Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LEADING UP TO APRIL 4, 1968

   I trust that you, Dear Reader, find personal value and perhaps even a sense of absolution in the retelling of this regrettably incomplete list of men, women and children slain by the pathetic human lice who leap from one rat-like hatred to another in search of a God worshipped by only the foulest of beasts, idolaters of evil who, with soulless automaton intent, mask their quivering cowardice with the false bravado of a thumping chest, a fiery cross, and a swastika tattoo. This is the fourth in the series (we began with History of Right Wing Violence, followed up with Brutal Murders Spark Progressive Reform, and last time out contributed a piece called Right Wing Monopoly. I apologize if these titles suffer from a paranoid aroma, but then again, it's only paranoia if it's a delusion). Collect them all and you win enough sufficiently outraged indignation to march into the arena and call the Romans out for the filthy cowards they were. 
   Speaking of were, where were we? 
   Three members of the Cottonmouth Moccasin Gang, a splinter faction of the Natchez, Mississippi branch of the White Knights of the KKK, decided to lure Dr. Martin Luther King to their town by committing a particularly heinous murder against a black man. The man they picked, plantation worker and son of former slaves, Ben Chester White, took the story the three men told him at face value. They wanted help trying to locate their dog. White agreed to help. He got into a car belonging to driver James Lloyd Jones.  Jones and his accomplices, Claude Fuller and Ernest Avants, drove out to the woods, stopped at a bridge and, just as White shouted, "Oh Lord, what have I done to deserve this?" they blew his head off. Neither Jones nor Fuller ever did any time for their crime. Avants was found guilty in 2003 (the murder occurred June 10, 1966) and died while serving a life sentence.

   U.S. Highway 61 runs parallel with the Mississippi River, linking the town of Natchez with Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Along the way in between lies Ferriday, the birthplace of the Silver Dollar Group (so called because upon joining each member received a silver dollar minted in the year of his birth), a group that rejected the Ku Klux Klan because they felt the Klan's actions against civil rights workers were not violent enough. According to FBI documents unearthed by students with the Louisiana State University Unsolved Civil Rights-Era Murder Project, the Silver Dollar Group was suspect in the car bombing of George Metcalfe as well as the murders of Frank Morris, Joe Edwards, and Wharlest Jackson. The latter gentleman, the treasurer of the local NAACP, was slain on February 27, 1967. The FBI files of the investigation point specifically to a man named Raleigh Jackson, a rubber tire worker the Feds believed was active in the Silver Dollar Group. Wharlest Jackson had been granted a promotion at his job, a promotion to a position heretofore reserved for Caucasians. One month after the promotion, Jackson was driving home from working overtime. He signaled left to turn onto the street he lived on. The turn signal was wired to a bomb. His wife, Exerlina, heard the explosion and says she knew that Wharlest had been killed. As of this writing, no one has been charged with the murder.

   The time it takes to drive from Natchez to Jackson, Mississippi is a little under two hours. But the distance in miles tells nothing useful about all the lives snuffed out over the years between the two violent Mississippi towns. And despite much romanticism in the years since the 1960s about the good vibes associated with campus demonstrations, the reality for students across the country--and especially in the south, most particularly in Jackson--was that being in the right place at the wrong instant could get you killed. 
   Benjamin Brown was only twenty-two when he was shot at Jackson State University on May 11, 1967. He died the following day. Though still a young man, Brown had recently married and was considering putting his days of civil rights activities behind him. He had taken a job as a truck driver to support himself and his wife. The day before he was shot, Brown witnessed frightening activity on campus as students protested against police presence at their school. To make matters worse, the State Highway Patrol and National Guard joined in the fray. Ultimately, officers of both the city and state fired into the crowd of demonstrators. One of the bystanders was Ben Brown. He was shot twice and died the next day.
    As mentioned, this killing took place in May 1967. As we are unfortunately becoming all too aware, justice isn't merely slow. It is often crippled and dying along the gutters of deserted streets. It was not until May of 2001--thirty-four years later--that a local county grand jury concluded that Brown had been shot as the result of actions by Jackson Police Captain Buddy Kane and Highway Patrolman Lloyd Jones. By that time, both men were dead. 

    South Carolina was also a dangerous place to be a college student in the late 1960s. Of all the senseless murders that have stained the soil of southern towns, perhaps the most egregious fact is how those killings have failed to permeate the awareness of most of America, especially when the victims are African-American. I am willing to wager that you, Dear Reader, know your share of history, that you have heard or read or seen footage of the Nation Guard murders of four white students at Kent State in Ohio on May 4, 1970. I would not be at all surprised if you told me you knew about what happened ten days later when police opened fire at Jackson State in Mississippi, killing two students, Phillip Gibbs and James Earl Green. But I would bet the key to my front door that you do not know the details of what became known as the Orangeburg Massacre. 
   The town of Orangeburg is near the South Carolina State University. In February 1968, some of the students at the college decided to integrate the All Star Bowling Lane, a bowling alley operated by a Mr. Harry Floyd. The students asked Floyd to allow black people to bowl there. Floyd declined. The students left, but when they returned they found the local police waiting for them. The police there did not much appreciate the call for integration. The students did not care much for uniformed hoodlums. Unpleasant words were exchanged. The cops swung their billy clubs, sending eight students to the hospital. 
   If you are in law enforcement and it is your goal to politicize a college population, then by all means beat the hell out of some of those students, especially the women. You will be surprised at the result. In this case, two hundred students took over the campus, throwing firebombs, rocks and bricks. In keeping with the practice of doing everything wrong that there was to do, a police officer thought it would be a good idea to fire some warning shots into the air. Unfortunately, the other sixty-five state troopers assumed the shots were coming from the students. Nine of these troopers later admitted to firing into the crowd of fleeing students. That's right. The students heard the shots too. They fled. The troopers fired into a fleeing crowd. Two college students, Samuel Hammond and Henry Smith, died from their wounds. A local high school student named Delano Middleton also died. 
   The federal government brought the nine law enforcement officers to trial for "using excessive force" and "imposing summary punishment without due process of law." Thirty-six witnesses testified that no students at the riot fired or possessed any weapons. No guns were ever found on the campus. Nevertheless, after the jury deliberated for two hours, they acquitted the nine officers. 
   Cleveland Sellers, the national program director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a young man who was injured during the shootings, was arrested and convicted of having started the riot. In 1993 he received a full pardon for this stupid sentence. 

   Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Although a loser named James Earl Ray went to prison for the murder, a jury in the Circuit Court of Shelby County Tennessee on December 8, 1999, reached a unanimous verdict that "agencies of the United States government were responsible for the murder of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr." 
   Since you probably have not heard much about that either, we will pick up there next time. Until then, keep an eye on the open sky and a fire burning in your heart. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

RIGHT WING MONOPOLY

   The day is Easter, 2014, as I write this. On the TV news, some sociopathic tribe called the Genesis Project is trying to build a Noah's Ark Theme Park, Hilary Clinton still remains a former board member at Wal-Mart, and no one's getting fat except Mama Cass. Last time out, we toured the second part of domestic right wing terrorist attacks against Americans. We pick up now where we left off then. Ask a lot of people who was it died during the civil rights movement and you'll probably get the answers Emmett Till, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King. But there were many more. Some were black, some were white. Some male, some female. Some old. Some young. All now dead.
    Washington Parish in Louisiana had never had black deputy sheriffs before Oneal Moore and Creed Rogers were appointed in 1964. Precisely one year and a day after they took on their duties, three men inside a pick up truck with a Confederate flag on the bumper approached the deputies' car and fired into the vehicle. Moore died instantly. Rogers was permanently blinded in one eye. The probable instigator, Ernest McElveen, was never brought to trial. Neither was anyone else, despite a $40,000 reward.
    If you ever get a chance to go back in time, my advice is to avoid Anniston, Alabama in the 1960s. On Mothers Day 1961, states' rights paranoiacs banded together to firebomb an integrated bus carrying Freedom Riders. As the inside of the bus burned, the Nazis held the doors shut so no one could escape. When the bus' fuel tank exploded, the terrorists backed off and the Riders deboarded. The mob beat the Riders and planned to lynch them, the plan only being derailed by highway patrolmen firing shots into the air to scare the coward hoodlums. Four years later, the Klan group held what can only be called an anti-civil-rights rally, after which one of their members, Damon Strange, took the others up on the offer to shoot and kill a black person at random. His target was Willie Brewster. A hefty reward encouraged Jimmie Knight to testify at trial that the shooter had been Strange. Today the town is noteworthy for the chemical toxins provided by Monsanto.
   A month after the murder of Willie Brewster, Death shook its fists in another Alabama town. A white seminary student named Jonathan Daniels joined twenty-eight other protesters in demonstrating against whites-only stores in the burg of Fort Deposit. All twenty-nine people were arrested. All were released six days later. Feeling a bit thirsty, four of the group, including Daniels, went to a local store for a soda pop. An unpaid "special deputy" named Tom Coleman, blocked their entrance. As the crazed gunman prepared to shoot Ruby Sales, Daniels pushed her out of the way and took the bullet himself. 
   Coleman was charged with only manslaughter and was acquitted by an all-white all-too-common jury.
   Navy man and Tuskegee Institute (Alabama) Sammy Younge was shot and killed on January 3, 1966 for trying to use an all-whites bathroom at a gas station. The attendant, Marvin Segrest, fired the shot, but it was Alabama's whites-only jury system that killed Younge. Segrest never did time for his crime. 
   The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution may have given African-Americans the right to vote, but that did not stop certain state officials throughout the country from a particularly onerous form of voter suppression. Today Republicans enjoy using indirect disenfranchisement against black potential voters. In the years after the Civil War, Democrats used direct disenfranchisement, usually threats of violence, actual violence, intimidation and something known as a poll tax. In 1937, the Supreme Court ruled that poll taxes were not unConstitutional because it was a "legitimate" means of raising revenue. This stupid ruling was theoretically undone by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment, ratified as it was on January 23, 1964. Unfortunately, that new law applied only to federal elections. Southern states continued to charge people they didn't like one to two dollars a pop for the privilege of voting. 
   As president of the Forrest County (Mississippi) NAACP, Vernon Dahmer was accustomed to leading voter registration drives. Being the owner of a grocery store, cotton mill, and other enterprises, Dahmer had the means to pull off a brilliant challenge to the local political hegemony. He offered to pay the poll tax for all disenfranchised Hattiesburg African-Americans. That offer did not sit well with the local KKK. On the night of January 10, 1966, Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers and thirteen accomplices firebombed Dahmer's house. As Vernon's wife and kids ran out of the house, the Klansmen fired shots at them. Vernon fired back from inside the house. He died from the burns. Four men were convicted (including Bowers' body guard), but the Imperial Wizard did not do time until 1998. He died in prison.
   Happy Easter. Let's try to avoid creating any more martyrs, shall we?

