SHORT RANTS SIXTEEN

BLACK MEN AND WHITE MEN MEETING ON THE STREET

Two white men walking down the sidewalk in opposite directions meet, and in passing they exchange a silent greeting by nodding to each other as they pass. In the blink of an eye they bob their chins toward their chests and then it's over.

Two black men passing one another in the same way do just the opposite. They jut their chins forward for a split second.

I've got no interpretation for this. It's just something I've been noticiing recently.

INCREDIBLE WEALTH

Alice Walton just bought a painting from the New York Public library for 35 million bucks in hopes of bring culture and learning to Arkansas. For 35 million bucks she could have bought the library and let New York keep their purty pitcher.

New Yorkers are pretending to be offended that rich barbarians are taking away their national treasures with their crass money. Of course they they themselves obtained those treasures with crass money. I'll bet the big show of outrage is just a ploy to drive up the price of "Dogs Playing Poker."

WHERE DO I GET MY IDEAS FOR STORIES

1) From other writers and travel guides first and foremost. If I see a Chuck Dovish story on something I find interesting, I'll visit it and give it my own idiomatic treatment. Probably half the stories on the site were prompted by entries in travel guides like The Roads of Arkansas, Ripley's Believe it or Not, Off the Beaten Path, Roadside History of Arkansas, and many many more.

2) Tips from readers. People write me asking about things they remember from their childhoods. Sometimes a story comes out of their questions.

3) Official and commercial promotion sources. Department of Parks and Tourism, Chambers of Commerce, Arkansas History Commission, that kind of thing.

4) Museums. Sometimes a museum exhibit will highlight some little-known Arkansas story. The story of the Bauxite Teeth, for example.

5) Topographic maps. Sometimes just pulling out topo maps at random and reading all the placenames will trigger the curiosity gene. There are lots of unusual place names in Arkansas. When you see names like "Possum Kingdom Trail" or "Toad Suck" or "Ink," you just know there's a story behind it.

6) Random. Sometimes on my way to something else I'll spot some odd-ball thing right out there in the open and stop and take a picture. That's the stuff I discover on my own and it represents the smallest fraction of the website.

DIGITAL v. FILM PHOTOGRAPHY

I've noticed that since giving up my 35mm film camera for a digital camera, my photography isn't as good.

RTJ -- 7/1/2005

ACID TEST AND LITMUS TEST

Pundits and politicos misuse the metaphors "acid test" and "litmus test." They say things like, "It's not productive for the Democrats to apply an acid test to the President's nominees." What could they mean by that? They seem like they're trying to say that the Democrats shouldn't use an arbitrary and capricious pretext to reject the president's nominees. But that's not what the metaphor means.

To apply an acid test is to subject something or someone to conditions much more harsh than it is ever likely to encounter under normal conditions. For example, you assume that an automotive finish that can withstand an hour's exposure to sulfuric acid can probably withstand the natural elements for the useful life of the car.

Here's how a litmus test works. You've got a piece of paper that's been soaked in a chemical and allowed to dry. If you dip that paper in an acid (like vinegar) it turns red. If you dip that paper in a base (like lye) it turns blue. So metaphorically, a litmus test is a simple test that yields an unambiguous conclusion.

Now you people stop misusing those metaphors. Don't make me go through it again.

RTJ -- 7/7/2005

MINSTREL SHOWS

When I was a kid growing up in Little Rock, every year the Kiwanis Club would put on a classic minstrel show. It was a variety show with singing and dancing and comedy sketches, but the comedy was provided by white comedians in blackface.

One year bussloads of lawyers and activists from the north descended on Little Rock to tell us how awful we were for putting on shows like this. The insulting negative racial stereotypes were not only damaging to the national psyche, they were evidence of racial repression and of the general wickedness and corruption of the southern soul.

Well, the Yankee lawyers and activists made their point and they got their way. The minstrel shows were discontinued and harmony was restored to the universe.

So let's fast forward thirty-five years to the present day. We turn on the TV and see live from cosmopolitan New York City, on Saturday Night Live, the hippest, coolest, most socially enlightened comedy forum the world has ever seen. And what am I looking at? Minstrel show routines with the same negative black stereotypes I saw performed long ago by end men in blackface.

