Monday, January 20, 2020

A Poem to Start the Week

Here's a fun poem that might be useful for English grammar teachers....

The Grammar Lesson

A noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.
An adjective is what describes the noun.
In "The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

of and with are prepositions. The's
an article, a can's a noun,
a noun's a thing. A verb's the thing it does.

A can can roll — or not. What isn't was
or might be, might meaning not yet known.
"Our can of beets is filled with purple fuzz"

is present tense. While words like our and us
are pronouns — i.e. it is moldy, they are icky brown.
A noun's a thing; a verb's the thing it does.

Is is a helping verb. It helps because
filled isn't a full verb. Can's what our owns
in "Our can of beets is filled with purple fuzz."

See? There's almost nothing to it. Just
memorize these rules...or write them down!
A noun's a thing, a verb's the thing it does.
The can of beets is filled with purple fuzz.

—Steve Kowit

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Toward a More Perfect America

Seeking perfection is a familiar goal for me.

I am a Methodist. My father was a Methodist minister till his death in 1986. Three weeks after Daddy's death my mother accepted the pastorate of Rico United Methodist Church, where Daddy had served, beginning her own career as a Methodist minister.

For four years I attended Asbury College chapel services in Hughes Auditorium where the school motto "Holiness Unto the Lord" was emblazoned prominently.

Holiness is a major emphasis of the Methodist movement. John Wesley taught that a state of holiness or sanctification should be a goal of all Christians. He believed that it is possible for a person to reach a state of perfect alignment with the will of God. Not that his reasoning or actions would be perfect, but that his motivation would be perfect. That he would want only the will of God for his life, and so in every moment and every decision seek to do God's will.

As America's founders began to wrap up the chore of creating a Constitution for the nation, they created a Committee of Style to draft the final wording.  Gouverneur Morris is credited with writing the beautiful opening sentence which so eloquently establishes the republican genesis of our country with its first three words and then lays out the six goals of government by the People.

The first goal? A "more perfect" union. One wants to ask, can something be more than perfect?! Of course Morris was taking poetic license. He means a "more nearly perfect union". The phrasing hints at several things, I think. First that the founders thought this was a pretty good constitution. But, secondly, it was NOT perfect yet. And third, a continuing goal for Americans would be to make it ever more nearly perfect as the years go by.

I've just read Jack Rakove's Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution. The creation of the Constitution was really something of a miracle. It is amazing that those men managed to pull it off. And several of the key movers like Madison (36) and Hamilton (30) were very young. Four of the delegates were still in their twenties. The big majority were under fifty. Washington himself was just 55. Old, feeble, gout-ridden Ben Franklin (81) ...

Sheila and I saw Ben Franklin's sedan chair when we visited Philadelphia a few years ago.

...arriving at Independence Hall from his home a few blocks away in his sedan chair was the only delegate older than I am now (72).

I revere the founders of 1787-89 (and continuing founders through 27 amendments) as having produced a wonderful, almost miraculous constitution, but not a perfect one. We have endured again the pain resulting from one of its major anti-republican flaws, the Electoral College.

No the American experiment in government of, by, and for the people has not reached perfection even as its 25th new decade dawns in a few hours.

May we as a nation move closer to small-r republican sanctification this year. Here's to a more perfect union in 2020.

Friday, December 27, 2019

One morning in the mid seventies I woke to the radio, and yawned. I was nestled in bed in the great room of our little log cabin home on Lake Creek near the southern border of Floyd County Georgia in the little rural community known as Chubbtown. The radio droned on as I made a pot of coffee and began my morning routine. My ears pricked up at the mention of the West Georgia Tollway. Jimmy Carter, our governor, had killed the tollway! That's when I told Sheila that, however Quixotic Carter's presidential campaign seemed, he had my support.
Georgia transportation officials and many leaders in West Georgia had made plans for a route to connect Chatatnooga and Tallahassee via a new multi-lane toll road roughly following US 27 down the west side of the state. If the plans were not changed the highway would tear out the hills and woods on the west bank of Lake Creek within sight of our little cabin. Tree-huggers like me were adamantly opposed. Why not improve US 27 without ripping up a swath of earth the length of the state for a new route?
Jimmy Carter turned out to be a wily and pretty ruthless politician. He and folks like the young Jody Powell and Ham Jordan plotted a campaign tailor made for the new realities of the post-McGovern, post Vietnam, post-Watergate world. He promised not to lie to us. Sounds pretty basic, but that was an important pledge in 1975-76. His southern accent and official use of an informal nickname drove the Democratic establishment nuts, but he prevailed.
Then an amazing thing happened. The wily, ruthless Jimmy Carter took his oath so seriously that he left politics almost entirely to others and made his decisions based purely on his conception of the nation's good. Of his failings this was his greatest. His conception of the nation's good did not factor in the harm that losing to a Reagan would do.