Friday, April 18, 2014

BRUTAL MURDERS SPARK PROGRESSIVE REFORM

   During our last visit, we talked about right wing terrorist attacks in the United States from 1955 through 1964. That in many ways awful stretch of time in this country branched across the two major political parties holding executive power. The commonality was rule of law, or many people's objections and rejections of those federally mandated laws that required an end to segregation in schools, housing, interstate transportation and elsewhere. Then as now, some people in both the south and the north, the east and the west, chose to believe that they themselves were somehow exempt from that thing known as the United States Government. Without exception, the perpetrators of right wing hate crimes select for themselves which laws to follow and which to reject. Then as now, those people tend to disconnect themselves from any type of foreign influence, even if they brought that influence upon themselves, either in the form of slavery (in the case of African-Americans) or cheap labor (as in the case of emigrating Mexicans). These types of right wing ideologues believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that might makes right, that terrorist acts they commit are in the name of freedom while similar acts carried out by others are seditious, and most of all that they shouldn't have to pay for anything that supports a federal or state system to which they are opposed. In Europe such people are called Nazis. In the United States, they are called Militia, Minutemen, Sovereign Citizens, The Order, The Klan, Skinheads, or American Nazis. 
   What follows is the second installment in the history of their behavior. It is a history written in the innocent blood of their victims.
   On the night of March 23, 1964, four white men drove the streets of Jacksonville, Florida, listening to reports on their car radio about the so-called race riots that had been happening in their town over the prior two days. It was to her misfortune that a thirty-five-year-old black woman named Johnnie Mae Chappell was out with two of her neighbors looking along the roadside for a wallet she had lost earlier in the day. The four men--incensed with rage over the news reports--had been looking for a black person to murder. They chose Johnnie Chappell. The gunman, J. W. Rich, fired one shot, striking Chappell in the stomach. She died in route to the hospital.
   Six months after the murder, detectives arrested Rich and his three accomplices--Elmer Cato, James Davis and Wayne Chessman. After the murder weapon disappeared from police custody, all four men were released. No one was ever prosecuted for the killing.
   Later that summer, while authorities in Mississippi looked for the bodies of three missing civil rights workers, they discovered the bodies of two African-American nineteen-year-olds: Henry Dee and Charles Moore. Although the search for the three civil rights workers dominated both local and national news, what had happened to the two teenagers remained powerful and disturbing. A Klansman named James Seale had convinced himself that his two victims, Dee and Moore, had planned to provide weaponry to local black people. With assistance from unknown cohorts, Seale dragged the two young men to a forest near Meadville, Mississippi, tortured them, and eventually chained them to a car motor and train tracks and dropped them into the Mississippi River. The bodies of the young men were not found for two and a half months. It was not until the summer of 2007 that James Seale was convicted of the murder and sentenced to three life sentences. 
   As the reader may have intuited, the aforementioned search for three civil rights workers refers to three murdered men named James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. The three members of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) decided to spend their summer working on black voter registration in Mississippi. On Memorial Day of 1964, Schwerner and Chaney delivered speeches at the Mount Zion Methodist Church in Longdale, Mississippi. Three weeks later, some members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan burned down the church in retaliation. On June 21, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner decided to leave the town of Meridian to return to Longdale to check out the situation. They never made it back.
   As the three men entered the town of Philadelphia, Mississippi, they blew a tire. Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price came to their rescue and arrested Chaney for speeding. The other two men were held for questioning. What the three of them could not have realized was the endemic nature of evil that permeated much of the south and certainly much of Mississippi. The people who would eventually destroy them were themselves members of law enforcement, former servicemen, local businessmen, and proud fathers and sons of the Confederacy. The murderers were also proud members of the White Knights. 
   Deputy Sheriff Price released the three men around ten o'clock that evening. Price followed the men and eventually pulled them over again near the town of Union. From there the three were hauled to the aptly named Rock Cut Road. It was there that a dishonorably discharged Marine named Alton Roberts and another local loser named James Jordan shot and killed the three men. Their several cohorts burned the CORE station wagon and buried the three in a dam. 
    Also involved in the conspiracy to murder Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, mobile home dealer Bernard Akin, Philadelphia police officer Other Burkes, trucking company owner and former Marine Olen Burrage, Baptist preacher Edgar Killen, drive-in theater owner Frank Herndon, White Knights "intelligence" officer James Harris, grocery store owner Oliver Warner, building contractor Herman Tucker, former Navy man Samuel Bowers, Meridian garage owner Travis Barnette, his brother Horace, pulp wood house manager Jerry Sharpe, automobile mechanic William Posey, and high school dropout James Townsend
   The state of Mississippi declined to prosecute anyone for the murders, so the U.S. Justice Department stepped in. Seven of these eighteen men were convicted of the murders. None of them served more than six years in prison. 
   Not among those originally convicted was the preacher Edgar Killen, the man who actually planned and orchestrated the murders. It was not until June 2005, at which time Killen was eighty-years-old, that a Mississippi jury convicted the old bastard of three counts of manslaughter. He was sentenced to three consecutive terms of twenty years each.
   The South sowed its share of blood that summer of 1964. Three Army Reserve Officers were driving back to Washington D.C. when they were spotted by three members of the United Klans of America. As the Klansmen's car pulled up alongside that of the Army Reserve Officers, two of the Klansmen fired into the car, killing World War II veteran Lemuel Penn. The apparent motive for the crime was the passage, nine days earlier, of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two of the three men eventually served six years in federal prison. 
   The Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed in no small measure as a presumably unintended result of yet another racially motivated homicide. Alabama State Trooper James Fowler was involved in trying to break up a civil rights demonstration in the city of Marion. The march had begun at the Zion United Methodist Church. When the police arrived, many protesters scattered. Several tried to hide inside a local business called Mack's Cafe. Among those seeking refuge were Jimmie Lee Jackson, his mother and eighty-two-year-old grandfather. When the troopers burst into the cafe, they tried to beat the mother and grandfather. Jimmie Lee put his body between the law and his family. Fowler shot Mr. Jackson in the stomach. Jimmie Jackson died from the assault several days later. His demise led to the famous march from Selma to Montgomery. Selma Sheriff Jim Clark ordered his deputies to stop the march. The deputies complied by using tear gas, batons and bull whips. This was televised on two of the national news programs. 
   Four days after he watched this horror unfold on the evening news, Reverend James Reeb, a Unitarian minister, heeded the call and flew to Selma. While dining in an integrated restaurant, Reeb looked up to find himself surrounded by killers. Reverend Reeb was clubbed against the head. He died from his injuries. Three of the four men involved in the murder were acquitted by an all-white jury. The fourth fled the state and was never prosecuted. 
    Another Unitarian, this time a parishioner named Viola Liuzzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, likewise responded to the hideous treatment of marchers in Selma. After seeing the beatings on TV, she phoned her husband and told him she was going to Selma because "This is everybody's fight." Mrs Liuzzo was driving marchers from Montgomery back to Selma on March 25, 1965, when one car tried to run her off the road. Seconds later another car pulled alongside hers. Inside the car sat four Klansmen. They fired into Viola's automobile. Two bullets struck her in the head. Her death was instantaneous. 
   Less than two weeks later, some unknown person or persons burned a cross on her front lawn back in Detroit. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, no fan of black Americans, created a campaign to posthumously smear Liuzzo as a promiscuous drug addict. Indeed, she was neither. But Hoover did like to wear women's underwear.
   That is about all I can stomach for this evening. I suspect, Dear Reader, that you follow the point of these articles is not only to ensure the historical imperative of the brave men, women and children who fell at the hands of states' rights-loving crypto militiamen. The point is to also remind us all that a very real, ominous and ongoing element in our great country seeks to do whatever it feels it must to bring back the imagined halcyon days of servitude. When young and old alike decry modern times and yearn for the days when the Confederate flag waved outside the lawn of Jefferson Davis' homestead, these lunatics are following in the footsteps of not only the men who murdered Martin Luther King, but also in the same steps as the killers in Oklahoma City and elsewhere in these days of modern times.
    See you next time, if we get there alive.
      


   

