Sunday, December 31, 2006


I wish everyone a new year of peace.
May it bring changes for the better.
May those who are truly in need, be heard and served.
May your world be a better place.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Turn left, NOW!!!

Ever seen animal hatred manifested in humans before, first hand, up close and personal? It’s a very hard thing to understand. I’m not talking about a drunken fist fight, or nasty words and flying fingers during the morning commute – I’m talking about the offended party following the perceived offender until they stop, and then shooting them, point blank, in the head, for cutting them off in traffic. I’m talking about stepping out of a car with an automatic weapon on the campus of your soon-to-be-ex wife’s college campus and indiscriminately cutting loose at anything living. I’m talking about wanting, more than anything, to kill someone because they’re of a different faith, or color, or nationality, or political affiliation: That kind of hatred - I have, and I don’t understand it at all. I don’t think that anyone really does. This is the kind of hatred and violence that dismays God…
There are many, many books written about these things, past and present – The holocaust, the Middle East, the Balkans, Darfur, Stalin’s pogroms, Mao’s social cleansing, and on, and on, and on… There are first hand accounts, scholarly treatises – I’ve read some of them. The first-hand accounts are shocking, sickening, and heart breaking. The scholarly accounts strike me, (In general, with a few notable exceptions), as exercises in presenting the intelligence and wisdom of the author, rather than vehicles for change or healing… I’m sure that a few tenured positions have been won on the merits of these works, but what does that do for us in the big picture view? Not much, apparently – Granted, it’s vital to be aware of it, to acknowledge it and to the best of our ability, try to understand it, if we are to make any serious efforts to keep such things from happening again.
Writing about the Bosnian conflict, the military historian John Keegan, called it, "A primitive tribal conflict only anthropologists can understand:" That to me is probably about as intellectual as one can get regarding such events and still be on the mark.
What does this say about human beings, that when the facade of civilization is stripped away and we are reduced to our basest instincts, our predilections are for violence and homicide? How do we counter, fix, or help fellow humans who truly believe that if they act in this way, the world will be a better place? What’s the cure? Is it science, or faith, politics or diplomacy, or some alchemical mix thereof? Whatever the cure, if we’ve genuinely been seeking it, we’ve not found it yet.
I’d love to be able to point at our sick society, the ills we’ve plagued each other and the earth with, as the culprit for this, but it ain’t necessarily so – This kind of horror has been visited on humans and human society since the get go – It’s older than our current problems, without question. It’s apparently ingrained in humankind, like our forgotten 6th sense and vestigial tails…
So, is there a way out? Well, in fact, I believe that there is – And in fact, I think that we can indeed blame this problem on society, or civilization, or to be more precise; a distinct lack thereof. See, I think the reason we’ve never outgrown this horrible manifestation is that we have never actually formed the society or civilization along the lines of the one we are truly called to be. I think that the answer is so simple, it’s just plumb evaded us all these millennia – I think a lot of other people know this, too.
Here it is, although, actually, I’ve already mentioned this here, in a rant about politics: It’s called a human civilization, or a humanistic civilization, if you prefer: It’s called a world where we care for each other: A world where the aim is to live with and for one another. A world where we take aim at our problems; hunger, disease, poverty, and ignorance, and we fix them. A world where what we do is not strive for more profit, more waste, more politics, more business, more this and that and everything, but a world where we realize we can feed everyone if we work at it. A world where we aim to do what we’re called to do – To cure the sick, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and end the hatred - To care for this earth and everything on it.
Now, go ahead, call me simplistic, naïve, ignorant, blah, blah, blah – But you know what? If that’s what you believe, you’re wrong; dead wrong. Not believing it is why we are where we are. Not believing it is why we don’t try. Not believing it’s necessary is why we’ll kill this planet and go the way of the dinosaurs as a species. Not stopping all this soon and very soon and changing course radically is why Darfur, and Bosnia, and Auschwitz will happen again, and will keep happening, popping up here and there and everywhere, until we do get a clue - or not...
So what, you ask, got me on this rant this morning? Well, let me tell you – It was an NPR piece about the competition between two top American research labs to produce the newest nukes for our submarine fleet. They are going to design these without having to test them. One of the spokesmen called the design they were working on, “Classic,” and “Elegant.” A nuclear device – Elegant and classic – I’m sorry, but how completely fucking sick is that?
So, ask yourself this; do you want to keep going merrily down the path we’re on, or is it time for a hard left turn?

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmyth Time

OK, as mentioned numerous times, I are a devout Christian. That said, this does not mean that I’m not aware of the machinations of politics that lead to Christianity as we know it today. This is especially true when it come to the celebration of holidays, and probably nowhere more than around Christmas.

Perhaps the first controversy that comes to mind is the day itself, December 25th. Historically, there’s no indication whatsoever that Christ was born on this day, of course. The current date of Christmas was supplanted from earlier faiths, without a doubt – Many peoples and cultures celebrated winter solstice, and in the 4th century, the early Christian church snagged the holiday to knock down Mithras and all them other Pagan upstarts.

Interestingly enough, Christmas didn’t take hold right away in America - Our forefathers, the Puritans, disdained the common celebration of Christmas as "the heathen traditions," and railed against all things Yule log, holly, mistletoe, etc. The late, great Oliver Cromwell preached against Christmas carols, decorated trees and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event." The celebration itself was briefly illegal in my birthplace, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Ok, so how about this Xmas thing? I can’t count how many Christians have expressed disdain at this, “Modern bastardization of the Christian holiday.” How wrong y'all are, eggnog breath! Xmas actually derives from the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. So, the fact is, it was waaaay back in the 16th century when Europeans began using that first initial of Christ's Greek name in place of the word Christ as a shorthand expression of the holiday. UNfortunately, somewhere between then and now the dark ages erased knowledge of Greek and the origins of this shorthand, and "Modern Christians" now mistake Xmas as a sign of disrespect...

Next come trees - Christmas trees, that is. In the last 24 hours, on NPR, I have heard a Christian conservative knock them because they’re “Clearly a Pagan symbol,” and a Rabbi do the same because they’re, “Blatant Christian symbolisms.” - So, who’s right? Well, potentially both, or neither, actually… Fact is, the Pagans did not cut down trees, drag them into the house, and decorate them: They revered nature, and doing the tree thing would have been antithesis to their reverence. They would, however, decorate trees with metal and such, and put boughs in their homes during winter solstice as homage to the gods and a celebration of all things living. Now, in the Middle East, centuries before Christ, trees were cut down, carved into images of the Gods, and gilded and such. Such habits things mightily pissed off the prophet Jeremiah, as he attests herein:
"Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."
Jeremiah 10:2-4
The fact is, Christmas trees as we know them didn’t really come into vogue until the 19th century, around 1850, which also happens also to be the point in American history wherein the first White House Christmas tree appeared, courtesy of President Franklin Pierce, (President Who? Don’t feel bad, nobody else remembers him either – Suffice it to say that for a bunch of reasons, he is generally considered one of the worst presidents in our history – Right there with Millard Fillmore – But I digress…). Fat boy Calvin Coolidge performed the first National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1923.

Oh by gosh by golly, it’s time for mistletoe and holly, which are indeed blatant rip offs from Paganism - Centuries before the birth of Christ, Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. Scandahoovrians dug it as a plant of peace and harmony associated with their goddess of love, Frigga: The kissing under the mistletoe thing most likely came there from. And Holly, you ask? Well, it's those pesky early Christians again: They banned the use of mistletoe for the reasons detailed above, and suggested holly as an appropriate substitute greenery.

So, how about Poinsettias? Well, like good Tequila, they’re native to Mexico. The plant was named in honor of America's first ambassador to our southern neighbor, Joel Poinsett, who brought ‘em back north with him in 1828, (No, I ain’t makin’ this up - He was an avid amateur botanist!) The Mexicans of that age, (Having been forcibly converted to Catholicism by the gentle hand of the Conquistadores), thought the plants were symbolic of the Star of Bethlehem, and there you have your Christmas connection. By the way – The flowers of said plant ain’t big and red or white – they’re small and yellow – The big red and white things are leaves surrounding Mr. flower, not petals.

And candy canes? Well, frankly, this here candy has been around for centuries, but it wasn't until around 1900 that they were decorated with red stripes and bent into the shape of a cane. They were sometimes handed out during church services to keep the brats quiet. One story often told about the origin of the candy cane, this deal about a 17th century Indiana candy maker who wanted to express the meaning of Christmas through a symbol made of candy, blah, blah, blah – Whatever…

Okay, best for last – Sandy Claws: Ok, fact, as we know it – Around 270 ad, St. Nicholas was born in Turkey. He devoted his life to Christianity and became widely known for his generosity to the poor. He is especially noted for his love of children and for his generosity. In 16th century Holland, Dutch children would place their wooden shoes by the hearth in hopes that they would be filled with a treat. The Dutch spelled St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas, which became corrupted to Sinterklaas, and finally, in Anglican, to Santa Claus. In 1822, Clement C. Moore composed his famous poem, "A Visit from St. Nick," (Which transmogrified into "The Night Before Christmas.") Moore is generally credited with creating the modern image of Santa Claus; the jolly fat man in a red suit. There is some consensus that the first department store Santa in this country appeared in the 1840’s in Brockton, Massachusetts. R.H. Macy began creating his famous window displays in the early 1870’s, and in 1873, Louis Prang made the first American Santa Christmas card. Norman Rockwell followed suit in 1922, and in 1931, Coca Cola ran their first Santa ad campaign. The rest is history...

So there you go – Ho Ho Ho!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Fingernails on a Chalkboard

Everyone has met someone whose voice just absolutely grates on you, right? Of course you have; in fact, each of us is probably one of those people for somebody else – It’s a prevalent phenomenon… Now, for me, there are certain strategies involved in dealing with such people: If the person in question close to me, say, from church or work, I will make a real effort to curb whatever autonomic function that stirs up such a reaction within me. If, however, the person is somebody with whom my relationship is casual, I’ll just avoid contact with them like I would a plague rat. This latter strategy is effective for people like Rush Limbaugh, Fran Drescher, the guy who sells Oxyclean on TV, or, say, our President and Commander in Chief.

