The Charlotte News

Wednesday, August 10, 1938


Site Ed. Note: "From the Clouds" gives us pause to wonder why it was that lightning struck and killed three people on each of two occasions a year apart on the same beach at the Rockaways. But life is like that.

Why did the crocodile guy survive all of those tussles in the alley with the crocs, all the mesmeric episodes with the pit vipers of desert, swamp and rolling river down--only to have his life ended by the piercing barb to his heart inflicted by a stingray, a fish, of all creatures, this date somewhere off the Great Barrier Reef at Batt Reef in Queensland, Australia?

Such are ponderables, perhaps imponderables, to which we have no firm answer, whether such things happen to us and we live on through them anyway and learn from the near experience of non-experience, or such things come to end the corporeal lives of others such that the living might or mightn't take from it what they will.

Browsing through the "entertainment news" today, we found a nice story, about an actor, just a youngster, heading to college for the first time, in Ireland, near his mother's roots in Tipperary, to study philosophy and literature, among other subject matter. We've always enjoyed this actor's onscreen performances and found them worthwhile, adding each time some nuance to the lines spoken and the movement for which the camera calls, bringing the dead letter to life off the page, and that ever since that first one we saw way back there, the one about the execution of the young private for failure of valor in the face of the enemy. We wish him well in his studies, hope that he will graduate with high honors and then perhaps pursue graduate work even. This is an example from which many might take flight to do the thing which, in truth, is that for which we most long in life, actually, as we get older and away from its roots--to be free to learn, to think, to write, to laugh out loud and to yourself about some story you read, some connection you make with that lost childhood memory of expression, to sing and be truly merry, all hinged to the wisdom of an age, the last 600 years or so, and that of its predecedents passed down by scribes before that.

College. Ah, college. Go for it.

One of the nicest ones we ever saw in which he appeared, incidentally, was that purely sentimental piece, with an edge to it, "Da". Reminded us of some things of our own da, though he wasn't himself Irish. "That Championship Season" welled up our stubborn tears a bit as well, we admit. We suppose, in the final analysis, that sentimental streak, the tendency to preserve those old memories, has as much and much more to do with our old da and ma as anything we took from Plato, Aristotle, Berkeley, Hume, Locke, and the rest. While those old fellows bring back a few memories in their own right as well, had it not been for our old da and ma, we wouldn't likely have ever heard of those other fellows, let alone had the opportunity and incentive to read them proper.

Speaking of which, we liked that scene, too, though not with the actor we reference above, we saw in another film once, just a few years back, one with Tommy Kearns plating a brief but meaningful role.

Funny thing about life. When we saw that report last night late about the tragic death of Mr. Irwin, whose funny faces, and funny words and accent, and derring-do, we enjoyed, vicariously, we were drawn to remember that just two years ago we wrote a note in which we mentioned him obliquely in reference to a collision between a piece written by Cash in August, 1940 and one of our own nearly tragic childhood memories which might not have been one for very long were it not for our ma pulling us away from unseen danger, hypnotizing incognito as a strange and wonderful new thing in our environs, yet staring us down right in our face. Then, just six days ago we drifted back down the same river again for the first time since that rolling river note of two years back, to one of those childhood days spent in the lazy, hazy, crazy maze, tangled out somewhere in our memory tables, yet real as real can be as we recount it, that merely from having listened to a new recording by one of our favorite artists of our time. Funny how life can be. Tragically funny, sometimes. Whimsical, this Nature seems to us.

Once, we received a postcard from an old friend. We were on the west coast, the friend on the east. It bore a picture of a young boy and his father sitting on the White House steps. The boy was showing off his new sailboat to his father. We received that postcard from across the country, postmarked three days earlier, on Saturday, July 17, 1999.

Yet, as they said, Mr. Irwin passed on to that other side of things doing what he enjoyed most, being with nature, exploring the nature of nature's frightened, trod upon, and stinging, venomous creatures to better understand for us why they are as they are, perhaps to enlighten more, too, as to why some of us human creatures adopt reactive mechanisms from analogous forms, perhaps picked up innocently enough, perhaps in reaction to a callous remark by some other child or adult, perhaps, more positively, yet sometimes equally dangerously, just from having been something so innocent as a scout.

We could take a cynical approach to these coincidences which cause our eyes and hearts to be pricked, of course, that when you tempt nature too much, trying perhaps to ride Pegasus too far to the top of Olympus, or so it might seem to the fickle creature in whole we term "nature", then its smallest creature sometimes, even a spider in the night, (as once one bit the hell out of us, leaving a quarter-sized welt on our forehead from which we were sure we might die by morning--ho-hum, back to sleep), might turn its tail on you and cause you a problem, even death.

Yet, we must watch that, that form of sure "understanding" based on too much reliance on the empirical sheepskin, not enough on sensitivity, intuition, in favor instead of an understanding that we are all in our lives subject to risk--as Cash readily reminds us at the end of the piece--, and so judging others in what they do for a pastime or a livelihood, though different from most of us, as somehow therefore stealing the fruit of the tree, so to speak, in the jargonized version of some of the half-read half-readers, is really something for the birds, or that other omniscient eye in the sky we call the heavens, not us humans, to do and discern unter der lindens. We think it so, being thus we are.

For if it weren't for the explorers, Darwin and his Galapagos turtles, his bugs and macaques, and what-not, and what are, for Lewis and Clark, for Rawlee, for De Soto, for Drake, for even Cortez and his band in search of El Dorado, Franklin and his key on a kite, even for Beatles, and Byrons and Shelleys and Brownings, those who revivified some of them for us on the stage, and the hosts of others who have come into this world in more or less the same way we all do, nurtured in an environment which, while mundane and commonplace in the ordinary view of things, somehow took on that imaginary patina in the smoky glass to produce discovery--were it not for them, Cash, too, well, where would we be but somewhere huddled by a fire on a cold night on a howling plane full of hungry wolves plain-ready to pounce, but for our staves plucked from the tree and sharp-hardened by flame, those which we saw drawn on the cave walls before us and from which we took the pattern to make them sharper yet still? Where would we be?

Would Gutenberg have invented his press only to have it co-opted by Fust for non-payment of the loan, as loosely depicted perhaps ruefully in Merchant of Venice? Would that have happened anyway?

Ah, but the question then becomes, for Modern Times: Why can't we write that word, that word spelled at the three-day county music and art fair back there, the one to try to end the War? Why can't we write that word on our aeroplanes?

Once, in 1971, fall it was, we sat in a freshman philosophy class listening to a professor, one who we credit as a mentor of a sort to our thinking since. A wise and thoughtful man he was, full of words and ideas which our peewits being nursed along had to fight to comprehend and from which then to ferret the finer meaning of that which was being conveyed in class, by going to an empty classroom at night there on the campus and lecturing it back to ourselves as we paced the empty room beside our copious notes stenographically taken down faithfully from the auditory impulses received, half-asleep, during the day--(a good way to pound that stuff to your peewit, incidentally, during freshman year, provided there are enough empty rooms, that is, on your campus by night--as there probably will be as others will be off howling at ze moon--ah, college). And this one day, there in the midst of the War, as all the males there in the classroom stood at the ready to be called upon to fight or run, he startled our sleeping ears to hear, when this distinguished and erudite, always appropriate, scholar said something to this effect: "Once, a few years ago, I had a student who began a philosophy paper as follows: 'America is all [that word] up.'" This supplied an inter-generational approach to the avenue of telling us his somewhat deeper, more analytical view of the problem producing this succinctly, yet colorfully, characterized effect, as well as its solution, one with which we wholeheartedly agree, as we have seen applied over and over since successfully when used, all [that word] up, usually, when not: that the problem is Man's alienation from himself, his identity as a whole being, through this age of reductionism, where all is explained by scientific method and inquiry, where a pill can become the cure for any ill, supposedly, until we realize the pill carries with it a price of further ills produced by the pill itself, and that we fail in our learning to bring all the fields of knowledge, of learning, to which we are exposed half-asleep, together in ourselves to form an integrated field of understanding within us each as individuals, the humanities, the social sciences, the pure sciences, even mathematics, in its symbolic content, all never properly melded as they should be into an understanding of our world, rather than as letter slots in a pigeon-holed desk from which we draw from each only separately demitasse samplings on occasion, as, for instance, we read the newspaper daily, section by section without, too often, putting it all together in our head at once to say: Ah, now today, at least, we understand it a little better than yesterday, don't we? Well done, my... Another cup of coffee for the road.

