Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Down on the Coroner

Recently, a retired coroner who had presided over some very high profile murder cases in Liverpool died in North Wales. This sad occasion prompted the following question: If the coroner dies, who gets called to examine the body? If it's a coroner from another community, imagine how self-conscious he or she would have to be while examining a colleague. Would the out-of-town coroner attempt to employ the same style of corpse examination used by the recently deceased coroner?

There is a reason coroner is an elected office in many parts of the United States. There may, in fact, be many reasons, but one of them is because under the old "spoils system" in political machines, city administrations often decided the best candidate for a high-paying was Cousin Fred, who learned everything he knew about post-mortem examinations from a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. To combat this corruption, many reformers strove to hold elections for as many local offices as possible. At this stage, it often seems a bit unwiedly and superfluous. Does anyone really care what political party the coroner is? Has anyone ever employed the campaign slogan "The Dead Dislike Democrats"?

Here's what kind of person the world can do without: anyone who sits in the studio audience of a daytime talk show. And also daytime talk show hosts. These polygraph administering, paternity testing, conflict stoking, headline grabbing simpletons need to catch an airplane to Tuvalu and never, ever return. And all current citizens of Tuvalu are welcome either to move to the country of their choice or remain in Tuvalu and use the former talk show hosts as household appliances, such as doorstops or hat and coat racks. The former talk show hosts are not under any circumstances permitted to speak for the rest of their lives and should consider themselves fortunate to be living in a tropical climate in which they aren't mangled by Cape Buffalo.

As awful as the lying, cheating, deceitful guests on talk shows can be, members of the audience who boo, jeer, and taunt them are, if anything, worse people. The guests are merely guilty of being stupid enough to air out their asinine problems and pathetic lives on television, but the gawkers take delight in openly ridiculing others and that's just plain mean-spirited (and so are these words, but enough is enough!) Someone needs to open up a can of John 8:7* on these people? Not because it isn't human nature to sometimes be judgmental, even hypocritical, but because they are such hyperbolic nitwits about it. How about you tone it down a bit, Sir Laurence Olivier, and save the theatrics for your upcoming appearance in "The Iceman Cometh"?

Okay, so this comes across as a little bitter. What can I say? It's been a long winter!

*John 8:7 contains the passage "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone", or some variation thereof.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New, Improved, Bigger, Better and Americaner

The time has come for the United States of America to set herself apart in yet another way. What we need is a rotating National Anthem, because a nation such as ours can never be complete with only one.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" has taken its share of pounding from critics over the years, including claims that it is difficult to sing and that it's too war-oriented. The first claim has some merit, though because of the challenges associated with singing the song, our gratification increases when a vocalist really handles it (see Marvin Gaye, NBA All-Star Game, 1983). As for the second charge, well, what can be said? We cannot ignore history nor deny that some of our country's wars have yielded positive outcomes. War is not, and shouldn't be, all we're about, but nor should we forget the toil and sacrifice of the soldier.

Ultimately, "The Star-Spangled Banner" seems like a better poem than it is a song, but it's too important to leave out of the rotation. Two things to bear in mind are that Francis Scott Key originally wrote it as a poem and it was not set to music until years later and that the writing chronicles not a great victory, but a state of affairs much closer to defeat. The War of 1812's conclusion left the United States with a favorable treaty as Great Britain rushed her troops back to Europe to confront a resurging Napoleon, but Britain won nearly every battle, sacked Washington, and set the city ablaze. The events chronicled by Key in Baltimore in 1814 tell us a story of survival and resilience, not of glory and triumph. This, by the way, is a good thing and unusual for a National Anthem. You can't always prevail, but you can live to fight another day. And we have.

"The Banner" must not be abandoned, but its limitations are precisely why we need alternatives. The first and most obvious of these is "America the Beautiful", a stunningly wonderful number far more anthemic than Key's piece. The antithesis of "the Banner's" narrow focus, this song's first verse describes the beauty and grandeur of America's appearance. Also originally a poem by Katharine Lee Bates, the piece was set to music composed by Samuel Ward, who died before the song became popular and never met Bates. It's another perfect American story: sad, funny, and ironic.

Now comes the time for adventure. Forget "God Bless America" and "My Country 'Tis of Thee", not because these are bad songs, but because they are too similar in spirit and form to the previous two. Besides, "My Country 'Tis of Thee" has the same melody as "God Save the Queen" and we don't want one of our National Anthem's sounding exactly like Britain's. Continue to perform these songs, by all means, but leave them out of the National Anthem rotation. What we need here is variety without creating so many alternate National Anthems so as to become hazy and convoluted. In short, we need one more song to create a tidy rotation of three.

Probably the best way to do this is to proclaim "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" permanent members of the mix, with various third songs working their way in and out over a period of a few years. All three songs would officially be The National Anthem, so at public forums, ceremonies, or sporting events, any of the three could be played, or all three could be played, assuming the audience is patient enough.

So what should the third anthem be? Many people are partial to Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land", and it's hard to blame them. The song does have some controversial lyrics in its later verses, but why shrink from controversy? Though this idea of multiple National Anthems originates somewhat out of the desire to illustrate and embrace the great variety of the United States, there is no possible way to please everyone. As it stands now, many people are unhappy with the present National Anthem. If that Anthem were replaced, at least as many people would be unhappy with that development. The various National Anthems won't delight everyone either, but at least in this scheme, "The Star Spangled Banner" doesn't disappear altogether, so the people devoted to the song can retain it and the people uncomfortable with it have options.

"This Land Is Your Land" is an undeniably great and glorious piece worthy of consideration for the third Anthem, but it shares one slight drawback with Francis Scott Key's masterpiece: the song never mentions any of the three words "United", "States", or "America." Not that there's any question what country the song is about, with its references to "the New York islands", but it does seem jarring that this kind of song never explicitly mentions this country.

Lovely as Woody Guthrie's composition is, there might be an even better one. In the late 1950s, reputedly following a trip to Australia where he witnessed hardships endured by the Aborigines, Chuck Berry wrote "Back in the USA". Though not exactly an obscure song, it is far less well-known than the others mentioned in this writing, so the lyrics are reprinted below.

"Oh well, oh well, I feel so good today
We just touched ground on an international runway
Jet-propelled back home from overseas to the USA

New York, Los Angeles, oh, how I yearned for you
Detroit, Chicago, Chattanooga, Baton Rouge
Let alone just to be at my home back in old St. Lou'

Did I miss the skyscrapers? Did I miss the long freeway?
From the coast of California to the shores of the Delaware Bay
You can bet your life I did 'til I got back in the USA

Looking hard for a drive-in, searching for a corner cafe'
Where hamburgers sizzle on an open grill night and day
And the jukebox jumping with records like in the USA
Well, I'm so glad I'm living in the USA

Yes, I'm so glad I'm living in the USA
Anything you want, you got it right here in the USA."

Those who have not heard the song before must also envision the Moonglows chanting "uh huh huh, oh yeah" in the background. Now THAT is an American song, performed in an idiom largely of American design--rock and roll--by a great American success story. Chuck Berry also happens to be a sex deviant, but in a way even that regrettable fact adds more than it detracts from the overall picture. Thomas Jefferson was both a great man and a slaveholder. That's America: we are weak and strong, brilliant and ignorant, big and noisy, subtle and graceful, war-mongering and peace-loving, selfish and generous.

So let's not waste another minute. We want three National Anthems: "The Star-Spangled Banner", "America the Beautiful", and "Back in the USA". We're just too big, varied, and insane for anything less!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

This Could Have Been You

Speculation of this type is more fun than fruitful, but surely many Republicans realize and have considered the possibility that they could have produced the first African-American president and not the Democrats. Among Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and J. C. Watts, it is not too far-fetched to believe one of them could have made a viable candidate for the nation's highest office. Powell and Rice have repeatedly insisted a lack of interest in the job and Watts withdrew from public office, though not entirely from politics, following a not-so-friendly parting of ways with the GOP. Rumor has it much of the split involved Watts' decidedly uncordial rapport with now-disgraced former House Speaker Tom DeLay. If this is true, it is a shame that Watts' career was hampered by a man so rapidly approaching outcast status.

Indeed, during the 2008 Presidential Campaign, Watts stopped short of endorsing Obama, but criticized the Republican Party for failing to appeal to minorities. On a national level, Latinos are underrepresented in both major political parties, but they cast their lot with the Democrats this time because Republicans made no discernible effort to earn their votes.

What if all people named Watts were related and required to live in Watts, California? This might be the best idea to come along in a while. J. C. Watts could live next door to his brother and sister-in-law, Charlie and Shirley Watts, and their daughter Naomi could reside across the street. Think there would have been mid-1960s riots in Watts if they were all family? Hard to say since families don't always get along, but we can at least assume the riots would have taken a different direction. A direction such as "why are we forced to live so close to our stupid families?"

Another thing that would improve the world is if the French expression spelled viola exchanged pronunciation with the largely uncelebrated musical instrument also spelled viola. Then people could say "vy-oh-la" when presenting a pleasing and sudden conclusion and at band concerts you could hear people murmuring, "she's in the second row, playing the wah-la." Come on, who can deny this idea makes the world a better place?

Okay, how about this? Many cemeteries are home to ducks, who swim in ponds and streams and perhaps affirm life at a time when people are preoccupied with death. That's great. But what if it were possible to perform some kind of surgery on a duck and make its quack sound like a police siren? Every cemetery could have this procedure done on a single duck. If you walk beside the stream and over the little stone bridge one reflective afternoon following a relative's funeral and hear the police siren duck, it could be a sign of really good fortune, of better days ahead. And if you just hear normal quacking, it's just that sedate, life-affirming stuff. It could be called Duck Luck. Don't fight it; resistance is futile.