Hud is a Hero?

I was watching the Ethan Hawke sorta documentary about Newman and Woodward last evening. Ethan did a pretty good job, though the pacing is a bit slow and it’s a kind of name droppish with all his friends doing voiceovers – watch it, ’cause I don’t wanna ‘splain more.

Note the Poster says Newman IS Hud

Because that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’d have to watch it again to see if it was the director Paul Schraeder or maybe Martin Ritt who said when the movie Hud came out in 1963, they got letters saying Hud was a hero, the old man was a grump and the kid was a wimp. They were surprised, but whoever said this then added until those same people elected Reagan in ’80.

Well, I must admit I’ve never watched the entirety of Hud, tho’ I will fix that this week since it’s streaming on the Roku channel. But I saw enough of it back in the day to know that Hud was, to be generous, the beginning of the anti-hero. That archetype was picked up and run with by Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino and the most emblematic of them all, Clint Eastwood. So Paul Newman, who had toyed with bad guy roles before Hud, started the trend.

How were his reviews at the time? A walk back through movie history says Sidney Poitier beat him out for the Oscar by playing a good guy in Lilies of the Field. Guess good guys – at least back then – did finish first. But the genre was just getting started, and his competition started sweeping the Oscars with roles like Jake Gittes, Michael Corleone and Harry Callahan. Paul was just a little ahead the curve.

Clint as Dirty Harry Callahan

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m still thinking about the end of patriarchy motif I started with the Bodily Control post. Is it possible to correlate the beginning of the end of male domination with the early days of the Vietnam War? Hey, let’s talk about that some.

Hud came out in ’63 when the war hadn’t really taken off yet. The Gulf of Tonkin resolution wasn’t ’til August of ’64 and the increase in troops didn’t occur until July of ’65. Nonetheless, there was awareness of the war, and nearly half a million men had been drafted in those three years. Casualties were low in ’63 and ’64, but I think everyone knew, or had a sense of what was coming.

Hendrik Hertzberg was at Harvard in ’63 and wrote a review of the movie. Here’s a quote from that review:

Just how devastating a critique the film is can be seen in the reactions of, say, high school students to the character of Hud. He is a dynamic, attractive human being. But judged by his actions, he is an unmitigated bastard, motivated solely out of self interest: he sleeps with other men’s wives, he drives his Cadillac over flower beds, he tries to have his father declared incompetent so that he can get control of the old man’s property. Yet high school students have adopted him as a hero; they admire his bravado, his coolness, and they either ignore his amorality or admire that, too.

Young Men Opposed to Vietnam War

Interesting that back in ’63 it was noted by a guy who went on to write for The New Yorker that high school students thought Hud was cool. Not college students. So that puts the age at, say, guys born in 1947 to 1949. They would be subjected to the draft in ’65 to ’67.

Aha! So these were the guys primed to self-absorption and then shame when they weren’t able to live up to the image set by their fathers. Long hair. Bell bottom pants. Musicians are the heroes now. Remember? Protesting, burning draft cards and fleeing to Canada put these guys in a completely different category than their fathers, who purportedly went willingly to war and did their duty. At least that’s how it went in the movies, right? And isn’t that how our popular perceptions are formed?

So that says to me that the beginning of the end for patriarchy came earlier than we ever thought. I’d argue what we’re seeing now is the last gasp of that death. If women rule, and they likely will soon, how are things likely to change?

Women in the Professions

First: women will take over the professions. There are now more law and med students than men. Engineering lags behind, of course, and, sadly, I’m not sure that will ever change. But won’t it be enough that woman will run medicine, law, business and politics?

Second: once they take over politics, the laws will change again, with more balance toward work and family, reproductive and sexual rights, and frankly more balance toward results. There’s actually a name for this It’s called productivism, and it’s a new paradigm starting to get noticed. The old ways, run by male bean counters, aka MBAs, forgot that workers are consumers. So when they shipped all that production to China to save money on labor, they impoverished all those parts of the country that are now called red states. That was unsustainable, and it will only begin to change when women take over the country.

I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you guys, but you are toast. Get over it. Stay home and watch the kids. Forget ‘hold my beer’; now it’ll be ‘hold the baby: I’m changing the American workplace’. I just hope it isn’t too late.

The Bear is the Best

The FX show The Bear is getting rave reviews and they are all deserved. Without reservation, I’d say it’s currently the best show on television, now that Season 1 of Sarah Lancashire’s HBO Max reincarnation of Julia Child is over.

