Saturday, February 19, 2011

Spotlighting "the other side of life"

"A Picture from Life's Other Side"
by Hank Williams


Hank Williams can be an "acquired taste."

He can also be an "inspiration."

Songs of loneliness, tears and compassion -- laced with that honky tonk zest for life.

Part songster, part preacher, part observer of "the other side of life."

"Hank, you were my inspiration"
(Waylon Jennings, 1937-2002, R.I.P.)

Lyrics | Waylon Jennings Lyrics | Hank Williams Syndrome Lyrics


When there is no choice but "who am I?"


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Great singer song writers, such as Hank Williams, may have little time for "ethics. Still some, like Williams and Johnny Cash become preachers for our time.

They would probably be the first to admit that moral actions most often come not from preaching but from those special times when there is "no choice" but to act -- regardless of the price to be paid.

Doing the "right thing" may cost you -- in the end it may bring you peace.

But don't count on it.

The greatest miracle, a "satisfied mind" may not be easy to win.

Doing the "right thing" may carry no reward.

The nature of moral choice may be that there is no choice. The choice is dictated by the answer to the question "who am I?"


Lean back, think of those you have touched, those you have reached out to.

But remember that suffering in itself is no virtue. It must be chosen -- sometimes even when there is "no choice" -- as the sometimes high price for doing the right thing.

Doing the right thing may cost you -- in the end it may bring you peace.

But don't count on it.

Ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrestled to the time of his hanging with the question "Who am I?"

Yet his choice was almost automatic -- for there was no other path given "who he was."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Full steam ahead; babe, they're ain't no back in time


Back Babe, Back in Time:
Wasted on the Wayside
by Gillian Welch

Standing on the corner with a nickel or a dime
There use to be a rail car to take you down the line
Too much beer and whiskey to ever be employed

And when I got to Nashville, it was too much soldiers joy
Wasted on the wayside, wasted on the way
If I don’t go tomorrow, you know I’m gone today

Back babe, back in time
I wanna go back when you were mine
Back babe, back in time
I wanna go back when you were mine

Black highway all night ride
Watching the times fall away to the side
Clear channel way down low
Is comin’ in loud and my mind let go

Peaches in the summertime, apples in the fall
If I can’t have you all the time, I won’t have none at all
Oh, I wish I was in Frisco in a brand new pair of shoes
I’m sittin’ here in Nashville with Norman’s Nashville blues
So come all you good time rounders listenin’ to my sound
And then drink a round to Nashville before they tear it down

Back babe, back in time
I wanna go back when you were mine
Back babe, back in time
I wanna go back when you were mine


First the tears

Now full steam ahead

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why does love hang around? the porcupine factor


Schopenhauer: on porcupines and "boundaries"

For those of you who have come painfully close to intimacy, consider the porcupine (see video above).

According to the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, this magnificent animal sets a true example of the prickly things which can happen when humans love each other.

As for women:

"Without them there would be little assistance at birth, little pleasure at midlife, little consolation at death."

Thus wrote this unhappy in love German philosopher. He spelled out his theories that for all its sufferings love is simply the "will to life," the unconscious working out of nature's need for procreation (see video below).

Schopenhauer's analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled.

He favored a lifestyle of negating human desires, similar to the teachings of ancient Greek Stoic philosophers, Buddhism, and Vedanta.

See his The World as Will and Representation.

By emphasizing the importance of love and sex Schopenhauer foreshadowed the theories of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental. Instead he understood it to be an immensely powerful force lying unseen within man's psyche and dramatically shaping the world:

"The ultimate aim of all love affairs ... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."

"What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation ..."

Could be. So why does it hang around in older age?

Could it be the "porcupine factor?"

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It is time for the "saints" to march on in...


It is long past time that the destructive tendencies within the African American community be checked and reversed.

As only African Americans themselves can do.

Here is the story of Kimberly Bailey -- 150 years after the American Civil War.


