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Still the chief of Celtic music: The Chieftains at 57

Local York Scots Bagpipers Brigade joined local York Chorale members and then audience members with The Chieftains and the Piltazke Brothers in a long snake dance that ended the performance

The local York, PA, bagpipers all dressed up in their Scottish tartans, participating with The Chieftains in a typical sharing of Celtic culture and music, to the audience’s delight

Last night the Princess of Patience and I ventured not too far down the road to the Appell-Strand Theater in York, Pennsylvania. It is a venue we have visited over the years for a variety of music types for the adults, and high-end children’s entertainment for the kids. It is a clean, pretty, historic place right in historic downtown York, easy to access, lots of free parking, and when you are done, it is easy to leave. Fellow patrons are easy, chatty, friendly, happy, and the lady I sat next to, a Lori Sims of Hanover, PA, cheerily shared gardening tips with me and disclosed her yearning for Spring to finally arrive so her garden could get under way. Then again, no wonder: she has a TWO-ACRE GARDEN.

What we witnessed last night is one of those rare moments where, if you have been lacking in faith in humanity for whatever reason, it would be restored immediately. We watched The Chieftains do what they do best: Play sweet Celtic music combined with amazing Irish dance, and incorporating local talent in a pub-like atmosphere of fellow music chums just kind of jamming along with each other in the spirit of the moment. It would be the best of what you would find at the Temple Bar today.

So here is Chieftains founding father, Paddy Moloney, who must easily be in his 80s, alternately playing both the chipper and then humorously gruff oldster commenter, as well as his own penny whistle and Irish pipes: “Oh sure, ya show-offs,” as the Pilatzke Brothers perform amazing amazing amazing Irish tap dance routines that leave the audience exhausted from the intensity and skill. Serious world-class talent.

Now in 2019, The Chieftains are celebrating their 57th anniversary. Think about that. Fifty-seven years as inspiring performers of not just music, per se, but keepers of traditional culture, Gaelic language, ancient musical instruments, and the music and the rural, undeveloped, natural Irish landscape that binds all that together. It is quite a gift to all of us that they provide. At 57 years of live musical-cultural performances, The Chieftains are an institution, a world heritage institution.

Despite having a stack of Chieftains CDs, I can never really get enough of them, and last night my mind drifted back to one evening in the summer of 1992, during the Celtic Festival at Wolf Trap, in Virginia. The Princess of Patience and I were about to be engaged to be married, and our long-time friend Lori encouraged us to join her at Wolf Trap for that evening. The weather was perfect, the music was perfect, the musicians and performers were perfect, our snacks and wine were perfect, the audience was rapt and enthusiastic. It was all quite perfect. And there they were, now 27 years ago, The Chieftains up on stage, looking a hell of a lot younger than now, and probably having a few more teeth then than now. But still flawlessly performing the same beautiful, inspiring music.

That was the same evening I heard the best-ever joke about the bagpipes, and it is a surprisingly unknown quip, because whenever I pass it along, people respond with great mirth, as if they have never heard it before. I will disclose it here, because I know the three people who read this blog have zero interest in Celtic anything and they will immediately forget this secret to being the star at any dinner party attended by Irish or Scots.

This joke arose as an Irish pipes player dueled with a bagpipes player on stage that evening at Wolf Trap. When played correctly, the Irish pipes are of course the most heart-tugging sound the human ear will encounter. Squared off against the blaring, loud, military-oriented bagpipes, the Irish pipes are like a gentle, sweet whisper versus an aggressive, loud shout.

So after their duel on stage, during which he had played the most mournful, beautiful, inspiring sounds, the Irish pipes player said to his Scotsman counterpart: “You do know, the Irish gave the bagpipes to the Scots. And the Scots never got the joke.”

Cue uproarious audience response and a big grin from the Scotsman. Audience participation in Celtic music is expected, and it is given, as is good-natured banter among the performers.

So, on that same beautiful summer eve 27 years ago, into this good-natured banter with Celtic music and culture stepped The Chieftains, playing with humble passion on the stage at Wolf Trap. And literally over twice as many years later, The Chieftains are still chief, tops among Celtic bands. Thank you for a wonderful night of happy moment after happy moment, guys. Cheers to you, Paddy Moloney, may you see a hundred years, ’cause God knows, why not, you about look it already.

 

Celebrating Whiteness, with Antlers and Runes

As much as real, tangible racism was in free fall and thankfully a long way out of style throughout America and Europe, Liberals could not live without it, and so they brought it back and breathed life into it like a Frankenstein monster. Newly created by the past president, Black Lives Matter is “the Klan with a tan.”

