Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Tonight She Walks the Streets of Baltimore

The endless coverage of the Baltimore riots has been depressing in its lack of focus, and disappointing in the media's unwillingness to connect any dots at all. Even the owner of the Baltimore Orioles did better, and his team was and is being directly affected by the events in the streets, with games canceled and, today, a weird game being played without any fans in attendance (do the guys still have to hawk peanuts and cotton candy to the empty seats).

Yes, as everyone from the murdered Mr. Gray's mother on down has said, violence will not bring anything good, and a guy tossing a piece of concrete at a cop's head, or a bunch of people burning down the CVS pharmacy next to the old folks retirement center do not add anything constructive to life in Baltimore, just more misery.

But as the media hasn't seemed to be willing to point out, all this is equally true of the policemen who murdered Mr. Gray, in uniform, on duty, apparently part of doing their job that day.

My ex-wife Annie's mother was married to a merchant seaman who served in World War II. She took a trip to Japan in retirement, and rode a tour bus through Hiroshima. The tour host was talking about the horrors of the bombing of Hiroshima, and Mrs. Malone sat there in silence, fuming. She'd been a trumpet player in her youth, and knew how to pipe up. Finally she did. “You started it,” she shouted. And the bus rode in silence for the rest of the tour.

That's not the whole deal either, of course, even if Donald Trump and Sean Hannity think that sort of objection carries the day. (Trump yesterday suggested in a tweet that President Obama somehow bears the blame for the Baltimore riot, the burning police cars, the CVS rubble, the broken police heads.) But it is some of the deal.

Black people in America like the rest of us have been watching an almost daily cavalcade of police excess, including many murders of innocent black people, and the parade stretches back decades, back and back and back, to Schwerner, Goodwin and Cheney, to Emmett Till, to hundreds and thousands of nameless lynched black people, north, south, east and west, U.S.A., U.S.A. Yes the cop in North Charleston who emptied his gun into the back of a fleeing black man who had a broken tail light was charged. And we've yet to see how that will turn out.

There is some sort of de facto policy in place in the police forces of the United States that amounts to “use excessive force if you think you need it, but keep them down.” It is exemplified in the news nearly every day. It includes a young dad shot down in a Walmart in Ohio for the act of carrying around in the store a plastic gun the store had for sale, that he was intending to buy for his kid. It includes a 12-year-old boy shot down in Cleveland for having in his hand a toy pistol. It includes an overweight guy in New York City choked to death for selling single cigarettes on a street corner. It is driven by fear, and partly the kind of fear that the guilty felt for Nate Turner.

There is no redress to this de facto policy. And, eventually, if you're a member of the group of folks who are the subject of the policy, cool logic and rationality start to evaporate, and there develops an urge—a need—to make someone pay. It's the old lizard morality, an eye for an eye. You got a blue suit on, you're in a blue car with a blue light, you're going to get this piece of brick upside. It's justice. Your brothers just beat one of ours to death last week and he didn't do nothing either. Tough.

This is the logic. I wrote a friend of mine last weekend that I didn't know why we weren't already, in the US, in a state of siege. (That's what generated the anxiety underlying my description of our drive through inner Philadelphia, in my last post.) The right wing already dreams of some race war. The Supreme Court has already gutted the Voting Rights Act, which was written and passed to redress the pernicious and systematic wrongs of the post-Civil War era, when segregation was established and black people pretty much were kept in “their place” with terrorism public and private. And of course before that historical moment there was the legal institution of slavery, which was acknowledged and accepted by the vaunted “Founders” from Day One of this here United States, U.S.A., U.S.A.

There's not much hope of real justice, that is, justice of nuance, justice which admits of distinctions, in the present state of affairs. A Baltimore policeman who's lost his eye to a brick may very well have been a guy who without exception did the right thing, was not a racist, was making the effort throughout his whole career to treat the public with unfailing respect. And eye for an eye is lizard logic, or ISIL logic if you like. American black people will always be a minority, and cannot hope to change anything institutional by force. Indeed, even the institutional reform of the Voting Rights Act has now been broken, only a few decades after its inception, by the Supreme Court. You think the law will be repaired of its allegedly constitutional errors by this Congress, or these states? We're careening towards another Republican Presidency fer gawds sake, and the supposed major party of liberality and common sense can find no candidate but an elderly former First Lady who drags an anchor chain of history around with her for all the right wing racists and neo-fascists to yank on for the next year and a half. Oh yeah, did I mention they have unlimited campaigning funds due to other recent Supreme Court rulings.

