Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Oh Lana Get Up

This will likely be the last post of 2017. It's Wednesday the 27th, and we finished up Christmas last night with a cold drive home from Greensboro, much like a lot of drives home after the family gatherings of other years. We put off the actual family Christmas until the day after official Christmas (not Old Christmas, on the 6th of January, commemorated in old fiddle tunes from old fiddlers like Tommy Jarrell and French Carpenter). Libby and I found this plan delightful because it meant we had a nice Christmas day all to ourselves. Admittedly, Libby busted her chops all day cooking for yesterday, while I mostly stayed out of the way in the back room, watching football games and keeping the fire in the stove going. With little thanks to me, then, a number of delicious dishes got prepared, and yesterday we trundled off, out of the winter woods and up to Greensboro using the back road route we've grown fond of, with almost zero traffic all the way, and we were only a relatively little late, and kept that from being itself a stress, and we all had a great Christmas feast, the table smaller this year as the Old Vet left us last June, and some of the young-uns now have more important things to do, this being still, as ever, life.

As December proceeded we received a small pile of Christmas Cards from old friends who maintain that tradition better than we've managed. My oldest friend signed his Christmas letter with “let's hope 2018 is better.” I think there might have been a question mark in there too. That's a hell of a note, but it sure rings true. The closing chord of this renewal of American fascism was a major F with a flatted 5th. We told all our “friends” and “allies” that we were taking names and would long remember their disloyalty at the UN, when they voted to reject the idea that Jerusalem was henceforth going to be the capital of Israel. This theme, the authoritarian theme, has been one constant of the whole year. The distinguished lawyer Sally Yates of the Justice Department had warned the fresh new administration of General Flynn's vulnerabilities and was fired for her troubles. (She'd also warned that the so-called Travel Ban was so flawed as to be unconstitutional—in both warnings she was proved correct.) You'd think that warning decision-makers of impending errors would be seen as profoundly loyal. If you sit and watch an impending train wreck, and say nothing, isn't that just a passive-aggressive disloyalty?

As we careen into this hoped-for better year, the President's party practices loyalty the fresh new way, and searches for some sort of “purge” of the Justice Department and the FBI. The best or at least most realistic opinion of this week before New Year's Day 2018 comes from Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

The Republican Party is all-in in Trump. It’s not that they’re too lazy to investigate Trump’s various malfeasance; it’s just that they don’t care.
Discussing impeachment scenarios, or any other removal method that requires Senate supermajorities, is fundamentally a waste of time. And even if Democrats take over the House in 2018, a futile impeachment vote is probably counterproductive.
It’s critically important for Dems to take over Congress in 2018. But the value is 1)the ability to conduct investigations, 2)the ability to stop Republicans from passing investigation, and (as pertains to the Senate) stopping judicial and egregious executive branch nominations.
There is one way Trump can be removed from office while he’s alive: the ballot box.
Investigations into Trump are valuable not because there’s any chance of making Republican legislators turn against him, but because they may make him less popular.
Investigations are almost certainly a better method of making Trump less popular than impeachment proceedings.


This is what we find. The great wheels still turn of course. Steve Bannon imagines he's found the key to the Mayan Calendar in an obscure Latin text, and finds himself full tilt for Roy Moore. It is certainly possible, and perhaps even likely, that majorities of voters are slowly coming to perceive the truth of this new world we've “elected”--if by “elected” you mean whatever it is that happened at the end of 2016, all that complexity and fog we still can't entirely perceive and have hired expensive lawyers to sort out: Russian meddling, powerful and never-ceasing Republican propaganda on the airwaves and in incessant speeches by the candidate Trump, who seemed to be doing nightly half-hour fire-side rants on every teevee channel we paid too much for; and of course the underlying Electoral College, an invention by the propertied from two centuries back to make sure as they could that laborers and women and people of color would not “steal” the government from the people who so rightfully owned it, having stolen it from the people who were already here on the continent.

People who looked at the situation even a century ago were always concerned that a great and effective authoritarian demagogue would rise, and win, using the underlying tide of racism and misogyny that they could easily perceive just beneath the placid surface and the perfect temperature for a refreshing paddle. This stuff had always been there, will apparently always be there. Wise people warned America not to open this Pandora's box. Wise people said, “Look, there are clear historical examples of what people will do and believe. Germany. Italy. Rowanda. People, humans, do this.” Apparently, as other wise people have also warned, the mere scent of power is aphrodisiac, and the apparently cooler heads are in fact just more diplomatic. See, e.g., Mr. Romney's notable “47%” of 2012, and his pathetic dinner with the newly-elected Trump, which only yielded Trumpean contempt in further measure, as was easily predicted far in advance.

