Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Ash Wednesday 2021

"Nevertheless, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday is not focused on the sinfulness of the penitent but on the mercy of God.  The question of sinfulness is raised precisely because this is a day of mercy, and the just do not need a savior."

Thomas Merton


Today, much of Christendom enters the period of Lent.  The 40 days leading up to Easter.  A time of fasting and devotion, mirroring the 40 days of Jesus' temptation in the desert.  And one of the most prominent aspects of Lent is the self-denial.

This often manifests as a goal to give up something for the 40 day period. To give up sweets, alcohol, caffeine, meat, chocolate, fast food, television, internet, etc.  Something that represents a challenge.  That is a true denial.

It's a form of fasting, like the full-fasts on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as the abstinence from meat on Fridays during the period.  In that aspect, it is important to remember the purpose of a fast.

Fasts in scripture are generally used for two purposes: to seek direction or to beg for mercy.

Both require the proper attitude for the fast to be fruitful.  With those purposes, it's easy to see why.  A half-hearted attempt to seek mercy will be clearly seen through and reveal unresolved issues that must be dealt with first.  Likewise, an attempt to seek direction that will likely not be followed is folly.  Both purposes have the ultimate goal of bringing the supplicant closer to God.  That should never be done lightly.

For God warns us of the fasting that He desires.  And of what follows from self-serving fasts.

"For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.  'Why have we fasted,' they say, 'and you have not seen it?  Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?' Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.  You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?  Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?  Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter - when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.   If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yoursevles in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-sorched land and will strengthen your frame.  You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will rise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings."

Isaiah 58:2-12


Oh, what the world would be if all of Christendom took these next 40 days to fast as the Lord has indicated.  How far His mercy would go.

May we use this time well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Fat Tuesday 2021

"It has been said that a Scotchman has not seen the world until he has seen Edinburgh; and I think that I may say that an American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi-Gras in New Orleans."

Mark Twain


Today marks Fat Tuesday.  The end of Carnival, of Mardi Gras.  The end of Shrovetide.  A day of the feast, for tomorrow brings the fast.  The last day before Lent.

Today is a day of celebration. Of joy. It's time for good music and great food. To embody that special joie de vivre.

So grab another slice of king cake or fry up some beignets.  Put on a little Preservation Hall Jazz Band or Marsalis Family.  Add a little rum to the punch.

Celebrate this wonderful world we live in and make an effort to enjoy as much of it as possible.

I realize for many, that looks very different this year and celebration may seem very difficult.  Covid for one has changed everything.  The parades have changed to 'home floats' where New Orleans residents have decorated their yards.  Recommendations against partying, a different kind of mask requirement - all things that make even a warm Fat Tuesday very different.

This year, we also have a once in a lifetime blizzard across the south that is hampering the celebratory spirit.  Thousands without power, sheltering in the cold, and facing the potential of more to come and a long haul ahead.  Enough to dampen even the best revelers.  

Do what you can to enjoy the day today.  Bring a little spice, a little music, and a whole lotta love to the day.

To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid.

Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CD's in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year--people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now that part, more than ever.

It's mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88's until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under Claiborne overpass and thrilling the years you find them and lamenting the years you don't and promising yourself you will next year.

It's wearing frightful color combination in public and rolling your eyes at the guy in your office who--like clockwork, year after year--denies that he got the baby in the king cake and now someone else has to pony up the ten bucks for the next one.

Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.

Chris Rose, 1 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories.

Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!


Monday, February 15, 2021

Presidents' Day 2021

Today marks Presidents' Day, a state holiday set aside to honor and remember all who have served as the President of the United States of America.  The holiday falls on the third Monday of February, a date chosen as a midpoint between Lincoln's birthday on February 12 and Washington's birthday on February 22.  

Since 1862, there has been an ongoing tradition that Washington's Farewell Address be read in the United States Senate.  I can think of no better way to remember and honor the office of the president than to do likewise.  

It's surprising how much it is still applicable to us today.  He pleas for unity and warns against partisan fighting.  He emphasizes the purpose and importance checks on political power.  He pushes for neutrality and free trade.

I've included the text of his address below, with my emphasis added, as well as a bonus at the end.

"FRIENDS AND FELLOW-CITIZENS:
The period for a new election of a citizen, to administer the executive government of the United States, being not far distant, and the time actually arrived, when your thoughts must be employed designating the person, who is to be clothed with that important trust, it appears to me proper, especially as it may conduce to a more distinct expression of the public voice, that I should now apprise you of the resolution I have formed, to decline being considered among the number of those out of whom a choice is to be made.

I beg you at the same time to do me the justice to be assured that this resolution has not been taken without a strict regard to all the considerations appertaining to the relation which binds a dutiful citizen to his country; and that in withdrawing the tender of service, which silence in my situation might imply, I am influenced by no diminution of zeal for your future interest, no deficiency of grateful respect for your past kindness, but am supported by a full conviction that the step is compatible with both.

The acceptance of, and continuance hitherto in, the office to which your suffrages have twice called me, have been a uniform sacrifice of inclination to the opinion of duty, and to a deference for what appeared to be your desire. I constantly hoped, that it would have been much earlier in my power, consistently with motives, which I was not at liberty to disregard, to return to that retirement, from which I had been reluctantly drawn. The strength of my inclination to do this, previous to the last election, had even led to the preparation of an address to declare it to you; but mature reflection on the then perplexed and critical posture of our affairs with foreign nations, and the unanimous advice of persons entitled to my confidence impelled me to abandon the idea.

