We went to see John Conlee sing last week, and it was a very good concert– at the age of 71 his voice is as strong and clear as it was forty years ago– but there was a strange interlude in the middle.
For some reason he quit singing songs and went into a sermon in support of the troops. He put a 5-gallon bucket at the center of the stage, and invited the audience to contribute to a veteran’s charity he had taken a shine to. One at a time grim-faced men and women, their eyes glaring and focused, strutted, their bodies lurching from side to side with each step, to the front to add their money to the pile. Several shook his hand.
Their intensity was unsettling.
The lady next to me noticed that I wasn’t cheering and applauding, and made a point of shouting and clapping even louder. She was clearly trying to make a point without actually confronting me.
I don’t think it’s healthy for a society to be as militarized as we have become.
I don’t see this ending well.
Because of Donald Trump’s rants, standing for the national anthem now feels more like an endorsement of his policies than an act of patriotism.
I always thought it was kind of weird to have a national song that is only sung prior to sporting events, a song so difficult to sing that even professionals have a hard time hitting the notes, a song that’s really just a lyrical version of the fight scene in Cool Hand Luke. I only stood up for it because the song seemed to mean something to the people around me, even if I didn’t quite get it myself.
But now I don’t feel like I can stand in good conscience.
Excerpted from Jacob Riis’ autobiography, The Making of an American, ©1901:
You bring up the people slowly to a reform programme, particularly when it costs money. They will pay for corruption with a growl, but seem to think that virtue ought always to be had for nothing. It makes the politicians’ game easy. They steal the money for improvements, and predict that reform will raise the tax-rate. When the prophecy comes true, they take the people back in their sheltering embrace with an “I told you so!” and the people nestle there repentant.
When the investment bankers manipulated the market for their personal gain, requiring a trillion dollars in bailout money to cover their losses, there was no real debate: the money was instantly available.
People are dying and going bankrupt from lack of affordable health care, but that, we are told, costs too much money.
Jacob Riis, buried more than a century ago, would not be surprised.
All of his books are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg, HERE.
(One question I am seldom asked is, “So, what are you reading these days?”)
Most statues are of forgotten men who fought forgotten battles in wars I read about in a book. They aren’t things I give a lot of thought to.
If it’s an especially nice statue, I might think to myself, “Hey- nice statue!” but I find it hard to invest much emotion into them– in no small part because of this:
by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
The first time the Klan came to our town, they were met with several hundred counter-protesters and people who just came to watch the show. They raged and shouted, and they all got their pictures in the paper. It was quite a ruckus.
But the second time they came, nobody much cared. They assembled on the courthouse steps, yelled for a little bit to empty streets, then scattered and went home.
They never came back a third time.
There are times when it’s important to stand up and be counted, times when it’s critical to make your voice heard, but there are other times when– almost counter-intuitively– the most powerful tool in your toolbox is apathy.