Thursday, April 1, 2010

Consider This

By LC Van Savage

Francis, Irving, And Kate

“The Star Spangled Banner” is, as you well know, our national anthem. A hard song to sing or play, it is nonetheless stirring, shivery and thrilling to hear with or without the words.

As you also well know, Francis Scott Key wrote it during the War of 1812. He was a young lawyer, born in western Maryland and he became worried, as everyone did back in the day, that the British forces would soon overtake Baltimore. Francis went to Fort McHenry in 1814 to use his lawyerly skills to negotiate the release of his pal Dr. William Beanes who was a captive of the British and was being held on board a ship. Key got his buddy freed during the Battle of Baltimore and from that same shipboard, watched the bombardment by the Brits of Ft. McHenry. The next morning in the clearing smoke, Key was surprised and happy to see that the huge American flag over the fort was still flying. That special flag was 30 feet high and 42 feet wide. Hey, that’s bigger than the first floor of my house!! (The flag is at the Smithsonian. Go see it. It gives shivers.)

But there Key stood in the dawn’s early light, and scribbled down a few words about “The Defense of Fort McHenry” which he later expanded into an entire poem renamed, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The newspapers got it and it was sung to the English drinking tune of, “To Anacreon in Heaven.” OK I had to look up “Anacreon” too—he was a Greek lyric poet from the 6th century BC. Who on earth knows these things? Apparently the English. Thus, “The Star Spangled Banner” was born and on March 3 of 1931 it became our national anthem. Key, obviously a great patriot, went on to become a DA in DC.

The song can also be most comical as you watch professional athletes and young school kids desperately trying to sing the words and pretty much not being able to. I can understand little kids having problems with “what so proudly we hail” and “perilous night” and “ramparts we watch” and things “gallantly streaming” but frankly I find it pretty unforgiveable that American-born athletes, and even lots of school kids have never had to learn those fabulous old words. How come?

No matter. At my advanced age I’m beginning to realize that nothing much is going to change and not enough people care about learning the words to our National Anthem anymore, and not enough people want to bother to place their hands across their hearts when it starts to play, or some men to bother removing their hats.

How I loved doing and seeing that as a young person. My father was such a staunch American that even if we heard the Star Spangled Banner on the radio or TV, we had to stand up (not especially easy in a moving car) and heaven help us if we ever allowed the American flag he flew in our back yard on a pole so high it could be seen for miles, to touch the ground when we took it down every dusk. And this from a man who was too young for WW I, and too old for WW II. He so regretted not being able to join American men in battle, and he did love the US of A.

But another stirring song seems to be just as patriotic and moving as the Star Spangled Banner. This one, called “God Bless America” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish immigrant to America and a member of a small club of the greatest composers of popular music the world has ever known or ever will again. To those of us who were born when I was, or thereabouts (1938) all I’d have to do is mention a few of his composed song titles and you’d be able to sing every single one of the tunes with all the words. Berlin, this gigantically talented man, who became an American citizen in 1918 well knew the horrors of poverty and non-freedom. He so loved America that he was actually proud to pay taxes for the privilege of living here.

And because he loved America so much, he wanted to compose a song about our country, now his, for a comedy show in which he was involved. He wrote it, but thought it a bit too solemn, and so in 1918, he put it into a drawer. Maybe a trunk. I wasn’t there.

But then came along 1938, a momentous year not only because I was born then on January 1, but because something far more important was happening; fascism and war threatened Europe. Irving Berlin had been born Israel Isidore Baline in May of 1888, in Tyumen Russian Empire. It came time to leave there, in a hurry. So the family did and settled, where else? On the Lower East Side of NYC where his beloved mother would often say “God Bless America” because had it not been for America, the family (8 kids!) would have had no other place to go.

Enter Kate Smith, an extremely popular singer, performer, radio and even TV talk show hostess from the 1920s until the 1980s. She had a contralto voice that could melt the handles off a brass can and all Americans loved her. I got to see her once, as a kid, when my grandmother took me in to see her do her radio show in NYC. I’ll never forget her. She sang the house down! Anyway, Kate loved and represented America so strongly that when President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced her to British royalty, he said, “Your Majesties, this is Kate Smith. This is America.” I mean come on, it can’t get much better than that, right? Wow.

So, “God Bless America,” languished twenty years in a trunk or drawer or whatever, until 1938 (love that year) when Kate Smith was searching for a patriotic song to sing to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day. Her manager asked Irving Berlin if he had such a song, Berlin remembered his discarded GBA, hauled it out, tweaked it and the rest is history. Kate Smith sang it hundreds of times and it always brought the house, and everything else down. Many people today think it should be our National Anthem, and many do cover their hearts with their hands or remove their hats when they hear it played or sung. For Berlin, the song thanked his adopted country for making everything possible for him. It’s only 40 words long after the intro, but so meaningful, so deeply inspiring that none of us can forget that on the afternoon of 9/11/01, US Senators and Congress people stood on the Capital steps and sang it. The casts of Broadway shows, days later, led many of their audiences in renditions of that great song before curtain time. I’d say it’s a keeper.

So, let’s think about this. Wouldn’t it be something if Francis, Irving and Kate, three incredibly patriotic Americans could all meet somewhere and talk? Wouldn’t they make people think about things? Wouldn’t they make us all feel proud to be Americans? Wouldn’t you just love to sit in on that meeting? Me too! Which of those mighty tunes would you tell them you’d want to be the National Anthem, if it came to a vote? Were I in that room, I’d have to vote for both. There’s no rule about having two anthems, is there? Both have such deep meaning and deeper history.

Email LC at
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on Saturdays at 10:30 AM on MPBN.
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Vanished Houses

For reasons best explained
By urban planners,
Every house we’ve dwelled in
Since our move to Texas years ago
Is gone except the one at hand.

It was so sad I could not watch
The places that we’d lived
When dozers pushed their shattered ribs
Off the strangely shrunken slabs
On which we’d danced and sung.

If home is where the heart is,
What fate befalls a vanished home?
I hold planed planks and shingled shakes
Can remain eternal, ageless,
As long as memory survives;

So though I recognize
This room that here surrounds me,
So familiar, solid-seeming,
Painted, hung with pictures,
As just a shell of plaster,

Boards and nails,
As doomed to dust as I,
I’ll deem it always as my castle,
If only as a haunted ruin
In my romantic mind.

©2010 John I. Blair

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Not Too Bad

When asked “How are you doing?”
I’ve learned how to appreciate
The simple truth of saying this:
“Not too bad, considering.”

Each week, each day, each hour,
Each moment should be savored,
Wrung of every drop of life
That can be won.

Yes bitterness waits for me,
The certainty of pain,
Of fear and loss, anxiety,
Waste and grief and death.

But joy dwells here as well
If I just seek hard enough.
A flush of sun, sweet scent of rain,
Food to taste, skin to kiss,

Your warmth, your voice, your breath.

And so, how am I doing?
Not too bad, considering!

©2007 John I. Blair

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Bringing Out The Celt In Me

Dreaming on a chill December night,
Cocooning after Christmas,
I hearken to an old CD
Of John McDermott singing
Danny Boy and Auld Lang Syne
And sense my inner Celt begin to swoon.

Oh many times I’ve sworn
There’s not a drop of Irish in me;
But my name is purest Scots.
I’m descended from a lad
Born a scant one hundred miles
Across the Irish Sea from Belfast.

And though the feuds and furies
That bloodied moors and sullied glens
Burned out before the Blairs reached Kansas,
I thrill to hear a bagpipe’s wail,
Yearn for stony castles in the mist
And fancy what I’d look like in a plaid.

My voice is rather baritone than tenor;
The Texas plains look nothing like the Highlands;
And I doubt I’d ever dare to wear a skirt.
But when I hear McDermott croon Loch Lomond
I think I might consider marching off
To next year’s local gathering of the clans.

©2006 John I. Blair

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Reference Point

Looking for the door to death
She prowled one room to the next,
Calling softly here and there,
Our sixteen years’ companion
Now a stranger to us all.

Kidneys, heart, lungs, brain
Failing, falling quite apart
She still found comfort
In our presence
But no longer held an interest
In living, breathing, being.

What could we say,
What could we think or do
As she probed that boundary,
Intent to reach the other side?

We spoke her name, Kismet,
As often as she’d hear it,
Touched her gently
As often as she’d let us,
Focused as she was.

The least we hoped for her
Was that we gave a reference point
From which to walk away.

©2006 John I. Blair

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China’s Trade Advantage

By Thomas F. O'Neill
I have been living in China now for ten months and I am still not completely settled in. I still receive emails and text messages from people I know in the United States. I answer their emails with blunt honesty because there is such a contrast between Suzhou China and my hometown. There are so many depended on the Welfare system or monthly disability checks in my hometown of Shenandoah located in the heart of the Pennsylvania Coal region. The poverty there is doing havoc in that region especially where I grew up.

People there are feeling beaten down with little or no hope of escape. The outward migration by the college bound youth seems greater than the people moving into the region for the cheap housing. China’s economy is a complete contrast because it’s booming. There are over 365 Million people within China’s middle class. They are spending money which is causing the economy here to grow exponentially with no end in sight.

There are more people in China’s middle class than the entire population in America. The Middle class in America is shrinking and people are afraid to spend money because of the high unemployment and the uncertain Job market.

I am currently living on a residential Visa in China and I can live here for as long as I want provided that I am working and paying taxes. I have no planes right now on moving back to the States but at the same time I would never give up my American citizenship I will always be an American. China on the other hand has been very good to me. I will always respect China because China has provided me with so many opportunities.

When you tell the average American that the middle class in China average about $12,000 a year in U.S. Dollars, they will tell you that’s peanuts. What they fail to understand though - $12,000 in U.S. Dollars will provide you with 81,600 Yuan here in China. That is the equivalent of someone in the U.S. making approximately $93,000 a year. With the one child policy in effect here a Chinese couple can raise a child and provide that child with boundless opportunities. The opportunities that many in the Pennsylvania coal region feel are beyond their reach.

The Suzhou Foreign Language School is providing me with a free apartment on campus and I get all my meals for free in the School Cafeteria. Food here is very inexpensive though. You can eat in a restaurant and get a large meal for less than two American Dollars. If I wanted to rent a nice apartment in the City I could do so for less than $300.00 U.S. dollars a month. You can get broadband Internet Service for approximately $100.00 annually. The Internet however is highly censored by China’s government so many foreigners like me use a VPN Service provider (Virtual Proxy Network) to bypass China’s Internet firewall. The School provides me with free internet service I only have to pay for the VPN server; it cost me $100.00 U.S. Dollars a year.

