Sunday, June 30, 2013

Poetic Justice, Surely

For all the aghast concerning the acts of Edward Snowden, the following piece should bring us back to the real world:

The example of pre-World War II Japan/US relations is excellent. Indeed, what would anyone charged with the job of figuring out what potentially hostile countries or stateless entities are doing do, as a matter of simply the logical requirements of their charge.

And that simple logic, obvious to anyone who simply imagines being in the shoes of the intelligence community, which would include of course Mr. Putin, an ex-KGB man, surely presents the absolute certainty that at this moment Mr. Snowden is being interrogated with significant intensity by the Russians. And of course the Russians would smile and deny any such thing. As would we, in both instances.

It is possible that we will never see or hear of Mr. Snowden again.

It is certain that even as we speak, our vast intelligence enterprise is furiously back-engineering its myriad projects to protect them, as best they can, from whatever Mr. Snowden might be now revealing.

John LeCarre has made all of this obvious quite some decades back. Carol Reed made it obvious even further back. Possibly Dostoyevsky made relevant advances in the details of this logical structure, not to mention Niccolo Machiavelli.

Is the most pertinent question, then, How the hell did Mr. Snowden get such a string of advanced jobs? Has the divide between mere technical expertise become so great that all the upper level supervision in American intelligence work finds itself so entirely ignorant of the technical understanding of the machines and programs that do the work they devise, that they are able only to hire out the maintenance and repair of the machines and programs to people they are unable to vet properly?

We seem to be arriving into a place like that of religion in the middle ages, where an elite discoursed in Latin about religious matters, and the congregations had no idea what they were saying. Me Pops spent his life arguing with some success at a technical university, that the technicians they were training needed a broader view. He wanted the engineering students, and the programmers, to take the time to read Dostoyevsky, Machiavelli, and yes, probably LeCarre. Ah,those were the days, when the man who invented the atomic bomb could, upon watching its ignition, quote the Bhagavad Gita.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Science Fiction? I Think Not!

Mr. Driftglass, Sir, has a nice post up on David Brooks today:

I keep getting calls from our fine local PBS affiliate, WUNC, asking for me and the missus to contribute. I've given it up, which isn't easy and doesn't make me feel good. Some of the local folks who work at WUNC are friends, and have done us some really good turns, including playing our CDs over the years on the "folk music" shows that UNC airs all through the weekend. Moreover, Libby and I were invited last year to participate in a great concert series sponsored by WUNC--a very first class outdoor venue over in Durham, where the new WUNC studios are located in the American Tobacco Campus, with first class sound and first class remuneration. That alone really ought to spur me to give back. And I do indeed give money now and then to the WUNC-radio division, which was the sponsor of that concert series.

But the TV side. In spite of the plain fact that they do indeed have some very good shows on--really educational, supporting decent humanistic values and a common sense view of the world, I've been saying no. The reason is David Brooks. Because I think that Mr. Driftglass, Sir is absolutely correct that Mr. David Brooks' overarching life task is to mislead the American public, day in and day out, and not only on the details of the moment, but structurally, systematically, on the very nature of reality. And it is really tragic, as well as galling, that PBS abets Mr. Brooks in his life's work, which is obviously succeeding. It's not like Mr. Brooks has no voice. The New York Times also abets his project, so he's absolutely "out there." Perhaps the truth is, the fact that PBS supports Mr. Brooks is itself an indicator and symptom of Brooks' horrific success. Why blame the messenger? As the government has turned Right, PBS--dependent on the government for much of its lifesblood, has turned right with it. Over the decades there have been appointments, structural decisions, political choices. Maybe, as I've suggested here, it was the inclusion of William Buckley that marked the awful slow pivot. At any rate, it comes down to this for me: I'm not going to put up a cent of my money in support of David Brooks. I don't give any money to Oral Roberts University, or Liberty University, or Bob Jones University either.

