If we don’t know our history, we are destined to repeat it

I read this week from a UPI article that 60% of millennials and Gen-Zers are unaware that 6 million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust by the Nazis in World War II. I use the word “exterminated” as that is what the Nazis did by gassing Jews after they rounded them up. If the brashness of this statement offends – I apologize for the needed candor. It is meant to wake people up.

But, the Nazi genocide of Jews is among too many persecutions around the world and over time. The United States has had three persecutions of groups of people, two of which leading to many deaths. We should never forget these sad parts of our history or white-wash (word intentionally chosen) them away.

– European settlers of the US over time seized land from, killed many and moved Native Americans over the course of three centuries. Even today, Native Americans have to go out of their way to protect the rights granted when they were forced to move or areas dear to them were protected by law. It seems the pursuit of fossil fuel acquisition and transport usurps rights.

– Slavery of blacks in the US is well known and was the principal reason the Civil War was fought. Even the reason for the war was white-washed and taught as a battle for states’ rights in too many class rooms. This propaganda was to get poor whites to fight the battles of landowners to allow their richer neighbors to keep slaves. Slaves were treated and abused as property. Yet, after the reconstruction period was legislated away years later, an ugly era of Jim Crow laws began to suppress blacks and make/ keep them as second class citizens. I encourage you to read “To Kill a Mockingbird” or listen to Billie Holiday sing “Strange Fruit” about black bodies swinging in the trees regarding this hateful period.

– To protect them (and other Americans, as a stated reason), FDR ordered the encampment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. These folks and their families were taken from their jobs and homes and imprisoned in camps during the war. They were not killed, although maybe some were while trying to escape, yet their rights were taken away.

Outside of North America, USSR premier Josef Stalin rounded up and killed far more people as enemies of the state than Adolph Hitler ever did. Yet, it did not get the notoriety of Hitler’s heinous crimes of the holocaust. In the 1990s, Radovan Karadzic and the Bosnian Serb military commander, General Ratko Mladic, were among those indicted for genocide and other crimes against humanity as they captured and killed about 8,000 Bosniaks.

In 1994, a planned campaign of mass murder in Rwanda occurred over the course of some 100 days. The genocide was conceived by extremist elements of Rwanda’s majority Hutu population who planned to kill the minority Tutsi population and anyone who opposed those genocidal intentions.

More recently, in Iran the Sunnis felt left out of the largely Shia governing body in Iraq after Saddam Hussein was toppled. They made the mistake of inviting in Daesh to help them. Daesh conducted genocide against all who stood against them, with beheadings and terror, until they were contained.

Sadly, there is so much more. Often the conquering power or the group in power will suppress people in their own lands. The leaders of the Mongols, Romans, Spaniards, Greeks, Brits, Syrians, North Koreans, Russians, Chinese, etc. have put down dissidents or dissident groups or made them disappear. There is an old saying – winners write the history – so, written history may be kinder than oral history to the strong-arming

These sad events involve two themes – power and fear. The first theme is obvious. The second is an age old practice. Tell people to fear another group, tell them these groups are the reason for your disenfranchisement and the people will do what you tell them.

How do we avoid this? So-called leaders who tell us whom to fear, should be questioned. This is especially true if the voice is not one of reason or veracity. Fear is a lever to divide and conquer – we must guard against its wielders.

True story of a community health care provider 100 years ago

I have shared before stories about my maternal grandmother’s family. She grew up in southwest Georgia in a small community along with her thirteen siblings, with one passing at birth and another dying as a young adult. My grandmother shared that her Mama was the chief health provider in the community and would accompany the visiting doctor when he would make his rounds once a month.

The following two paragraphs were written by my third cousin based on interviews with his grandmother (a sister of my grandmother) and her brother who was the youngest of the surviving children. It is further evidence of their Mama’s health care role, using a very appropriate historical marker in one episode.

“There was a bad flu epidemic in 1918 and five of the children were in the bed with the flu at one time. People all around were dying, and my great uncle tells me he vividly remembers the hearse passing their home several times during this flu epidemic. The hearse was a glass enclosed carriage drawn by big white horses. My great grandmother was able to get her children well by using a home remedy of kerosene, turpentine and tallow. She made bibs, soaked them in the above mixture and placed them on the sick children. Also, they had cedar water buckets that were smaller at the top than bottom. They would fill the eight-to-ten- quart bucket with water and put a little fresh turpentine in it and drink it for colds.

Other home remedies included using the gland from a hog and placing it on the clothes line to dry out. When it dried, my great grandmother would boil the gland and remove the jell which was used for arthritis. She called this jell ‘pizzle grease.’ She did not understand or have the education to know why it worked, she only knew it did. Today this ‘pizzle grease’ is know as ACTH which is a polypeptide hormone of the anterior part of the pituitary gland that stimulates hormone production of the adrenal cortex and is used to treat arthritis.”

Let me add one more story that I have shared earlier. The youngest sibling noted above liked being a gymnast. When he was an adolescent, he was swinging his whole body over a single bar like the male gymnasts do. He fell and knocked out his front teeth. Mama asked him to sit down as she cleaned the teeth and boiled some water. Once boiled, she put a clean towel in the water and rinsed it with cold water. She said put this in your mouth as hot as you can stand it. This was to swell his gums. Once swollen, she jammed the cleaned teeth back into the gums and the teeth held.

These stories amaze me at her ingenuity and practicality. A couple of sidebars to this story, my great grandmother married when she was only fourteen, begetting fourteen children. My third cousin also writes the family survived the depression, as did many farmers, by growing their own crops, raising their own meat sources and making their own soaps. He noted they only bought sugar and coffee. They had no electricity using kerosene lamps and wood stoves (in a separate from the house kitchen). And, water was stored in two 66 2/3 gallon barrels they called Hogsheads, which sat in the covered walkway to the kitchen.

We should remember these stories when we complain the wi-fi is down or the power goes out. Please feel free to share your reactions and own stories in the comments.

When a heart is empty – words from conservative pundit David Brooks

I have shared before David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits. I read his columns and have read two of his books, “The Road to Character” and “The Social Animal.” I even went to hear him speak when he came to town, as he focused on remembering community and community gathering places. Monday’s editorial column by Brooks is called “When a heart is empty.”

Brooks highlights how an unfeeling, self-absorbed author named Emmanuel Carrere is forever altered by a crisis, when he loses his granddaughter to a horrible tsunami. Per Brooks, Carrere “develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others” and he writes about the change in “Lives Other Than My Own.”

Brooks uses this change to contrast it being “opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, ‘Rage’

Brooks goes on to say “Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives (the deceased soldiers he called ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’) – their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.

If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.

The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay COVID-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if he told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place…

It is moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people.”

There is more, but the gist of the piece can be gleaned from these quotes. Brooks said earlier this year, “Donald Trump does not have a sense of decency or empathy.” He reiterates this theme above. And, there is a line from one of my favorite political movies “The American President” with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. “Being president is entirely about character.”

The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.

Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.

Predicted and predictable

Nate Silver is the genius behind 538, one of the most accurate predictors of election results. 538 weights various polls based on their relative veracity. What his polls showed in 2016, after the late Comey announcement, that while the median favored Clinton winning, Trump could win within acceptable standard deviation. People focus too much on the median and not the range.

With this background, Silver said something of import recently, that many of us have said less succinctly. He said the COVID-19 contagions that are cropping in schools and colleges are both “predicted and predictable.”

When people get together without strict adherence to social distancing and mask wearing, exposure to COVID-19 will occur. And, the virus spreads exponentially, not arithmetically. This means when ten people get it, they infect ten more, who infect ten more…This is why the president was forewarned of the pandemic risk in January by US intelligence and why his misinformation and mishandling is so problematic.

Let me go further. If all people don’t wear masks, socially distance, wash hands and act with some common sense, COVID-19 will be with us much longer. I know we want to get back to normal, but managers, owners, deans, school executives, and elected officials must understand that corralling the virus cannot occur unless we all do our part. Even if a vaccine is created, a recent survey said only about 70% of Americans would take it.

This is why telling people the truth is so critical. Only then, will people follow instruction. And, sadly in the absence of truth tellers who must be supported not demeaned, conspiracy sources get listened to. As an example, measles had been eradicated in the US, until the anti-vaxxers spread their conspiracy information and now it is back.

Further, unless we have a president who tells the truth, we will not solve many problems. And, as an epidemiologist and historian said, telling the truth is mission one in dealing with a pandemic.

Three more local children shot by their own hand in one week in one city

I was about to write my own post about three tragic shootings in one city within one week. In my research, I found the attached report from a local TV station by Morgan Newell. It will give you a sense of the tragedies.

“After three children ‘accidentally’ shot themselves, community stresses gun safety – The three incidents happened within a week of each other. One was fatal.” by Morgan Newell on August 17, 2020

“CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – Deadly accidental shootings by children have increased 43 percent in March and April compared to the same two months for the last three years. That is according to gun safety group ‘Everytown for Gun Safety.’

Here in Charlotte, a two-year-old shot and killed himself with his father’s unsecured gun on Saturday.

Now, the community is stressing gun safety as more important than ever.

There have been three separate accidental shootings in Charlotte in less than a week. All by kids under eight years old and all used either unsecured or mishandled guns.

The one on Rodney Road happened Sunday. Alfredo Lopez, 18, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon. The child is expected to survive.

The Camp Greene shooting happened last Thursday.

The child, who police say was with his family visiting friends, is also expected to survive. Police charged Devonte Warren, 25, with failure to secure a firearm to protect a minor.

‘That right there was ridiculous,’ says one man living in the motel where the fatal shooting at Economy Inn happened.

He says he witnessed the commotion from Saturday’s shooting. He did not want to be identified but says the incident brought him to tears.

‘I was there. It was an accident. Set Antonio free,’ says one man, who claims he was in the room where the two-year-old shot himself.

