Tuesday, February 20, 2018

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Our young people feel betrayed.

Youngsters are getting murdered at a sickening rate. After the Florida high school attack, survivors are angry. They are speaking out, staging sit-ins and planning protest marches. 

Their elders have abandoned them. As one of those elders, I am ashamed of my country. And I see myself as one of the good guys. I've worked for decades to derail the nefarious plans of crackpot right-wingers. I have allies in the fight. Fellow travelers, in the terminology of the Red Scare 1950s. In a small place such as Wyoming, we tend to know one another. Right now, we have our eyes on a state legislature dominated by wingnuts. I would say wingnuts from the hinterlands, but some of the worst ones are from the state's most populated county -- Laramie. My county. 

Sad to say, being a good guy is not enough. 

The children can teach us. Today, 100 teens from Parkland, Fla., got on a bus and took their pleas to their legislators in Tallahassee. We send them our thoughts and prayers. Scratch that. Thoughts and prayers have already been tried. I send my anger with them. They will confront a building filled with earnest faces.  Good guys -- mostly guys. They are involved in their churches, love their wives and children, are kind to animals, and care for the state of the nation.

Sad to say, being a good guy is no excuse.

To paraphrase Jesus: "You will know them by their actions." Matthew 7:20: "...by their fruits you shall recognize them." These legislators, many of them from rural America, are good Christians and read the Bible. Perhaps they neglected this section of Matthew. To use another phrase, "actions speak louder than words." What are their actions? They rail against immigrants. They demonize their LGBTQ neighbors. They cut food and medical benefits for those who need it most. They hatch plans to stop blacks and Hispanics from voting. They cut funds to education. They give carte blanche to gun dealers. 

You know them by their actions. So why do you keep voting for them? I ask these questions of Wyomingites, too. Florida may be in the news but we are seeing some ridiculous behavior in our own reps. In Wyoming, we are looking at a bill to allow conceal and carry in churches. Really? Have these people no sense of right and wrong? Didn't they get their butts paddled if they lied and cheated and bore false witness against their neighbors? Didn't they get Atticus Finch or Andy of Mayberry-style lectures when they broke the rules? They show no evidence of this. Apparently, you can't trust the words of good guys.

Our children and grandchildren now show us the way. I am not going to rain on their parade. Tread carefully, I could say. Be patient. After all, the world won't change with one fit of outrage, one speech, one march. But they will have to discover these hard facts as they work for change. 

As many aging activists will tell you, the struggle for black civil rights took hundreds of years. Women's Movement veterans can tell you the same thing. The struggle for gay rights didn't begin with Stonewall. Environmentalists have been publicly advocating for change since the first Earth Day in 1970.  But those battles have been going on a lot longer as people discovered that their fate is tied to that of the planet. 

This is beginning to sound like a graduation speech. I apologize. Aging good guys see themselves as founts of wisdom even though they may be just tired and afraid. I advise you -- wear sunscreen and don't take any wooden nickels.  

And don't let the good guys get in your way. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Dear President Trump: Please don't put mental health care on your radar screen

The most distressing news to come out of the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre is that President Trump is now going to pay attention to mental health.

We have seen what happens to issues when Trump starts paying attention to them. His "concern" about our immigration laws have led to families being ripped apart by ICE and the Dreamers dreams to be abandoned.

And then there is the ridiculous border wall.

He and his Congressional cronies addressed the economy by passing the TaxScam bill that turns the economy over to the billionaire class.

Healthcare? He wants drastic cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, the country's two largest health care programs.

SNAP or food stamps? Replace the SNAP system with a plan to send food boxes to those on the program. I would say those "poor people" on the program, but I know better. Our family used food stamps on an interim basis when I was underemployed and we had four mouths to feed on a salary for two. My disabled daughter is now in the SNAP program. SNAP feeds people. I hesitate to guess what kind of Republican-approved edibles would show up in a Trump Food Box.

