Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dennis Hopper

Y'all just watch this a couple of times.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A contradiction of some note

This photo is in an SMU archive on the history of the Civil Rights Movement. This is what government defending private segregation looks like.

I've been watching the Rand Paul on civil rights law story develop since the Rachel Maddow interview last Wednesday evening. There was no doubt that in the initial interview, Mr. Paul simply tried, without success, to evade a straight-forward question concerning his views on a matter of law, to wit, the aspect of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which requires places of business to serve the public indiscriminately with regard to race (and some other characteristics of the public). Mr. Paul's view, which pundits describe as "libertarian" (though there's probably no "Book of Libertarian" from which we might compare), seems to be that Federal and State governments are overstepping their bounds when they tell private businesses what to do in this regard. Mr. Paul said, several times, that while he thought governments should not discriminate, it was part of a private entity's rights as a free and independent actor to operate as they chose. He also said that he, personally, would not discriminate on racial grounds, that he found such discrimination abhorent, and that the marketplace would likely deal negatively with businesses which did discriminate this way.

Dr. Paul's remarks were, as Ms Maddow understood at the time, evasions of her basic question. Dr. Paul never quite answered that question--should the part of the law concerning private business and segregation be repealed--although he has later in the week said he would not attempt to repeal that law. Dr. Paul has also suggested that the media generally, and Ms Maddow in particular, were being unfair and partisan, and apparently he will not grant further interviews at this time--a tack which puts him in the Palin camp re relations with the press. Dr. Paul noted wryly that his "honeymoon" was over pretty darn quick.

While some pundits have opined that the problem with Dr. Paul is that he is too much a philosopher to be running for office--Chris Matthews said that yesterday on "Hard Ball"--it seems to this old stone mason that Dr. Paul simply holds amongst his views about law and government, citizens and property ownership, a contradictory set of opinions. He stated the contradiction clearly in his conversation with Maddow. She actually even began to get a sense of it before the discussion concluded somewhat unsettled.

Yesterday on Digby's blog (which is linked over on the left here), Digby posted an account of a sit-in in Durham, NC, which occurred back in 1957. Basically, a number of black people entered an ice cream parlor (as they were called then) which was segregated, for white people only, asked for service, and would not leave when denied (as no doubt they expected to be). Police arrived and the black people were arrested for trespassing. They were later convicted, and paid the fines.

And thus is revealed the contradiction. Dr. Paul seems to think that he can separate government actions and private actions along this particular fault line--government should not be allowed to discriminate according to race (probably he's thinking about segregated schools), but private businesses such as restaurants can do as they wish. This was the tight rope he tried to navigate with Ms. Maddow, stating that he was fine with nine-tenths of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and only found the clause concerning private property odious.

There is an abstraction to Dr. Paul's analysis which cannot exist in the real world. For consider the 1957 Durham sit-in. There were two tacks for the property owner to take--call the police, i.e. the government, or pull out the baseball bats from under the counter. (Or they could have just seen that their existing policy was odious and changed it forthwith.) Dr. Paul explicitly in the Maddow interview rejected the latter course of action, the baseball bat approach. Law, therefore, is required in the enforcement of discriminatory practice. And, indeed, the folks sitting-in at the restaurant were convicted in court.

And this is why the 1964 Civil Rights Law was needed: to address activities occurring in private business. To make law so weak as to be unable to address such events as the sit-ins is to allow the community at large to make de facto standards based on power alone. For it is surely a fantasy to think that segregation will fail due to the market place's abhorence of such a practice. I grew up in segregated North Carolina. Indeed, I picketed segregated restaurants and movie theatres in Chapel Hill and Raleigh in 1963 (one one such night I was nearly run-over by an old highschool friend as I walked with our group of picketers back to the campus of Shaw University, where we'd left our automobiles). These businesses were doing just fine, economically speaking. In a more stark and tragic example, it was the general community of Philadelphia, MS, which enforced its segregated customs via the murders of Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodwin, which were accomplished by members of the police force acting in a more or less private capacity. Generally speaking, until the sit-ins began, black people mostly understood that if they objected to the various forms of segregation established by private businesses, they would be met with either physical force from the owners and patrons of an establishment, or arrest and physical force from the police, or both.

It was not state governments that required that private businesses be segregated. It was the businesses which required, for their segregated policies to be successful, that the governments cooperate, which of course they did.

