Sunday, April 30, 2017

Curt Schilling's "DemoKKKrats": where's the strike zone?

Change happens. Sometimes it happens fast.

Case in point: I remember when Curt Schilling pitched for the Phillies. He beat the Atlanta Braves in the 1993 NLCS, which was not a good thing because my in-laws were from Atlanta and my son was a Braves fan. But then the Phillies went on to play the Blue Jays for the Series, and I found myself supporting the Phillies. There was something about the team--call it charisma, I don't know--but I pulled for Dykstra and Kruk and Schilling, who did his part to almost pull them out of a 3-1 hole by holding the Jays to no runs (this after a game when they'd scored 15!) before they finally went down in game 6 on that 3-run homer by Joe Carter in the bottom of the ninth.

So that's how fast change can happen. I went from not liking Schilling to liking him, almost overnight.

Years later, I was only vaguely aware that Schilling had become a commentator for Breitbart, but it wasn't until I noticed a Twitter trend that I checked out his current pitch. He had tweeted "why was there even a civil rights movement when the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments provided every right that civil rights afforded"?

This struck me--not quite in the sense of being hit with a pitch--but it made me wonder: was his question rhetorical, ironic, or did he really not know why there needed to be a civil rights movement?

Along with this, Schilling was plugging the idea that Democrats are "DemoKKKrats," the party of the Ku Klux Klan.

This is new? They were indeed: once upon a time. It's no secret. What's more--going back to Schilling's comment about those amendments--it also explains why the amendments by themselves weren't enough, and why there needed to be a civil rights movement.

So it seemed odd to me that Schilling was saying both these things. They didn't match up. With my residual respect for him as an athlete, I decided to help him find the strike zone when it came to history. I was sensitive to Schilling's Twitter demands that people argue with facts, so I thought I'd provide some extensive replay commentary in order to support the right call.

One thing about facts: there are lots of them; the more you know, the better. It helps to be able to identify the cherry-picking that propaganda uses--presenting incomplete facts in less than full context.

For example, the implied answer to Schilling's rhetorical question (if that's what it is) about the civil rights movement--i.e. it was not needed because those amendments were already there--depends on some serious cherry-picking.

He seems to be up in Dinesh D'Souza's basket, especially D'Souza's documentary Hillary's America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party. With a tireless propagandist like D'Souza it's important to call the fouls for the benefit of people who might not otherwise know the difference, like, maybe Schilling.

I watched the trailer and then found the script, which I studied for evidence that the Democratic Party of today is still the party of the KKK, as Schilling is claiming.

(If you're out there wondering, "Why bother? Isn't it obvious?" what I'm offering is lots of good exercise. Even if it's an exercise in folly, exercise is good for you.)

A little overview first: The pitch of the movie is that Hillary Clinton, the spawn of Satan (a.k.a. Saul Alinsky), is the current avatar of a centuries-long conspiracy by a cynical Democratic Party to "run a con" like a gang in order to "steal America." It is a "thievery project to steal everything from everybody." The long, slow windup to the current Clinton con has to do with the history of the Democratic Party as the party of Indian removal, slavery, the Civil War, opposition to woman's suffrage, eugenics, and, yes, the Ku Klux Klan and the sordid history of lynching.

"Today's Democrats don't like hearing about their own history," the movie says. Well no, actually, I have always self-identified as a Democrat (although sometimes, in red-state East Tennessee, it means voting for the most liberal Republican I can find), and I very much approve of people knowing that history.

But they should know all of it, not just part of it. Because what D'Souza leaves out explains why the Democrats are no longer the party of the KKK--and why the civil rights movement was necessary.

Contrary to popular belief, the movie says, the KKK never stopped being Democrat. The supposed "big switch" of racist white politicians in the pattern of Strom Thurmond--the segregationist Democrat turned Dixiecrat turned Republican--"is a big lie." The dual changeovers that happened--blacks to the Democratic party (according to the movie during FDR) and Southern whites to the Republicans--had to do with economic issues, not race. The "proof" is a list in the The End of Southern Exceptionalism (Shafer and Johnston, Harvard, 2006) of 1,600 politicians, from 1860 to 2000, that shows a party-affiliation-switch rate of 1%, including "the leaders of the Ku Klux Klan."

At this point, the movie fizzles out about the KKK. There is no further claim of linkage to Clinton or Obama. It would be easy enough to discredit the film's claim of continuing KKK influence in the Democratic Party simply by pointing to its blatant, heavy-handed, and ahistorical use of "guilt by association," but that's not good enough for me. The story it tells about the "big switch" is incomplete, and since this is one of its big pitches, it needs to be called: inside the zone, or out?

Without the 1,600-politician list in hand, it's impossible to test its relevance to the subject of the currency of KKK influence in the Democratic party. But it doesn't matter--it's not needed, because D'Souza's "proof" ignores something decidedly relevant: the history of presidential elections from 1948 on. (On the other hand, if you're interested in an academic paper that disputes Shafer and Johnston, here you go).

Before 1948, the deep South bellwether states of Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina had voted Democrat in every presidential election since 1880--because the black vote, which since 1868 had rendered them temporarily Republican under Radical Reconstruction, was suppressed.

