Saturday, October 31, 2009


I’m from Texas, the death penalty capital of the United States. I’ve always embraced the mentality/mantra and the warning to all would-be perps that if you commit a capital crime in Texas including murder then you are going to get the “express lane to the electric chair.” OK, we don’t electrocute convicted murders who receive the death penalty anymore. Rather, we administer it by the supposedly more humane lethal injection, a process that we hear has been botched more than just a few times. Credible or not, we in Texas execute more people than any other state in the U.S.

Again, the idea was that the aggressive administration of justice to include capital punishment (the death penalty) would deter crime and set the moral tone for what is mostly a very no nonsense, conservative state. Yep, that was me when it came to the death penalty and to this day I do not find any offense with capital punishment on moral or religious grounds. I guess an “eye for an eye” and retribution mind set seems a sensible and logical payment though statistics seem to bear out that the death penalty has little deterrent effect. Does the death penalty bring closure to the families of loved ones? Don’t know as I haven’t been there though I suspect that it would offer me little consolation save that a murderer was off the streets.

But, and this is a big but, if one person is wrongfully convicted and executed for a crime they didn’t commit - where’s the justice? I don’t embrace a good for the many, there will be mistakes or a cost of doing business rationale when it comes to the execution of an innocent party.

Let’s put all this in perspective.
The Death Penalty Information Center reports that, “Since 1973, 135 people have been exonerated and freed from death row, including 5 people already in 2009. Some were only freed because of extraordinary work by individuals outside the criminal justice system.” The top three exonerating states include Florida with 23, Illinois with 20 and Texas with 10 exonerations.

With all these exonerations we wonder out loud, how many innocents have been executed? The answer is elusive though several high profile cases including one in North Carolina, two in Texas and many more validate that reality. I have seen some studies that claim numbers in the hundreds though the credibility of those statistics remain suspect. The American Bar Association (ABA) strongly supports a moratorium on capital punishment and acknowledges that innocents have been executed. Remember our magic number is ONE.

Seems that in Texas the ever growing number of exonerations of convicted people including Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott, in Dallas County as recently as last week who were in the twelfth year of their life sentences for murder is but the tip of the iceberg. Consistent with their initial declarations, they didn’t do it. This wasn’t a case of DNA revealing their innocence, rather the work of local college students at the University of Texas at Arlington and UT Austin's law school who brought the case to the Dallas District Attorney's office last year. Another individual finally admitted to the crime after reevaluation of the evidence. The motivation for a lot of this effort can be attributed to the very aggressive and innovative approach by Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. Well done!

And as far as DNA exonerating innocents, it would appear that we are now starting to run out of those older DNA cases, so the work of motivated volunteers and students like those with UT Arlington’s Innocence Network will be critical in securing justice for those wrongfully convicted. At least modern technologies and procedures like DNA analysis will allow us to engage yet another effective tool that will assist in determining ultimate guilt or innocence.

The cases and statistics we have cited may just be the tip of the iceberg. While our justice system might not be broken, it surely is in need of a tune up. So, what do we do? First, maybe we just need to come up with some innovative ways to dispense justice that will be a real deterrent when we are thoroughly assured of guilt to include caught in the act, conclusive videotape, DNA and other technologies not known or yet invented.

With our tongues in our cheeks perhaps we should entertain the dispensation of justice in a very public venue. Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia continue to publicly execute via beheadings, firing squads and even stoning. We could always revert to a Salem motivated (as in Witch Trials) public hangings or we can implore the counsel of the English who for centuries were known for their brutality and the very public execution of the death penalty which was administered for a whole cacophony of “crimes” including petty theft, cutting down a tree and, of course was used as a tool of political oppression. Perhaps we should resurrect drawing and quartering ala William Wallace or just the perfunctory beheading ala the opportunistic and devious eighty year old Simon Fraser, the 11th Lord Lovat, Chief of the Clan Fraser aka The Fox (1667-1747). Lovat had his head lopped off on April 9, 1747 for his part in the ’45 Jacobite Uprising and has the distinction of being the last person beheaded in Britain.