Why, you ask, would I raise a blog with such a topic? Because on the way to work this morning, I was subjected to the President’s press conference, that’s why. At first, I was just gonna put it on ignore, but suddenly recalling James Baker’s adage that it is important to communicate with your adversaries, I decided to listen in. And then I started taking notes based on what I heard…

The first thing that struck me is was the reason that The Shrub’s voice bothers me so much, (Which is probably the reason that John Stewart has such a good time poking fun at it): It is, quite simply, because the voice of our President, the leader of the greatest super power in the world, always sounds strident, pissy, rude, and petulant, although not necessarily in that order. I listened to Dubyah speak to the reporters, wondering if he had any of their names right, or if they just roll their eyes and ask anyway when he appears to be pointing at them. I heard him get a question he didn’t like, to which The Leader of the Free World responded, “Nice try,” and “You think you can just ask whatever you want.” Uhhh, I thought, is this a trick press conference? Is this the U.S. of A.? Do we have a free press? You mean our reporters aren’t allowed to ask whatever they want? Really? Dang, I feel silly now, I mean, heck, I’ve been buying this openness bullshit for some time now!

I listened also to see if he would actually answer any of the questions, and of course, he didn’t – Oh, don’t get me wrong – He spoke after a question was asked, but it was done in latter days Reagan style; “What a beautiful country is this land of ours…” When asked if he was concerned about the fact that public opinion seems squarely against our involvement in Iraq, he worked that into a statement indicating that failure in Iraq will doom future generations of Americans to lives filled with terror… He then added that, regardless of what the poles say, he was only “Interested in the path that leads to victory,” and that “Most Americans believe that we can win in Iraq,” and that said conflict is, “The calling of our generation.” Now, other than from deep up his Presidential ass, I have no idea where he came up with those “facts.” A question about what specifically he intended to do to keep the economy on track in light of the huge costs generated by the Iraq conflict brought a rambling response about how nuclear energy was “Renewable,” and ‘Generates not one greenhouse gas, that commuting Americans “Don’t drive more than 20 or 40 miles,”, and how new battery technology will allow those commuters to travel, “Without using any gas.” What all this illuminates, clearly and brightly, is that our Fearless Leader is dangerously delusional and completely out of touch with reality: There are, of course, other possible analyses, but my supposition seems, sadly, to be the most accurate scenario.

There was more, but it was, for the most part, similar to this… What this tells me is that it is dangerous for us to discount this man, and to not pay attention to what he is saying and doing. Those that made him will not go quietly into the night. They will find another stooge to throw up in ’08, and if we want to get out of this house of horrors, we’d best pay close attention and be ready to act. It may be like listening to fingernails on a chalk board, but nonetheless, we’d better listen.

Monday, December 11, 2006

I Miss Glenn Mitchell

I really do. It’s been over a year now since he passed away, and I feel his loss every day. I suppose that’s strange, considering I never met him in person, and as such, never knew him personally. I was, however, a loyal listener and a regular caller, especially to the Friday Anything You Ever Wanted To Know shows. I believe that Glenn recognized me as a caller, and knew that when I was calling, I had something genuine to contribute – He had the ability to make you feel that way, even if you were just a caller – That’s probably one of the reasons he was such a celebrated interviewer.

If you’re not from the Dallas – Fort Worth Metroplex, you probably don’t know of Glenn. He hosted his radio show from KERA for many years. His interviews were always excellent; the only person I can think of who comes close in preparation or knowledge is Terri Gross of Fresh Air. His interests, experience and education were eclectic, and his interviews reflected that: He might go from a Harvard scholar to a leading author to a local musician in one week – In each instance, he would know more than enough to not only ask excellent questions, but to have an uncanny knowledge of his guest's place in things as well. Glenn’s long time friend, Don Mason, said Glenn was, “An incredibly deep, well-rounded, thoughtful man. It’s important to understand the depth of this guy. He can cover a baseball game or write an essay or do a brilliant interview with another smart person. Combine all that with a great and wicked, and often quite sick, sense of humor, and you have a pretty remarkable package.” That’s an honest to goodness Renaissance man, indeed.

Fridays were always Anything You Ever Wanted To Know shows, the origin of which outlines Glenn’s humor and smarts – in the early 80’s, while covering for another KERA host, his guest, Linus Pauling, stiffed him at the last minute. rather than panic, Glenn calmly invited listeners to “Call in with any question and I’ll answer it.” This wonderful diversion became a much loved regular event, wherein people might call to ask the origin of a word, the best Indonesian restaurant in Fort Worth, or what those people are doing in the grassy area beside a local highway interchange. On occasion, he’d host the Friday shows live from the Dallas Public Library, allowing him to add “Professional Smart People” to the show's mix.

His Annual Christmas Blockbusters made that holiday an extra special treat. A mélange of music, interviews, commentary and features, the Blockbuster was always unique and never boring. In keeping with his sense of humor, Glenn seemed to delight in finding the worst possible renditions of popular Christmas songs that he could, (And believe me, he could find ‘em), nowhere else could you hear so many songs that would make you cringe and laugh at the same time…

Glenn grew up throughout the American heartland; Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Illinois, tagging along with his Registered Nurse mother and sister. He chose SMU for college because it was the farthest away from his Chicago area home, (As did I with the exotic University of Washington).

Glenn worked for KERA from the day it opened until his passing, with a couple of years’ hiatus at a local am station. He loved radio for what it best offered, what he referred to as, “The immediacy of broadcasting.” He listened to his own station, but also haunted the local sports am station, which notably hosted Howard Stern. When asked how a guy like him could listen to such shock jock schlock, he answered, “That intellectual stuff is a bunch of bullshit; I don’t see why you can’t listen to The Ticket in the morning, read Proust in the afternoon and go to a ballgame at night. I’ve never understood that kind of attitude.”

Maybe that’s why he could always make you feel welcome, and a part of his world.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Into The Wild Blue Yonder

My parents were political, and by that, I mean they were staunch Democrats in the staunchly Democratic state of Massachusetts where I grew up. In fact, one could call them Liberals and not be casting aspersions. My father, an Economics Professor at a pretty liberal school, (Harvard), was once accused of being a Communist at a Fellows dinner. I don’t know what it was he said to elicit that response; he never told me that: He only allowed a sour expression and stated, unequivocally, that the accuser was, “A horse’s ass,” and that was the end of story.

I grew up in this environment, in the 60s, (Kennedy, Nixon, Vietnam, Summer o’ Love, Etc), thinking that my folks were pretty cool and right on politically, and I still do. I do admit to probably being the most conservative member of my family. I have been called before, (More than once), by a sibling on the eve of a national election to, “Make sure you’re not going to vote Republican,” which, despite my predilections, I find somewhat insulting. There is strong probability that my dad, of all people, actually voted for Ronnie Rayguns his second time around, (He wouldn’t admit it, but he wouldn’t deny it either, which is the strong probability part…) I do not vote straight party ticket, ever, although you can in Texas. I don’t know if that’s unique in these 50 United States, (Probably not), but it was to Monica and I. Just check Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Libertarian at the top of your ballot and you’re done. Oh, and for the record, no, I never have voted for a Republican presidential campaign, but I might have if Bob Dole, Libby Dole, or John McCain had ever made it that far… My first Presidential election was 1980, and I got in my beater Datsun and drove 20 something miles into Forks, Washington to vote for Carter, even though that was the year that the press screwed the whole thing up and he’d already conceded before the western states poles were closed. I still find it hard to understand how even democrats say Carter was, “A bad President.” This was a man who was honest, forthright, Christian in his manner and bearing, who spoke his mind, was kind, caring, and compassionate, and he was a “Bad President?” That tells me that the problems lie not with the man in question, but with those who form the criterion of good and bad as far as Presidents are concerned…

And so although I was only 12, I remember vividly election night in 1972, when our hopeful household became a sea of woe as state after state declared for Nixon. Our little Commonwealth, Massachusetts, became the “Lonestar state” that year, because we were the only ones to weigh on for George McGovern. I did not know much about him then, other than that my parents and their friends approved of him. I knew that what I saw and read and felt, I liked.

When I was a cop, I was formally introduced to the concepts of “Loud thinkers” and “Cop 6th sense:” These are nothing more than attuning one’s senses to the lingering manifestations of traits all humans once had and shared with the other animals: The ability to perceive another’s general intentions, bearing, and mood based on subtle signals that we all most definitely radiate, but few are able to receive any more. If you doubt these things exist, try this simple experiment: Go out and try to shoot a crow or a magpie. Be as sneaky as you like; you’ll get the idea…

Anyway, I’ve always been able to hear and sense perfectly well on a subliminal level, and at the time, I knew without question that George McGovern was a good man; honest, calm, caring, forthright and intelligent. In other words, like President Carter, McGovern possessed all the traits that would assure that he was to loose in a landslide to one of America’s most crooked and notorious politicians.

But what I didn’t know at the time, because it was virtually unmentioned, is that he was a decorated World War II B-24 pilot. Oh, yes, there was mention that he was a vet, and I recall him being accused of having been a coward by the far right, (An accusation that was quickly shot down, no pun intended). The gist of the matter is that McGovern did not want to use the fact that he had flown bombers and received the Distinguished Flying Cross as a political tool. He wanted the campaign to be about the times, the issues and the men in question – Who they were and what they stood for then, not about past laurels. A unique idea, indeed, for American politics, and one that obviously fell flat on its face.

I bring all this up because I just finished Into the Wild Blue Yonder, Stephen Ambrose’s book outlining McGovern’s time in the U.S. Army Air Force, flying B-24s out of Cerignola, Italy in ’44 and ’45.

