Written January 12, 2024, MLK weekend, at Alma, Colorado.

I had heard of him, but I knew little about him. He was born a slave, escaped and became an abolitionist, finally he became a revered national figure. In my ignorance Frederick Douglass was a shadow who lacked substance. That has changed. More on this in a moment.

LibriVox (LibriVox | free public domain audiobooks) is an online resource for those who enjoy audiobooks. Its distinguishing feature is that the books are all in the public domain, the copyrights having expired. The books are read by volunteers. Many of the readings are excellent, even approaching professional quality. LibriVox has an excellent iOS app that facilitates searching the catalogue and allows for downloading to smartphones and similar devices so that one can “read” off-line. I understand that there is a Google Play app, but I am not familiar with it.

The LibriVox catalogue consists of over 40,000 books and continues to grow. The great majority of the selections are read in English, but a sizable number are in German, French, Italian, and a host of other languages.

Most readers are familiar with H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, to name just two authors. Most readers recognize their most popular works such as “War of the Worlds, “The Invisible Man”, “The Time Machine”, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, and “Around the World in 80 Days”. However, on LibriVox there are 71 titles by Wells, and 81 by Verne, all free to read.

The quality of the readings can be variable. I have found a number of narrators that are exceptional. Among them are:

Mark Smith whose readings include: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Call of the Wild, Great Expectations, Robinson Crusoe, and Swiss Family Robinson.

Karen Savage whose readings include: the Anne of Green Gables series, The Scarlet Pimpernel series, and Jane Austen’s books.

Ruth Golding whose readings include: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence.

There are others.

I came upon a strong recommendation to read The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, an autobiography, narration by Lee Smalley.

Frederick Douglass seen as a young man.

Born into slavery in 1816, (or 17, or 18, slaves were not usually allowed to know their birth history) in secret he taught himself to read and write. He details his life as a slave, his escape to freedom, and his subsequent ascension in the ranks of abolitionists. He became an international celebrity while fearing for his life and possible recapture. He associated with such luminaries as John Brown, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Johnson, Grant, Hays, and Garfield, to name just a few. To consider him a genius may be an understatement. Having no formal education, his prose is that of the most highly educated person. His commentary is straightforward and striking. His voice reaches from the 19th Century, across the 20th, and speaks today with an eloquence that is decidedly relevant in our fractured society and politics.

To name just a few of the modern controversies that he directly addressed nearly 150 years ago: The efforts to negotiate an avoidance to war, whether there was any benefit to the enslaved by virtue of their servitude, and identification of the issues that resulted in the Civil War. He didn’t speculate, he was central to and lived the times.

Frederick Douglass aged in his 50’s

This is his third autobiography, the previous two having been written before the Civil War. In those first efforts he could not fully tell the story of his escape to freedom without endangering the lives of those who had helped him. This third effort covers the scope of his life from birth, his early years in bondage, his escape to freedom, through his growing activism and celebrity, the Civil War and post-Civil War reconstruction, and his Presidential appointments as the United States Marshall of the District of Columbia and as U. S. Minister to Haiti.

This is an exceptional read, and my recommendation is all the more appropriate on this holiday weekend that honors the life of Martin Luther King.

Peace Everyone. Pete
Anna Murray Douglass, Frederick’s wife of 44 years.
Frederick Douglass with his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass (right) and her sister, Eva Pitts (center).

 

Posted January 6, 2024, at Alma, Colorado

In September 1920, a crowd had gathered outside of the Cook County Illinois Courthouse where a Grand Jury had convened to take testimony in what would later be called the “Black Sox Scandal”. 8 professional baseball players from the Chicago White Sox stood accused of conspiring with organized crime figures to “throw” the 1919 World Series in favor of the Cincinnati Reds. Among the 8 was “Shoeless” Joe Jackson an illiterate son of a sharecropper and an unlikely prospect for baseball fame.

Yet, “Shoeless” hit .409 in his rookie year, a record that stands today, and in 12 years of play he achieved the 4th highest lifetime batting average in Major League Baseball (MLB) history, .356. He was the sports hero of countless children across the country. Desperate to believe in him, their cry went out, “Say it isn’t so “Shoeless” Joe!!”

The heavily favored White Sox were defeated by the Reds, 5 games to 3 in a best of 9 game series. The Sox played uninspired ball, committing unexplainable errors and miscues in a fashion that was atypical for them. Underground betting odds in Cincinnati seemed to predict the outcome. Although “Shoeless” Joe set records in the Series as a batsman, he allowed an unusual number of extra-base hits in his outfield position.

He was alleged to have admitted his participation in the conspiracy but later recanted the purported admission in the criminal trial that followed. He and the other 7 players were acquitted. Nevertheless, “Shoeless” Joe and his confederates were banned for life from the MLB.

The controversy persists to this day. Did “Shoeless” participate in “fixing” the 1919 World Series? There are grounds supporting those who believe he did, just as there are for those who believe he did not. History will provide no better answer.

Fast forward to January 6, 2021: Christine and I sat transfixed like hundreds of millions of others around the world. A drama played out before our eyes on every television network station. The United States Capital was under attack. Law enforcement was overwhelmed by the violent mob. Windows to the Capital were smashed to gain entrance. Shouts from the mob included the avowed intention to kill the Speaker of the House and to hang the Vice President of the United States. Members of the House and Senate cowered in fear for their lives. What we witnessed that day is seared into my memory, holding its place alongside the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Just like “9-11”, the riot at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, the killings at Kent State, and the Space Shuttle disasters, I cannot unsee what occurred on January 6, 2021.

Photo by Roberto Schmidt

Yet, there are those desperate to believe other than what we saw, “It was a peaceful tour of the seat of government”, “The FBI orchestrated it”, “The “rioters” were hired actors”, The images are phony”, “Fake news” …

This desperation of belief, unlike that with “Shoeless” Joe and the Black Sox Scandal, is not a matter of conjecture or opinion. It happened in real time before our eyes. Under our system of justice, the accused are entitled to Due Process of Law, a presumption of innocence, and proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To date over 1,200 have been arrested and charged. Of approximately 170 who have gone to trial, all but 2 have been found guilty. Over 700 have pleaded guilty and over 350 have charges still pending. More suspects are being identified each week as the task of analyzing over 44,000 hours of security and media video is monumental and continues.

In the American system of jurisprudence, a finding of “not guilty” does not mean it did not happen. The nation and the world witnessed the events unfold that day. It was an insurrection; it was an attempt to overthrow the government of the United States. Those who are desperate to believe otherwise are fools. Those who try to convince us that we have “lying eyes” are charlatans, hucksters, and much worse they are desperate to deceive.  Like it or not, the Constitution that the insurrectionists sought to shred, affords each of them with the right to promote falsehoods. It does not require us to disbelieve what we saw that day.

It has been 3 years. Peace Everyone. Pete
Shay Horse/AP

 

Written December 30, 2023, at Alma, Colorado.

A good friend recommended a book to me, Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel” by Rolf Potts. Those who know me might well imagine that the title, particularly the extension, would catch my interest. It is short at 204 pages, has been in print since 2004 and is an international bestseller with multiple translations, over 30 printings, and more than 300,000 copies sold. I bought it.

Vagabonding is loosely defined as wandering from place to place without a permanent home and often without a regular means of support. It is travel without destination. The journey is the purpose. Technically speaking I do not qualify as a “vagabond”. I have a home, and my past working life and disciplined saving has provided me with a means of support. Nevertheless, Potts presents a philosophy of opening oneself to change by engaging with new people and new places. He rejects “vacations” as being brief forays that do little to give insight into the lives of others. With me he preaches to the choir.

I am fortunate that for nearly 20 years I have been able to take the time to engage in travel that has allowed me to meet and come to know many wonderful people and places. In the last 5 years we have added 4 cruises to our travel experiences. These have taken us to places we previously only dreamed of, Cape Horn and the Panama Canal being two of them. I dearly enjoyed the friendships made aboard and the sights seen, but I also experienced a sense of hollowness. What was missing was the time to really engage with the local people and diverse cultures. The passengers were like me in origin, socio-economics, and life experiences. It was the ships’ crews that really drew my interest and curiosity. They represented men and women from over 40 nations and a score of different faith traditions. When time allowed they were willing, and even eager, to share their “stories” with me. A woman from South Africa who once thought she was the “wrong color” to find a position shipboard, is now an officer in Guest Services. Various housekeeping staff, servers, entertainers, and lecturers… from the Philippines, Nicaragua, Bali, Bermuda, Norway, Thailand, Zimbabwe, Peru, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, Kosovo, Canada, and many other places, provided me with the opportunities to vicariously embrace life seen through other eyes.

We need not travel long or far to engage with others and drink in the wonder of humanity. The spirit of vagabonding resists tribalism, rejects prejudice, and encourages us to intentionally reach out and engage with those who are different from us, be they across the street or across an ocean.

There is a quote from the book that stopped me short and gave me pause, its origins are unknown but there is suspicion that it is either ancient Talmudic or Buddhist:

We Don’t See Things As They Are, We See Them As We Are.

In this coming New Year be open to expanding who you are.

Peace Everyone. Pete

Written December 26, 2023, at Alma, Colorado.

This last week I happened upon a post written by a minister. It vilified as a betrayal of Christ the permission given by Pope Francis to Catholic priests to grant blessings to same sex couples. The post troubled me. Why the outrage? What is the harm in such a “blessing”? Was this minister really speaking in defense of Christ or just disguising his own prejudice? Would Christ, who favored love over all else, have been offended by such blessings?

I had encountered this minister years ago when his assignment included ministering to inmates on death row. It occurred to me that his calling included bestowing blessings upon society’s worst criminals, those convicted of taking the life of another in cold blood. Why then the rejection of two people who do nothing worse than profess their committed love for one another.

Does any human, by the act of granting a “blessing”, bind the hand of God? If so, then the Creator of the Universe is subservient to the will of man. Alternatively, if the favor of the Creator is exclusively the Creator’s to grant, then the act of granting a “blessing” is just a human gift of acceptance and a wish in favor of the recipient.

Tradition, dating back beyond written history, found recognition in the practice of “blessing” not only people but inanimate objects. In modern times it is commonplace to “bless” farm fields, crops, animals, food, houses, buildings… our bicycles in 2010, and before a church congregation in 2013 our backpacks were blessed (along with us) as Christine and I prepared to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain. What is the purpose of “blessing” soulless objects? Perhaps it is a petition that these things may better serve us and our purposes.

The “blessing” of ships, civilian or military, is ancient and commonly accepted. Earlier this month in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the Naval assault ship USS Bougainville was christened with the words, “God bless this ship and all who sail on her!”

Which brings me to the biblical Christ who was a spokesperson for the poor, hungry, powerless, and marginalized. He spoke against oppression in every form but never against love.  He said that the second of the two greatest of God’s Commandments was to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Christ further declared that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword.

It is likely that Christ would have chosen to confer blessing upon companions professing their love and not on a warship. The former is the model of one of the two greatest Commandments, and the latter is a very large and lethal 21st Century sword.

Peace Everyone. Pete

 

I don’t send Christmas cards but with a smile I do think and dream about seeing you someday and wondering about what is important in your life. So, without naming names and in hopes that I cover all of you who knew and know me from Kansas City, Crete, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, West Virginia, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Connecticut, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Washington, Thailand, Canada, Germany, England, Scotland, Wales, France, Switzerland, Poland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Lebanon, Morocco, Jersey, Puerto Rico, Belize, Argentina, Japan, Finland, Greenland, …throughout the United States, …on the ocean, during my working and retirement years… MERRY CHRISTMAS and love to you. You are in my thoughts and held close to my heart.

Peace Everyone. Pete