Monuments of the Confederacy

I don’t think we should try to erase history but rather try to see it as it actually was. There will be different reactions to monuments and art depicting history. Some will see a glorious and romantic past while others will see subjugation and savagery. Perhaps some of the more offensive monuments (to some) can be placed more appropriately in museums, but they should not be destroyed. If nothing else, they can remind us of how far we’ve come from our having bought and sold human beings as property and that those who condoned it are still sore losers through their progeny a century and a half later and truly need to get over that loss and accept a modernity that includes everyone who obeys the laws we put into place for our collective safety.

History has witnessed shock, dismay, and horror at pieces of sculpture before that were too violent (The Rape of Persephone by Bernini), war monuments from both World wars, what were considered obscene statues and paintings in earlier times because of nudity. Who decides what should be demolished and what should not? The sensitive paintings of Shiller from the early 20th Century were condemned (along with other art by painters like Picasso) by the Nazis and burned along with books which the ruling powers decreed ugly and unfit for human sight.

The Margaret Mitchell past and stark reality are not, and can never be, the same, but we need to see them both and judge individually. Trying to eradicate history is, I believe, a mistake. We need reminders of the good and the bad to create an emotional and social sense of balance and truth. Time will show them to be exactly what they are from era to era as we become more enlightened in our quest to have more awareness and humanity. This is still America. Does anyone really believe that tearing down monuments (even ones depicting a flawed history) will improve race relations? Isn’t there already enough angst and resentment? I hope we can rethink our current rage and obsession with tearing things down and begin thinking about building things up instead….like tolerance and understanding. JB

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Sliding Backwards into the Abyss of History…

We cannot delete history or hide it. I’m not sure that whitewashing it helps either, but over the past few days we Americans, along with the rest of the world, have witnessed a powerful undertow of ignorance and hatred unleashed almost as though the only part of our political correctness that matters has been surrendered to the adrenalin rush of mob rage.

Charlottesville, Virginia is certainly not the only place where contempt and laser-like hostility have found a home. They have also found nesting places in Chicago, Baltimore, and other cities where people want or need to find stereotypes and scapegoats for their own social and economic misery.

The fairly recent obsession of eradicating statues of the past I can begin to understand in terms of the oppression that some of those sculptures symbolize for people whose ancestors suffered the ravaging indignities of slavery. However, I have seen statues all over the world that have impressed me by their beauty and perfection, often through their nude forms or romantic historical significance, forms that appalled Victorians and many American fundamentalists of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The difference of that art may be that they were mostly in museums and didn’t represent social norms for everyone. Assuming what a statue symbolizes (beyond its mere physical presence) can become a guessing game with ugly consequences.

To a white man from the deep south, a statue of Robert E. Lee may represent a romantic, Margaret Mitchell view of a period long gone, of beautiful plantations, White columned Palladio homes,  the scent of sweet magnolias, moss-draped cypress trees under which genteel folk drank mint julips on warm afternoons in the shade. Some want to see heroism, even though they lost the Civil War, but a black man may see in the same statue only subjugation and injustice from a time when human beings were bought and sold as property. This dichotomy is an issue partly because such statues are in prominent places in major cities that are no longer controlled merely by white citizens. The bitterness for those white folks has not yet disappeared, but the memory of repression for blacks lingers like the taste, not of a mint julip, but of blood. Two people looking at the same sculpture will likely have different and possibly opposing feelings about it. One city in the south actually had a Robert E. Lee insignia and image as the police department logo on the police cars. I wonder how a black man pulled over and arrested might feel about that rather thoughtless choice. There has to be some kind of balance or middle ground.

Such statues (of heroes whose side lost the Civil War in 1865) are still symbols of what many whites see as a lost world that they have romanticized beyond recognition. They can’t let go of that mythical world. The statues would have appropriate homes in museums, because we should not forget history but rather see it through more enlightened eyes. That is, we need to see history for what it was, not try to sweep it under the rug. The idea of studying history is in great part an attempt to learn from our mistakes, isn’t it? If statues of Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering were erected in any European or American cities, I would expect an immediate and violent backlash against the indignity of such brazen stupidity. However, our scenario is not quite the same.

A statue of Robert E. Lee (in most respects an educated, civilized gentleman) is a figure of history whom the public can judge in various ways, according to point of view (I think that’s what we still do in America). He was not a monster but rather a man whose view in his own time was skewed by a past to which many greedy and unenlightened people still clung tightly in a fading, outwardly lovely environment based upon incredible hypocrisy and domination (encouraged even by many churches of that time) which, though thousands of years old, was on the verge of its inevitable collapse. People are good or bad, not because of their skin color, a lesson with which many are still struggling through threats and violence, which they naively believe will actually solve the problems.

