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REQUIEM

Below are the two final essays to be posted on Allegiance and Duty Betrayed. The first one is written by a friend -- screen name 'Euro-American Scum' -- who, over the past four years, has been the most faithful essayist here. He has written about everything from his pilgrimage to Normandy in 2004 to take part in the 60th–year commemoration of the invasion, to his memories of his tour in Vietnam. His dedication to America’s founding principles ... and those who have sacrificed to preserve them over the past 200+ years ... is unequaled. Thank you, E-A-S. It has been a privilege to include your writing here, and it is a privilege to call you my friend.

The second essay is my own farewell. And with it I thank all of the many regular visitors, and those who may have only dropped in occasionally, for coming here. I hope you learned something. I hope a seed or two was planted. But, even if not, I thank you for stopping by ... 25 March, 2010

7/30/2009

Heavenly Shades Of Night Are Falling


Ever notice how things slow down in the summer? Even for the most harried, hard-driving professional, the pace seems to slacken during the summer months. Like it or not, even the most ambitious of us out there tend to stop and smell the roses even during the most grim, ruthless drive to claw our way to the top, no matter what.

It’s a childhood thing, I think. Even the most brilliant of us – you know, the ones who made it through medical school by age eight, and won a Nobel prize before puberty set in – have some experience with the lazy, hazy, crazy daze of summer. It’s a time of diversion, after all, when the child in all of us (or most of us) has occasion to indulge his or her whimsical nature. And there comes a time when even the most responsible, sober-minded grown-up engages in an occasional summertime flight of fancy.

Unaccustomed as I am to being a literary critic, I feel compelled to offer a few words of commentary, regarding just such a summertime indulgence. And, to tell you the truth, I’m a little embarrassed to admit the exact nature of this excursion. For I am a recent survivor – yes, I think survivor is exactly the term I want to use – of that all-encompassing global phenomenon that is sweeping the entire planet: Stephenie Meyer’s recently concluded literary epic, the Twilight saga.

There, I said it. I’m out of the closet. Color me six shades of red, why don’t you. Maybe there will be a 12-step program to cope with this malady, because it is as addictive as the most potent strain of nicotine. “Hi. My same is E.A. Scum, and I’m a Twilight addict.” Something like that. Hope for a new day, and all that.

How did a hard-bitten aging old fud like yours truly get seduced by the dark side of the force, you ask? And thereby hangs a tale. . .

Last summer, I was delivering buses across the country. I may have fallen through the cracks in the sidewalk in this brave new world of global commerce and offshoring of every job worth having, but that doesn’t make me a slacker. And so, to fill my abundant free time, I signed on with a local transport company and headed out on the golden road to fame and fortune.

On one of these runs – ultimately terminating in Ithaca, NY – I was routed up through Las Vegas on I-15 and up through Salt Lake City before heading east on I-80 for the great heartland of flyover country. The only problem was the entire intermountain west was slow-roasting in a blast furnace of midsummer heat that was baking a twenty-state area beginning in California and running all the way to Illinois.

I made a night run to Vegas and got there just as that murderous mid-summer sun was coming up over the yardarm, so to speak. Being a fifteen-year veteran of that community, I knew better than to make the run to Utah in daylight, in what figured to be a scorcher even by Nevada standards. So, I holed up for the day, just like the proverbial desert packrat – you get used to living this way in the gambling capital of the known universe, trust me – and set out on the second leg of the journey in the dead of night again. I figured once I cleared St. George, Utah, it would be all downhill from there. And so the best laid plans went awry.

First of all, I learned something about Utah. Everything is uphill. In both directions. Second, there was no relief from the heat, all the way up the length of I-15. In fact, I didn’t get a break from that furnace until I almost got to Chicago. But, I digress.

It was a brutal journey, that drive through Utah. The sun was vicious. But, as I approached Provo, and due to the lateness of the hour, the brutal heat seemed to be easing off. I was just getting ready to find a truck stop – or better yet a Motel 6 or something like it – when, without warning, my open door to deliverance from these fires of hell slammed shut. I found myself in the mother of all traffic jams, northbound on I-15 with my temperature gauge heading in the same direction.

Something didn’t quite connect with all this. As a veteran of many a southern California commute, I knew full well that traffic jams at this hour should be flowing OUT of Salt Lake City, that is, southbound, not northbound into the city. Wondering what might be causing this, as I envisioned my big, honking diesel being blown clear over the Wasatch Mountains straight to the land of Oz, I saw it.

Off to my right, within sight of the Interstate was a shopping mall parking lot. I later learned that this was the Provo Towne Center. What caught my eye was that it was packed on a weekday afternoon (in the middle of a burgeoning recession) and the lot contained the unmistakable presence of armed troops, replete with Kevlar vests/helmets, M16s at the ready, Humvees and APCs.

As I crawled past this panorama, I wondered if Utah had been invaded.

Soon after, I found the proverbial cheap motel. As I tucked my bus in for the night, I asked the desk clerk – a bored young woman in her early 20s, reading a book as I approached her – if she knew about the presence of what appeared to be army troops at this shopping mall. She did. I stood there. She ignored me. I still stood there.

Heaving a heavy sigh, she put down her book, slid off her stool and said, “Don’t you know? The last volume in the Twilight series is coming out today, and Stephenie Meyer is down at the mall to autograph the first 500 copies sold.”

Now I finally got the picture. The state of Utah called out the National Guard to quell a potential riot. Of what? I asked my distaff companion. Teenage girls, she patiently explained to me. Made perfect sense to me. Nubile young girls running wild in the streets. National Guard called out to quell an insurrection. Happens all the time in California.

