Monday, May 31, 2010

The Back Porch @ 1

It was one year ago this Memorial Day weekend that I started the business of writing weekly here on The Back Porch. It’s been meaningful for me, keeping my mind thinking about engaging topics to formulate and share with you, dear reader. Thanks for stopping by and giving me a listen.

One year ago the topic was ‘Memorial Day thoughts from an anti-war guy.’ Indeed, I still have a Peace sticker proudly displayed on the back window of my car. In fact, I have a replacement or two in my sock drawer awaiting cars I will buy years hence. Peace should be the international mantra for the world in which we live, in my view. Let’s talk things over and figure out a way where most, if not all in the world, can have their needs met. Sounds like a basic human right, if you ask me.

Still, there are bad guys and evil in the world, too. They would rather see their enemies suffer and die, depriving them of their right to life and family. Hitler fits into that category. I know Germany wanted to become more of an international player in commerce and governance following their punishment after World War I, but rounding up the inferior, working them in labor camps, then exterminating them by the millions was just plain evil. Thanks to my parents’ Greatest Generation for putting a stop to it.

As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes war is necessary. Thanks to all those men and women who put their lives on hold and their bodies in grave danger to make the world a safer place. We are in your debt.


Earlier this month spring elections were held across the country. In Kentucky, Rand Paul won the GOP primary. Within 24 hours of his victory, the proverbial shit hit the fan following his day-after interviews with NPR and Rachel Maddow.

As a libertarian, Paul believes in a small, non-meddling national government. He believes in the power of business owners to do what they want. Obama was acting badly for criticizing BP in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. Accidents happen, after all. And the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Good idea in many ways. Though Paul abhors racial injustice, he draws the line at government forcing businesses into compliance. The market will sort out the riff-raff. He is a pro-lifer, too. Libertarians hold that women should not have the option to end a life by terminating a pregnancy. Roe v Wade should be struck down.

Soon after, some pundit observed that following Reconstruction in 1877 and the removal of US troops from the South, businesses and local governments enacted what would be known as Jim Crow laws to keep white folks in power and new freemen in their respective places. It did, indeed, take that 1964 Congressional action -- one hundred years after the Civil War ended -- to assure all Americans the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Seemed the riff-raff ruled.

Since Rand Paul’s libertarian positions were clarified, other political analysts have put forth how steadfast orthodox positions don’t work all that well in the reality of governing. As much as political mechanization feels like an ethical sell-out at times, deal making gets important things done. So while Paul’s ‘consistent libertarian philosophy’ might make many feel that purity in small government is possible, it ain’t necessarily so.

AlterNet ( offers the following reader response to Rand Paul this Memorial Day. Darklady writes:

Rand Paul believes that the government should allow all private business owners to deny food, lodging, clothing, employment, etc. to members of whatever groups they don’t like.

He claims that this is because it’s not fair for the government to force private businesses to do things they don’t want to do.

Meanwhile — Rand Paul also believes that the government has a *responsibility* to force private citizens to feed, house, care for and potentially be placed at great personal risk by a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, etc.

What if the woman could declare herself to be a private business? Could she then abort based on the fact that she doesn’t want to provide services?

I must admit, I’m not into squabbling. Like Rodney King, I’d just like to ask, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’

Maybe in a perfect world. But that’s not the one we’re blessed with. In the meantime, we give and take, trying to live with our personal values and respecting the differences of others. All global citizens deserve good health, the ability to acquire what they need, and a place where they can think and do what they damn well please -- as long as it doesn’t negatively impact their neighbor.

I’ve always been a fan of tolerance. Seems like a peaceful practice in a beautiful but dangerous world.

Today’s elder idea: A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Right or Left?

I was out with my mother a couple weeks back taking her to an appointment when a guy in a pick-up truck comes around the passenger side, bends his head down behind rolled up windows, and mouths something my way with a scowl on his face. I assume it had something to do with the bumper stickers on my car. I was talking with Mom about something, and just smiled really broadly and waved. The light changed and we all moved on.

A week later I was at another intersection when a woman on the other side of the car motioned for me to roll my window down. ‘Oh, God,’ I thought. ‘Now what kind of argument am I going to get?’ Quite the contrary, she wondered where I got my bumper sticker. She wanted one, too. In our before-the-light-changed 30 second conversation, she offered how she was ‘terminal’ and that her husband had worked in the sheet metal business for 39 years, not taking raises for 21 of them. Now his retirement and medical coverage were getting cut and what they are going to get will barely cover their mortgage. A couple days later, another spontaneous sympathetic conversation broke out in a parking lot regarding my If ‘No’ wins, America loses: Vote Democrat sticker. It seems that a lot of folks are emotionally involved in the problems our country and the world economy are having right now and they’re not afraid to talk about it with strangers.

