Sunday, December 22, 2013

I'm a "Southerner" Too

I have to agree with this gentleman, but be careful watching this if you're at work. There's also some very solid responses to Richardson's assertion that black people were "happy" when he was growing up:

To say you “never saw a Black person mistreated” in the Deep South in the 50’s and 60’s, is genuinely astounding. You’re talking about people who couldn’t vote, walk in the wrong part of town, drink from the wrong fountain, sit down in a diner, or show inadequate “deference” to any white trash idiot no matter how poor or stupid he was. You’re talking about people with few if any genuine rights who were consigned to those fields because they were actively excluded from anything else. You saw nothing but Black people being mistreated, and just because you never saw some white guy actually standing over them and beating them with a chain is no excuse to play dumb about it.

Mark Steyn, on the other hand, claims at National Review that Mr. Richardson is being bludgeoned by that dangerous group of thugs, GLAAD.

Nevertheless, GLAAD — “the gatekeepers of politically correct gayness” as the (gay) novelist Bret Easton Ellis sneered — saw their opportunity and seized it. By taking out TV’s leading cable star, they would teach an important lesson pour encourager les autres — that espousing conventional Christian morality, even off-air, is incompatible with American celebrity.

It's pretty sad when this blurry, sloppy phrase, "conventional Christian morality," gets dragged around town in support of pretty much every bigoted notion that sleeps in America's lizard brain, waiting only for the alarm bells of people like Steyn to slither awake yet again. The southern ranter at the top has it exactly right. It's the rubes who are being shilled by the Richardsons. And by the American right wing.


Update, 12/28/13: The suspension has been lifted, praise Jesus, and the faux duck millionaires can continue to make their tv show for the A&E huckster billionaires. Now that didn't hurt much, did it?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas in the Trenches

My good buddy and musical associate Jim Watson put out this nifty live recording of his very appreciated and long running Christmas show last year I think it was (how time do fly, chillens). You can buy one at his next show, Dec. 22 at the Cave in Chapel Hill, or on line anytime at Mike Craver's store. But I digress.

One of the songs Jim usually sings at the event, and includes on the CD, is called "Christmas in the Trenches." It depicts a real moment in World War I. Soldiers fighting each other stopped fighting on Christmas Eve, for a while, and all had a small Christmas celebration. It's poignant and very touching. As a statement about the abomination of war it's up there with "And the Band Played 'Waltzing Matilda.'" "Christmas in the Trenches" affirms the possibility that love can overcome hate, fear, and evil. This is what our celebration of Christmas aims at affirming. I mean the little kernel, the part that is for at least many of us still there, below the enormous mountain of commercial excess, of marketing, of general hooey, that mostly obscures the point that's still there.

For reasons of propaganda, hate, fear, and evil, we are cursed in the United States with a whole fake news network that has, for at least a decade, rolled out a fake fear about something they call the War on Christmas. It's old hat, a cliche, and silly. But with Megyn Kelly's bold, blatant assertion that both Santa Claus and Jesus are white, Fox News has started a real war on Christmas, in earnest. It's a race war. It's pretty much the same war Adolf Hitler started with the idea that Christianity was an Aryan religion. Ms Kelly waves the Aryan flag, live and in public, attempting to stomp into the pavement a sweet essay by a young woman who is black, and who reported on her childhood experiences of Christmas in a culture where all the symbols are white.

None of this is even new. Peanuts covered this territory in the '60s. Ernie Pyle and Bill Mauldin covered it during those Christmases in the first half of the '40s. Go watch "Mrs Miniver" again, and "Since You Went Away," and even "Stalag 17." And after all that tragedy and blood, our parents would be aghast to find here in the new Century a Fox News, stirring the cauldron of hate yet again, the utter and total opposite of our pitiful efforts to actually celebrate Christmas amid the din of marketing which already comes close to drowning out even the tiny embers that bring a little warmth to a very cold winter. How very sad.

John McCutcheon also recorded the song. here's his version's lyrics, very close to Jim's:

My name is Francis Tolliver. I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen field of France were still, no Christmas song was sung.
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
their brave and glorious lads so far away.
I was lyin' with my mess-mates on the cold and rocky ground
when across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound.
Says I "Now listen up me boys", each soldier strained to hear
as one young German voice sang out so clear.
"He's singin' bloody well you know", my partner says to me.
Soon one by one each German voice joined in in harmony.
The cannons rested silent. The gas cloud rolled no more
as Christmas brought us respite from the war.
As soon as they were finished a reverent pause was spent.
'God rest ye merry, gentlemen' struck up some lads from Kent.
The next they sang was 'Stille Nacht". "Tis 'Silent Night'" says I
and in two tongues one song filled up that sky.
"There's someone comin' towards us" the front-line sentry cried.
All sights were fixed on one lone figure trudging from their side.
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shone on that plain so bright
as he bravely strode, unarmed, into the night.
Then one by one on either side walked into no-mans-land
with neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand.
We shared some secret brandy and wished each other well
and in a flare-lit soccer game we gave 'em hell.
We traded chocolates, cigarettes and photographs from home
these sons and fathers far away from families of their own.
Young Sanders played his squeeze box and they had a violin
this curious and unlikely band of men.
Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more.
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war.
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
"whose family have I fixed within my sights?"
It was Christmas in the trenches where the frost so bitter hung.
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung.
For the walls they'd kept between us to exact the work of war
had been crumbled and were gone for ever more.
My name is Francis Tolliver. In Liverpool I dwell.
Each Christmas come since World War One I've learned it's lessons well.
That the ones who call the shots won't be among the dead and lame
and on each end of the rifle we're the same.

This is why I buy a bottle of scotch around Christmas. Today's the day, after work. They'll no doubt have tinsel up all around the Alcoholic Beverage Control store in Siler City, and spiffy Christmas cartons featuring engraved shot glasses, and Sinatra singing on the PA.


Saturday Morning Update:

Didn't get that bottle yet (no worries--there will still be liquor at the liquor store). We went Christmas shopping in Pittsboro after I got home from work and came home in the dark to see the Cone's lights sparkling through the trees. We then discovered that Ms. Kelly had apparently received some blowback from her attack on Christmas, and has responded exactly like most 13-year-old mean gurrls would, by asserting her profound victimhood in the whole matter. There are no details on the Youtube as yet, but in short Ms Kelly says she was just kidding, can't any one take a joke anymore or what, she was agreeing with the Slate essay if anybody just listened. I'm sure it does sting when a world class kidder like John Stewart takes notice. And I'm sure it would be a blow to Ms Kelly to lose her extremely lucrative job and stature, as a Fox personality with her own national show. There's no where to go for her but down, and fast, and it's possible that even at Fox she's at the moment standing on the precipice. At any rate, as she demonstrates in the aftermath, she is a world class spinner, and there will be work for her somewheres, and more appropriate at that.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Much has been made (on the right) about Mr. Obama's handshake with Raul Castro. There are lots of delightful rejoinders, if you want to play the game. My favorite (I think from Edroso) was, "hey, the United States has more political prisoners in Cuba than Raul Castro does." But it's obvious--if you look I mean--that it serves the authoritarian right well to have people still residing in the land of reason getting all het up about some handshake in South Africa. There's only so much "het" to "up" at a time. And they sure don't want us getting upset about this:

Remember all that hooey about how all we need is more good guys with guns. In our state they passed new laws allowing these "good guys" to bring their guns more places. Now they can bring them to state university campuses (even though the campus security people begged that this not be allowed). I'm not sure, but it might even be illegal now in NC to put up a sign banning weapons. Maybe that's one of those pending things, for the next Legislative session.

Anyway, somebody bothered to do the math. At least 194 children have died from gunshot since Newtown, and most of them died at home, from interactions of various sorts with weapons owned by their parents--no doubt good people all.

Aside from the horror of Newtown itself, and the tragedy of all those utterly senseless murders, both at Newtown and following, each and every day, the biggest tragedy we face is the utter incompetence of the so-called mainstream press, which allowed the National Rifle Association and Wayne LaPierre to hijack the conversation which needed to happen after Newtown and turn it to its own ends. Our Congress subsequently managed to do absolutely nothing about our insane proliferation of firearms, aside from retaining a ban on plastic weapons already in place.

Meanwhile, Even John McCain fulminates about the cooties Mr. Obama must have caught yesterday when he shook Raul's hand. No doubt Romney will also weigh in. MSNBC will no doubt cover this kerfluffle tonight.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Governor Jesse Helms


North Carolina includes a strip of barrier islands, the Outer Banks, which in some sections are so narrow as to allow both hurricanes and nor'easters to cut new channels through them. This has been the case since people recorded history, and a brief glance at the map history of the banks will reveal the opening and closing of many inlets through the years and decades. As recently as the 1860s there was a good sized town on Portsmouth Island, which received much of the shipping commerce from overseas, and included a large military hospital. In the late '50s or early '60s the last four residents of this town moved to the mainland, and the town became a ghost town, administered by the National Park Service. A similar story involves the town of Diamond City, a bit further south on the Banks near Cape Lookout.

The geology and evolution of the Outer Banks had been extensively studied by many scientists, including famously Dr. Orrin Pilkney, who wrote a major treatise on the geology of the Outer Banks quite some time ago:

Here's a picture of an inlet cut across Hatteras Island less than ten years ago (it's been repaired, but reveals a weak place on the island likely to be breached once again during a storm):

The fact that islands such as the Outer Banks are in constant if slow motion is not particularly new. Pilkney's book was published decades back. The Outer Banks have been inhabited for many centuries. As long as the inhabitants were hardy, resourceful folk who knew how to live on and with the water, the basic fact that their abode was in constant slow motion was not a particular problem. Libby and I lived for ten years on Ocracoke Island, the island below Hatteras in the Banks chain, and an island with no bridge to any other island or mainland. We came and went by state D.O.T. ferry. We rented a house built in the early 1800s in large part from salvaged wood cast up from ship wrecks. A termite guy told us that there were no termites, but evidence of departed ship worms. The house had been moved several times around the island, and owned by several different families over the course of its life. It was thought to be older than the Lighthouse, and after we moved its owner raised the house's foundation some six feet--a common renovation on the Banks.

While large sand dunes are a noticeable feature of the Banks, many of them are actually man-made structures created by engineers to protect the relatively recent establishment of paved roads--Highway 12--down the Banks. Native "Ocockers" remembered the days of no roads to the Hatteras Inlet ferry--one drove up the beach on the beach, or rode a horse. There was a famous local song still sung by oldtimers called the "Booze Yacht," about a shipwreck full of whiskey, and how the locals plundered it--such a wonderful piece of luck that it was then memorialized in song.

For people who went out to the Banks in the '60s and earlier, one very memorable feature of the adventure was the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes were always fierce and hungry. I took a trip one day to Portsmouth Island, and found that still quite true there--the things would pierce through bluejeans. I'm sure quite a few would-be cottage builders were discouraged by the mosquitoes, as well as the occasional storms and the fact that until recent days most of the Banks was "dry," thus requiring a day-trip to the Nags Head liquor store.

No doubt starting in the post World War II era many developers eyed the Banks with great interest. In 1963 the Bonner Bridge was build across Oregon Inlet, which separates Hatteras from Nags Head. At the same time, spraying for mosquitoes commenced in earnest. I've heard many stories of children running gleefully behind the spray trucks on a summer's day. By the '90s, Avon, one of the little communities on Hatteras Island, sported a Food Lion. When we were living on Ocracoke, starting in 1995, the cheapest "house" we found for sale was a rotting trailer on one of the worst parcels of land on the island, low and swampy with questionable water and septic. It was for sale for about $100,000. This was why we rented.

As Dr. Pilkney and many others have noted, barrier sand islands are moving. Wind and water constantly move the sand. Up on Nags Head there is a famous natural sand dune named Jockey's Ridge. It is growing measurably smaller because much of the sand to the windward of the dune is now buried under asphalt, shopping centers, and beach houses. The Bonner Bridge is being washed out from below by the same natural processes, and just this month inspections discovered so much erosion of sand under some of the bridge supports that, in alarm, the DOT abruptly closed the bridge for safety reasons.

Our new Republican Governor, Pat McCrory, rushed down to "inspect" the Bonner Bridge this past week. He announced afterwards that the closure was the "fault" of an environment group, the Southern Environment Law Center, who was suing the state concerning the design of the bridge to replace the aging and failing Bonner span. McCrory invoked "leftist elitism" in his press conference, a theme oddly present in right wing rhetoric almost instantly:

I don't care to quote Reverend Creech, but feel free to read what he has to say. One might wonder, however, how the price tag for the favored environmentally sound bridge stacks up against repeated repairs of a bridge placed in the Oregon Inlet and subject to the same tidal erosion that is destroying the Bonner Bridge. Not to mention, of course, the pretty much constant costs involved in keeping open a highway capable of servicing hundreds of thousands of two-wheel-drive family vehicles when such a highway runs down a narrow, low strip of sand placed in the middle of a rising Atlantic Ocean--a strip so narrow that (as I can personally attest), one can see both the breakers and the sound at the same time.

With our fresh new Republican government here in NC, factual truth is being replaced with political rhetoric. The facts haven't changed. And underneath all the Limbovian style gibberish about "left-leaning intellectual elites at Chapel Hill," the Banks just keep moving. It is said that the Republicans always represent money, and little else. It used to be that on issues as close to home as the Outer Banks, there was quite a bit of common ground. Nobody wanted off shore drilling, for example. But underneath the immediate issue of the Bonner Bridge, this new administration dreams of oil and gas monies ripe for the picking just off the Banks. Why not, then, use a fresh problem for the new tenants of the Banks--people who mostly imagined living on a spit of sand in the middle of the ocean could be more or less the same as living in Ohio or Connecticut--to build support for off shore drilling, via discrediting the environmentalists who continue to see the facts about the Outer Banks aright.

