Pitching Horseshoes

Standing on my work bench is a short section of a limb cut from a cherry tree. Since the horseshoes were last hung on it by Big PaPa, the limb has grown over the horseshoes, capturing them in a time capsule of a time gone by.

At one time, not  too long ago, parents would take their children to a grandparent’s house for a “get together.” Grown siblings and adults talked with each other, sharing news and gossip while cousins played in the yard and house. Heaps of food were placed on the kitchen table and in less time than it took to prepare the food, the empty pots, pans, and plates needed washing. In some families the adults then scattered about the house for a nap, or if the weather was good they went out to sit under a canopy of deep shade. Children ran about, adults talked still, or napped.

But some grandparents, like Craig’s Big PaPa, had built a horseshoe pit, and after the meal and until the shadows of day’s end, the matches between family members was on. The pitching was competitive, but fun. While winners and losers were tallied, it was the doing that counted most.  After the pitching ended and each family gathered itself to return home, Big PaPa gathered the iron horseshoes and hung them on the cherry limb until the  next pitching. Yet Big PaPa, like King David, went the “way of all the earth” and eventually died. In due time his family members chose from his estate, and some wanted furniture, some gun(s), or other items. Craig chose nothing but went out and sawed the horseshoe limb from the tree and took it home. That was Big PaPa’s gift to him.

Craig told me about it a few weeks ago, and I persuaded him to trust me with it. I stripped the bark, cut one end to square it, and wire brushed the rusty horseshoes, After hand sanding the wood of the limb I applied two coats of lacquer and it is ready for two more and then will be mounted on a natural cedar board. (The red cedar resembles a clay pit). Next week Craig will come to get his Big PaPa’s memory gift.

Families have scattered across the land and even if some live close together few travel on a weekend afternoon to share time. Soccer games, football contest, dance recitals, and other overly scheduled youth activities fill the time that was once reserved for large gatherings of families where plentiful homecooked food, naps, cousin play, and horseshoes with Big PaPa was shared. Nothing learned in a youth  activity can rival what a grandchild learned pitching “shoes” with Big PaPa.

Pulling the Crippled Card

On September 30, around 12:30 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Clifford Owensby pulled the crippled card.  In the 1900 Block of West Grand Avenue Dayton police officers initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by Owensby because it was seen leaving a suspected drug house that was under surveillance by the Narcotics Bureau. When asked to exit the vehicle so that a drug sniffing dog could inspect the vehicle, Owensby pulled the crippled card by telling the officers that he could not because he was paraplegic. The officers offered to assist him in leaving the vehicle, but he refused and again told them that he was a paraplegic. They dragged him out and rescued the three-year-old in the back seat who was not in a restrained carrier. All the while, as he was being handcuffed, Owensby kept screaming that he was a paraplegic.

I have watched the Dayton Police body cam videos of the incident and question some of their tactics. However, I  am more interested in Owensby’s being a paraplegic since I am a T 5-6 paraplegic for the past twenty years. For instance, I saw no hand controls on the vehicle that Owensby was driving and if he is a paraplegic, how can he drive without hand controls since his legs are of no use. Also, as a paraplegic, he would need a wheelchair to get around, but none was seen by me in his vehicle. How does he maneuver without one? Any paraplegic who drives a sedan such as Owensby was in has to remove the wheels of a wheelchair and store them behind the driver’s seat and  place the folded main part in the passenger’s seat. It was clearly not there.

As a paraplegic I have grown tired of and frustrated by the people who abuse the handicapped parking spaces. They are sad and pathetic. However, what Owensby did is at a new level of evil self-serving, and I hope the Dayton police stand firm and fight Owensby’s claim. Like too many people, he looks for an easy exit instead of accepting responsibility for his decision not to cooperate with a simple request from police.

DOT Studies

When we moved to Isle of Pines Road in Mooresville four years ago, I was startled that the upper end of our road, a fully residential one, had a posted speed limit of 45mph for its first b 1.5 miles. By my count that section of road has roughly 24 driveways directly connecting with the two lane, double yellow lined road. That count does not include the four residential developments that feed onto the road.  The smallest development in the 45mph zone has at least a dozen houses that connect to IoP Road.

