Just Wright for Halloween

My fascination with Frank Lloyd Wright – not just his architecture, but the man himself – began when I was a high school senior. I went along with a friend to visit her classmate who lived in Fountainhead, the Jackson, Mississippi, home designed and built for the J. Willis Hughes family. I remember the boy telling us Wright had lived with his family for three months before designing their home in order to get a feel for each member's individual personality.

In the years since I have toured Wright’s homes and buildings in many areas of the country, including Taliesin, his hillside home in Spring Green, Wisconsin. In the dark and verdant family plot down the road from Taliesin, I picked a wild vine from the architect’s grave, planting it in a Styrofoam cup to keep. Near his grave stands a marker bearing his epitaph, “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no occasion to change.”

For more about this fascinating man, I recommend Brendan Gill’s biography, “Many Masks.”

Many people are unaware of the real-life horror story that haunted Wright throughout his long and colorful life. I found this succinct version on Wikipedia:


In 1903, Wright designed a house for Edwin Cheney, a neighbor in Oak Park, Illinois, and immediately took a liking to Cheney's wife, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Mamah Cheney was a modern woman with interests outside the home. She was an early feminist, and Wright viewed her as his intellectual equal. The two fell in love, even though Wright had been married for almost 20 years. Often the two could be seen taking rides in Wright's automobile through Oak Park, and they became the talk of the town. Wright's wife, Kitty, sure that this attachment would fade as the others had, refused to grant him a divorce. Neither would Edwin Cheney grant one to Mamah. In 1909, even before the Robie House was completed, Wright and Mamah Cheney went together to Europe, leaving their own spouses and children behind. The scandal that erupted virtually destroyed Wright's ability to practice architecture in the United States.


On August 15, 1914, while Wright was working in Chicago, Julian Carlton, a male servant from Barbados who had been hired several months earlier, set fire to the living quarters of Taliesin (Spring Green, Wisconsin) and murdered seven people with an axe as the fire burned. The dead included Mamah; her two children, John and Martha; a gardener; a draftsman named Emil Brodelle; a workman; and another workman's son. Two people survived the mayhem, one of whom helped to put out the fire that almost completely consumed the residential wing of the house. Carlton swallowed muriatic acid immediately following the attack in an attempt to kill himself. He was nearly lynched on the spot, but was taken to the Dodgeville jail. Carlton died from starvation seven weeks after the attack, despite medical attention.


To my knowledge no motive was given for the axe murders, other than the story that the Barbados manservant "went mad." Wright, 47 years old at the time, died in 1959 at age 91. Following the tragedy, he went on to become America's premiere architect.


'The rich get richer'

My mother had a treasure trove of truisms which expressed her wisdom – none more so, in light of current trends, than “The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.”

In a display of classic doublespeak Republican Party leaders have accused Democrats of “class warfare” when they themselves are in all-out war against America’s working poor and middle class.

Why anyone of sound mind and a clear conscience would vote for these greedy charlatans is beyond me.

On October 21, after blocking a Senate vote on that portion of President Obama’s jobs plan which would have put more teachers and first responders to work and more paychecks in the pockets of these respected and vital people, Senate Minority Leader Mtch McConnell (R-KY) delivered this doublespeak after Democrats that same day blocked a GOP-backed proposal to repeal a 3 percent withholding requirement for all government contractors:

"It's hard to understand why Democrats would block this bipartisan effort to protect jobs - a provision of the president's bill. I've said a number of times in recent days that the president doesn't want Congress to pass his jobs bill; he wants to blame Republicans and use it on the campaign trail."

The hypocrisy overwhelms. What McConnell didn’t say was that, as reported, “The measure was part of Obama's broad jobs package and has Democratic supporters. However, Democrats and Republicans disagreed over how to offset the costs of eliminating the withholding.”

In their continuing warfare against the working poor and middle class, the field of GOP presidential hopefuls is proposing tax plans which are sheer lunacy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proposed 20 percent flat tax rate certainly would make “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.” While it would lower taxes on America’s wealthiest, it will increase taxes on 99 percent of Americans. Yeah, that’s a plan.

Equally egregious in this reverse-Robin Hood ripoff to rob from the poor to give to the rich are the dreams and schemes of other Republican wannabes. As reported by the Center for American Progress:

• Mitt Romney: Romney’s tax plan includes a $6.6 TRILLION giveaway to corporations and the wealthiest Americans. Meanwhile, Romney’s Medicaid cuts are even more draconian than the ones in Paul Ryan's plan. Both of their plans also end Medicare, naturally.

