LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT

I’ve hated that phrase since the 1960s when people who despised our demonstrations for civil rights or against the Vietnam war hurled the words at us if they were bricks.

Not so sure what I think about love it or leave it these days. I’m not even sure I like our country anymore, so maybe it really is time to pack up and get out. The work I do can be done from anywhere there’s an internet connection. And there are Internet connections in countries that more closely resemble my democratic socialist and non-violent beliefs.

Why now? Honestly, I’m finding it harder and harder to breathe when I open a newspaper and read a synopsis of what I’ll call the TORTURE REPORT, a non-partisan summation of five, count ‘em, five years of study that concludes we did indeed torture people. And also concluded that little or no useful intelligence was actually gathered. Okay. We tortured. And while the very idea is horribly disgusting, I also understand we’re not the only country to use Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (a very benign and misleading use of language). And we won’t be the last. But to then have government officials who were, at one time, vocal in their opposition to torture (e.g. the present Director of the CIA and the fucking President himself) dance around the report’s conclusion of its usefulness by repeating over and over that “it’s unknowable” appalls me. Hell, my government was more honest in the mid-70s when it disclosed the findings and transcripts of the Pike and Church CIA congressional hearings.

Actually, this blind eye toward torture isn’t new. My government wrote a constitution that spells out the notion that Black men (they didn’t even bother with women of any color) were worth three-fifths of a White. So for generation after generation we encouraged and welcomed slavery. (Just another torture form). And please don’t think this was only a North versus South issue. Vast fortunes were made in New England through the slave trade.

We can go back farther if need be. We blood-let Native Americans for the simple reason we wanted their country. Again, I get it. We weren’t the first and certainly won’t be the last to steal other peoples’ land and homes. But a nation born from blood and continues that tradition through to the present, simply can not pretend that its hands are clean and claim, ”it’s unknowable.”

But the pull toward leaving isn’t solely based on our bloody history. It isn’t even based upon our current belligerent cop of the world posture and actions. It has as much to do with the attitudes and behaviors we’ve been acting on since ketchup became a vegetable.

Without romanticizing the 1960s when I first cut my ethical and political values, there were, at least, politicians who actually attempted to right wrongs. Not many, but many more than now. Even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren voted to fully fund the Israeli military despite their very clear knowledge the funding was going to an apartheid state. What we got now is nothing and damn near nobody.

I sense a seismic shift of the underpinnings in even the great stuff my country has done. There was a time (though not without its own set of politics) when we had pride about being a country where people, not counting people of color, could actually have a chance to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” We no longer have bootstraps. We have part-time employees without living wages or benefits. Now, we want to pitch kids back to countries where death might be the kindest thing to occur. We once were proud of our roads, bridges and, at the time, perhaps the greatest infrastructure in the world. Now, that great infrastructure is crumbling and rather than address it, we give tax breaks to those who need it the least and carte blanch to corporate theft. Is it a surprise that almost 50% of our people don’t vote? Why bother? Both political parties are about feeding the rich. Thirty-three states have laws against people sleeping outdoors but don’t fund anywhere near enough shelters to house them. This is what we’ve become and I believe that those who don’t bother to vote have a gut level understanding of that. My government isn’t about them—or about me.

The cruel joke of it all is how many things I love about living here. Our arts, our literature, our music all speak to me in ways no other culture’s could. The caring and giving between people who might even be strangers. The often spontaneous celebrations or even protests that bond us, if only temporarily. The ability—if one chooses—to meet with people (whatever their politics) who, while different than me, still infuse my life with learning and growth. And of course there’s sports.

Would it be easier to be a stranger in a strange land than to be an outlier in my own? I guess I’d need to leave to find out. But let’s face it, I’m not going anywhere. Some very obvious reasons: family and friends. Not so obvious or even understandable to myself is the irrational never-ending hope that somehow, in some way, we still have time to change. That it’s potentially possible to become a land of sanity and community rather than warheads, drones, and prisons. That our culture might find its way out of our racist, economic, and military fog and into, at least, some light.

