Tuesday, March 20, 2018

"A Well-russianrouletted Militia, being a device for the destruction of a free state ... "

PuppetMaster: Planet 3799 Novgorod, how goes it?

P3799N: It is too easy. I sometimes feel as if we're being lured deeper and deeper, to our own destruction. And then I perceive they really do not have a single clue.

PuppetMaster: And we were taught that birds don't fly into our mouths already roasted!

P3799N: But these birds! Not only roasted but still singing! Milk a chicken!

 PuppetMaster: We say "live for a century, learn for a century." They on the other hand ...

P3799N: They, they're like, "Live for a century, fuhgeddaboudit!"

PuppetMaster: Ha ha ha! You do a very good gangster!

P3799N: Ha ha ha! I was taught well!

PuppetMaster: Not by Torshin, even if he is a mobster! He's terrible at languages!

P3799N: Ah, but a better sheep in a wolf's pelt there never was! Cozying up to the NRA leaders the way he has! He has gotten us so close! And they think we are their friends, because we say we are their friends and we give them money!

[Mutual hilarity]

PuppetMaster: And to think that for a while we let ourselves think that Americans really could milk chickens. But you, my friend, the silent dog wagging your tail, you in the background churning out nothing but words and pictures to drive the wedge deeper, you knew about the NRA. It was you who said the American chain will snap where it's weakest--and that is the NRA. You knew where the ford was, so we could confidently step into the river.

P3799N: I didn't get a double doctorate in American history and political science at Columbia University for nothing. What keeps me awake at night is thinking that someone high up in the NRA will wake up one night in a cold sweat and realize that they've been wrong this whole time, and that there's something in the 2nd Amendment that they've been ignoring all along. "Oh my god! It's not the guns! It's the militia! A well-regulated militia! That's actually the important part! Guns in the hands of random, undisciplined individuals with no civic purpose is actually very dangerous to the health of the republic!"

PuppetMaster: That would be the end our little Cossack dance then. But why worry? It won't happen.

P3799N: No, it won't. The NRA is having too much fun bull-rustling. The only thing I worry about is that someone will catch us at our real game.

PuppetMaster: It's like the opposite of immunotherapy, isn't it?

P3799N: Feeding the poison? We seem to do that quite well, and quite often.

PuppetMaster: But not at this high level. This is bringing down a nemesis. This is genius. You came to me and said, "I know where to strike." And then I asked you how you knew, and what was it you said? You said ...

P3799N: I told you that we just had to listen to the founders of America. They said, "If we ever let go of this militia thing, we are screwed." All we had to do was listen to their reasoning, see they were onto something sort of mathematical, and realize that now America is completely unaware of a core doctrine of their own republic. It's republican mechanics. Why not take a chance on it? The best part of it, though -- the absolute best part -- is that the NRA, the so-called champion of the 2nd amendment, is worse than ignorant! They advocate for the opposite of what the amendment was intended to provide!

PuppetMaster: For Russia, the NRA blossomed out of the fruitiest fart that ever was!

P3799N: Pfffft! Just like that, there they were! Of course, they'd been around for some time, but there had never been an enemy who could see that their backside was naked!

PuppetMaster: Like the retreating Frenchmen in 1812 who faced the fire and literally ...

P3799N: ... Froze their asses off in the Russian winter! Except now social technology has given us a potent psychological weapon that is the new winter. This is a war of a blanket of behavioral snowfall that we can win without ever firing a shot, much less a missile. We just need to give a little -- well, maybe not so little -- a substantial, well-placed push by just paying for ads on social media like good capitalists ... and the Americans do all the rest. How the fall comes I neither know nor care. But why it happens is what we already understand -- what I learned from the American founders -- that Americans themselves do not: in a republic, when there is no institution to glue common duty together, the human tendency to divide into partisan factions will prevail, and it will be fatal. Americans are like, "Hey, we haven't had a universal militia since we gave up on it in the early 19th century, and we're still here." My sympathetic side just kind of shrugs resignedly and says, "Time and tide and cluelessness will have their way."

PuppetMaster: And your unsympathetic side?

P3799N: Why chop a rotten tree when it needs only a push?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The United States of Appalachia, however you pronounce it

Linguistic diversity rules. Southern accents, Northern accents, Midwestern accents, English accents, Spanish accents, Indian accents; white usages, black usages; foreign languages of all kinds: bring 'em on! They are all positive aspects of the rich parade of humanity. I say don't denigrate them; celebrate them. Don't spurn them; learn from them. There need be no "versus" in "diversity."

You might call it a branch of the Jim Wayne Miller school of literary humanism. Miller was a soft-spoken man raised in the country near Asheville, NC, who became both an award-winning poet best-known for his mountain-rooted "Brier" poems and also a professor of German and a translator of Goethe. He spoke once at a conference I attended at the Pine Mtn. Settlement School in Kentucky. What he said has never left me: everyone needs to hear the the stories of people from around the world, because it is the local that informs the universal; it is by sharing the common experience that we permeate the barrier of otherness. I think that is true not only of stories, but of the voices themselves telling them.

Otherness, however, is the brute that seems always to shove its way onto the scene. Nothing quite shakes my faith in humanity like yet another video showing an "American" going ballistic on a complete stranger for having a "foreign" accent or speaking a "foreign" language. What kind of force motivates them? Is it ever justified?

It is a force not to be underestimated, even in connection with what might seem to be trivial matters. I speak from personal experience.