I don’t know if you’re aware of the B-24, and if you’re not a buff as I am, you’re probably not. There were more B-24s produced than any other World War II aircraft, but unlike the others, they were not poular and there are very, very few left: Three fly, and 2 are in museums, and that’s it. Unlike the relatively celebrated B-17 and B-29, the B-24 was not pretty, although you’d probably best not say that around the men who flew them. With it’s twin tails and boxcar like profile, the B-24 was utilitarian, built to bomb, and that’s what it did. It carried more bombs and flew farther than any other bomber in WW II, but they were largely scrapped immediately after the war. McGovern, in Ambrose’s postlude to the book, recalled seeing the very plane he had flown the most in a scrap yard being smashed by a caterpillar, on a news real shortly after the war: He said he almost stood up in the theater to tell people how wrong that was it bothered him so much.

McGovern’s experience was probably no better or worse than most of the aviators who survived the war. He flew through flack, fighter attacks, malfunctions, accidents, and pilot errors that almost killed him and his crew, and did in fact get others killed. He nursed more than one badly wounded B-24 back to the field, and in 35 missions, his men never had to bail out of an aircraft. He never failed to bring everyone home when they flew with him. As I’d seen in ’72, this serious, thoughtful, conscientious son of a preacher took his job very seriously. According to the men who flew with him, he was always calm, never panicked, never even raised his voice in the heat of battle. This while flying though what more than one A.A.F. vet described as “Hell on earth.” Flack, or Anti Aircraft Artillery, is basically a high explosive charge surrounded by steel that is designed to turn into razor sharp shreds of metal, which, when exploded, are basically moving at the speed of sound or faster. In the WW II era, when planes were basically think aluminum shells, flack could and did shred aircraft like a hot knife through butter. Issued flak vests after the early war years, savvy veteran flyers sat or stood on them when in combat, since most of the danger came from below… As the war progressed, high altitude bombing broke into two camps, one British, and one American: The Brits carpet bombed at night, as was being done to them, and as such used bombing to cause general terror as they did to hit specific things. The Americans “Precision Bombed,” meaning they flew in broad daylight and tried to hit specific targets. As things got worse for the Germans, they contrived more efficient ways to hit aircraft with flak. The scariest of these was The Box: The Box entailed shooting a specific amount of flak into a box 2000 feet high and 2000 feet wide, filling that area with hot, fast moving twisted steel. They would overlap the boxes around a target, and trust the Americans to fly right into it, which indeed they did. On a bomb run, there’re no evasive maneuvers of any kind; you made the turn at a designated turning point, and then following the lead plane, you flew straight into hell…

McGovern did that 35 times, as did all the A.A.F. fliers in W.W. II. He did so keeping in mind his responsibilities: bring everyone home alive, and drop bombs where they’re supposed to go, which also did.

I imagine that politics, while potentially as stressful at certain times, cannot have matched the terror of combat. I also easily believe that he might have found Presidential campaign politics in ‘72 less savory even than flying into The Box.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

War! Huh! What is it good for?

Absolutely nothin’, say it again… So why am I so fascinated by war? Not sure, really, but it is the history I tend to read more than any other. Dan Brown in the Da Vinci code had a character state that history is written by the winners, but I don’t think this is always true. In the olden days, when the victors basically wiped out the losers, Brown’s contention is substantially true, but in the last few centuries, not so much so… Nowadays, war history is written by people on all sides, or not on any side, or somewhere in between. Look up the Battle of the Bulge, and you can find accounts by Americans, English, French, Belgians, and Germans, to name a few: Read them all and you have a pretty good idea of what really happened.

Of course some of the most fundamental flaws that can impact the writing of history are the unknown biases and practices and skills of the historian/author: Do they have an agenda they’re forwarding and using the book as a platform for such? Are they lazy, or presumptive? Is their first-hand research really that? How accurate and thorough is the job they’ve done? Sometimes we know and sometimes we don’t…

This brings me to one of the most powerful books of history I’ve read in a long time, and one that largely bypasses those concerns. It’s called War Letters, and it was written by Andrew Carroll. War Letters is just that; letters from people in and around American wars, from Revolutionary to Desert Storm. Not all are from soldiers. Some come from peace activists and conscientious objectors, others from politicians and civilians – But most are from soldiers, and needless to say, not all of them survived. The content is poignant, shocking, sad, joyous, funny, thought provoking, and never dull. Writers run the gamut from semi-illiterate to polished, educated to not, and come from all classes and races. Their words reflect the pride, fear, hate, disgust, wonder, doubt, love, and anguish that war brings: Their sights are amazing, the insights are stunning, the reflections terrifying and fascinating. I’ve not read anything like it before.

It is surprising, or perhaps not, that people seem to have changed very little over 200+ years of history. Their fears and desires remain pretty much the same, although their words and surroundings change somewhat. A young soldier from the Revolution was no less scared than one crossing the Iraqi desert. The technology of war changed, but the combatants really didn’t notice that, per se – They noticed their own fears and concerns, and those of their buddies. And one thing certainly remained the same throughout – The group, be it platoon, regiment, flight crew, or artillery company – The group is key. Whether the people beside you came from your neck of the woods, level of education, or strata of society meant nothing – It really didn’t matter if you liked them or not – You trusted them, and they you, because without that, you wouldn’t survive.

War in and of itself reflects the worst of human society; within war, actions may and have reflected the best of humankind: War Letters is all that and more.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Hear Yer, Hear Ye!!

Da Dem’s Got Da Powah!! Now this’ll be a test, indeed… See I am a Democrat, always have been, although specifically speaking, I am socially liberal and fiscally conservative, for what that’s worth.

Nonetheless, I have been generally disaffected and disgusted with all politics and politicians, as you might have guessed from me li’l blog here. But I must admit, somewhere within my internal Chamber o’ Smugness, I am pleased that the Dem’s got the house, and as I write, maybe the senate. Oh, and for the record, my man Kinky didn’t win here in Texas, but he fought a good fight – The Empty Suit was reelected, which is too bad, but as I noted previously, if it’s true that all one needs to be a Governor is to look good and maintain a very low profile, Rick Perry is your guy!

Of course, the shift in House and possibly Senate occurs with Da Lame Duck Shrub in da White House, so it’s unlikely that anything will happen – Not that it did or does in any other circumstances, mind you… It will be interesting to see, from an experimental perspective, if anything different actually happens at all. From my jaded view, this simply means that the folks at the top of the heap switch places with those below, but the shit still flows downhill, ya know?

It’s depressing when you’ve lost faith in The Two Party System, because it really doesn’t matter who won the fight… I think that politics simply mirrors politics, and not the people, places and things they are supposed to represent – And as such, they don’t really have a function other than feeding themselves, caring for their future, and performing an ongoing series of really bad theater…

Now if one were to wax philosophical, I guess the question would be, does politics work at all, in any form? Winston Churchill is widely credited with having said, (In paraphrase), that Democracy is the worst form of government imaginable, except for all the others that have been tried, but I think you could say that about any and all forms of the game. Democracy, Theocracy, Oligarchy, Monarchy, Socialism, Militarism, Dictatorship, Fascism, Communism, Plutocracy, Anarchy, take your pick – Do any of those strike you as desirable? Not me – And while I am glad and proud to be of and for this country and its people, I’m not proud of our government and have not been for a long time.

Ok, you say, whiner boy – What do you want? Bitch, bitch, bitch, all you do is bitch and point out what you don’t like from your pseudo-intellectual stream of drivel –What’s your solution? What should our government be doing, Eben, to make you happy?

Oh, heck, that's an easy answer; thanks for asking. I believe in government of and by and for the people. I believe government should provide those things that we really need in an ever-deteriorating world. Our concerns should be to save a planet that we’re destroying by leaps and bounds – To use technology and smarts to repair and save this fragile planet and not to blow it away. Our concerns should be for the people – All people, everywhere, because if we are a First World Country and a World Power, then we owe the world our power to heal, save, feed, teach, care for, and safeguard – Everyone, everywhere. People should be our business, and nothing else. Adopt the Millennium Development Goals as a party platform and run that up the flagpole for your next campaign. Cure the world’s ills, heal its sick, feed its hungry, clothe its naked, teach its unschooled, provide food and clean water and shelter for everybody who is here and coming.

That’s what politics can do to make me happy – That’s politics for the future – if you need a name for it, let’s just call it Humanism.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Move Over, Andy Rooney...

Yes, I Am a Curmudgeon…

Other people’s kids, I swear… OK, is it a sign that I’m getting old that I find some of the habits of this current 20-Something generation incredibly annoying? And do they have a moniker yet? By my reckoning, they’d be either generation Z, or maybe A, depending…

I know a lot of folks make this determination by critiquing the styles and habits of their own children, but I’m at a loss in that regard – My youngest’,(The only one left at home), haircut doesn’t bother me, he’s polite, smart, and funny, gets good grades, and listens to great music.

It’s the one’s I work with that irk me, habit-wise… Here are a few of my peeves:

When did it become OK to be habitually late to work? These guys show up anywhere from a couple of minutes to a half hour late, almost every day, and they get annoyed when somebody jumps them about it – When did it become de rigueur to write your own schedule? I know it pisses off my 20-Something Boss, be he doesn’t do anything to them in response – he yells about it from time to time, and tells them it really bothers him, and they just keep doing it – Is it some kind of game I don’t get? As a Manager, I would kick serious ass for habitually tardy workers, and even fired some for just that alone – If you can’t be depended on to be on time, then you can’t be depended on for more complex things, OK?

Texting –What the hell is with this texting thing? I was having a dramatic relationship story told to me recently, and the young lady kept saying, “So, he texts me that blablabla, so I text back and…” I stopped her and asked some clarifying questions – “OK, this is your boyfriend, right?” “Yes” “And you were both in the same bar, right?” “Yes” “How far apart?” “A couple of tables…” E’scuse me? Are we that dysfunctional that we cannot look eye to eye and speak with human voices? These kids I work with spend all day texting back and forth on cell phones or little texting do dads – My company thinks they’ve nipped wasted production in the bud by limiting internet access – Wrong!!

Piercing is out of hand – Every day, in my professional workplace, I am treated to pierced eyebrows, noses, tongues, lips…. This looks professional? I am told we allow this in the workplace because it is a recognized form of free expression. E’scuse me? Free expression? If I am a client whom you are trying to convince that you are the professional choice I should make, and you are sporting multiple piercings, you loose – End of story.

Energy drinks – The legal crack of the Zed generation – Not only are these people glued to cans of this stuff all day, the local Zip Trip has it on tap, so they get the 44 oz. buckets of the stuff on ice – It’s like being around a bunch of speed freaks all day – No wonder they go to the bar every night - They need to get liquored up just to come down from the all day, every day energy drink buzz.

Dressing like Schleps: I like casual as much as the next guy, and I appreciate that I don’t have to wear a monkey suit every day. But – I wear nice shirts and pants, clean and pressed, and I take some time to coordinate the whole wardrobe. And in walk these… People with mangled, wrinkly shirts, baggy, shapeless pants, ratty, dog-eared shoes, t shirts and sneakers on casual Friday….

Which leads me to – backward ball caps – I used to have a phrase for this when I was the Bus Depot Cop – “Son, there’s only two groups of people who wear their caps backwards, that’s welders and catchers, and you don’t look like either of those to me...” Do these kids not realize that once everybody is doing or wearing it, it’s not cool, hip, happenin’, fashionable, or cutting edge any more? You just look like the other schlubs doing the same thing and hoping to be different… You wanna be different? Wear the f’ing cap the right way; now that’d be unusual!

Much of the rest of the behavior I see is just what people this age do and have done for ages, so there’s really nothing else to rant about – But don’t get me started, OK?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Rant & Roll

This rant started internally when my wife, my best friend, my partner, casually tossed out over the Sunday paper, “I think you should rethink voting for Kinky…” RETHINK it, she says! Man, oh man… She wants me to vote for Chris Whatshisnutz, the Democratic shill lookin’ to boost Rick Perry… If all you need for politics is money, good looks, and a willingness to lie, cheat, and steal, Perry is going to, in the immortal words of Moe Howard, “Moidah the bums.” I mean Chris is only sporting one of those three vital qualities, ya know? (By the way, he ain’t good looking and his wallet ain’t fat, if you catch my drift, and I think you do...)

I am afraid that the love of my life is bowing to the pressure of actually wanting to WIN. I believe she’s under the delusion that a Good Candidate running a Fair Campaign can WIN… Well, I’m here to tell y’all that it ain’t happenin’: Babe, I love ya more than anything or anyone, always have and always will, will be with ya for as long as you’ll have me, BUT - You're WRONG, honey, dead wrong...

Why? Because winning in politics doesn’t have anything to do with right and wrong, justice, The American Way, or the ideals and fervent wishes of Our Forefathers. And Chris Bell is no better than Perry frankly – A rose by any other name is still a rose, or in this case, a stinkbug politician. Winning in politics takes money, connections, a general suspension of morals and ethics, and the unabashed ability to prostitute yourself to not one, but many factions with whom you share little to naught. Rick Perry and Carol Keaton “Granma Shotgun” Strayhorn are perfect examples of the genre. The only reason that I would vote for anyone other than Kinky is if it were necessary to keep Strayhorn out of office. Perry is annoying, but he's also stupid and relatively harmless - Strayhorn is malignant - I have witnessed more sincerity from a squirrel than I have from these present and former politicians, and certainly more brains.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, in any way, shape, or form; that said, consider this: I believe that the last two presidential elections were rigged. I believe that the owners of the two companies that make most voting machines, who are hardcore right-wing Republican Power Brokers, are in the pocket of the RNC, or vice versa. I believe the Democrats won Florida and Ohio. I think that it can be said with little or no reservation that, among currently serving politicians in this country, a majority are little better than criminals, and are running this country as a criminal enterprise solely to the benefit of themselves and their companies, holdings, interests, pals and cohorts.

I will vote for Kinky because he is not a politician, and because he accurately reflects to me the outrage and frustration intelligent citizens feel toward American politics in this day and age. I would vote for him for that reason if no other. I don’t care how much he knows personally, although it is my impression that he is a good deal smarter than any of the other candidates: I trust that he will hire good people who know how to do what they’re called to do. I don’t care if he smokes cigars, farts, sweats, or occasionally fires off amazing malaprops – So do I, so does everyone I know. It’s called being human!

Only politicians are so obsessed with ludicrous attempts to appear pristine and fault free. Only politicians spend so much time and energy wiping the reality from their worlds in order to maintain their illusions. I am sick and tired of smoke and mirrors, bullshit apathy, false concern, imitation commiseration, faux sincerity, and ignorance wrapped in power. These assholes covered up a fucking pedophile in their midst, about who’s actions they were fully aware! They did it to cover their own asses, and to avoid tarnishing their half-assed façade of legitimacy! They speak of the invasionn of Iraq as if it was someone else’s fault! They completely screw the lower and middle classes as a matter of routine, and ask us to thank them when they’re done bending us over! The Chief Architect of the current political model has said, straight out, that his intention is to break the government, to bring it to it’s knees unable to rise again, so that it can be replaced with his preferred model, (And if you don’t know who that is or what it means, then I’m sorry, but you really need to wake the fuck up!) They screw the old, the young, women, any and all non-whites, and anybody else they feel like in the name of lining their pockets, and those of the corporations and companies they claim to be regulating. They crawl from corporate officer to politician, lobbyist to consultant, in a never ending incestuous train wreck. They are ugly, obscene, embarrassing, stupid, boorish, ignorant, oblivious, and absolutely beyond the pale.

I can’t think of anything more to say about politicians just now…

I am tired of being embarrassed by my government. They are akin to the stock market in 1929 - Prone to collapse because they no longer represent the things they were meant to represent - They reflect only themselves, and that is a particularly empty and soulless view. I am tired of tolerating rampant stupidity and dangerous arrogance. I don’t care what stripe in comes in, I’m not playing any more.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

I Love Texas...

I really do, and here’s why – In fact, dang, I don’t know that I’ve ever written about this before!

The first time the weather cools after a Texas summer, it’s as if spring has just come to the desert. All the plants that were barely holding their own breath a collective sigh of relief and start growing like crazy. The view of rolling hills, mesquites, and oaks shrouded in low fog, and the sun rising across that long, deep view is magical. When its 65 during the day and 45 at night, its paradise. Truth be told, summers suck in Texas, but there’s 9 great months in between ‘em, ya know…

Monica and I came from Washington State, and I came from Massachusetts before that. Now, people in New England are not what you would generally refer to as warm and fuzzy; taciturn and aloof might be more appropriate… People from Washington used to be quite friendly, but as the state has grown and changed, they’ve become significantly less so. Washingtonians like to present themselves as friendly and laid back, when in fact they’re really wound quite tightly. If you smile and say hello to somebody in Seattle, they move farther away on the sidewalk and assume you're panhandling, nuts, or a criminal.

And then we moved to Texas… Now, down here, people say “How are you doin’” all the time – All kinds of people – Strangers, even. They do it in stores, and on the street, and when you’re doing business with them – And they expect you to answer, because they genuinely mean it when they say it. I learned, over time, that even with the grocery checker, you have to stop what you’re doing, look them in the eyes, and say “Good thanks, and you?” because it’s the polite thing to do.

People hold doors open for other people in Texas. When somebody in a store realizes they’re in your way, they say “Oh, excuse me,” and they mean it – I had to learn to stop doing the Washington You Oblivious Idiot look to such folks, because here, they notice, and they genuinely weren’t trying to be in the way, and they genuinely mean they’re sorry. If you do the pissy thing in Texas, they will stop and get stern, and ask “Is there a problem?” Because we don’t pretend that there’s not down here…

If a routine business transaction takes longer than it should, the clerk, teller, cashier, etc, notices your discomfort, looks you in the eyes and says, “I’m sorry this took so long,” and you’re expected to say “That’s OK,” because it is, and it’s the polite thing to do.

And then there are the people themselves – here’s a helpful travel tip: Never, ever make assumptions about a Texan based on their appearance or accent. Here’s a case in point. I sold a gun recently, an AR-15 assault rifle, in fact. The buyer sounded on the phone like a tried and true Texan, (Trahd ‘n truw), and new his guns quite well. The initial phone conversation segued from the gun to the fact that George worked at Otis Elevator, and was worried not only because he was on disability with a pending hip replacement, but because his benefits were lookin’ kinda messed up too – That’s the way conversations go down here, ‘cause this is a couple of people talking, and who you are and what’s going on counts – that’s life, and we’re all in together, so be prepared to discuss it.

I met George the next evening. He was short, sporting a big ol’ paunch, bad teeth, balding, and an accent like Boomhauer on King of the Hill. He walked into my guitar shop, which is where I’d decided to do the transaction, and immediately asked if I made guitars. When I admitted that I did, he asked if I’d ever had the privilege to see Andres Segovia play live, and allowed that he had, twice, and that is was a remarkable experience. George is not a clueless southern hick elevator repair man, folks. George ran Tai Kwan Do studios with a fairly legendary Korean master here in Texas for many years. He was the road manager for Rocky Hill, the brother of ZZ Top’s Dusty Hill and the leader of the infamous Rocky Hill Band. He was a long-time friend of Townes Van Zandt and spoke with great affection for his friend. He heard my kid’s music playing and instantly recognized Chicago’s 25 or 6 to 4, and very early Youngbloods. He likes jazz and classical, and thinks The Shrub is a moron. He was articulate, curious, friendly, and genuinely interesting. Before he left, he allowed that he’d “Like this relationship we started to continue, if you’re of a mind – I have a feeling you’ll want to shoot this gun again, and I’d be happy to load for ya just to see you do it.” I will and we will, trust me.

