East and West and Strong Men

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Ballad of East and West” is one of my favorites, and I can declaim large chunks from memory. The Australian poet A.B. “Banjo” Patterson observed that Kipling had a gift for describing horses, and that shines through in the mid-section of the poem. But I want to focus on Kamal and the Colonel’s son.

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!”

For two, or three, strong men, a chase after a stolen horse becomes an occasion for a feat of daring, a display of honor, and a moment of brotherhood.

Kamal has gripped him by the hand and set him upon his feet.
“No talk shall be of dogs,” said he, “when wolf and gray wolf meet.
May I eat dirt if thou hast hurt of me in deed or breath;
What dam of lances brought thee forth to jest at the dawn with Death?”
Lightly answered the Colonel’s son: “I hold by the blood of my clan:
Take up the mare for my father’s gift — by God, she has carried a man!”
The red mare ran to the Colonel’s son, and nuzzled against his breast;
“We be two strong men,” said Kamal then, “but she loveth the younger best.
So she shall go with a lifter’s dower, my turquoise-studded rein,
My broidered saddle and saddle-cloth, and silver stirrups twain.”
The Colonel’s son a pistol drew and held it muzzle-end,
“Ye have taken the one from a foe,” said he; “will ye take the mate from a friend?”
“A gift for a gift,” said Kamal straight; “a limb for the risk of a limb.
Thy father has sent his son to me, I’ll send my son to him!”
With that he whistled his only son, that dropped from a mountain-crest —
He trod the ling like a buck in spring, and he looked like a lance in rest. . .

They have looked each other between the eyes, and there they found no fault,
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on leavened bread and salt:
They have taken the Oath of the Brother-in-Blood on fire and fresh-cut sod,
On the hilt and the haft of the Khyber knife, and the Wondrous Names of God.”

The Ballad of East and West.” Rudyard Kipling

Two strong men, one older, one younger, both brave, both determined, and both seeing honor and respect in the other, even though they are sworn enemies (more or less). And it doesn’t matter, not in that moment.

I grew up understanding what Kipling meant, and what veterans and others meant, when they showed respect (if at times grudging) for opponents and foes. The loss of that sense is something I feel keenly. “The honorable opponent” seems to be fading from popular culture. I try to explain it to younger people, that you can respect people you disagree with, and even feel sorrow at their passing even as you know that they’d have killed you first if given the chance. “For true comrades and true foemen, Madonna, intercede!” Kipling wrote in a different place.

There’s an academic I vehemently disagree with. She sets my teeth on edge. Her work broke major ground in our field, and has opened up useful new lines of questioning and uses of archaeological and archival material. So when I had the chance, I told her how much I admired her work and how valuable it has been to me. She was glad that a younger generation still read and engaged with her ideas. I still don’t care for her, and she probably would not care for me, were we to meet in other than an academic setting. It didn’t—and doesn’t—matter.

“But there is neither east nor west, border, nor breed, nor birth

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

Remember, You’re a _______________: Roots and Identity

Growing up, on occasion Sib and I would hear, “You’re from the South. Act like it.” The implication was always that we had failed to meet a certain standard of behavior, usually courtesy or treating people certain ways. Now, keep in mind, we were not living in the area generally considered the US South. The part of Texas where we lived is far more western than southern, or even midwestern. But Mom and Dad Red grew up in the older Southern culture, especially Dad Red, and certain things were hammered into us.

I was reminded of this a little while ago, while musing on the chaotic swirlings of memory, identity, manners, and European nationalism. What does it mean to be a _____________? A sense of place and history, of shared values and faith, shared traditional foes (Russia, the English, Auburn or LSU . . . ), an understanding of how things are to be done and people are to be treated? What if you never had that, and you must form a sense of place-ful-ness over and over?

Younger people today in many cases in the US don’t have the same “rootedness” that their grandparents might have had. Common cultural values have changed, or been rejected, or were never established in the first place. Some will say that this is good, because some old cultural practices needed to go. I can’t argue with that, because they are right. However, love it or hate it, being from a place or culture gives a foundation and touchstone for behavior and belief, even if those are rejected later. Deep down, you always have something to fall back on. “What would MeMaw do?” “What would Mr. Jackson up the road have done?” Family traditions, ways of relating to people and the world, they give a platform and stepping off point.

I suspect a lot of the desperate flailing for acceptance, and for some culture and standards of some kind, comes from the lack of that foundation. What does it mean to be a young person in a world where everything is filtered, influencers do not exist save on a screen, and standards of proper conduct, appearance, and belief change monthly if not faster? I think we all know, and are seeing that playing out far too clearly. Without a foundation, people drift and get caught up in things that do not always lead to good ends. Without roots and a sense of time and place, everything is now, and all changes are signs of doom and the End. No wonder things like end-times environmental beliefs have appeared and become so visible in western culture.

For a while, to be a “person from nowhere,” a true cosmopolitan without a set home or culture was lauded as the grand ideal. The person “from Europe,” or “from the cities [London and New York]” could be happy and contribute to society in any big city of the world. No difference existed between Tokyo and Mumbai and London and LA. Early on these were the “jet set,” then “the cosmopolitan class” as I heard a geographer refer to them. That might work for a few, but not for most of humanity. Roots are needed. Humans are not creatures of the air, literally or metaphorically. Without a foundation of behavior and culture, we have nothing when the storms come.

“You’re from [place/culture]. Act like it.” “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” “Was sagen die Nachbaren?” “Don’t outgrow your raisin’.” There’s a foundation in all of those ideas. Roots.

Stand Up Straight

I am so tired of slouching people. Or people, especially young people, with vulturish posture. You know, slouching with the shoulders and head bent forward. What you seem to get from spending a lot of time on a cell-phone to the exclusion of the world. Or the computer, to an extent. So I walk head up, shoulders back, back straight.

This makes me very, very intimidating, or so I’ve been told. Now keep in mind, I’m barely five feet tall. I’m not obviously muscular. I dress “funny.” But because I walk and stand with good posture, and look around as I walk, I am intimidating to younger people (and to some adults.) Standing up straight is now intimidating? Or is it being confident and aware of my surroundings? I’m intrigued by the people who assume that I served in the military because 1) I say sir and ma’am, 2) I stand straight with my shoulders back and head up and 3) look where I’m going to avoid walking into other people.

It just feels better. Not colliding with shoppers or delivery folks is always a good idea, but standing straight feels better. Being ready to dodge an errant basketball or shopping cart is comfortable, at least to me. But I’ve been very aware of my surroundings for a long time now.

I also spot birds, animals, neat cars, and other things before other people. Or see them at all (like the hummingbird that was pestering the hawk. Some other walkers didn’t even see it until I pointed it out to them, since they wanted to know what I was staring at and chuckling.)

All I can say is that if standing straight and looking around is intimidating, we live in a strange world.

The World Outside of One’s Head

There’s nothing quite like reading about the modernists in Vienna in the period of 1870-1914 to remind the reader that some people just needed to get out more often. Granted, a number of the characters had serious mental problems, medical problems, marital problems, or all-of-the-above. That didn’t help their view of the world. But yipes, the circle around Freud, Schiele, Mahler, and Co. was so small. I hadn’t realized that until a very good art history tour through the Leopold Museum, where the docent explained all the interrelations. You really wonder what would have happened if some folks had gotten outside of the world of their own head, and had to deal with real problems (as in Four Horsemen problems. See Vienna, October 1914-November 1919 for examples.)

A few weeks ago, I was reminded that the world inside of my head, and inside my daily round, is very different from the real world. Rehearsal was long, and difficult, and breakfast had worn off about half-way through. So I stopped at a What-a-Burger halfway between the concert site and home. I went in and got a patty melt, fries, and a shake. And sat, happily chewing away, listening to country music, and observing normal people and a very efficient and friendly restaurant staff.

A family with small kids was eating in the corner, and the kids did kid stuff, including an older toddler sending a large water sailing off the end of the table just as they finished eating. The parents apologized, the manager said “no problem, we got this,” and she got the mop as the parents tidied the table and ushered their offspring out. A customer moved a chair or two out of the way. Everyone else just shrugged, and said, “Little kids happen.”

There was a trainee working the cash register, and people on both sides of the counter were patient. She tried hard, got things 95% right, and was cheerful. No one gave her a hard time. After all, we all have to learn sometime, and we’ve all been the new person.

The diners were a cross section of the world. Little kids to “seasoned citizens,” solitary diners (yo) and families, different colors and sizes, all interested in a hot hamburger or chicken sandwich. Lots of smiles, using french fries as pointers, and so on.

I spend a lot of my time in my own head. This is in part because of the demands of Day Job and of writing. It is in part because DadRed insists on doing all the shopping (he’s retired. I’m not. I believe in batch cooking. MomRed is Not A Fan of leftover leftovers.) It is in part because I’m an introvert, and in part because my default mental position is “What will go wrong and how do I plan for it?” That’s not exactly normal. Getting out and about, dealing with other people in stores and at burger joints and all doesn’t happen much. Day Job, concert prep, Easter prep, Day Job, writing, that had been my world for too long. I needed to get out and see the real world.

There’s a danger in a closed system, be it mental, political, or ecological. Here’s to the world outside of our heads.

Protection from Bad Ideas

In the first episode of HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, the most important things lead up to a meeting of the local Committee of the Communist Party. Something bad has happened, word has been passed up and down the chain of command, and the higher-ups have decided to let the locals deal with the problem, while also sending a couple thousand “police” and military. The inference is that the police are the NKVD as well as the military. The party committee members gather in a bunker to decide what to do. Should they evacuate? No, because there’s not really any radiation, according to the available dosimeters [which have all maxed out at 3.6 Roentgen, because that’s as high as they go.] The glow in the air is harmless.

The senior party member reminds them that their duty is to serve the people, and to protect the people. The best way to do that is to prevent panic and suppress false information. He orders the phone lines cut and the area completely isolated. The people will be grateful for the Committee’s actions when they see how well the Party protected them [the people] from bad rumors and hysteria. Viewers know that, well, it’s not going to end that happily.

The Soviets were not the first to want to protect people from dangerous ideas and bad data. The Imperial Chinese censored things, lest otherwise virtuous and moral people be corrupted. Most (in)famously, the first Emperor is said to have burned books and executed authors and philosophers, since no one needed to know the old things or anything that he disagreed with. Since the history was written by someone who disagreed with Qin Shi-Huangdi’s policies, there’s some doubt about the story.

Various governments medieval to modern, also censored people and things, blocked the publication of books, ordered plays to be changed to better suit proper morals and politics, and so on. The princes of Kiev, in the late 900s-1100s, censored various books and works of art. In Early Modern Russia, Peter the Great censored books, forbidding those that demeaned the government, and even ruling that monks did not need to write things privately in their cells. The Russian Orthodox church also censored incoming books, Russian or otherwise, to ensure that foreign or heretical ideas did not lead to people being damned by bad information and ideas. The Roman Catholic church had the Index of books considered to be in gross error, heretical, salacious beyond the usual, and other things. Getting on the Index often meant that the book would sell better, at least pirated editions, because someone is always going to want to know what’s so bad about it, or to rebel by reading naughty literature.

This sense that the mandarins (to abuse a Chinese term) know better and have a duty to protect people from bad ideas did not go away with the 1900s. Certain media platforms routinely censor material, sometimes leading to great ire, as when YouTube decided to remove lots and lots of NSDAP stuff, including university professors’ class materials. Trust me, a lecture on wartime production and economics that includes clips from propaganda films is not going to encourage people to become NeoNazis. Other platforms do the same thing with materials that “contradict the science” or “deny the scientific consensus” about various topics. China has its “Great Firewall.” There are always going to be people or institutions that are certain that some information is too tempting, scandalous, or offensive for ordinary people to be exposed to. Just as a parent protects children from things they are not ready for, so too should the state/church/wise leader/bureaucrats protect the public.

Me personally, I’d rather have Alex Jones as well as Al Franken on-line for people to read. Let the ideas compete. OK, step by step instructions for making a breeder-reactor in your back yard might be going a wee bit far, and I disapprove of doxxing people no matter their ideologies. Iran’s theocratic government considers the US “the Great Satan” because we tempt Iranians into straying from proper beliefs and behaviors. The Imperial Chinese censored materials so ordinary people without the proper education to resist bad knowledge would not fall into vice and corruption. Russian schools teach that Russia won WWII with barely minimal assistance from the US and Britain, and discourage people looking for other sources and stories. The Greek government used to prohibit the importation of Bibles, especially Bibles in Greek, at the behest of the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church. Which . . . made studying the New Testament a bit of a challenge for laypeople.

The Party will protect the People from accidentally destroying the fruits of their [the People’s] labor. It will be the great heroic moment for the Pripyet Subcommittee of the Communist Party, and the People will thank them for their labor.

Except for that glow in the sky over the power plant, and the men coming out of the plant. With fresh sunburns. At night.

“On the Eighteenth of April in ‘Seventy-Five”

Paul Revere by John Singleton Copely. Public Domain, found at: https://www.ladykflo.com/paul-revere-by-john-singleton-copley/

I strongly encourage you to read the article about the painting. It is both an excellent portrait, and a political statement about the times in which the picture was made.

Paul Revere was a silversmith, or to use the older term, a type of whitesmith. Blacksmiths worked with iron. Whitesmiths worked with tin, copper, and eventually silver before silver-smithing and gold-smithing became separate trades.

A silver set made by Paul Revere and his workshop. Items and photo from: https://worcester.emuseum.com/collections

As a silversmith, Revere was not exactly a “gentleman” since he worked with his hands, but he wasn’t a common laborer, either. In the colonies and the later US, this wasn’t really a problem, since skill and finances meant more than the traditional marks of social rank. In the British system, he would have been respected, but he would be “upper working class,” to use today’s terms. He was also a master craftsman, responsible for training apprentices and ensuring the quality of his and other masters’ work. In other words, he was your modern small business owner, one with a lot of skills, and a strong determination to live his life the way he wanted. Which, in April of 1775, meant joining with another man to ride through the night and warn the people of Middlesex County that the British regulars were coming to requisition the powder, shot, and weapons assigned to the militia.

We all know what happened next . . .

The Cross on the TV Tower

Everyone remembers the speech because of “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” [12:00 min in] But we forget that that was NOT supposed to be the focal point. The focus of the speech was about faith and fortitude [start at 21:00 in], and how the Truth will shine no matter how hard the Communists tried to cover it up.

The cross appeared on the glass of the TV tower almost as soon as the East German government finished building it. They tried several ways to get rid of the glare, but it just would not vanish.

“And you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.”

Used under Fair Use, Creative Commons 4.0. Link: https://farm1.static.flickr.com/158/356251434_5a2bc0b964.jpg?v=0

I was looking up material for a lesson on 1980 (Solidarity) and 1989. As always, I choked up and the room got dang dusty. Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Pope John Paul II, PM Margaret Thacher, President Ronald Reagan . . . they knew evil, and they knew good, and freedom, and they chose goodness and freedom.

Happy Western Easter, to those who celebrate it. He is risen, Indeed!

Red Lights, Rules, and the Running Of

So, I have gotten used to people running red lights in the early and late hours of the day, when traffic isn’t as heavy as at other times, and the law-enforcement presence is muted. In fact, on my route to Day Job, there’s one county road intersection (with stop lights and turn arrows) that I just assume will be run, often flagrantly. Indeed, on a daily basis, people race through north-bound, not even on a “stale green.” Sometimes the left turn light has been green for a while and they still blast through. Thus far no one has been hurt or killed *taps wood*, because those of us who travel the path anticipate the running of the light. But some day . . .

In other aspects of life and driving, I’m seeing similar disregard for the law. Rolling stops when people used to halt fully. More aggressive driving, less patience, more cutting off of other drivers. Less patience in the grocery store, or on the phone. Fewer people smile at strangers, or check to se if anyone is nearby before moving and thus causing a minor collision or thump. On a larger scale, civic organizations and places of worship are seeing less participation, at least in the larger towns. Fortunately, the recent spate of small disasters (only four houses lost, only hundreds of miles of fence burned, only a few tons of hay and forage burned to ashes, only two firefighters badly hurt. Only . . .) has generated the usual wave of assistance and kindness. There but for the grace of a wind-shift, and so on.

I suspect part of the problem comes from the past two years. Governments and well-meaning other organizations encouraged isolation, shifting to on-line presence, and discouraged participation in civic life. Or perhaps I should say “civil life,” because the little rubbing against each other that trains us into civility and politeness was suspended. Add to that the appearance of “rules for you but not for us” or “rules for you but not for them,” and a feeling seems to have seeped into life that, “if it won’t hurt anyone, why follow the law?” So lights are run, stop-signs ignored, polite greetings brushed off, doors not held, eye contact and handshakes not made.

Those are relatively minor (or will be until someone hits someone else at 55 MPH at 0630 AM). The greater sense of “rules can be ignored because those people get to ignore them” is poison. The US is based on the idea of the Rule of Law, that all are equal under the law, and that red lights apply to the mayor as well as to the school bus and the family car. When the Authorities ignore the rules, or apply them selectively, then everyone else looks at “pointless” and “petty” rules and ignores them as well. Or when rules are created that cannot, and will not, be obeyed, other more important statutes get flouted. Even Newton’s Laws, which, alas, often leads to fatal results for more than just the initial offender.

The decline in civility and civil (in all senses of the word) discourse happened so fast. Two years, and things have changed. I suspect that the change was in progress, but concealed, at least around here. The pattern of decay was not so obvious. Two years of abnormality, and of increasingly flagrant disregard for the concept that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of both G-d and the Law brought the pattern into the open.

Or perhaps it just seems like a pattern. One of my talents is finding patterns and seeing how pieces of the past fit together. I could be seeing patterns that only exist in my own mind, or even just in my own region.

Little Square Churches

You find them all over the Panhandle, and elsewhere. Generally small, brick or wood, and often square or rectangular, only the stained glass windows and/or cross in front tells passers-by that they are not old schools or businesses. Around here they are usually Methodist, Baptist, or Church of Christ (if Protestant.) The Catholic Churches generally have a steeple. There are traditional “church-shaped” churches around, but also a number of little square churches, all standing firmly in small towns, holding down the corner of a town lot and defying fashion, time, and weather.

The Methodist Church in Claude, Texas is a solid example of the type.

First Methodist, Claude, TX. Creative Commons Fair Use: https://res.cloudinary.com/faithstreet-production/image/upload/c_fill,h_286,w_286/v1533670557/vck7bciyfyzsufkomykz.jpg

As soon as you had a few families, and a traveling minister, a church was built. Sometimes denominations shared, sometimes you had a (brief) monopoly. Below is the Methodist Church in Channing, TX, north of the Canadian Breaks.

Stucco over brick, and sturdy. http://www.texasescapes.com/Churches/Images/ChanningTXUnitedMethodistChurch308TJnsn5.jpg

Perryton, Texas just had to be a bit different, and went neoGothic.

From the northeastern corner of the Panhandle. https://live.staticflickr.com/1004/928639389_5a5d6e775a_b.jpg

Although the Methodists were one of the first Protestant denominations in the area, The Church of Christ was not far behind, and in some cases arrived first. Here’s the Church of Christ in Panhandle, TX.

Photo by Tyler Brassfield. Creative Commons Fair Use, from: https://is5-ssl.mzstatic.com/image/thumb/Purple123/v4/d6/8c/4f/d68c4f13-6e9a-32fe-74c9-66860c354a25/source/512x512bb.jpg

And in some cases, the Baptists were first on the scene for the Protestant side. Catholic priests and missionaries had been active in the area since the early 1600s, with mixed success until after 1873. The area is still considered a mission area, but the Catholic Church is solid and trying to expand, like the others.

St. Ann’s in Canyon Texas. Another solid church. https://bgrarchitects.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/StAnns1_web.jpg

If you get the sense that churches in this part of the world are built to withstand a lot, you’re right. But the building is just part of the story. Some buildings are newer (like St. Ann’s), some have been around since the beginning, almost (First Baptist’s old building in Amarillo, the Methodist Church in Channing, Jenkins Chapel in Amarillo) but all have endured drought, flood, depression, war, the 1960s and 70s, and changes in ecclesiastic fashion. They’re still here, as are their parishioners. Some churches are fading, others are growing, but the little solid churches remain important to the community. They are a living link to the past, to the saints who have gone before, to harder times and better times.

There are a few places where only the church remains of a once living town. Ranchers and farmers around the church keep it repaired and “alive,” using it for special services, weddings, funerals, and gatherings.

Little square churches. Solid and serene, they weather the storms inside and outside, providing a reminder that “upon this rock” a church was built, one that will outlast scandal and success. Good times, hard times, little square churches are there, ready, waiting.