Happy birthday America

Check out this letter Abigail Adams sent to her son, John Quincy Adams, when he was ELEVEN:

(Funny to read that as I sit here at what could be described as a literal Pacific station)

That is from:

which is a collection of David McCullough’s speeches.

Many of the speeches were given in the triumphant mid-late-1990s, when History was ending and it was easy to be fooled into thinking it was one long hike to the sunny meadows where we would now reside forever.

In that context this book can be almost painful to read.

Here, for example, McCullough talks about the history of the White House:

If there’s a single American out there who wants to claim the current occupant is either wise or honest, would love to have you on Great Debates.

After McCullough wrote a book about the Johnstown Flood, it was suggested he write about other disasters.  He didn’t.  He didn’t want to be “bad news McCullough,” he says.

We need more McCulloughism.

Unless you’re a McCullough completist I’d suggest bypassing The American Spirit and going instead to:

 


Bob Marley in Boston

Because people were talking about Baby Driver, I started singing it in my head to the tune of Bob Marley’s Slave Driver.

What a song.  So then I went looking for Slave Driver on Spotify. I found a recording of Bob Marley and The Wailers, Live At The Music Hall, Boston, 1978.  “Easy Skanking In Boston ’78” is the title, which I don’t love saying.  “Bob Marley and The Wailers Live At The Music Hall – Boston – 1978” seems like it gives you what you need?

The Music Hall is now the Wang Theatre. Photo from Wikipedia by Tim Pierce.

Somehow shocking that Boston would be the scene of a legendary Marley concert.  Who was in the crowd?!

Steve Morse wrote about this recording for The Boston Globe when the album was released in 2015:

My one meeting with Bob Marley was memorable. I was sent by the Globe to interview him at the Essex Hotel in New York before his show at Boston’s Music Hall in 1978. I walked in to Marley’s room, which looked out over Central Park, at 11 a.m. It was a chaotic scene. Four or five members of his entourage were kicking a soccer ball that banged off the picture windows. Two king-size joints were being passed around. Bob sat on a couch, reading aloud from the Book of Revelation.

Realizing I was in over my head, I waited a while before daring to ask Marley about his music. He agreed to talk, shut the Bible, quelled the soccer noise, and stated his worldview: “Everything is going to be united now. Everything is going to be cool. Forget the past and unite.”

Marley’s response to a country politically divided and stricken with gun violence was notably cooler and more Christian than the NRA’s response.

Two months later he’d be in Boston.

(Minute 34-38 or so a good sample)

June 8, 1978 was a Thursday, a hot night,  89 degrees.  The Red Sox had an off day, but that weekend they’d start a ten game win streak on the road in the West Coast.

The Sox would win 99 games that year, but lose a one game playoff to the Yankees at home in Fenway Park.

Ned Martin would call the game for WITS radio.

Years later he’d die of a heart attack in a shuttle bus at the Raleigh airport on his way home from Ted Williams’ memorial.


A Norm gem from the Bookbinder

always such excellent dispatches over there


Us vs Them

This NRA ad is so twisted and vicious that I hate to sully Helytimes with it.  You don’t have to watch it, I will tell you the key parts.

From the woman’s tone to the images it is so intense, so designed to provoke fear and anger.

Imagine something less helpful than showing this to a fearful person or a deranged person who also owned a gun.

I learned a tiny bit about the woman in the ad and I don’t want to ever think about her again.

I do want to examine the use of the words “us” and “them” in the ad.

Sometimes I felt frustrated by the attempt to over-explain Trump’s popularity as just racism because I felt that like while racism was absolutely in the mix, that wasn’t a big enough word.  What I really heard was something like “themism.”

Themism

It was obvious to anyone I talked to at Trump’s rally or the RNC that I was a “them” even though I felt like we were and could be and should be an “us.”

Who is them and who is us?

In the first twenty seconds of this ad, you hear about how “they use”:

  • “their media”
  • “their schools”
  • “their movies stars
  • their singers
  • their comedy shows
  • their awards shows”

(with lots of exterior shots of LA, by the way, including Disney Hall)

  • “their ex-president”

As a media-working school-liking person who works on a comedy show in LA who loves and gave money to my ex-president, I am obviously a them.

What the hell?  I want to be an us!

I am an us!

Who is the us, according to the ad?

Well, against the them is:

  • “the law-abiding”

Me, definitely, I love the law, some of the people closest to me are professional law enforcers.

  • “the police”

Same, I love one police in my own life and like the police in general.

So, I am also an us.

Right?

Can I be an us and a them?

What kind of wicked, nasty person would try and drive us apart like that?  What sinister agenda would be behind that?

Anyone trying to divide us is wicked.

Which is better:  united or divided?

Uniter or divider?

Everyone knows the answer to that.  This is the United States.

If you are trying to divide, if you are sowing division, you doing wickedness.  This is simple.

This ad is some kind of vicious dog-whistle designed make some loose category of people who feel angry and put upon and threatened feel more angry, put upon, and threatened.  This ad uses the language of violence to suggest channeling those feelings into violence.

In this world you will see so much wickedness that you can’t possibly handle it all but somehow this one got to me.

Part of what makes me made is that a club for people who like shooting guns could be so positive.  Lots of people in this country have guns because they like hunting or because guns are exciting.  What if they were in a club that made them feel proud and noble instead of vicious and afraid?

The language about the “well-regulated militia” in the Second Amendment is so important. Adding those words was not an accident.  The Founders didn’t want every gun-haver running around on his own kick deciding who to blast away.  Read

or

A militia was a community.  It brought people together.  And it was a responsibility.  To call this NRA video irresponsible is a wild understatement.

I suspect I have no more than two Helytimes readers who are in the NRA.  There has to be a faction of the NRA that can see how wrong this ad is, how destructive.  I could be wrong but my guess is this strategy of marketing for the NRA will not be successful.

My purpose in writing this was just to bore down and clarify mostly for myself what is so wrong and wicked about this ad and what larger principle that leads us to.

Also to shine a light on why the message is not just wicked but un-American.

A Smaller Thing That Made Me Mad From This Ad

:16

“make them march, make them protest”

let’s pause here and remember you can say whatever the hell you want about movie stars and comedy shows but marching and protesting in American history is maybe not all the time but by an overwhelming margin a pretty darn heroic and positive thing in American history.

A Leonard Freed Magnum photo from the 1963 March on Washington. Am I allowed to use this? Maybe not technically but is it ok because I direct you to the source? Hmm am I as law-abiding as I thought?

the ad is ignorant as well as wicked, the two often go hand in hand.

 


Tranquility Base

photo credit: Neil Armstong

The same society that was doing Vietnam, at the same time, did this.

During training, Armstrong and Aldrin had exclusively used the callsign “Eagle” in simulated ground conversations, both before and after landing. Armstrong and Aldrin decided on using “Tranquility Base” just before the flight, telling only Capsule Communicator Charles Duke before the mission, so Duke would not be taken by surprise.

We came in peace for all mankind.

Wild.  America: a land of contrasts.


Ken Burns Vietnam

This fall, Ken Burns new documentary about the Vietnam War will be on PBS.

Any one of these clips from it will make you still for a minute.

The intensity of what happened with the US in Vietnam is insane.  The magnitude of the scar is unspeakable.  Literally: we can’t talk about it.

When Ken Burns made The Civil War, about something 150 years ago, it made people cry.  What is it going to be like to watch The Vietnam War, a thing every person in my parent’s generation had to reckon with in some serious way?

I saw that one of the talkers is Karl Marlantes.  His book What It Is Like To Go To War is astounding.

I’m not sure enough people heard about it.  At one time I had the same publisher as Karl Marlantes, which I was very proud of, they sent me his books for free.

Marlantes tells this story about running into Joseph Campbell, by chance:

Absolution.

Imagine having whiskey with Joseph Campbell.

The best discipline:

 

The other day on Reddit “Today I Learned” I saw this.

I went to check the source, the Lodi News Sentinel, 1971:

Preserved at this blog:

There the author gives a question and answer about his own time in Vietnam and after that I would describe as harrowing and illuminating and powerful.

Ken Burns made some darn good movies.


Jeremy Corbyn

Pretty compelled by British politics, where a 68 year old socialist inspires mobs of young people with poetry while a former banker and political operator whose political arrogance blew up in her face clings to her job as Prime Minister.

Reader Laura M. calls our attention to another verse from that Shelley poem:

“…Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.
And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them.”

 

Lord Eldon. source.

The opening of the poem, The Masque of Anarchy:

“Stand ye calm and resolute,
Like a forest close and mute,
With folded arms and looks which are
Weapons of unvanquished war.
And if then the tyrants dare,
Let them ride among you there;
Slash, and stab, and maim and hew;
What they like, that let them do.
With folded arms and steady eyes,
And little fear, and less surprise,
Look upon them as they slay,
Till their rage has died away:
Then they will return with shame,
To the place from which they came,
And the blood thus shed will speak
In hot blushes on their cheek:
Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you:
Ye are many—they are few!

Written in response to the Peterloo massacre:

This blog post is not an endorsement of the band Run The Jewels.