Timing is Everything

We watched it snow this morning while making coffee and feeling a bit nostalgic for mountain weather of years gone by. The birds are busy maneuvering for position at the one feeder still remaining. This is the sacrificial feeder, a cheap $14 model from Walmart that the bear will soon pull down to announce that it’s time to stop feeding the birds.

We must remember to ask our friend, the weatherman, how long abnormal weather takes to become the new normal and a return to the old normal is abnormal. Do you remember when it was not uncommon here to have a frost in May, or even early June? (The fact that you’re reading a newspaper instead of a tweet this morning suggests that you might, and we appreciate your literacy and your support.)

We suspect that the appearance of tomato plants in the big box stores now in March is not quite normal, though we are confident that this is a clever way to sell more tomato plants. Our great aunt and uncle had a contest to grow the biggest tomato every year. He set out his plants early to get a head start. She waited until weeks later, when the ground was warm, and won the contest year after year.

Our grandfather taught us that here on the side of the mountain it was best to wait until both the persimmons and the black walnuts had put out leaves before assuming that the danger of frost was over. Timing is everything, in gardening as well as in so many other ventures.

Last year the timing of our normal abnormal weather was unfortunate for our beehives. Warm weather kept them active late into the fall, using up their stores of pollen. It is the pollen, by the way, that honeybees depend on for survival, more so than honey. Our three newest colonies were further weakened by the extended period of frigid weather we had in early winter, and by spring there were not enough bees left to maintain a temperature in the hive necessary for their survival. They died of hypothermia, still at their posts trying to protect the queen.

The ghosts of those noble bees hover around the honey in our coffee this morning. We take so much for granted, but not so much that we cannot pause to savor the bitter sweet taste of sacrifice.

This year we adjusted our timing and ordered replacement packages of bees early. Since pollen comes earlier and appears to have become weaponized in recent years, it gives us some satisfaction to know that at least something here on the farm is benefiting from the billowing clouds of  burning dust.

It just started snowing again,  and two tough little hummingbirds are dodging snowflakes to visit their feeder. They appreciate the warm syrup we took out early this morning to replace the 32 degree bottle left out overnight. (Bring those feeders inside on cold nights and your hummingbirds will love you even more.)

The bees will be inside today, staying warm and doing housekeeping duties. Tomorrow it will be sunny and mild and our hard working insect friends will venture forth to collect more pollen and bring it home inside the little baskets on their hind legs.  It’s a shame they can’t collect enough to reduce the pain of the many who suffer this time of year. It is unfortunate timing for those of us who yearn to throw open the doors and windows for some fresh air, but will abstain from that pleasure in deference to allergy. It is a cold comfort that, just a few aisles over from the sacrificial tomato plants, the big box stores will have antihistamines on sale.

 

A Dog’s Life

“It’s a dog’s life” comes to us from the 16th century, when the expression referred to the general misery of the canine clan at the hands of their human masters. The idiom evolved into a proverb, “It’s a dog’s life – hunger and ease” a century later. Today the phrase continues its semantic odyssey, and “it’s a dog’s life” is used to advertise posh kennels and canine treats.

We know that not every dog shares in the prosperity enjoyed by the pampered pooches of dogfood commercials. Cue the soulful background music and images of frightened animals abused and abandoned, waiting in a shelter for either adoption or destruction: A stark contrast to Facebook posts and funny-video television shows.

The best of us cannot countenance suffering, and some of those best can be found working or volunteering at animal shelters, where every year about 7 1/2 million dogs and cats are sent.  About a million and a half of that number are euthanized every year. Do the math, and you can understand the note of desperation in those hard-to-watch commercials encouraging us to adopt a pet.

If you are looking for a pet, a shelter animal is a good deal. For a nominal fee you get a companion that has been spade or neutered, and vaccinated. Shelter animals are almost always healthier than pet store ones, and we can tell you from personal experience that an animal from one of the shelters in our area will have been treated with kindness.

For some people, the ideal of owning a pet is not matched by an equivalent sense of responsibility. Our civil society discourages cruelty in any form, but the law does not and cannot prevent all suffering. We’re not talking about obvious cases of abuse. There is plenty of suffering that is perfectly legal. As we travel from the country through suburbia and into the city, it is not uncommon to see a dog tethered to a short lead, isolated and exposed to the elements day after day, night after night.

Some towns have ordinances which prevent this kind of cruelty, but the alternative is a cage, a prison where the hapless animal eats, sleeps and waits, until the long hours of their short lives are utterly spent. Creatures that can run for miles without tiring, with senses many times more acute than their human captors, are forced to observe the world without being able to participate in it. Social animals that respond to affection are isolated, often from their own kind as well as from the human companionship they crave. Their only interaction with other living creatures is when their owners open the gate to dispense more dry kibble bought on sale at the nearest big box store, and remove (hopefully) their waste.

Our old family home is in a neighborhood where the lonesome barking of despairing creatures is a daily and nightly reminder of human ambivalence. The neighbors on either side of our house have dogs, and these poor creatures live out their lives in conditions very similar to those described above.

On one side, the neighbor had one of those dogs that are kept in some circles as a symbol of machismo. The fearsome appearance of this prisoner gave little indication of her sweet disposition. She craved human company and activity, and when we would play ball in the back yard with our own pups, this poor creature would cry out in pain and longing. Occasionally we would throw a tennis ball over the fence to her, which would calm her for a while. When she got to know us this ferocious monster would bark happily and wag her tail whenever we appeared. This was the only fun she had, and the only interaction with another creature other than the times when her owner would dump dry dog food into her bowl.

The neighbor on the other side has two bird dogs that live in an 8×10 pen. Perhaps he hunted with dogs when he was younger, but that time is many years past. Perhaps the two beagles he currently has are reminders of happier days, but these dogs have never been on a hunt. They live out their lives in a shaded corner of a wooded lot where they cannot see anything that happens around them – but they can hear and smell life passing by, and their only way to participate is to bark. And bark. Our neighbor talks to them from time to time when he feeds them, but they never get to run or play. They are never pet or brushed or allowed to leave their tiny prison.

Somewhere between ambivalence and arrogance is the state of mind which treats a pet like an appliance, like an inanimate object which can be disregarded at will. One wonders at the impulse which inspires the person who isolates and imprisons a dog to get one in the first place. Was it the ghost of a childhood memory, or in the case of our neighbor, an attempt at gaining some kind of twisted status symbol by having one of “those” dogs?

We have no respect for anyone who acquires a pet of any kind without making a commitment to provide that animal with a happy life. Pets are not furniture. It would have been kinder for such a person to have allowed the shelter to destroy the animal rather than subjecting it to an imprisonment of loneliness and longing. It would be justice for anyone who has condemned an animal to such an existence to have to experience, even for a day, a dog’s life.

 

 

Hitting The Sweet Spot

We’re finding enjoyment in politics again, at least for the moment. It may be a defense mechanism, a form of nervous mental laughter,  or a “laugh or go crazy” response to institutionalized idiocy, but if you squint your eyes and look at it kind of sideways, politics can be funny.

For the longest time we thought we were repulsed by politics. It does smell funny quite often, but we’ve had a kind of epiphany recently. It’s not actually politics, itself, that we find so repulsive. Politics is just a means to an end, a natural consequence of human nature. In other words, politics is unavoidable. No, what bothers us today, though we are trying to learn to laugh at it as well,  is partisanship, the kind that makes us prejudiced in favor of one thing over another; the kind that becomes a filter through which we perceive reality.

So, are you a conservative or a liberal? Have you stopped beating your horse, yes or no? I don’t have a horse! Answer the question!  And what is your view on global warming? On immigration? Gun control? Abortion? Your answers should be consistent with your political party, and the future of civilization is at stake. If you can’t answer quickly enough, you may have been hacked by a Russian.

