Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Junior Wins Martinsville

We drove up to Martinsville in the early dawn on Sunday, leaving before much light. We'd paid a bit extra so we could go to some events with drivers in the morning, and the events included free coffee and doughnuts. Then we would get to go onto the actual track and watch driver intros, and stroll around touching close to the cars and pits. It was pretty darn fun. Libby bumped fists with almost all the drivers as they walked to the pickup trucks that they parade around the track in, before the ceremonies crescendo into the fly over and the roar of the engines and that faint sweet smell of the fuel mix. I stood a little back during the fist-bumping, but I think Kyle Busch saw my Interstate Battery 18 cap, and Miss Danica was lovely up close in her green sunglasses with the real gold frames, which I'd expect she put away before she put on her helmet. I mentioned those glasses to Libby and she said, well yes, Danica has a nice sunglasses line. But of course. People get on Danica, but there's not many models can drive a race car, and she can do that for real. As usual she did a fine job of the race, working her way up towards the front and past her relatively rookie boyfriend Stenhouse, although she got caught up in a late wreck involving Keselowski slowing down suddenly when something broke on his rocket and setting up an accordion wreck that left Kasey Kahne and Casey Mears smoking and still on the front stretch, and a silent few moments when the ambulances drove up, until the two guys climbed out their windows and waved ok to the crowd.

The two Palin cousins who were drinking beer just below us in the stands, and cheering wildly for Junior, gave her the finger when she limped past on her last lap, front wheel broken, to go behind the wall for good. The skinny one had some kind of cat's paw print tattoo behind her ear. But it did turn out that Junior won, which was great for everyone. Deal is, particularly in the south, at Martinsville and Darlington and Charlotte, Richmond and Bristol, Junior is everybody's favorite. Indeed, you can have a favorite, and still root for Junior too. In the driver intros we got to watch, Junior got three times the volume of whoops as any one else. Same, earlier, in the crowd Q&A sessions. During that, Junior said he never wanted to own a race team, but that he planned on racing till he's 80. Ten better than Mick said on Cavett, way back. Who knows, it might come true. In the Q&A we also got to listen to the new kid, Kyle Larson. This year the big deal rookie is one of the Childress grandkids, Austin Dillon, who affects a big Stetson like Richard Petty and swaggers without even knowing it. As Kyle pointed out modestly, he is eighty points up on Master Austin. Just sayin'.

So anyways, after 500 laps, Junior won, first time. The fall Martinsville race commemorates, for his team owner Rick Hendricks, a horrible even ten years ago, when a plane carrying much of his family and friends crashed killing them all, on the approach to the Martinsville airport. Fog or something. He lost his twin nieces, his brother, his son, and a number of folks who worked for him. Ten. Junior said after the race that he knew sorta what that felt like. Jimmie Johnson said his wife was supposed to be on that plane, but got delayed at the last minute. It means a lot for a Hendricks driver to win at Martinsville, as they frequently do. Junior did a heartfelt burnout as you can see. Everyone left happy. Except for Harvick I mean. Harvick was pissed off and said that if he didn't win, neither would Kenseth, who had lost his footing in turn one (just below us) and collected Harvick as well. Junior said, before the race, that there's no point in getting mad at Martinsville. All the cars bang against each other.

Monday after a bleary work day I early voted. It was a relief. The Republicans think the voters are so stupid, it's reason in itself to vote all Democratic. Right now they're running incessant ads by a geezer named Randy Owen who once was a southern rock star in the band Alabama. He says absolutely nothing that might be construed as an actual reason to vote for Tillis, the crew-cut Republican badass who's trying to take Hagan's seat. "Just feels so right," he sings, over and over. Must have been one of his big "hits," back in the '70s. They played the damn thing three times running between innings last night in the KC/SF game. No doubt only in NC. Strikes me that the GOP in North Carolina has a bit of worry, otherwise why spend the money.

In the larger world, things go on. Here's something I read:

This morning I also read, on our local TV website, that there's a big Southern Baptist gathering going on, and the faithful are being exhorted to "hold the line" against same-sex marriage. No doubt the faithful will imagine that Mr. Tillis is doing just that. Meanwhile, the faithful will carry on, having affairs, divorcing, chuckling at their old neighbor the florist who's just a little "light in the loafers," and ordering the flowers for the next wedding and/or funeral from him.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Vote for Kay Hagan?

Here's a long quote from Charles Pierce, yesterday:

And then there was Trey Gowdy, who's supposed to be pumping hot air into the Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI! balloon, but who took off his kangaroo suit for the afternoon and favored us with his Sam Drucker imitation.

"Why in the world did the president pick a dadgum lawyer?" Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, asked at the hearing, pointing out that Klain doesn't have a background in communicable disease, infectious disease, or West Africa. "If this were an outbreak of people who don't have wills in West Africa, or if this were an outbreak on contested elections in West Africa, then I'd say yeah, go hire Mr. Klain," Gowdy conintued. "But it's not. It's a medical crisis."

Oh, put a sock in it, Gomer. Like you wouldn't be saying the same damn thing if the president had put Hippocrates in charge. Would you like a list of highly qualified people whom the president has sent up into the monkeyhouse whom you and the other goobers wouldn't confirm. Wait a second. I'll get back to you after this Jason Chaffetz guy finishes his remarks.