But in 1948 these states went States' Rights; in 1960 MS and AL went for the Thurmond/Byrd segregationist "independent" ticket; in 1964 all three went for Goldwater (GOP); in 1968 SC stayed GOP, while MS and AL went for segregationist George Wallace; then, except once (Southern boy Jimmy Carter's election in 1976) they were all solid GOP from 1972 on. That's some switch right there.

So, in the transitional period between 1948--before which they were Democratic--and 1976--after which they were Republican--the "KKK" or segregationist or racist presidential voter abandoned the Democratic Party explicitly on race issues in 5 out of 8 elections. It is clear that in national elections, racist voters began looking away from the Democrats in 1948 and didn't look back.

It is simply not credible to say that KKK tunneled into the Democratic Party and is somehow still there today in any significant numbers. There is no way a self-respecting Klokard to the Kludd of the Klokann could have survived the election of 1972, when, with George McGovern, the national Democrats finally and forever became snowflake libtards.

But this still doesn't answer why, or why a civil rights movement was needed. To start answering those questions, it helps to take a closer look at the pivotal election of 1964, when the GOP ran Barry Goldwater against LBJ, who had just passed the Civil Rights Act.

The movie pitches LBJ as a racist cynic who says, "I'm going to have to bring up the Negro bill again ... I want to have them niggers voting Democratic for the next 200 years." What the movie doesn't say is that LBJ, after signing the Civil Rights Act, also told then-aide Bill Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican Party for a long time to come." To LBJ it was a political gamble that would lose white votes but gain black ones.

Goldwater, an Arizona senator, voted against the Civil Rights Act. Goldwater, however, was no racist; let me add further: unlike LBJ. His was a vote against what he regarded as an overly-strong Federal government. It was a vote for states' rights. But his racial high-mindedness did him no good. Segregationists in the South--those who voted for the States' Rights Party in '48--rallied to his states' rights doctrine, which had been a good fit for white home rule since the War Between the You Know Whats. In the landslide that swept him away, Goldwater's only electoral votes outside his home state of Arizona were five states of the deep South.

Most notoriously, among those who rallied to him was the KKK. Despite the fact that Goldwater personally and directly rejected its offer of endorsement, LBJ made political hay of this with TV advertisements playing up the KKKonnection, including one that had an Alabama Klan leader saying, "The majority of the people in Alabama hate niggerism, Catholicism, Judaism. ... I like Barry Goldwater. He needs our help."

(What does this sound like? It sounds like the 2016 election with David DuKKKe endorsing Trump, except that Goldwater went to far greater lengths to try to repudiate the KKK than Donald Trump did.)

A KKK endorsement, of course, in no way makes the GOP the party of the KKK. It simply recognizes the political reality in America that, in a two-party system, the tents of both parties necessarily cover a lot of ground. Groups who vote a single issue can and do move from one to the other on the hopes of recognition and political success (e.g. feminist voters, who went over to the Democrats in increasing numbers starting in the 1970's, and a similar trend among conservation/environmental voters).

As for the KKK and Southern racists, starting in 1948 and increasingly thereafter, when it came to national politics, the Democrats more and more meant Federal power acting on behalf of blacks. And guess who agreed? African-American voters agreed.

I recommend to Curt Schilling this article from a conservative publication that addresses the lack of black Republicans in current politics. The big-picture history is familiar: it is the same--without the conspiratorial heavy breathing and lurid, ad-hominem demonizing--as in D'Souza's movie, plus the demographic information about "the big switch" is fuller and more nuanced.

And it confirms that, for most of the long history of civil rights, there is no question that the Republican Party were the more willing of the two parties to use Federal power in the fight for African-American civil rights. But here's the clincher:

They stopped. Not just once. Again and again and again.

They stopped back in the Reconstruction. Forty acres and a mule? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not: we can't keep the South permanently under military occupation in order to accomplish that, and do we really want to re-distribute property?

They stopped to let in Jim Crow. Enforce the 13/14/15th amendments? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not. That's too much Federal power. We have to let the states police their own suffrage rules and social regulations, the way the Constitution says.

They stopped to let in lynching. Pass Federal anti-lynching legislation? Go for it, Republicans! Yeah, okay, but, no, we'd better not: see above.

Not that anybody'd expect Democrats to be doing any of these things. Heavens no! But what's wrong with the Republicans? Why aren't they protecting the rights of people they once championed?

Black voters (outside the South, where they could vote, and where they were moving in increasing numbers during the early-mid 20th century) started asking these questions. Black scholar/writer/activst W.E.B. Du Bois recognized early on that the GOP was simply harvesting black votes and then doing nothing to benefit their situation, so he advocated (at least occasionally) switching votes to the Democrats (remember the two big tents?) to build pressure on the Republicans to act. Du Bois famously endorsed Woodrow Wilson, who, in D'Souza's movie, watches Birth of a Nation and segregates Federal offices in Washington (as he in fact did). Why would Du Bois endorse someone like that? In the hopes of getting Federal anti-lynching legislation out of somebody. The same reason that the NAACP warned Republican Silent Cal Coolidge: if the KKK endorses you because of your opposition to Federal anti-lynching laws, we're voting for the Democrats.

