It’s a Southern Thing

Some years ago, my sister-in-law worked briefly as a waitress.  Another waitress shared that her son, who had just turned 18, had gotten a tattoo, one that she had paid for as a gift.  She had made him wait until that age, fearful that he may exercise poor judgment and choose a tattoo that he would later come to regret.  She was immensely proud of his choice: the Confederate battle flag, emblazoned across his back.  I wonder how he, and she, regard that decision today.

The Rebel flag, as I call it, has always been around in my life.  When you’re raised in the South and of less than an elderly age, it just is.  Growing up, it was everywhere.  You find it on decals on the back of pickup trucks, stickers on school notebooks, T-shirts with “The South Will Rise Again” slogan, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s concerts, on flags flying from RV’s at NASCAR events, and on most anything marketed for The Dukes of Hazzard  TV show.  There was no “hate” associated with it in my experience, but also no thoughtful reflection.  It’s a southern thing.  That said, my social circle didn’t include anyone who had an affinity for it.  I missed the “other” context during my formative years.   When you’re getting your Civil War history lessons, you learn that secessionist polemics about “State’s rights,” the economic argument of slavery as critical to southern commerce, or any other similar arguments at the time attempted to neatly duck the moral injustice of slavery.  You even learn that Lincoln, who fought the expansion of slavery, said he would not interfere with it where it already existed, including in the northern States.  Lesson taught.  Lesson learned.  What was not taught was that the Rebel flag lacked any notoriety or any significant place in southern society until around 1956, when Brown v. Board of Education began desegregation.  That’s approximately when South Carolina chose to raise the “Battle flag” above the capital building.  It became a symbolic battle flag for racists.  Unless you were there at the time, you have to wait for decades to learn that, for cable channels that have capacity to inform or an internet where the world is at your fingertips.  Living a non-hateful life with non-hateful people, you see it as a symbol but completely miss its negative symbolic impact on African Americans – for a while.  

I have known a handful people deeply interested in the Civil War.  Their idea of a great vacation is to visit as many battlefields and historical markers as possible.  Some have ancestral ties, and others just find it fascinating either from a study of military strategy or simply from the fact that something so defining to our nation happened in our own backyard.  Neither speaks to any interest in racism.  What speaks from history clearly is that “our” side lost.  You might adopt the phrase “The War of Northern Aggression” as a consolatory reminder that there’s an “us” vs. “them,” even as you jokingly curse about the damn Yankees (wisely) moving south and clogging our roads.  You’re a southerner.  It’s part of your identity, and, for many good and reasonable examples of southern life and hospitality, you take pride in it.

I have no issue with how South Carolina, and other southern states, are responding to the recent Charleston shooting.  The weight of what the Rebel flag might mean for some as a symbol of southern heritage pales to the historical context of what the Southern states declared about African Americans, that they were an inferior race and whose lives benefited from slavery.  I’ve though for a long time that if you fly a flag, you’re saying “I believe in what this symbol represents.”  As such, the “Battle flag” as with any edition of the official State flags of the Confederacy, belong in museums. 

A detour:

As an issue of symbols as free speech, I take pause.  There’s a phrase that has stuck with me, “Tolerance is a virtue to those without convictions.”  Can the same be said of its opposite?  “Intolerance is a virtue to those with convictions.”  Both have flaws, but if one is potentially more harmful, I’d suggest it’s the latter.  Look no further than ISIS’s destruction of any ancient sites representing other belief systems or the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. 

What defines the rightness or wrongness of something shouldn’t be relative or based on majority vote.  God as a moral law giver has been rebuked by society, so everyone is free to view morality by whatever suits them, that guiding light being self preservation, indulgence, humanistic advancement, ecological guilt, self-sacrifice, or others.   We see the outworking of this autonomy in the evening news, whether it’s human trafficking or the murders by Dylann Roof.  The absence of moral absolutes are why more laws are passed each year, combined with a trusting faith that the fear of punishment for doing a thing with which a majority disapproves can outweigh an individual’s desire to do it.  Something bad happens? Pass a law. 

An interesting article in Psychology Today states that  Dylann Roof is the result of the country’s embrace and exaltation of ignorance.   I won’t argue that ignorance abounds, but Roof is not the result of a national failure.  Evil exists.  I’ll let the psychologists who actually get to know Mr. Roof over the years to come expound on what particular influences or traits led to his actions.  I reject the author’s argument that ignorance is at fault, just at face value of the word’s definition.  I’d rather suggest that Roof’s education spoke to values and decisions with which the vast majority of us who ascribe to self-preservation would disagree.   And, if anti-intellectualism – an absence of reasoning - is said to be the cause, it speaks of an intolerance to those who don’t reason a particular way, in this case those set by the author.  Curiously, intellectualism, as is laid out in the article, stridently opposes any further debate by picking the lowest of fruit.   Evolution, climate change (implied – caused by humans), gun eradication,  progressivism over patriotism, capitalistic evil,  and demilitarization are the hallmarks of intellectualism, it seems.  In other words, if you’re not a liberal, you’re just not thinking.  Society simply can’t tolerate people like you.

The reaction to the Charleston shooting was peaceful, due the grace of the Christian families in the hours that followed.  A racist poster child caused the opposite of what he desired, in races peacefully coming together in his wake as well as at least one symbol of his belief system vanquished from State idolatry and (a significant portion of) commerce.  That doesn’t bother me.  It’s the right thing to do.  What concerns me is the potential.  In an age where intolerance abounds both in the open or in the back pocket of elitists, there is no safe harbor for deliberate, reasoned debate i.e. free speech.  With a mass media system that is both immediate and committed to a particular social narrative, the calls for someone to be fired, products to be banned, reputations to be ruined, or institutions to be overthrown are within the reach of those who can influence mob rule.  It’s not that anti-intellectualism is the issue but rather an intolerance of ideas which are not one’s own.  As exhibited by the families in Charleston, we could all benefit from more light than heat.

In the case of the Rebel flag, the amplifying voices worked.  I am aggrieved that southerners have come to judgment for allowing a symbol to remain that the vast majority of us neither espoused nor endorsed.    But we’ll be fine without it.  It didn’t make us who we are.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash–CSN

Quite a while ago, though I recall 8th grade pretty clearly (or was it the 9th?), I had an English/Literature teacher who contributed to my early musical foundation with several recommendations.  For this, I forgive him for making us memorize and recite in class the bloody dagger speech in Macbeth.  One of those was Crosby, Stills and Nash, particularly their self-titled first album and CSN, which they released in 1969 and 1977, respectively. I’ve listened to most of their music, and these remain my favorite – crisp harmonies, good song structure, good lyrics.  Sure, Neil Young joined the group for a while, but even before I had a political inclination, I wasn’t interested in their counterculture and social protest tendencies between these two releases.

 
I replaced their first album some time ago on CD, but only recently found a copy of CSN for $5.99.  Listening to it is like getting reacquainted with an old friend.  I had forgotten most of the songs until I heard the first several notes.  This is a consistently good album, and despite gaining a #2 sales position behind Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, I think it’s largely forgotten.  One song that my teacher recommended was “Cathedral,” and it was a favorite.    Musically, it’s primarily a dark and tightly written piano piece with a tension that breaks only for the chorus.  Splendid.  But what the heck was I listening to?  This happens fairly frequently when I listen to songs to figure out what they’re singing about, rather than hearing voices as an instrument.  You be the judge:

6 o'clock in the morning, I feel pretty good
So I dropped into the luxury of the Lords
Fighting dragons and crossing swords
With the people against the hordes who came to conquer

7 o'clock in the morning, here it comes
I taste the warning and I am so amazed
I'm here today, seeing things so clear this way
In the car and on my way to Stonehenge

I'm flying in Winchester cathedral
Sunlight pouring through the break of day
Stumbled through the door and into the chamber
There's a lady setting flowers on a table covered lace
And a cleaner in the distance finds a cobweb on a face
And a feeling deep inside of me tells me this can't be the place

I’m flying in Winchester cathedral
All religion has to have its day
Expressions on the face of the Saviour
Made me say, "I can't stay"

Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can't believe it all

And now I'm standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799
And the day he died it was a birthday and I noticed it was mine
And my head didn't know just who I was
And I went spinning back in time
And I am high upon the altar, high upon the altar, high

I'm flying in Winchester cathedral
It's hard enough to drink the wine
The air inside just hangs in delusion
But given time, I'll be fine

Open up the gates of the church and let me out of here
Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can't believe it all

Now I'm standing on the grave of a soldier that died in 1799
And the day he died it was a birthday and I noticed it was mine
And my head didn't know just who I was
And I went spinning back in time
And I am high upon the altar, high upon the altar, high

I’ll forgive myself something.  Fourteen year old was no doubt caught up in dragons and swords and left the rest of it alone.  And, funny, I thought “I taste the warning” was “I taste the morning.”    In any case, listening to it today, I have no idea what “I’m flying in Winchester Cathedral” even means.  And here I introduce an element that would have unfathomably changed my life, and probably for the worse, had it been around back then.  Google.  Turns out Mr. Nash, who wrote the lyric, was recalling a LSD trip (online mentions are unreferenced) and suddenly things start to click a bit.  He was indeed traveling near Stonehenge and stopped to visit Winchester Cathedral “under the influence.”  We see now how he got his wings. 