But the way I feel right now, I ain’t betting rent. Although:

It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday. ~ John Guare

Where No One Has Gone Before

by Kent Ballard

 

I surprised myself last week while watching the NASA coverage of their Orion test. The first day was a nasty reminder of all the times when the world and I waited through countless holds. But on the second day, at around T minus 20 seconds, a miracle happened.

I became young again.

Young enough that it was all still a mystery. So young that the unknown no longer held any fear. I was young enough to challenge the universe on its own terms and I was confident of victory. We could face this great thing. And we could beat it.

But the glow of those engines has died out now, and I’m back on Earth. What I see is not encouraging. We’re not only fighting the universe here. We’re fighting ignorance and superstition and mankind’s eternal curses of greed and stupidity. And no amount of engineering can help us.

When I was a small child, very few people believed it would ever be possible to land a man on the Moon. You would still get laughed at for saying you thought differently. We not only landed a dozen men over several missions, we took cars with us and drove around on the damned thing, a uniquely American way of conquering any new land.

You’ll get laughed at today while talking about starships. Never mind the fact that we’re now investigating the Alcubierrie Drive, a dead ringer for the legendary Warp Drive that powered four generations of fictional ships around the galaxy. And if you try to talk to people about the EmDrive, all but a very tiny handful will have no idea what you mean. If you explain that it means thrust from electrical power only—a reactionless, fuelless thrust—if they have any grasp of physics they’ll simply tell you it isn’t possible. But it is. We’re working on that too. And the Chinese are very interested in it as well. Both nations have small working models that produce thrust and are scaling them up. Other nations will follow soon.

Still, the uneducated moan and wring their hands about all that money spent in space. They’re fools and always have been. Not one cent has ever been spent in space. All that money was spent here in our economy and it went to develop new chemicals and materials, processes to miniaturize things, new kinds of batteries and power sources, computers that are cheaper, faster, smarter, and smaller. NASA employs many more plumbers and bulldozer operators than astronauts, more bricklayers and electricians than physicists, and they give more paychecks to janitors than to people working on new propulsion systems. And they do it all on much less annually than one battle cost in Iraq or Afghanistan and they spent a helluva lot less blood buying all that too. The United States has now spent over nine trillion dollars supposedly fighting poverty. We have more poor now than when we started. But for the same expenditure we could have had a world that looked more like Stanley Kubrick’s 2001—and with more employment and better employment for everyone.

Breakthrough technologies do that. When personal computers were new, there was a worry about the economic disruption a “paperless office” would cause. People believed secretaries everywhere would lose their jobs. (Yes, I know, but they really believed that.) What actually happened was computers made countless thousands of new jobs that didn’t exist before and you cannot find a secretary today without at least one computer monitor on his or her desk. One did not eliminate the other. They made each other stronger and more efficient.

People who would boldly go anywhere first have to deal with the others who laugh at them. Cold fusion became the fodder for late night talk show jokes. Fleischmann and Pons died discredited, unable to find work anywhere in the enlightened world of academia that blackballed them. And while cold fusion has been replicated many times over, it hasn’t been officially invented yet because no one has found the secret to starting and stopping it when they want. Therefore it does not exist—but universities around the world keep on doing it and studying it because the riches of King Solomon’s mines await the first team to control it. But they study in secret for the most part. They don’t want to be laughed at, the second-worst imaginable thing in academia, and they don’t want to rock any boats, by far the worst sin. Also some of them could be killed. Controlled cold fusion would wreck the oil industry overnight and set the world economy on its ear. You’d better believe that this work is not only very real but also very dangerous. If you were totally without morals, how many people would you kill for several trillion dollars?

I was listening to some forgettable comic making fun of NASA recently. He said they should make their minds up about asteroids. On one hand, they’re claiming that one could fall on us and kill us all, and on the other they’re talking about lassoing one and bringing it closer to Earth. What gives?

