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Thursday, July 20, 2023

What Would Bruce Catton Have to Say?

After reading Bruce Catton’s Michigan: A Centennial History and his memoir, Waiting for the Morning Train (several times), I long ago decided that he had a tragic view of our history (the history of Americans whose culture brings change faster than we can adapt to it), so when a little paperback, Catton’s last book, Reflections on the Civil War, came into my hands, I did something I never do with fiction and turned right away to the last pages. What did the famous historian from northern Michigan have to tell us as he reflected on everything he had learned from our country’s bloody, brother-against-brother conflict?

 

Reflections on the Civil War was edited by John Leekley, much of the text a collaborative effort undertaken with the author himself from transcripts of audiotapes. Leekley’s father, Richard, a dealer in rare books, had bequeathed to his son the Civil War sketchbook of John Geyser, a Civil War soldier, and that book formed the basis for many conversations between John Leekley and Bruce Catton, creating what the former called a “shared vision.” – But as I say, I am beginning at the end….

 

Bruce Catton (1890-1978) began his research into the Civil War because he wanted to make young again in his mind the old veterans he had known. As his research proceeded, other questions came to his mind. What motivated men on both sides, not only to enter the conflict but to continue fighting? What kept them from running back home? And finally, he asked himself if he thought the war had been worthwhile. In the end he concluded that it did, after all, accomplish something. 

 

…It gave us a political unity in the sense that it kept the country from fragmenting into a number of separate, independent nations. The North American continent was not Balkanized; the geographic unit that made possible the wealth and the prosperity of later days was preserved. Beyond that, the country made a commitment during that war; a commitment to a broader freedom, a broader citizenship. We can no longer be content with anything less than complete liberty, complete equality before law for all of our peopleregardless of their color, their race, their religion, their national origins; regardless of anything. We are fated to continue the experiment in peaceful democracy, and I don’t think any people were ever committed to a nobler experiment than this one [my emphasis added]. 

 

Catton’s Reflections first appeared after his death in 1981 – that is, over forty years ago. He believed and wrote that the Civil War had been “worth its cost,” although he added:

 

…We have not yet reached the goal we set ourselves at the time, and I’m not sure we ever will be satisfied with our progress. But at least we keep going.

 

He notes that civil wars, in general, are “most likely to leave angry feelings” but says, “That did not happen in this country.” The very idea of the “Lost Cause,” he believes, is that it was recognized as lost:

 

It is part of American legend…. It moves men mightily, to this day, but it does not move them in the direction of picking up their guns and going at it again. We have had national peace since the war ended, and we will always have it….

 

What, I wonder, would Catton think of the “state of the union” today, were he to return to us? 


The night before his assassination, Catton tells us, Abraham Lincoln dreamed he was on a boat, moving toward a “dark and indefinite shore,” and we are still moving toward that dark, indefinite shore, Catton wrote at the end of his own life, “toward a destiny bigger than we can understand.

 

Maybe we will get there some day if we live up to what the great men of the past won for us. And when we get there, it is fair to suppose that instead of being dark and indefinite, that unknown continent will be lit with sunlight.

 

Have we lost our way at present? What would Bruce Catton say? What do you say?

 


Wednesday, June 28, 2023

"What seems to be is not always --"



 What seems to be is not always --


    Light years, the distance
    Between ‘is’ and ‘seem,’ 
            It seems.
    To sleep, to dream 
    Is my reward
            For days 
    Spent in work and sun.
    With you, then, ‘is’
            Was everything.
    Now you are gone.
    But to friends
            I seem okay.


    P.J. Grath, 6/28/2023

Thursday, February 2, 2023

“It Isn’t Fair!” Why Can’t We Say So?

When I was young, that was every kid’s natural objection, almost an automatic response, when given an unpleasant task or punishment. Clearing the ground of rotten apples that had fallen from the trees was a particularly loathsome seasonal chore in our household. Why should the kids have to perform that disgusting job? Not fair! As for punishment, rarely were we “grounded” (though our friends were, often), because our father and mother, knowing what a pack of little readers they were raising (those apples didn’t fall far from the trees, either!) knew that the loss of library privileges would be a far greater punishment than having to stay home (with books to read!). Forbid us the library? So unfair!

 

As we got older, we learned to distinguish the difference between being unhappy and being treated unfairly. More than that, we learned to recognize when other people were being treated unfairly. That was a huge step.