One American Dollar will provide you with 6.8 Yuan in Chinese currency.

I bought a Sony Vaio Laptop computer here for 5,200 Yuan which comes out to approximately $764.00 U.S. Dollars. That Laptop if I bought it in the U.S. would have cost me approximately $2000.00 because of all the software that was included. The only problem I had was finding the Windows 7 operating system in English. I wound up purchasing a bootleg copy of the Windows 7 that was in English for approximately $29.50 in U.S. Dollars. I then had to purchase a new product key off of the Microsoft website. Software pirating is very common in China there is no intellectual property rights here.

Everyone in China has to pay taxes the Government uses some of the taxes to subsidize all the various service providers like cellular companies, internet providers, satellite companies, railways, gas stations, Taxi services, Airlines, ect ect. They do this to control the rate of inflation and to keep the price of the services low. I can call the U.S. on a China SIM card for approximately 10 Cents a minute. On a U.S. SIM card it would cost me $1.99 a minute. I could also send a text message on a China SIM card to the U.S. for less than 1 cent. On a U.S. SIM card it would cost me more than 60 cents.

The Chinese Government at the moment is angry with the U.S. due to President Obama threatening China with trade sanctions. China is deliberately devaluing its currency by artificially keeping the Yuan below the global currency market. The low value of the Yuan gives China a trade advantage. They have the ability to export more low priced goods.

China right now is exporting half of the world’s steel and 40% of their electronics are purchased in the U.S. Many American companies feel they can’t compete with China. The Chinese companies are selling higher quality electronics at lower cost. China also holds $1.5 trillion of our nation’s debt they loaned America that money to keep our economy from collapsing.

President Obama by threatening China with trade sanctions not only angered China’s Government but the government is questioning whether America is capable of lowering our national debt. They are also questioning whether President Obama’s can bring an end to the unjust war in Iraq.

The Chinese Government feels America is trying to force them to solve our problems due to our inability to stabilize our sluggish and faltering economy. At the same time they realize that their economy in order to continue to grow is dependent on America’s economy rebounding.

They go out of their way to hire Americans because they want to learn everything they can about our culture because they want to effectively market their products to America. The average Chinese person thinks all Americans are filthy rich and they respect foreigners because they feel we are contributing to their economy.

They are curious about Americans and they ask many questions and they want to learn about how we live and think. They are also curious about our attitudes toward China.

I am enjoying my stay here because the Chinese people on the most part are very warm and loving people. Whenever I am out in public they go out of their way to be helpful. The more you show your respect towards them the more they go out of their way for you.

I also found that many Chinese believe in Karma due to the Buddhist influence on the Chinese culture. I had extraordinary experiences with people walking up to me in train stations and Airports helping me with my luggage. When I offered to tip them they refused to take my money. On the opposite end of the spectrum I was overly priced on merchandise such as clothes because I am foreign. It is a common practice for the Chinese to overprice foreigners whenever possible. The Chinese in bars and restaurants on the other hand refuse tips for their services.

Some Americans I met are working here because of the low cost of living. Other Americans I met are retired they came to China on business Visas years ago and never went back to the states. Many Americans moved to China because of the state of the economy in America. The Chinese economy as I mentioned before is booming.

I am always running into American men that married Chinese woman here. Most of them that married Chinese woman are more than twenty years older than their Chinese wives. It is not that uncommon to see American men here twice the age of their Chinese wives.

When I arrived here I was told that the Chinese women are much more loyal and devoted to their men than American woman. I find however that they are not all that different than American woman. Our western culture is having a huge impact on China, due to the popularity of American movies and our music. Some American TV shows have become extremely popular here as well like ‘Friends,’ ‘Prison Break,’ and the ‘Simpsons.’

My Students always ask me for my opinion on China’s future.

I’ve told my students on several occasions that it will not be that long when China is the top dog on the global market. After all it was the Chinese that wrote the extremely popular book ‘The Art of War’ written nearly 2,500 years ago.

The book’s strategic outline for succeeding in battle is now being applied on the global business market. The Chinese word for Intelligence can also be used for deception and clever. The Chinese like to use deception to out maneuver and get the upper hand on their opponents. The devaluing of their currency is a deceptive and clever way of getting an upper hand on their global trade.

President Obama by threatening to impose trade sanctions on China is exposing our nation’s weakness rather than negotiating through strength. Threatening China is not going to force them to comply with our President’s demands because China knows they have the upper hand.

I will predict that China's economy will continue to grow to the point where they will be the world’s number one exporter. I think it is inevitable that they will eventually becoming the richest Superpower. I believe this will happen in my lifetime.

I also tell my students it is a great time for them to be alive because they are going to witness extraordinary economic and technological changes in the world. I can’t even imagine where China will be in just ten years from now. Will I be here in ten years? Only time will tell. If I am still here a decade from now I will still be referred as Tom the American foreign teacher and that is fine with me.

Always with love from Suzhou, China,
Thomas F. O’Neill

(800) 272-6464
China Cell: 8615114565945

Skype: thomas_f_oneill

Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found at the links below.




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Irish Eyes

The Clay Pipe

A nickname is the heaviest stone that the devil can throw at a man. It is a bugbear to the imagination, and, though we do not believe in it, it still haunts our apprehensions. William Hazlett.

