There is still good in our world, if you look hard enough. Alan Tucker has:
There is a new term for those handwringing liberals who whine about poor people, human rights, and all the rest. The word is “snowflakes.” Snowflakes are weaklings, not strong people – not the real Americans who can take life the way it just is, and not simper about “Oh, dear me, the injustice….”
One of the snowflakes died recently, at the age of 97: Donald Seldin. Seldin was a Brooklyn-born child of the Great Depression. His father Abraham, a dentist, came from Bessarabia, in Eastern Europe. As a teenager, Donald worked summers at Grossinger’s resort in the Catskills.
Becoming a physician after he gave up his dream of being a poet, Seldin transformed an abandoned army barracks in Texas into one of the nation’s leading medical school, endowed with a faculty that has included six Nobel laureates: the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. He was only 30 years old when he began that transformation. In 1985 the Association of American Physicians awarded him its highest honor, the Kober Medal, as “one of the dominant intellectual forces in American medicine.”
Seldin defined the duty of doctors as “the relief of pain, the prevention of disability, and the postponement of death.” As for society’s larger objectives? According to him, it is to reach toward “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.” Pure socialist drivel.
Rest in peace, another fragile snowflake who sapped America’s inner strength – and another anchor baby of immigrants on top of that. When is enough enough? For the health of the nation, we must surely keep these people out. Right?
News from a Virginia friend of mine, long since retired as a lieutenant in the Arlington police department. Unfortunately the world is not full of people like Florence.
The book you sent me by Wally Lamb is getting around. I just ordered it for yet another person who has become interested in working in the jail. Our wretched incarceration system drives me crazy. I have been working in the DC jail for over 4 years now and can count on my two hands the number of white Anglo faces I have seen. That alone says something is terribly wrong…
One inmate said to me, “I heard that you don’t get paid for coming. Then why do you come every day?” I gave him the usual blab blab but he wasn’t buying any of it. He leaned over and whispered, “I know why you come. You are working off your community service.” I love it. What a kick!
We had a GED graduation a few weeks ago. Seeing inmates with caps and gowns over their orange jumpsuits, processing in to the sounds of ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ on a tape brought me to tears.
You know Preet Bharara, right? Yeah, that Preet Bharara. The scourge of Wall Street and now of our so-called “president.” Turns out I know him too, or did in 1986 when he was a Harvard freshman. Back then Breet and I were on a first name basis, at least on my side. You might say I made him what he is today. Or not.
Anyway last week my son Ted asked me if I knew Bharara and I said no and he said yes you did too, directing me to Google and this 1986 article from The Harvard Crimson:
Doolittle teaches two sections of Social and Ethical Issues: “all political issues are ethical issues at heart,” he says. Students in his sections say that Doolittle’s anecdotes make class entertaining and interesting. “His sense of humor really helps,” says Preetinder Bharara ’90. “He doesn’t care about the excess stuff — just the writing,” Bharara says.And all these years, those early lessons stuck with him. Take a look:
But Kaling’s commencement speech wasn’t the only entertaining one delivered at Harvard Law School — or even the best one, in some people’s estimation. Another speaker, Preet Bharara, managed to combine humor and wisdom, in magnificent fashion…
“A few months ago, my dad calls when he sees the announcement about the Harvard Class Day program and tells me that he and mom would come up for it. I say, ‘Dad, I am really touched. But you don’t have to drive all the way up from New Jersey. You just had knee surgery; it’s a long haul. Really, Dad, don’t worry about it.’
“And so my Dad gets all serious and says to me: ‘Preet, how could we NOT come? And miss a once-in-lifetime chance — once in LIFETIME chance — to see the Mindy Kaling?’
“Yes, the Mindy Kaling — the definite article is what makes the joke. That, and Bharara’s killer Indian accent (click here and go to around the 12:55 mark). Given his acting talent, maybe Bharara should make a guest appearance on The Mindy Project.”
If Badtux the Snarky Penguin isn’t on your list of blogs to check every day, put him there right away. Two recent samples: One and Two. Day after day, Badtux explains the news in more depth and fewer words than The New York Times.
