top rounder
As the name for an alternative holiday, it lacks something, in my opinion, but it does allow for sidestepping the issue of having to thank God or a higher power for anything on Thanksgiving Day. It also allows us to maintain the semblance of gratitude and community spirit while denying and denouncing the essential.

D.M. Murdock, known also as Acharya S, author of The Christ Conspiracy and a growing list of de-mystifying books, has circulated in her newsletter today a link to something she wrote for Examiner.com — she's the Freethought Examiner under Religion and Spirituality — "Giving thanks to unsung heros." Her list of those needing to be thanked includes: 1) firefighters, police and paramedics, 2) emergency room doctors, nurses and staff, 3) prison guards, mental institution doctors and staff, hospice workers, coroners and undertakers, 4) military personnel, especially the rank-and-file soldiers, 5) sanitation and social workers, 6) farmworkers, truck drivers and railroad workers, and 7) teachers and school staff. All of them jobs that she finds "not only dangerous but also traumatizing, gory, gross and scary." To me, this seems a lot like celebrating Fathers Day subject to paternity tests, or Mothers Day for the mothers only of those we happen to admire.

Last Sunday, a small group of us struggled through the Bob's Big Boy opening rush in Morro Bay. Bob's used to be an ordinary restaurant. Now it basks in the golden glow of retro or collectible. This rather flimsy imitation of the once soaring post and beam neighborhood monuments was packed. According to the waiter, they had three workers doing nothing but hand scooping ice cream their entire shift for an endless, multicolored stream of shakes and malts. I felt almost guilty asking how much longer my chocolate malt would be. How about them? How about the waiters and waitresses who looked positively overwhelmed by the ebb and flow of hungry, demanding humanity? Or, how about the dishwashers, the busboys, the late night cleanup crew, or the manager who looked like he hadn't slept in a week? Which of these jobs would you want? Are they not public servant enough? The list for Examiner.com is an apple pie, though the strawberry pie looked really good, sequence of clichés meant to distract and obfuscate.

Prison guards? Well, sure. Let's hear it for prison guards. Anyone here from New York? Your father worked where? On the railroad? Let's hear it for railroad workers. Farmworkers? Where would we be without farmworkers? Undertakers? Sure, why not?

If she had proposed giving thanks for these unsung heros — I'm not sure that calling them heros or unsung is exactly correct — in June or July, we might wonder what got into her. A story about funding cuts for emergency rooms? A big fire down the street? A poignant rerun of Quincy ? But this isn't June or July, it's the day before Thanksgiving, a day that turns inevitably toward the things she most abhors.

I remember her being somewhat indignant in the books that are now packed away so I can't quote from them on short notice about the Church subsuming local holidays and heros, bending things to suit their lust for power and control. Christmas, the story of the birth of Jesus, for example, was made to replace the pagan rituals and associations surrounding the Hibernal solstice. That's something to be indignant about, I suppose. Except that pagan stories supplanted prior stories. That's how it works. History belongs to the victor. But, proposing — of course she didn't exactly propose — to replace thanking God with thanking firemen is not so much a power play on her part as attempting to play on our stupidity. She's attempting to do much the same thing she complains about. Does she really think we would unwittingly supplant Thanksgiving Day with a Godless Thanks to Those Who Do Society's Unpleasant Jobs Day?

Thanks, but no thanks.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
Thanksgiving is an ambiguously religious holiday. As a people, as Americans, we give thanks directly to God for the bounty He has provided us. Atheists may quibble over the deity as addressee. We could just as easily set one day aside each year to thank ourselves for all that we managed to accomplish. There might be wisdom in that, like the wisdom of Christmas parties for the upkeep of morale. After all, the bounty God provides is seldom a one-way street. Does God thresh the wheat? Does He baste the turkey? Even if we can't force people to be grateful, or to be grateful and believe in God, it does seem productive in the long run to give them a Thursday off each November to make four-day weekends and visits home a workable possibility.

