We DID Start The Fire…

Two fires are burning in America, both fueled by ignorance, indifference, and plain old stupidity.

Curious Kids: when I swipe a matchstick how does it make fire?

In the western US, wildfires burn out of control, consuming millions of acres of forests, entire towns, killing unknown numbers of wildlife, and destroying humans. Many of our fellow Americans push aside the overwhelming evidence of climate change—the intensity of these fires and resulting firestorms are a symptom of the problem—for politics or because of a vested interest in ignoring the science.

Despite the enormous evidence of anthropogenic climate change, we have a President who ignores it all and tells people to “rake their leaves.” That such an unsophisticated, uninformed, scientifically bereft attitude exists in 21st century America is astounding.

We are returning to the Dark Ages where mystics and charlatans guided decisions absent any rational basis. They hide their actions from us by the smoke of fires of our own creation.

We ignore these signs at our own peril, for the earth is resilient. Like any sophisticated, self-sustaining system, our planet has an immune system. If we continue down this path, the earth may come to see us not as the most fantastic product of evolution, but a dangerous one. The signs are already there with glaciers disappearing, sea levels rising, temperatures climbing, and storm intensities increasing.

The planet will protect itself either with us… or from us.

We repeat the pattern of ignoring problems in hopes they will just go away in other matters, the other fire burning across this country—the fire of racism, intolerance, and violent resistance to acknowleding the inequalities in our society.

Despite the mounds of evidence of climate change and racism, we continue to ignore the signs. The only difference between these two issues is we have been ignoring racism for a much longer period, despite having documented it with our own words. Words written by well-intentioned (mostly) individuals or commissions, published with a grand ceremony, then forgotten when the attention fades,

In 1922, the Chicago Commission of Race Relations published a seven-hundred-page report entitled “The Negro in Chicago: A Study of Race Relations and Race Riot.” The report documented evidence of housing and employment discrimination and brutal mistreatment at the hands of the police and the criminal justice system.

(From the report) “… investigations indicate that Negroes are more commonly arrested, subjected to police identification, and convicted than white offenders, that on similar evidence they are generally held and convicted on more serious charges, and that they are given longer sentence… These practices and tendencies are not only unfair to Negroes, but weaken the machinery of Justice and, when taken with the greater inability of Negroes to pay fines in addition to or in lieu of terms of jail, produce misleading statistics of Negro crime.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1935, following riots in Harlem, another report said.

“… The sudden breach of the public order was the result of a highly emotional situation among the colored people of Harlem, due in large part to the nervous strain of years of unemployment and insecurity…it is probable that their justifiable pent-up feelings, that they were victims of gross injustice and prejudice, would sooner or later have brought about an explosion…

The blame belongs to a society that tolerates inadequate and often wretched housing, inadequate and inefficient schools and other public facilities, unemployment, unduly high rents, lack of recreational grounds, discrimination in industry and public utilities against colored people, brutality and lack of courtesy of the police.” (emphasis mine)

Nothing changed.

In 1977, Michael Lipsky and David J. Olson published a study entitled “Commission Politics: The Processing of Racial Crisis in America.” They said between 1917 and 1943, at least twenty-one commissions were appointed to investigate race riots.

Take a look at you and me,

are we too blind to see,

do we simply turn our heads

and look the other way

Well the world turns

Despite the sincerity and good intentions of theses twenty-one commissions, nothing changed. The reports were printed, distributed, read, and forgotten.

The Kerner Commission, the grandaddy of race riot reports written after the Watts Riot in LA in the 1960s, is another example. Well written and meticulously researched, it documented the conditions leading to the riot and was largely ignored.

President Lyndon Johnson, who could not understand why his Great Society initiative—Voter Rights Act, Welfare Reform, and other programs—did not solve the problem, refused to accept it.

Nothing changed.

In 1969, Elvis Presley had a hit record called In the Ghetto, written by Mac Davis. A prophetic tune then, and now.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto
And his mama cries
’cause if there’s one thing that she don’t need
it’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto
People, don’t you understand
the child needs a helping hand
or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me,
are we too blind to see,
do we simply turn our heads
and look the other way
Well the world turns
and a hungry little boy with a runny nose
plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto
And his hunger burns
so he starts to roam the streets at night
and he learns how to steal
and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto
Then one night in desperation
a young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car,
tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries
As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto
As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

 We face a turning point in America. The challenges we face– the raging inferno of wildfires amplified by climate change, and the hellish nightmare of our failure to address racism and discrimination against our fellow Americans–can be our descent into Armageddon or our rise to Enlightenment.

