Top Ten Blues Songs

The host of
  • Honey, Where You Been So Long?
  • , a blues blog that shares my taste for old school stuff, has been asking readers to list their favorites, pre-war or not. There are several other topics of public interest today, but as Thoreau, says, "Read not the times, but the eternities", so here is my list in no particular order:

    1. Saint James Infirmary, Jack Teagarden vocal/ Louis Armstrong
    2. Cypress Grove Blues, Skip James
    3. Back O’ Town Blues, Louis Armstrong vocal/Jack Teagaden

    4. Stormy Monday Blues, Junior Wells
    5. How Long, How Long Blues, Jimmy Rushing
    6. Baby Please Don’t Go, Big Bill Broonzy

    7. Ain’t Nobody’s Business, James Cotton
    8. Wang Dang Doodle, Koko Taylor

    9. Love in Vain, Robert Johnson
    10. Go Down Old Hannah, Leadbelly, Sparky Rucker, others unknown

    ... Anything by Mississippi John Hurt (no particular favorite)
    Honorable Mention:
    Good Morning Heartache, Billie Holliday
    ‘Round Midnight, Miles Davis
    Black and Blue, Fats Waller

    This is a wake-me-at-three-in-the-morning list. The editors are happy to be reminded of any forgotten songs, or to be introduced to new greats. Lists are handy for filling up blog space when you're off on another mission. And photos of blues faces are always good for the soul. That photo of my favorites, Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James together, is an instant treasure for my wall.

    Murrow on What We Were, and What We've Fallen Away From

    ".... We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men -- not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

    "... We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.
    ".... Cassius was right. 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.' Good night, and good luck."
    Edward R. Murrow
    March 9, 1954

    Real Music for Imaginary People #2: Pale Grey for Travis McGee

    This started as an excuse to burn CDs for friends and in the spirit of play, think up playlists for fictional characters or people we admire. Last time I offered playlists for Wes, my favorite character from "Angel", and Giles from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer": Blues for Wesley Wyndham Price and Rupert aka Ripper

    This time it's Travis McGee, my first adult fictional hero and in many ways still my favorite. I started reading McGee with "Darker Than Amber" when I was 15. Like Alonso Quijana, who read so many books of chivalry that his brains dried up, I still find the example of the "knight in slightly tarnished armor" more compelling than the alternatives I see around me. I remind you that we live in a world where Midge Decter can hold up Donald Rumsfeld as the essence of manliness and not be laughed out off the stage, where the self-aggrandizement of small-souled men is America's biggest export.

    PALE GREY FOR McGEE mix, version 1:

    1. "Christian Island", Gordon Lightfoot (At home on his boat and at peace; the smiling ambler McGee. To my uneducated palate, Plymouth gin has worked at recapturing its old glory and we can all switch back from Boodles. I am ready to stand corrected if you're buying.)

    2. "Falling Down", Tears for Fears (Disorder enters the world and McGee gets dragged in... The search for wisdom beyond Top 40 is is why I love Tears for Fears and MacDonald great too; a clear view of America without the distortion and the yammer yammer yammer; as if Henry Thoreau were avenging injustice and not so shy with women.)

    3. "Guantanamera (Guajira)", Los Lobos (Cuban song, the love of the body and the heart and the land and the troubled world, too, with the young girl coming out of the sea and the Jose Marti lyrics with "Con los pobres de la tierra
    Quiero yo mi suerte echar..." "With the poor of the Earth I'll take my chances...")

    4. "Desperation Samba", Jimmy Buffet (McGee sinking low and mean as in "A Deadly Shade of Gold". There's not as much Jimmy Buffet in this mix as some MacDonald fans might like, and if it were 30 years ago I might have agreed with them-- but Buffet's gone from a rarefied pleasure for happy wastrels to a stadium event for weekend warriors. The current packaging of cheeseburgers and parrotheads is the antithesis of everything McGee and his creator believed.)

    5. "Take Five", Dave Brubeck Quartet (We know McGee likes Brubeck, and this is an eternally great song.)

    6. "Lush Life", Chet Baker (One of the songs McGee asks for by name, and Shostakovich wouldn't fit on the CD. And I've lots of Chet Baker anyway.)

    7. "El Canelo (Son Jarocho)", Los Lobos (Happy music again; MacDonald and his wife lived in Mexico after the war because it was cheaper; the big resort towns were still little fishing towns.)

    8. "Chan Chan", Buena Vista Social Club (Happy and sensual and wistful all at the same time. I wanted to grow up to be Travis McGee when I was a teenager; now I want to grow up to be Compay Segundo, panama hat and all.)

    9. "Hotel California", Gipsy Kings (more "Deadly Shade of Gold".)

    10. "Pretty Good Year", Tori Amos (McGee sometimes looks in the mirror and despises what he sees; for me, I'm awed by Tori Amos' ability to get inside men/boy's heads like that.)

    11. "Happy Phantom" Tori Amos (McGee on the upbound, making trouble for the cushioned and comfortable villains.)

    12. "If I Had a Rocket Launcher" (Travis McGee wearing his pale-eyed glare of "a thousand disreputable McGees", the avenger in righteous wrath. I never think of McDonald as a gratuitously violent writer, then I realize that some of his scenarios would be NC-17 ratings if filmed. Like Boo Waxworth and that mangrove stump (shudder).)

    15. "New York Minute", Don Henley (Counting the quick and the dead, the just and the unjust alike. Some radio stations pulled this song after 9/11. "Out here in the dark/ I heard the sirens wail/Somebody goin' to Emergency/ Somebody's Goin' to jail. / You find you someone to love, you better hang on Tooth and Nail; / The wolf is always at the door.")

    16. "King of Pain", The Police (Old bills come due. Feel the pain and Bring the pain; that's McGee. And there are moments of cosmic vision turning from the personal to the universal. Tibetans like Choyam Trungpa say if you're going to be a hero, stand ready to have your heart broken.)

    11. "The Dark Night of the Soul", Loreena McKennit (music responding to Saint John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul"; McGee, for all the sun and fun, often see himself forever living on the dark side of the world, even as a child too aware of the shadows chasing the happy people-- and finding when most abandoned, a strange comfort and companionship in the twilight world. Brother to dragons, companion to owls-- God's own strange night creature, but much loved for all that.)

    14. "Ordinary Man", Gordon Lightfoot (Travis coming to terms with himself, forgiving himself for his flaws. Asking the eternal woman, the anima, for forgiveness and blessing.)

    15. "I'm Ragged but Right", Lightnin' Wells (The return of cheerfulness, like Pogo and Porky with their cigar box mandolins and fishing poles on board the Hon. Walter J. Kelly floating down the Okeefenokee towards Fort Mudge. McGee likes to sing this when he's drunk. Forty-seven renditions in "The Empty Copper Sea". I like to sing it, too.)

    16. "Flor de Huevo (Son Locos)", Los Lobos (The sun is flashing on the water. We're still alive. A-yi!)

    This is anything but a perfect list. I would probably liked to put "La Pistola y el Corazon" in there for instance. Part of the challenge is to do as much as you can with music you already have around the house. (If these are already favorite characters of yours, odds are you have a sympatico music collection as well.) Additions, corrections, and alternatives are welcome.

    Old Friends in Happier Days

    Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, when we supported Hussein in his war against Iran.

    Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, USA (RET.) former Chief of Staff, Department of State, 2002-2005, retired Army colonel and former director of the Marine Corps War College:
    "I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita - and I could go on back. We haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time." Lawrence Wilkerson transcript "...If something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence."

    "...I stop on 26 January 2005. I don’t know what the case is today; I wish I did. But the case that I saw for four-plus years was a case that I have never seen in my studies of aberrations, bastardizations, perturbations, changes to the national security decision-making process. What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. And then when the bureaucracy was presented with the decision to carry them out, it was presented in a such a disjointed, incredible way that the bureaucracy often didn’t know what it was doing as it moved to carry them out.

    "Read George Packer’s book, 'The Assassin’s Gate', if you haven’t already. George Packer, a New Yorker – reporter for the New Yorker, has got it right. I just finished it, and I usually put marginalia in a book, but let me tell you, I had to get extra pages to write on. (Laughter.) And I wish I had been able to help George Packer write that book. In some places I could have given him a hell of a lot more specifics than he’s got. (Laughter.) But if you want to read how the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal flummoxed the process, read that book. And of course there are other names in there: Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, whom most of you probably know Tommy Franks said was the stupidest blankety, blank man in the world. He was. (Laughter.) Let me testify to that. He was. Seldom in my life have I met a dumber man. (Laughter.) And yet – and yet – and yet, after the secretary of State agrees to a $40 billion department rather than a $30 billion department having control, at least in the immediate post-war period in Iraq, this man is put in charge. Not only is he put in charge, he is given carte blanche to tell the State Department to go screw itself in a closet somewhere. Now, that’s not making excuses for the State Department; that’s telling you how decisions were made and telling you how things got accomplished.

    "In so many ways I wanted to believe for four years that what I was seeing – as an academic now – what I was seeing was an extremely weak national security advisor, and an extremely powerful vice president, and an extremely powerful in the issues that impacted him secretary of Defense – remember, a vice president who has been secretary of Defense too and obviously has an inclination that way, and also has known the secretary of Defense for a long time, and also is a member of what Dwight Eisenhower warned about – God bless Eisenhower – in 1961 in his farewell address, the military industrial complex – and don’t you think they aren’t among us today – in a concentration of power that is just unparalleled. It all happened because of the end of the Cold War. Harlan will tell you how many contractors who did billion dollars or so business with the Defense Department did we have in 1988 and how many do we have now? And they’re always working together.

    "If one of them is a lead on the satellite program – I hope there’s some Lockheed and Grumman and others here today, Raytheon – if one of them is a lead on satellites, the others are subs. And they’ve learned their lesson; they’re in every state. They’ve got every congressman, every senator. They’ve got it covered. Now, that’s not to say that they aren’t smart businessmen. They are – and women – they are. But it’s something we should be looking at, something we should be looking at.

    "So you’ve got this collegiality there between the secretary of Defense and the vice president, and you’ve got a president who is not versed in international relations and not too much interested in them either. And so it’s not too difficult to make decisions in this what I call Oval Office cabal, and decisions often that are the opposite of what you’d thought were made in the formal process. Now, let’s get back to Dr. Rice again. For so long I said, yeah, Rich, you’re right – Rich being Undersecretary of State Richard Armitage – it is a dysfunctional process. And to myself I said, okay, put on your academic hat; who’s causing this? Well, the national security adviser. Even if the framers didn’t envision that position, even if it’s not subject to confirmation by the Senate, the national security advisor should be doing a better job. Now I’ve come to a different conclusion, and after reading Packer’s book I found additional information, or confirmation for my opinion, I think. I think it was more a case of – in some cases there was real dysfunctionality – there always is – but in most cases it was Dr. Rice made a decision, she made a decision – and this is all about people again because people in essence are the government. She made a decision that she would side with the president to build her intimacy with the president.

    "And so what we had was a situation where the national security advisor, seen in the evolution over some half-century since the act as the balancer or the person who would make sure all opinions got to the president, the person who would make sure that every dissent got to the president that made sense – not every one but the ones that made sense – actually was a part of the problem, and probably on many issues sided with the president and the vice president and the secretary of Defense. And so what you had – and here I am the academic again – you had this incredible process where the formal process, the statutory process, the policy coordinating committee, the deputies committee, the principal’s committee, all camouflaged – the dysfunctionality camouflaged the efficiency of the secret decision-making process.

    And so we got into Iraq, and so George Packer quotes Richard Haas in his book as saying, “To this day I still don’t know why we went to war in Iraq.” I can go through all the things we listed, from WMD to human rights to – I can go through it – terrorism, but I really can’t sit here and tell you, George, why we went to war in Iraq. And there are so many decisions. Why did we wait three years to talk to the North Koreans? Why did we wait four-plus years to say we at least back the EU-3 approach to Iran? Why did we create the national director of intelligence and add further to the bureaucracy, which was what caused the problem in the first place? The problem is not sharing information. The problem is not that we don’t have enough feet on the ground or enough people collecting intelligence or enough $40 billion eyes in the sky – national technical means. That’s not the problem. The problem is our people don’t share. ...

    "That is not what this administration did for four years. Instead it made decisions in secret, and now I think it is paying the consequences of having made those decisions in secret. But far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences. You and I and every other citizen like us is paying the consequences, whether it is a response to Katrina that was less than adequate certainly, or whether it is the situation in Iraq, which still goes unexplained. You know, if I had the time I could stand up here today I think and make a strategic case for why we are in Iraq and why we have to stay there and we have to get it right. As Winston Churchill said, “America will always do the right thing, after exhausting all other possibilities.” (Laughter.) Well, we need to get busy and exhaust them and do the right thing.

    "We can’t leave Iraq. We simply can’t. I can make that case. No one in this administration has made that case. They have simply pontificated. That’s all they’ve done. Now, I’m not evaluating the decision to go to war. That’s a different matter. But we’re there, we’ve done it, and we cannot leave. I would submit to you that if we leave precipitously or we leave in a way that doesn’t leave something there we can trust, if we do that, we will mobilize the nation, put 5 million men and women under arms and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That’s what we’ll have to do. So why not get it right now? Why not get it right now? I don’t see any signs, other than signs of desperation – that is to say, the polls are falling, people are finally listening, to a certain extent, to the evidence that’s building up, and so people are getting desperate. And so Dr. Rice gets some more flexibility, some more leeway, and we do this and we do that; that looks diplomatic. But I don’t see anything that looks coordinated because I think the decisions are still being made essentially in that small group.

