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I'm the author of The Liberty Pole. I dabble a bit in blogging and have a fascination with early American history (late 18th century) as well as WWII. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Guest Post: Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld

Many around the country heard about the explosion at the West, Texas plant in April of this year. The following is a guest-post by author C.E. Thornton on the progress - or lack there of - of the availability of funds that the people most affected by this tragedy have seen. Please read the following and spread the word. I've linked to the original article above (her name). Please spread the word so that West does not fall through the cracks.

Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld
I have been unable to get anyone to publish this article so I’m posting it here. The following is extremely important information, everyone. It not only reveals the plight of the citizens of West, but also what many others who have lost their homes in fires and floods this summer potentially face. This is not a one-time phenomenon. Please take the time to read the article, or at the very least scroll to the bottom to see how you can help.
Funds for West Texas Relief Withheld:
For most of the world, the tragedy in West, Texas that began with the explosion of the fertilizer plant, ended with a remarkable outpouring of support from fellow Texans and friends far away, raising money and sending more supplies than the town could handle. With over $3 million funds donated, everything seemed on track for a fast recovery and rebuild.
But nearly half a year on, for residents from Zone 3, the area decimated by the explosion, life is still surreal, the newly vacant landscape unrecognizable and bizarre. And the funds meant to help restore their world to some sense of normality are nowhere to be found.
“I don’t know where that money is, but it’s not where it needs to be,” West resident Rachel Matus said. Matus, who works as a schoolteacher in nearby Bellmead, lost her home in the blast, and to date has received no money from the fund to help rebuild her home with her husband, James. The lack of aid to those affected, whose experiences range from lost homes to life-altering injuries, outrages citizens of West and donors alike.
“I wrote an email to the ATX Mafia girls asking them what they thought about the $54,000 they had raised still sitting in an account,” Matus said. “They called their contact at State National Bank (in West) because that’s where they brought their check. He told them they needed 5.2+ million to assist everyone who was impacted and since they only had 3.2 million at the time they had to put a plan into place to allocate the funds on a case-by-case basis.”
Calls of inquiry to the Long Term Recovery Center, the group in charge of rebuilding West, went unanswered, but the information from State National further stated how the funds would be used to “help those who are in need most.”
“Each individual who lost their homes would provide the committee with their FEMA and insurance allocation in order to determine the amount they would receive from the raised funds,” Matus said. “The thing that bothers me about that is we don’t have to disclose how much we got from our insurance company. That should have nothing to do with the amount we get from the donations.”
Matus attends the town meetings regularly to keep up with any developments. So far, the only development is the increasing frustration and lack of proper information.
“We were told it’s actually a national law that if you get more than $31,900 from your insurance, you aren’t eligible for any help at all from FEMA, which is fine because most people in West didn’t want anything from FEMA,” Matus said. “Basically at the meeting they told us if you got this $31,900 and you still need help for unmet needs, they kept using that phrase, you have to go through this whole long list (of organizations), and everyone is supposed to meet with their case worker every week to go over these needs. This list included FEMA, SBA, Salvation Army, and on a lot of this stuff, most of us in zone 3 don’t qualify for any of that because we had good insurance and we have good jobs.”
For example, if your income reaches a certain amount you’re not eligible for the SBA (Small Business Administration) loan. Matus and her husband didn’t qualify for aid through the organizations on the list and received no financial relief outside of their own insurance.
“We were responsible and paid to have our house insured,” Matus said. “We went to college and got degrees and now have good jobs. So basically we were told we were out of luck, because those donated funds are now the last resort instead of what we understood it, as a first resort.”
The town meetings only added insult to injury. Matus quoted the case manager’s response to questions at the town meetings.
“She said, ‘If FEMA rebuilds your home it’ll be a $40,000 home. It won’t be brick, and it won’t have your pretty wrap-around porch and it won’t have your pool or you 3-car garage.’ Well that’s fine and dandy but a lot of subdivisions in west have their own rules. Almost every subdivision on that side of town you have to have a brick home! Therefore a FEMA house isn’t doing anyone any good.
“She went into this whole spiel about as long as your living is safe, sanitary and secure, the three S’s, then you are taken care of. Your needs are met. So that was the thing is that ok, well if I build a house that’s safe, sanitary and secure, then you’re not going to help me when I want more than a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom house, which is their other stipulation. What about people who have families?
“Most people over there were retired, had raised their kids and built a beautiful home for themselves. Their homes were worth $160,000 and not you’re telling them ‘well you can still be safe sanitary and secure and not need all that stuff.’ That’s not fair to tell anybody. When we told them that they said ‘well it’s not fair that this happened at all.’”
Citizens of West aren’t looking for replaced pools and three-car garages. The money was raised to rebuild homes akin to the ones lost, and to cover the mounting medical bills many injured residents now face. As donors learn their money never made it to those who needed it most, some attempted to retrieve the donations to redistribute through more reliable organizations, like the First United Methodist Church of West. So far no one has succeeded.
“(The donors) didn’t know that there were going to be all these stipulations and all that money was going to be caught in banks for years,” Matus said. “Then they (the LTRC spokespeople) said, said for the first time that the money couldn’t be dispersed because of rules the IRS put into place, that the IRS says you can’t just give out that money, you can’t split it evenly. That was the first time any of them said anything about the IRS. So that’s when everyone started asking, ‘So why aren’t all these donors warned of that fact when they donated? They didn’t know!’
The disbursement board, made up of West residents, but only one affected by the blast, claimed it was too soon to get frustrated, and that the system would work if people appealed their cases to FEMA multiple times if they were rejected, before requesting money from the relief funds for unmet needs. But there simply isn’t time for the people of West to wait for a miracle.
“What is considered to be an unmet need?” Matus said. “We’re rebuilding. We had good insurance, but that went to pay off our mortgage, and then we’re supposed to buy and furnish an entire house? We can’t! We had to take out a loan. We’re going to be ok, but there are so many people who aren’t going to be able to qualify for a loan like we are.”
Like Matus, most of the families in West are struggling to find ways to move forward entirely on their own, taking out loans when they can, and working longer hours and odd jobs to raise a little extra money.
“Basically, that money is going to sit there until the city eventually ‘inherits’ it,” Matus said. “They’ll do what they need to do with it so it won’t reach the citizens in a timely fashion.”
1. Reblog this post. Don’t just reblog it; link to it on your twitter, facebook and forums. Spread it and get your friends to spread it. The more people who share the more people are aware, and the more people who can help us act on this. Someone out there will know what to do.
2. Reach out to your news sources. City papers, online news sources, anything. I’ve been dropping tips but if we send in an overwhelming number of requests to get this covered on local and national media, we’ll have a better chance. If they want a person of contact send them my way and I can get them where they need to be.
3. If you have any funds to donate, send them here, where they will definitely go to help people:
First United Methodist Church
411 W. Pine
West, Texas 76691.
If you run a newspaper and want to run this story, feel free; just put my name on it!
-Caera Thornton