It's sad to see PBS in the same light as Fox. But one could say, in defense of Fox (the conglomerate), that they have great sports coverage, the best overall in the land, and good entertainment television, including of course The Simpsons, which is realistic and even in many ways liberal, not to mention funny. So what's the problem, one could say. So what if there's the hard-edged propaganda spew of Fox "News," which had the advertising science genius to even pick as its slogan the bald-faced lie "fair and balanced," which must have come straight out of chapter 4 of Goebbels's curricula at Berlin University, 1934, Radio, Television, and Motion Pictures 101. And yes, you have a point. All I can say is, I ain't giving Fox a minute of my time, except when NASCAR is on, and I'm glad that at least Fox has left the NASCAR building for this year. It is, moreover, appropriate that Fox covers NASCAR. NASCAR fined a driver some $60,000 for saying, earlier this year, that the new racer they're running was harder to drive than last years model. And that's sorta how things got in Berlin after Professer Goebbels gave up teaching for gubment work.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sporting News

Yesterday they perp-walked a $40 million man out of his mansion and off to jail on charges of Murder One. He's accused of executing his erstwhile friend with a shot to the back of the head, then destroying the evidence (or trying to). He allegedly smashed his security system and his cell phone, and hired professional cleaners the day after the alleged murder. His team, the Boston Patriots, has already fired him. They're being cheered for their sense of morality and clarity in many quarters, although it has also been pointed out that the crime Mr. Hernandez is accused of is so egregious that for the Patriots to "stand by him" would probably be, for most of the public, bad business.

Certainly this is a tragedy in many ways, as well as a horrific crime. If the crime's been so quickly solved, good for the police. There was a fairly similar incident played out concerning the Charlotte NFL team about ten years or so back. An end named Rae Caruth was eventually convicted of killing his girl friend, and still languishes in prison in North Carolina I believe.

Among all the questions one might raise in this Hernandez affair, here's one that seems obvious to me. Mr. Hernandez's easy access to firearms surely made this alleged event, which has and will change many lives, all for the worse most likely, much easier to accomplish. Murder, it's just a kiss away. What a terrific waste.

Friday Update: There's all sorts of easily accessible news coming out about this case. One hopes that eventually there will be a decent trial, and justice will be served. From what I've now read, I'd make two assertions, both of which I think on the evidence to be true:

1. The incredible cancer of fire arm proliferation in the American public guarantees that many more people, many of them entirely innocent, many of them children, will die, than would be the case if we had even mildly more restrictive rules about who can own a fire arm and its ammunition. That the United States Congress is incapable of any action aimed at ameliorating this present condition is appalling.

2. Apparently Mr. Aaron Hernandez is one of a relatively small number of people who is unfettered by even common sense when it comes to doing whatever he wants to do in the short term. He lives in a mansion and under a $40 million contract. All he has to do is play some ball every Sunday for about a third of the year, plus stay in shape to do so. Given all this, he is alleged to have executed a family friend (the guy was dating the mother of Mr. Hernandez's child!), cold-bloodedly, with the aid of accomplices, in what can only be described as a gangland style. The ruthlessness of this alleged crime is breathtaking. So, surely, is Mr. Hernandez's utter stupidity, and/or heedless willfulness. For a man such as Mr. Hernandez, I would concede that no gun law is likely to make any difference. If he is eventually found guilty, he owns it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Voting Rights

[from ]

There's obviously lots of good stuff to read on this breath-takingly terrible Supreme Court decision. Ms Ginsburg said it best, and Mr. Justice Thomas, in his looking-glass logic, came a close second. The worst remarks were those of the NAACP folks who tried to stop this gawd-awful day--Charlie Pierce calls it Justice Roberts' Day of Jubilee--who were opining all night on MSNBC that this simply offers a terrific opportunity for the United States Congress to write a better law.

Wouldn't that be a nice world to live in. It's hard to square any short term optimism with the fact that some 41 states are hard at work fashioning various new road blocks to a wider path to the ballot box. It's hard to imagine this particular Congress, unable to make even the smallest edit in our pitiful, weak gun laws in the face of the massacre of 20 children in 5 minutes last December, taking up something as serious as some sort of national voting rights guarantees. We are, as many have noted already, embarked on a period of nullification. The right wing oligarchs who already run most things (see, e.g., the vanishing blue collar labor "market") understood, perhaps decades ago, that the basic legal architecture of the united "states" opened the door to all manner of governance on a state-by-state basis. The great civil rights legislative victories of the mid-'60s were driven by an incredible decade-long drive consisting of probably millions of otherwise silent and in the case of black people, disenfranchised American citizens. This people's army was led by several virtual geniuses, including Martin Luther King and Bayard Rustin. Three years after the successful passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1968, Dr. King was assassinated, as was Robert Kennedy, who seemed at the time at least to be the most eloquent white establishment defender of the powerless. Meanwhile, the Vietnam War slowly ground away all evidence of optimism and idealism remaining in the general population, and ended the career of the President who fashioned a path to the Voting Rights Bill we had, until yesterday. We will likely not see such a configuration of positive forces again in our lifetimes.