Racism and race consciousness (they are the same) is a powerful accelerant for liberals’ ever-offended victimhood, and a driver of demands for coercive Marxist “social justice” wealth redistribution and forced equal outcomes (not equality via equal opportunity, which is meritocracy).

Put another way, racialism is a powerful drug. Take a racial supremacy pill and you are on top of the world, feeling good about yourself simply for existing inside your own skin color; but take a racially aggrieved pill along with the first pill and you are ready to lay waste to the world in the name and image of your skin color. You feel personally righteous and motivated. Witness the BLM and ANTIFA street violence, the murderous hate of Jeremiah Wright’s followers, neo-Nazi Storm Front. True jihad.

For every Yin there is a Yang.

For every action there is an opposite and equal reaction.

For every black supremacist Louis Farrakhan and BLM kook and tone deaf NAACP functionary, there is now or will end up being a Neo Nazi or sympathizer, just as equally filled with foolish hatred, racialist supremacy, and racial grievance as their mirror image.

I do not know what “white” skin is, and neither do the strongest proponents of “whiteness” nor its  enemies and modern creators, the black supremacists like Black Lives Matter, Louis Farrakhan, Democrat leader Keith Ellison, or celebrated jihadia Linda Sarsour, et al.

There is simply no quantifiable or operational definition for whiteness, or blackness. But racism’s artificiality does not stop people from using racist ideas for political gain or personal aggrandizement.

A recent vacation trip through several once-sovereign nations in Europe showed that, like America, most “whites” there have accepted the idea that racist/racialist discrimination is a bad thing. This is a repeated empirical observation where one meets a friendly young mixed race German couple: the She is milk chocolate brown, herself of racially mixed parentage, and the He is a supremely blonde and genuinely “white” Teuton, what we jokingly refer to as the ‘Hitler Jugen’ in our own family. Together they are happily affectionate and in love, oblivious to the artificial divide that Black Lives Matter demands of them.

Repeat this scene a thousand times, as we did across the three nations, and the takeaway lesson is that the “whites” got it; they got the memo on being racially accepting. It seems they are alone, however, as the pendulum is swinging the other way now, driven by BLM’s fake racial grievance industry, enabled by the establishment media, as well as South Africa’s latest non-news African anti-Caucasian genocide.

An interesting child born of the Left’s destructive efforts to artificially separate humans, break them out, and pit them against one another along skin color lines are those Caucasians returning to early Norse language, religion, and identity. Now this is really, honestly, truly Caucasian in every way, and if you had to point to something and say “Yeah, this is what we would call ‘white’,” this would be it.

It is an affirmation of historic roots.

It is not symbolic of Aryan supremacy. Yet.

Fascinatingly and in a way frighteningly, because it is so contrary to America’s Biblical idea of color-blindness, which I myself exalt (even in the face of BLM and NAACP racism), this is something quietly growing in the shade between the glaring extremes of BLM and Storm Front’s 21 marching members. It is this truly authentic “white” identity, increasingly celebrated in real song and historically accurate, authentic costume, rooted in Scandinavia, Dane-Land, Germania, the true home area of Caucasian “whites.”

These resurrected ancient symbols send a strong signal to modern lost souls; a chill up the spine tells them they are back home, after a long absence.

These are Caucasians working their way back to a proto-Caucasian, pre-Christian tribal identity, something organic with and naturally arising out of the Western European and Scandinavian landscape, even before Beowulf. It is very much a part of their DNA heritage. At least of what they know of it, or think they know of it. But that is enough for this new identity.

This nascent identity movement ironically started with the 1980s nativist Celtic music revival. But it is now its own thing, complete with a signature public face, a highly literate music style based on old Norse poetry and Viking history, Old High German and Old Danish literature and myths, the use of runes, and native music emitting from natural Iron Age objects, plants, and animal parts. And those totemic tattoos!

Call it “Viking Rock.” Their musical style is a big Viking tent, encompassing chants, to entirely primitive instruments, to electronic everything, and all of that together. One thing for sure, it is energetic, mostly aggressive, very much a product of the Norse beginnings. We know this from archaeology and history.

With this activity we are approaching a clearer and more honest “white” identity that is probably irrefutable, if also unnecessary in my happy, peaceful, color-blind American life. Shallow Storm Front, it ain’t.

We had thought the Vikings were all buried in the shallow inland sands of the North Sea and the barrows and dolmens of England, and now today seen only in documentaries, but in fact they walk among us once again. An entire genre of music, language, religion, exemplified simply by old Norse tattoos, are emerging from Europeans participating in their own natural, organic responses to artificial demands of racial identification.

Perhaps the most visually gripping band is the newest, Heilung (and photos and music videos below).

Early Caucasian people did and said and danced and wrote and sang these things playing out on stage, while today in America we barbecue outside and throw a baseball to relax, instead of beating war drums.

Where this goes is anyone’s guess. Neo-Nazis have already tried to claim some of this turf, now harkening to Odin for aid and comfort and decrying Christianity as a ‘Jewish plot’. But there is a tremendous amount of well-intentioned bleed-over into fascinated onlookers and others justifiably fed up with being told over and over that they are racist bad people simply because of their skin color, or lack of it. Other adherents are just fed up with modern materialism and consumerism, and are looking for what can only be called authenticity. This movement is going to take hold and sink roots in different places.

If we must view this ‘PaleoScando’ style as something purely racial, then one question that immediately comes to mind is this: Can the other “whites,” i.e. the Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Eastern Europeans also participate in this Viking celebration of whiteness? What if you are a typical American and you have a bunch of German, Austrian, and Irish DNA floating around in your veins? Under white racialism, these Celtic and Saxon strands are at war with one another. Do they cancel themselves out? Do you then cease to exist as a racial symbol? Should you be taken to a remote place and shot, or gassed, thereby removed from the gene pool? Or should you just shoot yourself?

A recent DNA-driven facial reconstruction of the 9,000-year-old “Cheddar Man” skeleton from southern England (near Stonehenge) gave him black skin and blue eyes, with a definitely unmistakable Irish mug. An Irishman with a deep tan. But wait, aren’t the Irish and English white?

Do any of these people above also qualify as ‘white’? Should they also be celebrating their whiteness with the modern Vikings? Or are they just onlookers, or cheerleaders, or cannon fodder and stepping stones?

The movement’s music and visuals are powerfully suggestive, and moving. If the Vikings and their incredibly creative, powerful, often merciless successful descendants were any indication, this movement will go somewhere. Hopefully it goes for good. God, I hope for good.

Some representative examples:

“Krigsgaldr” (“War-Magic,” a song or play about cruel Vikings getting some payback)

 

Will the real Ireland please get up, stand up?

Tramping the Temple Bar in Dublin with old friends, we were in search of native music, and a cold Guinness. Despite our best efforts, we could not find one authentic Celtic pub, that was open at lunch time, anyhow. Every place we went was either blaring the same exact mix of John Denver, U2, the Beatles, and Neil Diamond, or had someone playing those same songs on a guitar. Really loudly.

This was not the real deal Ireland we came to see and experience.

What the hell is all that incongruous music doing on native Celtic soil? So out of place was this alien cacophonous tumult that we finally fled to what we thought was a quiet spot, only to have the talking-level ambience be detonated by just one guy with a guitar. Singing John Denver, Beatles, U2, and Neil Diamond songs. Really loudly. So loudly that we could not speak to one another at the table, except in between his songs. And believe it or not, this pub had run out of Guinness.

No Irish music and no Guinness in this Temple Bar Irish pub….the heart and soul of Ireland. Supposedly.

This arrangement was, to us, utterly bizarre and not at all what these Americans wanted to hear, or experience. We had traveled back to the old country to hear the heart-felt authentic sound of the old country, either old or modern, not modern, plastic inversions from and for the New World. We put up with it and enjoyed each other’s company for a while, and then fled to greener pastures.

Now about that old time Irish religion…every Catholic church we visited there was a museum. They all had small charity shops, selling post cards. Dark and uninhabited, after a thousand years for some, they now sit mute. How sad to see the backbone of Irish morality, spirituality, and identity cast aside so abruptly.

While talking to anyone who would share their views with us about this, which included at least a dozen natives, from taxi drivers to cops on the street to the barber Seamus who cut me hair, we heard the following themes: The Catholic church overplayed its hand and alienated the very flock under its care. By being part and parcel of the public schools, the Church had a lot of control over people’s lives. But instead of being a positive force, the Irish we spoke to said that when they saw a priest coming, they ducked the other way. Their schooling was unhappy, not inspiring. The Church did not have to compete for the people’s trust and allegiance; it took them for granted and treated them like a captive audience.

And then there was the same molestation issue as here, except that it was bigger, known longer, and covered up in plain sight much longer in Ireland than in America. One man, Martin, our taxi driver on the way to the ferry to Holyhead, said “And you loved Pope John Paul, right?”

To which I naturally answered “Of course! He was a powerful force for good on Planet Earth!”

To which Martin replied “Yes, of course you would say this. All the Americans say it. But did Pope John Paul, the greatest pope in modern history, ever apologize for the molestation problem, here or in America? No, he did not, and it caused most Irish to turn away from him and the Church. Including me.”