I say "directly to God" because the holiday requires no intermediary. Thanksgiving is a government holiday, but we are not expected to thank the government. Nor is there a particular god, goddess or hero who presides over it. Unlike Veterans Day, National Secretary's Day or even Christmas, our thanks is not directed toward individuals, groups of individuals or to the concept of a religious entity mixed inextricably with folklore and retail frenzy. The Thanks in Thanksgiving is a very general thanks. Of course, folklore and tradition have become parts of the recipe — turkeys, Pilgrims and Indians mingle in pre-slaughter happiness — but the meal itself is not a propitiation. The turkey is not an offering. It symbolizes, along with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, the bounty that should give us pause for thanks.

Brussels sprouts were a traditional item in the family God saw fit to place me in, along with yams and in later years mostly California champagne — my personal addition. Thanksgiving is essentially a communal saying of grace, a day when we find ourselves on the same page, though that page be written in a hundred or a hundred million different ways or languages. I haven't shared a Thanksgiving meal with relatives in twenty-five years, but I've often wondered if it's possible to say grace, to adequately say grace while hating those at the table. It seems like a contradiction, a misalignment of values. So I've wondered if God's sense of humor is broad enough to accept that. After all, the original joke was on me. Is it possible to be genuinely thankful among the sights, smells and traditions of Thanksgiving Day while wishing those around you dead and gone? The answer may surprise you, though I've already given you a hint. God provides the bounty for which we are thankful. He leaves the threshing and the basting to us.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
DualSpirals

Two spirals — one left-handed, the other right-handed. One, I am told, moves clockwise, while the other moves counterclockwise. Is the one on the left left-handed or right-handed? Does the one on the right move clockwise or counterclockwise?

The answer, which may may trouble you at first, is that they do whichever you want them to. The universe has no absolute left or right. Nor does it know up from down. The North Pole, as we call it, is not found on the top of the Earth, as people assume, it's just one side of a headless coin. The universe itself has no top, no bottom, no north, no south. These are human concepts, based on our limited scope, passed from one to the next, hopelessly entangled in the body's bilateral symmetry and in the fortuitous fact that our eyes are on one side of our head.

Until Michelson and Morley conducted their experiment with light in 1887, it was commonly held that an aether permeated the universe, a sort of rectilinear three-dimensional grid that carried light — a luminiferous aether. But, when light failed to move more quickly in one direction than the other, i.e. faster with the earth's motion than against it, it was apparent, as Einstein would elucidate, that things were and remain hopelessly relative.

And yet, we live in a world of up, down, left and right. Without knowing how or why such things came to be, or came seemingly to be, we maneuver these almost opposites effortlessly. We switch from one grid to another and back again without thinking. In fact, even at an early stage of childhood development, we demonstrate an amazing facility for recognizing and adjusting to an ever shifting, never quite settled left/right grid. My right becomes your left the very instant the context changes, and my other left — always an embarrassment — turns out to be the left I should have used but didn't. The director's left, as he addresses the actors on a stage, becomes stage right, because the actors take priority in determining directions. Of course, the director takes priority in giving them. If the actors rotate 90° so their shoulders, rather than their faces, faced the director, then their individual left and right becomes up stage or down stage, depending on whether they rotated to the left or to the right. At this point, for the actors anyway, stage left and stage right is somewhat ambiguous. Stage directions, as I said, are for the benefit of the actors. Still, in order for the actors to know left from right, not merely their own left from their own right, they must remember where the audience is. Plays, after all, are for the benefit of the audience, and without the audience, the actors would find themselves, adrift without an anchor. The grids by which we navigate are shifting hierarchies of givens and agreed upons fraught with un-thought out understoods.

Here, I think, is where it all begins.

Below. We understand that the ground attracting us is below. Gravity may have waited for Newton to provide it with a system, but we have always known which direction a downward fall would take us. Even if we fail to understand the laws of attracting bodies and the simple fact that the earth attracts us more than we attract it, we still know where down is. We fall toward the earth. We stand upon what is beneath us. The earth is down. When we close our eyes, the heavens and all their contents — sun, moon, stars, clouds, migrating geese, and the occasional Pterodactyl — disappear. But the force of gravity does not. So, the concept of down or below was, in all likelihood, the first agreed upon direction.

