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Tuesday
Dec052017

A Christmas Carol for Billionaires

{Each year I reflect on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Given that a billionaire occupies the White House and seems to be leaving behind the left behind, and that the Republican Party members of or owned by the American oligarchy has just passed a tax bill that, well, leaves behind millions of Americans, it seems more than appropriate to again read about A Christmas Carol. Dickens did not write the sweet tale that made it to our movie screens: This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!"}

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every One!

One of the saddest events in popular culture is the continual distortion of a great literary character through the romanticizing of Tiny Tim, transforming him into a sentimental, sweet character, whom we can first pity and then exploit, using him like a sponge to soak up our spilt Christian goodness. In fact, Tiny Tim is one key to "Keeping Christmas well”.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, the first of five "Christmas Books" written from 1843 to 1848. In each book a central character suffers from a loss of faith in human dignity, but is eventually brought to realize the value of human spirit. The transformation each character goes through, and we must call it a transformation and not simply a change of mind or even heart, is accomplished through spirit intervention, or in other words, by spiritual means. In the preface to A Christmas Carol, Dickens wrote he hoped the story would "Awake some loving and forbearing thoughts, never out of season in a Christian land." In fact, he wrote the story because, in his opinion, "Keeping Christmas well" was out of season all the time. Dickens' ultimate hope was, of course, that through the power of his narratives the reader would, like the main characters, be transformed as well.

A Christmas Carol is not about a sweet little crippled boy, but instead is about the social conditions of Dickens' Britain. The story had (and still has) a strong social message. In and through the story, Dickens was appealing in general to the people of Britain to lead less selfish lives, and in particular to the rich to take seriously their duty of care for those less fortunate. He had visited Cornish tin mines early in 1843 and saw children laborers at work. He visited the Field Lane Ragged School in London, one of several institutions trying to educate hungry and illiterate children. After these experiences, he wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. During the writing of the "hymn" he said in a letter that he "wept and laughed and wept again...and in thinking walked the black streets of London...when all sober folks had gone to bed". In fact, the magic and mystery of his literary hymn exhibited a "strange mastery" over him, but a mastery of joy and love which he was impatient to return to each working day.

Dickens had a lot to weep and laugh about. For years the poor had not only been neglected by society, but also lived under the burden of a social philosophy and political policies that actually justified that neglect. In 1803 Thomas Malthus wrote the essay entitled Principle of Population. In it Malthus argued that any human being that could not be supported by his or her parents, and could not provide labor that was useful and required by society, had "no claim or right to the smallest portion of food." He went on to say that such people also had "no business" even being in society and that their death would "decrease the surplus population."

When society refuses people food, shelter, and work, there is only one place for them to go, or to be, and Scrooge, the character representing the Malthusian position, had no difficulty in saying precisely where or what that place was -- death. Scrooge, of course, had no time for the celebration of the child of salvation. For him Tiny Tim, whose parents could not support him and whose ill health made it impossible for him to become a good laborer for society, could simply die. When just before Christmas Scrooge was asked to make a contribution to help provide for the "Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present," people in the thousands lacking common necessities and in the hundreds of thousands wanting common comforts, he responded:

"Are there no prisons?"
"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman laying down his pen again.
”And the Union Workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. Are they still in operation?"
"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."
"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? said Scrooge.
"Both very busy. sir."
"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it."

The gentlemen, not giving up, explained to Scrooge that such provisions hardly "furnished Christmas cheer of mind or body to the multitudes" and that they were collecting funds to give the poor "meat and drink, and a means of warmth." But again Scrooge refused to give saying he wished to be left along. He then said, in full Malthusian passion:

"I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned--they coast enough; and those who are badly off must go there."
"Many can't go there; and many would rather die."
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Hope and warning are powerfully told when Scrooge met the Spirit of Christmas Present. As the evening passed the Spirit took Scrooge to homes where they stood beside the bedsides of the sick who, nonetheless, were cheerful. They visited those who struggled and were still living in great hope. They visited those who lived in poverty and were rich in spirit. And they visited the almshouses, hospitals, prisons where people experienced misery but had not "made fast the door and barred the Spirit out" thus allowing him to enter their misery and give the gift of blessing.

