“. . . voters quickly recognized ‘Modern Family’ as a safe choice. . . “ (Kirsten Acuna)

pretending to be stereotypical gay men for a laugh

pretending to be stereotypical gay men for a laugh

“Modern Family” wins Emmys. I can’t figure out why. It’s a dumb show, a pathetically insipid show. I find the show’s portrayal of gay men offensive. In my life, I’ve known perhaps 500 gay men by name. Perhaps more. Perhaps fewer. But a lot. Not one of them resembles Mitchell or Cameron except when they’re pretending to be stereotypical gay men for a laugh.

Good comedy often relies on stereotypes. However, in great comedies such as the ‘50s TV show, “The Honeymooners,” the characters are both stereotypes and three dimensional. One could say Shakespeare’s Falstaff is a conglomeration of stereotypes—but they are much more than two-dimensional characters. Surely it’s possible to write and produce a TV show in which gay men play comedy without their being gay as the punchline of every joke.

Business Insider proposes a plausible reason for the success of “Modern Family.”

Emmy voters are members of The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. . . [including] actors, casting directors, producers, directors, and tons of behind-the-scenes people who . . . likely want to see network television prevail [over cable networks and Netflix]. Emmy voters quickly recognized “Modern Family” as a safe choice.  (Acuna, Kirsten. “Why ‘Modern Family’ Keeps Winning Emmys Over Better Shows.” Business Insider. businessinsider.com. Aug. 27, 2014. Web.)

Stereotypes are safe.

It’s not sour grapes for me to say I have always lived in the shadow of mass societal disapproval of who I am, a stereotype. I was a “cocksucker” to my friends (and especially their older brothers) before I had a clue what that meant. Ask David West’s older brother Dennis who went along on with us on a Boy Scout camping trip (he was not a scout or gay) so he could sleep in my tent and seduce me in the middle of the night and spread the word.

I have never been in physical danger (that I know of) because I am a faggot. I can drive on any street or freeway in the country without being stopped by a straight cop for driving while gay. I can walk down any street in the country and (if I leave my Gucci bag at home and don’t wear my Vivienne Westood heels) feel safe. There are, of course, places I wouldn’t walk alone, but not because I’m afraid of gay bashing.

When I boarded the bus in Omaha, NE, for the trip to Redlands, CA, to begin college, I had several ulterior motives for leaving the Midwest. I was no dummy. I knew about the wild and permissive lifestyles of California, and I intended to find out how to be gay and live in the world instead of hiding. About two weeks after classes began, one of the defining events of the ‘60s shocked the academic world so thoroughly that even music majors paid attention to it.

I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up in Wikipedia.

The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed on Sunday, September 15, 1963 as an act of white supremacist terrorism. The explosion at the African-American church, which killed four girls, marked a turning point in the United States 1960s Civil Rights Movement and contributed to support for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Why I remember that horror so clearly I am not sure. (That first semester had its fair share of horrendous events—the worst on November 22, of course.) Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr., and Bobby Frank Cherry, two members of the Ku Klux Klan, were finally convicted of the bombing and murders in 2001 and 2002 respectively.

The TV sitcom “Designing Women” (1986-1993) was one of those “liberal” shows following in the footsteps of “Maude” (1972-1978). Meshach Taylor, the only male in the regular cast, won the Emmy for best supporting actor in 1989. His

A member of your modern family?

A member of your modern family?

inclusion in the story made everyone feel all warm and righteous. He played an African-American ex-con that the ladies of the interior design company took under their wings. They not only kept him out of jail, but they helped him get a college education and become an upstanding contributor to society.

He was an African-American ex-con. See what upstanding forward-thinking white Americans can accomplish? Give a black ex-con a job and a little guidance and see what can happen to him.

But he was an ex-con.

The show redeemed itself by clarifying that he had been convicted unjustly. It was never clear exactly what he had been convicted of.

Perhaps stealing a few cigars from a convenience store.

It took four wealthy, successful, white women to make a success out of this one black man. But they showed that such a transformation is possible.

The characters in “Modern Family” in addition to the gay couple include a hot Hispanic wife (and her teen-age son), a non-white adopted daughter, and a straight, white family. I’ve watched the show several times, and I do not recall seeing an African American even in a guest spot.