Sarah Lancashire Becomes Julia Child

I’ve watched six of the eight episodes, savoring what is left. I missed it when it was broadcast on FX, so I’m watching it on Hulu. If you don’t have Hulu, get it, even if it’s just for a month to binge watch this show.

So what about it is so great? First: it’s about food. The camera work on the chopping, braising and mashed potato-making is thrilling – yes, I said it: thrilling. Brilliant. Fabulous. Second: the storyline is fresh and incredibly well cast, with one exception. I’ll get to that in a minute. Third: It has Oliver Platt. Who? Oh good grief. Oliver the fluffy guy who was incredibly verbose in Lake Placid to Bill Pullman’s straight man routine. Oliver who was the useless husband to Laura Linney in HBO’s The Big C, another great show from years ago. Oliver, who now plays Uncle Jimmy, a character of questionable background who is anything but stereotypical. He alone would make this worthwhile. But wait! There’s so much more.

The Standard Image for the Show

The main character called Carmy is a guy who uses a family tragedy to escape the mental pressure of foody work at a fancy New York restaurant. We know that from snippets of flashback where he’s being tortured by a sadist of a chef boss. Carmy tries to bring his knowledge and the ways of New York French cuisine to the family sandwich shop in Chicago, and the culture shock is hard on everyone, but especially on Carmy who is struggling with the loss of his brother Michael. That character isn’t even shown until Episode 6, and is played by the incredible Jon Bernthal, lately of the newest series from The Wire guys on HBO about Baltimore’s police corruption. Hope to see more of this character in Season 2.

This Guy Steals the Show with His Over-the-Top Personality

But the guy who steals the show in this series is Ebon Moss-Bachrach as the wild and crazy cousin Richie who thinks the place really is his. But Richie is a fossil, stuck in the old ways when Michael was running the place into the ground, physically and financially. Michael’s drug problem is mentioned but you the viewer have to make the connections to resulting money and relationship issues. This makes the plot rich without patronizing us. How fresh and unusual!

The one fly in the oatmeal is the dynamics in the relationship between Carmy and Sugar, his sister. Their dialogue doesn’t work, as it fails to help us understand why Carmy avoids Sugar and Sugar is so angry. Abby Elliott, formerly of SNL, plays Sugar and she just doesn’t work in that role. Oh well, everybody has a blind spot.

Jon Bernthal with five minutes of Screen Time

The Bear has been renewed for Season 2. There is no reason why a second season shouldn’t be as successful as the first, as there is so much more plot to explore. As previously mentioned, I hope Bernthal will be back as he is a force of nature that fits perfectly into the cast. So I, for one, am looking forward to another round of this show. So watch it, people! You’ll like it.

Let’s Get This Party Goin’

I’ve decided to start putting my book together on August 12th. Which book is that? Why, My Year at the Depot is the tentative title. It will reflect my one year stint with the world’s largest home improvement retailer in the world. I have already gleaned a lot of material for it.

Apparently a rapper called Fifty Cent – who knew? Not me

Why August 12th? Because that will be my six month anniversary of employment there as a mixer of paint. Will there be a party to celebrate? Not likely. I am getting a fifty cent an hour raise next month, but not just me: everyone in the store is getting a raise. Why is that?

Empty Flooring Aisles – of Help, that is

I think HD is worried about the turnover in the ranks. We are apparently woefully short-handed, and it appears to be a bit of a revolving door, per some employees with whom I’ve spoken. They describe a situation where there’s too much real estate to cover and too few associates assigned to cover it. That is true for flooring in particular. Every time someone catches me over there and asks for help, it’s nearly impossible to find anyone that knows anything to assist – even if they work in that department! Revolving door.

There’s a new person in the department I’ll call “J Prime”. That’s because there’s another “J” that works there, so I don’t want there to be confusion between the two. This is a delightful young lady who wants to learn and work hard. Imagine that! Gal after my own heart.

So gradually we’ll become an all female department. M with the sparkly eyes is back after a short stint in another department. Not sure she’s happy to be back but well, there it is. She had to take a leave for personal reasons, so the change was inevitable. Not fair, but hey – that’s business, right?

