November 2005 Archives

Heckuva job Brownie Inc.

Given what we have already seen of the Bush bunch’s shameless exploitation of their own self-created disasters as well as those served up by Old Ma Nature, we really should not be shocked by the announcement that former FEMA honcho Michael Brown is now offering his services as a consultant to others hoping to avoid the kind of mistakes that he made during his brief but disastrous career in disaster management. The notion that you can turn your incompetence and failure into a marketable commodity set me to musing about comparable historical figures who missed a chance to cash in on their colossal miscues. What about the guy who advised Nero to run along to fiddle practice because that smoke was probably just a toga party that got a little out of hand.? Or the fellow who convinced white southerners that every one of them could whip at least a dozen Yankees ? Or the intelligence officer who told Custer that the Sioux weren’t really all that razzed off? Or the crewman who urged the captain of the Hindenburg to relax and have a smoke? Too bad some of these folks aren’t still around. They’d be ideal for “Heckuva Job, Brownie!” Inc.’s Advisory Board. As for Brownie himself, this new gig should be better than his pre-FEMA stint with the Arabian Horse Association. This time he will be on the dispensing end of those little brown biscuits, and it will be up to his clients to watch their step.

What Does the Constitution Say Today?

I see now that the liberals are proposing that the right-wing push for an anti-gay marriage amendment should be countered by another amendment that would explicitly guarantee the right to privacy and thus presumably allow people to engage in the sex of their choice with the person or persons of their choice.

I don't like the anti-gay marriage amendment worth a damn, but I'm not sure I'm all that keen on the other proposal either. It's not that I cotton to the idea of of government supervising what should be a very private matter. What's next? A rigidly proscribed list of acceptable positions? A maximum decibel level for screamers?
Still, the notion of turning the Constitution into the equivalent of a computer game that offers instant gratification or easy retaliation against one's foes makes me exceedingly nervous. I can't help being struck by the current level of distrust for the judiciary displayed by those at either end of the political spectrum, with both groups concerned about the harm that is being or about to be done by activist judges of the wrong political stripe. Despite constant warnings that our very way of life is in jeopardy, changing the Constitution is a momentous step to me, too much so ever to be done hurriedly, especially in our current ideologically polarized environment, in which the fate of western civilization seems to hang in the balance every time left and right collide. If I might paraphrase my idol, Jimmy Buffett, as "a permanent reminder of a temporary feeling," a constitutional amendment is a lot bigger deal than a tatto. JC


Confederate banner's a motif for look at Southern identity
10:13 AM CST on Sunday, November 13, 2005
By TOM DODGE / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News
A decade ago a commentator suggested that one way to neutralize the Southern "Lost Cause" holdouts' allegiance to the Confederate flag would be for black Southerners to appropriate this symbol for themselves, take it over and make it their own source of pride, symbolizing their faith and perseverance. His editors didn't agree and killed the piece.
Comes now a new line of sportswear called Nu South Apparel, marketed by Polo and Tommy Hilfiger and targeting the black middle class. It features a "logo of a Confederate flag whose green stars and black cross presented the symbolic colors of the African liberation movement."
By wearing it, say its African-American designers, you are symbolizing "the complete rejection of the lingering rhetoric of victimization."
The Confederate flag may be the most contentious symbol in America. Everything said about it elicits controversy, even hatred.
It's also a perfect motif for James C. Cobb's comprehensive history and analysis of Southern identity, because the flag's meaning is as ambiguous as that of the Southern identity itself.
Nowadays, it represents not only racism but also defiance of all authority and, in at least one case, style. In Kentucky, a black man shot a white driver of a pickup bearing a Confederate flag. The driver's mother said her son had no racial motivations but just liked the way the red and black matched the colors of his truck.
At its root is, of course, human slavery, commonly instituted by the southern half of the country until not very long ago. In order to explicate the changing nature of Southern identity, Dr. Cobb focuses on slavery's legacy as well as that of the legend of the planter as aristocratic "Cavalier."
He views these ideas from the perspectives of abolitionists and their critics; romantic "Lost Cause" adherents; writers such as William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe, who questioned this fantasy by contrasting it with its hideous reality; the civil rights movement; and the homogenized South of the current era.
Dr. Cobb seems not to omit any aspect or avoid any controversy appending to this complex subject. As distinguished professor of history at the University of Georgia and former president of the Southern Historical Association, he knows where all the references and sources are buried.
There are 946 notes here, a gold mine for any reader or teacher serious about understanding this enigma, or stigma, that continues to trouble our national conscience.
NPR commentator Tom Dodge lives in Midlothian.
Away Down South
A History of Southern Identity
James C. Cobb (Oxford University Press, $30) // Image1 end -->

HEADLINE: Don't Look Away; On the southern genius for self-examination.BYLINE: Edwin M. Yoder Jr., The Weekly StandardBODY:Away Down SouthA History of Southern Identityby James C. CobbOxford, 404 pp., $30

WHEN A NEW BOOK ABOUT the South crosses my desk, I think fondly of my old friend Holley Mack Bell, a Tar Heel journalist and, later, Foreign Service officer who used to be easily annoyed by what he called the "south-south-south" cult: The endless rituals of self-scrutiny in which southerners of a reflective turn of mind fan the old embers of memory and meaning.The political scientist V.O. Key speculated 56 years ago that such South-gazing could be life-threatening, inasmuch as it had presumably driven Clarence Cason and Wilbur J. Cash to suicide; but Mack Bell might well have welcomed the early exit of some lesser neo-Confederates by their own hands. His point was that chronic South-gazing, if not dangerous, was habit-forming, repetitive, and sterile: a dog chasing its tail in the illusion that it was making linear progress. Naturally, he would exempt from his strictures the originals who really had something to add. The prototype was fashioned by journalists like Cash and historians like C. Vann Woodward, and also by storytellers like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. And a brilliant prototype it was.

Certainly James Cobb's Away Down South is in the latter category. With Woodward's death, Cobb is perhaps our best historical interpreter of the South, and this may be his best book, better even than his fine book about the Mississippi Delta. Away Down South--the title, of course, echoes "Dixie," which a younger Cobb sang as a schoolboy practically every day in the classrooms of his native Georgia--is a historical survey of the shifting phases of "southern identity," from the dawn of regionalism to the present.In the variety and authority of its treatment, the book gives rise to a couple of enduring reflections. The first is that the South didn't invent the Lost Cause; the Lost Cause invented the South--that fabulous mix of geography, fiction, history, and sheer nonsense that regional chatterers love to chatter about. Vann Woodward once observed that the South had been American long before it became southern. Indeed, up to the Missouri crisis of 1819-20 (the "firebell in the night"), it may not have occurred to even so representative a southern figure as Thomas Jefferson (to say nothing of his Virginia contemporaries, Washington and Madison) that they were regionalists. The polarities of the Jeffersonian consciousness were less North-South than New World-Old World, and city versus farm. Admittedly, in his correspondence with the Marquis de Chastellux, Jefferson observed that the South was "fiery, voluptuary, indolent, unsteady, jealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others, generous, candid, without attachment . . . to any religion of the heart"--anticipating a persistent stereotype. But with no more affective charge than if he had said that the mean temperature is higher at Monticello than it is in Boston.

The second point, less subtle, is no less obvious. Who sustains southern self-consciousness? James Cobb knows the answer and offers it here, though he mutes it lest an industry suffer impairment: Those who talk and write about it, that's who. There are always good ol' boys out there in the bayous and boondocks, tooling down dusty backroads in their deteriorating pickups decorated with battle-flag decals and shotguns, who at some instinctive level burst with regional self-identification. But for every such "forgit, hell" specimen, there are entire shoals and flocks of historians, novelists, poets, sociologists, journalists, and other more contemplative types who devote recidivist symposia, op-ed pieces, poems, stories, and papers to southern self-consciousness.Contemplation, that is, is its high-octane fuel. Henry Adams, accordingly, was dead wrong when he singled out Rooney Lee, his Harvard contemporary, as the representative southerner who couldn't analyze an idea. Southerners may not be analytical, but they are surely among the most intellectualizing and idealizing tribes on earth, rivaled only by the Poles and the Irish. If they weren't, the South as an idea would have died a natural death years ago.

It is surely no coincidence that in 404 pages of text, Cobb cites and often quotes an approximately equal number of the usual regional chatterboxes (including, I add in full disclosure, this reviewer). Which is not to say that because the South is basically an idea now it is somehow unreal. As Keynes said of ideas, "Indeed, the world is ruled by little else." The southern identities examined here are first and last artifices, as much the work of pen and paper as of history and bloodshed. Faulkner admitted as much when he hinted, in a noted passage of Light in August, that mooning too much over the failure of Pickett's charge is a hazardous diversion for growing boys. (Wherefore, books about Gettysburg probably ought to be on the list of dangerous drugs.)

Nonetheless, if South-gazing is your bag, Away Down South is your book. Cobb has apparently read every book and poem, however sentimental; heard every song, however silly; tasted every dish, however repulsive; attended every seminar, however banal (including some in far-flung corners of Europe and Asia), and followed every state flag controversy, however tiresome and idiotic. Not only has he done his homework, he has reflected deeply, and the result is mature (as in good wine), mellow, stylish, and tasty. He observes southern quirks with sympathy, although as a man of taste he is repelled by the aggressive "commodification" of things southern, an inevitable by-blow of the American lust to commercialize absolutely everything.The South hasn't reached the terminal stage of commodification, but that may be around the corner.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr., a former editor and columnist in Washington, taught journalism and the humanities at Washington and Lee.

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