Archive for the ‘patriotism’ Category


July 2, 2010

63 chilly degrees at 5 this dawn, almost too cool to sit out with the rising sun. Am actually wearing long sleeves. Maybe July really is going to swap with June this year, and the swelter will relent for a bit.

The Times says my old town’s evolving and looking to the future. Guess we should go.

Will 36 hours be enough? Maybe, if we leave the laptops and drop the devices.

Can’t wait to check out The Bridge, with @DJGrothe‘s tweeted recommendation: “Great beer selection, perfect atmosphere. My favorite place in the neighborhood if not all of #St_Louis.”  Great, needed a new favorite place.  Forest Park and Busch Stadium are ok, too. [Postscript: The Bridge is outstanding, especially on a mild afternoon in July after a long drive and with a suddenly- stalling engine in need of a rest.]

If you’re wondering about the # above, btw, here’s a semiotic analysis of hashtaggery.)

I confess some ambivalence about this particular holiday weekend, and some flat-out repugnance for the drive to get there. (I want my bullet train!)

There’s no better object of celebration than independence and freedom, but I don’t love a parade when it’s devoted to insular superiority and narrow nationalism. Everybody’s anthem seems to boil down to Mel Brooks’s “2,000 Year Old Man‘s” jingoistic jingle: “Let ’em all go to hell, except Cave #76.”

Nor do I care much for fireworks or the red glare of rockets meant to symbolize armed conflict. Independence-as-mutual hostility is nothing to boast about.

On the other hand, independence from the inertial drag of crusty custom and conventional wisdom and stale tradition, from misplaced loyalty and cowering conservatism and blind allegiance to flags and forebears, is worth fighting for.

Independence from the opinions of old dead white guys is genuinely liberating.

Most of all, I suppose, this holiday above all others should be free from the weight of too much heavy introspection. We should free ourselves from fretful over-analysis.

Fire a rocket just for fun, and travel safely.


June 22, 2010

We’re under a “dangerous heat/air quality” advisory here again today, the high will be 98 and it’ll feel like 110– not a desert dry heat but a wet, sticky, drippy, “muggy” (as we always said in the midwest) sauna sort of day. Incessant and unrelenting, the atmospheric equivalent of a vuvuzella. (There’s an app now, you know, and a very popular one too. Fortunately the iPhone speaker is inaudible.)

Speaking of South Africa, the high in Cape Town today will be in the mid-60s. It’s winter in the southern hemisphere, and it’s loud. Amazing how people can get so worked up over a game that so typically ends in a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

The primitive”We’re #1″ tribal nationalism sometimes on display in these matches is obnoxious, though of course you don’t have to go to FIFA to find that– it’s right next door under the big orange “T” flag, and behind the blue “Titans” decal. (We’ll leave the Redbirds out of this discussion.)

If you’re going to glom yourself onto an arbitrary association to die for, I suppose it’s marginally more evolved that it be for a nation than for a team whose school you don’t even attend or a corporation you don’t work for.

Truth is, I like the world’s version of futbol a lot more than I like ours. And the Pythons’ version. (Are you there, Mary? Ready to begin our collaborative essay on baseball vs. football? Have you listened to George Carlin yet?)

Also: the over-the-top dramatic pretending-to-be-injured histrionics are just silly.


I do love the color and spirit of it all, the pre-game handshakes and post-gamejersey exchanges, and in general just the deep passionate intensity. The key is to transfer that depth of caring to things that do matter. If we could give just a fraction of that kind of focus to the health and well-being of our children, education, the environment, the future… now there’s a summer dream/fantasy for you.

I do love summer. Especially this time of day.

Memorial Day

May 31, 2010

It is right that we set aside a day to pause and reflect on the terrible cost of war, in soldiers’ lives, and feel deep gratitude for the willingness of idealistic young men and women to sacrifice themselves for a perceived greater good.

But it is not enough to remember them alone. Civilian casualties in war are inevitable and appalling. The entire human cost of armed aggression around the globe needs a day of remembrance too, and we need to insist on an accounting.

The only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry- in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. -Justice Potter Stewart

We need to be less stone-blind to the realities of war, less stoical in our acceptance of the “inevitable.” In some ways it’s hard, but in others it’s way too easy to “suck it up and keep on fighting”– as Nancy Sherman says in the new installment of the Times philosophy blog. We undertake “detachment from certain objects so they cannot affect” us, we hold the brutality and de-humanization of war at arms’ length, we idealize noble ends and whitewash despicable means… and we continue the fight.

The U.S. has been carrying on the present fight for nearly a decade now. Why is this not widely rejected as outrageous and intolerable? Could it be that we’re simply not paying attention, most of us? That we’re lacking Justice Stewart’s “informed and critical public opinion?” Do we need to bring back a draft, to re-focus our attention and hone our critical opinion?

But we do love a parade. Happy Memorial Day. Peace.

Little Rock Nine

November 6, 2009

Little_Rock_Desegregation_1957The distance we’ve come since the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock , Arkansas in 1957,  is impressive. Nine brave children endured pain and humiliation beyond imagining. They just wanted to go to school. As adults they’ve continued to tell their amazing story, so perfect an illustration of what William James meant by heroism when he spoke to an earlier generation about “some of life’s ideals.”

And Younger Daughter will tell their story today, in my classroom. She and her middle school classmates are eagerly anticipating their field trip in a couple of weeks to Little Rock. I was a bit stunned to see, by show of hands, how few of my collegians had even heard of the LR9. We’ll fix that.

(40th anniversary)

patriotic naturalist

August 6, 2009

My country is this dirt

that gathers under my fingernails
when I am in the garden.
The quiet bacteria and fungi,
all the little insects and bugs
are my compatriots. They are
idealistic, always working together
for the common good.
I kneel on the earth
and pledge my allegiance
to all the dirt of the world,
to all of that soil which grows
flowers and food
for the just and unjust alike.
The soil does not care
what we think about or who we love.
It knows our true substance,
of what we are really made.
I stand my ground on this ground,
this ground which will
recruit us all
to its side.

“Patriotism” by Ellie Schoenfeld , from The Dark Honey. © Clover Valley Press, 2009. Published with permission.

And in much the same vein:

“All lovely things will have an ending,
All lovely things will fade and die,
And youth, that’s now so bravely spending,
Will beg a penny by and by.”

Conrad Aiken, who  died in 1973 and left instructions that his tombstone be made in the shape of a bench, so that peopleaiken could stop by at the grave and have a Madeira. Aiken’s tombstone in Savannah, Georgia, reads, “Give my love to the world” and “Cosmos Mariner — Destination Unknown.” His gravesite became famous after John Berendt wrote about it in his true-crime novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994). Conrad wrote in a self-obituary: “Separate we come, and separate we go, / And this be it known, is all that we know.”

Writer’s Almanac 8.5.09

This, by the way, is the anniversary of the day in 1945 when bombers acting on behalf of the people of the United States deployed their atomic weaponry on 80,000 citizens of Hiroshima, Japan. Harry Truman said he  lost no sleep.

resolute independence

July 4, 2009

July 4, like New Year’s Day, is for me an opportunity to take stock and renew good intentions. So, I hereby declare my independence from:

  • “unreal loyalties,” as Viginia Woolf put it, to nation and region and party and sect and ideology etc. No more indulgence of unthinking, jingoistic, bellicose nationalism and partisan stupidity, no free rides for “my side, right or wrong.”
  • obsessive-compulsive behaviors and bad habits that are not constructive, productive, or happy-making
  • procrastination
  • fear and worry and all the other afflictive emotions
  • excessive caution and reckless impulsiveness
  • materialistic consumerism, and aspirations thereto… of the sort that our spin around the lake the other day might havelake lure cruise prompted, when our very informative and entertaining skipper pointed out one empty multi-million dollar vacation property after another. This is a great place to visit, but we really don’t need to “live” anywhere but home sweet home.

Good enough to dream

June 6, 2009

Finally finished Dreams From My Father, and am still struck simply numb by the sheer wondrous improbability  and amazement of our having elected such an able, caring, compassionate, conscientious, cosmopolitan, thoughtful, literate, intelligent, funny, visionary man to the highest office in the world. He is everything his predecessor was not, and so much more.  Bill Clinton spoke of building a bridge to this century, Obama is a bridge. A rope over an abyss. A strand of hope. A straw to stir the global melting pot. Living proof that we’re all twigs on the same tree.

He’s not a perfect politician, but he is the perfect symbol of what it means to embrace the mixed human heritage. The Cairo speech won’t fix the middle east, of course; but isn’t it good to be represented by a leader so clearly committed to “the interests we share as human beings” and not to the narrow presumptive privilege of a single faction? True patriotism loves the undiscovered country we all belong to. A day when private, parochial, selfish, sectarian self-interest has lost all credibility and all power to mobilize the resources and might of nations is still an audacious dream. But aren’t we good enough to dream?


A day for the peace-makers

May 25, 2009

A CBS report on disfigured veterans yesterday invoked their “divine right to appear human.”

That’s wrong. Gods do not deploy road-side bombs, or dismantle them, or end the wars and secure the peace, or impede our rights, or confer them, or save us from ourselves. Gods do not guarantee our humanity or its appearance.

I am humbled by the profound and ultimate sacrifices of men and women in uniform, and am deeply grateful for their service. Those who die for their country deserve their country’s gratitude. They deserve a holiday and much more.

But those who live for humanity light the way to a world in which no one has to die for the limited vision of pietists and politicians. It is unconscionable to ask someone to be the last to die for a particular mistake, as young John Kerry averred. And it is wrong to require everyone’s collaboration in a misplaced patriotism that glories in every uniformed human sacrifice expended for country, cloaking it in divine sanction, expecting divine favor.

So let us also memorialize and celebrate the peace-makers, the practitioners of non-violence, and those who understand that the preservation of our humanity is ours to keep. They deserve a day too. Happy Memorial Day.peace flag