Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why Vote for Kay Hagan?

Here's a long quote from Charles Pierce, yesterday:

And then there was Trey Gowdy, who's supposed to be pumping hot air into the Benghazi, Benghazi!, BENGHAZI! balloon, but who took off his kangaroo suit for the afternoon and favored us with his Sam Drucker imitation.

"Why in the world did the president pick a dadgum lawyer?" Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, asked at the hearing, pointing out that Klain doesn't have a background in communicable disease, infectious disease, or West Africa. "If this were an outbreak of people who don't have wills in West Africa, or if this were an outbreak on contested elections in West Africa, then I'd say yeah, go hire Mr. Klain," Gowdy conintued. "But it's not. It's a medical crisis."

Oh, put a sock in it, Gomer. Like you wouldn't be saying the same damn thing if the president had put Hippocrates in charge. Would you like a list of highly qualified people whom the president has sent up into the monkeyhouse whom you and the other goobers wouldn't confirm. Wait a second. I'll get back to you after this Jason Chaffetz guy finishes his remarks.

"Why not have the surgeon general head this up?" Chaffetz asked in a Wednesday appearance on Fox News. "I think that's a very legitimate question. At least you have somebody who has a medical background whose been confirmed by the United States Senate...It begs the question, what does the surgeon general do? Why aren't we empowering that person?"

And we arrive, finally, at the deepest part of the tangle. We don't have a Surgeon General at the moment. The president sent up Dr.Vivek Murthy as his nominee for the post almost a year ago. Murthy's credentials are impeccable, Gomer. The reason he hasn't been confirmed is that Murthy has been outspoken on the obvious fact that firearms in this country are a public health issue. Whereupon the National Rifle Association announced that it would be "scoring" the vote on Murthy's confirmation, which was enough to scare the Congress into putting the nomination on ice. And, by the way, the only senator who has admitted putting a "hold" on Murthy's nomination is Senator Aqua Buddha, the brogressive hero from Kentucky and The Most Interesting Man In Politics (tm/Time, Inc.).

"In his efforts to curtail Second Amendment rights, Dr. Murthy has continually referred to guns as a public health issue on par with heart disease and has diminished the role of mental health in gun violence," wrote Paul in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "As a physician, I am deeply concerned that he has advocated that doctors use their position of trust to ask patients, including minors, details about gun ownership in the home... Dr. Murthy has disqualified himself from being Surgeon General because of his intent to use that position to launch an attack on Americans' right to own a firearm under the guise of a public health and safety campaign."

So we don't have a Surgeon General at the time of Ebola because of the NRA, which has dedicated itself to making sure that there are enough guns floating around so that Jaylin Fryberg could get his hands on one and shoot up a cafeteria.

Several students identified the shooter as Jaylen Fryberg. Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot. He said he believes one of the victims was his friend since kindergarten. Freshmen Brandon Carr, 15, and Kobe Baumann, 14, said they were just outside the cafeteria when the shooting happened. "We started hearing these loud banging noises, like someone hitting a trash can," Carr said. They heard screaming and yelling. "Once I knew it was gunshots, we just booked it," Carr said. They eventually joined about two dozen kids inside of a classroom with police and FBI. Police told them to stay in there. "Everybody in the classroom was just freaking out crying," Carr said. Eventually, they were told they could leave, and were loaded onto buses.

Isn't it wonderful when news stories sing in harmony?

This accurate account of some amazing double-talk being spouted by Republicans is plenty enough reason to keep Kay Hagan in the US Senate as North Carolina's sane representative. Let me add one more bit of the same brand of vile. Early this week the Time-Warner company ran an alleged "debate" between Mrs. Hagan and her Republican opponent, Tom Tillis. Mrs. Hagan had been invited to this "event" in July and had declined, having already agreed to three debates with Tillis, which she appeared at previous to this "event." When the co-sponsors of the "event," the Raleigh News and Observer and the Charlotte paper learned that Mrs. Hagan would not be attended, they dropped their co-sponsorship. Oh, also and possibly relevant, Time-Warner is a significant contributor to the Tom Tillis campaign, according to reports.

This one-hour political advertisement for Tillis, falsely presenting itself as a "debate" which for some reason Mrs. Hagan had "no-showed" at the last minute, ran on the televisions of those who subscribe to cable service via Time Warner. Moreover, even ostensibly liberal media such as the Rachel Maddow show ran pieces tut-tutting at Mrs. Hagan for failing to attend--the usually sure footed Maddow apparently was not aware of the background for the alleged "debate."