I grew up in an area, in West Wicklow, where even the livestock had nicknames. Each and every person had a nickname stuck on them . . . and then they were stuck with it . . yes . . I have one . . never mind . . it’s not fit for human consumption . . you’re too young. One of my neighbours (his name was Tom) was called the mouse . . for reasons that I won’t go into here. Well . .. he had a very big family and he had other talents too. The most evident of which was the ability to obtain of intoxicating beverages in aLmost any circumstances. Even in times of recession his ingenuity and prowess would yield results . . for instance there was the Good Friday that the two Dublin fellows who took a No. 65 to Blessington.

They had failed to find a hostelry in the capital that had the bolt drawn So. For some unknown reason they thought Licensing Laws would be less strenuously applied in the Wicklow . Still, they had no desire to be stranded in outer suburbia should it turn out to be a "dry run" so to speak. So they didn't alight but remained on the platform while the bus was turning. One of them addressed a question to the solitary figure of "The Mouse" standing at Miley Cullen's Corner; "Do you know anywhere two lads might get a drink?" "Begob I don't" says "The Mouse" equal to the challenge "But I know where three lads would get a drink".

During the Holy season of Christmas he would always manage to get his hands on a stray dog. Restrained by a makeshift least of binding twine or an old tie the canine would be brought to any house within a five mile radius where there was a chance of a bottle. The householder, who would in most cases have had a similar visit in preceding years would be politely asked, “did you, by any chance, lose a dog? Or “I found this fellow an’ when I saw the well-fed look of him I thought of yourself;” Says I to meself “who else would own him?

Wakes, of course, were a fairly good source of lubrication but unfortunately in periods of high mortality such as the bad winters of 1947 and 1963 money, and consequently gargle was scarce. Still the upside of the situation was that there would at times be two or sometimes more wakes in progress simulantesly . So with a bit of strategic planning and careful logistics the appropriate toing and froing between wake houses would ensure that the mouse would get more than his quota . . so to speak.

Election days too were a Godsend. His modus operandi on such days, be it a bye-election or a general election, didn’t change. As early as possible he would make his way into Blessington where he would call to the licensed premises of one James C, Miley, and a Fianna Fail counciler.

The “what are you having, Tom” would be followed by, “Yell give me yer number one.”

When the liquid bribe had been consumed transport would be provide to take the mouse to his local polling booth. . the school in Lacken where he would cast his vote. He would then be conveyed back to Blessington by the loyal party worker.

This time he would pick a different watering-hole, where the faithful of another political party would be handing out pre-election promises for farther orders.

“Did you vote yet?” would get a resounding, ”No”. A promised vote, More porter and another trip to Lacken would ensue. Once again he would enter the polling station followed by another return-journey to Blessington. This Pilgrimage would be repeated several times during the day and each candidate would be assured of his loyal support.. I suppose you could nearly say that the mouse was a trend-setter in the “vote early vote often policy.”

Bottled stout was his preferred libation but in cases of emergency other forms of beverage would suffice.

But to my mind the time that his alcoholic acumen came into its own was on one Tuesday morning . . it was after a Bank holiday weekend and he was badly in need of a hair of the dog. (As far as I cam remember that was the morning he said to his own dog, “bite me if you like but don’t bark”) On the morning in question his total finances amounted to one solitary English truppeny bit. Do you remember them. A good few of you hear remember them anyway . . and the ploughman pounds. Anyway the English truppeny bit was brass and twelve sided. There’s a word for that. An oul schoolmaster told me once. It’s Dod . . dod . . . me oul head is goin. Dodecagonal. Dodecagonal . . A certain person lately made a very unkind remark. He said that the last time I paid for a drink that there was a trupeny bit in the change. But I digress . . an’ I’m rambling too. Where was I oh yes. The mouse an’ the truepenny bit. Now, even though things were cheap at the time it would take five shillings, or a half a crown at the very least to make any impression on a hangover. So what could a man do with a truepenny bit? I couldn’t do anything with it. An’ I bet you couldn’t do much with it either. But the mouse had a plan. The price of a clay pipe, at the time, was trupence. So . . he went to Burke’s shop, in Lacken, an’ he purchased a new clay pipe.

Head splittin’ . . . mouth like the inside of a septic tank and the nerves in bits . . and now . you are going to ask me what good a clay pipe . . even a new one . .would be to eliveate such a condition. Well . . .at the time it was believed that a clay pipe had to be seasoned (or Saysoned) as they’d say up our way. The favoured method was to fill the pipe-bowl with whiskey . . . something that even the most parsimonious publican couldn’t very well refuse to supply.

Armed with his new pipe, the mouse headed for Blessington and into Hennessy’s where he asked the barman to fill his pipe with the necessary amber liquid which he promptly sucked out through the stem. He visited Miley’s, Powers and Dowlings with the same request. Sand then he crossed the street to Mullally’s and the Gunch Byrnes. He got a bonus in the Gunches . . he managed to get a fill” in the bar and the lounge. Now those of you with a mathematical turn of mind will know that the bowl of a clay pipe would hold approximately 8mill and if you were paying attention you’d know that he got it filled seven times which would amount to a sum total of 56 millilitres of whiskey. I won’t bore you with the exact conversion to imperial measure, most of you went to school longer than me but . . the total alcohol involved amounted to slightly more than a small one. Hardly enough to make inroads into a severe, seasonal, hangover. But it was a start . . and . . as luck would have it the Mouse got a lift to Naas where . . at the time, there were thirty seven pubs.