In my current privileged white male (albeit gay) retirement I have occasion to spend time regularly with several young African American men. I am honored that they have come to trust this old white gay man enough to be unguarded in conversation. When I say I am honored, that is precisely what I mean. I am not being flip or politically correct (thank you Anne Coulter for keeping that obnoxious phrase alive) or disingenuous.

It is an undeserved privilege to be invited into a social reality that I cannot know simply by reading about it or following it in the news. It is a reality in which the young men are not ex-cons. It may, however, be one in which they are left out of the “family,” even the family that includes gay men and beautiful Hispanic women.

But it’s just as well. The young men I talk with regularly don’t want to be part of a world of stereotypes.

Yet, why should even well-meaning whites view [racial] profiling differently? Since the end of segregation, there has been a political movement, reflected in the media, that feeds the public a steady diet of images and platitudes that perpetuate the idea that blacks pose a threat to whites, even if race is not directly mentioned. . . . A growing body of research is fleshing out the nature of the social psychology underlying racial profiling, and its impact on the American public and its institutions. . . . Harvard’s own Implicit Association Test on the Web has shown that every population group except blacks unconsciously associates blacks with crime, and that in simulation games, test takers are much more likely to shoot black “felons” in ambivalent settings or when they are holding objects other than guns. Police officers and judges perform the same way on these types of tests as the civilian population.

From: Staples, Robert. “White Power, Black Crime, and Racial Politics.” Black Scholar 41.4 (2011): 31-41.
Staples references, Tonry, Michael. Punishing Race. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 22.
Staples’ entire article is available at this website.

invited into a social reality that I cannot know

invited into a social reality that I cannot know

“. . . nobody’s here—only skunks, that search in the moonlight for a bite to eat. . .” (Robert Lowell)

In rhetorical parlance
(that is, English teachers talking to each other—the jargon of the Professional Organization of English Majors—POEM—who sponsor Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion” on NPR),
a metonym is

. . . her sheep still graze above the sea. . .

. . . her sheep still graze above the sea. . .

. . .a figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it is closely associated (such as “crown” for “royalty”). Metonymy is also the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it, as in describing someone’s clothing to characterize the individual.  (Nordquist, Richard. “metonmyny” About Education. grammar.about.com. 2014. Web.)

Robert Lowell (1917-1977), as POEM members know, was one of the “symbolist” poets of post-structuralism. Leading expositors of post-structuralism are Derrida, Foucault, Julia Kristeva. More entertaining takes on the movement come from Jean Baudrillard or Judith Butler. I know a little about Robert Lowell because I took a couple of graduate seminars in which the writings of all of those people figured prominently, and Lowell’s poetry was often used as an example of this-that-or-the-other, which I never understood.

One class I took began with the book Fragments of Rationality by Lester Faigley of the UTA Rhetoric Department. The book was “hot off the presses” and was a favorite of all of the POEM people at UTD where I was working on my second PhD (don’t ask!). Our professor asked us to read part of the book as our first assignment.

When I arrived at the seminar the next day, I knew I had not understood one sentence I had read. The book on the shelf behind me at the moment, and I still don’t understand it. I’m not making fun. I willingly admit that this book and others like it are valuable and important. However, when I landed in that class I knew I was out of my depth and no matter how smart I thought I was (and minimally still do), I would never understand any of what was going on. I faked well enough to be allowed to take—and pass!—the qualifying exams for my second PhD (don’t ask!). I’ve been ABD for fifteen years (don’t ask!).

I had an English teacher in college who called Shakespeare’s works “the happy hunting-ground of the insane,” meaning that whatever idiotic absurdity one wants to find in Shakespeare, one can find—sort of like the Bible. I carry that idea over into just about all of literature, poetry at any rate. If you want to say such-and-so a poem means thus-and-so, go right ahead. Especially if you’re a member of POEM.

Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” is one of my favorites of his poems. I’ve read it many times and pondered what the old lady in the first stanza of is a symbol for. I’ve invented several ideas, all of which seem like idiotic absurdities. I even read a couple of “analyses” of it with their attendant absurdities—for which their POEM-member authors ought to be ashamed.

Researching something far removed from “Skunk Hour” the other day I came upon an article that says the old lady, and the poet sneaking around looking in car windows at young lovers making love, and the gay shop keeper arranging his displays, and skunks digging in people’s trash are not symbols but metonyms. They don’t stand “for” something, they stand “in place of” something.

Our creaturely nature?

Our creaturely nature?

I hate to sound like a member of POEM, but I understand that. I’ll go directly to the skunks. They are not symbols for decadence or filth or disgust or anything like that.

They march on their soles up Main Street;
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

The skunks are not symbols, they are metonyms, that is, they are standing in place of our creatureliness; they are doing what our most natural selves would do were we to let them: prowl around at night looking for food. They are our natural selves.  (Runcie, C.A. “Robert Lowell’s ‘Skunk Hour’ : A Reading.” Critical Inquiry 5.1 [Autumn, 1978], 13.)

I know. I know. That hardly seems like a difference. Are they symbols for civilization rooting around in the garbage, or are they us (standing in for us) as individuals doing what comes naturally (should we ever do what comes naturally).
I’m not going to argue the point.

I am, however, going to put my un-scholarly spin on the idea.

The most famous parked car love scene of all

The most famous parked car love scene of all

The old lady in the first stanza is not a symbol for our broken and collapsing society. She is our broken and collapsing society. The poet sneaking around as a voyeur looking for lovers to spy on is not a symbol for us. He is us. “My mind’s not right,” he says. Our minds are not right. We look for the most private and/or most sordid details of each other’s lives—especially politicians and other icons—and creep around them getting our jollies. Our minds are not right. That sicko is not a symbol for us and our “anti-social media” and our racism, and our xenophobia, and such—that sicko is us.

The skunks are not symbols for us, either. They are us. Our creaturely natures, our “real” selves know how to act, and even if we are smelly and swilling garbage, our real natures “will not scare.”

Runcie says Lowell claimed his poem is an affirmation.

The skunks function-neither as symbols of filth and decay nor of human vitality, nor of domestic security; they are a metonym or a concrete sample of creaturely indomitability and are perceived as such.

Not a lofty affirmation, but perhaps a good place to start. Ferguson. Murrieta. White Hills. Gaza. Donetsk. Raqqa. Can our creaturely indomitability ever win out in garbage dumps like these?

“Skunk Hour,” by Robert Lowell, 1917 – 1977
For Elizabeth Bishop

Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she’s in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season’s ill–
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull,
I watched for love-cars. Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

A car radio bleats,
‘Love, O careless Love . . . .’ I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell,
nobody’s here–

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air–
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

“. . . When everything that ticked—has stopped—. . . ” (Emily Dickinson)

As if my life were shaven, And fitted to a frame

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame

(NOTE: This writing began five days ago. It’s a meager attempt at academic poetry “analysis” of a sort that bores me—and everyone else—and an attempt to wax philosophic that sounds pretentious and corny to me. But it’s what I’ve been writing, so here it is.)

Emily Dickinson’s Poem number 510, “It was not Death, for I stood up,” is about despair. Its simple structure encompasses from start to finish the image of a despair so pervasive the poet can see no cause for it. The poem declares even awareness of her own death is not cause of the poet’s despair.

The cause cannot be the cold because she feels warm southern winds on her flesh. It is not the fire because she seems to be an indestructible marble statue in the chancel of a cathedral.

Despair has no cause, not even preparation for her own burial. Her despair is formless, like chaos. It has no anchor—like a ship lost at sea. It has not come even by “chance.” Unlike a ship, it has no spar, no mast guiding it.

The poet’s despair has no justification. It simply is.

World news is dominated by horrors—a video of the beheading of an American journalist. Reports of police overreacting to protests of citizens after the killing of an unarmed black boy by a white cop. News from Ukraine of the war between its government troops and Russian-backed separatists in the east. Frightening reports from West Africa about the spread of the Ebola virus. Disturbing images of a juggernaut of bombs destroying lives and infrastructure in Gaza while helpless Palestinians try unsuccessfully to protect their children.

For Dickinson, none of these horrific events is enough “to justify despair.”

For every story of devastation in the news, each of us has our own personal story of destruction, physical, mental, or spiritual, public or intensely, guardedly private.

For Dickinson, all of these events taken together, do not “justify” her pervasive despair.

A technical observation: This poem sounds delicious—how’s that for a self-contradictory unscholarly word? How can a poem about despair sound “delicious?” Dickinson’s meticulously chosen words create the sense of the poem through its sounds. The most obvious example is the combination “death” and “dead,” two words from the same root, similar in sound and meaning. The sounds of other pairs of words are significant—Chancel and Chance, Space and Spar, Frost and Flesh, Fire and Feet and Figures, Night and Noon, Stopped and stopless, space and stares.

Death and despair unequivocally inked?

Death and despair unequivocally inked?

The poem is structured by the repetition of the letter “D.” From the words “death” and “dead” at the beginning to the last word—“Despair.” No other word in the poem begins with “D.” And so, even though the poem says death is not the reason for the poet’s despair, the two are unequivocally linked.

The first time I read the poem (perhaps 20 years ago), I translated it in my mind into melodrama, the perfect poetic expression of despair for a clinically depressed queen who thought from time to time about suicide. I took it as my own and ignored what it actually says.

I’ve been thinking about despair. Have I despaired in my incipient old age of a world in which I can live peacefully, with equanimity? If so, is despair born of my hatred of the terrors in the news or the private terrors in my mind?

Thinking about the news was certainly in the background of my possible despair. I was jarred into a conscious contemplation of despair a deliberate choice—a choice that almost led me to watch the beheading of James Foley on Youtube. I found the video. I don’t why. For the same reason I would guess millions of people around the world have watched it—morbid (“suggesting an unhealthy mental state or attitude”) fascination. Insane morbid fascination. Depraved morbid fascination.

I did not watch it. Some higher sense prevailed. I think it is not melodrama to say I would have been disturbed for the rest of my life had I watched it—both at what I saw and at the thought that I had purposefully watched it. It would have sealed a frenzied despair in my mind.

My drama-queenly morbid desire to watch the video came from the same place in my mind my deliberate misappropriation of Dickinson’s poem as melodrama originated. The place that invents reasons outside myself for my “despair.”

My mind wants to equate “depression” with “despair.”

My depression is mine, and it’s simply a malady.

I am told “despair is presumptuous.” Eastern Ukraine, Gaza, James Foley, Michael Brown. Who in their right mind is not despairing? Is it presumptuous to despair? to assume there’s no way out of any of these horrors? to assume “the complete loss or absence of hope?” to assume that because these situations seem hopeless, they are hopeless?

Without a Chance, or Spar— Or even a Report of Land—

Without a Chance, or Spar—
Or even a Report of Land—

Or is there another kind of despair that is not the opposite of “hope?”

Is it possible that this despair—grievous as it may be—is not negative but the beginning of understanding who I am?

I’ve had an idea all my life that, if I were a tad smarter, a bit more “driven,” a tiny thirty pounds lighter, and on and on and on, I would be happy. I could figure “it” out. This thing I’m calling “despair” (and perhaps—but how would I know?—what Dickinson means) is the certain knowledge that I don’t know. I can’t figure “it” out. I can’t even know, ultimately, whether or not I should despair at the certain knowledge of my death.

Not living as if I could somehow understand, as if I know what it means to be a human being

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,

might mitigate despair. It’s my seemingly genetic compulsion to live “as if my life were. . .” of which I despair. Because it destroys any ability to experience the world and my life as they are.

“It was not Death, for I stood up,” (510) by Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

It was not Death, for I stood up,
And all the Dead, lie down—
It was not Night, for all the Bells
Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

It was not Frost, for on my Flesh
I felt Siroccos—crawl—
Nor Fire—for just my Marble feet
Could keep a Chancel, cool—

And yet, it tasted, like them all,
The Figures I have seen
Set orderly, for Burial,
Reminded me, of mine—

As if my life were shaven,
And fitted to a frame,
And could not breathe without a key,
And ‘twas like Midnight, some—

When everything that ticked—has stopped—
And Space stares all around—
Or Grisly frosts—first Autumn morns,
Repeal the Beating Ground—

But, most, like Chaos—Stopless—cool—
Without a Chance, or Spar—
Or even a Report of Land—
To justify—Despair.

“. . . if my hair is on fire, while I’m sure you’ll be enjoying the spectacle of it, act quickly. . .” (Dara Weir)

Having taught the principles of classical rhetoric for about 25 years, I try every once in a while to make an argument based on the principles first codified by Aristotle about 2,600 years ago. I don’t do it very well, as you will probably decide if you read my entire “argument” here. Fortunately I know a couple of poems that say it better than I can (reproduced at end of this argument).

My argument begins with this Youtube video. If you don’t watch it, none of the rest of this posting will make any sense to you.

Don’t you love “Myth Busters?” I watch them whenever “Judge Judy” or reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Love It or List It” are not on any channel (you think I’m joking, don’t you?). I love Jamie and Adam. Now, here’s the Wikipedia explanation for what you have just seen –in case you didn’t understand it. (A note to my former students: no, Wikipedia is not a proper source, but sometimes it’s the most convenient.)

Here’s an actual picture of some guys shooting fish in a—well, not a barrel, but an enclosed space the fish can’t get out of. I don’t know what it’s a picture of. I just found it on the internet (Googled “shooting fish in a barrel,” and then clicked on “images”).
shooting fish

The next part of my argument is found at this news website.
Isn’t that a great video?

I expect by now anyone trying to follow my argument is beginning to wonder how I think this can be rhetorically sound. It’s probably not.

But it’s true. Israel’s bombing Gaza is exactly—precisely—the same as shooting fish in a barrel. I, of course, don’t understand why Americans can’t see that. But then, I am a lily-livered-liberal nut who tries to have some kind of moral compass for my beliefs, political, social, religious, or otherwise. I fail miserably. I’m as unkind and self-centered and judgmental—mean, even—that is, lacking moral vision, as the next person. But I can see the horror of what you and I are footing the bill for in Gaza.

Even if half the people of Gaza were terrorists (which none of them are), this would be a moral outrage.gaza 2

Shooting fish in a barrel. But, of course, they’ve been doing it for so long that anyone who notices thinks it’s OK. It’s just the way things are. Or they’re justified. Or some other nonsense.

“The Pressure of the Moment,” by Dara Wier, 1949
The pressure of the moment can cause someone to kill someone or something
The leniency of consideration might treat with more kindness
Which is to be desired. Or at least often to be desired.
But if my house is on fire and you notice, I wish you would kill
That fire. But if my hair is on fire, while I’m sure you’ll be enjoying
The spectacle of it, act quickly or don’t act at all. But if a sudden
Jarring of us all out of existence is imminent, do something.

“In Jerusalem,” by Mahmoud Darwish, 1941 – 2008
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy . . . ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t believe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white gaza 3
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me . . . and I forgot, like you, to die.

“. . .and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops is shaking hands. . .” (David Baker)

WITH MY SINCEREST APOLOGIES TO DAVID BAKER, POET. If I have inappropriately posted his poem here, I apologize,  and I will remove it immediately upon his request. However, it seems so appropriate at the moment, that I must

David Baker

David Baker

publish it here as a special post. One of my friends commented especially on the line, “the back-up singers of democracy.” I think this says about all that is necessary to say about the situation in Ferguson, MO.

From the Academy of American Poets biographical sketch:  David Baker was born December 27, 1954, in Bangor, Maine. He was raised in Missouri. Baker received degrees in English from Central Missouri State University before earning a Ph.D. in English from the University of Utah in 1983. David Baker is Professor of English and the Thomas B. Fordham Chair of Creative Writing at Denison University and is a faculty member in the M.F.A. program for writers at Warren Wilson College. Baker currently resides in Granville, Ohio, where he serves as Poetry Editor of The Kenyon Review.

That David Baker was raised in Missouri has no bearing on this poem, of course, except that his world-view, one might think, includes an understanding of Midwestern sensibilities allowing him an authenticity of voice in his critique.

by David Baker (b. Bangor, ME, 1954)

Yesterday a little girl got slapped to death by her daddy,
out of work, alcoholic, and estranged two towns down river.
America, it’s hard to get your attention politely.
America, the beautiful night is about to blow up

and the cop who brought the man down with a shot to the chops
is shaking hands, dribbling chaw across his sweaty shirt,
and pointing cars across the courthouse grass to park.
It’s the Big One one more time, July the 4th,

our country’s perfect holiday, so direct a metaphor for war,
we shoot off bombs, launch rockets from Drano cans,
spray the streets and neighbors’ yards with the machine-gun crack
of fireworks, with rebel yells and beer. In short, we celebrate.

It’s hard to believe. But so help the soul of Thomas Paine,
the entire county must be here–the acned faces of neglect,
the halter-tops and ties, the bellies, badges, beehives,
jacked-up cowboy boots, yes, the back-up singers of democracy

all gathered to brighten in unambiguous delight
when we attack the calm and pointless sky. With terrifying vigor
the whistle-stop across the river will lob its smaller arsenal
halfway back again. Some may be moved to tears.

We’ll clean up fast, drive home slow, and tomorrow
get back to work, those of us with jobs, convicting the others
in the back rooms of our courts and malls–yet what
will be left of that one poor child, veteran of no war

but her family’s own? The comfort of a welfare plot,
a stalk of wilting prayers? Our fathers’ dreams come true as
So the first bomb blasts and echoes through the streets and shrubs:
red, white, and blue sparks shower down, a plague

of patriotic bugs. Our thousand eyeballs burn aglow like punks.
America, I’d swear I don’t believe in you, but here I am,
and here you are, and here we stand again, agape.
Macy's 4th of July fireworks


“The fighters were cut off from the rest of the world…not offered any assistance. . .” Three must-read books.

“The fighters were cut off from the rest of the world…not offered any assistance or encouragement.. as far as [world leaders] were concerned, they did not exist. . .”

Arens, Moshe. Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto. Jerusalem/New York: Gefen Publishing House, 2011.

warsaw 1The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has become a symbol of heroism throughout the world. On the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, German forces entered the Warsaw ghetto equipped with tanks, flame throwers, and machine guns. Against them stood an army of a few hundred young Jewish men and women, armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails. The fighters were cut off from the rest of the world…not offered any assistance or encouragement.. as far as Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were concerned, they did not exist. Who were these Jewish fighters who dared oppose the armed might of the SS troops under the command of SS General Juergen Stroop? Who commanded them in battle? What were their goals? In this groundbreaking work, Israel’s former Minister of Defense and Ambassador to the USA, Prof. Moshe Arens, recounts a true tale of daring, courage, and sacrifice that should be accurately told — out of respect for and in homage to the fighters who rose against the German attempt to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto, and made a last ditch fight for the honor of the Jewish people.
(from Barnes and Noble web listing.)

“Here, too, is a portrait of the vibrant culture that shaped the young fighters whose inspired defiance would have far reaching implications. . .”

Gutman, Israel. Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Available as NOOK Book from Barnes and Noble

One of the few survivors of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, Holocaust scholar Gutman draws on dairies, personal letters, and underground press reports in this compelling, authoritative account of a landmark event in Jewish history. Here, too, is a portrait of the vibrant culture that shaped the young fighters whose inspired defiance would have far reaching implications for the Jewish people and the State of Israel, founded exactly fifty years ago. Note: Some of the photos and maps contained in the print edition of this book have been excluded from the e-book edition due to permissions issues. Until the Nazi invasion, Warsaw was the home of Europe’s largest Jewish community. Resistance is the full story of the Jews’ attempts to fight the Nazis, revealed by dramatic excerpts from diaries, letters, and other documents of the period. Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photos. warsaw 2
(from Barnes and Noble web listing.)

“The authors explore the history of the ghetto’s evolution, the actual daily experience of its thousands of inhabitants from its creation . . . to its liquidation following the uprising . . .”

