Monday, March 31, 2008

Monkey Island Jackson Zoo

Many Mississippians fondly remember the Monkey Island Castle at the Jackson Zoo. Monkey island was in a pond between the alligator and duck pond exhibits. Near the center of the zoo, Monkey Island featured a small-scale fantasy castle inhabited by a troupe of live monkeys. It was quite a spectacle with monkeys climbing all over the castle structure.

As best as I can tell, Monkey Island was constructed sometime before WWII as a part of a WPA project that included many structures at the Zoo and Livingston Park. I believe Hubert Carmichael was director at the time. Like many of the older zoo structures, Monkey Island was made from sandstone quarried near Raymond, MS.

For a long time there was a rumor the zoo shut down Monkey Island because someone with tuberculosis spit into the water and infected all the monkeys. This isn't true. The Zoo moved the monkeys off Monkey Island sometime before 1980 because it was no longer safe to enter the inside of the castle where the monkey's night-time cages were held. Originally, zoo keepers entered the castle from a hidden entrance in the duck pond, through a tunnel that opened inside the castle. When the exhibit was no longer suitable for holding monkeys, the zoo started exhibiting pink flamingos there since entrance to the castle wasn't necessary.

Many people don't realize the clever way the zoo used water. Near Capitol street there was a well, which happened to be the highest point of elevation in the zoo. From the well, water flowed to the old sea lion exhibit, then to the alligator exhibit, monkey island and finally to the duck ponds where waste water exited the zoo into the sewers.

Monkey Island was one of my favorite memories from childhood. So much has changed over the years that I'd like to build a scale model of Monkey Island as it originally appeared.

If you have any information or especially photographs of Monkey Island, please contact me at:

Visit the Jackson Zoo Website:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Viet Nam 40 Years Later

The preponderance of opinion calls the Viet Nam war unnecessary and avoidable. I'm not so sure about that.

Wars, particularly wars involving the United States, don't just happen. They are the result of conflicts between vast and often uncontrollable forces. Sometimes, the larger and longer the war, the more unavoidable they were.

When we entered the Viet Nam conflict, the communists conspiracy, the communist threat and the domino theory were all very real. Even though the relationship between the Soviet Union and China had broken down, communism was still spreading throughout Asia and had we not checked it in Viet Nam, we surely would have faced it in Thailand or India.

Had communism conqured Asia, it surely would have spread to Africa, and South and Central America as well, leaving the United States and western Europe isolated and vulnerable.

Confronting the communist revolution in Viet Nam slowed its spread long enough for people around the world to soberly consider whether communism was really right for them or not. The global economy was recovering from world war two at a sufficient pace to give people in the developing world hope that they could provide for their people without resorting to the false claims of global communism.

We lost the war in Viet Nam, but the war was never about Viet Nam. It was about the rest of Asia and the rest of the world--and that war we won.

Without a doubt there were excesses and abuses committed by the American forces in Viet Nam, but these excesses and abuses were exceptions to our policy and many were prosecuted as crimes by the United States. Compare our actions to the tactics of the Viet Cong and and the Khmer Rouge and it's clear to see we were on the side of reason and right in this conflict.

No one wants to go to war. It's a horrible, brutal, inhuman thing. As a race, as a species, we work every day to develop ways to prevent war, but this is a goal we haven't reached yet and hadn't reached when the United States entered the conflict in Viet Nam.

We regret everything that happened because of the Viet Nam war and everything we had to do in it, but the world really is a better and safer place because of it.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Charlie Ross Exploits Soldier's Misfortune

Charlie Ross is running for a seat in the US House of Representatives from Mississippi.

His latest television commercial features a young marine expressing his support for Ross and his position on the military. The spot opens with a broad shot of the marine from head to foot, wearing a USMC t-shirt and shorts. I mention the shorts because in particular you notice the young man's prosthetic leg. Presumably he lost it in Iraq.

Ross is a conservative and himself a veteran of the Gulf War so he has good reason to show his support for the military, but I question how he goes about it with this ad. The way the ad is shot, expressly showing the Marine's prosthetic leg, boarders on the exploitation of a wounded vet.

If they didn't want to emphasize the prosthetic leg, then why dress the marine in shorts? Why not have him in uniform? Why begin and end the commercial with long shots showing the prosthesis? Why not let the soldier's message stand on its own without drawing attention to his wounds?

The marine is well-spoken and has a message worth listening to. He never mentions his leg or being wounded, but it's hard not to notice. He's a good looking young man and clearly sincere about his service to his country. Anyone of good conscious will feel sympathy for his loss and pride for his courage.

Ross is known as a very aggressive politician and this ad is aggressive, too much so for my taste. I felt manipulated by the ad and angry at the Ross campaign for the way they made it. For me, it was shocking, disrespectful and unnecessary.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Mississippi State Flag

Let's not miss the point here. It's not a matter of perceptions of the state or whether businesses locate here or anything but a matter of right and wrong and in this case it's just wrong to keep a symbol that over one third of the state finds profoundly and personally offensive.

The argument that the confederate battle flag represents southern white culture is specious. The confederacy was a short and extremely painful chapter in the history of white southerners and for black southerners it's a reminder that some men gave their lives and their fortunes to keep them enslaved.

Waving the confederate battle flag says "We lost the war but we were right to fight it." That's just bullshit. Mississippi fought on the wrong side of the civil war and we paid a profoundly deep price for it. The confederate battle flag is not a symbol of pride, it is a warning to any man who might put himself above another and the dire consequences that can come of it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage and the Law

This same sex marriage thing is a no-brainer.

There are social and religious issues surrounding this subject but the only one we can decide with any stability is legal issues. It really is a legal issue, not a religious one, and as a legal issue there can be only one answer--to make homosexual and heterosexual marriages legally equal.

In our culture we define marriage as a mutually agreed on union of two people and only two people. No outside person can intrude into this union so my marriage is different from every other marriage as they are different from each other. Each one is a unique and isolated case with no tangible impact on any other marriage.

It would be different if homosexuals wanted to horn into other marriages or force people to enter same-sex marriages but they don't. They want to form their own mutually agreed upon marriages, completely separate from every other marriage.

The question of whether homosexuality is a sin is moot in this argument. In our country sin and law are completely separate as described by the the constitution. For instance: there is no law regarding keeping the sabbath or worshiping idols, both of which are listed in the ten commandments. If we were going to incorporate sin into law you'd think these would be first on the list.

We can and do allow religious groups to make their own determinations about marriage independent of the law. For instance: catholics don't recognize legal divorces. If a divorced person gets remarried but doesn't have their first marriage annulled, then the Catholic church doesn't recognize their new marriage, but it has no impact on the legal status of the marriage.

This could be a model for same-sex marriages. Some religious groups would recognize them and some wouldn't based on their own interpretation, but before the law they would be the same as all other marriages.

There is also the constitutional issue of equal protection to consider. If the state doesn't recognize same-sex marriages then how can they say they offer equal protection to homosexuals?

Trying to decide issues of law based on the concept of sin is a very slippery slope and one our founders provided us an escape from by separating church and state.

There are social repercussions to this legal issue but the social concept of marriage and family were experiencing huge changes long before we brought the issue of homosexuality into it.

We passed the point of no return a long time ago when circumstances made it possible for women to survive without marriage. Marriage used to be a matter of survival, now it's a matter of choice and the only question is how we define it in the future, and like-it-or-not, that future includes the social, and more importantly, legal rights of homosexuals.

Official Ted Lasso