Thanksgiving 2021

This Thanksgiving there is much to be thankful for locally and globally.

Things to be thankful for locally for me: Two grandchildren who have turned 16, one who turned 21, one who is engaged to be married. A great relationship with my wife and family in general. Trips that were once impossible became possible – trips to Paris and Germany with dear friends, trip to Boston for history and sightseeing with younger granddaughter Madeline, trips to South Haven, Michigan and Salt Lake City, Utah with my sweetie Marion. Trips to visit my Mom for this Thanksgiving, trips to Germany to visit our family there. And a new baby in the family for the first time in 16 years: Emma Lotta, daughter of our godson and nephew Nils and his partner Anneke.  My sweetie Marion still loves me. 2021 is my fifth Thanksgiving since being diagnosed with cancer, so I am particularly thankful to be alive.

Things to be thankful for globally: Vaccines for COVID-19 have proved effective in the fight against this disease. There are some signs that the fever that has gripped public discourse in the USA may be near a breaking point. And some signs that the USA economy, after decades of being tipped in the favor of the very rich, may be tipping a bit back in favor of the workers. That’s a lot.

But it’s been a hard year as well.

My father passed away last spring after many years of decline due to Alzheimer’s. I am sad that he is gone, but relieved in a way that he is released from what Alzheimer’s did to him. Somewhere in the universe there is still present the energy of my father as the person who inspired me as a child. This past year one of the other people I most admire among all of the people I have known well during my lifetime passed away, as a result of his cancer. He did so at peace with himself and the universe. I am a much better person for having known him. While cancer cost him his mortal life, and me sadness, it is also true that our friendship was born out of our shared experience of cancer. Without cancer, we would never have become good friends. 

Hundreds of thousands of USA citizens and millions of people worldwide have died as a result of COVID-19. Some of the blame for the latter in the US goes to some of our political and media leaders. I mean of course leaders who claim to be Christian and yet have claimed that it is better to endanger your neighbors by not being vaccinated and not wearing masks than to inconvenience yourself somewhat so that others might live. The golden rule seems like such a simple thing in theory. Liberty means choice, but liberty does not come without responsibility. Sometimes liberty needs to mean the liberty to do the right thing as a citizen within a society. In the case of COVID-19 this comes down to the golden rule or Kant’s categorical imperative (take your pick) and being vaccinated. Nowhere in the Gospels is it recorded that Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, said “My body, my choice”.

This year while we have seen some justice delivered in the justice system, in many cases that grab national headlines there are significant questions as to whether or not justice has been served. In some prominent cases the answer “justice was not served” comes with easier and seemingly better explanations than the answer “justice was served.”

Still, I’m alive, and if you are reading this you are alive. Being alive means hope for the next year. I remain thankful and hopeful for a better year next year for all of us – with as much or more to be thankful for.

Read this

Sometimes the best thing one can do is point to a piece of writing and say “Read this.” A recent essay in The NY Times Book Review by Henry Louis Gates Jr. makes now one of those times. “The republic of letters needs open borders” at

Inspired by Senator Ted Cruz

I have long had a variety of feelings about Senator Ted Cruz, but I felt a new one recently: inspiration. 

Senator Ted Cruz recently defended the use of what he referred to as “the Nazi salute” by US citizens. This was during questioning of US Attorney General Merrick Garland. Senator Cruz said specifically “A parent did a Nazi salute at a school board because they thought the policies were oppressive!” (Video of this exchange between Senator Cruz and Attorney General Garland is online at

This salute is, as Attorney General Garland confirmed, protected speech under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. That doesn’t mean using it is right. It’s not right. Period. This salute is also not properly and accurately referred to as “the Nazi Salute.” 

So let’s set the context here. A parent seems to have given this salute in the direction of members of the School Board in Worthington, Ohio ( because people in attendance at the meeting were asked to wear masks. Something similar seems to have happened in Birmingham, Michigan (

I like a variety of salutes myself, including one that involves a single finger. But the use of this particular German salute and the defense thereof have seemingly taken place without the people involved having a clear appreciation of what is really being said and done.

Senator Cruz had it wrong when he called this salute a “Nazi salute.” The salute was typically given in concert with the phrase “Heil Hitler.” That is, in English, “Hail Hitler.” It was both enforced upon the German people to incorporate allegiance to Adolf Hilter as an everyday value within Germany and used by social climbers within the National Socialist party to demonstrate their allegiance to der Führer. This salute is properly referred to as the “Hilter Salute” or the “Heil Hitler Salute.”

To use the Heil Hitler salute in the context of political discussions within the US and among US citizens is demeaning. It demeans and lessens the seriousness with which we should maintain our memory of the Nationalist Socialist party of Germany and its leader Adolf Hitler. Millions of people were murdered by Hitler’s regime. Primarily Jewish people, but also the developmentally disabled, Roma and Senti peoples, and homosexuals. No American today lives up to the standards of evil embodied by the Nazi leadership. Even the so called American Neo-Nazis are third rate amateurs in comparison to the real thing. 

And we need to all ask ourselves this: Is a statement of allegiance to a Nazi leader – even a dead one – something any reasonable US citizen should ever do? This isn’t sarcasm or irony. The Heil Hitler salute is a statement of allegiance, just like the Pledge of Allegiance to the US flag. Would any American Christian bow down to a goat’s head? If not, why show allegiance to one of the Devil’s most effective followers?

Furthermore, it is simply unfair and uncivil to equate any American with Nazi leadership, which is what people who gave this salute at school board meetings thought they were doing. There is a quote that is almost certainly incorrectly attributed to Mark Twain that goes “First God created idiots. That was practice. Then God created School Board members.” It’s easy to ridicule school board members in part because it is such a hard job to do well. But at the end of the day the vast majority of the people who run for and serve on School Boards do so out of a desire to help our society and help our children. It’s fine to disagree with them. But to equate them to mass murderers is beyond the pale.

Giving the “Heil Hitler” salute is indeed protected speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. But sometime freedom needs to mean the freedom to do the right thing. Refraining from us of Nazi symbolism in discourse among US citizens is one of those times.

As I said, I was inspired by Senator Cruz’s comments. Inspired to write this comment to put this matter in its proper context and to give true evil the fear and respect it is due. Senator Cruz should have known better than to say what he said. Now perhaps this commentary has helped you know a bit more than you did before, and certainly more than Senator Cruz seems to know. If you would like to read further on this topic I recommend the book “The Hitler Salute – on the meaning of a gesture” by Tilman Allert.

11 Thoughts about 9/11

  1. We should honor and remember all of the Americans who died in the 9/11 attacks, all of the servicemen and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan, and also all the many innocent civilians who were killed by one side or the other in Afghanistan.
  2. The USA response to 9/11 did more to damage the USA and its interests than the 9/11 attacks did.
  3. You cannot bomb a people into loving you.
  4. You cannot bomb a tribal civilization into a democracy.
  5. “Money can’t buy will. You cannot purchase leadership” -said by John Kirby, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. And you can’t bribe dishonest military personnel into being honest.
  6. No force has ever successfully invaded Afghanistan. Not Alexander the Great, not England (which tried three times), not Russia, not the USA.
  7. No country can “win” an insurgency war without resorting to terrible cruelty – cruelty at a level that would today be exposed as intolerable given current abilities to document and disseminate information about atrocities in near-real-time. The last time an insurgency war was “won” might have been the USA occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. And it was won through terrible, terrible cruelty.
  8. The twin towers and the Pentagon were attacked – according to Al-Qaeda – because they both represented and were control centers of American imperialism. Without excusing the attack in any way, USA actions in the Mideast since 9/11/2001 have reinforced the image of Imperialist America more than supporting the image of America the home of the free, the land of the brave, and an example of democracy in action.
  9. The USA has contributed to the support of Al-Qaeda through its errors in Afghanistan. For example, seethe book “10 Tage im ’Islamischen Staat’” by German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer. The first ISIS fighter he met in Afghanistan was fighting against the USA because USA soldiers burst into his home and shot his mother to death, in front of him, in her own kitchen. Holding a spoon. Because of an address error on the part of the Americans.
  10. If the United States wants to make the world better, let’s start by demonstrating democratic principles at home. And if we feel obligated to invade a country to better it, start with the worst countries in the world – which might have led to the USA invading Somalia, but definitely NOT Afghanistan nor Iraq.
  11. The big winner in all of this is China, which is the most important superpower to never have invaded Afghanistan and which shares a border with Afghanistan. The big loser is the United States, which squandered the lives of many servicemen and  servicewomen, trillions of dollars, and international respect because it pursued a war based on old grudges and lies, without an actual military goal, and thus doomed this war to be a failure from the start.

Labor Day Reflections

Today we in the United States have a national holiday called Labor Day, which we are celebrating in theory by not laboring and thinking about those who do. Sadly, we now do this in a country that has during the course of my lifetime lost a great deal of the respect it once had for those who labor. 

When I was a kid I had great respect for those whose life’s work was based on labor. I did not grow up on a farm, but I grew up in a farming area. I grew up knowing dairy farmers, cash crop farmers, one horse farmer, and their kids. Throwing bales of hay up on trailer after trailer all day is labor. Good, honest, meaningful labor.

My paternal Grandfather, Truman “Stu” Stewart, spent his entire working career in good, honest, and skilled labor. When he retired, he collected retirement checks from three unions. Two were tiny – tinsmith’s and typesetters. The main retirement check was from the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters. Most of his career was spent in Saudi Arabia and Libya as a pipefitter and pipefitter foreman. Saudi Arabia to begin with, Libya after the Saudis nationalized the oilfields and threw Aramco out. My grandfather wasn’t perfect; none are.  But I was always fascinated about the things I learned from him about work and mechanics. And he was always proud of his safety record. Never was a worker in one of his crews killed on the job. Regardless of what we think today about carbon-based economies, my grandfather spent decades in the Mideast building what he thought would be a better future for all. After my grandfather was old enough that work in the Mideast was no longer practical, he worked for a few years in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. On his last job before retiring the Union put him in the tool room. Handing out tools, not doing real work as far as my grandfather was concerned. He bitched incessantly about being in the tool room.

Pipefitting is pretty skilled labor. Not all labor is skilled. When I was kid, I had a good friend who lived out in the middle of nowhere. His dad was a farmer. The extended family included an unskilled laborer – developmentally disabled I am sure. Yet the need for unskilled labor on a farm gave him something meaningful to do.

The stuff I have read for decades now about a “knowledge economy” and “knowledge workers” is all well and good. But a healthy country makes stuff too. The people at Apple, Inc. feel all good and self-satisfied about things “designed in the United States” and manufactured in China. Right now our economy is feeling the impact of our inability to perform the highly skilled work of producing microprocessor chips. Thousands of not-fully-completed vehicles are parked and not ready for sale. They are not fully built and ready for sale because the manufacturers don’t have the chips needed to make them go. Many other goods are simply not available because of “supply chain issues.” And heaven help us if we ever got into a shooting war with China. We’d be fighting naked in six months because the US no longer mass produces clothing. You can’t buy silverware mass produced in the US, either. All has been outsourced to China, where workers are not protected by labor unions. We’d rather have cheap shit from China than pay what it costs to have a reasonably compensated worker do work in the US and do it in a reasonable way in terms of impact on the environment. Maximization of profits through outsourcing manufacturing to China matters more, it seems, than having the US be able to defend itself or respecting the labor of American workers enough to pay for it.

Speaking of respect…. I live in a “right to work” state. What a wonderful twist of phrase. The politicians who pass “right to work” bills call them that because no one but management would like them if they were called what they really are – “right to fire people without cause” laws. Another sign of our disrespect is the federal minimum wage. The last time the minimum wage was raised was 24 July 2009. Since then, the buying power of that $7.25 an hour has decreased by 21%. 

Labor Unions ended child labor, made coal mining reasonably safe, and gave us the 40-hour work week. If we really want to honor labor, then we should all buy products MADE in the USA. Expect to pay more. And expect the combination of value of the product you purchase* and the respect you offer to your fellow US citizens to be worth it. 

*This assumes that US manufacturers will continue, as some have been, to engage in better engineering and better manufacturing processes, so that “Made in the USA” again means what it once did.