All posts by Mike Tully

Goodness Gracious

She’s 17.  …  I’m older than her father, can you believe that? I’m dating a girl, wherein, I can beat up her father.
                                 –  Woody Allen, “Manhattan” (1979)

Jerry Lee Lewis had a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” by the time he was 22, including two marriages, several hits, fame and fortune, and a future bright as a flashbulb.  Then along came Myra Gale Brown and everything changed.  Instead of being paid $10,000 per night for live performances, his fee dropped to $250, and instead of large crowds, he played obscure beer joints.  A concert tour was canceled and most radio stations refused to play his records, including his current hit at the time, “High School Confidential.”  That was irony at its tastiest, since Lewis’ fall from grace was because Ms. Brown, his third wife, was also his 13-year-old cousin.  The press denounced him as a “cradle robber” and “baby snatcher.”  Lewis was dumfounded, complaining to a reporter, “I plumb married the girl, didn’t I?”  Elvis Presley, one of the few entertainers whose star burned brighter than Lewis’, said he had no problem with the marriage as long as Jerry Lee and Myra Gale were in love.

Presley had a unique perspective on relationships between adult males and juvenile females.  He fell heavily for a 14-year-old military brat, Priscilla Beaulieu, when he was stationed in Germany in 1959.  Most people know Priscilla by her married name:  Priscilla Presley.  She was not Presley’s only 14-year-old crush; a biography published in 2010 makes the case that “he preferred girls who were barely more than children” – just like no-longer-a-judge Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for U. S. Senator from Alabama with a history of dating female children, including one who accuses him of sexually assaulting her when she was 14 and another who said he sexually assaulted her when she was 16.

Moore has defenders, many of whom try to normalize his dating little girls by pointing to similar examples.  The most outrageous analogy came from an Alabama politician who invoked the New Testament and observed that “Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter.  They became the parents of Jesus.”  He also suggested a more recent example, stating, “Humphrey Bogart started dating Lauren Bacall when she was a teenager.” 

Is that the best they can do?  How can they overlook The King and his pubescent posse?  He’s a lot more relevant to Southerners than Bogey.  And why not invoke the memory of “The Killer,” Lewis, who was from Louisiana?  At least he plumb married the girl, didn’t he?  Why not cite a contemporary couple, Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn?  He is 35 years her senior and began dating her when she was a teenager.  They married in 1997 and are still together.  Sure, he’s a liberal, Jewish film-maker, but does that make him a bad analogy for Alabama? At least he plumb married the girl.

Roy “Who’s Your Daddy?” Moore was not supposed to be the Republican candidate.  The designee was Luther Strange, a career politician, an incumbent without the benefit of an election who was appointed to the position by former Governor Robert Bentley.  That’s a problem, because Strange was previously the Alabama Attorney General who had been investigating the Governor for sexual and financial improprieties.  Strange had even talked the Alabama legislature out of pursuing impeachment proceedings, assuring them they could safely defer to his office and its investigative and prosecutorial expertise.  The legislature screwed up:  they trusted him.  The Governor appointed Strange to the U. S. Senate seat vacated by Jefferson Beauregard Sessions and, almost as if by magic, the investigation went away.  Strange and Bentley both denied a quid pro quo.  Say what you will about Alabama Republicans, there is nothing deficient about their olfactory sense and they didn’t like the smell of the Strange-Bentley arrangement and voted for Moore over Strange.   The Bentley scandal and Strange’s strange appointment have probably ended the political careers of both men.

Roy Moore’s political career has been built on self-righteousness and public moralizing.  He was twice removed as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for – first removal – refusing to take down a religious display in the courthouse, and – second removal – for refusing to honor judicial precedent regarding marriage equality.  He has stated that Muslims should not be allowed to serve in Congress.  He claims to support traditional marriage, believes homosexuals should be imprisoned and has no use for transgender individuals.  He has been embraced by Steve Bannon as a candidate who will help Donald Trump drain the Washington swamp.  But it would be wrong to interpret Moore’s support among certain voters as an endorsement of his radical social conservatism, or ratification of Trump’s anti-establishment posturing.  Moore’s appeal likely comes from something else:  nostalgia for an antediluvian South characterized by segregated lunch counters and child brides.  His candidacy is the primal scream of a dying ethos.