George is a pretty typical Texan, and that’s why I love it down here.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


We’re one, but we’re not the same,
We’ve got to carry each other, carry each other,

What’s that, lines from one of our contemporary Christian songs? Well, yes, and no – The lyrics above come from the band U2: If you’re not aware of U2, don’t worry, you’ll soon have an opportunity to get acquainted. U2 started back some 26 years ago, in Northern Ireland and quickly rose to rock prominence. They are now, and have been for some time, a band with a huge worldwide following. Why is that? Well, they are very talented musicians, indeed, but more to the point, their music is not throw-away pop. It is music laced with messages, and more often that not, messages with deep Christian roots. Lead singer Bono says that if he wasn’t wearing leather, he’d be wearing cloth, and his lyrics bear this out: There is a sense of power, passion, and serious purpose in much of U2’s music.
As fame and fortune found the band, Bono has used his to further the issues that are most important to him: He began The One Campaign, a non-profit entity that accepts only membership, not money. One is based on the supposition that if the developed world turned one percent of its gross national product toward the world’s greatest ills, poverty, hunger, and disease, we could eradicate them in our lifetime. This is a goal mirrored by the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals – Basically, an intention by the nations of the world to do just that. In our church, that effort is spearheaded by Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, a charitable arm geared toward funding the agencies that work toward these goals in some of the hardest hit places on earth – Africa, South America, and the Balkans, to name a few.
In searching for a way to illuminate these needs and efforts, The Reverend Paige Blaire came up with the U2Charist, a Rite II worship service powered by the music of U2 designed to awaken us to these great needs and to the role God calls us to in service of them. The U2Charist is a phenomenon that has grown and spread with great energy and passion – You only need witness the response the service raised at this year’s Annual Convention to sense it.That phenomenon has now come to Trinity. Through the efforts of a wonderful team of people, we will host an U2Charist here, on Saturday, November 4th, at 7 p.m. This event is co-sponsored by the Campus Chaplaincy at T.C.U. The service will benefit Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, and all funds collected at the service will go to that agency. It will most certainly be an amazing and powerful experience, one not to be missed.

Find out if one is happening near you, and be sure to catch it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World...

Monica and I watched the Texas Gubernatorial debate on the TV last Friday. If you’ve followed my blog, you know we are fans of catty TV, so this was a special night – We even had pizza delivered. Again, if you read this blog, you might wonder if my opinion of the candidates changed as a result this event.

The short answer is, ‘No’.

Why not, you ask? Well... Rick Perry is a Ken Doll; he looked more like a news anchor than the news anchors who were asking him questions. Carol Keaton ‘Granma’ ‘Queen Bee’ ‘Snake Eyes’ ‘Cannonball’ ‘Not In My Backyard’ Strayhorn has the fakest smile I have seen in some time; she is about as sincere as a used car salesman with an overdue boat payment. Chris… Chris… The Democrat guy – I saw him – Chris… Dang it... Hang on, I gotta call Monica – Hey, babe, how’s it goin’? What are ya wearin’? Kill your boss yet? What was the name of that Democratic fella runnin’ for governor? No, not Kinky – The Democrat… Chris Bell That’s it! Love you, bye. Chris Bell is that exciting – Actually, much less so – The previous conversation between my wife and I, transcribed verbatim in real time, was much more exciting than Chris…. Bell. Kinky waved a cigar, wore his Johnnie Cash suit, and was refreshingly honest.

Lowlights from the Event: Rick Perry referring to various other movers and shakers as “My Good Friend So-And-So.” Chris Bell talking with absolutely zero inflection or emotion. ‘Granma’ Strayhorn saying, “In a Strayhorn administration" at all, let alone a bunch of times. Kinky waving his cigar around while admitting, “Yeah, I’ll probably still smoke cigars if elected.”

Highlights from the Event: Chris Bell trying to smile – This guy is not fun at a party, guaranteed – And he was a Congressman? In Texas? Rick Perry working his Concerned, Serious Governor Face – Kinda looked as if he was sportin' a wicked hemorrhoid and desperately needed to score some Preparation H: Bonus Perry Moment – Rick saying, with a straight face, that his roots “Are solidly on the farm”. Carol Keaton Strayhorn not having a clue as to the name of the new President of Mexico, but unraveling some totally unrelated line of bullshit about what would happen in a Strayhorn administration anyway: Bonus Strayhorn moment - 'Granma' insisting repeatedly she is, "With the people"... Kinky’s response to the question, “How much money has the lottery given to public education?” – “Well, they say $8 Billion, but I don’t believe ‘em, do you?”

General observations from the Event: I thought it was very refreshing to ask the candidates questions about real life stuff – Governor Perry didn’t have idea one about how much a gallon of gas costs currently, and as noted, Strayhorn doesn’t know her neighbors. The Phantom Democrat and Kinky scored points though. It was patently a waste to allow the candidates to ask a question of each other and get a rebuttal after the response – This is, unequivocally, putting lipstick on pigs. The MC was from Houston, and I assume was a TV news person: From his general demeanor, he’s likely a sports or weather guy, and comes from the Wink Martindale School of Hosting; he often seemed to confuse the debate for an episode of Family Feud…

Special Awards from the Event. To Kinky Freidman, The Balls The Size of Pickle Jars Award; for showing up a political mosh pit like that and doing very well indeed. To Chris Bell, The Sansabelt, Dad-n-Lad, White Bread Translucent Candidate Award; he could be sitting in the cubicle next to me and I still wouldn’t notice him. To Rick Perry, The Helmet Hair Empty Suit Award - With all due respect, he sticks to what he’s good at; Show up, look good, and not much else. And last but not least, to ‘Granma’ Strayhorn, The I’ve Never Ever Seen A Scarier Candidate Award, and that includes Grover Cleveland - Citizens of Texas, be forewarned - If you elect this woman, I will hunt you all down like the dogs that you are and put you out of my misery.

Mark my words…

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School Reads

You know what the title alludes to: Those books that you only read because some High School teacher or English Lit Prof made you.

This came to mind because my youngest is reading To Kill a Mockingbird in class, and that is a classic example of the genre. For Casey, this follows other recent reads of the same ilk: Red Badge of Courage, Of Mice and Men, and Death of a Salesman. Whew!

And why are some writers so prominently represented in School Reads, Hemingway and Steinbeck chief among them? Is it because they wrote classic examples of the writer’s art, or because they were often so tedious and esoteric that nobody would read them otherwise? I’m not castigating, I truly wonder… Look, art critics like art that nobody else does, and it’s the same with music and cinema. Do English wonks like stuff because it’s obtuse and requires specific intellect and insight to appreciate, or because they really think this is the best material available to teach the arts of readin’ and writin’?

I was lucky, in that I went to a private High School in the ‘70’s. My first English teacher there gave us absolutely classic fare; stuff like The Scarlet Letter, Trinity, and A Christmas Carol. The next guy was avant garde and gave us Ragtime, The Mosquito Coast, and Coming into the Country. Senior year was a hippie wanna-be, so we had Gary Snyder and The Lord of the Rings.

And then there’s politics… How many of these are chosen because they’re safe? The likely answer is, probably too many in this day and age. I don’t think a lot of the stuff I read would be allowed in public schools nowadays… It’s especially disheartening when a good classic is tossed because of the New Morality; its real Fahrenheit 451 stuff, I’m afraid. Why is it that decent literature gets axed for supposed impropriety? What are these parents and school boards afraid of? I don’t remember the last time I heard a book getting tossed that deserved to be, but I recall a bunch that I know were ludicrous decisions at best. The Scarlet Letter was a recent victim – The Scarlet letter?! Because it “Was about adultery and was, therefore, espousing values we don’t find material to the teaching of our children…”

Lord, give me strength… These are the same folks who never talk about sex with their kids, who wouldn’t know if their dear little ones are doing dope or not, and who in all likelihood never read Hawthorne in the first place. Furthermore, I’d bet they’re watching porn in the bedroom while wearing rubber horsy masks, but out in public, they’re Pillars of the Community.

So how this kinda crap gets me goin’? And I’m not even liquored up! Prayer in school, no child left behind, core values, educational excellence… I have had it up to here with this new morality and false goodness – I can’t think of a time when we’re constantly wading through hip deep shit like this, can you? It reminds me of the ‘50’s, with the appearance of being cleaner, (But it ain’t). As my wife would say, “It’s just icky,” and indeed it is. My kid’s school is pretty good, and yet there are books and subjects and major teaching aids that have been outlawed there as well, and at the same time, they have practice lock-down drills in preparation for on campus gang fights...

Am I missing something here?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

T'row Da Bums Out!

Question: How many politician jokes are there? Answer – Two, the rest of the stories are all true…

What kind of person goes into politics? Is it merely coincidental that the top three prior professions or educations seem to be lawyer, military, and sports professional? How does that segue work? Is that a job you’d do? I have a standing rule that goes like this: Never Go For A Position That Is Appointed Or Elected. I also tend to think that the whole thing is hogwash, and almost all the players varmints, frankly... Maybe it’s gotten into my craw because of the state of the world: We have perhaps the most volatile world situation that there has ever been, featuring rampant famine, disease, war, and unrest. We have the worst international reputation as a country that we’ve probably ever had in the history of this great country. We have a ‘war’ in Iraq that we started and can’t get out of, (Which I fondly refer to as Viet Nam II – The Sequel – Nightmare in the Middle East).

And during all this chaos and horror, what is our government doing? Well, according to the news, we’re voting to rewrite or overshadow the Geneva Conventions, really hoping to get the hell out of Dodge so that we can do The Election Season, (Which will, by the way, be followed by The Holiday Season, after which we’ll mosey back for a spell), denying the contention that a company or companies in concert with said government could manipulate gas prices just prior to an election, and, what else… Oh, yeah, reading Albert Camus… Now granted, reading Camus isn’t a bad thing, but to be honest with you, I doubt that one – Too many big words there for His Shrubness… Maybe they got him the Cliff’s Notes version…

Oh, and somewhere on the back burner, there’s a distinct possibility of invading Iran, but that’s really kinda page 10 news…

Does any of that strike you as odd? Does any of that make you nervous? If so, good, you’re probably more or less properly skeptical and charitably cautious. If, given those two choices, you don’t also agree with the latter, I’m nervous about you, frankly.

Now, I’m just gonna step in and say I don’t really have a solution here, per se, but the way this is all stacking up, I’m gettin’ more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs. I think it’s time for, in the words of the immortal Seldom Seen Smith, a li’l ol’ pre-cision earthquake in D.C., or maybe just a good old fashioned revolution; 'cause this I do know – Whatever it is they’re doin’ up there on the hill, it ain’t workin’.

