C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sunday Drive: Nessun Dorma, Il Volo

Your Head Trucker, sadly, knows nothing about grand opera; somehow I never the got the memo when that was added to the Agenda. But I just stumbled across some  youngsters I never heard of before, singing a pretty little ditty from one of them old opries - and all I can say is, Wow!  See what you think:

Friday, July 10, 2020

What I'm Watching: Interview with Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier in 2000.

Your Head Trucker prefers history and biography for light reading and leisure viewing, but not too often do I come across something worth sharing that seems to fit the format of the Blue Truck.

Usually, I post only short videos on this blog - who has time for more than a couple of soundbites in this modern world?  But apart from news of the day, too often frightfully depressing, it's not always easy to find short videos that are worth recommending.  So here is the first of what may become a feature on the Blue Truck:  a longer video that might take more than one sitting to get through, but which is entertaining or noteworthy for one reason or another.

I'll start off with this 2009 interview with renowned actor Sidney Poitier, from the American Academy of Achievement - an organization I never heard of before now. Among other incidents, his experience at age 15 coming to America from his native Bahamas - a majority-black British colony - and his encounters with American racism are most interesting - starting at about the 1:13 mark.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Can You Say Narcissistic?

Trump's niece, a clinical psychologist, can and does in her damning, soon-to-be-released family memoir:

You can read more excerpts in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

But of course, Mary Trump doesn't tell us anything about her uncle that couldn't already be seen by any casual observer:  he's a cold-hearted liar, cheater, bully, narcissist, maybe sociopath - a conceited rich kid with an infantile mind who has oozed and schmoozed his way through life on daddy's money, without ever having to suffer the consequences of his actions.

And talk about daddy issues - no wonder he's always sucking up to ruthless, strong-man dictator types, desperate for their approval.

But I suspect, as I've said before in this blog, that just as in the old Greek plays about powerful men consumed with hubris, his actions are soon going to catch up with him, big time.  Call it what you will - nemesis, karma, divine justice - there's just no wheedling your way out of it.

It could come as soon as Election Day - 120 days from now.  And just think what a huge ratings flop that would be. A failed president! A loser! Sad.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Independence Day, 2020

Photo by Saka8490 at Wikipedia, CC-4.0

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

--Abraham Lincoln, second inaugural address, March 4, 1865

While watching one of the memorial services for George Floyd last month, at which several people spoke from the pulpit, I was struck by the remarks of a grieving young woman, perhaps a teenager, who in the middle of saying her piece asked, contemptuously, "Make America Great Again - when has America ever been great?"

And while listening to newscasters and protesters and professional chatterati of all stripes during the past month, I have been distressed to hear pompous expressions and condescending judgments that seem to be based on the notion that nothing at all has changed in this country since 1965 - or indeed, since 1865.  Which seems quite wrongheaded to me; remembering vividly the segregated society of my childhood and youth, I could write a long list of things that have changed markedly for the better just in my lifetime, for all kinds and conditions of people, despite whatever seems to have gone wrong at present.

That is not to say that our country, or any one of us, has reached perfection yet.  We never will.  We can only continue working and reaching toward a more perfect union, even though our reach exceed our grasp.  Though we may always fall short of what we seek, the persistent striving for it is what counts.

How the nationwide disgust and outrage over the brutal murder of an innocent man got diverted into refighting the Civil War is a bit more than I can understand.  That conflict was ended, settled, and done with two centuries ago; and our enduring union was bought dearly, cemented with the blood of brothers from all parts of the land, all part of our one big American family:  Americans all, before and after the fight.

The enmities of that needless, senseless war were laid to rest long ago along with the bones of those who sacrificed themselves, as brave men in every age have done, in defense of their homes and families, and for what seemed to them the greater good in that day and time.  Mistaken or not, may they all rest in peace.  There is no North or South, no East or West, in the grave.

It is certain that those on both sides who survived the bloodshed were anxious to move forward as one people and bind up the nation's wounds, not tear them open again.  How much more so should we humbly desire to heal and reconcile with one another, we who live in this vastly different modern age, knowing and understanding so much more than they about all aspects of life on this fragile planet?

It seems to me that today's perils, conflicts, and injustices are what deserve our earnest attention and steady focus now.  The past belongs to the dead, who are beyond all praise or reproach; it is the present that belongs to us, the living - along with the sacred duty to carry on the good work that was begun, not ended, in 1776.  Lazily to castigate the past, which cannot be changed, instead of working hard to repair the present, which can always be improved, is a useless waste of time and spirit.