In early August I contacted the Iredell Sheriff’s Department which referred me to Mr. Touger Yang, Assistant Division Traffic Engineer, Division 12,North Carolina Department of Transportation. I requested that the 45 zone be reduced to 35 because the road is a residential one with a double yellow line, and is heavily used by cyclists, runners, walkers, deer, and motorists. I share his response:

“We still do not recommend reducing the speed limit on Isle of Pine Road to 35 mph. The development in the 45 mph section of the road is 22% (23 driveways, 1.49 miles). The development in  the 35 mph section of the road is 57.4 % (16 driveways, 0.40 mile). The 35 mph section of the road was not lowered based off development. The 35 mph section was lowered to help motorist reduce 10 mph into the 25 mph section and not 20 mph if the speed limit was 45. The 25 mph section has steady horizontal alignment changes and the development on the road is 82% (36 driveways, 0.63 mile).

We did not conduct a spot speed study on the road. However, from a previous study in 2017 the average speed in the 45 mph section of the road was 43 mph – 44 mph and the 85th percentile speed on the road was 50 mph – 53 mph. The 85th percentile speed is typically what we use to determined posted speed limits on a road +/- 5 mph. Please contact law enforcement if you have issues with speeding on the road.”

He referred me to his superior, Mr. Byron Engle.

I contacted Mr. Engle and offered some corrections to Mr. Yang’s letter. It is very important that in the 35 speed zone there are only SEVEN driveway directly connected to the road and they all are on the east side of the road and a developer’s berm is on the west side. Here is his response.

I apologize for the delay in responding to your request for a lower speed limit on Isle of Pines Road.  I was waiting on an updated spot speed study since the previous one was done in 2017.   The 2021 study revealed that the average speed was 45 mph which is very close to the 44 mph average from the 2017 study.  Since motorist are traveling at the posted speed, we do not recommend lowering the speed to 35 mph.  This is comparable to other roads in the area such as Stutts Road, McKendree Road, Chuckwood Road as well as the three-lane and two-lane portions of Brawley School Road.  All of these roads have areas of development with appropriate speeds based on the concentration of homes, businesses and other development.

When we look at development, we are looking at homes, businesses, etc. that have a direct connection to the road.  This is different from a subdivision which may have one, or more, entrances onto the road that provide the access for the homeowners living there.  When comparing the number of direct connections it is greater in the 35 and 25 mph sections than in the 45 mph section.  Therefore the speeds on Isle of Pines are appropriate and reasonable.

            In his great book, Too Soon Old, Too Soon Smart, Dr. Gordon Livingston offers thirty true things that he learned through experience, and he thinks we all should know them. His first true thing is, “If the map doesn’t agree with the ground, the map is wrong.” He then shares how when he was a young officer in the 82nd Airborne and in heavy woods at Ft. Bragg , he was studying  his map. His platoon sergeant, a “veteran of many junior officers” asked if anything was wrong. Lt. Livingston pointed to some trees and said that the map indicated that a hill should be there. The masterful sergeant gave Livingston his first true thing.

            Both DOT administrators quote studies, one as old as from 2017, to justify the 45-mph speed limit on Isle of Pines Road. Mr. Engle also refers to other similar roads which have a 45-mph limit. One of those I know—Stutts Road also needs a lowered speed limit.   I live here, drive the road almost every day, and see the traffic. Mr. Engle and Mr. Yang are like Dr. Livingston’s map that quotes rules and regulations while ignoring the reality of the ground. The ground here is not suited to a 45mph zone. I wish they each would come here and drive 44 miles per hour in the 45 zone and see if it is safe.  I asked them both to, in order for the safety of everyone, to reduce the speed.

    Olympic High School

Before the beginning of this school year, a 16-year-old Olympic High School student in Charlotte, NC was charged with a felony sex offense that happened off campus. Another Olympic student was arrested earlier this month and charged with a rape and kidnapping on the school campus. In late summer students across town at Myers Park  High School protested against sexual assaults occurring on or near their campus.

