Saturday, May 26, 2012


The 2012 Republican primary in Texas is a dream come true for writers and those objective folks in our society – constantly providing food for thought and material for posts such as this. They, however, are also a nightmare for folks of goodwill with the desire to engage a collaborative approach to any issue. Here in Texas, the Republican rant is- My way or the highway. It has been difficult at times but for the public good and for its entertainment value we have made the ultimate sacrifice – watched some of their political ads. Yikes!

Taking a page from the recent visceral Republican Presidential Primaries, Texas Republican candidates across the board took the opportunity early on raising themselves up the Conservative flagpole predictably attacking not their opponents rather President Obama for a myriad of sins - some deserved, mostly not. Their initial main thrusts were not to address real, substantive issues but to proclaim just how conservative they really are. We think that term relative but in a state that is seemingly dominated by an ultra-right wing, fundamentalist, tea party philosophy and agenda, it came as no surprise.

We have even seen one incumbent candidate for Texas Judge hawking his wares as a conservative who would continue to stand up for those issues embraced by a conservative, mostly fundamentalist citizenry. He has even cited cases where he has rendered judgments that cater to that demographic. Mind you, I embrace some of the same issues and while common practice I do not think that judicial activists with an agenda should be seated on the bench. Our judges, whatever their persuasion, should not allow their personal feelings on issues to cloud their judgment and ability to impartially interpret the law – not rewrite or attempt to overturn it. Hopefully, that is not the case here.

Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Gov. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum (losers all) are even involved in the races endorsing candidates by attesting to their conservatism. Laughingly, one candidate has lashed out at his opponent accusing him of really being, gads, a Moderate! I guess that’s the kiss of death in this group though most folks of goodwill I know are conservative, moderate, progressive and even liberal – depending on the issue. While I agree with some of their platform, it’s now conservatism for the sake of conservatism – no matter the issue. They have backed themselves into a corner without an exit strategy.

Anticipating that some of these ultra conservatives will be elected not only statewide but to the federal level, please accept the apologies of some of us in Texas who feel that the best interests of The Country or Texas may not be well served. The impasse will continue in Washington and the status quo will be assured.

We do see a bright side to all of this. At least it will be easier to keep track of these folks given that so many reside in Texas. We do keep an even keener eye on Governor Perry now given his recent gaffes on the campaign trail.

Mark Twain opined, “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man's reasoning powers are not above the monkey's.” Now Samuel Clemens would have had a ball with this year’s political shenanigans.


Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 19, 2012


Today we ponder the age old question: what the heck are those two dots that appear over that first “ä” in Hägar? An abbreviated answer along with some history of that name as relates to this writer - follows. First, the history.

Once upon a time, not long ago, there was a first generation American named Robert Alexander Swanson (1925-1993). Bob’s parents, Alex and Margaret were native Scots who immigrated from Wick in Caithness to New York then to Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada and ultimately back to the United States and Fort Dodge, Iowa. Bob was essentially raised in a Scottish household forming the basis for his Friendships in later life, a keen appreciation of his origins and no doubt the impetus for his long lasting legacy in the American-Scottish Community.

Following World War II Bob set out to make his way in life and ended up in Birmingham, Alabama and soon discovered a few folks that shared his Scottish pedigree along with Jeanette who became his Queen. Bob was a motivator and natural leader and as we say now, a real people person. Bob was a co-founder of the Alabama Caledonian Society and soon gathered a sizeable group of folks of the same ilk – an organization that continues to this day. This was just the first chapter in his way too short though thoroughly distinguished life.

In the 1970’s Scottish Highland Games and Festivals were sprouting up all around the United States and Canada fed by the enthusiasm generated by the olde established, venerable Highland Games at Braemar, Scotland (1832), the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland (1894), Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina (1955), Santa Rosa/Pleasanton, California (1865), Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada (1861) and many, many others. People were searching for their Scottish roots and looking to have a good time with those with the same soul and spirit. Then, as now, they have many opportunities to, “Find that Inner Scot” – probably more so than any other culture or ethnic group on the face of our planet.

Soon many were celebrating their Scottish origins to include Bob with his primary family connection – The Clan Gunn. Bob also celebrated his MacKay (Norse-Pictish) and MacFarlane (Gaelic) roots but his Daddy’s clan with its even more diverse Celtic heritage and strong Norse connections seemed to inspire him to his greatest heights. Mind you, a smart man he mostly wore his Mother’s MacFarlane tartan kilt to church…

That Gunn Norse connection would have a long lasting effect on Bob and ultimately, the Scottish Community worldwide.

