What Must Be Done

Moving forward toward a more egalitarian compassionate society is the American tradition. We’ve been a world leader for this specific reason and we cannot step back from our evolving moral challenges. This moment cries out for a clear vision of what we must do to continue that tradition. I’ve jotted down a few of my ideas but welcome feedback both pro and con.

1. Reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, terminated under Ronald Reagan.  

“It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters. Stations were given wide latitude as to how to provide contrasting views: It could be done through news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. The doctrine did not require equal time for opposing views but required that contrasting viewpoints be presented. The demise of this FCC rule has been considered by some to be a contributing factor for the rising level of party polarization in the United States.”[1]

2. Significantly increase federal funding for schools to bring teacher salaries closer to professional standards. Add to Common Core educational standards for K-12 to include more vigorous education in civics, history, and science. Add debate and classes on world’s major religions to required courses.[2]

3. Expand curricula standards to home school and religious school requirements. High school diploma should not be granted to anyone who has not satisfactorily completed Common Core benchmarks.

4. Tax any church or organization that advocates Dominionism, a form of political advocacy that would in essence overturn the U. S. Constitution. This advocacy violates tax-exempt status.

“An example of dominionism in reformed theology is Christian reconstructionism, which originated with the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony in the 1960s and 1970s. Rushdoony’s theology focuses on theonomy (the rule of the Law of God), a belief that all of society should be ordered according to the laws that governed the Israelites in the Old Testament. His system is strongly Calvinistic, emphasizing the sovereignty of God over human freedom and action…”[3]

5. Enact mandatory two-year government service for every eighteen year old. This would serve in most cases as a type of apprenticeship. Military, Peace Corps, AmeriCorpsVISTA are forms of diplomacy and peace keeping. New services that could include Sciencecorps (to work with forestry, marine, agriculture, medical agencies), Vocational Services (similar to WPA, to work on nation’s infrastructure in jobs including engineering, carpentry, welding, concrete work, etc.), Art Services working alongside accomplished artists, musicians, writers to provide useable materials/performances for various venues. Etc.

6. Require each American adult who has not served in a program outlined in #5 above to volunteer one day of work each year within their local government, either city, county, or state. Refusal to participate would result in withholding driver’s license renewal or other penalty. Handicapped and persons over 65 would be exempt. Alternative could include attending one local political party meeting per year (established parties only).

7. Form bipartisan committee to study pros and cons of terminating the Electoral College. The presidency must represent the will of the people NOT the states.

8. Congress must take action to end gerrymandering and other forms of voter manipulation/suppression.

9. Congress must re-enact the ban on assault weapons and streamline regulations governing background checks to include gun shows and online sales.

10. Congress must streamline immigration procedures and services, provide adequate funding to expand staff sufficient to process all asylum applicants in a timely manner, and – most importantly – focus U.S. aid in Latin American nations from which most asylum seekers are fleeing in order to stop violence and economic problems that lead to emigration.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FCC_fairness_doctrine

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Core_State_Standards_Initiative

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_theology

More Republican Failure

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9120709/MAGA-rioters-destroy-television-cameras-chase-news-crews-Capitol.html

“He did it first!”

This childish whine, in so many words, emerged Thursday from the lips of right wingers from Mitch McConnell down to FOX pundits on The Five. Democrats, according to them, were no better than Wednesday’s rioters, when fires and looting occurred last summer in various cities around the nation. Or when the elections of 2000, 2004, and 2016 fell under public scrutiny and led to questions regarding the legitimacy of the subsequent presidency.

That’s their excuse, their pathetic effort to somehow escape censure for their failed president and his ‘leadership’ in fomenting an attempted coup.

This gloss does not withstand even cursory scrutiny.

First, the violent street demonstrations.

Rioter destruction to buildings in Minneapolis

Protests over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police erupted in the streets of Minneapolis, Portland, Seattle, and over 2,000 cities and towns in over 60 countries in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Between 15 million and 26 million people participated in these protests, the largest outpouring of public rage in the nation’s history. Investigations concluded that about 93% of the protests were peaceful, but in a few locations, violence including arson, looting, and assault resulted in an estimated $1-2 billion in damages nationally.

Under President Trump’s not-so-subtle encouragement, racism flared into full bloom during his term, a seeming grant of carte blanche to white extremists which in turn ignited protests. Multiple other black lives lost to excessive police violence (Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more) and the two protesters killed in Kenosha by a 19-year-old white militant Kyle Rittenhouse became part of these events where protesters demanded changes to police practices as well as the removal of local statuary honoring Confederate heroes and slave traders.

These protests involved citizens of communities massing in their town centers to demand change in local policies and civic entities (police, lawmakers) that heretofore had led to disproportionate deaths of people of color. For the sake of brevity, we will not delve into clear evidence that in at least some instances, alt-right actors penetrated peaceful protests to instigate violence and property damage.

There is no comparison between these protests and the invasion of the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021. For over nine weeks since his defeat in the 2020 presidential election, Trump had refused to accept election results, claiming the election was rigged. He agitated and advocated for his followers to take action, promising that on January 6, it “will be wild.” On the morning of the 6th, he held a rally at which he aggrandized his accomplishments, denigrated his opponents including some Republicans, and elaborated at length on convoluted conspiracy theories meant to explain why he had been the legitimate winner of the presidential election.

Trump’s speech, which rambled on for over an hour, concluded with:

“So we’re going to, we’re going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue, I love Pennsylvania Avenue, and we’re going to the Capitol and we’re going to try and give… The Democrats are hopeless. They’re never voting for anything, not even one vote. But we’re going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones, because the strong ones don’t need any of our help, we’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.” [Italics mine.]

Rabid followers expressed no doubt as to what their leader expected of them. What followed has been burned into the brains of virtually every American as we watched masses of Trump true-believers storm the Capitol, overrun security guards, vandalize, steal, and invade the inner sanctums of the people’s house, the center of our nation’s government. One demonstrator occupied the speaker’s chair to proclaim Trump the president. Others roamed, strewing papers and files, no doubt searching for the elector ballots in an effort destroy official election results.

This was no local protest about policies and public services that need reform. This was a directed effort to overturn a presidential election. An attempted coup. This is not equivalent to anti-racism street protests by any stretch of the imagination.

But oh, they want to make it so. Even as they voice outrage at the violence and destruction, they scramble for excuses of why it’s no worse than the summer protests. They want, more than anything, to shift the blame from themselves for aiding and abetting Trump’s lunacy over the last four years and somehow make it about Democrats.

Democrats alongside Republicans and all the rest did not endorse or in any way approve of protesters setting buildings on fire or the looting of private property. We can ALL agree that violence and property destruction is not the right path. That is not the way to solve problems in our society, whether we’re talking about racism, police brutality, or anything else.

BUT – that is not what happened January 6. Trump conceived of, directed, and initiated the invasion of our capitol building because he lost his bid for re-election. Spinning off into la-la-land amid a thick stew of conspiracy theories, he incited his hapless followers to these acts of contempt and dishonor against the very center of our national government.

There is no equivalency.

For the record, whether or not McConnell is, at this point, capable of admitting the facts, in each of the 2000, 2004, and 2016 elections, there were legitimate problems with the election results. There were not disgruntled Democrats trying to overturn an election nor did the defeated candidates lead an attempted insurrection.

In 2000 in Florida, the election was so close that Gore was initially declared the winner. Further complicating the Florida results was the infamous hanging chad issue where election officials debated whether the incomplete removal of a tab on a punch card ballot signified a vote or not. A preliminary recount decided in favor of Bush by 537 votes.[1] The state supreme court ordered a more thorough recount but that ruling was overturned on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The result, without a legitimate recount, came out with George Bush: 50,546,002, Al Gore: 50,999.897 votes with an electoral count of 271 vs 266.

It’s not clear what McConnell might refer to in his mention of Democratic complaints about the 2004 election. There were legitimate concerns about voter suppression and purges of voter lists in largely minority districts but there wasn’t much public protest about the results, and certainly nothing remotely similar to the January 6, 2021, disgrace.[2]

As for 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. Whether future examinations (without Trump stonewalling) will reveal Russian manipulations behind the electoral vote count, U.S. intelligence agencies had warned for months that Russia had become involved in the presidential campaign. McConnell led the Senate in its refusal to consider the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives as a result of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference and obstruction of justice. Trump’s refusal to release information in the Mueller investigation or allow testimony by members of his staff became part of the obstruction of justice charge. Trump has continued to dismiss the investigation as a hoax, bringing along his sycophants including McConnell. Both matters will be more fully revealed to the public once Trump is out of office.

If anyone could feel justified in leading a public protest about election outcomes, it would have been Hillary Clinton with nearly three million more votes than Trump. But like the professional she is, she conceded graciously to the electoral college results.

At this point for McConnell to allege that this and other Democratic concerns about Trump’s rogue presidency somehow equals rightwing invasion of the Capitol is an absurdity. Nevertheless, this is all they’ve got, this whiny ‘he did it first’ allegation that in itself does not hold water. Since Election Day, there has been no resounding civic outcry about injustice as there was in the street demonstrations protesting overzealous police and systemic racism. There was no massive support across the nation in support of Trump’ claim. What happened January 6 was about one man’s pathetic inability to accept defeat.

The response by McConnell and others in an attempt to deflect blame for this outrage does not speak well for the future of the Republican Party. Either they acknowledge the depths of their culpability and immediately set out to correct the screed of lies inculcated on their voters or face the very real likelihood that the party will not survive Donald Trump, just as Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted in the 2016 primaries: “If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed … and we will deserve it.”[3]


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2000_United_States_presidential_election#Florida_recount

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2004_United_States_election_voting_controversies

[3] Twitter May 6, 2016

Regarding Netflix’s Bridgertons

I’ll get to the elephant in the room in a minute. Right now, I just need to say, what the hell are these guys thinking?

Newsflash to series creator Chris Van Dusen and Netflix producer Shondaland (Shonda Rhimes) and Netflix execs who signed off on this house of cards: people who enjoy Regency romance are not going to like this conglomeration of ridiculous sex and error. Whoever made decisions about how to bring Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels to the screen clearly has no knowledge of the time period (1813) or appreciation of the aspects of that history which nourish the storyline.

Did I say nourish? Let me rephrase that. Historical accuracy is ESSENTIAL to the storyline.

First of all, the casting. Dear God, why is 31-year-old Claudia Jessie playing the part of a 17-year-old? The face, the body, and most of all a voice worthy of an aging jazz singer immediately create painful cognitive dissonance every time this actress appears on screen. In the part of the second oldest Bridgerton daughter Eloise, Ms. Jessie sticks out like a sore thumb. No matter how tightly laced the corset or uneven affections of voice are meant to disguise her age, it just doesn’t work.

By the way, poor quality control on audio means some entire narratives are incomprehensible no matter how high the volume.

Same casting problem with one of the Bridgerton sons. Luke Thompson plays the part of second-oldest son Benedict, written as a 27-year-old blade exploring the ways of haut ton social situations. Luke Thompson is a well-aged 32 years old. His age is obvious even when he’s supposed to appear boyish and naïve. Please.

But let me move on to glaring corruptions of historical accuracy thick on the ground in this Netflix series. Early on we’re treated to a scene where Eloise is hiding out in the back yard to smoke cigarettes. Cigarettes did not jump from Mexico to France until the 1830s and didn’t make it to England until the 1840s. Even then, these tobacco conveyances were not the long slender white-wrapped items spotted in Eloise’s delicate hand. Cigarettes weren’t widely available until mass production in the 1880s. In 1813 London, a protected young lady like Eloise would have had no access to any such thing. She would have been very lucky to find a servant or stable hand she could bribe to obtain raw tobacco for her.

I get why Dusen wanted to show Eloise smoking. She’s a rebel, not eager to follow the tradition of marriage and children. Her use of cigarettes shows that rebellion. Except – it doesn’t. Because it’s completely ridiculous!

This type of ignorance undermines virtually every scene. Regency men were considered undressed if they appeared outside their bedchambers in anything less than complete formal attire – pants, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, and cravat, and yes those de rigueur Hessians. Yet we see aristocrats parading around in their shirt sleeves, often with the sleeves rolled past the elbow. Also often missing from male attire is the cravat, an essential element of proper male body covering. In reality, serious scandal would ensue from such flagrant exposure of forearms and necks.

Male-female touching likewise was simply not done except in very specific circumstances. A gentleman might touch a lady’s hand if he is helping her into or out of a carriage, for example, but they would both be gloved. In greeting, he would bow over her gloved hand and air-kiss above her knuckles. He might also welcome her to rest her gloved hand on his lower (fully clothed) arm when walking or escorting her up or down steps. But the touching rampant in these scenes is often ungloved and conspicuously caressing, like a dance scene where some genius decided that dance partners could lavish their hands on each other’s bodies – neck, shoulders, waist – in ways that would never occur among proper ladies and gentlemen of those times.

In fact, touching at all during dances was so scandalous in this time period that the waltz (another import from the outrageous French) had barely gained entry to the ton’s social gatherings. A debutante was required to pass muster at Almack’s by a panel of older society grande dames in order to gain the right to dance a waltz. Hostesses of society dances were careful to allow only two waltzes at any of their events, well-spaced between country dances and quadrilles in which participants move similarly to those in modern square dancing with touching limited to fleeting passage of gloved hands and no close body contact.

Restrictions on the waltz reflected its close body positioning and the clasp of both hands with the dance partner’s. Even at that, intense scrutiny by other dancers and society matrons watching proceedings with an eagle eye enforced the rules of engagement, most importantly the appropriate distance tolerated between the bodies of dance partners. Yet in this Netflix series, we see couples hugging up to each other, standing body to body to whisper sweet nothings and emote.   

The music is yet another problem, adding to the flaws in dance scenes. The producers/writers took the lazy way with this, using soundtrack music as the dance music so that dance music doesn’t start or stop with the dance. Dancers simply cavort around the floor to whatever part of the soundtrack happens to occur at that point. This eliminates the real tension experienced between dances by young women desperate to be claimed for a dance. It also smears over specific types of music used for specific types of dances. There’s no good reason for this except lazy production

Equally cheesy are bits and pieces such as a scene where the courting couple walk across a bridge and the male lead pulls a rose from a bush to hand to his lovely lady. Our hero plucks this rose without tugging or breaking it from its bush and presents a long straight stem that would never exist in those circumstances. But then, once one questions the reality of that moment, one is quick to survey the rest of the ‘rose bushes’ lining that particular bridge and reach the firm conclusion that all of these are arranged bouquets, probably not even real flowers.

Social etiquette involved lessons on how to bow and curtsey, yet here we see men bowing slightly without their arms in proper position, plus short head bobs and virtually zero curtseying even when standing before the Queen! No.

Hyde Park on Sunday from Modern London by R Phillips (1807)

Unlike many scenes in the Netflix Bridgerton series, females of the upper class never ventured outside alone. A maid and sometimes also at least one footman accompanied them as protection not only of their reputation but also their personal safety against a desperate underclass of thieves and opportunists.

Successful Regency authors pay attention to this wretched dichotomy between rich and poor for the depth it adds to these stories. In the one Bridgerton scene of the impoverished parts of London, which by any estimation consumed the majority of that real estate with dilapidated side-by-side buildings and manure-littered streets teeming with vendors hawking wares, grimy orphans looking for pockets to pick, whores, and scoundrels of every ilk, we get a brief scene in a bricked alleyway where a handful of actors strive to convey reality – and fail.

Apparently, what the writers/producers of the series do not grasp – and perhaps did not even try to understand – is that these subtleties are what fans of Regency romance adore. We look for quirks of language, the rigid rules, the details of dress and social interactions that define that time period. We expect characters to obey the norms extant in the early 19th century, not just because we’re some kind of historical purists but because those norms are inextricably linked to the behavior that drives the plot.

This falls flat most of all in the sex scenes. We see actors feverishly ripping off their clothes to pursue their desire without slowing down to appreciate the shocking touch of ungloved hands or the explosive eroticism of a man’s exposed neck, sans cravat. By the time the two main characters get around to kissing in the garden (oh, my!), an unbelievable melee of groping and whole body molestation takes place. In reality, for 1813, just the touching of lips was enough to ruin a young lady whether or not the guy ever touched her body. Jeez, Louise, who signed off on this absurdity?

In the moment when Simon Bassett, Duke of Hastings [played by Regé-Jean Page] finally satisfies his raging desire for his heartthrob Daphne Bridgerton [played by Phoebe Dynevor], the wedding night scene proceeds through the ripping off of clothes, kissing, a bit of body contact and a nice buttocks shot to a few seconds of active intercourse during which the virgin’s face portrays her loss of virginity (oh, that hurts) to pleasure (really?) and satiety (no bliss?). And we’re supposed to be satisfied with that terse culmination of a long and tortured courtship?

