Saturday, March 29, 2014

Genius Liar

Those of us who remember Watergate as it unfolded must surely understand that, just as different outcomes can be imagined for World War II, the American Civil War, and other momentous events which changed the world, so in the case of Watergate, it might have been different. There were many many specifics in the Watergate scandal. Not the least was Nixon himself, his own odd manichean personality: paranoid, surreptitious, yet concerned with ultimate truth and with how even his opponents (enemies he'd call them) viewed him. Nixon's particularities in fact sowed the seeds of his destruction. He might have fallen by other paths. He might have managed to engineer an effective cover-up as well. These are the logical possibilities.

Watching the unfolding of Mr. Christie's cover-up, I have to wonder if he studied Nixon's mistakes. Not the mistakes of character of course. Just the mistakes of craft, of power-wielding. History has been kind to Christie. There is it would seem no great counterweight, no Sam Ervin, no Lowell Weiker, no Archie Cox, no Edward R. Morrow. Add to that happy circumstance the general development of a manichean press which can offer endless "but-ands" to every unpleasant nugget a Rachel Maddow can uncover, and a threshold of boredom in the general public which seems to lie somewhere south of 24 hours in the best of circumstances.

And, perhaps most important, add to all of the general circumstances Mr. Christie's plain ability to lie with a brazen, straight-faced accomplishment which amounts to the opposite of Tricky Dick, a man who was so internally conflicted that people thought he was lying even when he was telling the truth. As yet no one has really been able to indict Christie on the charge of stonewalling. Samantha Bee has come close, but her art lives in the air of poetry, and Christie lives on a different planet. What Ms Bee represents is not so much an exasperation with Christie, as with our credulity, and the ongoing manipulation of the main stream press.

Mr. Christie might still be brought down by the methods of governance he clearly employs. Even if he survives his whole second term in office, a run for the United States Presidency seems to me an unlikely proposition at this point. It's not as though the bizarre Republican base particularly love him, since one of the base's features is a distrust of all things urban. Christie, in other words, may be at least quarantined, inflicted only on a state which at least has a relatively large percentage of educated voters in its favor.

We are nontheless watching a horrible genius at work. I plan on viewing Errol Morris' new documentary on Donald Rumsfeld. I expect and hope Mr. Morris is already working on a project featuring Mr. Christie, an altogether worthy subject for the best documentarian in the land.

Note. I don't mean to suggest that no one sees the obvious. Here, for example, is the Rude Pundit's excellent take on the just out "Christie Exoneration Report":
And Ms Bee pretty much observed much the same characteristics of the report in her piece on Morning Joe, while noting that mostly the main-stream media tends to be an exclusive club, and that the club finds it extremely difficult to expel members once they are initiated, Mr. Christie being in fact a member. You can and should watch the whole Bee piece at the link to Business Insider cited above.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Some Small Good News

May I recommend for your reading pleasure the following, including the delightful comments:

Briefly, one Joel Osteen, who runs a "church" in Houston in what was once the Houston Rockets NBA arena, had his safe cracked last week to the tune of $600,000. There is much speculation and general guffawing concerning the relationship of Father Osteen to his professed religion. If you look the guy up you'll find wiki pages on him and his missus Victoria. His daddy was a preacher and he took over pop's mom'n'pop bidness. The missus also preaches in the mega church, has written books, and was tossed off an airplane for getting into a tiff with an attendant, although she won in the civil suit the attendant brought apparently aiming to cash in. Thanks to Mr. Norquist the IRS will not be bothering the Osteens any time soon. The Federal government was indeed drowned in the proverbial bathtub sometime back in the '90s, but no one noticed until Wayne LaPierre took the podium after Sandy Hook.