And the Right did not rest. They theorized a legal strategy which would utilize the fact that in the United States, "states" are endowed with great power. Consider just the nature of the United States Senate, where two men representing, say, Wyoming, have exactly as much voting power as two folks representing New York or California, population variations notwithstanding. George Wallace did not succeed in his efforts to stand in the "school house" door, but it was a specific loss. Symbolically, he represented the structural power the states hold in our constitutional framework.

The appointments of George W. Bush, not to mention his more subtly conservative and subversive father to the Supreme Court will likely be one day viewed as the most lasting legacy of the Bush family, enduring even after the last brain-damaged, one legged veteran of his deluded wars of choice has passed on to a better, or at least quieter, place. Mr. Clinton gave us Ms Ginsburg, who now shines like Justice William Brennan, eloquent but mostly powerless. H.W. gave us Clarence Thomas. George gave us Roberts and Alito.

Meanwhile, in the newly enlightened South, the Zimmerman trial proceeds. Convicted he'll be a martyr for Hannity and the rest of these revolutionaries. Acquitted, he'll be the cherry on this poisionous sundae we've now been served from on high. The counter-revolution will not, for the most part, be televised. It's happening in dim legislative hallways, and ALEC symposiums which now crank out new legal strategies far faster than any ham-strung Federal Justice Department can react.

It's a shame the people who crafted the Voting Rights Law didn't simply create a Federal Elections Board to oversee all elections in this country. Getting to such a place now is going to be like climbing Everest.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Replacements

I'd like to repost this page here, but I'm not sure if I can do that given my limited web skills, so here's the link, which will be active until it isn't.

The guys in the photo with the story are not identified, but the "Clay Buckner" mentioned as opening with the "Clackalacky Sisters" replaced me in the combo back in the winter of 1981. They appeared at a great venue in the little town of Aberdeen, NC, where I've played as well. Janet Kenworthy, the proprietor, does really wonderful work in keeping such an outstanding venue afloat in a little railroad town that is probably paddling pretty hard these days itself, particularly with our current state Rethuglican Government working in a veritable frenzy to outpace Wisconsin in its Kochification efforts.


I started out the year thinking to chronicle the various remarkable efforts of our Legislature, but it's been too big a task, and if you want to follow the doings you can read daily reports at Probably you have better things to do. I've been around long enough to have sat on a bench at the State Capitol Building in Raleigh and watched a Klan Rally in full pointy-capped regalia march past on a cold winter day--it was some sort of show of force re the uppity negras or something, I have no idea now. I was just sitting there on a bench enjoying the day and around the corner they came. I do know that back then we had the relatively liberal governor, Terry Sanford in office. John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated too. Anyways, so far things aren't quite that bad, and the Vietnam War had not even kindled in earnest on that winter afternoon in 1963. I won't be surprised, however, if we continue, or are dragged kicking and screaming, down this same hell-path a good piece farther. People are rallying in Raleigh each Monday to protest the appalling legislative arbeit, and many are being arrested. Our Governor, who hails originally from Ohio, mutters about "outside agitators." It all looks to me rather like what my dear old mother used to describe as the doings, post Civil War, of the "carpetbaqgers" and "skallywags." This is of course the bland demographic story of North Carolina--since I was born in the early '40s we've gained many millions in population, the greater proportion coming from the North and West. Far too many of these immigrants find it far too easy to make much of some Mexican and Central American people who came here in the '90s to work odious, difficult jobs that nobody else would work for the bad pay available, and certainly not someone hailing originally from a union state. (NC beat Wisconsin to the "right to work" punch by some 50 years.) It's really pretty sad.

Further Reading:

Saturday, June 15, 2013


'Mokey (at One and One-Half)

The other brothers, two big black beasts,
Eat, play, hunt, sleep. Puzzle, your box mate,
Still clumsy and headlong, will leap on a
Shoulder like it's a chair back, and down
Onto an unsuspecting belly, from his perch.
He'll nuzzle you, face to face, and purr at a
Touch, and go out and get lost in the woods.

Wuzzy, the little lost kitten, always in a different
Place than Mokey and Puzzle when we'd look
Turns out to be most perfectly a Cat,
He's calm, confident, happy.
He hunts, likes to eat but not needy, noble, lithe.
He doesn't get lost, but sometimes (we theorize)
Goes far away to see what's there. And he's the
One that treed himself on New Years Day, and
Got rescued by a very expensive boom truck operator,
Which he thought I think was just his due.

Mokey is the most attentive. He must have kept
An eye peeled, in those mysterious two months, the
First two, in the shed. Mother coming and going.
She'd tell him to watch out for the brothers, or
Maybe he just knew that was his task. He might be
The oldest. He might have a different father, judging
By his coat. Now he knows, when the light comes,
That there are little creatures stirring, and he must
Catch them. It's about food, it's about survival: for
Him, his brothers, maybe even us. He looks under
Everything, and climbs the refrigerator. He finds
A wrapped cough drop on a shelf, and picks it down.
He jumps on my keyboard, and has learned that
Just the tiniest flick of a claw
Will make things happen.

I think of him back in the shed. In the dark.
Mother has gone out to hunt. The wind blows
And the trees creak in the cold early March, late
Winter that is all he knows of life. His brothers
Sleep, snuggled together. He leans against them
For warmth. He watches the crack in the door.
He must be prepared. So it is every morning,
At first light.

Wednesday Update:

Write a nice poem elevating the little bugger to Homeric status and what does he do (see comments)? Immediately falls out of a tree like a silly squirrel. He did land well at least, and is fine, and last night snuggled all night against my leg without deciding I needed to get up at 3 AM. We still love him unconditionally.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Pit of Hell

The magazine "Commentary" is probably more or less what "National Review" used to be with Mr. Buckley at the helm. Here is a comment on a recent piece by the conservative Max Boot, who argues that Mr. Snowden is not a hero:

Here, a parable. In Chile, in 1973, a man on a white horse came riding up to the Presidential Palace, killed the Marxist living there (Salvador Allende, who was Chile's Barack Obama!) and moved in. For the next 18 years, Augusto Pinochet murdered, imprisoned, sent into exile, tortured, persecuted and in general "did away with" the Left in his country. What emerged was a democratic republic that today is the freest and least corrupt nation in Latin America. That's where we're heading---if we're lucky.

This is the stark reality of right wing American politics today. This is pretty much what Beck and Limbaugh and Boortz and Hannity and the rest of the ranters and Fox Network people believe and assert and argue every day.

Let's hope they keep the price of gas at affordable levels.

[Hat tip to Edroso for the quote: ]

Meanwhile, in the reality based universe, here's two things you might want to peruse:

And note Mr. Simon's well grounded views, quoted in the Driftglass piece:

What if La Palin had Sam Ervin's eyebrows? Just sayin'.

Wednesday Update
: As any number of folks have commented on the Snowden leaks, it's pretty hard these days not to have already known, at least in a general way, that something like what Snowden revealed was going on. Surely enemies of the United States would have presumed, as would our friends. Espionage is not a fresh concept after the last century. It strikes me that perhaps the biggest "leak" Snowden is responsible for is revelation of the fact (if it's true and not just fantasy on his part) that people like him--people subcontracting and without particularly good security clearance, are much too close to far too much. Snowden is an example of the problems that come with the privatization cult which our right wing true believers have brought with them into government whenever they manage to gain power. Possibly the Snowdens are cheaper (though not necessarily), but they come more unattached to authority. (For other examples, see, e.g., "Blackwater; Iraq, New Orleans). Do we really want people like this confused libertarian dweeb actually holding such power? It is policy that puts him in this position. Thus, his fairly absurd activities raise deep questions about how we want to run our intelligence services. There's an "in short" in this even: after all, Snowden has fled to China, imagining he'll find safety there.

Thursday Update: The conversation on MSNBC last night, concerning Snowden and surveillance was instructive. The most interesting moments, in my book, occurred on Lawrence O'Donnell's hour. He approaches the story like a lawyer, and had quizzed a dangerously unprepared lawyer-friend of Snowden's, who realized after the first question or two that she was "on the stand," and began to remind me of Miss Teen South Carolina in her answering style. O'Donnell felt he'd found a fulcrum in Snowden's remark that the surveillance system in place amounted to an "architecture of oppression." That's his finely wrought phrase. O'Donnell objected, and tried to push his character witness into the corner of judging Snowden overwrought in his analysis.

