CANCEL CULTURE

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Ralph Waldo Emmerson in Self-Reliance

While it is widely discussed what Mr. Emmerson meant, the general consensus seems to be that one who takes what is perceived as a popular position because it will make them feel a part of the crowd, or more importantly out of fear of being perceived as callous, unfeeling or even bigoted, is being foolish or unthinking.

We seem to have a great deal of that going on right now. Before you get your knickers in a twist, please note that I have long thought the reverence for the Confederacy was ill-conceived. You can read my previous piece on the Confederacy and my family’s relationship to it.

All that being said, are we now being foolishly consistent? Yes. While the statues of Confederate Generals and officials that were placed as some sort of reverence to a lost cause should be moved to a place where the purpose is to make them a part of history to be remembered and studied, the repeat of which should be avoided, the monument removal process seems to have born us down the road of knee jerk actions.

The removal of the statutes of the founders of the United States create a different matter. Yes, they, in many cases, held slaves, they did some bad things, but lost in the discussion is that they were flesh and blood men, making decisions based on what they knew, what they had been taught and consistent with their times.

They were, in many ways forward thinking. All you have to do is read the Constitution to see that. It gave us the framework for the government and, in many ways, today’s way of life. However, in that same document, they made mistakes, most obviously that slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person and women and slaves were not given the right to vote. (Keep in mind here, also, that black males were given the right to vote long before women of any race and even Frederick Douglass thought this was fair.)

It is the Constitution that these flawed men cobbled together that put in place the mechanisms that allowed our country’s evolution and allowed for amendments to be added that uplifted and changed the lives of people and made possible the discussion we are having today. Thomas Jefferson noted, in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, in 1816, the evolving nature of the Constitution and that he, along with others, were not the final arbiters of all things, when he said: “But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, a keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilize society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” Clearly, Jefferson, flawed as he was, saw that the evolution of the United States in thought, deed and action was inevitable and, in fact, desirable. However, if we listen to much of the rhetoric today, this seems lost.

The logical, or I suggest illogical, next step would be to stop referring to the Bible as holy and Jesus as perfect, because the Bible, both old and new testaments, specifically refers to the obligation to be a good or dutiful slave. Exodus 21:2; Exodus 21:7; Exodus 21:20; Exodus 21:32; Leviticus 25:44; Deuteronomy 15:16; Luke 7:2; Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 6:5 and on and on. There are well over a dozen references to being slaves and the obligations as a slave in the Bible. It is worth noting that the Bible was used as a justification for slavery by many, yet, the present day appreciation of the teachings of Jesus have evolved to the point that we understand that the subjugation of our fellow man is fundamentally wrong.

This demanding that people be perfect is not new, but it is unrealistic. We have free will and, as a result, will make mistakes. While we are discussing the Bible, maybe the reference to “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” should come in to play.

It is this same mindset that wants to re-write Twain because his books were often written in dialect, reflecting the language used by the people of the time in which the books were set, solely because some might be offended. I can only imagine Twain looking down from his place in the after-life laughing aloud at the people who would want to make his works less offensive.

I read where the late Ray Bradbury was approached by people to allow the re-writing of Fahrenheit 451 to make is less violent in that the scenes of burning books and the houses where the books were found might offend some. He, of course, would not give permission to soften his book, instead that the violent nature of restricting thought was the whole point of the book. (It is worth noting that it was not the government that wanted the books burned in Bradbury’s book, it was the people).

The present-day, popular position is that we should remove all monuments to men, or women, of the past who, while doing great things, did bad things as well, because the bad always cancels the good. In the present discussion, will the evil always out-weigh the good. Should we disregard Jefferson’s accomplishments and contributions because he owned slaves, or Frederick Douglass because he was willing to have women wait to get the vote or Jesus because he noted the obligations of a slave.

Does anyone of us want to be judged in, say 2320, for our actions in 2020 using the standards that have evolved over 300 years? I suggest not.

Should we have reverence for the accomplishments of the men and women who made possible the United States? Yes.

Should we, in discussing these people, acknowledge and discuss their shortcomings in light of what we now know? Yes.

Should we acknowledge the progress of the human mind, the more enlightened nature of our being and how it has developed over the last 250 years? Yes.

Should we try to make decisions, today, that, when evaluated by history, will seem enlightened and progressive by whatever future standards have evolved? Yes.

Will we fail in our efforts to make only good, enlightened decisions? Absolutely.

As individuals and as a nation, can we shun the tendency to be “foolishly consistent” and avoid the “hobgoblin of little minds”? That remains to be seen.

CONFEDERACY-Some Other Truths

I am a southerner. Born in Alabama, Birmingham, raised in Dadeville, a great small town in Tallapoosa County, college at the University of Alabama and adult life in Mobile-founded in 1702 and the birthplace of Mardi Gras. And, oh yeah, I am a 71 year old, white male.

I can trace my family history back to the pre-American Revolution days, mostly in South Carolina and my Alabama roots to the early 1800’s.