Still Jimmy Carter was a much better president than he is given credit for:
  • He made important gains toward mideast peace through intense and stubborn personal diplomacy.
  • He led us through the necessary return of the Panama Canal to the people of Panama.
  • He upgraded our military despite the political costs and the lies to the contrary; later presidents owe a great debt to Carter for the greatest military in history.
  • Carter led an ethical and honest administration.
  • He was willing to risk his presidency to rescue our hostages in Iran. He knew the odds, just as Obama did in the case of the Bin Laden raid; Both were brave, but Obama was lucky and Carter (and those heroes in the desert) were not. 
  • He appointed Paul Volker to the fed to stop the economic disaster that resulted from Nixonian policies. Conservatives love to blast him despite his careful and important deregulation where it was safe and economy-boosting to do so. 
  • Oh, and he started no wars.
Jimmy Carter was indeed a ruthless and effective politician in his quest for the presidency, but from the moment he recited that Constitutional pledge on January 20, 1977 until that sleepless night and heartbreaking morning of January 20, 1981, I challenge anyone to find a moment when he put his own politics above the good of his country.

My endorsement of Carter in 1976...

More than a decade ago we got to attend Carter's Sunday School class at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

I am a republican. Republicans, nowadays, mostly aren't.

When voters elect members of the group that has become the base of the Georgia (and national) Republican Party they are electing folks who hate government (We the People), who think all politicians are crooked, who expect deceit and graft in government (We the People). And their expectations are realized, often by their own behaviors.  I believe Capital-R Republicans are much less likely to respect ALL the people. They are more likely to disrespect the wisdom of ordinary folk, especially lower income, lesser educated, minority, or immigrant Americans. Yes, the Democratic Party also has some lousy crooks, but it is far from an even match-up. The GOP (Greedy Ol' Party) have a much higher incidence of crookedness. 

Small-r republicanism is hard; it is messy, it often fails; but give me "public servants" who believe that title is the ideal, who really believe government is, in fact, "We the People", and thereby should always be of, by, and for the people.

We have watched as our public schools in Georgia have suffered for two decades under the rule of legislators who do not believe in public education. Is it any wonder that when those who do not respect government (We the People) run it they are more apt to expect corruption and even excuse it in themselves? After all they are convinced: "Everyone does it."

It goes back to the Goldwater-Bircher crowd in the late fifties and sixties, and came to power with the Reagan crowd in the eighties, grew truly obnoxious under the Atwater-Manafort-Gingrich-Bush crowd into the nineties and 2000s, and defaulted to pure evil as the Tea Party/Trump/Putin coalition maneuvered to power in 2017.

Again we Democrats have had our share of sleaze; I contend the Republicans in the era of Donald John Trump have much more than their fair share of sleaze. 

I am a republican. I recognize that we must be vigilant. A republic by definition is run by fallible humans: the public. But we must expect and demand that we hold our public servants to the ideals stated so eloquently in the Preamble. Messy and flawed though our republic quite naturally is, I still hold these truths to be self-evident, that all are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that to secure those rights (legitimate) governments are instituted.

I am a republican. But, in my opinion, Republicans, nowadays, mostly aren't.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Some Evangelicals

I wrote the paragraphs below several months ago. I kinda forgot about the post. Then yesterday Mark Galli, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, nudged my memory. 
Among the saddest moments of my life have been those times of realization that one I admire, or even love, is not who I thought him/her to be. The nomination of Donald John Trump by the party of Lincoln and the resulting campaign and then the coup of 2016 and his illegitimate reign as president of our former republic uncovered some very dark recesses in our society and, lo and behold, there were some folks I never expected to see in a sewer. Because so many of those were members of the evangelical community —the community that raised me — I was devastated and horribly disappointed. It seemed for a while that virtually all evangelicals had drunk the fetid Kool-Aid.

