their action was likely to be givennnational publicity by the media.nIn a word, what was involved — atnNantes and Carpentras — was an actnnot only of profanation, but of provocation:nnot only against a particularncommunity or against “respectable”nsociety, but against the notion of thendivine and all that is held to be sacred.nBut this question of the “sacred” andnof how it can be preserved, and civilizationnwith it, in an age of decliningnfaith — the problem that so preoccupiednAndre Malraux during his finalnyears — is so momentous that I shallnhave to return to it in a later letter.nHistorian and biographer Curtis Catenhas been a resident of Paris for manynyears.nLetter From thenLower Rightnby John She!ton ReednOfficial State BusinessnPerhaps you heard the howls (actually,nmore like hollers) a while back whennsome hapless Texas bureaucrat proposednthat the Lone Star State benknown henceforth on its license platesnas “The Friendship State.” You’ve got anfriend in Pennsylvania, according to thatnstate’s plates, but it sounds as if Texansnwant to check you out first. Texas is,nafter all, the state where a major-partyngubernatorial candidate recently observednthat we need to keep our gunsnbecause “We may have to march on thengovernment one day if it doesn’tnstraighten out.” It’s where anti-litternsigns say “Don’t Mess With Texas.”nSome of us — not just Texans—believenit’s bad enough that the state makes younregister your car without making it anmedium for tourist advertising.nActually, though, as Dallas columnistnMolly Ivins pointed out, “The FriendlynState” probably wouldn’t have raisednany hackles. Texans are friendly, for thenmost part, and don’t mind people’snsaying so. But many who would havenfound the adjective unexceptionablensomehow felt that the noun was anlittle — well, wimpy. Last I heard thensobriquet had been shelved, but thencontroversy was good for some laughsn44/CHRONICLESnwhile it lasted. Ms. Ivins evoked a fewnof them with reflections on the wholenbusiness of license plate slogans. Shensuggested, for example, “Oklahoma —nLand of Recruitment Violations.” Likenme, she believes that the only plate anreal man would put on his car voluntarilynis New Hampshire’s “Live Freenor Die.”nNorth Carolina’s sure isn’t one. Ournplates say “First in Flight,” which somen,of us believe is too easily construed asn”First to Flee.” This isn’t a happynrendering at best, and it’s especiallynunfortunate given that “Tar Heel” isnsaid to have originated as a reference tonthe staying power of North Carolina’snConfederate troops. Our plates used tonsay “First in Freedom,” a reference tonthe so-called Mecklenberg Declarationnof Independence. It doesn’t behoovenan employee of the state of NorthnCarolina to comment on the historicitynof that event (also commemorated onnthe state flag), but what we’ve done isnto drop a reference to a doubtful butninspiring event to commemorate thenundoubted but boring fact that twonbicycle mechanics from Ohio madenuse of one of our empty beaches to testntheir flying machine. At least “First innFreedom” used to annoy some of thenright people, one of whom put maskingntape over the slogan — and woundnup in court for it, which actually sort ofnproved his point. “First in Flight” isn’tnworth covering up.nAnyway, last year one of our legislatorsnproposed an equally bafBing exercisenin banality, when he introduced anbill to make something called the Plotthoundnour Official State Dog. He wasnnot deterred by our past experiencenwith Official State totems, which hasnnot been altogether happy. Our O.S.nBird, for instance, is the mockingbird, anstanding — or flying — contradictionnof the state motto, Esse quam videro,n”To be and not to seem,” a bird whosensweet song disguises a foul dispositionnand obnoxious habits.nIn any case, the Plotthound billndidn’t get very far, largely because nonone had ever heard of this animal.nWhen it was revealed that the creaturenis German, one commentator askednwhether anyone knew what part ofnGermany it comes from, hindng darklynthat we might be about to elevate ancommunist dog to Official State status.n(This was before the Bedin Wall camennndown.) Once the subject was broached,nchampions of other dogs camenforward (the blue tick hound had annumber of partisans), and the debatenkept our legislature from doing anythingnfoolish for days on end.nFor my part, I think we’ve justnscratched the surface here, and I hopenour legislators will put their minds tonthis O.S. matter. An O.S. Food, ofncourse: pork barbecue (with tomatonoptional, to prevent civil war). Butnthat’s too easy; we need something tonkeep our legislators busy for a longntime. How about an Official StatenDisgrace? I suggest the North CarolinanState University basketball program.nOnce you get started, it’s hard tonstop. Why not an Official State Roadkill?nThe sleeping drunk is a possibilityn(longtime readers of these letters maynrecall that North Carolina leads thennation in lying-in-the-road deaths), butnif the legislature balks at that there’snreally only one other candidate. Thenskunk has a way of pressing its claim,nbut for sheer numbers the possum hasnno competition. Other states may feelnthat they have an equal or greater rightnto the possum (Texas has the armadillo,nof course), but come on: wenthought of it first.nAnd every state needs an OfficialnState Bug. We can leave the boll weevilnto Mississippi, the fire ant to Georgia;nlet the Land of a Thousand Lakes haventhe mosquito, Maine the black fly,nNew York the cockroach. North Carolinanstill has all sorts of possibilihes.nSome homeowners, for instance,nmight nominate the termite. Perhaps itnwould be some consolation when yournfloor caves in to know that the OfficialnState Bug has been on the job. There’snalso a case to be made for the blacknwidow spider: most years we lead thennation in spider-bite deaths. (I know,nspiders aren’t insects. That’s why I saidn”bug.”) But my own nominee wouldnbe the common tick. We have a specialnclaim to that critter, too, since we’renalways #1 in Rocky Mountain spottednfever cases. And just think: if we madenthe tick our Official State Bug, nextntime we redesign our license plates wencould make them say “First in RockynMountain Spotted Fever.”nJohn Shelton Reed is a Tennesseannwho has lived in North Carolina fornthe last 21 years.n