Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ranking Brutality

Yesterday driving to work some NPR report said that Romney had spent over a billion bucks in his 2012 Presidential campaign. The idea was that this time around, any serious candidate is going to spend (or have spent in their behalf) way more than that. That means Mr. Trump can only run maybe three times on his own nickel. This is the world that Citizens United gave us, not that it wasn't already slouching in our direction since some historically opaque birthing moment deep in the Reagan years of darkness. And the principle was already well in view long before Reagan managed to achieve national traction when Mr. Carter was so taken aback by the Iranian revolutionary mob's kidnapping of the American Embassy in Teheran that he lost his Presidential stature altogether. (Never mind that the Reagan boys also made a deal with the Iranians to not muddle up the sparkling October of 1979 with any confusing hostage releasing.)

So I wondered, driving along, was the guy from ISIL who pontificated on TV whist cutting off the head of an American journalist actually any more brutal that the American dentist who paid some guys to lay a dead animal carcass across a car hood just outside the protected animal preserve in Zimbabwe, and then laid in wait till an almost tame lion with a radio collar and a fucking name came out of his sanctuary to investigate the delicious aromas, and then shot that lion, and badly, with a crossbow, and then finally two days later put the dying animal down with a rifle. I know we're supposed to see ISIL as the absolute worst, and they are, if you like, the absolute worst. But as far as beheadings go, the Saudis do that too, and quite a lot of it. And as far as innocence goes, Cecil the lion was about as innocent as you can get. You'd think some flicker of something would have passed briefly across that dentist's brow. This isn't even Hemingway's decrepit century, who when you think about it wasn't all that romantic about killing wild African animals, and who wrote a whole book about the ashes at the end of the hunt, called Old Man and the Sea.

I hope Zimbabwe gets their chance to put the monumental brute on trial. He can have his lawyers. Let's hear Mark O'Mara's brilliant defense. There must be one. The white-hunter dentist is a character actually come to life. Terry Southern invented him, Jean-Luc Godard refined him. How far we've come.

Last night Hannity decided to run short clips of all the Rethug candidates stating their "positions" on various matters. Aside from Trump, who's position is basically I am Trump, hear me roar, which is yet another transliteration of the basic fascist principle, which is the membrane between ideas and action: "my first act, upon election, will be to kill you," the rest of the craven, sordid lot just recited the old time-worn broken principles. I will cut taxes. No, I will cut taxes. Santorum, who's only job for the past five years has been running, for which he is and must be handsomely paid by some billionaire or other, added that he thought we needed to spend a lot more on the military.

I could watch but briefly. I was still recovering from the magnificent film I watched the night before, First Name, Carmen. By gawd, that's a movie. It even ends with a statement, "In Memoriam the last small movie." A great double feature would be Le Chinoise, then First Name, Carmen. Godard always wants to make movies you have to think about, you have to think "in." They are never "entertainments," places to go to just lose yourself and watch. If you don't think about what's going on in a Godard movie, you will be lost and bored. If you engage with him, it's another matter.

It's not like Carmen isn't funny. Godard himself has a wonderful role playing somewhat himself but as a man who's pretending to be ill and living in a nursing facility, hiding out from his job as movie director. The Godard character is introduced in a scene where the staff is telling him that if he doesn't show some symptoms of illness he will be evicted. "This isn't a hotel," a doctor intones. After the upper staff leaves and a nurse comes to putter around his night table, he says to her, "If I stick my thumb up your ass and count to thirty-three, will I develop a temperature?" It took me a while to realize that this was an erudite medical joke: a patient would be receiving the rectal thermometer from the nurse, who would count to keep track of how long it needed to stay in place. Ah ha.

Carmen the film is as beautiful as any Godard ever made. It is punctuated with scenes of the ocean at the shore, including the shore sounds, waves, gulls, the water as sparkling and translucent and "real" as if you were there, with the warm sand between your toes. Then there are recurring scenes of passing trains on a bridge over an urban river, perhaps Paris. They rumble towards each other, pass, one behind the other, vanish. The city sparkles behind, the water below. It is of course night. A string quartet also recurs, practicing a late Beethoven quartet. One of its members seems to be unrequitedly in love with the protagonist, a love-struck soldier boy who falls for the heroine, Carmen, as she's shooting up the bank he's guarding. At the end of the movie Godard appears and calls "wrap." He's been kicked out of the nursing home.

The laughable Republican field might as well be the cast of a Godard film. They are all of them absurd. Only Trump has some reality. Only Trump can dare to say anything he wants. He could say the thumb up the ass line to an earnest female reporter who tries to seriously interview him about "positions," or he could say, laughing, "Positions? We don't need no stinking positions." He could even say "Praxis, you talkin' about praxis?" He's willing to be what he is, a pompous blowhard who thinks money proves it all. He is the embodiment of the whole Republican grounding principle, the actualization of the dictum. The rest of them like to shout that money proves it all, then whisper "so give me some." Trump is the principle in action. Trump, and that lion-shooting dentist. As Reagan famously said, "I bought this microphone."

That would be a meditation for a Godard movie, wouldn't it? Reagan, of course, did not buy the microphone. His backers, who back in the day preferred to stay anonymous, bought the microphone. Romney was the first billionaire who emerged into the spotlight. Once there, he immediately gave up too much. We're the makers, they're the takers. Too bad Waylon was gone:

"He'll do her, in ways that I never, damned if he won't do her wrong."

Now it's four years later, and Trump can probably formulate Romney's rich guy credo in such a way as to bring cheers. I read this morning he's leading, among Republican candidates, amongst Hispanics. As Trump has said, "They love me."

The other thing I read this morning was that Hillary has finally decided to start kicking ass. Yesterday she spoke to the Urban League whilst Jeb Bush was waiting back stage:

In a biting pre-emptive attack delivered as Mr. Bush, the former Florida governor, waited backstage here at the annual convention of the National Urban League, Mrs. Clinton portrayed him as a hypocrite who had set back the cause of black Americans.

Mrs. Clinton, a Democratic candidate for president, latched onto Mr. Bush’s campaign slogan and the name of his “super PAC” — “Right to Rise,” his shorthand for a conservative agenda of self-reliance and hope — and turned it into a verbal spear.

“People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care,” Mrs. Clinton said to applause from conventiongoers, a dig at Mr. Bush’s opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

“They can’t rise if the minimum wage is too low to live on,” she said, a jab at his opposition to raising the federal minimum wage....

Jeb's people were unhappy. They said she was being "uncivil." We paid for that lion, they said. Documents were properly stamped. As Digby recounts:

On Twitter, Tim Miller, Mr. Bush’s communications director, called it a “Clintonesque move to pass over chance to unite in favor of a false cheap shot.”

We paid for that lion. It was not a false cheap shot. If they can just get Trump to go away they can have a campaign on their own terms, the terms of cant and misogyny and veiled racism and makers versus takers. They've got the whole Fox Network, and apparently MSNBC is now going to join the chorus. In truth, there isn't a media network that isn't controlled by billionaires. Even PBS gives David Brooks a weekly voice, and it is said that Wall Street backs Hillary.

Godard was right. In memoriam, the last small movie. These days we're in the big time. The problem remains, same as it ever was. Best we can do is stave off the brutes. Otherwise we'll live it the hard hard way, even if the brutes feel the wheels of justice just as much as the rest of us. Go watch A Woman in Berlin, or the Marriage of Maria Braun. There is an aftermath, and the sharks feast until there is nothing left but the ragged bones.

Along with Carmen on the disk from Netflix was another Godard film, Passion. It's star is Hanna Shuygulla, the star of Maria Braun. It's another movie about making a movie. There are many beautiful women, often unclothed. There is some sort of tangled relationship of several. At the end most of the characters decide to drive off to Poland. It has started to snow. In France, snow is very beautiful, just like the women. Poland perhaps stands for reality, but certainly not for a lack of beautiful women. Ms Shuygulla is Polish. According to what I've read, the totalitarian regime there had just been overthrown as the film was being made.


Sunday Update

I found this link via Lawyers Guns & Money.

I really like Oreos now and again, so this is personal. How depressing. What a sad, sad story for America.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Introducing Fred

Fred starting coming around a few months ago. He seems to think he owns the place, a natural born junk yard dawg. Sometimes he'll bark at cars and trucks coming in, if they offend his sensibilities. He's actually very sweet however, and never threatening to people. He's also somewhat laughable-looking, an almost miniature German Shepard, the right coat and face and ears, but short-legs that came from some other place. He's young, healthy, athletic. Nothing bad has happened to him yet, although he skirts the line mighty close. Couple of weeks back he went chasing full speed down the road behind a truck, and started to get over in the opposite lane for some reason, only spotting an oncoming vehicle at the last moment and getting back in his own lane. He disappeared around the curve close behind the truck. Someone said later on it might have been the man who lets him stay under his porch, just down the road from us. Fred is well-fed and seems clean of ticks. I wish he had a collar and some tags, but that's often not the country way with dogs. People just sorta "let them be." It's rumored that Fred has killed at least one chicken. That's also skirting the very edge. He's fast. It'd be doggy fun to catch and kill twenty of 'em, just like a cat in a mouse run. So I keep waiting for him to run into his fate, but although there'll be a week of no-show, so far he's returned. He was out where I park yesterday, and I gave him a pet and wished I had a biscuit for him. Then I took this picture.