There have been times in our history when a leader emerged—often one we might least suspect of having the courage or ability—to guide and unite us in a time of need.

George Washington, a surveyor and soldier, who rose to become the epitome of a selfless statesman dedicated to the good of the country, led us through the birth of a nation.

Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky woodsman who rose to lead us toward reunifying the country and abolishing slavery. Who knows how different we might have been if he had lived out his second term?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, once seen as weak and ineffectual, rose to lead us out of not one, but two dangerous dark times in our history, the Great Depression and World War II.

We face such a choice this November. Can Joe Biden rise to this moment in history and lead this country out of the conflagration we face? I am uncertain. But I am sure of this; Mr. Trump will not. He is not the leader we desperately need at this moment in history.

We need someone to quell the flames, not fan them.

We need someone who embraces science and reason, not disparages it,

We need someone with compassion for the challenges facing people of color, not one who openly encourages white supremacy and fear-mongering.

There is one other thing I am confident we do not need. We do not need another commission to study these problems. We need a leader who will gather the best and the brightest among us and craft solutions.

Or the song will just repeat itself all over again and the country will continue to burn until there is nothing left of America…

As her young man dies,
on a cold and gray Chicago mornin’,
another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

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American Impatience: Blessing and Curse

“Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century.”

― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn

Americans are an impatient people. It seems it is a characteristic we’ve borne since the very founding of this nation. When the Europeans first set foot upon the land, driven here by several factors, impatience for change played a major part.

The original colonists sought tolerance for their differences in religious tenets. They were impatient with a government unwilling to change and accommodate them. Their impatience with conditions in Europe took hold in America. They grew impatient with Native American resistance to their usurping of traditional tribal lands.

This impatience grew under the boot heel of English domination, erupting in open rebellion to the crown. It led to the creation of a new experiment in self-governing, disdain of royalty, and loathing the concept of divine ascension to the throne.

Our impatience drove us to ignore many of the founding principles—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—as we exterminated Native Americans in a quest to seize their land to satisfy our impatience with the status quo.

Yet, over time, despite sometimes violent changes, we came to tame our impatience and learn to direct it toward the common good.

When our impatience clashed with the resistance to abolishing slavery and the secession of those who refused to release their fellow humans from bondage, we went to war.

Our impatience with the continuous bloodshed faced an ever more powerful force in the commitment and dedication of one of the greatest Presidents we have ever had, Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln understood our impatience and turned it to accomplish the goal. It was our most costly war, yet we survived.

In 1939, the world plunged into a global conflagration. Our impatience with the last vestiges of the depression caused us to turn away from the battle as something outside our concern. Roosevelt understood this and sought to help those affected European nations without coming up against our intransigence to get involved.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the Axis powers declared war on the United States, Americans put aside their impatience. For four long years, we fought and died to save the world.

Yet, an element of our impatience drove us to victory—and set the stage for our potential destruction. Seeking an end to the war ignited an effort to develop a weapon so terrible no one would want to use it.

And we succeeded and failed. We built the weapon and, in our impatience with waiting for the inevitable fall of Japan, became the only nation to use atomic weapons.

By July 1945, the defeat of the Axis powers was inevitable. Germany had surrendered, the Japanese were starving, surrounded, and running out of oil. When the Japanese refused to believe we had such a devastating weapon, despite efforts to convince them, our impatience compelled us to grant them a view of Armageddon.

Thus came the destruction of Hiroshima, followed by the obliteration of Nagasaki. Our impatience had ended the war and opened a new chapter in world history. Soon, the atomic bomb gave way to ICBMs—missiles equipped with thermonuclear warheads.

The dawn of MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction — was upon us.

This same impatience has accomplished much good. It drove us to put a man on the moon. To be the first people to leave the planet in the dawn of a new age, the age of exploring the universe. The directing of our impatience into a defined goal should have shown us the power within ourselves.

Instead, we grew impatient with the slow progress and turned away. We turned our efforts inward to more self-gratifying pursuits. Our drive for the moon ended with Apollo 17. While we have the ISS, and Americans are in orbit almost all the time, we are just now recapturing the ability to launch our own astronauts.

