THE LITERARY MEERKAT: Howard Denson

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Is It Corporate Ransomware? ©

Posted by Howard Denson on November 28, 2022 at 5:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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I don't recall the exact date that I started using word processing. It goes back over 30 years, maybe closer to 40. As soon as I discovered it, I REQUIRED (not wimpily recommended) that students at North do their papers on the PCs on campus. Back in those days, few students had such luxury items at home. I said the college was helping them to function in the upcoming 21st Century because most business writing would be done on PCs. (I wasn't trying to be a seer regarding laptops or smart-phones. On a regular keyboard, I can type 60-80 words a minute and generally disdain typing with a single digit or a thumb.)

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I said goodbye to my IBM Selectric and used these programs: Bank Street Writer, Applewriter and early Word Perfect (both non-menu driven programs, meaning you had to know Control + s for save; + i for italics, and so on). I preferred the IBM Displayer (stand-alone and then the simpler programs for PCs). Eventually, Microsoft learned from Apple and Macintosh about how to have a friendlier page, and Word pushed the competitors aside. On occasion, I'd use WordPerfect's similar w.p. program and Open Office's program, both with menus.

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What was absolutely stupid back then was that Microsoft Works' documents could not be retrieved by Microsoft Word. Possibly they were trying to get Works users to fork over $xxx to buy the Word program. Eventually, WordPerfect and Open Office were able to retrieve Word or Works documents and save them in a variety of ways, as doc, as PDF, plain text, etc.

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So I'm chugging along during October and November of 2022 and called up the document for MOWBRAY AND THE WOLVES. That was a fantasy novel that first came out in 2018, with my Progress Report doc saying that I began it in 1996 and finally formatted it for a paperback in 2018. I called up the Progress Report again and retrieved the list of words that I finally learned that I overuse. I went through and tried to trim the words down to something reasonable. At each stage, I saved the Progress Report AND the novel manuscript. Each was saved about 50 times during October and November.

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Ah, says I, getting close to the end, and I'll put out a hardback version through KDP (Amazon) that will be better than my original paperback. I need to read through again and then fix the page numbers on the table of contents.

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Then . . . (Ominous music.)

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Everything froze up. Nothing would work. I could see the documents on the screen but all I could do was LOOK. That applied to ALL of my documents. Since I type very fast, I always suspect that I may have accidentally hit, say, Control + some other key that had a weird result. I went to AOL search and typed in the key words that described my problem. The websites I reached said it was in "compatibility mode," which is reserved for offices whose employees may be working on the same document but using different programs.

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These sites recommended this and that. The searches said to go to Options (no longer available) or SAVE As (unavailable) and other unavailable options. The program was frozen, and nothing was working.

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I wondered if it was a licensing problem because (unlike Open Office and WordPerfect) Microsoft wants you to buy its w.p. program every year. This morning, I gave up and paid to have it updated and downloaded. When I was trying to access their consumer office to find out when the program was being activated, they asked me to sign in. I did and gave them my Hotmail address and a password. They said they could send me a code to my alternate email account (for backup protection). Nothing showed up. I tried the address using the Outlook address (which, of course, is another name for Hotmail). They would send a message to my other email address. Once again nothing showed up.

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I have long said that, in our everyday lives, we should fear Stupidity and Incompetence more than, say, Evil. I suspect I'm dealing with the first two bugaboos.

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If freezing the documents is really a way to get a user to fork over some cash, there are better ways of handling things. The great company may not want to acknowledge that, in effect, it is engaging in ransomware. A customer may have created documents under legitimate licenses but he or she can no longer even access the documents if "ransom" isn't paid.

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First, to handle things better, the great company's computer system can be programmed easily enough to send out a message similar to this: "Dear Valued Client [or even the name they have for us, whether Thomasina, Ricardo, or Harriett], your programs from our firm will, in effect, be frozen after [date]. We do not want to disrupt your activities, but you will need to click on [site] in order to keep your account active."

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They could even do that a month before and then each week until the cut-off point.

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They could even say something like "If you think you will be unable to continue using our programs, then you will need to start accessing your documents using Acme Word Processing or Widgety WP." Yes, it's unlikely they would do that. Why help a competitor? What was unusual in The Miracle on 34th Street was that the Macy's Santa played by Edmund Gwenn suggested that a tyke's parent(s) might find a particular toy over at Gimbel's. Un-American, right? After all, banks handle 98-99% of all bank transactions in the U.S., but they still manage to bitch about the 1-2% of business that credit unions do.

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Will I be thinking more in terms of Open Office and/or WordPerfect during 2022-23? Will I be mulling the parallels with ransomware?

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Oh, yes.

Winston as a Red Hatter ©

Posted by Howard Denson on November 13, 2022 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

 

ONE OF MY ESSAYS mentioned that Winston Churchill offered us some keen insights into what works in politics, but, since he was a man of the 19th Century, he also offered viewpoints more suited to the 1800s than the 21st Century. If Red Hatters latched onto Winnie as an ideological anchor, they would find some useful tidbits.

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On occasion, I may imagine being recruited to help write brochures or speeches for the Red Hatters and other Denialists. In my salad years, I dabbled a bit in that, and the trick was to write what the “customer” wanted and thought. My own viewpoints weren’t in the picture. If that were to occur today, I would quote Winston’s advice: “You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.”

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That was a major problem of the one who became POTUS #45. He barked at the Pope, Gold Star parents, rivals in the GOP, members of his own party, and the Democratic team of Obama, Hillary, Nancy, and Joe. Every bark became a distraction from #45’s many scandals, but each bark also distracted the party from putting together a coherent public policy. Another problem was that he purred at Putin, Kim I’m a Nutter, and other assorted strongmen and dictators.

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They would ignore me and perhaps accuse me of being a socialistic pedophile with a basement in Jacksonville where virgins and Christians are violated. They wouldn’t hear that I voted for Goldwater, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan once and that, if you dig down one or two feet in Northeast Florida, you are likely to hit water.

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So I’d shut up and file their idiocy away.

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I would remember Winston said, “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

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That brings to mind, of course, what happened with #45 when he was elected. He managed tax cuts for the wealthy but screwed the pooch on most other items on the foreign and domestic agenda. With Harry Truman, we had been taught that the “common man” will rise to the occasion. Truman did that, just as Vice President Calvin Coolidge stepped up when President Harding died. LBJ had many skills thanks to his years in Congress. Ditto to a lesser extent for Jerry Ford. Forgetting political positions, neither disgraced the office. Ol' #45 didn't grow into his office at all.

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Then they push poor Herschel Walker into a run for the U.S. Senate and opportunities to show his deficiencies. They say that, heck, Reagan went from being an actor to the presidency . . . except Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild for several years, did speeches for corporations for about a decade, served as governor of California for two terms, and so on. Herschel could have been guided into top coaching positions in college or the National Football League. Other athletes have had successful political careers, including (to name only two) basketball star Bill Bradley as a Democrat and footballer Jack Kemp as a Republican. But, no, #45 pushes forward a man with no more qualifications for high office than he had. 

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Come on, Denson, they’d say. Get to the brochure. Tell them how conservative we are.

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Ah, then we can work in this Churchill’s remark: “If you’re not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain.”

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Great, that’s kind of what Reagan probably said.

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Winston also said, “Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.”

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Wonderful, that’ll help us reduce taxes on the real producers more. But what about the swamp in Washington?

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Well, Winston said, “There is nothing government can give you that it hasn’t taken from you in the first place” and “If you make 10,000 regulations you destroy all respect for the law.”

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Right, right, and we’d want to get rid of 10,000 IRS regulations and fire most of their auditors that have been persecuting those who do the real work.

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I don’t really ask the Red Hatters if they want any reference to subsidies that the rich are receiving for non-producing property supposedly for farming or ranching, because I’d be told to move on, time is wasting.

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They don’t want to hear, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.”

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Look, Denson, we want sections in brochures and speeches about Big Labor—but not Big Pharma and the Health Cabal since those guys are funding us. Damned powerful teachers’ unions. We need to shut down public education.

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Hmm, Winston said, “Schools have not necessarily much to do with education . . . [T]hey are mainly institutions of control where certain basic habits must be inculcated in the young. Education is quite different and has little place in school.”

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Good stuff, Old Man. What else?

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“I began my education at a very early age; in fact, right after I left college.”

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Yeah, stick that in. I was never so happy as to get my degree and not have to open another damned book, not that I did it much anyway during college. I opened keggers and learned a lot about life and how to pop a bra off with one hand.

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I ask, if they want to ease up on the fabrications. Here they already know that Winton said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

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Reluctantly, I report that Winnie said, “The Russian Bolsheviks have discovered that truth does not matter so long as there is reiteration. They have no difficulty whatever in countering a fact by a lie which, if repeated often enough and loudly enough, becomes accepted by the people.”

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That’s what we want, Old Guy. Great!

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And Winston said, “Do not trust any statistics you did not fake yourself.”

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Exactly, exactly! All those crooked elections, and damn those judges that throw out our suits because of a lack of specific evidence. Dammit, everyone’s saying it, so it’s true, right?

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Ah, well, Winston said, “Give me the facts, and I will twist them the way I want, to suit my argument” and “There are a terrible lot of lies going about the world, and the worst of it is that half of them are true.”

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We want to work on the Deep South because they’ll believe anything. What could we work into a speech?

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How about “The flags of the Confederate States of America were very important and a matter of great pride to those citizens living in the Confederacy. They are also a matter of great pride for their descendants as part of their heritage and history.”

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We want to riff on the damned Moslems. Can Winston help us out?

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“Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die: but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

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All right, a bit long, but we can trim it. I hope he wasn’t big on diversity.

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Not really. He said, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion.” There are actually many different religions in India.

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Okay, we have a contingent who want to go back to way things before 1917, when state legislatures elected U.S. senators and women couldn’t vote. Does Winston have any ammo for us?

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“The women’s suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun. Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands.”

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Exactly, we do not like Hillary, Nancy, and AOC, whatever the hell her initials stand for. Without sounding racist, you get me, we need a section showing why the real America, the one that made us great, should dominate lesser countries. What does Winston have?

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“It is the English-speaking nations who, almost alone, keep alight the torch of Freedom.”

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Damned straight.

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“I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”

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A ”higher-grade race,” wow, I like that, Old Guy. Now Israel comes up, and we’re for them and against this or that, but what does Churchill say?

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“Jews from the Palestinians in the same way I don’t apologize for the takeover of America by the whites from the Red Indians or the takeover of Australia from the blacks. It is natural for a superior race to dominate an inferior one.”

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“Superior race”—right, it’s nature.

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And Winston said, “The Aryan stock is bound to triumph” and “ ‘Keep England White’ is a good slogan.”

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I don’t know, fellow. Does “Aryan stock” refer to cattle or livestock? “Keep America White” may be a bit much. Let’s stick with “Make America Great Again.” Same difference. Another problem: We get criticized when we support an idea that namby-pamby liberal socialists call unhumanitarian. Was Churchill that way?

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Let’s see. He did say, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes” and “I propose that 100,000 degenerate Britons should be forcibly sterilized and others put in labour camps to halt the decline of the British race.”

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Tough, but necessary, Old Guy. We lost in 2020 because of 7 million fraudulent votes, so we may need to cut the nuts off those guys. Any other thoughts?

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Well, Winston did say, “The shortest road to ruin is to emulate the methods of your adversary,” referring to Hitler, Mussolini, and later Stalin.

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Good God Miss Molly! Why do those communistic socialists in the Democrat Party harp on, and on, and on about Hitler?

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I'll ask the Red Hatters if there are any other suggestions.

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Definitely, Old Fellow. Don’t mention Hitler in the speech or brochure.

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I leave on that, wondering why they're calling me "Old Man" and "Old Guy:" instead of "Kid."


 

Advice for Red Hatters ©

Posted by Howard Denson on November 11, 2022 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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Since Republican politics has been (and likely still is) so influenced by POTUS #45, it is not surprising that the GOP didn’t wipe out the Democratic control of Congress. The Red Hat tsunami just simply did not develop. Many of the righties can’t imagine what went wrong because (gasp, gasp) they had everything on their side.

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Of course, they didn’t, and this Literary Meerkat a.k.a. Wild Bill the Moderate is happy to play post-election quarterback. I will even call upon my good friend, Sir Winston Churchill. I’ll admit that we never really met, but I’ve spent hours reading his books, biographies, and collections of speeches.

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I’ll also recognize that we don’t want to follow to all of his principles since they were often racist and politically incorrect.

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Let’s start with this quote: “A nation that forgets its past has no future.” Some Americans would know that many of our elections have had serious problems, ranging from the disasters set up when our original Constitution had the presidency going to the winner of the electoral vote with the vice presidency going to the second-place runner up. JQ Adams, Clay, and Jackson got quite nasty about it all.

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Actually, that dust-up may not have registered in our minds. Many American history classes may have focused on the wars: the revolution, the War of 1812, perhaps the Mexican war, the Civil War, the War with Spain, the World Wars, and so on.

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The classes in high school and the first two years of college may not have adequately covered the mess with Samuel Tilden and Rutherford Hayes. Both parties sold out the nation in ways too complicated to discuss in this short piece. And there were contests with Gore and Bush, Hillary and Trump, and Trump and Biden. Some of these are so recent that a history class might skip them entirely.

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Churchill would tell us, “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.” Our nation fixed our Constitution by and by, though some additional work is in order.

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The Red Hatters and #45 go on and on about fixed elections, even though they come up short when required to offer actual proof. But they won’t let the issue go and ignore the wisdom of Winston: “I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”

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They certainly lost the great victory in 2022 they were licking their chops for. They failed because, as Winston said, “A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”

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Perhaps, like Winston, they’d say, “I always like to learn, but I don’t always like to be taught.”

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They thought they had learned from #45 that the way to go is to lie, lie, lie, but Winston knew, “A small lie needs a bodyguard of bigger lies to protect it.”

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After Nixon’s loss to Kennedy in 1960 (by only a little less than 113,000 votes), he realized JKF came across better on TV while he himself had prevailed with the smaller radio market. Nixon went on to fail disastrously in the California gubernatorial race, but then he would heed Winston’s observation: “All men make mistakes, but only wise men learn from their mistakes.” Nixon realized he needed to help his party, build up obligations in his GOP colleagues, and bide his time after Goldwater’s loss. This extreme introvert loosened up, even went on “Laugh In” to do one of their “sock it to me” bits, and in general learned how to come across as a regular guy.

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When he was resigning and leaving the White House, he had an ideal time to throw a POTUS #45-style hissy fit, but he had learned how to make a graceful exit. He thanked the staff and the country and flew off to California to begin restoring his reputation.

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Winston also remarked, “Any idiot can see something wrong. But can you see what is right?” Several GOPers today know that Something Just Ain’t Right. But do they risk offending #45 by changing their tune?

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Some wouldn’t because they are fanatics without any real political agenda, and they don’t know that Churchill said, “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

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Our country had many serious problems, but the #45-dominated party hasn’t done the grunt work of developing reasonable proposals to deal with (where do we start?) the 14 million “illegal immigrants” (sorry, woke crowd), our greedy capitalized medicine system that exists to augment whatever Big Pharma and its allies want, and so on.

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Churchill might tell them, “What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”

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Red Hatters could devise talking points based on the wrongheaded remarks that Churchill made about inequity, various races and religions, and so on. After all, Winnie was a product of the 19th Century, and Red Hatters are often accused of trying to return to the 1800s.

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Would Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Kamala Harris, and the other eleven women serving as governors agree with this Churchill statement?

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“The women’s suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun. Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, and husbands.”

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To paraphrase Gore Vidal, the Red Hatters may need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the third decade of 21st Century.

 

A Habit of Thuggery ©

Posted by Howard Denson on November 2, 2022 at 11:20 AM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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While working on updating a new edition of my reference book on advice and birthdays of writers, I was thinking about political violence and the recent attack on the husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Yes, I multi-task, although you may argue that I’m more scatterbrained than anything else.

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No matter.

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Two quotations on March 20 leapt out at me. From nearly two thousand years ago, Ovid said, “Habits change into character.” Publius Ovidius Naso lived during the opening years of the Pax Romana, which was inaugurated by Augustus and lasted until the reign of Marcus Aurelius about two centuries later.

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That was a rough period since it took the assassination of Julius Caesar to turn his ally and adopted son Octavian into Caesar Augustus. He ruled well but wasn’t exactly the Mr. Rogers of the Roman Empire.

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Another quotation from March 20 was from Henrik Ibsen, who said, “A thousand words will not leave so deep an impression as one deed.”

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That quotation and the attack on Paul Pelosi made me remember the days when I was learning about the causes leading up to the Civil War and the after-effects of Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws, and today’s general mess.

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As a youth, I grew up with the myth of the Lost Cause. Mark Twain had blamed the Civil War on the novels of Sir Walter Scott, with their emphasis on knightly behavior and all that jazz. The supposed mindset among Southrons (the term then) was “how noble it would be if we set up our own country . . . and, if we have to fight to do it, then how noble it would be for us to fight as contemporary knights.”

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Then I read, and re-read over the years, about the attack in 1856 on Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist Republican from Massachusetts. That was the year that James Buchanan had been elected as president (although he would not take office until March 1857).

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Wanting Kansas admitted to the Union as a free state, Sumner had attacked the Nebraska-Kansas Act that was seeking a compromise over the issue of slavery. As he compared extending slavery into the territories as “the rape of a virgin Territory, compelling it to the hateful embrace of slavery;” he not only attacked the institution but slaveholders who supported it.

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Sumner said, “The senator from South Carolina [Andrew Butler] has read many books of chivalry, and believes himself a chivalrous knight with sentiments of honor and courage. Of course he has chosen a mistress to whom he has made his vows, and who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean the harlot, Slavery. For her, his tongue is always profuse in words. Let her be impeached in character, or any proposition made to shut her out from the extension of her wantonness, and no extravagance of manner or hardihood of assertion is then too great for this senator. The frenzy of Don Quixote, in behalf of his wench, Dulcinea del Toboso, is all surpassed.”

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Offense was taken, of course, but we didn’t end up with two gentlemen knights squaring off against each other like Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr or Andrew Jackson and Charles Dickinson (and others on separate occasions). Lincoln’s friend and political opponent, Stephen Douglas, was also attacked in the speech but was more philosophical. He said, “. . . this damn fool is going to get himself killed by some other damn fool.”

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Senator Butler wasn’t foolish enough to challenge Sumner to a duel or the like, but his relative Congressman Preston Brooks of South Carolina exacted revenge.

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Brooks found Sumner at his desk on the floor of the Senate and expressed his disapproval. Before Sumner could stand up, Brooks hit him with the heavy gold-head of his walking stick. The blow blinded Sumner, and the blows continued, and went on, and on, and on, even when Sumner managed to stand up. Brooks smashed his cane into several pieces during his attack.

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Brooks’ fellow thugs included Congressman Lawrence Keitt of South Carolina, who had advised against a duel because Sumner obviously was no gentleman and was a drunkard. Only a beating would suffice for this low life who had (correctly) insinuated that the slaveowners were using the slave quarters as personal bordellos.

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Sumner suffered severe brain trauma and PTSD and was not able to return to the senate on full-time duty until 1859.

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Instead of pointing out that Washington, Jefferson, and Adams hadn’t envisioned such thuggery in our Congress, Southern newspapers lauded Brooks’ actions, and dozens or hundreds of canes were sent to Brooks to replace the one he had destroyed.

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Despicable behavior?

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Of course, but it’s similar to the snarky remarks and jokes being made by Red Hatters over the attack on the Speaker’s husband.

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Some on the right are taking the sound ethical position that there are some things that you just don’t do. By others' sins of omission in not condemning violence, they are encouraging damn fools to do something and ruin their lives . . . and ours.

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Don’t assume that I’m only condemning violence on the right. Often attacks are almost apolitical and are prompted by mental illness. The deaths or attempted assassinations of Garfield, McKinley, both Roosevelts, Ford, Reagan, and John Lennon fall into this category.

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It was wrong when the shooter wounded U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and five others at a practice for the Congressional Baseball Game for Charity in 2017.

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It was wrong when four people protesting the Vietnam war bombed Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They killed a physics researcher and wounded three others.

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It was wrong in 1954 when four Puerto Rican nationalists fired 309 rounds from semi-automatic weapons on members of the U.S. House. They wounded five congressmen (all recovered). The assailants went to prison with long terms.

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Oh, it was wrong when damned fools on Jan. 6, 2021, attacked the Capitol as they vowed to hang the Vice President and the Speaker of the House.

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All major religions and ethical philosophies have their own version of the Golden Rule: Either “do unto others what you would have done unto you” or “Do not do to others what you would not want to be done to you.”

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The rules apply to everyone . . . even damned fools.

 

Should Nuclear Attacks Merit War Crimes? ©

Posted by Howard Denson on October 17, 2022 at 6:05 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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I DON’T WANT TO HAVE my right-wing credentials questioned, but righties will anyway because I am going to propose that, while it may be impossible to ban nuclear weapons, we should arrest any world leader or heads of groups that actually use atomic weapons.

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All right, all right. I will admit that, when I was a grade-schooler going to the movies on Saturday, I loved watching Bugs, Donald, and Dave O’Brien in the Pete Smith shorts, and then the news reels that often showed tests of A-bombs and H-bombs. One story in a news reel may have revisited Hiroshima and Nagasaki and we’d get to see the awful clouds that eradicated those cities. I can’t help it. I like fireworks, and, yes, yes, I’ve grown up a little and recognize that an A-bomb isn’t the same as a cherry bomb or a roman candle.

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Our family had to watch their pennies, nickels, and dimes, so we made do with simple firecrackers or sparklers. If we were lucky, a neighbor might fire off roman candles. We could only watch with green envy as more prosperous acquaintances set off their shots of crackling red tails, sizzling green tails, and blue tails to red and green crackling that fan across the sky.

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Like the frugal Appalachian Celts that we were, we learned that you could take a “dud” firecracker that didn’t go off, break it in half, apply a match to it, and it would scoot across the ground. That was fun until one went off in my hand. It hurt like hell but did little damage. Of course, I can’t play boogie-woogie on the piano if my life depended on it, but I couldn’t do it even before the dud mishap.

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So I liked fireworks and liked to watch films of our planet’s biggest fireworks. Over the years, I read about what really happened in those poor Japanese cities and followed films that warned us what our fate could be if we were terminally stupid. Doctor Strangelove let us imagine blustery General Buck Turgidson about to bust a gut in excitement because our pilots could get through and drop the bombs that General Jack D. Ripper had sent on their merry way. This was the blackest of comedies, but a copy desk friend in Birmingham recalled seeing the film in Wadley, Alabama, where the audience took in everything dead seriously. On the Beach and Fail-Safe were other sci-fi films that let us envision our apocalypse. The Terminator films reinforced that. We also have documentaries and videos about disasters involving Chernobyl and Fukushima: Here the so-called atoms for peace equipment breaks down, and here’s what happens.

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With all this, we have the man-child Kim I’m a Nutter threatening to destroy North Korea’s enemies. In another part of the globe, a gentleman in Moscow, supposedly with more sense, lets the word go out that nuclear weapons just might be needed in Ukraine.

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Other parts of the world have their nutters. These countries would wipe off the map the state of Israel, and few people expect that Israel would passively accept its demise. Others lust after Paradise and the 72 virgins for each guy if everything came to an end. Even a few Christian extremists might welcome a Second Coming so they could pat Jesus on the back for permitting true believers to end this sinful mess.

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Someone is already grumbling that Americans don’t belong on a high horse regarding atomic bombs because we are the only nation that has ever used them against another country. When Truman made the decision, he was balancing their terrible use against the consequences of losing 50,000 to 150,000 or more of our troops if we had had to fight our way through Japan as we had in Iwo Jima (19,000 of 21,000 Japanese soldiers were killed or committed suicide) and Okinawa. Wiki tells us:

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“During this 82-day-long battle, about 95,000 Imperial Japanese Army troops and 20,195 Americans were killed. The Cornerstone of Peace at the Peace Memorial Park in Itoman lists 149,193 persons from Okinawa—approximately one quarter of the civilian population—were either killed or committed suicide during the Battle of Okinawa and the Pacific War.”

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Several of our generals, including Eisenhower (not involved in the Pacific war), thought we could have won without using the A-bombs. They were either onto something . . . or (just as likely) engaging in Monday morning quarterbacking, similar to what Union and CSA generals did in their memoirs after the Civil War.

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It is noteworthy that the U.S. did not use such weaponry in conflicts after World War II. Stalin quickly made sure that the USSR developed its own bombs, but neither Stalin and his successors nor Truman or Ike chose to use the bomb. Why? Because we could destroy each other and possibly wipe out most life afterwards.

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The military constantly suggested to Ike, JFK, LBJ, and other presidents that such-and-such conflict could be resolved pretty quickly if we’d just use what we already had. The presidents wisely didn’t listen to the warhawks.

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During the Cuban Missile Crisis, a Soviet submarine B-59 was being depth-charged, and, too deep for radio contact, the captain wanted to launch their nuclear missiles. However, a second officer had to agree, and the commander of the submarine flotilla, Vasily Arkhipov, was aboard and declined to start World War III.

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Nearly twenty years later, a malfunction caused the Soviets’ early-warning radar to “detect” the launch of one intercontinental ballistic missile with four more missiles behind it, from bases in the United States. Luckily, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov had been trained at Kyiv Military Aviation Engineering Academy and suspected that the warnings were false alarms and decided to wait for corroborating evidence instead of immediately relaying the warning up the chain-of-command.

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His civilian training prompted him to wait for confirmation (which never arrived). Petrov helped save his country and the world the effects of a full-scale nuclear war.

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A knee-jerk reaction to my modest proposal is to claim (erroneously) that the U.S. would be left defenseless. That’s hardly the case especially when we examine, say, Operation Meetinghouse. This bombing campaign was conducted one night in March 1945 and became known as the single most destructive bombing raid ever. Our planes destroyed 16 square miles of central Tokyo, killed about 100,000 civilians, and left over a million people homeless. By contrast, 70,000 died immediately during the A-bomb attack on Hiroshima and between 39,000 and 80,000 died in Nagasaki.

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Use of other weaponry falls under proposed war crimes limits. Poison gas was used extensively in World War I, but the wind could turn the agent against one’s own troops. It was largely discontinued, except for Saddam Hussein and Syria’s dictator. Princess Di and others campaigned against line mines, which end up costing lives and limbs decades after a war has ended. The U.S. holds out because it has thoroughly mined the DMZ to keep out incursions from Kim I’m a Nutter.

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Our goals can’t be to make wars more Christian or holy or ethical, due to the nature of the beast. But we can let erratic dictators know that by and by they’ll spend their final days in a cell for having nuked their opponents.

 

Big Lie vs. Idiotic Whopper ©

Posted by Howard Denson on October 9, 2022 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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WE HAVE TO BEGIN WITH a famous quote from Adolf Hitler: “People are more likely to believe a big lie than a small one.”

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Why? Ernest Hemingway explains it by saying, “A big lie is more plausible than truth.”

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The eccentric writer Katherine Dunn observed, “The truth is always an insult or a joke, lies are generally tastier. We love them. The nature of lies is to please. Truth has no concern for anyone’s comfort.”

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Joost Meerloo, author of The Rape of the Mind and an expert on brainwashing techniques, notes, “The big lie and monotonously repeated nonsense have more emotional appeal in a cold war than logic and reason.”

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Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, recognized “the big lie” in politics, pointing out, “The big lie out there, the big lie that the Republicans propagate day after day, is that cutting marginal rates for those at the top is going to create jobs. It’s simply not true.”

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The guv, of course, had a big fabrication in his personal life, and the public learned he was patronizing a prostitution ring.

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Parties are capable of ignoring truth. “If this was even true, it’s not the end of the world. What’s important is [insert the cause of the moment in order to distract].”

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In the healthier days of our republic, both major political parties regularly accused the opposition of spreading lies. We don’t usual pay much attention to the accusations as we rely on the unspoken rule of “If it’s political, it’s probably a lie . . . and so what?”

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Our fruit salad of a republic was working just fine until POTUS #45 came along and began adding enough bananas into our ambrosia to turn us into a banana republic. We wind up with 30,000 lies coming from #45 during his four years in office.

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His big lie is that the 2020 election was stolen from him. (He was ready to claim that the 2016 election was stolen from him, but, darn it, he slipped up, won the electoral college vote, and was given enough rope to begin hanging himself.)

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Those who want to kiss the ring of #45 will assert the 2020 election was stolen, and we can only be amazed at the number of Republicans who go along with the proposition. We can deduce that they are taking the position for a couple or more reasons:

 

• They are running for office and want the endorsement of #45. They will claim to believe the “big lie,” but privately they may tell their friends, Come on, big guy, we all know what’s what.

• They have convinced themselves in the inerrancy of #45. We have God’s word in the King James Bible, and we have whatever #45 says.

• They repeat the “big lie” simply because it irritates the tar out of libtards (those fools who have actually bothered to read the Constitution).

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As Wild Bill the Moderate, I can respect a little the goals of those who are trying to aggravate libtards. They at least show some sense, even though it may be for light and transitory motives.

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I’d like to suggest a “friendly amendment” to quotes about the utility of the big lie. Here is the Denson Corollary: A big lie should be plausible and shouldn’t simply be an idiotic whopper that a carney show barker has just pulled from his derriere, its odiferous source still fouling the room.

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Let’s begin with their idiotic whopper: Joe’s buddies Hillary and Nancy, George Soros, and the Democrats managed to steal the 2020 election thanks to 7 million stolen/faked votes.

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Really?

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The Democrats aren’t capable of such a stunt. Neither are the best minds from all factions of the GOP. All of the scientists and technicians of China AND Russia couldn’t pull off that hat trick. It’s impossible.

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A big lie might argue the election was stolen because of 70 crucial votes in the U.S. We can up the figure to 700 crucial votes. That’s also possible. How about greater increases? All right, the 2020 election was stolen because of 70,000 crucial votes being faked. Yeah, a wicked team could pull that off, right? How about a greater increase? The 2020 election was lost because 700,000 votes were faked and stolen. That’s not quite a million.

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But #45’s Big Whopper Flippers insist on the election of 2020 being stolen because of 7 MILLION votes . . . and that, to repeat, just isn’t possible.

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Let’s note the progression from the believable to unbelievable in two separate areas: swimming challenges and armed robbery.

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Possible: Even small-towns may have community pools at which admirable feats in the water may occur. One could boast about such accomplishments, even when made up: “I swim x-number laps every day before I begin my real work of fighting for the people of America.”

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The English Channel is 21 miles across at its narrowest part, and it is believable that someone could swim from England to France. In fact, 44 women have been successful in the feat, with 7:25 hours being the best time. The channel has been mastered by a girl as young as 12 years of age, and a woman who was 71. For males, 34 of them conquered the channel, with the best time being 6:55 hours. The oldest was 73 years old and the youngest 11 and not quite 12.

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Could a swimmer make it across the sea separating Ireland and the U.K.?

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The closest southern point will be 40 miles across, and a 47-year-old accountant, Eddie McGettigan, wearing a wet suit, made the crossing in 29 hours in 2000, going from Tuskar Rock in County Wexford to North Bishop Rock in Wales. Since the accountant was wearing a wet suit, laurels were being withheld from him.

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Regardless, that is possible.

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Now an Idiotic Big Whopper could claim that an individual could swim from, say, Ireland to Iceland—that’s the geographical equivalent of 7 million votes being faked in a U. S. presidential election.

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We pay homage to bank robber Willie Sutton and earlier bad guys like Dillinger, the James brothers, and Bonnie and Cycle for bank stick-ups.

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Someone wanting kudos might argue that he stole $7 million from Bubba’s Corner Convenience Store or Bugtussle Bank & Trust.

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Impressive (and illegal), but would you believe it?

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You may have worked your way through college behind the counter at convenience stores, and your cousin started out as a bank teller before moving up to a trust officer position. You know the following:

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• The register or cash drawer is supposed to have a limited amount of money in it.

• Once a certain limit is reached, the teller takes the excess to a safe location: the actual safe or to a supervisor who will lock it up.

• At the end of the day, the entire store may have only, say, $5,000 on hand. A skittish franchise owner may even be making periodic visits to keep the figure low. A bank and trust may have only $100,000 on hand and only that amount unless a big employer runs its pay checks through the bank.

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Hmm, I may want a big whopper if I’m getting a bit peckish, but, when we’re talking about the future of our country, let’s stay away from plain ol’ baloney and any idiotic whoppers.

 

The Hell Box ©

Posted by Howard Denson on October 8, 2022 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON.

OFTEN WE ARE CURIOUS about why this or that friend of relative chose to become, say, a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. True, we may also be so self-absorbed that we don’t give a tinker’s dam what, or why, someone becomes an accountant, an astronomer, or an anthropologist.

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I’ll pretend for a few moments that you are actually curious as to why I went from the tedium of a flunky journalist . . . to the steady routine of nearly forty years of teaching college freshmen and sophomores about composition and the humanities . . . to producing twenty-five books as an indie author.

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Let’s go back to my beginnings about making decisions about jobs and careers. First, I learned from Ms. Tipton’s praise in the third grade in Marianna that I had potential as a writer. In Miss McCabe’s seventh grade class in Pensacola, I liked to draw but suspected that I wouldn’t become another Al Capp ("Lil Abner") or Milt Caniff ("Steve Canyon") because others in the class could draw better. Two years later, I was a cartoonist and then writer for Put It Blountly, our student newspaper at Blount JHS, which was advised by our English teacher, Mrs. McCloskey. In high school in Pensacola and Norfolk, I was too shy or non-assertive to join schools’ papers, but, when we returned from that tour in Norfolk, I entered Pensacola JC and, prodded by Dean Margaret Berrisford during registration, joined the staff of the Corsair, again as cartoonist and writer.

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Clearly I could see myself writing, but I had been analyzing other professions, but dismissed each of them:

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• Doctor? Hmm, I didn’t think I would be smart enough to get through med school . . . and I didn’t like blood . . . nor like hanging around sick people I didn’t know.

• Lawyer? Possibly, but I knew that lawyers weren’t like Perry Mason and got to have clients who were really innocent . . . and I didn’t want to hang around a bunch of criminals. I also knew that I couldn’t talk to a court room filled with people.

• High school teacher of English. More realistic, but what if I got in a classroom and the students really knew all that I knew? What would I do? Besides, I’m shy and couldn’t be chalking and talking for fifty minutes per class.

• College teacher of English. See above.

• Cartoonist? It never occurred to me that an art school might actually teach me how to draw adequately. Dumb? I hear you.

• Journalist? More appealing, but didn’t you need to go to a School of Journalism, and the closest one in Florida was way across the state from Pensacola in a place called Gainesville.

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Eventually, I contracted a disease called “club-itis,” which is what happens to a college student who joins a student newspaper, athletic team, theatrical troupe, etc. and becomes more interested in the “club” activities than in the actual classes.

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At my undergraduate classes in Pensacola and at Florida State, I immersed myself in the writing and reporting about police beats, sports, and features when they struck my fancy. By the time they handed me a bachelor’s degree, I was getting hired to handle sports and regular reporting for the Bessemer section of The Birmingham News.

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Are you interested in what I wrote back then? Probably not, which doesn’t hurt my feelings since I was barely interested in the pieces myself. Let’s begin with The Bessemer News. One socialite was dismissive of what we published: “I hardly read it. It’s all weddings, obits, Little League baseball, and advertisements.” Time passed and, during the upcoming year, she was back in the office: with a story about her young son’s baseball career, then her daughter’s wedding, and finally, after the death of her husband, his obituary, and an ad for their business.

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On the Big Paper, I didn’t really have a beat but was available for any walk-ins wanting a story. They only wanted a couple of grafs about Wizard of Oz’s trainer visiting allegedly with Toto (“the world’s oldest and smartest dog” ) and a couple of grafs about white groups protesting Washington (“just let them know we were there” ). A more aggressive journalist would have established a beat, but I had a bad habit: I really only wanted to write what I wanted to write, a luxury that most journalists don’t have.

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In between humorous pieces that I wrote for my enjoyment, I was stuck with annual conventions of various groups, and those events were all the same. Let’s use the Alabama Widget Association as a generic example, but it could refer to farm association, builders, the state 4-H clubs, or whatever in any state). All stories will feature these elements:

 

• New officers will be introduced, and the reporter will duly mention each person’s name and hometown. If they are lobbying the legislature, they may have a couple of resolutions to back up their agenda.

• A keynote address will be given.

• The speakers will emphasize how their organizations and efforts make for Alabama to be great and a reason why the U.S. is the greatest nation on earth.

• The public complains about the cost of their product, unjustly so, because, if the product had kept up with the cost-of-living, it would cost more.

 

Small towns and cities had their periodic meetings, but these often went without a hitch (or anything of interest), largely because the city fathers had met privately beforehand and ironed out what they wanted the public to know.

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Since my mother liked to track what I wrote, I could mark “hd” or “hd3” over various issues for the articles that I wrote, but, if I didn’t initialize them, six months or more later, I couldn’t tell if I covered this or that event.

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When I was working as a makeup editor for the big paper, I’d field questions from printers about layout options but the makeup editor wasn’t supposed to touch and move any type. That kept an editor from taking over a composing room job, but it also made sure that some fool didn’t “pie” the type. As a printer’s devil when I was eighteen, I scraped burrs off of still-hot type and accidentally dropped them on occasion, causing me to have to reassemble the type in correct order. One quickly learns to read upside down and backwards.

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Since my then paper is no longer a daily paper (only printed three times a week), I’m sure they have trimmed the number of editions. In the last of the hot metal days, we had the Mississippi edition (for readers in a neighboring state), the state edition (and probably for readers in the Florida Panhandle and Western Georgia), and the local editions.

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The Mississippi edition often featured a page that had been wonderfully laid out with exciting stories about boating in Pago Pago or hot-air balloons in New Mexico. I envied the readers getting such a wonderful page. Then the page was pulled back, and over the day any truly interesting story was torn out and thrown into the hell box. That story's replacement might be about a sewer project in Midfield.

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The hell box was where old lead type and slugs went before they were melted down and then used again in the linotype machines and the Ludlow machine. Write something for the ages? Hardly. It was only good for an hour at most before it went into the hell box.

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That became a metaphor for my life and a reason for going in a different direction. I wanted to write something, do something, that mattered longer than an edition or even a simple day.

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Yes, I realize that I was, and am, a trifle self-indulgent. We are told that “all Americans hate their jobs,” but I didn’t hate journalism nor college teaching. I recognize that the phrase “it goes with the territory” is an insight from (traveling) sales. If you lug anvils from town to town, you expect to be using your muscles more than the Fuller Brush man does with his samples. In journalism, you write transitory items often not even good for a day (journée = “day” in French), but for an hour or so.

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For all my faults in the late Sixties, I was involved in a profession going rapidly from the hot metal days to “paper dolls” (cutting out stories to be pasted down and photographed). Old and new systems were trying (not always successfully) to mesh together. In my various flunky positions, I felt caught in the middle and was losing my temper two or three times a week.

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After graduate school and entering college teaching, systems again often didn’t meld or mesh, and I might lose my temper two or three times a month or two. You do the math. The latter is a better ratio than the weekly frustrations.

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One of the frustrations with teaching is that we often don’t know how well we have done a job. The guys and gals on our teams will graduate by and by and go out into the world. By and by, they will use all of their skills, including some that we may have taught them. But that’s down the road a fair piece, and metaphorically we don’t see a scoreboard that tells us runs, innings, etc.

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As one class concludes at the end of a term, we don’t think of our students and our efforts being thrown into a hell box. We can tell ourselves that there was some purpose to what we did.

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And, as with the cosmic question of why we are even here at all, it isn’t imperative that we know the answer to the riddle.

 

A Very, Very Closed Shop ©

Posted by Howard Denson on October 4, 2022 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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As a Literary Meerkat, I don’t expect to receive laurels handed out to the Literary Lions, but occasionally I am called upon to nominate someone for a Pulitzer or a Nobel prize. I may not object to the request . . . unless an associate has penned, say, The Merry Sluts of Madame Reba’s Chicken-Ranch.

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After all, the Cowboy Code says you may water Old Paint at the horse trough at Madame Reba’s, but it’s safer to wander down to the General Store for a sarsaparilla and maybe a box of thin wafer cookies that the Girl Scouts are selling there.

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One insight from this Literary Meerkat is that the Nobel is a very, very closed shop, whose website is electrified barbed wire designed to keep you and your input out. You can tell this by comparing comparable websites for other organizations.

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They will have a “contact” page with individuals that you can communicate with. Of course, an intern may be fielding most questions, but still they know that the managers have determined what general responses are suited for various inquiries. They are also on guard against spam and robo-mischief makers.

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If you go to the pages for the Nobel, you don’t receive any helpful information about how to make inquiries or to ask questions. And, Gentle Reader, if you are foolish enough to use their “contact” feature, you are BLOCKED. You receive a message saying this:

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Sorry, you have been blocked

You are unable to access nobelprize.org

Why have I been blocked?

This website is using a security service to protect itself from online attacks. The action you just performed triggered the security solution. There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data.

What can I do to resolve this?

You can email the site owner to let them know you were blocked. Please include what you were doing when this page came up and the Cloudflare Ray ID found at the bottom of this page.

Cloudflare Ray ID: 754f[etc.] Your IP: Click to reveal Performance & security by Cloudflare.

 

Notice that their BLOCKED response gives the user the impression that, golly, something is inappropriate.

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Now, a thinker is an individual who uses his or her mind to work through a problem or situation. Those who don’t really think often develop notions, not necessarily based on any reality. In some past sense, maybe they thought they were thinking, but they really were only “thunking.”

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Let’s explore that a bit. Apparently the best thunkers in I.T. like to use non-informational feedback, very similar to what Facebook does when its best thunkers note that jail looms for the individual foolish enough to violate standards that have been established by (what's this?) Instagram. Such an approach is similar to, say, General Motors telling a customer, “You haven’t followed the best practices as laid out in the handbook of Ford Motors.”

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Any critic is encouraged to offer possible solutions to a problem, and, despite my many faults, this Literary Meerkat will give suggestions:

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1. Not diplomatic, but perhaps truthful: “We don’t really appreciate your communications. You are strictly N.O.K. (not our kind). We only accept correspondence from truly elite thinkers. Go away and curses be upon you and your ilk.”

2. Mildly diplomatic: “We have received your request to be an official nominator for the ----- prize. Download the request form at such-and-such site and mail it to [address] by [date].”

3. Diplomatic but vague: “Your requests have been received and are being given the attention they deserve. Thank you for your interest in the goals of the Nobel committees.”

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I’m sure you can devise better responses. Put on your “thunking cap” and let me know what you come up with.

 

Finding Names for Your Characters©

Posted by Howard Denson on September 21, 2022 at 7:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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Any writer of fiction wants to avoid invading anyone’s privacy or having irate readers feel attacked because a villain has a name just like theirs. They may want to file a suit alleging that they have been defamed or held up to public ridicule.

 

Fictional villains often have powerful names that stick in our imagination. Uncle Tom’s Cabin , for examples, gives us a splendid villain in Simon Legree, and that name has gotten into the vernacular whenever we wish to refer to someone as a sadistic abuser.

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Anthony Trollope in Barchester Towers gave us another splendid villain in a vicar named Obadiah Slope, who was devious and unctuous (and played perfectly by Alan Rickman in one TV series). You can only wonder the degree to which the name Slope inspired J.K. Rowling to come up with the name of the potions wizard Severus Snape. William Faulkner could have been inspired by Trollope’s Slope when he came up with the name of Flem Snopes, but I suspect he took the name of the Scopes Monkey Trial, changed the spelling slightly, and added the first name “Flem” (suggesting phlegm that was as slippery as Snopes was).

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In comics, we have memorable names for villains, although we often don’t know the characters’ actual names without a little research. Chester Gould created “Dick Tracy” in 1931 and went on to give us such villains as Flattop Jones, Mumbles, Pruneface Boche, and others. These may be compared to the villains who bedeviled the Batman of Bob Kane and Bill Finger: Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Cat Woman, just for starters. The villain in “Superman” has a regular name that we recognize and remember: Lex Luthor. Captain Marvel a.k.a. Shazam had Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana.

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With the character names from Arthur Conan Doyle, I always thought that Sherlock Holmes was a fantastic name; that Dr. Watson was a pedestrian name suitable for his sidekick; and that Professor James Moriarty, who taught mathematics, didn’t quite seem up to the job of being a supervillain, perhaps because I never was able to envision my teachers of algebra, geometry, and trig as potential supervillains.

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In books by Edgar Rice Burroughs about the king of the jungle, I thought that Tarzan was a great name. It rolls off the tongue. Jane Porter, like Dr. Watson, had a so-so name, but I can’t recall the name of any of the human villains from the books or movies without doing some research.

 

In spy fiction, Ian Fleming (along with later screenwriters) gives us the deceptively bland name of James Bond and then villains with names like Dr. Julius No, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, and Auric Goldfinger. For the names of women in Bond tales, I just can’t shake the feeling that there’s a sexual subtext: Honeychild Rider, Pussy Galore, Plenty O’Toole, Xenia Onatopp, or Holly Goodhead. I know, I know, I should get my mind out of the gutter. I’ll try.

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Over a decade ago, I wrote a column called “Gone with the Muggles,” about some lady’s attempt to zing J.K. Rowling for ripping off her work. I wrote, “Ms. Stouffer’s book had (get this now) only twenty-four pages, whereas each Harry Potter book ranges from 600 to 700 pages. Moreover, Stouffer’s opus was an activity book with games, puzzles, and pages to color. In other words, the Harry Potter book is to Stouffer’s pamphlet as Gone with the Wind is to the label on a box of Uncle Ben’s rice.” The lady’s central character was Larry Potter, and she had also used the term “muggles” (in a different sense from what Rowling had in the Potterverse).

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I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and found that the word “muggle” was used as early as 1205. The OED also had the word being used in 1450, 1607, and 1617. The OED refers to “Muggletonian” as a member of the sect founded about 1631 by Lodowicke Muggleton and John Reeve. (The lady lost her case if you are curious.)

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For myself, whenever I was writing something decades ago, I wanted to head off unnecessary challenges, so I would grab the phonebook from Jacksonville or Birmingham to make sure (in my provincial mind) that “no one” had a particular name.

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One way to avoid a lawsuit is to think up a totally oddball name. I came up moments ago with Shadrag Dingleofer and sent the name through a google search. It shocked me to find out that the U.K. had a long-running TV soap opera named Emmerdale. An actor named Andy Devine (no, not our comedic American often featured in Westerns) played a character named Shadrack Dingle.

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For practical purposes, it is nearly impossible for a writer to find a totally unique name for a character. Try it with your own name. I googled my full legal name and only got 628 million hits. If I shortened it a bit, google hit 2.2 trillion.

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In my ghost-comedy series about Martin B. Mowbray, I had zero hits with a Boolean search for my protagonist, but, when I dropped the quotation marks to limit the search, I wound up with 1.8 trillion hits. I had less dramatic results with my Scots-among-the-Indians character, Levi Philip McGregor, but with 223 million hits.

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For the major villain in my novel set in Florida, I googled with quote marks the name of Lysander Bryan Hunter. I got one hit: to my novel, Gettysburg Redress: Robots on the Run. I removed the quote marks and wound up with 227 million hits.

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When we create universes filled with characters who are heroes or villains, we want the readers to remember their names. Sometime, we come across a name that might rival Sherlock or Huckleberry Finn. We may find that we are following in the path of Stephen Vincent Benet, who said, “I have fallen in love with American names, the sharp, gaunt names that never get fat.”

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Unless the character’s already fat, as with Kasper Gutman, played by Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon.

 

The Rare and Remarkable Elizabeth II ©

Posted by Howard Denson on September 14, 2022 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON

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I was saddened when news came that Queen Elizabeth II had died at the age of 96. She had been around so long that she almost seemed a member of the family, and I’m sure that many Brits and a fair amount of Americans felt that way.

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I should point out that she and I did have something in common. She was the great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, whereas I am the great-grandson of Queen Victoria Lollar O’Rear (who, alas, died at the age of 28 in 1897, leaving behind two girls and two boys).

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Elizabeth belonged to the Great Generation and lived a worthy life, as she did her duty until she died. I mused that, when she was meeting the newly designated Prime Minister, Liz Truss, two days before her death that she may have been like my beloved grandmother, Clare O’Rear Stephenson. who made it to 91. Her smart-aleck daughters began calling their mother “Mammy” because she would admire a family member’s baby and say, “Give me some Mammy sugar” and kiss the baby on its neck. In her later years, when Mammy had a visit from one of her children, grandchildren, or close friends, she played the role of an animated and healthy woman. But when the visit was over, she often had to stay in bed for a day or two to recharge her batteries.

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It’s not surprising that the media covered the many tributes to the queen's life but then turned its attention to a fair amount of carping, some of it being silly, historically flawed, or simply tacky. A few examples:

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• Some complained about the twelve days of mourning, arguing that they should get on with it and enough grief is enough. They overlook the rituals associated with the deaths of presidents, premiers, and monarchs . . . and they feel they should have the right to tell people how long their grieving process should last.

• Some faulted the monarchy for the U.K.’s history of slavery.

• Others faulted the monarchy for the U.K.’s mistakes during colonialism.

• Some would fret about how much power she actually had.

• Oh, yes, they’d also take a dig about her performance during the Princess Di troubles and her death.

• Now that the Queen is dead, it’s really time to abolish the monarchy.

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People process her life and its end as if Elizabeth was part of a soap opera, with heroes and villains, desires and dislikes, and pro’s and con’s of decisions that various characters make. We might want to excuse this tendency because the Windsors have been subjects of such TV series as The Crown and The Royal Family, and films ranging from The King’s Speech to bio-pics of Maggie Thatcher or others. Elizabeth behaved herself and did her duty, unlike David (a.k.a. Edward VIII), who was foolish enough to throw away the crown and sympathize a bit too much with the Third Reich. She saw her introverted father do his duty. Bertie (a.k.a. George VI) stuttered and smoked too much, but a king’s gotta do what a king’s gotta do. Others simply couldn’t keep their pants on.

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Americans often view celebrities as part of a national soap opera (e.g., reality show “stars” to actors to rockers and athletes). We devote too much attention to wondering if She and He will actually get back again and will rehab work this time.

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Yet for all of our supposed knowledge about Elizabeth II, we hear that no outsider really knew the real person. In that respect, she was like Ronald Reagan, who had a public persona but a wall that concealed the real Ronald. That so baffled Edmund Morris that he fudged on writing the presidential biography. We didn’t end up with a volume that equaled his excellent biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Metaphorically, he punted on first down by using a fictional device of an observer trying to get an insight into the young actor and eventual politician.

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We probably don’t want to consider that the persona we build and parade before others for decades really IS the person we are. (Have a cuppa and debate the matter with your chums.)

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Elizabeth was remarkable in the degree to which she kept her opinions to herself and let an aura of mystery follow her around for 96 years. Many political and public figures lack this ability.

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In the U.S., POTUS #45 gave us the ultimate example of a narcissistic public figure who craves the spotlight with constant tweets or spontaneous remarks to reporters. As a sideshow barker and a sleazy wheeler-dealer, #45 will do say anything and take shortcuts to seal the deal, apparently unaware that his tweets and on-camera remarks are kept and thrown back at him whenever his lies are noteworthy.

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He left us with no sense of mystery and dignity, except for observers wondering what makes a person continuously act that way.

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Machiavelli in The Prince advised the up-and-coming leaders to assume a persona of seeming virtue. His advice is often reduced to “the means justify the means,” which is not what Machiavelli wrote. He warned the prince-to-be that others were watching and to mind how his acts were perceived.

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Back when British monarchs held life-or-death power, Elizabeth I understood that she had to check regularly with her subjects. Her successor, James I (whose team revised the Bible) got into his mind that the king was God’s anointed and he could damn well do whatever he pleased. Unfortunately, this “wisest fool in Christendom” taught this doctrine to his son, Charles, who persisted in believing that whatever he did was right and proper. His foolishness resulted in Parliament chopping off his head about 140 years before the French snicked off the head of Louis XVI.

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After a dalliance with a commonwealth under Cromwell, the Royalists and the general public wanted a return to the good old days, but with some safeguards. They restored a Stuart to the throne, but Charles II was keenly aware that Parliament called the shots and, if he got too big for his wig, he could end up minus a skull.

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His brother, James II, came to the throne with too much enthusiasm for Catholicism. When push came to shove, he skedaddled and Parliament welcomed the protestants William and Mary (James’ daughter). Over three centuries, the main minister became known as the Prime Minister, with the first “modern” version of that being William Pitt the Younger under George III.

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Slavery goes back thousands of years, but in the U.K. the industrial-agribusiness variety of slavery largely took place under the leadership of Parliament and the prime ministers. The royals in the 1700s didn’t directly own slaves (unlike our later early presidents), but they invested in companies that relied on slave trade. The abolitionists (from common folks) opposed the peculiar institution. We pay homage to William Wilberforce, a member of the House of Commons, for his decades-long persistence in getting the slave trade stopped and shortly before his death the abolishment of slavery itself in 1833.

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The English colonies date back to the days of monarchs with fairly absolute power, but colonialism for the U.K. really kicked into high gear thanks to the moneyed class. This certainly included the royals but was dominated even more by bankers and speculators. They established the Virginia Company of London, the East India Company, and other private organizations. They had one goal: make money, lots of it.

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Transgressions, atrocities, and incompetencies occurred so much under the private companies, the British administrators, and the military that any MEGA movement to Make the Empire Great Again would have to whitewash the negatives like mad.

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The point? It was not Elizabeth II’s responsibility (nor within her power) to right the wrongs of colonialism.

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The current syllogism in many venues is this:

 

• So-in-so is a great person.

• Great persons have power to do things.

• Such-and-such needs to be done.

• So-in-so isn’t doing it.

• Therefore, So-in-so is a pathetic excuse for a human being.

 

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Those on the far left and right often make those arguments.

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As critics gripe that it’s time to end the monarchy in the U.K., we hear very little debate, at least in the U.S., about some rationale for keeping the system:

• Tourists are attracted to Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard, the Tower of London, the tours of Windsor Castle, and the like. London doesn’t need its version of Disney World since it already has the equivalent.

• The crown owns practically all of the properties that they occupy, and people erroneously assume that making the U.K. a republic would automatically free up capital.

• The crown has extensive employees that it pays for.

• The crown has millions/billions but often in property that can’t be sold. However, if the monarchy were abolished, Charles III, in theory, would have the option of selling Buckingham Palace to, say, the Blackstone Group, which might convert it to a more upscale Motel 6.

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Even as a constitutional monarch, Charles III will be challenged to match or even approximate the track record of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor.

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She was, after all, one rare and remarkable human being.

 


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