Now you know the preliminaries and I am sure you think, “Okay, let’s hear his heritage argument.” Well, you are right, but . . .

When the secession movement was beginning, my Pennington family was living in Lamar County, Sulligent mostly, in northwest Alabama. They were farmers and were not slave owners. They were, also, opposed to secession—openly opposed.

My great, great grandfather, Pinckney Pennington, had a family and my great grandfather, Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln), was born about the time Fort Sumpter was attacked. Yes, he was named for President Lincoln.

After the war began, Pinckney refused to join the Confederate Army, nor did he join the Union Army. He just wanted to be left alone, apparently thinking the Confederate cause had nothing do do with his life.

Well, in 1863, Confederate conscription agents came looking for adult males who had not joined the cause and had his name. Pinckney was not home when they came looking and his wife could not, or would not (the particulars are unclear) tell them where Pinckney was, so the conscription agents kidnapped two year old Linc to use as leverage. They later released him-did not return him, just released him on the side of the road some distance from home.

Eventually, the conscription agents found and “conscripted” Pinckney and another man from the area, and took them the to the Chickamauga area to do battle for a cause and an army in which they did not believe.

Pinckney, and the other man, escaped by leaving camp and making their way north to where their path was blocked by the Tennessee River. Rather than be deterred, they swam the Tennessee River and Pinckney joined the Union Navy.

He was in the navy during the siege of Charleston and was later aboard the Montauk when the Montauk was used as the holding place for those arrested in the conspiracy to kill President Lincoln.

After the war, Pinckney returned home to raise his family.

So, you see folks, the Confederacy was not all nobility and good—they were not above kidnapping two year olds—and the whole friend against friend saying is true.

Many in the south had no vested interest in preserving slavery or forming another country. In fact, many wanted to stay in the Union and supported President Lincoln.

Where are those monuments in the old Confederate States?

Those who hold the Confederate States and its legacy as sacrosanct are supporting the group when given the choice of “Loving or Leaving America” chose to leave.

Maybe it’s time for a statue of those like my great, great grandfather.

GREAT AGAIN?

Great Again?

President Trump ran a campaign on Making America Great Again. Well, my question is, “So what now?”
I am of the same generation as Trump and quite honestly, I think he, along with his supporters, either forgot a great deal of the time in which we grew up or just wanted to sell us a bill of goods on the off chance it would give them the opportunity to loot the country.
But, let us revisit the “great” years in light of today’s situation.
In my lifetime, I have lived through the civil rights era when through the leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, John Lewis and too many others to name, the African American Community fought to have the rights first guaranteed in the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution. These amendments had become law in the years immediately following the Civil War. (13th—1865, 14th—1868, 15th—1870), yet the struggle was still raging into the 1950’s and 60’s and quite honestly is still ongoing even today, some 150 years later.
I have, also, seen the anti-war protests of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This movement was almost completely the product of people of my generation and, as we learned, that war, the War in Vietnam, was premised in large part of misinformation, if not outright lies.
The “Make Love, Not War” generation, of which I am a member, also experienced the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the man who challenged us to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who promoted non-violence and Robert Kennedy, who supported the civil rights movement and came to oppose the War in Vietnam and, in my opinion, would have been elected President in 1968 and changed the course of this country’s history.
The mantra, only slightly tongue-in-cheek was trust no one over 30. Our generation also became the example for the later named “Me Generation”.
My question is “what have we done since our generation took control”?
The answer, when it comes to interpersonal relations, race relations and economic opportunity is “we have squandered the opportunity to do better.”
Our generation had laid at our feet the opportunity to provide the “hand up” as Dr. King called it, the opportunity to complete the “Great Society” and the opportunity to “do for our country and not expect the country to do for us.”
We find ourselves using the buzz word of “making America great again” as an excuse to restrict rights, abandon social justice, normalize excessive greed and foment racial strife.
We chose to restrict opportunity, make voting more difficult, vilify people because of the color of their skin, especially if Spanish is their first language, accuse foreigners of stealing jobs while full-well knowing that the jobs are those that most U.S. citizens believe are beneath them and refuse to acknowledge that many jobs are lost because of technology, not because people who look different took the jobs.
Until Trump pulled the band-aid off and opened the wound showing all our secrets, we were more subtle in restricting voting rights—we gerrymandered in the name of electing more Republicans and/or Democrats and not so obviously on the basis of race, we came up with restrictive voter identification laws rather than literacy tests or poll taxes, we use social media to create conspiracy theories.
We have sold out to the idea that xenophobia is fine as long as we couch it in terms of “they” are stealing jobs. The big businesses won’t admit and their protectors, disguised as elected officials, won’t admit that it is technology and cheap, off-shore, labor that are stealing jobs. This allows the politicians to get away with refusing to fund, in any meaningful way re-education and training.
These same elected officials stand idly by and let the environment get raped by the business that would poison our air and rivers.
These same elected officials refuse to properly fund education or pass meaningful tax reform for they are dancing to the tune of the corporate world and enhancing the coffers of the corporations while expecting the working man to shoulder the burden.
We now attack science if it conflicts with our opinion or the opinion we want to be correct. We have no respect for the truth unless it is our truth and we damn sure don’t want to search for the truth.
We have elected government officials, most of whom are come from us Baby Boomers, who enrich themselves while allegedly serving our needs. We complain that elected officials don’t listen while enabling, by our inaction, corporations to control the conversation. We have created, by our inaction, a class of corporate and political oligarchs that rival those of Russia and Trump is the oligarch in chief.
There was a piece in the televisions show called, “The Newsroom” where Jeff Daniels’ character opined that America was no longer the greatest country in the world and recited where we stood in this like literacy, math, infant mortality to explain his opinion, but went on to say that we used to be and I agree that maybe we are in a “used to be stage”.
The question is “Do we really want to be Great Again” or do we merely want to remember when we thought we were great?
Greatness requires that we acknowledge our flaws and greatness requires appreciating and embracing our differences.
The Baby Boomer generation has one last opportunity to do better and it must start by acknowledging that “Black Lives Matter”, that looking different and speaking a different first language is not evil, that being LGBTQ plus is not a personality or genetic defect to be vilified and by voting out of office all those who are willing to sell us down the road.
Our oligarch-in-chief, Donald Trump, has played one race against the other in a manner that would make George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Ross Barnett look like pikers, he has enriched himself and his family in ways that would shame the Sheriff of Nottingham of Robin Hood lore (don’t bother to tell me about giving up his salary, that’s chump change to him), he has made his stock in trade fear of “those” people and he has taken more steps to rape the environment than any president since 1968 when the Environmental Protection Act passed.
Trump has proven you can fool some of the people all of the time. My question is: Will my generation step up, stop the madness and give our children the opportunity to make this country great again. We damn sure haven’t.