Burn a few inner cities down and all that will happen will be the institution of drone policing in the inner city. The ball teams will move away. The toughest neighborhoods, where anger is the brightest, will be left smoking ruins, and the broken refugees will scatter as far as they can stagger. Watch “The Wire” again, folks, all of it. It's about goddam Baltimore.

But none of that tragic outcome will change the fact that an eye for an eye was indeed exchanged, and the cry of the oppressed will continue to be true. You started it, you arrogant boys in blue. You killed Mr. Gray, because he was a black man who dared to run. That was enough for you. That is apparently enough for the folks who pay you to do your job.

Here's what John Angelos the owner of the Orioles said about it (via Charlie Pierce):

He said a greater concern of his was "the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the US to 3rd-world dictatorships like China" which he said has sent "tens of millions of good hard working Americans into economic devastation" and "an ever-declining standard of living and suffering."

We're at the moment about to sign yet another trade agreement with the world. Bidness as usual. Pay no attention to the bodies hanging under the bridge.

[burning policecar Daily Mail]



Saturday, April 18, 2015

Up 'N Back

We set right out from Jim's about 9 AM Friday last, packin' up a durn good load, aiming to get up to Newark, Del, home of the Blue Hens, in plenty of time for our Friday night concert for the Brandywine Folk Society. The Google said it would be a cinch, but we did know that there was DC sitting fat in the way. There'd been a time when you could take the 295 shortcut through Anacostia and brave the broken concrete as a fine trade-off for actual progress. This time the smart phone Joe was operating said take 495 east, but by then it was already stop and go, and the phone would tend to tell us alts just after the exit had passed, or whilst we were in the far left with no way to get over. Sometime after the Baltimore Tunnel we finally started moving at highway speed again, and paid the $8.00 toll gladly to escape the molasses.

It turned out we got to Newark in decent time, and didn't have to just sit around and wait for a building to open.

The show started after it got dark, and the house was nicely full, including a former '70s Chapel Hill vet ("I worked at the Record Bar," she said, grinning) who asked for "Give Me the Roses," and someone else who called for "Hobo's Last Letter," both numbers from earlier times which we hadn't done in a good while. We did 'em, and well I thought. (I ought to write a sequel before it's too late: "Hobbs' Last Letter," for the British philosophers in our midst.) We had a spectacularly capable sound guy too, and he put one of the best mics I've ever played into on my fiddle. It was an auspicious start to the journey. The fancy mic had a green wind screen which matched my bow stick, and my bandana (see the vid, below). The stars were aligned. There were encores, and after we got the van packed up we headed out up I-95 for Wilmington and Philly and Rafe Stefanini's wonderful cottage on the hills just west of the city proper.

I was riding in the back, Jim driving, Joe running the navigation equipment, which was a nice female voice telling us to take lefts and rights and such as we passed through the gigantic urban complexity that is the Wilmington-Philly nexus. There was much to see as we whizzed along, and I wished I had a movie camera, like Frederico Fellini in his marvelous "Roma," which I watched again last night just to remind myself of the trip through our first Nation's Capital. There was, at one point, even a huge wreck to observe, fortunately on the far side of the turnpike and separated from us by concrete barriers, but including police, ambulances, and a very big traffic jam. We also went past the beautiful "boat houses" along the Deleware, lit as though it were still Christmas, and past the big skyscrapers of the city center, then through a dark tough-ass section of mean streets sprinkled with quickly parked police cars with their blue lights spinning. I was thinking at this point that I did hope Rafe didn't live just here, but we kept on rolling and were soon climbing up out of the city and into yarded houses, and eventually and a few miles later we were turning into Rafe's driveway, a tricky left turn just below the brow of a hill crest that must be an adventure every time. The porch light was on.

Rafe was waiting up and escorted us in. I'd heard much of him, but never met him. Joe is in a band with him, and Jim knows everyone in the music world. We went into his kitchen and I looked around, somewhat dazed. We were all very tired from the long day. I picked the cot set up in his living room, discretely privatized by a nice Japanese screen set just past the passage from the hall, and quickly set about crashing once I'd brushed my teeth. Here is where I slept: Rafe and his daughter are in this photo playing music and the cot is stowed away. The two of them have a good CD available, by the way. She was in Nashville at the time of our visit and sending her dad frequent notes about life in Music City.

Saturday morning arrived with bright blue skies and temps in the high 50s. The pollen that had appeared down here in NC was a month back up there--the backwards procession of seasons was obvious as we drove along the interstate. In Philly the Forsythia was hinting at a spring to come, and the pollen was blessedly absent. Pennsylvania ought to argue with New Hampshire for the sobriquet "granite state." They gots the rocks. Just across from Rafe's house was this absolutely first class stone wall. I seem to have quit the stone-mason's ways for good, but I still notice good rock work:

Inside Rafe's foyer was his extensive boot collection. He displays them because, he said, "they're actually uncomfortable."

We all just hung out in the morning, which means these days checking your messages. I let Libby know we'd made it to Saturday. After a while it got to be lunch time, and Rafe directed us to one of the things cities just have over the countryside--interesting restaurants. We went to a Korean place named "More Food." It's a really wonderful place, as big as a supermarket, with pictures of a huge number of dishes on the walls and organized according to inscrutable Korean principles (one area was called "Ming," another "Fuze," and then there were two or three in phonetic Korean). You ordered by number and paid a cashier, then waited for your number to appear in lights over a window centered in an array of pictures of dishes. The service was fast, and we were hungry. The food was fantastic too. What a delight. The place was probably ten minutes from Rafe's house. Can't beat that. There's nothing within an hour of my hobbit hole that comes close. After we finished up and bussed our dishes we went downstairs and looked at the shops of various mostly Asian packaged foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. There was a poster still up from an event that had happened the week before, a Korean hip hop festival apparently:

When we got back to the house Rafe looked up Honey Cocaine on the google. That's her in the center circle. She's got a fine resume, and people will pay $50 to "meet and greet." Not bad. I hope she rides the great swell of stardom a long time, and never gets a splash. We took long naps after we got back, then it was time to go to our gig, just a few towns over through the endless suburban streets. We went through Jenkintown both ways. It was a house concert, with very nice appointments. The stage looked like this:

It was a small room with great acoustics and we played around one mic, with Mr. Craver having his own Shure 58 workhorse over by his keys. Again, great audience, fun night. As we were so well rested and fed, we seemed to over all play better, although I managed to stomp all over Craver's break in "Play 'Rocky Top.'" I've always liked a meta song; we did this one back in the day, when we were in the band we were in in the '70s. It sort of drifted away, although I worked on reviving it when I was writing a lot of songs and going out and doing solo songwriter shows, about fifteen years ago. Last summer the band revived it, with a new arrangement, and it's gotten rather snappy. Here's what it sounded like during one of it's first revival moments, but it's tighter and better now:

After we licked up the bits of cheese and bread left by the audience, and packed up the instruments, we made the late night way back through Jenkintown to Rafe's. I told him it made me some nervous to play a Tommy Jarrell tune in front of someone who'd studied Tommy more intensely than I had. We laughed, and Rafe reminded me of something about Jarrell's "Sally Ann" (which we tend to close the show with) which I'd pretty much forgotten. There once was a low 4th part! At the moment I just agreed, thinking that what I play these days, namely the first or high part played an octave lower, was more or less what he was referring to. But in the middle of the past week, as I sat at my station at the truck scale during a hitch of emptiness between customers, I recalled exactly that low part, a quite different thing, how it goes, how at the end of it there's even a kind of pause, before the whole symphony restarts at the top. I don't know why I've dropped that out. I expect there was a reason, partly that I've given up long ago playing in cross-tuning with the G string tuned up to A for tunes in the key of D--Tommy Jarrell's way of playing such tunes. Having that open string low note makes that low part, which is little more than a scale, very easy to play at speed. And then there's that hitch at the end. Whatever, Rafe was right. There's a missing part in my "rendition." Good thing I don't claim to be reproducing the Jarrell repertoire, just playing tunes I "got" from him long ago.

When we got back to Rafe's it was mighty easy to hit the hay, and the boys couldn't even tempt me with a short glass of Jamison's. Soon it was Sunday morning. Absolutely divine fresh bagels and perfect feather-thin Nova Lox arrived. My gawd, the city life! Then we were on the PA Turnpike to Harrisburg and our last gig, at the Abbey Pub and Restaurant.