©Mattie Lennon

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Always Looking --

A Debt We Can, Literally, Never Repay

How does one pay for an entire country? Especially if the original offer was never made, or if made, never accepted, or if accepted, never comprehended?

When my ancestors got here from England, some of them nearly 400 years ago, they came to a land that already had inhabitants. As many as a million Native Americans, belonging to hundreds of independent, distinct, unique groups, that had been in North America for thousands of years. It was their land, as truly as any land can belong to humans. For the most part they honored its soil and plants and animals, weather changes and natural features, in their traditions, their religions, the expressions of their many languages. As, for example, members of the Sioux Nation say even today, ”We are all children of the Earth; all came from her womb, for creation is present in all life if it is . . . defined as the nature that surrounds and sustains us all.”

These peoples were totally unprepared, by anything in their previous experience, for the sailboats that appeared on the eastern horizon bearing pale people from an unknown continent, with strange religious beliefs and a radically different attitude about land and property. People eventually by the thousands and tens of thousands, who were prolific beyond any group of Native Americans. And hungry. Greedy for land and furs and minerals and water resources.

From the start the two peoples did not understand each other. And the natives suffered mightily, only sporadically and ineffectually fighting back, and falling by the thousands to new diseases brought by the Europeans.

My own people were often at the forefront of this avalanche of newcomers, moving onto the land vacated by the fleeing, or expiring, Indians. First in Connecticut, then New Jersey and Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas. They were named Blair, Marvin, Reeves, Boone, Linville, McWilliams, Herring, Barnes, Patterson, Rogers, Piggott, Veale, and lots of others in my many-limbed family tree.

Sometimes blood was shed, on both sides, but sheer numbers and firepower made the outcome inevitable. The wilderness that had been dotted with villages and small fields, rich with wildlife and forest and prairies, rapidly was transformed into regimented grids of plow lands and woodlots, fenced pastures, orchards and kitchen gardens. And the Indians received little or nothing for their losses. Most of them were killed, driven away, or confined to tiny fragments of land. And many were just absorbed into the new population and effectively vanished in that way.

Recently the government has announced plans to reimburse the remaining official tribal groups, but only for mismanagement of assigned tribal reserve lands over the past century, not for the original losses. And thousands of non-affiliated individuals, or non-recognized groups, are left out even from this token payment.

What can we many, many millions of beneficiaries of this sorry history do to make amends for the past? Oh, we can say (as do I, at times) “I didn’t do that” or “my people acted in good faith, believing what the Government at the time told them.” Or even “my people tried to help the Indians when they could.” But also many of us (as do I) have to admit “My people were involved in killing or displacing Indians who were just trying to defend their homeland.” So what can we do?

Ultimately there is no way adequately to make up for the past. We literally can’t give it all back. Perhaps a bit, here and there, can be given in restitution. Tribal schools and charities can be supported. Letters can be written in support of tribal litigation. I suppose those so inclined could even make a point of gambling at tribally owned casinos or vacationing on tribally owned lands. (Only a few tribes have these income resources; most remain among the nation’s poorest.) But in some ways this is sort of like original sin – about all one can do is to swear repentance and try to live a better life, learning from the errors of the past. And consider the possibility of revising our notions of history just a bit.

Case in point: I’m descended from Daniel Boone, and I’m proud of that. At one time Boone was glorified as a great Indian fighter. But now it’s believed that he only killed three Indians in his life, only one that he was sure of, all in self defense or to protect others. Most of his life he tried to be friends with the Indians, learned hunting and tracking from them, lived peacefully with them whenever possible. For a few months in 1778, as a captive of the Shawnee, he was even formally adopted into the tribe. (He later escaped to go warn the people at Boonesborough of an impending attack and lead them in defense.) In his later years Boone is reported to have gone fishing with some old Shawnee traveling past his home in Missouri -- remembering no doubt the time when he was an adopted Shawnee himself (named Sheltowee, “The Turtle”).

That’s the picture of Daniel Boone I like to envision. And in my mind I, too, would like to “go fishing” with descendants of the people who lived here first, hoping we can be friends in the future. Let the past be remembered, but the suffering end. I would like to close by quoting the great Ogallala Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse (Ta-Sunke-Witko), who saw this in a vision near the violent end of his life in the 1870s: “There is still the circle of heaven and earth. Yet a little waiting for your people, then what the Wasicus bring will be only a bad dream that shall pass away like a shadow that has never been! In that day some of the Wasicus too will learn the meaning of the Sacred Circle and they will help your people change the earth to beauty.”

©2010 John I. Blair

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Thinking Out Loud

The civilized world is under world wide attack by Islamic extremists. The recent attack in the Moscow subway marks a new strategy by the terrorists in that for the second time the suicide bombers were women. What frightens me about this is that basic western chivalry towards women will permit more female terrorists from slipping through the cracks for fear that rigorous searches, i.e., bomb sniffing dogs, full body scans and questioning will be “softened” for distaff subjects.

