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The Dour Scotman vs. the Mediterranean

Posted by Howard Denson on April 5, 2019 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON  

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 Let us talk about “non-sexual inappropriate touching,” since that is in the news lately with discussions about “personal space.”

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First, let us discount the creeps and criminals and focus on other types of touching or not-touching. I will argue that people generally fall into one of two camps: I belong to the “dour Scotsman” or the Celtic-Appalachian camp. The other camp is the “Italian” or the “Mediterranean camp.”

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We dour Scots are standing there, arms at our side and ready at the sound of a flute to start dancing and kicking up our heels, but still keeping our arms straight down at our sides. The Med campers, called Luigi or Zorba the Greek, are hollering “Mama, mia” and hugging and laughing and whooping to beat the band.

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Suffice it to say we all have our body zones, and our personal space differs from each culture or individual. An Irish or a Mideast friend, for example, may get close enough for me to get nervous. If I don’t try to step away, it’s because I assume he and I may be “talking a little treason,” as revolutionaries used to do.

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Growing up and visiting with those in the Stephenson clan, I was quite the hugger, but I was among those I trusted more than anyone else in the world. I won’t list the allied families. Some of them I would not trust all that much. They were likely to be dour Scots, except when they were indulging in friendship in a bottle.

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Body space comes into play in a variety of ways. For example, one creep was using a camera on a stick to shoot pixs up the dresses of women and girls. An idiotic judge in at one case let the creep off, saying there was no law against it. Here is why the judge is an idiot. We have a cocoon metaphorically that is, say, three inches out from our body. Imagine someone wearing a long overcoat or a burka. Whatever is under the overcoat or burka is in the private domain of the woman or girl . . . or me, if I could afford to buy an authentic kilt. If you stick a camera in there, you will end up with an unexpected f-stop.

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You can’t stand in an elevator door and deliberately keep me and others from exiting. If we are walking down the street, you can’t step in front of us and block the way. If we try to step around you and you move to block us, that’s also a modified version of hostage taking or kidnapping. A supervisor who pins an employee against the wall, without touching the individual (but impeding escape), runs a serious risk of harassment.

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With the brouhaha around Joe Biden’s conduct, we find the offense is compromised seriously by outright political mudslinging. The first person to come forth with “inappropriate touching” complaints was a supporter of Bernie Sanders . . . and is still a campaign worker. Three others emerged, and I’ve not followed their complaints seriously. The object is to knock Biden from the race with these three reasons: “Joe, you don’t want to lose your reputation over more reports about ‘your behavior.’ Joe, you are old and white, and it’s perfectly okay for us to practice ageism and even racism. And. Joe, you should rest on your laurels and be satisfied with being a former vice president.” (Quick: Name the vice president of Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover, or Gerald Ford. I can, but I’m a political wonk.)

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Politicos and their staff will do almost anything to destroy an opponent’s chances to win a nomination. Shame on them, but shame on the media, too. Their hands are definitely not clean. In 1968, George Romney had an excellent reputation and a good chance to win the GOP nomination, but, after a trip to Vietnam, he claimed he had been “brain-washed” by the generals. The media went crazy. “Do we want someone who can be mentally manipulated?” As it turned out, when LBJ’s Defense Secretary Robert McNamara wrote his memoirs, he admitted that the Vietnam War was not winnable. In 1972, Senator Edmund Muskie was campaigning for the Democratic nomination when the Nixon dirty tricks team forged a letter published in the Manchester Union Leader. It was called “the Canuck letter” and accused Muskie for making slurs against voters of French-Canadian descent. Outraged, Muskie was brought to tears in fighting the false accusations, but what wisdom did the media carry away: “Muskie is a cry-baby.” There was no revulsion about what Nixon’s CREEP team did.

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John McCain ran into the any-charge-will-do-to-defeat-him buzzsaw. His critics said he had a temper, alas, a sign of possible mental instability (Eisenhower had a temper, ditto for most presidents). “No, didn’t you hear? He’s queer . . . But the main problem is that he had a black child out of wedlock.” (Dubya’s crew had twisted the facts in South Carolina since his daughter had adopted a child from Bangladesh.)

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The media also have sins of omission: what they didn’t tell. During FDR’s terms, they almost never shot photos of Roosevelt in his wheelchair. They looked the other way while JFK cavorted with his girl friends. When the joke Donald Trump came along, they treated him seriously, even while he was lying right and left. He was able to beat his sixteen competitors, most of whom would have made better presidents.

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Let’s get back to personal space and apologies. We need to recognize that we drop our inhibitions in certain situations. If we are at a party and celebrating our alma mater finally winning a national championship, we end up high-fiving and touching strangers or acquaintances more that we might normally do. If we are going “rah, rah, rah” for a candidate, the personal space rules don’t apply so much. The actions involve familial touching. We celebrate with family members for our team. (Forget Erskine Caldwell or Faulkner family celebrations.)

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There is also the “blooper reel” situation. Any fan of a film franchise or TV franchise may look forward to the “blooper reel.” The cast may break up when an actor says, “I’ve got to shit down for a moment.” If comedic actors are improvising, it will look like they are horsing around. Amid a late night of tomfoolery, they may find a kernel that could be expanded and developed.

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Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken got caught up in “blooper reel” behavior. He kicked into show biz behavior and SNL-style clowning for the camera by pantomiming grabbing the boobs of a sleeping woman. During the gag, he neither touched her nor invaded her personal space according to my burka/overcoat definition.

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Then the “gotcha” crossroads arrive. We can assume that some personal space difference occurred, or we can go into prosecutorial mode and try to lock the bastard up. The latter is often presented as “we want our team to be purer” and “we don’t have to stoop to their level.” Articles and editorial cartoons start to present Franken and Biden alongside of my once hero Bill Cosby, Anthony Weiner, and others.

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Here is the underlying problem. Statistics vary, but we regularly read about victims of rape or sexual aggression. As I recall the numbers, every eighth female has been subjected to rape, statutory rape, sexual assault, or the like. The number for males is about every tenth male is a victim. Many of them never come forward, fearing that they will be raped or assaulted by the court system or the media attention. They look at the conviction rate for accused rapists, and the low numbers cause them to despair.