I must admit, this winter was a pretty bleak time for me. I have walked neighborhoods for a few presidential elections, passing out literature and encouraging all registered voters to do their civic duty. And, oh, was I excited about the Obama election. As a youngster coming of age during the Kennedy years, I’ve called myself a Democrat for every primary I’ve ever voted in and do, indeed, write a check now and then to a candidate or election committee. That’s how I got my bumper sticker.

But this winter with the health care fix getting chewed up by Rush and Fox News every day, I just felt like holing up in by basement. I mean, if America doesn’t want to see protections in place to help other Americans keep their homes, jobs, and health, what the heck can I do about it? It’s nice to be the party in power, but it seems that so many Americans, Republicans, Tea Partiers, and Ditto Heads think such protections are socialist or the product of Nazi thinking. I don’t get it.

I read in this morning’s paper that it’s natural for folks to drift Right politically during financial hard times. And with a black man as President, the once-strong majority race -- soon to be a white plurality -- is not so willing to see such social change. I’ve heard it said on MSNBC more than once that the Tea Party is made up of angry white folks. From pictures in the news of their rallies, such seems pretty accurate to me.

Still, the Tea Party and the GOP get pretty good press at a time when the ruling and duly elected Democrats forge new laws based on their 2008 election platform. Seems like the American way to me. These folks were elected. Let them work. Americans get a chance to vote again this fall. Let’s see how the Dems do. If past practice holds true, they will lose seats in the House, maybe the Senate. Sitting Presidents usually lose seats in off-year elections, though this time it shouldn’t change the majority. But I would hope the Democrat’s difficult work reforming health care and the finance industry -- with no Republican help -- will swing some voters into the Democratic column who care about the folks who live on their street.

Sure seems like the compassionate thing to do.

I am surprised to read comments from some Facebook friends -- all younger than I, some former students -- about how conservative they are. Maybe it’s a religious thing. Abortion seems to be the acid test on morality. But it sure seems to me that corporate influence in government has been immoral, if not downright bad, for America. Think BP, Goldman Sachs, and Halliburton.

The Democrats aren’t perfect, but I’d rather put my money on them to re-shape and reform an America I can believe in.

Today’s elder idea: Yes, we can.

2008 Barack Obama slogan

Monday, May 10, 2010


For lovers of life, spring is the time for grabbing the binoculars and heading out to a local park or reserve to marvel at what is going on out there. My own Mother, who now lives indoors in a safe and sound retirement community, was amazed on her Mother’s Day family outing at how full of the trees had become.

And they’re all not just full of leaves, either. Spring is the best time to look for the feathered Nature’s people who share our space. Some are here all year round, like cardinals and chickadees. Some actually winter here and head back up north by now, like juncos and white-throated sparrows. Others just pass through, like most species of warbler. Others -- hummingbirds, chimney swifts, night hawks -- come to spend the summer with us.

So what better time of year than now to raise money for charity using the flying brethren? Well, that’s what Birdathon is. I’m not sure who came up with the idea, but Audubon has certainly adopted it. Lots of chapters, centers, and state offices have run Birdathons for years now.

The object of Birdathon is to a have folks pledge so much per species identified, though there are lots of variations on management. Some get pledges, then bird. Others sit on their deck for breakfast and count the first bird only. I prefer getting out there to bird with my grandsons, then asking friends and family to chip in to help Dayton Audubon Society causes.

Yesterday was the Wroving Wren’s day! That’s our team, the Wroving Wrens: made up of yours truly (affectionately known as Grandpa Tom is this circle), along with grandsons Alex and Noah. Alex had to drop out at the last minute this time because of too much homework, but Noah and I headed out Sunday morning about 8. First it was a stop at Waffle House, then off to Englewood MetroPark.

Technically Birdathon is supposed to held over a 24 hour period. We like that idea, but The Wroving Wrens get a little more creative. Basically, if we hear or see a bird over this two or three day period, we count ‘em. I know the birds don’t mind, and I really don’t think Wroving Wren donors do either.

One birder we caught up with yesterday observed, seeing Noah looking through his binocs, that getting kids birding is the best time to get started. I sure hope so. I’d love to learn that my grandkids, when they’re older and know themselves better, still find bird watching entertaining and lifegiving.