Sergeant Michael Van Buren is in the right line of work. We first see him starting out with the usual stuff, screaming at an apparently armed woman to hit the ground, drop her weapon. When this doesn’t work we all too often see the officer repeat himself, shouting more and more hysterically until he pumps both himself and the suspect into mindless rage and fear.
But Sergeant Van Buren isn’t a frightened coward. He shifts gear instantly into calm reason and patiently persists. Little by little, minute by minute, a relative calm descends, and at last the situation is brought under control.
Van Buren seems to be a regular Sonny Lee, of whom I’ve written before. Sonny was a short, wide, famously tough detective sergeant in Arlington, Virginia, when I was a police reporter. One day I asked him if he had ever had occasion to draw his gun. “Hell, no,” he said. “Man needs a gun to do this job, he’s in the wrong line of work.”
One of the dangers of growing old is that your networks tend to be created less through happenstance and more through past contact. As a result it’s easy to find oneself continually in a state of loss. Though minor in a larger context, a significant loss to me happened last Thursday, June 18, with the death of Phil Austin of the seminal comedy group Firesign Theatre, whose name the New York Times is unable to spell correctly even a single time throughout a rather extensive article on Austin and the group. I suppose consistently spelling it the same wrong way at least proves the text was copy-edited, but apparently no one even noticed that the group’s website to which the Times article links spells it “Theatre”, not “Theater”, in the very URL they used in the link. This is neither an infrequent nor an obscure spelling, and the Times shows a certain disrespect for Mr. Austin by printing his obituary but misspelling the name of his most familiar accomplishment. So thanks, Times, for some classy coverage.
Firesign Theatre was not readily described. Their comedy was very social and media-savvy in the environment of the late 60s and early 70s, yet in the midst of the war on Vietnam and the Nixon presidency the Theatre skits were not overtly political. They loved to skewer the ridiculous aspects of life wherever they found them. Check out the pitch from Ralph Spoilsport at Ralph Spoilsport Motors (Austin is in the lower middle in the picture):
These four guys from Berkeley (all as it happened astrologically fire signs) in the midst of political and social turmoil imagined both the current world and possible future ones from what was then a radical point of view, one in which the government and the powerful could not be trusted in the manner to which Americans had been accustomed during World War II and its aftermath. Without mentioning Nixon or the war the Theatre could explicitly and occasionally viciously eviscerate the viewpoints and behavioral tendencies of the supporters of both, and this at a time when everyone was forced to side one way or the other; no one was neutral about the American presence in Vietnam. Yet the name of that country never came up in their work as far as I know, though I admit to not being familiar with all of their work from the most recent few years.
Still, somehow they told us truths that helped guide us through murky and dangerous times. How can you be in two places at once, they quite legitimately wondered, when you’re not anywhere at all? Physicists are still working on that one. Everything you know is wrong! Quite right, and it’s proven every day. We’re all bozos on this bus? Look at the results.
This is why it took me a while to warm up to Monty Python, whose comedy at the time avoided any social commentary whatsoever and focused entirely on individuals and their silly situations and actions. Hilarious, certainly, but not as deep, I thought; but that idea too evolved, as Python developed over the years.
Anyway, Regnad Kcin, also known as Nick Danger when the name is read from the front of the door rather than behind, was a noir-style detective in LA whose antics Theatre fans lapped up. Austin voiced Nick, so I’ll sign this off with that signature performance. But seriously, check out the Youtube videos for the group, they remain pretty damn funny.
RIP, Phil, you gave us a lot of laughs and insight to boot. You were the real deal.
Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen interview Edward Snowden in Moscow. Read the whole thing here. Snowden is a compelling figure, way above most of his detractors in both intelligence and love of country.
What defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one rises to act on behalf of one’s country. As I said before, that’s distinct from acting to benefit the government — a distinction that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country, your community and your family. Sometimes that means making hard choices, choices that go against your personal interest.
People sometimes say I broke an oath of secrecy — one of the early charges leveled against me. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding, because there is no oath of secrecy for people who work in the intelligence community. You are asked to sign a civil agreement, called a Standard Form 312, which basically says if you disclose classified information, they can sue you; they can do this, that and the other. And you risk going to jail. But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept, that James Clapper and former NSA director Keith Alexander did not.