Right about this time (1973) cartoonist Dik Browne created the very popular Hägar the Horrible comic strip which, then as now, is distributed by the King Features Syndicate. Hägar the Horrible proved to be a dead ringer for a stout, courageous and moustached/bearded Bob. While some folks relate that Bob adopted the persona of Hägar, his resemblance and uncannily similar mannerisms were noted by many others who encouraged Bob to embrace that role. When Hägar creator Dik Browne offered his support in that endeavor, it was a fait accompli.

Truth be known, the comic strip was all about creator Dik Browne. The character was born in the minds of sons Chris and Chance who early on called their Dad, Hägar the Terrible. After years of illustrating and writing for Hi and Lois, Dik resurrected Hägar who became… the Horrible. We note that son Chris now writes and illustrates Hägar the Horrible while son Chance draws Hi and Lois. Lots of creative genes there…

This writer met Bob and wife Jeanette Swanson at the Savannah Highland Games in 1978 and from that point we were great, if not, Best Friends. But that’s another story that’s been written and will soon be published (Himself & Friends). That meeting and others of our ilk ultimately set up the Gathering at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games and the ultimate birthing of the Kingdome of Räknar in 1979. Again, another story…

Hägar and Räknar for us always insinuated strong Norse/Viking origins though the Danes did ultimately play a part in the evolution of Scotland. Many have wondered and asked me about that pesky umlaut - those pair of dots above the ä in Hägar. We also see the ö and ü umlauts used over those vowels in languages to include German, Swedish, Finnish and others.

School Is In: Some have attempted to educate this writer stating that those two dots over the first ä in Hägar are called a diacritical mark. Indeed, all marks including accent graves, the circumflex, breve and the umlaut are, among others, diacritical marks. In German the two dots are called an umlaut and refer to the mark itself and its function. In other languages the two dots are called a dieresis only when it serves the function of indicating that two consecutive vowels are to be voiced and inflected differently. For our purposes we will assume a Germanic perspective and call the two dots an umlaut, that being expedient since we are not dealing with two consecutive vowels.

Simply put, the umlaut tells us how to pronounce that word. The umlaut literally denotes a change of sound moving the syllable sound to the front or back of the mouth. For example, in German “ooo” becomes “oh” from the long to the short. Yes, we also understand that the Danish and Norwegian “æ” is equivalent to the umlaut ä we now see in the Swedish and Finnish alphabets and languages. It becomes obvious that this is a far more complicated issue than this simplistic explanation and we plead guilty to ignorance and apologize especially to our grammarian/linguist Friends. The science of language is a credible and impressive pursuit. We cannot carry your bags…

Given our lack of scholarship though understanding the Norse “ae” rule, we really can’t figure out how the ä umlaut was pronounced in Old Norse. The conundrum is that the umlaut denotes different sounds in different languages and has changed over the last millennia. Our table is now set in 21st century America so what’s the rule now? My futile research has been inconclusive though I look at the revered Häagen Daz (yes, its a diaresis) and note the pronunciation of that first “ä” is as in “hog” a long way from our accepted “ä” in Hägar as “hay”. Not surprisingly, then, we find that Häagen Daz is a totally fictitious name created by some incredibly talented Jewish-Polish immigrants in the Bronx, New York. The fabricated name was meant to look Scandinavian – like Hägar.

This has prompted us to finally, thankfully, realize that our attempt at scholarship and explanation probably has no real bearing or significance on the evolution of Hägar the Horrible as presented in the comic strip by Dik and Chris Browne or the persona adopted by the late Bob Swanson. We will agree that the umlaut makes Hägar a little more “quirky and oddly quaint” and, yes, Scandanavian.

Supporting our gob smacked marketing-driven epiphany we find that Hägar the Horrible in America is known as Hagbard in Denmark, Harald the Terrible in Finland, Olaf the Bitter in Mexico, Hagbard the Strong-Handed in Sweden and Hårek the Hardy in of all places – Norway. No umlaut but a strong long a…

Chris Browne recently shed some light on our topic, thusly, “I pronounce it Hay-gar. My brother, Chance, who draws Hi and Lois and I came up with it as a nickname for Dad when we were kids. It's a made-up word, so anyway you pronounce it is correct!” So, in effect, Chris is admitting that the umlaut is there for visual effect and we feel that’s OK.

So, there you have it. Let’s just continue to have fun with Hägar the Horrible and agree that the Hägar “ä” looks good with or without an umlaut. We concur with one participant on a 2008 thread who while reflecting his understanding of the situation suggested, “Just call him Bob.”