This seems to be one of the tacks used by our various pundit observers to try to make sense of Snowden. I more or less took the same line yesterday. This guy may have good intentions, but is he seeing the world "aright." There was quite a lot of talk in this regard about Snowden's credentials. His character witness pointed out that often IT people teach themselves. She offered the example of Bill Gates. O'Donnell felt that nontheless this was Snowden's problem--a too quick leap from "overreach" to "oppression." After the character witness left the stand, Howard Dean arrived. Gov. Dean made an excellent point concerning Snowden's phrase. An "architecture of oppression," he opined, was not the same as actual oppression, but a precurser, a necessary framework. Possibly that was Snowden's point and concern, the underpinning of his current self and otherwise destructive actions.

O'Donnell would have none of it, and dismissed Gov. Dean. That's a lawyer for you. Understood as Dean parsed the phrase, Snowden becomes at the least a person to be taken seriously. This might be a better stance, for all of us, as we try to understand what's going on. There's a mighty vested interest in stuffing Mr. Snowden back in some box or other. It doesn't make him a hero or a superman to see his point. There's nothing at all new about good intentions going awry. Possibly Mr. Snowden's intentions are an example. So, possibly, are the intentions of our intelligence institutions.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"Those" People

[photo (c) Eric Tourneret, ]

I have spent a lot of time lately excoriating William F. Buckley and, more, our act, as a culture, of putting him on a great grand pedestal of a PBS television show which ran for decades and implied that he was an intellectual par excellence, a seer, a wise voice counseling us all to at least "go slow," (to quote Nina Simone). I posted a segment of the long "debate" with James Baldwin which, for all that he lost the debate, somehow made his bones with the cultural elite which anointed him. Even in the debate itself, and as well in the subsequent anointing, Baldwin's point is made by Buckley and the culture--exemplified. Baldwin objects that he, as a black man in America, is taught his "place," that there is not even an alternative choice. And in Buckley's willingness to objectify "those people" and characterize them, he entirely admits Baldwin's thesis, that this is exactly what it's like.

This sort of thinking still persists, and is easily, almost randomly discovered. Only last weekend I encountered it immediately upon turning to a John Stossel television show, where I found some "libertarian" pundit discussing the need for a personal interaction between "those people" who receive public assistance, and the localized benefactor class who would he hoped replace so-called faceless bureaucrats who don't make eye contact because they are not in the same place. The whole rigamarole was about guilt and shame, and a libertarian utopian fantasy of what might possibly come "after" the end of our tattered and failing social safety net.

That this arrogance persists right along, generation after generation, is shocking, even if it is perhaps a terrible truth about human nature--something we as a whole are confined by even as we are confined in the tiny place our planet inhabits, and the tiny temporal frame of our hospitable environment--something we can even understand by just looking at fossils and glacier tracks, much less acknowledging that in tiny bits of seeming darkness in the night sky reside in fact billions of galaxies, which are as unreachable as the hope of entirely ending racism.

[Hat tip to Digby, who posted this video on her site today.]

So this morning I encountered a beautiful acknowledgement of a great poet by a terrific blogger and writer:

Gwendolyn Brooks has been dead for 13 years. While living she wrote some of the finest poems around. O'Malley quotes this one:

The Bean Eaters

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.

And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

The sad thing about William F. Buckley is that he spent his whole life defending the indefensible. There is a tragic arrogance to his life's work that points directly to despair. It seems doubtful that Buckley ever allowed his obviously fine mind to look directly into this pit of horror. He was instead content to live in his luxury, enjoying his privilege, his "star" status, his yacht, his "place." No one ever came in from outside. There was never even one moment of reality to intrude on his racist fantasy. The best that can be said is, Gore Vidal really pissed him off.

Oh yes, indeed, human nature does nontheless trap us all. This lesson is deeper, and more subtle. We watch with some dismay as Mr. Obama, who must have thought he had a great opportunity to repair a lot of damage, is instead wrapped in the cocoon of inevitables which deliver him to drone strikes and wiretaps and all the rest, the great necessity of survival, the contradiction of power and mercy. Already nice liberals like Jonathan Alter have published books explaining that at least Obama has saved us--for now--from the advent of true Republican rule again.