 

I’ve been looking into the question of values teaching in public education, apparently a battleground in the present-day United States. Those opposed to the teaching of values usually point to “liberal” values and call such teaching “indoctrination.” One site I looked at, under the heading “Public Schools Shouldn’t Be Teaching ‘Values,’” objected to students being taught “tolerance, egalitarianism, diversity, and globalism.” The author of the piece thinks this teaching has no place in American public school classrooms. 

 

I understand keeping values specific to a particular religion out of the classroom. There are Catholic schools, Jewish schools, Amish schools, etc. for parents who want their children taught only within the strictures of the family’s religion. As for “moral values” in general, though? I admit I am confused. 

 

What does even mean to teach “globalism”? I have no idea. As for tolerance, egalitarianism, and diversity, those look to me like bedrock American values – honored more in the breach than in practice, perhaps, but certainly part of our country’s ideals. At least, so I was taught by my conservative, Republican, Lutheran parents.

 

Another site I looked at, “Education on moral values a must for school children,” cites the following as values needing to be taught in school: “truthfulness, honesty, charity, hospitality, tolerance, love, kindness and sympathy.” Kindergartners learn to share. They are taught to take turns. They are told that it is wrong and against the rules to hit each other. These are moral values, and a classroom without such values would be absolute chaos. It is impossible to teach if students have tacit permission to cheat, lie, bully, steal, etc. “Neutrality” on these questions has no place in a classroom.

 

(Some people say schools only have to teach values because parents have not done so. That’s bullshit. Parents and schools have an obligation to children to teach them right from wrong. It is the job of adults to be responsible for children in their care, and that means teaching right from wrong. Some parents will fall down on the job, as will some teachers. All the more reason for building redundancy into education.)

 

Now in more than one state there are moves to require, by law,“neutrality” when teaching historical subjects such as slavery in America and the WWII holocaust of Jews in Europe. Neutrality???Opposing views??? We are supposed to tell students that bullying is wrong but then cannot tell them that human trafficking and genocide are wrong? Refrain from judgment??? Neutrality on the buying and selling and robbing and killing of other human beings, treating them worse than we treat livestock??? 

 

That one state governor calling himself “conservative” can deny college credit for an AP class carefully put together and implemented across the nation is appalling. 


If this is what American “conservatism” has come to, it deserves to wither away.



 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

America’s New Communists (not who you think they’d be)

A new, hideous, idiotic, and morally bankrupt philosophy has sprouted in the bosom of Western civilization, and the hydra-headed viper goes by the hideous, idiotic, ugly and awkward name ‘longtermism.’ 

 

Longtermism’s adherents rely on mathematical projections and sci-fi futurist imaginings, glommed onto old-fashioned utilitarianism (“the greatest good for the greatest number”), to argue that since projected future population numbers will be so much greater than the present-day population of earth, we should accept, even welcome, present human suffering for the sake of the happiness and flourishing of a much, much greater number of beings in the future beyond our own life spans. In this triumphal march of bean-counters (who calculate as if they know the future), wealthy trashers of the planet are elevated to the status of Utopian visionaries, seen to be hastening the glorious future, as I will get to in a moment.

 

But first it gets worse. 

 

Those “huge” numbers of future populations? They might not, probably won’t, even be human. They might be – they are imagined to be by longtermists – “transhumans,” or “posthumans,” even digital simulations. Imagine being asked to give up your place in a lifeboat, not for another human being, but for a digital simulation. To sacrifice your grandchildren’s happiness for such “beings.” Do you find this scenario appealing?

 

Traditional Native American reverence for the earth (a reverence those who insist on a sharp division between the Creator and the creation may consider “unchristian,” but let’s not pursue that now) has at its forefront the Seventh Generation Principle, which holds that we should live today so that our descendants seven generations into the future will still have access to earth and water and air and other natural resources equal to what we enjoy. Or better. (We have a lot of remediation to do!) The word ‘longtermism’ may suggest such a principle to your ear, but you would be deceivedLongtermism is diametrically and absolutely opposed to the Seventh Generation Principle. Longtermism advocates burning through earth’s resources as fast as we can in order to motivate space travel -- emigration from Mother Earth – and colonization of outer space. In the longtermist point of view, there is no obligation at all to care for our earthly environment: it is nothing but a launching pad to an extraplanetary future.


Longtermists are generally very wealthy or, if not wealthy themselves, sycophants of the wealthy, and you can readily see why. Longtermism involves no obligation to conservation of earth’s resources, no obligation to relieve human suffering, certainly no call to “live in the moment” and give thanks. Is it any wonder that American longtermists are flocking eagerly to today’s Republican Party? Longtermists and Republicans see eye to eye on quite a bit. They are natural bedfellows in their beliefs that greed is good, more is better, and environmentalism is contraindicated -- for countless reasons.

