May 29, 2017

A Memorial Day Prayer

Memorial Day is most certainly an appropriate day of remembrance and gratitude for those who gave their lives for their country. But, it is all too easy to describe the sacrifices of our warriors as having been made to secure our freedom or to protect our way of life. In reality, some of those sacrifices were meaningless, either because they were the product of incompetent military leadership or because they resulted from wars that should never have been fought, that is, incompetent political leadership.

Earlier today, I read a prayer posted on Facebook that adopted a perfectly conventional attitude toward our war dead. We should, I think, both celebrate those who made the ultimate sacrifice—the usual subject of Memorial Day oratory—and meditate on whether their number should be as great as it is.

I don’t want to distinguish here between “good” and “bad” wars or between “good” and “bad” military encounters. Most of us could agree that at least some military deaths in some circumstances were meaningless and unnecessary.

Such thoughts led me to compose the following prayer. This surely should not be the prayer for Memorial Day, but perhaps it should be a prayer on our lips at some point on this day. My prayer:
Dear God, on this day we dedicate to the memory of those who died in defense of our country and its declared ideals, let us not forget the many whose death resulted from dreams of empire, hubris, or adventurism. Help us to comprehend and repent of errors that have needlessly cost lives, and give us the wisdom and humility to act, as a nation, with love and compassion, informed by the teachings of the Prince of Peace, in whose name we pray. Amen.

May 27, 2017


Some of my most treasured childhood toys were Smith-Miller trucks. These large-scale die-cast trucks were not museum-quality scale models, but they were realistic, fun to play with, and practically indestructible. I had four Smith-Miller trucks, all of which were purchased at a small, independent toy store that maintained a somewhat exotic stock. (I don’t recall seeing these toys at any other store.) My favor truck was a hook and ladder fire engine. (See the picture below, which is of an identical truck).

For some reason, I decided to look up Smith-Miller on the Web the other day. I was surprised that Wikipedia had no entry for it. However, I did find a corporate Web site for Smith-Miller, Inc. The site announces “Handmade Scale Toy Trucks in Miniature.”

I was happy to see that Smith-Miller trucks have not disappeared. The story of the company is not simple, however. I haven’t been able to learn much about the early history of Smith-Miller. It went out of business sometime in the 1950s, but it didn’t do it in the usual way. It simply stopped operating, leaving everything in the factory in place. A totally different company operated out of a portion of the toy company factory.

The subsequent history of Smith-Miller is recounted on the About Us/History page of the current company Web site. In 1979, a collector who had managed to track down the remains of the company in Los Angeles in search of parts arranged to buy what was left—lock, stock, and barrel—less the factory building itself. Eventually, that collector, Fred Thompson, sold off existing stock, including trucks that first had to be completed. The resurrected Smith-Miller then began producing trucks from new designs.

Not many kids will likely be finding shiny new Smith-Miller trucks under the Christmas tree. The trucks, which seem even better than the old ones, have an average price of about $1,000. (Currently available trucks can be found here.) It’s nice to know they’re out there though.

May 16, 2017

A Plea to Reporters

I was listening to Here and Now on NPR this afternoon. A reporter was interviewing some Republican woman; I wasn’t paying close attention at the time, so I can’t say who she was. My ears perked up, however, when the interviewee spoke of the “Democrat program” or some such. Although I had an immediate and negative reaction, the interviewer did not. She failed to comment on this phrase and on a similar use of “Democrat” as an adjective later in the interview.

“Democrat,” however, is a noun, not an adjective. In proper English, it is never an adjective. The correct adjective (and the one that should be used in referring to the Democratic Party) is “Democratic.”

Republicans—and by now, this includes virtually all Republican politicians—have taken to referring to the “Democrat Party” because the word “Democratic” has positive associations for most Americans. Republicans want citizens only to have negative feelings about the opposition party, and the use of “Democratic,” they believe, works against that objective.

Republican smear
“Democrat Party” (or “Democrat agenda,” etc.) is a gratuitous smear, and one that reporters should not allow Republicans to get away with. There is no “Democrat Party” in the United States, only a “Democratic Party.”

The reporter should have interrupted the speaker and said something like, “Excuse me. There is no “Democrat Party.” Are you talking about the Democratic Party?” Such an interruption, done repeatedly over the course of an interview should have an effect.

And so, reporters and Democratic Party politicians, stop letting Republicans get away with their now institutionalized slur. Better still, politicians can begin referring to the “Republic Party.”