Education? I have one name for you: Betsy DeVos. She is our so-called secretary of education who wants to privatize our prized public school system and to turn college students into paupers. Trump's base hates the educated class because we insist on using facts in our political arguments.

Now mental health. I have written about the mental health system numerous times. I am not a mental health professional. But my daughter has been in the system for 11 years and I can speak with some authority of her experience -- and ours.

My daughter Annie has been diagnosed as bipolar and has borderline personality disorder. Over the years, our family has sought treatment for Annie in many programs in five states. Why so many? First, she was unable to get the care she needed in Wyoming which, to federal granting programs, is considered a pioneer state, as if we were still rolling across the prairie wagons or handcarts. We are fortunate to live in the state's capital city and have used the services of good therapists and psychiatrists, some in private practice and some who work with Peak Wellness. As a minor, we had some say in the places she was sent for treatment, some of those in Colorado and California. When she turned 18, she made some of those choices, not all of them good. Some were excellent, as was New Roads Treatment Center out of Salt Lake City. Her caregivers in 2018 are at Summit Stone in Fort Collins, Colo. Colorado has a leader and mental health advocate in Gov,. John Hickenlooper.

One of the strengths and weaknesses of the United States is that every state sets its own agenda. Colorado has a Democratic governor and mostly progressive legislature. Wyoming has a Republican governor and a Know Nothing Republican legislature. Guess which state takes better care of its mentally ill?

Just take a look at some of the crackpot bills that are on the agenda for this year's Wyoming Legislature.

Please, I beg you President Trump, don't pay attention to mental health care. It has enough problems without you.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Remind your legislators that the arts and humanities make Wyoming great

I won't be attending the Governor's Arts Awards Gala tonight in Cheyenne. Not because I don't think it's important -- it is. I'm taking a year off. As a Wyoming Arts Council staffer, I helped put on the event for 20-some years. Now I'm retired, and filling my time with my own artistic pursuits. 

What is the Governor's Arts Awards? Every summer, the WAC opens nominations for individuals, organizations, patrons, and businesses who have helped make the arts a major player in this state. The WAC board chooses some worthy honorees and those are sent over to the Governor who makes the final decisions. This year's honorees are ART 321/Casper Artists' Guild, Susan Moldenhauer of Laramie, Leslie O'Hashi of Cheyenne, and Dr. Patrick Patton of Casper College. I have worked with them all. A deserving group. They will be feted Feb. 9 and receive a huge framed plaque.

We all talk about downtown redevelopment. The Casper Artists' Guild takes it seriously. The group has been around for decades, much of the time in its old location near downtown. When an old Yellowstone District warehouse came up for sale, the guild's Holly Turner and cohorts raised funds to take over half of the building. It's now Art 321 (for its address) and is a great gallery and workshop space for Casper artists. Stop in the next time you're in Casper. View the art. Check out the gift shop. Have lunch in the funky neighboring bistros, such as Racca's Pizzeria Napoletana. Art 321 is just down the street from the new David Street Station where I took in a few concerts during last summer's eclipse festival. A cosmic event brought people to Casper last summer. The arts made it come alive.

Art organizations and businesses often serve as catalysts for further development. That, alone, does not deserve a Governor's Arts Award. But it does demonstrate the importance of the arts. The arts are a necessity and not a luxury if you want a well-rounded populace. That's the key question: what kind of state do you want? Wyoming features lots of outdoors but, as the saying goes, you can't eat the scenery. But you can eat by painting or writing about or singing songs about the scenery. Our open spaces inspire artists in all fields. That takes the form of a a bronze sculpture of running pronghorn by Guadalupe Barajas or a surreal photo of a windy day on the prairie by Moldenhauer, one of this year's honorees. Tim Sandlin, one of last year's honorees, is inspired by both the landscape and the foibles of the people of Teton County. Dr. Patton and his wife Marcia, the first couple to receive the UW Arts and Sciences Outstanding Alumni Award, bring help students in Casper find their voices. O'Hashi teaches her students how to express themselves through movement.