If Moore is elected to the Senate, his chambers will require the following sign:

Office of Senator Roy Moore, Alabama

Will Alabama voters allow that to happen?  Or will they send Roy Moore and his obsolete vision crashing to earth like a dying meteor?  In other words, like a great ball of fire.

© 2017 by Mike Tully


America’s Original Sin

Saturday, November 4th was a perfect day for a festival.  The sky was clear and blue; the sun shone brightly; the temperature hovered around 80.  The event, a gelato festival in the Tucson foothills, was the perfect curtain for a too-hot, too-long summer.  Dozens of people representing several generations wandered about, happily sampling gelato in small cones and cups.  A few well-behaved dogs mingled with the two-legged set.  Then, a dark phrase crossed my mind like a cloud blocking the sun, an innocent sounding two-word phrase that summarizes America’s Original Sin and the stain it leaves on us all:  soft target.

The phrase “soft target” is generally defined as “a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attack.”  Examples of soft targets include “national monuments, hospitals, schools, sporting arenas, hotels, cultural centers, movie theaters, cafés and restaurants, places of worship, nightclubs, shopping centers, (and) transportation sites,” according to Wikipedia – basically, “civilian sites where people congregate in large numbers.”  Like a gelato festival.

A week earlier, while I was attending a University of Arizona football game, I remembered that dark phrase.  The football stadium uses tight screening and hires off-duty police officers and Sheriff’s deputies for security and the definition of “soft target” might not apply.  But it does apply to tailgaters, the dense mass of people working their way between dorms on their way to the game, and the members of the band and the players who engage in the “Wildcat Walk” before each game.  All of those people are soft targets.  I thought of that.

Sutherland Springs, Texas would be good place for a gelato festival or, more likely, an old-fashioned ice cream social.  Founded by a physician who treated victims at the Alamo, Sutherland Springs is an unincorporated village in a bucolic setting not far from San Antonio.  It’s the kind of place that reflects two centuries of Americana.  Quiet, away from the spotlight, it’s the kind of place you wonder when you fly over it:  who lives there?  The answer:  mostly white, Christian friends and neighbors, people who know each other’s families, who help each other out, cut each other slack, and worship together in places like the First Baptist Church on 4th Street.  A soft target.

The day after the gelato festival, a gunman killed at least 26 people in the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs.  The definition needs to be expanded beyond “military or terrorist attack” to reflect the assailant who ravaged the church:  the angry, simmering individual, roiled with internal demons, blind to his own humanity, and armed to the teeth – in other words, a uniquely American form of terror.  Reporters and government officials advise us the Sutherland Springs killer should never have been allowed to purchase firearms, but was allowed to because of a clerical error.  Despite his history of domestic abuse, animal cruelty, and escaping from a mental health facility, nothing limited his ability to purchase and use semi-automatic, military-style weapons.  “Somebody really dropped the ball,” a former military prosecutor told CNN, and twenty-six angels somberly nodded in agreement.

America has been dropping the ball on firearms regulation for decades, as an invertebrate Congress fails to adopt even the most minor of remedies, such as background checks and banning bump stocks, despite widespread support for them.  The reason is the Second Amendment, or rather, an absolutist interpretation of the Amendment by proponents like the National Rifle Association.  Every time sensible solutions to address the scandal of American gun violence are proposed, the NRA and its fellow travelers scream “slippery slope” and use the Amendment to block them.  Never mind that “slippery slope” is a classic logical fallacy; logic has nothing to do with it.

A logical reading of the Second Amendment would allow for restrictions on the kinds of weapons readily available to civilians, restrictions that would eliminate military-grade weapons as defined by projectile velocity, projectile size, frequency of fire and magazine capacity.  It’s okay to own a rifle to hunt deer.  But what if the rifle fires bullets that pass all the way through the deer and several trees behind the deer?  Does that make sense?  It’s okay to own a firearm for self-defense, but why is it okay if the firearm has a magazine capacity sufficient to wipe out, say, a church congregation?  Why is that allowed?  That kind of weaponry can be kept from civilians by an interpretation that says, while “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” nothing in the text addresses the kinds of arms they may keep and bear.  The Amendment protects the right of citizens to possess what weapons are available; it does not include the right to determine what is available.  The issue of what is legally available is best left to the government, not the individual.  The Amendment speaks of a “well-regulated Militia.”  A well-regulated militia chooses weapons for its members and hands them out.  The members don’t choose their own weapons.  A “supply side” interpretation of the Second Amendment would make our country safer.

As long as the absolutist definition reigns, any rational interpretation will be disregarded, and absolutism does not appear to be going away.  The Second Amendment has become the troll under the American bridge, the shadow in the alleyway, the blood stain on the sidewalk, the unwelcome cloud in a sunny sky – the apprehension of a soft target.  It is America’s Original Sin.  Absent a rational interpretation, it is time to repeal it.

© 2017 by Mike Tully


The War of the Worlds

Despite his bravado, Mr. Manulis panicked and bolted out of the car. He was so frightened by the reports of interplanetary invasion that he ran off, leaving Aunt Bea to contend with the green monsters he expected to drop from the sky at any moment. She walked home. Six miles. When Mr. Manulis called for a date the next week, she told my mother to say she couldn’t see him. She had married a Martian.

                          –  Woody Allen, “Radio Days” (1987)

Four score years ago less one, a radio drama by 23-year-old Orson Welles “created almost unbelievable scenes of terror in New York, New Jersey, the South and as far west as San Francisco,” as listeners drank in a Halloween tale of an invasion from Mars.  As Welles advised his audience at the beginning of the broadcast, the presentation was an adaption of H. G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”  Most of the audience understood they were listening to a gripping radio drama, but not all.  Welles’ program, the Mercury Theater, was far from the most popular show in the timeslot.  That honor, curiously, belonged to Edgard Bergen, a ventriloquist who starred, with chief dummy Charlie McCarthy, in the Chase and Sanborn Hour, a comedy-variety program.  Bergen’s prominence was strange enough in its own right.  As Joshua Mostel exclaimed in the movie, Radio Days, “He’s a ventriloquist on the radio – how do you know he’s not moving his lips?”  But I digress.


Rest in Peace, Sergeant Johnson

As the funeral procession crept along East Ft. Lowell Road toward Evergreen Cemetery, Tucson Police waved the priest by.  He had presided over the Requiem Mass and ignored speed limits as he hurried to beat the procession to the cemetery.  The priest had officiated many funerals and didn’t care for all of them.  “Some of the Mexicans get carried away,” he told me, “hysterical and screaming.  I even saw one of them jump onto the coffin.”  I was an altar boy at the time and remember the conversation after more than half a century.  I respected the priest, but his comments troubled me, and not because of my Mexican-American background.  I thought it inappropriate, even for a man of the cloth, to criticize the expression of grief.  There is no handbook; not everybody does it well.  I once was asked to represent an elderly couple in a minor dispute with their neighbor, who turned out to be an acquaintance from my broadcasting days.  When I called him, he told me his 90-year-old Mother had just passed away.  That caught me by surprise and I paused, thinking about what to say.  After a few seconds, he said, “Well, I guess it’s not important.”  If he could have seen my expression of shock and sorrow, he would have understood why I groped for words.  Over the phone, I was just a silent jerk.

I thought about that interaction and the priest’s comments after President Trump’s clumsy attempt to place a condolence call to the widow of Sgt. LaDavid Johnson, who had been killed in Niger.