Viet Nam…

I’m the first to admit that I came to care about the war in Viet Nam very late, and only when there was the possibility that I might be touched by the draft lottery.

My number was never called. Here, in this wealthy portion of the Midwest, that war touched me only tangentially. As far as Vietnam was concerned, this was truly flyover territory. I lost no immediate family to that war, and only a few in the town in which I now live died there.

I was not prepared for the flood of emotions as Janine and I watched the series the Ken Burns produced about that chapter of our history.

As we approached the end of the series and the events and thoughts related to that crept closer to this time, I found myself ever more affected. The section in the 10th installment about the effects of the war finally resulted in tears. I couldn’t hold them back hearing the veterans conclusions, the scenes of people flocking to the memorial in Washington, D.C., war veterans, hearing the sheer number of soldiers and support personnel lost in the fighting and seeing former enemies getting together to nurture the kind of healing that can follow such horrific times.

We cannot forget that sad time and other horrific war-time chapters of our young history.

I was also struck by the music woven into the effort. I had never heard the popular music of that era superimposed with the history of that war. I think I have a better sense of the disquiet the permeated the music performed by musicians and made popular by the American public. That music made a perfect bed for the documentary.

And, knowing that Trent Reznor, lead singer of fellow creator of Nine Inch Nails,  a razors-edge rock group, as well as Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, musicians with classical training moving into eclectic areas, were part of the production, helped keep me watching.

I am at sea, though, with the thought that this adolescent nation learned from the death, sickness and deep divisions created among peoples, cities and families. It seems to me, that we should have learned lessons from the frightful losses from wars waged in the name of our country. Human beings can be savages in wartime. We recruit young fighters who have yet to mature but are ready to lay down their lives in firefights. We make enemies arch-enemies and heroes super-heroes. We elect and appoint people who do not tell the truth to the people they govern. We keep developing technology that has the capability to wipe out large areas of our globe, maybe even with the potential to reduce civilization to cockroach status if it gets out of control. We imperfect human beings develop imperfect artificial intelligences and turn over important functions to those artifices.

I’m convinced (we have to factor in the current political climate, too) that we have a very long way to go. I’m not a pessimist. I’m not an optimist, either. I just hope we can keep this thing called “humanity” together and pray that our democratic experiment hangs on for as long as it can.

 

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It’s as simple as that

The furnace didn’t kick on when we wanted it to yesterday.

It cycled on and off but never hung in there.

The wood stove came in handy at that point. A half cord of wood was delivered Sunday last by an enterprising farmer from 20 or so miles away who came into town to buy furniture. That C-note I paid should help that a bit.

Thanks to one of our local plumbers (“No worries. Everybody puts it off until you need it.”), we were up and running in good time.

Tips: Make sure your furnace exhaust isn’t impeded by a spider web. Be sure the batteries in the thermostat are good.

The  wicked winds died down over the evening, and despite a coating of frost this morning, Saturday is shaping up to be a gorgeous fall day. The leaves drift lazily from our red maple and coat our front lawn. The ash and Japanese yew are bare bare. Apple drops were greatly reduced without the gale.

Bug count is greatly reduced, particularly the little black practically-no-see-ums and the smelly Asian beetles. The yellow jackets are finally few and far between. Our neighborhood hawks aren’t in residence at the moment, and the yard is alive with sparrows. The shy mourning doves are visible today, as well. Dive-bombing for the remaining flying insects is in full force.

It’s a great day for a college football game and a couple of soccer matches. I hope to see the same energy exhibited by the fliers in our ground pounders.

Relevance

In the fall 2017 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, I came across some pithy wisdom from Janine Gibson, editor in chief of BuzzFeed UK. She worked at The Guardian for 17 years, overseeing its U.S. edition. That paper won a Pulitzer prize for its reporting of the Edward Snowden leaks on NSA surveillance.

The periodical is busily analyzing what they call “the Trump effect.” That’s plenty of grist for the mill.

Countering charges of “fake news” is tricky, difficult, not-very-rewarding work. Says Gibson: “We can force change by piling on where our rivals have proved wrongdoing, instead of knocking it down in case it beats to an award.”

I love her parenthetical thought here: “(We could also stop publishing all our stories at the same time of year to increase our chances.)”

She continues: “And we’re going to have to stop politely ignoring the false news and then inviting its purveyors onto news programs ‘to provide balance.’ Two extremists shouting at each other in the name of news is what got us into this mess. Because how we find the news is a question for all time, with a billion answers. Where the news gets published isn’t really in our hands, But, what it is? What we amplify? What we report. That’s on us.”

I think there’s another dimension, too. In an age in which “news” and “opinion” is nearly instantaneously published on social media, I wonder if the “news consumer” has the patience to sift sources before passing on the tidbits thrown our way. It’s so much more exciting to pass on a hot tip or a particularly ripe piece of opinion than to be patient, evaluate and test our sources.

It’s important that the youth of today grapple with these questions. Without an aware public, the democratic experiment is deeply endangered.

Small-town police stories

In our small town, the biggest issues of late have been domestic abuse arrests, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, and a good number of arrests for possession or use of illegal substances. So, the police blotter has a tendency to be repetitive, even more so when factoring in fender benders.

A great story does occasionally surface, such as the next two.

Late evening a couple of weeks ago, Janine and I were watching one of our streaming shows, when someone knocked at our door. After shushing our little white dog, we answered.

One of our officers was knocking on doors as a couple tried to track phones accidentally left in our park during a photo session. The phones had been tracked to our neighborhood, so the search was on.

