Category Archives: Resistance

Will there be a big backlash when Roe is thrown out?

The short answer: I don’t know . . . But. I have a test for deciding; I’ll get to that presently.

This reflection was provoked in early December 2021, after two very smart women pundits whose work I take seriously, made opposite predictions about this.

First, Jennifer Rubin, a Washington Post columnist.

For years she was reliably right wing. Trump changed all that. Rubin’s not exactly a born-again liberal now, but is vociferously pro-Roe v. Wade. And she thinks its overthrow would  be a huge political boon to Democrats, writing:

[I]f Democrats needed reason to fire up the troops before the 2022 midterm elections, this might do it. The obviously partisan court will thrust the nation into a period of turmoil, chaos and outrage over new restrictions on women’s life choices, which Republicans will seek to cement in state laws. Every Republican on the ballot for state legislator, governor, the House or the Senate will have to defend new intrusions on women’s autonomy, including in cases of rape and incest. Given the wide and deep support for abortion rights, Republicans may come to regret appointing religious ideologues to the court.”

Turmoil, chaos & outrage” eh? Continue reading Will there be a big backlash when Roe is thrown out?

Money for College: A Quaker War Resistance Story

[NOTE: This story is fiction. But it echoes & rhymes with many true events from the soldier resistance during the Iraq invasion that began in March 2003. It also unofficially reflects my experience as Director at Quaker House in wartime conditions.  Since Quaker House is now seeking a new Director, I hope it will get the attention of persons who might be interested in the best Quaker job of all, or know someone who should be.]

Money for College

Fayetteville/Fort Bragg North Carolina, late December 2003 – Wartime

I was running behind that morning, as usual.

Didn’t wake up until after ten – but then, working til all hours and then sleeping in is one of the few perks you get as the head of a peace project with a one-person staff.

Anyway the night before, I was trying to finish the latest Quaker House newsletter. It was supposed to be printed and in the mail within a week. I might make that deadline, might not. More late nights would probably be needed for that one.

Stumbling back from the bathroom, still rubbing my eyes, I remembered this was Wednesday, and our peace vigil downtown was scheduled for noon. Usually it’s at five, but a Canadian TV crew was going to be in town just this morning, and they asked if we could switch the time. Continue reading Money for College: A Quaker War Resistance Story

Quaker House, 9-11 and Me: Arguing With God

I’ve said that when I was Director of Quaker House (2001-2012) I had the best Quaker job there is.

But I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, my initial stance was emphatically the opposite.

Now that the job is open again, it’s worth describing how and why that changed for me.

This is a true story, which I hope will speak to a Friend who may not know it now, but is the right one to fill the post in what is likely to be a very challenging time.

The story begins with “No.”


                      I

“No,” I said. “No thank you.”

I said this to Chris Olson-Vickers. Chris was a mild-mannered social worker in Richmond, Virginia. She was also a Quaker, who in August of 2001 had agreed, perhaps rashly, to host an impecunious co-religionist  in need of shelter during the mid-Atlantic Quakers’ regional assembly, called Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

That impecunious co-religionist was me. Laid off and low on cash, I was too strapped to stay on-campus nearby, where our sessions were underway. I was packing lunches and avoiding the cafeteria.

sgt-abe-as-god-copy
Art by john Allder Stephens

On this evening, besides putting me up, Chris was also feeding me dinner. With the meal she had offered – not job-hunting advice; she is too cultivated for that. Rather, she was exercising a Quaker prerogative and “laboring” with me.

It was opportune, she had said, perhaps even providential, that I was unemployed and under her roof. Because she knew of a job opening. A Quaker job. One she thought I had the skills to fill.

At first I was all ears. What job? Where?

But at her answers, I shook my head emphatically. “It’s called Quaker House,” Chris said. “In Fayetteville, North Carolina. Next to Fort Bragg.”

“No,” I repeated. “Not a chance.”

In a more mainstream setting, this could, maybe should, have been the end of it. But as I said, Chris was not simply giving helpful advice. Rather, she was doing religious work, in a form we both understood then, and I understood better later. The fact that, to an outsider, it might have sounded like an argument, did not change its essential character.

Quakers call it “discernment.”

chuck-and-books-blft-circa-1999-copy
Chuck and books, in Pennsylvania 1999

After all, many of the key divine-human encounters in the Bible are a lot like arguments, if you listen behind the euphemized antique language.

So Chris pushed past my demurral.

