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A constant presence in a changing world

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Mollie LaSalleBy Mollie LaSalle
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Thursday, September 8, brought news of global proportions from across the pond with the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral in Scotland. 

This is one of those moments in time where history stops; one of those watershed moments where you find yourself part of history. I was too young to remember when John Kennedy was killed, yet that was the defining moment of the 20th century. This, in my opinion will go down as the defining moment of the 21st century.

Personally, I have always been fascinated with the coming and goings of the British Royal Family. I have read numerous books about almost everyone, including most recently, the story of Edward VIII’s abdication to marry the woman he loved; this set in motion the chain of events which would put Elizabeth on the throne.

I know I am not the only person who was beginning to feel that the Queen would live for many more years (her mother lived to be 102), so when news came that she was under medical supervision and family members were rushing to her bedside, that was not a good sign. Sure enough, around 1:30 (6:30 London time) came news of her passing. 

Elizabeth reigned for a phenomenal 70 years, 214 days. Her platinum jubilee was celebrated in July, with much fanfare and celebration. She became queen at the very young age of 25 in the days before television, cell phones and the internet were commonplace. In 1947, then Princess Elizabeth made a vow to her country. “I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.” 

Her son, now King Charles III offered this tribute: “My mother’s reign was unequaled in its duration, its dedication, and its devotion, even as we grieve, we give thanks for this most faithful life.” He also praised his dear Mama and sovereign as “one of the most admired women who ever lived, her devotion to duty unwavering.” Two days before her passing, she met with newly appointed prime minister Liz Truss at Balmoral; Truss was her majesty’s 15th prime minister during her long reign. Even in her last few hours upon this earth, she was serving her country and performing her duty as Queen. 

Queen Elizabeth won praise for modernizing the monarchy and proved to be a very polarizing figure on the world stage. She had a total of 15 prime ministers under her watch, and she met 13 out if the last 14 American presidents. Queen Elizabeth was particularly fond of John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and mourned his death with the rest of the world in November 1963. 

I have found myself glued to the television and laptop since her passing, taking in all the history and pageantry that unfolds from day to day. The images are somber and moving. Seeing her coffin moving through the streets of Scotland, people lining the route to get a glimpse of her funeral cortege is heartbreaking. The enormity of it all has finally sunk in; the queen is dead, and England has a new monarch. This is definitely a once in a lifetime event for most Britons and being able to see all the pomp and centuries old traditions carried out live as they happen is indescribable. When King Charles III gave his first speech, I could see the grief etched on his face. “My mother was a constant presence in a changing world”, and at his ascension council he further added that “I am deeply aware of this great inheritance and the duties and heavy responsibilities of sovereignty which have now passed to me.” Prince William, now heir to the throne commented that “my grandmother famously said that grief was the price we pay for love. She was by my side at my happiest moments, and she was by my side during the saddest days of my life.” William’s brother Prince Harry offered a remembrance of his grandmother: “We are all reminded of the guiding compass she was to so many in her commitment to service and duty. She was globally admired and respected.” 

I cannot wrap this up without a quote from Elizabeth herself: “We are all visitors to this time, this place. Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love…and them we return home.” 

I do not believe we shall ever see again in this lifetime another like Queen Elizabeth. She was the one constant in an ever- changing world. She belongs to the ages. In the end, all I have to offer is an old cliché, Well Done Thy Good and Faithful Servant. 

God Speed Your Majesty, you will be missed, but never forgotten.

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Not sure about sovereign safety anymore

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FromEditorsDesk Tony Croppedby Tony Farkas

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Sunday marked 21 years since the attack on New York City and The Pentagon by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorists.

As with most things in this life, this world, I feel that complacency has taken over, and society has forgotten the attacks and the implications of that.

More to the point, it seems that instead of investing in our country’s safety, we’re instead investing in the safety of other countries, and this at the expense of our own safety, and our own people.

The recent decision to send a little over $2 billion in U.S. tax dollars to the Ukraine to aid in their war effort is pretty astonishing, considering that there’s so much that needs attention at home. Overall, we’ve spent $12.9 billion this year, with President Biden gearing up to ask Congress to double that amount.

I say we since us hapless taxpayers are the ones footing the bills, among others (there’s been $25,000 spent to teach Samoans how to use their cell phones to find out how “climate change” affects them), and we get very little input into how the checks are written.

I’m not so much concerned about the spending in this missive, although that is a massive problem that is going to cause incredible amounts of trouble in the future. I am concerned that the safety of this country, one of the chief responsibilities of our government, is being paid lip service, and instead our government is using funds for other country’s safety while at the same time demonizing essentially half of its own people.

Last week, I lamented the fact that anyone identified as a MAGA Republican (which as far as liberals are concerned, that’s anyone who is remotely thought of as conservative) was deemed an enemy of the state. Biden later doubled down on that, saying anyone that needed to fight government needed and F-15 instead of a gun.

There are calls within the administration that defense spending is entirely too high and should be cut in favor of climate change policies and infrastructure needs (neither of which is in the government’s purview). 

We should just look around the world though, and see that we’re not really ready for the mess that is, what with wars growing in Europe and Asia (the disagreements between Taiwan and China are sure to continue to grow). 

Federal policy has turned our borders into sieves, blocking nothing (Gov. Abbott’s busing orders is just moving people through the country faster); more than 50 terrorists on the country’s watch list have been found by authorities coming through the border into Texas, and who knows how many have been missed.

For so long, the government has directed funds to numerous and unnecessary special projects, foreign aid, ridiculous experimentation and any number of failed ideas. For so long, this has been done at the expense of the real needs of the country, and essentially, the Constitution.

The money U.S. taxpayers spend first and foremost need to be spent on the needs of the U.S., and the chief need is our safety. Let’s look to home, first.

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God Hates Theys

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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In 1955 pastor Fred Phelps founded a small Primitive Baptist church in Topeka, Kansas. He named it Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), and it averages around 70 members, primarily members of his family.

WBC gained national notoriety when in 1989, and continuing through the early 2000’s, the church focused its efforts on actions against Gay people. Members of the church would disrupt military funerals, celebrity funerals and public events with their protests and signs portraying the slogan “God Hates Gays.”

Phelps died in 2014, and while the church still exists, some family members have left the group because of the hostile actions of the group.

While WBC was on society’s fringe in its heyday, hate for and attacks on Gay people have gone mainstream in current times. Groups describing themselves as Christian have browbeat school boards around the country with attacks on pronouns. Students should only be referred to by teachers with pronouns consistent with their sex. Males referred to only with the pronoun “he,” females with the pronoun “she.” Under no circumstances should a child be called by the neutral pronoun “they,” even if he child identifies with a gender different than their sex.

Since these folks claim to be Christians, I can only conclude that they believe that God hates theys. Maybe I’m a slow reader, but I can’t find anywhere in the New Testament where God or Jesus hates anyone. In fact, such a belief is anathema to Jesus’ teaching.

When I was a kid, females who preferred sports and jeans rather than dolls and frilly dresses were commonly referred to as tomboys. The term tomboy was not a pejorative term, just an observation of fact. It seems to me that in modern times, a lot of folks have confused the meaning of the words sex and gender, somehow conflating them to refer to the same thing. The words have different meanings.

Sex refers primarily to physical and biological traits. Sex is determined by chromosomes, genes, hormone levels and reproductive and sexual anatomy.

Gender refers to socially constructed roles. When I was a kid, boys played sports, hunted, and fished, built model cars, and got into fights. Girls played with dolls, wore dresses, played house, learned to sew, and cook. Boys expected when they were adults to work at a job, support the family, mow the lawn, and park in front of the TV in the evening. Girls expected as adults to work in the home, have babies, raise kids, cook the meals, clean the house.

These roles, though, were merely social constructs that changed dramatically over time as society changed. If sex and gender were the same, the roles would not have changed. Boys would always conform to the roles we assumed when we were kids.

We’ve always defined ourselves in different ways regardless of our sex. I am far more like my mother than my father. I have more her personality and share more of her interests. That is probably because my mother determined that she did not want me to grow up believing that roles were fixed. She insisted that I learned to cook, wash dishes, iron clothes (I know, what’s an iron), clean house, polish a floor. She didn’t want me to be dependent on someone else to handle the basics of life. If I chose not to marry, I would be able to take care of myself. If I did marry, I would help my wife rather than treat her as an unpaid maid. I ended up marrying a woman with a career more important than mine. I wrote software, she taught children. We have always been equals.

While the idea of a war on pronouns seems silly, such a war actually exists as folks on the Right fight to return us to a time when there were rigid gender roles, when men were boss, and women were subservient. Even to the point of demanding that school districts ban gender neutral pronouns. 

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A message from my younger self

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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The songwriter/composer Irving Berlin wrote something like 15,000 songs in his lifetime. He won four awards.

“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.”  Napolean Bonaparte

I turn 72 this month. The average lifespan for an American in 2022 is 76, a decline over three years ago, primarily because of deaths from the Covid pandemic and the increasing violence in our country. That lifespan amounts to approximately 4000 weeks, and I’ve used up most of them.

I’ve written millions of words in my 72 years, many published, many not published. I’ve taken tens of thousands of photographs during those years, most of them published in one venue or another. I’ve won a lot of awards for both over those years. And I have no idea where the various certificates, plaques and trophies are now. I’ve stashed them in various desk drawers over the years and eventually threw them away.

As an almost 72-year-old man I have no useful advice for current and future generations. Old men looking back over their lives tend to paint themselves standing in their best light. So, I’d like to share a message from my 21-year-old self, both to me and to those who have only used up a small number of those 4,000 weeks they have to look forward to. Never do anything in life for “colored ribbons.”

Just for full disclosure, I have a lifelong character flaw. I don’t care what others think of me. So, I’ve never cared about recognition. I’m internally motivated. I have achieved whatever I’ve achieved because it was important to me. It was a conscious decision of that 21-year-old self to live my 4,000 weeks working at stuff that was meaningful to me. Clearly, other people didn’t always agree with my choices.

What advice does the 21-year-old Jim have for the current generation of 21-year olds? It is simple: Walk into dark rooms.

At 21 you are standing in the center of a large, circular hall. The walls of that hall are full of doors. Because of the accident of who you were born to, your intelligence, your parent’s socio-economic situation, education, health, etc., not all those doors will open. But at 21 you should try every one of them, and those that will open you should walk through into the dark room on the other side. Turn on the light. Look around.

Maybe what you see won’t interest you. Just turn off the light, close that door, lock it, and open the next door. When you find a door that leads to a room that interests you, go in and explore it. Sit on the furniture, gaze at the art on the walls. Raid the ‘fridge. If someone in your life tells you that spending time in that room is a waste of your time, ignore them. They are fearful and are trying to control your life. If you like that room, live there for a while. You may want to spend your life there.

It is likely, though, that at some point you’ll start wondering what is behind other doors. Don’t let fear of change prevent you from opening as many doors as will open and spending as much time there as you like. Design your life so that you don’t have to stay in one room forever. It’s a trap that captures too many lives and leads to regret. 

Every choice you make in life locks one of those doors. Want to get married? Maybe you’ll have to give up your dream of paddling around the world in a kayak. Have children? Perhaps the necessity of providing them a stable environment and security will lock a lot of those doors. A 30-year mortgage, a new car, a boat, etc. means you can’t take as many risks, and still more doors are locked.

Despite the usual ups and downs of life, I have no regrets about how I’ve lived my life. I’ve never been forced to work at anything I didn’t want to do. We chose not to have children, for example, because they would not fit into the way we wanted to live. Looking back, it was the right decision for us, despite being frequently told that we were just being selfish for not having children (as if that makes any sense at all).

I’m not saying that any of these things are wrong. Only that every choice has consequences that ripple through your 4,000 weeks. You don’t want to get to the end filled with regret.

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Where’s the love, chief?

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FromEditorsDesk Tony Croppedby Tony Farkas
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Sunday was the 10th anniversary of my mother’s death, so she already was heavy on my mind these last couple of weeks, especially when I was able to visit her grave in New Mexico recently.

My mother was something special. Everyone’s mother is, but for me, her journey was especially poignant, since she had to overcome hardships such as German and Allied bombings in World War II, Russian evil as they swept across Eastern Europe in conquest under the guise of being allied with the U.S., boat rides to Ellis Island and the subsequent citizenship process, and ridicule and hardship that comes with being right off the boat.

Even her name, Czarika, was changed because the immigration folks couldn’t pronounce it, and dubbed her Charlotte (it’s really Sarah, but hey, it’s America).

She embraced this country, though, 100 percent, and even though she was proud of her Hungarian heritage, she was more American than most Americans I knew, even serving as a civilian in the U.S. Air Force, and even became the first civilian head of Social Actions at Cannon Air Force Base.

The makeup of this country is of people with similar stories and similar circumstances, all coming together, differences and all, in the “melting pot” of American society.

It was incredibly puzzling, then, to hear our vaunted leader essentially tell half of this nation they were evil and must be destroyed, while at the same time claiming that we’re all about unity.

If you’re unaware, President Biden warned the country that MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republicans represent “an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our republic.”

He also said that Donald Trump was driving the Republican Party to that kind of platform — taking American society back to the Stone Age while completely disrespecting the Constitution by eliminating free speech, the right to choose, the right to privacy and the right (?) to contraception.

For a leader to put out that kind of divisive rhetoric, while simultaneously calling for unity (under questionable optics, such as being backed by uniformed Marines and a stage bathed in ominous red light) makes the people who became part of this country seem foolish for their beliefs, since they came here believing they would be embraced, since that’s supposed to be what we’re about.

Apparently, no longer. It’s OK to come here, as our porous border suggests, but only if you think (and donate and vote) to the powers that be. It’s no longer OK to have different beliefs, or to be what many perceive, the old guard of immigrants and leaders who regardless of color are white power brokers, eager to crush everyone under the bootheel of capitalism.

Change some of the nouns, and what  you really have is exactly what my mother, and millions of others, were fleeing when they left their homelands, and the kind of hate and rhetoric that led to Rameses, and Hitler, and Stalin, and Pol Pot, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

The old saying about the pen being mightier than the sword has been proven time and again, mostly with disastrous results. There are words and ideas out there, though, that can heal and unite. Let’s try some of those.

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