And it is that teaching to which we always return each time we venture into any attempt at analysis or understanding of these pieces and the editorial page in whole. For we view this enterprise with both awe and sometimes trepidatious delight, much as Mr. Irwin must have on that program we saw, much as the little boy grown of age must have that night he took off for Cape Cod in 1999, much as his father must have that day in fall he left Washington for an early campaign party-heeling trip through Texas.

We view it as an opportunity to read the masters of our fate today from yesterday, even from the relatively small, seemingly uninfluential burg of Charlotte, North Carolina, these masters being not only Cash, but those others who contributed to the page, whether by editorials, syndication, cartoons, comments on cartoons, or letter writers from the public generally, whether written under a true name or a nom de plume--a daily forum of ideas from which a whole understanding of the world of that time, with a bit of added exploration and imagination and intuition, might be gleaned.

And just as our professor's point was, we do so, not to show that America, or the great Globe itself, is all [that word] up, even though sometimes that it certainly appears to be--but rather to try to show, Q.E.D., how we might make it a little better from the ashes of those who got all [that word] up and made a mess, at one time or another, probably any one of us to one degree or another, contributing then to the whole [that word]-uppedness which we might see and from which we might then seek to run tens, hundreds, even thousands of miles away in our gas-guzzlers for escape to the park's greenery, which is probably in truth only as far away as the Rockaways from where you live, whether your Rockaway is a short walk away or right in your own backyard, you lucky dog, you.

So, peace to Mr. Irwin today, wherever he may be out there taming, or trying to, the animals in our nature. We sometimes puzzled as to whether some little tyke out there might see him doing that stuff and be drawn altogether too casually to the danger his attempt posed to himself, as we once were for reasons unknown as a little tyke. On that, only time will tell as those who saw those programs grow older. We sometimes thought to ourselves, too, that maybe it was all a bit too much of a circus, to display the animals like that at the foot of Man, just to say "cheese" for the camera, even though not hunted for wild sport or to kill them, but we always liked the circus and, since nothing is perfect, we enjoyed it anyway, despite our desire to be somewhat critical, cynically so sometimes, of just about anything; it gave us a chance to row back there to those circus rings, but not confined to the noisy, echoing arena they called the colisseum, rather out on the savanna itself, or in the Dismal or the Everglades or the Outback, what have you, to enjoy all of that scenery. On safari vicariously while the crocodile guy took all the risks for us, to tell us maybe not to take those risks daily with our lives in reality, as life is far too precious a thing for that.

As a sign of the times, the Modern Times. The times when some believe that to get that vicarious feel of rushing adrenaline, we must war on others, then rationalize it as something for the good of all.

Well, we don't know. We liked the program, and we'll watch the re-runs occasionally.

We're heading out to get some adrenaline rushing on our bicycle as we run this Labor Day. Occasionally we see some snakes out there when we run. We just run on by them though as they slither off their way through the grass, more afraid of us than us of them, as long as we don't corner them, that is, as the crocodile guy taught us not ever to do.

Now, the other America Fuster tennis elbows on the Hudson of the day...

Having done with which, can you see the forest for the trees? Can you hear the sound, from the trunk of the tree, even though no one is around?

Yesterday afternoon, a Sunday it was, we took a night-ride of a sort, into an old picture, one from 1937, one which you probably have seen. We took the picture this time, and looked at it again, not for its conveyance to our perceptions of pain as before, but for its conveyance instead of something else, its cause; and so, looking for that, though it might seem casually too obvious to the casual observer, we turned the picture clockwise, upside down, to find there the deeper meaning. Then we saw it, the author of the picture, and the deeper meaning of that which was being conveyed there, that written in the figure of the chain, written further on the shoulder of the chained and its configuration posed, posed more in the arms out-strung, hog-tied by the hands to the opposing young sapling, opposite the mighty pine to which the man's limp body was leaned, legs bent yet again in a figure posed, head to one side, lynched. There we saw it, the author of this picture and its meaning, engraved for many years upon the mind right side up, yet never before viewed by us upside down, for its meaning and its author. Not a pretty picture, no art in it, no matter how you come to it--but yet a scream, yes, a scream in the night, that primal scream from the cave, from the pictures on the walls of the cave, from which too little progress had yet been made there in that which preceded that picture the previous night, one lit, ignis fatuus, by blow torches, producing screams in that night which we heard then and there, in the forest of 1937, in that picture.

Business As Usual

Crime, we see by The Charlotte News, "dropped off appreciably in Charlotte last month according to the report of Mrs. Eloise P. Brown, assistant clerk of City Police Court." But isn't that a little of a non sequitur? The report actually deals with the number of arrests. And there indeed there was a considerable falling off, the number for July being 523 as compared with 610 for June and 775 for July of last year. But what we should like to know is how many crimes were reported. It would be quite possible, you see, for crime to be increasing while arrests were falling off.

In one particular, that was plainly the case. For in June there were no murders in Charlotte. In July there were two. But we do not find any arrests for murder listed among Mrs. Brown's figures, though we see that 196 drunks were successfully tracked to earth and incarcerated. And to that we may add that we can find no reason to believe that this chief crime of all is at all falling off in Charlotte, which last year stood second only to Atlanta as the most murderous town in the United States with more than 50,000 people, and the year before led all the rest. For our record last year was 37 murders, and so far this year we have had 23--which is just a little more than is necessary if we are to duplicate the record all over again for 1938.

Suppressing Caporetto

Signor Mussolini has issued a decree excluding the inter-allied medal commemorating the victory of the Allied Powers in the World War from among the list of decorations which Italian military men may wear. And it is not difficult to understand the Signor's viewpoint.

The Italian soldier is not perhaps as bad a fighter as he is sometimes credited with being. He did some pretty good fighting in the World War, as in Ethiopia. And despite the flight in the mountains behind Madrid, he has not always run away in Spain. But the fact remains, nonetheless, that he is not a really good fighter. Usually a peasant or a villager, he yearns for home, has no real grudge against anybody, and though he can be whipped into temporary enthusiasm by a razzle-dazzle about being the heir of the Caesars, all he really craves is to live peacefully and happily in his native place.

And--however true it may be that he sometimes fought pretty well in the World War, yet his part in that struggle is indelibly linked in the mind of the world with but a single event, that time he ran away from Caporetto on the Isonzo from before the Austrians (who themselves admit that they are not very good soldiers) and left Italy wide open to the invader. No, Signor Mussolini cannot be blamed for wanting to wipe out the memory of that.

From the Clouds

That lightning does not strike twice in the same place is one of the oldest of all saws, but observation has long ago proved that it is no more true than the old legend that ostriches hide their heads in the sand at the approach of danger. Actually, there are many places on earth which seem to have special affinity for lightning, though for reasons that are not clear. And this has rarely been more dramatically illustrated than it was Monday, August 8, at 1:45 P.M., when a bolt struck at Jacob Riis Park beach in the Rockaways, near New York City, and killed three people. For exactly on August 8, at 1:25 P.M., a year ago another bolt struck at almost identically the same spot and killed three people!

What lightning is, is well enough known. It is simply the discharge from a cloud of a potential, built up by the friction of vapors with the atmosphere, when it has become greater than that on another cloud or the earth below. By far the greater part of discharges are from cloud to cloud rather than from cloud to earth. Such discharges often achieve a force of millions of volts though the amount of current involved is small. But if the nature of the thing is known, the laws of its behavior are still not entirely clear. Well-installed lightning rods are supposed to protect against it, but they do not always do so. And even the steel frames of office buildings--the safest place you can be--are not an absolute protection.

However, you need not worry too much about it killing you. The chances are about one in a hundred thousand. And that is an infinite part of the chance you take every time you cross a street or highway.

Site Ed. Note: And then, of course, just 46 days after this double-switched deadly bolt, coincidentally timed from the same a year earlier at the same locale, the Long Island Express, the worst hurricane ever to hit New York and New England, would come ashore just a few miles west of the Rockaways, at Fire Island, Davis Park, Great South Beach, near Montauk Point.