Recently I returned to the very small village where I attended an evangelical college from 1965 to 1969, for the fiftieth reunion of my graduating class. I almost dreaded it, figuring I would find few kindred spirits.
I am thrilled to report to you that among the serious evangelicals in my class and on that campus are, perhaps a minority but, sizable numbers of folks who oppose the evil of Trump as adamantly as I, if somewhat more quietly.
Even in the sixties my college was largely Republican. When during a trivia time at the reunion that weekend the "Young Republicans’ campaign for Nixon in ‘68" was the answer to a question, I had to interrupt and stand to remind the gathered throng that our YD group may have been small but we were enthusiastic in that campaign too. We opened a HQ in that tiny town. We ventured to larger cities in the region to campaign for RFK and later HHH. I personally met RFK and HHH and Katie Peden (running for Senate) and heard Muskie.
Afterwards a classmate quietly came across the room to thank me and to talk of the struggle of those of us who cannot imagine reconciling belief in a God of Love with support for the evil of the Rapist-In-Chief’s campaign and his cruel and ruinous presidency. She was far from the only one. Those holding true to their beliefs to oppose Trump included some (even a YR leader) who adamantly opposed my political choices fifty years ago. 

So, my friends, when you speak of evangelical involvement in the graft and perversion and lies and cruelty of the Great Grabber, please remember to modify the term “evangelical”. It is certainly more than “some", OK, still “most”, but it is not “all”. 
Later Note: The President and CEO of Christianity Today wrote about the responses to the Mark Galli article. Those responses included some that resonated with my own discovery of like-minded evangelicals at my college reunion:

"... We have received countless notes of encouragement from readers who were profoundly moved. They no longer feel alone. They have hope again. Many have told us of reading the editorial with tears in their eyes, sharing it with children who have wandered from the faith, rejoicing that at last someone was articulating what they felt in their hearts. They felt this was a watershed moment in the history of the American church—or they hoped it would prove to be. Stay strong, they told us, knowing we were about to reap the whirlwind..."

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Commencing Demagogues, Ending Tyrants"

I managed to read the Bible cover to cover this late summer and fall. I am ashamed to admit that ---though I have managed to pass college classes on "The New Testament," "Basic Cristian Beliefs," and "The Teachings of Jesus", and though I have listened to hundreds of Christian sermons as a Methodist preacher's kid and as a student at a holiness college that required attendance at three weekly chapel services, and though I attended years of Sunday School and weeks of Vacation Bible School --- I had never before read the Bible straight through. My mother praises Peterson's translation called "The Message" as an accurate translation in language very accessible to modern English speakers, so that is the version I read. It was sometimes startling to hear the "message" of the Bible expressed through modern idiom, but I found it very understandable. 

Recently I had reason to look up one of the Federalist Papers to try to understand Hamilton's explanation and arguments about a section of the Constitution. I found the essay very difficult to understand. Perhaps it was my pleasure at having the Bible in accessible language that made me wonder if there were a "Message" version of the Federalist Papers. Turns out there is more than one. I found this one in pdf form online and compared a few paragraphs with the original and decided it seemed a helpful "translation" even though it was produced by a libertarian group.

The Federalist Papers are important to the understanding of the Constitution. They make clear the motivation of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay as they promoted huge changes in American government. Fully understood, they can clear up some common confusion and outright misinterpretation of the Constitution.

During the current presidential administration I have read many wrongheaded (IMO, of course) screeds about the Electoral College and the Second Amendment, in particular. 

Therefore I have been pleased to discover these "modern" Federalist Papers. Here is a passage from Federalist #1 and the same passage from the "modern" version.

“…the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.”

Rewritten in more modern language:

“A healthy government is essential to secure liberty. A strong government and liberty can never be separated. Dangerous ambition is more often masked by a zeal for the rights of the people than the zeal for a firm and efficient government. History teaches us that most men who have overturned the liberties of republics began their career by proclaiming their devotion to the people. They gain position by arousing people’s prejudices and end as tyrants.”

This looks like an accurate rewording of the original to me.

So I'm gonna read 'em.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

There is no excuse.