Which brings us, finally, to the civil rights movement. Why, Schilling asks, was one needed? Because the Republicans backed off on the exercise of Federal power needed to enforce the 13/14/15th amendments. And increasingly--starting in 1948, but speeding up with Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan--they became the party of states' rights conservatism (which had been the province of the Democrats) with a considerable civil-rights downside: that of giving free rein to state and local forms of racial prejudice.

Put yourself in the shoes of a black citizen in the 20th century. Who's responding to our demands for the vote? Who will combat lynching? What about just plain old lunch-counter equality? Who's giving us some recognition? Who's going to move on the issue of the exercise of Federal power necessary to get these things done? The civil rights movement started, kept up, and built political pressure to accomplish these and other goals, pressure in the form of lawsuits, demonstrations, and voting. Over the course of the 20th century, it was the Democratic Party that responded to the pressure and became the more likely of the two parties to follow through with Federal power in support of civil rights. So the votes came their way.

And so, Curt Schilling, did the Democrats become the party of equal rights. Contra your recent tweet that the Democrats were "never" that party, the political lesson that minorities have learned over the past few decades--in answer to the question "who's going to use Federal power to protect my civil rights?"--is "the Democrats." The GOP--particularly in its Tea Party manifestation--offers nothing to minorities who need protection from institutionalized prejudice because the party is currently unwilling to use Federal power for that purpose.

For some reason the Republicans traded civil rights for states' rights. Was it the influence of Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms? Maybe Dinesh D'Souza could make a conspiracy movie about it.

Change happens, and sometimes it happens fast, as fast or faster even than me being against Schilling one night and for him a few nights later. I do not doubt, for example, that there were people on Nov. 3, 1964, who went into the voting booth Democrat and came out Republican, and vice-versa, just on the strength of Goldwater's and LBJ's positions on the Civil Rights Act.

But when it comes to history--with its complex ebbs and flows, its many layers and levels, and its dense webs of influence--we have to be open-minded and modest in our claims. We have to put ourselves in the shoes of Du Bois in 1899 when he sees a lynched man's knuckles in a store window in Atlanta and he thinks, "This has to change. And so do I," and then stop to think of the multitude of ways that change came about.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Son of Thunder in a Crazy Machine: a hip-hop book review

This is a review of A Son of Thunder: Patrick Henry and the American Republic, by Henry Mayer, Grove Press, 1991.

[Insert your favorite hip-hop beat here. If you don't have one, use whatever beat is coming through the ceiling from the neighbors' party upstairs. I don't care if you live in a yurt: everybody's got a neighbor's party going on upstairs.]

I gotta say before we go that Hamilton (the show you know) was a tunified co-optation even if it unified a clip-clop nation cuz it hipped its hop out from a book that--nah nah listen listen gotta let me hook all I gotta say is: woman/man what's in the way is: what's in your head (unless you're dead)? Is Chernow's book lying there UNREAD? It's like you eating the tartar pita and forgetting about the margarita. Pop pooping pearls before the swine, nah nah, it ain't just fine! Gotta flick the musical or screw the flick cuz you just shucking with the groove and that. Don't. Paint.

Nah this ain't Park Slope this is freaking southwest Vee Ay and that's fo' shizzle--ride that rhyme all the way to Fo't Chiswell (I learned to pronounce it from the book! Don't denounce it, take a look! Fo' shizzle Fo't Chiswell fo' shizzle Fo't Chiswell) and then turn south into Tennessee and that's where you just might find me dangling feet and stirring up mud in tailwater crud of a TVA dam named for the fort that was named for the man that popped open a big ol' can of terms way way back in Stamp Act days when the Brits thought they could just have their ways. With taxes. "What the hell?" is what people thought. "We can only tax ourselves! Not them! If they want us to give assent then they better let us represent!" But how to say this and who would brave it? Who would stand up and who would save it? Be the poet for a people as yet so inchoate that they did not know it was time to show it: an unborn nation stirred in the womb, where one there was who felt the bloom and boomed it with a lawyer's theatric energy (do it), and his name was Patrick Henry, to wit: Julius had his Brutus, and Charles had his Cromwell. Britain! Hear this American tell! All tyrants get sent down to hell! It was lightning that sprang from Henry's mouth, it sizzled north and sizzled south, far beyond the Chesapeake. And a people sat up, galvanized, to hear words their own minds would speak.

Virtue. It's gotta hurt you.

And here I must ask you something: to drag through all your memory's dumping and find if you can the time and place where first you yourself gave breath to "Give me liberty, or give me death!" And when did Patrick Henry, he himself, on what occasion, rise to utter the oration that will undie as long as there's a US flag to fly? In what time frame, and in what scale were the words weighed and hearers swayed? Early, early, it was early on by the reckonings of revolution. Hahaha, dust off your history, don't gripe at me for making it a mystery, it's just a teaser (I didn't know either). With Burgesses suspended and Boston harmed, it was literally a call to arms that surged from Henry, forth to colonists yet emerging, the minutemen and their exertions, on to Lexington, on to Concord, onward onward was the word: to nationhood, unconquered.

Virtue. It's gonna hurt you.

Frontier Baptists baited the hook of faith with ecstatic preaching that sure wasn't Established Teaching but Henry (tho not one of them) could see them reaching for whatever kind of eternal truth was there for anyone who might be seeking, so he got up to advocate that the free conscience is where we must locate a Common Good, which heroed him--the Baptist Robin Hood--even though, however much they might emote, many if not most of them could not vote, and not so much cuz they was just off the boat, but, well see, you could be with the angel band, but you could not vote if you didn't have ...

Virtue. I mean land.

Land. Land in America, oh say can I see ya, land to Henry was a panacea. In due time by his way of thinking there was so stinking much that everybody'd have it to the Mississippi, and the Indians all pissed and hissy would just pack their smoke while the white folks with their religion and all would just mix in land and face with bravery a life of freedom: without slavery. Ah but Patrick Henry, not even he could face the hard reality that a master's dominion became a greed that shackled his state to a race opinion, all splayed out in a fateful pinion, a gruesome place where hackles raised by slavering war-dog howls would shiver to see the battle-spilled bowels there had to be, before the land was truly free.

Virtual. Reality. Ain't.

More to say and so much more--how Henry thought the Constitution was worse than having no solution but finally came to the conclusion that, now the boat's afloat--know what I mean--we gotta take care of this "crazy Machine," but don't just take my word, cuz if you did the book would be unheard, and Henry Mayer (this is his book) deserves for you to take a look at the way he revivifies a life and a time, and does it so well it'd be a crime if someone came along to save you the chore by putting it up on some stage floor or some movie screen where it'd be seen instead of read but (I gotta ask) why do that? You can wait to not-read 'til after you're dead.

And besides: by now you know the slip 'n' slide:


Monday, April 24, 2017

"Trump forms 'alliance' with ISIS, Nazis, to usher in new Dark Age"

Clickbait? Maybe, but there is nothing "untrue" about the title of this post.

It weaponizes quotes as a fog machine. Double quotes: who said it? Maybe I did, maybe I didn't; who's going to bother to find out? What about the "alliance"? ("Hey, Bannon, this guy has single quotes inside of double quotes. Can I do that with 'Wire Tapping'?") Doesn't it announce figurative language? Didn't we learn that from "President" Donald J. Trump?

So, here's the "alliance" in three easy links:

How now, "correct"? Those pesky quotes again. As any archivist knows, when it comes to records, there is no correctness and incorrectness. Records are records, and they should be left inviolate in whatever state they come, however imperfect. They should be left alone, preserved, and made available for anyone to determine how they fit or don't fit into whatever interpretive scheme, whether it's "dinosaurs were on the Ark" or "I'm the lust child of Ted Nugent and an Alpha Centaurian." The real irony here is that the very people who inveigh against "political correctness" are now trying to establish "correctness" in the scientific realm by deleting datasets they don't like.

This is the work of people blinded by ideology and perverted by power, with the collusion--if not outright support--of silent supporters who fail to see the harm because they have no interest in expanding the fund of human knowledge and no real allegiance to the "freedom" they loudly proclaim.

In the article about ISIS above, when asked how he feels about the destruction that has necessitated his salvific work, Father Columba Stewart invokes the Rule of Benedict: he gets up every day and tries not to be paralyzed by all the threats abroad in the world. "We have our little corner, and we choose to do what we can."

I never would've pegged the anti-clerical French philosophe Voltaire together with St. Benedict, but wasn't it Voltaire's character Candide who said that "we must cultivate our own garden"? With such allies as these, combining the enlightened and the spiritual, how can Trump, ISIS, and the Nazis stand a chance?

Sadly, come to think of it, all Trump has to do is keep moving the flock to where the phat grass is. Meet the new Mongolian Horde.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Where the Founders failed ... or where their descendants did

So-called 2nd Amendment advocates are now looking at the demonstrations in Venezuela and saying, "too bad they can't have guns. If Germans had had guns in 1938, they could've stopped Hitler." The implication is that because Americans have guns, they can bring down a tyrannical central government.

Americans with guns are an unorganized, undisciplined--or, to use the language of the amendment, un-well-regulated--body. Could they defeat a powerful military that includes an air force, navy, elite units, and the support of a dense intelligence network? Unquestionably no. It's not just--or even mostly--the mismatched armaments. It's more the complete absence of a unified military organization among armed citizens in the US, including so-called Constitutional militia groups--and, no, membership in the NRA doesn't count.

But what really gets me is that these apologists for the unorganized militia are unaware of the Founders' understanding of the purpose of the 2nd Amendment.

It's pretty well-known among people with a glancing knowledge of history that Americans who supported breaking away from Britain had a pervasive fear of a permanent standing army controlled by the central government (a fear still encoded in the Constitution of my state, Tennessee, to wit: "standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to freedom.")

But what very few people seem to understand is that the 2nd Amendment was meant to ensure that the arsenal of the nation should be the people in arms as a mechanism to prevent reliance on an army equipped by the central government. I cannot emphasize this fact enough.

Let me put it more plainly: the right to keep and bear arms is protected so that the people--in its incarnation as a well-regulated militia--shall be both army and arsenal.

If you want proof of this fact, look at the Militia Act of 1792, which gave statutory teeth and clarity to the amendment. It required every free, able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45 to be in a local militia company and to provide his own firearm and ammunition. There was in fact a small standing army that garrisoned frontier and coastal forts, but anything larger depended on a declaration of war and funding on an ad hoc basis from a Congress made up of people deeply suspicious of such a military institution.

By 1903 the universal citizen-armed militia (which had long become, practically speaking, an artifact) was replaced by the Federal-government-armed national guard. And nobody made a peep.

Ah, the Founders and their quaint notions.

I don't think they'll be coming back. Wildcat insurrectionists aside, I know of one person who is making a concerted political effort to bring back the Constitutional Militia. He seems to be outgunned.

But if the Militia Act of 1792 were updated for the 21st century, every adult citizen within a certain age range (say 18-60) would be in the militia ... and would provide his or her own weapon--according to specifications--and would be trained in its use. Then all those adult citizens would slap their foreheads with amazed, sudden, Founders-intent, Constitutional enlightenment: "Oh, it says 'common defense,' not 'imperialism,'" and the Defense Department would be downsized from jumbo to regular, but there would still be more than enough freedom fries for Blue Angel flyovers. (There's a reason this blog is called "Follies.")

Meanwhile the NRA notion that somehow a bunch of armed individuals can stand up to the most powerful military on earth? Talk about quaint. It's high time it got the derisive send-off it deserves.

(If you require a nice, succinct, authoritative, lawyerly explanation as to why, in the Second Amendment, the Founders were not addressing the individual right to bear arms for self-defense, here you go. Quick answer: it already existed.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Patrick Henry says hello

Sometimes only barbecue will do. On those occasions I'm lucky to have a joint nearby where I can go sit at a bar and ... becue.

So there I was at the bar, becuing, when a gent in a tricorne and knee breeches walked in and sat down right next to me. "Pah-trick," he said, doffing his hat and extending his hand. I gave my name and we shook.

I took a chance on joshing as an icebreaker: "Tricorne and knee breeches! Not an everyday sight! Is Liberty Tax trying a new line of costumes for their sign wavers, or are you a re-enactor on the run from Williamsburg for committing an anachronism?"

"Williamsburg!" Patrick exhaled sharply. "I'd be dead if I were still there! As it was, we barely got out of Charlottesville alive when bloody Banastre Tarleton showed up unannounced. Had to come all the way down here to where they'd named a fort after me before I could feel safe. "

"You mean Fort Patrick Henry? You're Patrick Henry? Give-me-liberty-or-give-me-death Patrick Henry?" I'd met people who claimed to be the Messiah before, but this was a new one.

"Do I detect a patriotic tone in your voice?" he asked. "I hope so, anyway. I'm desperately looking for Public Virtue. It seems to have disappeared."

There was little question from the way he said this that it was capital-P Public and capital-V Virtue. He seemed very thirsty.

"Hmm," I murmured, gesturing to the array of taps behind the bar. "Sweetwater 420, Yuengling, Fat Tire, Samuel Adams, but nope, no Public Virtue here. At least, not on draft."

"You have spoken very eloquently, friend," the ersatz-Henry said, shaking his head sadly and tiredly. "That is what we have come to: In a country with such an organizer of minutemen as Samuel Adams, what have things come to, even with Tarleton and that traitor Arnold burning and pillaging? A draft. And where there is a draft there is no Public Virtue."

"You could ask. They might have it in bottles."

"Battles? Did you say battles? Everybody was all excited back in '75. Public Virtue everywhere! Volunteers? No problem! Only let them march and drill and camp out for three months and then go home! But for the duration? For the battles? For the cannons roaring muskets cracking bumbs flying all around men dying and the horrid groans of the wounded? Two years later, Washington was asking me for more troops, but who wanted to fight then? And that was four years ago. You cannot imagine how bad things are now. I'm ready to bring Washington in as a dictator and start executing people who won't leave if they don't take a loyalty oath."

"Wow, man are you sure you're Patrick Henry? You sound more like Maximilien Robespierre, you know, terror is the only guarantor of virtue and all that."

Henry turned to me with a sad look. "By the Gauling notes of the name, I gather you're making me into a Frenchman?" He sighed heavily. "Say no more. We are at the nadir. The abyss. The people will not save us. The Congress will not save us. The army will not save us. But, the French. The French will save us! The French! The royalist, monarchist, absolutist, non-republican French. The very epitome of the rape of public virtue. My god, my god, what have we come to?" He buried his head into his arms, folded on the bar, and sobbed.

I had to hand it to this guy. He was totally into his gig. Surely I could do something to get him to break character. "So, did you hear about that big bomb? The MOAB?"

"Moab! Moab!" Henry raised his head and shouted, pounding his fists on the bar. "Where Moses covenanted his people just before they entered the promised land! Where Moses died, not entering with them, a sacrifice to the life of his people? What is a covenant? A matter of convenience? I ask you! What is a pledge? A bill of fare? A choice between turtle soup and barbecue?"

Then he turned to me with a fierce look. "You! I ask you! Will you fight the British? Will you take it upon yourself as your solemn duty to fight them to the death so that you will be free? Or will you be like the others, all cheap bunting and parades and drunken songs from suckling at the ale tap, 'Let the eagle flyyyyy!' oh so happy to let others do the killing, and by all means make it far, far away from home, but who, when the war comes to your doorstep, will you flee the militia muster and degrade yourself to the point that you will not even serve on a jury without the heavy threat of a fine or imprisonment? Where is Public Virtue?"

His eyes were blazing. I was left just stammering. Far from breaking his character, I'd just been sucked into it. I finally was able to hem and haw that I was pretty sure I'd serve on a jury without the threat of a fine. But as far as the militia, there hadn't been a muster in a little bit ...

He cut me off. "Now, if you will excuse me, I must go relieve myself. Can you kindly point me the way to the outhouse?"

"Haha. Right over there. This not being Scotland, best not go in the one with the kilted person on the door."

The bathrooms are in a little alcove in full view of the bar. I watched him go in the men's. Not long after another guy went to wait for him to come out. He waited. And waited. He shifted from one foot to another. He needed to go pretty bad. I thought he should go ahead and invoke Scotland, but he went to the register for assistance. I couldn't hear the conversation, but it ended up with a waiter going to the men's and knocking. No answer. The waiter unlocked the door and open it. The bathroom was empty.

The next day in the mail I got a jury summons. With a majusculed threat of a fine and everything. It had "Patrick Henry says hello" stamped on it, which I thought was odd.

I called the court to find out what that meant. They said they don't do that; somebody must've tampered with the mail, which is a Federal offense. "Yeah, I know," I said. "So why can't it be a Federal offense to sell my browsing history?" The court didn't know and said goodbye.

I bet Public Virtue is good beer.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Leaving Chattanooga: Yusef Lateef and the scales of liberation

Mining for meaning: once you start digging for the inside of something--the inside of the inside--at some point, way down in the shaft, you turn around and realize you're too far in to get out, and the only thing you can do is to keep digging, keep digging, in the perhaps-futile hope you will wind up back top in the fresh air of China.

Me, I'm a coward. I can't go that deep. It starts getting dark, dirty, tight, and difficult, so what do I do but turn around and come back the way I came just so I can take a shower, put on fresh clothes, and say, "Hey, y'all, there's something down there. I don't know what it is, but it's Something!" in the perhaps-futile hope that my mine will become a state reclamation project with see-saws for children and wordy metal plaques for adults who, like me, really prefer the see-saws.

Unlike me, Yusef Lateef kept on and made it to China, not-quite-only-metaphorically speaking, as will become clear.

I would like to make his a household name. His is at least a name in official Chattanooga, where he was born, though I suspect the name has a ways to go before it becomes household. I would like people to wake up in the morning and their first waking thought be, "Yusef Lateef! Huh! Born in Chattanooga, and a jazz oboe player! Huh! What do you know?" Because of course I also was born in Chattanooga and play the oboe, which means Lateef and I are the deepest kin. (That is the kind of mining I do. See-saws come next. And plaques, if you happen to be reading this and also work at Parks and Rec or the Historical Commission. Thanks. This is a great day in a life of folly.)

How this all started: A colleague sent me a drawing of a circle done by John Coltrane. At some point I want to do an explanatory video of this drawing that will elucidate its meaning to non-musicians (similar to the universe-stretching notion of the Privoznik Minute), but for now all you need to know is that it meshes two whole-tone scales into the locomotion of an Underground Railroad.

So the six degrees of separation are these: Lateef was a musical colleague of Coltrane's. Their principal instrument was the saxophone. African-Americans, they were out-migrants from the South. They cut their musical teeth on big band jazz, but found themselves drawn to explore the abstract, architectural side of musical expression. They both found the abstract, architectural religio-artistic expressions of Islam to be congenial. This Muslim orientation being central, naturally the final degree of separation disallows (Kevin) Bacon. (Look! See-saws!)

Naturally perhaps, since we are both native sons, I want Lateef to be as much about Chattanooga as about Detroit, where he actually grew up and where he received his musical education and heard his formative jazz performances. But even though he wrote a piece called An Afternoon in Chattanooga, the only mention I can find of his birthplace--after extensive Google-mining, which includes his autobiography, The Gentle Giant--is the fact that he was born there.

But maybe that's enough. His Chattanooga birth-name was William Emanuel Huddleston, a post-migration family name-change made him Bill Evans, and then, upon converting to Islam, he himself changed his name to Yusef (Joseph) Lateef--which he points out means both "gentle" and "indecipherable." He said himself that "my music is jazz," but he also disliked the compartmentalization and stereotyping that came with the word "jazz." His instrumental world grew to include flute, oboe, bassoon, and an entire panoply of folk reed instruments from Africa and Asia. His compositional world expanded from the straitened jazz standard to encompass European forms (symphonies, sonatas) as well as non-Western music to the point that The New York Times obituary (he died in 2013, age 93) of him said "he played world music before world music had a name."

So here is Lateef's journey. Dig it:

  • Chattanooga Huddleston, born in 1920 into a world where the greatest democracy on earth assigns you to a subjugated, non-citizen caste because of the color of your skin.
  • Detroit Evans, where you take your sax and throw yourself into the music that is shaking the foundations of the greatest democracy on earth by carpet-bombing popular culture with the blues, but your only blasting is through your horn, your only cogitation is chords. (And later in life you say this is the way it was among your fellows--nobody talked on the road because everybody was thinking about how to play better. Words?  Where do you think the famously, opaquely non-loquacious, hip jazzer lingo comes from?)
  • Nowhere/Everywhere/Here Yusef Lateef, where you and John Coltrane draw circles and generate scales that nobody anywhere has ever used, simply because they are abstractions that point you further into, well, into the ultimate liberation of Nowhere/Everywhere/Here. 