Clearly, something has to be done and done soon to keep our subway systems safe. New York and Washington DC are particularly vulnerable because both are high priority targets. The first thing I suggest is that women clad in burqas NOT be allowed in trains, planes, buses, shopping malls, large stores or schools. (France has already banned burqas from being worn in public!)

Further, wearers of the hijab (traditional headscarf) should be subjected to extra scrutiny in all public places whether through questioning or full body search. Additionally, we are going to have to issue a national I.D. card where no one (including Chasidic Jews) will be photographed with a hat, skull cap, yes; but head covering, no!

And yes, it will be tested in the Supreme Court where there is always the chance that the idea will be shot down. But the mere fact, that our country – the most freedom loving country on the face of the earth – saw fit to take such drastic steps might jar some Muslims into giving authorities a heads-up before the bomber can wreak his or her havoc. So far to my knowledge this has not happened one single time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nothing short of American Muslims stepping up to the plate and becoming part of the solution will have to happen if they want to live amongst us without being defrocked or shunned.

It is painfully ironic that through my business connections I probably know more peaceful, hard working Muslims than any reader likely to read this. And it is to them that I say: it is no longer acceptable to say that you condemn violence, that killing innocents is not what Islam is about. You have to do more, much more and I hope and pray that you do. America needs you.

Click on Gerard Meister for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

When I Grow Up I Wanna Be A…

What did you want to be when you grew up, presupposing you have. The jury is still out on me, but seriously, what did you want to be? And what would have happened had you become that? In my case, it would most probably have been, not to put too fine a point on it, disastrous.

Back during The War---yes, The War, you remember, the big one, # II—I wanted desperately to join up. I was twenty-four days short of six years old when Pearl Harbor was bombed, and in my mind The War would probably go on forever. I reasoned that if bombs could fall on a place that had the same name as that small white ball in my grandmother’s pretty ring, then bombs could fall anyplace and everyplace. Thus my wanting to join up made perfect sense to me. My job, I’d decided, would be to make those planes stop dropping bombs on places with pretty names.

But it didn’t mean my going off to fight. Oh no, I wanted to join up mostly to stand around wearing those cool uniforms military women wore back then. Well, I always thought the shoes could have used a little work. I mean talk about sensible. Even at the ends of the prettiest, longest legs they looked like large dark blocks of wood. Ah but the uniforms—all of the uniforms --- the hats, the brass, the belts. I was smitten by them and dreamed all the time of wearing just any one of those marvelous regimentals. WAC, WAVE, WAAF, WASP, SPAR.

I remember staring at women in uniform on the Staten Island ferry when I was riding on it going to the Big City or coming home from same. I don’t know where those uniformed women were going but they were on those ferries and I stared at them so hard my eyes burned as I wrung my handkerchief in my anxious little hands so tightly it ripped. Yes, all proper young ladies back then carried a handkerchief. How gross was that? I recall being very determined to get into one of those uniforms, and the sooner the better, although I hadn’t even begun puberty yet, nor had even heard of the word. I’ll admit that the Navy uniform was especially attractive to me. That very, very cool hat. Wow. Some smart!

What would have happened had I joined up twelve years later? The war would have been well over, and strutting about in parades in full regalia would probably have been only a small part of military life post wartime, so when I was told that an awful lot of military work involved mornings, and since I didn’t then and still don’t do mornings, I’d have been a miserable failure as a career Woman in Uniform. So much for that particular “whenIgrowupIwannabe” dream.

I then used to get lost in my imagination in school, especially during Geography, dreaming of the day when I’d go to Egypt and dig up solid gold mummies and present them to the Egyptians who’d be so grateful they’d make me some kind of honorary potentate, that is if females can be that, and I’d spend my days stretched out on huge, silken couch being fed peeled grapes while beautiful Egyptian eunuchs fanned me with gigantic palm fronds.

But then, someone had to come along and wreck everything in that dream too, by advising me that finding a golden mummy in a gigantic golden tomb in a ginormous golden city takes years of digging with a teaspoon or a tiny paintbrush in tiny square holes in blowing sand in blistering heat and I pretty much lost interest. Had I actually pursued that I’d have made everyone as miserable as I possibly could, and I’d have been advised to get the hell out of Egypt and to never ever even think of returning. Banned from the land of Tutankhamen and Cleopatra for all eternity; oh the wretched, terrible disgrace.

Then I wanted to be a world famous actress but quickly realized it was way too much memorization and having to hold my stomach in, so that idea poofed off. Soon after that came the wild-eyed fantasy that I’d be the right-hand Girl Friday for a world famous actor and would travel the world with him fending off madding crowds. I actually found one and an offer was made. You’d know him if I told you his name, I mean if you’re of the geezer persuasion, but he turned out to be a randy old goat who had many more plans for me other than getting his coffee, going over lines and packing his socks and boxers, so that too poofed into the atmosphere and good riddance to that now dead malodorous old creepazoid.

Then I decided that I’d be a world famous artist, that I’d paint huge murals in enormous public places and have commissions too many to count. OK, on a most miniscule level, that did in fact work out, although my dreams to do that gigantic mural poofed away into the clouds and now I’m way too old to stand on scaffolding telling my story with acrylic paints. Or am I?

Do we all wonder if we’ve ever really grown up, or what exactly the definition of that is? But then, sometimes it actually works out. A member of our family as a little boy said what all little boys say, that he wanted to be a fireman when he grew up. He became one, he loved it and still does. Another old pal said when she was tiny that she wanted to live with horses. She did back then and does still today. So for some it happens.

