Today, August 4th, 2014 is the centennial of the first day of battle of World War One.
Although war had been declared a week earlier (28 July 1914), the 4th of August was the day on which troops clashed and men died. Millions more would die before the war ground to a halt four years later.
It was not only the start of The Great War. It was the end of the Old Regime in Europe, of a way of life. The beginning of a modern era of endless war in which more than 50 million people have died on battlefields, in death camps, of starvation, and disease. And of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Rupert Chawner Brooke was born 3 August 1887 and died 23 April 1915. He was an English poet known for his sonnets — mostly written during the First World War, in particular “The Soldier”, which follows. He was well-known for his good looks, which were said to have prompted William Butler Yeats to describe him as “the handsomest young man in England.” He died before his good-looks had time to fade.
1914 V: The Soldier
by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Rupert Brooke never came back from the war. He was one of an entire generation of men who died in that war. The male population had barely begun to return to normal when War II began. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 37 million. It included tens of thousands of Americans, and millions of English, Australian, Canadians, French, German, Belgian, Austrian, Russians and many others.
Civilian casualties out-numbered military casualties.
We are marking the hundredth birthday of “the war to end all wars.” It was merely the opening salvo of a century of endless war which still continues. Maybe some day it will be over. I hope I live to see it.
As for what lesson we learned from this war? A war that achieved nothing except slaughter and destruction? We learned nothing.
Time, once again, to review Serendipity’s version of etiquette:
- I have extremely limited tolerance for bullshit. When you make a statement of fact, you’d better have something more than your opinion with which to back it up.
- Trolls are out of here and I mean instantly, without reprieve. If you want to start trouble, you’re on the wrong blog.
- No personal attacks. On anyone. Period. None. Not the President, not me, not anyone who writes or comments here. If that’s your “thing,” find another place.
- Publicize your blog elsewhere. This space belongs to Serendipity. Anyone interested in visiting your site can do so by clicking your blog address next to your comment. If you don’t include an address because you prefer to remain anonymous, that’s your problem. Stand up and be counted or shut up about it.
- If you aggravate me, you’ll be gone. It IS personal. This is my happy place. If it stops being fun and you are responsible for making the fun go away, I will make you go away.
Age has privileges. We oldies have passed the point of tolerating fools. What’s more, I have earned the right to run Serendipity according to my rules.
There are folks who comment regularly, who read this blog and whose stuff I, in turn, read. They can get away with a lot because they are friends and I trust them. Cutting slack for friends is my choice. But don’t pop in here out of nowhere and act like I owe you a hearing. I don’t.
We spend too much time trying to figure out what life means. Why bad stuff happens. Whether or not a malevolent deity has it in for us. It’s normal to wonder if the reason you are sick, broke or miserable is the result of something you did or failed to do. To accept the total randomness of events is rough.
Like you, I’ve put a good bit of thought into how come my life keeps falling apart. I know I’m not perfect, but come on! It’s not like I ripped off everyone’s retirement money or slaughtered thousands of people because I think they are ethnically inferior. Whatever I’ve done wrong, it’s pretty small potatoes in the scheme of things.
I was pondering this stuff when I was a teenager, which is why I studied it in college and kept exploring it through the decades since. One day, I woke up and realized I knew the Truth. All had been revealed.
I Don’t Know Anything. Neither Do You.
Suddenly random happenstance is as meaningful as anything else. What a relief to realize I don’t need an explanation. Stuff happens. I spent years — decades — thinking in circles, but now I am perfectly content displaying my lack of knowledge for all the world to see (and admire).
Just like when I was 12. I’ve been considering founding a church. I could enlist a lot of followers. My church would require no beliefs. It would need no contributions of time or money. It wouldn’t even require that you show up, unless you happened to feel like it. There would be no rules to follow, no standards to live up to. No angry deity to get pissed off if you behave badly. It would ideally suit the modern lifestyle, don’t you think?
Faith and Proof
Faith is not proof. Faith is opinion in fancy clothing.
You can believe what you want, but you can’t know any more than I do. You take the same leap of faith believing in God or declaring yourself an atheist. Both positions require you take as absolute something for which you have no proof and for which you can never have proof.
If believing in a loving God makes your world feel rational, that’s good. It could be true. If it turns out you’re right, you’ll have backed a winner. If believing there is no God, and science is the path to Truth, go with that. Regardless, you’re making a faith-based choice because there’s no proof God exists or doesn’t exist.
As for me, I don’t know. Really. I don’t know and what makes me smarter than you is I know I don’t know.