Which leads us back to them politicians – I think that they’re pretty much all ne’er-do-wells and rascals: We aughta tip over the whole basket o’ snakes and let ‘em all slither back home.

Here in Texas, the breath of fresh air answer to this dilemma comes in the form of one Kinky Friedman; novelist, musician, rounder, and roustabout running for Governor. Lined up agin him are the following:

1. Incumbent Rick Perry – hair boy, and a brain-dead remnant of the Shrub’s days here.

2. Carol Keeton ‘Granma’ Strayhorn – Former comptroller of the state, major land trout who actually petitioned the state to allow her to have ‘Granma’ on the ballot. Two of her spawn work for the Shrub now in D.C. – ‘nuff said.

3. Some Democratic Stiff – I’m a registered Texas Democrat: I’ve been racking my brain, I can’t think of his name for the life of me, or how or why this guy ended up as a candidate. Nuff said there, too – At least the other three are colorful…

So, there you have it, a political rat race laced with Texas chiles and rampant irreverence. In a Saint Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas, somebody gave Kinky a can of Guiness Stout and the press caught wind. They asked him if he was drinking in public, and he responded, with a straight face, “I did drink some of the beer, but I did not swallow it...” You gotta love this guy.

Texas politics is rife with this stuff. Last year in a nasty, hard fought Representative’s race in the county south of us, the stalwart, hard-core, right wing Republican candidate turned out to be a cross-dresser who’s closet door got flung wide open toward the end of the campaign – Now that’s politics.

Anyway, Friedman says very sensible stuff interspersed with rampant wackiness, and he’s getting keelhauled in the press for it, but I find it refreshing. At least he’s honest about who and what he is. He’s denied nothing, admitted everything, winked when he should, made fun of it all throughout, and I’m gonna vote for him. He says he’ll get rid of the asinine TAKS testing in schools, get back to real education, and lower property taxes. I think it’s very close to what my friends said when I became a cop: “Well, he’s definitely not normal, but I’d rather have him do the job than the other idiots they pick”

With the recent death of Anne Richards, the last great Texas Democrat, and the passing of Byron Nelson, the last great Texas gentlemen, I figure the gloves are off and it’s time for a change.

OK, hell, I’ll fess up - I just want to be able to see headlines that read, ‘Governor Kinky’

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Almost done with a very cool book, titled The Minutemen and Their World, by Robert A Groff – Not sure of the author, but it’s apparently out of print anyway… This is a rather in-depth historical treatise on the social, economic, and political forces in play prior to and during the Revolutionary War, (I’ve admitted before to being a history nerd, and I proudly do so again!) Anyway, the particular draw of this book was the fact that its analysis is centered almost wholly on Concord, Mass, my birthplace and the town where I grew up. The insights I’ve gleaned from the read are particularly interesting in a couple of areas: One, how much Concord back then was like the Concord I grew up in, and how those similarities most likely are manifest because so many of the names of the citizens in 1770 where the same ones I grew up with in the 1960s – Funny that. And secondly, how much of the nascent political shaping of the United States came directly from my hometown.

Reading of the events immediately surrounding April 19th, 1775, I noticed prominent names mentioned; Fitch, Barrett, Buttrick, Bartlett, Meriam, and Dawes among others. Funny that, since one of my oldest brother’s best friends was John Fitch, and they’d lived there forever; there is still a Fitch listed in Concord, although I don’t know if they’re the same family. The Barrett’s, who were so prominent in the Concord political life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, very much were still there in my day. Barrett’s Mill Road still exists, although the mill is, of course, long gone… A direct descendant of those Barrett’s is a practicing attorney, (As so many of his kin had been), in Concord to this day, and lives off the Lowell Road, where they lived when I was a child. Bartlett's still live in Concord, the same family of Lucia, my sister’s high school pal. Meriams Corner, where the militiamen lay in wait for the retreating redcoats after the early morning confrontation in Concord, was named for the family of course.

Many have heard of the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, but few who were not schooled in New England know why the British were going to Concord on April 19th, 1775 in the first place. In fact, General Gauge had a spy in the midst of the Concord rebels, who had given them detailed information as to exactly what stores of war were stockpiled there, and exactly where they were. Fortunately, the early British mobilization efforts in Boston during the night of April 18th were closely watched by colonists, and a warning had already made its way to Concord: Residents had been up throughout the night moving all the military stores further afield to new hiding places. Furthermore, history records that, in fact, Revere did not ride into Concord crying, “The British are coming,” (He referred to the British troops as “Regulars.”) In fact he did not ride into Concord at all. Final shocker, Revere wasn't alone, either: Unbeknownst to many Americans, he was joined by Dr. William Dawes, (The same family from whence came, in fact, the William Dawes who I babysat for in the early 70’s). Those two made had their way to Lexington to warn John Hancock and John Adams, who had snuck out of Boston to avoid arrest and were quietly lodged at an inn there. A doorman told Revere that Adams' party had left instructions, "Not to be disturbed by any outside noise during the night:" "Noise?!" Revere thundered in response, "You'll have all the noise you'll want soon enough, the Regulars are coming!". He and Dawes endeavored to continue on the way to Concord, but were stopped by a British Patrol. It fell to a young physician from Concord, Samuel Prescott, who had fallen in with Revere and Dawes after visiting his girlfriend, to raise the alarm after they were stopped: A local boy used to sneaking about after dark, Prescott jumped a stone fence with his horse and disappeared into the cold night. Hence, in my hometown, the Birthplace of the Revolution, it was never Paul revere who was honored for spreading the alarm, it was Samuel Prescott and his brothers, who continued on from Concord as far as Maine and New Hapshire, from whence came many, many militiament the next day.

There were more and earlier direct descendants there in my day as well: My father and I regularly played Badminton with Miles Standish – Yes, the direct descendant of that Miles Standish, and Standish’s still live in Concord; Peter, Miles’ son.

And of course, anyone who has visited Minuteman National Historic Park knows that The Buttrick Mansion stands on the heights to the north of the Old North Bridge – Don’t get too sentimental, though, gang – The real bridge was torn down during the revolutionary war, as newer, better roads made the old route obsolete. In any case the mansion is in the right spot, it was indeed the veteran Colonel's home on that fateful day in April.

The socio-political scene outlined by the book emphasizes how highly the townspeople held a sense of community in regard when contemplating what they would do and how they would do it during turbulent times. The author notes that Concordians were generally prosperous and proud people, and that they tended to not pay too much attention to the issues of the wide world, preferring to focus on the needs of their town. Oh, Boy - How that sounds like the Concord I grew up in! Granted, the emphasis on God and church as the center of social life had changed, but truth be told, those trends began during the Revolutionary War, and had cycled back and forth numerous ties in the intervening ages. I remember being at The Concord Country Club in the late 70’s, having just watched the mess of Viet Nam on the TV and wondering about all that – yet here were Concord’s well-healed, tanning by the pool with a tall drink, reading Ms. And The New Yorker: The dichotomy wasn’t lost on me then, and it still isn’t. Ah, the idle rich! Of course people assume that everyone worked harder in the 1700’s, and for many that was true; but for landed gentry, then as in my day, a life of privilege and leisure was the reward of fortune. It was interesting to read that, initially during the war, Concordians of all social strata volunteered and served in the militia and Continental Army, although, in the waning years of the war, when drafts were instituted, the wealthy often chose the suitable alternatives to personal service: Either paying a fine, or hiring a replacement...

Yet not all was idle nonsense, in either day. Fact is, when our fledgling nation formally dissolved our bond with England, (At least in their minds), the new Continental Congress asked the colonies if they would have their representatives form a new Constitution: Virtually everyone said yes – But Concord said no. Concordians argued that a new constitution could not and should not be written without a constitutional convention, wherein the people to be subject to these new laws would be the ones to determine who would write them and what they would be. Concordians believed that even their own chosen representatives to the old government needed to be reconsidered, and were adamant that a new government would be different – Truly of and by and for the people, or not at all. Their first effort failed, but when the watered down constitution that was eventually produced was examined by the colonies, it was found wanting, and the second time was the charm – Concord’s suggestion became the way it was done; it literally was the kernel of the new American government.

Then as now, this is heady stuff to me. I recall many, many April 19ths – The pealing of bells at around 1 a.m., and the clattering of hooves thundering down the lane from Lexington, the rider portaying Dr. Prescott shouting a warning of the advancing British Regulars. The foggy, cold dawn, paddling or walking down to the bridge, hoping to be there before the first cannonade rolled through the still air, but always thrilled with the sound. Or walking in fall through the old, old graveyards; not looking for the famous, but for the unknown who died on that day, and in the long years of that war thereafter. Truth be told, the skirmish at Concord lasted maybe three minutes, after which the British returned to town to look for arms, and the militia dispersed; some going home, some wounded, but most racing through The Great Meadows toward the wooded ridge that overlooked the Bay Road, choosing places to fight. The British called them scum and worse for not standing up and fighting in pretty lines like men were supposed to, but these were fighters trained by the ferocious French & Indian War: In that conflict, every man for himself was the way it was, and guerilla fighting was the only way to survive.

To this day, you can walk along the Lexington Road toward Meriams Corner. The ridgeline rises to your left, the road is not sheltered. There are many places on that lonely road where you sure as hell would not want to be a British Regular. It is still easy to feel what it must have felt like that day. The ghosts of war are close here. The only place I have been where the feeling was thicker is Gettysburg.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Modern Iraq

What's wrong with those people, why can't they get along? Why is that place such a mess - have they always been that way?!

Well, yes and no; and as fate would have it, the root of the answer is that it takes western white folks to come in and really screw up a neighborhood.

I know that a lot of people here don’t have a clue about where this country has come from, or why these people are always fighting. Probably fewer still know that what’s happening now is far from the first time such things have occurred.

Somewhere in the late 1300s, Turks rolled in and took over what is now Iraq: Prior to that, for along, long time, there were separate and relatively autonomous areas of Kurds to the north, Sunnis in the middle, (The so called ‘Sunni Triangle'), and Shiites to the south. All that ended in the 1500s when the Ottoman Empire claimed most of Iraq, a situation that remained basically status quo until believe it or not, World War 1.

