Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Doc(torate) of Music

Although our hometown university, Appalachian State, never presented him with a Phy.D., most everyone in Boone would agree with the rest of the world that Doc Watson was a true master of the art of music.

Now, I've only lived in Doc's hometown since 1980, but my unforgettable first connection with his music began in 1972. I was a junior, maybe a senior, at LSU then. My friends Bruce and Bob turned me on to an album that would become a classic of southern folk music--the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album by Nitty Gritty Dirt band.

Doc's pickin' and singin' shone out on that studio gem like a Blue Ridge sunrise peeking over the mountain in Deep Gap. Doc's raw Appalachian clarity grabbed the attention of this Louisiana boy like a turkey on a night-crawler.

Later, after I had moved here, at a concert in Farthing Auditorium in Boone, I heard his music introduced as the "fastest, cleanest flat-pickin' in the world. No doubt about it. The man was a local legend; we've got a sculpted bronze likeness on a park bench here that, at first glance, seems to be an actual occurrence of Doc serenading the passersby in downtown Boone.

Which is something that he did do, with regularity, back in the day, before and after the world discovered his unique contribution to world music at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. The old-timers 'round here tell tales about this.

While I was painting an apartment today at work, I listened to an intimate interview between Doc and Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. I recommend you hear it, here:

But the tune that really started it for me was Tennessee Stud.

As Doc sings the story in the song, some adventurer from the way back took a journey on the Tennessee Stud over to Arkansas, and on down to Mexico, but Tennessee and a pretty little gal eventually drew him back home. That's a little bit like how this Louisiana boy ended up here in the North Carolina mountain town where Doc used to sing on the street, about ten miles from the Tennessee line.

Thanks for your amazing life and musical legacy, Doc.

Glass half-Full

Monday, May 28, 2012

What Mr. Lincoln said

. . .at Gettysburg battlefield in Pennsylvania:

. . .we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate--we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on.

It is better for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

President Abraham Lincoln, November 19, 1863

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Swan Song of J. Al DasCapital

For some it's a good thing; for others a bad,
to be like the capitalist, or provoke socialist rad.
Back in the day, Rockefeller and Carnegie forged the enterprise deal;
JPMorgan and Ford cranked up capitalist zeal.
But then in '29 the machine broke down; all hell broke loose.
It was a train wreck for sure, from engine to caboose.
Smart as he was, Hoover was thought clueless in '32,
so they brought in Roosevelt to set up a new deal crew.
The gov from New York saved us, so they say,
with a big shot of socialism, making work for payday.

Now these days, since the meltdown of '08,
we've the same situation, but reverse, on our plate:
Big Spender Barack's in the driver's seat; he's catchin' the flack,
while Money-movin' Mitt says its time to get back
to those good ole days when investors and innovators were calling the shots,
before all these Keynesian Krugmanites got the hots
for quantitative easing, and stimulus, and priming the pump;
'cause they give us a ride, but we don't get over the hump.

Now out here on Main Street where the grassroots grow,
in the shops and garages where the mom and pops know,
we whip up the long tails; we push pins in the bubbles;
we wink at the black swans and laugh at the troubles.
Class warfare's just a phrase in some socialist goad,
inequality just a pothole, a mere bump in the road.
No flash-tradin' froth, no credit default fizz,
we just work with what can be, and we deal with what is.
If the day ever comes when the gov regulates us beyond reason,
or corporations have all the wealth tied up for the season,
we'll just stick out our necks and we'll sing our swan song,
cuz life in the free market goes on and goes on.

Glass half-Full

Monday, May 21, 2012

All Girls Allowed

I highly recommend that you read the long story of Chai Ling's 22-year attempt to bring freedom to China. She writes her account of it, including her strenuous leadership role in the the Tiananmen Square events of 1989, in her book, A Heart For Freedom, recently published by Tyndale.

If, however, you must settle for the long-story-short version, you may find the essence of her message in this passage, which is found in the beginning of the last chapter:

"In the twenty-first century, America will have no relationship more important than its relationship with China. Our leaders must have their eyes wide open and know whom they're dealing with as they build this partnership. The best way to protect America is to help transform China into a peaceful and benevolent society. Respect for basic human rights, the freedom to worship, rule of law, and free media are all part of that necessary transformation. Still, the true transformation of China will not be political or social; it will be a reformation of the heart. The next revolution will not be fought in the streets; it will be won within each individual As I've learned through my own experience, when we're confronted by the evil inside us and have to ask Jesus to cleanse us so we can receive his grace and forgiveness, then we can truly heal and move on. The same is true for a nation."

