Friday, May 22, 2015

Time to brake for a break & other thoughts

I was not thinking of Memorial Day when I wrote the posts about the Third Army tank crew or about George Custer and the Seventh Cavalry a few days ago. As I mentioned at the time of publication, I came across the photographs of the tankers while rummaging through boxes of possessions looking for something else, and decided to use two of them in a post. As I mentioned at the time of publication, my thoughts always turn to Custer and the Seventh in May because that is the time those troopers began their ill-fated march from Fort Abraham Lincoln in North Dakota to the Little Bighorn River in Montana. And, I was not thinking of it when I began putting this post together. It abruptly occurred to me sometime later while searching my mind for a possible illustration for this post that another Memorial Day will arrive soon -- this year on Monday, May 25 -- and, since this will be my last post for a while, I decided to include two photographs appropriate to Memorial Day. They were taken at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer in France during June 2004 while on a trek through England, France and Italy. Eleven years ago .... uffff .... it makes me near-speechless to think it was so long ago. In addition to Memorial Day, the photographs are fitting reminders to the approach of the anniversary of D-Day troop landings in Normandy by Allied forces -- June 6, 1944. So, I hope each of you will pause on Memorial Day and on the D-Day anniversary to pay homage in memory of those who died in military service so that you might live your life as you choose today. By the way, Memorial day originally was always on May 30, but, to satisfy the holiday crowd / business community, it was changed to the last Monday in May so it could be a three-day weekend. I am a traditionalist, and think it should be returned to May 30.

The last verse of
"Sailing to Byzantium"
by William Butler Yeats

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.
Sometimes I wonder .... or one, two, six, nine

Sometimes I wonder what I would wish to change in the life I have lived to this point in time.
Would I wish I could have attended a thousand rock concerts?
Would I wish I could have been present at a thousand critical, historic moments in the march of life since the advent of mankind? You know .... my own time machine to witness all, to know all ....
Would I wish I could have fallen in love with a thousand women?
Would I wish I could have run the rapids in a thousand rivers?
Would I wish I could have actually contributed something meaningful toward the betterment of mankind?

Well, no matter. None of these things are or ever were mine to choose from. I have read a thousand books, probably times ten, and tested myself in a thousand ways -- frequently in ways simply to dare fate and to laugh at it -- but, now, I am beginning to believe no experience of or in life means anything beyond the moment it exists. Nothing = nothing. A philosophy professor once told me when I was a college boy that he thought I was an existential nihilist. I know I certainly cross the border into that zone from time to time, but, so far, have not become a permanent resident there.
This is another unfinished post. Rather, it was written to completion, but I am not including all of it here now. Possibly, I will publish the rest of it at some point in the future. For now, this portion is enough. I have other things on my mind.

I have a busy few weeks ahead and the blogs seem to be moving slowly, for whatever reason, at least for me. So .... I take leave of you now and will not return until around mid-June or a bit later -- certainly before the arrival of the next Blue Moon -- with the possible exception of a brief tease or two should some fascination in the form of a person, place or thing pass within reach of me.
To close out, here are two songs by Don Dokken, from my perspective one of the best half-dozen voices of the rock era. His voice no longer has the power or range or strength it once did; emotion still remains, but it is of the lost sort, like a memory more than a reality. None of us are forever on this earth, not even rock stars. Watching Dokken sing here is like watching the approaching fulfillment of the only promise life ever makes to each and every one of us.

Using the term "existential" correctly and not as television reporters and politicians faddishly seem to insist on using it fallaciously these days, in the "existential context" of my sometimes-belief regarding the concept that "in my end is my beginning," I might also mention the first lines of Yeats's poem. They are these:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
---Those dying generations---at their song ....

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Smile, when you say that, pard

Major General George Armstrong Custer with his wife, Elizabeth, and his brother, Lieutenant Thomas Ward Custer, were photographed on January 3, 1865, by Matthew Brady. All three of the Custers had numerous adventures before the brothers and more than two hundred troopers of the United States Army Seventh Cavalry Regiment were killed by an overwhelming force of Sioux at the Little Bighorn River in Montana on June 25, 1876. Tom Custer, incidentally, was the recipient of two Congressional Medals of Honor during the Civil War. I begin to think about the battle at the Little Bighorn around this time every year, and, sometimes write about it. If you are interested, I wrote an earlier post on June 25 in 2011, the actual anniversary of the fight. There probably are other posts, too, that I do not recall. I am including a YouTube video of recent, still, battlefield photographs. Just to clarify, the rows and rows of tombstones shown in the video are not all related to the battle. It is a national cemetery, and about five thousand veterans of various wars and their family members are buried there. The scattered stones are locations where battle bodies were found and buried.

