A Moon-Shot Moment

My friends, we’ve been through a tough time. We’ve lost loved ones and treasured icons. We’ve watched the numbers of COVID fatalities climb with no end in sight, seen millions lose jobs, health care, homes, and businesses or experienced those things ourselves. More than 200,000 of our fellows are dead just in this country from a virus that could have been contained but wasn’t. Americans have witnessed the most shocking scandals among public servants in our 245-year history, including countless illegalities perpetrated by a president who shows utter contempt for the rule of law and our sacred institutions. Most of us will be happy to see 2020 in the rearview mirror.

But there is good news: This is a potential moon-shot moment. One week from tomorrow, 11/3/2020, we have an opportunity to begin rebuilding our country in a way that will make our kids and grandkids proud, changes that will create an America that works for all, and that benefits everyone. The steps I’m about to propose truly are achievable, if we work toward them together, and if we vote for candidates that share our progressive values. We Americans did put men on the moon once, after all.

First an apology: Anyone who’s read my blog is aware of my disdain for a certain individual who I hope will be defeated at the ballot box very soon. I’ve made no secret of my belief that he’s a danger to us all. After 30 years in uniform defending America I feel I had a right to speak harshly and with vigor against someone I see as one of those ‘enemies foreign and domestic’ I swore a solemn oath to fight against. Nevertheless, I apologize for my often acidic commentary about him. It was not about you my friends, family, or acquaintances; it was about him, our modern ‘Master of the House’ from Les Miserables:

‘Master of the house, doling out the charm
Ready with a handshake and an open palm…’

No, my contempt for this carnival barker comes from my emotional and heartfelt despair at witnessing the depths of negativity and prejudice the last four years has revealed, depravity elicited by the man I mention, but refuse to name. His tan is fake, and his tie is longer than his attention span, if that helps.

But I’m grateful to him as well. Why? For all his faults and shortcomings, and they are manifold, he mirrors what needs to be fixed in our society: The corrosive greed that lies just under the surface; our impulse to disparage one another, made simpler by social media; the ease with which we massage the truth, or simply lie to one another; our national tendency to bully other countries that disagree with us; our worship of profit over humanity, ignorance over scholarship, monetary gain over the sacred earth; our misguided view that compassion equals weakness, that military might equals greatness and right; that science and fact are not to be trusted; that those aspiring to inform us are instead the enemy. Our deeply embedded and socially corrosive assumption that caucasian equals correct.            

Perhaps our biggest debt of gratitude to this fake tanned man is for his revelations that our electoral and governing institutions are much weaker and more malleable than we once thought, that those sacred governing posts are indeed vulnerable to the whims and wiles of a would be dictator. These revelations are cause for alarm, but also gratitude, I believe. These times must be seized for the chance they offer to mend those systemic weaknesses, and to make our system stronger and better. And ironclad.

Thus my vision of an America we can once again be proud of. In no particular order, here’s an incomplete list of items to get us to the moon, and possibly back again.

