Thursday, October 24, 2013

KKK in Indiana

I find the Ku Klux Klan fascinating. They seem quite insane, yet at times in our history, they were very popular and in areas of the country that I would not expect. When I think of the KKK, I think of the US South and racism against black, but this isn't necessarily true. The KKK has had three incarnations.

The first incarnation was started by six Confederate veterans after the Civil War. This is the group that is depicted in D.W. Griffith classic film, The Birth of a Nation. It was formed in 1865 in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was founded as a secret society for the purpose to restore white supremacy during reconstruction. They claim that they wore hoods, not to hide their identity, but because the group is more important than the individual. So no individuals should stand out over the group. They used violence or threats of violence against the freed men and their supporters. This incarnation was small and fizzled by the mid-1870's.

The second incarnation is the most famous. When you see the KKK portrayed in films, marching or burning crosses, it is usually this one. This group was founded in 1915 outside of Atlanta, Georgia and was inspired by the Griffith film. Griffith was an old college friend of President Wilson. Because of this, unfortunately, The Birth of a Nation was the first film ever to be shone in the White House. It was a new art form at the time and no one had ever seen "historical" events portrayed in this way. Wilson referred to it as "writing history with lightning." The film shows the original Klan as heroes saving the country from non-conciliatory congressmen who sieved control of the US after Lincoln's death and were out to punish the South. It also showed incompetent and immoral freed slaves bumbling about throughout the film (portrayed by white actors in black face).  The film is available on Netflix streaming and Hulu Plus if you are ever interested in watching a three hour long right wing propaganda silent film. I recommend it purely as a historical exercise. It was an amazing accomplishment for its time, however misguided.

This second incarnation grew to be much larger than the original  by the 1920s. It was very active around the country and became extremely popular in the mid-West states like Illinois, Ohio and particularly in Indiana. Indiana had the largest chapter in the country. The mid-West chapters were far more interested in Catholics than black or Jews. With immigration booming from Germany and Ireland, Catholics were perceived as much more dangerous. For a while, the city of Indianapolis was run by members of the KKK and published the names of Catholic owned businesses to boycott. During prohibition, they took it upon themselves to enforce the laws themselves. They stopped cars and patrolled lover's lanes looking for booze. They were a political force. Klan member, Governor Ed Jackson introduced the "Bone Dry Bill" that made even an empty bottom of liquor illegal. You could be convicted for possessing the mere smell of liquor. This group fizzled as well when the Grand Dragon, David Curtiss Stephenson, was arrested for the rape and murder of a female state employee.

The recent Klan started back up again in the 1960s in response to the civil rights movement by many of the older members from the 1920s. This is the group that attacked the Civil Rights workers throughout the 60s. Apparently, over 150 chapters still exist in the US today but have little impact. I assume their membership is growing now that we have a black president. They are considered a terrorist group now. They consider themselves Christians in the same way that Al-Qaeda considers themselves Muslim; anyone who knows much about either of these religions knows how wrong this is. Gays and Hispanics are among their popular targets now. Just because you don't hear a lot about them doesn't mean that they are not around. No matter what era you live in, there will always be a dangerous radical element.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Three Types of Sports Fans

I know of three types of sports fans, the Devotee, the Front Runner and the Pink Hat.

The Devotees are the hardcore fans. They watch or listen to every game, they even build their daily schedules and vacations around the schedule of their teams. They have the gear, they know the score, they know the rules and nuances of the game. They listen to the game in the car, in the yard and at the office. They usually grew up with their team as the local team, but not always. If you are not a fan of the Devotee's team, they are often unbearable to be around. Devotees, together, are an extended fans. It is tribalism at its best and sometimes its worst. I am a Devotee of the Boston Red Sox. I grew up in New England an hour or so south of the town. I have been to Fenway Park over a hundred times and have seen them on the road at any number of parks (Chicago, Detroit,Montreal, Baltimore). Before the game last week, walking the Freedom Trail in Charlestown, I saw some fans in gear. We high-fived. I will die a Red Sox fan.