As for this and subsequent sex scenes, I’ll just quote a bit of a Salon critique [https://www.salon.com/2021/01/03/bridgerton-sex-is-not-good-sex/]:

“He maneuvers her hand down there. She looks pleasantly shocked. Then he stands up and takes off his pants so she can get an eyeful of what she’s working with. Apparently that is sufficient, because then he mounts her, informs her that “this may hurt a moment” … then badda bing, badda boom, he starts pumping away like a bunny hopped up on cold brew coffee. Afterward he rolls off of her and finishes in the sheets – more on that later – as the tender music fades out.”

Producer Shonda Rimes claims in interviews about this series that she is a great fan of Julia Quinn’s books. She should read more. It’s obvious from her work with Bridgerton that her understanding of the Regency period is painfully limited. Otherwise it’s difficult to believe a woman of her professional experience would sign off on this travesty.

Likewise, for a man who claims to have studied and adapted this story over a three-year period, Chris Van Dusen gets a “D-” for his utter failure to portray the very details that serve as the lifeblood of a Regency romance. And whoever decided that a guy was the right person for this job, anyway?!

Van Dusen claimed in one interview that he wanted to show the contrast between modern social norms and the stifling conservativism of the Regency period. But by shortcutting the details and failing to authentically portray the realities of the Regency period, an uninformed viewer would mistakenly assume there weren’t that many differences. Yes, women were property and that comes through fairly clearly. But how their lives – and the lives of men – were guided moment by moment in that mindset is diluted and in many scenes fully bastardized in this cavalier adaptation.  

Which brings us to the elephant.

Van Dusen grabs onto an old unproven allegation that King George’s wife Charlotte was of African descent and through this broken door welcomes a large contingent of Black actors into key roles of this series. We don’t know to what extent this decision reflected the influence of Ms. Rhimes, herself a successful Black producer, screenwriter, and author. Maybe they thought this would give the series some kind of outré appeal.

But the more I watched and witnessed scenes where Black actors comprised such a large percentage of the ton and at points expounded on how Queen Charlotte opened the door for ‘their kind’ to participate more fully in society, the more I realized that this outright misrepresentation of London’s Regency period serves as an outrageous disservice to Black history.

[It’s relevant to note that contemporaneous images of Queen Charlotte fail to bear out these allegations.]

In reality, the British Empire played fast and loose with issues of race.

“Owing chiefly to the parliamentary campaign of William Wilberforce, the ‘Slave Trade Act’ had been passed by Parliament in 1807, but this act prohibited only the trading in slaves in the British Empire, and crucially not slavery itself. Within Britain, slavery had been found unconstitutional in 1772; but, so long as they did not bring any of their slaves into Britain, slave owners such as Sir Thomas Bertram remained free to profit from the exploitation of slave labour in the colonies. Slavery itself was not abolished in the British Empire until 1833.”[1]

As noted by many scholars of the time period,

“Overt racism was rampant. Servants of the rich were beautifully dressed, but treated like possessions (much like a brood stallion or a rare antique vase.) Portraits would show noble women and a Black servant, be it a child or adult, sitting at the edge of the painting, which served to increase the contrast of the female’s creamy white skin to the ebony complexion of the other sitter.”[2]

Despite Van Dusen’s assertion that he wanted to show how society has changed over the last 200 years, neither he nor Rhimes seem to understand that without an accurate portrayal of Britain’s high society during the Regency period, viewers can never appreciate how times have changed. One of the tensions for fans of Regency romance is the nerve-bending restrictions on women compared to the freedoms we take for granted today. Authors of Regency (or any historical) romance go to great lengths to research their work to ensure authenticity in this regard.

During that long struggle, women have fought like tigers to gain the right to govern their own lives as well the right to own property and vote. Likewise, Black people have battled to gain their rights and freedoms and still suffer from prejudice and outright violence so long entrenched in white society. To smear all of that into a fantasy where a Black man could ever be a British duke who publicly courts a virginal white girl in 1813 London is to, well, whitewash the true struggle.

Okay, I understand the primary energy behind this series is to put Regency eroticism on screen in hopes of cashing in. They’ll probably succeed in this since Regency fans like myself are watching the series, even if we’re yelling at the television. But even in the sex, these producers/writers fall short of their goal.

After all the producers’ and writers’ efforts to create this simulacrum of Quinn’s novels on screen in order to capitalize on the sex of it, viewers get to the sex and find it flaccid.

~~~

P.S. One irreconcilable problem in casting this series is the apparent widespread use of breast implants among actresses. These do not play well in the extremes of Regency dress in which corsets pair with extremely low cut gowns. Corsets push the breasts up high, which in many instances during this series, reveals the hard edge of implants. Distracting, to say the least.

And while I’m at it, I’ll point out that among the most titillating bits many Regency readers enjoy are scenes in which the male is so aroused by the object of his affection that his erection is prominently displayed in the front of his tight breeches. Despite his embarrassment and desperate thoughts of icy water and old toothless men, the surging organ persists, thus requiring the fevered hero to modestly place a book or hat over his lap or hide behind a chair. At the pinnacle of this particular cliché, the female in question notices the anomaly and is intrigued even if she, in many cases, has no idea how that peculiar bit of male anatomy might come to play in her deflowering. Alas, we see no such deliciously provocative sights in this production.


[1] http://www.janeaustendetectives.com/blog/c-jane-austen-news/slavery-during-the-regency-period

[2] https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/tag/blacks-in-regency-england/

Beating the Train

This photo reminds me of my dad Floyd Pitts who would sometimes reminisce about his younger days when he was still in high school at Morrow, Arkansas. He’d tell part of this tale then slap his leg and start laughing.

During that period of his life – early 1930s – his parents and younger sister had to move to West Memphis where his dad found work. Floyd stayed at Morrow to finish high school. He slept on a cot at the Morrow Mercantile with duties to keep the fires going at night so the stock didn’t freeze. Alongside his work duties and high school classes, he and three friends performed around the Northwest Arkansas region as a quartet.

“By 1933, I was the leader of the Morrow Quartet (I played fiddle and sang bass) and we were the best in the whole area. We sang at anything. We’d put on a show at places like the Savoy Community Building, we sang on the radio all the time, KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks [then located in the Washington Hotel on the southwest corner of the Fayetteville square, Mountain and Block], any old breakdown tunes.

Floyd Pitts circa late 1930s

“It was a novelty for a boy to play the piano. People would take us home for dinner if we’d perform.  Jim Latta was the father of one of the singers—the lead, Vernon Latta. He’d help us out buying gas. Vernon played guitar and mandolin. Or the Morrow Mercantile would help us because of Dennis Carmack, the tenor of our group. There were four main guys who owned the Mercantile: Ernest Ball, Lowrey Carmack, __ Reed, and [can’t remember].  Ty Reed sang alto (high tenor). I played fiddle and Dennis Carmack played guitar.

“Dennis had an old Chevrolet and that’s how we got to Fayetteville for our weekly radio show. One time we were running late. There was a railroad crossing at the turn off from the Cane Hill Road to the main highway just east of Lincoln. We heard the whistle and as we roared up to the crossing, we could see the train coming. Trains were long in those days, usually pulling an endless string of freight cars. We knew we’d miss our broadcast time if we waited for the train.

“The train was barreling down, close, too close, to the crossing. There wasn’t time to discuss it. Dennis floored that old Chevy. The engineer laid on his whistle as we hurtled ahead throwing up a huge dust cloud behind us. We could see the engineer’s mouth moving as we approached. He was shaking his fist at us.

“We flew over those tracks without a second to spare. The force of that train as it passed behind us shook the car. As we made the sharp turn just after crossing the tracks, that old car went up on two wheels. We all leaned to the right, laughing at our near miss as the car slammed back onto all four tires. We made it to the Fayetteville Square in time for our show.”

Floyd Pitts went on to gain his bachelor’s degree in music at Northeastern State University at Tahlequah, Oklahoma, then taught music at Rogers AR public schools until his service as an officer in the U. S. Navy in World War II. After the war, he gained a master’s degree in music at Iowa before returning to Rogers to teach. He took over the band man post for the Grizzly band at Fort Smith’s high school in 1953. During his time at Fort Smith, he moonlighted in vocals and piano with a dance band that played local venues like the Elks Club. In January 1957, he proudly led his band in the Washington D.C. parade for Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration.

In 1958 in search of better income, he moved his family to Miami, Oklahoma to lead the music programs for the public schools and direct the junior high and high school bands. During those years, he pursued after-hours income by tuning and repairing pianos, something he’d done since his high school days when he’d teach shape note singing at schools and church houses around the area and inevitably encountered out-of-tune pianos. His father, a sometimes blacksmith, forged Floyd’s first tuning hammer from an old Model A tie-rod.

Floyd remained the Wardog band director at Miami until 1967, when the family once again relocated to Fayetteville, Arkansas. (His wife, Carmyn Morrow Pitts, was relieved to be back in “God’s country.”) From there, Floyd taught band a couple of years at Westville, OK and for many more years at Lincoln AR, more or less a return to his roots at the end of his long career in teaching music to multiple generations. He retired in 1979 but continued his new career as a full time piano tuner/technician alongside his daughter Denele until a couple of years before his death in 2004. Even in his last days, a good old fiddle tune would bring on a flurry of foot tapping.

