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(My report on The Village Idiot, a short-lived humor magazine at the University of Georgia in 1964, continues herewith.)

In 1956, Patti Carruthers graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Education. (I looked it up on the Google.) After teaching for a time in Missouri, she moved to Hollywood, where she worked as a substitute at a junior high school. Her salary was $550 per month.

In 1959, at age 24, Patti Carruthers accepted an offer of $1,000 a week to become a stripper at Hollywood’s Moulin Rouge. She took the stage name Patti White.

“I miss teaching because I love boys and girls,” she said in an interview at the time. “But this is a great switch, getting up late and sleeping late.”

Miss White, who measured 37-22-36, said she was glad she made the career change because “the traveling involved is so educational.” But, she added, stripping was just a stepping stone. She aspired to be an actress.

“Now I can afford acting lessons, singing lessons, and dancing lessons,” she said.

By 1961, due to circumstances I was unable to ascertain, Patti White was working as a stripper at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

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Promo flyer from the Domino Lounge, 1961.

And it was there that the editorial staff of the Athens magazine The Village Idiot (see my previous post) interviewed her…

———

Q & A

An Interview With Miss Patti White in Which She Exposes All

NOTE: This story was so important to our first issue that we decided not to entrust it to one reporter. Miss White’s tale, we reasoned, required the attention of our whole staff. So off we went to Atlanta and THE DOMINO, where the following conversation occurred.

Q. (By the staff) May we buy you a drink, Miss White?

A. No, thanks, boys. I don’t drink. Well, maybe just… you know. But, please be my guests. I feel I owe you a great deal, you know.

Q. Aw, you don’t owe us nothing, Patti. (Double scotch, waitress.) (A double CC, ginger chaser, doll.) (I’d just like a whiskey sour, please.)

A. But I do owe you something. Anything I can do, please ask.

Q. Well, now… (Shut up!)

A. I mean, really. After all, it’s not every day a girl gets to be the Village Idiot. I mean, I’ve just never been an idiot before, you know?

Q. Great sense of humor there, Patti. Great, just great. (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Now, boys, tell me about your publication. I’ve always been interested in books and things like that. You know, I’ve been thinking that someday I might go back to teaching again. Or maybe I’ll open a string of Patti White clubs. I mean, after all, why not? Playboy has its rabbits springing up everywhere, so why not me?

Q. Do you mean you’ll have white rabbits? Ha-ha. (Write that down.) (Yeah, we may have to use it.) All right to order another round, Patti?

A. Sure, boys. I get a discount. But let me tell you my idea. See, the Patti White clubs would have all these darling little waitresses — all young and beautiful and eager to serve, and guess what they’d be wearing!

Q. A happy face? (Scotch on the rocks.)

A. No, silly. You’re pulling my leg.

Q. (Pregnant pause while the Idiot staff grins.)

A. Now, in my club, the girls would be first class. They’d wear mortar boards and cute little shorty gowns. Wouldn’t that be clever?

Q. Sure it would. (Yeah, they could take orders on cute little blackboards.) (In chalk.)

A. Oh, that’s a wonderful idea. I ought to have you boys help me, you’re so clever.

Q. That calls for a drink, right Patti?

A. Right! And I’m buying. After all, a person in my position shouldn’t risk getting on the wrong side of the press.

Q. Speaking of blackboards and chalk, Patti, how did you happen to quit teaching and become a stripper?

A. Oh, I’m not really a stripper. I mean, well, I take off my clothes and all, but when I’m up there, I still feel like a teacher, you know?

Q. We’ll have to admit, it’s a revelation.

A. You see, I was really a dedicated teacher. I tried everything I knew to get across to my students, and I think, I mean I really do, that I must have been pretty popular with the boys at Sun Valley School. I mean, I could tell. hey would watch me very carefully, no matter what I was doing. But then, the administration began to watch, too.

Q. And what did they think?

A. Well, I think they looked pretty hard at me, too. But it wasn’t my fault I was a healthy girl. Why, ever since I was 14, I could pass for a… well, you know what I mean.