It is important that we all understand where Dr. Paul's philosophy of governance fails, if we are to choose our elected officials wisely. It fails right here, where the rubber meets the road so to speak. While distinguishing between private property and government is well and good, in fact the two concepts are interwoven in real life in ways that cannot be untangled without great harm ensuing. Millions of American citizens were once enslaved, i.e., were considered a kind of private property owned by other American citizens. This idea was even enshrined in our basic laws. After the Civil War, the law began to change, but after Reconstruction the South was allowed to re-institute many aspects of second-class citizenship for black people. The 1964 Civil Rights Act was finally passed one-hundred years after Cold Harbor. Either the government is strong enough to enforce non-discriminatory rules concerning private business, or it will end up enforcing the discriminatory rules private business may choose to impose. That is the contradiction in Mr. Paul's philosophy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hollowed Out

I happened to watch Rachel Maddow last night. She did a great report on the nexus of stories circling around the oil leak in the Gulf--how the corporations are all located out of the US, how the leak is ten times worse than it's being reported, how the Federal agency responsible for oversight is under investigation for corruption (drunken sex and drug parties with lobbyists and other oil industry people--sheesh!) and how even as our current Secretary of the Interior announces that there is a flat out moratorium on new wells, this same agency continues to issue new permits and even denies it in the face of the evidence. A watchdog person says this agency has been more or less like this for at least two decades, which gets us back beyond Clinton. But then I always figured Clinton to be what back in the day was called a Rockefeller Republican.

If this were 1972, and if Sam Ervin was still alive and sitting in a powerful Senate chair, maybe something would happen, some serious effort to get at this corruption, which has finally let to something so monstrous that before it's over, the whole Gulf of Mexico is likely going to be so damaged that we will remember this summer as a turning point. I don't know what Mr. Obama can do--can he legally fire a whole department or do the protections that keep political pay-back at bay also protect these corrupt government employees from swift management accountability.

I do know this. The idea that there is something called a "public good" has been hollowed out systematically until there's almost nothing left but a few specially designated national parks, and they're starved for funds. The Gulf of Mexico? It's just a place that nobody owns, and there's oil, i.e., money, on the bottom, for the taking. The GOP actually ran a Presidential campaign on the slogan "Drill, Baby, Drill," in 2008, with a dottering geezer as its standard bearer, and a cutesie bimbo with a mean streak as its main spokesman. If the American Voter doesn't remember this in the coming mid-term, and votes in lots of right-wingers who think off-shore drilling is the top priority, we really are living in fantasy land.

Democracy depends on informed decision-making. Since the late '70s the people who see all out capitalism as the meaning of life have worked to undermine all sources of objective information, down to the very bottom. In their view--a self-serving epistemology which they mostly don't operate on themselves--there is no truth, everything is just a matter of "balance," competing interests in a "marketplace of ideas." Mr. Limbaugh can point to his listenership as proof that he's telling the truth in such a world, and he does--frequently. And about this spill he can theorize that perhaps the Obama Administration somehow sabotaged the well to create a climate of distrust for all off-shore drilling, and then point to all concerns about further off-shore drilling as proof of his theory. And then he'll have a constituency ready and willing to argue this with their neighbors in every little hamlet in the US. It might not go over down in Mobile or Gulfport. Or even there, perhaps people will simply blame the Democrats for the oil that keeps washing up on the beaches, and the empty beach cottages.

One of the best ad campaigns I've seen in a good while has been those BP ads, with the very nice folks talking about a wide mix of energy sources, about working together, about American can-do. They've been running those ads for a good number of years, and I've tended to stop at BP stations versus Exxon stations because of the seemingly environment-friendly BP attitude. Meanwhile, according to the investigations underway, the government agency responsible for permitting off-shore drilling and also for collecting royalties from oil companies has been snorting crystal meth off of toaster ovens at big parties, and sleeping over at industry-owned resorts because they were too drunk to drive home. And somebody is sure to say, "See, we've told you over and over that gubment can't do anything. Now don't you believe us."

We've had corporation fuck buddies in charge of this country since Reagan, who earned his stripes as a spokesman for GE before he ever got into politics as an elected official. The Supreme Court just decided, last winter, that a corporation is a citizen with the same rights to fund elections as any one else. And as Rachel Maddow noted last night--who do you put in jail when a corporation destroys a fishery? With the Exxon Valdez, the allegedly drunk captain got the knife. In this case, the guys on the rig, who might have been doing their jobs correctly in any event, are dead. The company that was running the rig, Transocean--they are headquartered in Zug, Switzerland. Haliburton is now in Dubai. BP is in London.

We may have let it go on too long. We may be living in a building so eaten away that the next hurricane could just blow it right down. Toaster ovens! Why do they keep coming up in these stories.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Last Day

[photo by Libby Hicks]

I've been spending a lot of time on a scaffold, building the chimney behind me in the photo. It's a neat place to work. Usually a nice breeze, particularly as you get higher and higher. There's a highway about sixty yards off to the left, with semis and motorcycles, people going hither and yon. Now and then someone would actually stop and pull into the driveway, come over and ask me about stone work, or about the cabin. This was a masonry job, not my own place, so I'd tell them what I knew: my client has a hope that she can turn the place into a weaving school, as she's a great weaver. It's a long road she's undertaken, but it'll be a wonderful thing if she can pull it all off. There's a youtube of the barnraising that happened on the place a year ago--if you want you can go to youtube and search "Vollrath Barn Raising" and watch that. What you'll see is community.