Southerners have to deal with that double standard all the time. A southern accent is like a presumption of guilt. You're just assumed to be wrong about everything all the time even if your accuser is guilty of exactly the same thing. That might really be the point. They see their own sins projected in us and come down here to address them.

I was in Pennsylvania and mentioned the town of Reading, and of course I pronounced it the way it's written, "reeding." "Hah hah, you ignorant hillbylly," don't you know it's "redding? Don't you know that from the Reading Railroad on the Monopoly board?" Well, for one thing there's no pronunciation guide with Monopoly; but I didn't know the local pronunciation of Reading, so that's evidence of southern inferiority.

Fine, so northerners come down here and discover that we have some placename pronumciations that are not all that obvious and guess what they conclude? The southern pronunciations must be wrong. We don't know the proper way to say the names of our own towns and roads. Three pronunciations of the word "bayou?" Bayou Meto, Bayou Bartholomew and Moore's Bayou are all different? Are we just contrarian or do we not know any better?

By custom we politely say nothing in the face of this kind of thing. It might be that by failing to point out the double standard we're letting the northerners think they're right about everything all the time and that just perpetuates the attitude that bugs us so much.

I don't have a solution to propose, but I'm glad I got that off my chest.

YOU MIGHT BE A REDNECK IF...

Okay, so this is the same subject. It's not all off my chest yet.

I've got no problem at all with Jeff Foxworthy. The redneck stuff is a tiny fraction of his collected material that has been magnified out of all proportion by commercial interests. Foxworthy has discovered the Chicken McNugget of comedy and no advertisers are going to encourage him to stop cranking those out. I'm just going to use him as an example because his show is probably the best known and least subtle.

Negative southern stereotypes. There's no bussload of lawyers descending on the corporate offices of Larry the Cable Guy. There's no letter writing campaign from the Redneck Anti-Defamation League. There's no boycott by the National Association for the Advancement of Tobacco Chewers. And why not? Is it because we don't have any feelings to hurt? No, it's because we understand that, funny or not, it's just a damn joke and we're not a bunch of crybabies.

I even feel a little guilty about responding to this. Admitting that this kind of thing bothers you is sort of like complaining about the humidity. You know it's never going to stop, and complaining makes you look like a crybaby. Hiring a lawyer to complain makes you look like a spoiled crybaby. So I'll stop talking about it for now and minimize that damage.

RTJ -- 7/16/2005

HOUSEHOLD HINT

Try washing your car with Murphy's Oil Soap instead of detergent. Not only does it work better on bug splat and road tar, it's also easier on the finish. I put a coat of Maguires on my car over a year ago and it still beads rain even on the hot part of the hood.

SOCIETY AND ITS DISCONTENTS

I read this book by Sigmund Freud suggested by my sister's boyfriend. Typical of practitioners his profession, Freud took 5 pages of material and padded it out to 95. The basic conclusion is that modern neuroses are caused by the unnatural conditions of city life, the crowding, the noise, the pace, the regulation and restraint required for large numbers of people to live together.

Well, maybe.

Let's try an alternate explanation for the fact that European cities in the time of Dickens were producing people who were nervous and squirrelly. There had been crowded cities before, but neurosis is suddenly being recognized as a phenomenon. Did the crowded cities of 1776 not produce the neurotics of the crowded cities of 1876? Maybe they did. Maybe the chronically anxious had just not been categorized yet.

On the other hand, the cities of 1776 were fueled by wood and animal oil. The cities of 1876 were fueled by coal. When you burn coal you release mercury into the environment. That mercury ends up in your top predators like you and me. One of the things mercury does is make you squirrelly and anxious. Maybe the modern phenomenon of neurosis is nothing more than chronic exposure to mercury.

By the 1920's industry has largely switched to petroleum, but we have new exposure problems with the indroduction of DDT and mercury based anti-boll weevil pesticides, which were dumped by the ton on southern cotton fields. Some of that mercury from the 1930's is probably still rotating up and down the food chain in the delta and shaving I.Q. points off of every kid born there.

By the time we figure out that stuff is bad for us, WWII is here and we've invented all kinds of chlorine-based miracles like PCB's, Dioxins and chlorinated pesticides. On top of that, we're being exposed to phosphates like no generation before, in our food, in our toothpaste, in our detergents. Phosphates (chicken litter and seagull guano) are spread right on the fields that make food for us and for our cattle. Before WWII things got washed in soap. Now it's all phosphate detergents.

If you have a can of soup, a pop and a pb&j, you get phosphates in the soda, in the peanut butter, in the jelly and even in the bread. Just about every packaged thing you eat has some phosphate in it because it's so good at preventing the food from breaking down before you eat it. Phosphates are why the canned tomato sauce is bright red instead of reddish brown. So these phosphates are in everything you eat and their residue is in your sheets and pillowcases and your socks and underpants. You're in contact with these chemicals inside and out all day every day unless you take measures to reduce your contact with them.

I can't point to research that proves a link between phosphates and the general unhealthiness of the population. I assume that, as with most chemicals, the more exposure you get, the more likely you are to react badly to it. If you keep increasing your exposure to anything, sooner or later you'll find the level your body can no longer handle. Each year we are exposed to more and more of this stuff and we are usually unaware that it's been put there in the first place.

In the 18th century mercury was prescribed as medicine. By the early 20th the doctors had figured out it wasn't medicine, but poison. We used lead in gasoline for fifty years, in paint for longer than that, before we admitted we were poisoning ourselves. The effects of our exposure to phosphates and chlorinated compounds could be subtle enough to hide from the statistician for a long time. We're coming up with new chemicals to live with faster than we can sort out the exposure issues. I heard on the radio the other day that 40% of Americans take a prescription medication every day. Either somebody is selling us medicine we don't need or something's messing us up. We are not that weak by nature.

RTJ -- 7/29/2005

THE NCAA AND THE INDIAN MASCOTS

This "issue" has nothing to do with social justice for the Native Americans. If all those lawyers really wanted justice for the Indians, they'd be in court trying to get their land back. But the compassion mongers aren't doing that because they're part of the establishment that now occupies that land. No white lawyer is going to hand over the keys to his brownstone to some Indian just because the land was stolen from that Indian's grandfather. That same lawyer will, however, show his solidarity with the Native American People by going into court and doing battle with imaginary cartoon characters. This way a lawyer can continue to live in a Manhattan townouse and make a big show that he's a great friend of the Native Americans.

What's really going on is a battle for control of big-time college athletics. The compassion mongers are trying to saddle the NCAA with guilt. With this case, they demonstrate that when they jerk that choke chain, the NCAA dares not ignore them. They just want to establish that they can make trouble for the NCAA if the NCAA displeases them in some way. The particular case of racist stereotypes is a pretext.

When New York sells Manhattan back to the Indians for twenty six bucks, I'll believe they're sincere in doing good for the Native Americans. Until then, it's all just a show.

The Dallas Cowboys have a guy in a cowboy suit, and that's a superficial cartoon stereotype, too. Are Americans of Greek descent suing the NCAA because the USC Trojan depicts Greeks as being violent and technologically backward, stuck in the bronze age as the character is?

These mascots are chosen because they represent characteristics that the team wants to have -- toughness, speed, aggressiveness, strength, victory. Nobody suggests being the Central High School Pansies. No. Teams are named Tigers, Bears, Sharks, Rockets, Mustangs, Trojans, Braves, Warriors, Indians, Cowboys, Rebels and Roughriders.

When I was at Ole Miss we had a mascot confederate soldier with a big foam head. The social advocates of the day told us we were evil because such a mascot glorified the confederacy. Now the social advocates tell us that similar representations of Native Americans are not glorifying, but insulting. The social sensitivity advocates want to have it both ways. The lawyer tells us whether it glorifies or insults depending solely on the needs of his case. Any opinion that can change like that is not based on any substance. The cases are won and lost on theatrics rather than facts.

When I saw this story on McNeil/Lehrer, the thing that stunned me the most was that they had an Indian woman sniffling and crying about the subject right there on TV. I always assumed that Indians had the usual set of deeply felt emotions, but I never thought an Indian would allow herself to be videotaped sniffling like that over a fairly trivial matter.

RTJ -- 8/25/2005


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