I rejoice, that the state of your concerns, external as well as internal, no longer renders the pursuit of inclination incompatible with the sentiment of duty, or propriety; and am persuaded, whatever partiality may be retained for my services, that, in the present circumstances of our country, you will not disapprove my determination to retire.

The impressions, with which I first undertook the arduous trust, were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say, that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious, in the outset, of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more, that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied, that, if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe, that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.

In looking forward to the moment, which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude, which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that Heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; than, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete, by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing, as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation, which is yet a stranger to it.

Here, perhaps I ought to stop. But a solicitude for your welfare which cannot end but with my life, and the apprehension of danger, natural to that solicitude, urge me, on an occasion like the present, to offer to your solemn contemplation, and to recommend to your frequent review, some sentiments which are the result of much reflection, of no inconsiderable observation, and which appear to me all-important to the permanency of your felicity as a people. These will be offered to you with the more freedom, as you can only see in them the disinterested warnings of a parting friend, who can possibly have no personal motive to bias his counsel. Nor can I forget, as an encouragement to it, your indulgent reception of my sentiments on a former and not dissimilar occasion.

Interwoven as is the love of liberty with every ligament of your hearts, no recommendation of mine is necessary to fortify or confirm the attachment.

The unity of Government, which constitutes you one people, is also now dear to you. It is justly so; for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty, which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee, that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed, to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment, that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national Union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the Palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion, that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.

For this you have every inducement of sympathy and interest. Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of american, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.

But these considerations, however powerfully they address themselves to your sensibility, are greatly outweighed by those, which apply more immediately to your interest. Here every portion of our country finds the most commanding motives for carefully guarding and preserving the Union of the whole.

The North, in an unrestrained intercourse with the South, protected by the equal laws of a common government, finds, in the productions of the latter, great additional resources of maritime and commercial enterprise and precious materials of manufacturing industry. The South, in the same intercourse, benefiting by the agency of the North, sees its agriculture grow and its commerce expand. Turning partly into its own channels the seamen of the North, it finds its particular navigation invigorated; and, while it contributes, in different ways, to nourish and increase the general mass of the national navigation, it looks forward to the protection of a maritime strength, to which itself is unequally adapted. The East, in a like intercourse with the West, already finds, and in the progressive improvement of interior communications by land and water, will more and more find, a valuable vent for the commodities which it brings from abroad, or manufactures at home. The West derives from the East supplies requisite to its growth and comfort, and, what is perhaps of still greater consequence, it must of necessity owe the secure enjoyment of indispensable outlets for its own productions to the weight, influence, and the future maritime strength of the Atlantic side of the Union, directed by an indissoluble community of interest as one nation. Any other tenure by which the West can hold this essential advantage, whether derived from its own separate strength, or from an apostate and unnatural connexion with any foreign power, must be intrinsically precarious.

While, then, every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations; and, what is of inestimable value, they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries not tied together by the same governments, which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues would stimulate and embitter. Hence, likewise, they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of the one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other.

These considerations speak a persuasive language to every reflecting and virtuous mind, and exhibit the continuance of the union as a primary object of Patriotic desire. Is there a doubt, whether a common government can embrace so large a sphere? Let experience solve it. To listen to mere speculation in such a case were criminal. We are authorized to hope, that a proper organization of the whole, with the auxiliary agency of governments for the respective subdivisions, will afford a happy issue to the experiment. It is well worth a fair and full experiment. With such powerful and obvious motives to Union, affecting all parts of our country, while experience shall not have demonstrated its impracticability, there will always be reason to distrust the patriotism of those, who in any quarter may endeavor to weaken its bands.

In contemplating the causes, which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern, that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by Geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief, that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart-burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection. The inhabitants of our western country have lately had a useful lesson on this head; they have seen, in the negotiation by the Executive, and in the unanimous ratification by the Senate, of the treaty with Spain, and in the universal satisfaction at that event, throughout the United States, a decisive proof how unfounded were the suspicions propagated among them of a policy in the General Government and in the Atlantic States unfriendly to their interests in regard to the Mississippi; they have been witnesses to the formation of two treaties, that with Great Britain, and that with Spain, which secure to them every thing they could desire, in respect to our foreign relations, towards confirming their prosperity. Will it not be their wisdom to rely for the preservation of these advantages on the union by which they were procured? Will they not henceforth be deaf to those advisers, if such there are, who would sever them from their brethren, and connect them with aliens?

To the efficacy and permanency of your Union, a Government for the whole is indispensable. No alliances, however strict, between the parts can be an adequate substitute; they must inevitably experience the infractions and interruptions, which all alliances in all times have experienced. Sensible of this momentous truth, you have improved upon your first essay, by the adoption of a Constitution of Government better calculated than your former for an intimate Union, and for the efficacious management of your common concerns. This Government, the offspring of our own choice, uninfluenced and unawed, adopted upon full investigation and mature deliberation, completely free in its principles, in the distribution of its powers, uniting security with energy, and containing within itself a provision for its own amendment, has a just claim to your confidence and your support. Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true Liberty. The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole people, is sacredly obligatory upon all. The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.

All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.

Towards the preservation of your government, and the permanency of your present happy state, it is requisite, not only that you steadily discountenance irregular oppositions to its acknowledged authority, but also that you resist with care the spirit of innovation upon its principles, however specious the pretexts. One method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the constitution, alterations, which will impair the energy of the system, and thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown. In all the changes to which you may be invited, remember that time and habit are at least as necessary to fix the true character of governments, as of other human institutions; that experience is the surest standard, by which to test the real tendency of the existing constitution of a country; that facility in changes, upon the credit of mere hypothesis and opinion, exposes to perpetual change, from the endless variety of hypothesis and opinion; and remember, especially, that, for the efficient management of our common interests, in a country so extensive as ours, a government of as much vigor as is consistent with the perfect security of liberty is indispensable. Liberty itself will find in such a government, with powers properly distributed and adjusted, its surest guardian. It is, indeed, little else than a name, where the government is too feeble to withstand the enterprises of faction, to confine each member of the society within the limits prescribed by the laws, and to maintain all in the secure and tranquil enjoyment of the rights of person and property.

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution, in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart, is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position. The necessity of reciprocal checks in the exercise of political power, by dividing and distributing it into different depositories, and constituting each the Guardian of the Public Weal against invasions by the others, has been evinced by experiments ancient and modern; some of them in our country and under our own eyes. To preserve them must be as necessary as to institute them. If, in the opinion of the people, the distribution or modification of the constitutional powers be in any particular wrong, let it be corrected by an amendment in the way, which the constitution designates. But let there be no change by usurpation; for, though this, in one instance, may be the instrument of good, it is the customary weapon by which free governments are destroyed. The precedent must always greatly overbalance in permanent evil any partial or transient benefit, which the use can at any time yield.

Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric ?

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.

As a very important source of strength and security, cherish public credit. One method of preserving it is, to use it as sparingly as possible; avoiding occasions of expense by cultivating peace, but remembering also that timely disbursements to prepare for danger frequently prevent much greater disbursements to repel it; avoiding likewise the accumulation of debt, not only by shunning occasions of expense, but by vigorous exertions in time of peace to discharge the debts, which unavoidable wars may have occasioned, not ungenerously throwing upon posterity the burthen, which we ourselves ought to bear. The execution of these maxims belongs to your representatives, but it is necessary that public opinion should cooperate. To facilitate to them the performance of their duty, it is essential that you should practically bear in mind, that towards the payment of debts there must be Revenue; that to have Revenue there must be taxes; that no taxes can be devised, which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant; that the intrinsic embarrassment, inseparable from the selection of the proper objects (which is always a choice of difficulties), ought to be a decisive motive for a candid construction of the conduct of the government in making it, and for a spirit of acquiescence in the measures for obtaining revenue, which the public exigencies may at any time dictate.

Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it ? Can it be, that Providence has not connected the permanent felicity of a Nation with its Virtue? The experiment, at least, is recommended by every sentiment which ennobles human nature. Alas! is it rendered impossible by its vices ?

In the execution of such a plan, nothing is more essential, than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. The Nation, which indulges towards another an habitual hatred, or an habitual fondness, is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest. Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. Hence frequent collisions, obstinate, envenomed, and bloody contests. The Nation, prompted by ill-will and resentment, sometimes impels to war the Government, contrary to the best calculations of policy. The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.

So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions; by unnecessarily parting with what ought to have been retained; and by exciting jealousy, ill-will, and a disposition to retaliate, in the parties from whom equal privileges are withheld. And it gives to ambitious, corrupted, or deluded citizens, (who devote themselves to the favorite nation,) facility to betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country, without odium, sometimes even with popularity; gilding, with the appearances of a virtuous sense of obligation, a commendable deference for public opinion, or a laudable zeal for public good, the base or foolish compliances of ambition, corruption, or infatuation.

As avenues to foreign influence in innumerable ways, such attachments are particularly alarming to the truly enlightened and independent Patriot. How many opportunities do they afford to tamper with domestic factions, to practice the arts of seduction, to mislead public opinion, to influence or awe the Public Councils! Such an attachment of a small or weak, towards a great and powerful nation, dooms the former to be the satellite of the latter.

Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens,) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake; since history and experience prove, that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican Government. But that jealousy, to be useful, must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it. Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious; while its tools and dupes usurp the applause and confidence of the people, to surrender their interests.

The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.

Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none, or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.

Our detached and distant situation invites and enables us to pursue a different course. If we remain one people, under an efficient government, the period is not far off, when we may defy material injury from external annoyance; when we may take such an attitude as will cause the neutrality, we may at any time resolve upon, to be scrupulously respected; when belligerent nations, under the impossibility of making acquisitions upon us, will not lightly hazard the giving us provocation; when we may choose peace or war, as our interest, guided by justice, shall counsel.

Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor, or caprice?

It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

Taking care always to keep ourselves, by suitable establishments, on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing; establishing, with powers so disposed, in order to give trade a stable course, to define the rights of our merchants, and to enable the government to support them, conventional rules of intercourse, the best that present circumstances and mutual opinion will permit, but temporary, and liable to be from time to time abandoned or varied, as experience and circumstances shall dictate; constantly keeping in view, that it is folly in one nation to look for disinterested favors from another; that it must pay with a portion of its independence for whatever it may accept under that character; that, by such acceptance, it may place itself in the condition of having given equivalents for nominal favors, and yet of being reproached with ingratitude for not giving more. There can be no greater error than to expect or calculate upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion, which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course, which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself, that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.

How far in the discharge of my official duties, I have been guided by the principles which have been delineated, the public records and other evidences of my conduct must witness to you and to the world. To myself, the assurance of my own conscience is, that I have at least believed myself to be guided by them.

In relation to the still subsisting war in Europe, my Proclamation of the 22d of April 1793, is the index to my Plan. Sanctioned by your approving voice, and by that of your Representatives in both Houses of Congress, the spirit of that measure has continually governed me, uninfluenced by any attempts to deter or divert me from it.

After deliberate examination, with the aid of the best lights I could obtain, I was well satisfied that our country, under all the circumstances of the case, had a right to take, and was bound in duty and interest to take, a neutral position. Having taken it, I determined, as far as should depend upon me, to maintain it, with moderation, perseverance, and firmness.

The considerations, which respect the right to hold this conduct, it is not necessary on this occasion to detail. I will only observe, that, according to my understanding of the matter, that right, so far from being denied by any of the Belligerent Powers, has been virtually admitted by all.

The duty of holding a neutral conduct may be inferred, without any thing more, from the obligation which justice and humanity impose on every nation, in cases in which it is free to act, to maintain inviolate the relations of peace and amity towards other nations.

The inducements of interest for observing that conduct will best be referred to your own reflections and experience. With me, a predominant motive has been to endeavor to gain time to our country to settle and mature its yet recent institutions, and to progress without interruption to that degree of strength and consistency, which is necessary to give it, humanly speaking, the command of its own fortunes.

Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which they may tend. I shall also carry with me the hope, that my Country will never cease to view them with indulgence; and that, after forty-five years of my life dedicated to its service with an upright zeal, the faults of incompetent abilities will be consigned to oblivion, as myself must soon be to the mansions of rest.

Relying on its kindness in this as in other things, and actuated by that fervent love towards it, which is so natural to a man, who views it in the native soil of himself and his progenitors for several generations; I anticipate with pleasing expectation that retreat, in which I promise myself to realize, without alloy, the sweet enjoyment of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government, the ever favorite object of my heart, and the happy reward, as I trust, of our mutual cares, labors, and dangers."

George Washington
United States - September 17, 1796

One last time.

  

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Valentine's Day 2021

Though we recognize it everyday, today is a special day that we have set apart to celebrate love. All kinds of love - brotherly love, familial love, and romantic love. Particularly romantic love. 

We refer to people as our Valentines. Our pair, our date for the day, now matter how we celebrate. 

Our dinner may have been on Thursday, a rare time in this environment where we can have a dinner just the two of us. Our day may have been spent a little apart with the guys small group meeting. And the day may have been a little overwhelming with Jude’s early birthday party today too. But there is no one that I would rather spent the day with. 


I love you gorgeous. 

Bigger than Godzilla. 

All the way to the moon. 

To infinity and beyond. 

To the ends of the earth...


Until you read this and correct me, I love you more!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Lunar New Year

新年快乐

Xin Nian Kuai Le

Today marks the start of the Lunar New Year.  Derived from the Chinese New Year, it is celebrated in China, as well as neighboring Asian countries like Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Tibet, and Mongolia.  

This year is the Year of the Ox, the second of the twelve year cycle.  

As with our western new year, while our celebrations may look a little different this year, I hope that this lunar cycle ahead is a joyful and prosperous one for you and yours.  Things here are already shaping up to be an exciting and adventurous year ahead, still feeling on the precipice of great change.

Happy New Year!

Congratulations and be prosperous! May your happiness and longevity be complete!

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

National Pizza Day 2021

It's National Pizza Day!  Always a worthy celebration for the Keeler household.  I've definitely eaten more than my fair share, particularly during law school.  And it is one of the dishes the kids will consume happily.

Pizza has to be nearly the perfect food.  All food groups in a single delicious dish.  It can be a single filling deep dish slice or a perfect binge food.  Crust to your preference, zesty tomato sauce, melted mozzarella cheese, and virtually unlimited combinations of toppings. 

I love it all.  From thin neopolitan to Chicago deep dish.  From the authentic pizza we got in Florence to the cheap oven bakes.  As an 80s kid, nothing beats Pizza Hut for nostalgia.

I like white pizzas with alfredo sauce.  I like buffalo or barbecue chicken pizza.  I'll even take pineapple on pizza with a good Hawaiian style.  With the kids, I'm growing to appreciate just a classic cheese pizza.

I do miss the buffet.  I know Cicis still offers it, but I miss the Pizza Hut buffet.  Or Mazzios.  Or Gattis.

I think the best we've had has been a quattro formaggi in Florence (Jamie cried over this one) and The Malnati Classic Chicago at Lou Malnati's. 

This has to be one of the benefits of moving to Indiana.  Not that we didn't have good pizza in Texas, but we've moved close to several great pizza parlors.  We have our favorites here in town like Rockstar Pizza, and we're really close to Chicago to get Lou Malnati's when it strikes our fancy.  

So, grab a slice in celebration today.  And this year in particular, why not support your local pizza place and show them some love.  We want to make sure pizza is here to stay and not just at the national chains.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Black History Month


February is Black History Month.  While "officially" recognized in 1976 by President Gerald Ford, the celebration has its roots dating back to 1926, with the celebration of Negro History Week.  Historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History choose the second week in February because of the recognition of the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas.

For both the week and the month, the focus remains the same, the coordinated teaching of the history of Black Americans.  To recognize the overlooked contributions and impacts that African Americans have had on the course of American history.   The Hidden Figures if you will.  President Ford recognized this, for his part urging Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history."

This mission also serves as a powerful antidote to the tendency we have toward creating selective histories, false narratives, alternative facts.  The early celebration of Negro History Week in the 1930s had to counter the growing and dangerous myth of the "lost cause" of the South.  The false narrative that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, that it was a war of Northern cultural and economic aggression toward the South.  A lie meant to maintain a Supremacist status quo.  As Woodson would write, "When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it."  This aspect of the month's recognition has led some to claim its focus is rewriting history.  It's not.  Instead, it's refocusing history.  Removing lies and myths that have been perpetuated for too long and have had too many lasting harmful effects, and in their place shedding light on long dormant corners of our history.  Uncovering the reality of history, in many instances for the first time.

