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A Son and his Father

I am proud of what we’ve accomplished with Agincourt. Dr Bob, my former therapist, held that this continues to be a satisfying, creative outlet that I should only call into question the day United Van Lines arrives to pack for the move. 

Glancing back through this blog as well as the several Agincourt sketchbooks tells me—regardless of the occasional naysayer—that this may be the most creative thing I will ever do, though I just as surely hope not. It always was and has increasingly become autobiographical, for which I apologize most heartily. Forty years ago I did get about writing an autobiography, though one with a considerable twist: it was to be written without any first person pronouns. Imagine writing about yourself without employing “I,” “me,” “my” or “mine.” I actually got surprisingly far on that project and haven’t given up entirely on bringing it to some sort of resolution, if only as a fragment.

What you may also have realized along the way is that the Agincourt narrative is riddled with characters who are not entirely fictional. How could I invent a place and not populate it with some of you—you colorful characters of my acquaintance in these sixty-seven years. Somewhere, as yet unwritten, there will be the requisite, boiler-plate disclaimer that “these characters are entirely fictional; any resemblance between them and any person living or dead is purely coincidental.” Don’t believe it for a moment.

As my avatar in Agincourt, Howard Tabor has written about people he has known, a handful of them in a fragmentary series titled “Ghosts of Christmas Past.” One of them is based on my father and another on someone I met at dad’s gas station (formerly at 6455 South Archer Road, Bedford Park, IL  60501, if you must know, but now demolished and replaced with a gas station; is that irony or what?). Those two and other featured Ghosts will appear from time to time, as I continue to tie the very loose ends of an exceptionally disjointed life. Thank you all for being a part of it—so far.

But back to the often troubling and sometimes unresolved relationship between fathers and sons, an entirely different chemistry than the feminine parallel, of which I would not trust any of my perceptions. Mothers are an especially foreign idea to me, and I have had no siblings other than two brief connections with stepsisters. But that’s another story.

Roy’s Funeral

With apologies to those of you in the Grief Industry, I want as little to do with morticians as possible in what time remains to me. Many of you will already know my intentions:

  1. Baggie
  2. Twist-tie
  3. Curbside
  4. Tuesday morning before 8:30

Got it? Simple enough and now on record for any of you to step in, should I pass in your vicinity. If I had made the effort to ask him, Roy would have preferred something similar, at least something erring on the side of simplicity and thrift—we are Scottish, after all. As his only heir, however, and not having spoken with him about his final arrangements, my leaky coracle was set adrift in the Gulf of Guilt and about to founder on the Shoals of “What will people think?” Morticians have you exactly where they want you: alone in a casket showroom, each model sporting a plastic-sleaved card breaking down the various services provided. I chose wood (walnut, rather than the various patinated metalic models) one that included the planting of a tree in a national forest somewhere. It seemed only fitting to plant a tree as replacement for the one cut down to make the casket—oh, and his artificial leg.

The Wake

Those and other details settled, I girded my loins for the onslaught, two to three days of viewing at the funeral home, a hold-over from nineteenth century fears of premature burial. Roy remained dead. But as the only surviving member of the family, the responsibility befell me: 1) to greet people at the entry, 2) entreat them to sign the guest registry, 3) escort them to the open casket, and 4) endure their observations that one or another of my father’s possessions was always intended to go to them. For at least a few of the visitors, this was hardly their finest moment. Goddam ghouls!

By the second day, I was definitely getting into the routine and its rhythms. I would notice some totally unfamiliar person at the guest book, stride toward them, hand outstretched for the obligatory pumping action, without a clue who in blue blazes they were. More often than not, however, it was their voice that transported me thirty years or more to a wintry day when I had serviced their car while the palm of my hand froze to the nozzle. Yeah, it was that cold in Chicago in the days before self-service. Gloves only cramped my style.

The second day, the Friday evening before the funeral, may have been one of those rare occasions that lift you from the ordinary, if not mundane, circumstances of the moment—I had an out-of-body experience. Fifteen feet from the casket, just outside a semi-circle of visitors who ranged from sixteen to ninety years of age, all of them recollected my dad in exactly the same way, with stories both new and old. These were people who had known him at the station, his habitat from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to six on Sunday. Eventually I worked those Sunday shifts, though I frankly can’t tell you what he did with those unaccounted afternoons.

Read the blog about Cliff’s Garage and you’ll get an overview of the hangout for mis-spent youth that Ramsey’s Service Station became for multiple ‘teen generations whose parents lacked any understanding for raging hormones in an age of unfiltered cigarettes. Roy C. Ramsey was everyone’s surrogate father. He was also in the short-term small loan business, with a sheaf of promissory notes tacked to the edge of a shelf above the cash register. As inheritor of the station, those yet unpaid notes became worthless and mine. Macht nichts, because at the moment, a few paces beyond the circle of his friends, many of whom were known to me, but not well, I finally and fully understood who my father had been. I also saw what he had wanted to be, if only we’d figured out how to communicate.

It was clear that he had both loved and feared me. And that his ultimate purpose in life had been to provide his child the advantages he had lacked or been denied through that fucking youthful indiscretion hitching a ride on the rung of a passing boxcar.

In the years since, I have continued to explore that relationship and believe ever more firmly how much his son I am.

Fathers and Sons

In March 1979—three months before his sixty-second birthday and, therefore, deprived of any Social Security benefit—my father, Roy Clifford Ramsey, died. I’d like to tell you about Roy:

Some of my friends and acquaintances have heard stories about my dad—ask me some day about the guy looking for directions and my dad’s enthusiastic offer. Today, however, I’m invoking Roy in two other ways. First, as his only child, our relationship bears on my recent blogs concerning the father-son connection between Barack Obama and both his father and stepfather. Secondly, I wanted to share some of my last memories of Roy: his three-day visitation and funeral coordinated by yours truly, the one and thusfar only funeral I have had to arrange.

As you might imagine from my blogging habits here, this will ultimately relate to some of Howard’s experience and his columns in The Plantagenet.

Roy Clifford Ramsey (1917-1979)

Roy was an only child, a singleton like me, born to Roy Lanier Ramsey and Clara Frances Markiewicz. When he was about nine years old, in 1926, my grandmother was late picking him up at school. Unsupervised, he played on a passing freight train, lost his hold on a boxcar and slipped beneath the wheels. His leg was severed below the knee, but medical practice of the day was unable to prevent the onset of gangrene and the loss of more leg, until eventually he had only the stump of a hip. Don’t ask me which leg it was; I don’t remember, because, frankly it never mattered to me or any of my friends.

Imagine growing up during the Great Depression with only one leg, in a working-class family, the sort of family in especially dire straits these days. My grandfather worked for the Corn Products Company his entire life—one of those cradle-to-grave employments far more common a generation or two ago. Knowing there was no place in the workplace for a 1935 high school graduate missing a limb, grampa built a service station for my very mechanically-minded dad. And so, like his own father Roy Lanier Ramsey (whose middle name I bear), my dad entered into the only work he ever knew. 

Two marriages ensued—to two women I call “my father’s first wife” and “my father’s second wife”—one of them having given birth to me. There is more here than I can comfortably write today; and besides, why would you care?

The details I’d like to share today are these. My grandfather, for reasons known only to him, was an atheist. I learned much later that he was also an alcoholic wife-beater. But the man I knew him until his death January 16th, 1951 [he was about two weeks short of his seventieth birthday; I was one day shy of my sixth] was a kindly man called “gunka,” because I could not yet say “grandfather.” His widow (and abused wife) Clara Frances Markiewicz Ramsey was a lifelong Roman Catholic of, as you might suspect, Polish ancestry; who was also disowned by her family for having married “outside the faith”. Their son Roy C. was denied baptism and grew to manhood as an agnostic, though I cannot recall him ever using that term. He did, however, refer to every clergyperson of his acquaintance as “sky pilot.”

My mother—one or the other of my father’s two successive wives; it makes little difference—was a Congregationalist, now become the United Church of Christ; a woman who no doubt tried to lay the groundwork for my own religious upbringing. That was interrupted when they divorced in the spring of 1953, when I was eight years of age and old enough to assume the entire responsibility for the end of my parents’ marriage—the source of endless and ongoing therapy, by the way, which needn’t concern us here. Go figure.