Statues can show us some of the supposed gentility we have lost and what coercion and violence we should have left behind. In that way, such sculptures can remind us of how far we’ve come, or at least how far we SHOULD have come in advancing civilization for everyone.  JB

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Just a Whisper Away…

Now in my seventies (65 plus shipping and handling), I have begun to notice that my short-term memory is beginning, here and there, to fail me. When I was still teaching high school classes (years ago), I was able to learn and remember thirty names during my first meeting with any class of new students and to learn at first introduction, the names of all the guests at a dinner or cocktail party. Now I’ve begun to have trouble remembering more than six names at a time. It’s almost as though the little neurons in my brain are encountering more and more signposts that say, “Detour” or “Road Closed.”

This morning I phoned the veterinarian’s office to order more of Dudley’s special dog food and heartworm preventative. The receptionist was new, introducing herself as “Robin,” but in about six seconds my Etch-A-Sketch brain had already erased her name, even though I have a dear friend named “Robbin.” I apologized for having to ask that she repeat her name and was grateful not to be dealing with my request in person, where she would see me blushing from embarrassment.

It’s funny to me that I can recall, verbatim, long passages of poetry from fifty years ago and phone numbers from my childhood more than sixty years ago, but my short-term memory seems lately to be deserting me at those inopportune moments when I’m dealing with folks in person or over the phone, where a memory glitch can be as obvious as an old jalopy parked next to a Maserati. I don’t really mind my hair having turned silver, but I do hate my first meetings with people to create the impression that my “upper floor” is not completely furnished for having a power of recollection shorter than a school teacher’s summer vacation.

I do several crossword puzzles daily, read voluminously, and have rich and varied conversations with friends on topics from literature to current events. I do laps in the swimming pool daily and have a healthy diet, but despite my efforts, there are still instances regarding short-term memory (forgetting why I went from one room to another) that make me feel as though I’m at least two sandwiches shy of a picnic. Those are the painful moments that leave me, at least temporarily (soon to be forgotten) with a hopeless kind of hope, like leaving the porch light on for Jimmy Hoffa. Now who was he again?   JB

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A Time with Reasons for a Benevolent Revolution…

One of the ironies (to me anyway) of our time is the illusion that because we have cellphones and computers, we are more engaged with the world around us. In fact, I find that we can be more disengaged because of those devices.

Whenever I’m driving my car, I encounter at intersections someone in front of me who is so entranced by talking or texting on a cellphone that I need to sound my horn to arouse his or her attention in order to continue driving before the next light or to clarify the need at four-way stops that there are other drivers waiting for a clue too.

On one level, it’s really all about paying attention to one’s surroundings. There seems to be an increasingly blasé attitude by many cellphone users for whom the rest of humanity and the world at large simply disappear. I don’t know if this phenomenon is based upon the feeling of being more popular, important, or the delusion that any outside contact while driving must be even more urgent than avoiding a collision. Whatever the reason, many people seem to be more and more withdrawn from the actual, physical world around them as though hypnotized by the electronic device.

Just because one can find out instantly on his phone where in the world Bantu is spoken doesn’t mean that person is in any way aware of what’s going on around him. I get cold chills when I see another car speeding past mine, its driver on a cellphone, talking or texting, oblivious of anyone or anything in the immediate, physical environment. I weary too of seeing the increasingly accepted rudeness of cellphone users in restaurants and waiting rooms as they prattle on as though the folks around them are completely inconsequential. The scariest issue to me is that this impudence and grinding disrespect seem to be accepted more and more by too many as the price we must pay for that nebulous but sacred quest for “progress.”

I love the anecdote about the man on public transportation seated beside a young woman who was talking and cooing obnoxiously to her boyfriend for almost an hour as she grew louder and louder, cackling in the most ear-piercing way between comments. The gentleman seated next to her, having noticed the general annoyance of other passengers in the vicinity, simply grabbed the girl’s phone, saying into it, “Aw, come on, honey. Take off your robe and come back to bed!”

We, as a society, seem to have reached a point where we are confusing freedom of speech and movement with downright disrespect. Maybe when our sense of indignation and irritation reach the final border of tolerance about cellphone offenses in public, there will be a kind of mass revolt to bring back some level of mutual respect and a more sensitive awareness of public places and transportation.   JB

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What’s in a Name? (apologies to Shakespeare)

I’m guessing that most of us at some time acquire nicknames. Those tags or labels may or may not stay with us throughout our lives, but they generally have significance that can be traced back to special moments, characteristics, or circumstances in childhood and beyond.

My parents named me Elwood John Bolinger after my father, who was born in Altoona Pennsylvania almost a century ago. Dad’s nickname was always “Al,” but when I was born, he noticed my rosy cheeks and remarked that they resembled the petals on the buds of roses, so I was given the nickname of “Buddy” by which I’m still known among my closest relatives. The name worked well when I was a kid but became somewhat awkward as I aged.

In high school I was known as Elwood or “Woody,” which didn’t bother me, mainly because of one of my favorite films from 1950, starring Jimmy Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, the main character from the Pulitzer Prize winning play Harvey by Mary Ellen Chase. The name “Elwood” did manage to reach a new level of coolness during the 1980’s in the movie, The Blues Brothers. Suddenly my real first name became a household word among fans of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.

My brother David was “Davey” as a child, but he managed to shake off that diminutive before he was in high school. My sister Connie Lynn was called “Beets” by the immediate family due to her very red cheeks. She hated the nickname, but it stuck until she too was in high school. When I was in elementary school, one of my uncles derived some level of amusement from calling me “Slugger,” a nickname I knew was ridiculous only because I was a very shy and hopelessly unathletic kid whose idea of sports was playing chess. The same uncle, in a well-intended effort to butch me up a bit, bought me a pair of boxing gloves which increased my athleticism  only by my becoming expert at hurling them as missiles at my siblings when they bugged me too much. My aim became almost professional. To all and sundry however, except my uncle, I remained “Buddy” for my years at Harding Elementary School in Hessville.

During my college years, I was known as “Bud” by my friends, though for my birthdays during that period, I continued to receive greeting cards addressed to “Dearest Buddy” from both my grandmothers, each card always containing a dollar bill.

Through all the thirty-five years I taught high school, my friends and fellow faculty members knew me as “John” or “JB.”

Now in my 70’s (or what I prefer to think of as 60-something plus shipping and handling), I have relatives who still call me Buddy, one being my mother’s favorite cousin, now in her nineties, whose lovely, young-sounding voice always begins her phone calls with “Hello, Buddy,” as she has done since I was a toddler, which I occasionally imagine must have been some time during the Mesozoic Period. 

Perhaps the nickname I loved the most was “Mr. B” during all those years I taught thousands of high school students.   JB

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Feeling for One’s Country

When I was a child, the concept of patriotism was a simple thing. It meant standing before our flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing God Bless America. It was something we all did together, perhaps because we were so young and naïve, but I do miss that feeling of unity and standing for something, however abstract, that we shared as a country together with all creeds, colors, nationalities and an ideal of freedom,  in the ritual of recognizing that we were all really just one, even if in a vastly theoretical oneness that made me feel safe somehow in a dream or model of brotherhood that we later seemed to lose along the way, perhaps in our increasing awareness of individuality and all its factions.

Now I feel some of the beautiful chill of national pride only occasionally at sports events when the crowd sings together. It’s sometimes almost as though we feel shame for recognizing ourselves as a nation with its own speckled history of grand humanitarian strides mixed with stumbling blocks of ignorance and greed (as in every other nation). When we do stand before our flag, it isn’t that we are excluding other nationalities, but rather embracing all who wish to be part of the best of our ideals and hopes.

England (with the United Kingdom), with a chronicle of over a thousand years, still does it best. When they sing their hymns and national anthems, there is something of their long history that touches every heart, not from vanity, but with a shared feeling of immense dignity and pride in standing as one people, regardless of color, accent, religion, or race. I long to feel that pride that I felt as a child about our own country, one for which there is still so much potential, if we can come together on some level ground, where personal prejudice is minimized by the overwhelming feeling of the beauty of the vast landscape and the shared prospects of its many people, with our almost limitless resources to help, rather than to hurt one another.

Here is a little video taken at Royal Albert Hall in London. It is most stunning when heard with earphones (as though you’re there). See what unity and true pride look like in the English national hymn (Jerusalem) and God Save the Queen. If it doesn’t give you chills, then your emotional freon supply has been sadly depleted. Enjoy.

Oh, and God bless America!