Youth have always been impatient, wanting each day to come sooner, to flyby, and then move on to the future they view as both destiny and a better place. Impatience fueled by the mistaken belief they have all the time in the world.

The folly of youth unfettered by the inevitability of death.

In a time when the simplest actions—wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, minimizing the risk to our fellow Americans—are all that is needed to ride out the storm, we can’t manage even a few months of patience and determination.

With age comes the desire to slow down time, savor the moment, fend off the rapidity with which it passes. Yet when confronted with a challenge, we’ve forgotten all the lessons of history. We ignore the benefit of tempering impatience despite the hard lessons of our history.

America’s impatience is a dual-edged sword. Driving us to achieve when others urged caution or sending us on fool’s missions toward disasters.

We are living in a time of a pandemic—a time that tests our mettle. Our impatience may kill us if we do not choose our path with care. We forget we are people capable of patient determination in the face of adversity. We forget the legacy of two World Wars, lost to the fog of the past. We forget the fallacy of our mistakes, lost in the noise of our loathing any inconvenience.

We may have the right to pursue happiness, but often that path is paved with challenges requiring patience.

In a time when the simplest actions—wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, minimizing the risk to our fellow Americans—are all that is needed to ride out the storm, we can’t manage even a few months of patience and determination.

Our impatience as Americans drives us to accomplish many things. Yet if we fail to temper that impatience with rationality, it will be our demise. It has already caused the death of 131,509 Americans. If we want to be impatient, be impatient with those who refuse to perform such simple acts out of pure selfishness.

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Erasing History

The recent decision of the United States Marine Corps to ban displays of the Confederate flag is a necessary and welcome policy. I am proud to say, my cousin, Lieutenant General John Broadmeadow, was the senior Marine officer signing and issuing the official command.

Banning symbols associated with those who once fought to preserve slavery is a worthwhile goal. The flag represents two fundamental and undeniable legacies, slavery and a once lethal enemy of the United States of America.

Some have tried to spin the past into a less sinister reality. But the states that seceded from the Union did so to preserve and protect slavery. Every other rationale was ancillary and tangential to the cause.

These are the words three states publicized in justifying their secession.

Georgia

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic…”

Mississippi

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

South Carolina

“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.”

Let there be no doubt about it, the argument for secession by the confederate states was based on slavery. They considered slaves to be nothing more than property. They saw the rising tide of abolition as an unlawful deprivation of their rights to this property by the government. There was no consideration of the black race as anything near as valuable as the white race. The south saw slaves as little more than two-legged pack animals.

 No alteration of facts, or creative interpretation of history, can change that reality.

Yet, the clamor to remove monuments to those who supported the south as a way of cleansing the stain of slavery is an exercise in contradictions and a fool’s mission.

These statues and artifacts represent a period in history important for us to remember. Removing them will not alter the past anymore than denying the reality behind it.

To remove the name of General Braxton Bragg from Fort Bragg, North Carolina cannot stand scrutiny without removing all those who may have held slaves.

One cannot erase history, no matter how unpleasant, unless one will wipe out all of it. And that is impossible.

If we tear down the statues to Robert E. Lee or Jefferson Davis because they fought in the cause of slavery, should we also remove statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or the sixteen other Presidents who owned slaves?

Jefferson himself, while troubled by the institution of slavery, vacillated in his position. While he lamented the practice, he still held onto his slaves.

“I can say with conscious truth that there is not a man on earth who would sacrifice more than I would, to relieve us from this heavy reproach [slavery], in any practicable way. the cession of that kind of property, for so it is misnamed, is a bagatelle which would not cost me in a second thought, if, in that way, a general emancipation and expatriation could be effected: and, gradually, and with due sacrifices, I think it might be. but, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go. Justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other”

If we are to remove the name Bragg from the fort, should we rename Washington, DC?

Do we erase from the history books the actions of William Tecumseh Sherman because of his total war in Georgia? Sherman was not an abolitionist. He didn’t care if the south held slaves, he fought to preserve the Union. Are those motivations admirable absent a revulsion to slavery?

Sherman’s own words expressed the nature of his conduct of the Southern Campaign.

“I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting—its glory is all moonshine; even success the most brilliant is over dead and mangled bodies, with the anguish and lamentations of distant families, appealing to me for sons, husbands and fathers … tis only those who have never heard a shot, never heard the shriek and groans of the wounded and lacerated … that cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation.”

