For New Year’s resolutions to become fulfilled they have to be in your heart…

December 31, 2011

Since my last post was titled “Christmas is For Everyone, Not Just Christians”, maybe this one should be “New Year’s is Not Just for Newyearsians” — I’ll have to think on that before I post this.

Well, anyway, so much for New Year’s resolutions. Somehow they don’t necessarily focus one on something he or she wants to do and make one do it. My resolution last year, stated in my German-American blog, ‘von Walther’ (I added the “von” to give it class), was to put more effort into that blog. And then I proceeded through the whole year of 2011 and never did another post — I kept meaning to.

You see, I have this ongoing conflict with identity and ethnicity and language. Probably the bulk of white Americans (and probably of those of other shades too) don’t spend a whole lot of time on this — I mean we white Americans, especially, are mostly a Heinz 57-variety of nationalities and English is the language of our nation, so there you are. We have an identity, Americans, and a common language, English. And we have hot dogs and hamburgers (German name, but USA through and through, hamburgers I‘m talking about, although that applies to me as well).

But everyone has their own individual interests, and one, or I should say two, of mine are ethnicity and language.

I know, what does this all have to do with New Year’s? I’ll get to that.

Anyway, as far as I know, my main ethnic components are: German (my surname is Walther), French (my dad’s mother was first-generation French in this country), and English, from my mother’s side (maybe some Irish), and also some more German from my mother’s side, as well.

So, anyway, I have this thing about wanting to identify with a cultural group of which I may be related. I used to always think of myself as German (I was stationed in Germany when I was in the Army). I still do. But we are just as much a part of one side of the family as the other. So I also think of myself as French. And of course I am English and maybe Irish too.

While I don’t think my mom has any French blood in her, she has always been kind of a French fan, I am thinking. She did visit France once. And when I was a little boy she used to say I looked like a little Frenchman.

As an adult, I have come to the conclusion that as far as appearance, I probably look more French than German, although the actual ethnicity in many French and German people might well be hard to discern — not all Germans are blond and blue-eyed and not all Frenchmen are short and run around wearing berets.

Now to language. I enrolled in Spanish when I was in high school, but I was too immature to buckle down and study and get the feel for a foreign language. I dropped out — no I was kicked out.

But later, in college, I studied Spanish and did well, but of course like most people who take it, I did not become fluent. You really have to use a language and live within it to become fluent. Of course in the United States it is quite possible to do just that with Spanish, which is a de facto official second language here. In fact — and I kick myself for this — in my job as an over-the-road truck driver (which I’ve been doing since 1995) if I had only kept studying my Spanish and using it, I would be fluent by now (even so I do use it a little and it comes in handy and adds to the enjoyment of being able to communicate and break the ice with others, and it is a beautiful language).

And then there is French: I’m in love with that language. I love to hear it spoken. And while I don’t really know what being French is all about, I feel a certain identity with it. A couple of years ago when my wife was still alive, I recall that I had checked a book out of the library that was about an English couple who loved France and went there to live. As I read it and looked at the photos I told my wife that I had an epiphany. I discovered I was French. That’s nice dear, she seemed to suggest in her smile.

She likely recalled that before that I was believing that I was German and she would have recalled that I tried to get her to study German with me. I did learn quite a few phrases in German — too bad I didn’t know any when I was in the U.S. Army there.

But I am really on to this French thing. About a year ago I found a book of photos at the book store. It is: “Doisneau Paris”, and it is a collection of black and white photographs made by a French photographer. I don’t know, maybe it was because I was lonely — lost really. My wife had recently died. But as I thumbed through the pages and looked at the photographs — many or most of them what you might call character studies, as well as scenes that seemed to capture the essence of life in Paris and of the French — I felt like I had found my people.

I was so taken with it all that I told the cashier that I looked at the photos and thought: “that’s me”!

She came back with some strange remark that in effect there are only about three or so appearances — everyone looks pretty much alike in the world. But I walked out of the store overwhelmed with my new sense of identity nonetheless.

So the identity part of my conflict is all but settled (although of course I yam what I yam, as Popeye would say).

But as far as language, I still like German, but I am most interested in French (even though I know almost none and have not studied much) and then Spanish, it being by far the most useful, and I think it closely rivals French for beauty to the ear, and in fact, I sometimes feel like Spanish is even more pleasing than French to my ears — a toss up really — heck I like Italian too, and all three, of course, are Latin languages. I was, am, so enthralled with French that I began a French-American blog. I did two posts and then did no more — just could not come up with the material.

