Let’s rent (or buy!) Copperhead, which is being released today on DVD/BluRay.

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Bill Kauffman
Bill Kauffman was born on November 15 (also the birthday of Bobby Dandridge) in the otherwise forgettable year of 1959. He was an all-star Little League shortstop for the Lions Club Cubs but soon thereafter his talents eroded. After an idyllic childhood in his ancestral home of Batavia, New York, birthplace of Anti-Masonry, he was graduated from Batavia High School in 1977. He earned, more or less, a B.A. from the University of Rochester in 1981 and went therefrom to the staff of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the only dairy farmer in the U.S. Senate. Two and a half years later he left Moynihan’s staff a bohemian Main Street anarchist who loved the Beats, the New England transcendentalists, early 20th century local colorists (Sarah Orne Jewett his Maine gal), cowpunk music, and the crazy old America. Neil Diamond and Karen Carpenter, too, but don’t tell anyone. He bummed around out west for a while, sleeping in bus stations and writing derivative poetry in Salt Lake City flophouses (nah, he’s not a Mormon, just a BYU fan) before an ill-starred year in graduate school at the UR. He took a seminar with Christopher Lasch and thought on it. In the spring of 1985 he flew west to become an assistant editor with Reason magazine. He had great fun in Santa Barbara with that crew of congenial editors drinking far into the night at Eddie Van Cleeve’s Sportsman’s Lounge, but in ’86 he flew east to become the magazine’s Washington editor. Always homesick, Kauffman persuaded his lovely and talented wife Lucine, a Los Angelena, to move back to Batavia in 1988 in what he called a “one-year experiment”—the year to be measured, apparently, in Old Testament terms. They’re still there—or, more accurately, five miles north in Elba (apt name for an exile!), where Lucine is Town Supervisor. She may well be the highest-ranking Armenian-American elected official in the country, at least until the voters of California send Cher to the U.S. Senate. Take that, Turks! Lucine and Bill have a daughter, Gretel, 17, who writes and acts and plays piano and French horn. Their lab mutt, Victoria, whose tail graces the accompanying photo, is now departed, to their sorrow, but a cat, Duffy, darts in and out of the house when the mood strikes. Bill is the author of nine books: Every Man a King (Soho Press/1989), a novel, which was recently rescued from the remainder bin by a New York Sun article proclaiming it the best political satire of the last century (the Sun thereupon set); Country Towns of New York (McGraw-Hill/1994), a travel book about God’s country; America First! Its History, Culture and Politics (Prometheus/1995), a cultural history of isolationism which Benjamin Schwarz in the Atlantic called the best introduction to the American anti-imperialist tradition; With Good Intentions? Reflections on the Myth of Progress in America (Praeger/1998), his worst-seller, a sympathetic account of critics of highways, school consolidation, a standing army, and the Siren Progress; Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Henry Holt/2003; Picador ppb. 2004), a memoirish book about his hometown which won the 2003 national “Sense of Place” award from Writers & Books; Look Homeward, America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchists (ISI/2006), which the American Library Association named one of the best books of 2006 and which won the Andrew Eiseman Writers Award; Ain’t My America: The Long Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle American Anti-Imperialism (Henry Holt/ Metropolitan/2008), which Barnes & Noble named one of the best books of 2008; Forgotten Founder: Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin (ISI/2008), a biography of a brilliant dipsomaniacal Anti-Federalist who warned us this was gonna happen; and Bye Bye, Miss American Empire (Chelsea Green/2010), a cheerful account of dissolution. Bill is a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for The American Conservative. He has written for numerous publications, including The American Scholar, the Los Angeles Times Book Review, The Nation, Chronicles, the Independent and The Spectator of London, Counterpunch, Orion, University Bookman, and Utne Reader. He is vice president of the Genesee County Baseball Club, which owns the Batavia Muckdogs of the New York-Penn Baseball League. Come summertime, he can be found in the 3rd base bleachers at Dwyer Stadium. He is also active in the officerless (of course) John Gardner Society. Bill is more handsome than the photo on this site would suggest. See books written by Bill Kauffman.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I recommend this unusual film.
    Here are some examples of the dialogue.
    Near the beginning of the film, for example, Republican Benjamin Wade is quoted as saying “anyone who quotes the Constitution in the present crisis is a traitor.” (Historian Frank Klement writes that Wade actually said that). Beech rightly is appalled by Wade’s statement. This sets the tone for the film.
    Later, Peter Fonda’s character, Avery, a Republican, has the following conversation with Abner Beech, the Copperhead:
    Avery: I don’t want to see politics tear our community apart.
    Abner: Already has.
    Avery: It’s your Democrats who have rent this country asunder.
    Abner: It’s Abraham Lincoln and his Republicans tearing us apart and the Constitution, closing down newspapers, putting critics in prison, enlisting mere boys to fight in his unconstitutional war.
    Avery: Well, what would you have President Lincoln do? The Rebs fired first at Fort Sumter.
    Abner: He should have let the South go. They have never harmed us.
    Avery: Not harmed us? No, they’ve split the Union in two, just so they could keep black men in bondage.
    Abner: I am not a slaver. I’ve never even seen a slave, but the Constitution says its none of York state’s business what Dixie does.
    Avery: And those slavocrats, they’re not satisfied with their little corner of the country. They want to expand, into Kansas, into Nebraska, into New Mexico. Good Lord, they wanted us to steal Cuba, too. How does that fit into your beloved Constitution?
    Abner: I am no party man. I’m no expansionist neither. I don’t want Cuba. Hell, I didn’t even want Texas. But I do not want our boys dying. And I don’t want the Constitution dying with’em.
    Avery: The Union, Abner. Doesn’t the Union mean anything to you?
    Abner: It means something. It means more than something. But it doesn’t mean everything. My family means more to me. My farm. The Corners means more. York State means more to me. And though we disagree, Avery, ye mean more to me than any Union. Good day to you.
    Avery: Good day, Abner.

    Later, Abner says this about war in general.

    Abner: War is a … it’s a fever, son. It’s a fever and you get head up, and the fever puts you out of your right mind, and you do things you wouldn’t do if you weren’t sick. You kill, you maim, lose sight of who you are, where you live. It’s like you got no kin no more. No neighbor. You lose … you lose your bearings, and you don’t know who you really are.

    Critics have panned the film for being slow (which it is in parts) and morally obtuse, but there is some wisdom in this unusual war film.

  2. Thanks for the tip. I wanted to see it in the theaters and I know it played at some theaters in the Landmark chain, but it didn’t make it to our three Landmark theaters in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I guess I have to apologize to all for renting it on Amazon Instant Video, which is about as non-localist as you can get.

    Enjoyed it. Extremely contemplative piece about a side of American history that doesn’t get talked about, much less taught, a whole lot.

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