Sherman may have detested the realities of “hard war” but he did not shy away from visiting it in all its terror upon his enemies. Is his memorial something to preserve while we demolish those of Robert E. Lee?

Where do we stop trying to whitewash history? Do we remove all the names of soldiers memorialized in Forts and military posts who took part in the genocide of Native Americans?

Much of our history is written in blood. We shouldn’t try to obliterate these histories but learn from them. These statues and portraits represent Americans who lived during a much different time. They stood by their convictions, no matter how we view them now, and their fellow countrymen saw fit to memorialize them.

They are a part of history that is undeniable, unchangeable, and unerasable. Trying to understand the motivations of those who supported the southern cause is important, so such misguided endeavors never happen again.

They also remind us that slavery was the precursor to something many Americans still endure. They carry scars not from the whip but from the crippling pain of racism and discrimination.

The Confederate Flag should be on display in museums and history books. The legacy of slavery should be an important element of every American’s education.

For someone to display the Confederate Flag today is equal to displaying a Nazi flag. We do not celebrate the causes of our enemies. Despite efforts to recharacterize the motivations of secession, the fact remains that the Confederate States took up arms against the United States of America to preserve slavery. One of the most hateful legacies of human history.

Yet it is important, when those enemies were fellow Americans, that we don’t bury history because it is painful to recall it. Remembering something, in its proper perspective, is different than celebrating or endorsing it.

History is a valued teacher if we learn to appreciate and put the lessons into context.

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In Every Moment Lies Opportunity

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”

William Arthur Ward

We have before us one of those moments in history where we face a great upheaval. Often such times are defined by war, ours results from evolution—a mutated virus.

Now in such times we have a choice. We can bemoan the social distancing and shelter-in-place measures necessary to limit the spread of the virus, or we can look for the opportunities within. Wailing and gnashing of teeth about how difficult this is does little to salve our discontent. Crying about the unfairness is a waste of effort. Ignoring the measures out of a selfish sense of inverted priorities is to threaten family, friends, and the whole of the nation.

As a wise woman was fond of saying, “Life’s not Fair.”  That wise woman was my mother and I know, were she alive today, if confronted with someone complaining about the situation would tell them to “get over it and stop acting like a two-year-old.”

Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on the fact you have an opportunity—and the time — to do things that often get left aside in our 7X24 connected world.

Write a letter to a friend, relative, or perhaps a person in the service serving their country in a far-off place unable to be here with their family.

Read a book. Read a book to someone, even if they are far away, put Facetime or some other modern form of communication to a good use.

Take a class on-line.

Visit a zoo thru the wonders of webcams.

Go for a walk (if you can do so without coming closer the 6 feet from others)

Write that great American Novel everyone seems to want to do.

Listen to music. Really listen to music, not as background to your day, but to recapture the essence of why music “has charms to soothe the savage breast.” I find in moments of difficulties listening to the music of my youth is a tonic for the soul.

Write a song, write a poem, list the things you will do when the world recovers. And then do them when the opportunity arises.

Sit outside and look for shapes in the clouds.

Write a diary of these moments so, decades from now, you can remember the things you did and how you overcame any tendency to whine and complain.

Free your mind. Now is the time to awaken or reawaken the magic of imagination, of all things in this universe, it has no limit.

Stay well, stay in, stay safe.  This too shall pass.

An American Twelve Year Memory Loss

In 1956, the year I was born, the world was a much different place than it is today. My generation came into a nuclear-armed world where the possibility of global annihilation rested on the shoulders of opposing powers, Democracy and Communism.

wordmapOr so we were told as we learned to duck and cover under our desks in case of nuclear attack. A mere twelve years before, in 1944, the world still faced Hitler, the Final Solution, and raging war. The end of the war still more than a year, and hundreds of thousands of more deaths, away.

There were no cell phones, websites, or Facebook.

Imagine.

Twelve years later, in 1968, America was being torn apart as much as our military forces were tearing apart the country of Vietnam. The ’68 Tet Offensive, live on TV, brought the war into the American living room as the body count climbed. The military defeat of the Viet Cong lost in the outrage over America’s continued spending of the blood of our young men and women for a failed policy.

Twelve more years pass and, by 1980, Americans were held hostage in Iran, and a new President came into office promising to win their release. What first appeared to be the success of a firm and effective policy later turned out to be political subterfuge.

In 1992, a new chapter dawns. A President takes office who would reopen relations with Vietnam and start the healing process for those who fought there, and then go on national television and lie to the American people. An unnecessary and foolish lie.

Another twelve years, 2004, would find America embroiled once again in an endless war, with no clear goals and no end in sight. A President would commit troops to combat and tell the American people to go shopping.

He would go on to declare “mission accomplished.”

Twelve years later, 2016, the troops were still there. Except, of course, for the ones who’d been wounded or killed after the mission was accomplished.

We also had a new President. In the peculiar institution of our electoral process, more people voted against him than for him but he won the Electoral College.  It gives one pause to consider if we should rethink the accreditation of this college.

Nevertheless, he is the President.

Since taking office, he has shut down the government unless Congress meets his demand for money to build a wall most people agree is an ineffective solution to a complex problem.

And so it goes.

It would seem Americans have an attention span of fewer than twelve years. We repeat the same mistakes, or conveniently forget about them

If I am fortunate enough to enjoy the full extent of my life expectancy, I have two or three more twelve-year cycles to go. Let’s hope we get better at it.

Lessons From Auschwitz-Birkenau

One cannot help but be tormented by the sights of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The sheer size of the complex and the efficiency with which the Nazis exterminated millions is overwhelming. Each of the chimneys in this view are remnants of a barracks that held 4-5 hundred human beings awaiting death.

Emptied and refilled over and over.

The Nazis epitomized all that is wrong with humanity. It is necessary to remind ourselves of the beast within us.

Adolf Hitler killed no Jews.  He used the power of hate, anger, misinformation, and repetition of lies to inspire an entire nation to kill millions of innocent men, women, and children just because they were different. For anyone, anywhere, to emulate the philosophies of the Nazis is the height of ignorance and evil.

To deny the Holocaust is obscene. It is to abandon one’s very soul.

Instead of worrying about football players taking a knee during the National Anthem, we should all be more concerned about the existence of the American Nazi Party and their supporters. Nothing is more unAmerican than such hate.

I defy any rational human being to stand under the gate to Auschwitz, to read the words Arbeit Macht Frei, and not recognize the evil of such philosophies. To stand in a room once filled with human beings stripped of their dignity and realize it was intentionally flooded with poisonous gas by other human beings is to know pure evil.

I stood mere feet from the ovens used to consume the remains of what were once vibrant human beings, all in the cause of purifying the Third Reich. That people holding such philosophies exist today is the worst abomination of humanity. The one thing every American should agree with is there is no place for such hate in our country or anywhere in the world.

It is said that if you desire peace, you should prepare for war. I think a better philosophy is,

If you desire peace, remember the cost of war.

These shoes, taken from a child before he or she was sent to the gas chambers, are a reminder of that cost. They sit alone in front of 40000 pairs found in storage after the Nazis fled the camps. A small reminder of the estimated 16 million pairs taken during the Holocaust.

What potential did we lose with this child’s death?

An Einstein? A Chopin? A Maya Angelou? A Nobel Prize in Medicine?

That is the cost of war and the price of forgetting the past.

At the entrance to one of the barracks in Auschwitz, is the saying by George Santayana “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.”

Remember, Hitler did not kill one Jew.  Yet, with mere words, caused millions of deaths for the sake of a lie.

Never Again!

Words to Inspire: Lost in the Past

At his inaugural address, John F Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”

I remember that. Those words inspired me and a generation.

It would seem, since then, those that would inspire us are gone.

LBJ took American service personnel to Vietnam. 56000 never came back. The only words I remember from him are, “I shall not seek…”

In other words, he quit.

Richard Nixon took his place. His most memorable words, “I am not a crook.”

Gerald Ford had a brief run. I cannot remember his words of any note. Perhaps, “Fore…Oops.”

Jimmy Carter followed. Sadly, I cannot think of any words by him worth remembering.

Ronald Reagan came next. The words I recall are, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Not the most inspirational of words.

George Bush the First came next…. drawing a blank on that one.

Then came William Jefferson Clinton. “I did not have sex with that woman.” 

The most memorable words from this President are so disheartening. He sounded like a drunken husband, lipstick on his collar and cheap perfume on his clothes, making excuses to his wife.

