On the American Flag

We recently returned from a week in a part of Wisconsin dotted with small communities in which a blizzard of American flags fly and a wide assortment of flag-related apparel and paraphernalia manifest. Two observations, that of lesser import first.

4 U.S.C. 6 provides, in part, as follows:

(c) … The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.

4 U.S.C. 8 provides, in part, as follows:

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as … merchandise …

(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery …

(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling …

(i) The flag … should not be … printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard …

How many times each day do we as a people violate the letter or spirit of federal law in the name of patriotism? Does a citizen show greater respect for our nation by wearing a flag shirt that is vulnerable to an errant mustard drip? While such is clearly harmless, a separate personal pique: How badly is our flag desecrated when it is prominently displayed in the lapel of a politician (of either party) engaging in self-aggrandizement, spewing self-serving lies, and/or inciting discord?

I have more understanding of the actions of those that burn the flag or kneel during the national anthem to call attention to an injustice in our country that they sincerely believe needs correcting. I would offer that these actions, whether or not one agrees with them, are made in the exercise of one of the rights that the flag stands for: the freedom of expression.

The larger concern: It occurred to me that when I see our flag flying in front of a house, or see one of our people wearing or using flag-themed apparel or paraphernalia, my visceral reaction is: that’s a Trump supporter. This is obviously an over-generalization; there are unquestionably veterans and others among us proudly displaying the flag that don’t support the President … but I would submit that my inclination is accurate much more often than not.

I fear that the flag either has become or is being made into a partisan symbol – perhaps for some, the trademark of a culturally-homogeneous America. While it is human nature to find comfort among those that are like us, I truly believe that when asked to consider, the vast majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters appreciate that the flag belongs to all Americans that love this country – even those with whom they vehemently disagree. I’m troubled by the notion that possibly not all of them do.

And so …

If we hadn’t already known – and of course, we did – the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail, informed us that The Godfather is the I Ching, the Sum of All Wisdom, the Answer to Any Question. In a passage from the novel not included in the movie:

“With great effort the Don opened his eyes to see his son once more. The massive heart attack had turned his ruddy face almost blue. He was in extremis. He smelled the garden, the yellow shield of light smote his eyes, and he whispered, ‘Life is so beautiful.’”

We are engulfed in a political storm; hopefully, our republic will emerge stronger from the squall. As we who are blessed embrace the full glory of the summer, may we appreciate the sentiment expressed by the fictional Don Corleone with his last breaths – while recognizing that life isn’t beautiful for large numbers of our people worldwide.  May we not ignore the hardships being endured by so many of those in our country, by those simply seeking a better life that are being restrained at our borders, and by those around the world facing incredible torment …

A Personal Note

Set forth below is a link to an announcement by the Columbia University Journalism School. As the most biased of observers, I would suggest that this year’s recipient of the Columbia J School’s Berger Award provides the best of journalism: straightforward, comprehensive reporting of the terrible difficulties in which too many of our people find themselves as we move ever faster, think (and at times seem to feel) less deeply, resort too much to slogans and labels, and focus too much on our differences rather than upon what our nation needs and can be — for those that already live here, and for those that seek refuge in the values that have set us apart from the rest of the world.

https://journalism.columbia.edu/2019-berger-tobenkin-award

I believe that one sentence from the Award Jurors’ Citation best captures our son’s work: “McCoy gives them a voice and, for us, a window into their torment.” His mother and I are more proud than we can ever put into words.

On LiMu the Emu

Retirees have time to reflect on many weighty subjects; among those topics fleetingly at top of mind this week is the notion that Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (full disclosure: my long-time employer has had a close working relationship with Liberty Mutual for many years) has determined that a large swath of our people will be motivated to buy insurance from a carrier represented by a disheveled gentleman and a homely bird (LiMu Emu) (each wearing yellow shirts; the latter occasionally vomiting paper scraps on to a desk top).  Liberty Mutual is able, and its marketing research has presumably determined that younger consumers find the spots endearing.  My reaction to them reminds me that I am perhaps now a bit further from the Pepsi Generation than I am from  the Pepperidge Farm Generation :).

On American Kindness

Over the weekend, we were in Milwaukee for a family gathering, and our fairly new Prius was struck, opening a gash on the left rear side that we were pretty sure when we discovered it was at an angle such that wind shear would cause some of the rear fender to rip off if we tried to drive back to Madison without having it attended to. (No note was left.) From an engine standpoint, the car was completely drivable. We were able to make an appointment at a nearby service center (more on the shop below), and at a few minutes past 5 on a Friday night, set off to drive about 4 miles in significant winds and bitter, bitter cold with the dark coming on.

We didn’t make it. About half way to the shop, we heard a bang and realized that part of the fender had flipped back due to the wind. We pulled over in the now almost-dark to retrieve what had come loose, cars moving around us, fairly concerned about what we were going to do.

A van slowly pulled up behind us and stopped. Its motor kept running, its headlights stayed on, and its emergency flashers came on. An African-American gentleman, in his mid-50’s – warm, friendly, reassuring — got out of the van, came up, and — with cars continuously going by us and in temperatures and wind cold enough to numb your bare hands in a couple of minutes — helped us put the pieces temporarily back in place, and with duct tape he provided, we got the fender patched sufficiently so we could finish the drive. Then we exchanged names, we thanked him – I don’t think it was possible for us to thank him profusely enough – shook hands, and … he bid us good night, and went on his way.

Got to the service center. The shop is for engine repair, not body work, but the rep and a couple of the technicians came over and when they heard that our goal was simply to make the car secure enough to get back to Madison, they said they thought they could attach a couple of fasteners that would hold the left rear together, and told us to go to dinner (we had family with us in another car) and come back in about an hour.

When we got back, the car looked like it had a few stitches, and was clearly sturdy enough for us to get it home. We asked what we owed; we heard: One of the guys had some time.  No charge. Glad we could help.

For those of us that tend to focus on the seemingly paralyzing political acrimony we have at home and the serious issues we face here and internationally, it’s good to recall: There exists, as there always has, a good will, a kindness, a generosity of deed and spirit in America.

For 2019

Among the books I’ve been reading lately is Conservationist Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac and Sketches from Here and There, which he composed during the 1930s and 40s.  In his sketch, “Wisconsin,” Mr. Leopold wrote:  “To see America as history, to conceive of destiny as a becoming … all these things are possible for us, and to achieve them takes only the free sky, and the will to ply our wings.”

2019 may be a tumultuous year.  Let us pray [or hope, if you prefer 🙂 ] that our leaders fairly address the many issues we face rather than exploit them; that what is true, just, and good for our people and those around the world will ultimately hold sway; and that the year brings us the grace to recognize and appreciate the blessings we receive, and the strength to overcome the obstacles we encounter.

Happy New Year.