Thursday, April 17, 2014

HISTORY OF RIGHT WING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

   Before getting into the specifics, it is only fair to suggest that those of you who are presently clad in pseudo-para-military apparel disrobe, roll your strange clothing into a thin plastic tube, place the tube into the backseat of a 1957 Buick four-door, and drive the automobile in question up your own asses.
   The subject, as you may have guessed, is idiot right wing violence and terrorism. For many people, the stench of crypto-fascist actions began in Ruby Ridge with the shooting deaths of Vicki and Sammy Weaver and U.S. Marshal Bill Degan. Others place the impetus as the machine gun murder of Denver disc jockey Alan Berg by members of a neo-Nazi group called The Order. While I suppose the originating reference point may remain a matter of opinion, I would place the rise of contemporary right wing violence as far back as 1955, in a relatively uninterrupted flow of blood and gore. Some periods of lessening have occurred and those will be noted.
    As the first African American to register to vote in modern Mississippi history, the Reverend George W. Lee did not know much in the way of fear. He co-founded the Belzoni, Mississippi chapter of the NAACP and stood up to the notorious White Citizens Council by taking them to court when they attempted to purge registered blacks from voter roles. The Reverend was a gifted speaker and in April 1955, he drew a crowd of seven thousand to the all-black town of Mount Bayou where he railed against the actions of the White Citizens Council.
   A month later, on May 7, 1955, a convertible pulled up alongside Reverend Lee's car and someone in that convertible fired three shots, at least one of which killed George Lee. Although charges have never been brought against the murderer(s), the case did serve to politicize a young local activist named Medgar Evers, later a field secretary for the NAACP. Evers himself would be murdered in June 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens Council.
    In August of that same year, at the age of sixty-three, a farmer and war veteran named Lamar Smith was registering African Americans in Brookhaven, Mississippi so they could vote with absentee ballots and thereby avoid the brutality of showing up in person at the polls when, in front of dozens of white Mississippi witnesses and in broad daylight, Mr. Smith was gunned down in front of the local court house. None of the witnesses agreed to testify or identify the suspected shooter or shooters. Ultimately, three men were arrested for the murder, but the grand jury refused to return an indictment.
   Just two weeks later, also in Mississippi, this time in a town called Money, a fourteen-year-old boy named Emmett Till, in town on vacation from Chicago, made the apparent mistake of speaking to a white woman, in this case, twenty-one-year-old Carolyn Bryant. Carolyn's husband Roy had something of a temper, so he enlisted his half-brother J. W. Milam to help him even the score. Three nights later they found Till sleeping at an uncle's. They dragged him from his bed, took him into a barn, gouged out one of his eyes, beat him to death and then shot him through the head, after which they dumped his body into a bag, weighed the bag down with farm equipment and barbed wire which they strung around his neck, and threw him into the Tallahatchie River. His two killers were naturally acquitted of the crime, yet within only two months they were boasting of their deeds in Look magazine. 
  Another black teenager to be murdered in the south by racists was sixteen-year-old John Earl Reese. Reese and two cousins, Joyce and Johnnie Nelson, were dancing in the Hughes Cafe in Mayflower, Texas, when two men, outraged over the idea of white and black children attending the same schools together, decided to make a political statement. Joe Simpson and Perry Ross drove by the cafe while Ross aimed a gun out the window of their car and fired nine rounds into the cafe. Both cousins were wounded. John Reese was killed. Although both men confessed their guilt at trial, Simpson's indictment was dismissed, while Ross received a five year suspended sentence.
   In April 1957, the body of an African-American man, later identified as Willie Edwards Jr., washed up on the shores of the Alabama River, not far from Montgomery. He had been murdered three months earlier by four members of the Ku Klux Klan. On the night of January 23, 1957, the Klansmen mistook Edwards for a black man they believed had been sleeping with a white woman. The men beat Willie Edwards before taking him to a bridge over the Alabama River. Holding a gun on the man, they ordered him to jump. He fell 125 feet to his death. Twenty-three years later, the Alabama State Attorney General brought charges against the four men, but a judge promptly dismissed the charges. The case was reopened once again in 1997, but the Montgomery County grand jury declined to indict anyone for the crime. 
   Herbert Lee was killed in September 1961 by a Mississippi State Legislator named E. M. Hurst. Mr Lee had been a member of the NAACP and had been helping members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) to register voters in Mississippi. Outside a cotton gin in the ironically named town of Liberty, Representative Hurst shot Lee to death in from of a dozen witnesses. Even though Lee was described as a small man and Hurst stood six-three and weighed 300 pounds, the coroner accepted the story that Hurst had acted in self-defense. One of the witnesses, Louis Allen, admitted to the FBI that he had lied to the coroner and that Hurst had indeed shot Lee without provocation. For his honesty, Mr. Allen was shot three times while standing on his own front lawn.
    In the early 1960s, many young people from all over the United States came together to test the enforcement of two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court mandating that segregation of interstate buses was unconstitutional. These young people knew that they were putting their safety and even their lives at risk at the hands of angry segregationists. And indeed, mob violence was not only common, in many cases it was met with the active support of people such as Bull Connor, the Birmingham, Alabama police commissioner and friend of the KKK. Horrible attacks by white citizens groups occurred in Anniston, Birmingham, Montgomery, and of course in Mississippi. In the Mississippi town of Taylorsville, on April 9, 1962, Police Officer William Kelly murdered Military Police Officer Corporal Roman Ducksworth when the latter gentleman refused to move to the back of the bus on which he was traveling. Local wisdom at the time held that the cop mistook Ducksworth for a Freedom Rider. The murder was ruled a justifiable homicide.
   As we learn in our history books, a brave young man named James Meredith was the first black student admitted to the then-segregated University of Mississippi. Part of Merediths motivation was to get an education. Part of it, he admitted, was to pressure the Kennedy Administration to enforce desegregation laws. While covering the riots against Meredith's admission, a French journalist named Paul Guihard was shot in the back at point blank range. Guihard, in his final dispatch, wrote that in Mississippi, the Civil War had never ended. He was perhaps more prescient than he himself realized. As recently as 2014, some idiot frat boys at ole Miss tied a rope around the statue of James Meredith and draped over the statue a Georgia state flag. 
   In April 1963, a postman and member of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) launched a one-man protest march from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. The postman, William Lewis Moore, intended to hand deliver to the governor a letter he had written encouraging the governor to accept racial integration. Postman Moore did not live to deliver his missive. Near Attila, Alabama, Moore was found dead of two head shots from a gun that belonged to a man named Floyd Simpson. Moore had been in a verbal argument with Simpson earlier that same day. Despite this, charges have never been brought against anyone for this murder. 
   In June of that same year, Medgar Evers was gunned down by Byron De La Beckwith. Beckwith was not convicted of his crime until February 5, 1994.
   Then, of course, there were the four little girls. Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were killed when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. The church itself was famous locally as a meeting place for civil rights workers such as Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy. It was also a frequent meeting place for members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and CORE. Twenty-six children were walking into the church basement on the morning of September 15, 1963, when the dynamite bomb exploded. Twenty-two of the children were injured. The other four died. It was fourteen years later before anyone was ever convicted of this horrible crime. Robert Chambliss was convicted in November 1977. Twenty-three years after that, in May 2000, the FBI finally announced that three other men had been involved in the killings. One of those men was already dead, but the other two, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry, were soon tried and convicted. 
    God knows the right wing violence did not stop with the death of those four little girls. In our next report, we will delve further into the history of extremist violence in America.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

LIKE A SIMILE

 Moderator: That brings us to our greatest challenge in more than a decade, to wit, devising the proper comparison between the search for missing Malaysian airliner and something that has absolutely nothing to do with that very thing.

Avery: Point of order.

Moderator: The Moderator recognizes Madame Avery of the Oceanic Metaphoric Society.

Avery: Thank you. 

Moderator: We now turn to--

Avery: Actually, I was going to say something.

Moderator: Of course.

Avery: The current milieu reminds one not so much of trying to locate a needle in the proverbial haystack as rather attempting to locate a solitary blade of grass at Forest Lawn.

Bovary: I say!

Moderator: Madame Bovary?

Bovary: Our contingent prefers to think of this arduous search as sharing a likeness with looking for a Boeing 777 at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Moderator: Duly noted, with the exception that one cannot create a simile of the original issue.

Bovary: No longer?

Moderator: Not since the passage of time, no.

Culinary: Moderator? I must speak up. The search is vastly more akin to peaking through the door latch on the first floor and trying to find your grandmothers dentures inside a locked crate in the attack of a neighbor's house. 

Avery: You pusillanimous pup. Sir, it is more like gazing into the night sky through the eye of a needle from the surface of Pluto and hoping to observe Christopher Columbus landing at Honduras.

Bovary: Lloyds of London! One may as well listen for a B-Flat in all the works of Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms being played simultaneously on a kazoo.

Culinary: Only if you refuse to recognize the superiority of conceptualizing the propriety of singling out one uncapitalized arabic letter amid all the letters in all the words in all the sentences in all the books ever written.

Moderator: But as to the people aboard?

Avery: Have we finished trivializing their plight?

Moderator: I don't know. I suspect we were hoping to divert attention from their unhappy fate by highlighting our own superior elucidations. 

Bovary: Really! Sentiment in a time of crisis? That sounds very much like a fool's errand.

Culinary: More akin to a moron's task.

Avery: I was thinking an imbecile's vocation.

Moderator: Stop it.

Avery: This is our job, after all.

Moderator: A stupid job.

Bovary: Like trying to affix meaning to an illusion.

Avery: Polident to dentures.

Culinary: A carburetor to a row boat.

Moderator: Shut up! Oh, hell. I might as well ask a donkey not to bray.

Avery: Hackneyed.  

Bovary: It would be strange if this meeting itself were an allegory.

Culinary: No chance of that.



Thursday, April 10, 2014

WHAT I DID DURING MY HUMAN EPIDEMIC

   Last October I decided to take an uncharacteristically conscientious approach to my health. I visited my local pharmacy to roll up my sleeves and accepted a preventive shot for both influenza and pneumonia. The idea of doing this was to teach those nasty things a lesson. I would get myself immunized and the dreaded sickness legions would either die or seek refuge within the head and lungs of some other poor fool.
   The good news is that I contracted neither the flu nor pneumonia. The bad news is that I have had something that resembles a vicious allergy for about six months now and the time has come for it to vamoose. Sneezing and coughing are only the tip of it. The facial pain associated with whatever this was prompted me to visit the same pharmacy's handy dandy sixty-second cure or whatever it's called. The "physician's assistant" who examined me remarked that I had somehow developed a vile and treacherous infection that must be dealt with in the harshest and most severe of ways. As it happens, harsh and severe meant antibiotics, some nasal spray and a variety of steroids. Two hundred dollars later, I returned home and loaded up. Antibiotics tend to grow large in these parts. Getting them down the ole gullet wasn't much fun. Still, I took them all, along with the steroids and the spray. Sure enough, the pain in my face left for a  more hospitable locale. The coughing and sneezing, however, have been tag-teaming me like something from the WWE ever since. I awaken twice each night, cough more of my precious brain cells down the sink, blow my nose with all the enthusiasm of an amphetamine-taking tuba player, ingest yet more Benadryl and fall back asleep. During the day I am so horribly medicated that were I called upon to perform a math equation that involved any type of division, I should certainly find that my skull had imploded. 
   Now the theory is that the cause of my discomfort is actually allergies. The idea makes a certain sense. When I was but a wee frock of a lad, I used to take allergy shots once every two weeks. By the time I left home, my need for such hypodermics had passed. I assumed I had grown out of my allergies. 
   Perhaps not.
   And I may not be alone.
   Roughly half of the people with whom I am in routine contact have mentioned that they have been suffering too. Sneezing and coughing, coughing and sneezing, all day and all of the night. 
   Marlene Cimons, a writer for Climate Nexus, believes she has the answer. In an article appearing in The Huffington Post on March 31, 2013--that's last year--she wrote: "The planet is getting warmer, and human behavior is responsible. The changing climate has brought early spring, late-ending fall, and large amounts of rain and snow. All of that, combined with historically high levels of carbon dioxide in the air, nourishes the trees and plants that make pollen, and encourages more fungal growth, such as mold, and the release of spores."
   That more or less frosts my bowl of flakes. It's one thing to understand that in my life-time, my home state of Ohio will become the next Palm Springs. It is quite another thing indeed to mull over the likelihood that we have brought the mess of our current respiratory maladies onto ourselves. But the evidence is not only persuasive; it is conclusive. Over the last thirty years, we have been experiencing hotter summers, more severe winters, and abbreviated springs and autumns. The unusual excess precipitation in the winter makes for better growing during the spring. April showers bring May flowers? They certainly bring a heavy load of pollen and other common allergens.
   The worst cities in the United States for allergies this year, according to The Weather Channel, are:
1. Louisville, Kentucky.
2. Memphis, Tennessee
3. Baton Rouge, Louisiana
4. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
5. Jackson, Mississippi
6. Chattanooga, Tennessee
7. Dallas, Texas
8. Richmond, Virginia
9. Birmingham, Alabama
10. McAllen, Texas 
   The Weather Channel, incidentally, received their information from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

   I'm not altogether certain what we can conclude from this list. Six of the cities are what I would call either midwestern or eastern and three of the cities are in Texas. I grew up in the midwest. I wouldn't live in Texas (except for Austin) even if they gave me the entire state.
   What to do? I suppose it might be a good idea to steer clear of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning power plants and gasoline-powered cars, cattle farts (on the increase due to the demand for meat), deforestation, and chemical fertilizers. What these aspects of modern civilization have brought us includes worldwide rise in sea levels, more killer storms (Sandy and Katrina come to mind), massive crops failures, extinction of many species of life, and the disappearance of the coral reefs. That's not the opinion of some commie-symp agitator. That's freaking NASA talking. Somehow I doubt they're blowing that particular whistle just because their duties have been scaled back. 
   It may turn out that what I have is not allergies at all. I may have some form of cancer or tuberculous or even foot in mouth disease. If you have the time, I'd appreciate hearing from any of you who have noticed a prolonged cough and sneeze problem any time over the last six months or so. Just leave a comment below, please. Til next time--hack spit rackle choo! Sorry. I was going to say take care.


    
   

Monday, April 7, 2014

UNIVERSAL UNDERSTANDING

   Being a rather lazy species, we humans crave universal rules for everything, mainly because it saves us the labor of thinking for ourselves. And while it may be true that at this point in humanity's devolution, there is no longer such a thing as a new idea, that should not keep us from digging up some good old ones and passing them off as our own. 
   One of the King Daddy-o's of pre-existentialist thought--hang on, now, don't give up on this already!--was a cool swinging cat name of Immanuel Kant. Dude had a lot to make up for, what with his name making him sound like a bit of a sissy, so he developed something called a Categorical Imperative. He applied this Universal Truth serum to morality and he ended up with three very simple rules.

1. Behave only in ways that would make you happy if everyone else was doing the same thing, including doing it to you. ( "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.")
2. Treat other human beings as both means and ends, never exclusively as one or the other. ("Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.")
3. The idea that something is moral or right means that any corollaries derived from the above two rules result in harmony. ("All maxims as proceeding from our own [hypothetical] making of law ought to harmonise with a possible kingdom of ends.")

   Number three is quite the bitch, I'll grant you. 

   In any event, talk has been circulating of late about whether we can ever know right from wrong. Gray is a popular moral color at the moment. However, I'm here to at least try to sort through the muck and separate wheat from chaff. Don't worry. This comes free of charge.

1. Government should only exist to protect human beings from one another. Note that the above sentence is more complex than it may at first appear.
2. Since most governments will not follow rule number one, authority has no bearing whatsoever on morality.
3.  Many people fail to appreciate the things that are of true value in life.

   Please do not conclude from all this that I am any sort of libertarian. I want a big government breathing down the necks of industry so far that the CEOs can't find their own feet. I also want a government that is benevolent toward the powerless, one that clothes the naked, heels the sick, and houses the homeless. In other words, I crave a government that actually is people--people operating in a decentralized manner in a spirit of balancing needs and resources. If I had to pick between equality and liberty, I would select the former, even though I've never found the two to be mutually exclusive.

4. Pay people what they are worth. Your interest in profit does not trump their interest in survival.
5. Keep your savior out of your neighbor's uterus.
6. The best way to get your point across is to set a good example. Preaching (which is probably what I am doing here) is mostly anemic without visible actions to back it up.
7. The best things in life may not be free, but they come cheap. Time with friends, the sound of children giggling, the sigh of a poet after reading something he/she has written, the purr of kittens, the upturned belly of a dog, rain on a tin roof, the smell of marsh mellows--I could go on. These and millions of other things, if we only allow them to sink in, can provide lifetimes of joy, rather than merely distract us from the monotony of the rest of our lives. 