I could go on and on but I won't. Read about the Arts Council at its web site. Check out past issues of its magazine, Wyoming Artscapes, too. In it, you will find scores of examples of the contributions of artists and arts orgs to this state.

When the legislature convenes next week, remind your rep and senator how important the arts are to your family and your state. They need reminders as they face a budget shortfall and atrocious bills that should never see the light of day. Tell them that all people are important, that they find their value through the arts and humanities.

I will write about the legislature's upcoming sessions. There are sure to be some legislative humdingers; there already are. To check out proposed legislation, go here  

It takes funding to make the arts thrive. It is more important that ever to make our politicians accountable. The past year in this country has been a lesson on getting involved and staying involved in the political process. And what happens when you don't.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Birth of a Nation Feb. 17 at LCCC in Cheyenne

I first saw "Birth of a Nation" in a college film class 43 years ago. I had some electives to burn in my pursuit of a degree in English. The prof showed us "The Great Train Robbery," the first American Western film in 1903. It may have been based on Butch Cassidy's famous Wyoming train robbery. But did they film it in Wyoming? No -- New Jersey.

In the film class, we moved on to D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" or, as it was originally titled, "The Clansman." You can see the entire film on YouTube. Or you can see it in Cheyenne at 9 a.m.on Saturday, Feb. 17, at LCCC as part of the African-American Black Film Exposition Feb. 14-17. It's a long film -- more than three hours -- but worth the viewing. It's one director's view of race relations. Griffith was a Southerner, steeped in myth and ritual and prejudice. His movie doesn't only reflect his views but those of many Americans at the time -- and now.

1915 is 103 years ago. My grandparents were young adults. My parents were ten years away from birth. It would be 35 years before I arrived on the scene. Racism was a fact of life when I was a kid in the West and South. Racism still is alive and well in the U.S. I wish it weren't so but it is.

"Birth of a Nation" was a big hit at theaters. Promoter for the film was George Bowles, the PR whiz who worked with the Committee on Public Information to make its film, "Pershing's Crusaders." a hit in May 1918.  The CPI was just hitting its stride on disseminating propaganda when the armistice was declared. But it would also be used to stir up the threat against Bolshevism after the war.

A CPI propaganda illustration sent out during the war:. The U.S. was thinking ahead to the fight against Bolsheviks. Note the foreign-looking commie.  

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Black History Month takes on special significance in 2018

Black History Month holds special meaning to me this year.

I am reading up on black history during World War I and immediately thereafter. It's mainly research for a novel, but it's also a fascinating time, a tumultuous time. Black soldiers helped win the war.. Black southerners migrated to the north for defense jobs. Ragtime and jazz flowered. Traditionally black colleges and universities were thriving. Returning soldiers were less likely to suffer the prejudicial attitudes of whites, only one reason that the summer after the war is called Bloody 1919 or Red Summer. There was other bad news: the KKK was on the rise from Stone Mountain, Georgia, to the Rockies of Colorado.

As far as the big picture, nationwide prohibition began in 1920 and women got the vote. Blacks faced Jim Crow laws in the South, a big factor in suppressing their vote, a trend that Republicans continue today. .

