Saturday, June 6, 2020

Moment of Zen: Openings

I’m happy to see things in Vermont are improving. Our number of new COVID-19 cases has slowed considerably, and the governor is beginning to slowly allow things to reopen.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Pic of the Day

2020: The Worst Year?

Some historians claim the most traumatic year in modern American history was 1968, but that 2020 is shaping up as the second worst with Trump having no bottom to how low he will go. With seven months left in 2020, the comparison of these two years provides little comfort, and several reasons for concern.

When I taught World or American History, I always said there were certain pivotal years: 1066, 1492, 1776, 19681969, and others. I did not teach date memorization, but there are years and dates that need to be remembered. The year 1968 belongs on that list as an unbelievably anno horribilis while most of the other dates mark positive historical events. In the case of 1969, a lot of events just happened: Stonewall, the Moon Landing, Ted Kennedy and the Chappaquiddick incident, the Summer of Love, the Manson Murders, Woodstock, Hurricane Camille, the list goes on...

How could any year be worse than the current one in which more Americans are out of work than in the Great Depression, and more people are needlessly dying than in several of America’s wars combined? How could the domestic order seem more frayed and failing than it has in the past week with the filmed record of a white, Minneapolis police officer calmly killing a black man as other officers just as calmly looked on? This led naturally to protests which in turn led to looting and destruction. In many cities, police and troopers, kitted out as if for Baghdad circa 2003, widened the violence and hastened the decay with strong-arm tactics sure to generate new protests.

Most of the objects of police roundups have been civilians. But in a rapidly expanding list of cities—first Minneapolis, then Louisville, Seattle, Detroit, and elsewhere—reporters appeared to be singled out by police as targets. The arrest of CNN’s Omar Jimenez on live television was just one of many to come. Againin Minneapolis, Minnesota State Patrol members approached a group of a dozen reporters all bearing credentials and yelling to identify themselves as press, and “fired tear gas [] at point-blank range.” In Louisville, Kaitlin Rust, a reporter for an NBC affiliate, yelled on camera, “I’m getting shot!” as her cameraman, James Dobson, filmed an officer taking careful aim and firing a pepper-ball gun directly at them. In Detroit, the reporter JC Reindl, of the Free Press, was pepper-sprayed in the face even as he held up his press badge. The examples keep piling up.

One man can be blamed for these abuses of the press: Donald Trump. From the beginning of his presidency, he referred to the press as “the enemy of the people.” It’s a vile term with a dangerous history. During the French Revolution, December 1793, Robespierre stated, "The revolutionary government…owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death.” During the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, Communist China, and many other times in history, the phrase has been used to place people beyond the pale. It is at its vilest and most dangerous when used by people in power while attacks are ongoing. Those are the exact circumstances under which Trump uses it. In his appalling 2017 inaugural address, he spoke about “American carnage.” Thus, he prophetically began his time in office by profaning the setting from which all his predecessors had invoked American potential and American hope. Under his auspices, weve seen a new kind of carnage; it’all bad, and it’s all getting worse. 

So how does it compare with the distant past of 1968? There is no objective comparison of suffering or confusion. Fear, loss, dislocation, and despair are real enough to people who encounter them no matter what happened to someone else at some other time.

In 1968, these terrible and/or shocking events occurred:
• On average, nearly 50 American servicemen died in combat in Vietnam every day—plus many more Vietnamese.
• Prague Spring began on January 5 and ended disastrously with the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August. 
• Starting on January 31 - The Tet Offensive began as Vietnam celebrated the Tet Holiday, and dragged on until September causing Walter Cronkite to report that “the bloody experience of Vietnam is [likely] to end in a stalemate” and prompted President Johnson to proclaim, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."
• February 1 - A Viet Cong prisoner was executed on a Saigon street by a South Vietnamese National Police Chief. The event was photographed by Associated Press photographer, Eddie Adams; the photo made headlines around the world. It swayed U.S. public opinion against the war. If you’ve seen the photograph, you’ll never forget it.
• February 8 - Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina wherethree college students were killed by highway patrolmen.
• March 16 - My Lai Massacre where a company of American soldiers brutally killed most of the people—men, women, children, infants—in the village of My Lai, South Vietnam.
• March 31 - Johnson announced he would not run for re-election as he uttered these two simple sentences:
[…] I do not believe that I should devote an hour or a day of my time to any personal partisan causes or to any duties other than the awesome duties of this office—the presidency of your country. Accordingly, I shall not seek, and I will not accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your president.
• April 4 - Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee causing riots to erupt in major American cities that lasted for several days afterward
• June 5 - U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles. 
• July-September - The H3N2 influenza known colloquially as the Hong Kong flu garnered little interest at the time, but estimated number of deaths was one million worldwide,with about 100,000 in the United States. Most of the deaths were people 65 and older. It is similar to COVID-19.
• August 28 - 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago where police clash with anti-war protesters
• The “most intrusive ever case of foreign interference in a U.S. election occurred although it was covered up at the time. {In brief: Richard Nixon’s campaign had back-channel connections with the South Vietnamese government andurged it to go slow in negotiations to end the war in hopes of better terms if they helped Nixon win.}

