Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Gay Time

“This will make two evenings you've lost this week,” said Ma. “And tomorrow night there's church. We are living in such a whirl of gaiety lately that I declare—Was that a knock at the door?” ~Little Town on the Prairie

“Whirl of gaiety” is one of my favorite phrases from the Little House books, and lately it describes our calendar. It’s the season for gatherings of various sorts, after all. We attended one event Saturday morning that was especially enjoyable. It was an International Christmas celebration hosted by a local church. There was no sermon involved, however. Instead, we visited people of different nationalities—from Canada to Germany, Argentina to Ireland, Australia to Zimbabwe, and about a dozen other countries. They wore traditional dress of their country, and greeted us in their native language with the usual salutation used where they were from. Getting to meet people from other places and compare cultures is so interesting. It never fails to bring a new perspective on something. Many of them also had musical instruments from their country and played songs of their culture. Some played Christmas songs we were familiar with and we recognized the tune, but several were new to us, and very beautiful.

What could make such a morning even better? Food, of course! And there was a buffet of ethnic foods. I’m not even sure what all of it was, but it was almost all delicious. Some especially memorable dishes were the vegetable korma from India (I love Indian food, and everything on this buffet was authentic), enchiladas from Mexico (who doesn’t like Mexican food?), and a cabbage & carrot soup from Indonesia. That doesn’t sound particularly special, I know, but it had some sort of delectable spice, and the broth was silky smooth, and altogether it was sublime. There was also a dish—from Africa, but I can’t remember whether it was Ghana or Kenya; it was one of those—vegetables spiced with another unfamiliar but delicious flavor in a pastry pocket, that was scrumptious.

Of course I never even thought to take a picture! Maybe next year. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this event again.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

When is Propaganda Acceptable?

Is propaganda ever acceptable? I’ve been thinking about this the past several days, as I prepared a presentation I was asked to give for Veteran’s Day.

The word “propaganda” originated in the Catholic Church with a positive meaning. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV appointed a committee of cardinals to organize and oversee a system of establishing missions to “propagate the faith” to the heathen. The committee was called the propaganda. Eventually, the word came to mean the spreading of a message, instead of the spreaders themselves. Later still, the word began to have a negative connotation of spreading false information. 

The presentation was about General Douglas MacArthur and his activities in Japan. The Japanese people, for the most part, hold the General in high esteem for his accomplishments there. He did get a lot done, especially considering that he was working in a country American had just atom-bombed as an enemy. But it’s one thing to change systems (he rebuilt infrastructure, restored the economy, abolished monopolies, democratized the government, reassigned land...) and another to change hearts and attitudes. General MacArthur did both. He used written materials to accomplish the latter.

General Douglas MacArthur
The Allied Occupation, under the direction of MacArthur, censored all published material in Japan. They decided what could and could not be printed. All books that made the cut portrayed the idealized American way of life. The first book put out under the Occupation was The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. (Why, yes, I do tie everything in to LIW. Why do you ask?) The rest of her books followed, along with such titles as Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, the Nancy Drew mystery stories, and Gone with the Wind. The Little House books were most popular.

There were boys’ and men’s and women’s books, too, but most were girls’ books. Why? Because “the hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” MacArthur knew getting the young women who would be mothers of the next generation on his side was key in establishing a friendship between Japan and the U.S. He was right, and it worked. The outcome was positive, helping establish peace and friendship where enmity had existed. Did the end justify the means?

My old Webster’s Dictionary defines propaganda as “information, especially when biased in nature, used to promote a particular cause, and especially a political or religious view.” Logic informs us that any information used to promote a particular cause is by definition biased in nature, whether the cause is good or bad, and whether the information is true or false. So really, anytime we speak positively about something we like, or negatively about something we don’t, we are spreading propaganda. (Kinda makes me stop and think about what I’ve been spreading...)

So is it ever acceptable? My personal opinion is that true information is always acceptable. But that means the whole truth - not just the cherry-picked good parts we like. And since people don’t always agree on what’s true, everyone should be able to make up their own minds, from all available information. So I don’t have an issue with MacArthur distributing books promoting American values. The part that bothers me is the censoring of any other materials. What do you think? Did the end justify the means, or not?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A National Review!

I made a national magazine! My brother-in-law called to let me know that there's a short review of Little Lodges on the Prairie in the newest issue of the Scottish Rite Journal. How about that?

A Little Misinformation

 “What makes you think Laura Ingalls Wilder had anything to do with Freemasonry?” (This said with a sneer.)
“Who would want to know about Masons?” (This said with a shudder.)
 “The Ingalls weren’t in that! They were Christian!” (Emphatically.)

The reception of Little Lodges on the Prairie has been overwhelmingly positive, with almost no negative feedback. However, the above comments I received at recent signings show that there are some individuals who evidently are misinformed about Freemasonry, about Laura and her family, or about both.

What to do when this happens? Should I try to explain, to clear up misconceptions and prevent falsehoods from spreading further? Or should I avoid confrontation and just bid them a good day?

So far, my response has been varied. If they actually ask a question, I usually do answer, even when I think they don’t really want an answer. I keep it short and to the point: “The records of the Lodges and Chapters they joined.” “People wanting to know about the organization the Ingalls family were active in.”
If possible, I try to find a common ground: “You’re right - they were Christian.” Then the ball is in their court, to inquire further or leave.

In any case, I try to always leave them with this thought: Laura (or Ma, or any of the family) would not have been involved with a nefarious group that was opposed to their values of faith. Since they were active in Freemasonry and Eastern Star, what does that tell us about those organizations?

What are your thoughts on how (or even if) I should address such persons? 

Thursday, October 2, 2014


October     ~ Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.