Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part II

The unexpected journey which Dave and I had just embarked upon began in the usual manner for anyone at the outset of a long trip from San Diego to anywhere else.  The early June sky was overcast, with the low clouds or high fog of the layer of marine air which every year treated us to what we less-than-lovingly called the ‘June Gloom’, hanging low over the city.  We navigated across town to Interstate 15, which was an actual freeway only to the edge of the city.  Just at the northern border of San Diego, which was not a very far drive in the summer of 1970, the road dwindled back to two lanes and returned to its original designation; U.S. Highway 395.

Driving north we passed first through the town of Escondido, which has always been a place of mystery to me.  Growing up in San Diego as I did, I had some connection with nearly all of the neighborhoods and suburbs of that city.  Either by riding my bicycle to the beach, the zoo or the municipal swimming pool, or taking the bus downtown to fool around in the department stores or go to the cheap movies in run-down theaters, or attending high school football games and other similar events, I touched upon nearly all of the town.  Additionally, my father would drive to the more rural suburbs to buy garden produce and dairy products and our trips to the mountains for hiking and camping  brought us through most of the towns in the county.

Escondido was a different story.  Located only thirty miles north of San Diego it was still completely outside of San Diego’s orbit and slightly off the beaten path.  Other county towns in San Diego, such as Ramona, Julian, Campo, Pine Valley, and even tiny Santa Ysabel, were visited regularly by me and I knew their layout and each one’s raison d’être very well.  Escondido marched to a different drummer however.  I can’t say if Escondido was a large town or a small city, but it was considerably more substantial than any of the other county communities that I mentioned.  Escondido had its own economy, which leaned heavily on groves of avocado, citrus, olive and walnut trees and other agricultural and ranching pursuits, and enjoyed infusions of cash from passing visitors from San Diego and elsewhere but was by no means dependent on that source of revenue.  In fact, Escondido means “hidden” in the Spanish language, and Spanish was the primary language spoken there for the first decades of that settlement’s existence.

Rising up over a low ridge one would see the valley in which Escondido lie tucked under all manner of trees, but you would not see the city itself.  A sign by a large boulder announced that you had arrived in Escondido, and beautiful grove of cottonwood trees on the west edge of the road announced the presence of a creek or spring, evoking in me thoughts of Vanamee, a character in Frank Norris’ novel “The Octopus: A Story of California” who decades after the fact is still haunted by the murder of his lover, and returns from time to time to the tree-shaded mission garden where he waited for her one night but she never came.  By the time I could think much about that book and its greater impact upon me, a detail to which we will return below, we had touched the western edge of that town and skipped off of it like a flat rock off of a smooth body of water.

We hurtled north another half hour or so until we came to the tiny settlement of Temecula, where we pulled off of the road in order to get one of the greasy but delicious hamburgers that they sold in the little restaurant which was one of the six or seven buildings in that ‘town’.  I had eaten there many times before when my father would take us on drives out into the country, and the service had always been just fine.  On this occasion however I was a gangling young man with long curly hair held in place by a leather headband and possessing a bushy, kinky red beard.

That hair and beard are meat for many other stories about those times, one of which I will share here.  I had always hated my curly hair which my military father would never let me grow to any length at all.  Then, in the mid 1960’s, surfing exploded onto the cultural scene and instantly a young man’s status could be improved simply by a mop of straight, long (for then) blond hair combed over mostly to one side.  I had longed for long hair, and my discharge from the Army had brought the liberation of being able to grown out my hair for the first time, which I promptly did.  At about the same time I read the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and learned that in his early life straight hair was frequently obtained by Black people by a process which Malcolm called ‘conking’, or ‘getting a conk’.  After reading that and growing enough hair to make it worth my while I decided that it was my turn to get a conk.

I promptly made my appointment at a styling salon and emerged an hour or so later with a glorious mop of flaccid, straight hair brushed straight back over my head and streaming down towards my shoulders.  I gloried in the picture of masculine hippie perfection that I presented to myself when I gazed into the mirror!  That night I went to shoot some pool with a friend and offer my new coolness to all ladies who might be in the vicinity, and as I leaned over to sight up my shot, ‘FWOOMP!”  Down fell an avalanche of my newly straightened hair in front of my eyes, obscuring my shot.  Annoyed, I straightened up and brushed my hair back into place with my fingers and leaned forward once again to take my shot.  “FWOOMP!”  Once again down came the furry avalanche.  This went on for the entire game.  By the end of the evening I was cursing my straight hair and after outgrowing the effects of my conk never considered doing it again to this day.

So in we tromp in our jeans, huarache sandals, tee shirts and hair and plop down at the counter.  It was reminiscent of a scene from “Easy Rider”, where the two heroes and Jack Nicholson in a supporting role sat down at a table and got ignored by the staff while the locals growled disparaging and threatening remarks.  It was not that bad, but the wait for service was loooonnnnnnggggg, and when our orders arrived the meat was barely cooked.  We chugged it down anyway and were glad to pay up and take our leave of that place.

A short way farther up the road we began to enter the orbit of Los Angeles and had to decide which way to go.  Highway 395 continued north through rural country and went all the way to the Canadian border somewhere near Spokane, although We didn’t really know that at the time.  Across the county lay Highway 101, and I was very familiar with that road, at least to a distance of about fifty or sixty miles north of San Francisco, so we decided with little debate to continue our vision quest on that route.

The down side of that plan was that we had forty or fifty miles of Los Angeles County between us and Highway 101 on the west side of the city/county complex, and this was before the age of superhighways or the Siri App on one’s iPhone.  With a fold-up road map, the kind that you would get for free at gas stations like the one that we both had worked at only a day or two before, we threaded our way from one major road to another across town.  It was a lot like following a forty mile strand of spaghetti through a giant bowl filled with hundreds of other strands just like it.  We finally picked up Highway 101 on the northern edge of the City and as we talked non-stop about nearly everything but Stacy we soon left Los Angeles behind us and began to roll through the now brilliant sunshine or the California coast.