George the second came next. It’s hard to find a cohesive written thought by him, let alone words that inspire a nation. Oh wait, “Mission accomplished…” 

Wrong. (to quote another would-be President)

Barrack Obama reignited the concept of an articulate President. His words as the first African American President offered a renewed hope. The hope of positive change as our future.

We almost made it.

And now we face a dilemma.

The next president is going to be one of two people. One whose every word incites scorn and disdain. 

Another who defies explanation. You figure out who is who.

Where has this country gone? A country that once inspired words like, “When in the course of human events…” or “We the people of the United States….” Where has that country gone?  

The best we can offer today is a scowling face that says “Wrong” and “She’s a nasty woman” or a woman who best comeback is “Well Donald, maybe you should ask Bernie Sanders.”

That’s the inspiration for a new era?

I mourn the death of the days of Presidents and those that would-be President who inspired us. I am saddened that the candidates today force us to choose a lesser evil.

I want a candidate that will speak and act in a way that generations will remember, not long for.

Can anybody here find us one of those?

Southwestern Thoughts: Pueblos and Rock Music

Traveling through the Southwest, I was intrigued by the changing landscapes. From the flat desert of Phoenix we climbed into the mountains as we drove to Albuquerque.1668896_orig The mountains, steep and rocky, soon gave way to more gently rolling hills now covered with pine trees instead of cactus.

We were at elevations of six to eight thousand feet and the contrasts to the desert couldn’t be starker.

The beauty of this part of the country is breathtaking. The other obvious element of this area is the influence of Mexico. This is a land where the Spanish influenced language, mixed with the cultural heritage of the Mexican people, blended with the Native culture of the Pueblo people exemplifies the best of the multi-cultural melting part that is America.

It occurred to me that calling for a wall between the United States and Mexico would be an insult to the people of this area. These are people who take pride in their culture yet are more American in their attitude than some would admit.

These are a people who accept their differences as a benefit to the country, not something to be lost or blocked off.

There was a time not long ago when the policy of the government, following on the heels of the Spanish efforts, tried to wipe the native culture of the Pueblos from the face of the earth. They forced the children into Indian Schools where they were force-fed Christianity, English, and European history.

They were forbidden to practice their own religion and cultural traditions.

They were forbidden to speak their own language.

They were forced to abandon their history.

This is the land that gave us the “Wind Talkers” of Navajo fame. Whose exploits in the South Pacific against the Japanese are now legendary. Yet, for years it was concealed because to acknowledge it was to give credence to a culture we did not embrace.

The reason for our trip out here was to attend a Mumford and Sons concert. The music was great if a bit loud (I know, my age is showing.) I was struck by the power of the music to inspire the crowd to dance and sing along.

I have never been one for dancing, yet I was a bit envious of those who let themselves be carried away by the songs. Many let themselves just dance away. Many looked quite natural at it. Some, those who haven’t visited a gym or a salad bar in years, looked almost dangerous but hey, they were dancing.

After the concert, we journeyed to Albuquerque and will continue on to Taos and Santa Fe. Here in Albuquerque, we visited the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. We watched a demonstration of several Native American dances performed by a new generation of Pueblos trying to maintain their cultural heritage.

Many of these dances are performed as part of the Pueblo peoples’ appreciation for the interrelationship of all to the Earth. The animals they hunt, crops they grow, the water they receive as rain are all given due thanks and gratitude.

To the Pueblo, this is their form of devotion to their concept of the creator. Their creation story is no more or less valid than any other. Yet, under the guise of the Christian tradition, we tried to destroy it as a false legend.

It struck me as I watched these young men and women dance, that if people spent less time praying and trying to convince others their beliefs are wrong and more time dancing, be it to a rhythmic chant of an ancient Puebloan rite of harvest or a Mumford and Sons ballad, we’d all be better off.

History and Future: The Window of Lyrics

Music has always been an important part of my life. Serving as a soundtrack, memory anchor, and source of entertainment and inspiration.

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I am always fascinated by the way the human mind works, memory in particular.

Memory is a mystery. I often cannot recall things I did mere moments ago, yet I can recall the lyrics of songs I haven’t heard in decades.

The lyrics of the songs which have most influenced my life seem to lie just below the surface of my conscious brain, waiting for the first few notes of the melody to bring them bursting forth. I wonder if every generation has such memories.

This got me thinking of the lyrics of songs that made it to the top of the charts over the course of my lifetime. Curious if there was some commonality in the lyrics that made them resonate with us.