Meanwhile, as we discover a hundred billion new (ancient) out-of-reach galaxies, we watch the Arctic Ocean melt away, and set our engineers the task of finding the oil and gas that lies beneath those dark blue waters. We are always busy as bees.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Privacy--"Got Two Good Eyes and Still Can't See"

From Charlie Pierce yesterday:

The other thing I hoped would not happen -- but was very confident would happen -- was that the architects of the regime that made this business as usual would step forward now and claim that their own dingo had eaten their babies.

C'mon down, Jim Sensenbrenner.

"As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI's interpretation of this legislation," he said in a statement. "While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses. He added: "The Bureau's broad application for phone records was made under the so-called business records provision of the Act. I do not believe the broadly drafted FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American."

See also: "Fk, Oh For The Love Of," That horse left the barn in 2002. Jim Sensenbrenner's the one who took the hinges off the barn door.

Stonewall Jackson knew about this phenomenon:

[photo from Luray Caverns, Virginia]

His boys might even have hid out in the Caverns while some dumbass Yankee patrol from Maine or Minnesota rattled past. It's the slow drip drip drip that makes the difference after a while. Last night I watched Mizoguchi's "Sansho the Bailiff." It's layers are many, including the incredible black and white photography throughout. But the viewer shouldn't forget what's being depicted in the foreground--the brutal exploitation of working people by a wealthy aristocracy with an army of goons. In the story (which is based on a Japanese folk tale), it takes an enlightened new governmental authority to put a stop to slavery and exploitation. The new "governor" carries with him a simple moral principle given to him as a child by his father: "even if you are hard on yourself, show mercy to others."

The trouble with Stonewall is the same trouble with Bishop Pike. Sensenbrenner could be a double for the Legislature of the Confederacy General Lee found when begging to them for more money, in the winter of '63-'64. They were a rabble, eating peanuts and tossing the shells on the floor, and they cared not a whit for Lee's money problems. By the following spring Grant was at their door. (And by the way, after the good Governor frees the slaves, they burn massa's house to the ground in a drunken revelry. I expected to hear strains of the "Year of Jubelo.")

You can visit the Luray Caverns while driving through Virginia. There are lots of signs. You can also see where Jackson lay mortally wounded and dying, after Chancellorsville, at a little railroad crossing called Guinea Station just a couple of miles off I-95 south of Fredericksburg. He was accidentally shot by his own troops.

Update. I was very affected by having viewed "Sansho" the other night, and thought about different details I remembered from it as the workday passed yesterday, a slow slow day full of rain squalls with little of my actual job to attend to. This morning I looked up Mizoguchi and found the following paragraph on "Sansho":

Sansho Dayu, in any case, transcends all reservations. It is the triumphant summation of Mizoguchi’s style and themes, as well as the most compassionate response imaginable to those atrocities which had been committed in then very recent years, in Japan and all over the world. It is the most humanist of films, but it asserts that humanism is powerless without politics, just as politics is purposeless without humanism. The last sequence is the most perfect ending in cinema, so broad in implication, so exquisite in form. The reunion of mother and son – the revelation of human love – is at once the most important thing in the world, and an event insignificant against the panorama of human suffering. The double perspective – never to see things in isolation, always in context – is assured by Mizoguchi’s style, and defines his art. Sansho Dayu is, in Gilbert Adair’s words, “one of those films for whose sake the cinema exists” (9). If any art has justified this medium, so often crude, thoughtless and mundane, it is the art of Kenji Mizoguchi.*

I seem to have recommended "Hamlet" to you, or "Oedipus," or "Crime and Punishment." Whatever. Hell of a movie.

*Alexander Jacoby,

Monday, June 3, 2013

It Was the Third of June...

Overnight the sunny weekend turned into more thunderstorms and heavy rain, which still falls as the dawn arrives this morning. Best thing I watched in a long time was the documentary, "Buck," about the horseman Buck Brannaman. I strongly recommend that you rent it. It is a portrait of a man who has found his calling, and the genius within himself, which consists of an openness to animals, and particularly horses. It's something he had as a little boy, during a time when he was controlled by a very warped, angry father and suffered abuse which somehow didn't break him, or warp him, but contributed to his empathy and ability to see deeply into animals and, for that matter, people. Buck has judgement, and a perspective. I found it heartening to discover this fine individual, alive and well, in today's world. There is so much pointing to a more negative way of seeing the drift of things.