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Generation of No Consequences and Guarantees

How times have changed....

I was listening to a talk show the other day and caught the tail end of what must have been a young man, perhaps just having finished high school or university. He and the host were discussing that with the economic struggles we face today, the lack of jobs, and all of the challenges of our current world that this generation seems to have a much darker view of the future. The question seemed to be that even if he worked hard, how did he know that he was going to succeed? The talk show host had succeeded, obviously, as he's heard all around the country, but how did this young man know he was going to succeed?

That's when the host made a very valid point. He had not been guaranteed success, and neither was this young man.

The earliest days of this country did not have a guarantee, from those that came over on the Mayflower to those that took a stand against unfair taxes without representation to those that fought to abolish slavery to those that took a stand for equal rights of all Americans. They were fighting against the odds, just like the next generations that would follow them, all the way up to the present.

The American Dream has always been that if we work hard, we will succeed. The Declaration of Independence said that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This country was set up so that we would not be held down by the station of our birth or, theoretically, by the property/financial state of our families.

Today's generation (my generation) tends to want a guarantee of success, and I fear that the next generation may be in for an even ruder wakening than my own. So handled with kid-gloves are children today that when they grow up receiving an award for participation, a gold star even though they did not win, and credit for at least trying on a math problem, they don't understand understand one of the biggest lessons from life: how to learn from failure. Instead, they learn that they can get away with the barest of effort in the things that matter and often outlandish stunts because their "just kids" and the parents will come up with an excuse for them.

I read a terrifying article a few days ago in the Huffington Post about 300 teenagers who broke into a former NFL player's house - unoccupied and on the market - in Stephentown, NY and threw a party. If breaking and entering didn't blow my mind - maybe we do things differently down here in Texas, because while kids throwing a party when their parents are out of town or somewhere with no supervision isn't that far fetched, I can't imagine three hundred kids breaking into this man's house. It just blows my mind.) Okay, so once  you process the fact that they did this, you think that some sort of repercussion will happen, right? It's not like they kept it a secret. They tweeted about it all night long and poor Brian Holloway had to watch it all happen from his home in Florida. I have to give Mr Holloway credit, because I would be furious, but instead he handled the situation with so much grace. He took those pictures, already put out for the world to see, and put them on a site called www.helpmesave300.com. He did not call for punishment, but rather guidance. This is where we see the problem I was talking about a moment ago (you know, no rules, no responsibility and no consequences?): the parents did not demand an apology from their children to Mr Holloway, but instead threatened Mr Holloway for posting the photos on his site that he pulled from Twitter.

We don't hold kids responsible today, just like we don't hold the adults responsible. Why should we? We've raised at least one generation to think that they deserve kudos for giving it a mediocre effort. They tried, right? Isn't that all that it takes? We live in a world of perpetual toddlers, throwing tantrums when they don't get their way. The scary thing is that the toddlers are not small children waving pudgy arms and stamping tiny feet. They are teenagers that have become so calloused to violence that they think that their classmates had it coming when they bring a gun to school or the adult that steals a car or mugs a person in the street because they want what that person had and they're going to take it.

It starts young. There's a fine line between making sure your child has a healthy sense of self-worth and spoiling them rotten, but here's a news flash: if they are caught breaking and entering into a home and throwing a party, stealing and destroying property, etc etc... You might want to have a sit down moment with them.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sticks and Stones

Bully by trix0r
via Flickr creative commons

Do you remember those little phrases that we were taught as children to remind us that words couldn't hurt us? Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. My grandmother used to say that people had to have permission to hurt my feelings. That was a good one too. I'm sure there are many more throughout the country, because bullies are nothing new. Most of the time, in my experience, they are people (children or adults) that feel inadequate in some form or fashion. Maybe they weren't hugged enough as children or maybe they feel themselves slipping in a battle of wits. When you get down to it, it rarely matters when you're at the other end of it.

Bullies are nothing new. Today's children see them, yesterday's children, and so on and so on. Sometimes it's a kid on the playground, a boss, or a dictator. When you narrow it down, they're all bullies. It depends on what level of power they're given on how much destruction they can cause.

I think we can all agree that bullying is wrong. There are campaigns and movements to stop bullying with kids, so why is it that our national government strives to teach it day in and day out? These men and women that we've hired - yes, folks, your tax dollars pays for their lifestyle, so don't think for two seconds that we didn't hire them - to represent us have become little more than tantrum throwing children in some cases. I've seen in happened to others and I've been on the receiving end of it. 