Data App

Well, maybe. At the meeting where the store manager announced the raises, I commented that I need data to do a better job. He referred me to something called “Pulse” which is available on the phone. At first glance it was hard to decipher, but at least I know it’s there and so I’ll start to dig into it. Already surprised to know that plastic sheeting and buckets are the second biggest sellers in the department. The biggest sellers vary depending on time frame, but sheeting and buckets is always second. Which is really pretty amazing, considering nobody can ever locate the stuff. Goes to show, huh? What? Oh, I haven’t any idea. But I’ll be looking into it, that’s for sure.

Dynasty Paint – Top of the Line and Most Expensive

Had another return of Dynasty paint, with the DIYer saying it didn’t go as far as advertised. That is a recurring theme with that brand, the most expensive in the fleet. I looked at a YouTube video with a professional evaluating the brand. He affirmed the problem. I’ve had to give discounts twice on Marquee, which I and Consumer Reports thinks is the best brand. But these days it’s hard to say about feedback – especially on Facebook. I think there are fake testimonials on there about paint – all positive about Sherwin Williams, all negative about Behr. Then when you click on the testifier, it looks like they are fake personalities. They have a few pictures, but that’s about it. No details. No life history. Very odd, not to mention suspicious. Who can you believe any more?

I know, I know. I’m starting to sound like a crabby old broad. Well, get used to it. But this is not a rant. Way back in the beginning, I vowed to avoid rants, and with one exception, I have stuck to my vow. So just call it observations. OK?

That’s it for now – August 12th. Be ready.

The Day After

As is often the case, the day after I wrote a blog piece, someone else contributed something to a media outlet that complemented what I’d written. Such was the case with yesterday’s “Bodily Control”. An opinion piece came out in The New York Times comparing banning abortion with the enactment of Prohibition in the 1920’s. It was written by a history professor from Georgetown University. His conclusion was slightly different from mine, in that he focused on the part I wrote about how unenforceable the newly-enacted state laws will be. He didn’t talk about the fact that the Supreme Court as an institution took a major hit to its credibility. John Marshall is rolling in his grave at the moment. If you find that confusing, just google John Marshall or Marbury v Madison. You’ll figure out what I mean when you read what’s written.

Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the US

The last time a major Supreme Court decision was ignored was in 1832 by President Andrew Jackson. John Marshall was still there, and the case involved Native American sovereignty in Georgia. As there was no social media in 1832, the impact was reserved exclusively for Native Americans. Relatively speaking, that was a small part of the population, in this case about forty six thousand versus nearly thirteen million whites. This time, the Supremes have upset fifty one percent of the entire population of the country – and there is social media that isn’t going to let this go. So we have another unenforceable decision, upsetting half the entire population of the country. And I’d argue the Supremes aren’t done with us yet.

When they overturn cases that uphold the right to contraception, gay marriage, affirmative action, control over gerrymandering and … uh oh .. interracial marriage? Might that last one hit close to home for one of them? Let’s talk about that.

The Case that Could be Overturned

The case of Loving v. Virginia was decided in 1967, overturning state law that declared intermarriage to be illegal. The basis of that decision was a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. You remember the 14th – the one enacted after the Civil War to grant citizenship to former slaves? Well, kiddies, one could argue that equal protection for women and their bodies might be found in the 14th amendment. Since the Supremes didn’t find that protection there, wouldn’t it follow that this case was wrongly decided as well? After all, white and black couples getting married have nothing to do with slaves being granted citizenship, right? Uh oh. Clarence Thomas, darling – you could be hoisted on your own petard. Wouldn’t that just be too ironic?

The People’s Court in Nazi Germany

I think we’re going to be in for some very interesting times in the next few years. the chaos that results from roiling established law will further the national estrangement. My prediction has always been – and will continue to be – the geographic breaking up of these United States. We shall be united no longer. We will be enclaves, likely in four to six different parts with mass migration of like-minded people. Social and culture issues have undone many a civilization in the past. The “People’s Court” was set up in 1934 by Hitler after he was dissatisfied with the acquittal of defendants charged with the Reichstag fire. There was no presumption of innocence in front of that group of judges. Might the reverse happen here? If the Supremes keep overturning settled law, the result could be adding more judges to the bench – or creating a whole new court like Hitler did. Or each region having its own “People’s Court”. But this time, it would be designed to act as a buffer between the rogue Supremes and the region. Now wouldn’t that be a real kick in the head? God help us.