The result of the Wednesday Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) skills section retest:

A very nervous Kimberly passed in -- then an hour later emerged buoyant and full of hope.

She had walked through the gate to a salary increase and promotion at one hospital where she is an experienced mental health worker.

Now she is qualified to apply for a second high paying job at another.

With the test passed, and Kimberly fully registered as a CNA in North Carolina, she can stay in the Valley of the Angels.

Had she failed, she would have been forced to take a civilian job in Afghanistan, the Valley of the Gun, to earn money to restore her finances.


She is now qualified to register for and join in an registered nursing (RN) program.

And move onward and upward toward $65,000 a year....!!!!!

In America military service and years as a teacher and mental health worker may bring in limited money.

Until the right certificate is earned to grant promotion and and a path to still higher certification.


Oh yes, "when the saints come marching in. "

Kimberly Bailey has helped show the way.

But without the black and white "saints" of the Civil War, that gate might never have opened.

Indeed Kimberly was in such a state of anxiety and self doubt when I met her that she might not have been able to move as rapidly through the gate without my encouragement and support.

The movie Glory, 1989:
"saints" who opened the gate

Even with an open gate, it takes a "saint to march on through."

For many that is the challenge: to garner up the strength, the courage, the discipline to march on through.

To feed themselves with dignity -- to say goodbye to manipulation of the white "massa," to say goodbye to the government handout.

To say goodbye to the flaunting of sex for prostitution or for surviving by trading drugs.

It's a rough road up and through the narrow gates -- and few of the "saints" meet the standard definition of a "saint."

Indeed many pioneering "saints" can be deeply flawed.

Toward them:

"Let those who have not sinned throw the first stone."

"To those who have given much, much is forgiven."


The challenge is to enter the narrower gate: to build self esteem, to avoid the temptation to rely on easy quick buck schemes.

To honor the memory of the "saints" who came before.

As Kimberly Bailey has done -- to become her own kind of "saint" 150 years after the Civil War.

The doors have opened...It is long past due for many more "saints" to march on through.


In the Jewish Christian tradition of martyrdom suffering is not in vain.

Through it comes the crown, for God recognizes those who have suffered -- and promotes their souls upward onto a throne of Glory.

I can personally bear witness that God has smiled on Kimberly -- but it is she who has done the work "walking through that lonesome valley by herself."

Kimberly Bailey has shown the way.

Others must now follow.


Kimberly Bailey:
"walking through the valley

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ft. Wagner: black and white "saints" of the Civil War



In honor of the black and white "saints"
of the Civil War whose sacrifices made possible
a future "saint" -- Kimberly Bailey,

Afro-American soldier,
educator, and nurse

May she reach her "Promised Land;"
their dream survives

BUT in the path to freedom
there is no "free lunch"



Sometime in the next year I will embark upon a kayak expedition to lay a wreath in honor of Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts at the remains of Fort Wagner off Charlestown Harbor.

Where their sacrifice in front of rebel guns opened the way for racial equality in the U.S.

This is the battle made mildly famous by the 1989 film:

By helping to prove blacks could fight, Fort Wagner opened the way for President Lincoln's decision to massively enlist African Americans into the Union Army.

For more on the role of colored soldiers in the Civil War see the massacre at Petersburg by this writer.

Ft Wagner: price paid


The mass grave at Fort Wagner no longer exists; the site has eroded way back at the beginning of the last century.

The remains of Colonel Shaw and his men have long since been washed out to sea by Atlantic hurricanes.

All that is left is a few skulls which sometimes wash up on the beach.

Ft. Wagner is at lower left

This is the battle made mildly famous by the 1989 film: Glory.

By helping to prove blacks could fight, Fort Wagner opened the way for President Lincoln's decision to massively enlist African Americans into the Union Army.

For more on the role of colored soldiers in the Civil War see the massacre at Petersburg by this writer.

The morning after


At dusk July 18, 1863 was launched an attack spearheaded by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a black regiment.

(For the broader strategy of the 1863 Union assault on Charleston Harbor see Gate of Hell by Stephen B. Wise. The assault on Battery Wagner was a key part of the Union's effort to gain revenge for the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter in April 1861.)

The unit’s leader, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was killed.

A 25 year old white officer, a child of Boston aristocracy, immortalized in Blue-eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

Spoiled, sheltered, with a wandering sense of entitlement, he seemed to thrive when the Civil War finally came.

He became a man with a mission.

Years later philosopher William James, a Shaw acquaintance, recalled a special kind of courage:

-- the lonely courage it took to drop a commission leading a socially correct white regiment and throw himself into this "new Negro soldier venture where loneliness was certain, ridicule inevitable, failure possible; and Shaw was only 25."

All the more remarkable because Shaw had some of the common prejudices of his day -- and only gradually came to see the fighting potential of his men.

He became their strongest advocate -- that they should be treated fairly, well armed, and adequately paid.

As his respect for his men grew, he ceased to use terms he once used: "niggers," and "darkeys."

After years of wandering uncertainty shifting from job to job young Robert was at last a man with a mission.

A man of many flaws was to be reborn a hero

His destiny was to die young -- to do his small but dramatic part to help a downtrodden race rise up free.

What greater "Glory" could a man seek? In his weakness he picked up the burden of a martyr who bows to death for a broader purpose.

These then were the last letters home by a youthful "saint" who died with "his" black free men in the assault on Fort Wagner:

July 18, Morris Island

"We are in General Strong's Brigade, and have left Montgomery. I hope for good. We came up here last night and were out again in heavy rain. Fort Wagner is being very heavily bombarded. We are not far from it."

And here is the last:

Morris Island
July 18, 1863
Dear Father

I enclose this letter for (wife) Annie, which I didn't intend to send to you because it is impossible to tell whether I can write again by mail...We hear nothing but praise for the Fifty-fourth on all hands....

Love to mother and the girls.


The night before the battle
("Let them know we went down standing up")

The 54th Massachusetts attacks:
eyewitness accounts

Shaw took his black men to the front, past thirteen often cheering white support regiments.

At six hundred yards from the fort, Shaw ordered his men to form two lines of battle, fix bayonets, and lie down in the sand.

The men shook hands, exchanged letters, and reminded each other who to send letters to in case they were killed or captured.

Shaw briefed his men and challenged them to "take the fort or die."


Members of a brigade scaled the parapet but after brutal hand-to-hand combat were driven out with heavy casualties.

Shaw reached the top of the fort's wall, took a bullet near the heart, and fell dead inside.

Half the regiment had penetrated the fort before withdrawal.

Of the 600 men of the 54th who charged the fort, 272 were killed, wounded or captured. Additional losses from the white regiments which followed brought union losses to 1,515.

Confederate gravediggers buried 800 Union soldiers in the sand in front of the fort the morning after the battle.

Confederates suffered 174 casualties.

The Federals resorted to siege operations to reduce the power of the fort.

This was the fourth time in the war that black troops played a crucial combat role.

The battle for Fort Wagner helped prove to skeptics that black troops could fight effectively. President Lincoln stepped up efforts to recruit them (Wikipedia).

Here is the story of flag bearer Sgt. William H. Carney who, although severely wounded, kept the flag off the ground.

He battlefield exploit was the first in a sequence of Civil War actions to earn an African American the Congressional Medal of Honor (1900).


After the battle, the Southern soldiers made a trench, dropped Shaw's body inside. then threw the bodies of some 20 of his black soldiers on top of him -- before shoveling them all over with sand.

Insult though this was, Shaw's abolitionist family thanked the Southern soldiers for burying Shaw with his men.

The dream of these "saints" -- both black and white -- survived.

Morris Island today
"Once let the black man get upon his person
the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle
on his button, and a musket on his shoulder
and bullets in his pocket, there is no power
on earth that can deny that
he has earned the right
to citizenship."

-Frederick Douglass


Kimberly, you follow in a grand tradition.

