THE ALMANACK "OUTPOST" | 2011 ››› An outpost for history, travel photography, verse, musings & random scraps of substance ›
December 7, 2011 : A PHOTOGRAPHIC FAMILY LINK TO 'INFAMY'
During World War II my great-uncle, Bill Buckhout, was a naval photographer. He would go on to win a silver star for aerial photographs that tracked the position of a German U-boat, the submarine cornered by way of my great-uncle's visual-intel and sunk off the Caribbean coast of South America. Though serving in the Atlantic theatre, my great-uncle had access to the vast naval photographic archives produced during the war. Through these connections, he was able to obtain prints from the actual negatives shot during the massive Japanese aerial raid on Pearl Harbor—December 7, 1941. A prized family possession, I was honored to take possession of this print set about ten years ago. Iconic snapshots of that tragic day of infamy, these images need no introduction:
1. Battleship Row during the attack, U.S.S. Arizona in front
2. Battleship Row, rescue of personnel from U.S.S. West Virginia
3. Battleship Row, U.S.S. Oklahoma having capsized
4. The Naval Air station on Ford Island under attack
5. U.S.S. Nevada attempting to escape (eventually beached)
6. Dramatic image of the U.S.S. Shaw's magazine exploding
December 6, 2011 : PUBLIC ART, FOR THE PEOPLE
In October, the Smithsonian announced that they had released a significant selection of copyright-clear photographs from their 'American Archives of Art' collection to Wikimedia Commons for gen'l public use. The collection itself is mainly photo-documentation of the works of various Great Depression-era federal arts programs. It is only the tip of the iceberg of the collection that FSA (Farm Security Administration), WPA (Works Progress Administration), and other federal photography divisions created in the 1930s and early 1940s, a body of mostly black & white photography that is a signal achievement in American documentary art. Charged with documenting the works of New Deal gov't programs and the beneficiaries of the program's results—forests, landscapes & public spaces, as well as people—those behind the lens were also allowed great creative latitude. The results are often a sweeping narrative in still-image form. One only has to mention Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange to evoke the power of these photographs. Over a decade ago, just an afternoon of sifting through the various collections of FSA images hosted online by the Library of Congress was enough to inspire me to put together a brief presentation highlighting some of the more well-known photographers of that group. Though a legacy piece (using Flash 6!), we felt it more than suitable to re-post for an encore:
2003 InHeritage Presentation: "The FSA Photographers"
In addition, we invite you to check out the recently posted Wikimedia collection. There are many more 'working' shots in this selection than fine art; but they show very well the depth of these Depression-era fine art programs—which were highly productive for the minute budgets they were allotted. The highlights are the vivid in-progress shots showing off the work of the vast Treasury Dept mural program—which among other public places would house permanent murals, usually based on local history & legend, in thousands of post offices across the country; many of which still exist, if in need of restoration.
Mural artist Ernest Ralph Norling, 1937 (the picture does not give a location, but guessing by the mural's content it is Seattle-area)
November 23, 2011 : THANKFUL FOR THE GREAT SMOKIES
Among the myriad of things we @ InHeritage find ourselves thankful for this Thanksgiving Day season, one recent experience stands front-and-centre. On November 9, we drove an hour west from Asheville, North Carolina, where we were vacationing, and hiked the Caldwell Fork & Boogerman (the real name!) trail system in The Great Smoky Mountains Nat'l Park. It was humid for November and mostly overcast; but neither subtracted from the signal beauty of this park. We quickly felt far removed from the bustling clutter of civilization—and all worries—to an almost surreal degree. We're thankful & indebted to all those who worked to set aside this unique place, and all of those who continue to carry the banner today.
November 4, 2011 : WALKING—AND RUNNING—WITH THE SPIRITS OF CHICKAMAUGA
››› Re-Out-Posted: OCTOBER 31, 2012
September 13, 2011 : THE BEST OF "180" / FINAL PART
Poet Billy Collins once challenged his students: write a poem a day for 180 days. From Sept 2010 - March 2011, I did just that. Here's the final set of this 5-part series (scroll down for 1-4) …
#135 "Should Have Seen It Coming" (January 23, 2011)
Bracketed by window sills
swimming in gold, gilded & smoking
Framed by a coarse metallic
shuddering, rippling up the spine
Haunted by a serendipitous
tendency, unpredictable & unruly
Radiant with fear,
muddled sighs: fading, dissipating
Still, having made the grade;
a cut above the normal run of idiots
Dancing about breathless,
plundering the silent destruction—
It should have been obvious …
Here comes the meltdown—
here comes the inglorious dusk
We should have seen it coming.
#166 "Trust Me" (February 23, 2011)
A realistic assessment
would scare the shit
out of the unprepared,
the milquetoast naiveté
sunk beneath the crashing waves,
ingesting the saltwater fear,
drowning in the searing morass …
Yes, it is as bad as they say …
If you want the truth
you best take it sitting down …
Trust me on this one.
~ Dave Buckhout
September 9, 2011 : NOTES TO FUTURE SELF (embedded in "Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance")
Over half of my life ago someone (forget who) recommended I read Robert Pirsig's Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. At the ripe old age of 20, I was only beginning to realize what the mash-up of ancestry, biology and environment had in store for me. It was a renaissance-style whirlwind of an era, everything I'd heard to that point about what I needed to do, how I needed to act and think, what was "successful"—all of that was in-question, if not out-the-window. I was an "uncarved block." The tension of those college years lay in the pull between an instinctual moderation (my early environmental training) and radical experimentation. The gaping universe between the two lay before my windshield. It was more an intellectual / spiritual tsunami than awakening, the sheer volume of previously unknown info and the unconsidered diversity-of-views screaming by the windows with alarming exhilarating speed. It was an automatic improvisational sprint. And I had no idea what it all meant and where it was all headed …
It was at that point that Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fell into my anxious trembling hands. I vacuumed it up. But in an infant step towards wise-maturity, realized that I did not fully understand all the passages on pages I had dog-eared, the quotes highlighted. It was as if I was saving them for a future date: "notes to future self" … Well, 2010 proved to be that future date, having re-read the book at the ripe young age of 40. So, in honor of Pirsig's recent birthday here's some resonant quotes from Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that I marked in 1990, prior to the journey, to be fully appreciated in 2010—in the midst of a journey long underway:
"It was against being a mass person that they seemed to be revolting." 16
"We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand this world." 69
"… how can you put on the blackboard the mysterious internal goal of each creative person?" 180
"Art is the Godhead as revealed in the works of man." 231
"The cutting edge of this instant right here and now is always nothing less than the totality of everything there is." 255
"Be interested in it." 281
"You're so sure you'll do everything wrong you're afraid to do anything at all." 284
September 2, 2011 : THE "LABOR DAY" HURRICANE / WPA MEMORIAL
Today in 1935, the monster "Labor Day" hurricane tore across the upper Florida Keys before winding through the southern coastal states and up the Atlantic coast. At a Category 5 (sustained winds of 200 MPH!), it is still one of the most powerful storms in recorded history. It nearly wiped clean those keys it ran over, centering destruction on the small Key town of Islamadora. If you have driven from Miami to Key West, you have driven through it—and have probably driven right past the WPA roadside pavilion that serves as both a memorial to the hundreds killed and crypt for some three hundred WPA-construction workers (most of them unemployed WWI veterans involved in local road-building projects) and civilians … We passed by the old memorial in April 2007. It is showing its age, but is still a striking presentation. The frieze depicting bent palm trees—their fronds blown straight—says it all:
August 31: "ULYSSES" & THE GOOD OL' BOOK-BANNING TRADTION
For no particular reason aside from it being a nice affordable 50-year old volume (with a great modernist dust-jacket design), I'd purchased Joyce's Ulysses last year at an antiquarian bookshop in Charlottesville. For no particular reason, I decided to take it down from our bookshelf a few weeks back and start reading it. It is as challenging as it has been cracked up to be; and I admit, I haven't quite captured the rhythm yet. But I can sense it (like a coming storm?), intrigued enough by the improvisational bead Joyce takes on disrupting the old tired formula. His commitment to the experiment is embedded on each page, whether I 'get it' or not. It may yet wear me out, but I respect his commitment enough to keep at it.