Wait, she persisted. This was not just any job. It was a Quaker peace project planted near one of the largest U. S. military bases, in the midst of a thoroughly militarized city. It had been lifting up the Quaker Peace Testimony in Fayetteville since 1969.

In particular, it had helped many dissident GIs to find legal ways out of the military, and there were plenty more calling it all the time.

All very admirable, I agreed. But it was not for me.

There were any number of reasons.

At the top of the list, I readily admitted, was unabashed regional prejudice. For seventeen years, from the late 1970s to the middle of 1994, I had lived in northern Virginia, which was in the South despite cosmopolitan pretensions and nearness to Washington DC.

I tapped my chest significantly : That experience, I told her, put me deeply in touch with my Inner Yankee. In mid-1994 a chance came to move to Pennsylvania: I had leaped at it like a prisoner of war spying a hole in the stockade fence.

I was still there, in beautiful Happy Valley. That’s what folks around State College, home of Penn State University, call their mountain-secluded stronghold in the center of the state.

I liked the area. The woman I lived with was rooted there like an oak. We were part of a lively  Quaker meeting there. So why would I want to move?

chuck-and-blft-quaker-cemetery-copy
Next to the old Orthodox Friends cemetery in Bellefonte, PA, near State College.

Okay, I had been laid off from teaching English classes that Spring; that was an issue. But stuff happens. This too shall pass.

Besides, I raved on, North Carolina?  I hadn’t lived there, but knew all I needed to know about it: it was a Four-H state –

It had Heat. Humidity. Hurricanes.

And Jesse Helms. 

jesse-helms-tongue-out
Jesse Helms, longtime reactionary U.S. Senator from NC.

To repeat, no thanks. They could keep him, and the rest of it.

There was more like this.

But none of it fazed Chris Olson-Vickers.

You need to apply for this job, she said again. Chris had grown up in Fayetteville, still had family there. She knew Quaker House’s good work firsthand.

But the job had been vacant for a year and a half; hardly anybody had even applied. If they can’t fill it, she said, the board would have to close Quaker House down.

Which would be a darn shame, because there was still so much to do. There wasn’t any other place like it, she said. This wasn’t just personal, about filling a slot. This was about Quaker witness.

My turn: I said my heart went out to the board, but that didn’t change my conviction. I had grown up on military bases too, I conceded. But that only showed that the military wasn’t for me, and enough was enough.

nc-military-friendly-sign-copy

From there, I switched to two other lines of defense:

For one thing, I pointed out, if what Quaker House did was counsel GIs about military rules and regulations, I knew nothing about those, except that they filled many fat volumes that I had never opened.

Chris shrugged. You could learn, she said.

Besides, I pushed on, the board would be unlikely to hire me, because of my ornery reputation among Quakers. For eleven years I had published an independent Quaker newsletter. It had repeatedly rattled various closeted Quaker skeletons, poked sticks in sleeping dogs, upset various institutional applecarts, otherwise ruffled feathers and mangled metaphors right and left.

Some of this reporting might have been the Lord’s Work, but little of it was what could be considered good career moves. Somebody on the board was sure to be ticked off about something or other.

Chris was equally unimpressed by this ploy. If anybody on the board remembered these old controversies, she was sure that for the project’s survival, they would set it all aside.

If I had only been arguing with Chris, I think I could have prevailed. By the time we were finished, she had badgered me into agreeing that I’d at least send a resume to Quaker House, if only to get her to leave me be. What could it hurt? She said.

Right. What could it hurt? All the most likely outcomes I could imagine would get me off the hook:

Somebody else would apply, who lived closer and really was ready to move. They’d hire them, with my blessing.

Or a board member would recall an old grievance and not let it go. “Fager?” I could see them thinking. “Wasn’t he the one who wrote that inflammatory article about–(whatever)?” And then putting their response: “Over my dead body,” into proper passive aggressive Quakerese:

“Er, Friends, I believe that is a name which would not have occurred to me.”  

I’ve used that sentence myself, and more power to him. Or her.

On the upside, in the meantime perhaps I would find other work, so if they called I could graciously decline.

In any event, I grudgingly kept my word to Chris, sent in the resume when I got back to Pennsylvania, repeated most of the above caveats about it to my woman friend, and then thought about it as little as possible.

And if I had been arguing only with Chris, I’m sure that would have been the end of that.