He’s probably not stupid, merely uneducated. I would enlighten him by showing him a map of the Earth, carefully pointing out the gigantic craters left behind by asteroid strikes, and ask him if he’d mind being under one when it hit? And if he did, who would he go crying to in order to save his ass? The Department of Homeland Insecurity? His police department? The Post Office?

Then I’d ask him if money meant anything to him, and point out that a great deal of money is now being invested in robotic devices to mine asteroids in space. Asteroids are like candy. They come in many different flavors. The right kind of asteroid is worth a ridiculous sum of money. How much? It’s been estimated that just one small (thirty yards or so across) S-type asteroid contains over a hundred pounds of gold and platinum, and about one and a half million pounds of other metals like iron, aluminum, titanium, lead, nickel, and other expensive things. The people who no longer laugh at this, and who are investing money today, figure that 241 Germania—a common enough asteroid—contains mineral wealth equal to $95.8 trillion dollars on today’s market. That’s equal to the annual GDP for the world. Bold people are going for a piece of that.

I’d point out too that by taking this wealth from space, no little bunnies or pretty trees would need to be bulldozed away. Those metals can be taken—and will be taken—with no scarring of the Earth, no poisonous mining runoff, and no need for decades of expensive land reclamation projects that might or might not ever be completed. We may not live to see starships, but we will buy things made out of metal from space because those products will be cheaper than Earth-mined metals.

And don’t write off starships either. If the past century has taught us anything, it’s not to laugh too loudly at the impossible. Be honest with yourself. Who would have ever believed in nukes, lasers, or smart phones? Or that two of the three would be developed by private enterprise? Or that the other one would be considered one of the greatest engineering feats in history but only used twice? The point is, don’t scoff at technology and never try to predict it. You’ll always be wrong.

My youthful feeling the other day was bittersweet. Sure, I was one of those kids who idolized the early astronauts and could rattle off every nut and bolt that made up a Mercury or Gemini capsule. But I also bristled at—and fought—the idea that it was all a Cold War stunt. No, space meant more to me than that. It still does. But the old enemies still exist, and I find myself fighting the same ignorance, the same luddites, the same refusal to see what this means to our species. Human history has barely begun, but we wrote another line of it last Friday…no thanks to them.

In the end it means the survival of humanity, that we won’t all be taken out helplessly by a rogue asteroid, solar flare, some virus from hell, or our own stupidity. That’s worth fighting for, even if that day seems so terribly far away. And on a deeper and more spiritual level, it means new hills for people to hike up simply to see what’s on the other side. We need both. We need the security of knowing we can take hits, terribly brutal hits, and still be around. And without our curiosity we would no longer be human. If we should ever lose that we’ve lost everything, including any hope we ever had.

For me, the end of the space program will come at that time when people think no more about hull designs or propulsion systems or radiation shielding, when the great thing before them is that next hill or that next curve in the river ahead. Because at that time, we will never again run out of hills and rivers to explore, new places to go, new lands to seek.

We will be more free than humans have ever been before. We will be free forever.

LATE TO AN UGLY PARTY

By Zachary Klein

Since the 1960s (and probably before) it’s been no secret that our government spies on its own citizens. We knew that S.D.S. meetings, demonstrations, activists, and people the government distrusted have always been under systematic surveillance. Books have been written about it; friends had it proven to themselves by requesting their own dossiers after the Freedom Of Information Act was passed.

Like I said, it was no secret, but I never cared. If the government wanted to play garbologist with my life, so be it. It was their hands that got dirty. And when the Internet blossomed and people had the opportunity to chat with others far and wide, let alone visit websites that discussed everything from politics to porn, I just assumed they were being monitored. And I still didn’t care. If they wanted to watch me look at naked ladies, go for it. I’d lost any belief of the “right of privacy” a long, long time ago. I had other fish to fry and barely considered the implications of my own facile attitude.

But a week ago I saw a movie called Citizenfour, a documentary by Academy Award winner Laura Poitras. Shot in real time Poitras follows Edward Snowden leaking thousands of classified documents, primarily to Glen Greenwald, at that time a reporter and columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian. Then she followed the aftermath of the published leaks.

