August 15, 2017

North of the Border

 The song “South of the Border” is widely known. It was written by James B. Kennedy and Michael Carr and was featured in the 1939 movie of the same name starring Gene Autry. The song has a pleasant tune and tells a simple story reflecting a plotline of the film. Over the years, the song has been sung by many artists, including Autry, Marty Robbins, Slim Whitman, Frank Sinatra, and others. “South of the Border” has also been the subject of various instrumental arrangements. (Listen to the Gene Autry vocal version here.)

In this season of Trumpism, many people have toyed with the idea of escaping to Canada. Such talk is often in jest, but some have actually left the country, particularly immigrants in the U.S. illegally. This situation invites a parody of “South of the Border.” Hence, here is at least a first draft of “North of the Border”:
North of the border, up Canada way—
That’s where I plan on goin’; that’s likely where I’m havin’ to stay.
I’m fleeing this country; I’m leavin’ today,
North of the border, up Canada way.

That country’s got health care and folks real polite,
Got few religious nuts or people on the alternate right.
Their leaders aren’t crazy, don’t have feet made o’ clay,
North of the border, up Canada way.

I will say to my friends, “I’m returning,”
Not forever declaring goodbye.
By degrees, I am quietly learning
My country will never return.

The States are in trouble, I’m sorry to say.
The country is goin’ to hell because of the fools within the beltway.
There’s peace and there’s safety where the Kochs cannot pay,
North of the border, up Canada way.

I’ll eat at Tim Hortons and learn to say “eh,”
Pick up a little French and take up curling to learn how to play,
But I’ll miss Sunday football and Memorial Day
North of the border, up Canada way.

Aye, aye, aye, aye; aye, aye aye, aye.
Aye, aye, aye, aye; aye, aye aye, aye.
I’m fairly happy with most of these words, though the bridge (“I will say to my friends,” etc.) is a bit ragged. I have tried to mirror the bridge of “South of the Border,” which rhymes imperfectly, at best. (The lines of the original end with “mañana,” “parting.” “mañana,” and “came.”)

Comments are welcome, either here or on Facebook. Help with the bridge would be particularly appreciated.

Flag of Canada

August 14, 2017

The Confederate Flag Revisited

A few days ago, I was returning to my car in the Walmart parking lot and found myself walking behind a woman in jeans, flip-flops, and a top that was not a crop top but was nevertheless too short. Her car was closer than mine and couldn’t escape my notice. It was a Ford SUV with a Confederate flag plate on the front bumper and a large decal at the top of the windshield proclaiming the driver to be a “BADASS GIRL.” The driver, however, was well past girlhood.

Flags at Charlottesville demonstration
The Confederate flag (or some variation thereof) on a pickup truck always gives me an uneasy feeling. On a woman’s modest SUV, it prompted some reflection. Particularly in light of the weekend demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the flag was juxtaposed to Nazi flags, we should reconsider our attitudes and speech related to symbols of the Confederate States of America. What do such badges really mean? (Note: What is usually called the “Confederate flag” is actually some version of a Confederate battle flag. CNN offered a tutorial on CSA flags after the murders in Charleston, South Carolina, which you can read here.)

At the outset, I have to emphasize that I hold the First Amendment to be sacred. It would be wrong to ban the display of CSA or Nazi symbols in our country. One cannot exhibit a swastika legally in the Federal Republic of Germany, but an analogous prohibition in the United States would be profoundly un-American.

To some, perhaps even to the woman in a Pennsylvania Walmart parking lot, the Confederate flag may be a symbol of personal independence or rebelliousness. If that is what is being symbolized—it clearly was not in Charlottesville—it represents an ignorant and unfortunate choice. The flag cannot be divorced from its historical context. Patriotic Americans need to demonstrate that we understand that context and condemn the flag and all that it represents. The situation cries out for what the Alt Right would call “political correctness.”

What we can do is reframe references to the Confederate flag? Begin by countering the notion that it represents “Southern pride.” Pride in what? The flag was the product of the Civil War and, as such, can hardly represent some mythical antebellum pastoral gentility. Besides, the antebellum period in the South was really one that saw much of the white population in poverty and virtually all of the black population in brutal servitude. Even white folks should not be proud of that. Actually, the flag became a symbol of racial animus and Jim Crow oppression following the war, but particular in response to the twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement. Any pride in that is misplaced and needs to be castigated. If Southerners want a symbol of regional pride—the South can legitimately be proud of its musical, culinary, and literary heritage—let them find a symbol that does not call to mind rebellion and the widespread violation of fundamental human rights.

So, what shall we call the “Confederate flag”? I suggest that we appeal to that actual history. It was a flag used by troops that intended to overthrow the legitimate government of the United States of America. Why not call it the “sedition flag” or “treason flag“ or “rebellion flag”? If you like, put “Southern” before one of those names. Whatever it is, the flag is not—should not be—the “Southern pride flag.”

NOTE: I was born and reared in New Orleans and take no pride in the Southern slavery, rebellion, or racial oppression.

July 26, 2017

Fifteen Years Ago

Fifteen years ago, a life-and-death drama was playing out in the Southwestern Pennsylvania coal fields. On Wednesday, July 24, 2002, nine coal miners were trapped in the Quecreek Mine when they broke through a wall that allowed massive amounts of water to flood the mine, barring their escape. Rescue efforts were begun immediately, although it could not be known whether the miners were alive or dead.

Coal miner
News of the accident and  attempted rescue was broadcast worldwide. Nowhere was the coverage more extensive than in Pittsburgh, the major market closest to the flooded mine. I spent several tense days checking often on the progress of the effort to reached the trapped miners. I went to bed hopeful on Saturday night and woke up Sunday morning to the news that all nine miners had been rescued and were, as they say, in good shape for the shape they were in. What could have been a tragic accident had a very happy ending.

The Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation will be celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the events in Somerset County over the next few days.

The anniversary also seems to be a good time to call attention to my poem about the accident and rescue, “The Quecreek Mine Disaster.” I was very moved by what happened fifteen years ago and sought to tell the story in verse. Here is a sample verse:
On Thursday afternoon, the big rig came
To drill a shaft a rescue cage could thread;
That job would take a half a day or more
To reach the barely living or the dead.
Rereading the poem, I think I did a fair job of conveying the anxiety and anticipation of those three days in 2002. See if you don’t agree.

July 9, 2017

A New Anti-Trump Button

Like so many peopele—a majority of voters, no doubt—I was distressed by Donald Trump’s winning the presidential election. I anticipated that his presidency would be a disaster for the country. Alas, I was mistaken. It promises to be an utter catastrophe.

Almost immediately, I thought of creating buttons with the slogan “Don’t blame me. I voted for her!” I waited several months to order buttons, however, and finally did so when I could stand our man-child president no longer.

I have decided to wear one of my buttons every day Trump is in office. I’ve received many comments on my button. No one has asked me for one, however, or tried to argue with the sentiment expressed thereon. Nevertheless, I persist.

The buttons shown in the photograph below are 2¼" in diameter. It isn’t clear whether I should have more made, but if you would like to purchase one or more, please send me e-mail from here. I am not seeking to make a profit, but I would like to cover as much of my cost as possible. If I lose money on this project, I will consider that it was done for a good cause.

Don’t Blame Me buttons

July 6, 2017

Trump on Trade

I am not in the habit of reacting to every asinine tweet made by our dumb-ass president, but I feel compelled to do so now. As President Trump left on Air Force One yesterday to meet with foreign leaders and confirm their worst fears about his ignorance and stupidity,  our Tweeter-in-Chief wrote the following:

Once again, Trump demonstrates that he knows nothing of trade, politics, or economics. Why should we expect our trading partners to “help” us, the most powerful and richest country on earth? It is not their job—and perhaps, not even in their interest—“to make America great.”

Trump has a naïve mercantilist view of trade—he likely doesn’t even know the word “mercantilism,” of course—and appears to believe that trade between nations is a zero-sum game. The U.S. can “win” only by making our trading partners lose. He wants a favorable balance of trade with every nation on earth. The president simply does not understand that trade can benefit everyone. This is fortuitous because our trading partners want to benefit their own countries as much as we do ours.

The world has changed. Instant communications, computers, automation, and ubiquitous international supply chains have created the world in which we live today. Those changes have also created new problems, complex problems that challenge a President of the United States. Unfortunately, the present office holder is a person of limited imagination. He cannot see new solutions to new problems; he can only imagine a “better” world as the world used to be. Moreover, just as he is a narcissist on a personal level—he seems genuinely to care only about himself—he is a kind of nationalist narcissist. Trump cares, at some level, about the U.S., but really has no empathy for the rest of the world unless it enhances his commercial empire’s bottom line.

Trade agreements are necessarily less than perfect, as interests other than purely economic ones invariably have to be taken into account. But free trade—or something very much like it—have made the world richer. Let us hope that Donald Trump doesn’t screw that up.

July 3, 2017

Independence Day Fashion

For many years, I have purchased a patriotic T-shirt to wear on the 4th of July. Many stores stock such shirts at very low prices as the 4th approaches. Often, the year appears on the shirts.

I went shopping today for a 2017 shirt. My job was harder than usual. Given the present political climate, I was unwilling to wear a shirt that touted freedom or liberty. Wearing such a shirt wouldn’t seem sincere, given that we are led by an autocrat who is interested only in freedom from taxes for the rich and the liberty to die or go bankrupt for lack of medical care for everyone else.

The shirt I finally bought is shown below. The flag is a bit flashy for my taste, but the legend “MADE IN AMERICA 2017” is relatively innocuous. And the shirt is, in fact, made in America.

4th of July shirt

June 13, 2017


I recently went to a nearby Pizza Hut/KFC restaurant. (Both chains belong to Yum! Brands, Inc.) I was interested in ordering a meal combo that included a spicy chicken sandwich, a combo I had seen advertised multiple times on television.

At my request, my waitress provided me with a menu. (She didn’t come to my table equipped with one.) The menu was long on Pizza Hut food but seemed light on KFC fare. What I had intended to order was nowhere to be found. I asked her about the advertised combo, but she knew nothing about it. (She was new on the job, she told me.) The waitress left to ask a manager about the combo, but the manager seemed not to know about it either. My waitress suggested that the sandwich I wanted to try was the Zinger Spicy Chicken Sandwich, which was on the menu, but not in a $5 combo.

Unable to order the combo, I ordered a two-piece chicken meal, which was mostly fine. Well, the meal was almost fine. KFC has always served tasty biscuits, and a biscuit came with my meal. Butter, however, did not. I asked for some and received a couple of the packets like this one:

KFC Buttery Spread packet
Buttery Spread packet (approximate size 3" x 1½")
I would have thought that an outfit that went to the trouble of using “11 herbs and spices” would at least serve real butter. I have no idea what I got in lieu of butter. The back of the packet was blank; the front of the packet gave little information about what was inside. All it declared was “KEEP REFRIGERATED” and “ARTIFICIALLY FLAVORED."

My visit to the Indiana, Pennsylvania, restaurant represented the second time I had been disappointed by its skeleton KFC menu. I once visited the restaurant in pursuit of a hot chicken sandwich. I had heard an NPR report on Nashville hot chicken, and I had seen a KFC advertisement for its own hot chicken sandwich. Alas, the Pizza Hut/KFC restaurant had no clue about the sandwich in question. On that occasion, I simply walked out.

Alas, one hand of Yum! Brands just doesn’t seem to know (or care) what the other hand is doing.