So why do I bring this up? Well, with the imposition of public execution we could expect some interesting repartee and situations worthy of our current reality TV phenomenon. As in Lovat’s case we have already enriched history with the lurid details of his final day. For example, though it probably offered Lovat little consolation (though some delight), one of the overcrowded stands overlooking the executioner’s scaffold collapsed, resulting in the death of twenty spectators (we hope all English) whereupon Lovat quipped, "The more the mischief, the better the sport."

Lovat was well educated and had the gift of the gab, witness his reaction to an old woman who poked her head into his coach whilst he was on the road well traveled to his place of execution. She tauntingly quipped something like, "You ugly old Scottish dog, don't you think you will have that frightful head cut off?" to which he is reputed to have replied, "You damned ugly old English bitch, I do believe I shall."

But that bon mot wasn’t Lovat’s famous last words for just before his execution Lovat exonerated himself by stating, Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori a line from Horace's Odes which roughly translates as, "It is noble and glorious to die for one's country."

With the return of these very public executions we could at least expect from the better educated of the lot some horrific entertainment and theater worthy of Shakespeare but hopefully (let’s get serious) some affect from the revulsion of actually viewing the execution, perhaps even a deterrent? Maybe then we would get it right. Not so, say Friends who offer this would become the basest of entertainment and, yes, another degrading reality dimension.

That said, this doesn’t help us from executing innocents. Perhaps we could engage a form of suspended animation/cryostasis for those sentenced turning them into human popsicles (a la Demolition Man and Spoiler) for the duration of their sentences or until sufficient science exists to either validate the sentences or exonerate them. No Ted Williams jokes, please.

The reality is that as human beings we will never get it completely right and some innocents will pay the ultimate price for our failure to adequately address this issue. The text of State of Texas District Judge Robert Burns remarks to Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott as they were released after almost 13 years of prison for a capital crime they did not commit follows.

"I want to extend to each of you, on behalf of the state of Texas ... my most sincere apologies for the miscarriage of justice that each of you've experienced," Burns said. "Just speaking as a human being, I hope that you are able to put these 12 or 13 years behind you and enjoy the freedom ... that you are about to experience and not be bitter."

Right. Thank God they weren’t executed… In a surprisingly enlightened move the Republic of Texas enacted a law in 2009 allowing for compensation for wrongly convicted people which is the most generous in the nation. Claude Simmons Jr. and Christopher Scott will apparently each receive $80,000 US for each year of incarceration, plus a lifetime annuity.

Last Word: If one man/woman has been wrongfully convicted of a capital crime, did not receive adequate due process sufficient to prove their guilt/innocence and was then executed for that crime - then we need to rethink our whole system. Methinks I need to seriously reflect my whole approach to capital punishment… Count my vote as “Yes” for the moratorium on capital punishment.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, October 24, 2009


As I have posted several times I am a great Friend of Canada and have many close Friends of that Ilk. I am an American citizen though my Best Friend is a dual citizen as are her two children.

I spent a lot of time in Canada during my early business years and have played both the national games of Canada - Hockey and Lacrosse - with some facility. I don’t look upon Canada as the United States’ 51st state and recognize her unique culture and perspectives. I haven’t taken offense with, rather celebrated her greatness and the differences in our two countries – at least not until recently (more later).

Some of my Canadian Friends like to point out how they are different and some have used the US as their anvil. They don’t want to emulate the US, rather embrace and expand on their differences. No problem. The Canadian political system is different, they are mostly a hell of a lot colder, they don’t have to wait until they are 21 to legally drink, they have better beer and doughnuts, they are laudably much greener than we are, generally labor unions are more popular in Canada and, of course, they have that health care system we seem bent on emulating.

Two of my favorite magazines are Canadian National Geographic and Canadian Living. The November 2009 issue of Canadian Living is another superb offering. Being a big fan of food in all its myriad forms, I occasionally note their recipes which generally take on a literal north of the border flavor. It is with one of those recipes that I have taken offense…

In the Deep South we have our, yea, iconic culinary institutions and that includes their gastronomic offerings representative of Memphis, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; Savannah, Georgia; Charleston, South Carolina; New Orleans, Louisiana and all the other Southern towns around and in between. Meal times can be significant social events and can include Low Country Shrimp Boils, She Crab Soup, Pork Bar-B-Que, Cajun, Southern Buttermilk Biscuits, Southern Fried Chicken and much, much more.

Well you see this Canadian Living “Deep South” recipe (Ontario?) called for milk, water, yellow cornmeal, salt and pepper, shredded old cheddar cheese and butter, period. These base ingredients were somewhat familiar recalling a recipe I know.

Simplicity aside, my recipe includes all the above and can depending on mood and circumstance also incorporate a small diced onion, finely chopped garlic cloves, vegetable or chicken broth, extra sharp cheddar and Jack cheese (important), heavy cream, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Of course, we are known to spice things up by also adding to taste: bourbon, cider vinegar, sorghum or molasses, honey, Tabasco Sauce®, thyme, cilantro, cayenne pepper, olive oil and to make things more interesting, maybe some shrimp, thick sliced center cut bacon, salt cured country ham or sausage - most of those with a sumptuous red eye gravy. The cornmeal should be stone ground and of a coarse (not fine) consistency.

The Canadian Living recipe was for – ready? – Cheddar Cornmeal Porridge where you can, “treat your family to a taste of the Deep South for breakfast.” Revolting! This recipe title is a sacrilege to the South and while it technically might be a porridge, it ain’t! We of the South have never and wouldn’t ever call this porridge. One of my heroines, Chef Paula Deen, would surely take equal offense with this excuse of a recipe title.

Porridge (porage) for you Canadian folks out there means oats. In Scotland porage (oats) is so popular they have a culinary event known as the Golden Spurtle for the best porage recipe. As an aside, I am proud to say that the 2009 winner of the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championships was one Matt Cox of Milwaukie, Oregon for his pear brandy-infused Oregon Orchard Oat Brulee recipe. Again, so much for simplicity. We note that Matt defeated fourteen other competitors (several Canadians) in the event, including last year's champion, Ian Bishop from Carrbridge, Scotland. We of the Might of Right are also pleased to recognize Anna-Louise Batchelor from Reading, England as the first place Spurtle winner in the specialty category for her recipe of steamed porridge Spotted Dick with custard. You bet, really!

So we aren’t talking about porridge when we engage our cornmeal recipe. Drum roll – yes, this is all about GRITS! Please also know that while grits are often served as a breakfast side dish they aren’t just for breakfast. They can also be served at the dinner meal and are very often incorporated into a casserole. And, please do not forget about hominy grits, but that’s another whole story.

In 1976, South Carolina declared grits their official state food and I would not attempt to improve on the words of the South Carolina Legislature when they offered that proclamation. They spoke for all of us…

“Whereas, throughout its history, the South has relished its Grits, making them a symbol of its diet, its customs, its humor, and its hospitality, and whereas, every community in the State of South Carolina used to be the site of a grist mill and every local economy in the State used to be dependent on its product; and whereas, Grits have been a part of the life of every South Carolinian of whatever race, background, gender, and income; and whereas, Grits could very well play a vital role in the future of not only this State, but also the world, if as The Charleston News and Courier proclaimed in 1952: 'An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.'”

By the way, President Obama likes and eats Grits, not porridge and I suspect some Canadians do as well.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, October 17, 2009


North Texas and the southeastern United States have been inundated with water from above for the last month and a half. September and October have seen storm after storm (some severe) hit the Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta areas. Most lakes and reservoirs are now at or above full pool. Lake Lavon which supplies water to northeast Texas and Dallas bedroom communities like Plano, Richardson, Allen, McKinney, Garland and many other cities is today at 493.65 feet, 1.65 feet above full pool – and its only just stopped raining over Lavon. Lake Texoma, from which north Texas gets roughly 30 percent of its water, is now also well above full pool.

Water level at Lake Sidney Lanier which is the primary water supply for Atlanta, Georgia is at 1,071.38 feet, 0.38 feet above full pool of 1,071.00 due to what meteorological sources call significant hydrological events. OK, lots of rain - some 600 percent above normal in north Georgia. Lest we forget, at this time last year Lake Lanier was almost down to the bare bones bed of its primary supplier, the Chattahoochee River and residents of Atlanta and all downstream communities even those in Alabama and Florida were in a virtual panic. I know of folks who moved from the area because of the drought. If you ever want a very impressive and comprehensive analysis of Georgia, overall southeastern and national weather pattern updates don’t hesitate to go to Very well done.