Of all the important issues in the world, the pronunciation of "Appalachia" might not seem to be a big deal. However, I can attest that there are those who consider it to be a matter of extreme importance. With them, it is a black and white issue: you are right, or you are wrong. And being wrong puts you at risk of being shunned or relegated to "enemy" status.

Let me be clear: I have been judged wrong on the issue, and the force of animosity directed at me for my perceived wrongness was, to me, staggering. What made it most inexplicable was that it came from professional educators or academicians.

Furthermore, it's not like I was myself oppositional -- except insofar as I was disagreeing with the opinion that there is only one, correct pronunciation. My position is that there are well-established regional differences in how to pronounce "Appalachia" or "Appalachian." The second "a" is either long or short. Both are respectable. Yes, how you say it will identify whether or not you're from the South, but so what? Vive la difference!

My model for understanding on this matter is the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), which is made up of volunteer groups up and down the trail who work for the same thing and love it the same way, no matter how they pronounce it. Maine isn't Georgia, and vice-versa. We don't expect them to talk the same, and why would we want them to anyway?

No amount of rationalizing on my part did anything to blunt the force of pronunciational correctness. It might even have made it worse. "I thought you were supposed to be from around here. Why are you defending Yankees?" Which is gaslighting, of course. I was not defending Yankees. I was defending both pronunciations. I was defending Southerners who say what they say as well as Yankees who say what they say. That is a clear distinction that the true believers could not see or understand.

Invariably one of the true believers will favor me with what they believe to be the last word on the subject: novelist Sharyn McCrumb's snide dismissal of any other pronunciation than the Southern one, in which she makes an inapposite use of the Derry/Londonderry dichotomy as an analogy for the short-a / long-a controversy of "Appalachia." If you haven't seen it, it's worth a look.

What is wrong with her analogy? If nothing else, Derry/Londonderry refers to a change brought to a well-worn, popular, local usage of great antiquity. Unhappily for the McCrumblicans, that is not the case with "Appalachia."

David Walls, who wrote the entry on pronunciation of the word in The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, says in "On the Naming of Appalachia" that "[o]verall, the social movement to obtain recognition for Appalachia as a problem area must be accorded a remarkable success for a movement which never developed a mass following within the region itself," and that "Appalachian" is still not the prevailing way people in the area identify themselves.

Walls's points are amplified by Anita Puckett, the director of the Appalachian Studies Program at Virginia Tech, in her article "On the Pronunciation of Appalachia" in 2000 for Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine. "[D]espite all these feelings on both sides of the pronunciation issue, there is one fact we must keep in mind: Most residents of the region rarely use the word Appalachia in their day-to-day interactions with their friends and neighbors" partly because their "vernacular's underlying sound-and-stress patterns don't lend themselves to either pronunciation."

Further evidence that the term may not have been in wide use as an accepted identifier for the region until after the Federal government created it in 1965 can be found on this Reddit thread (and other similar ones on Reddit) which provide as many data points as Puckett does in an academic paper, and in which south-central Appalachians who use the Northern pronunciation discuss the shallow roots of the word "Appalachia" in popular usage.

What is especially interesting about this thread is a comment that exactly mirrors one made by Puckett in her article. After saying that both (my emphasis) pronunciations have "essentially negative connotations," she then describes a southeastern Kentucky community who "clearly associate the long-a form with media 'spies,' government officials, and missionary 'do-gooders' who 'don't know nothing about us.'" The Reddit comment -- by someone from southeastern Kentucky whose native pronunciation is the long-a -- provides direct evidence of a negative response to the short-a usage that takes the form of a verbal caricature of a "smarty-pants perfessor."

Furthermore, the person credited by David Walls with bringing "Appalachia" as a concept into the modern American literary imagination, Horace Kephart, wrote in 1913 that the highlanders among whom he lived did not use the term for their own mountains, which they called "the Alleghanies."

Meanwhile, for their part, the Yankees got a jump on the modern usage anyway: the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club has published a journal called Appalachia since 1894. Guess how it's pronounced.

What's going on here? With McCrumb and her ilk (a perfectly good Scots word implying no disparagement) I think the answer is political, and has to do with the Appalachian Regional Commission, the "imperialist" (as McCrumb would say) body charged by the Feds in 1965 with regional development. According to Puckett, ARC's official pronunciation is the long-a Yankee one, while most of the region is in the South, where most of the people -- if and when they say it -- use the short-a. Puckett has an interesting insider's take on how the controversy developed: in the "more circumscribed academic setting … [t]here were consistent efforts to promulgate this pronunciation of Appalachia [short-a] no matter what the context. … Both faculty and students considered the [short] a pronunciation a positively valued symbol of membership in and knowledge about the region."

The pronunciational controversy, then, is of recent vintage, and it flourishes in rarefied air. All of my vituperous detractors on this subject are either academics or should-be academics. As far as I can tell, their outrage is a defensive response to the standardization of a pronunciation that is non-Southern. In some cases the outrage is informed by the fact that all the geographico-historical cognates -- the Appalachicolas and the Appalachees -- line up with the Southern pronunciation, which if nothing else lends a quaint air of Biblical inerrancy to their cause.

If in fact the ARC has an unbending policy that privileges the long-a pronunciation, it should change it. It should at least adopt a flexible policy of "say what the local academics say" (c'mon, y'all, laugh). Let the "all pronunciations welcome" example of the Appalachian Trail be the model.

