Wednesday, May 27, 2009

War is Betrayal

War is always betrayal.
Betrayal of the young by the old,
betrayal of idealists by cynics,
and betrayal of soldiers by politicians.

This betrayal has burned the souls
of America's Iraq War veterans
and produced a wave of walking wounded
not seen since the Vietnam War.

It has also provided an opportunity
for those of us who stayed at home
to learn about the hideous reality of war
and understand our complicity in the betrayal.

Tug of War

We don’t often see bears in Northern New Hampshire.

So when my son, my wife and I spotted a good-sized black bear lumbering down an old bypassed section of Route 302 in Twin Mountain at dusk, we drove to the other end hoping to get a better look.

When we got there, we found a bicycle tourist setting up a small tent on a grassy area next to the bypassed road. We pulled up to warn him about the bear. As soon as we rolled down the car window, the bear came out of the woods behind the man and started pulling his bicycle into the bushes to get at the food in the saddlebags.

We were safe inside the car, but the man began a tug of war with the bear. We told him to let go of the bicycle and get in the car, but he yelled back at us, "That bike cost me twelve-hundred bucks and it's got all my special food." We again advised him to get in the car, and again he refused. When the bear roared and lunged at him, the man finally let go of the bicycle.

The bear pulled the bike into the bushes and began tearing at the saddlebags. The cyclist started yelling and making threatening gestures at the bear. We warned him that wasn't a smart thing to do since he was only eight or ten feet away from a full-grown bear, but he wouldn't listen.

Suddenly the bear roared and charged at him. The man ran behind our car, and the bear fortunately turned back to the bike.

We called the police. While we waited for them to come, the cyclist stood next to the car ranting about his bike and his special food. The bear was busy shredding the saddlebags and their contents.

When the police arrived, the officer told us the game warden was on his way with a tranquilizer gun and asked us to leave. We drove away wondering what would have happened had we not come along.

Just plane sculptures

I make these airplane sculptures. I saw something similar a couple of years ago in an antique shop and thought “I could do better than that.”

I start with an old carpenter’s plane. The size and shape of the plane determine what kind of an airplane it will be.

The other parts come from architectural salvage shops. I look for recycled odds and ends — old hide stretchers or barrel staves for the wings, faucet handles for propellers, old furniture casters for landing gear and architectural details for decoration.

Then I assemble the pieces and add some decorative painting. I try not to make them too realistic. They’re caricatures.

I’m not sure what to do with them. They fall a little outside of the traditional folk art realm, so I hang them on the front porch in the good weather.

Send me an email if you'd like to buy one.

WW II Bomber

Fokker Biplane

French Hunter

Sopwith Camel

U.S. Pursuit Plane

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Another quagmire

The Obama Administration's assumption that we can somehow impose our will on Afghanistan is as flawed now as it was in Iraq or Vietnam. Russia learned this lesson the hard way after nine long bloody years in Afghanistan. Have we learned nothing from history?

We need a serious national debate on US military intervention in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration admits that the region's problems can't be solved by military means, yet they're increasing our military presence in Afghanistan.

This has the very real potential to be another endless quagmire. We have already squandered too many American lives and too much of our financial resources in the Middle East.

Where is the voice of reason that we employ all other means before committing us to another endless military campaign?

Can we look before we leap this time?

Second Grade Secret

I had a crush on my second grade teacher.

Miss Contagogo was young and slender with dark hair and eyes. I wanted her to like me in return.

I was a daydreamer in school. I still am. My teachers were constantly reminding me to pay attention and stop looking out the window.

One day, Miss Contagogo caught me looking out the window.

“Pay attention, Karl. You’re acting like a first-grader. If you don’t stop looking out the window, I’ll send you back to first grade,” she scolded.

I don’t remember what attracted my attention out the window a few minutes later; but when I turned to look, she caught me again.

“That’s it, Karl. I’m sending you to first grade so you can learn to pay attention.”

I was devastated. The love of my life humiliated me in front of the whole class. Worse still, she was sending me to the first grade. My cheeks burned. I fought to hold back the tears.

Miss Contagogo wrote a note and handed it to me.

“You walk down to the Town Hall and give this to the first grade teacher,” she directed in a stern voice. I walked out of the room, my head bowed in shame.

Photo by Lynne Monroe

The Town of Hollis was growing in 1950, and the old school building would no longer accommodate all twelve grades. So the first-grade class was moved to the lower floor of the town hall, which sat several hundred yards away on the town common.

Outside the school, I burst into tears. I descended the concrete steps and went down the long front walk, convinced my classmates were watching me and laughing. I crossed the street and walked down the hill past the ball field, library and church, clutching the terrible note.