Let’s approach this from a different angle. Tell us what you believe needs to be banned and we will guess your political affiliation. Do you want guns to be banned, or abortions? Cigarettes or jumbo-sized soft drinks? Do conservatives or liberals do a better job of telling other people what to do with their lives? Do drone strikes or cruise missiles do a better job of killing civilians in oil-rich countries?

Partisanship may also be unavoidable. People think differently, and not just because of how they were educated (or not), or how they choose to think, but because our brains are wired differently.  The brains of partisan conservatives are different than those of partisan liberals.

Curiously, we all seemed to get along much better in the past, despite our partisan brains. We still disagreed on some things, like Vietnam and Prohibition, but we agreed on a lot more. We had a sense of self, as a nation, and we generally agreed on the direction we thought the country was moving.

This was before the Internet, that great enabler of confirmation bias, and the age of constant connectivity. Information is a powerful tool, and when it is properly wielded by a practiced hand, it can cleave us at our natural divisions like a maul hitting the sweet spot on a round of seasoned firewood.

So some of this hyper-partisanship is natural, but most of it is manipulated, and our hearts and minds are collateral damage in the neverending struggle for power that plays out through our constant connectivity in a campaign that never ends.  (If you’re new to this conversation, we have long ago abandoned the notion that corporate news and infotainment entities are unbiased observers of the human condition.)

Nevertheless, we have grown weary of political partisans. We are prejudiced against them. We stereotype them and tell jokes about them behind their backs. “How many partisans does it take to screw in a light bulb?” (Nobody knows because neither side has the votes and the candle lobby has started a filibuster.)

If you have read this column long enough you already know that we’re referring mainly to democrats and republicans or, if you prefer, conservatives and liberals, but it’s easier to say “partisan,” and the word goes directly to the root of the problem.

So where is the humor in the current continuous  24 hour cycle of broken news and political crisis? Get ready to feast on a course of delicious irony.

Remember a few short years ago when Bill Clinton, accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women, lied to a grand jury about his affair with Monica Lewinsky and was impeached, but not removed from office? (Ancient history to some.) Conservatives, in a firestorm of righteous indignation, condemned the moral turpitude of the president. Liberals defended him. The job is demanding and he was just letting off  steam. It had no effect on his ability to govern. His policies and the important mission of the Democrat party were more important than the moral character of the president.

Now the current president, accused of rape and sexual misconduct by multiple women, has publicly denied (as adamantly, though perhaps not as eloquently as Bill Clinton did) any wrongdoing. Liberals, smelling blood and hoping to accelerate their return to power, are attacking the president in a firestorm of righteous indignation, condemning his alleged moral turpitude. Conservatives, now on the defensive, point out that Trump’s character has no bearing on his ability to govern. They insist that the policies and the important mission of the Republican party are more important than the moral character of the president.

Howls of derisive laughter. You can’t make this stuff up. This is seriously funny material. It’s funny because we laugh at other people’s discomfort, especially people we don’t like. It’s funny because the situation, the reversal of roles and the hypocrisy, are rich in irony. It’s serious because it is one more swing at the sweet spot where we are prone to divide.

 

 

 

A Penny For Your Thoughts?

We didn’t forget about you. Sometimes we get busy with those parts of our lives that pay the bills (and this isn’t one of those parts). Sometimes there isn’t much to say. Sometimes what we want to say would not be printed. And sometimes we write down what we think we want to say and, fortunately, sleep on it before deleting it the next morning.

Over the last couple of weeks we worked. Hard. We like to work hard because that usually leads to sleeping hard, and sleep is one of the best things in life. We read several books. We also read emails and comments on our posts. By the way, if you like to comment, check out the blog at onthemiddlepath.com, where you can read things the newspaper won’t print (nothing ugly, mind you, just some opinions that some might find disagreeable), and say anything you like, as long as it isn’t rude to another contributor.