As for the short-a academics, their close-minded attitude of "I've already done all the research" shuts off what could be some fascinating lines of academic inquiry, e.g. how, when, and where did the "standard," long-a pronunciation appear? How did Washington Irving pronounce "Appalachia" in his famous 1839 article -- in which he proposed that the "America" in USA be replaced with either "Alleghania" or "Appalachia" (he preferred the former) -- and which usage Walls says, via A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, marked the first appearance of "Appalachia" in American English.

Also: how widespread in fact was the usage "Appalachia" in the Southern Appalachian region when the government declared it to be a problem area in 1965? David Walls implies that the adjective "Appalachian" or the noun form "Appalachians" (for the mountains) were much more widespread than "Appalachia;" how much moreso? And does this matter? I would say it does: Appalachia Nouveau's most important signification is economic, social, and cultural, while Appalachian / Appalachians is mostly a geographic / geologic signifier.

My hypothesis is that academicians, in their beef against the ARC, have gilded the lily of the short-a "Appalachia" and have promoted it with unintended, xenophobic consequences, as borne out by the anecdote that opens Puckett's article: In 1998 she took an Appalachian folk culture class to visit a potter, who, originally from Illinois, had "lived and worked near Blacksburg, VA, for over 20 years;" the man was "very knowledgeable about the history and lore of Southern Appalachian pottery-making." The field trip concluded, Puckett asked her students' opinion of the experience. One student dismissed the potter as having no value because he had said "Appalachia" with a long a. In the student's words, "I knew he had nothing to say to me."

Here, then, is someone after Sharyn McCrumb's heart, completely devaluing a person's evident knowledge because of the way he pronounced "Appalachia." My bet is that the potter was naive in his pronunciation: that was how he'd always said it, and surely people would judge him for the quality of his bowls rather than the length of his vowels. Sorry, mister potter. The Jim Wayne Miller language of your bowls is too deep for Appalachia Nouveau Cliche. Fail to use the shibboleth at your own risk.

Perhaps, though, the concluding comment in an online thread discussing this topic says it best: "What a total waste of good energy." Which is what my argument about pronunciation comes down to. If that is your shibboleth -- your test for who is friend and who is foe -- you are not just indulging in prejudicial, ignorant, and superficial xenophobia, you are missing the whole point about contemporary Appalachia, which very much comes down to a question of who is friend and who is foe.

That question is best answered by Harry Caudill -- whose description of Appalachia in Night Comes to the Cumberlands served as a goad to the consciences of JFK and LBJ -- in his 1973 essay "O Appalachia!" (Regrettably there doesn't appear to be an online version, but it is anthologized in Voices from the Hills: Selected Readings of Southern Appalachia, Higgs and Manning, eds.), in which he divides Appalachia into Appalachia One and Appalachia Two: the Appalachia of Wealth and the Appalachia of Poverty.

While mostly a scathing twelve-year review of the "costly failure" of ARC -- in his opinion a vastly inadequate, under-resourced response that exists "to please, or at least avoid conflict with, Appalachia One" -- the essay serves as a useful stand-in for determining who the good guys and bad guys are.

The latter include, yes, the long-a pronouncing extractive corporations headquartered in New York and Philadelphia, but they also include "the 'bighearted country boys' beholden only to the corporate overlords who financed their campaigns." And I know from personal experience that some of those corporate overlords have their headquarters in downtown Appalachia; bluegrass is their hobby, and you can't distinguish their pronunciation from the country-boy elected officials: it's short-a to a man, and the more syrup the better.

Other than the "downtrodden" themselves, the good guys include the "platoons" of VISTA workers sent by the Great Society to help. These soon found out about Appalachia One and began to spread the word in the region, "whereupon a lively time in the hills ensued. Boards of education were beset by people demanding better schools. It was all entertaining and encouraging while it lasted. But sleeping dogs were aroused. ... VISTA was decried as Communist and un-American. ... The Great Society withdrew its soldiers from the War on Poverty, and Appalachia One settled back to digest the region undisturbed." I wonder how many of those "encouraging" VISTA workers doing the good work failed to pronounce the shibboleth of the insider? No doubt quite a few, if not most.

Caudill's conclusion is worth repeating:
The modern Appalachian welfare reservation makes few demands on its inhabitants. They are left alone in their crumbling coal camps and along their littered creeks to follow lives almost as individualistic, as backward looking and tradition ridden, as fatalistic and resigned as in those days three or four wars ago before the welfare check replaced the grubbing hoe and shovel as pot fillers. Then a man needed to know the seasons and the vagaries of the bossman if he were to eat. But new skills are required in an age when government is gigantic, when a few men with giant machines can drag from the ground all the fuel a nation can consume, and when the poor are of little use to the well-to-do. It pays to sense winners and vote for them -- and to let them know of one's intention in advance. And one must recognize that there are powers that cannot be overturned or defied, and so one does not resist. Once these concessions are made it is generally possible to enjoy many of the freedoms and prerogatives of the nineteenth century without its toils and dangers. Perhaps Toynbee's 'barbarism' [the British historian who saw in the Appalachians an example of "people who have acquired civilization and then lost it"] is actually a preview of the twenty-first century, when the rich will be truly secure and the poor will not work, aspire or starve. Appalachia was the nation's first frontier. Now it may be foretelling America's final form.
Washington Irving's 1839 idea has now awakened from its Rip Van Winkle sleep. Welcome to the United States of Appalachia. However you pronounce it.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Up Shit Creek with Machiavelli

For me there is nothing like a library for serendipity. To wander down a range of books is to buzz at the honeycombed portals of a thousand realms, each of them an unfathomed wonderland.