Try to approximate the surprise of Johnson’s announcement to end his presidential re-election bid. Imagine listening to a standard Trump rant-speech, and hearing something like Johnson’s words. Imagine, also, a leader like Johnson who had spent his entire life thinking about wielding power—and who decided, in the nation’s interest, to give it up.

In some ways, the comparison between 1968 and 2020 might make Americans feel better, or at least consoled, that things have been terrible before. But here are two implications that cut the other way.

First, everyone contending for power in American politics in 1968 was competent. They all had governing experience. And most of them—even, arguably, George Wallace who had been governor of Alabama and running as a segregationistrecognized that a leader’s duty was supposed to include representing the American public as a whole. Each of them had, as all powerful figures do, his vanities and excesses and blind spots, plus, of course, points of corruption. Wallace, in his flagrant and pugnacious way, and Nixon, with his smarm, preyed upon American prejudices and resentments. But all of them recognized what they were expected to say. For Johnson, this was obvious. For Humphrey, whose breakthrough in politics was as a young, firebrand, pro-civil-rights mayor of, yes, Minneapolis in the 1940s, this was the pain of being lumbered with defense of the Vietnam War visible every day.

Nixon’s breakthrough had been as a GOP dirty-tricks hit manduring the McCarthy Era. But—and this is the contrast with today—he had a broader range in his register. If you read his 1968 acceptance speech at the Republican convention, and contrast it with Donald Trump’s “I alone can fix it” monstrosity from the 2016 RNC convention, you will see the difference. Trump knows only how to talk about himself, and his critics. Nixon knew how to at least feign a bring us together message. For instance, after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, it was Trump himself who tweeted about “thugs” and “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Nixon would not say things so crudely while in the public eye; he was, however, known to be quite crude in private. In 1968, the political players at least seemed competent. There was no chance that the White House would end up in the hands of a clown.

Second, is a similarity between 1968 and the present. Nixon knew that the specter of disorder—especially disorderly conduct by Black Americans, face-to-face with police—was one of his strongest weapons. He said as much in his convention speech:

As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night … We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish. Did we come all this way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?

When people feel afraid, they want someone who claims to be strong. Law-and-order candidates rise when confidence in regular order ebbs. Richard Nixon had much more going for him in 1968 than Donald Trump does in 2020—most of all that Nixon, not being the incumbent, could campaign on everything that was wrong with the country; while Trump, as the incumbent, must defend his management and record which includes record unemployment and an economy in chaos. But protests and fear of disorder—especially fear of angry Black people in disorder—drew people to Nixon as the law-and-order candidate in 1968, and he clearly knew that.

Conversely, Donald Trump could not put that point as carefully as NixonBut he must sense that backlash against disorder from people he has classified as the other and the enemy, is his main—indeed, his only—electoral hope. Trump promised in hisinaugural address that “American carnage stops right here, right now.” Now, he appears to be trying to make it worse. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Pic of the Day

No Time

I ended up talking on the phone most of last night with one friend and then another. In the midst of all of that another friend was texting me. I was just a busy little social butterfly last night, and when I finally got a chance to settle down and write my post, it was past time for bed. I’ll try to have more of a “real” post tomorrow.

