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Old relationships die on new battlefield

If I have had one conversation about old friendships suffering from our prolonged political war, I have had a hundred.

Most people do not have comfort zones big enough to encompass people they politically disagree with, but those who do experience the deaths of those relationships, nonetheless.

Despite their big-hearted best efforts at disagreeing without being disagreeable, and making room for all opinions, it is mostly people on the right who watch their circle of family and friends getting smaller and smaller. The people whom they love or respect cannot return the favor when political disagreements stand between them. Even though each side holds views that the other strenuously objects to.

Fall-out from family holidays, a wedding invitation not extended to an old friend, and so on.

Once again, conservatives believed they were merely under disagreement, a fact of life that happens all the time, when in fact liberals were at war with them, family and friendship be damned. It seems that to liberals, relationships are a natural sacrifice in their “progress” forward and leftward.

Historians have written a lot about the long-term effects of old wars, like the American Civil War, or World War I. Hundreds of thousands of young men dead, maybe a million or more badly disfigured, missing limbs, half of a face, a hand. Not to mention the psychological trauma. Impacts on business and industry, farming, families, grieving parents and children forever unable to form strong emotional bonds as a result.

One can only wonder what will happen in the coming years when this quiet non-shooting civil war we are in here in America is over, and people are trying to move forward with their lives. What will be the effects, the results.

No amount of late night talk show humor will paper over the pain, and even some of those late night comedians are now saying “the fun times may be over.”

My take is this: If you take your political views so seriously that you cannot abide the company or fellowship of others who see things differently than you, then you are missing the key to being a peaceful person.

Gentle acceptance is the way to go. Something about tolerance, I think.

I am crying over spilt milk

Whether FakeBook causes, accelerates, or encourages the split-up of long standing friendships and friendly acquaintance-type relationships is a subject of endless discussion.

People who for many years, even decades, shared affection for and cheerful enjoyment of one another’s company and personality are now not talking, communicating, or sharing. Instead, one party has abruptly broken off entirely, leaving the other party bemused, hurt, and or frustrated. The drama can be plain silly, because we are talking about adults here who post histrionic things like “If you voted for ________, then just un-friend me, now, please, I beg of you.”

Or it can be more subtle, with people hitting the “ignore” button on a relationship, pretty much tossing the friendship away without the pain of actually breaking off.

This one-sided dynamic plays out most visibly on FakeBook because “likes,” comments, and the number of “friends” are actual numeric measures of a relationship’s quality. And when you start seeing a numeric down-trend in one area, you often see the actual end coming quicker and quicker.

And what is the primary cause of these fractured friendships?

Why political differences, naturally.

Do you recall the poll done about eight or ten months ago (Pew, Gallup? I don’t recall which firm did it, but it was a real polling firm and the results are believable), which showed 39% of self-identified liberals can and will live with a conservative, versus nearly double that for conservatives willing to live with liberals?

That poll showed what many of us have observed personally for some time, and increasingly over the past year: Political correctness has destroyed liberals’ ability to live up to the qualities they claim ownership of, like being tolerant, open-minded, and accepting of differences.

PC has become so intense that now simply belonging to the wrong political party, driving the wrong vehicle, or EVEN HAVING THE WRONG SKIN COLOR is grounds for heaps of burning hatred and criticism. Nothing about this behavior is open-minded. It is not tolerant. And watching people walk around with a burden of hate for all kinds of classes of people makes them look and feel a lot like the other side, the KKK or neo-Nazi side, who are ALSO intolerant and violently hateful.

While the few decades-long friends I and others I know have lost through FakeBook were not violent people, their visceral hatred still burned bright.

Where someone’s burning hate becomes physical violence is a subject for philosophy books, because gut instinct tells you that one naturally follows the other. Seemingly uncharacteristic behavior for the loving and gentle relationship we had enjoyed lo these many years, even decades, suddenly there was the hatred, the intolerance, the violent words, and then the break.

Not one conservative I know of has broken off with the liberals in their lives (because they are liberals), via FakeBook or any other way, but the number of liberals who have broken off with people who are not liberals is legion and legendary.

These liberals’ behavior is the very definition of intolerance.

Do you ever wonder why there is no ‘world peace’?

I do wonder now, and I always have wondered since I was a kid, when the Vietnam War was going strong.

Well, part of the answer to why there is no world peace is that those people who most assiduously claim ownership of being peaceful are those who in personal practice are the least peaceful.

During the Vietnam War, being pro-peace meant being against American war-making in Asia; but those same anti-war people were not against Asians making war against other Asians, or against America. So they were not really, truly pro peace. They were simply anti-America, despite living in and enjoying America.

