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Lies vs. "Truth with blinders" on?

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

By HOWARD DENSON

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Often they have no gray in their world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rodney disagreed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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They aren’t telling truth with blinders on.

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They are telling lies with blindfolds on.

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Who has destroyed the GOP?

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

By HOWARD DENSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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No, no, no, no!

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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.)

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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."

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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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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What would make me liberal?

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!” ).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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Inept or arrogant?

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

By HOWARD DENSON

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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• 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.

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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).

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.”

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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Back to the focus on working and eating. . .

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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.

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

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

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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).

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Buy a house on a small lot? Not feasible.

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Yet. . .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Ruminations while waiting for your long-johns to dry

Posted by Howard Denson on May 8, 2016 at 12:30 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

It’s bad enough falling in the crick when your hoss stumbles, but it’s really bad when you’ve got to wait for your long-johns and britches to dry. You get to thinking about stuff.

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The united party wins the presidency— Indiana One-Eye had the bunk TV on the channel with the political talking heads. They were analyzing the political scene, and one of them said, “The winning party is always the one’s that unified.”

That’s often the case, but not always. Let’s explore the validity of the political axiom by going back 1932. The GOP was in shambles because of the Great Depression, and it was all being blamed on President Herbert Hoover, who had been in office for about seven months when the bottom fell out.

No Republican seriously challenged Hoover, but he lost convincingly to New York Gov. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who prevailed again in 1936 against Alf Landon (a wipe-out).

The 1940 election occurred on the eve of World War II (for the U.S.), when FDR defeated Wendell Wilkie (and then gave him some bipartisan assignments to do during the war).

The next election in 1944 featured (a very sick) FDR beating Thomas Dewey with Harry S. Truman succeeding a few months later.

That brings us to 1948, when the Dems were splintered and seemingly shattered: The Progressives were going with former VP Henry Wallace; the Dixiecrats went with Strom Thurmond because of HST’s racial reforms. That left Harry facing sure defeat to Tom Dewey . . . except Harry whistle-stopped his way across the country and pulled out a victory.

Both parties lacked key dissent in 1952 and 1956, when Ike headed the ticket for the GOP and Adlai Stevenson for the Dems. The 1960 election was really close, but JFK managed to defeat Nixon and the GOP.

Enter Dallas 1963, and it hits the fan.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater never had a chance since the country would not put up with having a third different president in a year and a few months. The right shoved aside the Rockefeller-Scranton-Nixon crowd and got their pre-ideal candidate up front. Ronald Reagan was around, but he wasn’t the force to be reckoned with as he would become later.

In 1968, Nixon stepped forward as a major figure in the GOP, almost an elder statesman by then, and campaigned against the very split Democrats. The adage about a split party really is based on this election.

Democrats had an unpopular war and a war-time president to blame it on. Some hoped Robert Kennedy would lead them to victory, but an assassin intervened. Sen. Eugene McCarthy had the support of peaceniks, whereas Vice President Hubert Humphrey had the support of LBJ. It just didn’t work. At the end, the popular vote was close.

I won’t go through the other elections, but I remember trying to decide whether to vote for my natural Republican choice or the other party’s candidate:

Should it be Ford or Carter in ’76? Both were good men, and the country would be in good hands regardless of who won.

Should it be Carter or Reagan in ’80? Hmm, Carter’s had some bad luck, Reagan had been governor of a major state, so the country would be in good hands either way.

Reagan or Mondale in ’84? I opted for Mondale because of the S&L scandals. The GOP seemed (and seems) to be interested only in protecting what would later be called banksters.

Going into the 2016 election, I go back to the question raised in earlier elections: Will we be choosing between two major candidates, each competent enough to lead the country (although we may disagree with some of the policies implemented)? Are there any warning bells that we should heed?

Indiana One-Eye went to a Trump rally not far from the ranch. The Man didn’t appear, and Indiana One-Eye’s still cleaning off his boots.

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Silver linings – A state legislator was arguing that the silver lining of rape is any pregnancy that might result. That great insight sparks consideration of other silver linings.

Bank robbery: Individuals get to put money back into the economy as they purchase cars, jewelry, etc.

Murder: Individuals often clear the gene pool of people who go into dangerous places.

Assault: Individuals get to go to the hospital where their general condition is evaluated along with their wounds being treated.

Plane crashes: Such events aerate the ground and prepare it for seeds.

Losing elections: Individuals who are idiots get to be returned to the routines of their former lives.

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Huckabee’s an idgit, of course – Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee argues that a 10-year-old rape victim should be forced to have the baby.

Here’s another suggestion (and, yes, it is medically feasible):

Remove the fetus and attach it to the gut of the rapist, forcing him to provide nutrients, etc. At the nine-month point, if he’s been a good boy, have a C-section to remove the baby.

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Kudos to Will Ferrell for bailing on the “Reagan” dramedy/farce/whatever. -- It’s not the fault of the patient who gets dementia or Alzheimer’s, so a “comedy” about an elderly president not knowing he’s president is in questionable taste. One Tinseltown commentator sees doom and gloom if such political correctness is imposed upon movies. That is baloney, of course. We will still have comedies that are like “Dave” and then tasteless things like “Porky’s.”

Other ideas for T-towners to feed to their laugh machine: Maybe Will Ferrell can do Helen Keller in drag and do blind jokes like in “Clue.” Or have JFK survive the assassination, sort of and have a “Weekend at Camp David” flick.

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Andy Jackson & all that – Some lamented Andy Jackson’s removal from the front of the $20 bill. I am no fan of Andrew Jackson, but he had an impact on my stomping grounds: Alabama, Pensacola to Jacksonville, etc. In fact, he is a character in my upcoming historical novel “McGregor and the Lost Tribe.” I wondered what would have happened if just one tribe escaped the Southeastern purge endorsed by AJ. McGregor, a Scottish SOB, despises Jackson (who also had a Scottish background). In the Indian wars, the “white sticks” (peace party) fought with the whites against the “red sticks.” After the red sticks were defeated, the white sticks became chopped liver and were banished to Indian territory. In a recent book, James Webb discussed the contributions to the world by the Scots, and it’s an impressive who’s who of the greats of the 17-20th centuries. Jackson was capable of giving his constituents what they wanted: Indian land, especially with the gold around Dahlonega, Georgia, and Arbachoochee, Alabama (near Heflin).

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Excuse me -- One of the partisan pieces was going on about the different positions of Bernie and Hillary regarding taxes on sodas. One solution is for the soda companies to REDUCE the amount of sugar in their drinks. (U.S. drinks have more sugar than the Cokes and Pepsis sold in Europe.)

Simply going to diet sodas won’t work because of the terrible effect of diet sodas. I speak with sad experience for I drank so much sodas with artificial sweeteners that I developed artificial diabetes. I felt like a fool when I had to pretend to take an insulin shot three times a day. Eventually, the gag was ruined when I actually did develop diabetes and (yes, indeed) am down to a shot of T-something (I’m a whiz on drugs’ names) and two or more shots of Humalog. What to do about the proposed tax? My position in one word: Burp. (Excuse me again.)

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Okay, the long-johns and britches are almost dry. I can wear them if I sprinkle on lots of baby powder.

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Who's qualified to the U.S. President? (Part 2)

Posted by Howard Denson on April 19, 2016 at 11:15 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

Let’s continue looking at past U.S. presidents to see who was best qualified for the office.

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A successful president requires a proper attitude, adequate training, and (perhaps most important of all) luck. Even with these, they engage in OTJ training since there is nothing that prepares a person to be President of the U.S.

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When we pick up with Dwight David Eisenhower and compare his background and training to that of, say, either of the Roosevelts, we see that Ike’s biography and resume is simpler. He made it into West Point, played some football, served as a lowly officer and moved up the ranks (aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the 1930s) until, when WW2 came along, Gen. George Marshall picked him to head allied forces in Europe. Here he interacted with foreign leaders and their generals. He began comfortable taking orders (when necessary) and giving orders. His attitude and training led him to run the White House as a military command center, and he finished his eight years with high popular approval. Luck meant that he did not have a Great Depression or a Honolulu surprise attack. He left office warning the country about “the military-industrial complex.”

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JFK campaigned naturally on the notion that the old guard was tired and that America needed leaders with “vigah.” Unfortunately, he encountered the ill luck of being assassinated. That froze his attempts to enact a program, but, with a modest apotheosis of the late president’s reputation, LBJ was able to wheel and deal Congress into approving many reforms.

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Some candidates today want to compare themselves to John Kennedy. True, he went from being a sitting senator to president, the second to do so since Harding. However, his congressional experience wasn’t all that noteworthy. His experience as the commander of PT-109 during WW2 made him aware of the dangers of going into war willy-nilly. Kennedy had been a member of the House for three terms and had served as a senator from 1953 until 1960. (FYI Notes to some of today’s candidates: Two or three years as a senator or a representative doesn’t cut it.)

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By contrast, Lyndon Johnson was the complete political animal. He was ready by attitude and aptitude to be president, but he was unwise or unlucky enough to continue our military involvement in Asia.

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The Vietnam involvement was costing over 50,000 lives (about the number who died in Korea), so—ho ho ho—it was time for LBJ to go.

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Like Kennedy, Nixon had similar governmental experience: time in the House and Senate, but eight years as Ike’s vice president. In fact, when Ike suffered a heart attack in 1955, Nixon was the unofficial president. He lacked the temperament of a Johnson or FDR, being as quirky as John and John Quincy Adams. When he was defeated by Pat Brown for governor of California, he and others were convinced his political career was over , even saying, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.”

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It wasn’t unreasonable for the nation to choose Nixon in 1968. The poor Democrats had had their natural candidate Bobby Kennedy gunned down on the evening he won the California primary. The gentlemanly poet, Sen. Eugene McCarthy, couldn’t quite put away Vice President Hubert Humphrey, the eventual nominee. HHH was unable or unwilling to separate himself from his president and lost in a close count of the popular vote.

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For a long time back then, Nixon was ranked as one of our worst presidents, thanks to the fall-out from Watergate and simmering resentments for his anti-communist stance while in Congress. His reputation has risen considerably.

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Our first unelected president and vice president was the amiable Gerald Ford, usually a career minority leader in the House. When former Maryland politician Spiro Agnew was forced to resign as vice president, the Democrats preferred that Nixon should nominate Ford, who would be adequate and possibly could be beaten in 1976. Ford enabled the country to regain our equilibrium after the impeachment mess, but many used his pardon of Nixon as a reason to go for a Washington outsider.

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Jimmy Carter had the proper attitude and aptitude to be president, but, like Hoover, he had the ill luck when major crises occurred: high domestic inflation and the Iran hostage standoff with TV’s countdown each day about how many days the embassy staff had been held prisoner.

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Carter took the blame for a failed helicopter rescue attempt, knocking down his reputation even more. Finally on the day that Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president, the Iranians freed the American hostages.

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In retrospect, Carter was able to say that their freedom came without the cost of American lives. A more impetuous and cynical president might have gone in with guns a-blazing and a draft of a eulogy to be read at the memorial services for those who were killed.

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Conservatives like to argue that Ronald Reagan was the best of the modern presidents, while opponents argue that he was the worst. He was teased with the Bedtime for Bonzo label as being inadequate to the job. However, he had been governor of California and weathered various disputes. With Nancy protecting him from an over-zealous staff, he made to the end of his two terms without disgracing himself. He had the good luck of relative tranquility during his years in office.

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George Bush the Elder and Wiser was the president when the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain crumbled. Conservatives wanted to give the credit for the collapse to Reagan, but the disintegration resulted from policies implemented by Truman through Reagan, with considerable aid from Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa. Credit should also go to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader. If he had been another Joseph Stalin, millions of Russians might have lost their lives. The elder Bush, criticized for his verbal mistakes, lacked the quick wit and poise of Reagan and was even zinged for being a wimp, even though few wimps were combat pilots in World War II.

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At the end of his term, the country had had twelve years of Republican rule, and the time for a change meant the election of Bill Clinton. He stands out as the complete political wonk and as someone who loves the hands-on give-and-take of a politico. He had repeatedly been elected governor of Arkansas, hardly as challenging as California, New York, or Illinois. (Actually former governors of Illinois more often just go to prison.) Clinton enjoyed himself as president, even in ways that Harding and JFK would especially understand, but he irritated the right-wing with his uppity First Lady.

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Enter the Impeachment Process that Will Not Die and has become the unused tool of opposition by members of Congress.

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My thesis has been that the impeachment process has never been used properly and has been destructive to the body politic at the presidential level. With the smoking gun of Nixon’s troubles, the country elected him twice and the second election occurred after major details were known about Watergate.

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Clinton survived, and thrived, despite the attacks from the right.

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Enter now the disastrous administrations of Bush the Younger: amiable, inarticulate, and easily led by the neo-cons around him. The 9/11 attacks enabled him to push the “stolen” 2000 election behind him (good luck for him, bad for the country). Then he created his own bad fortune with military endeavors that seemed almost quixotic as they mainly benefited what Ike warned us about: the military-industrial complex. His deregulation set up the Great Recession.

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Neo-cons kept predicting that his reputation would rebound, as Truman’s had, but Bush the Younger was no Truman.

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On paper, Barack Obama had no business hoping to be elected president. He had been a social worker/activist, in the stripe of Saul Alinsky. He had been in the state legislature, and he had been a senator since 2005 (about as long as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio served). He became the third sitting senator to be elected president.

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Since the 21st Century Republicans have purged their ranks of any moderates or progressives, the opposition party is dominated by a regressive mind-set: restrict voting access of “fraudulent” minorities, eliminate abortion, put the Bible back into the classroom and courthouse, defend the flag by sending troops to wherever a conflict occurs, and so on. Missing are today’s equivalent of Henry Cabot Lodge, Richard Nixon, Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, Daniel Moynihan, and Elliot Richardson.

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It’s galling to the extremists that a black man could be presented as a good-to-great president, so they cry “impeach, impeach” and want him arrested, although they aren’t very good at specifying which law has been broken.

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It’s galling to the left that this premature Nobel Peace Prize winner still has us involved in foreign wars, but it’s even more galling to the military-industrialists that he refuses to commit more troops to various frays.

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When the Obama drama closes in less than a year, the stage may feature a protagonist who is female or elderly, a middle-aged businessman, a senator who has few friends in the Senate, or a governor who, so far, has only won a primary in one state.

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Will that person have a decent attitude and aptitude…and especially will that person enjoy good luck in office?

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