In other good news, the UNC basketball Tar Heels are still standing (at this early Sunday writing), last of the North Carolina schools alive in the March Madness thing. They won their game Friday on foul shots by James Michael MacAdoo, which is very close to an Easter Miracle, and as he made the shots I had the hope that maybe that clutch success would take the horrible monkey off his back--"MacAdon't," as the State fans call him, has been the second best player for the Heels all year, but his ability to hit foul shots is lacking and watching him at the foul line is like watching a game of pin the tail on the donkey. No two efforts are the same. An old friend reminded me of a Carolina player from my youth, York Larese, who shot the foul shots immediately upon taking the ball from the ref, and had a success percentage up in the 90s. I don't understand why the current team doesn't take meditation lessons, or at least listen carefully to what their only great foul shooter, Marcus Paige, might suggest. And while State fans certainly deserve a creativity prize for their wry Macadonian sobriquet, it has to be said that State's ACC player of the year, T.J. Warren, missed numerous foul attempts late in the game with St. Louis which could have won the game for the Pack. Baseball season has now begun in Raleigh.

Next week is Martinsville again. We're hoping it doesn't snow. Bristol was a disaster, with almost no fans and rain delays that pushed the race deep into Sunday night. I've never been colder than at Martinsville three years ago, and the sun was shining. I had the duffer idea that the cars would generate heat once we got into the stands. Ha ha. Maybe if we'd been suspended directly over the track. This week the prediction is another snow/freezing rain event for Tuesday. Oh, the good news ended one paragraph back. Happy Sunday. Go Heels.


Monday Morning Update: We watched the Heels go down 83-81 yesterday. Also Wichita State, which was a bigger deal since the Shockers were unbeaten. MacAdoo made two free throws to tie the game with about 15 seconds left. That may have left the Heels and Coach Roy in such amazement that they didn't do the obvious and foul someone on the Iowa State team immediately. Instead, Iowa State played it perfectly, scoring with a second left, and we were unable to even get a timeout called. Such is life, and the official end of winter in North Carolina. Kentucky looks very serious now.

After the game we watched the documentary "Chasing Ice." It presents a fine perspective adjustment after a basketball loss. I used to argue with people who rejected the facts of global warming, and was incredulous at the brick wall of opposition I'd meet. But then I understood that the goal was not to understand facts, but to thwart all efforts to form a political consensus towards acting in any way to avert the coming climate catastrophe. It's going to take the air conditioners stopping to have any affect on the Koch brothers and their ilk. Their money provides insulation aplenty until that day comes. I continue to be mystified as to why ordinary folks, people who don't own the world, fall for the denialist blather. One guy in the film says "I used to think humans simply weren't capable of causing such a disastrous change in the climate until I saw the glaciers." At least that's an observation, although you'd think the passenger pigeon would have been quite enough proof of the general principle.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Trey and Rand's Excellent Proposition

There has been much comment on the proposal by Trey Gowdy (R, SC) and Rand Paul (R, KY) and other like to pass a law holding that Mr. Obama is proceeding "lawlessly" by not cracking down with his sequestered (you know they are) jackbooted storm troops on the brazen anarchy being perpetrated in Colorado and Washington State by passing in those states legalization of marijuana laws, which of course fly in the fact of our Federal statutes. Many commenters have haw-hawed at the plain fact that such an Excellent Proposition is flatly contradicted by the general position of the Far Right that in this great land of ours, States Rights ought to have the position it had back at the origin of the Republic, when white men of property (and a few Native Americans, truth be told) could own black men and women and bid them do the work at the bite of the lash. In those glory days before the ragged Lincoln took up arms against his own countrymen for simply begging to exit the voluntary agreement, white men of property all agreed on a few things. One of them was that each State was in truth a country, with the right to do things as its men of authority sought fit. (In some way this was little more than an extension of the status quo in the days before the Revolution. The King was far, far away. Colonies would on occasion have little skirmishes to determine by arms what was otherwise a loggerhead. On November 22, 1718, for example, Edward Teach, known as Blackbeard, was killed on the Pamlico Sound off Ocracoke, NC, by a naval force sent by Virginia's governor. It is generally understood that Teach was operating under the employ of North Carolina's Governor at Bath, NC.