Jennifer Rubin and I disagree on many national issues. She is generally conservative and I am generally liberal on social and economic issues. But on this we are in total agreement: There is no excuse for supporting this president.
I beg my friends and relatives who have so far been silent about, or even defended this president, to do some soul-searching. Words have consequences. Elections have consequences. We have seen bloody, horrifying, brutal consequences this weekend.
Is this the society we wish to leave to our children and grandchildren?
Ignorance, childishness, bullying, hatefulness, pettiness, and more and more blatant racism?
It is time for legal, ethical, peaceful but righteous anger and civic uprising.
It is time for patriots to take real, persistant, loud, demanding, non-violent action.
Our US Representative, arch-conservative Tom Graves, will be in Rome Tuesday. He needs to hear from patriotic Northwest Georgians of all stripes that we have had enough of white nationalism, racism, hatred, ignorance, and xenophobia. We have had enough of Russian attacks on our nation and of Donald Trump's cozying up with Putin, Kim, and other murderers. We may not all agree on abortion, or social security, or medicare, or what should be done about Iran or Iraq or Afghanistan, but surely we can agree that we have had enough of a racist in the White House and of foreign invasion of our most basic republican system -- our elections..
We do not hate Donald Trump the man, but we certainly hate racism and what Russians and this president together have done to the country we love.
It is time for people of faith, people of conscience, to speak out.
Our republic is in real danger. Republican government and liberty are the exception in human history not the rule. Ours is a republic, as Franklin warned us, only if we can keep it.
The Russians are already attacking our electoral system for the 2020 cycle. Americans are already sharing Russian created facebook posts daily.
People are dying.
Twenty-nine this weekend. TWENTY-NINE.
Who can deny that there is blood on this president's hands?
After more than two years,
- after the the clear crimes detailed in the Mueller report,
- after the Senate bipartisan intelligence committee report of continuing Russian scheming,
- after the white nationalism, racism, terror, and blood of Charlottesville through El Paso...
... silence is complicity.

Monday, July 15, 2019

George Conway: Trump is a racist president

Dear folks who have till now supported Donald John Trump:

I do not want to read or know your answers, I certainly don't want to argue with you. The following are rhetorical questions. The whole reason I write these things here and on Facebook is that, like Conway, there are people I love whose beliefs are so offensive to me that I cannot bear to talk with them in person about them. But the issues are also too important to me, to central to my life, for me to ignore or give up on or to be silent about. They are issues that I believe absolutely critical to the lives of my children and grandchildren and this republic.  I pray that you will actually think about them. I want you to know your answers.

Do you have the courage to seriously consider Conway's words?

The man in question is sitting in the seat of George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison... Abraham Lincoln... Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson... Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy... flawed men all who, no doubt sometimes allowing self-interest to color their decisions, read and thought and listened and seriously sought, by their lights and within their capabilities, to fulfill the goals of the Preamble.

How do you respond to this principled conservative lawyers observations of Donald John Trump?

Where is arch-conservative Conway wrong in what he writes here about the current president of the United States, his beloved wife's boss?

You and I share a great love of this country and probably many other things, but on the great American political issues of the last half-century there is little agreement for me with George Conway or with you, but can we not honestly face the crisis in America and deal with the great harm done to our country by Donald John Trump and his enablers? Please actually consider Conway's words.

If Donald John Trump is not a racist, there are no racists.

- Terrell

Washington Post Op-Ed -- George Conway: Trump is a racist president

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Daddy's 100th Birthday

Lillian Ophelia Wilkerson was only eight when her beautiful twenty-nine year-old mother died. Ruby was just a babe in arms and Jessie was seven. Lillian went to live with her Aunt Lou Annie for a while. When she was 10 her father remarried. Aunt Lou Annie told Lillian, "Don't let that Mattie Kiser boss you around." I can't imagine anyone needing to issue that warning to my feisty grandmother. Evidently her father noticed some tension between his eldest daughter, now eleven, and her step-mother. One day he came to her bedroom, sat beside her on the bed, and suggested, "Sister, don't you think it's about time you started calling your step-mother, Mama." In telling me that story "Mama Shaw" who worshipped her Papa, would say, "If Papa wanted me to do it, I did it." So from that point on, when Lillian said "Mama" she was referring to Mattie Kiser Wilkerson. And when Lillian's grandchildren, including me, came along she was Ma Wilkerson to us.

Like many mill workers, Charles Rueben Wilkerson moved from mill to mill always seeking a better job. He was industrious and smart and his responsibilities increased as he moved from Aragon to Atco to Milstead. At Callaway Mills in Milstead he found a good job and stayed long enough to earn that famous retirement pocket watch. One of the little tragedies of my life is that the watch, given to me for safe-keeping as oldest grandson by Pa Wilkerson's daughter Winnie, was stolen in a burglary in the early nineties.

Grady Columbus Shaw also worked at Callaway Mills and met Lillian. They married when she was fifteen.

On May 21, 1919, sixteen-year-old Lillian Ophelia Wilkerson Shaw...

Lillian Wilkerson Shaw as a teenager
...gave birth to her first child, a very blue baby boy.  He was not breathing. He was, the family has always put it, "Born dead." How sad. It was not rare, of course. Few families of any size were untouched by infant death.  Everyone present was sad, but what can you do.
Lillian's step-mother, Mattie Kiser Wilkerson, pregnant herself at the time ...

