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LJWorld.com weblogs Southern Perlo

Perlo bows to its readers and offers a rare peek at its back story

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Southern Perlo is a blog that is carefully crafted, independent, and listens to feedback. Lately, because Perlo has seen no cause for alarm in Barack's actions at the summit, readers have called its posts, “spin.” Southern Perlo is not interested in weak, unsupported arguments that don't weigh conclusions, ignore effects, and leave out facts. Perlo avoids the daily diet of spin offered by pundits and hacks. Southern Perlo really does enjoy promoting debate but disdains instant labels.

But Perlo was labeled spin when I suggested Barack's bow, as seen by the rest of the world by its own report, from heads of states to cab drivers and journalists, was not seen in the myopic way that many in the US saw the bow. I called the bow a bow. It was a bow. Most of Perlo's readers agree. Where many differ is in the meaning of that bow.

The position taken by Perlo is that, internationally, it was a tempest in a teapot. Perlo stated the bow was without meaning or signal to most citizens and heads of state who simply no longer look at the world through the old rules. Many readers disagreed. They insisted that the old rules still apply, and Barack had violated those rules.

Now, Perlo encourages an open conversation, it invites everyone to comment, it thrives on other points of view. Perlo is respectful, eager to look at any issue, including the bow, from all sides.

Yet, Perlo does not spin. Perlo is more like a justice who may agree with the decision/ruling/conclusion, but offers its own opinion and reasons for the ruling. When Perlo supports the majority, it concurs for its own reasons—not to hack, spin, conceal, or manipulate.

Perlo two main tools to analyze acts and ferret out meaning are history and culture.

Hence, the Obama bow was discussed in the content of Jordan's Queen Noor, who is seen in a photo with her hair up in a clip, her hand extended to a non-Muslim male--a huge violation of the rules of Islamic culture and tradition, for which some have been beheaded. Perlo looked at handshakes including Mandela and De Klerk's. When seen through the lens of history and culture, for Perlo, Obama's recent actions, lose much of their incitement.

To Perlo, these acts seem to be part of the changing course of history. Some readers agreed. Some didn't. Bearded Gnome from Des Moines was passionate in his defense of tradition, pointing to Barack's “inexperience,” and he offered a well defended position. RickL from Des Moines thinks I missed the point entirely and reminded readers of the importance of principles in guiding our national life. is afraid we are losing our freedoms as our thinking and leadership shifts. ----- in Montgomery wanted to know why the Administration just didn't admit that it was a bow.

Rzarbacker from Montgomery, AL thought Barack showed great leadership, and that “downright mean spiritedness” runs off of him like “water off a duck's back.” Iowana, from Des Moines, essentially shares his sentiments. Elmrmdd from Des Moines always makes me smile with his examples and comparisons, but doesn't think much of Barack's prospects or leadership, and thinks Barack's green energy policies might put us back in the “horse and buggy.”

Nashville, San Francisco, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Savannah have been silent, at least in Perlo's comments.

Now, every writer—and Perlo post—does have a back story, a loyalty that provides the motivation for what ends up in print. What shapes Perlo view, through, is not the desire to “spin,” but experiences of lived history. Perlo's conclusions have to do with the fact that I post from Charleston.

So, here's a rare peek behind the scenes at how life in Charleston influences Perlo's outlook, logic, style, and conclusions. In fact, it was a portrait of our first President, George Washington, painted in 1791, hanging in Charleston's city hall, inside the council's second floor chambers, that directed and impacted Perlo's thinking about the Obama bow.

Charleston has a larger than life-sized portrait of George Washington (16 feet tall) that Washington posed for. Washington is wearing a dress military uniform, with epaulets and gloves, his right arm extended, his hand resting on a brass walking stick, his size 16 feet in leather boots firmly planted on the terra firma of American soil.

Washington is standing on the shore of the Cooper River, and a boat is arriving to row him across the harbor to the city, whose distinct colonial American skyline of docks, buildings, houses, and churches are painted in the distance, below the towering Washington, on the far shore.

The portrait of Washington arriving in the city, commissioned by the city's father to commemorate Washington's actual visit to Charleston in May, 1791, also has a horse prominently featured in the painting. The image of the horse jars the viewer, and is the first hint that something is not quite right. The hind-quarter of the horse is facing forward, with the tail up. The head of the horse, facing to the rear, is laughing.

Think for a minute: to paint the first President, George Washington, and add a horse in the near background with its tail up sends a heck of a direct signal, undebatable, to all who are watching. Especially in the agrarian society of early America, a society in which manners had far more importance and impact than today. The painting violates every rule of decorum and respect. It slaps Charleston cold. It “disses” George. And it doesn't say much for the horse, either.

The regal, patriotic splendor and pride of this magnificent portrait is shredded and brushed away by this horse's hindquarters intruding under Washington's outstretched gloved hand, its tail up, for all to see.

James Trumbull, the son of a Connecticut governor who served with Washington in the Revolutionary War, who personally observed the battle at Bunker Hill and who was actually appointed Washington's personal aide, painted the portrait. He got Washington to pose, and after it was finished, Trumbull painted in the opaque horse with the tail up. The perspective down from the tail, through the horse's hind legs, is the city of Charleston--as defined by location of the steeple of the city's oldest and most prominent church directly beneath the tail! That steeple is in the same vertical plane as the place where the tail is attached, and with the impeding action signaled by the tail being raised. Those below should cover and duck.

That portrait appalled Washington. He wrote the city saying no horse was there when he posed. Washington apologized to the city despite the fact that he was impugned. That portrait was a statement by the artist which Charleston to this day has proudly ignored. In fact the city's fathers hung the portrait in city hall's council chambers after 1802. Today, it rises behind the mayor's desk, hung in full view of the nine member council's desks. It does not, however, signal that the city is full of crap. Nor does it mean the city approves of being the butt end of a bad joke. It is not a sign of disrespect to Washington or a judgment on his leadership. It is not an example of the inexperience of the city's fathers, who won the first battle of the American Revolution, fought more battles than any other state, and included signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Their decision to hang this portrait was not an endorsement of Charleston becoming a national laughing stock.

It does mean, that in this city, whether it was Washington's portrait or slavery, citizens have mastered the art of ignoring the obvious, getting worked up only over real substance, fighting about real issues of freedom, being independent and going your own way, and letting time handle the worts and flaws of life's bruises and brushes. It does mean that whatever anyone does or thinks, in the long arc of history the wisdom and will of God will prevail by faith, even by a faith faltering and mean-spirited over minor issues, blind to injustice, or aimed at unwitting targets.

As the descendant of a mother whose grandfather was a slave and whose granddaughter, my daughter, graduated from Dartmouth and Tuck (Dartmouth's business school, one of only six African-Americans in her class!), I have learned not to sweat the small stuff. I take the long view, and try to keep a sense of humility by looking forward through history.

And if in the culture of the times, that unique perspective, learned in a city governed by a mayor and council under a commissioned portrait of Washington whose horse's raised tail covers the city straddled by its legs, if that perspective of laughing lightly at foibles, cherishing even the moments of beguiling madness, yet knowing all things weigh out in the end—if that is spin--then I am happy to take the long view.

(And I can't find a picture of the portrait to post!)

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