignored him and he seemed quite contented just sitting staring at the dock. He was an elderly man with a dignified profile. When he had finished his Lipovitan-D, he placed the small bottle on the table, signalled the waiter, and whispered in his ear. The waiter nodded and the old monk got up and walked away.

Floating quietly below and to my left, its huge car engine and long tiller system at rest, was a long-tail boat. Long-tail boats are used as a river taxis pausing at designated stops and people’s homes along Klong Man Canal. A few days later, the owner of the café told me not to rent a boat on my own, as tourists often did. It was not uncommon to take tourists out into the middle of the Chao Phraya River, turn off the engine, and ask for more money. Instead the owner of the café made arrangements for me to ride on a long-tail up the Klong Man Canal with the locals and back again to Tha Tien Pier.

The Tha Tien Pier Restaurant was run by one family. The son cooked the meals. A young girl who brought me my beer then sat and did her homework. The mother and daughter cleaned and bought supplies. The father sat, always with a happy surprised look on his face, not judgmental or mocking, just good natured, as if life was always a wonder to him. Behind and slightly to my right were stairs leading up to the family’s living quarters. The youngest, a beautiful little girl with a bright smile, was forever running up and down those stairs.

As I sat at my table I could watch my meal being cooked in large woks heated with gas cylinders right in front of me. I never saw those woks cleaned, and I ate at the café over several days. The water that was heated to cook meats, vegetables, rice and noodles was never dumped and replaced, just replenished. Small fish swam below the cooking area where they threw food over the railing. Sitting there I could smell the food cooking, constantly surrounded by a mixing of aromas. The air was hot but the Singha beer was cold.


Café Third ~ Blade Runner Café

Walking through sections of Bangkok it often seemed to me that people occupied concrete space on large roads or boulevards between large concrete buildings and built homes and small business out of wood, corrugated metals, cardboard, whatever they could lay their hands on. As a result I often walked down very narrow roads, alleyways really, sometimes in the shadows of the high city buildings. One evening well after dark, I walked down such an alleyway. People were out along the way, both working and simply doing what people do – living. I walked past a young woman cleaning dishes in a large plastic bowl in front of four hotplates. No doubt her small business. Children, doing what children do all around the world, were playing. Men sat smoking. Most of them looked at me as I walked by.

I eventually came to a small café with two large doors open to the alleyway. I could see no name, neither outside above the doors or inside. Inside the café was dark. It was like walking into a cave. Low burning feeble lightbulbs hung from the ceiling, which was quite low. The place was humble, to say the least.

To my right on the wall was a television showing the movie Terminator. I claimed a table and watched Arnold do his thing. In the back of the room was a red neon sign advertising international telephone calls. Under the sign were half a dozen booths with, you guessed it, telephones. Today no doubt, if that small café still exists, there will be monitors with internet connections. Sitting there in a run down less then clean café, drinking my beer, the clash of poverty and technology struck me. And as if on cue, it started to rain outside, the rain pounding down into the alleyway between high rises, splashing in through the open door. If felt like I had just stepped into the film Blade Runner.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Aug292017

Time to Choose a Side ~ Charlottesville Made It Easy 

Did Charlottesville, Virginia change anything for you?

We got to see the two sides of Trump: the scripted and the spontaneous. We all know now that his first statement after the events in Charlottesville laid blame for the violence on “both sides.” This hint at moral equiveillance between white supremacists, Nazis, KKK, and fascists and all those who opposed them caused outrage among many, though not enough among members of the Republican Party in Congress for them to call Trump out by name. Unfortunately, his “both sides” comment was just the warmup act. The following day Trump read a scripted statement condemning supremacists, Nazis, KKK, and fascists and it should have ended there. However, Trump is like a stupid ill-behaved adolescent and the following day we saw and heard the spontaneous Trump. The issue of moral equiveillance was articulated clearly, washing away any ambiguity the words “both sides” might have had for some. And his anger while defending some of those “nice people” in the alt-right shouted volumes.

The contrast between the scripted Trump and the spontaneous Trump demand we make a decision. It is for all of us to decide which of the two Trumps on display is the real Trump, or at least as real as real can get with this man. Choose. It’s easy. The two sides are mutually exclusive.

In case you are still conflicted, I suggest you watch Trump's Phoenix rally speech. A lot of words are used to describe Trump’s speeches but one we hear quite often is “unhinged.” This speech was no exception. Regardless of your political persuasion or what party or movement you belong to, the Phoenix speech should worry you. His continued assault on the free press and the crowd’s response is unnerving. Journalists are fake, the enemy, people who don’t like the country. I’m surprised no journalist has been shot given the level of anger Trump generates towards the media. Also, his constant bold and unrepentant lying is breathtaking and dangerous. For example, he declared loudly (most of what he says he says loudly) that the television networks were turning off their cameras because they didn’t want people to hear what he would say live on TV. In fact, all the networks that were there televised his entire speech. He bragged about the massive crowd that had come out, while photographs showed the opposite. The Washington Post Fact Checker calculated that this truth-challenged man lies on average 4.6 times a day. 

We no longer have the luxury of ignoring Trump or remaining silent. He may be the most incompetent and dangerous president the United States has ever elected. His suggesting there is a moral equivalence between alt-right, KKK, Nazis, and white supremacists with those who oppose them, is unprecedented for a president. We cannot let it stand. If you doubt his affection for the extreme right, take a close look at Sherriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona. I agree with Paul Krugman when he wrote in “Fascism, American Style” in the New York Times: 

Let’s call things by their proper names here. Arpaio is, of course, a white supremacist. But he’s more than that. There’s a word for political regimes that round up members of minority groups and send them to concentration camps, while rejecting the rule of law: What Arpaio brought to Maricopa, and what the president of the United States has just endorsed, was fascism, American style.

If you’re not concerned about the Arpaio pardon, perhaps this will help. First, the pardon signals to other officers of the law who are loyal Trump supporters that if they choose to follow Arpaio’s lead, a presidential pardon may protect them. Second, the pardon signifies to judges that finding a loyal Trump supporter guilty before the law may be a waste of time. Third, the pardon is indicative of a man who disrespects the law while embracing authoritarianism. Is this a presidential precedence you want created? Hint before answering: things change.

Many of us use the word “fascism” and “fascist” when writing and talking about Trump. It’s not unreasonable to question the legitimacy of using those words. But given Trump’s attacks on the media, his attack on the judiciary, his attack on the electoral system, his speech to the Boy Scouts, his words and behavior at the press conference when responding to the Charlottesville crisis, his Phoenix rally speech, and his pardoning of Arpaio, if he is not a fascist he is perilously close to becoming one.

We need to shut down Trump and his followers hard for two basic reasons. First, Nazis, white supremacists, fascists, and KKK members have been emboldened by Trump and have crawled out from under their rocks. Societies, including the United States, will always have these hateful people. They need to be kept in place through legislation and cultural precepts. Trump has set them free. It has to be made perfectly clear that that is unacceptable. Second, though we might debate the legitimacy of calling Trump a fascist, many of his followers are and if we don’t assertively and definitively end Trump’s time in the White House, the white supremacist who may follow him into that house may be far worse. Democracies are always and only a few votes away from fascism and the United States is no exception.

Apparently people thought it unfair that white people marching in Charlottesville were called Nazis. They thought it unjust and wanted to know why it happened. I think I can help.

1. They were carrying Nazi flags.
2. They were giving Nazi salutes.
3. They were chanting Nazi slogans.
4. They were fucking Nazis!

Now, if you were one of the people outraged that Trump’s "good people" marching and shouting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans were maligned, and in case you don’t know shit all about history, again, I think I can help. Nazism is anathema to our democratic and enlightenment values. We fought a war in which millions of people died to put them back under their rocks. This is not a grey area. So, I don't really care if your feelings are hurt. I am not moved by Nazis crying on YouTube because they lost their jobs or they felt put upon. It's time to choose a side. Do your sympathies lie with the Nazis or the anti-Nazis. Choose. It’s not hard.

To my Republican friends: I know many of you voted for Trump because you utterly hated Clinton and I suspect you've had some uneasy moments because, let's face it, Trump and his followers never hid who he was. We all knew. We all know. But if you did doubt he was really that bad, his appointment of Gorka, Miller, and Bannon should have relieved you of your doubts. These guys never hid who they are either and they were in your White House soiling the carpets – actually, one still is. Don’t make too much of the fact that two of them are now gone. They’re still with us and feeling strong.

Now, I'm guessing you are not white supremacists, fascists, or Nazis, so it's time we started hearing from you. It's time to hear whose side you're on, because I'm pretty damn sure Charlottesville was the beginning, not the end. I didn't vote for the bastard, you did, so I'm afraid it's more on you. Time to stand up, grab that metaphorical megaphone and shout. We could use your help. Don’t wait for Republicans in the House and the Senate. Their moral integrity went walk-about a long time ago. No, you’ll have to do this without their help.

So, American democracy or Trump and the Gang? It’s time to choose sides. It’s easy. There is no grey area here. There is no nuances to concern you. It’s time to choose a side. And remember, not choosing is in fact choosing. So, what will it be?

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Aug022017

The Politics of Disgust

I’ve been going through a phase lately where hope seems illusionary. I’m not saying I’m hopeless, but at times it feels like hopelessness might be just over the next hill. I read the news each day resulting in the now familiar feeling of repugnance.

The circus, or nightmare, continues. This is what the United States has come to. In the past week the media – print, television, and internet – have been doing their best to explain that Steve Bannon can’t really suck his own cock while not using the words “suck” and “cock.” The ten-day-communication-director seems to think Bannon does do the impossible, which he shared during an on the record interview where he also said the then White House chief of staff was a “fucking paranoid schizophrenic.” Trump tweeted that transgender people would no more be welcome in the military without telling his generals or sending them a policy brief. The joint chiefs basically said they would ignore, at least for the time being, their commander-and-chief. Both the Boy Scouts and police departments across the country have had to apologize for and repudiate Trump speeches. The speech to the Boy Scouts was unhinged and had more the feeling of a right-wing fascist autocrat's (with reality TV experience) speech to his youth division. The speech to the police advocated the mistreating of, if not the abuse of, suspects being arrested. While reading a testimony to a 97 year old second world war veteran Trump realized the man was from Ohio and then went off script and started bragging about how he had won Ohio at the last election. Such is his need for self-affirmation, such is the level of his narcissism, that he couldn’t even let a 97 year old war hero have his moment. This is the short list of recent events in Trumpland, and it all happened in a matter of days, not months.  

The daily circus is disheartening. What an embarrassment. What a danger. It’s gotten to the point, in only six months, that for the first time in my life I’ve been seriously contemplating going cold turkey on the news. I have become weary of both reading and sharing Trump news (absurdities and offences) on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve begun to wonder if laughing at him, which I always thought was a good survival strategy, may be more harmful than helpful. And then I read an opinion piece by Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian entitled “With Trump it’s time to go beyond mere disgust.” 

I’m not going to summarize the article, I encourage you to read it, but Freedland echoes my growing doubt that all our shared complaints, shocks, jokes, etc., don’t make one bit of difference. So, Freedland reminds us that finger-waving among ourselves is not enough, that we need to continue to resist and organize. He notes that the failed attempt by Trump and the GOP to repeal Obamacare (though The Deal Maker didn’t seem to try all that hard to get the skinny repeal passed) is as strong indication that activism does work. But then Freeland writes something which is also important: “There has to be room too for a simply rejection of Trump’s behavior, a basic politics of disgust.”

A Politics of Disgust is both a commitment and a strategy. It is important to keep saying loudly that Trump’s narcissistic and often times cruel behavior should not be normalized, should not be accepted. It should also be a strategy of explaining that Trump’s behavior is eating away at our national discourse. It is undermining our democratic principles, not least that we can disagree without demonizing others and advocating violence against them. The United States, socially and politically, is being reduced to an aggressive uncompromising absurd reality TV show. The media is under assault. Compromise is a forgotten art. The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary is being questioned. Policy creation has been reduced to tweets.

It can rightfully be argued that Trump is merely the product of this deterioration that the GOP has embraced for years. The Republican Party is now a rogue party that has lost its way to the detriment of the United States. However, what I fear is that if we don’t stop Trump forcefully as the now leader of this decline, the next “Trump” in our future will be by far worse. While at present we rightfully challenge Trump’s fascist leanings, the next time around we may be facing an undeniable fascist president.

So, we keep hammering away at Trump’s disturbed behavior so that people remain engaged and no one forgets this is not normal. It’s important to emphasize that his behavior is not entertainment, not distraction, but is corrosive.

In a sense we need to do “a Clinton” on Trump. For years the right-wing demonized Hillary Clinton as a liar, crook, murderer, child abuser, etc. Clinton is hardly a perfect person and politician, but she rated even above Sanders as the most truthful candidate in the last election cycle. Nonetheless, constantly saying something, true or not, sticks in people’s minds to the point where an admitted abuser and advocate of violence with no experience in public service seemed like a better choice for president for millions of Americans. However – and it’s a big however – we don’t have to lie about who Trump is. We don’t have to make things up. We don’t have to exaggerate. We merely have to quote him and report his activities truthfully. His behavior is already an offence and a danger without our help.

Sports Illustrated reports that while justifying his frequent and expensive visits to his various golf resorts, Trump said: “The White House is a real dump.” That’s the president speaking. I’m sure I’m not the only person responding: “If you don’t like it, move out.”

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jul192017

Fours Things You Can Do for an Author

The other day someone reading one of my books asked what she could do to “say thanks”. It was a funny kind of question. People either say nothing about reading my books or they say things like “Really enjoying your book.” They don’t every ask what they can do for me because they are enjoying my book. However, I did not hesitate in answering her. Here’s gist of what I said.

One, if you actually know the author simply tell him or her that you like the book and thank them. Even a short comment feels good and is appreciated. If you really feel inspired, engage in a conversation, ask the author a question. Last Sunday a man told me he was really enjoying The Girl in the Silver Mask and then asked if I had been to New Orleans – the book takes place in that city. I said that I had, that I had made two visits to the city for research staying several weeks at a time. He then asked if I had been to Ghana – Chapter 3 is about a visit to the Cape Coast slave castle in Ghana. I said I have been to Ghana several times and, of course, visited the slave castle. My answers confirmed what he had thought saying as he reads he feels as though he were in New Orleans and Ghana himself. We talked about the need for information about a place and having a “feeling” for a place, though I did tell him Google maps is also a great tool. My point is, I enjoyed talking to him about the book and welcome such conversations.

If you don’t know the author, which is usually the case, you can try and track him or her down. Most authors have blogs or websites and are more than not on Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram. It’s not hard to find a way to leave a message and perhaps strike up a conversation.

Two, tell your friends about the book. Or even buy them a copy. Even authors who publish with traditional publishers have to do their own marketing these days. There are a million books, articles, websites, blogs, DVD’s, and courses promising to teach authors how to sell their books. There are a million websites that promise to give an author’s book exposure through the website, Facebook, Tweeter, etc., and increase its sales. Most of us read some of the books, visited the blogs, signed up for the courses. Most of us have tried the exposure websites. And most of us are lousy at marketing. However, from what I’ve read, when it comes down to it, word of mouth is still the best marketing in town. If someone is selling a lot of books, it more than likely is because people are telling their friends what a great or interesting or significant book it is.

Also in the category of “tell a friend” you can suggest the book for your book club. If you know the author, you can hold a book reading and signing evening in your home or church or community center and invite friends and acquaintances. A little wine never hurt book sales.

Three is easy, the easiest of my four suggestions. Don’t lend your copy of the book to your friends and family. Either encourage them to buy their own copy or buy one for them. If you lend your copy to three friends, that’s three sales lost to the author. Yes, it’s true, most of us write because we enjoy writing. And most of us do not have delusions of grandeur and are pretty sure we are not going to get rich, or even comfortable, writing books. One of the days a royalties check arrive in the mail I told my wife I was going to take her out to dinner and then asked where the closed McDonald’s was. I excitedly added this time she could have a drink with her meal. No, wealth is probably not in the cards, but that’s not to say we don’t enjoy making some money. Sales are nice.

Four, write a review on Amazon. Reviews really can help. 88% of customers say they trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations, and 85% say they read up to ten reviews. People tend to trust Amazon reviews because Amazon actively defends the integrity of reviews. 

There’s a lot of talk about how reviews impact Amazon’s ranking, but some things seem pretty clear. Amazon’s algorithm weighs newer reviews, reviews from verified Amazon customers, and reviews voted most helpful by other customers more highly. As a result the number of 5 Star reviews is important. Anything below 4 Stars is considered “not recommended.” A book’s ranking is affected by the number of clicks a book gets, but at bottom line the ranking is mostly determined by the number of books sold each day (downloads, paperbacks and hardcovers). In addition, once a book has ten reviews, it’s eligible to be included in the “also bought” listing that you see when you look at a book – you know, the “customers who bought The Woman in White Marble also bought The Girl in the Silver Mask.”

A book’s ranking determines its visibility. Your review helps a book sell, which increases the its visibility, which increases its sales.

You don’t need to be a professional review/critic. You just need to be honest. You don’t need to write a long review. Short is okay. You do have to be an Amazon customer who has spent at least $50.00, but most of us are. So give it a shot. Write a review. An author will be very grateful. And if you do and have the time, don’t forget Amazon is in the US, UK, Australia, etc. If you’re a US customer, also post your review in the UK, for example.

So, it’s simple really. If you want to help an author:

  • Thank him or her and engage in conversation;
  • Tell your friends and family about the book;
  • Don’t’ lend your copy out, but encourage others to purchase their own;
  • Write a review.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jul052017

Notes from Billings, Montana, 1819

In 1976 and 1977 I conducted archaeological survey for the forest service in Montana as a graduate student in anthropology at the University of Montana. In the summer of 1997 I stayed in Wisdom, Montana (Wisdom was surrounded by farms, so while the town had a population of only 25 people, the greater area was more populated). I was surveying along the Continental Divide, would go up into the mountains for two or three weeks, and then come down and stay in Wisdom for three or four days to recoup. I learned that when returning to Wisdom it was best not to shower before going to the café for dinner. And it was also best to keep wearing my cowboy hat, though I found that more difficult. This was Montana.

I stayed in a cheap hotel and ate all my meals in the café. I became well known in that café and when I left at the end of the summer the young woman behind the counter gave me a café mug as a remembrance. I think she found me interesting. I would sit at the counter drinking my coffee or beer, depending on the time of day, eating my meal while reading a small hardback copy of War and Peace. The book had a black cover and thin paper like in a Bible. One day the young woman asked me why I read the Bible so much. It took me a second to realize that my copy of War and Peace did indeed look like a Bible.

Believe it or not, Wisdom had a second hand bookstore and I spent many hours browsing on my off days. One day I found A Brief History of the United States, published 1871, 1879, 1880, and 1885 by A. S. Barnes & Company of New York and Chicago. A Brief History of the United States was a text book and begins with “Suggestions to Teachers”:

The following method of using this work has been successfully employed by many teachers. At the commencement of the study, let each pupil be required to draw an outline map of North America, at least 18 x 24 inches in size. This should contain only physical features, viz., coast-lines, mountains, lakes, and rivers…As the pupils advance in the text, let them mark on their maps, day by day, the places discovered, the settlements, battles, political divisions, etc., with their dates. They will thus see the country growing afresh under their hands and eye, and the geography and the history will be indissolubly linked. At the close of the term, their maps will show what they have done, and each name with its dates, will recall the history which clusters around it.

I have to say, it seemed like a good idea, though I never drew a map or read the book in its entirety. However, what intrigued me, and what motivated me to buy the book, was Edna Cardwell.

An Illustration in Brief History of the United States Edna Cardwell was the owner of this particular school book, now owned by me. At the top of the first page is written:

Edna Cardwell
Billings, Montana
Dec. 11, 1889

At the bottom of the page is written:

Edna Cardwell = marry

(She had drawn several lines though her name.)

On the inside front cover is stamped:

 

 

DRUGS AND MEDICINES,
PERFUMES, POWERS,School Books & and Supplies,            
GANDIES 7 FRUITS,

TOYS,

WHOELSALES. G. w. SHOWMAKER, RETAILS.

Bilknap Block, Opp. H’d’q’tr’s, BILLINGS, M. T.


The store also sold paints, oils, brushes, glass, stains, razors, scissors, knives, pocket books, musical instruments, all kinds of stationary & blank books. Quite a store, and presumably where Edna’s parents bought Brief History of the United States.

Edna Cardwell's notes in Brief History of the United States Edna made numerous comments in the margins and the text throughout the book, and on pages obviously there for pupils to write on she made more detailed notes. Also, and to my delight, there were four yellowing pieces of paper folded and tucked in the pages of the book, all with various writings, in pencil, in her own hand.  

On one is a list of states and dates, and capital cities. On the other side most of what she wrote is scribbled out so I can’t read it, but one sentence remains readable: “Have you thought any more about boys or girls?”

On a second page is: “I was into Earnest P. room yesterday.” Below these words is a diagram of the room with its dimensions. Below that is: “They have a lovely dance room,” again with a diagram and the room’s dimensions.

The third has short biography of Hawthorne, beginning with these words: “Hawthorne was born July 4th 1804 and died May 19th 1864.”

The fourth piece of paper is the most interesting. At the top is her name and then this:

On Queen St. in Portsmouth at a tavern door about one hundred years ago there lived a woman by the name of Mistress Stavis.

Up over the clock was a portrait of the earl of Halifax with his scarlet coat.

At the (can’t make out the word) station the Earl had seen Stavis her husband dressed in bottle green driving his stage coach.

The Earl was interrupted by a little girl barefooted and ragged who men would adore and through her streets she goes with a pail of water and bathing her feet.

As she hurried by with laughter in her eyes a sunbeam danced in her pail.

The Earl of Halifax seen the sight and heard the words “Martha Hilton” how dare you go down the streets half dressed and she repeated “I shall ride in my own chariot.”

One day a portly person riding a chariot with a three cornered hat and a crimson velvet coat, a gold headed cane and diamond buckles on his pants. Gov. Wentworth had a great large house down by the bay and was not seen from the high road.

(I have copied the “story” exactly as Edna wrote it.)

And that was it. I loved the line “As she hurried by with laughter in her eyes a sunbeam danced in her pail.” I wondered if the story continued on another page that didn’t get folded into the book. Of course, I’ll never know.

George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax (1716–1771) became known as “the father of the colonies” because of his long tenure as president of the Board of Trade (a British colonial advisory group). I’m assuming that is the Halifax Edna is writing about. 

Benning Wentworth was Colonial Governor of New Hampshire 1741-1766, but here’s the fun part. Martha Hilton was Wentworth’s maid. In March of 1760 Wentworth invited the upper crust of Portsmouth to dinner where he announced that he, the rich portly 64 years old widow with two dead sons, was marrying the 23 year old maid Martha Hilton. He wanted an heir and Martha “decided the crotchety, portly, gout-beset Wentworth was husband material…” As it turned out, Wentworth died ten years later without an heir, but left his wealth and land to Martha. Eventually Wentworth’s nephew, John Wentworth, stripped Martha of the land having contested his uncle’s will through the courts in England. But in 1789 the ex-maid got the last laugh when she hosted President George Washington in the Benning Wentworth mansion in Portsmouth and accompanied the new president to church.

An Illustration in Brief History of the United States I wasn’t able to find where in A Brief History of the United States Edna might have found the confusing story she wrote in pencil on a now yellow and fragile piece of paper. Perhaps she simple made most of it up. Nonetheless, I’m left wondering who is Mistress Stavis? Where was the tavern located? Who was the little girl with the pail of water and whose feet did she wash? But most of all, I wondered, and still wonder, who was Edna Cardwell?

How old was she when she read A Brief History of the United States in Billings, Montana? Did she pass her history class? Did she ever marry? How long did she live? How did she live?

It’s interesting looking at a person’s handwriting written in 1889. I imagine her fingers holding the pencil and her hand sliding across the paper as she wrote. What was she thinking? What did she feel? What did she hope for?

