the safe place

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Here in the safe place, I am protected from all the hate and rage and pinpricks and shoves and the microaggressions. You can’t touch me in here. It’s not allowed.

I see you out there, but I am safe. You run away, free, flying in the wind, turning your face to the sun, smiling, with all your dangerous thoughts and risks, but I am safe.

I can no longer see the world in all its colors and I can no longer hear the words that challenge what I believe, and I can no longer feel the wind that would turn my direction toward some other and new and challenging place; I am safe.

Safe inside these four walls with only this worldview, this way of life. No one here to tell me I am wrong or mistaken or misguided. I am safe.

You keep your freedom, I don’t want it. Nor do I need it, here in my safe place.

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W.B.’s Book Report: Men in War

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The first book I’ve read that was recommended by Haunted Bookshop owner Roger Mifflin, Men in War by Andreas Latzko is a scream of rage and unimaginable pain, a primal scream against the inhumanity that Latzko endured as a soldier of Austria-Hungary on the River Isonzo front against Italy in 1916. If I didn’t understand what men in war have been through, now I have an inkling. The book is a powerful, life-changing experience that I must force myself to read again soon.

Men in War is a novel with six chapters, more accurately described as six short stories, linked mainly by the front and by the unrelenting despair and senselessness of the situation. This is a book that should shake the reader to the core. No wonder the Hitler regime had it burned – it exposes far too much of what the war machine is all about.

“My Comrade (A Diary),” the fourth chapter, is a bomb – a rant of common sense from a man diagnosed as mentally ill because he carries the memories of the men he has seen destroyed by war and he cannot fathom the insanity that did them such harm. It’s a clear peek behind the haunted eyes of those who have seen the same: We see that such memories cannot possibly be compartmentalized or tucked away forgotten. I would guess they can only be endured a best as one can.

Latzko wrote Men in War (Menschen im Krieg) during his rehabilitation from physical and psychic injuries sustained during his service; he served on the Isonzo front during 1916, suffering malaria and then severe shock from a heavy Italian artillery barrage. After eight months in the hospital, he moved to Davos, Switzerland, for further recuperation and rehab, where he wrote the book in 1917.

This is the book that Christopher Morley, through Mifflin, says “was so damned true that the government suppressed it.” One prays Latzko got some relief by letting the words pour out of his fingers. He does a service to humanity by sharing the inhumanity he witnessed and by letting us see and feel the damage done to his heart and soul.

Here is a link to the book at Project Gutenberg.

(Photo: © Andrew Emptage | Dreamstime.com Preserved trench network at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres on the Western Front battlefields of the first world war. Photo taken on March 10, 2010)

So this is how liberty dies: With thunderous applause

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Senator Padme Amidala’s line during Emperor Palpatine’s speech, above, is the most chillingly effective moment in all of the Star Wars prequel movies. It’s also as true an observation as in any 21st century work of art.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 around the same concept: Tyranny often happens by popular demand. Bradbury’s society that banned and burned books evolved because books made people uncomfortable enough to want them gone. The government didn’t impose book burning; the public demanded it.

It’s fascinating to watch, whenever Something Happens, as discussion emerges around what laws could be instituted to prevent a similar Something from Happening again. These proposed new laws are always even more restrictive than the laws that failed to prevent the Something that Happened. The underlying proposition is that the solution to evil acts is further shrinking freedom for those who are not inclined to commit evil acts.

Talking heads with nothing to say repeat the mantras that have accomplished nothing to date, in an endless insane kabuki dance. The laws are enacted to thunderous applause, which ends the next time Something Happens, and then the dance begins again.

One day, people stop talking about liberty altogether. Freedom is just too uncomfortable, too dangerous to be allowed.

And soon, Something Happens anyway.

Iron Fist: Not terrible

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An interesting battle is raging in the land of binge-TV watching that reflects, to a certain extent, the professional wrestling match that U.S. politics has become. The people are tired of accepting what an elite group of thinkers tells them to think.

Marvel’s Iron Fist is the fourth in a series of 13-episode television series based on some of the comics megacorporation’s second tier of superheroes. The movie blockbusters get Captain America and the Hulk; Netflix gets Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, with Daredevil – who flopped financially with what I thought was a pretty good movie – the most well-known of the bunch.

In the days before the show’s March 17 debut on Netflix, the critics spoke, based on a preview of the first six episodes of Iron Fist: They hated it. Continue reading →

Exorcising the bogeyman

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My experience is that people just want to carve out a niche, to make a living, to enjoy this life, to to seek a better live, to live and let live. Everything goes fine until it doesn’t, and it’s usually the bogeyman’s fault – except it isn’t.

Who is this bogeyman? He comes in different shapes and sizes. Once upon a time he was an evil villain or monster used to scare children into staying in bed where it was safe (more or less – also to be avoided was under the bed!) – and as time went on, we find that politicians and less subtle warlords use bogeymen to create fear and anger. We also use bogeymen of our own making to scare ourselves into not venturing forth into new territory.

Sometimes, though, we take steps despite the fear of the bogeymen. We actually go off to fight the bogeyman and discover he is really a creature much like ourselves, as the fighters in World War I discovered when they had a spontaneous Christmas Truce and interacted in comfort and joy until the holiday ended and they went back to the butchery.

One person’s bogeyman, carefully examined, is usually just some other person trying to carve out their niche – if you look without fear and hate, you find not bogeymen but just folks trying to live and let live.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all looked around and discovered that the bogeyman never existed? Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t blame anyone for our troubles (except maybe ourselves) and instead took those troubles and just worked through them?

