What Did They Die For?

Created October 23rd, 2020

No reason the number 1,304,679 should mean anything to you. Even the graph I looked it up in didn’t have a total line.

It’s the number of American Armed Services men and women who died in combat in all of our wars combined.

Why did they die for us? Was it just to protect their fellow Americans alive then? I don’t think so.

Of course, they died to protect and preserve not only the American people, but also the American way of life, a way that we wish to everyone in the world, hoping to set a good example for them to follow.

Even before the election is over, let’s start now to go back to that American way of thinking and acting, holding ourselves to the highest standard. We’ve done it for most of the country’s history – admitting FUBAR at all times – we can go back to it again, more easily than it seems right now, in the pressure cooker of the final days before election, in the year that never was.

This is a democracy: there will always be some hold-your-nose compromises.

Get used to it.

There’s a wide bell curve on every issue. Because of that fact, democracy ensures there will always be some people pissed off. Think about it. It’s mathematics.

However: democracy does much more good than harm.

Implication: if we want to keep democracy, we ought not give in to the impulse to escalate “pissed off” to “hate”. Democracy works when we accept what the majority voted for, even if we have to hold our nose for a few years every now and then.

Robert Anson Heinlein was one of the most revered science fiction authors of all time. It would be correct to recognize him however as being more than that, he was a deep thinker and his writings, while fiction, reflected deep speculative thinking about every subject worth thinking about. Like H.G. Wells and Aldous Huxley. His scenarios included utopias as well as dystopias, and utopias which turn into dystopias.

In his novel FRIDAY (1952) about a genetically engineered female human being whose name is Friday, Heinlein brings alive a world which is about to slide into dystopia, in which the U.S.A. has already split into smaller nations, three Confederacies, the Eastern, Central, and Western, accelerating further cultural decay everywhere. A world in which there is no more U.S.A.

Let’s look, like Henry Fonda’s character in “It’s A Wonderful Life” did, at how the world “would be better off without us”.

Here are some excerpts relevant to today, from Friday’s last conversation with her boss, the head of a secret paramilitary organization in which Friday is a courier.

“You should leave this planet,” her boss advises, “for you there is nothing here. The Balkanization of North America ended the last chance of reversing the decay of the Renaissance Civilization.”

“It is a bad sign,” Friday comments, “when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group.” Like a Party, I thought, reading this. She goes on, listing bad signs she has identified until he interrupts to tell her the worst sign of all.

“Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named… but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.”

I personally don’t feel that the U.S.A. is heading that way, it’s only a few of us who have become rude. I pass these thoughts on in the expectation that the vast majority will recognize the truth when they read it, and a word to the wise is sufficient.

Good people everywhere are the hope of the world, and we have a lot of them here in America. People locked into negativity also exist everywhere, and can be brought gently out of it by the rest of us not losing our tempers at them – that’s just becoming infected by the very thing that maddens us, becoming a Borg ourselves.

Democracy is a way of being that gives everyone else room to be whoever they are, even if they disagree with you on seemingly every little thing.

Democracy is not a simple, old-fashioned idea. It is timeless. It is an ideal that has existed so long as consciousness has existed.

When I rhapsodize about America, people who are more knowledgeable remind me of all the things that were still wrong with the U.S.A. at the start – limited voting rights, slavery, snobbery.

We’ve already licked the first two.

I’d say we were generally on the right track until very recently, and even now there are many recent events we can be proud of, amidst other events that jar us to the very roots.

It would be silly to take on the heavy mantle of defeatism. We ARE going to rise above the muddy rut into which we’ve recently slid.

Nothing, not rudeness, not divisiveness, not ego, not virulent pandemics, not wars, nothing is going to stop the march of history upward from brutes to fully realized noble individuals unified everywhere by kindness and respect.

Education that starts at birth and never veers from this vector is the best that any one of us can do to prepare our progeny to continue this long hard climb when we are gone.

It has become common to imagine that being nice, being kind, is a sign of weakness. In any election, a macho candidate is instinctually more attractive to many people than one who exudes respect for others and conventional gentility. This is empowering old hard-wired circuits in the parts of our brains developed long ago, to rule our lives as if we don’t possess more effective, likely-to-be-right, intellectual and intuitive capabilities in these new cortex-wrapped brains we all have. We ought to make fullest use of all of our brains and everything else we have, bodies and souls, and make all decisions that way.

A Song for Today: Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfzJ8UBr-c0

May the Center Hold.

Best to all,


Thomas Paine, the True Spirit of America, and the need to make Common Sense more common

Created October 16th, 2020

It is suspected that Tom Paine had a hand in the writing of the American Declaration of Independence.

But it is a fact that he had an important hand in the American Revolution. His pamphlet in 1776 is what set the match to the smoldering timber.

The revolution was about one single subject. Tyranny. Especially the tyranny of the British over their colony which painted itself as authentic concern about the colonists.

“Common sense will tell us, that the power which hath endeavored to subdue us, is of all others, the most improper to defend us.” –Thomas Paine

The name of his pamphlet was Common Sense. Only 500,000 copies were sold, but the 47-page treatise turned millions of British Colonists with a beef against the King, into people with a sense of being their own independent country, Americans.

He wrote the document as an Englishman, addressing The Inhabitants of America. His pamphlet is regarded as “one of the wellsprings of the thinking that founded the country. Common sense, that is, a plain practical ‘get on with the job’ philosophy is part of the American psyche.”

Today’s dictionaries define “Common Sense” as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts.” And: “sound practical judgment concerning everyday matters”, which specifies that common sense is limited to everyday matters.

“In the 1770s, the term Common Sense meant ‘primary truth’, that is, the unquestionable beliefs that all people receive from their experience of being alive, the faculty of self-evident truths.” If he did ghost write some lines for Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, perhaps to Paine “Common Sense” meant “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

The power of communication can be so great when one sticks to common sense. Common sense has no need of rancor, blame, insults. It sticks to the obvious and easily-agreed facts and argues from that common ground to what must be an unarguable answer.

Yet Paine and all the founders knew of human imperfections, even the ability to lose all sense, not just horse sense, but to literally lose the faculty of seeing even the obvious.

Thomas Paine on reason and thinking:

“Reason obeys itself; and ignorance submits to whatever is dictated to it.”

“It is an affront to treat falsehood with complaisance.”

“It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry.”

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.”

“To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture.”

“When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.”

The founders were all men and women of the world, realists. They gave us a system that – with kindnesswould work to “give everyone an even break, and then some.” –Frank Sinatra

Thomas Paine:

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

“Human nature is not of itself vicious.”

“Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society.”

“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”

“If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

A Song For Today – Liberty Tree, by Stan Satlin, from the poem of the same name by Thomas Paine

More Potent Quotes for today, about Tyranny

May the Center Hold.

Best to all,


How do you decide to whom to give your vote?

Created October 8th, 2020

This year, everything may depend on it.

The whole planetary environment, and our own fair land, is burning and flooding at the same time. Plagues released by our own hands in the invasion of forests and jungles are severely curtailing our ways of life everywhere in the world.

The greatest most idealistic and yet practical nation that has ever existed on Earth is almost as torn in two as it was in the American Civil War nearly two centuries ago.

“The hope of the world”, as people in every country on Earth have called the USA at one time or another.

The great rainbow hope that contains a little bit of everywhere and everyone. The seed for peace and unity connecting us all as brothers and sisters.

There are other things we have been taught to value as part of the American Dream.

But none of them is as central to our mission as to bring unity and kindness across everyone, inclusively. Yes, kindness.

Who said “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

It was Abraham Lincoln. He also said: “I do not like that man. I will have to get to know him better.” This is the Spirit of America, the mother lode, the real patriotism. Gung Ho!

Who said, when pointing out the factionalism dangers of institutionalizing a two-party system:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”

It was the Father of our Country, George Washington. If it’s not yet clear from reading his words above, Washington denounced the two-party system when it arose in 1796 as a “horrid threat to the Republic.” Until the two- party system took hold in America that year, the fair-minded founders of our country had set it up so that the runner-up in the presidential election would become vice president. No parties were written into any of the foundational documents.

The design of the Great American Experiment was to allow people as individuals to elect representatives to reach consensus by civil conversation, good will, and American inventiveness. All the careful working out of the checks and balances were intended to minimize the risk that power and control would concentrate into very few hands – as it always had before.

Ironic that we have so forgotten our bedrock principles that some of the leaders of today’s political parties openly talk about seizing control over the Senate, the Courts, the Presidency, etc.

This was what Washington distrusted about the two-party system, he saw the divisiveness coming. He could tell from the friction in the country during 1796 leading up to the presidential election, the first with two parties. This had the potential to overcome all the careful balancing of power so that once again as throughout history a small number of people could wind up controlling everything and everybody.

Washington also said:

“Lenience will operate with greater force, in some instances than rigor. It is therefore my first wish to have all of my conduct distinguished by it.”

One of our first presidents in his first Inaugural Address felt he had to re-create unity, due to the bitterness of the campaigning preceding the 1796 election between the Republican Democrats (long before they split into two parties) and the Federalists. At the time, the short code for the Republican Democrats was “the Republicans” meaning “for the public”. This is what he said:

“During the throes and convulsions of the ancient world, during the agonizing spasms of infuriated man, seeking through blood and slaughter his long lost liberty, it was not wonderful that the agitation of the billows should reach even this distant and peaceful shore; that this should be more felt and feared by some and less by others; and should divide opinions as to measures of safety; but every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans: we are all federalists.”

We Americans must remember that we are all brethren of the same principles.

The same man, Thomas Jefferson, years earlier had said “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Who said:

  • “Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.” …
  • “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” …
  • “There never was a good war or a bad peace.” …

That was Benjamin Franklin.

These are the clearly stated moral codes of the Founders of the United States of America.

No matter how hard one looks, one cannot find things said by the Founders of the USA that endorse the kind of ripping into one another – those of the other party – that has become our taken-for-granted, daily habit today, as if it has always been that way and always will be, a natural law.

When did so many of us start to identify more with our political party than with our unity as Americans?

Either we are off course – or I am. And if I am, so were the people who against all odds and at risk of losing all, set up the paradise in which we are lucky enough to live.

We must not betray the trust that they placed in future generations to carry out their idealistic and yet achievable dreams.

Do your own research into what our country’s founders really said. Make up your OWN mind where to invest your sacred vote.

Why “sacred”? Because I see America as more than a country, it’s a reform movement for the whole human race, an idea of how we can reach consensus together rather than merely electing one strong man to decide everything for us, and a very detailed plan for making that difficult consensus-building task work. Put together by a number of the wisest minds to ever exist on Earth, and themselves inspired by even wiser minds throughout history. Not just thrown together.

Keep their words in mind and your vote will be the right one, true to your own inner being. That’s what republican democracy is all about.

A Song for Today [God Bless America – Rosemary Clooney]

May the Center hold.

God bless us all,


Follow my regular media blog contribution, In Terms of ROI at Media Village. Click here to read my latest post.

An American Heroine and a Friend of China – Part 3

Agnes wound up setting up field hospitals, building sanitation facilities, lecturing, raising money, and doing everything else they asked her to do to help repel the invaders, including a continuing stream of reports to the world.

She often lectured about Democracy.

At one of these lectures, an old woman stood up and came forward and stood alongside Agnes. “She showed she was our true friend by her willingness to eat bitterness with us.”

The epitaph on her grave gives her name and years, and the explanation as to why she is in the Heroes’ Graveyard: AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WRITER AND FRIEND OF THE CHINESE PEOPLE.

                                 Bill Harvey and Chinese co-writer Zhen Zhung, December 1983                                                                     Photo taken by the senior scriptwriter Weston Gavin

She tried to warn the U.S. they were in Japan’s crosshairs though her columns and her books and appearances.

She may also have had some impact there. From 1940 on, the U.S. suddenly began sending war aid to China, first millions, then billions – and in those days a dollar equated to $17.51 in today’s dollars.

Not just money, and the best weapons, but also warriors, the Flying Tigers and troops on the ground, all risking and some losing their lives. Needless to say China was very much enamored of the largesse and the caring of the people of this nation far away doing something like this to help, or looked at more cynically, maybe the Americans realized what was coming and was simply making the best military moves under the circumstances. In either case, the hearts were in attractive mode, not like they have been lately. People risking their lives to protect each other. Gung Ho!

Let’s get back into that mode, can’t we? China and the U.S.A. We can’t change each other – at least, not overnight – let’s accept each other for what we are and be grateful we have each other for friends and trading partners and comrades in the quest to make the whole show sustainable. We need each other’s minds to pull together to fix the mess we made of Earth.

Not to mention we all have to work out what all of us will be doing when most of us are no longer needed for work, which is coming up soon.

Instead of arguing about stuff of lesser priority, let’s focus on the priorities together.

Now that we all know it, let’s act like we know it, and stop all this petty bickering. If we don’t all work together, we’ll all go down together.

Let’s go back to playing nice like it was until recently.

We will work out our difference by civil conversation, nothing else works, everything else makes things much worse.

In the Xian Incident, Agnes had taken a rifle butt in the gut, as soldiers stole her eyeglasses. Whatever it was that killed her had something to do with that war wound. She died in London, there for an operation.

My friends and I, learning of Agnes’s life story in the early 80s, were offered the opportunity by Chinese-American people well-wired in China, to be part of bringing the two countries back together the way it had been, by making the movie of her life, in a co-production with the Chinese.

She would show the love that naturally exists at many levels between the two countries.

She was a victor for the oppressed, and a Joan of Arc of the – presently in rolling-out mode – “help-each-other-out” revolution.

Gung Ho was the magic feeling in New York right after 911. Everyone experienced it.

As you drove past another car and happened to meet the eyes of its driver for a flicker of a second you were both in it together and you both knew you both knew it.

We and top government officials went on Chinese television when we signed the first movie coproduction deal between the U.S. and China.

But then, our producer couldn’t raise the completion money. “China?” the investors asked, and shook their heads.

We will still make that movie or miniseries someday.

A Song for Today, dedicated to Agnes Smedley: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lCmBvYMRs&app=desktop

May the Center hold.

My best to you all,



An American Heroine and a Friend of China – Part 2

Most of the other war correspondents were men of course. Agnes hung out with them sometimes but most of the time she was sneaking around places she wasn’t allowed to be. Chiang had shown the Democracy face convincingly to the West, but all non-Chinese had to stay within certain “sanitized zones” as Agnes called them, where the appearance of Democracy was upheld. Where she went, she saw what looked to her like a feudal society, until she came back into the places she was supposed to stay. The other journalists were not so daring, and her difference from them caused them to find silly things to say to annoy her, but were careful not to cross any lines because she was known for having a bruising right, and for being quick to unleash violence when she thought it the right thing to do.

Eventually she jumped the coop completely and ran off to tie up with the Communists, to get their side of the story. She was the first journalist to reach Mao’s Army in Yenan, at the end of their Long March which had dwindled them from 80,000 to 20,000, including women and children. You see, Chiang didn’t really do the united front thing. He had to say he would, to get free. He never intended to really do that – he would get his enemies closer – where he could grind them between Koumintang and Japanese armies.

In Yenan, she met Mao, Chou En-Lai, and General Zhu De, whose life story she later wrote a book about. The two grew close. She was impressed with the way all these people helped each other. They called it Gung Ho. Agnes had never met a group of people like this in her life. (She had met relative saints like Nehru, who had been the one to send her to China to continue the worldwide Democracy Revolution, after the French and the American models, saying “Continue the work there.” She demanded to know why there, why couldn’t she stay and fight for the independence of India? “They have the guns,” he had replied.) But she had never seen a whole community, said to be 20,000 people, apparently all behaving this way. It was mind blowing.

In her first meeting with Zhu De, she asked where he had come up with the strange fighting methods the Reds were using, that leveraged their small forces impressively. He laughed and replied that he learned it from George Washington, who had learned it from the Native Americans, and is today called “guerilla warfare”. (The term “guerrilla war” was coined in English in 1809 after the Pazhassi revolt against the British.)

She was astounded to put it all together: the Chinese Communists (regardless of their ideology) were really a continuation of the French Revolution-American Revolution-Where Will It Show Up Next Revolution. It was a necessary historical process. It was all connected. Wearing different hats but behaving Democratically with their own kind, this sort of thing was going to roll out and eventually take hold everywhere. People were going to be kind to each other, and act like good sisters and brothers. There would be bumps along the way and resistance to any change is always incredibly strong, she got it all right then, a revelation.

When Mao became an Alzheimers victim, and even before, the purity of the original dream the way she experienced it got corrupted and turned against its own original purposes. (People spy on each other and turn each other in. That’s the big problem over there. Most Chinese would be happy if only that would stop. But it’s not neighborly for us to ask them to do something different because there is a social compact that says sovereign nations ought to not be bothered by the snipes of others, such insults could turn deadly. Do not interfere, lead by example. These are my thoughts, not Agnes’. She was far more direct and forceful.)

Agnes wound up staying with the Reds to report on the war from their angle. A Western Marine officer Colonel Richard Carlson was the second Westerner to reach the Red army, and he and Agnes became fast friends, both patriots and protectors, idealists believing in Kindness, working together (Gung Ho), Democracy, Fairness, Right, Truth, Justice, Equality, Freedom, Honesty, Honor, Duty, America.

A Song for Today: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lCmBvYMRs&app=desktop

To be continued next week.

May the Center hold, my best to you all,


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An American Heroine and a Friend of China

Created September 18, 2020

Increasing world tensions and the upcoming election cause me to think back to the days when the U.S.A. and China were friends.

I’ve done a lot of research into the period of the 30s and 40s as a result of helping to write a script about a real person unknown in her own country but known to every schoolchild and adult in China, still to this day, although she left this world in 1950.

She’s one of the four non-Chinese – out of 10,000 – bodies buried in the Heroes’ Graveyard in Beijing.

The only one of the four to have never been a card-carrying Communist. They remember her as “Schmedeley” and their faces reflect awe and respect when they say her name.

She arrived in Manchuria in 1929 as a war correspondent for a liberal German newspaper that was later shut down by Adolf Hitler.

China was already in its own Civil War between the Nationalists, also known as the Koumintang (now the government in Taiwan), in power on the mainland at the time, and the Communists, just arising.

In April the year before her arrival, Mao Zedong promulgated the Three Rules of Discipline and Eight Points for Attention, a document instructing the Red Army on tactics, method and behavior. That would be like a person of today announcing on the Internet “I am about to build an army, attack and overthrow you, and here’s how I’m going to do it.”

The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 too, in Germany causing the Weimar Republic to collapse.

Agnes Smedley’s on-the-ground investigations in Manchuria amazed her. The place was overrun with Japanese, who seemed to be in charge. The Japanese meanwhile immediately noted her interest and made endless attempts on her life for the next fifteen years. She could not understand how this giant country would allow the little offshore island to throw its weight around even in this distant outpost.

New Year’s Day, 1929. Harbin, Manchuria
                                                           Agnes’s first day in China
                                                She took this photo of Japanese soldiers

In 1930 she ran a story based on some evidence she had turned up that the Japanese had a plan for world domination (the Tanaka Memorandum as it has been called in the West, no one has ever found it, if it did exist, but the plan existed) and were going to invade China. Her paper wouldn’t run it. Two years later when Japan invaded China her paper ran the story and apologized for having sat on it for two years.

Agnes Smedley was born in Osgood, Missouri and lived most of her youth in Trinidad, Colorado. The family was dirt-poor. Her ancestors had come over on the Mayflower and interbred with Native Americans.

She put herself through school at NYU and became an early leader in the feminist movement, writing columns for Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review. During World War I, she had worked in the United States for the independence of India from the United Kingdom, receiving financial support from the government of Germany.

Agnes was like that, a pragmatist, she would take money from anyone and put it to good causes – mostly to free oppressed people, especially the poor. Germany at the time was a country not yet Nazified. However, the stain of Nazism was later applied to tarnish her. The Brits were not pleased at losing the Raj, and she had played a role in that. Ironically, she was also blamed for spying on the Japanese for the Russians, even though the Russians were our allies in WWII. It didn’t help her reputation that the spy she installed against the Japanese, Richard Sorge, became known as the top spy in the world. She did what she had to do to stay in the center of her energy vortex which had historical impact on more than one occasion. As if she were just accidentally, Forrest Gump style, happening to be at the right place at the right time at innumerable historic turning points, and getting to play a role in their unfolding.

Like when Chiang Kai Shek was kidnapped by one of his own generals in Xian, and Agnes got to do the broadcast about it from the front line for CBS Radio. She reported to the world that Chiang was being released because he had agreed to put a pin in the civil war and create a united front with the Communists to drive the Japanese back to their island.

Everyone knew that she had been pushing for the united front in her columns for a long time.

To be continued next week.

A Song for Today: I Am an American

May the Center hold.

My best to all,


Follow my regular media blog contribution, In Terms of ROI at Media Village. Click here to read my latest post.