I was then reminded of Sinead O’Connor’s bizarre outburst on Saturday Night Live decades ago. “Fight the real enemy,” she shouted at a picture of the Pope. Most Americans were stunned and unhappy about it, regardless of their religious affiliation or identity.

Apparently Sinead had a reason that the rest of us did not know. And at that time, Ireland was just an island a million miles away. We did not know what she was talking about, what Martin was telling us about. There were no social media to broadcast her message, just a brief appearance in front of a big TV audience. It was up to the audience members to dig deeper to find out what she meant.

Today, it appears that outside of the really rural areas, the Catholic Church in Ireland is being abandoned by the Irish. Like completely abandoned.

This terrifies those of us who believe in the supremacy of Western civilization. Without the Church, a cornerstone of Western Civilization, the whole falls. What fills that vacuum could be anything, and there are some powerful forces at play, playing for all the chips that spoiled, soft, fantasy-driven Westerners seem to be oblivious to. The Irish are not soft, or spoiled, but they are like children in a way. They are largely innocent children, in my eyes, unexposed to the harsh realities of the outside world, waiting to eat them up. Their guard is down, not up. The Irish are vulnerable, in the way that middle-income American kids are clueless and big hearted about the intentions of their enemies they call friends.

It is painful to see an Irishman drop his own music in Dublin, drop the source of his soul and family, and drop his guard when a fight for his culture is looming in his face.

Will Ireland please stand up? Will the real Ireland please get up? Yes, we know you are tired of fighting, but sadly, we all must fight to stay free. It is a constant thing. You Irish should know this better than everyone else.

For those who want to hear some authentic, modern, native Irish music, in the symbolic spirit of James Joyce; it is possible:

Fairy Forts: Being Truly Green, and Emerald

On a really neat hike around Howth, Ireland, guided by a really neat guy named Mark, I was introduced to the weird world of Irish politics two weeks ago.

Just two weeks before I had an even stranger introduction to Irish politics, when at the Yuengling beer plant tour in Pottsville, PA, a little Irishman with a big Brogue said to me “Yer nawt Oirish, becauz yew doon’t leev ‘n Ireland, and I’m nawt Oirish becauz ah leev ‘n Northr’n Ireland.”

The little master was quite assertive in his girly long shorts (thankfully these have not yet arrived in America) and me, for the first time in my life not knowing what to say and how to not say it, I simply said “Brother, you need another beer.”

And yes, he did drink another beer. Guess that meant he’s not really Irish…

So two weeks later on Howth, I described this encounter to our guide Mark, himself of Belfast like the non-Irish Irishman in the girly pants, but Catholic, and he responded like a PhD historian.

To wit: After 750 years of English occupation, colonization, violence, repression, uprisings, death, mayhem, chaos, cultural suppression, etc., the Irish are still sorting a few things out now that the English are mostly out.

The idea that an Irishman from Belfast is not really an Irishman is to me, like, I don’t know, let me think of something incongruous, well, it is like finding out something so incredibly outlandish that your whole world view goes topsy turvy for a week. That was the effect.

But Mark said matter of factly “Oh yeah, that is the mentality and attitude up there [Belfast], and that is why I left to come down here [Dublin].”

You would probably have to live there over a few lifetimes to figure it all out, because just as I was starting to comprehend the political and cultural dynamic of Northern Ireland, Mark then went on to describe Irish MP Danny Healy-Rae in the way someone from some deep urban ghetto cloister in New York City or Los Angeles would describe a rural NRA member farmer in flyover country.

It was not pretty, but hey, who am I to judge, and I just sat and nodded along. Mark was an excellent guide and passionate about his homeland and his happy life there. I can relate, and so like I said, I just nodded along.

Danny Healy-Rae is probably all alone in his singular rural style of political representation the world-over. Despite having a lot of rural areas and a lot of fired-up rural people, I do not think America has anyone like him in politics. Danny Healy-Rae is both principled and colorful, with a straight face.

The incredible irony of Danny Boy’s place on the political spectrum was totally lost on Mark, who only moments before was explaining Irish politics very cogently, and advocating for new roads in the deepest rural areas as “progress.”

See, Danny Boy objects to new roads being built through really rural areas, especially those places that have “fairy forts.”

Yes, fairy forts. Wonder if you will, laugh if you must, but the man is indeed worried about how new roads will destroy or impact ancient fairy forts. Setting aside the rural traditions and folklore about fairies and fairy forts (and I do tend to side with both Native American Indians and Native Irish on their spiritual sensitivities to real things in the natural world that city folk aka Town Mice completely miss), fairy forts are real.

A week after Mark had explained Irish politics so clearly to me, we visited Stonehenge.

