Letter to Virginia – 8/31/2019

002

Dear Virginia,

Been a nostalgic week for some reason.  Who knows where these recollections come from, how they are triggered, but there it is… the Sixties.

Although I faked it whenever it suited my purpose, I never was a flower child… you know?  1968… I’d already been to Vietnam and back, tried acting like I’d never been there, since nobody really cared… just wanted to blend in and start all over from scratch.  Did I ever tell you what I wanted to do when I got back from the war?  Don’t laugh, but I was hot to be and really tried to become a photo-journalist… tried going back over there to Vietnam because life back home… life Stateside… was like a vacuum, a round hole and I was utterly square-shaped with very hard edges that simply seemed never to quite fit into place, though God knows I tried.

No… I guess I never told you about that, since I never had the chance.  I left Norfolk shortly after I heard you got married.  Nothing to keep me there, so I left.  Moved across the river to Newport News.  I know you knew I’d been back, but… who knows?

Me?  James the Recently Returned?  He wanted something exciting, something dangerous, something different in his life… but all he got was the sporting goods department at Sears & Roebuck and they fired him… long story.  Not worth telling.

I bought cameras, took pictures… got pretty good at it.  Sent letters to newspapers all over the country, told them I’d be willing to work for them as a photojournalist overseas… in Vietnam or Israel, wherever there was a war because… I don’t know… adrenaline?  Told them I’d work cheap, but nobody offered me a job and after Sears fired me, I pawned all my cameras and guns… and my television set, my stereo.  Took a four-month sabbatical and tried to write a novel.

When the money ran out, I got hungry… so I went to work for the shipyard.

Was living in a tenement then, three-story brick buildings… right across the street from the yard.  While I was living there, I went through about three lifetimes in a year… a crazy year… long story, but it was during one of those lifetimes that I tried becoming a flower child, hanging with a group of people who lived in my building, in a huge basement apartment where other people, kids mostly, down from Richmond and DC would party every weekend.  The group was led by a guy from California, a guy whose name I can’t remember… some rich guy who’d been to Vietnam and was knocking around the country with another guy… from Minnesota, I think.

They were trying to start an urban commune… called themselves “the Real People.”

Long story.  But I didn’t fit in there either.

Two years in Newport News… then Ohio and three or four more lifetimes in a couple of crazy years before I finally caught my breath… Readers Digest condensed versions of a life each… little novellas just waiting for an ending that never quite arrives.  Lifetimes that felt a little like Purgatory, or like waiting for a bus in a Greyhound station that never, ever comes.  Purgatory… Greyhound waiting rooms… they are interchangeable, I think.  You meet interesting people, but you’re forever in transit, like those little eddies of current in a river, that circle and circle and circle for hours before they ever slip back into the mainstream again and get on their way downriver.

Don’t know where you went after you and what’s-his-name got married.  I know you guys didn’t stay together.  I don’t know why.  God knows… he was a pretty good guy.  I knew him pretty well, but your life was a total mystery to me, a book I’ve always looked for, but could never find.

The Sixties.  I’d always imagined you’d get caught up in the whole flower-child thing… but in a good way.  Not the whole drugs and sex and the Green Tambourine thing, the me-me-me culture, but something like that quintessential catcher-in-the-rye rejection of self-aggrandizement, that higher place… a role you seemed born to assume and I know you were looking, always looking… so many did.  Somebody had to find it.  Not many would, but I always thought that if anyone could, you’d be the one.  I hope you did.

Best always… your old friend,

James

 

Creative Commons License Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Letter to Virginia – 8/17/2019