Racist. Bigot. Sexist. Closed-minded. Un-accepting . Hateful. Angry. Stupid. 

I'm a bit of an idealist. I'm okay with admitting that. Being an idealist, whenever someone claims to be open-minded, for years I took them at their word. They wanted to have an adult conversation, a debate of ideals, knowing that we weren't going to change each other's minds, but interested to know what an other intelligent human being thought. Perhaps that's not what they meant by "open-minded." Perhaps I don't understand the meaning.

I have a theory that if you step out and say "I believe in [insert your belief here]" and truly believe in it, you cannot believe that anyone else that differs from that opinion is correct. I don't think this is a negative thing. There is a difference, though, in polite disagreement and arrogance. Polite disagreement is where both parties respect each other (granted, you may find the other person's belief to be so far-fetched that you can't bring yourself to respect that, but you can be gracious about it and respect the individual for their right to believe as they do) and show a certain level of maturity about it, even if neither party will ever be swayed by the other. Guess what? That's okay. This country was built for a variety of different beliefs. It's when we start stifling one or two groups that we start hedging on dangerous territory. 

To those liberal Democrats that truly are open-minded, and I have met some, I want to take a moment to thank you. Thank you for breaking the mold. To those that like to lure idealists such as myself into a conversation and when you find something you disagree with break out the insulting phrases above: just say no. It's rude and it's childish to name-call, not to mention that it greatly takes away from the actual meaning of the phrases you use. A person is not a racist for disagreeing with Barack Obama. He would be a racist if he thought that the only reason that the current president shouldn't hold office was because of the color of his skin. When you throw around terms such as this lightly, it degrades the true meaning. A bit like crying wolf. 

Don't be the bully in the ideological and political playground. If you have a valid point to make, then make it. Name calling is what you do when you lose control. We're all guilty of it at some point, but we have to learn to curb that lash-out mentality and debate openly if we are to fix anything in this country. Bullying people into believing as we do is not the answer. Maybe if we start showing respect amongst ourselves we'll start hiring representatives with some respect of their own. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fighting Against the Odds

Some of my favorite stories are about the underdogs and the lost causes. They are about men and women and groups of people that had no hope of succeeding, but they raced forward anyway. They fought the battles, they ran the races, they stood up and spoke of their dreams, even when it seemed like the whole world was against them.

Our country was founded on men and women willing to sacrifice everything without any promise of success. In fact, I can think of more than a few times that we fought with everything that we had and the outcome looked pretty dim. There was no guarantee of glory or fame, and certainly no riches or wealth dangled in front of us. In fact, those that fought in the American Revolution and those that sat in the newly appointed American government stared the possibility of death in the face on a regular basis, and many lost their lives for it, never seeing the final success of that particular struggle.

Think about it. In 1775, before the Declaration was even written, Dr Joseph Warren of Boston died on Bunker hill to protect his home and win freedom. 1776, a young captain in the United States Army named Nathan Hale was hanged for being a spy, trying to help prepare Washington's troops for what lay ahead. Washington retreated more than he pushed forward in the first year of battle, not winning his first major victory until Christmas of 1776 when he made his famous act of crossing the Delaware.

Anyone from Texas? Sometimes I think that the symbol of the old mission has become so widely known on sight that people forget how the Texans lost that one. It was bloody and it was terrible, but do you know what that thirteen day siege in 1836 gained? The Alamo became a rallying cry. It became a driving point for men to fight for freedom against oppression. Remember the Alamo. Remember Goliad. Texas won at San Jacinto and won freedom.

Our entire country stood divided for the Civil War.

 Time and time again we have fought for what we believe in with no guarantee of victory. We have hope, of course, and a courage that was once unshakable, but now it seems we need assurances for the smallest of things. Battles are not fought with guns and bombs alone. Some battles never shed a drop of blood, but they are just as important as those that we fight to save our fellow countryman from dying by the invading sword, so to speak. They are fought for our future and our freedoms.

We've reached a terrible place in this country. The politicians that we elect to represent us care less for those that they work for and more for the congratulatory pat on the back that they get from their fellow politicians. No conviction grounds them. They would rather take a stab at those that they disagree with by making a few comments to a camera than to openly debate where they might get shown up. Now, that's not everyone of course, but it does seem that there are a few Republicans that are a bit nervous to take on one of their own face-to-face after hours on his feet. It's much easier for them, of course, to try to turn the rest of the senate against him. The Democrats have no problem with this, and kudos to them for having the gumption to speak their own beliefs, but I can only say shame on you Senator McConnell, Senator Cornyn, and Senator McCain for your actions the last couple of days. If you're against Obamacare, then fight it. Fight it until you can't speak any longer. Don't just say that you are and then undermine the men and woman that stand up to do something about it.

I've heard more than one person ask what the point of Senator Cruz's 21 hour speech was. I think the fact that people (average citizens and other politicians alike) don't understand the point of standing firm in his convictions and his beliefs, even when victory seems impossible, says a lot about the state of things now. Politicians have less of a moral grounding and more of an interest in their own careers. They see no issue with saying one thing and acting in another way. It's become so common place that the average man or woman in America has become accustomed to it. "They're just politicians. Why should we expect better?" When we don't expect better, we will not pressure them to be better. It is our job, the citizens that vote them in and vote to keep them in, and our responsibility to hold them accountable. Not all senators and congressmen will be willing to look their fellow members in the eye and fight until they are shut down due to time limitations. It is our job as the ones that they are meant to represent to make sure that they are, in the end, representing us. If they are not, they're gone, simple as that.

