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Hope and Certainty

GC Myers- Hope and CertaintyHope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Vaclav Havel
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Above is a new painting, a 9″ by 12″ canvas, that I am calling Hope and Certainty.  From the moment it was complete I thought of the meaning of this piece in terms of a hopeful look forward.  It was not necessarily optimistic but was simply looking ahead to see a future, even one that was darker and more ominous than the desire contained in the hope.

And this hope was in the certainty that time would heal the open wounds that were with us in the present time.

And that made sense but still didn’t comfort me in the way such a piece or thought might have in the past.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on why this was, why I was still feeling unease and uncertain.

Then I came across the words above from Vaclav Havel, the late Czech president/writer/philosopher/dissident.  It explained this piece and it explained so well the anger of the people in this country and around the world who stand in opposition to [he-who-will-not-be-named-here].  His ascent and the way he has shown how he plans to rule thus far do not make sense, it challenges all that we know to be right and real.

His is a world of alternative facts.

And that takes away all possibility of sense. And with it goes certainty.

We live by rhythms and patterns that have been written into our DNA.  We know that the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. That the dark of night will be replaced by the light of day. That the cold of winter will soon give way to the warmth of spring.  That fire is hot and ice is cold. And for the most part, we know that right is good and wrong is bad.

But in a world that challenges the reality of every word in every moment, where falsehoods and lies are expected and accepted, is there is no certainty and thus no sense.

Hope flounders without sense and certainty.  It becomes anger.

So what I am seeing in this painting is the Red Tree trying to find sense, trying to see a pattern or rhythm in the future that lays before it that has hope and certainty.

Now it makes makes sense and I can move into it more easily.

And that is a small victory.

The Unwelcome Guest

GC Myers- The Unwelcome Guest 2017Well, wasn’t that a day yesterday?

Unpresidented.

Actually, every day forward is unpresidented. And yes, I know the difference between the two homophones.

I believe I am using the correct one in this case.

In what may have been the worst first day for any presidency, the Faux One spoke at the CIA where he bragged about his victory, said that we may get another chance to take the Iraqi’s oil and trashed the press for showing photos and figure from his inauguration that didn’t jibe with the alternate reality spinning around in that bigly orange dome.

He then sent his press secretary Sean Spicer out for his first press briefing at the White House.  Spicer kind of looks like the Frank Burns character from the classic M.A.S.H. television series and has what appears to be about the same pettiness, intellect and temperament.  He is thin lipped and thin-skinned.

Spicer came out and attacked the press for its reporting on the size of the inauguration, angrily stating the obvious untruth, “This was the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe.”  He gave some misleading and simply wrong figures from the Washington Metro to prove his case.

He personally estimated the crowd at the inauguration to be between 1 and 1.5 million.  I am guessing he wouldn’t be able to get a job guessing weights at the carnival with those keen observation skills. You can read a good article on the known facts of the inauguration in this article from The Atlantic.

Taking no questions, he huffed off the podium.  Again, think Frank Burns stomping out of the Swamp.

Beginning your tenure in that position with provable falsehoods is not an auspicious start.  And there was not a mention from the Faux One or Spicer on the large and peaceful demonstrations against his stated policies taking place within a stone’s throw of the White House as well as across the country and around the world.  Instead of acknowledging the protest and trying to reach out, they instead chose to whine and lie about something so inconsequential as the crowd size for the inauguration in their first day on the job.

Whine and Lie– it’s the new modus operandi.  Either get used to it or support and encourage a free and open press. Yell down every lie ( that’s apparently going to be a full-time job!) and stay engaged.  The unity, good will and energy from yesterday’s demonstrations is worth nothing if it is not continued forward day by day, week by week and month by month until change is truly at hand.

Okay, this week’s Sunday morning musical selection is from one of my favorite albums, Mermaid Avenue. It consists of the unrecorded lyrics of Woody Guthrie as translated though the music of Wilco and Billy Bragg.  This particular song is titled The Unwelcome Guest.  For me, that title could refer to the Faux One taking his place in the Oval Office.  But in the song it refers to a Robin Hood sort of character who travels the world on horseback stealing from the rich to give to the poor.  The rich refer to him as the the Unwelcome Guest and he knows that they will kill him one day.  But he knows that there are many other brave folks willing to take up his mantle and continue his quest.

Yes, they’ll catch me napping one day
and they’ll kill me
And then I’ll be gone but that won´t be my end
For my guns and my saddle will always be filled
By unwelcome travellers and other brave men

And they’ll take the money and spread it out equal
Just like the Bible and the prophets suggest
But the man that go riding to help these poor workers
The rich will cut down like an unwelcome guest

Have a good day. Stay engaged, be vigilant and speak up when faced with lies or hatred.

On the Anvil

anvil-and-hammerLast night I heard journalist/historian Jon Meacham say in reference to [he-who-shall-not-be-named-here] that character is destiny.”

He pointed out that in his studies of past presidencies, ascending to the office of president only magnified the man’s character already in place.  At the end of their term, the person leaving the office is at their core the same person who entered.

It is not a comforting thought.

Not comforting when you consider the inaugural address he gave, one that George Will (the epitome of conservatism and not liberal in any sense of the word) called most dreadful inaugural address in history.  It so mirrored the inherent dishonesty of his character that the Washington Post actually felt compelled to fact-check it.  It was, as with everything he says,  filled with falsehoods and fear-instilling hyperbole and devoid of all sense of hope or unifying grace.

I’m glad I didn’t watch a single minute of this dark day in our history.

I will not legitimize this faux presidency.

This may offend some people.  Well, most of these same people decided with this election that what they believed was greater than the truth, that facts no longer mattered.

So, in keeping with that rule, while his presidency may exist, I do not believe it to be legitimate.

Unlike [he-who-shall-not-be-named-here] I am willing to take responsibility for my words and actions.  If by some miracle, he changes his stated course and works tirelessly for the good and rights of all Americans, I will admit my mistake.  Gladly.

But given the thought that character is destiny, I don’t think you’ll be hearing my apology any time soon.

Cheri asked me earlier in the week if I was going to be watching the inauguration.  I told her that I would rather place a body part on an anvil and play the Anvil Chorus on it with an 8 pound hammer.  I am not saying what body part to which I was referring.

I could have meant my hand. Get your mind out of the gutter!

To illustrate my point here’s a clip from The Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles as they perform the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore.

 

 

john-dean-time-1973-cover

Time Magazine Cover 1973

In Trump, Dean says he has observed many of his former boss’s most dangerous traits—obsessive vengefulness, reflexive dishonesty, all-consuming ambition—but none of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.

–McKay Coppins, The Atlantic interview with John Dean, January 17, 2017

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Think about that– all of Nixon’s worst traits without any of his redeeming qualities.

Without any of Nixon’s redeeming qualities.

That’s from an interesting article I read online yesterday from The Atlantic.  It was an interview with John Dean, best known for being the White House Counsel for Richard Nixon during the early 1970’s Watergate period.  He was called the master manipulator of the Watergate break-in and  cover up and spent only a short sentence in Federal custody in exchange for his testimony against Nixon.

He is a man who knows corruption and abuse of power from a unique perspective. So, his words on the prospects for the next four years with [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] gave me pause this morning.

I found it very unsettling and confirming of many things that I have been thinking on my own. Best summed up in one line: He is not only convinced that [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] will be worse than Nixon in virtually every way—he thinks he’ll probably get away with it.

We are looking at an authoritarian personality with basically no checks and balances on his every whim, a realization that will fully come into perspective once he enters the White House.  There is nothing to stand against him– only an inept and weak-willed House and Senate filled with people who would be better described as entrepreneurs than statesmen.  By that I mean they are more interested in serving their own short term self interests than the long term betterment of the nation.  More concerned with their own finances and maintaining their status than with concepts such as justice, rightness or ethics. They offer little, if any, resistance to a like-minded entity.

Plus, the effectiveness and power of the press has been marginalized, cut into narrower and narrower slivers of influence and constantly berated and belittled. There is no small group of trusted news organizations that can fully keep the nation’s eye focused on the work– good or bad– being done in its name.

Add to this a public that has lost all sense of shame and the ability to be shocked.  We accept and even expect the worst behavior from our fellow humans.  The behavior of [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] in his life prior to and during the presidential campaign, as well as his time as the president-elect, have been a sideshow of human awfulness.  It has been filled with outright lies, provocations and the boorish of a sore winner .

His is a character which knows no shame, has no self control and is ultra-vindictive, needing to respond to every perceived slight. One that has never shown empathy nor displayed any selflessness.  He has always denied responsibility for his words and actions, choosing every time to find someone else on who he can place blame.  He cannot tolerate any opposition– you are either with him fully or his enemy. Hardly the uniting force we need.

You know, I can’t think of a single trait in his character that I find admirable or would advise a child to emulate.

Yet, his actions and character is overlooked, accepted and even embraced by a great many people, some who claim to be people of faith.

He is now the face, the voice and the definition of our nation.

And of our collective shame.
When you put these things together– a borderline personality with no checks on his power, an ineffectual press and an uncaring public — it leads to one thing– an authoritarian state.

I didn’t say Fascist or Nazi. We haven’t taken that path. Yet. But we have all the earmarks of an authoritarian governance, one that look democratic in nature and has a facade of freedom.  Remember, Russia is considered a democratic nation but no one considers it anything more than an authoritarian state.  And an authoritarian state faced with circumstances beyond its control, say a terrorist attack here in this country, can spiral into other darker forms pretty quickly.

And [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] has an authoritarian personality, much like Nixon but without any sense of shame. As  noted in the article:

“I used to have one-on-one conversations with [Nixon] where I’d see him checking his more authoritarian tendencies,” Dean recalled. “He’d say, ‘This is something I can’t say out loud…’ or, ‘That is something the president can’t do.’” To Dean, these moments suggested a functioning sense of shame in Nixon, something he was forced to wrestle with in his quest for power. [He-who-will-not-be-named-here], by contrast, appears to Dean unmolested by any such struggle.

Dean also sees an extreme that is cause for concern in this upcoming president: “I don’t think Richard Nixon even comes close to the level of corruption we already know about [he-who-will-not-be-named-here].”

The final two paragraphs are not much more encouraging:

Add to all this the realities of the current political landscape, and Dean says [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] will almost certainly weather whatever storms he faces during his presidency. “Unless [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] is a such a disaster that the public rises up and changes control of Congress in the mid-term elections, he is very safe.”

Dean is less sure, however, of how the republic will look at the end of a [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] presidency. “By nature, I am an optimist,” he told me. “But [he-who-will-not-be-named-here] as president is going to be about surviving disaster.”

We all never thought this could happen.  The majority of us thought our collective logic would take care of such a prospect.  But we were dead wrong.  We think that the idea of justice and the constitutional checks on the power of the presidency will prevail over rash actions that might happen in the near future.  But there is no assurance of that in this climate.  Our hope, as Dean points out, is in taking back a measure of power in 2018 via the mid-term elections to create a check on his power. And working onward from there.

It ain’t gonna be easy, folks.  Once a critter like that gets hold of something to their liking, they don’t want to let go. It’s going to be a fight so we must learn to relish the battle and be relentless.

Round One begins today. So buckle up, put in your mouth guard and let the good times roll.

Hard Freedom

GC Myers- Real FreedomI am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.

Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966

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How do you define freedom?

It’s a word that’s thrown around and owned by groups of every political persuasion and we as a people like to sing out the claim that we are the land of the free.  But what is it?

Is it simply the freedom to speak our opinions or move freely?  Or is it a freedom to live in a manner that we choose?

It’s a hard and multi-faceted question.  Probably more than I should be biting off here since, to start with, I don’t know that I can even define the reality of the word.  I mean, is it even a real thing or merely an accepted illusion, something that sounds pretty good in theory but never really becomes real?

At the end of the day, I do think that any definition we give is based on our own personal preferences, our own need to rationalize our life choices and still feel pretty good after all is said and done.  We choose our freedom.

There’s a lot more to be said about this subject.  In fact, I’ve written many more paragraphs that won’t show up here today just because I couldn’t decide which direction to take my thoughts. But I wanted to at least broach the subject to talk about it in the context of the new painting at the top of this page, a 12″ by 12″ canvas that I call Hard Freedom.

In this piece, I see freedom as a hard choice, one that requires a willingness to step away from group thought and definition. It is built on hard decisions to reject anything that wants to impinge on the sovereignty of your freedom.  As a result, it can be an isolating thing, one that requires constant vigilance to insure the protection of that freedom.  In this freedom, the price that is paid is in being ultimately responsible for every decision made.

Real freedom has very few safety nets and can be a scary thing.  I am sure a lot of you seeing this island might think of it not as a place of freedom but more like a prison.

And that’s okay.  My freedom is most likely not the same as your freedom.

As I said, this subject has a lot of places to take us and maybe in the days ahead we can search these places.  For this morning, I will leave you with these scrambled half-thoughts along with the painting at the top and the words of Robert Heinlein.

And a question: What does your freedom look like?

I picked up a copy of The True Believer by Eric Hoffer several years ago.  First published in 1951, it contains thoughts from the self-taught philosopher on the nature of fanaticism and mass movements, from the early Christians up through the world altering political movements of the first half of the 20th century such as Communism, Nationalism and Fascism. With the election of he-who-will-not-be named, this book has come back into the public discussion and I have seen it cited in a number of articles.  It’s finally next up on my reading list.

Hoffer (1898-1983) was a self-taught thinker with a knack for seeing the tides and patterns that swirl beneath the surface of history.  He was also a working man with a natural distrust for bosses and those who hold power over others.  We could use him today. A most fascinating guy.

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Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many.  Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance and suspicion are the fruits of weakness.

Eric Hoffer  ( The Ordeal of Courage  1963)

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I read the above quote and was captivated by the idea behind it and tried to fit its content into what I observe.  There was a certain resonance and I wanted to know more about its writer, Eric Hoffer.  I am ashamed to say I knew nothing of his life or his work, this man who died in 1983 known as the Longshoreman Philosopher.  But thanks to the internet, there is a wide array of available resources including several sites who focus solely on the work of Hoffer.  Below is the short bio from the website of The Eric Hoffer Project:

Former migratory worker and longshoreman, Eric Hoffer burst on the scene in 1951 with his irreplaceable tome, The True Believer, and assured his place among the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. Nine books later, Hoffer remains a vital figure with his cogent insights to the nature of mass movements and the essence of humankind.

Of his early life, Hoffer has written: “I had no schooling. I was practically blind up to the age of fifteen. When my eyesight came back, I was seized with an enormous hunger for the printed word. I read indiscriminately everything within reach—English and German.

“When my father (a cabinetmaker) died, I realized that I would have to fend for myself. I knew several things: One, that I didn’t want to work in a factory; two, that I couldn’t stand being dependent on the good graces of a boss; three, that I was going to stay poor; four, that I had to get out of New York. Logic told me that California was the poor man’s country.”

Through ten years as a migratory worker and as a gold-miner around Nevada City, Hoffer labored hard but continued to read and write during the years of the Great Depression. The Okies and the Arkies were the “new pioneers,” and Hoffer was one of them. He had library cards in a dozen towns along the railroad, and when he could afford it, he took a room near a library for concentrated thinking and writing.

In 1943, Hoffer chose the longshoreman’s life and settled in California. Eventually, he worked three days each week and spent one day as “research professor” at the University of California in Berkeley. In 1964, he was the subject of twelve half-hour programs on national television. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

“America meant freedom and what is freedom? To Hoffer it is the capacity to feel like oneself. He felt like Eric Hoffer; sometimes like Eric Hoffer, working man. It could be said, I believe, that he as the first important American writer, working class born, who remained working class-in his habits, associations, environment. I cannot think of another. Therefore, he was a national resource. The only one of its kind in the nation’s possession.” – Eric Sevareid, from his dedication speech to Eric Hoffer, San Francisco, CA, September 17, 1985

I think I have found some new reading material for the winter…

civil-rights-marchI have been struggling with the prospect of this coming week for some time.  I thought at one point after the election that I would just sit back and just watch the whole thing unfold, maybe give them a chance to prove that my doubts were unfounded.  For a short period of time –actually, several fleeting instances– he-who-shall-not-be-named-here acted almost conciliatory and I thought I might just keep this wait and see attitude.

But in the two months since, he-who-shall-not-be-named-here has shown with his words and actions just what he is and will continue to be. And that is an absolute reflection of our worst self in every possible way.  There is nothing he has done or said that I would advise a child to emulate. Try as I might, I can not come up with a single quality in his shown character that is admirable in any way.  Every aspect of this person is ugly in spirit.  Even his limited acts of charity are done selfishly, done only because it somehow benefits him and is seen as a cost of doing business.

This is not a person who is taking the weight of this nation upon his shoulders so that all in this nation will benefit. He doesn’t care about you or me.  He doesn’t care about coal miners in Kentucky or farmers in Iowa– they were simply a cost of doing business.  No, he’s putting this country on a butcher block in front of him and is trying to figure how to carve off an even larger and juicier portion for himself and his money buddies.

I agree with John Lewis when he says that he-who-shall-not-be-named-here is not a legitimate president and applaud his courage for saying those words.  But John Lewis is a man of courage and a man who has always worked to lift others.  This is a man who has truly worked to change America for the better and who has consistently stood on the right side of history.

And he is seeing a person coming to power who seeks to weaken the rights and freedoms for which he has bled.  A person who is poised to push us on to the wrong side of history, who is willing to trade away the idealism that has long been our strength and foundation for the benefit and self interests of a precious few.

So, on this weekend marking the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday I thought my Sunday morning musical choice should reflect that.  It’s A Change is Gonna Come from the great Sam Cooke, a song that was written by Cooke at the height of the civil rights struggle in response to his arrest in Louisiana after protesting a Holiday Inn‘s refusal to honor his reservations at that hotel.

It’s a great and powerful song with a message that resonates for both then and now.  I am also including the Otis Redding version just because I absolutely love this performance.  Give a real listen and try to have good day.

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