"Gone With the Wind": It's Not Too Late to Read the Book!

            The excitement and acclaim that greeted both the Peachtree and the Broadway premieres of producer David O. Selznick's adaptation of Gone With the Wind just before Christmas seventy-five years ago seems genuinely cringe-worthy today, after multiple indictments over recent years of Margaret Mitchell's novel as racist and historically distorted. Mitchell is clearly culpable on the first count, although by no means uniquely so, but latter-day critics who charge her with distorting history would be well advised to consider the history she had to work with and, in some aspects, even undertook to revise.

Released in mid-summer 1936, Mitchell's book had already sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone by January, 1937. Rather than disappoint a multitude of adoring readers poring obsessively over their favorite lines, the screen writers ultimately opted for scrupulous fidelity to Mitchell's text. Yet, the film's opening credits, introducing it as "Margaret Mitchell's Story of the Old South," were more applicable to its dialogue than to some of the actual meanings Mitchell meant to convey. This much was clear to Mitchell and her more thoughtful readers--even before the first scene--in the scrolled lines setting the story in "a land of Cavaliers and cotton " where "the Age of Chivalry took its last bow." Mitchell took great exception to this spin on her story that, she consistently maintained, was actually intended to insert some historical realism in an Old South narrative long shrouded in fluttery romanticism. "I certainly had no intention of writing about Cavaliers," she insisted, pointing out that "practically all my characters, except the Virginia Wilkeses, were of sturdy yeoman stock."

Mitchell's words certainly rang true in her depiction of prominent planter Gerald O'Hara as a semi-literate "bogtrotter" who fled his native Ireland under suspicion for the murder of an English rent collector. "Loud-mouthed and blustering," Mitchell's Gerald proceeds to parlay his facility at poker and his "steady head for whiskey" into ownership of a run-down plantation, and after marrying well above his own social station, he ultimately satisfies his "ruthless longing" for a respected place in planter society.

In the film, by contrast, the means of Gerald's socioeconomic ascent is never addressed, much less the more questionable aspects of his Irish background. Mitchell had also presented Tara as a "clumsy, sprawling" structure with a simple whitewashed brick exterior. The filmmakers, however, remained deaf to her several pleas for an "ugly, sprawling and columnless" O'Hara residence in keeping with typical plantation houses in a Georgia upcountry still not long removed from the frontier. Despite Mitchell's attempts to revise key aspects of both popular and scholarly myth, producer Selznick made it clear that he had no intention of poking holes in what remained a delightfully marketable plantation legend. Thus, Mitchell was left to conclude that she and a tiny cadre of southern historical realists might "write the truth about the antebellum South . . . until Gabriel blows his trump, and everyone would go on believing the Hollywood version."

In truth, the film did a little better in capturing Mitchell's disdain for the legend of the white South's heroic "Redemption" from Reconstruction by a resurgent planter aristocracy. After the war, her high-minded, genteel families like the Wilkeses flounder and fail, especially Ashley, who seemed wonderfully grand in the Old South but proves woefully inept in the New. Scarlett, meanwhile, summons the grit and gall that is her patrimony from the low-born Gerald, rising above her despair in the garden at Twelve Oaks and heading off to a rebuilding Atlanta, where there was "still plenty of money to be made by anyone who isn't afraid to work--or to grab."

Scarlett quickly proves that she is hesitant to do neither. Her "harsh contact with the red earth of Tara" has transformed her into a thoroughgoing economic realist who grimly concedes that the Yankees were right about at least one thing: "It took money to be a lady."  Ironically, her only means of feeling like a lady again was to "make money for herself, as men made money."

Suffice it to say, Mitchell's black characters reveal no such complexity or depth but remain steadfastly and stereotypically one-dimensional. Hence, the widespread perception today of her novel as nothing more than what one critic called "a racist, revisionist Southern apologetic" written by a wealthy white Atlanta debutante still embittered about the outcome of the Civil War. This facile exercise in regional stereotyping is unfortunate, to say the least, especially given the current anger and division nationwide over what appears to be a pattern of undifferentiated racial profiling by law enforcement, the courts, and let's face it, a lot of white citizens as well. Accordingly, Americans would do well to reconsider such conveniently narrow sectional pigeonholing of a book that was actually quite compatible with white racial attitudes, both popular and scholarly, prevailing nationally at the end of the 1930s and well beyond. Such a reconsideration might even mean that the next time an Eric Garner is killed by police outside the South, we could at least be spared the long since predictable, almost willfully naive reaction registered by a recent "Justice for All" protester who exclaimed, "This isn't the Deep South. This isn't Mississippi in the 1960s. This is New York City in 2014."

Novelist Pat Conroy has suggested that, for still-angry and defiant white southerners, Gone With the Wind amounted to "a clenched fist raised to the North." This is doubtless correct, but there is little evidence that many white northerners interpreted it this way at the time. Nor was there much indication that Mitchell's racist language and depictions were particularly offensive to whites outside the South in an early 1939 Gallup survey suggesting that some 14 million Americans had read her book in its first 30 months in print and positing a likely national audience of some 56.5 million viewers for the eagerly anticipated film based on it.

 If neither Mitchell nor the great balance of her national readership appeared to give much thought to the disturbing racial realities behind the seductive southern legend, the same could just as easily be said of a great many white academic historians, North and South. Mitchell was thoroughly conversant with the relevant (white) scholarship at her disposal, and her airbrushed portrait of slavery and casual indulgence in racial stereotypes are hardly at odds perceptions offered by two distinguished Ivy League historians in the most widely used collegiate U.S. history textbook of the day. "Sambo," they assured students, did not fare badly in bondage because, despite the horror stories served up by the uptight abolitionists, "the majority of the slaves were adequately fed, well cared for, and apparently happy."

Likewise, Scarlett's charge that emancipation "just ruined the darkies" fairly echoed the sentiments of Columbia University's profoundly influential historian of Reconstruction, William A. Dunning, who insisted that "the freedmen . . . could not for generations be on the same social, moral and intellectual plane with the whites." The sole aim of Dunning and his many students and disciples, charged W. E. B. Dubois, was "to prove that the South was right in Reconstruction, the North vengeful or deceived and the Negro stupid."

 Such biased and offensive treatments had already passed for scholarship far too long when they finally came under concentrated assault by black activists and educators during World War II. The blatant hypocrisy of a Jim Crow army fighting in defense of freedom and democracy abroad, as well as the greater economic and political empowerment that the war engendered, had borne fruit in a more insistent, unremitting resolve. African Americans must at last be granted the full measure of both their rights as citizens and the dignity and respect those rights conferred. Still, although white and black scholars alike would soon be undertaking dramatic revisions of historical interpretations of slavery as well as Reconstruction, not until 1960s would either the now-notorious "Sambo" passage be excised from the still-popular textbook or the racist and inaccurate Dunningite portrayal of Reconstruction meet with full-blown refutation.

Although Gone With The Wind consistently ranks second only to The Holy Bible as Americans' favorite book, a new Economist poll shows that only 20 percent of Americans have actually read it, while less than 30 percent of those under thirty have even seen the movie. These figures might strike some as positive rather than negative indicators, but there is a real sense in which all Americans, regardless of age, race, or region, would benefit from reading Mitchell's book for what it is, not simply as a white southerner's distorted defense of her region's uniquely horrific racial past, but as a strikingly clear window into a national past whose burdens confront them even today. Although it may fall short of being a great one, Gone With The Wind is--and always was--a thoroughly American novel.


P.S. This bloviation is a streamlined version of a piece posted over at likethedew.com.

P. P.S. The ol' Bloviator knows "Cobbloviate Heads" near and far will not feel as though Christmas is really here until they receive the traditional greetings of the season, courtesy of his faithful ol' pickup, which is still flashing away after 20 years and 100k+ miles. Merry Christmas to you all, and, as always, to the Techsters, who may still be celebrating their-once-in-a-blue moon victory with a "Blue Moon" (ugh!) or several about now, "Felice Bobby Dodd!"


            The Ol' Bloviator has not gotten so old that he doesn't recall ranting about the "get-drunk-party-till-you-puke-or-pass out-or-both" culture that dominates the student scene at far too many of our universities these days. Since this comprehensive report on the pathological potential of  booze-fueled fraternity life ran in The Atlantic a while back, outrageous accounts of massive alcohol abuse linked to deaths, physical injury and especially to sexual assault, have become standard fare in major newspapers and magazines. Despite individual and programmatic efforts by campus administrators to curb it, binge drinking appears to be a regular activity for four in ten of today's students. Recent data shows roughly 1,800 college students die each year from some sort of alcohol-related injury, and some 97,000 annually report sexual assaults where alcohol was a contributing factor.

Escalating concerns about rapes committed on and around campus took on even greater urgency after Rolling Stone's recent piece about this problem at no-less-storied an institution than "Mr. Jefferson's University" in Charlottesville, which was already under serious federal scrutiny for its inadequate handling of previous sexual assault charges. RS's report centered on "Jackie," a female student who claimed that she had been brutally gang-raped as a freshman after attending a party at the Phi Kappa Psi house in 2012 and that, while apparently sympathetic, university officials discouraged her from pursuing her claim or discussing the incident publicly and took no action against her accused assailants.

Skeptical of some of the details of Jackie's account, the Washington Post  and other media outlets opted for a little fact-checking on their own and are now reporting that certain of her claims about the identity of her alleged assailant and the place and date of the alleged assault could not be corroborated, Rolling Stone's representatives admit that they may have given Jackie too much benefit of the doubt and that they ran the story without securing comment from those she accused. Jackie continues to stand by her account, however, and her supporters point out that confusion about details is not uncommon among deeply traumatized victims of sexual assault. Still, this sorry and reckless excuse for journalism is certain to bolster the skepticism of those who think the prevalence sexual victimization on campus is overblown.