   We're only here once--as far as we really know. Wouldn't it be nice to look back during those last ten minutes of life and remember how you felt the first time your most important person smiled at you, or the time you first tasted lemonade, or the first time you heard someone's child laugh? I'll take those things over a balance sheet any time. 
    At one brief point in my own life, I had a tremendous amount of money. If there can be such a thing as too much money, that is precisely how much I had. It was far and away the most excessively superficial period of my life. Nothing of any value whatsoever happened during those very ugly nine months. My stupid experience does not mean we can generalize my case to the rest of the world. On the other hand, what good are experiences if we do not learn life lessons from them? 
   What I need--and possibly what you need--are the things that meant a lot to you when you didn't know what they were. When your basic needs were supplied by others, you probably didn't put much thought to them. As you became an adult, you probably began to fend for yourself and basic survival may have become a real struggle sometimes. The shelter, the food, the clothes and the warmth of your childhood took on an entirely different degree of emphasis. Then after a while, you found someone you thought would share your burdens as well as your celebrations. If you were with the right person, you were happy more often than frustrated. But for those of us of a certain age--an age which differs from one person to another--we may begin to reevaluate the importance of the things that feel right or appropriate. We may even start to recognize that some of the things we claim we need are in reality confounding us by reinforcing the needs they frustrate. A certain alienation sets in and to cope with it, we might make the mistake of consuming things that in turn further our alienation. Drugs will do that, but so will addictions to television, luxury items, or even sex. 
   As I sort of imply things here about myself, I fear this article may be sounding too precious. I hope not, because the point is too important to lose in the fumes of my own ego, even if I express it in an awkward way. That said, let's return to Kant for a moment. When the poor guy was all of seventy-three years old, some wisenheimer challenged him by saying, in effect, "Since you are arguing that people should always tell the truth, what would you do if a man bent on murder asked you the location of his intended victim?"
   Kant, trying to be consistent, replied that the proper thing to do would be to tell the truth, whereupon most of his friends changed the locks on their front doors. Personally, my answer to the question would have been to supply the address of the nearest police station. But I still have a sense of humor, while Kant, despite serving up a mighty fine fondue, never really was the life of the party.
   Truth is overrated anyway. We live in a time that virtually suffocates amid the smoggy profusion of truth. I am not advocating ignorance and I'm not praising self-delusion. What I am calling out is that the stark nature of truth--especially capital T Truth--is often so far removed from its presumed synonym Beauty as to lead anyone who beheld such a thing to run screaming from any room that displayed it. What is in very short supply is actually something called Understanding. I intend that word in the sense of both comprehension and empathy. One may have the information that clues in on every synapse of the human brain, for instance, but without exerting the effort to understand the very real thoughts and feelings that come spilling from those processes, the truth of the matter is very much wasted. In other words, I'll take a supposedly uneducated person who cares about how I feel over a truckload who claim to know why
   Some of the awkwardness in my delivery of all this stems from the fact that I am still reeling from a fantasy I had earlier tonight. I imagined that my greatest friends from all the years of my life were together at the same large table, drinking coffee and talking to one another. Maybe some nice music is playing in the background. I don't even necessarily need to be sitting at that imaginary table. Somehow just knowing they were all together talking about their lives and listening to one another--well, at this moment, that may very much be one of those things that is of incalculable value in life. I'll take that over money any day.
Universal Understanding

Sunday, April 6, 2014

CHICK BOOKS

   It may sound like a variation on an old Kinky Friedman song, but the first time I discovered the works of Chick Publications, it was while I was tending to business in a public boys room. The tract was lying on the floor, so I picked it up, read it, learned I was on the highway to hell, burning up the road, I had the devil in my cigarette lighter and didn't need no battery, I had the devil in my heart, but only because I was too young to drive.
   The Jack Thomas Chick empire, it must be admitted, does not vacillate. They make their opinions known and there has been no deviation, probably because they believe such a policy to be perverse. For more than fifty years, Chick has been trying to scare the hell of out of little kids while deliberately alienating and outright insulting Catholics, Muslims, Mormons, Freemasons, Ecumenicalists, gays, evolutionists, and people who would translate the King James version of the Bible. 
   I have not given Chick Publications much recent consideration. But this morning, outside a grocery, as I disgorged my weary self from the vehicle, I was greeted by a not unattractive teenage girl who said something to me very quickly that I could not understand and then begged me to accept a small comic book entitled Things to Come? 
   As with all Chick booklets, this one tells a story. In this case, an apparent fortune teller--perhaps a Gypsy, but certainly a misguided soul--is being pressured by a son or daughter--these days it's so hard to tell the difference--into getting to the truth. Okay, says the mama. I'll go see Mr. Rogers. He knows the story.
   The mama tells Rogers that she is a good Roman Catholic. Rogers responds that Jesus hates the Vatican and refers to the city as "The great whore." To my surprise, the Pope himself is in actuality The Beast, as in the antiChrist, that nasty world leader who will attempt to destroy Israel once the rapture has occurred. The rapture? Yeah, otherwise known as the great space alien capture, which rhymes with rapture, wherein those living and deceased souls who were (needless to say) none of the above heretics but rather were those who had been saved and therefore ascended to heaven where the very hateful Jesus is waiting with your very own monogrammed harp and wing-set--that rapture, buddy. 
   That is a fair assessment of the Chick books themes. 
   The titles of these tracts tell much of the story: Allah Had No Son, Are Roman Catholics Christians?, Bewitched, Gomez is Coming (said title revealing more about Gomez than I personally care to know), Love the Jewish People, and The Poor Revolutionist leap unbidden to mind. 
    As Chick himself would be happy to tell you, I'm no saint myself. I have been known to pass extraordinarily insensitive and frequently uninformed remarks about Mormons, Halloween, and other distractions. When I am annoyed with something, I am not above taking the cheapest of shots. In my own defense, however, I should add that I do not recall having ever argued that anyone who disagrees with me is going to hell forever. 
   The only other area in which Chick and I match up is in appreciation of the King James Version of the Bible. Commissioned by King James I, the Hampton Court translated the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament from Greek, and highly reflected the Puritan-influenced views of the Church of England. The result was the King James Version. Granted, that version occasionally placed emphasis in the wrong places (such as Christ's reference to a rich man having as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel does passing through the eye of a needle, the emphasis giving the reader the opinion that rich people won't make it in, whereas the real story was that the eye of the needle was a gate of Jerusalem through which a camel and his passenger could only enter once they had removed their treasures, leaving the parable to mean not that the rich can't get it but that they cannot take wealth with them), but it remains a magnificent series of stories which not only offer frequently good advice but which also sparkle with the language of Shakespeare, who did not write it, regardless of what it says in Psalm 46. I've always resisted attempts to contemporize the Jimmy Version on literary grounds. I enjoy the ambiguities, the plot twists, the deus ex machina. Did the story not begin "In the beginning," it would rival the finest Greek tragedies, most of which stuck to the theory of en medias res (beginning in the middle). 
    In any case, the comics themselves do a vast disservice to the world at large, primarily because they run so contrary to the general benevolence of most comic books of my generation. Superman, whose story was very much a Christ allegory, didn't beat up homosexuals, although he did occasionally race bait by referring to Asian Nazis as Japs. Wonder Woman was the first female feminist to be celebrated in comic books. And many of the Marvel group heroes (and some from DC) were genuine freaks, whether it was the mutant Hulk, X-Men, or The Fantastic Four. I'm not saying The Silver Surfer grew up in Gomorrah, but he sure was different, huh? Kids reading those marvelous comics felt different, too. It was nice imagining that when The Flash was a kid, that maybe other kids had picked on him, or that the Green Arrow's parents were judgmental. Those comics were inherently progressive (I remember an issue of The Brave & the Bold wherein Batman mused about the need for prison reform). To find a reactionary psychopath like Chick using that holy medium for the purposes of exclusion rather than inclusion is, to use the tract jargon, an abomination. 
   So I shoved the tract into my back pocket and did my shopping. When I returned home, I pulled the booklet out and there was the tale of the misguided Gypsy. Mr. Rogers tells her that after the aforementioned rapture, a new Pope will emerge in the Vatican, proclaiming himself the New Jesus. The leftover humans will worship him in his glory. The joke is on them, however, because this dude is The Beast, the guy who digs on 666, even though word of that number has been widely disseminated and you'd think people would realize that the admonition to bear that code would be a warning. The whole plot turns out to be a pre-ordained conspiracy for the struggle to possess our souls. If we refuse to wear the mark, we are beheaded. If we do wear it, Jesus sends us to hell. 
    Chick is ninety this year. His days, like future foreheads, are numbered. Yet his kingdom endures. 
   You have been warned (insert snicker). 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