We've seen the shock this causes to the American conscience.  How many white Americans learned about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 for the first time by watching HBO's Watchman?  How about the Wilmington coup of 1891, focused on ousting a biracial local government and replace it with a white supremacist one?  That being the only successful coup in American history.  How many people learned about the contributions of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and the other Hidden Figures mathematicians through the eponymous film?  How many know about Hiram Revels, Bessie Coleman, Robert Sengstacke Abbott, Madam C.J. Walker?  Why do we more often find out about them outside of history class?

This month is the perfect time for exploration.  For discovery.  Read African American authors, watch television and film from African American artists (which we are doing).  Google "Black History you should know" and explore - there are dozens of articles that could provide a great springboard for education.

There's a wealth of information out there to make this month an enriching experience.  All you have to do is be willing to learn.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Goes Wrong Show


 

I don’t often make recommendations here, but if you have Amazon Prime Video and you are looking for a laugh while in quarantine, I highly recommend The Goes Wrong Show

The Goes Wrong Show is the brainchild of the Mischief Theater company, a British theater company known for their highly successful West End productions The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.  The conceit of the Goes Wrong plays and the Goes Wrong Show is that the cast are members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, a pretty terrible amateur theater group made up of the worst examples of local theater. The ham that breaks the fourth wall and mugs for the audience. The one that can never remember their lines. The overacter. The capable but harried director. And with that cast, Murphy’s Law inevitably sets in and hijinks ensue. 

The shows started being televised with a segment of The Play That Goes Wrong being aired as a segment of The Royal Variety Show in 2015. Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong were then aired as hour long Christmas specials on British television.  They have now developed The Goes Wrong Show, which is a six episode half hour show presented as a play of the week before a studio audience. This season hits on legal drama, horror, World War II drama, and even the Southern family squabble. All of which are presented with their typical ineptitude. 

It’s laugh out loud funny if you can appreciate farce. I’ve come close to crying from laughing in a couple of episodes. So if you need a pick me up, it’s well worth a watch. It’s got physical comedy, clever word play, cringe inducing awkwardness, and a bit of heart. What more could you ask for?

Friday, February 5, 2021

Christopher Plummer

 


Christopher Plummer passed away today at the age of 91.  Perhaps most famously known as Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music, Plummer's career spanned seven decades, with recognition including an Academy Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards, a Golden Globe Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and a British Academy Film Award.  He is one of only twenty-four actors who have received the Triple Crown of Acting: competitive wins for an Academy Award, Tony Award, and Emmy Award.   He is the only Canadian to win the Triple Crown.

His Academy Award came at the age of 82 for Beginners, making him the oldest person to win an acting award. His nomination later at the age of 88 for All the Money in the World made him the oldest person nominated for an acting award.  He has been especially prodigious in the last several years, with a third of his film work occurring over the last 20 years.  All the Money in the World represented a particular challenge in that he was replacing Kevin Spacey after Spacey's sexual harassment history came to light.  Plummer had twelve days to prepare for the role and filmed his reshoots over ten days.  I particularly enjoyed his turn as the eccentric mystery novelist in Knives Out.

Auf Wiedersehen, Captain.  Rest in Peace.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Friendly Reminder, Q Isn't Real


Q isn't real.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to have no idea what I'm referring to, Q is the pseudonym of a supposed "Q Clearance Patriot" who claims to be a US intelligence official leaking classified information.  The leaks began on 4Chan, one of the darker corners of the worldwide web on October 2017 and later moved to 8kun, an even darker hole, where it continued to promote a vast conspiracy theory largely centered around President Trump.  The movement became known as QAnon, and the messages from Q were labeled Q drops.  The conspiracy positioned Donald Trump as the lead combatant fighting a secret war against a global liberal cult of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. 

QAnon commonly asserts that Trump has been planning a day of reckoning known as the "Storm", when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested.  Q's supporters have accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking government officials of being members of the cabal.  The conspiracy theories have been amplified by Russian state-backed troll accounts on social media, as well as Russian state-backed traditional media.

Q became a conservative Nostradamus with a track record for prophecy and revelation that is just as spotty.  Most centered around when the Storm would occur or when certain liberal or at least not conservative enough figures would be taken down.  Q continued to insist that Donald Trump would be re-inaugurated despite losing the election.  There are certain circles in the Q sphere that continue to spread that the Storm will happen in March and that's when Trump will be reinstated.

The scary impact of Q is the number of people that have bought into the lie.  Particularly within Christian circles.  Poll your contacts in particularly conservative evangelical circles and you would be surprised to find the number of people who have bought into some part of the Q and Q-adjacent conspiracies.  

So, it's important to dispel them now and to call them out.

Q isn't real.

The world is not flat.

We really landed on the moon.

Vaccines don't cause autism.

9/11 happened and was not an inside job.

Sandy Hook and Parkland were not false flag events, they are tragedies.

Comet Ping Pong is a pizza restaurant and was not selling children.

Wayfair did not traffic children through the sale of office furniture.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are not actual demons and do not smell of sulfur.

Michelle Obama was not born male.

Barack Obama was not born in Kenya.

George Soros was not a Nazi collaborator.

The Democratic party is not part of a massive international child sex-trafficking ring.

The Rothschild family are not the ringleaders of a Satanic cult.

The District of Columbia Organic Act of 1871 did not make the United States into a corporation that could be disbanded.

John F. Kennedy, Jr. is dead and did not fake his death.

There was not massive fraud in the 2020 election on a scale that would change the outcome of the election.  Joe Biden won the election because there were that many people who were fed up with Trump and/or wanted to promote Democratic principles.

COVID-19 is real.

5G doesn't cause COVID-19, Alzheimers, autism, infertility...