002

Dear Virginia,

Haven’t written in a while, but I thought about you today.
I’m reading again that novel we both read in high school, though I can’t remember whether I bought it first and you wanted it because I had it… or whether I saw you reading it and went out that weekend and bought it myself, so I could flash it at study hall and you’d notice… and we could talk about it together in a corner because… I looked for excuses back then, reasons for us to talk about things for which you had such a passionate interest… just for the pleasure of hearing the fire in your voice.
It was an old book then, old and somewhat obscure. I remember the jacket said it was a very big deal in Russia, in Europe… everywhere. Millions and millions and millions of copies sold.
The Gadfly… remember? A novel first published in the late 1890s by Ethel Voynich, not well known any more, but for some reason it experienced a brief resurgence in the early 1960s, so that anyone with half a brain for books… anyone with a capacity for intense intellectual notions had to read it… tried to read it, tried to understand why people said it was important, meaningful, even timely, though it wasn’t really timely… not yet, though it would be soon enough… in the latter years of that decade, in fact.
It was about revolution, a thing we did not yet ever think about, except for the thrill of the concepts surrounding rebellion… like the Victor Hugo book… the Paris Commune, the barricades, the red flags, the romance and the fire of a time we could only imagine… as it was historic, a prop, alien then, at least to us.
Eight years later, you must have felt it as I did, the possibility, the passion in the air, the word itself tossed around like so much excess… excess of guile… an excess of promise unfulfilled… revolution this and revolution that, until the word itself lost all meaning, ended up cynical and droll.
The revolution that was televised, commercialized, marketized, costumed and produced, packaged and seduced, but… before we knew it? They won. The revolution? Our revolution? It went right into reruns.
So… The Gadfly… I’m reading it now… again… because I need to remember what it was like to be hopeful and passionate… and I’ll admit it… I remember so little about it now, and I wonder if I ever really finished reading it. My head was already full of notions then. I’d read so much… more than I had the capacity to grasp, but tried anyway… Dostoevski, Tolstoi, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Voltaire, and I’d just started Don Quixote when I saw you carrying The Gadfly and knew I had to be reading it as well.
So there… I remember now… you had it first, didn’t you?
You had it, so I had to have it as well
God, but we were young.
Impressionable.
Naive.
We went off in totally different directions, didn’t we?
Really lost track.
I hope you’re well.
So damn many times over the past decades… years in which I’ve not seen or heard from you… or even known where you’ve gone, I think about you often, unable to imagine how life might have received you… rewarded you for the visions you had so long ago. I’ve wondered how you fared, if you were happy, if you found the things you wanted, the things you wished for…
Most of all, I miss the things we shared.
So maybe that’s why I’m reading that book again
And thinking about you.

Your old friend,
James the Least

Creative Commons License Letters to Virginia by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Night Letters to America – 8/11/2019

DSCN1729

The purpose and the spark of a humane and civilizing influence is some ineffable quality for which we strive… and its existence serves as foundation for all of our religions, our liberating philosophies, our governing documents, our laws, our visions and our dreams.  We labor above all to attain first, but thereafter to retain that quality in our culture, in our lives, if not for ourselves, then for our children.  Call it innocence… call it grace… call it joy… it springs from a desire for peace and safety.  It thrives in love and it is the goal of every good gesture, every act of courage and every evolving, intelligent impulse within our social constructs, a product we will call… for the sake of definition, an observable innocence of mind.

Innocence is a delicate and a finite resource, however, difficult and… at times… impossible to regenerate once it has been destroyed.  It can be mimicked, but only at the cost of what is true, since every time we produce some false sense of security in safety, it requires the dismantling of innocence in proportions dictated by some unwritten metaphysical law.

The “right to bear arms” in the twenty-first century is the perfect example.

One of many justifications used to oppose the regulation of firearms in America is the manufactured illusion that an armed citizenry creates a safe and secure society, requires the same sort of delusion, though on a global scale, that drove the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union in the decades following World War II, each nation arming itself to the degree that each could destroy its rival and the entire population of the world many times over and in so brief a period of time, the very notion of this competition was called a “balance of power” through the capability of “mutual destruction.”  The cost of this tenuous purchase of national security was a generational nihilism that essentially destroyed the innocence of its participant nations and robbed all neutral parties of their own safety and security and the incessant ignition of small proxy wars in the Third World.

Let’s put that horrendous example into the perspectives that have evolved through the auspices of the National Rifle Association and their benefactor, the gun manufacturers of America.  Based upon a premise within the vague wording of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and fueled by money supplied to them by gun manufacturers, the NRA has become one of the most powerful propaganda agencies, marketing influences, and political lobbies in the entire free world, convincing a huge swath of the American population that they need to live like their pioneer forebearers, who, at least in popular fiction, were surrounded by hostile populations of men and beasts… a dark force in a lawless frontier that perpetually threatened not only their fortune, but their lives.

In the name of this… heritage… they have convinced Americans and bribed their politicians to vindicate the notion that our freedom, our “heritage” and our personal safety demands that every American has the right to bear arms without regulation, license, or constraint.  The result?  One hundred Americans die on any given day by way of gun violence.  Think about that… one hundred people… human beings, men, women, children.

What does that look like?  One hundred people.

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X

Every one of the Xs above represents a human being murdered by a gun… one hundred Xs, a fair representation of the sum of any one day’s average slaughter by guns in America.  However, it is not a fair representation of the victims themselves, nor the broad expanse of grief, hardship and loss that each death implies.  These Xs stand for people… individuals with lives that affect others.  They represent mothers fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters all… baby girls, baby boys, sweethearts, friends, lovers, the innocent and the not so innocent, but each one of the was a living human being one moment and a nameless cipher in the news a day later.

For me?

X = Charlie

He died, according to a police report, on 06/25/1991.  His death caused by ”… a single gunshot wound to his head while sleeping.”  Charlie was the youngest of four siblings.  He was my brother.  He was 35 years old and apparently on the upswing after hard times.  Hopeful.  His parents, my mother and father, were forced to do that which any parent shudders to imagine… to bury one of their children.  He was loved by many people, and by everyone in his family, each one devastated and unalterably affected by his sudden and violent death.  But it’s one thing to bury your brother after the devastating effects of some disease… quite another in the wake of a senseless murder by person or persons unknown, a random crime with no apparent motive, no witnesses, no suspects.

One hundred violent deaths every day of every week of every month of every year in America causes a rippling effect touches the lives of others, such that each single death must surely effect at least a hundred others, friends, families… a hundred times one hundred lives affected in the wake of a death by gunshot.

What does that look like?

I won’t waste the space just to give you a visual representation of 10,000 Xs, but I think you can imagine page after page after page… and I’m willing to wager that most people in America have lost someone to gun violence in their lifetime, but how many more who are wounded, physically and mentally traumatized.  The numbers reach incomprehensible proportions.

Today?  Mass shootings are becoming more frequent and occur in places where none would expect… classrooms, movie theaters, concerts, festivals, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples… anywhere people collect and expect to be safe from harm.

America is a war zone.

How did that happen?

It would take volumes to describe the perfect storm that has culminated in this age of violence and insecurity, where no parent can be certain that their child will not be killed on any given day in a classroom… where no one can be certain that their prayers in any church, any synagogue, any mosque, any temple, any sacred place of worship will not be suddenly and violently interrupted by the sound of gunfire.

When do we say, “Enough.”

Not this time… apparently.  Here it is, but mere days following the murder of 22 people and the injury of 24 more in a Wal-Mart in El Paso by a lone gunman armed with a military assault rifle and, the news cycle changes, the outrage takes a back seat to the suicide of a storied, sex trafficking billionaire, whose life has launched a hundred rumors… and whose death has launched a hundred more.

And so it goes.

No one will long remember El Paso.  Who’s fault is that… if not yours and mine?

 

Creative Commons License Night Letters to America by James Lloyd Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

I hope you will become a regular reader and I heartily invite you to comment below.  I love your feedback, even when it’s criticism.  It makes all the trouble worthwhile and it keeps me honest.

 

What can I do? They own the media…

 

It is bad enough when bigotry and ignorance prevails in the nation of your birth… worse Untitledyet when the institutions that serve it are corrupted… when they become the authors of deception.  Last night on Fox, Tucker Carlson stated that white supremacy is a hoax perpetuated by Democrats.  He said, “They’re making this up.  It’s a talking point, which they are using to help them in this election cycle.”

Fox News dominates cable and the networks. Consistently, more Americans watch Fox News than any one of the other cable or broadcast networks. Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have a bully pulpit for their corrosive, dangerous lies. Theirs is a huge audience and this is the kind of propaganda they feed them on a nightly basis. Is it any wonder that so many Americans have no concept of what is happening around them? This is the very reason that an amoral, bigoted, utterly incompetent, and dangerous criminal sits in the White House today.

Someone asked me today… “What do you do to stop it?”
This is what I do:  wherever I can, whenever I can find the time… I seek out the truth, write what I find, and I put it out there on the internet, the only place where ordinary Americans can possibly be heard beyond the confines of their social influence.
And so can you.

The power of disinformation, the strength of a lie resides in constant repetition within an unchallenged venue. The greatest weapon against it is truth. Just as it is in violent warfare, the battle for dominance between truth and a lie depends upon the power and the strategic application of the armament involved. If the lie enjoys a position of power, then truth is an insurgent… and it must be everywhere at once and unrelenting.

195px-Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)

“If the truth shall kill them, let them die.”   Immanuel Kant

Socialism, American Style – The Book

If you’ve been reading here, you know that I have been writing a series of essays, titled Socialism, American Style, essays that are more of a voyage of discovery for me,,, an attempt to find a uniquely American approach to the concept of socialism. Although I’ve put the essays temporarily on hold, I have continued to work on the concept.   last week, while doing some research and writing down my thoughts, I had an idea, something a little different, which may or may not be one of those big ideas you just happen to stumble upon like someone groping their way through the dark… a flash of light, maybe, a serendipitous thought that starts with a question…

In the United States, certain trends in the political realm have resulted in what can only be called a conservative bias in both political parties, marked by corporatism and autocratic tendencies, the result of influences that are subtle, even invisible to the electorate, but which lead to an untenable condition of economic and social inequality that feels as though we are going backwards, not forward into any recognizable semblance of a better world.