Residents of north Texas and Georgia have seemingly forgotten the previously cracked, sun-baked beds of Lakes Lavon and Lanier and the scare and inconvenience of a drought that continues in central and south Texas. We have developed a two birds in the bush and ant and grasshopper (OK, cicada) rationale and have once again gotten sloppy and seemingly placid or indifferent to our plight and the conservation of our most important natural resource.

Happily, we appear to be in an ever strengthening El Nino pattern that will dictate the potential for more precipitation through the rest of the fall and winter seasons for Texas and the southeast. That’s the good news for all you carbon based units that want for H2O. The bad news is that the pendulum will inevitably swing back the other way and we will once again be in drought conditions.

I drive north and south – back and forth to work - on Preston Road (289) from far north Dallas to Collin County and Plano each day. I traverse through some residential (mostly apartments and condos) though mostly business developments that are pretty representative of that area. Many of those businesses and apartment complexes have been noted to have their sprinklers (the big commercial ones) on full bore daily, even during torrential downpours.

Now I know that with the lakes at full pool the municipalities are happy to generate much needed revenues with what they now consider a never ending resource. The waste is absolutely huge and so unnecessary. All it takes is one yahoo to either turn off their sprinkler systems or the very easy and inexpensive installation of an automatic rain turn off. There was probably no need to have engaged the sprinklers for at least the last one month. Where are the water police when you need them?

While our water resources have stayed fairly consistent through the eons, it is not ultimately, under the current circumstances, a renewable resource - ad infinitum. Water once abundant on some parts of the earth is now gone, redistributed in our flora and fauna and across the world by changes in our populations and weather patterns.

Texan and ultra successful business man T Boone Pickens has seen another ultimate profit making opportunity and has been buying up water rights in the panhandle of North Texas via his Mesa Water, Inc. Pickens is treating water like a commodity with the proof in the pudding being the success of the bottled water industry and the most recent lack of that indispensible resource in major US population centers. He believes that if you don’t charge for that service we will ultimately exhaust even that resource. Pickens may be right and all you have to do is look at the recent oil crisis. If we don’t ultimately value something we will use it up or further devalue it. Pickens is planning to make water available (for a price) from the huge though not inexhaustible Oglalla Aquifer to downstate communities like Amarillo, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and even San Antonio should the need arise. The heavy rains in Texas have prompted a jocular Pickens to note that the region has been flooded “with cheap, offshore water."

The realization that the global population is expected to rise substantially greater than the production of and accessibility to fresh water should prompt all of us to rethink our approach to water conservation. If we don’t retool our attitudes then Mother Nature will take care of the problem by eliminating the drain on that resource – humans and other flora and fauna that once depended on that water. Problem solved. So what happens if the remaining water is so polluted that it cannot be recovered for a lifetime? Same song, different verse.

So don't crank up your sprinklers just yet. Better yet, don’t turn them on until you have to. We have enough water falling out of the sky to water our lawns, flowers, bushes, trees, foundations, etc. I believe strongly that municipalities of all “civilized nations” should continue and aggressively enforce permanent, mandatory water restrictions for all their residents. The difference is that we will go from a current voluntary rationale to one that is mandatory. Perhaps we should also consider charging more for water consumption per Pickens. While current water restriction schedules are admirable they generally lag behind what the prevailing circumstances dictate.

The bottom line is that we as a species do not seem to be responsible enough to control the one resource that is indispensible to life. Our individual and collective memories are incredibly short term. We are once again drifting back into complacency and can’t be trusted. Mother Nature is sitting back and taking a wait and see attitude. Do it for the good of the many…


Ned Buxton

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


When my Dad hit sixty I noticed that he seemed to “thicken up”. He was always a big man in his maturity around six feet tall and around 250, probably from drinking too many Dad’s Root Beers (great product!). I initially thought this odd as his head seemed to grow larger and broader, his ears and nose got bigger, hair grew voraciously from every visible orifice and he had to fight the good fight with his waistline with even more fervor. All this appeared contradictory as he was a great athlete in his youth and in college played on the Babson soccer team. Seems that so many good athletes have to fight being overweight – always used to stoking the fires to find the energy to perform. We seemingly don’t know when to stop and reeducate/recalibrate ourselves. Thank God for Weight Watchers.

