Why I Stand Up But Stay Quiet

I don’t say The Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t sing the National Anthem. I’m telling you this for a reason, which I’ll get to, but let me tell you why I’m even talking about this. It has to do with my husband.

My husband thinks more than any person I’ve ever met. His brain is always going. ALWAYS. He’s one of the most curious people I know. These are two of the things I love most about him. I like talking to him. He looks at things differently (and generally less hostilely) than I do. We don’t have that much time alone. You know how it goes. We sit down with a beer and go through our days with each other and eat dinner and holy crap! How did it get to be ten at night? We don’t have much time for the kind of philosophical discussions we used to have. Like how it bugs the snot out of me that Superman is considered a super hero–*coughaliencough*–and why Steve Winwood is neither Robert Plant nor Roger Daltrey (A good thing, in my book). Oh, sure. There’s the occasional discussion about determinism and free will since, you know, quantum mechanics, but generally we talk about whether or not Raylan Givens could still be Raylan Givens if he didn’t wear that hat. We are, it may come as no surprise to know, concerned about brain atrophy.

This is why I’ve started keeping a running list of questions we have, and I take a few minutes a day (okay, it generally turns into a couple of hours) to research them. We then pick a topic for discussion. I know it sounds like I’m micromanaging. That’s because I am. If we don’t schedule these kind of things we end up talking about pocket knives. I like a good pocket knife as much as the next girl, don’t get me wrong. I just cannot discuss it with the kind of gusto exhibited by my beloved. We’ve recently discussed the Korean War, unions, the modern state of Israel, and how many people would choose to get out of a speeding ticket if it meant passing it on to the person who was traveling behind you.

It occurred to me over the weekend that I had no clue what the history of The Pledge was. So, hey, did you know The Pledge was written by a socialist? In 1891, Francis Bellamy was hired by a magazine to work in its premium department. Youth’s Companion started selling flags to schools to try to bulk up subscriptions. The company wanted a flag above every school in the nation, from sea to shining sea. A salute to the flag was written as part of the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus reaching America. The Pledge, in October, 1892 read as:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There was also a salute, the Bellamy salute. If I were to show it to you now, this Bellamy salute, you’d recognize it. It looks a lot like the Nazi salute. Bellamy was a Christian Socialist. He was removed from his Baptist minister’s job because he believed the teachings of Jesus to be, well, socialist. Bellamy believed in the power of the worker and the equal distribution of wealth. His generous views of economic distribution did not extend to immigrants and the right to vote. He wrote, “A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth; where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another.” Alrighty then.

The salute was changed during World War II for reasons I don’t believe I need to explain. The “under God” part didn’t get added until 1954 when Eisenhower asked Congress to add it in response to the threat of the Godless Communists.

None of the above has anything to do with why I don’t say The Pledge. I stand for it, as I do the anthem. Both of these things are important to people I care about, and there’s no point in being a jackass about it. It doesn’t bother me to stand, so I do. Just as I would if I were in Toronto when “Oh, Canada” was played. I simply find The Pledge to be creepy. I don’t pledge allegiance to a flag. I have no allegiance to inanimate objects.

There has been a lot of talk the past few weeks, deep into the presidential campaign, about The Pledge. If you don’t say it, you’re not a Real American. If you want to take “under God” out of it, you’re not a Real American. If you use it to shape the course of your campaign, you’re either a Real American or politicizing words some people believe to be sacred. Words written to sell flags. Words written by a man with an Orwellian view of the future of America. Benjamin Franklin never stood up to pledge the flag. Thomas Jefferson didn’t either. It wasn’t officially recognized by Congress until 1942–a time of war.

Here’s my point. I don’t want to say The Pledge. So I don’t. It doesn’t make me any less American than anyone else. A discussion about The Pledge made me go research its origins. Now I know more about it than I did. And what I learned made me feel better about my position. But maybe that wouldn’t have happened. Maybe I’d have learned something that made me say, “By jeepers, I’m going to start every morning saying The Pledge!” I’m just some woman in West Tennessee. I’m not running for president. I’m not asking for your money to put me in Congress. I’m NOT politicizing The Pledge. The Pledge has evolved just like my views on it have evolved. I wonder if our presidential candidates know the history of The Pledge. I wonder if they would ever be inclined to spend a few minutes doing a little research on a topic about which they know very little–this one or any other. Or would they just pick a side and use the person’s research that backs up their views. How does the leader, or future leader, of this capitalist republic make a few words written to sell flags the cornerstone of a campaign? That might be my next bit of research.

Briefly

Yesterday in a small community outside my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi, something horrible happened. A man held his daughter, her husband, his ex-wife, and two children hostage. The children were let go, the man killed his daughter, wounded the two other adults and a law enforcement officer. There was a standoff lasting about 18 hours that eventually led to the gunman killing himself. In addition to local and neighboring law enforcement, the Mississippi Highway Patrol was called in. It was a terrible thing for the community to hear about on a Sunday night.

Oh, hang on.

The community probably didn’t hear about it Sunday night because the Laurel/Hattiesburg NBC affiliate did a pre-recorded late newscast. Because of the Olympics. And the local newspaper website is snuggled safely behind a paywall. What that newspaper, The Chronicle, did was post updates throughout the night and into this morning on its Facebook page. I agree with my friend Desmond who said their use of social media was about the best of any news outlet anywhere. They nailed it. The coverage was timely and completely professional. They did not editorialize or sensationalize. WDAM, the local television station, said they were short staffed and didn’t use Facebook for actual news. On its Facebook feed this morning, WDAM posted the following:

Remember: Facebook is not our website. This is just where we share stuff and talk to our audience. Our website is www.wdam.com and its children – our mobile apps, and our mobile site. We don’t post all of our coverage here, and we don’t necessarily post news here as it happens.

Right. Because what a waste of time and energy THAT would be.

Could it really be there are still traditional media outlets out there that don’t understand if it didn’t happen on social media, it didn’t happen? Appears so. What The Chronicle appears to understand is that social media gets the story out there now. The internet gets the story out there now.  And that allows the print edition to do what we’re always complaining news doesn’t do anymore: Analyze, educate, and supply context. Obviously not everyone uses Facebook and Twitter. I get that. There are thousands of people in Jones County without internet access. That’s why WDAM’s fail in reporting (or not reporting) the story last night is so mind boggling to me. Then going on the defensive this morning was just weird. We were understaffed, you guys! Olympics! USA! No one reads this feed for real news!

Traditional media, social media is not making you irrelevant. You are making you irrelevant. Stop making it about competing. Stop worrying about whether or not people use their real names to comment on your website. Who the hell cares? It’s supposed to be about the story. Newspapers and broadcast news outlets can’t compete with social media. So why worry about it? There’s an opportunity to use social media to your advantage. You can be the guy who first broke the story on social media then used your paper or television studio to tell the whole story, or you can be the guy who’s hoping enough coverage of ribbon cutting ceremonies and lost pet announcements will keep you in the black. That’s doing versus hoping. No one ever won a Pulitzer or increased ad sales by hoping.

Godwin’s Law And The Alien Theory

Here’s the problem with writing. I may have said this before. I tend to repeat myself. The problem with writing–in my case, anyway–is that I have a narrator in my head. She’s a sort of Meg Ryan-in-a-Rob Reiner romcom narrator, and there’s generally a soundtrack with lots of plucky strings and the occasional sad trombone. If I were to write a screenplay I’d have both a plucky narrator and plucky strings. And she would wear hats. But I digress.

Today, my narrator started up with a bit about internet disagreements, feuds, and general squabbling. It is said that internet disagreements are subject to Godwin’s LawGiven enough time, the law states, online discussion will eventually come to one party comparing the other’s beliefs to Hitler and/or Nazis. The feud that put me in mind of all this today went something like this:

Person A: WHOOHOO! Obama’s gonna support the gay marriage!!!

Person B: WHOOHOO!11!!

Person C: He was in favor of it in the state legislature but then he waffled when it came time to go national. And he accuses Mitt of Waffing?

Person A: At least he’s taking a stand on civil rights and doesn’t hate gay peple.

Person D: Who says Romney hates gays? Did he tell you tahat?

Person E: NObama is a socialist.

Person F: it’s not a stretch to say that if you don’t believe in civil rights for a particular group you hate em.

Person D: I don’t think toddlers should get married. Does that violate their civil rights? Do I hate toddlrz?

Person A: That’s different.

Person D: WHy? My baby wants to marry his mommy. Why shouldn’t he?

Person G: That’s right. All of you just fall right in line, sheeple. Just like the Brownshirts.

Aaaaaand scene.

In a previous life I was a sales and management trainer. I had a little speech before I started class. In addition to explaining the parking lot, telling them to turn off their cellphones (wasted breath), and promising to give regular “bio breaks” (a term I hated, but was encouraged to use), I brought up something I called the Alien Theory. The Alien Theory spiel went thusly: “In the course of this class you will, I hope, want to ask questions. I welcome them, but want to caution you about the Alien Theory. We will be discussing a scenario at some point and you will want to come up with the most outrageous, off-the-wall scenario you can think of. You might say, ‘Okay, let’s say I’ve got an alien from Mars who wants to return a dress from 1952 and has a receipt. What do I do?’ At that time, I will gently ask if you have had such a scenario. SHOULD THAT HAVE HAPPENED, I will tell you that you have an issue that is very specific to your own staff or customer base, and I will invite you to discuss your issue after class.”

Internet exchanges generally show off the Alien Theory to its best advantage. There’s always going to be that one person. You might be celebrating National Egg Month–May, by the way–and discussing all the wonderful ways to cook an egg, and BOOM! Eggs are just chicken abortions, you know. I don’t eat them anymore because I once found an actual chicken in mine. Perhaps you are expounding on the wonderful ice cream you served at your child’s birthday party. BAM! You know, I don’t eat ice cream anymore because one time I found a frozen cockroach trying to mate with a frozen cricket right in my cherry cheesecake swirl. Bragging about your new computer? My cousin’s girlfriend had to have a skin graft because her laptop burned the skin off her thighs. 

Yes, all those things might have happened, and they are devastating. No doubt. But they are the exceptions, the rarities, the deviations from the central dogma. And you, right there reading this piece might even tell me that I have not made good comparisons. That I’m talking about like three different things. To you I say WELCOME! It must be your first time here!  The thing about communication in this brave new world in which we life is that everyone has a voice in every discussion. Even when they are annoying voices. And those voices have weight. And sometime those one or two voices sound just as heavy as the roar of the crowd. Our job as citizens of this world is to separate the people who just like to sing the the Alien Theory solo from those who sing as part of the majority chorus.

No one does that for us. No newscaster, blogger, politician can separate all that for you. You have to do it for yourself. And, yeah, that sucks. But if you’re looking to someone like me to form your opinions, wow. Stop it. We can agree and disagree. You can find data that support your position, but it is YOUR position. Don’t give up that power.

 

 

The Idea of Order at Key West

by Wallace Stevens

She sang beyond the genius of the sea.
The water never formed to mind or voice,
Like a body wholly body, fluttering
Its empty sleeves; and yet its mimic motion
Made constant cry, caused constantly a cry,
That was not ours although we understood,
Inhuman, of the veritable ocean.

The sea was not a mask. No more was she.
The song and water were not medleyed sound
Even if what she sang was what she heard,
Since what she sang was uttered word by word.
It may be that in all her phrases stirred
The grinding water and the gasping wind;
But it was she and not the sea we heard.

For she was the maker of the song she sang.
The ever-hooded, tragic-gestured sea
Was merely a place by which she walked to sing.
Whose spirit is this? we said, because we knew
It was the spirit that we sought and knew
That we should ask this often as she sang.
If it was only the dark voice of the sea
That rose, or even colored by many waves;
If it was only the outer voice of sky
And cloud, of the sunken coral water-walled,
However clear, it would have been deep air,
The heaving speech of air, a summer sound
Repeated in a summer without end
And sound alone. But it was more than that,
More even than her voice, and ours, among
The meaningless plungings of water and the wind,
Theatrical distances, bronze shadows heaped
On high horizons, mountainous atmospheres
Of sky and sea.

                   It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.
She measured to the hour its solitude.
She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang. And when she sang, the sea,
Whatever self it had, became the self
That was her song, for she was the maker. Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone,
Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.