She seems young to me, though the history book is obviously not for young children. I did make the effort to find her. I looked at numerous Montana genealogy sites and birth records but with no luck. My guess is Edna was born in Billings, but I don’t know how old she was in 1889 when she signed her name in A Brief History of the United States.

I will never find you, Edna, but I have your book, I have your notes, I have your calculations, I have your handwriting, I have your now yellow paper. I just don’t have you.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Jun202017

Donald Trump: A Portrait of a Sad Man

Apparently Trump called the Prime Minister Teresa May to indefinitely postpone his scheduled state visit to the UK. It seems he will only visit the UK once the people there like him, or at least won’t mock him. He said he did not want to go if there were going to be large-scale protests (See Trump’s state visit to Britain put on hold).

Trump does not like being disliked, which is not unusual after all, but he seems to excel in this area. If a warm welcome by the people of Britain is what he is waiting for, he may have a long wait. A UK Government and Parliament Petition entitled Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom ended up with 1,863,707 signatures before it was closed on May 3, 2017. In part the petition stated: 

Donald Trump's well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.

To make matters worse, immediately after a terrorist attack in London, Trump went on Twitter to attack the London mayor Sadiq Kahn’s handling of the crisis, misrepresenting Kahn’s comments. When it was pointed out that he had either lied about the mayor’s comments or not actually read them, he attacked Kahn again, calling Kahn’s defense a “pathetic excuse.” You would think that if you wanted to be liked by the British people before you were willing to land in London, attacking a very popular mayor as he was dealing with a terrorist attack was not the thing to do. And it’s important to note, that Trump’s attack on Kahn happened after his call to May postponing his state visit.

After his attack on Kahn, people in Britain were more enthused to greet Trump with as much British mockery as they could muster. One group has begun a poster campaign to moon Trump when he arrives. Talk about being the butt of a joke.

The legally elected president of the United States is an internationally mocked man. Even Lindsey Graham made of joke of Trump when defending the position that Trump has not colluded with the Russians. Graham is quoted as saying:  “He [Trump] doesn't believe he did anything wrong with the Russians, and I tend to believe him. He can't collude with his own government. Why do you think he's colluding with the Russians?” And in another interview: "I don't believe Trump colluded with the Russians because I don't think he colludes with his own staff."    

Republicans defend Trump against accusations of obstructing justice in the Russian investigation by saying he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. An interesting defense: the president is incompetent and therefore cannot be held morally, politically, legally responsible for what he does and says. 

Trump is a mocked and sad man. If he weren’t so dangerous I’d almost feel sorry for him. Almost. I can’t decide if he’s simply playing us or if he really is psychologically damaged. Perhaps both. The scenes of Trump’s first full cabinet meeting when members of the cabinet took turns praising him was excruciatingly embarrassing.  As Time reported, the bizarre event was “a kind of political theater not typically associated with democracies,” an understatement the British would appreciate. And “Here, for all of America and the world to see, were the sycophants of the Imperial President’s court…” The event has been called embarrassing and un-American, but what does it say about a man who would orchestrate such a thing?

In the book The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, the character Dorian Gray owns a full length portrait of himself which he hides in his attic. The oil was painted by Basil Hallward, an artist who became obsessed by Dorian’s beauty. Through Hallward, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton who seduces him into a hedonistic life where beauty and sensual pleasure are the only things worth pursuing. Of course, Dorian knows that eventually his beauty and health will fade, so he sells his soul, the result of which is that portrait in the attic ages while he remains young. However, the portrait not only ages with time, it also absorbs Dorian’s amoral and immoral life and grows grotesque.

It's not difficult to imagine that Trump has a portrait of himself hidden away in his Golden Tower in New York. But I imagine it as a reverse Dorian Gray. While Dorian remained young, fit, beautiful, and intelligent, Trump has become old, bloated, and dump. While Dorian’s portrait became an immoral ludicrous image, Trump’s portrait has become good and pure, indeed almost saintly.

Somewhere in the Golden Tower is a portrait of man who is not only presidential, but a president. He speaks the truth with clarity and poetic language. He is adult, selfless, and discreet. He is intelligent and excels in the art of political discourse, diplomacy, and decision making. He is in control of himself and get things done. He earns the loyalty of his subordinates without having to demand it. He supports and encourages his staff. He does not seek, or orchestrate praise from them. He understands politics to be an honorable and important service to the people. He does not profit economically through his position, but does profit emotionally through his service. He not only honors, but obeys the laws of the land because as a democratically elected president he is not above the law or the people.

The minority of Americans who voted for Trump have done him a great disservice. He simply is not psychologically equipped to handle the presidency. He lacks the experience and expertise to be one of the most important politician on the planet. He is a very rich man, in great debt, who had gone bankrupt several times. He is incompetent and his incompetency is dangerous. The minority of Americans who voted for Trump did a disservice to the nation. One day, we are going to have to clean up the mess now being created.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Jun072017

Twilight Zone, Morality, and the Unimaginable

For the past couple of years I’ve been slowly going watching all the old Twilight Zone episodes, though I must confess since Trump’s election I’ve been watching them with greater frequency. Last night I watched Episode 26, Season 5, entitled “I am the Night – Color me Black.” More about that below.

Created by Rod Serling, the series ran for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. All the original episodes were filmed in black and white, which gives them a certain gravitas today, sometimes not deserved. The stories ranged wildly from sci fi to fantasy to psychological drama to comedy. Almost always, these different genres were used to make an explicit social and/or moral point. And if we the reader were to miss that point, Serling was always there at the end to spell it out for us. His opening and closing monologues are still a delight to watch.

Of course, one of the joys of watching the Twilight Zone today the anticipation of seeing now established stars in their not so famous younger years. There are a lot of them (the following list is not exhaustive):

  • Robert Duvall in “Miniature”;
  • Vera Miles in “Mirror Image”;
  • Carol Burnett in “Cavender is Coming”;
  • Don Rickles in “Mr. Dingle, the Strong;
  • Jack Klugman in “A Came of Pool”;
  • Burgress Meredith in “Time Enough at Last,” “Mr. Dingle, the Strong,” “The Obsolete Man,” and “Printer’s Devil”;
  • Elizabeth Montgomery in “Two”;
  • Peter Falk in “The Mirror”;
  • Lee Marvin in “The Grave”;
  • Rod Taylor in “And When the Sky was Open”;
  • Dennis Hopper in “He’s Alive”;
  • Roddy McDowell in “People are Alike All Over”;
  • Cloris Leachman in “It’s a Good Life”;
  • Burt Reynolds in “The Bard”;
  • Charles Bronson in “Two”;
  • Ron Howard in “Walking Distance”;
  • Veronia Cartwright in “I Sing the Body Electric”;
  • Jonathan Winters in “A Game of Pool”;
  • Martin Landau in “The Jeopardy Room”;
  • Sydney Pollack in “The Trouble with Temptation”;
  • Dennis Weaver in “Shadow Play”;
  • Leonard Nimoy in “A Quality of Mercy”;
  • William Shatner in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Nick of Time”; and of course,
  • Robert Redford in “Nothing in the Dark.”

We all have our favorite Twilight Zone episodes but surely these must be on the best of best list:

  • “Walking Distance” October 30, 1959;
  • “The Lonely” November 13, 1959;
  • “Time Enough at Last” November 20, 1959;
  • “The Hitch-Hiker” January 22, 1960;
  • “The Monsters are Due on Mable Street” March 4, 1960;
  • “Eye of the Beholder” November 11, 1960;
  • “Game of Pool” October 13, 1961;
  •  “It’s a Good Life” November 3, 1961;
  • “A Quality of Mercy” December 22, 1961;
  • “Miniature” February 21, 1963;
  • “In Praise of Pip” September 27, 1963;
  • “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” October 11, 1963.

As I said, I’ve just watched “I am the Night – Color me Black,” Episode 26, Season 5 written by Serling, which means I have ten more episodes to go (the series finally ends with the 156th episode, “The Bewitchin’ Pool,”). Here is the opening narration of “I am the Night – Color me Black”:

Sheriff Charlie Koch on the morning of an execution. As a matter of fact, it's seven-thirty in the morning. Logic and natural laws dictate that at this hour there should be daylight. It is a simple rule of physical science that the sun should rise at a certain moment and supersede the darkness. But at this given moment, Sheriff Charlie Koch, a deputy named Pierce, a condemned man named Jagger, and a small, inconsequential village will shortly find out that there are causes and effects that have no precedent. Such is usually the case—in the Twilight Zone.