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The Hiatus of America’s Reason


When did everything become so black and white that nuance, middle ground and actual discussion disappeared, like last year’s Easter eggs, and that any opposing view is seen as a threat or insult?

rage #1

All my life I’ve observed factions in my own family of Dutch Protestants versus Irish Catholics and Republicans versus Democrats, but never in the sense of war camps determined to decimate one another. Though passionately loyal to their religious and political convictions, the extended families of my parents were always willing and able to put their personal tenets aside in favor of shared memories over coffee and cake or beer and pretzels. I know that that sounds simplistic and naïve, but bear with me.

rage #2

The media during the presidential campaign of the past year seemed perfectly comfortable in churning up enough tweaked photos and edited stories to make anyone’s blood boil about whatever the “opposition” was doing at any moment. Tabloid-quality narratives on the Obamas made the Emperor Nero and Messalina look like Calvin Coolidge and Little Orphan Annie. Sometimes the stories were laughable and sometimes heartbreaking in their ferocity. Hillary Clinton was unfairly bashed until, in the media, she no longer resembled even a fragment of her true self. Donald Trump was as much under attack until he became, at least to Democrats, the Anti-Christ. They all became comic book characters in single dimensions that were both comical, because they were absurd, and dangerous, because too many gullible people wanted to believe they were accurate and truthful assessments. Each side developed immunity to any truth that didn’t agree with its predetermined convictions. There was nothing too outrageous that couldn’t become part of someone’s arsenal of “truths” to condemn the enemy. Prejudices on both sides became impenetrable to anything that contradicted their preconceptions.

Demonstrators square off during a rally outside City Hall in Philadelphia, Wednesday, July 27, 2016, during the third day of the Democratic National Convention. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The adrenalin rushes from both sides in the powerful feelings of self-righteous indignation released bone-crushing sarcasm and criticism of the opposition. Truth didn’t always have much to do with the messages. Too many people on both sides became comfortably smug among their equally ill-informed allies in a shared laser focus on their own safe sources for information. The extremes were Fox News and MSNBC, which are light years away from each other in their style and content of reportage, but both managed to sculpt the news in the most artful ways , trimming this detail or leaving out something else, always rendering the final stories perfect fits for their generally predetermined political agendas. For me, PBS came closest to news unencumbered by emotional claptrap and tipped scales.

rage #4

I’ve stopped reading the absurd, often mean-spirited political posts on Facebook, one of the last places I go to find any measure of balance and untrimmed truth. Both parties can duke it out, but without me. The other day I saw a post on FB by one of my former students from the 1970’s. Her message was that none among us knows the pain of other people, so we shouldn’t always judge…but rather be kind instead. I thought the post one that was badly needed, but in her very next post, the same woman indulged in a pronouncement of cruel, malicious jibes against Michelle Obama just for the way she looked. My heart sank as I realized that the student’s posts were cafeteria-style, chosen on whims that often had little connection or real moral significance from one moment to the next. Another post farther down the page by someone else was bashing Melania Trump for no good reason. There have been days that I’ve felt sickened by post after post of the most vitriolic and unmerited criticisms of all those from the political battle of the past year, some of the digs being as puerile as ones from when we were kids on the playground… “Your momma wears combat boots!” Are there really adults so insecure that such meanness makes them feel better or safer? It’s simply beyond my comprehension.

I’m weary of the easy, cheap stereotypes for the words “conservative,” “liberal,” “Republican,” and “Democrat.” They’ve lost most of what they once meant. All four words seem to have become ugly insults, because people have become too lazy to analyze dispassionately what the words can mean, but the cold, factual, dictionary definitions have lost their original luster in favor of enraged add-ons of disgust and pure assumption.

As a nation we seem to have forgotten that we’re all in this together and that it’s not a boxing match where one can’t win unless someone else is down. The resulting stalemate has made much of our political discourse snide and devoid of any level of empathy in the wider view, because we have no wider view.

I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but he is now the President of my country, for better or worse. I believe that the discord and obstructionism which was used so ruthlessly (but not always successfully) against President Obama should be at its end. The new president should be given the chance to see what he can do for the nation (not for the political party). If he fails, he can later be impeached so that we will all have to join forces to clean up the rubble left behind. As Americans, we have survived Andrew Jackson and George W. Bush as presidents. The country will not collapse. I believe it will become even stronger, if for no other reason than that of a possibly painful lesson to be learned in hindsight. President Trump will be as observed, checked, and criticized as any former president has been. We all have the right and responsibility to watch him carefully and maintain our duty as a republic to criticize him if or when he strays from the common good or what is constitutional. Any other way would suggest a number of former dictatorships of which the world has already seen too many. So give the man a chance to make things better. Our nation was great before, so I rather dislike the sarcastic notion that we can be great “again.” But, perhaps we can improve, and our new President’s prolific rhetoric can become reality in some ways. We’ll never know unless he can take the wheel and steer us somewhere else. Also it’s up to all of us. One man can’t do it alone, as we’ve seen so many times in the past.