It’s that time of year again. Here’s junior center Bethany Doolittle in the midst of scoring 20 points on 10-of-16 shooting to lead the University of Iowa in its exhibition victory against Concordia (Minn.) University. I know you’ll want me to keep you posted as the season progresses. So I will.
After being gifted a life-changing sum following a school bus bullying episode seen around the world a year ago, former bus monitor Karen Klein says she really hasn’t changed all that much…
She's also retired, something the 69-year-old widow couldn’t afford before. When 25-year-old Canadian Max Sidorov was moved to take up an online collection to send her on vacation, more than 32,000 people from 84 countries responded — pledging $703,873 in donations.
Granddaughter Bethany Doolittle drives past defender tonight as Iowa downs Miami 69-53 to advance to the second round of the NCAAs. Stay tuned Tuesday when the Hawkeyes take on Notre Dame.
A group of feminist activists stripped off their shirts and flashed their breasts in the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris in celebration of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.
They were members of Femen, a Ukraine-based feminist group that has spread around the world and that frequently organizes topless protests. Femen has protested abortion restrictions in the Ukraine, and has also protested in support of the Russian band Pussy Riot. They have also staged anti-rape demonstrations in France.
It’s that time of year again, folks. Here’s granddaughter Bethany Doolittle helping Iowa roll over Quincy University in a preseason game. She’s the starting forward for the Hawkeyes, as an 18-year-old sophomore. I’ll be keeping you updated throughout the season, whether you like it or not. It’s my party, and I’ll dote if I want to. (Older members of the class will recognize the pop music reference in that last sentence. Others can go here.)
From the New York Times:
LONDON — The chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, António Horta-Osório, decided Friday to give up his bonus for last year after taking a leave of absence from the struggling financial firm.
Lloyds, which is partly owned by the government, said Mr. Horta-Osório told the bank’s board that he did not wish to be considered for an annual bonus for 2011. Mr. Horta-Osório was in line for a bonus of as much as £2.4 million, or $3.7 million. The board accepted the request, Lloyds said in a statement.
“As chief executive, I believe my bonus entitlement should reflect the performance of the group but also the tough financial circumstances that many people are facing,” Mr. Horta-Osório said. “I also acknowledge that my leave of absence has had an impact both inside and outside the bank including for shareholders. On that basis, I have decided to request that the board does not consider me for a 2011 bonus…”
Are you listening, Jamie Dimon? How about you, Blankfein?
If you think you’ve seen the last of Barney Frank, think again. Here’s why.
“Barney Frank is not now, never has been, and never will be retiring.”
Here’s the lead paragraph of a story from The Atlantic Wire:
A 60 Minutes report on Sunday examined the ways that members of Congress trade on inside, privileged information to make themselves rich — without breaking any laws. Even though many positions in the federal government are bound by conflict of interest laws, Congresspeople are exempt from insider trading rules and are perfectly free to make business deals based on information they learn through their jobs…
My wife’s grandfather (grandfather-in-law?) was the late and truly great senator from Nebraska, George Norris. During his forty years in Congress he never bought stocks or bonds in any private enterprise, on the grounds that it would be impossible to avoid conflicts of interest. The only securities he would buy were U.S. government bonds.
When he died in 1944, he left behind a small house in McCook, Nebraska, and an old Buick sedan — as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Act, and the 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
I’m not suggesting by this ancient history that those were the good old days. There has never been a golden age for ethics on Capitol Hill, nor will there ever. Boys will be boys.
I’’m just sayin’, that’s all.
The New Yorker has a wonderful story this week about the only pharmacist in Nucla, Colorado (population 700). His name is Don Colcord, and he does his best to serve an area of 4,000 square miles. Somehow he manages in spite of Medicare Part D, George W. Bush’s unfunded gift to the insurance industry and the nation’s deficit:
…He keeps watch-repair tools behind the counter, and he uses them almost as frequently as he complains about Walmart, insurance companies, and Medicare Part D. Since 2006, the program has provided prescription-drug coverage for the elderly and disabled, insuring that millions of people get their medication. But it’s also had the unintended [Editor’s note: my ass] effect of driving rural pharmacies out of business.
Instead of establishing a national formulary with standard drug prices, the way many countries do, the U.S. government allows private insurance plans to negotiate with drug providers. Big chains and mail-order pharmacies receive much better rates than independent stores, because of volume. Within the first two years of the program, more than five hundred rural pharmacies went out of business.
Don gives the example of a local customer who needs Humira for rheumatoid arthritis. The insurance company reimburses $1,721.83 for a month’s supply, but Don pays $1,765.23 for the drug. “I lose $43.40 every time I fill it, once a month,” he says. Don’s customer doesn’t like using mail-order pharmacies; he worries about missing a delivery, and he wants to be able to ask a pharmacist questions face to face. “I like the guy,” Don says. “So I keep doing it.” Don’s margins have grown so small that on three occasions he has had to put his savings into the Apothecary Shoppe in order to keep the doors open…
Excellent point from Jonathan Last, whose blog I found via Steve Sailer. I’d add only that, if my memory is correct, the leader among the heroes aboard was a gay rugby player. If any of my old mates on the Washington Rugby Club were gay I never knew it, but there can hardly be a gayer formation in all of sport than the rugby scrum. So good for rugby and good for gays.
Despite the national memorial now emerging in Shanksville, I don’t think America has fully begun to appreciate where Flight 93 fits into the pantheon of great moments in American history. I’d argue that — for a host of reasons — it belongs somewhere in the same neighborhood as Little Round Top and Revere’s ride. It’s fitting that we mourn the World Trade Center and Pentagon dead on 9/11, but properly understood our commemorations every year should start there and build toward reverence and appreciation for the men and women of Flight 93. That field in Pennsylvania, not the hole in Manhattan, should be our enduring symbol of the day.
The Washington Post has a story today about another untold effect of the heroism of Flight 93. In addition to everything else they did, the people who fought in that narrow, terrible aisle saved the lives of Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penny and Col. Marc Sasseville. They were the two F-16 pilots sent on a suicide mission to ram the plane and bring it down. Their story is worth reading in full.
Another holy shit moment, this one from my secret love, Gail Collins:
The new findings, which come with many qualifications, apply only to women who’ve had a hysterectomy. But that’s quite a population; about one-third of all American women have their uterus removed at some point in their lives.
You cannot contemplate this information for too long without asking whether the medical profession has a tendency to get carried away.
The more I think about Joe Bageant’s early death the sadder I get — not so much for him, who now could care less, but for what the rest of us have lost. If you don’t know Joe’s work you should, and here’s a sample to show you why.
My daddy ran the eastern seaboard in a 12-wheeler — there were no 18-wheelers yet. It had polished chrome and bold letters that read “BLUE GOOSE LINE.” Parked alongside our little asbestos-sided house, I’d marvel at the magic of those bold words, the golden diamond and sturdy goose. And dream of someday “burning up Route 50” like my dad.
Old U.S. Route 50 ran near the house and was the stuff of legend if your daddy happened to be a truck driver who sometimes took you with him on the shorter hauls: “OK boy, now scrunch down and look into the side mirror. I’m gonna turn the top of them side stacks red hot.” And he would pop the clutch and strike sparks on the anvil of the night, downshifting toward Pinkerton, Coolville and Hanging Rock. It never once occurred to me that his ebullience and our camaraderie might be due to a handful of bennies.
Yessir, Old 50 was a mighty thing, a howling black slash through the Blue Ridge Mountain fog. A place where famed and treacherous curves made widows, and truck stops and cafes bloomed in the tractor trailers’ smoky wakes. A road map will tell you it eventually reaches Columbus and St. Louis, places I imagined had floodlights raking the skies heralding the arrival of heroic Teamster truckers like my father. Guys who’d fought in Germany and Italy and the Solomon Islands and were still wearing their service caps these years later, but now pinned with the gold steering wheel of the Teamsters Union. Such are a working-class boy’s dreams.
