Thoughts From A Grateful American On Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, a day on which every American should be grateful for the sacrifices of members of our military, both past and present.  We enjoy our current freedoms only because, over the history of our Republic, members of the armed forces have been willing to fight and die for the United States of America and its citizens.

One of the finest places to reflect upon the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen is Arlington National Cemetery, that peaceful resting place on a hill within view of Washington, D.C.  The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a particularly stirring reminder of those sacrifices.  Silent, somber, and simple, the ceremony of the changing of the guard does great honor to the remains of the unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War that are entombed in the white marble vault.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been continuously guarded since 1937 by soldiers who call themselves Sentinels.  The changing of the guard ceremony is about ten minutes long and is full of symbolism, where every step and second are scripted and have special meaning.  Some of the frequently asked questions about the ceremony are answered here.  The inscription on the tomb also is moving:  “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.”

Happy Memorial Day to all, and heartfelt thanks to all veterans and active members of our armed forces.

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New Albany In The News

Richard called my attention to this piece in today’s New York Times, which carries a New Albany, Ohio dateline.  The reporter was in Ohio to report on the governor’s race between incumbent Ted Strickland and challenger John Kasich, and was here in New Albany because Governor Strickland came by to cut the ribbon on a new corporate technology center.

The article doesn’t really say much that is new, although it does cite a recent poll that shows Strickland with a slight lead.  The race should be a close and interesting one.  Although Kasich was a popular figure on cable TV news shows when he was in Congress, most people don’t watch those shows.  I don’t think Kasich is well known in Ohio, particularly northern Ohio.  Strickland is a moderate who has cut the state payroll, although Ohio still has about an $8 billion gap that it needs to close.  Kasich’s investment banker background could hurt him if Democrats successfully paint him as an out-of-touch Wall Street scoundrel, but I think it is too early to say whether that effort will be successful.

The themes of this race have yet to fully emerge, and the economy will play a big role.

Morning Watering, Afternoon Weeding

Memorial Day weekend is here, and the hot weather has come with it.  Today the forecast is for a high temperature around 90 degrees.

Yesterday I did some weeding during the afternoon and I noticed that the beds were a bit dry.  This morning, after Penny and I took our morning walk but before the sun has risen in its full majesty, I did some watering in the back yard.  The air was mild, the humid earth and the jet of water from the hose smelled clean, and I felt a sense of small accomplishment as I sprayed our plantings and drank a cup of black coffee under a clear sky.  I like it when summers fall into this kind of rhythm, with watering followed by weeding followed by watering again and progress measured by healthy, growing flowers and brown paper bags filled with the remnants of unwanted plants.

Goodbye, Man

Dennis Hopper is dead.  Best known for his role as Billy, the leather-fringed drug-added biker in Easy Rider — who seemingly said “man” after every phrase — he was an actor with a knack for creating highly memorable, out-of-the-mainstream characters.

Hopper was excellent as the photographer in Apocalypse Now, as the sympathetic alcoholic basketball-obsessed assistant coach in Hoosiers, as the mad bomber in Speed, and as Kevin Costner’s one-eyed nemesis in Waterworld.  He never seemed to play an average guy with a desk job, a mortgage, and a wife and kids.

To my mind, Hopper’s greatest role was as the skin-crawlingly creepy nutbag, Frank Booth, in Blue Velvet.  Hyper-violent, appallingly obscene, sadistic, deeply troubled, constantly sucking on his mask of drug vapors and calling for someone to play the “Candy-Colored Clown they call the Sandman,” Hopper was riveting and totally believable every instant he was on screen.  His magnetic and utterly disturbed character was a big reason why Blue Velvet gets my vote for the most suspenseful, terrifying movie of the past 30 years.

Business As Usual

I really haven’t followed the Joe Sestak/Barack Obama/Arlen Specter story because I didn’t care about the outcome.  Now that the full story has been told — at least, according to the White House — it is weirder than I thought it would be.  According to the report, President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, dispatched former President Clinton to approach Sestak and offer him an unpaid position on an obscure advisory board if he would drop out of the primary against Specter.  Sestak declined, then disclosed that decision in an interview where he suggested the job that he turned down had a bit more meat — like the Secretary of the Navy, for example.