  • A new economic model that demands sustainability over depletion, preservation over extraction; that values loyalty to employees over slavish devotion to shareholders; that provides a dignified living wage to all; that rewards innovation and wealth creation over hoarding and wealth accumulation; that sees current ratios of executive compensation Vs worker pay as obscene.
  • A society in which corporations pay for the externalities of their products, instead of passing those costs along to consumers, and damaging the environment in the process.
  • A society that uses renewable energy, leaves fossil fuels in the ground, and realizes many more jobs and a healthier, cleaner earth because of it.
  • A society that strives toward equitable financial treatment for all; that sees current wealth disparity as a recipe for national crisis; that dismantles longstanding zero sum practices in favor of those that recognize and valorize abundance.
  • A true health care system instead of a disease-care, medicine for profit model; the collective understanding that health care is a right for all, not a privilege for those who can afford it; that focuses on disease prevention instead of acute, immediate, expensive care and treatment; a system that abandons the reductionist model of medical care to embrace the holistic, humanitarian model.
  • A society in which homelessness, especially among children and veterans, is abhorrent; a society that sees hunger among its citizens as shameful; that shares its abundance, and knows the value of ‘enough’; a community that cares for the most vulnerable, and takes civic pride in doing so. A society in which the wealthy embrace the responsibility that accompanies their elevated position.
  • A society where men show their sons what compassion and affection mean by kissing them, hugging them, telling them they love them, and advocating for them fiercely, especially when those sons practice affections and courtesies themselves. A society in which boys learn that girls are equally precious human beings, and deserve every respect. A society where men teach their sons these things by their open, caring, gentle, considerate treatment of women. A society free of bullies.
  • A society that rewards its teachers lavishly, understanding that education is a crucial undertaking; that provides venues, materials, resources, time and training so everyone may achieve their aspired level in life.
  • A society in which women are heard and heeded, and in which they’re free to exercise full agency in their lives and with their bodies; in which all mechanisms used to silence women are forever discredited. A society that finally passes the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  • A society in which citizens are free to live, and worship, and shop, and teach, and learn, and play without fear of gun violence.
  • A society that provides whatever measures are needed for mental health care and suicide prevention.
  • A society where ‘pro-life’ means what it says: that we feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, care for the lonely & imprisoned, avoid wars, stop killing animals for food; that finally understands there is no ‘planet B’, that unless we focus on climate change, and reverse greenhouse gas emissions, there’ll be no more life to be pro about. A society that realizes it’s not the earth in danger; it is human life and future generations that are in peril.
  • A society in which differences are celebrated, not punished; where ‘gay marriage’ is simply ‘marriage;’ where trans and other non-binary citizens live openly and safely.
  • A society that supports our troops fully and without question by sending them into harm’s way only as a last resort, and only when a direct threat to our country exists. A society that all of us support by serving, either in the military or in another role, and in which no one is exempt because of background, bone spurs, or bank account. A society in which taxes benefit schools, social programs, infrastructure, and soft power more than the military industrial complex and its endless fetish for new and more destructive weaponry.
  • A community that ends the need for abortion by providing birth control, sex education, accurate reproductive information, and access to health care and family planning for all; that underscores this commitment by recognizing every woman’s agency over her own body.
  • A society that refuses to accept one fatality from gun violence, much less 30,000 per year; that relegates assault weapons only to the military and peace officers where they rightly belong; that agrees on sensible, sane, enforceable gun legislation, registration, background checks, and adequate training for gun purchasers. A society that demands as much oversight for gun acquisition as for a driver’s permit.
  • A society in which candidates for office are elected by the number of citizen votes they receive, not on an electoral system that’s a relic of the 18th century, an obsolete system that’s hobbled our national elections ever since. A society that demands full disclosure of financial and tax records of every candidate as a condition of selection.
  • A society that doesn’t tolerate the influence of money in our legislative process; where corporate campaign contributions are limited and transparent; with publicly funded elections, and time-limited campaigning; where voting is mandatory, easy, transparent, fair, and efficient. A society that considers voter suppression criminal, with harsh legal penalties.
  • A society in which black families can send their children away each morning, fully expecting them to return safely each night; in which the police act as servants to all, not oppressors to any; in which Black Lives Matter becomes an unneeded, sad, and tragic marker of a distant past; in which taking a knee becomes, once again, a sign of reverence and devotion, instead of a cry for recognition that some of us cannot breathe.
  • A society in which the police are revered for the difficult job they do, in which these forces police their own ranks to weed out bigotry, corruption, and malfeasance.
  • A society in which public protest is understood as the right and the obligation it is, not portrayed as an inconvenience to those comfortably ensconced.
  • A society that worships at the altar of truth.
  • A society that adheres to the principles and tenets we claim*.

The best way to facilitate the above is, of course, through our votes. Here’s hoping the upcoming election sees a historic, monumental turnout at the polls, enough votes that the outcome cannot be doubted, or dismissed. I believe there are no non-voters; that we vote at the polls, or we vote by staying home. In either case, we make a choice. Thank you for reading, and please vote. The stakes are very high.