The rest of us, meanwhile, are stuck here on terra firma with certain geographical questions, e.g., what would happen if Lateef had dug an Underground Railroad from Chattanooga straight and level through to the same coordinates in the other hemisphere? This is where he would've wound up. China! Well, northern Tibet. I did say "not quite," didn't I? Not to mention that, being pretty much the middle of Nowhere and Everywhere, see-saws are few and far between, except the ones that use two offset whole-tone scales to generate autophysiopsychic music. The place is crawling with those fuckers. The most that can be said about them is that they have their ups and downs.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Damned if you do: politics trumps truth

Checking into Twitter the other day, I found #Carson trending. Since I am a huge fan of Ben Carson, I was delighted. It turns out that the right-leaning alt-media was all a-twitter with such stories as these:

MSM SILENT: Ben Carson finds $500 BILLION in Fraud-Mismanagement in HUD Audit. [caps in original]

There are two stories here: Ben Carson, newly-appointed by Trump to be HUD Secretary, himself uncovers huge levels of fraud from Obama-era HUD (some headlines emphasized the Obama connection); and the shameful and prejudicial silence of the MainStream Media in the face of this shocking discovery.

A quick search of the news showed that there was indeed silence in the large houses of print and broadcast journalism on this subject. But I smelled a rat--or a family of them. If Ben Carson had indeed discovered actual fraud, it would be all over the media, even the MainStream channels.

The media love to report fraud. They surely select facts, and they surely spin them, but coverup is not something journalists are known for. Furthermore--to use just the example of The Washington Post--no Federal agency, not even Obama's HUD, is exempt from hard-nosed investigation and reporting. Look at that link's biting lede: "The federal government's largest housing construction program for the poor has squandered hundreds of millions of dollars on stalled or abandoned projects ..." You'd think that'd be enough to make your average libertarian do cartwheels in a transport of joy (oh, wait, that'd be Amtrak).

Thank goodness for Snopes, which reported on the family of stories on Apr. 7. It turns out that the $500 billion was an accumulation of bookkeeping errors (both plus and minus) reported in HUD's 2016 audit released in mid-November, 2016.

Oh, and uh, when was Ben Carson appointed? More than 3 months after the audit was made public. Ben Carson had nothing to do with the audit or the findings. Snopes issued a finding of "mostly false," which seems mild to me. Snopes must be giving the false reports some credit at least for issuing the audit information, which is factual, and which has been available since it was released on the HUD website:
Even clearer, though, is the report on the audit of HUD's own Inspector General David Montoya, an Obama-era appointee, released on March 1, 2017 (just before Carson's confirmation). This report clearly summarizes the findings and the rationale for the internal investigation that clarified them.

This is not the work of independent, muckraking journalists. This is government investigating itself and reporting on its own screwups. To put it in the appropriate political context, this is the Obama administration reporting on its own screwups. And, as a reward, the right-wing Twittersphere spun a gossamer web of lies. Why not just say that Ben Carson has his work cut out for him moving forward with this report and getting things on the right track? It seems to me to be a huge job. There's enough of a story there. But hyper-partisanship can't accept anything that smacks of bi-partisan working through things.

As for the MainStream Media, it's looking elsewhere, its attention transfixed by Donald Trump, whose transparency is like something out of a Devil's Dictionary: "I am transparent. I say what I say, and it makes no difference if it's true or false. The only thing that matters to me is to say things--even false things--that work to my advantage." A riveting story, for sure (especially if the rivets are Russian-made), but also one that seems to be draining every last ounce of media attention so that there seems to be no interest in what happened at HUD.

In the HUD case, the only thing that would've made a difference would've been if they'd tried to cover up the findings of the audit. Then there would've been no lack of heroic journalism. As it was, all we got was boring government doing its thing and partisan shills breaking windows about it. In my book of folly, that's a crime.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The sentence of either/or

This is not the desert island. This is the enforced incarceration. Due to politically correct unsoundness as determined by my browsing history as lawfully shared with advertisers by my ISP and in qua modo duly determined by said advertisers to be unsusceptible to advertising, I am being put away for a Rip Van Winkle period--20 years. It is hoped that at the end of this time I will either be incorrect or dead. My jailors, in a show of kindness and mercy that put me in mind of Abu Ghraib, have given me a "choice" as to the music I will listen to during that time--at least once a day, according to the terms of my improvement plan. I will not be able to listen to anything else. While I might rather choose Bach or Scruggs or Beatles or Beyoncé, my jailors in their somewhat blinkered (foreshortened?), baby-boomer view of things have limited my choices to the following:

Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis Joplin et al. (not Kooper)) or Disraeli Gears by Cream (Messrs. Baker, Bruce, and Clapton). 

In their kindness and mercy that put me in mind of the Inquisitional auto da fe at the stake, I am allowed to seek the advice of my online social network. This is what things have come to. If you love me, please tell me which of these albums, heard once a day, is more likely to see me through 20 years of solitary confinement. And why. The why is the most important part. And please don't say "God's got this" or I will flip out, or a coin.

