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Saying the right thing

Posted by Howard Denson on June 9, 2017 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

ONE OF MOTHER’S FRIENDS has dropped by for a visit, and a child goes up to her and asks, “Is it true, like Mama tells Daddy, that you’ve slept with every man in town?”

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It takes time for a child to learn that there are certain things that you just don’t say.

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When that child is seventy years old and president of the U.S., it is mind-boggling.

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Normally, when one reaches the Oval Office, he becomes an effective communicator. Some are like FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama and make observers jealous of their abilities. Most are like Truman, Ike, LBJ, Nixon, and the Bushes—able to deliver a good speech, but uneven overall.

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Die-hard defenders of Trump engage in sophistry as they whistle past the cemetery wherein DT’s crypt is located: “He’s brilliant, really great in reaching the people, outstanding.”

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Of course, he’s not.

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He’s a con artist, a freak-show hawker, shouting anything to the masses to get them to surrender their dollar and come inside to see the two-headed mermaid. He’s the deal-maker who says Anything to close the deal. Lies aren’t just second nature to him. They are first, second, through tenth nature.

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What compounds his problem is that he used to be able to get away with lies, a little bluster here, some school-yard bullying there, and he gets his way. When things didn’t work out, all right, he’d have to pay, say, ten cents on the dollar.

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This creature in the Oval Office has more in common with the child blurting out embarrassments than to other gentlemen who have occupied his position. One difference: The child was not lying but trying to clarify something Mama said.

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He simply is unable to come up with the right words. Why? Because all words have to be about him, and he will say anything to make himself look good.

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Dubya Bush was not noted for being eloquent. He was screwing up regarding Katrina. He was telling Brownie he was doing a great job when he wasn’t. After September 11 and Dubya’s visit to the disaster site, the media began giving him points for saying the right thing and doing the right thing. Mayor Rudy Giuliani earned even higher points for his ability to say the right thing.

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At the time, I wasn’t impressed by their words—which were so-so at best. I did recall a time when I couldn’t find the right words. A colleague would lose a parent, and I’d immobilize myself because I didn’t know the right words to say.

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When we siblings lost our own parent and went through the visitation experience at the funeral home, I learned that practically any words will do: “I’m sorry for your loss,” “he was a good man and we’ll miss him,” “hang in there, things will get better for you,” etc. Anything from the heart was just fine.

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I got to wondering what Dubya or a mayor could have said that would be totally inappropriate, and it took a long time to come up with an example. The unsuitable words would have to come from, say, Andrew Dice Clay, the persona created by the macho comedian: “Wow, look at that. I bet those firefighters and cops are nothing more than a smear of mayonnaise now.”

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Righteous howls of protest about insensitivity would rattle the windows of Manhattan, even though the Dice man might have been 100 percent correct.

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Children have the ability to mature and to learn new skills. As they become young or older adults, they note wise sayings: “The shame is not in falling down but in failing to get up,” etc. When Nixon narrowly lost the 1960 election to Kennedy, he engaged in a fearless inventory of his skills . . . or lack thereof. He bottomed out when he lost to Pat Brown in the race to be governor of California (“you won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore” ).

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But he got better before the TV cameras and was able to win the 1968 nomination and then the presidency (all the while avoiding any debates).

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Trump has yet to show that he can learn anything new, and that means America is in trouble.

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"I'm sorry you lost your mother, kid. It must hurt, but your hurt, everyone's hurt, would be a lot worse if I died."

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--30--

 

 

 

 

How to win friends and converts

Posted by Howard Denson on June 6, 2017 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON


FEAR NOT. I WILL NOT come by your dwelling on a “visitation night” and exhort you to accept my faith or political position. I won’t for a couple of reasons.

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First, I respect your privacy and, in turn, expect you to keep your yap shut and not harangue me about things political and metaphysical.

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Second, frankly I don’t give a celestial flip about what you believe. You may support practically any candidate without my fretting much. If we don’t get Harry, Ike, Jack, Lyndon, and so on, then Dewey, Adlai, Dick, Barry, and so on would probably do just fine. After all, it’s not likely that you are going to support a deranged nincompoop for president. We don’t have to worry about a total incompetent becoming POTUS.

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Having said that, I do follow tactics and strategies, those used by generals, corporate execs, and even coaches, but especially those used by political parties, churches, and sects overseas. Some policies work, while others are self-defeating.

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Let’s focus on the latter, particularly the activities of the boneheads amongst Islamic extremists.

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When we have individuals blowing themselves up, driving cars and trucks into pedestrians, and firing at people in a mall or the like, we could say we have mini-wars, except that it too grandiose a term for their feeble activities.

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If we examine some directory that discusses the spectrum of war and fighting in our global military-industrial complex, the terrorists barely make the grade. Their equivalent in commerce is the dollar store. In social organizations their equal is the Flat Earth Society.

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To be sure, the heads of various groups realize this. They have looked at their available materiel for a functioning army. “We don’t have tanks . . . we don’t have fighter planes . . . we don’t have ships . . . in short, we got plenty of nothing.”

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What do they have? Uncle Ismael’s Toyota truck, machine-guns, AK-47s, and (oh, yes) some clowns who can be talked into blowing themselves up.

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If a region can no longer make a decent claim for nationhood (e.g., Syria, Somalia, etc.), radical groups can destabilize whatever order exists.

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However, for the U.K., France, the rest of Europe, the U.S., and much of the world, they are wasting their time.

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If individuals wish to proclaim that Allah is great and all-powerful, they strike out as they blow off their nuts, arms, and legs. They are saying, “My god is weak and powerless, but He can be all-powerful if I blow my ass up.”

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Theologically, of course, that narcissistic position doesn’t hold water.

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Who would buy into such a message? Ah, the young males, of course, the epitome of the self-absorbed. They aren’t respected as adults. They aren’t respected as undergraduates or for their menial jobs. They aren’t getting any women. But, no matter, this cool guy explains how they will show the world. The clown decides, “That beautiful girl in the florist shop will want to have it on with me after I blow my nuts off.”

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The logic behind part of the campaign is “We want our faith to prevail and to show the infidels what they need to believe.”

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That, of course, won’t work because the approach lacks any appeal. Can you imagine a neighbor shouting, “You there, you Methodist, become a Presbyterian like me or I’ll blow myself up. Okay, I’ll blow myself up close to you.”

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In the bad ol’ days, Christians were cruel as they forced pagans from Africa, Asia, South America, etc. to accept Christianity or else. The ineffectual Christian male in recent times finds great comfort in blowing up a federal building, killing hundreds, or shooting dozens in a church or a (gasp, gasp) gay nightclub. It will take more than a can of Brasso to remove the incrustations on those individuals’ haloes.

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Many others turn to a faith because of its natural appeal: Moses was the law-giver (in the spirit of Hammurabi), Jesus laid out a gentle message in his Sermon on the Mount, the Buddha had wise precepts. Confucius clicks because (darn it all) he’s probably smarter than Charlie Chan.

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Look at the numbers. Christianity, with all its divisions, has about 2.4 billion followers. Islam comes in second with 1.8 billion believers, while Hinduism comes in third with a billion adherents. All of them preach peace and harmony, and all have a miniscule number of clowns who think the greatest act in the world would be to kill [you fill in the blank].

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People turn to many faiths because they provide a need and help to give internal peace . . . not because they terrorize.

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Now . . . violence can have an effect, right?