As the long night unfolded before him, time and space seemed to lose meaning for Scrooge, except that he noticed the Spirit was growing visibly older. He asked if life was so short for all spirits and the Spirit replied that his life would end that very night at midnight. As the chimes rang three quarters past eleven, with death approaching, hope turned to warning. Scrooge saw something in the folds of the Spirits clothing...

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"

"It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it," was the Spirit's sorrowful reply. "Look here!" exclaimed the Ghost. "They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.”

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

"Spirit! are they yours?" Scrooge could say no more.

"They are Man's," said the Spirit, looking down upon them. "And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand toward the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit if for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end! “Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.” Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no work-houses?"
The bell struck twelve.

Dickens speaks with passion and power about the Spirit of Salvation. He sings the Spirit's blessings, for where he visits there is health, joy, home, and hope. Where the Spirit smiles, needs are met and comforts are offered. Dickens does not, however, sentimentalize the vision, for wrapped within the very clothing of the Spirit is the misery caused by human thought and deed. We shutter when we realize that the grotesque monsters revealed are the results of human exploits. We reel at the devils before us are in fact human beings and, once again, children. We desperately reach for a self-defense, any self-defense, when we are reminded that such human suffering belongs not to God but to us. We ache when we see how the suffering cling to the Spirit and look upon us with fear.

Perhaps it is time we re-read Dickens. If we were to "keep Christmas well" we would experience the wholeness of salvation's blessings. We would be filled with joy and pierced through the heart. In this world, both must be ours.

A Christmas Carol Scrooge ends with these words:

Scrooge had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every one!

 Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov282017

My Moment with Charles Manson

Manson at Corcoran State Prison, August 2017Charles Manson is dead. He died on November 17, 2017 of natural causes at the age of 83. I suspect for the vast number of people who remember him the, reaction upon hearing the news was “good riddance.” Having said that, he did, or does, have a cult following. The underground debated whether or not he was just a sick bastard or Christ returned. The Weather Underground positively loved the killings. Vincent Bugliosi in a prologue to the 1994 edition of his book Helter Skelter, a book about the murders and the Manson Family, quoted a BBC staff member claiming a neo-Manson cult exits in Europe, including seventy bands that play songs by Manson and songs in support of the killer. There are half a dozen popular songs written about Manson, including Revolution Blues by Neil Young, Look at Your Game, Girl by Guns N’ Roses. And there are at least seven works of fiction devoted to Manson’s story, including: Helter Skelter a drama for TV; the film Manson Family Movies; the novel Dead Circus; and a Broadway musical called Assassins that focuses the Manson Family.

Manson lived a lot of his life in California State Prison at Corcoran, but on September 25, 1984 he was sent to the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, California. He needed medical care because a fellow inmate named Jan Holmstrom poured paint thinner on him and lit a match. Manson ended up with second and third-degree burns on 20 percent of this body. Apparently Mason had objected to Holmstrom’s Hare Krishna chants.

The medical facility at Vacaville is a prison. It was there that I met Manson. The inmates at Vacaville called it the Holiday Inn of Prisons. The hallways were painted much like my high school and many other institutional buildings. When I was visiting the prison most inmates could roam fairly freely for many hours of each day. I went to group therapy sessions, the chapel, the medical ward, and visited with individual inmates.  

In addition to the medical wing, I remember two other distinct wards. One was an honors ward where inmates with good behavioral records were housed. At the entrance of the ward was a painted line and an inmate seated at a small table. He greeted me and the guard who was giving me a tour of the prison. The guard explained that I was being shown the prison and stepped over the line. The inmate quickly got up, welcomed us, and said he would announce our presence in case any of the inmates were going to the toilet (the toilets in the cells, or houses as the inmates called them, were completely visible to anyone looking through the cell door window). The guard said that was not necessary because I could see whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and proceed down the ward. I hung back behind the line, nodded to the inmate, and let him check each cell before I entered.

The guard wasn’t a bad man. It’s just that he worked inside an organism with its own rules of conduct and decency. While he would never watch someone going to the toilet outside the prison, inside he lived by different and distorted rules. He was a guard and they were inmates. Not much more to say. I had not yet been in the organism long enough to be infected and thus for my understanding of proper conduct and decency to be challenged. I wondered if, suspected that, if I lived long enough inside the belly of this Holiday Inn beast I to would be compromised.

The section ward in the prison that remains vivid in my memory after all these years was the high security ward where serious offenders were kept and movement was more restricted. When Manson was not in the medical facility, he was in the high security ward. I can’t remember why I entered this ward, but at the time I was on my own.