Mattie Kiser Wilkerson at the time of her wedding
Mattie Kiser Wilkerson as I knew her.
...had no medical training. She had no schooling. She couldn't read, for heaven's sake! But she wouldn't just accept the situation. She would try to change things. She would do something. She wouldn't give up.
She took a handkerchief, doused it with a few heathy splashes of whiskey, ran her chubby index finger through his mouth to clear any obstruction, draped the wet hanky across those little blue lips, and bent to blow her breath into his lungs. After a few puffs the baby sputtered and cried and preached his first sermon, "Never give up!"
So, friends, the old woman I knew as Ma Wilkerson, though no blood kin, is as responsible for my existence as any of my "real" ancestors.
A jolt of whiskey breath awakened Charles Columbus Shaw, a tee-totaling Methodist pastor later in life. He was named for his two grandfathers, Charles Rueben Wilkerson and Columbus Turner Shaw.
Mattie couldn't read, but she loved the movies. After Charles had made it through a few years of school she would have him accompany her to the theater in Conyers, where he could read for her the printed narration that accompanied the silent movies.
Lillian Wilkerson Shaw with her son Charles Columbus Shaw
My Dad would have made a great old man had he had the chance. He would have loved the spunk of his granddaughter (and his mother's namesake) Lillian Matthews Shaw, not to mention several other grandchildren he missed out on, and soon to be 35 great-grandkids.
Charles Columbus Shaw as I remember him.
Happy 100th birthday, Daddy. I still miss you. Few days pass without a twinge of pain at the realization of questions I can't ask, advice I can't get, stories I can't tell you about. But how thankful I am to have been your son. And I am also thankful for that whiskey and the presence on the day of your birth of your illiterate stubborn step-grandmother, who would not give up.

Granshaw and Granmop with seven of their (eventually) 18 grandchildren
L-R: Josh Hearn, Matthew Lewis, Ruth Baird Shaw, Jessica Rogers, Amanda Sims, Lisette Lewis, Brannon Shaw Carlin, Charles Columbus Shaw, Andrew Lewis

Monday, May 20, 2019

Plain Dick Russell

I have collected political items since I was a teenager.... off and on. Someone, and I’m sorry I don’t remember who it was, gave this one to me a few years ago. Somehow I put it in a drawer of my rolltop desk and thought no more of it till this morning. 

I have several political items related to Georgia’s famous Senator Richard B. “Dick” Russell. These four framed buttons are from his 1952 race for the Democratic nomination for president. 

They came from that year's Democratic National Convention along with this banner:

Somewhere I also have a wonderful little whistle from the convention emblazoned with "Whistle for Russell":

I knew that the mustachioed gent on the old button rediscovered this morning, just 7/8 inch in diameter, was from an earlier time. So I googled "Plain Dick Russell" and there he was --- in the December 1911 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine!

He's the father of "our" Dick Russell and thirteen other children. He ran for governor of Georgia twice, losing both times. He succeeded at politics more often than he lost however. He was the youngest member of Georgia's house at one one time and was elected to judgeships several times. He was Chief Justice of Georgia's Supreme Court when he died in 1938. By that time his son and namesake had succeeded where Dad had stumbled and served a short term as the very young Governor of Georgia and had begun his long tenure as Georgia's US Senator.

Here is the Cosmo story, one of several under the heading "The Story-Tellers". I have pasted together the pieces to make it easier to read. To see it in context visit page 140 of this Cosmo:

Georgia has one of the strange museums right there in our state capitol building, and the most grotesquely fascinating exhibit to the thousands of kids who have visited there has been the two-headed calf's twin noggins on proud display. Do you suppose this is its origin? 

I found a small plate with the gilded senate emblem and Russell's signature at some antique or junk store many years ago.

And my late friend Audley Tucker took a photo of President Carter speaking at the younger Russell's funeral. I'll add that when I find it.

Our Franchise

He pardons war criminals. He mocks the disabled. He cages children. He scoffs at environmental disaster. He openly obstructs justice. He lies with abandon. He fawns upon our enemies and insults our friends. His ignorance is abysmal and his arrogance limitless. 
Several times a day for over 27 months a wave of nausea has hit me with the realization that this severely disturbed man will forever be included in the list that begins "Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison..." How any reasonably knowledgeable and patriotic person can avoid such nausea is beyond me.
Patriots must give all we can in fortune and energy to electorally obliterate Trumpism. There is only a year and a half till the 2020 election. Our republic is on the ballot. The earth is on the ballot. Our children and grandchildren are on the ballot
We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, must give, and work, for the next year and a half as never before. As surely as Japan attacked us militarily in '41, as surely as Al Qaeda attacked us in 2001, our republic is under attack again today. This is a war we must win to survive, but it must be fought at the ballot box. We must crush this enemy with our franchise, while we have it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