The Disunited States of America

Bodily Control

The thought occurred to me this morning: remember the late 60’s, early 70’s? Probably most of you young’uns don’t, but you know it from the history of the Vietnam War. What did we do? We protested. What did we protest? The draft. What was the draft? Young men losing control over their bodies. Start to see some irony here?

Vietnam Era Draft Protest

When guys didn’t want to get drafted, men and women marched in the streets. Men burned their draft cards, went to Canada or – in the case of the scion of a famous Bush family – became a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. What was the result? The end of the draft and the beginning of the lottery. Of course, by then the war was winding down anyway, so a guy’s chances of being selected, trained and sent to southeast Asia were nil. But since then? No draft. Only an all-volunteer army.

Harry Blackmun

Women marched in the streets too – for something called women’s lib. It took many forms, but one outcome was a decision by Justice Harry Blackmun in a case entitled Roe vs Wade out of Texas. Of course, out of Texas. Norma McCorvey, a less than stellar candidate for motherhood, became the face of women’s right to choose whether to have a child or not. Justice Harry decided to find a right to privacy in the Constitution to allow – under certain circumstances – a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

We all went along for forty years assuming it would always be there. But then it wasn’t. Now it isn’t. There was never really a right to privacy in the Constitution. Justice Harry just made it up, because before he joined the Supremes, he represented doctors at the Mayo Clinic. It was about those guys’ right to practice medicine without government interference; to have control over their profession. Begin to see some genuine ironies here? No? Geez – OK, I’ll spell it out for you.

Roe v Wade was decided to benefit doctors, who were predominantly men back then because med school discriminated against women. Eliminating the draft benefitted men, because only men could be drafted. Who benefits from overturning the right to abortion? Certainly not women. But how does it benefit men?

Notice a Pretty Definite Slope there?

Sigh. It really doesn’t. Nobody wins from this one, not even the ideologues who think they are protecting ‘the unborn’. If the unborn were protected, the birth rate would go up. But the birth rate won’t go up. It will most likely go down, below where it is today. And where is it today? 1.7, less than the ‘replacement’ number of 2.1. There will be fewer babies because women will abstain more from sex or use the morning after pill more or stockpile the abortion pills. Fewer babies will be killed, yes. But fewer babies will be conceived. So what have we accomplished here?

What is the Court without Enforceability?

We have made a large number of women angry. Very angry. And a lot of those women are in positions of authority now that weren’t in those positions before. Which positions you ask? District attorneys. Police chiefs. Prosecutors of all sorts. What if they refuse to enforce the law? What happens to the credibility of the Supreme Court, making a decision that is simply not enforced? I think you know the answer to that one.

I think Chief Justice John Roberts knows the answer too. He also knows he’s now saddled with a kamikaze court, thanks to Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and the newbies on the court who are just flexing their new-found ideologic authority. Oh, but the consequences. Everyone is focusing on the financial implications. As it is, women’s participation in the workplace has dropped because of Covid and child care deficits. So what will be the result? No child care – no child. Duh. Further drop in the birth rate.

China began to realize the error of the one child mandate and, ironically, enforced abortions a few years ago. Their demographics are a disaster. So will ours be within the next ten years. Reversing the reversal won’t fix it. Women will understand they never really had control over their bodies. So they will take control. Over Everything. Watch out, fellas. You’re about to become obsolete.

Lemmings Doing the Deep Dive

Ah, there’s too many people for the earth to sustain anyway – been that way since the ’80’s. This is just another step on our way to becoming those lemmings that jump off cliffs.

Ersatz

a customer the other day  needed to come back with a particular color for her dinged-up cabinets. She agreed to do that; then told me she would wait until I was on duty again, as she didn’t want anybody else to wait on her. At first I was touched by the sentiment – in fact, I gave her a hug. Well, that’s probably a big fat NO..No for HD associates, so my first thought was, “Well, won’t be long before I get fired.”

But then I had a second emotion on my way home: guilt. I am a fraud. I act as though I care about the needs of my customers, but do I really? Or is this just about ginning (sp?) up interactions that lead to anecdotes for my book? I went home and mentioned my feelings to both Ray and John. Ray, Lee Ann and Jopie are visiting, taking care of Florida business en-route to relocation. But I digress. Anyway, I mentioned it to those two guys. Ray’s response was what difference does it make what your motive is if you give good service and the customer is happy? I agreed that was true. Later on, as John and I were watching Adam Sandler’s movie The Hustle, I shared those feelings with John. He reminded me: everything is copy. So my feelings about feeling guilty for not being a true “HD” person are just another chapter – or maybe a subchapter – in the book. Wow. Now let’s think about that for a minute. The implications are obvious. EVERYBODY that works at HD is effectively doing what I’m doing. Does M the Elder care about his customers? Most assuredly not – and he doesn’t really try to hide that fact. Does M the AM (parse that one out for yourselves) care, or does he just want more profitability (there’s your hint as to what an AM is). So really, it’s ALL just performance art. Huh? Yep – performance art. What the f is that? Another aside – my friend Margie just wrote a whole piece about swearing – really cool..I should put a link to it if she agrees. Update: she did. Click on the word ‘swearing’. Back to the point. Wikipedia says “Performance art is an artwork or art exhibition created through actions executed by the artist or other participants.” So we’re in a tableau. Question is: who’s the artist, what’s the art, and who are the viewers? Oh my, pithy questions that deserve more examination. So when you go to the paint department, you the customer are the viewer of performance art. My associates and I are the performers. The book will document the event, so I guess that makes me the artist? But it’s really more basic than that. You the customer want a nice paint color, and want someone competent to help you achieve that end. We the associates and managers want to sell you the paint and brushes and rollers and tarps – you get the idea. We want to add profit to the HD ledger and retain our positions. So let’s get legalistic now. It’s a contract. We make an offer (the paint), you accept the offer (carry the can to customer service), you give consideration (put the cost of that paint on your HD credit card). A contract, executed hundreds of times a day between willing buyers and sellers. But wait – there’s more. At a training earlier in the week, it was stressed that we must ‘upsell’. What is that? That’s where we sell you the customer a higher grade of paint that is more profitable to the store. Well, now – haven’t been told that before. Why? Because the profits were there doing things the way we were before. What’s changed? Covid is over, the season is over and inflation is likely going to depress sales. So the suggested solution is to upsell. Can I do that? Reflect back on my second really nasty confrontation with a customer who accused me of doing just that – upselling her when she didn’t need what I was selling, even though she had specifically requested it. So there’s the dance – knew there was one. An empathetic (or empathic) customer will know when they’re being upsold. I always do, being one. When I encounter it, I recoil and generally do not return to the scene of extortion. So that means every encounter must be quickly evaluated to see if the additional profit is worth the risk of alienating a customer who will know we’re trying to sell them something they may – or may not – need. A dance. My co-worker I made a comment yesterday afternoon that M the AM would likely fire him because he was selling too much low-priced paint. He is sensitive, but not empathic. However, he’s had enough experience to know how to do the dance. Not sure about the others. Time will tell. That’s all – gonna go ask Margie if I can link to her article. If she says yes, you’ll see a hot button above. Later!

Memorial Day

It started when the Civil War ended, and the first one was a parade around a race track that was used to house Union prisoners of war in Charleston, South Carolina, birthplace of the war. It was in honor of the dead buried there. Lots of other places also claim credit for it. Do we care? Not really. It’s just important that we take a moment to honor those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” to America.

Ripples on a Pond demonstrate the point

Speeches will be made; picnic lunches will be eaten and maybe even patriotic songs will be sung. But today, I prefer to think about the loved ones of those who died in all the wars America has fought in since its founding. That is the proverbial ‘ripples in the pond’; all those family members and friends most affected by the loss of that soldier.

The tendency is to never talk about it; my family didn’t when my uncle Clemmie was killed in April of ’44 in New Guinea. Talking about it – about him – brought back the pain of his loss. I have come to know and love the memory of this man who died six years before I was born. I have a profound appreciation for the effect his untimely death at 21 had on everyone

The Rabbits from the story, Watership Down. It talked about mourning in the animal kingdom

That brings me to a discussion of the nature of grief. Homo sapiens are likely unique in the animal kingdom in that we can grieve the loss of a loved one for a remainder of a lifetime. We don’t forget; we just bury the pain in order to go on living. Other creatures are more fortunate. They have shorter attention spans and likely brains not capable of processing the death of a loved one for long periods of time. That may be a blessing.

So today, I honor Clemmie, for sure; but I also honor his sister Joan, Joanne, Jopie – three different names for a wonderful woman who just celebrated her 91st birthday. She still has memories of him, even though there was a fairly significant difference in their ages. But her most vivid memory is for how his death affected her mother – my grandmother. She has told me the story, and I have documented it for posterity and maybe for subsequent generations who might want to know about him after Jopie is gone.

