Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Untying the Knots — Reagan is to Trump as Spielberg is to Tarantino

Reagan is to Trump
Spielberg is to Tarantino

by the High Priest of Prickly Bog


 But wait… hear me out before you dismiss the idea as a completely ludicrous postulation. I’m not saying that Reagan and Spielberg are similar in any other way than the way in which they relate to Trump and Tarantino (although I leave that for you to judge yourselves) but that something has happened in the American/human consciousness in the last thirty or so years, that has changed the way in which we discuss our problems.

It is an idea that popped into my head whilst watching “Amistad” directly after having seen bits of “The Hateful Eight” – a film I cannot seem to watch entirely in one piece as my hand keeps switching it off. It is a similar reaction I have when listening to Trump speaking, and episodes of Jerry Springer
or Howard Stern and, in fact, most all Tarantino movies after “Jackie Brown,” (which I surprisingly felt was a fairly decent bit of storytelling).

And yet, I always find myself compelled to understand the reasons behind the widespread appeal of pop-culture, even when (or should I say especially when) I find it personally repellent. And so, as a dedicated student of that which I find myself hating, I must wonder if it is indeed society I am seeking to understand… or myself. (Although those two things may be entirely enmeshed.)

To start off, let’s eliminate the argument as to whether any of them are personally intelligent or not. Whatever you (or I) think of what they have to offer, all four of these men are hugely successful. They are also all unique, and each one has achieved his success by going against conventional wisdom. Whether or not they are wise in a traditional way is probably less important, in this discussion, as the intelligence it takes to see clearly that winding silver line leading through the uncertainty, straight to the top of the heap. It is a pathway which seems to elude most of the rest of us comparative “thickos.”

However, we can (and probably should) make a judgment as to whether the message they proffer is intelligent, and if it is useful to the society as a whole; if it is something that needs to be questioned, or at least examined and fleshed out. Even if we agree with it, are we not duty bound to assure ourselves that it is true, wholly true, and completely true.

It is in this way that the similarities between these men start to formulate within my mind. It occurs to me that all of them have the ability to start off with an obvious simple truth at the beginning, and to convolute the discussion in such a way that the end result is not necessarily true anymore. We find
these truths to be self evident… but why are they self evident? What each of these men do is to exploit a tendency within the human mind to have arrived at a conclusion, and then to materialize the substance and the proof of that conclusion into a permanent reality in which we live, without questioning the foundations of the truth. We hardly ever remember where it was that we first learned those “truths,” and so it becomes even more convincing that they must be objective truths… or else why would we believe them? They are, self evident.

And yet a hundred years after the Founding Fathers had declared that it was “self evident that all men are created equal,” a civil war to end slavery had to be fought. It was what John Quincy Adams (as played by Anthony Hopkins in the Spielberg movie) predicts will be the final battle of the American Revolution. But was it really? Isn’t that ignoring the draconian future that was to come. The history, as we see it, of Jim Crow, mob lynchings, and cross burnings leading through the civil rights era… all the way to cops killing Eric Garner, and Trump followers punching blacks at political rallies.

Perhaps nothing is as “self evident” as it first seems. Perhaps a simple truth like , “slavery is bad” — requires more than us just saying it. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, “Why do we think it is bad?” and “What is so bad about it?” Is it the violence? Is it the lack of freedom? Is it that we incur the loss of cultural identity? Is it that children are brutalized so that generations to come will feel the negative effects? Is it that slavery is an extreme expression of capitalism without controls? Is it that it inevitably leads to poverty and ghettoism even centuries after it has ceased to exist? And then we could ask ourselves where else in our lives do these qualities also exist. Are some of these necessary in certain situations… violence, for example? How do we go about justifying certain elements of things we would otherwise revile.

The similarity I find in these four men, is that they each talk about things in a way that doesn’t sweat the details. That wants to “make America great again” or simply believes that America is and always has been great, without actually elucidating us at to what makes America great, and conversely what makes it less than so. We are constantly expected to keep up in the discussion by remembering that which is self evident. Nazis— bad,  World War Two— good.  Ku Klux Klan— bad,  black cowboy shooting people— good.  Mexican immigrants taking jobs from Americans— bad,  my ancestors as immigrants— good. Now I know most people reading this are saying, “But Nazis and the Ku Klux
Companies who worked with the Nazis
Klan ARE bad!”
And therefore anyone shooting them must be good, I presume.  
Well... I don’t necessarily disagree with you.

The problem is, when things are “self evident” we tend to not assess them or break them down into component parts. And it makes any response that we might have to them feel justified. It’s what you do! Hmmm… sounds a bit like a Geico commercial I’ve seen recently. “It’s what you do” locks us into a pattern of behaviour that is acceptable to our group. What do you do when you see a Nazi? Shoot him, of course! Or at the very least… hate him! In the ’30s in Germany, many people fell into the pattern of believing that Jews were bad people. They were involved in conspiracies to rob the country of all of its money. We would all starve because of them. So what do you believe is the right thing to do with them?

Now again, we are not concerned with what is true, or what is right or wrong here. We are simply talking about what people believe… and how their culture and it’s leaders/heroes present the problem, and therefore the solutions that spring out of that simplistic presentation. I am guessing that the strongest kick-back I will get is regarding Steven Spielberg. He is a cultural icon held in great esteem by many people I know. He is also politically liberal and therefore more relevant to the type of people who might read this. Many people have grown up influenced by his movies, and he is clearly an extremely talented manipulator of human emotion. But any serious examination of movies such as
“Amistad” or “Schindler's List” or “Saving Private Ryan” should be enough to confirm my assertion that his heavy handed depictions of obvious truths are without subtlety or balance. That he often bends the truth in order to get his point across. That he manipulates the emotional levels of our anger and our sadness, so that in our discombobulated state, we will accept a message which in fact has absolutely nothing to do with the reason for our emotions in the first place. We can see that his brilliant use of symbolism often obscures the reality behind what that symbolism was originally intended to represent. Symbolism can be a wonderful thing, just like ritual can be. But they can both be perverted when we are convinced that they are the truth and not just a metaphor for it.

Perhaps if my friends were of a more conservative nature I would get into more trouble because of my my assertions regarding Reagan and Trump — that they are  simplistic, but I think I’m fairly safe in criticizing Tarantino, despite his liberal leaning tendencies, as a lot of liberals think he is just not politically correct enough in his use of violence. But that is not necessarily the problem I have with him.

So what then makes me split the four into two distinct groups. Why is Spielberg like Reagan, and Trump like Tarantino? Well, this seems to me somethings that is dictated by the times we live in. Spielberg and Reagan are from the past. They are much more polite. They have managed to couch their simplistic belief systems in a mannered and graceful approach. They use charm, and heroism to convince us of their beliefs. They use the traditions of America that many of you have grown up with, deep-fried in re-used oil and served under a thick syrup of artificial and hokey sentimentality. Trump and Tarantino are more modern. They reject that method altogether. They are basically punk rock matured to its ultimate zenith. They hate drippy sentimentality. They will say or do pretty much anything to avoid it. They are products of what our culture has become, and will become even more in the future. They spout whatever comes into their minds — it doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not. We see them as somehow authentic for that very reason. They are uncensored, they are raw, and therefore they must be honest.

But of course the problem is that they are just as manipulated by tradition as those who follow it.
Quentin Tarantino
They are victims of their own reverse psychology. They are mirror images of what has come before. And we all know, that although a mirror image is the exact opposite of what it reflects… it looks almost exactly the same. It is no more truthful than that which it disdains. But — and this is important — it is also no less truthful.

Ultimately, I suppose, this is not a thesis upon the four names I have chosen to dissect. But what our society is all about. We do see movement… especially if we are older. I remember how disturbing the sixties were for my grandparents. There was a loss of certain genteel qualities which even I tend to bemoan these days. But we youngsters believed that our culture was going to gain by a greater freedom of expression. By greater authenticity and creativity. But what we did not do was scrutinize our own words. We did not examine what we thought we needed. We believed that truth was a simple understanding of that which is self evident.  And ultimately, despite surface changes, very little that is deeply wrong about our culture has changed much. And, if anything, I think we can can all feel safe believing that in the future very little will also change — unless we really want it to.

Somewhere along the next forty-five years it occurred to me that the answer does not lie in a battle between simplicity and complexity. Perhaps the basic truths of life are indeed simple. Happiness, peace, love, security. But their utilization in real life can be quite a complex game, although complexity doesn’t guarantee them either. 
Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr
The Catholic church has historically used incredibly complex dogma to prove whatever the hell they wanted you to believe. And so have most of our leaders throughout history. What we have here is simply an alteration in style, and the dogmatic substance remains pretty much what it has always been. Why even in Mr. Spielberg’s movie, “Amistad,” the President at the time, Martin Van Buren, is depicted as a half witted dunce who knows as little about statesmanship as our very own Donald Trump.
To wrap up, and in honor of Reagan, Spielberg, Tarantino and Trump, I therefore gratuitously quote French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” Possibly the most gratuitous and redundant saying of all times — the more it changes… the more it stays exactly the fucking same!

Peace out. And keep questioning everything.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Untying the knots—Black Lives Matter: Is this a racist term?

Black Lives Matter
by the High Priest of Prickly Bog


Is this a racist term?

Many people are claiming that the term “Black Lives Matter”
is a form of pro-black racism; that it consciously excludes whites
and therefore implies that white lives do not matter.

The response from “Black Lives Matter” supporters is that the statement addresses the fact that blacks lives have not seemed to matter to many in our racially biassed society, and therefore, to say “All Lives Matter” (or something similar which might be more inclusive of whites) does not convey the sentiment accurately. White lives – they state – in this society already matter, whereas black lives appear not to.

I myself have difficulty with the term, simply because it does seem to exclude anyone who isn’t “black.” And yet I support the sentiment wholeheartedly. Having been the victim of much racism during my childhood in London – I was called everything from “blacky” to “browny” to “gollywog”
to “nig-nog” and much worse – I decided at an early age that any kind of racism (or appearance of racism) was wrong, and therefore must be avoided — particularly when trying to correct the problem of racism.
I have tried to come up with alternative phrases that do not offend whites quite so much, but none quite work. “Even Black Lives Matter,” seems to further denigrate black people as if… yes, they matter… but not as much. “Black Lives Matter Too,” is a little less demeaning, but still carries some of the character of the former. So I shall leave that up to others to come up with something more suitable if it is absolutely necessary.
The issue I would like to address here is that, for me, the very idea of separating the races in this way, seems to be in itself a racist act. And “people of color,” all over the world, have been complicit with “white people” in continuing to reinforce this notion that we are divided into racial groups. The science of genetics has proven that there are no racial differences between humans. There is absolutely only one race, and we are all part of it.
One unfortunate commonality we share, is that we all seem to want to keep alive the idea of different races.

Now, on the face of it (if you’ll pardon the pun) anyone with a pair of eyes can see that there are no black people and no white people. There are only constantly varying shades of brown (or beige, if you prefer). And yet, in our ignorance we each draw this ridiculous line that anyone darker than a particular shade (depending on who is choosing) is somehow different from anyone who is lighter. It is an insane way of looking at humanity. And yet we all do it. How many comedians  (black or white) do you know who have made a living by comparing the differences between black people and white people. Personally, I’m starting to find that kind of humor rather tired and not particularly funny anymore. It was Dorothy Parker who said, “Wit is the truth; wisecracking is simply calisthenics with words.” 
It is simply not true that people behave differently because of their race.

Admittedly, people do behave differently because of culture or upbringing, but it seems almost incredible that in 2016 we have to be reminded that culture and race are two very different things.
It’s a widely noticed phenomenon in human behaviour, that when we stare at something, we are drawn towards it unconsciously. When we obsess upon a problem we are more likely to make the problem worse. We all know that when we pick at a wound… it will never heal. This does not in any way mean that we should ignore the problem, or try to repress it. That will also not make it go away.

There is, however, a balance to be found… as in all things in life.

In South Africa, after the fall of apartheid, they introduced a beautiful solution.
It was called “Truth and Reconciliation.” The idea behind this was that all sins would be forgiven if they were admitted to. (Very similar to the Christian idea of confession, and probably influenced strongly by Bishop Tutu.) No blame or punishment would be incurred for past acts, but an acknowledgement of the dark history of apartheid, and an airing of wrongs committed would facilitate in letting the country move on and allow change to begin.

Maybe something similar could be initiated in America and England that would allow us all to acknowledge our racists feeling about one another.

Perhaps we can all start to examine how we perpetuate a system of racism by constantly separating ourselves from each other. Maybe if we can keep on reminding ourselves that we’re not actually different from each other – no matter what our history tells us… we are all of the same family, as yet each one of us is different from every other one. I know — it’s an old cliché. But sometimes we all need a reminder.


Only one race — Human Race.
Only one love — yours and mine.
Only one disgrace — never to have loved each other.
Only one time — Now!


Friday, October 9, 2015

Untying the Knots — How Dumb Can You Get

How Dumb Can You Get?
by the High Priest of Prickly Bog

Here is a little rant against Muslims that I came across on the net. At first glance it seems quite clever, and quite damning of Islam. But I pondered it a little longer as I felt we needed a slightly more measured look at the subject, and at these criticisms as listed. 

I came up with the response that I have printed below.


Everyone seems to be wondering why Muslim terrorists are so quick to commit suicide. 
Lets have a look at the evidence: 

• No Christmas • No television • No nude women • No football • No pork chops • No hot dogs
 No burgers • No beer • No bacon • Rags for clothes • Towels for hats 
 Constant wailing from some idiot in a tower • More than one wife • More than one mother in law 
 You can't shave • You can't wash off the smell of donkey • You cook over burning camel shit 
 Your wife is picked by someone else for you • and your wife smells worse than your donkey.

Then they tell you that, "when you die, it all gets better!"

Well no shit Sherlock
It's not like it could get much worse.

They're not happy in Gaza. They're not happy in Egypt. They're not happy in Libya.They're not happy in Morocco. They're not happy in Iran. They're not happy in Iraq. They're not happy in Yemen. They're not happy in Afghanistan. They're not happy in Pakistan. They're not happy in Syria. They're not happy in Lebanon.


They're happy in Australia. They're happy in Canada. They're happy in England. They're happy in France. They're happy in Italy. They're happy in Germany. They're happy in Sweden. They're happy in the USA. They're happy in Norway. They're happy in Holland. They're happy in Denmark .

Basically, they're happy in every country that is not Muslim.
And unhappy in every country that is!

Not Islam. Not their leadership. Not themselves.


They want to change those countries to be like....

Excuse me, but I can't help wondering




Yes, it's all very funny, and I do agree that often orthodox religion can make

people miserable, but unfortunately it's not always quite as simple as that.

 Firstly, what is being said here is true of most orthodoxy, and not just Islam. Check out orthodox Christians, Jews, Hindus or whatever, and you will find the same levels of intolerance and misery. Particularly intolerance towards other religions. In fact Hindus have a very similar tradition of arranged marriages, and a very similar tradition of misogynistic behavior. I might even suspect that whoever wrote this diatribe is afflicted with a touch of that misogyny himself, judging by the inferences comparing one's wife to one's donkey, or nude women to pork chops and football.

Secondly, there's a huge assumption here that everybody in western countries is happy all the time. If you believe this, I'm afraid to have to burst your little bubble – but:

• Christmas is the time of year that has the highest suicide rate in America.

• Television doesn't make anyone truly happy. If anything commercials are designed to do the opposite. They make people want to buy things that they don't really need, by convincing them that they are unhappy without it.

• I don't think the availability of nude women in the West is a proven purveyor of happiness. Take a walk down any area in any big city where the men go to see nude women… in most cases I'm sure you will agree that these are not happy looking men. Apart from which the tolerance for open sexuality varies greatly in the West, from Holland, where it is quite liberally accepted, to the USA where it can be quite unacceptable depending upon which state you are in.

• Football and other sports do not foster an environment of happiness, they foster warlike aggression, and the creation of toxic chemicals such as adrenaline in the blood streams of the young males of our sadly unevolved species, which often spurs them on in the desire to risk their own lives and limbs by invading foreign countries and killing other young men who are much like themselves (despite the fact that they might be of the Islamic faith) in order to profit wealthy fat old men who become rich off the sacrifices of those who live in greater need within their own society.

• I'm not sure if pork chops, burgers, bacon and beer make one all that happy, but I am sure that the West (and particularly the USA) has the highest levels of heart disease and obesity in the world. But go ahead, enjoy that hot dog and whatever ground up animal lips, hair, cartilage and floor sweeping it contains, they won't kill you immediately, but the indigestible fat, and the carcinogenic colorings, preservatives and other chemical additives will get you eventually
… ah, happiness.

I could go on all day refuting these points, simply because they have not been very carefully thought out. This is often the case with racist and/or sexist rants. And this one seems to have elements of both. But let me simply add that western countries have attacked and invaded Islamic countries throughout history, many more times than the reverse.

Read your history of the Crusades before you elevate Christianity so far above the Islamic world.
Learn about the toppling of democratic regimes, in Iran for example, in 1953, by American and British secret services, which were the seeds of the Islamic revolution 17 years later.
Find out why western countries have had their troops in Iraq for a hundred years, or in Saudi Arabia.
You may discover that it is so that western people could have enough gasoline to run their huge gas guzzling SUVs, and live this life that is supposedly so much happier than the countries which have been plundered.
And these anti-racial, anti-religious attitudes are simply encouraged so that the populace will go along with whatever atrocities governments and corporations see fit to perpetrate.

But what is really dumb is that poor and working class people in the West can be manipulated so easily, by supposed patriotism and chauvinism, to hate people who are just like them in another country, or from another religion, whilst the rich get richer and control money and products globally.

This has been done by supporting despots and dictators all over the world…in Christian countries as well as Islamic countries. But those Islamic despots were not unhappy living in Egypt, or Iraq, or Iran… as long as they were getting money from the West, whilst their people lived in poverty and squalor.

Oh yes… those same ones we criticize for wearing rags on their heads and cooking on camel shit, who are in that position of poverty and ignorance because of the policies of the imperialistic West for more than a century

How dumb can you get – to blame the poor for their poverty?

Dumb enough, I suppose to not understand the historical reasons behind things.
Dumb enough to confuse issues in order to support an emotionally charged racist point of view.
Dumb enough to spout the same kind of vitriolic hate-speech that you accuse others of.
Dumb enough not to be able to take a nuanced viewpoint of complicated political undercurrents.

Yeah… that's pretty dumb!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Untying the Knots – Now, SHE... is a teacher!

by The High Priest of Prickly Bog

Here's a story I found posted on a friends page on Facebook. I felt it presented things in a somewhat simplistic manner. I believe children ought to be taught to questions their teachers and see the complexity and contradictions within that which at first sight seems so simple and straight forward.
Below it I have published my response.

In September of 2005, on the first day of school, Martha Cothren, a History teacher at Robinson High School in Little Rock , did something not to be forgotten. On the first day of school, with the permission of the school superintendent, the principal and the building supervisor, she removed all of the desks in her classroom. When the first period kids entered the room they discovered that there were no desks.
'Ms. Cothren, where are our desks?'
She replied, 'You can't have a desk until you tell me how you earn the right to sit at a desk.' They thought, 'Well, maybe it's our grades.' 'No,' she said. 'Maybe it's our behavior.' She told them, 'No, it's not even your behavior.'
And so, they came and went, the first period, second period, third period. Still no desks in the classroom. Kids called their parents to tell them what was happening and by early afternoon television news crews had started gathering at the school to report about this crazy teacher who had taken all the desks out of her room.
The final period of the day came and as the puzzled students found seats on the floor of the desk-less classroom. Martha Cothren said, 'Throughout the day no one has been able to tell me just what he or she has done to earn the right to sit at the desks that are ordinarily found in this classroom. Now I am going to tell you.'
At this point, Martha Cothren went over to the door of her classroom and opened it. Twenty-seven (27) U.S. Veterans, all in uniform, walked into that classroom, each one carrying a school desk. The Vets began placing the school desks in rows, and then they would walk over and stand alongside the wall. By the time the last soldier had set the final desk in place those kids started to understand, perhaps for the first time in their lives, just how the right to sit at those desks had been earned.
Martha said, 'You didn't earn the right to sit at these desks. These heroes did it for you. They placed the desks here for you. They went halfway around the world, giving up their education and interrupting their careers and families so you could have the freedom you have. Now, it's up to you to sit in them. It is your responsibility to learn, to be good students, to be good citizens. They paid the price so that you could have the freedom to get an education. Don't ever forget it.'
By the way, this is a true story. And this teacher was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars Teacher of the Year for the State of Arkansas in 2006. She is the daughter of a WWII POW.

Okay… so let's try to unpack what Martha Cothren is asking and/or saying.

I'm not sure I could have answered her question without first knowing what it was that she was driving at — so I would assume that the kids couldn't possibly have understood how she was expecting them to answer this question or, in fact, what the question was.

But then, her answer, at the end of the day, seems to contradict her initial question — how did you earn the right? According to her way of seeing things they didn't earn the right, they were given it by these soldiers… so her question was a trick one at best… and at worst it was totally confusing. I'm not sure what lesson they learned by having to wait all day for their desks. I mean, was she saying that they can only earn the right to sit at a desk by joining the military? Surely she can't mean that. They're just kids, after all. And if she's saying that: if not for these soldiers the kids wouldn't have the desks, I feel I must take issue with that assumption as it seems guided more by sentimentality and a romantic ideal of the patriotic and virtuous warrior, than a strict adherence to reason and reality.

With all due respect to the poor young men who went abroad and got their legs and arms blown off, or came back home with serious cases of PTSD, and for whom I have the greatest sympathy – might I add – but I'm not at all sure that a case can be made that without them these kids would not have their desks.

I don't think even the people who initially supported the invasion of Iraq, think that it was a useful war or one that protected America in any way. It was instigated by a cadre of hawks in the White House lying to the American public about WMDs which never materialized, and are widely accepted now to have never existed but in the minds of those who were seeking excuses for making huge sums of money for their corporate masters — Dick Cheney and Halliburton e.g… at whatever cost of death or injury to the young men of this country. At this point even the invasion of Afghanistan is seen by most historians to have created more trouble and more anti-American sentiment worldwide than any good that it might have done. However, the arms dealers and purveyors of military technology did very well by it, thank you very much. Perhaps it is they who should thank these young men for their sacrifice.

Certainly the Vietnam war is totally condemned by both the right and the left by now. At least since Robert McNamara, in his autobiography, admitted that he and LBJ simply made up the Gulf of Tonkin attack in order to get us into that war.

Ms. Cothren might say that WWII (in which her father was a POW) was a noble war, and I might agree. But would it have ever come to the American mainland and affected school children here? No way of knowing. Certainly many kids in Europe (or Hawaii) might have cause to thank the American G.I. of the time for their school desks, but perhaps not these young men, as they were not even a twinkle in their grandparents eyes at the time. And then again, I assume that the Japanese and the Germans also supply their school children with desks.

This leaves us with Granada? Panama? Hmmm… The anti communist Central/South American "domino theory" of the Reagan years never did come to pass, wherein hordes of Cubans and Russians come marching across the border "Red Dawn"style (presumably dragging illegal Mexican farm laborers in their wake) and take away our kids' school desks… despite how the movie showed it. Strange considering how many Latin American countries have gone socialist in the intervening years.

Now, as to whether every soldier is a hero…  is a debatable point. When I was a kid, every soldier didn't come back from war automatically a hero— just the ones who had done something heroic. Another huge generalization we often hear, is that everyone who signs up to serve in the military is brave and patriotic. There are probably an infinite number of reason as to why someone would want to join up. Putting oneself in danger is likely not a biggie — ask the proud mother of any young recruit. Of course many young men and women simply signed up for the U.S. Army National Guard (one weekend a month, 2 weeks a year —their recruiting slogan) and then ended up in the middle of the desert for 2 or 3 or even 4 tours. Not what they had been counting on! A high percentage of young people in the military come from very poor backgrounds, and join up simply because there are no other jobs available in their neighborhoods, and they are promised free college educations and other benefits. I have seen interviews with many of these kids who felt that the military tricked them into combat situations, and then never delivered on its promises.

I do feel that this country owes those boys a lot. I think anyone who has the slightest patriotism would insist that they be much better taken care of by the V.A. when they come home unable to fit into society, unable to get a job, because of physical or mental ailments which the average person cannot understand. But instead, they are kept waiting for treatment or therapy, sometimes for over a year before they can get to see a doctor or a hospital bed. The rate of recent veteran suicides is absolutely alarming, as compared with the general public. And many of them are still in their mid twenties — most of us were still kids at that age, and it is a difficult age to be forced to sort out such huge and insurmountable problems without help from this society. A society, indeed, which thought nothing about putting them in harm's way in the first place, so that a few billionaires could profit by manipulating our ignorance, our mistrust and fear of the dark skinned "heathen" we do not know.

Such is the way of the top one percent, that historically they have always manipulated the poor to act against their own benefits. It is not a new thing. It has always been so, and this is why I am always amazed that time and time again we fall for such fraudulent patriotism, and never learn to see through this trick of the rich and powerful. And we never learn to keep our young men safe at home where they belong. They do not need to be deified, these young warriors, they do not need to be romanticized and turned into heroes for the next generation to emulate. They need to be helped, and healed and nurtured back into a constructive and peaceful society. And we need to teach the school kids that war is an abomination which should only be entered into when all else has failed (the words of General Douglas MacArthur). It is not patriotic to help the rich get richer on the backs of the poor. The rich do not send their sons to the front by a very significant percentage.

Instead Martha Cothren might consider going into the temples of power and money, in Manhattan and Chicago and Houston and … wherever — and take her troop of young soldiers to remove the desks of the bankers, and money traders, and weapons builders, and oil barons, and clothing manufacturers… and ask them what gives them the right to plunder the worlds resources, to extract cheap labor from poverty stricken foreigners whilst depriving the workers at home from those same jobs, and only give them back when they have admitted it is our troops they need to thank, who travel the dangerous highways of the world, unwittingly furthering the cause – not necessarily of justice and freedom – but of capital.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Untying the Knots - At the Airport

Here's a story by my late friend, Hiram Blunt.

 At The Airport
by Hiram Blunt

A short story in three parts – approximately 5000 words


11th March 2011

"Look at that!" Bernie was addressing his fellow redcoat, Scott, who was much younger than Bernie, and had only held this job at Newark Airport for a couple of months.
"What?" The young man answered.
"That long haired asshole over there; the one with his feet up on the chair. Look at his attitude. Think they own the world... these guys. We ought to do something about that."
As far as Scott understood, the redcoat's job was to be of service to the traveller... supply information and such. Security was supposed to be taken care of by those other guys, the security guys... or the cops, whatever. He hated it when Bernie would start acting like he owned the airport.
"These young dopes ain't got no respect for other peoples property. It's aggressive, I'm telling ya. Somebody's gotta show him he can't get away with it," Bernie continued as he slowly made his way towards the seating area.
Scott didn't really want to get into any kind of an altercation with somebody who, after all, wasn't really bothering anyone, or harming the seats in any way– hell, they were made of plastic. And people get pissed off, sometimes, when you hold them to useless regulations, or tell them how to act, when all in all, it's really none of your business. But Bernie, who was supposed to be his mentor on this job, thought that everything in the universe was his business. Certainly everything at Terminal B was his business... he thought, anyway. "Twenty years I been working here, Scotty" he would tell Scott over and over again. Scott hated to be called Scotty. It sounded like some kind of a little black dog that your grandma would have, and faun over and feed off the table. He hated it when people feed their little dogs off the table, where humans are supposed to eat. Another thing Scott hated was when people would tell him the same thing over and over again a million times. He felt like telling Bernie, "I know, I know... twenty years you've been here... I know." But Bernie was moving through the aisles of seats in pursuit of his quarry, so Scott just followed along.
The funny thing was, when they reached the man who had his feet up on the seat, Bernie's whole attitude changed. But not until he'd already yelled out, "Hey buddy! You need to get your feet down off the furniture." Because when the man turned round to face them, it kind of made Bernie think about the whole thing a different way. You see, they'd only seen the back of him so far, and he did have long hair, which was mostly dark colored in the back. But in the front it was mostly grey, and even totally white in some areas. In fact, the man was probably around sixty or so. Either way he was much older than Bernie.
The man slowly, and painfully, lifted his feet off the seat using his hands to do it, as if his legs just wouldn't lift by themselves. He turned to look at the two redcoats with a wide smile on his well ripened features, and he spoke to them in a thoroughly British accent, which reminded Scott of, er... you know, that old guy in the movie "Troy," what's his name, oh yeah... Peter O'Toole.
"Oh, excuse me officer, I'm terribly sorry. I suppose I should have known better... but it's my arthritis."
Bernie was immediately taken aback at this turn of events. He never liked it when things didn't go the way he expected, or when his original assessment of people turned out to be wrong. Normally that would have made him even more belligerent. But Scott could see that it made him feel good to be called, "officer," and, although Bernie didn't really like foreigners very much, he held to that peculiar stereotype that many working class Americans have, which is the notion that all British people are smarter than them... and therefore somehow superior. The fact that this superior being was actually deferring to him in such an amicable way, almost made Bernie feel guilty for having bothered him. He felt like he had just met the Queen, and told her to get her ugly boots off the couch.
"You see," continued O'Toole, "my doctor suggested I keep my feet raised any time that I have to sit for a long while..." he examined his watch with a distressed look. "The plane I'm meeting has been delayed." He tossed a glance toward the arrivals monitor. "And it helps... " he gestured with his hands along his hamstrings "er... with pain, you see."
"Oh!" said Bernie, finally finding his voice. "I'm really sorry..."
"No, no, officer," the Englishman continued heroically, and in a pleasantly accommodating tone, "I absolutely understand. You were doing your duty, and one must do one's duty. I shall fully comply with the requirements of this establishment now that I have been so professionally and courteously apprised of them. You need not worry about me any further."
"Oh!" said Bernie again. "Well... I'm not sure what... er, hold on a minute."
He stepped back to where Scott was standing, and pulled him aside for a confidential summit. "You see, what we got here Scotty, is a guy on doctors orders. Now I'm not sure we have the authority to go against doctors orders. What do you think?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"Also," Bernie went on, "there's the issue of a lawsuit. This fella doesn't look like somebody you wanna screw around with. I mean, what if they blame us for his medical problems. What do you think?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"I think you're right," said Bernie, "I mean, he could be a Duke... or an Earl... we ought to let him put his feet anywhere he needs to put them. This gentleman clearly isn't bothering anyone... and the seats? Hell, they're made out of plastic, they'll be alright." He looked Scott square in the eyes. "So what you think... we agreed?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders.
"Alright then." Bernie went back to the Englishman, who was now fully engrossed in the novel he had been reading, and had his back turned, once more, to the two redcoats. "Er... excuse me sir..."
"Oh," the Englishman seem to cry out in surprised exasperation as he swung around to face them. "Don't tell me there is no reading allowed in this waiting room..."
"No, no, that's not it," said Bernie.
"...because I didn't want to flaunt any more rules. What must you think of me? Whatever it is, please... speak."
"No, sir... you don't understand, sir... I was just going to say that I think it'd be alright if you wanted to put your feet back on the seat... seeing as it's doctor's orders and all."
"Doctor's orders? My good man, my doctor doesn't order me to do anything. He merely suggested that if I..."
"Er, yeah... whatever sir... please feel free to raise your feet up on the chair if it'll help with the er... arthritis."
"Oh," said the Brit. "How awfully nice of you. But are you sure? I wouldn't want you to bend any rules just for me. I mean, I wouldn't want you to get into any trouble or anything."
"No sir, no trouble. It'll be fine. Now if you'd just like to get your legs up on the seat... here, let me help you..." and Bernie literally bent down and reached for the old guys legs, like he was about to lift them up on to the seat for him.
"Well I say," quoth O'Toole indignantly, pulling his legs out of reach of this intruder's grasp. "I think I can manage for myself."
At this point young Scott stepped up and tugged at Bernie's elbow, pulling him away from an almost certainly embarrassing potential situation. "I think he'll be alright now, Bern..."
Bernie stepped away and followed Scott back down the aisles of seats still speaking to the Englishman. "Whatever you like, sir. You can put 'em up... keep 'em down, er... whatever you like... sir." And then in a quieter tone he said to Scott, "don't call me Bern! You know I don't like to be called Bern. It's Bernie... or Bernard... thats what my mother called me. You know... like those big dogs they have in the mountains. But not Bern. D'you hear me, Scotty? Hey are you listening to me? Hey Scotty!"

Scott and Bernie each cast a glance over at the Englishman from time to time. At one point, he had got up and was talking to a woman with a small child who were seated nearby. He took a photo of them with her phone, which he promptly handed back to her before he resumed his seat. He had obviously decided to put his feet up on the seat again, and had been reading quietly for most of the half hour or so which had passed since his encounter with the two redcoats. Suddenly he raised his hands to signal the person he was waiting for. And there she was– coming down the walkway, waving excitedly back at him through the glass partition which separated the new arrivals from those who had already arrived– a rather attractive young woman, possibly in her late twenties or early thirties. She came up to the glass and made funny faces at him through it, seemingly unconcerned as to what other people might think.
"Must be his daughter," nodded Bernie.
"Whatever," said Scott.
But both men were rather surprised when the old gent seemed to hop up spryly from his perch, with little or no apparent regard for his own arthritis. Then– as the young woman skipped gaily towards the exit doors, pointing for him to meet her there, and pulling her noisy suitcase on wheels behind her like a harness trotter– the Englishman hurdled several rows of airport lobby seats as easily as if he were a champion thoroughbred at the Grand National. Where they met, she carelessly flung her luggage to the floor, causing quite an obstacle for other arrivals in her wake– a woman returning from Puerto Rico with a broken heart; a man from Argentina escaping prosecution for fraud— and she leapt up onto his body, encircling him with her thighs, and engaging him in a distinctly un-parental and rather passionate kiss.
Bernie was shocked, and his face turned a bright red in response to this display of physicality. He couldn't be sure if he had been tricked by this Englishman, or not. On the face of it, it seemed that the man had been deceptive in the presentation of his medical condition. But Bernie had already made a judgment about the man's character. Words like "nobility" and "class" were spiraling heraldically around his mind, and it was hard for poor Bernie to let go of those thoughts. And yet there was a conflict... if he were to believe what his eyes were telling him. There must be– he ruminated within the stark terror that his entire belief system might be collapsing in on him–some other explanation.
Eventually the Englishman put the young woman down. He helped her gather her luggage with one hand, and pulled out of his coat pocket, with the other, a set of keys to a well known brand of Italian sports car. These he twirled brazenly for her... and all others... to see, their prancing horse gyrating proudly on the fob.
As he escorted his lady friend past the place where Bernie and Scott were standing with their mouths agape, the Englishman stopped briefly and turned to address Bernie. He winked slyly at the redcoat and whispered to him, "You know old chap, when I'm with her... she makes me feel like a much younger man."

The Explanation

12th  March 2011

That night, as he walked past his son's bedroom and saw the boy there, playing with his toys on the floor, kneeling silently as he maneuvered them around unfamiliar situations in imaginary worlds, it occurred to Jerry that the boy showed little joy in his playing. It was always dark in the room... the boy preferred it... always, with the lights off, and just a sliver from the hallway cutting a line across the floor. Jerry wondered if the boy was having fun... it didn't seem so to him. He couldn't remember the boy ever having had fun... or smiling even. He must have done at some time— thought Jerry. But when? And with whom?
He stood there for a while watching. The boy was aware of his presence the entire time, and continued his passionless play in a restrained emotionless manner, hoping that eventually he would be left alone. Hesitantly, Jerry summoned up the courage and entered the boy's room after having tapped unconvincingly at the door, and clearing his throat in a formal gesture of interruption.
"Hello there boy," he said in a sweet tone, which made his son all the more more suspicious. "Er... how would you like to have a little... chat, er... with your– er... with me. Th-There's been some... there are some things I would like to talk to you about... I've been meaning to talk to you about... for quite some time, well... since you were born, anyway. Some questions, let us say. So er..." he flicked his eyebrows upwards, questioning, "so what do you think?"
The boy met his father's eyes for an instant, and then withdrew his gaze, immediately, to the floor where they resumed their pacing back and forth, side to side.
Jerry sat down on the bed. "For instance," he said, "er... are you happy?" The boy looked at him briefly not knowing what to say. "I mean..." his father continued, "this is what I have been told is important... for a young fellow like you. You are supposed to be happy. What do you think? So tell me."
The boy was still looking at the floor, so Jerry gently cupped his chin with a loving hand and brought his face upwards to answer the question. "So, are you happy?" He repeated.
"Yes!" Said the boy quickly.
"Good!" Jerry said in a loud tone contrived to express genuine pleasure. "Very good. Well. That's alright then." He got up off the bed as if to leave. The boy relaxed his shoulders a little.
"Because it is good for you to be happy... I, er.. try my best for you and your... mother..." he was almost out the door before he turned his head back inside the room. The boys head dropped another inch and he breathed in deeply. "Unfortunately, one cannot have everything... that, by the way, is a good lesson for you to learn... so that you will not be disappointed in life." He stood at the threshold, his rhythmic finger tapping at the door post sounded like a horse running. "So... well, one has to work... and thus one finds it difficult... I... I find it difficult to spend as much time with my fam... with your mother... and you."
Suddenly he turned and came back inside, squatting down in front of his son, "I would like to spend more time... perhaps we can, er... go to the zoo... or something... it's just... well, you know, money doesn't grow on trees. If I don't put in the full sixteen hours every day, driving people hither and yon... then... well, then we cannot have this house to live in. You know it was easier to make ends meet where we came from. Why did we ever come to this god forsaken New Jersey?" He seemed to stare off into the distance for a second, and then suddenly composed himself again. "No no, it is good we are here. It will be better for you. Anyway... what do you know of the old place? You are from here, born and bred American boy. You are happy here... you said so."
The boy twiddled his toy between thumb and forefinger. "I will provide everything you need, have no fear." Jerry mumbled, "even though your uncle has shown up now... from god knows where in South America, another mouth to feed... that's alright... family helps one another." He lowered his voice almost to a whisper now. "Huh! Bloody big shot, he thinks he is. Off to Buenos Aires to do some big business deals. You don't hear from him for five years, then suddenly... like a rat with his tail between his legs–" Jerry stopped when he heard the bathroom flushing and a door opening onto the hallway. After a few footsteps and the closing of another door, they were left with the sound of the toilet tank refilling as it reverberated throughout the house.
"No, no" he went on, "it is good that he is here. It's always good to have your family close by. And... he can help out now... if he wants me to feed him. He can drive the cab some times, and then I will have more time to go to the... zoo."
The boy looked up at his father with a momentary smile. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but a smile is a smile, and it cannot be taken back.
"Now, young fellow... do you know what I am going to do next?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"I am going to... well, you see I took this woman to the airport yesterday afternoon– because I was picking up your uncle anyway, and I thought I might as well not waste the drive out there... although, of course the way back I made no fare– but whatever... and she had her little boy with her. And they were making an awful racket in the back of the cab... but... but, they were having a good time with each other. And apparently all this racket making, makes people happy. This is what the woman told me... so how could I complain? America is a place where everyone must be happy, all the time... and I kept thinking that I wish that we... you and me... and your mother..." he thought about it for a second, "and, I suppose, your uncle too now... that I wish that we could be more happy, some times," he shrugged. "And when she was leaving the cab, her little boy was clinging all over her, and first, I thought to myself there must be something wrong with this child that he must cling to his mother so much... you for instance, are not such a clingy child... no, no, you are very well behaved, because we have taught you. But then I thought, maybe you don't need to behave so well, all the time. And sometimes a parent doesn't mind a little clinging. And I said to her— lady, you and your child have a very nice relationship going here... are you happy? She said she was very happy with her child and she couldn't imagine losing him. And I asked her— what is the secret to such a happy relationship. And you know what she told me?"
He looked the boy straight in the face, "can you guess?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"Go ahead, guess."
The boy shrugged and looked embarrassedly from side to side.
"Then I will tell you," his father responded. "She told me that the most important thing is for you to hug your child. Now I didn't know this. Did you know this?"
The boy shook his head, no.
"No, me neither. It's a new one on me," Jerry admitted. "I never tried that before, but I thought to myself— here is this woman... with her little boy, and they seem to be the proof of their own pudding... it certainly can't do any harm... so what say we try it?" He looked at the boy. "Eh? What do you think? Can an old daddy give his boy a hug... just to try?"
The boy shrugged.
"And if it doesn't make us happy, then we don't have to do it any more," his father assured him.
The boy shrugged.
Jerry opened his arms and embraced his son for the first time ever. At first the boy just seemed stiff, but after a few seconds he relaxed and began to hug back. Eventually the boy's embrace became stronger and stronger until he was squeezing his father with all his might. Jerry heard him start to sob a little, and he felt the boys tears upon his own cheek. Soon, his own tears began to flow, and the father and son just stood there in that darkened room, holding each other, frightened to ever let go.

The Old Photograph

11th March 2036

It was when I was visiting my mother in the hospital just before she died, I saw it there on the table beside her bed. Of course, I'd seen it a thousand times before, in the house where I grew up, but I was surprised that she had chosen this particular photograph to have beside her at this particular time. It was of my mother and myself, when I was about eight or nine I suppose. Her arms were wrapped around me as I was reclining onto her lap, a little too big to be sitting squarely on it... perhaps, but small enough to still want to.
I didn't know where the picture was taken, I had absolutely no memory of the event, but it seemed to be in a lobby of a hotel or a station somewhere. Daylight was streaming in through huge  windows and in the background, attendants in red jackets stood by, hoping that they would not be needed for any job requiring actual labor.
"Do you remember that day, Johnny?" my mother asked when she noticed me looking at the picture.
I shook my head in reply. "No... where was it? I don't remember it at all."
"It was only about twenty-five years ago," she prompted, as if this information would somehow suddenly invoke the memory for me. "It was at the airport... Newark. We were there to pick up your aunt Stella. Remember? She'd gone to Puerto Rico with that guy she met at the Italian restaurant in Hillsdale where she used to work. What was his name... what a loser he was. And they had a big fight. Remember?"
I did vaguely remember something about Aunt Stella running off with some guy, and then returning home prematurely. I think I remember my father mocking her for it. He never liked Aunt Stella.
"She called from Puerto Rico," my mother continued. "Awhh, she was so sad that it didn't work out. But I told her... what d'you expect? He was a loser. Don't waste tears on that one... I told her."
"So this was at the airport?" I was trying to get her back on the subject.
"Don't you remember, Johnny... that man who took the picture? He was a strange looking man... but nice, very nice. Do you remember what he said when he came up to us?"
"I don't remember, Ma."
"It was 'cause you were standing like that." She pointed at the photo. "That was the exact position you were in."
"I can see that, Ma. What about it?"
"Well... that's what he told me when he saw you like that. He came over... he was very polite and all, normally I wouldn't have talked to some old guy who I didn't know. But he had this accent... really polite, like— excuse me ma'am, he said... no, not ma'am... madam, he called me— excuse me madam... I hope you don't mind me talking to you... that's the way he said it— I wish I had a camera to take a photo of you and your son.
"Well, of course I had a camera... in the phone, you know like they all used to have... so I gave it to him. Although I thought it was kind of a strange thing to come up to somebody and say that— I wish I had a camera to take your picture.
"But then he explained why he said that. He told us that someone in his family had just sent him an old picture of himself and his mother, when he was a little boy about your age. And he was  standing just like that... in exactly that same position... in the picture... you know, when he was a little boy, with his mother holding him, just like I was holding you. And he said that he didn't remember when the picture was taken either... just like you. And he thought it was funny that just on the same day that he got that picture, he would see another little boy, you know– you... standing exactly the same way, with his mother– me."
My mother had this way of stating the obvious as if she had made some incredible discovery.  Perhaps for her it was.
"And he said wouldn't it be great if one day, when you're his age, you had the same picture to look at. And then he said that when you're his age, he would probably be 'gone'... you know, dead."
"Yeah Ma. I know what 'gone' means."
"I thought that was a little depressing, don't you? Specially, 'cause then he said we would probably all be 'gone,' meaning me too."
We both sat silently for a while. But then my mother sighed and continued with her story. "I suppose he was right... I mean how old was he anyway?" She laughed.
"I don't know, Ma. I don't remember him."
"Ha! He was about sixty or so. I don't wanna see you when you're sixty. That would be awfully depressing, I think... don't you? I mean... how old are you now, anyway Johnny?"
"Thirty-three Ma."
She pondered my answer and then replied, slowly at first. "Hmm... that's what I was when this picture was taken. That's old enough for a mother to see her child get to," she said. "I mean, who wants to see their kid going grey and losing their teeth and getting all old and wrinkled? That's not really your kid anymore, is it?" She frowned a little. "It's some old stranger.
"No Johnny," she reached her hand up to my face and caressed my cheek, "You're beautiful just like this. This is how I want to always see you."
I placed my hand upon her hand upon my cheek, and I held it there... firmly... and forever.

I made a copy of that photograph, and put it in a little silver frame which sits on top of her gravestone now. Soon the photo will be faded and washed away and no one who visits that place will be able to see what was once the picture within that frame. But I will have my copy, and when I am sixty... if I get to be sixty, I will take out that picture, and look at it, and I will remember those who are still here, and those who are forever gone.

Hiram Blunt Died on the 28th October 1987. His ghost, however still haunts me, and sometimes asks me to type up a short story or a novel for him. One of his novels, "The High Priest of Prickly Bog," has been published by BongoVista Publishing and is available at greatgodbongo.com