An hour or so later our gas tank was empty and our bladders were full so we pulled off of the highway and entered Santa Barbara.  Santa Barbara is one of the most beautiful towns on earth in one of the most beautiful geographic locations in the universe, but we paid scant attention to that.  San Diego is no barren wasteland itself, so the beauty of Santa Barbara did not jump right out at us then.  We were interested in gas, beer, sandwich and snacking goods for that evening and getting back on the road.  This we accomplished and soon were preparing to turn right onto the highway, and that’s where we first saw Kathy and Roy.

“Where’re you headed?” Dave hollered out through the window as I pulled over and Kathy and Roy ran up to the truck. “Seattle”  they responded.  “How far are you guys going?”  Dave and I looked at each other and shrugged.  “Seattle, I guess” Dave shouted back to them.  “Climb into the bed”, which is exactly what they did and we wheeled back into traffic and resumed our march north.  We chatted a little through the window with the couple and learned that they were students at the University of California branch in Santa Barbara and were hitching home for the summer break.  Mostly we rode with the window to the back of the truck closed and Dave and I cruised with our own conversation and Kathy and Roy rested with their backs against the back of the cab engaged in their own.

In that manner we rode into what was becoming the Central California coastal area, which for me is even more attractive than Santa Barbara.  We drove past Pea Soup Anderson’s restaurant in Beullton, through farming areas around Santa Maria, and finally turned west at the university town of San Luis Obispo towards Morro Bay and U.S. Highway 1, which would continue north through Big Sur and on towards Monterey and the land of Steinbeck.

Evening was coming on and the fog was starting to roll inland off of Morro Bay when we pulled into the parking lot of a motel in Pismo Beach.  All of us got out of our respective perches and began to stretch our legs, and then I walked up to and through the door into the motel office.  The clerk, who was probably also the owner, did not look especially happy to see me.

“I’d like a room for two” I said.  The man made it obvious as he took a squint out between the blinds in the window facing the parking lot.  “One, two, three, four.  I count four people” he replied to me with a sullen glare.  I thought of leaving then and there, but I was tired and wanted to relax that evening.  “The couple are hitchhikers” I explained.  “They are going to sleep in the bed of the truck in order to keep an eye on our stuff back there in exchange for the ride.  I only need two beds, and twin beds will do just fine.”  Kathy and Roy and I had in fact made no such contract at all.  Fortuitously however they were at that moment fiddling with their packs and sleeping bags, probably rearranging things and tightening them up, and it looked for all the world like they were doing exactly what I had said.  “OK, but I don’t want any funny business.  This is a family establishment and we like to keep things quiet here.”  “That’s exactly what I’m looking for” I told him and signed on the dotted line, paid up for the night, took my key and retreated back to the truck.

“The guy’s a jerk” I told them, “and thinks that we’re all going to sneak into the room.  I told him that you guys were sleeping out here and he was cool with that.  Why don’t you take a walk and come back when it’s dark?”  I had spoken briefly with Kathy and Roy through the sliding window and wanted to get to know them better.  “We’ll break out the food and have some dinner together”  I suggested.  “Sounds good us” they replied, and off they walked down the beach together.

An hour later we were all sitting on the beds or the floor, wolfing down ham and cheese sandwiches and potato chips and washing it all down with a couple of six packs of Coors.  For desert we passed around a few joints and began the real process of making introductions.  This was one of the turning point moments in my young life.

Kathy and Roy turned out to be members of an organization known as the Seattle Liberation Front, a very radical and left wing group made up mostly of students who’s focus was opposition to the war that continued to rage in Vietnam.  “I just got back from Vietnam a year ago” I told them.  “I can tell you that it is one big cluster bang”.  I actually used language a bit more forceful than that.  Kathy and Roy stared at me for a moment, as if deciding whether to stay or not.  Returning veterans from that war were more likely to get spit upon than a handshake in many parts of America then, but I had shared my truck, my food, my motel room and their weed, so they decided to continue with the relationship.  “The war is immoral” they said.  “It’s about a lot of very rich capitalists making blood money with the help of a lot of very paranoid old politicians using the lives and bodies of young men to get off on body counts and killing Reds to massage their fat, corrupt egos and keep their feet on the necks of workers and students here and peasants in Vietnam.  The politicians and the generals are a bunch of obsolete old gasbags who haven’t got the decency to die off and let workers and students build a free and prosperous and equal society.”

I had not met real live left wing radicals before and never heard them expound upon their vision in a coherent manner, but I had been preparing to hear their message for most of my life.  After growing up in a conservative household which was ruled autocratically by my military father I had joined the Army, oddly enough, looking for a measure of freedom, and in fact found freedom of a sort there.  Over the course of three years I met people with a wide diversity of opinions about nearly everything, many of whom had been drafted and whom I would not have otherwise met.  The almost two years that I spent in Vietnam resulted in disillusionment with the leadership of my country, disenchantment with the confident depiction of the American Dream, and no firm belief in anything greater than myself to hold onto as I tried to make sense of the world.

Added to that were two important books which I had read in my teen years which had prepared me for this first transforming revelation in my life.  “The Octopus”, which I have mentioned above, spoke of the corruption, greed and willingness of heartless capitalists to go to murderous lengths to secure profits.  A second book, Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle”, spoke of communist organizers coming into an agricultural workers’ camp in California’s Central Valley and bringing workers together to improve their lives.  The two organizers enjoyed some success until goons working for the capitalist growers came and busted up the camp and arranged for an unhappy end to the organizers’ efforts.  These two books made a deep impression upon me, and my disillusionment upon returning from Vietnam only heightened the conflicted and unfocused feelings that I held concerning the war and my country and society and just about everything else.  Now here Kathy and Roy were articulating many of those disorganized feelings that had been gnawing at me with an organized train of thought, a conviction that “we the people” were traveling down the wrong road and that they knew how to get to the right one.  This intrigued me greatly and I looked forward to discussing it further during our travels on the next day.