M.C. ESCHER





Escher


   Most famous artists have an audience, or people who appreciate their work, admirers who gaze in wonder or who obsess over the technique or style of brushstrokes. Maurits Cornelis Escher, or M C Escher, has fans. Were he alive today, the name he used would lead people to assume he was some sort of rock star. But Escher did not deal in sound because sound, like the other senses, is littered with possibilities. M C Escher dealt in the impossible. The mobius strip, a snake eating its own tale, a tower the pinnacle of which everyone can see but no one can ever reach, waterfalls that pour up, perpetual motion--these are not merely mathematical improbabilities. These are ideas often borne in childhood imaginations. They are borne from What if, as in What if a strip of paper only had one side? What if everything in our universe was experienced literally? What if the space between the wings of birds contained an obverse reality? In Escher's recreation of the world, these things are not only possible, they are the norm. 
    What follows are some of the more popular of the more than 2,000 pieces Escher brought forth from an imagination as young as it was wise.

Escher
Escher
Escher
Escher
Escher
Escher




Get our toolbar!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR

   1976 was the year Graham Parker happened. And God did we need him. 
   On one side of the scope, the Bicentennial year was the last year the pop charts had such mad diversity mix of future dinosaur groups (Jefferson Starship, Steve Miller, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Aerosmith, Who, Queen), country-ish (Glen Campbell, Orleans, C.W. McCall), disco (Bee Gees, John Travolta, Silver, KC and the Sunshine Band, Vicki Sue Robinson, Starbuck, Maxine Nightgale, Silver Convention, Walter Murphy and Johnnie Taylor), novelty (Wild Cherry, Bay City Rollers, Rick Dees, Larry Groce), muck by Elton, Wings, Barry Manilow, Neil Sedaka, Donnie and Marie, Peter Frampton, Hall & Oates, ELO, George Benson, The Captain & Tennille, Paul Anka, Cliff Richard, Chicago, the Bellamy Brothers, Lou Rawls, and Seals & Crofts), along with some genuinely great tunes from Parliament, David Ruffin, Thin Lizzy, Sweet, War, the Staple Singers, The O'Jays, Rufus, Paul Simon, David Bowie and even the Four Seasons. Clearly, the ratio of shit to shinola was ten to one and even the shinola wasn't all that memorable. 
   Which is why we needed Graham Parker.
   Did you really want to chant along with the Bay City Rollers as they brayed about S-A*T-U-R*D-A-Y*NIGHT? 
   Did you really think the song "Junk Food Junkie" was funny after the first time you heard it?
   Did you really prefer the lukewarm molten sludge whomp of Foghat to its nearest identifiable influence, Chuck Berry?
   Did you really want to wake up in the morning in that year to discover that a song by The Beatles (who had dissolved six years earlier), "Got to Get You Into My Life," had made the Top Forty because of the dearth of existing talent?
   Did you really want to listen to Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show remake Sam Cooke's "Only Sixteen"?
   Of course not! You were not an idiot, even if the A&R men & women and their employees at the radio stations and the Gestapo goon rack jobbers all thought you were! No matter how much money and sweat goes into trying to turn your brain into a turnip and your soul into a cow's heart, real passion and talent wins out in the spirit of the winds of future past, so here sits we all today thinking back upon those far-from-halcyon days of both folk and yore trying to recollect what if anything even remotely non-putrid and anti-fecal remains? Anything at all?
    Well, of course. Rod Stewart released what would be his last good album, Tonight's the Night. Jackson Browne's The Pretender changed a lot of people's ideas of what constituted excellent singer-songwriter material. The Sex Pistols destroyed everything that had come before them with their single "Anarchy in the UK." The Band played their "final" concert on Thanksgiving Day. Bob Seger's mainstream breakthrough album Night Moves at llloooonnnnngggggg last gave the man the credibility he had deserved and been denied. And The Ramones released The Ramones, a fact which changed everything. 
    Graham Parker and the Rumour didn't merely absorb their influences. They recreated Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Van Morrison and threw in an edgy pop sensibility borne directly from pirate radio. Their first album, Howlin' Wind, released in April, sounded to the few ears privileged to hear it like everything its title promised. The pecker-wood ofey scourge of lily-white banality from groups like Queen and Frampton were never going to give the line running from heart to gonads the electric acceleration your average alienated misfit teenager going on forty needs to survive. But Parker shot-blasted down the goddamn door and before the hinges had stopped resisting shuffle-danced in wearing his Soul Shoes while ordering God to stop asking him questions, all with a fans love of Stax-era romance records and a working man's defiance. Even an essentially throwaway tune like "Back to School Days" could insert a lift in one's militancy with lines like:

Don't seem to be a break in the line
Don't seem to be no break boys
They ruined my vision, screwed up my eyes
Tell ya what I'm gonna do boys

Now if I think I might break even
I might go home quietly
I'll marry a rich girl but otherwise
I'm gonna raise hell and rightly.