                                     II

Not thinking about that resume in the next few weeks was relatively easy. That’s because while I was without full-time work, I did have a contract gig, doing research for a union organizing drive among Penn State teaching assistants. So I was busy digging into the seamy side of a large, rapidly expanding, and very secretive university.

Penn State is a hybrid institution, partly public and partly private, and its managers skillfully play both sides of that fence to conceal the maximum amount of inside information from just about all outside scrutiny.

My big achievement in that project was to discover and publish the salary of its president, a number which was as closely guarded as any secret the CIA is hiding. The magic number, about $500,000 as I recall, turned up in an obscure corner of an obscure IRS document filed by an obscure university research foundation.

I’ve done a lot of investigative reporting, and it’s always a thrill to lift the veil on some hidden item which should be public anyway.

But my triumph was short-lived. No sooner had my contact at the local daily paper published the number, backed up by my source, than Penn State’s lawyers/lobbyists swung into action. They interceded with the IRS to get the obscure foundation exempted from that reporting requirement in the future. The CIA could hardly have reacted more swiftly or effectively.

That work was absorbing and often fun. But by the end of the month I was ready for a break. My son Asa had graduated from high school that spring, and had been selected to do a year-long tour with Americorps, starting in a few weeks. I proposed a trip, one of those life-transition journeys a parent and child get to take if they’re lucky.

I had squirreled away enough cash from the research gig to bring it off, I thought. We would be on a tight budget, driving my car, staying mainly with friends, and looking for low-cost attractions, but we could do it.

Where did he want to go? I had asked. Maine, he said. Where in Maine, I wondered – how about Portland, recalling his interest in  the novels of Stephen King? He shrugged. Just Maine would do.

Let’s get there by way of Canada, I suggested and he agreed. So off we went just after Labor Day, heading for Maine by first going northwest to Ontario, and then up to Montreal.

Montreal was especially appealing. It was still warm, and on the night we rolled into town, wondering at the French signs and the general European air, we stumbled onto a noisy street dance, downtown on Ave. St. Denis. Asa took off to find the mosh pit, and I sat by, content to people watch, and bask in my linguistic acuity when, after an hour or so, I figured out that a banner reading “rentrée” meant “back to school.”

samaritans-montreal-copyFrom la belle province we headed to central Maine, where we stayed with Arla Patch, a fine Quaker artist, went to the beach, and visited the Sabbath day Lake Shaker community.  And it was somewhere on that leg that Asa and I fell to talking about generations, and their sense of identity.

He told me he envied mine, the veterans of the Sixties. We knew what we were after, he said, like stopping the Vietnam war and segregation. We had a sense of direction, a center. “Look at my generation,” he pleaded. “What direction do we have?”

I did my best to reassure him. The notion that my peers and I had things together is mostly retrospective eyewash, I said. We were a bunch of kids trying to make sense of a lot of violence and hate. And many of us, his father included, had spent years trying to find, or create, some sense of direction, a sense of what Quakers call centeredness.

I couldn’t say that process had ended, either. And anyway, I would not wish something like the Vietnam war on anybody.

cf-under-arrest-mass-circa-1973-copy
Under arrest – anti-Vietnam war protest, Boston, circa 1973.

We never did get to Portland, to drive past Stephen King’s house. We might have given it a shot when we left, because our plan was to visit my brother in Brooklyn, before heading back to Pennsylvania.

But just as we were climbing into the car, on that lovely Tuesday morning, Arla Patch came out, looking worried, a phone held to her ear, to tell us that something crazy had just happened and it was on TV right then. Something about the World Trade Center. We better come see.

What?” I said, annoyed at the delay, and reluctantly followed her inside to take a look.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

                                 III

Later that day, the car angled southwest across Vermont, aimed well away from Brooklyn and New York City.  The radio kept repeating the awful reports over and over, as if the reporters still could not quite believe what we had all seen, and at some point I turned to Asa. “God help us all, son,” I said, “but I think your generation just found its direction.”

Back home in Pennsylvania, I struggled through the next days, like everyone else, to make sense of what had happened. Only one thing about the aftermath seemed clear to me: the U.S would soon be at war. Where and when were obscure, but this had felt to me like a bottom-line certainty even before we finally rose and left Arla alone with the smoke on her television screen that morning.

This certainty was not a sign of any prophetic gift. It came, I think, more from my roots in a military family. Many of the reflexes of that culture were ingrained: You (whoever “you” were, who hijacked those planes, we still weren’t sure) don’t get away with attacking the Pentagon, the nerve center of all the US military. Somebody will soon face some heavy payback from the armed men and women whose headquarters and stronghold are in that building. 