Nature, if we listen, may tell us things, warn us of things yet to be, both that bred of Nature and of Man, that is if we look with our ears at the world around us on occasion, rather than trying to find some way to stop it all, all this inexorable pace of force, of gravity, against our human will to avert it, by seeking some method by which, "legally", or more likely, circumventionally, to lynch the Iris that merely strives by its lights--for the preservation of all against that wildabeast herd-will to die together rushing, rushing onward, rather than suffer the seemingly sad fate of lonely, solitudinous death, as all and each ultimately do anyway--, to point out to us that which is and ought to be always to us spiritedly obvious, as obvious as the thunderbird watching over the plains, yet lost in the daily swirl of events, fast, fast, and faster as we twirl on to forget that which is and ought to be obvious.

Easy Indictments

Solicitor John Carpenter has good sense and decency on his side when he rules that hereafter embezzlement cases will have to be bona fide before he'll prosecute them in Superior Court. As matters stand now, creditors appear to have been using the criminal charge as a lever to force payment of debt, and to have been shielding themselves from suits for false arrest by getting the grand jury to return a true bill.

And that brings up something else. It is common knowledge that grand juries usually return true bills in almost every case presented to them. All that is required is the casual testimony of a single witness. And that is grossly unfair. To lodge a criminal charge against a man is inevitably to injure him no little. The court may, and often does not process or dismiss it as quickly as it comes up for trial. But the public takes little account of that. All it remembers is that Bill Jones is the fellow who was indicted for stealing a hog or selling liquor or cleaning out the company's treasury. And it is almost impossible for Bill to secure redress both because of the vagueness of grand jury records and because of the fact that witnesses before it are often not sworn. Thus the way is laid wide open to every sneak to use the courts for venting of his spite and grudges, and for unscrupulous business men to employ them for what is in its essence blackmail.

The criminal courts are not collection agencies. Nor ought they to be available for private purposes of any sort. And the grand jury grossly abuses its powers and functions when it allows them to be used so.

Site Ed. Note: Query: Putting this one together with the piece on Caporetto and "We Hated Him" from a few days back, who was Kaiser Bill's Batman?


John D. M. Hamilton, the remarkable man who is chairman of the Republican National Committee and whose genius has made the hitherto unsuspected discovery that it was really Tom Jefferson who founded the Republican Party, is almost as cheerful a fellow as our own Jake Newell. Monday, Jake had to say:

A New Deal candidate has just been nominated in Kentucky, and Washington claims a great victory, but another great victory has been won in Kentucky which has not been heralded, and that is the merging of the views of the defeated Democratic voters and those of the Republicans...

Mr. Hamilton is a little more cautious and indulges in no definite prophecies concerning Kentucky, contenting himself with observing that 200,000 people voted for Happy Chandler against Senator Barkley, and with prophesying sweeping gains for the Republicans in November and agreeing with Jake that an overwhelming Republican victory is certain in 1940.

Of course, there will be a considerable coalition between Republican voters and Anti-New Deal Democrats this Fall. But most observers are agreed that it will not be great enough to give the Republicans the gains they had hoped for even last Summer. But, naturally, Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Newell must go on talking quite as though they believed it. Such is the profession of politics. But it must be pretty trying sometimes.

The Individual Test

One interesting thing about the Farm Security Administration loans to tenant farmers is that the case still comes inevitably back to the individual. Funds are available for only eight to ten loans in Mecklenburg County, whereas there will be between 300 and 400 applicants. And the decision is to be made, not on the basis of need but "worthiness, honesty, and ability."

In other words, the men who will get these loans will be stout fellows who, in normal times, and with fair luck, would have got to be farm owners on their own account, and without Government aid. It has to be so, too. These loans average $3,000 and run for 40 years. And 40 years is a long pull, requiring steadiness of temperament and unflagging energy to see it through successfully, what with the incalculable vagaries of wind and storm and rain and sun which have to be dealt with. There will be other men besides these eight or ten who will be capable of making the grade, no doubt; and it is probable that they will presently get their chance, too. But the simple fact is that many of the tenants and sharecroppers of the South are quite capable of making a success of such a loan. Probably that is less their fault than the fault of circumstances and long conditioning to a hopeless outlook. Nevertheless, the fact remains that they must somehow, as individuals, be made into a different sort before they can be really helped.

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