Based on the messages and comments we have received over the years, we have formed a strong opinion that our readers are the most intelligent and enlightened people on the planet – even (or especially) the ones who disagree with us. Occasionally we see an opinion that changes our own. New information should always suggest the possibility of an upgraded opinion. Now there’s a good working definition of what it means to be rational!

Occasionally, however, by some accident of fate, or because they enjoy being outraged, someone will comment who is not rational. Irrationality can happen to any of us, like catching a cold. We see it all the time in any forum which invites commentary. Unfortunately, outrage appears to be in vogue right now, but if you are among those of us who don’t enjoy it, there are some simple measures we can take to avoid it.

The phrase, “It goes without saying” is a logical fallacy, like the beautiful, inspiring and archaic phrase “self evident.” Nevertheless, “it goes without saying” that we can often avoid being outraged by the written word if we read more than just the headlines or the titles. Are you listening, Facebook users?

If we are particularly outraged, that state of being can often be assuaged by a more careful read of the offending material. It is perhaps a sign of the times that a constantly texting  and tweeting public can lose the thread of an argument (the classical, not the confrontational kind) that is built from an assortment, a collection, a diversity of statements leading to a set of conclusions. Furthermore, if our only experience of a rose consisted of being “triggered” by the thorns, we might be outraged by a bouquet, but most of us perceive “rose” as something greater than the sum of its individual parts. We should read opinions, and follow arguments, in the same way.

We have written often about confirmation bias, which is a heavy contributor to outrage. It is almost tragic to see an otherwise admirable intellect which fails to apprehend reality because perception is so strongly colored by prejudice and a narrow range of experiences. Are you listening, partisans, democrats, republicans, people who only watch either MSNBC or Fox News? If we are attached to or insecure about our opinions, we read to reinforce those opinions rather than to absorb new information. Any information that might challenge our opinions we either disregard, or it makes us angry.

There are others for whom we have no remedy, and since we are not politicians, gurus or saints, we will call them by name. We refer now to stupid people. Yes, we can all do stupid things, again, just like we can all catch a cold. But people who have poor hygiene catch more colds. People who have poor mental hygiene do more stupid things. Some, we might say, are even willfully ignorant,

Whenever you hear the statement, “I’m entitled to my opinion,” there is a good chance that opinion is based on willful ignorance. No, you are not entitled to your opinion. You are free to have an opinion. There is a difference. To be entitled to an opinion means that you have done some research, gathered some facts, garnered some experience and reasoned through to a conclusion. Those who are entitled to an opinion are a rapidly shrinking minority.

If that opinion makes you angry, we’re willing to examine any data you may have that runs counter to it. Barring that, we will go a step further and say that we see a trend toward “entitlement” which we believe is detrimental. It is popular in some circles to believe that, not only is everyone entitled to an opinion, but everyone is entitled, period. This is detrimental when diversity becomes tyranny. It is detrimental when, for example, the Marine Corps reduces its qualifications for infantry officers so that more candidates will be successful. It is detrimental when people believe in universal income while the country is $20 trillion in debt.

We’re not disputing human rights. We strongly agree with our Founders that all people are created equal, and that this is, indeed, self evident. We practice democracy because we believe all human beings should have equal opportunity. But – and this is pivotal – we are a republic because all do not contribute, sacrifice or perform equally. All do not, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say, have equal “skin in the game.”

Democracy and socialism are two sides of a coin. When we roll that coin on its edge or spin it on a tabletop, we see the republic in action. It takes both skill and focus to keep that coin on its edge, to keep it in motion. Distracted by our partisan opinions, we’re letting that coin slow down to a wobble. Whether it lands on heads or tails is anyone’s guess, and sadly, it’s worth about 4% of its former value. A penny for your thoughts…

 

 

 

Staying On Target

Whether we want it or not, we’re going to be hearing about guns and gun control for some time to come. There is a better than average chance that you already have a strong opinion on the subject, and there is a less than average chance that your opinion will ever change.

