The wonderful thing about coming home when “home” is Mississippi is that, whatever else goes on, good stories will be told. Years ago I learned of the following piece printed in Playboy magazine some time in the 1970s, but never managed to lay my hands on a copy to read for myself until today. The witty and erudite judge quoted here is my late uncle.
Below is the Playboy write up in its entirety, which I modified only by splitting paragraphs for easier reading in my blog format:
Eloquent legal decisions rarely come out of municipal courts, but an interesting exception occurred in Jackson, Mississippi last year in the case of a night-club patron charged with failure to obey a police officer and resisting arrest, among other things. It seems the patron first endeared himself to the arriving officers by loudly proclaiming, “Here comes the fucking police!” They ordered him to leave the premises and later arrested him when he did not comply. In court, the issues became those of lawful arrest and of whether or not his language amounted to “fighting words” that under state law would constitute a criminal act. Judge Howard C. Ross, Jr., held (in part) as follows:
In some instances, it could be a matter of speculation or inference by the court as to whether the language attributed to the defendant is such that a disturbance of the public peace would occur. In the case at bar, no difficulty is experienced, since nothing happened.
The statement was made, apparent due note taken thereof by all the people in the night club and nothing approaching a civil commotion or disturbance of the peace transpired. The only portion of the remark, being the adjective (which the court believes to be a participle) describing the police, which was offensive lacks a good bit of being a “fighting word.” It undoubtedly was received by its auditors as an appropriate, although this court believes an inaccurate, description of a member of the Jackson Police Department.
Assuming the defendant uttered the remark, its net effect was to advise all within hearing distance that the defendant had reached that state of maturity at which he can publicize his unmitigated and unredeemed ignorance and repudiation of our mother tongue. If the defendant’s ability to express disrespect, scorn, ridicule or the like toward law enforcement finds its quintessence in the quoted remark, his educational progress must be somewhat akin to the dog scavenging its daily carrion from the city garbage dump, who, when approached by one of his fellow mongrels, growls but does not speak, for he cannot. Woe to that generation who masticates its own bile and vomits such filth as the epitome of its thought processes. If it is unthinkable that the defendant’s imagination could conjure up such a thought, that he gave voice to such a declarative English sentence is unbelievable. Whether the defendant is guilty of using profanity in public is not before the court, nor is his obvious lack of breeding, intelligence and vocabulary.
It is said patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. To this may be added the last refuge of unregenerate man must surely be the retreat into the abyss of obscenity…Public utterances such as the one here under consideration are proof enough the evolution of man is not complete; for God help us all if it is. But the law gives man the right to search for truth and light and immortality on the one hand and the right to debase his very soul on the other; and these with equal zeal…The Constitution, as politics, makes strange bedfellows. One day the lady who has worn the blindfold for so long, to satisfy her curiosity is going to remove it and be horrified with the contents of her scales…What is before the court is whether the language of the statement constitutes “fighting words.” As a matter of law, they do not.
In discharging the defendant, Judge Ross also delivered himself of some kind and equally poetic words for the police:
Despite effluvium from the mouths of degenerates and malevolent future draft choices of the far reaches of hell itself, the badge of the cop on the beat is a shield of honor, integrity, honesty and courage. To those who say he’s not much, society responds, he’s all we have. Discredit him and you deny yourself protection from the criminal. Deny him and you deny your form of government. Defrock him and you have anarchy. To those who call him “pig,” he asks, how many murderers have you apprehended, how many rapists; how many vacant buildings have you entered at two o’clock in the morning, searching for a burglar; how many drunk drivers have you chased at 100 miles per hour?
Why an otherwise reasonably decent segment of our citizenry seems to see red when a policeman appears is an anomaly of our times. But the policeman, as the child, must only speak when spoken to, come when he is called, perform when his master raps the lectern with his baton, remaining at all other times, like Jim Crow, at the back of the bus. What is bad about police? Their most grievous sin appears, to this court, at least, to be that they protect our lives and property; they catch crooks; they keep rowdies under control; they patrol our streets, and this at hours and in weather conditions that keep the rest of us indoors; and all of this at a pay scale that makes one speculate why there are any honest cops left. Yet they are scorned, abused, ridiculed and denigrated to a degree that should be reserved for the criminal element.
This is truly one of the wonders of the modern world. Their job, dangerous as it is, must be accomplished in somewhat the contradictory manner of brandishing a Smith & Wesson in one hand, an olive branch in the other, one eye on the miscreant and the other on the Constitution. No easy task, methinks.