Birding sure works for me. Seeing all that grace and beauty flitting from tree to tree, or gleaning bugs flying just inches over the water, or soaring on air thermals, is enough to make a guy feel better in a world where things seem pretty broken and oily sometimes. And it’s a great time with the kids, too.

2010 Wroving Wren’s Birdathon (46 species identified)

House sparrow, Carolina wren, American robin, Canada goose, mallard, barred owl, Swainson’s thrush, American crow, ruby throated hummingbird, norther cardinal, Carolina chickadee, mourning dove, American goldfinch, turkey vulture, starling, blue heron, tree swallow, Baltimore oriole, blue jay, magnolia warbler, red bellied woodpecker, downy woodpecker, black throated green warbler, white breasted nuthatch, black & white warbler, yellow rumped warbler, yellow breasted warbler, Cooper’s hawk, mute swan, brown headed cowbird, grackle, pileated woodpecker, tufted titmouse, blue gray gnatcatcher, indigo bunting, lesser yellowlegs, chimney swift, barn swallow, sem-palmated sandpiper, red tailed hawk, rough winged swallow, red winged blackbird, ring billed gull, killdeer, chipping sparrow, and -- get ready -- a bald eagle. Couldn’t find a pigeon (rock dove) anywhere!

Today’s elder idea: Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.

Frank Lloyd Wright

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Green places in the heart

Like many of my good friends, I am an unabashed tree hugger. I love the natural world and wish it well.

And as you probably know from either our acquaintance or your reading this blog, I love going to see beautiful land-, sea-, and mountain-scapes. They lift my spirits and touch me in ways I can’t always explain. I want to be inside these beautiful places and just be. Soak ‘em up, so to speak, to sustain me when I get back home.

I’m a bit of a walker, not so much a hiker these days. But I am, unquestionably a GREAT sitter. The picture here is of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, where Cindy Lou and I have spent a few spring break weeks. She can’t wait to get out in the sun and begin the process that darkens her skin into a lovely tan. Me? I love sitting on the balcony of the condo looking down at the sun worshipers with my poetry notebook and a cold Corona at the ready. Beach walks before breakfast and after dinner fill out the day for the both of us.

And now, it would seem, researchers have determined that just five minutes a day in the great outdoors can improve one’s self esteem and mental health. Just being out there makes a difference in our heads. Ride a bike along the river. Take a walk in a park. Dig in your garden. Sit out on your back porch and meditate. All these things have been proven to boost a person’s mood.

The research from the University of Essex in the UK says the benefits of spending time outdoors is not new, but the time needed for personal benefits to show -- just five minutes -- is the newest piece in the mental health puzzle. I mean, five minutes. The study included looking at a wide array of outdoor activities, including walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse riding, and farming.

Good stuff, don’t you think? Undoubtedly. I hope we’ll all take this study to heart and get outside more often. It will be good for our heads.

I could have selected any of a number of pictures from the personal portfolio to accompany this blog entry, but I thought a shot of the lovely white sand of Fort Walton Beach the best choice. Why? Well, because this lovely place is in danger of being trashed by the uncapped seafloor oil gusher emanating from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico that today threatens not only Louisiana and Mississippi wetlands, but the vacation beaches of Alabama and Florida. Yesterday it was proposed that the oil could even catch currents that would take it around the Florida peninsula and up the Atlantic coast. Let’s hope not. Still, it is a possibility. How long will it take BP to stop the flow? Three months? Goodness. That’s a lot of oil.

So I am torn today. Yes, I drive to Florida. Yes, I am a user of refined petroleum. Yes, I love the beach. Yes, I love shrimp cocktail. And, yes, my heart breaks for the lives torn asunder by this oil disaster. It won’t be just vacationers whose plans will change if the beaches are covered in oil, but the countless families who make a living in the Gulf. Fisherfolk. Shrimpers. Shop owners. Restauranteurs.

Is it possible the oil slick could be worse for the Gulf than Hurricane Katrina? Some folks think so. And that truly hurts my heart. Talk about the lack of green -- or blue -- space impacting one’s mental health? Birds. Fish. Sea turtles. People. Oh, my.

Today’s elder idea: Dana Powell expects at least some lost business at her Paradise Inn in Pensacola Beach, Florida, and could see a different type of guest altogether: Instead of families boating, parasailing, and fishing, workers on cleanup crews will probably be renting her rooms. “They won’t be having as much fun,” she said, “but they might be buying more liquor at the bar, because they’ll be so depressed.”

from an Associated Press report today, 4 May 2010

picture: Santa Rosa Island, behind the Nautilus condo, Fort Walton Beach FL (2003)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ted Schaefer (1920-1999)

He’s about 21 in this picture. Graduated from Chaminade High School a couple three years prior. Played center on the football team for Fuzzy Faust. Loved to draw, especially figures. Maybe art school, or interior design was in his future. War got in the way of that dream.

On Sunday, 7 December 1941, Ted had the day off from Frigidaire, but was called in by mid-afternoon after word had gotten back to the East that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. He ground firing pins for weapons to be used by American troops when the war came. Nobody doubted that it would come. Nobody knew when. They were surprised when it came from the Pacific. Most everybody assumed that crazy bastard Hitler would do something first. People were surprised and angry when it came at Pearl. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do. It didn’t take him long to sign up for the Army Air Corps.

And then there was the girl. Gertrude. Yes, he loved her. She was his Honeybubble. But he didn’t want to anchor her to a distant hope of a life after a war when nobody knew when or what that might be. If there even was one. What would keep him from being a casualty? Gert agreed, but promised to write him every day, telling him of life here at home. At home without him.

She would make her war effort by rolling bandages for troop use and volunteering at the hospital at Wright Patterson. He thought she looked damned cute in the picture she sent of herself in that hospital volunteer outfit. She is standing out in front of her house, her profile to the camera. Her eyes are closed and her chin is upturned and a grin from ear to ear. Believe me, he had every intension of getting home alive.

After boot camp, he was selected to learn how to become a turret gunner. The mortality rate for gunners sitting inside glass bubbles on American bombers was extraordinarily high, but he didn’t think about it much. This was war, after all, and there were many dangerous jobs. He would do what he could. We’d all be happier than fiddies in a pond if we could just stay home. But, no. The world can’t seem to take care of its own business without US.

As he waited with the other guys for the bus to take him to gunner training, an officer came up and asked if anybody in line knew anything about butchering. He had spent time on family farms in Mercer county, Ohio, when he was a kid, and he helped out in his grandfather’s grocery store in Dayton. He was pulled from the line, and his military career was changed forever. He spent the rest of the war in the kitchen.

His time eventually came to ship out overseas to the European theater on the RMS Auquitania, sister ship to the long-lost German target, Lusitania. Radio blackout meant no communication with anybody all the way across. When they eventually entered Scotland’s Firth of Clyde, they were met with astonishment. Sub-hunting aircraft had spotted flotsam on the Atlantic days before that all in authority assumed was the remains of the Auquitania.

Ted’s duty station turned out to be Bury St. Edmunds, an airfield just northeast of London. He and the kitchen crew cooked for hundreds of guys a day, sometimes being called into the mess in the middle of the night. When the fly boys had to eat, somebody had to fix it. He prided himself as the first to create pre-packaged cake mix. He mixed all the dry ingredients prior, including dry eggs. All he had to do in a pinch was add water and the cake was in the oven in minutes, and on the table before the crew in no time. He worked hard to keep the guys happy. He concluded that as long as the guys bitched about the food, all was okay. When they got quiet he knew things were getting bad.

He always had a twinge when an Air Corps pilot turned over his wallet before heading out for a mission over the continent. If he didn’t return, the guys back at the base were supposed to spend the cash down at a local pub and toast those who didn’t return. He would never be able to hear taps again without tears.

Well, he survived the war at his station in England. He did get knocked down from the concussion of buzz bombs a couple of times, but nothing serious. After VE Day in May 1945, he shipped home and made it back to Dayton for a furlough. He and Gertie were married that July in St. Anthony’s church. She accompanied him to his next duty station in Florida, where he prepared to ship out to the Pacific. But the big bombs and VJ Day came in August. By Columbus Day he and Gert headed back home to begin a life, they hoped, that would be safe for the family they wanted to get started.


1 May 2010 marked the eleventh anniversary of my dad’s passing. He survived the war, but couldn’t get past the cancer. He left Mom and his seven kids to carry on.

Today’s elder idea: I want you to keep in communication with each other, love each other, and love hard. Love is the greatest thing that can happen to a family. So please stay together. It makes a beautiful family tree, and the fruit will be plentiful.

from ‘To my children’

written by Dad for his penultimate birthday,

8 February 1998