On a road trip with daughter Molly. She too is a history buff. When we went to Richmond on Oct. 14, I was most eager to drive down fabled Monument Avenue, where a new history is overtaking a former one.
For more than a century, Monument Avenue was famous for a parade of mounted Confederate leaders, deemed “Heroes of The Lost Cause” by those who planted them. They seemed likely to hover forever above those who passed, permanently secure on huge granite pedestals.
But change has come to Richmond: all the figures in this procession, save one, are gone now. In their places are monuments of a very different kind. Many are almost blank, the lettering engraved on their sides nearly invisible.
Yet on one in particular, new texts & images abound. The current authorities have worked to hem in these new words, and obscure them within a circle of high tight fencing.
Some of the new words are rude and profane. Their colors are strong and garish. The new artists did not, as far as I could tell, sign their work.
Fortunately, my camera is small, and fit into many of the narrow gaps between the posts linking the fence’s dozens of sections together. Still, the messages are clear enough, if haphazardly arranged.
Only one statue on Monument Avenue stood undisturbed when we were there, that of tennis great Arthur Ashe, which went up in 1996, more than a century after the others. Ashe was born & raised there in the city’s rigidly segregated years.
Ashe is the only person of color among them and, as a writer for Sports Illustrated recently noted, the only winner in the pretentious parade. On the bronze visage, his arm is raised, but he brandishes neither rifle nor sword but a tennis racket.
The image of the designated demigod of this doomed pantheon, Robert E. Lee, was the last to come down, on September 8, 2021, and it drew the most attention from the protest artists.
It stood in the center of its own traffic circle, and the massive pedestal remains. For how long, who can say?
But it is a monument still, covered with key texts of a new, and hotly contested “historical narrative.” Here are my glimpses of it, through the fence, on all four sides.
So: I went in for a thorough cardio checkup, a long overnight at Duke Med. As the capstone of the process they stuck me in this MRI machine for a long hour of lying stock still on my back, eyes closed and hands slowly going numb under the barrage of whanging and zapping aimed at discovering what if anything functional was left in my upper torso.
In cardio terms, the MRI was a success: they said my heart was pretty much okay for a guy my age: go home, take the pills, and keep in touch.
But an hour later, when I clicked the news on the iPad, I got an eerie sinking feeling: maybe there had been more to that big machine than just a very noisy electronic stethoscope. What if it was also a reverse time machine, doubtless part of the CIA’s vast secret UFO research: when they rolled me in, it was 2021. When I came back out into the light, in much of America it was 1964, or maybe 1953.
As I begin this post, Portland and Seattle are roasting, a Florida beachfront condo has collapsed, the lake keeping Las Vegas afloat is disappearing, and many more out West are dreading the start of fire season. Here in the East we’re keeping a wary eye on Xs and Os on the Atlantic hurricane map; and everybody should be concerned about those virulent variants.
Amid all these budding disasters, pieces of a paragraph from the early 1990s keep popping into my head:
I have a confession to make. I want my grandchildren to learn how to goatwalk . . . . I’m a survivalist where they’re concerned. Industrial civilization has destabilized the earth’s climate beyond the point of no-return. The fair-weather agriculture on which our civilization depends is doomed. In the course of the next century, much of North America will probably become desert. Even if it doesn’t, annual rainfalls and temperatures will fluctuate too wildly to sustain the agricultural systems on which we now depend. If humankind doesn’t self-destruct, my grandchildren will have to get along without industrial agriculture as it now exists. Maybe a more sustainable industrial adaptation will emerge, but I want them to know enough to survive the old-fashioned, nomad way, in case that’s a viable choice.
Learn how to Goatwalk? I have great grandchildren now, and why should they be learning to walk with goats?
To explain why, let me say something first about a bucket. Or more precisely, a Bucket List. We can start with mine.
In the May 30, 2021 New York Times, there’s an Op-Ed on military conscientious objectors, or COs. I’m gratified to see it on the brink of Memorial Day. It shows no disrespect for those who agreed to fight in war and died to recognize that a persistent minority has declined to take the sword.
The piece mentions two military COs, but mostly concentrates on the recent case of Michael Rasmussen. He was training to be a Marine combat pilot, but found his conscience turned against taking part in war. The Times:
One morning as he prepared for a supply flight to Hawaii, Mr. Rasmussen kept returning to the story he’d read in bed the night before in “Path of Compassion,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, in which the Buddha was out begging when he was nearly mugged by a notorious criminal. Instead of robbing the Buddha, the mugger confessed to a life of murder and mayhem and asked him for advice: “What good act could I possibly do?”
“Stop traveling the road of hatred and violence,” the Buddha said. “That would be the greatest act of all.”
Mr. Rasmussen got in his car to drive to the hangar, overwhelmed with what he called an “immense feeling of dread.” The story haunted him: “Am I on the road of hatred and violence?” he wondered. He decided then and there to leave the Marines.
Are we ready for the canonization of St. Liz, of Cheney, Martyr?
Lifetime Catholic MoDo isn’t buying it: columnist Maureen Dowd bats away the shiny new blond miraculous medal. She won’t kneel, or even lean, to light the votive candle.
Her trouble is, mea culpa, Dowd remembers. And talks.
How uncouth, and inconvenient:
Maureen Dowd, New York Times, WASHINGTON — May 9, 2021
Dowd: I miss torturing Liz Cheney. . . .
How naïve I was to think that Republicans would be eager to change the channel after Trump cost them the Senate and the White House and unleashed a mob on them.
I thought the Donald would evaporate in a poof of orange smoke, ending a supremely screwed-up period of history. But the loudest mouth is not shutting up. And Republicans continue to listen, clinging to the idea that the dinosaur is the future. “We can’t grow without him,” Lindsey Graham said.
Denied Twitter, Trump is focusing on his other favorite blood sport: hunting down dynasties. “Whether it’s the Cheneys, the Bushes or the lesser bloodlines — such as the Romneys or the Murkowskis — Trump has been relentless in his efforts to force them to bend the knee,” David Siders wrote in Politico.
Yet an unbowed Liz Cheney didn’t mince words when, in a Washington Post op-ed a few days ago, she implored the stooges in her caucus to “steer away from the dangerous and anti-democratic Trump cult of personality.”
That trademark Cheney bluntness made Liz the toast of MSNBC and CNN, where chatterers praised her as an avatar of the venerable “fact-based” Republican Party decimated by Trump.”
So far, so good, or at least so au courant. And then comes the legendary Dowd dagger:
“But if Liz Cheney wants to be in the business of speaking truth to power, she’s going to have to dig a little deeper.
Let’s acknowledge who created the template for Trump’s Big Lie.
It was her father, Dick Cheney, whose Big Lie about the Iraq war led to the worst mistake in the history of American foreign policy. Liz, who was the captain of her high school cheerleading team and titled her college thesis “The Evolution of Presidential War Powers,” cheered on her dad as he spread fear, propaganda and warped intelligence.
From her patronage perch in the State Department during the Bush-Cheney years, she bolstered her father’s trumped-up case for an invasion of Iraq. Even after no W.M.D.s were found, she continued to believe the invasion was the right thing to do.
“She almost thrives in an atmosphere where the overall philosophy is discredited and she is a lonely voice,” a State Department official who worked with Liz told Joe Hagan for a 2010 New York magazine profile of the younger Cheney on her way up.
She was a staunch defender of the torture program. “Well, it wasn’t torture, Norah, so that’s not the right way to lay out the argument,” she instructed Norah O’Donnell in 2009, looking on the bright side of waterboarding.
She backed the futile, 20-year occupation of the feudal Afghanistan. (Even Bob Gates thinks we should have left in 2002.) Last month, when President Biden announced plans to pull out, Liz Cheney — who wrote a book with her father that accused Barack Obama of abandoning Iraq and making America weaker — slapped back: “We know that this kind of pullback is reckless. It’s dangerous.”
Dowd remembers more:
For many years, [Cheney] had no trouble swimming in Fox News bile. Given the chance to denounce the Obama birther conspiracy, she demurred, interpreting it live on air as people being “uncomfortable with having for the first time ever, I think, a president who seems so reluctant to defend the nation overseas.”
Thanks to that kind of reasoning, we ended up with a president who fomented an attack on the nation at home.
In her Post piece, Cheney wrote that her party is at a “turning point” and that Republicans “must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution.”
Sage prose from someone who was a lieutenant to her father when he assaulted checks and balances, shredding America’s Constitution even as he imposed one on Iraq.
Because of 9/11, Dick Cheney thought he could suspend the Constitution, attack nations preemptively and trample civil liberties in the name of the war on terror. (And for his own political survival.)
Keeping Americans afraid was a small price to pay for engorging executive power, which the former Nixon and Ford aide thought had been watered down too much after Watergate.
By his second term, W. had come around to his parents’ opinion that Cheney had overreached, and the vice president became increasingly isolated.
Liberals responded to Trump’s derangements by bathing the Bush-Cheney crowd in a flattering nostalgic light.
So, shockingly, the Republicans who eroded America’s moral authority — selling us the Iraq war, torture, a prolonged Afghanistan occupation and Sarah Palin — became the new guardians of America’s moral authority. Complete with bloated TV and book contracts.
Trump built a movement based on lies. The Cheneys showed him how it’s done.
Thanks, MoDo. Like the nun’s rap on my knuckles with her thick wooden ruler, back in parochial school an eon ago, (or more like a whack upside the head), I can see I needed that. I won’t buy the miraculous medal either.
But I admit I might be tempted to light her a candle one of these days.
My friend Patrick O’Neill is serving a year in a federal prison, for attacking a replica of a nuclear missile at a south Georgia navy base in April of 2018. (A post with more about that protest is here.) It’s part of his peace witness as a member of the Catholic Worker movement.
Most of us don’t think about the missiles a lot. But there are enough just at that one Georgia base to kill pretty much everyone in the world, on fifteen minutes’ notice.
Yeah, the risk of nuclear Armageddon did not disappear with the fall of Soviet communism.
Patrick and several others did think about the missiles, tho, and it led to Patrick reporting to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio just about when Joe Biden was being inaugurated.
Doing time is tough. And nobody can do it for him. Patrick has a good deal of jail experience; and one lesson is that it doesn’t get much easier. There are a few ways to be supportive from outside. Mine is to send Patrick reading matter. Reading can dull some moments in the overwhelming tedium of confinement. So I have sent him a few of my books. (Hey — a captive audience; the best kind.)
It can help a little. Patrick said so, in a note that arrived this week:
‘Let all you do be done in love’— St. Paul
Good Friday [04/02/2021] Day 18 in the SHU (solitary)
Hi Chuck— My Lenten Journey will take me past Easter — I’ve done a lot of time (20+ jails, 6 prisons), but this has been the worst. Before the SHU [NOTE: SHU = Special Housing Unit] I spent 4 days in a hospital with 2 armed guards with me at all times who kept me in leg irons, and my left hand attached by chains to the bed, one chain attaching my leg irons to the bed . . . . I had to pee in a plastic bottle while chained.
When I asked one guard to use the bathroom he said, “Do you have to do Number Two?” He would not have unchained me otherwise. And the leg irons never came off except for 15 minutes when I took a stress test on a treadmill. And now I’m in the hole for Covid quarantine.
[Note: It’s no surprise that Patrick came down with Covid. Since March 2020, The New York Times has tracked every known coronavirus case in every correctional setting in the United States. . . .
A year later, reporters found that one in three inmates in state prisons are known to have had the virus. In federal facilities, at least 39 percent of prisoners are known to have been infected. The true count is most likely higher because of a dearth of testing, but the findings align with reports from The Marshall Project, The Associated Press, U.C.L.A. Law and The Covid Prison Project that track Covid-19 in prisons.
The virus has killed prisoners at higher rates than the general population, the data shows, and at least 2,700 people have died in custody, where access to quality health care is poor.
The deaths, and many of the more than 525,000 reported infections so far among the incarcerated, could have been prevented, public health and criminal justice experts say.] Back to Patrick:
If there’s ever a historic marker put up in Burr’s memory, the curious will have to search for it, and it will have plentiful blank space.
But despite all my “elite” blogger’s disdain, I have now been shown up as having grossly underestimated Burr’s legislative work ethic and its impact. The crushing exposé came in a report in the New York Times on March 22, 2021.
It turns out that Burr is quite capable of working like a dog, by golly a determined attack dog at that. The Times even has the paperwork covered with bite marks to prove it.
I apologize for the error.
Of course, it had to be just the right burning, moral, lives-are-at-stake issue to get Burr to jump the leash and put down the stock market reports.