August 21, 2017

Anticipating the Eclipse

I am here in Indiana, Pennsylvania, shortly before the much-touted eclipse of the sun will begin to be seen on the west coast. Although the event certainly interests me, I didn’t seriously consider traveling to the path of totality. Seeing the full eclipse would involve both travel and luck. One could be at the center of the eclipse path and still see very little if the sky is overcast. In a few years, a total eclipse will be visible much closer to home, and the odds of not wasting a good deal of effort will be better.

Solar eclipse
Image courtesy of Luc Viatour
A few days ago, today was predicted to be sunny in Indiana. Alas, the reality is that it is a relatively cloudy day, punctuated by occasionally sunshine. I’m still hoping to see a partial eclipse. My eclipse glasses are at the ready. Supposedly, 70% of the sun will be covered by the moon where I am. My DVR will be recording the coverage of the eclipse on television. While I’m outdoors I will probably be listening to NPR, though radio coverage of an eclipse does seem lame.

A solar eclipse is a truly miraculous event. One could never happen were the sun and moon not the relative sizes they are and the distance they are from one another. No other planet in our solar system—perhaps no other planet in the universe—experiences what many Americans will see today.

On the other hand, I do not consider it a miracle that a solar eclipse will be seen across the United States on August 21, 2017. Religion News Service has reported on what various religious people have said about the eclipse, much of which is simply stupid. Anne Graham Lotz—I had thought she was the reasonable offspring of Billy Graham—sees the eclipse as some kind of warning to America about its sinful ways. Well, maybe. But that interpretation suggests more belief in predestination than I suspect Ms. Lotz consciously accepts. Since eclipses can be predicted centuries ahead, God must have known—or ordained—that the United States would need a warning in the twenty-first century. I guess we’re all living the lives God has planned for us, only imagining that we have any control over them. This may, in fact, be true, but it is an idea that really isn’t very useful.

Well, it’s nearly time to turn on the TV. I hope the sky is clear where you are. I’m hoping the same for Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Update, 3:15: The clouds were largely co-operative. Until maximum coverage was achieved, clouds only occasionally covered the sum. Now, however, one can only see clouds. What is amazing is that, even when 80% of the sun is covered by the moon, our star still shines brightly. I’m grateful for seeing as much as I did.

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.