In the early ’80s (which now seems to be as long ago as the High Victorian era seemed to be to those looking backwards from the vantage point of the 1920s) acclaimed literary lion Norman Mailer took up the cause of a life-long convict, Jack Abbott by name … and discovered to his dismay that it was easier and safer to champion a violent felon at a considerable distance, than to actually wrangle the man close up. After being out of prison for a matter of weeks Abbott lost his temper and fatally stabbed another man … thereby demonstrating a certain drawback to an intellectual burnishing their public credit by adopting an edgy cause. It was liable to backfire, and make the adoptee appear to be a gullible prat. At about the same time, Tom Wolfe called it ‘radical chic’ and poured erudite derision on Leonard Bernstein for doing much the same with the Black Panther leadership.
The trickle of news regarding the Maui wildfires which incinerated an entire town and likely over a thousand of its residents just gets worse and even more distressing with every tidbit reluctantly disgorged by the local authorities. 1,100 are still listed as missing. After a week, it is most likely that they are dead. Many of the missing are presumed to be children, as local schools were closed because of high winds and power outages – and children at home alone because their parents were at work. Others might be senior citizens trapped in a local retirement home, unable to move without assistance, and visiting tourists unfamiliar with the area, whom no one has thought to report missing as yet. That so many are still unaccounted for – especially the children — that is an aspect that is difficult to contemplate. No wonder that local authorities are reluctant to admit the degree of carnage.
Not exactly sure of where I read this distillation of Walter Russell Meade’s definition of the Jacksonian attitude to conflict – possibly at Ace of Spates HQ, or maybe Bayou Renaissance Man, but the phrase stuck with me as soon as I read it. Basically, the average middle-to-working class Jacksonian American who just wants seriously to be left alone has only two settings when it comes to threatened conflict: “Can’t we just work out a way to settle this?” and “War to the knife and no quarter.”
In the light of this story, and this one as well, I am more than ever glad that my daughter and I said “no” to the Covid shot and follow-on boosters. Of course, I know that any new vaccine or drug can have a small number of unfortunate side effects – but honestly, aren’t well-informed adults allowed these days to calculate the risks and make their own decision? Apparently not for many employees, who were ordered to get the Covid vaccine or be fired … and are now facing health problems that make Covid itself look like pretty small potatoes.
Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly. What is a house but a sedes, a seat?—better if a country seat. I discovered many a site for a house not likely to be soon improved, which some might have thought too far from the village, but to my eyes the village was too far from it. Well, there I might live, I said; and there I did live
Henry David Thoreau – Walden
Alton died last week. At 85, the last of John Jerry and Lydia Machann’s family: six boys and two girls surviving to adulthood. He had remained on the family farm, making it yield enough (cattle, cotton, oil) to buy another plot and support him and his brother, AC, for their long lives. When a third brother, Robert, took early retirement from his factory job and returned to the farm, he, too, bought another plot, left to Alton. A child when his family moved in, Alton died in the house they built to anchor that land.
The Machans were stubbornly individualistic: half Machans; the other half Machanns. However, with all those sons, the name died out quickly. Half the sons were not the marrying kind, another was childless, another had a son and daughter but that son died far too young, and the third was my husband’s father – an only child, whose children are all girls. The three brothers led quiet if demanding lives. In his last bedridden years, farm life went by his window – he worried about whether a cow ambling by needed deworming, he’d consult the weather reports to see what was coming and his bird books as he watched his feeder.
Before we married, my husband returned to Austin one Sunday, having signed away all but oil royalty rights to the land left by his grandparents. All the siblings (or siblings’ representatives) had. There were many rational reasons – for one, broken up it would not even support a lonely farmer. Then, Alton wanted to farm. He told his oldest friend about going to Waco, working in the factory for a week. He returned ready to beg to stay on the farm; I can’t imagine his parents didn’t need another set of hands – farms generally do. This signing was after his parents’ deaths.