The older he gets and the worse things get, the Ol' Bloviator is finding progressively less satisfaction in yelling, "I told you so!" when one of his rants about our ever-madder dash toward doom comes true. This is certainly true in the case of two recent and remarkably similar incidents that amount to textbook examples of the ongoing devaluation of education in the face of a comparably blind, but increasingly overpowering obsession with industrial development as a "bargain at any cost" panacea for all our ills.

Witness the crisis over in Alabama, where their subsidies to new plants over the last two decades have long since run well into the billions, but  it seems they are running short of cash just now to shower on the next corporate candidate for a humongous  public payout. Not to worry, however, Alabama governor Robert Bentley has come up with an inspired, yet simple  solution for this dilemma; he wants to shift funds from education in order to shore up the stash he draws on in his role as the state's official bagman to new companies. The rationale for this switcheroo seems clear enough to Bentley: "Who pays for the incentives? It's not education, but they benefit from it totally . . . you ought to eat what you kill."  (If the Guv. really practices what he preaches here, he better pray he never hits a feasting buzzard while travelling on Alabama's excellent highway network.) Although some Alabama legislators expressed reservations about a special legislative session geared to making the governor's enlightened proposal a reality, it was not clear whether they objected to the move so much as to Bentley's failure to consult with them before releasing what he later insisted was merely a "trial balloon" that had simply been "misconstrued." Yeah, right. Alabama governors are known for their exceedingly complex thinking and rhetoric. For example, it took the O.B. forever to figure out what "Segregation Now! Segregation Tomorrow! Segregation Forever!" meant. Unfortunately, former governor Fob James's intellectual firepower went largely unappreciated, as became apparent when his industry-hunting trip to Israel was billed as "Our Yahoo Meets Their Netanyahu." Not coincidently, perhaps, back in the nineties, it was Fob who tried to raid the school fund to pay off part of the state's subsidy obligation to Mercedes.

            Meanwhile, Mississippi politicians are seldom accused of subtlety, and when they are, as in this case, it is almost always in comparison their counterparts in Alabama. According to this report, the state of Mississippi has been in violation of its own laws since 2008 by failing to provide its legally mandated share of public school funding.  It is currently spending $648 less per pupil than it did in 2008, and since then, it has racked up an illegal deficit in public education of at least $1.3 billion. In what must surely rank as the great-grandmother of all coincidences, that is precisely the figure arrived at by researchers in 2013 as the total value of the tax breaks promised to Nissan in exchange for locating a production facility at Canton, Mississippi.

            Over thirty years, the tax abatements offered Nissan will cost Madison County an estimated $210 million in revenue that might otherwise have been spent on schools. Beyond that, in a program truly reminiscent of the old sweat shop days when workers' pay checks were docked for a "subscription fee" used to defray the cost of building their employer's plant, Nissan is also allowed to keep what would normally be state income tax deductions from their employees' wages. Over twenty-five years, this nifty little palm greaser could ultimately top off at $160 million.

            Reports of such extravagances in two states not exactly known for their heroic sacrifices in the war against ignorance  simply underscore the hypocrisy of  current pious calls for "austerity," the fallout from which continues to fall heavily on public education. Perhaps the O.B. might be forgiven for nearly going a tad bit postal upon reading a New York Times account of Ranger Rick Perry's efforts to oust the current president of the University of Texas where, instead of just teaching the great gobs of info they already know, the faculty are apparently wasting their time and the public's money in trying to find out even more stuff (God knows what) to teach. In their discussion of the many difficulties facing public university presidents these days, the reporters twice refer to declining state "subsidies" for public higher education. Instead of reaching for his twelve-gauge, however, the O.B.  ultimately opted for a high-minded remonstrance, dispatched with dispatch to the nation's number one publishing platform:

In an otherwise excellent account of efforts to oust the president of the University of Texas, the writers twice refer to recent cuts in legislative appropriations for public higher education as "declining state subsidies." In the current political climate that this story so vividly reflects, this is heavily freighted language. However inadvertently, it reinforces the popular notion that state funding for an institution created by the state to function as a duly constituted obligation of the state is instead some sort of voluntary dispensation or indulgence. In the operative sense of the word, the funding received by the University of Texas from the State of Texas is no more a "subsidy" than is Governor Rick Perry's salary.

 The O.B. assumed at the outset, correctly, as it turned out, that his missive would almost certainly never make it into print, but he also assumed that sending it would at least make him feel a little better. Maybe it did, but the futility and meaninglessness of his gesture was quickly hammered home not only by the foregoing accounts from Dixie but comparable ones from elsewhere in the country, like New Jersey, where Gov. Chris[py Kreme] Christie has already signed off on $2 billion in corporate subsidies and state funding for higher education has fallen by more than 20 percent over the last six years. It was once almost a given that politicians were obliged to at least pay lip service to the notion that education is a powerful engine of economic progress. These days, a growing number of them seem to want us to see it as merely a cumbersome caboose.

THE MOST AMERICAN PLACE ON EARTH

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(courtesy isamiga76 @flickr.com)

I once wrote a book about the Mississippi Delta called The Most Southern Place on Earth. Were I to undertake a comparable tome about the most "American" place on earth, believe it or not, the focal point would not only lie outside the United States, but, of all places, in France, specifically, the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, where lie the remains of 9,387 of the U.S troops who died during the June 1944 Allied invasion. More than any other historical site or monument that I have ever visited--in fact, more than all of them put together--this place engulfs me in a wave of teary, tingly, emotions. Set atop a bluff overlooking the English Channel and Omaha Beach against a stunning backdrop of lush, unimaginably green grass and perpetually wind-bent trees, even with the surf pounding rhythmically just below, the iconic, seemingly endless rows of perfectly aligned white crosses convey a palpable sense of peace and order that belies the chaos and wholesale slaughter that raged down on the beach 70 years ago. There is some irony in the fact that the Normandy American Cemetery provides entree and closure to the epic 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, whose opening scenes reflect an unprecedented cinematic effort to depict the D-Day landing as the nightmare of bloody, headless, legless, disemboweled carnage and confusion that it actually was.

 

In truth, this placid and pristine setting seems far better suited to serve as the final resting place of characters slain in earlier, less graphic World War II movies like The Longest Day who died neatly and, so it would seem, painlessly, shot down as they stood just inches from an apparently bulletproof John Wayne or Robert Mitchum. After all, in the popular mind at least, this was a war in which men died bravely and stoically, repeating the Lord's Prayer or receiving the last rites or saying the Kaddish, not one where agonized screaming or crying was punctuated by horrible blasphemies alternating with piteous, little-boy pleas for "Mama."

 

There is no record of the final minutes of Technical Specialist Five Joseph G. Hardy, the only World War II soldier who entered the service in Clarke County to be memorialized at the cemetery. In reality, Hardy (who actually hailed from the tiny hamlet of Good Hope (pop.219), in nearby Walton County) never even set foot on the sands of Normandy, because he was among the 39 members of Battery B of the 4th Infantry Division's 29th Field Artillery Battalion who were killed when their landing craft struck a mine on its approach to Utah Beach on June 6. Like most of his fallen battery mates, Hardy's body was never recovered, and thus his name is among the 1,557 inscribed on the "The Walls of The Missing," which encircle a beautifully maintained garden.

 

Idly perusing the names and accompanying states etched on the gravestones, I found myself wondering how many of the small-town boys like Joseph Hardy had even been out of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or South Carolina prior to the war. It is frankly difficult for me grasp how so vast an abstraction as national allegiance or patriotic duty could motivate thousands of such men to come thousands of miles away from home to step off landing crafts and wade into an unrelenting volley of lethal lead. In anointing this place with their blood and sacrifice, they made it both an enduring shrine to American national identity and a source of gnawing self-doubt for succeeding generations destined to remain forever in their debt.

 

Those buried here secured their hallowed place in history by giving their all in an epochal encounter that effectively secured victory in what seemed an indisputably righteous crusade against a correspondingly monstrous evil. In contrast, Vietnam veterans of my generation, who no less heroically risked or sacrificed their lives have been caught in a historical backlash against a conflict that, unlike World War II, did not unify us in defense of our longstanding ideals but instead divided the nation and called those ideals into question. In what seems an era largely lacking in courage and commitment, some of today's visitors to the Normandy American Cemetery are likely to leave inspired but also perhaps a bit saddened by a sense that those interred in this magnificent setting died in defense of a nation far worthier of their sacrifices than the one we live in today.