So, here’s the quiz: How long has Iraq been a ‘Country’, and how’d it get that way?

Well, again, the answer is, you need westerns to help you do this. In 1917, during the Great War, Britain captured Baghdad, and it was then that things really began to get screwed up: Ever wonder why they’ve been so dang loyal through these recent harangues? Easy! Because they’ve been feeling potential ever since they lost Iraq in 1932! Yep, it was the Brits who took chunks of Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite lands and put a border around it all; a thing us western colonialists just love to do in our typical arrogant, arbitrary fashion. Now, all of a sudden, you have thoroughly disparate groups that traditionally don't get along at all being told they're now countrymen by some foreign power who showed up and simply decided that they'd all get along because we said so - Neat trick, huh?

Now, the Brits have always dug monarchy, so why change here? The first Iraqi King was pretty much installed by none other than T.E. Lawrence: Yep, Lawrence of Arabia, who was, if you didn't know, very much a real guy and an inveterate meddler in other people's worlds…. By ’32 Iraq was more or less 'independent', but the colonial hooks remained deeply set: Oil was discovered in the north of the country in the late 20s, and then in the south. Although Iraqi Petroleum had the rights to all the finds, don’t let the name fool ya; they were based in London. That, by the way, is one big reason that the Sunnis have always been fired up to get and hold control; 'cause in that there Sunni Triangle, there ain’t much oil, gang…

Monarchies turned to coups in the late 50’s, and a series of military leaders appeared. About the same time, Kuwait was looking to free itself from British rule, (Yeah, they were there, too), and got friendly with Iraq. Iraq began to notice that, well, owning Kuwait would give them more Gulf access, more oil, and would just be real darn convenient: Neither the Kuwaitis or the British were real keen on the idea however. This chunk of history ended with a ’68 revolution that put the Ba’ath party firmly in charge. A young Saddam was working diligently therein, and in ’79, he got the nod and proclaimed himself both President and Chairman of the Revolutionary Council.

Kuwait-Iraq squabbles were ongoing all through the 60s and 70s, and faded only at the advent of the Iran-Iraq war in ’80. Oh, and don't forget; all us friendly western powers were real helpful during that conflict: Iraq got weapons and money from Britain, the U.S., China, and Russia. Oh, and the French – They gave Iraq her first nuclear reactor, which the spoilsport Israelis promptly destroyed.

Of course, the Kuwait-Iraq conflict resumed immediately after that Iran thing was done, and we all recall that Saddam’s boys rolled into its neighbors turf in 1990. And then we came and saw and kicked their asses, sort of…

Nope, we all know that Geo. Sr. didn’t go to Baghdad, didn’t get it done, and that wound has festered for… Well, let’s see… About 13 years before we had the proper stooge in place, and a plausible enough reason manufactured to go in and really screw things up good!

Thank God we’re able to bring our kind of democracy to the needy parts of the world, huh?!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fun With Pigs

Ok, I’ll admit it, I’ll fess up – Sometimes being a cop was fun.

In my home town, we had one who spent his whole day at the intersection of Main and Walden Streets – He was the traffic light. There was a little booth out in the middle of the intersection, and that’s where he stood all day, directing traffic and letting peds X. Maybe there’s a light there now; I hope not… I remember him chasing our car down the street, yelling, "Stop" to my dad, as we headed out for a vacation: Dad had left his coffee cup on the roof. Anyway, I noticed as a youngster that he talked a lot, I thought to himself: Oh sure, when we were crossing, he’d say, “Go ahead, girls, you can cross,” because it was the 60's and we had long hair. But I always wondered what he was saying when there wasn’t anybody crossing – Later in life, I would find out.

And when you’re driving, daydreaming or listening to tunes, and all of a sudden there’s a cop right on your ass? I know I saw their lips moving, what was that all about?

Well, since I now have some experience, let me enlighten y’all.

I’ll use for my first example the worst plain ol’ traffic cluster I remember – At probably the busiest intersection in the town I worked in, (And in the words of Dave Barry, I am not making this up), a truck took the corner a smidge hot and spilled boxes of roofing nails all over the street. The boxes exploded and spread said roofing nails everywhere – I don’t know how many, but let’s just say really a lot and go from there. I get there, and the construction guys want frantically to start cleaning up, but drivers have already driven over the nails and we have about a half dozen cars with blow outs. Its morning rush hour; welcome to day shift patrol work!

So, after getting everybody stopped, we proceed to open minimal lanes through the nails so that we can continue the clean up and get the traffic moving too. Now, the intersection is a huge clusterfuck, there are cop cars, fire trucks, construction vehicles, disabled cars, people out all around them – Let me ask you; how hard should it be for people behind the wheel to realize that something is up? How hard should it be for folks to pay attention, drive carefully, and help us all get through this? Answer: Way the hell harder than you can possibly imagine!

So, what was the nice Officer, (Me), out there talking to himself, (Not), saying? Well, it went kinda like this:

“Come on… COME ON!! YOU, drive, NOW! Lord… Okay you wait – WAIT! That’s why I’m showing you the stop hand, jerk, WAIT!! Ok, you – Yeah YOU, go, dipshit! NO!! NOT OVER THERE!!! STAY IN THE… SHIT! Ma’am? MA’AM! THEY’RE BLOWN NOW SO JUST GET IT OUT OF THE WAY RIGHT NOW, PLEASE! HEY! I said WAIT, you JERK!”

That’s what they’re talking about out there.

And the driving thing? Easily explained – Let’s start with a simple statistic: Percentage of overall times that a cop following right behind you IS interested in you when you’ve been doing, “Nothing wrong” - Maybe 5%. Percentage of overall times that a cop following right behind you because he or she only wants you to GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY – 95%.

We call it Black & White fever. Citizen sees cop car, instant guilt trip ensues, driver slows to snail speed and drives really, really, really carefully. See the above stats, learn it, believe it! Yes I understand the sensation –Hell, when I was driving a patrol car and went by a traffic guy doing radar, I’d go, Oh shit! And slow down and be paranoid for a second or two… Really, truly, 9 times out of 10 they are going somewhere else, have something they have to do, need to get a move on, and YOU’RE IN THE WAY!

Biggest mistake I ever made in this regard was… Well, let’s just say I was downtown on a busy Friday night, people all over the place, I'm following somebody with serious B & W Fever, I needed to get by and on to what I was doing, she wouldn’t move, and wouldn’t move, and finally I lost it and yelled, “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY AND LET ME BY?!?!?” And my windows were all open. Bad career move… I still cannot believe that nobody called to complain, although most of the people on the street were laughing.

I was cruising once with a partner, downtown, weekend evening, when one of the local ne’er-do-wells came bopping down the sidewalk. He was sneering at every one he encountered, spitting, laughing at things other people couldn’t see. He wore black leather pants with a big wallet chain, and a green leather jacket. Oh, and he had dyed his hair green and was maybe 5’ 4” in heels. The citizenry was properly cowed until we rolled by. My partner saw the perp, and without missing a beat, yelled at top volume, “Hey! Somebody grab the Leprechaun, they’re worth money!”

Mr. bad deflated like a popped balloon and the citizenry was in tears, laughing.

When stopped for traffic lights, I liked to pick out folks with radar detectors and blast ‘em with my onboard unit. I'd watch ‘em scramble to turn it down, their heads on a swivel, looking for the danger: They’d see me about the time they’d realize they weren’t moving, and I’d be there with my radar and a big shit eating grin…

Ever notice how most cops don’t pull right next to you at traffic lights? They pull up short of your vehicle so that they can see you and what you’re doing, in case you’re a bad guy. Then if everything is cool, they might slide up closer for a closer look-see. So one night I’m doing just that, and I see in the car to my immediate right a lot of motion in to the back seat by the guy in the passenger seat. It’s a young lady driving; they look college age, probably… They don’t feel dangerous, but the guy’s head is on a swivel, so I sneak up for a closer look… Right as the guy completes his 360 visual sweep, decides everything is A-OK, and pops open a road beer. I wait until he’s got it up to his lips for his first sip and yell, “HEY!” he turns, spilling beer all over himself and the car, and sees me smiling. “Check ALL the way around before you do that, OK?”

I didn’t write him; I didn’t have the heart. Besides, his girlfriend was laughing too hard.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rooskie Guitar

I liked the downtown foot beat when I was a cop; once I did it for a whole year straight. It reminded me of old-time cops, and also felt like a better way to get to talk with people and actually interact with the community.

I had fun with it too. On Halloween, I borrowed an Old Time parade uniform from one of the guys and did the whole shift wearing that, (Long coat, tall hat, no gun showing, just night stick). I also walked with my hands behind my back and did the Monty Python cop accent all day: “Right, what’s all this then?” and “Right! Piss off you lot… You ‘eard me, piss off!”

I also walked past the café’s with outside tables all the time, and I liked to walk up to a full table out of the blue and say, “How’s everything here? Ready for a desert tray or some coffee?” And if they said yes, testing the whacky cop, I’d go inside, where a grinning Martha would say, “Desert tray and coffee pot, right?” I did a great feature presentation on the various goodies, too – Sold a bunch of Death By Chocolate, and even had my own recipe made there, Doctor Atwater’s Magic Bars, (Shortbread topped with crunchy peanut butter and dark chocolate – You could feel your blood getting sludgy when you ate one – Very popular on graveyard shifts…)

I got to know all the shop owners, and among them, of course, were the pawnshop owners. They soon came to know that I liked guitars, and they’d let me know if something particularly sexy came in. So one day I walk into one of the shops and the owner grins and points at me and say, I got something you’re gonna like!” It was a ’59 Reissue Strat, black, perfect, looked like it had never been played. He said the guy who turned it in was a doper, would buy great axes and then pawn ‘em, and often didn’t come back for ‘em. He said he’d only told about four or five people about it. I asked him not to tell anybody else, and he promised he wouldn’t. I got the date that thing was coming available and marked my calendar. Oh, and the guy only had $300 into it - A stone cold bargain, that.