Jopie and Jamie on the occasion of her 90th Birthday last Year

But right now, it’s her story. She is the only person I gave it to. And I will keep it that way until she goes to join Clemmie, her brother Robert and her husband Jim. She’ll also be with her mother and father again. It is then and only then that I will I share what I wrote for her with my own children. That’s a respect thing. But it’s also important to remember. So on this Memorial Day, 2022, I celebrate Jopie Estaver, my aunt, for all that she is. I hope you have a lovely day.

What is This Thing Called Leadership?

So what is this thing called leadership, exactly? Like most things of this nature, it’s easier to say what it isn’t, rather than define its true nature. So I’ll go against the grain and try to define what it is, at least so far as what America needs.

Leadership: forget it. I looked up all the various definitions from Merriam Webster to Tony Robbins. Leadership is being a leader. Boy, that’s really helpful. Tony says there’s no single answer. Thanks, Tone.. The Supreme Court would likely say they don’t know what it is, but they know it when they see it. Well, at least they usedta..that was their definition of pornography back in ’64.

OK, so we can’t define it, but maybe we can describe it. Standing up when everybody else sits down. Blue-faced Mel Gibson in Braveheart. Uh, you might say, I don’t think you should hold Mel up as an example of leadership. Oops, sorry. Moving on to real people.

Alright, I’m going back to my old tried and true: Abe Lincoln. Abraham never gave up, in spite of overwhelming abuse from his enemies as well as his peers. Yes, he made many mistakes – likely you could say, but for his efforts, the Civil War might not have happened. But he was a true leader because he never gave up. He wouldn’t quit. He tried everything in his power to see this country through what I would characterize as its darkest days. Yes, worst than now. Worse than the Depression. Worse than Vietnam. The darkest.

Lincoln and McClellan

And what was it about Abe that made him the right guy in the right place at the right time? He took ownership of the problem. Others tried to take the power away from him; he refused to cede it. Others tried to embarrass, harass and persuade him to do things he knew were wrong. He found clever and creative ways to neutralize their efforts. He was distracted by personal problems – a crazy wife and the death of a beloved son. He just picked himself up and went back to work. He was surrounded by incompetence and, in fact, treasonous intent on the part of one of his early generals (ref: picture above). He used the power of the presidency to keep replacing bad leadership until he found a general that was a keeper in Grant. He never wavered.

Of course, we know what his reward was for all this efforts: reelection and 41 days later, assassination. But that’s not the point. Ross Perot – yes, that one who turned out to be a little nuts when he had a brief run for the presidency – actually had a fairly good description of a leader. He said it was a “monomaniac with a mission.” He certainly embodied those traits, but not always to a good end. Then there’s that character from fiction – Captain Ahab. He was most definitely a monomaniac with a mission. If you read the book – or more likely saw the movie – you know that didn’t end well either. So that’s an example of leadership that loses touch with what is important: the mission, not the missionary.

Elementary School Keeping Out Mad Gunmen?

So what do we have today in our so-called leadership? Hucksters, cowards, frauds, liars, cheats, thieves..did I leave anything out? Oh, yes: traitors. Cloaked in the American flag, with pins on their lapels and crocodile tears shed for those sweet little children that got shot by ‘that madman’, they make suggestions to fix the problem. One door into the school. I guess that’s an allusion to the teacher that propped open the back door to quickly retrieve a cell phone. Sigh. OK. How about arm those teachers? There’s a really smart idea, but not a new one. That was floated back in 2018 after the Parkland massacre. How about this one? Man traps and trip wires. Think base perimeter in the Vietnam war. Imagine your nine year old seeing that as she walks into her elementary school. Oh my God.

So the question must be posed: what would Abe do? If we could resurrect his spirit and ask him that question, he’d likely start with the obvious. “Why does an 18 year old need an automatic weapon?” Raise the age to 40. Whoa! Are you mad? That’ll never work. Hmm. That sounds familiar. When Abe proposed the Emancipation Proclamation, there were very similar reactions from friend and foe alike. But he did it. And we all know how things turned out, don’t we? No? 180,000 black men – freemen as well as runaway slaves – joined the Union Army at a time when recruitment was seriously lagging. It likely made the difference between continuing to fight and the breakup of the union. No big deal. Right?