Over by the fence, where the railroad rolls past with its short haul of tankers and grain cars, there's one stalk of corn growing up amongst the rusting wood stoves and a porcelained sheet mangle from the '40s. Prices are dropping bad right now in steel, to the point that it's going to be hardly worth the gas to haul a pickup load to us. For some reason, all metals are getting cheaper right now. I tell people at the window that it's just like gas. Gas, for the moment, has dropped too. It's only "just like gas" in the broad sense that metal prices are commodity prices, just like gas and corn.

Kids walk up and down the railroad track sometimes, looking for stuff to pick up, including discarded iron spikes. They don't know we can't buy any railroad iron. It's a law. The railroad owns all its stuff, whether it's tossed to the side or driven into a tie, forever. A year from now a special train will come past, with a special arm attached, and the arm will reach down and scoop up some rail or whatever, and toss it into the hopper that it rides on. Then the train will roll on, out of sight. I love the opportunity to watch the railroad operations. We used to get long trains of coal hoppers, rolling down to the power plant in Moncure. But coal is dirty, and the utility has closed that plant now. It's only a few tanker cars, and some grain cars these days, and once every few months a hopper full of steel scrap from down in Sanford, at Lee Iron and Metal. We're on the Norfolk and Southern line.

There used to be so many great railroad lines. Last week I taped an hour show on the Rural Network that just followed the Nickel Plate Road back and forth for a year or two, 1959-1960, as the Nickel worked runs from some little town in Indiana over to Chicago. Some of the trains were pulled by the great Berkshires, marvelous steam engines and the last ones they made. Other trains were pulled by diesels, also beautiful, powerful machines. The Nickel line where the film was made featured something you don't see much: actual perpendicular crossings from the New York Central, at grade. That is, intersections! The guy who made the film caught a few crossings of NYC trains. That's a remarkable thing to see.

The fact that the Nickel and the NYC ran so close together was in the end a problem for both companies, in a world where President Eisenhower had initiated the interstate road system. Both passenger and freight hauling were slowly becoming dear. All across the country, railroads that had been thriving businesses were being financially stressed. Eventually, they almost all either merged, or died. The specific stories are sad and sometimes shocking. The Milwaukee Road, which ran from Chicago and Milwaukee to the Pacific northwest, built the best road there was. It was a day faster than its competitors because of better grades and less stops. The Milwaukee electrified too. Yet when it was driven out of business in the '70s, the whole road was scrapped out! That's like jack hammering up Interstate 40, because you can get there on I-10.

When somebody tells you how all we need is to elect some magnate like, say, Donald Trump, because he's already a proven success, keep in mind the railroad story. The big roads were all run by magnates, most of 'em bigger and more successful by many orders of magnitude, than Donald Trump can imagine. He builds golf courses and hotels. Look up James Hill sometime, or the Gould brothers. Donald Trump, like the Koch brothers, actually inherited his set-up. Yes, he kept working it, but he didn't start at the "bottom." All he does is meet to a T the bogus criteria for leadership that have been sold by a propaganda network to an America that is less and less able, apparently, to distinguish the outlines of truth from the blurs of fiction. We can all enjoy Mr. Trump hoist the Republicans on their petards, where they surely belong, a row of heads on pikes stretching over the far horizon. But since they have also toiled hard to rig the vote, we'll see what happens.

The long term goal of Republicans, and the oligarchs who operate the Republican levers behind the scenes, is the utter destruction of meaningful democracy in the United States. This democracy doesn't serve their interests. Or so they imagine. But maybe they're like Fred, chasing that truck and almost catching it, and thinking maybe he can even pass it, wouldn't that be a trick! Power is real. It also vanishes, sometimes, like a spring snow on the Santa Monica mountains.

This Berkshire is actually in a museum. I'm not sure that counts. And by the way, although governments built the highways that to an important degree killed both most rail passenger service and a lot of freight business as well, as our governments, state and federal, drift more and more towards some weakened nadir of taxation that serves only the oligarchs, we may see our once magnificent roads go the way of that marvel of speed and engineering, the Milwaukee Road between Washington State and the Dakotas. According to various reports some 50 percent of our highway infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Start building some bridges and watch the scrap steel prices rise again. Just sayin'.

From American Rails dot com:

The fact that the great railroad is no longer with us is not as disheartening as knowing how and why its end came about. Its loyal and hardworking employees through the end were sadly cheated by upper management, which made a series of dumbfounding decisions beginning in the 1970s that ultimately ended in the railroad being sold to a rival in 1985. Today, what's left of the Milwaukee is cut up among different railroads and the best engineered rail line through the rugged Rockies and Cascades is but weeds and trails, a vital transportation artery no longer available to shippers and the American economy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Time Changes Everything

That Merle Haggard performance, from 1984, in Richmond, Va, is perfection. Watch it a few times.

In 1984 I'd started working with a stone mason named Joe Kenlan, who taught me the finer points of building with stone, as well as a lot of things about building with conventional masonry materials such as cinder block and brick. (Later on in that decade I went to work for a bigger masonry outfit that constructed strip malls and factories, and found out I didn't know nothing about block and brick, but I learned quite a lot--enough to take jobs on my own building people's foundations.)

Before I started working with Kenlan I was working for a guy named Robin Garrett, who'd helped me build my cabin back in '79. Robin was an expert at log building. We tore down my cabin, which had been build in 1867, labeled the logs by where they were placed, moved the whole thing over here on my place in the most rickety hauling rig you can imagine. My truck was an old GMC that had been worn out when I bought it. I couldn't drive the haul above second gear without the front wheels bouncing off the pavement because of the tongue weight. The logs are twenty-two feet long, and oak. Chisel into them today and they look fresh dropped. We had one shot to get into the driveway, with momentum from the paved road. If we didn't make it the logs would have been sitting cross-wise at the bottom of the hill, with no way to get them to the site, which was over the hill and a third of a mile off the road. We made it.

Robin was a man who believed in his body. When we put the roof up, in the summer of '79, he stood on the top gable log and held the ridge plate over his head, arms fully extended, whilst me and my ex-wife Annie toe-nailed the first two rafters into the top plates. We didn't know shit about nailing anything, and bent a nail or two before we had the rafters somewhat secured. Robin, meanwhile, nailed the tops to the ridge plate with one hand, holding it all up at the same time, balancing thirty feet off the ground at the same time. There was no scaffold, no net, no nothing. Git'er done or die, that was Robin's way. He'd pulled the tin off the roof of the cabin by sliding down each piece and popping the nails as they went by, then stopping himself before he went over the edge.

I worked for Robin for a while after I'd left the Red Clay Ramblers, after I'd sat in the cabin in the dark for a couple of months in the winter of '81, after Annie had moved out. Robin liked music and went to a square dance in Chapel Hill. I started playing in the band that played that dance, and played for a group of semi-professional cloggers based in Chapel Hill. Robin hired a couple of those cloggers to work for him. He'd throw a music party now and then, and he'd get up on a high plank over nothing and clog. I met Libby at one of those parties, and we picked for hours together, and I got her name wrong and had it in my address book that way when we finally had a kind of date and found there were sparks, and we still laugh at that old entry in the tattered book that's still sitting in a drawer under the phone. As well as working on a cabin restoration job, me and the other clogging carpenters helped him build a shop on his place. I was doing that job when Kenlan called me up and offered me the stone work gig. Kenlan had heard, probably from Robin, that I was building a stone chimney for myself. After I worked with Kenlan for a few months I started doing prettier stone work at home. I also borrowed some of his scaffold to get the top part done, and that was finished up after Libby and I got married in January of '84, on my birthday.

Libby had been a friend of Priscilla, Robin's wife. They'd worked in Chatham County Social Services for a while. Robin and Priscilla had a little girl, but they had a rocky relationship, and Priscilla lived in her own cabin, on their piece of land. After Libby and I got our family going I got past working for Kenlan and started working for myself. I didn't see much of Robin, but heard he'd moved to Florida for a while, doing something with boats. A month or so back we heard tell that Priscilla had died a couple of years ago. Libby looked her up on the internet and sure enough, it was true. She was born same year as me.

In the process of that bit of research we also found out Robin had died this past year. I'd heard he was sick. He'd thrown a party last summer and a guy who went told me it was kind of a fair well party, and he forbid anyone to ask about Priscilla, or to talk about his illness. I guess people played fiddle tunes and danced a lot. I didn't go, although I was invited.

Time flies. I'm sitting here in the kitchen this morning looking at the old logs we put in place back in '79. We nestled the cabin in amongst the big oaks here, and some of them are too big now, and one big twin up and died last summer, and another one over hangs the cabin and looks to be dying from the way it's putting out suckers. Gonna have to get some tree guy out here this fall, after the leaves have dropped. Firewood city!

Robin would chop firewood like he did everything else, like a banshee. He'd set out a bunch of rounds and run around with an axe, splitting them all up. He did everything on the run, and usually stoned. One of the problems with that way of working was, he had a lot of moments, usually after lunch, when he'd go "Oh, shit." He'd forgotten something or other, and some of the morning's work would have to come down and be redone. His skill and native genius made up for a lot of that, and good luck with picking clients. He picked us.

He picked the cabin too, and that roof he is working on is still sound, 35 years in. The tin needs painting. That's probably thanks to acid rain.

Now go back and watch that Merle video again. You will never see anything better. That's what a live performance is. That great fiddler has passed away now. Hag loves his band. If you look at his different shows on Youtube, you'll watch them growing old with him.