Alas, and probably luckily, my dreams didn’t work out. I fear I’d have made a mess of things. The list was long back then of what I wanted to be when I grew up, but the Fates must have known that for me to get my mushy daydreamy wishes of what I wanted were just folly. Besides, I met Mongo somewhere in all that woolgathering and everything clicked into place and I found my path and thanks to him and our 3 sons, it’s been a really good path. And besides, there’s still time for me to grow up and to do a few of those things, right? Right??

Click on LC Van Savage
for bio and list of other works
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Email LC at
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10:30 AM Saturdays

Editor's Corner

By Mary E. Adair

April 2010

" I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence."
Robert Burns

Turbulent is a rather mild term for the weather last month threw around the world. Perhaps it is just that with the advanced type of news reporting we are privy to these days we hear more about bad weather, for instance. Also we hear more about accidents, politics, show business wherever it is happening, and underwear for goodness sake! When I was growing up one didn't mention the name of any undergarment in mixed or polite, unmixed company, much less with heightened volume discuss the pros and cons of any and every type of underwear from luxurious to intimate to protective. I've heard more about such subjects than I ever wondered.

One must practice discretion in listening and the nicest button on the remote is the one labeled "Mute." If only there were a button to handle actual comments and discussions one does not wish to hear.

Though April is the month for showers, some areas are getting flooded while others are nigh drought stricken. Our trees and vines are leafing, the bridal wreath abloom, but the bulbs somehow were zapped locally. However, at the store today a grand array of tulips of all colors, from plain to exotic to varigated, and single to fringed cups nodded enticingly at the shoppers. Muting my buying impulse got me past them.

As for personal turbulence, some of you know that my mother Lena May Joslin Carroll passed away March 3d, a couple months shy of her 92d birthday which would have been May 7. Next month there will be a tribute for her, in honor of all mothers. If any of you would like to send in Mother's Day type compositions, whether poetry, story, or article, please do.

Meanwhile for April John I. Blair in "Always Looking" poses some questions, answers a few others, and shares some of his ancestry also. Leo C. Helmer ( " Cookin' With Leo " ) helps get ready for Easter goodies; and Mattie Lennon spins a tale in his column "Irish Eyes" to tickle your ribs.

Thomas F. O'Neill ("Introspective") gives his take on the China Trade agreement from his current location in Suchow. LC Van Savage focuses your attention on the National Anthem and some alternate suggestions for it in "Consider This." In an article, "When I Grow Up I Wanna Be A…" LC tells what various careers she considered from age six onward.

Gerard Meister has a reflective piece in "Thinking Out Loud," which may be a different viewpoint you could use. Peg Jones ("Angel Whispers") drew an excused absence this issue and we look forward to having her back in May.

Bruce Clifford's poetry for April is "Close Your Mind," "Pieces Of Me," "Soaking Up The Sun," "Start All Over Again," and "The Hands of Time."

John I. Blair's poetry is "Davis Street," "Insomnia," "Not Too Bad," "Reference Point," "Bringing Out The Celt In Me," and "Vanished Houses."

"Pusher" comes to us from Connie Anast, now a reverend. She used to do a regular column for us but has many other irons in the fire now. The blog also carries the poem "Playlist" added in March after our issue date by Connie. It is nice to see her in our line up once more.

Thanks to Mike Craner, our webmaster, we also carry the ezine in a new 'blog' format at which allows comments again. We had to forego that priviledge here at because of spamming abuse. Pencil Stubs Online is also on FaceBook and you can become a fan by going to this url

or click on it from the sidebar if you are at the blog version.

Looking forward to seeing you in May!

Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Close Your Mind

Close your mind to the distraction

Live the lie, and the chain reaction

Pointed faith, live, love, destroy

Tell the world about your brand new toys

Live the life and count your change

Who is left for you to blame

Simple times seem so long ago

Tell us now all the things we should know

Close your mind to the distraction

Live the lie with no satisfaction

Taking chances, giving in

Learning where and how to begin

©3/3/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Cookin' With Leo

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Apricot Glaze

Well here we are again, and Easter is right around the corner, bunnies are hoppin’ all over the back yard now. Seems like we just got over Christmas, but I guess time moves on faster than I can keep up with it anymore. It’s been a darn cold winter even here is West Texas,where the desert sand and oil is. Mostly it is always hot here but this year we got caught in some Sunaumi, or somethin’, whatever them things are.

Any way we had one cold winter down here, even had snow, and that ain’t normal, especially since we had about 3 inches of snow at one time. That’s more snow than we get in about 10 years. Well now, the weather is back to normal, more or less. It has got back to about 60 or 70 during the day time, and that’s about right for West Texas even in February and March. Don’t please this ol’ northerner much but then since I am getting’ old and cranky, I suppose it is better than freezing my tail off ,whatever; And after being sick most of last year, it is good to be in a warm climate, wherever. So much fer bitchin’, let’s get on to a good recipe for celebratin’ Easter Time and bunnies, whichever.

Here is what you will need:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup light molasses
  • 1 tablespoon minced crystallized ginger
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, to serve
And for the Apricot Glaze:
  • 1 ½ cups apricot preserves
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
And Here is how you do it:
Lightly butter well seasoned cast iron muffin pan.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl sift together the dry ingredients. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg, molasses, crystallized ginger, sugar,and melted butter until thick. Gradually mix in the dry ingredients,alternating with the buttermilk. Beat for 1 minute after each addition to combine the ingredients well. Pour the batter into each muffin cup.Top each muffin with a slice of apricot. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes,until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
    Meanwhile prepare the apricot glaze: combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil, stirring.Then reduce the heat to low, keeping warm until ready to use.
Remove the muffins from the oven and let cool completely before removing.Serve, drizzled with Apricot Glaze and whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Sure Beats Hard Boiled Eggs And Jelly Beans!

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for Helmer's bio and list of other work published by
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Leo Enjoying the Shade

Soaking Up The Sun

Some people never cease to amaze me

Other people are a throwback from another time

All this indecision all around me

Maybe all I need is a glass and bottle of wine

Some people never spend their time on thinking

They rush around as if they were the only ones

Then you wonder why I always feel like drinking

As we walk along soaking up the sun

Living through the days

Take me away

Living on the run

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

Some people dream of others dreaming

They only pretend to walk the line

Maybe they're not seeing what I'm believing

This seems to happen to me all of the time

Living through the days

Take me away

Living on the run

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

Soaking up the sun

Are you the only one

Some people never cease to amaze me

Other people are a throwback from another time

All this indecision all around me

Maybe all I need is a glass and bottle of wine

©3/10/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Start All Over Again

It doesn't matter if you see this through

It doesn't matter what you're going to do

It's all the same because in the end

You're going to start all over again

It's doesn't matter if you get things right

It doesn't matter if you count it twice

It's all the same because in the end

You're going to start all over again

Count to ten

Start again

It doesn't matter if change your view

It doesn't matter if you've got attitude

It's all the same and you can't pretend

You're going to start all over again

If doesn't matter if you think of me

It doesn't matter if you count to three

It's all the same because in the end

Your going to start all over again

You're going to do it once

Do it twice

Keep on doing it until you get things right

It doesn't matter if you see this through

It doesn't matter what you're going to do

It's all the same because in the end

You're going to start all over

Start all over

Start all over again

©3/14/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

The Hands of Time

The hands of time
Hands of faith
Step in line
End the hate

The hands of time
Chemicals and war
Falling behind
Asking for more

Live and learn
We stand down one
The fires burned
We lost a ton

©3/20/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Pieces Of Me

Pieces of me were once taken away

Their lies and the memories made me afraid

The time that was lost as I was beaten to the ground

Has all been recovered since you've come back around

I'm not really sure if this was luck or just fate

I never could have imagined again seeing your face

Those parts of me that they thought they were able to break down

Have all been revived since you've come back around

All these years searching for answers and peace

I could have never imagined it would have been such a relief

Once I was forced to believe in what was so untrue

Now I know the truth and I owe it all to you

Pieces of me were once taken away

Contradictions and betrayal had gotten in the way

I've never forgotten all the friendships I once knew

Now that your here I know what is true

Now I know the truth and I owe it all to you

©3/26/10 Bruce Clifford
Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

Davis Street

How much my life has centered
On this street, this curbed corridor
Adorned with homes, magnolias, memories.

Here I walked my son to school,
Hiked to scout meets, lunged hell-bent,
Late to church on Sundays.

I’ve biked to the park at dawn’s crack,
Rolling down the worn and shadowed slab,
Praying I’d miss the potholes.

And, more recently, week
After weary week I’ve dragged myself
To clinics, doctors, rehab.

Some future morn, by plan,
My ashes will be brought this way
From the mortuary two miles north.

But now I’m rumbling
Over the rail crossing,
Off to visit granddaughters

In toy-strewn, laugh-filled rooms,
Beaming at my blessings
On this boulevard of joy.

©2010 John I. Blair

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Little blue pills cause all sorts of problems
Blue and white, blue and white
30, 60, 90
blue and white pills

I feel sick to my stomach
but don't worry, Nicole says
it will go away soon.
I don't feel like myself
but don't worry, Nicole says
you'll feel better soon.

Getting the shakes
when I try to come off of them
don't do that, Nicole says
you need to stay on the

blue and white pills

Hassle to get
Hassle to keep
they take all my money
and hand me a little bag of
blue and white pills

$50, $100, $160
Did you take your blue and white pill today?
Of course I did, I lied
I can tell if you don't, she says
you're not yourself

Not myself on them, not myself off them

I don't want to strangle on a rope made of
blue and white pills
Does it ever get any easier?

©2010  Connie A. Anast
 Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online

Rev. Connie A. Anast
845 Whitemaple Way | SLC, UT 84106
Awarded Best of 2009 Utah Wedding Minister!


Sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep . . .
No sleep, sleepless,
My eyes wide, on fire.

Yesterday, today and the next
All run together,
Gallop soundlessly, endlessly,
Across my cringing consciousness.

When I was young
It was a treat to stay up late;
Now every night’s an all-nighter.

Old films, PC games,
Icebox gurgles in the dark,
Four a.m. snacks,
Slap of the paper hitting the porch—
I know these far too well,
Part of the hell night is
When I’m trapped there, wide awake.

And the worst is hearing my lover
Snore beside me
And feeling so alone.

When, oh when, will I sleep again?

©2003  John I. Blair

Click on author's name above for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.