Sunday, November 11, 2018

From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near


In 1969, I graduated from high school and went to University. In college, there was no threat to life and limb for me. It was a safe place to be.

Many of my high school buddies didn’t take that route; they joined, or were drafted into, the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard to defend our nation. At that time, defense of our nation—defense of our security and our ideals—was considered by most of our leaders to be directly related to the defeat of the Viet Minh and Viet Cong in  Vietnam.

While I went to college, many men and some women of my same age shipped out to the other side of the world to run the Viet Minh insurgents back into North Vietnam, and to the shut the Viet Cong  down.

The difficult mission that our national leaders had laid upon our soldiers over there was no easy task: dangerous, deadly and damn near impossible. About 54, 000 of our guys and gals who served and fought in Vietnam never came back, or they if they did return it was in a casket.

My college experience here, Stateside, was a walk in the park compared to what our armed forces were called to do in Vietnam and other theaters of war. What they did, however, was nothing new. Although in Vietnam we were strapped with a whole new set of warfare rules that few understood, and that was a major part of our problem.

But I am here today to say that: Our soldiers have been defending the USA—our freedoms and values—for two centuries.



From Valley Forge to Vietnam and Very Near, millions of our men and women have lived and died to defend us. We owe them—whether they served willingly, or were drafted—we owe them respect and gratitude for their willingness to be threatened and humiliated by the pains and dangers of war and the perilous requirements of maintaining government of the people, by the people and for the people.

From Valley Forge to  Vietnam to now. . . their brave service continues to this day: defending our shores, our borders, and helping other liberty-holding nations to maintain freedom from oppression.

While thousands of guys and gals of my generation were on duty in Vietnam, many of us back here at home were protesting and working to bring our people home, because . . . the longer that war dragged on, the more and more controversial it became. Finally, by 1975, we had shut the whole project down.

So our Vietnam veterans came home and got back into the routine of living in the good ole USA. For many, many of them, this was no walk in the park, no easy transition. PTSD was, and still is, rampant among them. And while we who did not go will never understand what they endured, we can still show our appreciation.

A few years ago, I reached a time of life in which I felt a need to somehow reconcile the controversy of Vietnam that our generation had endured. My literary working-out of this angst took the form of a novel, King of Soul, which I published in 2017.

On this Veterans’ Day, I share a brief excerpt that describes one little experience in the Vietnam War. I post it here today, so that those who were there and endured such tribulation—they will know that their bravery and sacrifice does not go unnoticed by us who did not serve.

For the sharpening of our collective memory of what the hell happened over there, I post the excerpt, which begins with a quote from a popular song that many of us singing here at home. from Chapter 19 of King of Soul:

. . .where have all the young men gone, gone to flowers everyone, when will they ever learn when will they ever learn? But on the other side of the world something very different was going down . . .

~~~

. . . the gunner for their platoon, and that day he was packing an M-60 machine gun. And now there was no doubt about the threat of those nearby

NVA. Sure as hell, there was no doubt any more about anything except: they were in a firefight. Time to fight, or die. Rob got the order to haul that M-60 down the hill to a certain position and open up on ‘em. He said all he could remember about that was that he put one foot in front of the other while scuffling down that hill dragging all that weight with him, and the infernal noise that was blasting out all around him. The adrenaline was pumping and he was stumbling through it, trying to keep himself and the gun upright until he could get to where he was going, or where he was supposed to be going, which he wasn’t yet sure of. It wasn’t just the machine gun he was packing, but also three ammo belts. I mean, it was a good damn thing that he had ‘em, because he was gonna need every last one of them rounds before it was all over with. Finally he got to where he was s’posed to be, rid himself of the ammo belts and heated up the M-60, aiming up at the ridge where the AK-47 flashes were poppin’ like deadly firecrackers, but a helluva lot louder. He said he felt like he was going crazy, but somehow the craziness itself was what drove him on to do what he needed to do. I mean, what else could a man do? He was just shootin’ the hell out of them NVA, or at least he hoped he was, because it was gonna be either us or them if he had anything to say about it.

For you guys who went over there and endured such as this, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Ypres, San Juan Hill, Gettysburg, Valley Forge, or  wherever you performed your duty for us . . .

Although we'll never understand what the hell you did over there, still . . .Thank you.

King of Soul

Friday, November 9, 2018

The two between-war Rhapsodies


The greater rhapsody is the American one.

Composed by George Gershwin and performed in 1924, Rhapsody in Blue embodies the merging of our native black-born jazz with highbrow classical European instrumentation.


The other great rhapsodic composition of that time, Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, created by the immigrant Sergei Rachmaninoff, represents a Russian music-master’s exploration of an Italian violin virtuoso’s experiments. It is also a great piece of music.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c33q87s03h4

Both rhapsodies are experimental, ground-breaking. Both are bouncy in their beginnings, disruptive in some transitional phrases. But both works resolve, rather suddenly, 2/3 of the way through development, to an exquisitely lush romantic theme.  The listener’s endurance in earlier discordant excursions through frantic forte poundings is unexpectedly rewarded with a sudden soothing melody. In both pieces, the earlier tensions disappear as they resolve,  melting into an absolutely beautiful melody.

And yet, both works return again to a frantic piano part before resolving again at the end.

Gershwin’s 1924 opus was intentionally concocted as a music experiment; it was commissioned by pioneering bandleader Paul Whiteman, and subsequently orchestrated by his jazzy arranger, Ferdie GrofĂ©.

It turned out to be an extraordinary work of profound importance in the history of music.

By the 20th century, the hundreds-of-years old tradition of European classical music had reached an impasse. Composers were running out of ideas; they needed to break new ground. A morose preoccupation with dissonance and atonality threatened to turn orchestral music into academic drudgery.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Sergei Rachmaninoff fled Bolshevik Russia in 1917; in so doing, he also began a long process of escaping the heavy gravitational pull of a Continental musical death wish.

Europe’s rapid descent into World War I and wide-scale mechanized destruction was tragic.

America, on the other hand, was wide open with possibilities. Sergei traveled here and performed more and more frequently, accompanied by popular acclaim; ultimately he acquired US citizenship shortly before his death in 1943.

Before finally establishing residency Stateside, he had spent significant time in Dresden, Germany, and in Switzerland. While in Switzerland during the summer of 1934, he composed Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini.

It’s a marvelous piece of work.

Taking his inspiration from the great Italian violin virtuoso of a hundred years before, Sergei spun Niccolo’s multiple variations into an energetic iteration of thoroughly European rhapsody.

It was quite well done. . . profound, a notable accomplishment.

But Sergei did not have the benefit of one powerful influence that George Gershwin had been born into: a wide-open America with an entirely new beat, and worldview:

Black America.

America had given birth to Louis Armstrong, and  Louie— along with his ground-breaking black compadres— gave birth to jazz.

American jazz is what the Old World had been waiting for—though nobody knew—to get a new lease on creative life:

all that Jazz!