    "And I’ll finish just by bringing it down screechingly to the ground and tell you that the detainee abuse issue is just such a concrete example of what I’ve just described to you, that 10 years from now or so when it’s really, really put to the acid test, ironed out and people have looked at it from every angle, we are going to be ashamed of what we allowed to happen. I don’t know how many people saw the “Frontline” documentary last night – very well done, I thought, but didn’t get anywhere near the specifics that need to be shown, that need to come out, that need to say to the American people, this is not us, this is not the way we do business in the world. Of course we have criminals, of course we have people who violate the law of war, of course we had My Lai, of course we had problems in the Korean War and in World War II. My father-in-law was involved in the Malm├ędy massacre and the retaliation of U.S. troops in Belgium. He told me some stories before he died that made my blood curdle about American troops killing Germans.

    "But these are not -- I won’t say isolated incidents; these are incidents that are understandable and that ultimately, at one time or another, we came to deal with. I don’t think, in our history, we’ve ever had a presidential involvement, a secretarial involvement, a vice-presidential involvement, an attorney general involvement in telling our troops essentially carte blanche is the way you should feel. You should not have any qualms because this is a different kind of conflict. Well, I’ll admit that. I’ll admit that. I don’t want to see any of these people ever released from prison if they’re truly terrorists. I don’t want to see them released because I know what they’ll do. I’m a former military man, 31 years in the Army. They will go out and they will try to kill me and my buddies, again and again, and some of you people, too.

    "So I understand the radical change in the nature of our enemy, but that doesn’t mean we make a radical change in the nature of America. But that’s what we did, and we did it in private. ... And we knew that things weren’t the way they should be, and as former soldiers, we knew that you don’t have this kind of pervasive attitude out there unless you’ve condoned it – unless you’ve condoned it. And whether you did it explicitly or not is irrelevant. If you did it at all, indirectly, implicitly, tacitly – you pick the word – you’re in trouble because that slippery slope is truly slippery, and it will take years to reverse the situation, and we’ll probably have to grow a new military.

    "We may have to do that anyway because my army right now is truly in bad shape – truly in bad shape. And I’m not talking about the billions and billions of dollars of equipment it’s burning up in Iraq at a rate 10 or 15 times the rate its life cycle said it should be burned up at, but I’m also talking about when you have officers who have to hedge the truth, NCOs who have to hedge the truth. They start voting with their feet, as they did in Vietnam, my war. They come home and they tell their wife they’ve got to go back for the third tour and the fourth tour and the wife says, uh-uh, or the husband says, uh-uh, and all of a sudden your military begins to unravel.

    ".... Yes, I have paid a price, and it’s a high price for me. I’ve paid the price that Colin Powell and I see eye to eye a lot less than we used to. Now, that’s not to say that that wasn’t the case a lot of times anyway. The great respect I have for the man emanates as much from his ability to tolerate me in my many dissenting opinions as it does for any leadership qualities that he’s otherwise shown me, which were manifold. But at the end, I actually was physically thrown out of his office on one occasion, and that was a first in 16 years.

    "It showed, I think, his exasperation and it showed his tolerance level had sunk considerably for dissenting opinions. He’s not happy – I think that’s fair to say – with my speaking out because – and I admire this in him too – he is the world’s most loyal soldier and feels that his inveterate optimism is right and that we will overcome these problems. And I share that. However, I feel like as a citizen and as a person very much concerned with the military – it was my old home – I need to speak out."


    James' mother Leeanne brought me this photo from an AP article quoting him as saying:
    "As long as we clean up our mess and get this country back up on its feet, it's worth it," said Lance Cpl. James Whelan of Kalamazoo, Mich. Just 20, he is on his third tour in Iraq."

    This caption came with the picture: "Lance Cpl. Jeff Bartlett, a team leader with Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and Lance Cpl. James Whelan, a rifleman, show two members of the Iraqi Security Force the proceedures for patrolling. Photo by: Cpl. Randy L. Bernard. Date the Photo was taken:12/10/2004. This Image has been cleared for release."