For now however it was time to get some sleep.  Dave had been going since early that morning and I had been going since 9 AM, which was early for me.  We were well fed, had a few beers on board and a nice buzz from Kathy and Roy’s weed.  Kathy and Roy brought in their sleeping bags and spread them out on the floor, exactly as the clerk expected that they would do, and Dave and I climbed into our beds.  The lights went out and in no more than a few minutes my lights went out too.  Day one had come to a close and ,in typical fashion, I never gave a second thought to what day two would bring.  As it turned out, it would be an interesting one.

Invitation to an Unexpected Road Trip, Part I

The summer of 1970 was a very restless time for me.  I had been discharged from the Army a little over one year earlier after serving for nearly two years in Vietnam, and had spent most of that time drinking beer and getting stoned with old neighborhood friends.  Initially I was celebrating the fact that I had returned home alive, but as the months wore on it became more of an unthinking habit:  get up, eat breakfast, go find some friend or friends, eat junk food, drink beer, get stoned, go to bed.  The pattern was simple, it was comfortable, and I didn’t have to think very much (although I was convinced that I was thinking like a Greek philosopher).  At long last however a switch somewhere deep in my subconscious was thrown for some reason or other and the vague, non-specific impulse that maybe – just maybe – I ought to begin to entertain the idea of expanding my vision just a little bit was born.

That notion did not burst into my consciousness with neon lights and a brass band.  I really gave little organized thought to where I was at that moment in time or where I wanted to be a year or two hence.  Really, the central point of my big change was no more than the fact that I got my first civilian job, which nevertheless was indeed a big change for me.  My father would not allow me to hold a job when I was young:  “When you can bring home straight A’s on your report card I’ll know that you have time to hold down a job and do it right.”  The truth is that this closed the gate on me ever having job while still in high school, and bolted it tightly with several padlocks.  The truth was that a whole flock of pigs would fly in close formation at mach 3 before I was ever going to get straight A’s, and the Army, where I held jobs, was still the Army, and not like real life, so when I applied for that job paying $1.10 per hour, that subtly marked a new stage in my life.  Finally I was engaged in some form of labor in exchange for what was a small but adequate amount of money, but what was much more important in the development of who I was to become than any first tentative steps towards responsibility was the fact that it was at this job that I met my friend Dave.

Dave was a guy who could not have been more programmed to be my friend.  We were the same age but Dave had somehow avoided military service, so while I was engaged in the original “Surviver” reality show Dave was working taking a class or two at the local community college, finding a girlfriend and sharing a rented house with Peter, a Hispanic full-time student.  Dave was very California laid-back, and would drink a few beers and smoke a joint or two with me and daydream like we were brothers.  I didn’t work it out in any coherent way, but the life that Dave was slowly, tentatively knitting together contrasted very favorably as compared with my own.  I was still living with my parents, schlepping my way through a couple of college classes which I would be fortunate to pass, and hanging out with friends who had girlfriends, many of the latter were annoyed with me for distracting the attention of their boyfriends away from them and onto whatever foolishness I was engaged in at the moment.  When I began hanging around with Dave and working for my small check it dawned on me dimly that I should perhaps be aiming a little bit higher.

The next tiny step in this personal upgrade came when I I moved in with Dave, Peter, and Dave’s Australian Shepherd, Foxy.  They rented a small house in a low income area of San Diego and the addition of one more minimum wage tenant to the household was a good deal for Dave and Peter.  Foxy didn’t care one way or the other.  We would go to a nearby church once each week where the government was handing out what was then called “food commodities”.  Pounds of lard and butter, boxes of cheese, powdered eggs and milk, dried potato flakes, beans and rice were some of the many items which were handed out to whomever cared to queue up and carry the boxes away.  I grew up eating beans and such and could scramble a powdered egg and reconstitute dried mashed potatoes as well as anybody, and we ate like bedraggled kings on that good stuff.

And then there was Stacy, Dave’s girlfriend.  I had had one of those for a month or two five years earlier so I enjoyed a rough idea of the concept, but a deep and crippling fear of being turned down by a girl had for the greatest part of my life up to this point denied all but that one person the opportunity of inflicting that wound.  That one girl whom I could legitimately call a girlfriend for that magical month or two in my seventeenth year was in fact very kind and let me down gently – a thing uncommon among teens past and present – but I did not again, from that time to the time under discussion here, make any attempt to attract the attention of a girl again and accept the risk of rejection.

Dave however suffered no such impediment and was as laid back and easy with women as he was with men, and his general good naturedness made him very attractive to the opposite sex.  Stacy was a very attractive girl herself.  Its been a long time, but I remember that she was a little taller than the average and had long, straight, auburn hair that made her seem even taller than she actually was.  Stacy was by nature quiet but she laughed easily when she was with Dave, and although they were not a couple that hung all over each other you could see that there was real feeling in the way that Stacy would put her hand on Dave’s arm for just a moment, or Dave would brush into place a strand of Stacy’s straight hair which had fallen out of place and strayed next to the corner of her mouth.  I thought that Stacy was a very pretty girl, although she seemed a little angular; could have used a couple of pounds.  Dave was with her a lot, driving around the San Diego Bay to take the road which ran atop the thin, sandy strip of land which connected the South Bay communities with Coronado where she lived.

Dave would frequently get up early to go to visit Stacy, and by the time that I rolled off of the sofa which I called home at around 9 AM he would be long gone.  One morning however, not long after that magic hour when I usually began to return to life, Dave came slowly rolling up the gravel driveway and walked glumly across the dry grass of the yard, through the door, and fell back into a big, square easy chair with the bottom nearly sat out of it.  “Shit man, what happened to you?” I asked with my best effort at eloquence and compassion.  “You look like somebody ran over your dog.”  I looked quickly into the corner where Foxy the shepherd made her bed on a pile of cushions to make certain that she was there and safe.  Dave didn’t say anything so I persisted.  I have never had very good filters and would let the world know what I was thinking, whether the world wanted to know this or not.  It irritated me a little for Dave to sit there like an heir who had been written out of a will and not just spill it out all over the floor.  “What’s going on, man?  Why aren’t you with Stacy?”  Dave never once looked like he was going to cry, but if he was ever close to doing so it looked like it would’ve been right then.  “What is this, some kind of damned soap opera?’

