Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A traitor to the flag

I'm trying to understand the new definition of being a "traitor." Does questioning the contentions of the Central Intelligence Agency now qualify? This global intelligence agency of the United States that has meddled in dozens of foreign elections going back to its creation in the 1940's, going so far as to assassinate undesirable candidates, now seems to have the unqualified support of the other of the country's two major political tribes. We have turned on a dime. Am I a traitor to side with the Chilean government in opposing the CIA's assassination of that country's president, Salvador Allende, in 1973? Am I a traitor to call bogus the CIA's claims of Weapons of Mass Destruction somewhere inside Iraq in 2003? But then I am a traitor if I question the report on Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. presidential election from the person of Robert Mueller, George W. Bush's former FBI director, and one of his paid liars on the one-time matter of Iraq's alleged WMDs.

When reports such as Mueller's get released, they demand terrific scrutiny, not blind allegiance. An indictment is a prosecutor's document. There is no evidence in it. There are, instead, assertions. This is very different. We've seen how prosecutors can stack assertions to issue indictments, and also to avoid indictments, such as in several high-profile police shootings of unarmed black children. Assertions are not proof.

These accusations of national disloyalty are sadly typical of the style of attacks against Donald Trump from the Democrats. We've done a complete 180 from the time that the McCarthyism existed on the right. But then it's worth remembering that, at the time of its inception, McCarthyism cut across both major political parties, leaving its victims without any mainstream political support whatsoever.

When a time of crisis, such as now, calls for more precision in debate and in the application of reason, we get more slop instead. When a critical case of presidential malfeasance needs to be made effectively to battle-weary voters, we get transparent partisanship instead. Nobody's switching sides based on these fiery internet memes. All we get are accusations that the other side's entirety amounts to a flock of sheep. And remember, the case of collusion involving Trump is another one to be made completely separate from that of the alleged hacking itself. I'm missing the part in the indictment that connects Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks, and Russia's GRU with the Trump campaign. And if Trump simply benefited from an alleged campaign to disable the Clinton campaign, didn't Bernie Sanders also benefit? Is he also a paid Russian agent, and a traitor? Will that accusation surface when it becomes inconvenient during a 2020 Democratic presidential primary?

Is the sloppiness the strategy? Are we just attempting to rein in Trump by indiscriminately muddying him? Because that's a questionable axiom in American politics. Inferring to or telling the American people that half of them are stupid hasn't borne out-- of late-- to be a winning strategy for the Democratic Party.


In the meantime, the cable television arm of the Democratic National Committee, MSNBC's parent company NBCUniversal, is revealed by the Intercept-- on the same day that the indictment came down-- to have given a campaign contribution to the incumbent opponent of the Democratic Socialist upstart Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her victorious New York congressional primary. It's clear then that NBCUniversal knows where the real political revolution is happening, and they're taking up sides against it.


For future reference, it's worth noting that, if the indictment can be trusted, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and WordPress all indisputably shared data with the U.S. government as part of the Mueller investigation. That information means to you exactly what it means to you.


If you read the linked article above, you also are now aware of the fact that the former contractor for the National Security Agency Reality Winner-- sent to jail for five years-- was found guilty at the end of her 2017 trial of giving journalists the same information about Russian hacking that is contained in this indictment.

Monday, July 02, 2018

"Love or lack of it"

Facebook really used me and I don't feel good about it. I "like" Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on the social media site, and they sent me a news article last week about the new Rogers' documentary film Won't You Be My Neighbor?. I linked my way to that and read it, then they exploited that weakness by sending me an Amazon listing for the 2015 book Peaceful Neighbor-- Discovering the Countercultural Mister Rogers and I bought that book moments later with just a few easy clicks. Now I'm sure I'm a marked man for any number of online point of purchase displays.

The book is enlightening. Written by Michael G. Long, a religious studies professor at Elizabethtown College, is interested, among other venues, in the ecumenical roots of Rogers' worldview. Fred was an ordained Presbyterian minister before he was a public television star. He was also a radical Christian pacifist. His entire first week on the air nationally with Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, in 1968 shortly after the discovery of the My Lai massacre, was devoted to teaching children the tragedy of war. He believed that war violated the word of God in any instance. He believed that it was child abuse even to send a child's parent away from their home to fight in a war, that it violated the sanctity of the child's sense of safety and well-being. Nothing was more important to Fred Rogers than protecting children, and nothing was more abhorrent than violating their trust. He was not only a pragmatic pacifist, meaning that he believed non-violence was effective, but he was also a principled pacifist, meaning that he embraced it on principle even in instances where he did not believe it would be effective, and I'm appreciative to Michael G. Long for treating me to that distinction for the first time.

His other countercultural beliefs included an early commitment to civil rights and tolerance of gays and lesbians. I invite you to watch the new film to witness for yourself the person of Francois Clemmons, a gay African-American man, who was Officer Clemens in the neighborhood, who soaked his feet in a kiddie pool on-air with Mr. Rogers during a time that blacks were being denied entry into swimming pools, and who was an openly gay man working on the set of the series in Pittsburgh. Fred championed the vegetarian movement, empathy for animals, and environmentalism. He opposed consumerism and the idea that any of us, but particularly children, existed to be consumers. He opposed the death penalty, believing that it set a horrible example for children. He called it an example of "power punishment," that is, negative reactions to something we identify as a "personal challenge" or a threat to our security. He believed in "loving punishment" instead, the absence of revenge, and redemption.

His lifelong focus was early childhood development, but he believed that those principles formed during that time were the ones that stayed with us, so what applied to children should apply to adults as well. Until I saw the movie, I was unaware that Fred Rogers retired briefly from his program during the 1970s to focus on making programs for adults, exploring music and all matter of topics of that series, but the final effortst didn't catch the public's fancy. Indeed, Rogers was out of step with the majority of American adults on any number of social issues at this time including several already mentioned (and even more so today). He was probably the most radical figure in the history of American television, a man that only non-commercial television could give us, and a man who became synonymous with public television itself. He is, easily, the most important man in the broadcast channel's history, almost single-handedly responsible for keeping it funded by Congress for several years. The film explains in detail.

He was infuriated by other television programming aimed at children, all of it faster-paced, louder, and dumber than his show. He believed it was wrong to ever lie to children. Making up a story was betraying their trust. After being told once that a child had died jumping from a tall window because of the supernatural powers of Superman, he devoted a full week of programs to the topic of safety and teaching the difference between the real and the imaginary. He also thought it important to talk openly about death and grief and anger, always reminding children that they were safe to be themselves, but that often adults were just as confused as they were. In the film, a black and white TV interview from the '60s shows Rogers stating that all problems in the world are caused by "love or lack of it."

The core belief of the show, I believe, is that all people have value. Biblically, if you prefer, all people have a light shining inside of them. The songs say it, "You're Special to Me," "There's only one of you in the whole world." This has become a surprisingly-polarizing opinion in a modern culture that believes the problems of the world have been caused by too much self-esteem, rather than too little. That alternative movement to devalue defenseless children can be explained away by admitting to ourselves that it's all a well-orchestrated ploy to excuse greed and selfishness, and to perpetuate a reckless and often violent, but profitable, economic and social system of winners and losers.

Fred Rogers the performer, writer, and philosopher is a person we need today for guidance, but he's no longer with us, dead of cancer in 2003, and it's hard to have faith that we will see his likes again. In fact, it's hard not to believe that, collectively, we have failed Mister Rogers. And done so badly. He instilled in us all that we needed when we were children, but the tide against him and us was overwhelming. Human compassion today hangs by a thread. We were called upon by him to be prophets and peacemakers, but we have been calculating and cruel instead. We forgot who we were back in his neighborhood. We forgot each other. We forgot our friends. We forgot that we have no meaning here except for what and who we are to each other and to the least of ours. My favorite video image from the series is displayed briefly in the film but is not alluded to specifically. I invite you to look for it yourself. A child piano player, likely a prodigy, is playing the piano for Mr. Rogers in his television home, and he looks on, as he was wont to do, in joy and wonder, at this talented young person, but he's not looking at the extraordinary hands in motion, he's looking only at the child's face. In fact, he never breaks contact with the face and he is smiling. He's not looking at what the boy is doing, he's looking at who he is. That child is his neighbor and his friend.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The reddest Cardinal of them all

I want to take the time to reflect upon the life of Albert “Red” Schoendienst, who died last week and whose funeral will be held on Friday. Here are some highlights…

1890-- The Cincinnati Red Stockings baseball team changes its nickname to simply the "Reds" in honor of Schoendienst.

1923-- Red is born a German in the village of Germantown, Illinois, just 40 miles east of St. Louis. Germantown is the oldest Catholic German settlement in the state of Illinois. Its population was 766 in the 1920 U.S. census.

1942-- As a teenager, hitches a ride into the Browns and Cardinals’ Sportsman’s Park for an amateur tryout with the Cardinals. Scores a minor league contract as a shortstop.

1946-- First full year with the Cardinals as all the other players return from the war. Cards win their 6th-ever title with Schoendienst the regular at second base. Stan Musial moves in from the outfield to become the first baseman. Red and Stan are part of the historic three-man infield shift (against Ted Williams in the Series) that is now used in about 50% of all MLB plate appearances.

Late '40s-- Begins rooming with Musial on the road and will for the next decade or so.

1950-- Game winning home run in the 14th inning of the All-Star Game at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.

'50s-- During the off-seasons, participates in the National Budweiser Bowling Tour, which is one of the most 1950s things you can say about a person.

1956-- Traded to the New York Giants.

1957-- Traded from the Giants to the Milwaukee Braves, where he again brings a World Championship to his team in his first year, alongside Aaron, Mathews, Burdette, and Spahn.

1963-- Retires as a player, back with the Cardinals since '61. Was a 10-time All-Star.

1964-- Wins another ring, this one as the bench coach for the Cardinals, under manager Johnny Keane. Keane leaves the world champs for the runners-up (the Yankees) after the series. Schoendienst becomes manager starting in ’65.

1967-- World title again, Schoendienst does little actual managing as this ultimate team of professionals manages itself. Stan serves his one and only season for Gussie Busch as Cards general manager, but the ultimate team of professionals doesn’t need a general manager either, and Musial makes no notable moves during his tenure. Red and Stan are there to provide the good luck charms that are Red and Stan.

1968-- Another NL Pennant, Cards lose to Detroit in 7 in the Series. Red remains chill.

1975-- Replaced as Cards' manager by Vern Rapp. The next four seasons are the only ones between 1964 and 2012 that the Cards are not managed by a future Hall of Famer, either Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre, or Tony LaRussa. Blogger Chris Moeller is born this year.

1980-- Red serves as interim manager between Ken Boyer and Whitey.

1982-- Red is bench coach for Whitey and for another World Championship, the team's ninth. Red and Whitey are also, notably, the team’s colors.

1977 to 2015-- Red hits fungoes

August 1988-- A 65-year-old Red meets a 13-year-old Chris Moeller on the sidewalk outside the club office of Busch Stadium II and provides his autograph on a scorecard after a game against the Braves. And these then are the five great German names in Cardinals team history: Schoendienst, Herzog, Busch, Herr, and Moller.

1989-- Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame along with long-time Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray. A framed Sports Illustrated magazine ad from the summer of '89 hangs in Moeller’s designated Cardinals’ room. The ad, purchased by the Anheuser-Busch brewery, reads in part, "On July 23rd, Two of our Good Friends Were Put in Their Place,” next to a mock-up of a Cooperstown highway sign. The ad also reminds us to “Know When to Say When.”

1990-- Serves as interim manager between Herzog and Torre. The ‘90s become Red's fourth decade as Cards manager.

1996-- Red's uniform number 2 is retired by the club. He's already the only man to wear it for the last half century. Chris Moeller attends the game at Busch II on Red Schoendienst Day in June, and a placard of this hangs in the Cardinals room as well. Red continues to wear the number 2 for at least ten years more.

2006-2017-- Red wears the Cardinals' Hall of Fame red sport jacket at every annual Busch III Opening Day. He earns two more World Series rings in '06 and '11 while serving as assistant to the general manager. He's the only man to possess a Cardinals World Series ring for every championship from 1946 to 2011.

2018-- Red dies at the age of 95 having worn a Major League Baseball uniform for 74 years as player, coach, and manager, and wears the Cardinals' uniform for 67 of his 76 years in the professional game. Musial was famously “the Man,” but Red Schoendienst was “Mr. Cardinal.”

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Racist tweets

I'm not on Twitter. I will have demonstrated the main reason why I'm not on it after this post has raced past 140 characters in length. The social media site has come to be best defined by United States President Donald Trump, who has a penchant for posting stream-of-consciousness personal attacks upon his critics in the early morning hours of the day. Twitter lacks the capacity for nuanced opinions certainly, but media attacks upon "tweeters" seem to lack nuance as well.

Roseanne, the show, two times around the block as the best on television, has to go away now because its namesake, star, executive producer, and identity center, comedian Roseanne Barr, posted a tweet that referred to former Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett as a cross between "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes."

I've been a fan of Roseanne Barr for as long as she's been in the national spotlight. I met her in Eldon, Iowa nearly 25 years ago when she was married to a fellow Iowan, comedian Tom Arnold. She and I have both been candidates for public office representing the Green Party, and that list we are on is not a particularly long one. (She left the party in anger after failing to secure its presidential nomination in 2012.) I didn't come to this post specifically to defend her, but the time and place that we live in will dictate to many of you that that's what I'm doing, and also, as I think about it, what's wrong with it if that's what I'm doing? But what I'm attempting to do instead is to address the lack of nuance in the news coverage and the cheapening of the discourse that Barr is, at once, taking part in and that also has taken her and her show off the air.

Roseanne Barr, first of all-- it must be noted-- suffers from mental illness. She is quite open about this since publishing a book about it in 1994. She's given multiple interviews about it. She has a split personality disorder and claims to have seven different personalities living inside of her. To recognize how far she has climbed in the American social stratosphere during her life, know that at age 16, after already growing up in a dysfunctional family, she suffered severe brain trauma in a car accident, and was institutionalized in a Utah state mental hospital for eight months, where she then became pregnant by a fellow patient and gave birth to a child that she gave up for adoption. Barr claims that she tweeted this week under the influence of Ambien, which caused the drug's manufacturer, Sanofi, to issue a statement glibly saying that the drug's known side effects do not include racism, but known side effects I found on WebMD are depression, confusion, aggression, anxiety, memory loss, inability to concentrate, disorientation, and emotional blunting, so, you know, full disclosure.

The point of referencing Barr's mental illness and the fact of her split personality disorder is that she's always been across-the-map in her public pronouncements and her political statements, but her high-profile media position has always stranded her without the capacity to garner much human empathy beyond our gratefulness for her willingness to continue entertaining us and her ability to monetize her talents to the benefit of other people. This is an anthem of American cultural life.

Her tweet deserves closer examination. First of all, it seems to me that she didn't compare Jarrett's appearance to an ape, as every headline reads. She compared her to Malcolm McDowell, the actor made up to look like a fictionalized and humanized ape in a 1968 classic sci-fi film. Barr claims she believed Jarrett, who has an African-American parent, but who actually does not possess many traditional African-American physical traits, to instead be white and Arab, and I'll return to that in a moment. My point is that the unfocused anger seems to have nothing to do with the fact that the offense was insulting her physical appearance at all, which, on one hand is more sexist than it is racist, and on the other hand, no American politician escapes insults upon their public appearance by comedians. We're debating this right now from the angle of the left to the right with Michelle Wolf, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and last month's White House Correspondents' Dinner.

Clinton supporters in 2016 challenged us by saying that Hillary faced an undue challenge in her campaign as a woman because of the media focus upon her appearance and her manner of speaking, but among her predominate opponents, Trump took just as many free shots about his weight, his hair, and his speech. The difference is that his campaign never presented a roll call of grievances about them at any point. Bernie Sanders had already been flat out dismissed as unelectable by a large number of Democrats, including the almost entire lot of their operatives, and certainly by the traditional news media, because of his sharpened manner of Brooklyn-ese speaking and his supposedly disheveled hair and clothing, and those obstacles were insurmountable to him despite the fact that he managed to outpoll both Clinton and Trump among all registered American voters at every point from the start of the campaign to the end of it.

But I digress. Back to the Arab part. Roseanne's politics as a Jewish feminist woman have swung over time from the extreme far left, where I admittedly (and proudly) reside, to the extreme far right. When she was an option on the Green Party presidential ticket, she was a scathing public critic of Israel's expansion into the Palestinian settlements. She once went so far as to call Israel "a Nazi state." But ever since she kicked up her feud with the Greens and with the 2012 nominee that defeated her, Jill Stein, she has become an extreme advocate on behalf of Israel. Personally citing a newer, better education into the issues, her Twitter account for a few years now has been one repeatedly bashing anti-Zionists and backers of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. In 2016, via Twitter, she had swung so far away from the idea of a Jewish Nazi state that she proclaimed that the University of California at Davis should be "nuked" after the students voted for university divestment from Israeli businesses.

So here we have headlines entirely focused on the "ape" part of her most recent tweet when Barr is simultaneously, almost entirely without public reaction, reinforcing again the alleged connection between the Obama inner circle and Islam (specifically the Muslim Brotherhood). This is just puzzling to me. Again, I'm just trying to dig into the nuance, but the part that interests me is not the crude references to Jarrett's appearance, but the religious instruction Barr has evidently been receiving, and the extent to which American-Jewish leaders and Israeli ministers might actually talk like this in private as well when referring to Obama's supposed anti-Semitism and alleged secret Muslim sympathies. It's worth noting that financier George Soros was the other target of Barr's recent savage tweets, and he's a favorite villain of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. None of these earlier tweets caused ABC to drop their relationship with her or cease work on their developing re-boot project.

Roseanne also serves in the vital public role as comedian. Comedians are our national truth-tellers, and so I'm also sparring psychologically with this terrifying idea, again reinforced by Roseanne's cancellation, that we can't allow our national truth-tellers to ever step-- or even jump-- over that edge of proper public decorum. Not only should such an overjump be permitted to happen, it's often required of the job. One of the tragic results of having a president that detests all aspects of proper decorum is that his critics have decided that the nation, collectively, now has too little respect for decorum. It's not true. We have just about the precise amount of disrespect for it.

And of course, this story explodes even larger because Roseanne was that controversial show. The series that critics seemed to begrudgingly concede was pushing the right buttons to stimulate audiences, but that the individual critics on the mushy left simply couldn't bring themselves to fully embrace because its identity center, and her character, were unapologetic Trump backers (even as the series as a whole attempted to represent all viewpoints). As a result, this cancellation of the extraordinarily popular series (far more popular with audiences even than with critics) comes as an absolute godsend before work can begin on the first follow-up season to the re-booted series. No more conflicting sentiments, no more headaches, no more need for nuanced political treatises for people that simply want to write about entertainment.

Roseanne Barr, an Obama voter in 2012, so despised Hillary Clinton and her political machine that she backed Donald Trump, of all people, in 2016, and then seemed to have his malleable, but increasingly angry and resentful politics morph into her politics as well. Sound like America to you in a microcosm? Hmm, let me think. Well, her show brought in an estimated $45 million in advertising revenue to ABC, and it aired at that in only nine half-hour installments from March to May. It averaged 18 million viewers per week. Only Sunday night NFL football and NBC's This Is Us averaged more for the entire season. And before you think that network censorship at ABC is limited to Roseanne and Roseanne Barr, note that executives pulled an episode of black-ish prior to air earlier this year, for undisclosed content reasons, and now the show's African-American show-runner, Kenya Barris, is in negotiations to leave his contract and go to work at Netflix and its advertiser-free format instead.

This is the new America. We send this one away. Her show reflected economic resentments apparently quite accurately for realism-- mounting health care bills, fear of Mexicans and Muslims, and the desire for economic decency, but we're not comfortable with the existence of any of these things. Hollywood doesn't even like to show us working class people on television, yet audiences are apparently starving for it. We not only send her away. We throw away the vehicle for all of this that she created (and by the way, there has always been resentments between the comedian and the network over who created and who was responsible for the success of the series). We want to send these others away too because they came to her defense on late night television, or were just affiliated with her. These are terrible losses because they come connected to someone that tried her best to bring political populism back to the side it belongs-- to the left, and also back to the arena that populism belongs-- economic, rather than cultural. These are terrible losses also because it's an unequivocal sign, perhaps the last necessary one to get it through my thick skull at least, that liberals don't intend to begin engagement with Trump voters in the slightest, and will continue dismissing them in the fervent but futile hopes that they will simply go away.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The American News Media goes to a wedding

There are a lot of important news stories that America's traditional news media could be covering. President Trump just lifted trade sanctions on a giant of the Chinese communications industry that had traded with North Korea and Iran, ZTE, only three days after the Chinese government provided a half-billion dollar loan to a development project in Singapore that will include Trump-branded hotels, golf courses, and condos. The Israeli army has been murdering unarmed Palestinian protestors, using our weaponry, at protests over the relocation of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Another school shooting less than 24 hours ago, this one in Texas, took the lives of ten people.

Instead, CNN, Headline News, Fox News, and MSNBC-- as well as their news and information siblings, E! and TLC--  have been wall-to-wall with their coverage of the wedding of the sixth-in-line-to-the-throne of the United Kingdom. The wedding went on as scheduled today even though the American bride's father, who's actually a descendant of King Robert I of Scotland, suffered a heart attack this week and couldn't make the trip to Buckingham Palace for the divine and everlasting entangling of the couple's underemployed families. I suppose delaying and/or relocating the wedding to Los Angeles so that he could attend was out of the question. I didn't wake up to watch any part of the ceremony live as it occurred, but I saw some photos online afterward, and frankly, I didn't care for the dress.

What follows is what I wrote on the blog on the occasion of the wedding of Prince Harry's older brother William in 2011. Yes, Nosy, the piece also appears in my new book Lies My Blogger Told Me: The Best of the Chris Moeller Blog 2004-2017. Enjoy the fragment free here with my compliments...

God Save the Serfs
Friday, April 29, 2011

 "This is my fourth royal event... You weren't seeing double. They did do two kisses. That's history made. That's history. Everything else was true to form. It was a fantasy. It was a fairy tale... I think they should keep the kids home from school today because they probably won't see something like this for another 20 years." -Barbara Walters, royal bootlicker

"Why don't you up-Chuck and Di?" -Carla Tortelli, Boston barmaid

This morning's television coverage on ABC of the Royal Wedding between Prince William of Wales and British commoner Kate Middleton warranted the on-air participation of journalists Robin Roberts, Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and six other correspondents, each apparently instructed to apply as much Vaseline as possible to the camera lens. Oh, times they do change. Two hundred and thirty-five years ago, Americans fought a war over the entitlement of ignoring the British monarchy.

Royal titles in England are really just honorary anymore, we're told, yet William, by fortune of being born the eldest son of the likewise-bloodlined "Prince of Wales," will-- perhaps within 10 years-- be elevated to the throne of sixteen "sovereign" states on Earth. In so doing, he will become the head of the British armed forces, one of the largest militaries in the world, as well as the "Supreme Governor," or spiritual head, of the Church of England. The latter designation makes him, by law, "the highest power under God in (his) kingdom," and gives him "supreme authority over all persons in all causes, as well ecclesiastical as civil." This fact is mildly misleading as the church has very little influence in modern life. Of the 44 diocesan archbishops and bishops now in the Church,
only 26 are allowed to sit in the House Of Lords, the upper house of the British Parliament that is not democratically-elected but filled instead by inheritance or appointment. A "King William" would hold the right his grandmum now holds to dissolve the Parliament at any time and to choose the Prime Minister of the government.

The wedding ceremony this morning really was lovely-- the recorded bits of it that I saw. William's commoner bride, Kate, is strikingly beautiful, and by fortune not a Catholic either or William would have to renounce the throne to marry her. (No adopted children either, please, not if you want them to inherit the kingdom.) As is the role of the modern monarchy, William and Kate today gave the British people (and many fawning Americans as well) "something to look up to," a new standard of elegance and extravagance, if you will. Of course, not inviting former Prime Minister Tony Blair to the ceremony was rather inelegant, it seems to me. Blair, an
elected official of government during his time, was only responsible for canonizing William's dead mother by memorably dubbing her "the people's princess," but of course his choice of words at the time only served to remind everyone that the prince was NOT of the people, and living parents have the most sway over the guest list of any wedding.

The British could have chosen to go the French route of republicanism by salvaging the buildings of monarchy but abolishing everything else. They didn't. The Windsors wheeze on into the 21st century, sapping the country's treasury, royalists forced to constantly mention and promote the "charitable" works of the crown, snowing under the philosophical hypocrisy of having two different levels of citizenship in place for the nation, and somewhat incidentally, wrecking political debate by destroying the quality of British newspapers.

The royal subjects of the U.K. (and that's what they are, they're not "citizens") have been seriously debating the necessity of the monarchy in recent years. The royals behaved so badly so often towards the last commoner princess that their entire hustle almost collapsed. (Public perceptions have improved considerably over the last decade.) Diana's divorce from Charles was no small matter in respect to their children, Prince William and his brother. The two boys, again by ancient law, were the legal property of the House of Windsor, and the Windsors deeply resented the popularity of the boys' mother. As the first-born, William has been forced to deal with great public-- and presumably private-- pressure to marry and advance the hereditary line with his sovereign sperm. His younger brother, Harry, who is not in line for the throne, after first being spoiled rotten, was assigned to public relations duty, getting to join Grandma's imperial army and shuffling off to Afghanistan. But I'm sure both these boys make life decisions of their own volition.

In recent years, a number of political movements in the United States have attempted to brand for us just what it is that makes one "a real American." The almost-entire lot of these movements is comprised of bubbleheads, and so the results have been lacking, but I think I've actually stumbled upon it: If you still reject the British monarchy, in all of its ridiculous structure, forms, and rituals, 235 years after the Declaration of Independence, you are a real American. If you don't, then you are a deserter.

I wonder how many freedom-loving Americans, loyal to the principle that all men and women are created equal, would actually reject a royal title if one were offered? Ronald Reagan didn't. He accepted a knighthood during the years following his presidency (current U.S. officeholders are forbidden by law to accept such an honor from another government). George H.W. Bush doesn't think atheists are real Americans, but in retirement, he morphed into Benedict Arnold in respect to the Revolution. Bob Hope is on the list of betrayers. He was
born in England and obviously preferred in some way to return. There's Ted Kennedy, that's a shame, and Steven Spielberg, and Alan Greenspan (whom I guess is kind of "stateless" now, like a corporation), and there's a who's who of U.S. military generals representing a whole host of U.S. wars other than the first one. An overwhelming majority of the overall list of Knighthood recipients, though, are other monarchs from around the globe. One hand indeed washes the other, I guess, but of course, none of those recipients are Americans. U-S-A! U-S-A!

Many of your more enlightened Brits (and I intend the use of the word 'enlightened' here with all of its historic meaning and power) have actually declined the honor, and it's the general mark of that person's worth in my estimation. The physicist Stephen Hawking declined the honor from the officially-sectarian government of his state. Paul (now Sir Paul) accepted a knighthood, but John returned his MBE insignia in 1969, settling that age-old question once and for all, I guess. Mick accepted a knighthood. Then Keith responded: "It's not what the Stones is about, is it?" Paul Scofield, Vanessa Redgrave, and John Cleese all declined, as did the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and many others in the field of the arts actually. Even two fictional characters, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, declined knighthoods in literary texts, and their public service to England certainly marked them each as patriots, unqualified.

Of course both William and Kate have the prerogative to accept the titles offered by their state that are legally worthless everywhere outside the United Kingdom, and that are morally-worthless even within, but it's frustrating that so many of our fellow Americans and our media diplomats to the world feel the motivation to panty-sniff the inbred descendants of Henry VIII. Undeniably we have our own special and skewed brand of star worship here, but at least to this point, we're not sticking our own economic and celebrity betters with the senseless and silly labels "prince" and "princess." U-S-A! U-S-A!"

Sunday, May 13, 2018

The first road trip

Road trip season has commenced, and I'm freshly returned from another trip to New Orleans for JazzFest. This year I saw Anita Baker, Smokey Robinson, Savion Glover, and the Re-Birth Brass Band all on stage doing their thing.

The first time my brother and I took a lengthy road trip was during college-- from Iowa to Los Angeles, and then ultimately north to a family reunion in Napa Valley, California, and back home. This was in the summer of 1995, and we were partially re-tracing a Route 66 path that my grandfather, Elmer Moeller, had taken in 1936. His story was an extraordinary one. As a 25-year-old single farmer at that time, he was driving west-- through the Dust Bowl region-- to join his parents and younger siblings in L.A. They were out there for several months, and his brother and sister had even been enrolled in school there for a time. Grandpa Elmer agreed to serve as the driver for an older man from nearby Vinton, Iowa. Their journey was more perilous than ours, six decades later, but in retrospect, consider that Aaron and I were taking a trek of more than four thousand miles and doing so without a GPS or smart phone, or even a cell phone. Another four decades from now, he and I will be the heroes.

My grandfather was still living in 1995 so, after our return, I chronicled by hand the overlapping part of our trip for his benefit-- and now for yours also. Back in my possession after his death, I tracked down these yellowed papers (they were already on yellow steno paper) this afternoon in my curated files and now present them to you in their entirety. By '95, historic Route 66, "the Mother Road," had been largely displaced by four lanes of interstate highway along a slightly divergent pathway, but we made a careful effort to drive the ancient road where it still existed. In my chronicles, I also made a careful effort at the time to record every baseball reference I could think of. Here 'tis...


Monday, June 19th
Began our trip early in the day. Took our usual route to St. Louis (out of the way) and arrived at 2pm-- late lunch at Ozzie's Restaurant in Westport. Drove downtown for ballgame through Ferguson. Took pictures of my apartment and Frosty Treats, my employer, from the previous summer. Watched Busch Stadium debut of Hideo Nomo, the Japanese sensation. He won 5 to 2-- shutout through 8. Stayed in Red Roof at Westport.

Tuesday, June 20th
Took 270 south to 44 west-- the interstate that replaced Route 66 through this region. Billboards along the route were denser than at Hannibal and were topped later at Branson. Didn't take the Meramac Caverns tour-- too expensive, but we walked through the gift shop and found some Jesse James clippings endorsing a man who claimed he was him and still alive in 1950. In July of '95, James descendants had his grave reopened to disprove this story. Drove down Highway 8 to Meramac State Park. Beautiful river bluff scenery-- maybe the best view of the trip. Reached hotel in Springfield around 4pm. Drove to Branson, ultimately for a 2-hour IMAX theater presentation of the recent Titanic exploration. Afterwards, drove through Branson's strip. Experienced third-best musical moment by playing Elvis CD and driving slow along the strip. Cardinals playing on radio back to hotel.

Wednesday, June 21st
Left Springfield and rove up H-71 to LaMar for a look at Harry Truman's birthplace. Small but nice display. Mickey Owen Baseball Camp, which always appears in ads in the classified section of the Sporting News, was spotted along the way. Shortly after, Aaron said he saw a turtle on the road, reminiscent of The Grapes of Wrath-- the Steinbeck novel that popularized Route 66 in the public's imagination. Turned around but couldn't find it. South from LaMar went through Alba, hometown of the baseball Boyer family. Took real 66 into Kansas past the Graffiti Bridge. Next stop was Commerce, Oklahoma to find Mickey Mantle Street. He was "the Commerce Comet" with the Yankees. Drove down almost every street of this small town before realizing it was the main thoroughfare we had been on most of the time. Stayed on "Mother Road" to Tulsa. Will Rogers Memorial was great. Other popular attractions were disappointing, but not this one. Every human born would do well to end up with a tribute like this. Lucky to reach Oklahoma City by quarter after six, minor league stadium next to interstate by 6:45, 89ers versus the Reds' top club-- Indianapolis. Aaron's all-time favorite Cedar Rapids Reds' player (Steve Gibraltar) hit two home runs. FYI--Comfort Inn in OK City turned us away because we were under 21 years old.

Thursday, June 22nd
In hotel parking lot, spoke briefly with Native American family from New Mexico headed the other direction-- to the southeast-- for a family reunion. Hit Cowboy Hall of Fame (rather disappointing), then drove downtown to see the Federal Building. Out of OC by eleven AM and drove quickly through the rest of Oklahoma-- no significant stops made. I ruined a roll of film in an unexpected camera mishap. No pictures now exist between Meramac and eastern Texas. Saw Trade Winds Inn in Clinton where Elvis once stayed. Shamrock, Texas was a significant stop on Grandpa's trip. This is where he stopped, with his passenger, to assist a couple women that had a car problem. We found the service station he told us to look for, that is, the remnants of it, and we also saw the similar one across the street that replaced it.

We snapped a picture of the Devil's Rope (barbed wire) Museum in MacLean-- but didn't take time to tour. We probably should have. The leaning water tower in Britten was impossible to miss. The day culminated with what may have been the best stop on the trip-- the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Neither Aaron nor I attempted to eat the 40 ounce steak. Eight ounces was plenty, with all the extras they give you. It was also plenty for the wallet. The dark, atmospheric interior was worth the price. We spent the night at a chain motel in Amarillo. I couldn't persuade the driver to drive down to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Friday, June 23rd
We started with the Cadillac Ranch west of Amarillo. We each wrote our names on one of the cars, of course. Aaron had an appropriate Bruce Springsteen song for the CD player after this stop. We made good time to cover all of New Mexico in one day. The temptation was great to skip Santa Fe and cruise straight through the Land of Enchantment on Interstate 40, but we didn't regret staying on old 66. Santa Fe is an unbelievably beautiful city, from the historic downtown area to the state capitol building. Everything's expensive for college kids. The oldest church in North America is here. We were caught in Friday night drive-through traffic in Albuquerque-- no sightseeing in town. The only stop before Gallup was at the Continental Divide. I performed a spitting experiment.

As advertised, the Gallup area had a real feel for the golden era of Route 66-- lots of neon signs (similar to Branson's, which aren't vintage), and best of all, was the El Rancho Hotel. This one-time hangout of Hollywood stars was the only historic hotel we slept in on the trip. We spent half an hour looking at the star pictures in the lobby. We were fortunate to get a room in the historic building, and not in the architecturally-uninspired addition to the east. Ours was the "Mae West" room. There was a pool. With the scenic driving mixed in, this might've been the best day of the trip.

Saturday, June 24th
When you drive I-40 through Arizona, you spend the first 130 miles looking at Humphries Peak. It's hard to ignore the snow caps after mile upon mile of rock and sand. Lunch was at a Burger King in Winslow, Arizona-- famed in song. This gave us the energy we needed to witness the meteor crater. My crater interest was at an all-time high following my first and only geology college course back in the spring. This being said-- it's just a big hole. Important, yes. Worth ten dollars a head, no.

Beyond Flagstaff is Seligman. This town really embraces the Route 66 travel culture. We bought all of our 66 souvenirs and took a look at some goofy cars. Kingman was our resting point for the night. We arrived mid-afternoon and did laundry. We called Dad, and cousin Jeff in Fullerton, California. We arrive there tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25th
Our biggest problem of the trip came between Kingman and the California border. Route 66 goes through Oatman, while the interstate detours around the mountains. We chose the mountains, driving past a sign instructing semi-trucks to take the easy way instead. After winding around the Sitgreaves Pass for about 15 miles (at slow speed), we turned one of the sharp corners to find a truck trailer jackknifed-- completely stuck around a bend. It was inconvenient for us, but certainly more so for that driver. A local told us that this happens about once a week. It added at least an hour to our trip by the time we returned to Kingman searching for the interstate. This also, unfortunately, ruined our hopes of being on 66 when we first glimpsed California, the Land of Milk and Honey. We made a half-hearted attempt to find Oatman from the west instead because it seemed like a neat idea. The driver opposed me on this so we gave up after a few miles and simply crossed the state bridge.

We ate at a Jack in the Box in Needles, California. Everyone told us to be wary of driving through the Mojave Desert at mid-day. We had no other choice but to do it, and then were surprised to find out how harmless it was. It may have been the safest stretch of road we traveled because there was a phone posted every two miles. The decline in altitude begins in Barstow and becomes rapid quickly. We left 66 for the final time in San Bernardino. Highway 91 led us to Jeff's house and past Yorba Linda, where we browsed the gift shop of the Richard Nixon Library. We couldn't think of anything else to do in Riverside and Orange County while we waited for Jeff to return that evening from a trip to the Bay Area.

We never reached Santa Monica, where Route 66 formally ends in its original form, but then we didn't start with it in Chicago either. We would swim in the ocean four days later in a location further up the coast with Aunt Jan and Uncle Pete.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

"Lies My Blogger Told Me"-- one that went missing, part 2

Here's another one that didn't make the book, but posted to the site approximately five years ago. From March 22, 2013...

Wikipedia Mysteries, Pilot

The trophy for moving one's life from fame to total seclusion and public retirement goes to Ruth Ann Steinhagen of Chicago, Illinois. Do you know who this woman is of whom I speak? Small chance. Know what became of her? I'm quite positive you don't. 

Ruth Ann Steinhagen became famous in the summer of 1949 for shooting Eddie Waitkus, All-Star first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies. She induced him to a hotel room in her hometown and shot him in the chest. She was only 19 years old at the time. The shot barely missed Waitkus' heart, but the ballplayer survived, even returning to baseball to help the Phillies to the "Whiz Kids" National League pennant of 1950. After Steinhagen was released from a mental institution in '52, where she had received electroconvulsive therapy, Waitkus declined to press charges. (This was the golden age of gentlemen.) He died in 1972 of esophageal cancer after reportedly suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for years due to the shooting. 

This incident of celebrity-based violence was the inspiration for the 1952 Bernard Malamud novel "The Natural," which, in 1984, became a popular and quite marvelous feature film starring Robert Redford as a wounded pitcher-turned-slugger of Arthurian proportions, and Barbara Hershey as his obsessed admirer. 

So what did become of Ruth Ann Steinhagen? Would it surprise you to know that she died on December 29th of last year? In the six decades after her release from the hospital, it seems she moved in with her parents and a sister. The parents both died during the 1970s, and the sister died in 2007. She lived in the same house for her final 42 years, only a few miles from the now-demolished Edgewater Beach Hotel on Chicago's north side where she shot Waitkus. She never spoke publicly about the incident. 

So obscure had she become in the intervening years that her death did not get noticed by the news media until last week, at three months distance, when a Chicago Tribune reporter happened upon her death record while researching another story. 

Ruth Ann Steinhagen, one-time subject of lurid fascination slipped into what was likely a merciful obscurity. 

Tomorrow on Wikipedia Mysteries: A famous musician is shot dead in New York City's Central Park more than three decades ago. What became of his songwriting partner? Who are these two men? That's tomorrow on Wikipedia Mysteries, only on the CM Blog.