    James is the one in the middle. I'm grateful when he comes by to visit his aged teacher along with Jef (author of "Zombie Panic Room", free plug) and the others. Our DVD player was a Christmas gift from them and there are no awards I'm prouder of. James loves zombie movies, the gorier the better and Italian horror flicks like Argento's. He prefers coffeehouses to bars. He is quiet, laughs easily, is anything but a "gung-ho" asshole, and his eyes under the dark glasses resemble the medieval angels at the cathedral of Rheims-- so girls seem to Like James A Lot. We have no direct knowledge of this because of his gentlemanly discretion.

    James is one of those kids who joined up in the weeks after September 11, with the understanding that we were under attack and they were going to hunt down Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Instead he was sent to Iraq, walking from Kuwait towards Baghdad. His second tour was in Fallujah. The shotgun, I am told, is used in combination with bolt cutters for going through locked doors. This is James' third tour of combat duty in Iraq, though the last time he visited he was too young for us to take him to a strip club that serves liquor.

    I have never been a pacifist, and have no illusions about the power of non-violence or sweet reason when people are trying to kill you. James knows that I have been and am against this invasion of Iraq, and see it as a ghastly strategic mistake in the war against terrorists. But I also tried to assure him (in my fatuous, safe at home way) that he is to come home alive, no matter what he has to do to make sure of that. Remember Richard Pryor saying he would never be trapped by a crowd in a burning theatre, because if he had to, he would eat through the asshole of every motherfucker in his way. Be standing safe on the sidewalk wiping your mouth while the firemen scratch their heads at all those people with their assholes eaten out.

    I don't like feeling the need to give cruel blessings to good young men being sent into a bad situation, like that hideous professor in "All Quiet on the Western Front". Goddamn any man who wastes young men like this, no matter what ideology he thinks he serves. There aren't enough hells for the True Believers on both sides who have brought James' family to this moment.

    MEMO FROM: Jesus of Nazareth/ TO: Congressional Torture Caucus

    Somebody over in Congress finally read the Constitution, or had lunch with Robert Byrd, or maybe their kid came home from civics class and explained it to them. At any rate, they have rediscovered checks and balances and have started to grow some balls.

    The McCain amendment S.AMDT.1977 forbids the torture of "persons under the detention, custody, or control of the United States Government." It was attached to a major spending bill, but the current president has announced he will veto it. (I'm pleased that Michigan's own Carl Levin was one of the co-sponsors. I'm very fond of ol' Carl; I ran around with a lot of Jewish kids in high school and Senator Levin reminds me of everyone's dad or uncle.)

    There were, of course, abstentions (feelthy people, pah! -- we will speak no more of them) and nine senators who voted against the amendment. In alphabetical order, they are:

    Wayne Allard, Colorado (odd choice for a former veterinarian with pretty mountains on his website)
    Kit Bond, Missouri (Sen. Bond has a son in the Marines-- I pray the lieutenant's never captured and finds the shoe on the other foot)
    Tom Coburn, Oklahoma (Oklahoma stands united for torture! And him an OB/GYN man who delivered babies. It's wonderful how the moral sense can compartmentalize itself)
    Thad Cochran, Mississippi (awards from National Wildlife Federation and The Nature Conservancy-- here's a fellow I can talk to)
    John Cornyn, Texas (lists his favorite book as "Bonfire of the Vanities" and favorite film as "Jerry Maguire"; thinks his "most embarrassing moment occurred when I muffed the opening pitch at a Round Rock Express baseball game"... we're frickin' doomed)
    James Inhofe, Oklahoma (posing with young soldiers who behind the grins are thinking, "If I'm ever captured, this bastard is going to get my nuts cut off.")
    Pat Roberts, Kansas (Senate Intelligence Chairman, also on Select Committee on Ethics; and yes, his ethics are "select")
    Jeff Sessions, Alabama (Alabama; no surprises there)
    Ted Stevens, Alaska (Ted's been a madman for years now, and I see no reason for him to change)

    Several bloggers are calling them "The Nazgul", a literary nickname for the nine dark riders and servants of Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings."