That said, I noticed only after having purchased the volume that a copy of the 1933 court-ruling lifting the libel suit against the book (which had effectively banned it) and thereby clearing the way for its sale in the U.S., was included in the foreward. This was a landmark decision in its day, having reversed the precedent of repressed intolerance that had, to that point, told Americans what they could and could not read. Institutional book-banning turns out to be a tradition that has been with us from the start. That it flies in the face of our founding statutes securing the individual the freedom to decide for themselves, even amongst majorities who do not share their views, makes it a historically-untenable tradition, yes. But then, we all know how that has gone for certain individuals in the face of disapproving majorities, despite founding documentation; but, a discussion for another day … The court-ruling printed in my copy of Ulysses peaked my curiosity in that I was simply interested to see what other volumes now considered bona-fide classics were at one time—for whatever narrow reasons—banned. If you are a reader of classic fiction, casual or avid, do a quick search—and prepare for the head-slapping results. The best list I found was on the American Library Association's site (URL below). I have read all, or anthology-selections from ⅔ of the 46 classics listed here. So, considering the mass perversion embedded in this list, I guess I should feel lucky that I haven't become a monstrous societal evil by absorbing their contents. My advice: if you want to exercise your birthright freedoms, read a book that others tell you not to. Otherwise, they will have made up your mind for you … And now, back to my current act of civil disobedience: Ulysses.
August 24: THE BEST OF "180" / PART 4
Poet Billy Collins once challenged his students: write a poem a day for 180 days. From Sept 2010 - March 2011, I did just that. Here's 'Part 4' (scroll down for 1-3) …
#116 "That Ringing In My Ears" (January 4, 2011)
A stereofield abides
by the liquid addiction
of starlit rhythms
The silver notes stare
across fluid boundaries;
mad with lust … with wonder
An arching shot—space-piercing—
singing as it circles
all that we know (and think we know)
Listen … Its tune will ring in your ears;
it will drive you mad with wonder & lust
—it will clean your clock.
#121 "Credentials" (January 9, 2011)
May I see your credentials?
In order to make sure you are qualified
To fly the flag, to rock-n-roll,
To be sure you can take the heat,
Perform under pressure—thrive.
How can I be sure you possess the mettle?
The stamina, the attitude—the balls?
Do you have what it takes
To hang with the big dogs?
So as to avoid embarrassment—for you & I—
I'm going to need to see some proof
That you are up to this life.
#123 "Amazed, Astounded, Ashamed" (January 11, 2011)
It seems amazing …
that in the twilight's spill of color
we all don't fall down on our knees
It seems astounding …
that the crystalline flakes of frost
enveloping a blade of grass do not shock us;
astounded that we could have been so blind
It seems shocking …
that in the shoreline roar of waves
we fail to recognize all answers;
a shocking failure
It seems a crying shame …
that an animal so fantastically equipped
to worship the very air, the miracle in every molecule,
needs shame to worship at all.
~ Dave Buckhout
August 12, 2011 : "THE WAR IS OVER!"
Monday, August 15, is the 66th anniversary of V-J Day, ending WWII. To mark the date, we had to post this fantastic family photo that recently surfaced of Dave's Uncle Roger (far right) and Dad (one in from right), along with family friends, staging a kid's parade to celebrate the end of the war. Check out the pots and pan lids! That had to be a victorious clamor …
August 5, 2011 : AN OLYMPIC MATURITY
15 years ago last night, all of us in Atlanta at the time were celebrating the end of an epic ride: The 1996 Summer Olympics. I was living just behind The Carter Center at the time, due east of downtown—within a mile of the epicentre of a worldwide event rolling non-stop for two weeks. I had only arrived in Atlanta three years before, the coming Olympic Games already a constant background buzz. It grew to a fevered pitch as 1996 rolled in; and by July of that year, the whole city seemed to have mutually agreed to forget about productivity and go on an Olympic-fueled vacation for a month—or, at least that's what I did, and how I validated it (never regretting the decision).
A short bike-ride put me in the midst of a swirling wall-to-wall party. I recall my first thought was one of amazement: "How did ATL officials convince the IOC to come to Atlanta in the valley of summer?" And yet the first week was largely overcast with little rain, highs in the 80s: a true miracle. My recollections could fill pages, as it was an epic time. But I'll focus on a second thought, the area that would come to anchor my recollection of the Games: downtown. From opening night on, there were few nights when I did not venture downtown … I knew the pre-Olympics downtown area well, had friends in renovated—and un-renovated—loft spaces within a few blocks of the nascent Centennial Park. This was a downtown perched on the edge of rough, a state-gov't downtown where few lived that was vacated by 5 pm each day—unless there was a Hawk's game. It was empty, vacant, starkly urban, tumbleweeds (but for the humidity). My second thought: "They are going to hold this thing downtown? Really?"
The Atlanta Olympics was largely skewered for glitches, none of which effected my experience. But this 'loser Olympic' label was tragically raised when the damned nutcase set off the bomb. Still, the flaws of the Games—real and perceived—were rendered secondary in its wake by those whose opinions mattered: the crowds. It seemed a more focused effort by all in attendance to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. I certainly made the conscious choice to do so. The bombing—so real and mortal an event—matured the Atlanta Games. If it didn't bring out more people, it did bring out people more determined to offset an inexplicable act by an unhinged culture warrior and the petty public swipes being made by the IOC.
For the first time—as a non-native—I felt a sense of hometown pride in Atlanta. The way the city & the crowds handled themselves in wake of the bombing was THE great spectacle of that Olympics; one filled, like them all, with legendary athletic performance … And it was at that point, the second week of the Games, when I began to see downtown Atlanta as it could be. Yes, the Olympic makeover fell off quickly into rough abandoned warehouse space and challenged low-income areas; yes, a lot of the renovation was thrown together last minute; and yes, the whole thing was overrun by opportunism (every square inch was sponsored by something). But that shallow facade seemed to hint at the Olympic-sized maturity that has come to pass … The park, unfinished during the Games, is now the downtown anchor. I make a point of strolling through the park when I go downtown for concerts held at an old renovated church—now popular music hall—yet another Olympic leftover. The Games were integral in reviving the one true downtown neighborhood, Fairley-Poplar (epicentre of 'urban-hip' in Atlanta these days), if only because the Games reminded everyone that Atlanta actually did have a downtown. Realtors certainly noticed, the amount of living space there now unfathomable to anyone who knew it pre-Olympics. And if my mentioned friends were looking for loft and art-studio space these days, I doubt they could afford it …
Surely, the reverse tide of middle-class suburban sprawl has a lot to do with Atlanta's downtown revival. But an Olympic size kick-start is a fuel few cities have access to. And with that thought in mind, it seems safe to say that that micro-moment of maturity that the Games & the crowds showcased in the park and downtown over that second week of the 1996 Summer Olympics was the spark.
July 27, 2011 : THE BEST OF "180" / PART 3
(Part 3 of an ongoing series; scroll down for Pts 1 & 2) Poet Billy Collins once challenged his students: write a poem a day for 180 days. From Sept 2010 - March 2011, I did just that …
#66 "I Should Have Known" (November 15, 2010)
I want to know one thing
and one thing only …
Is that too much to ask?
By the looks I am getting, I'll have to guess that it is.
Excuse me for wanting to know …
I guess I should have known better.
#69 "Death, By Waiting" (November 18, 2010)
It is surprising to me
That there is, relatively speaking,
So much peace & understanding
In a world so fully burdened
By long waits in line.
#85 "So Mad, So Right" (December 4, 2010)
It begins with a hope
—and is often accompanied by a prayer.
Then it all unfolds as it will
Barreling through hopes & prayers
—with the alacrity of one possessed.
Obsessed, demented, it barrels through
—eventually flares out; ash.
In the blessed ash heap of evening's late hours
We read, like 'The Madame's' tea leaves,
Of another miraculous day.
~ Dave Buckhout
July 22, 2011 : THE WILDS OF IN-TOWN (CIVIL WAR) ATLANTA
Today marks the 147th anniversary of The Battle of Atlanta, a brutal throw-down fought in 90+ degree humid heat, and all beneath an acrid smoke-cloud emitted from the weapons of about 100K participants. It was fought across an area today encompassing all of east-side ATL (an area stretching from The Carter Center south through Little Five Points, the sprawling Edgewood Shopping Center, south on Moreland Ave, across Memorial Ave & I-20 into East Atlanta Village). Though both armies involved—C.S. Army of Tennessee / U.S. Army of the Tennessee—were severe mangled, Union forces eventually held the field. It was a Southern defeat, the city remained besieged, and the irreplaceable human toll that Southern forces absorbed had them thoroughly outnumbered. The city's surrender was just a matter of time. There would be other ill-fated attempts, but the coordinated assaults on the east-side of Atlanta: July 22, 1864, would prove to be the last offensive action taken by Southern armies in the west that actually had the ability to change the course of our Civil War …
Just by chance, we recently went for a family / dog-walk through Inman Park—immediately east of Sweet Auburn (MLK's childhood neighborhood) and downtown Atlanta. About 20 years prior to the emergence of Inman Park, this was all rural farmland; and Confederate troops marched across all of it in assaulting Union positions during the battle … Inman Park has long been considered Atlanta's first suburb, c. 1890s, (though Grant Park south & east of downtown could also lay claim to the honor). It is as historic a location as the city can boast. Its core is an architectural showcase: Second-Empire, late Gothic & Beaux Art era influences, houses constructed back when the suburban blend of town & country was solely an economic privilege of the wealthy (the 20s-30s 'infill' of Craftsman style/era only adding to the unique flavor). Though Atlanta's slow out-from-centre neighborhood-by-neighborhood growth offers, literally, a hundred great historic-ish strolls through unique in-town neighborhoods (explosive suburban growth having arrived much later with interstates and central AC), Inman Park is still our favorite stroll. This is partly due to its park-like layout—implemented by the renowned urban environment designer, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (the son)—and the nostalgia of having once lived there.
But our walk last week reminded us of our favorite spot within all of this, one that fuses the importance of the area in relation to the epic battle and the city's most historic neighborhood—all the while providing us a little taste of one our favorite features of life here: the Southern Appalachians. Springvale Park sits dead-centre of Inman Park. Small by most standards, it is bisected by Euclid Avenue: the north half a manicured park, manmade lake, normal nice park setting; whereas the south half has been almost entirely 'left to nature.' This was part of Olmsted's plan; and in doing so (probably without knowing it) he preserved one of the few parcels of the Atlanta battlefield that is today undeveloped. To come up on it unaware, and walk down into and around its (admittedly short) trail, is to momentarily be transported to an Appalachian hiking trail. A ravine, here is where advancing Confederates paused out of direct fire to gather themselves before making the final assault a few hundred yards east where a rail station currently sits. And Springvale Park's wilds tie it all together in one parcel: Civil War & architectural/urban-design history, along with a taste of the ancient Appalachians … Here's to a little place that stands tall.
July 12: HAPPY 194TH, HENRY D.
On Henry David Thoreau's 194th birthday, a quote we could all do well to remember in organizing our every day … Journal entry: August 30, 1856 (written at the ripe old age of 39):
The more thrilling, wonderful, divine objects I behold in a day, the more expanded and immortal I become.
June 30: THE BEST OF "180" / PART 2
Last summer, I heard of a challenge that poet Billy Collins had thrown out to his students: write a poem a day for 180 days. From Sept 2010 - March 2011, I did just that … Here is "The Best of 180" / Part 2 (scroll down for "Part 1")
#60 "Every Moment" (November 9, 2010)
Pieces of light fall together, click into place
Sash frames the canvas beyond, painting itself
The tumbling stream of moments, ideas
Slapped down with improvisational precision
Leaves drop, commuters in cars, red-lights
The river currents, buildings: old, new, in-between
Red-lights now green, a motorcycle, sunlight
The ideas keep coming, pouring out fresh paint
Flung at the canvas with precise pinpoint accuracy
Cloud-drifts stream by atop cyan gradients
Subtle revisions keep coming: by-the-minute, by-the-second
Another great idea floods the scene with gold-orange rays
The sun peaking up over buildings, trees, Earth
Masterful strokes fall randomly into place
Improvisational genius out each window-view
Here is the greatest show on Earth, every moment
#62 "Armistice Day" (November 11, 2010)
The armistice floats in a haze
blackening lungs, as it bleeds white
The promise of a generation stilled,
bone-meal, crushed with (by) machined precision
The actual powder of bones blends,
seeding the soil; a cataclysmic alchemy
Splayed ribcage and all,
exploding livers & lungs & hearts
Charred, scored to the bone,
boiled in the acid of hate's fated heel
At the neck, blade to jugular;
The machined-belts of bullets
They plunge a thousand-at-a-time
And the artillery: an apocalypse ... to end all
But in the end, they had the deferential respect—the humble grace—to end it all on the eleventh-hour of the eleventh-day of the eleventh-month
~ Dave Buckhout
June 23, 2011 : SUMMER VACATION: "TRANSCENDENT BY-CHANCE"
››› Re-Out-Posted: JUNE 22, 2012
June 16: THE BEST OF "180" / PART I
Last summer, I heard of a challenge that contemporary American poet Billy Collins had thrown out to his students: write a poem a day for 180 days. Being the amateur creative writers we are here at InHeritage, I took the challenge. I did not have something to say every day; but every so often a "presentable" work landed on the paper. In this ongoing series, I'll present the "Best of 180" … Part 1:
#7 "The Air Has Spoken" (Sept 17, 2010)
The air speaks; it drops on the tone-deaf populace
They choose not to hear; the roar dissipates on deaf ears
Deaf, caring not to hear the frequencies vibrating with the pointed words of our sustaining element
The tone-deaf mass, indignant before the change of mood, flutters in the increasingly angry wind
The air has spoken … It blows them all off the face of the earth
#21 "Remember?" (Oct 1, 2010)
Do you remember?
do you remember that time?
The time when you were young?
when the good was good, when the bad was bad,
and all the other times were just filler,
bland, unmemorable—and so, unremembered?
Do you recall a time ...
a time when it all flowed over you like water?
when it all ran over you like a truck?
when it all just flowed and you didn't realize it either way?
Well, I do; I remember those times ...
barely: a flickering streetside sign in passing,
a pair of headlights on a rural road seen from the air at night,
a distant point of light, indiscernible, wavering
A memory is as much imagination as fact ...
still real, if only by inspiration,
neural influence leavened with the ideal required for this moment of reflection,
nudged toward 'real,' or at least enough to fit this mood, right now
This mood, this notion, that once long ago ...
things and events simply occurred,
happenings came and went: good, bad, mostly unremarkable;
and they were dealt with as they were
The idea that this was lost along the way ...
feelings of 'unfair' / 'unjust' / 'undeserved' being substituted;
in light of all the efforts to achieve, to do the right thing,
to believe that nature would somehow stop being itself ...
That nature would stop its random chaotic balancing act for me, simply because I had tried ...
What a love-able rube, I be.
~ Dave Buckhout
June 6, 2011 : REMEMBERING THE LONGEST DAY
67 years ago today: D-DAY, the Allied invasion of Normandy. In honor of the sacrifice of that day, and that war, a few photos from the WWII Memorial ...
1) Relief of paratroopers (U.S. 82/101 dropped into France, late June 5, 1944)
2) Relief of bloody struggle on "Omaha" beach, one of two U.S. beach-landings
3) "Here We Mark the Price of Freedom" ... This wall commemorates WWII war dead. Each star represents 100 lives. There are over 4050 stars.
May 31, 2011 : WE BID ADIEU TO MAY & SIDNEY BECHET
Before the month of May gets away, we at InHeritage wanted to pay tribute to jazz great Sidney Bechet, who was not only born this month, but passed on as well. Moreover, he came and went on the same day: May 14. A saxophonist, a clarinetist, and composer, Bechet was one of the first important soloists in jazz. He was born in 1897 to a middle-class Creole family of color and was "discovered" at age six, having learned the clarinet by picking up his brother's horn and teaching himself. He toured for much of his youth, and seemed to attract trouble his whole life. Bechet was jailed in Paris, France, when a female passer-by was wounded during a shoot-out that reportedly started when he was told that he was playing the wrong chord. Others assert, however, that Bechet was essentially ambushed by a rival musician. The jazz man held no grudge against Paris, relocating there permanently later in life. Sidney Bechet died from lung cancer in 1959—on his 62nd birthday.
To honor the early jazz great, here is Dave's band "Floating Coats" doing a hot cover of Bechet's classic ode to vice ...
"VIPER MAD" (Tula Arts Centre / Atlanta, GA / March 3, 2007)
May 13, 2011 : GEORGE WASHINGTON CABLE: TRUTH TO NEW SOUTH POWER
Over the years, the name of journalist / essayist George Washington Cable has come up a lot in my various studies of the South generally, and "New South" specifically (late 1800s-World Wars). But until recently, I'd never actually read the man. Last month, I pulled up Cable in Google Books (all of Cable's publications that are still around now public domain). I read his famous essay: "The Silent South." What I found was, quite possibly, the most courageous journalist operating in the South in the second-half of the 1800s.
For all its public-relations booster-ism, the modernization, industrialization, and ostensibly-related 'freedom' that was to result from this "New" locally-controlled post-Civil War South, turned out to be little more than the prejudicial, race-baiting, undemocratic, economic serfdom that had characterized the Old South—where the rights of landed wealth were the only rights worthy of the attention of public officials. The main difference was that state laws had been re-coded, the blatant racism and hegemony of wealth given a slight patina of justice (with even this dissolving in the public white supremacist brutality of the Jim Crow era). But to anyone willing to investigate, it was clear that tradition had won the day over social / economic progress. It was largely the same game with a different name.
Cable was one of the very few who published challenges to New (Old) South power in the editorial pages. The late 1800s-to-early-1900s would see a flood of creative fiction that blended—unappreciated—pointed challenges of the strict-traditionalist social construct into characters / metaphors. But few were so bold as to speak truth to power in real-time. Cable leveled his pointed editorial comments to: "those whose thinking still runs in the grooves of the old traditions." His calls for justice in law, an end to the corrupt Dark-Age penitentiary system, economic equity, and perhaps his most controversial: equal rights for ALL individuals, would sound modern but for his late-Victorian cadence. But considering that these challenges often appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune in the 1870s / 80s is an astounding act of journalistic courage. Courageous he was; but was no fool. Eventually realizing his untenable position, he and his family moved to Massachusetts for reasons of safety. He soon became fast lifelong friends with another pointed commentator of the 'Gilded Age,' Mark Twain.
In celebration of this brave forgotten tribune of journalistic credibility, here's a collection of sharp points from Cable's "The Silent South."
"It is not a question of what the race wants, but of what the individual wants and has a right to. Is that question met? No. Not a line has been written to disprove the individual freedman's title to these rights; but pages, to declare that his race does not want them and shall not have them if it does. Mark the contradiction."
"... a crime against common justice [is] a crime against common sense."
"If anyone can explain [the brutality of the color line] away, in the name of humanity let us rejoice to see him do so ..."
"Slavery in particular ... is by law abolished. Slavery in general ... remains."
"To go forward we must cure one of our old-time habits—the habit of letting error go uncontradicted because it is ours."
April 21, 2011 : LEONARD COHEN, MAN ON THE PLATFORM
A few days ago, I was talking with friends of mine who had seen the masterful performance Leonard Cohen & band had put on at Atlanta's historic Fox Theatre back in 2009. I missed it; but was lucky enough to hear a show from the same tour recorded @ Boston's Beacon Theatre and pumped out as a podcast by NPR's "All Songs Considered." (It is, sadly, no longer available.) The recording was like spending a few hours with 'the master.' There was a personal quality to it, a conversation in lyrical verse. Talking the Atlanta show over with those who had made the correct conscious choice to GO (and further lamenting my not having seen it), I was reminded of a journal entry that I wrote after viewing, "I'm Your Man." A 2005 concert-documentary directed by Lian Lunson, the concert honored Cohen with stand-out performances of his songs by a whos-who list of performers (my personal favs: Rufus Wainwright's version of "Everybody Knows" and Nick Cave on the title track). Here is that entry. For those of you, like me, who did not know much of the man before, hopefully it will open doors to this lyricist laureate—a true creative sage ...
(Originally written in November 2006)
Watched a concert film-documentary-interview on Leonard Cohen last night. I did not know much about the man, but feel I know a lot more in general now that I know of him, his work, his story … For any of us who struggle with the itinerant notion / label of creative or artist (or even bohemian), for those of us who try hard to find a place for all that amidst a world that is unaccommodating, often hostile to its "live to be free" / freedom of mind-spirit-soul-art mantra, there is much to learn from someone like Cohen. Here is a man who saw in that dichotomy both opportunity and purpose. He made a conscious decision long ago. To him, the ability to live free through creative art stood above all the frenetic noise and busy narcissism. He stood aside it all, on parallel tracks of the rushing indifference and hostility / misrepresentation and misunderstanding of art and the artist—and their vital role. He stood aside the oncoming juggernaut that forces many creative personalities to fore go their artistic endeavors for more 'practical ends.' He let all that manic failing dishonesty—in all its unhappy duplicitous madness—pass him by, and stuck to his art … And all this time later, there he stands. He even seems to wave at the madness as it passes by: a lone individual standing on the subway platform, wearing a wry grin, waving to the faces under glass as they accelerate past. Leonard Cohen is that man waving at the train leaving the station, grinning at—and to—all those people he doesn't know. He is grinning because he knows something they & we all don't. The passengers on that whirling angry train fly by, their lives a promise of the whirlwind to come. And they all—we all—stare at the man waving, grinning, bidding us adieu and wishing us—truly—safe travels. He is concerned for us, our well-being, our mental health. And yet they all think him 'off.' "What's his deal?" The passengers consumed in their daily grind are the ones that consciously think Cohen 'off.' It all seems more defense mechanism than pragmatic assessment. For each and every such thought is buttressed with a subconscious uttering: "to be like him, to be like the man on the platform; not him in particular; but to be that way—free with thought, not bound to the forces that force our thoughts, our lives, down narrow alleyways constructed / constricted by others, for the needs / wants / profits of others" … Cohen is that itinerant soul who lives not outside the manic rush—he is not immune—but along its periphery: his own parallel universe in which thought is free to wander where it may, regardless of what others think right or wrong. He is on a plane beyond the usual. He understands truth for what it is, not what it is forced to be. There is no constraint or preconceived limit to truth. And so, such a spirit is able to go as far as it is able. Leonard Cohen can go as far as his talent and will can take him. And that is true freedom.
Leonard Cohen's Rock & Roll Hall-Of-Fame Induction Speech, 2008
March 30, 2011 : FORM 'EVER' FOLLOWS FUNCTION … SOME LOVE FOR LOUIS SULLIVAN
One of my favorite college courses was a one-semester class on American architecture. More an overview and 'history-of' concerned with aesthetics, it nonetheless veered into the evolution of building practices enough to serve as a primer on the craft of construction. My degree was Art & Design; but having taken 4 years worth of drafting & printing in high school, and spending many more hours in darkrooms (high school and college), I already held a high appreciation for the technical arts. It spawned an all-important lesson: a facade is just that without a solid structure holding it up. The art-of-aesthetic and the art-of-engineering—in union—would be the thing that drew me to the interactive media industry in the early 1990s. The two do not even line up on parallel tracks. They are every other car in a single train. In producing lasting works, the harmony of the two move forward together, or not at all … And I had heard the theory used a lot in school, in all my creative coursework; for it is common sense to anyone with creative aspirations: "Form follows function." I never forgot it (embedded as it has become in the creative-cultural lexicon). But, sadly, too often forgotten is the man who coined the original phrase: "Form ever follows function."
I learned a lot about Louis Sullivan in that architecture class (he, and Sullivan's protégé / one-time employee, Frank Lloyd Wright, my all-time favs). But I don't think I ever fully realized just how important a character Sullivan was; and it would seem he got a lot of that. His firm Adler (his partner Dankmar Adler) & Sullivan, was one of, if not the most innovative of the late-19th / turn-of-the-century era. They lifted the monolithic load-bearing-wall constructions of the time into the sky, reverse-engineering the outside-in support structure by utilizing inside-out support skeletons made of lighter / stronger steel. This vertical thinking is the same approach still used today. But Sullivan is not just the father of the skyscraper, he was also a peacemaker; and therein lies his equally visionary addition to the creative field. He fused the often at-odds relationship between form and function, reminding us—with more common sense wisdom extracted direct from nature itself—that both are practical if we are to live in a world-of-our-making that is not only a grey drab zone where we are born, work and die, but also a place where we can all do some good living while we simply function. Why does the superior highly-evolved vertical structure of a living tree also produce a fiery blaze of brilliant color once photosynthesis begins to slow down in the fall? Why even ask? Practical function meets practical beauty. One allows the other, and the natural world is better off for it. Sullivan's organic detailing—reducing the Victorian ornament-for-ornament's sake tradition to the level of 'impressive without needing to be an end unto itself'—gave the cities where he had his structures built something beautiful to look at, while providing functional space to work in. It seems a very natural relationship.
But like many visionaries, Sullivan did not receive the 'bona fides' he had coming while alive. It was only after he—and many of his buildings—were long gone (Sullivan having died in 1925, near poverty, and left behind in the modernist dust he had originally stirred up) that the culture caught up to his impact and began to realize the lasting influence of his creative addition. He is getting the love of late, and it is good to see. A recently published volume of Adler & Sullivan's work (now legendary in its own right for the 50 years of trials it, and its creators, went through to see it completed) tells the comprehensive story of architectural transformation and signal creative vision via essays and photography. Benjamin Schwarz's review in the March 2011 issue of The Atlantic is a great place to start. But architecture is best when viewed. So, to do my part in heaping on the love, here are several links to recent slideshows and other Sullivan essentials:
Dwell Magazine / Adler & Sullivan Slideshow
The Atlantic / Adler & Sullivan Slideshow
"The Complete Architecture of Adler & Sullivan" (Nickel, Siskind, Vinci, Miller)
The Atlantic / "The Architect of the CIty," Benjamin Schwarz
Louis Sullivan Bio / MIT
March 23, 2011 : FIDDLIN' JOHN & THE PRESERVATION OF OLD-TIME MUSIC
March 23 is (as best anyone knows for sure) the birthday of one "Fiddlin'" John Carson. A skilled musician, songwriter and showman, Carson is hailed as the first "country music" star (c. 1920s). A millworker, he had been a part of the early 20th-century flood of poor Appalachians into southern cities, seeking work in the humming, bustling, dirty and dangerous cotton mills. This was no small migration and it brought with it no small portfolio of musical traditions. Building on 'old-country' Scots-Irish traditionals, all re-arranged, mashed-up and leavened with new lyrics, instruments (the Italian mandolin, the African banjo, to name two) and 'new-world' trials & tribulations, these were the string-band templates that would, in their day, be collectively labeled mountain or (by promoters / advertisers) "hillbilly" music. Today we use the more nostalgic title: "old-time" music. All of American country music can trace its lineage to these tunes, these performers, and the 78 rpm recordings that were sold and played over the radio during the 1920s-30s. The budding centres of proto-country: Nashville & Atlanta, both vied for "country music capital" in the early-mid 1920s. Nashville, opening the "Grand Ole Opry" in 1925, would cement its hold on the title by the end of the decade. But it was in Atlanta - transplanted home of "Fiddlin'" John - where recording studios Okeh, Victor, and others, in conjunction with WSB radio, first pumped out this new style wholesale to the public. And it was in Atlanta (c. 1990s) where my deep fascination and appreciation for "old-time" took off.
I knew little of the history when I moved to Atlanta; but had been primed before arriving by what some might view an odd source: The Grateful Dead. Bonafide flag-bearers for all things psychedelic, the band was also a living still-performing tribute to traditional folk and country music. The Dead introduced me to the direct stylistic descendants of "old-time": South Appalachian bluegrass, folk-country, country & western, and mid-century commercial country (with its "Bakersfield" [CA] offshoot). Backtracking through these stylistic ligaments between our own times to "old-time," I soon discovered this world of early-century recordings fast growing dim, but for the tireless efforts of a handful of musicologists, preservationists and musicians (who understood whose shoulders they were standing on). It was a Sunday morning show on Georgia State's college radio station WRAS 88.5 (just down the road from WSB, now talk radio) that sent me on my way. On the "20th Century Archives" show, I learned to recognize: Uncle Dave Macon & His Fruit-Jar Drinkers, The Skillet-Lickers, The Carter Family, and "Fiddlin'" John among others. Proto-country though it was, it was soon clear to me why "hillbilly" was a predictably lame label (in the 'great tradition' of lame commercial labels; re: modern "alternative"). For a wide range of influences, Euro-American and African-American, were evident in this evolved - and evolving - version of early country. There are hints of blues, ragtime, barrelhouse, swing, even mexican, latin, and cajun, darting in and around the traditional Euro 'fiddle-tune' nougat that drove it all. And though performed in the main by whites from Appalachia, I came to understand the impact "old-time" has had on the whole of American music since. I was able to more fully recognize and appreciate how deep-rooted traditions are embedded, consciously and subconsciously, into the music we listen to today. It is good to know from where you have come.
In 2005, we attended our first "Fiddlin' John Carson Birthday Celebration," held annually by Carson's local descendants at the country star's gravesite in the once-blighted, but lately redeemed Sylvester Cemetery (DeKalb County / East Atlanta). A picking circle well-commemorates the memory of a star that outside this local gathering has been all-but forgotten; but for the mentioned tireless and passionate attempts to keep "old-time" in circulation and on the airwaves ... So, in honor of John's (supposed) birthday, we want to take a moment to promote several of our favorite outlets for "old-time" and encourage you to check 'em out via online radio, podcasts, the library / bookstore and your local record store:
Dust-To Digital ... Atlanta company on the forefront of collecting, digitizing, and thereby preserving and distributing old-time music (amongst an array of other styles). Started in part by Lance Ledbetter (who took over the "20th Century Archives" show in the late 1990s) their collections have gathered in several Grammy Awards. D-To-D is also a great online source for samples, independent collectors' offerings and podcasts - as well as a source of great local pride.
Joe Bussard's Country Classics ... "Our friend" owns the 'Library of Congress' of vintage 78s, an unrivaled personal collection gathered over a lifetime from old farmhouses, basements, attics, digging through trash heaps, antique stores, etc. Bussard puts on the weekly "Country Classics" show which is broadcast locally on Georgia Tech's WREK 91.9 and streams online. It is a national treasure, the podcast also available through Dust-To-Digital.
Revenant Records ... John Fahey's organization in Austin, TX; another Grammy-winning source for old-time, it was a review of their 2-vol "American Primitive" set which I feel best sums up the service these preservationists provide (paraphrasing): 'the songs captured here do not shed light on the performers or performances; they are like flash bulbs going off in the dark' ... i.e. the vast majority of recordings are already gone; and they might all be gone, but for these passionate efforts to save those few that still exist.
No discussion of old-time sources would be complete without mentioning Harry Smith and his "Anthology of American Folk Music" (Smithsonian Folkways) ... It is a must, and probably the best place to start.
And finally a quick plug for Patrick Huber's "Linthead Stomp," UNC Press, which goes deep on the Southern millworker / "hillbilly" music traditions - and in which "Fiddlin'" John Carson plays a leading role ... and Art Rosembaum's: "Backroads And Banjos" another gifted field recorder who, though showcasing more contemporary musicians, displays the long shadow old-time still casts today.
MARCH 17, 2011 : SAINT PATRICK IN GLASS
On this sunny March 17th (sunny where I am in Atlanta, anyway) I was inspired to gather stained glass images of St. Patrick. Enjoy the shinin' o' the green!
Catholic Parish of Brightlingsea & Wivenhoe
Woodstock International Walk for Peace
St. Patrick's Church, Rochdale, England
Gloucester Cathedral, England
Macrocosm Science Magbook
St. Thomas Aquinas Church, Brooklyn, NY
Blogger News Network
Celtic Reader's Blog
If you feel like more adventure, please explore the URLs of the websites posting these images and give them a visit. You'll find blogs, church tours, Wikipedia entries and information on the Woodstock International Walk for Peace. Sláinte!
February 27, 2011 : THE NATION'S CAPITAL IN-FRAME
Two images from a late-afternoon walk: February 23 / Washington, D.C. ...
"John Paul Jones" / revolutionary patriot, first naval hero of the new nation
"The Renwick" / late-Victorian arts museum a block west of White House
February 10: BRANCHES & ROOTS
››› A fable by Kerri Shawn McIntire
Once upon a time in a valley not so far from here there grew a great and mighty tree.
The top of this tree stretched up high into the sky, and the bottom reached down deep into the earth.
At the top of the tree lived a wood spirit named BRANCHES. He loved basking his rough brown skin in the sunshine and letting the wind blow back his leafy hair.
At night, BRANCHES saw the moon when it was full and fat, and when it was just a silver sliver. He saw pictures in the stars. He was happy because there was always something new to see.
But BRANCHES felt sad for his friend ROOTS. ROOTS lived at the very bottom of the great and might tree, in the ground, and she never saw anything but dirt and darkness.
And so BRANCHES would tell ROOTS stories of all the things he saw in the beautiful valley.
He told her all about the colorful birds that fluttered and sang in their tree, and about the little brown squirrels that lived among the hollows of its boughs.
He told her about the seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring.
"It sounds wonderful," ROOTS would say. "Thank you for telling me." And then she would go on quietly growing deeper into the warm dark soil.
BRANCHES told ROOTS about thunderstorms. How he caught the shining raindrops and wore them like jewels. "Lightning is the best," he said. "I wish you could see it."
But ROOTS really didn't mind. To her, underground was rich and full of fascinating secrets. The earth made her strong. She found peace there.
And so for years the tree grew in the beautiful valley. After a while, though, BRANCHES got a little tired of seeing the same things.
"If the tree were taller," he said to ROOTS, "I could see what there is beyond the valley. Can you help me?"
"Of course," replied ROOTS. Then she began gathering all her strength and sending it up to the top of the tree. Very soon, BRANCHES was able to peek out over the edge of the valley.
"What do you see?" ROOTS asked.
"Only a field," he said. "I need to be higher still."
ROOTS nestled down in the soft soil. "Wait a while. I'm very tired."
But BRANCHES drooped so sadly that ROOTS felt sorry for him and sent up the very last of her strength. The tree raised up like it was standing on tip-toes.
"Now are you happy?" ROOTS asked sleepily.
"Something is on the far side of the field!" BRANCHES shook all over with excitement. "I could see it if you got me just a little higher."
"You must wait," ROOTS insisted. Then she surrounded herself with the earth's quiet comfort and fell into a deep slumber.
BRANCHES was impatient. Every day, he twisted and stretched trying to see the far side of the field. Every night, he made wishes on the stars that someday he could see all over the world.
The wait seemed forever.
"Wake up," he snapped at ROOTS. "You're trapping me. I'll never get to go anywhere with you down there holding me back."
"And you're draining me!" she said bitterly. "I'll never find peace with you up there taking all my strength."
"I need to grow higher," BRANCHES said.
"I need to grow deeper," ROOTS said.
BRANCHES groaned with anger. "You're selfish. I wish I were as far away from you as possible."
"I want the same," ROOTS snarled. "So I will give you your wish." Saying this, she sent up a burst of energy that pushed the tree up taller than anything else in the land.
"I see a road!" BRANCHES cried, quite forgetting he was angry. "Oh, I wonder where it goes?"
But ROOTS didn't hear what BRANCHES said. He was now very far away and she was very, very tired. She fell fast asleep and dreamed of one day reaching all the way down to a hundred feet below the earth.
BRANCHES was so busy watching the road that he didn't see the thunderstorm coming. Rain started to fall, soaking into the soil where weary ROOTS slept.
Suddenly there was a bolt of lightning. It struck the great and mighty tree, which was now the tallest in the land, so hard that the top half was torn right out of the ground. It fell with a terrible crash.
"Goodbye, ROOTS," BRANCHES shouted. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."
"Goodbye, BRANCHES," ROOTS called back. "I'm sorry, too."
Very soon after the storm, people from the town up the road found the top half of the big tree laying in the valley. They hauled it away, leaving the bottom half buried in the ground.
The top half of the tree was so big that the people used its wood to make a great and mighty ship. The ship sailed all over the world, and BRANCHES, who lived on the tallest mast, got to see it all.
His wish had been granted, and he was very, very happy.
Back in the beautiful valley, the bottom half of the big tree broke down into little pieces in the warm, rich soil. ROOTS lived in the smallest of these pieces and, over time, she slipped all the way down to a hundred feet below the earth.
Her dream had come true, and she, too, was very, very happy.
And that was the way that BRANCHES and ROOTS each lived happily ever after as two separate halves of what was once one great and mighty tree.