And so began the epiphany that led me down the garden path to seduction by the Twilight saga. Eve probably gave no more mind to the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden than I did to this weary desk clerk’s explanation of what held me up on the golden road to nowhere.

My head was spinning. What is Twilight? And who is Stephenie Meyer? I’m an avid reader. I read all the time. And all this was news to me.

She sighed again, picked up her book and handed it to me. Twilight. The series had been a mega-hit, and an expanding work-in-progress for four years and I had never heard of it. All of a sudden the strains of a golden oldie started running through my head:

“Heavenly shades of night are falling. . . It’s twilight time.” Never knew that’s what this song was about.

As an aside, the young lady who enlightened me about the literary world of the 21st century was soon to embark on her senior year at BYU. She planned on going to law school after graduation. And she was reading Twilight. What does that indicate? Another bitter, angry, lady lawyer soon to be suing the wealth (or what remains of it) right out of the country, engrossed in . . . at this point, I didn’t quite know what.

There are moments when you know you’ve become an artifact of a bygone era. This was one of them.

My ignorance was remedied once I got home. After my experience on the golden road, I saw these books everywhere. Massive displays in the most prominent locations in every bookstore you could think of. Twilight books (of course). Twilight action figures. Twilight videos (that came later). Twilight calendars. How did I miss all this?

On a few occasions, I would linger over an outrageously overpriced decaf mocha latte at Borders Books and sit and watch the traffic come and go at these displays. And I observed two things: All the potential patrons were teenage girls, and most were either enormously pierced, enormously tattooed, or enormously fat.

O.K. So I figured it out. Teenage girls were obsessed with this series. It was the literary equivalent of the British invasion in 1964 when the Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. But, it didn’t exactly appear to be mainstream. It looked like girls who didn’t quite connect with the rest of the world liked it best. And from what I was hearing, there were girls who lost touch with reality, they were so over-the-top on the subject. Call it a fair sex version of Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ll admit I was curious about all this. But not sufficiently motivated to plunk down upwards of $30 a pop to satisfy the itch. Then one Saturday, at a local library, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to satisfy my curiosity. So, I placed a hold on the first book. A week later it came in. And there began my sojourn into the heart of darkness of the Twilightuniverse.

Now, I’ve always enjoyed a good vampire story. And I’ll offer up two, as examples of just how good it can get when it’s done right. The first is the golden oldie, the mother of all Nosferatu tales. The one and only, the original: Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

There’s a reason it has endured for over a century. Once you get past the epistolary style of writing, the whole thing gets under your skin. Actually, the construct Stoker used – a series of journal entries by the various characters involved – works very well as the story progresses.

Dracula was a product of its time. Stoker wrote and published his masterpiece at the end of the 19th century, in the full bloom of the European liberal tradition. And I don’t mean liberalism as we define it today. The European version – in force throughout most of the 19th century – held that man was in control of his destiny, and could, through reason, negotiation and cooperation bring about whatever result he wanted.

In this context, Stoker’s novel was a sensation. And while its outcome was in keeping with the European liberal tradition, there were some decidedly dark overtones along the way. True, his plucky band of fearless vampire hunters destroyed the foul fiend by use of the newfangled contraptions of the day – dictaphones, typewriters, blood transfusions, and such. Against such technological marvels, what chance did the prince of darkness stand? Sure enough, our intrepid band drives the blood-sucking count back to his eastern European lair where they finish him off with a stake through the heart. Not without some casualties along the way, it’s true. But there was more to this dark quest than the tools of the trade, and how effective they were against an ancient manifestation of evil.

On another level, Stoker’s story is a Christian allegory. He may have been a secular humanist, but Bram Stoker knew the value of faith. Dracula was loaded with Christian symbology. The crucifix, the host wafer, holy water – all of them are prominently featured as what they were in the context of the quest, holy weapons enlisted in the destruction of unholy evil. The monster was destroyed, not by these instruments of righteousness, but by God’s grace, empowered by the faith of these latter-day knights templar warring against the forces of darkness.

And the Count himself, while seductive, was undeniably evil. Stoker examines this phenomenon along the way. Just what is it about the unconscionable that is so damned attractive? Lucy Westerna was seduced (and ultimately destroyed) by this magnetic sinister presence. Mina Harker was drawn to him. And Abraham Van Helsing actually admired him. For all that, our courageous band of crusaders knew full well that there was no mistaking he was evil, satanic, and must be destroyed.

My second favorite such novel, which I rate just as high, is ‘Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. I’m an unrepentant King fan, despite his overt liberalism. I’ve read everything of his that’s made it into print. Some more than once. He’s been the poet laureate of the baby boom generation in my estimation, and a gifted storyteller whatever you may think of his politics.

‘Salem’s Lot is Dracula inverted. Written in 1975, the local residents of this sleepy Maine backwater have all the modern conveniences. Electric lights, indoor plumbing, even cable television and VCRs were getting their start back then. In King’s world, such creature comforts render belief in the demon all but impossible. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the novel is watching the principle characters wrestle with their unbelief, until, when confronted with the undeniable truth of what’s before them, they must abandon the very rationalism that made Bram Stoker’s vampire hunters such a potent force, and deal with the menace before them with an incipient faith that gains strength and power as the story progresses.

Call it liberalism come full circle, if you like. However, when King mixes this struggle with the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate angst of that time with small town corruption, it makes for a powerhouse of a story, and clearly one of his best. Told you I was a fan.

And then there’s Twilight. My goodness, where can I begin?

Picture a woman who never missed an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (which I liked, actually), read every Ann Rice novel ever published, then decided she could make a killing writing boring, predictable prose all the while placing a marketing bulls-eye over the heart of every 14-year-old girl in the country, and you’ve got a thumbnail sketch of Stephenie Meyer. Mix this all together with a generous helping of ponderous, tedious storytelling and voila! – say hello to the Twilight saga.

In the traditional world of serious vampire fiction, the bloodsucker was always a vile, loathsome, foul creature of the outer darkness. They suck the blood of their victims, consigning them to an existence beyond the grace of God, condemned to an everlasting hunger for human flesh and thirst for blood. They even smell bad. Altogether, they are thoroughly bad guys.

In Twilight, they’re . . . well . . . hot!

How often can Stephenie Meyer relate to us the chiseled features of Edward Cullen? His marble-smooth chest? His beautiful amber eyes? His lithe, graceful form? Goodness, if that’s all it takes to generate a mega-hit, I can milk any number of stories into a four-book epic.

And then there’s Meyer’s favorite verb – to hiss. He hissed. She hissed. They hissed. Everybody hissed. He will hiss. He had hissed. He has hissed. He will have hissed. Every tense and conjugative form of this overused verb was covered in this epic. Of the more than 2000 pages of text, all this hissing must have covered about 400 of them.

And then, of course, we have the unique happenstance in the Twilight world, that vampires really aren’t evil. Truth be told, they’re addicts, wrestling with their addiction. How’s that for contemporary liberalism? They may be undead. They may yearn for human blood. They may be godless, soulless creatures, living for all time in eternal damnation, but we sure don’t get any sense of this in the Meyer universe. They’re basically good guys when all is said and done. And they’re hot. Did I mention that? Stop being such an intolerant bigot and start embracing this bold and creative alternative lifestyle.

Which is just what our intrepid heroine, Bella Swan does. At first glance, this girl is very nearly perfect. Good grades, shows up on time, never misses school, cooks for her father. Why, I’ll bet she even cleans her room every day and does the dishes. She’s the classic good girl/virgin goddess. Early on, she cuts to the chase – “First thing, Edward is a vampire,” she declares. “Second, I am madly in love with him.” And what was her goal? To eagerly sacrifice her sweet, young body, not to mention her immortal soul, to spend all eternity as one with her creature of the night. Simple, huh? Just what every girl always dreams of, to be taken by force by some ruggedly handsome, magnetically attractive card-carrying member of the Undead.

So, what we have here is a gothic romance. Only we really don’t. Mixed in to this little twosome is a third member of a burgeoning love triangle. Jacob Black – who is secretly a werewolf, whose tribe not so secretly despise vampires, but they form a truce with this particular coven of vampires, who aren’t really all that bad because they drink animal blood, not human . . . They’re vegetarians, you see. Romeo and Juliet meets Rebecca. Sort of. Uh, got all that? Good.

And so, the high drama then commences. Who will the luscious Bella choose? Her bloodsucking prince and love of her life? Of her best-friend, and eternal sidekick werewolf good buddy? That is the question that consumes about 1000 pages of this endless tome.

And then there’s the little matter of what exactly kills these creatures of the night (or late afternoon, whatever). Sunlight doesn’t seem to bother them. They don’t burn in the purifying rays of the sun, they kind of . . . sparkle. No stakes through the heart. Their smooth, polished, marble-like skin is as tough as solid steel. Nothing gets through it. And the crucifix? Host wafer? Holy water? Forget it. They are conveniently forgotten in the fantasy world of Stephenie Meyer. No power of God is necessary to destroy them. Besides which, why would anyone want to? They’re not sinister, they’re seductive. And they’re oh, so hot. If you forget this little tidbit of information during your journey through the Twilightverse, Stephenie Meyer will be glad to remind you. She does so with amazing frequency.

(As an aside, these dark lords also play baseball. That’s right. In the afternoon, no less. While they’re busy sparkling in the sunlight. Could you imagine what the Yankees could do with a pitcher who never has arm trouble, throws a 150-mph fastball and never gets old? Say goodnight, Boston Red Sox! Forever!)

The question invariably comes up: Why all the hysteria (not to mention massive financial success) of a tale so worn-out, predictable and essentially trite? What do we have here that has caused such a stir in the world of contemporary fiction? It’s really very simple. What this amounts to is your classic good girl/bad guy mini-drama. It is successful for one reason and one reason alone: Women like bad guys. Teenage girls even more so. Case closed.

This is not a new phenomenon. We can’t even relate it to the recent collapse of the country, or its bleak future. The good girl/bad guy scenario has been with us from time immemorial. It begins when Daddy doesn’t show up for his baby girl’s childhood. Let’s face it, he’s the first man she will ever love. And if he’s abusive, or worse yet, missing in action, baby girl will conclude that it’s her fault – often confirmed by Mommy and Daddy both – and conclude if only she could love Daddy better, he will love her back.

Spin it any way you want. That’s it in a nutshell. If Daddy is MIA, baby girl will go out and find her own wandering terror to close the circle and make her life complete. The abuse she suffers certainly won’t be enjoyable, but it will be familiar. And the inevitable mindset persists that no matter how abusive he gets, she can love him back to sanity. Taming the wild beast is an extremely seductive prospect in the minds of emotionally stunted young girls. Sadly, the rabid success of the Twilight saga merely confirms this condition is alive and well in what passes for 21st century America.

As for me, 2000 pages of the literary equivalent of the First World War was quite enough. Literary carnage to no purpose with no end in sight is about as far as I can go. I’m not indulging in any videos, or pay-per-views, or anything else that contributes to the financial success of this abomination. When the film series comes to TNT at 4:00 in the morning, I may tune in to see if the on-screen version is as hideous as the literary one. Beyond that, I’m grateful to have survived my journey into the world of literary tedium and escaped reasonably unscathed.

