Fred Phelps and the anti-Vietnam War movement

Today I was reading that the Supreme Court upheld Fred Phelps’ right to picket and harass military funerals, part of their KKK-esque anti-gay crusade.  I don’t have a firm opinion about what the Supreme Court should have done, partly because I don’t have J.D. after my name and I understand my limits of understanding, partly because I don’t have any respect for the SC to begin with, and partly because I have zero faith in law and the rule of law anyway.  But having seen Team Fred in action from 40′ away myself, and being nearer fifty years old than forty, it did bring to mind one thing.

In our time, the military is openly, publicly and loudly glorified and adored; even a hint of anti-military scorn would get one a lot of angry reactions.  If you are young today, you never knew a time when the military was unfashionable.  I assure you that there was such a time:  my own youth.  Numerous reliable sources relate experiencing verbal abuse and degradation just for being in uniform, and especially for getting off the plane from Vietnam.  Evidently it was so common it came to be expected, coped with by service people, and socially accepted to a degree.  Which is not to say that the soldiers suffering it were unhurt by it; oh, no.  It did at least tip them off to the kind of reaction society had in store for them.  I was too young to have a view on this, but old enough to know of the social current.  It lasted into the early 1980s, when I did put on a uniform a few times and get some small tastes of it myself.  Imagine a ROTC unit that tended to de-emphasize uniformed presence on campus just to avoid stirring stuff up? I was in one.

Now, I am not sure that anti-Vietnam protesters ever picketed or disrupted an actual military funeral.  We have general consensus that disrupting anyone’s funeral is disgusting, at any time for any reason.  A lot of people found ways to oppose the Vietnam War without insulting Special Forces guys as “baby killer” in airports; fair enough.  (Some people are uncomfortable with homosexuality, too, yet don’t approve of Phelps on any level.)  But how different were the two extremes, really? How different were the fanatics in the airports, heaping scorn on some poor sod who got drafted and sent to the 1st Cav, survived and graduated, and then wanted to come home and get back to normal, from the Phelpsites I saw in a vacant lot in Pasco holding up signs advocating more military casualties? Fred Phelps and the airport harassers had more in common than I’ve heard anyone attest.  Motivated by pure hate, both asserted the right to pour verbal abuse on targets who could not effectively fight back.  The only difference today is that it’s no longer fashionable to abuse the military.  Sadly, if Phelps had stuck to just disrupting funerals of AIDS deceased, there would be nowhere near the backlash against him, even though his conduct would be just as contemptible.

I sit, and I watch, and I marvel how social currents change people’s ethical compasses without most people noticing.

© 2011, J.K. Kelley

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Joke of the day

This was back before the USSR gave way to the Russian Federation.  Every year, the Soviets had a massive military parade past Red Square.  The Politburo stood and watched as tanks, armored cars, armored personnel carriers, soldiers, missile platforms, and so on rolled past, displaying Soviet might.

One year, an important US public figure was visiting Moscow at that time.  It was normal and customary for the Soviets to honor him by inviting him to stand with the Politburo and watch the parade.  Of course, he was assigned a KGB colonel fluent in English as a handler and escort.  They got along quite well.

So on the appointed day, the American stood with his Soviet hosts to watch the armaments flow by.  T-80 main battle tanks, BMP-2 armored personnel carriers.  Gvozdika self-propelled howitzers.  ZSU mobile flak guns, and surface-to-air missiles on trucks.  SCUDs on bigger vehicles.  Paratroopers in blue berets; marines in striped shirts.  At the tail end of the parade, oddly, were a few thousand civilians in nondescript Eastern bloc business dress, if one may call it that.  They didn’t march in formation, but sort of milled along.  A good percentage were female.

The American turned to his handler.  “Bogdan Ivanovich, I understand the function of the tanks.  I understand the tracks, the artillery, the missiles.  I understand the paratroopers and the marines.  But please tell me, if isn’t a state secret:  who are those people at the end, and what is their role in the military?”

The colonel drew himself up with that pride and dignity only a Russian can display when speaking of Russia.  “Those?” he replied, a bit intimidatingly.  “Those are middle managers of Soviet economy.  You have no idea damage they could cause you!”

Researching on the phone

One perk you get as a ‘lancer is that when you are researching a subject, not only can you pick up the phone and call people, they will generally talk to you.  I’ve learned the hard way not to bother leaving a message.  By the time I hear back, for the most part, I’ve already turned in my work and can no longer benefit from the conversation.