Even better, though, is when the simple act of picking up a book unleashes a chain of coincidences so profound as to plead divine intervention. This is not so much "seek, and ye shall find" as it is an innocent step into an inescapable floodtide the force of which is outside oneself.

Recently I wandered past the new nonfiction display shelf at my downtown public library. There, staring defiantly at me in complete ignorance of my recent folly, a précis of the current 2nd Amendment situation, was Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry, by Patrick J. Charles. By what miracle had this happened? The very presence of this book on the shelf meant that it was not inflammatory enough to be a "bestseller" and thus had not generated a spot on that curse of popularity, the hold list, which casts a cloak of invisibility over so many new books in libraries. So, thanking the minor deities of library book selection (Library Journal? American Libraries?), I checked it out and went on my way.

A couple of days later my wife, who is a teacher and who recently volunteered to chair a committee on security for the county's teachers' association--hoping, post-Parkland, to keep elected officiais away from knee-jerk, arm-the-teacher responses--met with a number of those elected officials (and others) in a non-smoky back room in a pizza restaurant called Machiavelli's.

Machiavelli's, right? Meeting with latter-day Princes to discuss gun violence in a place called Machiavelli's? Are you kidding me?

No, you're not. But read on.

So then, this happened: the following weekend I went to my second-favorite temple of Serendip, the annual Friends of the Library booksale, where I always place a strict limit on purchases of 750 books, give or take 747. This year it was a complete Les Miserables (the novel? Remember?) for a quarter, a collection of essays by bellettrist Jacques Barzun (who called out the worldwide virus of "racial thinking" in 1936 and who, as a bellettrist, is a lot like certain bloggers of your acquaintance in that he never footnotes; rather, he bestows.) for another quarter, and a plain-brown-wrapper publication of the U.S. Army's Center for Military History called A Guide to the Study and Use of Military History, for another quarter. Times ten.

What? $2.50? Why so much for a plain brown wrapper of a book? I suspect that whoever priced it for the Friends sale was a librarian who looked at the cataloging info on the verso of the title page and saw the word "historiography," a magic word that you will never find in the WalMart world of low, low prices.

So there I was, settled into the flow in my inner tube of reading-directed consciousness, first with Armed in America, which I will eventually review for my own aide-memoire purposes but which for now let me just say that, as intellectual history written by a lawyer, it is the opposite of footnote-free belles-lettres. And for a reason: it is pointing in the direction of an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on behalf of whatever case takes on the task of reversing the finding in Heller v. D.C. that the 2nd Amendment guarantees a right to a firearm for the purpose of self-defense. That is to say, practically every assertion in the book is supported by a textual reference. These quite often far outstrip the root statement in ink-volume, e.g. when he writes, "[In the early 20th century] The habitual or indiscriminate carrying of concealable firearms … was denounced with particular force. Public calls for enhanced enforcement and harsher penalties were routine, and the constitutionality of armed carriage restrictions was virtually without question" (p. 173),  the annotation takes the reader to a full page-and-a-half of supporting, primary documentation.

One of these notes tags a brief sentence that attributes to Machiavelli "the earliest conception of a right to arms." The note supports the assertion with references to writings by American historians who discuss Machiavelli's "impact" on "the American militia system," as well as to a list of "prominent writings of seventeenth-century writers on the subject of the militia" that goes on for a full half-page.

Machiavelli, huh? (file under "Interesting.")

While there is much, much more to say about Charles's book (including "every American should read it") for now let us proceed down the rapids--not that they are leaving us much choice--to the Army historiography, which for someone whose boyhood was populated by Greek hoplites and Roman legionnaires starts out well enough ("you know, one of these days I might actually read Peloponnesian Wars") when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the horizon clears and damned if it isn't a waterfall: mention of a treatise on war written by none other than Machiavelli in which he laid out military power as the foundation for civil society and called for a "citizen army" that would serve as a cure for the decadence of his (Machiavelli's) time by becoming "an instrument for restoring civic virtues lost to society."

The circle now closes in the inner tube, and it all becomes clear in the engulfing roar of the waterfall. This is what the 2nd Amendment means and to interpret it away through a process of legal casuistry is to leave it as a hollow shell that won't survive the wimpy wavelets of Russian election meddling much less the Niagara of a hyper-partisan electorate with no common values. The 2nd Amendment isn't about the guns. It's about why you have them.

And it's about why the why is no longer there in the good old US of A that meant to enshrine it. Why the why, in fact, all but disappeared after the War of 1812. Because most Americans, in fact, don't want to be bothered with civic virtues. They cannot be bothered to vote and will go out of their way to avoid taxes. They will gladly alienate their duty--especially to fight and die for the country--so that their time and money are their own. Alexander Hamilton saw it coming: civic republican rhetoric (and Machiavelli ) notwithstanding, the "great body of the yeomanry" would suffer a "grievance" from militia service, which would in effect impose "an annual deduction from the productive labor of the country." But isn't that part of the point of duty and sacrifice? Not, apparently, when it comes to money.

If some on the Left--most recently Chris Hedges--explain away gun violence by reflexively parroting D.H. Lawrence's statement that "the essential American should is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer" without examining the gibberish from which it springs, they miss an opportunity one would imagine a leftist would all but die for: to find the deeper, truer source of the rot in market-driven acquisitiveness, for it is this that has turned "the gun" from an instrument of civic virtue into little more than a fetish, a militarily useless vessel that has lost the purpose it had at the nation's founding, as proclaimed by the 2nd Amendment. "The gun" is now, civically speaking, just a collectible. Americans are so caught up in their own "productive labor" that they cannot be bothered--unless forced by Germans, Japanese, or Commies--with the common defense. Acquisitiveness is in fact the very means by which to slaughter the sacred cow of civic duty. How better to fight than to pay someone else to do it, if at all possible? Freedom isn't free, we proclaim--because, yeah, you have to pay somebody else to do the killing on your behalf. Because, fellow citizens, we refuse to do it our damn selves.

The ultimate in hilarious comedy comes from those comic-book fantasists who believe that "the gun" equips them to take on their own government. If some splinter group ever does take on the 1% in a serious way, "bloodbath" doesn't begin to describe the fate that will meet an unorganized, ill-disciplined rabble at the hands of a professional army that not only already occupies the ground, the air, and the sea, but that--unlike the British in America or the Americans in Vietnam--acts at the bidding of a governing minority that is already solidly in place.

What violence there will be will accomplish only mayhem and the continuing deaths of innocents. The present, NRA-ruled government has no solution for this, because the very amendment they purport to support means something so very different from what they say it does. This is intellectual bankruptcy with a vengeance. It's tragic to realize--particularly as the waterfall delivers us into the grip of a hydraulic--that the survival of the republic is in the hands of people like those state legislators at a pizza restaurant called Machiavelli's. Will they do something to restore those "civic virtues that have been lost to society"?

They won't. They can't. Their ideas of civic virtue are tantamount to anarchy: an unregulated, unorganized, random pile of what-the-fuck in a society lost to marketing and propaganda. So are we all what the Founders predicted we would become, without the flotation of any virtue-in-common: galley slaves and partisan hacks.

Finally, then, this particular innocent step into an inescapable floodtide ends with us getting spit out of the hydraulic onto the bank. Whew. High and dry. But also up Shit Creek without a paddle. Ah well, there's always the library.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sundown nation

I came across James Loewen's Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (Touchstone, 2005) in the gift shop of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. At the checkout counter the clerk--in that winning way some clerks have--and who was herself African-American--examined the cover and indicated by her look that, you know, this looked like a subject worth reading about.

I had just spent a whole day at the museum, where I was overwhelmed by the national shame of racism but also made thankful for the enormous and long-suffering contributions of African-Americans not just to the country but the world.

In the moment of the clerk's assessment, I thought about Erwin, TN, the only for-sure sundown town I knew of. Most people only know it as the town that hung the elephant. But I know it as the town that--immediately after lynching and burning a black man, Tom Devert, for accosting a white girl--ran out its African-American population (some 200 people) and told them never to return. All a matter of public record with its own Master's thesis at East Tennessee State University and a blognovel with music--Banshee 3:33 (start at Tuesday, January 02)--somewhere over the domain name on the Wayback Machine. This year will be the centenary of the event. I wonder if the town will observe it.

Now, though, having read Sundown Towns and more or less absorbed its worthwhileness, I now understand not only that the pure Erwin phenomenon--the lynching followed by a racial pogrom followed by an abolition, either nocturnal or absolute--was a practice widespread in the United States especially between 1890 and 1968 that profoundly scarred the social imagination of the country.

A truly and depressingly fascinating aspect of the phenomenon is that it is not found in the traditional South--cotton country, as it were. Its deepest imprint is found in exactly those places where, at the time of the Civil War, slaves had not been in any great quantity: the upland South (like Erwin, in Appalachia; Cumberland Plateau; the Ozarks), the Mid-Atlantic, the Northeast, but especially the Midwest, California, and Oregon.

Perhaps the most tragically ironic example is Springfield, Illinois--Abraham Lincoln's town and the capital of the Union State of Illinois--which tried to "go sundown" in roughly the Erwin manner in 1908, when a white woman claimed to have been raped by a black man, which set off an attempted lynching and two days of rioting, along with the attempted expulsion of 3,000 black residents. The city's business district was destroyed, homes were burned, and two innocent black men were lynched. It was only the "belated" appearance of the state militia in what was after all the state capital that spared the African-American residents of an Erwin-style result. The femme fatale later admitted to fabricating the rape story in order to cover up an affair. There were, of course, no consequences for the reign of terror.

One of the strengths of the book is the use of census data to show towns and counties, across the areas mentioned above, with African-American populations beginning and growing after the Civil War, and then dramatically diminishing and in some cases disappearing from one census to the other.

The exodus was not always accompanied by a riot, as in the Erwin example. In fact, the larger story told in the book is the story of the more subtle means by which whites and African-Americans have been residentially kept apart--in cities, suburbs, and towns nationwide--by real estate and banking practices as well as by civic policy, all the way from the uncodified sundown ordinance to the private suburb with race-based residential covenants required by the Federal Housing Authority.

This is a story that continues up to the present, since--as has always been way, ever since Reconstruction--the correcting law or court decision was not always followed up with enough enforcement to make a difference.

And it goes further, into the national psyche: the carryover effect by which a general and enforced pattern of by-hook-or-by-crook racial residential segregation set in place 1. the template for how Americans understand people should live and 2. the naive idea that the template-casting happened benignly, or maybe willy-nilly, as a consequence of millions of freely-made personal or family-level decisions about where to live.

That whites and blacks in America are segregated by residential community is at least in part because--for a considerable, residential-infrastructure-building portion of recent American history--blacks were not given a choice.

Why did this happen? In general, Loewen's analysis is that the Southern attitude toward blacks-as-a-problem-to-be-dealt-with was exported to the rest of the country after the non-South's war-fueled flush of racial equality idealism wore off. But outside the South, the "answer" to the "problem" was not the Southern-style total control that required rigid servility as the price for limited mingling (you better know your place). Instead, it was a different form of enforced, residential apartheid that later went on, ironically, to determine the approach to racial separation that prevailed in the burgeoning suburbs of the post-slavery ("New") South.

Among these suburbs was the one I grew up in: Signal Mountain, Tennessee, a bedroom community of Chattanooga. There were never any African-Americans in any of my public school classes, nor were there any, anywhere, on the mountain--except for the maids, who every weekday morning came up from downtown on city buses and went back the same way late every afternoon. There were no blacks up on the mountain after sundown, but as far as I know Signal Mtn. was never a sundown town in the classic sense. However, without knowing for sure but having read this book, I'm willing to make an educated bet that the house that my parents bought in 1956--as soon as my father landed his first permanent, full-time, modestly-salaried job--would not have been available to a similarly-situated black buyer, under any circumstances, for reasons having to do with a combination of sub rosa, substantial, and subversive municipal, real estate, bank, and even Federal chicanery.

And this happened all across the United States.

Going back a little further in time, the area where I went to junior high and high school gets a mention in Loewen's book as an example of the high tide of overt residential segregation. In 1915 North Chattanooga (across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga) was at the time its own suburban city. It passed an ordinance saying that no "colored person" could "occupy" an "abode" in a block where white people preponderated, and vice-versa, in true "separate but equal" style. The kicker was that at the time there were only two black families living in North Chattanooga. Even though the two families were expressly allowed to remain, as the Chattanooga Daily Times stated, the ordinance "will consequently make the town practically of an exclusively white population." The newspaper went on to report that the city's mayor "received many compliments on his segregation ordinance."

Such ordinances became unconstitutional in 1917 with Buchanan v. Warley. However, it went largely unenforced, and cities and towns continued passing or maintaining such ordinances despite their unconstitutionality, to the extent that Loewen uses the case to bolster the "scholarly tradition in American legal history that questions whether the U.S. Supreme Court can cause or has ever caused significant social change."

Thus we see in just the last few days a brand-new, fresh look at the 50-year-old Kerner Report that shows the leading indicators of racial inequality in the U.S.--poverty, school segregation, homeownership, and incarceration--getting worse, not better, in spite of legislation and court decisions that should have laid the groundwork for improvement.

There are glimmers of hope in Sundown Towns. Its last chapter, "The Remedy," recounts changes that have occurred, many of them the result of personal factors writ large, as when white families have biracial grandchildren either naturally or through adoption, or when a single African-American school child leads the way to a change in attitudes. In some suburbs, African-Americans followed once Asians or Mexicans--less problematic in general to white sensibilities--broke the mold without triggering white flight, with durable multi-ethnicity as a result.

Still, to read this book is to be awakened to an untold national scandal that is the very definition of "eyes wide shut." Before I read it, I knew of one sundown town. Now I know that the phenomenon in its pure form darkens the entire horizon of my Appalachian vicinage from Grundy Co., TN, to Grundy, VA, and in its attenuated form has likely determined the racial makeup of every suburban neighborhood I've ever lived in.

Furthermore, to read this book is to be overwhelmed by the same kinds of emotions produced by a visit to the African American Museum in Washington: what kind of monstrosity holds up universal ideals only to deny them to an entire set of people?

And as to the modus operandi of that denial, here is a makeshift poem constructed from the words of a 1905 newspaper account--quoted as one of a sickening and infuriating number of examples in Loewen's chapter "Enforcement"--of "the process by which residents maintained Syracuse, Ohio, as a sundown community."

American Heroes

So long as he keeps up a good gait, the crowd, which follows just at his
And which keeps growing until it sometimes numbers 75 to 100
Is good-natured and contents itself with yelling, laughing, and hurling gibes at its

But let him stop his "trot" for one moment, from any cause whatever, and the
Immediately take effect as their chief

Thus they follow him to the farthest reaches of the
Where they send him on while they return to the city with
and tell their fathers all about the

how fast the victim ran
how scared he was
how he pleaded and promised he would go and never return if they would only leave him

Then the fathers tell how they used to do the same
and thus the
of two wars, recounting their several campaigns, spend the rest of the evening by the old

Thursday, February 22, 2018


In some dialogue related to my preceding post, I think I may have encountered what I have to describe as the ZeNRA, whose adepts seem to favor disarming the police and replacing them with unregulated, random, concealed-carry civilians who never fire their weapons. At least that's what it seems like. Upon examination I was able to turn up some precepts:

ZeNRA is this: In the mayhem of a mass shooting, quietly sit down, embrace your gun and do nothing. Let the death and chaos become to you as peace and tranquility. Be one with your gun. If you die, you die. If you live, you live. It is all the same in the flower of time.

ZeNRA is this: Aim with your eyes closed.

ZeNRA is this: Death never comes from a gun, because the gun is a scapegoat, and bullets are its droppings that smell like eviscerated targets. Death is only the occasion for a pooper-scooper.

ZeNRA is this: Never pull the trigger; let the trigger pull you. In this way no guilt will ever touch you.

ZeNRA is this: Prying a gun from your cold, dead hands is a dead giveaway. Rejoice after it's too late.

ZeNRA is this: Life never gives you more ammo than you need, but more than 10 rounds starts to look like greed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Flip the Second Amendment

Parkland, Florida: another atrocity, and of the worst kind: mass murder of school children by a single shooter with an assault rifle.

Students and teachers in agonized grief and anger demand a solution and threaten a national walkout until something is done. The "something" in most of their minds is some kind of limitation on the availability of semi-automatic firearms.

No way, says the other side: such a limitation would be unconstitutional and wouldn't work. A shocking on this side don't even counter with a solution, seemingly willing to accept these massacres as a new normal. The ones that do have an answer call for more armed security in school and for either more mental health screening or for shoring up the family, the breakdown of which is presumably producing the murderous pathology driving school shooters to act.

A few observations:
  • There is no single or simple solution. "The answer" does not exist, except as a complex of solutions from the personal to the cultural, but also including legal ones. One hopeful example from the recent past is the decline in deaths caused by drunk drivers, due to this kind of complex interaction.
  • That the process was led by the mothers grieving the senseless deaths of children should not be overlooked, particularly by such commentators as Fox's Tomi Lahren who seems to think that there's a sundown clause for this kind of grief, when instead it seems by its very longevity not only to inspire activism but to insist on it. The aggrieved students galvanized into action by the latest massacre understand this: now is the time to act, when emotions are raw, not after people have lapsed into ephemeral passivity. It's no different from the aftermath of 9/11, when grief and rage served to unite the United States at least for a few months.
  • The process of determining those responses has a necessary political dimension. Despite the polarization over this issue, voters must hold their elected officials accountable for actual, implemented solutions. Leadership is needed, not passivity, not stonewalling, not kicking the can down the road, and especially not making dishonest excuses about "needing more facts" when at the same time you're preventing the CDC from gathering facts (Paul Ryan).
  • Those favoring so-called "gun control" solutions overlook the constitutional dimension of the issue to the detriment of their own cause. They of all people should read the Heller decision, even the ones who are blind with anger, and even if it was written by conservative jurist Antonin Scalia. This is now the mainstream constitutional understanding: the 2nd Amendment guarantees a personal right to gun ownership, regardless of its connection to militia service. It does no good to say--as New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik did the other day--that this "notion is novel, radical, and wrong." Be that as it may, what this ignores is that -- unbelievable as it may seem 230 years or so after the amendment was approved -- the decision serves as a first-time review of 2nd Amendment adjudication and as such establishes a solid precedent. "Liberals" should think of Heller as the Roe v. Wade of the 2nd amendment: subject to being overturned, certainly, but given the partisan curve of judicial appointments, unlikely to be anytime soon. As such, it is a constitutional rock upon which ill-advised gun control measures will founder again and again and again, no matter the number of school children who are butchered by assault rifles.
  • UNLESS ... "liberals" read the Heller decision and see that it leaves all manner of avenues for "gun control"--most explicitly licensing, but also other kinds of limitations and regulations, including restrictions to do with civil fitness ("felons and the mentally ill") as well as "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." These are the kinds of things that keep the NRA up at night.
  • In keeping with its anarchic vision, the NRA will challenge every proposed limitation at every level as "infringement" disallowed by the 2nd Amendment. This is why, in my opinion, the quickest way to safe schools and -- hey, why not? -- a safe society is to develop answers, including legislation, that work explicitly as aspects of the well-regulated militia invoked by the amendment's initial clause. In other words, flip the 2nd Amendment. We can't have infringement, but we can and we must have regulation to maximize public safety.
  • (The NRA wants nothing to do with a well-regulated militia. It ignores the very existence of the clause in the amendment. If you don't believe me, follow "Founders intent" constitutional advocate Edwin Vieira, Jr., on Twitter (or just go to his archive and browse). When I say Founders intent, I mean that Vieira wants to return to a metal-backed dollar and do away with the Federal Reserve. Vieira continuously calls out the NRA on his Twitter feed for pretending that the 2nd Amendment is about the individual right and nothing more.)
  • I don't say this to advocate a cynical type of camouflage for gun control. I truly believe that the revival of a true citizen militia in which all adults serve as a matter of duty--NOT AS VOLUNTEERS--would have untold, positive ramifications not only on our day-to-day safety but on the health of our democracy. After Sandy Hook, my form of grieving was to write a novel with this kind of theme to try to educate readers out of their 2nd Amendment ignorance. As to its effect, is zero a number? But hey, grief being what it is, maybe it's time to write another one.
  • My bonafides aside, let me give you a couple of examples:

School Guards: The favorite idea in the gun crowd is to protect school kids with armed guards. How many? At what cost? "Oh, we'll get volunteers." Really? For every school building in every state? Tennessee, for example, has 1,859 school buildings. In the non-urban area of my county alone, the number of school buildings (22) is almost half the number of county patrol officers (46), so let's say even if the proposal is for one guaranteed officer for each school--there are presently 4 SRO's for all those schools--you're talking about a personnel budget increase in this area of something like 40%. And that's for a tactical response that is entirely inadequate if the goal is to defend a school against sudden invasion by a well-armed, presumably competent criminal. I can't see that kind of increase happening in a low-tax state. In the existing system, an adequate solution funded by public money is just not going to happen.

