The title is a quote from the article, in the author’s own words. It is not meant in disparagement, not at all.
I think it is great that Bob Cesca of the Huffingtom Post wrote the article. I am just surprised that the article makes a point worth making, at least at this stage of history. The statement it makes has been obvious for many months now–since the Tea Party movement’s inception, actually. As evidence, all anyone needs to do is look–vainly–for black faces in the audience for Sarah Palin’s address.
And here we are, trying to get all these cats herded toward something like universal health care. These are people who believe, literally, in the account of creation in Genesis, who believe a failure to believe in that account is a serious moral flaw. Thus, everyone they know well believes just as they do. Read more…
This was a Christmas headline nobody wanted to read. The news story unfolded all too predictably, but despite that predictability–maybe because of it–the story caused a strong reaction in anyone who read it.
Except me. I was characteristically unmoved, able to maintain my objectivity and intellectual distance; that is, until the news story revealed a single salient detail. The girl’s toothbrush was found in the suspect’s car.
Of course, this fact probably was included as damning circumstantial evidence against the accused, but for me, this mundane detail somehow broke through my customary emotional distance. It brought me into that house on that night. It increased the immediacy of the victimization involved in the crime, the level of violence of the young girl’s abduction and murder.
If she had simply been overpowered and dragged from her bedroom, as I initially had believed, it would have been bad enough. The detail of the toothbrush, however, leads to a different vision of the crime. Rather than an act of savage, unreasoning violence, the kidnapping obviously unfolded at leisure, with ample forethought and scheming. As part of this pattern, the perpetrator created the illusion of concern for the girl’s welfare. He allowed her to retrieve her toothbrush. Read more…
I am out of the memoir mode for the moment. I happened to see this quote from Mohandas Gandhi in A.Word.A.Day today:
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” -Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948).
Given the experience of my last few years, and the insight I have gained into some of the people around me, I have come to see the truth of this statement. The truth of it has, in fact, become clear to me in rather painful ways.
Edit: Happy birthday, Mohandas (Oct.2)
In 1968, my junior year in high school, George Wallace took part in the presidential election as a third-party candidate. He took several southern states in that election, and living in Atlanta at the time, one saw his campaign posters all over town. This sort of inflamed my nascent political passions and those of my friends.
We were a pretty diverse group, but you wouldn’t know it to look at us–we certainly were not diverse in terms of race or class; likewise, we all were galvanized and focused on the same sort of politics and current events of that year–the year of the Tet Offensive and the anti-war protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; the year of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Through the outward turmoil of that year, we were going through our own inward turmoil, knowing that we would graduate the following year with the draft taking more and more of our acquaintances as they graduated ahead of us. As focused as we were on the Vietnam War, we also saw the civil rights movement ongoing all around us. 1968 was a year of protest of many kinds worldwide, and a year of strong reaction to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. As one striking example, Georgia elected segregationist Lester Maddox governor the year before.
Transferring schools is something I did quite frequently growing up. I attended seven different elementary schools, in fact. Transferring schools, especially at mid-year, can be disorienting under the best of circumstances. They all have different rules and punishments, all have different things and people to be sought out and avoided. It can take quite some time to learn the policies and personalities of each new place.
I attended Hammond Elementary School for just a few months before moving on, but I remember it as one of the most silent, orderly, and stultifying places I have ever been. I felt totally unsupported there and conceived that every adult had chosen as his or her role to uncover my stupidity and iniquity. I do not believe I am far wrong; this conception was founded upon repeated experience with the people there. I don’t know how this school’s culture had evolved in this way, but it was a good thing I only had to stay there a little while. I was in and out in a few months.
I remember only one event from my time there. It occurred in the cafeteria, which, like the rest of the school, was utterly silent and orderly at all times. The cafeteria had one of those milk dispensers that was popular back then before we discovered that everything could be individually packaged for our sanitary snacking pleasure. With these machines, one strode up to it, got a glass from a rack, positioned the glass under a little rubber spout, and lifted a heavy chrome ball on a lever to start the milk into your glass. This was early in my schooling, and I had never seen this sort of contraption before.
Kindergarten was a catch-as-catch-can affair in mid 20th century Atlanta. It had not become part of the public school offerings at that point, but there were many options, most of them offered by churches as a way to glean some income from their unused space during the week. I’m told that I transitioned into kindergarten a bit reluctantly, but by the third day I was happy about the transition and taking part fully.
My kindergarten class was arranged in rows designated by birds. It appeared to be a meritocracy of some sort since I got the vague impression that certain kids were better at certain things, and that was why they were seated in the bluebird row. I would not be surprised to find that the row assignments were made on an altogether different basis, however, Atlanta, being as it was, rather a plutocratic, oligarchic sort of place. I don’t remember being bothered by the situation at all, though, and if I was ambitious to become a bluebird, it can’t have been much of a passion for me. I labored in mediocrity in the robin or cardinal row and was fine with it. I saw little difference among the birds myself, even after the indoctrination we received on the relative merits of the species chosen to stratify us.
One task early in the year was to select a picture to designate our cubbies. I looked through issues of Life magazine, with its great photographs, lying around our living room until I found a picture of an ocean liner. The picture had been taken from the air, and it showed the huge ship steaming through rather rough seas. This picture adorned the back of my cubby for the whole year, and I can see it still.
While we were living in Ohio, my father arranged for workmen to come and do some kind of work in the yard near the front of the house. I was about three, so I have no idea what they were going to be doing, but I do remember my mother sitting my sister and me down for one of those serious talks we had from time to time on any number of subjects. She was concerned that we might say something wrong when the workmen showed up. See, they were black, and you just didn’t encounter that many black people in rural Ohio, in the mid-1950s. (Even today, the African American population of the area is only 0.14%.)
My mother had lived for a while in the south and had read a lot of southern fiction and fancied herself quite enlightened when it came to matters of race. In actual fact, although her heart was in the right place and she really wanted to like black people, she hadn’t known any, and her ideas on what it meant to be black came from the white authors of all that southern fiction she had read. She had seen and soaked up Gone with the Wind, but then what resident of Atlanta had not? It ran in the theaters there continuously for years after its 1939 premiere.
Thus it was that her concept of blackness was nothing much more than a collection of black stereotypes, but to her credit, she acknowledged the ones she considered “positive” and rejected the rest, the overtly negative and threatening stereotypes that could make an unknown other so…what is the term? Unlikeable? It had been no great feat to hear these kinds of stereotypes spouted and expounded upon in the south. She was accomplishing something, at least, by rejecting all that kind of talk. The fact is, of course, that stereotypes, by their nature, tend to be negative, perhaps especially the ones my mother considered so “positive.” They all diminish the humanity of the person being stereotyped.
You’re driving along. You occupy an unyielding metal vehicle weighing a ton, more or less. You overtake a bicycle rider. You have a stripe of paint on the road to your left. You have a human being riding a bicycle on your right.
What kind of mind can’t decide which of these should be accorded the greater degree of inviolability? Whatever type it is, we seem to have lots of them among us. “I can’t cross that paint stripe! It’s a double yellow! I’ll just grit my teeth and take a chance with that human life over there!”
You’d think people could figure this out a little better, yet time after time this odd pattern evidences itself. Not only do we get obscure glimpses into the minds of single individuals this way, we also see how humanity tend to act when in “herd mode.” On the positive side, when one person in a line of traffic swings wide to give the bicyclist some room, the rest tend to follow along. This vice works versa, however, since the opposite pattern is just as likely to appear. One person deciding to “play chicken” with the bicycle rider will lead a string of drivers to engage in similar behavior. Apparently, we are only about as good as the people around us. Read more…
The translation here, 21st century style, is, “I know I did something to inconvenience you, but I don’t really want to have an unpleasant exchange with you, and I certainly don’t want to change my behavior in any way, either, so I am saying this meaningless thing I learned in elementary school so you’ll go away and not say anything unpleasant to me to try to get me to actually take responsibility for my actions.”
Do I sound grumpy? Maybe I am.
But the translation is almost Hemingway-esque, in a way, isn’t it? I mean in terms of sentence structure. Content and meaning be damned. Hemingway nor his characters would have said anything so insincere. Imagine one of Papa’s characters making a false apology. I mean, really. They were more likely to leave a righteous apology unsaid than to make one insincerely. But the compound sentences, Man! Look at the sentence structure!
But back to the issue, I am “apologized” to almost daily in this way. I have occasion to run and ride my bike on a series of paved trails just miles from my house. The trails are marked with a center stripe designed, I suppose, to keep everybody in line. Still, I am constantly coming up behind pairs and groups of pedestrians and cyclists who have arranged themselves across the entire width of the trail, blocking it rather quite completely with their wide, wide, butts, their canine companions, their double-wide strollers, their colorful magnesium bicycles and associated festive costumery. There is a plenitude of what-all out there, believe me. Read more…
Speaking of that whole keep-up-with-the-traffic thing, one situation really screams out for it. Think of the last time you found yourself at the end of a long line of cars at a stop light. Didn’t you wish everybody would just go when the light turned green–I mean, hurry, even? Typically, the drivers at the front know they have a pretty good chance of getting through the light, so they don’t have any urgency about it. But how about the guys at the back? Wouldn’t it be karmicly appropriate for the ones at the front to think of the poor schlubs at the back? Well, of course it would.
That’s sort of banal, I admit, but it gets more interesting. This simple, everyday situation actually involves all sorts of thoughts, beliefs, fears and associated mental/emotional human what-all. Take the simple calculation that every car-length that develops as the cars go through the light equals one more schlub who won’t be making it through. You’d think that would be simple math for most people, and it is in many major cities where the horns start honking three seconds before the light turns green, but it is not the case generally across the country. What happens more generally is that the first car goes, develops a few car-lengths of lead, and then the second car goes, and the pattern continues in its petty pace on down the line. We end up getting about one-half to one-third of the cars through as we would have with a little more adroit behavior–all this as people dimly try to recall some rule or other about following distance they learned in high school. What was it? Something about car lengths and miles per hour? Needless to say, the anal specificity of “one car-length for every ten miles per hour” has a way of leaving the normal person cold–or should I say, confused. Too much math, right? Let me break it down for you, though: If you’re hardly moving, you don’t need much following distance.
In the extreme, this slow-mo approach to driving through lights leads to another unfortunate occurrence–the dreaded sensor-in-the-street gotcha. In this scenario, even fewer people get through the light than might have otherwise, and this is because people don’t consider the fact that lights are set to turn red when it appears no more traffic needs to get through the light. Sensors in the streets oversee the process, and excessive gaps in the flow of traffic set them off. Read more…