I started this chimney last fall. Then the harsh winter of '09-'10 arrived, along with Christmas and New Years, various music gigs, snow that blocked our driveway and made all masonry work impossible for a good long time. But spring finally did come, and I got done with the inside part of the chimney, and then started up the scaffold, section by section. The finished work is a bit over 20 feet high. Each rock has to be laid, one after the other. I try not to get in a big rush about time, as I want the work to look considered and well built from top to bottom.

Yesterday, May 7, it was suddenly done. Just like when you land at the airport. All that stuff in your mind about getting to the airport, did you pack the right stuff, where's your ticket, the camera, the fiddle, every worry and fret that fills your mind for a few days before a trip--it's all over when your plane lands and there's some new place whizzing by at 150 mph for a few seconds, until the flaps slow you down to the pace of the world you actually live in. Yesterday, after about an hour's work, the scaffold was down, stacked against a wall, and the mixer was in the truck, and my work place was dismantled, gone forever. What was left was the cabin, now sporting a chimney that should last longer than the logs, and far far longer than I will.

There in the center of the front face, just below the start of the stack, is a big rock I brought from my woods, about 15 miles or so from where the cabin is located. I like to put a stone or two of my own into my jobs, a little subtle signature.

I live on a piece of land that might include some sort of ancient volcanic activity. It sports mostly a very heavy, black/blue rock. Up on the top of the hill behind my house the rock is outcrop, big pieces, some of them almost perfectly cubic, others weather-worn, and many with the pale green lichen you can see (perhaps) in the photo. That rock's been sitting in my woods, habitat for that lichen, for hundreds of years. Now I've put it up in the air in a chimney. I hope it appreciates the notoriety. I hope it's not a shy rock, now forever bummed.

Anyways. Here it is Saturday. Now I'm in the state of existence known as "between jobs." I'm sure if it lasts too look I'll start getting worried, but at the moment, it's a total delight.

Happy Mother's Day tomorrow. Wish my mom could have seen this chimney, and my dad too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Photo courtesy of NC Division of Tourism, Film and Sports Development; Photographer: Bill Russ

Back when Libby and I were living on Ocracoke Island, off the coast of NC, a water spout came one night and blew up an old house that sat on a point of land sticking out in the Pamlico Sound. A friend of mine was sitting on his porch two houses down and saw the house basically explode. For a while recognizable parts were floating out in the sound, but by morning the house was entirely gone. I drove over to look at the spot--the only thing there was a block foundation and a toaster oven sitting in the middle of it, on the sand. I don't know whether the oven had been under the house, or simply deposited there by the spout, as a calling card. Some folks had been staying in the house for a couple of weeks, deciding whether or not to buy it. It was on the market for over $300,000 as I recall, and given it's fantastic location that was probably a deal in a sense. Like the real estate barons say on Ocracoke, they ain't making any more islands. We looked at a trailer sitting in the middle of a swamp there, which if it were up here in central NC you'd either burn, push into the ditch, or rip apart for the aluminum scrap. It was going for $90,000, and somebody bought it too.

Anyways. About a week or so later bits of that house started washing up on the beach. I mean the beach beach, where there is Atlantic Ocean, waves, all that. The wreckage had been pulled out the inlet, several miles down the beach to the south, and then up the other side of the island. There were recognizable pieces of the house, including as I recall some framed photos, painted chunks of beaded board from some interior wall, a kitchen cabinet. I guess it went on up the coast: Hatteras, Pea Island, Bodie Island. Did any of it make Norfolk?

They say the same thing's going to happen with the Gulf Oil Spill now in progress. Today the spill is the size of Jamaica. The Gulf Stream is a current of ocean that carries warm Gulf water up the Atlantic to Greenland. A whole lot of folks along it's path fish the Gulf, because it's rich in catch. So they say the Gulf Stream will start hauling that oil up the coast too. Maybe by Fourth of July we can run down to Ocracoke and see the oil. It'll be like watching a lift-off from Canaveral or something: a distant event that turns out to be right here.

People over in Brooklyn experienced that on 9/11. Papers from the burning towers drifted on the wind across the East River and landed on people's roofs, fire escapes, streets. They could smell the smoke too, and probably coughed on it. It burned their eyes. Here, of course, it was just on TV.

There's the usual "Libertarian" view on this, as on all things. Here's a link to some happy news concerning the spill.

The Market Godz, ain't they som'n.