What is strange about this story is that the White House thought that Sestak would ditch his chance to run against a weakened, mush-mouthed, party-changing hack for a chance to get a coveted seat in the U.S. Senate in exchange for a seat on the 36-member Federal Advisory Board on Widget Construction, or something similar.  Did they really think even a master arm-twister like Bill Clinton could sell such an empty and one-sided bargain?  And it is weird that Sestak would trumpet his decision and make it out to be some incredible act of intestinal fortitude, when the actual offer was about as tempting as 2010 season tickets to the Cleveland Indians at a five percent discount off face value.  If the White House account is true, both sides look pretty stupid.

The AP has a story today about how this episode really hurts President Obama’s reputation as a “different kind” of politician.  I don’t agree with that, because I really doubt that any voter has viewed him from that perspective for months.  His effort to portray himself as a squeaky clean, “transparent” anti-politician took a few mortal hits below the water line and sank like a stone during the crass, endless “health care reform” horse-trading and deal-cutting.  No, the people who support President Obama right now do so because they agree with his agenda and think he can accomplish the policy initiatives they support.  To me, the harm for President Obama is not that this incident hurts his reputation as a pristine politician, but rather that it hurts his reputation as a capable politician.  Why in the world was President Obama running interference for a hopeless and undependable dish rag like Arlen Specter?  Specter must have driven some kind of seriously unholy bargain with the President to create that kind of political obligation.  Why would the President agree to such a bargain under the circumstances?

The Fez

On Mother’s Day we had the family over, and Mom brought over a surprise for me:  Grampa Neal’s fez from the Tadmor Shrine in Akron, Ohio.  The fez is an evocative item; you feel a connection when you hold something that you know another person once wore.  This fez is a sturdy piece of work, with a leather hat band, a well-preserved tassel, and the familiar Shriners logo.

Grampa Neal's fez

I don’t know much about Grampa’s activities in the Shriners — technically, the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.  Like many people of his generation, he was a joiner.  He was a Mason, a Shriner, and an Odd Fellow, and perhaps belonged to other fraternal organizations I don’t know about.  There isn’t a lot of information about the Shriners on the web, either.  The home page of the Tadmor Shrine in Akron, Ohio is here.  You can see the Tadmor Shrine building, which looks like it has been around since Grampa was a member, and learn about the current officers, but it doesn’t provide the kind of historical information I was hoping to find.  When did Grampa join?  Did he hold any offices?  And — even though this is unimaginable to me — did he ever drive one of those tiny cars in a Memorial Day parade?

According to the Tadmor Shrine website, the organization is based on “Masonic principles of brotherly love, relief and truth.”  It is clear that Shriners do some good work, through their hospitals for children and support for local organizations.  But what exactly is the connection between Shriners and Masons?  Wikipedia indicates that you have to have completed some levels of Masonry to be a Shriner and provides some history, but that is about it.  A Google search doesn’t yield much, either, although it doesn’t take long before you start to get into secret conspiracy-type websites and the kind of speculation that made National Treasure such a romp.

I’m just going to have to reconcile myself to the fact that I’ll probably never know what Grampa Neal did with the fez on, or what secrets he learned and kept faithfully.

Wingtips On The Beach

The picture of President Obama, wearing dress slacks, a white shirt, and dark shoes as he “checked for tar balls” on a Louisiana beach, gave me an unexpected chuckle. 

I suppose the White House wanted to have a photo op that conveyed in some visible way the President’s concern about the oil spill, but why would the Leader of the Free World use a few minutes of his three-hour visit to beachcomb for a few tar balls?  Surely he could have used his precious time more productively.  And didn’t he feel a bit silly looking profoundly at a tiny tar ball, as if it held some meaningful secret on how to stop, or at least minimize, one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever experienced?  I bet he was thinking: “This is ridiculous.  What kind of look am I supposed to have on my face right now, anyway?  Concerned?  Scientifically curious?  Angry?  Sad?  Why did I let Gibbs talk me into this idiocy?”

The photo of the white-shirted, dark-shoe-wearing President on the beach also reminded me of the classic shot of Dick Nixon relaxing on the beach, as he strode purposefully by, leaving wingtip prints in the sand.  Why do most Presidents look like nerds when they are on the beach?