Saturday, September 01, 2018

Lies My Blogger Told Me- one that went missing, part 3

Selective memory brought me back to this one. Two and a half years ago, I finished reading The Hemingses of Monticello. Sally Hemings is a monumentally important historical figure in the collective conscience of the United States, representing those whose contributions are overlooked and even denied, whose lives were treated as commodities, and whose languages, religions, personal identities, and family units were each treated as- and feared as- potential centers of resistance.

From January 26, 2016...

The Hemingses- A Book Report

Annette Gordon-Reed’s 2008 book “The Hemingses of Monticello” is simply the best non-fiction book I have ever read. Its jacket in paperback advertises it as a New York Times bestseller, a National Book Award winner, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, but I was only vaguely aware of its existence until a couple months ago-- that an African-American historian had written a notable book, first, on the vastly underexplored social and sexual relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the much younger slave woman, Sarah “Sally” Hemings, that he owned as property and that was also the half-sister of his wife, and second, that the historian had followed up that tome with this more expansive biography of several generations of the Hemings family residing in Colonial Virginia. 

What separates this book from other history texts is the extraordinary care and detail taken by Gordon-Reed to acknowledge what we have never been told, and to reconstruct historical records that are incomplete and often unreliable. Her book is endlessly thorough in exploring what it is about the relationships between the author of the Declaration of Independence and members of the Hemings family we can fairly assume to be true, and what we are left to speculate about. The central historical figure of the story is Sally, whose thoughts and actions have only been referred to peripherally until modern times, and indeed, whose humanity was not even acknowledged during her lifetime, having lived the totality of her life before the Emancipation Proclamation. 

The author writes from the heretofore-ignored perspective of the utterly powerless. She’s forced to ferret out the actual details from historical documents that were written from the vantage point of persons that supported a doctrine of white supremacy. In the case of this family, the immediate perpetrator of their oppression, and many others they came into contact with, are considered giants in the nation’s history, treated by many still in fact to be akin to deities, growing in myth with the passing of time. The exploration of the lives of the Hemingses becomes essential because the men and women they slaved for lived such a well-documented life, and that allows us to search for truths in the margins. 

Take for example, the details of Sally Hemings’ arrival in Paris at the age of 14 in 1787. The purpose of her sea voyage, as set by Jefferson, was to provide accompaniment for his daughter, Polly. The letters back and forth between Jefferson and his Virginia plantation, Monticello, address, not surprisingly, only the topic of Polly, but Gordon-Reed is concerned with the trip from Sally’s perspective. What would expectations have been for her? How would social propriety have been different for Sally than for Polly? The author examines how Sally is perceived by others, notably Abigail Adams, wife of John, who is living in London at the time, and receives the two girls as they are en route to France. 

Abigail Adams would write to Jefferson: “The old nurse whom you expected to have attended her [Polly], was sick and unable to come. She has a Girl of about 15 or 16 with her, the Sister of the Servant you have with you [Sally’s brother, James]… The Girl who is with her is quite a child, and Captain Ramsey is of opinion will be of so little Service that he had better carry her back with him. But of this you will be a judge. She seems fond of the child and appears good naturd… The Girl she has with her, wants more care than the child, and is wholly incapable of looking properly after her, without some superiour to direct her. As both Miss Jefferson and the maid had cloaths only proper for the sea, I have purchased and made up for them, such things as I should have done had they been my own…” 

Gordon-Reed impressively explores this letter from every possible angle, the account, as it is, from a privileged adult white woman about an African-American slave girl. She sections that Adams is, firstly, wrong about Sally’s age, thinking the girl to be two years older than she actually is, and therefore, believing her to be less emotionally or socially mature. The institution of slavery was also one defined in part by a hyper-paternalism so we must read also through that lens. Conflicting passages from Adams would suggest that Polly Jefferson was the one that was deeply immature, but the reverse is true in this letter to her father. Gordon-Reed explores other evidence known about Adams’ views on race, reminding modern readers that the Adams family’s well-known anti-slavery position did not mean they were not racists. She publishes text of revealing thoughts Abigail put down on paper later in life critiquing Shakespeare’s Othello-- "Who can sympathize with the love of Desdemona? The great moral lesson of the tragedy... is that black and white blood cannot be intermingled in marriage without a gross outrage upon the law of Nature." 

Adams never refers to Sally by name in the letter to Jefferson. Remember that, in the United States, Sally was legally a non-person. Also, and this may have caught your eye in the text, as it did Gordon-Reed’s, what is “Captain Ramsey’s” motivation in proposing immediate return transportation for Sally? If this proposition is being accurately conveyed, why is the sailor suggesting to a third-party his opinion that Hemings will be of “so little Service” to the Jeffersons that she should be returned right away to the United States, and under his protection? The author doesn’t say so in so many words, but I will-- the implication of the offer is pretty gross. For Sally, the voyage would have been the hardest part. Once the girls have arrived in Paris, she could easily perform the same domestic duties she’s been performing in Virginia. 

All of the historical records regarding Sally Hemings, early to late in her life, convey that she was observed-- by white, black, or biracial acquaintances universally-- to be physically attractive. Gordon-Reed is interested not only in that revealing comment by a peripheral character, but in Adams’ relaying of it. Needless to say, it would be totally unacceptable, in that time, for a ship captain to suggest to a Southern gentleman planter that a white girl from his household be returned to a separate continent in his custody-- and a lady at the very top of the social hierarchy, as Adams was, would never conceive of endorsing such a plan. There was a reason, after all, that everybody agreed at the outset that Polly should have a travel mate. 

While Ramsey’s designs, if true, were certainly shaded by Hemings’ physical attractiveness, Adams was likely just as affected by Sally’s appearance in her motivation. She certainly knew also of the widower Jefferson’s reputation with the ladies, and the fact that there was a full staff of servants at Jefferson’s hotel residence in Paris, and Hemings would not even be asked to be the primary caregiver for Polly. Abigail Adams, therefore, comes off quite passive-aggressive in her correspondence. As Gordon-Reed points out, it would actually be insensitive to Polly to remove her from the presence of a girl almost exactly her age, whom she has known all of her life (who indeed is also her aunt), in a foreign country with a predominately foreign tongue, that comes from the same mountain community in Virginia and now shares the same life experience of cultural re-location. With both of Jefferson’s Paris-residing daughters bound for boarding school, is Adams’ actually concerned about the propriety of Hemings living in a small hotel apartment with Jefferson? And if so, is she genuinely concerned with Hemings’ well-being, or with Jefferson’s reputation in Europe and at home in the infant republic, or both? For sure, we should no better than to simply take Adams' written words at face value, yet that's exactly the type of thing historians did for decades. 

Writing a history about largely-undocumented people, and from an unexplored perspective cannot be easy. This is not copy and paste stuff. But laying open hidden bits of enlightenment from ancient evidence must be very gratifying for a writer, and the dissection of such is a blast to read. What Gordon-Reed is doing is truly re-writing the American historical record, and doing so in the best sense of that phrase. She’s providing a correction to a story that is monumentally significant in the narrative of the United States. It's the type of achievement for which the Pulitzer Prize should be given. 

Even though there are countless texts from Jefferson describing his personal life, and countless more by others regarding Jefferson, it seems that the early American statesman made it the highest priority of his life to hide from his political enemies and the world the fact that he was basically living as a married man with a Negro woman after the death of his wife. Though we’d very much like to, sexual relationships between slave and master cannot be boiled down to just a story of rape. At the macro level, we can do it-- Sally could not give her sexual consent to Thomas Jefferson because, as reinforced by the law of the time, he didn’t need it. She was chattel. (For that matter, he also couldn't marry her, for the state would not recognize it.) His exasperating failure during his life-- and then upon his death-- to free all of his slaves and to put the principles of the Declaration of Independence at work in his own life make our story endlessly more fascinating. 

It does an injustice to history to say that all of these slave/slaveholder sexual relationships were the same. Sally’s individualism cannot be sacrificed for the purpose of having her serve as representative of all other relationships, some of which, I promise, were vastly more stomach-turning than this one. Within none of the historical accounts does Jefferson come off as a man that felt he could rape black women with impunity (though, again, legally he could as long as they were his possession) and he did not exercise his power the way others did. By the same account, it cannot be demanded of Sally by historians that she attempt to violently resist or kill her master, as other black women did, to prove to latter-day observers that she had not given her consent. 

What Gordon-Reed arrives at on this subject is that, where man meets woman, black meets white, and slave meets master, some significant parsing needs to be done to get to the most precise truths of these people. And even within that construct, a Thomas Jefferson, a Sally Hemings, an Annette Gordon-Reed, or a Chris Moeller is not the same person today that he or she was yesterday, will be tomorrow. In the author’s lively turn of phrase, “Not all of anyone ever always does anything.”

Where does that leave us? These people lived in a time that was almost unfathomably different than the time we live in today. Not only is it difficult to comprehend the concept of humans as property, but we’re thankfully far out of step with their ideas on the inequality of the sexes and the age-appropriateness of sexual relationships. I most definitely do not write that to excuse the behavior of Thomas Jefferson. Abolitionists were alive and active, even in Virginia, at that time (and they were densely-populated in the locales of Paris, where Jefferson served as ambassador, and Philadelphia, where he served as President). Examples of Jefferson's writing reveal that he was aware of his own moral deficiencies on the subject, even if he had a hard time confronting them with honesty. Contrasting Jefferson with the Adamses is an interesting exercise as Jefferson was a slaveholder, yet had biracial people as his closest confidantes-- not only Sally but her brothers, and men that he freed as slaves later that he referred to for years as "friends." The Adamses were opposed to slavery, yet clearly held more socially-acceptable beliefs at the time (and less socially-acceptable today) about the importance of keeping the white race pure. 

Gordon-Reed writes of the probability that Sally enjoyed a certain measure of contentedness in her relationship with Jefferson. The evidence suggests that he tried hard in his attempts to woo her, and was too accommodating a personality to have been comfortable bedding her against her will. He shopped extravagantly for her in Paris. (One recorded spree translates to a thousand dollars in today's money.) She was already pregnant with his child when they left Paris (she would bear six of his children), and according to one of their sons years later, Jefferson had to agree to free their future children as each reached the age of 21 in order to convince her to return to Virginia when she could have lived in France as a free person. (Hemings had some leverage at this one and only juncture of her life as Jefferson never registered his slaves in Paris, and stood to lose them if discovered by the authorities.) Writes the author, “The world sent (Sally) a very definite and hard message about enslavement at the same time as it conveyed another powerful message about what was to be her role in life as a woman-- partner to a man and a mother. Those roles were tenuous because the law did not protect her in either of them. They were not, however, meaningless to her." 

Sally could have been treated well by Jefferson in private, even lived in love with him, but he could not acknowledge her in public. He could have set his slaves free even during the course of his life, but his obsession with his historical legacy and the financial situation of his white family claimed higher priorities. The Hemingses lived in the shadow of an extraordinarily important-- and extraordinarily flawed-- man. They were members of a population that was incalculably oppressed and dispossessed, collectively tortured, and almost entirely unrealized each as individuals. A close relationship with the third President of the United States did not shield any of them from that. Our story spins almost out of comprehension when we consider that Thomas Jefferson had this large family that consisted of in-laws, cousins, children, and a life partner (of some definition) that were also his property, and even as I continue to write this report I feel the onerous weight of the topic upon a modern consciousness, and the very real danger of being misunderstood, or writing in an incomplete fashion. The topic is safe instead in the hands of Annette Gordon-Reed. You can borrow the book, but I encourage you to buy your own.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The truth about John McCain

The beatification continues on at least three different 24-hour-a-day news channels for the recently-deceased six-term Arizona senator and American militarist John McCain. Upon his death, the conservative Republican is being cast by both Democrats and Republicans as the anti-Trump, which effectively, and at long last, entombs the one-time self-described "maverick" as the establishment politician he's always been. His political base was always the Washington press corps.

Rather than being the anti-Trump, McCain was really more of a forerunner. The opening act. Aside from unleashing Sarah Palin onto the world, using her as his attack dog in an openly-racist presidential campaign against Barack Obama, effectively launching each of the "tea party," "birther," and nativist movements, and then never apologizing for any of it, McCain suffered from an often uncontrollable temper and popularized the name-calling that Trump would later make his metier. McCain referred to political opponents as "shitheads," "assholes," and one time at least, "a fucking jerk." In 1992, in front of reporters in Arizona, he answered some gentle kidding from his wife, Cindy, about the thinning hair on the top of his head with the line, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt." A teenage Chelsea Clinton was "ugly," his Vietnam captors were unapologetically "gooks," and anti-war protesters, specifically pacifist Code Pink activists, were "low-life scum" because they called for the arrest of the American war criminal Henry Kissinger. I guess that's some Teddy Roosevelt-style plain talk.

McCain idolized Theodore Roosevelt. The 26th President of the United States was his political hero. And as a committed student of history, McCain adopted Roosevelt's imperialist designs for the world and popularized them for new generations a century later. He lobbied relentlessly for the war on Iraq, the war on Afghanistan, "surge" strategies and drone bombing under President Obama, and an apartheid government in Israel. Upon the death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, McCain called the authoritarian monarch "an advocate of peace" even during the Saudis' slaughter of Yemenis (a still-largely unacknowledged global crisis that continues today). McCain was a Cold Warrior in the strongest, most historically potent sense of the phrase when it came to political relations with Russia. He supported right wing contra death squads in Central America and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, both in his steadfast opposition to communism. He flew to war zones all over the world with news cameras always close behind. When arriving in Syria and Libya, he recruited affiliates of al Qaeda as allies. In Ukraine, he did battle with Vladimir Putin and Russia by forming U.S. alliances with actual neo-Nazis. These three countries-- Syria, Libya, and Ukraine, are just three locations where McCain was committed to replacing independent-minded governments with sectarian and/or fascist militarists. As much as any American "statesman," he pushed to militarize the peaceful resistance movement to Assad in Syria, arming and financing ISIS, causing a bloodbath as well as one of the worst refugee crises in memory. Strange to consider now but Sarah Palin told us a decade ago that it was Barack Obama who "palled around with terrorists."

The traditional news media and McCain's political partners, nearly all of them career climbers, and the Democrats among them now moving into full-time status as neoconservative Bush Republicans, overlook all of this dirt on McCain because they share the senator's belief that American military interventions amount to a great gift from our country to the rest of the world. They share his outlook that the world is a chessboard and those that are dead from these excursions by the world's most powerful military but that are not also Americans, are merely statistics. The perfect encapsulation of McCain's status at home was the newser on Monday during which Washington reporters shouted over a summit between President Trump and the President of Kenya Uhuru Kenyatta demanding that Trump explain why he would not lower the White House flag to half-staff to honor the death of McCain.

The news media loves this narrative-- McCain as the anti-Trump. McCain was that in only one sense-- that he took the exact opposite tack with the media that Trump does. Instead of campaigning against the deeply unpopular national news outlets, he coddled and flattered them. This was a strategy no less brilliant than Trump's even though McCain never reached the White House and had the unfortunate timing to campaign against Obama rather than Hillary Clinton after he secured the Republican nomination for president. He signed off on nearly every Trump policy over the last two years, yet managed to conflate himself publicly as a principled opponent of the president, even seeing to it before he died that Trump not be allowed to speak at his funeral. His famous "thumbs down" vote in the Senate chamber, crossing party lines to cast the deciding vote to "save Obamacare," was really just, we should all recognize, a nod to save Romneycare, a legislative requirement to purchase shitty private insurance and delay the promise of national health insurance for God knows how long. But wow, the drama on the floor that day. News reporters don't get cinematic moments like that very often working the political beat. Meanwhile, Arizona's senior senator was right down the Trump Republican middle on the horrendous tax bill and pretty much every other initiative of the president up until the time of his death. McCain received public kudos from the left for being a Republican that acknowledges human-impacted climate change, but did he ever cast a vote to limit the steamroller of capitalism? In Arizona in 2014, he saw to the privatization and industrialization of Tonto National Forest, holy ground to the Apaches and land that had been previously protected by two different Republican presidents, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.

If Jim Garrison was right and fascism will come to us under the name of national security, John McCain did more than his share to hurry this inevitability. His legacy as an "American hero" was secure as soon as he was taken prisoner in Hanoi, the point from which he was forever after praised for his courage. He had been captured by the Viet Minh while running 23 bombing missions against a formerly-enslaved people that wanted self-autonomy and never attacked the United States. Only his capture ensured that he didn't run a 24th mission. (And a reminder to some of you here that the "doing your duty" argument went out at Nuremberg and when McCain was still in short pants. At the Tribunal in Germany, it was firmly established that "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced.") John McCain took that story of courage back home and turned it into a long, dishonest, and horrifically bloody political career. Throughout his life he saw honor and glory in carnage and death, which makes him a victim as well as a perpetrator. But anti-war protesters tried telling him differently and he didn't listen. It wasn't just the news media that he enthralled, but they helped him out a great deal. He found a way to play us all like gullible fools.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

An extraordinary timeline

It's a very basic format, but this timeline describing the history of race and racism at Charlottesville, Virginia and at the University of Virginia, penned by a UV history professor, is really worth a read. Covering the basic events between 1607 and last year, it's a sort of microcosmic history of America as well. This weekend marks the one-year anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally on the streets of Charlottesville.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

"Lies My Blogger Told Me" -- The last cut

Comes word that HBO has finally green-lit a movie from genius writer and producer David Milch that will serve as the two-hour story conclusion to the Peabody-winning series Deadwood, that ran from 2004 to 2006. Milch has a script completed and he has re-assembled the cast to put the finishing touches to a story that ended abruptly more than a decade ago. This is going to be way better than the Will & Grace re-boot.

Deadwood was an obsession of mine at the time it aired, and I wrote quite a lot about it. I helped direct a Moeller Family Reunion to the Black Hills in 2007 because of this series. The original manuscript of Lies My Blogger Told Me contained the following creative writing piece, but removing it was one of the last editing decisions I made. When you read it, you'll see why it was nixed-- I was trying to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating...


'Cocksucker' University: The Deadwood-to-English dictionary
2/24/06

It took some digging and the further-fostering of a now-bordering-on-dangerous program obsession, but I've pinpointed from on-line sources the tentative DVD release date of HBO's "Deadwood- Season 2." Having been delayed, due to the re-scheduling of Season 3 on the pay-cable network, the discs are now expected to be released May 23rd, just in time for Memorial Day and the debut of the show's new season. 

In advance of your purchase, here's a handy language translation guide so that you might better determine just what in the hell these strange-speaking David Milch creations on "Deadwood" are actually saying... 

Episode 1 excerpt-- 

GOLD PROSPECTOR ELLSWORTH: Now, with that limey damn accent of yours, are these rumors true that you're descended from the British nobility? 
SALOON OWNER AL SWEARINGEN: I'm descended from all those cocksuckers. 
ELLSWORTH: Well, here's to you your majesty. I'll tell you what, I may have fucked my life up harder than hammered shit, but I stand before you today beholden to no human cocksucker, and workin' a payin', fuckin' gold claim. Not the U.S. government sayin' I'm trespassin', or the savage fuckin' red man himself, or any of these limber-dicked cocksuckers passin' themselves off as prospectors had better try to stop me. 
SWEARINGEN: They'd better not try it in here. 
ELLSWORTH: Goddamn it, Swearingen. I don't trust you as far as I could tho you, but I enjoy the way you lie. 
SWEARINGEN: Thank you, my good man. 

Translation: 

ELLSWORTH: Are you descended from British royalty, Al? 
SWEARINGEN: Yes. 
ELLSWORTH: I come from humble stock myself, but I've worked pretty hard to get what I have.
SWEARINGEN: I know that's true.
ELLSWORTH: Here's to you, Al. 
SWEARINGEN: Cheers. 

--- 
Episode 13 excerpt-- 

SWEARINGEN (gesturing to the construction of telegraph poles): Messages from invisible sources. Or what some people think of as progress. 
HIS 'MUSCLE', DAN DOHERTY: Well, ain't the heathens use smoke signals all the way through recorded history? 
SWEARINGEN: How's that a fucking recommendation? 
DOHERTY: Well, it seems to me like a letter posted to another person's just a slower version of the same general idea. 
SWEARINGEN: When's the last time you got a fucking letter from a stranger? 
DOHERTY: Bad news about Pa. 
SWEARINGEN: Bad news. Tries against our interest is our sole communications from strangers, so by all means, let's.. let's plant poles all across the country, festoon the cocksucker with wires to hurry the sorry word, and blinker our judgments and motive, huh? 
DOHERTY: You've given it more thought than me. 
SWEARINGEN: Ain't the state of things cloudy enough? Don't we face enough fucking imponderables? 
DOHERTY: Well, by God, Al, you give the word-- them fucking poles will be kindling. 

Translation: 

SWEARINGEN: I despise the fact that telecommunications technology has arrived in town. Major changes in the community are a disconcerting reminder that my lucrative gambling and prostitution operations won't last forever. 
DOHERTY: I didn't mean to anger you by speaking up. Do you want me to sabotage the construction process? 

--- 
Episode 11 excerpt-- 

HOTELIER E.B. FARNUM (spying through a peephole at a newcomer to town): The man's a charlatan, Richardson. A cheat. A broadtosser, and a clip. I only wonder if the daughter's been in it with him. Or she's his pigeon? 
HIS ASSISTANT, RICHARDSON: May I look, Mr. Farnum? 
FARNUM: Yes. When you've grown a full head of hair. 

Translation: 

FARNUM: I don't trust this visitor, Richardson. 
RICHARDSON: May I look through the keyhole at the man? 
FARNUM: No. 

--- 
Episode 15 excerpt-- 

SHERIFF BULLOCK (to his dead brother's son): Good morning, William. 
WILLIAM: Good morning, Mr. Bullock. You got your gun and badge back. 
BULLOCK: I did. I put them in that basket for you to see. 
WILLIAM: Did you fight that man again? 
BULLOCK: No. We didn't have to fight. 
WILLIAM (gesturing to an acquaintance on the street): That boy's going to Oregon. 
Pause.

BULLOCK: There's a trout. Loiters just downstream there. 
WILLIAM: Boy called him 'Jumbo.' 
BULLOCK: Maybe after work, we can make him pay for his slothful ways. 

Translation: 

BULLOCK: Good morning. 
WILLIAM: Good morning, Seth. I see that you got your gun and badge back. 
BULLOCK: Yes. Notice how I followed through on an earlier promise in an effort to be a positive influence on your life. 
WILLIAM: I'm lonely. There are no other boys to play with in this town. 
BULLOCK: Let's go fishing when I get home from work. 

--- 
Episode 9 excerpt-- 

THE WIDOW ALMA GARRETT: I'm certain Mr. Ellsworth's in very capable hands but I hope you're not disassociating yourself from my affairs. 
BULLOCK: I already got my impression of this fellow, Mrs. Garrett. This meeting is how you form yours. 
GARRETT: I see. 
BULLOCK: Then we'll compare notes and decide how you proceed. 
GARRETT: Fine. 
BULLOCK: For the future point, when you tell me my thinking's so consistently wrong-headed, it's a waste of your valuable time having to deal with me. 
GARRETT (smiles): In any case, I know you have many claims on your attention. 
BULLOCK: A couple. 
GARRETT: Thank you very much. 
BULLOCK: I'd lean more on what I felt about this fellow than what I saw. 

Translation: 

GARRETT: I want to have sex with you, Mr. Bullock. 
BULLOCK: And I want to have sex with you. 
GARRETT: Very good then. 
BULLOCK: I'll clear my schedule, and we'll meet soon in your room.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 introducing me to that distinction.

Rogers' 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 Clemmons 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 products 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 that 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 the world can be explained 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 seems to increasingly believe that 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 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 confidence that we will see his likes again. Furthermore, it's difficult 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 Mr. Rogers looks at this talented younger person, as he was wont to do-- with joy and wonder, 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.”