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The Acrid Smell of an Election is in the Air: The Toxic Politics of Mutually Assured Destruction

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

Yes that pungent stench that is in the air is not the smell of fall, not the scent of freshly run over skunk but yea and verily the scent of yet another poisonously pungent election season. Yes this year stinks more than most because of the division of the country and the absolute enmity between political parties.   Pundits, ideologues, mindless drones and their allied television, radio and print media shills echo whatever their party’s leaders and pundits say regardless of its veracity painting their opponents in the worst possible manner without ever dealing with the issues in a constructive manner.  Back in the 1990s I think it was Hillary Clinton who talked about the “politics of personal destruction” but I think while that still goes on we have entered the realm of “the politics of mutual assured destruction.” Yes candidates will win and lose this election season but the ways they will win will do great damage to the country, regardless of their party that ultimately triumphs.  Since this is a mid-term election expect this to only get worse as the Presidential election of 2012 approaches.

What triggered this article was a visit to Huntington West Virginia my family’s ancestral home where I worked in the 1990s as a hospital emergency department chaplain.  Huntington is in Cabell County and used to be the largest and most prosperous city in the state.  Huntington is located on the Ohio River and is across that river from Ohio and adjacent to Ashland Kentucky.  As a result the local television and radio media carry campaign ads from all three states.  Thus in the week that we were there I was treated with an absolute deluge of negative political advertisement from candidates of both parties in US Senate, US House of Representatives, Gubernatorial and State Senate and House races.  I have lived in Virginia for 7 years and while political ads here are similar to those in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio I think they are a bit more tame due to the large number of people from the rest of the country that have settled here due to the military and government related employment.

With the massive amount of exposure that I had to the toxic radioactive sludge that filled the airwaves from the various candidates for office I realized that we have been standing at the precipice of a political cliff for several years with both parties doing everything they can to push us over it. I guess like political parties in Weimar Germany they see a benefit to the chaos of an electorate that no longer sees the opposing party as Americans with opposing beliefs, but enemies of the America that they envision. I guess in a Machiavellian sense whatever tactics that you use to gain victory are irrelevant as long as you win.

Back when I was growing up the statesmen of American politics treated each other with respect and maintained friendships with people on the other side of the aisle; I think that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill epitomized the men of that era, fierce political opponents who remained friends until the end. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton seem to have that kind of relationship as well.  But I detect little of that from the current crop of political ideologues in both parties and I think that they all share the blame for the mess that the country is in and I don’t see any change in political climate coming anytime soon.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

I think that to use the Cold War term we have entered a phase of “Mutual Assured Destruction” regarding the tactics used by both parties in their attempts to keep or gain power. Issues are not discussed or debated they are reduced to sound bites and the opposition candidates views are usually taken out of the context that they were made. Both parties are doing this and when both politicians and their supporters in the media paint caricatures of their opponents using such methods truth suffers.  No one offers a positive vision for the country because I think they have stopped believing in it, all that matters as their party and their ideology truth and their opponents be damned.  What bothers me even more is how some religious leaders and churches have taken this same approach rather than simply preaching the Gospel and caring about God’s people. Even churches and pastors have become shills for political parties sacrificing the Gospel for a share in political power.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

In spite of this I did my civic duty and voted for those who seemed behave with less rancor toward their opponents, politicians from both sides of the aisle as I have never been regardless of my political affiliation a shill for a party.  I voted for candidates that seemed to care more for my home state than an allegiance to their national party.  Now they may be just as bad and corrupt as the other candidates but as Tip O’Neill said “all politics is local” and my vote was cast in that light.  I am not an ideologue but think that somehow as Americans we need to find a way to work together as the problems of this country cannot be changed when the political climate is so toxic. Maybe I am just an idealist that believes that the people of this country are better at heart than our politicians believe us to be.

In the end I think that both parties, their respective candidates and media shills have decided to paraphrase a quote from the Vietnam War “that we had to destroy the country in order to save it.” God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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My Home World Visit: Some things Change and some don’t….and the Terror of the Undead Tooth

The last time that I visited the Home World, aka West Virginia was before I left for Iraq.  While this is my family’s Home World it is only mine by default having worked there briefly after my residency.   Now because I was a West Virginia resident when I entered active duty in 1999 it is our home of record for all of my military administrative and pay purposes.  This means that we maintain our West Virginia driver’s licenses, vote in West Virginia elections and since we are out of state have no state income tax liability.

West Virginia, in the heart of Appalachia is an interesting place.  It was became a state in 1863 when the western counties of Virginia, which had seceded from the Union, seceded from Virginia and were recognized by the Federal Government.  My family goes back on both sides to the late 1700s in the state where they were early pioneers having moved west from Pennsylvania.  The Dundas side of the family had emigrated from Scotland in the late 1740s settling initially in Philadelphia where the early settlers served as suppliers of the Continental Congress and Army in the War for Independence and are buried in Christ Church cemetery near Independence Hall, the same cemetery where Benjamin Franklin and other notables from the early history of the United States are buried.  The family which settled in Cabell County owned a great deal of property along the Mud River and the James River Turnpike where they prospered by not necessarily being nice.   They built a plantation and owned slaves, the exact number I do not know.  They also sort of acted as highwaymen charging travelers along the turnpike to go through their land, in a sense they were the progenitors of the toll booths on the West Virginia Turnpike.  Their prosperity last through the Civil War in which they sided with the Virginians who seceded from the Union and not those that seceded from Virginia.  When the war ended the family patriarch decided that he didn’t like the results and as a Lieutenant in the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment refused to sign the loyalty oath when the Confederacy surrendered.  Of course Officers like Robert E. Lee did so, so the refusal was kind of stupid.  As a result the Federal Government seized almost all of the family land save for the homestead and a parcel donated to Mud River Baptist Church and the Blue Sulfur cemetery where as my cousin by marriage Betty says “all the good Dundas’s are buried.”  Thus my family became just another working family.  My parents were born in Huntington in the 1930s.  At that time Huntington was a booming city.  It was a rail hub as well as the site of many heavy industries including the manufacture of railroad cars, steel, nickel, glassware, chemicals and automotive parts.  It was also the home of Marshall University.   This boom lasted until the 1960s and early 1970s as industries moved out or shut down, the population which once numbered about 100,000 dwindled to barely 50,000 in 2008.  The city did nothing to help itself when it refused to let the Interstate Highway go down through the waterfront. The diversion of I-64 helped destroy the downtown and contributed to the move of many people to the outlying areas of the county.  As a result the areas along the Mud River gained both business and population leaving the city with fewer business, people and tax revenue.  Of course had my ancestor decided to sign the loyalty oath all of this would have been on our family land and the family would be wealthy.  The sins and stupidity of the previous generations do truly affect their descendants.  What a Dumb-Ass.

So my dad joined the Navy and I was the first one of my family born out of West Virginia.  Now we would go back often to visit my grandparents as well as other relatives and I have some fond memories of visits to Huntington in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Back then Huntington was still fairly affluent by West Virginia standards.  When I moved back after my residency in late December 1994 Huntington was a different town.  The city was smaller and areas that had once been nice were run down.  Gangs and drug lords from Detroit and Columbus made Huntington, which once had a very low crime rate a pretty sporty place.  Instead of industry service industries like telemarketing became major employers joining Marshall University, Cabell-Huntington Hospital and Saint Mary’s hospitals as the economic base of the city. The few remaining heavy industries were much smaller than they had been even a decade before.  Since I left to join the Navy in 1999 the city has continued its decline.  In spite of major expansions of the University, both Hospitals the opening of a new campus and University medical center a revitalized downtown much of the city is in disrepair and once nice neighborhoods are blighted.  There are signs of hope as the city and state are making concerted efforts to fight the drugs and gangs, while corrupt officials who allowed the infrastructure to collapse leaving the city in violation of EPA and other federal agency regulations.

The decline has affected everything, even churches.  The church that I was baptized at as a infant, Southside Methodist is shut down, the congregation merged with several others at another location.  Other formerly influential congregations of various denominations have shut down and in some cases the buildings demolished.   The city lost its Minor League baseball franchise in 1994 and it has not been replaced.  The population is now significantly older and poorer.  One only has to visit stores like Wal-Mart and see how poor people look and how bad their state of health is to understand how the city has fallen.

One thing that surprised me was walking down 3rd Avenue after departing the Marshall Hall of Fame Café and seeing two young let’s say late teens, early twenties girls wrapped around each other at a bus stop French kissing and pawing all over each other.   For a second I thought someone had turned on Cinemax, this was definitely not the West Virginia that I remembered growing up.  Now I know that Huntington is a college town but I still was not expecting this.  Had my paternal grandmother, God rest her soul been there she would have probably taken her cane and forcibly separated them while giving them a piece of her mind.  Granny was not to be messed with and even long haired men drew her wrath as what she would have termed improperly clad women who showed more skin than she thought was proper.   I’m sure the display of the two young women would have sent her into orbit. Of course I make no judgment on the young women, save perhaps their choice of venue to express their affection for one another.  Heck if they had been a hetro-sxcual couple I would have had a similar reaction and Granny would have at least accosted the young man had it been that situation.

Huntington has changed in a lot of ways, but some things remain constant.  For me these have been the parks, such as Ritter Park as well as eateries such as Stewarts Hot Dogs and the Frost Top Root Beer stand both of which take one back in time to when things were better.  I still like to go back; the pace of life is relaxing if you aren’t in pain.  Our trip this time was marked by a nice visit with our friend Patty a couple of visits to Stewarts and a visit to the Marshall Hall of Fame Café.  At least the beer at least gave me a bit of relief from the constant pain in my mouth.

As far as the matter of the “undead” tooth goes beginning Sunday night the pain was unmanageable.   I could not sleep and no matter how many 800 mg Motrin and Ultram that I took I was still in pain. I might have gotten two hours of bad sleep Sunday night.  Monday morning I got up, ate breakfast, took more medicine and went to back to bed.  After I got up at noon I went to the Hall of Fame Café for a salad, chili and beer, after which I saw the aforementioned Cinemax girls.  Monday night was more of the same and I was wishing for my regular boring insomnia.  Tuesday morning I woke up gave up and called our hospital dental clinic.  They referred me to the office that approves visits to non-military providers.  It took me a while to reach them but when I did they gave me permission and I went to the dentist who took over the practice of our old and recently retired dentist in Huntington.  I was x-rayed and the dentist said that the tooth was infected.  He wrote a couple of prescriptions, one for amoxicillin and the other for Darvecet a pain reliever.  Unfortunately they had no effect on Tuesday night and by the time that we left today I was in worse pain than any time previously.  The tooth was making groaning and popping noises throbbing and shooting out sharp pain.  By the time we got to the western section of Virginia I knew I had to get some help so I called our dental department.  The person at the desk told me to report to sick call in the morning.  About an hour later the pain was even worse so I called again about 40 minutes before the clinic closed.  I got the automated answering system that told me “thank you for your patience, we value you and you are number one in the queue.” I waited in the “queue” or 40 minutes, my call dropping twice due to bad cell coverage but each time I was still “the first in the queue.” Finally, after the clinic was officially closed I called m ICU and Stacie one of our Critical Care RN’s paged the on-cal dentist.  He called me back and told me to come in as soon as I got back in town.  When we finally got home we went directly to the hospital where the young dentist waited.  He consulted the on-call Oral Surgeon and the two decided to open the tooth back up and grind it down as well as give me a long lasting anesthetic that will take me through the night as well as some good drugs, Vicodin to keep the pain down not the Darvocet which was crap and didn’t touch the pain.  So tomorrow I go in early and the dentists will fit me in and excavate the remains of the tooth from my mouth and do some site preservation so I can get the implant later.  Thus, my saga completed I will try to get some sleep, unfortunately I am so wired from all the caffeine I took on board today that sleep, even if I am not in pain will be problematic.  Thankfully I have been assured that they will send me home when this is done.

Pray for me a sinner,

Peace, Steve+

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