The venom and vulgarity of political discourse this past year and  half have made me think of a book I read several years ago entitled The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left by Yuval Levin. Mr. Levin, a conservative, does an excellent job of balancing presentation of the views of both Burke and Paine in a prolonged epistolary debate, widely distributed and read in the late years of the eighteenth century.

The greatest contrast between this stately exchange and the recent clash of clumsy vulgarity is the writers’ facility with language. I doubt there were exact equivalents of Strunk and White in the eighteenth century, but neither Burke nor Paine would have wanted such astringent limits on their flow of words. Styles evolve in grammar, and not always for the better. I cannot, for example, imagine either gentleman communicating in 140 character bursts. Most of their sentences were longer by far.

Reading such carefully constructed prose required close attention and stamina, but was worth all the effort, especially compared to the mixed obscenities and insults of the candidates or their surrogates in our electoral process.  Often I found myself remembering the absorbing passages of the exchanges between the two men; Burke extolling the security and long history of the institutions of the church, the aristocracy, and the merits of slow, incremental change, while Paine defended the changes beginning in France with extending suffrage, and freeing of political prisoners. Paine amazingly listed what seemed a recitation of provisions sounding like the New Deal of FDR: old age pensions, temporary food assistance for the poor and temporary housing for the homeless.

Both men criticized the comments of the other, but with eloquence, not heated attacks. The excesses of the Terror to come i n France caused horror among many in England, but Paine cited the terrible poverty and persecutions suffered for so long by French peasantry.

Altogether, compared to the vitriol and outright slanders heard in our recent political struggles, Burke and Paine seem paragons.


The Last Hour

November 22, 2016

At about this time forty-three years ago, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had less than an hour to live. In fact, the motorcade was carrying him from Love Field to a speech he was to give at 1:00 PM CST. His car was swinging onto Dealey Plaza. The rest is chaos. Three shots rang out, Jackie crawled out onto the rear of the car, reaching for the Secret Service agent, and moments later, the doctors at Parkland began futile efforts to treat his catastrophic injuries.

I was standing in a drug store in  a shopping area adjacent to U.Va. in Charlottesville, Virginia at about that time, drawn in by the sight of people staring up at a TV on a high shelf. At first, the screen had only the stark letters “BULLETIN.” A shaky voice over talked of “three shots” and “serious, perhaps fatal wounds.” I left the drug store and walked along the railroad bed towards my rooming house, where I lay on my bed and turned on the FM radio, turning from station to station, until at close to 2:30 PM, I heard the familiar voice of Walter Cronkite, in unaccustomed, halting tones, say that “The President is Dead, he died at 1:03 PM, CST, about thirty-eight minutes ago.”

And that was that. The first time I ever muttered, “God save the Republic.” A phrase I have repeated many times since.

Memorial Day 2014

May 30, 2014

Yes, I know that the holiday has already been officially observed, on Monday last. I am perfectly okay with that day being made a holiday, so that many, many people have the opportunity to honor the memory of those who went to war for their country, and came not home again. However, I am growing old, and like to continue observing May 30, in addition to the last Monday in May as Memorial Day.  

My Aunt Emily always kept this day as her day of remembrance. Her elder son Miller was one of those left in France, in 1944, eventually buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Lorraine, France. Every year after the war, Aunt Emily wrote a letter for publication in the local paper. These letters addressed her lost son, telling of how the world was changing, and of how much she and his father still missed him. She commented fluently on a wide range of events in each letter, and closed by saying that one does not send letters to the dead, but she hoped her remembrance contributed something to the spirit of Memorial Day. She died in 1978, not in time for that year’s observation.

My father, first cousin to Miller, remembered the lost cousin and son also, after coming home from the South Pacific. Growing up, the cousins were close as brothers, and Aunt Emily’s loss was also Daddy’s loss.

For all the lost fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, cousins and others, whose sacrifices sustained this country, this republic for all these years, thank you.    



Another Year

May 13, 2014


Seventy years plus a month. Been a rough ride, but I’m still here. Great birthday party with my family on the day, and exercise program the past couple of weeks.

Sixty-Nine Years

March 30, 2013


I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard…
The graveyard’s mouth came close to swallowing me up this past year. Hospital stay, ICU, and a physical rehab stay for months left me needing home therapy. But I am still here, no sure thing this time last year. Spending my 69th birthday at home is a great improvement over being in the hospital.

So thanks to the grace of heaven and for the care and help from family, friends and caregivers, all of you, each and every one. Almost every day, even when I was unable to acknowledge, know or remember that they came, I had this great cloud of witnesses watching over me. Especially I thank my wife, who came each day after work to visit, then went home to a dark and empty house. Bless her, please Lord.

I am the luckiest man in the world.

Remembering Neil

March 29, 2013

Note: I wrote the below reminiscence a year and two months ago, approximately. It has remained in draft form for all that time because of serious medical issues that put me into hospital care for a considerable time over the past year. I don’t have anything to add to the thoughts here, but the imminence of my birthday, which is a day earlier than Neil’s day, jogged my memory and I am now retrieving the piece.~

[from January 16, 2012]

Almost fifty-three years ago, my mother married for the second time. The family into which she married lived lives of warmth and energy and instantly accepted my sisters and me into the extended clan. One of those remarkable folk went to his long home this morning, seen off by so many friends and relatives that the cars extended for many blocks, slowing access to the National Cemetery. His name was Neil. He was my instant brother-in-law. With the arrival of Neil and his wife Sandra, and their daughter Elizabeth, my teenage years and adulthood became richer and vastly more entertaining.

Neil was above all full of life and fun, expansive and unrestrained. He told stories. He acted out stories. No family gathering remained quiet and subdued once Neil arrived. Since our birthdays were one day apart, my mother summoned up the combined family for a joint birthday party each year. We competed to eat the most. Neil never gained weight, his metabolism always running higher than a flat-out race car. I did gain weight. Never ran higher than a moderate idling speed.

Neil loved to fish, at the pond on his grandfather-in-law’s farm, and on the nearby Lookout Creek. A generous and kind man, he invited me several times to fish with him, though my skills were much less than his. When once I slipped on a mossy rock in the creek, bruising nothing more than my dignity, Neil bounded over the rocks heedless of his own safety to make sure I was uninjured. I am sure that in his time he was always ready to extend a helping hand to many.

Housman, A E

April 23, 2011

Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea,
And still the sea is salt.

This is perhaps my favorite Housman lyric. Astringent and ruthlessly constrained in form.

That is all I have for today. Elsewhere I read a poem on Open Salon titled “Why the Sea is Salt II.” Brought the Housman lyric to mind. Must go now, and re-read that poem.