Get Your Kitsch on Route 66: Returned last weekend from a post-Christmas marathon drive to California to visit my wonderful mother-in-law (seriously wonderful…you should meet her), and other members of our extended family. Much of our 2000-or-so-mile trip was along Historic Route 66, a national treasure of American sentimentality for the open road and the quirky establishments that sprouted along it. Most of the neon art-deco magnificence and a few amusing tourist traps fondly remembered from my younger days have collapsed into a sad litter of Chernobyl-esque ghost towns, more’s the pity.
There are still a lot of truck stops, though, and they offer plenty of almost-collectible souvenirs reminiscent of the old glory days. If you want an authentic Navajo kachina doll (yes, I know), potted cactus garden, Route 66 t-shirt (2 for $10), or a terracotta donkey in fiesta colors, I can hook you up.
Fun Fact: Extracting dog hair from a rental car after a 2000-mile road trip is a living nightmare. It took me two hours, working with three different vacuums, in 12-degree weather, to de-fur our vehicle to the vendor’s satisfaction. It seems our pocket-sized canine traveling companion, Sam, is a four-season shedder, and his coat is a layer of tiny porcupine quills. Ack.
Beulah, Peel Me a Grape: Josie the Weekly Weimaraner is under the weather this week, having contracted some nameless flu-like malady that has reddened her eyes, stiffened her joints, and sapped her energy to such a degree she’s loath to leave her comfy perch on the old sofa near the fireplace. Fear not, she’s on the mend, but she’s enjoying the pampering she’s getting from the rest of the household a bit too much. I won’t post a picture—she hates to be seen in public not looking her best.
Brave, Brave Sir Robin: Center stage on the internets this week was the horrific terror attack on the Paris offices of the satiric magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead. The global outcry against this barbaric act and its assault on freedom of speech was accompanied by a surge of cognitive dissonance in the media. There was fear of indiscriminate retaliation against innocent Muslims and a nagging discomfort that the speech everyone had rushed to defend flowed from a magazine dealing in grotesque racial caricatures and images that ridiculed all religious faith. An awkward question hovered in the aether:
Might supporting freedom of speech and Charlie Hebdo in opposition to censorship and terrorism and murder put us in league with Islamophobes and racists? Hmm. What to do?
Several major media outlets courageously fuzzed-out photos of Charlie Hebdo cartoons to avoid attracting radical ire upon themselves and some offered not-so-subtle insinuations that the dead journalists had provoked their own murder with their intemperate flamboyance.
It was bound to happen. How could we expect their killers to restrain themselves in the face of such outrage, such cartoons?
I respectfully suggest we not rely on the brotherhood of newsmen to protect and defend our fundamental human rights. It is both sad and ironic that the people in this tragic episode most dedicated to freedom of speech were the ones using this priceless privilege in a manner many of us would find hateful and juvenile. No civilized person would demand their death for speaking their mind, but civilization is a fragile veneer on the skin of humankind, and dark things stir beneath it.
UPDATE (5May15): A similar massacre attempt on May 3 by two would-be terrorists, at a controversial media event in Garland, Texas, had a much different outcome. The media response was, again, conflicted, but there were no retaliatory attacks on Muslims by vigilante gangs, and no mosques were set ablaze. As for the response of local Muslims to the “provocative” event, which featured more cartoons of Mohammed, they simply chose, as a community, to ignore it altogether.
The words of New York World publisher Hayward Broun echo from 1923, and they are not easy or comfortable words: “We must bring ourselves to realize that it is necessary to support free speech for the things we hate in order to ensure it for the things in which we believe with all our heart.” Freedom is easily forfeited in exchange for what seems to be peace and safety. May God grant us the mercy to preserve and defend it.