There was a story on the news about a study that found a high percentage of Vietnam vets still suffering some degree of aftershocks from the war, otherwise known as PTSD. If you are wondering how that could be, let me give you a small example of how this works. A few years after I was married, my wife pointed out an irritating habit I had -- all you husbands out there, don’t say it -- of putting away the milk that she had just put out to use in a recipe. I said I was unaware that I was doing so, but I started paying attention and sure enough, whenever the milk was on the counter, I put it away. If I had to wait, it made me uneasy. I thought about it and realized that it went back to Vietnam, where milk left out in the tropical heat would go sour very quickly. It took me thirty years before I could truthfully say that milk out of the fridge didn’t bother me so much. A little chickenshit thing like that, and it took me thirty years to get over it. So when I hear a lot of guys are still suffering PTSD decades after the fact, you don’t have to tell me twice.
July 22, 2015
Another day, another mass shooting. Soldiers and civilians, families and friends … gunned down by pissed-off people who had no trouble legally procuring firearms. Each year, thousands of children are injured by handguns. But hey, what can you do? Make access to handguns harder? Hell, it’s got so that no one even tries any more. How did we get to this place where the Second Amendment must always come first? When did this become a country where gun owners’ rights are more important than a child’s right to life? Maybe our new national motto should be “Live Free and Die.”
July 13, 2015
While Grant was composing the final terms of surrender at Appomattox, he noted the fine sword that Lee wore. Grant thought it over and decided it would be wrong to require officers to surrender their swords or to deprive them of their personal baggage and horses, so he added a sentence to that effect. This was in addition to letting all the Southern soldiers return to their homes and giving them food to ease their near starvation. After Grant and Lee signed the surrender, the two generals shook hands and Lee and his lone staff officer walked out to front porch, where he waited while his horse was saddled. Lee was clearly distracted, no doubt thinking of his men and their sacrifices for a cause that was lost. When the horse was led out, Lee swung his six-foot frame into the saddle and turned towards Grant, who doffed his hat in salute, a gesture in which he was joined by the assembled Union officers. Lee doffed his hat in return and rode off. Three days later, when the Confederate soldiers turned in their arms, Brigadier General Joshua Chamberlain ordered that each Confederate soldier be saluted as a gesture of reconciliation and respect. A few months later, Lee was indicted for treason by a grand jury. Grant threatened to resign his commission, forcing President Andrew Johnson to quash the indictment.
I recently watched a totally depressing documentary on Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison. Ninety percent of Angola’s inmates die while incarcerated, thanks to Louisiana’s ridiculously long sentences. It seems to me that no one should be in prison for 50 or more years for crimes committed in their teens or early 20s. It’s easy to turn a blind eye if you don’t think of them as people. But many were just kids, jailed for life without parole. I think if they make it to 70 with a clean record, they ought to be set free. That’s the way I see it.
July 9, 2015
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus -- with a name like that, you know he’s got to be good -- has asked Donald Trump to cool it on the immigration issue. But why should he? Trump is in his glory hogging center stage. Other candidates will press their own wedge issues to gain attention. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has vowed to force certain “spineless” Republicans into discussing abortion. I doubt that was on Prince Rebus’s to-do list. Hmm, first let’s alienate Latino voters, and then we’ll raise an issue guaranteed to upset women voters. Yup, sounds like a winning strategy.
July 7, 2015
Elizabeth Kolbert writes in “The Sixth Extinction” that 100 million years from now everything we see will be compressed to the thickness of a cigarette paper. Earth is 4.5 billion years old. A billion is a thousand million, so there are ten cycles of 100 million years in each billion years, or forty since the Earth’s beginning. And we have another forty cycles left before the sun goes nova. That’s eighty times something could rise and fall and be squashed as thin as a cigarette paper. Maybe we’re the first to get this far, but how can you be sure?
July 6, 2015
The story goes that Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut were both guests at a party hosted by a billionaire on Long Island. Vonnegut is looking around, taking it all in. He turns to Heller and asks how it feels to know that their host probably made more money in one day than Heller did from all his sales of Catch-22. Heller replied that he had something the rich man could never have. Vonnegut asked what that could possibly be. Heller said, “I’ve got enough.” How many of us can look at ourselves in the mirror and say the same thing?