    I'm curious as to whether or not these fellows openly adhere to the teachings of Yeshua of Nazareth, aka Jesus the Christ, who was himself a victim of torture. I assume they do identify themselves as "Christian", when asked, that being the most popular answer for politicians these days. (I'm looking for a quote from Mark Twain, wherein the devil says to a smug fellow, "The trouble with you is, you think you're the best people here, whereas you're really just the most numerous.") I'm not speaking from any high moral ground-- I indulge myself with elaborate revenge and torture fantasies for people who hurt animals or little kids, bullies in general-- but I'm not making laws. Even from the coldest perspective imaginable, I thought they got the memo Torture Doesn't Work as an intelligence gathering tool. Satisfying, yes, but productive, no. This is an old Victorian notion in fiction, that you've converted the bad guy by making him cry. By the time you're finished venting your anger, the other side has changed their plans and the information you got from the torture victim is out of date. It doesn't change people's minds, either... you can bomb the shit out of someone's home town and blow up any number of old ladies and kindergartners, and all it does is make the citizens even more determined to fight you. Did Abu Ghraib (new even more offensive photos coming soon, I hear) accomplish anything beyond increasing anti-American feeling? How the hell did we blow the lead, the world sympathy we had on September 12?

    Has it occured to anyone that the Nazgul Nine might be Al-Qaeda sleeper agents?


    I generally go with the conventional wisdom and list the Dred Scott decision as the Worst Supreme Court Decision Ever, but Holy Shit is this Kelo decision a doozy or what? I always knew the government could use Eminent Domain to dispossess us, but never have I seen such bald-faced endorsement of greed, not since the Court declared that corporations have the same rights as a person.

    In 1886, the Supreme Court in "Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad" Chief Justice Waite wrote: "The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does."

    Betcha didn't know that, did you? The Fourteenth Amendment was meant to protect freed slaves: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." The Santa Clara decision meant that you have to treat a corporate entity as you would a person. Catch being, a corporation is effectively immortal; when one corporate lackey dies, ten more shall take its place. You are not immortal. You might go to court to stop a corporation from paving over a favorite tree, but their lawyers don't really have to win, they just have to wait you out... (A favorite trick around here is to cut down the trees, put in the parking lot, then apologize, pay a fine, and plant some saplings.)

    I guess with Kelo, the gloves are off between the private homeowner and the legions of Corporate Man.

    Sadly, no surprise here-- when you grow up on John D. MacDonald novels, you can't have many illusions about real-estate developers-- but even some
  • Republican bloggers
  • see this for what it is.
    Decisions made in a panic are almost always bad decisions. A lot of city fathers in an economic panic would sacrifice their own daughters to a volcano, if they thought it would attract developers. Wait till the dust clears from the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast; early reports say only 30% of the contracts are going to local businesses.
    My interests are more literary than political, and I see the betrayal of Kelo and the others as another case of people who thought they were secure in the American social contract, until they found themselves on the losing side of an issue. I think of the middle class families at Love Canal, or the dairy farmers in Michigan when the PBB scandal broke.
    We all expect the poor to be run over, but just wait till the Kelo decision bites someone prominent in the ass. I'm trying to get Wal-Mart excited about building in Georgetown...

    See also: Supreme Court: Oregon's Right-to-Die Case

    Days of Rage

    I was carrying so much anger about ignorant, un-Christian "Christians" and the damage they do that I went to 5:00 Mass. Thought I'd ask the priest afterwards how he dealt with fanatics. Killing kind of rage, the kind that hurts you more than it hurts them and can slide so easily into despair.

    First one there. Others drifted in, idle chat about their day as we waited to begin. One of the worshipers was tired, having spent the day working in pediatric intensive care. Another was asked about their latest CAT scan and their own recovery. A toddler, there with mother, father, and baby brother, visited us all in turns, then sat quietly reading something called "My Quiet Book", with all its pages made of cloth. Ken stuck his head in the door and asked us to remember in prayers a parishioner whose son was getting married in two weeks but the future mother-in-law was just killed in a car accident and a four year old with stage four cancer, both parents doctors, which meant they already knew more than was good for them as they worried...

    Kind of puts you in perspective, doesn't it, punk?

    We were supposed to thank God for something he'd given us. Yeah. right. Thank you for all the anger. Some inherited, a lot more of it earned, and some of it, quoting myself now, a chip put on my shoulder by Spartacus and knocked off by Wat Tyler. I've even been angry with God this year (God can take it; God knows they can dish it out). What am I, a fricking samurai-- the man with nothing to lose can accomplish great things?

    The homily was about Mary. Whether you believe or not, metaphor or objective reality, Mary's probably the best of us. A human girl-- no super powers, remember-- given something she never asked to carry. Then a woman who loses a child, the worst thing imaginable, and in a particularly horrible way, yeah she can carry that too.

    Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us. I tend to imagine a literal lamb, lost animals safe from hurt. My little furry angels. The murdered lamb, as blameless as Mary.