   More art and consciousness rose from Parker's delivery of those lines than in a year's worth of the friggin Village Voice or NME. parker wasn't culling from headlines. He was making them. Or trying to do so. The public--having been beaten into narcolepsy with the puke-a-thon of mass music--didn't get exposed to guitar and horn bands sharp enough to slice granite. Howlin' Wind failed to chart. 
   A hastily recorded follow-up, Heat Treatment, was met with better commercial reception--barely. With only one weak song on the album ("Black Honey"), it seemed as if Parker and the Rumour could hardly miss. "That's What They All Say" bludgeoned the listener with Dylan-esque sarcasm. "Help Me Shake It" and "Hotel Chambermaid" rocked like Gary Bonds in new tennis shoes. And "Fools Gold" was so damned good it could make statues cry. If an album could be said to emanate with radioactive soul, Heat Treatment was it. With pub rock maestro Brinsley Schwarz on lead guitar and Bob Andrews keyboards, Martin Belmont on rhythm guitar, Andrew Bodnar on bass and Steve Goulding on drums, there was simply no good reason for Graham and the Rumour not to be, if not household names, at least garage heroes. 
    But it was not until 1979's Squeezing Out Sparks that the inevitable happened. A considerably slicker album, Sparks took the group to a level mortals have seldom dared to scale. Parker had always been keen on metaphor, but for the first time songs like "Discovering Japan" worked beyond allegory, becoming extended philosophies on the nature of humanity, while more direct assaults, such as "Passion is No Ordinary Word,"  indicted contemporary mores with the kind of vengeance that had been percolating in Parker for years:

We got new idols for the screen today
Although they make a lot of noises
They got nothing to say.
I try to look amazed but it's an act
The movie might be new
But it's the same soundtrack.

   Most challenging of all was "You Can't Be Too Strong," ostensibly about abortion but ultimately a manifesto regarding the triviality of man's abuse of woman's emotions. A lot of people considered the song to be anti-choice. To my ears, it's more about the responsibility of consequences. Either way, it was clearly Parker and the Rumour's most poignant song to date.
    The Village Voice listed Squeezing Out Sparks as its album of the year. 
   Parker's last album with The Rumour for thirty years was the follow-up, the rather weak The Up Escalator. Despite contributions from Bruce Springsteen and production work from the estimable Jimmy Iovine, few of the growing fan base was favorably impressed. 
    Some of us stuck with Parker through the 1980s and 1990s, through occasionally blissful albums like The Mona Lisa's Sister, Alone in America and Human Soul, while pretending that LPs like Christmas Cracker and Acid Bubblegum had never existed. 
    The real point of Parker's legacy today is not one of trying to recreate the past glories. On the contrary, the point is to open up today's minds to the possibility--every bit as remote and real as it was in 1976--that under a foreign or domestic cake of earth there might just be some gas station attendant looking to break out with something original, something that squeezed out the far from ordinary passion our current malaise requires. 
    While we wait, have a drink on me.
Graham Parker

   
   

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

GREEN MONKEYS

In a distant street a distant beat repeats machine gun like
In a forest grows a sweet fruit filled with poison
In a clear blue sky a plane bursts into flames high above us
In an office blind machines burst out data in a rush

Whatever they say, they say
It isn't true what they say
It didn't come from the gays
The blacks, the Haitians or the whores or
Green monkeys, ya ya ya
Or green monkeys.

    --Graham Parker

   Snopes disagrees. The idea that the CIA or Center for Disease Control or Friends of Reagan created Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome in a laboratory is anathema to them. The accepted wisdom remains that AIDS "jumped" from chimpanzees to humans. Our brother monkeys sometimes carry a virus known as simian immunodeficiency syndrome. 
   What Snopes does not bother to mention is that this evidence is based on a total of four chimpanzees, something short of a scientific certainty. In short, the theory holds that humans ate infected chimpanzees, or else ate something that had eaten the apes. What a lot of disease scientists liked about this theory was that it was hard to disprove. Then in 1987, someone found a sick cat. The cat had AIDS. More recently, virologists have identified twenty primates and sub-primates that have AIDS-like viruses. Their conclusion? The illness has existed for a thousand years, yet until recently did not kill its host.
   According to The AIDS Institute, "The earliest known case of infection with HIV-1 in a human was detected in a blood sample collected in 1959 from a man in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo. (How he became infected is not known.) Genetic analysis of this blood sample suggested that HIV-1 may have stemmed from a single virus in the late 1940s or early 1950s." 
   Okay, now just because the evidence supporting the green monkey theory is less than impressive, that does not mean that the CIA created HIV in a laboratory. Patricia A. Turner published a good book in 1993 called I Heard It Through the Grapevine: Rumor in African American Culture, wherein the author systematically demonstrates that black fear of white America is far from unfounded. She further unfurls evidence showing how, as far back as arriving slave ships, speculation turned to rumor and frequently folklore.
   We live in a world where many people have discovered that the CIA has been involved in spreading cocaine usage throughout south central Los Angeles, where the same agency has actively subverted democratically-elected governments, where the same college-boy network has assassinated (and failed to assassinate) what it perceived to be unfriendly leaders. These things actually happened and yet no one in our enlightened age has seen fit to dismantle Central Intelligence. Indeed, their budget is secret even from those in government who routinely approve it. Since it does not make any difference to many in America what the CIA does, then anything we cannot otherwise explain--as long as it fits a preexisting pattern of CIA behavior--can not be dismissed out of hand, especially if the result has been in some way linked to the detriment of people who do not wield much power or people whom the CIA might consider expendable. If Charlie Manson, Richard Speck and Ted Bundy all lived on the same block and a bunch of young women turned up missing or dead, a reasonable populace might be forgiven for suspecting a connection.

This is the third in a series of pieces on modern conspiracy theories, most recently More Popular Conspiracy Theories and Popular Conspiracy Theories.
Patricia A Turner

  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

THE BALLAD OF RICHARD ENGEL

Off the coast of Perth, Australia
with the maties in the brig
Ship captain's dancing sideways
while the sailors roast a pig
Greenpeace to the starboard side
and pirates to the right
I am Richard Engel
reporting on the fight.

Oil prices are outrageous
and the Russians are to blame
All due to a civil war
across the whole Ukraine
My cameraman is phoning in
the footage to New York
It's nine AM in Bangkok
and it's time for my report.

I am Richard (He is Richard)
Not lionhearted (no he isn't)
I just have a job to do.
I am Richard (He's still Richard)
Not the King (no he isn't)
And I won't stop til I'm through.

Al-Qaeda's smuggling armaments
across the Ivory Coast
Still G7 leaders fight about
who it was burned the toast.
My taxi driver spies part time
for the Taliban
But I am Richard Engel
and I'm here to foil his plan.

My laundry's in East Timor
and my lunch in Saigon
My passport's disappearing
and my box of Tums is gone.
But NBC is calling
and my cameraman's in flames
My name is Richard Engel 
and I'm here to share the blame.

I am Richard (He is Richard)
Not lionhearted (No he isn't)
I just have a job to do.
I am Richard (He's still Richard)
Not the King (no he isn't)
And I won't stop til I'm through.

I know more about the arms race
than a thousand diplomats
Most of them are dancing
or else barfing in their hats.
They don't ask my opinion
Cause they wouldn't like the sound
My name is Richard Engel
here to buy another round.

I stay awake til dawn here
Rachel must get my report
My manliness doesn't bother her
because I'm somewhat short.
But I'm as brave as anyone
and soon you will agree
I don't do Fox or CNN
but MSNBC.




In case you're interested, I think Richard is fantastic.