Atlantic City NJ honky bandleader Paul Whiteman was the pioneering musician who crossed the jazz bridge  that changed the world; later, he commissioned George Gershwin to compose Rhapsody in Blue, because Paul knew that something symphonically jazzy was needed.

And so Gershwin came up with Rhapsody in Blue.  The rest is history.

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cH2PH0auTUU  

And that’s why I say the greatest rhapsody was the American one, the Blue one, written by an American, in America. It changed the world of  music forever.

 

King of Soul

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Shifting Sands Sublime


Beneath the appearance of things
behind the wonder that contemplation brings
there lies a universe of joy and pain
entrained upon whatever relics still remain
of a world colored by some eternal stain;
and wherever that stain remains
things are not and will never be the same
provoking some to surmise it’s just a game
that they can play and then refrain
from any effort to name
or explain.
And yet,
so many live for what they can get;
they allow no time to pause and let
life just happen along the way
so they can soon look back and say
what a joy it is to pause and stay
in the lingering light of a well-lived day
while the world just turns on come what may.
Oh, history breaks on sands far away
while here we enter into the fray;
we laugh or cry along the way
tomorrow and today,
I say, I say:
If I could comprehend this troubled world
so creative, yet destructively unfurled
I’d grasp the mystery, so sublime
that slaps between the sands of time
on this ever-shifting, long shoreline—
this consciousness of mine,
maybe it’s in or out of line
and maybe with a little sip of wine,
yes, I’d dream up some silly little rhyme,
and whether it be sublime and fine
or not worth a dime,
it nevertheless is mine,
and yet it can be thine
if you take the time.

King of Soul

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Never Again


From chapter 8 of Glass half-Full, we find Hilda, a restaurant-owner, telling some friends about an experience she had in Germany.

"Hitler and his thugs tried to take advantage of the situation; they launched a coup d'etat, called a putsch in German. But it failed, and they ended up getting arrested. The event has been named the beer hall putsch of 1923. Well, I was reading about these police officers who were killed by the Nazis that night. And I was reading in my guide book some information about the incident. I kept hearing this beautiful music, really spirited music. We walked in the direction of the music. We turned a corner...and there they were, five musicians playing five instruments: clarinet, violin, accordion, cello, a drummer. I could tell they were Jewish right away. I considered their courage: to stand there at the Odeonsplatz where the Nazis had made their first move to try and take over the world, and declare, with their music, that Jewish people, along with their music, were alive and well in the 21st century. They inspired me. We must have listened to them for an hour...the Bridge Ensemble."

This excerpt from my 2007 novel describes an event in the life of a fictional character named Hilda. While writing the book, I chose the occurrence to make a point about what happens in the history of our human race when hate-based groups take up arms against other people.

However, the event described here, although presented as a fictional event in a story, is in reality something that actually happened.

It happened to me. I was "Hilda." My son and I were in Munich in 2002 when the music reached my ears while I was reading a plaque about the four German policemen who had been killed during the first Nazi uprising in 1923.

It was a meaningful event in my life, so I made the experience part of a long story story that I later published in 2007. Glass half-Full is a novel about some characters in the Washington DC area; they're pretty good people, but some bad things happen to them.

Bad things happen. 

When bad things happen on a large scale, nations go to war against each other and all hell breaks loose for a while. When all hell breaks loose on a major scale--a continental level of magnitude and intensity--that is called "World War."

We of mankind have had two of them. We hope that we never have another. Don't we?

In both world wars, our nation, the United States of America, intervened on behalf of our Allies. In both wars, our presence and strength in the fray made a big difference, and we were victorious in both holocausts.

Holocausts is a word I use in the context of that last sentence, meaning  life sacrifices, by fire: lives being snuffed out by fire, or by other destructive means. In our post-World War II experience, the Holocaust generally refers to the mass-murder of six million Jewish Europeans under the murderous regime of the Nazis, led by the demonic Nazi dictator, Adolf Hitler.

Never again should there be a holocaust of such immensity. Our nation and our armed forces were a large part of extinguishing the fire of persecution that snuffed out the lives of millions of defenseless, innocent persons before and during the Second World War.


Now, when people refer to the proposition of making America "great again," this is--or should be--the meaning of the phrase, Make America Great Again.

That we have been, in times past, the defender of innocent people who are being slaughtered on a massive scale by hate-filled groups,--this is what made America great during World War II. And this is what, generally, does make America great in any present or future time. 

Great, yes, because we have--on a massive scale-- the resources and the collective will to serve as defenders of defenseless or innocent people anywhere in the world. 

Not because we appoint ourselves aggressors to impose our so-called American way of life on any other nation or people-group in this world. This is where we crossed the line, in my opinion, in Vietnam. What began as a war to defend the free people of South Vietnam against aggressive Viet Minh insurgents, degenerated instead, to become a war of aggression in which we raised a lot more hell and bloodletting than we could legitimately justify; in a quasi-primitive nation that had not yet progressed to a phase of development in which they could truly understand the difference between these two words: communism and capitalism.

And may that never happen again.

A year or two ago, I also wrote a sociological novel pertaining to our Vietnam ordeal, King of Soul.

Let us Americans never be the aggressors. We are defenders. What makes our nation great, if anything, is simply the massive scale of defense we are able to muster on behalf of free and innocent people, whether it's in Europe, Rwanda, the Middle East, or anywhere, including at home. May our great strength never corrupt us.

We are defenders not only in the military applications. We are-and should always be--defenders of the defenseless in matters of law. We are, according to our original founding codes, advocates for justice in all of our institutions: courts of law, legislative bodies, government agencies, immigration agencies, overseas aid, and administrative law from welfare to wall street. That is what makes America great. 

May we never stray from the preservation and extension of truth, justice, and yes, the American way.

And may we always be defenders of same.

Glass half-Full

Friday, October 26, 2018

From Digging to Digitizing


The history of mankind has consisted of humans pulling stuff out of the ground and reworking it to suit our own survival purposes.

As people became more and civilized, and organized, the underlying survival instinct took a back seat to other motivations—gathering surplus, tribal organizing, development of skills and trades, cooperation and competition. . . eventually industry,  government, education, business, recreation, sports, entertainment.

The progressive developments of all these human activities required something that was necessary and common to all of them:

Resources.

Stuff from the earth itself. Raw material. Basic stuff:

Water, dirt, plants, rocks, ores, animals, hides.

As civilization moved forward, these basics were refined by us— reconstructed, manufactured to fulfill the requirements of human development.


The list of basic stuff (above) was revised to include:

Drinks, processed foods, fertilizer, livestock, leather, pets, tools, machines, lumber, metals, trains, cars, planes, appliances, telephones, radios, televisions, computers.

Computers--aha! With these, human development embarked upon a new phase.

Information itself becomes as useful (or at least we think it is as useful. . .) as all the other stuff that we’re using to make the world a more convenient place since the beginnings. Knowledge itself has became a resource. Yeah, though I dare say it—a commodity.

So we notice that over the course of human progress we did move steadily from pulling stuff out of the ground, and reworking it so that we could improve our life, to—

Pulling information out of our data machines.

Like it or not, this is the outcome of human history. We have come to this. Now development is largely about retrieving and using data files to improve life or capitalize upon its developments.

In the same manner as we traditionally removed natural resources from the ground and turned it into our good stuff.

And bad stuff. Let’s not forget that part. Our progressive high-tech life now generates bad stuff. Pollutants, toxins, noxious substances and, of course, shit itself, which still happens every day on a very large scale. 

A consequence of our globally massive improvement project is that more and more persons are being driven into knowledge jobs.

Instead of all that plowing, digging, mining, constructing that we did all through history—more and more of us are typing, cataloging, programming, sitting at desks and watching computers do our so-called  work for us. Such activity (relatively, it is inactivity) becomes the order of the day for us as far into the future as many of us can see.

This digitized transformation of human development will bring us to some huge changes. I read an article about it this morning:

https://www.ips-journal.eu/regions/global/article/show/the-false-hero-called-digitalisation-3050/n

Seeing as how we now have entered the age of information retrieval slowly overtaking natural resources recovery. . . seeing as how we gaze collectively at what seems to be the setting sun of human physical toil, I offer a tribute to the noble enterprise of Human Labor.


This tribute I offer in the form of a song. Gordon Lightfoot wrote it years ago.

It is one of the best songs ever written about the glory of human labor. You may listen to the songwriter’s rendition here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXzauTuRG78 