And chances were very good that when this war started, there would be many more of the innocent killed in their frenzied, fiery search for the guilty. U.S. revenge would be painted on some part of the world in a very broad brush of death.

And me? What would I do in the face of this impending war? The attacks had shaken me, truly, but had not undermined my basic Quaker pacifist convictions. I had just seen murder, on a huge scale. But more murder was not an answer to murder. That was my conviction on September 10; it remained so on September 12th. I also sensed that I would have some small part in struggling to frame and lift up some voice for an alternative. Hell, any serious Quaker (or Christian?) would.  Right?

But what alternative? And how to raise it?

I didn’t know. But Quakers in circumstances like these are taught to wait for “way to open.” Our spirituality is that if we are properly attentive, we will be given “leadings,” which will point us in the way to go.

I’m a Quaker in large measure because that has happened to me. In our literature such experiences are often described in terms of mystical ecstasies or compared to the rush of romantic infatuation. These are as much metaphors as markers, however; it doesn’t happen according to any specific schedule or formula. John 3: 8 applies: “The spirit is like the wind: it blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from, or where it’s going.” 

I knew all this well enough from my own experience. I was about to learn it again.

                                  IV

An email from a stranger named Bonnie Parsons came only a few days after the return from Maine. Smoke was still rising from the wreckage in Manhattan and Washington, and those with their hands on the levers of political power were already taking advantage of the calamity to serve many other ends, but above all the ends of war. Afghanistan was the first target.

Bonnie Parsons said she wanted to talk to me. And it turned out she was not really a stranger: Bonnie Parsons was the Clerk of the Board  of Quaker House in Fayetteville-Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

At this point, we can skip a chunk of chronology. Contemplating Bonnie’s email, I could almost hear the teeth on the gears of Providence grinding into place somewhere above my head. Heaving a sigh at the computer screen, I knew that if Quaker House wanted to talk to me, they would likely want to hire me.

Even with my checkered past, I made a strong competitor for a Quaker job that nobody else wanted. And if they did make an offer, I knew I would take it.

But what about all my objections? My complaints to Chris Olson-Vickers?

They remained, but were no longer of any consequence.

As with the premonition about the coming of war, this was another case where the models from a military background made more sense than the softer language of typical Quaker spirituality. Reading Bonnie’s email, I felt like an old, out of shape army reservist suddenly being called back to active duty.

Such calls come when you receive orders. The tone of such communications is direct, curt, and unmoved by complaints and objections.

In the military, you don’t follow your bliss; you follow  orders. And it’s not about self-fulfillment — or God help us, “transformation” — it’s about a mission, one likely formulated, as they say, somewhere way above your pay grade. And in pursuing the mission, people can get hurt or killed. For that matter, from your lowly perspective, the mission, as far you can understand it, might be stupid, pointless or even self-defeating.

And your lowly perspective may even be right. But orders are orders.

You won’t find this image in any books on Quaker spirituality that I know of, but that day, and still, I could almost hear God speaking, in the tones of an old, profane first sergeant:

sgt-abe-as-god-copy

Oh, so you don’t like Carolina? Fayetteville’s not in your pretty mountains? Too hot and humid, you say? Scared of hurricanes, and you’ll miss your girlfriend?

Tough shit, soldier. Get in line. 

And you’re asking how long your tour will be?

Til further orders, asshole, what did you expect? There’s a war on, or will be in a minute. 

And oh, yeah — I voted for Jesse Helms. Four times. Or was it five? You got a problem with that, soldier?  

Suck it up and drive on.

That’s who else I had been arguing with when I was complaining to Chris Olson-Vickers. And as any soldier knows, those are arguments you don’t win.

I went on the Quaker House payroll December 1, 2001, and moved in over New Year’s 2002. Sure enough, it was the right place, the best place for me. Stayed til the end of November 2012; it, and the wars, wore me out. Which the best job is supposed to do.

We didn’t stop the wars, alas. But we kept at it, and I was able to pass on Quaker House to able successors who kept up the witness; which is how the story is supposed to end.

And which is what needs to happen again now. Maybe you’re the one. Or you know who it could be. (The full job announcement is here.)

Besides, if God talked tough, She was also merciful:  Shortly after I got to North Carolina, Jesse Helms announced his retirement.