And that’s the trouble with New Year’s resolutions for many of us. We have too many conflicts and just saying something does not get the job done. I guess it has to be in our hearts.

So whether it is spend more time with your family, be nicer and more loving to your spouse, learn a foreign language, get a better job or do better at your job or just get a job, or whatever, if it is not in your heart it won’t happen.

Even so, I feel compelled to make some resolutions:

1. Spend more time with my daughters, whether they like it or not.

2. Spend more time with my grandchildren, whether they like it or not.

3. Learn French.

4. Become fluent in Spanish.

5. And not necessarily in this order, but demonstrate somehow to God or whoever controls all of this, that I do appreciate the gifts of nature and Mother Earth and to do my small part to promote peace and happiness for the world.

6. To maintain my interest in politics, but since it has gotten so crazy and irrational, to step back from it just a little and enjoy life as so many sane and happy people do.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FOR 2012!

P.s.

The “Newyearsians” headline did not seem to be appropriate after all.


Christmas is for everyone, not just Christians …

December 25, 2011

So what is Christmas when you are brought up in a non-religious household?

My earliest memories of Christmas are riding in the car with my mother in San Francisco when I was only about three and seeing big bright neon Santas. And there was some kind of weird waxy candy like things in the store you could buy and suck on and at the same time have a mustache like Santa. And of course there were bright Christmas lights and Christmas trees for sale and candy canes all over the place.

No religious connection yet at that age.

Then we moved away from the city and at Christmas my brother and sister hauled out a pasteboard box filled with a jumble of Christmas lights. We had a tree in the living room and they proceeded to string the lights. But if one was not working, they all did not, because they were all in a single circuit connected to each other.

We had all kinds of ornaments and a top piece, but nothing religious, as I recall. And then by chance one year we replaced that top piece with an angel, but that did not signal some kind of religious conversion. We sure loved that angel, though.

But sometime early on it was explained to me that people who go to church celebrate Christmas in recognition of the birth of Jesus, who they see as the son of God, and of course I was told that some people believe in an all-knowing creator they call God.

But of course as a child what I really dug were the presents.

(Years later I would learn that some children never do get any presents.)

It was somewhat confusing to me that all the movies and stories and pictures of Christmas seemed to have a snow theme, with kids riding on sleds. It was explained to me that in some parts of the country winter means snow — not where I lived. It might be cold and damp, but no snow.

Still later I thought it incongruous with Christmas when the family went to the local high school and saw a Christmas play called Amahl and the Night Visitors and the scene was of palm trees and desert and the characters where dressed in Middle Eastern garb, something you might see in a movie about Ali Baba or something.

Okay, I’m skipping the part where I did attend some Sunday School with friends of the family, but all I did at a young age was color with crayons, as far as I can recall. I did not understand the pictures of Jesus working with his father doing carpentry work.

And that play at the school? Would it even be allowed today under political correctness and the edict that religion not be mentioned at public schools? Schools are not even referring to Christmas by name anymore, as I understand it.

Yes, I grew up in a non-religious household, but I learned little by little, from my own folks and others, what Christmas was all about, a combination of a Christian holiday, marking the birth of the Savior, a secular holiday much commercialized, and an all-around tradition that transcends the religious aspect.

There are countless stories of people coming home or wanting to come home for Christmas to be with family and observe the traditions.

I know when I was a kid there used to be much hand wringing about the true religious meaning of Christmas being lost to a commercialism. I don’t hear that as much now. It seems now it has become almost a sacred duty to spend as much money as one can to help the economy.

And then there is the question as to why should Christianity be favored and the country be forced to observe its holiday. But really that is just the way things are. Christianity has been the majority religion in this nation, but by no means the official religion — we don’t have an official religion because we have a constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and as I like to add, a freedom from religion. And Christmas has moved way beyond the religious celebration, rightly or wrongly. And it was an old pagan celebration marking the winter solstice anyway, before the leaders of the old Christian church decided to merge their observance of the birth of Jesus with an existing and popular holiday as a way to get more attention for their message (the person known in history as Jesus was probably born at a time of year other that Christmas, it is believed).

So to those who complain or want to take Christmas out of Christmas, I say get over it. Christmas is not hurting you, make it be what you want it to be. Or don’t observe it yourself. Just don’t spoil everyone else’s fun.

There is one slight problem, though. If we, say, let the schools celebrate Christmas, one day we may be forced to celebrate Muslim holidays (I have heard one or more schools do already, not sure) or those of other religions, and then that opens up a whole can of worms. But when I was growing up the schools did celebrate Christmas by name, with decorations and programs and such. It seemed harmless to me.