In front. We also understand that the limited area before us, the visible, is opposed to a somewhat greater area that is non-visible. Of course, the visible refers to what we see and not to what we could see if we turned our heads or walked down the road a piece. The fact that one becomes the other, the fact that the visible becomes the non-visible as the non-visible simultaneously becomes visible, is the basis for a very powerful opposition. Also, just as below was more basic than above, in front or before turns out to be more basic than its opposite. Thus, from two basic directions we elaborate four: up, down, in front, and behind. Which leaves only left and right to account for.

You might say that left and right are just the directions on either side of in front, and you'd be more or less right. But, how do we exit the absurdity of deciding if left is on the left or on the right? In other words, as I've tried to indicate, down and in front have something basic about them. Is there a solid basis for saying that one particular hand is left and the other right?

There's an answer to this question, a delightful answer, but it requires us to step back a bit and consider the sun. Nothing has been more central, more necessary, more beneficial to human life than the sun. Its daily and seasonal movements, its appearances and disappearances have been feared and worshiped in one way or another, both privately and collectively, since man's appearance upon the earth. In this rational age, the facts relating to that worship, aside from the mumbo jumbo of Hollywood, have been mostly lost, though they persist in our languages, in our customs, in our patterns of belief. The ultimate anchor for left and right turns out to be the sun.

Right. The sun rises in the east. It would be difficult to establish a more basic fact for mankind. East is the basis for north, south and west, and also the basis, as I will indicate, for left and right. East is where the sun rises. It rises only in the east, not hear and there. Most people are surprised to find out that the sun does not rise like a column of smoke on the eastern horizon. It does not rise at right angles to the ground in a manner we would call up. It slides to the right (what we would end up calling right) as it rises. The earth's axis has an almost 23½° tilt. Without that tilt we would have no seasons, and the sun would not rise as it does. Greeting the rising sun is the primary worshipful event in the long pre-history of organized religion. The fact that we ignore or avoid or are unable to observe the sun at the moment of rising through the clutter of buildings makes it difficult for us to appreciate the primacy of this daily event.

At some remote point in time, man observed the rising behavior of the sun and saw that it slid along the ground left to right. Of course, we haven't established left and right. It slid as the sun slides, rising in the process. Slowly, it arced into the sky higher and higher until noon, and then reversed itself into the west. This motion was repeated with seasonal variations each and every morning. If one marked the point of rising, it moved southward toward winter and northward toward summer. The sun stayed low in the winter and rose higher and higher as it approached summer. But the arc of the sun was always toward the south, and that direction (east to south) became right. Buried in our cultures and languages are a thousand indications of this. What is right is associated with light, with enlightenment, with law, goodness, and God. We offer our right hand in greeting, salute with our right hand. Someone dexterous (based on the Latin dexter for right) is someone good with his hands. A sinister person (Latin for left) is someone who has strayed from goodness. Human rights are those inalienable things granted to us by God. The origin of left and right is in the rightward motion of the sun.

The primary directions are down, front and right. The secondary directions are up, behind and left. The first two were almost unavoidable. The third was the product of discovery. The observation of the motions of the sun pulled man up from the elements and placed him on the edge of the universe. It placed him where his awareness and knowledge might spiral outwardly or inwardly to infinity.

The answer to the initial problem is that the two spirals are the same spiral seen from different sides. The spiral is a two-dimensional construct, in this case something created in Adobe Illustrator. It has no sides. It is we who provide the additional dimension, not the spiral. It is we who decide whether to start on the inside or the outside, we who determine which infinity to pursue. The sun leads us in the chase, it warms and readies us, but the decision rests ultimately with us.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
A checker at Albertsons asked what I'd been up to. I told her I'd just seen The Men Who Stare at Goats. She said, "You saw THAT?!" Actually, I had just come from seeing it for the second time. "Oh my God," she said. "My neighbor went to see that this weekend and was she pissed. It had nothing to do with goats, she said. She even tried getting her money back, but she finally gave up. She said it was just about… nothing."