I was still sobbing as I approached the town hall. I didn’t want to face the first grade teacher or her students. They would know I was kicked out of class. They would all see I had been crying.

Photo by Howard Bigelow

I stopped in front of the heavy wooden doors. I couldn’t go through with it.

I turned and ran behind the Town Hall and hid beneath the wooden fire escape. I sat in the cool shade and cried myself to sleep, only to be awakened by the chiming of the tower clock striking the hour.

I spent the next few hours hiding from imaginary foes, stacking a pile of discarded bricks into a wall around my hiding place and drawing pictures with a stick in an area of the dirt that I smoothed out with one of the bricks.

The only person I saw was a woman driving out the road from the house behind the Town Hall. I ducked down as she drove by, so she wouldn’t see me.

I was hungry and scared, but I devised a plan.

I knew school ended at two o’clock. I’d wait until the clock struck two and then walk back to school. The rest of the class would be gone by then, so I wouldn’t have to face them.

I buried the note in the dirt beneath the wooden stairs. If Miss Contagogo asked, I’d tell her everything went fine.

The hours dragged by. I remember counting twelve rings, then one and finally two.

I brushed off my clothes and left my hiding place. As I walked back up to the school, I tried to remember things we did the previous year in case Miss Contagogo asked. I was terrified she would find out.

I saw the school buses coming down the driveway as I walked up the hill toward the Red & White store. I was too ashamed to look up as my bus passed by.

I crossed the street and walked up the long front walk. A group of high school girls sitting on the lawn giggled as I passed by. I was sure they were laughing at me.

When I walked into the classroom, Miss Contagogo was sitting at her desk working. She looked up.

“I hope you learned your lesson,” she said sternly. “You go to your seat. I’ll call your mother to pick you up.”

I sat down at my desk. I had never heard the school so quiet.

Miss Contagogo walked out of the room. I listened to her footsteps as she climbed the wooden front stairs and walked back to the office on the second floor. A few minutes later, I heard her coming back down.

“Your mother will be here soon,” she told me.

I reached into my desk and took out my favorite coloring book and crayons. I began coloring a picture of a cowboy sitting on his horse and waving to the engineer of an old-fashioned train.

Miss Contagogo finished her work and left. When my mother arrived, I didn’t tell her what happened.

For the rest of the year, I waited for my secret to be exposed; but it never was.

Miss Contagogo got married a few weeks later. I remember her writing her new name on the chalkboard for us. She didn’t return the next fall.

I told my mother my secret not long before she died. She never knew.

The Real Problem with Newspapers

The Internet has presented a problem for traditional newspapers. They’re all wailing about losing money, and many journalistic icons are struggling to keep their headlines above water.

But the real problem facing newspapers is their self-inflicted lack of credibility. Somewhere in the middle of the Clinton era, even the most respected newspapers began peddling stories that were more about sensationalism than substance. Maybe it was O.J.’s gloves or Monica’s blue dress, but the media seemed to become more obsessed with lurid details than real journalism.

Fueled by the attack on the World Trade Center and encouraged by the Bush Administration’s army of propagandists, newspapers gave up any pretense of legitimate journalism and began peddling government Newspeak. They allowed themselves to be manipulated by spin doctors. They became mouthpieces for the military invasion and occupation of Iraq. They switched from investigative journalism to reprinting government and corporate press releases.

Newspapers aren’t selling because they no longer offer anything of value. When faced with an army of new media rivals, they gave up on the first part of their name—NEWS.

Newspapers were successful because the public could count on them to provide up-to-date, well-written, well-researched news in an inexpensive, convenient format. The era of the traditional, oversized newsprint format may be ending, but the need for real journalism is greater than ever.

If newspapers are to survive, they must find their niche. They need to provide readers with something they can’t get elsewhere. Honest journalism. Quality writing. Convenience. And yes, advertising. It remains to be seen whether they can figure that out.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

It’s impossible to place a value on a human life
that has been sacrificed on the field of war.
Throughout our country’s history,
courageous men and women have died
defending lives and freedom.
The measure of their life’s worth
is what their death accomplished.

The tragedy of this Memorial Day is
that the beautiful and gallant young Americans
who sacrificed their lives in the invasion of Iraq
died for no good reason.
Their deaths achieved nothing.
Their mutilated limbs and minds were wasted.
The suffering of their families was for naught.
All because they were recklessly committed
to an ill-conceived and illegal war
that has no justification.

The best way for us to give value to the sacrifices
made by these brave soldiers is to not let
their children and grandchildren suffer the same fate.
We must make these heroes' deaths and injuries
count for something by ending
this 21st Century Holy War.