Thursday, December 1, 2016

Cabbages and Kings

We got back from our visit with the old vet last night to notice that the dish box's red light was on. One of us had set it to record something or other. I'd been thinking I'd watch the UNC basketball game, an early-season contest with Indiana, once and famously coached by the excitable Bobby Knight, who threw a chair across the court one night after a call went awry. Knight, of course, was a notable Trump supporter and will surely get a job if he wants one in the Ministry of Sport. Bobby Knight, Sports Czar. Has a fine ring to it. Knight can use the money no doubt.

What was being recorded was Ross McElwee's 1986 documentary, "Sherman's March." I decided to just watch that, since I couldn't change the channel anyways without losing the recording. The film has aged well, 30 years in. There is no better portrait of life in the middle-class, white South in the middle of the Reagan era. Like Almondovar, McElwee tells his story almost exclusively through women. Like Homer, he carries us from island episode to island episode, and returns in the end to whence he began. The islands in this case are cultural, not literal. Except for one of them, which is both. The various women he encounters all have their various stories. Some turn out to be religious, others muddled in various stages of romance with various people, sometimes including McElwee. There is a great deal of very particular life. It isn't hard to imagine several of the people in the film voting for Trump for their own personal reasons. There are a few who likely did not vote for Trump, again, for their own reasons. Everyone has their reasons.

When we were driving down the driveway I had the thought that we are, all us ordinary people living our lives, now chum in the water. A lot of the chum voted for the sharks. They thought, perhaps, that sharks being big, impressive animals, there would be some sort of trade off, perhaps gratitude for protection. Some of us chum didn't think that was a good idea. We didn't vote for the sharks. We're all, now, chum in the water.

Lewis Carroll wrote a poem about this over a century ago, this ghastly predicament. Here it is:

"The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright —
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done —
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun."

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead —
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
If this were only cleared away,'
They said, it would be grand!'

If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,' the Walrus said,
That they could get it clear?'
I doubt it,' said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!'
The Walrus did beseech.
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.'

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head —
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat —
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more —
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

The time has come,' the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.'

But wait a bit,' the Oysters cried,
Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!'
No hurry!' said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

A loaf of bread,' the Walrus said,
Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed —
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed.'

But not on us!' the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!'
The night is fine,' the Walrus said.
Do you admire the view?

It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf —
I've had to ask you twice!'

It seems a shame,' the Walrus said,
To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!'
The Carpenter said nothing but
The butter's spread too thick!'

I weep for you,' the Walrus said:
I deeply sympathize.'
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

O Oysters,' said the Carpenter,
You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one."

I'm reminded of the jocular survivalists who make a fairly brief appearance in "Sherman's March." Some guys who look like middle-aged car salesmen have bought some land up in the NC foothills. They're building a redoubt. One of them says, "we just want the government to LEAVE US ALONE." They've stocked up on food, water, and dynamite. At the end of the section on them they're shooting sticks of dynamite, set up on targets a safe distance away, from the comfort of their porch. They have rifles with scopes. They look like old-fashioned hunting rifles. At least there aren't any AR-47s. The spirit of the NRA is there, but not the obscene proliferation of subsequent years. We hadn't even arrived, in 1986, at the First Gulf War. Nobody had heard of Iran-Contra.

I saw this morning that charter airlines are expecting to do big government business in 2017 transporting the undocumented. It is also expected that private prison corporations will experience a big up-tick in business. Oddly, I was hard at work on a stone profile for a fireplace in the home of one of the women in McElwee's film on the morning of 9/11. There was a guy doing tile work in the bathroom upstairs, we were the only two people in the house. Every few minutes there would be new, shocking information coming in on the radio, and we'd yell to each other about it. Finally, after the last plane had hit, we just decided to hang it up and go home. It was too distracting.

The photo at the top of this post is from a wall I built back in the late '80s as the entrance to a development in Carrboro, NC, called Morgan Glen. The development was the project of the son of Charleen Swansea, who also appears in McElwee's film. The wall has weathered nicely over the years since, and I enjoy seeing it if I drive that way home.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Begin the Beguine

The night before Thanksgiving a channel on my dish setup was playing "swing classics," and I clicked it up since there was nothing at all I wanted to watch. This was one of the first plays--I ended up listening for several hours while I read things on the computer and Libby worked on the Thanksgiving dinner we were going to transport over to the old vet's the following day. I've found over many years of experience that it's probably wise to stay out of the kitchen when Libby's at work, unless she particularly wants me for some specific task. Otherwise, I just manage to scatter her momentum and something gets left out of the sauce, or added twice, since my default mode is to blurt out whatever pops into my mind as though that's how one conducts conversation. In the middle of a cooking process, however, it is simply not helpful for me to ask, "Hey, have you seen my black winter hooded coat lately?"