*The asterisk above refers to my personal belief that those ‘tenets’ we claim, the collective agreement that drives American society, namely our rugged and often damaging individualism, while an important descriptor of our national character, is at the same time part of the problem that’s brought us to this painful nexus in our history. Put simply, we consider ourselves a bunch of rugged, individualistic cowboys/cowgirls. The harsh limitations this national creed produces are manifest now in our response to the coronavirus, arguably the biggest crisis we’ve faced in our history.

An example: Recently I read a quote in response to requests for aid for the virus: “It’s not a job for government,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said. Whaaa? Yes, he really did say that. My question is, who’s job is it? The you’re on your own mentality explains a lot about why the U.S. has 230,000 (and counting) of citizens dead, many of whom should not be. In my next post I’ll scribble a bit about why I disagree so strongly with Governor Burgum, why I believe an alteration to our cowboy perspective is necessary, and another bullet list of solutions. Thank you again. Now VOTE!

Soliloquy

Admit it: You talk to yourself, too. I’m not the only person on the planet who walks around chatting merrily when no one else is within earshot. Not the only guy sharing thoughts aloud with myself, solving ridiculously complex problems, having a long conversation with the lunatic in my attic, the squishy cortical computer housed inside my skull. Not a bad metaphor, when you think about it. We all need someone to talk to, and that nutcase inside our head case seems to start jabbering away at the drop of a ball cap anyway, which happens a lot. So what do we do? That’s right, we start answering. Out loud. Admit it.

Not a thing wrong with it. In this so called modern age we all need someone to talk to, someone who actually listens. Who better than the crazy aunt upstairs who seems to understand us best? And who responds right away! It’s one reason social media (which aren’t all that social in my opinion), why FaceBook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and TikTok and the rest are so damnably successful: They give us a chance to talk to others, to transfer the craziness inside our heads into halfway coherent words, and then sploosh them out into the universe! All this while offering the illusion that others are actually listening! Much better to swap stories with the one person in the universe who really gets you, and where you’re coming from.

So instead of being stuck blabbering to the one person we trust almost all the time–ourselves–except perhaps when we’re avoiding a recent gaffe, such as not replacing the damn toilet paper roll again, or buying off-brand yogurt instead of Yoplait, her favorite, we can chatter all day long in contented soliloquy, solving the world’s most complex and challenging issues, and cheering ourselves up for how clever we are.

Feel a bit self conscious while talking to yourself? Yeah, me too. Picture this: Sunday morning early, wife still abed, world outside reasonably silent, dog sprawled at your feet, and you’re chatting away about the latest idiocy by you know who, or the incredible deal you made yesterday swapping your old drill press for the neighbor’s chain saw, or the snarky musing that spills from your mouth about what you’d do to that dumb as a bag of hair son of a buck Ted Nugent given half a chance…when the wife’s voice comes at you from the kitchen. “Who are you talking to?”

It is to chill at that moment, is it not? “Just thinking out loud, dear. Didn’t realize you were up.” No need for embarrassment, really. She does it, too. We all engage in soliloquy. We do it to make sense of the crazy, twisted, and getting twisteder world we inhabit just now. That torrent of thoughts and emotions and problems and solutions cascades through our brain pans, forcing our mouth muscles to engage. We launch into asides and self-comforting orations automatically.

Indeed, the most famous soliloquy in the English Language came about because a young Danish prince reached a mental boiling point over the remarriage of his conniving, regicidal uncle to his seeming accomplice mum. He didn’t internalize his crisis of conscience, at least not in act 3, no. He talked to himself! “To be or not to be, that is the question,” Hamlet said, aloud, in a his famous aside. “Whether it be nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.” Nobler ‘in the mind,‘ Prince Hamlet said. But he spoke the words aloud. Hey, if Shakespeare can talk to himself, I say the rest of us can bloody well indulge.