Nevertheless, in keeping with what we try to do here, we’re going to make an effort. We know we’re not going to change your mind, but if you are a rational human being, when you are exposed to new information you may change it yourself. At the very least, you may become more capable of compromise, and compromise is needed on this issue, like so many others in these partisan times.

We’re only two paragraphs in and some of you will already be experiencing a tightening of the jaw and an increase in blood pressure, and we haven’t even offered an opinion on guns or presented any new information on this controversial subject. Gun rights belongs to a perennial list of issues that, either by design or by tacit approval, are used on a regular basis to accomplish specific goals. They inflame us. They increase ratings and website traffic. They galvanize political support.

We are not suggesting that people on both sides of the issue lack sincerely held beliefs and honorable intentions. But as our culture fragments into almost tribal constituiencies, we signal our allegiance to our “tribe” by automatically embracing the opinion that is sanctioned by that tribe. When we become positional, new information has little chance to become incorporated into our thinking processes.

But we will take that chance. First, some new information, particularly for those who are wired for conservative opinions. (Any vterans in this group may want to skip ahead. This is old information for you.) The AR-15, such as the one used in the Parkland, Florida school massacre, is a civilian version of the famous M-16, which has been in service since 1964. It fires a 5.56 mm round. This round, propelled at a muzzle velocity of around 3250 feet per second, was designed for one thing: To kill and incapacitate human beings.

The difference between an AR-15 and a military issue M-16 is that the former is a semi-automatic weapon (as are most modern rifles and handguns), while the M-16 and other military rifles are capable of automatic firing.  When an AR-15 is outfitted with a bump stock, it is capable of firing at a rate that approaches that of a fully automatic weapon. Automatic weapons have been banned from civilian ownership since 1934. New laws have been introduced and modified several times since then to keep military hardware out of civilian hands, but the bump stock exists because of loopholes in current gun law.

Your author was an ammo tech in the Marine Corps. You might be surprised, or appalled, at the lethality of some of the ordnance used by the United States and our allies, and the amount of research which has been geared toward achieving maximum destructiveness. The 5.56 mm round is particularly destructive to human tissue.  By the process of cavitation, a bullet passing through flesh at a high velocity damages or destroys surrounding tissue at a much greater radius than the diameter of the round itself.

But that’s not the worst of it. The 5.56 mm round is designed to yaw, or tumble as it passes through its intended target.  It is also designed to fragment when it impacts its target. Some of you may remember the boot camp demonstration where a 5.56 round that was fired into the top of a mattress – exited from the bottom, leaving a mangled path of destruction between entry and exit points. The same thing happens in a human body, and an entry wound the size of a pencil can become an exit wound the size of a plate.

No one who hunts for food would use a 5.56 NATO round. It tears up the meat. Yet this type of ammo is readily available to the general public, and apparently available to 19 year olds.  If you are one of the people looking for rational solutions to the gun debate, keep this in mind, and to paraphrase an old cliche:  Guns don’t kill people. Bullets kill people.

Now for those who are wired for more liberal thought processes, one of the rallying cries for your cause is simply false. The recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, was not the deadliest school attack in American history. Not even close. That dubious distinction belongs to the Bath School attack in 1927, where a disgruntled farmer and school board member killed 45 people, mostly children, and injured 58, with explosives.

We can, perhaps, now upgrade our platitudes to the following: Guns, bullets and bombs kill people when they are directed to do so by human hands. If we take away guns and bullets, human ingenuity motivated by sickness of mind will always find a way to achieve violent ends. This is why compromise is desperately needed, because we are not facing a simple problem with a single solution.

Many of you who read this may remember thinking nothing of carrying a pocket knife to school. Some of you who grew up in rural areas might have belonged to a high school gun club, or you may remember driving to school in a pickup truck with a shotgun in the gun rack. You probably didn’t even think to lock that truck when you got out to go to class.

Things have changed. Our culture has changed. For whatever reason, there is more anger and more mental illness among us, and in the last decade or so, fewer resources for the mentally ill. There is strong evidence of a link between certain psychiatric drugs and the potential for violent behavior – a link which is vehemently denied by the same pharmaceutical industry which produces the opioids that now plague us.