– – – – – –

“It’s not the bullet with my name on it that worries me. It’s the one that says ‘To Whom It May concern,’ said an anonymous Belfast resident.”

– from War, the Lethal Custom, by Gwynne Dyer.

“I mean, I can imagine some poor bastard who’s fulfilled all your criteria for successful adaptation to life, … upon retirement to some aged enclave near Tampa just staring out over the ocean waiting for the next attack of chest pain, and wondering what he’s missed all his life. What’s the difference between a guy who at his final conscious moments before death has a nostalgic grin on his face as if to say, ‘Boy, I sure squeezed that lemon’ and the other man who fights for every last breath in an effort to turn back time to some nagging unfinished business?”

– Participant in a Harvard longitudinal life-study, in his 60s; from The Atlantic, June 2009

Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

qh-and-sign-copy

Chuck Fager retired as Quaker House Director Director in 2012.

On September 21, 2019 Quaker House observed its 50th anniversary, and today it is still working with soldier war resisters, military families and veterans. 

Four New Views of Robert E. Lee: History Comes to Richmond

On a road trip with daughter Molly. She too is a history buff.  When we went to Richmond on Oct. 14, I was most eager to drive down fabled Monument Avenue, where a new history is overtaking a former one.

Stonewall Jackson, blood-spattered and bereft.

For more than a century, Monument Avenue was famous for a parade of mounted Confederate leaders, deemed “Heroes of The Lost Cause” by those who planted them. They seemed likely to hover forever above those who passed, permanently secure on huge granite pedestals.

But change has come to Richmond: all the figures in this procession, save one, are gone now. In their places are monuments of a very different kind. Many are almost blank, the lettering engraved on their sides nearly invisible.

Yet on one in particular, new texts & images abound. The current authorities have worked to hem in these new words, and obscure them within a circle of high tight fencing.

The traffic circle where Robert E. Lee stood since 1890 is tightly fenced in. But not tight enough to stop my camera.

Some of the new words are rude and profane. Their colors are strong and garish. The new artists did not, as far as I could tell, sign their work.

Lee’s statue was so big, its base had four sides, each of which became an oversized canvas & billboard.

Fortunately, my camera is small, and fit into many of the narrow gaps between the posts linking the fence’s dozens of sections together. Still, the messages are clear enough, if haphazardly arranged.

 

Only one statue on Monument Avenue stood undisturbed when we were there, that of tennis great Arthur Ashe, which went up in 1996, more than a century after the others. Ashe was born & raised there in the city’s rigidly segregated years.


Ashe is the only person of color among them and, as a writer for Sports Illustrated recently noted, the only winner in the pretentious parade. On the bronze visage, his arm is raised, but he brandishes  neither rifle nor sword but a tennis racket. A local wag as pointed out that of this former bronzed company, Ashe was also the only one who was a winner.

The image of the designated demigod of this doomed pantheon, Robert E. Lee, was the last to come down, on September 8, 2021, and it drew the most attention from the protest artists.

It stood in the center of its own traffic circle, and the massive pedestal remains. For how long, who can say?

But it is a monument still, covered with key texts of a new, and hotly contested “historical narrative.”  Here are my glimpses of it, through the fence, on all four sides.

How long, I wonder, will it stand?

A Tale of Two Bridges: Selma, 1965. Del Rio 2021.

Del Rio,Texas, September 2021. A U. S. Border Patrol agent snatches a Haitian refugee. Planeloads of such refugees, crowded under a nearby bridge, are being deported to Haiti. Their Caribbean homeland has been rocked by the assassination of the president, a major destructive earthquake, and generations of corruption and poverty.
March 1965: An Alabama state trooper stands over the body of civil rights activist Mrs. Amelia Boynton, who had been knocked unconscious during an attack on marchers demanding equal voting rights for Black Americans.
The Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, being crossed by marchers, including the late John Lewis, who was also beaten in the 1965 attack.
2021: The Del Rio Ciudad Acuña International Bridge. Thousands of Haitians, some of whom have been refugees for tears, are gathering there, seeking refuge and safety. The U. S. Government wants to be rid of them.
2021: A U. S. Trooper stands guard over Haitian refugees under the Del Rio bridge. Food and sanitary facilities are in short supply.
2021: The Selma attack resulted in passage of the Voting Rights Act, or VRA. For almost fifty years, the VRA helped millions of previously excluded citizens to vote. But beginning in 2013, the increasingly rightwing U. S. Supreme Court dismantled it. By 2021, the law was all but dead. State actions to suppress votes by citizens of color were again rampant, and spreading like a pandemic.
What will happen to America next? “Quien sabe?” But today. I believe, somewhere, John Lewis is weeping.

