Thursday, June 26, 2014

Local Color

Four years ago we moved to Scooba, MS, population 600 or so.  It's in Kemper County, next to the Alabama state line.  Not much has happened in Kemper County.  It's all farmland.  It used to be cotton and corn, owned by white farmers and worked by black sharecroppers.  When farm profits crashed, the white farmers sold their land to the timber companies and moved away.  The black sharecroppers were left with no work and no way out except for a degree from the old agricultural high school, now turned into a community college.  The farm houses were torn down and what used to be a landscape dotted with the lights of tiny family farms is now mile after mile of blank pine plantation, it's paved roads torn out and replaced with dirt to discourage traffic.  The buildings on Main Street are being torn down for bricks; there's only two left intact.  The rest are piles of rubble being wrapped in plastic and shipped out.

The biggest thing that's happened locally took place about half an hour from here, right outside Philadelphia.  Fifty years ago last Saturday night three civil rights workers were murdered in the cause of defending state's rights against those who would help the state's citizens register to vote.  It's hard to find the exact spot these days.  There's no marker.

It happened just down the road from the Neshoba County Fair, a teeny-tiny gated vacation community for second-tier rich people out in the middle of nowhere.  It's not what you usually think of when you hear the words "county fair", more like a miniature Jackson's Hole (without the scenery) than an amusement park.  You find it by looking for the tiny pastel houses enclosed in a huge, black iron fence.  Sixteen years after the murders, Ronald Reagan would kick off his first Presidential campaign with a rousing speech defending state's rights.  Not one word did he say about the blood spilled on the ground just beyond the gates.

I remember Mississippi folks being surprised, and quite a few of them disturbed, by that omission.  Some people defended him, saying he was incompetent, not amoral.  "He's an actor.  He doesn't know the context."

It was 1980.  The world did not yet know that Reagan was a supremely competent political campaigner who always knew the context.

But we would learn.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Book Pushing 2

The girls are watching Dark Shadows with their father.  He's using the opportunity to point out the structure and limits of the old daytime soap opera format.  Also, to re-watch Dark Shadows.

Last night they told me they were up to Victoria's witchcraft trial in the 18th Century.  Seizing the opportunity, I said, "Those scenes are based on a play called The Crucible.  It was written around the same time as The Mouse That Roared and was about the Salem Witch Trials.  Let's read it next week when this sequence finishes so you can see how they're alike."


Whew!  I thought The Crucible was going to be a harder sell than that!

They wanted to talk about their current book, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.  They're up to the fashion chapter, which, alas, time has provided even more glaring examples of how conspicuous waste generates ugly clothes since Veblen's death than before the book was written.  We talked about the similarity of purpose between Leisure Class and Darwin's Origin of the Species.  I began pitching Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century as the modern update.

Not bad for the first part of the supper conversation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Book Pushing

I found some Pyrex banana boats at an antique store (vintage kitchenwares are my therapy shopping) and served banana splits in them yesterday.  The girls wanted to know why in the world there were so many kinds of dishes and utensils.  It was the perfect opportunity to introduce them to one of my favorite books, Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class.  Today they're going around exclaiming, "Wow, that finally makes sense!" twice an hour.

Last week I snuck up on them with The Mouse That Roared, but that one didn't need ice cream.  All I had to mention was some of the sillier plot twists and they were all over me to produce a copy.