It's encounters like these that make me feel absolutely certain that what I've just seen was as good as I thought it was.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
FirstLineBlueBrown

A modernized typographic version of the opening line of the Tao Te Ching. The text of this document is not susceptible to what we normally think of as translation. Of course, the bewildering number of translations, both in print and online, may cast doubt on that assertion. When someone asks, "Où est le WC?" we translate, "Where is the bathroom?" — at least, those of us in the United States. Obviously, a bathroom and a water closet aren't quite the same thing. We aren't bothered by the fact that WC was originally borrowed from English. Both are so shrouded in euphemism that "bathroom" seems close enough without thinking about it. The six characters above (four different characters) are neither euphemistic nor imprecise, yet their meaning is beyond multiple. It verges on paradox. We encounter nothing like this when seeking desperately to powder our nose. If I asked you not merely to repeat the words but to give me the meaning of a 1956 Chevy two-door convertible, despite the absurdity of such a question, you might find, especially if you grew up in the 50s and 60s, that a great many meanings seem almost reasonable. But, do individual cars really have meaning? I could ask the same about televisions or cellphones, or the hamburger you just ate. And the answer is that we know by instinct, we know intuitively, even though words fail us, that things in and of themselves have meaning.

The Chinese characters in the Tao Te Ching have come down to us from antiquity. At countless stages along the way they accumulated, like tourists in curio shops, associations and meanings both personal and cultural, but also like aging tourists failing to remember a particular ashtray, associations once seemingly unforgettable have been irretrievably lost. Or have they merely been misplaced? What is the meaning of an ashtray? And what is the meaning of the Tao?

Transliterated in the Wade-Giles system, the first line reads,
Tao k'o tao, fei ch'ang tao.
or mercilessly translated it says,
Tao can tao, not eternal tao.
selecting the first choice for the meaning of each character from Jonathan Star's "Verbatum Translation" in Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition listed below.

If a journey of ten thousand miles begins with the first step, I thought it might be fun to share this handful of first steps toward a meaningful translation. Each is an attempt to initialize meaning. There is no system to the selection. The books were all on my bedroom bookshelves. I have listed them as they appeared. Lin Yutang is missing. Perhaps he's too modest for such a spectacle. Timothy Leary's acid soaked no Chinese version is near the bottom of a box stacked deep within the garage, tripping with his far less notorious contemporaries. A short visit to a good library could produce ten times this many examples, and those only in English.
There are ways, but the Way is uncharted…
R.B. Blakney, The Way of Life, The New American Library (1955)

The Tao that can be stated is not the Eternal Tao.
Henry Wei, The Guiding Light of Lao Tzu, The Theosophical Publishing House (1982)

The Way that can be told of is not the Unvarying Way
Arthur Waley, The Way and Its Power, Grove Press (1958)

The way that can be spoken of
Is not the constant way…

D.C. Lau, Tao Te Ching, Penguin Books (1963)

The way can be spoken of,
But it will not be the constant way…

D.C. Lau, Tao Te Ching, Alfred A. Knopf (1994)

Existence is beyond the power of words
To define…

Witter Bynner (1944), The Way of Life: According to Lao Tzu, Capricorn Books (1962)

A way that can be walked
is not the Way

Jonathan Star, Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition, Tarcher Penguin (2003)

Tao, the subtle reality of the universe
cannot be described.

Hua-Ching Ni, The Complete Works of Lao Tzu, Tao of Wellness (1979)

The Dao that can be described in language is not the constant Dao…
Richard John Lynn, The Classic of the Way and Virtue, Columbia UP (1999)

The tao that can be said is not the everlasting Tao.
Tam C. Gibbs, Lao-Tzu: "My words are very easy to understand.", North Atlantic Books (1981)

The Tâo that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tâo.
James Legge, The Texts of Taoism, Part I, Oxford (1891), Dover (1962)

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.

Stephen Mitchell, Toa Te Ching, Harper & Row (1988)

The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
Yi-Ping Ong, Tao Te Ching, Barnes & Noble Classics (2005)