Bitterness and civil war are not the answers to our continuation as a nation. We need to find areas of agreement for unity, not fragmentation for every single cause that comes down the pike, however worthy. There can be debate based upon facts and shared hopes so that we can find some middle ground, where extreme, one-sided, self-righteous, greedy rage cannot topple us into oblivion. Reason and compromise are so difficult, maybe especially for adults. Let’s do something together as a nation, for a change.  JB

Lady liberty

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Saying What Needs To Be Said


Meryl Streep is a courageous, compassionate woman, who said what the rest of us wanted to say, but she was heard, and what she said struck a nerve, especially for Trump (whose name she didn’t even mention). Reason has flown out the window about politics. The Trumpster has reached the point at which he can do nothing wrong in the eyes of his worshipers. They take offense at any criticism of their new deity, yet they are resplendent with insults and criticisms of any opposition, even if those criticisms are based upon supposition and lies. They see only what they wish to see and always find ways to dismiss his mean-spirited side and his meandering opinions that change daily. I’ve given up trying to rationalize.

Perhaps the most painful lesson our democracy has ever seen will occur over the next four years (or whatever time elapses before an impeachment). Our country will suffer for a while in ways we probably can’t yet imagine, but perhaps even the Trumps and Trumpettes will realize at last that something was horribly wrong, and their siding with and protecting this sinister man was a mistake they will wish they had never made. Time will tell, but I’m not as blindly optimistic and starry eyed as some of my friends seem to be. They are bedazzled beyond repair.   JB


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Baby, It’s Cold Outside


Human reaction to air temperature is a very relative thing. Though still a Hoosier (born and raised in Indiana) at heart, and accustomed to brutal winters on the southern tip of Lake Michigan, I have to say that my tolerance for what I used to believe was “cold” has been seriously modified. Having also lived in Colorado for ten years, I have undergone a major change in my response to what is chilly, because I spent half of those years as a snowbird, leaving the house in Centennial in early November to live in our Pompano Beach condo in Florida until May. In 2016 I became a permanent resident of “The Sunshine State,” having become weary of the 2200-mile drive with the dog every six months before we sold the Colorado house.


Though Centennial has more sunshine than Miami, there is also a lot of snow, along with the occasional sub-zero temperatures. During the past five years, my body’s thermostat has undergone some real changes in its reactions to heat and cold. I used to shovel snow in Indiana and Colorado wearing only a light down jacket, gloves, and a knit hat when the temperature was ten degrees and took walks when the thermostat registered zero. My gradual transformation to a thermal wuss really took only five years.


I used to chuckle to myself over the native Floridians, who would wear mittens, mufflers, earmuffs and anoraks when they saw the temperatures plummet to the low fifties. I must confess that I have now become one of those very climate-sensitive folks, perhaps because the mornings that dip into the fifties are so rare. Ninety-eight percent of the time, I now wear shorts and polo shirts. “Formal” occasions require light cotton slacks and short-sleeve shirts. Neckties are quite rare and seem to be used only at the time of one’s death, so that I’ve had most of mine quilted into toss pillows.


I always had a working fireplace before moving to Florida, but the one in the house we own in Oakland Park down here is, though make of brick, purely decorative. On Christmas Eve at our condo, where we enjoyed the holidays, I spent hours reading, while sitting in front of a large TV screen watching a video of a fireplace ablaze with crackling logs while I burned wood smoke- scented candles. The video lasted two hours, and I played it twice,  later adding the scent of balsam candles for extra olfactory effect.


We’re all used to sitting in front of TV screens or radios, but those devices are fairly new, having been around only within the last century and now having become portable, so that folks are seen everywhere glued to their hand-held, electronic screens, often oblivious of whatever or whoever else is around them. For many thousands of years, however, human beings gathered around campfires, fireplaces, and potbelly stoves in communal experiences of warmth and shared stories. My attempts to recreate that ancient experience electronically is certainly synthetic, but I hope, nonetheless, that it achieves at least some of what our ancient ancestors enjoyed.    JB

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A Faithful Shamrock…


This shamrock plant is at least twenty-seven years old. Jim received it in 1990 at a boardroom meeting on St. Patrick’s Day. Each person was given a Dixie cup containing a little plant. Over the years this one has endured brutal winters, staying in the cold sunroom of the house in Colorado to the sun porch of the Florida condo, where it seems to thrive best.  JB

Saint Patricks Day shamrock leaf symbol isolated on white vector illustration

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