Underneath it all, perhaps, is a culture steeped in violence, confused by mixed messages about what violence is. The same celebrities who shoot the bad guys in the films have the audacity to preach to others about the evils of gun ownership. We could write an entire series on the glorification of violence by hip-hop artists, some of whom have been honored guests in the White House.

At the extremes of this debate are those who would disarm us entirely and those who would arm teachers in their classrooms. In this humble opinion, both are exceedingly bad ideas. More rational minds desiring to meet somewhere in the middle should be asking different questions, and demanding answers to all of them: Why was a 19 year old able to purchase a weapon with an effective capacity of a military rifle? Why was he able to purchase military grade ammunition? More importantly, why did he wish to do so? Finally, why, when the safeguards we have for detecting such potential problems functioned properly, did the agencies responsible for protecting us fail to act?

 

 

Letting Go

We hear a lot about the wisdom of letting go. Letting go is often recommended by daytime television hosts and their guests. It’s almost a panacea for all the ailments of modern life.

There are, of course, many things that should be let go, and some of them the quicker, the better. There is nothing to be gained from holding on to a grudge, a bad relationship or an angry cat.  We appreciate the old adage about how holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal and expecting it to burn someone else.

We do hold on to our memories, at least the ones that help us. If we are lucky enough to survive into old age with our memories intact, or if we live so long that we have more memories than we have family or friends, we don’t just hold those memories, we cling to them like the life preserver they have become.

As is the case with so many of the choices that make up our lives, we seek a middle path, and we don’t worry too much about popular opinions and catch phrases. We hang on to the memories that help us. We let go of the ones that don’t, or that no longer have anything to teach us.

These are the things we think of as we’re sorting through the contents of the old family home and preparing for an estate sale. The old house holds many memories, and we’re beginning to understand how people can become pack rats when they get a little older. “Things” are just things, granted,  but some things preserve memories and focus them. Our parents saved things from their own childhood as well as ours. Old toys, children’s books, tools and trinkets, all carefully wrapped and labeled and packed away in the hope, perhaps, that someone some day would unwrap them and remember.

The pocket knife your dad always carried, the one he peeled apples with, and cut walking sticks when he hiked with you in the woods, that knife is more than just a thing.  Your mom’s sewing kit that she always brought out when she mended your jeans or added a new decoration to your Christmas stocking, is more than just a thing. Even a weathered but sturdy old screen door is more than just a thing when it slams with exactly the same sound as it did when you were in the second grade. It is a time travel device.

The perfectly seasoned cast iron skillet your mother never allowed anyone else to clean is more than just a thing. Every time you use it to make cornbread, she’s right there with you. (And it’s still perfectly seasoned.) Your dad’s jacket and hat that have been hanging on the same peg in the basement for decades are more than just things. Every time you go down the stairs and see them out of the corner of your eye, even though he’s been gone for many years, it’s just like he never left. It’s hard to take these things down, to remove them from their accustomed places.

But we do take them down, eventually. We let go of the old to make room for the new. This is a fundamental, and inescapable,  feature of this physical reality. But sometimes it seems as if American popular culture encourages us to let go too quickly. We don’t remember what happened last year, last week, or even what happened in the last paragraph if it’s longer than a text. We tear down our old buildings and cut down our century-old trees. This may prove to be a disadvantage when we have rivals on this small planet who honor their ancestors who lived a thousand years ago and make plans for 200 years into the future.

Today, as we visit with the past, we are not overly concerned with what happens 200 years from now, but there is some consolation in knowing that a new family will move into our old house and someone else will hang their hat and jacket on the peg.  Someone else will grow up slamming the screen door and filling the house with memories they will come to cherish one day. Nothing can stop the turning of the circle of life. We hold on as long as we can, until it is time to let go.

