Month: August 2017

Marble and Mud: Political Commentary

The President’s remarks after Charlottesville engendered more controversy than usual. Some interpreted his measured denunciation along with the tacit support from many in his party as a GOP transitioning from the party of Lincoln into the party of George Lincoln Rockwell. The further irony of a Republican Commander-in-Chief defending monuments dedicated to “losers” from the Confederacy became muddled by the Chief Executive’s continued missteps. The incident and aftermath reignited the debate over the appropriateness of monuments honoring Civil War enemies. It’s confounding that it took an incident of this magnitude to bring the issue to the national forefront.

The United States may hold the distinction as the first nation in history to immortalize figures for taking up arms against it. It baffles the mind that individuals such as Robert E. Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and other rebels would become marble effigies displayed on public properties throughout the union. This stretches the boundaries of Lincoln’s assurance: “malice towards none and charity for all.”

It astonishes that some deem such figures worthy of honor. The West Point alumni who abandoned their blue uniforms for gray forsook their oath to defend the nation from “all enemies foreign and domestic.” The Confederate States instigated a war of choice against their fellow Americans. The states that seceded from the Union did so unnecessarily. The Republican Party opposed the extension of slavery; it didn’t contest its existence.

All the legalese regarding “states’ rights” and “secession” only obfuscated the real issue. No state seethed over matters such as the Federal Government building a post office on prime public land. No local government raged over the unfairness of port duties getting sent to Washington. None invoked the “taxation without representation” epigram in response to state funds stuffing the coffers of a bloated national bureaucracy. Slavery served as the catalyst, cause and core of the conflict.

Myriad contributions to the American experience originated in the South. Authors such as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Truman Capote enhanced our nation’s literary tradition. Statesmen such as George Washington, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson built our political system. It’s difficult to imagine popular music without the influences of Elvis Presley, the Delta Blues and—America’s original art form– Jazz. Without these inspirations, American culture would not exist. The area south of the Mason-Dixon line gestated numerous boons that made the nation a “shining city on a hill.”

The Civil War is not among them. It seems macabre to “honor” those who waged a four year war of attrition against the United States government. Scholars debate the conflict’s human cost. Depending upon which estimates one uses, the hostilities caused casualties somewhere in the range of 600,000 to 900,000. The War Between the States initiating the deaths of more Americans than any other war is not open to conjecture.

Critics complain that removing Confederate monuments “erases” history. The question: just what history do they believe it erases? The very existence of these statues muddies the past. Even without the presence of the rebel effigies, Americans will still study and seek to understand the most violent war in our country’s history. Understanding why society held these figures in high regard for so long will prove more challenging.

It’s always mystified me that Americans adopted the Roman practice of deifying political figures. Imperial officials made (popular) former emperors into gods. They then chose to construct elaborate monuments honoring their memories. It’s bizarre to witness that practice in my own country. After all, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution predicated upon a deep mistrust of government.

While appropriate to respect public servants, revering them is a dangerous practice; at times, a strange one. It defies all bounds of reason that a marble likeness of Roger Taney occupied the grounds of the Maryland State House until recently. While Chief Justice, he wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott v Sandford (1857) case. Legal scholars cite it as the worst decision SCOTUS ever handed down. The reckless application of judicial activism made the Civil War inevitable.

Some have suggested that Taney presided over a successful Court. His conduct in Dred Scott represented one mistake in an otherwise distinguished career. I find that comparable to lauding Neville Chamberlain for his contributions to European politics. It would be unfair to judge the whole of his career by his one failure. So what if that lone irresponsible act almost precipitated the end of liberal democracy?

Monuments to political figures reflect more upon the era of their dedication. Seldom are they timeless. History often mires public officials in mud. They have no place in marble.

 

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Natural Phenomenon Review – Solar Eclipse 2017

I once awoke to golden flakes coloring the Atlantic Ocean. As the sun ascended from the horizon, they extended into gilded streaks that rippled along the sea’s surface. I gasped in awe at nature’s majesty.

On August 21, 2017 the sun darkened at midday. That’s it. That’s what happened. Not quite the comparable spectacle for my tastes. The much heralded solar eclipse didn’t even measure up to a solar flare.

Before it even started, I had issues with the set-up. I experienced the Solar Eclipse from Pennsauken, New Jersey. Small puffs of clouds arranged peripatetically throughout the cerulean sky. The temperature reached the mid-80s, but the humidity level remained comfortable. This describes just about any “beautiful summer day” described in poetry, songs and romances. I would’ve preferred a less cliché setting for such a “captivating” celestial display.

Then as “peak eclipse time” approached, the heavens darkened. Not as dark as I’d expected. From the legends I’ve heard about these phenomena, I expected “day to turn into night”, if you will. Not so. The darkness compared to the atmosphere during a rain shower. And we’re told ancient societies quaked in terror during a solar eclipse!? What was wrong with those people!?

Unexpected thunderstorms plague South Jersey during the summer. On one of the few storm free days we’ve experienced recently, the solar eclipse made it appear one was imminent. How awe inspiring.

As poor as the sun performed during this occurrence, the moon disappointed even more. One October I recall looking out my bedroom window during a full moon. The Yardbirds’ psychedelic instrumental “Glimpses” played on the radio. The lunar orb weaved through the apertures in the overcast sky. It created quite a sensory spectacle.

The moon did not bring its “A-game” to this eclipse. Its dark outline became visible during the day. I perused a thesaurus after writing that line. Still, that’s the most elaborate way I can describe it.

On many days I’ve seen the moon CLEARLY during daylight hours; especially in the early morning. (Keep in mind the sun concurrently shares the sky with it at this time, too.) A spectator can view craters along with the rest of the intriguing landscape in the naked eye. During the eclipse it appeared as a dark circle. Based on this performance, I’m starting to understand why man hasn’t visited there in over forty years.

This natural phenomenon quickly turned into a phenomenot. Let’s hope the 2017 Solar Eclipse turns out to be a “rebuilding year” for celestial displays. It sure didn’t inspire me to travel the world and witness other eclipses when they occur. From now on, if I want to see the sky darken in the middle of the day, I’ll just patiently wait until nighttime.