For instance, a firm cultural bias toward specialists, so-called “experts” has become increasingly evident in government. Technocrats, we call them, or we did at one time. Today? Their role is less visible, but their influence?  More profound.

Both parties love them and employ them regularly in roles that often usurp those which our Constitution reserves to our elected representatives. They save legislators time and effort by providing their “expertise” in writing legislation, so our Senators and Representatives don’t have to do the work of research and needn’t try to understand the complexities involved. Unfortunately, these technocrats also bring their predilection for satisfying their industry’s own special interests and their corresponding professional biases to the task as well.   The common welfare of the American people will always and thus be of little… if any… consideration for cause in the drafting of legislation or the writing of policies affecting the corresponding commercial interests of their unelected authors.

“What’s good for Goldman Sachs is good for America.”

Accordingly, we have people from the insurance industry composing legislation like the Affordable Care Act… lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry composing the language and provisions for Medicare Part D… or “experts” from the alumni of Goldman Sachs and other financial organization recruited by the Executive branch to write the policies by which the same institutions will be regulated.

fox hen house.aspx

“Morning, ladies. My name is A. Faufox McChicken and I’m announcing my candidacy for Congress.”

Fox in the henhouse metaphors, if you will, are entirely relevant here.

So… if both political parties are thus corrupted, determined to serve the interests of commerce and corporations over the common welfare of the average American… and we, the people, are limited by tradition to only two relevant political parties… both of which are dominated by wealthy families, corporate donors, lobbyists and special interests, what is the answer to our dilemma?

Third parties have seldom been successful in modern times and efforts to reform both parties from within only seem to further advance the creep of autocracy in the inevitable reactionary blow-back. And the public is further frustrated in attempts at reform by very subtle campaigns of genetically modified “populist” movements influenced from abroad and from within… and, again, by profoundly powerful special interest groups with buckets of cash and opportunistic, amoral leadership. Witness the Tea Party.

So… here is the question I posed to myself last week:
If not a Third Party… what’s the answer?

Now? I think I have it… the answer. A new idea. A way forward where there seems… at least to me… to be none. A totally different approach and maybe even a unique solution. Now all I have to do is find a way to adequately communicate its construct. So… for now? I’m suspending the essays and working on what will probably be a project the size of a book that will attempt to offer a solution to our very present and frustrating political impasse.

Conventional-Steel-Fabrication-450x194Watch this space.

The parallax view from here….

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ … That is how it started in Germany.”  Thomas Mann in response to accusations by the House Un-American Activities Committee that he was a communist.

74a72e9d61ef6e8fb175031b4318632dThe novelist who gave us a classic novel, The Magic Mountain, was an early and fierce critic of Adolf Hitler and the poisonous culture of the Nazis.  Because of his public, even fearless words against them, he was forced to flee his native Germany in 1933, eventually finding refuge in the United States where he became a citizen in 1944.  Yet, even in America, he found himself similarly threatened and hounded by the forces of McCarthyism as he publicly protested and wrote against the oppression of American writers and intellectuals during the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings that amounted to nothing less than fear mongering persecution, eventually leading to blacklisting and even to prison sentences as in the case of the Hollywood Ten.  As a result of his public criticism of yet another fascist movement, he was finally forced to leave the U.S. and return to Europe.

The McCarthy era was a low point in American history, proving beyond doubt that the fears of those Americans like Sinclair Lewis, who in 1935 imagined the seed of fascism could find fertile soil in the American psyche, were more than prophetic,  The House Un-American Activities Committee and the later McCarthy hearings in the Senate demonstrated that “it can happen here” and it did to the extent that the foundations of intellectual oppression and propagation of fear was laid.  All that was lacking was the proper demagogue, a role that McCarthy tried desperately to fill.  Thankfully he was thwarted.  The saving graces of our nation at the time were the decency and strength of its leadership, as exemplified in people like attorney Joseph Welch who challenged McCarthy at the Army hearings, and the power of the free press, the courage of journalists like Edward R. Murrow.  The eventual shaming of the demagogues who very nearly destroyed the character and intent of our Constitution was inevitable, but not before they exacted a terrible price on their victims, literally destroying the reputations and careers of thousands of people on the basis of lies and baseless accusation, creating an environment of fear and mistrust.

