Sunday, July 26, 2015

Introducing Fred

Fred starting coming around a few months ago. He seems to think he owns the place, a natural born junk yard dawg. Sometimes he'll bark at cars and trucks coming in, if they offend his sensibilities. He's actually very sweet however, and never threatening to people. He's also somewhat laughable-looking, an almost miniature German Shepard, the right coat and face and ears, but short-legs that came from some other place. He's young, healthy, athletic. Nothing bad has happened to him yet, although he skirts the line mighty close. Couple of weeks back he went chasing full speed down the road behind a truck, and started to get over in the opposite lane for some reason, only spotting an oncoming vehicle at the last moment and getting back in his own lane. He disappeared around the curve close behind the truck. Someone said later on it might have been the man who lets him stay under his porch, just down the road from us. Fred is well-fed and seems clean of ticks. I wish he had a collar and some tags, but that's often not the country way with dogs. People just sorta "let them be." It's rumored that Fred has killed at least one chicken. That's also skirting the very edge. He's fast. It'd be doggy fun to catch and kill twenty of 'em, just like a cat in a mouse run. So I keep waiting for him to run into his fate, but although there'll be a week of no-show, so far he's returned. He was out where I park yesterday, and I gave him a pet and wished I had a biscuit for him. Then I took this picture.

Over by the fence, where the railroad rolls past with its short haul of tankers and grain cars, there's one stalk of corn growing up amongst the rusting wood stoves and a porcelained sheet mangle from the '40s. Prices are dropping bad right now in steel, to the point that it's going to be hardly worth the gas to haul a pickup load to us. For some reason, all metals are getting cheaper right now. I tell people at the window that it's just like gas. Gas, for the moment, has dropped too. It's only "just like gas" in the broad sense that metal prices are commodity prices, just like gas and corn.

Kids walk up and down the railroad track sometimes, looking for stuff to pick up, including discarded iron spikes. They don't know we can't buy any railroad iron. It's a law. The railroad owns all its stuff, whether it's tossed to the side or driven into a tie, forever. A year from now a special train will come past, with a special arm attached, and the arm will reach down and scoop up some rail or whatever, and toss it into the hopper that it rides on. Then the train will roll on, out of sight. I love the opportunity to watch the railroad operations. We used to get long trains of coal hoppers, rolling down to the power plant in Moncure. But coal is dirty, and the utility has closed that plant now. It's only a few tanker cars, and some grain cars these days, and once every few months a hopper full of steel scrap from down in Sanford, at Lee Iron and Metal. We're on the Norfolk and Southern line.

There used to be so many great railroad lines. Last week I taped an hour show on the Rural Network that just followed the Nickel Plate Road back and forth for a year or two, 1959-1960, as the Nickel worked runs from some little town in Indiana over to Chicago. Some of the trains were pulled by the great Berkshires, marvelous steam engines and the last ones they made. Other trains were pulled by diesels, also beautiful, powerful machines. The Nickel line where the film was made featured something you don't see much: actual perpendicular crossings from the New York Central, at grade. That is, intersections! The guy who made the film caught a few crossings of NYC trains. That's a remarkable thing to see.

The fact that the Nickel and the NYC ran so close together was in the end a problem for both companies, in a world where President Eisenhower had initiated the interstate road system. Both passenger and freight hauling were slowly becoming dear. All across the country, railroads that had been thriving businesses were being financially stressed. Eventually, they almost all either merged, or died. The specific stories are sad and sometimes shocking. The Milwaukee Road, which ran from Chicago and Milwaukee to the Pacific northwest, built the best road there was. It was a day faster than its competitors because of better grades and less stops. The Milwaukee electrified too. Yet when it was driven out of business in the '70s, the whole road was scrapped out! That's like jack hammering up Interstate 40, because you can get there on I-10.