Gilbert and Sullivan perhaps said it best in The Pirates of Penzance:
Our feelings we with
When constabulary duty’s
to be done-
Ah, take one consideration
A policeman’s lot is not
a happy one.
December 31, 2012
I love the ritual of saying goodbye to one year, and embracing the possibility of the next.
My first order of business this year is to turn my blogging efforts away from navel-gazing and on to searching out the stories of others. Please look for my new blog in 2013, www.herownpurse.com, and you can “like” it on facebook here.
This illstrated excerpt from a Maurice Sendak interview sums up my feelings about all the joy and sorrow, all the uncertainty and beauty in the world.
“Something I find as I am aging, that I am in love with the world…Live your life. Live your life. Live your life.”
I wish you all good things. Happy New Year!
December 25, 2012
It is Christmas Eve. Presents are wrapped, finally. The fire is glowing, as are a few candles. The tree is lit. The only offensive light is coming from my laptop. I am warm, safe and thankful for so much.
But I enter Christmas Day with a very heavy heart. I have seen sadness and loss and pain in my time, but never have I watched so many people I love struggling at once with such major stuff. Added to that are thoughts of the recent school shooting in Connecticut, and the knowledge that violence is still such a huge part of our world.
First, I feel inept in my ability to help. Then I feel inept at how to prepare my children to process scary news when they hear, and to meet the challenges they may one day face. Whatever plans we make, whatever policies are changed, catastrophe will always come to some, and it can arrive in the blink of an eye. The only real comforting idea I have seen is a quote from Mr. Rogers that talks about looking for where the helpers are in times of trouble. And indeed, seeing our capacity to help others is a comfort.
Today a friend of mine lies in the hospital, having been unconscious for a month following a cardiac episode – his recovery uncertain, though not without hope, and his role as breadwinner decidedly compromised.
His wife soldiers on, doing what needs to be done for their daughters, with the support of an amazing community and the heavy load of scary times. She faces the struggle that is the worst fear for many of us.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post.
Peace to you all.
December 22, 2012
This has been a good year for us. As I type this, my children are watching the Rockettes’ Christmas special on Netflix and dancing in their seats to music just like their Grandpa Jim used to do. The fire is roaring, the tree is lit, and all of us have voiced how fortunate we are to have so much warmth and love in our lives.
It has been a long year, and a good one. Mom and Dad live in different places, but only a stone’s throw away, so the kids’ world is still small in many good ways. This school year has been wonderful, thanks to some wonderful teachers. Each kid is becoming a better reader, a more adept debater (sigh), and a more vigilant pioneer of kindness. They teach me every day what matters and how I can be better. I am grateful to be their mom.
And per Charlotte’s note above, we wish you all love, peace and cuddleness. Here are a few other images from our year. Happy holidays everyone.
November 17, 2012
A good message in our post election period…
October 27, 2012
There is a princess of a girl – pretty, polite and pure – who is good at heart, but powerless and poor until a rich, handsome man sweeps her away to his gigantic castle to live happily ever after.
Boys and girls get horny after puberty and it takes us many years to learn to build the skills to maintain logical thinking in the face of biological urges. But life does not wait. We fall in love. We get laid. For some of us it happens in that order, and for the lucky few, it leads to some version of the fairytale. And the rest of us just try and find our way. God forbid we fall in love with someone of our same gender. That can’t be right – that relationship can’t procreate.
We live in a culture of entitlement. Many of us feel entitled to some version of the fairytale. We define success as having a big home, lavish meals, a big chariot, and never getting sick, disabled, divorced, unemployed and never having children with development delays or disabilities.
Then some of those whose lives look an awful lot like the fairytale – by some mix of luck and hard work – feel their achievement of the fairytale qualifies them to determine how the rest of us should live. Because some of us see their lives as some version of our ideal, we believe them.
And this is how we come to have a lot of rich, white men feeling entitled to dictate what a woman should and can do with her body. We should keep our legs locked at the knees, regardless of the urge or force that ends up parting them. We should be strong enough to bear the morality of sexual choices, but not responsible or smart enough the make choices in dealing with the consequences. If we get pregnant, we absolutely must bear that child (and associated medical bills), regardless of whether we are emotionally or financially able to do so. And then we should either say goodbye to that baby forever, or need to become to maternal model of Cinderella’s Fairy to our children – perfectly patient and wise and able to provide for them. If we have a male partner in parenting, we better can our career ambitions. And if there is no man in the picture, well we need to get off our asses and hold a job, too.