So here's what I heard instead:

This wasn't precisely what I heard, because the recording brought out the magnificent drum work better than this video, probably because live recording of drums in an open room is nearly impossible. Whatever. What a gorgeous arrangement! Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

November 22 Rolls Around Again

If you live in a distant backwater, as I do, the "big events" happen, but it's easy to remain fairly sanguine. Nothing much has happened out here. Now that my job has ended, the only Latino person I encounter is a very nice man who is among the staff caring for my father-in-law, who I call the old vet herein. He's in his 20s, and spent some time in France before returning to his home town--here. When I see him in the evenings I sometimes wave and say "Bon soir" with a smile. He smiles back. Last night I didn't go see the old vet but watched Monday night football. The Raiders and the Houston Texans were playing in an historic stadium in Mexico City, the place where Carlos and Smith held up black gloved fists in '68; the place where many famous soccer matches have been played. It seemed that the fans last night favored the Raiders. One of them even had a small laser spot and shown it into the eyes of the Houston players now and again. The Raiders eventually won. Twenty-one million people live in Mexico City.

It's hard to come to some realistic appraisal of what has happened. Partly this is because relatively speaking, nothing has happened, not yet. What we have at the moment is a very weird fact. A person who cannot fly the airplane has taken the controls and is locked into the cockpit. We're still at a comfortable 35 thousand feet. The attendants still have their snack trays, and our neighbors are having extra peanuts and a slosh of bourbon with ice. We listen intently for some change in the sound of the engines, or check to see if the ground remains a comfortable distance below, or if the plane is remaining in a level position. Soon it will be night, removing some of those comforting visual cues.

On the TV everything is reassurance. There is very little to suggest that we have actually given control of our lives to a person who very clearly and obviously told us he could not fly the plane. I wondered this morning if it's just been far too many entertainments over the years, too many romantically attractive Godfathers and Tony Sopranos. The very entertaining movie by Tony Scott, True Romance, came to mind unbidden. There's nothing much funnier, on the funny scale, than the scene with Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. Oh yes, it's gallows humor to be sure, and a lot of other things swirling around us now, like the fall leaves. Tony Scott said he could never figure out how to end his movies, except with a big shootout. He thought that was a directorial weakness, but it might have been a logical feature of his plots. Something Peckinpah came up against back in '68, same year as Carlos and Smith. Before the shooting started Peckinpah liked to have a scene where the Bunch tossed around a bottle of whiskey, shared it to the end, and laughed. We have a city named Phoenix. That's a curiosity, isn't it.

I read a blog now and again which is comprised of high level legal people, some of them Constitutional lawyers, talking seriously about the meaning of things. I ran into this today:

Professor Levinson is seriously arguing that the last safety net between us and that locked cockpit door is a coalition of Electors taking it upon themselves to refuse to vote for Trump. That's a hell of a note. Here's a bit of Levinson, but you should read it all.

I joined my two University of Texas colleagues Jeff Tulis and Jeremy Suri in writing an op-ed, published in today's New York Daily News. As you can see (if you open it), it calls for a coalition of Democratic and at least 37 Republican electors to ally to vote for a Republican other than Donald Trump and thus throw the election into the House, which would presumably elect the alternative Republican and save us from the Trumpian menace, the character of which seems clearer day by day. Even though he cannot be assigned direct responsibility, I note the following postcard that I received today at my Harvard Law School office, mailed, it seems, from the UK. It reads, in toto: "Hey Sandy You just got your kike ass kicked. fuck you kykie. We're gonna Drain the Swamp at Harvard Law. Juden Raus!" There can be no doubt that Trump and Bannon have liberated the worst instincts of a lot of truly deplorable people. The most unequivocally happy supporter of the new Trump regime is David Duke, which makes a lot of sense. This is precisely why it is important for conservatives of good will to come together, at long last, for a true "never Trump" movement that would act completely constitutionally by imploring electors to accept the responsibilities actually envisioned for them by the Philadelphia Framers...

The arguments, which never go away, about racial identity, are like the formulae for the atomic bomb. Last night during halftime I watched a bit of coverage concerning the alt.right convention just past in DC. It ended with Seig Heil salutes, and an oily tongued guy named Spencer talking about "them and us, your race and mine." I ran into people running that line back at UNC, in '63. They never go away, the words just change with the times. Sometimes the moves are slick. George Herbert Walker Bush, who mostly seems like a distant liberal President from some other Century (well, yes, the 20th) from the perspective of this post-election sleep-walk, gave us Clarence Thomas. "You say you want a black justice? Try this one." Things have changed. All the apologists keep saying is, "Oh, it's really not that bad." What's the point in having a riot at 35 thousand feet?

There aren't many options. "Let's roll" doesn't really get you very far. It's another Peckinpah ending. And it's like the fact that Americans who desperately need Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare have actually voted to take all that away. It's no wonder Dan Rather had decided to spend his golden years interviewing country singing divas and aging rock stars. He tried to warn us about George W. Bush.

Here's another paragraph from Levinson:

How, if [Trump] becomes president, might the civil war begin, since there will certainly be no Fort Sumter to signal the beginning, and the California vote for secession apparently won't take place until 2019. I think the most likely beginning would be reminiscent of the violence in the streets of Boston over the rendition of fugitive slaves like Anthony Burns. [It should be clear, incidentally, that Burns violated the law by fleeing his confinement as a slave, and the august Supreme Court, in the worst single decision in our history, worse even than Dred Scott, upheld the Fugitive Slave Law of 1893 in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, and Abraham Lincoln himself, the Great Emancipator, declared that Republicans had a duty to support the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the deal that had been made with the slaveowners in order to get the Constitution in the first place.] That is, if peaceful families of undocumented aliens start being rounded up and sent to concentration camps prior to their deportation, it becomes the duty of all of us to stand in solidarity with them and prevent the legal authorities from being able to carry out their "duties" without becoming aware of the absolute contempt in which they are held. (Obviously, there will also be many people cheering them on.)

This is what Churchill meant by the gathering storm. He could see disaster coming. Sometimes the worst disasters are those which are driven by compelling moral arguments. You simply cannot sit back and watch the lines march into the ovens.

Some years after filming that remarkable scene exactly as written by Quintin Tarantino, in True Romance, Tony Scott jumped off a bridge in Los Angeles. Perhaps he had looked into the abyss. We are standing at the abyss right now.

Friday, November 18, 2016

But I'm A-gonna Be A Diamond Some Day

[Crazy Horse Monument, South Dakota]

So I went down to the recycle center this morning with a bucket of plastic containers, a bucket of steel cans, and some trash. Getting ready for the weekend, and it's nice to start with an empty kitchen garbage can. A neighbor was there. He loves to talk, so we talked for a good while. On the back windshield of his truck was a "Never Hillary" sticker, and he also had a bumper sticker supporting our Republican Lieutenant Governor. He wasn't talking about the election and I didn't bring it up. What's the point. He's been a very nice neighbor and I always enjoy running into him in places like the recycle center. We're probably about the same age, and he pulled out his wallet at one point and showed me his permanent National Parks pass, which he told me he'd bought at Carlesbad Caverns, NM, some years ago. He recommended I get me one, which I certainly will if we can ever find a long term cat sitter. Mokey, the gray one, gets very depressed when we're gone for more than ten hours, and stops eating. Last time that happened we'd gone to play a gig in Wilmington and were planning to spend the night, but then changed our minds and drove back. Didn't matter. A week later Mokey was at the vets getting shots and stuff to jump start the little guy. It was close to as expensive as the tree guy who came and rescued Wuzzy out of a tall tree. Wuzzy's still never quite gotten over that.

The neighbor talked about many of his trips, including one out to South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore and the in-progress Crazy Horse Monument. He's got a travel trailer. He also told me about something more recent, where his wife had driven off in the truck with her purse on the tool box, and came back to realize it had flown off somewhere, who knows. They were in the process of cancelling cards, stopping checks, etc., when a guy drove up to his house with the purse in his hands. He'd found it on the road, run over. It was messed up, but everything was there mostly, and the guy led my neighbor back to where he'd found the purse, and they walked up and down the road and found every last thing. That was a very good story.

When you get to that part of a conversation at the recycle center, you can offer a like story of your own if you have one. I told him about the house that got blown to smithereens down on Ocracoke. This was about 15 years ago. A water spout had come across a little point and just blown up this old house that was the most exposed to the fetch. Next day I drove by there as it was the talk of the island. There was nothing at all left on the lot but the block foundation, and in the middle of that, a toaster. That was it. I wish I had a picture to show you. Not a scrap of wood, nary a shingle. About a week later the house started washing up on the beach, which is around the south inlet and some miles from the lot, bit by bit by bit. The owners had even posted a notice about the whole deal at the island grocery store. They got some photographs back too, a little soggy but basically ok.

I'd been standing there holding this tub of plastic containers during the whole conversation, and I said I had to go, and walked the containers up to the appropriate dumpster. Walking back to my truck the neighbor asked me, "did you hear about the road blocks they've had to set up, all the way up to South Dakota?" I didn't hear about any of that. "Yeah," he said, "they're hauling a big lump of coal up there to Rushmore. Obama's statue."

The neighbor thought that was pretty slick and laughed a good bit. When I got back home I found the following link up on the Internet Tubes.

I'd been hoping all morning that rumors about Sessions were just that. Apparently not. A guy at the Post Office shook his head when I asked him what he thought about the election. "My kids are upset," he said. "I tell them, it's up to you now, you are the future. I thought we'd do better here in NC. The black people need to come out stronger." He and his wife were back from a three-week stay in Paris. He showed me some smart phone movies of a street band working just outside their Paris digs. John Henry he was a steel drivin' man. But that reminds me of another lyric. "Ask her for water, she give me gasoline."

[Kirby and Mokey in a sunbeam, yesterday. Kirby's the one who got lost for a week in the woods earlier this year.]