He explains what happens, but he walked away before any more questions.

‘His kid found a gun himself, but nobody’s looking at that,’ he says.

‘The amount of guns that have somehow found their way in Charlotte. I don’t know how that’s happening,’ says Judith Brown, a community activist.

Judith Brown is constantly canvassing the Reagan Road area where the shooting happened. She did not know about this shooting, but she feels it is the same story she has seen in the last few months.

‘I’ve lived here for 10 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,’ she says. ‘Not having guns secure they shouldn’t even be loaded inside the house with a child.’

‘It makes you feel terrible particularly when you know they are so preventable,’ says Larry Hyatt, owners of Hyatt Gun and Coin.

According to the FBI, the agency ran 3.9 million background checks in June alone. Hyatt says safety does not stop once you are cleared.

‘You might have had your permit and your background check but where you store it is also your responsibility,’ Hyatt said. ‘If a child can get to it, they’re curious. You’re going to have an accident.’

Hyatt says the best protection is a lockbox. Even if a person wants the gun close by, he says there are ways to have access and safety. The two, Hyatt said, have to go hand in hand.

‘There’s no reason you should have a loaded gun for someone who shouldn’t have access,’ he said.

Some of the reasons Hyatt thought more people are buying guns are the pandemic and recent protests. He says people want the extra layer of protection.”

One person took offense that they arrested the owner of the gun saying it was an accident. Let me emphasize what others did in the article. It was an accident waiting to happen. To be blunt, a true accident is something unexpected happening. A child finding a loaded gun and it going off is an accident that is terribly tragic, but could have been avoided.

I have been a proponent of better gun governance in our country. There are several majority supported steps that could be taken to make us safer, without infringing on someone’s 2nd amendment rights. Yet, if people own guns, they must be hyper-vigilant in storing them away. Arresting someone who did not store a gun away that led to a child’s shooting is sadly needed to emphasize the vital importance of that responsibility.

When my children were little, they found a rifle in my father-in-law’s closet. I did not know he had one. When he told me it was loaded, I asked him to unload it when the kids were coming over. I was matter-of-fact and said we can not let them come if you do not. He, of course, did so.

God gave us a brain

God gave us a brain. Now why would he do that if he did not want us to use it? He also told us humans have dominion over the land and animals, so would it not be logical that a reason would be the brain he gave us? He would want us to use that brain to solve problems.

Like any parent, we want our children to learn to make their own decisions after we teach them right from wrong and lessons to keep them safe, healthy and prosperous. My guess is we would become annoyed if our children continued to ask us questions that they should know the answer to. And, yet we pray for miracles or guidance when we have the power in our hands or the hands of a skilled surgeon. Maybe the surgeon’s skill is the miracle for which we pray.

The minister John Pavlovitz writes a blog worth reading regardless of the relative faith you may possess. He breaks things down in simple terms. The attached link is a good example of his writing and guidance. I encourage you to take a few minutes to read this piece.

https://johnpavlovitz.com/2020/08/18/christians-opposing-science-is-opposing-god/

A recent immigration stance history

Our friend Jill wrote that Nebraska GOP State Senator John McCollister noted the majority of Republicans used to support Roe v Wade, but the party leadership decided in the late 1970s, it was an issue the party could use to peel off religious voters from Democrats. So, winning became more important than governance.

The change in stance reminds me of immigration, with both parties supporting humane and thoughtful immigration reform for decades. After the Gang of Eight (including GOP Senator Marco Rubio) helped the Senate pass a good bill on immigration in 2013, GOP Speaker John Boehner refused to have a vote even though some Republicans would have passed it with the Democrats. Party leadership felt it could be a winning divisive issue. What amazed me is when Rubio, two years later in his campaign for president, disowned his greatest legislative achievement.

This Boehner move led to DACA two years later, an executive order by Obama. Mind you, executive orders are a poor substitute for laws, regardless of who signs them. Scrolling forward to the “sh**hole country” comment day in the spring of 2018, Trump agreed to a deal with Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin of $25 billion for his wall in trade for DACA being made into law.

After the agreement was achieved in the morning, Senator Tom Cotton and others got in Trump’s ear and said immigration was still a divisive issue to help the election. So, by the afternoon, poor Graham and Durbin showed up for what they thought was a press conference to announce the deal. But, Trump backed away from his deal and uttered the quote above about not allowing immigrants from “sh**hole countries.” Setting this aside, picture how Graham and Durbin must have felt to have a negotiator turn on you after a deal was struck.

This is about winning elections not governance. A wedge issue to win votes, not govern. It should be noted, this one helped backfire on the Republicans when they lost the House majority that fall. Treating people like dirt when they are trying to escape danger and poverty is not a good answer to the question made into bracelets – WWJD?

Outside of his misinformation and mishandling of COVID-19, caging children away from their parents is probably the best metaphor for this presidency. Whether we let people enter, we should treat all people with dignity and respect, but especially children. Maybe we should put that on a billboard – The president who caged children.