Peg and I are going to Istanbul soon. We planned our trip, and paid for it, a couple of months ago. We will fly out of the airport that was just bombed by three Russian-speaking people from Uzbekistan, Dagestan, and Kyrgyzstan. All three are part of the old Soviet Union. Their leader may be a Chechen known as Akhmed (One-Arm) Chatayev who now lives in Raqqa, Syria. ISIS claims Raqqa as its capital.
When Peg and I were sent to Russia in 2003 by the National Judicial College to teach Russian judges, we had an incident as we prepared to fly from Volgograd back to Moscow. Our clearly marked American luggage was suspected of having been used by Chechen rebels to smuggle a bomb onto the plane with the Russian judges and us. Although a ticking sound had been detected, our luggage was cleared. It was good to walk away from the plane when we got back safely to Moscow.
Chechen rebels have been struggling against the dominant Russian culture for many years. Akhmed One-Arm is reported to be a Chechen rebel turned ISIS leader. Other than some bizarre misinterpretation of Islam and a sense of bitter impotence against the governments of Russia and Turkey I see no logic in Syrian terrorists teaming with Chechen ones to kill innocent civilians in Turkey. My guess is they could not explain it either.
What they do have in common, I think, is a willingness to kill and die for a cause they see as greater than their miserable lives. The fact that most of their victims are innocent Muslims does not appear to enter their calculus of indiscriminate carnage.
I suppose they see themselves as patriots and martyrs. But to what end? For what purpose? Are they martyrs who die for their religion? Are they patriots who kill to establish their caliphate?
The one and one-half billion Muslims who go about raising their families and paying their taxes are surely as perplexed as the rest of us at the counterproductive insanity engaged in by a few thousand madmen. I say they must be insane because they keep engaging in the same terroristic behavior and expect a different result other than causing the rest of the world to coalesce against their goals. In dealing with illogical behavior we humans usually apply logic then we are puzzled when the result we expect to effect does not materialize.
As for me and Peg and our trip to Istanbul, we plan to follow the approach of Admiral David Farragut: “Damn the Terrorists, full speed ahead.” Hey don’t quibble it got us out of Russia didn’t it? Do you believe Peg is always complaining that I never take her any place exciting?
It is apropos that names are called handles. We prefer to have an easy way to categorize one another when we deal with individuals or groups. Sometimes we apply or even devise nicknames for others in a subconscious effort to shift the balance of power in our favor. Examples might be: “girl” or “boy” when dealing with adults we wish to hold back. Of course, we try to make our efforts subtle and often accompany them with a smile.
But it is with groups where our need for domination is strongest. We sometimes seem to be unable to assume the best in others or to believe anyone else acts from altruism. We ask, “What’s in it for them?” The forbidden subjects of politics, sex, religion, ethnicity and race raise their specters here. Heck, let’s dive right in.
In dealing with women, some men sometimes dump them all, but their mothers, into one group: broads, bimbos or b…..s. This enables those men to con themselves into a sense of superiority. In like manner, some women sometimes categorize all men, especially their husbands, as deaf and dumb except when talking with other men about other women or sports. Women often say about men, “They just don’t get it.” As a man I have no idea what that means. However, it does allow “the girls” to deal with “the boys”.
The national news media has hard and fast rules for dealing with public figures, especially politicians. According to CNN, MSNBC and Fox, there has never been an honest politician or one who is motivated by public service. They are all engaged in a conspiracy to feather their own nests while driving America off a cliff. The media relishes such handles as “corrupt”, “ignorant” and “greedy”. There are worse appellations applied also, but this is a family newspaper.
In the area of religion I have no fear of the general debate between the faithful and the doubtful. Those of us who live in New Harmony, Indiana have an ongoing dose of Father George Rapp’s religious utopia and Robert Owen’s secular one. The pious say they are spiritual while the Owenites tag them as superstitious. The Rappites say the atheistic Enlightenment adherents are lost. Each group has to have its handles for the other. For me, this represents the general debate between believers and skeptics. Of course, there are many variations of both. For example, some atheists and skeptics may see “agnostics” as hypocrites or simply bet hedgers. Christians may see Jews, Muslims and Pagans as damned and vice versa. However, there are plenty of divisions within each group which denigrate even their fellow travelers and have names for each sect.
But we humans really strive to get a handle on others when it comes to racial or ethnic groups. Some people sometimes call Germans Krauts, Irish Micks, Hispanics Spics, Japanese Japs, French Froggies, Chinese Chinks, homosexuals Queers, Arabs Ragheads, American Indians Blanket A…., Negroes N……, Italians Dagos, etc., etc., etc.
Thanks to political correctness, a good thing in my opinion, many of these handles for women, men, nationalities and races have almost disappeared. Unfortunately, some still think it is okay or even comical to denigrate individuals, groups and occupations they are not related to or a part of; moviemakers and television drama producers come to mind.
Perhaps we just need to get a handle on our insensitivity and ignorance. Oh, by the way, Happy Birthday to us Americans as we proudly proclaim all people are created equal in our great country on July 4th!
The aptly named Fibber Mc Gee had a wife named Molly. As with many couples Fibber often saw his remarks as witty whereas Molly saw them for what they were. In most of their more than 1600 radio episodes from 1935 to 1959, Fibber would spout out some lame attempt at humor and Molly would set the record straight with, “T’aint funny Mc Gee”. I dredged up this sage advice to obtuse comedians when I walked into one of my favorite shops and saw that my friends who run it had posted a sign derisive of lawyers, banker and others.
I know the owners well and find them caring and witty. That made this lapse of awareness even harder to understand. They are certainly not old but, perhaps, old enough to remember the days of “Whites Only” or “No Irish Need Apply”. We all are aware of our current pariahs, Muslims, Arabs and Mexicans. Should we not be among these groups we might not mind the plethora of movies and television shows depicting Arabs, Muslims and Mexicans as murderers and drug runners. We might even nod knowingly at caricatures of Muslims berating women or Mexicans who look like gangsters.
One of the ironies of the sign posted by my friends is it contains several pieces of advice about holding one’s tongue or not saying words we cannot take back. In other words, it recognizes my Mother’s sound advice: “If you can’t say something nice, say nothing.”
Over the years I have from time to time lost sight of this wisdom. Each time I have regretted it. One of my worst memories, and one I cannot exorcise, is from 1966 just after I got out of the Air Force. I grew up in Oklahoma which at that time was segregated by law. The dominant white culture had a lexicon of numerous “witty” sayings. One of these was sometimes used to denigrate certain products such as Spam or Vienna Sausages, etc. Men, it was a male thing, would respond to a comment about a product they disliked, “Well, a thousand Niggers couldn’t be wrong.” In other words, only a “Colored” person would eat that. We white guys would laugh.
Well, back to 1966. I was working on the night shift at RCA in Bloomington, Indiana with an African American friend of mine at a time when we both smoked cigarettes. I smoked Winston’s and he smoked a menthol type. When a mutual friend of ours commented over the lunch break about the odious smell of the menthols, unfortunately, it just popped out of my mouth, “Well, a thousand Niggers can’t be wrong.”
My Black friend looked at me with sadness and said, “That hurt my feelings.” Things changed after that.
My friends, perhaps your sign may be witty to some, but to others it hurts feelings. I know that was not what you were thinking. Perhaps you were like me in 1966 and just were not thinking at all. Perhaps, as Ronald Reagan might have said, “My friends, take down that sign!”
The current presidential campaign began so long ago who wins in November has lost all flavor, except, who will be the First; will we have a First Lady or a First Gentleman? After so much mutual garbage exchange, it matters little who sits at the head of the table at White House dinners. However, who sits at the foot of the table holds considerable opportunity for making the cable news channels giddy.
Our first First Lady to occupy the White House was the redoubtable Abigail Adams who is remembered for her sage advice to John on matters of State and for hanging her family’s laundry in the East Room of the presidential mansion.
For over two hundred years our First Ladies, they have all been women so far, have admired the White House from afar and then proceeded to transform it to their liking when they moved in. Of course, the male presidents, they have all been male so far, also enforced their tastes, or lack there of, on the Executive Mansion. For instance, that Tennessee homeboy Andrew Jackson had brass spittoons lining the formal public drawing room and Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter personally managed the tennis courts.
However, from Dolly Madison to Jackie Kennedy our First Ladies have ripped up carpet, installed new drapes, changed the furniture and designed new paint schemes. It sounds like they all knew my wife.
Be that as it may, I have begun to look forward to January 2017 with anticipation. Let’s say Donald Trump wins. It will be like a re-run of the French speaking Jackie Kennedy who even re-did Abraham Lincoln’s bedroom. This time it will be Melania, who speaks five languages and knows designers personally who most of us are not sure are real people.
Think of Dior gowns at White House balls and Versace drapes in the Oval Office. Not only would our Peoples House be festooned with Gucci, Prada, Armani and Fendi, but The Donald could pay for them while Melania charms foreign leaders in their native languages. In other words, picture a complete reversal of the campaign atmosphere.
But what if Hillary Clinton wins? We have had a preview of what might occur when President Jimmy Carter was in office. Remember Billie, the First Brother? We did not get white washed tires embedded in the drive but we still had “Billie Beer”. Billie was to Jimmy what Bill may be to Hillary. And I have to assume the first First Husband will act about how all husbands act when their wives turn them loose around the house. I predict the first thing Bill will do is have a yard barn installed and fill it with tools he’ll never use.
Next I foresee a Man Cave being created in the East Wing complete with a pool table and big screen television of Jumbotron style. Of course, a refrigerator is essential as are several large leather recliners for husbands of foreign leaders to watch ball games and soccer matches with.
And just as the Trumps can fend for themselves financially so can the Clintons. Maybe all these improvements will be donated. I say let’s get this boring election over and move right to the international diva or the Arkansas homeboy invasion of the White House!
Part 3 of 3
Before we take another rung up the ladder of the law’s litigiousness I’d like to reflect on the proximity of Memorial Day and D-Day. I know we honor all of our deceased on Memorial Day and acknowledge the beginning of the end of WWII on D-Day. However, it seems appropriate that these solemn celebrations are only a week apart. Our Pantheon of loved ones and heroes includes family, friends, saviors and unknowns. As we remember and honor them we affirm our own worth.
So far we have discussed ways to completely avoid the legal system. If possible, this is always best. Unfortunately life often places such decisions beyond our control. That’s why systems of law were initiated. No rational person would choose even the simplest legal proceeding over a fair resolution of a dispute without resort to court. But just as sure as youth will fade, life has a way of demanding we sometimes pay tribute to Caesar, or at least to our lawyer. When the once avoidable controversy becomes “un”, that is, after we have ignored a problem as long as we can, is all out legal conflict our only option? No.
Let’s assume the highly unlikely possibility you actually read this column last week. If so, you may recall I suggested attempting to resolve legal problems by first informally talking about them with those who are of the opinion you may be wrong. In other words, no attorneys and certainly no judges should be consulted before a good faith attempt is made to swallow one’s pride and save one’s time and money. However, this may not work.
A reasonable next step is to consult a trusted clergy person or mutual friend. Then perhaps one might consult their family attorney who could give objective advice on whether a letter will suffice or if a lawsuit is necessary.
After all good faith effort has been expended to avoid the angry bowels of the courthouse, all is still not lost. Upon filing suit and the receipt of a response from one’s adversary a judge may order informal, face-to-face meetings where settlement is discussed. If no resolution is reached, early mediation before a trained mediator often helps parties settle their difficulties.
Almost every legal controversy in America is settled by the end of mediation. Therefore, the earlier problems are addressed the more money and time are saved and the less angst is endured.
You might wonder about cases that are settled but which have problems afterwards. Child custody cases are the most frequent to fall in this category but many other cases have on-going agreements which may need maintenance. Such matters as business relationships or injunctions come to mind.
Once again, instead of a first response of resort to court, an informal attempt to talk the matters out may work best for everyone. Of course, the courtroom will always be available if good faith and reason fail.
Part 2 of 3
Let’s say you and your neighbor have lived next to each other for twenty years. He helped you coach your son’s Little League team. You and he risked your lives cutting down a large oak tree that had blown halfway down across the property line between your backyards. Your wives conspired frequently to make sure the two of you did not spend your weekends playing golf or watching football or doing anything they hadn’t planned. About every other year either you or he or sometimes both of you dutifully attended a play, graduation, wedding or birthday party involving one of your children or his. Then, you decided to build a fence between your houses because your wife saw a picture in a magazine and told you via “female speak” you needed to build such an “improvement”.
Because you put the entire fence well on your side of the property line you saw no need to consult your neighbor first. After all, he didn’t check with you before allowing his twelve-year-old son to take a shortcut to school across your back yard.
The first thing that happened was, because his twelve year boy could no longer traipse across the back of your yard to get to school, he and his buddies started climbing over your new white picket fence to keep their shortcut. Your wife, who was unamused by a path through her new flowerbeds by the fence, demanded that you, “Do something!”
Because you have watched every episode of every television legal show from Perry Mason to Judge Judy you run to the County Clerk’s office and file a lawsuit seeking a million dollars in damages and an injunction against the boy. Or …
You call your best friends and neighbors of twenty years and invite them over for bar-b-q where you agree that you and he will build a gate in your fence and your wives agree to replant the flowers. Then your wives head to the mall together while you and your buddy finally get in a round of golf where he shoots 110 and writes down 88 and after you see his score you also write down 88 instead of the score you quit keeping after you hit a ball out of bounds on the third hole. Everybody’s happy.
The lawsuit would’ve cost you and him enough money to furnish game-day beer for the rest of your lives. It also would’ve languished in court for months or even years before it was settled on about the same terms you four friends worked out by yourselves. Which seems more rational? That is, which reminds you less of the present presidential campaign?
Of course, to resolve matters before suit is resorted to, someone has to swallow their pride and start the talking process. Based on my experience as a judge for thirty-five years I have decided most lawsuits could have been avoided if someone had just picked up the phone and started a conversation. The remaining legal matters may require some help from the legal system. If you are not busy “Mending Walls” between you and your neighbors, maybe we can move to this next stage next week.