Manson's booking photo for San Quentin State Prison in California on January 25, 1971.WikiMedia CommonsThere was a narrow circular steel staircase, I think painted green, leading up to the second level. I began walking up that staircase and about midway I realized someone was descending. Because the staircase was so narrow I stopped and squeezed myself against the railing to let the other person pass by. When the man coming down the staircase reached me, he stopped and faced me. It was Charles Manson. We stood face to face, nose to nose, looking in each other’s eyes. We were almost touching. We could smell each other. I wasn’t frightened, just surprised. I knew Manson was in the prison, but of course never thought I’d meet him. Nor did I want to meet him. We stood there staring at each other until he said hello and continued walking down the stairs. As he squeezed by I also said hello and then proceed up to the second level.

On the drive back down to the Bay Area I thought about this brief yet intense, almost intimate, encounter. His gaze was deeply concentrated, but wouldn’t that be so for most any inmate crammed up so close, belly to belly, to an outsider. I was not mesmerized. I was not impressed. I did not feel special or excited. Still, it was interesting being so close to someone so utterly brutal who had mesmeric influences over others. Is interesting the right word? Yes and no. The encounter was also something else, slightly beyond the intellectual. Something also visceral.

You’ll be happy to know that I didn’t become a cult member or seek out The Family. I didn’t read his writings, sing is songs, or write a book all about a grizzle murder conducted by a man with a swastika tattooed on his forehead. Still, I haven’t forgotten the encounter after all these years, and goodness knows I’ve forgotten most everything else.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

 

 

 

Wednesday
Nov152017

One Simple Question: Where are All the Massacres?

After each large mass shooting in the United States we are immediately told that the shooter is crazy and that the cause of the tragedy is not guns but mental illness. After the church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Trump said:

This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very said event. A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it. 

It may be that the Texas murderer is mentally ill. It may be that all mass killers are mentally ill. And it may be that the United States has a mental health problem. But so do other countries. There are people with mental problems in every country on earth.

Studies have shown that approximately 26.% of Americans suffer from some kind of mental disorder, ranging from anxiety to schizophrenia. Around 27% of Europeans exhibit a wide range of mental problems. In Australia about 20% of people suffer some form of mental problems. In New Zealand 16% of people were diagnosed with some sort of mental health issue. And approximately 20% of Canadians experience mental problems. 

So, I have a simple question to ask our elected officials and the NRA:

If mass killings are a mental health issue and not a weapon ownership issue, where are all the massacres in, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom Germany, France, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, etc.?  

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Tuesday
Nov072017

The American Drama: Mass Killing, Prayers, Mental Illness, and Nothing

There’s been another mass shooting in America, this time in Sutherland Springs, Texas. As I write, 26 people were killed and about 20 people wounded by, yet again, a white male killer with a big gun. The big gun was a AR-15.

AR-15The AR-15 was invented by Eugene Stoner for the Armalite company. The AR stands for Armalite, not assault rifle. The rifle is loaded by a magazine that can hold anywhere from 10 to 75 bullets that feed automatically into the rifle as it is fired. 10 rounds is the legal limit in eight states, but not in the other 42 states. 50 round magazine, produced by companies like TorkMag and X-Products, are not uncommon. The AR-15 was the weapon of choice at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut; in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; at the business day party in San Bernardino, California. The Orlando shooter used the standard AR-15 magazines and bullets in his killing spree. And, of course, the killer in Las Vegas, who brought to his massacre 23 weapons, used an AR-15 with a bump stock, which turned his semiautomatic into an automatic killing machine allowing more than 500 shots per minute, and magazines holding between 50 and 75 rounds. (You may recall that legislation was suggested to outlaw the bump stock. To date that has not happened. Bump stocks went back on sales one month after 58 people were killed and numerous other wounded. Sales skyrocketed after the massacre.)

Though there is not an agreed definition of what a mass shooting is in America, the FBI identifies a mass shooting as one incident in which four or more people are shot or killed. On average one mass shooting occurs in the United States every 24 hours. Obviously, most of these shootings are not reported on the national news. There are just too many of them. They are too commonplace. However, the large mass shootings like the ones in Newtown, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, and Las Vegas are part of the national drama played out over and over again. What can we expect from this drama?

1) A Call for Thoughts and Prayers.

This is, of course, not unreasonable and from the vast majority of people the call for prayer comes from a place of genuine concern. However, there is a rising chorus of people frustrated by the “thoughts and prayers” response because that is where it ends. People are beginning to wonder if the call for prayers, particularly from the men and women who make our laws and could do something about this American drama, might function more as a distraction than a means of healing. If we’re all busy in the sacred duty of prayer we won’t be busy in the mundane, dirty business of talking about violence and weapons in American society.

There is also a theological issue at play here. Presumably Americans who pray believe in a god that intervenes in human affairs and individual lives. If so, what exactly do they want their god to do? Support? Heal? Stop the carnage?

President Obama’s two tweets after Sutherland Springs were interesting:

We grieve with all the families in Sutherland Springs harmed by this act of hatred, and we’ll stand with the survivors as they recover... May God also grant all of us the wisdom to ask what concrete steps we can take to reduce the violence and weaponry in our midst.

The second tweet is instructive. Obama at least wants his god to grant us wisdom to at least ask about how we might reduce the killing. Bottom line: Whatever god Americans believe in, by whatever name they use to identify their god, that god will not stop the killing. Only we can do that, and I guess asking questions would be a start. But to date, our leaders have been unwilling to even do that. The price of even commonsense gun legislation is too high. The killing therefore will continue.

2) The Killer is Mentally Ill.

Well before any motive of why a person, usually a white male, decided to massacre people has been established, the person will be declared crazy, insane, unhinged, mentally ill by politicians. Trump made it clear that a man walking into a church armed with a AR-15 is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As he pointed out that the US, like other countries, has a mental health problem. But arming mentally ill people with war-like weapons is not part of the problem.

3) Do Not Politicize the Tragedy.

Both GOP politicians and the conservative media demand that each mass shooting not be politicized in honor of the dead, the wounded, and the grieving. Any attempt to address gun violence in America is criticized and shut down. There is a suggestion that a time will come for such discussions, but somehow that time never arrives. This rule holds fast if the killer is a white male. It does not apply if the killer is a Muslim. If Muslim kills Americans, we talk politics immediately.

4) Arm the Citizenry.

Immediately after a mass killing there will be a call to arm everyone. Political leaders in Texas are urging churches to arm their members or at least hire security guards to protect them from fellow citizens. When it is suggested that a semiautomatic weapon like the AR-15 should once again be outlawed, the suggestion is called naïve, the point being that it is simply too late to outlaw the weapon. American society is so saturated with weapons legislation would only deny a lawful citizen the right to protect himself or herself. And so we have the image of a worship service with the congregation cradling their AR-15s, locked and loaded, because we know, as sure as we know the sun will rise, that another Sutherland Springs will occur.

5) Nothing.

We will mourn. We will pray. We will pontificate. And we will do nothing.

I have begun to wonder if the point that it is simply too late to deweaponize America is correct. There are just too many weapons. The Second Amendment has been so thoroughly reified. The ownership of weapons has been so completely linked to the concepts of freedom, liberty and the great American myth. And the weapons themselves have been deified beyond any point of reason and return. Killing each other is acceptable. We know it will happen. We play out our American drama with theatrical precision. We seek a bizarre realty where everyone carries weapons everywhere with the open acceptance that the killing will continue.

Death, at least in part, defines us. We embrace it in our ongoing dystopian American drama.

You, an individual among billions of individuals, will most likely not die do to gun violence. But if you want to increase your odds, I know where you should live.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

Saturday
Oct282017

My Book is Not an Airplane Book

I was in the New Orleans Art Center and two people who bought my book said something like, “This is great. I have a flight coming up.” To which I said, “That’s great. It’s a good airplane book.”

Now that some time has passed, I don’t think it’s a good idea to tell people my new book is an airplane book. To me an airplane book is a book that demands nothing of you, particularly the demand to think about what you’re reading. Read Chapter 3 and then tell me that I’m wrong. I tell people it’s a fun book with a dark side. But it isn’t an airplane book. Or I hope it isn’t.