The Fairytale Class
These folks have toiled so hard like saints and their wealth makes them benefactors to society because their lavish spending trickles down to the masses. Therefore they are entitled to only pay 17% tax, or some version of that. They get a tax break, a lesser percentage, by virtue of their wealth and well-paid tax professionals. But the struggling citizens for whom the fairytale will likely never happen, they can’t have a break on their taxes. They might come to feel entitled to it.
If the Fairy-talers need to make a long-term investment in their business, say a large building or stadium, the government should also give them a tax break. They are entitled to assistance because the project creates work for others. They are not expected to plan the project around what their business can afford or whether it is a good strategic choice. They need extra incentive from the government.
They preach small government and personal freedoms while they spend millions trying to pass laws to limit freedom and expand government mandates on personal choices. They claim they are the ones who can “get things done”, but things they spend their energy on benefit the fairy-talers and not the masses.
Many associates of the fairytale-based politicians also believe their fairytale is a gift from God. And well, since that has worked so well for them, they believe the rules of their faith should dictate the law of our society. No abortion and no same sex marriage. Same sex unions are outside the fairytale box, so they must be vile. They can’t possibly be about love or partnership or human connection.
Only fairytale success entitles you to choice and decision-making power in your own life. Only fairytale success entitles you to a break from funding your share of society.
A lot of important decisions will be made in this election, only some of which are covered by my little analogy. But in terms of the politically charged word ENTITLEMENT, we are all guilty to some of degree.
In this election for President, we are not deciding whether to give out entitlements, but to whom.
September 15, 2012
A few words from Sandy Holthaus, author of Sandyisms: Stories, Recipes and More from the North Shore. Sandy is a great lady whom I have mentioned here before. Please hear what she has to say about our upcoming vote in Minnesota as to whether we should uphold an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in our state.
This might surprise some of you who know me because I am Catholic and I politically tend to be conservative. I feel in my heart that marriage should be defined is a legal union between any two people in a committed, caring relationship.
I am proud to live in a country that goes to great lengths to stand up for the rights and freedoms of people around the world, yet greatly saddened that in 2012 we would even consider limiting or denying the right of marriage between two consenting adults.
Let’s be honest, I am afraid that publicly sharing my views could have a negative impact for me and for my family, but I feel it is more important to stand up for what I believe is right than to silently stand by and let this amendment pass.
Silence implies consent. I do not consent to this amendment. If in your heart you also feel that the amendment is wrong, regardless of your religious or political standing- VOTE NO and allow everyone the right to legally marry, because it’s the right thing to do.
August 4, 2012
I know I have posted so much in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage that if anyone is listening, they are the already converted.
So I am going to focus on the most beautiful part of this ugly debate.
Hearts and minds are not changed by the restaurants we frequent or boycott, though both sides of the Chick-Fil-A controversy have helped make it hard to pretend this issue doesn’t matter.
Hearts and minds are changed by openness, transparency and experience. They are changed by the stories in our lives, and those brave enough to tell them.
So for all of you who bravely share your journey to self-acceptance, how you came to know and love yourself just as you are (or were made, by whom or however), you have my endless admiration.
You are the change you wish to see in the world. You are the hope of all that follow you.
Our collective human nature is such that there will always be ignorance and hatred. Know that you are doing all that you can, just by being who you are and letting us see your beautiful example.
And because I believe the ability to love oneself is integral to mental health and the capacity to love others, I will do something I rarely do: quote scripture.
13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13, NIV)
There was a discussion in my friendslist last week where someone commented that they thought LGBT advocates were verbally aggressive and that LGBT individuals should keep their relationship status in their private bedrooms. As a follow-up response, I think that it’s worth considering Sally Ride, whose partner of 27 years is ineligible for federal death benefits after Sally’s death this week because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Consider Sally….astronaut, PhD from Stanford in physics, national heroine as the first American woman in space, esteemed academic, founder & CEO of company focused on providing science education opportunities for children, idol of geeky little girls everywhere, and lucky enough to have a pop song that coincidentally immortalized her name, as if all her real accomplishments weren’t enough. She was a woman that from the outside, appeared to have done EVERYTHING right. Yet in the eyes of the federal government, she died less equal than her fellow astronauts because she had the nerve to love a woman, not a man.
You can view her obituary here.