The student vs. the groupie

Brevet General George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Calvary Regiment left Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck/Mandan, North Dakota, on May 17, 1876, on its way to Montana as part of a three-pronged convergence to force Sioux, Cheyenne and Indians from a few other assorted tribes back onto reservations. Custer and a significant portion of those who made the journey with him never saw the prairies of North Dakota again.

Custer, two of his brothers, his nephew and a brother-in-law, along with more than two hundred troopers were killed in the span of about two hours on Sunday afternoon, June 25, 1876, by an onslaught of mostly Sioux, along with warriors from a few other tribes. Troopers in two other wings of the command a few miles away managed to keep the Indians at bay until they broke off their attack the next day when infantry and cavalry under the command of Colonel John Gibbon reached the battlefield.
I have mentioned in previous posts that I sometimes have made the march in a literary sense from Fort Lincoln to the Custer "last stand" battlefield at the Little Bighorn River in Montana with the troopers of the Seventh. The record of their trek is well documented, and it is possible to follow it day-by-day either literally or figuratively. I have done portions of it literally and -- day-by-day -- all of it figuratively. This spring I will be on it again, as time permits, but only in a figurative fashion.
One of my two greatest fascinations in life has been the Plains Indian Wars combined with the European settlement of the same region. In that sense, I have spent days and even weeks at a time walking along segments of pioneer trails -- the Bozeman, the Oregon, the Mormon -- and canoeing rivers like the Missouri in the shadow of early explorers, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the Platte, following the routes of fur trappers and mountain men. I have slept on battlefields (searching for ghosts ??) where the U.S. Army fought the indigenous tribes of the Great Plains. I participated in a month-long archaeological survey of a battlefield site in Wyoming.
I actually have a brief letter written by Custer .... if I can find it. It is on my "find list" as I scrounge among boxes and boxes of "stuff" trying to get my possessions in order.
It occurred to me the other day how many places I have been where, in a sense, I have been following the tracks of Custer. Beyond Fort Lincoln in North Dakota, I have been to his hometown in Michigan; I have been to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point; I have been to three sites in South Dakota; five sites in Kansas; two sites in Oklahoma; and, of course, to the Little Bighorn in Montana. I am using the term "site" loosely because, as I said, I have walked or ridden along many routes between locations where the Seventh was stationed or fought decades before my presence, and I am not counting these as actual "sites."

Not surprisingly, I also enjoy shooting rifles and handguns contemporary to the 19th Century.
Whenever I look around and think I am going a bit too far with some of my Custer studies -- I do consider myself to be a serious student, not a groupie -- I think about people I have encountered while following the shadow of the Seventh: People dressed as cowboys, people dressed in 19th Century cavalry uniforms, people dressed as mountain men, people dressed as pioneers plugging along in weekend wagon train outings. Then, I think of Civil War re-enactors "back East." Then, I think of Viking re-enactors in Scandinavia and the contemporary "dress-up" lords, ladies and knights of England and Europe.
Then, I realize that while certain elements of the past possibly fascinate me more they should, at least I am not as goofy as a lot of other people seem to be in this shapeless, shiftless, often silly North American society -- not to mention Scandinavia, England and Europe. To paraphrase the Virginian's (Gary Cooper's) admonition to Trampas (Walter Huston) in the original "talkie" film version of Owen Wister's "The Virginian:"

"Smile, when you say that, pard."

Monday, May 11, 2015

The spring of 1945

Once upon a time in Europe
The seventieth anniversary to the end of World War II in Europe -- VE Day -- has come and gone. For some reason, I thought that struggle ended in April rather than on May 8 of 1945. I must have gotten it mixed up with the date of Herr Hitler's demise. Hmmmm .... I am beginning to drift off topic ....
Anyway .... while going through some boxes of family memorabilia in my renewed effort to pack up and (hopefully) to push off from this location in the not too distant future, I came across a few photographs from that era and decided to include two of them in a post.
Although it is difficult to determine in the photograph with the two men, their heads are emerging from a partially snow-covered and camouflaged M4 Sherman tank. The time was late March 1945 and the location was near Mainz, Germany. The tank and its crew were part of General George Patton's Third Army on its dash to and through Germany.
As for the photograph with four men, almost certainly you have seen war films in which someone uses grenades to fish: The concussion effect from the explosion in the water stuns or kills the fish, which float to the surface, ready to serve up as culinary delights for soldiers accustomed to the mundane U.S. Army K-rations of the period. Such tales arise from facts. The man on the left holds a grenade in each hand, the next man has the cooking gear and the third and fourth men hold some trophies from their "fishing excursion." This photograph was taken around mid-May in what was then known as Czechoslovakia.
Not very sporting as fishing goes, but extremely efficient ....

Between the time the two photographs were taken, these tankers had been present when the first Nazi concentration camp -- Ohrdruf -- was discovered and liberated, and they had drank a bit too much Russian vodka when they came in contact with Soviet forces at the Elbe River.

It must have been quite a ride .... I sort of envy them ....
Upon a painted ocean

It would seem the doldrums stay with me in several forms. A few gray and rainy days add to my melancholy mood. In the words of William Taylor Coleridge:
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

As for the music, think of it in the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and in the sense of lives and loves in other times:

And (kisses) sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

Some thoughts about Democrats

Not many actually walk the walk
While most of America seems to have made up its mind that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee of the Democrat Party (or, is it Democratic Party ?? .... the proper term is frequently argued) to become the next president of the United States, I watch the clouds drift by and wonder why:

Why no other Democrat contenders have the courage to challenge her; why anyone actually would want her to be president; why voters actually would think she is qualified for the position during these harsh and hard times in which we live.
Beyond that, my own feeling is that she, essentially, is nearly as morally bankrupt as is her husband -- you remember him? William Jefferson Clinton, the last of the millionaire, sex-crazed playboys who once was president of the U.S. That is being a bit facetious, but that Ms. Clinton is an invertebrate liar and lacks character, there can be no doubt.
No, I would not suggest Senator Elizabeth Warren, who falsely claimed Native American ancestry on an application form at Harvard University. Skeptics think she did it to gain hiring points through minority status; she said she thought it was true because her "parents told her."
No, I would not suggest Senator Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and who describes himself as a democratic socialist.
No, I would not suggest former governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, although, to me, he seems more qualified than Clinton, Warren or Sanders.
No, I would not suggest Vice President Joseph Biden. If I have to explain Biden, you, not me, need to catch up on current events. Although, I would very much like to see him named the U.S. ambassador to Russia when his term as vice president expires. I think he might drive Vladimir Putin crazy, and, almost certainly, the two would spend their days challenging each other to arm wrestling and vodka drinking contests .... thereby making the world a much safer place in more ways than one.
If I were a Democrat (and, please do not assume I am a Republican), the one person I would strongly consider voting for among this motley crew to become the next president of the U.S. is James Webb.
Webb is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy; a Marine Corps combat officer and winner of a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts (wounds) and, for extraordinary heroism in Vietnam, the Navy Cross, second highest award for bravery and courage under fire; a former Assistant Secretary of Defense; the former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan; a former Democrat Senator for Virginia; the author of ten books and a teacher of literature at the Naval Academy; an Emmy-winning journalist; a Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics .... want more ??
Admittedly, he is politically and socially more liberal than I would prefer, but life is compromise and with an individual with his background and life-experience having formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for the presidency, I cannot understand why any Democrat and most Independents would not urge James Webb to formally enter the race and prefer him as their candidate over Hillary Clinton or any of the other Democrat wannabe presidents.

Unfortunately, one of traits of Democrats is to herd together to make "feel-good hugging" each other easier, and, it seems, it is Ms. Clinton's turn to be hugged the most -- although, it is possible our current despot, Barack Obama, will issue an executive order declaring himself eligible for a third term. All right .... I will become serious again, but I would not be surprised if he tried it since he never seems to let a little thing like the U.S. Constitution stand in his way ....
So, you be serious, too: Read about Webb and his life, read some of his books, read his citation for the Navy Cross, think about whether you would prefer a thoughtful leader, a multi-experienced individual who places those who follow him above himself as your president -- or, do you want still another money-hungry, duplicitous, self-serving politician such as the kind we have become all too familiar with during the past few years.

What would be especially annoying and bothersome to me if I were a card-carrying Democrat is not to have any choice about who my candidate for president would be in 2016:

No one running other than an individual I do not feel is qualified or has the integrity to be president; no primary election for me and for other Democrats; the decision already made for me by party power brokers and a left-leaning media. In simple language, no democracy in the Democratic Party. My voice as a Democrat counts for nothing.
Never fear .... one of these days, I will mention a few Republicans, as well .... and, maybe, other assorted "jabberwocky" .... smile, if you understand ....

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Jusqu'à ce que les sables mouvants avale nous

There never will be just one

It is not unusual for people to point out how similar are we .... that is to say, all of us who appear to be a part of "humankind." But, for me, I think about and wonder about our differences: Why, for instance, are some people politically liberal and others politically conservative. I am not talking simply about voting habits; I mean core beliefs so deep they are articles of faith and men go to war over them.

Why are some people instinctual killers and others innately saints?

Why do some people kill for their religion and others die for their religion?

Do you get my drift ?? Hmmmm .... the drift of time against the currents of random chance ....

Not too many years ago, the evolutionary chain displayed in text books was a relatively distinct line and the deepest questions revolved around "the missing link." Today, it is evident the resulting product we call homo sapiens sapiens emerged from a variety of "pre-modern creatures" (pre-human ??) which emerged from the mist of prehistory along differing routes of growth and evolution.

For instance, humans and chimpanzees split from a common ancestor between eight and nine million years ago and still have 98 percent of DNA in common, but evolutionary pathways did not follow a precise map and progress in a "straight line." Branches like australopithecines or kenyanthropus platyops emerged and later disappeared, but not without leaving some of their genes behind.

Without going any further into this mire before it swallows me up -- this quicksand of evolution -- my point is that while physical characteristics differ, so, too, do mental formulations due to the cocktail chemistry of DNA. We are not all the same product of the same evolutionary lines to the same degree. Those who study this professionally are not even in agreement if modern humans came from African origins or multiregional origins.

My point is that we all do not have the same genetic ancestors if we retreat back far enough beyond the dawn of measured time, which would explain why we find it so difficult -- maybe, even impossible -- to agree about this and that and to live in peace and harmony among each other.

How else does one explain why we kill each other simply because we see the world through different eyes and are "dead" certain our way is the one and the only right way?

The really, really interesting element to this is imagining where it might eventually lead to in the far distant future. There never will be just one .... one "brand" of us, I am reasonably certain .... and, I sincerely doubt the meek will ever inherit the earth.

Of course, there is always the chance a comet, such as Shoemaker-Levy 9 which struck Jupiter in 1994, will impact earth and eliminate all life forms .... or, a previously-unknown virus of pandemic proportions will surface from the bowels of the planet and destroy mankind before my theory can be proven correct.

We shall see .... at least, I will .... one way or another .... which reminds me, do you ever wonder if some memories of some ancestors might be transmitted within their DNA to you ??

Odds & ends

I broke down and bought another rifle. I have been trying to stop buying any more firearms for a while, but they are part of me as much as anything inanimate is capable of being .... beauty and the beast, in a sense ....

Deep Purple is on the radio .... classic rock station, of course.

I am on a Western "kick" at the moment, both in terms of firearms (my new/old rifle is a lever action) and films. I generally have said Clint Eastwood's film, "Unforgiven," is the No. 1 Western motion picture of all time. But, I have watched a 1950 film entitled, "Branded," three or four times during the past year. Alan Ladd and Mona Freeman are the lead actors. Anyway, without going into full review mode (old habits die hard), I will simply "proclaim" that "Branded" now has my vote for the all-time greatest Western film .... and, it has a wonderful, happy ending ....

By the way, there is another Western named, "The Unforgiven," from 1960 with Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn and Audie Murphy which could be defended as the best of its genre, too. In any case, Lancaster and Hepburn are their usual sensational selves in this movie and, no doubt, this was Murphy's best-ever performance. It just goes to show that when an "average" talent is put among the "best of the best" (in any work situation), it brings out the best in the ordinarily average.

"Wheel in the Sky" by Journey is now on the radio .... I am striking it rich tonight .... uffff .... Van Morrison .... Great White and "Rock Me" .... payday .... sunny afternoons and working on a tan, with rock and a bit of brandy after dark .... soon the lakes will be warm for swimming .... all that is missing is ....

I have spent literal years of "my own time" reading and shooting rifles and handguns; now, I would rather spend the next few years listening to music and drifting away into thoughtlessness while working on a tan, although none of it seems to serve any purpose. Does anything? I think I should have spent more time playing and less time working .... I am moody this evening ....

I have to say it: I assume most of you are aware of what has been going on in Baltimore, Maryland, the past few weeks. My own reaction is that it makes me feel embarrassed to be an American, and I think the mayor and other governing officials of that city are incompetent and a disgrace to the offices they hold .... be careful not only what you wish for, but who you vote for ....

Something special ....