Status Rights

Dead Confederate soldiers. What the hell were these fools fighting for, anyway?


An age-old debate persists as to why the Civil War was fought. Some claim it was over slavery, while others argue it was over state’s rights.

I disagree with the slavery crowd. Most Confederate soldiers were poor white men who couldn’t afford slaves. Why in the hell would they want to take up arms to protect the property of rich plantation owners?

And slaves were competition to white workers. This was one of the more popular appeals made by the Abolition movement. Moral arguments about the cruelty of slavery were not nearly as persuasive to some white folks as was the competition argument.

Slaves worked for free. Therefore, they drove down wages and kept them low for white laborers. So it was in the economic interest of southern whites to end slavery, as this would help drive up wages and improve their employment opportunities.

And yet, white men donned the Confederate uniform and fought to break apart our nation.

So if the preservation of slavery wasn’t their motivation, they had to be fighting for state’s rights. Right?

Well, no, not in my view. After all, who the hell gives a damn about state’s rights? The issue of state’s rights is too wonky for ordinary people to give a shit about. Intellectuals in suits and ties might enjoy verbal jousting over this matter, while slurping down brandies, smoking cigars, and watching the burning embers of a fireplace die out. But I have never observed ordinary, non-political people making a case for state’s rights.

And I’ve never seen anyone pledge their allegiance to my state flag, or to any other. Nor have I ever heard of anyone proclaiming their willingness to lay down their life to protect the sovereignty of their state. It seems to me that nobody gives a flying fuck about their state. Well, except maybe a few Texans.

Who the hell in their right mind would take up arms to protect their state, of all goddamned things? If my state asked me to do this, I’d laugh myself to death. And no way in hell would I serve a cause like that.

So no, I strongly doubt that the Civil War was fought over something as eggheaded and wonkish as state’s rights.

But Confederate soldiers did fight hard and very bravely. Many fell in the battlefield for a cause that maybe they couldn’t quite put their finger on, yet believed in passionately.

My theory is that maybe they were fighting for state’s rights in name only. But in reality, deep in their guts, they were fighting not for state’s rights, but for status rights.

Southern whites during the antebellum days always had one thing going for them. No matter how low their fortunes might become, they could never sink down to the status of black slaves. No matter how piss-poor a white man could be, he could always look over at those slaves picking cotton and say to himself, “At least I’m not as bad off as those poor, miserable fuckers.”

So the thought that the slaves might shed their chains and become equals under the law to whites must have left many whites feeling shook up and irked. They were accustomed to guaranteed socioeconomic status at least one rung above blacks. And they wanted to keep it that way.

Those were the days when men fought duels to the death over insults. Pride and status meant everything, especially to southerners, where it seemed to be ingrained in their culture.

But even today status means a lot to people, and not just to southerners. Status is a basic human need. Your status in your community can help you to be trusted by others. Or distrusted. It can help you to maintain your livelihood. Or it may keep you from being employed. And it can keep you safe from those with vigilante mindsets. Or it can get you beaten to death in a dark parking lot.

People spend thousands of dollars for fancy cars, jewelry, and designer jeans, just to enhance their status. People brag and exaggerate for reasons of status. And sometimes they fight each other viciously and violently when their status is on the line.

Status is damned important to human beings.

When the Civil War ended, the black population of the South immediately rose in status. They could no longer be called slaves. They were no longer cemented to the bottom, as the lowest of the low. In fact, they now had a chance to rise up. Just imagine how insecure white people felt about this.

And so came the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, and other efforts to keep black people under the white people’s heel. The apartheid policies of Jim Crow were all about status. Keep the blacks backwardly educated, in poorly-funded schools. Keep them at the back of the bus. And make them enter public buildings through the back door. Make sure they, and everyone else knows, that their status is always at the back.

In my view, status rights was at the heart of the Civil War, and has also been at the heart of the Civil Rights movement. The racial tensions of the 50s and 60s were all about status. Rosa Parks sat at the front of the bus because she believed her true status was different from that prescribed by law.

The Civil Rights movement helped black people to immensely improve their status in society. And leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr and Barrack Obama have demonstrated the wisdom of accepting black people as equals to whites.

And yet, the black population still suffers from lower socioeconomic status. According to Pacific Standard magazine, “Blacks are nearly three times as likely to be poor as whites, and more than twice as likely to be unemployed. Compared to whites with the same qualifications, blacks remain less likely to be hired and more likely to earn lower wages, to be charged higher prices for consumer goods, to be excluded from housing in white neighborhoods, and to be denied mortgages or steered into the subprime mortgage market.”

