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Another Grateful Moment

Grateful Moment- GC Myers 2014

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Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others.

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

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I thought I would rerun the post below about gratitude that ran last year on the day before Thanksgiving.

I am a firm believer in the words of Cicero above, feeling that, if it is fully embraced, gratitude permeates everything we do in a positive way.

I also believe that nobody achieves anything solely on their own, that everyone owes someone something for getting them where they are. Someone along the way taught them something, pointed them in a direction or opened a door that greatly helped them move along. 

As much I would like to think I have done everything on my own, even the small amount of success I have achieved is the result of a lot of help and encouragement from hosts of people. Without them I am nothing.

A sense of gratitude makes everything it touches better. And as I wrote below, a lack of gratitude debases everything. Take a look:

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It’s Gratitude Week here on RedTreeTimes. It’s kind of like Shark Week without the carnage. Or sharks.

Well, there is a little carnage but I can guarantee there are no sharks.

For today’s installment, the great Roman orator Cicero certainly has it right. When you think of the great virtues– honor, courage, loyalty, honesty, compassion, respect, and grace along with so many others– you can easily place gratitude as a contributing factor to each. These virtues are often just gratitude set in motion.

If gratitude is not the parent of all virtues, it is at least a conjoined twin.

I am not harping on gratitude now just because it is the week of Thanksgiving. No, it has become painfully obvious that there is a lack of gratitude, and by extension, the absence of accompanying virtues, being shown by many of our public leaders. This includes one person in particular.

Simply put, this lack of gratitude trickles down ( much more so than any tax cuts!) from the top to the general population. As a result, we end up with ugly attitudes permeating our daily life.

Gratitude transforms into a sense of entitlement

Humility becomes boastful self-aggrandizement.

Respect is replaced by insult and denigration.

Courage becomes cowardice.

Loyalty becomes a temporary transaction where one’s loyalty is given only for as long as the other person remains useful.

Empathy devolves into a mocking of the shortcomings and weaknesses of others.

Responsibility is replaced by a need to place blame on others.

Honor becomes disgrace.

Trust turns to deep skepticism.

Grace transforms into insolence and coarseness.

And honesty?

Honesty has turned into a sort of mythological creature, like the Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster– seldom seen and so shocking that when it finally shows itself, we don’t believe what we are seeing with our own eyes. Dishonesty becomes the accepted norm and we lose the ability — or even the will–to recognize the lies from the truth.

We become a nation of liars, a land without virtue or honor that can no longer be trusted.

It doesn’t have to continue in this way. We are a nation based for centuries on its virtues, always moving towards doing what is right, no matter the cost. We can reclaim that. We can be a country of virtue.

It all starts with simple gratitude.

Be thankful for all that you have. Express it in your words and, more importantly, in your actions.

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Darling remember, when you come to me
I’m the pretender; I’m not what I’m supposed to be
But who could know if I’m a traitor?
Time’s the revelator

–Gillian Welch, The Revelator

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I came across an image of the painting at the top, a piece from 2006 called What Is True that holds a lot of meaning for me, and it set me thinking.

Truth is patient. It waits for the light of a sun that sometimes travels through the vastness of space and time, millions and millions of light years, to shine on it.

Time always finds truth at some point and when it shine its light upon it, there is revelation.

Every day is filled with revelation, so it seems.

Time and truth are coming together.

Here’s a favorite song of mine from Gillian Welch, The Revelator.

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“Against legitimacy is arrayed usurpation; against modest,

single-minded, righteous, and brave resistance to encroachment

is arrayed boastful, double-tongued, selfish, and treacherous

ambition to possess. God defend the right!”

 

–Charlotte Bronte, Shirley and the Professor

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I am perhaps more nervous than at any point in the past three years of watching the slow motion collapse, or rather dissembling, of our democracy. We are at a point where there is either going to be a price to be paid by the one person* who has abused the vast powers of the highest office in this land. In the idealized future world that our founders imagined, our system of checks and balances will hold and he will face severe consequences and democracy, as we know it, will continue in a direction that we all recognize.

If not, if this person ( I am being generous in the use of that term) is not punished, does not face grave punishment for his actions, the future is much less certain. If you think the past three years have been crazy and divisive, brace yourself for a future with a person who will then, as he already does, see himself as an emperor, a divine and untouchable being who can, with the tremendous and now unchecked powers of the presidency, operate with impunity.

This would not be a benevolent tyrant. You all know that. You can see it in the vengeful and punitive nature he so readily displays. He is not familiar with the concepts of generosity, of justice or fairness. No one will be safe from the whims of his addled brain. Opponents will be severely treated as will those who are perceived as being disloyal to him. The treatment of immigrant children, while horrific now, may well get worse. Environmental regulations will continue to be stripped away. White supremacy will force its way even more into our public lives.

Justice will have a new face and the scales she holds will be even more rigged for those with power and wealth. Your power to defend yourself will be limited.

Truth will not be truth, it will be something altogether different, dictated by those in power.

The president* will use every possible thing at his disposal– and his position gives him tools that are unimaginable to most of us– to maintain power, to strip away any oversight and to enrich and insulate himself. And we are all going to pay for it in awful ways that most of us can’t see coming down the tracks. Even my most generous imagining of a future where this man* holds onto power is bleak.

Sorry to spoil your coffee this morning and sorry for not staying in my lane, as they say. But this is not a game, not the genial “my side is better than your side” of politics of times past. It is a serious and potentially deadly business and if we don’t engage and take whatever actions we can to stem the tide, there will be dire consequences.

And I am desperately worried that we may not be able to do enough to turn the tide.

And to those of you who somehow and inexplicably support this person*, I say: Be careful what you wish for.

Below is an essay from award winning journalist/author Kurt Eichenwald that appeared yesterday in the form of a Twitter feed that sets out one possible scenario that could take place if there are no consequences for corruption and illegality. It is well worth a read.

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“You could be next.”

The GOP has made it clear it has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Russia/Trump, and no amount of evidence is enough to justify removal of a corrupt president. They will not protect Americans.

So key message from Dems should be: “You could be next“…the President of the United States attempted to compel a foreign nation – one he claims is corrupt – to investigate and possibly jail an American citizen.

If Trump believed a crime had been committed, he would have turned to the FBI. Instead, he tried to outsource to a foreign nation. Even if you are irrational enough to believe that there was no pressure on Ukraine, no attempt at extortion or bribery, that action is undeniable. He was taking an act with the ultimate outcome potentially being an American citizen and political rival locked up in a foreign prison.

This is *exactly* the kind of action taken by dictators, except they do not have to hide their actions by trying to engage in them in secret by pressing a foreign nation. This alone without any other facts is an impeachable abuse of power and the GOP, Lindsey Graham, Devin Nunes et al have all made it very clear that they “do not care” if a president outsources criminal investigations of Americans to foreign states.

Worse, they “do not care* if this is set up for “announcement first, defense someday” when you have an outsourcing of investigations, corruption is inevitable. Next, it could be me. It could be you. Do you really want to live the rest of your life in a Russian or Ukrainian or Syrian prison cell, simply because you angered Trump?

The GOP will not care given their willingness to avoid all evidence, people like Lindsey Graham will shrug as the Trump Administration extradites Americans overseas to be tried in corrupt foreign courts as the result of investigations instigated in other countries by our president if Trump wins reelection, which he might, the GOP senate has made it clear that no action, no crime, no corruption is off the table.

Will Trump send troops into the offices of the New York Times, or Amazon, or any other company that angers him to arrest his “enemies” and then extradite them to Siberia, in an investigation he instigated? Will he send “critics” he despises? Will he go after democrats as a whole unit? If acquitted by a party refusing to look at evidence there will be no limit to what Trump can do without consequence, will it be safe to be a prominent Trump critic or political opponent, given he has been freed to do anything?

Next time, it could be you.” That needs to be the phrase the Democrats need to deliver in every Senate and House election we are truly at the verge of a collapse of all checks and balances, with an Administration that believe it can tell Congress and the courts to go to hell, knowing that the most corrupt party in American history will cheer him for it.

Once the “see no evil” party sends the “all-clear” for any act of corruption, anything is possible.

Sound far fetched? It has already been done by the Republicans. In the 2000s, Americans falsely concluded that a Canadian citizen was a terrorist and asked for evidence from Syrian government. The Syrians brutally tortured another Canadian they held before he falsely said, “Yes, this other Canadian is a terrorist.”

The man, Maher Arar, was headed home to Canada, was seized by American authorities at JFK Airport and, because we had no basis on which to hold him, the US outsourced the investigation to Syria, a place the man had never been. He was shipped there, beaten, burned, raped, tortured in every horrible way imaginable.

And only after this man was wrecked, did we say “Oh. Maybe we’re wrong.” The Canadian government had to pay $10 million settlement to Arar, US government refused to pay, claiming “national security.” And no Republican cared.

Outsourcing of criminal investigations by Trump is corruption of the highest order. It puts every American who might criticize Trump in danger.

And, just like they did before when we outsourced the torture of a Canadian citizen, Lindsey Graham, the RNC and the Devin Nunes of the world will go on Fox and declare that Trump was right to rob us of our rights, to submit us to any abuse by pushing foreign nations for corrupt criminal prosecutions of critics and opponents. There is not a single Republican who will stand up for our rights, who will protect us, so long as they get tax cuts.

We are all in danger.

Next time, it could be you

Every house race, every senate race, where a Republican has argued that there is nothing abusive about the President of the United States attempting to get an American citizen charged with a crime and locked up simply because they are his opponent, needs to focus on the power the GOP has granted Trump to violate our every right.

Want your guns? Not in lots of overseas nations, where you might be sent.

Want a lawyer? Sorry – you’re not in the US anymore.

“Next time, it could be you.” And GOP will not protect us.

They all must be voted out and if you are “well, I don’t like this dem or that dem” – always remember that those who supported the most left-wing candidate in Hitler’s first national German elections. The supporters – as well as the candidate – died in a concentration camp because they didn’t think the other candidate was progressive enough.

Now, I am not saying Trump is Hitler or that we are heading into Nazi Germany. I am saying that our rights are at stake, we have no defense, and failing to fight back at the ballot box could be disastrous.

People always say, “It can’t happen here.”

It can. The president tried to secretly get American citizens locked up in a foreign nation on the basis of a conspiracy theory. It can happen, & the GOP will do nothing to stop it.

And next time, it could be you.

Vote them all out.

—–Kurt Eichenwald, Twitter, November 21, 2019

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MALONEY: Why do you have confidence that you can … tell your dad not to worry?

LT. COL. VINDMAN: Congressman, because this is America. This is the country I’ve served and defended. That all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.

MALONEY: Thank you, sir.

Applause breaks out.

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Those short few sentences above from the testimony of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman during yesterday’s Congressional Impeachment Hearing pretty much sums up what the stakes are in this hearing.

This country, as a nation and each and every one of us as individuals, has to decide if he is correct in the statement that here in the United States, right still matters.

We have to ask ourselves a simple question: Do we want to live if a country that lives by the hardset and time honored values of rightness, of truth, of honor, of duty?

Or do we want to live in a country where those values are negotiable and subject to the situation at hand and the person involved? A country where those values don’t really apply so long as you have enough power or privilege or connections to be able to shrug them off?

Listen, I am not naive to think there haven’t been plenty of situations in our past where power, privilege and connections have overpowered our values at times. But in the past, that sense of honor, duty and rightness has always somehow persevered. This nation has not always operated in absolute truth and rightness and honor but the hope is that we lean that way, that we somehow keep struggling and pushing in that direction.

That hope, that continual trending toward rightness, is the basis for any exceptionality we might claim.

But this feels different.

It feels like a defining moment for us and our future. It feels like there is part of us who have taken control and wish to ignore these values, who find them inconvenient and restraining to achieving their own aims.

They continue to move away from answering to a sense of rightness or duty. How do you reconcile that as a nation going into the future?

If the falsehoods and corrupt intent we have witnessed are not impeachable, not subject to oversight and being called out, where does that leave us for the future? Where do we then draw the line between what is right and wrong?

If we cannot stand up for what is right and true now, we may be looking at a future where we may not get the chance to do so.

So, ask yourself and answer honestly: Does right matter here still?

 

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I wrote the above yesterday. Last evening I then caught the end of one of my favorite movies, Watch on the Rhine. It’s a film set in Northern Virginia, around Washington DC, during World War II and concerns the daughter of a well-to-do family who has come home from Europe with her family.

I am not going to go into  the whole plot here but I will point out that her husband, Kurt Muller played to perfection by Paul Lukas, is an anti-fascist fighter and a leader in the European resistance against the Nazis. This character is one of my favorite characters on film, a man driven completely by rightness and truth, willing to sacrifice everything to fight for the lives and rights of other men.

Seeing this powerful portrayal of such an honorable character stood in stark contrast to the performance I witnessed earlier by the republicans during the hearings. There was no honor shown by these men, no sense of rightness or dignity. These are not people who are willing to sacrifice anything for anyone. They are only willing to protect their own interests and those of their buddies. Screw everyone else.

They are the antithesis of rightness.

To give a quick example, Lt. Col. Vindman and his family are under 24/7 protection from Us Army security forces and they are looking to move them into a secure location because of threats against the Lt. Col. from Trumpists spurred on by these jackals. This man, an immigrant who came here as child, has served and sacrificed for this nation for many years. He wears a Purple Heart for being wounded in action. He has honorably risen to the highest levels of military diplomacy and has been characterized in reviews by his superiors as being “brilliant” and in the top 1% of all the military. Yesterday, this man was subjected to all sorts of attacks on his character and motivations for simply coming forward and pointing out actions that he saw as being wrong.

He was simply doing his duty. Like Kurt Muller from the movie, he was simply doing that which is right.

I would put Lt. Col. Vindman’s sense of rightness and honor up against that of all the republicans in that hearing who have seemingly sold their souls, their dignity and their honor for god knows what in order to protect a vile and small man. A man without honor or loyalty who will throw them to the trash heap without a thought when they no longer serve his personal needs.

As I said, the contrast is stark.

Black and white. Good and evil.

Right and wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

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The only quality that endures in art is a personal vision of the world. Methods are transient: personality is enduring.

–Edward Hopper

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Felt like a little Edward Hopper this morning and realized that, in all the years of doing this blog, I had never shown his most famous painting, Nighthawks, above. Can’t say why I had failed to display it. Maybe it just felt so obvious that it overshadowed other works from his career that also moved me. Regardless, it remains a defining painting, one that never fails to be striking.

His words just below the painting above are equally striking for me.

I often write about artists trying to find their voice. By that, I am talking about painting (or working in any other medium) in a manner that matches up with and captures the artist’s point of view, their thought process, and the many facets of their personality. Not every method or style jibes with every artist, allowing them full expression of the truth of their own personality.

And method alone only goes so far. Method is transient and without endurance, as Hopper points out, without personality.

How does this happen, this insertion of personality into one’s work?

I can’t really say. I guess it starts with having a point of view, an opinion, an emotion, a thought. I tell high school and college students that technique is important but it is even more vital to have a base of other knowledge to draw from. Art is not technique or method, it is expression of the self so have a fully realized self to express.

Don’t know if that’s right for everybody but, hey, it feels right for me.

Work on that and get back to me, okay?

 

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“Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’… must someday lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing – each act is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.

You don’t want to act, or even talk, alone; you don’t want to ‘go out of your way to make trouble.’ But the one great shocking occasion, when tens or hundreds or thousands will join with you, never comes. That’s the difficulty. The forms are all there, all untouched, all reassuring, the houses, the shops, the jobs, the mealtimes, the visits, the concerts, the cinema, the holidays. But the spirit, which you never noticed because you made the lifelong mistake of identifying it with the forms, is changed. Now you live in a world of hate and fear, and the people who hate and fear do not even know it themselves, when everyone is transformed, no one is transformed. You have accepted things you would not have accepted five years ago, a year ago, things your father could never have imagined.”

Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1955)

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Yesterday, like the day before that and the day before that and like nearly every one of the 1001 days since Trump– yeah, I wrote that freaking name– took over our government, was a day filled with outrages.

It was a day that saw Trump crowing ( in his typical word salad comprised of baldfaced lies, the bombast of an ultra spoiled eleven year old and a level of stupidity that so far exceeds any other world leader that it borders on being a form of art) about a faux ceasefire that gives Turkish president Erdogan everything he wanted with absolutely no ramifications and was a final and absolute betrayal of the Kurdish people.

It all but assures an ethnic cleansing of some degree.

It was an Orwellian performance, one where the words are so far removed from the reality of the situation that one is left to wonder if they have somehow stumbled on a new dimension in time and space, some new place that they do not know from any of the life they have led to that date. It was also a remarkable display of profound weakness and defeat on his part even though he tried to sell it as a victory.

If that had been all for the day, it would have been momentous but it was only one small part of the day. There were several other instances in the day, all so outrageous that would have set any other presidency on fire in a way from which they could never recover.

But here , it was another Thursday.

It reminded me of the evolution of the evil that overtook the German people in the 1930’s, culminating in the atrocities of the Nazis during WW II. We in the present tend to think that that thing they became was there in that same form from the very beginning. But it wasn’t. It started in an innocuous, political way. It came in small, subtle changes that involved the normalization of behaviors and thought processes that would have been unthinkable in the not so far past.

Journalist Milton Mayer went to Germany after the war and interviewed a large number of ordinary Germans who lived under the Third Reich. It resulted in the book, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, published in 1955. The small excerpt at the top captures the spirit of the book, describing an environment in which each day pushed a bit further towards the evil end but in such small, baby steps that one didn’t even notice the changes taking place, both in the country and in themselves.

This situation is often described by a frog being put in a pot of warm water on a stove. It is comfortable at first and nothing seems out of the ordinary as the temperature of the water slowly increases. It swims as it always did and adjusts easily to the temperature increases, so gradual are they, until it is too late and it finds itself being cooked alive.

It feels like the water in our pot is nearing a boiling pot.

I am not alone in believing this. I urge you to read the op-ed, Our Republic Is Under Attack From The President, in yesterday’s New York Times from Admiral William McRaven, the former Commander of the United States Special Operation Command and the architect of the Osama Bin Laden raid. He tells of many senior military leaders as well as regular troops who are alarmed at what they are seeing from this president, witnessing as they are the betrayal of our allies and our long stated national mission. They see Trump’s actions as an attack on our republic, feeling that they are under fire from within.

This is not a partisan political attack from a liberal pundit. This is a man, battle tested and committed to serving this nation, who can see the clear and present danger. It is a stunning statement from a lifelong soldier committed throughout his career to being apolitical.

He can feel that the water is boiling in the pot in which we swim.

And we’re nearly cooked because it’s boiling right now. Not weeks or months or years down the road.

Now.

We must get out of that pot.

Now.

Please read the Admiral McRaven editorial. I also urge you to read a larger excerpt from Milton Mayer’s book which can be seen here.

 

 

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Despairing.

It’s the first word that comes to mind this morning. I wanted to turn to other things, wanted to crow a little about the Yankees’ victory last night. Maybe talk about painting, music, the weather.

Anything.

Anything but face the ugliness of what one infinitely weak man’s decision has unleashed on people who saw the US as their ally and believed the promises and assurances we gave.

But it’s something I can’t turn away from and still believe that I have an iota of humanity left in my soul. I see the reports and videos of men being shot while being on the ground along the roads in northeast Syria with their hands tied. Of mothers crying over dead and severely injured children.

Of the report of the rape and stoning death of the Hervin Khalef, the Kurdish human rights activist. The image above on the right is from a tweet that includes a video with a boot kicking at her to see if she is alive. Her body is mortified and simply rocks from the push of the boot.

Or of the reports from our forces still on the ground there ( huh, is it possible that the president* lied when he said they had been withdrawn?) that the situation has deteriorated rapidly and that they are being bracketed with shelling from the Turks. Bracketing is a term for using artillery fire to either move opposing forces in a desired direction or keep them from moving at all. It was severe and close enough that the leadership on the ground requested permission to respond with fire. It only subsided when US planes approached the Turkish artillery positions and set the lasers from their missile guidance systems upon them as a warning that we would soon be firing on them.

Or of the mass escapes of ISIS fighters from the prisons where Kurds once held them. Or of the emerging reports that Russian planes have been specifically targeting civilian hospitals in Syria in recent months.

Or so many other reports, all while the cretin slumps around one of his golf courses for the umpteenth time then later in the evening whines about how he is so unfairly treated, all the while heavily slurring his speech while threatening those who dare to hold him accountable. And the idiots of his audience cheer.

Maybe I shouldn’t care. It is 7000 miles a way after all and maybe these people, these Kurds, need to finally stand up for themselves. What have they done for us lately? That’s what you hear on social media from those who are willing to turn their backs on our promises and throw away all the credibility of this nation as a loyal ally to any other nation.

People who can somehow believe that atrocity committed on any person anywhere because of our inaction is somehow okay. People who can simply shrug and say it doesn’t affect them.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Maybe that’s the reason I feel compelled to air my despair and anger this morning, again. I am not willing to let people shrug it off and ignore it. I want to keep it in your sight and in your mind. I want you to see that dead Kurdish woman whenever that horrid creature opens his vile mouth because he is complicit with his inexplicable actions, if not directly responsible, for these atrocities and must be held accountable.

You must consider that if he is willing to tolerate and ignore the suffering his actions have inflicted on these people, it is not a stretch to believe that he will do the same when and if it comes to this land. He is not moved by the suffering of others, doesn’t have the ability to see himself in the faces of those less fortunate than himself in any way.

He is devoid of humanity.

Maybe that’s why I do this thing this morning– because I need to know that I do possess humanity, know that I am a creature of compassion and refuse to close my eyes to the horrors we have wrought upon the lives of others.

I don’t have much. I am powerless in many ways to affect real change. But I am a fucking human being and I will not turn away from atrocity or try to make it less than it is. I have eyes and ears and a mind and a voice that won’t be silenced.

So do you. Use them.

Here’s this Sunday morning music selection. It’s from the Kurdish singer Aynur Doğan who is considered a cultural icon who is keeping the traditional music of the Kurds alive. It’s quite a beautiful piece. While I don’t understand the words, it translates.

Have a day.

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