Politically, our family were traditional Republicans of the Eisenhower persuasion (the president in office when I came to that sort of awareness). I’m certain everyone in my family voted for Ike. Through the years, however, my father grew increasingly conservative. In fact, his last ballot in a presidential election was cast for George Wallace. If he were living today—at ninety-six—I am just as certain he would be a Libertarian and more than likely to vote for Ron Paul, if at all.

So, here’s my problem: If Barack Hussein Obama’s Muslim-turned-Christian father and his step-father of probable Muslim connection were so bloody influential—at the exclusion of his Christian mother who was the consistent parent during his “formative” years—why has my religious perspective followed the godless trail of my father and paternal grandfather, while my politics have progressed steadily in the exact opposite direction. Twenty years ago if pressed for a label, I would easily have chosen Liberal; ten years ago that choice would have been Socialist; today I gladly identify with the political leanings of Karl Marx—not the corrupted Communism of the former Soviet Union, but the purer statement in Das Kapital. My simple point here is that family and heritage can mean everything, anything or nothing at all. Take your pick.

Leave the President’s religion alone. Accept what he claims his religious affiliation to be. Stop searching for factoids in his personal story to support the answers you have already chosen.

Consider the role of his mother as the consistent thread in his socialization and balance it against the vague, simplistic, staccato influences that two males may have had on a child too young to absorb much of what people are claiming to be his Muslim ideology. Bullcrap.

Roy’s Funeral

Give me a day or two to craft the story of Roy’s funeral in 1979—an event so revelatory that I marvel how much like him I am and continue to become, despite the chasm of our political differences.

It’s a very different tale.

The Department of Redundancy Department

I have written this before.

At this stage of life there are remarkably few things that are genuinely new for me to do or say. Perhaps I can change that, but in the meantime this is something that wants repetition.

Those of you who know me on goodreads.com are keenly aware how little I read. My reading habits are sporadic at best and spastic on the best of days. (Perhaps I can change that, too.) But on the short and embarrassing list of books I’ve encountered, there is one that stands out: just one book that I have read many times over so many years that our relationsbhip can best be described as an affair.

On goodreads.com, there is another book—one that I have read only once and over a period of nearly three years; it took that long to slog through it—a well-known and oft-referenced volume that I felt obligated to finish for the very reason I invoke it here: to lay claim. On goodreads there are thousands of reviews for this second book, most of them brief and formulaic, cultish invocations that claim “…if you read this with an open heart, it will change your life.” And, while I can’t necessarily attest in this case to the openness of my heart, I will say with assurance that the sole change I have noted with regret is the amount of time I wasted to claim it as “read”—for me, a necessary rite of passage that I’m grateful to have behind me. If there are books that have fulfilled this singular role in your life, I’d be interested in knowing their titles. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours. The foregoing paragraph is necessary simply to put this other book in perspective.

James P. Carse was a professor of religion at New York University, though probably emeritus by now. And the life-changing book he wrote more than twenty-five years ago is engagingly titled Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility. It was that title which lept from the bookstore shelf—not Barnes & Noble, as you might imagine, but Wordsworth I think, a very small, locally-owned independent bookstore long gone from a space occupied now by over-priced dietary supplements that ought to interest me for the possible extension of my life with the very worthy goal of adding more books to my paltry shelf at goodreads.

I bought Finite and Infinite Games in 1986 or 1987, shortly after its publication, and I immediately sat down to realize the fulfillment of its engaging title. But there was something wrong—with me, not Carse—because my eyes washed over its pages with even less engagement than with the phone book (the white pages, rather than the far more revelatory yellow ones). No matter how often or at what time of day or night I tried, I was simply unable to make sense of it. Some years later—perhaps ten or twelve—I found it in a pile and decided to try again. That night, swept away by its tsunami of ideas, I could not put it aside. And that week I read it again. And that month at least twice more. And tonight, I have set it aside oh so briefly to write this paean; perhaps to encourage your own encounter with a short volume that has offered more insight than any other in my limited experience.

Thank you for reading this. Carry on with what you were doing.

What dreams may come, indeed?