Chai Ling had to switch nations, for reasons of personal safety. Now she lives here in the USA. But her lifelong quest to bring deliverance to the people in her native land has led to her founding All Girls Allowed, , an organization to support the restoration, value, and dignity of girls and mothers in China, by confronting the issues of gendercide, girl-child abandonment, trafficked children, and forced abortion.

May God be with Chai Ling, and with those whose protection she has advocated as her life's work.

CR, author Glass half-Full

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chai Ling's Heart for Freedom

Chai Ling has written a great book, A Heart for Freedom, (Tyndale) about her revolutionary life. I'm reading it now on Kindle.

About a quarter of the way through her autobiographical account, she gets into those historically dramatic days that preceded the Tiananmen Square uprising of April-June, 1989. She gives an accounting of her role as a major communicator in that movement.

Chai Ling's husband at that time was Feng Congde, a fellow-student at Peking University, and a forceful, very gifted leader within the protest movement.

In last two week of April, 1989, Feng had been intensely occupied with organizing a democratizing event at the Xinhua gate on Chang'an Avenue, the north end of Tiananmen Square. (This is so interesting to me, because I have visited Tiananmen and the adjoining Forbidden City.) On the night of a protest event, police had dispersed the dissidents from the Xinhua gate, but the young students went on to strategize for what was to come in the next few days. (These events later stretched into weeks, and eventually culminated on June 4 when military troops shut down the Tiananmen uprising.)

In those early stages, however, Chai Ling writes that one night, her husband Feng did not come home, so she went looking for him; Ling found her revolutionary mate in a room with his comrades as they planned a coordinated response to the repressive police action at Xinhua gate.

Upon finding Feng that night, she set up a desk outside the dormitory room that had become the organizational locus for students who were laying plans; the alert Ling began to function as a liaison between the core group and other students who wanted to get involved.

As the movement gathered energy and participants, 60,000 students from 48 colleges and universities in Beijing joined with a student strike. This was the inception of the larger massive protest that happened during May at Tiananmen Square. Feng Congde's leadership was a seminal component in the student leaders' dorm-room meetings that had preceded these events. What really focused the students' intensifying zeal, however, was the April 22 funeral of Party leader Hu Yaobang, whose inclination toward reform had endeared him to many young Chinese.

Hu's memorial event, April 22, 1989, was a mournful, highly-charged event. On the day of Hu Yaobang's funeral, thousands of people gathered at the west side of Tiananmen, and upon the steps of the Great Hall of the People, in anticipation of the Party's commemoration of him. But a long wait for the many thousands gathered there became a potential flash point for mob ire when the CCP leaders dispatched Hu's hearse through a back route, ostensibly to minimize the deceased reformer's legacy to the restless "People."

The scene was about to turn violent. As Chai Ling writes, the core of Peking University (called Beida in the book) students quickly organized a strategy to prevent violence and imminent bloodshed. At that point, Ling jumped upon a wall and shouted out a desire to communicate with the leaders who were inside the Hall. This bold move on her part immediately propelled her into a critical negotiating role at that point in time. Someone handed her a megaphone, and her decisive act as stand-in-the-gap peacemaker between angry students and Party luminaries became Tiananmen history.

Although Ling's role in the Tiananmen uprising of 1989 was played mostly in Tiananmen Square itself--that is, the outside space--she must have later communicated with a highly placed official person who had been inside the Great Hall of the People on that day of Hu's funeral. For she gives an account, in her book, of a certain moment in time--a quite momentous moment--when Premier Deng Xiaoping looked out a window and had a view, for the first time, of the massive gathering of young people out in the Square.

Chai Ling wrote:

Another old Party cadre who had fought with Deng alongside Mao Zedong in the early days of the revolution walked over to Deng and stood next to him, pounding the floor with his cane.

'They call us dictators,' he declared in a loud voice (to Deng) broken with age. 'They call you the Emperor.'

That moment determined the fate of the student movement and all that followed. Deng would not tolerate anyone who called him a dictator.

Apparently, in the race of men, even reformist capitalist-road visionaries such as Deng Xiaoping have their intolerantly repressive aspects, as the world later witnessed on June 4, 1989.

Since that time, Chai Ling has come to follow a different leader--one whose whose revolutionary work pertains to the Spirit, rather than the dictatorships of this world. More about that later.
CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Thursday, May 10, 2012