I'm a Texas girl myself and there was a time that I had a bit more respect for John Cornyn. Perhaps it has to do with perspective. Texas has been shown that someone is willing to fight hard to represent us and Americans in general. Ted Cruz will have my vote as long as he runs, though Cornyn has shown himself to be more talk than action this week. It's nice to say things, Mr Cornyn, better to do. No battle is won by merely wishing to so. You've got to have fight in you. If you've lost that, perhaps it's best to step down and let someone else take your place. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

American Exceptionalism: Pomp and Parade

Fourth of July may be my favorite holiday. I know that's a bit odd, perhaps, with all the others, and certain ones have a special place in my heart, but the Fourth is my favorite. Obviously enough to make me come out of the wood-work and blog, right?

Kaboom Town 2013
Addison, Tx
There's just something about the fireworks,  the singing, the love of country... The whole nation comes together and doesn't worry about differences of opinion or politics or social beliefs. All we know is that we are celebrating something beautiful. And for a few moments as the sky explodes in reds and greens and white, everything is okay.

I've discussed and debated for many long years on the belief that America is exceptional. I suppose I feel that way because I don't believe in coincidence and I don't believe in chance, but I do believe that everything happens for a reason. That understanding helps to solidify how I view the beginnings of my country. Too many things have come together over our 237 years (really more if you count what led up to it) to dismiss the sacrifice and the very spirit of freedom and endurance that this nation has developed.

Men that were not fond of the idea of leading again led the country to a great victory (no matter how many retreats). Words were written that paved the way to freedoms for all, even if they could not secure them at the time of their writing. People gave their lives, often not having a chance to see what they fought for coming into reality. They did this against all odds and with no guarantee of success. They had commitment to something great.

As Americans, our foundings should tug at our very souls and remind us who we are, and better yet, who we should strive to be. Will we give into the idea that we can't be any better than the lot that we're dealt when we're born, or will we strive to be great, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us? Will we allow the stories of sacrifice and patriotism to lift our spirits and encourage us to follow in their footsteps and learn what it truly means? I believe that we can and I hope that we do.

So happy Independence Day to you all. I hope you can celebrate it with pride in your heart in being part of an exceptional nation, a beautiful nation that has changed the world in so many wonderful ways. My prayer remains that we continue to change the world for the better and that we are a beacon of light in the darkness, much like the lights in the sky last night and the ones that will fly tonight. Happy Fourth and God bless.

"It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever."
                                                              - John Adams, 1776

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Doing It Right

John Noble and Jasika Nicole's
Fringe panel at Dallas Comic-con
This past weekend I attended the Dallas Comic-con. It was a blast and I thoroughly recommend it. It's crowded and it's just short of chaos, but its also a great deal of fun. Really, when you get down to it, most people are nerds about something. I've got quite a few somethings, but we don't need to detail all of that out here.
One that I will mention, only because it's relative, is the Star Trek Next Generation Panel that I listened in on. There was a little girl in the audience that had come the previous day in full costume as the Borg Queen. Very creative, very cool. She asked her question to the panel and when she had finished the actors were talking with her parents about the creativity that went into the costume and cultivating creativity in children. They  said that the parents were "doing it right."

That seems to be a common phrase lately. Doing it right, but what does it mean?

 I know that I've mentioned, as a writer, that I tend to dwell on words, their meanings, and how their used. Sometimes almost to a paralytic state. I have the personality that when I set out on route to a goal, I want to make sure that I'm doing it right and sometimes that means that I get so bogged down in the idea that I don't move in any direction

It seems like our world is increasingly full of pitfalls and snares that are ready to grab us around the ankles and drag us down. Do my words hold any weight? Have I validated my argument in every way possible? What if I've missed something detrimental because I simply didn't know where to look? How can I do this right?

I'm not sure there's a definite answer for this. (Scary, right?). I may simply be speaking for myself, but I'm not clairvoyant. No matter how many pieces of information I try to gather to make the best decision, there is always the possibility - the probability - that I've missed something. Whether it's research I'm doing for a book, reading up on historical and current news for this blog, trying to figure out the best route for publication, or just conversing with another person: I cannot 100% predict the outcome of an event that has not happened yet. 

So what is doing it right? If we can't pull back the vale of time and peer off into the future for our answers, how do we know? We don't. Sometimes we just have to take a breath, say a little prayer, and not let our fears tie us down. Kristen Lamb says every hard knock is a learning experience

Think about our foundings (you knew it was coming around to this eventually) as Americans. What if Dr Joseph Warren had been unwilling to stand strong while his political mentor Sam Adams was in Philadelphia? What if John Hancock, as a merchant, hadn't been willing to dump the tea? Or if Nathan Hale (and so many others) hadn't been willing to give his life? And what if George Washington had demanded a sure victory in order for him to take command? None of those men knew how it would end. Some didn't even live to see what their sacrifices bought. They had no idea that Americans nearly 240 years later would think they were doing it right. 

So we stand as each generation stands: with fewer answers than we have questions. Those knocks we take, both as individuals and as a nation, make us who we are. Own up to the mistakes and use them to make better choices in the future. Perhaps, God willing, they will look back on us someday and say that we were doing it right.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Free Enough

There's a conversation a little over half way through The Liberty Pole in which one character asks an other "Haven't you ever wanted to be free?" to which the second replies "I'm free enough," and she means it. There is no hesitation, no thought on what that truly means. She is simply free enough.

I've been thinking about that line since jotting it down perhaps three or four years ago. I think the idea originally came from a story my dad used to tell me when I was little about how many people would prefer the promise of one meal a day (or a loaf of bread) than the possibility of more without it being guaranteed. These people preferred dependency, no matter the cost.

So I started thinking: just what does one give up as payment to a government that says "We will cloth you. We will feed you. We will put a roof over your head. We will make sure you are educated in our school systems." The list goes on and on, and if you ask where the money comes from, often there's not a clear understanding of it by the ones taking it. Well, contrary to what some people may think, there's not a stash of money somewhere and a country can't just print new money off any time they please and continue to function. So, if nothing in life is free, as they say, what does one have to give up in order to obtain these things?

It starts out slow, but the more dependent one becomes on the government, the more personal freedoms are ebbed away. All you have to do is look at the tyrannies of the generations before us: freedom of expression is smothered, freedom of belief is hampered, and freedom of choice is eventually taken from you. Once you become dependent on an entity they have the ability to move you in the direction that you wish to go and the chains of oppression weigh you down until they have taken every bit of your will from you. In the end, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to follow in line. One right after another. One step, then two, straight towards the edge of the cliff and on over.

I hold a very firm belief that slavery is not natural. To be oppressed is not a state in which mankind was meant to live upon his creation. Freedom is a worthy goal, and also one of the highest ones we can hope to attain in this life. Those that grab for power at the expense of the people to whom this country belongs would have us believe we are free. They would have us be like Ellie, the woman in the novel that believes she is "free enough," and to go through life with the blinders fixed well so that we might not see what is happening around us and the cotton stuffed deeply in our ears so we might not hear. All the while they promise bigger and better things if we'll just give a little more of that freedom away. If we'll consent that we are free enough, even if we're not free at all. They tell us everything will be alright and they smile while they snap the cuffs on our wrists, hang the weights down on the chains, and march us straight over that cliff.

"When liberty is the prize, who would shun the warfare? Who would stoop to waste a coward thought on life? We esteem no sacrifice too great, no conflict too severe, to redeem our inestimable rights and privileges." 
                                                                         Dr. Joseph Warren, 1774

Friday, April 26, 2013

In the Shadow of the Greats

In April of last year my good friend and fellow writer C.E. Thornton and I made our first trip up to Boston. We went, originally, to attend a convention that Lora Innes (author/illustrator of The Dreamer - If you're a fan of the American Revolution and you haven't read it, for shame. Go now!) was speaking at. Neither of us had ever been to the city and we instantly fell in love with everything about it.

The Old South Meeting House
We took the Freedom Trail, as so many Americans do when they visit this historical city and made our way through. We found Paul Revere's home, the site of the Boston Massacre, the Old South Meeting House (which, for those that don't know, was the place that Dr. Joseph Warren gave his amazing speech in remembrance of the Boston Massacre, supposedly while wearing a toga ... not that this is one of my favorites or anything...) and so much more.
I believe this was the stage Warren gave his speech
from, but it's been redone since then.

We had a fantastic time, but the place that really took hold and refused to let go was Bunker Hill. Out of all the amazing sites that there are to see in a city like Boston, that was the one that we returned to three times within the short weekend stay. Caera (C.E.) said that the visit, especially the one to Bunker Hill, changed her life. I'm incline to agree.

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775 and was one of the earliest battles in the American Revolution. Though they lost the battle, the Americans showed just how hard they were willing to fight that day.
The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull
Image via Wikipedia
The Bunker Hill Monument
Bunker Hill was definitely on our list of places we wanted to see in what become known more as our Joseph Warren tour than the trip down Freedom Trail. If you've been on the Freedom Trail, you know that it's quite a trip. I'd managed to throw my knee out by the time that we found the hill and was limping along, but  once we made it to the steps everything seemed to wash away. It was breathtaking.

There are certain spots on the hill that you can go, take a seat, and just look straight up. All you see sky. It's amazing to think that you're looking at the same sky as those men that laid their lives down for this country so many years ago. When you stand there, on this little patch of land in the middle of of Charlestown, you're standing in the shadows of some of the greats.

So when it came time to buckle down and get serious about my writing I had some major decisions to make, as all artists do. I had to find something that I could write on regularly, that I would never grow tired of and that I would never lack enthusiasm for. I had to find my voice, my influence, and a clear path as to what I wanted to say. Sometimes I feel like I fumble around with these posts just a little, but in the end it comes down to this: Every day we stand in the shadow of the great men and women who have come before us. Some have laid down their lives and some have simply been willing to. They have spoken, taught, and encouraged those around them. Without them, we could not share in the freedoms that we do. Without following that example, we risk losing those freedoms just as easily. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Act Worthy of Yourselves pt. 2: America's Heart

My friend Heather and I took a trip down to West, Texas this weekend. No, not the far western section of the state, but the little town just outside of Waco that made national news this past week when a fertilizer plant exploded. We're both from Texas, born and raised, so while we felt helpless after the horrific attack in Boston on Monday, we decided that we could at least make a small difference in West. So we took up donations from those that couldn't go with us, packed it up and set off on the short drive there, not really sure what to expect.

What we saw was truly amazing, and Heather summed it up best: We saw the heart of America on Saturday.

People came from all over: we saw school t-shirts from near-by Baylor University and as far out as Lubbock's Texas Tech University. I saw a young woman in military fatigues, people from various companies coming out to show support, and volunteers from all over.

I think one of my favorite things was all of the kiddos that showed. I'm sure some of them had had their homes destroyed, but some were just along to help. An acquaintance of mine from the Waco Tea Party had her grandson there (I thought I'd snagged a picture of him, but now I can't find it) and he would walk up to anyone that would listen: "May I take that, ma'am?" "Can I help with that?" Twelve and fourteen year olds were organizing lines and directing people where to carry various donations.

Sic 'em Bears, helping the people of West
For those that don't know, West is about 25 minutes north of Waco

The plant exploded around 8PM Wednesday night and this was the following Saturday morning. I couldn't get over how organized everything was, and as the day went on new signs were made. Where it had simply said "Food" before, it showed "chips, bread, snacks" in one area and another collection in another. Everyone smiled at each other and there was no frustration with the large group of people moving around some fairly tight areas.

The Red Cross said Thursday that they needed clothes.
People gave so that everything was overflowing.

An ambulance pulled up stocked with water and
other supplies.
People would gather as soon as a new vehicle
showed up with donations, ready to help unload.

The front was full of supplies as well as the back.

I think everyone was in awe of the crowds that turned out.

A horse trailer full of supplies.

The guys started a line to get the water from the back
to the front. Everyone helped out.

You could see all the companies that were freely giving to support people in need. HEB was there, AT&T volunteered free charging stations for phones and those are just a couple that I saw. I know that Uncle Dan's BBQ out of Waco had donated in a couple of different ways.

I hear people say that Americans are selfish and that we don't give. They think that's why the government needs to do it for us, but that's not what I see. I see an amazing group of people willing to band together. Individuals, communities, and companies, local and otherwise. They were all willing to reach out to these people that had been struck by tragedy, and no one forced their hand. They gave of their own free will.

Heather is a high school teacher here in Texas and she told me how, when her kids found out that she was going, they jumped on the opportunity to give in any way that they could. Some wanted to go with her, some wanted to donate. It didn't matter how, they just wanted to give.

Last Wednesday I talked about the American Spirit and how it's shown so clearly in the face of suffering. We will always pick ourselves up and we will always carry on, but this is because we have each other. If you ever question it, just take a look at how we reach out to one another, how we rush into the face of danger - not thinking of ourselves, but of those that we can help - and you'll see the American Spirit. You'll see America's heart.

I'll leave you with this video. This post is primarily for West, but I can't let any more time go by without sharing this with you. As Joseph Warren said: "Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Act Worthy of Yourselves: The American Spirit

“Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of. Our enemies are numerous and powerful; but we have many friends, determining to be free, and heaven and earth will aid the resolution. On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important question, on which rest the happiness and liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”
                                                  Dr. Joseph Warren, 1775

Photo via the Warren Tavern's
Facebook page
On Tuesday (the day after the attack on Boston) The Warren Tavern posted a Facebook message with a beautiful photo of the American flag and the Bunker Hill Monument behind it along with the statement "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the victims and families impacted by yesterday's tragedy. Thank you to the first responders and all others who were helping out" and quoted part of Dr. Warren's address that he made in 1775 in the Old South Meeting House on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. It was a beautiful addition to the many statements made across the internet to let Boston know that they are in everyone's thoughts and prayers during such a horrific time. 

The quote that they used is a personal favorite of mine. It has had many deep meanings in my own life, but has taken on even more after Monday's cowardly attacks. Like all Americans, I'm still reeling from this, trying to put together thoughts and understand what all it truly means. While the 
casualty-rate is nowhere near as high, there is still that same feeling of pain that accompanied 9/11. We don't yet know what kind of terrorism this is, but I'd wager that there is no question in anyone's mind - even before the government officially called it so - that this is terrorism. I'm certainly no expert, but I do understand that the explosives found to have been used are at least very similar to those used against American soldiers in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. With that understanding comes the knowledge that we may have just been hit at home again in a foreign-based terrorist attack. We have been insurmountably blessed that in the nearly twelve years that have followed 9/11 that we have seen relatively few attacks from our enemies in such a way (some that were not labeled as an act of terror), but in times like these we remember, much as Dr. Warren said 238 years ago, our enemies are numerous and powerful. 

Image via The Washington Post
 They attack as only cowards can: preying on innocent people that have never wronged them, spreading their dark terror across the globe. Their delusions push them forward in actions that only a lunatic could justify, and for what? What does it gain them to maim us, to injure us, or to even kill us?   President Bush said, on the eve of 9/11, "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining." I believe this still holds true. Those that wish to oppress others will try to snuff out freedom  in any way they can. 

Image via the Boston Globe
These people hide in shadow, some more willing than others to give their own lives for their insane cause, but many more willing to simply take life. These were runners, athletes, spectators, Bostonians, Americans. What could Martin Richard have possibly done in his eight years of life that would warrant such a terrible death? What did Krystle Campbell do? Or the many, many others that will never be the same? What was their terrible crime that drove these cowards to attack them? There was nothing. They were innocent.

There is a darkness that may threaten and a pain that will linger and it should linger. We should not forget, as those that were on the front lines of this horrific event cannot forget. 

Even in the darkness there are beams of light. If Joseph Warren ever called for Americans to act worthy of themselves, he would have seen it on Monday. I've never personally been out to the marathon (I tend to stay away from running if I can help it), but after watching a video I got a better idea of how the crowd control was set up, therefore a better idea of what happened. It looks like the bomb went off from right in front of the barricades with the people pressed up on the barricades themselves. When the blasts went off - with the understanding that most Americans have nowadays that there could be more to follow - fellow runners, medics, police officers, and others on the scene flooded to help. They tore away obstacles and saved lives. They put aside their own safety to help others. They helped people into wheel chairs when the ambulances couldn't get in and they carried people out. 

Image via ABC News

We are in danger, there is no question on this. We face a threat that we cannot always see or touch, often forgetting the magnitude, but it's there. We see it every time it strikes, but no matter the evil they cannot win because Americans are strong and we're brave and we're giving. We are a unique group of people, resilient, and a beacon of hope. We will live free because we know how to fight for it. The fighting may not always come in the form of donning a military uniform and shipping out over seas - though to those men and women that protect us we are eternally grateful - but in the form of those that give selflessly of everything they have here at home. When those bombs went off, those people that jumped the barriers couldn't have been thinking of themselves. Their actions, and those of the men and women that have stood up against terror every day that we face it, show that America is not afraid and we will not bow to  the to the disgusting cowards that won't dare face us openly. 

Boston, our prayers and thoughts are with you. You have shown what it meant to act worthy of yourselves and I think you've shown what can truly be called the American Spirit. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

God Bless Boston

I had originally planned a post for tax day that was meant to talk about taxation issues in pre-revolutionary America and reactions to that. That has been postponed. Regardless of the date on the calendar, I think that to offer my condolences and my thoughts and prayers (as small as my little corner of the internet may be) to those in Boston today is more pressing.

As I'm sure everyone has heard by now, two bombs went off near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon today around 3PM Eastern Time. Another blast went off about five miles away. The latest report that I've read says that two people have been reported dead (though I've seen as many as 12 people reported) and as many as one hundred are injured from this attack.

The New York Post says that they believe a suspect is in custody. 

The man that is in custody now is reported to be a Saudi national, 20 years old. (Update as of 5:10cst: Boston PD is saying they do NOT have anyone in custody yet.)

I'm curbing my thoughts on the matter because I don't have all the facts. I'm not a journalist, just a writer that has read some terrifying things today. I don't know if this man (if he did it, or whoever set those bombs off) is a part of a terrorist organization such as we've been fighting since the Twin Towers fell or if he's a lone nut job, but it stands that this is terrorism. If a person sets out to do massive harm to the citizens of this country and creates terror in the streets, that is terrorism, no matter what it may be called.

If you pray, pray for these people. If you don't, at least keep them in your hearts.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Remembering Margaret Thatcher

It's interesting to think how posterity may view us. There are so many ways that people are classified: They were part of this generation or that generation. Were they involved with a political or social movement? Did they write anything of great consequence? Did their words touch many? Were they alone, standing apart from their peers, for better or worse? Or, like most, did they simply fade into the crowd? Family will remember for a while and friends might think fondly, but their names will not be left in to the chronicles of time.

I heard someone say recently: people are remembered in history for being either exceptionally evil or exceptionally good.

This past Tuesday I posted on my Facebook account that I had read some very hateful responses to Margaret Thatcher's passing this Monday. I noted that it was interesting that a woman was dead and the the Left was celebrating it. Isn't the Left meant to be the open-minded, open-armed side of politics? There has been celebration in the street, anti-Thatcher groups encouraging people to buy the song "Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead", and, even more recently, our own Senate has blocked a resolution to honor Thatcher in her passing.

I received some interesting responses from the post. Many were positive towards the former Prime Minister, but the one that caught my attention and really started me thinking on this post (because, come on, let's face it, when people you know, people you've gone to school with say things, it has a little more meaning than a journalist in an article) was from an individual that I was acquainted with at university.  His response was as follows:

Thatcher was one [of] the "left's" main opposition during her life. I would expect the same were her affiliation switched and the "right" would be throwing the parties. 

It will always be like this with major figure heads passing. A little out-of-the-box thinking will reveal this.

It's funny, because I don't remember dancing in the street when, say, Ted Kennedy died and he was pretty far to the left in his political opinion. People didn't gather in the street to celebrate his suffering, to sing and to dance and to potentially interrupt the funeral. Many conservatives were not fond of his approach to many subjects, but there was no celebration of death there. Apathy, perhaps, but no celebration. (I did note this to him, but he failed to respond.)

How much do you know about Lady Thatcher? On the day of her death I knew very little beyond she was a staunch leader of the Conservative party in England, had been the Prime Minister in the same time period as Ronald Reagan served as president, and was nicknamed the Iron Lady. (There was also the propaganda posters that showed up in passing on that one Doctor Who episode, but I digress...)

Realizing that I knew very little about her other than these things I did what any 21st century, semi-tech savvy individual does: I googled it. I'm very wary of where content comes from because it tends towards bias (as does my blog, but I'm okay with admitting this openly). I simply do not know enough about British politics to be able to adequately search through multiple websites and decipher how credible they were. Certainly not within enough time for this post. Being that as it was, I settled on what I felt was a fairly safe site for straight-forward, biographical information about Margaret Thatcher: The Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

A few brief tidbits from this overview-biography of an extraordinary woman:

  • She was born a grocer's daughter and rose in politics to be the youngest female political candidate in the UK
  • Though challenged by half a dozen senior colleagues, she became the first woman ever to lead a Western political party and to serve as Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons
  • She is, currently, the only woman to have held the seat of Prime Minister in England
  • She served from 1979 - 1990
  • She turned the British economy around for the better
  • She survived an attack by the IRA on her life

The Left often speaks of the need for strong women in politics, but when a strong conservative woman comes forward she is met with hate and disdain, such as has been seen in the aftermath of Lady Thatcher's passing. One of the commenters on the Facebook conversation stated that it shows a certain lack of class, and I'm inclined to agree with him. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Yom Ha'Shoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day 2013

Yesterday evening at sundown marked the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day. About six million Jews were killed in this horrible display of humanity at its worst. They were rounded up in ghettos before being shipped off to various camps to either be put straight to death or worked until the Nazis felt that they were of no more use.

Caera, Shannon, and
my small act of rememberance
Friends of mine came into Dallas this weekend and we decided to take a trip downtown to the Dallas Holocaust Museum  to pay our respects to those that were so brutally murdered. I'm embarrassed to admit that I hadn't gotten down there yet, but I'm very happy that we went. It was remarkable and while  I have studied the Holocaust before every face, every article of clothing, or pair of glasses, or gold tooth that is left behind pulls at my soul in a new way. We cannot begin to understand.

Time limitations and the abundance of information guarantees that I missed more than a few pictures and articles. I have a feeling that if I were to go back every day for a week I might not hear everything that is recorded for the self-guided tour. Each section offered new facts and information about the ghettos, the death camps, and life for the Jewish people and others that the Nazis believed to be lesser.

We had the honor of meeting a survivor, however briefly. Mike Jacobs was signing copies of his book at the entrance to the main section of the museum. I haven't had a chance to read his book, but it is certainly on my list. With the shortness of people's memories and humanity's willingness to forget the past, it's terrible to think what will happen when this generation passes away.

I know that this isn't a long post, and it is not for lack of things to say. If had been any other Monday it may have gone without an update, but I cannot, in good conscious, let this day pass without at least saying something in regards to it. I hope we always remember the people that died so that we will not allow it again. Sadly, there are still people that would play this out in our generation.

I ran across this video a few years ago. It's shocking to say the least, and took place in our own schools here in the United States. A young woman, part of the school's MSA organization, claimed to agree with the head of Hezbollah in his statement that all Jews should be rounded up in Israel so that he does not have to hunt them down globally. In other words, he wishes to have a second Holocaust.

Please remember their suffering that the Nazi's inflicted on the Jewish people and let's do what so many refused to do in the 1930's and early '40's: Stand up. Remember.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Words, Words, Words

Image via kalyan02
Flickr Creative Commons

As a writer, I think quite a bit on words. What do they mean, how do they fit, and what are the best collections of words to paint the picture of the world that I want to share with the readers? I often wake up with a stream of conversation between characters running through my mind, or a scene playing out, or any number of things, but it all comes back to words. Believe me, putting as much time as I do into thinking on this can be a bit disrupting in life, but I think that it can gives a bit of a different view than others that are not in the business of weaving words. 

Words are powerful, as they should be. After all, as Franklin said, the pen is mightier than the sword, and that is a continuous truth. 

I think this is also why people fear words. When you look to history and start noting similarities in societies  that begin to take that horrible spiral into despotism, there are trends that can be found. Freedom of speech and of the press is either limited or eliminated and knowledge is severely suppressed, often in the form of limiting citizens' access to the written word. While at university the question was posed by a professor why there did not appear to be any art or creativity in the society in the book that we were reading (which took place in a totalitarian state). I stated that artists have always been known to push limits, and that a government that does not acknowledge natural freedoms would not be keen to allow those limits to be pushed. It would threaten them. It would threaten their power.
Image via LordJim
Flckr Creative Commons

It's interesting to think, as citizens of the United States of America, a pioneer in freedom and liberty, that our speech is stifled every day. Our words, thoughts, and beliefs are put under scrutiny, and if we do not toe this imaginary line (one that seems to keep changing without warning) we are labeled. It's as if we've been put in the corner with a dunce hat. Peer pressure will, after a while, encourage all the other students in the room to point and laugh, the words lost and the meanings trampled, even if they might have been worth something. 

Every thought is worth something, even if not implementable

Political Correctness has muzzled free speech, causing people to have to internally debate every syllable of every word before speaking them for fear of being called a bigot, a hater, a [insert group of people]-phobe, a racist, or any other number of derogatory terms that are regularly attributed to people that do not adhere to Political Correctness. It stifles meaning and drowns out personal freedoms of expression. Instead of risking offense, we are expected curb our own personal opinions, our own beliefs in many cases, so that they are aligned with what is considered the correct way of thinking in society. All in line. One after another. Just keep marching.

How does this encourage growth? How does a society move forward in such a way? If the Elite (a group nearly as difficult to define as that PC line that we're expected to toe) is able to choose what is right or wrong and demand that you silence any disagreement with it (lest you be called one of the aforementioned names), then they have full control over the direction that society moves in. They have the reigns, and we (the citizens of this nation) become the animal that has been broken in and easily maneuvered the way they wish us to go. 

They control the words and they control the meaning of words. I remember during the '08 elections that a man called into a talk show host on the radio and told the host that he was a racist. The host asked how he came to that conclusion, and the caller stated that it was because he disagreed with Barack Obama, therefore he must be a racist. This was interesting, because I never realized that to disagree with someone on a set of beliefs was to hold a prejudice against them. I suppose that's why I'm not very good at toeing that invisible line. 
Kudos to the person that put this together
It's been floating around FaceBook for a bit now

Words are important. Words are powerful. If a group of people can twist words to mean what they want them to mean or can intimidate another group of people into silence the second group is shackled. Think back, once again, to American history. In many places in America, free speech and freedom of the press was stifled by the British just before the Revolution broke out. Before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach a slave to read. They were not allowed to speak their minds, they were not allowed to put forth their own thoughts in most cases. Why was this? To keep them subservient. Once a voice was heard saying "You cannot own me, I'm a human being" it gained strength. When Americans gathered in Boston and spoke of God-given rights that King George and Parliament could not take from them, it threatened England's authority. 

If you claim to be free, speak boldly, for if you choose to bow to the passing whims of Political Correctness you give up that freedom and enslave yourself to it. Respect those whose views differ from your own. You can always learn something from them. Believe strongly and keep faith in your ideals. It is only by voicing those thoughts that you can change the world around you into a better place. Stand firmly for what is right. People will always speak lies around you, but know for yourself where you come from so that you do not have to rely on their opinions for validation. 

I've been listening to the words of a man that I have a great amount of respect for. That respect grows each time I hear him speak. I'll close out this post with Dr. Ben Carson's words and his thoughts on the matter.