Saturday, November 14, 2015

à la guerre comme à la guerre

Yesterday: November 13. Eurostyle: 13/11.

It was one of those articles that, at first, provided further evidence of the continuing folly of my existenc : dementia patients improve when they sing show tunes. My response? I hate show tunes. And because of that I don't know any show tunes. If I were in a nursing home where people sang show tunes, I would become overtly anti-social and consigned to a straitjacket; it would be explained away as a symptom of my illness; but somewhere deep inside my demented self would live a glimmer of fierce desire to explain to these scientists that it's not the show tunes, dammit, it's the blinking singing, you eedjits; which desire to explain would, of course, be folly because I would be too far gone to do anything about it, and because, well: folly: I was born with two heads.

But then I calmed down when I realized that I had cracked the nut and had the answer that the scientists did not have: singing was indeed the key. The scientists were barking all around it and came up with their lame correlation, but that was okay; they were Lamarck and I was Darwin, and I was cool with that.

The next thing was, "what would I sing?" And my instincitive, unthinking response was "La Marseillaise," which I then belted out at the top of my lungs to the alarm and general discomfiture of my dog Lizzie and my daughter's dog Zoey, who was visiting. They joined in, and not--from the looks on their faces--out of a sense of patriotism.

Then the doorbell rang and the dogs' attention was diverted to a more insidious threat: the UPS man, who for some reason didn't stick around. A flatbed scanner had arrived that I was going to employ for archival follies.

Probably because of the power and influence of the singing, I decided to put the scanner to the test with a 3-D object: Lazare, a French revolutionary sans-culotte crocheted by my mother long ago.

Then in the early evening rolled in horror stories from Paris, and today I find myself quite at a loss, feeling very much 9/11. Allons enfants.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Between the World and Me: A letter to Samori Coates

Dear Samori,
Please forgive such a familiar greeting from a total stranger, but I just had the pleasure of "meeting" you, so to speak, by way of the beautiful and demanding book that your father wrote for you.

I can imagine that you're probably both proud and embarrassed to be the object of such a lavishly public paternal heart-to-heart. Maybe at this point you're more embarrassed than you are proud. Believe me when I say that in the future you'll be way prouder and not at all embarrassed. I hope so anyway.

Your father gives a few glimpses of who you are, mostly I think to point up for the reader the different circumstances of your childhood and his; and how, no matter the differences between his Baltimore and your New York, there must always come the point of reckoning for you as a black person in America. That point of reckoning, according to your father, came when nothing was done about the policemen who killed Michael Brown. A flash of understanding; then the dam bursts and swept away is all hope that America can ever possibly offer a black person any reliable expectation of justice, much less belonging.

A lot of your book is how your father has lived with that reality, how he has come to understand and articulate it, and how--denied any sense of belonging by his country--he found where he did in fact belong. This he does for you, I think, at least in part to give you the wherewithal to transform your own point of reckoning from alienation into pride. It's a gift from him, which I hope you're able to accept.

Hope. Funny I should say that, because hope seems to me what your book is all about, even though to the first-time reader it really doesn't seem like it, and even I who have spent some time with it have to kick myself to say that, much less believe it.

It's not so much that I'm a pessimist as that, well, you know the Dream that your father keeps talking about in your book? I live inside of the Dream. I hate to say this: it's worse than he says. About the Dreamers, I mean.
(If anybody's reading this who hasn't read your book, I'm going to go ahead and tell them that it is the "American Dream" that your father floats as a happy-face balloon--"It is perfect houses with nice lawns. It is Memorial Day cookouts, block associations, and driveways. The Dream is tree houses and the Cub Scouts. The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake"--only to  puncture: "the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies … the Dream persists by warring with the known world.")

Living inside the Dream comes standard to a white, middle-class male like me, particularly in the South, which is where I have always lived. Fortunately I had a father whose only words of advice that I can remember were "Do not belong." We couldn't belong, anyway, because my family was secular in the Bible Belt.

In any event I have observed Dreamers all my life. And when your father says, relative to the country coming to the aid of the murdered Prince Jones's mother, "Dr. Jones's country did what it does best--it forgot him. The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream," all I can say is that he is being charitable.
And when your father asks you not to struggle for the Dreamers, but to "hope for them. Pray for them if you are so moved," all I can feel is an immense sense of wonder at his forbearance and his willingness to try to move you to hope.

Because, as I say, it's way worse than he says. About the Dreamers, I mean.

Forgetfulness? No, ignorance. At best, ignorance. At worst? It's not hard to see. Especially in the South. Vicious, in-your-face, racist triumphalism borne aloft in a Confederate flag.

But didn't the South lose? No, the South held on bitterly to its slavery-born notions of white supremacy, and it won. It fucking won. The rest of the country not only backed away from bringing African-Americans into the civic composition, but the South would not have it and embarked on a campaign of terror to prevent it. And the would-be liberators? We could say that they just forgot about the African-American. But no. They listened to the South. They agreed with the South. They let popular expressions of the national mind like The Birth of the Nation and Gone With the Wind wash over them and suck them into something that goes beyond forgetfulness.
These days, at best, as I say, it is ignorance. Total, complete, and willful ignorance that begins and ends with a vague and uninformed sense that they know what the Civil War was all about. Well, not only do they willfully not know, but they also have this bizarre notion that somehow the Civil War put paid to this country's obligations to assure citizenship rights across the board. They are intentionally, fiercely uninterested in slavery, the Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the great migration, and the civil rights movement. They don't fucking care.

If I had any hope in this area, it would be that somebody, somewhere would be trying to bust up this ignorance, would crank out hugely popular media of all kinds showing the unpitying truth of black history in the New World--mostly America, but take the Haitian Revolution, for example: it should be a paragon of the just struggle. Oh, for someone to make it so with something as wildly popular as was The Birth of the Nation! Oh, for someone to shake it in the face of a country supposedly dedicated to freedom and ask "What about this? What about this?"
And that's just for starters.

The history of black America ought be taught to all Americans from kindergarten on as an essential ingredient of American history. Why? Not so much "lest we forget" as an object lesson of what happens when a country's ideals falter, right out of the gate, but as a questioning counterpoise to the Pledge of Allegiance, one that asks, "Are we delivering on this?"
Dreamers want only rote recitation of the pledge and blind faith in the flag, when what we need are more moments like the one in 1968 when, on the Olympic medal stand, during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner, black American medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and held up black-gloved fists. If you don't know about this event, you should read about it. White people were generally horrified, saying that they should be stripped of their medals for disrespect to the flag. I always believed they showed great dignity and respect for doing what they did. They, like your father, were trying to get the Dreamers to pay attention to the ideals they pay lip service to, trying to get them to be human and mix some shame in with the pride when they look at the flag. God knows they need to.

(By the way I have to say at some point that your father is doing the country an incredible service right now. The way he wrote about reparations and, after the Charleston massacre, about the Confederate flag. I just wish … yeah, I just wish.)

How to get the Dreamers to understand this about lip service? Dreamers are a notoriously defensive bunch whose defensiveness is like a raincoat that sheds the rain of truth. Besides, lip service seems to be an essential component of the Dream. Many Dreamers claim to be washed in the Blood of the Lamb, but let's just say they towel off quick. Don't ask them to live by the ideals they profess, because they can't, not when those ideals have to do with love, or caring, or respect, or empathy, or fairness. Why can't they? For two reasons: their religious beliefs let them off the hook, and their liberty always, always, always seems to come at someone else's cost. Their coin of liberty is selfishness, and its obverse is oppression.

So I don't have much hope for the Dreamers. I just don't. It was depressing to read recently about leaders of Black Lives Matter meeting with Hilary Clinton and telling her they wanted to change white minds, only to have her say they couldn't do that. They couldn't change white minds. Dammit, Clinton, can't you see that's one of the things you of all people need to take a stab at, at least?

I'm more a wisher than a hoper, I guess. I'm glad to have your book to help me think through all of this, even though I don't know where it leaves me. The whole time that your father talked about the Dream, the thing that welled up inside of me was a different dream that I'm sure you know about: the dream spoken of by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a dream of liberty and justice for all. I wish that was the American Dream. By rights it should be. I wish you and I would be able to meet one another and be able to accept that we share in common both citizenship and humanity, but given the past that leads up to now, why should you accept the humanity of a white American like me? If that's not cause for shame for America, I don't know what is.

Best wishes for the future,
Jud Barry

Monday, July 6, 2015

"You Are Being Lied To!" Yeah, but by whom?

Don't you just love it when a "you are being lied to" meme is itself an exercise in seemingly deliberate prevarication?

For example:

Aside from being a silly quibble (more on that below), it is quite selective with the truth. Yes, the flag on the right is the "first Confederate National Flag," and no, it does not exhibit the "Southern cross."

But what about the second Confederate National Flag (1863-1865)? Or the third one (1865)? Here they are:

The Second Confederate National Flag, a.k.a. the "Stainless Banner."

Look closely at this flag. Do you notice anything that distinguishes it from a standard-issue, plain-vanilla flag of truce? 

The Third Confederate National Flag, a.k.a. the "Bloodstained Banner."

In fact the Second Flag was sometimes mistaken for a flag of truce, so the Third Flag added a distinct element: a red stripe along the edge. Lacking any other distinguishing feature, that could mean that the Confederacy had developed a thirst for Jamaican beer.

But there is of course a distinguishing feature on both of these Confederate National Flags: the Southern Cross.

So the "fact" as reported is less than honest. It is also a silly quibble. The Confederate Battle Flag is the most important emblem of the Confederacy, because it was the flag that most of its soldiers fought and died under. Even if it wasn't the flag of the government, it was for them the flag of The Cause. And what was that Cause? It was to found a nation in which "no bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right to property in negro slaves shall be passed" and in which no dang-blasted Yankee states would be able to practice states' rights by refusing to send fugitive slaves back to their owners.

And if you don't believe me, you can read the Confederate Constitution.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

One flag to unite them all (Southerners in the U.S.A., that is)

If the South must have a flag, it seems like it ought to be a flag that doesn't divide people from the get-go. Say what you will about the current, supposed one--whether you're fer it or agin it--I think we can all agree it is divisive.

1. A Southern flag ought to be a flag that represents all residents of the South--old-timers and newcomers, people of every ethnicity, speakers of all languages (but learners of "y'all"). The South has moved on past the past that divided us. Its current identity maintains its distinctiveness even as it welcomes newcomers to participate in it and to belong. The new flag is for everyone who thinks of himself or herself as a Southerner.

2. It ought to be a flag that includes all of the Southern states, not just the ones that seceded in the Civil War--or were counted as "slave" states in sympathy with the secessionists' cause (e.g. Kentucky, which is included in the new flag, and Missouri, which is not). Thus, the new flag includes the traditionally-regarded Southern states of Delaware and Maryland; welcomes West Virginia back into the fold; and includes Oklahoma, where so many native Americans from the old South were relocated.

3. It ought to be a flag whose design confirms and strengthens the understanding that the South is part of the United States of America. The new flag design refer to the Stars and Stripes in a clearly symbolic way.

Here's my idea:

No, it's not upside down: "pole side" is the side with unbroken stripes.

The six stripes are for the six Southern states that ratified the original U.S. constitution and should be read top to bottom in order of ratification: Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina.

The triangular canton is in the lower right because that's like the south/southeast corner of the actual cartographical U.S., get it?

(A rectangular canton in that location would really look like an upside-down Old Glory from some 16-state time past).

The 16 stars represent the actual, real Southern states of (alphabetically) Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

While there are some similarities with the flag of Puerto Rico (which has five stripes and a pole side triangular canton with one star), they are coincidental. I didn't discover them until I'd already had the concept of six stripes and a 16-star triangular canton in the "cartographical south" of the flag. Furthermore, this flag furled or unfurled would have a distinct identity.

(Since writing this I've discovered another proposal for a new flag of the South. It has 15 stars and five stripes--no Delaware--and a design that to me suggests the Confederate "Stars and Bars." I believe that the times require a design that is a more radical break from the past.)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Sine nomine

Quite a few years back, I wrote program notes for the Kingsport Symphony. (Anyone interested in these artifacts can find the surviving series here.) This old penchant for foraging in the echoes struck me pretty hard this week, after April Fools' Day came during Holy Week this year (a fortuitous event for someone like me who treasures his copy of Tomie di Paola's Clown of God) and issued a clear call for a cinematic response from Ballet Pysanka:

(The video is only 1:58; the rest of this will be more interesting if you go ahead and watch it).

"Sine nomine" is the Latin equivalent of "anonymous." In the performance I'm wearing a Guy Fawkes mask associated with the group Anonymous, but for a title I liked the reverberations of "sine nomine," ecclesiastical in the very specific sense that they come from the apocryphal book Ecclesiasticus, chapter 44, which (O lovely coincidence) begins "Let us now praise famous men" but which goes on in verse 9 to praise those worthies who died without fame, i.e. "sine nomine."

But another use of "sine nomine" that is quite particular to this project is its use in library catalogs (usually in its abbreviated form, "s.n.") to show when the identity of an author or publisher is not known. The next-to-last title in the video shows what I knew when I completed the movie: the composer of the soundtrack was sine nomine, at least to me.

The music is an old recorder favorite that I dusted off recently. It comes from a collection of unaccompanied pieces edited by F. J. Giesbert and originally published in 1937 by B. Schott's Söhne, Mainz. The collection is entitled Fifteen Solos by 18th-century Composers, but nowhere are the composers' names given.

Why? Were they truly unknown? Was the publisher trying to hide something?

(Back in the mid-20th century when there was a market for recorder music, publishers seemed to want their buyers to believe that the music was actually written for recorder, when in fact it was usually an arrangement of something originally written for some other instrument(s).)

After putting the movie online I decided to try to find out who wrote the piece. Back in the old days it would've meant digging through catalogs of musical incipits--where the opening handful of notes of a piece are arranged in a searchable fashion--but now I had a multimedia universe at my disposal.

Very quickly, by searching Youtube, I identified 3 likely candidates: J. J. Quantz, J. F. Braun, and J. D. Braun. Further sleuthing ruled out the first two--although the video at 1:50 shows me in the early stages of research when I thought J. F. Braun was the guy. Now, even though I haven't seen the final evidence in the form of a scanned manuscript, I'm convinced that French composer Jean Daniel Braun wrote the music.

Braun wrote a collection of short solo pieces, Pieces sans basse pour la flute traversiere, a pdf of which is available. 

"Sans basse" means there is no continuous bass line, an ordinary feature of baroque music, which formed the basis for any added keyboard harmony. In other words, it's baroque code for "solo."

"Flute traversiere" means "transverse flute," which is the term used in the baroque period to distinguish the true flute from the recorder, which was called "flauto" or "flute douce."

A quick comparison of these pieces with the Schott collection edited by Giesbert reveals the latter to be made up entirely of Braun's Pieces sans basse, transposed to different keys to be more suitable for the alto recorder.

There remains the question of why Schott would do this. My conjecture is that the year 1937 in Mainz, Germany, with the Nazi Gestapo fully unleashed from court control, was not a time when a German publisher would want to put out a collection of music by a Frenchman. The recorder itself was völkisch, quite in favor, and in need of more music. It just had better not be music by a degenerate, epicene French guy.

Just a hunch. The next question for the movie soundtrack is how a piece without bass got a bass. I do know the answer to that.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Appalachian Shibboleth

A FB friend, having gotten wind of my outburst described in the last blog, and no doubt with a wicked grin on her face, posted a status about a national weather person using the dreaded "AppaLAYchian" pronunciation.

To her amazement and mine, quick as wink a corps of doughty defenders of Appalachia appeared to avenge their region's besmirched honor, castigating the "wrong" pronunciation, saying you can tell by the way they say it that they don't live here, carrying the righteous torch of the original Indian pronunciation, etc.

They quietened down a little when a brave fellow from Maine allowed as how he grew up using (of all things) the New England pronunciation, and how when he moved to Kentucky for grad school he was met with "genuine hostility."

But really this phenomenon needs a song, something channeling Tom Lehrer or Randy Newman, except solidly and southernly guitared and feathered, so here 'tis--lyrics anyway.



O traveling friends in the American South,
When mountain-bound, heed these words from my mouth:
There's one thing you can do to make the folks down there hate ya
And that's call the place where they live "Appalaychia."


It won't do any good if you try to explain
that the famous trail that goes from Georgia to Maine
takes its name from a geological formation
that gazetteers since forever have pronounced "Appalaychian."

I've done the REsearch
I've done the reSEARCH
I've never been to the mountaintop
But I sure have been to church.


One thing they say, all the Appalatchkey folk
Is they say it the way that the Indians spoke.
So, first you stole their land, and then you stole their pronunciation?
That's all the more reason to say "Appalaychian."

I'll be your Gilead
I'll be your Ephraim
I'll tell the censor twice
I got some stuff for him.

Shake it out of you
All that intolerance 
Shake it out of you
All that intolerance


It won't matter to them if you grew up Massachutian
and saying "Appalaychian" was the down home locution
So this warning to you, if you're Greek, Dane, or Haitian:
When in the mountain south, please don't say "Appalaychian."


Londonderry air
The censor cometh
with his head up his derrière

Shake it out of you
All that intolerance
Shake it out of you
All that intolerance


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Pronunciamento, or, The Appalachian Molehill

Fred Sauceman, the newsreader at WETS and enthusiast of such regional haute cuisine as red-dyed hot dogs, has unfriended me.

I don't know Fred that well, but in the superficial ways of Facebook we were "friends." Until I did the unmentionable. I committed an anathema.

I have been shunned. Cast into the outer darkness.

I defended Alex Trebek's pronunciation of "Appalachian."

Fred complained publicly that Jeopardy host Trebek had pronounced it Appa-LAY-shun, which, as all good denizens of the southern mountain area know, is a fightin' pronunciation. If it ain't Appa-LATCH-ian you just might get a mess o' hot soup beans thrown in your face. The post received over 100 "likes" and a number of comments basically urging Fred to invade the Jeopardy studio to set Trebek straight.

I posted a comment to the thread that I knew would be regarded as scalawag, but that I also believed to be germane to the discussion, to wit, that when it comes to the adjective "Appalachian," there are two legitimate pronunciations, because there are native New Englanders living in the Appalachian mountains who say "Appa-LAY-shun." Just like, you know, Indianans pronounce "Lafayette" La-fee-YET and Georgians pronounce it La-FAY-it.

Or, as Alex Trebek might say, vive la difference.

Now, to anyone like my real (I hope) friend Rick Martin, I hasten to say that I made an exception for the noun "Appalachia." Rick has convinced me that Appalachia is a purely southern hinterland, and that therefore the only acceptable pronunciation is the LATCH one. I concede the point.

However, I maintain that the adjective "Appalachian" has two nativist pronunciations remarked more or less by the Mason-Dixon line.

Well, anyway, Fred deleted my comment. Mine alone. Nobody else's. Censored me. What can I say--I'm a librarian. We don't do censorship very well. I had been polite and to the point--not to mention germane. Fred apparently was more interested in rustling up a howling pack of yes-people than he was in having a discussion.

I posted again that New Englanders performing sweat equity on the Appalachian Trail had every right to their pronunciation all the way to Springer Mountain.

And, yeah, I also said that the people who wanted to rain Trebek with t-shirts from the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance to school him on the pronunciation were just confirming our regional reputation for being intolerant rednecks.

Ok, so that was a little harsh. But then again, I'm a librarian and I'd been censored. If you run with the bulls at Pamplona, expect to be gored.

Fred let me know privately that my comment (my initial one--the germane, unprovoked one) had been a personal assault and he was removing the entire thread. I apologized, saying that it certainly wasn't intended as an assault, the apology was accepted … and I was cast into the outer darkness. Without so much as an auto-da-fe.

Here's a little story about pronunciation. In the Appalachian mountains.

I was hiking the Appalachian Trail with my brothers. 1971? We'd had a long day--close to 20 miles--and we were footsore and tired. We plopped our packs down by a road at what we hoped was Tesnatee Gap, unsure that we wanted to tough it on to a shelter (we had little tube tents, so we didn't have to, but sleeping in these tents got you drenched in a rainstorm of condensation).

A pickup truck came along. Three guys got out and offered us some beer. Put yourself in our boots. Not yet drinking age, I'd never had more than a swallow of beer before, nor had my younger brother Charley (as far as I know), so this was an exciting prospect to start with, not to mention that a whole day of hiking in the summer heat had made us really thirsty.

We gratefully accepted the beer and then asked the men if this was Tesnatee Gap. We pronounced it Tez-NAY-tee.

The tolerant, charitable response--given in such a way as not to embarrass our furriner ignorance--was, "I think they pronounce it TEZ-nuh-tee."

That's the way it's done. Love one another … and one another's pronunciations, however much you disagree. Prejudice begets prejudice.