Humor In Tough Times

We are going through some tough times right now, whether from political differences, financial losses or Coronavirus, it’s hard on everybody.

My Mother, who was a special person, not just to me and my sister, Rosalie, and our families, but to many of the people in Dadeville, Alabama. While she could, on occasion, be forthright, she did have a good sense of humor. This is one of those stories.

My Dad, V.R., died in January, 1987, and after his death, Mother would write deceased on the third class business mail (junk mail) and return it to the sender intending that his name be removed from the mailing list.

One such effort went a little sideways. Several weeks after sending some mail back marked deceased, she found in her post office box a letter addressed to “Mr. Deceased Pennington” which pre-approved him for life and disability insurance. Thank goodness it was on one of her good humor days.

Rather than get upset, she returned the mailing along with a letter with her tongue placed firmly in her cheek. Her letter advised the company that she had not intended to notify them of a name change, rather V.R. had died and was, in fact, deceased. She went on to say that she would be glad to forward the letter, but lacked Saint Peter’s address and that she would not countenance the idea that V.R. had gone the other way.

Less than two weeks later, she got a handwritten letter of apology from the CEO of the company that went on to say that his embarrassment was lessened by her obvious good humor.

Maybe we can take a good humor lesson from Mother one more time. I know all her former students are sure the lesson is well-taken.