January 31, 2011 : DONALD WORSTER, JOHN MUIR & I
On completing Donald Worster's biography of John Muir: "A Passion for Nature, The Life of John Muir" (Oxford University Press), I had the feeling I had never actually read a real bio before. It set the bar so high that it has ruined many of the books I have read since. A good bio has you walking alongside the subject through their days, soaking in the environments and events that make a life. A great bio goes further: it engages your senses, strips away the reader's observer status and invests you emotionally in the life unfolding on the pages. This bio did all of that; but it also achieved something no other bio I have yet read has. I not only walked alongside Muir, felt the influence of environmental factors as Muir felt them, smelled the smells, heard the sounds, felt the soul-rush while looking on at signal natural sights - I also felt as if I was living alongside Muir, to the point where I could interact with him. In my opinion, the greatest success of Worster's work is his ability to dust off the facts of this man's life to the degree that it seems contemporary; or, more appropriately, you are transformed into Muir's contemporary. John Muir lived a life so rich, so successful - and a life so heavily weighted by the usual mortal tonnage of suffering and loss - that a well-studied straightforward telling was all that was needed; no more or less. And when an author achieves that 'just right' balance, it is worth telling others about. Such is the case here.
But I want to go beyond a summary or review of the book. (A number of well-done reviews have appeared over the years; Jackson Lear's review in The New Republic the reason I added the book to my list.) The point of this post is to, first, urge everyone to drop whatever they are doing, go-out-get-and-read Donald Worster's "A Passion for Nature, The Life of John Muir." Second, I want to share a few personal journal entries written while reading the book, one in particular written just after finishing it. Keeping in mind the signal success of Worster's narrative, as I read on and continued to sink deeper into a real relationship with the subject, I felt as if I were engaged in a running conversation with John Muir - Donald Worster, where needed, serving as our interpreter ...
"Evolution need not undermine faith or hope ..." John Muir (through Worster) said to me. "The moment of creation is now. Change is constant. Change is good."
Looking on at Worster as he finished each translation, my philosophical penchant primed, I would turn back to Muir and counter with something like:
"Sure, I have thought these things too, John; but what of the unknown quantity that lingers once you strip away institutional certainty? How do we reconcile the naturally-occurring - and man-made - variables that often create a freaking mess of this miracle-in-constant-motion, this evolving paradise?"
Worster would dutifully look over at Muir - the three of us sitting around a cafe table, sipping coffee, eating doughnuts (in my mind) - waiting for Muir to respond, ready to interpret if needed:
"Yes, that's a question I have spent all my years considering. I have spent a lifetime - in settings removed, isolated from all societal influence - mulling over an adequate answer. I am not sure I am quite that wise, but will say this to you, Dave," John Muir leaning over, waiting for Worster to interpret before finishing with a direct quote needing no interpretation:
"We cannot find in nature any soothing escape from history, impermanence, strife, or death. But learning how nature manages that change and how it generates a unified complexity is good tonic for the troubled, careworn human mind."
I kept a close record of these 'conversations' throughout the few weeks it took me to devour the 466 pgs of Worster's bio, recording quotes, thoughts, the muse behind it all. One final entry covers the gist of Muir & my running conversation. Here is what John Muir was trying to tell me:
"Be awed! Put yourself in a place remote from our socially-created security, detached from the false idols of material superiority, sure ideology, vital profit. Put yourself on a mountain, in a forest, in a place where you are no longer the central selfish concern, a place where you are just an ant among the many millions of ants – where you are as vital a microcosm as a blade of grass, a minnow in shallows, a leaf. Go, put yourself in that place. Do not run. Walk into the woods. Do not turn your back on society. Go into the woods, onto a mountain, to that remote place in order to re-capture that piece of spirit / character / ethos so readily submerged beneath the swarm of survival. Go! Be awed by the beauty of nature's God, while wrapped in its loving arms."
I would do well to follow this advice, precisely. As for all of you, this advice will suffice: read Worster's bio of John Muir!
January 21, 2011 : (ALBINO) SQUIRREL APPRECIATION DAY
We are unabashed squirrel-lovers here @ InHeritage. In honor of their special day, here's a few portraits from the large family of albino squirrels to be found in the Washington, D.C. parks. These two call LaFayette Park (a block north of the White House) home ...
January 13, 2011 : BRIDGES OVER TROUBLED WATERS / In the Wake of Tucson
Last night on the PBS NewsHour, Jim Lehrer used "Comforter-in-Chief" to describe the U.S. president's role in assuaging the citizenry after a tragedy of national scale. I was caught by the term, immediately put in mind of how Lincoln spoke of healing, of binding up the wounds left by the Civil War in his Second Inaugural Address. A little more than a month later, the president was assassinated and himself became the focus of a grieving country.
Lehrer recognized Lincoln, too, calling the Gettysburg Address one of the first instances where a Commander-in-Chief turned comforter. President Obama became the most recent example during his remarks yesterday evening at the memorial service for the victims of the shooting in Tucson. Not unusually, he found inspiration for his words of solace in spiritual text:
Scripture tells us:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at the break of day.
The "her" in the text refers not to a particular woman victim, but to a collective, a nation. Obama's speech called on his listeners to think of the victims of this tragedy as people just like themselves, as fellow members of an important collective. We would not think of our own terrible misfortunes as meaningless. He described the assembly outside the supermarket as "...that quintessentially American scene."
... that was the scene that was shattered by a gunman's bullets. And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday — they, too, represented what is best in us, what is best in America.
In her closing remarks for the NewsHour article, Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of history at the University of New Hampshire, said:
One of the interesting themes in the presidential addresses on these occasions is that they try to personalize the victims of these tragedies very often to make them real people, and so that everyone will understand the nature of the loss that is sustained in these mass murder events.
But presidents aren't the only public figures to whom we turn for comfort when unconscionable violence dominates the news. I was impressed that The Daily Show's Jon Stewart refused to politicize and polarize. He, too, sought to bind wounds with calls for us to recognize - in the face of a true physical attack - our similarities, instead of demonizing each other for the partisan language or symbols we use. He said that as much as he disliked the current toxic political landscape, he couldn't blame it for what happened in Tucson any more than he could blame heavy-metal music for what happened at Columbine. Right there with you, brother.
Stewart didn't quote scripture, but he also saw hope, saying: "... I refuse to give in to that feeling of despair. There is light in this situation." He, too, urged his listeners to learn about the lives ended and impacted by a deeply troubled young man. By doing so, we will be comforted by the amount of goodness and dignity there is in the world, goodness that goes on every day anonymously. We will realize that goodness far overwhelms the instances of insane brutality which might bring the charity and kindly bearing of such everyday people's lives into the news to begin with.
If there is a toxic stream to humanity's character, one that definitely DOES NOT make glad the city of God, then let's all be grateful that there are bridges in the world to help us get to the other side of it. And it is wonderful that we sometimes elect these bridges to public office, and give them their own basic cable comedy shows.
For a video of Jon Stewart's comments, go to: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-january-10-2011/arizona-shootings-reaction
Go here for a video and a transcription of the NewsHour article: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june11/presmourner_01-12.html