Dave flared a little but my poor interpersonal skills had their desired effect and roused him from his funk.  “Stacy broke up with me” he blurted out.  Dave just sat there glaring at me, expecting me to pour out a healing wave of sympathy.  In fact, my experience with breaking up was five foggy years in the past and I frankly had little understanding of the situation or of the comfort that was needed.  Dave was a friend though, and I felt that I should try to help, even if I hadn’t the least clue how to do that.  “Wow, man, that’s the pits.  I mean, that is really a drag.  What’s her trip anyway, like why is she breaking it off?”  Dave mumbled something that I couldn’t hear and I said “Come on man, spit the shit out and try it again.”  I should point out at this time that this was the manner in which many of us spoke to each other in those days.  It sounds now as if we were trying to pick a fight or just insensitive jerks, and some of the latter may indeed have applied, but we all understood each other and Dave knew that I did really want to know what was going on, and was using a gruff approach to try to lighten up the situation.  From a distance it seems weird, but we all understood the system and it worked for us.

“Stacy’s dad told me to hit the road, and if he ever saw me again he would call the cops”.  “Call the cops?” I repeated.  “Screw him.  Let him call the cops.  Stacy can do whatever she wants to, and if he doesn’t like it she can just move out” I opined.  Dave stared at me a minute or two as if he didn’t understand what I was saying.  Then, as it dawned on Dave what was the vital piece of information which was missing from my picture of the problem at hand he proceeded to provide that critical bit of datum.  “Stacy,” he said, “isn’t 18 yet.”

Oh.  That puts a different light on things.  I had no idea that Dave was five years older than Stacy, which was why she had looked just a little bit underdone to me.  I asked Dave for a little more history in order to obtain a better picture of the situation at hand.  Dave told me that Stacy’s father was an officer in the Navy – nearly everybody living in Coronado then was connected in some way to the Navy – and that he had returned from an extended deployment somewhere in the world to find his pride and joy spending a considerable amount of her spare time in the company of a long-haired, minimum wage-earning stoned college student, and Papa was not impressed with that one little bit.  “Good thing that he didn’t meet me!” I thought.

“I’m going to go back to her house and tell Stacy’s dad that I love her” said Dave, channelling his best Romeo.  I knew how Romeo and Juliette ended however and proceeded to point out the folly in that course of action.  “Dude, my dad was a Swabbie for twenty years and I don’t think that you want to go messing around with these Navy guys.  Nobody in my neighborhood would come around our place because they were afraid of my Dad, and people left me alone too.  Either they were afraid that Dad would come after them if they messed with me, or they figured that anybody who got his butt whupped as much as I did at home just naturally must have a nasty attitude and be hard as flint.  Either way, Dad was a legendary bad-ass and I wouldn’t be surprised if Stacy’s father is a bad-ass too.  If I was you I wouldn’t set foot in that town again unless you want your ass kicked, thrown in jail, or both,

Dave chewed on that one for a few minutes and then said “Holy crap, I think you’re right.  This may not be over.”  I agreed, although I didn’t really know one stinking thing about the father or the severity of the situation, and we began to discuss the possible negative consequences for Dave’s future.  At last, Dave said “Maybe I ought to get out of town.”  “You got a place to go to?” I asked.  “Not really.  No” was the reply.  “Maybe I’ll just hitchhike somewhere – anywhere – and start over.”

Dave had no idea how good that idea sounded to me.  I had made several trips across the country with my family on what were vacations for them and hell for me, and I had travelled vast distances when in the Army.  As I have written earlier I had been sitting static in a rut that I had landed in pretty much since my release from the Army, and the thought of a road adventure instantly roiled up my blood.  “Why don’t we just throw a few things into my truck and hit the road?” I asked.  “Where to” asked Dave.  There was Mexico to the south, the desert Southwest to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west.  “How about North?” I suggested.  Dave needed no more than a moment to think about that and then, with a shrug of his shoulders, asked “Why not?”  In less than an hour we had rolled my 305cc Suzuki motorcycle into the back of my 1960 Studebaker pickup truck and thrown a few bags of clothes and such into the bed with it, and with a cooler full of beer on the seat between us in the cab of the truck I fired the vehicle up and nosed it out into the traffic of San Diego, onto I-8 westbound, and then turned onto I-15 northbound to we had no idea where.

Dances With Snakes

A friend of mine recently contacted me and asked for me to send an email to my congressional representatives in support of the Chinook Indian People’s struggle to obtain official U. S. Government recognition of that People as a tribe.  This seemed very odd to me.  A search on the internet shows that the Chinook tribe and Chinookan culture has existed for many centuries, and it is absurd to me that a people who have existed for centuries and continue to exist today must apply to the federal government for official recognition that they do, in fact, exist, but so it seems to be.  I assured my friend that I would do as he asked, but before doing so I decided that I must first learn a little about the situation which he brought to my attention.  True to my quest I have learned just that – a little.

The Chinook people and all other Native American tribes who are requesting federal recognition are fighting an uphill battle.  The effort to destroy American Indian nations reached its height with the Dawes Act of 1877, which sought to achieve six goals, according to Wikipedia, which were:  1.  Breaking up of tribes as social units; 2.  Encouraging individual initiatives; 3.  Furthering the progress of native farmers; 4. Reducing the cost of Native administration; 5.  Securing parts of the reservations as Indian land. and; 6.  Opening the remainder of the land to White settlers for profit.  The Dawes Act was magnificently successful in goal number six, with Indian land decreasing from 138 million acres in 1884 to 48 million acres in 1934.  Subsequent adjustments to that Act were increasingly successful in separating the Native American population of North America from their land until now native Americans are shunted off mostly to remote, barren and impoverished corners of a land which once was theirs.