I Nominate Angeli Rose Gomez – even handcuffs didn’t stop her from going into that school

So what is needed now is audacity. Audacity requires heroic leadership. We need a hero right now. Got any suggestions? No? OK, then, I guess we all have to be heroes – if just for one day. Cue Bowie.

Suffer Those 19 Children

It’s surely been a dreadful week, hasn’t it? The war in Ukraine continues unabated, with no sign that all the arms we’ve sent the Ukrainian army has repelled the invaders. The stock market can’t seem to make up its mind whether our economy is in the toilet or if happy days are here again. And then there’s the massacre in Texas. A gruesome threesome.

Paintology

Now that I’ve introduced the big three, I’ll dispense with the update on my paintology stylings at the big box store down the road. I continue there, for those that thought I might have quit already. I am always early for work and stay to the end of the shift. I do a decent job – not great, lord knows I still make mistakes..but given the amount of training I received, I must say I’m certainly contributing to the store’s bottom line.

But there’s a problem in the paint department at Home Depot. There’s a pall over it. Why, you may ask? Well, based on my years of work and living experience, it boils down to one thing: lack of leadership. There is no acknowledged leader of the pack that cares enough about how things go in the paint department to come up with new ideas to improve results. It’s really that simple. I am the newest member, so my ability to lead is only by example, with unparalleled cheerfulness and emphasis on customer service. All that succeeds in doing is, my peers try to emulate that with little success..because they’ve been there so long and know that tomorrow will be the same drag they experience today. They’ve given up. I’m too new and stupid to do that.

The Children of Ross Elementary, Uvalde, TX

But talking about lack of leadership takes me back to the happenings in Texas. A lost soul ironically called Salvador (no savior here) took his misery and inflicted it on the parents, grandparents and other assorted loved ones of nineteen children and two adults. The dead are beyond feeling earthly pain. It’s the survivors of those children who now begin to understand the reality that their children and wives were not as important as the lives of the 19 policemen in the hall outside their room. Is it really nineteen, or is that just a catchy number because of the number of dead children? Who knows…irrelevant. The point is the children and adults in that classroom being gunned down by Salvador Ramos didn’t matter. They were pawns in the game.

Lack of leadership on the part of the Police Chief of the Uvalde School District certainly contributed to this massacre. He was likely a desk jockey..good at the snappy repartee necessary to win promotion, but unskilled and uneasy about stepping up, putting his and other cops’ lives on the line to save children and teachers. He was stuck; frozen in place, making up stories to justify not breaking down the door and stopping this misbegotten kid from murdering more ten-year-olds. Understandable. You never know how you’ll act until the real thing comes along. We know now. He couldn’t and didn’t, and will likely retire after this to a full pension and his bitterness at how his career ended. Not his fault.

Not My Fault..I was misled!

Not his fault. When the governor of Texas said he was livid at being ‘misinformed’, he wasn’t livid because 19 children and 2 adults died; he was livid because he was made to look bad – ‘blind-sided’ as it were – before the people of his state who expect him to be a good leader. He isn’t. He never was. Now we know that. And that won’t change.

So the question must be asked: what happens next – for Texas, for the country, for the other children throughout America whose lives are jeopardized every time they cross the threshold of their school? This will happen again. And again. It will be groundhog day times fifty. Why? Because we lack leadership. Genuine, authoritative leadership. Not authoritarian leadership. An individual – or a group – that has a clear sense of themselves and what this country is really about. Until we find that within our ranks – that George Washington, Abe Lincoln, Jean d’Arc – the killing of school children will reoccur.

I wrote Suffer the Children in 2019, about children dying at the hands of their parents caught up in a cycle of fear generated by a cult leader. This leader insisted the children could only go to heaven if their souls were pure. This was based on the leader’s Biblical interpretation of the use of the word ‘Suffer’ in the Book of Matthew. It means to bear from below. He tells the parents this, via podcast shared through Evangelical church members:

“Your children are allowed into heaven now when they are still pure.  But if you wait until the end, they will suffer – bear from below.  And the stain they carry from their parents’ sins will prevent their acceptance into Jesus’ domain.  Don’t let them suffer.  Give them a home in heaven – before it’s too late.”

Koresh & Waco

I had in mind the work of false messiahs like David Koresh at Waco in creating this podcasting character called Judge Dreadbear. Twenty chldren died at Waco, most by being shot. Poor leadership on the part of the government led to an assault on that compound that went very wrong: the inverse of what happened at Uvalde. Waco led to the Oklahoma City bombing, where 19 children died. Gee: one begins to see a pattern here.

