Saturday, May 31, 2008

In Memory of...

Introductory rambling: So much to write about these days, what with the rules committee hearing going on in DC (moot in any case), the war, the Democratic Convention in Augusta, the Celtics, international disasters--it's all been on my mind to comment, disparage or celebrate. Instead, I'm going to write about Memorial Day.

I've been thinking about this since I went to Portland's parade on Monday, and links sent by Petrie have kept it in the front of my mind. Last night I had pizza and beer with my city councilor and we chatted about it as well. Time to write.

Portland's Memorial Day Parade was pathetic. Embarrassing, actually, on several levels. It was thinly attended. The delegations were small. The community was not represented. The American Legion and VFW were predictably bitter. I was pissed.

I shot off a text message to the three city councilors who I know, and they all had the same general response. It is the VFW and the American Legion who organize the parade, and they only talk to each other. I don't mind beefing with those guys--you have to involve the community. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

In Memory of Memorial Day

If you don't tell it like it was, it can never be as it ought to be.
-- Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth
Reverend Shuttlesworth was speaking about slavery when he said that. I feel the quote is appropriate, nevertheless. Like slavery, our American wars -- and war wounded and war dead -- are self-inflicted strokes. Bear with me while I explain what I mean.

No matter how obvious the need, ultimately we take it upon ourselves to war. The Revolution was a choice -- we decided that bloodshed was necessary. We severed ourselves from England to become the cutting for a new flower.
Washington and Lafayette
Even the most obvious wars -- World War I and II, the war with Afghanistan -- reflect a policy choice that sends Americans to kill and die. The rightness of a choice is debatable; that it was a choice is not.
Joshua Chamberlain

It is also appropriate to tie the remembrance of slavery to Memorial Day because we have, in part, freedmen to thank for it.

During the Civil War, a racetrack near Charleston was converted into a military prison for captured Union soldiers. At least 257 of those men died from exposure and disease and were buried in a mass grave. In April of 1865, two dozen or so black men dug up the grave and properly reinterred the bodies of those dead Union men in the racetrack's infield. (Who cares to imagine that gruesome task?) A fence was built around the new cemetery, whitewashed, with an archway entrance inscribed, "To the Martyrs of the Racecourse." Then, on May 1st, Something remarkable occurred:
At 9 am on May 1, the procession stepped off led by three thousand black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing "John Brown's Body." The children were followed by several hundred black women with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other black and white citizens. As many as possible gathering in the cemetery enclosure; a childrens' choir sang "We'll Rally around the Flag," the "Star-Spangled Banner," and several spirituals before several black ministers read from scripture. No record survives of which biblical passages rung out in the warm spring air, but the spirit of Leviticus 25 was surely present at those burial rites: "for it is the jubilee; it shall be holy unto you ... in the year of this jubilee he shall return every man unto his own possession."

Following the solemn dedication the crowd dispersed into the infield and did what many of us do on Memorial Day: they enjoyed picnics, listened to speeches, and watched soldiers drill. Among the full brigade of Union infantry participating was the famous 54th Massachusetts and the 34th and 104th U.S. Colored Troops, who performed a special double-columned march around the gravesite. The war was over, and Decoration Day had been founded by African Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration.
(Of course, the "official" Memorial Day wasn't established until 1868, when General John Logan, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, signed General Order No.11.)

Finally, the act of warring ploughs deep furrows in the mind. This is not to say that years on the battlefield are one-to-one in ratio to lifetimes of slavery. It is simply to note a consonance of mental rupture.

The "double consciousness" of WEB DuBois that many black Americans live in is not unlike the double consciousness of the soldier in autumn (even if it's still his or her spring). Whether lately returned from the war in Iraq or guarding the memory of the last "Great War;" whether nursing a beer at the VFW or quietly living with all the horror clamped down and only the fierce memories of heightened life and comradeship allowed to percolate to the surface; whether having found an equipoise (no matter how delicate) or desperately seeking to replicate, or escape from, the high of combat; whether a soldier, a marine, an airman or a sailor, that person is always searching for a place in civil society, and for the right tone of life in the place to which that service was rendered. To paraphrase DuBois, it is a struggle to be both a warrior and a civilian, both from within and from without.

For myself, I struggle to harmonize my love of this nation with my sickness at the things we've been up to lately. My heart is broken; I long to be as proud of this nation as I am of many of her soldiers. And once we open this window into the contradictions of American citizenship, we can see it is a fun-house mirror-maze of double images. Like all mazes, though, there is the promise of finding a way out.

Memorial Day is a day to acknowledge the wounds on the body politic. To see, no matter our own position on any of the litany of conflicts in which our nation has engaged, that those wars have torn a hole in the civic fabric. It is a day for us to acknowledge our national wounds: psychic, moral, bodily -- even political. To look at that place where we have gashed ourselves in the throes of this experiment and say, "Here have we hurt, and yet, we are."

The fulcrum of "and yet" is why the parade. Early Memorial Day parades had two distinct parts: A procession to the cemetery on the edge of town and a recession from there to the town center. On the way to the cemetery, the marchers would be solemn. The band would play a hymn-like tune. The procession would arrive for a dedication and "Taps" -- a Civil War bugle call that once simply signaled the end of the day -- would be played. But on the return to the center of the town, the march becomes a celebration--not of victory, but of enduring hope.

Here have we hurt, and yet, we are.

Hope in this setting is so important. It is the feeling that we are still moving forward, together. A belief that the dream is still viable, still worthwhile. That whatever we do, we do together. That however bitterly we tear at one another, we share a nation and, at root, hold the same essential liberties sacred. That above all we might one day come to a place where discord is marginal, not central, to civic life.

Memorial Day, therefore, is about our community. In order to celebrate it, we should be drawing the community in. This isn't a celebration for the VFW and the Legion (an organization that I am ambivalent about to say the least), though they may be its organizers. Rather than organizing the Day and then expecting the public to come, we need to be reaching out the public and inviting them to participate, not just watch.

I "marched" in my first Memorial Day parade wearing a T-Ball uniform and sneakers. And I marched in every one after that until I graduated from High School. I marched as a Cub Scout, a Boy Scout and a member of the High School Band. In our parade we had: the 4-H; the Pony Club; every kid who played in the town's recreational T-ball, Softball, Jr. Little League and Little League; Mr. Criz and his clydesdales; the community garden group; the Lions Club; the Kiwanis; the High School Band; the Combined Jr. High Bands; the Bethany Community School band, pounding away on their drums and glockenspiels; the Library; the Bethany VFD; the Staties; the Governor's Horse Guard (stabled in town); the EMT's; the Downs brothers, dressed as clowns to pick up after the horses; the Brownies and Girl Scouts; the Bethany Wanderers (hiking group); the Bethany Conservation Commission (us. w/ the Wanderers); the Shriners; at least half a dozen antique automobiles. And that's just off the top of my head.

The parade route was 1.7 miles long. Yes, it was. I mapped it on Google maps. It included two right-wheels (three if you count the start): one onto Peck Road (a steep uphill), and one just past the reviewing stand (yes, there was a reviewing stand) into the parking lot of the Town Hall. Gordon Carrington was always on the reviewing stand (1st Selectman for about 80 years), and the kid who played "Taps" during the laying of the wreath hid out on the side stairs of the Town Hall and always seemed to crack a note or two. Then, after the wreath, we'd all troop back down Peck Road to the Fire Station and get hotdogs from Mr. DiMayo, who grilled squinting into the smoke with a little bit of dip in his lip, and we'd play on the fire trucks.

In 1990, the year before I graduated high school and left town, the population of Bethany was 4,670. The population of Portland is 64,000. The Portland Parade could have chased itself around the monument in Monument Square, around the base of Columbia, "To Her Sons Who Died for the Union." There were few people on the street.

There are a couple of reasons, I think. One is that it has become a three-day holiday weekend. The other is that no one has asked them, or their kids, to participate. Where were the neighborhood groups? Munjoy Hill, Bayside, East Bayside, Western Promenade and the West End all have neighborhood groups. What about the Friends of Deering Oaks Park? What about the historical society/Portland Monuments? Portland Parks and Rec? Friends of Evergreen Cemetery? Portland Trails? A Company of Girls Theater Group? Were the Kiwanis there? What about the Portland Boxing Club? What about our new immigrant communities--don't you think we can do a better job with that? Don't they have something to celebrate here? And shouldn't we, a nation of immigrants, be equally excited to celebrate them? (I guarangoddamtee you the Legion didn't reach out to them.) What about PATHS and Casco Bay HS? I bet those PATHS guys could make up a ripping float.

My point is, this should be a community event. It should be a moment to look around and see who we are, to come together to share sorrow, to honor sacrifice and loss, and then to celebrate ourselves for moving this democracy forward, one day at a time.

We're in an historic moment where the only sacrifice we've been called to make as a community is to support the troops by shopping. But Memorial Day is a chance to stitch the fabric of our Community (capitalized on purpose) a little tighter together.

We need to take that chance.

KJG 1919-2001

Whose House?

Paul's House!!

If you're a black American... long have you waited for this day?

It's stirring to me, and I was born well into the power structure, and have wormed my way even closer since.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Better Than You...

Today, the Portland Press Herald ran one of its more incisive pieces of investigative journalism. By which I mean they took a press release from a major insurance company, asked a few fluffy, man-in-the-street type questions, and published the thing as news:
Bad as it is to drive in Boston, folks in Massachusetts aren't America's most clueless about driving safely. They're just close.

Massachusetts drivers understand the rules of the road a bit better than drivers in New Jersey, the home to America's least knowledgeable drivers, according to a survey done by GMAC Insurance.

"Doesn't surprise me at all," said Ken Elias of Edgewater, N.J., who was driving to Acadia National Park on Friday. "There are a number of really rude drivers in Jersey. But, hey, it's great to be first in something."
Because this is a 'blog, and therefor unserious by definition (right? right?), I did a little, you know, analysis. And research.

The GMAC "unscientific study" of how well people in the 50 states know the rules of the road is valid, well, not at all. For anything. But that's ok--there's really nothing else to report on in this state, the nation or the world. This'll do.

The clear implication of the Press Herald article is that the "bottom five" "states" (Jersey, DC [sic], New Yawk, Massachusetts and Georgia) have much dumber and therefore more dangerous drivers than the rest of the country, particularly those in the top five (Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Idaho and Minnesota). Those top fivers really know their rules!

Which made me ask the question, "And? Where am I more likely to die in a car crash?"

(Ed. Note: I'm something of an expert on wrecking vehicles, having flipped two cars and wrecked a motorcycle within the last 5 years.)

So I "googled" the "internets" to see if I could do what reporter Ed Murphy was incapable of doing: turning a meaningless story into an opportunity to discover something interesting, and, perhaps, notable. It was tough, but you can thank yr. humble corr. for coming through in the clutch (pun intended).

So, just how deadly are the states with poorly informed drivers (according to GMAC)? How safe are the "road-smart" states? Unless you live in the northeast, the answer will surprise you.

According to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports, issued in August of 2007 (using 2004 data), here is the verdict:

The Five Safest States (including DC) to drive in are, from safest to deadliest [deaths per 100,000 residents]:

1. New Yawk [8.2]
2. Massachusetts [8.3]
3. D.C. [8.3]
4. New Jersey [8.9]
5. Rhode Island [9.2]

Using the logic of GMAC, what does this tell you? That I can't say, but what it tells me is that people in MA, NY, NJ and DC may not know the rules, but they do know how to drive.

The Five Deadliest States (including DC) to drive in are, from deadliest to safest [deaths per 100,000 residents]:

1. Mississippi [31.5]
2. Arkansas [28.3]
3. Alabama [27.8]
4. Montana [26.0]
5. New Mexico [25.2]

So, avoid those places I guess? (And myself, of course.)

Sorry to disappoint you, Ken Elias of Edgewater, N.J.; Jersey is no longer #1. World: Say hello to Mississippi. (Followers of Mississippi success stories will see the pattern here.) Take heart, Ken. Turns out folks in Jersey are actually pretty good behind the wheel, even though GMAC says they don't know what they're doing.

And what about GMAC's top 5? Deaths per 100,000:
Kansas, 18.3
Wyoming, 23.9
Nebraska, 16.1
Idaho, 17.9
Minnesota, 12.8
Meh. Of course, there are only about 100,000 people in Wyoming, so if you have six two-car accidents you're done. (I kid, I kid. I love the Cowboy State.)

This all works out, in my mind. I've lived all over the country and the worst drivers -- by far -- that I've ever encountered are in Utah. The Worst. In spite of the fact that they seemed almost universally to be oblivious, completely lacking in situational awareness, the death rate there is only 13.4. Must be the magic underwear.

As a corollary, while driving in the northeast can be harrowing at times, I've always felt like people know they're behaving poorly, other people expect it, and, for the most part, everyone watches out. It's pretty simple, actually. Just act like your mission is the most important mission.

And remember: Mass****s can smell fear. Drive proud.
Rte.1, Saugus, MA, 4:45p, Friday
Oh, and Ed? That research took me about 5 seconds.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Run, Chubby, Run!

I'm a'gonna testify: No man! Can call him self a MAN! IF he canNOT bear the COMPany of a STRONG WOMAN!

In that vein, please allow me to introduce my sister.

You may have heard her obliquely referred to here and elsewhere as "Chubby." Both a moniker and a descriptor (as me), she is in the habit of daring me to do crazy stuff like run many miles with her. Last year, I begged and wheedled whereever they'd let me for support in what eventually became a one-runner race.

Although she had shamed me into preparing for the half-marathon, poor Chubby was unable to join me. Nevertheless, thanks to your generosity the effort was successful. I finished the run and raised over $1000 for the cause. I immortalized the day here, if you're interested in wasting your time surfing the tubes: The Final Adventure of Fat Man and Chubby.

Well, the Chubster is at it again. Actually, she's often at it (it being pretty much anything). In this case, however, it's a run and a cause that is close to both of our hearts.

The Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock is where my one of my grandfathers received the last medical treatment of his life. Both of them died from cancer, as did Chubby's father-in-law. As did many of the people we once knew--you may have heard: cancer is quite common. While the CHaD race was my big fundraiser, Chubby attempts the Covered Bridges Half Marathon every year in memory of our grandfathers and as a way to help raise some money for such a fine institution.

IN JUST FIVE DAYS, she will try the run. You have JUST FIVE DAYS to pitch in and donate. Please help us out. This is one gritty, determined person. Read the race report in that link for a look inside her head. I know that part of what drives her on is knowing that, while she has the option of quiting, cancer doesn't give you that chance.

Chubby's more than halfway to her $1000 goal. Please help me help her get to that line--she will take care of the rest.

Thanks, (all) you reader(s). You (guys) are the best.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Picture of the Day

Barack Hussein Obama addresses a crowd of more than 75,000 in Portland, Oregon.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bill Moyers is a smart person

Bill Moyers, in an interview yesterday with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! had some intelligent things to say about the media. Here's a slice of fried gold:
...the media doesn’t allow complicated thought to be articulated in ways that enlighten instead of misinform people.

...Politics often exposes us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I’ve never seen anything like this, this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner. Both men, no doubt, will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the nonstop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said, "Beware the terrible simplifiers."
More of this, please. You can read the transcript or listen (or watch) the entire interview through the link to Democracy Now!, above.

In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., "Rarely do we find men who engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think."

Moyers has always been both willing to think and unwilling to simplify, which I suppose is why he wound up in public broadcasting. There is little of commercial value in considered exposition, as the booksellers will tell you. It's past cliche to say that the media caters to the lowest common denominator. This has always been true--just think of the Spanish-American War and cries of "Remember the Maine!" Sensational or yellow or whatever you'd like to call it, American media has rarely upheld the ideals of the freedom under which it operates.

Like Novak, however, it is never beneath extolling those ideals to protect its pursuit of profit -- never so eloquent nor so subtle as when there is a threat to the golden tap.
Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters' Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all. It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact,--very momentous to us in these times.
--Thomas Carlyle, "On Heroes and Hero Worship"
It has been "very momentous to us in these times" since freedom of the press was enshrined. And even though self-abasement by the media is not new, I would argue that never in American history has the media so clearly abandoned its role as the fourth estate. And where once that failure doomed only our country and the foe of the moment, in these days of hegemony, our illness of ethics and money threaten to catch the world on fire. In a moment when we must be at our best--for we are never as before a city on a hill--we have been at our worst. We have followed Dick Cheney into the shadows. You may recall:
We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.
That quote is from a Meet the Press interview on September 16, 2001. Fittingly, it is the press that has provided the Emperor with the clothes he needed to do this "work in the shadows." Now, far too late (though we should well have seen its inevitability), we have followed the strings of torture back to the hands of the puppeteer.

What we can be sure the press will never report is that between the puppeteers and their audience, holding up the curtain to maintain the fiction, stands the press. And here we sit, like fools at a show, and believe it's all for our benefit.

The fact: The fact is that there is really only one thing that separates the good guys from the bad guys: There are things that bad guys do, which good guys will not.

It is their "will" not to do -- or to do -- that makes the difference.

I'm glad there are people like Bill Moyers to remind us that we were supposed to have been the white hats in this drama. But we've helped ourselves to a black 10 gallon Stetson and a bandanna to hide our features. In the confusing cross-fire of like against like we've used the Constitution to plug the bullet holes. It was never made for that.

And we enshrined freedom of the press, because the people should always know what the government is doing in their name.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I slapped this together because I didn't feel like doing much work today, and I got a little happy about the fact that a) this primary is finally closing down shop and b) it's been a while since I felt this good about the Democratic Party's nominee. I think the last time might have been 1992.

The transition between Microsoft Publisher and photobucket isn't seamless; the original background is a bit more nicely faded.

Also, Kissing Suzy Kolber has this great send-up of the coverage of Tuesday's primaries, proving two things at once:

1. The Main Stream Political Media has completely and utterly jumped the shark. They are the only ones who take each other seriously anymore. No one anywhere in American believes what they hear on TV, and

2. My blog is totally derivative and completely un-needed, providing the merest rubber-necking diversion on the great information superhighway. However, fear not, oh my Holmesian lovers of the intellectual marketplace: I will continue to stock my shelves with kitsch and others' overstock in new packaging, and stand in your way with my fat ass and cart fully of snot-nosed screamers while you try to take something worthwhile away from the public forum.