Now I will fast forward to today.  Native Americans still occupy some of the poorest and most desolate land in the country, but increasing self-awareness on the part of Native Americans and a growing understanding of how to navigate the system is creating openings for the reestablishment of official recognition of tribes such as the Chinook, as well as efforts to improve services on the reservations of tribes already recognized.  Additionally, understanding of the wrongs inflicted upon Native Americans is growing within the ranks of the American population at large, and sympathy for their cause grows among that group.  I am an example of that.  I cannot name one Native American ancestor in my genealogy, although it was rumored among my extended family that such an ancestor existed somewhere, as my mother would have said, “in the woodpile”.  I and many other Americans of European and other descent recognize that a raw deal has been given to Native Americans; that while America was being torn apart by a Civil War which was largely about ending slavery, genocide was still being officially waged against Native Americans.  We understand the impulse by which many Native Americans just wish that “Whitey” would go home.  Whitey can’t help with that however.  We have no other “home” to go to.  This is our home.  But we believe that we can share.  We can live together as neighbors, even brothers, recognizing each other’s existence, value, and place in our own story.  We have to give something back, but we can do that and still prosper and be good neighbors.

But not everybody sees it that way.  In the Congress of the United States the war against Native Americans goes on unabated, and it is a rare example of bipartisanship.  Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native affairs.  On that committee he has worked consistently to oppose extending recognition to any tribes currently on the outside looking in.  Young has declared that he has no intention of allowing Native American groups such as the Chinook Tribe to be granted the dignity of being called what they actually are: a distinct cultural group, separate from all others.

Young is far from alone in this anti-Native cause.  Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut cut his political eye teeth opposing sovereignty of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and has continued to campaign tirelessly to de-recognize Native American tribes at every opportunity.  Blumenthal is possibly the most powerful and dangerous foe to native Americans in government today.  Recent attempts by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to actually serve the interests of Native Americans has animated Blumenthal, Young and other like minded politicians to pull the levers of power, openly and covertly, to engineer the worst possible outcomes for Native Americans.

So what can I do about this?  I’m a sixty seven year old white guy with absolutely no political clout other than my voice, my blog, and my access to the email addresses of my federal and state representatives.  Therefore, that is the power that I will exert.  I am telling you of this, dear reader, because I care about those who have suffered injustice.  I have told my representatives because they have to know how i feel, whether they care how I feel or not.
And I tell everyone who will listen to me because I have a voice and an obligation to use it.  I invite you, reader, to do the same.

Jenner: My First and Last Thoughts

I had no intention of writing about the Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner story from the moment that I first heard about it.  Jenner’s life is entirely his/her own to live and I have very little to say about it.  If he has the money and the desire to become a she it is not the least bit my business to weigh in with an opinion. I suppose that I could comment on the silliness of calling Jenner a hero but I am not really inclined even to do that.  I have my own ideas about hero and heroism, and a terribly confused person with the money and backing to act on his/her delusion more nearly fits my definition of a curiosity, much like a satan worshipper who surgically grafts horns onto his forehead or splits her tongue to be like a snake (no, I am not comparing Jenner to satan or it’s friends), than a hero.  But if Jenner is a hero to you then fine – Jenner is a hero.  I’m not really that interested and you can have my share of his adulation.

There is one thing however that did capture my attention in the story.  Jenner is sixty five years old.  I am sixty six years old.  I am a gregarious person and have many friends; unconfusedly male and female I might add.  None of the women of my age group with whom I associate look anything like Jenner.  Granted, I don’t live in the highest of society or jet to Bali and the Caribbean and so on, but then many women who do those things don’t look like Jenner either.  Everyone that I know has a few extra pounds, have a few wrinkles here and some loose skin there, assorted liver spots, stretch marks, and surgical scars from the wear and tear of life.  I have not had access to Jenner’s belly button (nor do I covet such access) but my guess is that that area and all of the rest of Jenner’s sixty five year old body doesn’t look anything like any sixty five year old that I know.

So what is this then?  Envy?  Emphatically no.  My wrinkles and scars are the result of a life energetically and enthusiastically lived.  I do not covet anybody else’s body and have written over one hundred stories about the life that I have somehow muddled through more or less happily in my own.  And besides, I am perfectly comfortable in the maleness of my male body which, providentially, houses an xy male through and through.  No, envy is not the word to describe my thoughts.  Distaste, actually, comes closer to the mark.

I feel a sense of distaste that Jenner has chosen to remold himself into the Barbiesque caricature of what an American female is suppose to want to look like.  I am not a woman (and I am quite certain of that) but I have many friends who are, and virtually all of them reject the glamour queen image that has been projected upon them as the ideal which the culture values as ‘the perfect woman’.  Jenner had the option of how he would ultimately look, so why didn’t he choose to look more like his mother or grandmother did at sixty five, or like most women of sixty five now do?  Instead, with his long, perfect auburn hair, cantaloupe breasts, wasp waist and smooth, unwrinkled legs, he looks like – – – nobody I know!

So I’m going to keep this short.  Jenner can be whoever and whatever he chooses to be.  That is entirely his business and I will lustily shout that everybody who is having a cow over the Great Transformation should concern themselves with their own lives if they have lives and, if not, get one. Bruce Jenner can be what he wants to be for now at least, and it’s no skin off of my nose.  I do wish his conversion to being a woman would have been a bit more affirming to women however, but I suppose that is an axe that the ladies will have to grind with him if they so choose.

What I Need To Want

Yesterday morning I was sitting back in my Lazy Boy chair and trying to quiet my mind in order to become attuned with God.  I have not had much success with this in the past partly, I think, because it is very hard for me to turn off the chatter which goes on non-stop in my brain at such times.  At this moment, as I sit at my desk scratching pen over paper writing a draft of this post, my mind is focused on the task at hand.  Remove me from this desk, place my rear end in that chair and expect me to continue with any kind of focus and you, or more to the point I, will be sorely disappointed.

