Defining Marriage

31 August 2011

RICK PERRY, Presidential candidate and Governor of Texas, recently signed a pledge with the National Organization for Marriage. Too many folks, he says, are breaking tradition in their definitions of marriage, and he promises to set them straight with a Constitutional Amendment. It may seem curious to publish a definition in the United States Constitution when a dictionary is the more standard venue. But Governor Perry has more in mind than just teaching vocabulary. He doesn’t like gays using the word “marriage” to describe their relationships, and he doesn’t want the government to bless gay relationships as marriages.



If you think hard enough about the definition of a word, you always run into a philosophical problem.  What objective standard sets the definition?  What is the thing’s true essence?  What is the thing really?  Pursue the chain of thought far enough past the bounds of caution, and down you go into the rabbit-hole of metaphysics, tumbling headlong through the strata of history to try and understand what a marriage really is.  You land in ancient Greece.  And finding nowhere in these depths of time a toga-wearing academician who can show you the Eternal Definer of All Definitions,  the Platonic Form of Is-ness Itself,  you climb back out again to adopt a more practical approach.  You build a safety rail around that ontological abyss and grant that there is something arbitrary in every definition.  Definitions are made up by people, and marriages are what people make them.



It is presumptuous and offensive for the governor to define marriage for everybody.  But worse still is the implication that gays don’t belong in polite society.  We don’t like a politician who says you’re either too poor or too old or too Muslim or too brown or too gay to count; that you’re no good to your country, that you’re what’s wrong with your country.  Overalls Nation is out to fight the politicians who run you down, and to prove that this is your country. And even if it has knocked you down a hundred ways because of who you are, you can take pride in yourself and in your way of life.





Woody Guthrie: Radical in Overalls

30 August 2011

WHAT THIS COUNTRY needs is a few good radicals – turds in the punchbowl of American complacency.  Folk singer Woody Guthrie was one of the best, combining a passionate love of country with a fierce hatred of corporate greed.  With a “this machine kills fascists” sticker on his guitar, Woody rode the boxcars and thumbed the highways of the West, singing songs to lift the battered spirits of those who were devastated by the Great Depression.  “This Land is Your Land” is one of his songs that you’ve heard and probably sung in grammar school.

Poverty and tragedy characterized Woody’s childhood in Okemah, Oklahoma. Mysterious fires would break out from time to time  in the Guthrie home.  One of them destroyed the house, and another one killed his little sister. When Woody was 14,  his financially ruined father sought work in Texas and his mentally ill mother was committed to an asylum.  Woody worked odd jobs, picked trash and begged to support his siblings.  He learned to play harmonica from a black blues musician who shined shoes around town and how to pick old traditional songs by ear.  He became a teenage street musician, playing for quarters or a bite to eat.

Young Woody Guthrie (left), in overalls

Woody joined millions of Dust Bowl refugees and bummed his way to the land of milk and honey, California,  in the depths of the Great Depression.  There he found his fellow Okies starving in migrant worker camps, and agricultural corporations that were all too ready to exploit them.  Woody followed the fruit pickers and packers, singing songs about social justice and collective bargaining  in their camps and even in their workplaces.  If they caught him, the goons hired by the owners and bosses to keep the workers in line would beat Woody with their fists and clubs.

Woody recorded hundreds of songs and sometimes held a good job playing live on the radio.  But financial success  never quite agreed with Woody.  He always returned to his wandering ways, experiencing first hand the struggles he sang about.  Late in life, he settled in New York City where he became a god to young folk singers like Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan.  In the 1950s, he slowly succumbed to the crippling effects of Huntington’s disease, which is all that saved him from the clutches of Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. Woody died at the Brooklyn State Hospital in 1967.  Among his survivors was his son, folk rocker Arlo Guthrie.

Woody Guthrie

Woody’s playing and singing weren’t pretty.  Detesting  the syrupy-sweet music of complacency, Woody had a style that reflected his personality –  rough, unrefined, gritty, primitive and in your face.  If he ever sung a pretty song, he was sorry of it.