Accepting that one knows nothing is a big step, so the next issue to tackle is how can you can cash in on your new understanding. What’s the point in knowing the meaning of life unless you can awe people with your brilliance?
No one will be dazzled unless you know the right words. Terminology is important.
Big words (4 or more syllables) when used in an appropriate setting, can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds indicating their admiration.
Employing big words enhances your likelihood of getting a management position.
You can write important books.Have a blog like me. Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.
Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.
Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:
Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits?
I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything. Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)
On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.
Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:
Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.
In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.
Becoming a Fount of Wisdom
You can now explain anything. Everything. You can prove things based on something a couple of friends said years ago while under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs. Although others may fault your logic, in the world of academics, everyone disbelieves everyone else unless they are citing them as a source, so you might as well stick your oar in the water.
There are people who will attack you using faith. Faith is based on itself making it hard to dispute. Not to worry. The only one who is ever fully convinced by faith is the one who holds it. Nor does it really matter how many people believe or disbelieve it.
Having more believers or followers doesn’t transform faith into fact.
If it did, we could achieve some really nifty things. Like, say we all believe in magic and therefore, it exists. Cool.
Thanks for reading. I hope I’ve clarified everything. If not, feel free to have your people call my people. We’ll talk.
Too many people believe we will get better government by making sure no one in congress gets to stay there for a long time. I don’t know why inexperience would mean better government. In what other field do we prefer raw recruits to veterans? Would you want an inexperienced surgeon? A lawyer fresh out of law school?
Why do you want amateurs making your laws?
Our founding fathers specifically excluded term limits. Their experience under the Articles of Confederation (the document that preceded The Constitution) showed them that good people are not interested in temp jobs for lousy pay in a distant city. Those elected to office walked away from their positions — or never took them up in the first place. There was no future in it.
When the Constitution was drawn, its authors wanted to tempt the best and the brightest to government service. They wanted candidates who would make it a career. They weren’t interested in amateurs and parvenus. The business of governing a nation has a learning curve. It takes years to get the hang of how things work, how a law gets written. How to reach across the aisle and get the opposition to participate.
The Articles of Confederation contained exactly the ideas people are promulgating today. They failed. Miserably. Do we need to learn the same lesson again?
The absence of term limits in the Constitution is not an oversight. The writers of the Constitution thought long and hard about this problem.
A little more history
Under the Articles of Confederation, our country fell apart. Elected representatives came to the capital (New York), hung around awhile, then went home. Why stay? The job had no future and their salaries didn’t pay enough to cover their costs, much less support families.
Term limits were soundly rejected at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. They were right. The Constitution’s aims to get professionals into government.
Term limits remove any hope of building a career in government. It becomes a very hard temp job with no future.
Myth Busting 101: Congress isn’t overpaid
Maybe they are paid more than you and me, but compared to what they could be earning elsewhere, they are paid poorly. What you cry? How can that be?
Most members of congress are lawyers. The 2011-2012 salary for rank-and-file members of the House and Senate was $174,000 per year. A third year associate at a good law firm will do that well and after six to twelve years (1 – 2 senate terms), a competent attorney in a good market makes much more.
Senators and representatives have to maintain two residences, one in their native state, the other in DC. If you think $174,000 will support two houses and send the kids to college, you are living in a fantasy world. Which is why many members of congress have other income streams.
Curiously, our Founding Fathers expected congressmen, especially senators, to be men of means. They felt only wealthy people would be able to afford government service. And they would be less susceptible to bribery. On the whole, they were right. What they didn’t foresee was how many kinds of corruption would be available. Bribery is the least of our problems.
Skill and experience count
Writing a law that can stand up to scrutiny by the courts and other members of congress takes years. You don’t waltz in from Anywhere, USA and start writing laws. Moreover, great legislators are rare in any generation. A sane electorate doesn’t throw them away.
We are not suffering from an entrenched group of old-time pols stopping the legislative process. We are suffering a dearth of old guard, the folks who understand how to work with the opposition to make the process work. It’s the newly elected morons who are stopping progress. Sadly, our experienced old-timers got old and retired. Or died. They have been replaced by imbeciles.
Above and beyond the skill it take to write legislation, it takes even longer to gain seniority and peer respect. Frank Capra notwithstanding, Mr. Smith doesn’t go to Washington and accomplish miracles. Newly elected congresspeople hope to build a career in politics. With luck, one or two of them will become a great legislator, a Tip O’Neill, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Bob Dole, Ted Kennedy or another of the giants. Anyone you name connected to important legislation was a multi (many) term representative or senator.
Term limits eliminate all chance of having great legislators
Term limits guarantee a bunch of amateurs — or worse — fumbling their way around congress. As soon as they figure out where the toilets are and get reasonably good at their jobs, they’ll be gone. Does that make sense? Really?
If you think your congressman or senator is doing a crappy job, replace him or her with someone you believe will do better.
If you don’t elect them, they won’t be in congress
We have term limits. These are called elections. Throw the bums out. Vote for the other guy. Term limits were an awful idea in 1788 and they haven’t improved with time. Among the biggest concerns Democrats had about Barack Obama in 2008 was he didn’t have enough experience, hadn’t been in the senate long enough. With term limits, no one would ever have enough experience. Where would we get candidates suitable to be President?
We don’t need term limits. We need better candidates. We need men and women willing to learn the craft, who have ideas and can work with others to get America’s business done. Our government does not rest on the Presidency. It rests on 435 congressmen and 100 senators.
The President doesn’t run the country
Congress writes legislation and votes it into law. Ultimately, it’s you, me, our friends and neighbors who choose the people to make laws, pass budgets, approve cabinet members and Supreme Court justices.
Whatever is wrong with Congress, it’s OUR fault
The 535 members of congress are chosen by us and if you don’t like one, don’t vote for him or her. If someone gets re-elected over and over, you have to figure that a lot of people vote for that candidate. You may not like him, but other people do. That’s what elections are about. It doesn’t necessarily work out the way you want, but changing the rules won’t solve the problems. Make the job more — not less — attractive so better people will want to go into government. Otherwise, you’re creating a job no one will want.
It’s close to that already. Mention going into politics to an ambitious young person. Watch him or her recoil in horror.
Ultimately, it’s all about America. Partisanship, special interests, regional issues, party politics and personal agendas need to take a back seat to the good of the nation … and we need to agree what that means, at least in broad strokes. Term limits won’t fix the problem, because that’s not what’s broken.
The other day, I had one of the increasingly rare moments alone with my granddaughter. She has been going through a prolonged siege of the teenage girl crazies, a ghastly combination of hormones, boys, high school and high drama.
Clearly, she was in need of the best advice I had to offer, so I gave it to her.
“If you are going to be crazy, be crazy,” I said. “I was a basket case at your age too. Many of us were. It’s a girl thing. But trust me. You really can trust me on this. Everything gets better. Not very long from now, you’ll look back on this time and be embarrassed by some of the stuff you are doing.”
And then I gave her the best advice I had: “Be crazy if you must. Just — for God’s sake, don’t put it online. Your great-grandchildren will be finding your Facebook posts and laughing their asses off. Worse, your future possible employers will be finding them too, not to mention your potential life-partners, business associates, friends and co-workers. Be nuts if you must, but shut up about it. Don’t publish it.”
I know it’s the current thing to spill ones guts on the internet. I share too, but only if I can make it reasonably elegant and I don’t mind who knows. Moreover, I’m retired. I will never again have to hunt for a job. I have the only husband I will ever need or want. My friends already know I’m a whack job and they love me anyhow.
But my granddaughter is 17. She’s got a whole life to live, worlds to conquer and all that drama published on the internet can turn into the stuff of nightmares.
Nothing ever vanishes once it’s “out there” in cyberspace. Everything you ever wrote, ever commented is going to show up on someone’s Google search. It gives friends something to laugh about and you something to blush over … but it’s also something for those who don’t like you to use against you. It provides easy ways for people to hurt you. If you are, as I am, past the age where you give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks or says about you, behave accordingly.
However, if you are still in the job market, still hoping for a career, especially if you are a teacher or any kind of public servant. Or looking for work in finance or something which requires a security clearance … Think carefully before you publish.
Nothing you put on the internet is private, no matter what anyone tells you. I can find posts I wrote that were supposedly private twenty years ago and newspaper articles in which I am mentioned that were published in The Jerusalem Post 30 years ago.
If it goes up on any form of social media or blog? It’s a land mine on which you will eventually step.
So be crazy. Be as crazy as you want. Just don’t publish it. If it’s unpublished, it’s a rumor. Plausible deniability applies. But if it’s published? You’re busted.
The last time Garry could get free of the driveway was last Saturday. Today, as I write this, it’s Thursday. The kids picked up a few things, including dog food — which was getting perilously low — when they were out a few days ago. Otherwise, we are stuck. Our PT Cruiser has been dug out and is actually sitting on bare asphalt, but the driveway is so completely iced over, the car will not go more than a few feet. Then, it just spins its wheels.
I tried to get a tow, but it’s a front wheel drive car without a tow hitch. Pulling it out from the front … which is the only way it could be done because of the way it’s parked … would tear off the whole front bumper. So the driveway has been plowed twice — for whatever good it did which isn’t much — and our car is still trapped.
Both the yellow car and the silver Cruiser are ours. Mostly, Kaity uses the yellow Sunbird. We use the Cruiser for pretty much everything. For a 2-wheel drive vehicle, it’s been good. Until this winter, which has defeated the snowblower and the car. And the best efforts of everyone in the house.
Yesterday afternoon it rained. It was in the mid thirties, so I hoped it would at least take the level of ice down, but what it did was convert the last remaining hard-packed snow into solid ice about 3-inches thick. Our neighbor came by early this morning with his tractor … but he said the ice was too hard and too thick.
I called the town, but they had nothing but one (just one!) bucket of sand to offer us. And we’d have to come and get it. I pointed out we are two senior citizens trapped by ice. They suggested we call the police and evacuate to a shelter. Nice to know our tax dollars are so well spent.
AAA say their vehicles don’t have 4-wheel drive, sorry. Good all those years of dues are paying off.
We are down to our last hope, the neighbor with the tractor who says he’ll try again later. Maybe the ice will have softened a little. I’m not feeling optimistic at this point. But we do have to get out. The Cruiser needs to be inspected before the end of the month. I have a doctor appointment on Monday. I don’t think we’ll run out of food, but I’m running out of time. It’s 13 days until I go into the hospital and there’s much to be done. At this rate, I won’t be able to get to the hospital because I can’t get out of the driveway. Isn’t that a kick in the head.
In all the years we have both lived in New England, never have we been trapped like this. Garry’s lived here since 1970 and me since 1987. We’ve had bad winters, but never have we been marooned. I really don’t know what is going to happen. Or when.
- – – – -
And then … the tractor arrived! Good neighbor Burt and the green miracle machine and suddenly, we can see pavement! That’s right. Asphalt! It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen it and now … it’s back. Owen is helping, shuffling cars … and of course Bishop is helping by barking continuously, with occasional input from Bonnie. Nan barks too, but stays inside while lending moral support to the outside dogs. It’s amazing!! It’s … a neighbor. A member of our church’s congregation — an elder, actually.
Because in the end, the reality of the valley and perhaps of rural life in general — you need your neighbors. They are the ones who have trucks and tractors, who will bring you a cooked meal when you are sick, do your shopping when you’re laid up. You meet your neighbors, not over the fence but in church. Believe what you like, but join a church regardless because the heart and soul of relationships in rural New England begin in churches.
Every time I hear “God opens a window when he closes a door,” “God will take care of it,” ” Have faith, God will save you” I wonder if we are so helpless we can’t, in the face of difficulties, do anything more than pray for help.
What makes you think God closed that door? Maybe the wind blew it shut. Maybe some passerby gave it a push.
God may take care of you in a spiritual sense, but practically speaking, for every person I know who feels God saved them, there are many more who didn’t survive. I prefer “God helps them who help themselves.” Because it suggests we have the equipment to survive. that we are not entirely at the mercy of forces beyond our control.
So when that door closes, walk over, brace yourself, and open the window. You don’t need to ask God to do what you can do yourself.
I believe with free will comes responsibility. If scripture means anything, God gave us gifts — intelligence, reason, creativity. We know right from wrong, understand good and evil.
I don’t believe clouds have silver linings, but I believe storms are okay. We need rain and wind. It’s part of life, the normal ups and downs. Rain is not worse or less valuable than sunshine, only different. You may not like rain, but the earth loves it.
There are many things over which we have no control. The road we travel is unmapped and full of potholes. We can’t fix all the broken things and death is the only certainty. And those pesky taxes.
But while we have life, we have choices to make and responsibilities to meet. If we can’t make everything go as we want, we can do the best we can to take care of ourselves and each other, do the best we can with what we have. Pick good occupations and partners. Make friends who will support us through good times and bad. Look for solutions to problems and treatment for illness.
We don’t have to wait for a higher power to take care of us. We are grown ups. Expecting God to take care of every boo-boo is infantile.
Do I think prayers get answered? Uh huh. But sometimes the answer is “No.” No one — mortal or deity — promised to make all the bad stuff go away or said life would be easy. So, I’ll continue do my best to take care of me and mine as long as I’m able. Because I think that’s what I’m supposed to do.