The Pink Hats are fans that are merely into it for social reasons. They go to the games, sometimes wearing their pink hats, because their friends are going or their dad is a fan. They annoy the Devotees. They do the wave. They get up to go the concession stands during the most inconvenient times. They talk on their phones or to each other about everything other than the game. If you are at a park that puts a big sign for the fans to "cheer," this is for the Pink Hat.  When I go to a Celtics, Bruins or Patriots game, I am a Pink Hat. I am there just for the fun of it. If the team wins or loses, eh, it doesn't matter, I had a good time.
Unlike the Front Runner, the Pink Hats are tolerable. They may annoy the Devotee, but they are not scourges of humanity like the Front Runner is. Front Runners have no loyalty, they root for whatever team that is in first place. They might root for the Red Sox this year, because they were in first place most of the year, but last year they rooted for another team. When the Patriots were really good in the early 2000's, they wore red, white and blue. When Yankees were really good in the 90's, they wore the pinstripe. They are always moving onto the next best thing. If you want your kids to learn some valuable life lessons from sports like loyalty and perseverance, avoid the Front Runner. A big problem with them, they can fit right in with the Devotees for a short time. They are camouflaged by knowledge and feigned enthusiasm. I almost root against my team so that they go away, but not quite.

These three types are usually extremely easy to identify at a game. I have been to so many baseball games, I know I can identify a non-baseball fan when I see one. The worst type of fan at a game, the Pink Hat that has had too many beers. It is easy to see a hockey fan at a baseball game, they are the folks getting into fights. You can identify the football fans, because they have stopped watching the game and are now watching hockey fans fighting. The baseball fans? They are peaking around the crowd to catch a glimpse of the game. Please sit down! I've never understood people getting excited to see a fight in the stands at a game. Luckily, it doesn't happen very often and most people ignore it ... those are the Devotees.

I have attended three post-season games in my life. I attended two games against Cleveland in 1999 at Fenway. It seemed to be a different game. No Pink Hats, no one doing the wave, they were driven away by high tickets cost. Good old supply and demand! Everyone at the game are hanging onto the edge of their seats at each and every pitch. The chants, the hand slapping, the bleachers umpires and box seat managers, the place is so full of character and atmosphere, I have experienced nothing like it. I attended game two against Tampa Bay Rays this year, it was the same. Koji Uehara striking out Rays like swatting flies and while over 35,000 fans responded to his every muscle twitch. It was electric!  I have a ticket for another game this year at Fenway, I plan on doing whatever I can to get to the game, because there is nothing like this. I might be at the point that I am done with regular season games.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Ubiquity of Hitler and Godwin's Law

I have mentioned in the past that my wife and I take in a foreign exchange student occasionally. Our past two have been from Germany. When you have a young German in your house, watching television, listening to the news and conversation over dinner, you begin to realize how often Hitler is referenced. It is interesting because you can tell that these kids are sensitive to the subject, but since they were born after the Berlin Wall came down, it has little to do with them. They have about as much to do with Hitler as I do with slavery. But it is an uncomfortable subject nonetheless. 

I have become sensitive to the subject myself. I was beginning to think that it came up every day. So I began to keep a log for a month to see if this was true. It didn't come up everyday, closer to every other day. Only once did it come up in conversation. It was mostly from media. I only counted direct mentions of Hitler or any form of his name, not Nazis or any other general references. It appears that we, as a culture, need our boogie men. Comparing people to Hitler is a phenomenon that is difficult to stomach. I can understand comparing Assad to Hitler since he is actually killing lots of people indiscriminately, but a US President ... um, NO ... at least not a president who was in office in my lifetime. Do people need to put things in easy categories of good and evil to comprehend the madness of the modern world? Do the "bad guys" mentioned on the 24 hour news networks actually exist or are they just ordinary people thrust into bad situations making very bad choices? If I remember Machiavelli correctly, power corrupts everyone, not just "bad" people. Our news networks and internet feeds read like a comic book. I half expect Magneto or Doctor Doom to appear in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting Captain America.

If you Google the words "comparing people," the first suggestion that you get is "comparing people to Hitler." It seems I am not alone in my observation of this phenomenon. Godwin's Law was created way back in 1990 to describe it, back when only losers like me had reign over the net. At the time, it only applied to discussions on Usenet groups. Godwin's Law of Nazi Analogies says that the probability that someone will be compared to Hitler or Nazis grows larger the longer that conversation gets. Apparently, you can invoke Godwin's Law the moment someone makes the comparison to declare yourself a winner in any argument. I plan to do so.