Have you gone there? Stonehenge is literally surrounded by fairy forts. Lots of hill forts and burial mounds and mystery places clearly built by the ancients for mysterious purposes that were really important to them and unattainable to us desensitized moderns. I was not expecting this side of Stonehenge, and it turns out it’s the presence of all those hill forts and mounds that make the big Stonehenge rocks so important.

After seeing this unexpected oddity in person, I looked up “fairy forts” and read most carefully this one (of several) reference. Naturally the Irish ones came to mind first, because of the footage of Danny Boy talking about Fairy Forts in Ireland’s parliament.

Archaeologically a “fairy fort” is a fascinating historic remain, and it’s evident why the ‘hick’ locals in all these places both revere and fear them. The English seemed to have plowed theirs extensively, which is very bad from the view of the historian, archaeologist, or Druid.

Turns out that Danny Boy is not only concerned about new roads destroying Fairy Forts, but he is also publicly concerned about the explosion of rhododendron in rural Ireland.

Now as much as Mark mocked Danny Boy’s unpersuaded opinions about man-made “climate change” (like Danny Boy, I too am unpersuaded by the heavily politicized, faked data behind the mere statistical models purported to be and shouted to be irrefutable “science”), Mark admitted he did not know the flora and fauna subjects along our beautiful walk on Howth. Nonetheless, he mocked Danny Boy over the rhododendron thing, too.

That flora issue includes the tidal wave of invasive plants moving in on the beautiful Irish countryside. That would also include rhododendron, and you will not find a bigger faunal representation of imperial Victorian England (something Mark is very much opposed to) than the various copses of rhododendron planted and quickly spreading from one end of the Empire to the other.

In other words, Danny Boy is objecting to invasive rhododendron for environmental and cultural reasons, things that his detractors say they care about, and his supposedly proud Irish compatriots are mocking him about it. They mock him simply because he comes across as a hick, not because they actually know better than he or care more for the environment than he.

I think this hillbilly Irishman MP, Danny Healy-Rae, should get a lot more credit from his fellow countrymen than he has thus far received. At first I thought he was just an aggressive environmentalist trying to keep roads and invasive plants out of undeveloped Paradise. Now I think he’s also a keen historian!

We will return to Ireland. Several other friends and friendly couple friends of ours were simultaneously touring Ireland when we were there, and between us all we all pretty much covered the whole country by car, bike, kayak, and foot. The collective photos we all took showed Ireland in all its splendor. What a beautiful, unspoiled, undeveloped, magical place is Ireland.

Turns out that Ireland, the whole entire place, is one big beautiful, magical  fairy fort!

We are coming back, and we hope that Danny Boy has succeeded in diverting the roads, protecting the fairy forts, and uprooting the rhododendron. Mark, you will have to come with us, because I think you should see Ireland through our eyes. It might help you better appreciate the incredible natural beauty you have.

And this next trip might help us all better figure out Irish politics, because as we can see with Danny Boy vs. the liberal Irish, Irish politics are a complete mess where up is down and left is right. When you have liberals advocating for environmental destruction and keeping the symbols of imperial England, and the conservatives opposing them are the greens, things are just not yet sorted out.

That’s the best way to put Ireland. It just isn’t yet sorted out. But it is beautiful, thanks to the fairy forts.

Howth and the “Eye of Ireland”:

Everybody is Irish today

Americans celebrate a multitude of holidays.  Some are religiously based, some are ethnic, some are historic, and some are just fun.

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, a holiday we borrowed from Ireland and made even better.  In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day has a load of religious meaning, which is fine, and yes, they have some festive public drinking to lend a celebratory air to it.

But here in America, we celebrate St. Patty’s Day as if every American is a little Irish, as indeed many, even most, are.

And that is important, because the Irish were among the very first slaves brought to America, and even as freed men they helped build this incredible nation, knowing that they had as much a share in it as anyone else.  Coming from a place – Ireland – where Catholic Irish had their lands stolen on a whim, and where Catholics could be shot on sight just for the fun of it, any place was better.

Irish pluck, Irish luck, Irish humor, Irish fierceness…all are key ingredients in America’s success today.  So here’s to the Irish today, and of yesterday, and to all of us Americans.  We owe ye much, lads!  Today we are all a little bit o’ Irish, just by being Americans.

Shoot straight, Downton Abbey!

Downton Abbey is my favorite TV show of all time.

Every in-season Sunday night at 9:00 we eagerly gather round the big screen, home made spiced popcorn by the bucketful for each family member, and we drink in the beautifully done details and attention to form and grace we might otherwise mock, but which suddenly doesn’t look so quaint nowadays.

Everything Downton Abbey is done just right: The clothes, the rooms, the landscapes, the attitudes, the horses’ braided manes and cropped tails, the food, the historic cars, the cobblestone walks, the Upstairs Downstairs separate lives of the nobles and their low-born helpers constantly saying “Yes, m’Lord,” and deferentially bowing.

That awesome acting!

For an award-winning PBS Masterpiece Theater show that has so carefully threaded the yarn of social commentary through the needle of the dramatically changing times of the early Nineteen-Hundreds and Twenties, it is bizarrely deficient on one count: The depiction or even the meaningful presence of field sports at Downton.

Field sports, like pick-up, informal, cross-country steeplechase horse races, formal horse-back fox hunts, weekly and near-daily hunts for driven pheasant, partridge, rabbits, stag, and red deer that for hundreds of years  made up the lives of real-life Downton Abbey residents and their peers until the 1970s, but still lingering on in remote places.

Not to mention salmon fishing with spey rods and picnic baskets filled with bottles of phenomenal Scotch!

Field sports were core to the luxurious but physically challenging lifestyle of the English landed gentry and nobility (and also to their Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts), and generated significant economic, technological, and cultural evolutions across the planet.

Downton Abbey’s second season delivered on the natural expectation among educated viewers that accurate depictions of field sports would be part of the rural landscapes designed around them.  And then, in one evening, Downtown Abbey did it right, to the hilt, as we expected.  As we had a right to expect.

Indeed, upon his visit to Shrimpie’s Scottish family castle, properly stocked with historic arms and armor, the most pedestrian Matthew (now dead) successfully stalked Highland stag, using period-correct clothing, ponies, and best-quality rifles, complete with attentive Ghillies nattily attired in the Hebrides’ best men’s skirts.  And he enjoyed it.  A lot.  How true that would have been.  How accurate it was to portray Matthew that way.

How normal that experience was, in real life, at the time Downton Abbey is set in, not only among the Scottish castle dwellers, but among the Downton Abbey residents, as well.

So then, inexplicably, we must wait another year and a half before we see even a brief hunting scene.  Sure there is a steeplechase, and Mary’s galloping sidesaddle was impeccable.  Exciting to watch, and viewers around the globe worried that she might fall; I did.  Jumping sidesaddle is a rare skill, which a gentlelady like Mary would have time to perfect.  Seeing it was, in fact, perfect to my eyes.

Well done!

But the hunting scene this season is awful.  It is shamefully bad, I am sad to say.

This time Tom, Mary, and one of her suitors take a walk on the Downton grounds with best-grade shotguns to hunt up some hares for the house pot.  Incredibly, Tom hesitatingly walks out into the middle of an open field, where no self-respecting rabbit has ever lived or been shot with a gun or caught by a hawk, points his gun up at shoulder level, and pulls the trigger.

At which point we are supposed to believe, what, that a Monty Python-style King Arthur quest-rabbit-on-a-string slowly sailed up into the air and delivered itself to the careful arc of Tom’s staged, static, single shot?

Come on, Downton Abbey!  This is not right. Not only is it not technically right, it’s not naturally right, but most important, it’s not socially right.

Just think of the potential social commentary available to the writers about a radical Irish Socialist private limo driver who then becomes the family’s land manager.

From being against estates, he is now the arm of the Lord of the estate.  From opposing monarchy, he literally gets in bed with it and his (now dead) wife Sybil bears him a child born to wealth and noble high status.

Putting the equivalent of a $150,000 best-quality shotgun in Tom’s hands, and a $5,000 wool suit on his handsome frame, while he hunts on the estate with pure-bred gentry at his side, surely we could have been treated to some scenes of rabbits dying in the place of King Edward, in Tom’s mind’s eye, or some other subtle but visual tension as we have seen elsewhere in Downton, such as where Tom feels physically drawn to the material comforts of the life he once intellectually opposed.

One can only guess why this dearth of hands-on hunting, riding, and fishing is an elephant standing in the castle’s drawing room.

Is it that Julian Fellowes is like so many of England’s effete cultural elite, openly disdaining even rudimentary firearms like single-shot rifles and double-barrel shotguns, and so including them only of the barest necessity in Downton Abbey?  And what a shame this is, because even for liberals there is rich mining to be had, a wealth of opposites, a world of contrasts in the universe of noble field sports.

Reality is not scary, Julian, nor is it objectionable.  Reality is reality, and if you are going to be historically accurate for our viewing pleasure, reality must be shown and said.  And as your loyal fan, I am telling you that you can put rose tinted lenses on anything at Downton, and we will eat it up, including rabbit hunting and driven pheasant shoots.

I hope you do it right next time, and include more accurate field sports portrayals.  To be prosaic, make sure you serve the other course with our otherwise fulfilling meal, please.  It should be roast duck or pheasant, with a scattering of chilled lead six-shot picked out from the rear molar with a pinky nail or toothpick like any Lord or Lady would have happily done in 1927.

 

Some Westerners still adore Imperialism despite their protestations

If there is one hotbed of kooky political extremism in Western Civilization, it’s England.

As it was in the 1920s and 1930s, England is full of self-proclaimed “peace” activists and anti-imperialism yellers and screamers.

Their weak righteousness brought on World War II, and paved the way for massive treasonous infiltration of English government at all levels.

Many Soviet Russian spies were warmly welcomed by these activists to set up shop and undermine the individual rights and liberties that mark the strongest European democracy.

Anti-British sentiment ran and still runs quite deep in Wales, Ireland, Scotland, the Falklands, and many other far-flung places unassociated with England proper.

Yet where were those activists then, when those nations next to England yearned for their own self-determination? Sure, the activists accused everyone else (America, Israel, the actual anchors of Western freedom and tolerance) of vicious imperialism, but they themselves loved the unfair, artificial, imperialistic, forced notion of a UK. Scotland, Ireland, Wales were independent places with unique languages, cultures, and religions. They were hardly “united” with England by choice.

The Falklands? WTH?!

Why now that Scottish citizens are finally waking up to their own freedom are the British trade unions, left wing activists, and self-appointed bosses of equality silent on Scotland’s chance for true opportunity?

I’m not Scottish, Welsh, nor Irish, I am an American, but I do know that my country fought British imperialism many times, and that Americans greatly benefited from their Constitutional republic’s individual liberties.

It is time for Britons to act in a consistent, civilized way, and set aside their imperial self-interests.

As a former Scottish freedom fighter once said on film, FREEDOM!

Remembering neat people, Part 1

A lot of neat, interesting people have died in the past year or two, or ten, if I think about it, but time flies faster than we can catch it or even snatch special moments from it. People I either knew or admired from afar who changed me in some way.

There are two men who influenced me in small but substantial ways who I have been thinking about in recent days. One of them died exactly ten years ago, and the other died just last year. Funny how I keep thinking about them.

It is time to honor them as best I can, in words.

First one was Charlie Haffner, a grizzled mountain man from central Tennessee. Charlie and I first crossed paths in 1989, when I joined the Owl Hollow Shooting Club about 45 minutes south of Nashville, where I was a graduate student at the time.

Charlie owned that shooting club.

Back before GPS, internet, or cell phones, the world was a different place than today. Dinosaurs were probably wandering around among us then, mmm hmmmmm. Heck, maybe I am a dinosaur. Anyhow, in order to find my way to the Owl Hollow club, first and foremost I had to get the club’s phone number, which I obtained from a fly fishing shop on West End Avenue. Then I had to call Charlie for directions, using a l-a-n-d l-i-n-e, and actually speaking to a person at the other end. You’d think it was Morse Code by today’s standards.

After getting Charlie on the phone, and assiduously writing down his directions from our phone conversation, I had to use the best map I could get and then drive way out in the Tennessee countryside on gravel and dirt roads. Trusting my directional instincts, which are good, and trusting the maps, which were pretty bad, and using Charlie’s directions, which were exactingly precise, I made my way through an alien landscape of small tobacco farms and Confederate flags waving from flagpoles. Yes, southcentral Tennessee back then, and maybe even today, was still living in 1865. Not an American flag to be seen out there by itself. If one appeared, it was either directly above, or, more commonly, directly below the Confederate flag. The Confederate flag shared equal or nearly equal footing with the American flag throughout that region.

Needless to say, when I had finally arrived at the big, quiet, lonesome gun range in the middle of the Tennessee back country, the fact that I played the banjo and was as redneck as redneck gets back home didn’t mean a thing right then. Buddy, I was feelin’…. Yankee, like…well, like black people once probably felt entering into a room full of Caucasians. I felt all alone out there and downright uncomfortable. And to boot, I was looking for a mountain man with a deeeeep Southern drawl, so it was bound to get better. Right?

Sure enough, I saw Charlie’s historic square-cut log cabin up the hill, and I walked up to it. Problem was, it had a door on every outside wall, so that when I knocked on one, and heard voices inside, and then heard “Over here!” coming from outside, I’d walk around to the next door, which was closed, and I would knock again, and go through the process again, and again. Yes, I knocked on three or four of those mystery doors before Charlie Haffner finally stepped out of yet one more doorway, into the sunshine, and greeted me in the most friendly and welcoming manner.