But it was instructive. How else would I ever have been able to gaze into the nerve pulse of today’s youth? Particularly the female variety. Who knows? Most of these girls will graduate high school, get married, settle down and have kids of their own. Some of them will be girls. And what floats their boat in another thirty years is something I’m grateful I won’t be around to see.

I mean, how much worse can it get?

by Euro-American Scum
(contributing Team Member of Allegiance and Duty Betrayed)

Euro-American Scum can be reached at eascum@yahoo.com

7/20/2009

America's Goldman Sachs Legacy


Goldman Sachs just posted higher than expected quarterly earnings of $3.33 billion – up 65%, year over year – even though they were the recipients of over $10 billion in TARP money (which they were finally ‘allowed’ to pay back).

Goldman Sachs boasts approximately 29,400 employees, and they have announced plans to give $11.4 billion in bonuses to their employees, which averages out to approximately $770,000 per employee – with top executives set to garner millions each. That bonus figure amounts to approximately the kinds of bonuses that Sachs was handing out to its people at the height of the prosperity bubble.

President Obama, shortly after the passage of TARP legislation (brackets are mine):

When I saw an article today indicating that Wall Street bankers had given themselves twenty billion dollars [only a little more than half of what Goldman Sachs alone is now intending to give its employees] worth of bonuses, the same amount of bonuses as they gave themselves in 2004, at a time when most of these institutions were teetering on collapse, and they are asking for taxpayers to help sustain them … that is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful. And part of what we’re going to need is for folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint, and show some discipline and sense of responsibility.

Goldman Sachs ‘graduates’ held extremely powerful positions in the American government before the economy began to visibly unwind, with Robert Rubin, Secretary of the Treasury during both Clinton administrations, and Joshua Bolton, President Bush’s chief of staff, leaping to mind immediately. Goldman graduates also serve as the heads of the New York Stock Exchange, the Canadian World Bank, the Italian World Bank, the New York Fed, etc. They hold prominent positions in much of the world of international finance.

Shortly before the economy began to visibly head south, Goldman Sachs got its foot in the door again when President Bush appointed as Treasury Secretary former Goldman Sachs CEO Hank Paulson. Once the economic crisis began to rear its ugly head, Paulson sat back passively in his secretary's chair and allowed two of America's largest investment banks/brokerage firms to fail: Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

The Treasury Department, under Paulson, did not lift a finger to help either Bear or Lehman keep its head above water. (Footnote: Bear and Lehman were both competitors of Goldman Sachs – with Lehman posing its biggest competitive threat).

Fewer than twenty-four hours after Lehman Brothers bit the dust, Paulson made the decision to bail out AIG, the largest insurance conglomerate in the world, to the tune of $85 billion, for the sake of the American economy, which ‘would suffer irreparable damage’, should AIG fail. (Footnote: Goldman Sachs represented the biggest AIG payout -- $12.9 billion -- when AIG received its federal bailout billions.)

Hank Paulson then proceeded to appoint another Goldman Sachs crony, Neil Kashkari, to oversee the distribution of TARP money.

One of Kashkari’s first decisions was to change the status of Goldman Sachs to a bank holding company – a new status which would allow it to become the direct recipient of TARP money, in addition to FDIC funds, and money from the Fed discount window. Since Goldman Sachs was now registered as a bank holding company, they were no longer under SEC regulation, but Fed regulation. And who sat at the head of the Fed regulators to whom Sachs must answer? A man named Stephen Friedman, a former Chairman of Goldman Sachs.

Despite the fact that Mr. Friedman was now sitting in the overseer/regulator position at the Fed, responsible to monitor Goldman Sach’s dealings, he was not only a former chairman of GS, but also a current member of Goldman’s board of directors, and a major stockholder in the firm.

When complaints were issued about this blatant conflict of interest, current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner, issued a temporary one-year waiver of the conflict-of-interest rule, allowing Friedman to continue to decide regulatory matters in GS’s behalf.

Mr. Friedman shortly thereafter purchased an additional 52,000 shares of Goldman Sachs.

Neil Kashkari was then replaced as overseer of TARP distributions by Gary Gensler, a former partner at Goldman Sachs. Gensler is now serving as the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, with his main charge being to regulate derivatives. When he was working for Goldman Sachs several years ago, Gensler worked tirelessly to deregulate derivatives.

Goldman Sachs has hired a new lobbyist, Michael Pease, who also serves as a Director of Government Affairs. Pease is replacing another Goldman Sachs lobbyist, Mark Patterson, who has received a promotion to serve as the Chief of Staff of our Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geitner.

(Footnote: During his campaign, our president promised that he would never have a registered lobbyist serve in his administration. Mark Patterson, a former Goldman Sachs lobbyist whose assignment was to lobby in order to prevent pay restrictions for Wall Street moneymakers, is now the number two man in the treasury department.)

Goldman Sachs recently spent $23 billion to purchase ten percent of the Chicago Climate Exchange, and $1 billion in carbon assets (including alternative energy projects), while their current and former employees (only some of whom are mentioned above) – now major government decision-makers – are endorsing mandatory limits on carbon emissions included in Cap and Trade legislation.

Think about the fact that Goldman Sachs was a recipient of bailout funds (read: your and my tax dollars), and that they are about to bestow upon their employees bonuses that average $770,000 per employee. Now think about the fact that most Americans’ nest eggs consist of retirement accounts directly linked to the American stock market. Then take a good look at the performance of the general markets (Dow and NASDAQ) as compared to the performance of Goldman Sachs, since our president took office (red=Goldman, green=NAS, Blue=Dow):


Man, these Goldman Sachs people are indescribably brilliant. Their company appears to know how to turn dirt into gold. Indeed, Goldman Sachs employees appear to outshine all other financial wizards in that they achieve, at an incredible proportion as compared to other financial wizards, major government positions, with indescribable autocratic decision-making powers.

Or could there be a kind of affirmative action hiring process going on here, in that these Sachs fellows affirm the leftist agenda currently being pushed down our throats, and they, in turn, invariably garner significant increased wealth and political power?

That leftist agenda currently being railroaded through Congress? It includes all manner of liberty-destroying, healthcare quality destroying, capitalism (especially small business) destroying, elitist power-grabbing initiatives … not to mention the fact that it is annihilating the carefully-accumulated nest eggs of tens of millions of hard-working Americans, and saddling their children and grandchildren with a monumentally burdensome debt that they can never hope to repay.

The inevitable result? We are fast allowing our republic to be transformed into a caste system made up of a political and financial elite, the working masses, and the parasites and benefactors who will keep the elite in office. This generation of working Americans, and those who follow, will find themselves slaves to the state – allowed to keep only that which the state allows them to retain, and forced to share the remainder with those the state wants to see prosper.

[Coming soon: (1) How Goldman Sachs manipulates the markets, and (2) the major role that Goldman Sachs played in the American economic debacle … of which we have yet to see the worst.]

~ joanie

7/16/2009

Time is Ruthless


Shifty Powers died last month. There’s no better way to put it. No, strike that. There’s no easier way to put it.

I was on the road last week. It was a particularly difficult trip, fraught with bad weather from Chicago going east, something this Californian is not equipped to deal with on a regular basis. The return flight was peppered with mechanical problems, missed connections, and other frustrations. I was hoping to make it back, and bask in all this glorious California sunshine that makes life with the imminent collapse of the entire state infrastructure tolerable.

Instead, I came home to an email that’s been making its way around the Internet. Some of you may already have seen it. I believe it was written by Joe Galloway – he, of We Were Soldiers, 1st Cav/Ia Drang notoriety – and very eloquently done.

It was Shifty Powers’ memoriam.

For the first time in a long time, I’m hard pressed to come up with something to add to the volumes of testimonials that are currently making their way through cyberspace. You see, Shifty Powers was caught up in the tidal wave of history. He was also a soldier in a crusade against evil when the entire world was in danger of falling into another dark age. He was a brother paratrooper, and since the Airborne community is a close-knit one, I knew him by reputation long before I ever made his acquaintance. But more than that, the one designation I hold most dear is that Shifty Powers was my friend.

I finally met him face-to-face in Normandy in June 2004 for the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. An account of that experience is related in detail in Saving Private Weinmann. This commentary is not an advertisement for that one, merely to familiarize those who do not know the details of that momentous event, and to explain my passion for the greatest generation.

So, how do I eulogize the passing of a friend? Where do I begin?

If there was one thing I had to pick from the many outstanding qualities of Shifty Powers, it would be his humility. For all his wartime accomplishments, he was the epitome of the salt of the earth. Were any of us to meet him without his connection to the Band of Brothers paratroopers – a virtual impossibility since the release of the mini-series in 2001 – we would be hard-pressed to connect him to any of those events.

It’s a fading distinction in 21st century America, where an army of exhibitionists, all grimly determined to elbow each other out of the way to gain their fifteen minutes of fame, will stop at nothing in its pursuit. We live in a country where he who shouts the loudest and the longest gets the attention. And whoever wins the endurance race of vulgarity and verbosity is often the one taken seriously.

Shifty Powers sat in the back of the room – often smoking a cigarette, usually with a smile on his face – and took it all in. He didn’t miss a thing. And he didn’t have to pound his chest.

Shifty Powers stared into the black hole of human destruction. He witnessed the worst humanity could muster with the full force of 20th century industrialized warfare at its disposal, and was not poisoned by it. He emerged from his wartime experience with his soul, his character and his integrity intact. He never lost his faith. This is not to say he came home unaffected. But whatever scars he carried with him he kept to himself. In that, he was typical of his generation.

By most accounts, Shifty was diagnosed with cancer – I know not which variety – last June (2008). He died last month, June 17, 2009 if memory serves. Was it lung cancer? Possibly. I remember his singular delight during our excursion into history, when we all discovered that the smoking Nazis had not yet invaded Europe. You could smoke everywhere. And Shifty did. I never saw him without a cigarette at the ready. Did it finally take its toll? Who knows? And what does it matter now?

There is a fallacy, I think, when it comes to the death of the elderly. Just because they’ve lived to a ripe old age, somehow we believe they are somehow more reconciled to death than the rest of us. I’ve fallen into this mindset myself. I think perhaps we’re wrong to see death in such a light.

Let’s face it, our outlook on life doesn’t change much as we age. We don’t really think that differently as we grow older. Oh, we don’t move quite as fast as before. And we get more impatient with the frustrations of life, possibly because we’ve been dealing with them for so long that we’re looking forward to a little relief. But, except for a few aches and pains, do we somehow become resigned to leaving this life just because we’ve lived out allotted three score and ten and then some? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Maybe we get up one morning with creaking bones, tired from the broken sleep that comes to us when we age. We look at the calendar and wonder where the years went. When did it get to be 2009, we wonder? We interact with the 40-somethings of the world and marvel at how young they are, at the same time remembering with a chuckle how old we thought we were at that age.

But mostly this shift in perception comes from my recollection of Shifty Powers and what a grand time he had living life. No, I’m not suggesting he was some ageing, rompin’, stompin’, foul-mouthed airborne hellraiser. But he had a really good time of it from what I could see. He enjoyed life, the utter and total joy of it. I doubt he went easily. I don’t think he was finished with it, if he had a say-so in the matter. Sadly, he didn’t. It’s not our call when it comes to closing time.

As for the significance of his passing, I think that would be obvious. His was the last generation that uniformly believed in the goodness of America. Right or wrong, he loved this country, warts and all. There was no question that it was worth defending. And there was no thought to abandoning his responsibility to bear that burden, even it meant never coming home.

There are those among us who would celebrate his passing, but for all the wrong reasons. They would claim that the ethnocentricity of Americans is a tradition that the years have passed by. They would further assert that men like Shifty Powers have become archaic – antiquated holdovers whose singular vision of the nobility of America in spite of its flaws has long-since outlived its value and is well-disposed of in the new global utopia of an America not so primus inter pares.

I would suggest to these brave new visionaries to count the cost of what was lost and get back to me on that. Either that, or walk the grounds of Auschwitz or Dachau and then opine at length about the inherent nobility of man.

So, here’s to Shifty Powers – a man who made a difference when it counted the most. God’s speed, my friend. I’ve no doubt that we’ll meet up again when we’ve “all crossed over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees,” to quote Stonewall Jackson. Shifty Powers has made his last jump. I’m certain that he didn’t freeze in the door. And I’m sure he landed on his feet.

“Well done, my good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of your lord.” – Matthew 25:21.

by Euro-American Scum
(contributing Team Member of Allegiance and Duty Betrayed)

7/01/2009

Letting it Be in Post-America America


It’s hard to gauge the depth of another person’s suffering. Even if we ourselves have walked through the valley of the shadow, so to speak, the pain of catastrophic loss is not transferrable. We can empathize. We can speculate. We can even shudder in horror, but only when it happens to us can we truly know the searing devastation of personal calamity firsthand.

It was in just such a frame of mind that I happened to be killing time at the Chino Hills, California Barnes & Noble and picked up a book prominently displayed at the entrance to the store. It was positioned, as is always the case, to garner maximum exposure. And whoever tapped this particular publication for such a prime setting knew what they were doing. It was impossible to miss. Strange that such a coveted position wasn’t reserved for the latest Stephen King, Dean Koontz or John Grisham mega-bestseller. Not even Stephenie Meyer’s latest Twilight clone managed to snare such a choice location. Of course, such prime movers of the pop culture world have no need of such conspicuous exposure. Their disciples will find their works if they have to move heaven and earth to do so.

So, on this particular occasion, the catbird seat was reserved for a book penned by a local author, Ruthe Rosen, a former flight attendant and current stay-at-home soccer mom residing locally in Chino Hills. The book, a self-published volume entitled Let It Be: My Daughter’s Legacy, featured yet another innocent-young-girl-dying- tragically-from-an-incurable-disease. And while such tales can often be compelling, if for no other reason than most of us recoil in horror with a kind of I’m-glad-it-wasn’t-my-daughter mentality, I was wondering what it was about this sad tale of heartbreak that merited such favored status. Out of curiosity, I picked up the book and leafed through it.

I hate to say it, but there wasn’t much remarkable material from which to choose, at least not from what I could see on a cursory examination. And at $22.95 for a thin-sliced hardcover edition, I had to think twice before tucking a copy under my arm and heading for the cashier. Nevertheless, I did just that.

Sure enough, there was nothing unique about the story. But then, how could there be? Such tragedies following an all-too familiar pattern. A young, beautiful, vibrant young girl – Karla Asch-Rosen – with an extremely positive outlook on life contracts a malignant brain tumor. The family is devastated. The treatment buys her time and nothing else. During the course of her death struggle, neither the girl nor her family loses their optimism, their courage, or their faith in spite of the inevitable outcome. It’s the stuff of which inspiration is made.

Last Saturday, the author was signing books at the very same Barnes & Noble. And since the schools just got out, and, due to the imminent collapse of the California public education system, I am unlikely to be called back next fall, I figured I better show up and get an autograph while I still could. You see, Ruthe Rosen and I have a couple of things in common. Perhaps the most notable is that we both lost a daughter – hers to cancer, mine to a traffic accident. And maybe the common factors should stop there, since that’s the prime motivator that got me in the store on that gloomy Saturday afternoon last weekend.

The gathering was small, in one of the far corners of the mammoth store. There were nine chairs set up for a reading for which I didn’t stay. And the obligatory table was piled high with books, behind which, signing them as fast as her fingers could fly, was the author de jour, and grieving parent, Ruthe Rosen. Only she didn’t look like the grief was exacting too heavy a toll on that day. Her dazzling smile could light up the surface of the sun. Good thing, too, considering an army of local paparazzi was in attendance. Never saw so many flashbulbs going off since Barack Obama made his one and only appearance in the Inland Empire last October.

I got off to a rough start, I must admit. I’d been doing some work at the house, and I wasn’t exactly at my best when I hurried through the door. I also made the bad mistake of forgetting my book, which, when I got up to the front of the short line, I explained with a good deal of chagrin. The super-model-like smile faded momentarily as she no doubt pondered what the local derelict was doing, unkempt, unshaven and bookless, spoiling her coming out party. Then I explained our common bond. Then the smile came back. It was a sad smile just the same.

“I’m not going to answer the common question,” she patiently explained to me.

“That’s good,” I responded, “since I wasn’t going to ask it. I already know the answer.”

We understood each other, at least thus far. Those of us who’ve lost children inevitably come to grips with the age-old question – Is it ever going to get any better? The short answer: No. The more extended one: We get so we handle the loss better. Think about it. They’re two different coping sets, really.

So, we talked for a while. She asked me about the accident. Where did it happen? Athens, Georgia. When? Six years ago June 19. How did it happen? Her car was broadsided on the driver’s side in a driving rainstorm. She got to a T-intersection just ahead of the pickup truck that hit her. The power to the traffic signals was out, and both vehicles were going too fast. No one walked away from that one. The driver of the truck was paralyzed from the neck down, so everyone paid a price, some heavier than others.

I’m not sure what I expected when I told my version of the sad tale of woe. The empathy that springs from a shared experience, perhaps? The knowing glance of a parent that has sustained a similar loss? Something like that. What I got was an undeniable moment of definitive discomfort. She seemed at a loss for words. Suddenly, the all-American smile was nowhere to be seen. The dazzling, white teeth were uncomfortably concealed. She didn’t know what to say. Her eyes drifted to the floor. And then one of her neighbors elbowed me out of the way, and the two girlfriends dissolved into a bevy of squeals, shrieks, giggles and gossip.

Since I’d been summarily dismissed at this point, I didn’t know quite what to do. There was a reading scheduled for the afternoon. And since the turnout for autographs didn’t amount to much more than the local neighborhood acquaintances and myself, I expected it to get started in short order. That was not to be. What followed was an endless flurry of posed photographs by local reporters and eternal interviews with husband Michael, who appeared to be the choreographer of this production.

He was a genial man, somewhere in his late 30s or early 40s from the looks of things. Like his wife, he bore an irrepressible smile that never wavered through all his clipped orders to photographers, print media beat writers, and television reporters. During a lull, we got a chance to talk. Yes, he was the executive vice-president and manager of operations for the Let It Be Foundation – an organization he and his wife founded after the tragic death of his step-daughter. And would I like to make a contribution? Yes, there was worldwide interest in this life-affirming new book, and would I like to buy a copy? Yes, they’ve reached a cultural tipping point where the value system of the entire world will inevitably be changed for the better on a global scale. Never had any girl lived a more meaningful life or died a death that touched so many people.

Call me crazy, but the names Rachel Joy Scott and Cassie Bernal – both of whom perished at Columbine – come to mind as potential competitors for this dubious crown.

And yes, they’ve received offers from Good Morning America, The Today Show, ABC News, NBC Nightly News, Katie Couric, Sky News London, the BBC, CNN and Fox News begging Ruthe for interviews. The only problem is none of these networks will pony up the required fee for a fifteen minute interview. And of course, there have been movie deals in the offing. But the asking price begins at a level much higher than the major studios are willing to consider and goes up from there.

No wonder husband Michael quit his job as a multi-million dollar corporate executive to manage his wife’s career. Gold mines are where you find them. No recession in Chino Hills. Happy days.

Just before I departed, husband Michael introduced me to the couple’s two surviving sons, Brandon and Cole. I’m not sure which was which, but they were both pre-adolescent youngsters of about 12 and 10. Like their parents, they bore the unwavering, indomitable smiles that appear to be a family trait. They were so polite, so well-behaved, and so measured in everything they said and did, they impressed me as little adults. No doubt these two boys will go far in life, possibly as executive managers of the Let It Be Foundation: The Next Generation.

I departed with my Let It Be (autographed) bookmark, not quite sure what to make of this carefully directed encounter. I say that, because I am hardly an objective observer of such happenings. And I am, as previously noted, a member in good standing of a fraternity which is growing much too big, much too fast. In the past four years at my church, six families have lost teenage children – five to traffic accidents, and one to a fatal disease. And since the congregation is composed of the prosperous leaders who make things happen in the local community, many have gone on to establish foundations of their own in the names of their cherished and lost children.

But none have ever made out of it the carefully staged production that I witnessed last Saturday. Its intent was inspiration. In truth, it creeped me out.

I have to be careful about what follows. Because commenting on another person’s grief is an explosive, often incendiary topic. A topic that could easily blow up in the face of the commentator. Add to the mix that I’ve dealt with my own version of pain and loss, and the problem becomes even more elusive. Being on the receiving end of that kind of agony does not provide any kind of perspective, sad to say.

So, let’s set a couple of ground rules, shall we? Call them a series of baseline assumptions which, I hope, we can all agree on.

All catastrophic loss is just that – the end of the world. There’s no mincing words when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of it. Because coming out the other side, the world is significantly different than before the loss.

Different people deal with loss differently. Viktor Frankl wrote a remarkable book following his experience in the holocaust at Auschwitz – Man’s Search For Meaning. Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist and protégé of Sigmund Freud, differed with his mentor on several crucial points. Frankl believed that it was not sex, but the search for meaning which was the driving force in the lives of human beings. Frankl spent the rest of his post-holocaust life making a conscious effort to find meaning in everything. I will not debate the merits of his existential approach to life, or its pitfalls. The point is, people will go to great lengths to find significance in the wake of personal devastation. It brings meaning to the loss and somehow makes the agony less agonizing. And that includes establishing charitable foundations and going on the interview circuit.
No one heals on a schedule, or in quite the same way someone else does. It’s that simple. There is no timetable, and there is no operating manual for coping. Some people find God. Others blame Him. I’ve encountered both since my brush with tragedy. And I’ve been both too.

Having said that, I will share my gut reaction. And it’s very simple. People who smile all the time make me shudder. Right or wrong, I always wonder what’s cooking behind that all-American smile. Children who act like mini-grown-ups make my skin crawl. Do they ever wrestle and fight over some small thing, as brothers do from time to time, or do they resort to more subtle, devious ways of stabbing each other in the back. Are they healthy kids on their way to being functional young men? Or are they politicians in the making? And, in the wake of such a loss, a mother who turns into a bubbling fountain of effervescence the instant the red light comes on makes me wonder if there isn’t a darker form of denial operating not far below the surface.