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It’s a grand, ornate place with ample history, and as one puzzles over the grandeur (and expenses) of many places built for worship, this one strikes me as both awesome and, as such things may be, self-serving to the church.    It speaks to a time when “all religion has to have it’s day.”  This place has, and for centuries.  But, that’s the thing about viewing religions – they’re segregations of spiritual pursuits organized in categories by man for academic purposes.  Theology, now, that’s a different thing.  It’s a God centered view of spirituality.  Nash has written off religions probably long before he entered these ostentatious trappings.
 
What follows is a trite polemic heard many times before and many times to come. 

Too many people have lied in the name of Christ
For anyone to heed the call
So many people have died in the name of Christ
That I can't believe it all
 
The first stanza harbors a truth and inserts opinion as fact.  For people looking to escape the obligations of a God centered view of life, I’m certain that blaming believers for being imperfect is suitable cause to throw the baby out with the bathwater, never mind that Christianity invites those that were made imperfect and will remain that way.  Still, despite all that, people have actually heeded the call, and continue to do so.  Then there’s those that died.  That’s a reasonable approach for questioning Christ’s church in comparison with his teaching, though it ignores ample scriptural evidence that fighting in a just war is permitted.  A “just war,” though, can suffer the redefinitions of the powers that be, which seem to boast their imperfections consistently through the centuries.

“Expressions on the face of the saviour made me say, I can’t stay.” 

And that’s the rub.  When it comes to Christ, whatever his carved expression may be, what choice is there?  Throw accusations that He isn’t good enough?  Some would and some do, dissatisfied that a loving god would allow people to be the way he made them in a world where bad things happen.  But, left absent of any arguments in recorded history to reject the person of Christ as handily as he does Christians, Nash chooses to leave.  I wonder if he’s fought further about that moment.

Per Nash,  “I was once walking down the central aisle of Winchester Cathedral and felt a presence at my feet.  I happened to be standing on the grave of Hugh Foulkes, a soldier who died in 1799 on the same day that I was born.  I find that most wars are fought in the name of God.  You know, my God’s better than your God, and I’ll kill you to prove it.”  Such coincidences, and much less, have caused others to find faith.  One wonders about someone who enters a cathedral while high on acid.  For what was he searching?  To meet God?  Or to find additional reasons to reject Him?  I don’t know.

In any case, now that I know the LSD angle, it remains a great song, and an honest one as well.

Regarding the remainder of the album, the production values are high as is the artistry.  There’s not a single song that I like dislike hearing, and it’s a pleasure to hear it again (never mind having the bother of flipping an album).  They obviously worked very hard at this album, and it shows.  What went unnoticed those years ago is the subject matter of the lyrics that speak through each of the artists’ contributions:  broken relationships, the transience of life, and a search for meaning in life.  There’s a sad irony there in context of the one song, but it’s the human condition. 

Favorite songs:

“Cathedral,” “Shadow Captain,” “Dark Star” "See the Changes"





Charleston Shutterbug

Photos from Charleston, first at “The Market”, then within several blocks.

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Rainy weather kept the hordes away.  It’s unusual to be able to see the sides of one of the market buildings without vehicles and people.

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Sweetwater basket making, while multi-tasking on the cell phone.

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Hats and finger puppets, with a puppet stage at upper left.

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A window, 2nd floor, Lowcountry Bistro.

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People have been dying in Charleston a long time.

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And, that bird back at Shem Creek.  He’s a poser.

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Shem Creek Shutterbug

Once again on vacation at our "go to" destination of Isle of Palms, I detoured to the area known as Shem Creek, just outside of Charleston, SC.  With docks, marsh, boats, restaurants… it’s hard not to find something to take photos of, even if they’re familiar.  And, the area allows easy access for all of these - no crawling in waders through the marsh or treading where you don't belong.

So, as you must for better photos, you arrive as the sun rises and return later in the evening to capture shadows for contrast and richer colors.  Also, my wife rented a Sony a7ii camera as a temporary upgrade to our aging Nikon D-90.  It has a 24 mega pixel sensor, which means that you can crop photos and still have plenty of data for excellent photos.  However, the familiarity with Nikon’s controls proved a plus, as I accidentally wasted too large a number of shots at ISO 16,000 on the Sony.  You can't judge a photo by the rear LCD... you have to pay attention to your settings.  For non-photographers, 16,000 ISO this means they’re extremely grainy and hardly worth playing with.

The Sony is also a “mirror-less” camera, which is lighter weight and the current photography darling of photography enthusiasts outside of the U.S.  At this point, I still prefer the SLR familiarity of the old and proven, but I’m interested to see how the controls develop for mirror-less bodies.  It seems that they’re already sacrificing their clear advantage in weight and size to “gimmick” up their camera bodies so that the controls more closely resemble the readily accessible and intuitive dial controls on SLRs, rather than scrolling through software options – a wise move in my opinion. 

In any case, it was a fun week.  Note: some photos were enhanced in Adobe Lightroom as opposed to "as shot."

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Below is a casualty of ISO 16,000… moreso when the kayakers were further into the foreground which made for a better composition.  In any case, click on it for a larger view, and you can see the difference.

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Westbrook Brewing

Maybe I’m just taking pictures of breweries more than reviewing them at this point.  Westbrook Brewing was at least slightly different as I had family members with me as we were vacationing in the area.  Located in Mount Pleasant, SC, they’re sort of squirreled away in an area where you won’t find them unless you go looking for them with a map.  Or a GPS.  It certainly has curb appeal.

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Step inside and… the same.

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The brewery opened in 2010, another typical home brewing story that becomes a business.  What is a little distinctive is that the owners did this in their dorms at Furman University, which used to be a Baptist run school.  The brewery is already poised to double, in part based on their own growth, but also due to their contract brewing for beers sold under the Evil Twin brand.  Their distribution territory includes SC, NC, GA, AL, NY and… four countries in Europe!  They currently make approximately 20,000 barrels per year.  They’re also beginning to explore the barrel aged beer products.  The large one is from a French wine company. 

 

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Otherwise, the barrels seem to come from reliable stock.  The intent is to stick beer in them and keep sampling them for however many years it takes for something “good” to result.  Nice plan if you have the space.

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On to the beer.  This flight includes Femme Fatale (American IPA – Evil Twin), Femme Fatale Yuzu Pale (American IPA), Brett Rye IPA and Smokin Guns Russian Imperial Stout.  The first three were shades of average, and the Stout was by far the best of this bunch, though, still not a favorite style of mine.

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Round 2 then: James Beer (Berliner Weisse - Evil Twin) , Nomander Weisse (Evil Twin), White Thai (Witbier), and One Claw (American Pale Ale).  The Weisse’s will stay clear of my palate now that I’ve been fairly warned.  The White Thai is easily drinkable, and the One Claw had enough hop character that this was the best of the set.  Curiously, they didn’t have their standard bearing IPA on tap, but that was okay.  It’s a fine beer though lacking a distinctive character amongst competitors.

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Otherwise, I had a taste of Evil Twin’s Fire Water IPA, which was very good and, to it’s benefit, not as spicy as advertised.  The brewery has, of course, the requisite merchandise, and they sell four packs of their three principal beers for $10, which is better than prices observed in the stores in the area.

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When it comes to tours, it’s pretty much the usual.  Brite tanks, fermenters, brew kettles, cans waiting to be filled and so forth.  Plus, one “Big Ass Fan,” which is essential in southern climates where air-conditioning isn’t provided.

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It was a fairly humorless but informative tour, and one of our party who stayed in the tap room probably summed it up.

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In other news, they’re embarking on collaborations with Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing and Denver’s Crooked Stave.  Overall, it’s a very nice facility designed to sit and taste.  I’m glad I had people to share it with, as entertainment was otherwise absent. The brewery has obviously found an audience and is outpacing its local competitors.  But regionally, they’re lagging compared to what others are doing with IPAs – like NoDa, Three Taverns, and Good People, to name a few.  But, as with all beers, it’s a matter of personal taste.

 

The Road to Ruin

When it’s said that all roads lead to Rome, you might mean, “There’s many ways to get to the same destination.”  Or, it might mean “All paths lead to a central point.”  There’s an inevitability about the destination.  But more literally, all the great roads led to Rome, the capital center of the great empire.  Numerous remains exist today, a testament to the skill of their engineering and construction methods, including the depth of the roads and the materials used (including concrete). 

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That was for their major roads, of which there were 29 great military ones, as distinguished from an additional 343 (merely) great roads. The Romans were the first to establish a purposeful system of roads, with Rome at the hub and the roads extending as spokes to their conquered empire.  Certainly it encouraged commerce and the travel of its citizens.  But it also provided swift access of its armies to the 113 provinces that were connected.  If your province rebelled or failed to pay taxes, be sure to welcome the Roman legion swiftly dispatched to your city gate. 

As the Greek culture pursued knowledge and the Hebrew culture focused on finding the light amid the darkness, there was no question that glory was the goal of all things Roman.  Not all of the roads were paved, but one can imagine that the roads closest t the city would reflect this aspiration.  You’d want visitors to be impressed, to be awed by the splendor of the place, if not its power.

So, we’re driving west on I-20 in South Carolina, and take Exit 58 (by the way, the Romans also instituted mile markers).  U.S. Hwy 1.  A Scenic wonder!

How about a flea market!

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That’s a BIG thing on a weekend.  So big, you might need another.

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It might be a challenge among all those great buys figuring out what is worth your hard earned cash.  No worries!  We have Spiritual Healers and Advisors to give you guidance.

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At a loss for what to wear?  Not a problem.  Ample choices.  I might suggest Mr. Shorty’s.  It has an understated look and probably has more respectable options for some killer sleeves to showcase while wearing that wife beater T-shirt.

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Those tats may be helpful to discourage unsavory folks from relieving you of your valuables, or, at least, whatever it was you bought at the flea market.  It’s not every road that has Batgirl ready to escort pedestrians across it.  And barefoot, too.  Her feet are toughened up for the hottest of southern city streets. 

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But, of course, not everyone walks.  US 1 is a road, after all.  You won’t find any big and shiny factory dealerships, but someone has what you need.  No need to worry about credit scores; they tell you that up front.  You can try Big State Car Sales. Or D&A Used Cars, Shaw’s Used Cars, 5K Motors, Carolina Rides, Don’s Used Cars (and Trucks!), #1 Auto Sales or, my favorite, Quick and Easy Auto Outlet! Just walk in, and they’ll fix you up with a ride out.  If you have problem on the next uphill part, don’t worry.  There’s parts stores, too, for anything you couldn’t find at the flea market.  

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I know, I know.  Living costs money.  Don’t worry, you’ve got Dollar General AND Family Dollar, within a mile of each other.  And to get those dollars, you have choices.  You can try  Access to Money.  You can get dollars today for money you haven’t even earned yet.  Or, if you find that your car somehow, someway got filled with cool tools, electronics and jewelry that you don’t need, then heck?  Why be broke?  No, I mean, Y B Broke Gold & Pawn.  Get your smackers right there! 

And, if it so happens that you should drive around at times other than night for your career endeavors, hey, try Palmetto Pro Tint to maintain a discreet profile.  The fuzz will never know it’s you.  After all that extra curricular activity, maybe you’re hungry.  We have an international option for you.  Why settle for hamburger and hot dog joints or any ol’ greasy spoon?  You can satisfy your belly with Greek seasonings.  I know!  Say it ain’t so!  

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Now, not everyone can afford to pay others to cook their food.  Not to worry.  You can go socialize at The Meat’n Place.  Buy your own pig portion, set your BIC lighter to it for a time, and you’re all set.

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So, you got some cash in your pocket, a new set of wheels, a spark plug socket and car lift, and you’ve chowed down.  Now you need a place to rest, to call home, something suitable to place that poster of dearly departed #3 (ain’t Jr. a disappointment?) and to stash your Busch beer empties.  Got. You. Covered.

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No utilities provided, but, hey, it’s usually sunny in the South except when it’s not, and there’s trees and bushes suitable for any toileting needs.  If that’s good only some of the time and the missus needs an occasional powered curl to her hair, then when you have a few extra bucks, you can rent a room with a scenic highway view, by the day, week or the month!

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If all of these riches are within your means and meet your lifestyle choices, then remember:  Exit 58.  Or, just look for the highway sign that points you to where you’re headed, giving a name to your glorious destination: “University of South Carolina.  This exit.”