I noticed some of those same changes in the photographs I have of his Father and of my Mother’s Father. Dad spent a lot of time in the sun and by the pool so his skin while well tanned was a bit more wrinkled but still in pretty good shape. I really didn’t notice much of a change in his hair (salt and pepper) though he always wore it short…

I saw some photographs of myself recently and heretofore thinking I was closer to the above and now long dead famous actor, had my gerontological epiphany and realized that I am going down that same path. It prompted me to reflect on who I really am as opposed to who I think I am – at least physically.

You have to address that mind’s eye scenario where your consciousness perceives you at one state or another and not necessarily the space you really occupy. Now, I’m not dealing with some societal/organizational labels or perceptions, rather where you are from your own perspective. One invariably settles in and occupies a niche that he finds most comfortable. That season for self scenario finds me probably in my late forties, early fifties. The image that I have apparently subconsciously chosen for myself is just flat wrong... I am not going to climb Mount Rainier again, strap on my hockey pads, paddle my canoe or kayak down section IV of the Chattooga River or score another touchdown. Acceptance of my real persona and state doesn’t mean defeat or decline, rather time to occupy the present and look to the future. Dale Wimbrow’s well known 1934 poem, The Guy in the Glass should be required reading for all males over the age of sixty.

Brother John who turns 65 this November has been calling lately with questions about Social Security and Medicare – issues that I had addressed the year before. Gees, whoda thunk it?

The lessons that my wonderful significant other has been trying to pound into me (I’ve been kicking and screaming all the while) have finally sunk in. She won’t let me color my stache or otherwise alter my appearance to look younger, except to lose weight and get in shape. She has not unexpectedly proved to be far wiser than me and I thank God for her love.

The paradox of achieving a substantial maturity (old age) is that while we may have less time to live, we are freed from most of the earthly constraints that bound us in our earlier mediocrity. Though many of us continue working because of failed trusts or 401(k)s, we can bring the wisdom of our experiences to the work place, our personal lives and our communities. This can be the most rewarding and productive phase of our lives.
I’m counting on that…

I’m not a philosopher though I do admire the works of many to include the 2nd century BCE Hindu philosopher Patanjali (Yoga Sutras) who stated,

"When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be." I perceive myself to be on the verge of that “new, great and wonderful world.”

Moving ahead requires some inner reflection, personal assessment and estimation how you can make a difference in the lives of your Friends and Family and your community ultimately giving your life greater meaning. I am not into the philosophy of the “growing old gracefully” crap. The bottom line is that you have to get out there and “Do it!”

No J Alfred Prufrock, I’m going to work at this issue and as one blogger put it recently, “Stand proud, throw back my shoulders, hold my head high, suck in both my stomachs and gracefully glide into growing old.” Well, maybe not glide. Attack or assault are probably far better verbs per the Buxton Family mantra, Do It With Thy Might.

Maybe my best Friend will let me grow some Everett Dirksen or Andy Rooney eyebrows to accentuate my maturity and eccentricities. I suspect that I might like English poet and journalist Jenny Joseph be encouraged by her famous 1961 poem Warning, to engage the male equivalent of “wearing purple with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me... go out in my slippers in the rain… and wear terrible shirts and grow more fat.” Though I find myself doing most of that now perhaps I can symbolically break the shackles that bind me and continue to be a (more) productive member of society. I do not intend to, “go gentle into that good night” rather, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”, no “tattered coat on a stick.”


Ned Buxton

Friday, October 9, 2009


I have always liked Louisiana State University (LSU), heck, even just to the thought of it (Geaux Tigers!). The rich history of that august institution features the infamous (but right) William Tecumseh Sherman who in 1859 accepted the position as Superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy in Pineville, Louisiana. That institution would later become LSU. I remember my pledge trip to LSU and the Louisiana Beta chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon like it was yesterday. Well, it wasn’t – it was in 1963 and those Brothers and their hospitality were great. I was required to hitchhike from Oxford to Baton Rouge and it felt a little like an Arthurian Quest.

I lived in Georgia for thirty plus years and developed a strong affection for the University of Georgia, their famous Yale cultivated hedges and the integrity of folks like Vince Dooley and the iconic gravelly voiced Larry Munson, not to mention their ever evolving academics. Don’t you just love the Hope Scholarships?