Harrisburg's a lot like Durham, but without jobs. Here's what the street looked like on a bright Sunday afternoon:

The pub itself is a block further, out of view. The stage is on the second floor, but there was a lift and we got our gear up there without much groaning. The sound engineer, a guy named Chili, was very good although used to doing bands with plugged in instruments. He had some trepidation about all our open mics, and the risks of unexpected whistles mid-song. We had plenty of time to get the sound system wrung out, and he and I even sat at the bar and watched some of the Masters' final round and talked about the scrap metal world a bit. "I do some scrapping when it's tight," he said. The audience drifted in, and eventually filled up the space very well, and there were several old friends I hadn't seen in a long time, from the Augusta teaching days.

I thought our sets in Harrisburg were the best we did, and we nailed Play Rocky--I remembered to shut up and let Mike take the chorus break like we have planned it, before jumping in on the last verse. To top off the whole evening, we had a great meal down below at the pub's restaurant, and drove out to the edge of town with the Susquehanna Folk Society's President and spent the night in her beautiful expanded log cabin, which was a lot like here in my log place. Then it was Monday morning and off to North Carolina.

The trip up, with it's several hour traffic jam, made choosing I-81 an easy decision. Then Jim topped the plan by discovering to the rest of us his secret passageway over to Rt. 29, across Afton mountain, a mere 15 or so miles (just enough) of beautiful mountain roads and switchbacks, then back onto the 4 lanes of 29, as usual not heavily traveled, and we whizzed down through Lynchburg and the Falwell Empire, and Concrete World, and on to Danville and NC 86, and were home to Jim's by about 5, and I got on out here by 6 or so, after hosing off the incredible layer of pollen on the Toyota, Jim living in the midst of huge pine trees that apparently spent our weekend away in utter sexual frenzy.

I can't say I really want to go back to life on the road. It was great to get home, and I enjoyed work this past week a little more than usual. But as a once-in-a-while thing, our modest tours are pretty great. The food alone, this trip, was worth the effort. We also met some really great folks, and discovered we still have an audience out there.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Fiddling Weekend

Me and the boys are heading out for points NE for some musical stuff, starting in a few minutes. I'll try to have something great to write about next week. Maybe even a pic. Our web gal has also called for pics and descriptions. "It wasn't too bad for a bunch of geezers" will surely work. We'll go up the ladder from there.

Meanwhile, Digby has a fine post about Tucker Carlson's amazing ability to lie to himself. Here's the link:

You'd think a grown up person with a journalistic job and a long history in the field would be able to avoid the ridiculous mistake of calling the email simply an "accident." What's accidental about the email? I've never sent an accidental email in my life--it's about as intentional an activity as it gets. I guess you can accidentally hit the "send all" button. But no one is complaining about that accident. They are complaining about the content, which is intentional, and which not only Buckley but Tucker now owns via his pathetic defense.

It's just what they do, so ingrained that they don't even know anymore when the old defenses kick in.

Onwards and upwards with the arts.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Let's Just See How It Works Out

It's very nice to find myself with an absolutely free, no-work Friday, even if it does look like rain which screws up the plan I had to paint the shed roof. The nice news is, the legal codification of new segregation law in various states including NC has been possibly stalemated, for the moment, and at the same moment, there is a framework for significant agreement between the West and Iran concerning Iran's potential nuclear weapons. It ain't even Saturday. A morning beer is tempting, but I'll resist.

One of the next choices for the Administration is whether, and at what point, they choose to take their agreement with Iran to our current Congress. This would be the one that is controlled entirely by Republicans, the major American party now driven by all the old prejudices and hatreds that have been an anchor on much of the potential America always and still contains, starting way back at the start of things, when slavery and female inferiority were codified in our very Constitution.

There have always been Americans who wanted everything back the way it was, and who see every inch of progress as but another step into decline. Time and again, the moment has been squandered. Yes, the Civil War ended slavery. But it opened the door to Jim Crow and segregation and a hundred years of fresh new hells for our black fellow citizens. The long and bloody civil rights battles of the late '50s and early '60s led finally to further legal codifications of rights already theoretically in existence. Then Dr. King was shot down, and Richard Nixon invoked the "southern strategy," which led to what we have now: the Republican party is the party of racism, chauvinism, and prejudice. Republicans often complain that such an analysis ignores the fact that, prior to Martin Luther King's victories, the Democratic Party was pretty much the party of racism, being as it was the party of the South. If you want to try to teach the concept of dialectic and synthesis, this would be the place. Had Nixon been willing to agree with Hubert Humphrey (his opponent in '68) that neither major party should any longer embrace racism and the racist cohort of voters that plainly existed and for that matter obviously still exists today, we might have found ourselves, in 2015, with a broad consensus of governance, and a sour 20% of Americans marginalized in their hatred and prejudice and forever singing along with their hero, George Corley Wallace, that "there's not a dime's worth of difference between them." In some circumstances, that's a good thing, and for that matter, Mr. Wallace apparently changed for the better in his wheel-chaired later years.

Instead, we have this, from the fresh new Republican leader of the moment:

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, pen-pal to the mullahs and unrequited love object of Jen Rubin, has an interesting Hot Politix Take on the outbreak of Fabulous Crow laws aimed at codifying discrimination against our fellow citizens who happen to be L, G, B, or T. He shared it with the nation via CNN.

"I think it's important we have a sense of perspective," Cotton said. "In Iran, they hang you for the crime of being gay."

By the interesting big-brain logic on display here, Martin Luther King, Jr. needed "a sense of perspective" because, in South Africa, they would have shot him long before anyone in America got around to it.

Like his role models, Cotton has the potential to do big things in Congress at a time when bombast often substitutes for smarts and ego trumps common sense.
[QED, Charles Pierce]

What comes with doctrines of racism and hatred is authoritarianism. This, in a word, is exemplified by Mr. Cotton and his 46 co-signees. They invited Mr. Netanyahu to speak during sensitive negotiations, then they even inserted themselves into the same negotiations, and with an arrogance worthy of authoritarians of any historical epoch. Mr. Cotton sides with the folks who hang the homosexuals. It's a fact good to keep in mind.

The thing about authoritarians is, they do tend to respect authority, if not any other principle. When big bidness starting complaining about Indiana's return to segregation, Mr. Pence at least seemed to react with deference. Certainly we'll see: it's possible that all the strange codicils being tacked on to language patently aimed at legalizing segregation will simply muddy the water, where what's needed is a simple end to the laws. Repeal has clarity. It was a mistake. Remove it.

The problem--and it's a problem the Obama Administration will face if it does accomplish a substantive agreement with Iran--is whether there is any longer any realism left in attempting to work with our current Congress: a Congress which has already made every effort to destroy the negotiations aimed at averting war. Mr. Boehner already said, earlier this week, that America doesn't need an "anti-war" President. How far is Mr. Obama supposed to go in his efforts to operate a system which contains components--Legislative and possibly Judicial as well--at the moment sorely broken. Apparently the Administration can make a good deal with Iran without bothering Congress. What's the argument, exactly, for not doing that, given the Letter.

If things ever get better, Col. Wilkinson is probably right. Bring back the draft. It's horrible, but it does put certain existential things on the table. At the same time, it must be said that the existence of a draft did not stop past wars. The authoritarians stand ultimately with Mao on this fine point. Power does flow from the barrel of a gun. I almost expect Mr. Cotton to toss Mao's dictum into the mix next week. After all, Mr. Cotton represents Arkansas:


Saturday Update:

Lance Mannion reports on this remarkable aspect of the new segregation laws story:

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) – Several churches in Missouri have received threatening letters after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve same-sex marriage.

The Southeast Missourian reports that Westminster and First Presbyterian churches in Cape Girardeau and First Presbyterian in Jackson and Perryville received letters warning that any church that accepts same-sex marriage “should be burned to the ground.”

Cpt. Darin Hickey of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said they would increase patrols of any church or major building that could face a threat.

The new Presbyterian policy on same-sex marriage will go into effect next June.
Information from: Southeast Missourian

Trademark and Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Interesting stuff. Cape Girardau is the hometown of Rush Limbaugh, though it must be said that he doesn't live there these days. Across the border in Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, former preacher, governor, failed Presidential candidate, and Fox News analyst, said this week that the gays will not rest till all the churches in America are closed down. Could the gays have been mailing out those letters in protest to the Presbyterian decision to allow same sex weddings? Surely Mr. Limbaugh will look into it. It's on his home turf.