These leaks detailed the wholesale data interception by the N.S.A. We’re not just talking about spying upon known or suspected terrorists and their connections and associates. We’re talking about damn near everybody including prime ministers of other countries. (One example was Germany’s Andrea Merkel). And when I say everybody I mean pretty much that. Telephone companies, cable companies, Internet search engines, and any institution who gathered personal information were essentially ordered to turn everything over that they had on all of their customers or clients.

When the story first broke publicly in early June, 2013 I met it with a shrug, continuing to believe we were talking about rummaging around in people’s underwear. But at one point in the movie (and I’m going to paraphrase) someone commented that while we were calling this massive collection of information the loss of privacy, it really went much, much deeper. The enormity of this invasion of peoples’ lives actually represented the loss of freedom and liberty. A situation where the quantitative morphs into qualitative.

Well, that notion spun my head. If our own government quietly watches every person, with access to all our conversations, we are living in what ought to be described as a benign police state. A police state usually conjures images of barbed wire and machine guns and, in many countries throughout the world, that’s exactly what it is. But let’s remember what has always been true: information is power. Having virtually all information about every one of us residing in the hands of the government is more power than I’m willing to cede.

I’ve listened to the other side of the argument. “We need to be safe and secure.” “Everything changed after 9/11 and that tragedy demands heightened security—even at the loss of some liberty.” “We don’t know how many attacks have been thwarted because of the N.S.A.’s eyes and ears.” Which is true. We don’t know. But that lack of knowledge is due to our government’s ongoing refusal to provide any hard, real information.

Then there’s also the demand to show how this overwhelming amount of spying has affected anyone’s rights. Where is that slippery slope that will lead to the loss of liberty? Which organizations have been affected by the government’s knowledge about everything they do or say?

I can’t answer those questions. But the government can. And won’t—though some small glimmer occasionally shines through. Does anyone really believe that every major news organization decided on their own not to show the body-bags of our dead soldiers returning home? And that due process has been denied for every single person who has been sent to Guantanamo on the basis of information the government refuses to make public? Do we really have to wait until neighbors, relatives, or friends are arrested and detained because they had a conversation with someone who knew someone who knew someone else that attended the same church as someone who might have known a person who had possible ties to a radical organization? From where I now sit that’s way too late. That’s stick a fork in it time.

I’m sure there are people who believe that all undercover espionage on our citizenry should be eliminated. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world and the possibility does exist that dangers might be greater than some reasonable surveillance.

But the key word is reasonable and that is not what’s happening. What’s really happening is blatantly unreasonable. For our government to secretly spy on its entire population because they can and not be held accountable in any way (and please don’t throw the secret F.I.S.A. court in my face because apparently they have no accountability to anyone but themselves) is shameful for any country that calls itself an open democracy.

Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras, Glen Greenwald, and those who drew back the curtains on the N.S.A.’s illegal activities should be honored for their attempt to expose our government’s spitting in the face of liberty and freedom. Dictionary.com defines a police state as a nation in which the police, especially a secret police, summarily suppresses any social, economic, or political act that conflicts with governmental policy.

We aren’t there or that. Yet. But most of the Patriot Act and especially the N.S.A’s extraordinary hidden reach, brings us a giant step closer.

“The best people possess the…, courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice.” - Ernest Hemingway

The Great Asian Peace Offensive

by Kent Ballard

 

About a year ago North Korea announced it was suspending all non-aggression pacts with South Korea. They shut down the North-South hotline and closed the only shared opening in their border. They also moved two regiments of self-propelled artillery to the border and shelled an island belonging to the South.

They then announced their “right” to conduct nuclear first-strikes against the United States.

Technically, we were in a state of war with North Korea. Big deal.

We’ve been in a technical state of war with the goofy SOBs for sixty years now. They’ve been in a technical state of war with the entire United Nations for that time. They never signed a peace treaty, only a cease-fire. But they’ve become even more alarmingly insane recently, now that Russia, China, and the United States have all signed a United Nations decree forcing them to allow their ships to be inspected at sea by any naval force. They’ve had their assets frozen in many different countries, travel sanctions imposed on different NK government individuals and corporations, and suffer even tighter trade sanctions. This includes food, something the country consistently lacks.

China is their major trading partner. Pakistan runs a distant second. And that’s it. Those are the only trading partners they have besides very minor paper agreements. Also, China controls all of the oil going into North Korea, as well as much of its food. Beijing called in the North Korean ambassador just before NKs latest nuclear test and told him the Chinese were gravely concerned about a nuclear arms race on the Korean peninsula, further distancing of North Korea by governments all around the world, the potential for Japan to develop nuclear weapons in response, and last but not least, pissing off the United States.

North Korea ignored China’s warning. They detonated another nuke and then fired a cheap satellite off into an erratic and unstable orbit.

China then voted with us, the Russians, and the rest of the world to tighten the noose around North Korea’s neck even more after that.

A White House spokesman said the United States was perfectly capable of defending itself, which is true. But even in a fully conventional attack, we’d lose almost all ten thousand American soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, plus our air bases and naval facilities in South Korea in the opening salvos of hundreds or thousands of conventional rockets. Seoul would fall within hours and be leveled in the process.

And that would piss off America. And Japan. The Russians would shit their pants. China would no longer be able to deter any response we countered with. The general consensus around the world is we’d go nuclear as soon as friendly voices quit answering the telephone in South Korea.

The family monarchy of dwarfs and hunchbacks who’ve been the North Korean dictators for the past sixty-some years are lousy poker players. They’ve bluffed, cheated, and been caught looking at everyone’s cards too often. They and Pakistan, our dependable allies in the Mideast, have been caught sharing nuclear weapons and missile technology illegally. If you don’t think the North Korean government is dangerously insane, keep in mind they’re the only nation with a scientific community who claims to have found unicorn breeding grounds. And they’re dead serious.

I was never a great fan of Bill Clinton. But I think he said it best when, on a tour to the DMZ in South Korea a reporter asked him, “What would happen, Mr. President? What would we do if the whole North Korean Army and Air Force came roaring over that border in the middle of the night?”

Clinton blinked at the reporter as if he was a very slow child, then replied, “Well, North Korea would cease to exist in about 30 minutes.” I think that was not only one of the most honest answers he ever gave, but possibly one of the most humorous if you like your comedy black.

At any given time, the U.S. Navy has at least one and often two missile submarines parked just off the North Korean coast. Missile flight times across the whole country would be in the neighborhood of five minutes or less. In a comic reversal of the threat in The Hunt For Red October we have kids sitting out there, listening to rock n’ roll, and conducting nuclear missile drills on them weekly while feasting on cheeseburgers and pizza.

China naturally wants a vassal state between it and the gaudy capitalists in South Korea. It wouldn’t do to have their citizens look across the Yalu river and see brightly-lit skyscrapers and a powerful capitalistic economic engine running 24 hours a day. But now even China is getting fed up with the screeching rhetoric coming out of that vassal state, and as crazy as the world is getting anymore they might just ask America to plant its nukes where the wind would not carry fallout over their country. The Chinese have now become gaudy capitalists too, in everything but name.

Shhh! It’s a secret. Don’t tell anybody.

Every government knows that the United States remains the only nation on earth to use nuclear weapons in anger. Most of them think it’s best to keep it that way. That would keep all the criticism off their backs, allow them to take the moral high road (which never existed in international politics anyway), and give them a good look at what we can and cannot do with all those expensive toys we’ve been buying over the years.

There is another possibility. China could act alone. There’s literally a giant pipeline running under the Yalu river between China and North Korea. There is a valve to that pipeline on the Chinese side. If it were to be shut off, one hell of a lot of North Koreans would begin freezing very quickly, and it’s damned hard to run a war on empty gas tanks. Sure, the NKs have military fuel stockpiles—but not enough to fight a full scale war for more than just a few days. China has seen to that already. They still want that buffer-nation between them and the South, but there is a limit even to their patience. After North Korea rebuked their warnings last year, Beijing hinted darkly at a possible “regime change” in that country. That’s diplomat-speak for Chinese Special Forces armed with sniper rifles.