We, we because we are still a kind of democracy and must own our democratic choices until which time as they are so flawed by realities that we all have to admit that democracy has died, must in the meantime admit that we have elected Caligula. He resonates with millions. Many of those will deny to the end that they benefit daily from white privilege, and even argue that there is no such thing. Make America Great Again. “Again.” As subtle as Mussolini. Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.

I watched the unfolding of Watergate on a little black and white teevee that sat on a table at the foot end of my bed. We were also building a band that year, so we got to see some of the politics from the stage, with the sound off. Nixon's resignation, as I recall, happened the night of a gig. A couple of years later, at perhaps the height of our success and riding a kind of hit off-Broadway cowboy comedy with its own brand of denied white privilege, I walked down the Manhattan afternoon reading headlines of the very end of Vietnam. Oh Lana Turner we love you get up.

We, the same people that just elected Caligula, learned absolutely nothing, but instead lived in a romantic fantasy of something that never was. As the decades passed, as we lived our lives thinking something or other had been learned, that that resounding anthem from the early '70s, “we won't get fooled again!” actually was a small step forward, other forces were more effectively at work. We may still not recognize how significant a cadre of retired professional soldiers spent sixteen years and counting could yet become, dreaming of “agains” and the practical mechanisms of automated assault weapons fire. Now they have their spokesman, slouching from Bethlehem and speaking of purges.

Happy New Year's muthafuckers. It may be just a bag of steel holes, as Warren Oates said back in '69 when Vietnam was actually still going on.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11, 2017

This date* may soon commemorate the demise of the internet as we know it, a place where people just toss messages in bottles off piers around the world, messages like even this one, with no aim at all for some financial gain, no teaser for eyeballs, no pay nothing down. It's had its run, this internet, where people just talked and opined. There's still, perhaps, Facebook and Twitter. Indeed, those platforms were likely invented to make way for the new shiny internet slouching towards us from Bethlehem. Sure, you can have a handful of characters. It works for the President, what's your problem? He was elected. QED.

[*In the interest of clarity, it turns out that the FCC decision on net neutrality has been delayed, briefly, due to suits and other issues.]

Tomorrow is Mr. Moore of Alabama's Day. It could still be the day he is rejected by his state, by the voters of Alabama who bother to vote. We'll know tomorrow. Vice News sent Frank Luntz to talk to Alabama Republicans, twelve of them. They told him that the testifying women were all political operatives. It was an operation to make Mr. O'Keefe jealous, since all of his games get sussed out. Some of the Alabama Republicans ask rhetorically, "why do these charges surface now?" That's supposed to be decisive rhetoric. The idea has become, an October Surprise is on the face of it self-refuting. All genuine surprises must arrive by March 1, the rest being folderol by definition. I have an old interest in Alabama. The old band I was in played down there quite a bit. My best guitar comes from a very good guitar shop in Birmingham run by a fine fellow named Herb Trotman. Libby and I sat in his shop and played any number of fine guitars, and came up with my Taylor Jumbo with the maple back. It's a sweet one, particularly for finger picking and accompanying singing, but it's good with the fiddle too.

Back when the old band used to play a bar in Birmingham with a firetruck in the lobby. We also played two big summer festivals that were strong on bluegrass, one at Smith Mountain, one called Horse Pens 40. I saw Jimmy Martin at the Smith Mountain festival. He rode around in a bus called the Widow Maker, and on stage he explained that his band wasn't good enough to record, unlike in earlier times, when he was recording. He also said he'd go around after his set and have a drink with everyone at the festival, a challenge I believe he made the attempt at least to accomplish. At Horse Pens, in October, I watched Ricky Skaggs and his band play a set wearing gloves. The temperature had dropped below freezing. Skaggs could play good mandolin with gloves on! Another time at Horse Pens an Alabama National Guard jet came over about 50 feet above the stage, creeping up on us from the south at such a speed that the sound exploded when it arrived, Horse Pens being a peninsula of the Appalachians ending above the much lower plain stretching off to Birmingham and points south, so that the pilot had plenty of altitude till just before he got to the stage, where the old band was chunking out Bill Boyd's "Wahoo, Wahoo, Wahoo." Our bass player jumped off the stage briefly as I recall, but the band more or less kept going and finished the song to the afterburners. A year or two later we heard a recording of the moment, but it wasn't really how it was, the jet was just a mild woooosh. You hada be there.

