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.]

Friday, June 30, 2017

That NRA ad? How to open the clenched fist of truth

Wow. My liberal friends have their tails in a wad over this NRA ad. "Chilling," says Business Insider; "violent, terrifying," says Salon.

"Ho hum," says Bathrobes Pierre. "Yet more vapid rhetoric from the inauthentic defender of a fake Second Amendment."

Have political opponents, regardless of opinion, become so brittle and hysterical that they've forgotten how to think? Or maybe it's true what foreigners say about America: we're so inundated with marketing that we've become completely defenseless against it.

C'mon, break this thing down. It'd get maybe a C in a class on public relations. "Violence of lies"? Who was around the NRA writing table that day? They need to go back and read Strunk and White: Excise excise excise that extraneous verbiage and don't employ Latinisms! "Bloody lies" would be great, except for it's a damn Britishism. "Violence of lies" is pretentious and will make people think you go to Shakespeare plays to watch Julius Reagan not get assassinated. So, what about "assault rifle of lies"? That works! Go with that, NRA!


1. Spokeswoman Dana Loesch is a caricature of a scary person. Her voice drips with the venomous scorn a black widow feels before she jumps onto your pillow when you are just waking up. She wears a perpetual snarl of contempt: Her face is the mask the Statue of Liberty puts on for Halloween. The only difference is that you laugh when you open the door and see the Statue dressed like that.

2. "They" and "their": If you haven't looked at the ad, stop now and look at it--it's only a minute long. It starts out suddenly by accusing "they" of doing things. I took it back to the beginning three times thinking, "this can't be the beginning; they've cut into it somewhere;" but no: that was the beginning. "They" is apparently some kind of bogeyman that:

        a. "assassinates real news": Assassinates? Really? The real news I see hasn't been assassinated; it's been executed! I mean, come on! This isn't the work of some shadowy assassin. It happens in broad daylight, outer and prouder than the rainbow after the Ark's pride parade! Those are editors at work, and that's what editors do! They cut and snip and re-assemble body parts into clickbait headlines with more glee than Sanson the Guillotiner! It's their job! So at least I've identified who "they" is: editors.

     b. "use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler": OK, so editors apparently have schools. This I did not know. But let's play along. The editors have executed the news and have put the body parts in formaldehyde jars to teach the kids some science. One jar says "Hitler;" another jar says "Trump." So what they do is say, "OK, kids, compare and contrast: which one of these has a backbone? Which one of these is a soldier? Which one of these, due to a warped sense of history, is murderously devoted to ethnic purity? Which one of these is an empty-headed self-promoting con man who doesn't know what history is, but 'oooh, North Lyin' Hillary Korea is bad and I have missiles!'?" The editors obviously want to promote the development by elementary-age children of genetically-modified dragons teeth that the kids can take outside and fight kudzu with.

     c. "use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows to repeat their narrative over and over": man, these editors are something else. Did you know that editors had all that talent chained to their nose rings? I sure didn't. Tell you what, though, it's what I miss about vinyl records: skipping. Talk about repeating a narrative over and over! You just bumped the needle (my saying which will lead some editor-possessed audiophile to scream, "You just assassinated the record!") and everything was fine. C'mon, y'all: bump the needle. Please? For me?

Anyway, the executioner editors are doing this why? "Make them march, make them protest, make them scream racism and sexism and xenophobia and homophobia, make them smash windows ... terrorize law-abiding citizens" etc. etc. (btw be careful of my quotes; they might not be pure; I don't have an editor) etc. etc. until what? "Until the only option left is for the police to do their jobs and stop the madness."

This is when it gets really weird and funny, if you know the history of the 2nd Amendment. It's when Dana Loesch morphs into a British regular with a mitre hat shooting at an ice-throwing mob on a cold night in Boston: "Make them march, make them protest, make them scream 'taxation without representation' and 'placing a standing army in our midst' and 'protecting soldiers from punishment for any murders they might commit' and 'destroying the lives of our people,' make them throw tea overboard and tar and feather tax collectors until the only option left is for the standing army to do its job and stop the madness."

Bump the needle.

Here's what everyone should be learning in school about the 2nd Amendment, but which the NRA--its self-proclaimed apologist--is not teaching: It was meant to ensure that the nation would not only defend itself but enforce its laws through the power of a trained, self-armed citizen militia to which all citizens were called as a matter of duty, just as they are called to jury duty.

It didn't work out. The citizen militia, self-armed and called as a matter of duty, was already a thing of the past by the mid-19th century. Today our laws are enforced by professional police forces, not by a citizen militia.

That might be fine. It's just not what they envisioned. No, not the bogeyman editors. The Founders. In the 2nd Amendment. About which the NRA is either ignorant or ... hmm, what was that about an assault rifle of lies?


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Homage to Tom Fox: Musician, Marine, Quaker Martyr

The Wigglesworth duet--where was it?

I was afraid I wouldn't be able to find it, because my sheet music lies scattered in piles that have only the vaguest whiff of organization, so something last played 30 or more years ago would have migrated so many times from box to shelf to box to filing cabinet and back to shelf that it could be anywhere--or not there at all.

Luck was with me. After only a few minutes I found it in the fourth stack, about halfway down: 

[The picture is a composite of the cover and the first two staves of music]

The sight of the music brought the sound back to me with instantaneous clarity: the oboe's opening fanfaronade ascending into nosebleed against the clarinet's dusky thematic assertions. How many times had Tom Fox and I played that for it to be so engrained in my memory?

I would have been fall of 1968. I was a sophomore at Chattanooga City High School; Tom was a senior. Tom was also a god of music at City, at least in my mind. A friend and classmate of my older brother Kevin, he was a wizard of a clarinetist. I do not doubt that he was principal in the top All-State band, and that is saying something given the level of competition (there are lots of high school clarinetists).  I was an aspiring oboist, having played the instrument for two years at Northside. I was ok, for a kid. But Tom was a god.

By some quirk of fate, my sophomore year happened to coincide with the return from retirement of A. R. Casavant, a path-breaking guru of the marching band who had put City High on the map. Despite his enthusiastic advocacy of the marching band, he also respected that an instrument like the oboe--which does not march--required time to master, so, rather than assign me to glockenspiel or saxophone during marching season, he allowed me to practice alone during band rehearsal time in exchange for being a "manager" who loaded and unloaded sousaphones and bass drums on the band bus for away games.

By some other quirk of fate, Tom wasn't marching either. I suspect that this had something to do with Tom's being such a stellar musician that he could make demands on Casavant that others could not, and his demand was, "I'll be happy to be your musical star if I don't have to waste my time marching." I don't know this, and I might be wildly wrong. I can't imagine a physical reason, since Tom became a Marine.

In any event, I did not practice alone that fall. I played duets with Tom Fox. I don't remember how this started. I'm sure it helped that he and Kevin were friends, so I was known to him, and he to me. Tom was a very reserved person, with a quiet, self-assured dignity that some might interpret as aloofness or haughtiness. His outstanding musicianship did not translate into boorishness--as it does in some people. He was always patient and kind with me.

He wanted to be challenged, though. We started with duets out of a collection put together by Franco-American oboist Albert J. Andraud, who published a slew of mish-mash arrangements as well as the monumental mish-mash of mish-mashes, the Vade Mecum of the Oboist

(Lo and behold, what do I find in another stack of my music?)

These duets involve nothing more than assigning the melody to the flute or oboe and the bass part to the clarinet. Tom disapproved. I remember him complaining, "This guy sure doesn't trust the clarinet player!" So we moved on to the Wigglesworth, which apparently met Tom's standards for appropriately challenging fare. We woodshedded that sucker. We played it that whole fall until concert band started and our duet practice time came to an end. After that we never hung out together, but the following spring Tom allowed me to convince him to play it with me before judges at the glitteringly-named Solo and Ensemble Festival. There was never anything festive about it, but you got medals if you did well. Tom and I did well. I got my medal.

After that I completely lost track of Tom Fox. It was not until recently that I was talking with Kevin--reminiscing--and I happened to bring up the subject of Tom: he was one of the best musicians I'd ever known, and I wondered if Kevin knew what he was up to. "Tom was killed," was Kevin's answer. "He was on a Quaker peace mission in Iraq. Al-Qaeda captured him as a hostage and executed him."

Hearing this, I was shocked and saddened. How had I missed this? There is fortunately a Wikipedia page devoted to Tom that preserves information (with links to more) about his life and death. This is where I learned that he spent a 20-year career in the United States Marine Band (where he would've gone not too long after I knew him), but Wikipedia lists his occupation as "peace activist." 

How had he made the transition from Marine to Quaker? Or is it possible to be both? One of the links on the Wikipedia is to a blog that Tom wrote in the last year of his life, much of which he spent in Iraq. It is somehow comforting to be able to read words of his own--more than just words about him. What comes through most strongly in his blog is a strong faith in the teachings of Jesus Christ and a fearless devotion to Quaker doctrines (as well as other, similar ones, such as Gandhi's).

One of his entries, "Country and God," addresses the issue of patriotism and religion. In it, Tom quotes Quaker economist Kenneth Boulding: "Those who love their country in the light of their love of God, express that love of country by endeavoring to make it respected rather than feared, loved rather than hated. But those who love only their country express that love by trying to make it feared and succeed all too often in making it hated." Tom applies this to the situation at the time (August, 2005): "We are seen as a militaristic superpower, bent on imposing our will on others, rather than the keeper of the flame of the hope and promise of democracy." What is to be done? In what is to me a remarkable passage, Tom writes:
We must come from a spirit of love and compassion to help our leaders and many of our fellow citizens come to see that if we truly love God then we must make a drastic change of direction in the course of our country. The only way we will gain respect is by showing it to others, even those we disagree with. The only way we will gain love is by giving it to others, even those we disagree with. Love of country must always be subordinate to love of God. Love of country alone sets us on a course towards the disasters that have befallen other countries over the centuries. Charting a new course must begin now before it is too late. 
Not long after writing this, on November 26, 2005, Tom was taken hostage with three other members of a Christian Peacemaker Team. Among the reactions was Rush Limbaugh's, who on a November 30 broadcast said,
Any time a bunch of people that walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds if necessary, and have things sized up. ... I mean, these people are liberals, they're warped. Well, I mean, that's why there's--I'm telling you, folks, there's a part of me that likes this.
I've been thinking a lot about hate recently. We are being told that there's more hatred than ever before. I don't think that is true, although I do think that we have much more access to expressions of hatred than ever before, which is disconcerting. For myself, I have a hard time not hating Rush Limbaugh for being "kind of happy" that Tom Fox should be taught some kind of lesson--one that would lead to his death. This mockery is the mockery of Jesus' executioners, is it not? Who if not Jesus confronted reality with an idiotic theory? Love thine enemy? Turn the other cheek? Not to mention that it doesn't take much reading of Tom's blog to know that he knew exactly what he was getting into. He was confronting reality with the steadfast strength of someone who knows what he believes and who is unafraid to act on that belief.

In an incredible entry called "Fight or Flight"--written a year before his kidnapping, and which I highly recommend to all to be read in its brief entirety--Tom lays out his clearheaded, prepared approach to fear:
It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier. Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign that says, "American for the Taking?" No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life and if I lose it to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan. I struggle to stand firm but I'm willing to keep working at it.
I only regret that I did not get to become re-acquainted with such a saint as Tom Fox.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Kids! Read it today! The ABC's of Hate!

Dear publisher:
The most important thing to parents everywhere is that they teach their children to be ready for the world so they (the kids) can flourish. With that in mind, I propose the following to get them (the kids) ready for a hate-filled future: their own! The familiar ABC format can introduce them to many advanced concepts and give the parents a platform to share special hatreds in a safe and nonthreatening way.

As for illustrators for the text, I know it's not for the author to say, but I was thinking somebody like ... no, no, forget it. Book illustrators are the worst. I hate book illustrators. Just make it words in their naked glory. Black and white words. On second thought, not white. I hate white backgrounds like this stupid paper I'm writing on. Why didn't I use beige or yellow or green? Anyway, be creative. You're the publisher.

Joke! You wouldn't know creativity if it came up and pierced your nipple. You only have this job because of your father. Or your mother. And I hate you. Not just you. I hate publishers, all of them. You know why? Because you hate me. You're trying to squeeze out my idiosyncrasies and tell me what I really mean to say and insert needless commas up my nose. You don't give a tinker's dam about me. Or hydroelectric power either, probably, you carbon slut. You only care about money.

Which is exactly why you should take my book. Believe me, it'll sell. People actually think that this is the most hate-filled time we've ever known. Politics has done this to them. Well, not politics. Facebook. Facebook plus politics. Plus Twitter. The invasion of the "smart phones!" Those things have blinded us, turned us into a huge colony of bats frantically echo-locating prejudices so we can more successfully negotiate the twists and turns of our self-imposed darkness in a sunlit world.

And let's give it up for Donald "You're Damn Straight He's My President Unfortunately" Trump! Gotta give the man some credit! Make America Hate Again! I mean, it's bullshit: my next children's book will be entitled Fuck Them: A Timeline of Political Hatred in America, From Patriots Hating Tories to Federalists Hating Anti-Federalists to Jacksonians Hating Whigs to to Slave-o-crats Hating Abolitionists to Yankees Hating Confederates to Rail Barons Hating Populists to Progressives Hating Capitalists to Isolationists Hating Imperialists to Democrats Hating Republicans to Democrats Hating Democrats to Republicans Hating Poor People, and Vice-Versa, and I Mean Visceral Hatred of the Down-and-Dirty Variety That Wishes You Would Just Crawl in a Gutter and Die Already, but I Would Never Want to Actually Kill You (As If You Were Some Kind of Respectable Enemy Worthy of Dying in Honorable Hand-to-Hand Combat--You Flatter Yourself, You Narcissistic Pancake), and will provide children with a timely introduction to American history and adult language in the warm and comforting atmosphere of being read to by a harassed, grumpy adult who hates reading aloud because it's such elitist libtard bullshit.

Which, wow, brings us right back to dough dough dough dough: how much are you going to pay me to help you latch onto this phenomenon of Make America Hate Again!? Which, even though it's bullshit, is a thing, a big thing, and who am I to say it's not, and you need to think about that very carefully, you overeducated, gentrified twit. It could even be ... a brand. Oh lordy lord be still your fluttering clotted aorta! And you could do it! It's waiting for you! My book will get you there!

So what if I hate you? So what if you hate me? Let's join our greasy, profit-über-alles hands and sing Why Franz Ferdinand Hates Kumbaya. Hate makes the world go down down down!

And I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Hasn't this shitehead ever read any advice on writing a book proposal letter? I hate people who do that! I mean who don't do that!" So okay, you insult to the written word, herewith is my book. And so what if I generated it with Google autocomplete? That's for me to know and for the Trump House to call fake news after sharing with the Russians.

The ABC's of Hate

No matter who you are or what your fate
Here are a few things I just know you hate:

Anime, Apple, alcohol, anxiety: cuz sweatshop toons can't tolerate society;
Being sober, being single, being a mom; babies: drunk married childless? Not even maybe?
College, cilantro, children, cats: your die-alone die-ploma will be lettuce for rats;
Dogs, dating, driving, dust: you'll die chasing cars while vacuuming lust;
Everything and Everyone: the letter "e" has all the fun;
Facebook, fairyland, fat people, food: "like" your dystopia, anorexic and rude;
Green beans, God, going to work: Satan wants you to Nutella and lurk;
Homework, him, high school: final proof that life is cruel;
"It when" dot dot dot: read my ellipsis--they're too hot to trot);
Jeans and java, Kids and kissing: denim and venom, espresso pot hissing;
Life and liberals and liars: death and taxes and Trump pants-afire;
Myself, my life, my job, my husband: oh, avatar, my heart you've unbuttoned;
Nursing school, New York, nursing: What? Clara Barton? On Broadway rehearsing?;
Online dating, Obamacare, onions: "Likes to stink with uninsured bunions";
People, practicing law, politics: "I'm running to represent all you guilty hicks.";
Quotes and quotations: what (s)he said--my mind's on vacation;
Republicans, running, religion, reading: unfit atheist Democrat without no breeding)
Sand, school, summer: beach with homework is always a bummer;
The moor, Tennessee: that lean and orange look, the wannabe!
U in spanish: et tu, capice?
Vegans, Valentine's Day: 'twas I ate that Cupid twerp, ok?
Work, working out: exercise job pays in brussels sprouts;
Xanax, xbox: angst of the sex bots;
You (who?) Zoo, zombies: Yoohoo! Undead Harambe!

Amor V. Incitomnia

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I was a librarian sight-reading bagpiper

I was a librarian sight-reading bagpiper. Once upon a time. Today, for example.

I was one of the lucky librarians to come along when you still had to crawl through miles and miles of shelves to find what you were looking for--if in fact your library had it--or, if not, wait weeks and weeks for interlibrary loan--if in fact it was lendable; but then somebody flipped a switch (seemingly), and it was as if the sky opened up, peeled back, and lo and behold there was heaven--all of it (or lots of it), just like reaching up and shaking hands with St. Peter and living to tell of it.

That was the Internet for me. I still can't believe it.

But before that there was already the ancient magick of reading: all the symbolic systems that we can look at and go "Aha!" and translate into words or houses or music. My Hogwarts began in first grade when I took slips of paper that smelled of mimeograph, each of them with a word, and transformed their blue shapes into sounds. That was abracadabra.

Not much later my patient mother showed me how little platelets on a grill could produce a song on a recorder. Just like that. Just by looking at the little platelets and their position on the grill and whether they were black or hollow or had dots or flags. It was as if they were elves that told me where to put my fingers and how fast to move them. Hobbits? Narnia? I was Merlin with a recorder.

Then when I went to library school I learned that even quieter than a library is the whole world after a bagpipe stops playing. But it's a hush that can't exist without the sound to summon it.

So today I was at a library droning on about the world of bagpipes (It was not an invasion. I was invited) when a fellow asked me if I knew the bagpipe music from a movie called We Were Soldiers. He had come to the program and wanted to hear two things: Amazing Grace and We Were Soldiers.

One does not wish to disappoint, particularly if one is a librarian. Amazing Grace is bread and butter, but what to do about We Were Soldiers? I did not know it.

The whisper of St. Peter ("What did you do with your life?"), and out comes the cell phone, and with not so much as a leap of faith I am in the Internet: The bagpipe on the We Were Soldiers soundtrack plays a tune called Sgt. MacKenzie; a fire department pipe band in Jacksonville, FL, has posted pdf's of their favorite tunes, which includes the aforesaid eponymic air.

"Here," I tell the fellow, "hold my beer I mean my phone [haha]." With phone as manuscript and him as music stand, from out of the darkness of complete ignorance, through the fine mesh of the Internet, with platelets on a grill directing my fingers (at elfin behest), I summoned an entire cloud of witnesses and held it motionless and timeless--though with good rhythm--there in a small room in a small library.

The tune completed, I stopped, summoning the silence beyond silence. And from out of the hush came the voice of the fellow, who said, "Yeah, that was it."

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The school that couldn't spell

I started to think it was my imagination: the stone sign above the entrance to my elementary school was etched with a misspelling.

I had been so sure of this that I worked it into the opening scene of The Signal Mountain Spelling Book of JuliUn Tod (self-published--as always--in 2010):
I was appalled when I saw it: etched in stone over the front porch of the elementary school were the words "Signal Mountain Grammer School."
Grammer. G-r-a-m-m-e-r.
It is, I'm sure you know, supposed to be a-r. Not e-r.
Seeing the horror of this caused me to hop around wildly in the aquarium.*

Yesterday--while on an automobile pilgrimage to hallowed family ground--I wondered, "Had my memory played me false? Had I been guilty of subconsciously elaborating the truth?" I decided to swing by to verify it.

A beautiful example of Appalachian plateau public architecture, the school was built in 1926 of mountain sandstone. It sits in a long crouch along Kentucky Avenue, fronted by a portico crowned by romanesque stone arches and a plain frieze given over in my memory entirely to a missspelling.

I approached the school from the rear, because that's the way I always walked. Squirming at the sight of the ulcerated pinko-orange fiberglass protuberance warted onto the back of the building, I drove to the front, turned off onto the short drive, and hopped out to get a quick picture (granddaughters can't be left to fidget) with the hope that a finger-expanded photo would give me the verification I needed. All it took was a quick look to tell me not only that I had been right, but that someone later had tried to correct the mistake.

Here's the detail:

Look closely at the penultimate letter. What is it? It has four horizontal beams. No letter I know of has four horizontal beams. Look also at the gilding: the gold forms a letter "A," but that doesn't begin to hide the other elements (elementary!) of the character, which clearly form an "E."

Also, the gilding might be a sleight of paint to try to trick us into not seeing the depth of the etching--how much of the "A" is etched at all?--whereas the "E" elements stand out ungilded because of the shadowing caused by the etching.

The only verificatory ladder at hand was the human one in the van that wondered what the hell this was all about, and no they weren't going to hoist me up to feel a sign.

A final observation is that  a different font might have made for a less obtrusive correction. The middle bar of the original "E" might have served as the cross-stroke for a "A," for example. But the original letter "E" wasn't done with the idea that "hey, that'll look like shit if somebody has to come up here 50 years down the road and slap a letter 'A' up here."

But look what somebody came along and did.

As to why in the world it would matter one way or the other, you have to ask horrified terrarium-hopper Julian the toad (a.k.a. JuliUn Tod) about that.

*The Courier font is done purposefully. The Spelling Book was written by JuliUnTod on a floppy and then printed out on dot-matrix Courier font; the book is therefore a facsimile.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Living thing: relationship counseling for flags and the people who fly them

As Iwo Jima moments go, it was not very dramatic, but you gotta do what you gotta do: yesterday I was enjoying a walk under an umbrella in a tempestuous rain storm when I noticed down the street that the wind had knocked over a US flag that a neighbor had displayed outside next to their driveway. So I picked it up and re-set it the best I could in its brick footing.

"Thanks," said the flag.

Undramatic Iwo Jima moments are one thing. Talking flags are another.

"Hey, citizen," said the flag, "don't act so surprised. I'm a living thing."

I'd heard something along those lines before, back when my job required a nodding (bowing? handshaking?) acquaintance with flag etiquette. But I'd never heard it expressed that way, much less by a flag. I wasn't sure that I should enter a conversation that might serve to have me either institutionalized or sanctified, so I just kept to myself.

"Good for you, citizen!" continued the flag. "Demand statutory evidence! Here you go: 4 U.S. Code §8: 'The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.'"

Which to my mind still did not explain the gift of language. Which, nonetheless, kept on giving.

"So yeah, thanks for setting me up again. I'm not sure that these homeowners here have made adequate or--ahem ahem--legal arrangements for my display. You wouldn't care to make a citizen's arrest, would you?"

I internally retreated to the dictum that a person's home was his or her castle and left it there.

"No big deal. After all, I'm just an American flag." (Did I detect a note of sarcasm?) "You wouldn't believe what people do to me. And I don't mean the burning. That is hateful, but at least it's honest. What I'm talking about is advertising."


"Yeah, it's right there in §8(i) of the Code: 'The flag should not be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever.' But tell you what: this weekend is Memorial Day weekend: I want you to count the number of ads in the paper that use the flag to flog their pursuit of Almighty Mammon."

While I did notice the euphony of "flag to flog," I also noticed the second instance of serial colons, which might be--can I say?--a red flag for some kind of health condition.

"Now I understand the code means an actual flag, not a a representation of a flag, but hey: I'm a living thing, not a lawyer. [Pregnant pause] What? No rim shot? Nevermind: Look: I'm a living thing like you are not: I'm a symbol. So can you blame me for taking symbols seriously, even printed ones?"

Another serial colon. Something's going on.

"People just don't get it. They just don't know! They just don't think! They think they're respecting me, but they might as well be spitting on me. Give me Colin Kaepernick's kneeling any old day! At least he's thinking! Since when was kneeling disrespectful? It might not be statutory, but it is respectful. As to respect: look at the first sentence of the preamble of §8: 'No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America.'"

Damn. Four instances of serial colons. Was it a warning sign of something? Apoplexy?

"But since I'm talking, and since some kind of demon cat's got your tongue, I might as well vent: this is the South, right: pickup trucks flying both me and the Confederate flag: together: side by side?"

Whew! Triple colons! Look out!

"What's with that? And these are people that'd be happy to hurt you if they saw you burning me in protest! They'd be exhilarated to hurt Colin Kaepernick, preferably by lynch mob! And yet: and yet: and yet: and yet: that flag: that Confederate battle flag: that flag betrayed me and straight up tried to kill me."

Then suddenly I realized that this was a bad case of hypothermia. The flag was wobbling on its flimsy stand. I pulled the flagpole out of the brick footings and dug out a deeper hole with my boot. In all the mud this was an easy thing to do. I replaced the pole and pushed the whole setup down as hard as I could. I couldn't keep it from getting wet, but I could try to keep it steady.

"Whew. Wow. Thanks for that. What, was I spewing colons again? I always do that. It's a sure sign of flag exposure."

We shared a moment of silence.

"So what would you do? If somebody straight up betrayed you and tried to kill you?"

I figured I might spew a few colons myself, hypothermia notwithstanding. I gave the flagpole one last push for the sake of security and then held the flag out from the pole to let the wind lash some of the water out of it because it was soaked to the stars and stripes and then I left the living thing standing by the neighbor's driveway.

Today I went back to take the pictures. It's sunny. Perfect weather for patriots ;-)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Scalawag #2

The meme was from a so-called "common sense conservative." It had the picture of the statue of Robert E. Lee being removed from its pedestal in New Orleans, to the accompaniment of words from Orwell's 1984:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”
A common sense conservative should be able to summon a basic tenet of conservative education: that the essence of learning is to be able to make distinctions.

In this case: what distinguishes the world of Orwell's Big Brother from what is happening in New Orleans? The answer is so obvious as to be laughable: in fact, it is just the opposite of history stopping, of books being rewritten, of dates being altered.

Far from stopping or altering or changing, it is all those things being preserved and being held open to the bright light of day. It is the penetration of euphemism--the notorious, Yankee-fooling, misdirectional doublespeak of institutionalized Southern white rule--by a plain understanding of the reality inside the nimbus: that the Confederacy rested upon slavery, and the South before Civil Rights rested upon the violent political and social subjection of African-Americans.

And those things are what statues of Robert E. Lee symbolize. Keep in mind we are dealing with symbolism here. It is an important distinction (the essence of learning). None of what I say vilifies Robert E. Lee the man, the soldier who fought a war. It vilifies Robert E. Lee the statue, the symbol of a South that refused for years to back away from its vicious system of apartheid.

And that is what his statue symbolizes. That is what the Confederate battle flag symbolizes. Unless you live in a euphemistic world. And if you do, don't go calling yourself a common sense conservative. Because you've just surrendered your common sense at Appomattox and entered a state of altered reality. All I can say is thank god you're no longer the Big Brother you used to be.

Shown is my version of the meme. Let lynching victim Laura Nelson face Lee on her own pedestal. Let disgust rise in your gorge. This is the Calvary of Southern history.

Monday, May 22, 2017


You won't find me mourning the dismantling of Confederate statues in public squares in New Orleans. You'll find me wondering what the hell took them so long to do it. And chuckling at the Minnesota-born gubernatorial candidate in Virginia who likens it to ISIS destruction of ancient monuments: does anyone see any actual destruction going on? I hope they figure out how to get some Federal greenbacks out of these treasonous travesties of tradition requiring public money for upkeep.

I'm a scalawag. Always have been. In case you don't know, "scalawag" is what Confederates called fellow southerners who supported the Union. In my case I suppose it comes from having a Yankee mother. But my father was a New Orleans native, and the maddest I ever saw him was when a friend described Abraham Lincoln as a racist.

I remember arguments in elementary school. "You have to be a Confederate because you were born in the South." I wasn't having any of that. I ordered me a Yankee uniform from F.A.O. Schwartz and wore it trackside when Chattanooga's railroad symbol, The General, returned home after a trip to the New York World's Fair (this was before the Supreme Court let Georgia steal it). The only person who even noticed was a nice old lady who said, "Look at the cute little Confederate!" My blood could've steamed The General down the track a ways.

Back then I didn't know that I had a notable Confederate ancestor--Joseph Adolphe Chalaron, a brother of my great-great grandfather (from New Orleans, natch), whose published and unpublished reminiscences of his experiences as an artillery officer richly inform The Pride of the Confederate Artillery: The Washington Artillery in the Army of Tennessee by Nat Hughes (who is also, by picquant coincidence, a Chattanoogan). Post-bellum, Chalaron became secretary of the Louisiana Historical Society and archivist/superintendent of Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.

For all that, we--not even my father--knew nothing of him until one day at Chickamauga battlefield. I was with my parents and my son, who was probably four or five, which would put this at around 1987. As I remember it, my mother was reading one of those large, rectangular, metal unit markers with raised type and noticed something: "Look, Steve [my father]--here's somebody whose last name is Chalaron." This name, one of my father's middle names and passed along as a middle name to my older brother Kevin, is not all that common even in Louisiana where my father was born.

J. A. Chalaron then turned up again on a marker up on Missionary Ridge, right above the McCallie School, almost atop the eastbound tube of the highway tunnel. It turned out to be the point where the Union army burst through the Confederate lines in their famous breakout from the siege of Chattanooga in 1863. After that my father started looking into him, which restored his memory to his descendants.

His institution, Confederate Memorial Hall, is now a museum in New Orleans. It is just off Lee Circle, one of the places that just had its statue removed. With "the second-largest collection of Confederate Civil War items in the world" (Wikipedia), it is safe to say that the museum--a private non-profit entity--has a future assured by never-ending fascination with the Civil War, even though Marse Robert will no longer be keeping it company.

Unless the museum buys the statue. The museum can do whatever it wants to remember the Lost Cause. After all, it has a mission.

But the cause itself needs to remain good and lost. In order for that to happen, we must not forget the basic truths that Robert Lee and my Chalaron ancestor fought to destroy the United States of America and establish a nation founded upon African-American slavery; and then, when the South's bid for nationhood failed, it continued by violence to deny citizenship to African-Americans and to keep them in peonage. Meanwhile the racial hegemonists celebrated and maintained their thrall in part by putting up statues in public places.

Whatever kind of statue can memorialize those truths is the kind that should go up not just in New Orleans, but all over the South.

That would make this scalawag happy. After all, I have to live with the undying shame of sending three kids to Sullivan South High School (Sullivan County, TN) whose mascot is a Confederate and where the Confederate battle flag blooms during football season. Tradition, they say. Okay. If your "tradition" rests on the foundation of the denial of basic human and civil rights to others because of their so-called "race," I'd just as soon you check into the Confederate Memorial Hall and stay there. Because that's where you belong: securely in the past.

It's a scalawag thang. You might not understand.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The StriKKKe zone, part 2: Lester Maddox swings and ...

After my last blog about Democrats in the South, some friends chimed in. "Lester Maddox is a great example," said one. Another said, "To think that we lived through these events, and they're now considered history!"

So I remembered Lester Maddox and considered the ways he personifies the dissolution of the Democratic Solid South.

I lived through Lester Maddox, but not in the way some of my Georgia friends surely did, particularly ones who lived in Atlanta, the stage of Maddox's racist living theater.

I grew up in Chattanooga. Atlanta was a few hours' drive away--a drive that got quite a bit shorter after I-75 was finished--but it was just far enough away that my family only went there once a year, at Christmas time, to shop. On one of these occasions I took $27.10 worth of allowance money from my first busted piggy bank to Atlanta and spent it at FAO Schwarz on German- and British-made medieval miniatures. I learned early on that the North Pole was actually global commerce.

I also am ensconced in white privilege, but for some reason have always felt --without really being aware what it was--that it was a candle that couldn't burn down quickly enough for the good of the human race. Given this, and given also my childish sense of Atlanta's magic, it is no wonder that Lester Maddox's assault on both ideals is seared in my memory.

July 4, 1964. Newspaper front pages across the country blazed with an AP photo of Maddox--with a pistol--and his son--with an axe handle--threatening an African-American man, who is walking away from them. The accompanying story would have told how the black fellow went to eat at Maddox's restaurant, but Maddox prevented him with his armed intervention in the parking lot. It was then Maddox became, to me, one of the irreducible, comic-book villains of the American drama.

Lester Maddox, in post-Internet parlance, had gone viral. But I didn't know the half of it.

It is instructive at this long remove to look at the phenomenon again, starting with the picture. Notice the microphones and the writing pad along the right side of the picture. Look at the guy that Maddox and his son are threatening. Hands on his lapels, straightening his jacket, turning to the reporters, and saying ... what? I'm thinking it was along the lines of "Don't worry. I'll be back."

The media was there because they'd apparently been tipped off that something was going to happen. It was July 3, 1964, the day after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had gone into effect. Maddox, already at this point twice a losing candidate for mayor of Atlanta, was an unabashed and outspoken segregationist. He had used newspaper advertising for his restaurant, the Pickrick, to promote his anti-civil rights views. The restaurant was an obvious target for a legal, Civil Rights Act desegregation bust.

The next day, July 4--the day that his picture went viral in newspapers coast to coast--Maddox held a rally attended by 11,000 people who came to hear him and other segregationist firebrands. Among others, Maddox invited George Wallace of Alabama (who described the Civil Rights Act as "the most monstrous piece of legislation ever enacted") and Alabama KKK Grand Dragon Calvin Craig.

Maddox, together with another Atlanta restaurateur, sued to challenge the constitutionality of the Act. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy moved the suit quickly to a three-judge trial, which was decided unanimously against Maddox in late July. He could no longer legally bar customers according to their race. Though he appealed, the Supreme Court did not grant a stay on the injunctions.