• Herman Cain: Cain’s now infamous 9-9-9 Plan would raise taxes on most Americans, while slashing taxes for millionaires by an average of $487,300 each.

• Jon Huntsman: Huntsman’s plan would introduce new taxes on veterans, seniors, the working poor, middle class Americans, students and many others in order to give the top 0.1 percent an annual tax of nearly $500,000 each.

• Michele Bachmann: Bachmann’s plan includes a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy paid for in part by increasing taxes on the working poor.

Are the rich getting richer? The New York Times reported yesterday:

“The top 1 percent of earners more than doubled their share of the nation’s income over the last three decades, the Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, in a new report likely to figure prominently in the escalating political fight over how to revive the economy, create jobs and lower the federal debt.

“In addition, the report said, government policy has become less redistributive since the late 1970s, doing less to reduce the concentration of income.”

Are the poor getting poorer? According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual report released 13 September 2011:

“The ranks of the nation's poor swelled to nearly 1 in 6 people last year, reaching a new high as long-term unemployment woes left millions of Americans struggling and out of work.”

The report further shows that “Measured by total numbers, the 46 million now living in poverty is the largest on record dating back to when the census began tracking poverty in 1959.”

And, what about the middle class? It’s no secret it’s dwindling. On 15 September 2011, Forbes.com issued a report titled “America’s Vanishing Middle Class,” which should be a wake-up call.

Why then do so many of America’s working poor and middle class continue to vote for Republican candidates hellbent to continue this trend?

I once was involved in defeating a crook who each time he ran for county superintendent of education pulled out his walking cane and developed a limp as he walked around the courthouse.

The answer is simple: every election cycle the Republicans pull out those old trusty walking canes of “God, gays, guns and abortion.”

Isn’t it time those of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires drop these one-issue, myopic stances, show our true patriotism and look at the big picture of what is most harmful to most Americans?


Hatred in a young heart

I came of age in Mississippi during the civil rights movement – a witness to history. A lasting impression from those days as a young woman right out of high school is that the rest of the nation seemed to deny that racisim existed beyond the borders of my home state.

I could relate numerous brushes with the stories which have seeped into our conciousness. Here are a few:

• Assisting writer William Bradford Huie with an article he wrote for Cavalier magazine about Mack Charles Parker, who was lynched on my birthday the year before I graduated from high school.

• Witnessing a carload of neighbors head out for Ole Miss to “do something about” James Meredith’s entry there and marrying a man who was marshaled to quell the violence as a member of the Mississippi National Guard.

• Having an extended family member who was friends with Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, one of those linked to the slayings of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney.

• Working in downtown Jackson, Mississippi, when “Thompson’s Tank” (Mayor Allen C. Thompson) was hauling newly arrived “Freedom Riders” off to an improvised jail at the state fairgrounds.

• Being sent home by my bosses because a sit-in at the nearby Woolworth’s lunch counter threatened to erupt into violence – then seeing them both appear in a photo of the incident in Life magazine.

• Reading a daily newspaper where the editor, Jimmy Ward, used the word “nigger” in front-page editorials.

• Being emotionally devastated when the grandmother of a four-year-old relative proudly showed me the little boy’s photo in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Today, at age 69, I am privy to the fact that racism, however subtle, still exists and perhaps always will. I am thankful I learned to abhor it.

This is the story of what such prejucice can do to a young and impressionable mind.

CNN’s investigative team takes an in-depth look at the “backpack of hatred” carried by the Brandon, Mississippi, teenager who is accused of murdering a black man, because he was black.

“Teen murder suspect carried ‘backpack of hatred’” is hard to take and even carries an editor’s warning that the report contains language which might offend some readers. READ IT HERE.

This well-researched and well-written report is followed up tonight with "Mississippi Still Burning?" on CNN Presents, at 8 and 11 ET.


Obama's prescient words

It seems like yesterday that, recalling the phrase “Prague Spring,” I was emailing friends inquiring about the sudden appearance of a new term, “Arab Spring.”

Moammar Gadhafi and I go back decades to the early 1980s when his name was spelled Khadafy and I was editor on a world news desk.

This morning, as news came of the death of the former Libyan leader, I could not help reflecting on an earlier breaking news story:

OSLO – President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, citing his outreach to the Muslim world and attempts to curb nuclear proliferation.
- The Associated Press, 9 October 2009, LINK

To those who scoffed at that announcement and in light of all that has occurred during this “Arab Spring,” I can think of no better time to reflect on President Obama’s sppech made on 4 June 2009 at Cairo University. There is a copy of the speech – “A New Beginning” - in The Reading Room.

There is no question that our president’s prescient words planted a seed in the minds of peoples who have lived in regions of tyranny and turmoil.

Our president.

Isn’t it time this man is given the respect he has earned and deserves?


Shrinking paychecks possible

If your paycheck is suddenly smaller in January, don’t even think about blaming Obama.

A CNN report explains a portion of the president’s jobs plan, which Senate Republicans voted against:

“The largest measure in the (jobs) package is the payroll tax cut, which comes at a projected cost of $265 billion. Employees normally pay 6.2% on their first $106,800 of wages into Social Security, but they are now paying only 4.2%. That break is set to expire at the end of December. Obama wants to cut the tax in half, to 3.1%.”

So, let’s look at how this would affect a worker with an annual income of $80,000:

* If the current cuts EXPIRE at the end of the year, this payroll tax will be $4,960.

* If the tax cuts REMAIN THE SAME, this payroll tax will be $3,360.

* If this portion of Obama’s jobs bill PASSES, this payroll tax will be $2,480.

* If this measure in Obama’s jobs plan FAILS, $2,480 in payroll savings will be lost to the worker in the coming year.

* If you suddenly find your paycheck is smaller in 2012, be sure to write your Republican representatives in Washington a “thank you” note.


A bully pulpit

I am a Christian and a former member of Southern Baptist Convention churches. When fundamentalists began their takeover of the SBC in the early 1980s – quashing any liberal thinking by filling its seminary faculties and college boards of trustees with right-wing ideologues, I left the “flock.” The SBC has gone so far in recent years as to expunge the writings of its former president Herschel H. Hobbs.

Hobbs’ “Fundamentals of Our Faith” laid forth the very cornerstones of Southern Baptist beliefs for a generation of members and did so with wisdom.

What I learned from childhood – from my parents and my church – stays with me and provides an inner gyroscope which helps me keep my balance in a world where the teachings of Jesus Christ have been skewed to fit an ideological mold.

In light of history, I believe in separation of church and state, but that doesn’t make me a member of some Godless “intellectual elite” or “secular elite.”

Frankly, I resent the negative connotation given to intelligence in the following article.

Here then are the views of a man who is in a position to influence greatly what is being proclaimed from the pulpits of the nation’s largest Protestant organization.

SOURCE: CNN Belief Blog

My Take: Are evangelicals dangerous?

Editor's Note: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.

By R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Special to CNN
October 15, 2011

Here we go again.

Every four years, with every new presidential election cycle, public voices sound the alarm that the evangelicals are back. What is so scary about America’s evangelical Christians?

Just a few years ago, author Kevin Phillips told intellectual elites to run for cover, claiming that well-organized evangelicals were attempting to turn America into a theocratic state. In “American Theocracy,” Phillips warned of the growing influence of Bible-believing, born-again, theologically conservative voters who were determined to create a theocracy.

Writer Michelle Goldberg, meanwhile, has warned of a new Christian nationalism, based in “dominion theology.” Chris Hedges topped that by calling conservative Christians “American fascists.”

And so-called New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris claim that conservative Christians are nothing less than a threat to democracy. They prescribe atheism and secularism as the antidotes.

This presidential cycle, the alarms have started earlier than usual. Ryan Lizza, profiling Rep. Michele Bachmann for The New Yorker, informed his readers that “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians.

Change just a few strategic words and the same would be true of Barack Obama or any other presidential candidate. Every candidate is shaped by influences not known to all and by institutions that other Americans might find strange.

What stories like this really show is that the secular elites assume that their own institutions and leaders are normative.

The New Yorker accused Bachmann of being concerned with developing a Christian worldview, ignoring the fact that every thinking person operates out of some kind of worldview. The article treated statements about wifely submission to husbands and Christian influence in art as bizarre and bellicose.

When Rick Perry questioned the theory of evolution, Dawkins launched into full-on apoplexy, wondering aloud how anyone who questions evolution could be considered intelligent, even as polls indicate that a majority of Americans question evolution.

Bill Keller, then executive editor of The New York Times, topped all the rest by seeming to suggest that conservative Christians should be compared to those who believe in space aliens. He complained that “when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

Really? Earlier this month, comedian Penn Jillette - a well–known atheist - wrote a very serious op-ed complaining of the political influence of “bugnut Christians,” in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, no less. Detect a pattern here?

By now, this is probably being read as a complaint against the secular elites and prominent voices in the mainstream media. It’s not.

If evangelicals intend to engage public issues and cultural concerns, we have to be ready for the scrutiny and discomfort that comes with disagreement over matters of importance. We have to risk being misunderstood - and even misrepresented - if we intend to say anything worth hearing.

Are evangelicals dangerous? Well, certainly not in the sense that more secular voices warn. The vast majority of evangelicals are not attempting to create a theocracy, or to oppose democracy.

To the contrary, evangelicals are dangerous to the secularist vision of this nation and its future precisely because we are committed to participatory democracy.

As Christians committed to the Bible, evangelicals have learned to advocate on behalf of the unborn, believing that every single human being, at every stage of development, is made in God’s image.

Evangelicals worry about the fate of marriage and the family, believing that the pattern for human relatedness set out in Scripture will lead to the greatest human flourishing.

We are deeply concerned about a host of moral and cultural issues, from how to address poverty to how to be good stewards of the earth, and on some of these there is a fairly high degree of disagreement even among us.

Above all, evangelicals are those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and are most concerned about telling others about Jesus. Most of America’s evangelical Christians are busy raising their children, working to support their families and investing energy in their local churches.

But over recent decades, evangelical Christians have learned that the gospel has implications for every dimension of life, including our political responsibility.

We’re dangerous only to those who want more secular voices to have a virtual monopoly in public life.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of R. Albert Mohler, Jr.


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The dark world of Greg Iles

Greg Iles’ novels are like cats: each has its own distinct personality. But, Iles, as he describes one of his characters, is “a different breed of cat.” The villains of his imagination are like black cats, waiting, like the deepest shadows of the human soul, to cross our paths.

Iles goes beyond the imagined horrors in Stephen King’s mind. His bad guys exceed the power- and wealth-crazed antagonists of fellow Mississippian John Grisham. Iles has a frightening consciousness of the blackest soul, writing psycho-thrillers which consume you and propel you toward redemption – the knowledge that good must surely triumph over evil.

He inflicts innocent lives with the darkest Dickensian hearts, sweeping them into whirlppols, cesspools and bottomless pools of danger where revenge and survival are only possible by fighting evil with evil – a Freudian look into ourselves.

Only when evil is destroyed, can we emerge from humnity’s sinister underbelly into a world of light and hope, and therein lies Iles’ skill.

The only offering in my experience which comes close to this skill is David Lynch’s film, “Blue Velvet.” And, if you think Frank Booth personifies creepy, you have much to learn from Iles.

“Diabolical” and “a tour de force of suspence,” People magazine describes one book. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal says of another, “A novel which could have as easily and terrifyingly been set in the Kansas of Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’” “The pace is frenetic, the fear and paranoia palpable, and the characters heartbreakingly honest,” a Cleveland Plain Dealer reviewer writes. No need to single out titles: these reviews cover Iles’ bibliography.

The following titles, available to me from Talking Books for the Visually Impaired, should be read in chronological order as Iles builds on the stories of on-going characters:

The WWII Books:

Spandau Phoenix, 1992
Black Cross, 1995

The Crime Thrillers:

Mortal Fear, 1997
The Quiet Game, 1999
24 Hours, 2000
Dead Sleep, 2001
Sleep No More, 2002
Blood Memory, 2005
Turning Angel, 2005
True Evil, 2006
Third Degree, 2007
The Devil's Punchbowl, 2009

These are the titles I anxiously await:

Unwritten Laws: The Bone Tree (Announced for 2011, tentative title)
Unwritten Laws: The Trial of Tom Cage (Announced, tentative title)


A little background on Iles:

• Born in 1960 in Stuttgart, Germany, where his father was a physician and ran the U.S. Embassy Medical Clinic.

• Reared in Natchez, Mississippi. He married his high-school sweetheart, and they currently reside in Natchez.

• A graduate of the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), he played guitar and sang with the rock band “Frankly Scarlet” for eight years before beginning his writing career.

• He is a member of the Rock Bottom Remainder, a rock band formed with noted authors, including Scott Turow, Stephen King and Amy Tan.

• Eight of his books have appeared on the NYT bestseller list.

Once you have learned more about Iles, it is easy to spot the autobiographical elements in his books.

Iles’ personal favorites are “Mortal Fear” and “The Quiet Game:” mine are “Black Cross” and “The Quiet Game.”



Just asking

Christopher A. Sims of Princeton, awarded the Nobel Prize in economic science yesterday, will split the $1.49 million prize with co-honoree Thomas J. Sargent of New York University.

“Asked how he would invest his share of the winnings, Sims said he would keep it in cash while he considers what to do with it,” CNN.com reports.

Is it a tocsin when a Nobel laureate in economics says he’s going to “keep it in cash” for a while?

Just asking.