Here's a link to the Southern Environment Law Center's position on the proposed new bridge:

Here's the letter they sent to Governor McCrory after he blamed the SELC for the bridge closure!

Kinda reminds me of how the House Republicans blamed the Democrats for the Federal Government shutdown a couple of months back.


The State DOT head is one Tony Tata. He was, before being appointed by Governor McCrory to this position, fired by the Wake County School Board:

According to members on the board who voted to fire him:

...Democratic members said that Tata had been a polarizing force as the board worked to bridge its partisan divide.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” an emotional Christine Kushner, one of three new Democratic board members that Tata had feuded with, said after the vote. “I truly believe we have reached an internal breaking point.”

Fellow Democratic board member Susan Evans said Tata ultimately failed to get the board, administration and his office working smoothly together.

“It wasn’t in specific areas,” Evans said. “It was concerns about the total collaborative relationship.”

Tata's appointment by McCrory was viewed in part as a response to the Wake School Board situation, which was divided on Party lines. Tata's response to the Bonner Bridge closure was in keeping with his reputation, as he remarked that the Southern Environmental Law group were "latte drinking elites." But one has to wonder about using the term "elites" in a context involving million dollar beach houses.


Update 2:

General Tata and Mr. Carter were given the opportunity to talk live to each other about the Bonner Bridge closing yesterday on WUNC-FM's "State of Things" radio program:

Give a listen. Strikes me that Mr. Carter has been focused on the problem of the bridge and the erosion of Hatteras for about two decades, whereas General Tata, on the job for about 11 months after his dismissal from the Raleigh School Board, is leaping to an immediate problem, and is refusing to look at the larger picture and, in fact, is using the difficulties which folks on Hatteras are facing at the moment as a way to force the outcome he and the McCrory Administration happen to want. He most particularly ignores the fact that the northern ten miles or so of Hatteras, above the village of Rodanthe, have been washing out with frequency, which is another way of closing the Bonner Bridge even if strictly speaking there's nothing wrong, per se, with the bridge itself. Give a listen to the conversation. Mr. Stacio and UNC-FM deserve a big Huzzah! for putting this conversation on the air. Of course the Republican Party aims if it can to entirely defund public radio. That way folks won't get to hear such conversations, and the authoritarians can get to do what they want easier. No doubt they would say, "and that'll be cheaper for you 47%-ers anyways."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Twelfth Month

The grinding mendacity of the Republicans has become boring and absurd, and, I keep hoping, so obvious to my fellow Americans that they will start to react negatively to all of it. Last night I watched an hilarious bit of the Dobbs show on Fox. He was talking to two "experts" concerning the effort to reduce tensions with Iran, prefacing the segment with critical quotes from Henry Kissinger and George Schultz (remember them?--you're more or less as old as me then). His experts were Judith Miller, disgraced shill of the Bush Administration and Scooter Libby, and Professor Walid Phares. Dobbs quoted the Schultz/Kissinger remarks, expecting Miller and Phares to jump in with hobbed nailed boots.

They didn't, even when Dobbs paraphrased the Kissinger comments as "two adults correcting rash and not too intelligent adolescents at play in the White House." Here's the segment:

As you can see for yourself, Dobbs was unable to brow-beat his own "experts" into a full-on attack of what is clearly a very circumscribed and modest effort by the United States State Department to make some headway with Iran on the issue of an Iranian nuclear weapon. Even when he resorts to what must be his nuclear rhetorical weapon: "bloody hell!" Ms Miller remains firm. "Let's wait and see," she responds. That is exactly the Administration's modest position.

Later, of course, we found Mr. O'Reilly brow-beating Alan Colmes on the health care reform issue. Nothing's changed over there. Out of a group including O'Reilly, Krauthammer, and one of the many blonde newsreaders of Fox (who might as well wear Hooters teeshirts to work, since this is exactly their function in the Fox system), only Colmes opined that it was too early to know how the health insurance reform was going to play out. O'Reilly even invoked numbers: "but you're in the minority here, four to one." Colmes refrained from pointing out that this was exactly his horrible function at Fox--a Washington General along with Juan Williams, forever being dribbled into the opposite basket by louts and girls with Hooter teeshirts.

Maybe Ms. Miller feels the same way. She once, after all, was an esteemed member of the press corps of the New York Times. But in that moment with Dobbs, she stood her ground, and was articulate. It was a small, hopeful sign, and I looked out into the darkness at the Cone, lit once again in our now-annual Xmas Rite. So what if we can't have an indoor Christmas Tree with 5 cats living here. We have the Cone.