There was no integrated army in 1917. Black troops volunteered and many were drafted. They served in all-black units, often commanded by white officers. The troops proved their mettle under fire. But, in the beginning, Pershing's generals wanted them to serve only as labor troops. This prejudicial attitude was evident in a memo sent out in 1917 titled "Secret Information Concerning Black Troops," written by Colonel Louis Linard, Pershing's liaison offer to the French ministry. Here's a sample:
"The American attitude upon the Negro question may seem a matter of discussion to many French minds. But we French are not in our province if we undertake to discuss what some call "prejudice." American opinion is unanimous on the "color question" and does not admit of any discussion."
As Andrew Carroll writes in "My Fellow Soldiers," this was "blatantly false; millions of white Americans were sympathetic to the plight of blacks in the United States." But that didn't get in the way of the memo writer. He warned French officers not to treat African-American soldiers "with familiarity and indulgence." The French, it seems, saw African-Americans as Americans and not a separate breed. Back to the memo:
"...the black American is regarded by the white American as an inferior being with whom relations of business or service only are possible. The black is constantly being censured for his want of intelligence and discretion, his lack of civic and professional conscience, and for his tendency toward undue familiarity."
The odious memo was circulated to the French officer corps. They ordered copies collected and burned. They already had witnessed the bravery of black American troops under fire. In fact, the French had several units of black troops woven into their army. When the beleaguered French asked for help, Pershing assigned black units to the front. He was adamant in keeping white troops under American command. He wasn't so selective with his black troops.

To learn more, read Carroll's excellent book, notably the chapter "Black Jack and the Hellfighters." If you're partial to graphic novels, I recommend the excellent "The Harlem Hellfighters" by Max Brooks with illustrations by Canaan White. Brooks is the author of "World War Z" and "The Zombie Survival Guide." White illustrates the World War II comics series "Uber." The Hellfighters was the name the Germans hung on the 369th Infantry Regiment from New York. According to the book jacket copy:
"They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations."
Not only that. The unit's ragtime and jazz band, led by James Reece Europe, was borrowed by many white units, and wowed the French with le jazz hot. After facing the usual racism at home, scores of African-American soldiers returned to France to settle and to ignite the Roaring '20s music scene in Paris. .

While we have many examples of books and movies featuring African-American troops in World War II and after (watch the Oscar-nominated "Mudbound" on Netflix), books about black soldiers in World War I are just hitting the shelves. Stay tuned for a six-hour Harlem Hellfighters History Channel series later this year.

Just a few examples of how much we have to learn about U.S. history. Read! The truth is out there!

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Learning about Robert Burns and how plans gang aft agley

From the Poetry Foundation essay on Scottish poet Robert Burns:
Burns was identified as odd because he always carried a book. A countrywoman in Dunscore, who had seen Burns riding slowly among the hills reading, once remarked, "That's surely no a good man, for he has aye a book in his hand!" The woman no doubt assumed an oral norm, the medium of traditional culture.
Burns was an oddball for reading books at a time when the oral tradition was alive and well. He served as a bridge to the lake poets of the Romantic tradition, poets such as Wordsworth who "wandered lonely as a cloud" among the British Isles' natural wonders. He wrote his poems in the Scottish dialect which, in the late 18th century, was being supplanted by English. That's how many of us know Burns' poetry, through recitations of the original verse at Burns' suppers or at Celtic festivals. Some oft-used expressions in 2018 can be traced to Burns. Here is a stanza from the original "Address to a Haggis:"

Then, horn for horn, they stretch and strive:

Deil take the hindmost, on they drive
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankkit' hums.

You see terms such as "devil take the hindmost" in modern parlance. And what about this one from "To a Mouse:"

But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane, 
In proving foresight may be vain: 
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men 
          Gang aft agley, 
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, 
          For promis’d joy! 

You could say that "the best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry." At least one American author made a career out of that line. You see it applied to everything from politicking to warmaking. Those who want to be cute or Celtic even use the phrase "gang aft agley" to show off their English major roots. Kind of like Burns walking around rural Scotland with book in hand.

I read up on Burns because I volunteered to read "Address to a Haggis" at a Burns supper.  I have a reputation as a good public speaker. I have served as emcee of public events because I speak loudly and enunciate clearly. I read, too, so my name comes up when poetry needs reading or reciting.