 

If you have ever read Ayn Rand’s We the Living, you’ll recognize a political party ready and willing to sacrifice today’s lives for those of the future, but did you in your wildest dreams imagine that the threat would come not from the Left but from the Right? I got over my youthful infatuation with Ayn Rand decades ago, but I’ll refer to her once again to remind you that in her tale of the post-Revolutionary Russian nightmare, Party loyalty was everything. At times the Party demanded the sacrifice of its principles for the sake of its principles – yes, a belief in contradictions was required – and those who questioned were shunned and purged. (Often, in her novel, they were driven to suicide, their idealism shattered.) Any recent examples (hint: RINOs) come to mind?

 

It is deeply ironic that the sacrifice of the living for the future and the placing of party loyalty above all other principles, Rand’s twin nemeses, should be joined today by what she saw as the solution to the nightmare. She saw selfishness as the answer, but today selfishness marches hand in hand with unquestioning party loyalty and disdain for present life.

 

Maybe you’ve feared Communism for decades, watched anxiously for Communists coming at you from the Left (“creeping socialism”), but take a good look around. While your attention was elsewhere, the danger was massing on the Right, behind your back. Today it’s the radical, hard-core, far-right Republicans and longtermists who most resemble the Communist Party of 20th-century Bolshevism after the Russian Revolution. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Artist as Impresario

For some reason one morning, I thought of my beloved David’s Shushy-Cats, an imaginary troupe of young performers he modeled somewhat after the wholesome Young Americans but without the nonprofit educational slant. In a long-running soap opera of ad-libbed episodes, his story unrolled between the two of us over the years – never publicly or even with friends, just between us. If only those episodes had been recorded! I don’t even remember the first, unexpected “Opening Night,” but the Shushy-Cats put on stage shows at an Up North resort, much like Boyne Mountain, musical reviews with choreography (their signature number was “Hooray for Youth”), even as years went by and many of the cast became long in the tooth. (Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? Think horses.) Once the Shushy-cats came into our life, they never went away. We might be riding in the car or sitting over coffee somewhere or lying in bed of an evening – I never knew when another episode might come my way or what outlandish schemes and revelations it would entail.

 

Whenever I overheard the Artist leaving messages on a friend’s answering machine, I was always amazed that he sounded so conversational, as if he were really talking to another person. It was hard to realize he was only recording. Similarly, when he launched into a tale of the Shushy-Cats, making it all up as he went along, he managed to make those stories sound like real life. “I’ve got an idea for a new number,” he might begin, just as he might start to tell me he had a new idea for rearranging his art gallery, and I could see in my mind the "new number" as he described the staging and named the roles each key performer would fill. Because the cast members all had names and personalities, like the members of the old Micky Mouse Club, personalities built up over months and eventually years of unscheduled, impromptu installments. Sometimes I jumped in to make an observation or protest that the stage number he had in mind was doomed from the start. “You have to consider your audience,” I would remind him, or “How are all those costume changes going to be done so fast? You’re asking a lot of the kids.” 

 

Because he always referred to them as “the kids.” The company had its ups and down, of course, and times only seemed to get harder and harder as time went by. Brian had back pain and trouble lifting girl dancers over his head. The girls – I should say “girls,” maybe – had complaints about their costumes, and it was true that they didn’t look as slim and lively in their cheerleader skirts as they had years before. Younger audiences expected different kinds of entertainment, too: more special lighting effects, a faster pace, sexier moves. The Shushy-cats were “old school,” good, clean family entertainment.

 

Not that “the kids” were angels. Oh, far from it! All believed, in principle, the adage, “There are no small parts, only small actors,” but naturally there were rivalries and jealousies, and one female cast member in particular was never happy if not the star. That was Brie – or Bree – we never wrote down anything, so I never thought about how it might be spelled. Brie (or Bree) could be counted on to complicate every situation, personal or professional, in which she played a part. She even followed us out West, settling in a New Mexico town with a little boy she tried to convince people the impresario had fathered! Can you imagine that? We could! We knew that little vixen Brie! There was nothing you could put past her!

 

Once at a party -- in real life-- a young man commented to me, “Now that we’re living together, it seems we don’t have as much to talk about, because we already know everything the other has been doing.” I told him, “Just make stuff up! That’s what David does,” and I told him about the Shushy-cats. He was delighted and enthralled. I wonder if that young couple ever developed an imaginary life to live alongside their real one.

