Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Uncle Bug"

Times are tough for a lot of folks these days and appear to be getting worse for a whole lot more. I don’t think it is going to get much better anytime soon.

As I was pondering our rather sad state of affairs, the notion of “hope” crept into my mind for no apparent reason. It took me back to a time when I had just graduated from college, filled with myself and my newfound perspective on the world. I was as offensive as any new college graduate ever thought of being. I didn’t just think I had all the answers, I knew I did!

I lived in San Francisco and was an avid reader of a newspaper column in the San Francisco Chronicle under the heading “The Fearless Spectator” written by Charles McCabe. He wasn’t just good, he was damned good. The title of one of his columns was “The Hopelessness of Hope.” I can only recall the title, but I was impressed with the absolute certainty of what he wrote. Given the time and the point in my life, it must have fit in with so many erroneous preconceived notions I held at the time.

In those days, there was only one political party and it was pure Republican. I was one of its most devout. I believed there was no excuse for anyone not making it in this world. All they had to do was put their shoulder to the wheel, work hard and, “voila,” success was theirs to behold! After all, I came from poverty and I made it. But, I conveniently overlooked one very important point. I was the product of the G.I. Bill.

Without the G.I. Bill, when I was discharged from the United States Navy I would simply have returned to that from which I came. Life just isn’t that black and white. My Uncle Bug would have summed me up as being one of those people in life he would liked to have “bought for what he was worth and sold for what he thought he was worth.” There are a lot of those kinds walking around these days.

Uncle Bug was one of six kids who grew up in abandoned cavalry quarters known as Old Bedlam at Fort Laramie, Wyoming during the Great Depression. My Grandfather gave some of his kids nicknames. Early in his life, his youngest son, Clyde, was dubbed with the nickname “My Little Potato Bug.” The name stuck and everyone called him “Bug.” From the time I can remember, I knew him only as Uncle Bug, although later in life, he came to be known as my Uncle Clyde. Somehow, there was something much more endearing about “Uncle Bug,” and that is the way I want to remember him.

Uncle Bug had polio as a child and never fully regained the use of his right arm, so he would have to lift his right arm with his left hand in order to make use of it. It was old hat to him, so no one gave it much thought. He had a broad smile, a hearty laugh and his eyes were as blue as the Wyoming sky under which he was born. His optimism was boundless and equally infectious.

Uncle Bug married a woman who stuck by him through thick and thin. When his family came along, I was well on the way to my teens, so I often had the rare privilege of being his side-kick. He drove a black Willys automobile. I don’t recall that too many of them were made, but he just knew it was one of the best damned cars ever made. The interior was heavy with the pungent smell of cigarette smoke and dust. He would stop by and say, “C’mon Bob, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee.” Off we would go to the Sideboard CafĂ© and I would grimace a bit at his teasing humor and revel in his native wisdom all over again. There must have been some miraculous potion in those cups of coffee, because I always felt better and was tinged with a bit of hope I didn’t have before.

At the time, I didn’t quite realize how tough life was for him and his family. Because of the crippling effects of polio and not having a formal education, his options for earning a decent living were limited. They weren’t just poor, they lived in abject poverty. However, Uncle Bug never allowed his lot in life to dampen his spirit. He gave the term “hope” a whole new meaning and it was contagious, believe me. I cannot even begin to recall how many times his hope took me out of my own poverty, if only for just a fleeting few moments. It was a tonic I badly needed and could not have lived without.

With the passage of time I moved away and rarely saw him. When I did, that same radiant smile and words to the effect that “things will definitely get better,” would ring in my ears. He died in his sixties and, with his passing, over the years I was blessed with a newfound sense of my own imperfections and a badly needed measure of humility.

I respect anyone’s right to believe whatever he chooses. There isn’t one religion that can be empirically proven. Ultimately, all take us back to the one certainty common to them all. They are all based on nothing more than a simple belief. That applies to atheists, as well. However, I have noticed, among those who never doubt their own system of beliefs, there is a certain contempt for those who do. At best, a whole slew of us are in for one heck of a surprise when we cross over the line from this mortal life to whatever lies beyond.

Today, and throughout the ages, hope is all that has sustained multitudes of people in despair. Without that simple belief, they would have nothing. And all of the well-intentioned true believers have no right to deprive anyone of hope.

I choose to believe, when it appears all is lost, hope is God’s way of saying to us, “Hang in there. I am with you.” To that, Uncle Bug would have added, “and things will get better.”

I envision Uncle Bug as having gone up to the Pearly Gates and being greeted by his Maker with these words, “C’mon in Uncle Bug. I have a very special place for you.” And when Uncle Bug answered with “Why would I have a special place here or anywhere?” the response would have been “Because you never abandoned hope.”

When hope is all a person has, no one, not even the most well-intentioned zealots, have the right to deprive anyone of hope, no matter how faint the glimmer. It is the worst form of cruelty I can imagine, unmatched by any other.

Cowboy Bob
April 6, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

"A Healthy Dose of Skepticism"

As we proceed along the continuum of this election cycle, I have to ask myself, what are the spoils so coveted by some of the contestants running for the finish line? It occurs to me there is so much of what lies behind those ambitions that we really know little or nothing about. Who are the real power brokers and what do they have to gain or lose by the outcome?

When I reflect on the corruption and self-serving motives behind so much of what passes in the name of democracy, I find it all rather suspect. What is professed vs. what is realized never quite add up. I cannot even begin to comprehend the magnitude of the power in the hands of multi-national corporations and vast wealth; power that is devoid of any conscience or moral base. What are they really capable of and how far are they willing to go to eviscerate the common man in the pursuit of their glutinous appetite for more and more? Will they yield to the cry of the rank-and-file to clean up the Washington establishment, or will they do all they can to ensure things remain the same for their own benefit?

In my humble opinion, the last seven plus years have been the most perilous and dangerous in the history of this country. The powers usurped by the Executive Branch, aided and abetted by a pathetically compliant Congress and a stacked Judiciary, are nothing short of frightening.

Historically, dictatorships rise out of the embers of a pervasive fear among the body politic, with strong support from the military elite. They wrap their actions in a shroud of secrecy. They manipulate the press in order to further their own agenda. They ignore anything resembling constitutional constraints. They ride rough-shod over the civil liberties of the people. They use the institutions and resources of the state for their own personal ambitions. Does any of this have a familiar ring?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was correct in his admonition to remain suspect of the military-industrial complex. From my perspective, they pretty well do whatever they want, ignoring any meaningful oversight by the Congress and accountability to the electorate. I will not rest easy until they have lost their grip on the White House and it is purged of all vestigial remnants of empire.

Putting another Republican in the White House would amount to nothing more than an extension of the Bush/Cheney doctrine that could well endanger all that remains of our fragile democracy. Their fear tactics and lies have run their course. We cannot afford to take anymore chances. We need a change, but the right change.

Until the Republican Party restores some credibility to its principles, only the “true believers” and those reliving the golden age of Ronald Reagan will give them substance ---- past glories and old memories that have no relevance to the future.

I have serious reservations about the Clintons. If they are such good Democrats, why did Bill sign NAFTA into law? Why did he remove regulatory constraints from the financial institutions that led to the current sub-prime mortgage debacle and the precarious health of Wall Street? Why are they reputed to be major investors in companies based in India that are the beneficiaries of outsourcing jobs from the United States? Why is lying still an accepted part of their strategy for winning? When it comes to what this country needs as opposed to what they will give us is not clear. Their rhetoric does not jibe with their politics.

Why do they covet the presidency to the extent they do? Whose interests will they serve if they get elected? Why did some 30 senior retired military officers line up to endorse Hillary for President, and what kind of influence are they peddling or seeking? Are the Clintons and their surrogates really willing to destroy the Democratic Party in their pathological pursuit of ambition? Being the first woman president hardly seems to justify the shenanigans they have so far employed. And I fear the worst is yet to come.

I don’t trust either of the two major political parties to do squat for the average American. They have held an exclusive grip on Washington for much too long. Their real motives are suspect. We need to salvage the best from both parties, reconstitute them into a solid third party alternative, and get down to the real business of running an open and honest country for the benefit of everyone. We need a complete overhaul of our political system. The incumbents have been entrenched for too long and have put their own interests ahead of the electorate. That has simply got to change. Ralph Nader has long championed breaking the stranglehold on Washington. Sadly, he is old hat and is not taken seriously any more. We must look elsewhere for national leadership. We just don’t need another herd of politicians. We need real statesmen.

Our religious institutions need to clean up their act. They should get back to ministering to our spiritual, moral and ethical needs. They need to get out of the business of amassing great wealth and political power. It is wholly inappropriate. My Grandfather once told me, “If a man waves a Bible in your face, keep your back to the wall.” That seems like pretty good advice to me. These ecclesiastical charlatans serve no useful purpose and are thwarting our ability to effectively govern.

We need to cease being a collection of individual vested self-interests, all jockeying for our own power base, and return to being one people. Let’s get back to basics and accepted standards of what is right and what is wrong. Let’s stop all this crap politely referred to as “political correctness” that is diverting us from the real issues facing the Republic.

We are a nation of laws. Let’s abide by those that are relevant and work to change those that are not, all within the framework of our constitutional form of government. We need to take those laws at face value and stop trying to manipulate the language and intent in order to further the interests of a few at the expense of the many.

I am not at all sympathetic to the bleeding hearts that connive to siphon off resources for those who have not legally obtained the right to share in the fruits of this nation‘s bounty. I am sympathetic to their plight, but they haven’t earned the right to what they haven’t helped create. We are one people all governed by one system of laws. Those who subvert them should pay the price. There is a right way and a wrong way to seek redress. None can have it both ways.

By definition, globalization and free trade agreements level the playing field for all who labor. American workers are well on their way to enjoying the same wages and benefits, with the same standard of living, as their counterparts in third world countries bound by those same agreements. The so-called benefits of these agreements accrue to the benefit of corporate investors and the super rich; not the average person. It is just another way of fleecing the least among us. All of those euphemistic benefits translate into what is generally regarded as a two-class society.

This country is not just economically bankrupt. It is intellectually, spiritually and morally bankrupt, as well. It is way past the time to take the gadgets out of our ears and stop being mesmerized by all of the electronics that numb our brains and isolate us from each other.

We live in perilous times and we have cause to fear the ominous forerunners of what is yet to come. We need to acquire a healthy mistrust of government and political power that serves special interests at the expense of the common man. The foundation of a viable democracy is an informed citizenry; not passive participation served up to us by diversions that have no lasting value for the human race.

I fear our universities and colleges are evolving into hi-tech trade schools at the expense of their traditional roles as seats of intellectual development. It is in intellectual ferment that real human progress and understanding are rooted. Science and technology have never been more important nor have we ever been more dependent on scientific discovery to save us from ourselves. On the other hand, hi-tech toys only serve to seduce us, not enrich us.

Great fortunes have been made, and continue to be made, by the “technological revolution.” But those fortunes cannot come at the expense of liberal arts, the pursuit of knowledge and the wisdom of the ages. The acquisition of knowledge is an arduous process. It is hard work, but it is well worth the effort and the insights that come with it. The political establishment must support those pursuits, accept the challenges that flow from them and not fear them. Such is the nature of real leadership. Therein lies the essence of statesmanship. Let’s just hope some one or a few can rise to the occasion this time around.

Cowboy Bob
April 4, 2008