From what I’ve read, there was an extremely unusual outbreak of common sense at the UN between America, Russia, China, the UK, France, and other nations. We all know that any serious squeezing we do to North Korea will simply starve more of their innocent people and the leadership will remain unaffected. The latest UN resolutions were tailored to put the heat on the leadership, not the peasants, although they will undoubtedly suffer even more now. Still, the United Nations is aiming at the head, not the feet of North Korea.

But I have a better idea.

A preemptive strike on North Korea using our stealth strategic nuclear weapons delivery systems.

A military mission even Gandhi would love.

If the B-2 bomber is as good as they say it is, we could overfly North Korean airspace without being detected. And we could pull off one of the craziest—and greatest—humanitarian stunts in history.

Load the bomb bays of a dozen B-2s with canisters, hundreds of them, containing cell phones, solar chargers, and miniaturized satellite antennas. Put a few laptop computers in each canister, along with every scrap of rice, flour, and powdered milk we can cram into them. Basic medicines, candies, and infant formula. Mix up everything in the canisters, a little of this and some of that. Send written instructions in Korean. No propaganda, not a single word of it. No American markings on the canisters or cargo or parachutes. Nothing that would clearly mark where these things came from—although everyone would know anyway.

Then on a moonless night at 3:00 AM local time, fly over North Korea and bomb the daylights out of the countryside with the means to communicate, to see and understand what’s going on in the real world. Bomb the population with medicines and rice. Keep everything small—even the food packets—and quick and easy to hide. Scatter those canisters everywhere in the country. When sent on conventional missions, those B-2 Spirits can haul eighty 500 pound bombs apiece. A dozen of them would have a payload of nearly half a million pounds. (You can be as critical as you want, but you can never say we bought second-rate bombers.)

Of course, the North Korean army would shoot anyone caught with anything that came from one of those canisters and confiscate whatever they could lay their hands on. The captured material would go up through the ranks—and probably a great deal of it would disappear before it got to headquarters. Would you trust a nineteen year old North Korean corporal—who only knew poverty and hunger his whole life—to turn in everything he found? Everything? What if his family, his little brother and sister, are hungry too? They almost certainly will be.

Regardless, some of it—maybe most of it—would remain in the hands of the peasants. Those who could read would explain to the others what all the instructions said. Enclosed pictographic instructions would do the rest. Communication links would begin to open with the world. The food would be eaten instantly, and the medicines would begin saving lives. The satellite antennas could be based on the kinds our troops carry with them in the field—pop open, snap shut. Yes, very many would make it to the people themselves, and they must certainly know how to hide things by now.

Think about that for a minute.

Sure, it’d cost a lot of money. But only a tiny fraction of what one battle in one war would cost. If we could get in and out without losing any bombers we could whistle and look innocent and tell everyone we had no idea what the North Korean government was babbling about this time. Everyone would know we were lying, but no one, allies or enemies, could prove a thing. We could even put out public international feelers, asking the Egyptians if they did it, or maybe Iceland. Maybe it was Bulgaria. Or Peru.

Crazy? Hell yes, it’s crazy! So crazy that many people simply wouldn’t believe it. And those who did and managed to put two and two together would think about it for a moment and then see the sheer brilliance of such a mission—using stealthy nuclear weapons delivery systems to drop food, communications, medicines, knowledge, and hope. And someday, after such a bombing mission, if the North Korean people changed their leadership by themselves they would almost certainly install a new government much more friendly to the United States than anything put in place by China.

What would China do? Rattle their nuclear sabers at us for doing such an imperialist thing like dropping food and medicine? Would Russia put its missiles on alert for dropping smart phones and hand-cranked radio receivers?

It would confuse the hell out of everybody. And when the confusion ended, I think half the world would burst out laughing and America’s stock would go up everywhere. Dropping bombs is an act of war. Dropping powdered milk…I don’t think the world has a response for that.

REFLECTIONS

by Zachary Klein

It’s been about twenty-nine years and change since I last cradled a newborn. Much has happened since—both to me personally and to the world in which I live. I’ve struggled to stay somewhat open-minded and positive in the face of personal losses and still willing to grapple with a globe that seems bent on making all the wrong choices.

But while holding each of my new grandchildren and seeing the light gleaming in Matthew and Alyssa’s eyes, my weary energy slipped away. All was right with the world.

Of course we know that last sentence is blatantly untrue. Unadulterated joy is fleeting, an experience to be savored even as it dissipates into what we know as “reality.” Still, it got me thinking about my own evolution since I had my first child (now new dad Matt) at the ripe old age of twenty-one.

Much has changed—not the least of which, me. Back then I was engaged in social service, but my ideas and attitudes were way different than they are now. I really did believe in “any means necessary” to foster change, wrote people off if their beliefs strayed too far from my own, and actually thought violence was a legitimate tool for revolution. I believed that I’d be a failure as a person and father if I weren’t willing to throw my body in front of a bullet, or use one to create a better society and life for my son.

Fast forward fifteen years when my second son Jake was born. I had my own private counseling practice and while I think the work I did helped some individuals, couples, and groups, I continued to see my ongoing hope for a different, a better world, continue to whither away. In some fashion it was worse than when Matt was born. Then, at least, I didn’t feel as alone. There were larger numbers of people who, in their own inchoate ways, shared my longings. Tough to imagine now, but when Jake was conceived I had serious reservations about bringing another child into our world.

But then, as with Matthew, those doubts dissolved in the presence of little arms, hands, legs and an uncontrollable cowlick. Without quite realizing it, the state of the sphere took a backseat to the renewed joy of fatherhood.

And by the time the “real” world returned, I had changed. Still fiercely committed to social justice, violence was no longer part of the equation. Something important had taken over my heart and I no longer imagined bloodshed as an answer to anything. Whatever “good” born out of violence was bound to encourage its lifespan. Whatever positive change might happen because of guns and bullets would eventually disintegrate through the use of those same tools.

Some might say this evolution is the result of age as mortality creeps closer. Actually, I believe that the “something” which had turned me around has been my cumulative years as a parent. Perhaps it was fear for my own and other people that I loved. Whatever it really had been was cemented when one of Jake’s closest friends who regularly spent nights at our house was murdered after I had sent him to work. Murdered trying to save his boss from a thief. A life I loved for tubes of toothpaste. Never again have I been able to see violence as a path to anything other than more violence.

And maybe just as important was a growing willingness to see people as a whole rather than any of their particular beliefs. I find I no longer tease out and judge a person solely by their political or religious ideas. I want more. I want to connect with a person’s humanity which, I’ve learned, has little or nothing to do with left, right, center or particular opinions.

I’ve written somewhat optimistically about life in previous columns but, for the most part, the posts have focused upon the positives within our culture and society. In retrospect, however, Mari and Vivian have already pointed out the big miss. Which for me means relationships. Despite all my talk about how my books are relationship driven and the manner in which those relationships impact each character, I never connected the dots. Those categorizations have to do with me and my life. Something which I had known but in some strange way forgot.

I don’t know whether the world is better or will be better for Mari and Vivian. I don’t know whether humans have the capacity to ever lay down their arms, stop their oppression of each other, lose their racism, or find a way to care for all. I surely hope so. But I do know that my wives past and present, my children and grand-kids, my relatives and friends, old and new, have enriched my soul. And that enrichment has been what’s made my life worth living.

I also have no doubt if two newborn infants can help me realize what’s been in front of my blind eyes, I’ll learn plenty more from them as they grow. So, thank you Mari and Vivian. You’ve already given me a great gift.

And to Alyssa and Matt, a Lou Reed song title says it best. You’re at…

THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT ADVENTURE.

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