Apart of Christmas, we even said a prayer, mentioning God by name, before we had our Graham crackers and milk when I was in public school kindergarten. I don’t see how that hurt anyone. Why the school authorities thought it necessary, I do not know.

My children attended some Sunday school or Bible school classes with friends, but we were not church goers.

And for some reason, when they were small, each Christmas I used to read the Christmas story to them — part of it anyway — out of the Holy Bible, for my own enjoyment and curiosity, as much as for theirs.

Christmas is a combination of religion and tradition in the United States.

I would hate to see us ever lose it.

No matter what your religion or belief, I hope you have a Merry Christmas!

.

P.s.

If you have read some of my past blogs you will realize my own beliefs are not set in stone and have evolved over a lifetime, that is to say I tend to believe in some higher power who may be the same as the Christian God. I do feel it hard to reconcile why various religions profess the virtues of peace and at the same time promote the killing of others over their beliefs.

But that aside, may we all have a merry Christmas and may peace reign over all mankind!


Paul let his name be used under the racist banner — he’s out (even if he wins Iowa); may the party who can pay off the national debt win

December 24, 2011

It really makes no difference that Ron Paul is or might be a racist since he had no chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, despite his strong poll showings. And it makes no difference that he let newsletters go out under his name years ago that expressed some true fears and true feelings of white people, mixed with outright bigotry, but it is sad nonetheless that Paul, either is a racist or that he had the poor judgment to let his named be tarnished by racists.

But that’s the trouble with Libertarians. Even though they have some good ideas, such as freedom for all without government interference, staying out of unnecessary wars, and supreme personal responsibility, their ranks seem to be filled by eccentrics (Paul may be one himself), and now we see racists.

As far as stoking the fires of racial animosity in the old Paul newsletters (which he has disavowed): The problem is that there is a bad element in all races — Caucasians, Blacks, Asians, whatever. But in some cases that bad element in Black society has in our history here in the United States used the cover of Civil Rights and discrimination claims to practice their bad deeds.

In turn, a super liberal element, stands up for them, not so much to help them or others of their race, but for their own power.

So there may have been some truth in the Paul newsletters of old, not actually written by Paul, but unfortunately it was racism and his association with it disqualifies him for ever being president of the United States.

Sorry Mr. Paul.

Another one down.

It will be Romney vs. Obama, trust me.

P.s.

Obama has had a major victory with the Republicans wanting to take more money out of our paychecks, while decrying taxes on the rich. They had to back down in the face of public pressure. I have oversimplified this, true. There is some merit to wanting a long-range plan to pay off the deficit. But I think the Republicans are more interested in tax breaks for the rich people who put them in office than to pay off the debt. The Tea Party wants to pay off the debt, but they don’t want to be taxed. Go figure.

There needs to be a compromise that reduces wasteful government spending and at the same time provides a plan to pay off that debt and never run up a new one. Debt is ruinous as much to a nation as it is to a family.

May the political party who can actually tackle this problem win.

P.s. P.s.

Back to racism. It is true that some of our respected politicians (most of them retired and dead now) engaged in racism in the past and went on to become civil rights champions. But Paul’s taint only dates back to the 90s.


Trying to salvage positives from Iraq; war without victory…

December 18, 2011

So American troops have left or are leaving Iraq after some nine years and 4,500 U.S. dead and thousands more wounded (not to mention millions of Iraqis).

So what was that all about?

This is not the conventional end of a war with the enemy signing surrender papers in a railroad car or on the deck of a ship and in fact it would be hard to say who the enemy was.

If this is what it takes to get rid of one man, Saddam Hussein, someone the U.S. once supported, it certainly was not worth it.

It is true that the real basis for the U.S. to involve itself in armed conflict over there was to keep the Mid East oil supply open. But we did not even get a firm lock on that. The Chinese get oil from there and committed not one troop.

It seems we have set a precedent or a pattern for our modern warfare. We do not go for victory in the traditional sense but instead just bumble along and finally quit. Part of the problem is that we get ourselves into things which promise no real solution from the beginning. This is not a criticism of those who fought and those who died or were wounded. It is a criticism of our leadership and maybe of the American people (of which I am one) as a whole.

Without the acquiescence of the American people (not me, not you, but the people as a whole) we would have never gotten involved.

We are still at a stalemate in Afghanistan. We might do well to just leave now — declare victory and leave, as it were.

The good news is that if we leave these places no more troops die and we could potentially save billions to trillions of dollars to be used much more productively somewhere else.