LIFE IS ABOUT MOMENTS

Have you ever been to a roadhouse, I am talking about a genuine roadhouse? Well, I have, only one or two, ever. Mostly because I am not a fan of places where alcohol in large quantities is being served and there is only one legitimate egress, or better described, escape. This is a story about a roadhouse moment.
The time is late spring in either 1970, or 71, the exact year I don’t remember, but it truly doesn’t matter. I was in Memphis for a weekend of work with a few friends and we were looking for a place to have a good burger and some very cold beer. One of the local, Memphis guys we were to work with recommended a place that was described by directions rather than an address. It was a place across U.S. 78 south of Memphis, a “ways”, but before we got to Mississippi. It would be on the right, sort of a mix of brick, concrete block and wood with a faded red sign that had at one time been a sign for a Pure gas station.
We were told that it had the best burger and coldest beer around and the prices were reasonable. He ended the description with “Don’t be put off with how the place looks or the number of motorcycles.” For a bunch of college guys, this should have probably warned us off, but no.
We headed down 78 in my car, the 1968 SS Chevelle that I had. There were 5 of us and we wondered aloud about the place, but soldiered on. We got to what we were sure was the place. It, sure enough, had a faded red Pure sign that had at one time had a name, my recollection was Buds, but don’t hold me to it. The building was on the right side of 78 as you headed south, just past a large truck stop and across the road from a timber yard that had railroad side tracks and the loading operation was running, even at nearly 7:30 at night.
As we got out of the car and took in the view, we saw, scattered across the gravel and dirt parking lot, an array of motorcycles, helmets sitting on the handlebars; pickups — windows down, long guns in the gun racks mounted on the rear windows, not a locked door anywhere, and a few cars. You could hear the juke box before you opened the door. The building, itself, was a combination of red brick and concrete block from the ground to about chest high, with what I now know to be board and batten siding above that and a long, low overhanging eve. The windows, yes, there were once windows, were covered with plywood, so the only way to see in was to go in.
In we went and as the screen door banged shut behind us, almost every head turned and looked. We hesitated for a moment feeling like we had entered a private sanctuary, but the waitress, who appeared to be in her 40’s cheerfully said, “Hey fellows, glad to have some new folks, pick a table and I will bring menus, assuming you want to eat”. One of our group said, “Well, your burgers come highly recommended as does your beer” and before we sat down she said, “What beer do you want? We have Miller, Bud, Pabst and Schlitz.” We all ordered Pabst.
Sitting down, I looked around and took in the place. Our table sported a formica top that had seen better days, chipped and peeling with masking tape in a few places to hold it down, but I must say, it did not wobble. I am not sure when it had last been cleaned with anything other than a damp cloth, but then the same could have been said for some of our own apartments. The chairs were wooden captain’s chairs just like everyone has seen in bars in every town. Putting your own arm on the arm of the chairs would lead to a noticeable sticky feel that, on that night, would stay with us until we got back to our hotel to shower. The arms had that look that told you decades of grease, smoke, body sweat and beer were what made up the surface, with just enough wood to keep it all together and give it a shape.
There was a low cloud of cigarette smoke that hung down and, if you were over 5 feet tall, you head would be in the smoke if you stood up. Our clothes would smell like smoke until we got back to school and washed them and my car smelled like smoke for a day and a half.
The walls had pictures of various sports events, with an emphasis on car racing and baseball. There was a banner for the Memphis Chicks, a member of the original Southern League of baseball fame. The bar had stools with the plastic seat coverings and a brass foot rail and way over to one side was a pool table, not one you put money in, but a full-sized Brunswick table with leather pockets and a Tiffany style light that hung over the center of the table. We didn’t shoot pool that night, so I don’t know the cost. Besides there was a large number of people waiting on the table and despite the “No Gambling” sign, I am betting there was gambling and the game appeared to be serious.
Oddly enough, about 10 feet to the right of the bar as you faced it and, so, about 20 feet from us, was an old upright piano, painted the most godawful green you have ever seen.
The waitress brought over our beers and told us that we had three options for food — hamburger, which came with lettuce, tomato and onion (mustard, ketchup and mayo all came on the side); cheeseburger — same as the hamburger, but with a slice of American cheese melted on it and BLT — mayo was on the side. The side dish choices were potato chips, but I have to say they were Charles’ Chips and since the large Charles’ Chip can could be seen next to the griddle, I assumed, and was proven correct later, that we would get a hand full of chips collected from the community can.
There were two other side dish options, if you can call them that, but they were extra — dill pickles, which were in a large jar sitting on one end of the bar and pickled eggs, also in a large jar sitting on the other end of the bar. From what I could observe, if you wanted either a pickle or egg, you just reached in with your bare hand and retrieved one. I guess the pickling juice served as a disinfectant. None of us, tried the pickles or eggs.
Everyone of us ordered cheeseburgers and a second beer to be brought with the food. Having arrived about 7:30, we got our food about 8:00 to 8:15 and set about eating. The burgers were cooked on a flat top griddle and you could hear the grease popping as they cooked. The buns were placed on the back of the griddle to toast and everything was mashed flat before it was served. I should note the burgers were outstanding and we all had two. We figured to finish and leave and be back at our hotel by 9 or 9:30, but we were about to be proved wrong.
At about 8:45, or so, a man with longish, dirty blond hair walked in and all conversation stopped for a moment. The face looked familiar, but we weren’t sure until from the bartender we heard, “Damn, Jerry Lee. Why are you here on a Friday?” The response was something like, “I have this weekend off before I go on tour and we are leaving from Memphis, so I thought I would come by.”
Yes, Jerry Lee Lewis — The Killer, Mr. Great Balls of Fire — had come into this place. It turned out that he was friends with the owner, go figure.
After about 15 minutes, he asked, “Is the piano tuned?” The bartender said, “Always” and, at that, Jerry Lee sat down and began to play, starting with “What Made Milwaukee Famous Made A Fool Out Of Me” followed immediately by “Great Balls Of Fire”. He played his stuff, Elvis’s stuff, Carl Perkins’ stuff, Chuck Berry’s stuff and just about anything someone might request. The five of us sat at the table drinking beer and listening to Jerry Lee until midnight when we had to leave if we expected to work the next day. The song he was singing as we left was “Breathless”, which has the great line about the woman of affection, “You leave me breathless.” I am here to tell you that we were breathless.
As we paid our bills, I asked the waitress if this kind of stuff happened often and she said that they had music every Saturday and we ought to come back the next night, but that things like Jerry Lee coming happened occasionally and the others would show up, also. She said that you never knew when something like Jerry Lee coming would happen, but that it was fun when it did and, leaning in, whispered that the tips were always good when this happened.
She told us to be careful heading back, come again and have some Saturday night fun. As we were leaving, more people were coming; apparently, word was out that Jerry Lee was there and playing piano.
We did not get back on Saturday night.
Since then, I have been to many concerts and heard some great acts, even Jerry Lee; I have traveled U.S. 78 to Memphis and looked for the roadhouse–it’s gone– but I have experienced nothing like that random Friday night in a Memphis roadhouse with Jerry Lee.