In a recent football game, Olympic students saw one of the charged sex offenders playing in a game while wearing a court-ordered electronic tracking device, or ankle bracelet. When some students expressed outrage that the school allowed the male student to play in a game, the school held an assembly where students could speak about their concerns. Later that day some students left classes and held their own protest outside the campus. Stephanie W. Wilkerson, the school athletic director, is quoted in a local paper from her Sunday night email to a few parents, “I can assure you, the events that happened after the school approved protest were not peaceful or civil in nature.” According to the newspaper, she went on to say that “students who engaged in that form of protest that resulted in unsafe actions in the school environment and displayed complete insubordination of administrative and police directives did  receive consequences.”

The consequences of which Wilkerson writes? Two female volleyball players were suspended for a game when they admitted to taking part in the un-authorized student protest. A flyer for the Olympic High protest described it as one being held for “the safety of females in  our school…because many believe that the school “isn’t taking these allegations seriously.”

Wilkerson and other Olympic administrators (she is not functioning alone in such a situation) are correct to work for a safe school environment and she states that the unauthorized protest was a threat to the school because it prevented students from leaving their second block class. She is also correct in allowing the accused sex offender to play in a football game. We are a nation that supports a charged person with being innocent until proven guilty and by allowing the accused to be part of a team, the school may be helping him by keeping him involved in school. However, the school erred in suspending its volleyball players in this situation because the students were asking for what any person wants: A place where they feel safe.

The suspension is a great example of adults overreacting because the student protest, even if it caused some disruption in Olympics school day, was small when compared with two male students being charged with sexual assaults that occurred on and off the campus. Yes, the two young males are innocent until proven guilty, but their presence in the school is an implied threat to any female that disrupts the school, and the students had the Constitutional right to protest. If, as Ms. Wilkinson writes, the protest were not civil, then she and the other administrators have a great “teaching moment” in which they can assure their female students that they hear and honor their concerns.

Mother Words

Alex and I met when he was a 6th grader in the all-boys’ college preparatory school in Alexandria, VA where I taught and coached. Our meeting happened during the late 1970’s, and if you were a student there, in that time, a few avenues existed in which to show excellence- academics, athletics, or both. The school required participation in athletics each season, and in the winter I coached wrestling,  Since Alex was too small and too short for basketball, he “chose” wrestling.  

Even in the 6th grade Alex showed his mettle. He was one of those athletes that every coach loves to have on the team because he had a desire to be the best possible wrestler he could, and his drive made him a role model, but not a role model who was a great wrestler or even one who was on the varsity squad; Alex modeled dedication in working to achieve the most that he could.  While he did win some varsity matches when a teammate was injured or could not otherwise compete in a match, his career was one on the junior varsity squad. He was too good for that role, but not good enough for the varsity. But he was always present, and his presence  demanded attention because if a teammate or opponent relaxed, Alex would attack with and either score points or win. Although he never won a varsity tournament, he won or placed high in every junior varsity tournament he entered. Too good for the one, not quite good enough for the other, but as coaches say, “a force to be reckoned with.”

Alex, now a past fifty-year-old attorney living in suburban VA, and I still communicate, and when I recently learned that his mother had died, I called him. He shared with me his mother’s final bout with kidney and heart issues and how his siblings and he were able to share precious time with her during her final days. While it is true that she was 83 when she died, her siblings had lived well into their 90’s, so her fatal illness was one for which she and her children were not fully prepared. But as she did in her life, she managed all things well and she shared time with her children. One time, when she and Alex were sharing precious minutes, she told him how pleased she was with his achievements in college, his life well lived, and the other successes he had had. He told me how she talked about his career as an attorney and “all your wrestling medals.” With that, Alex struggled before saying, “Coach, all I ever won was a few J.V. medals, but she told me how proud she was of them.” Then our talk paused until he could softly say, “I never knew that she was even aware of them that much.”

Our conversation continued as we talked about how he and his older brother were coping. We discussed the advantages of his returning to his work and office, but that the process of grieving was also important.  Sharing his grief, I offered him encouragement that seemed banal in the shadow of  his pain. Out of words, all I could offer at the end of our conversation was that he could call me anytime he felt the need to talk.

But I keep remember something Alex’s mother had said to him during one of their last talks. Facing her death, Alex’s mother looked back across the years for some comfort to give her now-grown baby child. She found what she needed: Words of praise for his accomplishments, even those as a junior varsity wrestler.

Hobgoblins and Other Threats

In my child’s memory, the front yard of my paternal grandparents is huge. But it was foreign territory because my grandmother would admonish her grandchildren to stay out of it because “the boogeyman” would get us if we ventured there.  Her warning worked, and whenever we were at her house we played in the house or the back yard, far away from that dreadful creature out front.

As a child visiting the rambling house on Independence Square with its forbidden front yard, whatever else “the boogeyman” may have been, he was real in our child minds. Never told particulars about him, our grandmother’s tone was enough to convince us to fear him. As children, we believed. Now, as an adult I understand but do not excuse my grandmother’s method of child care. As an adult I no longer fear “the boogeyman” in any yard or anywhere else for that matter,  but realize that my grandmother, like many of her era, used fear to help discipline the troop of grandchildren running through her house. It was the only way she knew, or was it?

On the surface my grandmother Alice’s mode for child discipline appears full of ignorance. After all, who would believe in a boogeyman in such modern times? He belonged in a fairy tale with other monsters like a wicked witch. But Maw Maw Alice knew what she was doing, and she never described the fearful monster that lurked in her front yard; she just expressed a deep understanding of his presence and his danger to a child who wandered off into that forbidden realm. Hers was a classic example of understatement that struck mortal fear in the hearts of this grandchild. While this front yard boogeyman did no long-lasting harm to me, he kept me in her range of view when I was not in her house, and that was her method of child discipline. She could see me and any other children if we were in her back yard. Thus, she had some control over our play, our arguments, and our misbehavior. The boogeyman was her control.

Maw Maw Alice and her front yard boogeyman came to mind recently when I read an H.L. Mencken quotation in Evan Osnos’ fine book on America’s rage, Wildland: The Making of America’s Fury. The Baltimore sage writes in In Defense of Women, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

There it is: A fine explanation that crystalizes the reason for the so-called “Culture Wars.” The politician, like Maw Maw Alice, does not need to describe or explain the boogeyman but just give him a name or identity and tell how he is a threat. To use hobgoblin, as did  Mencken, we can have any number of dangers to our safety. We are like children playing in the back yard, at peace and full of joy, but that atmosphere does not cause fear and fear is, as Maw Maw Alice knew, a motivator; and the politician needs voters full of fear so that he/she can appear worthy of votes because he/she led them to safety.

So many boogeymen have been used during my lifetime to alarm and cause fear in the populace: Communism; Integration; Socialism; Black Panthers; Weapons of Mass Destruction; BLM; and CRT to mention a few of the many.

Osnos tells the story of Pastor Ed Horstmann, of Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich,  Connecticut. When he first arrived in the wealthy town, he was often told that people were interested in charity and “there was a deep human desire to meet the need. But people were less comfortable  talking about justice….When a pastor starts talking about justice, it can make people a little uneasy, because all of a sudden it’s not about the need—but about changing the system that created that need. You can tell that in people’s minds, they’re asking: Are we going to start marching? Are we going to have to take sides.” [his italics]

The next time an elected official begins warning you of a boogeyman in your front yard, ask him to tell you about the system that created that monster. Then, you will discover the flaw of Maw Maw Alice and all like her: They are too lazy, too inept, or both to do the job they are faced with. So, they create an “endless series of hobgoblins” instead of identifying the real danger. Our insecurities.

A Good Roof or CRT

In the mid-1990’s I was part of an administrative team that worked to merge an all-male, independent day school with its across town counterpart. Both schools were part of the Richmond Episcopal Dioceses, and the merger was packed with angst for both schools. Early in the planning for the merger, the new head of school commented to me how trying one of the first hurdles was—it seemed that the roof of one of the schools was in poor condition and $250,000 was needed for its repair, The head of school said to me, “It is very difficult to get someone to give that much money for a roof.”   We learned that donors would gladly give for an athletic building or field or anything that could be seen and where a plaque naming the giver could be mounted, but a roof? Who would see a roof?

