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-├╝ber-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.