All of this does not mean we become cowards or complete isolationists or we let our military power deteriorate. We have to be involved in the world as we are still the world’s super power and the leader in democracy. We do need to use our power more wisely and selectively.

I wonder how we recruit people to be in the military when they see the history now is that they are called to sacrifice for lost causes.

Iraq may or may not turn out to be a better place, but that is up to and always has been up to the Iraqis. There is a freedom movement going on in that part of the world. It may not exactly look like what we would prefer at all times, but with modern communication people will not be held down forever. Our interventions at times may do more harm than good and besides they are just too expensive in blood and treasure for us.

There still may be times where we have to act. For instance we could not allow Iran to block the straits of Hormuz. We could not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon — by their deeds and words that nation has proven it is not responsible enough to handle such awesome power.

And if in the future we deem it necessary to intervene militarily anywhere in the world, we should first have a clear and realistic strategy for complete victory. To fight a war and settle for less, while allowing young (and not so young) men and women to die for the cause, is almost as immoral as fighting an unjust war.

I heard one pundit interviewed (didn’t catch the name) who when asked if Iraq was worth it answered that you can’t think of the initial reasoning for our involvement, you just have to see what positives you can salvage from it.

That’s depressing.


Reviews on internet are often phony; more people should retire early so more people could work…

December 15, 2011

Here’s a tip: when you see customer reviews on a business on the internet, don’t believe them. People often pay for them.

And I overheard some insurance agents talking this morning during breakfast at a restaurant, and while I could not make out every word, I could not help but hear a lot of it (that’s why I personally always feel inhibited while talking to someone in a restaurant. It does not seem private). One agent was telling another how he phonied positive customer reviews. The other agent asked if Google did not police that. And the first agent suggested the second could send reviews to him. I know, I got it all out of context, they would say.

After being forced to listen to the chatter of the insurance agents I concluded nothing is much more boring than shop talk (although the phony review thing did pique my interest, as if I would believe any of that stuff anyway. If my own folks taught me anything in life, it was to be skeptical).

The agents also talked about the rat race, the pressure of making more and more sales and the use of money earned as a measurement of success in life. One agent said that he was content with the money he made and that he pays his employees well and — I did not catch it all — and I think that he was considering retiring early — why not enjoy life now rather than wait till I’m 80, he said, in so many words. He likely had a point there.

And that brings me to my idea, which I have expressed previously and have never gotten so much as a comment on, that rather than constantly raising the retirement age, we should lower it. People could relax and enjoy what life they have left (provided they had their health and retirement savings — I know, what’s that?), and there would be more jobs for younger people to fill.

While far too many people do not work in this country (the USA), either because of lack of openings or inability or laziness, far too many work too hard for too long, I think. For many of us work is synonymous with life itself.


Hazing and bullying persists because those affected and those in authority often keep mum…

December 14, 2011

Hazing is one of the most senseless, idiotic rituals there is. It has been banned in most schools for a long time, as far as I know. But it persists nonetheless. This was brought to light once again by the recent death of  a college drum major at a college in Florida.

One would not think that it would be dangerous to be in the band, to be in football, yeah, but band?

Actually, the whole thing is still under investigation, as far a I know, but what has been brought out so far is that he had to walk from the front of a bus to the back of a bus, being beat on the whole way and that this was a traditional ritual.

It has also been stated that this type of thing goes on all the time and is often shrouded in a veil of secrecy.

How can this be?

Well I have to think back to my high school days, the early 1960s. At that time I don’t think there were all the anti-hazing laws on the books, but it may have still been officially prohibited under my school’s policy (not sure).

But this is what happened. We freshmen boys on the first day, or I’m thinking the whole first week, of P.E. were required to sit in the bleachers inside the gym. Just sit there for about an hour, no P.E. instruction yet. The coaches (P.E. instructors) would leave. After that, the seniors sitting in bleachers across from us would throw pennies or metal slugs at us. I don’t think anyone was hurt (not sure), but it was scary and annoying.

As far as I know, no one reported this. Probably afraid of reprisals.

Coinciding with this, I was a new member of the Future Farmers of America chapter at my high school. We newbies were called “Green Hands”. For a week we were required to carry our books in a burlap sack, wear rope belts, and wear a green painted wooden hand around our necks. Kind of embarrassing, but neither painful nor lethal.

The next year, as I looked forward (well not really) to watching the new Green Hands have to do the same thing, wouldn’t you know it? They outlawed the practice as hazing. I was in the last class to do this, as far as I know.

So I took it that hazing was out after that.

But in more recent years, I talked to a guy who went to the same high school, but he was at least ten years or more younger than I. He described the same penny-throwing hazing thing during gym class.

