Monday, November 6, 2017

Second Amendmentitis: Inflammation of a vestigial law

The appendix in the human body is vestigial: it used to do something but now it doesn't. And sometimes it gets sick and has to be removed.

The Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is likewise vestigial: it used to provide the basis for arming a universal militia, in which every adult citizen served as a matter of law, but since that system broke down and was replaced by the National Guard, the Second Amendment no longer serves a purpose. Some people say that it guarantees an individual right to gun ownership, and it may indeed. However, that was not its purpose. And that is what makes it vestigial.

America is very sick right now. It is sick of gun violence. It is sick of the slaughter of masses of innocent people. It is particularly sick of its impotent division in the face of this slaughter. One side wants gun control; the other side is all guns and undisciplined, open-carry nonsense.

In this case--unlike an appendix--the vestigial Second Amendment has made America very sick not because the amendment itself is sick, but because it has lost its original purpose.

And--also unlike an appendix, which must be removed when it gets sick--a vestigial amendment can be returned to health if it is restored to its original purpose. And given the impasse between the two sides that shows every sign of getting worse and worse (I saw a tweet today that said that the two sides would erupt into a war), it seems to me that someone somewhere should be talking about doing that.

One of the things that's making us sick is that we no longer act like we are the government. The government is something other than us, even if we elect our representatives. This is particularly pronounced on the Tea Party right, which has tossed out the traditional conservative reverence for state and local government, and which regards even such traditional civic solutions as public education with undisguised scorn.

In this fevered atmosphere we should remember that the most universal governmental institution of the early Republic--the one in which the entire public of the time (adult white male) was involved--was the militia. You might not have enough property to vote, but you had to serve in the militia--by law. None of this volunteer garbage. This meant that there was one universal arm of government in which everyone participated, and which provided a check on the power of elected or appointed officials.

Today, with the definition of citizen broadened to include everyone of both sexes, universal militia service would provide a common bond of civic duty unparalleled in the nation's history. Don't tell me that wouldn't make a difference.

I tell my gun control friends: stop talking about gun control. Instead, revive/update the militia law of 1792 by requiring all citizens to be armed, then regulate! The Second Amendment allowed it then, and it allows it now.

  • Don't want to have a gun? Pay a tax, the same as people who don't want Affordable Care pay the mandate. Those taxes would pay for the administration of the militia system. Reduce or eliminate your tax by participating in the "peace militia" that would perform a wide variety of public services.
  • How many people should have semi-automatic weapons? That's a military decision to be made by militia commanders in each state. Only those authorized for military purposes would have them.
  • Concealed or open carry would be not be based on individual whim but would be subject to military regulations established by each state militia.
  • Require semi-annual (at least) inspection, drill, and firearm education (especially safety) of all gun-bearing citizens.
  • Those buying or selling firearms contrary to militia regulations for registration, fitness, etc., would be treated as insurrectionists.
  • Make the militia relevant by giving it a hard purpose: dissolve the National Guard, stand down most of the standing army, and demilitarize the police.
These are only a few examples of the kinds of things that are possible with a Second Amendment well-regulated militia. Right now we are living practically in a state of anarchy when it comes to firearms. Change the culture. Let the Second Amendment be the Second Amendment.

Or you can keep on doing like you're doing and either not get anything done or do something half-assed and not address the real problem.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Compromise and the Civil War: My way AND the highway

What's this crap about compromise preventing the Civil War? Anybody saying that is ignorant of some real basic facts. It's so easy, people! The facts that are right in front of your @#$%^&* face!

(There must be something about something being so obvious and easy that nobody talks about it--kind of like the well-regulated militia in the 2nd Amendment.)

Here you go: a simple timeline.

Nov. 6, 1860: Abraham Lincoln elected President of the United States. Will not take office until Mar. 4, 1861.

Dec. 20, 1860: South Carolina secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Jan. 9, 1861: Mississippi secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Jan. 10, 1861: Florida secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Jan. 11, 1861: Alabama secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Jan. 19, 1861: Georgia secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Jan. 26, 1861: Louisiana secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Feb. 1, 1861: Texas secedes. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Feb. 8, 1861: Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States of America adopted. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Feb. 9, 1861: Jefferson Davis elected President of the Confederates States of America. (Lincoln not president yet.)
Feb. 18, 1861: Jefferson Davis inaugurated President of the Confederate States of America. (Lincoln STILL not president yet.)

Mar. 4, 1861: Abraham Lincoln inaugurated President of the United States. (Whew! Finally!)

What caused secession? The constitutional election of Abraham Lincoln--wishy-washy on slavery--caused pro-slavery-expansionist firebrands in the deep Southern states to break away from the United States. Lincoln was presented with a fait accompli by those states that before his inauguration had already established a separate nation. He could either accept this and preside over a USA shorn of these states, or he could seek by military means to reconstitute it.

