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The West, including the U.S., tends to interpret everything that happens in the Middle East and North Africa in terms of religion. In other words, we see the social and political turmoil daily rocking countries like Syria and we say, religion is behind all this. Maybe, but probably not, at least not all of what we see.

Certainly religion is involved in everything that takes place in the Middle East and North Africa. To some extent religion has been involved in the protests, conflicts, or revolutions called the “Arab Spring.” But religion doesn’t explain why dictators hang on to their posts with a death grip. Religion alone doesn’t explain why people risk their lives, why fighting has morphed into vicious guerilla warfare, or why other countries in the region don’t intervene to stop the killing in Syria.

What explains most of what’s happening in the region is simply the old evil triumvirate of power, greed, and corruption. Dictators like Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Mubarak, and now Assad want to hang onto power as long as possible. They don’t want to and for the most part don’t step down voluntarily. What they do, typically, is leave office only when they are in a box.

And the triumvirate of self-aggrandizement is also at work among the opposition. Unfortunately, the rebels, insurgents, or protestors are not all freedom fighters. They are people who want power and are willing to do anything to get it. Once in control, no one is quite sure what kind of government and society the new regime would allow.

So it would behoove those of us in the West to step carefully in our foreign policy re changing or emerging regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. There’s still a place for realpolitik.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

This is a scholarly biography, but the word “scholarly” shouldn’t scare readers away. While hundreds of books have been written about Betsy Ross, mostly for children, no one until now has seriously attempted to separate fact from fiction and place the woman and the legend in context.

Marla R. Miller writes a book that presents Betsy’s Ross’s life and legacy in as accurate a manner as historical evidence allows. She respects the woman and even the myths that have grown up around the story of the origin of the nation’s first flag. In other words, this isn’t a book with an agenda aimed at trashing a cultural icon. That said, Miller doesn’t back away from citing what we don’t know, what we likely will never know, and what we do know that doesn’t match or corroborate certain iconic interpretation.

One reason Miller doesn’t write fluff is that she’s a recognized professional historian. Another reason is that early on she understood that, though the historical record is often sadly slim or silent, what we can know for sure about Elizabeth Griscom Ross Ashburn Claypoole is interesting enough.

The woman subsequent generations came to know as Betsy Ross did live in a unique time and place at this nation’s genesis, she did play an entrepreneurial and artisanal role as a woman with courage and resolve in early American life, she did make if not the first flag (we still don’t know for sure) than certainly hundreds of US flags in the first decades of the nation’s existence, and she became the beloved matron of a large and loving extended family. So we can remember, respect, and enjoy Betsy for what we know she did, not just for what we wish or think she did.

Not much about Betsy’s personality survives. But Miller believes what evidence we have suggests a woman that was decisive when necessary. She was a person who took considered risks, like marrying a second and third time when her first two husbands died young. She was apparently a woman with an admirable work ethic, and she was clearly a woman with compassion, for time and again she took down-and-out family members into her home, sometimes for years. She was a woman who knew her own mind and made decisions accordingly with respect to religious conviction. She married outside the church when she felt it right, and she became a key and long lasting part of the Free Quaker movement of her day.

Miller celebrates Betsy Ross as an early American woman who was what we’d call today a survivor. She didn’t give up, she didn’t fall apart, she didn’t run away. She did what she had to do to get through, and this she did until death claimed her as a woman full of experiences, full of the love of family, and full of days.

Betsy Ross and the Making of America is an interesting, well-written, and enjoyable book. I recommend it highly.

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Dick Clark died this week at 82. I am sorry for his family.

It’s interesting to watch and listen to people’s reactions when a celebrity passes away. For one, while tens of thousands die everyday, some in extreme and avoidable circumstances like war, the world pays little attention. When one celebrity dies, the world notices.

People worldwide are tweeting, writing, and talking about Clark’s life and legacy. I don’t have a problem with this. It’s a way of expressing respect for a human being. I have nothing against Dick Clark. I even liked some of the things he did and is remembered for in entertainment. None of what I say here is really about him. It’s just that his passing triggered these thoughts.

Sometimes I wonder at the comments offered when a celebrity dies. When John Lennon was killed in 1980 the world fell apart, and it was indeed a tragedy. Eventually I read a piece praising Lennon for his “generosity” because he’d given $65,000 to nonprofit work. I remember that number clearly. I’m glad he gave, and this amount of money was worth more then than now, but frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Reason was, I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations all my adult life and I’ve seen people give hundreds of thousands and even multi-million dollar gifts numerous times, attracting no media. But then again, these folks didn’t give to make the papers.

One article I read waxed rhapsodic about Dick Clark, saying his influence was profound, that there’d never be another like him. Again, no disrespect intended to Mr. Clark, but “profound”? Dick Clark was a television host and producer. He’s most remembered for “American Bandstand” and his lifelong youthful looks. There will “never be another like him”? There already is: his showbiz heir, Ryan Seacrest. Frankly, while Mr. Clark’s contributions to entertainment are admirable, there are many unsung heroes in this world whose influence is or will be much more profound.

People are moved when a celebrity dies in part because it’s an inescapable reminder of their own mortality. It’s a reminder that you can live for the Devil if you want but eventually your life comes to a close and an accounting. As such, celebrity funerals are sometimes an exercise in denial.

At Frank Sinatra’s funeral in 1998, Kirk Douglas told the media heaven would be rockin’ tonight because Frank was there with the Rat Pack. Excuse me? Frank and the Rat Pack? What in or about Frank’s life, great talent though he was, would lead anyone to think he’s partying in heaven? I hope he is, but there’s no evidence in his life to suggest it.

None of this is to minimize the importance of any individual. When Whitney Houston died of drug abuse earlier this year in her 40s people rightfully mourned. They mourned the silencing of an incredible voice, a rare gift. They mourned the passing of a human being. They grieved that one had departed too young.

All this is good and appropriate. But we sometimes go over-the-top when a celebrity passes. We seem to lack perspective, an ability to honor and appreciate and reminisce while also understanding right, wrong, and consequences. America’s celebrity-watching seems to have morphed into celebrity-worship, something unhealthy for both the celebrity and the culture.

All human beings matter. All are worth celebrating—at least for their humanity if not always for their humaneness. Perhaps that is what we should ponder in the wake of a celebrity’s passing.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

 

Want to communicate with God in heaven? Want to think God's thoughts after him? You can, and here's how:

 

Who knew God was ahead of the social media curve?

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

No country can live long and prosper without a sense of itself. Without a defined national identity and, better yet, national character. No country grows or moves forward in a positive way without aspiration, ambition, goals. America once possessed all these things. Now, I’m not so sure.

I’ve written earlier blogs and articles on “American Ambition Asked And Answered.” I’m concerned about what my grandchildren will not find.

I don’t cast this concern or any arguments I make in simply political terms, Right or Left, but in terms of patriotism. I care about and appreciate my country, so I must speak.

We are now in the midst of a presidential election campaign. It’s mostly noise. Look at me. I’m more-Conservative-than-thou. I’m hip and cool so what more do you need? Not much depth here. Not much moral courage, bold ideas, or statesmen or women with backbone to match their character…or is that the other way around?

I’m looking for, listening for, leaders—whatever race or ethnicity, whatever gender, whatever religion—who speak of a future toward which we can and must work together to make it a bright future. I’m listening for truly selfless, humble, nonpartisan expressions of optimism and creativity. I’m wondering if such leaders any longer exist, because I’m wondering if our culture is strong enough to any longer produce them.

America needs to define itself once again. Who are we? What really is an American?

France is in the midst of a presidential election campaign as well. The combination of high immigration and low French birthrates have resulted, for the first time in the modern nation-state, in less than 50% of the population being born in France. What does it mean, they now want to know, to be French? We don’t know what it means to be American.

Being American is more than being born here, though that could be involved. Being American is more than speaking English, though that is involved. Being American is understanding and embracing a set of ideals and an outlook on life and the future.

I’m hoping we’ve simply misplaced our understanding of what it means to be an American, rather than lost it forever. Once we find it we’ll be able to recast an American aspiration for a bright and hopeful future.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

I’m about at my saturation point with the phrase “Oh my God.” It’s not just that the phrase uses God’s name in vain, which it does. It’s that you hear the phrase repeated endlessly everyday. It’s like people don’t know other ways to talk.

When did our culture’s vocabulary skills slip so precipitously that the only—the only—way people on the street, at work, or on film and TV know how to express emotion is to say “Oh my God”?

Certainly scriptwriters have lost all sense of proportion or creativity. They seemingly don’t know how to write words their characters can say to demonstrate surprise, anger, fear, frustration, or a host of other strong emotions without saying “Oh my God” not once but four and five times. Really, are there no other words and phrases in the English language capable of communicating strong emotions? Would Shakespeare be Shakespeare if he’d gotten into a similar rut of repetitive base vocabulary?

Years ago one of my favorite television programs was “Magnum P.I.” I liked the program, and I liked the star Tom Selleck then and now. What I didn’t like and found egregious and grating was how the show crafted the Jonathan Higgins character played by John Hillerman. Higgins was the estate “major domo.” Ostensibly, he ran things. He was OK, even funny, but as the show aged the Higgins character was given a principal epithet. Remember? At first Higgins would just spit out a resounding “Oh my God” and that was the end of it. But in later episodes, the camera zoomed in for a facial close-up and Higgins would intone “Oh…my…GOD” slowly and with great exclamation. I guess the producers thought this was a grand addition to the character and show. For me it was just an example of the producers’ lacking common sense and their writers lacking verbal ingenuity.

Now I hear “Oh my God” from store clerks and flight attendants. I hear it from people interviewed by news media. Political leaders, certainly entertainers and sports figures (Tiger Woods with variations of the phrase on air at The Masters), comedians of course, characters in sit-coms including children, overheard mothers at Walmart, and used-to-be-buttoned-up news anchors all weigh in with “Oh my God,” morning show or primetime. I hear this phrase from old and young, professionals of all types, and, inexplicably, at times even clergy (Pastors and some Southerners have their own adaptation; they say “Oh Lord” or “Oh Lordy.”)

Now we’re not just hearing it; we’re seeing or reading it. OMG is online chat-speak for “Oh my God.” It’s an acronym, but it’s used the same way as the phrase. I see it on Facebook and Twitter nearly everyday. I read it in wall posts or tweets written by people who I know claim religious faith. What does this mean? Are they oblivious? Do they not care?

I see it in comic strips. “Luann,” for example, uses this version: “Oh my Gaww.”

Meanwhile, the English language remains rich and varied. The number of words in the English language is estimated at 750,000 to over 900,000 distinct terms. Don’t you suppose we could find words, other than “Oh my God,” for expressing our emotions?

The answer to the question is, of course, Yes. But culturally and individually we’ve become not simply profane but lazy. People don’t know other words because they’ve never been expected to or tried to learn. It’s sad, because if the trend isn’t arrested we’ll keep slipping into a swamp built from the lowest common denominator of pop speech.

I can’t change the world, but at least I can assure I don’t contribute to the problem. So can you.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.