Still, the Bible tells us that such enthusiasm is not only proof positive of saving faith, but clear evidence of the fruit of the Spirit.

    “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23
For all that, I’ve discovered that people in a perpetual state of joy are often on medication. I guess that leaves the rest of us – who grieve the loss for years, see nothing good coming from it, and are coping with the devastation of shattered lives and bleak futures – in danger of hell fire. Oh well. It’s a tough old world out there.

This book was written ostensibly to provide inspiration for families enduring various kinds of catastrophic loss. From death to divorce, it was intended to provide comfort, solace and encouragement to those people who find themselves in the valley of the shadow with no way out. And it may very well succeed in that capacity. So, was I comforted? Inspired? Encouraged?

In a word, no. And my encounter with the architects of this recent exercise in sentimentality did nothing to mitigate that experience.

I find that in the post-America America, one of the symptoms of its demise has been a penchant to flounder in a pool of sentiment and sentimentality. We love a sad tale of woe. Always have. It takes many expressions. And it has been our undoing. Were it not so, there would be no Lifetime Channel. Neither would there be a citizenry that goes so blissfully about its daily business happily unaware that the country that nurtured it has vanished in the fires of political correctness, globalist values and an international citizen of the world as its leader.

The path to destruction has been littered with the bones of such a seduction throughout the recent history of western culture.

In 19th century Europe, it was an overly sentimentalized belief in the sublime nature of humanity and how man was in control of his environment and could, by reason and negotiation, accomplish anything that collapsed in the flames of the First World War.

It was an overly romanticized article of faith in the 1990s, of the inherent goodness of man in general and the Islamic world in particular that reached its terrible climax on that crystal clear Tuesday morning of September 11, 2001 in New York City.

And it is a quixotic, exceedingly nostalgic view of the country that purports that no matter what abominations are perpetrated against its people or its Constitution that America will endure for all time, simply because it always has.

Let’s face it, we love a good schmaltzy, sentimental story. And they don’t get any juicier than an innocent, young girl who dies tragically of a fatal disease.

Have you ever attended a funeral of such a child? Invariably, she is idolized in death in ways she never was in life. The girl may have been an unashamed gossip, a back-stabbing cutthroat, or a pushing slut, but in death she becomes “. . . so kind, so good, so full of life; everybody loved her. . . ”. I don’t know if either extreme applied to Karla Asch-Rosen. I never knew her. But she is certainly represented as being nothing less than a picture-perfect ideal, an angel on earth. And sadly, none of us who did not know her will ever know the truth. She has passed into the realm of the honored dead, whether she deserves to be there or not.

As for the media blitz, I can easily see why. They’ve got a hot commodity here. But there’s no novelty to it, and its shelf life is both perishable and short. It will last precisely until the next pristine youthful lass dies tragically of some fatal disease or some grad night traffic mishap. And so ends the fifteen minutes of fame of Karla Asch-Rosen and the Let It Be Foundation. The queen is dead (literally). Long live the queen.

And when it comes to marketing, there’s a very simple axiom that holds true – it’s very easy to love the hot blonde. I can see why Fox News is turning cartwheels to get Ruthe Rosen in front of their cameras. Another gorgeous blonde is just what they need. I’ll bet Megyn Kendall is shaking in her stylish stiletto heels as we speak. Maybe Ruthe Rosen and Carrie Prejean can fight it out in a celebrity death match for the next Fox News commentary spot that comes open. I just wonder if this tragedy had happened to some 300-lb. trailer trash mom living in a single-wide outside Boone, North Carolina, if she would get the same air play this group is getting. Somehow I think not.

And so, the parade marches on. But during the midst of it, I was reminded of a similar tragedy that happened during my tenure in Las Vegas. Her name was Valerie Pida, and she was a UNLV cheerleader. She also fought a losing battle with lymphoma for thirteen years and succumbed in 1992. Her attitude was nothing less than heroic. Immensely positive, she was tempered with the cold certainty of what proved to be a life cut short. Her life slowly, but surely ebbed away, one heart-wrenching tumor at a time. Yet, the girl had steel in her spine, and endured with quiet dignity, youthful enthusiasm, and defiant courage that touched everyone around her. Her passing left a void in the life of her family, particularly her father, whom I met toward the end of the ordeal. There was no inspiration to be found, just the soul-numbing loss of a beloved child, cherished and adored.

And what remains in the wake of so profound a loss is the nether world of “what if?”

You always wonder what might have been if she was still with you. How would your life be different? What would her life have become? You agonize over what you could have done while she was alive, even if it made no difference at all. You always wonder if somehow you could have done something to affect the outcome. And, during those deep, endless nights, when sleep was just out of reach, you inevitably come to terms with the non-negotiable fact that you will never see her again this side of heaven. And at times like that, no amount of inspiring stories, or charitable foundations takes away the black hole in your soul. Maybe you find God. Maybe you don’t. But you definitely live with the loss. And that never goes away.

So, I look forward to the interviews, the book promos, maybe even a paperback volume. I’ll even cough up $9.00 to see a matinee airing of the feature film. In the day of satellite television, Internet streaming video and digital movie productions, it’s all about show biz anyway.

And it’s always easier to love the hot blonde.

by Euro-American Scum
(contributing Team Member of Allegiance and Duty Betrayed)

Euro-American Scum can be reached at eascum@yahoo.com