Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Lost Boy Scout

If he were alive today Norman Rockwell would be arrested as a pedophile. Take the following painting as a prime example to prove my point.

As disturbing as I find the above image, it is not the most disturbing of his paintings. Why would that be you ask? Well that's a great question thank you for asking. First because all of his paintings seem unnaturally happy. Let's face it most people struggle through the drudgery of the daily grind just hoping to get home to watch a little tv, eat a little food (a lot of food in America), and dream about telling their boss exactly where to put their job. NO ONE is as happy as the individuals that Rockwell painted. No one that is, who's not in a cult, a Stepford Wife, or perhaps enjoying the pleasure of hallucinogenic toad mucus.

Secondly, and from my perspective more disturbing, is his plethora of paintings of that greatest of paramilitary cults, that breeder of arsonists, that inculcater of blind patriotic devotion. Yes I speak of the Boy Scouts of America, the greatest evil society this side of Skull and Bones. There's just something about a bunch of adult men and boys in the woods, wearing thigh high khaki shorts that seems very, very wrong.

Now I know that some of our readers are devoted to the Boy Scouts whole heartedly. Good for you guys. For me, I always felt it attracted the type of people who were most likely to be playing Dungeons and Dragons in their parents basement when they turn 40 years old.

Despite this antipathy toward scouting I find myself involved with them if somewhat remotely and certainly reluctantly. Our church has a scout troop, and for good or ill since I'm involved with the youth group I'm involved with the scouts. Please note for future reference people that if someone asks you if you want to help out with teenagers in any capacity whatsoever, the answer is, NO!

In any event I also happen to be the proud owner of a truck. Wife would tell you it's her truck but that's just silly (The truck is about the only manly thing about me, don't take that away from me). Juxtaposing my truck ownership and my scouting affiliation you can guess my primary role. I'm a mule.

Now from what I can understand, scouting involves being one with nature, cherishing it, and then burning it down. At least I think that's the scout law. The job of the scout leaders is to make sure that the boys don't get near the matches. As such we plan activities that will mitigate the fire risk and encourage physical development and outdoorsiness. Thus we came up with the idea of a spring time mountain biking trip.

Picking up the kids and their bikes we (four adults and five gagillion kids) headed up to the "mountains" for what's listed as a pretty strenuous ride. True to description the rocks were jagged, the tree roots were rooty, and this adult at least was out of shape. We spent a great deal of time pushing our bikes around the trail.

Which was fine because it was just a good day to be out in nature....well except for the five hour delay after the bike ride as we waited for the search and rescue helicopter to find the boy scout we lost. In all fairness, we didn't so much lose him as he lost the trail...and hey at least they didn't start anything on fire.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The End of Our Stay-cation

I use that term tongue-in-cheek. This past weekend marked our fifth of five straight weekends of being away from home. Coupled with being going pretty much the entire Sunday before and after that stretch and we are tired. I would give so much to be home for more than a week at a time. Unfortunately I leave for my week in Syracuse Monday morning. But at least Husband gets to be at home.

So last weekend we spent in the Palmyra area with the Collins from PA and the Coopers from England and the Jakobs from Canada and the Luangraths from Chicago. Eleanor (Megan's sister) and Wes (John and Noelle's friend from Wales) joined us. We saw some of the sights, bar-be-qued and laughed. It had been years since I was at the Grandin Publising House so it was good to go again. Some of us had done most of the other sights in October when we got together. Good times were had by all, sometimes getting a bit out of control. Here are some of the highlights from how I see it, in no particular order and certainly not all-inclusive:

1. Seeing old friends and being reminded, yet again, that we do not have these kinds of friends in New York.
2. Enlarging the group from the usual Collins-Coopers-Forbes, especially since it worked so well. The Luangraths and the Jakobs were a natural fit (and I do not mean that in an offensive way to them:)
3. Sitting around the campfire chatting, even though we were told to keep it quiet.
4. Wes with an entire piping hot salt potato in his mouth.
5. Hearing the Queens' English again, and even some Welsh.
6. Attending the Palmyra Temple.
7. The group of youth in front of us during the Hill Cumorah Pageant reacting all at once with coughs right after John Collins and Husband applied bug spray--and then when they got talked at by their leader for being disruptive.
8. John Collins offending the woman in church--it was John Collins this time and not John Cooper or Husband.
9. Eowyn, Lucy, Konrad, and Anders playing in the rain on Saturday.
10. Colin's and Eowyn's goodbye hug.
11. Realizing, again, how much Husband's 2 year mission to Paris has made him who he is.

I am still exhausted from all the traveling and trying to get the house back in order after weeks of neglect. Those of you we didn't get to see during our trips, I am sorry but we will feel more up to it someday and until then, our door is open to you. Here are some more photos from the trip. Enjoy.

The lot of us at the Hill Cumorah Pageant. I will have to get the better picture taken with Joseph Smith from Wes and when I do I will post it.

Husband with his new best friend, Colin. At least all the kids in the group are cute.

Some of the children playing in the rain.

Friday, July 04, 2008

To the Huddled Masses

While I often will rant about politics and the state of American culture, I very rarely write about America itself. However, with Memorial Day recently passed, having spent a week with Captain Galan, and today being July 4th, I have been thinking somewhat of my relationship with the country of my birth.

As most of you know I am not a gun toting, flag waving American. You will never catch me wearing an American flag tie to church, not because I'm not patriotic but because I think they're tacky. Nor will I put a flag poll in my front lawn, not because I don't honor the flag but because I could never treat it with due respect and care.

You will however find me standing quietly for the entire national anthem at a sporting event. You will find me solemn and reverent when I visit national historic monuments like those in D.C. My solemnity turns to tears when I walk the grounds where our brave men and women have bled and died in places like Gettysburg, Saratoga, or Normandy. My patriotism is my own, and it is not something that I often flaunt.

However it is something that burns hot when I hear people use the guise of patriotism to justify the ugliest of racisms and bigotries. It infuriates me when people use their patriotism to justify "English Only" initiatives, or to warn of the danger of Muslim immigration, or to belittle others as unpatriotic for not wearing a flag lapel pin.

The ideals that motivate these false patriotic sentiments are not the ones that allowed a Portuguese Sephardic Jewish emigre to pen "The New Colossus" in an era when she herself wouldn't have been considered "white". Yet Emma Lazarus looked forward with the hope implicit in Ellis Island and the immigration booths of New York City when she wrote the immortal words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Sailing past that modern colossus my paternal great-grandfather and his parents came to this country. He carried with him the wounds he suffered in the trenches of Picardie and Alcase-Lorraine from shot and gas. He left the land of his fathers to come to America to make a better life.

At the same time but on the other side of the continent, my Mexican ancestors fled the violence of Pancho Villa and the Revolution to settle in California. There they lived, my great grandmother never learning English but raising her children to love their adopted homeland. There my grandfather watched the navy ships come in and out of the harbor and longed for the day when he too could join the navy, enlisting as so many others before he was of age to fight.

This is the story of all people in this nation. I think Barack Obama said it better than I can.
I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible....It's a story that hasn't made me the most conventional candidate. But it is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts - that out of many, we are truly one.
I am not short-sighted enough to think that these anecdotes justify an attitude of superiority and condescension toward the rest of the world. Nor do I believe that the actions of America are inherently righteous. I cringe when I hear Americans pray for our troops to be blessed but not for peace to reign. Implying in their prayers that God should bless our troops that they'll shoot straighter than our enemies. Do I want our troops to be blessed? Hell yes. But I'd rather they be blessed by being returned to their families and loved ones in safety.

I find it offensive that demagogues, sophists, and fascists have co-opted the language of patriotism and made it proprietary to their political affiliation. They have no right to claim a monopoly on love of country, yet they do, and too often people allow them to do so. Even worse the bombastic rhetoric of these ill-informed hypocrites leaves too many ashamed of their own patriotism. Many fear that they will be associated with the ideas of the lunatic fringe if they, for example play the Marseillaise (wrong country? well it's true in France as well as America).

From a personal perspective, my nationality is an act of God, nature, or biology over which I had no control. I could have just as easily been born in Baghdad, Paris, or Rio as Newport Beach, California. I can derive from this accident of birth no superiority over any other person in any other part of the world. But I can and should be grateful that I live in a nation where I have the opportunity to rise from humble beginnings and make for myself something better. That ultimately is the promise that my immigrant ancestors sought at Ellis Island and it is that promise that makes me proud of my country, despite it's follies.