Ichabod's Kin
A place for politics, pop culture, and social issues

Jun
26

          America’s certified moral diseases have returned with a vengeance, and old craziness is resurrected in multiple forms.

          Startled as we are by flagrant racism; violence towards women and children; as well as gays, lesbians, bi- and trans-sexual citizens, should we be? In my earliest career as an aspiring reformer, I was abused of the notion that people need but hear and know the truth, and the national character will be transformed in a trice. Silly me.

         Annual celebrations of M.L. King, Jr.’s life and message but remind us to re-set our expectations of racial equality. Courts continue to be filled with cases of domestic and family abuse, and hardly a day passes without news items of horrific torture and killing of those who are not strictly heterosexual. Racism as we really know it began with the forceful transport of slaves to this hemisphere. And though women have typically been second-class or worse in historical civilizations they have also been queens, priests and sometimes the sole authorities in scattered societies to which of course we pay scant attention in our education.

           That said, I wish to speak of the oldest hatred of all: antisemitism. The ravaging of Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg came amid holiday preparations, the latter of which ever trump serious concerns.

           Hatred towards Jews is old enough to have beards longer than all  patriarchs put together. The Jewish problems is not that they are too smart for their own good but admirably too smart to suit the rest of us. Never mind that Jewish immigration from all over the world has enhanced U.S. culture and intellectual heft. That migration, by the way, is never as large as sometimes touted: they are and always have been a fraction of world population. So what’s the problem?

          The big gripe is the misbegotten notion that since the beginning of time they’ve always been around the money. Nay, they began as did all peoples, tillers of soil with this distinction: they were among the best of cultivators, and powerful elites, making mountains out of religious and cultural molehills, found ways to take it for themselves, always with lame excuses that invoked fear and loathing of perceived differences.

          It didn’t help that the ancient land of the Hebrews was necessarily as small as the number of inhabitants, and became a football kicked between superpowers of the times–brutish dogs of war unleashed by Egypt, Babylon, Assyria and the like. Along the way Jews were forced by exclusion to seek other means of gainful endeavor, viz., shopkeepers and artisans, though many, due to their brain power and ability were chosen to serve in the courts of sovereigns—until a new and intolerant reign swooped them out again, using all the lame excuses.

          During their many dispersals, never at peace and loathed by all, they traveled by foot selling wares borne on their backs or as tinkers, or menders of pots, and those who stayed behind were left in communities unsupported by government. Each time, due to discrimination or too much success they were evicted from all livelihoods, till world nations found themselves in financial pickles and discovered that Jews were among the emerging wizards who could bail them out. And once out, said nations gave them the boot once again but not until Jews financed some of the great cathedrals of Europe—a curious irony among Christian leaders who at auspicious time invoked the “Christ-killer” canard on their Jewish economic saviors.

          Why a Baptist boy from the Missouri Ozarks could ever come to care about Jews and Judaism is a tale of growing up during World War II and post-conflict discovery of a “holocaust” of destruction unleashed by the Axis powers. I saw post-war movies that highlighted some of the horror and were jerked from screens for showing Jews too much as victims which, by the way, they were.

          Among my father’s effects after his death decades ago was “A History of the Jews” by Abram Sachar, as much of an objective account as one could possibly expect from a Jewish intellectual, which I absorbed to my everlasting benefit, and which I returned to 20 years ago and then again after the Tree of Life atrocity. I’ve often said that Americans would do well to read a damn book once in a while instead of gulping down misleading, anecdotal jabberings of Fox News and Alex Jones. Sachar’s text is long but readable and more relevant than romance novels and what’s on the latest menu of brain-eaters.

           Life is a journey of learning and happiness is knowledge. I thought that all discriminations would have ended with the past century but they remain and it is daunting to think that the oldest one of all is so far from banished. Perhaps if we solve that, the rest will follow.

          

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Jun
25

          Blackface?–making a comeback? This is lost on the younger generation, but they’ll learn quickly via the realm of celebrity: Katy Perry’s brand has dropped two pairs of shoes from its line, and Gucci tried to cash in on black celebrity with a tasteless production of an expensive knit top—both losing their sophisticated repute in the process. And it didn’t stop there: Prada used blackface on new figurines while Moncler adorned a luxury coat with it.

          Dear me. On the Mississippi River, where I grew up, blackface was already going out of style among Southern sensitivities that surrounded me. Now what is black in hue is making lots of people see red.

          The face of this renaissance in stupidity begins with Gov. Northum of Old Virginny whose decades-old school yearbook showed a feller in blackface and another in KKK garb, leading him first to apologize, then to deny that either knucklehead was him.

          This led to an outcry that he jump ship to assuage not only black folk but outraged white liberals. Alas and alack, his black voting constituents urged him to stay on. This of course complicated the issue and he was able to buy time whilst controversy of other sorts swam around his lieutenant governor and the state AG.

          It also gave modern Southern Rebels a respite from assaults on their defense of Confederate statues, which comprise a frightful number throughout Old Dixie—including Virginia itself, which as of 2015 has taken to honor John Wilkes Booth for trying to do the country what he thought was a favor and, sadly, succeeded in doing so. And just in the nick of time too as most folks, North and South alike, had already forgotten the Garrett Farm near Port Royal where Booth was caught and driven from his mortal coil.

          The whole problem here is the human memory, which tends to forget a lot: for one thing, that blackface entertainment, first done by white people using cork and polish to resemble another race, had been going on since slaves arrived in these parts some 200 years ago.

          Its comic value was in derisive stereotyping of slaves in what came to be called minstrel shows. Why was it so funny, and how could that be? After all, tragic circumstance had forcibly brought persons of a different color here and shoved them into a system that taught them  nothing but inhuman toil and whippings, let alone the language in which they would have to communicate.

          The psychology of it was possibly a subliminal desensitization process for whites to the horrors of slavery. Sadly, it was the only depiction many of them had of black people—portrayed as lazy, dumb, cowardly and hypersexual. And it was also funny to white audiences for the use of black vernacular. As luck would have it, such entertainments spread from the South to the Northern U.S.

          And should you think that the elite of dominant culture rose above this, consider that Al Jolson wore blackface in “Jazz Singer” as late as 1927, and forget not that some of the most beloved child stars of the age also donned the look: Shirley Temple, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney among them. Two knuckleheads, Charlie Cornell and Freeman Gosden, did the worst such portrayal and, thankfully, were the last I was destined to see: they looked neither black nor white, just a couple of bums trying to do something, though we knew not what.

          So while we debate whether the Northums of the world should be judged for long-ago mistakes, or cut some slack in the name of “second chances,” we should know and understand why all of this is so hurtful to blacks, not only now but Back Then. All of it was a cruel lie and we tend more to carry the worst of it into our subconscious thinking and acting, making it harder to see and acknowledge that those among us of African descent are undeserving of such derision and stereotyping.

          But as it stands, white culture thinks this crisis and its debate is all about them. So here we go again.

          

May
15

          Let’s talk about the budding presidential primaries. The Dems so far have 20+ candidates and counting, which is a good thing. The GOP had 17 three years ago and that was a good thing too—they found out who they were, and it wasn’t who they thought they were: they hadn’t a clue that by the end of it they would be all-in as the Party of Trump.

          Now it’s the Democrats’ turn and we don’t know who we are either. It’s a conversation desperately needed. They will talk and we will listen. A lot of assumptions have been made since the 2016 travesty, to wit, that we are all agreed who we are and, again, we are wrong as can be. Yes, we’re all agreed that Trump stinks up the body politic and needs to be exorcised, but disunity lurks beneath and waiting to be revealed before we come together again to defeat Trump.

          At times it may not be a pretty sight but a necessary one: in time we’ll know what we will and won’t put up with, and from it will come the necessary synthesis of agreement with which we’ll sail into the ocean of politics to divest it of the Great Orange Whale.

          This is what primaries should do, at necessary times. America is no longer what we used to be—children of a notable heritage descended from the Judeo-Christian tradition and nourished thereafter by respected rebels like the English and American poets, but reaching clear back to Socrates, Plato and Aristotle to World War, and through racial, anti-semitic and gender struggles.

          Well, forget about that. Of late we’ve lost our couth, innocence and civility. It began with the GOP primaries of three years ago: lest we forget, the first person to forge ahead was—Herman Cain, pizza king and knothead whose “Nine-Nine-Nine” domestic plan and “Beki-Beki-stan-stan” foreign policy jarred even GOP sensibilities, and that’s saying a lot.

          Next came Ben Carson, whose career as brain surgeon somehow made sense to Republicans as a grand segue to running a country. The two just cited fooled no one with a brain not in need of a scalpel: conservatives were seeking a “good, decent” black man who would say nasty things about Obama, and give cover to white people to follow suit with their own racist scorn.

          Others in the GOP Clown Car ranged from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush, the biggest targets of Trump’s invective. But, as said, the GOP found the latter’s insults and indignities more pleasing, and reflective of them, than sanity and moderation. And here we are today.

          The Dem lineup overall is by far more reasonable, regardless of who you like or don’t like. Liz Warren had every right to run though many think she lacks public encouragement to do so this time around; no one asked Donald either, but he rode down a golden escalator with a trophy bride and at the bottom found the presidency. How ironic that he found it at the bottom, where it’s remained since his arrival.

           The clutch of Democrats with ambition is far better than the former clutter of Republicans, the banality of which made possible the likes of DJT. What’s not to like about Mayor Pete, unless you despise gays?—sure, he’s short on specifics but at least he’s  not a crackpot. Or Kamala Harris, save for the sins of being black and female? Bernie’s the man who would’ve been prez save for the bruising internecine politics of the 2016 moment. But even Trump likes him.

          Biden rightfully scares the Orange Man because Joe has his own grip on the states that elected Donald. And Seth Moulton will get his necessary name- and face-recognition in this run; he’s only 40 years old with a lifetime ahead to become Commander in Chief. As a war hero he has more guts than Gen. Bonespurs would have in a thousand reincarnations. And good for Seth for taking on Pelosi, yet another conversation Democrats had to have because there were whispers about her effectiveness and it gave her a chance to show her real chops as a party leade–and not a lick of harm came of it in the process.

          So let the games begin. We’ll soon know what American really is: lying, sarcastic and gun-totin’—or a return to respectability from its flirtation with idiocy.

          It’s a conversation worth having.

          

May
15

          What drives the national divide today? Partially, but largely, a standoff between differing cultures in America. Growing up in the foothills of the Missouri Ozarks, whatever I heard on radio and saw on TV had nothing to do with my life or of those around me.

          It was all about what we now call the “elites” of the east and west coasts—what they were saying and doing, what they liked and didn’t like. And, by default, their amusements and concerns were ours too because nothing else was on the tube. Our tastes were home-made and lacking in the sophistication (and manipulation) of those who controlled the major sources of information. But ours at least were for, and about, us. But we were invisible to the rest of America.

          A look at the larger world drove me at last to take the first stagecoach out of Dodge, so to speak, and come to terms with what theretofore was alien territory. Laugh if you will, but my first diagnostic test flatly revealed that I was “culturally deprived” but accepted into a private grad school due to IQ.

Yet my speech separated me from those reared elsewhere. It is not rare even now to hear Southern politicians admit that they know other Americans feel that they “talk funny” and I’m here to tell you they have not a clue why, any more than Brits know we think they have silly speech patterns that only posturing snobs and celebrities care to emulate. In your case, you would talk funny too if you were reared in a home with Jeff Sessions for a dad: “There but for the grace of God,” and all that.

          Years of broader exposure have occasioned a different person. Only those with the keenest ear can detect rudiments of my former speech, and only those who knew me “then” know the differences in my head and heart.

          But I have not forgotten where I came from, or the people there. They have a national inferiority complex whether they admit it or not, and—news flash!–on a personal basis they have more ego strength than sophisticates burdened with much more inner conflict, whether they too admit it or not. Sophisticated northerners, especially New Englanders, are far greater male chauvinists than educated Southern men, and haven’t a clue how obvious is their cloaked racism regardless what they think they know of the southern variety.

          Those who’ve had this country their way for too long are unaware of other subtleties, i.e., back when celebrity crooners like Sinatra, Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, et al, were sucking up all the cultural air, country singers outsold them hands down in albums, sheer sales and money. And when people wondered why followers of televangelists continued to support their disgraced preachers, it was that cameras at crusades and revivals showed at last the forgotten people who were never in the news or on TV—and clearly were different from the self-described sophisticates and intelligentsia. To take down their preachers would ensure that they too, again, would disappear.

          In truth, that is no different than the rest of humanity: if you’re young and not into every new Rock group regardless of the inanity of lyrics, you’re a nobody. Cam-pan an Improv crowd and you know the only reason those people look like their having a good time laughing at lame jokes is because they’re drunk and know they’re on television.  

          As the noose tightens around Donald Trumps’s neck and we begin that sigh of relief at finally dodging a terrible bullet, let us not forget that along with a changing world that scares the hell out of some people and makes them lash out in equal parts at perceived authorities and any designated minority, we can continue to do our part to dig the cultural divide even deeper—and risk another Donald Trump that we won’t be able to get rid of.

           This warning is not about haters—that’s another subject, but it’s about a lesser animus that threatens ever to turn into hate. We look down on the kind of person I once was and short of hating them, we simply ignore them the way people pitied the poor in Dickens’ England.

          But America’s forgotten can’t ignore us and they don’t quite hate you. But they sure as hell don’t like you. And that’s why they voted for Donald. And will vote for him again.

          So be aware. And now that we know what Donald is like: be very, very afraid.

         .

Oct
09

          In all wars, everyone loses. And the costs are devastating. We are in a civil war and the price will be with us for decades. Once again it’s parent against child, sibling against sibling. Just like old times. Someday Ken Burns will sort it all out for our viewing pleasure.

          If nation binds us, this conflict has torn us apart. Aside from the politics of it, the recent brawl for the Supreme Court stands to make assaulters of women only bolder. For victims there has been little shelter and there will be little to come. And, in time, bye-bye Roe v Wade. The commanders in the field, so to speak, are politicians and between them it is personal, and calls for reason in their bitter struggle are useless. This is not about morality and justice, it’s about winning. What we never learn is that all such victories are pyrrhic. Look it up.

          Following are the declared heroes, but as in Homer’s epics, their wounds and gripes are grievous: Achilles pouts in his tent, Hector is dragged around Troy, Agamemnon goes home to be off-ed by his wife and her lover, Cassandra knows the truth but no one believes her, a Horse is treated like an elephant in the room–and full of mischief for all who deny it. And Helen, the cause of it all, is lost in the chaos. Others are:

          Jeff Flake: aptly named and loved by no one; owing nothing to his Party, his voters or to Trump—all of whom had already rejected him and forced him to retire, he was dealt the perfect hand for this poker game but squandered it by bidding too low. Now his face is as sad as the little man that he is.

          Susan Collins: cagier than imagined, playing both sides of the political game as well as any man in the Senate, and can bait-and-switch with the best of them. She masterfully angled for her fifteen minutes of fame, took an hour instead, then deftly said it wasn’t about her. Sadly, she opted for the wrong side of history.

          Mitch McConnell: he taught us something we didn’t know—that all it takes is one man to hold up a Supreme Court nomination, and keep it in storage for a prez of his own liking. There’s a civics lesson in that, maybe one to be looked at by the Supremes.

          Lindsey Graham: whoever remembers him as an independent thinker can think again. Once the “McCain, Jr.” of the Senate, he’s now presidential lapdog. Why? He already told us that AG Sessions is not long for this world and, hello!—he wants Jeffy’s job; so his righteous indignation lacks, well, righteousness.

          Democrats: if anything proves Seth Moulton right, it’s about Dems needing fresh faces. Schumer and Pelosi don’t need to go away, just move over. New blood is having to wait in line longer than necessary, so any Blue Wave needs to raise their boats. And please stop talking about Impeachment, whether of Trump or Kavanaugh. That’s a sink-hole. Take back Congress, if not both Houses, at the Mid-terms, thus de-claw and de-fang Trump, shut down his playpen, and watch all his rats jump ship.

          Sarah Sanders: It don’t git no better’n than havin’ the world’s elite journalistic corps lectured by Hillbilly Huckabee, queen of the Arkansas mountains. A master of minimalist press conferences, she even dares to say they’ll soon be things of the past, when it’s her we want to go away, not them.

          Evangelicals: the reason why Jesus and Saints Peter and Paul are turning over in their graves. They think God is using Trump to better America, but Donald is using them to make us a world laughingstock.

          Kavanaugh: this little frat boy will have to hide his partying from here on out, as he takes his place at the shallow end of the gene pool wherein swim the Supremes; Thomas and Gorsuch are already somewhere to the right of the Sheriff of Nottingham and Bret’s now their drinking buddy. The new game in town will be who can make nice with Brett, offer him a beer and see if he can stop at one. If he starts throwing ice at us, then we can start thinking of Impeachment.

 

           

         

Sep
08

             Should this be deemed a bridge too far in current political discourse–don’t even get started with me.

          Fallout from the Trump presidency has dumped a ton of filth on our national conversation and I will not allow high ground to be claimed by political thugs whilst they shame others for naming names.

           I’ve not been happy with many press secretaries but their infractions have been at worst bad judgment in the heat of the trench warfare in which they toil, a pressure-cooker not to be wished on anyone loved or held dear.

          Often they bolt from the blue of happenstance encounters with a political comer, then morph into his face and voice, as did Jody Powell, a southerner from near Jimmy Carter’s peanut farm in Georgia—and whom I did not so much dislike as felt that Carter could have done so much better. At times a shrewd party hack gets the job and becomes further proof of the Peter Principle when elevated to facing the nation’s press; or like Marlin Fitzwater, who served both Reagan and the elder Bush but later was suckered into a disastrous interview with Ali G that hurt his brand and cost his chance for the Congressional Gold Medal. Dana Perino served George W—she of the missing sparkplugs and lackluster demeanor, though at times such actually serves one well in politics.

          Robert Gibbs, an Obama choice, merrily took on Barack’s critics, calling them the “professional left” and suggesting they all be drug tested. What made each different from the current podium-holder was that on the whole they respected the press corps, regardless of the battles and scars, dutifully taking their lumps while answering virtually all questions.

          Not Sarah Sanders, proud product of Oauchita Baptist Coll—er, now “University” in Arkadelphia, near the Ozark Mountainss. The website advises us it’s to be pronounced, “Wash-Uh-Taw,” though I needed no prompting, given my familiarity with a pack of them who once descended on a grad school in Kansas City.

          This Sarah, not be confused with Palin, may not see Russia from her house but she’d have us think she knows-it-all, and why not, as daughter of Mike Huckabee, Baptist preacher and liar-in-chief of the southern wing of the GOP, thereby giving both God and religion a bad name in those parts. You’d think Sarah had a Ph.D from God himself as she snubs a press corps that is galaxies beyond her intelligence, a fact lost on her as she dismisses questions, promises to “get back to” or to “keep posted” the press corps when she has no intention of doing so. She pouted at being denied restaurant service shortly after praising a bakery’s refusal to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. The days of Sean Spicer are made to seem halcyon by comparison—though just as I said those words aloud, my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth.

          Sarah is the embodiment of the old Ozarkian joke about a woman much like her in age and appearance, clad in a flower-sack dress and puffing up a dusty lane pursued by a 13-year old hickseed who, when called out by a passerby to leave the woman alone, yells back, “But her’s my ma—her’s weanin’ me.”

          In the interest of full disclosure, I’m native to the Ozarks, on the Missouri side of the line. To some, the trick is somehow to escape that culture by dint of education—or just get the hell out to save one’s soul: I’ve lived and worked all over the U.S. and with hindsight sadly reflect that too many Ozarkians and Ouachitans have addictions to their own ignorance. God bless those who remain and manage to keep their sanity.

          In sum, that is Sarah Sanders—silly, sad and sorrowfully over her head; dumb as a post, arrogant in her benightedness, and a perfect fit for the man who said he’d hire the brightest and best, then hi-jacked every knucklehead heretofore unknown and unheard of to be the face of government in these United States.

          Look not for Sarah’s visage on a future postage stamp or any biography to grace the Best Seller list. Any references to her current tenure will say much more than I have here, and in darker, bolder terms, and at best found in the Humor section of out-of-the-way bookstores.

          On the other hand, it may be that an authorized autobiography will come to anchor a bookshelf of that renowned bastion of high culture in Arkadelphia, in the section labelled Sacred History.

                              

Aug
02

          You would think Donald Trump was doing the Lord’s work. As with all messiahs who show up now and then, everything seems to go his way, regardless, as it hath been down through history. His GOP base increaseth in its love for him, edging towards 90% of support for anything he says or does, calling to mind the adage that when even two people think exactly alike, one of them isn’t thinking.

          Everything we’ve known as fair play, decent and good is out the window, and it’s everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost, Donald being both “himself” and the devil.

          He struts like Mussolini, complete with facial expressions, at his iconic “campaign” rallies, and unlike prior tyrants who unleashed goons with orders to beat up opposition, elements of his base need no instructions, feeling authorized to do so on their own, after all, this is a democracy. And don’t even get started with me about poor li’l Sarah Sanders being denied restaurant service—she’s all-ok with bakers who won’t make cakes for gay weddings.

          So what does Donald have to fear—only fear itself? Well, it’s a start. Here’s a guy whose colossal ego needs neither God’s forgiveness, nor the asking for it, as he asserted long ago, and who loves our enemies and hates his own countrymen: imagine the goodwill he may have merited by giving credit for predecessors’ building-blocks from which he has benefited, such as Obama’s economic bailout, and even Barack’s earlier call for NATO nations to up their ante on mutual defense.

          Let’s go back to Aristotle, one of many dead poets, so to speak, who got everything right the first time: his definition of tragedy was that when such folk, by hook or crook, become apparently unstoppable—they end up doing in themselves. The ego finally goes too far and they, being blind to it, serve up the means of their own destruction. A man of moderate temper might catch himself before a fall, but not an ego-maniac, not when he thinks he’s God himself.

          It was Aristotle too who long before had proposed the idea of a mixed-constitution that got its first test during the Roman Empire, which became a Republic along the way. Ari knew all the forms of government—rule by one, the few and the many, ergo, monarchies, aristocracies and democracies. He imagined a combo of them and the Romans did just that. They didn’t always have emperors and when they didn’t there were consuls who indeed had absolute authority, but only in war and in national crisis.

          Their senate was not elected, but chosen, from elite families and outstanding heroes, which implied breeding, experience and, necessarily, the benefit of age and the wisdom and judgment for big decisions made in foreign policy, going to war and making treaties. Last were popular assemblies who voted to place people in office—including the two consuls—along with determining rewards and punishments.

          And it worked. On occasion it got stretched, sometimes shrunk, but overall an elastic system that helped them to survive at times the worst of tyrants. Actually it was better than anything the Greeks or Spartans had managed in Ari’s own day.

          And, aye, here’s the rub for now, but only if Donald’s rants aren’t drowning it out. We’ve got a guy not elected by the majority but by a well-placed minority (our so-called and controversial Electoral College); who thinks he’s god (as did the emperors); and who’s broken the balance-of-power via political sycophants (the U.S. Congress—both Houses). A recipe for temporary success—and ultimate disaster.

          I’m old enough to remember 20th century tyrants, notable for having everything go right for a time; their growing approval by a populace who thought he could do no wrong; but in time were swinging by their heels or avoiding judgment by killing themselves and/or their own children, and in rather short periods of time. We don’t work that way here, at least I hope so; we just want a plausible outcome, a democracy that bends and flexes, swings and sways, but always holding together—and always one of laws, not of men, however good or bad.

          Thus, as so many of us flounder, feeling dis-empowered and regularly insulted by our own president, there’s a message herein for the leader himself:

          Fear nothing now. But fear the future. And fear yourself. And then be very, very afraid.


         

Aug
01

[A Father’s Day Meditation]

     Here’s to all men who love and support families, including children who have come to you perhaps from far away; and to those who do daddy-things for kids not theirs but who know that little guys and gals can always use another trusted male figure to care about them and to consider them special.

     Mr. Ancel never had a son of his own and took special interest in me as someone to whom I could throw my smokin’ fast-ball for hours on end. My father was a good provider, but had no time for such things, and Ancel became a dad of sorts in those precious times of “catch.”

     I’ll avoid smarmy sentiments at risk of offending that select race of what is called, “manly men.” It’s taken eons to cultivate an image of uncaring and unfeeling brooders who leave all nurture to the female of the sex. But all manner of forces have pressured us to reduce our iron and flinty surfaces and to crawl into inner spaces and mine our feelings.

     For millennia boys grew up frightened of their fathers, and in turn would damn well ensure that their own kids would be frightened of them.

     To Robert Frost, his father as a hero of sorts, but hardly perfect–a man who died young and was glorified to his children by their mother. He had graduated with honors from Harvard and named his son after Robert E. Lee–and a man who met the doctor at home’s door with a pistol to warn that if anything happened to his wife during delivery, the doctor would “not leave the house alive.”

     You’ll guess, correctly, that young Robert had a punitive father, doling out punishments unpredictably but otherwise with little time for his children. His dad’s form of play was to tease and push the kids, sometimes hurting them severely. Not surprising also that the poet became somewhat the same kind of father.

     But e e cummings adored his father, with long elegies to the latter, a clergyman and sometime teacher at Harvard but good at a lot of things, practical endeavors that he shared with and taught his son.

     Of this came the son of great poetics who was detained in France near the end of WWI for refusing to say he hated Germans–due to a friend of that nationality, and his father secured their release by writing to President Wilson.

     In the musical, Les Miserables, the song, “Master of the House” is total brain candy and at this mention will be planted in your brain till tomorrow. The subject ran an inn and tavern from whence he fleeced customers by all sorts of hidden and extra charges, you know, like today. Today there is more than one master of the house whether we are speaking of the modern home or the larger environment of which men must be custodians, as well as women.

     So how goes it with the “master of the house” in 2018? Shamefully, at times it’s best not to have a man or father in that role, and we all know why, if we but watch the news.

     We have a problem being not only fathers, but men, for our self-image is changing and not by our own rules. Garrison Keillor in “The Book of Guys,” said manhood was once a chance for achievement but is now a problem to be overcome. Those who may have painted the Sistine Chapel or composed Don Giovanni are now just trying to be “Mr. O.K. All-Rite”–who can bake a cherry pie, converse easily about intimate things, cry, be vulnerable, passionate in a skillful way, and yet one who totes them barges and lifts them bales.

     Ironically, the “mother” of Father’s Day was inspired by what a preacher didn’t say in a Mother’s Day church service: while extolling mothers, not once were fathers mentioned. Sonora Louise Smart, then Mrs. Dodd, and whose mother had died ten years earlier, marveled thereafter at her father’s labor and devotion raising her and her six younger brothers. She lobbied for fathers to be honored on June 5, her dad’s birthday, but it became instead the third Sunday in the month.

     The marketplace has its own unique reasons for promoting this, and Mother’s Day, long beyond your and my days on this mortal coil. But knows, someday they may be combined into a Parents Day.

     This is no perfect world. Humans of whichever sex are both exemplars and in-excusables. Many people feel that one parent or both did terrible things to them, and parental oppression makes for both sinners and saints, not to mention good theater.

     Robert Frost saw the world as he did, due perhaps to his father, and wrote insightful masterpieces like the ingenious “Fire And Ice,” about destruction from both heat and cold.

     But cummings’ father stands out in his son’s poetry:

     “…though hate were why men breathe–

     because my father lived his soul

     love is the whole and more than all”

     May children be welcomed into such homes, and know the joy of such masters of the house–men who are masters of themselves as well.

Jul
31

          Regardless that Mother’s Day is an entrenched observance in America, it’s swirled in conflicting emotions, the mixed feelings many have regarding one or both parents, as if they have done something terrible to hurt us, perhaps to scar us for life, but it’s safe to say that women in general and mothers in particular are the real heavies of the world.

          An  interview with mother-daughter Goldie Hawn and Amy Schumer teemed with much joy and so many laughs but we all know that in the best of such relationships are wink-wink ugly moments, ones best not to put out for public consumption; after all, they were selling a movie. And a TV series reminded us that there always was a price for working women whose girl-children, in both cases, fried Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in livid print, as if to cancel out the mothers’ huge successes.

          Trump supporters to whom he seemed an unlikely model for a dad, cast their ballots for him after daughter Ivanka showed well on the campaign trail. Not a word, of course, was mentioned of mother Ivana, who surely had something to do with that perceived success. Daddy Don, we all know, is a Type A workaholic since he first opened his mouth to insert pacifier and found it already filled with a silver spoon. And don’t tell me that before Twitter he used 3 a.m. to walk a screaming baby. It’s hard to get in mind a firm image of his being around much at all, so why does Darling Daughter gush so on his behalf? Firstly, he’s put her in the lap of luxury since day one and, gosh, look what goes with that now.  Talk about #ToTheManorBorn.

          And by the way, when there is a wailing infant in your fave restaurant, who gets the old stink-eye for such public nuisance, dad—or mom? And when Junior is a high-school sports hero, do we not automatically celebrate dear old dad —until we may learn there isn’t one? Or to make that hurt a tad more, who still gets the nod when the family girls excel–in anything?

          A child’s first year in our mainstream is the occasion for near-ceaseless parental worry as to whether their fledgling attempts are dooming baby to a lifetime of emotional wounds. And it’s usually mom who’s found snatching all she can from bookshelves of advice and re-reading it, as if a sentence overlooked will cancel all wisdom gained—along with dollars spent in abundance at maternity stores and from catalogs.  Add classes taken before and sometime after birth and, of course, a Vesuvius of advice from people worthy—or not.

          The takeaways are multiple: one, the gnawing suspicion that all this has little to do with kids themselves; advice that appears unworkable; and a parent overwhelmed more than helped by so-called experts.

          After all the misguided effort, Save the Children reported that the U.S. ranks not first but 11th among developed countries as best for motherhood. Part of this are disparities in access to health care, which men of the GOP hope to widen by killing Planned Parenthood—thus increasing our maternal and infant mortality that is already higher than the ten top countries. We never take lessons from, say, Scandinavian nations, which always are lined up in the top five—after all, they’re a bunch of damnedSsocialists, so nothing to be learned there.

         Or try being a mom in the lowest-ranking countries, where women die in childbirth at 600 times the rate of those in developed nations, and infants are 27 times more likely to perish in the first year of life. Guess not much use to stop at this point and say Happy Birthday.

          I grew up when women, and moms, had it even worse and Mother’s Day was an unspoken joke for getting its traction from the retail industry that had things to sell, not just to those really wanting to gift mom, but to all the rest who would look bad and feel guilty for not following suit. Same for Father’s Day, which limped along after. Grandparents Day didn’t take hold as the public simply thought enough was enough and it whimpered to a calendar no-show.

          Certainly we should honor unceasingly all those who’ve birthed and nurtured us, many of whom were just kids themselves when they took us on. One day doesn’t hack it; consideration should be continuous and sincere. People who love us are irreplaceable, and no few people aren’t able to gain it on their own except for those moms and dads who held and always will hold that job by default.

          Mothering “heights” have as many if not more depths. So next time someone says with exasperation, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother!” someone oughta slap them.

         

         

Apr
28

          I knew something was very wrong when Easter and April Fool’s fell on the selfsame day–an omen that all is not well, anywhere. Nor did it take long to come to fruition, having begun only Nov. 8, 2016—the day the most unkind and misbegotten of leadership species acceded to the presidency of the free world.

          April Fool’s Day doesn’t go anywhere, it’s always smack-dab the very first of that month. Easter is another matter, which is why this year’s confusion was bound to happen, given enough time. Christianity had swept the world and the emperor Constantine joined in the fun but in his ignorance split the Empire by establishing a new capital named after himself. No harm was meant, it was just his way of trying to nail down Latin influence everywhere, but then came its unintended consequences, known thereafter as the Eastern and Western Churches.

          At first, everyone followed the Lunar Calendar in setting the date for Easter—the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox (remember that). So far so good, but way later, the West changed to the Gregorian calendar, set a fixed date for the equinox, and now the two Churches have Easter falling as many as five weeks apart. But who cared, unless you lived either in Rome or Constantinople and took issue with what those other people were doing by celebrating Resurrection on the wrong day. Anyway, there you have it, and this year we had it on a day celebrating All Fools. Sort of a nasty confluence: Is it “He is Risen!” or “April Fool!” Apparently, to each his own.

          Now for the other joke—a president who hasn’t drained the swamp but has turned the world upside down. Before, I’ve likened him to Thomas Hobbe’s “Leviathan,” the “strongman” to whom lily-livered folk, in tense times, would trade their freedom for his promise of security. Then I thought of  Louis XIV, the “sun king” of France, big spender and thus creator of busted national budgets—and his palace of Versailles, the Mar-A-Lago of its day, where his groveling minions, from outside its windows, were allowed to watch him feast sumptuously on stuff they could only lay eyes on.  For this privilege they would keep Louis’ poll numbers up whilst he bankrupted the country and mortgaged its future.

          Trump is equal parts of those two, but there is another part, sort of an unholy trinity, if you will; a toxic mixture that all of us, sadly, are becoming heir to unless we can turn around this errant train known as the Trump presidency: I’m thinking Henry VIII of England, all ass-and-appetite, and abused of the notion that he should have anything he wanted–you know, the Silver Spoon Syndrome.  Ol’ Hank knew how to push the boundaries, as we well recall, even starting a new religion because he wanted to bed another woman, and got away with it. Radical as that may seem, Henry also had enough sense to know when to back off and on many occasions he did.

          Trump has no clue of that. For him it’s full steam ahead—everything for himself and the devil take the hindmost which, regrettably, is us. And that, we may predict, will be his doom. Every tyrant in the world, name any of them, ancient or near-past, appeared to be doing the Lord’s work until their Hubris took over with a vengeance. And to get real personal in this case, those of you who say “Let him do what he wants as long as my stock portfolio goes up,” better have another plan when Donald brings us all down.

          When that happens, there may be no resurrection, at least anytime soon thereafter, and the least problem with Easter will be the date it falls on.

          So what’s happening today is something we’ve seen before, though we’re much less students of the past than we should be. Still, we’d best heed the truism that those who don’t know history are doomed to its repetition.

          You know, Groundhog Day all over again. For now, it’s the new normal.