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Jeffry Hamilton Steele
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The Importance of voting for Kerry [July 2004]
(Printed as letter to the editor in the Gloucester Daily Times)

Either through stories or direct experience, most of us know something about the problems of living with an addict. Let us consider, as an example, the father of a household addicted to alcohol or gambling. Perhaps the greatest pain and confusion for his wife and children comes in not knowing when to believe him. After all, he's the dad who deserves our loyalty and respect, who loves us, who has shown us good times, and whose integrity we aspire to. When he heads out the door one more time with the grocery money, promising that everything will be OK, we so want to believe him. But though a good man who means well, alone he cannot overcome the power of his illness -- and is therefore unable to be honest with himself or anyone else. Finally his family comes to realize that they must separate the man from his addiction and stand firm against the latter, refusing -- however painful it may be in the moment -- to accept further lies. Beyond that, they pray and hope that their loved one will accept help and one day be returned to them intact.

Now I ask you to substitute different players into this scenario. For The Addiction: Money; for The Family: the Citizenry of the United States; for The Addict: the current Administration in Washington. The grocery money is our social security, the quality of our environment, the education and wellfare of our children, and an arrogance in foreign policy which will serve as a boon to terrorist recruitment for the next generation. Even if only half the charges leveled against them in "Fahrenheit 911" were true, what these men routinely get away with makes Nixon's Watergate look like petty theft. And if you follow economist Paul Krugman's columns in the New York Times, you'll know there are further instances of 'white-collar' crime by these our leaders that the movie never even touches upon. Why is the 'mainstream media' not leading the charge in exposing the war profiteering, routine deception of the public, the nod given to fraudulent and destructive practices of any corporation that has made a large enough contribution to the Republican Party, the personal wealth accrued by the Bush family from Saudi Oil, or the apparent hijacking of the 2000 presidential election? Look at who owns Fox, for starters.

In the aforementioned movie, we see GW addressing a dinner gathering: "Here I am with the Haves and the Have-Mores," he quips. "There are those who call you The Elite, but I call you My Base." [Applause]. Regardless as to whether you are Republican or Democrat, if you don't have a seat at one of those opulent tables, President Bush has little interest in you. Whatever he may say to the contrary, you can't believe it anymore than you can believe reassurances from the father described above.

One of the comparisons made between Democratic candidate John Kerry and President Bush is that the former changes his mind while the latter holds steady. While it is true that Kerry has waffled -- probably even, at times, for the sake of political expediency -- I feel much safer with a flexible President than with one who sticks stubbornly to an uninformed course. It will take a long time to mend the damage we have wrought overseas, but I can't visualize that process even beginning until a Kerry Administration is in place.

Remembering Vietnam / A Parent's View of Violence & Old Boys [May 2004]

My current project with choreographer Carl Thomsen is in collaboration with North Shore veterans of the Vietnam War, initiated by writer and former army medic Marc Levy. Using poetry, dance and music (live as well as pre-recorded) we will interpret the experiences had by a variety of men both in and as a result of the war -- ranging from near-impossible heroics to ironic hilarity. The project moves me in variety of ways: seeing these men articulate in movement and word what was once too terrifying to speak of; imagining stories of the thousands who did not return; and realizing that I have more in common with these vets than I had previously thought. [While I drew a low number in the draft lottery of 1972, our pending withdrawal from Vietnam spared me from serving]. The performance, previously scheduled for the first weekend in August, has been postponed until we have more of it in place. Stay tuned to this site.

To familiarize my ears with the distinctive "chop" of the Huey helicopter, I've been taking another look at the Oliver Stone movie "Platoon" -- parts of which still reduce me to sobs. I think that most of us, just to get from one day to the next, unconsciously desensitize ourselves to violence. Now and then, when this protective shell is penetrated -- by imagery or whatever -- it is my hope that people reach for the tissues first. As parents [speaking for my wife, Monica, and I] we are particularly concerned when our children show lack of sensitivity towards violence, evidenced in physical aggression, mean talk and minimal remorse. Certainly some young people can separate between real-world and the virtual violence that has been found to turn a quick profit for the TV, cinema and computer gaming industries. But many, either because of emotional stresses or brain disorders (both on the rise), cannot. We do what we can to model rational behavior and pray that our children grow past the instant gratification of unhealthy foods and activities into more sustaining pursuits and altruistic lives -- as Boston's new archbishop puts it, "The difference between being happy and having fun."

Sadly, there are many adults who never complete this transition in the maturing process -- adapting to their vocations the same empty and selfish pursuits we are trying to wean our children of. It's too late for "Sesame Street" themes about sharing, honesty and goodwill to affect their present values. Though not spiritually fulfilled in their endeavors, some of these "grown-ups" have become materially rewarded on a scale unknown in history -- with everyone else (not to mention the Earth as well as those not yet born into it) paying for it. It is not uncommon that such people rise to the highest levels of government, assuming major leadership positions while equipped with the emotional maturity of a young child. To read a startling account of the end result, I recommend economist Paul Krugman's new book, The Great Unraveling: Losing our way in the New Century. [His recent articles may be viewed at http://www.nytimes.com/top/opinion/editorialsandoped/oped/columnists/paulkrugman/ ].

It is therefore incumbent upon us to raise a forward-thinking generation, willing to shatter the denial that maintains the status quo. Just looking at my own step-sons, the task is huge.