Monday, August 24, 2009

Political rally

It's funny how images endure, are resurrected, spread -- this yellow flag has its origins, I believe, in a political cartoon of the 18th century (the snake was shown cut up in 13 pieces, to represent the 13 colonies, and the caption was something like "unite or die"). Now it has gained another lease on life as a result of a black conservative man, at a health care town hall in St. Louis, being beaten up by nice open minded liberals as he tried to distribute it.

For the young folks who may not recognize it, this man's red t-shirt, of course, bears the Russian letters for the old U.S.S.R., plus a yellow hammer and sickle.

"The power to do as one pleases." Within limits of the law, of course, but once again I'm reminded of my old professor more than 20 years ago who said something I never forgot. You can have either freedom or equality, he said. You can't have both. If people are free, they are free to be unequal. Equality has to be enforced.

Those leaves in the background give the picture an autumnal look, don't they? It was a bright morning in August. And yet (delicious complication, as Lucia would say) the temperature barely struggled towards 70 F. One of the speakers got a laugh and a round of applause when he mentioned cap and trade, the bill designed to tax us all into protecting ourselves from Global Warming.

Podium and bunting on a summer day -- any 19th (or 18th) century American would feel at home.

This American Liberty Rally/Tea Party was organized in only four days by a local woman maddened by the orchestrations of our Congressional Representative's town hall health care meeting earlier in the week. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D -- 2nd district) hosted a tightly controlled town hall on Tuesday night, August 18th, at a church at 113th and Halsted Streets, just about the roughest Chicago neighborhood he could find for the occasion. This lady went anyway, brought and submitted six questions, and heard none of them answered. So she came home, did some web surfing and some telephoning, and by Saturday morning, August 22nd, had a park permit (I presume), four speakers lined up to talk about health insurance and sundry matters, a podium, microphone, bunting, electric generator, and a press release on the website of the local advertising circular, The Shopper, inviting all to come.

Between 65 and 70 people (I counted, twice) arrived at 11 am to chat, listen to speeches, and buy a flag or a pin from the young man walking around selling them. The keynote speaker for the morning was Kimberley Fletcher, an army wife and mother of eight who founded the group Homemakers for America and who, almost more importantly, had stories of horror and absurdity to tell of coping with government run health care via the Veterans' Administration. (If they haven't got a slot for your appointment today -- and an anonymous secretary on the phone riffles through tables and charts of illnesses and protocols to find out -- then whatever your problem is becomes an "emergency." But my son only has an ingrown toenail ... Take him to the emergency room.) She drove in from Ohio to tell her stories.

And Mrs. Fletcher is responsible, it seems, for launching something interesting called the Abigail Adams Project. She wants to create a database of all elected officials in the United States, from President to local school board officials, listing simply the official's name and philosophical stances on pertinent issues. She believes that the time ought to have arrived long since by which we vote for candidates based on their stated policies and views, not on party affiliation. Like many frustrated voters she considers both parties to be twin channels of corruption and meaninglessness. And like any voter, she is looking forward -- not literally, but we all have this image in our minds, I suppose -- to an ideal world in which representatives elected to office on the strength of their freely revealed thoughts and beliefs then get together in hallowed halls to hash out difficult problems honestly for the good of the nation. Maybe that would be good. But there was a time when voting for a personality was considered childish in itself; ten thousand personalities are a much slipperier proposition, much harder to hold to account, that one or two parties which have a stake in maintaining a sort of brand name regarding the philosophies and plans you'd like to vote for.