THE UNANIMOUS DECLARATION OF THE PEOPLE OF THE FIFTY UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND ITS TERRITORIES

I have worked on this for a while. While not Jeffersonian, it is a combination of his words and mine and I believe is bi-partisan and will appeal to the need we have for a halt to government as usual.

The Unanimous Declaration of the People of the Fifty United States of America and its Territories.
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted by mankind, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of the people of these United States; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present Executive and Legislative branches, as dominated by the Republican and Democratic Parties, is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over the people. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
These political parties control the political branches of government and refuse Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
They have forbidden our governors and representatives to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless approved in their operation until the assent of the corporate and special interests that hold sway over the legislative and executive branches should be obtained; and when so suspended, the branches have utterly neglected to attend to them.
They have refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, effectively requiring those people to relinquish the right of representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
At the behest of the special interests and their lobbyists, the legislative bodies have called together these same legislative bodies for the sole purpose of fatiguing the common people into compliance with their measures of self-interest and contrary to the interests of the individual people.
The legislative and executive branches have effectively dissolved any genuine representation of the people of these United States and exist now for the purpose of diminishing the rights of the people while extolling and holding great the positions of those special interests which seek, often by nefarious ways, to enrich the members of the legislative and executive branches who may provide aid and comfort to these same special interests.
They have refused for a long time, after such dissolutions and by becoming a class of permanent political office holders, to allow others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of annihilation, have to be returned to the People at large for their exercise; with the States remaining, in the meantime, exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
They have endeavored to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
They have obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing their Assent to Laws and by exempting the legislative and executive branches from the requirements of the laws which are applicable to the greater people, thus making themselves a special class of persons whom perceive themselves to be above the laws of the land and thus exempt from consequence for their abuses of the laws.
They have made Judges dependent on their arbitrary will, alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
They have erected a multitude of new offices and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
They have affected to render the Military subject to the slightest whim of the office holders, to be used as in a manner not in compliance with the war powers delineated in the Constitution of these United States.
They have:
Unduly cut off our Trade with other parts of the world:
Imposed Taxes on us without explanation or consent:
Diminished the benefit of Trial by Jury:
Declared themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever and have effectively diminished the authority of our legislatures and often mandate burdens upon the states and the people therein without sufficient funds from the Legislative and Executive branches to fund the mandates.
They have abdicated Government here and acted in such a manner as to no longer provide adequately for the common defense or general welfare of these United States.
They have excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and have endeavored to pit rich against poor, the ill against the healthy, the various races against each other with speech and words of encitement while having no regard for the truth of said words.
They have, by virtue of making a career as a politician, unjustly enriched themselves in a manner not in keeping with the reasonable expectation of the common man when viewing the wages authorized to the office holder and the actual increase in wealth of said office holder during the term of the office.
The founding fathers, at the time of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, did not contemplate or intend that any office holder would serve on an essentially full-time basis.
They opine the interests of the common man; all the while acting to benefit the special interests that will act contrary to the will and benefit of the common man and in so doing will work to corrupt the process of good governance.
In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Can these same acts by a legislative and/or executive branch be less tyrannical solely on the claim of being duly elected, particularly when said elections are controlled and managed by undue sums of money provided by the special interests of businesses, corporations and entities whose interests conflict with the great majority of the people.
Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our political office holders. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the common people of the United States of America, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these States, solemnly publish and declare, That we the people of these United States are, and of right ought to be free of the political parties as they are presently constituted and those in both the legislative and executive branches who belong to those parties, that we are absolved from all allegiance to the various parties, and that all political connection between them and the people whose trust they have abused, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent voters, we have full power to reject the parties, seek their dissolution and banishment and the a limitation of the numbers of years that they may hold office, so long as the political parties continue to be constituted and run as they are and to be beholding to special interests other than the people of these United States and to do all other acts and things which independent voters may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Real News

In this divisive time, real news/fake news, patriotic/unpatriotic, heroes and pretenders, some perspective might be appropriate. It seems appropriate that I write this story, because I continue to be baffled that, how, for political expediency, Donald Trump felt it was okay to attack John McCain because of his being shot down and captured during Vietnam. Add to that attack, the Trumpian attacks against the intelligence and justice community, as well as his demand for a military parade—an idea rejected by President Eisenhower because according to him, “it makes us look weak” and the story, I am about to relate, becomes more than just another war story.

This is not my story, but it is a real story as told to me by a life-long friend, Jim Horn, who lived it, felt it, and remembers it, so just maybe we can walk back from the precipice of division that our President and his minions foment to keep, or take power.