The title of the book is The Girl in the Silver Mask. I’m not comfortable with the title for the simple reason that there is no girl in the story. There are women, but no girls. So, I have my protagonist, Drake Ramsey, an author like me, only successful, unable to develop the plot of his new book because he’s fixated on coming up with title with the word “girl” in it. Drake says,

I don’t actually have a plot idea yet, because I can’t stop thinking about the title. I know. Little bit of horse-before-the-cart stuff, but have you noticed how many successful books out there have the word girl in the title? Years ago it was horse. Awhile back, it was wife. Now it’s girl. I think that Larsson fella got it started...

You see my problem. How can I figure out a plot, when I’m going crazy trying to think of a title with the word girl in it? It’s important. I’m sure you see my point. And how many first-time best-selling authors’ second books have flopped? A lot! Well, not mine. I’m covering my ass on this.

Drake then lists over fifty books with the word “girl” in the title. To be clear, I found the titles on Amazon and in bookstores. For a while every time I walked into a bookstore I carried a pad to jot down titles with the “girl” in them. I’m sure my fifty plus titles listed on page 4 of the paperback edition are just the tip of the where-have-all-of-the-feminist-gone iceberg. My editor wanted me to delete the whole lot saying no one would read them. Of course people won’t read them. The impact is visual. If I had found fifty more titles with the word “girl” in them, I would have included them as well.

I was walking past a bookstore on Decatur Street and through the large front window I saw a customer looking through a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask. I almost stopped to watch, then thought Philip Roth would never do that. So, I moved on never knowing if she actually bought the book. It was an odd feeling, I think mostly because the odds of passing a bookstore that actually has a copy of The Girl in the Silver Mask on display at the very moment a customer is looking it over must be breathtakingly enormous. Still, if she actually did buy the book there is a good chance she will enjoy it. And I do hope she would enjoy the inside joke about the word “girl.”  

As I write this, there are three bookstores in New Orleans displaying my book. I should have taken photos of the books on the shelves to show you, to relieve you of the burden of having to trust me. But I figured that Chuck Palahniuk doesn’t walk into bookstores and take pictures of his books so I put my cell back in my pocket.

I had three humble “author events” while in New Orleans. The first was at the New Orleans Art Center, which you should definitely visit if you are in NOLA. The cover image of The Girl in the Silver Mask was designed by Alan Zakem of ZakemArt.com. Tina and Herman, who own and run the Art Center, displayed some of Alan’s work and set up a table with my books. Alan talked about his art, me about my book. I sold some books, though admittedly not many.  

The second event was also at the Art Center and I filled the artist talking about their work spot. I found this interesting though we didn’t need police for crowd control. Still, I sold some books. I wonder if Roberto Bolaño every sold any of his books in an art gallery.

The third event was in the Treme Coffeehouse. The book opens in the Treme Coffeehouse with these words: “A few days before Halloween, I was sitting in the Treme Coffeehouse, counting my heartbeats.” It was a good idea to have a reading at the café. The Coffeehouse and I provided free coffee, cookies, and cake, as a bribe, and I did a short reading. Problem was, I was terrible! So embarrassing. I bet Cormac McCarthy never humiliated himself like that. Amazingly, I sold some books, and ate some cake. Once again, crowd control was not a problem.

Now that I’m back from New Orleans I’m waiting for The Girl in the Silver Mask to go viral. When it does, I’m going to give a bucket load of money to the New Orleans Art Center and the Treme Coffeehouse, anonymously of course. Given that I am not Roth, Bolaño, or McCarthy, Herman and Tina in the Center and Tracy in the Coffeehouse took a chance on me. Yes, they made a little money too, but I need to emphasize the world “little.”

So, if you want a fun book with a dark side, give The Girl in the Silver Mask a try. Your purchase could be the one to get the viral ball rolling, or more accurately, clicking. And I would suggest that you hold judgement on the whole airplane thing until you’re done with Chapter 3. I bet Milan Kundera never said that.

Copyright © 2017 Dale Rominger

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 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.” Though 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 4,515 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, the code is more than you every wanted to know about a flag. And as it turns out, knowing everything about the flag is rather inconvenient for those who condemn others for there alleged disrespect.

Since the current unrest centers on disrespect of the flag I want to draw your attention to the 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 each and every day according to the Flag Code. Country Western singer see no problem wearing the flag on their clothing. Budweiser thought using the flag was 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. Wearing 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 disrespecting of the American flag, which is, of course, just a symbol for what the country is and strives to be, kneeling or racism? Rosa Parks was not protesting buses. The NFL players are not protesting the flag. 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.

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