So the day approaches and I realize I’m signed up to work Acting Sergeant that day shift. Luckily, (And no, I’m not making this up), the Shift Lieutenant is Vince Gill’s first cousin, and a player in his own right. I tell him, vaguely, about the deal, and he says “I don’t care, as long as you respond when you’re needed,” I think he was a bit put out I wouldn’t tell him what axe and where, but, well, you gotta be discrete…

So the morning in questions dawns cold and clear, and the shop opens at nine a.m. I am camped out at 8:30, right in front, in a prowl car, in uniform, and runnin’ the Day Shift right from there. Nobody else in sight. Would you screw with me at that point? Didn’t think so…

Anyway, about five minutes after I arrived, some skinny, long-greasy-haired wasteoid comes shuffling up the block. He's wearing torn jeans, an Alice in Chains t shirt, those funky boots with the big strap and buckle over the instep, and a silver Bud Light tavern jacket. He sees me and stops, looks around, looks at where I’m parked, visibly swallows, and turns back around. Then he changes his mind, and comes back my way, stopping about three feet short of the pawn shop and leaning against the wall, pretending I’m not there. I am drilling cop eye laser beams into him through my Ray Bans. I am not smiling, even remotely. I am looking directly at him, car idling menacingly, with the patented Sergeant Atwater’s Get Your Sorry Ass The Hell Away From That Store You Wasted Prick look. He’s withering, but he’s holding up.

Finally he sighs and approaches the car. I’ve got target acquisition and lock for his entire long, long walk to the car. I let him wait for an eternal ten or fifteen seconds at the window before I lower it slowly, staring at him with pure I Am The Pigs, Go Away intensity. “Can I… Help you?” I ask.

In heavily accented English he says, “You are here for Strat?”

He rolls the r of strat nicely; he sounds Russian.

I nod slowly, “Yep, since 0h eight thirty, son.”

“Ya,” he nods, “You get then…” and turns to go

“Wait,” I nod, “Where you from, Partner, Russia?”

“Da,” he nods, “I am born outside Moscow.”

We start talking about guitars. We are about the same age. I tell him about my first, a busted up Strat with a screw holding the peghead together, and then, at his repeated urging, go through all the axes I’ve owned, played, sold, traded, lost, and the few I’ve kept.

He tells me that growing up in the USSR in the 60s, there was no way he could even see many pictures of “Real guitar – All we had was Russian shit, don’t play good, don’t sound good, real crap – All along, I dream of Strat, like Jimmy Hendrix and Clapton play!” His name was Vladimir. He had emigrated at his first opportunity in the late eighties. He had gone to school in Russia for art, and was trying to make it here doing that, and playing music. He loved it; he had “Real Levi Jeans, no secret police, I live where I want, can eat well, sell when I can, I am completely happy here.” We talked for twenty, twenty five minutes about bands, amps, artists, guitars, clothes, girls, and good local beer.

Then the sound of the lock turning on the pawn shop's front door catches our attention. We are both leaning on the front of the prowl car, side by side, bullshitting when the smiling owner steps out and nodded at us.

“Eben, Vlad, good morning; I shoulda known it'd be between you two... So, who gets the axe?”

Vladimir turns to me, smiling gently and says, “My friend was here first,” and reaches out to shake my hand.

I take his hand in mind, cover it with my other, and say, “My friend, you were in line for this guitar for way longer than I can even imagine – Enjoy.”

And I got in the car and drove away, smiling.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Who Won?

I dig history, I really do. I read a bunch of it on a regular basis; military, political, sociological, all kinds of stuff. The funny thing is that I never hesitate to spout the various facts I glean therefrom when an appropriate conversation comes up.

Oh, I don’t doubt that Historians that write all this stuff research diligently and that the veracity of their facts has passed muster. But then again, no matter how well a subject is researched, we’re still pretty much saddled with human perspective, right? Maybe we should call it Recollection, or Impression, rather than history. Dan Brown said something in The DaVinci Code to the effect that history is written by the winners, so who knows if what we call history is true. I can see that perspective from a military history perspective – After all, if the victors wiped out the looser, burned their cities and sold their survivors into slavery, there might not be anything other than the winning perspective to accept as history.

I don’t think that perspective is literally true in all cases though – After all, a good Historian is going to look at sources from the all sides, as well as any and all of the background stuff they can find, like news from neighboring countries, personal diaries, anything they can to build a consensus perspective, yet still… I know from my days as a cop that you can walk down a row of four eye witnesses to an incident that just occurred and get four totally disparate renditions of what happened. Which one is history? Or if we merge their stories, is that history?

I’ve looked for good religious history, and found some, but not as much as I’d like. God’s Secretaries was amazing, and I found one book about life during biblical times in the Holy Land that was pretty absorbing. Yet there seems to be very little to find of factual occurrences around the time of Jesus, for example. There’s plenty that is referenced as such, but in reality is not. Why is that? Certainly there were not a whole bunch of literate people at that time, and that has bearing on it. It was long ago at a place and time where the materials of written records weren’t all that resilient, so that might have bearing. And it was also a fairly isolated series of events in a fairly isolated time, and that certainly does have bearing.

So, are the New Testament Gospels histories? Consensus says that little, if any of these were written that close to the time of Christ on earth. A very educated guess might posit that these were finally recorded after many generations of the stories being passed on by oral tradition, and if so, the good Lord only knows how much the stories were altered. Of course, it’s also well documented that the primary Gospels of that testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were chosen via a process that was largely political, and as such, many other gospels were rejected, among them the ‘recently discovered’ Gospel of Judas. There may well have been a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and quite possibly one by Jesus himself, the so-called X Document.

There have been many, many suppositions that a lot more information in this regard, even raw data, is known and maybe even held secret by the Vatican. Quite possibly, the raw history, such as it is, remains in another yet to be discovered cave, or house, or ruin, or safe deposit box in New York City.

Have we read the last of new information regarding Christ’s time on earth? I hope not. I’d like to see more. Whether or not we ever see these Gospels of Supposition remains to be seen. I hope I’m around to see it. But then again, if not, I can wait for the Big Show, I guess.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Songhunter

Saw a wonderful show on PBS last night, called Lomax, The Songhunter; it was on the POV series and is a documentary well worth watching. It is, of course, about Alan Lomax, the famous, (Or supposedly infamous), recorder of rural, folk, and ‘primitive’ music. Austin, Texas lost this native son in 2002. I’ve long been fond of Alan, since much of the folk, blues and world music that is seminal to my own musical roots were things that he brought to light.

So, let’s deal with the negative first, shall we? I say infamous only because some have castigated Lomax for his claims to have discovered so much of the music he helped make famous. To me, the issue is moot and silly. Alan’s dad, the Musicologist John Lomax, was said to have discovered Huddy Ledbetter, (Ledbelly), in a Texas prison when Alan was young: Sure, I understand the controversy – It’s akin to white explorers discovering native tribes in the Amazon jungle – So, granted, indigenous people were certainly there and weren’t discovered, per se, and Ledbelly was playing music before Lomax father and son heard him. Does this mean Lomax usurped and stole music, and marginalized the real creators thereof, as his detractors have accused? Not for a minute, as far as I’m concerned… All this argument really illustrates is that the man had a whoppin’ ego, which he did: Hell, he was a Texan, born and raised, whataya expect? He was magnetic, charismatic, and larger than life. Frankly, to do what he did, to draw out and record for posterity as much as he was able to, you needed a whopping ego. When you take over the Oral History project at the Library of Congress from your famous dad, are asked your intensions and answer, “Oh, just to record the whole world,” do you think the guy’s not gonna have some major stones? Would players put down their tools and pick up instruments if he hadn’t been such a man? Would the institutions that supported and paid for all this work have done so if he were not such a man? I can pretty much guarantee you that the answer to both questions is a resounding, NO! Heck, Jelly Roll Morton proudly proclaimed himself the “Inventor of Jazz;” does that make him a bad guy? I think not… Did Lomax do what he did to gain personal fame and fortune? He answered that question: He said he recorded the things he did because it was, “Simply the most beautiful music I’d ever heard.”

Enough of that tomfoolery, anyway... The show was poignant, indeed. The creator of the documentary, Rogier Kappers, is a huge Lomax fan, and his fondness is evident throughout. He met with Lomax at his daughter’s home in Florida, after Lomax had a debilitating stroke in 2001. Lomax couldn’t answer questions, but shots of the man’s face, headphones on, listening to his old recordings, is simply beautiful, and very touching. Many of the people Lomax touched are featured, including Folklorist Peter Kennedy, who just passed away this June.

The most amazing facet of the film is Kappers retracing some of Lomax’ travels, in Scotland, and Spain, and Italy. In each place, he finds some of the people Lomax recorded so many years earlier. Not all these people still sing the songs they performed for Lomax, and had he not recorded them, they may well have disappeared forever. In a small Spanish village, Kappers finds some villagers who listen with obvious joy to their voices coming through fifty years of time; one man points fondly at the CD player and says, over and over, “That is me singing!” Eventually, the aged bagpiper who still lives nearby is rounded up, and comes to the local store, where his companions whirl in dance as he plays.

In Italy, the son of a man Lomax recorded long ago blinks and nods instantly at the keening sound of his Father’s voice singing a lament, the song of the hard, hard life of a miner. Holding back tears, he takes a picture of his father from the wall and sets it beside the CD player, looking almost helpless in remembrance.

Lomax appears throughout, younger, articulate, and full of the life energy that leads him around the world in search of song. At one point, speaking to an unseen interviewer, he points out that a fundamental disparity is caused by the fact that “Transmitters are so expensive, they cost a million dollars, so only a few of you can afford them, but receivers only cost a few bucks, so even the poorest can have one.” His point speaks to the heart of why he did what he did – Because he wanted everyone to know what this music was, and to hear it whenever they wanted to. Maybe Pete Seeger said it best:

“Throughout the world, folksong collectors tend to dig up old bones from one graveyard and put them into another graveyard – Their filing cabinets. But Alan Lomax and his father John wanted the American people to once again sing the wonderful old songs of this country which they never heard on the radio. So you who read this should know where you can get them – The American Folklife Center – And they’ll live again.”