Bib overalls were meant to be worn by men like Charlie, and Charlie was meant to wear bib overalls, and I think that’s all he had on. His long, white Father Time beard flowed down and across his chest, and his long, flowing white hair was thick and distinguished like a Southern gentleman’s hair would have to be. And sure as shootin’, a flintlock pistol was tucked into the top of those bib overalls. I am not normally a shy person, and I normally enjoy trying to get the first words in on any conversation, with some humor if I can think of it fast enough. But the truth is, I was dumbfounded and just stood there in awe of the sight before me.

Being a Damned Yankee, I half expected to be shot dead on sight. But what followed is a legendary story re-told many times in my own family, as Charlie (and his kindly wife, who also had a twinkle in her eye) welcomed me into his home in the most gracious, witty, and insightful way possible.

Over the following two years, I shot as much as a full-time graduate student could shoot out there at Owl Hollow Gun Club, which is to say not as much as I wanted and probably more than I should have. Although my first interest in guns as a kid had been black powder muzzleloaders, and I had received a percussion cap .45 caliber Philadelphia derringer as a gift when I was ten, I had not really spent much time around flintlocks. Charlie rekindled that flame in me there, and it has burned ever since, as it has for tens of thousands of other people who were similarly shaped by Charlie’s re-introduction of flintlock shooting matches back in the early 1970s, there at Owl Hollow Gun Club.

Charlie died ten years ago, on July 10th, I think, and I have thought about him often ever since: His incredible warmth and humor, his amazing insights for a mountain man with little evident exposure to the outside world (now don’t go getting prejudiced about mountain folk; he and many others are plenty worldly, even if they don’t APPEAR to be so), his tolerance of differences and willingness to break with orthodoxy to make someone feel most welcome. Hollywood has done a bad number on the Southern Man image, and maybe some of that negative stereotype is deserved, but Charlie Haffner was a true Southern gentleman in every way, and I was proud to know him, to be shaped by him.

The other man who has been on my mind is Russell Means, a Pine Ridge Sioux, award-winning actor, and Indian rights activist who caught my attention in the early 1970s, and most especially as a spokesman for tribal members holed up out there after shooting it out with FBI gunslingers.

American Indians always have a respected place in the heart of true Americans, and anyone who grew up playing cowboys and Indians knows that sometimes there were bad cowboys who got their due from some righteous red men. Among little kids fifty years ago, the Indians were always tough, and sometimes they were tougher and better than the white guys. From my generation, a lot of guys carry around a little bit of wahoo Indian inside our hearts; we’d still like to think we are part Indian; it would make us better, more real Americans…

Russell Means was a good looking man, very manly and tough, and he was outspoken about the unfair depredations his people had experienced. While Means was called a radical forty years ago, I think any proud Irishman or Scottish Highlander could easily relate to his complaints, if they or their descendants stop to think about how Britain had (and still does) dispossessed and displaced them.

Russell Means played a key role in an important movie, The Last of the Mohicans. His stoic, rugged demeanor wasn’t faked, and he was so authentic in appearance and action that he easily lent palpable credibility to that artistic portrayal of 1750s frontier America by simply showing up and being there on the set. Means could have easily been the guy on the original buffalo nickel; that is how authentic he was.

Russell Means was representative of an older, better way of life that is disappearing on the Indian reservations, if that makes any sense to those who think of the Indian lifestyle that passed away as involving horses and headdresses. He was truly one of the last of the Mohicans, for all the native tribes. Although I never met you, I still miss you, and your voice, Mr. Means.

[Written 7/23/14]

Breezy Point, NY, Hit Hard by Sandy

Some places are just off the radar, and sometimes the closer they are to large metropolitan areas, the easier they hide in plain view.

Breezy Point is such a place. A slice of Heaven in an otherwise old, somewhat decrepit New York metro area, Breezy Point is a small seaside village nestled in the dunes between Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

About 99% Irish Catholic, it’s utterly safe, pleasant, and home to several welcoming real Irish pubs. For years, Breezy has been my main fishing destination. Its proximity to public land, private beaches, normal people, excellent fishing, and many friends makes it a natural venue to introduce my kids to surf fishing, beach bonfires, and rare friendly exchanges with urban strangers.

Sadly, Breezy took a big hit from Hurricane Sandy. Between unprecedented flooding and a huge fire that has eaten at least fifty homes now [UPDATE: 100 HOMES, developing], the place is really hurting. If nothing else, Breezy’s residents are hearty, able, and unwilling to move into “The City.” So it’ll be rebuilt. This coming Easter I may finally be able to organize the first seaside service with bagpipes that also kicks off the start of the striped bass run. I’ve raised the subject and been met with warm welcome by some locals. Given the state of things there now, it might be a good start.

To my many Breezy friends:
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.