            For their part, however, UVA administrators, who responded to the initial RS article by clamping down hard on Phi Kappa Psi and other campus fraternities, have not leapt forward to claim vindication merely by virtue of the holes poked in Jackie's story as it was reported. Rather, in what may be a classic case of better late than never, they have reaffirmed their awareness that university has some serious  'splainin' to do where handling sexual assault charges is concerned. Thus quoth UVA prez Teresa Sullivan: "Over the past two weeks, our community has been more focused than ever on one of the most difficult and critical issues facing higher education today: sexual violence on college campuses. Today's news must not alter this focus. Here at U.Va., the safety of our students must continue to be our top priority, for all students, and especially for survivors of sexual assault."

This stance is, to say the least, prudent. Not only because of the federal investigators who continue to hover about, but because UVA's history in this area demands it. The university's "honor code," which not only forbids acts of academic dishonesty but demands that students report such acts by others, is a genuine point of pride among students, faculty, and alums. The thing is, however, although  183 students have been expelled for honor-code violations since 1998, there is no record of  a single matriculant having been expelled for sexual assault, including those who have admitted to it. Given the revelations of countless investigations and surveys of the incidence of sexual assaults on campus, a ratio of 183-0 would seem pretty hard to justify.

For all the questions about the details of Jackie's personal account, the RS piece nonetheless provides credible evidence of an entrenched social hierarchy whose exclusiveness not only discourages female students from filing claims of sexual assault but aggressively stigmatizes and marginalizes those who do. The OB has always wished that his own university could achieve a greater semblance of the powerful sense of academic purpose that pervades the UVA campus, and he still does. Secretly at least, he has also been taken with the notion as one student put it, "the most impressive person at UVA is the person who gets straight A's and goes to all the parties." The more he ponders the significance of such a student role model, however, the more the O.B. is forced to consider its full implications. What happens to all the kids bent on establishing their bonafides as both budding scholars and big-time drinkers when pursuing both goals proves mutually exclusive? Outfit yourself with the emotional maturity of an eighteen-year-old, even a very bright one, and venture a guess as to which aim is most likely to be compromised.

            All of the dangerous and potentially disastrous possibilities that arise when young people are put in a situation where they are free to choose beers over books (and most anything else) are brought home quite literally in this Chronicle of Higher Education story that shows our beloved Classic City virtually Dawg paddling in '"a river of booze.".As these things go, this piece seems reasonably balanced, notably more so than the RS expose on UVA. There are concerned people, like UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson and alcohol counseling specialist Liz Prince, who seem to be doing what they can to reduce underage drinking or excessive drinking in a downtown which offers 50 bars within a quarter of a mile of campus, as well as roughly that many more restaurants that also serve alcohol.

            Ironically, legend has it that Athens was chosen over nearby Watkinsville as the site for the nation's first state-chartered university because the latter was already home to a prospering tavern likely to corrupt the college lads. The writers trace Athens's history as  "a big booze town" to the 1980s when, with downtown businesses closing or migrating out to "mall-ville" and only a relatively few bars downtown, UGA officials began trying to cut down on drinking at frat houses, even issuing a ban on keggers. Fearful that downtown would continue hemorrhaging businesses to the 'burbs and eager to accommodate thirsty young collegians, municipal officials did not limit the number of bars or restaurants that started to pop up, especially after the city's music scene exploded. Despite credible efforts to make bar owners and bouncers more accountable, however, for local officials it all came down to, as one tavern-keeper put it, "they hate we're here, but they love the money." One reckons so, since Athens-Clarke County reportedly collects seven cents on the dollar for every mixed drink, in addition to a three-cent excise tax and a twenty-two-cent levy for every bottle of booze emptied. Needless to say, the proprietors of Athens's drinking establishments are not particularly opposed to making money either, and they scramble mightily to keep their places packed into the wee hours. To remain competitive, some bars resort to unannounced "specials" involving one-cent beers, free drinks for women, etc., all of which are spread instantly across a vast network of texters and tweeters leading, practically in the blinking of an already bloodshot eye, to wholesale migration of committed young boozers from one watering hole to another. And so it goes, until mandatory closing hours force them to disgorge their drunken denizens onto the streets of Athens, where the scene can easily turn from celebratory to scary in the drooping of an eyelid.

For example, a Chronicle writer looks on as UGA police discover a young man "lying on a public bench, at the end of a trail of vomit. He is unconscious; his front pocket gapes, a wallet falling partway out. An officer shakes him, and again, finally rousing him. 'How much,' the officer demands, 'have you had to drink?'" The kid's response of "Zero, Zero?" is needless to say, undermined by his present condition and circumstances; the trusty Breathalyzer simply confirms the obvious, and he is off to jail. "I can't just leave him on a bench with a citation in his pocket," Chief Williamson explains.  "A citation's not going to sober him up."

There is also the student who "has tripped and fallen after a night out and hit her head. Officers arrive to find Jacqueline, a nineteen-year-old with long, honey-colored hair, stretched out on the cold slab of a bus stop, surrounded by concerned friends. After falling she was unresponsive, for maybe thirty seconds, maybe a minute or two--no one seems quite clear--but long enough to prompt a call to 911. Now an egg-shaped welt has begun to swell next to her right eye, and her speech is slurred. Asked who is the president of the United States, she names her sorority president." (This is no laughing matter, of course, but the image of Barack Obama trying to bring a meeting of chatty Tri-Delts to order might well serve as a metaphor for his efforts with the Senate.) In this case, Jacqueline is bundled off to the ER,  but UGA's campus cops are reportedly making 900-1,000 underage drinking arrests a year, and although they have caught considerable flak for being too aggressive on this front, even casual observers of the early morning scene downtown will surely see this figure as indicative of a restrained approach.

It is hardly news that college students drink a lot and always have, but if you are using this to persuade yourself that there is nothing to be bothered about here, your head is buried not in sand, but concrete. As the writers note, "Average blood-alcohol levels in students stopped by the police have risen steadily--this year one blew a 0.33, more than four times the legal limit. With heavier drinking, the police now make drunk-driving arrests in midmorning, pulling over students on their way to class still intoxicated from the night before."

The O.B. has no reason to doubt this based on the number of students he has encountered in morning classes who show up smelling as if they just crawled out of a vat of Natty Light and proceed immediately to surrender themselves to the clutches of Morpheus in a head-thrown-back, mouth-wide-open-pose that seems de rigueur when sleeping off a world-class bender. It is hard to think of a more underweighted or unrepresentative stat than the 25 percent of college students who admit to academic difficulties brought on by alcohol abuse. If you could throw in those who don't even recognize this has happened and those who do but simply won't admit it, that number would doubtless shoot up dramatically.

We might well yammer back and forth forever about whether universities or law enforcement officials have done enough to try to curb student alcohol abuse without realizing that we are letting one critical group of culpables off scot free. Chief Williamson notes that the mother of the aforementioned young "Zero, Zero," who was found virtually insensate on a public bench, practically begging to be robbed and/or assaulted, did not take kindly to his arresting her innocent little boy. He is quick--and correct--to point out that, thanks to this kind of indulgent excuse for parenting, too many freshmen show up in Athens with a firmly established drinking habit as part of their baggage. Though he speaks to thousands of students a year about the dangers of excessive drinking, "How can I do something in five minutes," he asks, that their parents "couldn't do in 18 years?" The Chronicle writer adds that "too many parents have failed to talk to their children about responsible alcohol use. They've looked the other way. They've dismissed binge drinking and other risky behavior with, 'Kids will be kids.'" In reality, so thinks the O.B. anyway, they have actually done worse than that by trying to be kids along with their kids, succumbing to some nostalgia-blinded notion that it's OK to relive their own collegiate years through their children, as if the perils and pressures awaiting their college-bound offspring are no different than they were thirty years ago. The O.B was around back then, and, in outright defiance of fate, gravity, and public opinion,  he is still around today. He knows better, and if the Moms and Dads of today's collegians would drop the Peter Pan fantasy and face up to reality, they would, too. It's much easier, though, to abandon any pretense of trying seriously to discourage underage and/or excessive drinking, wink at fake I.D.s and reports of prodigious alcohol ingestion, and chuckle about Tara and Trey simply being chips off the old one-time champion chugger block. This may be a sure-fire way to endear yourselves to your kids but it's  also a no less certain means of putting them at greater risk. The O.B. has never been too keen about universities operating in loco parentis, but by golly, when the parents abdicate their responsibilities and go plumb loco themselves, a poor substitute seems better than none.



  






Electile Dysfunction

           Now that, for the time being at least, the last mud pie has been flung and the last stink bomb hurled, the Ol' Bloviator deems it safe to emerge from his bunker, where he was fully prepared to slurp down a cyanide capsule the very next time ol' Zig-Zag Zell talked up Michelle Nunn in one ad only to endorse Nathan (Double) Deal-er in the following one. In fact, the O.B. even dares at this point  to toss out a few little "drive-by" observations about this most recent demonstration of our state's chronic electile dysfunction.

The first is that a bunch of blindly optimistic liberals high on polling data churned out by everybody and his first cousin who happens to have a telephone and a calculator is a recipe for a resurrection that turns out to be a wake . We can go a long ways toward explaining how so many pollsters could be wrong about what unfolded in Georgia by allowing for the fact that their ranks are so swollen that they were probably surveying each other half the time. It seems that one presumed short cut to institutional legitimacy these days is opening up a brand new polling center. (Ask yourself if there was really ever any reason to suspect that a Quinnipiac University existed before there was a Quinnipiac poll. Didn't think so.)  As a result, you've got a bunch of pollsters who have so little experience and training in survey research that they not only don't know what they're doing, they don't even know why they are doing it. Things only get worse when you throw in a bunch of political media slugs who are no less addicted to "momentum shifts" than their counterparts who call football games. Recall how many times you have heard sportscasters seize on the fact that Vandy actually made two consecutive first downs at the end of the first half  as evidence that Bama will have a fight on their hands in the second, and you can better understand why some of the liberal persuasion in these parts were all prepared to really whoop it up when the Democratic governor- and senator-elects rode down Peachtree through a blizzard of tickertape in an open Mustang ragtop on loan from Barrack Obama. Beloved, as ol' Brother Dave Gardner would likely say, clear your heads of such foolishness. The demographers and survey researchers and assorted sunshine pumpers leaping to absurd conclusions may shout all they please that Georgia is getting "bluer" by the minute, but they would be a lot more accurate -and get a lot less attention, of course--if they described it as gradually "purpling" instead.