The Dirty Dozen Bank Secrets

Did you recently get a letter from your bank saying that since you’re “such a valued customer,” your bank accounts are being changed to offer you the best service money can buy – your money?

The great new advantages of your new accounts: free checking accounts will now charge fees and accounts which already charge fees will see them increased.

Oh, and if your debit card costs more, banks say it’s all because new regulations are forcing them to, well, screw you.

From the Progress Report, Center for American Progress, 7 October 2011, here are 12 facts you need to know about the nation’s biggest banks:

• Bank profits are highest since before the recession: According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC), bank profits in the first quarter of this year were “the best for the industry since the $36.8 billion earned in the second quarter of 2007.” JP Morgan Chase is currently pulling in record profits

• … even as the banks plan thousands of layoffs: Banks, including Bank of America, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse, are planning to lay off tens of thousands of workers.

• Banks make nearly one-third of total corporate profits: The financial sector accounts for about 30 percent of total corporate profits, which is actually down from before the financial crisis, when they made closer to 40 percent.

• Since 2008, the biggest banks have gotten bigger: Due to the failure of small competitors and mergers facilitated during the 2008 crisis, the nation’s biggest banks — including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — are now bigger than they were pre-recession. Pre-crisis, the four biggest banks held 32 percent of total deposits; now they hold nearly 40 percent.

• The four biggest banks issue 50 percent of mortgages and 66 percent of credit cards: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup issue one out of every two mortgages and nearly two out of every three credit cards in America.

• The 10 biggest banks hold 60 percent of bank assets: In the 1980s, the 10 biggest banks controlled 22 percent of total bank assets. Today, they control 60 percent.

• The six biggest banks hold assets equal to 63 percent of the country’s GDP: In 1995, the six biggest banks in the country held assets equal to about 17 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Now their assets equal 63 percent of GDP.

• The five biggest banks hold 95 percent of derivatives: Nearly the entire market in derivatives — the credit instruments that helped blow up some of the nation’s biggest banks as well as mega-insurer AIG — is dominated by just five firms: JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Citibank and Wells Fargo.

• Banks cost households nearly $20 trillion in wealth: Almost $20 trillion in wealth was destroyed by the Great Recession, and total family wealth is still down “$12.8 trillion (in 2011 dollars) from June 2007 — its last peak.”

• Big banks don’t lend to small businesses: The New Rules Project notes that the country’s 20 biggest banks “devote only 18 percent of their commercial loan portfolios to small business.”

• Big banks paid 5,000 bonuses of at least $1 million in 2008: According to the New York Attorney General’s office, “nine of the financial firms that were among the largest recipients of federal bailout money paid about 5,000 of their traders and bankers bonuses of more than $1 million apiece for 2008.”

• In the last few decades, regulations on the biggest banks have been systematically eliminated, while those banks engineered more and more ways to both rip off customers and turn ever-more complex trading instruments into ever-higher profits. It makes perfect sense, then, that a movement calling for an economy that works for everyone would center its efforts on an industry that exemplifies the opposite.


Quote of the Day

"We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society."

- The Nobel committee in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011 to three female rights activists, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.


Attitude Adjustment

All his rowdy friends have settled down, but Hank Williams, Jr., is still a loose cannon. (I saw him on stage in concert smashing expensive guitars against expensive sound equipment.)

I love Hank, Jr.’s music, though, for the same reason ESPN has featurd his open to “Monday Night Football:” he brings out the shitkicker in his audience.

By now, I’m sure the blogosphere is ablaze with Williams’ comparison of President Barack Obama to Hitler while likening his Republican golf opponents to Benjamin Netanyahu. (LINK)

In a statement after ESPN canned him, Williams said,“Every time the media brings up the tea party, it's painted as racist and extremists. but there's never a backlash, no outrage to those comparisons ... Working-class people are hurting, and it doesn't seem like anybody cares.”

Well now, Hank, that’s where you’re wrong. The Democratic Party cares about working-class Americans, but every effort in their behalf is shot down by Republicans. The GOP seeks to overturn decades of struggles to help the so-called common folk.

And therein lies one of the biggest mysteries witnessed by this longtime political observer: I simply do not understand how the Republican Party – the champion of big money and big business – has convinced the working poor and the middle class it’s on their side.

I am learning, though, that many WASPs - white Anglo-Saxon protestants - simply see themselves as the only true Americans, which, of course, excludes everyone else, including our president.

Hank, these people you care about so much: nothing short of an epiphany will remove their blinders to the fact they’ve been suckered.

What is needed is an “Attitude Adjustment.”


Gimme a break!

It's time for this motor mouth to SHUT UP!