Let get a grip folks! Yes, I can see some value to comparing some despotic leader to Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot, but comparing a US President to them when he is trying to reform health care or even using drones. Again NO, I see no use of such hyperbole. I definitely don't see any value in comparing some stranger you disagree with to Hitler either. I am going out on a limb and say that anyone who does so "is just like Hitler." **deep sigh**

Here is my log:

9/11 - An episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
9/12 - On the Netflix show Derek
9/13 - Slate's Political Gabfest Facebook feed
9/15 - Stephen Colbert's Facebook feed
9/16 - KCRW's Left, Right and Center podcast mentioned how Assad is being compared to Hitler
9/17 - NPR's On the Media podcast did a story about Nazi's working with Hollywood to sensor        American films in Germany
9/18 - On NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me (podcast from June 15th), Bobcat Goldthwait suggested naming a rat Hitler
9/20 - Bill Maher invoked Hitler on HBO's Real Time
9/22 - Fox's Futurama made a joke about Hitler
9/24 - Slate's sports Hang Up and Listen podcast (made reference to sieg heil and Auschwitz). I am not sure if they mentioned Hitler directly. If I remember correctly, some soccer fans were doing the Nazi salute.
9/25 - The Daily Show mentions "Springtime for Hitler" from Mel Brooks' The Producers.
9/26 - Whack-job Republican Ted Cruz on the Senate floor compares Obamacare (aka the Affordable Care Act) to Nazi appeasement. Of course, Jon Stewart mentions Hitler on The Daily Show in reference to this speech.
9/29 - My wife mentioned that Hitler was referenced in the version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice that she saw in Stratford, Ontario which was obviously modernized.
9/30 - There is more talk about Cruz invoking Hitler on NPR's On Point Week in the News. Cruz comparing members of his own party to Nazi appeasers. 
10/1 - On The Daily Show it came up in a conversation with Bill O'Reilly.
10/2 - On NPR's Wait Wait Don't Tell Me there was a story about someone mistaking
 Colonel Sanders for Hitler.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Becoming Part of the Problem

I recently got the opportunity to see one of my favorite comedians and social commentators, Bill Maher, live.  This was a real treat. He ranted and railed about Republicans and religion for over an hour.  Unfortunately, something bad happened during the show ... I almost became apart of the problem. 

I was enjoying the show with my wife when the person two seats away from me received a cell phone call.  Everyone around me heard it. This phone was not on vibrate. The social shaming began when we all turned our heads to look at him, in the dark, to give him our best scum-of-the-Earth-look. I expected him to quickly shut it off and apologize. But he answered it. Guffaws from the crowd followed. I said something like "oh no, you're not going to answer it!?" The woman in between us, I assume his wife, said to me "it actually is an important phone call."  I said back, "then why is he here?" I then tried to hear Bill Maher, but I couldn't hear the show over this call which continued. It sounded like someone was "safe" and was checking in. It seemed to be a perfect use of text messaging and a phone set to vibrate. This is where I got pissed and I said loudly, "Is he going to pay for my ticket?" It was an expensive ticket and I was very tired from my drive Boston that morning. My wife said to me, something like, "you are getting louder than him." This is one of her jobs after all, stopping me before I go too far. I do the same for her sometimes. I was becoming part of the problem. This is a real problem of the modern world, when you get so incensed about a problem that your resolution and/or complaint becomes a bigger problem than the actual problem. Hopefully, you are all lucky enough to have someone to stop you from going that far.

Below is my letter to Higher Ground, one of the best businesses in the Burlington area, who sponsored the show. At the Higher Ground I have seen Aimee Mann, Wilco, Brett Dennen, Billy Bragg, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Andrew Bird, Martin Sexton, Erin McKeown, Guggenheim Grotto (aka Storyman), Johnny Winters and Michelle Shocked among others. I love this place. In no way do I want this to reflect badly on them. I just don't like to be pulled into someone else's bullshit. I would like a better solution to this problem other than punching the next person who does this. I don't want to become part of the problem. I will let you know what comes of this, if anything.

Dear Higher Ground,

Thank you for bringing Bill Maher to Vermont. It was very entertaining and socially relevant which is rare.  I appreciate your on-going effort to bring quality entertainment to our region.  I am a loyal and frequent customer and plan on being for years to come. 

I wanted to bring something to your attention.  During the show, a person in my row (he was seated in Orchestra row O seat 10) answered a cell phone call during the show.  The ringer was on and he answered it. He had a loud conversation during the show.  I missed several jokes not only because of him but because of the people (like myself) that were shushing him.  Eventually someone got the attention of one of your ushers but by then his call was finished and the damage was done.  To my knowledge, nothing punitive happened to this man as a result of his anti-social behavior … other than the social shaming. 

I bring this to your attention not because I expect the ushers at Memorial Auditorium to be able police every rude person, but that nothing was said before the show about cell phone use.  This gentleman’s wife stated that it was a very important call which means to me that he should not have been in his seat until after the call was received and completed.  Shouldn’t something be said before a show … particularly a show that costs over $50.00 a ticket … that this behavior won’t be tolerated?   I suggest that you announce that people will be escorted out of the show and their credit cards will be fined if they use their cell phone during the show.

I am grateful that a fist fight did not break out.  I am sure you are as well. 

Thank you for your time, respectfully, Mark Peloquin, Westford, VT

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mud and the River

The plot in the film, Mud, unfolds like the storyline you will discover in fine literature. It is multi-layered and feeds the intellect. It is a coming of age story about two boys, Ellis and Neckbone, in rural Arkansas after a flood, that find a boat in a tree on an island in the river. Living in the tree they find the aptly named Mud, a homeless fugitive surprisingly well acted by Matthew McConaughey. Ellis, aged fourteen, becomes interested in Mud's view of the world, a mysterious combination of love and revenge. Ellis' parents have recently announced their separation rocking his understand of the world. His sense of love and place is being challenged for the first time in his short life. It also means that his home, an old river houseboat, will be lost to him, dismantle by the river authority. He will have to move into town and leave the river life behind.

I have blogged more than once about rivers. I do not hide my love of rivers. Rivers are the perfect poetic image. Whether it is Twain, Langston Hughes or Bruce Springsteen, the image of the river elicits the movement of time, of destiny and of growth. Life rolls by like a river flowing from the mountains to the sea with many rises and lows. The river eddies through the countryside, unpredictable and sometimes harsh, leaving in its wake beauty and destruction.  Mud portrays this beautifully with some stunning filming and story telling. The river is shown as an economic engine bringing livelihood to fishermen and boats men to the small Southern community of DeWitt. It is a spiritual and natural conduit to life and their connection to the outside world (at least in the film). "This river brings a lot of trash down. You gotta know what's worth keeping and what's worth letting go," says Galen, Neckbone's uncle who is raising him. Mud, the character, is the metaphorical trash he is talking about and like his namesake isn't easily nailed down. It is a universal story of the outside world invading on an insular existence. Mud is half in between these worlds, rejected by both, the river and the land.

You can barely tell what era the film is based in. This contributes to its universality. When I lived in Boston I attended a writer's workshop taught by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. One of the things he said that stuck with me was that a writer becomes "universal by being provincial" (I am paraphrasing here). This is what you have with Mud. This is a small film with a small story that is really just about a boy's perception of love being formed by the actions of the adults around him. The smallness of its theme makes it huge in concept. It is universal in many ways. No matter what town you grew up in, you know of a character like Mud who was very much apart of the town, but outside of it as well. The large big budget films, that will fill the Oscar nomination list, don't begin to illicit the emotions that a small one like Mud does. Every year when the nominations for Oscars comes out, I usually just shake my head and think, "What a joke!" but occasionally they get it right.  Three years ago, Winter's Bone made it on the list of nominations along with this star, the wonderful Jennifer Lawrence. It didn't win anything but at least it got the recognition that it deserved.  It too was better than most of the other films on the list of nominees. Mud deserves some accolades, the big budget films that rake in millions do not. They have already gotten their recognition.