So today as we celebrate the nation's 244th birthday, I offer these musical selections as a reminder of the permanent possibility of progress  - now quick, now slow, but always upward - that has made the United States an inspiration to all the world from its beginnings, and will continue to do so, if only we remain one united people devoted to liberty, equality, and justice for all - in the enduring bond of brotherly love and mutual respect.

That is much easier to say than to do, of course.  But we must try anyway, and not be foolishly diverted from the essential issues that now confront us.  Though the forces of intolerance and disunity abroad in the land are bent on tearing us apart, I believe it is not yet too late for the better angels of our nature to prevail, and lead the American experiment onward to ever-greater heights.

Red and yellow, black and white, male and female, straight and gay, we are all Americans; we are heirs of the past but not bound to repeat it.  Let us fix what is broken and mend what is torn:  good neighbors and fellow workers in all the good we can do for our country.  Let us be friends; we must not be enemies.

Early or late, progress happens.  The story of how the following performance came about is too well known to repeat here.  The great American contralto Marian Anderson sings "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in April 1939:

The late actor and author Ossie Davis attended the concert as a college student, and here recounts what it meant to him:

In September 1942, Miss Anderson christened the Liberty ship Booker T. Washington in a shipyard in Los Angeles, and sang "The Star Spangled Banner" (the second half of the clip is silent):

Bonus: Miss Anderson sings Schubert's "Ave Maria" in the original German - one of the loveliest renditions I know of this sacred melody:

Thursday, July 2, 2020

But Is It Fascism?

Johnson and Trump at the G7 meeting in Biarritz, 2019.
White House photo via Wikipedia.

George Monbiot compares the politics of Trump and Johnson to historical fascism in an opinion piece for the GuardianExcerpt:
Is the resurgence of fascism a real prospect, on either side of the Atlantic?

Fascism is a slippery, protean thing. As an ideology, it’s almost impossible to pin down: it has always been opportunistic and confused. It is easier to define as a political method. While its stated aims may vary wildly, the means by which it has sought to grab and build power are broadly consistent. But I think it’s fair to say that though the new politics have some strong similarities to fascism, they are not the same thing. They will develop in different ways and go by different names.

Trump’s politics and Johnson’s have some characteristics that were peculiar to fascism, such as their constant excitation and mobilisation of their base through polarisation, their culture wars, their promiscuous lying, their fabrication of enemies and their rhetoric of betrayal. But there are crucial differences. Far from valorising and courting young people, they appeal mostly to older voters. Neither relies on paramilitary terror, though Trump now tweets support for armed activists occupying state buildings and threatening peaceful protesters. It is not hard to see some American militias mutating into paramilitary enforcers if he wins a second term, or, for that matter, if he loses. Fortunately, we can see no such thing developing in the UK. Neither government seems interested in using warfare as a political tool.

Trump and Johnson preach scarcely regulated individualism: almost the opposite of the fascist doctrine of total subordination to the state. (Though in reality, both have sought to curtail the freedoms of outgroups.) Last century’s fascism thrived on economic collapse and mass unemployment. We are nowhere near the conditions of the Great Depression, though both countries now face a major slump in which millions could lose their jobs and homes.

Not all the differences are reassuring. Micro-targeting on social media, peer-to-peer texting and now the possibility of deepfake videos allow today’s politicians to confuse and misdirect people, to bombard us with lies and conspiracy theories, to destroy trust and create alternative realities more quickly and effectively than any tools 20th-century dictators had at their disposal. In the EU referendum campaign, in the 2016 US election, and in the campaign that brought Jair Bolsonaro to power in Brazil, we see the roots of a new form of political indoctrination and authoritarianism, without clear precedents.

It is hard to predict how this might evolve. It’s unlikely to lead to thousands of helmeted stormtroopers assembling in public squares, not least because the new technologies render such crude methods unnecessary in gaining social control. As Trump seeks re-election, and Johnson prepares us for a likely no deal, we can expect them to use these tools in ways that dictators could only have dreamed of. Their manipulations will expose longstanding failures in our political systems that successive governments have done nothing to address.

Though it has characteristics in common, this isn’t fascism. It is something else, something we have not yet named. But we should fear it and resist it as if it were.

What I Say: I get Monbiot's point. But nevertheless, beware of an October Surprise - a suddenly trumped-up war, or the Washington equivalent of the Reichstag fire.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

How Time Does Fly

I just wanted to say that to somebody.  Hard to believe.  It was a great turning point in my life for several reasons not now of interest to anyone but me - and even I'm tired of hearing that old story, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing much.

I was going to write more here - went through several attempts at an essay, but they all kept turning into deadly dull autobiography, and none of them seemed quite right.

So I'll just say how quickly time goes by: from the summit of 60-something, the view is much larger and wider than at 20-something, and you wonder how you got to be this old so soon.  But this commonplace observation is hardly worth your time, so I'll just stop here and wish all my truckbuddies a happy, peaceful July.

God knows we can all use a rest after the past month of upsets and uproars in all directions.

Released in September 1970, this was the "official song" of my graduating class in high school - still a pretty tune after all these years.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Hello, Vlad - Donnie Calling

I'm tapering off on current events now - but I feel I have to post this for the record.

The long summary from CNN, horrifying but predictable, is here - well worth your time to read it. Excerpt:
In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest. . . .

One person familiar with almost all the conversations with the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Canada, Australia and western Europe described the calls cumulatively as 'abominations' so grievous to US national security interests that if members of Congress heard from witnesses to the actual conversations or read the texts and contemporaneous notes, even many senior Republican members would no longer be able to retain confidence in the President.

In other words, the alleged leader of the free world is that big, dumb, conceited, hateful, fifth-grade braggart, the brown-noser, the school-yard bully, the creep that nobody liked except a couple of his partners in crime.

Is anyone surprised? The tapes and transcripts of those calls, if ever released, will be a bigger scandal than the Watergate tapes ever were.

I wonder when the public will get to hear or see them.

Bonus, 7/1/20: This just out from the Lincoln Project:

Saturday, June 27, 2020

How Low Can You Go?

Back in the late 1980s when I was 30-something, my two girlfriends from college and I went out on the town one night at a popular new nightclub called Studebaker's - a franchise now apparently defunct. We usually got together for a long, leisurely chit-chat over lunch or dinner at some nice restaurant, but this time we decided to go see what all the fuss was about.

The joint was hopping:  a huge, brightly lit room with a crowded dance floor and a gleaming, honest-to-God Studebaker convertible perched on a dais at one end. Probably there was no motor in it, but it looked showroom-new, and people kept taking turns climbing in, sitting on the back where the top folds down, singing along to the oldies music and waving their arms to the rhythm - of course we eventually took our turn there, too. It was great fun.

The drinks were delicious, the music was marvelous, and everybody was joyously well-behaved.  At some point, the staff set up a limbo stick, and a crowd immediately lined up to go under it, dancing their way through.  Even your staid and sensible Head Trucker - normally the very soul of decorum - got into the spirit of things and joined the line.  The stick was not set very low, and people were merrily dancing their way under it with ease, leaning far backwards.  Everyone but me, that is.

Just as I got my waist under the stick, and my chin on a level with it, I realized too late that to go an inch lower would require the use of certain back muscles which had lain entirely undisturbed since I was a schoolboy climbing on the monkey bars in the playground, and who were now loath to be roused from their slumber.  Chagrined and perplexed as to how to proceed without knocking the bar down or collapsing on the floor, I hesitated for a second in order to give reverent consideration to the laws of physics.

But of course hesitation is fatal on the dance floor.  During that brief second, two other people, one on each side of me, not to be hindered for a moment, came limbo-ing through without so much as a by-your-leave, followed closely by other impatient folks.  The crowd was not about to allow time for a rethink or a redo - onward, onward, onward!  Too bad for you if you can't make it.  Out of our way!

Mortified, I somehow managed to get on through by a kind of crablike crawl - most undignified.  But this humiliating experience did teach me a significant lesson about human nature:  if you can't run with the big dogs, better stay up on the porch.  

This principle applies in ordinary, everyday life as well as in society at large.  It is one thing to dance your own dance to the music of the moment - it is quite another to be completely out of step and out of tune with everyone around you.  In the latter case, you can waste all your strength and joie de vivre in a lonely, forlorn, unwinnable battle - and what purpose would that serve? - or you can pull off the road and let the traffic diesel on by, going hell-for-leather whither it will.

Only rarely does a single determined soul turn the tide, in the name of a noble cause; but such cases are few, and beyond the strength of most.

Your Head Trucker, now old and gray, and less limber each year, cannot keep up with the mad rush of the modern world.  In the last month, I have used what little talent I have to express outrage and call for reform - just one small voice, joined to a great chorus of others.  I have said my piece, and more I cannot do.  The world is rushing madly around and beyond me, on either side - I have no power to stop the flood or divert it from what seems a looming disaster of willful ignorance and arrogance on both sides.

For several years past, I have paid less and less attention to the news of the day because it is so awful and so depressing - in this great moment of crisis, I have refocused my attention on current events, but now I notice that the upset and dismay are intruding upon my hours of rest and filling my waking mind.  News in this day of endless and often mindless reportage, 24/7, is very much an addictive drug - some people are even called, deservedly, "news junkies."

But it serves no good purpose for myself or for anyone else to fill up my thoughts, day and night, with such an obsession; in fact, it is positively detrimental to my physical and mental health. In any case, I have long since outlived my time - this present age, even before the current uproar started, is not at all to my taste. I feel myself very much a stranger in a strange land - an exile far from home. And of course, one can never go home again.

So let the current generation make of it what they will - perhaps a better world, or perhaps something even more ugly, vulgar, and brutal than the present one - even so, why should I let that destroy my serenity and peace of mind?  I have no power to help or hinder.  I am an old man without family or posterity, and much closer to the end of life's course than its beginning. Soon enough I shall be a thing that is past knowing. I have had my day, a full cup of joys and sorrows - but now the sun is low in the sky, and the night is coming when I shall rest from all labors.

So I think I will now attempt to redirect my thoughts and spirit to more peaceful things, abstaining from further comment on current events, unless something truly earthshaking happens - and please God, it won't. In the past month on this blog, I have stated very clearly where I stand, and I am sure that my stand is very much in line with the moral arc of the universe, and of the highest Good - that patient, impartial, eternal Love that moves the stars.

So this old dog is going to lie back down in that shady spot on the porch.  If any of y'all want to run yourselves crazy chasing cars, have at it. I'm done.

Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.

--Ecclesiastes 4:6

Friday, June 26, 2020

Happy Pride 2020

Imagine if there was a President who celebrated Gay Pride . . .

A few dates to remember in the progress of gay rights over the last half-century:

June 28 - July 3, 1969: Stonewall Riots, New York City

June 28, 1970: First Gay Pride marches, NYC and other cities

May 20, 1996:  Romer v. Evans

June 26, 2003: Lawrence v. Texas

December 22, 2010: Don't Ask, Don't Tell repealed

September 20, 2011: DADT repeal implemented

June 26, 2013: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry

June 26, 2015: Obergefell v. Hodges

June 15, 2020: Bostock v. Clayton County

Today's quote:
I do have things I would like to see adopted on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people:  they include the right to marry the individual of our choice; the right to serve in the military to defend our country; and the right to a job based solely on our own qualifications.

I acknowledge that this is an agenda, but I do not think any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.
--Congressman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), 2008

Bonus: The Night Michelle Escaped from the White House

Thursday, June 25, 2020

To Make Myself Clear

I am in process of listening to a podcast by CNN's Don Lemon about racism, doing it slowly so I can take notes and be sure I catch all the points that are made; perhaps I will summarize it here when I get done listening.  For now, though, I just want to say that I think I have made my thoughts and feelings very clear in the last few weeks about where I stand on the burning issues of the day:  police reform and equal justice under law.

Those issues - at the top of a long list of issues - need immediate attention, and are getting it, even as I type, in Congress as well as in many big cities and small towns across the breadth and depth of this country, with impetus from politicians and ordinary citizens alike.  Well and good.  What I call "a revolution of hearts and minds" has made a remarkable beginning and should be sustained at all levels until it is accomplished - by reasonable and lawful means.

I am on board with peaceable assembly and petitioning for redress of grievances, as the Constitution puts it; these are fundamental American rights, and the free exercise thereof has been essential from the very beginnings of this country in our never-ending progress towards "a more perfect union."

What I am NOT on board with are mindless rioting and hell-raising just because young hotheads can get away with it.  A protest and a riot are not the same thing.  Nor am I on board with mob violence and undemocratic destruction of public monuments.  If need be, a statue or monument can be removed to private property; there is no essential need to destroy it.  What is needed is to change people's attitudes, which violence does not do.  It gets people's attention, sure - but not the right kind of attention.

NOR am I on board with the cunning rhetorical trick of calling everything and everyone you don't like an example of "white supremacy" and "systemic racism."  That is painting with far too broad a brush; it is unfair, unjust, and untrue.  (I know - I grew up in the segregated South.  No one under 50 today has any idea of what legal white supremacy looks like.)

It will also not get the victims of police reform and political oppression what they want.  In society, as in physics, for every action there usually is an equal and opposite reaction.  An unreasonable, unjust push in one direction will likely provoke an unreasonable, unjust shove in the the opposite direction.  A punch in the eye invites a return punch on the nose.

It will also lose them the goodwill and support of many innocent bystanders and people of good will.  It is a fundamental rule of human life that if you want to get respect, you have to give respect.  It's not all about you.

And now - as I have privately feared - this orgy of destruction threatens to go far beyond the bounds of any conceivable justification.  There are voices - perhaps only a few, and certainly unreasonable - voices now calling for the destruction of monuments to Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and anyone else who does not meet an absurd 21st-century purity test.

Not even Lincoln - the closest thing we have to a secular saint in the pantheon of presidents - is exempt from condemnation.  Voices are calling for the destruction of his statues.  And for the destruction of Mount Rushmore.

And even for the destruction of all images of "white Jesus."

Okay, obliteration of identity, history, and religion - what does that sound like, folks?  What is the logical next step - a "final solution" to end the threat of "white supremacy" forever?  Huh?  Where is that line of thought going?

This is madness.  This is hateful.  This is would-be tyranny.  This is evil.

This is not America.  Two wrongs do not make a right.

This is the time to settle down and think carefully about how to make our union more just, more equal, more perfect.  For everyone.

It is not the time to strike a match to the powder keg, and destroy the good and the bad in one big blowup.

You have been warned, people.  Don't listen to the crazies on either side.  Don't go there.

Back off.  Please don't go there.  We would all regret it, and we would all suffer.  Horribly.

P.S. - Nobody has anything to fear from me - I'll be hiding under the bed, out of the crossfire.

More mindless violence: Gay state senator beaten, kicked in the head by rioters at Wisconsin statehouse. The Hill reports, "Demonstrators also tore down two statues, including Wisconsin's motto Forward and the likeness of Col. Hans Christian Heg. Heg was a Norwegian migrant and an abolitionist who died for the Union Army during the Civil War. The Forward statue stood outside of the state Capitol and is a symbol of progress and devotion, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society."

Monday, June 22, 2020

Notes from the Revolution, 6/22/20

. . . a revolution of hearts and minds . . .

Today in Talladega - see story below.
Click to enlarge.

An assortment of recent news stories that give food for thought and inform the conversation on the momentous issues now gripping this country. Your Head Trucker may have more to say about some of these things another time, but for now, take a look and see what you think.

Have Trump Voters Changed Their Minds?  CNN's Van Jones reports (June 19 2020):

Black Georgia Sheriff Justifies Shooting of Rayshard Brooks:  CNN's Brianna Kellar discusses the shooting with Burke County Sheriff Alonzo Williams (June 16, 2020):

I'm Gonna Talk about You, Connie: Local activist Gary Chambers calls out the Baton Rouge School Board in no uncertain terms last Thursday in Louisiana:

More video and background here. At the end of the meeting, the board did vote to change the name of the school.

Cuomo Fears Election Setup: Governor Andrew Cuomo believes Trump's objections to mail-in ballots are a ruse to ensure a contested election in November (June 22, 2020):

I Stand with Bubba:  Fellow NASCAR drivers and crews gave a massive, moving show of support to driver Bubba Wallace in Talladega, Alabama, today:

Richard Petty's statement of support.  Click to enlarge.

Update, 6/23/20: No Charges in NASCAR Noose Incident.  The FBI says that noose was the tied-up pullcord of a garage door, and had been hanging there that way since last fall.  Well, if it wasn't an act of hatred, it was certainly the occasion for a wonderful display of love and unity in Talladega.

Update, 6/25/20: NASCAR Releases Photo of the Noose. NASCAR president Steve Phelps said at a press conference that "a thorough sweep of the 29 tracks and 1,684 garage stalls at the speedway, authorities found 11 pull-down ropes tied in a knot -- but only one noose," the one found in Bubba Wallace's stall. "We further determined that the noose was not in place when the October 2019 race weekend began but was created at some point during that weekend," Phelps said. "Given that timing and the garage access policies and procedures at the time, we were unfortunately unable to determine with any certainty who tied this rope in this manner or why it was done."

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