"Why not have the surgeon general head this up?" Chaffetz asked in a Wednesday appearance on Fox News. "I think that's a very legitimate question. At least you have somebody who has a medical background whose been confirmed by the United States Senate...It begs the question, what does the surgeon general do? Why aren't we empowering that person?"

And we arrive, finally, at the deepest part of the tangle. We don't have a Surgeon General at the moment. The president sent up Dr.Vivek Murthy as his nominee for the post almost a year ago. Murthy's credentials are impeccable, Gomer. The reason he hasn't been confirmed is that Murthy has been outspoken on the obvious fact that firearms in this country are a public health issue. Whereupon the National Rifle Association announced that it would be "scoring" the vote on Murthy's confirmation, which was enough to scare the Congress into putting the nomination on ice. And, by the way, the only senator who has admitted putting a "hold" on Murthy's nomination is Senator Aqua Buddha, the brogressive hero from Kentucky and The Most Interesting Man In Politics (tm/Time, Inc.).

"In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence," wrote Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home... Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."

So we don't have a Surgeon General at the time of Ebola because of the NRA, which has dedicated itself to making sure that there are enough guns floating around so that Jaylin Fryberg could get his hands on one and shoot up a cafeteria.

Several students identified the shooter as Jaylen Fryberg. Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot. He said he believes one of the victims was his friend since kindergarten. Freshmen Brandon Carr, 15, and Kobe Baumann, 14, said they were just outside the cafeteria when the shooting happened. "We started hearing these loud banging noises, like someone hitting a trash can," Carr said. They heard screaming and yelling. "Once I knew it was gunshots, we just booked it," Carr said. They eventually joined about two dozen kids inside of a classroom with police and FBI. Police told them to stay in there. "Everybody in the classroom was just freaking out crying," Carr said. Eventually, they were told they could leave, and were loaded onto buses.

Isn't it wonderful when news stories sing in harmony?

This accurate account of some amazing double-talk being spouted by Republicans is plenty enough reason to keep Kay Hagan in the US Senate as North Carolina's sane representative. Let me add one more bit of the same brand of vile. Early this week the Time-Warner company ran an alleged "debate" between Mrs. Hagan and her Republican opponent, Tom Tillis. Mrs. Hagan had been invited to this "event" in July and had declined, having already agreed to three debates with Tillis, which she appeared at previous to this "event." When the co-sponsors of the "event," the Raleigh News and Observer and the Charlotte paper learned that Mrs. Hagan would not be attending, they dropped their co-sponsorship. Oh, also and possibly relevant, Time-Warner is a significant contributor to the Tom Tillis campaign, according to reports.

This one-hour political advertisement for Tillis, falsely presenting itself as a "debate" which for some reason Mrs. Hagan had "no-showed" at the last minute, ran on the televisions of those who subscribe to cable service via Time Warner. Moreover, even ostensibly liberal media such as the Rachel Maddow show ran pieces tut-tutting at Mrs. Hagan for failing to attend--the usually sure footed Maddow apparently was not aware of the background for the alleged "debate."

So. Here's the deal. If I was you I would not vote for the blatantly mendacious side of a ballot. Go at the question from that level. And by the way, the Libertarian dip who's running in this race is being funded in large part by the Koch machine. Where's my Homer Simpson "doh" key? Cats must have kicked it under the cabinet.

I'm going to Martinsville tomorrow, and pulling for Brad Keselowski. I'd even buy his hat, but I hate "lite" beer and Redd's Apple Ale, his sponsors. Go Brad.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Trip to the Mountains

Our little combo played Friday night and Saturday morning up in Big Stone Gap, VA, at the Home Crafts Festival, which has been going on at Mountain Empire Community College for several decades now. We used to play a lot up in this general area, what should be called the State of Appalachia if the people who wanted all the abundant resources the area contained didn't make sure that a unified democratic voice emanating from the region was smothered by the amalgam of actual states which each contain bits and pieces of Appalachia and control their bits from fairly afar. On the way to Big Stone Gap you pass through some of the most romantic scenery in the world, and if you look close (not a good idea if you're driving, because there's a sharp curve with a 10 degree grade coming up p.d.q.) you'll glimpse some mountains with "removed" tops, and now and then drive under a tipple hauling off the scenery for Mr. Peabody's next coal train, the 3:19. The L&N, however, don't stop here anymores.

The crafts part of the craft festival is what these things have become these days. There are sprinkles of true Appalachian home crafts. I saw some really nice hand-made brooms, for example. There are plenty of booths featuring geegaws from other lands as well, and there was a sample Ram truck from this year's crop to admire if you've got the money for a machine that will like all such wear seriously out in some number of years, money that used to buy a good-sized house. But on the other hand, we've all gotta have wheels or resort to walking. Merle can wish all he wants about a Ford and a Chevy, but like I sang on Saturday morning, the money keeps getting smaller and the rent keeps going up. This is a way of keeping the real timbers in view in the land of the curio shoppe.