When somebody tells you how all we need is to elect some magnate like, say, Donald Trump, because he's already a proven success, keep in mind the railroad story. The big roads were all run by magnates, most of 'em bigger and more successful by many orders of magnitude, than Donald Trump can imagine. He builds golf courses and hotels. Look up James Hill sometime, or the Gould brothers. Donald Trump, like the Koch brothers, actually inherited his set-up. Yes, he kept working it, but he didn't start at the "bottom." All he does is meet to a T the bogus criteria for leadership that have been sold by a propaganda network to an America that is less and less able, apparently, to distinguish the outlines of truth from the blurs of fiction. We can all enjoy Mr. Trump hoist the Republicans on their petards, where they surely belong, a row of heads on pikes stretching over the far horizon. But since they have also toiled hard to rig the vote, we'll see what happens.

The long term goal of Republicans, and the oligarchs who operate the Republican levers behind the scenes, is the utter destruction of meaningful democracy in the United States. This democracy doesn't serve their interests. Or so they imagine. But maybe they're like Fred, chasing that truck and almost catching it, and thinking maybe he can even pass it, wouldn't that be a trick! Power is real. It also vanishes, sometimes, like a spring snow on the Santa Monica mountains.

This Berkshire is actually in a museum. I'm not sure that counts. And by the way, although governments built the highways that to an important degree killed both most rail passenger service and a lot of freight business as well, as our governments, state and federal, drift more and more towards some weakened nadir of taxation that serves only the oligarchs, we may see our once magnificent roads go the way of that marvel of speed and engineering, the Milwaukee Road between Washington State and the Dakotas. According to various reports some 50 percent of our highway infrastructure is in dire need of repair. Start building some bridges and watch the scrap steel prices rise again. Just sayin'.

From American Rails dot com:

The fact that the great railroad is no longer with us is not as disheartening as knowing how and why its end came about. Its loyal and hardworking employees through the end were sadly cheated by upper management, which made a series of dumbfounding decisions beginning in the 1970s that ultimately ended in the railroad being sold to a rival in 1985. Today, what's left of the Milwaukee is cut up among different railroads and the best engineered rail line through the rugged Rockies and Cascades is but weeds and trails, a vital transportation artery no longer available to shippers and the American economy.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Time Changes Everything

That Merle Haggard performance, from 1984, in Richmond, Va, is perfection. Watch it a few times.

In 1984 I'd started working with a stone mason named Joe Kenlan, who taught me the finer points of building with stone, as well as a lot of things about building with conventional masonry materials such as cinder block and brick. (Later on in that decade I went to work for a bigger masonry outfit that constructed strip malls and factories, and found out I didn't know nothing about block and brick, but I learned quite a lot--enough to take jobs on my own building people's foundations.)

Before I started working with Kenlan I was working for a guy named Robin Garrett, who'd helped me build my cabin back in '79. Robin was an expert at log building. We tore down my cabin, which had been build in 1867, labeled the logs by where they were placed, moved the whole thing over here on my place in the most rickety hauling rig you can imagine. My truck was an old GMC that had been worn out when I bought it. I couldn't drive the haul above second gear without the front wheels bouncing off the pavement because of the tongue weight. The logs are twenty-two feet long, and oak. Chisel into them today and they look fresh dropped. We had one shot to get into the driveway, with momentum from the paved road. If we didn't make it the logs would have been sitting cross-wise at the bottom of the hill, with no way to get them to the site, which was over the hill and a third of a mile off the road. We made it.

Robin was a man who believed in his body. When we put the roof up, in the summer of '79, he stood on the top gable log and held the ridge plate over his head, arms fully extended, whilst me and my ex-wife Annie toe-nailed the first two rafters into the top plates. We didn't know shit about nailing anything, and bent a nail or two before we had the rafters somewhat secured. Robin, meanwhile, nailed the tops to the ridge plate with one hand, holding it all up at the same time, balancing thirty feet off the ground at the same time. There was no scaffold, no net, no nothing. Git'er done or die, that was Robin's way. He'd pulled the tin off the roof of the cabin by sliding down each piece and popping the nails as they went by, then stopping himself before he went over the edge.

I worked for Robin for a while after I'd left the Red Clay Ramblers, after I'd sat in the cabin in the dark for a couple of months in the winter of '81, after Annie had moved out. Robin liked music and went to a square dance in Chapel Hill. I started playing in the band that played that dance, and played for a group of semi-professional cloggers based in Chapel Hill. Robin hired a couple of those cloggers to work for him. He'd throw a music party now and then, and he'd get up on a high plank over nothing and clog. I met Libby at one of those parties, and we picked for hours together, and I got her name wrong and had it in my address book that way when we finally had a kind of date and found there were sparks, and we still laugh at that old entry in the tattered book that's still sitting in a drawer under the phone. As well as working on a cabin restoration job, me and the other clogging carpenters helped him build a shop on his place. I was doing that job when Kenlan called me up and offered me the stone work gig. Kenlan had heard, probably from Robin, that I was building a stone chimney for myself. After I worked with Kenlan for a few months I started doing prettier stone work at home. I also borrowed some of his scaffold to get the top part done, and that was finished up after Libby and I got married in January of '84, on my birthday.

Libby had been a friend of Priscilla, Robin's wife. They'd worked in Chatham County Social Services for a while. Robin and Priscilla had a little girl, but they had a rocky relationship, and Priscilla lived in her own cabin, on their piece of land. After Libby and I got our family going I got past working for Kenlan and started working for myself. I didn't see much of Robin, but heard he'd moved to Florida for a while, doing something with boats. A month or so back we heard tell that Priscilla had died a couple of years ago. Libby looked her up on the internet and sure enough, it was true. She was born same year as me.

In the process of that bit of research we also found out Robin had died this past year. I'd heard he was sick. He'd thrown a party last summer and a guy who went told me it was kind of a fair well party, and he forbid anyone to ask about Priscilla, or to talk about his illness. I guess people played fiddle tunes and danced a lot. I didn't go, although I was invited.

Time flies. I'm sitting here in the kitchen this morning looking at the old logs we put in place back in '79. We nestled the cabin in amongst the big oaks here, and some of them are too big now, and one big twin up and died last summer, and another one over hangs the cabin and looks to be dying from the way it's putting out suckers. Gonna have to get some tree guy out here this fall, after the leaves have dropped. Firewood city!

Robin would chop firewood like he did everything else, like a banshee. He'd set out a bunch of rounds and run around with an axe, splitting them all up. He did everything on the run, and usually stoned. One of the problems with that way of working was, he had a lot of moments, usually after lunch, when he'd go "Oh, shit." He'd forgotten something or other, and some of the morning's work would have to come down and be redone. His skill and native genius made up for a lot of that, and good luck with picking clients. He picked us.

He picked the cabin too, and that roof he is working on is still sound, 35 years in. The tin needs painting. That's probably thanks to acid rain.

Now go back and watch that Merle video again. You will never see anything better. That's what a live performance is. That great fiddler has passed away now. Hag loves his band. If you look at his different shows on Youtube, you'll watch them growing old with him.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Some Common Sense

Yesterday Congress barked the head of a major government department out of her tree: Katherine Archuleta resigned from the Office of Personnel Management after first standing firm and saying she had more work to do. Twenty-one million government employees got there data compromised. That's a pretty major deal by any measure. But Marcy Wheeler's first reaction got no notice as far as I could see:

...Given Congress’ responsibility for failing to fund better IT purchasing, consider agency weaknesses during confirmation, and demand accountability from the intelligence community...

This is typical. A couple of days ago Senator McCain was having his weekly conniption over the underfunding of some important military feature, without ever acknowledging that underfunding is always the problem of the Congress, and that this Congress, ever since it undertook in the first by-election of the Obama Presidency, to refuse utterly to deal with adequate funding of the government through taxes, has been nothing less that derelict. McCain was trying to add some special non-sequester rules military budget. The Joint Chief he was interviewing said not to do this would lead to "catastrophe." Really. But it was patently a catastrophic idea to ever entertain sequestration as a solution to anything, and Mr. Obama presented it reasoning that his logic was entirely obvious, and that his Congressional opponents, when faced with that choice (in was it 2011, so long ago now!) would surely begin at last to govern rationally. Ha. "Obama cooties" trumped all, including common sense.

