31 October 2010

Un-campaign Notes

There is still smoke curling off the keyboard from political writing which has gone hither and yon in recent weeks. I cut a public service announcement on behalf of the firm on Friday which will run election night on the theme “Don’t go to sleep, we're citizens 24/7.” For tonight, I offer nonpolitical things, and this terminal of my HAL-9000 computer system will be wondering who is inputting this information.


Beloved friend Parson Jim Norton at a cold and was not singing in the choir this morning, so he sat by me. I have a cold, too, which drops my voice about half an octave. As we were singing a hymn this morning, it struck me that was the first time I had stood and sung along with a good bass voice since I did so with my dad many years ago.

Lawyer books

I haven’t written book reviews in a blue moon and this doesn’t count as a review – more like a random comment or two. John Grisham’s newest book, The Confession, was published last Tuesday. A couple of years ago, I had sworn off Grisham because improbable plot twists late in his novels made them less enjoyable for me. I downloaded this one anyway, and it’s a good one. He uses the most believable scenarios since his very first novel, and The Confession centers around that very rarest bugaboo which does (as well it should) scare the hell out of every participant in a death penalty case, that we wrongly convict and execute a factually innocent person. Grisham hardly needs my imprimatur, but he has it anyway.

And then I read The Reversal by Michael Connelley, also recently published. Connelley is a journalist who has two long-running characters who occasionally intersect, one of whom is a lawyer in the traditional lawyer-novel sense. The plot starts with a 20-year-old murder conviction being reversed and a defense lawyer being hired as a special prosecutor. The glaring error in this one is the discussion (unnecessary to the plot) of whether to seek the death penalty of someone previously sentenced to the penitentiary for the same crime. You just can’t do that, because that would “chill” the right to appeal a verdict which was improperly obtained. It's still a fine read.

The Sounds of Silence

In the coming weeks, I have to collect all of my “letters to the editor, op-ed submissions, and similar writings.” Of the purpose behind this, more later. Others will be asked to do the same.

I must say, I’m looking on this with wry amusement. Most of my friends probably have a real good idea of where to put their hands on their public writings and, while their personal correspondence may be voluminous, the blatherings they may have posted where Angels Fear to Tread are few. There are of course, some exceptions, many of whom have blogs which are linked to the right of this page.

To me, finding these writings is not Mission Impossible, but it will certainly be Mission Darned Difficult. I don’t do many letters to the editor, for I can seldom keep my writings short enough. I do submit op-ed commentaries and opinion-laden articles, mostly to statewide publications or to the local newspaper and publish what used to be the “canons” from the blog as book reviews spread here and there. (I also wonder how far back I have to go - My first letter to the editor was as a senior in high school; first magazine, US News, as a college student; the ABA Journal as a young Turk; a couple of USA Today letters over the years - how far?)

But, my heavens! (Prior to being so sensitive that anyone would be reading what I said, it would have been “Holy Shit, Batman!”) I have opinions! I’ve expressed them! People may not agree with me! People may not like me!

Well, that is the flipside of the First Amendment. When you make public commentary, you’re making a choice to participate in the marketplace of ideas. People are welcome to be consumers-only in that marketplace. The responsibility of vendors in the marketplace is significant from where I stand. And the greatest fear is this: if you are honest in your writing, people know who you are. And you’re just going to have to take the chance that some people will not like you. In fact, it’s not a chance, it is a fact – for every person who engages in productive and respectful discourse, there is another who throws the anonymous rocks of personal destruction. Moreover, people who read you over time will see you grow or diminish as you refine your ideas, abandon the bad ones or seize on what "sells."

I intended this mini-essay to be lighter than it has turned out. But I confess that my heart is still pretty light. I look back over things I’ve written in years past and occasionally I will say, “Boy, that one’s a little bit dense,” or even “What the hell was I thinking?!?” That I’m still content to write what I think and feel so far as it is proper to be written and I am at peace with always having done so. I certainly think - I certainly hope - that it has always been done with honesty and respect, even if it has been occasionally stupid.