By the way, don’t think that I am complaining about being on the phone with my friends. I love all of them dearly and would never take for granted a chance to talk to them because honestly, you never know what tomorrow will bring.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Pic of the Day

Qui Tacet Consentire Videtur

Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for “he who is silent is taken to agree.” Thus, silence gives consent. Sometimes accompanied by the proviso "ubi loqui debuit ac potuit", that is, "when he ought to have spoken and was able to.” The maxim is probably best know as the defense given by Sir Thomas More during his trial for treason and was dramatized in A Man for All Seasons (play 1960, film 1966). If you are not familiar with the event, the play, or the movie, A Man for All Seasons depicts the final years of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Lord Chancellor of England who refused both to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII of England's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and to take an Oath of Supremacy declaring Henry VIII Supreme Head of the Church of England. For his refusal, More was put on trial for treason with Thomas Cromwell as the prosecutor.


In the trial scene Cromwell asks More, “Yet how can this be? Because this silence betokened, nay, this silence was, not silence at all, but most eloquent denial!


To which More replies, “Not so. Not so, Master Secretary. The maxim is "Qui tacet consentiret:” the maxim of the law is "Silence gives consent.” If therefore you wish to construe what my silence betokened, you must construe that I consented, not that I denied.”


Cromwell then asks, “Is that in fact what the world construes from it? Do you pretend that is what you wish the world to construe from it?”


And More responds, “The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law.


More, relying upon legal precedent and the maxim understood that he could not be convicted as long as he did not explicitly deny that the King was Supreme Head of the Church, and he therefore refused to answer all questions regarding his opinions on the subject. Cromwell brought forth Solicitor General Richard Rich to testify that More had, in his presence, denied that the King was the legitimate head of the Church. More characterized the testimony as highly dubious but to no avail, and the jury took only fifteen minutes to find More guilty. He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered (the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility), but the King commuted this to execution by decapitation. The execution took place on 6 July 1535.


You might be wondering the reason behind this post and the retelling of this bit of history. It has to do with my personal Facebook account. I rarely, if ever, discuss politics on Facebook. I use it to keep in contact with my familymy friends from graduate school, and various coworkers, past and present. I broke my no politics rule on Monday and shared a Facebook post that I saw on I Should Be Laughing which addressed the question, Why do liberals think Trump supporters are stupid?”


I knew when I posted it, it would be an incendiary post and anger some of my friends and family. Only a few replied with comments disputing what I had shared. They claimed it was all from liberal media sources. I pointed out that every time a conservative sees a piece of news they don’t like, they try to discredit it by saying its from the liberal media and is fake news. Surprisingly, more of my friends and family liked the post. A few left comments in support. I shared that post because I can no longer be silent about the atrocious behavior of Trump and what he’s done to our country. Qui tacet consentire videtur ubi loqui debuit ac potuitTrump’s behavior everyday gets more and more unacceptable. I cannot in good conscience remain silent.


George F. Will, who for decades has been at the intellectual center of American conservatismcalled for Americans, and especially Republicans, to vote out Trump in November. Will wrote, “The lesson of Donald Trump's life is: There is no such thing as rock bottom. So, assume that the worst is yet to come.” He had harsh words for Trump, but he saved his true condemnation for the members of Congress who have enabled the President. He wrote in the Washington Post article, In life's unforgiving arithmetic, we are the sum of our choices. Congressional Republicans have made theirs for more than 1,200 days. We cannot know all the measures necessary to restore the nation's domestic health and international standing, but we know the first step: Senate Republicans must be routed, as condign punishment for their Vichyite collaboration, leaving the Republican remnant to wonder: Was it sensible to sacrifice dignity, such as it ever was, and to shed principles, if convictions so easily jettisoned could be dignified as principles, for ... what? Praying people should pray, and all others should hope: May I never crave anything as much as these people crave membership in the world's most risible deliberative body."


As if to prove Will's point, Senate Republicans raced to defend Trump's "law and order" speech on Monday night and his decision to clear out protesters from in front of the White House so that he could stroll across H Street to hold up a Bible in front of St. John's Church. “You can characterize it the way you want, but obviously the President is free to go where he wants and to hold up a Bible if he wants," Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, told CNN.


He mocked all Christians with his Monday night’s stunt. But, of course, sacredness has never been a concern of Trump’s. He didn’t open the Bible he was brandishing for the cameras, because he had no use for its text. He didn’t go inside the church he was using as a backdrop, because he had no interest in a sermon. To Trump, the Bible and the church are not symbols of faith; they are weapons of culture war. And to many of his Christian supporters watching at home, the pandering wasn’t an act of inauthenticity; it was a sign of allegiance—and shared dominance. And that, my friends, is the saddest thing of all: the fact that their pro-life beliefs, hatred of Democrats, and the notions of Christian nationalism are used to justify everything that Trump says and does. It’s not only sad, but it’s also frightening and disgusting. If people truly want to make America great again, then they must vote Trump and his lapdogs out of office.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Pic of the Day

Meditation XVII

Meditation XVII

By John Donne 

From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions


No man is an island,

Entire of itself,

Every man is a piece of the continent,

A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,

Europe is the less.

As well as if a promontory were.

As well as if a manor of thy friend’s

Or of thine own were:

Any man’s death diminishes me,

Because I am involved in mankind,

And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;

It tolls for thee.


The Background

"No Man Is an Island" is neither a proverb nor a poem. It’s a famous line by the English poet, John Donne in his "Meditation XVII.” John Donne wrote a famous prose work titled Devotions upon Emergent Occasion in 1624 which contains “Meditation XVII.” The work is a series of reflections which he wrote as he recovered from a serious illness. Each part of the work is divided into Mediation, a Prayer and an Expostulation. Mediation XVII is a part of the entire prose work which contains the quote"No man is an island.” The phrase sounds like, and is, an old proverbial expression. Oddly, although it was coined in the 17th century, it only began to be used widely in the second half of the 20th century. This usage started around 1940 but was probably accelerated by the release of a film of the same name in 1962.


In "Meditation XVII,” Donne compares mankind to a continent. He sees each person as part of the continent and not as an island. He maintains that when a clod breaks off from any continent, such a continent becomes lesser than as it was initially. By this assertion, Donne is referring to the effect of death. When someone dies, mankind which he sees as a continent becomes shortened by that death of the individual.


“No man is an island” is the first of two proverbial phrases from Meditation XVII.” The second was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's 1940 novel For Whom The Bell TollsJust as Devotions upon Emergent Occasion is regarded as one of Donne’s greatest works, For Whom The Bell Tolls likewise is regarded as one of Hemingway's best works. There's some debate about what precisely what Donne meant by the phrase “for whom the bell tolls.” Some think that Donne was simply pointing out people's mortality and that when a funeral bell was heard it was a reminder that we are nearer death each day, that is, the bell is tolling for us. Others view it more mystically and argue that Donne is saying we are all one and that, when one dies, we all die a little. This isn't as bleak as it might sound, as the counterpoint would be that there is some part of the living in the dead and that we continue a form of life after death.


From the above, we can deduce some interpretations. Meditation XVII suggests that human beings should not live in isolation. We’re all interconnected to one another. No one stands alone like an island that is surrounded only by the sea. We need one another to survive in life. At a time like this, we should all remember that every human life is sacred.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Pic of the Day

A Little Mad Sometimes

There is so much happening right now. Very little of it is good. Cities are burning as people protest the senseless death of another black man killed by the police. A pandemic is still raging, though in some places it’s getting better while in other places it’s getting worse. And our president, instead of doing anything productive, is feuding with Twitter. Good for Twitter for doing something about his insane and damaging tweets, but they need to do more. It’s been a longtime coming. 

The only bright spot seems to be that NASA was able to send American astronauts into space in an American made rocket. That’s been a longtime coming too. NASA hasn’t sent astronauts into space on an American spacecraft since 2011 when they retired the space shuttle program.

That being said, with all the terrible things going on in America, a quote, which is probably not that appropriate to the situation, popped into my head. It’s from the 1960 movie Psycho in which Norman Bates says, “ She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?”

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Pic of the Day

And Do

Let all your things be done with charity. (KJV) ( 1 Corinthians 16:14

When people think of the way you express your love, what would they think of? Possibly by faithfully recognizing birthdays, or caring for extended family and taking them under your wing, or ensuring visitors leave with food and providing for their needs. How do you want to be remembered by those you love? Are you creating those moments of love you desire to express to others?