Ms Wheeler's great analysis is worth reading in full. Over and over again our press reports these discrete moments, punctuated with various "viewed with alarm" expressions from the Republicans. Yet nothing larger is noticed. The fundamental absurdity of the Republican position, that there will be no tax increases, ever, remains, as it did even back in the early George W. Bush days, when the whole Iraq war was somehow funded "off the record." Well, yes, pallets of cash actually vanished off the tarmac in Iraq, but I'm not even talking about that.

The Republicans remain the very definition of un-serious, yet they are the other major political party, and charged to produce a possible government at each election. Donald Trump leads the field. And if you think he's a joke, let me remind you of a bad, B-movie actor who ended up being President for the '80s. A lot of folks thought Mr. Reagan was a joke too. I sure did.

We might be watching the advent of our own Berlusconi era. We might be watching the run up to the election of George Wallace, Junior, Donald Trump, the pure id of American authority worship. So what if he's gone bankrupt four times and he gets his ties made in China. That's just bidness, he sneers. That's in fact Trump's answer to all criticism. "I'm a businessman, you don't know about bidness, chump." It solves all his "issues." Gave money galore to the Clintons? Bidness. Bankruptcy? Fool, that's just a business tactic, part of the big game. They loaned me money, they knew the risks. Now I'm worth $9 Billion, but my books are my bidness.

Here's Wheeler's conclusion:

A number of people online have suggested that seeing Archuleta get ousted (whether she was forced or recognized she had lost Obama’s support) will lead other agency heads to take cybersecurity more seriously. I’m skeptical. In part, because some of the other key agencies — starting with DHS — have far too much work to do before the inevitable will happen and they’ll be hacked. But in part because the other agencies involved have long had impunity in the face of gross cyberintelligence inadequacies. No one at DOD or State got held responsible for Chelsea Manning’s leaks (even though they came 2 years after DOD had prohibited removable media on DOD computers), nor did anyone at DOD get held responsible for Edward Snowden’s leaks (which happened 5 years after the ban on removable media). Neither the President nor Congress has done anything but extend deadlines for these agencies to address CI vulnerabilities.

Our house of virtual cards, so convenient in so many ways, may be waiting only for the next puff of wind. Meanwhile, the planetary crisis of rapid global climate change has been so repressed from the media and politics that even the scientists are despairing of any solutions. We are looking at the problem of 100 million people in Bangladesh being driven into refugee status, their whole country becoming in a few short years a flood plain:

At least the racist flag has been removed from Columbia's government grounds. That must be a little something? Shall we now march into Ethopia, triumphant?

Wanna bet Trump Towers don't have it's own electrical generating equipment down in the sub-basement, to keep the air running cool.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Tom Fool Knot

It occurs to me that the phrase “heritage, not hate,” which upon googling extensively I could never find any decisive origin or coiner of phrase, though certainly the phrase is genius advertising, since it sells a bold-faced lie,* is akin to another lie of advertising: “love the sinner not the sin.” I didn't bother to search that one at all. Possibly google isn't the proper source anyway, and my stacks card for the Louis Round Wilson Library at UNC is long out of date. Let's say Reverend Falwell coined that one, and why not. He still doesn't hold a candle to the Reverend Admiral's ability to pray away hurricanes that set a bead on Norfolk's shores.

You could actually manufacture a Confederate Flag and stencil “Heritage, Not Hate” across the middle of it. If you did that you'd have a case of the Moops, but as we've just seen, the Supreme Court would still not agree with you. This is why Fox News is on the case.

Just last night, Mr. Hannity interviewed two erstwhile bakers from somewhere in Oregon who allegedly refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and were subsequently fined $125,000 by Oregon. That's what they said. They were obviously a nice hippy couple, these bakers. They claimed to hold a religion that required of them total fealty in all of their lives. It was a convenient, friendly religion. They were allowed, they said, to bake a cake for a couple living in common-law marriage. Different deal. Mr. Hannity was really nice with them, unlike the kid who's father was killed on 9/11 but who didn't think we should go to war with Iraq, or Islam. Hannity threw him right off the show.