Speaking of Intelligent Commentary

My Old Friend The Reasonable Curmudgeon has posted the most provocative, delightful and, well, reasonable essay on his blog (link to the right.)


Not Going Far To Look for America

"Kathy, I'm lost," I said, though I knew she was sleeping
I'm empty and
aching and I don't know why
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
They've all gone to look for America
All gone to look for America
All gone to look for America

In some folk/folk-rock of the 60s and early 70s, you find good poetry. The next few paragraphs have been sitting on the hard drive for a couple of weeks. A tweak here and here, and here they are:

I found America tonight.

One of the old Disney movies with Fred MacMurray talked about the concept of “serendipity,” where you ran on to something wonderful you weren't looking for, and even had this catchy little song, “seren-dipa-dipa-dipity.”

We’re on one of the long hauls of this never ending political marathon and every smile in front of the camera claims to represent America. No, I’m wrong – not “represent” America, they claim to be America. I’m in the middle of the marathon, writing and calling everyone I know for my friends and for the causes in which I believe so deeply. But I was reminded tonight that politics is not America. The political system may support America, it may provide some guidance for America, but it is not America.

This evening we went to the church for a fundraiser called the “Furnace Dinner.” The purpose was to generate some funds for church property maintenance, part of which is going to be a lot of HVAC work. If you see one little church dinner, you’ve seen them all, haven’t you?

And so, once again I prove conclusively that a few bulbs in Roger’s chandelier burn out and need replaced and refreshed now and then. There, at the Furnace Dinner, was the real America. America is found in the Fellowship of honest people. You find America when families come together, where moms and dads are with their kids, or the young and active help the aged, or anywhere that goodwill prevails. It doesn’t have to be a church – the softball field, a family reunion, a chance meeting of strangers who become friends at the state park, a concert, or even a person of goodwill sitting alone and transcending his or her troubles, there is America. As for me, I found America tonight in a simple dinner cooked by pretty good cooks and served by a Boy Scout troop. I found America tonight in high school students singing solos and a large professional-quality-yet-unpaid choir performing. America was there tonight in kind words everyone said. And easy hugs.

In short, my dear friends, America is in the people. It is not solely a church or in particular organization or a political party or ad hoc movement, America is not in stickers on automobile windows, it’s everywhere among the people.

I’m glad I didn’t stay home tonight.

A Dangerous Addiction

I posture myself is a bastion against the profligate use of electronics for simple things people should be doing with their minds. And here I confess, I have slipped. I filled up the Chrysler on Friday and mentally calculated the mileage at about 21.6 mph. What was I thinking? Where was my confidence? I pulled out the … sigh … my cell phone. It has a calculator function. It calculated to 20.85. I have no excuse. Scotty, beam me up. Now. Please.

Pippa passes.


23 October 2010

Political Bigotry: Juan Williams, NPR and Arrogant Hypocrites; Or, Mama, Where’s My Constitution?

Let’s set the scene, the players and the issue.

The scene: “The O’Reilly Factor,” a “fair and balanced” yet shrill, unpleasant, lowest-common-denominator “news commentary” program on Fox News. The players: Bill O’Reilly, the spiritual creator of the foregoing; Juan Williams, an intelligent and articulate analyst/,commentator for National Public Radio, an organization which prides itself on neutrality and which is criticized for as much liberal bias as O’Reilly is for conservative bias, and which is supported largely by public funding, including tax dollars.. [See Notes on Labels below.] The issue: The private perception by citizens of Muslims.

Williams made the following brief observation:

"Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous." It hardly needs recitation that Muslims on airplanes committed a heinous terrorist attack on American soil and that government response to that attack has led to drastic changes in American society.

The response by NPR:

William’s “remarks on 'The O'Reilly Factor' this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and goodundermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR." NPR fired Juan Williams.