Q isn't real.

Stay sane out there my friends.  The dis- and mis-information is only going to continue to spread.  



Wednesday, February 3, 2021

The Day The Music Died


"A long, long time ago
I can still remember
How that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
"

62 years ago, the music died.  The Winter Dance Party Tour had been touring the midwest since January 23.   By February 2, they were at Clear Lake, Iowa, their eleventh stop on the tour.  The pace was beginning to wear on the acts.  

For one, the travel required soon became a serious problem. The distances between venues had not been properly considered, and instead of systematically circling around the Midwest through a series of venues in close proximity to one another, the tour erratically meandered back and forth across the region.  With no off days, the bands had to travel most of each day, frequently for ten to twelve hours in freezing mid-winter temperatures.

One bus was being used to transport all musicians, though the individual buses selected were notoriously unreliable.  Because of the conditions of the buses and the weather, the tour had gone through five separate buses by they reached Clear Lake.    None were equipped for the harsh weather, and the only one that had heating equipment had malfunctioned shortly after the tour began.

The musicians were beginning to get sick from the weather and the travel.  Flu-like symptoms, frostbitten feet.  

Buddy finally had enough, and offered to charter a plane to their next venue in Moorehead, Minnesota.  The plane held three passengers and the pilot, at a rate of $36 per passenger.  The first passengers were to be Buddy Holly and Waylon Jennings.  The last seat was left to a coin toss, between Tommy Allsup and Ritchie Valens.  Valens won the toss, securing the seat.  "The Big Bopper" J. P. Richardson had contracted the flu on the tour and asked Jennings to take his seat.  When Holly learned that Jennings was not going to fly, he said in jest, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up." Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes." The response would haunt Jennings for the rest of his life.

Sometime, early in the morning of February 3, 1959, the plane crashed less than six miles away from the Mason County Municipal Airport where it took off.  The weather that night had been light snow, with an obscured sky, making the visual flight that the pilot was experience in near impossible.  The weather had also been quickly deteriorating, a point that had not been highlighted to the pilot in his briefing. 

The loss of these pioneers of rock-and-roll would be immortalized in Don McLean's classic American Pie, a tribute to the loss of innocence of that early rock-and-roll generation.   It's through the song that McLean would dub the day as The Day The Music Died, a nomenclature that would stick to this day.

It remains a pivotal moment in the history of rock.  A tragedy underscored by the fact that the oldest passenger, Richardon, was only 28 at the time.  Three musicians at the top of their games cut down in their prime, as well as a very young pilot leaving behind a young widow of his own.

So play a little rockabilly, a little Chicano rock, a little country rock.  Drink a little whiskey and rye, and sing "This'll be the day that I die..."

"I met a girl who sang the blues
And I asked her for some happy news
But she just smiled and turned away
I went down to the sacred store
Where I'd heard the music years before
But the man there said the music wouldn't play
And in the streets, the children screamed
The lovers cried and the poets dreamed
But not a word was spoken
The church bells all were broken
And the three men I admire most
The father, son, and the holy ghost
They caught the last train for the coast
The day the music died

They were singin'
'Bye-bye Miss American Pie'"
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
Them good old boys were drinkin' whiskey 'n rye
Singin', "This'll be the day that I die...
"

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Groundhog Day 2021

"Then put you're little hand in mine, there ain't no hill or mountain we can't climb..."


Well, the little bear rat in Pennsylvania saw his shadow, so supposedly we're in for six more weeks of winter.  Looking at our forecast up here for the next couple of weeks, I'm inclined to believe him.

An odd custom, tracing back to German traditions regarding Candlemas and the bear, then the badger.  Really it seems at some point, any hibernating mammal would have sufficed.

United States groundhog day itself dates back to the 1840s, with the round woodchuck in Pennsylvania identified as Punxsutawney Phil starting in 1886.  As weather forecasters go, this little rodent is either really good or pretty terrible.  Part of the problem is defining what an "early spring" means; depending on your definition, his accuracy is somewhere between 28% and 70%.

Phil has become an international film superstar thanks to the movie surrounding his holiday.  His co-stars had nothing but good things to say about working with him.*  This success has also translated into Broadway fame.  Shockingly, he is also a wanted felon, with outstanding warrants for his arrest Butler County, Ohio, Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Monroe County, Pennsylvania dating back to 2013, 2015, and 2018, respectively.  For fraud, naturally.

Whatever your feelings on the groundhog, I must say, the Wikipedia article on Punxsutawney Phil is extremely entertaining.  It reads a bit like a defeated and sarcastic conspiracy theory gone awry.  Well worth a look.

*with Bill Murray's recent behavior, perhaps we could change the day to check to see if Mr. Murray sees his shadow and what his prognostication is.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Cicely Tyson

Cicely Tyson passed away Thursday, January 28, 2021 at the age of 96.  Ms. Tyson, an icon of American cinema, had a career that spanned seven decades, from an uncredited role in an amazing noir, Odds Against Tomorrow, to a Tyler Perry Netflix film released last year.   She is the recipient of three Primetime Emmy Awards, four Black Reel Awards, one Screen Actors Guild Award, one Tony Award, an honorary Academy Award, and a Peabody Award.

I remember being introduced to Ms. Tyson through The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, a historical fiction television movie we watched in junior high.  Her ability to play the character from the age of 23 to 110, just through her performance and makeup was amazing.  Then to see her range in Fried Green Tomatoes, Sounder, and even Madea's Family Reunion has been a joy.

Jamie and I have made a point for us to have mini-film festivals each month, given our love of film and the wealth of the libraries we have a click of the remote.  January was Studio Ghibli, for us to finish the preeminent anime studios work.  This month is Black Film for Black History Month.  To look at performances for great African American actors, movies conceived by African American writers and directors, and those that are telling great black stories. 

I look forward to adding a couple of early performances with Ms. Tyson in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and A Man Called Adam.

She will be missed.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Cloris Leachman

 


Cloris Leachman passed away yesterday at the age of 94.  An impeccable comedienne and incredible actress, her impact on film and television is amazing.  I didn't realize just how acclaimed she was.  She is the most nominated and tied as the most awarded actress for the Primetime Emmys.  Academy Award, British Academy Film Award, Golden Globe, Primetime Emmy, Daytime Emmy, and National Board of Review Award winner, her credits include some of the most amazing performances put on screen.  From Ruth Popper, the lonely and depressed housewife of the closeted football coach in The Last Picture Show, to Phyllis Lindstrom the interfering downstairs neighbor on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Frau Blücher (Neigh), the secret keeping housekeeper in Young Frankenstein.

My favorite story about her relates to that classic role in Young Frankenstein.  When Mel decided to bring the show to Broadway in musical form in 2007,  Leachman auditioned to play Frau Blücher (neigh) in the show, as she was now closer to the age the character was supposed to be.  Mel thought at 81 she was too old for the dancing and stagework required.  "We don't want her to die on stage."  Leachman took umbrage with the statement, especially as she was appearing on Dancing With The Stars.  After seeing her success in the dancing competition, Brooks asked her to reprise the role of Frau Blücher (neigh) after the departure of the current actress in the role.  The show sadly closed before anyone could see that come to fruition.

(as an aside - That leaves Mel Brooks, Gene Hackman, and Terri Garr as the last surviving principle cast of Young Frankenstein.  And Mel and Hackman are 94 and 90 respectively.)

Leachman's career began in 1947 and will see two posthumous releases this year.  

She will be missed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  It commemorates the tragedy of the Holocaust, remembering the genocide that resulted in the death of an estimated 6 million Jews, 8.7 million Slavs, 1.8 million ethnic Poles, 220,000 Romani people, 250,000 mentally and physically disabled people, 312,000 Serb civilians, 1,900 Jehovah's Witnesses, and 9,000 homosexual men by the Nazi regime.  Honoring the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945 and the end of the Holocaust.

We remember and commemorate these events so that we never forget them.  So that we learn from them, for that is the purpose of history.  For us to be able to look back and see the events that led to such events and to be able to recognize them as they occur around us.

"The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is thus a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights [...]

We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history.  We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today's world.  And we must do our utmost so that all peoples may enjoy the protection and rights for which the United Nations stands."

Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, January 19, 2008

The learning of history, the application, is sadly where we are falling down.  It's part of a bigger discussion of how we learn history, how we teach history.  Another big question for a future blog.  But on this topic, we can see the evidence around us of our failure as a society to completely grasp the lessons of the Holocaust.

Anti-semitism, though not at its highest levels, remains relatively high.  In the European Union, 89% of respondents that had identified as Jewish indicated that anti-Semitism had increased over the last five years in their country.  Further, 40% of respondents feared a physical anti-Semitic attack.

In the United States, the Anti Defamation League found that there had been 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, slightly down from 2017, but still at a historically high level.  The New York Police Department has said that there have been more anti-Jewish incidents in the city in 2019 than all other crimes added together.

There are bright spots, reflecting a willingness, an eagerness to learn and to not forget.  The University of Southern California's Shoah Foundation features more than 52,000 Holocaust testimonies that are frequently accessed.  The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum had more than 1.6 million visitors in 2018, 93% of which were non-Jewish.

We still have a long way to go, though.  Only 11 states require that Holocaust history be taught in school.  This is reflected in the gaps in education of the current generation.  Among millennials, 66% of them could not identify Auschwitz, 22% of them could not confirm hearing of the Holocaust.  If you want an excellent film on why this is important, watch Denial, a historical film based on Deborah Lipstadt's work and case against noted Holocaust denier David Irving.

It seems history is more important to us than ever before.  If only we would listen.  May we never forget and may we ever be vigilant.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

What We've Learned


I originally wrote this on November 9, 2016 and I thought it would be good to revisit now that the Trump presidency is over.  It's eery how prescient it seems now, with hindsight being what it is.  Particularly in light of the events after this most recent election and the violent insurrection of January 6, 2021.  I wanted to give this a week after the inauguration; I think it's timely now.

I've added a few editorial thoughts throughout with my feelings regarding our current state of the union.

"It's been a very interesting election season and the night itself last night proved to be just as unpredictable and frustrating. I look over the things we've learned this year and there are some bitter pills to swallow.
 
We've learned that fear is still the greatest political motivator.
          It still is, it's what has carried on through this election.  If I see one more post about how socialists are overtaking America, I might scream.  They all reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of what socialism actually means and looks like, and how easily that word can be used to stir up voter's fear.
We've learned that personality matters more than policy.
          Again, yes.  How many times has Sleepy Joe popped up?  Or that the new press secretary isn't as "appealing" as Kayleigh McEnany.
We've learned that opinions and feelings matter more than facts.
          Alternative facts, the Big Lie that the election was stolen despite no evidence to support it.  The fact that a number of Congressmen are still calling for an audit of the 2020 election simply because their supporters "feel" that it was illegitimate should be concerning enough, but when you remember that the base "feels" that way because their leadership lied to them, it's downright frightening.  Watching people like Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley go out of their way to avoid saying their was actual fraud (because they can't support it), or to avoid saying that they believe there was actual fraud, but to continue to beat the drum of their supporters believing it has been nothing short of incredible.
We've learned that words do not matter.
          "There are very fine people on both sides."  "Proud boys, stand by and stand back." "Because you'll never take back our country with weakness.  You have to show strength and you have to be strong." "So go home, we love you, you're very special."  I could go on and on.  For everything, there's always a tweet.
We've learned that moral relativity is acceptable so long as it is for the right side.
          This is what broke me.  I'm old enough to remember the Clinton presidency well, and it's not hard to see great parallels between Clinton and Trump.  To see the same people in my circles who called for Clinton's head now praising Trump defies logic and description.
We've seen that the Church can be swayed with promises of power.
          This is the most disappointing.  How many in the church have not only just supported the Republican party, no matter what, but have whole heartedly embraced everything Trump stood for and shamed anyone who could not agree.  A president who displayed none of the characteristics of a Christian life, embraced by many as the savior of our country is disheartening.  The Christian imagery at the insurrection is sickening.
 
I wish President Trump the best, I really do. I hope he is at best able to surprise us and show a deftness in political maneuvering that is not expected, or at worst, he is truly just a figure head like he has indicated he wishes to be and lets Pence and the rest of his team actually run things.
          This lasted for a few months, apparently before Trump couldn't stand people telling him no.  The high turn over rate in his executive staff was historic.
 
But this is not a win for America. Honestly, there was no win for America in this election.
          Similarly, there was no win for America in this presidency.  We were not "made great again."  Our flaws were exposed and laid bare.  The worst demons of our nature were empowered.  And we will be dealing with its repercussions for years to come.
 
This is how the republic falls.
        And it nearly did.  More than anything, these last four years taught us how fragile our republic is.
 
A country extremely divided, with little hope of bridging those gaps and a incoming president whom seems more interested in continuing to drive the wedge with the policies that he has espoused. We are divided by race, religion, class, and education. And the polling statistics bear this out.
         We're still here.  We're still divided.  And this should be a friendly reminder that unity doesn't mean one party gets to hold the other hostage.  One party doesn't get to demand the other capitulate and then cry that the other doesn't want to unite.  
 
And this is not a win for the Republican Party. This reveals the path forward of the Republican Party for years to come and it's not pretty. It turns over traditional Republican values to the far right portion of the party.
         And the movement to the extremes continues as it seems Trump will either split or continue to guide the Republican party for the foreseeable future.  Hawley, Cruz, Gohmert, Boebert, and Greene continue to pander to the Trump base, positioning themselves for greater position in the party because of it.
 
Dear God forgive us, I fear we know not what we do. We thank you that ultimately in control and watching over your people. Let us trust in you for our future and cling to you for our peace. Show us how to stand out and be different in this country going forward and to be your salt and light in this extremely divided climate."

The prayer remains the same.  I pray for the Biden administration.  I pray for our country.  I pray for the Church to repent of its idolatry of politics, to repent of its looking for an earthly king as a savior, and for it to get back to the business of being the set apart.

If only we would.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Rent @ 25

Today marks the the 25th Anniversary of the opening performance of Rent Off-Broadway.  A rock opera update of La Boheme, set in the late 1980s/early 1990s Village in New York City.  Written by Jonathan Larson, the musical touched on the HIV/AIDS crisis, multiculturalism, addiction, homophobia, transphobia.  It wrestled with the struggle between art and commerce.  Essentially, it remains the quintessential Generation X musical.

And my college self was the perfect age to discover this show as it toured Austin just a few years later. This was a show for outcasts and we naturally were drawn to it.

The songs in Rent lift the show far beyond the every day musical.  Songs like Seasons of Love and One Song Glory have become staples in musical theater circles.  Even what would be considered smaller numbers like Life Support move the story forward and move the audience greater than many other classic show tunes.  Larson's ability to heavy material lyrically is unmatched, as is his ability to use comedy in song.  

Rent has received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, and the 1996 Tony Award for Best Musical.  Larson won the 1996 Best Book for a Musical and Best Score awards.  The show has grossed $280 million through its various productions.  With its twelve year run on Broadway it remains one of the longest running shows on Broadway.

Sadly, January 25, 1996 is remembered for another significant event in the production of Rent.  Larson passed away that morning from an aortic dissection at the age of 35.  He had been experiencing chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath for days before, but had been misdiagnosed as suffering from the flu or stress.  

Larson's death left the cast and crew with an humbling query - how to proceed.  It was decided that opening night would go forward, though with a staged reading.  No costumes, no sets, just the actors performing their lines and singing the songs with the band.  The staged reading lasted until the end of Act I, where the infectiousness of La Vie Boheme led cast members to jump on the tables, as the choreography would have normally required.  The second act became much more of a performance.  

After the performance finished and the actors returned backstage to take off their mics, they came back on stage to discover that the audience had not left.  The 200 or so family and friends had remained in the theater in silence, waiting, wanting to continue the magic and the poignance of what they just witnessed.

Man, I miss live theater.

There does comes a point when you know you've reached an age where you can no longer identify with the characters in the show.  The struggle against the hopelessness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic will always resonate, but, the fight to not pay rent, becomes a little grating.  

I've crossed that line.  Jamie and I saw another tour version of the show recently and while the music still connects, the storyline gets a bit aggravating. 

I've still got most of the soundtrack memorized, though.  That part will be forever etched in my brain and that music will continue to move me.

It will serve as a remind of how best to spend out time here on earth.  

One year.  

525,600 minutes.  

How do you measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee, in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife?

Think about it.  2020 had more than its share of problems and there are a lot of ways we measure it.

How about in love?

Measure in love.