Why would they talk to me? Well, naturally they want to know what I’m working on, with an eye toward how it will portray their museum/city/project/company.  I have to be fairly vague for contractual reasons, but I can at least explain why I’m bothering them.  If a real person answers, most of the time they are pretty helpful, especially historical society/museum curators.  They like this.  Someone wants to know!  (I can relate, having a mind full of information people rarely want to know.)

Of course, if the matter you’re researching is controversial, expect a full spin cycle and attempt to rinse away anything sordid.  I had that with a major toy company, back when I was trying to learn more about the debate over who invented a very popular toy.  They handed me over to their PR flacks, who did exactly what their job was:  try to kill me with helpful kindness, sending me numerous PDFs relating the official history.  Which is good to know–but is by no means the last word.  I give them credit, though, because their job is to get me to write the party line, and if they make my life difficult, they know it will perk up my nostrils. They hope to make it easy for me so that I’ll just use their source material.

Unfortunately for some, I’m not the sort of ‘lancer who takes the easy path.  A major MLM company got a taste of that.  The firm (one for which I have zero respect, and in fact enough loathing that I had to discipline myself to careful objectivity) claims two prominent founders, but reports all over the place refer to a third and very obscure co-founder.  Even allowing for the Internet copycat factor, it was suspicious enough to wonder:  was there really a third co-founder, and if so, what became of this person? Dispute? Bought out? Dead? I called the company, whose flacks asked some older fellow who has evidently been around since the reign of Tiberius.  They flatly denied this third founder.  Then I asked (by e-mail, now) the question that ticked them off:  “Sir, if that’s accurate, then people are spreading false information far and wide about the company’s origin.  You haven’t even asked me where I heard about it.  Aren’t you at least concerned about rooting out such possible misinformation?” I never heard from them again.  I interpreted that to mean that I’d lit up their ‘hostile’ display indicator and would get nothing further from them on the subject.

That set me to shoveling twice as hard.  Unfortunately, I didn’t turn up anything useful, so the most I could do with the third individual was to mention the name and stress that it was an unsubstantiated rumor.  What that meant, of course, was that it went into print.  Did I learn the reality behind the rumor (if any)? No.  Is it possible someone with more time on his or hands than me might see this in the book, and dig long and hard enough to penetrate the wall of corporate sanitization surrounding the subject? Let’s put it this way:  it wouldn’t break my heart…

Working while sick

It’s one of the hardest parts of freelancing.  Suppose you feel like hell.  Are you going to do your work? Well, let’s put it this way.  If you have a tight deadline, if you are conscious and can function, yeah, you’re going to do your work.  Now, the editors I work with are generally very understanding and kind folks, but it isn’t that way everywhere.  Plus, understanding and kindness would surely wear thin if you played the card all the time, or even often.

So the bottom line is that yeah, I’m going to do my work.  I have a number of entries that must be rewritten by Wednesday, and a timeliness track record to protect.  What is more, it must be up to the standards my editors expect from me.  Never mind that I’m not physically or mentally up to the standards I expect from myself; an editor reviewing my MS will see only whether it’s okay or not okay.

This is one of the hardest things to convey to prospective writers.  There is a writing mentality that I call the “Oh, for a muse…” perspective.  It savors la vie litteraire, a world of bons mots and clever epigrams.  It yearns to sprinkle random French terms with deep savoir faire.  It imagines an ivory tower of eloquence, insight and not having to explain what ‘onomatopoeia’ means.  It is pensive people in berets sipping sophisticated coffees in proper coffee shops, as opposed to realtors sipping extra large super-skinny caramel lattes with four shots of mandarin syrup.  It hankers after a sense of intellectual superiority, the mojo of being able to say “I’m a writer” and have people coo over you.

Well, I’m a writer, and what it means right now is gluing myself to my machine and getting my work hammered out fueled by Ricolas, coffee, tea, a pizza most would consider toxic waste.  The upsides are that I don’t have to talk (I barely can; I sound like Darth Vader) or socialize (always a battle for me to begin with).  But I do have to write.  I don’t get to plead ‘writer’s block,’ a concept in which I don’t fundamentally believe anyway.  If I write, I will get paid and preserve my rep for producing (thus probably getting to write more later).  If I don’t, I won’t.

It’s as simple as that.

My cold remedy

Most people think this is somewhat batso, but it seems to at least keep me from getting as acute a version of the annual pestilences.  Woke up this morning with my throat feeling like I had been singing/shrieking death metal love ballads all night after attending a Husky game.  When it became evident that I was going to get sick, I engaged my cold remedy.  Cold, flu, don’t know and don’t care which; if it produces congestion, this is what I do.

My first act is to pick up the telephone.  I call Round Table Pizza, and instruct them to send me immediately two extra large pepperoni pizzas with chopped garlic and jalapeños.  If I’m pretty nice to them, they may put on a little extra (yet another reason to tip pizza guys and gals).  When it arrives, I consume as much of the pizza as possible (I’ll heat it up and eat off it for two full days).

I also make green tea with lemon, and steam myself in the shower, and Nyquil myself to insensibility at night.  If I cough, just plain Robitussin, no antihistamines.

The pizza achieves several things.  For one thing, I’ve done it enough times that it’s sort of a conditioned signal to my system:  call out the reserves and mobilize for battle.  We aren’t taking this lying down. For another, it’s good for morale; the pizza is good, and it feels like I’m doing something about it, which is better for your attitude than ‘yuck, I’m sick, I’m so miserable, I hate my life right now.’  The jalapeños are just about sure to clear out my sinuses, and while garlic’s mild antibiotic properties aren’t really in play against a virus, it does generally boost your immune system and is quite healthful.  (It’s also good for others’ health, as no one will get within five feet of you after eating all that garlic.)  What is more, you just poured a remarkably noxious substance over the system invaders.  Gonna hang out here a while, eh, you little varmints? Okay, fine.  Have a drink on the house! I can almost picture the viruses saying to each other:  “You idiot!  Why did we ever let you book this trip? I’m never using that travel agent again!  We’ve died and gone to Naples!”  Yeah, enjoy.  Come back if you ever need another toxic sludge lesson chez moi.

What I don’t do is suppress symptoms, except to sleep at night (rest being essential), or unless there’s a severe fever.  As I reason it, the symptoms are your body’s way of fighting back.  Why hamstring your body? Hell, fuel it up for heavy fighting.  I go through a lot of handkerchiefs (I have about thirty, so it’s not like I have to reuse them, and they don’t chap my nose as much as dead trees).  I drink lots of milk, eat lots of cheese, everything that is supposed to make you have to blow your nose more.  My body’s playing bouncer and I certainly am not going to bar the door from the outside.

Does it cure it? Of course not.  Does it lessen the acuity? It certainly seems to.  Does it make it more bearable? Yes and no.  I might feel less lousy during the day if I suppressed the symptoms, but I think I’d stay sick longer.  I’d rather have three days of major suck than five days of medium suck.  I just seem to rebound quicker with less chemicals and more just fueling up my body and letting it do what it was designed to do.

My bride thinks I’m a lunatic.

Alestorm, and piracy

My friend Jennifer turned me on to this Scottish pirate metal band not long ago.  A lot of metal bands can’t sing, so they seem to just smoke about eight packs of cigarettes and then sort of yell/croak.  Alestorm’s better than that, and their instrumental work is quite good.  While their lyrics are up and down at times, they’ve really grown on me.

If I had to pick an Alestorm tune to win you over, it would be Keelhauled.  If you have anywhere within you a streak of the buccaneer, you may enjoy the video and tune.

Most pirates, by the way, met pretty ugly ends.  The pirate game had very few winners.  A lot were surprisingly incompetent.  Pirate trivia:

Blackbeard (aka Edward Teach) once raided the Tidewater coast for VD meds.

William Kidd was railroaded in a miscarriage of justice.  In a fair court of law, he would have walked rather than hang.

John Taylor, a calculating sort, actually won at piracy.  In 1721 he took the Nossa Senhora do Cabo with a retiring viceroy and a fortune in diamonds, then had the sense to buy a commission in a South American navy.

While the skull and crossbones was a common motif, most pirates designed their own flags.

The sickest pirate in history might be either Edward Low (probably hanged by the French; merci) or Jean-David Nau, aka François l’Olonnais (put to a messy death by Central American Indians).  Both were prone to the kind of brutalities that would make a Gestapo interrogator wince.

The Age of Piracy was in fact a rather short one, from about the 1690s to the 1720s.

A privateer is a sort of legal pirate, essentially a hired commerce raider in wartime.  Kidd was one.  What makes a pirate a privateer is a Letter of Marque.  I think the US last issued Letters of Marque in the War of 1812, though the Confederacy handed them out like samples.  It is rumored that during World War II, at least once, someone asked President Roosevelt for a Letter of Marque.  Ron Paul (and no, I am not on his bandwagon) has seriously suggested the issuance of Letters of Marque as a way to combat Somali pirates.  Personally, I think it would be a great idea.

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