Friday, June 24, 2016

Takin' a Ride

"Takin' a ride
But it's no damn good."
    The Replacements, from "Shiftless When Idle," 1981
Richard Russo's "Everybody's Fool" starts out with long-suffering North Bath (NY) Police Chief Douglas Raymer driving to a cemetery to attend the funeral of Judge Barton Flatt, who once called him a moron and made a play for his wife.  As a long-haired minister gave an irrelevant eulogy for the atheist magistrate whom he had never met, Chief Raymer thought of his old English teach Miss Beryl Peoples, who admonished her students in their essays of the importance of subject, audience, and speaker, often illustrating her point with a triangle.  Russo put this thought in Raymer's admittedly dim brain: "The old lady's triangle remained as deeply mysterious to him as the Holy Trinity's Father, Son, and Holy Ghost."  Later Chief Raymer ruminated about speaking at the dedication renaming a middle school in Miss Beryl's honor:
     He'd tell folks about all the books Miss Beryl had given him as a boy.  He'd tell his audience that Miss Beryl had held a far better opinion of him than he had of himself.  Further, he'd explain how the old woman kept scribbling "Who is Douglas Raymer?" in the margins of his essays.  And how she'd remain in his margins down through the years, like a good teacher will.

At Upper Dublin my two unforgettable English teachers were Mrs. Biles and Delphine Vandling.  The former taught me how to write a term paper, using footnotes and avoiding plagarism.  Mrs. Vandling not only instilled in me a love of literature (but not Shakespeare despite her best efforts) but also the importance of increasing one's "Word Power."  Each week we'd have to use ten new words in a sentence and then be tested on our understanding of them.

Retired English professor William K. Buckley gave me an autographed copy of "81 Mygrations" (1998), which included many poems about living by Lake Michigan and near the mill town of Gary.  Critic Csaba Polony called Buckley's poems "signposts, pit stops along dizzying spatial/temporal trip across the landscape/mindscape of America - an American road-miovie in verse."  Here are some lines from "Beach North":
     Lake Michigan stays clean around the edges.
     No ghosts of Conquistadores or sharks.
     No roiling of whales.  When you sail-out beyond USX
                                            you feel depths,
                and you know
     this lake can take down freighters, swallow families.

     If you swim, you feel the cut
     of slim surfaces, odorless and primitive
     If you dive, you see pig iron, iron bars,
             and clean shipwrecks.
     If you dig, you find only the smallest of shells,
     as if Nature had made a clean sweep of grandeur
              and settled out of court.
Edmund White, 1983 by Dominique Nabokov
In "The Quest for Gay Pleasure," a New York Review of Books essay on Edmund White's "Our Young Man," Diane Johnson notes that two main characters are twin brothers, one gay, the other straight.  Johnson notes:
         This note of volition more or less flew in the face of current orthodoxy that sexual preference is genetic or   predetermined in some other inescapable way but conforms to an orthodoxy of the 1950s, that homosexual tendencies were normal for everyone in adolescence but for most people were a phase and might modify or change.  This idea is out of fashion now, with today's almost political insistence on people coming out in grade school.
I have strong feelings against designating prepubescent kids gay, straight or transsexual and assume Diane Johnson does as well.  If I had a young son who wanted to wear girls' clothes or play with dolls, I think I'd be tolerant but still strive to interest him in sports and restrict his cross-dressing to inside the home, hoping probably that he'd outgrow the practice.
Nelson Algren photographed in Miller by Art Shay
A highlight of the Nelson Algren festival in Miller was the showing of the documentary "The End Is Nothing, The Road Is All."  The title is taken from a quote by novelist Willa Cather. The documentary included plentiful quotes from Algren's work and comprehensive treatment of the novelist's friendship with Simone de Beauvoir.
I loved watching "Breaking Bad" actor Bryan Cranston portray President Lyndon Baines Johnson in HBO's "All the Way."  The focus is on passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and its effect on politics, but it touches on the war in Vietnam and the murder of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney in Mississippi during Freedom Summer.  As Nick Schager of the Daily Beast wrote, Cranston portrays LBJ as "simultaneously noble, brave, self-serving, insecure, and nasty - a collous prick prone to terrifying verbal abuse."

Every time I spot a Kevin Nevers by-line in the Chesterton Tribune I check out the article, even if the subject seems mundane.  In "Replacement of Morningside sewer system ready to start" Nevers touched on environmental issues as well as government red tape.  He wrote:
      The dilapidated aerial support columns for the Morningside subdivision's sanitary sewer main carry the main over and across approximately 300 feet of environmentally sensitive,officially designated wetland, on its way to the wastewater treatment plant on the other side of the Little Calumet River.
     For Chesterton Utility Service Board Member Andy Michel, it seems almost too good to be true, inasmuch as it's been more than 15 years since the Utility first identified the threat posed by the crumbling columns.
     Working in and around a designated wetland, however, entails a certain amount of bureaucratic hoop-jumping and over the years the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has required the Utility, among other things, to conduct surveys of flora and fauna and inventories of live trees and dead ones.  The Corps also required the Utility to submit a work-site plan under which temporary timber "matting" and silt fences would be used to protect the wetland from construction activities.
     Now, at last, all systems are go.

Derrick Rose is no longer a Bull, having been traded to the New York Knicks.  The former MVP has been a shell of his former self since injuries sidelined him the better part of three seasons.  With their fourteenth pick in the draft, the Bulls selected Denzel Valentine from Michigan State, not a bad choice if recovered from knee surgery.  Many sports jocks were hoping the Bulls would also trade their best player Jimmy Butler, and go into a rebuilding mode instead of what the front office has termed "re-tooling."

A majority of British voters have have advocated leaving the European Union, causing stocks markets to take a hit all over the world.  Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his intention to resign. In Congress, led by civil rights pioneer John Lewis, Democratic lawmakers held a 24-hour sit-in to protest the Republicans' refusal to hold a vote on measures to keep assault rifles out of the hands of terrorists.  Even those on the no-fly list or under surveillance by the FBI can legally purchase deadly weapons.
Here is former House historian Ray Smock's take on the sit-in:
As someone who appreciates and respects the traditions, rules and procedures of the House, part of me was opposed to such a blatant display on the floor of the House because such an event is a violation of the decorum of the chamber, something I believe is essential to the deliberative process. Just because the Republican majority chooses to Do Nothing does not give license to the Democratic minority to stage demonstrations on the floor. The Capitol grounds are the place for demonstrations. 
But the partisan part of me thinks Congress has not done its duty to the American people on a host of issues including regulation of weapons of war in the hands of civilians, and I was delighted to see this "reasonable" and limited action that called attention to the failure of the legislative branch to address even the most minimal gun regulation. It is, after all, an election year that is shaping up in a bizarre manner, given the rise of Trumpism. So a protest that is in violation of the rules of the House does not seem so far out of line with the general dysfunction of the chamber.
The part of me that is a congressional historian sees this as a useful signpost and a colorful narrative of the ongoing stress that comes from an obstructionist Congress that does as little as possible to help govern the nation. It is also a sign of the times from the standpoint of social media and its collective effect on campaigning and governing. This demonstration could not occur without social media once the House adjourned and the TV cameras were turned off. Lincoln said nothing can occur without public sentiment. Social media creates public sentiment, both positively and negatively. The Speaker can control the House television cameras, but he cannot control photos and videos from cell phones.
Congressman John Lewis, the distinguished champion of the Civil Rights movement, and other leaders of the sit-in were relying on a time-tested and largely respected device of peaceful disobedience reminiscent of the sit-ins of the 1960s. This gives the House sit-in an aura of moral urgency. Some of the participants in the sit-in were members who represent places that had experienced mass gun violence. To them this was not a stunt but a call to action.  It suggests that some things are higher in order and magnitude than mere House rules of decorum. The sit-in suggests that this moment in our history is one where we have to disenthrall ourselves of some conventions that hamstring progress and raise the stakes of the debate. Compared with Senator Ted Cruz’s recent Senate filibuster, where he read from Dr. Zeus, the House sit-in was a grace note. It has historical significance in this context.

No comments:

Post a Comment