The story is simple. A man, Jagger, has been convicted of murder and is to be hanged at 9:30 a.m. The man he killed is portrayed as a “bigot,” a cross-burner and murderer. Thing is, there seems to be unease about his conviction. Sheriff Koch can’t sleep the night before the execution. The town’s newspaper editor, Colbey, claims that Jagger’s conviction was due to prejudicial policing and bias reporting. Deputy Pierce claimed Jagger’s shot the man from across the room, but there were powder burns on the victim. And while Pierce looks forward to the hanging, Koch and Colbey are feeling guilty. The Twilight Zone Twist? It is morning, but the sky is as dark as night.

While standing before the gallows, Jagger is confronted by Rev. Anderson, an African American. Anderson points out that he and Jagger are of different faiths and different colors, but he says that Jagger “stood up for me and mine. You spoke for us and God help us you killed for us.” The town’s people are yelling for Jagger’s hanging. He walks up the steps of the gallows, turns and shouts that he will not give them the satisfaction of saying he is sorry for killing the racist. Jagger’s looks at the noose and the good reverend speaks again. Jagger turns back to Anderson and the crowd and shouts he has too much hate to keep it held in. It is at this point that the episode reveals the point of the narration. It is not about murder or false convictions. It is not about racism and justice. It is simply about hate. After further questioning, Anderson announces to the crowd that Jagger is indeed guilty, but not of murder, of hatred, to which Jagger says, “It’s important to get with majority, isn’t it.” Anderson responds, “That’s all there is, the majority. The minority must have died on the cross 2000 years ago.”

Jagger is hanged. Anderson turns to the crowd declaring that the darkness is hatred, which resulted in killing and death. The blackness, the darkness, all around is the hate. As the preacher ceases to speak, it gets even darker so that the people could “hardly see anything.”

The show ends back in the sheriff’s office with Koch, Pierce, and Colbey listening to the  radio news reporting that batches of darkness were descending across the United States and elsewhere.

“I am the Night – Color me Black” is a typical Twilight Zone morality play, and while the plot has some complexities (why did the sheriff and the newspaper man feel guilty if the murderer admitted his own guilt?; why the railroaded conviction for that matter?), it doesn’t matter. The racism, murder, injustices were just means to get to the point, which is simplicity itself. The point is purely that hatred is bad, very bad. And of the viewers of 1964 happened to miss it, Serling was there to spell it out for them. His closing narration:

A sickness known as hate. Not a virus, not a microbe, not a germ—but a sickness nonetheless, highly contagious, deadly in its effects. Don't look for it in the Twilight Zone—look for it in a mirror. Look for it before the light goes out altogether.

As I have been watching episode after episode over the last two years, it struck me that the Twilight Zone now seems naïve and moralistic, and perhaps that is why I have enjoyed viewing them so much. Perhaps, the episodes take me back to a time when I imagine things were more simple, less tarnished, more clear. The moral lessons were black and white. There was no grey area to be concerned with, and Serling was always there to make sure no greyness was imagined by the viewer.

Interestingly, I don’t remember thinking the show as naïve and moralistic when I first watched it. So, is it society or me that has changed? Or, of course, both?

Is it because I am now older and have been bruised and disappointed enough that morality tales lack the depth needed to address my life, but, nonetheless, entertain me with a longing for simpler times? Or is it that society itself has rendered the past shallow? Clearly, the past was never as naïve as our nostalgic interpretation would have us believe. Serling wrote “I am the Night – Color me Black” as a response to the assassination of John Kennedy. But surely, as we were watching the Twilight Zone for the first time we could never have imagined that the United States could elect to the presidency a man so utterly incompetent and devoid of any moral and ethical integrity as Donald Trump.

If Serling had written an episode depicting a fictitious president doing exactly what Trump has been doing since taking office, it would have been considered a satire or comedy, but certainly not realism. If realism is the attempt to make art and literature resemble life, then Trump is simply unimaginable. After all, the recently fired FBI Director just told the world under oath that the president of the United States of America is a liar and cannot be trusted. If you every meet with him, be sure to document the encounter when you're done. Perhaps find a notary public. Do they have notary publics in the Twilight Zone?

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Sunday
May282017

The Politics of Past Grievances and Suspicious Truth in the Beantown Tavern

Last week I flew from Seattle to Charleston, that is from very blue to very red, from liberal elite to conservative left behind. My wife and I jumped into our rental car and headed for the hotel, which was located a short distance from a town called Matthews. After checking in and unpacking, we got back in the car and, guided by our GPS, made it to Matthews’ small and pleasant town center.

Matthews is a nice place. By the time we got there the only place still serving food was the Beantown Tavern. The tavern consists of three large rooms with very high ceilings. Down home to say the least. No silly tablecloths here. There is a nice long bar in one room, the location of most of the indoors customers. The others rooms have numerous tables and were mostly empty. There is also an outside sitting area overlooking the town green and the large town hall and library. This outside area has a roof to protect people from the rain or the sun and has three slowly rotating ceiling fans. There are ten or so high pub tables and chairs and we took one at the very end of the area, the only one still available.

The first thing that needs to be said about Beantown is that the staff are wonderfully and genuinely friendly and good at their jobs. We ordered draft Sam Adams, cheeseburger with regular fries, and tuna melt with sweet potatoes fries. The food was excellent and the beer was refreshingly cold. At the table next to us was a guy who had had too much to drink, and by the looks of him he had had many days and night of too much to drink. He also smoked, which contributed to his pasty, old, beaten up appearance. But he was a happy drunk and explained in detail that he was dog-sitting the very dog that was sitting there smiling at us. Watching the people it seemed clear that most of them, if not all, were locals.  

If what I’ve been reading is true, most of the people I saw at Beantown are angry and voted for Trump and whatever Republican was running for whatever office because they are angry. It is apparently my responsibility to get to know them and why they are so angry. For the record, I still resist the group hug of unity and peace that I’m supposed to join, if not initiate, but after two visits to the Beantown Tavern I’m less hostile to the idea. Perhaps they could meet me half way, though I suspect that more than a few of them would just as well shoot me if they knew what I really believed, particularly about their orange savior.

As the current knowledge goes, they’re angry because they have been left behind. I can understand the anger. After the 2008 crash due to greed and criminality on the part of the financial industry, we the people were left holding the bag. We bailed out the banks with trillions of $’s, €’s, £’s, ¥, etc., as well as our libraries, childcare, healthcare, police forces, cultural, schools, social care, and so on. While we were doing that at the height of the crash, the bankers continued to give themselves bonuses. Yes,  since 2008 hundreds of people in banking have gone to jail, but only one or two CEO’s were arrested. Admittedly, a few of these masters of the universe, who believe in raw unregulated capitalism, that is until they need our help, at which point they become enthusiastic socialist, lost their jobs. In Britain a couple of them lost their knighthoods, but the general sentiment was big fucking deal. And did our governments do anything? Of course not. Obama actually brought into the White House the very men who caused the crisis in the first place. We are still paying and I doubt many of the big boys lost their yachts and second, or third, or fourth homes. Yea, I get why the people in Beantown are angry.

If every we doubted who was running the world and for whom it is being run, I would have thought our doubts would have dissolved after 2008. In the big scheme of things we are all being left behind, though some have suffered far worse than others. But many of those who felt they have been left behind, or lost, or displaced, or replaced, in the great American melting pot of color and customs weren’t just moaning about the globalization mix they so hate and perhaps fear.

I cant' call the good folk in the Beantown Tavern racists. After all, they are like everyone else in the country. Some are out and out racist and others, hopefully most, are trying everyday to minimize the damage (given our history of genocide and slavery, all Americans are racist to some degree). However, it sure seemed like the recent election was the white man’s and woman’s great last stand. There was that unpleasant fact for many that a black man was not only living in the Big House, but was the boss. The black man and his black wife were referred to as monkeys and apes, sometimes by the men and women elected to Congress. There were open calls for the black man’s assassination. The black man’s black children were mocked and insulted. And the signs and t-shirts that encouraged us to put the white back in the White House were pretty unambiguous.