Maureen Dowd, columnist for the NY Times, summed it up in today’s contribution. She said, “We’ve become a country of cowards, so terrified of the unholy power of gun worship that no sacrifice of young blood is too great to appease it.” Child sacrifice – as old as civilization itself. Death by gunshot is now the leading cause of child death, replacing auto accidents. Don’t you feel proud, you gun owners? I am disgusted.

A Conversation with Kennedy

Picking up a technique from Tom Friedman, I decided upon waking this morning that I’d write about an imaginary conversation with former President John F. Kennedy. I thought that might be an enlightening experience for us all. So here’s my riff on how that dialogue would go down.

Me: Thank you, Mr. President, for joining me today to talk about what’s happening in Ukraine.

The Golf Game

JFK: Oh, call me Jack. Everyone here does. Say, you have an uncle named Jack, right? I played 18 holes with him last week at Pebble Beach. He and I were partners in a foursome with Dick Nixon and Rumsfeld.

Me: That must have produced some interesting conversation.

JFK: Not really. But your uncle is a pretty good golfer. We beat the bastards. They had to buy the beer at the clubhouse.

Me: That’s great…Jack. Now, if we could change subjects: can you give me some thoughts about the war between Russia and Ukraine?

JFK: Well, first, let’s get our terms right. This isn’t a war between two countries, it’s a war between a man – an autocrat – and a notion: democracy. That Putin kid is a demented control freak. But this time he went too far. We know it and he knows it. This definitely won’t end well for anyone.

Me: Well, can we talk about that? How will it end?

Not a Soothsayer

JFK: Hey, I’m just a dead ex-president, not some soothsayer. I don’t do card tricks or predict the future. But I can tell you, based on my experience dealing with Khrushchev and what became the Cuban missile crisis, that the Russians are different cats with a very different value system. Hundreds of years of serfdom under a tsar gave them a giant inferiority complex.

Me: So what does that mean for this particular, um .. conflict?

JFK: In your Blog, you often quote that line from Hunt for Red October: “The average Russkie, son, don’t take a dump without a plan.” Well, that’s true of Putin and his military. But his greatest strength is really his greatest weakness. But Joe Biden, bless his heart, doesn’t get that. Because Putin has a plan, Biden the politician thinks Putin knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t. This is pure ego at work now. If Biden was smart – which he is not – he’d call Putin’s bluff and bring the full force of NATO down on his sorry ass. This thing would be over with in a month.

Me: You read my blog?

What a Way to Go

JFK: Hey, can we stick to the topic at hand, please? I’m on a roll here. Listen, just like with the missile thing, something unpredictable is going to make or break this conflict – some hero – or villain – will ultimately decide the outcome. If that little guy – Zelensky? – gets kidnapped or killed, that’s the end for Ukraine. Hell, he could just be sitting on the crapper when an errant missile comes through the window and blows him up. But Putin has to worry that some little guy guarding the door gets mad ’cause his brother got blown up in a tank and fires one into Putin’s left eye. See what I mean?

Me: Are you talking about the Soviet submarines and Vasili Arkhipov stopping World War III?

He did, indeed

JFK: You know that’s what I mean. Nikita and I thought Castro was the problem. But he forgot about the subs and I didn’t even know they were there – so much for the CIA and their intelligence reports. They were wrong then and not much has changed since. So ultimately, the best thing to do is sit back and wait for that random event to occur. But you probably won’t even know about it until well after the fact. Nobody knew about the subs ’til 2005 after Arkhipov was here with us.

Me: So everything is just random? There’s no ‘invisible hand’ guiding us toward victory?

JFK: That’s for me to know and you to find out. But victory – what does that look like? No matter what, forty percent of Ukraine will be destroyed, along with a large chunk of her population killed or badly wounded. That’s always the unfortunate side of conflict. But I think you can have confidence that the Ukrainians will still have a country when this is over. And they’ll have lots of support to rebuild, unlike Syria and Libya. Doesn’t anybody care about the Middle East anymore?

Me: No, not really.

JFK: Hmm..That’ll come back to bite ya.

Me: Thank you for this conversation. I appreciate your taking the time to talk.

That’s what Clemmie told me too

JFK: Sure. Time I got a lot of. Take care and love your children unconditionally.

Me: I’ve heard that before from somebody else with you. Thanks for reminding me.