One test of being peaceful is your ability and willingness to accept differences between one’s self and other people without getting angry, hateful, judgmental, accusatory, or violent. When that inability to accept others turns to intolerance, why then…there is an absence of peace. And you are not a peaceful person. And it is self-evident to those around you.

And no, demanding that people adopt your way of thinking is not being tolerant. Humans have been doing things a few certain ways for thousands of years, and if you want to deviate from that, then asking for tolerance is fair. Demanding acceptance, acquiescence etc at the cost of breaking off (a form of coercion and violence) is unreasonable.

I am crying over all this spilt milk, because to not cry is to lie to myself, and to make pretend that certain unhealthy dynamics are not happening.

I am sad at the lost friendships, whether mine or those of friends of mine, for sure. I am also sad about an America that has everything, certainly more than any other country, and yet is being torn apart by violence and hate in the name of “peace” and “tolerance.”

The relationships between fellow Americans are being torn apart, over what?

This is spilt milk, and I prefer to cry over this now and have a positive, healing, peaceful conversation with someone about this, rather than later cry over something else being spilt as a result of no attempts at healing having been made and the logical outcome of hate and intolerance come to fruition.

Dr. Wil Steger, My Friend, My Hero

Dr. Wil Steger sat next to me on a domestic flight, up in Buffalo, New York, I think, in 1994.

By the end of the flight, I was a big admirer of his, among a long line of admirers around the world. We maintained a relationship up until today, when he died peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by family.

A former employee of the RAND Corporation in the 1950s, Wil and his wife Sheila started their own analytical service provider, CONSAD, in Pittsburgh, in the 1960s. Wil’s PhD in economics from Harvard shaped the way he saw government policy and decision making, and it allowed him to remain objective and aloof from the messy politics involved. As a result, Wil’s dispassionate and insightful research was sought by private and public customers around the world.

Wil was an economic and policy advisor to every president from JFK through W, and he showed me his blue “WHITE HOUSE” cap with pride. He had been in the White House a lot; more times than he could recall.

But you would never know that Wil was so smart, or so successful. He was humble, and self-effacing, and funny. He and Sheila were committed to their Pittsburgh community, to financially needy families, to educational institutions, to friends, and to family.

Some of my best adult memories are of sitting in their Squirrel Hill living room late at night, with a glass of wine or a tea in hand, talking about whatever with both Sheila and Wil, and then with just Wil after Sheila left us.

Bye, old friend. Your advice and professional guidance helped me make a lot of careful decisions that shaped my career, personal life, and my family, and I am forever indebted to you for your kindness and good way. May you rest in peace.

The service is Monday, in Squirrel Hill.

 

Friends in low places

Several years ago several ambitious construction projects were begun, where the building material would come from our own oak trees on our property. Oak may not be the best or easiest building wood, because when it dries it is heavy and as hard as iron, and thus tough on tools and shoulders alike, but it is what we have there.

So oaks were cut, skidded, piled, and then milled in situ over about a five year period. An injury and subsequent surgery prevented me from continuing this remote effort, which then moved forward in fits and starts over several years. When we finally got around to completing the actual projects, much of that beautiful oak had been sitting out for a long time, and in some cases too long. After using up much of that oak lumber, a large amount yet remained in piles, where it had air dried.

Last week was my final drive to get under roof thousands of board feet of two-inch-thick oak boards, heavy beams, and smaller posts, before they started to rot. It was a lot of work. The unusual heat and blazing sun made the work go slower. One thing that surprised me was the absence of mice living in these outdoor piles. Normally mice run and scurry as the wood is moved, having nested among the boards in perfect little hidey holes.

The last pile of drying lumber was finally put away, with just a few boards remaining at the very end, butted up against a huge boulder that makes up part of a stone wall around the yard. As I dismounted the tractor, stepped over to the board ends, and reached down to grab them, a sound caught my attention.

It was a sound that set off primitive alarm bells in my brain.

At first it sounded like a cricket, and then a grasshopper, and then a second later my mind concluded it was a timber rattlesnake. After stepping back, well, let’s say it was an inelegant, well, ugly (it’s a big fat man jumping, after all) leap, minus my usual little girl scream that seems to accompany most of my unplanned and close-up rattlesnake encounters, I looked down.

A long black snake with a yellow diamond pattern was stretched out next to the boulder, about six inches from where my boot heel had settled moments before. The long grass against the boulder had concealed the snake from my eyes, which, frankly, had not looked there, but had rather been focused on the heavy boards, and how I was going to pick them up and manhandle them to their destination across the yard.