Courage is to stand up as a professional, self reliant, seeking handouts from no one.

Fighting with courage to make one's way.

The road can be dark and hazy.

For it is, as always, a world without free lunches.

Look forward but also backwards to the "saints of the past."


The issues of emancipation and military service were intertwined from the onset of the Civil War.

News from Fort Sumter set off a rush by free black men to enlist in U.S. military units.

They were turned away, however, because a Federal law dating from 1792 barred Negroes from bearing arms for the U.S. army (although they had served in the American Revolution and in the War of 1812).

In Boston disappointed would-be volunteers met and passed a resolution requesting that the Government modify its laws to permit their enlistment.

The Lincoln administration wrestled with the idea of authorizing the recruitment of black troops, concerned that such a move would prompt the border states to secede.

When Gen. John C. Frémont in Missouri and Gen. David Hunter in South Carolina issued proclamations that emancipated slaves in their military regions and permitted them to enlist, their superiors sternly revoked their orders.

By mid-1862, however, the escalating number of former slaves (contrabands), the declining number of white volunteers, and the increasingly pressing personnel needs of the Union Army pushed the Government into reconsidering the ban.

As a result, on July 17, 1862, Congress passed the Second Confiscation and Militia Act, freeing slaves who had masters in the Confederate Army.

Two days later, slavery was abolished in the territories of the United States, and on July 22 President Lincoln presented the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet.

After the Union Army turned back Lee's first invasion of the North at Antietam, MD, and the Emancipation Proclamation was subsequently announced, black recruitment was pursued in earnest.

Volunteers from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Massachusetts filled the first authorized black regiments.

Recruitment was slow until black leaders such as Frederick Douglass encouraged black men to become soldiers to ensure eventual full citizenship.

(Two of Douglass's own sons contributed to the war effort.)

Volunteers began to respond, and in May 1863 the Government established the Bureau of Colored Troops to manage the burgeoning numbers of black soldiers.

By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 percent of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy.

Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease.

Black soldiers served in artillery and infantry and performed all noncombat support functions that sustain an army, as well. Black carpenters, chaplains, cooks, guards, laborers, nurses, scouts, spies, steamboat pilots, surgeons, and teamsters also contributed to the war cause.

There were nearly 80 black commissioned officers.

Black women, who could not formally join the Army, nonetheless served as nurses, spies, and scouts, the most famous being Harriet Tubman, who scouted for the 2d South Carolina Volunteers.

Kimberly, you "travel in the footsteps of those who came before."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why men and women fail: explore two views



See "the last word" at blog's end

Saith the man:

"Wouldst that I could stay with thee...but alas, fair maid, 'tis time for moving on....

"Sometimes women make good friends -- as long as you take them with a grain of salt...

"For what they say is scarcely what they mean.

"Every town I ramble round, there are more pretty girls than one.

"Just one kiss, dear, and then I am gone..."

Now for another take on the same subject: an age old Scots Irish song which men and women have for centuries understood.



Come all ye fair and tender ladies.

Be careful how you court young men.

They're like a star on a summer's morning.

They'll first appear and then they're gone.

They'll tell you some loving story

They'll declare to you their love is true

Then they will go and court some other

And that's the love they have for you

Do you remember our days of courting

When your head lay upon my breast

You could make me believe
with falling of your arm

That the sun rose in the West

I wish I was a little sparrow,

And I had wings with which to fly

Right over to see my false true-lover,

And when he's talking I'd be nigh.

But I'm not a little sparrow,

I have no wings with which to fly

So I sit here in grief and sorrow,

To weep and pass my troubles by.

If I had known before I courted

that love was such a killing thing

I'd a-locked my heart in a box of golden

and fastened it up with a silver pin.



Last Word: the Divorced Ian and Sylvia
("Of Love there is no end")

Last Word: Men and Women Together
(Read all about "High Noon")

Last Word: "Our Little Cabin Home on the Hill"
(Read about the late Senator Robert C. Byrd)