As night fell I was watching the pretty good police procedural "Killing." Commercials from time to time hyped an upcoming show airing tonight on something called "ABC Family." The preview featured a camera shot from underwater of a teenage boy's face, also underwater. First you might think he's swimming. Then you realize he's being drowned, his head held underwater by another man. The shot goes on and on, until at the end he is indeed drowned. It was little short of snuff porn. You and your "family" can all watch it together this evening, if you want to expose yourself and your kids to such a thing. There's also some "weirwolves" involved in the deal. Maybe that's supposed to make the murder ok.

Meanwhile, on "Killing" a teen boy who's been searching for his missing girlfriend for the whole show figures out where she is, but before he can get to her, behind a locked door, her abductor catches him and stabs him to death. The murder is calculated, brutal, and another "snuff." That it happens off screen matters little. I switched the channel sort of randomly, and found myself watching some John Stossel episode, people on a stage with an audience, Stossel the kind of "moderator" figure. The "guests" were making an argument about how social programs such as medicare and social security are somehow bad for the "moral fiber" of our citizens. What we need, one of them said, was a more intimate, local kind of social security, where an administrator could look a recipient in the eye when the recipient was discovered to have bought a TV with his dole. Another panelist asserted that "most" government aid doesn't go to poor people anyways, but to middle class and rich people. "The last things to be cut are social security and medicaid" he said. Presumably snuffing the last flickers of empathy in the audience of just plain middle class white folks who were watching the presentation.

(Note to the newbies. When you hear people talking about the "moral fibre" of the American people, you are hearing paternalism in action. Who appointed these yuppie libertarians the judges of our "moral fibre." No doubt these boys all went to good colleges like Harvard and Yale. So what? Mitt Romney went to Harvard too. As we saw in horrible detail during the last election, he apparently didn't learn a fucking thing there.)

I turned it off at that point. It was bedtime. I shut my eyes and remembered Buck and his daughter Reata doing rope tricks for a crowd. When Buck was five or six he had a pet bull calf. He rode the calf, and even saddled him. One day, out of the blue, Buck's father took him out to the barn, shot the calf between the eyes, and made Buck butcher him. This story is one of the "deleted scenes" on the video. I'll bet Buck didn't particularly want such cruelty to be part of the central story of the movie, even if it was probably an important moment in his life in the sense that it was a trauma and a thing for his heart to deal with.

There's a lot about Buck Brannaman on the google. He makes his living giving clinics on horse riding and training.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

They All Sound Alike, Pt. 74

Back in 1970 me and the other folks that made up the Fuzzy Mountain String Band tried to work up Tommy Jarrell's "Back Step Cindy." We thought we had it down pretty good, and recorded it on our recording debut on Rounder Records. This is what we looked like back then, sitting in front of Malcolm and Vickie Owens' lodgings just northwest of Chapel Hill, an old farmhouse owned by Bibi Danziger as I recall--she was a shop owner and restauranteur in Chapel Hill and owned "Danzigers" and several dining establishments catering to the college kids, and with some of her spare change she invested in various old farms dotting the landscape near Chapel Hill, which I expect she wisely figgered would appreciate greatly over the years. Till then she was fine with renting to grad students such as Malcolm and Vickie, who seemed and were capable of dealing with an old farm house with a bunch of fire places, and a dirt path in so sloggy in wet weather that Blanton's "positraction" green Ford panel truck positracted itself right down to the differential one November afternoon.

There we sit on a fine spring day. Later the record came out, and a second one too. But the more I listened to "Back Step Cindy," the more I felt I'd not learned the thing right. In fact, the more I listened to Tommy Jarrell and Fred Cockerham and various other Round Peakers play the thing, the more labyrinthian the mystery of the tune became, and the less I understood it, and I quit playing what I had thought once was the tune, and never went back to it, there being many many other tunes to worry about and get with.

So, here's Fred Cockerham and Kyle Creed playing the tune right:

I wish you could see Fred's bow arm, but all this newfangled easy videoing world we live in hadn't been invented when Fred was alive. All we have is County Records pretty much, and Ray Alden's work.

One of these days I might still go back to "Back Step Cindy." I love the little extra measure, which maybe is the very "back step" of the title. Or maybe the title is referring to some dancin' fool Cindy Fred knew in 1925. Some mysteries cannot be resolved. These days I'm trying to learn Major Franklin's "Tom and Jerry," which is about the most elegant and elemental version of that great steaming warhorse I've ever heard. Benny Thomasson's got more notes, and Mark O'Connor more notes still, but sometimes despite the cute commercials more is not better.