The War Between the States, it is understood, pretty much ended the originalist framework of the United States with regards to "states rights." The Federal Government had proved by force of arms that individual states could not just do whatever they wished. Slavery was abolished. As time went on, women were allowed to vote at long last. Alcohol was prohibited and then re-allowed. Presidents were limited to two terms. In the mid-1960s black people were at least legally given the rights of white people which the Civil War had already established to them 100 years earlier. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled that women have equal medical rights to men, including the right to control the outcome of their own pregnancy with the assistance of medical personnel. There were no caveats set on this basic political truth--women and men were equally citizens, period, which followed from Women's Suffrage itself.

Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Paul have of course toiled diligently to return to the days of yore, when States had far more power. Along with many of their cohort, they have supported laws which undermine the fundamental premise of Roe V Wade. They have both supported various efforts by the states to reduce the ability of people of color to vote. For Gowdy and Paul, the only fundamental law of the land is the Second Amendment. This law was fundamental in the days of Edward Teach, and in the deepest sense it is only by voluntary agreement that brute force is ever kept from holding full sway. This, indeed, is the story of the history of mankind.

While commentators have tended to shake their heads at the quixotic effort to hold the President to task for not enforcing Federal drug laws in states which are experimenting with alternatives, noting that Mr. Obama will surely veto the Gowdy/Paul measure--it's just another example of empty posturing by the Republicans, one move amongst far too many to invigorate the low information voters that keep Republicans in power--I'd hope Mr. Obama will instead take them up on this.

We're about to experience an influx of trained military veterans, men and women who have learned their hard skills in the toughest place on the globe, Afganistan. Let's deputize them if they care to pursue a career in law enforcement. Certainly one of their tasks would be to enforce Federal drug laws. Fine with me. I've smoked some grass of course (I'm a musician; nuff said). It's a subtly evil drug, as pernicious in its long term effects as alcohol or any other. Short of an expensive effort at serious education (who wants to pay for that?), legal pot will ensnare more of our kids. But while these fresh new cops are on the job, let's use them to enforce our constitutional rights to women's health care as well. Far too many states have used defacto procedures to limit women's health care. It's a subterfuge and everyone knows it. Let's stop it with Federal Marshals now that we have a coalition of Left and Right on the issue. Same with voting rights--all the little amendments to voting rules patently aimed at discouraging voter participation are clearly unconstitutional. Send in the Marshals. Rand Paul and Trey Gowdy are on board.

While Mr. Obama is hard at work directing the Marshals in their extensive "clean up" of this rotting faux states-right cesspool, maybe Congress could move on to the next point of agreement. That would be impeaching Supreme Court Justices for blatant activist over-reach. I'd start with those still on the bench who voted to seat George W. Bush in the face of a popular election in which he was obviously defeated. I'd continue with the Justices who have overturned the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, and those who have voted to allow a tiny handful of oligarchs (such as the Koch brothers and Art Pope) to achieve political power in a direct relationship to their financial power (see, e.g., Citizens United). I'd add those Justices who gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Mr. Obama can quickly appoint fresh new Justices with more competent resumes.

We now, at last, have a governing coalition. Mr. Obama, strike while the iron is hot. Once the Right Wing returns to power it will be pretty much too late.

Note: After Blackbeard was killed, his head was hung to the bowsprit of Capt. Maynard's ship, Maynard sailing back to Norfolk, Va with his prize, and presenting it to the Governor. Legend has it that in the centuries since, the head was fashioned into a chalice, and, ironically, that it now resides in the inner recesses of Gimghoul Castle, a mysterious structure situated on the bluffs at the east end of Chapel Hill, NC, where it is said to be taken out on secret occasions for use in dark ceremonies. While I have been to the grounds of the Castle, and enjoyed the beautiful view extending on clear days to the spires of Raleigh itself, some 20 miles to the east, I have no personal knowledge of the Order of the Gimghoul or its various rites and passages, and I recount this legend only in the interest of Truth and Knowledge.


For further reading:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

As Keynes Said

We played a gig the other night as a legendary NC ice storm impended. I left work early, packed up the mics and stands and the fiddle, drove over to the Blue Note, a little place on 15-501 across from what folks around here call the Green Weenie, atop a hill where once sat South Square Mall, which was some years ago pretty much entirely removed, tho there's still a parking lot and a lone office supply place down there in the vacancy. The Note serves good burger and que, and good craft beer, and sweet potato fries (you surely recognize the drift at this point), and they feature mostly solos and duets but have room for our little quartet. And so it was that we arrived amid beginning flurries, Mr. Craver and myself being the first two of us, and we brought in the mics and stands and Mike set up his piano, and it began to rain, with some of if freezing on the tree outside but still just rain on the warmer than freezing road and parking lot.

The best part was, all these folks came out to see us even with such weather afoot. I took that as some kind of testament, as I'll tell you the truth, if it was up to me I'd have cancelled on account of the weather and would not have gone out to see any band or event, or like Lee Triplett said once to Hedy West when she told him to sit down because he was upstaging the act presently at work in front of him at her very own festival in Pipe Stem, WV, "I wouldn't sit down if Jesus appeared." So fortunately for all, band and audience alike, I had no say in the decisions and simply soldiered through the blizzard and was present with the rest of us. (Our web person and her husband even drove down from Rocky Mount, Va, and they had to drive through snow for the better part of the trip home, after the gig, and whilst she attributes it to his being from Ohio and knowing how to drive in the stuff, still and all...)

So we had our complementary burgers and set to work. And during the second set Jim slotted a song I wrote aways back when, which we haven't done much since them days when we were young and it all seemed timeless and endless. We were planning to do "Play 'Rocky Top'" last summer, but since we hadn't practiced the new version with the fiddle part I worked up, I chickened out on stage and we did something I knew instead (which isn't a bad plan on stage, since mostly people are made embarrassed and queasy when someone has a train wreck on stage). This time I was sure of the business, however. And Bren, the web person, filmed the thing:

So there, you can see me and us'n turning out the old war-horse, and although you'll have to crank your computer speakers up a bit to hear all of it well, it's actually performed quite as I'd have wished in advance, and I'm hoping we'll do it again in upcoming shows.

And I wanted to point out to you a specific detail, which you will probably miss because of the relatively muddy sound of the room and the fact that of course there's no engineer or anything to diddle the knobs. In the third and penultimate verse, the, um, protagonist, who has posed throughout the ditty as what Shakespeare termed a "rude mechanical," as well as what someone else would probably call a horndawg, reveals his hidden complexity. Always, through the whole history of this song, the third verse started with the line: "well the money keeps getting smaller, and the rent keeps going up." Which I've always thought was a bit of remarkably acute observation coming from the lips of the otherwise rude mechanical, who is offering to trade an oil change for a song.

But lately, as we planned for this ice storm gig, I thought it might be even better to allow the grease jockey to actually cite the relevant economist who observed this deep truth back in the late 1920s. And thusly, if you listen real close, you'll hear me start the third verse with "Keynes says..."

And now you know the rest of the story. And for more coverage of the gig you can go to the web page:


Earlier, before the ice storm and even before the practice, someone sent me the following uncredited picture, which they'd found on a face book page which focused on photos from many of the Union Grove Fiddler's Conventions. The man playing is the great, even legendary you might say, fiddler Tommy Jarrell. The year is probably 1970, give or take a year either way. The young man studying Mr. Jarrell's left hand with some intensity is... me! And what you are observing, and indeed what I'm observing in this photo, is pretty close to the moment when Mr. Jarrell's incredible playing captured me, the very match which is in this moment lighting one of the fuses of my subsequent life. How bout that!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Yes It Was

Mr. Robert Bateman writes frequently on Charlie Pierce's blog, mostly about the American Civil War. He offered this post free of charge, as a civic gesture aimed at creating in our citizenry at better understanding of American history. I figured it would be ok to repost it here:

The American Civil War is one of the few demonstrable cases in which the losers gained control of the narrative of history. Much as the Nazis developed the myth that the German Empire did not lose the First World War on the battlefield (they did) but instead that their armed forces were, "stabbed in the back" by liberals and Jews on the homefront (they were not), the Confederates in the post-Civil War era managed a concerted effort to conceal the causes of their rebellion. The cause of the war, they tried to claim, was "states rights." They tried to conceal that the cause was actually slavery, and that they themselves had said as much right at the outset. In this, over the course of the past 148 years, they have been depressingly successful. And that is not all.