God Bless the Bairds

Just ran across this photocopy of a photograph of my great grandparents William Baird (sometimes spelled Beard) and Mary M. Marks (Baird). A distant cousin (Aubrey Sims, I think?) sent this to me decades ago. I do not know who owns the original. William served as a Lieutenant in the 53rd Ga Infantry and was put out of action when he was wounded in the left shoulder as he crossed a fence during the horrible Battle Of the Wilderness on May 6, 1864. William was born in Madison Co., Georgia on October 1, 1827 to Thomas Beard and Mary (Polly) Bone. Mary Marks was born May 30, 1824 in Newton Co., Georgia to Henry Marks and Margaret Daniels (Marks).
After the war William continued to farm until he was “afflicted with paralysis” and “shaking palsy” that made work impossible and he became totally dependent “on the kindness of my son”. (from his CSA pension application)
William and Mary’s youngest son, Benjamin Wilson Baird was born April 22, 1860, Georgia seceded from the Union on January 19 of the next year… pretty much completely altering the rest of Wilse Baird’s life. After the war, with an invalid father, and with a mother and invalid sister to also care for, Wilse (Papa) put off marriage till 1902, when he married at age 42 my 18 year old grandmother. Together those two produced eleven children. The eleventh of those children is my 96 year old mother whom I have the great joy of visiting with in person or by phone almost every day in 2019.

So it is safe to say, from the great heartache and suffering of these two, there may have been other great goods, but the great good of the post-war life of Wilse Baird, and the very existence of my wonderful mother and therefore me and my siblings and our offspring would never have happened. One of the fascinations of my life has been the ways that even from disaster and poverty and evil and death, good can spring up like green grass from the cracks of the pavement. Never give up. Keep striving.

The following is by Malvina Reynolds as sung by Pete Seeger:

God bless the grass that grows through the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that breaks through cement,
It's green and its tender and it's easily bent,
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead.
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that's gentle and low
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at the poor man's door,
And God bless the grass

Monday, April 08, 2019


I’ve been to two funerals in the last week.

In 1962 a Methodist pastor died somewhere in North Georgia. In order to fill his position Bishop John Owen Smith and his cabinet created a chain reaction of mid-year reassignments that swept our family from Ellijay where my father was serving Watkins Memorial Methodist Church to Rome’s Trinity Methodist Church and its brand new parsonage in Summerville Park on Timothy Avenue. Soon I was commuting along Redmond Road to my new school West Rome High. Our beautiful new neighborhood was home to many of my new church friends and other school friends. Charlie Wagner was just up Redmond a few houses from Timothy. Paula Craven lived on Dodd just a block and a half away. The District Superintendent’s son Billy Segars lived on Charlton as did Alfred Fletcher. Esther Ransom, Robin Scarborough, Gretchen Lininger. Chastine Parker, Jr. and others lived nearby. 

Up on Robin Street, maybe four blocks away was the rock home of the Ergle family. Bill and Penny had four kids. Anne was my age, Freddy was about three years younger. Kathy was probably my baby sister Beth’s age, and Karl was the baby and about the age of my little brother David. The Ergle’s had moved to Rome so that Kathy would be near Georgia School for the Deaf.

When mother wrote a poem for our family Christmas card one year in the sixties, it’s not surprising that all four Ergle kids made it into the poem. But really mother, why did three of the seven Shaw kids not make the cut?

Our Nativity scene is live
In living color too!
With teen-aged Mary dressed
Of course, in blue!
She sits beside the manger
Carol, Beth or Anne,
With Joseph standing by
There's Terry, Bill or Dan.
The shepherds stand alert
A turban on each head.
There’s John and Sam or
Allen, Cleve and Fred.
The wise men are bedecked
In jeweled crowns alike -
That hide - the tousled hair
Of Robert, Karl and Mike.
The angels, Kathy, Fran,
Deborah... truly dear
But they can only qualify
As angels - once a year!
I watch the twisted halos
And am amazed to feel
In spite of pomp and pageantry
They somehow make Him real!
Bill and my Dad were both Marines and veterans of World War Two and so had much in common. So our families have known each other for 57 years. We lost my Dad in ’86. Bill has been gone at least two decades maybe more. Penny died eleven years ago. Little Kathy, who forgave my fumbling attempts at sign language and greeted me like a brother whenever she saw me, died of cancer about three years ago.