~~~

Floyd’s first tuning hammer from Model T tie-rod, late 1920s

Side note: KUOA began as a project of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, using these call letters starting in 1926. With the deepening of the Great Depression, in 1931 the University decided to lease operations to out of town interests. “Members of the Fulbright family then formed KUOA, Incorporated, to purchase the station, and on April 1, 1933, they took control, with Roberta Waugh Fulbright as president, John Clark as secretary-treasurer, and daughters Roberta Fulbright as station manager and Helen Fulbright as vice president.”[1] Ownership of the station shifted to John Brown University in 1936.


[1] https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/kuoa-radio-station-3678/

I Coulda Been a Singer

“You missed your calling,” a friend recently commented.

I had shared a video of “It’s All About That Bass” for her to see.[1] I thought it was fun. I was especially tickled by the clarinet part. I’m weird that way. But I think her point of reference was the lead singer whose gyrating performance in her leopard skin dress apparently made my friend think this was what I wanted her to see.

The truth is, I could have been a singer. My dad, forever the music teacher, started me on piano in second grade and on clarinet in fifth. By seventh grade, he set me down for grueling hours of learning how to sing harmony. I taught myself guitar in tenth grade and began teaching guitar lessons the next year, a pursuit that involved strumming chords while singing.

Other Side of Apathy 1965 Left to right Trula Roberson, LuJean Howard, Denele Pitts

That was the popular music genre of the times. 1964, 1965. Folk music. I joined with two other classmates to perform popular songs of the time – “Blowing in Wind,” “The Water is Wide,” “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” “Turn Around,” and others including “Hang on the Bell, Nellie,” which always brought down the house. We called ourselves “The Other Side of Apathy.” We were in high school, performing largely for local civic group luncheons and banquets.

My vocal talents won me a slot in All-State Choir both junior and senior years, and of course I performed in the high school chorale. My dad signed me up for private lessons with a voice teacher at the local junior college. Those lessons nearly ruined me. As far as the instructor was concerned, the only legitimate vocal performance was in opera. I loathed that bellowing warble I was supposed to produce from my diaphragm. I quit the lessons.

Despite the off again, on again nature of my fraught relationship with Bill, my high school sweetheart, we maintained our strongest bond in music. In my dad’s high school band room, Bill played drums and I, by ninth grade, played oboe. But in marching band, I set the oboe aside and picked up cymbals. At halftime shows and marching band contests, Bill and I were only a couple of positions apart on the field. We marched to “Semper Fidelis,”[2] “National Emblem,”[3] “Washington Post”[4] and other popular marches, one hundred strong, our formations geometric. My dad the Navy man would have none of that wimpy popular music of the day with majorettes prancing out front while the band stood still.

But I digress.

Bill and I were voted the most talented of our class. So we felt especially obligated to sparkle at the senior program. That tradition of our school included skits, speeches, and performances of all kinds to cap off our public school years. There was no question that Bill and I would do something musical, although Bill had also continued to pursue his talents in dance. We didn’t rule out some combination.

By this time my daily guitar teaching lessons at the local music store had brought me in contact with the front lines of popular music. I had embraced Beatle mania, enjoyed Streisand’s songs, and knew some of the forbidden rock and roll like “House of the Rising Sun.”[5] But it was “Girl From Ipanema” that had won my heart.

Bill and I worked out a performance that put me standing at a microphone at the front left corner of the stage. Bill’s part was to dance along the footlights in an improv jazz style. Behind us against the back curtain, a tall stepladder held three guys playing claves, maracas, and guiro.

I did my best to transcribe the music so we could recruit appropriate accompaniment, but the record I had of Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz didn’t offer an easy transcription.[6] I couldn’t find any sheet music, so I winged it a capella with just the rhythm section. We had maybe three rehearsals in between senior prom, drunken escapades on the lake where I managed to get strep throat, and performing my solo in part of Hayden’s Mass in G (choir concert) – with strep throat.

In preparation for our performance of “Girl From Ipanema,” I rewrote the lyrics to “Boy From Ipanema.” I would sing about Bill. Always without much money, I pawed through our household collection of patterns and fabrics and settled on thin pale blue cotton for a dress with a bloused sleeveless top and long straight skirt split up the side. I wore my hair straight and long. For his part, Bill wore black tights, leotard, and fedora.

When the curtain opened, a blue spotlight found me. Bill danced in blue footlights. The packed house went utterly silent as I breathed the song into the microphone. The song told the story. Bill performed perfectly. I sang it without a hitch. When the last note faded and Bill’s proud dance had melted to a close, there was dead silence. And then they shouted the house down. (Sadly, there are no photos of this event.)

This was the high point of my career as a chanteuse. Bill went on to a notable career on Broadway. I thought of a profession singing in smoky lounges out front of a jazz combo. I perfected my Greta Garbo poses, practiced exhaling cigarette smoke through my nostrils. Alas, I had no clue how to break in to that world from my mid-South innocence.

Bill in “A Chorus Line” (third from front), one of his many Broadway dance roles. Today he teaches dance and mentors upcoming devotees in New York City.

College for me depended on a scholarship and the ratio of singers to oboe players is probably at least 100 to 1. With an oboe scholarship, there was no time for choir. Besides, the only formal training for vocalists at the time – and largely still today – was o p e r a.

My father discouraged any idea of a career as a professional singer. He described the touring circuit of rundown lounges and loud drunken audiences, often with minimal pay. He didn’t fully describe the sexual harassment that comes with the scene, or the need to maintain a coherent group of musicians willing to forego intoxication and other hazards of touring. He thought I wanted a husband and children, and I did.

But I also wanted to be a chanteuse. Later, as my kids grew up, I’d pound out my own piano accompaniment to give full throat attention to song collections by the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and other favorites, but the ones that thrilled me the most were the torch songs like “Scotch and Soda.”[7] I also sang with regional community choirs in the 1980s and ‘90s but by the mid ‘90s, I noticed my voice wasn’t exactly as controlled or clear as I wanted. I felt embarrassed and stopped participating in the choir.

Then a couple of surgeries involved tubes down my throat and I discovered my singing broke in critical places around Middle C. And I had long since lost my guitar. By the time I retired from what had become a 30-year career tuning pianos, I was so burned out I never wanted to see another piano and moved mine to a back bedroom.

The piano sits, untuned and untouched by me for over decade. On occasion when I am unable to resist the urge, I’ll drag out the stool for the old pump organ my dad restored and plod along with a few pieces trying to ignore the deplorable condition of my voice. Sadly, the voice is not a lifelong instrument for most of us, although at times I think I might buy another guitar and start practicing in the belief that I just need to start exercising those vocal cords. I still long to sing, and nothing brings that to mind more strongly than to hear a voice slamming through a song like the lady in “All About That Bass.”

This is one of those ‘paths not taken’ stories.