It seems that since the heyday of the Civil Rights movement, racial discrimination has become more and more subtle, with carefully engineered deniability. It’s out of sight, yet it still continues. We know, because it’s all right there in the statistics.

So let’s change the debate about race a little. Let’s consider that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery or state’s rights. When boiled down to its essence, I believe it was about status rights. And the race issues we face today, are also about status rights.

Therefore I will never be convinced that racial discrimination has ended, until one thing happens. Black people and white people must enjoy a similar socioeconomic status. Then, and only then, will I believe that Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream has come true.

Because only then will black people have completely overcome.

The Church of Ruth and Pancakes

Ruth, about a year before she died.

My mother-in-law, Ruth, died about three years ago.

Ruth was a tough-minded woman and an alumnus of the college of hard knocks. And she could be hard to please. She disliked all of her sons-in-law, as well as her daughter-in-law.

Except me. She and I had similar philosophies on life, and agreed with each other often enough to be agreeable with each other.

But that wasn’t why she liked me. She liked me because I worked for a living and took care of her daughter. Which was hard to do. I’m lazy and don’t like work, so like I say, she was hard to please.

Ruth was old-school. She saw a man’s place as one who brings home the bacon. She liked when women worked, too. But she especially enjoyed seeing a man bending his back.

Occasionally I would yawn and stretch in front of her, and mutter, “I’m tired.”

Her invariable reply was, “What the fuck do you have to be tired about? Get the hell off your lazy ass and do something!” She was half joking, but the other half was deadly serious.

She and I viewed the world through morose-colored glasses. She greeted the news of pregnancies with deep somberness, as if someone had died. But word of a death left her feeling elated, and eager to celebrate the blessed event.

Ruth cobbled together many wise sayings over the course of her long life, some stolen and some original. Every Sunday morning for over 20 years, my wife and I, and other members of my wife’s large family, would gather at my in-laws’ house. My father-in-law, Jake, would cook pancakes for us, while Ruth regaled us with her wisdom.

It was almost like being in church. Family gossip and other salacious news was tossed around the table, just like all that gossiping that goes on at places of worship.

Ruth would ponder over the table talk, then weigh in with her proverbs and preachments, often punctuated with four-letter imprecations, and mallet-mouthed maledictions. Her sermons were down-to-earth, salty, and as powerful as fire and brimstone. They hit home hard, sometimes to the chagrin of a pancake eater seated nearby.

One day I wrote a poem about her, and read it to her at church. Er, I mean at Sunday pancakes. She loved the verses, and requested that I read them at her funeral. It took eight years, because Ruth was slow to leave this world, but finally I was able to grant her request.

That was three years ago. Since that time, I’ve had the honor of sleeping in the same bedroom Ruth slept in for nearly three decades. In fact, it’s the same room she passed away in, and the same room I’m typing this post in.

She haunts me. In her loving but tough-minded way, her memory reminds me now and then to get off my lazy ass and stop napping. Do something. Take care of business. And cut out the bullshit.

Well if I’m going to be haunted, I think you should be too. So I’m unleashing Ruth’s spirit upon you. I’m sharing with you the poem I wrote for her, which I read at her funeral. I hope you like it, but keep in mind that it goes down better with an earful of gossip and mouthful of pancakes.

The Church of Ruth and Pancakes

The Church of Ruth and Pancakes
Holds service every week.
We congregate on Sundays
And find the things we seek.

We find many words of wisdom,
And a family reunion,
Where Deacon Jake fries pancakes
And serves them for Communion.

The sermon is a doozy,
With words of wisdom, long in tooth,
From a wizened, world-worn woman
Whom we call our Prophet Ruth.

Now listen up, and I will share
Some treasures from her mind.
If you heed these gems you will become
A little more refined:

“Never deal with a dummy,”
Prophet Ruth is prone to mime,
“My father warned me if you do,
“You’ll be screwed most every time.”

“I can smell a bum a mile away,”
She’s often proud to state.
But when the bum comes near her,
God help that poor man’s fate.

And to the fair young ladies
Attracting all the guys,
She’ll say, “A stiff prick has no conscience,
“Take this warning from the wise.”

And when an older woman
Acts mean, she’ll find the blame,
She’ll say, “An old bitch was a young bitch,
“I think I know your game.”

She sees how generations live
And says with gravity,
“You’ve got to think of fruit
“Falling not far from the tree.”

We’ve learned a lot from Prophet Ruth,
With pancakes on our plate,
And as our week goes grinding by,
It’s for Sunday we can’t wait.

If you follow Prophet Ruth’s words,
Your reward will one day be
Pancakes made in heaven,
With some damn good company.

Tibetan Sky Burial

When I die, I want to free up real estate so that others can more easily take my place. So I don’t like the idea of being buried in the ground. Just incinerate my body and spread the ashes to the wind.

Or better yet, let me feed the wildlife, by giving me a Tibetan-style Sky Burial.

The finality of death is chilling. I like to dispel the chill by assuming there’s a hereafter. I like to assume that the only finality is the end of our history on this earth, and that somehow our consciousness will migrate to a different realm.

We simply move on, to chase new unicorns in new ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no inside information on this subject. And I’m willing to agree that I could be living in a fool’s paradise. But for me, a fool’s paradise beats the depression and abject terror that would darken my every remaining day, if I assumed there is no more life after our bodies cease to function.

So I can watch a Tibetan Sky Burial with hope, rather than horror. I see death as a change, and quite possibly a change for the better. And this thought of death as change leaves me looking forward, to some degree, to my last day on this crazy earth.

Tibetan Sky Burials tend to attract audiences of Chinese tourists. And the monks who conduct these burials sometimes complain about the tourists, viewing them and their cell phone cameras as desecrating a solemn event.

And yet Buddhism teaches us to embrace impermanence. One way to embrace the impermanence of life, is to come face-to-face with this vulturine approach to the disposal of dead bodies. So I like that audiences and cell phone cameras are allowed.

You too can be part of the audience, by watching the following video.

But I must warn you: If you’re squeamish, you might want to keep a barf bucket nearby.

Piss Poor

The Piss Poor Potato Eaters, by Vincent Van Gough, 1885. Or maybe it’s just called The Potato Eaters.

Wouldn’t you know it, a crank has submitted a unicorn beam, for a guest post. Her full name is Cranky Pants, although I will lazily refer to her as CP. CP honestly admits she didn’t write this. Yep, she stole a unicorn. But that’s okay, unicorns respect honest thieves.

CP wants us to know how folks lived back in medieval times. Especially the folks who were piss poor. Like all of my ancestors.

If you’re the empty-pocketed type who often doesn’t have two nickels to rub together, I think you’re going to enjoy this piss poor submission from CP.

 

Did you know…..??

 

They used to use urine to tan animal skins, so families used to all pee in a pot & then once a day it was taken & sold to the tannery. If you had to do this to survive you were “piss poor.”

But worse than that were the really poor folk who couldn’t even afford to buy a pot; they “didn’t have a pot to piss in” & were the lowest of the low.

The next time you are washing your hands & complain because the water temperature isn’t just how you like it, think about how things used to be. Here are some facts about the 1500s:

Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and they still smelled pretty good by June. Since they were starting to smell, however, brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it . . . hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the Bath water!”

Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof. When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof, resulting in the idiom, “It’s raining cats and dogs.”

There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed, therefore, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That’s how canopy beds came into existence.

The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, leading folks to coin the phrase “dirt poor.”

The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet, so they spread thresh (straw) on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entrance-way, subsequently creating a “thresh hold.”

In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while, and thus the rhyme, “Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old.”

Sometimes they could obtain pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, “bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.

Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead cups were used to drink ale or whiskey. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial.. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up, creating the custom of holding a wake.

England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be saved by the bell, or was considered a dead ringer.

Bread of Life

Today we start a new decade. 10 is a nice, round number that’s easy to work with. So, with my limited math skills, I like to divide my life into decades. Sometimes I like to look back, decennium to decennium, and see how my life has changed.

And the change is always dramatic. My life circumstances 10 years ago are much different than now. And with each 10-year increment, remembering backward, I find more great differences.

The philosophies I live by are also very different. They’ve constantly and imperceptibly metamorphosed, day-after-day, to adjust to my gradually changing life. From yesterday to today, there’s not much difference. But from 10 years ago, there’s been a sea change. That doesn’t invalidate the way I guided my life a decade ago. It only means that I’ve had to change my ways, ever-so-slightly, day-to-day, to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of life.

Thus, I’ve concluded that there is no one guiding philosophy for life that can survive the test of time. We must change, and keep changing, to adjust, correct, and compensate for the viscous foundation we stand upon. As our lives change, so must our perceptions and philosophies.

It seems to me that the philosophies you and I live by today have never been used before. They may resemble philosophies of the past, but there are subtle differences. Life as we once knew it is not the life we know today, nor will it ever be again. And so we’ve had to make adjustments.

And as we progress through this new decade, we’ll have to keep adjusting.

But I wonder what drives the adjustment process. How does this miracle occur that enables us to adapt to each new, changing day? Is it inspiration from a higher source? Is it cues we receive from others? Or is it reflection, from the meditation of our own minds?

Whatever it is, be it deified, social, or innate, or perhaps all three, I believe it’s absolutely essential that we never lose touch with it. Especially if it seems to be working. For this is the source of our philosophy.

This, I believe, is our bread of life.

Happy New Year. And may the bread of life you consume this year, and this decade, be abundant and delicious.

Holding Trump’s Balls

Last year on December 17th, I predicted that Trump would be impeached and gone by the end of 2019. How stupid of me.

Senate Majority Turtle, Mitch McConnell.

Trying to predict politics is like trying to augur the outcome of a grasshopper race. But at least I was partly right, because Trump was impeached exactly one year and one day after my post. However I didn’t predict that our Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, would promise a quick acquittal for our Gaslighter-in-Chief.

The grasshopper jumped backward.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

And now the grasshopper has jumped another odd direction. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is withholding the articles of impeachment from the Senate, until she’s sure Trump will receive a fair trial.

Pundits and politicians from both parties have puzzled over this move. Some worry that Americans will lose interest in impeachment, the longer the trial is delayed. Some claim she has no leverage. And some taunt her by saying she’s too scared to send the articles over.

But I think it’s an act of genius. Hanging onto the articles could make the grasshopper jump in any of these four directions:

  1. It could allow Mitch and Nancy to move legislation and pass laws. Mitch has said that he won’t put his large backlog of bills before the Senate unless he knows the president will sign them. Well Mitch, now you have some leverage. Either the president promises to sign some bills, or you make a deal with Nancy. It’s ironic. The most partisan impeachment in history has potential for the most bipartisan legislation in history.
  2. It might lead Republican senators who are up for re-election next year, to vote for conviction. Right now they’re caught in a bind. If they vote to convict, they’ll lose their primaries, even when it would help them in the general election. But if the trial is held after they’ve already won their primaries, they’ll only have the general election to worry about.
  3. It allows time to force more evidence before the trial occurs. The fight for subpoenaed documents and witnesses might be resolved by the Supreme Court before the Senate trial occurs. This might pile more damning evidence upon the current mountain of evidence against Trump.
  4. But most importantly, I think, holding this Sword of Damocles over Trump’s head could motivate him to be a good little boy. He’s pissed off Republicans before, but never while at their mercy during an impeachment trial. Now he might think twice before going off half-cocked and doing things that jeopardize our national security or our economic stability.

So keep dangling that sword, Nancy. Or how about this metaphor? The two articles of impeachment you’re hanging onto are like Trump’s balls. Don’t let go. Make the son-of-a-bitch sweat until perhaps this summer. How about a Senate trial during the Republican National Convention, for instance?

His balls are in your court Nancy. Put the squeeze on hard before you give them a whack toward the Senate’s court.

In a way, perhaps I was right about Trump being gone by the end of 2019. For while he will still occupy the White House into 2020, maybe he won’t be the same Trump we’ve known. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll turn into someone unrecognizable:

A mild-mannered man with no balls.

When The Mail Stopped

I parked at my house to take a little nap, before starting my rounds. By the time I woke up I could barely drive the streets without slipping and sliding, and had to return to the post office with most of the mail undelivered.

This photo was taken on the morning of December 17, 2008, after my little town in the Mojave Desert had received about two inches of snow. Ten more inches fell that day.

No one at the post office had ever bothered to check our snow chains to see if they would fit the tires. And they didn’t fit. Mail delivery was canceled for two days, until we could finally get the correct chains.

When we returned to work, we had a high mountain of mail and parcels to climb, and put in many hours of overtime to catch up.

Heavy snows like this are very rare for our area, but some weather reports are predicting the possibility of up to 11 inches falling overnight.

We’ll see.

Meantime, have a Merry Christmas. And if it isn’t white, just look at this photo and enjoy vicariously. And be glad you don’t have to use your shovel.

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