Down in SC, State Senator Bright (who ran against Lindsey Graham last year) argued that taking down the flag was the first step, that next men would be coming into South Carolina and demanding that they be married. Somebody is going to realize, at some point soon, that you can find some Bible phrase somewhere in the whole book that suggests that eating with only members of your own race is the best policy if you're going to be sure of ending up in heaven. If they can find two such phrases—maybe google can help in this quest—they will have a religious based ground for re-initiating segregation in public accommodations, which was one of the centers of dispute back in the '60s.

There was no Fox News back in those days, nobody on the authority box to “balance” the police dogs and firehoses and burned busses and bodies hanging under bridges, or the huge non-violent marches and sit-ins. There was no Hobby Lobby Decision to provide the solid cornerstone for the edifice that looms in our terrible future. According to the National Review, the Courts' decisions this past month, on the ACA and same-sex marriage, have pushed the country to the point of insurrection. Senator Bright agrees. He argues that when the flag is lowered in Columbia, the country will crumble. He stands with Mr. Roof on this point.

The Oregon bakers seemed like nice folks. If they'd only had a decent pastor who could have helped them sort out their religious notions, they'd be in their modest business in their little town. Now they're stars on Fox, and they might end up being millionaires, like the Palins. It's going to be tough for decent pastors these days, with Fox on the case. As it is, the Confederate Flag outlived utter defeat at Appomattox, as the country outlived reconstruction. By the 1890s the Confederate Flag was back in business, flying over regiments in the war in Cuba.

When at long long last a grass-roots movement to end segregation arose in the 1950s, buttressed by the great Supreme Court Decision, Brown V. Board of Education, the Confederate Flag once against stood as a symbol of resistance. And so it stands, still. It's what it means to fly the flag, whether it's on the state capitol or on your car top. It says “I resist.” If we had a language like Chinese, where pictures are words, we'd possibly see this more clearly. Indeed, the phrase “I resist” could well be pictured in such a language with the little red Confederate flag. And as Senator Bright illustrates, it's easy to elide from some specific resistance to the larger whole. Take down the flag and the gays will be here tomorrow.

Even the argument continues the old rebel stand. It's tragic. The moment to take the flag down, in Columbia, was when Senator Pinkney's coffin rolled past. Instead, it is required that a group of mostly white men confer with great and all deliberate speed to decide, perhaps, at some point and possibly only for a while, that the symbol of resistance to the idea that here in America we are all Americans, shall not fly.

Thank god for Bubba Watson. He's a nice boy, he plays life like golf, on his instincts. He doesn't think people should be wounded in their hearts for his amusement. He and Dale Jr. should become fast friends and drinking buddies.

Over at Disney they took down another statue. When all the transcripts came out they finally saw past the work of a lifetime to the Cosby underneath, who thought it was fun to drug girls and then rape them. Once it was uncensored, in the actual court transcripts, there was nothing more to say. Not that Cosby will vanish historically, or that people will forget him. I'd think we'll always be able to rent his movies and tv shows. But just that there will be no more honor for him.

What does it take for that, when it comes to an idea so pernicious and deep. They justified slavery—white supremacy—with religious texts. Grant couldn't kill that vicious idea. Murdering Dr. King didn't do it. The great Civil Rights laws of the mid-'60s, passed in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, haven't held. Hannity is hard at work, finding the martyrs to the cause of segregated baking.

That's where the deepest problem lies. We are a species capable of weaving our own brains into knots of staggering complexity. All it takes is the help of an authoritative voice. Trump runs for high office. Fox marches on. Consider the effort at resistance in only little Cosby's case:

Oh he's nailed, but look what it took, and as has been pointed out, a fancy-dancy biography of Cosby came out last year which failed to mention these already known facts. Dealing with the Confederate Flag, that's only about a million times harder, and it's got a whole tv network behind it.


