Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Militia Arsenal Governance Act (MAGA) of 2018

The title is only partly tongue-in-cheek, as you will see. I'm dead serious about all these innocent dead bodies such as happened in Las Vegas this week.

But the nation is at a standoff. A direct, "gun control" confrontation with the NRA and the gun lobby will produce only political gridlock, legal roadblocks, incremental improvements, and more dead bodies.

Why not take an approach that is both more unifying and more extreme? Why not start thinking how to take the 2nd Amendment back to its original purpose? Besides being constitutional, such an approach--by making gun owners an obligatory part of a national military apparatus, as the Founders intended--could produce the kinds of changes in the nation's gun culture that would turn things around.

Here for example is a statute loosely based on the Militia Act of 1792, but which maintains the current distinction between organized militia (National Guard) and unorganized militia (everybody else). It is very short and straightforward, but the military nature of its requirements would produce a mind-boggling but constitutional change in the relationship between weapons and the State.

Of course, this blog isn't called "follies" for nothing.

The Militia Arsenal Governance Act (MAGA)

Whereas the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America asserts the best security of a free state to be a well-regulated militia, and whereas the United States of America has regulated said militia since 1792, and whereas the militia is a military body, and whereas a military body requires an assessment of strength in order to be effective, and whereas there are two classes of militia, the organized militia (National Guard) and the unorganized militia, therefore the Militia Arsenal Governance Act (MAGA) enacts the following regulations for the unorganized militia:

1. 10 US Code §246 (a) is changed to read, "the militia consists of all able-bodied adults who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States."*see note

2. All members of the unorganized militia unless exempted as in (a) and (b) must possess, maintain, and be trained in the use of a firearm; and must keep a minimum of 20 rounds in a secure location at all times.

(a) Members of the unorganized militia not wishing to possess a firearm must pay a Statutory Annual Firearm Exemption (SAFE) fee as established by their State.  The SAFE fee is to be used by each State only to pay for the administrative costs of the MAGA program.

(b) Each State will determine its own classes of additional exemptions, e.g. felons, medically unfit, etc. 

3. The National Guard of every State will maintain a registry of all firearms in the possession of the unorganized militia in that State and will make an annual report to the U. S. Secretary of Defense enumerating the firearms and ammunition in the possession of the unorganized militia in each State.

(a) Personal information in the registry will be kept confidential by the State National Guard. Release of personal information can only be obtained by court order.

4. The National Guard of each State will perform an annual inspection of every firearm, with attendant ammunition, in the possession of every militia member who has them. Each State will establish and collect fines for those who fail to participate, which fines may only be used to pay for the administrative costs of the MAGA program.

5. All members of the unorganized militia who keep arms must participate in a minimum of 3 hours of annual training provided by the State National Guard. Non-participation will be subject to fines established by each State, which fines may only be used to pay for the administrative costs of the MAGA program.

*Currently the militia "consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and … under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard."

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Next for O'Reilly's "Killing" series: America

To date, Bill O'Reilly has killed Jesus, Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan, Patton, Japan, and England. It now appears that he has killed Las Vegas as well and is now gunning for America. Will no one stop him?

His weapons of choice are "books," supposedly of "history," that he has "written," but which are in fact toxic emanations from his celebrity status, which, zombified, can only be sustained through the applause of his victims.

Even though it's a "blog" and not a "book," Bill O'Reilly, slavering after a dose of blood-sucking applause, hailed the deaths in Las Vegas of 59 innocents and the wounding of more than 500 others as "the price of freedom."

"The Second Amendment," he says, "is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons."

Even the loons. Please, please give Bill O'Reilly a gun in exchange for not "writing." He'd do far less damage. I'm worried he's coming after America.

Because the Second Amendment means no such thing, and continuing to believe that it does--and here O'Reilly is joined by his fellow bloodsuckers the NRA--is not only getting masses of innocent people killed, it's perverting the soul of the American project.

The soul of the American project has to do with the virtues of self-government. The Second Amendment was intended to be a guarantor that the people would always be armed in order that the people themselves--not a standing army--would provide the continuous military strength necessary to defend the country and execute its laws. Only through carrying out this shared duty and sacrifice--together--could the people retain the virtue of self-government.

The Second Amendment was only one piece of how the military part of the American project was manifested. There is no better place to start to understand how a "well-regulated militia" should function than to read about the Militia Acts of 1792, which provided the statutory flesh for the constitutional skeleton. American adults, universally, were to be self-armed members of a military organization regulated by each state and subject to requirements for training and discipline, the violation of which would be met with fines or harsher punishments meted out by courts-martial.

And now, here we are: listening for the Second Amendment but instead hearing only the call of loons. Will crazy people find a way to kill? Of course. But to say they should be able to amass an arsenal like the guy in Las Vegas is itself a species of suicidal craziness. And to claim that this craziness of constitutionally protected is more dangerous than it is bogus.

Be warned, America. By the lights of the Founders, in the matter of what's needed for the security of a free state, you're already on the ropes. And worse: you're in the crosshairs of "Killing Bill" O'Reilly's toxic grenade launcher.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

In which I try to figure out why some of my neighbors are flying the flag at night with no lights

I love my neighbors. I live in a great neighborhood. The only thing is that lots of them are protesting something, but I don't know what it is.

When I go for a walk at night, I notice that fully a quarter of the houses are flying an American flag outside. In total darkness. Here's an example: oh say can you see the American flag in there somewhere?

I can feel you shudder, dear reader, because you and I both hold very close to our hearts the undying words of 4 U.S. Code Chapter 1 §6a: "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness."

Say "amen" somebody.

My neighbors though--whom I love--are carrying out a systematic protest day after day after day by flying the flag throughout the day and throughout the night--and the latter time without proper illumination. It is particularly interesting to me that the Code says to illuminate the flag "when a patriotic effect is desired." So, logically it means that my very loveable and worthy neighbors, by flying the flag in the darkness, desire just the opposite: an unpatriotic effect. Say it isn't so.

But I don't know! That's just the thing. I wish I could be illuminated as to the reason for the lack of illumination of their flags at night time.

4 U.S.C. Chapter 1 is known as "the flag code." It has the same status as 36 U.S.C. Chapter 3 §301, which defines the national anthem and delineates the proper conduct to observe during its playing/singing. Certain professional football players have recently been observed not observing that conduct, and this has kicked up considerable brouhaha. Football is after the national sport, pace those individuals who misguidedly think that baseball--a patient game of split-second occasions of the use of lightning reflexes, played without continuous violence, without armor, and without any attendant metaphorical descriptors invoking warfare--can possibly claim any real connection to the American psyche.

But I know what those guys are doing. They are African-Americans, and they are using the occasion to complain of false advertising in the Pledge of Allegiance, which announces "liberty and justice for all," but in practice seems to come with a considerable amount nod-nod-wink-wink read-the-fine-print type stuff: "Caveat civis: this offer may not apply in all police jurisdictions, some of which may enable individual officers to apply extrajudicial capital punishment without disciplinary consequence to unarmed black men if the officers' grandmothers scared them as children with stories of Negro boogeymen, or any other such excuse whether lame or legal."

They also claim to observe a pattern of bait-and-switch in the American system vis-a-vis its black population, e.g. the Declaration of Independence "all men are created equal" excepting anyone with African blood; and e.g. again the 15th amendment saying the right to vote "shall not be denied or abridged in the United States or in any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude" but being used by Southern legislators as a parlor game called "Jim Crow, Lynching, and the KKK: The White Citizens Funtime Way of Razzing the 15th Amendment."

OK, so we know what they're protesting. But there's this brouhaha, like I said, because people are all like, "Look, if you're going to violate the National Anthem Statute, you'd better be organized about it. Colin Kaepernick? One dude! And then one week it's a few more, then Trump tweets, and it's a whole bunch, then it dies back down. That's not getting the job done! Think Boston Tea Party! Think Montgomery Bus Boycott! Y'all ain't organized! Where's the Sons of Black Liberty? Where's the NAACNFLP? Get organized and put ALL of your bodies on the line, week in and week out, until it's not just you taking a knee, it's the league itself! If people aren't boycotting football because of what you're doing, and the owners aren't losing money, you aren't doing it right!"

People are rightly pissed because these athletes don't seem to have learned the lesson of Martin Luther King, Jr., who famously wrote from the Birmingham jail that the purpose of direct action is to create a crisis. Look, it doesn't matter who agrees with you or disagrees with you about respecting the flag. You want to accomplish something, right? There will not be a resolution of the problem that you are drawing attention to unless there is a crisis that produces the kind of negotiation or legal action or voter action that produces the change you seek. Until that happens, you're just wasting your time, ginning things up because it makes you feel better. If you're not organized and persistent, it ain't gonna happen. That's the lesson of the civil rights movement. Forget about the naysayers. There's never a right time or place or way to protest according to the people who don't give a shit about your cause.

So that's what the brouhaha is about. But all that does nothing to help me figure out my neighbors, all the ones who are breaking the law about the flag. What are they protesting? Daylight savings time? Burning leaves after dark so you won't be caught? Having potable water unlike Flint, MI? The Federal Reserve System? Political Correctness? Political Incorrectness? Electricity? 4 U.S. Code Chapter 1 §6a?

I really think they're purposely creating an unpatriotic effect by which to say--in their own quiet way--that the national sport of the United States is hypocrisy.

Friday, September 29, 2017

"'Twas in the merry Urology, where prostates all were swellin'"

I live in central Appalachia, in the netherland of Tennessee and Virginia. There are two hospital systems here that are about to merge into one, if the states approve. At this writing, Tennessee has done so. Virginia, if you're listening, approve if you will, but only on one condition: that they come up with another name.

The name of the merged system is Ballad Health. With a name like this, it is readily apparent that whatever board reviewed this decision did not include anyone with a nodding acquaintance of the Appalachian ballad, and the same is probably true of whatever marketing firm sold whatever board the bill of goods that included this name.

The Appalachian ballad is more often than not a complete and total horror show. Somebody's either getting murdered, or cheated on, or knocked up, or people are dying in a fiery train crash, or somebody's lit out up the holler to become an outlaw because he got caught trying to get pain pills with his third cousin's prescription from the back surgery.

Well, actually, that last one hasn't been written yet, but you can bet the next neonatal abstinence syndrome baby that it'll be one of Ballad Health's first hits.

And if you don't believe me, go to the Encyclopedia of Appalachia and look up "ballads," and see how the ones brought over from the old country are about babies dying and girls getting their heads chopped off with swords.

Not that things improve much with the Americanization of the form. According to Encyclopedia of Appalachia the subjects of choice for the more recent Appalachian ballads are "tragic accidents, battles, and sensational murders." Tragic accidents: I'm sure no hospital has ever had to deal with those.

However, if this thing does go through, the least Ballad Health can do is play along by designating their rooms not with numbers but with names--the names being the songs of well-known Appalachian ballads. That way the public could be entertained with code messages on the PA: "Code Brown [mass casualty incident], Wreck of the Old 97" or "Dr. Joe Gottaway, The Unquiet Grave" or "Code Blue, Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow." The cardiology ward would of course be the Barbry Allen Ward, after the ballad patroness of broken hearts.

The proponents of the merger sing loudly that bigness will accomplish top-notch health care. The new system, if and when it happens, will surely be unsinkable. Unlike a certain unsinkable ocean liner that was the subject of dozens of ballads.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Deep parody: flipping "When I'm 64"

Age 64 is a milestone only because Paul McCartney wrote a pop song about it. (If you don't know the song, go ahead and listen to it so the rest of this will make sense.)

When I'm 64 is a jaunty, song-and-dance-music-hall ditty that takes the form of a letter from a young person brightly looking forward to the ripe and rewarding attainment of that age--renting a cottage on the Isle of Wight, grandchildren (Vera, Chuck, and Dave)--with a correspondent, someone likewise faced with the ravages of time ("You'll be older too") whose willingness to accept the chanteur's demand to be needed and fed is perhaps in doubt, although the whimsical banter of the letter suggests more of an inside joke.

In my family the real fans of the song were my parents--40-ish when it came out--to whom the corny music was less of an artifact, and who could pack the song with their hopes that the generation of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll would buckle down enough to give them grandchildren.

Anyway, I'm going to be 64 in a few days. Down-buckled, I dutifully produced three grandchildren, two of whom--though not named Vera and Chuck--I recruited at ages 7 and 4 to do a music video for their grandmother when she turned 64 (the kids carried out a pantomime of the song using a dollhouse and dollhouse accessories).

Making it to 64 is manifestly a cause for ironic ridicule to someone of the "now generation" that hullabalooed about not trusting anyone over 30, worshipped musical idols who didn't make it that far, and believed that the youthful force of rock music would usher in a utopia of peace and love.

As a result, I've been feeling the need for a "deep parody" of When I'm 64. Generated by the song itself, the parody would reverse McCartney's song. If McCartney looked forward to golden years being a continuum from the good ol' days ("If I've been out 'til quarter to 3"), the parody would look back to some abrupt disjuncture when the fantasy ended and reality began.

In fact, as much as possible about the song would be the reverse of McCartney: instead of jaunty music hall, it'd be a rock downer, electric and drummish; the mellow clarinet would morph into one or another of the test tube keyboard chimeras that populate today's music; where McCartney was major, it'd be minor, and vice-versa; where McCartney's melody went up, this melody would go down or be static; where McCartney was static, the melody would move; the (hopefully) enduring romance at the heart of McCartney's song would become some kind of epic split.

Some things would remain to hearken to the original and provide enough of an imitative framework to make it parody, but these would be underlying, structural elements: tempo, some re-fashioned melodic hooks, the prosody, and the scansion. An important element would remain--the correspondence aspect--but would be turned inside out: the singer would be responding, not initiating. Chances are these aspects would work like invisible support Legos hidden by surface flash and be unnoticeable to the unaware.

However, not feeling equal to the task of choosing a subject for the lyric, I let wordplay be my dice roll. Exchanging consonants in "64" soon produced the phrase "fixed to score," which could suggest many scenarios--sports, sex, drug-dealing. Given the hippie milieu being recalled, sports was out, but either sex or drugs could fit. The thing that tipped the scale as to which of those would "inspire" the refrain was an incident from my high school years.

JF was a smart guy, a bit of a loner, friendly, quiet, preternaturally pale, with a slouching amble and a sly, sideways grin. Like many of my smart friends he made terrible grades but made up for it by blowing the top of standardized tests. A National Merit semifinalist, he supposedly--to invoke the other salient fact about his high school reputation--took the exam tripping on LSD.

JF was also a drug dealer, and not without ambition. In independent study math one day he confided to me that he was having a brick of hashish shipped to him by way of the Railway Express Agency. He wasn't trying to interest me in buying--I was not a customer. His telling me about the hash wasn't a boast so much as it was an insouciant gesture delivered with nonchalance, something along the lines of "I'm going to jump the Grand Canyon in a motorcycle just to see how it goes." My inner reaction was, "I would never do anything like that; I hope you don't get caught;" my verbal response was probably something along the lines of "Far out."

He got caught. After finding this out, I never saw or heard from or about JF again. (If any old HS acquaintances recognize this story and happen to know the actual sequel, send me a postcard, drop me a line, stating point of view.) But the fact that when he got caught he was "fixed to score" jumped out at me as a major, serendipitous piece of the puzzle I was constructing.

So: apologies, JF. I hope you're somewhere, flourishing. Maybe on the Isle of Wight.

For the purposes of the song, though, the bust would be at the center of a betrayal of romantic trust, and for the most adolescent of reasons: because parents. And also the "score" is a dealer's score, more about money than drugs, giving the lie to the ballyhooed flower-power rejection of materialism.

I fleshed all this out by bouncing off McCartney's patter, e.g. "When I get older, losing my hair" became "when I was younger and had lots of hair," etc. (My personal favorite is changing "doing the garden, digging the weeds" to "doing it in the garden, digging the weed.") McCartney's melodically-static shout of "When I'm 64!" becomes a ruefully melodic, dissonant head-shaking "When I was fixed to score" that employs the same notes as the beginning of the clarinet solo in the original, but my wager is that you wouldn't notice if you didn't know.

Here, then, is the result. I didn't hit the specs 100%, but it's close. See what you think. (Be sure to use the closed captions.)

Happy 64, me. I'm glad to have made it this far and to have aged into some of the kinds of joys described in McCartney's ditty. Losing my hair is so much the least of the stuff I had to grow through to get here--bad and good--that my life strategy begins to look like deep parody of the very notion of "strategy."

Friday, August 25, 2017

Confederate monuments and government speech

I drove into the breadbasket of the Confederacy the weekend before the 2017 eclipse--the Shenandoah Valley--up the Lee Highway and past any number of Stuart-Mosby-Forrest streets that joined the main route along the way.

The controversy over recent events in Charlottesville, where a neo-fascist/KKK march protesting a planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee erupted into violence, still hung like a cloud over the public mind (judging from Facebook and Twitter), but the most-commented thing on Lee Highway this weekend was the eclipse-totality-bound Northerners backed up for miles trying to shorten their trip south by avoiding I-81, where, strangely, traffic was flowing smoothly. Someone suspected that an unreconstructed butternut may have sabotaged an app.

The proud omnipresence of the Confederacy in such parts of the South is so taken for granted by white Southerners that they don't even notice how overweening it can be. For that reason, when something like Charlottesville happens and Southerners react by saying that moving a statue is "erasing history" and then add that the next step is outlawing the United Daughters of the Confederacy, well: I wonder if there is such a thing as disingenuous hysteria.

Although I have always been a scalawag, I'm friends and family with people who believe that the Confederacy fought for a just cause and a good reason. These aren't people who can be dismissed as ignorant yahoos or simple racists. These are educated, well-informed people who also revile the fascists that disturbed Charlottesville's peace. Their arguments about the Confederacy can be subtle and historically factual; they can also seem to be correct, but don't stand up to further investigation. Whatever the case, in addressing their arguments I feel an obligation to apply the Golden Rule and treat them respectfully.

One argument that seems at the outset to have some merit is that removing the statues is a violation of free speech. Driving up Lee Highway, I pondered this. Whose speech is violated? Whose speech is a statue? The First Amendment was intended to protect the individual (or the private group) from government over-reach. But these statues do not belong to an individual or to a private group.

They belong to the government. The government has by its power placed them in the public square. The government has, in a very real sense, imposed them.

It is of course the government's purpose to impose all manner of things: rules of the road, taxes, health and safety regulations, compulsory school attendance, etc. It's why we have government. In the United States we pride ourselves on having a government that we choose--through elections--and that thus expresses the voters' will (I won't say "popular will" because so many people don't vote).

These statues are among those things imposed by the government. As such, I reasoned, they "belong" to the government and are subject to whatever limitations--if any--the government might impose. Since they are not the "speech" of a private individual or group, then, they would not be subject to First Amendment protections: the government can't protect itself against itself.

In fact--I reasoned further--it seemed that a stronger First Amendment argument would be that these statues represent state sponsorship of a tyrannical ideology that broke away from the USA in order to establish a nation based on African-American slavery. The existence of slavery in the USA did not make it a slave nation; it made it a nation that tolerated slavery. The difference between that and the establishment of slavery as a cornerstone of a new nation is as obvious as it is paramount. Anyone saying otherwise is simply not accepting the historically factual basis for the break that led to the Civil War. This being the case, I couldn't help but begin seeing the Confederate statues as the Southern equivalent of the giant banners, busts, and statues with which the totalitarian states of the Soviet Union and Maoist China so famously decorated their public squares.

When time permitted, I was able to learn that there is in fact, in the legal discourse surrounding the First Amendment (which lawyers--I have one in my family--try to warn laypeople like me to stay away from), such a concept as "government speech." It has been used to justify viewpoint restrictions, e.g. in Texas where it was the basis for preventing a Confederate flag license plate. I even found--mirabile dictu--on a blog written by members of the faculty of the University of North Carolina School of Government, a post by Frayda Bluestein from October, 2009, reporting a Supreme Court decision--Pleasant Grove City, et al. v. Summum--which had determined unanimously that, when it comes to resolving challenges to monuments in parks, "government speech" standards rather than First Amendment, a.k.a. "free speech" ones should apply.

Knowing that there are depths of legal interpretation not accessible to laypeople unequipped with the right diving apparatus, I emailed Professor Bluestein to see if the same reasoning might apply in Charlottesville. She replied the next day: "Yes, based on the case summarized in that blog post, I would say that the government has adopted that speech as its own, and it would be up to the government to make the decision about whether it stays or goes." She went on to refer me to a more recent post on the same blog that detailed the extent to which North Carolina has gone to legislate the permanence of those "government speech" monuments: if you want to remove Confederate statues in that state, you'd better have the legislature in your corner.

(I very much appreciate Professor Bluestein taking the time to reply to an unsolicited email from out of the blue. You rock!)

So the "free speech" argument turns out to have no merit. But there are more subtle and historically factual arguments, e.g. it is a valid complaint that Unionists get a pass on the issue of racism, when in fact, at the time, they were as racist as Southerners--with the exception of a small group of abolitionists--and this reality continued long after the war and up to the present day. Generally speaking, Unionists entered the Civil War without a thought as to what would happen to the slaves. As far as they knew, nothing would happen: slavery would continue when the Union was restored after a short war. When the war dragged on, slavery became the issue in the North as well as in the South (where it was, after all, the national raison d'etre from the very outset). But even destroying slavery did not mean that Northerners favored extending full civil rights to freedmen. The best that can be said about Northerners after the war is that a few of them tried, vis-a-vis black citizens, to usher in a new order. For most of them, however, at war's end, African-Americans continued to be a Southern "problem" that Yankees would just as soon leave to the tender mercies of their late antagonists. The failure of Reconstruction lies as much at the door of Northern apathy as of Southern intransigence.

Yet in the popular imagination of the 21st century, the Yankees trump the Confederates as good guys in the race category when in fact they do not deserve this distinction. They did destroy the institution of slavery, but then? They walked away, leaving it to the South to fend for itself. And we know how that turned out.

Still, this Southern argument, valid though it may be, does not address the issue of the existence of statues glorifying the Confederacy. Why are they even there? Even if Northerners were as racist as Southerners, that says nothing about why there should be statues honoring the men who not only abjured their citizenship in the USA but who fought against it in a war to establish a nation founded upon slavery.

This is where Confederate apologists--particularly from the upper South--get tetchy. They will dance a quadrille around the fact that the CSA was founded to preserve, protect, sustain, and expand the institution of African-American slavery. They will say that such men as Robert E. Lee fought to defend their state from invasion or for states' rights or for the right of secession--but they will never, ever admit that they fought for slavery. Moreover, they will castigate those who say otherwise as being historically ignorant.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to recognize the fact that, from day one, the purpose of the CSA--as a duly constituted nation--was to institutionalize the slavery of black people, and that all those who came along later--like those Virginians like Lee who invoked "defense of state" as their reason--hitched their wagons to that star. There is no escaping it. Lee became the most important general of a nation that institutionalized slavery. He led troops into battle against the USA in order to accomplish the purpose of the Constitution of the Confederacy, which explicitly protected "negro slavery." It doesn't matter whether he was kind or wicked to blacks. It doesn't matter why he personally decided to turn his back on the country to which he had formally sworn allegiance. Like all soldiers, his personal opinions, whatever they may have been, were dissolved once he put on the uniform of the Confederacy, whose laws he was now sworn not only to uphold, but to deliver by leading an army against his former nation. There is no weaseling out, no carping, and no whingeing about this. Lee did not so do. When he joined the team, he committed himself to its goals.

Here is a simple test about the Lee statue in Charlottesville. Imagine you are an alien with no knowledge of the Civil War or of Lee. You look at the statue. What can you tell from it? There is no inscription other than his name and the years of his birth and death. It is a man on a horse. But what kind of man? A uniformed man. That is the basic unit of understanding this statue. All the rest follows from the uniform.

Poor Robert E. Lee. He wanted the memory of the war buried so the country could move on. He never wanted statues. So why don't Confederate apologists listen to him? Do they have no respect for the man they claim to revere? On the one hand they elevate above all reason his personal feelings for leaving the Union, on the other they completely disregard his personal feelings as to what the end of the war should mean.

So once again I ask--and now with Lee himself joining the chorus--why Confederate statues? Some of the backwash from the most recent controversy says that it's all about Jim Crow: that most of the statues date from the first two decades of the 20th century, when--in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center--"states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans." This trope has been picked up and amplified, but, while it seems to be a promising interpretation, it leaves out too much to be satisfactory as a historical explanation.

First of all, it leaves out the fact that the period of time during which "newly freed" blacks were deprived of their rights was quite a bit longer. The so-called "nadir of race relations" in the South stretched back to 1877, when a national political deal brokered over the election of 1876 finally ended Reconstruction and handed the future of African-American citizenship over to the state governments of the South. Viewed through this optic, Jim Crow legislation can be seen as merely the capstone to a process that began much earlier and was carried out with much violence.

A more compelling timeline comes from cultural rather than legislative history, and in a peculiarly Southern way that is highly revealing not only about the reluctance there to "let go" of the Civil War, but also about the manner in which racism was engrained in the Southern psyche in a way the rest of the country did not experience. The key to this explanation is women's clubs.

Women's clubs in the latter half of the 19th century and into the 20th asserted a singular influence on American public culture; these groups were a characteristic expression of the Progressive Era nationwide. Lacking the vote, women nonetheless--by organizing around causes and issues having to do mostly with social improvement--were able to produce profound social changes. As a lifelong public librarian, my favorite example is the public library: wherever Andrew Carnegie ran into a brick wall with his offers of construction capital to establish public libraries, women's clubs were there to pick up the cause, particularly in the South. It was through their lobbying that many Southern cities established their public libraries.

The phenomenon that explains the spike in Confederate statue-building better than any other is the life cycle of that most Southern of women's clubs, the United Daughters of the Confederacy. In the early days (it was founded in 1894) its specialty was monuments intended to convey "a proper respect for and pride in the glorious war history." Through their tireless efforts--not the least of which was raising money to pay for the monuments--the South is now blanketed with Confederate monuments in the public square. Mildred Rutherford (1851-1928), historian-general of the organization, said that when the men said they could not build the monuments because they were "under an oath of allegiance," the women responded, 'we are under no oath.' And the work went on. ... More monuments stand to the Confederate soldier today [1913] than to any other soldier of any other nation who ever fought for any cause."

Cause: the UDC agitated for a sanitized view of slavery and the antebellum South well-known as the "Lost Cause." This in no way means that they had lost hope in retaining whatever white-supremacist lineaments might remain from the struggle. The women of the UDC were triumphalists. Thanks to the Ku Klux Klan and other such agencies of terror--to which Mildred Rutherford credited the "glorious victory" of "regaining self-government" in the South--the "negroes were frightened into going to work." The servile race had been returned to the place reserved for it by the South, and there it must remain. Rutherford again: "Yes, the South is triumphant today! ... Let us keep the ballot box pure! ... Teach your children not to falter till the right shall rule in Dixie."

"The right." One wonders what Mildred Rutherford would have thought of the alt-right. She could only have agreed with those who favor a white ethno-state. After all, that's what she believed had been accomplished by the "triumphant" South, with its monuments honoring the heroes of its "glorious victory."

The Lee statue in Charlottesville is not a UDC statue. It was commissioned and then donated to the city by a local son, a munificent philanthropist who spent his wealth with sacrificial gifts that enriched the city and UVA with, among other things, the city's public library and the university's department of economics and commerce. But the statue shares the cause of the UDC: all of those fine contributions to the well-being of the city and the university were not intended for African-Americans. They came from and depended upon a social order that was symbolized by the statue of Robert E. Lee,  astride his charger and resplendently triumphant. The "glorious victory" belonged to whites, and blacks had to remember their subordinate place in that world.

Today, we cannot ignore that symbolism: a triumphant South lording it over a subservient class of African-Americans. No, not slaves, but stripped in perpetuity of all the rights and duties of citizens. How can anyone ignore the flip side of that "heritage"?

There is to me no greater irony in American history than that, after all the death and destruction of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, the eventual demise of Mildred Rutherford's ethno-state--at least de jure--should have come after a long campaign of nonviolence by African-Americans. Its success depended at least to some extent on white Southerners deciding that the South of the UDC--in an America that proclaimed all to be created equal--was an embarrassment that needed to end. But it was the example and the eloquence of such black Americans as W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King--as well as the long legal struggle of the NAACP--that produced this triumph. I believe it to be a victory for all Americans, one well worth celebrating with "government speech" in the public square.

We are not the same people in the South who erected those statues. We--most of us--believe that African-Americans share the rights and duties of citizenship. It is time for "government speech" in the South to reflect and represent this enormous sea change in Southern attitudes.

I never was much for waiting on the Robert E. Lee. I will say this though: he did surrender. That is the most important thing about Robert E. Lee. And if he is owed a debt of gratitude by later generations, it is for that very thing, because it means that along with his surrender came the surrender of a nation founded upon slavery. It didn't entirely spare us a long and bitter guerrilla campaign--the Knights of the Ku Klux and the Camellias and all the other cosplay chivalrons of White Supremacy that so captivated Mildred Rutherford and the UDC were yet to come--but when the surrender happened, it helped produce a change in the framework of Federal law that eventually, a century later, could be used by the non-violent warriors of civil rights to extract, finally, at long last, at least a formal measure of citizenship.

There is much happening today that would shock the Confederate memorialists. Every place we stopped to eat or get gas in the breadbasket of the Confederacy had blacks and whites working side by side. Every place we stopped had blacks and whites socializing, as well as families of mixed race. And this is in the state that took its UDC, lily-white, racial purity family law diktat all the way to the Supreme Court--only 50 years ago! How horrified Mildred Rutherford would be now. I have no doubt she would be re-thinking her triumphalist notions.

For some reason I was reminded of the favorite truck line of my youth: Mason-Dixon truck lines, out of Kingsport, TN. I loved its logo that emblazoned the sides of its trailers: an illustration of Generals Grant and Lee shaking hands at Appomattox. That's the statue I always wanted to see in a Southern square.

There's obviously still a long way to go. The challenges of de facto racism are still strong.  But at least we should be able to endow Robert E. Lee with the plinth-inscription best suited for the times: "And yet, he surrendered."

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How to save the Confederate statues

Dear People Who Think Removing the Lee Statue in Charlottesville is Erasing History in the Name of Political Correctness,

Fine. Let's keep the statue. But let's also help it do a better job of teaching history. As it is, it's really, really awful at doing that. I mean, even you have to admit that. It's Robert E. Lee in a uniform on a horse. With his name on the pedestal. Not even a tendentious, florid Daughters of the Confederacy inscription. The statue itself has no intrinsic historic value. It only dates from the 1920's. Nostalgia, I'll grant. Just don't call it history.

But I hear you. I love history. I believe in the value of history. I think the history of the Confederacy is readily, fully, and completely available to anyone in the world in America's libraries and museums -- not to mention on the manicured battlefields so lovingly maintained for both Union and Confederate by none other than Uncle Sam, including as many statues of General Lee as anyone with a sound mind could reasonably want.

All these books and exhibits and Little Round Tops and Missionary Ridges give you what the Lee statue in Charlottesville lacks completely, and which history requires: context. Without it the past cannot be revivified in any meaningful way. There is no history without it. No history can provide it all, but all history must provide some.

The Lee statue, as it is, is worthless as history. However, that does not mean it cannot be saved by being rendered into a more contextual, meaningful installation. Here are a couple of ideas:

1. Submerge the statue in an aquarium and surround it with a ring of shackled slaves. (Yes, this rips off another statue, just like a general on a horse rips off a thousand other statues since the days of ancient Rome.) Robert E. Lee betrayed his pledge to the nation he served as a soldier in order to establish a nation founded on African slavery, which was a centuries-long hecatomb for Africans and Americans of African descent--as was the war that Lee's rash betrayal abetted.

2. Surround the statue with diaphanous screens showing 1. the names of the slaves of the Custis estate whose enslavement was unnecessarily extended by Lee's execution of the Custis will and 2. a picture of recently freed slaves freed by the war and living on the grounds of Arlington, the Custis-Lee estate.

Something along these lines would help alleviate the currently abysmal showing of the Lee statue as a purveyor of anything historically meaningful.