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John Brown and ugly Americans
by Jake Highton
Aug 16, 2008 | 727 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Joan Galt
By Joan Galt
The French symbolist poet Mallarmé wrote wearily: “The flesh is sad, alas, and I have read all the books.”

Naturally neither he nor I read all the books. But his point is valid. No illusions left. No surprises. The political reality is so gloomy, America so retrograde.

Yet sometimes you do read something significant that you had not read before: Thoreau’s 1859 essay, “A Plea for Captain John Brown.”

Thoreau’s anger and passion for the hero of the Harper’s Ferry raid are palpable. Brown was an American giant put down as insane.

Thoreau on Brown: “He is not Old Brown any longer. He is an angel of light” … who sought the “liberation of four million slaves” … and asks, “When were the good and brave ever in a majority?”


• Gas-swallowing sport utility vehicles and big pickup trucks are not selling because of soaring gas prices. Ugly Americans never get wise until they feel the economic pinch.

President Carter was farsighted in a 1977 speech, urging Americans to conserve energy, develop solar power and research for alternative fuels.

The American people not just scoffed at His Crankiness, but threw him out of office.

• Linda Greenhouse, New York Times reporter retiring from the Supreme Court beat after three decades, noted in her “farewell address” that “as the court’s makeup changes so does the law.”

She certainly should know. The law of the land has changed vastly from the liberal Warren Court (1953-1969) to the reactionary Roberts Court of today.

• At a recent G8 summit in Japan focusing on solving the world’s food crisis, the world leaders feasted on a six-course lunch and an 18-course dinner. The tony food included caviar, milk-fed lamb and sea urchins. Fine wines were imported from Europe and America.

The irony and hypocrisy were obvious, the difference between the Haves and Have Nots striking.

• The thieves of the Transportation Security Administration confiscated a tube of toothpaste and a harmless container of after-shave lotion from my carry-on luggage at the Reno airport.

On my return from Oakland, the TSA purloiners took an innocent jar of marmalade given to me by my daughter.

The aggravation is enormous, the absurdity manifest.

• At Central Park theater in New York recently, Hamlet came on stage in bare feet. I don’t object to modern dress for Shakespeare plays if the magnificent language is kept. But undress?

Bare feet are a distraction in the most intellectual of Shakespeare’s plays. It reminds me of Jacqueline de Pré, a British cellist during the 1980s. Blonde, golden girl, stunningly gifted. She once performed at a concert barebreasted while caressing her Stradivarius cello. Distracting gimmickry.

• One disgrace deserves another. South Carolina has long flown the Confederate flag over its statehouse. Now the state is issuing a license plate showing a Christian cross with the slogan “I Believe.”

• Leftists rightly lament the drift to the right of European nations. But European policies remain far to the left of America’s.

• The old-fashioned zoo with animals pacing up and down in small cages is, blessedly, a thing of the past. But what many people don’t know is that zoos have become centers of education, species conservation and scientific research.

• Newspaper headline: “Flip-flops are not the best shoes for walking, study finds.” It needs no study to reveal that.

• I recently watched on video the Woody Allen movie, “Annie Hall.” When it was released in 1977 I thought it a funny film.

So I laughed anew at the Allen quips. But after about an hour I quit. A little bit of Woody Allen now goes a long way.

• Shameful, just shameful. I recently read a Reno Gazette-Journal Sunday paper in 10 minutes, five of them on sports.

It is obvious you don’t have to be any good when you have a monopoly. It is also no way to cut newspaper circulation losses.

The same day the New York Times book section did not have one review worth reading. As usual, most of the reviews dealt with third-rate novels. The nonfiction books reeked of the Establishment. The memoirs were by nonentities.

• A San Francisco group giving itself the glorious name of the Presidential Memorial Commission is seeking voter support of a petition to change the name of a water treatment plant to the George W. Bush Sewage Plant.

All true patriots will support the noble effort.

Jake Highton teaches journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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