The music was great. Dale Jett and his band was there. Dale is carrying on the real Carter Family sound, because he is a real Carter, son of A.P.'s daughter Janette. Tom T. Hall has even made a film about Dale, called the Dale Jett Story. Check it out. The amazing Ed Snodderly was also there. His songs are really wonderful. I got to listen to him from the audience, as it was some time before I had to go back stage and get myself in mind to play. He sang a song which referenced Charles Bukowski, which is as cool a thing as my bandmate Mike Craver's mention of Wittgenstein in a song he wrote some years back. I cornered Ed about the Bukowski thing after his set, partly just to see if I had heard right. Then we agreed that Post Office is a hell of a novel, and that it's kinda unfortunate that the documentary film about Bukowski features him kicking his girlfriend of the moment, as that kinda takes the edge of the romance that comes out of his work. It is important to note, at this point, that Robert Frost has his bunions as well.

Doug Dorshug was there doing the sound, and a great job it was. I had breakfast with him at the motel on Saturday morning, and we discussed the long-running memoir his old bandmate with the Highwoods, Walk Koken, was embarked on at the Old Time Herald. "I hope he doesn't get too deep in the details," Doug said. I mentioned the Bukowski documentary as an example of the problem. Maybe it's just part of the territory though. Philip Roth says that if you're going to write you can't expect to stay friends with your family. This most recent chapter of the memoir included the explanation for how Highwoods ended up at the Smithsonian Festival in 1973, which I was also at, playing my last gig with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, then riding off in Watson's red VW for the Red Clay Ramblers' first road trip. Ain't life strange. Here we were, 41 years later, sitting in a motel in Southwest Virginia, shooting the breeze about the good old days.

When I got home I ran into this essay about the rotten, pestilent heart of American conservatism. It should be required reading amongst the young, though there's so much to understand between the lines that it's possible that a lot more pre-requsite reading is actually demanded before true understanding can be achieved. They'd best get it soon. These wolves have been gnawing at the foundations for a damn long time, and if you aren't shocked by mountaintop removal, what does it take? Here's the link:

A couple of quotes:

In short, Frum actually thinks that conservatism means forcing the poor and middle-class to sacrifice government programs whose existence is, or may be, in their economic interest. And why? Near as I can figure, for the sake of making over the poor and middle-class into more agreeable objects of aesthetic contemplation for (wealthy) conservatives, whose tastes run to: Donner party-like look-alike doughty leatherstocking hard-bitten frontier-type workers (respectful hats in hand.) And the word for this aesthetic transformation is: making people free. And somehow the economy is going to be OK.

Another, actually the author quoting Orwell:

“So long as the machine is there, one is under an obligation to use it. No one draws water from the well when he can turn on the tap … Deliberately to revert to primitive methods, to use archaic tools, to put silly difficulties in your own way, would be a piece of dilettantism, of pretty-pretty arty and craftiness. It would be like solemnly sitting down to eat your dinner with stone implements. Revert to handwork in a machine age, and you are back in Ye Old Tea Shoppe or the Tudor villa with the sham beams tacked to the wall.”

Personally, I have no problem with plugging in the fiddle. I agree with Orwell that whatever music you're making ought to be realistic. The best music I listened to driving up the crooked road to Big Stone was James McMurtry's live CD from "Aught Three," and in particular "Lights of Cheyenne." That's one killer song. That he uses something of the same melody as "Goodbye Old Paint" is but a feature of its perfection. "Choctaw Bingo" is flashier (and great). "Lights" is deeper. But in the context of the Holbo piece, the Orwell quote refers to the whole "safety net" system which we have devised since Roosevelt's day to mitigate the realities of life, health, and aging, not to mention such man-made blights as outsourcing, the apparent pride of the entire political elite in 2014.

We're in the midst of a counter-revolution these days. Even the usually optimistic Digby's Hullabaloo has become worried about the states-rights trend, the obviously exploitation by the monied "class" of what has always been a deep political fault in the American set-up: states' rights. Numerous states have changed the way we vote, analysing the way we've voted for a few decades and noticing that if you whittle away the groups who vote Democratic by whatever means, you'll end up electing more conservatives. Same system works, apparently, for even constitutionally protected rights such as a woman's right to govern her own body.

Conservatives can wax eloquent about the aesthetic of the can-do spirit in the make-believe history of America they believe in, whilst slaves in fact do all the real work. I bought a spiffy new shirt to wear on stage Friday night that was made in Bangladesh. It was in the western style, with "pearl" snaps for buttons, and a silver thread sewn into the weave. It cost me $15.95 at Walmart, and fortunately nobody gunned me down while I was shopping.

Old time music is in a way a handicraft practiced in the machine age, and even more so when city boys like me take it up. But I'm not selling my artistic choices as righteous politics. We'd better figure out, pretty damn soon, how to get out of this squirrel cage we're running in. Three wars in the Middle East, and counting. The most powerful security state America has ever contained, and counting. The Supreme Court is marching smartly in the wrong direction. Money is now free speech. Kinda gives a leg up to them what can buy all the ink on the planet, don't it.

Let's let James McMurtry take us out today with his version of Goodbye Old Paint: