Rants on relevant stuff by an old coot
LENOIR, N.C. – I try not to write on the weekends. Generally, I don’t. The problem with that, however, is that by Monday I have notes on various topics stuck all over and around my desk. So, I’m trying something new. Every Monday (more or less) I’ll be offering brief musings on a variety of relevant stuff. So, here we go …
Is Critical Thinking on Sabbatical at NPR?
In a story published today on NPR, “The American Dream is Harder to Find in Some Neighborhoods,” writer John Ydstie accepts as fact that the so-called American Dream is something to which we all aspire. In at least two places, he refers to the American Dream without any critical thought. In short, he has assumed that everyone knows what it is (probably, in a vague sense) and aspires to it (wrong!). He also quotes a source that doesn’t critically question the concept of the American Dream.
Maybe it’s because I write about the health care industry, public health and the environment so much that I always look for a root cause to any problem. I certainly do my best to not make assumptions. In this case, Mr. Ydstie has demonstrated that critical thinking is on sabbatical at NPR. If people are no longer able to aspire to the American Dream as reported in the article, perhaps it wasn’t a dream at all. Maybe it’s a nightmare.
I know what is implied with the term American Dream. It boils down to essentially working ourselves to death to stockpile toys and gadgets that we don’t need – and indeed interfere with our interaction with other people and the environment in which we live. That is not my dream. Mine is to live simply, consume only what I need, be self-sufficient, limit my ecological footprint, and live in harmony with others.
It seems to me that our sad state of affairs today – acrimony, incivility and mass shootings just to name a few – would have us at least questioning the root causes of these problems. If we were, we would quickly find that one of the root causes is our obsession with “achieving” the American Dream. As we all reach across the table for our share of the pie, we compete for power and we exclude the most vulnerable – always.
So, is it a dream or is it a nightmare? You will have to answer that for yourself, but NPR should at least be asking the question, as should all journalists. But, as usual, the artists are ahead of elected officials and the so-called “Fourth Estate.” Check out this music video, “American Dream,” by the Christian contemporary rock group, Casting Crowns. Notably, this song was released in 2003 on the group’s self-titled debut album. They got it – 15 years ago!
Trump Insults all Korean War Veterans with His Revolting New Love Affair with Kim Jong Un
Speaking in my home state of West Virginia in the northern panhandle city of Wheeling on Sept. 29, Trump said of North Korean dictator Kim Jun Un, “He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”
I don’t know who disgusts me more – Trump or the West Virginians that fall for that line of crap. I suggest they all pay a visit to Charleston, the state capital, and visit the monument to fallen veterans from West Virginia in our 20th Century wars. Among the hundreds of names of those killed in Korea is my Uncle George. He was killed in a delaying action in the first days of the war – as were many West Virginians. You can read about him here.
What you won’t read in that article are the circumstances of my uncle’s death. I’ve never printed them out of respect for my father, who did not want to know the horror of how his brother met his end on the battlefield. Dad died three years ago, so here’s a brief account of my uncle’s murder at the hands of the North Koreans:
Lt. George M. Barrick was reported killed in the Chockiwon area of South Korea on July 12, 1950, while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment. Decades later, R. E. Culbertson, a member of Barrick’s company, recalled that Lt. Wadie Roundtree, also a member of that company, stated that he had seen George lying beside the road. His head was bleeding, and he appeared mortally wounded. Although a prisoner and unable to stop, Lt. Roundtree was able to ask George if the North Koreans were responsible for his injuries. The reply was ‘yes.’ Culbertson later saw Barrick’s body in the same place and reported that he looked as though he had been run over by a tank.” (Source: West Virginia Division of Culture and History).
You say that was a long time ago? Yes, it was. However, we know the regime has not changed its human rights abuses.
North Korea is our enemy. At one time, every red-blooded Mountaineer knew that Communists were our enemies. So, I am stunned. I reckon many of my fellow West Virginians only understand Trumpese Twitter shorthand. So, here’s what you need to know: Communists Bad. Lovers of Communists are traitors. I think you can figure out the rest. Still, I have to ask, what happened to “Mountaineers Are Always Free”?
Lindsey Graham the Poster Child of GOP Hypocrisy
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), said to Democrats during the Senate Judiciary confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, “Y’all want power really bad.”
Good grief, Charlie Brown! That’s exactly what politics is all about, especially in a Republic where we get to choose our representatives. So of course, in a nation of 330 million people and nearly as many tribes, the stakes will always be high. So when one considers that the Republican Party refused to even have hearings for Merrick Garland, Graham’s words ring hollow, self-serving and of course, ironic. Sadly, that is today’s GOP (though Democrats don’t exactly have halos over their heads).
Easier is not Always Better
This little rant is minor in comparison to the other topics, but it is still a systemic problem in our nation, so its relevant. It is rooted (there’s that word again) in our dependence upon the internet. I am constantly refusing to bank or conduct business online. Why? Because billions of dollars have been stolen that way, not to mention personal data. And, I reckon because my writings upset a few people, attempts to hack into my email have occurred several times. In any event, an ongoing exchange with our auto insurer illustrates this conundrum. They want us to do everything online. I refuse. I hear the programmed response from what I think is a real person, but can’t say for sure: “But it’s easier.” I ask in return, “But is it better?” Dead silence.
“Just mail me the bill,” I conclude. “Well, OK, but that will increase your rates.” I didn’t ask the programmed person what immediately came to mind, “What the hell does me not using the internet have to do with my insurance rates?” The only legitimate reason for higher rates is because I’m a lousy driver, not stubborn.
But, such is the life of a curmudgeon. Talk to you again next Monday – but only if I feel like it.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2018.
Mess with the Muppets, and you mess with my family
By Michael M. Barrick
Donald Trump’s determination to build the military-industrial complex and a stupid wall (that just ain’t gonna happen folks!) is so important that he must kill off Big Bird. Public Broadcasting, which is the home of “Sesame Street,” Big Bird, Kermit and their many ethnically and racially diverse family and friends, is targeted for elimination from the federal budget.
So, I’m seriously peeved. You mess with the Muppets and you mess with my family.
And you don’t mess with my family ‘cause I’m from Wild, Wonderful, Almost Heaven, West-by-God-Virginia, and we are obligated to stand up for our children – and their friends.
Well, when our children were growing up, the Muppets were their only friends on television. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, we were poor; rumors of us having dozens of Chock full o’ Nuts cans buried in the back yard full of cash were simply unfounded. Our children discovered that to their disappointment only after they and their friends had spent a day digging up our yard to no avail, other than to aerate it for me. And, secondly, if we could have afforded cable, we wouldn’t have let them watch the crap on it anyway.
You see, the theory was that the airwaves belonged to the public. So, we could get a PBS station in rural, central West Virginia – and later, more urban North Carolina. Wherever we took our children to live or visit, we knew that this sound programming, full of nothing more than lovely parables about living with one another in harmony – and of course many great lessons in the humanities and sciences – was available.
Anyway, our children – now 34 and 32 – managed to get through their early childhood by watching only – and learning from – the Muppets and the many lessons they learned on Sesame Street.
We did not miss a Muppet movie. It was from watching “The Muppets Take Manhattan” that we learned from the wise owner of a restaurant that “Peoples is peoples.” That simply profound statement of tolerance, understanding and ultimately acceptance is a critical life lesson, and that phrase – in the context of the plot – could be understood by a child.
Unfortunately, it isn’t understood by Donald Trump. I believe he suffers from arrested development and probably has the outlook of an eight-year-old that never benefited from watching “Sesame Street.”
So, as I said earlier, I’m seriously peeved. Unfortunately, short of writing letters and holding up signs in protest, the best chance we had to prevent this has passed. And for that, we can thank the Democratic National Committee (DNC), and in particular Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, who as DNC chair last year, did all she could to cheat Bernie Sanders out of the nomination. Since she was quite competent at her job, she and her compatriots among the Democratic Party’s shrinking (but wealthy) elite have ironically caused us to find ourselves at this point. For those thinking it’s unfair to pick on the DNC, I will simply note that it is that defensive, head-in-the-sand attitude that will ensure defeat in the next election cycle. By the way, I’m not a Democrat, so I’m not advocating; just stating the obvious.
So now, the Republicans are in control, doing exactly what they said they would do.
How, then, do we respond? We do our best. We let our voices be heard in Washington. We can support our local PBS and/or NPR stations.
As you consider that and other options, a brief story from about 30 years ago will illustrate the importance of the Muppets to our family – and, truly, to our nation.
We were at the mall. That itself was rare. There was a store there that had something I needed, but I don’t recall the details. But what happened with my wife, Sarah, and our children is quite memorable.
You see, Sarah has a rare ability to mimic perfectly the voices of the Muppets. They told bed-time stories at our home. They had “conversations” with the children through the stuffed versions we had at the house (I still have a small 6”-tall figurine of Kermit as a journalist – in trench coat, pen and pad).
In any event, while waiting on me, they were just inside the entrance to a department store where there was a large Muppet display. To occupy their time, Sarah started bringing the Muppets to life through her various voices. In time, an audience had gathered, enjoying the show as much as Lindsay and Allyn, who gazed at their “talking” Muppet friends, enraptured.
When the time to rendezvous came, Sarah told the children it was time to go. They protested. “We don’t want to go! We want to keep talking to Big Bird!” Sarah insisted. “No, we must go. It’s time to meet Daddy.”
Their response was classic. “We don’t want to meet Daddy. He’s a meanie!” I still wonder what the others watching this show thought. Nevertheless, I dispute that assertion and claim that they didn’t quite know how to express their objections appropriately. (Though they keep saying that).
I learned something very important that day. Do not get between Big Bird and my children. I had senselessly forgotten that the Muppets were part of our family. I learned my lesson that day though, and will always remember it.
So, Republicans, look out. Sesame Street might go through rough times for the next few years because of you. It might come to resemble Detroit even. In time, though, the family and friends of the Muppets will have the day. Why? Because we yearn for community far more than we desire war.
© Michael M. Barrick, 2017
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