Monday, November 26, 2012


Well, it has been over a century and a half since it last came up in a meaningful way, which is to say, more than a few tax dodgers in places like rural Idaho.  So, I suppose it was bound to come back around at some point.  The movement to leave the Union of States seems to be gathering the most momentum in Texas.  Go figure, eh.  One Texan argues that Texas has an economy larger than that of Australia, and will, therefore, have no trouble going it on its own.  Some fellow is promising to run for governor in 2014 purely on a secessionist ticket; he's even changing his middle-name to 'secession'.  Wow.

As I read these reports of people who are so determined to break-up the United States, to fragment it into minor republics that each have their own issues to complain about, my mind drifts back to descriptions of Civil War battles.  An eye-witness account of the Corn Field, at the battle of Antietam, on the evening of September 17th, 1862, comes to mind.  A Union captain had to dismount his horse in order to carefully lead it through the carnage of corpses and wounded. He described stepping in puddles of blood. Thousands of men lay dead and dying, calling out to God, their mothers, and the din of these cries was undergirded by a general moan issuing from the throats of both Confederate and Union men who lay where they had fallen this day. It was the bloodiest single day in American history, still is.

A few hundred yards away, bodies were layered four deep in the soon to be called, "Bloody Lane", most of them Confederates who had died trying to stop a Union advance up the hill towards this sunken wagon road.  All these many decades and four generations later, the descriptions tear at my heart, rend my soul.  My great-grandfather was a Union drummer boy who witnessed Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg the next summer.  He described to my boyhood grandfather seeing a cannon-ball bounding across the field, whereupon a Yank put his foot out, thinking anything so easily visible could be stopped....and it took his leg off at the femur.

This stunning violence and suffering, on both sides went on and on, for four endless years. More than 220,000 Americans above the number who died in World War II were killed, a total of approximately 620.000, making it far and away the most devastating war in our nation's history. And, while conventional wisdom that is being passed along in high-school history classes mostly would have you believe the Civil War was fought over slavery, that was more of an 'add-on' to the primary issue which was whether the United States of America would remain united.

In the minds of the majority of southerners, the issue was 'states rights', which was a way of saying, "Y'all ain't gonna tell us what to do."  And, of course, that included the right to own other human beings.  Many a rebel private or corporal resented the fact that he was fighting 'a rich man's war'.  Desertion was a huge problem for the south as the war ground on.  Johnny Reb, in great numbers, no longer felt that suffering and dying so that 'Massa' could have his slaves was a bargain worth making.

As you drive around the south today, particularly Virginia, where by far the preponderance of battles were fought, you would never guess that this resentment existed back then.  In a humble roadside restaurant you are quite likely to see Civil War mementos for sale.  This includes everything from little cases with 'genuine battleground' bullets, complete with engraved rifling marks from some poor soldier's musket, made in the heat of a struggle to nicely framed portraits of southern saints, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, and of course, the saintliest of all, Robert E. Lee...."Massa Rob't" himself.

To a casual observer, it might seem that the Civil War, had ended favorably for the south, that issues once in doubt had been resolved, perhaps laid to rest for all time.  They, we now learn, apparently were not.  But, here's the deal: there are now over 310 million Americans.  Now they come in all colors and all faiths; back then, not so much.  'The deciders' were, and down through the generations have always been, 'Old White Men'.....until now. 

We are changing, in exactly the same way that we have been since our inception.  America is a work of art in progress.  It is also a masterpiece that relies on its resilience, our stunning ability to adapt to the challenges that face us.  And we will continue changing; it's a fact of life and a product of who we are in the world community.  Those souls who cannot accept this reality, who are so short-sighted and selfish as to suppose that things will be frozen in an old and now obsolete paradigm, should not think for even a second that the solution to their discontent is to dissolve a union for which hundreds of thousands have already died. That decision has already been made...and sealed in blood, lots of it. Nobody will break away and take land, and unwilling others, with them.  Never going to happen....not again.

If they are that dissatisfied with the direction America has chosen, the best and proper response is simply to leave.  You may recall the red-neck, faux patriotic, bumper-sticker that started showing up on the bumpers of mostly ratty pick-up trucks in the late 60s: "America Love It Or Leave It"

Well, there it is: if you cannot love our democracy and respect its process of self-determining democratic rule.........then GET THE HELL OUT!  And, leave us to continue this inspired and magnificent process of becoming our fullest potential, because that is exactly what is happening.

Monday, November 19, 2012

So, how did 'chicken' become a pejorative?

Last April, we decided that the time had come to finally put-up or shut-up, and get some chickens.  We had been talking about this for at least two years, and it just felt like a good time to move ahead with things.  So, we approached a friend, Linda, who is a farmer, and asked for some guidance.  A few weeks later we went to her farm and picked-up five 'Golden Comets', which, as it turns out, are a hybrid breed expressly bred for egg-laying.  They were 'pullets', immature hens, not yet laying, but more or less approaching adult size. 

We had, in the interim, built a chicken-coop inside our two-car garage, with an exit to an outside enclosure that would allow them to be outside and still not become food for all the critters who live in the woods behind our house.  That includes some  rather vociferous coyotes, sly foxes, very wide-stripped skunks, racoons, hawks, owls and other assorted denizens who would very much appreciate having a ready source of fresh chicken.  We also have fishers, which are members of the mustelid family, i.e. wolverines, badgers, mink, martins, weasels etc. and they would be the biggest threat of all.  So, alas, our new red birds would not be 'free range', but still have lots of outside time.

After a few weeks, the first small brown egg appeared, and then, in short order, all five hens started laying and the eggs grew in size.  Now, we get five a day, almost without fail, and they are what the grocery store would call, extra-large, for the most part.  All of this is no big deal really.  Tons of folks are now raising and keeping backyard chickens, to the point where one must consider it a kind of fad.  Even in cities people have taken up keeping chickens, on  roof-tops, in backyards, wherever they can.  Zoning boards are increasingly accepting that having a few chickens doesn't mean that you have suddenly taken up farming.

The surprise in all of this, for me, was  that I never expected our russet little beauties to be who they are: intelligent, curious, expressive, playful, easily bored, willing to connect with us on a level that most reserve for pets like dogs and cats.  I just did not expect chickens to have much going in the 'personality' department.  But, I was wrong. 

When either of us gets anywhere near the outside run, they all come piling outside and over to the nearest place to where we are.  There is a constant chatter of sounds, few of which could be called 'clucking'.  Most of their varied vocabulary is comprised of tiny little 'mewing' and chortling sounds. Yes, there is a wide variety of greater calls and sounds, some of which are so surprising that it makes us laugh when a hen gets wound up and on a noisy bender.  My favorite--and I haven't figured out what its meaning is yet--is a kind of ' bok, bok, bok, bok...BEGOK!!!", repeated many times over, until she runs it out and is done.  There are also the classic, 'cluck', and even something that sounds distinctly like 'purring', which we have witnessed when they are having a really grand time during a dust-bath.

Of course, the question arises as to whether or not 'pet' chickens will end-up on the dinner table when they have finally reached the end of their careers as layers.  For us, the answer is decidedly 'no'.  As soon as we brought these sweet birds home, my wife named them, after the 'Golden Girls' from long ago on the t-v, plus 'Violet' because our granddaughter loves purple.  I told Abby that I was never going to kill an animal of ours  that has a the deal is done.   They will be 'retired', fed, stroked and admired...but no heads will roll. 

In fact, just knowing them is tweaking my sensibilities towards becoming a vegetarian....never thought I'd say that.  But, then, I never thought I would meet such amazing chickens either. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Angry Americans

Well, we have survived another presidential election.  There were times when the avalanche of negative ads, in both directions, seemed almost intolerable, verging on overwhelming my sensibilities as a voter, as an American, and as a participant in democracy.  Finally, I had to resort to having the remote in my hand with my finger on the 'mute' button.  Alternatively, I limited myself to watching programs I had recorded....and felt a strange sense of smug satisfaction as I fast-forwarded through the visual collage of nay-sayers, finger waggers, pseudo-sad lamenters.....and good ol' LIARS.

I have to admit that while it appeared that Romney and Ryan had momentum and were becoming likely winners, I felt a palpable sense of dread.  Was it really possible that working class Americans could be snookered into thinking a true 1%er, vulture capitalist, and an Ayn Rand disciple were on their side?  But, far worse, for me at least, was the specter of having a pair of individuals leading our nation who seemed as comfortable with lies as they did with anything resembling factual truth. Some comedian pointed out that Romney and the entire GOP were waging war on the truth.  It would have been funnier if it weren't so scary.

Ah, but all that is behind us now, isn't it?  Mitt and Ann will go drown their sorrows in a beautiful swimming pool at one of their multi-million dollar homes.  His ego has suffered some serious bruises, but, then, he just needed to reach for the one thing in his life that was missing: ultimate power.  He craved being the most powerful man on the planet, as the president is so frequently referred to.  And, because he has the personality of a faux aristocrat (a fact of which we were reminded by his own gaffs at every turn in the road, i.e. the 47% tape and so many more), has character issues around at least telling the truth, he got his ass royally kicked.

Unfortunately, I am certain we haven't seen the last of Ryan, and his wolfish gaze.  The man really does remind me of the currently popular t-v show, "Grimm", in which characters morph into hidden archetypal 'beasts' of mythical origins.  Some say he looks like Eddie Munster, an allusion that perhaps only folks of my generation will recognize.  But, I think he's way too sinister for such a comparison.  In his eyes and his physiognomy as a whole, I see a hungry wolf, one who insisted that his congressional staff members read 'Atlas Shrugged', the novel by Ayn Rand who espoused self-interest and dominance over less capable or less aggressive souls.  I do not hear him saying that he's a representative of ordinary people, but rather that he's a champion of the 'haves'....and " sucks to be you", if you aren't one of them. He, like Romney, also is a big fan of saying whatever he feels will plead his case...whether or not it is true, or factual.  He lies his ass off.  And, I am not even sure he knows when he's doing it.

But, in the aftermath of the political season, one thing has become crystal-clear: we are a nation divided.  Some of us are liberals, or progressives--both terms used as epithets on Fox News--and some of us are conservatives.  And there is a vast reservoir of anger, even rage, that is hovering in our midst. Clearly,  because of losing the election in a surprise defeat that almost swept every so-called 'battleground state', a preponderance of that rage is residing with the right.  Some of what is being written on the web is so hateful, racist, venomous, and odious that it doesn't even bear repeating.  It is like sewage spewing from a broken sewer-main.....all over Main Street.  And, while apparently the people who are spewing, feel that it is their right to do so, some of it is even espousing assassination or violent overthrow of our government.....which is a felony, a fact they seem oblivious to.

Despite what these enraged spewers seem to think, Free Speech does have certain limits, and fomenting violent revolution or murdering our elected leaders is not a right or a privilege, it's just plain unacceptable.  They are perhaps a cocktail mixture of not caring what impact their words might have, and being so stupid that they really believe anything goes.

As a person who has studied and observed ethics in action for my entire adult life, I do not have a good feeling about what all of this portends.  When people are so invested in their own point of view, so absolutely certain that they are right and those who believe differently are wrong, it means the potential for compromise--any solution that requires accepting some give and take--is diminished, even impossible.  This means a situation where harmony, carrying on with life as a normal and positive undertaking, is also not possible.  Some people, in the wake of this election, are saying our country is dead.  This is a dramatic statement by any measure.  It is dramatic for it's stark negativity, and for its sheer stupidity....and for the complete absence of any faith that our democracy is flexible and resiliant, that it has durability and endurance.  It is perhaps the most un-patriotic statement I can imagine a person making. is BULLSHIT, pure and simple.

I don't know what it will take for Americans of all outlooks, all ethnic persuasions, all socio-economic levels to understand.....that sink or swim, WE ARE ALL IN THE SAME LIFE-BOAT. If we insist that in order to move forward, the 'other' guy has to surrender his or her sense of what is right for them, that one viewpoint, right of left, must entirely dominate how we conduct our nations affairs...then we are in a world of hurt.  This is self-interest and intellectual block-headedness on a level that will have a corrosive effect on all of us.

It seems worth noting that the burners under these enraged souls, are seemingly pleased to play an inflammatory role.  Whether it is Fox New (".....fair and balanced", yeah right!)  or MSNBC with equally biased commentators, pushing their views to an audience hungry for validation that what they believe is 'right' and what those 'others' believe is trash....the net result is the same.  We are living in a time when apparently it is more important to be 'right' than to be truthful or reasonable, and we are in a downward spiral of negativity--on both sides--that will not result in any kind of happy landing, for anybody.  Being in the same life-boat, means that hatred and venom is the enemy of BOTH SIDES.

If we are so busy punching holes in the bottom, in order to prove that the other side is 'wrong', the water will continue to rise....until we are all swimming in shark infested waters.

I steadfastly cling to my conviction that we are being asked to do better, to rise to the occasion and to avoid creating a disaster.......just to prove we're 'right'.  C'mon America!  I know you can do better than this.