 

In reality, of course, this perception requires some degree of selective historical amnesia. For example, despite serving in a bloody struggle to defend democracy against a racist, totalitarian onslaught, African American soldiers in World War II found themselves fighting not just the Germans and the Japanese but the hostility of white civilians living in the vicinity of their stateside postings and, worse yet, the resentment and distrust manifested within the ranks by their own white comrades and commanders. D-Day operations reflected these racial realities quite clearly, as only a single battalion of black troops actually landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Soldiers of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion came in on the third wave to set up anti-aircraft barrage balloons aimed at preventing German pilots from strafing the beach. Three members of the 320th are buried here, including Cpl. Brooks Stith from Virginia and Pfc. James McLean from North Carolina. Had the two survived, both would have returned to essentially the same segregated, discriminatory and disfranchised existence they had left behind, although black soldiers who came back from the war would go on to play a pivotal role in laying the groundwork for yet another all-out offensive that ultimately toppled Jim Crow. Those who stand in awe of this fearless band of postwar civil rights crusaders might well harbor certain sentiments common to American visitors to the Normandy Cemetery, including the fictional Pvt. James Francis Ryan, who, kneeling at the end of the film amid the graves of the comrades who gave their lives to save his, wonders aloud whether "in your eyes I've earned what all of you have done for me."

 


THIS IS HILARIOUS...BUT PLEASE DON'T LAUGH!

                Up until a couple of nights ago, the Ol' Bloviator knew the movie "Downfall" purely as the source of dozens of parodied video excerpts in which the captions to Adolph Hitler's enraged harangues during his final days have been overwritten to depict Hitler as a diehard college football fan who is just learning that his favorite team was upset by a prohibitive underdog or lost a big game by virtue of an egregious error by a player or coach. (Think here of Bama failing to cover a runback of a missed field goal, perhaps, or, if you must, a Georgia defensive back trying to intercept a pass he should have batted down but instead deflecting it to an Auburn receiver for the winning TD. Damn! That still hurts!)

                The actual movie itself purports to show the last dark days in Hitler's bunker leading up to his suicide after shooting his mistress-just-made-wife, Eva Braun. Although the whole portrayal is meant to be exceedingly grim, damned if the Ol' Bloviator didn't still find himself more than  a little amused by  Hitler's tantrums and tirades. If the O.B. had been in that bunker and privy to the furious Fuhrer's rants, he would never have maintained a straight face long enough  to die with the diehards via cyanide capsule, save perhaps one that  been administered against his will in suppository form. His demise would more likely  have come from sudden-onset lead poisoning courtesy of a German Luger at close range.

We know, of course, that Hitler was a source of considerable mirth in his early days when he could be laughed off a just another deranged rabble rouser. Yet in the midst of the economic disaster, crushed national pride, and devastated morale that was the Weimar Republic, his fury at the injustices visited on the fatherland by the Versailles Treaty after World War I and his dazzling certainty of German resurrection and redemption began to gain traction  Soon , he had a fervent following hanging on his every utterance. Some of these, including several of his co-inhabitants of the bunker, even wound up convincing themselves that life without Hitler would be unbearable, ultimately opting to join him in exiting this mortal coil of their own volition. The most disturbing scene in this thoroughly disturbing film has Hitler propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels's wife, Magda, who has declared that she doesn't want to live in a world without National Socialism, making sure that the couple's six children are spared such a fate as well  by methodically inserting a cyanide capsule between their teeth as they sleep and pushing down on their heads until she hears a sickening crunch. If you had any lingering doubts, this is the point where you are fully persuaded this film is not meant to be funny. One need not suggest that anything like the majority of Germans felt such a dedication to Hitler but clearly enough of them did to allow him to lead their nation into destruction at the cost of millions of lives.

Yet another sad example of the consequences of simply laughing off extremist rhetoric and proposals comes from the American South at the end of the nineteenth century. Some well-intentioned opponents of imposing racial discrimination by law, beginning with the railroads, sought to undermine such efforts with a healthy dose of reductio ad absurdum. Hence, a Charleston editor suggested in 1898 that "if there should be Jim Crow scars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways. Also on all passenger boats. . . . Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations and Jim Crow eating houses. . . . Jim Crow sections of the jury box and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand and a Jim Crow Bible for witnesses to kiss." Laughable as the editorialist might have found such a progression in 1898, as historian C. Vann Woodward pointed out, ere long, save for the separate witness stand, every presumed absurdity he conjured up "became in a very short time a reality. . . . including the Jim Crow Bible."

Since, as of the last pay stub, at least, the OB earns his livelihood by professing at history--and southern history, at that--he should know full well by now that when something that seemed like a joke at the outset becomes a concrete reality, there is generally going to be Hell to pay. North Carolina which has been going to Hell in a supersonic hand basket of late, even managed to get the draw on their neighbors to the immediate south by enacting a measure allowing permitted concealed weapons on playgrounds, school grounds, and, yes, you are reading correctly, bars as well.  Several other states had preceded the Tar heels in their own willful descent into such lunacy, and not to be outdone, the venerable solons of the Palmetto  State declared it just ducky legally to tote your piece into  places purveying strong drink of all sorts.  The O.B. cannot but recall that forcing patrons to surrender their six shooters upon entering the Long Branch Saloon struck Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty as a wise and necessary precaution back in the  Dodge City of yore, but the wannabe gunslingers in today's state legislatures are apparently too young  to remember "Gunsmoke," even in reruns.  Although in both states, proprietors are free to ban guns in their establishments, Pete Matsko, owner of Backstreets Pub and Grille in Clemson, S. C.  has come under withering fire from gun crazies all over the country for posting what is admittedly a somewhat immoderately worded notice prohibiting patrons from bringing their guns into his place of business.

nogunsconcealed.jpg Thinking to reach across state lines in a show of support for Mr. Matsko, the O.B. actually attempted to round up some of the  hollow-leggedest beer drinkers he knows for a little road "solidarity forever" road trip over to Clemson.  His plan came a' cropper, however, when each of the assembled crew, not excluding the O.B., insisted that they could properly  demonstrate their solidarity with the embattled  barkeep only by prodigious consumption of the fruit of the hop as served in his own establishment. Thus, alas, did a noble and idealistic impulse wither and die for the mere lack of a designated driver.

 As  steady patrons of this site should readily attest, the O.B normally tries to steer  himself away from blanket generalizations or stereotypes. In this instance, however, he is not only willing but itchin' to shed that inhibition. Accordingly, he herewith declares forthrightly that he is flatly in accord with  Mr. Matsko's  opinion of the type of people who have been agitating so fervently to take their guns where they clearly don't belong. Indeed, he thinks Matsko's appraisal of the types who would actually carry a concealed weapon into a bar is, if anything, far too charitable. And, Honey Child, don't you fool yourself into thinking that for most of the folks who agitated for the sanction to do that very thing, this is merely about some philosophical abstraction where it's more important to know you have a certain right than it actually is to exercise it.  Beyond that, let's be clear that, regardless of what they manage to say with a straight face, they ain't taking their guns into a bar or any other public setting because they actually feel the need for protection. What they really need is some reason not simply to feel confident but to feel cocky, cocky enough even to do  themselves  a little bullying, perhaps. (Stay with him now, for the O.B. is about to blaze a trail that he thinks will actually lead us out of this utterly idiotic predicament.)  You might think that carrying a concealed weapon would surely git 'r done cockiness-wise, but in all too many cases, it won't. How are people going to know you as someone not to be trifled with or crossed if they can't see your damn gun? Even if they spy that strange bulge in your pocket, they might just assume, a la Mae West, that you're simply glad to see them.  These pathetically self-loathing  but nonetheless  dangerous people are just like an old perv clad only in a raincoat, black socks, and wingtips--they've got something they want desperately to show you, and it isn't going to require much of a premise for them to succumb to the temptation to flash their 9mms.

  If the bearers of arms are so keen on showcasing their pieces, why not let 'em? Better yet, why not make 'em?  Personally, the O.B. is inclined to believe that pulling out a concealed weapon is actually fraught with more homicidal potential than simply sporting one on your hip where everybody can see it. Mandating the "open carry" of legally acquired and registered firearms would at least give the folks who ain't packing a chance to see who and how many others are? That way, they can make a truly informed decision about how they really  feel about downing a Bud and an overpriced burger beside a guy sporting a Glock. Although the gun bullies are barking louder right now, it might well be that this "if you got it, [you must] flaunt it" approach to handling this issue would ultimately reveal that there are more restaurant and bar patrons who actually object to eating and imbibing in a room full of lethal weapons than there are folks who really get off on dining in a setting laced with the scent of gun oil. Besides, although some laws, like those in the Carolinas, forbid people bearing arms from actually consuming alcohol in a bar, how is the proprietor to identify a scofflaw in this situation if his weapon is concealed? Of all the patent absurdities swirling about this latest triumph of the lunatic fringe, this one may actually cap the keg.  While it is surely reasonable to presume that a person who frequents bars is likely not a teetotaler in the first place, it is truly an Olympian leap of faith to expect that he will become one in exchange for the freedom to take his  firearm into a place where  he must sit sober whilst those around him are getting soused, especially when said firearm is concealed.   Don't know about you, but it is a little hard for the O.B. to picture a man shoving a pistol into his coat pocket and saying "Honey, I'm headin' down to the bar for a glass of ice water."