CONTEXT:

To gain context, we return to August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam. On August 2, 4, 1964, the USS Maddox was involved in an incident that led to direct involvement in the War in Vietnam by the United States (the U.S. had been providing advisors to South Vietnam prior to this). Following the incident reports (now believed to be largely exaggerated) told of a confrontation between North Vietnamese ships and planes and the Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin, the United States Congress passed, on August 7, 1964, the Tonkin Resolution which authorized the President to send U.S. troops to southeast Asia without further authorization from Congress (this resolution was repealed in 1967), but many more would go before the war ended.

In October, 1967, ironically, John McCain was shot down over North Vietnam, captured, held prisoner and tortured, finally released at the end of the war, in 1973. Senator McCain is important to this story for two reasons: (1) being shot down and captured, and (2) being denigrated by a politician because of this very thing and his willingness to talk truth to power even in the face of attempts to belittle him.

It is the belittling of McCain by, then candidate Trump, and McCain’s fight with cancer, that made the telling of this particular story, at this time, all-the-more important.

STORY:

JULY 25, 1970, 1800 Hours, a Wednesday, aboard a cruiser in the Gulf of Tonkin. How do I remember? Well, it’s an event that has never left me. The details wander in and out of my mind, but they never leave and now, at 69, in a world of politics by division and personal attacks, it seems that I need to tell the story of success, failure and what conflict brings.

Positive Identification Radar Advisory Zone (PIRAZ), located in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam, part of a carrier group that, among other things, launched air attacks over North Vietnam. Our ship, however, had a wholly different role. We were watching and listening to learn the intentions and actions of the enemy and to aid in responding appropriately. Further, we provided radar and general support, including rescue, for the carrier and the planes that were launched to aid in the war effort.

This zone is where I could be found on July 25, 1970. As a radioman, I rarely saw the light of day. Radiomen worked 8 hours on and 8 hours off, 24/7 and rarely were found on deck, but, daily, I was listening to the sounds of those directly in the fray, knowing that my responses and focus could well mean life or death. This day, however, I had occasion to be in the open air for a short while because my job brought me there. The weather was overcast, but with a high sky and the water was glass smooth. It was the kind of smooth you could have seen on Lake Martin, near my home of Dadeville, Alabama, shortly after a summer thunderstorm passed through and the weather calmed—think mirror.

The daily work had been normal, with sorties being launched by the carrier and the radar ships, like mine, listening and watching, as we were assigned. Occasionally, we provided support to different branches, particularly the Air Force, when they were flying into our area. An air controller was designated as “flight follower” for each Navy or Air Force formation of strike aircraft to track the strike’s progress and offer information required to complete the mission. Flight followers worked with as many as 24 aircraft on a single frequency.

On this July day, a plane crashed, a NAVY, F-4, flying Combat Air Patrol, which meant that it circled the area around the ships on guard duty, if you will, to protect the ships and returning aircraft from any MIG fighters that might come out of North Vietnam. It was the starboard lookout that made the call of a plane down. What happened to the plane is truly unknown, even today, but the distress was sudden and catastrophic, leaving little, or no, time for the pilot and weapons officer (navigator) to make any decisions. It was known that the weapons officer/navigator was in the water, but no one had seen the pilot eject.

All we knew was that the wounded plane was in the water and our ship was called to general quarters. General quarters’ calls meant everyone, NOW. I had been in the mess, having dinner, and felt our engines begin to spool up to full power so I headed to the radio room and upon arriving found all the stations manned, and, being curious, I went to a location where I could observe what was happening. As I was coming on deck, I observed one of my fellow sailors, T.C. Combs, climbing high, carrying a rifle. He was going up to the roof over the bridge in order shoot sharks as they would inevitably come and would be a very real danger to anyone in the water.

At top speed, we raced to the downed navigator. Our “whale” boat with 4 crewmen and a diver was lowered into the water and rushed to the one man we could see. It took about half an hour to get him back on board and though we were able to rescue him from the waters, the plane, with the pilot on board sank quickly. The Gulf of Tonkin is about 230 feet deep where the plane went down. and the diver, along with others, searched for the pilot, but to no avail.

We never saw the pilot, but I, along with others, would learn from the navigator that the pilot likely stayed with the plane to insure it would not hit any of the ships that were racing to provide help.

The reason for the crash may never be known, since it is unlikely that the U.S. Government will ever retrieve the plane. We are left to speculate whether, or not, there were mechanical issues or hostile fire, but the result is undisputed.

I have never shaken the feeling that the pilot could have saved himself, nor have I ever lost sight of the fact that this man, whom I did not know, took the action that he did to insure the safety of people he did not know.

COMMENT:

This pilot was not a loser. Like John McCain, he did his duty and suffered for his actions. Is this a man that should, for purely political reasons, be belittled by any politician, especially one who did not serve in any capacity—no reserve, no National Guard, no active duty, no alternative service? I think not.

