Thursday, October 6, 2011


 “Ken Burns’ Prohibition’ aired on PBS recently. Largely based on Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, it eerily echoes the push in our own time by passionate minorities to impose their narrow moralities on the rest of us. For those of us with ears to hear, it warns of the seismic effects of unintended consequences and slippery slopes.

            With the 2012 elections “only” 13 months off, the choice du jour is beyond dismal. On the Democratic side, we have a petulant self-proclaimed messiah who alternates between prolonged bouts of pouting and televised tantrums, timed so as not to preempt his rivals’ pre-packaged milquetoast ‘debates’ or delay football games. Over at the Republican camp, an endless parade of bombastic boobs produces a barrage of inane sound-bites in the quest to host the Ultimate Tea Party. In Bizarro World, millionaires whine about “class warfare” while the beleaguered middle class continues to contract.

            Meanwhile, young legatees of pervasive governmental dysfunction initiate a social-media-fueled ‘Arab Spring’ of their own from Zuccotti Park near Wall Street, igniting cyber-solidarity movements across the country.

              Op-ed pundits wring their hands and quote Yeats: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.’ They never continue to the poet’s ominous punchline, ‘… what rough beast, its hour come round at last, / Slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?’

                What rough beast indeed?”

          The above is the text of a letter posted Wednesday morning to the Wilmington and Southport newspapers. Chances are fair-to-middling it will get published in one or both, not that it matters: ranting to readers counts mostly as preaching to the choir. More interesting is what set me off in the first place.

                A catalog arrived in Tuesday’s mail, its cover emblazoned with the promise of a “Free Gift!”

                That’s all it took to light the fuse.

            Listen: “free gift” is a redundancy. It ain’t a gift if it ain’t freely given. We’ve all received token donations from someone or other (Momma, in my case) with strings and conditions attached into perpetuity. Those aren’t gifts. Those are loans.

             Okaaaaay, you say, slowly backing away.

            No, wait—there’s more. How about the ubiquitous yet reprehensible adjective “proactive”? What the hell is proaction? Is its opposite negaction? What’s the matter with plain ol’ action? Is the “pro” part meant to be an ersatz intensifier? Is a proactive stance more vigorous than a merely active one? Or just more ignorant?

            It’s the little things that rile me most. The unthinking sloppiness of daily life—the pervasive petty rudenesses of people surgically attached to electronic devices, the sad state of spoken as well as written English (some academic nutcase recently published a volume of rap lyrics and called it poetry), the “no bad art” crowd, the disdain of good manners. Al Franken (someone I’m not in the habit of quoting) once said, “When anything goes, everything goes.” I heard in those words a tocsin knelling the death of things I hold dear.

            It gets worse, but at least some of us are talking about it. To join the conversation and meet a few of people calling themselves the 99 percenters, click on and

           Given, those who accumulate massive student-loan debt started out with bad directions, especially when all they have to show for it are degrees in Fine Art, Poli-Sci, English Lit or, like me, a B.A. in Modern European History. (Now there’s a useful major. I meant to teach, but I don’t play well with authority figures, and they’re the one thing the education establishment churns out in abundance.)

            But I don’t have debt, then or now. Debt aversion is a mantra for Tim and me. We have a solid idea of what “enough” is, take responsibility for ourselves and the choices we make, and are not “above” manual labor. In fact, manual labor is a solace. More people, especially—but not exclusively—kids, should give it a go.

               Still, puny savings and exorbitant BlueCross premiums (and going up, up, up until the Affordable-I-Don't-Think-So Health Care Act kicks in—or not—in 2014) make being 60-ish scary.

            For a view from the other side of the world, look at Kiwi blogger Lance Wiggs’ October 4th post. And do check out the 46th comment.

            The land of the free and the home of the brave has morphed into the land of it’s-all-about-me and the home of the (wage)slave. “Our rulers live in a different country,” remarked a character on one of my favorite BBC cozies. How sadly true that is. How sadly true that we allow it.

Carolina sphinx moth
            Well, therapy for me is as close as the screened porch’s door. Hornworms invaded the tomatoes, and I let them because I like sphinx moths and wasn’t getting much fruit anyway. I got out my Joyce Chens and reduced the plants to compost-friendly six-inch-long stem units. I balanced that destructive activity by ordering a pound of red clover seed to sow as a leguminous cover crop from Johnny’s Select Seeds. Death and life, all very cosmically and psychically satisfying.

Mammoth red clover, Trifolium pratense
The weather out back sparkled, relieved of the onerous heat of high summer. October is always one of my favorite months no matter where on the planet I find myself when it rolls around. The windows are open ‘round the clock, fresh air replacing climate control. October makes all things seem possible, even to depressive old curmudgeons such as myself.

Thanks for dropping by. Oh, and have a nice day.