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao
John C. H. Wu, Tao Teh Ching, Shambhala (2005)
Lately, I've been thinking about the television program Naked City that starred the incomparable Paul Burke — he died in Palm Springs this past September. I stayed up late to watch every episode over a several year period in the late 50s, early 60s. Some I remember like they were yesterday. They captured a kind of reality that seemed always sensitive to higher values, perhaps merely sensitive. Based on the 1948 movie, based in turn on the book by Weegee, the closing line was, "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them." There are far more than eight million meanings to Lao Tzu. This has been a portion of the translations of line one.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
Finding water on the Moon, or the possibility of water, falls into the category of Kind of Interesting. If you're old enough, you may remember that Venus was a cool, cloud covered planet where it rained incessantly. If we could only peek beneath those clouds, how lush and fascinating it would be. Imagine the botanical wonders. The surface temperature turned out to be roughly 860 °F, which some astronomers managed to call relatively cool, though a bit warm for long pants and sweatshirt. The clouds, which were the source of constant rain, turned out to be a mixture of sulfur dioxide and sulfuric acid droplets. So, the original funding was to visit Earth's sister planet. Subsequent funding has been to discover why Venus is so completely different from the Earth. Well, not completely different, it's still a big planet between us and the Sun, it's just suffering from greenhouse effect. Is the Earth destined to become another Venus?

I went way out on a limb when NASA's LCROSS probe was a few hours away from slamming into the Cabeus crater on the Moon. I predicted they would discover the possibility of water on the moon, just as I predicted that the last Martian probe would discover the possibility of life on Mars. The December 2007 issue of Scientific American went with "Are We Living With Alien Cells?" featuring a greenish Ghost Busters-like monster cell on the cover. On the inside, the article became "Are aliens Among Us?" with the "a" in "aliens" for some reason not capitalized. These aliens turned out to be microbes with slightly different chemical properties than we currently understand. That's what most people mean by aliens, isn't it?

Here's the connection.
If biological determinism — the idea that life must arise under the proper conditions — is true, we might expect life to have emerged elsewhere in the solar system, particularly on Mars (which had liquid water on its surface early in its history).
Obviously a NASA public relations piece. The fix was on, the funding fix. So, life on Mars, however one defines it, was inevitable. When it turns out that there is no life, we'll seek to determine why. Is Earth becoming another Mars?

According to ars technica today, "disappointment about the lack of a dramatic plume of debris" in the LCROSS probe debacle has turned into a kind of elation since NASA's instruments managed nonetheless to obtain "significant amounts of data" that after four days worth of enforced analysis have finally produced an indication of "significant quantities of water" on the Moon. At least that's one possible interpretation, more than enough to prove me right. There is a possibility of water on the moon. But I'm sure there is no evidence whatsoever of consensus thinking at NASA, even if their jobs depend on it.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
When Yogi Berra said that a certain restaurant was so popular that no one goes there anymore, he was rather delightfully tripping over his tongue. Far less delightful was the Guardian today.
The UN's nuclear watchdog has asked Iran to explain evidence suggesting that Iranian scientists have experimented with an advanced nuclear warhead design, the Guardian has learned.

The very existence of the technology, known as a "two-point implosion" device, is officially secret in both the US and Britain, but according to previously unpublished documentation in a dossier compiled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iranian scientists may have tested high-explosive components of the design. The development was today described by nuclear experts as "breathtaking" and has added urgency to the effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.
The very existence of the technology is secret. Well, secret in the US and Britain. So, presumably, if the Iranians knew about it, they were in possession of secret information. Unless, of course, they learned about it from non-British or non-American sources. Is this technology secret in China? Are the Japanese using it for something? Is it possible that although it's technically secret in some places, its existence is widely known?

How can the Iranians be held accountable for something they supposedly did not know about in the first place? Was it an open secret? If so, why emphasize that the mere existence of it is secret? If not, exactly whose secret is it now? How very brightly the words may have burn. They may have or they may not have. Maybe it was part of a secret design and maybe it wasn't. So, what's the connection between this "design" that they should not know about and what they may or may not have done that has rendered so many breathless?

An explosion.

If they did explode something, and I'm more than willing to admit that they may have, what proof is it that they knew anything? How does it prove that whatever they knew was something they shouldn't? And how in the world does an explosion prove that whatever they knew and however they knew it is a nuclear weapon in the makings? It's almost as if whatever they do proves whatever we wish to believe.

I worked with a young man years ago whose father owned a landscaping company and three Ford trucks. In a desperate effort to inflate his father's importance, and thereby his own, he said that because he was such a good customer, Ford Motor Company was always eager to get his father's opinion on things, especially trucks. So, he was privy to products that had not yet been released, and the son, therefore, knew certain secrets concerning Ford Motor Company. One Monday morning he showed up swollen with pride. Over the weekend, he had test driven a secret Ford Ranger four-door pickup with a half-dozen secret features in a color that was exactly the color he intended to tell them about. Not just his father this time, but he himself. They wanted the son's opinion on this one, since it was obviously a young person's truck. Well, this one was so unbelievably special, so absolutely secret, he stretched, that it hadn't even been built yet.

It's the kind of breathtaking lie that leaves one speechless.
 
bottom rounder

top rounder
The Veterans Memorial in Atascadero, located at the corner of Morro Rd. (HWY 41) and Portola, marks its first year this Sunday. Kim Noyes, a seventeen year Atascadero resident, documented dedication day with a series of photographs. You can see them at Eclectic Arcania.  If you go there, you can also read his opinion that the memorial is "one of the few things this stupid town has done right during the entire time I've lived here." Visitors to the memorial are greeted with the following.

The “Faces of Freedom
Veterans Memorial


Throughout history patriotic Americans have been drawn together to serve a cause greater than themselves. Some came because of common experiences. Most came because of common values. All came because they shared a dream.

The people who belong to the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation are such a people. They believe that the true reflection of America is her ability to honor our Veterans of the past, who have given so much that all Americans might live free. They feel the memorial honors our military members serving today, as it represents those who stand guard between America and those who seek to destroy her. Finally, the Foundation believes the Memorial is about our future, as it will be used to teach our youth about our nation's core values and will serve as a symbol of our gratitude to those, who through their service and by their sacrifice, put their country first.

The reality of this Memorial and today's dedication is proof, that we as Americans will be forever proud of our Veterans. We honor them today, not only with words, but with this lasting tribute.

“All gave some....some gave all

Dedicated November 8, 2008


N.B. The tablet on which this is engraved is too wide to preserve the original line breaks and centering. Otherwise, I have transcribed it as accurately as possible.

If this rather amazing document appeared in the newspaper, we might suspect a bad day in the copy room. Deadlines can be rugged. If it appeared in a magazine or a book, the mistakes would be the responsibility of the editor who signed off on the text. But when chiseled and riddled with errors, if not the stonemason, who then do we blame?

Marble plaques are no longer chiseled for the most part. Computer assisted laser devices a lot like enormous desktop printers are used. Marble tablets are run under quick-moving plotters like thick slabs of paper. Nothing is done one letter at at time these days. Computer files, Word documents are fed in one end and memorial plaques come out the other. This has lead to an unfortunate wordiness and to a very unfortunate lack of editing. No one translates the message to stone, therefore the text goes from computer screen to stone in one fell swoop. Technology, rather than multiplying the possibility of getting things right, has almost prevented it.

The title of this plaque contains opening but no closing quotes, as if the secretary or foundation member typing it hadn't quite decided how much was quotable. An easy mistake, except it's repeated at the end ("All gave some....some gave all) where there are four periods in place of a comma and no period whatsoever at the end. A stonemason's arms would lock up solid before he permitted himself to do that.

Faces of Freedom, a statue with faces protruding from a flag, dominates the site. The words "Faces of Freedom" in large italic letters dominate the plinth. It was originally the Veterans Memorial, or the Atascadero Veterans Memorial, sometimes the Veterans War Memorial, but once the statue was in place, it's name or message somehow superseded the rest. The memorial has become the Atascadero "Faces of Freedom" Veterans Memorial. It has also appeared in all caps as THE ATASCADERO "FACES OF FREEDOM" VETERANS MEMORIAL, with quotes and italics, and THE thrown in for good measure. Fortunately, the site that provided us with that is no longer in existence. The convention for titles of statues is to use italics and title case. There is a tendency, however, among people who don't quite understand them, to use quotation marks for "emphasis". If I had to guess, I'd say that's what's going on here. They want to emphasize that Faces of Freedom is the title. Only, it's the title of the statue, not the memorial.

There's a comma after "those" that belongs after "who" and an unnecessary comma after the word "proof". The words "veterans", "memorial" and "foundation" need not be capitalized when used by themselves. Perhaps you can find more.