I have two parched photos from that time. One is of me and my brother and sister, ages 10, 8 and 6. We are standing in the front yard, three little redneck kids with bad haircuts squinting for some faint clue as to whether there was really a world out there, somewhere beyond West Virginia.
The other photo is of my mother and the three of us on the porch of that house on Route 50. On the day my father was slated to return from any given run, we’d all stand on the porch listening for the sound of air brakes, the deep roar as he came down off the mountain. Each time, my mother would step onto the porch blotting her lipstick, Betty Grable-style hair rustling in the breeze, and say, “Stand close, your daddy’s home.”
And that was about as good as it ever got for our family…
Years ago the first assignment I gave to the first class I taught at Harvard (or anywhere else) was for my freshman students to find something new or interesting to them on the campus, inquire into the matter, and then write a paper on it.
Martha Bridegam (who doesn’t remember this, but I do) chose the blue lights she had noticed on the outside of buildings in Harvard Yard. These turned out to indicate emergency lines for students to call security. She could have stopped there, at the explanation university officials had given her, but instead she decided to check the system for herself. No one answered at any stations she tried. She had her paper.
Martha is still checking systems, and still finding out all too often that they don’t work. Today she is a lawyer and writer in San Francisco, advocating for the homeless. Her new blog is called Lodging in Public. Samples follow. Links to each complete post here, here and here:
By the way, does anyone else find this term “behavioral health disorders” a little creepy? In a way it goes beyond saying a person has an attitude problem, or a neurosis, or a personality disorder. It suggests that a person’s decisions in life have been objectively wrong and are to be dealt with as medical illnesses — rather than, for example, politically, or socially, or economically. Only a short step from there to these proposals for forcible medication of homeless people under conservatorships imposed for the purpose. It’s part of what SF State sociology professor Bev Ovrebo was predicting in the early ’90s, that the problem of homelessness would become medicalized…
I got to know Grimes Poznikov briefly, quite a few years ago, during an activist effort to document police harassment of campers in San Francisco’s southeastern warehouse district. He was as proud and independent as anybody gets. He was famous, in fact, for bringing out the worst in policemen by never knowing when to shut up. Even in that world of territorial personalities, he was an outlier. For a while he was living in a group of camouflaged hutches in a brushy vacant lot in the nearest thing our compact city offers to the back of beyond. On a day that had turned chilly, he gave me an old leather jacket. Gracious, though the jacket was mildewed and I had to throw it away…
Lately the UK Guardian is having to defend a film it made about the harsh living and working conditions of illicit migrants who grow salad vegetables in Spain for the north of Europe. In doing so, the paper notes that some years ago in Britain, similar abuses were similarly dismissed as the isolated crimes of a few bad apples. “Yet,” it notes, “by the time the Gangmaster Licensing Authority was established in 2005, it was clear that the problems were systemic. Inspections and raids on mainstream factories, packhouses and large farms found extreme conditions even though many had passed their supermarket audits.”
Such a useful term, “gangmaster”, pulled from the uglier older reaches of labor history, to match conditions that recall the bad old days. In the U.S. we apply polite words like “contratista” or “H-2A employer” and indentured or undocumented laborers go on working for low pay and living in barracks or worse…
Susie Madrak at Suburban Guerrilla just posted this:
I just got an email informing me that my friend Joe [Bageant] has cancer, a massive inoperable tumor and will be starting chemo soon. (He dictated the email — he can’t write.)
He’s hoping that with chemo and painkillers, he’ll be able to write again sometime soon.
If you have any prayers, send them his way. (He didn’t say that, I did.)
I’m very, very sorry to hear this, and hope that the good, in this instance at least, will not die young.
I only knew Joe slightly — he and his wife put me up for a night when I was passing through Winchester once — but he left me with a story that will introduce you to the man. The sharp, bitter and funny essays he had been putting on line for a while were beginning to get some attention. One day (I’m telling this from memory, not notes, but I think I have the general outlines down) he got a call from a book editor in New York who asked if he would be interested in publishing his posts as a book.
He said no, he had chewed that mouthful already and if he was ever to write a book he’d want to do it from the ground up, and that would be too much work even to consider.
Well, she said, do you think you might consider it for a $300,000 advance? He found this argument persuasive and the eventual book was called Deerhunting for Jesus.
“There I was with real money in my pocket for once in my life,” Joe said. “Now what the hell was I supposed to do? I’d been talking the talk all my life, was I going to walk the walk?”
His answer was to buy a bunch of steel cargo containers and have them hauled to an empty lot in Belize, a country where he had lived happily for a while. He hired welders to cut doors and windows, fixed up the insides, and gave the new homes away.
Go to Joe’s site, read his essays, read his books, and feel free to alter your consciousness before, during or after you do so. Believe me, he won’t mind.
I put up this link for no other reason than to give me an excuse for posting the picture below. It shows an old friend and colleague from my Laos days, dancing in Latin America with a woman who is not his wife.
To judge by the MSM, I may be Nadya Suleman’s only living fan. Think I care? The hell with all of you. I’m glad her octuplets are well, and I hope they all grow up to win Nobel Peace Prizes and stop global warming. Good for PETA, too. There are too many dogs and cats in the world already. The damned things breed like people.
LA HABRA, Calif. — It’s official. Octomom Nadya Suleman doesn’t want your dog or cat following in her footsteps. As a front yard full of paparazzi cheered her on, Suleman unveiled a 3-foot-by-4-foot plastic sign Wednesday that reads: “Don’t Let Your Dog or Cat Become an Octomom. Always Spay or Neuter…”
Pelosi’s great advantage is she has played her cards early and is a proven, aggressive political operative … Yet going forward, Pelosi will have to answer herself for some of the legislative shortcuts taken in her fierce “damn the torpedoes” march toward final passage. “She’s impressive, horrifying at times, but impressive,” said one person who observed the speaker closely in weeks of backroom meetings.
From today’s New York Times:
…What we had to abandon was quite clear: the rigid ideological, political and economic system; the confrontation with much of the rest of the world; and the unbridled arms race. In rejecting all that, we had the full support of the people.
The words could have been spoken by President Obama in his State of the Union, but weren’t. The author instead is Mikhail Gorbachev, who sacrificed his political career by calling off the Cold War.
My favorite college basketball coach used to be Geno Auriemma, of the University of Connecticut women. But that was yesterday, before I discovered Herb Magee. Magee is about to break Bobby Knight’s career record of 902 victories, which is good news for our side. This is because Knight is a complete asshole, whereas Magee is a total non-asshole:
PHILADELPHIA — Along his road to the top of college basketball’s career list for victories while coaching at Philadelphia University, Herb Magee has engaged bus drivers in games of Trivial Pursuit on long trips, bathed in beer after wins and been led onto the court in handcuffs by a police officer as a joke. He has had his mustache mimicked by fans, and he met his second wife, Geri, when she tended bar at the Yankee Doodle Inn…
“He can also spell words backward, including supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” his wife, now manager of the Great American Pub, said. “I married a ‘Rain Man’ type.”
“If it requires a uniform, it’s a worthless endeavor.”
I can’t come close to saying anything better than what Bill Doolittle said about his involvement with and participation in the Civil Rights Movement as well as his coverage of the event, but I hope I can add a little something to remember Dr. Martin Luther King today by posting this YouTube Video of another great American announcing the untimely death of Dr. King, who, like Dr. King, was a short time later likewise shot down in his prime by an assassin’s bullet.
Thank you, Bill Doolittle, for what you said and I hope this short post also helps us to continue to remember the life of Dr. King and the great changes that he and others around him helped make become a reality. I was one who witnessed as a child the horrid conditions in the South for blacks and I saw the changes that he helped to make happen as I grew. And the sad chapter in America now referred to as the Jim Crow Era fortunately passed and was put away in the history books. Unfortunately the ending of that era is sadly forgotten or its elimination viewed with anger by too many Americans to this day.
Let us not forget his tragic and unfortunate death, the circumstances of which still trouble Americans to this day. But the Dream truly lives on in so many of us today.
The World Peace Prayer is a paraphrase of a verse from the Upanishads, the most ancient scriptures of Hinduism, and is also prayed daily by the Roman Catholic Benedictine Sisters. It is also said near the end of the service at the UCC church my wife and I attend.
All right, watch this. Even if you’ve never exposed yourself to Glenn Beck’s show, it’s funny. If you have, you’ll recognize Jon Stewart’s performance as a masterpiece:
I’ve always had a preference for Ian and Sylvia’s version of this song and I regularly look for their version on Youtube, but until I discovered the version below, I never knew that Paul Robeson sang it. I think I’m going to change my preference even though the Ian and Sylvia version has a quiet beauty that I still find spellbinding.
Coming from Paul Robeson, even though he was not Canadian, I still understand how poignant this song must have been for him, and for all of us who know some of what the United States Government did to him solely for his beliefs. In many ways, Robeson himself was an exile in his own country, for example as stated in his Wikipedia entry
To this day, Paul Robeson’s FBI file is one of the largest of any entertainer ever investigated by the United States Intelligence Community, requiring its own internal index and unique status of health file.
If you’re not familiar with who Paul Robeson was and what he stood for and what the US Government did to him for his beliefs, please go read the rest of his Wikipedia entry linked to above. And then listen to the his remarkable voice singing this wonderful but sad folk song.
Incidentally, I noticed that the song is called Le Canadien Errant on this version but is almost universally referred to elsewhere as Un Canadien Errant. I cannot say whether this has any significance but it is unusual to see the song referred to in that manner. (and sung in English with some verse changes) Perhaps it means nothing and perhaps it has a hidden meaning. Maybe one of our French speaking readers or writers here could offer me a clue as I always look for hidden meanings in small deviations from what is considered normal and I find the name change puzzling and can’t help but wonder if it has a hidden meaning, perhaps signaling that Robeson considered himself an exile in his own country.
Me too, Pete. Me too.
Back before the internet had things like browsers that had pictures and when there were computers that would only allow just the use of words, so that people talked with each other online by writing back and forth to each other on usenet groups, sometimes arguing with each other about things, and occasionally meeting online, I had the opportunity to make a short online friendship with Noel Paul Stookie.
Known as Paul of the group Peter, Paul and Mary, they were a group that came of age when I was five years of age but throughout my lifetime, and I’m now 52, they were always popular to one degree or another, for many years with parents who took their children to their concerts, often to hear the song that I guess I first heard them sing when I was five or six years of age, Puff the Magic Dragon.
But Peter Paul and Mary were also heavily involved in making this world just a little better than they found it when they got here. And I think they really did succeed in that. Since they are now no longer a group, Mary Travers having traveled on to the great beyond where we are not, I don’t know what tomorrow holds for Peter and Paul.
But without Mary, Peter Paul and Mary could not have existed and been loved and cherished as they were for so many generations. Or accomplish some of the great things that they did. Nor could Mary have given me a big hug, the story of which is below the fold.
In the days of usenet, I got interested in folk music and particularly old English and Scottish and Irish ballads and there was a rather common song that was only rarely performed well. And I had several versions of that song on a number of records and CDs. The song was called Greenland Whale Fishery or Greenland Whale Fisheries. It tells the story of a whaling vessel that takes off to Greenland in some specific date depending on the singer or singing group, from the 1700s to the 1800s. The day and date vary from version to version and from group to group; perhaps if you felt you did it well you sang it as happening on your birthday or on the death of a loved one, or for some other reason that has probably been lost to history.
And as all whaling boats do, these have a lookout who uses a spyglass to look for the tell tale sign of the whale, the steam of the blow hole, and inevitably the whale is spotted and the hunt is on and it is then mammal against mammal, a fight for survival which the better, more peaceful animal usually loses.
But in Greenland Whale Fishery (or Fisheries as it is sometimes called) the bigger mammal wins the fight and a group of men from four to fourteen or more throw their harpoon into the whale and the whale dives and takes the men and their small harpoon vessel down with them and the whale goes to parts unknown as do the men, who are all drowned.
In some versions of the song, the person who sings the song, who is a crewman or a surviving wife or girlfriend who heard the story, remarks that the captain laments the loss of his men, but what he truly laments is the loss of that great sperm whale, which would make the captain a man like Dick Cheney or George Bush.
But in certain versions, particularly the Peter Paul and Mary version, the captain is presented as a nice man who truly grieves for those men who he worked with — perhaps they were thinking of someone great like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, partisanship being something we try to remember whenever we write at this blog, or at least a few of us do. Others perhaps being more perceptive at times. And that's saying you called some things right, Chuck.
In these perilous times when it sometimes seems that so many of those we thought were our neighbors turn out not to care whether we live or die, Sperm Whales and huge piles of cash being their objective just like that evil captain, I often wonder why we don’t do more to change things. Like march in the streets. But maybe that doesn’t work the same anymore since our national media just ignores those kinds of things and pretends not to notice (but they couldn’t with a group as large as that one in Washington in the video above).
So getting back to Usenet, I asked on the folk usenet group what version was considered the historically correct version of that song, which I realize now was a foolish question. And at that point who else but Noel Paul Stookie comes in to join the conversation since PP&M did that song. To make a long story short, I moved shortly thereafter to Seattle because I was tired of lawyering and foreclosing on people's homes during the end of George H. W. Bush’s term (these Bush guys are predictable about creating financial crises) and I just decided I couldn’t do that kind of work anymore and besides, this new thing called a browser that could do the internet with pictures had been invented and something told me it was going to change the world and the computer was going to be something entirely different than what it was under Usenet.
So I packed my bags and moved to Seattle, Washington, and promptly got horrible ear infections and over the course of two and a half years had two ear operations, a month or two of IV injections that took twenty minutes to get several times every day and an ulcer from what the antibiotics did to my stomach, not necessarily in that order. And during my third winter there, I left due to a busted budget due to the health problems.
But Noel Stookie sent me tickets to a concert while I was there and I passed three of them along to help some people less fortunate than me as I didn’t really know anyone in Seattle yet when I first got there, and I went to the concert with my backstage pass in hand. And after the concert there was this huge throng of people there waiting to see the trio and I figured they had what I had and I would get in that long line.
But I showed my backstage passes to one of the guards and I was quickly whisked to the front of that long line which hadn’t started moving yet and there I stood with the three other people who were with me there — we were the first folks in the door — and Mary Travers, who was twice as wide as I was (and I’m no small guy) had her arms unfolded out wide and she gave me a big, huge, wonderful hug and I hugged her back just as hard and I then very briefly spoke to Paul, Peter being off into his trailer inside that backstage arena and then I went on my way as many others were waiting to “meet” the group.
All because I was curious and had the audacity to ask some questions about a song when the internet was a much smaller group of folks than it is now. But that was such a nice hug and I guess it happened because Mary Travers was the kind of person who wanted to make people in this world feel like someone cared about them. And I suspect that she treated all her fans that way, helping to make them feel better about themselves no matter who they were. So I’ve been one of her fans ever since.
Because the world needs a whole lot more people like her. In particular, Republicans as well as Democrats who care about their fellow man and whether he lives or dies and whether he will be shunted off into a corner to die because a big, fat captain out there somewhere who prefer a dead sperm whale to fill his or her coffers with more cash than he needs to live a good life instead of seeing his neighbors get the opportunity to see the doctor when they are sick.
So here’s a tribute to Peter, Paul and especially Mary when they were at their best. And I’ll follow up later with another song for Mary after a while, which I promise won’t have any writing in it, but will just be a link to a song.
I’ve taken the liberty of showing them here at a very important time when people in our country rose up and told Richard Nixon and all his whaling ship friends who must have loved the money they could get from those big whales more than they cared about people who fought in senseless wars like Vietnam that made a lot of money for a very few people (who Smedley Darlington Butler had cut down once, but not good enough — look him up if you don’t know who he was) and that they weren’t going to take it anymore. Maybe we’ll have to do that again one day.
Maybe we need to do it now and soon.
But what I am writing about now is that I just want this country to do for its citizens what all the civilized modern industrialized countries all do: provide all citizens with health care so they don’t get pulled down by a bunch of big, mean men and women who like big dead whale carcasses, like unnecessary wars for instance, and like what they can get for running wars more than they care about people. Because when that happens we all lose.
And because I am sure Mary Travers would have wanted it that way.