Besides, if you’re chattering along, a soliloquy spilling from your cheeks like a Shakespearean sonnet, in concert with your crazy uncle upstairs, enjoy it! If the two of you are well on the way to solving the riddle of the next travel destination, or debating if there’s intelligent life on the third planet from the sun, or whether or not you got taken by your neighbor since the damn chain saw needs a whole new blade and they’re a hundred bucks, and while so engaged in soliloquy the neighbor himself stares at you from the nearby driveway, fuggetaboutit! He does it, too! Earlier that day, I’d wager, he was muttering to himself about what a chump you are!

Here’s a bit of comfort. It’s commonplace these days to see people walking around with BlueTooth buds in their ears, chittering away to themselves. Do you know there’s someone on the other end of that conversation? You do not. Do you trust that there is? Yes, you do. We used to think talking to oneself was a sign that the porch light was on, but no one was home. That the speaker was off her meds, or likely lived out of a grocery cart parked under a bridge. We’d look the other way, avoid eye contact, hoping the loony person meandered on, left us alone, and didn’t collar us to share their evidence. “I have evidence!”

Nowadays we think nothing of people muttering away, shaking their heads at some mystery voice (whether or not there’s evidence to be shared), enjoying a good laugh at whatever voice they’re hearing. Look for the earbuds, the modern if miniature hiding place so many of us retreat into.

So when the urge to soliloquize comes along, get the buds out, pop them in your ear canal, hide in your cocoon, and chat away, I say. Just pretend you’re deep in conversation with your broker, or your travel agent, or your kid’s school principal. Or maybe some crazy uncle who’s locked up in the attic, screaming to get out. Everyone does it. Thanks for reading.

Iowa Autumn, and Other Stuff

MANY GOOD SCREEN SAVERS JUST NOW

Hay? Straw?

As a city kid, I couldn’t tell the difference between hay and straw. I used the terms interchangeably. Until I moved to Iowa, when I was (gently) informed that hay is in fact an animal feed crop, and straw is residue, the leavings of that feed crop. So it’s possible, it seems, to obtain straw from hay, but not vice-versa. Good to know. I’m sure the cattle appreciate (and know) the difference.

Here’s a fun farm-ish fact: Had I been a soldier in the civil war, educated to the minimal degree, as most front-line troops were back then, I’d have been taught to march properly to the cadence of ‘hayfoot, strawfoot!, hayfoot, strawfoot!’ Attaching a sprig of each to a soldier’s right and left boot was instrumental in teaching him to march properly. True story. You can look it up.

Only in Iowa

So I backed the car out of the garage, and turned onto our public street, only to be stopped and delayed by a farmer filling a transport truck with his newly combined (that’s Kom-Bined) soybeans. And holding up traffic all the while. Which traffic waited, without complaint or irritation or use of the vehicle’s horn. Not that soybeans are grown with any dedication or frequency in heavily paved New York City, or Chicago, or LA, but try picturing this in Midtown, or on Wacker Drive, or on Rodeo just outside the Gucci emporium. Heavens! As I waited for the fellow’s soybeans to load, I seem to recall that my blood pressure remained reasonably steady, or perhaps even lowered a bit, and my smile muscle actually twitched. It was all very Grant Wood-ish.

Speaking of Screen Savers

Since leaving Medellin Colombia, and moving to Iowa City, one of the biggest changes we’ve noticed, aside from all the spoken English we hear, is the absence of ambient light at night. For the first time in years we see gazillions of stars, the moon is a real presence, and there is the occasional satellite silently crossing the black void. The air is a bit cleaner here than in Medellin as well, albeit a tad crisper. This will be our first cold winter experience in five years, but no one ever quite forgets Iowa City in January. It’s cold with a capital C. About that brass monkey…

Happy Birds Live Here

Is the birdhouse really smiling? I believe it is. This tiny if derelict avian habitation is proof that not everything broken must be repaired. That’s a comfort to us older citizens who often simply wish to be left alone with our well earned brokenness. Flying home to our patched up, sagging selves can be a cheerful if somewhat somber experience. I’m guessing the birds who inhabit this cheery if whopper-jawed little house don’t give a tit’s patoot about how it sags, it’s still their home-tweet-home.