Q. Yes, ma’am, we know. (I can understand how you’d have trouble with the administration.) (Another Scotch, please.)

A. Well, the whole trouble was in the way I dressed. Do you see anything wrong with the way I’m dressed?

Q. No, ma’am.

A. So, either my clothes had to go, or I had to go.

Q. So, both of you went, huh? (Tragic loss to Sun Valley.) (Another example of inept administration.)

A. I keep hoping that someday, I’ll find a principal who’d like to have me.

Q. Well, now, I’m sure there must be many. (That brings up the big question, Patti.) (Anybody want another drink?)

A. Order up, boys. I have to perform in a minute. Say, you boys are pretty clever. I wish you’d tell me what you think of the act.

Q. I’d be glad to tell you. (Uh, the big question, remember?) Oh, yes. Patti, do you think a college degree is a liability or an asset?

A. Well, in my case…

Q. Thank you, Miss White.

A. I didn’t finish. You see, after college, I went into teaching. Now, the California system doesn’t pay too badly, but teaching doesn’t pay enough for what the administration wants you to do. Sometimes, I could hardly make out. But what was a liability in teaching turned out to be an asset in show business, and now I make up to a thousand a week.

Q. A thousand a week?

A. Oh, yes. I mean, well, I work very hard. Twice a night, six times a week.

Q. Wow! Miss White, we of the staff salute you. Now, gentlemen, let us quaff a final toast — one more, Patti? — to Patti White, the Idiot’s Delight.

VI-7

VI-8

———

The Patti White interview no doubt was the pride of The Village Idiot staff. They probably thought the story would make The VI an overnight sensation.

For all I know, it did. I didn’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of Athens in those days.

In truth, I was just an anonymous 20-year-old, no car, chronically broke, a guy with Buddy Holly glasses and a flat-top haircut. My chief interests, beyond keeping my grades respectable, were observing females and conspiring to get alcohol.

In other words, The Village Idiot easily could have been the toast of Athens that year without my knowledge.

Anyway, that’s the story of The Village Idiot. If you know what became of the magazine, the people who created it, or, for that matter, the lovely Patti White, fill me in.

 

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In January 1964, during my senior year at the University of Georgia, a “provocative variety magazine for University students” made its debut in Athens. It was The Village Idiot.

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An editorial said it would be a monthly publication similar in concept to such college humor magazines as The Harvard Lampoon and The Florida Orange Peel. To set the tone, the VI featured this depiction of the Idiot himself.

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Note his lapel button, which is a slap at The Red & Black, the longtime University-approved student newspaper.

Volume One, Number One of the VI consisted of 32 mostly black-and-white pages plus a two-color cover. Inside was a mixture of articles, cartoons, and short fiction. Much of the content, if you’ll permit me to be frank, was forgettable. Still, several things stood out.

First, no Volume One, Number Two ever materialized, to my knowledge. And I don’t think I simply missed it. More likely, the people who conceived The VI (students, I assume) simply walked away. The Dublin musicians in the movie The Commitments come to mind.

Second, for a modest startup, the staff did a good job of selling ads. Scattered through the publication are two dozen display ads by respectable Athens businesses of the day — restaurants, clothing stores, drug stores, news stands. Making those sales took some skills.

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Third, even though the writing isn’t as funny/thoughtful/compelling as the staff probably thought it was, some of the stories have their moments.

There is, for example, “Requiem,” a nice remembrance of the Old South Tavern, a beloved Athens beer joint. The Old South was a local institution for two decades until, over the 1963 Christmas holidays, it abruptly closed, causing widespread anguish.

I was among the anguishees. I wrote about the Old South, its mystique, and what it meant to the students of UGA in this post in 2016.

Here is the story from The VI.

———

Requiem

By William Straightarrow

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There was no epitaph, no word of explanation: there was only a crude sign, “CLOSED FOR CHRISTMAS.” I sat on the curb outside and watched the line of students step up to the door. A rattle of the glass and a long perplexed stare at the marker provided the prelude for a chain of oaths.

The Old South was dead. Athens’ most famous beer hall has passed into history without even the fading scent of magnolias. There were no street demonstrations by the D.A.R. The Athens Historical Society had not even proposed a marker. The local temperance league commemorated the event with a wild party that ended with everyone getting stoned on the communion wine.

But the Old South Tavern was just as much one of Athens’ institutions as Henry Grady’s home, the first garden club, Crawford Long’s ether-filled handkerchief, and Effie’s.

(Ed. note: Effie’s was an Athens brothel that operated for nearly 50 years before the law finally shut it down in 1974.)

“Closed for Christmas,” locked tighter than the lace on a preacher’s daughter.

Why so much concern for a beer joint? The question is unanswerable. It’s like standing on the corner and gazing at girls, or shooting pool for a round of beer, water-battling on a warm spring afternoon, listening to a forgotten tune on a raspy radio late at night. Nostalgia is a cheap and childish emotion, but we are all guilty.

The history of the Old South is linked directly to Athens and the University. Stories of its past reek with the distinct, often offensive odor of the brew it dispensed. At the same time, the Old South was not offensive.

“They were perfect gentlemen… drunk or sober,” recalls Miss Lula Blakey, who worked in the Old South from its beginning in 1946. She had been everything to the establishment: busboy, barmaid, waitress, cashier and occasionally ex-officio manager.

“I just can’t sleep since they closed this place,” she says when recalling the happy hours she spent in the tavern. Reaching back into the foamy past, she recalls the many Homecoming Weekends which always meant “elbow room only at the horseshoe bar and rickety booths. The boys brought in such pretty girls with such pretty flowers… and they’d just be so drunk.”

Miss Lula had an added role at the Old South — confessor for the myriad characters who needed someone to listen to their woes. She’s probably patched up more engagements than anyone around.

Few people in school now can remember when the tavern gained a wide reputation as some sort of fairyland without frills. A few fraternity men would still come in for a quick beer and a hamburger, but public opinion had indicted the clientele, thus the reputation of the Old South.

The well-known haven of hops was dominated in those days by limp-wristed leftovers from Greenwich Village. Such sensual sipping and intellectual intercourse had long since found another haven before we first learned to chug-a-lug and eat hard-boiled eggs.

University alumni always used to come back to the old malt emporium as if it were some fraternity lodge. Miss Lula seldom forgot a name of a former regular customer. She could spot them in spite of physical changes. Some were broader; some lacked hair; all were older.

“Everyone would come back on football weekends — already drunk — and stay up all night raising all kinds of hell.”

“The brotherhood” had its peculiar “grip” — a hand extended to receive a frosty mug or some luscious little lass.

“Nobody ever drank us dry,” said Mangleburg, the Old South’s third owner since it opened. Customers would drain about 10 kegs of beer a week, but the draught just never really caught on. “We sold about 3,000 mugs a week, but four times as many cans.”

A good weekend would put $800 or $900 into the till. The personality of the dim hall kept the taps flowing. Nowhere in Athens could you find the same kind of atmosphere that hovered in the Old South.

Stories about the Old South are as numerous as the names carved in the booths. Most of the tales are attributed to Miss Lula and Chuck Cain, who managed the tavern for several years.

One afternoon, a strapling jock-type lumbered into the door carrying an overloaded armful of mugs. “I’m graduating next week, and I thought maybe you might like your glasses back,” he explained.

Chuck’s face was stern as he raised hell with the boy for stealing the mugs. “Well, if you’re gonna be so damn mean, I ain’t gonna bring the rest of ’em back,” was the embarrassing reply.

An unusually busy evening resulted in a shortage of mugs and soon a complete lack of them. Chuck bristled his feathers and steamed. He watched several fellows return from the head without their mugs. He found his entire stock of mugs stacked neatly in a closet which stored other items more directly associated with rest rooms.

Chuck fathered the Old South inspiration and furthered its relations with the students. Just as Miss Lula played housemother, Chuck was a natural big-brother type. He had a glibness about him which was excelled only by his knack of knowing when to use it. After closing, Chuck often bought a case of beer and went out “drinking with the boys.”

Chuck made the Old South hamburgers famous, preparing them with an undisclosed technique of his own. Miss Lula says the hot dogs have kept many boys in school. A few of the regulars used to be able to get credit on food bills.

One of the most famous (and popular) features of the Old South was its bathroom. Its decor was early American outhouse, but necessity overlooks much. Drunks found pleasure in knocking holes in the wall, ripping off plaster, and generally contributing to its character. The commode was busted, and the floor received its share of punishment… not always with city water.

Ah, but the art work. Sheer genius. Not including a local female directory, there are the complete works of Kilroy, Zorro, Melvin Ford, Anonymous. The proper poems for an occasion, the profound thoughts of deep meditation were constantly being replenished. Outstanding revelations of our time startled the wandering eye. Best known is the inscription, “God picks his nose.”

So another tradition falls without a protest. No mention of the death in the newspapers, no Society for the Restoration and Preservation of the Old South, no SOS movement. No one seems to want to save the Old South.

Mangleburg says he is trying to find someone to operate the place. Rent is very high for the location, high overhead, various notes on equipment are discouraging for operators. Perhaps our favorite oracle is doomed. We can only hope that the South will Rise Again!

———

“Requiem” celebrated a colorful local joint that was remembered fondly by multitudes of UGA students. Considering the abrupt closing of the Old South, the story probably was a last-minute addition to the magazine. The article is a bit rough, a bit lacking in places, but still a solid effort.

In my next post, another noteworthy article from the first and perhaps only edition of The Village Idiot: an interview with Miss Patti White, an exotic dancer at the Domino Lounge in Atlanta.

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The following recollection isn’t a parable, because parables involve human characters. I looked it up. Nor is it quite a metaphor. Metaphors are about symbolism, not literal truth.

Allegory? Analogy? A label eludes me. You decide.

———

In 1979, having lived in Ft. Lauderdale for most of a decade, my family and I moved back to Metro Atlanta.

We settled in Lawrenceville, a bedroom community in Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, near my parents and siblings. My job was in the eastern suburb of Conyers, and I began the routine of weekday commutes cross-country from suburb to suburb.

Back then, Lawrenceville and Gwinnett were growing uncomfortably fast. The county government had been taken over by developers, literally, and one of Gwinnett’s major assets, the beautiful greenery, was disappearing lickety-split.

Subdivisions and strip malls sprouted everywhere. The communities and neighborhoods became badly overcrowded. Government resources were strained. The traffic was terrible. Nobody liked it except the landowners, developers, builders, and tradesmen who were cheerfully cashing in. Because America.

My commute from Lawrenceville to Conyers was a drive of about 25 miles and 40 minutes. Usually, traffic at the Lawrenceville end was busy and unpleasant, but the rest of the drive was easy and peaceful along rural roads.

I thought of those commutes as my personal time to relax and reflect. I became an attentive observer of life along the route of the commute, about which I elaborated in this post in 2009 and this one in 2015.

I mention this because of something else that held my attention during those years: a handsome forest of hardwoods along Georgia Highway 20, the main route between home and Lawrenceville. Over time, as the human presence expanded, I watched the forest change.

The hardwoods were at their most picturesque near the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive. Swanson Drive led east to the county jail, the animal shelter, and an elementary school. There, of course, the trees long since had been razed.

But at the aforementioned intersection, the trees were striking — a mature stand in its prime, dominated by beautiful White Oaks with broad, dense crowns.

At the southeast corner of the intersection, under the oaks, was a small building, originally a residence, now a business.

The sign in front read

WHITE OAKS DAY CARE CENTER

For several years, I passed the place twice a day on my commute, and it was one of the highlights of the drive. The setting was attractive and restful. The little building under the trees was a pleasant, welcome sight.

Apparently, the day care center was doing well, and the time came to expand. The house was demolished, and most of the surrounding oaks were cut down. Only half a dozen remained.

A new building was constructed on the property, suitably larger and more elaborate.

The new sign in front read

OAK GROVE DAY CARE CENTER

In 1996, I moved to Walton County, and my days of commuting across Gwinnett County ended. After that, I passed the intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive only on weekends, on my way to see my parents in the old neighborhood.

Time passed. Outwardly, little changed at the intersection. Then, in 2001 or 2002, the parking lot was repaved and expanded. Of the remaining oaks, all were cut down except two, one on each side of the building.

I wondered if the business would rename itself TWIN OAKS DAY CARE CENTER, but I was disappointed.

During the next several years, my life and routine changed significantly. Mom and Dad passed away, and I retired. I moved to Jefferson to be closer to my son Dustin and his family. Trips to Lawrenceville became a rarity. I lost track of the property at the intersection and its two surviving oak trees.

Over the decades from 1979 to the present, GA 20 north of Lawrenceville progressed from two lanes, to three lanes, to four, to six. Swanson Drive was extended west across GA 20, where a massive new industrial park was built. All typical of Gwinnett’s pell-mell growth over the years.

If you sense that I disapprove, you are correct. The county is overcrowded and choked with traffic to an appalling degree. Home prices and taxes are prohibitive. In short, Gwinnett long ago squandered its redeeming qualities. I avoid going there when possible.

In the end, the county’s steady growth and constant road improvements effectively canceled each other out. Morning and evening traffic have attained a state of hopeless, permanent gridlock, probably forever.