    My anger went away, or at least settled down to an acceptable simmer. God wasn't there for the self-righteous winners, wasn't a prosecutor like Dobson and Falwell and Robertson and our local mean-spirited pipsqueaks. They were too busy hating with a sanctimonious grin on their face, and driving nice cars. God was down here with the broken ones, getting the shit kicked out of her/him like the rest of us. It's the daily crucifixion. Even if we're lucky enough to avoid the harshness of society-- born in East Grand Rapids, say, instead of the 9th Ward of New Orleans-- we're still crucified by time, wearing us down, breaking and burning us.

    Sooner or later, of course, reality, life will find a way to snap your self-perceptions like a twig. An old hippie in Stephen King's "Firestarter" says "life is short, pain's long, and we're here to help each other through". Some of us know that by instinct, and it makes us kinder to others, more tolerant not less, and some haven't learned it yet.

    August Wilson's Come and Gone

    August Wilson died this week of liver cancer. One of his titles, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", led me to read his plays because of my love for the old true music. Until I saw the buzz in the New York papers, I was surprised that anyone besides me knew who Ma Rainey was, outside of a few blues fans-- and here she was on Broadway as she probably deserved to be back when.
    It stuck in my mind like "Jelly's Last Jam" by George Wolfe, or singing "Black and Blue" in the midst of all the joy in the Fats Waller musical "Ain't Misbehaving".

    For those of you who don't know, Mr. Wilson wrote a cycle of plays that chronicle black cultural history through the 20th century. That description doesn't quite cover it. What he did was harness the rhythms of colliquial black American speech to tell his stories, and it's a beautiful thing. That description is accurate, but still too flat.

    Compare Pat Boone's "Tutti Frutti" with Little Richard's, or Big Mama Thorton's "Hound Dog" with Elvis Presley's version, and you'll get what I'm trying to say. Just the way Big Mama Thorton sings the first three words, "You ain't nothin--" will rip all the Elvis Presley out your throat. Elvis Presley, 'dangerous'? Sheee-yit...

    Mississippi John Hurt was the first to climb inside my soul-- I opened the album because the cover reminded me of my grandpa-- and by the time I heard Skip James wail "Cypress Grove Blues", I knew there was a poetry here to rival any moment in Sophocles or Aeschylus. Pity and terror, like the man said.

    Funny thing is, I've never seen a stage production of any of Wilson's work, only read him-- so the productions in my mind are as perfect as can be, performed with the voices of people I grew up around and long dead blues men and women. I think he'd like them.

    "I'm trying to take culture and put it onstage, demonstrate it is capable of sustaining you. There is no idea that can't be contained by life: Asian life, European life, certainly black life. My plays are about love, honor, duty, betrayal - things humans have written about since the beginning of time. "

    Rest now. God bless.

    PERVERTS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE REPUBLICAN PARTY: Please Stop Worrying About Other Men's Penises!

    I am waiting for a politician who will ask, "Who are these anti-gay marriage busybodies to be so concerned with other people's penises?" Most of us go through entire days, sometimes weeks, without thinking about other people's genitalia unless we want to have sex with them.

    Let's start describing this obsession of the Republican Party, this penis fixation of Wildmon and Falwell and Dobson and crew as what it is: a fetish. Some fetishists obsess about high heel shoes, some about women's breasts (exclusively I mean), some about French maid costumes--
    and Rick Santorum worries about other men's penises and what they might be doing with them RIGHT NOW and what that might be doing to America. Whatever crime, greed, cronyism, illiteracy, job loss, environmental neglect and "Growing Up Gotti" might be doing to America, it pales compared to the destructive power of same-sex marriage and genital contact between members of the same sex! (Does Santorum remind anyone else of Paul Lynde? Or Tony Nelson, with Jeannie running around the house and all he wants to do is spend time with Roger?)

    In the small but diverse town where I grew up, surrounded by blue-collar heterosexualists, there was none of this perverse gay bashing. It was a truism of my boyhood, learned from my fathers and uncles and the old men in the truck stops and barber shops: heterosexual men who were secure in their own identity simply did not worry so much about homosexual men.

    The few openly gay men in the community were no more eccentric than the Sunday painters or photography club. K. and E. were like eccentric uncles whose difference added to the community; their homosexuality was no more irksome than the peculiarities of the camera club or the Jaycees, and I remember hearing more complaints about the Jaycees. If small town gays gravitated to the local arts scene, theatre and architecture and interior design, that was simply because those worlds were more live and let live about their inhabitants.

    Men who exhibited homosexual panic, who talked about “goddamn queers tried to rape me” and such, were sniffed at by the rest of the truck drivers as being worried for a reason. When my turn came at 19 to be propositioned by a gay man (I was young and pretty then), I politely declined with no one’s feelings or noses being hurt.

    My uncle’s concern baffled me. It would have seemed silly to have someone worry about me being seduced by our local gay theatre director. It seems silly now. How could a homosexual take my penis in his mouth unless I wanted to put it there? That would have been a poor substitute for the girls and women I had crushes on, who swirled around my adolescent brain in an unattainable hareem.

    In panicky times like these, we must speak calm truth to hysterics. Anne M. Gobi, a Representative of Massachusetts, says,
    "I haven't talked to any married heterosexual couples that have felt threatened by same-sex marriages."

    Simply put, there aren’t enough hours in the day, what will all the other things I have to worry about. When clouds of the day part, when the demands of art and commerce are met, I selfishly start worrying about my own sex life. I'm not a patriot like Rick Santorum. Indeed, I hardly ever worry about other people's sex lives, excepting them as might intersect with mine.

    It is time to confront public figures who espouse this kind of hatred against gay men and lesbians. The men and women who are born with an attraction to the same or rarely, both sexes, deserve to be left alone so long as they don’t do it in the streets and frighten the horses. It is the Republican party and the so called Christian church that has been overrun by perverts.

    Only three groups are so curious about unfamiliar genitals:

    * Researchers and physicians, who have legitimate research questions;

    * Pornographers, who entertain Americans to the hypocritical tune of $500 million to $1.8 billion dollars a year (the “$10 billion” often cited by crusaders and producers has been shown to be impossible);

    * And Republican politicians and evangelical clergymen, who in a world of corruption, pain and ignorance can find nothing better to do their time.


    It's a funny thing, the moral arbiter business. Chuck Colson was, by all reports, as rapacious a shitheel as any you could find in Washington today, but then he fell from on high, went to jail, found Jesus. I wish him luck. Funny, for all my sins of the flesh, I guess I knew even as a little kid that subverting the Constitution was a bad thing; Colson didn't know that until he was a grown man, and they had to whisk his sorry ass off to jail before he learned his civics lesson. Well, never mind, better late to the party than never arrive at all.

    ... But then this presumptuous ninny has the audacity to go on the radio and call other people immoral, while making great noises about his own virtue and love for the Lord? Like the Cheech and Chong Jesus Freak who "used to be messed up on drugs; now I'm all messed up on the Lord", Colson is the same nasty little shit he ever was. Once it was his duty to savage anyone who didn't love Richard Nixon; now the same energy is devoted to lashing at the enemies of the Lord. Who are the enemies of the Lord? Chuck Colson's gonna tell you. (Don't bother asking Jesus: just another Jewish liberal.)

    Now we have William Bennett, compulsive gambler, verbal bully, education maven and again, a self-proclaimed moral arbiter and "editor" of "The Book of Virtues". My goodness these men are virtuous! They tell us so at every turn! Or rather, they tell us how much more sinful everyone else is. ... (Funny how he tells us what's wrong with our teachers but never actually gets down in the trenches with the foot soldiers trying to teach crack babies to read or telling a popular kid he still has to read the Constitution.)

    Ah, Wild Bill: "But I do know that it's true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could -- if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous, and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down. So these far-out, these far-reaching, extensive extrapolations are, I think, tricky."

    To say the least; the paperwork must be horrendous. Let me simply ask that Bill do some homework: he can total up how much crime was committed by blacks over the last hundred years, and estimate the dollar cost in property loss, earning power of murder victims, and etc. Then he can total up the damages caused by the white power structure he belongs to: world wars, foreign assasinations, property damage, etc. Don't forget the cost of bottled water and the fish in Lake Michigan that can't be eaten by pregnant women anymore.

    And Bill will whine: but those are not street crimes, but acts of policy in the name of the state, for Virtue, for Right, for Kate Smith and the Grand Old Flag. For Business, for General Motors for Henry Kissinger, for General Pinochet, in the name of whatever's good for the USA.

    The moral audacity of these men! I stand in awe. Anne Coulter must have been binding the sores of lepers day and night in her college years, in order to attain the high moral ground where now she stands. Bill Frist, Tom DeLay, I tell you we are moral midgets next to them. And George W. Bush, a business wrecking alcoholic asshole for forty something years, yes, but a saint for twenty...?

    "Heaven for climate, but Hell for society."