 

In Their Own Words

We watched the State of the Union address last night.  We watch those speeches no matter who occupies the White House, and though the words rarely move the needle for change, there is still a sense of watching history unfold.

Whether we’re standing in ovation or scowling in our seats (like some of our celebrated representatives in Congress), we never expect to hear a speech that will make us richer or  wiser. Politicians  are not in the business of giving information we can use. They know we don’t like to be bothered with details. We just want them to make us feel good.

But feeling good has become a zero sum equation in America. If one group of partisans feels good, it’s necessary for their opposite to feel bad. As the republicans applauded President Trump’s statement about unemployment among African Americans being at an historic low, the cameras panned to a group of black representatives and democrats sitting in stony silence.

Like many of you reading this today, they probably knew that official unemployment numbers are meaningless when calculated independently of  labor force participation, which is also near historic lows. Democrats only recognize that fact when republicans are in power, and vice versa.

Some of us want to believe that words are important, but in modern times the economy of words suffers inflation like the economy of money.  Words and dollars are both cheaper by the dozen, and the vastly inflated money supply is matched by the volume of words circling the globe.

In recent years the weeping angels of western civilization have attempted to revalue certain words with bigger denominations. We have “trigger” words now, and we have to be careful that our inclusive and gender neutral words are understood within the proper context of identity and privilege. And culture. And religion. And political affiliation.

It’s confusing. We don’t like being offended, but we spend an inordinate amount of time taking offense from words, and trying to ferret out any hidden meaning or subtle offense hidden between the lines.  We draw word boundaries  around ourselves and dare people to offend us.

It is unfortunate for our feelings as well as our bank accounts that we have become so hypersensitive, almost allergic, to words. Some of us are so busy being “triggered” that we have trouble understanding what people say, and we are oblivious to what they actually do. Mr. Trump, for example, has kept the echo chamber so occupied with being outraged and signalling virtue that few are noticing the long lasting changes, for good or for ill, that he is bringing to the judicial landscape and the administrative state.

Many of us have become poorer during all these years of wordy distraction. If our goal is to be offended (and poor) we don’t need to do anything differently, but if we want to be better informed, we need to learn to assign proper value to words, especially where our great leaders are concerned. We need to pay much less attention to what they say, and much more to what they do.

How can we learn the true value of words when so much of the business of politics and broadcasting is dependent on keeping us offended? Perhaps a small shock to the system will broaden our perspective. The following are quotes from people honored by history and popular culture. All have been praised for what they did, and some for what they said. Try to guess who made the statement before we tell you at the end of the quote, and remember, no one can offend you without your permission. In their own words:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races.” Abraham Lincoln.

“I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth.” Theodore Roosevelt said that.

“Some method must be devised to eliminate the degenerate and the defective; for these act constantly to impede progress and ever increasingly drag down the human race.” This quote is from birth control activist, Margaret Sanger.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best….They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Candidate Donald Trump

“…we have to send a clear message, just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.” Hillary Clinton speaking about her book, “Hard Choices.”

Finally, to quote someone who appears in pixel land as another political savior on the horizon, “I said this for apartheid South Africa, I said this for my own community in the South — there are still generations of people, older people, who were born and bred and marinated in it, in that prejudice and racism, and they just have to die.”  Oprah Winfrey said that.

Should we judge these people by what they said, or by what they accomplished? Do we understand the context of their statements? In considering their careers and the body of work they produced, do we accept into evidence only those words that are misguided and impolitic, or do we give equal value to what is uplifting and constructive?

Did any of these random quotes reveal a flaw in someone we once venerated? Do we now see evil intent behind everything they said and did, or do we try to rationalize their mistakes? Do we rationalize only for the people we like? Going forward, if someone we don’t like does something good, can we recognize it? Or will we fail to recognize bad actions camouflaged by words that make us feel good?

Yes, words are important, but like our fiat currency they only have the value we give them.  In politics, and especially in the nation’s capital, words are almost meaningless. The only thing that counts there is action, and distracted by words, we are increasingly blind to it.