But I digress.

A couple of years ago, I passed the aforementioned intersection and was surprised to find that the day care center was gone. That was unexpected, but things change. Maybe the owners had retired or moved away.

Occupying the property instead were three small businesses: a U-Haul dealership, a rental car company, and a used car lot.

Also, I regret to report that only one of the two large White Oaks remained. There it was, the lone survivor of the original stand, providing shade for a row of used cars.

Too bad no one thought of LONE OAK AUTOMOTIVE.

Lone survivor

The intersection of GA 20 and Swanson Drive in Lawrenceville, showing the surviving White Oak.

The day care center, by the way, did not close. I discovered later that it merely had relocated a few blocks south on GA 20. The sign at the new location reads

OAK GROVE CHILD DEVELOPMENT CENTER

I certainly understand. “Child development” has much more panache than “day care.”

Still, considering the fate of the trees at the old location, the use of “oak grove” is ironic.

That, and the fact that the new location essentially is treeless.

OGCDC

Quercus alba

Quercus alba, the White Oak, native to North America from southern Canada to Florida to eastern Texas. So named because of the color of the finished wood. In favorable conditions, a White Oak can live for 450 years.

 

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Out the Window

In 1866, the Civil War barely over, German immigrant William A. Breyer of Philadelphia was unemployed with a family to support. He got the bright idea of making ice cream in the family kitchen and selling it around the neighborhood.

Breyer made a variety of flavors, and he advertised that his home-made ice cream contained only the finest all-natural ingredients: cream, cane sugar, fresh fruit, nuts, and healthy, yummy flavorings.

Further, Breyer did not add egg yolks to the product for richness, which was the practice with the French style of ice cream popular at the time. (The Breyer style later became known as Philadelphia or American ice cream.)

Breyer’s ice cream was a hit, and his business venture clicked. Family members pitched in to increase production. To reach more customers, Breyer purchased a horse-drawn wagon, insulated to hold blocks of ice and equipped with a dinner bell to announce its approach.

Soon, several horse-drawn rigs were in operation. Before long, the family opened a retail shop.

When William died in 1882, his son Henry took over the business. In 1896, the era of hand-cranked Breyers came to a close when the family opened a manufacturing plant.

In 1908, Henry incorporated Breyer Ice Cream Company. Trucks replaced the horses and wagons. By 1918, the company was producing and distributing over one million gallons of ice cream annually.

Through it all, the Breyers organization built its reputation on using only a few select, wholesome ingredients.

Even after Breyers was purchased by Kraft in 1926, the “all-natural”mystique was so strong that the ice cream remained relatively unchanged — carefullyunsullied by the sinister-sounding additives and preservatives that were creeping into competing ice cream brands.

You had to wonder how long that mystique could prevail over the baser instincts of capitalism.

———

As far back as I can remember, Breyers was the Smith family ice cream of choice. Flavor preferences varied, but, when it came to birthday parties and holiday get-togethers, only Breyers would do.

The brand became a family tradition because, first, it was great ice cream, and second, we admired Breyers for keeping the ingredients minimal and natural.

The label would read MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, VANILLA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, COCOA; or MILK, CREAM, SUGAR, STRAWBERRIES.

Sure, a random new ingredient would sneak in now and then — TARA GUM and SOY LECITHIN and such.

Sure, that was unsettling. But maybe, we thought, the additives genuinely benefited the product. Or perhaps they were required by some new government safety regulation. Besides, it still tasted like good old Breyers. So we looked the other way.

———

Clearly, Breyers was aware of the value of its “all-natural” reputation. A few decades ago, the company ran TV commercials featuring children struggling to read the names of the ingredients in competing brands. The ads were quite effective.

Those sentiments, of course, were phony. Sheer corporate crapola. They were ironic, too, considering the downward spiral, ingredient-wise, that Breyers soon would enter.

The decline of Breyers can be traced to 1993, when Kraft sold its ice cream brands, including Breyers, to the British-Dutch company Unilever. That was when the Breyers commitment to making ice cream with simple, all-natural ingredients went out the window.

Under Unilever, Breyers folded like an empty ice cream carton. Steamrolled, as it were, by expediency and the pursuit of profit.

Today, a Breyers product can contain up to 40 additive ingredients.