That pilot, on July 25, 1970, died serving his country, died saving the lives of people he did not know, and to my knowledge is likely at the bottom of the Gulf of Tonkin today. John McCain suffered injuries, torture and imprisonment for 6 long years and, along with others like him, did this in service of this country. Neither man was given a military parade for his sacrifice, nor has McCain demanded one.

We are still sending young men and women to war and making “mouth-noises” of support, while providing not near enough support after they return, but even that pales in comparison with the neglect shown those who returned from Vietnam, so no one has the right to denigrate these men and women for their service, their wounds or their deaths.

The hubris of our President, a man who sits in what is supposed to be the most important governmental chair in the world, is astounding. He feels compelled to belittle anyone who disagrees or challenges his world view, whatever his world view might be, because he has, certainly, demonstrated that his views are malleable. Everything is about him, personally. He would spend tens of millions of dollars for a parade, ostensibly to show power, rather than provide services for veterans. There is not a self-sacrificing bone in his body.

He plays to the worst in all of us—pitting races against each other, pitting rich versus poor, sick versus well, educated against those who seek knowledge. How can he even come close to understanding the mind of John McCain, or that pilot who still sits at the bottom of the Gulf of Tonkin?

I lay no claim to all the answers, but I know a bully when I see and hear one and Trump is just that. He is a man for his own season. He has sold many a bill of goods based on hate and manipulation and my fear is that by the time he is through, we may not be able to recover.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

While the words and opinions of the commentary are mine, I cannot take credit for the story. This is the experience of Jim Horn, my friend and high school classmate. The experiences are his and the impact of these events remain with him 48 years later. As you read this, try to put yourself on that cruiser and feel what Jim felt on that summer evening. Feel what the family of the multitudes of pilots, navigators, Marines, Sailors and Soldiers might feel when their efforts are belittled because they were the victims of the hazards of war.

While John McCain survived his ordeal, many did not and anyone who would denigrate Senator McCain’s service does a disservice to the office holds and, moreover, to the other people who have served. We, as a republic, cannot tolerate this kind of attitude and then ask our young men and women to put themselves in harm’s way.

In telling this story, I am confident that Jim Horn agrees that John McCain was done a disservice by candidate Trump and the fact that President Trump has not personally and publicly apologized for his disrespectful words diminishes the office he, Trump, holds.

By publishing this story, I wish to acknowledge the service of John McCain, the unknown missing pilot, and all soldiers, no matter their role, male, female, gay or straight. Thank you.

RUNNING OFF A CLIFF

 

Baseball, the perfect game, with bases 90 feet apart and set out in a diamond shape, 90°angles, 60’6” to the pitcher’s rubber from home plate, 9 players a side, 9 innings with 3 outs and 3 strikes. It’s a players’ game with the true appreciation coming to those who played from childhood.

It was hot, damn hot, Alabama, 4th of July hot the day the Earth disappeared.

I was about 15, or 16, playing in a baseball jamboree of sorts on the field back of the Jackson’s Gap School the day the Earth vanished.

There was a 4th of July celebration going on with burgers, hot dogs, watermelon-the works. I believe this was an annual event, but these years later, I am not sure.

There were a large number of people present, with politicking, business talk, story telling and just a great small town atmosphere, typical of the early to mid 1960’s. This is not to say the people were naïve or unaware of the issues of the day. The Cuban Missile crisis was not long past, the civil rights movement was growing, stories of Buddhist monks were setting themselves on fire and it was on the nightly news, but despite it all, the people in Jackson’s Gap, Dadeville, Eagle Creek and the surrounding areas found time to gather, laugh, eat and talk—just be friends.

Part of the celebration was a continuous run of baseball games that lasted all day. The teams were sponsored by civic clubs, or car dealerships or individuals and on this day when some would be on vacation, players were loaned from one team to another if it was necessary to have 9 players.

On this day, I was in right field, not my regular position (I usually played left field), but adjustments had to be made, so there I was.

While the field was all dirt, it was smooth, so there was rarely a bad bounce and it had no fence in the outfield, so a ball over a fielders head could roll for a while, thus making an inside-the-park homerun an all too real possibility. The park was for all intents and purposes endless.

During one of the later games, a ball rose toward right field having been hit quite hard. I turned to run for the ball without looking toward where I was running, rather with my eyes looking back toward the oncoming ball. As I reached up, I could feel the ball settle into the pocket of my glove and just as I squeezed the ball, I ran out of ground.

It seems that deep in right field the ground fell away, sloping downward for about 10 feet, but there was a decidedly steep first step down and as I went over the edge, I disappeared, dropping and rolling to the bottom of the slope.

I would be told that my disappearance looked like those cartoon characters that keep running long after the ground is gone, but, unlike those characters, there was no stopping in mid-air with shocked realization, just the disappearing part.

Somehow, I managed to hold onto the ball, probably because I was so tensed up as I fell that the ball had no chance to escape my grasp and I suffered no injury, other than to my dignity, which, as we know, is important to teenagers. Nonetheless, I survived the teasing and kidding and have never forgotten the day I ran off a cliff.

The Substitute

 

Back in the early 1990’s, I did some work as a substitute teacher at a Murphy High School, then the largest high school, by student population, in the state.

While I did some of the day-at-a-time work, I was twice what was called a “long-term” substitute where I took a teacher’s place for more than 9 weeks. On one occasion, I took over 2 weeks into the spring semester and concluded the year and, on the other, I started the year and went through the first 9 weeks.

By doing this, I gained even more respect for my Mother and sister, both of whom were teachers, as well as a great number of friends in the teaching profession.

Many of the faculty members suggested that taking over the class in the spring would be problematic, since the teacher had, apparently checked out, both physically and mentally, and was using sick leave and vacation to reach retirement at the end of the year. He was thought to have the poorest behaved classes in the school.

I was teaching social studies. At the time, and maybe even now, Murphy was on the block system where subjects were taught a semester at a time, not all year long. The classes to which I was assigned were made up of what can only be described, by and large, as “Freshmores”. Most of the students were by academic standing freshmen, but by time in school should have been sophomores. The students were not special needs or otherwise in need of special handling, rather they were unmotivated (there were exceptions).

I started the classes with a new description of what was going to take place and how we could all survive and progress. I, my students and the “Fertile Crescent” would have a good semester. Most know the old saying, “People plan, God laughs”, well it certainly applied here. By the end of the second week, I was the proud possessor of 11 decks of cards, all confiscated when students were caught playing cards in class. This caused some substantial whining and when one particular student said that it was like stealing, I invited him to come with me to see the principal after school and that if Ms. Sparkman, the principal, wanted me to give the cards back, I would. Shockingly, he was a no show to meet with the principal.

I was teaching two subjects: the same course work first, second and sixth periods, different course work third and fourth periods with a planning period during fifth period.

About two and half weeks in, it was test time. As I was explaining this, the refrain was for a “multiple guess” test. Notice the word “choice” was not the description, but “guess”. Those of you have taught can appreciate the distinction. Try as I might to explain that such tests were not the best, the begging never ceased. Finally, I agreed. Twenty five questions-multiple guess.

Not having been born as a fully grown adult, but having attended high school and college, myself, I decided that I would remind 1st and 2nd periods not to tell the questions and answers to 6th period because they, 1st and 2nd would only hurt themselves. As a protection, I had planned to use two tests for 1st and 2nd periods, as well as 3rd and 4th on their subject matter. The questions would be the same, but the answers re-arranged. 6th period would get a different set of tests from 1st and 2nd with the questions and answers re-arranged. I am sure the teachers among you can appreciate this.

Test day arrives and as the students sit down, I advise them to put their books and notes on a table near my desk. The immediate complaint was to whine about the test not being “open book” and that I “had not told them to study”. Really, they needed a separate admonition to study?

The moaning continued as the tests were handed out—there were 6 options to pick from on each question—guess, indeed.

The first 4 periods covering two different courses continued with the requisite complaining about not being told to study and that they expected only 3 answers to guess from and on and on.

There was one moment in 4th period where in clear view a student would slide the test up, look down, slide the paper down and answer, then slide the paper up. After about three or four of these movements, I walked over and asked for the papers, finding, to my amazement, hidden notes. Taking the test and the notes and advising him that he would get a zero for cheating, the student offered this explanation: “Mr. Pennington, I wasn’t cheating, I was refreshing my memory.”

As the 6th period appeared, they were positively giddy with excitement to take the test. I handed out the tests, knowing that first and second period had not taken my caution to heart and had shared what they believed the answers to be with their 6 period friends. The 6th period tests were completed, with one exception, in 5 to 8 minutes and as the young woman who took 25 minutes turned in her test, the 15 others were anxious to have their tests graded.

As they requested, I began grading. Someone noticed two keys and asked and I stated that I had used two tests for 6th period. That brought about a great deal of moaning and complaints of lack of fairness, but nothing compared to the cries of despair when I told them that they had different tests from 1st and 2nd periods.

As you can imagine, the test results were horrible. The 6th period scores ranged from 0 to 36 with one notable exception—the girl who took 25 minutes had apparently studied and made 92–talk about a scale killer.

The wailing and gnashing of teeth about the scores was great, so in a gesture of kindness I agreed to re-give the tests with the highest score to count. I advised the students that they could take their corrected tests home and that the new test would come from that material. They, of course, wanted the same tests over, but I told them no and that the test would be on my terms.

The second test was 15 questions and a mix of fill-in the blank, multiple choice and true/false. Needless to say, the object lesson of the first test was not appreciated and with one exception, the scores for 6th period were horrible. Again, they were offended that I had used different tests.

I looked at all of these kids, all of whom were smart enough to make B’s and C’s at a minimum, and said “y’all need to understand, I went to high school and college and that nothing they were doing was new”. I am not sure they believed me, but the next tests were taken at a slower pace.