I also offer my own rendition of Gordon’s “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, a song that I dearly love to sing.

Gordon's Railroad Trilogy

As you listen to both versions, imagine you are watching a sunset—the disappearing brightness of human labor accomplishment, being supplanted by a foggy dawn of. . . whatever is ahead for our collective endeavor.

King of Soul

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Et tu, Brussels?


Of course everybody who goes to Rome brings home mucho pictures. People travel there from all over the world to tour the originating sites of the ancient Empire; then they take a little chunk of early European history home, in the form of photographs.

When we were there, yes, we certainly did do the obligatory tourist ritual of snapping photos of the so-called Imperial City. You’ve probably seen classic images of the Roman ruins, which commemorate the Empire period of two thousand years ago.

But I was most fascinated with a relatively new structure there, Il Vittoriano.

Designed in 1885, inaugurated in 1911, and completed in 1925, this incredible monument makes an absolutely grandiose visual impression when you first catch sight of it.


You can see from this grand edifice that the Italians have never forsaken their proudly imperial self-image.

This morning, however, a Roman venue of a grittier sort—the Circus Maximus— was brought to my attention. In his Seeking Alpha post,

    https://seekingalpha.com/article/4213358-now-circus-maximus?isDirectRoadblock=false

Mark J. Grant used that  ancient racetrack as a metaphor for the  fiscal contest that is now heating up over in Europe.

Here’s what Mark wrote about the presently escalating Continental showdown:

“The new "Circus Maximus" will include all of the European Union and their population of 512 million people. Sit back and enjoy the grand spectacle as Italy has now presented its budget and the European Commission has sent it back. Rome then reacted to Brussels and stood steadfast on the banks of the Tiber and now the overmasters in Brussels and Berlin will hand down judgment, and likely some form of bureaucratic justice, that was not fashioned in Italy, but which Italy is expected to obey.”

The original Circus Maximus, however,  is just a dirt racetrack.

If you’re a boomer geezer like me, you may remember, from a classic race scene in the 1959 MGM movie, Ben Hur, Charlton Heston heroically outmaneuvering a less-than-honorable competing charioteer, to win the great chariot race.

 

That scene may or may not have taken place in the Circus Maximus of olden times.

The real Circus Maximus, where those famous chariot races usually took place, wasn’t conducted in the Colosseum. The actual site was really a huge dirt track, located near the Tiber River, beneath Palatine Hill, where Roman emperors and their hobnobbing hoodoo entourages could view the spectacle from an elevated, privileged position. Here’s what the real Circus Maximus looks like now:


Seeking Alpha blogger Mark J. Grant speculates figuratively on how the present European budgetary shootout at the Circus corral may turn out:

“The European Commission will likely wield the big stick. This is initiating its so-called 'Excessive Deficit Procedure.' This process has never been used before and will likely be tortuous for both Italy and the European Union. Fines have never been applied to any country, with previous breaches by France and Germany overlooked, and yet, there is always a first time.”

If Mark J Grant’s racetrack metaphor is indeed indicative of the present European Contest, we’ll see in the days ahead whether Italy’s impudent leaders can prevail in their fiscal rebellion, or whether they will go down with classic mutterings of “. . . et tu, Brussels?

Smoke

Friday, October 19, 2018

Change Is Gonna Come


Some wise person said a fish wouldn’t know (s)he was out of water until it actually happened. When the angler yanked the critter up the into air, the fish would immediately know that something had gone terribly wrong.

I think our situation in modern life is a little bit like that. In our present media-engulfed life, we humans are so totally immersed in electronic media that we would feel disoriented and panicky if we were suddenly jerked out of it—like a fish out of water.

Some might even suffer withdrawals.

Nowadays some social critics among us complain about the dumming-down effects of twitter and facebook, and all that other blahblah googlifief also-ran flimflam that’s floating around in the datafied air of 2018.

Back in the day, during the adolescent phases of my baby boomer generation, people romanticized about the fact that we were the first generation to get raised up with a tv in the living room and therefore a boob-tube mindset. Whoopdee doo that we had pop-culture and instant gratification on the brain instead of the traditional 1-2-3 and a-b-c worldview of previous generations. No wonder we fantasized that we could change the world. We were walking around in the first-ever TV-generated dream world.

Actually, some of us did change the world. Those guys who were mastering their calculus and fortran instead of doping up—they managed to hatch out a totally electronic data tsunami that has since commandeered our attention and maximized our compulsive fascination with constant entertainment distractions and rampant twitt-faced narcissism.

Along with some real information, of course. There's always both bad and good in any changes that are gonna come.

A  generation before us in the timeline, it was another set of emergent media wonders that were transforming the world of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. Our parents’ generation also grew up with a revolutionary media box in the living room and the dashboard—radio. They had Roosevelt’s fireside chats, Glenn Miller, Amos n’ Andy,  and Orson Wells’ terribly realistic radio depiction of us being invaded by extraterrestrial aliens.

But radio was no TV. Radio was about hearing. TV was like a whole new, artificial world of hearing AND seeing.

The rate of change, accelerating in the TV age, has exponentially accelerated and intensified with the coming of the electr(on)ic internet, 21st-century version.

A few years ago, I undertook a writing project to express some of the angst of the boomer generation that I grew up in.

Because I had graduated from high school and then entered college in 1969, my novel, King of Soul,  turned out to be mainly about the elephant-in-the-room issue of my g -generation's historical  era—the Vietnam war.

But that war was far from being the only issue that we Americans had to deal with.


In struggling to depict—and even to somehow reconcile—the great divide between them that went and us who did not go to Vietnam, I embarked on a research project to learn how the Vietnam war had started and how it escalated to become such an overarching generational crisis. My g-generation was torn apart because of what all took place over there as a result of our tragic illusion.  We thought we could, with our high-tech way of doing things, show a country of undeveloped farmers how to expel the communists.

We learned a very hard lesson. It was tragic, what happened. 

While the world had worked a certain way during the Big War, when we ran the Nazis back into their holes, something had sure as hell changed by the 1960’s.

The old tactics of massive military push against jungle guerrillas did not work.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the kids didn’t wanna have to go over there and do Lyndon’s dirty work.

The anti-war movement’s seemingly sudden organizational strength in 1967 was no mere happenstance. Those activists who devised a widespread effective resistance against the war had learned the hard facts of life from a previous protest movement—the Civil Rights movement.

It took a while for the anti-war movement to get its act together. But when they finally did, it was because of a hard lesson that had been learned by black folks down in dixie.

In the Freedom Summer of 1964, a widespread collection of honky activist youth suddenly showed up down in the Segregated South to help the black folk get organized for voting and organizing real societal change. There in the historical shadow of the old defeated, slave-slappin’ South, wide-eyed yankee students got a fierce reality check. Their rose-colored glasses were left broken on the blood-stained grounds of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, when they saw what violence and oppression the racist Establishment was inflicting on people of color.

Right here in Amerika, it was. Land of the free? and home of the brave!

A wake-up call it was. Based on what them wide-eyed college kids from up Nawth encountered when they got down here, they got a severe reality check. Stopping the war in Vietnam  would be no walk in the park. There was bad shit going down right here in the good ole USA, just like in the rice paddies of Vietnam.

If the peaceniks wanted to get us out of Vietnam, they would have to get organized, and maybe even pick up some heavier-duty tactics . . . civil disobedience.

Meanwhile, there were a few blacks who were doing alright. Sam Cooke was one of them.

During the early 1960’s, Sam was a very successful singer-songwriter. Most of his tunes were soulishly romantic and swingy. He had a knack of finding the best in everything he wrote about. With an admirable optimism that shone forth in all his song-work, Sam managed somehow to spread good will and positive attitude everywhere he went, in spite of all the tough changes that were going down.

Some may have thought Sam to be an uncle tom, because he didn’t get angry.

But Sam Cooke—even though he celebrated optimism and good attitude—was no uncle tom.

He was not a “house nigga.”

Here’s a song that expresses Sam’s feeling about the societal changes that he felt needed to happen in the USA in the mid-1960’s.  After his death in 1964, this composition was released posthumously on the B-side of a single record called Shake, and also on an album by the same name.

Here’s the tune, A Change Is Gonna Come:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4

And here’s my version:

Sam's Change Is Gonna Come

As we geezers have seen in our lifetime, change did indeed come.

But some things will remain the same.

Here’s a truth that always remains: Change is gonna come, like it or not.

When it does, may the change be with you, and . . . may you be with the change, if it is good.

If it’s not good, go listen to some of Sam’s old hit songs and get an attitude adjustment. Maybe you can learn to deal with it as he did—with a good attitude.

King of Soul