Yes, Hay…Not Straw.

Iowans are not without a sense of whimsy. This ‘Toots-Hay Roll’ was at a farm products store we visited while searching for the perfect pumpkin. The hay (not straw) bales are organized in such a way that kiddos are encouraged to scamper around atop them.

This is actually similar to our experience in Colombia, in a way. Not the hay bales, of course, but the yawning disregard for liability and attorney involvement were one of the precious nińos to fall and hurt themselves. If that happened, no lawsuit would follow, just like in Colombia. A tumble would require a touch of TLC for the bruised up Iowa tyke, and then, avoiding litigation, back atop the bale they’d go.

I’m not sure who ‘Toots’ is, but I’d guess he/she approves.

Feeding the Chickens

The grandkids were masked up; the chickens were not. Which seems unfair, since the virus originated in poultry. The damned chickens should have to mask up, and social distance, (which they clearly are not, chickens being awfully plucking stupid, like certain supporters of…I won’t say his name). Chickens don’t bother sanitizing their ugly claws, and they’re constantly attuned to Fox News in order to feel safer, if more ignorant. Chickens live in squalor. They clabber over one another like a bunch of drunken rugby players, or beered up Delta Phi boys. Like certain people I’ve recently unfriended, chickens will happily eat whatever glop is tossed onto the ground for them. And we have to get tested before we’re allowed aboard The Beast at Six Flags? Does that seem fair to you? Me neither.

Looking for The Great Pumpkin

So another city kid question: If pumpkin seeds are all the same size and consistency, and weight etc., and if they require the same amount of whatever pumpkin seeds require, such nurturance as water/soil/sunlight/moonlight/attention/candles and Yanni music/you name it, then why do bigger pumpkins cost more than smaller ones? It’s pretty obvious I’ll never make it as a farmer, but still… Next you’ll tell me birds don’t come from bird seed.

Hear the Corn?

I’ve heard from several native born Iowans that living in Ottumwa, or Cedar Rapids, or Oskaloosa, or Keokuk*, or in any other cozy Iowa burg you can indeed, on a still, windless Iowa night hear the corn grow. Perhaps in my younger days, before the high decibel gods of aviation relieved me of my auditory capacities I may have heard it myself. No more. My days (and nights) of listening to plants stretching their leafy limbs in the fecund fields of Iowa or any other grain-infested state are over. I’ll take the Iowans’ word for it. If there’s a YouTube video demonstrating this curious nocturnal, agri-auditory condition I’m not aware of it.

*’Keokuk’ is the name of a Sauk indian chief. It means (roughly) ‘watchful fox’. It’s also one of those place names that signal ones tribal membership, or lack of it. It would appear to be pronounced ‘Kee-Oh-Kuck’. It is not. To native Iowans it’s pronounced ‘Kow-Kuck.’ Guess how I figured that out. Hey, I couldn’t tell hay from straw, remember?

**Keokuk (Kow-Kuck) Iowa is the boyhood home of aviation pioneer, Hollywood film producer, and all around weirdo inventor and stupidly rich guy Howard Hughes. Among the many things I credit to Mr. Hughes are the infamous, single-flight-ever Spruce Goose aircraft, also being a charter starter of TWA, Trans World Airlines, and of course his status as a benefactor of the proceeds of mens’ drooling over Jane Russell’s bodacious boobs.

But there’s also this: Howard Hughes was obsessed with hand washing and personal sanitation long before the rest of us caught on to this socially beneficial, and anti-viral practice. While the rest of us men were, I presume, preoccupied with Ms Russell’s frontal assets, Hughes was scrubbing his mitts, while sweating over his monetary assets. So a big shout-out to Iowa raised Howard Hughes today.

Even a city kid knows this: These are cows!

Thanks for reading. More later. VOTE!!!