That’s an example that shows simply making rules or laws against hazing does not cure the problem.

(I swear that I cannot recall whether when I was a senior that any of us threw pennies or metal slugs at the freshmen. I know that I did not  — I never had a good throwing arm anyway — but it may have happened in some of the other classes.)

And why does the problem persist? It’s that veil of secrecy. And it is the fact that adults will sometimes counsel victims of hazing or other brutalities or indignities that complaining might just make things worse, due to reprisals.

I actually had this happen to me as a freshman. A giant, and I mean giant, bully flattened me. I was not seriously injured, but it did intimidate me and hurt my pride. I went to the school office and the vice-principal told me that he would call that bully in if I wanted him to but that his best advice would be to keep quiet because he could not guarantee my safety. I opted to leave it alone. I did not tell my parents (or maybe I did) because they would not have understood and would have gotten upset and having them go down to the school would not make things better for me. And for a male, a young man, society says you have to learn to take care of yourself. Well, to a certain extent I did. I had a couple of other encounters with bullies while I was in high school in which I stood up to them. In one incident the bully just backed down, in the other one I got what might be called an unfair advantage on the bully, but after that worried that he might catch me in a vulnerable position again. And if I had stood up to that first giant, I am not sure I’d have lived to write about it now.

There is something in society that tells people, I had it rough — we all had it rough when we were new, so we either take part in or keep mum about hazing.

But I am wondering if the biggest problem of all is that those in authority look the other way and aid and abet the bullies by counseling victims to keep their traps shut. They may both think that they are protecting the victims and protecting the reputation of the school or whatever by living in denial.

And that is all I want to say on the ugly subject.

P.s.

Okay a little more:

Rituals that are short of violent hazing may be okay and even fun. My Green Hand thing was silly, but harmless. And the crossing the Equator thing in the Navy is a time-honored ritual (although not having been in the Navy, I don’t know if that gets violent, and if it does, then I would not call it good).

P.s. P.s.

I imagine the recent news of sexual attacks on young boys at schools and sporting programs is all part of the abhorrent behavior talked about in this post too, but of course goes far beyond hazing or bullying.


Watch out when Romney types smile, they might explode…

December 14, 2011

Behind that forced smile is someone who has utter disdain for those he sees as lesser than him, such as your average voter or your average wage earner. That is how I see Mitt Romney. And that may not even be true. But that is my perception.

He reminds me of a lot of bosses or people in authority I have dealt with over the years.

Have you ever had a boss who judged by the expression on his (or her) face is as friendly to you as can be, but you can tell just behind that smile is a volcano waiting to erupt should he not like something you might say or do? That so very transparent forced friendliness is more intimidating than an automatic snarl from the git go, I think. With the snarl you gird yourself and deal with it — it allows you to get your defenses up. But with the transparently insincere smiley type you find yourself passively agreeing or acquiescing to everything in order to prevent the sudden lashing out at you, or the sudden switch from warm and fuzzy to ice cold.

During some of the debates I have seen Romney go through that change and become quite testy.

And a video circulating on the web demonstrates his unease at dealing with people. He made the mistake of hunting up a Vietnam veteran to talk to up in New Hampshire, probably thinking he was on solid ground and probably thinking how nice it is that you little people fight for me. But the veteran unexpectedly turned the tables on him and quizzed Romney on his stance on gay marriage. In the ensuing dialogue Romney said he was against the New Hampshire law or any other law that would support it. But as it turns out, the veteran said he is gay and has another man for a husband.

Romney did not explode, but he looked terribly uncomfortable and his handler whisked him away. Okay, maybe not a good example, because Romney did not blow up and he stood his ground on his position right there, using that forced smile. And the veteran even acknowledged Romney did answer his question in a straight forward manner.

Nonetheless I detected extreme discomfort in Romney, who, by circulating among those below his wealth and status, was out of his element.

Actually all, or a lot of, important people have this characteristic to some extent. It must be tough to be important.

And it must be tough to know that people have perceptions of you that might not be true.

P.s.

And I think the incident with the gay veteran demonstrates how dangerous it is for politicians to pander to the base instincts of society just to get votes — I mean most of us who are not gay probably have trouble accepting what is other than the norm and what seems to go against societal conventions, but is this really ground that politicians should tread on? Romney is not a hard-core right-wing reactionary; he is, except for his flip flops in the name of pandering, I think, a social moderate.

P.s.

As hard a time as Romney is having, if he just plays it cool, he may well benefit from Newt Gingrich going off on some tangent and taking things too far.