Howard’s first piece in the sesqui-centennial series was a challenge to walk through the cityscape with all his senses on hyper. That was in 2006 and Agincourt had a handful of buildings and only a skeleton population. That piece was lost in a computer crash but I recall an off-the-cuff reference to “Mrs Schoenfeld’s cat” startling Howard during his walk, as it tore across his path from beneath a spirea.

For six years the incident had remained just that: a five-second shard of time founded on an accident. Fast forward to three weeks ago, when I saw this painting by Jerome Atherholt, an artist now working in the computer gaming industry. Atherholt is, for what it’s worth, ten years younger than I am—and probably a bit better off, but who’s counting. Shall I approach him and ask about the circumstances surrounding this work? There is a story in here. But do you suppose there’s room enough for Mrs Schoenfeld’s cat?


Election 2012 (Part 3)

The notion that the First Amendment prevents Congress from establishing a religious litmus test is moot. The American people have already done it.

Statistics (not at hand, sorry to admit) show the American people are far more religious than our European counterparts. A substantial number of Americans believe that Angels dwell among us and intercede on our behalf in earthly affairs; that they are the agents of an onmiscient omnipotent disembodied power that has a special relationship with a chosen people. A very large percentage of Christian fundamentalists believe further that the Bible predicts a series of events generally called the End Times; a highly choreographed set of dominoes that must fall in a sequence foretold in coded verses in the books of Daniel and Revelation that must transpire before Jesus’ return to establish his kingdom on Earth.

Never mind that the Bible tells us no man knows the time of Christ’s return. Predicting an End Time event such as the Rapture—scheduled for a late afternoon on May 21st, 2011 according to a California-based preacher named Harold Camping—is a veritable cottage industry among people self-described as premillennial dispensationalists. Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall’s. Predicted dates come and go, which only reinforces the inscrutablility of God.

Among the events that must transpire are several that can already be claimed by PDs (my abbreviation for premillennial dispensationalists), such as the creation of the State of Israel. Many PDs fully intend to intercede in this series of necessary events—the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem on the Temple Mount and the sacrifice there of the “spotless calf”—with the Battle of Armageddon as its penultimate crescendo. I, for one, hope that a nuclear conflict in the Middle East can be avoided—at pretty much any cost, though I also hope you’ll let me in on the list of options that might avoid Armageddon. But look into the theology of PDs and you will see an outright longing for those tumultuous times. Among those prominent candidates for political office in the 2012 campaign you will find the names of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann: replay their youtube clips and you will find them riddled with End Times references. There is actually a group if PDs in Kansas who are breeding the requisite “spotless calf” to be sacrificed at the restored Temple of Solomon. I don’t make this stuff up!

So, here is my litmus test for presidential candidates: if you’re a premillennial dispensationalist and you eagerly anticipate the ultimate battle betwixt Good and Evil as the opening act for Jesus’ triumphal return, then please don’t seek my vote to put your index finger on the Big Red Button.


Election 2012 (Part 2)

Perhaps the simplest explanation for the ongoing, seemingly unending political debate in the U.S. is our country’s set of founding documents. Written at a time when the colonies were both large and small, urban and substantially rural, industrializing or persistently agricultural, consensus was achieved through compromise. The Founders’ concessions gave us a Constitution with such elasticity as to be downright squishy on occasion. Forget about the “Elastic Clause” that we all studied in Seventh Grade “Civics.” [By the way and not incidentally, Congress needs to revisit those days before 1789 and rediscover the idea of government by consensus.]

The Constitution and Bill of Rights are bold yet open-ended statements reinterpreted with the arrival of each new generation–none of them more so than the First and Second amendments. Of late, I have been devoted to a consideration of the first:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It is generally agreed that the Founders were, in general, of the Deist persuasion. But the god of Deism is hardly the grey-haired, bearded, fault-finding father figure of Messrs. Falwell, Robertson or Graham. As uncomfortable as it may be for them to admit, the Christianity of political and social conservatives would hardly be recognized by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. It has been refreshing (but hardly reassuring) to find a facebook presence for The Christian Left; for me, it is the “left” portion of their name that entices me to read their postings, not the “christian” (which I have not considered myself for some years).

One of my long term, apparently never-ending projects has been a study of the Social Gospel, a post-Civil War theology conceived in the throes of massive European immigration, unregulated industrialization and abusive urbanism. Theologists like Walter Rauschenbusch and Washington Gladden read the Gospels anew; understanding Jesus’s mediating role in a horizontal way, as the Brother of Mankind, rather than vertically as the Son of God. It just so happens that, from my standpoint as an historian of architecture, there were enormous consequences for the size, shape and organization of church buildings responding to the Social Gospel. Oddly enough, the Social Gospel gave us late 19th and early 20th century examples of what today would be called 24/7 religious service centers, though their purpose was almost entirely opposite the function of such megachurches today: the so-called Institutional Church of 1900 was intent on social service to its total community, while the megachurch of 2000 seems to be intent on the isolation of its membership from the secular world and making a clear distinction between God and Mammon [viz. Matthew 6:24]. If there is yet any vestige of Christianity remaining from my halting youthful experience with religion, it is the left-leaning theology of the Social Gospel.

So, what of the role of religion in the current presidential campaign?


My reading of the First Amendment suggests that freedom of religion incorporates freedom from religion. Congress, in fact, has already violated the opening clause of the First Amendment: the so-called Wall of Separation between Church and State does not exist in practice, simply because the tax code and all other revenue-generating aspects of government have given religion a unique previleged place, tax exempt and free to preach whatever Truths or Heresies, whatever definitions of Love or Hate might suit the moment. When interviewed recently, an officer in the Australian segment of the Salvation Army stated that his understanding of Christianity allowed, perhaps even required, the death of homosexuals. I suspect the Christmas-season red buckets in San Francisco (alias Bagdad-by-the-Bay) will be significantly less full this year. But would such a statement from a U.S. pulpit have put its congregation’s tax-exempt status in jeopardy? Under the current Supreme Court, I suspect not.

Now, consider the religious faiths of the two leading candidates for the presidency (since I am frankly unaware of Ron Paul’s religious inclinations). Barack Hussein Obama was, for many years, a member of the Southside Chicago congregation of Rev Jeremiah Wright, whose name or theology were unknown to me until the good reverend made statements that, as an African American clergyperson, offended the White community. While I have made no in-depth study of Rev Wright, his position in the African-American religious tradition make perfect if unconvincing sense to me. What seems important here is the ongoing burden on President Obama of a theology called into question by White Christian conservatives: the President is guilty by his association with a clergyman with whom he no longer has ties.

Willard Mitt Romney, on the other hand, is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a 19th century revelation through Joseph Smith, Jr., begun in Upstate New York but migrating through misunderstanding and persecution to the valley of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, form whence it has thrived and grown into a worldwide religious and economic phenomenon. For at least the past twenty-five years, I have been fascinated with the LDS (or more popularly, the Mormon) church, having a large number of books both by and about them. [I have read, for example, both the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.] What amazes me in the present circumstance is the enormous support given to candidate Romney by the ultra-conservative branches of Christianity—the same forces that disdain the orthodoxy of a Jeremiah Wright, appear to welcome the faith of a candidate who, by their own definition, is not Christian.

Regardless of denomination (unless you’re a Unitarian, of course), a central tenet of Christianity is the existence of one God who exists in three persons—Father, Son and Holy Ghost/Spirit—a bit of metaphysical legerdemain that probably mystifies anyone outside the Christian tradition and, with equal probability, a few who are within it. With this in mind, consider the belief of mainstream Mormons concerning the Godhead:

  • God or Heavenly Father has a physical body and lives on the planet Kolob, from whence he watches and guides from time to time affairs here on Earth.
  • Heavenly Father is the god of Earth, but he is only one of an infinite number of gods, each of whom has jurisdiction over their own respective planet.
  • Heavenly Father was, at one time, a human being much like you or me; he worshipped another god on another planet and, through a life well lived, attained his own divinity and planet (Earth) for governance.
  • Heavenly Father and his consort Heavenly Mother conceive an endless supply of spirit babies who join with the physical offspring of earthly humans (hence the need for large families).
  • Each virtuous Mormon who lives a proper life, fulfills all the requirements of his church, performs all the appropriate Temple Ordinances and is sealed for time and all eternity with his spouse, will become a god and be given, in turn, his own planet, over whose affairs he will preside and offer the selfsame benefit to the inhabitants thereof—this includes Willard Mitt Romney, who is destined some day to become a god of his own planet.

I pass no judgment here on the beliefs of the LDS Church, as curious and interesting as I find them to be. These are questions to be worked out between and among Mormons and what they believe to be a corruption of the true Church founded by Jesus two thousand years ago. Search the web and you will find that you Christians have already done that in large measure. What I simply suggest is that you weigh these beliefs against the decidedly more orthodox core faith of someone like Jeremiah Wright. Two things seem obvious: 1) by most definitions of Christianity, Mormons are not Christian, and 2) by Mormon definition, most Christians are not Christian.

The bottom line, at least as far as the 2012 presidential campaign is concerned, is that the vast majority of Christian conservatives, who would condemn me to eternal damnation as a gay agnostic, will also vote for Willard Mitt Romney as their standard bearer. Go figure.

Lest you think that no candidates pass my religious litmus test—mine is downright flimsy compared to Pat Robertson’s, by the way—I would happily vote for any of the following candidates:

  • Congressman Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim and to whose campaigns I have made financial contribution;
  • Senator Harry Reid, who is himself a Mormon;
  • the late great Senator Barry Goldwater, whose family converted from Judaism to become Presbyterians; the radical pronouncements of Goldwater in the 1964 campaign seem sagely tame and prescient when compared to the profoundly lunatic, bat-shit-crazy utterances of Michele Bachmann, who I believe to be seriously mentally ill.

On the other hand, I could never, in good conscience, offer support to the likes of Joe Lieberman, not because he is a Jew, but because he is a sleazy opportunist. Or Allan West, whose name I can never recall until I have googled “crazy florida congressman” and refreshed my memory. [I have, incidentally, contributed to the campaign of the other “crazy florida congressman” Alan Grayson, so wonderfully out of control that you have to admire him.]

Religion, in these peculiar times, does indeed make strange bedfellows. It just happens to be a bed I prefer to avoid.

Election 2012

There are things that I know, things that I only suspect, and things that I truly believe. What follows, concerning the current campaign for the election in November, falls in the middle category: I suspect these observations are true, but I’m also fully prepared to modify or change these views on the basis of additional information.

Current campaigns for public office at the local, state and federal levels concern me more than any since I first voted in 1963. Not since the Johnson-Goldwater contest of 1964 have I seen such strident electioneering toward an outcome that might literally change the direction of history. I voted then and it did. Who will receive my vote this year has never been in doubt, though I am concerned for the outcome more than any election I have known.

There are political forces at work that cause me to wonder about my country. Driving across northern Wisconsin last weekend, I saw irrational fear all about me–on billboards and bumper stickers, lapel pins and the faces of cashiers at the BP station and the car repair shop. I was geniunely afraid to let those people know me in any but the most superficial ways. Fear is abroad in the land and if it decides this election, the coalition of the contentious will, I suspect, cause me to reevaluate my citizenship.

The presidential campaign dominates the news and preoccupies the talking heads on both sides. At the risk of oversimplification, it seems to me the rhetoric is driven by two notions that thread their checkered way through most U.S. history, from the earliest European colonization to the present day: Race and Religion. But before I volunteer any further discussion of these topics in the current debate, let me insert a word or two about friendship.

Despite the three-digit number of my “friends” on facebook, I have, at most, ten or possibly a dozen friends. These are people to whom I would cheerfully donate parts of my body; folks who have seen me at my best, but also at my very worst, and yet come back for more. Friends, in my jaundiced view, are people who know you very well, perhaps too well, and like you despite that intimate knowledge. I won’t name names; you know who you are. I spoke with one of that small group last weekend about being an executor of my estate. They said “yes” and I now feel much better that my final wishes will be carried out with both style and substance. Not to worry, by the way: I have no plans to check out any time soon.

This brief commercial interruption has been brought to you by Friendship. Give it a try. You won’t be sorry. Acquaintances come and go, but friends are in it for the long haul.


There’s a loaded word. Walk into any room and say it in anything above a whisper and all eyes will turn your way–or, perhaps, the other way, hoping you will go away.

We have, for the first time (unless earlier presidents have been hiding something), a national leader of mixed race; the product of a Black Sub-Saharan African father and a White American mother. Barack Hussein Obama was born in 1961, while anti-miscegenation laws still existed in many states. Look at this map and guess which states had their laws forbiding cohabitation of Black and Whites overturned by a Supreme Court decision on 12 June 1967–less than fifty years ago! If you guessed the Red States, step to the head of the class. I was twenty-two and barely aware of it in the midst of the Vietnam debacle.


Now ask yourselves how many of those same states would voluntarily return to their pre-67 status? Interesting question. Perhaps we’ll find out.

There is still a substantial portion of the American people who choose to believe–despite certified evidence to the contrary–that our president was born in Africa and is both illegitimately our leader and also clearly “not one of us.” Egged on by Orly Taitz and “The Donald,” this substantial group of our fellow citizens are fixed on the idea that the only Black who ever sets foot in the Oval Office should be there to clean the carpet. I more than suspect this is true. Yet in the last six months of presidential campaigning, how many who have put themselves forward for your consideration have taken a firm stand against such nonsense? John McCain is the only one I can recall.

Yes, President Obama has appointed Blacks to important federal office. He has also appointed Latino/as, most notably Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. And each of these appointments has clearly bothered some folks who are colored like me. It will be different in a Romney administration, because his appointments are more likely to be the same color as the president, so we will have to look elsewhere for their kinship.

I see America changing. I hear it on the bus, in the checkout line at Cash Wise, everywhere I go. Even here in the Frozen North, there are increasing numbers of emigrants from Africa and Asia who may dress or coif or utter oddly accented speech different from my own. Big deal. Change is uncomfortable because it challenges the status quo. Let me interject something here which is much more than a suspicion on my part: I do not for one moment believe that we are a White Nation; nor that we need officially to become an exclusively English-speaking Nation; nor were we ever and especially now a Christian Nation. Words can and often have been put into the mouths of the Founding Fathers, so I won’t trot out my own examples, but it is safe to say they would recognize America, even if they had not imagined it might develop this way. They were open to change and we should be equally open to that ongoing evolutionary process.

Ooops! There’s a word I should have avoided: evolution. Both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born in the same year, 1809. Those same Founding Fathers, however, could not have imagined a president like Lincoln (with or without vampires), nor could they have foreseen the scientific revolution in Darwin’s wake. Yet social conservatives seek a place at the table for their unscientific, unverifiable notions (notice I did not say “theories”) of the universe’s origin. “But it’s only a theory” they chant in chorus at Darwin, while their own Creationist proposition is on par with creation myths such as the Iroquois, who put us on an island dredged from the bottom of the Primordial Sea by the industrious Muskrat. I would welcome a class at any appropriate educational level that would reveal the many magical and poetic creation myths of the Iroquois and Inuit, the Hindu and Shinto, the Abrahamic and the Shamanic traditions. All have much to reveal about our humanity. But they are no substitute for science.

Again, how many of our pool of presidential candidates have acknowledged Stephen Jay Gould’s notion of non-overlapping magisteria? In the necessarily science-based world of the 21st century, science cannot be compromised by such twaddle as Creationism. A 2007 study put our science education in eleventh place worldwide and I suspect we are falling rapidly and will even more precipitously in a Romney administration pandering to those who prefer simple answers in a complex world.

And while I’m throwing around the phrase “social conservatives,” let me add that I consider myself among them on the question of marriage equality. Marriage, despite what conservatives may say, has very little to do with religion. It is a legal conception far more important for the passing of property in family groups. Willard Mitt Romney should be especially concerned here. But regarding the defense of marriage as an institution, overlay this map with the one above and tell me if you see any correlation.


And then add this illustration of states with high rates of subscription to internet pornography. Are you getting a picture that so-called “Red States” are conflicted in their quest to regulate our social behavior? I’ll regulate mine if you regulate yours.


Marriage equality will, if anything, only bolster a flagging social institution with divorce rates already inching past fifty percent. Remember the candidacy of Newton Leroy Gingrich, the serial monogamist who courts his newer wives while the current ones die from cancer.

I’ll give you all a rest for the time being and save my observations about religion for another day. As Bette Davis might say, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”