The Bearded Yodeler masterfully captures Woody’s spirit in a YouTube video, which you can see here:

Hear a cover of Woody’s “Dirty Overalls”

Dirty Overalls by Woody Guthrie

Well the guns of war have roared
and the bombs and shells have fallen
the war clouds they rumbled as they rolled
I was a soldier in the fight
and we fought till we won
my uniform’s my dirty overalls

This piece of land that I stand on
is my battlefield and home
my plow and my hoe is my gun
clothes don’t make no difference at all
we are workers and fighters all
my uniform’s my dirty overalls

Well I’ll give you my sweat
I’ll give you my blood
and I’ll give you your bread and your wine
before I’d be any man’s slave
I would rot down in my grave
and you can lay me down in my dirty overalls

Well we settled here to stay
and I’ll live here all my days
I’ll keep marchin in my dirty overalls


















Dollars and Inches

28 August 2011

NATIONAL PROJECTS are an essential part of American greatness.  It takes the resources and the collective effort of the whole nation to build an interstate highway system, to build Hoover Dam or to land astronauts on the moon.  No Americans can look on these achievements without pride.
Sadly, we don’t do great things like those any more.  It isn’t that we don’t have the manpower to be great.  One in every five adult Americans who wants to work either can’t find a job or has simply given up trying.  There is plenty of help.  And it isn’t that our mines are out of ore or that our forests are out of timber.   We’ve got the material.  So it seems mystifying why we can’t  put folks to work using the stuff we have to get great American things done.

The leadership in the House of Representatives and some of the new firebrand members of that great institution say we can’t do great things because we don’t have the money.  Economics – now there’s a discipline that  confounds the brainiest of us.  But we don’t need to be experts with charts and graphs to see the fallacy on a simple, axiomatic level in the argument that a monetary deficit is the reason we cannot meet the challenge of greatness.  Sister Molly, seen below, could see it even without her spectacles.

Money is not wealth.  You can’t eat it, wear it, or drive it to town.  Money is a symbol of wealth. Real wealth is in our resources, our willing hands and in the innovation of our technologists.  Dollars are abstract units that measure wealth, in exactly the same way as inches measure boards.  Since the beginning of human civilization, way, way back even before anyone wore overalls, no carpenter has ever lived who, even though in possession of all the materials he needed and all the willing help he wanted, still complained that he couldn’t finish the house because he was all out of inches.  And yet, that is exactly what we do as a society when we say we can’t do great things because we are all out of money.

This confusion of money with wealth is the reason we are not going full speed ahead with the development of our technical genius which could lift us into an age of abundance that would make the old ideologies of left versus right relics of the past.  One day, the whole family of Americans, all wearing our best overalls, will look back and be amazed at how some politicians  believed that we couldn’t take on any great new projects; and what’s more, believed we had to make cuts in our schools,  police and fire departments, scientific research and the exploration of outer space –  because we were  all out of inches.




In the Beginning . . .

27 August, 2011

AROUND THE GLOBE folks call them dungarees, latzhose, snekkerbukse, salopette, owerol, overoles or obaoru, but they’re as American as American can be. We call them bib-and-brace overalls, or most often, just overalls.  Their forerunners were the slops worm by 1700s frontiersmen, but the overalls we know today arose out of the American Industrial Revolution in the 1890s. By the 1900s bib overalls were the garment of choice for the supermen and superwomen of American industry.

It was a time when we could do anything. Courageous and mighty Americans wearing overalls tamed the wilderness, laid railroad track from coast to coast, dammed raging rivers, raised steel towers to the heavens and built the planes, tanks, and battleships that defeated the threat of fascism. If it involved American greatness, the grit, determination and muscle that accomplished it were clad in overalls.

This is why overalls are much more than a metaphor of American greatness.  Overalls are American greatness. They are inseparable.  Overalls become passé in times like ours when Americans doubt that we will ever do great things again. It is not known with certainty whether the slippage in American greatness caused overalls to go out of fashion, or whether overalls going out of fashion caused the slippage in American greatness.  It doesn’t matter, really, because if you bring back the one you will also bring back the other. Some folks in today’s Overalls Movement are champions of bib overalls because of their love for American greatness.  With some it is the other way around, but it all comes out to the same thing in the end.

Do not hesitate, friends, to step out proudly in your old overalls, or to find new ones at finer merchants everywhere. Dawn the uniform of your strong and hearty countrymen and women from across this great-once-more nation.