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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On History We Share

Recently, I went on a lovely jaunt south to Virginia, where I met up with Shirley and Veronica.  These ladies kindly played Tour Guide to me and I was able to add to my Civil War Battlefield Portfolio.  Poor Virginia!  Its woods are still scarred by soldiers' trenches, and the battles there evoked what is for me one of President Lincoln's most poignant quotes, "My god! What will the country say?"

My time at these sites made me thoughtful:  of history, of politics, of my childhood, and of perspective.  It sent me back into that impressive book Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson, which I will quote at length in this post.

When I was a kid growing up in NEO, my dad worked at the steel mill in our town, and my mom stayed home.  I had three siblings, and for family vacations, we did it on the cheap.  Lots of times we packed up and drove to Gettysburg, PA to impose on my Aunt Shirley and Uncle Dick and their three kids for a week or so.  They lived across the street from a huge battlefield marker and up the hill was another one.  Back then, townies also got into all the museums and everything for free, so for at least a few days, we'd steal the neighbor kids' identities, walk uptown, and do all the attractions. I loved the Jennie Wade house, the Electric Map, and one uncle even worked part time at the Lincoln Train Museum.  At first, the Gettysburg experience seemed to be all about battle strategies, weapons, casualties, generals, and maneuvers.  Sometime in the seventies (I think), that seemed to change.  It was suddenly all about Lincoln and the Union.  Maybe it was just me.  Maybe I grew up, or maybe my perspective changed.  But I remember that shift very palpably.  It didn't dampen my ardor for Gettysburg in the least:  I eagerly went on any car tour narrated by my aunt, hoping to glean more information to add to my expanding mythoi of the battlefield and its monuments.

In Virginia I was curious as to how a Southern State--the seat of the Confederacy--would present its history of the Civil War.  The Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville were both Confederate victories, despite their ultimate defeat.  In Virginia's Civil War History, Abraham Lincoln is the architect of destruction for some citizens' family trees.  Richmond, the capital, was a symbolic prize for the Union army, and its citizens knew it; they burned their own city to the ground as they fled before the bluecoats got there.  For much of the South near the end of the war, life had become an endurance test.  Federal troops were single-mindedly marching, taking provisions, doing anything to end the war, even if it meant brutal conditions for civilians.  If I were a Southerner, I would want some respect paid to that story.  It's a fine line to walk, I would imagine.

As is always my experience with our nation's National Park Service, there is a great reverence and honor for the battlefield sites and stories I visited in Virginia.  The focus there is very human and personal as the displays remind visitors of native Virginians who fought in the battles there, and whether they survived or gave their lives for their Cause.  Especially humbling and poignant is the Fredericksburg National Cemetery on Marye's Heights, the terraced ground in which rests over 15,000 Union dead, most of whom are unknown.

It is all so very, very sobering.  Abraham Lincoln was elected president on November 6, 1860.  On December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union.  In relatively rapid succession followed states Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee; these went on, of course, to make up the Confederate States of America (CSA).

(Ironically, unless Virginia leans Democratic, it seems that these states will vote against a man from Illinois again.)

It's conventional wisdom that our country, highlighted by election year politics, is polarized.  We were divided into Red and Blue by election maps, 1% and 99% by a movement, and a host of other designations that, sometimes, we chose ourselves.  During the Civil War, we truly were a country divided.  Consider this, from author McPherson (859):

Before 1861 the two words "United States" were generally rendered as a plural noun:  "the United States are a republic." The war marked a transition of the United States to a singular noun.  The "Union" also became the nation, and Americans now rarely speak of  their Union except in an historical sense.  Lincon's wartime speeches betokened this transition.  In his first inaugural address he used the word "Union" twenty times and the word "nation" not once.  In his first message to Congress, on July 4, 1861, he used "Union" thirty-two times and "nation" three times.  In his letter to Horace Greeley of August 22, 1862, on the relationship of slavery to the war, Lincoln spoke of the Union eight times and of the nation not at all.  Little more than a year later, in his address at Gettysburg, the president did not refer to the "Union" at all but used the word "nation" five times to invoke a new birth of freedom and nationalism for the United States.

A house divided against itself cannot stand.--A. Lincoln

The old federal republic in which the national government had rarely touched the average citizen except through the post office gave way to a more centralized polity that taxed the people directly and created an internal revenue bureau to collect these taxes, drafted men into the army, expanded the jurisdiction of federal courts, created a national currency and a national banking system, and established the first national agency for social welfare--the Freedmen's Bureau.

The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves, in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere. The desirable things which the individuals of a people cannot do, or cannot well do, for themselves, fall into two classes: those which have relation to wrongs, and those which have not.--A. Lincoln 

This change in the federal balance paralleled a radical shift of political power from South to North. During the first seventy-two years of the republic down to 1861 a slaveholding resident of one of the states that joined the Confederacy had been President of the United States for forty-nine of those years--more than two-thirds of the time.  In Congress, twenty-three of the thirty-six speakers of the House and twenty-four of the presidents pro tem of the Senate had been southerners. The Supreme Court always had a southern majority....After the war a century passed before a resident of an ex-Confederate state was elected president.  For half a century none of the speakers of the House or presidents pro tem of the Senate came from the South, and only five...justices...were southerners.

These figures symbolize a sharp and permanent change in the direction of American development....Thus when secessionists protested that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct....The South's concept of republicanism had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North's had.  With complete sincerity the South fought to preserve its vision of the republic of the founding fathers--a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property and whose constituency comprised an independent gentry and yeomanry of the white race undisturbed by large cities,heartless factories, restless free workers, and class conflict. The accession to power of the Republican party, with its ideology of competitive, egalitarian, free-labor capitalism, was a signal to the South that the northern majority had turned irrevocably toward this frightening, revolutionary future.  Indeed, the Black Republican party appeared to the eyes of many southerners as "essentially a revolutionary party."...[I]nsisted Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, "We are resisting revolution....We are conservative." (860-1)

Be not deceived.  Revolutions do not go backward.--A. Lincoln

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Politics, Halloween, And Yard Art: Experience Life In A Swing State (An Interactive Post!)

At this point in October in Ohio, I don't know what I grow more weary of, Halloween or The Politics.  Last night while trying to enjoy some television programming, Rick and I counted eight ads in a row during one break, and those were just for two races, senator and president.

My great distaste for Halloween has been well documented here at the Dept. in other posts before, so we won't go back over all that territory now.  Suffice it to say, my feelings haven't changed except to perhaps intensify.  So while on my walk today during an unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny day, I made it my Mission not to be irked by the Halloween yard art I knew I was going to witness. 

Because that just allows the Terrorists to Win.

Now, here's an example of a very subtle celebration of Halloween:
 
What does this home say to you?  "Oh, hello.  Autumnal Greetings.  And we are proud Americans, by the way. (Or, we got a free flag from our councilman on Independence Day and, unsure of how to dispose of the flag properly, we just left it here.)"  It wasn't until I got the photo home that I even saw that there was a teeny pumpkin tucked next to each pot of mums, so subtle is this decor.
 
A few blocks later, we have this:
 
 
What does this home say to you?  "Bwaaahaaaahaaa.  We have unpacked our crazy and have a ton of Peter Pan Issues to work through."
 
Here's another view without the tree branches:
Or, perhaps it says:  "We used to work at Discount Halloween Town.  We are the Fun Parents, and everyone in the neighborhood borrows our ladders."
 
But, at least this house has a Theme.  This is a focused, directed Decorating Job.  Which is more than I can say for this:
 
 
Okay...what, now?  Just what does the decor here say to you? Go ahead-- I'll let you have some fun in Comments.



Sunday, October 14, 2012

In Which I Lament Yard Parkers, Pushy Companies, And, Always, Bacon


Today in NEO it was a golden autumn day.  We had temperatures early in the afternoon that peaked in the high seventies.  There was a brisk westerly breeze and the sun was warm and lovely.  Rick and I took a long walk and then settled into our bright red porch chairs with a glass of cider for some conversation and commentary on...well, everything.

Soon, I needed a snack, and this, as many of you may recall, is Perilous Territory for me, and by default then, for Rick.  I do not often eat during the day, and when I suddenly must, rarely is it obvious to even me what I want.  When I returned from my foraging, I had a bag of Lay's Potato Chips--just the crumbs, really (it was an old bag)--and Rick rolled his eyes.

Rick:  (nodding at the chips) That's not what you want.
Nance:  (sighs) I know.  But I have no idea.
Rick:  (puzzled) Didn't we buy a new bag?  What--
Nance:  Yeah, but there's still some left in here, and I'm not opening a nice new bag when this might not even be what I want.
Rick:  You're such a project.
Nance: (decisively) Boy, don't I know it.  (looks across the street at the rental house)  Rick, I am going to say something very, very horrible right now.  It's just terrible and awful.
Rick:  (looks up expectantly; his expression is almost joyful) Oh good.  I hope so.  It's been a really long time since you did.  A long time.
Yard Parker: the view from my porch
Nance:  I just wish that something--anything--would come down off the roof, or the tree, or something overhanging, and fall on top of their car and do a lot of damage.  I mean it.  I don't want anything to hurt them, but I am so sick of them parking on their lawn and right up against their house and their front steps for heaven's sake!  Maybe if something hurt their car, they would stop doing it.  I mean, how lazy are they?  It's just terrible.  It makes me terrible.  The whole thing is awful.  I don't know why I care so much.  I mean, it's not hurting me.  I just have to look at it.

Rick:  Well, it makes the neighborhood look trashy.
Nance:  It does.  It really does.  (sighs;looks down at chips)  Holy crap.  All I wanted to do was eat a few chips.  But no!  They want me to scan this code and go to their website.  Here they want me to design my own flavor.  Then they want me to post that to Facebook.  (a little indignant now) That's a lot of bullshit work!
Rick:  They want you to do their job.
Nance:  And here's what happens.  People come up with all kinds of exotic flavors.  They say, apple cinnamon!  Salted caramel!  Chicken and biscuits!  Duck confit!  And here's what will win--BACON. Period.  Bet me.
Rick:  What flavor would you want?
Nance:  I have no idea.  Guacamole?  Probably already sent in or already tested.  But the point is, it doesn't matter.  BACON WILL WIN.  Seriously.
Rick:  Everyone likes bacon.
Nance:  Then why ask? Ugh. Make a bacon chip and be done with it.
Rick:  Here.  Give me that.  I'm going in to get a beer.  I'll throw them away for you.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Add AR State Rep. Jon Hubbard To The List Of republicans Who Want To Take Our Country Back, And Here's How Far

Go here for the story of Gordon, the man pictured
"The institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth." --Arkansas State Representative Jon Hubbard.

This quote is part of a larger essay, which is in turn part of his book, vanity-published in 2009.  Because Hubbard is up for re-election, it has become fodder for the media.

I don't care.  It's disgusting filth like this--this kind of pervasive and intrinsic hate and selfish superiority--that seems ingrained in that party.  It spawned the audacious disrespect of  Joe Wilson and the misogyny of  Todd Akin.

It's hard to give up The Politics when it all becomes so very personal. How can anyone--anyone--choose not to vote?  Spite alone would move me to the ballot box. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

It's Like Looking At A Roomful Of Vegas Showgirls

Here in the Midwest we are often considered staid, provincial, even boring.  We owe our very existence to two rather pedestrian and mundane industries, agriculture and manufacturing.  Midwesterners are perceived by Left- and Right-Coasters to be unsophisticated and lacking in style.  We shop at WalMart and eat spray cheese.  We think Dr. Phil is God and Rosie O'Donnell should just admit that no one wants to hear about It anymore and go away once and for all, especially now that Will & Grace is canceled.  And if that Michelle Obama shows up in a sleeveless dress one more time...!  It's fine if she's looking to do a Playboy, we say, but her husband is running for President of the United States!  Thank Goodness Mrs. Romney has a little more class and modesty.

But not all Midwesterners are so modest and retiring.  On one of my walks I discovered a house whose tenant put her...jugs right on the front porch.

You can see she's got quite a rack out there.  I figured, what the hell.  I'll take a picture; it'll last longer.

Nice rack of jugs. 


More jugs...and wow!  Just noticed on either side of this rack...what a crock!

So much for the Midwestern Modesty.  The nights are getting much colder here in Northeast Ohio.  I can't imagine how those things will hold up once it frosts.
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