Maddox closed his restaurant rather than serve blacks. He also turned it into a Mecca of segregationist kitsch, selling among other things axe handles--popularly known as "Pickrick toothpicks"). Also, because this was a presidential election year--with the perpetrator of the Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Baines Johnson, pitted against Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Act as Federal overreach--the Democrat Maddox delighted in breaking party ranks by selling"Goldwater '64" bumper stickers and cans of "Gold water" soda.

In December the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act, and Maddox--after a few twists and turns to evade the law--permanently shut down the Pickrick. But his fight, and the fight of segregationists in the South, was far from over. As Kevin Kruse observes in White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism, "the Civil Rights Act did not significantly weaken the power of segregationists. By making manifest their darkest predictions about the supposedly coercive nature of liberal politics and the 'tyranny' of a national government running roughshod over the rights of individual businessmen, the enactment and enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 paradoxically strengthened the politics of white resistance throughout the South." [p. 229]

Maddox probably never voted Democratic again--on the national level: In 1968 he supported Alabama segregationist George Wallace's run as American Independent Party candidate; in 1976 when Wallace dropped the AIP banner to run as a Democrat, Maddox himself picked it up and ran; in 1980 he endorsed Ronald Reagan. 

But that was the national Democratic Party, where liberals ruled. At the state level Maddox was far from done with being a Democrat. In this, the twilight of the Solid South--when winning the Democratic primary was tantamount to winning the general election--things were changing, but old habits and entrenched organizations died hard. To be a Democrat was still for many to smell the campfires before the Confederate high tide at Gettysburg.

Building on his status as a racist, states'-rightist folk hero and endorsed by the KKK, Maddox ran for governor of Georgia in 1966. His main opponent in the Democratic primary was former governor Ellis Arnall, who was considered a progressive--because of the anti-political-machine reforms enacted during his term--as well as a liberal in race relations--partly because he accepted the Supreme Court's mandate to end Georgia's white-only Democratic primary. Maddox called Arnall "the granddaddy of forced racial integration." As for the national party, Arnall made no bones about the fact that he was a Democrat from top to bottom: "I am a local Democrat, a state Democrat, and a national Democrat, and anyone who doesn't like it can go to hell." [p. 231, The Politics of Change in Georgia: A Political Biography of Ellis Arnall, by Harold P. Henderson]

Arnall was the top vote-getter, with almost 30%, but due to the presence of other candidates (mostly a state senator named Jimmy Carter), he was thrown into a runoff with second-place Maddox. During the primary campaign and the run-off, Arnall looked past Maddox to what he considered his likely general-election opponent, Goldwater-Republican Bo Callaway.

As is often the case in one-party states with open primaries, Republicans crossed over to vote in the Democratic primary for the candidate they thought had less of a chance against Callaway. That candidate was Maddox. The tactic worked--at least in the short run--when Maddox pulled off an upset against Arnall.

However, liberals and blacks got a measure of revenge against the Republican in the general election by writing in Arnall, which prevented Callaway from reaching the 50% that the law required. The choice between the top two vote-getters went to the legislature, which, heavily Democratic and bound by a loyalty oath, made Maddox governor.

(Once governor he reportedly did a fair job--meaning he wasn't as racist in action as he was in words. Somehow we're supposed to feel good about that? And, a propos of nothing, here's a nice article in media res--Nov. 29, 1966--from the Harvard Crimson of all places by the euphoniously-named Atlanta native Boisfeuillet Jones, Jr.)

To give a sense of how much Democrats dominated Georgia, the Republicans in 1966 limited their campaigning to the gubernatorial race and ran zero down-ballot contests for statewide positions. Although Callaway was just as opposed to integration as Maddox, he was a Republican, so Maddox wasted no time comparing Callaway's campaign to Sherman's March to the Sea. 

But it was Goldwater himself who gave the perfect, clueless postscript to the election, trying to distance himself from attitudes that his own policy positions exacerbated. In an interview with CBS newsman Walter Cronkite shortly after the legislature had chosen Maddox, Goldwater voiced his regret that the decision hadn't gone to Callaway, calling Maddox "a fellow that belongs back in the Stone Age" and saying it was too bad the legislature didn't send him back to selling hot dogs. When told it was fried chicken, he said, "Is that right? And baseball bats."

With that it's back to you, pitcher Curt Schilling. History is more complicated than baseball. Quite often, it seems, winners don't really win, and sometimes nobody wins bigger than a loser. If you want a good example, look at the history of the South after the Civil War. Another thing: the game never ends. Now there's a Democrat running for Maddox's old office of governor who wants to be the first black female governor in American history. 

So, as Georgia favorite son Martin Luther King, Jr.,--whom Governor Maddox denied the privilege of lying in state in the State Capitol after King's assassination--said, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Also, for Curt Schilling's benefit, its speed is like a reverse changeup on steroids--a pitch that starts slow, slow, slow, but when you're 11 years old, it SuddenlyZoomsBy. Racists always swing at it ... and miss it. Every time. It doesn't matter what team they play for.