I should think that Omarosa Manigault Newman must be weeping bitter tears and sticking little pins into a voodoo doll of John Brennan all this weekend, for he has stolen just about all of her publicity thunder in the end-of-week headlines and newscast coverage. A good few things are now obvious about her to that apparently small portion of the public (including myself) who didn’t watch reality TV series. One of those things is that she is a back-biting, vicious witch who blithely assumed that playing one for the cameras on a TV reality show would of course translate perfectly into a job at the White House, and another that taping conversations right and left to produce a tell-all inside book on the Trump administration would be just like secretly taping conversations for a tell-all book on the behind the scenes maneuvering on The Apprentice. Why on earth was she hired in the first place? Aside from being an old pal, for whom the President presumably felt at least a smidgen of loyalty and trust, it may also have been that he was channeling LBJ, who is supposed to have said of J. Edgar Hoover, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” General Kelly never did a job so well as that of giving her the official sack, as is proved in her own tape of the matter: polite, professional and implacable. Of all the people in the world I’d not like to have professionally pissed off at me, General Kelly is in the top five. And as it has now developed – Ms. Manigault Newman’s credibility is pretty much in shreds among those who otherwise might have been inclined to lend an ear to her tales of Trumpindysfunction. When Piers Morgan (Piers Morgan of all personalities!) calls you a “…relentlessly loathsome … a vicious, duplicitous, lying, conniving, backstabbing piece of work,” there is nothing much left to do except for counting up the advance (and hopefully investing it well) from your publisher and gibbering about your geometric logic and steel marbles. And sticking pins in the voodoo doll of John Brennan.

Ah, yes – speaking of another good job, well done; the mass pulling of security clearances from Mr. Brennan and a handful of others, whose political animus against the current administration is so marked as to have become a regular news feature. A security clearance is not a civil right. When you are no longer performing those duties which required such – either through retirement, career change, or getting the sack (see above) than the security clearance goes buh-bye. No exceptions for the inside-the-Beltway elite. Discuss, if you can bear it. There is some discussion in this thread at NeoNeocon’s new place.

 

It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
(From the musical South Pacific)

Or not taught at all. Last week as I sat in my cosy home office contemplating things, the ebb and flow of the internet brought to me the woebegone maunderings of a (presumably) white and (arguably) somewhat credentialed Millennial, who in her search for meaning and purpose in her life wound up involved in those anti-pipeline protests near the Sioux reservation. The ukase of her lament seemed to be that she had no native culture, not in comparison with those charming and dignified tribal elders. She appeared to view them as benign, terribly exotic, definitely ‘other’ – pretty much the same lens with which the old National Geographic viewed and photographed those interesting aboriginal peoples in far distant foreign lands all these decades ago.

And it was terribly sad to read, because the poor child does in fact, have a culture of her own – just that she has been deprived of it; deprived by intent or by cultivated sloth on the part of those who should have taught it to her; the unimaginably rich canon knowledge of western culture – our history, art, literature, music, technology, folkways. Homer and Cervantes, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Rossini, Dickens and Twain, Michelangelo and Machiavelli, Brunel and Bruneschelli, the Brothers Grimm, the Brothers Wright, Don Juan of Austria and Ulysses S. Grant, the Duke of Wellington and whoever it was invented the toilet flush valve and the first working sewing machine. Likely all this and more were never taught to her, or what is worse – badly taught and as examples of western racism or whatever. To live without a sense of history is to be adrift in a kind of cultural sensory-deprivation tank, as exhibited by that child.

I can’t make up my mind which is the bigger crime against the minds of the young these days: the sin of omission in neglecting to teach them anything but the most anodyne little bits and bobs … or the deliberate commission involved in teaching them that western culture is one long sodden exercise in violence, racism, sexism and other -isms yet to be discovered by the tireless exploration of social justice scholars. (I have been told that we have socialist subversion on the part of malignant fools like Antonio Gramsci to blame for this sad state of affairs.) That second alternative has produced bitter, self-involved credentialed idiots like Sarah Jeong, who as of this week still has a prestigious position at our so-called national newspaper of record, the New York Times.

It is a good thing that many responsible parents are turning to home schooling, I suppose – and that many more miseducated adults are embarking on a belated program of independent self-education. Nature does abhor a vacuum, but shouldn’t our society offer a little more of substance to fill that vacuum? Discuss what can and might be done, if you can bear to contemplate the disaster that is education in the western world these days.

(Bonus – meme appropriated from the internet)
Sarah Jeung - Ask Your Grandma

The title of this post is the punchline to an old, old story about the limits of advertising; a story which may or may not be based on fact. The story goes that a big food-manufacturing conglomerate came up with a brand new formulation for dog food, and advertised it with a huge, costly campaign: print ads, TV commercials, product placement in movies, TV shows, county fairs, giveaways and sponsorships; the whole ball of wax … and the product cratered. The CEO of the company is irate and demands answers from anyone who can give him a reason why. Didn’t they do everything possible to make their dog food brand the market leader? Image everyone at that meeting looking nervously at each other at this point – because they have done everything possible … except for one small thing. Finally, someone gets up sufficient nerve to answer. “But the dogs don’t like it.” More »

29. July 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, World

My childhood and growing-up years were haunted by fire – a thing which I have been reminded about, on reading the horrific accounts of the fast-moving fire that swept a resort town eastern shore of Greece’s Attic Peninsula earlier this week, and on reading about the massive Carr Fire just now threatening whole tracts of northern California. I grew up in Southern California, living there until I enlisted after college, went away and never really returned for more than a couple of weeks. (Less a single year to the day at Mather AFB in 1981-82.) My parents loved living in the hills, preferably at the end of a dirt road; if not out of sight of a neighbor’s fireplace sending up a little plume of smoke – then on at least half an acre and that far distant from their rooftop. Dad was a research biologist. He gave the most wonderful nature walks imaginable, and would have been – as he once confessed, being happy as a desert rat, living in a hut in the Mojave. This meant that we were usually living in, or within sight of California chaparral-covered hills – hills which nature has designed expressly for the purposes of burning over, every twenty or thirty years.

There is no escaping that unadorned fact. Fire governs the wilderness. Certain of the native plant seeds do not even properly germinate until heated to so-many degrees. The plants themselves are resinous and burn readily, when the hot wind desert wind blows. This I knew, early on. The standing old-growth forests, and even the newer pine-woods other parts of California and the west – they are governed, bound, ruthlessly maintained by cycles of naturally-occurring fire and renewal. Fire thins the new seedlings, eliminates disease-weakened trees, clears away the mast and muddle – the broom that ruthlessly sweeps away, and renews. This my father taught us. A lesson which certain environmental groups seem to refuse, with the energy of a small child refusing a spoonful of delicious creamed spinach. No! Don’t cut down those pine-bark-infested pine trees! No, don’t clear-cut that brush! It’s icky interference with nature! And don’t do controlled burns, which endanger the spotted lizard-owl something! So the burnable load increases, increases and increases again, and when it finally all goes up, it burns so hot that the earth turns clean and barren, like a kiln transforming clay into pottery. Nature deferred will extract her penalty. More »

I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.

In certain brief passages of her nine-volume retelling of her childhood on the post-Civil War American frontier, LIW reflected the attitude of wary dislike with regard to the presence of American Indians common to those 19th century Americans, especially those who lived in close proximity to them. In the eyes of tireless social justice warriors, which appear in oversupply in today’s hypersensitive age, this is practically the same as preaching genocide on every page. And in one single chapter, her father and several men of the town put on black-face makeup and performed a minstrel show to entertain their friends. Such a form of entertainment was as popular then as it is considered disgracefully racist today.

So, rather than look honestly at the mores of the past – and perhaps entertain the thought that many of those notions which today we accept merely as conventional wisdom will, in a hundred years or so be held in as much, or greater disfavor than those attitudes held by LIW’s family and neighbors. I wonder though, if the motivations of the members of the Association aren’t just a little more complicated than polishing their social justice credentials. The Little House series presents – more than anything else – the quiet, intimate epic of a strong traditional family; a hard-working, resourceful, loving family, equal to every imaginable hardship going, from frontier isolation, to plagues of insects, bad weather, and grinding poverty. The Ingalls do not lament their lot, as LIW presented them; they make the most of it, and eventually achieve a quiet and modest degree of prosperity.

The Little House series, originally written and published a little short of a hundred years ago, remain overwhelmingly popular. Thousands visit the places which LIW immortalized in her books – the places where she and her sisters lived and grew up, the farm which she and her husband eventually established in Missouri. The TV series very loosely based on the series continued for years. I cannot help wondering if the kind of family and community life thus portrayed in the book series runs counter to everything in those young adult novels currently being pushed upon the younger generation by teachers and the child librarians; books which revel in gloom, despair, dysfunction and nihilism, a kind of literary filboid studge, in which in every grim trope embraced on the page discourages kids from reading. So – a burnishing of social justice credentials or sabotaging a classic series to advantage of contemporary but unreadable books intended for the juvenile consumer? Discuss.

San Antonio, the town that I am pleased to say is my place of residence, made the national and international news this week – and not in a good way. My particular quadrant of suburban San Antonio was the scene of the now-notorious MAGA-hat-stealing-and-drink-throwing-incident. (A good selection of the resulting headlines are here )
The Whattaburger outlet where this took place is about two and a half miles from my house, adjacent to a brand-new Walmart, and the bank branch I used to do business with, and around the corner from the bank branch that I now do business with. The arrested-and-released-on-bail Kino Jimenez lives in another outlaying suburb – apparently with his mother. He also seems to have committed a series of prior offenses; not exactly an upright citizen, it appears, and one with extraordinarily poor impulse control. Looking at the video of this incident – and keeping in mind that nothing good happens at 2 AM – I see a rather thuggish Hispanic guy getting his jollies picking on a couple of weedy Anglo teenagers in an all-but-empty-restaurant in the wee hours. I’d venture a guess that if it hadn’t been the MAGA hat, it would likely have been something else. Bullies always find an easy target, and a ready justification for their thuggish impulses.

Ah, the MAGA hat, which apparently serves as a rage-trigger for leftists everywhere. The very curious thing is that I have never seen a person wearing one in real life, real time, in my town. Not around where I live, work, do business. I brought this up with the Daughter Unit – and she couldn’t ever remember seeing any person wearing a MAGA hat either. Not any time in the last two years; The kid with a MAGA hat in the Whattaburger may have been the only person in the neighborhood choosing to wear one – although I very much doubt he was the only Trump fan. In the last two and a half years, we’ve noted pro-Trump bumper stickers on only a handful of cars, too. There were no Trump yard signs in the election run-up, either – and it’s not hard to figure out why. No one really wants to provoke a confrontation with a self-important, loose-cannon loudmouth like Kino Jimenez. No one really wants to have their drink thrown in their face at a restaurant, or make an unscheduled trip to the emergency room, or have their car keyed – or worse. As my daughter says; we’ve been schooled in the fine art of not attracting bad attention to ourselves.