*Update: well what do you know, keep reading and new information will be discovered: From the SPLC Hatewatch Blog today:

The Danville chapter of the Heritage Preservation Association (HPA), which, in the words of ThinkProgress, “ardently supports the Confederate flag as a supposed symbol of cultural heritage,” pushed hard to have monument and flag installed in 1995 in front of the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History. The HPA is the organization that coined the phrase “Heritage not Hate,” a sign of seeming moderation. But several years ago, in a revealing moment, its then-Alabama leader Linda Sewell was photographed accepting a certificate of appreciation from the leader of the Aryan Nations Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

The HPA, by the way, flies a version of the Confederate flag in front of it's "heritage" museum in Danville, VA. There is currently a controversy in Danville over whether it will continue to be flown, with a black city-council member being threatened with "exposure" if he doesn't sit down and be quiet. It's going to be a very long, hard struggle.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Best Fireworks Today

I looked out the window this morning down to the east, where there's a field and then woods, and at the top a little garden spot that Libby has flowers growing in. Last summer I'd driven a tall pipe into the fence line of that garden so as to hang a flower basket on it, as back here in the woods there's never quite enough light for those flower baskets they sell at the grocery store when spring is upon us to thrive. So on top of that post today was a big red-tailed hawk. I'd seen him flash away a few times before this year, when I was walking out to the truck. He (or she) is always well on the wing before I ever think to look up, so although I've thought I was seeing a hawk, it might have I thought been one of the owls that also frequent the woods here. This is most definitely a hawk. I hope the hawk can coexist ok with the owls. There's plenty of squirrel stew for all, plus snakes (I see from looking at google that hawks seem to love snakes, including copperheads), mice, voles, rabbits. Have at it, boys. The cats live inside, they can watch the adventure.

Last time I saw a red-tail this close was way back when I had some bantam chickens for pets. I did eat the eggs. I had a small variety, including a couple of Cornish, who looked a little like a red tail. One day I was splitting wood in the yard, and the chickens were out ranging as they did, and I noticed there was an extra chicken! A red-tail had landed amongst the flock, possibly one of the bantams had just jumped aside at the last second. Chickens are always scanning the sky above them for danger. I hollered at the hawk and he reluctantly flew up to a branch. He gave up and went on since I didn't leave. The chickens survived that day, although they didn't really thrive out here. Too many predators, and too little attention from me. Libby planted some flowers they tore up too--that didn't put them in her good graces. It was one of those things: you moved out to the country and you tried to live like your grammaw did, without really having a clue of why grammaw's chickens were always a thriving flock. (Hint, she was always there, there was a good yard dog.) Grammaw did give me a good anatomy lesson concerning chickens one Saturday or Sunday. We'd eat one of those chickens on Sundays. She killed it privately, plucked it, then laid it out on the kitchen table and showed me what was inside. The craw was full of corn she'd fed the chickens that morning. She cut it open and put the corn aside. Later she tossed the corn back out on the ground, for the chickens. The ground was bare. There were no ticks.

I'm not going to spend much more time on poor Ben Jones. He's making the rounds of the Fox morning shows now. A friend of mine sent me a link of Ben and Steve Doucey talking flag, and how the Dukes of Hazzard was actually the greatest blow for freedom and humanity since Wonder discovered the formula for white bread written by a finger of flame on the very walls of Plato's cave. I'd imagine someone in the Hazzard cast might have sent Ben a note by now. "Will you please STFU!" If they've taken the show down from whatever cable network was running it, it's likely because Ben has made such a huge noise that they've had to. Who was paying attention before Ben? Dukes of Hazzard was ubiquitous on the endless list of shows you have to pay for to get the tiny number of channels you want to watch. If it was listed in a block of time I was scrolling through, it was a certainty that I was not going to click there. I have no problem with it's existence, and it will exist. So will Mayberry, and Amos 'n' Andy. It's the fodder of bored Saturday mornings, particularly in the drear winter, the tv in the living room, the endless laugh track, the little round heads sitting in front of it, silhouettes against the flickering, the house smelling of washing clothes, washing dishes, baking bread or boiling cabbage. We will not manage to erase history, nor should we. All we need to do is develop a more accurate knowledge of our history, of what the flag stands for, of where it shouldn't out of decency ever be seen. If NASCAR can really make banning it stick, a great step in this direction will have been made.

The Dukes are a clueless bunch. That's their humor, such as it is. The show needed Mr. T for balance. "Take a right, Fool. Don't drive through that feed store."