Individual freedom and election eve

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“Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.” – Warren Bluhm (hey, that’s me!)

I turn a large chunk of the time you might usually spend with me to Samuel Smiles, who began his epic book Self-Help with these words:

“Heaven helps those who help themselves” is a well-tried maxim, embodying in a small compass the results of vast human experience.  The spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigour and strength.  Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates.  Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.

Even the best institutions can give a man no active help.  Perhaps the most they can do is, to leave him free to develop himself and improve his individual condition.  But in all times men have been prone to believe that their happiness and well-being were to be secured by means of institutions rather than by their own conduct.  Hence the value of legislation as an agent in human advancement has usually been much over-estimated.  To constitute the millionth part of a Legislature, by voting for one or two men once in three or five years, however conscientiously this duty may be performed, can exercise but little active influence upon any man’s life and character.  Moreover, it is every day becoming more clearly understood, that the function of Government is negative and restrictive, rather than positive and active; being resolvable principally into protection — protection of life, liberty, and property.  Laws, wisely administered, will secure men in the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour, whether of mind or body, at a comparatively small personal sacrifice; but no laws, however stringent, can make the idle industrious, the thriftless provident, or the drunken sober.  Such reforms can only be effected by means of individual action, economy, and self-denial; by better habits, rather than by greater rights.

A pastor friend of mine said this week, “Someone or other will be president. And Jesus Christ will still be King.”

A good number of my friends choose not to vote, believing that the very act participates in and gives consent and succor to an illegitimate system. I don’t disagree with these friends.

A Scott Adams cartoon of many years ago showed the boss lecturing Wally that if he doesn’t vote, “Then you have no right to complain about the result.” “I’m pretty sure I do,” Wally replied, recognizing the meaning of free speech better than the pointy-haired guy.

I have no illusions that the winner of Tuesday’s election will win my state by a single vote, and so I always vote for the person on the ballot whose views and qualifications most closely align with my beliefs – if such a person exists. I don’t believe that my choices are limited to two people, this year more than ever. I don’t consider that a wasted vote; to me a wasted vote would be for someone whose views represent me in virtually no way.

While the presidential race offers no acceptable choices this year, I do respect several of the people running for other offices and will be tendering my minuscule chad for those folks. Maybe they’ll win, maybe not. My point is that in a representative republic, people should vote for folks who best represent us – nothing more, nothing less – and that our lives change for the better from within, not from the results of an election.

A cure for the poison that is politics

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My latest for the Door County Advocate

I was pleasantly surprised the other day when I accidentally tuned to a political debate on television and actually heard a discussion of the issues.

Sen. Ron Johnson and former Sen. Russ Feingold spent an hour talking about their positions and criticizing the other person’s positions. I didn’t hear either one call the other a liar or a disgrace to humanity; the only negative words were about positions, not persons.

Nor did the panel of journalists from the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association try to bait the candidates into saying something stupid or unkind or insulting. It was quite a relief from the professional-wrestling aura of the presidential debates, with due apologies to professional wrestling.

I believe I speak for the majority when I say that this is the worst choice for U.S. president ever produced by the two-party system, a system that has delivered a bundle of disappointing choices over the last quarter-century. It’s indeed disappointing when one of the most legitimate topics of discussion is not freedom, not national security, not health, education or welfare, but who is the greater misogynist – one of the candidates for president or the other candidate’s husband.

This has been a disquieting and dispiriting year in politics, at least at the top. That’s why it was refreshing and comforting over the weekend to read the column “Politics is Poison to the Human Spirit” by Jeffrey A. Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Freedom and the startup site Liberty.me.

“You know what we need right now?” Tucker begins. “A trip to the mall, not even to buy, but to observe and learn. See how people engage with each other.” Also good would be a walk in the park, a concert, anywhere where we are going about our everyday lives in the community.

“In this extremely strange election year, escaping the rolling antagonism and duplicity of politics, and finding instead the evidence all around us that we can get along, however imperfectly, might actually be essential for a healthy outlook on life,” he writes.

Tucker writes about the demoralizing divisiveness of the political realm – “The shrillest voices, the meanest temperaments, and the most amoral plotters are the ones who dominate, while virtues such as wisdom, charity and justice are blotted out. Is it any wonder that this is not exactly uplifting of the human spirit?”

What does uplift our spirits is rediscovering that we live in peace with each other every day, and that the vast majority of us can and do live and let live, without the intervention of the political class or perhaps in spite of that.

“We don’t really want to live amidst anger or revel in the destruction of our enemies,” Tucker writes. “Hate is not a sustainable frame of mind. We intuitively understand that when we use politics to hurt our neighbor, we are also hurting ourselves. We are being dragged down instead of being lifted up.”

There’s much more, and Tucker’s article is currently easy to find online, having been shared by a lot of people, including me, on Facebook and elsewhere.

As someone who made up his mind long ago, I am repulsed and discouraged by the depths politicians will go to attract the remaining undecided voters. It was good to see our candidates for U.S. senator in an intelligent conversation.

Personally, I believe we have lived under the worst U.S. president in history for the last 24 years – every time I believe the White House has hit bottom, the next one sinks deeper – and yet the republic has survived, people grow and prosper, and life goes on. The next four years will continue that dismal trend no matter who wins, but apart from politics we will be OK.

And politics is not everything, despite what the politicians would have you believe. You still have the freedom to live your own life, although with great freedom comes great responsibility. Step one is to overcome the fear.