Well, the white has been put back in the White House (literally), and also in the House, the Senate, and Supreme Court (metaphorically). The great left behind, angry about their loss and financial insecurity, elected a selfish billionaire who lived in a gold coated apartment at the top of a tower with his name on it. Go figure, and if you’re wondering how that is working out, just look at his first budget. It doesn’t matter that it is dead upon arrival at Congress. It speaks to who the man is and to whom he is loyal. While the U.S. has been slipping out of democracy and into oligarchy for years, it seems with Trump’s election it has now arrived (see Democracy, Oligarchy and a Manifesto for Resistance). He has the wealthiest cabinet the U.S. has ever seen comprised of oligarchs with absolutely no experience. Government by rich amateurs. The great Trump kelptocracy.

We embrace a politics of identifying past grievances and a suspicion of present truths. If you are angry, it is important to identify who’s to blame and so we scrutinize our recent past for culprits. Since we have been so let down we can no longer believe there is truth, or even facts. It’s as if the French post-modernists have taken over the U.S. As we stood with the rain on our faces, our orange savior told us the sun was shining, and we believed. If only he can fix the mess we are in, if only he can identify our grievances, if only he can define what is true and what is false, it must follow that he should brush aside the pesky persistent free media and that messy complicated constitution. It is necessary that he be an autocrat. Trump’s autocratic credentials area evident, in part, through his audacious lying even when everyone can see the plain truth. Especially when everyone can see the plain truth. Such temerity redefines the lie as a truth and, thus, a new reality. The autocrats trump card.

Perhaps it is true that all oligarchies are autocratic and all autocracies are control by the oligarchy. Democracy cannot survive such a partnership.

Now that autocrat is not a bad word, so perhaps autocracy isn’t a bad political system. The good people in Beantown may not have voted for Trump in spite of his open abuse, calls for violence, attacks on the media, the judiciary, and constitution, but because of them. Both Putin and Russia have rising approval ratings, particularly among Republicans and Independents. Trump has made no secret his admiration for Putin, but as I have written elsewhere (Chipping Away at Democracy), Putin isn’t the only strong man Trump admires. Trump’s new pals include: Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Prayut Chan-o-cha (Thailand), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Great Britain).

I must say, the cheeseburger I had at the Beantown Tavern was the best I’ve had in a long time. A couple of days later we stopped in once again at the old Beantown and were treated to two talented good old boys playing guitar, twelve string guitar, mandolin, the fiddle while singing up a storm. Cold beer and good music on a hot day was great. The waitress was pleasant and efficient and her southern accent made one feel like love was in the air. We were red state happy.

I don’t think it mattered much to the good people drinking beer and listening to their southern favorites that Trump had actually lost. Nor should it have. He won fair and square, given our rather antiquated system, the Electoral College, which violates the system of “one person, one vote,” making, for example, a voter in California less important then a voter in Ohio (Americans love to hate the French, but at least in their presidential elections the person who gets the most votes at the end actually becomes the president.) Forget those three million votes, not to mention the millions who voted for other candidates besides Clinton and those who didn’t vote at all. What the hell is a mandate anyway? It’s what an autocratic politician says it is, of course. Nothing more and nothing less. I mean, it’s enough that Trump’s mandate was symbolized in the alternative facts that he had the biggest inaugural crowds ever in the history of the U.S. and that the sun shown during his big speech. It’s the truth. I know because the orange savior told me so.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
May172017

Caught between the Calcified GOP and the Gruelling Trump

On December 19, 1998 the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, one for perjury before a grand jury and one for obstruction of justice. Clinton was found guilty of lying under oath (perjury) and trying to cover up (obstruction of justice) his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The only other president to be impeached was Andrew Johnson in 1868, who, like Clinton a Democrat, was impeached by a House controlled Republican Party (though it should be stressed that the pro-slavery and anti-Reconstruction Southern Democrats and the Radical Republicans, opposed by Moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans of Johnson’s time were quite different from the Democrats and Republicans of today). My point is, however, that the impeachment of two presidents was decided by their opposing party. If their own party had controlled the House, it would have been very unlikely that impeachment proceedings would have reached the floor.

Of course, we can’t forget Richard Nixon, who would have, if had he not resigned first, been impeached by the House and, unlike Johnson and Clinton, would have been found guilty and removed from office by the Senate. And while the House and Senate were controlled by the Democrats, it was Republican Party leaders who went to the White House to tell Nixon the game was up. It’s hard to imagine the Grand Old Party of today – a bizarre collection of misfits, armatures, pre-enlightenment, anti-science, religious fundamentalists and right-wing idealogues– marching to the White House and telling Trump to pack his bags. The GOP lost its moral and ethical heart long before Trump came on the scene.

It is worth noting that Nixon was never conclusively found guilty of the burglary of the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building. The burglary alone did not lead to Nixon’s resignation. However, it was clear that he did ordered the cover-up and was thus guilty of obstructing justice. Likewise, having sex in the White House with an intern is not an impeachable offence. It was not sex that lead to Clinton’s impeachment. Perjury and obstruction of justice did. We do not actually know that Trump and/or his team colluded with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton during the election. But we do know that Trump fired the FBI Director because of, what Trump called, the “Russian thing.” We know this because Trump told us. It is possible, that the “Russian thing” may not bring Trump down, but his obstructing the investigation potentially could.

Trump with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak in the Oval OfficeNeedless to say it has been a crazy week in U.S. politics and the life of the nation, and it’s only Wednesday. Once again, it is necessary to remind ourselves what Trump has been up to, simply because if we saw it on a TV political drama, we wouldn’t be able to suspend our disbelief. So, for the record:

  • We learned that Obama warned Trump against appointing Michael Flynn.
  • Trump asks the FBI Director James Comey if he, Trump, was being investigated by the FBI.
  • Trump fires Comey.
  • Trump announces in an interview that he fired Comey because of the “Russian thing.”
  • Trump threatens Comey in a tweet warning him not to speak publicly about their conversations, implying he might have “tapes” of those conversations. Unfortunately, Trump’s mendacity is so complete there is no way of knowing at this time if tapes actually do exist.
  • Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak in the oval office. U.S. media are excluded from the meeting. The picture of Trump, Kislyak and Lavrov comes compliments of a photographer for the Russian news agency, TASS, who was in the room and released the photos.
  • We learn that Trump revealed high level intelligence concerning ISIS terrorist plans with Lavrov and Kislyak in the oval office, thus threatening the informant on the ground and trust of U.S. allies. The information is considered highly valuable, was difficult to obtain, and was not to be shared even with close allies. Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt. General H.R. McMaster, apparently in the room at the time,  says, “It didn’t happen.” Trump tweets that he had every right to share intelligence with the Russians.
  • We learn that Trump asked James Comey to halt the investigation into Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian agents.
  • We learn that Trump asked Comey to arrest journalists and his own staff who leak information.

It’s an amazing list of events, and accomplished in a few short days. The fact that Trump asked Comey, then the Director of the FBI, if he, Trump, was being investigated by the FBI, that he asked Comey to cease investigating Flynn’s link to Russia, and that he actually said to the entire world that he fired Comey because of the FBI’s investigation of Trump and his team’s collusion with Russian agents to alter the outcome of the general election, could lead to articles of impeachment – most obviously obstruction of justice and abuse of power. That’s before we even get into the issue of revealing classified information to Russia, no less. Each occurrence alone is impressive.  But put them all together and it’s breathtaking. Clinton lied about sex and was impeached. Trump may have colluded with a foreign country to interfere in a U.S. general election and did fire the Director of the FBI because he didn’t like the FBI’s ongoing investigation. So, where is the GOP?