But the message itself, if one can decipher it, is far worse than mere details. "Throughout history patriotic Americans have been drawn together to serve a cause greater than themselves." The Renaissance was a memorable period in history. Were patriotic Americans drawn together then? Did they mean to say American history? "Some came because of common experiences." So, did they come or were they drawn, or did they come because they were drawn? Experiences common to whom? Certainly, some of those who came or those who were drawn shared common experiences. But, which experiences were those? They went to high school, they were born in the United States… "Most came because of common values." So, common values are more pervasive than common experience. But, which values? American values? Were a portion anti-American? Were some gay or anti-Christian? "All came because they shared a common dream." And that dream, which expressed itself throughout history, I suppose, was…?

Here's the problem, and in my mind it's a big one. This introduction seeks to glorify not the dead, but the members of the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation, the people who raised money and built the memorial. They are "such a people." A what? A people such as those drawn together? Are they really a people? Does this memorial memorialize them?

The next sentence shifts part way through from they to us, i.e. from they believe to our veterans. ("They believe that the true reflection of America is her ability to honor our Veterans of the past, who have given so much that all Americans might live free.") Unfortunately, either it's they believe and their or we believe and our. The problem, you see — it's what caused the shift — is that they really means we. It's not someone writing about the committee, it's the committee writing about itself. I think I'll skip the part about they who is we being the her who honors our veterans. It's just too complicated and confusing. America's "ability to honor" is her "true reflection". What could that possibly mean? If America were not able to honor it could not do so. If it were able to honor but chose not to, it would still be able, just not willing. So, the true reflection actually has nothing to do with ability and everything, it seems, to do with actually honoring. We're still at the entrance to the memorial, should we really be quibbling at this stage over semantics? In the same sentence we find "to honor our Veterans of the past" — a veteran is already of the past. You can't be only a present or a future veteran. So, the term "veterans of the past" implies veterans who no longer exist. Is this a distinction they want to make? Well, that's hard to tell. In the context of a war memorial, the words "who have given so much that all Americans might live free" sounds a lot like they're referring to the dead. But the next group in the sequence leading from past to future is "our military members serving today." Someone serving today might be the veteran of numerous wars, but would not be a veteran. Being on active duty precludes being a veteran. How this memorial "will teach our youth about our core values" is an utter mystery to me, so I'll stop here and leave the rest to you. I'll just add that something from the War on Terror has been swallowed whole, perhaps unknowingly. Our soldiers stand "between American and those who seek to destroy her." Do people break into banks to destroy money? Do they steal food just to throw it away? How did we arrive at the idea, how did we swallow it hook line and sinker, that our worst fear is those who seek to destroy us?

In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream a preposterous group of tradesmen rehearses and later performs a play within the play about Pyramus and Thisbe for the Duke's wedding celebration. If their names tell you anything, the players are Nick Bottom, weaver, Peter Quince, carpenter, Francis Flute, bellows-mender, Robin Starveling, tailor, Tom Snout, tinker, and Snug, the joiner. They display little knowledge and no imagination. They are uproariously funny, but only if you understand the issues and errors. They have an inflated notion of themselves and project onto the Duke and his entourage both immense refinement and utter stupidity. When they realize that Pyramus must "draw a sword to kill himself," they decide that "the ladies cannot abide" such a thing. They conclude, therefore, that the entire incident must be deleted from the play — like Amelia Earhart coming back at end to say, "Just kidding." Bottom, however, jumps in with a solution. "I have a device to make all well," he says.
Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyarmus is not killed, indeed; and, for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them out of fear.
About the fearful prospect of a lion in the play, he adds,
Nay, you must name his name, and half his face must be seen through the lion's neck; and he himself must speak through, saying thus, or to the same defect, 'Ladies,' or 'Fair ladies,' 'I would wish you,' or, 'I would request you,' or, 'I would entreat you, not to fear not to tremble: my life for yours. If you think I come hither as a lion, it were pity of my life: no, I am no such thing: I am a man as other men are'; and there indeed let him name his name, and tell them plainly he is Snug the joiner.
It's a wonderful play, you should read it sometime. Or, read it again some winter night to remind yourself of summer's madness. When I remembered it recently, something came to me. The Atascadero Veteran's Memorial, about which I have shared only the prologue, seems very much like a tragic performance of the play within the play that is the comedy of Pyramus and Thisbe.
 
bottom rounder