Monday, April 3, 2017

You can always trust a hillbilly with an OED (or one that teaches you French)

You know what, ever since I read Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, I have finally had to confront and reconcile myself to the hard truth that I am in fact a hillbilly. Now those of you who think you know me are going to laugh because I don't have a moonshine still or a shotgun to defend it with. To which I say: neither does J.D. Vance, and he says he's a hillbilly, and he's sold lots of books to prove it.

Whoa. Wait. That was kinda stupid. A hillbilly selling books? Is that a salient of argumentation a would-be hillbilly really wants to advance? [Wall alarm flashes: Recording in Progress] Here, wait, I'll be right back. Security cam's showing something creeping around up in the weed crop, so lemme grab my laser-targeted, high-powered slingshot with my patented (not) curare-soaked-ammo-that-blocks-nicotinic-acetylcholine-receptors and go do a quick patrol of the perimeter, just to be sure it's only a possum looking to upgrade from dandelion.

On second thought, why don't you come with me? We can talk. I mean, I can talk. It'll have to be whispers. Hope you're fine with whispers. And short sentences. It's half a mile up a pretty steep ridge. Don't think you'll be wanting to talk much by the time the climb hits.

Dandelion. Huh. The French call it pissenlit. Pissabed. The roots are diuretic. Like coffee. C'mon. Keep up. Keep up. It's in the OED. Pissabed. The what? The OED. The Oxford. English. Dictionary. Speaking of roots. Every word shows its. Earliest. Known. Usage. And ensuing examples. A taproot, man. Taproot of language. "Blew bottles and pissabed. Grew among the wheate." Haha. No, I'm not asking for. Herbicide. That was the. OED. Under "pissabed."

Never knew a hillbilly without just one book. For some it's the Bible. Not for the reason you think. The reason was to. Out-argue the parson. Who foolishly ventured to the cabin. Religion ain't for hillbillies. Faith, maybe. And theology. Heaps and heaps and stinking heaps. Of theology. But not religion. Religion is "ties that bind." Hillbilly ain't got none of those. 'Cept to his stinking hillside. Like this one here. That we're climbing. How you doin'? Not dead yet. Good sign.

For me. That one book. Is the OED. It looks like two books. Because it's two volumes. But just one book. Kinda unlike the Bible. Which is one volume. But 66 books. Tack on another 6. Whatcha got? Haha. Joke. Some people do that, you know. And call it numerology. I call it cards. I call it Trump. "Whatcha got?" "Mark of the Beast!" "I got you beat: Caspar Balthazar Melchior!" Hahaha. Guess you had to be there. Theology.

Nah, but the OED. 1971 edition. Magic. Graduation present from high school. Hillbillies can graduate high school. In fact there's some. Fantastic hillbillies. Doing postdoc work. How'd you think they wound up doing postdoc? Only hillbillies do postdoc. You know what makes a hillbilly, right? It ain't all growing. Contraband and. Shooting laser-targeted, high-powered slingshots with patented (not) curare-soaked-ammo-that-blocks-nicotinic-acetylcholine-receptors. Whew. Let's take a breather.

[Lots of puffing and panting by both parties. Silence for a blessed interval. Then the walk resumes.]

What makes a hillbilly? Independence. Independence. Don't run with the crowd. Run AWAY from the crowd. Up the holler. And further up the holler. Not farther. Further. Shun money. Unless you're bearding. The old man. Then it's ok. Make a killing. But beard the. Old man.

And if that ain't postdoc. I don't know what is. Ain't no money. In postdoc. More like. "Brother, can you paradigm?" But ain't no money. In hillbilly either. 'Cept by accident. And you better be. Bearding. The old man. When it happens.

Met me a hillbilly once. Back when I was a billykid. Hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Wandered into an apple orchard. Found myself looking down. The business end. Of an arrow. Dude had a still. Bearding the old man. With cider. Only spoke French. This guy. Himself an old man. Wasn't any more French. Than me. His one book? The bible of how to talk. Parisian argot. I did ask why. And he said, "Here." "Let me teach you some." "French."

"Tootfoodmagull?" Nah, that's what he taught me. The only French I know. 'Cept pissenlit. It means. "You trying to fuck with me?" All I did was ask why'd he speak French. And I got that business end. Of an arrow. Again, and a French lesson. Tootfoodmagull? He volunteered (a. Tennessean, natch.) how it was his mission in life. To make people say "I just fell in some. Apples" when they pass. Out or "I fell on a. Bone" when they encounter. A difficulty, just like. They do in. France. Plus he was bearding the old man. Any questions? Nope. Nope. Nosiree Bob. Not me.

He also volunteered that. He was starting a hillbilly art movement.
 I snickered. Which got me the. Business end. Of an arrow. "Tootfoodmagull?" Nope. Nope. Nosiree Bob. Not me. Hillbilly art movement. Makes total sense. Yup. Called it Baba. As in Dada, only Baba. Why Baba? It means "stupefied" in. French and is the irreducible quality of. Hillbilly: ineffable, uncompromising awe at. Life. Any questions? Nope. Nope. Nosiree Baba. Not me. Not then. Not now. Ineffable.

Getting close here. Time to shut up. Critter or person, you want a good target for your laser-targeted, high-powered slingshots with patented curare-soaked-ammo-that-blocks-nicotinic-acetylcholine-receptors. Whew! Hey, you okay? You look like you're fixing to fall in some apples.