                In the O.B.'s mind, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers had the right idea when she introduced a bill that would overturn requirements that would-be gun purchasers go through a background check and training and then buy a permit before they are allowed to carry a firearm in public places. Senator Beavers wants to scrap all that red tape and safety mumbo jumbo and require a permit only if the owner wishes to conceal the weapon. In a predictable show of courage and good sense, Beaver's colleagues in the state senate embraced her measure by a vote of twenty-five to two. Regrettably, the Tennessee House failed to grasp the obvious merits of the uninhibited "open-carry" provision, and the measure was, dare I say, "shot down," in committee. 

Close on the heels of Ms. Beavers' s abortive measure came Georgia's  so-called "guns everywhere" law, which allowed for guns in  bars and as well as churches, although, thanks to a fleeting resurgence reason, college campuses were spared , for now at least, the fate of becoming free-fire zones.   (Readers of the previous posting on this site should be able to infer  the O. B.'s take on such an outcome.) Lest we be lulled into thinking that our current set of politicos have utterly  outdone themselves  in scaling the twin peaks  of  hilarity and hypocrisy, we should take note of the Georgia Republicans who cast their proposal  to allow guns in churches as a means of redressing wrongs done to black people in the Reconstruction era, when whites bent on their re-subjugation sometimes burst into black churches (which were seen as hotbeds of anti-white activism) bent on disarming any black person found bearing a firearm.

 State Rep. Dustin "Dusty" Hightower, R-Carrollton, reportedly explained that allowing Georgians to worship with pistols in their pockets and purses is really a civil rights issue: 

"It [the prohibition against guns in churches] was placed there to hinder people during the Jim Crow era. It was there to hinder African-Americans from exercising their rights. This has no business to be here. This is a true private property issue that was done under false pretenses then and I think that's really the history of where that comes from and so we're trying to simply say - we're trying to give that private property back to where it deserves to be and let each individual private property owner make that determination on their own."

 This sudden surge of concern for black rights among Georgia Republicans might be a bit more encouraging were it not for the fact many of these folks who are now purportedly keen to make amends for earlier efforts to deprive blacks of their Second Amendment rights to bear arms are some of the same people working non-stop to throw up every possible impediment to blacks exercising their Fifteenth Amendment rights to cast a ballot. Along these lines, our good buddy Rep. Hightower pushed to allow the boundaries of  voting precincts to coincide with the boundaries of gated communities and to permit placement of polling places in such communities which, even when unlocked, are not noticeably welcoming  environments for minorities. He also voted to reduce unemployment benefits, co-sponsored a resolution asking Governor Nathan Deal for "continued action for the protection of Georgians from the unconstitutional federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act " and resisted efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility among Georgia's poor. For good measure, ol' Dusty, the little people's new best friend, was one of several Georgia legislators who actually called for the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment,  a move that would strip voters of their right to choose their own U.S. senators and return that prerogative  to their always friendly and sympathetic state legislators

 

                Not only is the truth often stranger than fiction, but it is sometimes so alternately funny and frightening that you can forget it isn't fiction.  As a mere chap, the O.B. heard the preacher light into the congregation about the danger of laughing at sin. This hit pretty close to home because even at that tender age, he had already concluded that sin was frequently not only funny but fun it its own right.  Although the O.B. and his pastor probably had dramatically divergent views on  what was sin as well as what was funny, he does see now where the ol' Rev. was coming from, at least.  Finding too much amusement in something you deplore can easily deaden your sense of what is deplorable and smooth down feathers best left ruffled.  William Faulkner once observed that "there's not too fine a distinction between humor and tragedy."  Both were tightly juxtaposed in much of his fiction, but in the O.B.'s take,  at least, Mr. Billy never let the former blind the reader to the latter.

 

 

 

 

ANIMAL HOUSE: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK

                We who reside in college towns are fond of saying they are great places to live when the students aren't around, but, in fact, the welcome silence that signals their departure would probably get to be as deafening as their presence if they stayed away too long. Well, maybe not, but many of us would probably miss them eventually, if only for the free entertainment they offer when at play. There is a problem with way too much of that play, however, in that it is tied to a distressingly high mortality and serious injury rate among middle-class youths who should just be getting primed for the prime of their lives. There is quite enough blame for this alarming trend to go around, but for now, a good portion of it is being laid squarely at the beer-stained steps of college fraternity houses. A recent blockbuster of an article/expose by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic draws on a year's worth of research on "Greek houses" and promises to reveal "their endemic, lurid, sometimes tragic problems--and a sophisticated system for shifting the blame." Sadly enough, it delivers on all counts.

Flanagan suggests that while fraternities had stood as essential pillars of privilege supporting the very Establishment assailed by the shaggy sandal-shod student protestors of the 1960s and early 1970s, the iconic 1978 film "Animal House" signaled not only a resurgence of frathood, but a dramatic reversal of how it was perceived as well. In short, "Animal House" stripped the student impulse to rebel of its social and ideological commitments and entanglements and redefined rebellion as the slavish pursuit of personal-pleasure via outrageous, irresponsible, and thoroughly self-indulgent behavior. Thanks in no small part to the student lefties of the previous decade, the doctrine of in loco parentis was now toast, and the ensuing contraction of university supervision of collegians' conduct left plenty of room for Freddy Frat to engage in all manner of socially objectionable behavior Yet, for all of FF's vigor in exploiting these opportunities, theseemingly harmless antics served up by "Animal House" managed to envelop frat-boy audacity in a disarming, guilt-and-consequence-free bubble.

Curiously enough, the kickoff exhibit for Flanagan's case actually evokes powerful memories of the antics of "Bluto," "Otter," and their fellow Delta Tau Chi's. In Flanagan's masterful retelling, one evening in May 2011, whilst on the deck of the ATO house at Marshall University and "under the influence of powerful inebriants," one Travis Hughes decided it would be "an excellent idea" to "shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air." Unfortunately, the influence of the aforementioned inebriants apparently led young Mr. Hughes to "misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole." More unfortunately still, also at the scene was an only slightly less inebriated Louis Helmburg III, a sub on the Marshall "Thundering Herd" baseball team, who, like Hughes, was not actually affiliated with the brotherhood of ATO. Helmburg decided to capture Hughes's daring exploit via cell-phone video and positioned himself in what proved to be imprudent physical proximity to the actual launch pad, so to speak. Thus it was that "when the bottle rocket exploded in Hughes's rectum, Helmburg was seized by the kind of battlefield panic that has claimed brave men from outfits far more illustrious than even the Thundering Herd. Terrified, he staggered away from the human bomb and fell off the deck. Fortunately for him, and adding to the Chaplinesque aspect of the night's miseries, the deck was no more than four feet off the ground, but such was the urgency of his escape that he managed to get himself wedged between the structure and an air-conditioning unit, sustaining injuries that would require medical attention." Helmburg's wounds were sufficient to truncate his baseball season, and he filed suit against the ATO national organization, the litigation of which would consume the next thirty months before an out-of -court settlement was reached.

                The temptation to chuckle at this fiasco, which amounts to life-imitating art (provided "Animal House" be art), is well nigh irresistible, much as it was with the notorious "butt chugging" craze that swept across ol' Rocky Top a while back. Yet, as Flanagan recounts vividly, the outcomes of such incidents my turn out to be anything but funny. A case in point is that of Amanda Andaverde, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Idaho, who had just pledged Tri-Delt in August 2009. Andaverde and her sorority sisters kicked off a night of drinking at the Sigma Chi house before moving on to SAE, where additional libations and further loosened inhibitions led her to the third-floor sleeping porch and onto the bunk of one Joseph Jody Cook. Attempting to roll over in the middle of the night, Amanda fell twenty-five feet onto a cement surface, suffering permanent brain damage that left her seriously impaired physically. If this account were not sufficiently disconcerting, Flanagan discovered that Amanda's was actually the second such fall from an upper story of a University of Idaho fraternity house in a two-week period. Two months later and only eight miles away at Washington State University, another student fell from the third story of a frat house. Owing to their proximity, the two campuses sustained a common student-party culture that was good for at least three similarly serious falls from September through November 2012 alone.

                If you are thinking at this point that these terrible mishaps might be geographically concentrated, think again. Flanagan quickly comes up with five more such incidents in 2012, scattered cross-country from Berkeley to Ithaca, and shows there were at least eight more coast to coast in the summer and fall of 2013. We have focused thus far only on serious accidents involving falls and not the myriad examples of physical and sexual assaults or fatal or near-fatal incidents of alcohol poisoning whose tracks converge at the frat house door. Ironically enough, for all the ongoing furor over hazing, according to a 2010 survey represented in the accompanying graphic, it accounts for only 7 percent of the claims filed against fraternities nationwide compared to the 9 percent triggered by falls from height, and more worrisome still, hazing suits add up to less than half the share (15 percent) of claims premised on sexual assault and less than a third of those (23 percent) involving assault and battery. 

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Overall, recent research by a pair of Bloomberg writers shows that, at the very least, more than sixty people have died in fraternity-related incidents since 2005.