Looking at these revealed some interesting things.

I wonder if music, along with economics, social attitudes, and incarceration rates, can measure the health of a society.

I think the sixties marked the emergence from the euphoria of the victorious end of WW II and launched a new era.

In 1956, the year I was born, the number 1 hit was Heartbreak Hotel by Elvis Presley. He holds the number 1 and 2 position for that year. I dare say Elvis resonates with many, foreshadowing the shift in American society coming just over the horizon of the 60’s.

In 1960, the number one song was The Twist.

Twist

Come on baby
Let’s do the twist
Come on baby
Let’s do the twist
Take me by my little hand
And go like this

Ee-yah twist
Baby, baby twist
Ooh yeah, just like this
Come on little miss and do the twist

My daddy is sleepin’
And mama ain’t around
Yeah, daddy just sleepin’
And mama ain’t around
We’re gonna twisty twisty twisty
Till we tear the house down

Once again, the opening lines of a change in the air. Still focusing on the pleasures of music and the freedom to let oneself go as you “…twisty twisty twisty. Till we tear the house down.”

The number 2 song of the 1960’s was Hey Jude and number 3 was Theme from a Summer Place. Of these three, it is the melody and lyrics of number 3 that resonate with me.

There’s a summer place
Where it may rain or storm
Yet I’m safe and warm
For within that summer place
Your arms reach out to me
And my heart is free from all care
For it knows…

…And the sweet secret of a summer place
Is that it’s anywhere
When two people share
All their hopes
All their dreams, all their love

The decade of the seventies, an important one for my friends born in 1956, began with one of the most iconic songs of all time.

Bridge over Troubled Water

…When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all (all)
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

The decade, from my perspective, didn’t end well musically. The number 1 song of 1979 was My Sharona. I had to look up the lyrics. The only part I could remember was the repetitive chorus.

…Never gonna stop, give it up, such a dirty mind
I always get it up, for the touch of the younger kind
My, my, my, aye-aye, whoa!
M-m-m-my Sharona
M-m-m-my Sharona

Hints of the descent into a dismal creative hell. Less elegant lyrics written without heart and soul.

1980, the beginning of the next decade, led off with a mixed bag. The number 1 song was Call Me by Blondie.

Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I’ll never get enough
Emotions come, I don’t know why
Cover up love’s alibi

Just doesn’t have the same effect as “Like a bridge over troubled water.” There was a hopeful sign with the number 2 song Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd, but by the end of the decade, the descent was out of control.

The number 1 hit of 1989 was Look Away by Chicago. Now I have always loved the music of Chicago, but this was not the same band. Cetera had left the group; the outstanding horn elements were missing. And the lyrics? Once again, I had to look them up.

When you called me up this mornin’
Told me ’bout the new love you found
I said, “I’m happy for you, I’m really happy for you”

Found someone else
I guess I won’t be comin’ ’round
I guess it’s over, baby
It’s really over baby, whoa…

A far cry from Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

By 1998 the demise of civil society was in full, raging rampage. Here are the lyrics to a song from that year. The song is called Ho. If this invokes a Christmas Carole theme in your mind, the words will dispense of it forthwith.

The artist is called Ludacris. And the lyrics? Well, they “speek fo demselfs.”

“Ho”

…You doin ho activities
With ho tendencies
Hos are your friends, hoes are your enemies
With ho energy to do whacha do
Blew whacha blew
Screw whacha screw
Yall professional like DJ Clue, pullin on my coat tail
an why do you think you take a ho to a hotel?
Hotel everybody, even the mayor
Reach up in tha sky for tha hozone laya
Come on playa once a ho always
And hos never close they open like hallways
An heres a ho cake for you whole ho crew
an everybody wants some cuz hoes gotta eat too

Somehow, I don’t see those lyrics inspiring anyone. If they are the soundtrack of the lives of some of our fellow Americans, then perhaps there is something to be learned in the words and melodies of our music history.

Everyone’s taste is different. A style that uplifts one may annoy another. There’s plenty of room in the world for all types of music. Every word written as a part of music doesn’t need to inspire or uplift or even be memorable.

Sometimes, just a catchy tune with simple lyrics is enough.

Yet, when we look at the overall level of literacy and language used within music. When we compare what once filled the musical airways with what came later. We may see something reflective of society.

And we may not like what we see.