In these writings, I have long chafed at that whining concept of “political correctness.” Everyone on the right [See again Note on Labels below] whose beliefs are questioned in the least cries “I’m a victim!,” and pretends that he or she is being led off to the nearest concentration camp. I have rejected and still reject the entire politically correct/incorrect tear-jerk-athon.

The people paid with our money at NPR have transcended mere political correctness. They have blithely and even proudly adopted (or admitted) political bigotry as their modus operandi.

Prejudice is everywhere. Everyone is prejudiced for or against something, many things as a matter of fact. Prejudice simply means “prejudgment.” In some places (e.g., courts), prejudice is positively a bad thing. In other places, prejudice is a condition which exists and simply has to be dealt with. Bigotry is another matter. Like ignorance, prejudice can be fixed with information and thought. Bigotry is a fixed opinion, armored against fact, reason, kindness, respect, or adherence to the rules and values of an organized society. Like stupid, it cannot be fixed. The NPR management mavens have proven themselves to be bigots.

That the canning of Williams is contrary to constitutional principles is, I hope, clear. He was exercising his First Amendment right to free speech. It would take one really stupid SOB to deny that. What he was saying was truthful. Now follow along here: Williams was not saying that Muslims are dangerous or unpleasant or whatever. He said that when he sees people in an airport who are Muslims, he gets worried and nervous. He is saying how he feels. Not only is that the truth, he is the only person who can possibly know that truth. Does National Public Radio wish to ban him from holding beliefs? (Recall, if you will, the delightful concept of “thought crime” from George Orwell’s novel, 1984.) Surely NPR does not want its analysts to lie about what they think – do they? No, likely they just want people who are supposed to be thoughtful analysts allies to shut up and sing the company song. How, I wonder, is this different from singing any other company song? Other than some insignificant differences in dress and deportment, NPR and Rupert Murdoch simply are the Tweedledee and Tweedledum merchandisers of manufactured opinion.

Williams expressed an honest belief. It is a legitimate issue and discussion whether that is a reasonable belief. Should someone be worried and nervous when he or she sees Muslims in an airport? A few Muslims have crashed airplanes into buildings “in the name of Islam.” Enough others have formed at least small armies to conduct localized wars for the same purpose. Some (undetermined) proportion of Muslims hold violent beliefs. What is the objective danger level created by a Muslim in an airport as compared to another individual in an airport? What about the subjective beliefs? On my own streets, if I see a civilian carrying a firearm openly, my thought is that’s probably not a good idea, but I’m not worried or afraid. If I see a civilian attempting to carry a firearm concealed but not being quite successful at concealment, I think that he or she is unduly careless, but I’m still not worried or afraid. Other people in other places would be worried and afraid and if I were to deny them the right to express the fact that they honestly and personally experience those feelings, I would myself be a bigot no matter how strongly I believed that their feelings were “wrong.”

We can make no social progress without honest expression and honest discussion. Williams is worried and afraid when he sees a Muslim. Do not tell him, “You are wrong, get over it.” If you tell him that, you are the bigot. If I tell you that I will never change my mind, I am the bigot. Until we talk, unless we talk, unless we as a society and as individuals open up and expose our honest beliefs and honestly consider whether they have a rational foundation, how can we as a nation or as a culture move forward? Williams said that he is worried and nervous. Some years ago, Jesse Jackson said the same thing about black men he ran into on dark streets. No one accused him of joining the Klan or adopting Nathan Bedford Forrest as his role model. He was being honest, in order to start a discussion which might lead to improvement. Had Juan Williams said, “Let’s nuke Qum,” that would have the kind of incendiary effect worthy of his being separated from a responsible news organization.

As it is, NPR has done for the Constitution what Al Qaeda did to the World Trade Center.

Note on labels: Liberal, conservative, right, left, progressive, and so forth are synonyms for irrelevant, misleading, feces, and excrement. They were originally applied to economic schools of thought which have long since vanished into static and are applied instead into shifting sands of convenient and often internally inconsistent sets of beliefs adopted by people who are too dumb, too lazy or too cowardly to consider important public issues, think about them, and expressed principled opinions.


11 October 2010

Hicks in Philly and Other Wisps of the Vapours

On this Monday holiday, a certain Italian navigator in service of the Spanish monarchy comes to mind. He was convinced that he had reached his intended destination, and that he did show just in time before his crew mutinied. Sadly, he was wrong by approximately 8000 miles.

Happy Columbus Day.

Hicks in Philly

{Editor's note: There is a brouhaha in the mountains where the National Republican Senatorial Committee put out a casting call for a TV ad to be shot in Philadelphia. The casting call specified that they were seeking for a "hicky" kind of look, with seedy clothing and beat up John Deere and trucker ball caps. The following letter from a West Virginia emigre to his aunt back on in Alexander's Ferry has been obtained and is published as a public service. Beloved Bro. Dave Born did note this morning that at least in the Fairmont newspaper, it was printed on page 3 while the guy with the prize organic cabbages was featured on page 1.}

Dear Aunt Madge:

Thank you very much for your letter and the $100 check. I’m sorry it took me so long to write this. I know I was taught better manners, but I’ve been really busy.

I have to tell you about a casting call I went to for a commercial about West Virginia! When I moved away from Alexander’s Ferry, I told Mom and Dad and the whole family that I wasn’t going to get stuck working down in a coal mine or driving a truck. That’s why I came up to Philadelphia, to get a good clean job acting, so I would make lots of money the easy way. Well, I’m not living the good life yet, but I’m getting closer.

I went to a casting call a couple of weeks ago for really important political commercial. It was for some Senate campaign thing, and they wanted to trash the Governor. I know what he’s done for us but I’m behind on the rent, so I went anyway. When they cast actors for a commercial, they tell you the kind of person they’re looking for, the kind of clothes to bring to the audition and how to act. Well, get this: They were looking for guys to portray ordinary West Virginians! Can you beat that? I figured, lucky me, here I am and I have the inside track.

Pretty quickly, it got weird. They didn’t exactly describe the people I’m used to back home. The casting call said: “We are going for a ‘hicky’ blue collar look. These characters are from West Virginia, so think coal miner/truck driver looks.” Well, since those sorts of jobs put food on the table and clothes on my back when Dad was doing them, I figured I could bluff my way through it.

The whole costume thing was also really odd. They wanted all the actors bring hats, but they were looking for only certain kind of hats. You’re not going to believe this, but the main thing they wanted was to see hats that were old and dirty. Can you picture what Grandma would have said if somebody had walked in her house wearing an old dirty hat? Boy, I would not want to have been there for that. This director also wanted hats that said particular things. They specifically mentioned John Deere hats, old and dirty, like I said. That one stumped me. A John Deere hat is just what George Clooney wore in that movie we saw at the Marquee Cinema, “A Perfect Storm,” and even out on a fishing boat in the middle the Atlantic Ocean, his hat was new and clean.

Oh, they also said a trucker hat would be okay, but only an old one. The problem is, all my ball caps are like Uncle Matt’s and Dad’s and nearly everybody else’s back home - they have American flags, NRA seals or things like that on them. (Oh, I took my NRA Life Member hat and the director just had kittens - it turns out the NRA has endorsed Joe Manchin and not the other guy.)

They also wanted people wearing jeans and work boots and so forth and it was plain to me that the fellows that showed up were as comfortable wearing that stuff as a pimp would be wearing a choir robe. These guys were all out-of-work “Off-Broadway” actors from New York City. This one fellow had his name on his big wardrobe bag – “Louis Vuitton” – he must be French. He was awfully stuck on himself and when he started talking “like a West Virginian” I could hardly figure out what he was saying.

One of the fellows said he had to go way out of town to Tractor Supply to get a pair of working man’s pants and he was all hot and bothered by that. I don’t understand that, either. I’m thinking the food in the diner where the commercial was filmed probably came off the farm, and the farm workers probably came in needing to wash up every night. So what’s the big deal? Moreover, everything in that diner down the bricks and the plumbing was hauled there to Philadelphia on a truck. I didn’t understand that one, either. I remember driving a moving van part time to pay for school at WVU. I guess I just never learn to be ashamed of work like I should have. But, Aunt Madge, some of the best people I’ve ever known have been coal miners and truck drivers. This really bothers me.

Oh, I didn’t get the job. The director said “The rubes won’t believe you.” I remember Grandpa talking about “rubes,” but I haven’t heard it since I was a kid. Maybe this director is from somewhere really backward, I don’t know. Anyway, he said I just wasn’t “hicky” enough to be a real West Virginian.

I’m really glad to hear the cousin Ralph got a job at the Toyota engine plant. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a computer lathe, let alone how to work one. And is Katie really studying biometrics at Marshall? I hear that’s a hot field and graduates make good money. Tell Jim I’m proud he was promoted fire boss at the mine. To be the one in charge of safety for a full shift of miners is a heavy responsibility.

Don’t be offended, but I am returning the check you sent me. I’m thinking I will be “hicky” enough for the next commercial and if I get that job, I’ll be able to pay my rent for the month. I really wish I could afford own a house like most everybody does back home.

Your loving nephew,

The Silent Auction That "They" Will Regret

On Saturday the 16th, Central Christian Church is hosting the "Furnace Dinner," to benefit the building maintenance fund. Part of the festivities will be a silent auction. One item being auctioned is a sermon title - Pick your scripture, pick your title, and Pastor Josh will preach a sermon on it.

I will be bidding aggressively. The sermon topic I select will include hot dogs, Trotsky, mathematics and the word "Timbuctu." More later.

Pippa passes.


07 October 2010

Unorganized Reflections

It would be rather cheeky of me to claim that I’m ever meticulously organized here. Pardon me, but this week I don’t think I’ll even make a stab at it.

There is no way that I will attempt to synthesize the experience of the long illness and then sudden death last Friday of my mother and make something literary out of it. I cannot exactly claim to be a mere “observer the scene,” but neither can I write a retrospective which makes any particular point.

Funerals – Can a funeral will be “beautiful”? Certainly, quite a number of the persons attending this one referred to it as such. Maybe it’s something like the idea of Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Storm, where the event is terribly unfortunate but it just comes together in some kind of beautiful if macabre fashion. Pastor Josh Patty conducted a service of comfort, faith, and even optimism. He described my mom and her feisty attitude accurately enough to evoke a good bit of laughter. Josh visited the house early Friday afternoon and spent an hour with Grandmother a couple of hours before she had a sudden heart attack or some similar large & fatal event.

Of late, music is been playing an even more important part in the life of our Church. The funeral was a little bit music-heavy. Of course (to me, of course, because it was a Curry funeral) the opening hymn was “How Great Thou Art.” That dates back to the childhood of my paternal grandfather who absolutely loved that hymn and insisted it be played prominently at his funeral about 45 years ago. At my suggestion, Grandmother’s funeral included “It Is Well With My Soul.” I remember that one from only a few months ago at the funeral of a friend, and brother David and I were talking about it a good bit after that funeral. It has a rather interesting history. My partner, who was sitting with David, commented that he was in full voice in the singing.

Our cousin’s husband, Chris, volunteered to act as a pallbearer. Chris was always really good to my mom, as was his wife Nancy. Nancy’s mom is my dad’s sister who still lives nearby, and we all generally spend the holidays together. I know that mom’s death was particularly hard on my aunt. Grandmother’s eldest great-grandson, from California, was another pallbearer, as were two husbands and one boyfriend of three of the granddaughters. I’d never met the boyfriend before – very nice fellow, and when I thanked him for serving as a pallbearer, he commented on what an honor was. In any event, the family was all back to Harmony Grove Church for another Curry burial.

When God punches your ticket, you’re staying on the train. That being said, Grandmother received optimal medical care from when the event occurred. The paramedics and fire department had good response times and showed good judgment in doing immediate transport rather than an extensive treatment at the house (in my active duty days known as a “swoop and scoop.”) The ER staff at Fairmont General was properly aggressive and professional and, when it was clear what the outcome was going to be, they showed a great deal of kindness. Someone called the volunteer pastor on duty, who came back and spent time with us immediately after Grandmother died.

My Masonic brothers the Fords did the funeral arrangements in their usual kind and efficient fashion. That brings to mind jokes my dad would always make with the elder Ford, Bud. When they ran into one another, no matter who was around, they would begin discussing dad’s funeral arrangements in elaborate ways. “What can you do in the way of a Viking funeral?,” my dad would ask. Bud would reply that he’d have to use Tygart Lake because of the Monongahela River just isn’t deep enough. And then they would discuss whose john boat they were going to steal to burn up, whether there should be a colorful wig and clown makeup involved in the body preparation, and so forth. (This is, by the way, my kind of humor. The blacker and less appropriate, the better. I’m not sure if this is a regional thing or merely something typical of odd people throughout the nation.)

No sweeping philosophical declarations today. Hmm. The VR software translated that as “duck rations.” OK, no duck rations, either. There’s too much cutesy philosophy out there.

That’s it for now. Carry on. There's nothing to see here. Move along. Move along.

Pippa passes.


02 October 2010

A Homegoing: Opal Gates Curry, 1923 - 2010

Opal Corrine Gates Curry, 87, of Peacock Lane, was reunited with her beloved husband, Carroll H. Curry, in the House of the Lord on 1 October 2010, after a long illness.

Opal was born on 16 July 1923 to Okey R. Gates and Vaughn Daisy Elliott Gates in her grandmother’s home in Central, WV, a small town between Parkersburg and Williamstown. On the night she was born, the doctor got stuck in the mud trying to get through so she was delivered by her grandmother at home. She later moved to Fairmont and graduated from East Fairmont High School.

While attending church near her home, she met her husband, the late Carroll H. Curry. They were married on 12 December 1942 and were together for 56 years, until his death on 1 May 1999.

Opal worked at the Westinghouse Lamp Plant from 1941 to 1942. She spent the rest of her life raising her family and contributing to the community. She and her husband lived in several towns in North Central West Virginia while he was employed by Monongahela Power Co. She was a member of Central Christian Church for 25 years. She was a 50 year member of the Mt. Vernon Garden Club, and was a member of the Woman’s Club of Fairmont and the Red Hats. Her hobbies included sewing kids’ costumes and dolls, making dollhouses and crafts, and decorating her home.

Opal is survived by three sons: Dennis H. Curry of Spencer; Rev. Joel B. Curry and Dr. Shara B. Curry of Glenville; and Roger D. Curry and Janet Edwards Curry of Fairmont; and six grandchildren, Hillarey Carder (and husband Dan Carder) of Preston County, Ashley Gillespie (and husband Scott Gillespie) of Morgantown, Erin VanGilder (and husband Brent VanGilder) of Fairmont, Andrea Curry of Red Bluff, California, Alicia Curry Miller (and husband Matt Miller) of Danville, Virginia, and Tim Curry of Fairmont. Opal had eleven great-grandchildren. She is also survived by her faithful cat, Snow; and by many great friends, including Leona DeLong and Butch Moore.

Friends may call at the R.C. Jones Chapel, Ford Funeral Home, 1410 Country Club Road, Sunday from 2-6 p.m., and at Central Christian Church, 1640 Big Tree Drive in Fairmont on Monday from 10-11 a.m.

Funeral services will be held at Central Christian Church at 11 a.m. on Sunday with Rev. Joshua J. Patty presiding. Interment will follow at Harmony Grove Baptist Church Cemetery on Rt. 250 in Taylor County.

Perhaps I'll write more on this later.