I don’t believe impeachment is on the cards simply because the Republican Party are in control both the House and the Senate. I agree with Thomas L. Friedman’s article in the New York Times on May 16, 2017 entitled It’s Chicken or Fish. Friedman says that impeachment is a liberal fantasy because the GOP will never abandon Trump. Asking if anyone will stand up to Trump’s abuse of power he writes: “The G.O.P. never would have embraced someone like Trump in the first place — an indecent man with a record of multiple bankruptcies, unpaid bills and alleged sexual harassments who lies as he breathes — for the answer to ever be yes. Virtually all the good men and women in this party’s leadership have been purged or silenced; those who are left have either been bought off by lobbies or have cynically decided to take a ride on Trump’s Good Ship Lollipop to exploit it for any number of different agendas.”

It’s all about power, raw power. The only thing that could possibly move the Republicans to act against Trump would be the threat of losing their jobs in both the House and the Senate at the midterm elections on November 6, 2018. The late night monologues are great fun. The marches are uplifting and important. Organizing is a must. Participating too. sign petitions and make phone calls. But if you want to stop Trump, then vote. That’s it. We have to let Republicans no we are going to fire their asses. We have to vote.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Thursday
May042017

Chipping Away at Democracy

Trump has been chipping away at the foundations of our democracy during his campaign and his first three months in the White House. We seem to be taking it in stride, so perhaps a small recap might help.


Judiciary

Trump has been having a hard time with federal judges, particularly in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. First his infamous travel ban has been blocked, twice. His response was to declare that our judges are putting the country at risk and are playing politics. Responding to the travel ban he said: “I think it’s sad, I think it’s a sad day. I think our security is at risk today. And it will be at risk until such time that we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country. We want security.” While it is unusual for a president to comment on court rulings relating to policy, Trump’s purpose seems to be to undermine the integrity of the judiciary in the public’s mind, to separate citizens from their judges, and to blame the judges for any future terrorist attacks in the United States.

Things get more disturbing when looking at Trump’s response to the blocking of his executive order on Sanctuary Cites. After declaring that the judge’s ruling would be a gift to gangs and criminals and threaten the security of citizens, he attacked the judge for not being an elected official, those creating a competition of legitimacy between the judiciary and the presidency. He said: “This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge.”

Personal attacks on judges is nothing new, of course. We remember that Trump attacked Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was overseeing the fraud case against Trump University in San Diego, calling him “a ‘hater’ who was being unfair to him because the judge is ‘Hispanic,’ because he is ‘Mexican’ and because Trump is building a wall.” To the issue of security and legitimacy, we add race.

Instead of dealing with the law and the courts in a constructive way (perhaps writing legal executive orders, for example), he suggested instead breaking up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. If the judges are difficult, just reorder the judiciary to reduce its power.

Trump’s attack on the judiciary is both personal and political. The purpose of his assault is to create mistrust of and distance from the law. He seeks to separate citizens from the law while nurturing the voters’ trust in himself.

The United States is a nation of laws. While that principle is an ideal, it is still shocking to hear a president say: “As the leader of the free world, I should be able to do what I choose. The court shouldn't be able to get involved.” To suggest that the law should have no authority over the president’s policies and actions is remarkable in a democracy. To suggest that a president should be able to do whatever he or she wants is to say that the president is above the law.


First Amendment

Trump has shown little respect for the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.


His attacks have focused on undermining the legitimacy of the free press and arguing for changes to the libel laws to make it easier for people to sue the press. He has called the press the enemy of the people, that it puts the country in danger, that it is a source of fake news, that it is out of control and dishonest, that it is failing, and that it is not “my or your priorities.”

Once again it seems his purpose is to undermine the integrity of the media, to generate distrust, and to create a chasm between a free press and the citizenry. He and his White House gang have consistently and persistently challenged the media’s interpretation of events. He has challenged the basic understanding of our shared reality. Trump has labelled all communication from the media, with the exception of Fox News and Brietbart News, as fake, unreliable, and dishonest, claiming that only he can be trusted to tell the truth. Once again he is attempting to shift our loyalties from foundational institutions of our democracy to himself – from institution to person.


Electoral System

Throughout the campaign Trump challenged the integrity of the electoral process. He repeatedly claimed the election was rigged and that his followers might not accept the results if he were to lose (one of his many illusions to possible violence if things did not go his way). He claimed that electoral fraud was a huge problem in the country even though study after study has demonstrated that there is virtually no systematic fraud in American elections.

He claimed that millions of non-citizens were voting even though states report that only between 0.0003 and 0.0001 percent of votes were cast by non-citizens. He declared that Clinton’s almost three million vote majority in the popular vote were illegal votes, again with no evidence. And during the campaign he refused to say whether or not he would accept the result of the election if he lost.

Trump worked to undermine the integrity of and the trust in our election process.


Constitutional Checks and Balances

Finally, Trump has questions the very heart of our constitutional democracy: the checks and balances between the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive. In an interview with Fox News he said: “You look at the rules of the Senate, even the rules of the House — but the rules of the Senate and some of the things you have to go through — it's really a bad thing for the country, in my opinion. They're archaic rules. And maybe at some point we're going to have to take those rules on, because, for the good of the nation, things are going to have to be different.” And: “You can't go through a process like this. It's not fair. It forces you to make bad decisions. I mean, you're really forced into doing things that you would normally not do except for these archaic rules.” 

Once again, remarkable statements from the president of the United States. He did take make an oath to protect the Constitution, did he not?

The separation of the branches of government and the ability of each branch to check the others is part of our constitutional bedrock. Obviously, it can be frustrating. It can slow the working of governing. And when one political party decides to thwart the mechanism of governing, it can lead to gridlock. However, it is essential that the federal courts can declare legislation by the legislature and/or the executive as unconstitutional. Without that check, it is easy to image a congressional dictatorship or a president who really is above the law and can do whatever he or she desires. It’s important that Congress can override a presidential veto to prevent presidential overreach. And so on.


Shadows of Autocracy

The attacks on the judiciary, the First Amendment, the electoral system, and the constitutional checks and balances, all fundamental to our democracy, can be read as an attempt to consolidate power in the presidency. It is a move towards autocracy. Perhaps we should take more seriously the world leaders Trump admires: Vladimir Putin (Russia), Xi Jinping (China), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Turkey), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Prayut Chan-o-cha (Thailand), Viktor Orbán (Hungary), Marine Le Pen (France), Nigel Farage (Great Britain).

It would be harmless, if Trump were speaking to a blank wall and tweeting into digital emptiness, but he is not. There are 62 million Americans who love his bluster, attacks, tweets, executive orders, and rants. His bizarreness, pathological lying,  unintelligible interviews, and embrace of authoritarian leaders have no impact on their support. The fact that his policies, if implemented, would have a severe detrimental impact on their lives matters not. The fact that facts are irrelevant to him, is just fine. Those who are not part of the 62 million should be concerned. We really have fallen down the rabbit hole.

Despite the 62 million, Trump’s ratings are in the toilet. The combination of autocratic tendencies and terrible polls is concerning. All presidents benefit from bombing other countries. I have no doubt that if Hillary Clinton had been elected, she would have by now dropped some bombs on somebody somewhere far away from the US. As it turned out, we’ve handed control of our military to Trump and he has benefitted from putting it to use. We’re all aware of the 59 Tomahawks he dropped on Syria. Even some in the liberal press started gushing that Trump had finally become presidential (which says a lot about American values – bombs not bread indicate presidential integrity). However, with little fanfare Trump has also increased bombing in Syria and Iraq in general. In the first three months of 2017 Trump has dropped 60% more bombs than the first three months in 2016. 

What we should also fear in this contentious relationship between military power, autocratic dreams, and presidential job ratings, is a major human made disaster taking place in the United States. If an autocrat wants to increase his powers – free himself of the annoyance of free speech, a truth-seeking media, problematic judges, and constitutional restraints – a crisis is most helpful.

Turkey was once a secular democracy, but it is now quickly becoming an autocracy with theocratic leanings. Aided by the failed military coup attempt in July 2016 the voting public has willingly and enthusiastically voted to move Turkey from a democracy to an autocracy giving Erdoğan immense power. Since the failed coup he has fired 120,000 people from their jobs and arrested 40,000 people, a purge that has been directed at the media, military, police, government, judiciary, universities, and religious organizations (The Gülen movement founded by Fethullah Gülen). The free press is being eliminated (about 150 media works in jail). The constitution has been changed to consolidate power in the presidency. Political opposition has been stifled. And yet, the people rejoice.

It seems melodramatic to even imply such a thing could happen here. The United States is not Turkey, or Hungary, or the Philippians, or Russia. And yet. The journey from democracy to autocracy does not happen overnight (though the failed coup in Turkey surely moved things along for Erdoğan). Break up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as you convince the 62 million that judges can’t be trusted and that they endanger the country. Undermine the integrity of journalism one tweet at a time while telling the 62 million who they can trust – Trump: “I am your voice. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.” Increase the powers of the presidency to counter those pesky constitutional checks and balances. Just chip away for eight years. Take advantage of every terrorist attack and bad news story that comes down the pike. And hold on to your 62 million. If you think I’m melodramatic, listen to historian Timothy Snyder of Yale University: it’s “pretty much inevitable” that Trump will try and overthrow American democracy by staging a coup. Hmmm…

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Apr262017

Spanish Moss and a Man on a Pole ~ Confession of Melancholy 

The first foreign country I visited was Florida. I took the train down from New Jersey with my two sisters and my mother. I don’t remember anything about the train ride, but I do remember getting off the train and walking along the platform when we arrived. I was on my mother’s right, my older sister on her left, and my younger sister, only a baby, in my mother’s arms. Suddenly a man came up to us, spoke to my mother, and then took our suitcases. I remember being very bothered by this. It seemed somehow inappropriate, perhaps morally questionable. I wondered what my father would say. I was very young.

Now I can see the scene clearly. A young woman in her late twenties carrying a baby and suitcases, while trying not to lose contact with two other small children trailing behind. Some nice man gave her a much needed hand. So why did I, probably no older than five, feel uneasy? How could that unease settle in so early? Where did I learn it? From whom – my father or my mother? The TV? It certainly didn’t bode well for the future. Trust me when I say others figured out the relationship thing a lot sooner than I did.

Of course, Florida wasn’t a foreign country, but to me back then it seemed like one. We had headed down from New Jersey to spend our vacation with my mother’s sister and her family and stepping out of the train station into this strange Florida land might as well have been getting off a plane in Mozambique or Singapore. One of the first things I saw was Spanish moss hanging from a giant tree. I stopped and stared. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was amazing. It was my first experience of the exotic, the foreign, and I liked it. That did bode well for the future. Though I was slow off the mark (is there a theme here?), I eventually did travel extensively, Mozambique and Singapore being familiar stops.

I have very few memories of this vacation in Florida. I would have spent time with my cousin Greg, two years older than me. Even in those very early years Greg was always more streetwise than I would ever be. I shot my first gun with Greg, a .22 rifle. I killed a frog, who had done nothing to offend or threaten me. While there was a certain thrill to shooting a frog, I was more wary of the rifle’s power then excited. This did bode well for the future (An Open Letter to American Gun Owners; Guns versus Spoons; Kindergarten Shooting Drills).

I do remember we went to a shopping area. These were the days before the great American shopping mall with the stores, shops, food courts, bathrooms, and chapel all  enclosed in a huge protecting structure surrounded by a million parking spaces came into being. So, was it one big store or several smaller stores collected together? Who knows. I remember is was very busy – lots of cars and people – and in the parking lot there was a very large high pole with a platform precariously fixed to the top. On the platform was a man. The man was living up there for a few months. People were pretty excited about it. My aunt Barbara made a point of taking me to the bottom of the pole so I could get a sense of its heights. She was clearly enjoying herself. I can still see her smile (a good aunt to me was Barbara). I was completely fascinated, and not a little confused. Why on earth would a man sit on a very high pool for months? I thought what strange people lived in this land called Florida. Still, I had never seen that at home, so very exciting.  

After the pole Barbara bought me a stuffed alligator about a foot long. Now that really was something. I assume it was actually a real stuffed baby alligator. It was a long time ago and if someone thought they could make money by killing baby alligators and selling them to young children there would have been nothing to stop them. I kept that poor thing for years, until the legs fell off and the stuffing came out.

I remember sitting outside watching a horror film with my cousins. How that could have been, I don’t know. Perhaps we were at a drive-in, or maybe the TV was on the patio. I don’t remember. I do remember that the movie scared the crap out of me. It didn’t bode well for the future. Horror movies still scare the crap out of me and I’m now in my third act. That night in Florida I couldn’t sleep and just laid in bed listening to the cacophony of insects outside my window.   

As with my entire life, I remember only the smallest fraction of that visit to Florida. I remember the man at the station, the Spanish moss, the man on the pole, the alligator, the movie, and the insect concert, but that’s it. All the rest is gone. I have no idea who that little boy was. He is a stranger to me, though the echo of his existence traverses the space and time between us.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Wednesday
Apr192017

Kindergarten Shooting Drills ~ Welcome to the United States of America

The other day I attended a poetry reading at Island Books on Mercer Island in the greater Seattle area. Peter Ludwin and Megan Snyder-Camp each read several of their poems, which I both enjoyed and valued. I know very little about poetry, so I’m not sure if it is a compliment or a damning indictment that I liked their poems. I’m going to assume it is a compliment. After the reading we had an interesting discussion about motivation, research, inspiration, and the sticky issue of cultural appropriation. Megan Synder-Camp shared that her former teacher, Liz Bradbury, said: “When you’re trading into waters that aren’t yours, walk slowly and shuffle your feet.” I liked that.

At the end of Megan’s presentation she read a poem motivated by an encounter with our young son who was in kindergarten the time. When she asked what he had learned that day, he told her about the “shooting drill.” Obviously the children weren’t being taught how to shoot, though I have no doubt that somewhere in the United States people are teaching five and six year olds how to shoot weapons. No, a shooting drill is an exercise to teach children what to do if someone attacks the school with the purpose of killing as many children and teachers as possible. The poem spoke of children being taught to press themselves up against the wall or, for the lucky few, how to hide in a dark closet.

I have known for years that U.S. schools hold shooting drills. I read of one school that had some children play the murdered victims of a school invasion while the other students sought safety. However, the poem had an instant and powerful impact on me. Suddenly, the utter absurdity, insanity, of having five and six year old children being taught how they might survive an attack seemed surreal, almost incomprehensible.

What kind of society allows this to happen? Well, the answer is easy. A weaponized society that has cloaked gun ownership in quasi-religious justifications.

What kind of society refused to stop this from happening? Easy again. A society that believes, while unfortunate, the death of its children is an acceptable price to pay for the right to own and carry weapons.

When what should be unacceptable becomes normal, the question of acceptability ceases to be asked. America is a place where people draped in assault weapons and hand guns go into schools and university and shoot children, young people, teachers, and anyone who gets in the way. Given that even the lightest suggestions of restrictions and regulations on weapons is deemed immoral and political suicide, it becomes imperative to teach five and six year old children how to protect themselves in the event of an attack. It’s only logical.

The gun lobby demands no restrictions at all on weapons. Trump has made it possible for mentally ill people to buy weapons and the Republican Party opposed efforts to prevent people on the no fly list – because they are potential terrorist – from buy weapons. Such moves are wrapped in Second Amendment glory even as the brutality and insanity of a society practicing shooting drills in kindergarten classes goes unquestioned.

Gun enthusiasts have a solution to the massacring of our children. Arm the teachers. The solution is to teach teachers how to kill students. More guns is always the answer to gun violence. When what should be unacceptable becomes normal, the question of acceptability ceases to be asked.

We have numerous restrictions on our freedom: we are required to have a driver license and obey the laws of the road; we cannot just say anything despite the immense importance of the First Amendment; we have to pay taxes (well, most of us); we cannot buy and sell any old drug we want; we cannot sell food found dangerous to public health; in my community development I cannot paint my front door red or live my garbage cans out all the time.

Living together in society means accepting a boat load of restrictions on our freedom, but in the U.S. not when it comes to weapons. And so, we need to teach our children to hide against walls and in dark closets and hope for the best. We need to teach them to psychologically deal with the ever present danger of being shot. We need to teach them to empty themselves and press against the wall. And we need them to grow up healthy and happy in this greatest country in the world.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger