Sunday, August 31, 2008

#62 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • McCain's pick for VP. Well...the whole situation could be summed up by your last-line rhyme-picks for the Limerick in last post, and for sure you can click online already for a whirlwind of exhaustive and bloody dissection by pundits on the right and the left and the in-between of McCain's unfortunate choice--what WAS he thinking?!. So I'll leave that to my betters. But personally I'm truly saddened. I like the guy...seen him on SNL... read his book...suffered vicariously with him in that prison camp. He's perhaps overdoing the latter a bit vis a vis his qualifications for president, but no question he's a genuine hero, a bona fide mensch who has all the right credentials to be president, but the wrong ideas, on the wrong side. And, per an earlier post, we need to be proud of BOTH tickets, now more than ever in the face of generally adverse world opinion. But my goodness did he not screw the pooch on this one? And speaking of which, doesn't he seem to be acting out the old horny-sailor-boy routine once again: first, numerous extramarital affairs, then the rich, young, trophy-wife, and now the beauty-queen VP. I roll my eyes.
Best of the Week
  • McCain's VP pick. On the other hand, from a partisan point of view, this pretty much wraps it up for President Obama.
  • The Democratic Convention. Actually, an unsightly thing. Didn't watch a live minute of it. Excerpts good enough. Highlights, though, were Hillary and Bill's "concession" speeches (everybody knew Obama would give a stem-winder), boding well for a unified campaign.
  • The US Open. Tennis at its best, with lots of back-story nostalgia this year in spotlighting winners past. Here's some some personal nostalgia. It was noted in the TV commentary that one of the qualifiers had "just come from winning The Juniors' at Kalamazoo" (and subsequently losing an un-televised match). Well, while I was at K College in the early '60s, us lowly students had the privilege of attending (for free even) the USTA Junior and Boys' Championships held late summer every year since forever on our very campus--held there because "K" has historically been a powerhouse in small-college conference tennis, but even beating the likes of Notre Dame and U. of Ill. in years past. Anyway, we were able to witness the very best young tennis talent (from ages 12-18) in sort of mock-battle preparation for bigger things to come. One example dear to my heart: my late father (on a family visit) and I sat in the stands and watched a young Stan Smith capture the Junior title for that year. A good start...because there he was again the other night at the US Open parading across the stage with other former champions. Ah, I knew him when....

Friday, August 29, 2008

#61 VP-DNA: McCain/Palin--A Limerick

With a do-it-yourself last line, potential end-rhymes supplied--

There once was a man named McCain,

Whose fans must have thought him insane:

His campaign was ailin'

So he picked VP Palin,

Ba-da-bum ba-da-bum ba-da-brain...


Thursday, August 28, 2008

#60 Books To Know--General Sir Michael Rose

Author of Washington's War: The American War of Independence to the Iraqi Insurgency (2008). Turning from the siren song of minute-to-minute Politics wringing so insistently upon our ears, here's a book for you, one passage of which would have made my knees buckle if I weren't sitting down. The guy's a Brit, involved in UN operations (along with us), including Bosnia, since the '80s. From this global perspective he applies his understanding of "insurgency wars" to a parallel treatment of, put simply, British blunders in the American revolution and OUR blunders in the Iraqi war.

By wonderful happenstance, first of all, he's got a mostly unintended, ready-made convergence of names that makes for mind-spinning verbal slapstick: George W(Washington), George W. (Bush), George III; Washington (man), Washington (capital)--as if our current mess had some onomastic/eponymic inevitability about it. And almost comic, if it weren't so tragic. If not negatively from Vietnam or Somalia, we had, all along, a positive lesson to learn from George Washington and his rebel army: INSURGENTS ALWAYS WIN. (I'm purposely overstating his case, but his examples of some few successes in this kind of war are negligible and inconsequential, in my view, on the world stage.) His comparison of the the two wars is very interesting and, I think, sound. The British didn't understand the "deep-seated desire for independence" that inspired us, counted unrealistically on internal support from loyalists, and underestimated the vast number of troops necessary to put down the insurgents. Sound familiar? In the same way, Bush and the British again (Blair--his guy) understood Iraq even less, counted on internal "loyalists," and didn't send in enough troops.

Of course, we shouldn't have invaded in the first place, but Rose doesn't concern himself with that--not his point, as a military man--his indictment of the war once underway and through its "aftermath" (none yet, really) is damning enough. Thus in the course of the the book he cites telling similarities between one war and the other in fascinating chronological detail. Believe me, if you're any kind of American-Revolution-buff at all you'll enjoy his sort of post-modern take on it. But in closing let me quote that aforementioned knee-buckling passage for you where he focuses on the the two major Georges involved--
  • "George Washington, who was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army...and who was to become the first president of the United States--was, like George Bush, a man of strong conviction. Indeed, both share a passionate belief in the goodness of freedom. But unlike his forty-second successor, GEORGE WASHINGTON was able to combine his idealism with practical military experience--for when Virginia had been threatened by the French during the Seven Years War, Washington had volunteered for military duty. As a result, he had been able to see at first hand how the Indians employed guerrilla tactics against the British regular troops. He had begun to understand the essentials of insurgency warfare. If GEORGE BUSH had felt the same sense of duty as his predecessor and had himself experienced military service in Vietnam [instead of preferential gold-bricking in the Texas Natl. Guard], then he too might have better appreciated the sort of war to which he was committing his nation in Iraq--and, more widely, how to more effectively prosecute the war against global terrorism." [emphases and addendum mine]
Well done, Sir Michael, but you were too easy on the Smirking Cowboy.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

#59 VP-DNA: Update from "Slate"

Had I known of the following two articles appearing in Monday's edition of the above webzine, I probably would have skipped my blog yesterday and deferred. Check 'em out--
  • David Greenberg: "The Write Stuff: why Biden's plagiarism shouldn't be forgotten." AND
  • Jack Shafer: "What Kind of Plagiarist Is Joe Biden?: the unusually creepy kind."
Hey, these guys are professionals, after all. They go into greater detail than I did, and uncover a few MORE of the juicy ones that add to Biden's bill of indictment, I'm sorry to say. They seem to echo, however, the most troublesome aspect of the thing, as pointed out last post: it's not so much the dishonesty itself--Biden's probably atoned for that--but how EASILY he seems to slide into it. Borders on sociopathy. Let me just quote some of their summary remarks--
  • Greenberg: "Twenty-one years on, how much should Biden's past behavior matter?...if he's not done more of the same, as seems to be the case. But no one has looked into it. The press should give his record since 1988 a thorough vetting. It's worth knowing whether the odds-on favorite to be our next vice president has truly reformed himself of behavior that can often be the mark of a truly troubled soul."
  • Shafer: "If Biden lies with fluidity about the fundamentals of his life, other discoveries must await [emphasis mine]."
I have no doubt that this--call it a credibility problem--will become a much bigger issue for the Obama/Biden campaign than they may realize in the great flush of Convention high spirits. All of us having said all of that, however--I'd vote the Democratic ticket this year if the VP candidate were Kermit the Frog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

#58 VP-DNA Again--Joe Biden and Me

OK, here's the very indirect connection, though not a trivial one: in my English classes Sen. Biden was for many years the "poster child" and ultimate example of the terrible consequences of PLAGIARISM. It killed his 1988 Presidential run. "Listen," I'd say to my students in the obligatory annual briefing on the subject, "you gotta take this thing seriously [or some such]--it toppled a President"...a wannabe, anyway. The point is, I told them, not only is plagiarism wrong in principle, but it's in your self-interest to avoid it because of possible repercussions in future. Look, it followed Joe Biden even onto the national political stage. It's gonna be "on your record"--those terrible and despised words.

So it was for Biden in '88, unfortunately, and so it will be today. Interestingly, the alarm sounded for him early on, but he didn't seem to hear. He had to take an "F" in a law-school course for plagiarizing. and yet later in his run for President he went right ahead and stole a speech from a British MP...and a couple more from the then-late RFK!--only attributed several days later. (Did no one on his team suspect that just about anyone in the audience was bound to remember this democratic icon's speeches?) And I don't mean just ideas re-worded (which, believe me, far too many of my old students thought was OK)--we're talking near verbatim thievery. I've read the stuff in question.

Furthermore, as my favorite political website,, would have it (by implication), a true POL must be possessed of BOTH kinds of dishonesty, brewing a perfect storm of larceny AND mendacity. Biden passes the test. Plagiarism makes him a crook. And another incident or two from the '88 campaign makes him a liar. This time call it "resume-padding." Baffling...that a hyper-public figure like Biden could think he could get away with fact-fudging, even 20 years ago. But lie he did about his class rank, scholarship status, and degrees. All of this may seem "academic" (ha), but it forced him to withdraw. (Or could it have been those laughable hair-plugs that were barely growing in at the time?)

Now, 20 years later, mark my words, it'll all come back to dog him once again. He dodged the bullet in the primaries because they were just...primaries, and he was so far out of the running anyway. Now, he could be "a heart-beat from the Presidency." Do we want a person in that position who is capable of glibly engaging in petty theft and of blithely distorting the facts? I'm being much too hard on him, I know. Well, I shouldn't have to be, per last post. Yes, all this was two decades ago, and some sort of unofficial statute of limitations should be in effect. Or "time served," if you will. But would-be VP Joe Biden will again be fielding these old questions, and he can't simply withdraw from THIS horse race--he'll have to come up with some persuasive answers. Alas, if he'd only paid closer attention to his college English professor.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

#57 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • Obama's Veep pick. That it HAD to be Joe Biden. I'll have more to say about his liabilities (only one, really) in a later post, but right now it's just to whine a little about the woefully LIMITED CHOICES Obama had among a less-than-stellar field of candidates for the job. Where was the would-be VP with no liabilities at all?...I ask you. Gotta blame the Dems themselves for this, I guess. After Hillary and Edwards (Whew!) Obama had a bunch of literally second- and third-stringers to pick from. No, make that strictly third-stringers: the likes of Biden and Richardson et. al. were way down in the cellar compared to the three front-runners all through the campaign. Thus, in a sense, they've already been rejected by the voters. Losers at the starting gate. The interminable nomination process wore everybody out, but it SHOULD HAVE WORKED, dammit. By rights, either Hillary Clinton or John Edwards should be our next VP of the USA. What happened?
Best of the Week
  • The Olympics. Great success. And another step toward a Global Village; a big one, considering how resistant China has been historically to opening up to the world outside the "Middle Kingdom," as they refer to the place. That's right, "China" is one of our many exonyms whimsically applied to foreign countries (e.g. our "India"= their Bharata) for no good reason at all. Don't get me started. The interesting thing here is that their ages-old name for the country veritably exudes insularity, and, by implication, XENOPHOBIA, which they've been guilty of for centuries. It is (transliterated) Zhongguo= "middle or central kingdom" of civilization, of the world. As host to the Games, though, they did OK. Won some, lost some. Good for 'em.
  • School's back in session! Keep the kids off the street. No, this isn't an indication on my part of an old-age get-off-the-grass mentality. I'd like to see them in school all year round for all the right reasons (fill in the blanks). The time has long since come to go to a year-round calendar for public schools, if only to keep up with the more enlightened CHINESE (see above) in this regard. I bring this up, too, because here in NC we've been fighting this battle for several years now. The country-club set with summer-camp kids seem to have too much pull with the courts to get it over and done. But it's inevitable.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

#56 Saturday Matinee--"There Will Be Blood"

Just screened it last night, courtesy of Netflix, about the only way I can stay au courant with the movie scene these days, as I'm sure is the case with many of you Myriads. And why not?--it's a cheap way to see (relatively) new releases, and, moreover, it's not a bad thing to wait awhile anyway--enough time for the critical responses to a new film to sort of filter out and down to a more reliable residue to go by. Last film viewed at the multiplex?--"Bucket List." Got our ticket price back just for the fun of watching Nicholson and Freeman having so much fun. Otherwise.... But, hey, I sure am glad I waited for Netflix to come around with Academy Award nominee "There Will Be Blood."

TWBB is certainly watchable, if only for AA winner Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, but worthy only of its fraction of my $10/mo-unlimited-one-at-a-time membership, if that. I'll make you a promise, though, here and now: "there will be..." NOT blood, but a favorable movie-review soon enough, for what its worth, in this blogspot, on the Netflix timetable--but not today. Bad movie. I was sandbagged. Writer-director Anderson has done some good work in the past, I guess, and he had a pretty good posthumous co-writer, Upton Sinclair, whose muckraking novel The Jungle pretty directly led to the formation of the FDA. (And talk about "muck" get plenty in TWBB.) Here it's his less famous Oil, which I have never read, but do know that the movie is so distant from the book as to be irrelevant, anyway.

Maybe Anderson should have paid more attention to his source. The result could not have been much worse than THIS adaptation, or "inspired by" (as he calls it) version of the novel. But let's get it up front: NO SYMPATHETIC CHARACTERS. Not one. Unusual, yes? But, come on, no fun at all. The director was perhaps going wildly "experimental" here, I don't know, but when there's no moral/ethical compass within the film, the audience has to provide its own, and what do we see?--an unrelieved wasteland (like the setting) of humanity, either amoral ciphers (all but one) or embodiments of pure evil= the star of the show, Daniel Plainview. His view is plain, all right; even his name is cut out of cardboard. If Anderson wants to portray the ultimate anti-hero with absolutely no redeeming qualities, then he has succeeded therewith. And DD-L's incandescent performance makes it all the more starkly realized. (Now, we see a wonderful portrait of truly unmitigated and unexplained evil in Javier Bardem's character in the Coen brother's "No Country...etc, but he wasn't the central character.) Anderson has to give us some of that good old "motivation" behind Daniel Plainview. The WHY of how he acts. Sure, there are are some pointed OVER-lying themes of greed and corruption and religious hypocrisy, but these don't really touch him. His unalloyed hatred and violence are unexplained. No clue. He's from Wisconsin; his father remarried. That's about it. Child abuse? Abandonment? Dog bite? No hint. Did I miss something? I gotta get this in the mail.

Friday, August 22, 2008

#55 Mosteller Plantation--pt. 3: The Trek North...and South Again

About a half-mile up from Mosteller Millstream (the only official, map-worthy landmark bearing the ancient name these days) is the wooded, but not overgrown, family plot. Off-property now and maintained by a local church, the cemetery's last graves date from the turn of the century. One prominent headstone stands out...or actually down, now. Though toppled, the six-footer vaingloriously marks the grave of the long-lived, post-civil-war patriarch, Berryman Mosteller, true country squire and sirer of seven sons, whose progeny in turn descends to me and mine.

His great-great-etc. grandson, Andrew, decided that he would rather tinker with a newfangled invention--the motorcar--than to be chief Miller on the old homestead. So, after a few months at Henry Ford's "university" in Detroit (the family's first foray into Yankee territory), he returned to Adairsville to pick up his young wife and son (the future Dr. J.D. Sr.) and move even farther south to Florida to grow a few oranges and open the Mosteller Garage. My grandfather was eccentrically loyal to his nominal mentor, driving a Model "A" Ford he called "Horace" (always well-tuned of course) until its "death," and shortly before his. (His second-only-and-last car?--a Studebaker! of all things)

Alas, though the Garage still stands in Mt.Dora (near Orlando), it became a victim of the Crash of '29...thus failing--family-business-wise--to become a successor to the century-old successfullness of the Mosteller Plantation and its subsequent incarnations. Andrew's three sons (we are specialists in the male-offspring department) had to look elsewhere for honest employment. The scion, James Donovan Mosteller, (after an M.A. in ENGLISH [!] and Chair of the Dept. at Oglethorpe College in Atlanta) found his way north (repeating long-term his father's brief trek) with young-wife-Iris and toddler-Junior to the University of Chicago. This is how we wound up in OBAMALAND, and he as Dean of Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard IL for many years, and I as Kalamazoo College alumnus.

But I guess the lure of gentle climes and mint-julep dreams (oh my) was too much for us. My father ended his career as Full Professor at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, after also serving as Dean and Acting President over his years there. I came back south to get a Vanderbilt Ph.D. and ended MY career as Full Professor of English (and quondam Chair) at Coker College in Hartsville SC. And here am I in Raleigh with some of my grandkids nearby. My oh my. "One never one"--as Fats Waller used to say. However, Myriad Readers, you can be sure that I'll keep you updated on the Mosteller clan, ad nauseum. But this is all the memoirage you can take, for now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

#54 Mosteller Plantation--pt. 2. Civil War Connections.

Back for a little while longer to that little village in north Georgia (made all the more notable lately by dint of the Russian invasion) where my father and his considerable number of ancestors were born and buried. Adairsville lies about halfway between Chattanooga and Atlanta, and the transportation/supply corridor connecting the two was strategically important for both sides all through the war. Two notable events involved the town and nearby Plantation:
  • Let's "cut to the chase," The Great Locomotive Chase, that is. It was at the Adairsville train depot that the intrepid Confederate conductor, played by Jeffery Hunter in the 1954 Disney movie, commandeered the steam locomotive "Texas" and continued his epic pursuit of the "General," previously purloined by Fess Parker and his band of Yankee spy/saboteurs. (Great family movie by the way; saw the "annotated" version with my father when it first came out.) What is also called "Andrew's Raid" took place in April 1862 when Union spies attempted to disrupt the vital GA-TN rail-link by hijacking a train just north of Atlanta. It would have succeeded, too, but for the brave and indefatigable conductor who pursued "his" train on foot and side-car, and eventually backwards on the Texas till the Andrews gang scattered and ran just south of Chattanooga. Exciting stuff, and Buster Keaton recognized just that (for you film-buff Myriad Readers) when he produced the silent version, 'The General," starring as the conductor Robert Fuller in a film general-ly considered the first coherent, full-length action movie of the silver screen. Anyway, the little town of Adairsville has capitalized, restoring the depot (seen briefly in the Disney film) and organizing an annual spring festival around it.
  • Closer to home, literally, was the "Battle of Adairsville," two years later. Surely the Mosteller homesteaders were terrified by the earlier Union incursion in the nearby town-center, but little did they know that on May 17-18 of 1864 virtually the whole Civil War would plop down on their door step. Sherman was on his way to incinerate Atlanta. Joe Johnston was continuing his delaying tactics to prevent/prolong that unfortunate inevitability. Not much of a battle: it was a brief skirmish instigated by the rebel rear-guard and designed to allow time for setting up a grand ambuscade of the Union army further south. (Johnston, of course, lost that one too, and eventually all was Gone with the Wind.) The important fact for your blogman and his kin was that Sherman's army actually BIVOUACKED on the Mosteller Plantation, and the General himself and his staff STAYED THE NIGHT in the plantation house. Hope he enjoyed it. Didn't burn it. That evidently wasn't his thing till after Atlanta. So it's still standing; its significance duly noted on one of those green historical markers standing in the town square. No Hollywood movie of this event, however. Maybe some day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

#53 Monday Mourning--Eduardo McKimmon III

Obit: Eduardo McKimmon III died a couple of weeks ago at the too-young-age of 43 in a boating accident. Total shock. And I learned a lesson. For some reason, still unknown, "he fell off the boat and never came up," until, of course, they recovered the body. Before that he was very much alive, "Mr. Hustle" around our apartment complex where he was chief maintenance man. Very much a man indeed: wife, kids, and a mistress or two, one right here on staff and in broad daylight. (His Italian genes no doubt.) Yet he had a curious, mincing, quick-step way of walking, almost effeminate and always in a hurry. Everybody else naturally called him "Ed" for short (and he was) except me, because he took pains to delineate his dual Romano-Celtic heritage, and because his full first-name comes so trippingly off the tongue. This pride of ancestry obviously extended back over three generations, at least. And he took great pride in his work. He was one of those "no-problem" kind of service people that you like to see when you have...a problem. Prompt attention, quick fix. He probably did about a half-dozen routine fix-ups on our apartment over the two years we knew him, including an "off-the-books" job assembling a weight-bench for me. The last one he did was next to inconsequential. Garbage disposer freeze-up. Now there's a low-priority situation for you, but within minutes of notifying the office, there was Ed-u-ar-do at the door with his special jump-start tool. Two-minute job, but we chatted on about nothing for another twenty. Last words from me to Mr. McKimmon on this earth?--"Good job, as usual." He was dead in a matter of weeks.

Here's the anomaly: immediately after the momentary shock-waves of disbelief ...astonishment ...grief ...anger ...disbelief had finished roiling around the brain pan--I felt strangely ...good. Oh, the grief is still there all right--did I mention that he was also a helluva nice guy?--but Oh, I'm sooooo damn lucky that my last valedictory was just that: "farewell-words," life/work-affirming words. Simple ones, I know, but ones HE would appreciate as capturing the identity he chose for himself in life. And what a load of guilt would be upon me had things gone differently! Or parting words been negative. It easily could have happened that way for either one of us. It's not good to say bad things about the Dead, so the saying goes, but we also have to be chronically careful not to say bad things to the About-To-Be-Dead. And that just so happens to be each and every one of us, one moment to the next.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

#52 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week

  • Hands down: The Saddleback Church "debate" (they weren't on stage together) last night between Obama and McCain. (Couldn't bring myself to watch; read excerpts.) How much longer, ye gods...Hark ye, I think this morning I can actually hear Thomas Jefferson spinning again in that grave (not so far away in Virginia) that George W. Bush desecrated last July 4th. Well, this pandering to the very worst "angels" of the American character, the so-called Christian White (sorry, "Right"), is enough to drive one crazy...and hear strange noises in one's head, as THEY do congenitally. Obama should know better--tonight he's speaking at a fund-raiser in San Francisco organized by the South Asian Heritage foundation. How many Baptists will he find there? I'm gonna come back to all of this meshugga later, and with a vengeance, but for now let me point out what's obvious and odious and odoriferous about it... gently, with the help of Rabbi James Rudin of NYC, quoted in USA Today: "The larger question is why there were not representatives from other faith communities who are also voting. [Or non-faith ones, for that matter, who could've questioned the whole business.] This is a multi-religious nation." Thank you, Rabbi, and that's why it should remain, if only for your sake, a SECULAR one, as Constitutionally intended from the beginning.
  • The House of Representatives Bill of Impeachment against G.W. Bush hasn't been brought off the table.
Best of the Week
  • The Olympics again. Everybody seems to be getting along...another small step on our inexorable march toward globalization. But how about that guy Phelps! If you've been tuning in at all. This is close to my heart (self-indulgence alert) because Swimming was my only sports "letter" in high school. In fact, our Bowen High team was good enough to go to the city (Chicago) championships one year. My specialty was back-stroke: 100yds and lead-off 400 medley. Phelps is butterfly, difficult as that is, but here's what makes him great: he can do them all, and at a superhuman level it seems. He has to excel in all four strokes, not just his specialty, to win the Individual Medley, which involves switching-over among them every 100 yards--comparable to one of those "-athlon" events in track and field, except on water. Anyway, I got my letter-sweater in high school, but I'm just as proud of the following statistic, sports fans: in college intramurals--as a student at "K" and on the faculty team at Coker College--I never lost the 100-yard Back. In fact, after a meet at Coker, some years ago now, a certain gunslinger-cum-student named Timmerman was overheard saying, "I don't know why I can't beat that old man." How bitter-sweet is nostalgia.
  • Russia-Georgia "cease-fire," however specious.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

#51 Southern Roots--the Mosteller Plantation

I can't resist. A little more of Yesterday and yesterday's post. Get ready for total self-indulgence, at least on the family-history level. (Come to to think of it, it's hard to come up with anything much more inherently self-indulgent than a personal Blog. Gotta watch it.) Anyway, the Mosteller clan first entered the American scene at the port of New Bern NC--a whole bunch in the 1740s and 50s from the Rhineland--probably all related. They were originally and eponymously winemakers; hence the name: Old High German most (put an umlaut over the "o" and purse your lips) ="fermenting grape juice," recognizable in the cognate Modern English "must" (a term I used all the time, in fact, as a homemade wine-maker in the 70s); and teller = "agent, maker, doer." This onomastic heritage is depicted in the family crest where we see, amongst other devices, one of the two guys in Renaissance outfits holding up a big bunch of purple grapes. After moving inland the Mostellers seemed to follow the eastern Appalachian piedmont over the next 100 years from North Carolina all the way down to North Alabama, probably at first trying to establish vineyards in these amenable regions. (They were on the right track, but it has been only recently that NC has come into it's own as a premier wine-growing venue.)

One of these stops was in the foothills of pre-Civil-War north Georgia (after Pres. Jackson kicked out the Cherokees), near a village later known as Adairsville, ironically named after an early Scottish settler and trading-poster, "Chief" Walter Adair, who married a Cherokee woman just before the horrific Trail of Tears event. The Mosteller holdings grew to considerable acreage and enterprise involving agriculture and forestry (hence the rather large number of slaves) and the milling of those various products. The "Mosteller Mills" brand of corn meal was made there up through the 1940s, before the whole homestead passed from the family. The millhouse still stands, wonderfully preserved, straddling a lovely millstream and pond near the main house. There was talk of a museum some while back, but I don't know. I think the town blew all its money on the Depot Museum, one of the sites of another great Civil War event, "The Great Locomotive Chase," commemorated in the Disney movie of the same name. Surely a "Sherman-slept-here" museum is worthy of equal billing. More of all this later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

#50 Obama and Me--pt 4: Southern Roots

Well, Obama doesn't have any, but I do. In fact his lack of connection with the essential, southern black experience--slavery--stalking black-white relations even today, makes him "not black enough" for some people on BOTH sides. His black heritage is strictly and geographically non-slave, unlike 99% of blacks in this country. His quondam father was Kenyan, and Barack was raised in Hawaii, of all places, about as far away in so many ways from the south side of Chicago, his eventual home-base, as you can get.

My little family were immigrants to the Hyde Park area too, as I mentioned in an earlier post, exiles from the exotic climes of the segregated South, where our roots are so deep as to be nourished by slavery itself, literally. My mother was born IN the plantation house on a 430 acre slice of land near Thomson GA which was once part of a larger slave-owning estate called Cedar Hill. In her day it was my grandfather's dairy farm. The house, built in 1804, is still in the family and still standing--along with ONE of the five or six slave cabins down near the spring-house. We had an unfallen two or three to poke around in scarifyingly as kids on extended summer vacations. But now to the hard-core. My father was born on the ante-bellum (still-standing) Mosteller Plantation house in Adairsville GA, where HIS father was the Miller in one of the family enterprises on an estate at one time covering 700 acres and employing thirty slaves, some even taking on our very un-African surname after the Civil War. A certain freedman, Bob Mosteller, was named foreman of the lumber operation, for example. There are a bunch of black Mosteller descendants to this day, NOT counting the one I half-made with my second wife, herself, of course, a descendant of slaves. I'm descended from slave-holders. I think there's some irony here somewhere. Help me out.

Another one: before getting "The Call" to Obama's Hyde Park and U of C, our family had been violated by the North almost a century before in a fairly profound way. Here's the connection: prior to the burning of Atlanta and the March to the Sea, Gen. Sherman had to move southward from Chattanooga, and, in so doing, engaged in one of his stand-offs with Confederate Gen. Johnston at the so-called "Battle of Adairsville," 17 May 1864. Sherman and his staff stayed the night in our house. But time heals old wounds; I can vote for a Yankee.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

#49 Obama and Me--pt. 3: Census-Schmensus

Re: the US Census Bureau report/prognosis today that "minorities" will have slipped into the "majority" by 2042 A.D. Ha, I say, to that. I'll still be in the majority: Dead People. But here are the round numbers predicted circa 2050: non-Hispanic whites 46%; Hispanics 30%; blacks 15%; Asians 9%=100% total. No multi-racial category? Evidently the USCB is operating on the old Jim Crow "one drop theory," that was ever so popular in the South, as explained in an earlier post. In fact, I do not recall if we were even given a choice like "multi-racial" or "other" or "mixed parentage" or some such in the last census.

But no matter, respondents would have chosen their cultural/ethnic identity anyway, just as they do on those various Application Forms (college, employment, etc.) that involve Affirmative Action (Harvard Law?) in some way. However, I've always thought that the 10-year census business was based on somewhat shaky premises. The forty-year projection is even shakier, for by that time how many, many more respondents will have a mixed genetic heritage like Obama (who doubtless checked "black" on his census form) and my 4th son; and by that time, too, how many more (I hope) will be able to DISAVOW ethnic and sub-cultural differences, especially including religion, THE most divisive element in American society today.

Anyway, various pundits now are finally admitting to what I said earlier about about Obama's mysterious 20% gap between The Dems 60% approval rate and his-- a gap that still has him about even with McCain. It's race. Those 20% have "shot him in the barnyard" for no other reason. That last was a private allusion to a science-fiction story that has has popped into my head at relevant times for over half a century. (Unfortunately, the author and title hasn't.) As with many sci-fi works of that period (those of Heinlein and Bradbury quickly come to mind) it had a strong social/moral message. Briefly: naked handsome brilliant young man with a tan falls from sky; from future; be-clothed and soon beloved by farmer's daughter and everyone else; except Dad who discovers that in the future all have become racially homogenized (and all the better for it); and shoots him dead because he didn't want his daughter "married to no nigger." I do remember the last line verbatim; it had such an impact on me at that young age. But there's your "one drop theory" for you, brought reductio-wise to it's mortally logical conclusion. And you know that there have already been publicized cases of threats on Obama's life for just that one reason. I wring my hands.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

#48 Obama, Edwards, and VP-DNA

In "vetting" his Vice-Presidential hopefuls, Obama may not have to go to the molecular level,*** but thereabouts wouldn't hurt. What evil lurks...only the Shadow knows. Who woulda thunk it of clean-cut ($400 worth) John Edwards. Picture the outright DISASTER if he were chosen to be Obama's running-mate, a fortiori the party's nominee for President! "What if," indeed. Unfortunately, Edwards has succeeded in tarring the Democrats with the moral-turpitude-coupled-with-coverup-and-hypocrisy brush which up to now has been pretty exclusively applied to Republicans....and justifiably so.

But some good may come out of this--let Edwards be a kind of martyr in the cause of FULL DISCOVERY, total disclosure, complete fessing-up to whatever nasty bits fester in the closet for any V.P. wannabe. I know...I don't like it either. Privacy is precious. But, hey, if they want the job, they got to give up a little. (No names here: the V.P. sweepstakes on both sides is even more higglety-pigglety than it was pre-Edwards--though I wish Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia were still on the short-list.)

I would give the same advice to McCain (who's no saint in the domestic partner department--I read the book--but no hypocrite, either). To be bi-partisan and patriotic about it, I want to be proud of BOTH Presidential/V.P. tickets, and be able to say to those snooty Chinese, for example--"OK, we made a huge mistake with Bush/Cheney, but look at the world-class candidates that the American system of government has put up now as would-be world-leaders." Of course I also wish absolute annihilation on the Republicans. That's politics.

***And Rielle Hunter doesn't want to either. In the latest development in this sad story, Edwards' ex-mistress "wishes to maintain her privacy and her daughter's privacy. Furthermore, Rielle will not participate in DNA testing or any other invasion of her or her daughter's privacy now or in future...." according to her attorney. Well, SOME sperm-donor or other may have something to say about that, and a Judge, likewise. But here's the evil thought that entered my mind the minute I heard the news: What are little 5-month-old people famously noted for?--EXCRETIONS of all kinds from all manner of orifices at all times of the day and night (take it from me). Don't you know that some fame-crazed, money-hungry forensic papparazzo and others of his ilk are out there RIGHT NOW blood-hounding this little girl from trash-can to trash-can for just one speck of spittle. They'll find it, too. DNA will out, one way or another. And, by the way, this is the last hurrah for John Edwards Esq. in THIS blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

#47 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • John Edwards, etc. What a great disappointment. At one point I even thought about doing a little volunteer work for him. Dodged the bullet.
  • Russia attacks Georgia, my native state. Wasn't Sherman enough?
Best of the Week
  • The Olympics. If we could but time-machine ourselves BACK to 776 B.C. Greece and make the whole planet Pan-Hellenic for a moment--the Russians would have to lay down their arms. (So would we, in Iraq.) For such was the original spirit of the games: Peace. All war, anywhere in Greece, had to be simply called off. (Not a torch, but an olive branch was the icon in those days.) And it was hoped that after a few days of congregating, competing, and generally conviviating in beautiful downtown Olympia (great view), everybody would go back home and be reluctant to pick their arms back up again...for a while at least. Sometimes it worked. Today we're fighting battles by proxy right on the Olympic grounds. But that's all right. Even a fitful attempt at global harmony is better than none at all.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

#46 John Edwards Revisited

It's been over two weeks since I wrote about the "Death in the Family" of local-boy John Edwards (#36 post 7/26)...and it hath now come to pass...FINALLY bursting out all over the Mainstream Media. Puzzling. Why did the MSM take so long to POUNCE? Is there really a "liberal media" out there, as many Neocons charge, protecting "their own"? I don't think so. Just tune in to Fox news, or check out Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media? where he disproves this notion pretty conclusively. No, I just think the MSM were the good guys here, benignly laying off till the very last minute for the sake of...Elizabeth Edwards. (I'm kind of in love with her, too.)

The MSM's near-silence on the matter had some legitimacy because it WAS one of those sniggering "Enquirer" stories, even though, on the other hand, it was (1) given some respectability by getting started in Slate, and (2) PROVEN beyond much reasonable doubt by the circumstantial evidence presented by the tabloid (security-guard testimony, among other things). They held back because the family was steeped in tragedy enough already--especially the stalwart Elizabeth: losing a son...soon to lose her own life...yet soldiering on in full support of her husband. The in-charge, kind-hearted MSM people simply didn't want to break the very, very bad news to her. Turns out she knew already. Two years ago. There's the real puzzle.

Friday, August 8, 2008

#45 Books to Know and Love--Steve Martin and Me

Speaking of pop culture (last post #44), let me recommend Steve Martin's autobiography, Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life, before I return it to the public shelves tomorrow. Published last year, the book begins with the horrific birth-event, caused by his abnormal fetal position in Mrs. Martin's womb, almost resulting in her early demise. Steve survived, but his father held it against his son until almost his (Mr. Martin's) last breath. Well, something like that may have happened early on, because the father (who aspired/expired quickly in his attempt at show business) really did resent the son, and son in turn the father, right up to a death-bed reconciliation. Of course it was all jealousy on his father's part, as Steve tells us, but it seemed to take him forever to figure that out ... and cope with it. This is the principal agon of the story and my lasting impression. Not really a funny, laugh-a-minute book. Amusing, though, and very entertaining in content, written in a literal and laconic style that makes for "easy reading," if that's to your taste. (Frankly, since it was self-written by a comic genius, I guess I expected a little more sparkle in his prose.)

But getting back to the story, the only real problem he had in his rise to the top WAS his father (the word "hate" and its forms pop up too many times). He did all the right things--from magician-juggler-banjo-patterer in small clubs up to his national breakout on SatNiteLive, where the book ends, and where he trades in his stand-up act for movie stardom, at which he's been pretty consistently good...even great at times. (My favorite will always be All of Me, though he was very funny/good in this year's Baby Mama--I don't have the heart to watch the Clousseau fiasco, though.) I and family have always been in love with his quirky comedy (had his albums), ever since we first saw him on the Smothers Brothers' show c. 1968, where he was mainly writer and occasionally stand-up guy. "He's a-goin' somewheres, Maw, " I remember muttering at the time. Anyway, there are a couple of other things in the book I found interesting and need further mention. One is Where and How he seemed to acquire his unique comic sense. Well, as he tells it, it was when he was taking Philosophy classes in L.A., while still plying his trade in embryo at Disneyland and Knottsberry Farm. And I guess that this totally explains my sense of humor too, for better or worse, because, as I mentioned in last post, Philosophy was also a major of mine at Kalamazoo. (Yes, Virginia, etc., etc.) But here's how he explains it:

Something about non-sequiturs appealed to me. In Philosophy, I started studying logic....Then it gets real easy to write this stuff, because all you have to do is twist everything hard--you twist the punch line, you twist the non-sequitur so hard away from the things that set it up, that it's easy...and thrilling.

And it worked famously. How about this memorable line I recall from The Jerk: "I came from humble beginnings; I started out as a poor black child in the South." OK, one final thing from the book, and I've got a BONE TO PICK with Steve Martin about it. He talks about getting interested in magic at a young age, as did other luminaries like Johnny Carson and me, and the impetus was a gift from his father (he gave things, not love or encouragement it seems) of a Mysto Magic set. He describes its rudimentary equipment as good enough to get started but "flimsy." Well I'm here to tell you that it's an outright lie. Whether he thought it made a better story, or he was sort of getting back at his father--I don't know. But the VERY SAME magic set that Steve got ... I got when I was 8 or 9, and it was a marvel of quality and design. Sturdy, long-lasting. These sets after all were made by A.C. Gilbert, the guy who also made my Erector Set and my Mysto Chemistry Set. How long-lasting, you ask? Listen carefully: the cups and balls from the "cups-n-balls" trick that mystified my little sister and her little friends were the very same cups and balls from the "cups-n-balls" trick that mystified my sons a generation later. These and other pieces--including the little, real-silk handkerchiefs--are in fact still in storage somewhere or other. It's magic.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

#44 Obama vs, McCain: the Pop Culture Debate

In a close contest...dead heat. Surprisingly. But that's the way it's looking in the presidential race at the moment as well. Anyway, came to my attention just this morning that there was a sort of "dueling interview" on their respective pop-culture preferences in Entertainment Weekly last week. One might have thought McCain would be a sure loser and decidedly UN-hip on mainstream media culture (he can't work a computer, after all). But no, he keeps up quite well with the younger and blacker and celebrity-draped Obama when asked about movies , music, TV etc., past and present.

I was about to award Obama the prize out of hand when I read their musical druthers--OBAMA: Cheryl Crow, Coltrane (yes!), Sinatra, Dylan (waaay too hip for good mental health); McCAIN: Orbison, ABBA, Ronstadt. Well, at least he's not into Lawrence Welk reruns on PBS. But Obama lost some points in a more subtle way when asked about "the best Brando." He chose the Godfather series, when a true movie buff would have known that Brando was an OK but sadly overblown prosthetic approximation of the actor we saw in the earlier Streetcar, Waterfront, and Zapata. McCain chose these, and actually had a few in-the-know things to say about Elia Kazan's directorship.

On the other hand, they both made pretty even grades on their other preferences, however, for different and interesting reasons. "First movie remembered?" was a wash between McCain's Bambi and Obama's Born Free, though we might award a point or two to the latter for recalling a movie with a little more adult and realistic sentimentality. "Last movie seen?" was a toss-up between Indiana Jones ("the old guy wins," said McCain), and Shrek III (Obama has small kids)...fairly predictible, no real insights. Not so with choices involving Superheroes and TV shows. Here it gets interesting. Obama loves M*a*s*h, and that's quite all right indeed. It indicates not only a mentality receptive to sophisticated wit and historical allusiveness, but a heart receptive to the tragic absurdity of war. In fact, I don't think he needs much more to be my President. But you know what?... McCain almost out-bids him: he likes watching Seinfeld reruns! A man after my own heart. Because, as you know from previous posts, all of the planet's problems can be solved by paying close attention to the lessons offered in every episode of that "sitcom about nothing"...and everything. This betrays a great deal of HUMANITY under the tough skin of the old war hero--and no wonder he is also capable of a fair amount of WIT on the Jon Stewart show or SatNiteLive.

However, it's in their answers to the "favorite superhero?" question, that things get really interesting, psycho-analytically at least. (Please, I'm qualified; I was a psych-major for one Mickey-Mouse year at Kalamazoo before settling on English/Philosophy.) McCain picks Batman; Obama, Spiderman. Perfect. McCain was a real-life hero, no supernatural powers to aid him in his ultimate victory over the predations of war and imprisonment. OK, the Caped Crusader had the help of a hyper-tech batsuit and motorcar, but no powers out of reach of the ordinary man. And isn't the story of John McCain that of fairly flawed (check out his marital and parental credentials) and not at all exceptional (academic and early Navy career) individual who rose to truly epic heights, as I've pointed out earlier. He did it all on his own. As did Obama, really, but I believe that in his fantasy world, something a little extraordinary might be needed to overcome the forces of evil against him. Like a radioactive spider-bite. Even with his estimable abilities, Obama doubtless realized from the beginning that he was inherently on UNequal footing with the white man, and that his efforts had to be well-nigh superhuman. And by golly, they pretty much have been. Isn't it curious, too, that his superhero is of literally mixed blood--Peter Parker's very chromosomes have been altered. He's a half-breed like Obama in this respect, and the two halves increase the puissance of the whole. But I do go on.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

#43 Educational Channels and the "Woo-Woo" Factor

About the new logo for the Science Channel (be patient...there's a RANT coming). "That's Interesting"--remember, you need one of these moments on average of once a day to make life worth living--"they've changed the pretty, haloed-blue-marble-earth logo in the lower-right corner [you've seen it, I'm sure] to the bland Sc abbreviation in an orange rectangle," I muttered to myself (I may need to watch that, and perhaps my little O.C.D for logos, too). I had this rant planned anyway, and in doing my 10 minute Wikipedia research-module into these basically "educational" channels on cable, the mystery was solved...partially. It's meant to invoke a PERIODIC TABLE entry. OK, very sciency. But they also acknowledge it is the bona fide symbol of an actual element, Scandium, appearing at atomic weight 21. What? It's a "rare earth" element, and very rare, occurring mainly in Scandinavia, and only isolated in pure form in 1960. Significance for the Science Channel? No rationale given. But at least they have by implication, however fuzzily, positioned themselves as the channel of hard-core, indeed "elemental" factuality.

I applaud them for that, but can't do the same for their fellows. What a crock of supernatural nonsense I'm finding on these channels these days! Beware of letting your kids tune in after their stint in front of fantasy video games--there won't be much difference, educationally. This very morning on the History Channel, five straight hours of programming
included "Sasquatch Attack," Real Hobbit: Mystery Ape," "Unidentified Flying Creatures (torpedo-like creatures who fly so fast they can't be seen [I kid you not])," "Mutant Dog: Pet-Killer," "Ohio Grassman: Bigfoot-like Creature." They look like it, but these titles are NOT out of Mad Magazine. Now there are really only two conglomerates, A&E Networks (Hist, Bio, etc. channels) and Discovery Communications (Discovery, Learning, Animal, Science channels), who run all this stuff, the good and the bad..mostly VERY bad lately. Collectively over the last two weeks they have regaled the cable tuner-inner with tales of Atlantis, Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, Nostradamas, Crop Circles, Psychic Investigations, Noah's Ark, Bible Mysteries, Exorcism, Hauntings, Monsters, End of the World Prophecy--and some of these have been playing over and over for a dozen years or more. (Surely they should retire the "Nostradamus: 500 Years After" show with its wine-soaked Orson Welles narration, since the title has effectively dated it...but no.)

All of it a steaming pile of Woo-Woo. Yes, most of these shows bring on the requisite skeptic-spokesman for a few seconds near the end of the program, but by that time the damage is done to the credulous minds who watch these shows, obviously in great enough numbers to keep the ratings up and the advertisers happy. And this is what I find so disturbing. These programmers are pandering to that irrationality epidemic widely spread among our citizenry--many of whom will end up in the voting booth in November without a clue. Too big a jump? Maybe so. But, sorry, it just grabs my ass when people or institutions of influence and authority (lately including role-models like Astronaut Ed Mitchell and his UFO "little people") legitimize this superstitious wackiness.

But having said all that, I just noticed TODAY that a new series called "Evolve" has already debuted as of last week with an episode on The Eye (missed it). And guess's on the History Channel. Well, they have a lot to atone for. I may have to eat my words as I watch tonight's episode, The Gut.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

#42 Sunday Sundries

Worst of the Week
  • Alas, another Obama shuffle. He said last week that he's willing to consider a compromise, which he said earlier he wouldn't consider, on the OFF-SHORE DRILLING issue. I have no special brief against it, nor I don't intend to get into any technicalities about it, but I do wish the young man would chill. He's got some great policy-positions to work with, if he would only stick to them a little better. It's beginning to look like a definite weakness of character.
  • And speaking of which, McCAIN gets the vote this week for his under-handed and racially over-toned ad campaign vs. Obama. He says it's to call attention to Obama's lack of substance--all empty celebrity and fame a la Britney and Paris. Come on now, couldn't his henchmen have chosen more analogous, maybe even MALE tabloidniks (George Clooney?), instead of having Obama in photoshopped juxtaposition with pretty, just-past-jail-bait white girls? salacious miscegenation fantasies intended, I'm sure. I wonder if Charlie Black, Jesse Helms old race-card dealer (see post 7/6), and now signed on to the McCain campaign, is somehow involved.
  • Religious child abuse. Texas state supreme court says EXORCISM is all right, First Amendment-wise, even though 17-year-old Laura Parsons was "held captive and pinned to the ground and pummelled" because "fellow members of the church became convinced she was possessed." Medieval. The Constitutional guarantee of "free exercise" (maybe the idiot judges misread the word), doesn't cover CRIMINAL acts like kidnapping and battery. Nonetheless, the court dismissed the victim's civil suit against the church, "PLEASANT GLADE Assembly of God." (More on this one later.)
Best of the Week
  • "Six Degrees of Separation" confirmed. Isn't it droll that I (drolly) alluded to the a.k.a. "small world theory" in Friday's post (the Kevin Bacon boink) just before the Saturday Washington Post reports on a study that seems to validate the old chestnut. (No extra charge for prescience.) The Microsoft researchers of course went to cyberspace for corroboration. They studied "30 billion (!) electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world" and concluded that "any two people on average are distanced by just 6.6 degrees of separation, meaning that they could be linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances." Why should this make us happy? Because it makes utopian Globalization (sorry) all the more inevitable. If inter-marriage won't do it, maybe the inter-net will.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

#41 Obama and Me--pt. 2

Afterthoughts from yesterday's post: Geraldine Ferraro got in big trouble several months ago, and indeed had to leave the Clinton campaign, for voicing an insidious half-truth that "Obama is LUCKY to be black" in his run for the nomination. Otherwise he wouldn't have been getting the numbers he was getting. Black voters, by implication, were giving the boost to an otherwise so-so candidate. There's some truth to this, especially early on and strictly applied to the democratic primaries.

But here's the WHOLE TRUTH: he's lucky to be multi-racial. As far as the GENERAL ELECTION goes. It may be a sad fact (that 20% differential) , but fact nonetheless, that the majority of voters in this country are not ready, and may never be, for a semi-full-blooded black man in the White House. That is, for genetic and cultural reasons. This may not be such a bad thing. And Obama being called "not black enough," by fellow blacks may be a good thing, after all the votes are counted. Face it, there are aspects of hard-core African-American culture--I'll just mention Rev. Wright and "gangsta-rap" as symptomatic--that even turn off enlightened black people... not to mention whites. And Obama, by whatever circumstances, has been able to come off as rather multi-cultural--thanks to his unusual family background, education, habitation, and so on.

But beyond that, and I don't think this gets too much attention (for obvious reasons)--he's got white blood in him. I think that some such (maybe more euphemized) thought will be in the minds of white voters of good will in November. After all, his very genealogy makes him all the more a man of the people. He's the result of a somewhat bigger splash in the human gene pool than most of us. And furthermore, isn't one of the surest ways of breaking down racial, ethnic, religious, etc. barriers on this planet inter-marriage? Yes, as Utopian as that sounds. Globalization couldn't be achieved in a much more pleasant way. Take it from one who knows. (More to come.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

#40 Obama and Me

No...never met him, but there are some socio-politico-geographico-anthropologico-educational connections that you may find interesting...or not. As I mentioned in last post, there's the Chicago connection, which runs deep, if not inter-personally so. Here's how it works. After being kidnapped by my own mother and father from my toddlin' town (I was two-ish) in our native Georgia, USA, I was rudely transported (I had to leave my pet chickens) to another toddlin' town a.k.a. Chicago, USA, just blocks away from Hyde Park central and the University of Chicago--Barack Obama's latter-day living and husting-grounds. Soon-to-be-Dr. J.D. Senior had gotten a graduate scholarship of some sort at U of C's Divinity School. Obama was to end up there as long-term Lecturer in the School of Law after his degree at Harvard, where he entered just a year after I did a post-doc N.E.H. Summer Seminar there, and where we both met...Kevin Bacon. But getting back to Chi-town, we settled in what was called the South Shore (and even more pin-pointedly, the South Shore "Gardens" section of the South Shore--Chicago has been accurately called a City of Villages), which would become part of Obama's Illinois-state-legislative district, and in turn the launching ground for his elective-office career.

In my early years, these residential areas of Chicago were truly garden-like: classy two-story bungalow-type homes, upscale three-and-six-flat apartments (where we first lived), lovely parks and schools, and only a bike-ride (see earlier post) from beautiful Lake Michigan beaches. And totally de facto SEGREGATED. (Before "white flight," blacks populated areas for-the-most-part north and west of the Hyde Park hub; now, virtually all of the south-side.) In fact, I was present on THE VERY DAY that the very first sit-down protest was held (one summer Saturday in '55 or '56--I'd have to research the exact date, which I'm sure Obama would know) at Rainbow Beach, 75th St. south and lake-front. (I have no doubt that these were inspired/sponsored by the liberal folk up the road in the integrated U of C/Hyde Park neighborhood--folk he would join later on his road to the White House.) We were just kids, and watched in wonder from the sidelines while, as I remember it, some of Chicago's Finest engaged in pleasant conversation with the young black couples in attendance. Brave folks. But this WAS the beginning: every single Saturday that summer they were back there, and subsequently sitting-in at every shoreline beach and park in Chicagoland, until all were integrated. It would have done Obama proud, if he had been born yet.

That would happen somewhat later near another lovely, fully-integregated, newly-American beachfront property called HAWAII. And, as you are doubtless aware, this is one reason that some of his detractors, black and white, say he isn't really "black enough." That, along with the fact of his mixed parentage, Kenyan (unlinked-to-American-slavery-heritage) father, virtually "foreign" and fairly privileged upbringing, etc. Well...eyewash to all that. I'm reminded of a great Chris Rock line from a stand-up performance that goes something like this: "I'm black...but I'm also RICH. I can get almost anything money can buy for me and my family--homes, yachts, travel, you name it. But not a single one of you white men in this audience would trade places with me, would you." And he's right: the built-in burden of blackdom in America is just too daunting for even the bravest among us, unless we're born to it. All this is nothing new, and I wouldn't harp on it, if it didn't touch me personally in another way. You see, Obama in the strictest sense is NOT BLACK at all...more of a bronze, or burnished-brown coppery color, if you will. Much like my 4th son, who, coincidentally, bears a vague resemblance to the Presidential candidate. They both are from mixed parentage. One male, one female...(drum riff). No, from mixed African and Caucasion stock, but with the parental genders switched. My son is more white than black genetically, however, and thus most accurately and ironically reflects America's tragic slave-holding past: he was born with blue eyes, though they're getting darker-greener with age.... Understand? (If not, go back to your Mendel.) He and Obama are truly African-American in a way that transcends the political/nationalistic sense of the term in current usage. They're not black or white, but BI-racial, MULTI-racial, not one or the other. So why should they have to CHOOSE between one or the other? One CULTURE over another? I don't know. Well, maybe I do. We just haven't quite GOT it yet. Globalization has to start at home.

Not so very long ago, Obama and my son would have been called--yes--mulattos, and NOT ONLY by white society. It's that "one drop [of blood] theory" that was actually de jure (Jim Crow laws) in the South and pretty much de facto everywhere else in America. (And, by the way, unforgettably dramatized in a tragi-comic paint-bucket episode in Ralph Ellison's novel, Invisible Man.) Thus beginning at half-breed and then on a sliding scale from black to white, but never quite, you had the verbal monstrosities of quadroon, octoroon ("high yaller"), even unto hexadecaroon--all, however, translated "Negro." "Zero tolerance," as it were. I'm afraid this artificial racial divide is still with us. Why has Obama lagged behind (by almost 20 points) the popular approval of the Democratic party as a whole in this election year? Maybe I've already answered that question. More of this later.