According to an article by two public school teachers in today’s Charlotte Observer,  many schools in North Carolina need similar repairs. A survey after the first month of classes by the N.C. Association of Educators asked educators about their buildings. A few situations mentioned in the article are:  Water in a school with such heavy metal concentration that it is undrinkable; a school built for 1,800 students serving 2,300; bee and termite infestations driving teachers and students from their high school classrooms; a school building over 80 years old with rodents, sewer flies, and rodent traps in the library; and more. Guilford County, the state’s third largest district, had to close five schools because of inadequate air cooling. It seems 1,000 air conditioner work requests overflowed the maintenance staff. The article also quotes a report earlier this month in which the state Department of Public Instruction places the price to renovate and rebuild N.C. public schools at $12.8 billion-a jump of 58% over the last five years.

Last weekend the “Salt and Light Conference”, hosted by the N.C. chapter of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was held in the Temple Baptist Church of Mount Airy. Some of the invited speakers were members of the state legislature and candidates running in the upcoming U. S. Senate race. According to an article in  the  Charlotte Observer, State Senate leader Phil Berger warned in a video screening that, “There’s never been a more critical time in America than right now.” Representative David Willis told the audience that teachers were promoting Critical Race Theory while not wanting parents “to know what’s going on in the classroom.” According to the article, the day conference speakers expressed strong opposition to CRT, white privilege, and other “anti-biblical” teaching taking place in our public schools. Representative Willis said that “We parents do not give them [teachers] the authority to teach moral values to our children….”

Today’s article by Kenya Donaldson and John Deville on building conditions across the state reveals the truth about how our state (and federal) leaders view education: They like to talk about “hot button issues” like religion in  public schools, or CRT, or even, as we had in N.C. during the 1960’s, a Speaker Ban. They speak at a conference that is concerned about biblical issues or tests scores. Yet, as we discovered during the merger, few elected leaders care about the roof, the mold, the rodents, the drinking water, or other such mundane issues. No sir, it seems that elected officials want something that stirs the emotions of voters and race, religion, and other such topics will “rile-up” the base and win votes, while the rot of many of our public-school buildings continues. 

All of the clamor by leaders about and against CRT and race and white privilege demonstrates either a basic misunderstanding of what a successful program for public education needs or basic ignorance of CRT, or a willingness to do/say anything for a vote, or all of the above. However, such as is too often the case, the problem is not some evil lurking outside our walls, but one sitting in the chair next to us. As Pogo observed long ago,  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

A good roof covering every clean and safe building full of eager learners and talented teachers will enhance public education. All the rest is useless noise.

School board meetings have been rather dull events during the past, but not now.

On Monday, September 13th,, 2021, the Iredell-Statesville Schools Board meeting held in Troutman was not dull or peaceful. According to the Mooresville Tribune, a plate glass door was broken, and a woman was seen using a Bible to pound on the door. The man who broke the plate glass door later surrendered to the Troutman Police Department and said, “I highly regret my actions. Things got heated and there was misplaced anger.”

Take a moment and ponder that: At a school board meeting in which the question of whether or not to mandate the wearing of masks these acts occurred.  It takes quite a bit of anger to break a plate glass door, and to cause a person to use her Bible as a cudgel. Sadly, this type of behavior at school board meetings and social media is now a regular occurrence across America. However, I refuse to accept that the issue of mask wearing is the reason for such vitriolic acts. Mask wearing may be the excuse, but not the reason.

Our culture has gotten whipped into a frenzy over an array of problems that have been made into social issues, the so labelled “culture wars”. Some elected and non-elected leaders use real, complex problems such as immigration or homosexuality to stir their bases, instead of finding and offering solutions. 15,000 Haitians is a real problem on many levels, but to suggest that they are the reason for the surge in COVID or that they will vote for one particular political party is absurd and only stirs the pot in the arena of social ills. This type of drivel is like the grade school gossip who spreads ill-will in hopes to see a dispute develop  between classmates. These problems, such as requiring a COVID vaccine, are made more than they need to be. There is no need to make an issue of something similar to no smoking in indoor public areas or the wearing of a seatbelt or the multiple number of other vaccines already required for the welfare of the general public.