Today we buried Anne-with-an-E. My West Rome classmate, Anne Ergle (Tatum) died suddenly on April 1. Anne was a pretty girl and a quiet one. She was a gentle soul with a servant spirit who spent her career helping those with handicaps. I was touched that her family asked my mother to speak at her memorial service. Mother is 96 years old and has had some health issues recently, but she prepared a very nice message based on the scripture more often used in funerals than any other, likely, the twenty third Psalm. Despite the frustration of getting some of the pages of her notes jumbled Mother spoke from her heart about the very personal message we find in that psalm, the Lord is MY shepherd, and will lead ME, and walk with ME through even the shadow of death. 

I dug out the 1965 West Rome Watanyah (yearbook) last night and spent a nostalgic hour perusing its pages. Anne had written me a very sweet message on the title page. She was very generous, I must say; she called me “sweet” and “cute”! And wished me the best on that “long road of life.” Well, to this ol’ boy, her 72 years doesn’t seem that long from the current perspective.

Still I’m bright enough to realize that I am well into extra innings. My father and his father never saw seventy. My other grandfather died at the age I am now. And I attend funerals every few weeks. A few days ago it was Norris Gamble’s beautiful service. Today it was Anne’s. It’s a bit morbid I suppose, but can one avoid the question: When will mine come? 

I don’t want to waste any days.

I saw this sign on the wall of Alto Park Elementary when I visited there this week to tell stories for Career Day.

From what I knew of Anne I think she likely would have approved of these goals.  At seventy-two, I know I’ll follow Anne soon enough, even if I manage my mother’s longevity. So funerals bring that reality home to us — to me: 
Days are short. 
Be thankful for each one I am blessed to live. 
Keep it simple. 
Be kind. 
Be polite. 
Help folks. 
Treasure family and friends. 
Do my best. 

Listen, laugh, and (the greatest of these) love.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Thomas Paine supported a guaranteed minimum income for all.

Our constitution in its first sentence establishes us as, to some degree, a democratic socialist nation by outlining six purposes for our (we the people) self-governing. Those purposes are:
  1. ever perfecting our union that is therefore (by definition) imperfect. A union of “we the people” is by definition, again, joint universal social enterprise, i.e. (to some degree) socialism
  2. establishing justice. Taking care that all are treated fairly is again restricting those things that might treat folks unfairly, like unrestrained capitalism, i.e. robber barons and oligarchs.
  3. insuring domestic tranquility, which requires the establishment and staffing, by all-of-us jointly, of law enforcement agencies.
  4. providing for the common defense. Once again a  (to some degree) socialistic effort is required to jointly maintain armies and navies, etc.
  5. promoting the general welfare. Well, that’s a mighty liberal idea, isn’t it?
  6. securing the blessings of liberty to all forever.  You ain’t free if all the money is in a few hands. (Of course you are also NOT free if all the power is in the hands of party bosses under extreme “socialism” known as communism.
Thomas Paine was a piece of work. Besides being one of our most influential founding fathers, he was also the first to propose a guaranteed minimum income for every citizen. 
I own a little piece of ground with a very nice house on it. You had better not try to take it from me. I'll fight you. Still I recognise that if you trace if back far enough you will find that this little piece of ground was taken from a Cherokee family. And they, years before probably took it from a Creek. The Creeks perhaps moved in after the Mississippians were decimated by disease. Who knows.
Anyway. Property ownership exists. Paine said all men should receive a "citizen's dividend" to make up for "for the loss of his or her natural inheritance"
Who woulda thunk it? Thomas Paine the Democratic Socialist.
In the years since that first sentence of the Constitution was written we have made our union more perfect by adding 27 amendments. Those have further established that we are a nation, not of the rich, by the lucky, or for the smart, but “of the (whole) people, by the (whole) people, and for the (whole) people.” By definition, we have in America a social compact to share power equally, and work toward the general welfare. 
I doubt Adams and Madison and Jefferson and Paine could have imagined the ways history would “perfect” us, but thank God, they did establish means. They may have envisioned an eventual emancipation of the back race, but Douglass, Carver, King, and Obama were likely beyond their imaginings. By the end of their final century (the 19th) the industrial revolution would produce the robber barons and the revolt against wealth concentration that produced the labor movement that, in turn, would pave the way for Teddy Roosevelt to inaugurate the “American Century” (the 20th). All those men along with Truth, Tubman, Anthony, Abzug, Friedan, Milk, Gompers, Lewis, Chavez, etc. etc. must now be counted among the “fathers” (and mothers) who continue our founding.
The most liberal of the liberals wants strong incentives for invention, hard work, creativity, and innovation. The great leaders I’ve mentioned were not lazy. They valued enterprise. BUT they and we also recognize that “no man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” That wealth is built not by a financial planner in an office somewhere, or even by an inventor, or visionary entrepreneur but by a myriad of hard-working people living and dead who prepared the way for them and us. We all owe a large portion of our wealth, what ever it is, to others. 