When the Georgia Bulldogs and LSU Tigers football teams, both highly ranked, played last Saturday it was anticipated by all as one of the best matchups of the year 2009. This would be a closely contested football game with the winner having a good shot at or at least affecting the national championship race. I really didn’t care who won, rather wanted to see a well played, hard fought game where the outcome was unblemished.

The game was all that though the outcome was unfortunately tarnished because of an official’s error. Now there will always be an asterisk on the game notes. The game was a defensive contest until the last five minutes when most of the points were scored. The Bulldogs were losing the game until Georgia quarterback Joe Cox with only 1:09 left in the game threw a sixteen yard touchdown pass to AJ Green who made it so only because of his brilliant, heroic catch. With Georgia’s defense intact all they had to do was kick LSU deep into their territory and hold on. That didn’t happen because AJ Green was absurdly and wrongly flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following the score. All Green did was stand there while his teammates mobbed him. It was an innocent, youthful celebration and nothing more… and all within NCAA rules.

The penalty put LSU in field goal range immediately and a deflated Georgia defense could not stop LSU running back Charles Scott who scored on a 33-yard run with 46 seconds remaining to give LSU the victory.

Now let me be clear. To their credit, LSU dominated the statistics and were clearly the better team for most of the game. They sucked it in and scored when they had to. That said, you don’t like to see the outcome of a game determined or even remotely influenced by an official’s call – right or wrong.

The Southeastern Conference (SEC) football referee (we’re not naming names) - OK Back Judge MICHAEL WATSON – who threw the flag for so called excessive celebration following the go ahead touchdown with one minute of play left in last Saturday’s Georgia-LSU tilt has apologized for the call after the Southeastern Conference (SEC) indicated that the call was “improper.” The bottom line was that the call gave LSU the opportunity to drive a relatively short distance down the field and score the ultimate go ahead touchdown.

Watson’s supervisor intoned that Watson was unnecessarily beating himself up for the call. Well, I certainly hope so and note that his reflection on his performance is necessary and critical. Look in the mirror, Michael. You are the main reason why LSU won. Knowing LSU, their coaching staff and players, I suspect they feel cheated as well.

Emotion, passion and enthusiasm are an integral part of the game of football and sometimes the difference between victory and defeat. Take that away and all you have is a bunch of lock step professionals going through the motions. Just look at the Dallas/Arlington Cowboys to date…


Ned Buxton

Well, this same crew of officials led by SEC referee Marc Curles has done it again. The SEC has ruled the referees working the University of Florida-Arkansas football game last weekend were incorrect when they made a crucial personal foul call against Arkansas – one that ultimately allowed the Gators' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter. There were also two other questionable calls including one for pass interference made on that same drive against Arkansas that gave Florida a crucial first down.

This is the same crew that blew the call in the Georgia-LSU game we highlighted earlier that essentially gave LSU the impetus and the ultimate win.

The SEC suspended the crew for two weeks to ostensibly think about it. This decision has come under some scrutiny with some critical of the SEC Commissioner Mike Slive’s decision to punish the crew. Many others including many SEC fans I have consulted feel that he didn’t go far enough.

The human element aside, we all need to be held accountable for our performance – good and bad. The atrociously bad calls in these two games affected the strategy and possibly the outcome of the game and perhaps the seasons of these two losing football teams.

Then there are those folks who will assure you that a “W is a W” no matter if it’s earned, gifted or stolen. So which was it? Well, they sure weren’t earned and I would have given those officials more time to think about it…


Sunday, October 4, 2009


Given the recent and very impressive, festive nuptials of Stephanie and Austin I was once again reminded how other cultures celebrate this most important rite of passage. There was and is no doubt that Steph and Austin were motivated to make their bond permanent because of a mutual deep and enduring love and respect that encompasses many different planes and aspects. I have never seen a happier couple and was very moved by the whole experience. I thank them for allowing me to be part of their lives…

Notwithstanding the current controversy over who can legally and otherwise be married (or divorced), it would appear that most folks in our domain agree (and as defined that, “the purpose of marriage is to spiritually, emotionally and physically unite a man and a women together, as husband and wife, in a covenantal relationship between themselves and their Creator.”