 It is small wonder, then, that liability insurance became difficult for frats to come by at any price, beginning back in the 1980s when industry experts named fraternities as the sixth-worst insurance risk in the country, and individual insurers largely pulled their coverage en masse. The upshot has been the formation of trust-like collective self-insurance arrangements such as the Fraternal Information and Programming Group (FIPG), which currently lists thirty-two national member fraternities. Other similarly specialized coverage arrangements have emerged as well. In either case, it is important to know that the bottom line for this sort of coverage amounts largely to limiting the liability exposure of the national organization, and in actual practice, it sometimes accomplishes that by actually transferring that exposure to members of individual chapters where claims have arisen.

In particular, chapters who do not pay for the liability limitation inherent in securing a third-party vendor of alcohol at chapter events manage to facilitate drinking by imposing what appear to be some highly unrealistic, even unworkable, event-management stratagems, such as the "BYO-plan," (The general UGA version of which, as of 2008,at least,is described here.) whereby members of drinking age, who may well represent a minority within the group, are permitted to come to designated limited-attendance events bearing no more than a six-pack of beer, which must then be tagged with the bearer's name and doled out solely to him by fellow members who may or may not be of age themselves. Sharing his brew even with brothers of legal drinking age puts Bubba Six-Pack in violation of the fraternity's alcohol policy and should some injury or harm come either to the recipient of his generosity or should said recipient cause harm to others, poor Bubba can easily go from a cherished member of the brotherhood to a toxic vulnerability in its midst. Should the failure of a BYO or some similar protective system precede someone's injury or death, the brothers are generally on orders to stay mum until the fraternity's insurance interrogators arrive, at which time they are warmly encouraged to sing to these ostensible guardians of their interests like meth-buzzed canaries on truth serum, fully and candidly implicating themselves and others as violators of the national organization's precisely worded and literally interpreted official alcohol policies. If the anticipated damage suit materializes, these unsuspecting lads who thought the fraternity's lawyers were supposed to be defending them can find that, as far as the national organization is concerned, the purportedly eternal benefits of brotherhood are now forfeit and the bonds conferred by the secret handshake annulled, leaving them pretty much on their lonesome to face the pitiless fire of the plaintiff's legal sharpshooters. The ol' Bloviator has no way of knowing which fraternities might approach this issue differently, but he does find Flanagan's research exhaustive and her general conclusions persuasive. Hopefully, parents of fraternity members or of young men who are about to be are already familiar with the organization in question's procedures for handling such liabilities, but if not, close attention to the following paragraph from Flanagan might be advisable:

"I've recovered millions and millions of dollars from homeowners' policies," a top fraternal plaintiff's attorney told me. For that is how many of the claims against boys who violate the strict policies are paid: from their parents' homeowners' insurance. As for the exorbitant cost of providing the young man with a legal defense for the civil case (in which, of course, there are no public defenders), that is money he and his parents are going to have to scramble to come up with, perhaps transforming the family home into an ATM to do it. The financial consequences of fraternity membership can be devastating, and they devolve not on the 18-year-old "man" but on his planning-for-retirement parents.

To see young men who should be held "100 percent accountable for their actions . . . perhaps for the first time in their lives," by the very outfit that seemed to offer tacit assurances of four carefree years of self-indulgent irresponsibility is to confront irony in its grimmest sense. The primary reason  national  fraternities have embraced such a byzantine and deceptive C.Y.A.  strategy comes through in the observations of Douglas Fierberg, the nation's premier plaintiff's attorney in "fraternity-related litigation," who contends that the frat system is "the largest industry in this country directly involved in the provision of alcohol to underage people." Sure enough, sifting through "hundreds of fraternity incident reports," Flanagan could find not a single one relating to "an event where massive amounts of alcohol weren't part of the problem." (This suggests what a great idea it would be to plug firearms into campus equation, don't you think?) The extent to which maximized access to alcohol is likely to factor into any single seventeen- or eighteen-year-old boy's  decision to rush into fraternity rush is clearly debatable, but the probability that it factors collectively  in many such decisions most assuredly is not. Thus, the possibility that a key factor in their attractiveness may someday pose a serious threat to their survival led fraternities to adopt an effective, if cold-blooded, strategy for minimizing or transferring the risk posed by their alcohol-centric culture and existence.

                Having brutalized the Greek brotherhood nonstop thus far, however, it is not only unfair but a downright cop out to leave them saddled with all of the blame for the serious alcohol problems that are so blatantly obvious on so many college campuses . It is utterly foolish to think that most freshmen are downing their first gulp of beer after they hit campus, even if being there undeniably expands their gulping opportunities, and that brings us to the matter of paternal attitudes toward underage drinking. The O.B. has argued more than once that the much-lamented "generation gap" said to have separated the youth of his era from their Depression-reared, war-tested Moms and Dads would be infinitely preferable to today's buddy-buddy, just-one-of-the-guys/girls parenting model, which one strongly suspects in this case may appeal to the parents as a means of reliving their college years vicariously through their kids. For example, the Ol' Bloviator is both shocked and sorely dismayed to see so many of today's parents not simply condoning but finding amusement in seeing their eighteen-year-olds flashing fake IDs and generally plunging head-first into Lake Alcohol as if it were in danger of drying up in the next few days, much less before they reach 21. He can't help but wonder how heartening such parents would find it to check out the 2 a.m. scene when their over-indulged and definitely over-served freshmen are staggering back toward what they hope is their dorm or, better yet, take stock of their progeny as they drag themselves into an afternoon class still in possession of a ten-ton hangover and smelling as if they had just gargled a forty-ounce Natty Light.   In some cases, even "parents' weekends," which were once stilted and admittedly boring affairs fueled primarily by fruit punch and stale cookies, are now lubricated by a steady current of booze.

Although it is rumored that Dean Noah recently contacted the Physics Dept. to see if gopher wood will float on beer, the apparent reluctance of most campus administrators to address this problem head-on may well arise from concerns about sending negative vibes to youngsters whose relatively affluent backgrounds indicate that the rising costs of being a collegian are likely to be no object to their parents, who write checks for donations as well as fees. Meanwhile, those parents, along with other alums, may also convince themselves that excessive drinking is no bigger threat to student health or the university's educational mission now than it was in their day. Take it from a grizzled, forty-year veteran who was actually around back then and, after serving on six campuses, is still around today, this university and the over whelming majority of its peer institutions are awash in alcohol as never before. Trying to deny or downplay this grim reality or duck the responsibility it conveys, is tantamount to whistling past a graveyard, one, in this case, where an increasing number of occupants are unfortunately and unnecessarily arriving way too early.

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Here's to You, (Generally) Beloved Ink-Stained Scribe!

The Ol' Bloviator realizes that there may be a few of you way out there in the truly remote extremities of the cyberkingdom who may not know of his friend Pete, but, if you are lucky, your town has someone like him, someone who cares about it so much it hurts and not only wants but expects you to feel the same.The following is drawn from O.B's introduction of Pete McCommons on the occasion of Pete's stem-winding oratorical contribution to UGA 's Willson Humanities Center's "Global Georgia" lecture series.

          

I first came to know Pete McCommons through his marriage to the then Ms. Gay Griggs, the lovely and talented flower of a family who could be no dearer to me if they were truly my own. Even before Pete and I met face to face, Gay's brother, Bill, one of my oldest and closest friends, had alerted Pete to a little book on Georgia that I had expanded and readied for publication while spending the summer of 1996 sequestered in a mobile home (A/C redlining day and night, of course!) in the middle of a pasture over in Hart County. Pete was kind enough to say nice things about the book in Flagpole, and even indicated that it had actually been polished off in a doublewide. Stickler for the facts that I am, however, I stared squarely at the tonsils of the proverbial gift horse and sought a correction because, though tastefully appointed, of course, our domicile for that summer had, alas, been but a singlewide. Sure enough, journalistic pro that he is, Pete came through in the next issue by tendering his apology for "exaggerating Professor Cobb's circumstances," thereby immortalizing me on the spot as doubtless the only member of the professoriate for whom residence in a doublewide trailer would qualify as an elevation in circumstances.

Rollin M. "Pete" McCommons is a native of Greene County, Ga., on the northern edge of the old cotton belt.  For all the wealthy planters it boasted in the antebellum era,  a recent essayist gets it right in summing up the county's postbellum fate, when she observes that  "soil exhaustion and the ravages of the Civil War resulted in a shift from agriculture, in which landowners were the power brokers, to a market economy with a large number of small, poor farmers at its bottom and merchants and lawyers at its top."  Indeed Greene's case seemed so emblematic of  a region-wide trend that it became one of the most poked and probed counties in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.  It owed its notoriety in no small part to the investigations of fabled sociologist Arthur M. Raper, who, beginning in the 1930s, transformed it, for a time, at least, into his own little laboratory for dissecting and analyzing the tenancy and sharecropping system. Places where race and poverty are so tightly entwined don't have much of a track record of producing white liberals, but Pete had the benefit of some fine Methodist raising, but like many in his tiny but hardy southern liberal cohort, I suspect, he imbibed much of  his liberalism straight from the New Testament. Fine upstanding boy that he was, Pete doubtless became a living legend at  Greensboro High School, where his exploits in football, basketball, and track led the Augusta Chronicle to dub him "Fleet Pete," without, so he swears, any apparent ironic intent whatsoever. Skeptical as the O.B. might otherwise be, he is willing to grant the fabled Greensboro Streak the benefit of the doubt on this claim simply because it is actually easier for me to envision his capacity for speed than it is to grant the Augusta Chronicle's capacity for irony.

            Dispelling any impression that he was simply another jock with a pretty face, Pete went on to establish a stellar academic record at the University of Georgia, receiving his A.B. in political science in 1962 before pursuing graduate work in political theory at Columbia. Returning to Athens, he served for a time in the early 1970s as head of the State Government Section of the UGA Institute of Government. If there is a single dominant phrase in Pete's employment history, it is surely "worked briefly." This would definitely apply to his stints as an organizer for the Communication Workers of America and an ad salesman for Auto Trader Magazine, where, and I admit I am just guessing here, his leftward lean may have gone against the grain with his superiors who did not particularly care for  his descriptions of a Mercedes or Cadillac as "the ideal vehicle for a bloated capitalist fat cat eager to flaunt the wealth he extracted from the sweat and toil of the oppressed masses."

            All seriousness aside, of course, there is a transcendent thread running through the life and achievements of our most uncommon Mr. McCommons. For example, in January 1961, as vice-president of the UGA Student Council, he took a leading role in drafting  and securing over 2,000 student signatures for a petition to keep the University of Georgia open, despite widespread agitation by Georgia's segregationist claghorns to close it in the face of court-ordered desegregation. In hindsight, it is abundantly clear that Pete put himself on the right side of history at a critical point, but, however intrepid and courageous, his actions were anything but politically expedient and doubtless gained him few friends in high places. Likewise, Pete's faculty position at the Institute of Government was already tenuous rather than tenured in 1972 when his efforts to support a student sit-in at the president's office not only led to his being arrested, cuffed and hauled off to the pokey. It is not certain just how long he was in residence in the slammer, and if he has any prison tats, they are cleverly concealed, but his involvement in this episode definitely helped to assure that his service at the Institute of Government would also qualify for the "worked briefly" section of his resume.

            If anything, Pete's habit of allowing principles to trump material or political consequences became even more pronounced as he plunged full bore into journalism, initially joining forces with socially conscious soul mate, Chuck Searcy, to launch the Athens Observer. The Observer's shaky finances made a "shoestring budget" more of an ambition than a reality, and led him to barter free ad space in the nascent indie paper in exchange for his lunches.  Yet, whatever his or his paper's fiscal status, Pete's energy and daring did not falter then, or later, after he assumed the helm of Flagpole, where, happily for our little town, his tenure has been anything but brief.

Since he introduced his rightly famous "Pub Notes" column, Pete McCommons has taken on an astonishing variety of issues, refusing to let important questions go unanswered or, worse yet, simply unasked. In the latter case, one of his many truly great and shining moments came when he penned a column in 2008 demanding to know if his faithful readers were willing simply to sit silent and disengaged as a proposed national center for research on the potential use of animal-borne diseases as agents of biological warfare or terrorism settled in down on South Milledge. It was for damn sure that he had no such intention himself. Why, railed our editorialist in high dudgeon, such an outcome would transform Athens into nothing but "Pathogen City," awash in deadly germs and overrun with snoopy and intrusive Homeland Security personnel.  Beyond the very real danger posed by the facility, Pete also admitted that it simply irked him to see his beloved Athens marketed as "an ideal center for the study of strange stuff that infects animals."

Although in this case he was articulating--or maybe laying the foundation for--what would soon reveal itself as a community consensus, it has by no means always been thus, as when, on the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington,  Pete refused to let tributes to the courage and determination of the Freedom Riders themselves obscure the ugly reality of what the heirs to those who mercilessly bludgeoned them unconscious in 1961 have been up to over the last half-century:

"The bravery of the Freedom Riders defeated the violence, but their antagonists never surrendered.  They fell back and regrouped. They changed political parties. They got control of the state governments. They put on suits and swapped their baseball bats for legislative gavels. They continue today to do violence to the basic human rights of black people and poor people. They opt out of Medicaid at tremendous cost not only to the poor but to the whole state, denying its citizens billions of dollars and thousands of jobs. They make it harder and harder for African Americans and the poor to vote. They deny local governments the right to set minimum wages. They do violence to public educational funding while building in massive tax write offs for private schools.

They moved from the bus station to the capitol without missing a beat, and they're in control throughout the South....Those men in the Birmingham bus station beating those defenseless people got away with it because they were serving the people in power. The Southern legislators and governors who deny their own people education and health care are also serving those in power who want to keep corporate and individual taxes low on massive profits, even if that means--which it does--that the great mass of their citizens will live with financial uncertainty and without the tools to pull themselves up to a better life for their families."

 Such ferocity and unflinching truthiness explain why he is referred to in some quarters as "Pete McCommunist," and the O.B. must confess that, in the local context, at least, there have been times when he actually found himself well to the right of his intrepid buddy. Even on those rare occasions, however, there has never been even a sliver of doubt that ol' Pete was acting and speaking out of deep conviction and equally sincere dedication to what he believed are the best interests of the community. In a time when massive but lightning-quick economic, technological, and demographic shifts across thousands of miles seem to threaten even the identities and autonomous institutions of nations themselves, there can be no more indispensable global citizens than those who care passionately about sustaining their local communities by building on their strengths and confronting and remedying their deficiencies. We are indeed extraordinarily blessed to have in our midst a textbook example of just such a person, tougher than he looks but every bit as sweet as he seems, my occasional editor but constant friend, our very own pugnacious pacifist and fellow citizen of Athens and the world, Mr. Pete McCommons.

Can Yankees Drive Under "Southern" Conditions?


It figures somehow that the Ol' Bloviator would crawl out from under yet another avalanche of writing obligations just in time to find the capital city of the sovereign state of Georgia "buried" under 2.1 inches of snow and in full OMG! mode. At least twenty-four hours before this now-billed-as-epic weather "event" actually hit the ATL, the local meterolo- guessers, doubtless spurred on by countless hundred-dollar handshakes from the folks who run Kroger, Publix, etc., were bombarding the already-concerned populace with the message that it is never too late to panic. Following the same motif as the "storm" came and went, their message was aptly summarized by the OB's beloved son (and more or less SOL heir) as "Atlanta's Roads Are a Frozen Hellscape of Cars and Buses!" None of this is the least bit funny, of course, to the literally hundreds of people who spent fourteen hours trying to traverse five miles of thoroughfare by car, although it does seem to the O.B. that quite a few of them might have at least considered reverting to the once fairly common locomotive method once referred to hereabouts as " taking Shank's Mare, " but remembered more broadly today as walking.

            Naturally, this all but unbearable suffering has kindled a young war of finger-pointing--not confined BTW, either to the index finger or the horizontal plane--at school superintendents and municipal officials, not to mention, of course, the usual suspects who run the D.O.T. At both the local and national level, this interim of real and imagined horror has led to  more than a few ruffled feathers in these parts by affording yet another opportunity for Yankees to mock yet another of southerners' manifold inadequacies, this being our purported deficiency in the mental and motor skills requisite to driving appropriately in "wintry conditions."

The most restrained response to this truly tiresome stereotype-mongering might be simply to point out that, if this be so, it is largely a consequence of having so little familiarity with such Arctic-like conditions. After all, the howling blizzard that dropped 2.1 inches on Atlanta on January 28 equaled the city's sixty-nine-year annual snowfall average at one swell foop, a fact, just so you know, that engenders neither sadness nor envy on our part. In the case of places like Atlanta, which has been so thoroughly overrun by northern expats, one might reasonably inquire as well whether a goodly number of the vehicles involved in lane-blocking, roadway-clogging collisions may have once sported license plates from Michigan, Illinois, or--as if we could ever forget, Ohio. In this regard, however, the O.B. thinks the whole thing might well come down to the simple neo-Darwinian notion that people develop certain skills or acquire particular techniques in response to what their specific living environment demands.

The O.B. has mentioned more than once that he and the family spent four winters in Iowa, during which time he developed an enormous admiration and affection for the hardy, determined folks who understood what they were up against for nearly half of ever year and prepared accordingly. Simply put, these people realized that ol' Ma Nature could not only kick your butt, but flat out kill you, if She took a mind to. Yet the spawn of the O.B./Ms. O.B. union missed more days of school because of  weather the first year after we fled Iowa for Mississippi than he had during the previous four years living on the frozen tundra. The climate-induced cultural differences were also reflected in a number of other sectors, including infrastructure. For example, come winter, it simply behooves state and local governments in the Snow Belt to have sufficient well-equipped emergency personnel at the ready.

Differences in historical timing also came into play as well. Older and larger northern cities experienced significant expansion well before the advent of the automobile and thus had greater incentive to develop extensive public transportation facilities. By the time such explosive growth came to southern cities, especially newer ones like Atlanta and Birmingham, the proliferation of automobiles had begun to  free urbanites from the residential restrictions imposed by streetcars and local train lines,  thereby setting the stage for the infamous "Sunbelt Sprawl" that was clearly a key contributor to the recent "weather emergency" in both the aforementioned burgs.

            If you are inclined to offer such defenses or explanations as the O.B. has suggested above, then more power to you. As for yours truly, the increasingly fervent struggle among the die-hard Yankee supremacists to find further evidence of their own superiority has long since become more amusing than irritating. Yet the O.B. must confess that when confronted directly and individually with this attitude on the part of one of his northern brethren or sisters, he occasionally succumbs to temptation and serves up a little anecdote/parable from his graduate school years. Though a thoroughly fine fellow in every other aspect, one of the O.B.'s student colleagues of northern extraction could not resist responding to each and every winter weather warning with a diatribe about southerners' utter ineptitude behind the wheel under icy conditions. This inclination abated but little even after he decided to "go native" by renting a little house way out in the country on a road so remote and overgrown that even the sheriff was afraid to use it. Call it Karma or poetic justice or whatever you like, but one foggy morning when the old Ice Man cometh in to school, he rounded a blind curve to find himself already well inside braking limits from a flipped pickup whose disgorged contents included several pigs and a prodigious accumulation of their waste products. Driven by their instinctive disdain for any form of untidiness, the porcine passengers had naturally fled the scene, but alas, when our intrepid Yankee panicked and hit the brakes too suddenly to avoid the overturned truck, the piggy leavings, so to speak, contributed significantly to his ensuing skid into the ditch.

            An unusually detailed report of the incident made the local paper the next day, all but obliging us to observe that "You Yankees obviously don't know how to drive on pig poop." By the time the O.B. finishes dishing out all the excruciating details of this incident, he typically finds his ambushed northern listeners clearly eager to escape both him and any possible consideration of the sociological implications of his story. This suits the O.B. fine, of course, although he does think they might at least hang around long enough to pick up some potentially life-saving tips on  proper braking techniques when driving on hog manure.

Dispatch from From the Front Line (45th ed.)

   The Ol' Bloviator would be hard pressed to come up with the precise number of times he has taught a freshman-sophomore-level U.S. history course, but by his rough guesstimate, he has just wrapped up his forty-fifth tour on the front lines of the incessant struggle against ignorance and/or militant indifference to the importance of studying the past. This fall's stint in the trenches came after a two-year hiatus in which the O.B. had the time of his life teaching an upper-level course on the origins and development of southern culture, while otherwise concentrating his exertions on bedeviling as many graduate students as possible. Although he consistently encounters some really intelligent, hardworking, and downright inspiring students among his 300 charges in these entry-level courses--and this fall was certainly no exception--he recalls thinking as he tied the ribbons on his fall 2010 version of U.S. History since 1865 that much of what he was already reading or hearing at that point about the proliferating sense of entitlement and cyber technology's aggressive, potentially devastating assault on youthful attention spans rang true to his experience that semester. Two years later, he is genuinely saddened to report that, in this respect, fall 2010 now seems like the proverbial good ol' days.

            All that said and dispensed with, what follows from this point should not be construed as simply more of the whining about students that is so readily associated with self-absorbed members of the professoriate. Rather, it is an expression of genuine concern about where we're headed as a society and the disservice we have done, however unwittingly, to both our young people and, quite possibly, our enter-twined future.

            While it is not uncommon to have to repeat one's self in trying to get critical information across to this many students crammed into a single room, this fall has been completely off the charts compared to anything the O.B. has experienced so far. The number of times he was asked about material displayed prominently on the syllabus , which was distributed in hard copy, posted on the course web site and then reviewed in class several times,  gave clear indication that regardless of whether they were trying to or not, a lot of kids were simply not getting a fix on the information provided them, and not just on some days, but on most days. The regular in-class orgy of surfing, facebooking, emailing, etc. that came with students bringing laptops to class forced the O.B. to ban them several years ago, and the syllabus states plainly that cell phones must be silenced and stashed once the class begins. The penalty for violating this rule (after an initial warning) is being counted absent in a course where absences counter the chance to win bonus points for regular attendance and can ultimately lead to a student being dropped. The O.B. is fully confident that any search for a regulation that, despite unrelenting enforcement, registered so little deterrent effect, would take us back at least to Prohibition, which was actually observed rather rigidly compared to the O.B.'s ban on texting and tweeting. In fact, one surmises that so long as an iPhone is anywhere within reach, it is fully as mesmerizing and irresistible for today's college student as White House interns were for Bill Clinton or, for that matter, JFK.

The O.B. realizes that the same might be said for the parents of many of these kids who have likewise allowed their addiction to constant cyber-contact to overwhelm whatever manners or sense of decorum they might once have exhibited. A truly disheartening case in point hit the O.B. squarely twixt the eyes last year as he gave a talk to a national meeting of archivists hosted by UGA. When he looked up to see a fellow in the audience not simply tweeting or texting on his phone but holding his iPad up fully in front of his face, the learned speaker, who had busted his butt preparing the presentation, struggled mightily against the impulse to encourage this lout to Google up a video of a good country ass whipping of the sort regularly meted out in this vicinity for behavior far less boorish than his.

            To say that differences in cyber-dependence between parents and their kids may be mostly a matter of degree is not to say that the implications for the future are any more heartening. Widespread reports of students' declining interest in actually attending home football games invariably include their complaints about being unable to text and tweet in a crowd of 92,000 people, well over half of whom are doubtless packing cell phones themselves. Across the country, athletic departments are shelling out millions to bathe their stadiums in Wi-Fi signals in a move that amounts to catering to a group of kids who already don't find the game itself sufficiently compelling to merit their sustained attention by offering something else that can only distract them further from the main event. (The reality that the spectacle of major college football cannot command the attention of today's students for more than a quarter or two should speak volumes about what we dog-assed professors are up against in trying to keep them focused on the protective tariff for roughly the same time span.)

            Anybody who flies, dines out, visits the mall, etc. and falls captive to cell phone users shouting out their side of the conversation as if they were communicating via tin cans connected by string or observes them abruptly shutting down face-to-face conversations in order to respond immediately to the latest text from God-knows-whom/where surely understands the smartphone's capacity to effectively devalue the importance of the immediate interpersonal context.  Accordingly, even if these little concentration- sucking buggers cannot be assigned sole culpability for the general decline in the respect for propriety and decorum, they must certainly be listed as accomplices. Having grown accustomed to espying several texters/tweeters every time his eyes swept his student audience this fall, the O.B. considered himself generally inured to casual in-class displays of disregard until he found himself distracted in mid-profundity by a young man who, having exited the room a few minutes earlier, now returned bearing a cup of coffee and a bagel and proceeded to enjoy his late breakfast with all the nonchalance of someone who might well have been seated all by his lonesome on a park bench. Because the class was so large, this student's identity was unknown to his dumbstruck professor until grades were actually recorded. Although he found the incident itself more depressing than amusing, it is fair to say the old prof's mood briefly lightened just a bit upon his discovery that the young man whose hunger for a bagel outstripped his hunger for learning had received a "D" for the course. Pathetic as such meager satisfactions might seem to others, they are absolutely vital to professorial sanity and survival in what might be called today's Age of Entitlement.

As Exhibit A in support of this characterization, the O.B. submits verbatim this note that he received from a student this fall, six days after the final exam had been given:

Hello Professor.

My name is-----. I'm in your 11 o'clock Tuesdays and Thursdays. I missed last weeks final, due to medical reasons for which i have a doctor's note. Is it possible for me to make it, or an alternate version up tomorrow?

Here is the initial reply drafted by the O.B.:

Dear----. No problem whatsoever. In fact, I commend you for getting back to me so quickly. It's barely been a week since the final, after all. When would you like to take it? Would it be more convenient if I came to your place? Jc

P.S., What kind of doughnuts do you like?

 Ultimately realizing that this could quite likely be just the kind of response he was expecting, the O.B. gave out with a big sigh, hit the delete button, and simply gave him a time to meet for the makeup.

            The gentle readership of this rather erratic site may well have come across the story of a sixteen-year-old Texas scion of the super-rich who blew .24, three times the legal blood alcohol limit, two hours after a drunken escapade in his truck resulted in the death of four innocent pedestrians. Although the young man pled guilty to "intoxication manslaughter," which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years, his attorney won him a ten-year probationary wrist-slap after making him out to be not a villain but a helpless victim of "affluenza." This condition is said to afflict primarily the offspring of the uber-wealthy, who have been so consistently indulged that they simply cannot conceive of any sort of behavioral limits and expectations that they are bound to respect.

The Ol' Bloviator does not mean in any form or fashion to compare the feelings of entitlement he detects in some of his students to that displayed by this young man or his parents, but he does not think it too much of a stretch to see them as leading and trailing tips of the same iceberg We can only hope the outraged blowback against this facile pseudo-diagnosis that so readily transforms spoiled brats into children at risk will be a wake-up call sufficient to alert more parents to the tragic possibilities that their willful naiveté and myopia about their children's development might raise. The O.B. only wishes that the child development geniuses who emphasize preserving youngsters' "self-esteem" by steering them away from any and all challenges that present opportunities to fail could be on hand when he returns the first exams of the semester, some of them bearing  "Cs" and even "Ds," to eighteen year olds who have never seen any grade other than an "A." Even allowing for a drama queen or two, their individual and collective trauma is very real and genuinely disturbing, as the folks at the UGA counseling center will readily attest, and their first, frightened impulse is to cut and run. Despite the O.B's earnest pleadings to hang tough, at least thirty of his flock took flight after the first exam this fall, throwing their academic progress off kilter from the get-go by giving up on a course where the final average turned out to be a low "B."

The O.B. has always been about demanding their best from his students in the hope that they will come to demand the best of themselves.  It pains him all the more, then, to find himself unable at this point to reach so many bright young people who seem almost pre-programmed to retreat from any even remotely daunting challenges that might stand ultimately to advance their intellectual and emotional maturity. This release of frustration should by no means be construed as an admission of defeat, however. As a discerning friend recently observed, after all, where students are concerned, he is much more a barker than a biter, and even when they really get under his skin, he rarely stays torqued off for very long. Trying to help students not just to learn but to learn to enjoy learning is his primary calling, and when Jimmy Buffett says, "I love my job," he has nothing (save a lot more zeroes in his paycheck) on the O.B.

This is simply to say that for all his grumbling and despite the recent season of sorrow and loss that has enveloped him and so many close to him, the Ol' Bloviator is by no means unmindful of how truly fortunate and blessed he is. Ms. O.B. joins him both in wishing all who now and then venture into bloviating range the happiest of holidays and in embracing the highest of hopes for the New Year. As visual evidence of the sincerity of our sentiments and the extent to which they permeate the entire household, let us leave you with the now-customary spectacle of our 1994 GMC, which, even after 100k miles over some pretty rough terrain, maintains an enthusiasm for the holidays that, as you can see, flashes and occasionally fades but never expires.

        


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HARD TO ACCEPT, IMPOSSIBLE TO UNDERSTAND

Jason grad.jpg           

Although my countenance may suggest otherwise, as I have already indicated in this space, the August 2, 2013, UGA commencement ceremony was a truly joyous occasion for me. Now, scarcely three months after I draped that hood on Jason, I am stunned beyond mere sadness into something more akin to emotional paralysis by the untimely, unexpected, and deeply tragic death of one of my most prized and beloved students at any level.

            I first laid eyes on Jason Manthorne when, upon entering the room for the first meeting of my freshman seminar, I detected a young man poring over the New York Times Book Review. This kid, I thought immediately, is somebody really special, and, thus formed a first impression that, for once, turned out to be right on the money.

Jason and I met up again a few years later in a senior research seminar for history majors, where he turned out a stunning and quite possibly publishable paper on the roots of Tom Watson's anti-Catholicism. He followed this up with an M.A. thesis on the Southern Tenant Farmers Union that boasted more original research and interpretation than a typical published monograph. His dissertation study of the values, motives, and goals of leading New Deal agricultural reformers (which must be published) was the spitting image of its author--nuanced, complex, and quietly but powerfully brilliant. Working through it with him was one of the most rewarding experiences I have enjoyed as an advisor. He was always open to criticism and suggestion, and on the rare occasions when he gently pushed back a little, he unfailingly proved himself closer to the mark than his mentor.

I would put Jason's intellect up against anybody's, but for all his brain power, he was one of the most unassuming people I have ever met, and despite his quiet demeanor, one of the wittiest. I possess absolutely nothing more cherished than a set of T-shirts proclaiming my membership on "Jason's Beer Team," a motley but loyal cadre of serious imbibers who gathered annually for an all-out assault on Athens Brewfest.

            We in the History community at UGA are still trying to recover from the loss of treasured colleague and friend Tom Dyer. It is one thing, however, to bid farewell to someone who has already registered a life and career of great accomplishment, especially if it means he will be spared any further pain and suffering. It is another thing entirely, to accept the untimely and wholly unexpected death of someone as young as Jason, who, even as he stood poised to fulfill his immense promise, found that his own suffering, however personal and tightly contained, simply left him no option. Though his abrupt departure from our midst left us dazed, confused, and deeply hurt, rather than beat ourselves up in a futile attempt to understand it, I'm guessing that ol' "J Man" would prefer that honorary membership in Jason's Beer Team be extended to all who knew and loved him, provided they agree to honor his memory not with their tears but, just every now and then, mind you, with a toast of their favorite brew.

 

 

WHAT DO A TUNA MELT AND A NISSAN SENTRA HAVE IN COMMON?

            Just in case anyone in these parts might have missed the Ol' Bloviator lately, he has been held hostage by his egregiously unwise agreement to deliver two major expostulations, one exploring the national and international economic influences on southern racial practices and the other comparing economic development strategies in the American South to those of the European Union. In making the transition between them, he has stubbed his toe on what he hopes is an interesting historical comparison.

Prior to the sit-ins of the early 1960s, national commercial chains like Woolworth's blithely allowed their southern outlets to adhere strictly to local racial norms in their treatment of black customers. Since "dime-store" discount chains like Woolworth's and S.H. Kress offered their patrons the quintessential cheap dining experience in their snack bars and lunch counters. A classic offering was a "tuna melt," a toasted white-bread sandwich sporting a glob of canned Chicken of the Sea tuna and a half- melted slice of effectively odorless and tasteless processed American cheese. The thing was, if you were a black shopper at Woolworth's who was suddenly overwhelmed by an intense craving for this utterly delectable offering, you might be able to order it at the lunch counter, but certainly not to eat it there, because the counter dining space was strictly for whites only. Black customers' money was as green as white customers', it seems, everywhere except at the lunch counter.

In most cases, the decisions of national chains to allow their southern outlets to discriminate so blatantly were simply about the bottom line. White customers spent more money in their southern stores than did black ones, and thus there was more to lose by offending the former than the latter. In the big picture, however, the old bottom line shifted sharply after black protestors began their sit-ins and picketing at southern lunch counters in earnest, and the accompanying ugly scenes of violence and vitriol became steady fare on the national news. Suddenly, national retail operations like Woolworth's were facing organized boycotts of their stores north of the Mason-Dixon line from both white and black customers. At this point, the lunch counter proceeds from a few stores down South didn't seem much of a consideration anymore. (As to the fears of losing white customers by desegregating lunch counters or integrating sales forces, in his new book, Sharing the Prize: The Economics of the Civil Rights Movement, the brilliant Stanford economist Gavin Wright shows that in city after city, de-Jim Crowing department stores triggered a steady ascent in sales figures. ) The overall point here--just in case you had wondered if one was really ever going to materialize--was that for most major firms with a large footprint outside the South, once their adherence to Jim Crow practices in their southern outlets and facilities was dramatically, almost theatrically exposed by protests and the attendant media coverage, these policies quickly became unsustainable.

            A half-century later, there is a move afoot to break down another ossified and oft-lamented southern tradition, that of diehard, down-and-dirty resistance to any and all efforts to unionize southern workers. Willie Morris exaggerated but little when he observed that the only thing protecting labor organizers in Mississippi were the game laws. This resistance, by the way, was anything but an underground movement. Its loud and proud champions were governors, senators, mayors, and law enforcement and development officials intent on protecting established employers lured south by promises of cheap, non-union labor. There were also concerns about the impact on a state's perceived "business climate" of allowing a large, unionized plant (forget the improved wages and worker benefits that might come with it) to set up shop in your state. A while back, for example, development leaders in Spartanburg, South Carolina, wanted nothing to do with a proposed Mazda assembly plant, which despite its huge payroll bulging with well-above-average wages, promised to employ "3,000 card-carrying, hymn-singing" UAW members, and thereby, one local official thought, "bring an abrupt halt to future industrial prospects in the area."

            Back in the 1970s, when the southern states plunged headlong into recruiting European and other multinational industrial employers, many thought this shift might well be the death-knell for the South's reputation as a bastion of anti-unionism. After all, weren't these firms thoroughly accustomed to negotiating with aggressive worker organizations back home? As it turned out, though, firms like Michelin, Mercedes, and BMW had enjoyed about all they could stand of such negotiations and looked forward to setting up shop in a region that union representatives entered solely under cover of darkness, and even then, with their life insurance premiums all paid up. Throw in its proximity to major concentrations of car buyers and the American South quickly became a haven for foreign automakers, ranging from flashy yuppie-mobile specialists like Mercedes and BMW to the down-market but determined makers of the humble Hyundai and Kia.

            With the sharp downturn in the American auto industry during the last few decades, the fortunes of the United Auto Workers had also taken an epic plummet, and despite some modest rebounds recently, its current membership of some 382,000 is a far cry from its peak enrollment in 1979 of 1.5 million. The tendency of Detroit's Big Three automakers to shift a number of their operations down South contributed to this massive decline, and now with many foreign car producers enjoying that vaunted southern hospitality (notably absent when it comes to unions), the U.A.W.'s back is to the wall, and its leaders have little choice but to embrace the notion that the best defense is a good offense. To that end, the union has launched major organizing efforts armed at, among others, Nissan's huge production facility in Canton, Mississippi, which currently employs 5,200 workers, a number of whom have complained recently about a lengthy wage freeze, production line speed ups, and a lack of communication with plant officials. This is not the first dust-up between Nisson and the U.A.W. A similar U.A.W. assault at Nissan's plant in Smyrna, Tennessee, in 2001 met with a crushing defeat, and the company has not exactly laid out a welcome mat in Canton either. There is also the fact that although an estimated 35 percent of the workforce are temporary hires earning $12.00 per hour or less, the annual wage for remaining full-time plant employees is some $11,000 north of the state's (and the nation's lowest) median household income of $37,500.

            Despite these concerns, the official U.A.W. take on its prospects in Canton is notably upbeat. Some 80 percent of the workers at the Canton plant are black, and the union has welcomed civil rights leaders onto their team. Not only has the U.A.W. rallied its decimated rank-and-file membership elsewhere in the U.S. to get up in Nissan's grill, but it has sic'ed sympathetic foreign labor organizations on Nissan in places like Brazil, France, and Japan, charging that plant officials have threatened a shutdown if the union drive succeeds. Such an international campaign, including heavy pressure from the powerful I.G. Metall metal workers union in Germany, appears to have boosted the U.A.W.'s chances of gaining a foothold at a new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

            Hopefully the similarities with the desegregation campaigns of the early 1960s are clear. Whether the results will be comparable remains very much up in the air right now. The matter hinges in part on Nissan's plans for the future in Mississippi, but the issues reach well beyond the simple question of whether, in the interest of hushing up the global hullaboo, the company will simply choose to absorb higher labor costs in that state going forward. Mississippi has been extremely generous and cooperative with Nissan thus far, providing a reported cumulative subsidy amounting to a bank-breaking $1.3 billion, presumed to be the most lucrative corporate forkover to an automobile maker to date. Whether Nissan's huge payroll at Canton will suffice to maintain this cordial relationship should the company succumb to union pressure depends primarily on how state and local leaders react to seeing their state lose its virtual virginity where organized labor (currently accounting for less than 6 percent of the workforce) is concerned. With so much of the Magnolia State's economic development effort still grounded in promises of low-wage, non-union labor, even in Mississippi, a U.A.W. victory in Canton at this point is likely to be every bit as hard to swallow as a tuna melt at an integrated lunch counter might have been fifty years ago.

C'MON BOYS, LET'S WIN ONE FOR "THE GRIZZER" !

The Ol' Bloviator thanks his friend Ann profusely for calling his attention to this column by Lewis Grizzard, which seems timely and should prove evocative, especially for some of the old timers around here. Save for Lewis's proposal for making hunting a real sport by arming the deer, the O.B. didn't care much for his politics, but their shared affinity for the Georgia Bulldogs made them kindred spirits nonetheless.

GRIZZARD.jpg

 

To my Son, if I ever have one:

Kid, I am writing this on September 3, 1984. I have just returned from Athens, where I spent Saturday watching the University of Georgia, your old dad's alma matter, play football against Clemson.

While the events of the day were still fresh on my mind, I wanted to recount them so if you are ever born, you can read this and perhaps be able to share one of the great moments in your father's life.

Saturday was a wonderful day on the Georgia campus.

We are talking blue, cloudless sky, a gentle breeze and a temperature suggesting summer's end and autumn's approach.

I said the blessing before we had lunch. I thanked the Lord for three things: fried chicken, potato salad and for the fact he had allowed me the privilege of being a Bulldog.

"And, Dear Lord," I prayed, "bless all those not as fortunate as I."

Imagine my son, 82,000 people, most of whom were garbed in red, gathered together gazing down on a lush valley of hedge and grass where soon historic sporting combat would be launched.

Clemson was ranked number 2 in the nation, and Georgia, feared too young to compete with the veterans from beyond the river, could only dream, the smart money said, of emerging three hours hence victorious.

They had us 20-6 at the half, son. A man sitting in front of me said, "I just hope we don't get embarrassed."

My boy, I had never seen such a thing as came to pass in the second half. Todd Williams threw one long and high, and Herman Archie caught it in the end zone, and it was now 20-13.

Georgia got the ball again and scored again, and it was now 20-20, and my mouth was dry, and my hands were shaking, and this Clemson fan who had been running his mouth the whole ballgame suddenly shut his fat face.

Son, we got ahead 23-20, and the ground trembled and shook, and many were taken by fainting spells.

Clemson's kicker, Donald Igwebuike, tied it 23-23, and this sacred place became the center of the universe.

Only seconds were left when Georgia's kicker, Kevin Butler, stood poised in concentration. The ball rushed toward him, and it was placed upon the tee a heartbeat before his right foot launched it heavenward.

A lifetime later, the officials threw their arms aloft. From 60 yards away, Kevin Butler had been true, and Georgia led and would win 26-23.

I hugged perfect strangers and kissed a fat lady on the mouth. Grown men wept. Lightening flashed. Thunder rolled. Stars fell, and joy swept through, fetched by a hurricane of unleashed emotions.

When Georgia beat Alabama 18-17 in 1965, it was a staggering victory. When we came back against Georgia Tech and won 29-28 in1978, the Chapel bell rang all night. When we beat Florida 26-21 in the last seconds in 1980, we called it a miracle. And when we beat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl that same year for the national championship, a woman pulled up her skirt and showed the world the Bulldog she had sewn on her underbritches.

But Saturday may have been even better than any of those.

Saturday in Athens was a religious experience.

I give this to you, son. Read it and re-read it, and keep it next to your heart. And when people want to know how you wound up with the name "Kevin" let them read it, and then they will know.

--Lewis Grizzard

Sadly, of course, there would be no Kevin. And in less than a decade, there would be no Lewis either. Thrice-divorced, Grizzard was a lot better at telling stories than sustaining relationships with the opposite sex. For that matter, despite a coterie of drinking and golfing and tailgating buddies, not to mention a huge fan base spread across the South and sprinkled across the nation, for much of his abbreviated life, he was probably one of the loneliest people on the face of the earth.

 

In the self-deprecatory tradition of southern humorists, Grizzard often called himself a redneck, but as journalist Peter Applebome has observed, he was actually "the patron saint of the new suburban South, where you could have both the values of the old general store and the designer label wares of the megamalls." He lived in Atlanta's exclusive Ansley Park, his footwear of choice was Gucci loafers (worn without socks), he was partial to Geoffrey Beene cologne, and he used the gun rack behind the seat of his truck to hold his golf clubs. Although he protested that he liked pork barbecue much better, he owned up to eating caviar at Maxim's in Paris and even to visiting the Louvre.

 

He seldom passed on a chance to reaffirm his country-boy bona fides, regaling audiences with stories of "rat-killings" in his native Moreland, Ga. or discussing the subtleties of the southern pronunciation of "nekkid." In truth, however, like all southern writers worth a flip, he did his best job of telling about the South and its inhabitants by telling about himself. Even occasional readers knew of his love for his mother and his dog, Catfish, his yearning and ambivalence toward his absentee father, his health problems and his sense of impending doom (both of them simultaneously cause and effect of the way he pounded the Stoly and burned through the Marlboros). There was also his deep-seated anger and refusal to accept the social and demographic changes that arrived in tandem with Sunbelt prosperity. Never was a book more aptly titled than his I Haven't Understood Anything since 1962 and Other Nekkid Truths, published in 1992. Two years later, his poked, prodded and perennially abused ticker would simply have no more of it, and Lewis Grizzard was dead at forty-seven, an age when many of his old UGA classmates were just readying themselves to drop off their kids in Athens. If Lewis was the classic example of the funny man who could ultimately make everybody feel better but himself, then it is small wonder that he managed to wring so much pleasure not only out of beating Clemson, but out of  every precious minute he spent between the hedges in Athens. In this respect, at least, he was the brother the OB never had.

Bloviate:

"To orate verbosely and windily."

Bloviate is most closely associated with President Warren G. Harding, who used it frequently and was given to long winded speeches. H.L. Mencken said of Harding:

"He writes the worst English that I've ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the top most pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash."

Cobbloviate dedicates itself to maintaining the high standards established by President Harding and described so eloquently by Mr. Mencken. However,the bloviations recorded here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the mangement of Flagpole.com,nor,for that matter, are they very likely to be in accord with those of any sane, right-thinking individual or group anywhere in the known universe.

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