Engelking, Barbara and Jacek Leociak. The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

The establishment and liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto has become an icon of the Holocaust experience. Remarkably, a full history of the Ghetto has never been written, despite the publication over some sixty years of numerous memoirs, studies, biographical accounts, and primary documents. The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City is this history, researched and written with painstaking care and devotion over many years and now published for the first time in English. The authors explore the history of the ghetto’s evolution, the actual daily experience of its thousands of inhabitants from its creation in 1940 to its liquidation following the uprising of 1943. Encyclopedic in scope, the book encompasses a range of topics from food supplies to education, religious activities to the Jundenrat’s administration. Separate chapters deal with the mass deportations to Treblinka and the famous uprising. A series of original maps, along with biographies, a 9780300112344_p0_v1_s260x420glossary, and a bibliography, completes this masterful work.
(from Barnes and Noble web listing.)

“If I were king, dilly dilly, I’d need a queen. . . “ (as sung by Burl Ives)

Burl or Berle?

Burl or Burle?

Anyone who posts a recording of a Burl Ives song on Youtube with a picture of his gravestone ought to be able to spell (i.e. “copy”) Ives’s name correctly, don’t you think?

Always the English teacher. Notice I didn’t say “professor.” Those days, such as they were, are over, thank goodness.

If I were King.

Oh my. Where would I start? Here. All high school athletes would receive as much time and attention from their schools for their academic work as for learning their sport.

We would scrap “No child left behind” and all “charter” schools.

We would allow ONLY those who have spent at least five years teaching grade seven (or some other impossible grade) to make any decision regarding the curriculum of a school district or the evaluation of teachers. Those people would decide on the district’s policies regarding student discipline for any infraction—and only those people would decide what the rules are that a student could infract.

No one who saw “infract” used as a verb for the first time in the sentence above could help to decide what books would be available in school libraries.

My kingdom would be a limited constitutional monarchy. The King’s purview would be the Executive Branch of government as outlined in the Constitution (with a few added powers). The government would have local, state, and federal legislative bodies. However, just as some people think proof of citizenship or some other nonsense is necessary to vote in elections for members of those legislatures, candidates would have to meet certain requirements to run for those offices.

First, they would have to score 100% on the current citizenship exam. Second, they would have to recite from memory the entire Bill of Rights. Third, they would have to pass a rigorous exam on the constitutions of both their state and the federal government.

Big Daddy and his Sexiest Son

Big Daddy and his Sexiest Son

Most importantly, every person who wanted to run for office would have to go for one week without using a passive verb either in speech or in writing. Mistakes WILL NOT BE MADE.

Beginning in about the seventh grade, all Americans would have to study the classic rhetorical fallacies in order to understand when politicians are talking bullshit and when they are not. We would not have to make laws about “term limits” because the populace would simply vote out of office any politician who could not speak without using, for example, a “red herring,” or Post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning, or Ad Hominem attacks.

A requirement for running for office would be knowledge of the meaning of those Latin phrases and their application to public debate.

Candidates for office would have to pass courses in Marxism, Distributism, and Islamic economics as well as the theories (as opposed to the facts) of Capitalism.

Every candidate for office would have to spend a year as an apprentice to a Child Welfare case worker. Candidates would also have to agree to work in a homeless shelter or a food bank at least one evening a week after they won their election.

Pope Leo XIII - the first great Distributionist?

Pope Leo XIII – the first great Distributionist?

All candidates for office would have to pass courses in comparative religions, including but not limited to Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, Candomblé, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. The courses would also include readings in the great atheist and agnostic thinkers such as Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, and Foucault.

Well, you see what you already knew. I’m a pointy-headed liberal who thinks that, if human society has high achievements in intellectual pursuits, those achievements rather than racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, rampant capitalist materialism, and reliance on firearms should be the basis of debate and decision-making in our kingdom.

I have no interest in being a “philosopher king” in the Platonic sense. I simply want the polity of the nation I rule to be rooted in the best of human thinking rather than the worst.

I just want people to be nice to each other.

And be able to copy “Burl” correctly.

But then, as I wrote yesterday, I’m not sure what’s real and what isn’t, so who am I to think about how we should organize our society—starting with how to form our personal relationships?

Matthew 25:31-46 (Bambino Vispo, 1422) or the First Distributionist?

Matthew 25:31-46 (Bambino Vispo, 1422) or the First Distributionist?


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