To hear many Americans tell it today, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has been a cherished anthem of national pride almost since the day Francis Scott Key penned it in 1814. But the government-sanctioned reverence the song enjoys in the 21st century actually didn’t take root until the start of the 20th century — and not everyone thought it was a good idea then.
The song gained plenty of attention, particularly in the military, after Scott wrote it to celebrate the American victory over the British at Fort McHenry in Maryland. But even the military didn’t start incorporating “The Star-Spangled Banner” into its flag-raising ceremonies until 1889. It took another 27 years for Woodrow Wilson to give the tune the stamp of presidential approval in an executive order.
The song’s evolution from battle hymn to national anthem still wasn’t complete, though, and the final hurdle on Capitol Hill wasn’t easy to clear. As the National Park Service noted in its history of the national anthem, 11 lawmakers tried to push 15 different bills and resolutions through Congress between 1910 and 1917, and all of them stalled.
Even after a determined Rep. J. Charles Linthicum, D-Md., adopted “The Star-Spangled Banner” as his personal cause in 1918, he had a years-long fight ahead of him. Congress didn’t clear the bill to President Herbert Hoover until March 3, 1931, a day before adjournment would have killed the idea yet again.
That brings us to a surprising editorial that the Baltimore Evening Sun published the day after Hoover signed the bill. With the amateur poet Key being a favorite son of the city, the newspaper had good reason to celebrate the patriotic development. But it saw cause for concern instead:
Eighty-five years later, the paper’s prophecy has been fulfilled. The new country that repelled the British in the Battle of Baltimore and the War of 1812 is now embroiled in a tense debate about police shootings of black Americans, and the anthem that united us then divides us now.
It’s not enough that “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played at memorial holidays, military ceremonies and athletic contests across the country, or that the vast majority of the nation’s 324 million people (including me) solemnly stand for it, sing it and revere the symbolism behind it. Every single American must embrace that norm or be reviled as an un-American outcast who should shut up or leave the country.
This, indeed, is an unfortunate fate for a fine song written in a Free State, for a free country.
Filed under: Government and History and Holidays and Media and Military and News & Politics and People
One of the most interesting yet tragic stories in the news today happened in Norway, where government wildlife officials found more than 300 dead reindeer on the top of a mountain. Here’s the story as told by NPR:
This catastrophe is interesting in its own right because it raises all kinds of questions in people’s minds. But it was even more compelling to me because it reminded me of another incident in West Virginia on July 2, 1990.
I have a notoriously bad memory, so the fact that I can recall a news story from 26 years ago, one that I didn’t even report myself, should tell you something. This story also involved a lightning strike — but the victims were amateur archers who took shelter under a pavilion during a pop-up thunderstorm. Twenty-four of them ended up injured.
I was a reporter at the Dominion Post in Morgantown at the time, but my beat was covering city, state and federal government and political campaigns. Plus the incident happened on a Sunday, when I wasn’t working. But I remember being enthralled by the story upon reading the details when I got to the newsroom the next day.
The reindeer story triggered that memory, so to get the details, I reached out to the Aull Center, a branch of the Morgantown Public Library System that has old copies of the Dominion Post on microfilm. Librarian Gary Friggens was kind enough to look up the front-page story and send me an electronic copy.
“Victims had been tossed into the air and suffered burns, cuts, contusions and internal injuries,” one of the three stories said.
One father said the lightning strike lifted his son off the ground and knocked him 10-15 feet away. He lost his hearing for a few minutes and heard only the groaning and moaning around him when his hearing returned. Another victim, whose heart stopped temporarily, lost feeling in his legs and had burns on his chest.
“All I could see were blue streaks all around us,” said one victim from the Kingwood Pike Coon Hunters Club. “We were all so close together under there that we were touching shoulders. The lightning just passed right through us. I remember the blue streaks, then everything went black.”
A year later, Keith Dalton recounted his experience that day as part of a broader AP story about people who have been struck by lightning:
Nightmare scenarios like that, along with tales of golfers being struck by lightning and childhood memories of being stuck outside and by myself during thunderstorms, are the reason I am terrified of lightning to this day.
My storm-watching wife loves to tell people about the time, on our honeymoon no less, that I abandoned her because of my fear of lightning. We were in the parking lot at an Outback Steakhouse in Asheville, N.C. A bright light flashed in the sky, a ground-shaking boom followed, and I high-tailed it to the restaurant without her.
To this day, she insists that I jumped so high and bolted so quickly, I looked like Wile E. Coyote running on the air. I think she embellishes the story a little more each time she tells it, but I can’t dispute the basic facts. My terror, which I’ve unfortunately passed along to our youngest child, is that great.
Now my daughter and I have the memory of 323 dead deer to add to our anxiety.
Filed under: History and Human Interest and Media and News & Politics and Weather and West Virginia and Wildlife
Filed under: Just For Laughs and News & Politics and Video
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Jeb Bush delivered a stern message to Donald Trump at the Republican presidential debate last December: “You’re not going to be able to insult your way to the presidency. That’s not going to happen.” Bush was so certain of the claim that he repeated it later in the debate.
A few weeks later, Sen. Ted Cruz questioned Trump’s demeanor for the presidency after Trump aimed a series of Twitter barbs at Cruz. “I think in terms of a commander-in-chief,” Cruz said, “we ought to have someone who isn’t springing out of bed to tweet in a frantic response to the latest polls.”
But if the results of this week’s Iowa caucuses are any indication, both Bush and Cruz may be wrong. Even though he finished second to Cruz, Trump won 24 percent of the vote in the first balloting of the 2016 campaign. It sure looks like plenty of Americans are comfortable with the idea of a president who throws rhetorical sticks and stones.
Instead of being “the worst thing that ever happened in Donald Trump’s life,” Twitter may be his ticket to the White House. It’s the perfect platform for calling out all of the “stupidity” he sees in America, whether real or imagined.
Trump’s love of all words denigrating is well-documented and predates his presidential campaign. He has been ranting online for years.
But Trump really came into his own boorish self once he launched his bid to become the leader of the free world. The insults have been flowing freely since then — so much so that both The New York Times and The Washington Post have compiled lists of all the people, companies and entire professions he has trashed.
“It’s quite a Twitter stream Trump has going there — if you’re into gawking at gruesome highway wrecks, that is,” technology activist Lauren Weinstein wrote in a blog post suggesting that Twitter should ban Trump. “Onslaughts against individuals. Similar attacks against organizations, even against entire races. White supremacist propaganda. On and on and on. Try retrospectively reading Donald’s tweets without feeling the need to vomit — virtually impossible if you’re a socialized human being and not someone raised by hyenas.”
Trump’s crudest attacks trigger feeding frenzies in the press, making his enemies giddy with anticipation of falling poll numbers that never come.
But his rudeness has become so routine that most people don’t even pay attention — and when they do it’s often to celebrate Trump’s willful intolerance of the tolerance police or his willingness to get in the faces of journalists. A large swath of the electorate seems eager to follow any leader with the guts to be politically incorrect, and he is a master at promoting that persona, especially online.
“The relationship between Trump and Twitter is the perfect marriage of man and medium,” The Daily Beast concluded. “His terse insults are perfectly suited to the 140-character form and his controversy-a-day campaign feeds off of Twitter’s short attention span.” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter recognized Trump’s Twitter mastery, too: “I can’t help but wonder if his Twitter account is more effective at this point than a TV ad.”
Trump has been so good at being bad that, win or lose the presidency, he deserves a book to memorialize his infamous nastiness – one that mean-spirited people can turn to for offensive inspiration. I’ve published that book, including dozens of embedded Trump insults, at Storify.
Filed under: Culture and Media and News & Politics and People and Social Media and Technology
Joel Pett, the editorial cartoonist at the Lexington Herald-Leader, chose to celebrate National Adoption Month this week by using the children of Kentucky Gov.-elect Matt Bevin as “mere props” to mock Bevin’s stance on Syrian refugees.
Bevin has said that when he takes office, he will work to keep Syrian refugees out of the Bluegrass State. That stance, one echoed by dozens of governors, didn’t please Pett so he attacked by drawing pictures of Bevin’s Ethiopian children into a cartoon. The strip depicts Bevin hiding under his desk, with an aide holding a family photo and saying: “Sir they’re not terrorists. … They’re your own adopted kids.”
As a journalist and vocal proponent of free speech, I give editorial cartoonists wide latitude for using mockery to make a point. But as an adoptive parent, I can’t let this tasteless jab go without engaging in some free speech of my own: The cartoon is despicable; Pett is obnoxious for drawing it; and the newspaper is tone deaf for publishing it as the country celebrates adoption.
Pett sounds petty when he says Bevin started it by using his children in campaign commercials first. He sounds arrogant when he says he has endured “little controversies” like the outcry over the cartoon for 30 years and scolds Bevin for rising to the bait. And Pett plays the hypocrite when he accuses the critics of Syrian refugee policy of demagoguery even as he engages in it himself.
The Herald-Leader is equally hypocritical for publishing a cartoon that uses a politician’s children as pawns. Journalists rightly raise questions when the children of Democrats are the targets of such attacks. Remember, this time last year an obscure Republican aide was driven from her job on Capitol Hill after mocking Sasha and Malia Obama. But let a Republican win a key race like Bevin did two weeks ago and suddenly his children are no longer off limits.
Bevin missed the mark in his reaction to the cartoon. Without any supporting evidence, he accused Pett of holding to a “deplorably racist ideology” and the newspaper of allowing “overt racism” into its pages. (It’s worth noting that editorial-page editor Vanessa Gallman, who approved the cartoon and said she “did not see in it the issue of race that Bevin has raised,” is black.)
But Pett and the newspaper crossed a line they shouldn’t have. Shame on them.
P.S. I have no reason to believe that Pett actually hates adopted kids, but he’s clearly a big fan of distorting people’s true opinions. I figured he would appreciate the headline.
Full disclosure: Several years ago I interviewed for a job as an editorial columnist at the Herald-Leader. I don’t recall whether I met Pett, but I did interview with Gallman. The paper offered the columnist’s job to one of its editorial writers.
Filed under: Adoption and Government and Media and News & Politics and People
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Accepting or rejecting Syrian refugees is a policy issue, not a spiritual one, and some politicians and religious figures are taking Christians on guilt trips in order to convince them otherwise. This is both discouraging and devious.
The current appeals to Christian conscience as a way to advocate an open-door policy typically go something like this: God demands that His followers show compassion to those who are less fortunate, especially widows and orphans. He also tells us not to worry in general or to fear those who can kill our bodies. This means Christians should support Syrian immigration and reject irrational fears about terrorists who might use immigration policy to sneak into the country.
While the teachings behind that rationale are true, they are not particularly relevant to the ongoing policy debate. Here’s why:
If it is immoral to keep 10,000 Syrians at arm’s length for security reasons, what about the millions of others still stuck in that country? Aren’t we compelled as a “Christian nation” not only to welcome them but to use all of our resources to rescue them? Shouldn’t we have done something long ago, initially to prevent this tragedy and later to put an end to it?
And what about the rest of the world’s refugees? Do Christians sin if they do not advocate opening our borders to all of them immediately? If not, where are we supposed to draw the line, and what factors are righteous to consider when drawing that line? And if it’s OK to draw lines, how can anyone possibly argue that it is sinful to draw them now to ensure the safety of the hundreds of millions of people who already call America home?
The phrase “while we have opportunity” in Gal. 6:10 keeps coming to my mind: “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”
Maybe Syrian refugees are such an opportunity for the United States, and maybe Christians should be the loudest voice for such compassion. But these decisions are not as simple as politicians and religious leaders like to pretend in their spiritually manipulative platitudes.
Filed under: Government and News & Politics and Religion
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I actually gave the question some thought before I changed my picture — a first for me and thus not something I do lightly — and again after he asked the question, so I thought I’d share my explanation here in addition to on his Facebook wall.
For me, a profile picture with the French colors superimposed on it makes a multifaceted statement:
• One of empathy with the people of France. I was in Washington on 9/11, within walking distance of the White House, one of the presumed potential targets of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. I remember what it was like walking to the Metro at the end of that workday, the capital city all but empty except for military vehicles and armed soldiers. The terror was palpable.
• One of solidarity with the French government. However you decide to pursue and punish ISIS for this evil, I am behind you. (Hours ago, the French bombed some ISIS targets in Syria.)
• One of purpose for our president, lawmakers and military leaders. I want them to stop saying terror is “contained” and start committing the money and people necessary to do it.
• One of importance to my Facebook friends. As I mentioned, the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks on France mark the first time I’ve been motivated to change my Facebook profile picture for a cause. That has been intentional. Many things matter to me. I write about some of them on Facebook and on this blog. This particular historical event matters enough to also merit a simple, symbolic gesture that won’t change anything but will let people know the attacks have changed me.
Filed under: Blogging and Family and Government and Military and News & Politics and Social Media
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For years the speech police have been pressuring Washington’s professional football franchise to change the name of its team from Redskins to something that isn’t “offensive” to American Indians. Team owners past and present have ignored the outcry, but back in June a federal judge voided the Redskins trademark.
That led to an interesting legal brief from the Redskins organization this week as it appeals the ruling. The team challenged the notion that the federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board can overturn a brand name because it is “disparaging.”
Rednecks get a shout-out in one section of the brief. It rebuts the claim that the government’s continued allowance of the Redskins mark could be interpreted as an endorsement of the term.
The team’s lawyers make their point by listing several other potentially offensive terms the trademark board has approved. “Redneck Army Apparel” is right there in the middle of them.
That’s the first time I’ve seen anyone as enlightened as a big-city lawyer admit that “redneck” is a disparaging word. Granted, the Redskins legal team is arguing that entrepreneurial Americans should be free to use brand their products with a stamp of redneck approval, but at least there is an implication that “redneck” just might be a slur, depending on the context. That’s progress.
On the other hand, “redneck” may be a moneymaker. I entered the word into the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s search system, and it generated 649 results. “Hillbilly” and other similarly disparaging terms make appearances, too.
The takeaway from this stroll through the bureaucracy: Sometimes it pays to be offensive, whether you own a football team or just have a marketing gimmick geared toward rednecks.
Filed under: Business and Government and Hatin' On Rednecks and News & Politics and Rednecks and Sports
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The character of Old Town Manassas changed for the worse about three years ago when the local newspaper ceased publication. The building it once occupied has been vacant ever since, looking somewhat like this but at times concealed by weeds and shrubs:
That will be changing in the coming months. The City of Manassas announced today that people who have been parking in the vacant lot will have to find new spots as of Oct. 19 because the property is going to be redeveloped.
The lot will be the future home of Messenger Place, which, according to the land lawyers who helped negotiate the deal with the city, will look something like this:
I hate to see a storied building like a newspaper office disappear, but over the past several years, the city has done an admirable job of ensuring that such properties in Old Town Manassas are redeveloped in appealing ways. Messenger Place is billed as “a five-story mixed-use building with 3,500 square feet of retail/commercial and 94 upscale apartment units.”
I like that the developers incorporated the “Messenger” name into the property, and I look forward to seeing how well it blends into the community.
Filed under: Business and Government and Media and News & Politics
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