We hadn’t seen any, but it was good to chat a bit with the officer.

Couple of days later, I saw the officer and he volunteered that the search had been fruitful.

Just around our corner, he heard a phone ringing in a garage. He knocked on our nearby neighbors door and asked if anyone had found the phones.

Turns out, the kids of the house had found the phones in the restroom at the park. With no one at the park, they brought them home with questions for dad. He said he’d return them to the city offices in the morning.

Well, the phones started squawking when the “find phone” feature was turned on by the owners. The family couldn’t get them to stop, so the dad plopped them in the garage until morning.

When the officer knocked and asked about the ringing he heard, the dad gladly handed them over. “I couldn’t get the damn things to shut up!”

The other story involved a case of mistaken home identity. The same officer had been involved in this incident many years before but had to bring it up in our conversation, since we were already talking about odd happenings. He said it ranked up there as the strangest humorous thing he’d investigated.

A couple returned to their home after taking part in one of our town’s celebratory evenings and found a person in the basement sacked out on one of their beds. Freaked out, they called the police.

The person, when awakened, was nonplussed, said he was where he was supposed to be at the invitation of the owners of the place, who had told him it would be fine for him to stay overnight rather than drive all the way from whence he came.

Everything was where it was supposed to be, the door, the turn into the basement, the placement of the bed, etc., so he turned in.

The home he was supposed to occupy was a block over, same number on the door but a different street.

If that wasn’t odd enough, the officer telling the story told the chief of police that if he went to the home at which the gent was supposed to be at, he’d probably find a key in the mailbox. (At that point, our officer did not know the full extent of the arrangements). Chief said, “No way,” but took him up on the good-natured bet.

Sure enough, our officer’s instincts were spot on. The key to the home was in the mailbox.

There is some fun to be had in a small town.

Renewing acquaintances, part 12

This is the last of the trip tidbits.

Stories of individuals at Gettysburg stick with me the most.

The Confederates marched on Pennsylvania because they needed supplies, provisions for their army; and, we’re talking basic rations, nothing fancy. There wasn’t much left from where they started. Armies did move on their stomachs, and if a place which the armies passed had foodstuffs, they didn’t after the soldiers marched through.

The family of a freed slave had to leave the Gettysburg fields as the Confederates approached; had they been captured by the Confederates, it would have been slavery all over again.

A women left her home (two bedrooms with a loft to shelter a family of six, a common size of a farm home at that time) and her favorite peach tree, only to return to find her tree dead because of a burned horse carcass (a common way of disposing of dead animals at battlefields).

Clustered groups and battle lines suffered horrific casualties. Trenches, hastily erected fortifications, rocks and boulders helped a little, but not much. Fighting and dying in each company were farmers, youths, pastors, tradesmen and wastrels, all known to each other, since soldiers tended to serve with people from their own towns and areas.

The accounts of field hospitals turned my stomach.

If the wind was right, folks in the path of an approaching army could smell them coming; personal hygiene kind of went by the wayside, and soldiers were carrying their own rations without refrigeration.

So, home again, it’s kind of an overused way to summarize a good road trip, but I’ll say it anyway. I learned a lot, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. But, I’ll have a spare tire, bought locally, in a carrier somewhere on the vehicle, a bolt cutter and a spare cable lock.

Silly me. Forgot the photos!

In my fun in posting thoughts from our summer trip, I completely forgot to add photos appropriate to the topics!

Time to catch up.

IMG_2704Peas Eddy Road, New York: A view unsullied by motorboat wakes, although we ventured onto the lazy current with canoe and kayak.

IMG_2723

Bicycling along a canal near Canal Road in Franklin, N.J., while visiting family. This is a great use of abandoned canals. It’s maintained very well, too. There were plenty of turtles taking advantage of the sun to soak up the rays.

IMG_2737Fall out! Gettysburg enactors paused before heading for their campsite.

IMG_2747Gettysburg enactors demonstrated firing techniques used in battle. The hapless soldier closest to the camera in the back row was having trouble with his musket.

Renewing acquaintances, part 11

I’m saving the best ’til now, penultimately., our three days at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Hands down, I’m recommending a visit to this historic site and its ongoing efforts to preserve and restore the area for future generations. (Don’t climb on the cannon. You’ll get yelled at.)

There were ranger talks aplenty, and we stuffed in as many as we could, learning much that our individual guides passed along from research in primary sources: Logistics, tactics and tragedies of armed conflict during a three-day battle at the site during the Civil War boggled my mind.

Killed, wounded, captured or missing were approximately 23,000 Union persons and as many as 28,000 Confederate persons. More than 6,800 were killed. The 51,000 casualties at Gettysburg, estimated by the Civil War Trust — casualties, deaths, wounds, injuries, sickness, internment or capture — numbered 51,000, the most of any battle in the war.

Some estimates figure as many as 850,000 died from combat, accident, starvation and disease during the Civil War. The biggest killer was diarrhea. (“Go figure.”) Then, you have to figure in outmoded tactics in the face of better technology: rifled barrels in the hands of skilled shooters, cannon that belched the standard ball, as well as the shells loaded with shot that turned a hapless soldier into a pink mist, and the howitzer load, that arced above the fighters, exploded and rained shrapnel.

It wasn’t until the Vietnam War that that the number of American deaths in foreign wars (currently 644,000) eclipsed the number of deaths in the Civil War.

War is hell, and I needed to be reminded. I hope I don’t forget.