All of that seems now to have returned and we are once again faced with the ugly specter of fascist intent and unprecedented demagoguery in the person of Donald Trump.  Time and again, this amoral, despotic individual has proven himself invulnerable to every criticism, moving by incremental steps toward autocracy by pushing against the moral and institutional constraints that we always believed were inviolable.  He toys with Congress, attacks our courts, vilifies his critics, challenges and ruthlessly mocks the authority of anyone in our government who tries to oppose him.

On any given day, one could point to any one of a dozen of his actions as a dangerous precedent, the sort of behavior that would eventually bring down any previous politician… and yet, it almost appears as if he draws strength from every cry of “foul” that comes his way.  What is it that makes this man invulnerable?

Has he so wearied his critics with his lack of shame that they simply give up in frustration?  We know well enough that for all his faults, his enablers are willing to forego any appearance of personal integrity for the rewards they receive when he satisfies their corrupt intent, giving them the license they’ve always craved in pursuit of autocracy.  But now, even his greatest critics within the government seem impotent, utterly restrained from meaningful action against him.

Is it possible that they too see opportunity in the phenomena he’s unleashed?  Are they afraid of him?  Or merely and similarly as jaded as his enablers. The answers may not come from a normal perspective.  Perhaps they will come from a parallax view, an unpopular and skewed perspective from the fringes of our society, from a perspective that may no longer exist in our contemporary culture.  Perhaps it will come from the distance, from the past, from the echoes of what we once held dear but seem, somehow, to have lost.

Where is our Sinclair Lewis?
Where is our Thomas Mann?
Where is our Joseph Welch?
Where is our Edward R. Murrow?

Or have we become the very force that feeds the beast we fear, if not through outright support, then with silent acquiescence?  Is this present circumstance the sum of our failures, the substance of our corruption as a nation?  If we hope to survive, we’d better find out just what it is we have lost and regain it.  And soon.

Time is not our friend.

It comes to this…

We expected too much from the Mueller report. It had already done much to expose rampant corruption within the Trump Presidential campaign, leading to the conviction of many prominent members of his campaign leadership, but the job is far from done. Trump’s Attorney General demonstrated reluctance to do his job in yesterday’s letter to Congress. Subsequently, Congress will have to do its job of oversight. And it’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the abuse of power and the unprecedented levels of misconduct that it will take years for Congress to unravel the full extent of corruption within the Trump administration. Even when and if they do, a GOP Senate will continue to protect him because he gives them and their sponsors in the corporate world everything they ever dreamed of, such as a weak Federal government, unable to protect Americans from corporate crime… and tax breaks designed to make the wealthy few even more obscenely rich than they ever dared to hope.

Ultimately, it will take an unprecedented reformation of Congress and the Senate, drastic change that only an informed electorate and a clean sweep of our government through election can effect in order to finally fix the mess that we are in. Maybe, even more than Trump, America itself needs a full investigation. The whole nation, top down, bottom up…

In a democratic republic such as ours, what is the institution of justice if not an expression of our collective and prevalent morality? In any democratically elected government where a candidate for the highest office can publicly… and with confidence… declare, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters…” then why are we surprised when he corrupts that office he attains through election? Why would we expect such a man to respect the office to which he is elected when he does not respect the normal constraints of morality… when he does not even respect the character of the people who elected him? More importantly, when a corrupt leader upholds those institutions that maintain systemic and visible corruption within our nation’s body politic, why would anyone believe the institutions that administer justice would actually work against him?

Richard Nixon was one of the most corrupt politicians our nation has ever produced, but he managed to rise to the highest office a man or woman can hold… and he did it in spite of what should have been obvious to even the most casual observer, that he pandered to the worst elements of American society. Any man who must publicly declare, “I am not a crook…” deserves close scrutiny at best. Instead, the American people gave him a pass until even his enablers could no longer sustain his power, not even for their own benefit as they had so often in the past. So it is now with Trump. What is it about America that permits men of such a corrupt and cynical nature to become so powerful and virtually immune to prosecution when their crimes are so blatant and visible as to make the concept of justice seem impotent against them, even worthy of contempt?

Maybe it’s a good time to step back and consider where our nation is going. We need to take a long and critical self-appraisal, a serious moral inventory in order to learn exactly who we are as a people, what we have become in relation to those ideals we say that we hold precious and dear. We need to figure out how we managed to screw things up so badly. Then we need to find a way to fix it. It’s quite possible that Trump is not the problem, but merely the symptom… and we’re not going to fix the problem until we finally admit… that we are it.