Neo-Confederates have also tried to push the idea that the rebellion actually had units that consisted of slaves who had been freed and wanted, yes WANTED, to fight for the rebellion. (And that would be, exactly, why?)

This distortion of history and reality has gotten so bad that back in 2010 one Virginia school book was slammed for this gem:

"A textbook distributed to Virginia fourth-graders says that thousands of African Americans fought for the South during the Civil War -- a claim rejected by most historians but often made by groups seeking to play down slavery's role as a cause of the conflict. The passage appears in "Our Virginia: Past and Present," which was distributed in the state's public elementary schools for the first time last month. The author, Joy Masoff, who is not a trained historian but has written several books, said she found the information about black Confederate soldiers primarily through Internet research, which turned up work by members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans."

Let me double-check what we just read there: The "Sons of Confederate Veterans" are the unbiased source of an uneducated-in-history person who is writing textbooks for Virginia, which she found, "primarily through internet research." Whoa. Well done Virginia. But truth be told, there is more to the story, as old as it is today.

"The book also survived the Education Department's vetting and was ruled "accurate and unbiased" by a committee of content specialists and teachers. Five Ponds Press has published 14 books that are used in the Virginia public school system, all of them written by Masoff."

I should note at this point that among her other scholarly works Ms. Masoff also wrote "Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty," which has to have one of the classic covers of all time, and "Oh Yikes! History's Grossest Moments."

While most schools now all use mostly the same textbooks (that was not always true, as there used to be two versions, one for the southern states and one for the rest of the country), many states also choose "supplemental" materials such as Ms. Masoff's. How can anyone wonder why we see such deep divisions when we see children who live south of the Mason-Dixon line are being taught about the war between the states, when they are kids. They learn that black slaves actually fought for the Confederacy (ummm, not true except on the internet), apparently because they loved being slaves so much (we will get to that in a minute), and that the "Sons of Confederate Veterans" are a legitimate academic source. Gang, every actual academic, North or South, or Northwest, Midwest, Southwest, or the loonies in California, agree -- all of that is pretty much complete and total BS.

But when the neo-Confederates come out of the woodwork, like our old friend "General Goodson," we learn all sorts of "facts." Like the idea that the war was not about slavery. Well, no, it was, as they themselves declared at the time. But one need not take my word for that, you can read some of these yourself if you have the stomach.

Mississippi leads the way by being quite direct:

"A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union."

"In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

While the state of Georgia goes for a slightly less forthright statement, but still one that leaves no question at all, the cause is slavery:

"The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers. Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation. Our Northern confederates, after a full and calm hearing of all the facts, after a fair warning of our purpose not to submit to the rule of the authors of all these wrongs and injuries, have by a large majority committed the Government of the United States into their hands. The people of Georgia, after an equally full and fair and deliberate hearing of the case, have declared with equal firmness that they shall not rule over them. A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia."

And then there is wily old South Carolina, the original secession state. They bob and weave, but in the end they cannot get around what they said at the time. They try to make it about the states in the North not upholding the slavery clauses in the Constitution. Irony alert: In other words, they are against the right of the States in the South to self-determine!

"We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection."

But my all-time favorite has got to be Texas. They not only identify slavery as the issue, then they double down.

"The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then a free, sovereign and independent nation, the annexation of the latter to the former, as one of the co-equal states thereof. The people of Texas, by deputies in convention assembled, on the fourth day of July of the same year, assented to and accepted said proposals and formed a constitution for the proposed State, upon which on the 29th day of December in the same year, said State was formally admitted into the Confederated Union. Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?"

Well, that is clear, but they did not stop there. Nope, they had to take this one to eleven by referring to the "beneficial and patriarchal system."

"…In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States."

"…We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

Feel free to print this out and distribute them as flyers when you bump into a Neo-Confederate. I do.

The opinions herein are those of the author, the Army of the Potomac, the Army of the Cumberland, the Army of the Tennessee, the Army of the James, and every single loyal American soldier who fought in the War of the Rebellion. They do not represent the current US Government, the DoD, the Army, or any unit with which he is affiliated. I can be reached at