But we have folks who speak with authority because they are chosen leaders, such as school board members, mayors, religious leaders, and more. I don’t know the woman who used her Bible to bang on the door in Troutman. While I don’t know why she brought her Bible to the meeting, I surmise that she either always carries it with her or she was going to use it in support of her position on the wearing of masks. Perhaps she was planning on reading from Leviticus Chapter 13 (requirements concerning leprosy) to show that even God had many laws for the welfare of the wayward Israelites. But, like the man admitted about his own act: What drove her anger to such a pitch that it became misplaced, causing her to use her Bible in such a manner?

I think it safe to assume that the unknown woman probably reads her Bible. Therefore, she is aware that one of God’s gifts to us is discernment which is needed more than ever in this time of artificial intelligence. While the Bible does not mention computers, Facebook, or any of the other numerous social media sites too easily available, it does warn us about evil voices, and the world of AI (artificial intelligence) is full of evil voices. The otherwise wonderful capabilities of the Internet are made sinister by evil voices because they make any lie or half-truth appear real. And the evil voices can hide behind the veil of social media without being scrutinized by a critic. They are anonymous voices spewing evil.

I suggest to the door breaking man and Bible hammering woman that they not believe anything written or said by an anonymous source and question anything written in print with a name attached. To believe any words because we agree with them may lead to just being a stooge for the writer.

Loud and mean voices solve no problem. My favorite story in the woman’s book is the woman at the well. She, a self-professed wayward female is never shouted at or demeaned but gently told how she is wrong. So the next time you get “riled up” over a report or decision by officials of any kind, think of the way that Samaritan woman was treated in John 4. A soft demeanor and voice will persuade. The shrill voice will only repel.

Our world is full of information and misinformation, and it is our duty as citizens to discern between the truth and the lie. As we know, the truth will be freeing while the lie will control by tapping into the emotions we all carry deep inside. Using our emotions and not our discernment, they are formed to cause an emotionally charged reaction, and as the door breaking man said, be “misplaced,” to be put in the wrong location, to be wasted in other words. However, when used, God’s discernment will repel this evil seduction.

         Manny’s Last Swim

Growing up in North Carolina, we seemed to always have a dog for a family pet, but I was not a hunter of any kind, so I never trained or owned hunting dogs. Some uncles had beagles and coon hounds, and as a young boy I shivered around many campfires as they talked about which dog was leading the pack. A few duck hunting relatives used retrievers such as the golden, the Labrador, and the Chesapeake Bay on their duck hunts, so this is my knowledge of retrievers.  Therefore, when I met Manny after his family moved from the rocky Atlantic coast of Rhode Island to Lake Norman, N.C. I was unfamiliar with his breed—the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. That’s quite a breed name for a dog weighing at most fifty pounds.

Curious about Manny and his breed, I conducted a simple Internet search and discovered the interesting heritage of Manny. His long, roan colored hair, similar to that of the Irish Setter, not only protected him in the cold waters of Nova Scotia but caused him to appear like a fox. The hunters/breeders in Nova Scotia had discovered that ducks were fascinated by foxes, so they would come close to shore if they saw one. Thus, Manny and his kind, all energetic dogs, were bred to run along the shore looking like a fox and the curious ducks would be lured within gunshot range of the hunter. Then the strong swimmer would retrieve the shot ducks. The luring action explains their name because tollen is derived from Middle English which means, among other things, “to summon.” They literally summoned the ducks for their masters.

Unfortunately,  I did not get to know Manny that well or long because he was already thirteen when I met him. I missed his young days of swimming in the cold waters of Rhode Island while playing with his young owners. I like to think that he thought nothing of jumping into the northeast waters of the Atlantic when he was lured to it by one of them. I missed those vibrant days of his youth, but I would see him moseying along on an early morning walk in his front yard. Sometimes he would “slip away” from his human companion and walk in his cul-de-sac and sometimes try to make it all the way to our shared road. But better than the yard or road, he liked the lake. After all, that is what he was bred for. Water.

While I did not get to know Manny that well, I have gotten to know the middle child of the family. Gabby is in her mid-twenties and works in Boston. She is an independent, strong young female who carries herself well. She has a fire that I greatly admire and holds her family, boyfriend, and Manny close. So when her parents told her that Manny was fading, she and her boyfriend flew from Boston to the lake to be with her family, and she cherished Manny. 

My wife Mary Ann holds that no pet’s last day should be its worst, and Manny’s masters had watched him closely to ensure that he was now just old, not suffering, but fading in body and spirit. This week they decided that it was time because he was losing control of his bowel and bladder; he slept most of the time, and his days of swimming in the wild Atlantic had passed. The preacher writes in Ecclesiastes that “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” It was Manny’s season.

Manny’s last day was definitely not his worst. His family fed him his favorites, they cuddled him in his blanket, and as for the past fifteen years, they unconditionally loved him. Gabby, the grown middle child,  honored him and his breed by taking him for a last swim in the lake. After all, Manny was a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who was bred for the water. It was her last gift to a cherished member of their family.

Vulgarity in the Observer

In the winter 1998 issue of The American Scholar Joseph Epstein, its editor for over twenty years, gives his view of why he is leaving the esteemed journal. The Phi Beta Kappa senate had voted to remove Epstein as editor and the decision was controversial. Whatever the reason, the issue revolved around the use of the word gay in an unsolicited essay. A strict grammarian and writer, Epstein asked the writer(s) of the essay to not use gay to define homosexuality. Too soon he was attacked for being homophobic and the battle began.

Words! Remember the old lie that our parents repeated to us when we complained about someone saying something mean to us: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will never hurt us.” We now know better. Words matter and in the September 15, 2021 Charlotte Observer shows why.

In Sara Pequeno’s  article about Rep. Cawthorn attending a Johnston County School Board meeting, she describes many of the attendees: “It was hard to tell who was a concerned parent with children in the school system, who was a p***** off neighbor,….”

I only can suppose at what J. Epstein would comment about Ms. Pequeno’s choice of phrase to describe attendees at the school board meeting, but I think that she ruined an otherwise fine article when she descended to the level of the vulgar. She, in a sense, became as vulgar as young Cawthorn when she wrote as she did. Her decent to the common language drew attention away from him and his supporters and placed the spotlight on her in her choice of words. Yes, I am aware that some folks think that some words and phrases are of value because they express an emotion. I agree, but there is a place and time for them. A newspaper op-ed is neither.

In his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, George Orwell argues against the type of writing that the Nazis used in World War II. In his essay he offers his argument for clear (honest) writing and he offers guidance to that end. The essay shows Orwell’s great concern with truth and language and how deliberately misleading language is used to conceal disagreeable political facts. His rules are:

1.Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. 2.Never use a long word where a short one will do. 3.If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out. 4.Never use the passive where you can use the active. 5.Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent. 6.Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

In parsing the quoted phrase from Ms.Pequeno’s article, it is obvious where in her op-ed she ignores Orwell’s suggestions. She could have followed number 3 and instead of the vulgar phrase in question, she could have used any number of fine, Anglo-Saxon words. I suggest angry, but our great language offers many synonyms such as mad, irate, or indignant. Also, by following number 3 she would have saved a word, making her essay more active. It is obvious that she ignored number 6 because the phrase she used is barbaric.

My objection is not to the phrase describing the state of anger of some of the attendees. It is a useful phrase in certain situations, such as when I am speaking to a friend in a private conversation, such as, “The Observer printed an article that used vulgar language, and that ****** me off.” But not in a newspaper or public meeting or other such situations. The editors of the Observer should have followed Epstein and asked the writer to change the wording. That is their responsibility to their readers and a lesson they can teach their writers.

“Vulgarity is the effort of a weak mind to forcefully express itself” is an adage of which  I remind the editors and writer. While I do not think Ms. Pequeno has a weak mind, I suggest that she resorted to the convenient in describing some of the crowd. By taking the easy way, she ruined an otherwise fine article.