Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

July 8, 2011

Securing our State (of mind)

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on July 8, 2011

Tuesday night a piece of spam penetrated HLSWatch firewalls.  The embedded message read: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

The spam appeared as a comment to a long-ago post. For quite a few posts, these words might be responsive and insightful. This particular post was a list of websites. The spam was just spam.

I googled the first sentence.  The source was Helen Keller. Wikiquote let me know that Keller also wrote, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Is this a literary cyberattack, dissing security and promoting a Pollyannish optimism?

Pollyanna is a fictional character from early 20th Century popular American literature. Confronted with a range of real problems — including poverty and the death of both parents — Pollyanna persists in playing the Glad Game. “The game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ’twas.”

To be a Pollyanna has come to mean someone who denies problems. But in the original series Pollyanna does not deny as much as purposefully transform. She chooses — through disciplined practice — to emphasize positive possibilities. She refuses to be a victim and is the co-author of her own reality.

My grandmother loved the Pollyanna books. I wonder if her appreciation had anything to do with being the poverty stricken daughter of one alcoholic father and the step-daughter of another? Did it have anything to do with losing a brother to battle and a brother-in-law to post-war suicide? Perhaps it was her own chronic arthritic pain or the years caring for a mother with sometimes violent dementia.

Did the theme of willful, courageous optimism help her give birth to her first child in the midst of the 1918 pandemic, raise a family in the depths of the depression, and send her eldest son off to World War II? When my grandfather lost so much in the economic transformation of the 1950s, I wonder if that was when grandma dusted off the books she had read as a working teenager (she only completed the sixth grade).

Laura Palin sent all her surviving children to college, including Northwestern and Julliard. She hosted her grandchildren in a grand house with huge meals and three decorated trees at Christmas. For over a quarter century each Saturday night she arranged flowers for the Sunday altar. She inspired many with her love, quiet courage, good humor, and positive perspective.

She was not alone. She was not even exceptional. Grandma reflected the common culture of her time and place. I could tell of dozens of “ordinary” folk who demonstrated tenacious survival, transformational attitudes, and courageous optimism in adversity. Some call it stoical. Yet there was lots of laughter and home-made ice cream and extravagantly sentimental literature, music, and religion. Grandma did not see herself as heroic. She was just trying to do the best with whatever was thrown at her.

Some think the current moment is either the worst America has seen or the eve of the worst. What of slavery, Indian genocide and Japanese internment? What of “one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.” What of our murderous civil war? What of the threat we faced in World War II and a 40 year long Cold War? Was three generations of separate-but-equal the best of all possible times? Are our current cultural divisions greater than that of the late 1960s? Today is tough, but is it worse than the inflationary spiral and economic doldrums of the 1970s?

If today is our nation’s worst day, it is not the result of externalities. It is because of widespread unwillingness to engage today and tomorrow with a disciplined hope and insistent confidence. It is because we criticize and complain when we would be better served to create and give thanks.

Grandma had her bad days. We all do. I suppose a nation will have its share. At the end of a bad day she would go to bed early (she was known for staying up late) and wake with the birdsong committed to making this day a better day in the way she said her morning prayers, in the way she fixed breakfast for grandpa, in the way she wrote a thank you note for the neighbor’s gift of tomatoes, in the way she praised my childish drawing, in the way she listened patiently to her sad friend on the corner. Taken together I wonder if these are not examples of the Way.

Other than living in Illinois, grandma did not have much in common with David Foster Wallace, but in his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College graduates, he articulates the Tao my grandmother lived:

The so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

My grandmother and most of her generation lived this sort of disciplined creative life. Wallace and I talk and write about it better than we live it. In September 2008, despite — even because of — his exquisite ability to describe reality, Wallace killed himself. He was unwilling to go to bed early and begin a new day.

I am concerned our nation is choosing Wallace’s way, rather than my grandmother’s. America needs a sound nights sleep. We need to awaken refreshed and ready to each do our bit and our best with whatever is thrown our way.

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

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Comment by William R. Cumming

July 8, 2011 @ 1:40 am

Despite the fact that I blame the financial breakdown of the last few years on old fashion corruption, I believe time for Michael Harrington’s book on poverty in American life to be updated. This country will not survive with the current setup left unreformed in depth.
The deep inroads of militrization of American life and policy have diminished the sinews of American resilience.

Comment by William R. Cumming

July 8, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

“The Other America” 1962 Michael Harrington!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 9, 2011 @ 8:50 am

While only Bill Cumming has commented above, I have received several emails commenting on this post. Some perceive I am criticizing their criticisms. Others perceive I am suggesting we forsake critical thinking.

I will admit there is potentially some passive aggressiveness in the “insistently optimistic” ethic I have endorsed here. Sort of a “What’s wrong with you Mr. (or Ms.) Grumpy?” or perhaps a “Don’t worry, be happy” arrogance. I think this sort of stupid sunniness is what most people (including me) find annoying about those folks we call Pollyannas.

I am trying to argue the original Pollyanna series — and my grandmother, and her generation, and the best of what I identify as a uniquely American optimistic pragmatism — is a courageous and creative response to what is deeply disturbing. Rather than deny the problems, it is a passionate embrace of the problems.

But instead of looking for who to blame, this ethic asks how can I positively engage the problem? How can I contribute to solving the problem? This is a disciplined exercise in critical — and creative — thinking and doing. The problems are real, the problems are certainly worth critical examination, but critical examination only has value (in my opinion) if it results in a creative response, creative risk-taking, creative exploration, practical creativeness.

Three reading recommendations:

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

The Optimism Bias by Tali Sharot

The Courage to Be by Paul Tillich

Comment by Sleep Deprived, Poor and No Hope - God Bless Us All!

July 10, 2011 @ 10:14 am

You bet that We here on Main Street USA are looking very closely at who to blame – never mind Grandma, she had work ethic and she was proud in the few words of English she could speak of America for after all as each of our Grandmas passed the Statute of Liberty, freedom rang true….they learned the language, learned our history, took the test and the oath and unlike you Barry, proudly belted out our National Anthem and ‘ya Barry, every word of it for freedome comes with a price and We honor all that have served before us as this is now our Watch and by the way, We’ve had enough reminders from you and your wife about – slavery – my three neighbors are driving BMW’s and are is high tier decision-making jobs and I, too find no necessity in 2011 to talk about how my Grandfather’s push cart of fruits was pushed over byb the Irish….We have heard the stories, get on with campaign promise Barry, “jobs, jobs, jobs!” There are few which can pay the rent, never mind keep the food on the table, HP “outsourced” them to Costa Rica!

Grandma was not the woman today…She cared for her kids….Careers did not take precedent over the warmth and caring interest Mother’s made time for their children as it is incredible to see Mother’s 35 and under today on the cell phone when the kids are home – too busy to watch them play or to make play dates – our Grandmas were scrubbing – in cold water – clothes, hanging the clothes with clothes pins, getting a nickel rubbed together to get some vegetables, potatos and pasta ready and knew what olive oil was used for – never mind fast food and I will never forget the story the former and infamous 911 Mayor spoke of his Mother when she came to New York and cried when she saw her own apartment for it had running water! Running water in her own apartment, only in America!

We’ver got a President at the White House having sex with a young intern, the President, another idiot Congressman – an “entrusted” public servant sending photos of his crotch via the internet, a Governor of South Carolina telling neither Wife nor Constituent r Homeland Security he as ff in the middle of the night to hold lover’s hand on some S. American country street and the list goes on and on….How corrupt….A Massachusetts Department of Revenue who intentionally harms citizen despite pledge of oath that all citizens will be protected…com’on partisan politics and a grid locked Congress strongly points to the continued degradation of our diminished ethical portrayal –

Eight sitting Presidents and nineteen Congresses and we have no National Energy Policy – so much damn oil, so much natural gas and even coal and the big boys – those of corporate America lush in so many ways at their mansions in the Hamptns or on the Potomic!

Don’t tal about Grandpa and his alcohol problems, he had no job, people were destitute and soon history repeats itself as this community organizer and wnna be President so entrapped by slavery issues and addressing Muslems that “jobs, jobs, jobs” and “change” ya right…his spending deficit another what $2trillion in just a few years…and before anyone thinks the Republicans any better, here n Main Street USA, the only “change” we see, every last penny stripped of us and in every which way, our Rights as citizens and the Constitution in jeopardy….

Securing our State (of mind), give me a break…is it really AQ and the Taliban we are so weary of or the policians, not public servants whose pledge to uphold the Constitution, to announce War against any foe – the “Brutes of Tehran” who have the blood of our youth on their hands – thugs who will take over Iraq before we even leave…

Go to bed early and vegin a new day…9.2%++ unemployment, a nation $15 trillion times in budget deficit, bankrupt, foreclosures abound, kids thrown out of their homes while the same bankers and bad gusy like Mr. Barney and his cohorts at Freddie Mac and Hank Paulsen seemingly lose and have no transparency as to where $750 mln of taxpayer monies went to…go to bed early when we are so abused by State Legislators and their Department of Revenue fellas who pursue you if dare one protests or stands up for fellow citizen….

….Securing Our State (of mind) when we have ineptness, dysfunctional and the corrupt “beltway bandits” playing a charade when our nation, the Republic we so love and fr which so many of our precious have apparently died in vain for….self-seving, arrogant damn idiots who think Americans will just fold like sheep, I doubt it and revolution on the streets of the Middle East, go tp bed earlya nd begin a new day…folks are losing their homes, house values plummeting, a stock market soon to fall beyond imagination and more and more kids malnourished….having little food as parents cannot keep the oil bill paid, the gasoline tanks filled to get to and from work and we can sleep and look forward to a new day…when Mr. Barney and his pals are knocking on the door and saying get out as our American dream is now our American dream as we have figured a way to foreclose and make sure the bankers make money…

Our (state of Mind) here on Main Street USA lives in reality and no Americans who have always been deprived of sleep, well guess what, the guns and bullets are readied despite this administration’s every effort ona national basis and even globally to affix some international laws applicable to Amwericans asl well diminishing the Right to carry arms for all lawful purpose…we are worried not only abut an intrusive government, but from those desperate who are losing job, home, and even family…We are worried and fearful of intruder who knows we have no silver or gold, but maybe a chicken in every refrigerator more than them, simply Americans and children beginning to starve – local food banks unable to stock their shlevs quick enough…

….Never mind a government failing to stand against Tehran and attack Tehran for its fingerprints glowing on the cashe of weapons used against us, but securing Our State (of mind) being reminded of the stories told to us by our parents of men and women – real Americans – standing in soup lines on Main Street USA, standing in rain and snow to have a bite to eat and whether We want to believe it or not, you would not believe the number of fellow, cherished Americans, children, never mind their parents who haev little or no food on their table at least three or more times weekly…it is appalling!

I believe the actions of the executive branch and Congressional membership should be held for negligence. In fact, in some cases, held for treason allowing our budget to go into deficit to the extent our Republic is jeopardized and our enemies quite clearly see our dysfunctional ways, inability to stand forthright against Tehran and snub, yes, Barry intentionally snub the Israeli PM and Congress stands idle.

We here on Main Street USA have no hope or confidence for we live in reality – a dwindling few who expressed to me this past week remembrance of the stench of fellow (US) soldiers bodies, decaying horses and cattle, human parts strewn about as they marched in the woods in France and Germany…their eyes so focused on what they conveyed in enduring such klling all around them w/bullets close by wistling by them and the innocent in these small villages their bodies thrown about as dolls….

Sleep and hope, I doubt it when we see illegal immigrants getting benefits and We so abused….

We live in Reality…and it is those we have “entrusted” those who took a sworn oath to serve and to protect even among those in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Revenue willing to play politics and abuse taxpayer, denying Rights and a process boast of our “unique” the agency of Our government following laws and dictates by the incompetent legislators at the State House who I swear must put something in the water for it seems everyne who serves here in Massachusetts, Dukakis, Romney and so on fantazise of becoming President of the United States –

Folks, We ain’t sleeping and We here on Main Street USA have a secure state of mind for unlike the bureaucrast who still today afford glowing – incestuous – accolades towards one another, well, by golly, We are trying to figure whether we should save the remaining gallon of gasoline for the lawn mower to make it look like we are keep our appearance up or save it….

As a professional gambler, I know how the house places its bets and while the House has been winning however the means…We are so bankrupt, so dysfunctional, so partisan that We must keep out wits together here on Main Street USA and lend a helping hand to one another for the House is crumbling and unfortunately far to many were hoodwinked by you and your special interest supporters –

….my bet and maybe while you are sleeping and getting up to a new day, the same stench will be lying on Main Street USA for never mind social security, I wonder whose going to have the money to buy the soup for the soup lines…oh ya, that’s right, most likely “humanitarian” drops by the Chinese, a nation led by Scientists and Engineers who have not lost sight of the universe and beyongd and who know the benefits of space exploration and will soon show their prowess by neon Chinese flag shining as they soon have the first manned community on the moon!

Wether we like it or not, while the west wages religious war and quest to control Jerusalem which no one will ever achieve for Biblical verse is quite clear as to who will sit on the throne in Jerusalem, the Chinese are in every community and engaged assuring China’s existence even with its aging demographics and economic challenges….

Wake up, never mind sleeping…never underestimate all those from outside to within who seek our demise — even the European leaders led by who else, the Germans once again and their new fast deployment armies and their dubious gestures to the Israeli who see an Egypt soon to become far more radical, far more a threat and a Middle East unstable and its skies open to shock and awe with the pull of the Tehran’s launchers soon to be readied with WMD!

Where is Winston Churchill I often ask? He’s dead…and We here on Main Street are fully mindful of this fact and no Mitt for after all, you wouldn’t even wear my “Big Dig Life Vest” – http://www.bigdiglifevest.com – and no former Governor of Alaska, you can’t see Al;aska from your porch and no to the latest entry who has no idea where Paul Revere rode his horse….and we are to sleep and hope for tomorrow and all the sorrows of humanity about to threaten the very existence of mankind with only all our Creator willing once egain to save us from ourselves….

God Bless us all!

Christopher Tingus
Sleepless on “Main Street USA”
PO Box 1612
Hariwch (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by Philip J. Palin

July 10, 2011 @ 11:02 am

Mr. Tingus, Thanks for further clarifying the source of my concern.

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