Burns wrote poems and songs, a lot of them, in his short 37 years. Politically he was outspoken, which didn't endear him to his English overlords or Scottish royalists. But salt-of-the-earth Scots loved him and still do. Burns suppers started five years after the author's death in 1796. They are alive and well in 2018 Wyoming. The event speaks to that thing that all of us miss in our lives, a sense of tradition, of ritual. The other day my daughter said that she wished she was Native American with all of its traditions. I told her that her own people have traditions. They gave up most of them when they moved to the U.S. due to starvation and political persecution. I challenged her to discover those Irish and Scottish and English traditions. We didn't just accidentally stumble into a wearin' o the green and step-dancing and getting blotto on March 17. 

Travel can broaden your cultural horizons. So can reading, which is less expensive, especially if you believe in that great American tradition of free public libraries. We can credit a robber baron Scotsman named Andrew Carnegie for really getting the library ball rolling. Carnegie background: 

I owe everything to the Irish and Scots who came to the U.S. I owe a lot to those who laid the groundwork for the diaspora but never left, such as Burns. Cheyenne erected a statue to the poet. It's a big statue, located in a pocket park an easy walk from my old Kendrick Building work place. I carried my lunch and a book. I read while eating ham sandwiches and chips. I never read any Burn poetry during these quiet sojourns. I knew nothing about Burns and thought my life would be perfectly fine without Burns poetry. He seemed a quaint figure in literature. Poetry recited by old guys in kilts but not a poet studied seriously in the academy. He belonged to an ancient world that existed before modernism, before global warfare and science and radical politics stuck a knife in the rhymed couplet.

But just for a moment, let's think about the lad who wandered the glens with book in hand. His own Scottish dialect preceded his love of books and that's the path he chose. He was the voice of the Scots at a time when that voice was being stamped out.  He wrote songs. He composed bawdy poems. Regular folks, even that countrywoman in Dunscore, knew his lines by heart. Many still do.

Pause a moment and consider one of Burns most famous lines referenced above:

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men 
          Gang aft agley, 

These lines sum up the current political situation in the U.S. I may start using the phrase in daily discourse. Despite owning a golf course in Scotland, I doubt that the president has read any work by the Scottish national poet. We also know that a countrywoman in Turnberry will never spot Trump with a book in hand. He doesn't read. He doesn't know history. Recite Burns' lines to him and watch the blank look on his face. "Gang aft agley" could be his motto. Alas, if only his scheme for taking over the presidency had gone awry. We're stuck with him now. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Is there really such a thing as "compassionate conservatism" in the U.S.?

I am pleased with any response I get from my missives to the all-Republican Wyoming Congressional delegation. Not pleased so much as satisfied. Not really satisfied, gratified, or placated. I suppose that the best I can do is "pleased" when Enzi, Barrasso, and Cheney send me more material for my blog. Thanks!

A few weeks ago, I e-mailed my two senators and one rep complaining about Trump's "shithole" comments concerning Haiti and African countries. I asked them to disavow those comments, preferably in public. They did not. However, Enzi does note that he does "not support every remark any president has made, including President Trump.." That's something, I  guess.

The reality is that Republicans were very outspoken for eight years in criticizing Pres. Barack Obama. Now they are silent when Trump says outrageous things. Enzi helped draft the Republican tax scam policy. Barrasso is Mitch McConnelll's BFF. Liz Cheney wants to give away Wyoming's public lands and shoot all of the grizzlies. They are off their rockers.

I present Sen. Enzi's e-mail:
Dear Michael:
Congress should ensure that our immigration laws are compassionate, but also fair to American citizens. I believe all people and nations should be treated with respect. I do not believe that anyone should be bullied, intimidated or attacked because of their beliefs. I do not support every remark any president has made, including President Trump. I will let President Trump or his team answer questions about the president’s comments. Words can be powerful and we should do our best to be civil to each other. I hope for a serious debate about border security and immigration as we continue to work on this issue in Congress.

Michael B. Enzi
United States Senator
How do you like that line about "compassionate" immigration laws? "GOP" and "compassionate" are very seldom linked. Why? Just take a look at the legislation that conservatives promote. Another question. Has Enzi made any statements about the immigration prison set to be built in southwest Wyoming near Evanston? I will look it up and get back to you.