I can't particularly imagine those folks who came to see us voting for Judge Moore, but surely a lot of them are doing just that. It's there in the Skynyrd lyrics:

Well I heard Mister Young sing about her
Well I heard ole Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A southern man don't need him around anyhow

That flyboy was saluting bluegrass is the likely theory of why he was there that day, in the sky above us. Back in the '70s The Band like to fly the Stars and Bars, and it wasn't just Levon. It's there on the wall in the Last Waltz. People imagined a space where that was possible without contradiction.

Roy Moore said, during his campaign, that he'd like to repeal all the constitutional amendments after the 10th. He also said he thought America was at its "greatest" during slavery, because in those days the family was "unified," going in the same direction. That's the patriarchy in a nutshell I guess. That's part of Mr. Moore's vote, people who think the women and the black folks ought to just shut up and stop making trouble. That would include the NFL kneelers, noted by the President when he kicked off the Strong campaign (but also kicked off the Moore campaign at the same time, a brilliant example of Trump's ability to live in contradiction, and of a piece with his endorsement of Moore from Pensacola, Florida, just across the line, just in case).

"Which Side Are You On?" the old Civil Rights marching song used to ask. For a while, after Vietnam was over, it seemed like we were all on the same side. That was apparently another grand illusion. Skynyrd was on it early. I hope I'm surprised tomorrow. I hope I can get some news on line tomorrow, without a paywall. Here, in any case, the snow melted, and the cold wet leaves are a thick carpet in the woods around the cabin, and the sun offers watery yellow light from low in the south as it approaches noon.

I see that Walt Koken, the great fiddler and banjo player from the Highwoods String Band, has published a modest memoir of his time touring with his band. Walt writes:

Just wanted to say thanks to all who have ordered my new memoir, Fire on the Mountain, an American Odyssey. It’s going to be a million seller. That means I’ll have a million in the cellar! Seriously, just a reminder to everyone thinking about ordering a copy, get ‘em while they last. It makes for a good holiday present, and an interesting read. Originally intended as a retrospective of the 1960’s and ‘70’s for the old time music community readership, it has brought some compliments from folks outside that scene...

You can get it from Walt at Ask him and he might even write you in an autograph. Walt was at a lot of those Alabama venues. He might well have been there the day the jet came over. I'll have to ask him sometime.


Update (12/13/17)

Roy Moore lost last night. The loss was decisive, which pretty much stops his group of Christianist conservatives from coming up with a reason to steal the election back. (See Florida, 2000). I was expecting Judge Moore to brandish his little silver popper again and call for some kind of rough justice, but the margin was over 20,000, and perhaps that was sobering to him, his ranting wife, and who knows, even Mr. Bannon, who railed about carpetbagging as a carpetbagger himself, which was probably not lost on some Alabama voters. There was much talk on the teevee comparing Alabama with the Virginia election of a couple of months back. It certainly would be a nice Christmas thought to see some turn in the electorate against the destructive, radical anarchy that reigns at the moment in the Executive Branch. I thought, as well, that the lesson of Alabama might one day actually be taken by the country, as we struggle back to some semblance of sanity: the educated urban counties of Alabama are not punished as such centers are nationally. That is, sensible people did not in majority vote in Mr. Trump, but were disenfranchised to the tune of some 3 million voters by an archaic Electoral College system that should be either abolished entirely, or at a minimum re-ordered significantly. Alabama does not give low-population rural counties excessive power over their urban centers. This is a good thing. Jones is likely going to bring a lot of prosperity to his state.

I also meant to mention, in my initial post, the sweetest visit to Alabama our old group made. This would be a trip to Enterprise, the little town which features a bronze statue of the boll weevil in the town center, to commemorate the end of a single-crop economy, which eventually was an improvement. We played at a rural school, mostly black kids as I recall. It seemed as though no one such as an old time string band had ever come out to see these kids, and their delight was wonderful to experience. Underneath all the politics there are always real people. They are the ones that matter.