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Saturday, April 23, 2005
Last night I went to a town hall meeting in Newport on the meth epidemic (one of the many bonuses of living in a small town -- we unabashedly do dorky stuff like go to town hall meetings.) As I was lying in bed this morning I was wondering whether to talk about my own personal drug history when I wrote it up, because I really haven't touched on it here before, but I figured oh, well, fuck it.
The only really relevant part to this story is that I have one, and I've been clean and sober for many years now, but part of that staying clean and sober bit means sitting down on a regular basis with other addicts, drinking coffee and listening to their stories, doing community outreach and just generally trying to help out. And since I've been in Oregon it's become apparent that the meth problem is an epidemic of staggering proportions, far worse than anything I ever encountered in LA, and that's saying something.
Basically, meth is commonly made with ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, drugs derived from the ma-huang plant. Ephedrine has been largely regulated in recent years, so drug manufacturers have switched to pseudoephedrine. Since there are only 8 factories in the world that manufacture it, it has a controllability factor that other drugs like cocaine and heroin, derived from organic sources, do not. Now, I'm not here to defend US drug policy or the DEA. But meth is a bad fucking drug with horrific social consequences and back in the 80s the DEA knew what they needed to do to control the manufacture and distribution of meth in the US, namely monitor and control the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.
Diane Feinstein, under pressure in California regarding the growing meth problem, put forward a bill to give the DEA enforcement power over the chemicals. And wouldn't you know, Nancy Reagan had that wonderful "just say no" thing going at the time, which should have ensured a receptive ear from her husband. What happened? Well, Pfizer stepped in, called their good buddy Orrin Hatch, and then phoned the White House. They didn't want their 3 billion dollar a year cold-tablet sales to be affected by any sort of regulation that might limit the sale of their drugs. The legislation was gutted by Hatch, and illegal meth production flourished after Reagan signed a watered-down bill as money and a big-business lobby once again trumped "values." The legacy of the "just say no" years -- white middle class drug use waned, drug use among the poor and people of color increased.
Anyway, here's the interesting part. Jump to oh so many years later when states are dealing with the hideous social impact of meth addiction. After the shooting death of an Oklahoma cop by a meth dealer was caught on audio tape, the governor of Oklahoma demanded and got an emergency bill to put any product with pseudoephedrine behind the counter. This is something that Pfizer lobbyists have been fighting tooth and nail in any state that proposed it, saying that states should go after the drug manufacturers and not the poor cold products. Next door in Arkansas, they bought the Pfizer bullshit and enacted legislation that gave long mandatory jail sentences to anyone caught brewing up a batch of meth. What happened? Oklahoma's meth problem was instantly cut by as much as 80%, as measured by both emergency room and detox facility admissions, as well as number of meth labs busted. What happened to all the meth labs? They went over the border to Arkansas, where the meth problem soared.
Many of the people at the meeting seemed to be those who are dealing professionally with the fallout of the meth problem in Oregon, a lot of them cops, and everyone there pretty much scoffed at the notion that the problem could be dealt with by making criminal penalties worse -- by the time someone decides to start brewing their own meth they've had a habit for an average of six years, and the thought of jail time just really isn't something they're thinking about. And these local people who are trying to develop realistic policy alternatives are completely overwhelmed by the lack of adequate treatment facilities, as well as social services to address many of the contributing factors to drug addiction.
How bad is the problem? It's awfully, sadly, woefully pathetically bad. The local police estimate that 80% of all calls they respond to are meth-related (almost all burglaries, auto and identity theft also turn out to be meth-related). And one in five -- take a minute, let it sink in, one in five -- babies born in rural Oregon hospitals are meth-addicted.
Most everyone acknowledges that it wasn't like this a couple of years ago. I have sat in prisons and rehabs and treatment centers and listened to the most hair-raising stories of people trying to get sober and come to terms with things they did under the influence of a drug that is so much stronger than anything that was ever available before that it is absolutely heartbreaking. (Oh and just in case anyone was wondering, nobody ever said they did this shit because they played Grand Theft Auto.) After years of being bought-off by the powerful drug lobbies Oregon realized it doesn't have the resources to handle the fallout any more and finally enacted legislation to put pseudoephedrine-based products behind the counter (which, by the way, was the number one suggestion to control the problem made by people who were busted for cooking meth). I hope it helps.
And how do YOU spell hypocrisy? Well, I spell it P-F-I-Z-E-R. There is evidently a form of pseudoephedrine that could have been used all this time in cold remedies that would have been equally effective but didn't have the ability to be cooked into meth. It just would've cost the pharmaceutical companies some money to switch over to it. So now that states like Oregon and Oklahoma are leading the way in passing legislation to put pseudoephedrine behind the counter, Pfizer decided it didn't want to lose the shelf space. They're now building a factory in Germany and have a six-month jump on all their competition to switch over their drugs from one form of pseudoephedrine to the other unregulated form.
And wouldn't you know it -- their lobbyists are now pushing every state for STRICTER regulation of pseudoephedrine and BTC (behind-the-counter) laws, so they will have the market advantage. (Oops! You left a loophole here...bad state!) Bastards. Evil, twisted, amoral sons-of-bitches trading in human misery. One of the lead lobbyists is a woman named Nancy Bukar at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, who fought the BTC laws every step of the way on behalf of Pfizer and others, saying "You've got to strike a balance here...yes, they're being used in an illegitimate fashion by some people, but the major majority of the people are using it for colds and to unstuff noses."
Well here's an invitation to Ms. Bukar. I'm headed down to the women's prison later this week. You're welcome to tag along.
(For more on this topic go to the truly excellent coverage by Steven Suo at the Oregonian.)
Protect our troops - from the womb to the war. What if the fetus you were going to abort would grow up to be a soldier bringing democracy to a godless dictatorship?They're kidding, right? 'Cos in all seriousness, I have some relatives I could give this to who would think it was Just Great.
Plastic replica of an 11-12 week old fetus, 3" long, holding a firearm in its precious little hand, with an assortment of other military paraphernalia, encased in a translucent plastic ornament, with a patriotic yellow ribbon on top. Includes a metal ornament hanger. If only a womb were this safe, attractive and reasonably priced!
Show that you support the "culture of life" by buying and proudly displaying one of these patriotic unborn Americans.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Officials from several major Protestant denominations have accused serial cat-killer Bill Frist of violating the principles of his own Presbyterian Church and are urging him to give up on participating in the upcoming so-called “Justice Sunday” where everyone who supports the use of filibuster by Democrats is accused of being a Godless Heathen. All I can say to that is It's About Effing Time they loudly reclaimed their faith and stopped sitting on their haunches while being used as a political tool by the likes of Frist, who for my money is hands-down the most evil person in the Senate. Yes, I know, many would give that honor to Cornholyn or Man-on-Dog, but I just can't get past the cat-torturing. It's nice that he has a DMS-IV Cluster A Personality Disorder to go with Ann Coulter's Cluster B, though. Kinda like pathalogical wingnut bookends.
In other religious news, new Pope Benny the Rat (or “Bingo” as some wonks are affectionately calling him) has condemned Spain for allowing marriage between gays. To his mind, I guess the impending threat from homo June brides is more urgent than war, starvation or the 7,000 people dying from AIDS in Africa every day. Sometimes there is no comment so effective as a visual aid, and Mark from Recidivist Journals steers us toward this image of Pope Palpatine by Darian at Sex, Lies and Videotape (didn't you think he looked familiar, too?):
For those of us who like our theology to sparkle with a bit more wit, Skippy ushers us over to The Brick Testament, where great scenes from the bible are enacted with Legos. I don't know who this guy is, but I sure like his “take this literally at your own peril” approach to the bible (from Leviticus 20:13):
Our favorite (and Skippy's): from Leviticus 18:23, wherein Ann Coulter offers herself to the GOP.
And on a completely unrelated note, happy Seder to everyone celebrating Passover this weekend.
(Thanks to Maru at WTF is it Now for the Frist link)
Why do I instinctively dislike Bolton so much? He seems to be the kind of guy I just know I am going to scrap with in any undertaking – that “kiss up, kick down” son of a bitch who acts like a suction pump for my sarcasm. Sounds like he's a bit of a woman-hater too – professional, middle-aged men don't generally chase each other up and down the halls and chuck things at each other even in the throes of intense animosity. That sounds like real domestic abuser behavior to me.
Nobody in a position to stop his nomination to the sensitive diplomatic post at the UN really gives a crap what I think. They do, however, seem to care what Colin Powell thinks. And it sounds like Colin's not so wild about Bolton, either. According to the WaPo, Powell is quietly politicking against him:
Powell spoke in recent days with Sens. Lincoln D. Chafee (R.I.) and Chuck Hagel (Neb.), two of three GOP senators on the Foreign Relations Committee who have raised concerns about Bolton's confirmation, the sources said. Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters, according to two people familiar with the conversations....Do you suppose Colin is feeling a smidge guilty about his own disingenuous performance before the UN that mislead the world about the situation in Iraq, and wants to make it up to them by keeping them from being saddled with an arrogant horse's ass? Or is he still just touchy because he was replaced with congenital liar Condaleezza Rice after he scrapped with Big Dick Cheney, and wants to deliver a little payback to the VP by sacking his boy Bolton?
"On two occasions, he has let it be known that the Bolton nomination is a bad one, to put it mildly," a Democratic congressional aide said. "It would be great to have Powell on the record speaking for himself, but he's unlikely to do it."
Meanwhile, over at warandpiece.com, Laura Rozen says that more Bolton scandals will soon rise to the surface such that “I doubt this is behavior even Republican Senators are going to consider legitimate or tolerable, when they learn the details.” If anyone would like to make a wager on that, I will gladly take the bet. Hell, I'll even give you odds. Any size bet welcome. Bill Gates, bring it on! I don't care if they found videotape of this guy dismembering live babies and eating them in a Satanic mass, someone in the Republican party would be screaming partisanship if he went down in flames.
Thursday, April 21, 2005
I was listening to one of the Preznit's staged town-hall meetings this morning on MSNBC, and his latest attempt to foist off his Social Security piratization plan is to compare it to his newfound toy, the iPod. I didn't have a chance to write down the exact quote, but the argument goes something like this: the public deserves better than an antiquated program like Social Security, crafted some time in pre-history much like the vinyl album. To argue that the existing program would be better than his new and improved program is like saying vinyl albums are superior in quality to an iPod.
Now, most people who check in here won't be surprised that Fearless Leader could be so stupid as to believe that a highly compressed digital format like the iPod's MP4 could deliver anything even remotely comparable in quality to a vinyl record. But it's not like he just gets up there and wings these things -- is he surrounded by such a pack of complete twats so divorced from modern technology that nobody has the sense to scrub this particular analogy from the speech before he steps in it? Having worked before with people who have more ego than sense, I know that feeling where sometimes you think it's just not worth the effort, you're only going to take shit for saying anything so you just let them run with it and enjoy the ensuing train wreck as your own private joke.
Or maybe I am giving them too much credit and they're all just half-wits who don't know any better. In any case, if this is the only argument the Preznit has left I'm thinking Social Security may just last until Presidential term limits show Bunnypants the door.
Update: Because I can't talk about iPods without talking downloads, Soul Sides has an audiological history of the song Apache (you'll probably recognize the Ventures version of it) through the ages, complete with downloads from those who have either recorded or sampled it, including Cliff Richard and the Shadows, the Sugarshill Gang, The Incredible Bongo Band, Future Sounds of London, Moby, The Roots and Nas. It's sublime.
(photo courtesy stock.xchng)
Over at PsoTD, they are wondering: When the day comes that your blog is done and you stop updating it, what would you like to think it accomplished? What is your blog's mission?
I think about that a lot, especially when come home late at night and I'm completely intimidated by my blog and I realize I have to come up with something to write. But on a practical level, I know I'll sleep better at night if I did due diligence to what was being done in my name and with my tax dollars that day, and I felt that I had done what I could to oppose the political insanity that seems to be dominating the US at the moment.
But I look back on when I was younger and I think "who was that person?" I've changed so much and I wish I had some record of what I was going through at the time. Hell, I look at my blog from a couple of months ago and I can't remember writing some stuff. (It is, if nothing else, the most consistent diary I have ever kept). I think I will be a nice record to have of what I cared about at the time -- if they don't throw me in a gulag for it first.
How about you?
(photo courtesy stock.xchng)
Roy at Alicublog informs us that the NRO has gone completely bullgoose, and he ain't kidding. Among the other weird tantrums being thrown there by the mean spirited and the ill-informed there is one by some guy who lets us know up front he drives the same Maserati as Bono and makes shitloads of money:
Now lets look at her. Mmm. She is beautiful, no? I first saw the Quattroporte in a hangar at the Santa Monica airport. We had been invited to the West Coast unveiling of the car, and I dont really know why we went, other than that it seemed kind of cool. A small dark man addressed the crowd. He wore an impeccable blue pinstriped Zegna suit and spoke with a genuinely cartoonish Italian accent. You must fall in love wizz a car zee way you fall in love wizz a woman. A moment later, he pulled a glittering silk drape off the car, and I grabbed the nearest salesman and said, Ill take it. Come to think of it, thats exactly how I fell in love with my wife....I keep reading for the punch line, you know? Where the guy admits he really drives a minivan, barbecues on weekends and cuts his own grass, or at least makes a self-referential nod to the fact that this is the liberal stereotype of a smug, status-obsessed Republican asshole -- and it never comes. No, the upshot of the whole article is I'm a rich, right-wing bastard and fuck you all.
Maserati claims they will produce no more than 3500 Quattroportes a year, 1,500 for the North American market, thus ensuring that my personal statement of elite status remains as close to unique as a car can
I'm thinking of writing a piece about how I'm an amoral liberal slut with big boobs who gives it up easy to flag burners and draft dodgers. Think I'll submit it to Tapped. They'll run it.
Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Much has been made recently of the willingness of right-wing Protestants and Catholics to put aside their mutual enmity that guaranteed the separation of church and state for so long and join together for the purpose of persecuting gays, molesting young boys and promoting wholesale slaughter on the African continent. Yeehaah!!!
I can add nothing to this discussion that has not been said by people much more articulate than me, so I thought I would contribute visual aids. I was thumbing through Art in America recently and I came across the work of Reverend McKendree Robbins Long (1888-1976), an artist and fundamentalist preacher fond of painting from the Book of Revelations. He liked to load up his brush with garrish colors and was certainly no master of anatomy, and he had a Swaggart-like obsession for repeatedly painting a voluptuous, unnamed woman in lugibrious shades of purple. But in the above painting from 1968, entitled The Damned are Cast into the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, Jesus and the faithful enjoy an afternoon watching heathens writhe in pain as they boil in a lake of fire (kind of like A Sunday on La Grande Jatte meets CIA prisoners in Uzbekistan.)
As Art in America notes, "Long was an archconservative who saw the world in terms of good and evil. His best pictures are those that effectively convey his fervor." I predict speculative prices for his work to shoot up dramatically in the near future.
Welcome to the visions of the New World Order.
According to Drudge (sorry no link, and this time not because I'm just too lazy), Anthrax does not like her Time cover photo. "Why can't they just photograph conservatives straight?!" she blasts.
It appears she does not appreciate the Time photographer's efforts to hide her Crying Game-sized wrists (see above). I think the Mies van der Rohe chair and the fish-eye lens were inspired choices myself. She looks almost human.
Much talk recently about the coarsening of popular culture, usually defined as Janet Jackson's aging boob and that gay Republican fantasy called Desperate Housewives. But the Time piece, as Digby argues, is a much better example: "The recently anointed GOP saint, Democrat Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was the one who coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" and I think he's been validated. When a deranged, flamthrowing fascist like Ann Coulter is called "amusing" and "entertaining", deviancy has definitely been redefined."
Personally, I think she's just a psycho. But it says something that this is a country where a DSM-IV Cluster B Personality Disorder qualifies you for a high-paying career as a political commentator.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
In this week's episode of South Park, a group of organized child molesters elect a Hitler Youth as their spiritual leader. Wait a minute – that's not South Park, that's the Catholic Church!
Update: Once again, MandT over at Adgita Diaries writes something much more in-depth and profound on the subject than anything I could. Take a close look at the bold text at the end of the post (emphasis mine):
Ratzinger, who is considered a leading contender for Popehood, has a rather abysmal record when it comes to civil rights, human rights, women's rights and democratic government--like his bud, the now finally gone J.P. II. Ratzinger hates 'gays' (homosexuals), as he sneers them . Ratzinger declared that "homosexuals are intrinscally disordered" causing absolute havoc among populations of sentient faithful.
He went further, saying that homosexuality is an 'objective disorder." Basically, what that means to Catholics is 'born in mortal sin' and destined to be 'burned in mortal sin.' Objective disorder implies that 'God made ya that way' (even though God doesn't make mistakes). Blame it Mother Nature, after all she's a woman and in the eyes of this 'would-be-Pope', all gay Catholics better get their luggage, goats and tents and cross the Red Sea before the Vatican's army rends, rants, and wraths.
Most appaling in Ratzinger's letter on the above subject was advocating the 'understandable' violence directed against gays and the idea that gays are a threat to the family. This notion is so nuts that somewhere along the line in a kiss-ass Opeus Dei blog-site somewhere, a faithful dim bulb offered that the union of same-sex couples would produce progeny prone to homosexuality.
What? Doesn't that sound like something a bigoted old Vatican eunuch would say? The fact that Vatican theologians vast knowledge of sexual matters becomes the word of God has always impressed us as loony tones. The biology escapes us. It is particularly disturbing that the Vatican, so worried about 'gay marriage', is virtually silent and willfully in denial about undertaking real reforms concerning child abuse by its own all male wizards.
The Church is still dragging its feet on the issue, hiring aggressive attornys to blame the victims, and elevates its worst 'look-the-other-way' offender, Cardinal Bernard Law, to the post of archpriest at Rome's Basilica St. Mary Major. Oh, Mary, don't ya know? Abuse victims were incensed when Law was given major billing in the funeral showtime.
The idea that the Church's ruler is divinely ordained and answerable only to God (How Convenient!), long outdated in the secular realm (until Bush), is extended by the Vatican even to criminal matters. One particular case involving Ratzinger, concerned nine former members of the traditional Legion of Christ, who struggled in vain throughout John Paul's papacy to get Rome to take seriously their accusations that the legion's founder, Father Marcial Degollado, had sexually abused them as seminarians. Cardinal Ratzinger personally intervened in a canonical proceeding against Marciel in late 1999 and the whole unpleasantness was swept under the Vatican piera dura, while Degollado was promoted.
So, one asks, who gives a Ratzinger's ass? Well, figure that if the corruption and fascistic attitude of the Vatican continues-- particularly if Ratzinger is elected to the Throne of Saint Peter's, it will affect life all over the globe where minorities living under hate directed moral teachings in obedient communities will be threatened and victimized by holy sanction.
Ratzinger agrees that it is understandable to direct violence against gays, abortion clinics, family planning clinics, penguins and heathen chimps. The man is a nut case, and an enemy of what Thomas Jefferson called "the illimitable freedom of the human mind" (Richard Rosendall). I recall a Jesuit seminary friend, who a decade ago managed through 'in connections' to tape a declaration of human and civil rights on Ratzinger's outer-office door before being hauled off and deported. He also died of HIV a few months later. Bless him.
While Ratzinger might say out loud "served him right", we would remind his eminence to read Romans, 2 1-2: "Therefore, you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgement. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things." Is our Jesuit friend condemed because of HIV? Are we to judge how he got it, and is it a damnable sin? How about his infallible holiness John Paul, who in agreement with Ratzinger, wrote that "even if one married partner has AIDS the other may not use condoms under penalty of sin." Is one tragic death damnable and a million other excusable because they followed Church teaching? If you think so I can almost guarantee with an infallible hunch that you'ld better dress lite 'cuz yer going to the other place after Saint Peter throws you out of the Pearly Gates.
I'm watching MSNBC and quite surprisingly they are covering NONE of this. Once again, organized religion gets a free pass on its politics. Way to go with the meaningful investigative reporting, guys. You say your rating are in the shitter? Well, that's a mystery.
Update: I have to take it back, Mr. Yell-o-vision has been covering the controversy, and Bloggermann is, of course, a stud.
jennifer lopez has been shot!!
This is most definitely in evidence with my newfound affection for English teacher Harry Hutton at Chase Me Ladies, I'm the Cavalry:
What do I do with the money I saved by not paying my taxes? It’s no good just having money; it’s a question of what one does with it. I pile it all up the bathtub, and roll around in it, howling with laughter.And this:
I was going to give it to the poor, but then I thought fuck it.
UPDATE II! I don’t come out of this post terribly well, do I?
So I'm sitting in a restaurant in the north of Bogota. The soup is cold, but then life can be cold, can't it? Some of my old students walk in, and ask what does I do. I eating the dinner, I tell them.There was one about waking up to find he'd had his ass tatooed with the sayings of Margaret Thatcher, but I can't find it now so you'll just have to look for it here.
They want to learn English swear words. One of the girls asks, "How to say [in sex] when you have finished?" The correct answer, of course, is "I have come." How unpleasant of me, therefore, to tell her that it is "I have clap."
She is going to Miami next month. If she meets an American boy she will say, "Yes, yes, I have clap!" just when he least expects it. Looking back on my life I would say that this is the achievement of which I am proudest.
I'm sorry but I find this all hysterically funny.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Maru over at WTF is it Now informs us that the Motor City Madman, Ted Nugent, is rallying the NRA to save the country:
Remember the Alamo! Shoot 'em!" he screamed to applause. "To show you how radical I am, I want carjackers dead. I want rapists dead. I want burglars dead. I want child molesters dead. I want the bad guys dead. No court case. No parole. No early release. I want 'em dead. Get a gun and when they attack you, shoot 'em!Mr. Nugent thus proclaims himself to be a loud and proud supporter of the
As one commenter noted: Uh, Ted, about The Alamo - bad choice, dude. The 'Good Guys' all died, you know, they were shot. That's the problems with using symbols and metaphors, you have to have some knowledge of what you're talking about before you use them.
Further, Mr. Wango Tango would like to encourage NRA members to only associate with other NRA members thus insuring that no fresh air enter that cobwebby dialectic. "Let's next year sit here and say, 'Holy smokes, the NRA has 40 million members now,'" he said. "No one is allowed at our barbecues unless they are an NRA member. Do that in your life."
Well, there goes my invitation to the annual family picnic. But it does go to illustrate the point that you shouldn't judge the art by the personality of the artist, 'cos Snakeskin Cowboys still rocks. But we gotta ask why is Ted referring to GWB as a "Snakeskin Cowboy?" The lyrics, which are stupid even by Ted's standards, imply at best a less-than-ringing political endorsement. Is this a sly, subtle jab at the president and his sexuality, meant only for those who are paying attention?
Snakeskin cowboys, who the hell you think you are?It sounds like he's trying to say that the Preznit is an uppity little cross-dresser at the end of his run. Does Ted have some insider NRA knowledge about Fearless Leader that the rest of us are not privy to, or do we really just need to send the Nudge to metaphor camp?
Dancing around with your high-heeled boots,
don't think that you'll get too far
Just hanging around with your fancy pants on
Ain't got nothing on me
Thinking you got it right here on the stage
Stick around boys, maybe I can set you free
Just because I think it's so cool when smart teens blog:
Max at Maxestentialism on the upcoming Frist Christo-Fascist Justice Sunday: Those who believe in the supernatural in any form should not be trusted to make life-and-death decisions about other people's lives. When I'm standing there as the accused, I don't want my life in the hands of someone whose world is populated with capricious, vengeful, and imaginary beings.
And Mollie over at Behind These Hazel Eyes wins the Name Britney's Baby Contest – get ready for it – Muffin Spears. It's perfect. I'm tempted to go into a deeper analysis of the psychoanalitic appropriateness, but really it stands on its own.
And from Ben at Catalyst Blog we get this:
I don't know about you, but there was no way I had it that together at that age to have such a clear voice.
Milton ("Office Space", 1999)
Bolton ("Undersecretary of State", 2000-2004)
The comparison ends, of course, when we note that while Milton expressed his desire for, and later succeeded in, the destruction of Initech, Bolton has yet to see the UN "los[e] 10 stories".
(top photo courtesy stock.xchng)
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Every once in a while I have one of those experiences that, although small, makes me dust off my notions about existence and at least put them in the sunlight and look at them for a while. They make me think about Alaistair Crowley's assertion that what we now believe to be the products of science were once unexplainable and chalked up to magic, and that many of the phenomena that we relegate to the realm of superstition and coincidence are simply obeying laws that we do not yet understand.
I bring it up because I got the word that my cousin Billy Cole died this week. Bill had a farm in Cross Plains, Tennessee and I doubt he left it all too often during his long life. When I was a kid I used to cavort there in ways suburban kids from the north rarely get the opportunity to do, bottle-feeding calves and giving a wide berth to the huge smelly chicken coop on my Aunt Maud's farm across the street. He was always kind to me and I will miss him.
Bill liked to talk. And talk. And talk. Many people scoff at my contention that the South is forever re-fighting the civil war and that it is difficult to have an argument on the merits of almost anything with died-in-the-wool Southern conservatives who are dismissive of knowledge gained from book-learning and largely get their information from each other, and Bill was always one of my prime example of the above. When I was younger, as the family Yankee I actually used to get drawn into the favorite argument of most southerners, where they try to prove once and for all that the North did not fight the civil war to free the slaves as a way of justifying the Confederate cause. To which I always responded in the same unsatisfying way: "Well the North may not have been fighting to free the slaves, but the South sure was fighting to keep 'em." Needless to say, I never converted a single soul to my cause through the power of intellect.
But my favorite argument about "the North was really fighting over (fill in the blank)" came from Bill, who had heard it from some friend, that what the north really wanted was the south's ships. Now that one made me sit up. I asked Bill to repeat it. "Yep, the north only attacked the south because they wanted all their ships." I wanted to say you're kidding, right? If they were such a naval strength, how come they didn't do a better job getting past the northern blockades? But I didn't argue too vigorously. For two reasons. One, out of respect -- Bill was considerably older than me in the way that cousins often are in big southern families; in fact, all of Bill's kids are older than me. And two, I would be wasting my breath, because you will NEVER win that argument. But make no mistake, Bill knew where I stood.
Anyway, I've had Ken Burns' Civil War series sitting around the house for a few weeks from Netflix, and I decided to put it on yesterday. And wouldn't you know, what pops up but a segment on the Merrimack. Not that I didn't know about the Merrimack, but I'd never thought about it in that context. And just for emphasis, in case I missed the point, moments later there was a segment on the battle of Fort Donelson, in which both our mutual great-grandfathers were captured. I got a few chills, I have to say, at the timing. It's been years since I had that conversation with Bill, and now that thing comes on? It seems small. But I can't help thinking that Bill's got a slightly better reference library wherever he is now, and he's done me the kindness of educating me on my own terms in a way he couldn't have done during his earthly tenure.
Thanks, Bill. You were -- well, enough right that I'm gonna give it up to you and use it as an excuse to say those magic words: I was wrong.
In honor of the passing of Bill Cole, I offer:
A Brief History of the Merrimack
The USS Merrimack was a Union frigate at the Norfolk Naval yard, scuttled by the Union when they pulled out of Virginia for fear that the Confederacy would use her against them. The Confederates raised her from the ocean floor and began some heavy mods: having heard of Union plans to build an iron-clad, they began bolting four layers of two-inch thick iron sheets to the entire structure. They added a huge battering ram to the bow, the first ship so equipped in over a thousand years. They added ten 12-lb. cannons, and cut the hull down to the waterline. Nobody had ever seen anything like her, and she was likened to a giant floating barn roof. She was not predicted to float, and the only one who would command her was Captain Franklin Buchanan. She was rechristened the CSS Virginia, but the CSS Merrimack was the name that stuck.
And float she did. She made her combat debut in March of 1862 in the Battle of Hampton Roads, ramming and sinking the big US Navy sloop Cumberland, and shelling the frigate Congress into surrender. Her iron skin rendered her immune to conventional gunfire of the time. She then attacked the USS Minnesota, which had run aground. The Merrimack had sustained enough damage that she left with the expectation of coming back the next day to finish off the Union fleet.
However, the iron-clad that the Union had been working on, the Monitor arrived that night. Built by Swedish engineer John Ericsson, she was smaller, faster and designed from the ground-up for her purpose, as opposed to the retro-fitted Merrimack. In March, the two ships met in battle, but although the smaller and more mobile Monitor was able to outmaneuver the Merrimack, neither ship was able to do significant damage to the other.
The Battle of Hampton Roads lasted for two months, but the Merrimack was unable to draw the Monitor into battle again, despite repeated attempts. In May of 1862, fearful that advancing Union troops would capture her, she was ordered burnt. On May 11 her crew did so; flames reached her magazine and she was destroyed in a great explosion off Craney Island. But maritime warfare was never the same; Europe looked on and realized that their entire naval fleets were completely outdated and a new era of combat design was introduced.
Now, many naysayers would argue that it is hard to work up an argument that the North actually attacked the South for the recovery of a ship they already had at the outset of the war. But if Bill has moved on to a place where he is actually using reference materials I want to be encouraging, and besides, unless he has changed markedly in the course of his heavenly journey, the only part of this entire thing he will read anyway is the part that says I was wrong.
Rest in peace, Bill Cole.