In Anthropology we seemingly can’t ever be satisfied with something as complex/simple as that and we look at marriage more pragmatically and in an more astringent light - as the vehicle that controls sexual activity and/or reproduction, and as a primary means of forging and building socioeconomic alliances between social groups. Supply and demand even enters the picture with the bride many times nothing more than a commodity with many anthropologists stating that marriage was literally the purchase of a bride for breeding purposes. So much for love…

The modern word “wedding” comes from the Anglo Saxon word wedd and/or auld Scots word wad. Both appropriately meant "to pledge” and signified that the groom would pledge to marry the bride for the prearranged and agreed price that invariably included money or goods usually paid to the bride’s parents. This was all tied up with other transfers of wealth (dowry and dower), but we’re not going there today.

Much to my faux disappointment we certainly can’t give the Anglo Saxons, Scots or the Vikings credit for this concept. It started well before these cultures started to evolve. It certainly appears that what anthropologists refer to as "bride or progeny price" has been a common practice for thousands of years emerging in many different cultures and societies around the world as concepts of kinship and Family likewise evolved. Indeed some contemporary cultures that include Asian countries like China, and Thailand still engage this practice. Islamic marriage laws require the mandatory mahr to be paid (or promised) by the groom to the bride. The dowry system is still alive and well in India.

When I was studying Anthropology at Ole Miss most African cultures were noted to have practiced bride price – some even to this day though some recent resistance has been noted. To these so called primitive societies the socio economic implications were critical and demanded compensation for the loss of a daughter. While there was little uniformity the ultimate goal in some of these tribal cultures was alliance or to ultimately keep Family wealth and resources in that Family hence the reason why the preferred relationship in so many cultures was first cousins (cross or parallel).

In the earliest time of civilization there was no well defined system of kinship though perhaps just the realization of blood relationships which then evolved into that higher plane. It was a slow and laborious process which was affected by ultimate socio economic and security considerations.

The wedding was always a rite of passage that all societies held in high regard. Our Scandinavian Brothers and Sisters (OK, the Vikings) always set the marriage day on a Friday, or Frigg's Day, as a tribute to Frigga - wife to Odin and goddess of marriage and married women (See Frigga in inset above). Yes, Friday was named in her honor.

From the early days of Christianity in the Celtic world, rituals tended to blend the pagan with the Christian. Many of those celebrations continue to this day. An example of this was the handfasting ceremony, a commitment ceremony held when a priest or a proper civil authority wasn’t available. Two great Friends of mine ceremonially handfasted at the Glasgow, Kentucky Scottish Festival and Highland Games last year and then tied the knot this year. These ceremonies were often accompanied by such rites as broom jumping (harbinger of fertility). Many of those practices were adopted by African slaves as we have seen in Harriette Cole's Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner. Interestingly, there is evidence offered by Professor
Willie Ruff, an African-American ethno-musicologist at Yale University who has concluded that the first foreign tongue spoken by slaves in America wasn’t English but Scottish Gaelic taught to them by Gaelic speakers who left Scotland’s Western Isles because of religious persecution. Another example of a celebration borrowed from another culture. In our western society we have borrowed many, OK most.

I have also heard of the unkempt Scots practice where the brides Mother meets the Bride at the door following the wedding ceremony and then breaks a currant bun over her daughter's head for good fortune. Now, we are assured that while Stephanie did follow the tradition of wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, she did not have a current bun broken over her head.

Like our society and some of the backward conventions (even laws) that used to accompany this most noble institution, we have evolved to a more enlightened plane that recognizes the value and worth of both participants allowing them to achieve their full potential. This partnership allows both individuals to maintain their own identity while bringing to the marriage commitment that otherwise elusive ethereal spark.

As sermonized today by The Very Reverend Kevin Martin, Dean of St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas that however primitive our ancient past or limits imposed by politically inspired controlling perspectives and laws in our more modern societies, today’s successful marriage is based on mutual respect and love without a “controlling” partner who would skew that relationship. That harmony has to be achieved by voluntary mutual consent. Yea, it certainly appears that Stephanie and Austin have it right and represent the best of our evolution and the modern ideal. A new dawn breaks.


Ned Buxton

PS - Jackie Spratt’s Wedding and Groom’s cakes were the best I have ever tasted. They were a big hit, well appreciated and one of the highlights of this celebration. NB