Asking the wealthy to give a larger proportion of their second ten million than their first toward the general welfare is perfectly fair, and actually, the essence of justice.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

The Ring of Liberty

We often think of capitalism and socialism as existing on a spectrum from most capitalist to most socialist. I have said that tyranny resides at both extremes and maximum liberty near the middle. 

I wonder if a better image would be a circle with maximum tyranny and maximum liberty at six and twelve o'clock, and with ordinary socialism and ordinary capitalism at three and nine o'clock. The more extreme the capitalist system, the more extreme the socialist system, the closer each system moves toward tyranny. The more capitalism and socialism balance the greater the liberty people have. In such a balanced system the capitalists are free to innovate and profit but are tempered by environmental and human rights protections and protections against extreme wealth concentration.

Is Trump ALL I am Against?

A friend wrote on my Facebook page a while ago that it seems the only thing "the left" is against is "Trump".
And it occurs to me there may be truth in that. 

I guess it depends on what "Trump" means.
If by "Trump" my friend means the things I've seen Donald John Trump do and say ....
  • Unrestrained never-ending lying
  • Caging kids
  • Wasting billions on a vanity wall
  • Encouraging white nationalists
  • Sexual predation
  • Ridding Americans of healthcare insurance if they have pre-existing conditions
  • Coddling Putin and other dictators
  • Ignoring the murder of Khashoggi
  • Selling out our republic for his own financial gain
  • Dismissal of science
  • Rape of the environment
  • Destruction of public education
  • Concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands
  • Mocking the disabled
  • Ridiculing national heroes and Gold Star families
  • Lying some more
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.
Yep, in that case, "Trump" is pretty much every thing I abhor in one smelly package.
I often write about what I am for too, by the way. Perhaps she missed it. Politically "what I am for" can be summed up nicely in the first sentence of our Constitution, which indicates in less plain but much finer language that the body politic should always be about ---
  • perfecting our republic
  • making sure there's justice for all
  • keeping peace and order within our republic
  • defending us from foreign threats
  • promoting the welfare of all
  • securing the blessings of liberty for all, now and always.
And NONE of that (except maybe ineffective protection from exaggerated foreign treats) seems to concern the man who lost the vote of the people by nearly three million ballots in 2016 and by even more in 2018. I did not watch his word salad called "The State of the Union speech" tonight, but from reports I can tell that he still refuses to even slightly modify his unAmerican attitudes and goals.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Mother Had the Measles

My mother had measles when she was a baby. She'll be 96 in a few weeks. Her three-year-old brother had measles at the same time. The same measles Mama has survived for nine and a half decades killed her brother before he turned 4. My grandmother kept Leon's little shoes in her cedar chest till the day she died. She had no picture of him. She said his hair was a light brown like Tom and Jack not red like Charlie or Grice. Had Leon survived measles he would likely have been gone like all five of his older brothers by now. If not he would turn 100 this October. Even long life is short from my current perspective.
John Franklin Enders "The Father of Modern Vaccines"
My first cousin Lavay is only ten years younger than his Uncle Leon. He and my high school friends David and Robert were all crippled by polio. I got the vaccine. The polio forced Robert to spend most of his short life in bed and killed him before he turned 20. David has spent his life hobbling around, remarkably well, on crutches. Lavay managed despite a bad limp to walk all his adult life thanks to leg shortening surgeries as a little kid. David and Lavay both are now dealing with greatly reduced mobility due to the horrible effects of post-polio syndrome. I managed to avoid the disease long enough to take the vaccine in the mid-fifties along with all my classmates. And I have been awfully grateful for Dr. Enders and Dr. Salk and their vaccines every time I think of those three contemporaries of mine and little Uncle Leon whom I never got to meet.
Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine
Of course we must keep good records and always work to study the effects of all medicines and seek to improve outcomes. There are no guarantees. Even aspirin has side effects. But in the end I believe we must do what science tells us is most likely to protect our kids. 
Vaccines are in the news again as measles outbreaks occur here and there across the nation. A few cases have cropped up here in Georgia. No other vaccine preventable disease causes as many deaths as measles. Vaccines save many lives.
Give a listen to this man who has a unique perspective; he is a vaccine researcher and also the father of an autistic child ----
Anti-Vaxxers Brought Back the Measles