So. Here's the deal. If I was you I would not vote for the blatantly mendacious side of a ballot. And by the way, the Libertarian dip who's running in this race is being funded in large part by the Koch machine. Where's my Homer Simpson "doh" key? Cats much have kicked it under the cabinet.

I'm going to Martinsville tomorrow, and pulling for Brad Keselowski. I'd even buy his hat, but I hate "lite" beer and Redd's Apple Ale, his sponsors. Go Brad.

(Photo via Getty Images)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Trip to the Mountains

Our little combo played Friday night and Saturday morning up in Big Stone Gap, VA, at the Home Crafts Festival, which has been going on at Mountain Empire Community College for several decades now. We used to play a lot up in this general area, what should be called the State of Appalachia if the people who wanted all the abundant resources the area contained didn't make sure that a unified democratic voice emanating from the region was smothered by the amalgam of actual states which each contain bits and pieces of Appalachia and control their bits from fairly afar. On the way to Big Stone Gap you pass through some of the most romantic scenery in the world, and if you look close (not a good idea if you're driving, because there's a sharp curve with a 10 degree grade coming up p.d.q.) you'll glimpse some mountains with "removed" tops, and now and then drive under a tipple hauling off the scenery for Mr. Peabody's next coal train, the 3:19. The L&N, however, don't stop here anymores.

The crafts part of the craft festival is what these things have become these days. There are sprinkles of true Appalachian home crafts. I saw some really nice hand-made brooms, for example. There are plenty of booths featuring geegaws from other lands as well, and there was a sample Ram truck from this year's crop to admire if you've got the money for a machine that will like all such wear seriously out in some number of years, money that used to buy a good-sized house. But on the other hand, we've all gotta have wheels or resort to walking. Merle can wish all he wants about a Ford and a Chevy, but like I sang on Saturday morning, the money keeps getting smaller and the rent keeps going up. This is a way of keeping the real timbers in view in the land of the curio shoppe.

The music was great. Dale Jett and his band was there. Dale is carrying on the real Carter Family sound, because he is a real Carter, son of A.P.'s daughter Janette. Tom T. Hall has even made a film about Dale, called the Dale Jett Story. Check it out. The amazing Ed Snodderly was also there. His songs are really wonderful. I got to listen to him from the audience, as it was some time before I had to go back stage and get myself in mind to play. He sang a song which referenced Charles Bukowski, which is as cool a thing as my bandmate Mike Craver's mention of Wittgenstein in a song he wrote some years back. I cornered Ed about the Bukowski thing after his set, partly just to see if I had heard right. Then we agreed that Post Office is a hell of a novel, and that it's kinda unfortunate that the documentary film about Bukowski features him kicking his girlfriend of the moment, as that kinda takes the edge of the romance that comes out of his work. It is important to note, at this point, that Robert Frost has his bunions as well.

Doug Dorshug was there doing the sound, and a great job it was. I had breakfast with him at the motel on Saturday morning, and we discussed the long-running memoir his old bandmate with the Highwoods, Walk Koken, was embarked on at the Old Time Herald. "I hope he doesn't get too deep in the details," Doug said. I mentioned the Bukowski documentary as an example of the problem. Maybe it's just part of the territory though. Philip Roth says that if you're going to write you can't expect to stay friends with your family. This most recent chapter of the memoir included the explanation for how Highwoods ended up at the Smithsonian Festival in 1973, which I was also at, playing my last gig with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, then riding off in Watson's red VW for the Red Clay Ramblers' first road trip. Ain't life strange. Here we were, 41 years later, sitting in a motel in Southwest Virginia, shooting the breeze about the good old days.

When I got home I ran into this essay about the rotten, pestilent heart of American conservatism. It should be required reading amongst the young, though there's so much to understand between the lines that it's possible that a lot more pre-requsite reading is actually demanded before true understanding can be achieved. They'd best get it soon. These wolves have been gnawing at the foundations for a damn long time, and if you aren't shocked by mountaintop removal, what does it take? Here's the link:

A couple of quotes:

In short, Frum actually thinks that conservatism means forcing the poor and middle-class to sacrifice government programs whose existence is, or may be, in their economic interest. And why? Near as I can figure, for the sake of making over the poor and middle-class into more agreeable objects of aesthetic contemplation for (wealthy) conservatives, whose tastes run to: Donner party-like look-alike doughty leatherstocking hard-bitten frontier-type workers (respectful hats in hand.) And the word for this aesthetic transformation is: making people free. And somehow the economy is going to be OK.

Another, actually the author quoting Orwell:

“So long as the machine is there, one is under an obligation to use it. No one draws water from the well when he can turn on the tap … Deliberately to revert to primitive methods, to use archaic tools, to put silly difficulties in your own way, would be a piece of dilettantism, of pretty-pretty arty and craftiness. It would be like solemnly sitting down to eat your dinner with stone implements. Revert to handwork in a machine age, and you are back in Ye Old Tea Shoppe or the Tudor villa with the sham beams tacked to the wall.”

Personally, I have no problem with plugging in the fiddle. I agree with Orwell that whatever music you're making ought to be realistic. The best music I listened to driving up the crooked road to Big Stone was James McMurtry's live CD from "Aught Three," and in particular "Lights of Cheyenne." That's one killer song. That he uses something of the same melody as "Goodbye Old Paint" is but a feature of its perfection. "Choctaw Bingo" is flashier (and great). "Lights" is deeper. But in the context of the Holbo piece, the Orwell quote refers to the whole "safety net" system which we have devised since Roosevelt's day to mitigate the realities of life, health, and aging, not to mention such man-made blights as outsourcing, the apparent pride of the entire political elite in 2014.

We're in the midst of a counter-revolution these days. Even the usually optimistic Digby's Hullabaloo has become worried about the states-rights trend, the obviously exploitation by the monied "class" of what has always been a deep political fault in the American set-up: states' rights. Numerous states have changed the way we vote, analysing the way we've voted for a few decades and noticing that if you whittle away the groups who vote Democratic by whatever means, you'll end up electing more conservatives. Same system works, apparently, for even constitutionally protected rights such as a woman's right to govern her own body.

Conservatives can wax eloquent about the aesthetic of the can-do spirit in the make-believe history of America they believe in, whilst slaves in fact do all the real work. I bought a spiffy new shirt to wear on stage Friday night that was made in Bangladesh. It was in the western style, with "pearl" snaps for buttons, and a silver thread sewn into the weave. It cost me $15.95 at Walmart, and fortunately nobody gunned me down while I was shopping.

Old time music is in a way a handicraft practiced in the machine age, and even more so when city boys like me take it up. But I'm not selling my artistic choices as righteous politics. We'd better figure out, pretty damn soon, how to get out of this squirrel cage we're running in. Three wars in the Middle East, and counting. The most powerful security state America has ever contained, and counting. The Supreme Court is marching smartly in the wrong direction. Money is now free speech. Kinda gives a leg up to them what can buy all the ink on the planet, don't it.

Let's let James McMurtry take us out today with his version of Goodbye Old Paint:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days

I had the chance to visit Romania back in '77, as part of a tour the original Red Clay Ramblers were on. It was just after there'd been a major earthquake, and our concerts, state sponsored, were in part a benefit. Bucarest was lovely, grimy, broken by the quake, paranoid. We were only there for about 72 hours. When we landed every local on the plane filled their pockets with shot bottles of whiskey from the plane's attendants. The airport featured anti-aircraft batteries and lounging soldiers in combat gear, with bandoliers of large caliber bullets crossing their chests and sub-machine guns on their shoulders. You better believe we did not get out of line. But as guests of the state we were actually treated very well, and as I recall we did a good show in a big hall that was well attended.

As a result of my brief but memorable encounter with Romania, I like to watch Romanian movies. A year or so back I saw Police, Adjective. I highly recommend it. Last week I watched Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, a film directed by Cristian Mungiu, which was released back in '08. I couldn't recommend it more. Although many reviews suggest that the film is "about" that dark old, vanished time when a despot ruled Romania, it is in fact about the essential facts which being a woman, anywhere, anytime, entail. I harbor the faint flickering hope, like a candle in a mine where the oxygen is diminishing, that if people could only watch a movie like this they would come to a better understanding of what real life is about, which would mean an end to the inexorable drive to make abortion once again illegal, thus converting pregnancy into a cruel and life-threatening punishment upon women who find themselves trapped by their condition.

Four Months is brilliantly filmed, acted, and directed. It doesn't preach, it just shows. The main character is not the pregnant girl, an accomplished liar and denialist who is supposed to be going to college and is expecting a visit from her doting father on the very day the illegal abortion takes place. The hero is her roommate, who has no stake in any of it but her deep friendship for and to her friend. Aiming to simply aid in helping her room mate find the abortionist, she is soon entangled in a series of terrible events driven by the illegality of the procedure, as well as her own commitments to a nice upstanding boy friend whose mother happens to be having a birthday that day. Before the movie is well started, the hero is browbeaten into having sex with the abortionist as partial payment for the procedure. Her pregnant friend waits demurely in the adjoining bathroom. By the end of the day she finds herself in the dark streets searching for a place to dispose of the abortion remains. It's a scene as harrowing as something out of a war movie. When she returns from this gawdawful "mission" she finds her ditzy roommate having a late dinner at the hotel where the abortion was accomplished, relaxing with a glass of wine.

I won't "tell" any more of the film. It struck me as utterly true. It is how it is, in the real world, with real people. As the director says in a good interview about making the film which was included on the DVD, he likes to go back and think about the dark days of the dictatorship. But this world is the world our Republicans are aiming to create, in toto, state by state, right here. It's the world we used to live in, until Roe V Wade realized that women are equally citizens with men.

Seems like here in the US we aren't making movies like this much any more, or if we are, they are certainly not being made by the people who have access to the big money and the big stars. That's probably just as well in some ways, but it does lead to some strange comparisons. I watched Counselor this week too. It's Ridley Scott's latest, and slam packed with stars, men and women who have so much filmic charisma that you can't take your eyes off them even in a bad movie. I started watching Counselor once, via Netflix, and turned it off. Its cynicism is so complete and so deep that I decided I really didn't want to sink my mind into it. I sent the disc back the next day, but then it appeared on one of our dish channels this week, so I did end up watching at least most of it. I do realize that there are drug cartels, and people who kill other people without compunction. Just the other week here in our little town where nothing happens, a guy was shot 14 times late one night in the trailer he rented and allegedly used for drug transactions. I drive past that trailer every time I go to town to get the mail.

Counselor amps all this grimy reality up to 14, or maybe 14000. The murderers and the murdered are movie stars--Brad Pitt, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz. Their characters relish the actual "art" of murder, waxing eloquent about a nifty new device that will actually garrotte a person automatically once it is dropped onto a neck and activated. At the end of the story we watch it happen to Brad Pitt. Cameron Diaz, who turns out to be the arch villain and femme fatale of the story, has the implement invoked on Mr. Pitt. She then muses nostalgically about her true joy--watching her pet cheetahs catch flushed jack rabbits in the desert outside of Juarez. Sadly, she's now on the run, with only a bag of diamonds to aid in her survival. (Quell fromage, as my friend Patric from Nantes used to say.) We've seen her enjoying this hunt earlier, with Bardem, sitting like white hunters under a tarp, sipping martinis, watching the action with binoculars.

I did find a review of Counselor which made the point that Scott directed this movie whilst in the grip of grief over the sad death of his director brother, Tony. Grief, the review argued, was the true subject of the picture. The central character is the Counselor, played by Michael Fassbender. I thought the reviewer had a kind of point. But in Counselor, the only real actors are the powerful, the murderers. There is no mercy and no compassion, and no empathy either. The Counselor's grief is just another jackrabbit's ultimate fate, savoured by the unseen eyes of an ice queen who views it all from a far distance, with binoculars.

This is typical American big-time film-making these days. I'd imagine Ridley Scott has wryly joked that of all things, just as his movie was getting some momentum up, damn if these monsters now running loose in the Levant aren't beheading people all over the place. His best bit of social commentary might be the fact that the macguffin of the whole story, cocaine, is being smuggled around the place in septic tank emptying trucks. There's a nice scene when the stuff arrives at its hijack location and the literal shit is hosed off the sealed barrels.

Counselor is entertainment, just like Ultimate Fights, the heart of Fox Sports. We are not to think about those jack rabbits. Four Months is a much more difficult movie. It's a story about jack rabbits trying to survive. It's a story about real people. It's a story about us. We ought to care about real people, because that is who we are. Too much of our current world works tirelessly to convince us that we are not real people at all, but wealthy beautiful observers, sipping martinis while we enjoy the endless spectacle.

Last night we watched the Charlotte NASCAR race. Richard Petty made several appearances during the commercial moments which probably took up twice as much time as the actual racing going on. He smiled his big smile and said in his friendly North Carolina twang to vote for Tom Tillis "and bring your neighbors," because Tom Tillis was a winner. That was the whole pitch. Tillis is, among other things, wanting to make abortion illegal. He's also worked to keep black folks, students, and older people away from our polls on voting day. He's real strong for fracking too. He's running in NC against Senator Kay Hagan.

Why the hell would anyone vote to be a jack rabbit running for its life from a cheetah?