GeorgiaCountycorrectcrop.jpg

As a testament to that gradualism, that map yonder shows the 34 Georgia counties (in blue) carried by Barack Obama in 2008. These also account for all the counties carried in 2014 by Democratic senatorial candidate Michelle Nunn and gubernatorial aspirant Jason Carter, except for the two (in lighter blue), Henry (carried by both) and Wilkinson (carried by Carter). In many of the old Obama counties, the margin was razor thin to non-existent. Nunn battled to a flat-footed tie down in Baker, which Carter lost by 13 votes. The counties captured by Nunn and Carter include all those with black majorities, and, save for the little hotbed of sedition and free love that we Athenians call home, none of their remaining counties are less than 40% black. Black ballots were clearly very much a factor in about the only good news to come out of this otherwise disastrous election for the Democrats, the breakthrough in Henry County, where the black population share has now grown to 40 %. Mitt Romney managed a 3,000-vote win there two years ago, but both Nunn and Carter squoze by this time with about 400 votes to spare.

However pleased Democrats may be to see some apparent movement in their direction in Henry, things were at an almost dead calm in the six additional metro counties that have gone Democratic in the last two presidential elections. Nunn and Carter ran within a point of Obama's percentages in 2012 in all of them. Obama gobbled up about 98% of the black vote statewide in that contest, compared to 92% for Nunn and 89% for Carter this year. As always for Democrats in these parts, however, the problem was not with the black support. Exit polls show Nunn and Carter receiving but 23% of the total white vote, precisely the share apparently claimed by Obama in 2012.

 It might be worth noting that there was something of a departure from recent precedent along gender lines among whites this time out. In recent years, the gap between the voting preferences of white women and white men in the South has been negligible, and, if anything, enthusiasm for the Repubs was slightly higher among the former.  The eight-point advantage Nunn enjoyed among white women as opposed to white men in this election might simply be ascribed to gender loyalty, were it not for the nine-point male-female differential favoring Carter. As with most such shifts in voter behavior, we won't know what, if anything, this one means until it's election time again.

One thing we definitely know hasn't changed is the rock-hard resistance of working class  white southerners to any and all Democratic entreaties and advances. Five majority white counties showed average weekly wages below $500 in 2012. Sure enough, that sweat-shoppin' outsourcin' son of a gun, David Perdue, carried all of them resoundingly, three of them by more than 80%. In fact, ol' down-sizin' Dave actually ran a teency bit stronger with whites making less than thirty grand a year than among those knocking down more than a hundred.

It is no less striking, of course,  that white Georgians would re-elect a governor who, by all rights, should be stamping out license plates, instead of signing bills into law. One thing is clear, both Carter's and Nunn's disappointing showings demonstrate that political coattails go threadbare in a hurry once nobody is actually wearing the coat itself.

            There was a time when moderates could sell themselves as more conservative than they were, as Jason' grandpa did in 1970, when he managed to pull in enough Wallace and even Maddox voters with a bunch of jawboning against busing and government social programs to whup that liberal elitist Carl Sanders in the Demo Primary and breeze into the governor's mansion past hapless Hal Suit, the nominee of a bunch of equally hapless Georgia Republicans. Not so today, however. The Republicans are firmly ensconced at the top of the political pyramid, and there is absolutely no chance of their letting you con voters into thinking you are anywhere near as conservative as they are. Still, to varying degrees, both Carter and Nunn were ultimately reduced to employing what amounts to the "I'm-more-like-my-opponent-than-you -think" strategy, and their altogether predictable failure simply affirms that if you're running against a Baptist preacher, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" just doesn't cut it as a campaign theme.

(The data cited above was drawn almost exclusively from CNN Election Central. Any errors you detect are almost certainly theirs. A somewhat briefer version of this rant will show up in honest-to-God ink this week in America's favorite indie, The Flagpole.)

 

WHY THE SOUTH "BALED" OUT AND SCOTLAND DIDN'T

From where the Ol' Bloviator sits, it's fair to say that the South and Scotland go back a ways. For example, the cult of the "Lost Cause" that sprang up in the aftermath of the South's failed fight for independence had something of an antecedent in the fabled "lost cause" of the Scottish Jacobites whose four-decade struggle to restore to the Stuart monarchy of Scotland to its rightful seat on the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland was heartily romanticized in the novels of Sir Walter Scott. Scott's glorification of the swashbuckling supporters of the Stuart restoration was so popular with the southern upper classes in the antebellum era that Mark Twain famously cited their affliction with the "Sir Walter Disease" as the principal cause of the Civil War.

Beyond that, the strategically critical Confederate defeat at Gettysburg in 1863 is sometimes compared to the 1746 Battle of Culloden, where Jacobite forces, representing by no means all of the Scots, but comprised in large measure of wild and exceedingly hairy (not to mention altogether ungovernable) Highlanders, were crushed by Hanoverian forces representing George II. Unlike Gettysburg, the matter in dispute at Culloden was not separation from Great Britain, but actually reunification under a Scottish monarch. On the other hand, there are similarities in the fact that the Confederate forces at Gettysburg were there largely at the behest of an aggressive slave-holding minority who saw their interests being better served in an independent southern nation, while, the Highlanders saw returning the Stuarts to the British throne as their best bet for retaining their cherished independence to rut, drink, brawl, and pillage as they damn well pleased.

            There are similar parallels with Thursday's vote on Scotland's secession, although the "nays" had it in this case, and with 85 percent of those eligible showing up to weigh in on the matter directly, it was far more democratic than the process by which the South left the United States 153 years earlier, when only Virginia and Tennessee required a popular referendum to certify their respective legislatures' votes for secession. Perhaps the most striking parallel lies in the economic centerpiece of the secessionist appeal in both cases.

            Sorry [Scottish nationalist] Alex Salmond, but compared to the South's position in the global economy in 1860, today's Scotland is something of a bit player. By the 1820s, the southern states had already become the world's premier supplier of cotton, and by the late antebellum period, more than three-fourths of its cotton was being exported. Not only was cotton the leading American export in the antebellum period, but when cotton was combined with the two other leading southern staples, tobacco and rice, the South, with just over a third of the nation's population (free and slave), accounted for well over half of the value of all American exports during the 1850s. With cotton prices rising by more than 11 cents a pound over the decade, the value of slave property alone soared to an estimated $3-4 billion by 1861, making the Confederacy, by aggregate measurement at least, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

The South's prominent position in the world economy not only encouraged southern leaders to oppose the protective tariff and other measures disadvantageous to the cotton export trade, but it reinforced their predispositions toward a belief in southern superiority or even invincibility. When he proclaimed in 1858 that "Cotton is King" and "No power on earth dares to make war on it," South Carolina's James Henry Hammond actually sounded fairly moderate in comparison to another southerner who insisted that without southern cotton "England would topple headlong and carry the whole civilized world with her, save the South." Such assertions may seem altogether ludicrous in retrospect, but at the peak of England's textile expansion, the loss of southern cotton, which then accounted for nearly 80 percent of its cotton imports, would obviously have smarted quite a bit.

 Alas, however, unbeknownst to the overheated southern orators who were lustily proclaiming the perpetual reign of King Cotton, the great British textile boom of the nineteenth century had already begun to recede. Britain's leaders could hardly have recognized it at the time, but thanks to a prudent policy of limited cotton stockpiling in recent years, a bumper 1860 crop already on hand, and reasonable prospects for relying on alternative sources such as Egypt and India if need be, they would soon feel less need for the vaunted southern staple than those across the Atlantic who had invested such faith in it could ever imagine.

Even if British textile magnates had presumed their desire for that staple would survive the Civil War undiminished, they had little reason to doubt that, as in the past, northern agents, factors, and shippers would still be critical to whatever postbellum commerce in southern cotton they might conduct. There was also industrial England's continuing need for northern wheat (which accounted for, on average, about 25 percent of its wheat imports in the 1850s), and the annual volume of pre-war commerce between England and the northern states in general had to be considered as well. (Suffice it to say, nobody in the King Cotton camp seemed to have pondered the effects of having to forego the substantial supply of Midwestern wheat and northern manufactured goods also purchased by southerners at that point.)

            In addition, had blustering, cotton-drunk southerners sobered up even briefly, they might also have picked up on signals from a reconfigured and rapidly modernizing North Atlantic trade network that industry, not agriculture, was to be the new dynamo of world capitalism. While the South, with only 11 percent of America's manufacturing investment in 1860, had shown neither the capacity nor the inclination to adjust to this transformation-in-progress, the emerging entrepreneurial culture and stellar economic prospects of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states had already attracted the attention and investments of their on-the-make counterparts in Britain who had good reason to believe that the two could be looking at a bountiful future together. Beyond such dollars and cents calculations, it is fair to say that the 100 percent cotton blinders favored by southern leaders apparently obscured the size and growing strength of the abolitionist movement, not only in England but elsewhere in Europe.

If the foregoing raises doubt about the savvy of the southern secessionist contingent, it should at least be noted that most of the unheeded signals not to leave the Union are far more obvious in retrospect than they could possibly have been at the time. That is not the case, however, with the economic pitch served up by Scotland's contemporary campaigners for independence. Southern secessionists' faith in the long-term power and viability of King Cotton may have been overly optimistic, even wildly so, but their claims did not fly in the face of any such massively contradictive body of evidence and analysis as confronted the assertions of Scottish secessionist leaders like Alex Salmond that an independent Scotland stood to reap a veritable bounty in what he estimated to be 24 billion barrels of remaining North Sea oil deposits, which, in turn, could be used to fund the expanded welfare state most independence advocates seemed to desire.

Respected petroleum experts not only suspect that Salmond has overshot the mark here by 40 to 60 percent, but point out as well that current North Sea oil production is down two-thirds from its 1990s peak. Beyond that, there is no guarantee that the U. K. will actually hand over all the tax revenue generated by North Sea oil production, and even if it does, last year's tax take of 5 billion pounds is equivalent to only about 3 percent of Scotland's economy. Meanwhile, major international petroleum companies largely seem more inclined to cut back on their North Sea operations than to expand them, given the current uncertainty both over oil prices and the cost of new production facilities. All of this is to say that putting all the South's eggs in the cotton basket in 1860 seems almost conservative compared to the efforts of Scottish secessionists to downplay the astonishing risk attached to a "King Petroleum" secession strategy.

There were, of course, additional related concerns that may have undermined the  efforts of the Scottish "Secesh." While the currency question was less troubling at the outset for the Confederates, the matter of whether an independent Scotland could continue to pound the pound or, if not, could even count on being able to jump immediately to the Euro clearly loomed large in Thursday's vote.

Beyond the concrete issues on which the Scottish secession movement was ultimately splattered, from Charleston in 1861 to Edinburgh in 2014, sentiment for disunion was fueled in no small part by pure emotion, be it festering resentment or wounded pride or a combination thereof. In this respect, back-to-back screenings of "Brave Heart" and "Gone With The Wind" might give us the best comparative perspective on two secession movements separated by more than 150 years. Failing that, maybe just noting that ol' 007 himself, Sir Sean Connery, saw Scottish independence offering a glorious opportunity to toot his homeland's horn and maybe even make a pound/euro in the bargain through "international promotion of Scotland as an iconic location." Whatever comes next, Sir Sean will surely be as eager as the ol' Bloviator to see whether the resurgent independence movement, which has clearly stirred Scotland, will leave it thoroughly shaken as well.

(An earlier version of this humble offering was posted at www.likethedew.com)

            The older he gets and the worse things get, the Ol' Bloviator is finding progressively less satisfaction in yelling, "I told you so!" when one of his rants about our ever-madder dash toward doom comes true. This is certainly true in the case of two recent and remarkably similar incidents that amount to textbook examples of the ongoing devaluation of education in the face of a comparably blind, but increasingly overpowering obsession with industrial development as a "bargain at any cost" panacea for all our ills.

Witness the crisis over in Alabama, where their subsidies to new plants over the last two decades have long since run well into the billions, but  it seems they are running short of cash just now to shower on the next corporate candidate for a humongous  public payout. Not to worry, however, Alabama governor Robert Bentley has come up with an inspired, yet simple  solution for this dilemma; he wants to shift funds from education in order to shore up the stash he draws on in his role as the state's official bagman to new companies. The rationale for this switcheroo seems clear enough to Bentley: "Who pays for the incentives? It's not education, but they benefit from it totally . . . you ought to eat what you kill."  (If the Guv. really practices what he preaches here, he better pray he never hits a feasting buzzard while travelling on Alabama's excellent highway network.) Although some Alabama legislators expressed reservations about a special legislative session geared to making the governor's enlightened proposal a reality, it was not clear whether they objected to the move so much as to Bentley's failure to consult with them before releasing what he later insisted was merely a "trial balloon" that had simply been "misconstrued." Yeah, right. Alabama governors are known for their exceedingly complex thinking and rhetoric. For example, it took the O.B. forever to figure out what "Segregation Now! Segregation Tomorrow! Segregation Forever!" meant. Unfortunately, former governor Fob James's intellectual firepower went largely unappreciated, as became apparent when his industry-hunting trip to Israel was billed as "Our Yahoo Meets Their Netanyahu." Not coincidently, perhaps, back in the nineties, it was Fob who tried to raid the school fund to pay off part of the state's subsidy obligation to Mercedes.

            Meanwhile, Mississippi politicians are seldom accused of subtlety, and when they are, as in this case, it is almost always in comparison their counterparts in Alabama. According to this report, the state of Mississippi has been in violation of its own laws since 2008 by failing to provide its legally mandated share of public school funding.  It is currently spending $648 less per pupil than it did in 2008, and since then, it has racked up an illegal deficit in public education of at least $1.3 billion. In what must surely rank as the great-grandmother of all coincidences, that is precisely the figure arrived at by researchers in 2013 as the total value of the tax breaks promised to Nissan in exchange for locating a production facility at Canton, Mississippi.

            Over thirty years, the tax abatements offered Nissan will cost Madison County an estimated $210 million in revenue that might otherwise have been spent on schools. Beyond that, in a program truly reminiscent of the old sweat shop days when workers' pay checks were docked for a "subscription fee" used to defray the cost of building their employer's plant, Nissan is also allowed to keep what would normally be state income tax deductions from their employees' wages. Over twenty-five years, this nifty little palm greaser could ultimately top off at $160 million.

            Reports of such extravagances in two states not exactly known for their heroic sacrifices in the war against ignorance  simply underscore the hypocrisy of  current pious calls for "austerity," the fallout from which continues to fall heavily on public education. Perhaps the O.B. might be forgiven for nearly going a tad bit postal upon reading a New York Times account of Ranger Rick Perry's efforts to oust the current president of the University of Texas where, instead of just teaching the great gobs of info they already know, the faculty are apparently wasting their time and the public's money in trying to find out even more stuff (God knows what) to teach. In their discussion of the many difficulties facing public university presidents these days, the reporters twice refer to declining state "subsidies" for public higher education. Instead of reaching for his twelve-gauge, however, the O.B.  ultimately opted for a high-minded remonstrance, dispatched with dispatch to the nation's number one publishing platform:

In an otherwise excellent account of efforts to oust the president of the University of Texas, the writers twice refer to recent cuts in legislative appropriations for public higher education as "declining state subsidies." In the current political climate that this story so vividly reflects, this is heavily freighted language. However inadvertently, it reinforces the popular notion that state funding for an institution created by the state to function as a duly constituted obligation of the state is instead some sort of voluntary dispensation or indulgence. In the operative sense of the word, the funding received by the University of Texas from the State of Texas is no more a "subsidy" than is Governor Rick Perry's salary.

 The O.B. assumed at the outset, correctly, as it turned out, that his missive would almost certainly never make it into print, but he also assumed that sending it would at least make him feel a little better. Maybe it did, but the futility and meaninglessness of his gesture was quickly hammered home not only by the foregoing accounts from Dixie but comparable ones from elsewhere in the country, like New Jersey, where Gov. Chris[py Kreme] Christie has already signed off on $2 billion in corporate subsidies and state funding for higher education has fallen by more than 20 percent over the last six years. It was once almost a given that politicians were obliged to at least pay lip service to the notion that education is a powerful engine of economic progress. These days, a growing number of them seem to want us to see it as merely a cumbersome caboose.

THE MOST AMERICAN PLACE ON EARTH

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(courtesy isamiga76 @flickr.com)

I once wrote a book about the Mississippi Delta called The Most Southern Place on Earth. Were I to undertake a comparable tome about the most "American" place on earth, believe it or not, the focal point would not only lie outside the United States, but, of all places, in France, specifically, the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, where lie the remains of 9,387 of the U.S troops who died during the June 1944 Allied invasion. More than any other historical site or monument that I have ever visited--in fact, more than all of them put together--this place engulfs me in a wave of teary, tingly, emotions. Set atop a bluff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach against a stunning backdrop of lush, unimaginably green grass and perpetually wind-bent trees, even with the surf pounding rhythmically just below, the iconic, seemingly endless rows of perfectly aligned white crosses convey a palpable sense of peace and order that belies the chaos and wholesale slaughter that raged down on the beach 70 years ago. There is some irony in the fact that the Normandy American Cemetery provides entree and closure to the epic 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, whose opening scenes reflect an unprecedented cinematic effort to depict the D-Day landing as the nightmare of bloody, headless, legless, disemboweled carnage and confusion that it actually was.

 

In truth, this placid and pristine setting seems far better suited to serve as the final resting place of characters slain in earlier, less graphic World War II movies like The Longest Day who died neatly and, so it would seem, painlessly, shot down as they stood just inches from an apparently bulletproof John Wayne or Robert Mitchum. After all, in the popular mind at least, this was a war in which men died bravely and stoically, repeating the Lord's Prayer or receiving the last rites or saying the Kaddish, not one where agonized screaming or crying was punctuated by horrible blasphemies alternating with piteous, little-boy pleas for "Mama."

 

There is no record of the final minutes of Technical Specialist Five Joseph G. Hardy, the only World War II soldier who entered the service in Clarke County to be memorialized at the cemetery. In reality, Hardy (who actually hailed from the tiny hamlet of Good Hope (pop.219), in nearby Walton County) never even set foot on the sands of Normandy, because he was among the 39 members of Battery B of the 4th Infantry Division's 29th Field Artillery Battalion who were killed when their landing craft struck a mine on its approach to Utah Beach on June 6. Like most of his fallen battery mates, Hardy's body was never recovered, and thus his name is among the 1,557 inscribed on the "The Walls of The Missing," which encircle a beautifully maintained garden.

 

Idly perusing the names and accompanying states etched on the gravestones, I found myself wondering how many of the small-town boys like Joseph Hardy had even been out of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or South Carolina prior to the war. It is frankly difficult for me grasp how so vast an abstraction as national allegiance or patriotic duty could motivate thousands of such men to come thousands of miles away from home to step off landing crafts and wade into an unrelenting volley of lethal lead. In anointing this place with their blood and sacrifice, they made it both an enduring shrine to American national identity and a source of gnawing self-doubt for succeeding generations destined to remain forever in their debt.

 

Those buried here secured their hallowed place in history by giving their all in an epochal encounter that effectively secured victory in what seemed an indisputably righteous crusade against a correspondingly monstrous evil. In contrast, Vietnam veterans of my generation, who no less heroically risked or sacrificed their lives have been caught in a historical backlash against a conflict that, unlike World War II, did not unify us in defense of our longstanding ideals but instead divided the nation and called those ideals into question. In what seems an era largely lacking in courage and commitment, some of today's visitors to the Normandy American Cemetery are likely to leave inspired but also perhaps a bit saddened by a sense that those interred in this magnificent setting died in defense of a nation far worthier of their sacrifices than the one we live in today.

 

In reality, of course, this perception requires some degree of selective historical amnesia. For example, despite serving in a bloody struggle to defend democracy against a racist, totalitarian onslaught, African American soldiers in World War II found themselves fighting not just the Germans and the Japanese but the hostility of white civilians living in the vicinity of their stateside postings and, worse yet, the resentment and distrust manifested within the ranks by their own white comrades and commanders. D-Day operations reflected these racial realities quite clearly, as only a single battalion of black troops actually landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Soldiers of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion came in on the third wave to set up anti-aircraft barrage balloons aimed at preventing German pilots from strafing the beach. Three members of the 320th are buried here, including Cpl. Brooks Stith from Virginia and Pfc. James McLean from North Carolina. Had the two survived, both would have returned to essentially the same segregated, discriminatory and disfranchised existence they had left behind, although black soldiers who came back from the war would go on to play a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for yet another all-out offensive that ultimately toppled Jim Crow. Those who stand in awe of this fearless band of postwar civil rights crusaders might well harbor certain sentiments common to American visitors to the Normandy Cemetery, including the fictional Pvt. James Francis Ryan, who, kneeling at the end of the film amid the graves of the comrades who gave their lives to save his, wonders aloud whether "in your eyes I've earned what all of you have done for me."

 


THIS IS HILARIOUS...BUT PLEASE DON'T LAUGH!

                Up until a couple of nights ago, the Ol' Bloviator knew the movie "Downfall" purely as the source of dozens of parodied video excerpts in which the captions to Adolph Hitler's enraged harangues during his final days have been overwritten to depict Hitler as a diehard college football fan who is just learning that his favorite team was upset by a prohibitive underdog or lost a big game by virtue of an egregious error by a player or coach. (Think here of Bama failing to cover a runback of a missed field goal, perhaps, or, if you must, a Georgia defensive back trying to intercept a pass he should have batted down but instead deflecting it to an Auburn receiver for the winning TD. Damn! That still hurts!)

                The actual movie itself purports to show the last dark days in Hitler's bunker leading up to his suicide after shooting his mistress-just-made-wife, Eva Braun. Although the whole portrayal is meant to be exceedingly grim, damned if the Ol' Bloviator didn't still find himself more than  a little amused by  Hitler's tantrums and tirades. If the O.B. had been in that bunker and privy to the furious Fuhrer's rants, he would never have maintained a straight face long enough  to die with the diehards via cyanide capsule, save perhaps one that  been administered against his will in suppository form. His demise would more likely  have come from sudden-onset lead poisoning courtesy of a German Luger at close range.

We know, of course, that Hitler was a source of considerable mirth in his early days when he could be laughed off a just another deranged rabble rouser. Yet in the midst of the economic disaster, crushed national pride, and devastated morale that was the Weimar Republic, his fury at the injustices visited on the fatherland by the Versailles Treaty after World War I and his dazzling certainty of German resurrection and redemption began to gain traction  Soon , he had a fervent following hanging on his every utterance. Some of these, including several of his co-inhabitants of the bunker, even wound up convincing themselves that life without Hitler would be unbearable, ultimately opting to join him in exiting this mortal coil of their own volition. The most disturbing scene in this thoroughly disturbing film has Hitler propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels's wife, Magda, who has declared that she doesn't want to live in a world without National Socialism, making sure that the couple's six children are spared such a fate as well  by methodically inserting a cyanide capsule between their teeth as they sleep and pushing down on their heads until she hears a sickening crunch. If you had any lingering doubts, this is the point where you are fully persuaded this film is not meant to be funny. One need not suggest that anything like the majority of Germans felt such a dedication to Hitler but clearly enough of them did to allow him to lead their nation into destruction at the cost of millions of lives.

Yet another sad example of the consequences of simply laughing off extremist rhetoric and proposals comes from the American South at the end of the nineteenth century. Some well-intentioned opponents of imposing racial discrimination by law, beginning with the railroads, sought to undermine such efforts with a healthy dose of reductio ad absurdum. Hence, a Charleston editor suggested in 1898 that "if there should be Jim Crow scars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways. Also on all passenger boats. . . . Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations and Jim Crow eating houses. . . . Jim Crow sections of the jury box and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand and a Jim Crow Bible for witnesses to kiss." Laughable as the editorialist might have found such a progression in 1898, as historian C. Vann Woodward pointed out, ere long, save for the separate witness stand, every presumed absurdity he conjured up "became in a very short time a reality. . . . including the Jim Crow Bible."

Since, as of the last pay stub, at least, the OB earns his livelihood by professing at history--and southern history, at that--he should know full well by now that when something that seemed like a joke at the outset becomes a concrete reality, there is generally going to be Hell to pay. North Carolina which has been going to Hell in a supersonic hand basket of late, even managed to get the draw on their neighbors to the immediate south by enacting a measure allowing permitted concealed weapons on playgrounds, school grounds, and, yes, you are reading correctly, bars as well.  Several other states had preceded the Tar heels in their own willful descent into such lunacy, and not to be outdone, the venerable solons of the Palmetto  State declared it just ducky legally to tote your piece into  places purveying strong drink of all sorts.  The O.B. cannot but recall that forcing patrons to surrender their six shooters upon entering the Long Branch Saloon struck Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty as a wise and necessary precaution back in the  Dodge City of yore, but the wannabe gunslingers in today's state legislatures are apparently too young  to remember "Gunsmoke," even in reruns.  Although in both states, proprietors are free to ban guns in their establishments, Pete Matsko, owner of Backstreets Pub and Grille in Clemson, S. C.  has come under withering fire from gun crazies all over the country for posting what is admittedly a somewhat immoderately worded notice prohibiting patrons from bringing their guns into his place of business.

nogunsconcealed.jpg Thinking to reach across state lines in a show of support for Mr. Matsko, the O.B. actually attempted to round up some of the  hollow-leggedest beer drinkers he knows for a little road "solidarity forever" road trip over to Clemson.  His plan came a' cropper, however, when each of the assembled crew, not excluding the O.B., insisted that they could properly  demonstrate their solidarity with the embattled  barkeep only by prodigious consumption of the fruit of the hop as served in his own establishment. Thus, alas, did a noble and idealistic impulse wither and die for the mere lack of a designated driver.

 As  steady patrons of this site should readily attest, the O.B normally tries to steer  himself away from blanket generalizations or stereotypes. In this instance, however, he is not only willing but itchin' to shed that inhibition. Accordingly, he herewith declares forthrightly that he is flatly in accord with  Mr. Matsko's  opinion of the type of people who have been agitating so fervently to take their guns where they clearly don't belong. Indeed, he thinks Matsko's appraisal of the types who would actually carry a concealed weapon into a bar is, if anything, far too charitable. And, Honey Child, don't you fool yourself into thinking that for most of the folks who agitated for the sanction to do that very thing, this is merely about some philosophical abstraction where it's more important to know you have a certain right than it actually is to exercise it.  Beyond that, let's be clear that, regardless of what they manage to say with a straight face, they ain't taking their guns into a bar or any other public setting because they actually feel the need for protection. What they really need is some reason not simply to feel confident but to feel cocky, cocky enough even to do  themselves  a little bullying, perhaps. (Stay with him now, for the O.B. is about to blaze a trail that he thinks will actually lead us out of this utterly idiotic predicament.)  You might think that carrying a concealed weapon would surely git 'r done cockiness-wise, but in all too many cases, it won't. How are people going to know you as someone not to be trifled with or crossed if they can't see your damn gun? Even if they spy that strange bulge in your pocket, they might just assume, a la Mae West, that you're simply glad to see them.  These pathetically self-loathing  but nonetheless  dangerous people are just like an old perv clad only in a raincoat, black socks, and wingtips--they've got something they want desperately to show you, and it isn't going to require much of a premise for them to succumb to the temptation to flash their 9mms.

  If the bearers of arms are so keen on showcasing their pieces, why not let 'em? Better yet, why not make 'em?  Personally, the O.B. is inclined to believe that pulling out a concealed weapon is actually fraught with more homicidal potential than simply sporting one on your hip where everybody can see it. Mandating the "open carry" of legally acquired and registered firearms would at least give the folks who ain't packing a chance to see who and how many others are? That way, they can make a truly informed decision about how they really  feel about downing a Bud and an overpriced burger beside a guy sporting a Glock. Although the gun bullies are barking louder right now, it might well be that this "if you got it, [you must] flaunt it" approach to handling this issue would ultimately reveal that there are more restaurant and bar patrons who actually object to eating and imbibing in a room full of lethal weapons than there are folks who really get off on dining in a setting laced with the scent of gun oil. Besides, although some laws, like those in the Carolinas, forbid people bearing arms from actually consuming alcohol in a bar, how is the proprietor to identify a scofflaw in this situation if his weapon is concealed? Of all the patent absurdities swirling about this latest triumph of the lunatic fringe, this one may actually cap the keg.  While it is surely reasonable to presume that a person who frequents bars is likely not a teetotaler in the first place, it is truly an Olympian leap of faith to expect that he will become one in exchange for the freedom to take his  firearm into a place where  he must sit sober whilst those around him are getting soused, especially when said firearm is concealed.   Don't know about you, but it is a little hard for the O.B. to picture a man shoving a pistol into his coat pocket and saying "Honey, I'm headin' down to the bar for a glass of ice water."

                In the O.B.'s mind, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers had the right idea when she introduced a bill that would overturn requirements that would-be gun purchasers go through a background check and training and then buy a permit before they are allowed to carry a firearm in public places. Senator Beavers wants to scrap all that red tape and safety mumbo jumbo and require a permit only if the owner wishes to conceal the weapon. In a predictable show of courage and good sense, Beaver's colleagues in the state senate embraced her measure by a vote of twenty-five to two. Regrettably, the Tennessee House failed to grasp the obvious merits of the uninhibited "open-carry" provision, and the measure was, dare I say, "shot down," in committee. 

Close on the heels of Ms. Beavers' s abortive measure came Georgia's  so-called "guns everywhere" law, which allowed for guns in  bars and as well as churches, although, thanks to a fleeting resurgence reason, college campuses were spared , for now at least, the fate of becoming free-fire zones.   (Readers of the previous posting on this site should be able to infer  the O. B.'s take on such an outcome.) Lest we be lulled into thinking that our current set of politicos have utterly  outdone themselves  in scaling the twin peaks  of  hilarity and hypocrisy, we should take note of the Georgia Republicans who cast their proposal  to allow guns in churches as a means of redressing wrongs done to black people in the Reconstruction era, when whites bent on their re-subjugation sometimes burst into black churches (which were seen as hotbeds of anti-white activism) bent on disarming any black person found bearing a firearm.

 State Rep. Dustin "Dusty" Hightower, R-Carrollton, reportedly explained that allowing Georgians to worship with pistols in their pockets and purses is really a civil rights issue: 

"It [the prohibition against guns in churches] was placed there to hinder people during the Jim Crow era. It was there to hinder African-Americans from exercising their rights. This has no business to be here. This is a true private property issue that was done under false pretenses then and I think that's really the history of where that comes from and so we're trying to simply say - we're trying to give that private property back to where it deserves to be and let each individual private property owner make that determination on their own."

 This sudden surge of concern for black rights among Georgia Republicans might be a bit more encouraging were it not for the fact many of these folks who are now purportedly keen to make amends for earlier efforts to deprive blacks of their Second Amendment rights to bear arms are some of the same people working non-stop to throw up every possible impediment to blacks exercising their Fifteenth Amendment rights to cast a ballot. Along these lines, our good buddy Rep. Hightower pushed to allow the boundaries of  voting precincts to coincide with the boundaries of gated communities and to permit placement of polling places in such communities which, even when unlocked, are not noticeably welcoming  environments for minorities. He also voted to reduce unemployment benefits, co-sponsored a resolution asking Governor Nathan Deal for "continued action for the protection of Georgians from the unconstitutional federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act " and resisted efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility among Georgia's poor. For good measure, ol' Dusty, the little people's new best friend, was one of several Georgia legislators who actually called for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment,  a move that would strip voters of their right to choose their own U.S. senators and return that prerogative  to their always friendly and sympathetic state legislators

 

                Not only is the truth often stranger than fiction, but it is sometimes so alternately funny and frightening that you can forget it isn't fiction.  As a mere chap, the O.B. heard the preacher light into the congregation about the danger of laughing at sin. This hit pretty close to home because even at that tender age, he had already concluded that sin was frequently not only funny but fun it its own right.  Although the O.B. and his pastor probably had dramatically divergent views on  what was sin as well as what was funny, he does see now where the ol' Rev. was coming from, at least.  Finding too much amusement in something you deplore can easily deaden your sense of what is deplorable and smooth down feathers best left ruffled.  William Faulkner once observed that "there's not too fine a distinction between humor and tragedy."  Both were tightly juxtaposed in much of his fiction, but in the O.B.'s take,  at least, Mr. Billy never let the former blind the reader to the latter.

 

 

 

 

ANIMAL HOUSE: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

                We who reside in college towns are fond of saying they are great places to live when the students aren't around, but, in fact, the welcome silence that signals their departure would probably get to be as deafening as their presence if they stayed away too long. Well, maybe not, but many of us would probably miss them eventually, if only for the free entertainment they offer when at play. There is a problem with way too much of that play, however, in that it is tied to a distressingly high mortality and serious injury rate among middle-class youths who should just be getting primed for the prime of their lives. There is quite enough blame for this alarming trend to go around, but for now, a good portion of it is being laid squarely at the beer-stained steps of college fraternity houses. A recent blockbuster of an article/expose by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic draws on a year's worth of research on "Greek houses" and promises to reveal "their endemic, lurid, sometimes tragic problems--and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame." Sadly enough, it delivers on all counts.

Flanagan suggests that while fraternities had stood as essential pillars of privilege supporting the very Establishment assailed by the shaggy sandal-shod student protestors of the 1960s and early 1970s, the iconic 1978 film "Animal House" signaled not only a resurgence of frathood, but a dramatic reversal of how it was perceived as well. In short, "Animal House" stripped the student impulse to rebel of its social and ideological commitments and entanglements and redefined rebellion as the slavish pursuit of personal-pleasure via outrageous, irresponsible, and thoroughly self-indulgent behavior. Thanks in no small part to the student lefties of the previous decade, the doctrine of in loco parentis was now toast, and the ensuing contraction of university supervision of collegians' conduct left plenty of room for Freddy Frat to engage in all manner of socially objectionable behavior Yet, for all of FF's vigor in exploiting these opportunities, theseemingly harmless antics served up by "Animal House" managed to envelop frat-boy audacity in a disarming, guilt-and-consequence-free bubble.

Curiously enough, the kickoff exhibit for Flanagan's case actually evokes powerful memories of the antics of "Bluto," "Otter," and their fellow Delta Tau Chi's. In Flanagan's masterful retelling, one evening in May 2011, whilst on the deck of the ATO house at Marshall University and "under the influence of powerful inebriants," one Travis Hughes decided it would be "an excellent idea" to "shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air." Unfortunately, the influence of the aforementioned inebriants apparently led young Mr. Hughes to "misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole." More unfortunately still, also at the scene was an only slightly less inebriated Louis Helmburg III, a sub on the Marshall "Thundering Herd" baseball team, who, like Hughes, was not actually affiliated with the brotherhood of ATO. Helmburg decided to capture Hughes's daring exploit via cell-phone video and positioned himself in what proved to be imprudent physical proximity to the actual launch pad, so to speak. Thus it was that "when the bottle rocket exploded in Hughes's rectum, Helmburg was seized by the kind of battlefield panic that has claimed brave men from outfits far more illustrious than even the Thundering Herd. Terrified, he staggered away from the human bomb and fell off the deck. Fortunately for him, and adding to the Chaplinesque aspect of the night's miseries, the deck was no more than four feet off the ground, but such was the urgency of his escape that he managed to get himself wedged between the structure and an air-conditioning unit, sustaining injuries that would require medical attention." Helmburg's wounds were sufficient to truncate his baseball season, and he filed suit against the ATO national organization, the litigation of which would consume the next thirty months before an out-of -court settlement was reached.

                The temptation to chuckle at this fiasco, which amounts to life-imitating art (provided "Animal House" be art), is well nigh irresistible, much as it was with the notorious "butt chugging" craze that swept across ol' Rocky Top a while back. Yet, as Flanagan recounts vividly, the outcomes of such incidents my turn out to be anything but funny. A case in point is that of Amanda Andaverde, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Idaho, who had just pledged Tri-Delt in August 2009. Andaverde and her sorority sisters kicked off a night of drinking at the Sigma Chi house before moving on to SAE, where additional libations and further loosened inhibitions led her to the third-floor sleeping porch and onto the bunk of one Joseph Jody Cook. Attempting to roll over in the middle of the night, Amanda fell twenty-five feet onto a cement surface, suffering permanent brain damage that left her seriously impaired physically. If this account were not sufficiently disconcerting, Flanagan discovered that Amanda's was actually the second such fall from an upper story of a University of Idaho fraternity house in a two-week period. Two months later and only eight miles away at Washington State University, another student fell from the third story of a frat house. Owing to their proximity, the two campuses sustained a common student-party culture that was good for at least three similarly serious falls from September through November 2012 alone.

                If you are thinking at this point that these terrible mishaps might be geographically concentrated, think again. Flanagan quickly comes up with five more such incidents in 2012, scattered cross-country from Berkeley to Ithaca, and shows there were at least eight more coast to coast in the summer and fall of 2013. We have focused thus far only on serious accidents involving falls and not the myriad examples of physical and sexual assaults or fatal or near-fatal incidents of alcohol poisoning whose tracks converge at the frat house door. Ironically enough, for all the ongoing furor over hazing, according to a 2010 survey represented in the accompanying graphic, it accounts for only 7 percent of the claims filed against fraternities nationwide compared to the 9 percent triggered by falls from height, and more worrisome still, hazing suits add up to less than half the share (15 percent) of claims premised on sexual assault and less than a third of those (23 percent) involving assault and battery. 

fraternityclaimssmaller.jpg

Overall, recent research by a pair of Bloomberg writers shows that, at the very least, more than sixty people have died in fraternity-related incidents since 2005.

 It is small wonder, then, that liability insurance became difficult for frats to come by at any price, beginning back in the 1980s when industry experts named fraternities as the sixth-worst insurance risk in the country, and individual insurers largely pulled their coverage en masse. The upshot has been the formation of trust-like collective self-insurance arrangements such as the Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG), which currently lists thirty-two national member fraternities. Other similarly specialized coverage arrangements have emerged as well. In either case, it is important to know that the bottom line for this sort of coverage amounts largely to limiting the liability exposure of the national organization, and in actual practice, it sometimes accomplishes that by actually transferring that exposure to members of individual chapters where claims have arisen.

In particular, chapters who do not pay for the liability limitation inherent in securing a third-party vendor of alcohol at chapter events manage to facilitate drinking by imposing what appear to be some highly unrealistic, even unworkable, event-management stratagems, such as the "BYO-plan," (The general UGA version of which, as of 2008,at least,is described here.) whereby members of drinking age, who may well represent a minority within the group, are permitted to come to designated limited-attendance events bearing no more than a six-pack of beer, which must then be tagged with the bearer's name and doled out solely to him by fellow members who may or may not be of age themselves. Sharing his brew even with brothers of legal drinking age puts Bubba Six-Pack in violation of the fraternity's alcohol policy and should some injury or harm come either to the recipient of his generosity or should said recipient cause harm to others, poor Bubba can easily go from a cherished member of the brotherhood to a toxic vulnerability in its midst. Should the failure of a BYO or some similar protective system precede someone's injury or death, the brothers are generally on orders to stay mum until the fraternity's insurance interrogators arrive, at which time they are warmly encouraged to sing to these ostensible guardians of their interests like meth-buzzed canaries on truth serum, fully and candidly implicating themselves and others as violators of the national organization's precisely worded and literally interpreted official alcohol policies. If the anticipated damage suit materializes, these unsuspecting lads who thought the fraternity's lawyers were supposed to be defending them can find that, as far as the national organization is concerned, the purportedly eternal benefits of brotherhood are now forfeit and the bonds conferred by the secret handshake annulled, leaving them pretty much on their lonesome to face the pitiless fire of the plaintiff's legal sharpshooters. The ol' Bloviator has no way of knowing which fraternities might approach this issue differently, but he does find Flanagan's research exhaustive and her general conclusions persuasive. Hopefully, parents of fraternity members or of young men who are about to be are already familiar with the organization in question's procedures for handling such liabilities, but if not, close attention to the following paragraph from Flanagan might be advisable:

"I've recovered millions and millions of dollars from homeowners' policies," a top fraternal plaintiff's attorney told me. For that is how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents' homeowners' insurance. As for the exorbitant cost of providing the young man with a legal defense for the civil case (in which, of course, there are no public defenders), that is money he and his parents are going to have to scramble to come up with, perhaps transforming the family home into an ATM to do it. The financial consequences of fraternity membership can be devastating, and they devolve not on the 18-year-old "man" but on his planning-for-retirement parents.

To see young men who should be held "100 percent accountable for their actions . . . perhaps for the first time in their lives," by the very outfit that seemed to offer tacit assurances of four carefree years of self-indulgent irresponsibility is to confront irony in its grimmest sense. The primary reason  national  fraternities have embraced such a byzantine and deceptive C.Y.A.  strategy comes through in the observations of Douglas Fierberg, the nation's premier plaintiff's attorney in "fraternity-related litigation," who contends that the frat system is "the largest industry in this country directly involved in the provision of alcohol to underage people." Sure enough, sifting through "hundreds of fraternity incident reports," Flanagan could find not a single one relating to "an event where massive amounts of alcohol weren't part of the problem." (This suggests what a great idea it would be to plug firearms into campus equation, don't you think?) The extent to which maximized access to alcohol is likely to factor into any single seventeen- or eighteen-year-old boy's  decision to rush into fraternity rush is clearly debatable, but the probability that it factors collectively  in many such decisions most assuredly is not. Thus, the possibility that a key factor in their attractiveness may someday pose a serious threat to their survival led fraternities to adopt an effective, if cold-blooded, strategy for minimizing or transferring the risk posed by their alcohol-centric culture and existence.

                Having brutalized the Greek brotherhood nonstop thus far, however, it is not only unfair but a downright cop out to leave them saddled with all of the blame for the serious alcohol problems that are so blatantly obvious on so many college campuses . It is utterly foolish to think that most freshmen are downing their first gulp of beer after they hit campus, even if being there undeniably expands their gulping opportunities, and that brings us to the matter of paternal attitudes toward underage drinking. The O.B. has argued more than once that the much-lamented "generation gap" said to have separated the youth of his era from their Depression-reared, war-tested Moms and Dads would be infinitely preferable to today's buddy-buddy, just-one-of-the-guys/girls parenting model, which one strongly suspects in this case may appeal to the parents as a means of reliving their college years vicariously through their kids. For example, the Ol' Bloviator is both shocked and sorely dismayed to see so many of today's parents not simply condoning but finding amusement in seeing their eighteen-year-olds flashing fake IDs and generally plunging head-first into Lake Alcohol as if it were in danger of drying up in the next few days, much less before they reach 21. He can't help but wonder how heartening such parents would find it to check out the 2 a.m. scene when their over-indulged and definitely over-served freshmen are staggering back toward what they hope is their dorm or, better yet, take stock of their progeny as they drag themselves into an afternoon class still in possession of a ten-ton hangover and smelling as if they had just gargled a forty-ounce Natty Light.   In some cases, even "parents' weekends," which were once stilted and admittedly boring affairs fueled primarily by fruit punch and stale cookies, are now lubricated by a steady current of booze.

Although it is rumored that Dean Noah recently contacted the Physics Dept. to see if gopher wood will float on beer, the apparent reluctance of most campus administrators to address this problem head-on may well arise from concerns about sending negative vibes to youngsters whose relatively affluent backgrounds indicate that the rising costs of being a collegian are likely to be no object to their parents, who write checks for donations as well as fees. Meanwhile, those parents, along with other alums, may also convince themselves that excessive drinking is no bigger threat to student health or the university's educational mission now than it was in their day. Take it from a grizzled, forty-year veteran who was actually around back then and, after serving on six campuses, is still around today, this university and the over whelming majority of its peer institutions are awash in alcohol as never before. Trying to deny or downplay this grim reality or duck the responsibility it conveys, is tantamount to whistling past a graveyard, one, in this case, where an increasing number of occupants are unfortunately and unnecessarily arriving way too early.

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Here's to You, (Generally) Beloved Ink-Stained Scribe!

The Ol' Bloviator realizes that there may be a few of you way out there in the truly remote extremities of the cyberkingdom who may not know of his friend Pete, but, if you are lucky, your town has someone like him, someone who cares about it so much it hurts and not only wants but expects you to feel the same.The following is drawn from O.B's introduction of Pete McCommons on the occasion of Pete's stem-winding oratorical contribution to UGA 's Willson Humanities Center's "Global Georgia" lecture series.

          

I first came to know Pete McCommons through his marriage to the then Ms. Gay Griggs, the lovely and talented flower of a family who could be no dearer to me if they were truly my own. Even before Pete and I met face to face, Gay's brother, Bill, one of my oldest and closest friends, had alerted Pete to a little book on Georgia that I had expanded and readied for publication while spending the summer of 1996 sequestered in a mobile home (A/C redlining day and night, of course!) in the middle of a pasture over in Hart County. Pete was kind enough to say nice things about the book in Flagpole, and even indicated that it had actually been polished off in a doublewide. Stickler for the facts that I am, however, I stared squarely at the tonsils of the proverbial gift horse and sought a correction because, though tastefully appointed, of course, our domicile for that summer had, alas, been but a singlewide. Sure enough, journalistic pro that he is, Pete came through in the next issue by tendering his apology for "exaggerating Professor Cobb's circumstances," thereby immortalizing me on the spot as doubtless the only member of the professoriate for whom residence in a doublewide trailer would qualify as an elevation in circumstances.

Rollin M. "Pete" McCommons is a native of Greene County, Ga., on the northern edge of the old cotton belt.  For all the wealthy planters it boasted in the antebellum era,  a recent essayist gets it right in summing up the county's postbellum fate, when she observes that  "soil exhaustion and the ravages of the Civil War resulted in a shift from agriculture, in which landowners were the power brokers, to a market economy with a large number of small, poor farmers at its bottom and merchants and lawyers at its top."  Indeed Greene's case seemed so emblematic of  a region-wide trend that it became one of the most poked and probed counties in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.  It owed its notoriety in no small part to the investigations of fabled sociologist Arthur M. Raper, who, beginning in the 1930s, transformed it, for a time, at least, into his own little laboratory for dissecting and analyzing the tenancy and sharecropping system. Places where race and poverty are so tightly entwined don't have much of a track record of producing white liberals, but Pete had the benefit of some fine Methodist raising, but like many in his tiny but hardy southern liberal cohort, I suspect, he imbibed much of  his liberalism straight from the New Testament. Fine upstanding boy that he was, Pete doubtless became a living legend at  Greensboro High School, where his exploits in football, basketball, and track led the Augusta Chronicle to dub him "Fleet Pete," without, so he swears, any apparent ironic intent whatsoever. Skeptical as the O.B. might otherwise be, he is willing to grant the fabled Greensboro Streak the benefit of the doubt on this claim simply because it is actually easier for me to envision his capacity for speed than it is to grant the Augusta Chronicle's capacity for irony.

            Dispelling any impression that he was simply another jock with a pretty face, Pete went on to establish a stellar academic record at the University of Georgia, receiving his A.B. in political science in 1962 before pursuing graduate work in political theory at Columbia. Returning to Athens, he served for a time in the early 1970s as head of the State Government Section of the UGA Institute of Government. If there is a single dominant phrase in Pete's employment history, it is surely "worked briefly." This would definitely apply to his stints as an organizer for the Communication Workers of America and an ad salesman for Auto Trader Magazine, where, and I admit I am just guessing here, his leftward lean may have gone against the grain with his superiors who did not particularly care for  his descriptions of a Mercedes or Cadillac as "the ideal vehicle for a bloated capitalist fat cat eager to flaunt the wealth he extracted from the sweat and toil of the oppressed masses."

            All seriousness aside, of course, there is a transcendent thread running through the life and achievements of our most uncommon Mr. McCommons. For example, in January 1961, as vice-president of the UGA Student Council, he took a leading role in drafting  and securing over 2,000 student signatures for a petition to keep the University of Georgia open, despite widespread agitation by Georgia's segregationist claghorns to close it in the face of court-ordered desegregation. In hindsight, it is abundantly clear that Pete put himself on the right side of history at a critical point, but, however intrepid and courageous, his actions were anything but politically expedient and doubtless gained him few friends in high places. Likewise, Pete's faculty position at the Institute of Government was already tenuous rather than tenured in 1972 when his efforts to support a student sit-in at the president's office not only led to his being arrested, cuffed and hauled off to the pokey. It is not certain just how long he was in residence in the slammer, and if he has any prison tats, they are cleverly concealed, but his involvement in this episode definitely helped to assure that his service at the Institute of Government would also qualify for the "worked briefly" section of his resume.

            If anything, Pete's habit of allowing principles to trump material or political consequences became even more pronounced as he plunged full bore into journalism, initially joining forces with socially conscious soul mate, Chuck Searcy, to launch the Athens Observer. The Observer's shaky finances made a "shoestring budget" more of an ambition than a reality, and led him to barter free ad space in the nascent indie paper in exchange for his lunches.  Yet, whatever his or his paper's fiscal status, Pete's energy and daring did not falter then, or later, after he assumed the helm of Flagpole, where, happily for our little town, his tenure has been anything but brief.

Since he introduced his rightly famous "Pub Notes" column, Pete McCommons has taken on an astonishing variety of issues, refusing to let important questions go unanswered or, worse yet, simply unasked. In the latter case, one of his many truly great and shining moments came when he penned a column in 2008 demanding to know if his faithful readers were willing simply to sit silent and disengaged as a proposed national center for research on the potential use of animal-borne diseases as agents of biological warfare or terrorism settled in down on South Milledge. It was for damn sure that he had no such intention himself. Why, railed our editorialist in high dudgeon, such an outcome would transform Athens into nothing but "Pathogen City," awash in deadly germs and overrun with snoopy and intrusive Homeland Security personnel.  Beyond the very real danger posed by the facility, Pete also admitted that it simply irked him to see his beloved Athens marketed as "an ideal center for the study of strange stuff that infects animals."

Although in this case he was articulating--or maybe laying the foundation for--what would soon reveal itself as a community consensus, it has by no means always been thus, as when, on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington,  Pete refused to let tributes to the courage and determination of the Freedom Riders themselves obscure the ugly reality of what the heirs to those who mercilessly bludgeoned them unconscious in 1961 have been up to over the last half-century:

"The bravery of the Freedom Riders defeated the violence, but their antagonists never surrendered.  They fell back and regrouped. They changed political parties. They got control of the state governments. They put on suits and swapped their baseball bats for legislative gavels. They continue today to do violence to the basic human rights of black people and poor people. They opt out of Medicaid at tremendous cost not only to the poor but to the whole state, denying its citizens billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. They make it harder and harder for African Americans and the poor to vote. They deny local governments the right to set minimum wages. They do violence to public educational funding while building in massive tax write offs for private schools.

They moved from the bus station to the capitol without missing a beat, and they're in control throughout the South....Those men in the Birmingham bus station beating those defenseless people got away with it because they were serving the people in power. The Southern legislators and governors who deny their own people education and health care are also serving those in power who want to keep corporate and individual taxes low on massive profits, even if that means--which it does--that the great mass of their citizens will live with financial uncertainty and without the tools to pull themselves up to a better life for their families."

 Such ferocity and unflinching truthiness explain why he is referred to in some quarters as "Pete McCommunist," and the O.B. must confess that, in the local context, at least, there have been times when he actually found himself well to the right of his intrepid buddy. Even on those rare occasions, however, there has never been even a sliver of doubt that ol' Pete was acting and speaking out of deep conviction and equally sincere dedication to what he believed are the best interests of the community. In a time when massive but lightning-quick economic, technological, and demographic shifts across thousands of miles seem to threaten even the identities and autonomous institutions of nations themselves, there can be no more indispensable global citizens than those who care passionately about sustaining their local communities by building on their strengths and confronting and remedying their deficiencies. We are indeed extraordinarily blessed to have in our midst a textbook example of just such a person, tougher than he looks but every bit as sweet as he seems, my occasional editor but constant friend, our very own pugnacious pacifist and fellow citizen of Athens and the world, Mr. Pete McCommons.

Can Yankees Drive Under "Southern" Conditions?


It figures somehow that the Ol' Bloviator would crawl out from under yet another avalanche of writing obligations just in time to find the capital city of the sovereign state of Georgia "buried" under 2.1 inches of snow and in full OMG! mode. At least twenty-four hours before this now-billed-as-epic weather "event" actually hit the ATL, the local meterolo- guessers, doubtless spurred on by countless hundred-dollar handshakes from the folks who run Kroger, Publix, etc., were bombarding the already-concerned populace with the message that it is never too late to panic. Following the same motif as the "storm" came and went, their message was aptly summarized by the OB's beloved son (and more or less SOL heir) as "Atlanta's Roads Are a Frozen Hellscape of Cars and Buses!" None of this is the least bit funny, of course, to the literally hundreds of people who spent fourteen hours trying to traverse five miles of thoroughfare by car, although it does seem to the O.B. that quite a few of them might have at least considered reverting to the once fairly common locomotive method once referred to hereabouts as " taking Shank's Mare, " but remembered more broadly today as walking.

            Naturally, this all but unbearable suffering has kindled a young war of finger-pointing--not confined BTW, either to the index finger or the horizontal plane--at school superintendents and municipal officials, not to mention, of course, the usual suspects who run the D.O.T. At both the local and national level, this interim of real and imagined horror has led to  more than a few ruffled feathers in these parts by affording yet another opportunity for Yankees to mock yet another of southerners' manifold inadequacies, this being our purported deficiency in the mental and motor skills requisite to driving appropriately in "wintry conditions."

The most restrained response to this truly tiresome stereotype-mongering might be simply to point out that, if this be so, it is largely a consequence of having so little familiarity with such Arctic-like conditions. After all, the howling blizzard that dropped 2.1 inches on Atlanta on January 28 equaled the city's sixty-nine-year annual snowfall average at one swell foop, a fact, just so you know, that engenders neither sadness nor envy on our part. In the case of places like Atlanta, which has been so thoroughly overrun by northern expats, one might reasonably inquire as well whether a goodly number of the vehicles involved in lane-blocking, roadway-clogging collisions may have once sported license plates from Michigan, Illinois, or--as if we could ever forget, Ohio. In this regard, however, the O.B. thinks the whole thing might well come down to the simple neo-Darwinian notion that people develop certain skills or acquire particular techniques in response to what their specific living environment demands.

The O.B. has mentioned more than once that he and the family spent four winters in Iowa, during which time he developed an enormous admiration and affection for the hardy, determined folks who understood what they were up against for nearly half of ever year and prepared accordingly. Simply put, these people realized that ol' Ma Nature could not only kick your butt, but flat out kill you, if She took a mind to. Yet the spawn of the O.B./Ms. O.B. union missed more days of school because of  weather the first year after we fled Iowa for Mississippi than he had during the previous four years living on the frozen tundra. The climate-induced cultural differences were also reflected in a number of other sectors, including infrastructure. For example, come winter, it simply behooves state and local governments in the Snow Belt to have sufficient well-equipped emergency personnel at the ready.

Differences in historical timing also came into play as well. Older and larger northern cities experienced significant expansion well before the advent of the automobile and thus had greater incentive to develop extensive public transportation facilities. By the time such explosive growth came to southern cities, especially newer ones like Atlanta and Birmingham, the proliferation of automobiles had begun to  free urbanites from the residential restrictions imposed by streetcars and local train lines,  thereby setting the stage for the infamous "Sunbelt Sprawl" that was clearly a key contributor to the recent "weather emergency" in both the aforementioned burgs.

            If you are inclined to offer such defenses or explanations as the O.B. has suggested above, then more power to you. As for yours truly, the increasingly fervent struggle among the die-hard Yankee supremacists to find further evidence of their own superiority has long since become more amusing than irritating. Yet the O.B. must confess that when confronted directly and individually with this attitude on the part of one of his northern brethren or sisters, he occasionally succumbs to temptation and serves up a little anecdote/parable from his graduate school years. Though a thoroughly fine fellow in every other aspect, one of the O.B.'s student colleagues of northern extraction could not resist responding to each and every winter weather warning with a diatribe about southerners' utter ineptitude behind the wheel under icy conditions. This inclination abated but little even after he decided to "go native" by renting a little house way out in the country on a road so remote and overgrown that even the sheriff was afraid to use it. Call it Karma or poetic justice or whatever you like, but one foggy morning when the old Ice Man cometh in to school, he rounded a blind curve to find himself already well inside braking limits from a flipped pickup whose disgorged contents included several pigs and a prodigious accumulation of their waste products. Driven by their instinctive disdain for any form of untidiness, the porcine passengers had naturally fled the scene, but alas, when our intrepid Yankee panicked and hit the brakes too suddenly to avoid the overturned truck, the piggy leavings, so to speak, contributed significantly to his ensuing skid into the ditch.

            An unusually detailed report of the incident made the local paper the next day, all but obliging us to observe that "You Yankees obviously don't know how to drive on pig poop." By the time the O.B. finishes dishing out all the excruciating details of this incident, he typically finds his ambushed northern listeners clearly eager to escape both him and any possible consideration of the sociological implications of his story. This suits the O.B. fine, of course, although he does think they might at least hang around long enough to pick up some potentially life-saving tips on  proper braking techniques when driving on hog manure.

Bloviate:

"To orate verbosely and windily."

Bloviate is most closely associated with President Warren G. Harding, who used it frequently and was given to long winded speeches. H.L. Mencken said of Harding:

"He writes the worst English that I've ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the top most pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Cobbloviate dedicates itself to maintaining the high standards established by President Harding and described so eloquently by Mr. Mencken. However,the bloviations recorded here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the mangement of Flagpole.com,nor,for that matter, are they very likely to be in accord with those of any sane, right-thinking individual or group anywhere in the known universe.

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