Words Pale on Memorial Day by Val Muller

MILITARY_CEMETERY_-_PHOTOEach year growing up, I biked several miles with my parents to watch the huge Memorial Day parade. It was a big deal, and of course to a kid, it was a day to have fun. It started with Dad putting the American flag up on our house. I wasn’t sure why—I assumed it was because Memorial Day ushered in the start of summer, and it seemed the Fourth of July was right around the corner.

When we got to the parade, it felt more like summer than anything else. There was such energy and happiness. Kids ran around discussing summer plans and counting down to the end of school. I remember vendors selling inflatable animals, cotton candy, and all manner of colorful treats. I never understood why my parents only ever let me buy one thing, though: a little red poppy.

And Dad didn’t buy the poppy for me, either, even though he usually made the purchases. He gave me money and told me to hand it to the person selling the poppies, and to say “thank you.” I even remember being small enough (and shy enough) that he held me in his arms as I made the purchase. I’m sure he tried to explain what the poppies were, and who made them, but as a little girl, I was more interested in the bright red color and the way I could bend the twisty wire to attach the flower to my bike helmet or handlebar. There was something unique about my having to purchase the poppy myself, but combined with the excitement of the day, it became one of the quirks of childhood I shrugged off: some kids got inflatable bears, and I got a poppy. I didn’t dwell on it—I focused instead on the colors and the sounds and the fun of the holiday, knowing that summer was just around the corner.

But when the veterans marched by in the parade, Mom and Dad always said how sad it was. I didn’t understand: what was sad about people marching in a parade? It’s a parade, for goodness sake! My parents told me it was the veterans NOT marching by that tinged the day with sadness.

I didn’t get it at first, but the year I did, it sent chills down my spine as I rode home, and suddenly there was much more depth to my little world: it was because of those NOT marching that I could ride my bike down the street, and stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, and cheer on the parade with friends, and go home to have a cookout.

This is one of those holidays that words can’t really capture.

The greatest gift one human can give another is the gift of freedom. Though he admits to being against war in general, Thomas Paine said it eloquently in The Crisis when referring to the American Revolutionary War:

“A generous parent should have said, ‘If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;’ and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty…. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.”

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice understood this concept and bore more hope for our future than anyone else—for they saw something in our future worth fighting for, worth dying for.

As Memorial Day fades into summer, let us remember their sacrifices—and in doing so, make our futures and our world something that would make them all proud.

Censoring the Past to Make a Comfortable Present Leads to a Dark Future

This Friday, we celebrate some common sense in the defense of genuine academic freedom.

We tip our hat to Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal for taking on the clueless insanity that has manifested itself at Columbia University’s student paper. The paper penned an op-ed recently decrying western classical literature as

Triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

In the styling of the inner party of Orwell’s 1984, liberal students winding through the halls of academia (and liberals and progressive statists in general)  seem to want thought based on emotion – how you feel in relation to an event or idea rather than worry with ages-old tried and true approaches such as…logic or reason. And this is good. Provided that you feel the same way and react the same way as your betters. (Compare “bellyfeel” and “duckspeak” from the Newspeak Dictionary.)

Noonan’s response is the serious wake up call college students need before turning over any more of their minds to The Party.

At last year’s Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference, our editor Val Muller was lucky enough to hear Aranka Siegal speak. Siegal is a Holocaust survivor and was asked to attend the conference many times before she finally agreed. Now in her eighties, Siegal was encouraged not to travel, and her family discouraged her.

When she spoke at the conference, recounting her experiences in Hungary leading up to her time in Auschwitz, she cried. When she spoke of the last time she saw her mother–as her mother stood in line for the crematorium, she cried. When she spoke of nearly starving to death, of witnessing atrocities in the kitchens, of rape and abuse and death–she cried. There was no emotional safety in sharing these memories.

And yet she emphasized to all at the conference that she thought it important enough to speak to the room of educators not because she wanted their pity, but because she did not want the past to die. As horrific as those experiences were, and as painful as it was for her to recount them again, she wanted to share the pain of history so that it would not be repeated. So that the educators in the room would share her experiences – painful as they were – with the next generation of thinkers.

Avoiding history because it brings up unpleasant memories; bleaching out words of literature because they cause pain; or eliminating literary works to make people feel better about themselves in their present state of being is cowardice and weakness. But it is far more dangerous than that.

The Columbia student paper is advocating for censorship. At first it may appear to be benign – even benevolent. Why not wipe clean the sins of the past in order to spare a few tears or unpleasant moments during our present?

But it is the future that suffers from such folly. The level of censorship of works needed to wipe the past clean enough to accommodate the hyper-sensitivities of our current time would leave the next generation incapable of experiencing texts that can teach us to distinguish good from bad.

If our only reference point for unfairness is imagined exclusion, then we might overlook things like the federal government’s blatant dishonesty in saying it will only use mass surveillance to protect us from terrorists. Meanwhile we find out that federal agencies engage in “parallel construction,” bringing criminal cases against individuals constructed with bits of information obtained illegally and without a warrant.

If our only reference point for corruption is imagining that free market entrepreneurs only amass wealth and success by stealing it from poor people, then we become immune to widespread government theft of private property through civil forfeiture where a government agency seizes cash and property without ever filing charges against an individual – leaving the legal burden on the person to take the government to court to reclaim their own property.

If our only reference point for discrimination is sloppy math and dishonest studies used to politically decry a pay gap for women and to declare a “war on women” is on, then we might miss actual discrimination whereby the US government systematically abuses its power to discriminate against political opponents of the current administration.

And all of these examples are real and happening right now in the Land of the Free. And if the public tolerates these abuses, how much longer will it be before an all-powerful government can detain (even claim to kill) US citizens without trial.  (Oh, wait, it can do that too!? Yes we can…says the President’s Attorney General)

Americans already tolerate the above abuses of their freedoms by the federal government – in the name of security, of course.  And if we have already come this far, then how far away is an experience like Aranka Siegal’s – right here in the United States? Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Mass deportations of Jews into extermination camps and the eastern ghettos of Europe began with Operation Reinhard in 1942 – not even a decade later.

We believe sharing a painful past helps to prevent an even more painful future. Telling stories of suffering, of abuse, and yes, even of rape and the evil that Aranka Siegal endured, is strength. Recognizing the evil in those stories helps us identify it and know it when we see it instead of becoming numb and dumb to the world around us.

Perhaps we need to tell students painful stories more often, not less.

Writing Tip: As for the Word “As”…

Power of Words

A writer friend recently posted a question about avoiding the word “as.” An editor told her to avoid it, but she didn’t know why. Another author commented that she’d been told to use “while” or “when” instead of “as.”

While I’ve never been told to avoid “as” by any editor, I do understand the sentiment. When we’re told to avoid words, it’s usually because the use of such words allow for “lazy” constructions.

Periodic Sentences

One reason to avoid “as” could be that it’s used to construct periodic sentences. These are sentences that begin with one (or more) dependent clauses, making the reader wait until the last part of the sentence to see what the sentence is about. Here is an example of a periodic sentence:

As the wind began to blow, as the trees began to sway, and as the land began to tremble, the house toppled down.

We don’t know until the end of the sentence that the house toppled down. Obviously, sentences can be constructed like this for dramatic effect, and periodic sentences are poetic and effective to that end. But for the ordinary sentence meant only to communicate information, periodic sentences can become tiresome for the reader if used too much.

Here is an example:

As he crossed the garden, the sun began to shine.

There’s nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, but the use of “as” allows the writer to be unspecific. There are two parts to the sentence: crossing the garden and the sun shining. The sentence is Hemingway-esque in its level of detail. It’s a style choice. But for an editor looking for the writer to make each sentence work harder, removing the “as” may force the sentence to be more specific. How about:

He skipped through the garden, relishing in the sun.

Removing “as” forces the reader to consider what else is important about the sentence. In the original sentence, “as” becomes the important factor, tying in the fact that crossing the garden and the sun shining are happening simultaneously. Most often, the concurrent nature of the clauses is not the most important aspect of the sentence. If it’s not, removing “as” may help the writer clarify.

Direct Comparisons

Remember high school English? “As” is an indirect comparison (simile) as opposed to a direct comparison (metaphor). For many writers, similes are easier to write.

Love is like…a red, red rose.

This smelly sneaker is as rotten as a fish.

Metaphors often allow for more complexity than similes.

Love is an unforgiving mistress.

This smelly sneaker is a petri dish.

Once again, the use of the word “as” removes us one step from the sentence. Take a look at this sentence:

The ocean stilled for a moment as though respectful of the ashes that had just been scattered.

Removing the “as” would force the writer to re-arrange the sentence, perhaps adding personification (The ocean stilled for a moment, respecting the ashes scattered on its surface.) One could argue that personifying the ocean is a stronger way to word the sentence. It’s less obvious than the writer or narrator TELLING us why the ocean is still; rather, we’re being SHOWN, seeing that even nature sympathizes with the death (ashes) in this scene.

In short, it’s not the word “as” that’s offensive in and of itself, but it’s the fact that “as” lets writers get away with constructions that could be more strongly worded or stated otherwise.

“As” with any good writing, it’s about using techniques intentionally and for a purpose rather than taking the easy way out. Readers can sense laziness, and they appreciate diligence.

Kicking Off Forging Freedom II with a Tribute to Dad

FF2_Final_cover_frontForging Freedom II debuts this week, and we’re excited to share these stories with you. The book is available on Amazon and on our publisher store. I’m grateful to all our our contributors who shared their stories, to Val for all the time spent editing and working with our authors to make their stories shine, and to Meg for her sharp proofreading eye in catching all those things that spellchecker didn’t.

And I’d like to thank my dad, Allen Egger. Although he’s no longer with us, except in spirit, I have him and mom to thank for giving me a childhood where I learned to value freedom. Everything I’ve been able to accomplish today I owe to the beginning that he and mom gave me.

To honor dad’s memory, I’ve set up a scholarship fund to help give others a chance to pursue a future in engineering or computers – dad’s pursuits. If you feel so inclined, you can learn more about helping us get the fund established by visiting the website here.

The foreword to Forging Freedom II is a tribute to dad. I’ll repost it below, but of course it reads much better on a Kindle or paper copy of the book itself 😉

Thank you for reading, and thank you for supporting Freedom Forge – your support continues to mean the world to me!

I write this foreword in tribute to my father, who succumbed to complications from a long-term illness while this book was being edited. When I remember my father, I remember the love of freedom he instilled in me.

Children often realize later in life that they have become more like their parents than they ever expected; the qualities we once thought were “stupid” and “annoying” in our parents are ones that we embrace in adulthood. For all of the hopes and dreams we have, we come to realize that our parents were once our age, too. And they would have had aspirations of their own. At Freedom Forge Press, we share the belief that people should chart their own course in life as well as benefit from the rewards and consequences of success and failure. They should be free to pursue their own happiness without the artificial barriers that are often erected by government bureaucrats seeking to maximize their own power or reward a particularly well-organized or well-funded constituency.

Ever a hard worker, my father took advantage of the free society in which he was raised. He was the first in his family to complete a post-high school education, and he used the opportunity to secure a life-long position with a phone company. His knowledge of mechanics and engineering also led him to become a horologist in his spare time, fixing clocks and watches with the patience that became his trademark.

As a child, I benefitted from my father’s love of freedom. I was one of those kids raised before the age of over-protection and hovering “helicopter parents.” My parents gave me boundaries, of course, but within those boundaries I was given freedom. My non-supervised bike route took up many square miles, and despite a few falls and bad choices, I survived each exploration, learning and growing stronger from my choices. (For instance, I now know it is a bad idea to throw water balloons at the neighbor’s dog!)

When Dad made his watch and clock deliveries, he let me come along, buying me my choice of newspaper or magazine from the local news agency in town. Dad took pride in my choice of The Wall Street Journal. Like Dad, I saw that this country offered great opportunities for entrepreneurs, and even though it took me the whole week to read a single day’s paper, I did so. As I grew and understood the paper more completely, I saw the complications arising from government policies and decisions—and realized the world was not black-and-white. I realized that freedom is challenged daily by policies and motivations unknown to the general population.

Thanks to the foundation my parents provided, I pledged to remain educated and involved, watching out for our freedoms even when it would be more comfortable to remain blissfully ignorant. I joined the Army at seventeen (with my parents’ permission) and founded Freedom Forge Press afterwards as a way to share stories of freedom to keep the flame alive.

Dad always embraced the spirit of individuals making informed choices. Like him, I believe that, given freedom and education, humans can use critical thinking skills to make choices that will better this world. Only too often, those choices are muddied by dishonesty and shrouded by back-room deals. My ongoing hope is for Freedom Forge Press to offer a place for extended dialogue that transcends the superficiality of 140-character tweets and two-second “likes” and “shares” encouraged by social media. Today more than ever, it is important to celebrate freedom and question the methods and motives that people in authority use to ask others to give up their freedoms in exchange for some temporary comfort or security offered by a government program managed by bureaucrats in a distant capital who have little connection to or understanding of the challenges people face every day simply trying to pursue their dreams.

A politician-turned-journalist recently quipped that rights don’t exist in nature, they’re granted by men and by collective agreement. But if this is true, then our “inalienable” rights to life, liberty, and happiness can most assuredly be alienated and taken away by popular vote, unpopular laws, controversial court decisions, and even executive decrees. Those are not rights, but mere privileges. And if we accept that we have only a government-granted privilege to live, be free, and pursue happiness, then we are surrendering the very spirit that makes us human.

In Forging Freedom Volume II, we asked people to share creative stories with a freedom theme. We received true stories and stories based on authors’ ancestors and relatives each struggling for freedom. We received stories in which authors imagined dystopic ends to well-intentioned polices. Stories of individuals struggling to keep their flame of a dream alive despite the dampening effects of powers beyond their control. My father embraced the spirit of such individuals, and as the years pass, I find myself more and more like him—celebrating the spirit of the individual who succeeds in spite of the barriers that society and government erects.

The Federal Government Insists Pot Laws Are To Protect You…From Stoned Rabbits

WARNING: if you read this blog post, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms: lightheadedness, dizziness, uncontrollable rage, uncontrollable laughter, and/or pain from the sudden impact of an external object, such as a hand or table, hitting your forehead.

You have been warned!

For Freedom Friday, we thought we would have just a bit of fun at the federal government’s expense. As of today, 36 states allow for some form of legal marijuana use. There’s considerable diversity within “some form.” Compare Colorado and Washington, for example, where marijuana use is largely legal to states such as our own Virginia where it is legal to use, with medical necessity, with restrictions on usage, with no psychoactive elements permitted. And anything in between.

US Map - Some Form Legal Marijuana

US States with Some Legal Usage of Marijuana

(No, this map is not admissible as a defense exhibit. If you get busted with pot in one of the green colored states, you’re on your own.)

But you’ll notice Utah is colored in blue, and that is where today’s bizarre tale begins.

It seems the federal government is not liking the state of things when it comes to states forging their own marijuana laws and essentially thumbing their noses at federal restrictions.

Utah currently has no form of lawful marijuana usage – medical or otherwise. So as the legislature there was considering a law to permit medical marijuana use, the Drug Enforcement Administration decided it needed to pull out all stops and really get ahead of this thing before it “took root,” if you know what we mean.

The last thing the federal government wants is for adults to be able to make their own decisions outside of what the government desires. Perhaps the next to last thing the federal government wants is for states to make their own decisions regarding the criminality of marijuana usage.

With that in mind, the DEA dispatched Special Agent Matt Fairbanks to give testimony at the Utah Senate committee hearing where the bill was being considered. Fairbanks argued prohibition prevented cultivation of marijuana. And cultivation would attract wildlife, such as rabbits who “cultivated a taste for the marijuana” reports The Washington Post who covered the story. (If you go to the story and want to listen to the audio to see that we are indeed not making this up, the Fairbanks testimony begins at about 58:00 and the good stuff begins at about time stamp 1:02:00.)

We wondered if the agent’s story was true, so we used a FOIA request in order to obtain the actual video from the agent’s field work that corroborates the testimony given to the Utah Senate committee:

Okay, we were pulling your leg about the video, but one thing we’re not making up is the federal government’s determination to impose its will over states and individuals when it comes to drug enforcement. We suppose if the best argument the feds can muster for continuing this practice has come down to stoned rabbits, then maybe the feds are running out of reasons to keep up with their “War on Drugs.”

At Freedom Forge Press, we favor limited government. That means allowing individuals to make decisions on their own without being coerced by heavy-handed laws. Is marijuana addictive? Is it “bad”? Does it bring relief from chronic pain and medical conditions? We can’t answer that. And based on the quality of the DEA’s testimony, it seems like the federal government doesn’t know the answers to those questions either.

So in the face of that uncertainty, as long as people are not harming others with some medical or recreational marijuana use, and as long as people are self-funding their own habits, then we say leave well enough alone.