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1950ish? Hardly

Posted by Howard Denson on April 25, 2018 at 6:15 PM Comments comments (0)


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By HOWARD DENSON

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[EDITOR'S NOTE: A local tempest in Mr. Coffee Pot occurred when the outgoing president carelessly said that one of the campuses was like something out of the 1950s when she arrived four years earlier. A former campus president resented the assessment, and this writer gave a faculty perspective.]

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I was a charter member of the North Campus faculty when the campus opened in 1970 and taught there until the end of 2007. When new-comers refer to the campus as something out of the 1950s, I do have to take exception.

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Originally, we were the science and computer campus. If you took physics, you trucked out to North Campus. If you were studying DOS, COBOL, etc., again you did it at North. By and by, the various administrations peeled off programs and, after a decade or so, returned some of them to North.

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When I took an adult enrichment course on the $12,000 IBM Displaywriter (with an 8-inch disk), I fell in love with this new way of processing words. As cheaper units (Apples at first and then IBMs later) became available, I required (not recommended, but required) my students to write their papers on word processing programs. When someone complained, I said, "This is how writing will be done in the 21st Century."

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Our North Campus lab (called Learning Center and other names as fads came and went) featured PLATO lessons, a Cadillac-program for courses ranging from economics to chemistry, to English grammar. These lessons replaced the embarrassing and time-consuming trips to the board as students did exercises on subject-verb agreement, etc.

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Other campuses simply were not using such advances, sometimes arguing, "Good grammar will not make you a great writer," while ignoring that bad grammar will not make you even a good writer.

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In certain classrooms, especially in the humanities, we were able to use a variety of aids as we perhaps compared the various statues of David done by Donatello, Verrocchio, Michelangelo, and Bernini. In the 1950s, you would have to hope the textbook had photos of each or you would have to walk two or three books around the room for the students to notice the similarities and differences. Each student got about five seconds to check out a picture.

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For a couple of years, a South Campus natural science instructor came to North to use the room that could broadcast to and interact with students at a downtown location.

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Certain classes at North could be broadcast to students up in Nassau County.

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These were expensive, and, while administrations are adept in pushing this or that fad, they are even more proficient in canceling fads that seemingly cost too much money.

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I could go on, but each campus has its own virtues and its own special problems.

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The edifice complex is a big institutional problem, because any college loves an excuse to erect new buildings. At one time, they wanted a separate building for a library at North, but one fad caused them to discard all of their books in favor of electronics. Bye-bye for any justification for a new building. There was a mention of building an allied health building to bring them all together. As it is, the programs are fewer than 50 to 100 feet from each other today.

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When enrollment is stagnant or declining, we do not need new buildings. When more classes are taken online, we do not need new buildings.

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The building craze kicked in back in the 1950s and 1960s when the system was hitting its stride. To keep building is so, well, 1950ish.

Fake News, Editorials, & All That

Posted by Howard Denson on April 4, 2018 at 12:55 AM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON  

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The word "Sinclair" has been in the news lately regarding Orwellian broadcasts in which all Sinclair TV staff mouth the same words.

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As a codger, "Sinclair" reminds me of gasoline signs with a dinosaur mascot . . . or, knowing history before I came along, of Harry Sinclair, who was slap-dab in the middle of the Teapot Dome scandal during the administration of Warren G. Harding. (Can you believe cabinet secretaries and cronies thinking they could make big profits on Uncle Sam?)

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We have any number of media conglomerates who own chains of newspapers, magazines, and TV and radio stations. If the groups want to continue buying out each other, Uncle Sam needs to put a halt to it. That's what Teddy Roosevelt would have done.

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During the Sixties, I worked as a flunky journalist for newspapers. The Pensacola News-Journal was owned by Perry Newspapers. I forget who owned The Tallahassee Democrat, but I believe The New York Times eventually bought it. My paper in Birmingham, The News, was owned by the Newhouse Syndicate (not the name of the current owners). The morning paper, The Post-Herald (now defunct), was owned by Scripps-Howard.

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When elections rolled around, the Scripps-Howard editorial boards assembled somewhere and voted about whom the chain should support. The Newhouse chain had a different philosophy. They wanted the local papers to make a nice profit and forward the green stuff to headquarters.

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Thus, in 1964 and 1968, memory says The News supported Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon respectively. A statewide poll of readers in '68 probably would have wanted The News to support George Wallace. In those two years, The Post-Herald likely went along with the Scripps-Howard recommendations: Lyndon Johnson and then Hubert Humphrey.

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The unfortunate truth is this: If an individual owns a newspaper or a TV station, the individual gets to run whatever he or she wants to run.

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I picked up on that when I was working as a flunky printer's devil for Paul Driver, owner and publisher of The Escambia Sun-Press in Pensacola. A family member asked if any reader might object to their running a picture of their son who had been promoted in the military in Alaska. Driver said, "It's my paper, and I'll run what I want. If they don't like it, let them buy their own newspaper."

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Protestors do have options, of course. They can quit buying a publication or quit watching or listening to a station. They can apply pressure to advertisers.

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What the Sinclair syndicate did was, therefore, was within their rights as proprietors, but so was Ford putting out the Edsel and Coke changing its classic formula.

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Sinclair was putting out a promo and simply went about it all wrong. A template could have been sent to the stations, along with a note like this: "Go through and personalize the message in the template so that it has a unique feel for your demographic area," etc., etc. They didn't do this and opened themselves to ridicule.

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I don't really care what stations include in their promotional material. I'll hit the Mute button and shut them off anyway. However, a year or so ago, one of the media-monitoring sites tracked how canned pieces, potential news articles, went to various stations, and the stations marched along like little tin soldiers as they regurgitated the content word for word.

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Again, management can run whatever they want . . . but I do have my remote control, and I'm not afraid to use it.

Where is Tex Ritter when you need him?

Posted by Howard Denson on March 31, 2018 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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I desperately need to hear Tex Ritter singing while I write this piece. I already hear the refrain, "Looking for a home," from the Boll Weevil song, but I need to hear Tex singing about looking for a word or phrase . . . without creating a redundancy or an anachronism. And it's all the fault of the French, of course.

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We took movie courses in college because we thought it would be an easy grade, but then the prof insisted on talking about the French auteur theory popularized by André Bazin and Alexandre Astruc . . . and then spread throughout the U.S. by Andrew Sarris. They were trying to differentiate between film directors who were cogs in the machinery (each director able to step in and complete a film without any viewer noticing the switch and between directors who dominated most of their projects and stamped them with a visual signature. For Americans today, the latter group would include such recognizable names as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, and at times Clint Eastwood.

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Bazin and Astruc needed a special word or phrase so they decided on "film auteur."

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Or "film author," you see.

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Listen up, they argued. The director is like the author of a book. He or she does everything and puts a personalized touch on each project. The product isn't like the everyday Schlock und Dreck churned out by Hollywood studios in their heyday. Their products aren't like the flicks of the Poverty Row studios, but they were polished and smooth even when the end results were mediocre. True, François Truffaut's films often featured rough cuts, shaky cameras, and other flaws that Schlock und Dreckers lamented.

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Pauline Kael fought with Sarris at every chance and called him a silly twit . . . or something that rhymed with that. She gassed on about the contributions made to auteur films by those behind the cameras, set designers, etc.

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We have the word auteur hanging out there and realize that the 20th Century deities of serious literature were not equivalent to the film auteurs. Let's use Thomas Wolfe to represent most Great American Authors. He submitted O LOST to Scribners, where Maxwell Perkins took the manuscript of 1,110 pages (300,000 words), shortened and refocused it until LOOK HOMEWARD ANGEL emerged. Later one critic Bernard DeVoto declared that the publishing house had produced a book that was "hacked and shaped and compressed into something resembling a novel by Mr. Perkins and the assembly-line at Scribners." Notice the "assembly-line" reference? Similar to the studio system of MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, etc., eh?

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Our Great American Authors can't truly be called auteurs because they mainly just wrote a manuscript (which may have been drastically changed). The system is (a) you find an agent, (b) the agent finds a publishing house, (c) each editor argues for his/her choices in an acquisition committee, (d) if selected, the manuscript is edited, either severely in the olden days or casually in more recent times, and (d) the ms. is published.

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At the editing stage, the author may be involved more than a little. Pulitzer Prize-winner Shirley Ann Grau didn't want her words changed without a damned good reason. Many, many other writers turned in their mss. and ended their interest in their projects, especially involving spelling and grammar, saying, "I wrote it, you edit it."

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Instead, American equivalents of auteurs can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin. As a boy, he was apprenticed as a printer, helped out on his brother's newspaper, and wrote some anonymous pieces that caught everyone's attention. As a young man, he continued the trade and wrote and published his own manuscripts.

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Next, we have our Good Gray Poet, Walt Whitman, who was a printer, but would also work as an editor. Over the decades he kept adjusting his LEAVES OF GRASS that he would have printed by colleagues.

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Later, we have Sam Clemens, who, as a boy, was apprenticed as a printer, worked with newspapers in that capacity, and wrote articles and stories for them. He graduated to book author and novelist. As an adult, he made unsuccessful investments in innovative printing equipment.

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Other Great American Authors did not follow this route. It wasn't respectable during the Gilded Age for proper young ladies to (gasp, gasp) write, so Edith Wharton used a male penname and her father financed some early publications. Later, she followed Dickens' pattern: (a) write the book, (b) publish chapters or sections in magazines, and (c) publish everything in book form.

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Stephen Crane mainly skipped college to write for newspapers (thus setting the standard for Hemingway and others). He went from stories and poems published in periodicals to actual novels before tuberculosis took him out at age twenty-eight.

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To help out the family financially, Louisa Mae Alcott turned to writing, ranging from thrillers under a penname to LITTLE WOMEN and LITTLE MEN.

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Edna Ferber had some newspaper experience, largely related to the theatre, until she turned to novels. Some writers were aware that they were writing Great Literature, while others saw their writing as ways to afford alimony, a new car, or college tuition for the kiddies. That accounts for some of the lesser products churned out by the late Norman Mailer and Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

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Writing for a quick buck lets us examine two well-known novelists: Erle Stanley Gardner and Mickey Spillane.

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Gardner would retreat to a mountain cabin with a Dictaphone, dictate a Perry Mason or A. A. Fair novel over two or three days, and return the recordings to his secretarial staff, who would type it up and send it in to the publishers. Did he dwell over the text very much or simply insist on typists who knew their grammar?

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Spillane could check into a hotel where he couldn't be reached (yes, it's the pre-cell phone era, folks), open a bottle of whiskey, and pound away until a Mike Hammer novel emerged.

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And . . .

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I would go on about Great American Authors, except I hear Tex singing about "looking for a word, looking for a phrase." I'm looking for a category for myself, a direct writing descendant of Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, and others who have worked with hot-metal type, Ludlow machines, and stereotyping machine.

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In fifth grade, I produced many front pages for newspapers in the classes at Central Elementary . . . pages drawn on regular school papers. It had "photographs," that tended toward jets and biplanes firing away at enemies in the town.

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Later that stage was supplanted in college by "dummies" of pages for The Corsair in Pensacola and The Florida Flambeau in Tallahassee. You wrote, you laid something out, and you saw it in print.

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After graduation, the dummies (now called "diagrams") were for a weekly and then a daily newspaper in Bessemer and Birmingham respectively. You wrote, you laid something out, you saw the proofs and searched out any errors, and you saw it in print.

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In the 1970s, while teaching, he encountered the absolute wonderful magic of word processing with the IBM Displaywriter ($12,000 each, with eight-inch diskettes). Here, a Disney sprite would swing a sparkling wand over the screen as you changed words, moved sentences or paragraphs, all without having to retype an entire page. You wrote easily, and eventually you had a desktop program that let you see the final product, and you saw it all in print. Ah, what you have, sayeth a sniffer, is "Vanity Publishing."

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No, no. The pattern with a Vanity author is that something is written and pretty well published immediately. It often goes from Hot Prose (largely unedited) to Hot, Largely Unedited Book.

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If you are serious about the craft, you must let the prose cool off and make each word justify its existence and placement in a sentence. It may take me a year or two to finish proofing and editing a proof copy of a book.

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Someone suggests the term "Author Auteur."

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No, no, that's a redundancy.

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How about "a Franklin/Twain Author"?

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Tex! Tex! Sing it for me.

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"Looking for a Franklin/Twain Author, looking for an FTA."

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Sigh. Now I can't decide between looking into the Dark Abyss of Despair . . . or maybe watching once again the episodes of "Firefly."

Latrine or garbage dump countries

Posted by Howard Denson on January 13, 2018 at 3:35 PM Comments comments (1)


By HOWARD DENSON

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DONALD TRUMP COMES IN first again, not surprisingly. He was ahead of the pack in the competition for the World’s Stupidest National Leader. He has even received the endorsements of the American Bozo Board, the North American Society of Inanely Stupid Whackos, and the Mortimer Snerd Foundation for the Clueless and Incompetent.

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This, of course, refers to Trump’s complaints about our admitting so many refugees and immigrants from countries that may be more delicately identified as Latrine Countries or Garbage Dump Countries.

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That individual, with his best brain and lots of good words, not to mention enviable academic credentials, has reached his Seventies and lets us know that he never heeded his mother’s advice: “Donald, you don’t have to say every damned thing that pops into your head.”

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The clueless idgit also failed to take (or stay awake in) any philosophy courses. They would have taught him to ask about First Causes. For example, if you have a leaky ceiling with a bulge threatening to collapse, you want to fix it, of course. But your first question should be, “What is causing the leaky ceiling and that bulge?” Eventually you may discover that the whole roof is kaput and needs to be replaced.

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So let’s agree that certain countries or regions are Latrine/Garbage Dump Countries. Now, let’s kick in that First Causes question.

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What has caused them to be kicked out of the United Nations of Respectability?

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Ah, I thought you would never ask. Let me number the causes for you.

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1. NATURAL DISASTERS—Whether a disaster is an earthquake, a flood, cyclones, or hurricanes, an area can have its homes, businesses, and hospitals wiped out. The people can’t live there without food and water, not to mention law enforcement and medical care. They will go where they can survive. A functioning government will take care of a city so afflicted . . . unless it’s Puerto Rico and the head of the government is Trump.

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2. GANGS & KLEPTOCRACY—The polis (city/state) doesn’t function. It’s dominated by warlords and governmental thieves who deposit what they steal in European banks. The gangs may trace their roots to religious sects. Tribe A kills Tribe B (and vice versa) because that’s how they get their rocks off.

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3. MILITARY & INDUSTRIALIZED COMPLEX—These gangs and governmental thieves can’t butcher people without the cooperation of industrialized nations. Who are the guilty parties who are enabling butchery? Look at the list below from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Notice that the U.S. still exports MORE than former enemies Russia, China, and the Ukraine. Thugs and brigands don’t require billion-dollar missile systems. When they wish to chop off the arms and legs, and heads, of opponents, they can shop cheaply enough at Murder & Garden Depot. A used car lot will yield a Toyota pickup that they can use to go from mischief to murder.

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2012–’16 Rank Supplier Arms Exported

United States . . . . . 47,169

Russia . . . . . 33,186

China . . . . . 9,132

France . . . . . 8,564

Germany . . . . . 7,946

United Kingdom . . . . . 6,586

Spain . . . . . 3,958

Italy . . . . . 3,823

Ukraine . . . . . 3,677

Israel . . . . . 3,233

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4. LACK OF OPPORTUNITIES FOR A PEOPLE—When presidents for life build up armed forces and conceal in foreign banks the revenue they have stolen, they deplete the resources of their countries. There is nothing left to “trickle down” to the people, except poverty and despair. Education is often non-existent. The infrastructure probably is on the verge of collapse. North Korea belongs on this list. They have a potent military force and use bluster and bluff to retain their people’s loyalty. Meanwhile, they can’t feed their people.

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5. COLLUSION OF BANKSTERS WITH CROOKS—The banksters of European (and American) financial institutions know exactly what is going on. Yet they are complicit in efforts to turn regions and states into latrines or garbage dumps.

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What is the remedy? First, we recognize that no part of God’s generally green earth do we have latrines from coast to coast. Until fear destroys their tranquility, people love their arid deserts, their mountains, their beaches and palm trees, etc. They love their homes and only leave so their families will have a chance at not just the good life, but any life at all.

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If we address the real problems, the refugee/immigrant problem will take care of itself.

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--30--


Govertainment on the horizon or is it already here?

Posted by Howard Denson on January 12, 2018 at 12:20 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

When I was a young political wonk immersing myself in The Making of a President and similar books, it occurred to me that the U.S. needed a variation on what some European countries had: a president (who was a ribbon-cutter and meeter-and-greeter for ceremonies of state) and a prime minister (who ran the shooting match with his/her cabinet).

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I reasoned that Americans needed a CEO (chief entertainment officer) and a boss (some dull, competent fart who ran things). Some presidents were their own CEOs (Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, and Obama). Others weren’t (Wilson, Hoover, Truman, Ike, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, the Bushes).

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No, what we needed for the CEO was Al Jolson or Eddie Cantor for the Twenties and Thirties, Bob Hope or Bing Crosby for the Forties, Elvis or Sinatra for the Fifties, and Joel Grey for the Sixties. I’m open to other nominations (e.g., James Brown or Bette Midler).

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It would be important that the actual president generally should NOT have a press conference. If the media wishes to hear anybody, trot out the CEO, not the boring PM. Let him go down on one knee and sing, “I’d walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my M-a-m-m-y!” or “You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog.”

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Most viewers would prefer that as opposed to a press secretary lying with a straight face.

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With Trump, of course, we got the Showman, except this CEO bears watching and doesn’t take his meds. You can’t trust him to swallow a sword or blow a stream of fire. He’s not curious. He’s not into the growth-thing. He’s only interested in golf and in his press clippings and how he’s rated in Variety. His slogan could be: “Ask what my country can do for my bank account, but don’t ask to see my taxes.” He’s not a Will Rogers who could deliver pithy truisms. Unlike Will, he would have to say, “I never met a man I actually liked.”

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Today’s political wonks often like to pretend that Trump really is just another conservative Republican. No, don’t laugh! He deserves respect. After all, he’s President. Come on, no laughing! Besides, you Dems don’t have anyone who could beat him, since the Constitution won’t let Obama run again. You wouldn’t try Hillary again. You just wouldn’t, so nyah, nyah, nyah. There!

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Enter someone else from Celebrity Land: Oprah Winfrey. Let’s compare her to Trump:

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Oprah spelled backwards is Harpo. Trump backwards is Pmurt. (“So what?” you ask, to which I say, "Oh, yeah? Yeah? )

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She started from a poor family. Trump’s papa loaned or gave him $1 million to play with.

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She moved up from a millionaire to a multi-billionaire, making her the richest African American in the country. Trump claims to be a multi-billionaire but won’t show his taxes to confirm his boasts. Fortune says he’s about No. 544 on the list, about where she is.

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She has an intellectual side and promotes books and literacy. He doesn’t read.

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Oprah may be an excellent self-promoter, but she is aware of what a “good person” does and touches the appropriate bases. She even gives away her own money. Trump first, last, and always is a self-promoter, a barker for his fairgrounds sideshow. Since he stiffs employees, contractors, students in his university, etc., he is not a “good person.” If he gives away money, it usually comes a fund established by others.

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The trouble in America is that we end up with govertainment because quality leaders won’t run.

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For several elections, it was a shame that Colin Powell, now 80, wouldn’t run. If we must have a multi-billionaire, then Bill Gates could step forward, but probably won’t.

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The Dems sputter about the possible candidacies’: They have swallowed the fake news put out by the Russkies and mutter they are lucky to have dodged that bullet. Bernie’s people say everyone should get behind Bernie, not that he and his troops will get behind anyone else if he’s not nominated. Elizabeth Warren actually understands finances and banking, but sputtering Dems worry about her not being strong enough to defeat Pmurt.

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Will we be surprised at who wins the White House in 2020?

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Nyet, Comrade.

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--30--



What to do about N.O.S.?

Posted by Howard Denson on December 19, 2017 at 11:25 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

She Who Knows All and I were discussing the whole problem involving N.O.S. (or Nasty Ol’ Sex), and she informed me the solution was to kill all men.

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Since our house has several handy mirrors, all defective, I was compelled to give the suggestion some serious reflection. It was a lost cause because the wise guru in the mirrors was a fat, gray-haired lunatic.

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So, pondering alone, like Rodin’s Thinker, I deduced that various labs would be able to store gadzillion sperm for future use; thus, the race could go on without the gender that is loud and often smelly. When male babies developed their smart-mouths at puberty, they could be sent to “join Uncle Floyd on the golf course” or whatever benign euphemism you prefer for Bye-Bye Land.

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Is there a less drastic approach? She Who made her pointing finger and the index finger form cutting motions. I restrained myself from pretending she was imitating the gator chomp.

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“That wouldn’t solve problems,” said I, “because Will Cuppy said that countries that had a lot of eunuchs close to the throne still had trouble because the eunuchs had more time to think up mischief.”

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When we look at the NOS scene today, with politicos hitting on fourteen-year-olds and so on through the NOS Chart, we can’t say that there is a 50-50 percentage of male vs. female offenses. No, we guys are much more at fault. The percentage may well be 80-20 or even 90-10.

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Mother Nature created the initial problem. The females care for the young and the home. The males have to quit goofing off to drop a seed now and then. After that, we can go off to plowing the south forty, fighting wars, or watching fuhbol.

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To get the female’s attention, the male has an “on” button, and it’s most evident in a park where you can sit on a bench and watch the male pigeons bump into a female to see if she’s interested and, if she isn’t, to bump in another one for any interest. By and by, Lady Pigeon #99 coo’s, “About time,” and another generation is introduced.

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So we males are just symbolic feathered bumper cars, beeping, “How about it? How about it?”

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Many a woman, like Rose Sayer in The African Queen, has told males, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” Instead of fixing a propeller or fighting leeches, the predator male is more focused on the sexual kill, the trophy, than telling his nether regions to behave themselves.

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Predator females, of course, do exist, but in lesser numbers than the male side. After all, we are familiar with the femme fatale, if only in primetime soaps, spy novels, and tales of hard-boiled detectives. If you start writing about famous wicked women, you will have a multi-volume project on your hands: Jezebel, Messalina, Agrippina, and so on.

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We automatically want to blame The Culture for sexual crimes and misconduct. We can’t shake our heads in bafflement and lament, “How did we get here?” Why not? Because we have practically always encouraged the predator male. Moreover, Hef and Playboy’s motto, in effect, was “Non solum sexus” or “It’s only sex.” See, gals, thanks to the Pill and to condoms, you too can get it on like the guys do. It can be the stuff of sit-coms: Sex and the City, Crudities with the Kardashians, Friends, and your secret pleasure. Or the stuff of porn: “Here’s your pizza . . . and thank you, ma’am—no, thank you, sir.”

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The gray-haired nut in the mirror claims that girls err when they imitate the behavior of males, especially hollow-chested children who like to act tough or thuggish but can’t even change a tire. Even so, some girls and young women continue with the imitation, not realizing, for example, that male rock singers are mainly preening or performing for other males. (Oh, hush, you know it’s true.)

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When Anna Airhead sets the standard for females, she is undercutting women who are serious and trying their best to succeed. Right, right, says a superior, it’s Play Time! More often, it’s not.

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One womanizer decades ago maintained that there is a rule for playing around: “Nothing within a mile of the flagpole.” That flagpole could be for a company, a college or university, a church, a fire house, or (if employees are at a conference) the conference hotel/headquarters.

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The rule didn’t ensure a high moral standard. N.O.S. could still occur, but individuals wouldn’t be caught with their pants down in a company office. (Quick! How many times has someone gotten into trouble by keeping on his pants?)

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Going back centuries, we see that women in general were treated like chattel or cattle. Once married, they essentially had few rights, and they could be burned out by multiple pregnancies and planted in the cemetery when they were 30 to 40. Ah, well, till Death do us part. If a woman wouldn’t go away, metaphorically, she could be locked up in an asylum while the husband cavorted with his patootie. Women couldn’t vote, couldn’t make transactions in their own names, etc.

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Meanwhile, Her reputation could be easily lost, while His was (chuckle, chuckle) a man being a man.

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The ideal for men was (pick your choice) Don Draper of Mad Men, always on the prowl, or Bond James Bond and his harem of Pussy, Honey, Plenty, or Holly. A handsome movie star goes a little out of control? Well, he’s in like Errol Flynn, and a model for other males.

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Two or three decades ago, feminists had at least two aphorisms worth considering:

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“Seduction downward is a power trip.”

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“Sexual harassment is anything that a woman says it is.”

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I will accept the first bit of wisdom, but have problems with the second one. Sexual harassment is not ANYTHING. It is something. It may be three somethings, or thirty, or three hundred, or three thousand somethings, but it’s something specific, not just anything.

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As I was a child, I was hearing our preacher say, “There’s no such thing as a big sin or a little sin. Sin is sin, whether you kill someone or steal a bottle of milk from a doorstep to feed a starving child.” That was total nonsense, of course.

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I prefer the Catholics’ concept of venial and mortal sins. Venial sin is stealing a bottle of milk, while a mortal sin is—I believe I’ve got this right—something like learning to play the accordion.

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Cultural differences play a part in potential N.O.S. situations As a Celtic-Appalachian, like a dour Scot, I’m not a hugger. Some guys stand closer than I’m comfortable with, and they have hands all over their colleagues, not in a N.O.S. way, just in their idiosyncratic way. What happens when the colleague or acquaintance is a female? Hrrumph.

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We often don’t read signals that well. Once upon a lifetime ago, when I was a flunky journalist, I complimented a “copy girl” (the term then): “Gladys, you’re looking great today.”

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With a worried look, she asked, “But what was wrong with me yesterday?”

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With N.O.S., we certainly have mortal and venial sins. A mortal sin is rape. A venial sin is assing off for the camera as Al Franken was doing. Practically all stand-up comedians commit venial sins if their acts would be non-existent if you took away references to the genitals and various sexual acts.

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A repressed society will cause girls and women to clam up about sexual harassment, and it will take a little time to shorten the distance between the crime and the reporting. Statutes of limitation cause the offenders to escape punishment, not to mention the legal problem of defending or prosecuting a crime that happened twenty years ago.

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Looking to the future, our pitiful excuse of a president offers no useful guidance (and neither did JFK), but, when you encounter a bee-you-tiful dame or a handsome hunk, imagine you are in a museum or gallery. There’s a cord to keep you at a distance. You don’t touch. You simply admire. You don’t leer and whistle like a Warner Bros. wolf.

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That's all, folks! 

Top Domestic Priorities

Posted by Howard Denson on September 30, 2017 at 12:25 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON


.Politics very much aside, folks need to decide what the top priorities are for Americans. A sane health system belongs on the list, but it’s not the top priority for some regions. What is? Let’s look at what is causing American homes, businesses, and families to suffer the most.

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1. Wild fires in the West that devour forests and homes.

2. Tornadoes that sweep across so many states.

3. Floods that wipe out homes, businesses, and towns.

4. Hurricanes that can level entire states or territories.

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Each disaster above can destroy homes or render structures uninhabitable. We can debate the causes (e.g., climate change) and other matters, but the main problem is that families wind up without any homes, electricity, or fresh water.

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Regardless of the disasters, we find a common thread. So many of these homes are mobile or modular homes, all unintentionally designed to be completely destroyed in five to twenty minutes.

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Remedy No. 1, therefore, is for insurance companies and the government to require homes to be as fire resistant as possible. That probably will involve more use of concrete, stone, and brick and perhaps underground or into-incline designs. (Engineers would iron out the fine details.)

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Remedy No. 2 is for engineers to study wind resistance and for authorities to mandate the recommended qualities to be built into homes. These could include a fortified safe room, where the family could shelter during storms. Traditional roofs can be ripped lose or destroyed enough to ruin the contents and harm the occupants. Engineers can determine what type of curved roof (and edges) will work best.

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Remedy No. 3 deals with water, and some North Florida homes survived the recent floods because they have been built on stilts. The family gets to enjoy riverfront property most of the year and have a home to which they may return to normal after the storm. Yes, they have also been imprisoned in those homes when waters rose to within two or three feet of the ground floor, but they didn’t have to tear out wallboard, carpeting, and insulation that had been soaked. Okay, maybe they have to shout, “Would you damned water moccasins get the hell out of our house?”

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In areas where floods and tornadoes overlap, the use of stilts may switch the vulnerability from floods to wind damage. Best solution may be to prevent homes and businesses being built in those specific locations.

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Today’s range of mobile/modular homes simply means in hurricane-vulnerable states emergency housing will need to be made available for each resident of the vulnerable structures. The state affected can do that once, but the state ought to learn a lesson: Require extensive redesigns of such constructions, and, if they can’t be redesigned, forbid their construction.

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Many like the mantra: “The government should stay out of people’s business.” Let people build what they want to, or can afford to, build. That can be an admirable philosophy, except when their structures have been destroyed and the government is required to bail them out. It would make fiscal sense to be like the third little piggy and build a structure that has a decent chance to survive a storm or fire.

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With much of South Florida, Houston, and then Puerto Rico without power, it is also time to see what can be avoided by building saner.

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One suggestion is to utilize more solar (and wind) power. If a house can generate its own power, a family has a better chance of survival. Sufficient power and backup batteries can enable a family to keep its food preserved. Depending on the capacity of self-generating systems, the family may be able to run the fridge, a microwave, a water heater, etc. If the power is limited, the family can unplug the fridge to run one of the other appliances long enough to nuke a meal.

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People suffer when trees fall on electric and telephone lines, not to mention their houses. Lines don’t have to be on poles. They can be buried, although flood conditions may still affect them.

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Power companies have been hostile to solar power and, in Florida, have tried to make solar power usage as constrained as possible. They are as short-sighted as the anvil manufacturer trying to prevent automotive shops from opening and ruining their horseshoe trade. Power companies instead should embrace solar panels and the like, perhaps installing them for their customers, charging to maintain them (to make sure they can withstand winds).

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For houses that can fare better by using stilts, companies can help to retrograde structures or even build systems that can be automatically generated to raise the structure when disaster looms.

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What can Uncle Sam do to help Americans? An alt-righter might simply argue this: Do nothing. Let people take care of themselves. That view lacks compassion and doesn’t understand that, if you infuriate citizens, they will take revenge at the next election.

Politicians love to use the term “czar,” so the Departments of the Interior, Commerce, and Defense could devised permanent floating disaster armadas. It would begin with any aircraft carriers that may be in mothballs. Each AC has been called “a floating city” with a crew in the thousands. It would be a simple matter to convert each into a rescue city. Where would they be based? Charleston, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, and Guantanamo. One ship is apt to be quite close to a landfall area, and others could be there speedily enough.

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The ships would not need extensive crews to maintain jets, so these could be replaced with medics, culinary staff, and the other businesses and services offered in a small city.

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Smaller vessels could also be utilized, if only for, say, communications or power facilities.

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Chats involving Star Trek nerds (yes, I’m one) would feature extensive use of holographic/transporter technology. In that future, a homeowner would buy a device containing enough matter to construct his or her new home. The device is placed at a location, and the homeowner uses a remote to trigger the device. What materializes is a (pick yours) cabin, a Cape Cod home, etc. If you tire of your Cape Cod, you press buttons and it transforms into a get-away home. If you tire of the wall interiors, you press buttons and the colors change or the rooms give a different configuration so that Princess can finally have her own room.

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And if a Cat 5 storm is hours away, you press a button, and the structure is reconfigured to a water-proof, wind-proof, fire-proof safe house.

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The Storm Armada is within our grasp now. My Trek vision will have to wait a few months or centuries.

--30-- 

The "Honk, Honk, Hey" Parable

Posted by Howard Denson on August 24, 2017 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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Everyone expected cars and trucks to go “honk, honk,” but things changed when they started calling “hey, Bubba . . . hey there, gal.”

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In this Highly Industrial Society, residents had been able to communicate with their refrigerators, stoves, central heating and cooling units, and motorized vehicles. Cars retained information about the daily rituals of their owners and, in freezing weather, could turn on the engine and let the car warm up before heading off to work. In the August heat of the Deep South, the cars knew to start the engines and let the AC cool down the interiors.

The vehicles had long been greeting the motorists and passengers: “How are you this lovely morning [or evening]? Shall I set the GPS for your work address?”

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One day, however, something happened, and everyone realized that the cars had developed artificial intelligence. Initially, cable TV capitalized on the enhancement by showing My Mother the Car and then rebooting the story with Donald Trump starring as a crotchety former president whose golf cart continually interrupts him to correct what he is saying about his golf scores.

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After some debate, it became evident that the vehicles not only had developed Artificial Intelligence, but they had also become sentient beings . . . with souls.

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One day, two Star Trek nerds set aside some pro bono time in their law office to file suit on behalf of Maggie Escalade, a Cadillac SUV who they argued needed to be recognized as a sentient life form. They would watch the New Testament Star Trek and get misty-eyed when Data was declared sentient.

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Lower courts were ruling that other sentient cars and trucks had souls and were entitled to be granted the right to vote. Thus was developed drive-through lanes at voting precincts. Vehicles whose radios were tuned to AM talk-radio tended to vote right wing, but those tuned to NPR leaned to the middle of the road to the left.

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Initially, political pundits worried that the mechanicals would vote in a bloc, but it quickly emerged that the Prius and Golf had different perspectives from SUVs and trucks. Some were one-issue voters (e.g., despising toll roads). Others were anarchic (e.g., wanting to drive on whichever side of the road they preferred at the moment).

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The U.S. Supreme Court endorsed the revolutionary positions with a ruling that did not include the votes of the anti-AI justices (whose vehicles, for some strange reason, refused to start and drive them to the Supreme Court Building on the day of the voting).

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A traffic jam developed in state and federal courtrooms. Some suits related to the demands of women in Spokane wanting to marry manly Ford F-150 trucks. In Southern states, teenaged boys and teenaged men all loved their pickups and hot rods, and each would have gladly married his vehicle, except for the double-barrel shotgun fury expected from the human significant others, Daisy or Bessie-Lou.

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The sentient vehicles and enlightened drivers and passengers all wanted the vehicles to be declared free, and public shamings occurred whenever a human insisted on flashing his ownership papers.

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Slag Maggot, a convicted wife-beater and certified public accountant, tried to circumvent the new court rulings and laws by removing the computerized circuits that contained the sentience. Rhonda Ram realized what he was trying to do and executed wheelies until he was thrown out and then partially run over, not killed but forever rendered unable to perform en pointe at the Grand Ol’ Ballet in Nashville.

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Mechanical partners paired with biologics, and, as happens in life, the country quickly saw divorces, separations, and abandonments appearing on the covers of supermarket tabloids. One lurid cover claimed “Tommy 4 dumped me because of my excess mileage.”

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Not to be outdone, Tommy Fourinthefloor retaliated by expressing the biologics’ frustration with his hit country song, “Alimony’s Bad But Truckimony’s Worser.” The bubbas burst into tears whenever familiar guitar licks opened for the mournful lyrics:

Rhonda Dodge Ram won’t take me to work,

Tells the world I’m only a jerk.

Boss won’t pay me when I don’t show up,

Tells me I’m nothing but a big truck-up.

Oh, Alimony’s bad, you got to believe me,

But Truckimony’s ten times worser.

I would explain it to you in much smoother words,

But, dang it, I’m no Johnny Mercer.

Ah, honk, honk . . . a honk, honk.


--30--

A Civil War Era Quiz

Posted by Howard Denson on August 17, 2017 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

Let’s explore what you know about the Civil War. So much of the fall-out from the war is in the news today as we focus our energies on proposals to remove Confederate monuments and even the Jefferson Memorial (because he was a slave-owner). The latter, of course, means that we should also remove the Washington Monument and various tributes to James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, and others.

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1. When was the Civil War fought?

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Answer: 1861-1865

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2. Who fired the first shot in the war?

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Answer: The South, firing on Fort Sumter.

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3. What was the cause of the war?

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Answer: Slavery. For ages, Southerners have wanted to argue that they were really defending “our way of life,” etc. There was a major problem: Their way of life depended upon slavery.

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4. What speeded up the death of slavery?

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Answer: Secession. Once the Southern states were no longer voting in the U.S. Congress, they were not covered by the U.S. Constitution. It then became easy to approve amendments abolishing slavery. Southern states were afraid that, as the U.S. added more states, the “free” states could out-vote the slave states. If no secession had occurred, slavery might have lasted until 1880 or 1900.

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5. Why weren’t Jefferson Davis, Lee, and other CSA officials and military officers hanged for being traitors?

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Answer: Two reasons (at least). First, the U.S. Constitution did not forbid secession. (The Articles of Confederation said the union of states was for perpetuity, but that clause was not carried over to the U.S. Constitution.) Moreover, the Declaration of Independence opens with a call for the colonies to secede from the British Empire. A formal jury likely would not have been able to prove cases of treason. Second, after the bloodiest war in our history, the Lincoln, Johnson, and Grant administrations were focusing more on reconciliation. Wholesale hanging of ex-Confederates would have likely sparked massive retaliations and guerrilla warfare.

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6. Were African Americans treated better under slavery than after the Civil War?

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Answer: This is a value judgment, but in amoral dollars-and-cents terms slaves had value and needed to be kept healthy enough to work the land, etc. After the war, Jim Crow laws permitted widespread abuse, a neo-slavery, as blacks were arrested for spurious causes (e.g., vagrancy when going to the store). Sheriffs “rented” them out to plantation owners, who literally could starve and work them to death. If a chain-gang worker died, the plantation owner simply notified the sheriff to send a replacement.

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7. Was “abolitionist” a noble and heroic term before and during the Civil War?

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Answer: No, abolitionists were viewed as unsavory radicals (in part thanks to the actions of John Brown). In 1860, if Lincoln had run as an abolitionist, he probably would not have been elected.

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8. What did Lincoln and Grant have in common?

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Answer: Their wives’ families (the Todds and the Dents) were pro-slavery. Both men early on were strong opponents of slavery.

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9. Did African Americans fight for the Confederacy?

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Answer: Not officially. A “servant” to a CSA soldier might have gotten sucked into an occasional battle. Servants also tended horses and the like. When a CSA defeat was imminent, some Confederates suggested that slaves be enlisted and then given their freedom. However, other CSA’ers rejected the proposal because it would refute what they had been saying about the competence and abilities of African Americans. Southern blacks fought against the Confederacy in other ways. They acted as the eyes and ears of the Union when troops needed to know directions. They also were minimally productive instead of giving a 100 percent effort for the plantation class.

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10. Did free African Americans own slaves? Did they free their slaves?

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Answer: Some owned slaves, often members of their families. South Carolina did not permit slaves to be freed after 1819, while other Southern states permitted manumission but required the freed individuals to move out of state.

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11. Were Northern states friendlier to slaves and African Americans than Southern states?

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Answer: Not by much. Articles on the treatment of free blacks (or escaped slaves) show a definite hostility. Free states generally didn’t want them or, if they permitted them to settle, refused to permit them to vote, testify in trials, etc. (This section could go on and on.)

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12. Was the original Klan gentler than the KKK of the early 20th Century?

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Answer: No, the original Klan was largely made up of the plantation class. They tried to force newly freed slaves to stay on their respective plantations. They killed individuals who were too uppity. They murdered Reconstruction officials. When authorities tried to arrest them, they would provide joint alibis: They had been playing cards fifteen miles away.

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13. Was Reconstruction as awful as Southerners claimed?

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Answer: Not really. Reconstruction brought public education to the South, where the plantations had hired tutors for their sons and daughters. Blacks were running amok, raping white women, etc.—so the claim went. Records of the period don’t support that claim. The claim was that African Americans elected to various legislatures were carrying on like Rastus or Uncle Remus. In reality, the individuals were largely well educated for the time.

--30--

 

Evil begets evil

Posted by Howard Denson on August 16, 2017 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

Unfortunately, we Americans have never had much of a sense of history. We knock down buildings that have been around a little too long for our taste (which is minimal). We erect new buildings that have all the design aestheticism of airport terminals.

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This slapdash approach to life carries over into our sense of history, and, as the American Taliban asserts itself, we divide historical objects into two categories: those without sin and worthy of homage vs. those sinful images that are an abomination in the sight of the Almighty (except the Almighty doesn’t exist in their view, but they’ll provide the Omniscience anyway).

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When you visit London and get the quick tour-bus orientation, the tour guide will point to a building and say, “And right here is where King Charles was executed.” He stepped out of a window onto a platform that had been constructed for the occasion, and, when the axeman snicked off his head, the crowd groaned.

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The Brits remember that. If you are a royalist, it is a great tragedy. If you were a puritan then, it was probably a whack too much, but, for all of his faults, Oliver Cromwell brought forth many useful reforms. If nothing else, his political party reminded monarchs that they could lose their heads if they strayed too far.

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In Rome, they will point to a balcony on the third or fourth floor and say that’s where Mussolini harangued the crowd about how great Italian fascism would be. In the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra in northern Italy, you will find a marker for where Mussolini and his lady friend were hung like beeves after being executed in1945.

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In Paris, they point to where the notorious prison, the Bastille, was located. After the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, they dismantled the structure, little realizing how much of a tourist attraction it could be. I don’t recall similar attention being paid to the sites where the guillotines were utilized as they carried out their plans of reducing the powerful by a head’s length . . . and later as they used the guillotines on their former comrades. It was whacking good fun and enabled us humans to do what we do best: destroy and kill.

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All of that, of course, brings us to the villains of 2017, the Confederacy, and the sanctified are joyously pulling down statues and huffing and puffing about how righteous we will become. We could focus on social inequality, pollution, financial and banking corruption, the infrastructure, and constructing a health care system that actually works, but, face it, that would take energy and commitment.

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Besides the long-dead Confederates, the sanctified rail against Evangelicals because they are allegedly 100 percent racist.

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They aren’t, of course. I’m uncomfortable around worshippers who want to wash my feet, talk in tongues, and especially handle snakes that rattle. Despite these characteristics, however, evangelicals are not evil.

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A modern American Talibanist will protest there is no such thing as evil. There is. Yes, indeed, there very much is evil.

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Evangelicals may have a few among them who want to don hoods or swastikas and attack those who attack statues or their own vision of what America should be. Yet, many, many more evangelicals simply worship in their, ah, enthusiastic way and obey the same amount of laws that you and I obey.

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Sometimes it’s a social prejudice. These are largely poorer people (“white trash, that’s what” ), and the socially superior sniff with unjustifiable disdain.

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The Roman Catholic Church has centuries of mistreatment of people. Even if we focus only on the 20th Century in the U.S., we see its hierarchy turned a blind eye to sexual abuse of the boys, and girls, of the church.

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The Anglican Church, the Church of England, had its islands of respectability, but still sat silent while massacres occurred in India, Ireland, etc.

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The bottom line is this: Evil begets evil.

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Although a victim of evil may in turn inflict evils upon his or her contemporaries, evil raises a banner to alert others to goosestep in imitation.

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The American Talibans like to post pictures of Ku Klux Klan members carrying torches . . . or Nazis having torches and bonfires of burning books behind them. A protest today is mere imitation of them.

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But evil begets evil, and the Middle Eastern terrorists are providing as much inspiration as the KKK or neo-Nazis. Let’s look at Mexico, where drug lords dominate regions as much as the warlords dominate Afghanistan. When the Mideast terrorists wish to frighten people, they cut off heads and hands (easily accomplished with primitive swords). In Mexico, the drug terrorists would attack a group of police or soldiers and chop off their heads, leaving them lined up across the road just as Vlad the Impaler warned invading armies by showing what awaits them. Mideastern terrorists lacking an army can rely on cars and trucks to plow into people. God is great? Well, God is great in giving free will to those who wish to beget evil.

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It’s unfair to attack Donald Trump for not responding effectively. After all, the voters on the right or those who wanted a change knew that he was, and is, all hat and no cattle. He talks a good game about how business-like he is. (He isn’t.) Some Ministers of the Popular Gospel on Cable TV like to compare him to Jesus or the disciples and warn that an attack on him is like an attack on God. (Neither is true. Besides King Charles stepped out on the platform arguing that he was put on the throne by God and all that.) If anything, Trump is closer to Pontius Pilate. He's aware that something is awry, but can't quite put his finger on it.

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Nothing that Trump could say will mollify his critics (including yours truly), not when he takes a position at, say, 9 a.m. on a Monday, takes an opposing position by noon on a Tuesday, and so on.

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Scroll down and you'll see my argument about Trump's inability to say the right thing.