 

 

Reflecting on 9/11: My Other Lost Cause

From a letter to a friend:
They’re talking and talking about the 20th observances for the 11th,
with Biden going nonstop,
and there’s an article in the Times or somewhere
about a bunch of the books which supposedly show
all the ways we totally screwed up the impact & aftermath of all that.
Which is all true enough,
But I can’t bear to read it, though I have read a stack of such titles.
And I don’t want to hear all that retriggering retraumatizing stuff on Saturday, or today either,
Tho I know they have to do it.
I think I’m going to hide out that day.
Oh wait — I’m already hiding out. So where do I go from here?

Continue reading Reflecting on 9/11: My Other Lost Cause

For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

My fickle finger of fate, lit up for the big MRI

So: I went in for a thorough cardio checkup, a long  overnight at Duke Med. As the capstone of the process they stuck me in this MRI machine for a long hour of lying stock still on my back, eyes closed and hands slowly going numb under the barrage of whanging and zapping aimed at discovering what if anything functional was left in my upper torso.

In cardio terms, the MRI was a success: they said my heart was pretty much okay for a guy my age: go home, take the pills, and keep in touch.

But an hour later, when I clicked the news on the iPad, I got an eerie sinking feeling: maybe there had been more to that big machine than just a very noisy electronic stethoscope. What if it was also a reverse time machine, doubtless part of the CIA’s vast secret UFO research: when they rolled me in, it was 2021. When I came back out into the light, in much of America it was 1964, or maybe 1953.

Not that I was younger, or anything good was back from those days (big Hershey bars for a nickel, Cokes for a dime, and Elvis on the juke box). Instead, 56 years of civil rights history was gone. While I was in that light beige reverse birth canal, the Voting Rights Act disappeared. Continue reading For A Hearty Holiday: Our Democracy Is Approaching Cardiac Arrest

Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote

As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is  disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.

Continue reading Coming Soon: Maybe the Most Important Book I Never Wrote

Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs.  I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.

The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael  Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:

One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”

“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”

Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.

Continue reading Memorial Day for Those Who Said No

A Tale of Two Conservatives: Liz & Longwell

Maureen Dowd, New York Times columnist

Are we ready for the canonization of St. Liz, of Cheney, Martyr?

Lifetime Catholic MoDo isn’t buying it: columnist Maureen Dowd bats away the shiny new blond miraculous medal. She won’t kneel, or even lean, to light the votive candle.

Her trouble is, mea culpa, Dowd remembers. And talks.

How uncouth, and inconvenient:

Maureen Dowd, New York Times, WASHINGTON — May 9, 2021

Dowd: I miss torturing Liz Cheney. . . .

How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.

I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.

Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.

Yet an unbowed Liz Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”

That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.”

So far, so good, or at least so au courant. And then comes the legendary Dowd dagger:

“But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.

Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.

It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.

From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no W.M.D.s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.

“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.

She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.

She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”

Dowd remembers more:

For many years, [Cheney] had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”

Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.

In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”

Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.

Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)

Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.

By his second term, W. had come around to his parents’ opinion that Cheney had overreached, and the vice president became increasingly isolated.

Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light.

So, shockingly, the Republicans who eroded America’s moral authority — selling us the Iraq war, torture, a prolonged Afghanistan occupation and Sarah Palin — became the new guardians of America’s moral authority. Complete with bloated TV and book contracts.

Trump built a movement based on lies. The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.

Thanks, MoDo.  Like the nun’s rap on my knuckles with her thick wooden ruler, back in parochial school an eon ago, (or more like a whack upside the head), I can see I needed that. I won’t buy the miraculous medal either.

But I admit I might be tempted to light her a candle one of these days.

The beatified one and her Dear Old War Criminal Dad.

At the same time,  I’ve lately been reading about  & listening to some of St. Liz’s ex- Republican admirers.  I’m thinking of the agonized public conversation going on among some of the most cogent anti-Trumpers, now recovering and at least somewhat repentant ex-Republicans. I’m thinking particularly those associated with The Lincoln Project & The Bulwark. Continue reading A Tale of Two Conservatives: Liz & Longwell