No compromise was available--short of accepting the dissolution of the USA. The question was whether it could be put back together by military means.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Graffito: Dissertation Decapitation

A letter in the mailbox. When does that happen anymore? One for you, and one for me.

One for you: I want to blurt it all out, but I'm forcing myself give you an entire explanation.

One for me: "I've just finished reading your dissertation," it began.

Now that was a sure-fire way of getting my attention. As far as I knew, the only people who'd ever read my dissertation were the three professors on my review panel. They'd gotten me my Ph.D., which entitled me to a shot at some beggarly adjunct spot in Beaufuque, Tennessee, that might keep me in espresso and scones if I economized and gave up eating actual food.

But here was somebody outside that world who had read also it.

Sure, the dissertation was good. Sure, it was fascinating! I mean, how could something not be fascinating with a title like "Reconstructing a Symbolist Hymn to the Guillotine: Finding Meaning in the Argot of a Fin-de-Siècle Paris Crime Scene Graffito"? It was all about how I had solved--or thought I had solved--a real puzzle.

OK, so it wasn't the Rosetta Stone, but it took a lot of doing to produce an answer good enough to convince three hoary scholars of epigraphy and French linguistics that it was the answer.

It had all started the way epigraphy always seems to start--with the construction of a sewer, in this case the upgrading of a sewer line in the 20th arrondissement of Paris. Workmen came upon a subterranean room that had a wall with an intact graffito so mysterious and so lovingly inscribed that the crew foreman himself cut it out and delivered it to the Institut français.

The graffito was not of any great age, but the civil authorities soon discovered that it came from the house that had produced a notorious murder in 1875: a woman had killed her husband--probably after she had suffered years of abuse--by decapitating him with a home-made guillotine, which crime earned the murderess the same fate beneath the judicial blade.

But the obscurity of the inscription was such that before long the civil authorities issued a call for help decoding it, via a notice in a bulletin somewhere, which my advising professor happened to notice. "Here's your dissertation," is what she'd said.

It was four lines of French gibberish. You will forgive me if I bore you with it. I know French isn't your thang, but, believe me, it's essential to my reason for writing this letter, so here it is:
Bob Echafaud seconde tous 'ci
S'il--verts beaux culs ennuis anis--
y compacte Tue-Mari immisce:
Prie-Dieu, Bob Echafaud!
Why, you ask, bother with gibberish? If the history of language demonstrates anything, it is that today's gibberish is yesterday's everyday speech. And for me, for some reason, after reading it for the first time, I couldn't get it out of my head. I ran it over and over when I was trying to get to sleep that first night. It sounded like something I knew! It seemed to be calling me with a siren call I couldn't resist.

My non-resistance turned into seven years of work. People who have not done scholarship have no appreciation for what I mean by "work," either. I was possessed: I followed every lead, mined every obscure lexicon with a toothpick, looked at every worm-eaten scrap of archival evidence, talked or wrote to every specialist in the arcana of the Parisian monde and the demi-monde of the late 19th century, and basically lived, breathed, and shat those words for seven whole monastic years. Sure, I went on dates from time to time, but I always wound up sitting at a table alone, because who wants to hang out with someone who is obsessed with translating four lines of French gibberish? It was like I was Dan Brown before DaVinci Code.

I did translate it, and here it is, for what it's worth: "Everybody here, Bob Scaffold is your second. That is, unless his green-ass absinthe issues get in the way and he's only packing a sawed-off Hubby Killer. In that case, Bob Scaffold, you're just a kneeling bench."

But what did it mean? The best part about the dissertation was that I could only say a truly final, conclusive answer, ahem, "awaited further research." Which meant I could publish-or-perish about this damn thing for-fucking-ever. This was truly going to be my lifelong ticket to espresso and scones.

"Bob Scaffold" was most definitely a guillotine. But was it the homemade one or the official one awaiting the murderess? "Kneeling bench" provides a savory equivalence in terms of furniture: the literal translation is "pray-God." Would it be seen as an instrument of divine justice? Even more tantalizing was the fact that the murderess was known to run in the same social circles as Symbolist poets, whose verse made mincemeat out of meaning (but it was very delicious mincemeat). She had met the poets Verlaine and Mallarmé. As far as is known, this was her only poem: etched in plaster, probably after beheading her husband. Even after seven years, I had just bored a hole in the explanation big enough for my head.

And into that breach stepped the letter: "I believe I have some information that can shed some light on your puzzle," it went on. "Your thorough research brought you part of the way, but I feel certain that, with all the work you spent on it, you will be very interested in learning something that will take you the rest of the way."

Interested? No no no I wasn't interested. With that letter I was a fly on the lashes of a Venus flytrap.

There she goes with the piano again. The letter-writer. I was trapped from the beginning.

I responded immediately to the anonymous sender at the address provided: something along the lines of "please I will kill anyone or debase myself in any way you wish if you will only share your information with me," only couched in socially conventional expressions. After a month of sleepless, pins-and-needle agony I received a reply: a carte de visite inscribed "Toussaint, 2017, noon, 947 Ursulines Ave., New Orleans, LA."

Fine. I didn't have to kill anyone or debase myself. I just had to go to the French Quarter on All Saints Day.

It turned out to be a tiny house: a one-storey shotgun with two shuttered apertures in front. I knocked at the one at the top of four crumbling steps. A tiny, white-haired woman answered the knock and asked if it was I, saying my name with a pronounced swallowed "r," French-style. Being told yes, she invited me in. There was a small front room with a couch and a baby grand piano that pretty much filled the room. She invited me to sit on the couch while she went to get a light refreshment for me. She brought some espresso and a beignet, the New Orleans equivalent of a scone. "I will play something for you," she said. It was a very short piece. When it was over, she stood up and said, "That was Bob Echafaud," which didn't really clarify anything. My face must have reflected this sense of unclarity, because she said, "Never mind. Follow me."

She led me through a small kitchen and a smaller bedroom at the back of which was a door. On the other side of the door was ... but wait, not yet.

Here's the deal. She said I could write one letter, so I decided to write to you. You are my last hope.

She is very old: a centenarian? Her mother had her late: "I was a surprise baby," she said. Her mother herself came to New Orleans from France as a young child--orphaned--bringing with her nothing other than the clothes on her back and two pieces of paper: music manuscript of the piece the old woman had played for me and a poem, which she showed me:
Bob Echafaud seconde tous 'ci
S'il--verts beaux culs ennuis anis--
y compacte Tue-Mari immisce:
Prie-Dieu, Bob Echafaud!
That's right: it's the same as the inscription.

She tells me that even though the words look French, they're actually English when they're sounded out. But she doesn't know what the English words are. It's some kind of rhyme--nonsense in French, but an actual rhyme in English. Maybe it is a lullaby? Her grandmother sang it to her mother, who sang it to her. "These are silly English words all dressed up in French," is what mother said to daughter become mother said to daughter said to me.

She sings it in a small voice and accompanies herself on the piano. She doesn't really like to sing, so mostly she just plays it. And constructs palaces of meaning for the nonsense words. It's like all her life she has lived in a Symbolist poem of meaningless symbols.

Here's the deal: she wants to know what English rhyme this is. If she finds out, she will let me go.

"Look," I say, "let me go and I will help you find the answer." No, she says. She has gone too far for that. She couldn't believe what she was hearing when the French consul came to her Creole French circle to talk about the original discovery of the inscription; after that she made it her business to keep up with developments. "It was like being born again," she says. And now that she has found the one person in the world who has the most knowledge of this puzzle, she feels that it is only just that I should die if I cannot give her the answer she seeks. "And if I find the answer?" I ask. I will release you, she says. That is a promise; I have made my plans, she says.

The door on the other side of the bedroom? There was something in that espresso or in that beignet that knocked me out before I saw it opened. I am now on the other side of that door: in a room with pictures of Marilyn Monroe, a nursing Madonna and Child, an undressed dress form, and a smoking cigar with an absinthe distiller's band; as well as an actual, working guillotine, named--of course--Bob Echafaud. I am chained to the guillotine.

I watch the old woman slice watermelon with it. Surely you have guessed that her mother was the daughter of the woman who guillotined her husband in 1875. "If there is no answer, you will beg me to die this way, eventually," she avers in a comforting purr before slicing another watermelon.

I need the English rhyme that sounds like these French words. You are my last hope. You have the address. I await the kind favor of a reply.

I know you will understand when I say I wish you were here.

Instead of me.

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.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Capo Trump's gangland code

Once again the Tweeter in Chief has bared his soul by something he didn't tweet. Where was the condemnation of the neo-Nazis of Charlottesville? He couldn't do it. He has a gangster's animal sense of loyalty, and the fascists, after all, supported and voted for him. Moreover, he would be unable to abjure their chant "blood and soil" because it exposes the ideology behind "Make America Great Again": Trump understands the United States of America to be a nation of land and certain acceptable types of people (i.e. non-Muslims). In other words, it is not a nation of laws. I doubt that he could define the United States if asked to do so in a debate. And please don't give him the answer, Donna Brazile.

Monday, August 7, 2017

I'm fisking a hole where the little green footballs get in

Dana Loesch and NRATV refreshed their offensive against the NYT on August 3 by tweeting a clip extracted from a longer April video. The clip became controversial because of Loesch's use of the arcane word "fisk"--which people (including NYT reporter Adam Goldman) heard as "fist"--as something the NRA was going to do to the NYT. The tweet and the clip seem to have been removed, but the original can still be seen (e.g. in the body of this article describing the whole dustup).

Full disclosure: I'm hearing impaired, so don't ask me what she actually says. It sounds like "fix" to me. The full version from April has closed captions, which say "Fisk," with a capital "f," giving a nod to the name that negatively inspired this eponym, that of British journalist Robert Fisk, something about whose writing prompted bloggers to reach for new heights of scathing rebuttal.

The best definition I could find is preserved in the Internet FAQ Archives:
[blogosphere; very common] A point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. A really stylish fisking is witty, logical, sarcastic and ruthlessly factual; flaming or handwaving is considered poor form. Named after Robert Fisk, a British journalist who was a frequent (and deserving) early target of such treatment.
Unsurprisingly, Loesch's supporters on Twitter enjoyed taunting her critics for their ignorance of the word, but their prescription seemed a bit off: "read a book maybe." I read lots of books, and it was a new word to me. It was also a new word to the six very literate members of my family (one Silent Generation, two boomers, three millennials)--five masters degrees and a juris doctor--who talked about this with me the other night. Five out of the six are big book readers, and the sixth reads widely online. The term was born on the Internet; it isn't too long a bet to say that it only exists there, and not at all in books.

Some things from the early 21st century blogger argot entered general use; many did not. Tracking the roots of "Fisk," I located a legacy document that lists and categorizes locutions popularized by the website Little Green Footballs. It is revealing to examine: many of the ones that originated outside it are very familiar to me--asshat, Islamofascism, LOL/ROFLMAO/STFU, etc.--whereas I knew none of the ones that originated or potentially originated (like "Fisking") within this community.

But after all, as Dana Loesch the proud pajamarine would like the whole world to know, the NYT is just the moonstream media not to be distinguished from the Krazy Kos Kidz, a bunch of blue-diaper demonrats whose LLL just serves the interests of the Aloha Snackbars and the splodydopes and the Koranimals.

"What u haven't heard those words before? read a book maybe."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Trump's rendezvous with Destiny

The French ambassador visits President Trump at the White House:

Good morning, Mr. President.

Good morning, Mr. Ambassador. Where's Destiny?

She couldn't make it today, sir. She's with another client.

A shame. I always look forward to her visits.

Yes, sir, I know you do. In fact, she's what I need to talk to you about.

Destiny? Is there something wrong?

Well, you see, sir, it appears that her grasp of French history is a little, shall I say, tenuous?

Why do you say that?

Well, how shall I put this ... so, I'm sure you recall your recent visit to Paris?

How could I forget! Bada-bing! Bada-boom! Bada-Bastille Day! Destiny told me all about how you French say that! I tried it out on Emmanuel while he was holding my hand. He pretended to know nothing about it! Funny man!

Yes, in fact, monsieur le président did mention that.

Did Emmanuel tell you that I attracted the largest crowd ever to the Eiffel Tower? I mentioned that in the interview with The Failing New York Times. Not even they could spin that!

Right you are! More people than had ever come to see a six-month American president eat dinner on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower with a French president who has been in office only nine weeks! It was indeed a unique occasion in our history! Which brings me back to what I need to talk to you about. Destiny, you see ...

She's such a good teacher! I mean, did you notice in the interview with The Failing Times that I knew all about Napoleon? People might have thought that Emmanuel told me that stuff, but I guess it's okay to tell you that when we went to the tomb, I just kind of tuned out, you know? I mean, Emmanuel's a sweet man and everything, but his American accent needs a little work, plus I'd gone a whole day without a hamburger. So when I was talking to The Failing, I just fell back on what Destiny had told me.

Yes, well, Mr. President, monsieur le président felt a bit of responsibility at having appeared to have given you a version of French history that was a bit, er, condensed and, um, elliptical?

I'm not sure I follow. I never said anything about an exercise bike.

No, no, no, to be sure! It's just that--to cut to the chase, as your American filmic argot has it-- Napoleon didn't leave for a one-night stand and come back the next day to find his army flash-frozen on the Russian steppe.

No? Look, he was a military guy like me, though, wasn't he? I mean, I was a draft-dodger five times for Vietnam, but now I've got the military and the vets eating out of my hand, so I'm right up there with Napoleon! Might as well accept it on Russia: I'm right and you're wrong. It's like that in Russia. In the winter in Russia you can take a piss and it freezes before it hits my face. Pissicles, is what Destiny says they're called. The French army left so many of them. They turned away from the fire to take a leak and their front sides froze while their back sides got grilled. Kinda funny to think about. And so true!

Of course, Mr. President. But did you also know that Napoleon did not design the avenues of Paris? His nephew, Napoleon the Third, had something to do with that, but not Napoleon the Great.

Nope, nope, nope. You're just playing me for a fool, Mr. Ambassador. It was Napoleon's idea, which he passed along through Junior, who passed it along to Three. And did you know about Napoleon that, after fooling the English that he had died in the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, he was frozen and secretly shipped to Baltimore, where he is alive and pretending to be a Democrat and fraudulently voting hundreds of thousands of times all by himself. I've heard he and Peter Thiel are best friends and share cryologists.

Let me guess: Destiny told you that?

You're smarter than you look, Mr. Ambassador! I couldn't have asked for a better French teacher! And it was such a surprise for Melania the other night when I finally tried it out on her. Melania, of course, knows French. I've been wanting to surprise her, which of course is why you've been sending me Destiny. Anyway, I asked Melania for a kiss--in French--and she lit a candle and tried to burn my testicles. I was wanting to ask Destiny about that when she came today, but I guess it will have to wait.

Mr. President, please! You need to know that Destiny is teaching you bogus French history on purpose, and the language you are learning isn't French. Destiny turns out to be an Iranian agent, and she's teaching you Persian.

Thank goodness! And I thought it was just my bad accent! Really, now, Mr. Ambassador, you surely don't think that I didn't know the truth about Destiny? Not only is she Iranian, but she's also working for Putin, except when she's working for me, so that her dear grandmother will be able to get a visa to come to America. She's a moth to a flame, Mr. Ambassador: Destiny is a moth, and America is the flame. History? The past? It's an irrelevant foreign country with a dead language, which nobody, not even The Failing New York Times, seems to understand. Why do you think Napoleon wants to live in Baltimore and commit voter fraud in between kale smoothie lunches with Peter Thiel?

Do you really want to know, Mr. President, or are you just being rhetorical?

Well, Mr. Ambassador, I already know everything, even the things I don't know, so I guess it's as you say: I'm just being rotorical. Everything that goes around comes around.


Monday, July 17, 2017

The White House Librarian Visits the Oval Office: A Fable Within a Fable

The White House Librarian knocks on the door of the Oval Office.

"Not now! I'm tweeting!" comes a presidential voice from within.

"Mr. President! I have a book for you to read!" says the White House Librarian.

"A book? I don't read books! Go away, whoever you are!" answers the presidential voice.

"I'm the White House Librarian," says the White House Librarian.

"There's no such thing! That's fake news! Go away!" commands the presidential voice.

"But, Mr. President, this is from Fox News!" says the White House Librarian.

The door flies open. "Fox News?" President Trump, appearing presidential, demands clarification.

"Well, sort of," hems the White House Librarian. "It's a book of fables by Aesop. There's a bit about a fox in here that might be of some use."

"Fables?! What are you, some kind of nut?! Even if I did read, I wouldn't read made-up crap that's written for kids," spits the President in the most presidential of sarcastic tones with a healthy, dripping dollop of entitled, plutocratic scorn.

"Ah, well, Mr. President, that's just it!" says the White House Librarian optimistically. "They were originally written for adults! To provide guidance on important ethical subjects!"

"Ethical subjects? Look, smartass," snarls the President as only a President can, "if I ever develop a taste for ethics, you'll be the first to know, I promise you that. Now get out of here!"

"Please, Mr. President? Maybe if not for you, then at least for Junior?" pleads the White House Librarian. "Him being such a good boy and all, he might have some interest. It's the story of a fox who tries to talk a hen down out of a tree by saying that their families have decided to bury their differences and live together in amity, and won't the hen come down so the fox can embrace his new friend? The hen replies, 'Don't I hear dogs?' which makes the fox--deathly afraid of dogs--run away."

The President stares steely at the White House Librarian with a made-in-the-USA steely stare. "Look, I don't know who you are, but if you ever come around again and try to convince me that I can be friends with a chicken Democrat, I will personally see to it that you turn up in a Clinton body bag, am I understood?"

"B-b-b-but," stammers the White House Librarian, "I'm afraid you've confounded the moral of the story!"

"Don't talk to me about morals! Look, you soft-boiled egghead, there's just one moral around here, and that's ME!" The door to the Oval Office slams with a presidential slam that resounds all the way to CNN.

The White House Librarian walks away dejectedly, regretting the lost opportunity of being able to follow the money by charging a million dollars per hour in overdue fines to the most presidential of 2020 campaigns.

The moral of the story is: 398.2452, or, if you're a liberal deep-state bureaucrat, PZ8.2.A254.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Coup de tata: The Trumpnosis

So, how're you feeling now, Mr. President? Pretty mellow, huh? Those gummy bears were pretty yummy, weren't they? And pretty funny too! That's the cannabis indica kicking in, which ... hahaha it does sound funny, doesn't it, Mr. President? You might not want to let on to Mr. Sessions about those words. It would put him in a bad mood and make him hard to deal with, and I know you don't like that.

"Pretty Boy"? Is that who I'm going to be, Mr. President? Okay, not a problem. I've been called worse.

So I thought maybe now that you're chilled out we'd play a little game where I give you a few instructions and you just do what I say. You good with that? Haha, yeah, I know, it's usually you giving the orders! That's what makes this so funny, you know? Pretty Boy is going to tell Mr. President what to do.

Don't worry about Ivanka and Mr. Bannon. I just put a little something in their drinks to help them with a nap. How hard they're working! A much-needed rest for them!

Who am I anyway? I'm Pretty Boy! You decided that yourself, Mr. President! I'm just a friend of Ivanka's. I introduced her to my new line of bathrobes last year. She thought they were fabulous, of course, because they are fabulous, but then I told her that I wanted to open a factory in Tennessee where Americans can make them and then sell them to the North Koreans for all kinds of money. I know! It is hilarious! She thought I was joking too, but I wasn't! I was serious! I am serious! I told her I wanted to meet you, and she said, "Are you serious?" And I said, "Me, serious? I'm always serious! Do you have any idea what a boost your dad could give to my bathrobe factory?" And she just said, "Sure, Pierre, you can come meet him. He will love you! And you will love him!"

Have I been vetted? Oh, extremely vetted! By Ivanka herself! She was so extreme that it made me vet the bed! Get it? No, you don't get it. You're just hooting and rolling on the floor remembering those Russian hookers, you naughty boy! I bet they did vet the bed! And yes, "Putin" does sort of sound like "pooting." So is your book about him going to be "Fart of the Deal"? Sorry, sorry, c'mon, c'mon sir, get up off the floor. Yes it was very hilarious, just not that much. And no, Pretty Boy doesn't want to meet Bad Vlad. Not unless he will endorse my line of bongs called "Vlad the Inhaler." Oh no, no, no, please Mr. President, it wasn't that funny and you're too heavy for me to be trying to pick you up. Come on, now, Mr. President. Get up off the floor. Please. Yes, Mr. President and Pretty Boy are having a good time, and Ivanka and Mr. Bannon are taking a good nap. Here, have some water. Those gummies dry you out, don't they?

Nepotism is so cool, isn't it, Mr. President? Ivanka is so nice, and she's such a weak link! Haha, you're right: she just let me sashay right in here, in my bathrobe. Which, remember, Mr. President, I want Americans to make to be sold to North Koreans! As Mr. Perry says, just make the supply, and the demand will follow! It's "not-rocket" science! Get it? Air quotes? "Not-rocket" science?

Okay, so not that funny. Off we go then! You're back at your desk and you do look presidential, I must say. And thank you, sir; I'm glad you think I'm pretty for a guy, but really I think it's those gummy bears talking. So why not let me do some talking here. You just take a comfortable position. Put yourself where you feel comfortable. Put yourself on a Trump trademark all-rights-reserved golf course. Focus on the mellowness that you feel inside your head. Inside your head. The floating. The golf ball in the water hazard. Float float float all by itself all the way through the water over to the green, now over to the hole. You are the ball. A self-actualized golf ball. You have floated through the water and over the green and are at the lip of the cup and you ease yourself over and are now going down down down the 18th hole that by your self-actualization you've just birdied and helped Mr. President beat his handicap. Down down down and down. It is so dark, but you are not afraid. You don't have to do anything. You are already perfect, amazing, and wonderful. All you have to do is open your eyes and see through the darkness.

What you are seeing is Western Civilization, Mr. President. You are seeing what it actually, really is. Those are ancient Greeks, Mr. President, those are Roman republicans, Renaissance Italians, they are Enlightenment Brits and Americans, and what are they doing? Right! Nothing! They're doing nothing. Well, actually, they're thinking. It just looks like they're doing nothing! Funny how that works, isn't it, sir? How can nothing actually be something? Well, there are these invisible things called ideas that all these people have in their heads and now they're looking at you because they're sure you want to have the same thing in your head, which you do, don't you, Mr. President?

See that look on their faces? That says, "the conscience of the individual is inviolate." And look, that one says, "the conscience of the individual is free." Oooh, and how about "government by the governed, laws by the legislated." But this one is my favorite: "the commonality of citizenship." All those looks. Looking at you, Mr. President. Knowing how deeply you agree.

And more! How cautionary they are! Look, some biggies: "Western civilization is not Western culture." "Western civilization is not capitalism." Look at this: "Western civilization is not Christianity, which shapes the entire world even as it transcends it." Wow, that didn't jostle your state of unmind. I'm impressed, Mr. President. All those looks. Looking at you. Knowing how deeply you agree: "Mind the gaps."

That's the stream, Mr. President, so now we can take it back, and back, and back, back up the hole, back across the green, streaming back into the water, back through the water, up out of the water, streaming back through the air, back back back to WHACK! Good drive, Mr. President!

Welcome back! Who am I? I'm Pretty Boy, remember? With the bathrobes for the North Koreans? Vetted by Ivanka? Say what? Wake up Mr. Bannon? Why? You want to get McConnell and Schumer and Ryan and Pelosi in the room right now? What? Fire the kids? What, you mean Ivanka and Eric and Don, Jr.? Legislation to make voting universal and safe from meddling? A commission to promote need-based and merit-based immigration, regardless of religion or ethnicity? Legal recognition of the value added by labor? Standing down the standing army and the militarized police and replacing it with a citizen militia of all adults?

Say what? How many shopping days 'til Merry Christmas? Oh well, can't win 'em all.

But what about legal cannabis gummies, Mr. President? What? What? You need to ask Mr. Sessions? Noooooo!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

John Adams melts oligarchy on game show

[Opening titles roll with soundtrack playing Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band]

"Welcome to Well Actually, the show that melts clichés! I'm your host, Alix Q'beck, sitting next to my trusty melting pot, all ready to melt some clichés! And here with me to fuel the pot with some particuarly leaden ideés reçues well deserving of being returned to a fluid state is John Adams, the second President of the United States, the Founder whose face never made it onto any currency! Welcome, John!"

"Thank you, Alix! I could say I'm happy to be here, but, as an empty platitude, that wouldn't get things off on the right ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"Ah, John, were you going to say 'foot?'"

"Well actually I was just trying to strike the right ..." [Buzzer sounds]

"'Tone'! Way to go, John! That's twice right out of the ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"You were going to say 'gate,' weren't you, Alix! Two can play this ... " [Buzzer sounds]

"'Game?' John? Well actually, not like that you can't. Hahaha! So here we are already with three wonderful clichés ready for the pot. [Sound of conveyor belt rollers] And here they are. [Q'beck holds up three lead-type blocks spelling out the three buzzed phrases and shows them briefly before dropping them into a pot.] What might I say now, John, as they start to melt?"

"I don't know, Alix. Care to give me a clue?"

"The Scottish Play?"

"Keep going."


"Oh! Macbeth! 'Bubble bubble toil and trouble!'" [Buzzer sounds]

"That's it, John! Shakespeare is such a wonderful source of clichés!"

"Right, Alix, but you know, thereby hangs a tale. [Buzzer sounds] Hey wait, there's a method in my madness! [Buzzer sounds] Come on, now, this is setting my teeth on edge." [Buzzer sounds]

"Wow! John Adams! A trifecta of Shakespearean clichés!"


"Those three phrases you just spoke: all were from Shakespeare!"

"Well actually, I did it completely by accident. I'm trying to move the show along to something a little more substantial."

"Oh, you mean like clichés from the Bible?"

"Well actually, I'd like to talk about ideas that have become clichés. It's one thing to use hackneyed, overworked expressions that have lost their metaphorical meaning, but it's quite another to think ideas just because you've inherited them, especially when they're wrong."

"Give us an example."

"Let me try one out on you, Alix. I meet a lot of USA people in the Aftershave who think they know the difference between a republic and a democracy. Can you tell me what the difference is?"

"A democracy is when you make laws by direct vote. A republic is when you elect representatives to make laws. So the USA is a republic, not a democracy."

"Well actually, Alix, that isn't the case--at least not the way we used those words back when we got the ball rolling. [Buzzer sounds] Oh please, may I continue? In the year before the U. S. Constitution was drafted I wrote a study of all the constitutions there had ever been. One of my sources was an Italian named Portenari, who took the usual three types of government--monarchy, aristocracy, and republic--and elaborated them into three good types that were countered by three bad types. Thus the good form of monarchy is countered by tyranny; the good form of aristocracy is countered by oligarchy; and the good form of republic is countered by democracy. A republic no less than a democracy is, to use his words, 'the dominion of the multitude, composed of all sorts of citizens, rich and poor, nobles and plebeians, wise and foolish.' When all the people work together so that everyone has what is necessary to live well and happily, that is a republic. When any group is able to pervert popular government to its own purposes so as to oppress another group, that is democracy."

"With all due respect, John, nobody thinks that now."

"Because a clichéd idea replaced the actual, true one. Have you ever heard the saying 'Bad money drives out good'?" [Buzzer starts to sound, but stops after a blip] Yes, right, thank you, not a cliché, but a fact. The same is true with ideas. Here's another one: I understand in my 2016 conversations in the Aftershave with such luminaries as Glenn Frey, Paul Kanter, Maurice White, Merle Haggard, and Prince that the USA is now an oligarchy. Is that what you would say?"

"I would say that, yes, the USA is an oligarchy ruled by entertainment celebrities and paid political lobbyists."

"Well actually, Alix, thank you for obliging me with your clichéd thinking."

"Dammit, John, why couldn't you say, 'thank you for stepping into the trap.'?" [Buzzer sounds]

"That bleeding buzzer's why! And, well actually, I expected you to say, 'A lot of people say that, but I've never really examined the subject.' So I have to admit that you're a bit of a lazy thinker, Alix, which is okay, because most people are. Par for the course. [Buzzer sounds] We're really getting the lead out here, aren't we? [Buzzer sounds].

"Anyway, Alix, to explain: it's really quite simple. If oligarchy is the bad form of aristocracy, as Portenari avers, that can't be the US, now can it? What the US is actually experiencing right now, given the definitions above, is that it is becoming a democracy of the wealthy: the wealthy are using the popular will to oppress the poor and middling sort. They are not acting like good republicans--working for the good of all--but are using the popular vote to aggrandize the rich at the expense of everyone else. What is surprising about this is that we--meaning my fellow Founders--only thought the vilest vulgar poor would be capable of this, but now we are seeing the vilest vulgar rich do it!"

"John, I must say: no one in the 21st century will understand things this way."

"Well actually I think they will, once we've melted the cliché. Especially since the imputation that the US is an oligarchy is nothing new. John Locke himself, who had a more benign view of oligarchy than Portenari, might have looked at the form the Federal government took and called it thus. The British radical Cobbett railed against America as an oligarchy of lawyers in 1802: "oppression such as despotism never dreamt of, to all which the people submit like spaniels," I think his words were. Ah, the cliché that could have been! Even in the US, senators early on felt that allowing Federal judges to remain on the bench except for malfeasance--that is, not subject to removal by Congress--created an oligarchy. But all those unsystematic opinions don't make it a fact."

"The Aftershave certainly has not mellowed you, John!"

"Ah, but it is astringent, Alix! It is indeed good not to shrink from death, because death certainly will shrink you! Haha!"

"If only we could buzz that one! Wouldn't you say, though, that the ability of a small number to enact public policies that diverge from the opinions of the majority, as divined in surveys and polls?"

"Well actually I would say that the reality of voting and actual, organized political effort should be preferred to the fantasy of surveys and polls. What you are seeing is a symptom of the disease of democracy that the republic appears to be succumbing to. I noticed in my study of constitutions that basing a government on broad public participation has certain, er, pathological tendencies. In San Marino, for example, where the constitution required citizens to attend the law-making assembly or pay a penalty, it developed that many preferred to pay the penalty rather than attend. Allow me to quote myself: 'A general or too common disinclination to attend leaves room for persons and parties more active to carry points by faction and intrigue, which the majority, if all were present, would not approve.' What people are calling an oligarchy is actually a tendency within a republic to, shall we say, shoot itself in the foot." [Buzzer sounds]

"Which causes it to bleed to death?"

"Well actually, Alix, I'd say the republic stanches the flow of blood by wrapping its foot in a filthy rag. It then develops gangrene: the skin changes from red to brown to black, pus-filled blisters form, a fever comes on, and crackling comes from the affected area when you press it. When that happens, you can pretty well bet that your poor little republic has come down with democracy. And in the 21st century it appears to be a democracy of the vulgar rich."

"Crackling? Do you hear crackling now, John?"

"Oh, very clearly, Alix. Mostly on Independence Day."

"You mean July 4th?"

"Well actually, Alix, it's supposed to be July 2, when the Memorable Epocha was actually achieved. Back then I called for it to be celebrated with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, but now I'm not so sure. Now all I can think of is those poor, frightened dogs cowering in the basement and barking in fear like the world is coming to an end as the benighted vulgar delight in the sound of exploding gunpowder without a thought to the duties that every one of us, as individuals, owes to the commonwealth, among which are civic participation through informed voting, jury duty, and service in the citizen militia."

[Alix laughs uproariously] "A citizen militia? In the 21st century? You are a relic, John Adams! Besides, July 4th is all about being free!"

"Well actually, Alix, as I've tried to demonstrate, freedom isn't free. [Buzzer sounds again and again and again] Freedom isn't even freedom unless everybody pays."

"Very good, John! We've generated a bunch of clichés today on Well Actually! Time for the final meltdown! [Sound of conveyor belt rollers; Q'Beck drops lead stereotype into a pot; sound of bubbling; Q'Beck pours melted lead into bullet molds; Adams freshens himself with aftershave; closing titles roll with soundtrack playing Grand Funk Railroad's We're an American Band.]