The snake’s angular head and erect tail with rattles confirmed it as a timber rattlesnake.

While it was not a huge male rattler, the likes of which I have caught and moved to safety off of roads and trails a number of times since I was a kid, it was nonetheless big enough to permanently remove a chunk of leg muscle. So I admired it for a minute, and then went on to other work elsewhere. When I returned an hour later, it was gone, though I thought I could see it coiled up right under the boulder’s edge. Instead of reaching down with my hands, I used the pallet forks on the tractor to pull out those last boards.

Over the course of the next two days, my mind kept replaying the encounter. In July 2001, when we had owned the property for seven months, DCNR forester Jim Hyland and I had scoured our property, as well as the adjoining State Forest and part of the adjoining private land, looking for rattlesnakes. That day we found a corn snake, a garter snake, a ring neck snake, and two green snakes. No sign of rattlesnakes among the rock and old slate quarries up high. Not even a shed skin.

So for sixteen years we had enjoyed our property without being mindful of rattlers. Our children had been born and raised around the cabin, running freely around the property. Sure, I spent a lot of time in our woods, a certified Tree Farm, and I have always been on the lookout for rattlesnakes, as well as other snakes, but I had seen few snakes at all, and never a rattler.

Snakes are awesome, they are awesomely cool creatures. I bear them no animosity whatsoever. In high school and college a pet boa constrictor kept me company, until she had grown so large that she was regularly breaking out of her cage and hunting our house cats. When I last saw her, she filled up one side of the man’s living room, and he regularly fed her rabbits and squirrels he trapped in his yard. She weighed about 150 pounds then, and was ten years old. I hugged her, but she just laid there, limp and dozing. Snakes…what can you do? Love em the best ya can.

And so now I am confronted with the fact that a potentially dangerous animal shares our camp with us. All around us we have seen rattlesnakes over the years, mostly run over by cars down on the highway, and increasingly I see them all over central and Northcentral Pennsylvania while cruising timber and looking at land. At some point I did expect them to join us as tenants of one sort at the cabin. Under the front porch is where I thought they would first show up, because it’s good cover and the mice like it there. Struggling emotionally to adjust to this new arrangement has not been painful, but it has been harder than I thought it would be.

The absence of mice under the wood piles reminded me why I accept and even welcome the presence of timber rattlesnakes, intellectually if not emotionally. Mice are a major pest, and they are destructive little bastards. Hearing them chirp and run inside the walls of the cabin at night, right next to my bed, is a source of aggravation. When they eat porch and barn furniture for nesting material, it is infuriating. They pee everywhere, and it stinks. We regularly trap them around the buildings and poison them inside the barn. Help reducing their numbers is most welcome, and anyone or anything that helps achieve that goal is a friend of mine.

Timber rattlers are beautiful to look at, and they are normally pretty docile, requiring a lot of pestering and rough handling to elicit a strike. But like all wild animals they are unpredictable, and the risk they pose to little kids playing outside is significant. Fortunately, our kids have reached ages where they can think carefully for themselves, consciously avoiding areas where rattlers would naturally congregate. And we now infrequently host families with little kids as guests, as most of our friends have kids the same ages as our own children, able to take guidance, if they are with their parents at all.

So the risks versus the benefits works out in our favor. The benefits of rattlers sharing our property are high, because they eat the hell out of mice. Rattlesnakes are my new friends, in low places, where they are needed most.

Welcome, friends.

 

Thank you

Dear friend, thank you for your friendship, affection, and trust.

Dear clients, colleagues, and partners, thank you for your trust. Taking risks and making sacrifices with you in the spirit of entrepreneurial pursuit is tremendously satisfying.

Dear family, thank you for your love (which I try to return equally), hard work, support and for getting good grades in school.

Dear God, thank you for making me a natural-born American citizen, and for having me live in a time of great material abundance and comfort.

Dear fellow citizen….Enjoy Thanksgiving in the greatest nation on Planet Earth.

Gun swap on the kitchen table

Today, a friend called me. A friend of his was bringing over some rifles, shotguns, and old knives to trade. Was I interested in participating?

I’m reporting here that we traded guns like pennies in a penny-ante poker game.

It’s an American tradition, this private gun ownership thing. No paperwork. No records. No criminals. No bad intent.

For another buddy of mine I got a lightly used pump deer rifle. He will pay my actual cost; I don’t make money off of friends.

Background checks have been proposed on this harmless activity; they would merely document who got what, for future attempts at gun confiscation. None of us are or will be criminals. Guns in our hands are the highest deterrent to crime, however.