Such was the case on this particular morning.  I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes, tried to focus on God, and my mind instantly flew to what I wanted to get done that day.  The list was long, and included working in two gardens that I tend, writing letters to friends, looking at carpet samples in order to choose one to replace our old and worn carpet with, and many other things.  All of these were good things to do, but it was obvious even to me that I could not possibly do them all and that I would end up scrunching in as many as I could, doing none of them well, and  then lamenting that I could not do the others and feeling guilty about that fact.  Eventually I would shrug it off and drink a little wine while watching an episode of Sherlock Holmes, not giving the topic another thought.

While all of these ideas were grinding around in my head like stones being rolled in a lapidary’s tumbler one thought managed to bubble up to the top: what should I WANT to want to do today?  The rough list of the day’s wants was nearly endless, but if I could narrow it down by selecting a shorter list based on what was really worth doing (which was most things on the larger list) and why they were worth doing in the first place, I reasoned that I could thereby produce a more manageable list of tasks to accomplish that would be of greater value, releasing me to enjoy my evening wine and movie without having to feel guilt about the tasks not completed, or having to ignore them as if they weren’t worth considering in the first place.

But how should I decide which of my many wants I should WANT to want?  Here it gets tricky.  If I rely entirely upon my own reason I am not materially helped.  I will choose tasks for the day based primarily, or even exclusively, on gratifying my own pleasure, and while there is nothing wrong with enjoying oneself there is simply more, much more, to life than gratifying one’s pleasures.  I will invariably tend to the self-centered activities in the short term over and above the activities which offer more benefit in the long term.  Before I get to selecting my wants I must first establish the criteria which hem in and define my WANT; that which motivates me to pursue my wants in an orderly and focused manner.  And what, then will suffice to form the WANT?  Perhaps it’s another, larger and more focused WANTWANT, or “WANT squared”, and so on ad infinitum, but I do not think so.  At some point I believe we must arrive at a proper source of WANT, and I believe that such a source is found when WANT bounces up against Need.  In and amongst all of these competing wants there must be a Need which drives the WANT to chose which wants are most profitably pursued and which should be postponed or shelved entirely, guilt free for sanity’s sake.

It logically follows, to me at least, that this Need which will shape my WANT to prioritize my wants and forgives me for those that I have chosen not to accomplish that day must not come from within me.  If I make the choice exclusive of any external input of what does or does not merit being done on a given day my WANT only becomes another of my wants.  Or rather, I will elevate each want to the level of WANT, thereby justifying my own mind doing that which I have chosen to do regardless of whether or not it was something done in the place of something which was more worth the doing or even something worth doing at all.  An internal yardstick only gives me a tool with which to justify my own actions, and will not accomplish anything good in the long run.  My yardstick then, my Need as it were, must therefore come from outside of me.

That’s the point at which God reentered this conversation which raged inside of my head while I was trying to quiet things down.  God says that I need to love Him (or Her, if it makes you feel better.  God is truly bigger than all of that however) with my whole being and after that to love others as much as I love myself.  God is thereby saying that He is my yardstick, and how I prioritize my actions and even my desires should be based on that relationship of love between me and Him and me and my neighbor (who happens to be everybody else in the world).  If I will order my thoughts in that direction God will steer me towards the right choices among competing wants and grant me happiness for those accomplished and peace about those left undone.  Condensed to it’s basic foundation then, my Need must arise from a love of God, my neighbor, and myself.

But God will not force this upon me.  God, the ultimate independent personality, by creating me in His image has made me to be an independent personality as well.  I am perfectly free to pursue any want that I choose.  I believe that it was the French philosopher Sartre who said that slowing down to allow an old woman to cross the street had no more value than speeding up in order to hit her as regards expressing one’s individuality by an act of the will.  Maybe he didn’t really say anything that idiotic but he was certainly capable of doing so, and if he didn’t say it somebody else equally idiotic assuredly did.  In any case I am free – scot free – to make choices.  If I should want to make good choices however I must have some sort of yardstick, and if I want to consistently make the best possible choices I must have a yardstick not of my own making; one which has the force to convince me of the advisability of using it. That yardstick is God’s want, which in turn becomes my Need which drives my WANT to choose wisely among the many options which present to me on any given day.

So how has this discovery played out in my life?  Hardly at all!  Heck, I only laid back in that chair twenty four hours ago, so give me a break.  I can say that yesterday I ordered my wants so that I gave pleasure to myself, my wife, and a couple of friends while postponing writing to other friends and placing a phone call to a beloved brother, and I feel very good about the whole thing.  I even managed to enjoy that glass of wine and episode of Sherlock at the end of the day.  Ultimately, I believe that God feels pretty good about it too, except for the parts where I screwed things up.  But I’ll keep trying, I won’t beat myself up over those failings, and God loves me anyway, so it’s all OK.

Patton Off Of His Leash

Today, May 8 2015, as I write this post, marks the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Number Two in Europe.  The war would rage on for four more months in the Pacific Theater of Operations, but in Europe the Nazi “Reich that would last a thousand years” cashed in its chips after just twelve.  And oh, God in Heaven, what a price mankind had paid for the twelve years that that twisted, hideous, demonic Reich endured!  For six years, and more if you were Jewish, Communist, Gypsy, homosexual, mentally or physically challenged or a member of a host of other categories, a pitiless war of annihilation had been waged against you in the name of cleansing the gene pool, and if you were Slavic your crime was that you occupied space that the Nazi supermen needed for the expansion of their living space, or “lebensraum”.  In Berlin the Reich ended in a three day orgy of rape and violence by Soviet soldiers unleashed by their officers against German civilians and, indeed, the city itself.  Elsewhere, in Western dominated areas at least, it ended with a sigh of relief on the part of soldiers no longer shooting at each other and civilians trying to curry favor with the new conquerors while dodging blame for the horrors of the Nazi regime that were never all that far from them nor hard to find.

Seventy years after that fact I posted on Facebook a message simply saying “Happy V E Day”.  In response one of my friends, a thoughtful person who is certainly worth listening to, posted a message stating “If only they had let Patton continue East—“.  This is a sentiment that I have heard expressed many times in my life and I believe that it is worth looking into a little bit more deeply,

Just as a refresher for you two or three people who did not see George C. Scott’s magnificent portrayal of the legendary general in the movie “Patton”, as the war in Europe ground to a halt in May of 1945 the general urged General Eisenhower to turn him and his army loose on the Russians whom, Patton stated, we would have to fight anyway sooner or later.  Patton was told to shut up, was summarily dismissed from his duties, and managed to die in a traffic “accident” in a matter of a few short weeks.  The Western Allies and the Soviet Union then settled down to the job of dividing Europe into opposing camps and began the struggle for domination that was to occupy the next forty five years.  But what if?  What if President Truman, General Eisenhower, and all of the other necessary politicians and military men would have removed the leash from Patton’s collar and said “Go to it”?  What follows are some random thoughts on how such an act might have been played out.

The Soviet Red Army was brimming with men, supplies, and success on May 8, 1945.  From a pit of despair following the Nazi plunge across the western borders of the Soviet Union in 1941 the Communist leader Stalin had first regained his composure, and then reestablished his economic plant in the Ural Mountains far to the east, and then rallied his military to first slow down and then stop the German advance, and then slowly to begin forcing the Nazis into a prolonged retreat which would end four years later in Berlin itself.  Any German soldiers who survived the Eastern Front and who had not been marched east to disappear into the oblivion of Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago could tell you that the Red Army in May of 1945 was a formidable force.

And the Red Army would not face the Western armies alone.  Well organized Communist irregulars who resisted the German in France, in Greece, the Balkans and other areas across Europe would not remain silent nor inactive if the Communist leader in Moscow issued a call to arise and harass the attackers in the rear areas and make the pacification of shattered Europe and security of the all-important supply lines an impossibility.  Also, there was tremendous sympathy to be found for Stalin and the Communist experiment among Western politicians, social and academic elites, whereas there was almost universal disgust felt for the Nazis by nearly everyone in those circles.  One example of this can be seen in the following story.  After completing “Animal Farm”, which was a very critical allegory of communism in Russia, it took George Orwell eighteen months to find a publisher who would put the book into print.  Orwell’s later masterpiece “1984” encountered similar resistance until the obvious profits to be gained by its publishing finally outweighed the political sensibilities of the publishing world.  The opinion formers of the West, it would seem, took a dim view of critics of the USSR and certainly would not support a military campaign against the totalitarian Communists with the same unanimity and ardor which they showed against the totalitarian Nazis.

Nor were Western governments untouched by Soviet influence.  In the United States government spies and agents had infiltrated to all levels.  This sounds like John Birch Society paranoia, I know, but it is a fact that while President Truman was putting off meeting with Stalin in Potsdam until after he got word of the successful test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, the Russian leader already knew of the successful test even before Truman did because of the success of spies Karl Fuchs and the Rosenburgs.  Explore the FBI’s “Venona Project” on the internet to further develop an understanding of Soviet infiltration of the U.S. Government.

Or read Whittaker Chambers’ book “Witness”.  Chambers was a devoted Communist who became disillusioned with the Party and attempted to expose a Soviet agent who held an influential position in the United States Department of State.  For his efforts, Chambers was viciously attacked by the press and other elites and was made to look like a two-bit liar and general low-life.  Chambers persisted, and with the help of one sympathetic member of the press waged a campaign that ended with the Soviet agent’s arrest and conviction and Chambers vindicated.

My point is that the resolve of Western society in general to continue the war, and this time against the Stalinist Russians who had many friends on this side of the pond, was not nearly as solid as it had been during the war against the Nazis.  But that being said, our American resolve would have seemed like granite compared with the support that such a campaign would receive from our British allies.  The United Kingdom had just finished almost six years of war, with the first two years fending off German conquest and hanging on by a thread following multiple defeats, the next two buoyed by America’s entry into the war but highlighted by expulsion from Crete, being harassed and chased across North Africa until their backs were against the walls of Cairo in Egypt, and suffering extreme deprivation on the home front due to the submarine war against allied shipping bringing supplies from the American “arsenal of democracy” across the Atlantic to a hungry and ill-armed England, and the last two years arming and training for the massive Normandy invasion and the long grind of warfare across northern France and Germany itself.  This extreme, almost ultimate effort on the part of the U.K. had left British society exhausted with war and their military at the end of their endurance.  Truman, Secretary of War Stimson, General Marshall, Admiral King, and theater commanders in Asia, Europe and the Pacific knew that there would be little if any British energy remaining to spill more of their blood against Japan.  There was no reason to believe that they would volunteer more blood against Stalin either.  The U.S. would have only a few friends in a continuation of World War II against the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, there were reasons why such a campaign could succeed.  The Red Army had been in the field almost as long as the British had and the conditions in the East were even more awful than they had been in the West, and behind the victorious but tired Red Army lay a shattered Eastern Europe that could offer little support to either Army.  The Russians had managed to dismantle much of their war industry when it was threatened by the Germans in 1941 and 42 and reassembled it in the Ural Mountains.  Their factories turned out a staggering amount of war material but not nearly enough to supply the vast needs of the Red Army.  America and British supplies had streamed into Russia through the Arctic, Persian and Pacific routes and were quickly thrown into the battle.  By removing those supplies and support, and if a bombing campaign could then be mounted against Russian industry and infrastructure (which we would have known the whereabouts of, at least more or less) on a scale close to what we had thrown against the industry and infrastructure of Germany and Japan, Russia would quickly have simply run out of bullets and bombs.

At first those factories would have been unreachable by U.S. bombers, but as ground was gained from the retreating Russians, facilities for the projection of airpower would soon be established in Poland, Ukraine, and other nations under Soviet domination.  This was a resource which Hitler squandered.  The Ukraine had no love for Russia (still doesn’t) and a significant German population. If Hitler and his minions had behaved in a little bit less beastly fashion he would have had valuable allies in his war against Russia.  We Americans are not saints, but on our worst days we can hardly match the Nazis for being the dregs of humankind.  Even minimal decency to the citizens of Eastern Europe would have ensured nearly complete cooperation against the Reds, and that would have put the Russians in a very bad situation indeed.

Compounding the Russians’ problems would be the certainty of a two front and possibly a two-and-a-half front war.  With Japan defeated (and their defeat was certainly imminent on May 8, 1945), there was no reason why an American or American and Australian occupation force couldn’t be left in Japan to manage that country’s post war affairs while the vast bulk of the army was sent past Japan to begin clawing at the Soviet Union from the East.  The vastness of Siberia would have been an obstacle, to be sure, but with the equally vast supply of manpower presented by our Nationalist Chinese allies, who might be offered territorial incentives to draw them north, could provide the garrisons needed to hold bases as we leapfrogged over land and through the air just as we had island hopped across the Pacific.  Caught in a pincers between American armies on both sides, with their industrial plant being hammered into dust and blood, the Russians were not likely to hold out long before suing for peace on whatever terms they could get.

And then there’s The Bomb.  We had it.  They didn’t.  Stalin knew that we were on the threshold of owning that ultimate weapon and the means of deploying it.  The Bomb changed everything, and before any tank battle on the scale of Kursk, or defense of a city such as Stalingrad could be contemplated to reinject hope and self confidence into the Red Army, those tank units or that city would be turned into glowing rubble.  It ain’t pretty, but it’s the truth.

So could Patton’s plan to fight on eastward and eliminate the Soviet threat succeed”  Militarily, I think that it could have, and if it would have been pursued without interruption – one war leading straight into another – it might have been over before the forces which would oppose it could be drawn together.  That was not likely to happen however.  America, too, was tired of burying its children.  The friends of Stalin would have exploited that exhaustion and quickly implemented a campaign to try and end that war far short of a Soviet defeat.  Success does breed support however, and in the long run I believe it is very possible that a committed push by the U.S. with whatever allies it could scrape together would have been successful in ending the existence of the USSR in a lot less than the seventy two years that it took for it to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and some very clever gamesmanship on the part of its Western adversaries.

The Morality of Third World Debt

I have a question for the small army of intelligent people with whom I share Facebook.  Over the years the Western World has made loans to nations of the developing world, the enormity of which are matched only by the level of corruption practiced by the kleptocracies which have run those countries in the past and in many cases continue to do so today.  A vast percentage of that money was drawn off into the private accounts of family, friends and political allies of whatever gang of thugs happened to be running those countries at any particular time, most of which accounts may be found in European and other offshore and out-of-country banks.  The numbers, in many cases, are staggering.

The unfortunate result of this practice is that people who live in places like Guyana, Burkina Faso, and a host of other garden spots retain these debts when the local dictators mercifully die off or, as is more likely, are deposed by characters no more savory than those who preceded them.  Western lenders insist on maintaining the fiction that the dollars or pounds or Euros or whatever form of currency that was ‘lent’ went into development of the borrowing country was legitimate however, and that the money lent should be repaid at interest out of the resources of that country.

Of course, precious little development ever went into those countries and the lenders (smart people, all of them) never really believed that any development would.  Instead, a drain of natural resources flows out of those countries as payment for loans which nobody ever really expected would be repaid while new kleptocrats negotiate new loans which, again, have no chance of repayment.  This is a process well understood by loan sharks and credit card companies.  These debts insure that the indebted nations will never achieve any sort of development, not that most are likely to do so under any circumstances.  The people who live in those countries are therefore forced to live under conditions of exploitation by foreigners of their natural resources, crushing debt that will never be repaid, and national ‘leaders’ who are not at all likely to do anything to alter this picture.

In these circumstances there is little that Westerners can do to ease the suffering of citizens of those countries.  Their lot is indeed hard and devoid of much in the way of hope.  We in the West cannot march into those countries and run them for the native’s own good; a form of that idea was tried in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, the negative consequences of which continue to be felt to this day.  The selection of leadership of those countries and the use and allocation of their resources must largely remain issues to be settled by the citizens of those countries by whatever means they chose.  It may not be pretty but it is, for the most part, not our business.

What we can do however, is address the problem of their debt.  I do not believe that there is much argument that loans were made to the governments of those nations in order to obtain access to natural resources at bargain basement prices or for geopolitical advantage, or both.  The welfare of the people was rarely a factor in the advancing of those loans.  I therefore propose that it might be a good thing to investigate a process of forgiving all or part of those loans as a means of lifting at least our part of the crushing burden which lies across the backs of many of the suffering citizens of the third world.

Of course, it is wrong to paint all nations and governments of the developing nations with a broad brush.  Some countries are actually making gains and are responsibly paying back loans as their improving economies permit.  In these cases, it might be proper to forgive loans on a graduated basis.  To simply forgive a loan to a nation which is honorably engaged in developing it’s people’s well being would, in my opinion, disrespect that country.  To greatly reduce it’s debt burden however would better reward it’s efforts while respecting it’s national pride.

Of course, there would be a financial impact here in the United States and the West and, God forbid, in my own 401K.  I, for one, could stand that blow.  Those loans were made to known thugs, in my opinion, and have no more legitimacy than a 40% loan to a Cosa Nostra loan shark.  There is no honor in benefiting from the tragedy that is life in the very difficult places of the earth.

But this may just be sentimental nonsense.  I am no economist.  I am a Christian who believes very much in the commandment to “Love my neighbor as myself”, but I may be taking that out of context.  I look forward to the response of any folk who are more conversant with economics out there to help me understand if I have got it wrong.  I eagerly await your input.