Tag Archives: culture

Another Old Joe Fades Away.

World War II ended 74 years ago. If a kid turned 18 and enlisted at the very end of the war, they would be 92 years old today. Even if they lied about their age and were really sixteen, which was not that uncommon at the time, they’d be 90 years old now. Most World War II vets are older. A soldier who turned 18 and enlisted at the beginning of the World War II in 1941 would be 96 this year. Actuarial science always comes to the same ultimate conclusion. There are very few World War II vets left.

This basic math tells us that the youngest a World War II veteran could realistically be is 90 years old, and that’s stretching it. According to the US Veteran’s Administration, less than 2% of the 16,000,000 original World War 2 vets are still alive. They are passing away at an average rate of 372 every single day. Within a decade, maybe a little longer, there will be none left. None.

One of those 16,000,000 originals was my great uncle Joe. He served in Italy and also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. An artillery guy. He never said a lot about his time in World War II. All I ever got out of him was that his unit was attacked by Stuka dive bombers and he lost most of his hearing due to being in artillery.

world war iiUncle Joe had a quiet dignity about him. I never saw him wear army veteran hats or place stickers on his car proclaiming his service –not that there’s anything wrong with that– it just wasn’t his style. He never talked about how he was the reason why the United States is still the land of Liberty. He never talked about the violence and death of war that he personally witnessed. He never talked of the grateful faces that cheered the American soldiers as they went town to town across Europe driving out the Nazis and restoring peace to the world.

Uncle Joe surely must have understood the history-altering significance of what he did. In his own way, with very few words, the World War II freedom fighter and real-life hero let his character do the talking. I’ve met several World War II vets and this seems to be a common trait among them.

They don’t say much about their service, at least not to those who did not share the experience. I think that is part of the character of the generation. Service to country was something you did out of a sense of duty. It wasn’t about calling attention to oneself. An important job needed to be done, so they stepped up and did it. It wasn’t any more complicated than that.

After World War II uncle Joe did what most of his peers did: Got a solid job, married, had children. He lived a completely respectable life. It was the same kind of comfortable middle class life millions of Americans enjoy…because of people like him.

We go to productive jobs, take the kids to school, practice a religion, speak for and against various causes, read any books we choose, own firearms, vote, travel freely, have access to a legitimate legal system, and run our mouths on the internet…none of this would happen but for uncle Joe’s selfless service.

But uncle Joe would never tell you that. He was much too modest even as there was nothing even remotely modest about his contribution to the United States. I don’t know if World War II gave soldiers character or brought out the character they already had. Does it matter? I’d like to think that if I had been alive back then I would step up and defend my country too. I’ll never know for sure. And thanks to uncle Joe, I’ll likely never be put to the test.

When Japan & Germany provoked the USA into World War II, they did so on the theory that Americans were hedonistic pleasure seekers with no mettle for a long war. Guys like uncle Joe showed them how incredibly flawed that theory was.

Uncle Joe recently died in Chicago after a lengthy illness. His memorial service will be next week. Adding to the sad but not exactly unexpected news is that between now and next week, many more World War II vets just like him will pass away too.

It’s too late to thank most World War II vets for their selfless service, but like uncle Joe they probably would not want to be called out anyway. We can truly honor all the uncle Joes of World War II by living in freedom with the kind of spirit that only Americans have. We need only to look to them as an example.

flag burning

The Reason We Shouldn’t Is Because We Can.

By Chris Warren

There are a lot of ways to identify a blubbering idiot.  The most common is when someone announces that they have the “right” to do or say something, then proceeds to make a big dramatic spectacle of doing it. At that point the odds are very good that they are in blubbering idiot territory.

Flag burning as a form of protest has seen something of a renaissance lately. The self absorbed, mostly millennial-aged activists represent a huge buffet of causes and think they are being edgy and progressive, but we of more vintage know that flag burning is an old trope that goes back to the Vietnam era. I presume one of the protesters’ goals is to convince others to join their cause; apparently they have not figured out that flag burning  is appealing to no one except those who were already on their side in the first place.

Burning the American flag is an offense far beyond any single cause because it is the symbol of all just causes. The average protester does not have enough brain cells to understand the irony of destroying the very symbol of what protects their freedom to protest, or that it reflects the protesters’ own weakness and lack of courage.

They don’t burn the flag to advance their cause. They burn the flag for the shock value and to be hurtful. That’s really what this is all about. They’re like a recalcitrant angry child screaming “Mommy I hate you!”. Their immaturity does not allow them to express themselves in any reasonable way, so they lash out with the only weapon they have–inflicting emotional pain.

When a protester is asked why they are protesting, the answer is almost always some nebulous statement about “rights,” either theirs or someone else’s. I do agree that burning the American flag is a Constitutionally protected First Amendment right, even as I personally find it deeply offensive. But my individual sensibilities are not a basis for a legal or moral system.

I’m sure the flag-burners are likewise offended that I exercise my Second Amendment rights by packing a gun everywhere I go. The difference of course is that I do not carry a gun for the sole purpose of upsetting anyone, although it does not bother me at all if someone is. No one has the right not to be offended, and that concept is a two way street. One could fill many gigabytes of computer memory discussing the contradictions and double-standards that revolve around the flag.


One sign of maturity and wisdom is the ability to accept an opinion you disagree with and not take it as a personal affront. The flip side to this is mature people do not deliberately inflict emotional pain as part of, or in many cases in lieu of, making their point.

The other day a television news channel featured a story about protesters protesting the recent US Presidential election by burning an American flag. Unfortunately for the protesters, the coverage was almost totally devoted to the flag burning. Barely any mention was made about what they were actually protesting against.

And so it is with such childish and disrespectful overtures. The flag burning becomes the issue and no one pays much attention to whatever the hell it is they are complaining about.

I suggest that the best response to flag burning is to be passive and let it go. I know it is difficult, but not all wrongdoing is worthy of intervention. Anti-flag burners do not want to descend into a state where they think everything that offends them should be eradicated from the Earth. If that sentiment sounds familiar, it’s because we already have an entire generation of runny-nosed milquetoasts who need puppies and Play-Doh just to get through the “trauma” of an election that offended them, but apparently not enough for most of them to participate in.

Burning the American flag is Constitutionally acceptable (albeit offensive) free speech. Honorable men and women have fought and died for our rights, and that includes the right to be a blubbering flag-burning idiot. I have no confidence that someday the idiots will see their foolish former selves immortalized forever on YouTube and be embarrassed enough to join the ranks of we who understand that the reason you shouldn’t is because you can.

chitty chitty bang bang

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Teaches Us About Life.

By Chris Warren.

I was on YouTube researching material for another website I write for and ended up wandering around and getting lost on my own click trail. YouTube does a great job of getting me to drift off task. My proclivity to being an easily distracted airhead had me watching clips from the classic British children’s movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I loved that movie as a kid. It never seems to get tiresome and I diverted from my mission for just a few minutes to partake in a little childhood joy.

I did not have time to watch the entire movie, but I saw enough Chitty Chitty Bang Bang clips to realize what I did not notice as a kid: The story, intentionally or not, had some depth to it. It was not just a cute kids’ movie. There were lessons buried in there:

Children can be strong agents of change. The magical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang car would never have existed if the kids had not grown fond of it and begged their eccentric inventor daddy to buy the old wreck before the junkman did. What started as a mere appeasement of children turned out to be a major process of self realization for its builder.

In real life, adults  learn a lot about themselves as a side effect of doing some pretty crazy stuff to please kids. Having kids means not living solely for yourself. It means being needed. And sometimes, it means buying an old junk car that you would otherwise have no interest in because a little kid begged you. It reminds me of all the things my parents put up with to make me happy and how that contributed to their wisdom.

How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given?

Great people always underestimate themselves. Main character Caractacus Potts (played by Dick Van Dyke), is a loving single dad of the two children but is a somewhat inept inventor who doesn’t make any real money. Lacking confidence, he seems resigned to his mediocre standing until he is forced take his flying car to the fictional Kingdom of Vulgaria and rescue his kidnapped father.

He successfully recovers his father and unintentionally also liberates an entire country from their immature man-child Baron. Throughout the story, even Caractacus himself seems amazed at his own abilities and those of the car that he built. By the end of the movie, everyone returns home safely. Caractacus gets the pretty girl, finally attains status as an inventor, and lives happily ever after. And oh yeah, the children get a really cool car that can also be a boat and an aircraft.

Great people usually begin as average  people. On the surface, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is just a whimsical kids’ story. But in the mix is a regular guy many of us can relate to: Potts trudges through life doing the best that he can with what he has. He deeply loves his kids but does not have a lot of money to give them the lifestyle he’d like. He never gives up, but does not take any big risks, either. That is, until he is forced to. How many of us will not actively go looking for a challenge but will accept one if it is given? It’s not the same as being lazy. Some of us just need a little push. Like many people who overcame adversity or achieved a difficult goal, Caractacus didn’t know how great he was until being great was the only option.

Ok, I know the plot of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a very far fetched and implausible children’s movie, but I’m not reading too much into this. There are legitimate lessons buried in there. Even the movie itself  defied its own fate: It received wishy-washy reviews from the critics when it  was released and was only a modest financial success. Yet like Caractacus it endured and hung in there and is now considered a timeless classic. What entertained me as a child now enlightens me as an adult., and that’s not silly kid stuff.


block party

Vote For The Block Party!

By: Chris Warren

The news media is like air pollution: It’s never good and no one likes it, but no one can really avoid it, either. The election being just three months away makes things especially dicey. There are lot of high energy disagreements, and the media is happy to feed the fire. Getting away from from the stank is an invigorating breath of fresh air. I found that escape in the most unlikely of places: A big city block party.

I was invited to a gathering in Chicago and it happened to be on one of the few weekends I was not already overbooked. I’m not a city boy, so it sounded like a fun excuse to take a road trip and do something different. I didn’t know it was going to be a block party. I was expecting the average backyard BBQ sort of deal.

A block party is the ultimate community participation event. The whole deal can fall apart if even one homeowner objects. The fact that block parties exist at all offers hope that people can still get along. In a time when there is acrimony everywhere we go, amplified by the media, a group of people getting along and talking about pretty much everything except politics made me think I accidentally landed on another planet.

The weather was stunning. Little kids played in a bouncy house placed in the street while the bigger kids threw buckets of water at each other. The adults sipped beer and talked about our jobs, our kids, our lives, our retirement plans. It was surprising how much we had in common. Music and the smell of sausage and burgers on the grill whiffed through the air. These people really felt like my neighbors even though I didn’t live on that block and had not known any of them until that day.

For three hours I did not hear any political candidate’s name even mentioned, which is quite remarkable in a city where politics famously, or perhaps infamously, creeps into every aspect of daily life. The closest thing to an argument I heard was a tit-for-tat about the Chicago Cubs vs. the Chicago White Sox. There is something about setting up beer coolers and BBQ grills in the middle of the street that makes everyone more civil. It was as if the the block party was relaxing force floating over the neighborhood. Hardly anyone even looked at their phones, including the teenagers.

I am proposing that a National Block Party Day be declared. It will be a regular guy’s version of a political convention, without the politics. On NBPD, everyone from coast to coast shuts down their neighborhood and turns their street into an open air party room. The only rule is that you have to talk to people you do not know very well and keep it light. No major issues facing society will be solved and no grand policies will be presented, but it will put a human face on those issues and allow us to see there are more similarities than differences between us.

People hate on others in part because the media encourages it, and also because no one hangs out in person anymore. The disagreements will still be there when people put down the keyboards and the cellphones and meet up face to face, but a conversation about what we have in common is more productive than sniping on each other over what we do not. For a few hours on a beautiful weekend we were not Democrats, and we were not Republicans. All of us were members of the Block Party.


Culture And Shakespeare Speaks To All People

By: Chris Warren.

Last week’s article about Shakespeare generated a lot of positive attention, and I’m really glad so many others see themselves in his work. Regular reader “Mike in Minneapolis” responded by sending me this very enjoyable piece about an African-American interpretation of Shakespeare’s King Richard III. This is a golden opportunity to continue the discussion and address the culture and adaptability of William Shakespeare and why it’s important to everyday people.

Cultural adaptability is not some obscure concept kicked around in college seminars. Simply defined, it is how culture produced by one group of people is interpreted by other groups. It’s what makes culture worth having. What good would it be if only British people had Shakespeare? Or if only the French listened to the music of classical composer Berlioz? Is there really any point of having culture if it’s not going to be shared outside the group that created it?

“‘Who owns Shakespeare?’ one might ask. You might as well ask who has the right to breathe, to dream, to express their selves…”

–playwright Carlyle Brown

It’s important to note that not all culture is good, or used for good purposes. Adolph Hitler famously used art and music as propaganda in an attempt to convince the rest of the world that the Nazis were really nice people. We all know how that turned out.

And among the pissy-pants political left here in the USA there is a disturbing fad for whining about “cultural appropriation.” It’s from liberalism’s vast collection of manufactured outrages where pouting crybabies keep their very simple minds busy by being offended over any little ethnic/racial/religious inaccuracy. For example, swooning because a sandwich was not made to their expectations. Yes, it really does get that stupid.

Keeping it positive though, culture is a society’s statement to the outside world that says “this is who we are” and “this is what is important to us.” It’s also the only thing that lasts.

William Shakespeare has been dead for 400 years, yet his work has become a timeless hallmark of British culture and a reference to what people of his time thought and felt. His plays are so adaptable that they translate to our modern lives with amazing insight.

An African-American version of a Shakespeare play could plausibly be called “cultural appropriation,” assuming one even accepts the premise of that ridiculous concept in the first place. I absolutely do not accept it and think anyone who does is either an outright dimwit and/or has no understanding of why culture exits. King Richard III being interpreted with an African-American world view is a creative expression that should be celebrated. It demonstrates Shakespeare’s power and universal appeal.

William Shakespeare probably did not foresee the vast impact his work would have on the world, but certainly he wanted it to be appreciated by someone beyond the theatergoers who attended his live performances. Cultural adaptability is when something has meaning not just in place but also in time.

Those who create culture usually never know what ultimately becomes of it because its true value may not show up for many years, possibly centuries. Shakespeare would be pleased, I think, that a group of 19th century African-Americans found something in King Richard III that they could identify with and call their own. Shakespeare’s work said something back then that we’re still listening to now. What higher honor could any culture be given?

american indians

American Indians: Many Participants, No Bystanders.

By: Chris Warren.

As I described in this article from February 2014, a majority of my closest friends are of a different race, ethnicity, or religion as me. I never consciously singled out dissimilar folks to be friends with, it just sort of happened that way. When I had an opportunity to go to an American Indian festival & powwow last weekend, I was just as naturally drawn to it. What began as a fun afternoon outing ended as new insight about American Indians that had somehow slipped past me in all my multicultural experiences.

The first thing I noticed was that American Indians are devoted to their culture more than any other group I’ve ever been exposed to. We modern day caucasians think of “culture” as movies and art and music and whatever is trending on Twitter. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, but they are things made or done by others while an audience watches (for example, a symphony performance). We have no personal connection. There are many witnesses and very few participants.

American Indians are the exact opposite. Their cultural identity is based almost exclusively on the idea of personal contributions. As we walked around the festival, there were craftsmen making blankets, jewelry, clothes, carvings, and tools. All of the items had a special meaning beyond their practical purpose and nearly all were made from natural, straight-from-the-earth materials such as stone and animal skins. No Indian was sitting around watching. Everyone was doing something according to their unique skills.

Ask an American Indian about their culture and and they will likely show you something they made themselves that you can touch. It is not for entertainment or art for art’s sake. American Indians do not build famous buildings or erect great monuments. They make statements with small, everyday objects and consider rivers and mountains their “monuments”. When a culture reveres the Earth, it only follows that they do not believe they can build anything greater.american indians


I also noticed another unusual trait of American Indian culture: While everyone makes individual contributions, no one person calls attention to themselves or tries to elevate himself above the others. There are no “celebrity Indians”. Their humility is stunning. It’s almost as if no one wants to take too much credit for what they do out of a concern for appearing ostentatious. Each person is proud of the skills they bring to the tribe, but they see themselves as merely an equal among many. One piece of a jigsaw puzzle is no more meaningful than any other…yet if even one piece is missing, the entire puzzle fails. It is a community that is greater than the sum of its parts.

At one point of the event, they had a dance that everyone was expected to participate in. The Chief started things off and little by little the crowd joined in. By the end, it was just a big group moving in a continuous circle. No one person was in “front”. Even in dance, American Indians embrace community.

The most memorable insight I gained from my afternoon with the American Indians is that they have a very strong sense of who they are. The young kids understand that the stories their elders tell are not just stories. They are an oral, living history of times past that has something to offer the present and give a vision for the future. The elders understand that the young kids are the key to keeping the culture alive.

American Indians are very much aware of time. They feel a deep continuity between generations and go to great efforts to maintain it. I’m very confident that a hundred or more years from now, there will still be American Indian craftspeople hand making articles of their culture and telling real life stories of a people who would not let themselves forget who they are.


Lessons From A Dixie Trip.

By: Chris Warren

I’m on a layover at the Atlanta, Georgia airport (ATL), one short plane ride away from beautiful Florida where I’m headed to visit a guy I’ve been close friends with since we were teenagers. Where I’m from, the winters are long and rough. Florida is a welcome treat; I’ve been looking forward to this trip for months. I’ll be crashing at my friend’s house, so I don’t have to pay for a hotel or a rental car. Time off in a warm, comfortable place and it won’t even cost me much money…it’s as good of a deal as I’m going to get without packing up and moving there.

In addition to the excitement of seeing my friend, this trip will expose me to people different than what I’m used to at home. It’s easy to think that everyone all across the USA is mostly the same, but I’ve been to places that made me forget that I was still in my own country. There have been moments when I had to remind myself that I didn’t need a passport to get there and these people were just as American as myself. Even within my home state, there are areas a world apart from where I live.

Now in Pensacola, I am in a part of the state that is more “Southern” than “Florida” in the way outsiders imagine these things (the Alabama border is less than a twenty minute drive). This is Dixie in spirit if not geography. There is a real Civil War-era fort on the gulf shore just a few miles away. The customer lounge at Jiffy Lube has Bibles as reading material. The convenience stores sell fresh boiled peanuts. And I must, must, must, have breakfast at an ubiquitous culinary icon of the South: Waffle House (there are sixteen of them in the Pensacola area alone). If you order iced tea and and don’t specify sweet or unsweet, you out yourself as being from, well, not here. It’s ok, though. The locals will smile and gently guide you through the protocol. Southern congeniality…it’s not a stereotype when it’s actually true. These people are sincerely nice.

Travel is not something I’m very interested in. I’ll seldom go somewhere just for the fun of going and if my friend did not live in Florida, I’d probably never come here. I may not be excited by the idea of boiled peanuts and oil change evangelism, but the value of wandering and witnessing firsthand how others live is not lost on me. Aside from my jealousy of the mild weather and being left speechless over what Southerners think is “good pizza,” things around here are not shockingly different than life in my own end of this great land. USA2EDIT

The buddy I’m here to visit knows a lot about acclimating to different people and customs: He originally came from Vietnam via Indonesia, lived in Illinois for many years, then went to Seattle, Washington for a short run, and is now a US citizen firmly planted in Pensacola. My learning curve was more straightforward: I’ve been on numerous treks stretched over a decade or so to see him, and once I stopped trying so hard to understand the South, the lightbulb went on in my head. If one looks for only differences, then understanding will never come. It’s like a Venn diagram where none of the circles overlap. I first had to seek out similarities and use that as a starting point to appreciate the differences.

As soon as I ended my preoccupation with being a stranger in these parts, the differences didn’t seem like all that big of a deal. We are America, after all. There may be many different color threads, but they are all part of the same piece of cloth. That is where the Venn diagram intersects. When someone from Dixie stops by my neighborhood, I’m going to offer them a slice of real pizza and hope they will see how much they are welcome in my part of the circle.

Sisu: Why You Don’t Have It (But Will Wish You Did).

By: Chris Warren.

A few weeks back I posted an article that discussed the difference between strong and weak people. It was intended for recent graduates but I hope everyone can get something from it.  A positive attitude is usually discussed in singular terms and applied to the individual, so it’s rare to see the concept in the context of a large group. In American culture, winning sports teams and of course the military are good examples of what group determination can accomplish. Even still, a group is comprised of individuals who will have their own personal agendas even if they are otherwise loyal to the organization and its goals.

The tiny Nordic nation of Finland is the global equivalent of the quiet neighbor: They take care of their place, don’t bother anyone, are not unfriendly or standoffish but do keep to themselves. Perhaps by design it is not obvious, but these understated people have a spirit of “git-er-done!” that would make John Wayne look like Homer Simpson.


Sisu (SEE-soo) is a Finnish word that has no direct translation, but in rough terms means grit, guts, determination, willpower, and perseverance. The dictionary definition of the word does not go nearly far enough, though. The Finns have tapped into a form of strength that is not duplicated anywhere else on such a large scale. To put it in terms Americans can understand, imagine if the resolve to never quit that made the US military so revered and esteemed was ingrained into a culture to the point that it becomes the very heart & soul of an entire nation. That’s the essence of sisu.

The human condition of sisu is not fully understood even though it has been scientifically studied by psychologists and sociologists. We do know what it isn’t: It’s not about situational bravery, such as when an otherwise risk-averse guy saves someone from a burning building. It’s not about merely working hard or being highly disciplined or achieving a goal. Although these things are components of sisu, they alone are not enough. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that sisu is a uniquely Finnish quality. It is their entire national and cultural identity condensed into one single word.

While reading for this article I came to the conclusion that sisu is greater than the sum of its parts; it’s at a whole different level than what most of us think of as determination. Finnish historians and folklorists attribute sisu to the ethical hardening that comes from hundreds of years of fighting the harsh weather, the churning sea, the rugged land, and the Russians. In one description, it was pointed out that Finland has gone to war with Russia forty two times and never won, not even once. Yet, Finland is still a sovereign nation with its pride as strong as ever. No one ever grew stronger by being successful every time. There is room for failure in sisu, but zero tolerance for being a crybaby about it.

finland-flagI do not believe that sisu can be taught to those who were not immersed in it since birth, which is very unfortunate because it’s an attribute we should all wish we had.  We can emulate it to the extent that we can, copy elements of it into our own lives, and in the process become stronger and more resolute. The problem: Those who are already inclined to face big challenges don’t need much inspiration, while the lazy & unmotivated are going to keep doing what they’re doing, or not doing, if that’s the case. I’m sure Finland has its share of shiftless slackers, but the concentration of bums in a society goes down greatly when sisu is is part of a country’s DNA and having a “stiff upper lip” is a national expectation.

There are a few people in my circle who I would say have something close to sisu. Each individual has different character traits, yet there is one common theme: Almost by willpower alone they can carve a path out of any situation. No matter how crappy a deal they’re given, there’s no complaining. They don’t attain complete victory all the time, but they always come out the other end better than when they went in. If we can’t have sisu in its purest form, the hunger for it and a never-ending effort to aspire to its ideals will make us better. Finland may be a self-effacing country that does not call attention to itself, but they are ok with that. Their strength and perseverance comes from within. The Finns wisely know that if you have sisu, no one can take it away; and if you don’t have sisu, no one can give it to you.