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If you carpet-bomb and create firestorms as at Dresden, Tokyo, etc., you will drive a side to surrender.

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On the other hand, when you nip at an opponent with a runaway truck here, a suicide bomb there, and so on, you are only reinforcing the other side’s desire to resist. All of the bombing of England during the Battle of Britain only made the victims furious. It wasn’t enough to get them to consider surrendering.

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Just consider what it would take to bring America to her knees. We are a violent nation, spawned by the myth of the gun-totin’ cowboys. We have nutcases bursting into their former places of employment and killing as many as they can in revenge. We tsk-tsk, but Wayne LePew of the National Irrational Rifle, Gun, and Bee-bee Gun Assn. will warn us not to weaken the Second Amendment. A nutter bursts into a school and kills dozens. Other nutters say it never happened. It was faked so the gubmint could weaken the Second Amendment.

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We are the land of the free, the brave, and extreme weather. Tornadoes rip across our country, destroying billions in property damage, killing dozens to hundreds, but we don’t require every school to have reinforced storm rooms or every dwelling to be constructed to lessen the effects of wind.

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Violence really doesn’t bother us. It’s good for a few images on the news, but not enough for us to take protective actions. It's our daily visit to the Roman Coliseum to a fight to the death or two before supper.

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If we can tolerate all that, then all that clowns with bombs are doing is making pulled pork out of themselves.

--30-- 


Erase the Civil War?

Posted by Howard Denson on May 17, 2017 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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FOR THE RECORD, I grew up fascinated by the Civil War and identified completely with the valiant soldiers of the Confederacy, and, when I read about their exploits, I admired the bravery of the Union soldiers, too.

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There were many things about the Civil War that I did not know.

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First, I bought into the rhetoric that the war was about states’ rights, state sovereignty, and self-determination. The argument went thusly: It was not about slavery; it was about the larger issues of independence. It took years for me to learn that the view was hooey.

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Second, although I knew about the nasty internecine fighting in bloody Kansas and Missouri leading up to the war, I believed that volunteers signed up willingly and went off for glory or, more likely, death or serious injury.

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Third, I had heroes. Robert E. Lee was one. Stonewall Jackson was impressive, but Jefferson Davis struck me as quirky. I was a kid in the 1940s, so I knew the U.S. needed to be one country, so my admiration extended to Abraham Lincoln.

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Fourth, I did not believe the Southerners were traitors but believed they had a right to secede.

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Fifth, I was taught that the former slaves were attacking whites during Reconstruction, which was a wicked institution. The blacks in the Reconstruction era state legislatures were uneducated “darkies,” talking like Uncle Remus to each other.

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Now, let’s have some time pass, along with much time spent reading Bruce Catton and dozens of other Civil War historians and commentators.

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What emerged that was different?

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Well, no one was emphasizing that, beginning about 1863, Southerners were infuriated with the Confederacy. They had been lied to repeatedly. The war was of, for, and by the slave class, the plantation owners, who lied to entice white farmers to be their cannon fodder. “If you enlist, don’t worry about your family. We’ll raise enough vegetables to feed your family.” They didn’t. They planted cotton and tobacco and put the proceeds in their bank accounts. If soldiers deserted to help their family, they were apt to be shot or hanged . . . or depicted as white trash villains.

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By 1865 when the end came, Southerners knew it had been a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight . . . and they were furious.

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This anger continued for fifteen years, basically a generation. In the 1890s, a great P.R. project was underway. Jefferson Davis had every right to pen his version of the history of the lost cause. Efforts were made to honor the soldiers, and town squares began featuring statues of Johnny Reb. Everything was romanticized and ennobled. The Klan changed from a vicious band of plantation owners into a noble group fighting against the wicked dark man who has gotten out of control.

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That is the romanticized version that was handed over to my generation and later ones.

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One book helped to bring things into focus for me: F. N. Boney’s Southerners All. He focused on “Rednecks,” “the Bourgeoisie,” and “Blacks” of the antebellum South. He was not the first to argue that these major groups of Southerners were neither as separated from one another nor as alienated from each other and other Americans as they were often depicted.

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When it seemed possible that the rednecks and poor whites in the South might find a natural alliance with the freed men and former slaves, the Big Mules destroyed the potential alliance by lynchings and racist rhetoric. In some form or another, this divide and conquer strategy is still being used.

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When I actually read the Constitution of the Confederate States of America (it was devised quite late and had no real impact), I saw that the new nation was founded on the notion that it MUST protect slavery. When I read the statements following votes to secede, each emphasized the importance of slavery. In short, the Civil War was ABOUT slavery. When Southerners were talking about protecting our way of life, they meant protecting slavery. When they spoke of states’ rights, they essentially meant that "we have the right to murder and hang our darkies, and you keep out of our business."

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Moreover, the secession votes often were not unanimous affairs. South Carolina was bat-guano crazy, but about 40 percent of the delegates from Alabama opposed secession. Other states came reluctantly to the vote. Along this line, Ken Burns’ otherwise excellent series on the Civil War devoted scant (if any) time to the pro-Unionist Southerners.

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When it came time for enlistments, in my neck of the woods, the recruitment went like this: “Are you going to join the CSA Army . . . or would you prefer to be shot, hanged, or thrown off a cliff?”

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In my allied families, the Stephensons and their neighbors in Winston County the Blevinses had sons join the Union Army, figuring, “If I’m going to be shot at, I might as well be shot fighting for the Union.” Their fathers had fought with Andy Jackson, and Abe Lincoln "hadn’t never done nothing agin them."

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The rest of my allied families, the Densons, O’Rears, Prices, Burdettes, Lollars, and others wore uniforms for the Confederacy . . . or at least were in the Home Guard (for old men and boys).

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Were they traitors? No, although the rhetoric that prevails today argues that they are. Why weren’t they traitors? Simple, the U.S. Constitution did NOT forbid secession. It did not address the issue.

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In fact, the Declaration of Independence was nothing more than a SECESSION document:

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“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

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By 1865, the Civil War itself wrote a Constitutional Amendment in Blood (thanks to the deaths of about 750,000 Americans all): No state may secede.

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Until slavery was struck down, the U.S. Constitution was pro-Slavery. The Supreme Court largely was taking pro-slavery interpretations of law and statutes. Even so, the South saw the end of slavery down the road as new states were admitted and managed to restrict or prevent slavery in their borders. Would the coup de grâce have occurred twenty years in the future? By 1880? Perhaps 1900? Ironically, they drove the nail in the coffin of slavery by trying to leave the U.S.A.

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With them OUT of the Union, they were no longer protected by the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, they were out of the Union and could not vote on amendments to abolish slavery.

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Now, today citizens want to tear down monuments to Lee and other Confederates, traitors all, some say.

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However, when the statues are removed, we also remove memories of why the war was fought. Someone may argue, “To hell with old wars, let’s focus on peace.”

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Fair enough. Let’s focus on the peace-makers. One of those was Robert E. Lee, who did NOT urge his soldiers to fade into the hills and conduct a guerilla war until the U.S. tired of the factious Southerners and simply let them go.

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Let’s erect MORE statues: Let’s have a statue honoring the Underground Railway. Harriett Tubman in this park; someone else in another park. For the black soldiers who went to their deaths (as in Glory), let’s honor them for they gave blood and heart to the country.

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If a Southern park has a statue of Lee, it likely has room for one of Grant (a long-time opponent of slavery, although he married into a pro-slavery family).

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Should there be a statue to the Abolitionist? Perhaps. Today, we assume that people back then were either pro-slavery or abolitionists. They weren’t. Abolitionist was a dirty word in most circles. The North didn’t want an invasion of freed blacks, either before or after the war.

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Let’s have a statue of an early teacher, one from the Reconstruction era. Most whites in those days argued for the blacks to be freed, but, of course, that didn’t mean they were equal. Their most progressive thinking was trying to figure out a way to get them back to Africa.

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Slave owners didn’t want blacks educated because they might communicate with each other and write themselves passes to enable them to escape to the North.

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When we read some of the embarrassing remarks Lincoln said about blacks, we often forget that, if he spoke like a true abolitionist, he wouldn’t have been elected president. In addition, he was exposed to eloquent blacks such as Frederick Douglas, but he had never been exposed to a black educated class.

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So, what else have I learned that’s different? For one things, the so-called "darkies" in the state legislature was false. The men selected to be in the Reconstruction legislatures were often well educated, teachers, medical men, ministers, etc.

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Oh, thanks to Ancestry.Com, I also learned that I am between 1-2 percent Sub-Saharan African (the swath that includes Mali and Senegal). I laugh to imagine my 15-year-old self trying to get his head around that information.


Ruminations of a Florida cowboy philosopher

Posted by Howard Denson on April 3, 2017 at 11:40 AM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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The boss has told us that we can’t argue politics in the bunkhouse any more. The latest fracas began when One-Eye Indiana said that supporters of our current president are prone to violence, whereupon Crazy Lipschitz of Waco beat the crap out him with a branding iron.

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So I can’t pitch my ideas out any more and have to punch them into the laptop.

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NO, NO, NO! -- When we talk about deporting (i.e., expelling) unwanted individuals, we must look at the Ancient Greeks and their system of ostracism. Since we have a population of 310-311 million (or whatever), the vote in favor of expelling must be higher. Ostracism would expel somebody from the polis for ten years. During that time, others would have to leave the person’s property and family alone. They could ostracize the corrupt (as with Themistocles--think LBJ) or the virtuous (Aristides the Just). Why the latter? His very virtue could cause a civil disturbance, etc.

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Since Hillary and the Donald received in the neighborhood of 60 million votes, I suggest the ostracism figure be higher, say, 30 or 40 million.

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Now . . . I am a reasonable person so there is another approach: the one used with Socrates.

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Here a jury of 500 men tried him on charges of being impious and corrupting the minds of the youth. Certainly the Donald is guilty of both charges, particularly the corruption angle (and not just the youth).

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His jury should consist of 250 supporters of Hillary and Bernie and 250 supporters who voted for the Great Fizzle Himself.

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Start the voting . . . and someone mix up a batch of hemlock.

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FORGET TO SIGN EXECUTIVE ORDER? – The reporters calling out questions got under the skin of the Great Fizzle Himself, so he left a signing ceremony for an executive order without signing the order.

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Any other President and his staff would have had someone repeatedly announce, “This is a signing of an Executive Order, not a press conference.” If questions persisted, the prez could say, over and over, “No comments. Save them for a press conference. . . no comment,” etc.

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However, when you and your staff are incompetent nincompoops, then . . .

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LONG JOURNEY & MILES TO GO – Today I finished the very rough first draft of THE MICHELANGELO OF MARSAY. It will be about the size (though certainly not the quality) of THE GREAT GATSBY. It began in the first person point of view back in December 2002. After 700 words, it switched over to 3rd person point of view. During January-February 2003, it grew to 9,000 words . . . and hit a wall. In a few months in 2007, it crept up to fewer than 12,000 words. And it sat there for ten years.

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Two months ago, I added an interesting character, and, damned if things didn’t explode. The word count is now almost 55,500.

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When polished, will the final draft be more like Twain-Hemingway-Faulkner?

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No, always Twain, of course, but maybe more Fannie Flagg and William Saroyan.

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A BUMPKIN ON TV -- Cherish the moment. It isn’t often that you get to reveal yourself as a total idgit on nationwide TV. This happened to a rube who couldn’t figure out what President Obama was up to when 9/11 occurred. On a scale of 1-10 (dumb to dumbest), this guy’s an 11.

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WILL RUSSIAN HACKERS CORRUPT THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE TO SWING ELECTIONS? -- The U.S. Electoral College is already corrupt and it has failed to work properly in 40 percent of elections from 2000 to 2016. It has given us a gerrymandered result on two recent elections. If foreign agents, such as the KGB, the Russian kleptocrats, and the mob, wish to influence our elections, they can focus on the key states in the E.C. They apparently did this and helped to elect the Great Fizzle Himself, not particularly because they were so enamored with him (the jury is still out), but because they could throw off the democratic republican results in our country.

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Such strategies can be used against Democrats or Republicans, so it serves all Americans well for protections to be put in place.

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I won’t suggest any retaliatory actions since, if implemented, our government should be in a position to be as nonchalant as a house cat with a single yellow feather barely sticking out of its mouth.

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Instead, let’s put our emphasis on using the popular vote as the standard for electing our president. Although Hillary was subjected to slime attacks from the Ersatz House Committee on Benghazi, she was regularly bombarded with outrageous slimeball attacks from the old Soviet regions (even being accused of cannibalism, if you can believe it). However, despite all that, she still won more than 2.8 MILLION votes than the Great Fizzle Himself did.

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The Founding Fathers didn’t anticipate our having such a mess on our hands, since they worried about one candidate declaring himself king or the followers of another candidate chopping off heads right and left as they were doing in France.

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The 25th Amendment even has deficiencies. If Trump were forced to resign, we’d still have President Pence, who may also be up to his neck in trouble. Ditto for Speaker Ryan. It is not an option for Hillary to be appointed as VP under Pence and then for him to resign. It would be the right thing to do, but no political party is capable of such selfless behavior.

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A President Pence, however, could appoint a Mitt Romney or John McCain and then resign with the veep taking over the presidency.

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Is all that going to happen? Of course not, we’re going to have the same old same-old until we are convinced we have died and are in a Jean Paul Sartre play. Our torment will go on and on, and a fool in the corner will be busy tweeting ‘SO SAD, SO BAD.’

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OF INTEREST TO GRAMMARIANS -- If you are not a grammarian, then go away (so says the Forensic Grammarian).

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In Latin and other languages, word order doesn’t matter because the endings or forms of nouns and pronouns will tell you whether something is a subject, a possessive, an indirect object, a direct object, etc.

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In English, word order matters. Consequently, it is fairly rare to come across a sentence that will have this order: Direct object (DO), verb, and subject.

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Behold and lo, I was reading one of Shakespeare’s sonnets and came across these two lines:

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“I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks.”

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In the second line, “roses” is the DO, “see” the verb, and “I” the subject.

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What? You say, “Big whoop?” Dammit, I told you not to read the posting if you weren’t a grammarian. Go to the board and write twenty-five times, “I will not pretend to be a grammarian.”

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Grumble, grumble, grrrr.

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HATE DONALD NO MATTER WHAT HE DOES? – That’s what the Great Fizzle Himself is telling people, but, no, Donald, it’s not a matter of whatever you do or have done.

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It’s because of you and your character. As a Dem, I don’t hate Mitt Romney, John McCain, Bob Dole, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, or a dozen other potential GOP leaders.

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You, Donald, are simply an icky human being. You are uninformed and convinced you know everything. You are a prime example of “hubris,” and the U.S. deserves better.

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AH WELL -- Another one bites the dust. In my hometown, I generally preferred to go to K-Mart rather than Walmart. Now the choices in a small town decline even more. Belks is probably still at the mall, along with J. C. Penney. The town has lost its only theatre, due no doubt to competition from cable and red box rentals. Still certain flicks are meant to be seen on a big screen.

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City fathers even sold the trousers off the statue of the Confederate soldier on the town square. He’s pathetic up there with his raggedy underwear.

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NO NO NO -- I couldn’t vote for Chelsea Clinton . . . not until she has, say, posed nude for Playboy or Penthouse . . . been married three times . . . run a fraudulent university scheme . . . gotten tied up with the Russian mob . . . and forgotten the positive things she learned from her mum (her father might help her with the “babe” stuff). After all that, yes, maybe I could be ready for a left of center Trumpeeta.

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CLEVER, DEVIOUS, & USING CHAOS? -- Some talking heads have been saying that the Great Fizzle Himself is using a clever strategy and a devious one (adapted from Putin’s playbook). He is using chaos to create a smokescreen to hide his more serious problems.

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I beg to object.

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The Fizzle is neither clever nor devious, and he is creating chaos simply because he is egotistical and inept. He has four bankruptcies to show that he doesn’t manage all that well.

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Moreover, he comes to the presidency thinking that he is smarter than anyone else. Past presidents who wound up unexpectedly in the office realized their own deficiencies and often made certain that they had people around who could fill in wherever they were deficient.

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“Know thyself” was a slogan on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece, but the Temple of Trump would have a slogan saying, “I Know More Than Generals,” “I Know More than Members of Congress,” and “I Know More than Everyone.”

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When he comes across as farcical (think Keystone Cops or The Three Stooges), we must keep in mind that he cannot be parodied. The ultimate joke begins and ends as a joke. Alex Baldwin, therefore, simply imitates what the Ultimate Fool does. Can you do a parody of the Three Stooges or the Keystone Cops? Nope, they too begin and end as jokes, as does the Great Fizzle Himself.

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So sad for America, so bad for America.

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MAKING & DOING ASSIGNMENTS -- As a teacher of college composition for nearly four decades full time, let me wade into this controversy: First, when an instructor makes an assignment, the student’s first reaction is often to find reasons not to do it. Some will even exert more effort getting out of assignments than actually doing the assignments would have cost.

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There are many, many valid approaches to college assignments. One teacher has x-number of in-class writing days. You show up on a particular day, and Teach has put either a single topic on the board . . . or three topics (choose one). There is some value (not much actually) to the approach. It guarantees that the product turned in will be substandard.

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Another approach is to announce each topic (or topics) beforehand, and the students may show up and write spontaneously or simply rewrite a draft they wrote at home. The product turned in will be better than the one only written in class.

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I eventually went to giving out a list of, say, twenty topics, and the students could choose which ones they wanted to write. I tried to personalize them so that I wasn’t getting stuff reworked from Wikipedia. (A weasel will try to get around the topics. For example, one term, my “Problems of” topic came in as “Problems of Being a Clerical Assistant and a Single Mother at FSCJ.” The next term, her significant other tried unsuccessfully to palm the paper off as his. Grrrrr.)

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One required topic was the New York Times paper. (If they wanted to go to the main Jacksonville library or to the University of North Florida library, they could use microfilm of other newspapers.)

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Students would go to the NYT microfilm (and later to the online NYT) to look up issues of the NYT on the day they were born. Let’s say it was April 1, 1999. Then they’d have to look up the NYT on April 1 in one of the 9-years of the 19th Century: 1859, 1869, 1879, 1888, or 1899. Then they would choose another 9-year in the 20th or 21st century, say, 1969 or 2009. They would have to choose an area of focus: crimes, deaths by accidents, even obituaries, sports, entertainment (TV and movies in 1999 and radio, movies, and the stage in 1939), or advertisements.

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They generally learned that people were wicked or careless in the 19th Century just as much as they were in the 20th and 21st Century.

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The NYT assignment helped them to organize since I wanted five items from each year for 15 items total, plus a minimum of 1,500 words. (They usually wound up writing 2,000 to 2,300 words.

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Especially when a college or university has discovered a new fad to impose upon its students, teachers don’t like to acknowledge that assignments similar to the ones that I make or the Iowa teacher made are journeymen writing. It will be rare for papers to really be worth reading a month or a year after a term has ended.

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Oh, when I asked each class to fill out an anonymous feedback sheet about what changes to make in the course for the next term, they all wanted the NYT assignment to be dropped.

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Never.

**

RANT AND RAVE – People often fuss about the average salaries of college football coaches compared to the pay of teachers or profs. . . or, in this case, about CEO’s and entertainers (or sports figures).

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What they overlook is the transitory nature of jobs, especially the jobs of athletic coaches. They are here; if they don’t win (enough), they are gone. Sean Penn may earn $20 million, but the average actors / singers/ etc. usually have to have day jobs to make a living.

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Moreover, the superstars have Time working against them. The problem with CEO pay is two- or three-fold: The corporate ethos has jacked up their compensation to ungodly heights. $1 million is a pittance for CEOs of ATT, etc.

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Often they are paid, say, 500 times more than their average worker (which isn’t the case in other industrialized nations).

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Even worse, they are often journeymen MBAs (at least) who neither created their respective companies nor know how to make anything themselves. They may leave after only a few months with platinum parachutes and no doubt believing they were worth every cent they received . . . unlike their lazy workers.

**

HB 11 & ALL THAT -- Every legislative session has its share of nonsense bills. HB11 for the 2017 session in Florida falls into this category when it says it wants members to pay for representation. Members of each union, of course, already pay dues, so, if a union membership is, say, 65% of the bargaining group, then they all pay for the dues. Moreover, since members generally use payroll deductions, the administrations know which employees are members of the union.

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In theory, it is illegal for the employer to discriminate against the union membership.

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If the lawmakers want to force the remaining 35% of employees to pay dues, it really doesn’t accomplish anything. They were “no” votes likely . . . or they voted “yes” and chose to get a free ride.

**

PALM PROPHECY -- I went to a palmist and she looked at my hands and announced I would live to be 76. Damn, she’s good.

**

CHOOSE YOUR ENEMIES CAREFULLY -- for you will become like them. Decades ago, I learned that line was attributed to humorist-actor Robert Benchley. (Try to trace it today, and your sources will credit everybody.) Maureen Dowd has an excellent column about why DT has gone down the toilet. He’s been played . . . he’s not as smart as Reagan . . . he’s got creeps around him.

**

Oh, Crazy Lipschitz of Waco got fired again. The boss claimed a highway patrolman pulled him over on some trumped up charge, and Crazy went berserk and took the branding iron to the boss. This time it was red hot.

--30--

Behold the Dinosaur: the Electoral College

Posted by Howard Denson on November 13, 2016 at 12:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s a time-honored adage that discourages meddling and monkeying with things unnecessarily. It heads off the management types who crow that change is good, any change is good. Often it’s not.

..

On the other hand, there’s a corollary: “If it’s broke, fix it.” Quit trying to limp down the road using duct-tape and bailing wire to keep the vehicle together. Put in new fan belts, do a tune-up, buy new tires.

..

In the American political world, the Electoral College is not only obsolete, it’s also broken and cries out for demolition or repair.

..

The electoral college system has misfired six times in the country’s history, when presidential candidates with fewer national votes wound up in the White House. One of the most famous miscarriages of counting occurred when 1800 when Thomas Jefferson got past Aaron Burr to be president.

..

Twenty-four years later, Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams went at it, and, thanks to wheels and deals, Adams won the presidency and embittered Jackson, who later became our first psychopathic president.

..

Fifty-two years after that, a dust-up occurred when Democrat Samuel Tilden (with excellent credentials) won the popular vote but had the White House snatched away when Republican Rutherford B. Hayes essentially sold out Lincoln’s vision of Reconstruction by caving in to the demands of Southern politicos in exchange for their electoral votes.

..

A dozen years later, Benjamin Harrison slipped by the incumbent Grover Cleveland to become president before Cleveland messed up the sequential count of presidents by defeating him four years later.

..

Now, we have a break of 112 years when no serious problems emerged in the Electoral College vote counting. True, the Democrats may have pulled some fast ones in Chicago and Texas to get past Nixon (only to tempt him into emulating them in 1972). The popular vote was very close.

..

In 2000, of course, Al Gore won the popular vote, but, with the help of shenanigans in Florida and in the U.S. Supreme Court, George W. Bush got the office. He was likely to be an okay president, as his father had been. Unfortunately, Dubya was a doofus and helped to tear apart our country’s fiscal and military health.

..

Sixteen years later, we have Hillary Clinton currently with more popular votes than Donald Trump, who has been crowned as the president-elect. It remains to be seen if Der Fuhrer will be our second psychopatic president.

..

We have had FIVE presidential elections from 2000 to 2016, and forty percent of the time the system has NOT worked. The damned thing is broke, so let’s fix it or replace it.

..

--30--

 

The Cowboy Way

Posted by Howard Denson on October 25, 2016 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)


 

By HOWARD DENSON

 

She Who Knows All was disgusted about one of the political creatures and demanded that I write what men are really like. Despite her confidence in my ability to say something worthwhile, the world is not beating a path to my door to discover my insights into men and women and boys and girls.

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One of my short stories, “The Magic of the Burning Boy,” deals in part with a boy learning from a friend about how babies come about. That element involved me as a fifth-grader (a 10-year-old), but I moved it to third-grader because I didn’t think that readers today would believe that a kid that old could be so obtuse. That was back in the Fifties, and most grownups in my limited universe just didn’t talk to kids about certain things.

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About the time that Remedial Sex Info 0001 was occurring, a joke was going around. A father says to his son, “Georgie, I need to talk to you about the birds and bees,” and the son says, “Sure, Dad, what do you need to know?” We thought it funny although most of us didn’t know what Georgie would have to say.

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Another story going around in the seventh and eighth grades involved three boys hiking through the woods when they hear moans in the bushes. The American boy whispers, “What are they doing?” The British boy gives him a look and shakes his head. “They’re making love.” A French boy sighs with disgust. “And doing it poorly.”

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That joke doesn’t work today because nudity, porn, and sexuality are everywhere. All three boys would know what’s occurring, thanks to the porn site that’s off-limits to them or the disc that Uncle Elroy keeps hidden in his socks drawer. They are likely to be taking away unintended lessons:

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*You meet someone and you do it within minutes, and that must be the way it is for everyone.

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*You don’t have to worry about germs or precautions.

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*The more the merrier.

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*It’s just sex, no bigee.

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*And other lessons that we need not detail here.

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Although I wasn’t much of a Boy Scout (only made it to Bobcat in the Cubs and Tenderfoot in the Scouts) nor a cowboy, I grew up with the Scout-Cowboy Code: You were helpful, courteous, and kind; you were always prepared (although I often wasn’t); and you treated women, girls, and your elders with respect. It was the Cowboy Way, podner.

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The converse of the above is also true: Grownups should be helpful, courteous, and kind and treat women, girls, men, boys, and youngsters with respect. Of course, grownups fall short in that ideal, just as a kid has trouble not raiding the cookie jar.

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Today, we hear about locker room talk, what the guys say when they are by themselves. NFL, NBA, MLB athletes scoff at the notion and claim they talk only about stocks, bonds, childcare, etc. Since a MLB player will have about 150 games a year, it’s likely that any sex talk will soon exhaust itself.

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It’s a mistake, however, to accept the notion that guys just talk about their finances and perhaps upcoming batters and pitchers. When we look at the sports teams of American colleges and universities, we see far too much sexual aggression in operation. We also see universities circling the wagons to protect their NCAA franchises. (Yes, we also instances of females trying to get their hands on future signing bonuses, etc.)

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In the armed services, we have rampant sexual aggression, and the top brass have given lip-service to reforms but often failed to follow up with meaningful reforms.

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When we look at males’ behavior, we end up drawing analogies with the research of Jane Goodall into chimpanzees and baboons. One primate decides he is now the Alpha male and goes to his chief competitor and bares his teeth, roars, etc. If the Alpha male roars back louder, the challenger moves off. However, if the Alpha male finally decides he doesn’t want to fight, he surrenders his spot and his prestige and moves over to dislodge the Beta male.

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In the Sixties, when we loaded our National Guard infantry unit onto the buses to drive down to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, we started hearing, “Oh, I’m s-o-o-o horny!” Many of the guardsmen had only left their wives or girlfriends an hour or so before, but the ritual went on until we returned.

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Trapped in the un-air conditioned barracks at Camp Shelby and no bus service into Hattiesburg, some horny guardsman dug out a 16mm projector and some black-and-white porn movies from the Twenties and Thirties. All participants wore Lone Ranger-style masks, and the women had on Mary Jane shoes and little else.

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We have been hardwired to have sexual urges and to procreate. Nature (and God) instilled that to ensure that the species continued. When we sit on a park bench, we witness the hardwiring when a pigeon bumps into another pigeon, who turns away, only to have him continue bumping. Eventually he may try other pigeons or this female will decide that she is ready. They flutter around each other, and the species continues.

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We can sugarcoat male aggression and claim that it is necessary for a boy bird and a girl bird to get together, but that aggression too often is transformed into misogyny. When a culture finds that a woman or girl has been raped, it demonstrates that it hates females when the men stone her and not the rapist.

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When a culture demands that its females totally cover themselves and their faces, except for meshes, the males are demeaning themselves and announcing that they are incapable of looking at a female without trying to rape her.

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Girls and women may participate in their own misogyny by asserting the most trivial of their equal rights but abandoning the high ground that can be most useful. A girl who apes the behavior of a testosterone-riddled male by throwing herself into a Debbie Does Dallas-situation does not break through any meaningful glass ceilings. Neither Debbie nor her role-model Donnie will stand out as natural leaders.

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Americans are pulled this way and that as we discuss sex and sexuality. First, we have a puritanical streak that is dismayed at the sight of nudity, nude beaches, even nude statuary. We froth at the mouth at things that largely go unnoticed in European countries. In this respect, we are quite provincial.

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Second, we grin at the sexual antics of some individuals and frown when others engage in similar antics. Errol can be in like Flynn, but Barney the barber might be run out of town.

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Third, we may try to excuse the sexual behavior of the politically elite. The acts show the virility of our king, prime minister, or president. It may also reflect our culture’s acceptance of droit du seigneur (which generally translates as “right of the lord” and refers to a great one’s supposed right to lay with the bride of a serf or subordinate before her wedding night). Two problems quickly emerge: The droit du seigneur may have occurred more in plays, novels, and ballads than in reality. In addition, puritanical generations may have assumed that virginity was held in high regard in the ancient world and Middle Ages. (A duke’s daughter’s virginity could be a factor in a first-rate marriage, to a prince or a king; that of the blacksmith’s daughter may have been of little consequence.)

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Past images of the sexually attractive can stick with us always. One anecdote from, say, Coronet magazine described an old World War I doughboy who fell from a ladder while hanging a picture. His wife asked him why he fell. He said, “I had a room in a hotel in a town not far from Paris and the maid came in and asked if I needed anything else. I told her I didn’t, and she asked again, and again, if there was anything else I wanted. . . And I just figured out what she was getting at.”

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The hardwiring isn’t going to let us go, ever. In about 1980, my great-cousin Jimmie left Birmingham to move into her church’s retirement home in Jacksonville. I visited her fairly often (and learned many of the family secrets that had been kept from me for forty years).

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One day, she was shocked, absolutely shocked at the behavior in the retirement home. “There’s a ninety-three-year-old man who is chasing after this eighty-eight-year-old woman. She rides this big tricycle, and he runs along behind her calling ‘Mona, Mona, Mona!’ It’s disgusting.”

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Moral of the story: Follow the Cowboy Way and be a good Scout, but, even if you are helpful, courteous, and kind and strive not to be a predator, you are still going to embarrass yourself. You’re hardwired that way.

.

--30--

 

The Worst Day of Peeper's Life

Posted by Howard Denson on October 11, 2016 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

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Earlier I wrote about making friends with a feral kitten, whom I called Peepers.

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Finally, a day came when I set the food dish down for Peepers but began leaving it on the porch, all the while making sure that Eddie the Old Predator didn’t discover the intruder and attack. After a couple of feedings, Peepers accepted that he could safely eat on the closed-in front porch, and I was able to close the door on him and get him, hissing and spitting, to the back of the house.

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As we have done before, we again put up the Berlin Wall to separate the free-spirited old cats from the down-trodden kitten of East Germany.

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Rather than bring feline diseases into the house, we got him to the vet’s to be fixed and inspected. We quickly learned the following:

• Peepers was not a “he” but a Miss Peepers.

• She had been captured as a feral kitten, fixed, and released back into her territory. One of her ears had been trimmed slightly, just enough for a vet or sharp eye to spot, but not yours truly.

• She was given whatever shots she needed and was now ready to live the good life.

 .

Except . . .

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The wee creature had spent her entire existence (a year, two years?) living in fear: attacks from other cats, dogs, and perhaps the occasional possums and raccoons that wander over from Fishweir Creek. Everything in her life was a potential threat.

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We reached sort of a truce. When I traveled through the checkpoint into East Germany, I would grab her brush and groom her until it occurred to her that this was a trick from the Stasi.

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By and by, when she was not eating or using the litter box (or anywhere else), I took her to the vet, who kept her a day or two while they sedated her and manipulated her bowels to relieve a blockage. We returned to normal, until the procedure had to be done again. Eventually, we learned she suffered from “mega-colon” where part of the colon is expanded, fills up, and then blocks the system if not treated.


.“Mega-colon?” asked She Who Knows All. “That’s what Elvis had.”

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The vet said Peepers would need to be given a dose of two meds each day, one a stool softener and the other a prescription apparently to tighten up the colon.

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The first attempt went well, if you consider holding a hissing, spitting, and slashing creature at arm’s length to be well. The mouth was open, so I was able to squirt in the meds.

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Eventually, I went to a hardware store to get some gloves to handle the cat. The pet store franchises were no help. Neither franchise had a suit of armor thick enough to deflect the claws.

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Then it became a moot point.

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In the East German half of the house, Peepers may access two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and our library, which overflows with books and boxes. She has discovered tunnels in there and won’t even peep if I softly meow her name.

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For a time before The Troubles, she slept in my bedroom on a stack of clothes that I’m too lazy to hang up. One night she jumped into the bed with me, and I felt a cold, wet nose on my back until she realized she was about to get cooties and jumped down.

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Now, she finds her tunnel among the books and boxes in the library.

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She could sing a Cole Porter song. She gets no kick from catnip. Sprinkled on her once-favorite sleeping spot doesn’t please her at all. She gets no kick from a jingle toy. The feather on a stick means nothing to her.

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She probably doesn’t even get a kick out of her secret tunnel.

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Come on, little one. Enjoy life.

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“Are you there?”

 

Fond memories of Amos and Andy

Posted by Howard Denson on October 5, 2016 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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She Who Knows All and I once rotated in hosting film parties back in the days when guests brought copies of 16mm reels of, say, Frankenstein, Dracula, and whatever cartoon might be available from the library or friends’ collections.

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The cartoons were usually from Warner Bros.’ Golden Age (of Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, and Tex Avery). One night, the cartoon at the get-together was Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs (1943). It opened with beautiful animation of a crackling fire, and a mammy telling a story to a child.

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As the story and visuals unfolded, the room went into shock. The guests, probably all Southerners, had never seen such blatant racism and stereotypical characters. It turned out the cartoon was a parody of Disney’s Snow White, and it attempted to pay homage to American jazz, similar to what Clampett had done in Tin Pan Alley Cats. The cartoon parodied the poisoned fruit, the zonked-out-probably-dead So White, and the attempts to revive her with a special kiss. Along the way, it used imagery of the day: zoot suits, the war, fighting the Japanese, etc.

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The cartoon is now in the public domain (as are some others in the Censored Eleven cartoons from Merrie Melodies and Loony Tunes). Called one of the best cartoons ever, it is worth admiring the classical-age animation even if you have to distance yourself from the content.

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As that WB cartoon played back in the Forties, Americans had no television (except in experimental pockets) and were entertained by Golden Age Radio Shows, including Amos ’n’ Andy, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Red Skelton, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and dozens of others.

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The one show that gets zinged for political incorrectness, of course, is Amos ’n’ Andy, but I’ve had a fond spot in my heart for the characters ever since I was a child.

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The show was created in the late 1920s by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, two white performers. They first did a dialect show on radio called Sam and Henry, for which they were paid little or nothing. Initially that was okay because they wanted an attraction to bring folks to their stage act. When they moved to another station, they did not own the rights to Sam and Henry and had to alter their material. They came up with Amos Jones and Andrew H. Brown, who ran the Open Air Taxi Service in Chicago (later moved to NYC’s Harlem). The white guys voiced the two featured characters, along with the Kingfish a.k.a. George Stevens of the Mystic Knights of the Sea Lodge, and about 170 others. I have neither heard the early shows nor read the scripts from the late 1920s through the 1930s. I only recall the show entered my consciousness in the 1940s.

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began complaining about the show in about 1930, and perhaps they were on to something. Except for brief scenes in a documentary, I’ve never seen Gosden and Correll in blackface in the film(s) done back then nor their voicing for cartoons done then.

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Eventually a biography of Jack Benny noted that he had instructed his writers about 1938-40 to treat Rochester (Eddie Anderson) with respect. The writers came up with scripts in which Benny was vain, cheap, stubborn, and untalented as a violinist. Rochester was always smarter than his boss.

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Had similar directions been given to the writers for Amos ’n’ Andy? Or were the creators more interested in the characters, including an intelligent family man (Amos), his good-natured friend and a chump (Andy), the old rascal (Kingfield), and so on?

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Memories play tricks on us, if only because of the oceans of facts, scenes, and imaginings that we experience. From Amos ’n’ Andy, I recall the Christmas show, when Amos would explain to his daughter Arbadella the Lord’s Prayer (or the story of Joseph, Mary, and Bethlehem). The Christmas season also meant that A Christmas Carol would be aired on radio, with Lionel Barrymore playing Ebeneezer Scrooge. I listened to both each year.

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In the early Fifties, Amos ’n’ Andy made it to TV, and they wisely decided to cast black actors in the parts.

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Amos Jones was played by Alvin Childress, a native of Meridian, Mississippi, while Ruby Jones, as sensible as the mom on Father Knows Best, was played by Jane Adams (no, not today’s Jane Adams).

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Andrew Hogg Brown was portrayed by Spencer Williams of Vidalia, Louisiana. In researching the Charles Norman Film Studios in Jacksonville, where African American actors played straight dramatic roles for films that were shown to minority audiences, I came across the name of Oscar D. Micheaux, an influential African American director of films. Norman, a white, helped to distribute some of Micheaux’s films. In the same book on African Americans in U.S. films were extensive sections on the actor who played Andy. Spencer Williams wrote films, directed them, and even starred in Western films.

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For bits of stage business, Williams stands out for the way he lifts his derby, removes his cigar, and says a melodic “H-e-l-l-o” when meeting a potential lady friend. The bit is similar to Matt Le Blanc’s Joey Tribbiani saying “How-ya-doin’ ” to sweet young things.

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A splendid actor and stand-up comedian, Tim Moore of Rock Island, Illinois, played the rascal George “Kingfish” Stevens. A key bit of comic business occurred when the Kingfish was trying to hook Andy into one of his schemes. He’d tilt his head, purse his lips slightly, and study Andy to see if his fish was on the line.

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Kingfish’s wife, Sapphire (Ernestine Wade of Jackson, Mississippi), had the same sort of exasperated expression that some of the women in my allied families had with their husbandly reprobates.

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Sapphire’s mother and Kingfish’s mother-in-law was Ramona Smith, who was played by one of two sisters on the show, Amanda Randolph of Louisville, Kentucky. Her “hmmph!” let you know that she saw straight through the Kingfish no matter what his shenanigans were.

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Andy’s on-again-off-again sweetheart was Madame Queen, played by Lillian Randolph of Knoxville, Tennessee.

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A recurring character was the shyster lawyer, Algonquin J. Calhoun. Johnny Lee of Los Angeles would get him wound up as he bellowed and pounded the table to someone in authority, “Do you mean to tell ME that—” Invariably, perhaps as he realized a desk sergeant was thumbing through a stack of wanted posters, he would be deflated and quickly hurry outside. Lee is best known for his voice work on Disney’s The Song of the South.

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The character of Willie “Lightnin’” Jefferson was played by Nick Stewart (billed as “Nick O’Demus” ) of New York City. Lightnin’ was rubberstamped from characters portrayed by Stepin Fetchit (the first black actor to become a millionaire) and Willie Best.

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It is interesting to learn that Stewart took the part in order to raise enough money to open the Ebony Showcase Theatre in Los Angeles so that minorities would not be restricted to playing maids and porters. Their alumni, from all races, included John Amos, Phil Collins, Tom Ewell, Al Freeman Jr., Chaka Khan, B. B. King, Eartha Kitt, Gladys Knight, Nichelle Nichols, Isabel Sanford, William Schallert, and Yuki Shimoda.

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When She Who demands that I do something, I’m still apt to answer, “I’m going to whiz on out there,” and then take my time doing anything.

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The radio show, in particular, relied on word-play and malaprops: “Let’s simonize our watches.” Meanwhile, on Jack Benny’s show, a character was repeatedly asking for “cimarron toast.” At the movie theater, Stan would complain to Ollie that he was having a “nervous shakedown.” Comic word-play of this nature goes back to Shakespeare’s Constable Dogberry and Mistress Quickly and Sheridan’s Mrs. Malaprop.

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Amos ’n’ Andy helped to expand the horizons of this kid back then (as did The FBI in Peace and War, Johnny Dollar, and Richard Diamond on radio). Keep in mind that this shy kid lived in such big cities as Jasper in Alabama, Vidalia in Georgia, Marianna in Florida, and eventually Pensacola. I had never seen a judge except in movies and on TV shows. The black judges on Amos ’n’ Andy seemed as sensible and competent as Morris Ankrum or Ray Collins on other shows.

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My towns did not have any black policemen or deputies, but I saw them on Amos ’n’ Andy.

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I rarely went into stores run by blacks, except when my father drove a bread truck and I “helped” with deliveries. In Cokeoven (the black region of my hometown), a black man ran a small store and invented pulleys that he could manipulate to open doors and close shutters. But Amos ’n’ Andy had shopkeepers and merchants as dignified as, say, family friends Herman and Bernard Weinstein in my hometown.

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Amos ’n’ Andy planted seeds that said African Americans could do more than they were doing in the Forties and Fifties in the South.

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The black cast of Amos ’n’ Andy would have sympathized with Robert Townsend’s plight when he moved from Illinois to make his way in an entertainment world that restricted black actors to playing maids, porters, waiters, and the like. He satirized Hollywood’s preference for Mandingo stereotypes in Hollywood Shuffle (1987). Black actors were often told they weren’t black enough for key roles.

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Each decade or age will have its respective fads and foibles. Sometimes we have to recognize when some talented people strived to good work in a project that we may not admire overall.

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--30--

 

 

Lies vs. "Truth with blinders" on?

Posted by Howard Denson on September 30, 2016 at 5:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

We can ignore Parson Weems’ stories about young George Washington always telling the truth. We all lie. Grownups lie regularly. Children lie even more since they don’t know what will truly get them into trouble.

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I even remember my first lie, or, to be exact, I remember when I first had to say that which was not so.

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During World War II, with my father in the Navy, my mother and I were staying with my maternal grandparents at their house on Sixth Avenue in Jasper, Alabama, and my great-grandfather, Joseph Stephenson, had dropped by for a visit.

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He was in the front yard and about to go up the steps when he slipped and fell into a bush. He struggled to get up, and, to be helpful, I alleged, with the wisdom of a two-to-three-year-old, “I fell there once and was able to get up.”

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He tried again to get up and eventually asked me to go get my mother, which I did.

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Let’s jump forward in time when everyone had wrist watches that had to be wound up every day. If you had Citizens #1, 2, and 3, you could ask them what time it was. Citizen 1 might say, “It’s 10:15.” Citizen 2: “I’ve got 10:17.” Citizen 3: “10:15.”

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I would simply assume that 10:15 is probably the correct time, but that Citizen 2 liked to have a two-minute margin for appointments.

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But some people would frown and grumble, “Why did Citizen 2 lie to me.”

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Often they have no gray in their world.

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We like to quote Hitler and his crew about the eventual success of telling a lie if you tell it often enough. That seems to have become a fixture in American politics of the early 21st Century.

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If a person knowingly tells a lie over and over, he or she may be using a political technique. “Listen to me (wink, wink), for I’ll tell you yahoos the truth.”

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I have trouble understanding why honorable individuals would continue to tell whoppers.

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Before I climb up on my pedestal and polish my wings and halo, I decided to do a fearless self-inventory and ask, “Have you, as an adult, ever said something (other than white lies) that was clearly false?”

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(Disclaimer: She Who Knows All doesn’t believe a thing I say.)

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Finally I came up with an incident. Northeast Florida civil rights leader Rodney Hurst and I were lunching on the Northside and got to discussing race, differences between the races, etc.

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I remarked that you can generally tell when a speaker is African American.

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Rodney disagreed.

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Looking back, I was thinking with blinders on, meaning I was using part of my brain. My classes often had anywhere from 10% to 55% African American, and each day I tried to be helpful, courteous, competent, and kind to my students. My attention was generally more on their writing than on the way they spoke, but generally there was a difference.

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Sometime later, Rodney and I munched again, and, as the topic came up again, I stood my ground.

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After that, the blinders came off bit by bit, and I actually started using all of my pea-brain. As a little boy, I grew up listening on the radio to “Amos and Andy,” whose voices, plus that of George “Kingfish” Stevens, were done by Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll, both white guys.

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On radio in Pensacola and Norfolk, I had my favorite announcers and DJ’s, and, when one came into The Pensacola News Journal office, I saw he was a pencil-neck geek and not at all the dashing Rip Kirby or Clark Kent I had imagined.

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When you hear radio announcers today, you are too often reminded that they are graduates of a Radio Announcers College Program since they all sound alike, whether black, white, Hispanic, or Asian.

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I first became aware of George Takei a.k.a. Mr. Sulu, when he was a guest star on “The Wackiest Ship in the Army” in the mid-Sixties. He played a Japanese soldier who had attended Georgia Tech and had the thickest “sho-nuff” accent imaginable. Takei over the years has voiced dozens of roles and, unless a role requires him to play a Japanese soldier, you don’t detect anything “Asian” about his enunciation.

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I get led astray and wind up with blinders on when I think in terms of human voice boxes. For example, Bing Crosby of the Forties greatly influenced Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, as they both admitted. However, Perry Como in his early years with Ted Weems Orchestra sang so much like Bing that it is hard to tell them apart. Sinatra spawned a bunch of saloon-singer sound-alikes, including Dick Haymes, Jack Jones, Matt Monro, and others.

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A major influence on Bing Crosby was Louis Armstrong, who influenced vocalists and pianists. When Tommy Dorsey died in 1956, his musician friends were recruited by Jackie Gleason to do a special tribute to the sentimental gentleman of swing. Part of the discussion focused on Louis’ influence on musicians. At age 15, I didn’t understand enough about music to know what they were talking about, but Louis wasn’t restricted to traditional singing notation, but gave special emphasis to the each lyric. Pianists were often using chords in both hands, but Louis’ trumpet playing inspired them to let a lead melody dominate. (I think. I’m no pianist, but--and this is true--I played Liberace in a ninth grade play at Blount Junior High in Pensacola.)

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Sammy Davis Jr. in his earliest recordings came across like Sinatra, who told him to trust his own voice and sound like himself.

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Similar voice boxes to my ears included Billy Eckstine, Al Hibbler, and occasionally Joe Williams. On the female side, Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee had similar voices. Peggy was accused of shamelessly imitating Billie.

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Early on, critics were saying that Frankie Laine and Elvis had the black sound. My ears weren’t sharp enough to detect that, but they certain differed from, say, Eddie Fisher or Vic Damone. Both were solid vocalists. Fisher was influenced more by Al Jolson; Sinatra said Damone had the best pipes in the business.

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So, with blinders on, I was wrong in what I argued with Rodney.

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That brings us to “birtherism.” The right-wing persisted in arguing this canard even though it undercut not Barack Obama but such politicos as Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and others. The line of argument basically said, “Hillary, Bill, the Bushes, and all the conservatives were too inept to prove that Obama was actually born in Kenya [or wherever].”

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The Bushes, the Clintons, and their allies have enough contacts in the intelligent services throughout the world to uncover anything they wanted to. Obama, a mere first-term senator, as Obama was, had no such network.

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Eventually, even the top birther advocate let go of the lie, only to backtrack when the base raised a ruckus.

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They aren’t telling truth with blinders on.

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They are telling lies with blindfolds on.

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Who has destroyed the GOP?

Posted by Howard Denson on August 12, 2016 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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First off, I don’t think the Republican Party is dead as a national force. It has a powerful hold on governorships and state legislatures. Pundits may want to blame the national demise on Little Donald, but it’s more complicated than that.

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Let’s list some GOPers of the 20th Century: Herbert Hoover, Alf Landon, Wendell Wilkie (a businessman), Thomas Dewey, Robert Taft, Ike, Nixon, Rockefeller, Ford, Reagan, Dirksen, Howard Baker, Jim Baker, and so on. They had solid credentials. The Great Depression was beyond Hoover’s ability to handle (and some would argue that FDR didn’t really eradicate it until WW2 came along), but his business and public service background suggested he would be an ideal president. Except for holdouts like Barry Goldwater, Republicans in the Sixties helped pass the Civil Rights Act, while the Southern Democrats of the day were the party of “hell, no, suh.”

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Then something happened. In my stomping grounds, we had a Congressman named John Buchanan, who was a moderate conservative. The far right put up an opponent and threw him out of office. (He swung to the left and became a leader in the People for the American Way.)

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Moving forward to more recent times, we have the Tea Party movement. If a GOPer was in office and displeasing them, they primaried his sorry ass and often defeated him. That put the fear of defeat into incumbents. Many moderates chose to decline to run for re-election, and the far right prevailed even more.

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When the GOP nominated Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, the far right claimed they lost because they weren’t conservative enough. If they just had a “real conservative” on the ballot, they said they would have won. This brings up my principle (and I’m sure others have stated it, too) that the far right and far left have serious problems counting. Each end of the spectrum thinks that 15% support merits a gold medal for first place. It doesn’t.

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Moreover, the far right, having decided to become the party of “no,” has burned bridges with other possible constituent groups. They reject compromise as demeaning their high principles. As a result, they reject the path to winning national elections.

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The far right also has a problem because of its dominance in state houses and governorships. If the State of Florida is a mess, they can’t logically blame it on the Democrats. They have controlled both houses and the governor’s office. If something’s broken, it’s their fault. Kansas has been a respectably conservative state until recent years when Gov. Brownback made it into an experimental lab for right-wingers. Their policies have ruined the state’s finances, and the voters are beginning to realize that they must have a change of direction.

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Little Donald has shaken up the political dynamics and deserves some credit in that area. However, his nomination has proved a disaster. His supporters are whistling by the graveyard telling themselves how he could still win, if this and if that.

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The primary system will need to be re-examined. I question the wisdom of open primaries, despite the cries from independents for additional primaries to be open. Instead, I recommend that only Republicans vote for GOP candidates, only Democrats for Dem candidates, and so on. Independents need to take a different approach: either join one of the two major parties or form a (pick a name) American Progressive Party, the Tea Party, or whatever.

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In an ideal world, we should shorten the campaign time, but the First Amendment would kick in. If someone wishes to start campaigning for office for 2020 or 2024, the Constitution permits it. The GOP needs to explore if it really needs to subject itself to a plethora of debates. These end up smearing and butchering the field to such an extent that unity is almost impossible.

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A political joke during the second half of the last century was Harold Stassen, a perpetual candidate. However, go to Wikipedia or another source and read up on Stassen. He had solid credentials, was sane, and could have been a good-to-adequate president.

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Unfortunately, today’s jokes aren’t all that funny.

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