Nëd Büxtōn

PS. This post is dedicated to Jeanette “Queen Helga” Swanson of Birmingham, Alabama, always our Queen and Inspiration, Aye, NB

Saturday, May 12, 2012


So now comes Time Magazine with their May 21, 2012 cover showing California Mom and model Jamie Lynne Grumet with her three (almost four) year old son Aram suckling at her left breast – while standing on a chair? As provocative, and I guess for some folks, arousing as you can get in our mostly still puritanical society, it was no doubt meant to shock, stir controversy and bring attention to something called, attachment parenting - a nice way of saying “on-demand, extended breastfeeding.” The national debate has started and from our perch it looks like Time Magazine and Grumet are the big losers. We also unfortunately think that son Aram could be harmed by this whole episode.
The photo wasn’t a private on a chair or bed, intimate, nurturing and special moment between Mother and Son, rather a staged and posed photo with both looking directly into the camera. Aram had that, OK this is cool but what am I doing here look while Grumet was staring back with a defiant and matter of fact, Sooooooooo! We think that Grumet is motivated by and embraces the spotlight, publicity and glorifies in all this attention. We have even seen some critics speculate that narcissism is playing a major part in her decision to go public on this issue.
The headline for the story inappropriately challenges, "Are You Mom Enough?" insinuating that this is the perfect or proper order of things. I couldn’t disagree more with the sensationalist approach to this issue. We better understand Grumet’s attitude after learning that she had also breastfed her five year old stepson (Yikes?) and admitted that her Mother breastfed her until age six. Having said that the informed decision to breastfeed should be made by the Mother and her decision is always the right one.
We do believe that a parent’s relationship with each of their children is unique - different from child to child depending on their own individual needs and level of caring. So, I don’t take offense with differing parenting styles and the decision to breast feed for as long as feasible. My choice, were I a woman, though, would probably be to cut it off at that point when a child is capable of regularly eating and drinking for themselves – but that’s me. Then comes that pesky argument when at an age when they start to interact with other children, will extended breastfeeding hinder their ability to effectively socialize with their peer groups? I would, at least, with an older child like Aram keep the practice private and behind closed doors and that is all about respect and consideration for the child.

So, I will concede that so long as no laws are broken, then I guess, all’s well in Smallville. I have always felt that breastfeeding is a critical and important part of child rearing and nutrition. We all know the health and emotional benefits and the vital bond it creates between Mother and Child.
We took offense only because Grumet chose this forum and that Time Magazine offered and choreographed the story. So, you have an almost four year old boy with little or no say or understanding about the story (let alone the photograph) in front of the camera standing on a chair engaging what had heretofore been an intimate moment with his Mother (a little to the left please). That’s the whole issue for me. While there may be no foul here, we feel that the potential for harm is real.
When the story first broke we noted that all the local TV stations had “blurred out” son Aram’s face and Grumet’s left breast. Later that same day I was watching one of the ESPN channels and there was the Time Magazine cover in all its unretouched glory. I thought it no big deal but then noted on the news that night – the blurring was gone from local TV. Someone or, something else had broken the barrier so Katy bar the door… now the whole world knows.
My attitude about breastfeeding was shaped by one event. I remember that day in August 1962 well. I was riding the Greyhound bus from Memphis to Oxford and contemplating the start of a new life as a freshman football player at Ole Miss. I had flown in from Dallas Love Field (I think via Braniff) to a then smallish Memphis Airport. While the trip was relatively short, the hassles of the flight and hauling all the gear that would see me through the first month or two had its effect. I wasn’t fatigued, rather wired and mostly apprehensive about this new and mostly foreign chapter in my life. I had attended private schools for all of my nineteen years and would describe my surroundings as cloistered and my life experiences as substantially limited… Athletics had given me my only real and meaningful outlet to the outside world.
As I was settling into the trip contemplating the Mississippi countryside I heard a baby cry. I was sitting midway down the aisle in a window seat, looked back and saw a lady breast feeding her baby right there in front of God and Country. The Mother looked back at me and smiled. I smiled back and watched for a few more seconds before turning around to give her some privacy. I had surveyed most of the other passengers on the half-filled bus noting that folks were just minding their own business, taking no real note of Mother and baby. It just was no big deal. I thought it was beautiful; an expression of the perfect love between Mother and Child and all of a sudden, everything was OK.
Now comes a very public and self-serving Grumet who may be indifferent/oblivious to or ignorant of the ultimate needs of son Aram. For me, it sensationalizes and turns something sacred into yet another prurient video bite.
Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow with whom I have little in common save our mutual love of Brown University and the spirit of his opinion on this issue states, “This is self-centeredness at its worst, sold as good parenting. And this is an act of media violence against a child, committed by adult journalists who also commandeered his will (as did his mother), for sensation and profit. Rarely do we get such evidence of how wrong parenting can go, how poorly journalists can behave and how slow we can be to recognize ugliness when it is disguised as something beautiful.”
Now what would Dr. Benjamin Spock say today? Probably, “Don't take too seriously all that the neighbors say. Don't be overawed by what the experts say. Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense.” Common sense, ah…
Ned Buxton

Sunday, May 6, 2012


An advertisement blared on Dallas, Texas TV this morning, Come celebrate Cinco de Mayo this Sunday, the sixth of May! Authentic food, bands… and so it went on and on ad nauseam.  One of my valued and very distinguished historian Friends of Mexican origins is somewhat amused at the type of attention paid to the celebration of Cinco de Mayo.  Mind you, he embraces it as a critical and revered part of the history of Mexico, but concerned since so many have no clue what the date represents or are under the false impression that Cinco de Mayo celebrates the independence of Mexico much like our Fourth of July.  Alas – no es verdad.
Now while we understand that folks like to party hearty at the drop of a hat and for whatever reason, (I do like a good margarita) let’s set the record straight.  We have no excuse but to embrace the truth of that date since most local TV, the Internet, social media and that final bastion of print journalism, the newspaper, are all finally trying to properly educate us. Correctly informed we will still have yet another occasion to celebrate – aye, the victory of liberty over tyranny. That date represents an event and the lynchpin experience that helped establish and foment in Mexico a crucial sense of national unity and patriotism, which despite all odds, allowed for their ultimate victory. Now, that’s powerful karma.
Truth: Cinco de Mayo commemorates the first Battle of Puebla in 1862 when a much smaller, though highly inspired and heavily fortified Mexican army defeated well-equipped and better trained French troops – perhaps part of one of the best armies in the world at the time.  What most will not tell you is that the Mexican army lost the critical Second Battle of Puebla on May 17, 1863.  The French eventually marched on to Mexico City sending the mostly progressive regime of Benito Juarez into exile.  The French installed Austria’s Maximilian as Emperor in 1964.  The war continued, though, and Maximilian’s run would only be until 1867 when he was executed for his indiscretions. Truth be known the fiasco known as the Second Mexican Empire really wasn’t his fault as much of the Mexican aristocracy supported the French invasion and the establishment of a monarchy.

Critical to this Mexican victory was the intervention of the United States. Once they resolved their regional unpleasantness (aka The Civil War) the US turned their attention to Mexico supporting the exiled regime of Benito Juarez.  The US sent 50,000 troops to the Rio Grande, demanded that the French withdraw their forces from Mexico, threatened to invade Mexico if they didn’t, supported the Republican Army of Benito Juarez and set up a naval blockade to prevent French reinforcements from landing.  Bottom line: While The French may have won early on the hostilities continued to 1867 when they were ultimately driven from Mexico and Maximilian was executed.

And what was the French aggression all about?  Money, of course. The Mexican government had defaulted on debts owed the French government (and other nations) with Napoleon III using that as a ruse to invade Mexico in an attempt to set a wedge against the Americans who were occupied with their own Civil War, to increase trade in the Americas and to dig for Mexican silver.

No doubt, the French defeat at First Puebla was the ultimate straw that broke the camel’s back as relates to the French intent and capacity to provision, resupply and ultimately support the Confederate States of America.  Historians now agree that First Puebla put the French off schedule for at least at year dooming the Confederate Cause. Yes, the Mexicans not only took their nation back, but influenced (aye, choreographed) the outcome of the U.S. Civil War and who we are as a nation today.  

And Mexican Independence? Unlike Cinco de Mayo this is a national holiday celebrated on September 16 and commemorates the declaration of independence (El Grito de Dolores) marking the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain in 1810.  Mexico ultimately threw off the shackles of Spain on September 27, 1821 and took their place among the community of nations.

Cinco de Mayo has become yet another economic opportunity, a highly commercialized event that ranks with other cultural celebrations like Oktoberfest.  Despite that, the day and event have seemingly transcended its original meaning and become a celebration of heritage and culture and that’s OK.  Let’s have a good time, aye, party hearty and use Cinco de Mayo as the catalyst to appreciate the cause of freedom and stimulate an appreciation and tolerance for all the diverse cultures in our midst.  That’s who we are and if you haven’t noticed lately, we are just one among the many.


Ned Buxton