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When politicians go to a rally with, say, 2,000 people there, half of them female and half female, they will encounter 100 to 125 men and women who may have some sexual assault trauma. The politicians are there to press the flesh (note the phrase). It is unlikely that everyone will shake hands or do air kiss-kisses with the candidates, but a significant number may emerge feeling “uncomfortable.”

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 Observers may say, “I believe her that it happened.”

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I believe it happened too, but so what? Familial pressing the flesh isn’t the same as what real sexual aggressors have engaged in.

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Meanwhile, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a model of gentlemanly behavior is tuned to Fox and tweeting like mad.

 

 

 

 

Must We, Donnie? Really, Must We?

Posted by Howard Denson on March 22, 2019 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)
By HOWARD DENSON

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Two years into a presidency, even the opponents of an incumbent generally discover something admirable or commendable about the country's fearless leader. Alas, we have slipped through a portal into Planet Earth in an Alternate Universe.

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Typically, I comment about Trump about how he exemplifies the seven deadly sins: gluttony, avarice, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and anger. The Heil Trumpers, of course, will disagree. They see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil about their Führer, so any Trumpers quit reading this and go about your business of finding socialism and communism under every bush . . . except those that are plastic potted plants in rooms where your Führer confers in secret with Real Commies who know how to play him for a fool.

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Tying Trump to seven deadly sins may be overkill since his flaws can be reduced to about three. Since the Catlicks argue that Pride is the mother of all sins, we point to Trump's colossal narcissism. His Pride makes him create the fiction of "my father loaned me a million dollars, and I paid him back, with interest." Pops really outright gave him $400+ million in today's money. Pride makes such a person conceal his federal income tax forms. Pride makes someone hide his school transcripts because he wants to claim to be really bright, when he was really a D to C student.

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Pride also makes him ignore the social and political conventions. For example, you don't speak ill of the dead, except Donnie does. You don't make snarky remarks about parents who have lost sons or daughters in America's service, except Donnie does. You don't have secret talks with leaders of hostile regimes, except Donnie does.

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His flaws can be traced to this deficiency: his gargantuan stupidity. Some CEO's or leaders take their advice from the last person they talk to. Dubya Bush had this problem, or it was just easier for him to rubberstamp what his military-industrial complex VP recommended. Some leaders are mostly smart, but not always. Candidate Nixon lost to Kennedy in the 1960 debates but came close to winning anyway. He did a self inventory and realized the camera just didn't like him that much. In 1968 and 1972, he ignored calls for debates with Humphrey or McGovern, but he courted the camera, even appearing on "Laugh In," saying "Sock it to me?" He learned how to do innocuous small talk, usually about sports, and came across as one of the boys. Then his wisdom button shut down, and he covered up the Watergate break-in because he apparently wanted to duplicate FDR's stunning defeat in 1936 of Alf Landon (who won only two states out of forty-eight). Nixon edged out FDR's percentage since McGovern only won Massachusetts (out of fifty states).

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Serious leaders and executives worry about improving themselves. They hire consultants and coaches who help them to become the best they can be. But narcissism and stupidity cause individuals to believe they are just as fine as they are.

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Wise leaders could take tips from popular singers who aged well over the decades. Frank Sinatra went from being Tommy Dorsey's "boy singer," with a gentle and fragile voice, to being an adult full of sexual energy and memories of past loss. Similarly, Peggy Lee was the peppy "girl singer" for Benny Goodman, but she evolved into a sexy lady and then a dignified queen of song, who still reminded listeners of her past glories. As they aged and their voices changed, they studied what they could do and did it well.

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A stupid person believes, dammit, he's fine as is, greater than anyone else, mind you, hell, even the greatest ever. "Besides where's my Nobel prize and who's going to carve me on Mount Rushmore."

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Most individuals, once in power, can be guided to choose their battles wisely. If an issue or an opponent can't be satisfied, one technique is to engage in island-hopping. That approach from World War II meant the Allies didn't have to commit themselves to fighting the Japanese on every island between our troops and the mainland. The islands that were bypassed simply declined in importance since their supplies no longer got through.

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With actual people, a wise person doesn't fight with dead people. Huck Finn lost interest in Jim's stories about Moses once he learned that the guy had died two or three millenia before. Huck said, "I don't take no stock in dead people. However, Donnie does, claiming John McCain was a "horrible" person.

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Donnie fights with dead people because of a common affliction: He's ignorant and doesn't know what to say. He doesn't know to get with coaches to figure out Nixonian small talk or amiable bromides that will kill air time and make himself at least look a little presidential. He needs to kill time because he's too dumb to know what to say next. Hillary? Crooked Hillary, lock her up. McCain? Horrible person. The wall? Ah yes, really need it to keep out the rapists. Riff on the themes, say them over and over, and you've talked almost two hours about nothing.

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Must we, Donnie? Really, must we?

The Swans of Higher Ed

Posted by Howard Denson on March 16, 2019 at 9:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 

By HOWARD DENSON 

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Art historian Kenneth Clark had a throw-away line in one of his TV series, perhaps the one on Rembrandt. With maybe some pique at having to cadge donations from the wealthy, he was talking about the elite who had attended Oxbridge (i.e., the best schools): "One mustn’t overrate the culture of what used to be called the top people before the wars. They had charming manners, but they were as ignorant as swans. "

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Tying ignorance to swans puzzled me. Poets loved to contrast wise owls to, say, nightingales, those frivolous little things who chirp, chirp, chirp their way through life. When I focused on his basic message, I understood he meant that going to the best school or university doesn’t mean you emerge as a wise or even educated person.

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Exhibit A of this rule in America used to be George W. Bush. His joke-writers had him pay tribute to William F. Buckley Jr. with this line: “Bill went to Yale and wrote a book. I went to Yale and read a book.” (That line is from memory. Your mind will rot if you scroll through all of Dubya’s quotes looking for the exact wording.)

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I process all of the above because of the scandal of the month involving a few rich folk and celebrities bribing college officials and coaches to get their precious DNA carriers into prestige schools. My family avoided such temptation because of our stalwart honesty, not to forget our lack of funds, plus my own innate laziness.

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In the late Fifties, we were stationed again in Pensacola, and, as a Navy brat from an enlisted family, I had limited options about where to attend school. I wanted to stay as close to Pensacola as possible. My options were Florida State, Florida, and Auburn. Financially, I added Pensacola Junior College to the list, but did "junior" mean that it was less than suitable? (I’m o-l-d so this was before the University of West Florida was established.)

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Ah well, so PJC it was, and, at eighteen, I finally had to learn how to drive and use a stick shift in Grandma’s 1951 Mercury to get from Warrington to the college near the Pensacola airport. At PJC, I sorted out my goals, actually my anti-goals. I ruled out studying to be a doctor because (a) I suspected I wasn’t smart enough, (b) it would take a long time, (c) it would cost and arm and a leg, and (d) I don’t like being around blood and sick people.

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I ruled out studying for the law for many of the above reasons, plus a disinclination to defend the guilty and associate with criminals. At eighteen, I was indifferent to teaching since I didn’t like to talk to a bunch of people, especially those who might know as much as I do anyway. When I became involved in The Corsair, our student newspaper, I figured that journalism might be my career. FSU didn’t have a J school, so I opted to major in English (a wise decision, it turned out).

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Now, how often in grade school and college did I cheat? Very few times. In the fifth grade, our old-fashioned desks still had holes in which ink wells could have been placed. On a spelling test I tried to slide the difficult words up to the hole, but the effort was too much trouble.

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In Latin in high school and German and Greek in college, when it came time to translate material, it never occurred to me to track down an English version of Caesar’s Gallic wars or pieces by Goethe. I labored through it, like doing a crossword puzzle, and remain inept in those languages to this day.

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At FSU, I got close to the standard of a university student when I discovered the academic journals in the library. I went down the aisles of scholarly publications and flipped through all relating to my courses (e.g., a seminar on Pope, Samuel Johnson, and their buddies). Often I would wait till two nights before a paper was due, get a notion on my own, and bang away at my portable typewriter on erasable paper. It was just God and me, and sometimes I got an A but God failed to make more than a C.

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In graduate school, I encountered a major form of cheating. A cheater (whom I will call Dexter Cheatham) was in the doctoral program, and, when it came time to turn in a major paper, Dex would drive from Mississippi to Gainesville and rip off several masters’ theses (and perhaps dissertations). He would take them back to our campus, retype them in the format desired, and turn them in. Several fellow graduate students knew what he was doing. They didn’t turn him in, and neither did I, not wanting to be a snitch.

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When he was applying for a position at our college, I did go to a key person on a screening committee and say, "I wouldn’t hire Dexter Cheatham. Don’t ask me to say more, but he is not an ethical person."

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It is quite easy to engage in academic snobbery. Teachers and profs do it all the time. If a college has four campuses, East Campus may argue it is the best, while the other three are slogging through the academic year. West Campus may say, no, we are the best campus. And so on.

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When you truly start rating the top schools, you will have the top tier schools (Harvard, MIT, etc.). In the second tier are absolutely excellent state schools (Duke, etc.); third tier, regular state universities (FSU, UF, etc.). Fourth tier is a category for smaller (non flagship schools), which includes most institutions.

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Socrates went about saying how ignorant he actually was. That ignorance can be projected to all levels of education. We can even paraphrase Tom Lehrer: "Our level of knowledge is like a sewer. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it."

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POST SCRIPT: The Chronicle of Higher Education and a few other publications regularly list the top colleges and university in the U.S. A particular college may go up or down in the annual listings. One school within a university may be top tier, while the overall rating for the institution is third tier.

 

All in the Family, SNAFU

Posted by Howard Denson on March 2, 2019 at 11:35 PM Comments comments (0)

 

By HOWARD DENSON  

 Washington observers have intensified their complaints against the Donald Trump White House, and a good portion of the criticism involves Trump’s reliance on family members in key posts. It is NOT the structure of the better-managed presidencies, from FDR to Reagan to Obama.

In fact, most presidents have not involved their children or siblings in White House affairs.

Lyndon Johnson, Nixon, and Carter had troublesome brothers to whom they knew not to give any serious or even minor duties. JFK had a very competent Bobby in the cabinet, until nepotism legislation was passed essentially saying, “If you have even a highly competent relative, he or she may not be given a cabinet post.”

It simply wasn’t an issue with most presidents, either because their children were too young or primarily female in an age of male dominance. John Eisenhower was old enough, but he was pursuing a military career. He retired as a brigadier general. Under Nixon, he had been an ambassador to Belgium.

Abraham Lincoln’s son Robert spent the last weeks of the war on the staff of General Grant, and, upon Abe’s assassination, the 22-year-old went to the White House and destroyed certain documents. That practice is suspicious in modern terms but was common before the presidents planned their official libraries for papers. Robert served several presidents, being in the vicinity when Garfield and McKinley were assassinated. He discouraged close contact with presidents fearing he might be a jinx. Like many presidential offspring, he refused to consider running for the highest office.

A more thorough scholar than I would know all the minutiae of family members of presidents, including such lesser lights as either Harrison, Fillmore, or the next one that you and I wouldn’t think of anyway. Washington had no children. Adams had a clever and talented son, John Quincy, who had diplomatic skills that kept him busy in Europe during several presidencies, including his father’s.

Three prominent examples show why it’s best not to involve family members in the operation of the White House and presidency. First example is U. S. Grant, who was an honorable individual but, perhaps because a life-time of poverty, admired Great Men of Wealth more than he should. “The Gilded Age” is a term applied to his and later presidencies. His brother became involved in shaky financial enterprises and, after Grant’s presidency, his son, and then he himself, became involved in an even shakier enterprise. Helped out by wealthy friends, Grant worked to clear all debts, and, as his life came to an end, he fought off the Grim Reaper long enough to complete his memoirs. He left his wife very well cared for.

FDR relied greatly on his son James, who functioned as a chief of staff or executive secretary before his father was elected president. During FDR’s presidency, he continued that role for a while and became known as “the assistant U.S. president.” He was also involved in some financial dealings, and the GOP set up a howl about the corruption or possible corruption of the arrangement. Eventually, he left government and involved himself for a while in movies in California and then in other enterprises.

Trump provides the third example since daughter Ivanka, son Donald Jr., and son-in-law Jared have stayed immersed in Trump Org business and have been wheeling and dealing while supposedly working for the government. They further compromised themselves with their complicity in shady deals and in lying about those deals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accommodations

Posted by Howard Denson on February 14, 2019 at 7:35 PM Comments comments (1)


                                              By HOWARD DENSON
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When I was teaching English and humanities at what is now FSCJ, I kept my potentially handicapped students in mind. For example, in humanities classes, I would ask students to do this exercise: Analyze a painting or piece of art according to (a) major and minor lines, plus balance, and perhaps the theory of thirds, (b) form, (c) depth (foreground, middle, background), and (d) color. Students had the option of creating their own artwork, whether a poem or whatever.

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 My spiel automatically mentioned, “If you have a handicap, let me know, and we can work around it.” One student saw me at the end of class and mentioned he was visually impaired. I had noticed that he was using a mini-periscope device to look at slides projected on a screen. I mentioned some alternative approaches, and he said he probably could do just fine. He did . . . and made an “A” in the class. On other occasions, I’d devise exercises using clay and the tactile senses.
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In courses involving reading (Ray Bradbury’s I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC collection in one course; John Gardner’s GRENDEL in another, I made tapes. I gave my classroom remarks about Ray’s stories and went through all of the stories in the collection. With GRENDEL, I read aloud onto a tape and, in my best Hal Holbrook-approach, did the voices, and had the most fun doing the Dragon. I put the tapes on reserve in the library, and students could make their own copies if they desired.
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Not only did I make the tapes for slow-readers, but I realize I'm a fast talker and such an aid might be helpful. 
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One term a counselor flagged me down and said she wanted to tell me about two students who had special needs (let’s call them Dick and Jane). I wasn’t picking up on the lingo but finally understood what she meant. Dick didn’t make it through the class, but Jane attempted all of the required work. She fell short of a passing grade but signed up again the next term and managed to accumulate all of the required points.

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 In Comp I, I regularly taught Helen Keller’s “The Most Important Day.” It told of the day that her teacher, Ann Sullivan came to Ivy Green, her home in Tuscumbia. Helen wrote the essay for her own college class, and she did it despite being blind and deaf. The incident really comes to life in the films of “The Miracle Worker.”
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My college once had a financial crisis and made cuts in various ways. In the office that dealt with handicapped students, they had nine employees among the various campuses and centers. Who did the bean-counters choose to cut? Of course, they chose Mary, the ONE employee who had a handicap. Due to diabetes, she had gone blind at age nineteen.

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In those pre-contract days, I assisted faculty with grievances and was invited to her house to see if the paper work was in order. I saw immediately that my help wasn’t necessary. She had done brilliant work, and I wound up being schooled in the extra features on a PC that made life easier for someone with no or low vision.
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The college administration then and afterwards liked to say, “We’ve never lost a case.” That may have been true, but Mary and her attorney had just a good case that the college settled, giving her back pay for the time she was wrongfully terminated.
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In the Eighties, I was visiting relatives in my hometown when one of them had a guest I’ll call Valerie, who was an employee at the Talladega School for the Blind. She and I got into a discussion about the Helen Keller essay, and I mentioned what a hellion little Helen was before Ann Sullivan arrived and imposed some order.
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Valerie said, “You wouldn’t believe how little the children often know when they arrive at Talladega.” Why? Their parents viewed their children with pity and suffered from the “poor little blind girl/boy” ailment. They had done EVERYTHING for their poor little children. “Many of them didn’t even know how to tie their shoes,” she said. “They couldn’t dress themselves, brush their teeth, feed themselves, or bathe themselves.”

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Other parents know that they should require their handicapped children to do all that was possible for them to do. It makes them self-sufficient and helps them to make their way in the world.
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We can also err in a different direction. For example, we “abled” individuals may engage in pity and put the handicapped on pedestals, reasoning, “They are short-changed in life and must be noble for suffering so.”
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In reality, a handicapped child or person is entitled to all the virtues and faults that you and I suffer from . . . or enjoy. They can be as lazy as I was as an undergraduate. They can try to be weasels (who seek ways to slip through the cracks to a winning grade) or busy bees/beavers (who make teachers proud of them).

Sins of the Whites

Posted by Howard Denson on February 7, 2019 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)

By HOWARD DENSON 

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The Human Comedy today features those on the far right condemning other races of trying to destroy the world. Then the curtain is pulled closed briefly and then opened, and those on the left take the stage to condemn whites for all of the evils of the world.

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Both groups are off base, of course, and it is only I, the modern Kassandra, who sees the truth, but, also naturally, no one will listen to my pronouncements except our fifteen-year-old canine, Daphne, who can't hear much anyway. Ah, well, I shall bear up.

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The problem begins with the definition of “white.” It refers to Caucasians and includes your traditional residents of the British Isles, Europe, much of the Mediterranean, and across old Persia into India.

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An impolite British politician noted a half century ago, “[N-words] begin at Calais.” In case your geography is rough, that's right across the English Channel and basically groups the French, Belgians, Spanish, Italians, etc. with the Fuzzy-Wuzzlies and Hotentots of Africa.

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In the 19th Century, linguists studied languages, where the languages began and their relationships, if any, with each other. “Aryan” was a term for one limb of the language tree. When the proto-white supremacists came along, they stole the term and applied it to race, especially where everyone had blond hair and blue eyes. Even Jesus, they argued, looked like a poster child for Hitler Youth. It was a hop, skip, and a jump to go from that to the kilns of Nazi concentration camps.

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I'm too lazy to look up the exact percentages, but those who study DNA say that the DNA of humans and frogs is about 97 percent alike. The DNA of chimps to humans is even closer. The DNA differences between whites and Asians or Africans are negligible.

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Essentially, we're all similar, although our bodies may have adjusted our appearance to enable us to survive in the frigid north or the arid south. Someone brushes aside that observation and says, “No matter, the whites are the aggressive ones.”

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That's simply not true. All races and creeds are equally aggressive. The biblical flood occurred because of humans were acting like total assholes. (I believe I've quoted Genesis correctly.)

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Look what the whites did to the Native Americans,” the cry goes. “They wiped out the great nationalities of Latin America,” etc. “They brought disease and deliberately killed.”

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Actually, not quite.

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Europeans had a vague idea of germs and cleanliness up till the mid-1850s, when they were tracking cholera. Some doctors would strive to cut down on sepsis, only to have older doctors (as happened with one unlucky U.S. president) stick an unwashed finger into a wound to check the direction of a bullet.

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Thomas Eakins demonstrated this mentality with two paintings. “The Gross Clinic” (1875) showed surgeons conducting an operation wearing street clothes, while “The Agnew Clinic” (1889) showed the surgeons and assistants in antiseptic white garb . . . but using bare hands and not rubber gloves.

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Whites in the 1700s might manage to get a blanket of a plague victim into the hands of a bothersome Indian tribe, but they generally lacked overall knowledge about germs and contagion.

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So the whites (the Spanish) interfered with Aztecs' rituals of cutting out the hearts of victims of the week. Hundreds of thousands perished.

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The Aztecs' mistreatment of other tribes caused them to ally themselves with Spanish, no doubt arguing, “What have we got to lose? What could go wrong?” Plenty, it turned out.

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Time passed, and the Anglo-Americans were encroaching upon the lands of Native Americans and Spanish in the Southwest. Atrocity here, atrocity there . . . and the wicked whites get blamed.

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Except the ones who destroyed Montezuma's kingdom and robbed the gold from whoever had any were whites, too.

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Some like to extol the virtues of life before “whites” arrived. They create a paradise where the so-called Noble Savage lived a life that was honorable and peaceful.

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That works, if you disregard the wars between tribes in the Americas . . . or Africa . . . or Asia.

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We can safely imagine a Monty Python scene where males are getting tanked up on some fermented beverage until someone shouts, “I'm bored! Let's burn and steal and murder and rape!” Then they have to sort it out: First, you take what's valuable and, if you want to rape the wicker basket, okay that's weird but it's your prerogative. We don't live in a primitive paradise for nothing, eh?

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Sigh.

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To paraphrase Mark Twain: “God created the monkey because he was disappointed in homo sapiens.”

The Racist Inside Us

Posted by Howard Denson on February 5, 2019 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON  

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Hello, my name is Howard, and I'm a racist.

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Come now, don't be shocked. You are one, too.

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We may protest, "That can't be so! I support diversity! I've never hurt someone because of race, ethnicity, or whatever."

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Actually, since "racist" has floating definitions, someone could argue that we are both full of hooey.

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Concerning myself, I was born in Alabama in the Forties, lived in the turbulent Fifties, and can look at my family history. Most male forebears back in the 1860s fought for the Confederacy or were members of the pro-CSA home guard. A couple of relatives out of Winston County (aka "the Free State of Winston") fought for the Union. One great-grandfather was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, probably joining in the 1920s.

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The CSA and the KKK had similar recruiting techniques: You are either with us or against us. With Army recruiters, they had a second technique: "If you don't want to join, would you prefer us to hang you, shoot you, or throw you off that cliff?" Since the public today often doesn't know beans about history, they call CSA soldiers "traitors," when, in reality, if they were given the same options, they'd join up and hope for the best.

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The Klan, no doubt, was glad to recruit Thomas Jackson Denson because he was a popular figure in the Sacred Harp (aka shaped note) community. He taught singing classes from Georgia out to Texas, and the Klan then must have figured he would bring in a lot of recruits. I have no family stories about TJ ever trying to recruit anyone, wear a bed sheet, or carry a fiery torch. It may have been a matter of "I either join or they'll burn down my barn."

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Marks against my diversity include these:

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I attended segregated schools all through primary and secondary grades and even through Florida State. When I was bored and taking classes in Birmingham, a black minister was in our class in Greek Literature in Translation and thank God, too, for he was the smartest person in the class and headed off those awkward moments when the teacher asks a question and the students haven't the foggiest about what he's talking about.

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In the area of entertainment, I enjoyed songs on the radio by Al Jolson, and my family took me and brother John to see "The Jolson Story" in the Forties. Larry Parks played Jolson, whle Al provided the songs. In one of the scenes, when Jolson was performing in blackface, it actually was the older Jolson. Eddie Cantor wore blackface. On radio, we had "Amos and Andy." The NAACP was appalled by the characters in the early Thirties. By the time they got to radio in Forties and to TV in the Fifties they had toned down. The characters were played by two white men, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll (who donned blackface to do a couple of movies).

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I accepted segregation in Jasper, Alabama; Vidalia, Georgia; Marianna and Pensacola, Florida; and elsewhere. Yet segregation also had its contradictions. When a black person was downtown, where did he or she go to the bathroom? The courthouse probably had separate restrooms for races, but where else? Where did they go to get a Coke or a hamburger (in these pre-McDonalds days)? At the movies in small towns, they bought tickets at a separate door and sat in the balcony. (Grumble, I loved the balcony.) In Birmingham or Atlanta, they simply had their own theatres, which rarely showed first-run films.

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I came up against discrimination when I first tried to enroll in the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I filled out the application form, and it came to a space for race. Now in the late Fifties at Pensacola Junior College, the textbook referred to these races: Caucasian, Mongolian, and Ethiopian. (One textbook still referred to the Piltdown Man which had been proven to be a hoax ten years before.)

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So I put down "C" for race, finished the form, and sent it on . . . only to have it rejected. Outraged, I disputed their assessment and wrote one of my letters that you would file under "you guys are total idiots, and it's only because Roy and Gene wouldn't like it that I don't blow you away."

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Later, I learned they were assuming that "C" stood for "Colored." They were engaging in a method to discourage black enrollment. (Still true? Of course, not. UAB is quite respectable.)

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Lesson? Coloreds or African Americans have to jump hurdles that whites don't. My UAB experience was probably justified. A year or so ago, a DNA test revealed that I am 2% African (Senegal to Bantus). The one-drop rule, you know.

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We always had lots of photographs and occasional home movies when I was growing up (my father was a Navy photographer). I also learned how to take pictures, etc., so it is natural for me to wonder if I had any incriminating images that might ruin my political career.

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Blackface?

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I could have gone with that, except I was lazy and easily embarrassed. The Virginia governor was complaining about getting shoe polish off his face. Jeez, guy, they didn't use shoe polish. You can't do a matinee and an evening performance, sing your ass off about my sweet Mammy in Alabamy, and then get the shoe polish off. You'd be down to bone after a week of this. No, you use burnt cork and apply that. It will come off with relative ease with face cream. Do I know that from experience? Nope, I'm a reader who was too lazy to try.

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A second problem would be, okay, say I'm in blackface. What if I'm on the way to a party and get pulled over by a cop? Is he going to beat the daylights out of me because of my smart mouth? Or, if he's a "colored" cop is he going to throw the book at me because I'm a white idiot. Even worse (jumping forward in time), what if my encounter was with one of my African American students? All of those fears only confirms an adage from H. L. Mencken: "Conscience is the inner voice that warns us that someone might be looking."

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My trip through Possible Incriminating Photographs does reveal two possible embarrassments.

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First, after watching the film, "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1962 version), I recalled an angry scene in which the Argentinian Madariaga (Lee J. Cobb) rants about fascists and what they will bring (Conquest, War, Pestilence, and Death). While shaving, I lathered my face like a beard and ranted in the hallway of Smith Hall at Florida State. One of my dorm friends snapped a photo that's still floating around in my home kitchenmidden..

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Second, some friends in Jacksonville had made a Godzilla suit and were making their own film probably using 8mm film. I was recruited to be the Japanese scientist, Itchy Seborea. I was looking through a telescope at an oncoming meteor and got to cry "aarrgh!" right before it smashed me.

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If either surfaces, it probably will keep me from becoming an ambassador to Argentina or Japan. I was kind of looking forward to being an ambassador . . . except for the l-o-n-g air flights to get there.

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African Americans will claim that they aren't racist, and I've pondered their argument. If they become furious about, say, photographs of Emmet Till or the latest insult or atrocity, they feel anger and fury at white people. It's not racism, they may insist. But it's something. I'll posit that it's closer to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their PTSD kicks in at each reminder, and PTSD is considerable. It's what bedeviled Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. It's what turned Lebanon into a killing field years ago and what Syria suffers today. And it's awfully hard to get rid of.

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In fact, we don't get rid of our racism or PTSD. It was put inside of us when we were children. It was nurtured, and we still carry it around.

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But that doesn't mean we have to act on those racial instincts. We can tell them, "I see you, fellow, and, no, you don't get out of the cage today."

Beware the click-bait structure

Posted by Howard Denson on December 28, 2018 at 5:15 PM Comments comments (0)

 

By HOWARD DENSON

 

 

Teachers of composition love drawing diagrams on board about the organizations of themes and papers. One may use a Grecian column with a capital (opening), three sections of the column (major points discussed), and a pedestal (closing). Straight news stories generally use the inverted pyramid: major points in the first graf and so on in diminishing importance until the conclusion. Such a structure was ideal in the days of telegraphs when the line could go down at any time. If the news room only received the first three grafs, then they had the major points. The structure on the board (or Powerpoint) will resemble this:

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In place of the opening inverted triangle, I often used a large circle to indicate that it encompassed everything. I assume the approach was valid since the sun didn’t wink out.

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A feature story has a different organization. It may build to a special surprise ending or twist. Consider any of the essays/articles that Tom Wolfe did, as collected in “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Steamline Baby.”

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Thanks to the internet, another type of story has evolved. Some may call it a “listicle” (if it had a title like “the 20 most important women in history” ) or it may involve a mystery (“What have these animals swallowed?” ). These stories belong to a category called “clickbait stories.”

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Clickbait material has many qualities, most of them negative. They want to get as many hits as possible, because each hit jacks up the price they can charge for the ads on each “page.” While it may take, say, thirty seconds to read a graf of an inverted pyramid story, the clickbait material may take one or two minutes to load (no doubt, some of this being the fault of a user with out-of-date equipment). The twenty pages may take forty minutes to load.

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Clickbait material may suffer from major flaws. First, the teaser photo to entice a click may simply not be included anywhere in the story. Second, the editing may be so sloppy that reading the so-called story is painful. Example, a site about women featured an Egyptian monarch labeled “Hatshepsut” . . . except it was Nefertiti. The same site said this: “As was common in Ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut married her half brother, but held the thrown by herself after his early death.”

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Clickbait material also suffers from repetition and banalities. It thrives on the obvious simply to find reasons to drag the whole thing out. Let’s say something is discovered in the sea or an underwater cave. The text invariably will open with a leisurely “humans have always been driven to explore. This drive take them into caves 200 feet above sea level or even into a cave in the sea.” Got it? Now as the clicking goes on, again you will read, “On this sunny day, the explorer in Matt McGillicuddy drove him to dive a little deeper and a little farther out.” Insert the obvious. “Divers shouldn’t explore alone, but the fates were kind to Mr. McGillicuddy.” Repeat this two or three times more. You haven’t learned anymore than you knew when you started.

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You are now up to page 16 and, based on typical clickbait pieces, you have ten or more pages to go.

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You may short-circuit the clickbait structure in a couple of ways. First, go to a general search engine and type in keywords from clickbait pieces: “snakes in toilets . . . great women in history . . . the 100 best movies of the 21st century” (that’s about 5.5 great movies each year in this young century). If you want images, go to YouTube.

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Dear hearts, if you type in “clickbait” in a search engine, you will find sites that tell you HOW to write clickbait stories. You can even type in “clichés” and find sites that will identify clichés and HOW to use them. No, no, no, no! The object is NOT to use them.

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In one sense, “clickbait” is another way of saying “make the writing interesting so the reader will finish the page/chapter/book."

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You don’t hear people saying, “I was up till four o’clock trying to get through some exciting clickbait pieces.” By contrast, you will hear that about books.

Giving Advice to Bubba

Posted by Howard Denson on October 27, 2018 at 1:20 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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Nearly all of us have watched the comedy specials with Jeff Foxworthy, and we all know we have to be careful what we say around rednecks a/k/a other Bubbas. We also know that the last thing that Bubba says to another Bubba is apt to be, "Hey, Bubba, watch this!"

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You know that, and I know that, but a certain Cheeto-Head in high political office hasn't a clue. He has built a career as a huckster saying every little thing that pops into his head, never mind accuracy, sanity, tact, or wisdom. In fact, those four words are the least-likely to be associated with the 45th President.

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Since the Putz of the U.S. is only interested in hornswoggling the rubes, he freely admits to lying . . . saying anything to close a deal. That behavior goes against our whole history of supposedly choosing honest leaders. Americans generally don't support those who deceive, trick, dupe, outwit, fool, delude, cheat, take in, bluff, hoax, mislead, misguide, lead on, defraud, double-cross, swindle, gull, finagle, or get the better of others, especially when they are clients, customers, or employees. We expect them to be held to a higher standard. For example, Carl Sandburg's popular biography of Abe Lincoln told of the time that Honest Abe figured out that he had short-changed a customer. He set out walking to the customer's farm miles away and set the account right.

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We may revel in other anecdotes, but let's just focus on one other. Harry S. Truman as a haberdasher went broke during one of the frequent recessions and had to declare bankruptcy. It took some time, but he paid back his creditors.

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In political and social discourse, we owe a debt to Socrates, who argued that we must define our terms. Socrates came out of the school of sophists, who generally taught that the end-all and be-all of education was the knowledge of how to win a debate, specifically a court case. Socrates went beyond that low standard as he searched for truth itself, and, yes, yes, we know how that turned out for the old man.

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Generally speaking, in Western democracies for the past half-century, we have enjoyed a standard closer to Socrates than to Trump. A case in point is the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960s. Each candidate treated the other with respect and each was more than aware of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of a century earlier, but the underlying goal was to suggest to voters that JFK or RN would make the better actual POTUS than the other guy. They argued nonsense, but, in part, it was about what to do about Quemoy-Matsu islands off the coast of Red China. After the election, the topic was dropped.

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Any political movement will have its whack-jobs who advocate silly positions: On the right, they label everything socialism because (alas, alas) communism fell out of favor despite its Great History in the Forties and Fifties. On the left, both parties need to be thrown out and a wonderful New Pure Party formed. Sometimes the whack-jobs push aside the established party, as has happened with the Once Grand Old Party.

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Under such circumstances, Socratic agreement regarding terms disappears. If one side says it favors treating asylum seekers with dignity, the other side says, no, no, it really favors open borders. If one side says people who have lived in the U.S. most of their lives and have become Americans and should have a shot at citizenship, the other side says, again, they want open borders. Neither is true, of course. It is also noteworthy that neither the left, the middle, nor the right is focusing on the real problem: gangs and cartels that are driving people from their homes and causing them to flee to the U.S.

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Careless rhetoric aside, we also need to acknowledge another problem: Some listeners of political rhetoric have no filters and lack the ability to discern B.S. from reasonable exhortation. Mr. Cheeto-Head essentially says, "People know what I'm saying."

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No, Mr. C-H, they do not.

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Let's go back to the days of wind-up watches, and three people are standing outside a café. A fourth person comes up and asks, "What time do you have?"

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One person says he has 10:15 . . . the second says 10:16 . . . and the third has 10:17. You and I would assume that they were setting their watches by different instruments. One may go with the town clock. The second may want a two-minute margin for appointments and sets his watch to run faster.

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However, some individuals will leave wondering why two of the three have lied to him. He or she has no gray-area and, if on the paranoid side, may find just one more effing reason to doubt what's being told to him.

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Exhortations to violence overwhelm our TV screens and newspapers: "Lock her up . . . Somebody ought to kick him. I'll pay the legal bills . . . Someone needs to 2nd Amendment her/him. " And so on.

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Bubba can deduce that, if it is safe enough to advocate an action, it has to be safe enough to carry it out.

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Ah, but a defender after the bombing of a gay nightclub might say, "There are good people . . . on all sides."

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The opposite is also true: There are wicked people on all sides.

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To prove this point, let's look at Scotland's Macbeth . . . not the historical one who very likely was a decent enough fellow. No, let's look at Shakespeare's rendering of him. The Bard's Macbeth was rocking along, being a loyal and valiant soldier for King Duncan. One day, he and Banquo came across three weird sisters who predicted that one day Macbeth would be king. That fascinated the daylights out of the old boy, who wrote to his good lady about the encounter. Wicked thoughts went through her head, and the pair manipulated events to kill Duncan and frame the guards and Duncan's sons.

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Most of Shakespeare's villains were Christian scoundrels. If they had been sociopaths, a killing would have meant nothing, but they could not commit a major crime at midnight and resume life as a loyal and valiant citizen. They end up poisoning themselves. Their subjects are poisoned, too. Some take the evil as conduct that is now approved. Others shy away from the malefactors. If the king will kill Banquo, what is to stop him from doing me in next?

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Cheeto-Head is not capable of self-examination and change, but, in theory, he could improve his standing and his sanity by following these old precepts.

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1. Say what you mean.

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2. Mean what you say.

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3. Don't be mean when you say it.

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Oh, and a fourth recommendation: Whenever possible, take the high road.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Bubbas and rednecks have their virtues, as can be proven by Tom Wolfe in his seminal essay, "The Last American Hero": "People would cut and shoot each other up over honor. And physical courage! They were almost like Turks that way."

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Wolfe was writing about stock car driver Junior Johnson: "In the Korean War, there were seventy-eight Medal of Honor winners. Thirty-two of them were from the South, and practically all of the thirty-two were from small towns in or near the Appalachians. The New York metropolitan area, which has more people than all these towns put together, had three Medal of Honor winners, and one of them had just moved to New York from the Appalachian region of West Virgilua. Three of the Medal of Honor winners came from within fifty miles of Junior Johnson's side porch."

It is in Our Genes

Posted by Howard Denson on October 23, 2018 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)


By HOWARD DENSON

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I forget which time-travel story it was, but part of the conflict featured a pain-in-the-derriere co-worker or supervisor who would gas on about the romantic way that his parents met back 30 or 40 years earlier. He set the scene so dramatically that, when the protagonist went back to that time, he managed to step in, to borrow a cigarette or check the time at the crucial moment, and those two particular love birds never met and his nemesis was never born.

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The point? In each generation, if just one sperm and ovum did not get together, you and I or an individual would not be here. I have written before that, if we go back 20 generations of grandparents, we would have 2,097,152 instances of when egg and sperm united to produce a human.

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It's not very helpful to look up "generation" for it could mean anywhere from 20 years minimum to Old Testament You Gotta Believe It standards of 969 years for Methuselah. Apparently we common mortals were designed for only a 30-year lifespan: We would have young???uns at 15, care for them until they had genital hairs, and then croak.

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If we do use the 30-year standard for the 20 generations of great-etc.-grandparents, plus our parents, that takes us back 630 years to 1388.

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That was the time of England's Richard II, who came to power even though he was a narcissistic butterfly. Eventually he was overthrown by Henry IV, who added Richard II to his butterfly collection, either by starving him (most likely) or having a hot poker shoved up where the sun does not shine (a long-time royal factoid or myth).

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Aristocrats compared their lineage and argued, by God, I am the one who should be king. Often several had valid claims. That is the trouble with genealogy and family trees. Originally they were for determining Power. Among commoners with wealth, lineage determined inheritance. All of the family's land went by and by to the oldest son. Sons #2, 3, and 4 had to settle for careers in the church, the military, or (gasp, gasp) mercantile interests. If you were a common varlet who mucked the stables, your lineage simply did not matter. If you were a common female, your virginity was neither here nor there. In fact, if you became pregnant, you could pick up extra change being a nurse maid.

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Konstantin Sergeievich Stanislavski told actors playing parts that they had three questions to answer regarding their characters' roles: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Stan the Drama Man might also add: What do I want?

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Some individuals love to recite their lineage and show that they are related to Elizabeth R, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and so on. As a metaphorical burro, I am accustomed to plodding along, flicking flies with my tail and munching on cacti. I do not expect to find a Man O' War, Citation, Whirlaway, or Seabiscuit in my lineage.

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When I was reading up on the lineage of famous people, I was amazed that Mohammed had hundreds and thousands of descendants. I will not try to track down this book, but the famed one in pre-internet years may have included such illuminati as Sonny Tufts, Tab Hunter, and Oscar W. Underwood. Every presidential cycle (except for 2016) we learn that Presidents A, B, and C were distant cousins of Presidents X, Y, and Z.

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Frankly, I am more interested in the British connections, but practically all of my relatives came to the New World in the 1600s. I can not go to Dorking and find a store run by William Howard Denson in 1830. Hell, we had been here for about 200 years.

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My curiosity about possible Creek or Cherokee great-etc.-grandmothers led me to one of the respected DNA sites . . . where I struck out on my Native American blood. Instead of citing the DNA data off the top of my head, I checked it again and discovered the science had improved and my results changed. I am now 62 percent English, Welsh, Northwest Europe; 35 percent Irish and Scottish; 1percent Norway (down from 12 percent); 1 percent Cameroon, Congo, and Southern Bantu Peoples, 1 percent (including or plus another 1 percent for Ivory Coast/Ghana). According to these data, I no longer have Europe West, Spanish/Portuguese, Russian Caucasus, or Mali/Senegal.

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Time passed, and I became curious about any Neanderthal blood, so I spit in a tube and sent it off to a second respected DNA site. It was like a card game. I will swap you a Creek and a Cherokee for a Neanderthal. Success! This site said I had 1.4 percent Neanderthal in my genetic heritage, as opposed to the overall average of 2.1 percent. (An African would not have the Neanderthal percentage, since his or her forebears stayed put and did not pick up any hominid genes.)

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A big selling point for the second site is to relate your DNA to geniuses. You have to wade through some jargon to get to the good stuff: "Your deep ancestry tells you what maternal and paternal branches of the human family tree you belong to, also known as your haplogroup. Each haplogroup has a name expressed with letters and numbers -- like Q2, J1c, R1b1a, R-M222, and so forth. Our current scientific understanding allows us to identify both parental haplogroups for men (maternal and paternal) and one for women (maternal)."

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My considerable Scottish blood made me skimp on their offerings. The outfit offers different packages for various ages: present-120K years ago; 65K-120K; 45K-65K; 25K-45K; 12K-25K; 0-12K. I was told: "Although you likely shared common ancestors with many geniuses in more recent times, we only track your direct maternal (mother's mother's mother') and direct paternal (father's father's father') line for both you and the genius. In your case, your most recent genius match on one of those two lines was 45,000 years ago." They did not add,"Sorry that you were too cheap."

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The second service gets into discussing the maternal and paternal lines, calling them "A Mitochondrial Eve" and her "counterpart . . . Y- chromosome Adam." If you want to be linked, tenuously, with geniuses of this or that sort, you might find a connection with Charles Darwin, Nicolas Copernicus, King Tut, Ramses II, Abraham Lincoln, Sir Francis Drake, Martin Luther, Petrarch, Genghis Khan, Leo Tolstoy, Queen Victoria, Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Marie Theresa and her daughter Marie Antoinette, Thomas Jefferson, Napoleon, Richard III, Nicolas Tesla, and, yes, even Jesse James.

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Actually, instead of looking for heroes (so often they are rare or really created more mischief than they were worth), I am interested in any connections with villains. I am not related to Jesse James but there may be a connection with "that dirty little coward [Robert Ford] who shot Mr. Howard [Jesse's alias at the end] and laid pore Jesse in the ground." On the Stephenson side of my family, there is a Ford line, and some kin are buried in the Ford Cemetery in Arley, Alabama. One Ford was Dr. David Burton Ford, a gentleman who went to Arkansas in the 1800s.

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You may be scoffing that all of this is of little or no consequence. If so, you are a kindred spirit to Mawmaw, my paternal great-grandmother, Matilda Kilpatrick Price. I struggled to get the names of her parents and grandparents. She managed to remember those, but simply could not recall the others' names. She was proud of the way her mother could read the sky and give impressive predictions about the weather.

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I do know that my maternal grandfather, Joseph Burton Stephenson, had a greater impact on my life than pick any two or three names from the Genius List above. After his death, I would wonder, "What would Pappy do? And it helped me to resolve a problem." Other forebears went into my soul: Mark Twain, Charles Dickens (not a particularly nice man, by the way), Robert Frost, Abe Lincoln, but also Robert Lee (but not the quirky Jefferson Davis), Emily Dickinson, the music makers, and the descendants of Cro-Magnons who decorated surfaces.

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Oh, and putative great-etc.-grandmothers who filled clay bowls from springs in what would become Walker County while their siblings hunted for deer, pig, or rabbits. Sorry, they have been with me far too long for me to let them go.

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