North Carolina simplicity

Among the institutions and opinions of mankind, marriage has been, for millennia, acknowledged as a natural arrangement that is beneficial and productive. When a man and women hook up and thereby create new life, society itself would do well to encourage and enable the parents to act responsibly toward their offspring, lest the burden and expense of child-raising fall upon society as a whole. When a father and mother commit themselves to each other and to their children--to love, teach, and discipline those children--this is better for the child, for the parents, and for society in general than what otherwise might happen if the father and mother were to just do their own thing apart from the family they have created. Sure, it takes a village to raise a child. But that's the big picture. At the heart of a healthy, progressive society is a child who is nurtured and trained in the love, discipline, and education of mother and father. This is why marriage, in its original naturally-occurring state, needs to make a comeback in the modern world. Otherwise, all hell could break loose. And I'm not kidding. A resurgence of marital commitments between fathers and mothers would actually solve a lot of societal problems. Think about it. There are many ways, of course, to think about this enduring cultural arrangement called marriage. But lets just choose one analytical approach, to define what marriage actually is. A logical analysis, for instance, may demonstrate that: if A+B=M, where A is man, B is woman, and M is marriage, can A+A=M, or B+B=M ? No. A+A is not the same as A+B; nor is B+B the same as A+B. A+A is something else. B+B is something else. These two collaborations, being qualitatively different from A+B, require their own definitions. Therefore, let us say: A+A= P (partnership), and B+B=P (partnership.) There is, in the real world, empirical evidence for the validity of this reasoning. When you observe A and B in their natural habitat, it can be seen that A and B fit together in a certain way, somewhat like a screw and a nut fit together, and that they can be threaded together as one integral unit. Furthermore, the combination of A and B has biological potential to yield newborn A's and B's. This procreative manifestation cannot happen when A and A are combined, nor can species reproduction occur naturally between B and B. Therefore, A+B remains as it has been for so many thousands of years: marriage. A+A we will name "partnership." Likewise, B+B we will call "partnership." This is the way we in North Carolina, or at least 61% of us, think about this. It very simple, really. Some may say its simple-minded, or too simplistic. Whatever. Down here in the state of North Carolina, we prefer this arrangement, as has recently been seen in the voting booths. Speaking of "state," let me remind you that we do have fifty of them. And they are all different for a reason. Let each state decide for itself how it wants to live and reinforce certain familial arrangements. We don't need the Feds making these determinations for everybody. What works in North Carolina may not play out the same way in Oregon, or Maryland. For more about the state of North Carolina, listen to this song I wrote about our state: my silly North Carolina song CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Couch potatoes, or real food?

Most Americans will not do the hard physical labor required to harvest our nation's crops. But in these days politicians, thinking that they're doing us all a favor, want to meddle with immigration laws that effectively kick out the migrant workers who perform that hard work. But most of us Americans are just not up to the task. Workers just will not do what many of our grandparents did back in the day to get all that food out of the fields, into the supply chain, and into the pantries and bellies of consumers. Here's what has happened in Georgia in the last year or so, after the legislature went trying to meddle with the sensitive dynamics of supply/demand in agricultural labor markets. In a conversation with Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation last Monday 4/30/12, Dick Minor, partner of Minor Produce, Andersonville Ga., and President of Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said this:
". . . that just anybody can come do this job is also a misnomer. We consider these people skilled workers because they are pretty much professional harvesters, and they're even skilled to particular crops. So people harvesting watermelons may not be able to pick peaches, and people picking blueberries may not be able to pick peppers. So certain crews that work in certain crops, and they do that year-round, as you know it's very tough work. It's very tough conditions - long hours. You've got to be in really good physical shape. You've got to know the process of harvesting crops."
When Neal Conan asked Mr. Minor about using parolees to do the work, the President of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Associations said:
"It hasn't worked out. I was actually one of the test farms that we did that on, and we tried to make it work. It runs into the same problem of using any other domestic workforce: They're just not skilled in the technique to harvest the crop, nor are they physically able to do that work. I mean, you have to imagine being in 100-degree days for 10 hours, and, you know, very physically demanding work, stooping down, running, lifting. You've got to be, sort of, trained, almost like an athlete. You've got to be trained to be able to do it, and we offered open employment to them all summer long, and we had just a constant turnstile of people coming and going. And nobody was excited about doing it. A lot of them did it for several days, but none of them lasted."
The net effect of the legislature's misguided micromanagement of labor markets cost the state of Georgia, in Mr. Minor's estimation, lost revenuers of $140 million, which, when the "multiplier" effect of that money is factored in, amounts to about $390 million. This happened because 40% of workers needed to harvest Georgia's crops in the last year were not there to do the work. The accustomed agricultural pickers did not show up because they were not hired because of bad law, or the workes were afraid of the consequences of showing up and risking deportation. But American couch potatoes wouldn't get out in the fields and gather all those watermelons and peaches and whatnot. In this country, we've traded real potatoes for couch potatoes. This is largely the result of our leisurely lifestyle, and obsession with entertainments, and government welfare that robs workers of incentives to prosper, and just plain old-fashioned laziness. Americans don' know how to work any more. Its no wonder that the corporations sitting on all that funny Federal money are unwilling to take a chance and grant us more employment. CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress