AUTHOR PAGE FOR HOWARD DENSON

Blog

view:  full / summary

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

 

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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 . . .

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.”

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

Then it became a moot point.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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

.

Come on, little one. Enjoy life.

.

“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

 .

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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?

.

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.

.

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

.

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).

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

--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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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.”

.

.

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

.

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.”

.

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.

.

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

.

Often they have no gray in their world.

.


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.

.

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.”

.

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

.

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?”

.

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

.

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.

.

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

.

Rodney disagreed.

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.)

.

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

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

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].”

.

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.

.

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

.

They aren’t telling truth with blinders on.

.

They are telling lies with blindfolds on.

.

--30--

 

Who has destroyed the GOP?

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

By HOWARD DENSON

 .

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.

.

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.”

.

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.)

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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

.

--30--

 

 

Ms. Trump plagiarized . . . and was betrayed

Posted by Howard Denson on July 19, 2016 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

Of course, Melania Trump plagiarized her speech. For Team Trump to say the accusation is “crazy” is in itself whacko because her speech lifted 22 of 26 words from a key section of Michelle Obama’s address to a Democratic convention.

.

So shame on Melania, but let’s heap even more shame on those who betrayed her: the Trump staffers in charge of speech writing. Someone may argue that the Team Trump is so shallow as to not have formal speech writers as did Obama, Romney, Hillary, Bush II, Clinton, and so on for decades.

.

Particularly today a sharp staffer can use one of the plagiarism detection online programs . . . or simply type in phrases here and there to see if anything forks lightning.

.

I don’t recall when potential First Ladies began speaking to their political conventions. Eleanor Roosevelt probably did, but Bess Truman and Mamie Eisenhower did not. I don’t think Jackie Kennedy did for Jack in 1960. LadyBird? Maybe. Pat Nixon definitely not.

.

Maybe Hillary addressed the convention in 1992 for her lovable bird-dog of a husband (bless his heart). For the Bushes, Barbara and Laura very likely addressed their conventions without controversy.

.

It’s a big thing when male or female addresses a political convention and the whole country. Unless the speaker is a major candidate, it may end up being the highlight of a career. Certainly that was the case for then Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Although she had been revealed as a bit of a goof-ball, she gave a solid and passionate speech at the convention. Team McCain cared enough to help her along.

.

In 2004, presidential candidate John Kerry’s wife Teresa Heinz Kerry gave a fine speech to the convention and would have been an interesting First Lady.

.

It is tempting to try to excuse Melania’s plagiarism because of her lack of a college degree. Her husband has already said he doesn’t read much, except for magazines and perhaps Heinz ketchup bottles.

.

Freshmen in college often have no concept of what plagiarism is. In olden days, when mean old Miz McGillicuddy couldn’t stand their darling faces anymore, she would send them to the library to look up and write about some topic. If a student only had the M-volume of an encyclopedia, he might copy an entire article on “Mozambique,” and perhaps discover that John Kerry’s wife was born there. Miz MG would put a check mark on the assignment when it was turned in and resume teaching when her migraine went away.

.

Then online resources came along, and students learned how to copy and paste info from the web, even how to buy term papers, and they could turn these in with minimal changes, if any. They weren’t aware that it was just as easy for Miz MG to use the same tools to discover they were ripping off Wikipedia.

.

A friend with two master’s degrees (science and business) once gave me his understanding of plagiarism: “If you change one word in one hundred pages, it’s not plagiarism.”

.

No, no, no, no!

.

When the EMT crew resuscitated me, I explained that he had the concept entirely wrong. If you use as many as, say, three words in a row from a source, you have to credit it with in-text citations and possibly an endnote. (A freshman might take that advice literally and put quotes around “outside in the,” which will make you sigh.)

.

At one time, we didn’t have a concept of plagiarism. If you check out the Oxford English Dictionary, you will see that the term goes back to about 1600 (slightly before). The word originally referred to “kidnap” because, when you steal another’s words, you steal his or her baby. In the 1500s, English poets would translate works by French or Latin poets and readers in the British Isles would congratulate them for their wonderful work (Petrarch having become chopped pepperoni).

.

When scholars wrote their theses or gave addresses, they quoted like mad from the Greeks and Romans, giving credit to known poets and writers. The scope of their writing demonstrated the depth of their learning (and made for awfully hard reading today).

.

You may be surprised to learn about a contrarian view concerning plagiarism. The perspective is put forth by formerly wicked children who once stuffed green peas up their noses. This group argues that everything belongs to everyone nowadays thanks to the ubiquitous internet. It’s no longer necessary to cite.

.

That falls somewhere between Absolute Nonsense and Silly Nonsense, for, even if we are unclear on the definition of plagiarism, we are quick to tsk-tsk at others when they transgress.

.

The Hall of Fame of Plagiarists has many prominent names in it. As we turn down this corridor, we notice the smiling face of Vice President Joe Biden. The plaque informs us that he plagiarized at the Syracuse School of Law and later as a presidential candidate when he ripped off a speech by the U.K. Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock.

.

One of Biden’s speechwriters was Pat Caddell, and he has a bust and a plaque in the HoFoP. When needing a speech for a candidate, he liked to rely on speeches given by Robert Kennedy or Kinnock.

.

Stephen Ambrose had to apologize for using passages from historian Thomas Childers in his book about World War II B-24 bomber crews. He had footnoted the source but didn’t put quote marks around material he took verbatim.

.

Doris Kearns Goodwin ran into a similar problem. She had footnotes, but she didn’t paraphrase sufficiently the sources she used. A Harvard University guide for freshmen says this about plagiarism:

.

Most often, however, the plagiarist has started out with good intentions but hasn't left enough time to do the reading and thinking that the assignment requires, has become desperate, and just wants the whole thing done with. At this point, in one common scenario, the student gets careless while taking notes on a source or incorporating notes into a draft, so the source's words and ideas blur into those of the student, who has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring. … If, in your essay on plagiarism, after reading the [previous sentence] you observe that "at a certain point in the writing process the student has neither the time nor the inclination to resist the blurring of his source's words into his own" but don't use quotation marks at least for the words in the middle of the sentence, you are plagiarizing even if you do cite [this] booklet.

.

Alex Haley made history with his “Roots.” It was first presented as a nonfiction memoir, but eventually was labeled as a novel. That may have been caused partly by the accusation of author Harold Courlander, who said that passages of "Roots" were taken from his novel "The African." Haley said he did not intentionally plagiarize but claimed he was relying on some research by students to help flesh out the book.

.

Norman Mailer went through a schoolyard-style exchange of “you did . . . did not, you did . . . did not” after the release of Marilyn: A Biography (1973). Mailer had been asked to write text to go with photographs for a coffee-table book about MM. Mailer tried to call his manuscript "a novel written in the form of a biography. . . . a species of novel ready to play by the rules of biography." But Maurice Zolotow (“Marilyn Monroe” 1960) and Fred Guiles (“Norma Jean” 1969) thought they were being ripped off. Eventually, the school marm blew the whistle, and the boys returned to their classes.

.

Many professions have books of boiler-plate that can be consulted if you need to give a talk. Ministers rely on them. Need a sermon for Palm Sunday? Let’s go to the Book of Sermons. It is not uncommon for politicians to have similar books or at least collections of talks.

.

Dear hearts, you aren’t going to believe this, but in universities it’s now a grievous sin to engage in self-plagiarism. That means you can’t take a paper you had written for Class I and then turn in that paper a term later for Class II.

.

We will forget that Professor McGillicuddy plagiarizes his or her own lectures. When you take him in Course A, then B, then C, so often the lectures are the same.

.

Newspaper columnists like to ask each other, “How many columns do you have in you?”

.

They refer to “how many different topics,” and the responses will range from three to seven or more. Yet they may be producing two or three columns a week for 50 weeks (allowing time off for holidays).

.

Solutions? Write your first draft from what’s inside you. If you need to flesh out your talk here and there, cite any sources you use. If you are overly careful and cite a little too much, you may irritate your audience. If you are sloppy and cite too little, you may antagonize your audience and destroy your career.

.

.--30-- 

Can Campuses produce good writers or is it a lost cause?

Posted by Howard Denson on July 18, 2016 at 12:50 AM Comments comments (1)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

When I was a student more than a half-century ago, my profs would occasionally grumble, “No really good writing or books come from newspapers.” Of course, that assertion wasn’t true since newspapers and magazines have produced many fine writers. Just to name a few, we have Dickens, Twain, Stephen Crane, Ambrose Bierce, Hemingway, and others.

 

In one respect, the publications didn’t produce the writers. Instead, the writers used various newspapers and magazines as their publishing venue.

 

The print media can infuse writers with many good habits. They teach the importance of a deadline. Reporters learn to tune out distractions and knock out the copy. Reporters learn the importance of the five W’s and the H. You use these specifics in news, but also in fiction and nonfiction.

 

These media can also handicap writers with several bad habits. A steady diet of routine police reports, sewage contract discussions at a city/county council, etc. will not help writers to develop their own voices. New Journalism came along, thanks to Tom Wolfe and others, and relieved the voiceless problem a bit.

 

Writers can also find that they are expected to produce “one take” (page) stories about most topics, and, when the one-take approach is applied to nonfiction narratives or stories, writers may have trouble getting a handle on a subject.

 

The other extreme occurs when a reporters are having to produce verbiage without the benefit of stories and photographs from the wire. A weekly paper, for example, may have as its minimum size 12 tabloid pages, and, if advertising is practically non-existent that week, the reporters may struggle to fill the pages without using a house ad (a full page saying something like “The Bugtussle Bugle blows its horn every Thursday to give you the news and best buys in Lake Algae” ).

 

One of the “hither and yon” items in this issue refers to an opinion piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Noah Berlatsky declares that no one should be surprised if much scholarly writing continues to be mediocre and confused. He is the editor of the online journal, The Hooded Utilitarian and is the author of the book Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-48.

 

In the 1920s, Henry Watson Fowler attacked the problem of shoddy writing with his Dictionary of Modern English Usage. An ally in this fight was George Orwell, who produced “Politics and the English Language” twenty years later. Both of these complain about convoluted passages similar to those that drew Berlatsky’s wrath.

 

In the 1950s, Malcolm Cowley concentrated on bad academic writing in “Sociological Habit Patterns in Linguistic Transmogrification.” Cowley noted that a poet friend had gone for a degree in sociology, but he sent this zinger to his friend: “You have such a fine sense of the poet's craft . . . that you shouldn't have allowed the sociologists to seduce you into writing their professional slang — or at least that's my judgmental response to your role selection.”

 

At a get-together later, the poet confessed: “I knew my dissertation was badly written, but I had to get my degree. If I had written it in English, Professor Blank . . . would have rejected it. He would have said it was merely belletristic.”

 

Cowley’s friend had learned that he had to absorb the Academic Power Dialect if he wanted to succeed on campus with a doctorate and a possible tenure-track position.

 

Some realistic cynics will complain that 95 percent of what we write as students isn’t worth reading a day, year, or decade later. Prodigies, such as Milton, Keats, Capote, and others, will be exceptions, but the rule holds for everyone else, including this scribbler. For decades, students hadn’t gotten a handle on English itself, despite the best efforts of mean old Miz McGillicuddy. Lately, they have been writing with their thumbs, in phrases, and auto-correct on and suggesting outlandish possibilities or auto-correct off and letting us see the natural creature that is homo ungrammatical.

 

The students evolve, improve their natural writing here and there, and absorb the Academic Power Dialect to an increasing degree. Finally, some will have mastered the Academic Power Dialect, and they will fly over hurdles and through mazes until they reach their degrees.

 

Problems may arise when they scratch the urge to write seriously and enter contests or send off submissions to magazines. Too often, their entries or submissions don’t soar but nosedive into the ground.

 

What could the problems be? First, in much of journalism and almost all of the Academic Writing Arena, the writing is distanced from the action. Second, the Academic standard can, and usually does, deaden the prose.

 

Orwell save six suggestions for improving one’s writing:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

You will notice that the most valuable of Orwell’s rules is the last one. Also keep in mind that, with his educational background, he had a vocabulary better than the average bear. He might end up using a longer word than you and I would have selected. Indeed, since a Brit of his generation knew Latin, French, and German, you expect to see a Latin phrase creep into his essays. It’s like Bubba of Abilene telling his buddies “adios,” not even thinking of it being Spanish.

 

Is there hope for the future?

 

Absolutely not.

 

First, no one is teaching grammar.

 

Second, most higher education faculty don’t know grammar anyway.

 

Third, they argue, “Studies show there is no correlation between good grammar and fine writing.” They don’t want to address the matter that much bad writing correlates quite well with bad grammar.

 

Fourth, they won’t utilize the computer-assisted lessons that can help writers to address their specific errors. A typical student does not need to go through all of the grammar lessons: on agreement, proper case, misplaced modifiers, incorrect punctuation, etc. We have the technology to identifying the respective areas of weakness of Marcia and then Kevin. But the system doesn’t follow through.

 

What do the high ed experts rely on?

 

Osmosis. Yes, yes, that mainly applies to plants, but communications departments often figure that if they arrange their smaller plants in close proximity to the larger plants (the students and then the teachers, you see), the wee plants will absorb what they need: the Academic Power Dialect . . . and maybe some chlorophyll for a breath with the freshness of spring.

 

In fifty years, will things improve? Nope. We’ll hear the same basic complaints, and some curmudgeon will write a piece similar to this one. Someone please say, "Denson told you so back in 2016."

--30--

Lessons from nature about what is a conservative

Posted by Howard Denson on July 4, 2016 at 4:20 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

.

I am a sucker for quizzes that assess your positions and announce whether you are liberal, conservative, or whatever.

.

Back in 2000, I regularly took one website’s quiz to verify where I stood up against the candidates of the day. As I expected, I regularly ranked closest to Al Gore, although I was surprised once when the program said I most agreed with U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.

.

I checked the GOP alternatives and found that George W. Bush was my closest match, not John McCain, as I had hoped. Of course, it turned out later that Bush the Younger switched positions right and left, and, if Bush had been honest about what he would actually do as president, McCain would have been a better match.

.

A recent quiz didn’t tie my positions to particular candidates, but the quiz concluded that I was a raving liberal.

.

Hmm, said I then, that’s strange, considering that I voted for Barry Goldwater and was a member of the (now defunct) Conservative Book Club.

.

What would make me liberal?

.

As a boy, when I walked the trails of Walker and Winston counties with my grandfather and other grownups, I learned how to take, say, a cowcumber leaf and make it into a cup to drink from the springs we came across. Some springs dripped from cliffs; some bubbled out of the ground, heavy with sulfa.

.

You could drink from some of the creeks and rivers without worrying about E. coli.

.

The trails teach you about life: For example, they teach you to conserve what is precious, and nothing could be more precious than clean ground water, lakes, and rivers.

.

Shysters back then automatically wanted to use creeks and rivers for dumping poisonous chemical byproducts. They wanted a creek or river to wash their wastes away. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River had so many chemicals dumped in it that the surface caught fire about a dozen times. A half century ago, the fires didn’t just make an unsightly mess; they also racked up $1 million in damages to bridges, boats, and buildings adjoining the river.

.

For a long time, if someone wanted to clean up the mess, the polluters could call them job-destroying liberals or tree huggers or commies. When your river is on fire, people don’t feel comfortable getting along by going along.

.

In truth, the manufacturers then believed in laissez-faire, their right to do anything they wanted. Their version of total non-regulation may put them closer to the classical definition of liberal only if we accept they are “free” to do as they damned well pleased with that which did not belong to them. We can’t call them conservatives because they are not conserving; we can’t call them liberals. These corporate miscreants are something else: “corpsters,” in the spirit of “banksters” (i.e., those in the banking industry out to enrich themselves even if it bankrupts the country and their clients).

.

Those who track economic terms note that laissez-faire was expanded into “Laissez faire et laissez passer, le monde va de lui même!” (“Let do and let pass, the world goes on by itself!” ).

.

The key phrase in this expression is “the world goes on by itself,” because at a certain point cities may overwhelm nature. It was handy to have a river that could wash away our bodily wastes. We could always drink upstream. But when the river is on fire or when it becomes an open sewer, as did the Seine in France, the Thames in London, and the St. Johns in North Florida, we have to take action.

.

As I walked the trails of Walker and Winston back in the late Forties and early Fifties, we would often see the ruins of log cabins. Sometimes a building would simply be boarded up and perhaps was storing equipment. At other times, there would be no doors or windows to keep you out, and you could imagine escaping a storm until the weather cleared up. Still other cabins, had a free-standing fireplace, some foundation supports, and only a hint of the walls.

.

Even so, you realized someone had lived here, perhaps during the Civil War, perhaps in the early 1800s when whites were pushing out the Cherokees and Creeks. The foundations of some outbuildings might exist, and here might be the smoke house. You would remember that during the Civil War many families no longer had access to salt, and they resorted to sifting through the soil in the smokehouse for salt that had dropped off of slabs of pork or beef. They poured the mixture into pots, and the wood chips and debris floated to the top to be skimmed off.

.

The scene taught these lessons: People would work hard on their farms to raise crops and animals. If they gave of their sweat and labor, they were entitled to the fruit of their farms. If one family had a season of bad luck, kith and kin often stepped in to tide them over to the next season.

.

Wars interfered with this process, causing them to struggle to find salt for their farms or making them roast acorns and the like to find substitutes for coffee.

.

Today’s agri-business often destroys this self-reliant model. The farmers may be forbidden to share seeds among themselves or even for their respective farms. Indeed, the crops have often been modified so they will not produce seeds. When agri-business suspects some seed hanky-panky is occurring, they file suits and often prevail without just cause simply because the small farmers can’t afford the expense of fighting the suits.

.

The end result may be a centralization of crops, mainly in California, instead of being spread throughout the country. The vegetables produced quite often have been designed to provide tough skins permitting them to travel long distances. They generally lack the nutritional value of comparable vegetables grown in the 19th and first part of the 20th Centuries.

.

What should be done in this age when some bellow that we want to make America great again?

.

Leave agri-business alone? Don’t mess with the actual workers and producers? Let’s be conservative?

.

Hardly. What they are “conserving” is a profit mechanism based on short-cuts and shoddy agriculture.

.

We can do better than this . . . without worrying about political labels.

.

--30--

 

Inept or arrogant?

Posted by Howard Denson on June 24, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

.

I have been following presidential politics since I was in the first grade in Vidalia, Georgia. I remember walking toward home from school with fellow students and coming to a telephone poll with posters on them for Harry S. Truman, Thomas Dewey, and perhaps Strom Thurmond.

.

It was our ritual to snatch down Truman’s poster and, to my shame years later, spit on it. I was for the man with the moustache, even though Dewey looked a bit too much like a villain in a cowboy movie.

.

I was relieved to hear that my parents were voting for Dewey and that Mammy and Pappy, my maternal grandparents in North Alabama, were voting for him. (My grandfather’s family of Stephensons were pro-Unionists, not 20th Century Johnny Come Latelys.)

.

Though too young by far to vote in the Fifties, I favored Dwight Eisenhower but thought that the Democrats’ Adlai Stevenson was a good man. (After all, it was close to Pappy’s name.)

.

By 1960, I was still a little too young to vote, but my heart and mind belonged to Ike’s Vice President, Richard Nixon. That guy from Massachusetts seemed handsome enough, but he sounded weird. He won, of course, and I had to admit that he handled himself well in press conferences.

.

During these years, I immersed myself in books and novels about politics: Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here, Allen Drury’s Washington novels (beginning with Advice and Consent and its sequels), and many more. I regularly read The National Review, especially liking Buckley, Jeffrey Hart, and James J. Kilpatrick. The essays of Gore Vidal, plus the pieces in England’s Punch, were also fun to read. I also began reading biographies of The Great Villains, including Benedict Arnold, the impeached Andrew Johnson, Adolf Hitler, Captain Bligh of The Bounty, Judas Iscariot (Sholem Asch’s novel The Nazarene had a center section called “The Gospel According to Judas Iscariot”), and, of course, the outlaws of the Old West and the gangsters of the Thirties.

.

The biographies of the villains had this quality in common: so often the bad guys were not all that much different from normal people. Sometimes, in certain ways, at least, they were exceptional. For instance, the mercurial Benedict Arnold was as brave a soldier as you could want. In English history, it was common for a general on one side to switch his allegiance, but it didn’t work out all that well for General Arnold in the New World.

.

Captain Bligh may be viewed in part as the Crown’s enforcer. The lay-abouts in his crew on The Bounty wanted to stay in the islands where there was plenty of women and adult beverages. Bligh disagreed, and the mutiny occurred. The mutineers put Bligh and his loyal men into a launch, and Bligh used his amazing navigation and leadership skills to get the men to Timor, about 4,160 miles away.

.

Details from the biographies stick. Everyone likes to quote this line from Hitler: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it often enough, it will be believed.” The adage fits the 2016 campaign season in America.

.

Any reader of Mein Kampf could see that he wasn’t planning a pastoral romp and family picnics for Germany’s Jews. Yet wise commentators in the Thirties said that he really didn’t mean those alarming parts. After all, they argued, he’s inspired his people and reduced unemployment. And then madness descended in the Third Reich . . . or did it? Alan Bullock in Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952) noted that Hitler’s last will and testament was not the frothing of a mad man, but essentially what he had written in Mein Kampf.

.

Moral? Sometimes if a candidate or a public figure says something outrageous, it is prudent to assume the worse and take precautions.

.

As H. L. Mencken said, America doesn’t so much have a proletariat and a bourgeoisie as it has a “booboisie” due to the number of boobs in the country. (No, he wasn’t discussing mammary glands.)

.

Albert Einstein echoes Mencken’s sentiments: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

.

The opposite of men (usually) committed to the dark side as opposed to positive leaders and candidates causes one to look for a blueprint for political success. You find tips in formal biographies of our better presidents and such solid leaders as Franklin, Hamilton, Webster, Clay, and others.

.

You also find practical advice in Stephen Shadegg’s How to Win an Election: The Art of Political Victory (1964). His next book explained why Goldwater lost so miserably against Johnson. A manual from 1964, of course, needs to be brought up to date, with the internet refinements developed by Obama’s team.

.

Hillary and other candidates have emulated Obama’s battle plans.

.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Saul Alinsky was giving battle plans to social activists (and candidates) in Rules for Radicals and Reveille for Radicals.

.

In the fiction of Drury and others, a recurrent theme emerged: When a politico unexpectedly rises to the presidency, he will rise to the occasion.

.

This belief was based on Harry Truman’s sudden elevation to our top office. “Oh, my God, he’s no FDR . . . He’s not going to be able to handle it . . . We’re in trouble!” When Nixon resigned, the country may have worried about Jerry Ford’s ability to be president. “The clever Nixon didn’t do so well, so maybe plain ol’ Jerry will be adequate.”

.

So let’s re-examine the theme above: Candidates who are closest to the office of president should be impressing us, perhaps amazing us, with their ability to rise to the occasion.

.

Today, we often fail to detect this dynamic improvement in candidates. First, they speak from party talking points and dare not diverge from party canon lest they be excommunicated. Second, when they do deviate, as Rubio did when he tried to cope with the immigration crisis, they backtrack to satisfy “the base.” Of course, it doesn’t work.

.

Curiouser and curiouser, despite his campaign success, Donald Trump is the odd man out in many ways.

.

It is axiomatic for critics to compare him to Adolf Hitler, but that really doesn’t work that well. For all of Hitler’s faults and transgressions, he was an excellent orator. Like Churchill and other leaders of the period, he would stand in front of mirrors and film himself in order to test out the expressions and gestures that would enable him to move the masses.

.

Hitler (in Europe) and Huey P. Long (in America) were the first truly modern campaigners, effectively using microphones, planes, and loud-speakers atop cars and trucks to reach the voters.

.

Like a quiz-show host, Trump has mastered the art of bombast and exploding catchphrases in every other sentence. He hasn’t mastered the art of schmooze, a long and intimate conversation, for what he says lacks coherence. It has the brainpower of a drive-time radio personality. Intellectually, he “sneezes” the catchphrases.

.

His defenders argue that the whole campaign is designed to throw out the rules of the Washington insiders. A wall that Mexico will pay for? Mexicans as rapists? Excluding Muslims? Viewing women as mere T&A’s? And the rest?

.

Trump is saying things that you would never catch coming out of the public mouths of Nixon, Rockefeller, Goldwater, Dirksen, Baker, and hundreds of others.

.

Is it because Trump is untrained? Or because he suffers from hubris, the belief that he can say any damned thing he wants to?

.

Once more: Sometimes if a candidate or a public figure says something outrageous, it is prudent to assume the worse and take precautions.

.

--30--

Now for something different--your gender

Posted by Howard Denson on May 11, 2016 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

We have had politicians and state legislators go bat-guano whacko because of which restrooms that individuals choose to use.

.

On the right, they thump their Bibles and pull their hair about our society going to hell in a hand-cart. On the left, they thump their copies of Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal work, How to Exist without God if You Have Wine and Potato Chips . . . and they rail at the pig-ignorance of the right.

.

Since I fancy myself as a Wild-Eyed Moderate, it is to be expected that I’d have something that left and right fail to mention.

.

First, let’s look at the gender changes a/k/a transgender individuals a/k/a (and not respectable) “trannies.” When I was a kid, I never thought of that as an option. In fact, the major surprises in my teens and twenties were these:

.

• The putting into orbit of a satellite, Sputnik.

• The assassination of a modern U.S. president.

• Deaths of family members, especially Pappy, my maternal grandfather.

• The bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and the killing of four little girls.

• Dr. Christiaan Barnard’s first human-to-human heart transplant, in South Africa.

• George William Jorgensen Jr.’s operation that made “him” into a “her” known as Christine Jorgensen.

.

Major events and currents often lacked shock value. The atomic bomb explosions, for example, filled the screen at the movie house whenever a news reel was on, and I loved the fireworks. Rock ’n’ roll pushed onto the scene with Bill Haley and the Comets. Then came Elvis in consciousness. In retrospect, blacks in the South were being shocked by horrors and mistreatment, while we whites managed to delude ourselves that things weren’t so bad (until the 1963 church bombing).

.

As a child, I saw nothing wrong with a town having water fountains for whites and for colored. Both of them gave water. I did worry about what black people did for restrooms when they went downtown in Jasper, Vidalia, Marianna, and Pensacola. Rarely did I see any separate restroom facilities (or perhaps I didn’t know where to look).

.

As a child, I didn’t think anything about gender. I figured it was better to be male. It came as a shock that males might like other males romantically and that females might like other females.

.

The Christine Jorgensen switcheroo didn’t really sink into my consciousness until the early Sixties, so I didn’t sit around sipping tea and wondering what would make a male want to become a female or vice versa.

.

In the 1970s in Jacksonville, Channel 4 did a major documentary for the time about sex change operations, and, before the decade was over, one of my family members was beginning to explore this whole matter of sexuality.

.

During that decade, one of my students (on the roll with a feminine name) dressed as a male, and, when I was later taking “plus 30” graduate courses at the University of North Florida, I saw the student again, now functioning as a male, apparently after any operation.

.

Time passes, and a sibling announced that he wanted to have a sex change operation. Since I had gone through decades of being the wise (and frustrated) older brother (to no effect), I had learned to mind my own business as much as possible. I went on the record of being against the operation, and, when the sibling persisted, I told him it was his life and his decision.

.

I am instinctively against unnecessary operations, whether for plastic surgery or whatever. Things can go wrong. In the late Seventies, I read of a man who was having an operation in the vicinity of the genitals. The surgeon nicked the penis, gangrene set in, and it had to be amputated. Then he went to an attorney. They filed suit, and the man won a mere $5,000. The poor sucker encountered an incompetent surgeon and then an incompetent attorney. See what can go wrong?

.

I learned, however, that surgeons in sex-change procedures don’t tell the client, “Hop up on the table, and we’ll fix that for you quick as a flash.”

.

Instead, the prospective patient has to go through counseling and a period of living as a male or female (depending on the direction), usually taking hormone therapy. During this year, they would be using the restrooms of the destination gender.

.

Their driver’s licenses, meanwhile, will still identify them as their sex of origin.

.

State legislators and bureaucrats have no business trying to legislate the oral, anal, or vaginal habits of citizens. Nonetheless, they have rolled out their loose cannons and want to fire bathroom referees into the fray.

.

That puts the persons transitioning from one gender to another between a rock and hard place. If they try to do what the best medical and psychological minds recommend, they end up thumbing their noses at legislators.

.

Clearly, to keep them off a police blotter, states should authorize a card similar to a handicapped person’s permit. If challenged, the transitioner can show the card and at least avoid being taken down to the station.

.

Americans really don’t believe that we should mind our own business . . . or to be more accurate they want you and me to mind our business while they boss everyone else around. They like being vocal and, lately as reflected by the Best of One American Political Party, being as offensive as possible.

.

My sibling was working at a fast-food franchise. Co-workers (and managers?) were calling her a “pervert” until she eventually quit the job.

.

Such loud mouths threaten heart-patients (with stickers) who park in Handicapped spaces. The loud mouths call out a person going into a women’s restroom for being a male. Not only is she embarrassed, but she has to show ID.

.

You wouldn’t believe it from such rhetoric as that, but the transgendered people aren’t focused on being sexual predators. They are trying to get right with themselves. When they use the restroom, they wish to get in and out as quickly as you and I would.

.

After all, sexual predators are mostly male heterosexuals, sometimes manly coaches of college football teams, deacons or youth leaders, sometimes members or Speakers of the U.S. House of Representatives.

.

What worries me in this discussion is that we may be giving a “get out of jail” card to the truly dangerous sexual predators (nearly all male). “What am I doing in the girls’ restroom? Oh, I’m going to become one.” Would a Transition Card be sufficient to head off that?

.

To close, let me go back to the brother who made a trip to Bangkok and came back a sister. She had the operation when she was fifty-seven. That meant her body had been bombarded by testosterone for nearly six decades (an earlier transition is recommended, in case you’re wondering). The years after the operation (before she died at age seventy) were her happiest years.

.

The sibling appears in my dreams several times a year, always as the brother, and my grandmother and her daughters appear, always in their prime.

.

MORAL? We don’t have to control everything that people do.

--30--

 

You don't work? You don't eat

Posted by Howard Denson on May 9, 2016 at 3:50 PM Comments comments (0)

 

By HOWARD DENSON

About sixty-five years ago in the fifth grade, Miss Iris Taylor Johnson was teaching us Jasper Elementary students about Jamestown. We learned that it was founded in 1607 during the reign of King James I (who went on to authorize the King James Version of the Bible).

.

We heard about heroic Captain John Smith and the Indian maid Pocahontas. We would learn that she eventually married the planter John Rolfe and went to England with him, where we weren’t told that strange illnesses promptly took her out.

.

We learned that some of the Jamestown settlers were Cavaliers or “gentlemen,” who considered themselves above the indignity of manual labor. The Captain quoted Thessalonians to them, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Why? “For the labors of thirty or forty honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain a hundred and fifty idle loiterers,” Smith said. Alas, the so-called gentle men had to dirty their little hands.

.

Years later, some of us learned that, since Pocahontas was making a big impression in English society, Captain Smith did some polishing on his story. “Let’s see. I got it. The beautiful princess throws herself on my body to keep her father from bashing out my brains. For sooth, dude, that’ll do it.” As is often the case, the dramatic nonsense overshadowed the truth, one being that the girl was a child, not a buxom maiden.

.

The other line has stuck with me for ages: “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” It never occurred to me that someone could be a perpetual lay-about (except in the comics for Snuffy Smith or Andy Capp years later, one rural and one urban).

.

The men in my allied families worked their butts off. During the war, they served in the Army and Navy, loading bombs, photographing military events, working in the top command structure, disarming mines on bridges, and so on. Luckily, none of them was killed or seriously injured.

.

After the war, they worked for newspapers, ran restaurants and barber shops, sold real estate, continued a military career, and worked as engineers. Check out the jobs in the classifieds, and they did most of them.

.

Many of them were a generation away from the farm or actually grew up on farms, where everyone worked. On a typical farm, everyone had something to do. A saying in Africa was that adulthood begins at age four. That’s an exaggeration in one sense, but even four-year-olds on farms in America had tasks that they could perform. They could help gather eggs and snap green beans with Granny.

.

If Granny was too infirm to fix meals, wash clothes and diapers, and all, then she could sit on the porch and mind the youngest children while she mended clothes or snapped beans.

.

When we read Book 2 of Thessalonians (3:10), we see the New Testament emphasizes, “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you: that if any would not work, neither should he eat.” We tend to forget that the early Christians were bat-guano-crazy and drove Paul up the wall. He noted, “We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat” (2Thes3:11-12). One batch of early Christians was saying they could drink and fornicate and carry on because they had been saved by Jesus. To them, Paul had to write, in effect, “Listen, guys, you’re missing the whole point.” Another batch sat on their butts, arguing they shouldn’t have to work because Jesus was going to be back in just a mo’ and they’d be walking the streets of gold in Heaven.

.

For a long time, few of them realized that God’s mo’ isn’t the same thing as your mo’. A day to us is twenty-four hours long, but what is a day for God? (Or isn’t it just as likely that the Higher Power exists outside of time?)

.

Back to the focus on working and eating. . .

.

The exploration and settlement of North America provided great benefits to our new citizens (even while playing holy hell with the lives of indigenous and enslaved peoples). If you worked about seven years, you could pay off your passage to the New World.

.

Here land was easy to obtain, and, if you cleared it for a farm, you and your family worked throughout the year.

.

Often “free land” was available. You could homestead it and improve it over a period of years, and the land was permanently yours.

.

Jobs were practically always there, if you were willing to work. We shouldn’t assume that life was easy. Sometimes farmers had a “hard scrabble” existence (Lincoln’s father being one of those).

.

That was the dynamic when America had a healthy balance between urban and agrarian life. Now that farm life has been reduced to an assembly-line approach thanks to mega-agribiz, we have various sizes of towns and cities, and a paucity of land, work, and opportunities for people to feed themselves.

.

Some folks still say, “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

.

The adage doesn’t apply so much today. A job may be worth doing, but an employer may argue that he should pay only the minimum and, if the worker still needs help, he or she can apply for food stamps from the local government.

.

A job isn’t worth doing well for forty hours because that will mean the employer will have to pay benefits. A worker is capped at, say, thirty hours: no health benefits, no seniority to apply within the company, etc. The worker finds a second job, perhaps for twenty hours, but, between the two, he or she does not receive adequate pay or benefits.

.

Buy a house on a small lot? Not feasible.

.

Yet. . .

.

We could have a New Homestead Program because shifting economic fortunes have left many American towns and cities with hundreds to thousands of empty houses, many belonging to various municipalities or Uncle Sam if he has been conned into picking up the guaranteed mortgages.

.

Instead of letting these houses sit idle (and run the risk of being torn down for being vacant for two or more years), lotteries could be established, and those who compete for acceptable homesteads will have the chance to own their own property.

.

Some cities are joining a movement to have urban agriculture: If there’s an empty lot, plow that sucker and plant vegetables. If parks need trees, make sure they are fruit trees. Some suburban homeowners have long had their own mini-farms. Unfortunately, some city councils penalize any front-yard farming. They fall back on their codes and their adherence to uniform landscaping standards that, in Florida, end up wasting valuable water on ornamentals and grass.

.

People generally want to work, so, if they are required to work in order to collect certain benefits, then the city, county, or state needs to make certain that the jobs offered are real, are worth doing, and pay sufficiently for the person to survive.

.

Inevitably, someone emphasizes that not everyone wants to work. They seek disability retirement, even though long ago on the farm a family member who was disabled in one area could perform other tasks. They become deliberate welfare mothers. They drive welfare Cadillacs. Indeed, some such individuals exist, but the system can fight back by weeding out the con artists.

.

Such reforms will be taken only so far. We fret about the lay-abouts on welfare, but authorities look the other way at the millions and billions going to wealthy corporations for unnecessary subsidies.

.

They tell Saint Paul and Captain John Smith to stuff it.

.

--30--

 

 


Rss_feed