For example:

Breyers-1

Food additives fall into a range of categories: preservatives, stabilizers, sweeteners, thickeners, bulking agents, coloring agents, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and more. All have legitimate purposes.

But some varieties of Breyers now contain so little milk and cream that, legally, they no longer can be called “Ice Cream.” They are classified instead as “Frozen Dairy Dessert.”

To be fair, Breyers branched out to market a range of dessert variations — Gelatos, CarbSmart, Lactose Free, Fat Free, Gluten Free, Non-Dairy, Non-GMO. In those cases, simple and all-natural are not going to happen anyway. But the classic flavors have been adulterated, too.

The company does its best to apply lipstick to the pig, but only embarrasses itself:

“Only the highest quality ingredients go into Breyers® original flavors. We start with fresh cream, sugar, and milk and then add ingredients like real fruit and chunks of chocolate.”

“Add ingredients,” indeed.

———

Speaking of additives, here are the ingredients of “Breyers No Sugar Added Light Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-2

And here are the ingredients of “Breyers Blasts! Sara Lee Strawberry Cheesecake Frozen Dairy Dessert”:

Breyers-3

Indeed, the mighty have fallen.

At least William Breyer isn’t around to see what the suits have done with his legacy.

———

I close with one final observation.

Here are the ingredients of “Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream”:

Breyers-4

To the company’s credit, the ingredients are few and the additives minimal.

But please note that vanilla is not an ingredient of Breyers Natural Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

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Fealty

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a rant about the noxious, obnoxious gasbag now serving as President. I haven’t felt the need, really. Most of the country opines about Trump non-stop, ad nauseam.

And it’s the same old story. The conservatives and their propaganda outlets — Fox “News” et al — stand obediently and cynically with dear leader Trump. So do the dim bulbs who voted for him.

Meanwhile, normal people and the real news media see Trump for what he is. Normal people and the real news media rightly are outraged, indignant, dismayed, appalled, and disgusted that Trump is in the White House.

Donald Trump. My God.

Let’s be real here. Trump is not only the worst president ever, but he also is a corrupt, immoral, incompetent, contemptible human being. He has no class, no scruples, no integrity, no shame. He has been that way all his adult life. He will never change, because being Trump got him where he is.

Thanks to the aforementioned conservatives and dim bulbs, aided by the artful interference of Russia’s gangster-led government, Trump is President.

And, as was easily foreseeable, he is careening through his term, wrecking norms, damaging institutions, straining alliances, and expressing a sick admiration for despots and autocrats.

But this week, I feel compelled to post another Trump tirade.

Why? Because he went to Helsinki and, publicly and shamelessly, expressed fealty to Vladimir Putin. If anyone had lingering doubts that Trump is beholden to Putin in some unsavory way, those doubts should be gone now.

Trump confirmed his true loyalties by ignoring the fact that Russia insinuated itself into our 2016 election in order to tilt the outcome in Trump’s favor. The meddling isn’t conjecture; the American intelligence community has presented ample proof.

Yet, Trump accepts Putin’s word that Russia is innocent. Astonishing.

(When he began taking fire for kowtowing to Putin, Trump responded by proposing a second summit. It was the kind of “Oh yeah? Take that!” reaction we’ve come to recognize as typical Trump modus operandi.)

Why Trump is under Putin’s thumb, we don’t yet know. I suspect Putin owns Trump by virtue of the Russians having propped up Trump’s businesses financially for several decades.

Also, being a KGB guy, Putin probably has personal dirt on Trump that could bring him down and/or put him in jail.

Is Trump guilty of treason, as some now claim? Legally speaking, apparently not. Treason can happen only when we are at war. Putin is a thug and a threat and a menace to us all, but Russia and the U.S. are not at war.

But this is what really matters: it is beyond contempt to side with Putin, a murdering gangster, over the country you swore an oath to defend.

At the very least, Trump is guilty of dereliction of duty. He has failed to confront Russia for cyber-attacking us in the past, and he has failed to take steps to protect us from future cyber-attacks.

It comes down to this: Trump is unfit to serve as President. He jeopardizes the safety and security of our country, he should be booted from office as soon as legally possible, and he should face all criminal and civil charges that the courts allow.

How this squalid business ends is anyone’s guess. The outcome largely depends on the results of the Mueller investigation and how, ultimately, Mueller’s findings play out legally.

Trump could face any number of charges, from plotting with the Russians to influence the election, to illegally enriching himself at public expense, to laundering money for the Russian mob. That list is just off the top of my head.

Up until now, the right-wingers have choked back the bile and stood by this terrible man, no matter how scandalous his behavior, how incompetent his performance, or how brazenly he uses the Presidency to benefit himself and his friends.

And, frankly, if the conservatives didn’t abandon Trump after the Access Hollywood tape went public, they never will.

Think what reacting to that tape with a shrug says about a person’s character and integrity.

Clearly, the Republican politicians and their allies — the NRA, the big-money donors, the Christian evangelicals — have sold their souls for political advantage. History will judge them as contemptible hypocrites.

As for the people who voted for Trump, and who support him still, my view is marginally more charitable.

As a group, I don’t consider the MAGA crowd to be hopelessly malicious, unkind, or prejudiced people, although many undoubtedly are. Rather, I see them as short-sighted, ill-informed, and misled.

Many are blinded by bitterness. They resent minority populations for diluting their European-based culture. They resent the liberal snobs who look down on them. And, after four decades, they still aren’t over their deep hatred of the hippies.

Speaking as a liberal and probably sometimes a snob, I can report that I don’t disrespect conservatives or hold them in contempt. Except when they earn it.

Lately, a fantasy has coalesced in my head, and it is this: one day, when the legal noose tightens beyond the comfort level of the Trump family, they will flee the country. Defect.

Possibly to Saudi Arabia, but more likely to Russia, where Putin and the oligarchs can welcome them, openly at last.

It’s only a fantasy, mind you. But if that’s the way this sorry episode in our history ends, fine.

In fact, the sooner it happens, the better.

Trump-Putin

 

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Sometimes, I hear it said that English (modern English, which is the fourth variation to evolve over the last 1,400 years) is a difficult language to learn. I also hear that it’s relatively easy.

The real answer is that it depends. Depends on the similarity of your native language to English. Depends on your brain’s affinity for languages.

And here’s another angle to consider: language weirdness.

A few years ago, Idibon, a technology company that specialized in the analysis of languages for global operations such as Google and Facebook, assessed the world’s languages based on how weird they are. In other words, the degree to which they are unique and unlike other languages.

On the weirdness scale, English was ranked number 33 out of 239 world languages. That’s fairly high, but 32 languages scored even weirder.

The prize for weirdest language went to Chalcatongo Mixtec, spoken in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. In second place was Nenets, the language of the Samoyed people, who are reindeer herders in Siberia. Number three was the Native American language Choctaw.

Being a wordsmith and knowing English relatively well (it is, after all, my thing), I consider my native tongue (1) pretty darn difficult and (2) seriously weird.

English grammar and sentence structure are fairly straightforward and sensible. But English is poised to trip you up because of constant contradictions and exceptions to the rules.

Why is the “h” silent in herb, hour, honest, and rhapsody, but not in house, home, human, and hospital?

If it isn’t words with multiple meanings that throw you a curve, it’s words with multiple pronunciations.

Or it’s colloquial words and phrases that don’t make sense.

Why in the world is a handbag called a pocketbook?

How can a newcomer to English know what “working the graveyard shift” means?

What about “It’s a piece of cake” or “I’ll take a rain check”?

You get the picture, right?

All in all, English is flexible, fun, quirky, and endlessly fascinating, but oh, so easy to botch.

Allow me to elaborate, beginning with an anonymous poem entitled “Why English is Hard to Learn.”

Weird-1

Methren. Shim. Very clever.

More examples of English weirdness:

— The word inappropriate means not appropriate; but the word invaluable means very valuable. Likewise, the word inconceivable means not conceivable; yet, the word inflammable means flammable.

— There is no egg in an eggplant; no ham in a hamburger; and neither pine nor apple in a pineapple.

— You can make amends, but you can’t make an amend.

— Goods are always shipped, whether sent by ship, truck, or oxcart.

— We park on the driveway and drive on the parkway.

— Your nose can run, and your feet can smell.

Slim chance and fat chance mean the same thing; wise man and wise guy do not.

— Your house can burn up or burn down.

— You can fill in a form, or you can fill out a form.

— An alarm can go off, or it can go on.

— The words tear and tier are pronounced the same. But if you shed a tear and tear your pants, they aren’t.

— Quicksand works slowly.

— Boxing rings are square.

Weird-2

Imagine that you are freshly arrived from the old country, and you set out to learn English. How would you react when presented with these statements?

— The bandage was wound around the wound.

— I had to desert my dessert in the desert.

— A shot rang out, and the dove dove into the bushes.

— There’s no time like the present, so it’s time to present the present.

— Farms produce produce.

— Being full, the landfill refused my refuse.

— No, I don’t object to the object.

— The drummer put a picture of a bass on his bass drum.

— The boss needs to get the lead out and lead.

— That book I just read, it was a great read.

English is weird, man. Truly weird.

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Weird-4

 

 

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The concept in literature and the movies of a fictional universe, a fully-formed imaginary world, goes way back. Thomas More wrote Utopia in the 1500s. Conan the Barbarian appeared in the 1930s. The Lensman sci-fi novels came out between the 1930s and the 1960s.

We have the worlds of Middle Earth, Narnia, Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones. Not to mention the endless parade of comic book superheros. (A tiresome fad that I wish would go away, but, alas, will not.)

This proliferation of alternate realities surely says something about society, the national psyche, and the mentality of the average Joe.

But I’m not here to address that. I want to gripe about something that has mystified me for years — specifically, since 1977, when the original Star Wars movie came out.

Why, I want to know, do the characters and places in the Star Wars movies have such dopey, feeble names? With very few exceptions, Star Wars names are turkeys. Gutterballs.

In most fictional universes, the creators take special pride in the names they choose. Names are an opportunity to make a statement. Names can be revealing, evocative, dramatic. At minimum, you want them to be appealing and memorable.

Not in the world of Star Wars. In Star Wars, the names elicit a “Whaaaa???”

Take, for example, this list of duds:

– Chewbacca
– Lando Calrissian
– Jar Jar Binks
– Qui-Gon Jinn
– Poe Dameron

Yes, I know, Star Wars is popular and beloved. Those names and others are now familiar, and people have become accustomed to them. But as character names, what were the writers thinking? Were the names generated at random? Did they just string a few syllables together and move on?

With those possibilities in mind, consider these misfires:

– Emperor Palpatine
– Grand Moff Tarkin
– Darth Vader
– Count Dooku
– Yoda

Palpatine? Grand Moff? Dooku? Huh?

My first suspicion was that Georgia Lucas simply has a creative blind spot for names. Indeed, that may be the case. But when Disney assimilated Lucasfilm in 2012, the names, if anything, got worse.

For example, here are the main characters in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:

– Cassian Andor
– Jyn Erso
– Baze Malbus
– Chirrut Îmwe
– Bodhi Rook
– Saw Gerrera
– Mon Mothma

With a little effort, I was able to commit the first two names to memory. But the others? Ha!

In contrast, consider some of the character names created by J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling in their Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter novels.

Tolkien gave us these excellent and emotive names:

– Aragorn, son of Arathorn
– Thorin Oakenshield
– Smaug
– Arwen Evenstar
– Meriadoc Brandybuck

Rowling matched him with these:

– Hermione Granger
– Albus Dumbledore
– Severus Snape
– Nymphadora Tonks
– Draco Malfoy

As for place names, here are some destinations in Middle Earth:

– The Shire
– Rivendell
– Fanghorn Forest
– Mordor
Lothlórien

Place names in the world of Harry Potter:

– Hogwarts
– Little Whinging
– Slytherin House
– Ollivander’s, Makers of Fine Wands Since 382 BC
St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries

Meanwhile, in the Star Wars universe:

– Naboo
– Dagobah
– Mos Eisley
– Tatooine
– Hoth

The pattern is clear and painful.

Part of the explanation may be that, as a creative enterprise, Star Wars doesn’t come close to Tolkien or Rowling. Mind you, I’m as fond of Star Wars as the next guy. But viewing them as artistic works, if Tolkien is George Washington and Rowling is Abraham Lincoln, Star Wars is Donald Trump.

That aside, being a lesser form of art is no excuse for:

– Padmé Amidala
– Obi-Wan Kenobi
– Darth Maul
– Biggs Darklighter
– Jek Porkins

Remember, I brought up this subject because I find it curious and a little baffling. I didn’t say it was remotely significant or consequential.

But Jek Porkins? Seriously?

Jek Porkins

Jek “Piggy” Porkins, X-wing pilot for the Rebel Alliance, call sign Red Six, a casualty of the Battle of Yavin. (Yavin?)

 

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