 

After a while the Shushy-cats disbanded, gone their separate ways, but the story continued, and the impresario couldn’t give up the dream of a reunion. Onstage, of course. It seemed unrealistic to me. They had families now and lived all over the country. How could they afford the time to travel back to Michigan to put on a show together? And would anyone come to see it? 

 

Ah, but now, wouldn’t I give anything to have the whole gang together again, even that little trouble-maker, Brie? I miss them all. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Fun, Entertainment, and the Second Amendment

In any discussion of gun ownership, gun rights, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is repeatedly cited. We are told that owning guns is a right, and so the question of “need” can be dismissed, since if one has a right, justification is unnecessary. Need is irrelevant. No one is compelling me to speak out on the issue of guns or any other issue; I am not a public servant or elected official being asked my opinion; therefore, I don’t need to state my views. But I have a right to do so. I am not forced by law to own and operate a business, but I have a right to do so. Etc. “Because I can” is a favorite phrase of entitled Americans. It is part of the discussion on assault weapons, as well as other expensive luxury items. I don’t need a yacht, for instance, but I can afford it, and I want it, so I have it. I don’t have to show need to justify my purchase and possession. Well, I personally cannot afford and do not have a yacht, but let’s make it simpler and more pertinent to my own life: I don’t need as many books as I own, but I want them and have a right to have them.


Is the question of need irrelevant in the case of guns? Very important question. I don’t think so. The text of the Second Amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Amendment clearly points to need: the word “necessary” is right there, providing justification for what follows. The Constitution was signed in 1787. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. Young America had fought a revolution to throw off British rule but had good reason to be concerned for its “future security,” and so the founders saw a “well regulated Militia” as “necessary to the security of a free State.” Need was not seen by the Founders as irrelevant but as the very reason for that Amendment to the Constitution.

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court’s decision held that, in the words of Antonin Scalia, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia [my emphasis added] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Dick Heller had sued D.C., claiming that its ban on handguns in the home was unconstitutional, and the Court majority sided with Heller. Justice Scalia explicitly noted, however, that guns rights are not unlimited and that the right to own guns is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” I will note here that in addition to saying that “purpose” can be legally limited, he also denied that “any weapon whatsoever” was guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Just as there are limits on free speech (the usual example here is that one has no right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre), so there can be limits on kinds of weapons and the purposes for which they can be used, according to conservative originalist Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller.

There was a 10-year ban on assault weapons in the U.S., during which time the number of deaths from mass shootings fell markedly. Even though the horrible Columbine shooting took place during the decade-long ban, overall numbers were lower and the chances of Americans dying in mass shooting events lowered by 70%. When the ban expired, mass shooting deaths rose immediately and sharply. The average age of mass shooters in America is 33.7 years of age; therefore, although mass shooters in schools tended to be younger, it is far from clear that raising the age for purchase of, say, an AR-15 would keep the general public safer. 

The need for self-defense, whether of the nation or the person, is still an integral part of the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment as interpreted by the conservative opinion of the Supreme Court, who also added that the right was not unlimitedIf a majority of Americans want to rewrite the Amendment to read, “Fun, amusement, and entertainment being core American values, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed or in any way limited,” let them attempt to do so. Until such time, if young men want to “play soldier," let them join the National Guard, let them join the Army, let them join the Marines, and let them learn not only gun safety but also the difference between “fun” and serious defense in dangerous circumstances not of their own making, circumstances in which they themselves are also targets.

----

[I cannot explain why font and background of some sentences and partial paragraphs in this post are set off differently. I did not intend it but cannot seem to fix it. The italics, however, are my own.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Because in the long term, we'll all be dead.

🏠   🏠.  🏠.  🏠

A friend of mine posted a comment on Facebook that began, “Every short-term rental is a home that’s unavailable to permanent residents.” What riveted my attention, however, was her following sentence: 

“Nationwide, 40% of short-term rentals are owned by corporations and/or are used to launder money.” 

The very simple, very general definition of short-term rental is property rented out for periods of less than 31 days. The new investment craze in STRs, however, is something quite different from your neighbors having vacationers spend weekends in an apartment built over their garage or your neighbors renting out a “mother-in-law” cottage behind their house on a weekly or monthly basis. The new investment market is wealthy individuals and corporations buying up entire houses, often multiple houses. These people and corporations are not your “neighbors” in any sense of the word. They aren't even "newcomers." They only to milk the cow you so lovingly raised for as long as they can.

Until the rest of us figure out how to make finer distinctions about the kind of rentals we want in our beloved communities, we will be at the mercy of those whose only consideration is return on their money.