Out there in your world, are there many people that you have observed, wearing MAGA hats and clothing, to anything other than a political rally? Is a lot of Trump support still flying under the radar – not attracting hostile attention in public? Discuss.

So it seems like the ‘screaming children snatched away at the border by the heartless minions of the Trumpenfuhrer’ narrative of last week is kind of collapsing in one direction – because just about all the most egregious examples of minor children being separated from the adults accompanying them in their illegal passage across a national boundary and subsequently held in durance vile, date from the previous administration … and secondly, because the usual screaming hair-on-fire activists are using the matter as an excuse to harass and threaten members of Trump’s cabinet, Republican holders of public offices, employees of national law enforcement agencies such as ICE, and conservatives generally. So the Social Justice Warriors, who never rest nor sleep have opened another front, it appears – a front of ostracism and harassment, most plainly led by the intellectual shining jewel of the Congressional Black Caucus, Generalissimo “Mad Maxine” Walters. Mad Maxine, (possibly the homeliest woman in national public life today), has enthusiastically urged her followers to hound conservatives (not all of whom are Republicans, let me note) from all public venues; restaurants, gas stations, movie theaters, grocery stores and the like. Apparently, to Mad Maxine, such as we are not worthy, and pollute the righteous by our very presence. Enough members of the public appear to agree with her and have joined in enthusiastically in this enterprise. Gee, I wonder if we should now ask for separate facilities. You know – conservative-only drinking fountains, bathrooms and movie theaters. Maybe conservatives ought to be forced to wear armbands with a brightly-colored and distinctive shape on it, and live in specific neighborhoods, as well. Somehow, I think Mad Maxine would be perfectly OK with that.

Even more alarming than the harassing of certain members of Trump’s cabinet or prominent and recognizable associates at their homes and places of business, are the threats against and harassment of law enforcement personnel employed by ICE as well as other agencies – to include threats against families. There have also been threats against the operators of a non-profit network of shelters in Texas where many of the illegal alien minor children are being housed; employees of the shelters have had their license plates photographed at work and reported being called and threatened at their homes.
This kind of harassment, if continued and intensified – which seems to be a given – is absolutely not guaranteed to end well. We already have had the example of Congressman Steve Scalise and members of the Republican congressional baseball team being deliberately gunned down by one James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Saunders partisan and apparently motivated by more than the usual amount of partisan anger. In 2012, one Floyd Lee Corkins II brought a gun and a bag of Chic-fil-A sandwiches to the headquarters of the Family Research Council with the object to shooting as many employees as possible and rubbing the sandwiches in the faces of the dying. His motivation for mass murder appears to be tangle of resentment over the FRC’s support of traditional marriage, and severe butt-hurt over an otherwise innocuous fast-food sandwich chain not feeling any particular pain over their owner’s support of the same. Rather obviously, young Mr. Corkins was not wrapped all that tightly. Still, he conceived a plan to mass-murder, and but for his own ineptitude and the courage of the FRC’s security guard, would have carried it out. The shooter at the Capitol Gazette yesterday turns out to be an obsessive freak of a related kind, motivated by personal animus against the newspaper itself, which is what I thought upon first hearing news about the shooting – that or a very bitter ex of a newspaper employee.)
I’d venture a guess that among the not-tightly-wrapped, the mis-educated, resentful and longing-to-belong-to-the-heroic-Trump-Resistance-eleventy!!! – there are many more Floyd Corkins. They wait their opportunity for action in the manner in which the voices in their heads urge, and the various deranged media voices suggest. Some – indeed, I fear that many of these not-to-tightly-wrapped – will act in the coming months, either in public in a black mask and armed with a bike lock, a club, a Molotov cocktail, an amateur-constructed but brutally-effective bomb, or a gun. And when that happens … it will be what some among the conservative side have taken to calling a Rubicon moment.
When that Rubicon event happens, I wonder if the establishment national media will take any responsibility for having set the whole bloody pageant in motion; I think not. In their way, they have been playing their part in whipping up the mob outrage – in part to assuage their own outrage that Trump and not Hillary is president, and because they want, more than anything else, to be the one blaring the blood-soaked headlines. Outrage is what the national media loves, dirty laundry is what they live for. “You know the boys in the newsroom, Got a running bet, Get the widow on the set, We need dirty laundry.” A larger and larger segment of the news-consuming public has become wise to this and correspondingly resentful; witness how CNN’s obnoxious Jim Acosta was heckled by attendees at a recent Trump rally. Comment and discuss, as you will.

By the Mystic Marbles of Matagorda, I thought that last week’s bout of Trump derangement was the far frozen limit, but here it is only Wednesday and the establishment media is already running around in hair-on-fire fits of hysteria, the distributed radical insurgency known as Antifa has declared bloody war on the employees of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a writer employed by the New Yorker magazine as a fact-checker has singlehandedly undermined the intellectual coinage working for that magazine, having been a Fulbright scholar and a graduate of Harvard … and after a nearly fifty year hiatus from public consciousness, Peter Fonda has hove once again into sight. Like a groundhog, only hairier and on a longer rotation.

Being the cynical person that I have become over the last two administrations, I’d bet that something like Journolist is still in operation among those media reps still desirous of seeing conservatives in general and Donald Trump in particular driven from participation in the body politic. How else for the plight of the poor, pitiful illegal immigrant children to suddenly sprout in the headlines like some dreadful kind of kudzu between one day and the next? Especially since the … urm … custody situation has been a thing since the previous administration. Especially since the previous administration exacerbated the situation vis-à-vis minor children crossing the border illegally by seeming to suggest that having the kiddy-winks with you was a kind of get-out-of-detention-free card. Having the situation of minor children separated from adults who might be their parents, or a ‘coyote’ – a trafficker transporting them over an international border for shady purposes – after being detained upon illegally entering the United States is not something that just happened this week. No, this has been going on for a while, and of course it is just now being deliberately blown up. I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Discuss: what is this attempting to distract us from? Is it working so far, or is it blowing up like something from Acme in the hands of the hapless Coyote?

I freely confess to having initially thought that when Donald Trump threw his hat into the political ring and began campaigning for election to the highest office in our fair land – it was a colossal joke and not one in particularly good taste. But I was never an adamant never-Trumper, and eventually came to think that hey – a wheeler-dealer Noo Yawk property developer (who after all HAD run a good-sized business enterprise for years) couldn’t possibly stuff up the job any more disastrously than He Who Dances With Teleprompters and his merry band of faculty lounge theorizers, career bureaucrats and second-gen beneficiaries of elite parental, fraternal or marital connections. In any case – I’d vote for practically anyone than Her Inevitableness the Dowager Empress of Chappaqua, even if I had to pin my nostrils shut with C-clamp. So – what the hell. Reader, I voted for him. I have to admit that when it sends rabid lefty celebs like Robert De Niro into a spittle-flecked rant on live television, I am tempted to rub my hands together and cackle with evil glee like Mr. Burns in the Simpsons, watching them come unglued with their hate for flyover country and those denizens of it which also voted for him. A man is known in a large part by the character and quantity of his enemies; Trumps’ are as numerous and as varied as any collection of grotesqueries in a Hieronymus Bosch painting.

So I started this post as yet another meditation on how ever-flipping-out-of-their minds the current iteration of Trump-haters are … and then the meeting in Singapore happened, and actually promises … maybe, if all goes well, a resolution to a war which started just before I was born, in a country to which my father was stationed as an Army draftee when I was born, in which I served for a year (three and a half decades later) and in which my daughter might very well have drawn duty in her turn. The Korean War – bloody and vicious, as we are reminded through M*A*S*H reruns – ended in an armistice and a heavily-armed border which slices the Korean peninsula into halves. Not anywhere equal halves, other than geographical.

Back at the start of it all, the northern part of that peninsula was the industrially-developed part. The inhabited part, whereas the southern bits were the rural and primitive parts. The whole of the place, as I came to understand in the year that I lived there, emerged as a feisty and independent kingdom, with a very distinct culture, identity, and language; a language with its’ own phonetic alphabet – the notion of one of their genius kings. Not Chinese, definitely not Japanese, in spite of seventy years of heavy-handed Japanese occupation, which only ended after WWII. I liked Korea enormously, for all that my taste of it was relatively brief. Seoul was a hectic, spectacular, modern city. I think that I went across it in every direction, via the subway, bus, or by taxi, innumerable times on my way to do an English-language voice-job, and never felt the least bit threatened or in danger because of being a foreigner. I was not much taller than the average Korean woman, or all that much more fair-skinned, and with my hair bundled up under a beret, not all that much darker of hair color. Unless people looked directly at me … I didn’t stand out all that much and I worked at not attracting attention to myself anyway. (But with one of my comrades in doing voice-work, who was about six and a half-foot tall … yeah, then we got noticed on public transportation.)

The Korean nationals that I worked with, on my various voice and broadcasting jobs were a relatively cosmopolitan lot, and we talked now and again about the North, and the threat intermittently posed, most notably to Seoul, well within artillery range of North Korean big guns. Indeed, about every six months or so, the Norks indulged in what another blogger termed the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken – a regularly-scheduled theatrical bit of sabre-rattling, to which the old Korea hands (and possibly most ordinary Koreans) eventually became pretty blasé. (More here from The Daily Brief) Is there now a possible end in sight to a situation which has existed slightly longer than I have been alive, through Donald Trump’s surprisingly cordial summit with Little Fat Kim? Speculation on the imminent collapse of the North floats around at about the same frequency as the Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken. But this time, I do wonder if the Reign of Kim really is on very shaky ground – and Little Fat Kim knows it and is nervous about survival – his personal survival and that of his circle. Bits and dribbles of dismaying information keep trickling out of the hermetically-sealed kingdom; that the soldiers forage for food in the cultivated fields, that the Nork soldier who defected across the DMZ was riddled with intestinal parasites, that the underground nuclear test site collapsed the whole side of the mountain where it was located, that whole districts are stripped bare of vegetation … and perhaps at long last, the Chinese are not quite so blindly supportive of their favorite client state. Is North Korea circling the drain of history, and the Kim regime is trying one last desperate throw of the dice while North Korea still has the appearance of a viable state? Discuss.

06. June 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Good Stuff, Luna

Or, half of one, anyway. Titled Memorial Day. (I’m easing back on writing for the moment, being taken up with some other projects, including research for the next couple of historicals. And the household stuff, of course.)

Memorial Day

Jess Abernathy-Vaughn, being of that pale tint of skin which burned and freckled rather than tanned, lounged under the shade of a dark and ultra-violet-ray protective umbrella, planted at a rakish angle, deep into the beach sand at the Gulf-shore side of Galveston Island. She was also slathered with the highest SPF-level sunscreen available over the counter. In spite of not being a fan of sunbathing until one looked more like a leather saddlebag, she was truly enjoying this holiday. A second honeymoon, everyone called it, now that she and Joe had been legally wed for more than a year, and their son was now almost ten months old, and well-able to withstand the baby-sitting ministrations of his great-grandparents, living in the high-ceilinged apartment on the second floor of the ancestral hardware store on Main Square. She watched Joe – as fit and muscular as a classical Greek bronze of an athlete – mastering the use of a boogie-board in the indifferent surf with the same single-minded attention that he brought to every enterprise which took his interest. It killed Joe to not be the best at anything, so he applied himself relentlessly; football, soldiering, law enforcement – and of late, to dedicated fatherhood.

“We’ll be happy to have a baby in the house, once again!” Martha Abernathy exclaimed, even before Jess had ventured the casual boat of her suggestion – that she and Joe spend a luxurious weekend at a Galveston resort destination – onto the tranquil sea of familial relations over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. “Do make the reservations, Jess – you need to take a break now and again! It’s good for a marriage, to make a little time for yourself and your man. Don’t trouble yourself in the least, worrying about Little Joe!”

“Your grandmother has been longing to get her hands on our boy,” Joe grinned when Jess had first tentatively broached the question of a holiday in the sun, surf and sand. That was the evening in Spring Break week, and he had just come home from a tedious day of upholding the law in Luna City, and on the stretch of Route 123 which adjoined the municipality. “Let’s do it, Babe – go back for a weekend, and try and recall the people that we were before becoming a life-support-system for the rug-rat. I’m trying my best to be patient until the day that we can throw the ol’ pigskin around, but I need a break, too.”

Jess sighed. “I can hardly wait until he can cook … Richard swears that he will start teaching him to make a lovely proper mayonnaise as soon as he knows how to handle a whisk…”

“When will that be?” Joe spun his white work Stetson onto the old-fashioned coat-and-hat-rack which stood by the front door of the old cottage on Oak Street and collapsed with a sigh onto the overstuffed sectional sofa – an overstuffed and sprawling thing which took up altogether too much space in the old-fashioned front room, but which was too comfortable to give up entirely. Jess dropped their cooing offspring onto Joe’s mid-section and he yelped, “Ooof! What have you been feeding him, Babe – bricks?”

“Growing boy,” Jess replied, with a remarkable lack of feeling. “You entertain the Soup-Monster for a while I fix supper – tell him mad tales of all the dirtbags you have arrested, and all the speeders you have ticketed … I’ve been talking to him all day about the necessity for retaining receipts for cash business expenses. Among other topics of note.” (Soup-Monster was her nickname for her son, taken from Marsupial Monster, from the early days when she carried him in a baby-sling across her chest.)

“Sounds deathly dull,” Joe replied. Jess sighed with heavy sarcasm as she opened the deep-freeze unit in a corner of the kitchen.

“Attention to such minutia pays the bills for our incredibly lavish life-style,” she called in reply and Joe responded with a hearty horse-laugh. Jess smiled. It pleased and satisfied her to know that she could make Joe laugh. He was wrapped too tight, sometimes – too earnest, too serious entirely. Now, Jamie – she had always been able to make Jamie laugh.

Yes, that pan of frozen lasagna … and a mixed salad to go with, once the lasagna was warmed and bubbling in the oven. Say an hour or so; Jess was also tired; a full day of seeing to her various clients in Luna City, Karnesville and Beeville, driving hither and yon, with Little Joe uncomplaining in his car seat. He was a good baby, for all that. But now and again she really missed the days when she and Joe went out for burgers or pizza as impulse took them, or drove into San Antonio for a meal at one of the Riverwalk restaurants, a table on one of the outside terraces, overlooking the river, the lights that twinkled like fireflies in those monumental cypress trees lining the artfully-channelized river, while live music spilled from one of the other places, and she and Joe people-watch in the twilight, as swifts and grackles swooped into their night roosts. All that without the labor of hauling the Soup-Monster and the heavy freight of his impedimenta – the diaper bag, the stroller, the baby-car-seat and all that along with them.

No – a weekend of leisure in Galveston would be just the ticket. Jess covered the lasagna with tinfoil, turned the oven to 350 and went to join her menfolk, just as Little Joe grinned at his father, an open and uninhibited grin which revealed all of two new baby teeth in his lower jaw. Jess’s heart turned over in her chest – the child looked so like Joe, it was uncanny, even to his tiny nose, which gave a hint of the ancestral Vaughn beakiness, even now. A miracle, the blending of her blood, flesh and bones with Joe’s – and yet, Little Joe was his own person, even at the age of eight months! A whole, new, original, and miraculous little person … again, Jess thanked with her whole heart for Miss Letty’s wise advice.

“Supper in about fifty minutes,” she said, as he settled onto the sectional next to Joe. “Give me twenty minutes, I’ll feed the Soup-Monster and put him down to sleep, so that we can have supper in peace.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Joe replied. “And the weekend thing, too. Let’s go for it, Babe. We need a break, some R-and-R, you know. Be good for the Monster to learn how to wind the grands around his little finger.”

“Share the blessings,” Jess leaned her head against Joe’s substantial shoulder, the one with the uniform patch embroidered with the city logo of the Luna City Police Department sewn upon it. Another brief moment of pure contentment; Gram and Grumpy had insisted that such in retrospect would be considered the happiest times of their lives. Jess had of late begun to see that her grandparents were right about that.

Now she watched Joe abandon the mild surf, the boogie-board under his arm, striding up through the receding surf, which cast a brief swath of lacy bubbles across the white sand. He collapsed with a brief grunt onto the spread beach towel at her side. Jess spared a covert and concerned glance at him. She’d bet anything his knees were giving him hell again. Good thing she had packed a bottle of extra-strength Motrin. She would mildly suggest that he take a few before they went out for dinner, and hope that he would take the suggestion.

“How’s the water?” She asked. Joe chuckled.

“Salty and wet, Babe.”

“It’s the ocean, it goes without saying.”

Joe lay back in the shade with a sigh. “Thought about where to go for dinner? I’ve an appetite for fish tacos. That place on Seawall with the two big-ass balconies overlooking the Gulf would suit me fine. OK with you?”

“Perfect,” Jess agreed. “A bit noisy, but we can go early… it’s an anniversary for us, you know. We can celebrate.”

“Oh?” Joe raised an eyebrow, and Jess grinned.

“The first time we seriously kissed … and umm. Other stuff.”

“Oh, that.” Now Joe grinned, reminiscently. “After the Memorial Day pig-roast at the V, you had too much to think, and I walked you home? Yeah, I remember.” The grin widened into an expression of outright lewd reminiscence. “Hoo, boy – do I remember, Babe! I was so damned glad you didn’t punch me in the nuts when I made the first move…”

“Joseph P. Vaughn, you are no gentleman!” Jess exclaimed with an attempt at a Scarlett O’Hara exaggerated Southern accent and swatted at her husband with her discarded tee-shirt top. Which launched a good quantity of sand at him – but he just chuckled again and lay back on his spread beach towel.

“No regrets though, Babe?” he said, and Jess shook her head.

“No regrets, Joe.”

Ah yes, a rousing round of storm and stress this week in our own very dear so-called entertainment media, starting with Rosanne Barr’s self-titled and relaunched sitcom being cancelled with such alacrity that security probably left scorch-marks on the carpet, escorting her off the premises at speed, although I am pretty sure that in Hollywierdland, it doesn’t work quite that way when terminating an unsatisfactory employee. Especially a star player in a recently-revived, highly-rated, and yet – controversial sit-com. Still – it is curious how quick off the mark the sacking was. So Rosanne has always been a bit of a loose cannon … no, reconsider that; a completely unsecured cannon, impulsively driven to fire in all directions on the slightest provocation, up to and acquiring her own foot as target. Calculated or inadvertent – at this point it makes no difference to anyone, really, save perhaps for her costars, now left high, dry and living on residuals.

In any case, I never watched the re-boot, and have only hazy memories of seeing the original show now and again. Meh. As far as a family-oriented sitcom set in blue-collar, flyover country America went, we much preferred The Middle, and Last Man Standing. If anything, the cast of characters, and the actors playing them seemed … well, nicer. More grounded, even.
But I cannot even work myself up into the required lather of fury over Ms. Barr’s allegedly uber-offensive tweet. Is Val-Jar truly a Muslim Brotherhood creature? Who knows for certain; likely those in the business of national security whose business it was to vet those appointed or hired to serve the highest offices in the land spent most of decade working very hard to not know any definitive answer to that question. Embarrassing to the Obama Administration, y’know. Best not to look too searchingly at Val-Jar’s connections and associations, such as they are. Does she strongly resemble the female character, Zira, from the first Planet of the Apes movie, and Ari, from the 2001 remake? Well … honesty compels an answer in the affirmative, mostly because of the hairstyle. Rude to make the comparison; yes, although such delicacy of feeling didn’t stop many with making the same unflattering comparison with regard to George W. Bush and driving in the point with a sledgehammer for nearly two decades. (Don’t even get started on the disgusting manner in which Condoleezza Rice was caricatured over the term of her office in the Bush administration. Some of the nastier examples are captured here, at Powerline.)

Politics, as we are often reminded, is not beanball. But a single standard as to what is acceptable, and what is beyond the Pale with regard comment, comedy, commentary, and caricature would be much appreciated by those of us tending to the conservative side of the political scale, or even those of us who appreciate civility, and even-handed humorous needling of prominent personalities. Alleged comic, Samantha Bee, who came out with a truly vile comedic suggestion involving Ivanka Trump vamping her father to reverse certain policies of his and topped it by applying a degrading term – on a cable television show – to applause and cheers.
Well. Nice job of demonstrating the double standard in show business, when it comes to liberal and conservative personalities. At this moment, Samantha Bee still has a job, although I understand that she is down a couple of corporate sponsors. Well-done, national establishment media; showing your unmistakable contempt for at least half the public! What next, I wonder; Who among the lefty-inclined icons of entertainment is now saying, either literally or metaphorically, “Hold my beer/mineral water/trendy beverage-of-choice and watch this!”

27. May 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: History

This week, I happened on a movie – Woman in Gold from a couple of years back. The movie starred Helen Mirren, who vanished so utterly into the part of an elderly Viennese Jewish refugee, Maria Altmann, that there was no trace of Helen Mirren visible – the way that good acting should be, but rarely is. Briefly, the movie concerned Maria Altmann’s epic legal quest to have a famous and insanely valuable portrait of her Aunt Adele Bloch-Bauer painted in by Gustav Klimt in the early years of the twentieth century – a painting which had been looted by the Nazis – returned to her. The painting gravitated into the possession of the Austrian government, from which it was eventually pried by dint of persistent and effective legal action. A decent movie overall, BTW. But what struck me in watching it was how much the mannerisms, the accent, the character of Maria Altmann reminded me of a certain family friend, a woman of the same vintage, and similar background; Viennese, of a prosperous family who also ran afoul of the Nazis, and finished up living in Southern California. I wonder if Lainie and Maria Altmann knew each other, back in the day? Lainie lived in the right part of town and had the kind of income and background to have patronized Maria Altmann’s upscale boutique. Never know now, I guess. But I sought out the text of an early post on Sgt. Stryker that I wrote about Lainie’s rescuing angel. More »

So help me dog, I was never able to figure the appeal of B. Obama, either when he first hove onto the political scene, or when he was elected, and reelected. He seemed to me, from the first and at a distance to be just a pleasantly and superficially-cultured nullity, with the not-uncommon ability to deliver inspiring, soaring speeches from words put in front of him, just like any A- or B-list actor I could name. He looked good, sounded good … and that was all there was to him, as far as concrete accomplishments went. Again, like any good actor – he looked the part that he was supposed to play, no matter that the actual legislative resume was vanishingly thin of substantive accomplishments.
Perhaps that was all that was required of him, that he look and sound the part. And what does that make of the sense and sensibility of those who voted for him, cheered him on enthusiastically, the establishment media who rolled his Juggernaut over the finish line, and supported him in eight years of trying his best to turn the United States into some nasty South American socialist dump, ruled in turns by a coterie of the elite, and their ambitious throne-sniffers? David Brooks, the token conservative at the National Paper of Record, got all thrilled and man-crushy, adoring the perfect crease of Obama’s trousers. This may live in infamy as the shallowest, stupidest thing that our Miss Brooksie has ever written, against considerable competition.

Frankly, no wonder the credibility of the national establishment media has gone down the tubes. Anyone paying attention knew that we were being snowed – gaslighted, even – over the interminable years of the Obama administration. As a minor and perhaps superficial example, look at how we were all told – insistently, through the cover stories on all the establishment fashion mags – that Michelle Obama was the most beautiful, tasteful, and stylish First Lady since Jackie Kennedy. And we had before us the evidence of our own eyes … talk about killing the credibility of the fashion papers. Something of the same diminution of credibility happened with the mainstream press, I believe.

A neighbor of ours is a recent transplant from an annoyingly liberal state, who has confessed in an unbuttoned moment to having worked the phones for his campaign in her original home. Why? I asked. This woman is elderly, but in possession of most of her original issue of marbles, an animal lover and a good neighbor. Pretty shrewd in most aspects of life, come to think of it. And her reply? “Because it was time for a black man to be president,” at which point I dropped the discussion and changed the subject to something a trifle less incendiary.

“Because it was time.” I could hardly think of a lamer reason for electing any mortal into the highest office in this blessed land. And I thought so, even when the Fresh Prince of Chicago first took to the hustings against the Dowager Duchess of Chappaqua, or as I termed her then, “Her Inevitableness.” “Because it was time.” Which may well be, but if it is so, then couldn’t the nominated candidate of “It’s Time” be someone of more substance? Was all they wanted – the establishment political parties, the national press, even a good part of the federal bureaucracy – and god save us, the so-called intellectual elite – a shallow, attractive man of no particular accomplishment or record? I guess so, watching the subsequent melt-down over the last year. I suspect that a substantial portion of the outrage, frenzied justification and rationalization after the fact are to cover up their own bad judgement in having cast all their chips and credibility on the bet of a candidate so shallow … a man of cotton candy: a few shreds of sweet sugar, blown up through the application of hot air, into something substantial in appearance. And now, the Cotton Candy Man appears to have signed a deal with Netflix to write and produce … well, something. I really wish that if being a reality TV star was his ambition, he could have done so without involving the rest of us.

14. May 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Good Stuff

So … even as I am starting research on the American Revolution-era novel, I am moved to start on another — about Minnie Templeton Vining, who was a peripheral character in Daughter of Texas, and in Sunset and Steel Rails.

A blue-stocking and a crusader, and … stuff. At mid-century, where there were a lot of things going on.

Enjoy. I don’t quite know where this will finish out … but Minnie is a ferocious abolitionist. And perhaps has other involvement in the Underground Railroad. It all depends…

Chapter 1 – A Lady of Leisure

A week after the reading of her father’s will, Minnie Templeton Vining sat in the old-fashioned parlor of her father’s tall house on Beacon Street with her sister-in-law Annabelle, while an errant spring breeze stirred the curtains … as well as the festoons of black crepe which adorned the façade of the Vining mansion. Narrow windows of the austere classical style that had been the height of architectural fashion early in the century now overlooked the broad avenue and leafy avenues and meadows of the Common and the public gardens beyond. The room within was furnished in the old manner; chairs, tables and shelves made in the austere style of two generations past, of polished wood sparingly ornamented, for the late Lycurgus Agrippa Vining resisted any change in the mansion in which he had ruled over as absolute dictator for half a century. The paintings and portraits, blue and white China trade porcelain, ranks of books in solid leather bindings, somber dark-red brocade upholstery, and very old-fashioned crewel-embroidered curtains – all testified at least as much to the wealth and pride of the family as to their magnificent disinclination to follow mere fashion … and thereby waste any portion of that wealth on transiently popular fripperies.

“So the house and a substantial income are yours to control absolutely!” Annabelle marveled, as she added sugar to the cup of tea which Minnie had poured from a silver pot which was one of the Vining’s treasured possessions, coming as it had from the workshop of the great Boston silver artisan, Paul Revere. In one of the account books in the old Judge’s study and library was preserved a bill made out in Revere’s own spidery handwriting, for that very teapot and a dozen silver spoons to be adorned with acorns and oak leaves.

“Indeed,” Minnie set down the teapot with a gentle clinking sound and took up her own refreshed cup. She was a confirmed spinster, being something somewhere in her fourth decade; a woman of decidedly firm opinions – and yet attractive to the eye for all of that, at least to those who entertained a taste for fine-boned features, and arresting blue-grey eyes, animated by a formidable and unsparing intelligence. “Cousin Peter is to be my trustee – but he is too sensible a man to attempt any thought of treating with me as if I were a silly child in need of correction and protection.”

“I should say not!” Annabelle chuckled. “One might very well try to rope and ride one of those wild bison creatures of the plains. Your dear brother – my late husband – told me such a tale of the President of Texas shooting one of those dreadful beasts in the streets of the capitol of that benighted place!” The humor briefly departed from Annabelle’s pleasant countenance. She was a slender woman of about forty years, the same age as Minnie – and like Minnie, garbed in the darkest black of mourning for father and father-in-law. They had been friends since their earliest childhood, indulged by their parents, friends of the heart, as well as of marital and distant blood connections. And Annabelle was a Saltinstall connection, which counted for something in Boston.

“My brother had many tales to tell of his travels,” Minnie acknowledged, although she held deep in her heart the one which she would never distress Annabelle by telling – of that low-bred woman in farthest Texas, the one who had cohabitated with her youngest brother, and bred four nasty brats with him, or perhaps some other man, no matter what her brother claimed was a proper marriage in that benighted place. That was a deathbed secret and confession she would take to her own grave, rather than distress Annabelle with revealing it. Annabelle was his wife in the eyes of the law and of Boston. That woman in Texas was a nobody and of no character at all. Annabelle – dear, innocent Annabelle – deserved a measure of peace of mind, if not happiness, in the wake of a marriage-not-marriage to a husband who was never present in Boston but always gone on interminable ocean voyages and travels in a vain attempt to recover his health.

“Telling the absolute truth can often be a brutal cruelty,” her father, Judge Vining was wont to say. “Consider well the costs of relieving your own conscience, Minerva, if that cost comes at the expense of another’s peace of mind and happiness.”

“He did, indeed,” Annabelle smiled, ruefully. Her husband – Minnie’s youngest brother – was dead some eight years past, in this very house. The consumption took him, painfully, on his final return. Minnie did not like to think of that even now, or the embarrassing situation which had brought him home for that one last time. “You were such an angel, Minnie – nursing him through those last awful days. Need I say again how grateful I was for that? It was all such a tangle – Sophia having just married, and in such difficulty with her first child. It was all that I could do to attend on my dearest little girl, night and day … I feared so much for her! Richard was a treasure in her travails, of course – but a husband is not so attentive as a mother – or a sister would be!”

“It is what we do, my dear – for those whom we love,” Minnie replied, whereupon her sister-in-law sighed.

“So we do, Minnie,” and her expression brightened with genuine curiosity. “Now – that you are a spinster of independent means, and your dear father is enjoying his heavenly reward; what will you do with yourself, and this establishment?”

Minnie set down her teacup and regarded the parlor; hers and hers alone, to do with as she thought fit. This was a heady feeling, and Minnie longed to stretch her wings and soar, soar on the pleasant updraft of a generous income and control over it, after two decades and more of being bound by obligation to family. Truth to tell, she had not minded all that very much. Papa-the-Judge (for so she always thought of him) may have been a magisterial and terrifying parent to his sons, employees, and those brought before him at the Bar, but his only daughter had always had an especially affectionate bond with her father. Her mother – dead in childbirth with her – had been the Judges’ second wife for a brief time.

“A clever woman,” Papa-the-Judge had often said, on those rare occasions when he had been moved to speak of such personal things. “Bold as brass, fearless – she was a spy in the late war, Minnie – did I tell you of that?”

“Yes, you did, Papa – often,” Minnie had replied.

During his last days on this earth, Papa-the-Judge had often patted her hand, at the conclusion of maundering about in his reminiscences, and promised, “Well, then, Minnie – you are to be well-provided for, my girl, since you aren’t inclined to matrimony. I’ll have Peter as your advisor, but he’s a sensible man. Have seen too it, y’see. The only intelligent female child of my blood … the image of your mother. She was a spy, you know. Carried messages for Doctor Warren’s network, back in the day when the bloody Lobsterbacks. Bold as brass, although she was only a bit of a child when I first lay eyes on her … she would want to see you holding to your own independency”

“I know, Papa,” Minnie would answer. She knew very well that she was the image of her mother. There was a small framed portrait painted on ivory in Papa-the-Judge’s monumental desk, secreted in one of the small drawers, which Minnie knew the secret to opening. When she was younger, she had often compared the painted features to her own, reflected in the small elaborate glass mirror which hung opposite the window in Papa-the-Judge’s study. And in any case – Cousin Peter, and others who had known her mother had often commented on the likeness.

No, she would not change the parlor, or Papa-the-Judge’s library, or even all that much about the house. All too dear and familiar, and now it was all to be hers, to order as she liked … but Minnie felt a restlessness in her. It was, she thought, like one of Annabelle’s songbirds, looking out from an elaborate silver cage, to which the door was open, wanting to spread her wings … yet wondering if she yet dared.

Yes. She did. Minnie sipped from her own teacup, and then set it down again with a tiny, decisive clink against the saucer.

“I have decided to go traveling,” she announced. “Oh, not terribly far, Annabelle – just as far as Charleston, and then for a stay in Richmond in Virginia. Cousin Peter has kin by marriage in Charleston. His daughter and her husband ministers – he is in orders, you know – to a very respectable parish in Richmond. They have written, extending their hospitality. I am of a mind to accept. Would you like to accompany me? I would welcome your companionship.”

“For how long, do you plan to remain abroad from Boston?” Annabelle regarded Minnie with an anxious expression, and Minnie smiled in a manner calculated to reassure.

“Not terribly long – for the length of the summer, and return in time to celebrate Little Richie’s birthday, of course. It is …” and Minnie sighed. “My dear, I long to escape these walls for a time, and refresh my soul by gazing on new vistas. I beg you to accompany me, for the sake of respectability. And …” she shot her sister-in-law a severe glance. “It would be energizing for the both of us. We are both allowed a certain considerable degree of freedom by our status as widow and spinster? Why not explore, as far as we are allowed by the strictures of decent society? Why should we be kept mewed up in our little tiny parlors, like falcons wearing blinding hoods, when we might soar?”

“Because …” Annabelle began, irresolutely, and Minnie couldn’t keep herself from snorting.

“Because, fiddlesticks. I have a purse and the inclination, and I want to do something other than sit in my parlor, see that the maids dust the furniture properly and take calls on my at-home day. There is a larger world and great causes to fight for, Annabelle – shouldn’t we begin claiming parts of it for our own, rather than just live as silly simpering angels in the house?” She fixed her sister-in-law with her most ferociously-determined expression, and – as Minnie had been certain that she would – Annabelle crumbled.

“Of course, I will accompany you,” her sister-in-law yielded with a sigh. “But … have you set a date for commencing this … this project of yours. And … I suppose I shall not require any winter things in my trunks…”

“Next month, I think,” Minnie replied, in secret relief. “I shall have to see to the arrangements, and consult with Cousin Peter, of course. But oh!” she smiled and took Annabelle’s hand in her joyful embrace. “It will be such fun!”

The absolute nadir of bad days at work was sketched briefly in a recent book about the Revolutionary War battle of Saratoga – a decisive turning point in that war. There is nothing much new in Dean Snow’s 1777: Tipping Point at Saratoga, save that the author has gone through just about every set of archives, memoirs, and reminisces existing, along with an exhaustive survey of the site itself, and produced an hour by hour account. No mean feat, especially since keeping track of time was an inexact science. (And would be for at least another eighty years, when the developing railways, with requirements for exact timetables over long distances, and necessary scheduling of use on single track routes made it mandatory that scrupulous attention be paid to these matters.)

Briefly, that campaign was series of battles, skirmishes, and clashes on the banks of the Hudson River where it passes through upstate New York; the culmination of a grand plan to slice the rebellious colonies in – if not half – at least thirds. The supreme British commander, General William Howe (rumored to be a backstairs cousin to George III, his granny having had a productive affair with George I), was pleasantly ensconced in New York, where he was assisted in his revolution-suppression duties by General Henry Clinton. The British forces had chased the rebellious colonials out of New York some months previously. All the notable cities of the Colonies were ocean ports; Boston, New York, Charleston, Savannah. Only Philadelphia was an exception – and it sat on the inland reaches of the Delaware River. Still a port – but far inland from the Atlantic Ocean. In any case, the grand scheme was to split off New England from the other rebellious colonies by coming down from Canada with an overwhelming force of British regular troops and hired German mercenaries.

This grand plan was the brainchild of a handsome, raffish adventurer of some military talent and high connections in the British aristocracy, one John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne. The son-in-law of an influential politician of the time, Burgoyne possessed the favor of influential friends, the reputation of an outspoken military innovator, a mildly distinguished record of active service in the Seven Years War, some talent as a playwright, and membership in the House of Commons. In 1776, upon the lower Colonies in North America becoming quite irredeemably rebellious, Burgoyne was given command of a force charged with recovering British control over Lake Champlain and the Hudson River Valley. Burgoyne’s grand theatrical plan was for three forces – one coming down the Mohawk River from the west, another coming upriver from New York – and a third, commanded by himself advancing south down the Hudson River, all converging near Albany at a date mutually convenient for all three – and that would put an end to this silly revolution nonsense. Against sober consideration of the odds, the territory to be covered and a sincere ignorance of the complications which this plan would fall heir to, Burgoyne was given authority to proceed. Which he did, with full enthusiasm, and an enormous baggage trail, a company which included the wife and daughters of the professional soldier commanding the German element, Colonel Friedrich Reidesel. (Who as a professional, thought rather ill of Burgoyne and Howe, and Mrs. Colonel Reidesel’s opinion was even blunter.) General Burgoyne was so confident of this plan that legend has it that he wagered ten pounds with Charles James Fox that he would return in a year, triumphant, with the rebellion utterly quashed.

The long and the short of it is that Burgoyne’s grand plan came to a grief which would have been – and was – predicted by soberer heads. Loaded down with heavy baggage both real and cultural, Burgoyne and his scheme crashed head-on into brutal reality. Their Indian allies bailed early on, the American Loyalists which he had counted on to report in substantive numbers did not oblige, the force sent along the Mohawk Rover was defeated in a fight at Fort Stanwix, and the large British force moving up from New York never materialized; General Howe went to take Philadelphia instead, leaving General Sir Henry Clinton in charge of New York. The sheer difficulty of moving his enormous baggage and supply train utterly crumbled his grand offensive plan once he met stiff resistance, a little way south from Saratoga.

A month-long series of bitter skirmishes, culminating in battles at Freeman’s Farm, Bemis Heights and the Balcarres Redoubt burned through supplies, horses, ammunition, men, and German/British morale. Gentleman Johnny’s best chance would have been to pack up what was left of his supplies, soldiers, artillery-train and beat a strategic retreat north. But he still held out a hope that General Clinton would send a relief force of 2,000 men to his aid, as General Clinton had promised. Messages between Clinton and Burgoyne were carried by an American Loyalist soldier, a man named Daniel Taylor, who carried them in a hollow silver ball, the size of a bullet as he stealthed his way in ordinary civilian clothing up and down the Hudson. On October 9, Taylor and another Loyalist were just returning from New York, with a message for Burgoyne. Upon approaching New Windsor, Taylor and his companion began seeing heavily armed men – but were they Rebels or Loyalists?

At this point in the fighting, not very many Rebels or Loyalists wore distinguishing uniforms. Taylor and his companion were challenged almost at once. Who were they, and what were they doing? Well, said Taylor, who are you and what are you doing? We’re guards for General Clinton, replied the men. Why – Taylor had just departed from Clinton’s camp, the day before! Hurrah, for Clinton making swift work of the distance. Much relieved, Taylor asked to be taken to the General, obviously assuming General Clinton might have additional messages for Burgoyne. The guardsmen obliged by escorting Taylor into the august presence of the general … and that was the point where the day became The Very Worst Day At Work Ever for Daniel Taylor.

Because this was not the British General Sir Henry Clinton … but the American rebel, George Clinton; a commander of militia, governor of New York (who would be re-elected to that office five times), brigadier general in the New York volunteer militia – and also a dear personal friend and supporter of George Washington. Taylor – whom one might assume was frozen in horrified realization for a brief moment and whose interior monologue might be imagined with some accuracy – grabbed the silver ball containing the message to Burgoyne from where he had it concealed on his person and swallowed it.

Too late. Orders were given, Taylor was separated from his companion (nothing is said of what happened to that man) a doctor was sent for, and an emetic administered – likely by force – and nature took its course. He vomited up the silver ball containing the message, and when it was opened, and the message read, there was no hope at all for him, save for dictating a confession to an obliging militia officer, and composing his soul; an enemy courier, carrying theater-commander-level messages, and out of uniform – such as they were at the time. He was hanged the following Sunday morning, from the branch of an apple tree near the church in Kingston, north of New Windsor, as the Rebels evacuated the area, in anticipation of the British advance. When Sir Henry Clinton’s troops did briefly reoccupy Kingston, they found Taylor’s body, and burnt the town in reprisal.

All to no purpose, as it turned out. Burgoyne surrendered within days – a precursor to the larger surrender at Yorktown, four years later, when the world turned upside down and Britain relinquished control of thirteen rebellious colonies in the New World.

11. May 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Wild Blue Yonder

OK, so it was linked on Insty, but this was an incredible read: of the Pan-Am commercial flight which got caught on the wrong side of the world after Pearl Harbor, and had to go around the long way to get home again, with pluck, luck and sheer stubborn inventiveness.
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Enjoy!
I particularly liked the part where they visited a public library, searching for relevant information.

09. May 2018 · 1 comment · Categories: Domestic

Well, a project progress report, seeing that one of the semi-big projects on my list of home-improvement items has been accomplished – and bountifully, at that. Well, it did run to about $300 more in labor and $200 more in stuff – specifically a wall-mounted mirror, a faucet set, and a glass shelf – than I had initially anticipated. But the small bathroom renovation is complete and gorgeous! Well, once the glass shelf arrives, courtesy of Amazon and UPS, it will be complete. I began working on the bathroom after I got back from Houston, at the middle of April – scraping disgusting wads of soluble plaster and popcorn texture off the ceiling, and alternately, those last bits of paint from off the concrete floor, while awaiting the convenience of Neighborhood Handy Guy. Neighborhood Handy Guy boogies to the beat of a different drummer, when it comes to a schedule, I’m afraid. When he says, “I’ll be over first thing!” it could mean anywhere between 8:30 and noon. When he says, “I’ll be over today!” it could be any time from mid-morning to late afternoon. This charming eccentricity is forgiven by neighborhood clients because he does amazingly good work (carpentry, tile-work, fixture-installation, painting, etc.) being a perfectionist at heart, and that his charges for labor are … well, let’s just say they are reasonable. Especially if you do some of the work, assist him, and purchase the necessary. So reasonable that he is in constant demand – another reason for being patient. So – two weeks of work from Neighborhood Handy Guy, including trips to the local Lowe’s outlet, first to pick up the pedestal sink and the new toilet, the paint, tile for floor and sink surround, good sturdy planks for a shelving unit, baseboards and trim, subsequently to collect other items as required … and now the bathroom is finished. Yay! (Pictures below. The room is so small that it’s impossible to back up far enough to take pictures encompassing the whole … and the paint color is more of a white with a pink tinge than the sort of Pepto Bismol shade that it looks under flash.)

It’s amazing how much roomier it seems, now with a nice pedestal sink, and with a custom, if simple and unadorned shelving unit installed. The original vanity was contractor-grade, and so shoddy that I bashed it apart myself with an ordinary hammer and consigned it to the gargantuan wheelie-trash-bin without any untoward exertion. And my place was built by a reputable company: homes built by the really fly-by-night builders must be equipped with cabinets built with heavy cardboard, and fixtures constructed from soda straws and heavy tinfoil.
It’s only the very first item on my Five-Year To-Do, though. I am awaiting the call from the roofing and remodeling company, in service to the second item – initial construction of the Catio and in association with that project, a new roof. Sometime in late May, early June, I think. Then the garage door – and that is dependent on sorting out all the crap in the garage, much of which is the Daughter Unit’s. She came home from her last station at Cherry Point and when her hold baggage arrived, it was all unloaded into the garage. The master bath reno must wait until after Christmas. Sigh. Another week of scraping popcorn gunk off the ceiling awaits me at that point. And likely at least three weeks of waiting every day for Neighborhood Handy Guy to appear and work his home-renovation magic. Until then, I solace myself by going down the hall, opening the door, and basking in the retro-charm of the finished small bathroom.

So, I meant to write something sarcastic and slashing about … whatever over the last weekend, but I got distracted by life, and by a couple of different news reports – one of them being that Kanye West apparently has gotten in touch with his inner conservative and decided – for the moment – to come out enthusiastically for Trump. While not a particular fan of his brand of pop music and acknowledging that his judgement may not be all that – the man married a Kardashian, for g*d’s sake – I have never heard of anyone calling him a stupid man. Talented – yes, fabulously successful, and financially well-rewarded for exercising those talents; there must be more to him than pure dumb luck. Lamentable as it is to me that present-day celebrities wield more social influence than is good for them, and for us … that someone with that much influence in the black community is pointing out some self-evident truths must count for something.

I cannot decide if Kanye West initiated a preference cascade, or he was sharp enough to see that Trump’s policies were benefiting urban black communities in a substantial way a way that Obama promised but never delivered, and made a rational decision to speak his mind and get out in front of it all. It has been suggested that this is all a gigantic trolling of conservatives anyway; still seems like going a bit too over the edge, in ginning up publicity for an album or something. In any case, Kanye West certainly has provoked a backlash of his own, with Mad Maxine Walters spouting inane and condemnatory gibberish in the manner which we have come to expect of her, Ta-Ne-Hissy Fit Coates spouting likewise in a somewhat more literate manner.

The other matter which drew my attention, are reports that terminally-ill John McCain now is saying that he never wanted Sarah Palin as his VP in the 2008 presidential campaign. And he doesn’t want President Trump coming to his funeral. That first sentiment strikes me as spiteful, the second as ungracious, although Senator McCain will be in no position to complain in the eventuality. Spiteful, because it was clear to me at the time that adding her to the ticket was about the only thing that energized his campaign at all; having her on board was the one thing that energized me and a lot of others about what was a spiritless and by-rote campaign. Spiteful again, the way that his inner circle basically threw her to the dogs, blaming her for the failure. Looking back now on how it all played out, I wonder if McCain was ever really serious about pursuing the presidency in 2008 – was he always intended to lose? He did suspend campaigning, which seemed like an inexplicable decision then. Was the fix in for Hillary the Inevitable, and then for Obama, the Fresh Prince of Chicago; John McCain was just there to make a show for the establishment GOP and then gallantly concede? Supposing that was the plan, and everyone but Sarah Palin was playing along with it? Five years ago, fifteen, even – I would have thought that was political paranoia talking but considering the recently-revealed shenanigans of the Clinton-Trump campaign – I can’t quite be so dismissive. Was Sarah Palin just picked as convincing window-dressing for a deliberately self-sabotaged campaign, at the cost of her own formerly quite promising political career?
Discuss, if you can bear it.

I am distracted this week, through having to oversee and assist with a spot of home renovation, and the launch of Book Six of the Luna City Chronicles – One Half Dozen of Luna City, which is available as of today in print, Kindle and other ebook formats – although by no means have I not paid attention to various news hiccups which caught my fleeting attention as they went past.

As a parent, I can’t help but be sympathetic and supportive of little Alfie Evans’ parents, whose’ medical situation was as heartbreaking as it was mysterious and likely terminal. Just as I cannot help being viciously cynical regarding the decision by hospital and National Health Service administrators to set the poor tot on the so-called Liverpool Care pathway. Over the strenuous objections of his parents, the church which his parents apparently belonged to, any number of advocates for the rights of parents – all life support cut off, including oxygen, nourishment and water, with the powers of the State and its police minions standing by to enforce the dictates of the state. More »

I always had rather a soft spot in me for Barbara Bush; the exemplary old-school upper-middle-class good wife, with her triple strand of pearls, and the way that she didn’t give a damn about going prematurely white. That was the way she was, and she didn’t give two pins. Class – that’s what she had, the class of a previous generation; a class now belatedly appreciated and mourned, now that the upholders and exemplars of it are almost now gone from between us. Among my transitory friends in Korea was a security policeman who had come off the White House protection squad at the end of the senior Bush administration: he adored Barbara, who called him Timmy – possibly the only person on earth besides his mother who did so, as he was one of these six-and-a-half foot tall human hazards in traffic, who looked rather like an Irish-Anglo version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
So – I took brief note of her passing; yes, good to die at home, refusing anything but palliative care, among family, and those whom hold you in affection. I am certain that Timmy – wherever he is now – is riffling through his fond memories of his particular First Lady and drinking a toast to her. A good long life, well lived, a loving marriage, well-adjusted and successful children, and grandchildren; what more could a brief life on this earth offer? I also drink a toast to Barbara Bush, and convey my sincerest condolences to those who loved her, a circle which extends far beyond those of her blood family. (I wish, though, that she had not been so catty about Sarah Palin, but I guess she was just going along with the old-line Establishment GOP crowd.)

This appears to be a simple social courtesy too much for a certain professor of … something or other at a California State University. Oh – it’s the one in Fresno. Fresno – like Bakersfield, it’s own punishment. (Yes, I am letting my latent California snobbishness show. Yes, there are places in California too infra dig for words. Fresno is one of them, although it did feature in a hilarious and all-star parody of 1980s dramas like Dynasty and Dallas. I continue.) The tweets posted by this so-called professor (of what, pray tell? Oh, dear – of English.) Couldn’t prove it through the content of her tweets, which largely appear barely literate speak for themselves – mostly a narrative of vicious ignorance and malice.

Her name is Randa Jarrar, which must be 21st century speak for Two Ton Tessie, the epitome of a certain kind of female academic social justice warrior, like Trigglypuff. If her now-notorious tweets are what she puts on her social media feed, god only knows what she says to her students in the classroom – at a public and state-funded university, I might add. MS Jarrar is apparently a promising author of the kind of socially-aware preciosity that most of us wouldn’t read on a bet, unless it was to make riotous fun of. She appears to be a lukewarm American Muslim of part-Palestinian extraction, raised in Kuwait and Egypt, returning to the United States for good and all after the First Gulf War in 1991; her previous claim to fame was to have authored a widely-circulated essay on Salon about how she couldn’t stand white belly-dancers. On the grounds of cultural appropriation, apparently.

Among the items of cultural appropriation that MS Jarrar seems to have refused to partake of is the classically Latin truism about ‘speaking no ill of the dead’ – and the other, more American bog-standard, about ‘if you have nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all.’ Tragic, since she seemed to have graced UT-Austin with her presence, for a degree in Middle Eastern studies. Oh, well – Austin, what can I say? I would venture a supposition that her very personal animus towards the Bush family has roots in the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein’s brief occupation of Kuwait. If I recall (and I do, for I followed events, being on active duty at the time), elements of the Palestinians in Kuwait and in the Middle East generally were enthusiastically backers of Saddam Hussein. When Saddam Hussein was chased out of Kuwait – well, those Poor, Poor, Pitiful Palestinians were considered as collaborators, and treated in Kuwait rather as French Nazi collaborators were treated after Liberation. While not quite having their heads shaved and marched naked through the streets, they were definitely made unwelcome by the Kuwaitis. I recall that many self-identifying Palestinians did leave Kuwait in a hurry. Being a logical person, I suspect that MS. Jarrar’s family were among them.

And so MS Jarrar found herself, after many academic adventures, comfortably in a well-paid sinecure at a small-town public university in California. Tenure, baby – it’s where you can find it. Alas, she seems to be addicted to the drug of “Calling Attention to Yourself”, and in this case, not thoughtful of how she went about getting that required fix or considering the wisdom of what she would say to get it. Now she has that attention – and having done so on her personal Twitter account (I swear, Twitter exists for the sole purpose of revealing morons in 140 characters or less) she has reflected nothing good on her employer, and from reports of her other social media appearances, she has nothing good to say about the local Fresno community, either. She may very well prove toxic to the university itself, tenure or no – having also demonstrated that she has no firm hold on the axiom regarding not bringing discredit or public opprobrium on one’s employer. Discuss this latest social media/academic dumpster fire; will she be sacked, or retained? Place your bets, gentlemen, place your bets.

While waiting to be put into the roofing/construction company’s schedule for the ‘catio’ and the new roof – which likely won’t happen until mid or late May at earliest, I have gone ahead and started work on the small bathroom renovation. The Daughter Unit was expecting this to be done while she was in California. I was also expecting to have Roman the Handy Guy start on the ‘catio’ before she even left, but he was in two minds about the project; an entirely roofed and screened-in porch was a bit more of a project that he wanted to tackle single-handed. So – I handed off the catio-porch element onto the professionals and asked him to tackle the small bathroom renovation. This is something more in his wheelhouse anyway.

The small bathroom project is a relatively simple one; rip out the vanity/sink and the toilet, scrape that nasty popcorn texture off the ceiling, tile the floor and the wall behind where the new sink will go, repaint the whole room, and install a set of built-in shelves and a new wall light fixture. The whole room is about 5 by 9, a third of that taken up by the bathtub across one end anyway. No big structural changes, no changes to the water or sewer lines, nothing to the electrical beyond replacing switch plates to match the new color scheme. Which will be white and a sort of grey-lavender-pinkish, to match a little vintage porcelain dresser set that the Daughter Unit picked up somewhere or other and wanted to use as the keynote design element. We plan to reuse the faucet set – since it was the one that I bought to replace the original construction-grade faucet about a decade ago, when I did my first redecorating pass through my little patch of suburban paradise.

So, yesterday we were at the local big-box home renovation store, picking up the replacement toilet and pedestal sink that I had ordered last week – both items packed in big boxes, which is why I had arranged with Roman and his pickup truck, rather than try and stuff them in the back of the Montero myself. While there, I bought the other material for the project; paint, floor and backsplash tile, the grout mix, lengths of baseboard stock, and lumber for a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves which will replace the storage space lost when the bathroom vanity is taken out. The bathroom is so small, the vanity takes up entirely too much of what little space there is – hence, replaced with a pedestal sink. Roman has a busy schedule for the rest of this week, so his part of the renew-work falls into next week. My part falls into the interim: scrape up the last of the paint on the concrete floor and clean thoroughly, so that the tiles adhere properly, take down all the stuff attached to the walls, patch the holes, sand, and otherwise prep the room for heavy redecoration. And that was my week – other than the trip to Houston, which I will write up anon.

15. April 2018 · Comments Off · Categories: Allied Treachery

Well, it’s somewhere, among the albums.

One of my internet guilty pleasures is perusing the website of the UK’s Daily Mail newspaper, both the US and UK sides. I know – in the grand scheme of things, the Daily Mail is about one half-step up from a tabloid. The captions and headlines often give evidence of being written by middle-school students innocent of any knowledge of conventional grammar or spelling, they employ the execrable Piers Morgan, editorially despise Donald Trump, and have this inexplicable and unholy fascination with all things Kardashian. In my early blogging days, I favored the rather more high-class Times of London, and the Telegraph, but they went all pay-wall and frankly, hard to read. In any case and against the above-listed foibles and more, the Daily Mail is a free and straightforward read. Start at the top and scroll down; no hopscotching around to the various menu headings, hoping to get lucky and find something interesting. They nearly always do provide some daily amusement, or horror, depending on tastes. And they cover American news without fear or favor – although, as noted, they have no abiding affection for The Donald. They didn’t have for The Barack, either, so I’ll take what I can get, for easy AM reading.
This week’s headline bruhaha made the American conservative side of the blogosphere develop that kind of nervous eyelid twitch demonstrated by Inspector Clouseau’s boss in the classic Pink Panther series: an elderly retiree in a distant London suburb surprised a pair of burglars who had broken into his house in the middle of the night with the intent of robbery and god knows what other kind of criminal mayhem. This being England, land of hope and glory and strict gun control, the thirty-something burglar (who had a comprehensive record as an honest-work-shy professional criminal) was armed with an assault screwdriver, with which he menaced the home-owner. Much to everyone’s surprise – including, no doubt, the professional burglar and his faithful sidekick – the elderly retiree succeeded in defending himself against a pair of younger and presumably bigger men. Indeed, one of the felonious pair was stabbed fatally with his own screwdriver, collapsing in the street outside, whereupon his faithful sidekick abandoned him, gunned their escape vehicle, and vanished in a cloud of exhaust. (The police are searching for him, at last result, although they have located the burned-out escape vehicle. So much for honor among thieves, and the ability of the London police force.) The assault screwdriver-wielding professional career criminal was found, bloodied and dying in the street, taken to a hospital, wherein he expired. Well, they always said that crime doesn’t pay, even though for him it seemed that the eventual bill was a long time coming. More »

Damned if I know, as my educated guess as a long-time milblogger is probably about as good as yours. I never had a Myspace account – too busy with the original milblog, I guess, to be aware of or want to participate in any of the original or prototype Facebook iterations. Never got into Twitter, although I do have a barely-used, and all but neglected account, which I am camping on, since there is another author Celia Hayes out there, who likely would scoop it up, as soon as I vacated that account. (Yes, I am, spiteful that way. That other Celia apparently never did a google-search, upon deciding to publish her contemporary rom-coms. There is such a thing as due diligence…)

See – I am a long-form blogger. There are those of us whose skill is witty epigrams, or slashingly vicious put-downs on a daily basis. Mine is not; I prefer to open up a document, meander at my own pace, and then hit “publish.” Tedious, I know, for those readers with the attention-span of a gnat, but my most intense literary influences where those of the Victorians, who wrote complicated sentences, some of them lasting for at least a quarter of a page, if not for longer. My sense of humor (as well as my tastes in architecture) was set in stone by the influence of a book in the parental collection: Osbert Lancaster’s Here of All Places, who was at least as good as a cartoonist as he was a wordsmith, if slightly ponderous and wonderfully dry.

When I began seriously scribbling on more than a weblog around 2008, I began connecting with other independent writers; the largest congeries of us assembled at first through an Amazon discussion group, swapping experiences, opportunities, and advice on marketing our books. A good many in the group had been on the fringes of traditional publishing in various editorial or technical capacities. Their experiences and insights into the dark heart of what I took to calling the Literary-Industrial Complex were invaluable to the rest of us.

In the light of recent events, one of those pieces of marketing advice has proven to be quite prescient: that is, utilize social media as you must – but don’t bet the farm on it. One should not put all of one’s hard-written content into a basket controlled by others; suck up the expense of your own website, mirror-post your content – because, if for some reason, the social media platform goes under, or takes against you, all your work can and will be lost. YouTube, Facebook, Twitter – all easy, popular, convenient … but when – when, and not if – the politicized and mostly left-of-center providers of the service decide to shadow-ban, demonetize or close your account, you will be stuck. I had a good three or four years’ worth of archive posts on Open Salon, which evaporated into the ether, when Open Salon had their plug pulled by management. Didn’t lose much, save for some of the connections, when that platform went down. I do have a Facebook account for myself as an author, and for several other of my enterprises – not that I post, connect to, or repost anything but the most neutral and anodyne materiel on them. I came into this internet game with a sense of probity already hard-learned, having as a military broadcaster to always consider what I said, wrote, and posted, from the public affairs point of view. Once what you have said on air – it’s out there. No reconsideration can draw it back or erase any line of it.

The social media oligarchs who control such venues have decided – for whatever reasons – to get in touch with their militantly liberal side, consigning better than half the country to perdition and obscurity. I have no idea why, although I can guess at a few possible motivations. Are they so thickly insulated in their bubble of the like-minded that they are genuinely baffled at the existence of conservatives of any stripe? Are they frightened; scared out of their wits at that straw-other built up in their own minds, and hysterically lashing out at the perceived threat by calling it hate speech, or terming conservatives a threat to the community? Or are the social media lords and the media nobility vengefully blaming half the country for not obediently falling into line and voting for Hillary, and punishing the outspoken for our lack of faith in Her Inevitableness?
And what action can we take in response? Can we switch to gab.ai from Twitter, MeWe from Facebook, post to Vimeo instead of YouTube, or explore other alternatives? Will a substantial shift to alternate social media platforms have any effect on oligarchs like Zuckerberg? Discuss.

(The historic WWI Battle of Belleau Wood is a part of the background in A Half Dozen of Luna City … and for your edification – an essay on it, which will feature in the latest Luna City chronicle.)

1918 was not the year that the 19th century died; died in all of its boundless optimisms and earnest faith in advancement of the human condition. For Europe – cynical, cultured, hyper-superior old Europe – that could be said to happened two years earlier, along the Somme, at Verdun, in the tangled hell of barbed wire, poisoned gas and toxic, clay-like mud, the burnt ruins of the centuries-old Louvain university and it’s priceless library, destroyed by German ‘frightfulness’ tactics in the heat of their first offensive. Perhaps the 19th century died as early as 1915. It depended on which front, of course, and the combatants involved, still standing on their feet, but wavering like punch-drunken, exhausted pugilists. One may readily theorize that only blood-drenched enmity kept them propped up, swinging futilely at each other, while the lists of casualties from this or that offensive filled page after page of newsprint; all in miniscule typeface, each single name – so small in print, yet a horrific, tragic loss for a family and community hundreds of miles from the Front.
All this was different for Americans, of course; sitting on the sidelines, gravely concerned, yet publicly dedicated to neutrality, and firmly at first of the conviction that Europe’s affairs were not much of Americas’ business. But softly, slowly, slowly, softly – American sympathies swung towards the Allies, even though there were enough first- and second-generation Americans among German and Irish immigrants to have swung American public opinion among non-Anglo or Francophile elements towards maintaining a continued neutrality. After all, it was a war far, far, away, and nothing much to do with us … at first. But events conspired; the brutality of the Huns in Belgium (documented by American newspapers), unrestricted submarine warfare which extended to American shipping (and, inevitably, American casualties), and finally, the publication of the Zimmerman Telegram – and in the spring of 1917, President Wilson formally requested of Congress that a declaration of war on Imperial Germany be considered and voted upon. Said declaration was passed by an overwhelming margin, and by summer of that year, American troops were arriving in France – first in a trickle, then a flood.
The Belleau Wood was a forested tract thirty or so miles northeast of Paris; a hunting preserve in a stand of old-growth European forest, the refuge of wildlife, and for those whose favored recreation was hunting them. At the northern edge of the forest was two-story octagonal hunting lodge; built of stone, it was a place to shelter hunters for a night, during momentary bad weather, or a hearty meal, mid-hunt. Until the spring of 1918, it had been relatively untouched by a war which had turned acres and acres of French and Belgian farmland into muddy, barbed-wire entangled wastelands – many of which are still poisoned and unsafe, a hundred years after the end of that war. That forest tranquility ended when the expected German spring offensive slammed into the Allied lines – lines which now included the Americans – and punched through to the Marne River. The Germans had hoped to break through before the sufficient of the American Expeditionary Force arrived to make a difference in the wars’ outcome.
Late in May, German forces reached the Paris-Metz main road – and if they managed to break across the Marne and reach Paris, that one last throw of the dice would pay off for Germany; perhaps in victory, or perhaps in a negotiated and face-saving settlement with the equally exhausted and embittered French and British.

An experienced career soldier, General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing commanded the US. Expeditionary Force. He had rejected British and French demands that the Americans be parceled out piecemeal among Allied units, and essentially fight under the command of French and British officers. This would not do – likely Black Jack was polite yet forceful about it. (His nic came from him having commanded a troop of black cavalry early in his career as a young officer.) The AEF’s 3rd Division went into the line to counter the German advance at Chateau Thierry – the 3rd Division, which included a brigade of Marines, had initially been held in reserve – was brought forward in a hurry. The Marines were pretty much seen as a second-class by the Army brass, according to some accounts: good enough to do rear-guard and support duty, and only thrown into what was expected to be a quiet sector because every able-bodied American serviceman was needed, in the face of the German spring offensive. Checked by stiff resistance at Chateau Thierry, the German advance poured into the woods, where the 3rd Division had just arrived. Retreating French troops, exhausted from the fight to keep from being overrun, urged the Americans to do likewise, whereupon one of their officers is supposed to have riposted, “Retreat, Hell – we just got here!”
Of course, the newly-arrived American troops were keen as mustard; champing at the bit, as it were – especially the Marines, few of whom were of the career old breed. Many were recent volunteers. Up until that moment, the Marines had been a rather small, and somewhat specialized service; more inclined to security on board naval ships and at US embassies abroad, perhaps a small punitive expedition where American interests were concerned in South America and the Caribbean; a military constabulary, rather than hard-charging infantry. Still, it was a service that took pride in having been founded by an act of the Continental Congress in 1775, recruiting at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, beating the official establishment of the US Army by more than a decade. (Yes, there was a Continental Army during the Revolution, but it was more like state militias seconded for service in the colonies’ united cause. The US Army wasn’t quote-unquote officially established until the 1780s. Upon this kind of minutia are friendly service rivalries built.)

Throughout the month of June 1918, the Marines fought with bitter tenacity through the deathly woods; sharpshooting at first, with deadly effect, and eventually to point-blank, then with bayonet, knives, and hand-to-hand. They kept the Germans from moving out of the wood, and then fought them back, yard by yard, trench by trench. The trees in the forest, the boulders at their feet were shattered by artillery and machine-gun fire. The stench from the bodies of the dead – too many to bury, under the existing conditions in the early summer heat – revolted the living to an unimaginable degree. And still – they went on, clawing back the wood to Allied control. More Marines were killed in that single month than had been killed in action since their founding in 1775. The Corps would not face another butcher’s bill to equal it until the taking of Tarawa, a quarter of a century later, and half the world away. It was a special kind of hell, this fight in a 200-acre French woodland, fought by relatively untried young troops, motivated by pride in service, by devotion to comrades, and by the leadership – which in many instances devolved onto NCOs, and even individual Marines, like Sergeant Dan Daly, a scrappy Irish-American career Marine (who had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – twice, for actions in the Boxer Rebellion, and then again in Haiti). In legend he is said to have rallied the troops with a shout of “For Chrissake, men, come on; do you want to live forever?!” (Or similar phrasing. The war correspondent Floyd Gibbons later wrote that he had heard a similar expression shouted by a senior NCO, and the legend attached itself to Dan Daly.)
In the end, the Germans were driven from the woods, at a horrific cost; 10,000 casualties among the Marines, including nearly 2,000 dead. There is no definitive record of German dead, although there were around 1,600 Germans taken prisoner. But the Marines had clawed back the deathly woods, blunted the last-ditch German offensive … and in November of that year, Germany threw in the towel. By agreement, it all came to a temporary end on the eleventh hour, the eleventh day, the eleventh month. Such were the enmities and resulting bitterness that the armistice held only for the time that it took for a baby boy born in that year to grow up and serve in his turn. The shattered forest was christened anew after the battle; since then it is called the Wood of the Marine Brigade and an adjunct to a American war cemetery. The American 4th Brigade was recognized by the French government by the award of a military honor, the Croix de Guerre. To this day, active-duty Marines serving in the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments are authorized to wear the French fourragere – an elaborate garnishment of looped and braided cords – on their left shoulder as part of their dress uniform, in honor of that unit’s service in the Deathly Wood, a hundred years ago. And to this day, successfully completing Marine Corps basic training means completing the “Crucible” – a 54-hour marathon march on short rations and little sleep, featuring grueling marches, obstacle course and team-driven combat-problem-solving exercise – some of which was drawn on the experience of the fighting in the deathly woods, a hundred years ago.

For me, the very first – although not the most momentous disappointment in the accumulated collection racked up throughout the Obama administration – was the realization that there would be no line drawn under the old bug-bear of racism with regard to those of us – as a friend of mine during my assignment to Greenland in the early 1980s put it – with the year-round dark tan. Yes, said friend was black, Afro-American, a person of color, or whatever the approved term is these days. (You kids, get off my lawn! Oh … I don’t have a lawn.) My friend was a totally middle-class young woman, the daughter of professionals, who like me, had grown up without ever personally observing much in-your-face unmistakable racial antagonism or prejudice. It was merely something that had happened to other people, a fair number of decades ago; at worst howlingly illegal, at best, rude. We were in the habit of walking together every Saturday, around the end of the Sondrestrom AB runway to the Danish side of the base, there to enjoy a cup of tea and a pastry in the SAS air terminal cafeteria.

North of the Arctic Circle, you take your diversions where you can find them; in this case, the air terminal cafeteria was A) away from the base, and B) actually had rather good food, since it was entirely run by Danes; masters of pastry and good solid comfort food. One Saturday, the cafeteria was empty save for a large party at another table, who stared at the pair of us in a manner most disconcerting. It freaked both of us out, as soon as we noticed. Had we each suddenly grown another head? Were we trailing toilet paper stuck to our mukluks? It wasn’t an American uniform – both of us were clad in the customary Sondy winter mufti, of jeans and plaid shirts, with the addition of dull-green issue parkas and mukluks – why were they staring at us? Finally, I ventured – “Is it because you’re black and I’m white, and they’re from South Africa or something, where it’s illegal to sit at the same table?”

She agreed that it must be something like that; it must have been the only explanation, and we returned to enjoying our tea and pastries, marveling at how things had changed so much for the better, from the times of violent civil rights demonstrations twenty years before.
At that point – and especially in the military – systemic racial prejudice appeared to be something from the bad old days. It was so far off the table, it wasn’t even in the same room. No one turned so much as a hair over a commander, supervisor, NCOIC being of another race, and if racial prejudice were a factor in the dating and marriage scene, it was one of the best-kept secrets since the Enigma coding device. So, twenty-some years after that tea-time in the airport terminal, I had some thin and comforting hope that the election of B. Obama to the highest office in the land would at the least put a dagger in the heart of the myth of the USA being Teh Most Racist Nation Evah! – even if he delivered on nothing else of note. And this, even after the “G*d Damn America” sermon stylings of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright came to light among the conservative side of the blogosphere. I’m at heart an optimist … surely the chances of a light-weight Chicago machine pol, with not much going for him other than a mellifluous voice (when reading from a teleprompter) and a slightly unusual personal background couldn’t do all that much damage … could he?

Ten years later, that answer is along the lines of ‘oh, hell, yes!’ Between the crazed indifference to the actual facts of the various ‘police on black thug’ shootings on the part of BLM (and the statistics on crime by black vs white perps generally), the curious rise of the ‘knock-out game’, an anti-Semitic race-mongering sleaze-ball opportunist like Al Sharpton achieving a comfortable sinecure and apparent social respect among Dems as a media commenter, American institutions of higher learning piously condemning ‘whiteness’, an earnest and involved group of citizens like the Tea Party partisans being routinely condemned by the establishment news and entertainment media as racist … all that is bad enough. But now it seems that Nation of Islam honcho, Louis Farrakhan – vicious, anti-Semitic, poisonously-hateful of whites in general, and all-around nut-bar – was on closer acquaintance with our former President than previously thought. Yes, presidents and rising pols need to rub elbows with those from whom a normal private citizen would otherwise run screaming, or at least murmuring polite apologies as they edge towards the door – but what are we to make of this? Trump is expected to apologize endlessly for having attracted the support of David Duke – but the support of a malignant hater like Calypso Louie is just – oh, well, one of those political things?

Sharpton, at least, gives off the vibe of being a particular sort of crass racial opportunist (aside from the anti-Semitic thing). Stoking racial animosity been berry, berry good to him over the years – but Louis Farrakhan? He comes off as a fanatic, and of a dangerous sort. Discuss, if you can bear it.

And why – in the wake of the latest horrific school massacre. What I mean is the banning of gun ownership in the US, or the abrogation of the second amendment, or the passing of so-called “sensible” new gun restrictions (which will be as little-enforced as the last set of so-called “sensible” restrictions). Not going to happen, no matter how emotional the demands by the ban-gun advocates scream, weep, stomp their feet and accuse gun-owners and organizations like the NRA of having blood on their hands. And no, we don’t much care how they do it in Europe, or Britain, or Australia. Weirdly enough, in the United States, the most violent cities are the ones with the most restrictions on personal firearms. Violent crime is generally the preserve of a distinctly urban racial sub-culture, which if omitted from the statistics, presents a very different picture when it comes to violent criminal activity in the US as a whole. That’s an anomaly and discussion for another time, although it does have slight bit of bearing on this one.

I’ve rather lost track of how many times we have been to the gun-violence rodeo since the Columbine school shooting. Now it seems like we go through this hyperventilating over gun control every six months or so. I do recall, though, the reaction being extraordinarily muted when Republican members of Congress and their staffs were shot up at baseball practice by James Hodgkinson last June. But muted, or loud and foot-stompy, the results are about the same. It comes down to demanding that innocent, law-abiding citizens, exercising their rights under the Constitution, must be punished for the deeds of a single criminal, or for the deeds of a small number of criminals; collective punishment, in other words. The realization comes – or a sensible person should realize – that screaming grief to the skies and demanding collective punishment is the easy, cheap, facile response. It’s a reflexive reaction – understandable in the case of the grief of the bereaved, people with normal feelings of empathy, or the demand of a media personality under pressure, dammit, to say something before the cameras and microphones. Easy, and pointless – which is why it happens every damn time. Actually going ahead, full-steam ahead on repealing the 2nd Amendment would not only be hard work, even enforcing a total gun ban might prove ultimately impossible, as discussed here.
Effective efforts at preventing mass shootings that come out of the blue at schools, nightclubs, office Christmas parties, midnight movie showings and at concerts and malls is hard work, hard, complicated, and not a one-fits-all solution – made harder when a law enforcement agency like the FBI totally blows off tips concerning worrisome behavior by individuals, as in the current case – or an organization like the military not passing the word about a violence-prone individual, as was the case of the Sutherland Springs church shooter.

A common element in the last two decades is – besides a member of the Religion of Peace going all jihadi with guns, knives, and homemade bombs – is the element of crazy. A young male, as is the sad case last week in Florida, possibly not wrapped terribly tightly, over-or-under medicated, whose’ behavior in real life or on social media increasingly gives those around cause for extreme worry. Sometimes local police have long been aware of erratic and dangerous behavior; at the very least, friends, neighbors, employers all have reason for serious concern. But at present – how do we, or should we go about containing the crazy before the point where the crazy flips out for good and all and leaves a trail of bleeding bodies? Safeguarding the community and the crazy for their own good is another one of those difficult projects; running straight into the conundrum of accommodating the civil rights of the crazy-accused … and who gets to decide, anyway. There are pitfalls down that route; namely the danger of it being too damn easy to declare someone a danger on account of their words or beliefs and lock them up. Shades of the Soviet system, anyone?

Yet another element, discussed last night at Conservative Treehouse – the policy of schools to keep law enforcement away from problem students in the interests of protecting racial minorities. And a final element, related to the above – the problem of boys growing up without a father in the picture, or even a suitable, authoritative father-figure, compounded with the professional feminists blathering on and on about toxic masculinity. Too many professional and elite toes would be trodden heavily on, in the process of ameliorating those situations. Not that it would be impossible, just a very long job, the work of decades and small advances by individuals in reversing the policies that lead us to this point.
The short-term solution may be to follow the Israeli example, as is being done in some school districts in Texas, to arm selected teachers. But that will also be a long and bitterly-contested process. Discuss, and contribute your own thoughts.