Now consider an alternative: a universal-service militia, in which all adults between 18 and 65 are obligated to serve. Duty, not voluntarism. The administrative costs for the system would be borne by sales taxes (Tennessee loves sales tax!) on firearms and by arsenal stockage fees paid by those who own more than, say, three guns. Those adults not wishing to own weapons may opt out, but must still perform militia duty in a support role. In my Tennessee county, 60% of the total population falls within this age group; at current census levels, that is 93,600 people. The most efficient administrative model would call for county-wide organization, thus my county's two municipal school system buildings would be added in, bringing the number of school buildings to be covered to 40. Given a school year of 180 days, it would be possible to cover every school with a platoon of 13 people every day that they are open. Not all of these people need be armed: reconnaissance and communications are as significant as firepower in responding to a school invasion: where is the shooter? What are the escape routes? Training would obviously be a significant need, and for this reason the minimum extent of annual militia duty would be 5 days: 4 days of graduated training and one day of live school patrol. Payment for these days would be a statutory amount equal to a progressive assessment of statewide average before-tax income of the militia pool and would at the beginning of every year be paid to the state, pending service, at which point it would be reimbursed.

Concealed Carry: To me nothing reveals the bankruptcy of public security thinking among individual-rights gun owners more than concealed carry. All of these presumably good guys with guns cannot be discerned by the general public they are said to be protecting. Given a live shooting scene, who's the bad guy? Who are the good ones? Expect chaos. Look what happened in Parkland: the shooter was able to mingle with his targets and get away. It is simplicity itself to imagine a shooter killing people and then proclaiming himself to be a good guy and literally getting away with murder (should it be left to an unread novelist to imagine such things?). For this reason, open carry is much to be preferred to concealed carry, but even better than open carry would be militia open carry, in which open carry would be regulated (with statutory exemptions for hunting, etc.) to coincide with periods of training mentioned above. Militia carry would involve wearing some kind of identifier -- a hat, a badge, a uniform -- to inform the public and also to achieve whatever deterrent effect armed presence has. Come to think of it, militia identification could be used for those who for whatever stylistic reason prefer concealed carry. Identification is key--and could even introduce an unintended "more eyes on the street" effect in that unarmed militia members--those in training awaiting their day of duty--would also be walking around. Sparta, here we come!

This sort of thing constitutes regulation, not infringement. It was not only expected by the authors of the 2nd Amendment, it was called for. There are plenty of historical examples of these kinds of regulations from back in the days when there actually was a well-regulated militia in the US (1790 - 1830). Without this the 2nd Amendment is at present doubly a bad deal. Not only do we not have a well-regulated militia, we have a public sphere that is awash with assault weapons abetted by anarchic attitudes towards their purpose.

Flip it or repeal it. If you're not going to use it for its intended purpose, why have it? As Scalia said, the right to appropriate self-protection to individuals was already protected by common law before the 2nd Amendment. The Founders approved the Second Amendment in order to secure an arsenal, provided by the people themselves, for what was to be the most important component of an occasionally-Federalized military and--while you're at it--a support for state and local law enforcement. It would be on a Federal scale such a conception of militia duty as every state already had at the time the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were approved. Solid militia duty, structured at a Federal scale, would prevent reliance on a standing army, which not only would be expensive but would also be a temptation away from the patriotic duty of participating in your own common defense.

"To provide for the common defense." {Does my idiot-calling-naysayer know where that comes from? If I must be an idiot, please let me be a most unuseful one.) We have an internal enemy. Common defense is needed to defeat it. The internal enemy is not the law-abiding gun owner. The internal enemy is the law-UNabiding gun owner. No one wants a law-UNabiding gun owner to commit mayhem. That "no one" includes law-abiding gun owners. The 2nd amendment, flipped properly, contains its own cure. Drink from the purple bottle of folly. :-)

Friday, February 16, 2018

Cold dead hands

It's not a great time to be an American in the Elysian Fields. The Spartans especially are having the time of their deaths hooting in derision at the American "well-regulated militia."

"You can put a man on the moon but you can't regulate a militia? What's with the land of the free that it's so rotted by mistaking libertinage for liberty that it knows nothing of DUTY?" roars Leonidas, still buff after all these years after Thermopylae.

Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Antonin Scalia, et al (Gallatin) just hang their heads.

"It was you, Tom, and all your fantastic notions about the virtue of the yeomanry," mutters Adams.

"It's the Christians selling out to the End Times. End Times! End Times! How many End Times have there been since Jesus died? One for every wild-eyed doomcaster that ever lived," spits Jefferson in fierce response.

Antonin Scalia tut-tuts, "Look, if people will actually read what I said in Heller, they will understand that regulatory remedies for firearms are readily available in the militia scheme. Why every governor of every state doesn't make it the top priority to regulate the statutory unorganized militia -- meaning at present (if you will pardon my obiter dicta) every adult fucking male who isn't in the National fucking Guard -- I do not understand. Licensing, annual inspection, muster requirements, weapons classification with varying levels of permission: all such things are possible. Where is the creativity of the American political class at the state level?"

Al Gallatin says nothing, but nods over in the direction of where Charlton Heston shambles by, dragging a musket by the butt, its muzzle in one of his cold, dead hands, holding a tattered Valentine from the NRA in the other.

Jefferson, Adams, Scalia, et al (Gallatin) just hang their heads.