All About That Bass – Postmodern Jukebox
European Tour Version

~~~


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLnZ1NQm2uk

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PcBNWd2tTI&list=RDo3gHhCpkiWU&index=11

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U40OIESDwlU (Catch the heart of this piece at 1:46.)

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mxrh1CrMmTY

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-43lLKaqBQ

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nim7Xs41UJo

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoWfDw-v4DM

Obsessed with the Fetus

This week, my 97-year-old mother received a packet of mail from Republican senator Rand Paul. The cover letter begins: “For 47 years, nine unelected men and women on the Supreme Court have played God with innocent human life. They have invented laws that condemned to painful deaths without trial more than 62 million babies for the crime of being ‘inconvenient…’”

The propaganda continues over four pages. Along with the inflammatory letter, Sen. Paul included pre-printed petitions to both Arkansas senators and all four representatives as well as Sen. Mitch McConnell, calling for the passage of the Life at Conception Act. All my mom needed to do was sign on the bottom line and send them off in the enclosed envelope addressed to Sen. Paul in care of the National Pro-Life Alliance.

I was relieved that my mom said I should take the mail. It was a “bunch of crap,” she said. I agreed.

She’d beyond the point of arguing the finer points of politics or political issues. But it’s easy to see how this mail-out and its provocative rhetoric is meant to stir up Trump’s base right here before Election Day.

Americans should never lose sight of the fact that Trump and Pence were elected because of fetuses. Other supporter ‘causes’ are secondary, among them rabid racism and fundamental ignorance. But the driving force and the majority of their 32%-43% approval rating is based in their core support of evangelicals who are obsessed with fetuses.

No matter how many sexual assaults, adulteries, or episodes of blatant bullying, no matter how many lies and incidents of gaslighting, no matter the total incompetence of Trump’s service as president, his abuse of power, his disrespect for tradition and honor, no matter how many young immigrant children have been kidnapped from their families, no matter how many tens of thousands of our neighbors and countrymen die from a virus Trump failed to properly manage, no matter how much we as a nation plummet in the eyes of the world as we abdicate any possible claim of leadership, we can rest easy because fetuses will be saved.

Since Roe v Wade, Republicans have honed their primary strategy for political ascendance – not balancing the budget, not maintaining and improving the nation’s infrastructure, not caring for the average citizen – by fomenting outrage about abortion. Never mind that in heralding the ‘murder’ of embryos, evangelical conservatives have obfuscated and ignored the many legitimate medical reasons women terminate pregnancies. Never mind that women have always aborted unwanted pregnancies for countless legitimate reasons to which no one else is – or can be – privy. Never mind that Roe v Wade simply allowed women to access proper medical care for such procedures. Only the fetus matters.

Remove the fetus issue and evangelicals no longer have a clear-cut reason to slavishly follow the Republican Party. There may be seasons of drummed-up hate for the sexually-different or same sex couples who dare to fall in love. There may be outrage against government-funded programs that seek to improve opportunities for low-income children through programs like Head Start and school lunches. There may be simmering prejudices against non-whites for whatever derogatory stereotypes can be successfully slapped on them by insecure racists. But the one sure-fire button Republicans can count on to get evangelicals to the polls on Election Day is fetuses.

Odd that in all their crusade on behalf of God’s will in His miracle of fertilized eggs, none of these well-intentioned voters find issue with defying God’s will by artificially fertilizing eggs for those who can’t conceive. Does God really want them to have a child?

Odd that other ‘acts of God’ are defied as we rush onward with medical science to cure cancer and invent vaccines to protect ourselves against God’s will. If it is God’s will that we suffer those ailments, why are we curing them?

You can see where this rabbit hole leads. Either we have an innate right to intervene in our biological processes or we don’t. Pregnancy is a biological process. The egg donor (and usually the sperm donor) possess the innate right to intervene. Not a religious group. Not the government.

It’s not like we need more people. The world’s population has shot up from one billion to 7.8 billion in just the past 200 years. That’s despite virus and influenza epidemics, two world wars, and multiple other small wars around the globe. We have invented vaccines and antibiotics and pesticides in order to attack disease and increase the food supply. We’ve succeeded in doubling life expectancy since 1900. Global population is projected at 8 billion in 2023 and from there will double again by the end of this century.

But let’s cheer on the evangelicals and their great moral sacrifice in electing Trump to save the fetuses. Let’s put government in control of reproduction with laws regulating women’s bodies in order to save more fetuses. Because the fetus is the most important consideration.

Without question, children are our future. They should have the best we can give them both in the womb and after they’re born. But most importantly, each child should be wanted by its parents, not forced to a life of possible abuse, neglect, or a miserable existence shuttled from one foster home to another.

This is the insidious threat religious extremism poses to any nation. Religion inspires single-minded fanaticism that ignores personal rights, common sense, and the freedoms enshrined within a democracy. This is exactly the problem our Founding Fathers sought to avoid when they wrote the First Amendment to our Constitution prohibiting the government from establishing any religious doctrine.

Can we please honor our Founder’s vision and keep religion OUT of government? And keep government control out of human reproduction.

Viruses and Humanity — An Old Story

17th-century German “plague panel” depicting the triumph of death. Panels of this kind were placed on the walls of houses to warn against the plague. A plague epidemy raged in Augsburg, Bavaria between 1607 and 1636.

Amid funny television sitcoms, exciting football games, and eating out at your favorite Thai food restaurant, it’s easy to forget about plagues. But they’ve always been part of human existence. Millions of us have died with these periodic outbreaks. Fortunately for us, we (well, most of us) now understand that these are not curses sent by angry gods but rather a natural invasion of one or another micro-organism seeking its own place in the sun. Er, in us.

A side note here: A virus is technically NOT an organism like bacteria but rather a microscopic parasite much smaller than bacteria which can’t reproduce outside of a host body.

Viruses teeter on the boundaries of what is considered life. On one hand, they contain the key elements that make up all living organisms: the nucleic acids, DNA or RNA (any given virus can only have one or the other). On the other hand, viruses lack the capacity to independently read and act upon the information contained within these nucleic acids.[1]

A virus is a submicroscopic infectious agent that replicates only inside the living cells of an organism. Viruses can infect all types of life forms, from animals and plants to microorganisms, including bacteria and archaea. [Since their discovery in] 1898, more than 6,000 virus species have been described in detail, of the millions of types of viruses in the environment. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most numerous type of biological entity.[2]

So keeping in mind that these infinitesimally small entities can’t move, reproduce, or live except inside another organism, we can look back and marvel at the enormous impact these entities have wrought on the human race. Research has found that an astonishing thirty percent of all protein adaptations for humans have been driven by viruses.[3],[4]  As noted in the 2007 scientific article by Christian W. McMillan, “Epidemic Disease and Their Effect on History,”

There is perhaps no longer-lasting historical relationship than that between humans and disease, especially epidemic disease. The relationship predates agriculture, the formation of cities, and, if current research on the emergence of diseases like tuberculosis is correct, human migration out of Africa. From the earliest times to the present, epidemics have affected human history in myriad ways: demographically, culturally, politically, financially, and biologically. Humans have never known a time in history when epidemics did not loom large.[5]

Studies of prehistory suggest that bottlenecks in human evolution may have been the result of epidemics where most of a population died off leaving only a few survivors to repopulate that area or continent. Aside from restarting populations, these virulent invaders also affect the genome by selecting survivors with particular DNA profiles which then become the prevailing type. Epigenetic effects also become part of the remaining population, an inheritance by mechanisms other than through the DNA sequence of genes. … It works through chemical tags added to chromosomes that function to switch genes on or off.

The discovery of a 5,000-year-old house in China filled with skeletons is evidence of a deadly epidemic. (Image credit: Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology)

The earliest evidence of a widespread plague is found in China where the 5,000 year old remains of prehistoric villagers had been stuffed inside a house that was subsequently burned to the ground.

No age group was spared, as the skeletons of juveniles, young adults and middle-age people were found inside the house. The archaeological site is now called “Hamin Mangha” and is one of the best-preserved prehistoric sites in northeastern China. Archaeological and anthropological study indicates that the epidemic happened quickly enough that there was no time for proper burials, and the site was not inhabited again.

Before the discovery of Hamin Mangha, another prehistoric mass burial that dates to roughly the same time period was found at a site called Miaozigou, in northeastern China. Together, these discoveries suggest that an epidemic ravaged the entire region.[6]

There’s no question that epidemics have changed not only the physical make-up of humanity but also the course of history. Among the earliest records of such events are Sanskrit notations from 1200 BC documenting a type of flu that spread through Babylon, Central Asia, Mesopotamia and Southern Asia. Since these were the first areas of the world to create written records, it follows these would be the places where such chronicles would exist. But without doubt, plagues didn’t select only advanced societies to infect.

The first well documented outbreak of epidemic disease may be the Plague of Athens, an illness which Thucydides described as starting in the head with illness that included fever, redness and inflammation in the eyes, sore throat that led to bleeding, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, and ulcers on the body. The opinions of scholars on the cause range from hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola to epidemic typhus fever.

The Plague of Athens was an epidemic that devastated the city-state of Athens in ancient Greece during the second year of the Peloponnesian War (430 BC) when an Athenian victory still seemed within reach. The plague killed an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 people and is believed to have entered Athens through Piraeus, the city’s port and sole source of food and supplies. Much of the eastern Mediterranean also saw an outbreak of the disease, albeit with less impact.

The plague had serious effects on Athens’ society, resulting in a lack of adherence to laws and religious belief. In response laws became stricter, resulting in the punishment of non-citizens claiming to be Athenian. In addition, Pericles, the leader of Athens, died from the plague. The plague returned twice more, in 429 BC and in the winter of 427/426 BC. Some 30 pathogens have been suggested as having caused the plague.[7]

The Roman Empire suffered its first massive epidemic in the so-called Antonine Plague circa 165-180 AD. Soldiers returning to Rome from campaigning along with empire’s boundaries developed what scientists now believe was smallpox. The result in Rome’s crowded streets was the death of up to five million people. The long-lasting outbreak ended the long peaceful “Pax Romana” for the empire, with barbarian invasions weakening the government and undermining the old religious belief systems with their multiple gods, opening the door to the growth of Christianity.

The remains found where a bonfire incinerated many of the victims of the Cyprian Plague epidemic in the city of Thebes in Egypt. (Image credit: N.Cijan/Associazione Culturale per lo Studio dell’Egitto e del Sudan ONLUS)

About 100 years later, a new virus hit the Roman Empire that wiped out over one million people.  “Named after St. Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage (a city in Tunisia) who described the epidemic as signaling the end of the world, the Plague of Cyprian is estimated to have killed 5,000 people a day in Rome alone. In 2014, archaeologists in Luxor found what appears to be a mass burial site of plague victims. Their bodies were covered with a thick layer of lime (historically used as a disinfectant). Archaeologists found three kilns used to manufacture lime and the remains of plague victims burned in a giant bonfire.”[8] Thought by scholars to be another outbreak of smallpox, the disease is believed to have transferred from animal hosts to humanity and may have included measles.  The outbreak continued for nearly twenty years and contributed greatly to the fall of the empire.

In 541-542, up to 100 million died across Europe and West Asia in the epidemic known first as the Plague of Justinian (emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire at Istanbul),[9] wiping out up to 50% of the European population. The disease, later known as the Black Death (Bubonic plague) hopped over to the British Isles 100 years later and reappeared in 746-747 in the Byzantine Empire, West Asia, and Africa to ill an unknown number of victims. Meanwhile, an outbreak of smallpox in Japan killed about half the population.

A bubo on the upper thigh of a person infected with bubonic plague. Wikipedia

The Black Death is perhaps the most famous of pandemics, believed carried by fleas and also spread by human to human contact. Credited with depopulating Europe during the Middle Ages, the outbreak lasted from 1331-1353 and wiped out up to 200 million people, up to 60% of the population.

The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence and the Plague, was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history… the bacterium Yersinia pestis is believed to have been the cause. Y. pestis infection most commonly results in bubonic plague… it most likely originated in Central Asia or East Asia, from where it travelled along the Silk Road, reaching Crimea by 1347. From there, it was most likely carried by fleas living on the black rats that travelled on Genoese merchant ships, spreading throughout the Mediterranean Basin and reaching Africa, Western Asia, and the rest of Europe via Constantinople, Sicily, and the Italian Peninsula.[10]

A recurrence of Black Death in the mid-1500s wiped out over 20,000 Londoners and another estimated 20,000 thirty years later. Various plague outbreaks around the globe continued to occur, but the biggest death toll in Britain of over 100,000 people happened in the mid-1600s. Subsequent ripples of this infection have made way through various populations since that time, and the virus remains active even in the United States.

One of greatest advantages Europeans had in its conquest of the New World were the diseases that came with them. Smallpox, measles, and yellow fever wiped out upwards of twenty million natives who had never been exposed and had no immunity. For a full list of epidemics and their impact, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_epidemics

Today, we have the advantage of knowing such disease outbreaks are not signals of the end of the world wrought by supernatural powers, but rather by invisible creatures that breed in our cells. We shouldn’t be at all surprised that yet another such eruption has occurred, given the role such entities have played throughout human history. Due to modern science, we stand at a far greater advantage than any of our forefathers in fighting such devastating illnesses. But as we’re witnessing, science is only as effective as the public and our leaders will allow.

And as far as science goes, no one yet knows exactly how COVID-19 kills people, or how long asymptomatic carriers continue to spread the virus, or whether those who’ve survived infection are vulnerable to re-infection. The horizon for a vaccine remains distant despite our advanced technology, and no one can predict whether a vaccine will be more or less as effective as the flu vaccine at its average of 50%.

Even when (if) we manage to craft an effective vaccine and discover treatments that address the viral infection with relatively useful interventions, we still must face the fact that the flip side of our advanced scientific status in the modern world is a far greater rate of intercontinental disease transmission and expansion of human population into areas previously left to nature, to name only two.

There will be new viruses.

~~~

Notes:

  1. With new viruses occurring approximately ONE EACH YEAR, the majority are viruses originating from an animal host. Of the many factors responsible, CHANGES TO LOCAL ECOSYSTEMS that perturb the balance between pathogen and principal host species is one of the major drivers, together with increasing urbanization of mankind and changes in human behavior. Many emerging viruses have RNA genomes and as such are capable of rapid mutation and selection of new variants in the face of environmental changes in host numbers and available target species. [Emphasis mine] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3630908/
  2. Scientists studying ice cores from melting glaciers have discovered previously unknown viruses that are tens of millions of years old. “The experiment revealed 33 groups of virus genuses (also known as genera) in the ice cores. Of these, 28 were previously unknown to science, the researchers said. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote in the study, ‘presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.’” See https://www.livescience.com/unknown-viruses-discovered-tibetan-glacier.html
  3. We still have plenty of existing, known viruses waiting at our doorstep for a fresh host population. See https://www.livescience.com/56598-deadliest-viruses-on-earth.html
  4. Graphics of viruses. https://www.visualcapitalist.com/history-of-pandemics-deadliest/

Footnotes:

[1] https://www.livescience.com/53272-what-is-a-virus.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virus

[3] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160713100911.htm

[4] https://www.sciencefocus.com/the-human-body/virus-human-evolution/

[5] https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199743292/obo-9780199743292-0155.xml

[6] https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Athens

[8] https://www.livescience.com/worst-epidemics-and-pandemics-in-history.html

[9] It doesn’t take much imagination to understand how this plague led to the end of the classical world.  “The reign of Justinian was a turning-point in Late Antiquity. It is the period when paganism finally lost its long struggle to survive, and when the schism in Christianity between the Monophysite east and the Chalcedonian west became insurmountable. From a military viewpoint, it marked the last time that the Roman Empire could go on the offensive with hope of success. Africa and Italy were recovered, and a foothold was established in Spain. When Justinian died, the frontiers were still intact although the Balkans had been devastated by a series of raids and the Italian economy was in ruins. His extensive building program has left us the most celebrated example of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture that still survives: Hagia Sophia in modern Istanbul.” See https://www.roman-emperors.org/justinia.htm

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

Is Elizabeth Warren’s voice the problem?

Perhaps the root cause of Warren’s disappointing showing in both Iowa and New Hampshire and her seeming inability to climb out from under the shadows of male candidates have nothing to do with her policies. Perhaps her poor showing has more to do with unconscious triggers embedded in the human genome.

Consider her voice, high pitched and often squeaky, with hoarse breaks as she tries to increase her volume for emphasis. I sometimes cringe when this happens. My reaction to her delivery often drowns out whatever she is trying to say. Am I alone?

“We understand that we find certain voices more soothing or grounded. And these tend to be deeper voices,” says Brian Lee, a voice communication expert who founded Be The Voice Academy. “High-pitched voices, on the other hand, can be unpleasant or cause anxiety.”

“These sentiments are echoed by Carina Tien, who founded The Voice Room in 2003. She shares that CEOs who are speaking on stage, for instance, tend to tone down their voices in order to be perceived as assertive or authoritative.

“In contrast, high voices tend to communicate high energy, and as such, ‘Don’t give people a serious impression.’”

The article I’m quoting, “The Science of Hating Someone for their Voice,” goes on to provide scientific data measuring various voice pitches against the listener’s reaction. No wonder people who are serious about making their points effectively often end up working with a voice coach.[1]

I don’t hate Warren. I think she’s got great ideas. Her fans appreciate the minutia of her policy plans although many others don’t dig that deep. But she might benefit from a voice coach – assuming it’s not already too late. Her poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire will be difficult to overcome.

Another trademark characteristic of Elizabeth Warren’s public appearances is her wildly waving arms. She does this to demonstrate and generate excitement. But that’s likely not the effect on most observers.

“Wildly waving arms” is a distraction, according to a pastor’s advice to other pastors. Along with pacing and “sprinkler-like torso turns,” such movements are “not ways to emphasize the point.” Creating stillness, the advice continues, “allows listeners to feel the sermon without being distracted by unnecessary gestures.”[2]

In real life, humans instinctively see such gestures as a signal that someone is desperate for rescue from drowning or trying to regain balance as they teeter on the edge of a cliff – not the message Warren means to send. Rapid arm movement suggests frenzy or some form of emergency, none of which is helpful to conveying Warren’s intelligent message.

Women have a hard enough time breaking into the traditionally male enclave of politics. With two strikes already against her because of her gender, Warren has managed to gain public office by meeting and greeting people on a personal basis where waving arms and high squeaky rants aren’t involved. But that doesn’t work in big rallies and the types of appearances required in a presidential campaign.

Shrill voices trigger an innate reaction reminiscent to many of an angry mom or wife who rants while pointing her finger – emotional, volatile, bossy and nagging. This image doesn’t serve her well.

As for women in general, take the disparagement of Hillary Clinton who had the serious demeanor and determined strength people prize among men. Her voice wasn’t particularly high and she didn’t wave her arms. But among women, whose gender norms involve a comforting, maternal presence, Hillary’s strength and determination framed her as a cold unnatural bitch. That made her the perfect candidate upon which to hang the Republican’s most effective hot button: abortion, the “unnatural” female act.

Those who know Hillary personally say nothing could be further from the truth, but that’s worth nothing when you’re trying to persuade millions of people to care about you.

Not that men don’t have appearance and behavioral issues that turn off voters. Bernie’s entrenched presentation method involves an angry frown accompanied by arm waving as if he’s conducting a Tchaikovsky symphony. These elements of his body language are distracting. After watching him on multiple occasions, one interprets the underlying message, that he’s stuck in a habit and rigid in his beliefs in the same way that he can’t stop with the arms or frown.

Which is, ironically, one of the characteristics many of his fans prize the most. He’s been preaching the same leftist ideas for over fifty years. To many, that makes him authentic. To many others, it means that he is not well suited to a job that requires thinking on his feet to deal with unexpected developments.

It’s worth noting that Buttigieg doesn’t frown, doesn’t wave his arms, and smiles a lot when speaking intelligently and calmly about his position on the issues. This alone could help explain Buttigieg’s stunning rise in the candidate ranks.

Few people listening to these speakers investigate their gut reactions to analyze whether it’s a squeaky voice, waving arms, or smiles that make them like or dislike a particular political hopeful.

Psychologists who study body language more or less agree that less than 10% of what someone says is communicated through words alone. “The numbers represent the percentages of importance that varying communication channels have. The belief is that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken.”[3] Researchers rush to point out that circumstances can significantly influence the exact formula.

Researchers have also noted that for politicians in particular, nonverbal behavior is a major contributing factor to the audience’s lasting impression. “According to University of Pittsburgh Political Communications Professor Jerry Shuster, body language, mannerisms and facial expressions are 85 percent of what an audience takes away.”[4]

Again, these reactions are for the most part not recognized consciously by people in the audience. We walk away from a speech or flip the TV channel because we don’t like someone. Or we dismiss what a candidate is saying because they annoy us. Often, we can’t get past the body language/voice issue to really hear what they’re saying about their plans and aspirations for the office, should they be elected.

We’re not as intellectual about such things as we might think. As noted in a Wikipedia article about body language, “…if a person is feeling confident, then their breathing pattern will deepen, their intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) will increase, and their tone of voice will sound fuller and stronger. If they are feeling anxious, their breathing will become too shallow, their IAP will decrease, and their voice will sound thinner and weaker.” We want strong confident leaders, so our subconscious takeaway on voice matters.

Anyone who plays poker can verify that body language often makes or breaks a player’s game, and the same is true for politicians. Once you begin analyzing what you’re actually thinking as you watch and hear candidates or politicians speak, you’ll come to understand the power of this primal type of analysis.

Warren would be well served to lower her voice, speak from her diaphragm rather than her throat, and stop waving her arms. One of the advantages of Klobuchar is her low voice and resolute stance. No arm waving.

Sanders would benefit from a lot more smiling and positive slant in his speeches and for heaven’s sake, no more conducting. It’s doubtful he’s capable of this change, which again speaks to the overall impression of his ability to serve well as president.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by CRISTOBAL HERRERA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (10554400c)

Buttigieg may have already figured all this out. If you watch him, his easy-going presence immediately puts his audience into a calm and pleasant state of mind. We’re eager for calm and pleasant after the current president’s erratic, angry behavior.

Warren’s complex policy plans may put off many voters who don’t have the time or interest to wade through the details, although Warren seems to believe that the minutia of her proposals are key to her winning. Wrong. It’s bad enough to carry the ‘female’ baggage when running for president—too emotional, easily hysterical.

Men don’t escape from problems when violating gender norms. Buttigieg especially, as a gay man, has to avoid seeming weak. His military service helps him in this regard as does his athletic appearance, ever-present after-five shadow, and confident manner even when confronted with criticism.

Chances are that someone has mentioned these body language issues to both Sanders and Warren. It’s easy to imagine that their reaction was to cling fiercely to how they are naturally without any makeover. They’re both proud of their authenticity and may see such modifications as falsification. But just as people dress appropriately and manage a groomed hairstyle in order to create a better public image, so must they pay attention to body language and voice in order to more effectively communicate their potential.


~~~

 

[1] https://www.ricemedia.co/the-science-behind-hating-someone-for-their-voice/

[2] http://wesleyansermons.com/page/8/

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-words/201109/is-nonverbal-communication-numbers-game

[4] https://www.huffpost.com/entry/political-body-language_b_3163499

Trump — It’s About Jesus

Make no mistake. The whitewash of Trump’s many sins is not just about Republican power madness or foreign influence or money. It is those things, but mostly this is about Jesus. Finally the evangelical voter bloc can fulfill its forty-year wish list to do away with all liberal advances. No more abortion, no more gay rights, no more talk about climate change or pollution. No more mingling of the races or giving those colored folks a place at the table. No more helping hungry people with a handout they don’t deserve or helping sick people pay their medical bills.

Evangelicals — a term that today refers to people who believe that Jesus died for their sins, that the Bible is the word of God, that every believer has a “born again” or salvation moment, and that the good news of Jesus should be widely disseminated — make up as much as a quarter of the country, or close to 80 million people. Around 60 percent vote, more than any other demographic, and among white evangelical voters, more than three-quarters tend to go to Republicans, thanks to wedge issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights.[1]

During the last days of Trump’s 2016 campaign, he met with “Robert Jeffress, the head of 14,000-member megachurch First Baptist Dallas, a contributor to Fox News, and one of the earliest evangelical leaders to support Trump, presided over the meeting.

“I usually stand when he [Trump] comes in the room as a way of showing respect — he doesn’t ask that, but that’s just something that I’ve normally done,” Jeffress explained to the assembled, who included Wayne Grudem, a well-known theologian and co-founder of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; Eric Metaxas, a bestselling Christian author and radio host; Ryan Anderson, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation; and Jay Richards, a philosopher and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a conservative think tank that campaigns against teaching evolution in school.”

At this meeting, Trump, no doubt coached by his Republican handlers, promised to fulfill the evangelical agenda: He would end the contraception mandate of Obamacare; select only anti-choice judges; do away with the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt entities from endorsing politicians; support prayer in school; oppose any bill that pulled funding from Christian schools that were charged with discrimination; keep transgender people from using the “wrong” bathrooms and locker rooms; and protect Israel.

It’s been a long time coming, ever since the incestuous relationship between Republicans and Christian extremists joined forces under the benevolent guidance of Ronald Reagan. The power brokers behind the Republican Party figured out that if they could gain a voting block as widespread and fervent as evangelicals, they could turn back the tide of progressive change. They’d been slammed on all sides – the ‘60s generation had turned its back on the corporate agenda, passed laws forcing dirty manufacturing to clean up its messes, and was working hard to put women and minorities on an equal status with white men.

Casualty of the U.S. abandonment of Syrian Kurds, 2019.

This unholy coalition of conservatives, evangelicals, and racists developed a strategy that finally paid off with the election of Donald Trump. Now they had the whole government in their control. They quickly began reversing rules and laws and appointing federal judges who would abide by the coalition’s view of the world:

  • eliminating voting rights for blacks and the poor
  • packing the courts with extreme conservatives
  • allowing unlimited gerrymandering of voting districts
  • barricading U.S. borders against refugees (but only those who aren’t white)
  • reversing pollution controls in order to ‘ease’ the regulatory burden on corporations
  • promoting any and all efforts to reverse Roe v Wade
  • chewing off vital parts of the Affordable Care Act until they can shoot the entire act in the head
  • destroying the U.S.’s standing on the world stage, betraying allies, and doubling down on military force as the only viable foreign policy
  • accepting murderers as friends (such as Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, who in absentia murdered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi and war criminal former U.S. Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher)
  • ignoring the public health crisis while ending school lunch programs that sought to reduce the nation’s childhood obesity problem

And much more, most of which serves the corporate agenda more than the evangelical. But who’s counting?

The ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ mindset of the unholy Republican coalition demonstrated its determination to push its agenda at any cost by its election of Trump despite (or because of) his racism, his corruption, his sexism, and his utter disregard for standards of personal honor or morality. The idea that Trump was God’s chosen messenger despite his history of multiple sins appealed to the evangelicals. After all, who among them had not sinned? Their entire religious outlook is based on the idea that God will forgive sin. Lo and behold, God had forgiven Trump, made him King (er, uh president), in order for him to work God’s will on the wayward United States of America.

Trump, on the other hand, knows he’s not forgiven nor has he ‘gone forth and sinned no more.’ Trump hungers for power and adoration, and he’ll say and do anything to keep that juice coming. Honest public servants who attempted to serve in his administration held onto their posts despite Trump’s tantrums and verbal abuse out of a sense of duty to the nation. The landscape is littered with their empty desks.

An overcrowded fenced area holding families at a Border Patrol Centralized Processing Center is seen in a still image from video in McAllen, Texas, U.S. on June 11, 2019 and released as part of a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General on July 2, 2019. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2019/07/border-facilities/593239/

Trump has no conscience, no agenda, and no principles. He does what he’s told by advisers who put up with his out-of-control behavior because they have their own agendas. For Stephen Miller, the agenda is making America white again. There’s Jarrod Kushner, a Jew, who quietly works as ‘strategic planner’ to advance Israel at the expense of Palestine and of U.S. security in the Middle East. There’s Trump’s daughter Ivanka, possibly the only person who can actually exert some small amount of control over her father, acting as a so-called adviser for women’s issues while in reality maximizing profits for her family’s financial interests.

For Mitch McConnell and other elected lackeys, the agenda is to hang onto their elected seat in districts where the majority of voters are either evangelical, racist, or otherwise drinking the Kool-Aid so freely dispensed by the party. Going against such constituents is simply too big of a risk to take even though the 2018 congressional elections should have warned them their hold on power had become tenuous.

The Republicans cling to their long-game strategy in the belief that evangelicals will continue to sleep with the morally corrupt. Evangelicals rush along in their cognitive dissonance to embrace the idea of end times, eager to do what they can to trigger the promised apocalypse which will bring Jesus back. In this mindset, they alone will be ‘saved’ while the rest of those libtards burn in hell. So why should they listen to anything progressives might say?

Science, as always, is not to be trusted even though every day evangelicals depend on the advances science has brought to modern society. Antibiotics, x-rays, MRIs, organ transplants—nothing is too ‘modern’ to ignore when an evangelical is fighting disease and death. Cell phones, DVRs, GPS, air conditioning—nothing is off the table when it comes to comfort and entertainment even if those terrible atheist scientists might have invented it. But when the science doesn’t fit into their religious view, forget about it. God is the only one who can change the weather. God assigns gender and never intended same sex love. God favors white people—that’s the reason He blessed the United States and gave whites dominion over those red-skinned heathens who were here first.

What evangelicals fail to see through their rapturous haze is that once Trump and his enabling Republicans have broken the Constitution in order to fulfill their agenda, they and their agenda will no longer matter. With the failure of the Republican-controlled Senate to hold Trump accountable, the executive branch of the government is without limits. What that might mean for the future of our nation is too terrible to contemplate.

The unholy alliance of religion and politics has been the source of the world’s worst evils since the beginning of time. That reality was fresh in the minds of the Founding Fathers. That misguided zealots now work to overturn that understanding and the protections written into our Constitution cries out for correction. It remains to be seen whether the correction will come in the 2020 election or if it will come only with another civil war.

 

~~~

Further reading: “Trump is an anathema to everything I was taught to love about Jesus, everything I was taught about how to live out my faith. His disdain for decency, disrespect toward basic tenets of right and wrong and complete disregard for the most vulnerable among us could not be more fundamentally un-Christian. To vote for him because he sees the political expediency of supporting restrictions on abortion is a Faustian deal with the devil that is ultimately more likely to exact greater cost than reward.” https://time.com/5775440/donald-trump-evangelical-opposition/

[1] https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/christian-right-worships-donald-trump-915381/

Gem’s Gems

Excerpted from the book, Gem’s Gems — a memoir of my mother, Carmyn Gem [Morrow] Pitts.

[Her father Tom Morrow] ventured east into Madison County and ended up at St. Paul where the logging boom was in full steam. He brought his family to live first in a small house northwest of St. Paul before settling into the Casteel place, a two-story house with a bay window and porches upstairs and down, high upon a mountainside overlooking the White River Valley. They enjoyed a glorious summer in this scenic valley before cotton-picking time called them back to Texas.

Tom gathered his St. Paul crops and left Grandpa Clark in charge of the house and getting the sorghum cane to the mill. Left behind was the furniture—a wood burning cookstove, iron bedsteads and bedding, a rocking chair, table and benches, a marble-top round table, Sylvia’s “Princess” dresser with oval mirror, a small drop leaf desk, and a “matting” box with hinged lid Tom had built out of lathe for Sylvia’s quilts [Carmyn’s mother]. The family packed their “batchin’” equipment—a camp stove, a few quilts, feather bed, and feather bolsters, a white enamel bucket with plates, cups, and two serving bowls, the iron skillet, and a deep aluminum stewer Sylvia used to soak whole grain wheat overnight—into the beloved Baby Overland and headed south. Not left behind were the family cat Snowball and the German Shepherd dog “Lightnin’,” who rode on the fender.

On the journey, they stopped along the road each night and made campfires to cook supper. They would stop at a house to ask if they could get water at their spring and camp for the night. Mama made pallets for the younger children to sleep on in the truck and Papa, Durward, Douglas and Graydon slept on pallets on the ground under the truck. Once when they stopped at a house and asked to use the spring, the lady of the house brought them fresh buttermilk.

Littlefield Texas cotton-pickin’ shack. January 1929 L-R: Douglas with dog Trixie True, Graydon, Joy with cat Snowball, Tomazine “Sister,” Carmyn holding her doll Prudence, Una Mae in Durward’s lap

Upon arriving in Texas, they lived first in a cotton-picking shack at one of Sylvia’s sister’s place in Grayson County. After picking for two weeks, they moved on to another of Sylvia’s sister’s farms near Vera in Knox County where they stayed for four weeks. The shacks were crudely built one-room structures about twelve feet by fourteen feet with two windows and a door. Aunt Lillian fixed up their shack at Crosby County for her sister Sylvia and family to live in, scrubbed clean with curtains on the windows. She loaned them a coal-oil stove with an oven. They picked their cotton for three weeks and then finished the season in a shack near Morrison.

In the winter of 1928, the Tom and Sylvia Morrow family moved back to the Casteel place in St. Paul, Arkansas, but Grandpa Clark convinced Tom that the ground was too rocky for farming, so they rented a house together—the Greenway place—about 1.5 miles southwest of Springdale (near the present-day Wal-Mart). It was a temporary home for the two weeks it took Tom to find “Trouble’s End,” the name of the place in Springdale that was their first home with a bathroom and running water. Their seventh child Una May was born here. They had apples and strawberries, and were joined again by the grandparents, who again kept the house when Tom began preparing his family for another summer run back to Texas to pick cotton.

Austin Place, Springdale Arkansas August 1929 Tomazine and Una May

Tom traded the Baby Overland for a big truck, made a wooden box for the pet cat and a puppy to ride in, and the German Shepherd rode on the fender. On the journey, Sylvia and girls slept in the truck while Tom and the boys slept on pallets under the truck. Back in Texas, near Littlefield, they lived in a shack and picked cotton, but the kids all came down with whooping cough, so they couldn’t return to Arkansas until March 1929.

Back in Springdale, they discovered that Grandpa Clark had failed to pay rent at “Trouble’s End,” and had moved three miles east of Springdale to the Crane place. He had rented a nearby house, the Austin place, for Tom’s family, but it was only one bedroom. Tom closed in the breezeway to the smokehouse to provide more room, but that fall he found the Nix place with three bedrooms and a big corner porch. He moved the family there and went to Texas to haul grain from November until February 1930.

Tom Morrow with his mule team, baby on the wagon seat

 

Read the rest of Gem’s Gems! Available at Amazon.com