Still, I give this woman great credit for embarking on her apparently new life of activism, and I give our civilization great credit for producing her. What I also find remarkable and encouraging is the level of awareness at which ordinary people, or at least those interested enough to come to a political rally, are now operating. Both speakers and audience knew what TARP, the stimulus bill, cap and trade, and "spending our future" meant. Speakers who linked the War on Poverty to liberalism to socialized medicine to waste and incompetence also got a burst of assenting applause. That's new. Mrs. Fletcher went further back in time, giving a rather long speech in which she referenced both Lenin and Hitler, and this was interesting too. Seventy years on, we are having to identify Hitler in a new way, not as the genocidal monster of the last years of the war, whom our fathers and grandfathers cornered in a bunker in 1945, but as the socialist politician and cult idol he was long before that. His image belongs beside Lenin, Stalin, Che, and Mao, for ideological reasons, not just because all were vicious; my guess is that it's Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism which has gone far toward correcting the misconception that Nazis were "from the right." Gone far, then, toward reviving conservatism and giving people a truth to fight with, particularly against those who are so fond of announcing (when it serves them) that there is no truth but only differing perspectives. And anyway, -- no. The Duke of Wellington was from the right. Samuel Johnson, with his firm belief in "subordination," was from the right. These were men who believed that we none of us are capable of civilized human living outside a proper and God-ordained monarchy. Even the most conservative people today don't operate on that side of the real old-fashioned political divide.

Later in the weekend I went to a party and heard differing reactions to political and economic matters. Some people still talk blithely about insurance and future medical needs, as if the world may not turn upside down with a Congressional vote in September. One lady exulted in the fact that European countries give their citizens a stipend to cope with the expenses of a gluten-free diet. "Oh, but of course their health care sucks. Right," she fumed. It was a party, so I didn't like to ask where she thinks the money for the stipend comes from. And the men in the house talked about the construction industry simply waiting, waiting, to get moving. Projects lined up, permits signed, backhoes ready, everything "dialed in." But no lending from the banks. An economy waiting, waiting ... for what?

To see what damage our leaders can do to us first, it seems, in the quest for abstract fairness and orchestrated, collective justice. Only when they're done will we know how to cope. The Duke of Wellington would probably have said "go" by now.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Departing storm

The wind sweeps the rain across the street

The eastern horizon

A sense of perspective -- that's an apartment building in the lower left

Cloud or spaceship?


Good fishing after the storm

All clear to the west

Good night

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sex and the Helium marketplace

See? This is what I'm talking about.

I write on Helium, when I can, which isn't as often as might be, because I am busy writing to earn the money that Helium doesn't provide unless you write night and day for Helium, earning those Writing Stars.

I used to be a Marketplace Premier Writer on Helium, and so able to write and submit articles for actual money for actual publishing firms which have begun to use Helium to find writers and content. No more. I logged on today to surf the Marketplace, found an interesting title from a new network called Theory Media Corp, wrote to it, and was all set to paste it in and submit. When I got this message: "We're sorry. You have to be a member of the group associated with this title to write to this title."

In other words, you have to be a Marketplace Premier Writer, which I no longer am because they've changed the rules and you have to have gobs of Writing Stars to be designated so. Which means writing day and night for Helium, for no money, to get the gobs of stars.

Frustration aboundeth. I thought I could sneak into Theory Media Corp through the back door, by simply finding them and submitting as myself anyway, but either this group is so new it can't be googled, or else it is a wholly owned subsidiary of you guessed it.

This is why I have this blog. You want my theory on why Sex and the City is popular, even though it's all about skinny fifty-year old adolescents of limited acting skills sleeping around Manhattan? Here you go, and my blessings.

By the way, the instructions said I should include one YouTube link and five other external links, but now I feel like I don't have to.

Word limit: "about 300"

Sex and the City shows America to be ...

There is a huge audience of middle-aged, middle-class (white) women out there, who want the fantasy of making it in New York. They also want the fantasy of having a close set of girlfriends with whom they share deep confidences. They want the fantasy of sleeping around.

They want the fantasy of a fabulous job and fabulous wealth and access to great restaurants and exciting “clubs” where you wear slinky clothes, sip cocktails, and watch a floor show of transvestite firemen dancing in feather boas. They want the fantasy of being able to walk around safely and even hop a ferry in a chic metropolitan area – the chicest of all – in a spangly dress and high heels at midnight, and not run into any trouble. They want ... but need I go on?

The women watching Sex and the City are, let’s see – well, let’s just pick one, out of all the “squillions” (I learned a new word from Vogue this month) of American households whose windows are flickering blue from the TV screen late at night, at whatever magic times La Sex is being shown in reruns. Our gal is about forty. She is married to a husband whose private life with her she would never divulge to anyone. She has two kids, and no nanny. Every day is a day of running errands, soccer practice, making dinner, cleaning. She looks like Kate Gosselin , before somebody gave Kate a makeover because she looked too much like a mom.

When our gal can sit down for her Me Time, she relishes the fantasy, the clothes, the expensive hair, the city, the men, the fun. And she gets the flip side of fantasy, too, which is always feeling superior to it after all. In the end, what did almost all four La Sex friends want, but marriage and kids? Our gal Kate, in her millions, was always way ahead of them.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer night

Sitting outside, listening to crickets, traffic, and barking dogs; the planet Mars is rising in the east. As you watch it, moving quickly between two telephone lines and then above them and then behind a pine tree, you realize its movement means the passage of time. The earth is turning that fast.

Bats swoop a dozen feet or so above the ground, barely visible in the growing dark. When they catch something -- I assume -- they make a noise like ungreased ball bearings rippling and squeaking against each other.

In three months, I could easily be shoveling snow from this porch.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Riverside, Iowa: future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk

We're going to Iowa!

It had rained the night before.

At the Great Sauk Trail rest area -- so this is still an Illinois bug.

I-80, westbound.

Will it look the same in the 23rd century?

Summer farm fields.

Not too far across the river (there's only one) is this sign.

Westbound toward Iowa City, take the exit going south on Route 218. Drive a while. After driving a while, we weren't sure whether we had missed the turnoff for Riverside, and so we pulled into a general store in Hills, Iowa, to ask directions. There is a purple marten house in the parking lot. These are them.

Ah hah. (Riverside is another five miles south of Hills.)

Park here. Say, you could rent space in the very same building.

Once you park, the Enterprise -- excuse me, the Riverside -- is just to your left. It's on a trailer because they have parades, and it's in them.

The entrance is next to the American flag. At the far left, notice the shuttlecraft.

You have entered the portal. There are maps of the U.S. and the world, filled with pins marking where the Trekkers come from. We added ours to the thickly filled Chicago to Riverside corridor.

Why yes, that's a tricorder and a communicator, behind glass. Don't laugh -- doesn't it look like your cell phone?

Sixties space fashions. In only one episode, "Where no man has gone before," did the women wear slacks and shirts, and plain hairstyles. Remember Sally Kellerman? She was the main girl.

Oh yes. You've arrived. What are all those messages written on the sign?

Here's one of them. The rest of us can't add any -- the sign is behind a velvet rope and under glass.

And you can't sit in Mr. Shatner's chair, either. It's behind a velvet rope, too.

Look closely and you'll see that Himself has been here, once.

When you re-emerge, you see the shuttlecraft, just near a rather pretty neighboring garden.

You've got to get one last picture, to give you an idea of the scale of the thing.

There is more to see in Riverside -- the sign outside town, announcing this is "Where the trek begins," another marker, in a bucolic park area, that looks unsettlingly grave-like -- but when you are on your way to a family reunion, sometimes you hurry on. Besides, you can revisit next year. Trekfest always takes place on the last Saturday in June. My local cousins say Route 218 southbound is backed up for a mile then.

Besides, you've got your souvenirs.

Your new mouse pad.

Your "Kirk dirt" -- actual soil from Riverside. The nice elderly lady who sold me this for $3.00 was a one-day volunteer, replacing a regular volunteer who was ill. She kind of made a disbelieving noise as she took the package out of the display case, but I didn't care. No, je ne regrette rien.

And you've got your memories.
July 31, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Tudor Year: August

Theme: war

The boar badge of King Richard III flies over the probable site of Bosworth Field, in Leicestershire. (Image, no longer available on the web, originally from

August 1: Lammas Day
August 8: Marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine Howard, 1540
August 9: Elizabeth's "Armada" speech, Tilbury, 1588
August 22: Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485

For farmers, August was the month of the corn harvest. Lammas day, or ancient origin, was a quarterly rent-paying day and also a day for fairs and for re-opening enclosed fields so that sheep could graze freely until the next spring. August was also a month of war. Tudor history begins with Henry Tudor's defeat of Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. A century later, Henry's granddaughter Queen Elizabeth would defy the Spanish Armada in her famous speech to the troops at Tilbury on August 9, 1588 -- the fact that the Armada had already been decisively defeated and scattered two weeks earlier was not yet fully appreciated. Tudor soldiers served in France, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands, and helped put down rebellions at home. They were often enough rebellious themselves, especially over late pay.


Emmison, F. G. Tudor Secretary: Sir William Petre at Court and Home. London and Chichester: Phillimore & Co. Ltd., 1970 (first published by Longmans, Green, and Co., Ltd., 1961), p. 145.

Cressy, David. Bonfires and Bells: National Memory and the Protestant Calendar in Elizabethan and Stuart England. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989, p. 29.

Ibid., p. 115

Philips, Gervase. "To cry, 'Home! Home!': Mutiny, Morale, and Indiscipline in Tudor Armies," The Journal of Military History, Vol 65, No. 2 (April, 2001), p. 319

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Road trip

The road to Iowa: Queen Anne's lace, corn, and sky

Yes, this is Riverside, Iowa, future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. An enterprising (!ha ha) city councilman, in 1985, had the bright idea of asking the series' creator, Gene Roddenberry, whether Riverside couldn't call itself the "small town in Iowa" loosely designated as Kirk's birthplace. Roddenberry agreed because he felt "the first town that had volunteered ought to have it." Judging by the pace of events outlined on the Certificate of Authenticity which comes with every vial of "Kirk dirt" -- actual Riverside soil -- one may purchase at the Riverside Historical Center, approval came swiftly. The city councilman made the motion on March 25th, Roddenberry replied on the 28th and the city council passed the appropriate resolution on April 8th.

And when people come to visit, the nice volunteers ask them to put a pin in the map to show where they are from. The map of the United States is most thickly crowded with pins along a sort of Chicago-to-Riverside corridor. And the map of the world has its share. As my niece (who loathes William Shatner, for some obscure reason) put it when she saw this photo -- "holy crap."

The point of our trip, really: visiting with relatives.

A walk in the woods, Hickory Hills Park, Iowa City. "Here are the species remembered from the picnic ground, schoolhouse grove, the woodlot -- the forest preserve. Through the Northeast, across the Midwest, deciduous forest is where the people are -- or where they spent their childhood." Robert O. Petty, Deciduous Forest, 1974.

Eastbound, route 74, approaching the Mississippi. Called, always and only, the River.

That truck stop again. I-80, eastbound.

I keep waiting for the day when I am totally cool and comfortable driving the expressway. Some people actually get sleepy. I don't. If it's true that a society's greatest madness seems sane to itself, then I wonder if someday people will look back and gasp that we all considered it normal, that we made it necessary for modern life, to sit inside and maneuver large steel machines at terrifically high speeds simultaneously but orderly-like, on often crowded roads, in order to go from point A to point B in as short a time as possible. It's an exercise in sheer faith, trust in one's fellow man, that future historians will perhaps judge as far more cementing (!ha ha) to the whole society than any lessons in civics or any traditional political activity.

Physically, it's the sense of entrapment that bothers me. Next rest area, 68 miles. No way out, but more speed.

Going home.

... and say it was good.