21 11 2009

Some comments on my last post on “The Wages of Weakness”:


The minor slights I reported in my last post were nothing compared to what I suspect most black people in the South experience! Those trivial events in my life are connected to the local virulent racism only in that they may have stemmed from it in some attenuated way, as I theorized in the last post.

But my little experiences do represent what I suspect is the most frequent FORM in which racism is experienced by its victims these days. Direct insult is now out. Violence is now out (except by cops). Firing at will, and quietly refusing to hire, are IN.

And the “inexplicable slight”, above all,  must happen every day. I would hate to be as hypersensitive as I, alas, am—and have to confront a world that contains so much scorn for folks like me.


Nothing I experience in the way of inconvenience or occasional insult will deter me from pursuing my plan of avoiding driving—and the inevitable anxiety attacks that go with it.

When something seriously sucks, I believe it’s OK to avoid it. Millions of people have dramatically decided to avoid things that made them miserable or threatened to harm them during my lifetime.

The first group of people who did this that I remember were the Viet Nam War era draft dodgers. They were willing to go to Canada and live as foreigners for a lifetime — and in a country that’s COLD MOST OF THE TIME to boot — rather than die or suffer in any of a number of ugly ways. They didn’t believe any such suffering could be justified by the call to defend, not our nation, but our Empire.

I’m glad I personally got a high draft lottery number back in 1970. Viet Nam would have destroyed me (assuming I lived through it)….The only treatment they had for major depression in 1970 was electroshock, and it was not only traumatic by only episodically successful. I don’t think they had any treatment for major anxiety disorders at all.


In the back of the mind of every old American man looms the ghost of John Wayne, exhorting him to perpetual toughness. I never had a shot at achieving that even when I was young. Now that I’m old, I look back sadly at my half a lifetime of struggling to be Waynian when I am by nature Barney Fifeian.

From now on I’m using to the full the amazing opportunity that age gives us to become no less and no more than what we truly are  — and in my case to get off the macho hook for good.


15 07 2009

(Or at Least Waiting in the Wings)


Recently I’ve been laughing at Sarah Palin. Then I read this Frank Rich column:


Then I read this comment to the Frank Rich column:

July 12th, 2009
9:01 am
“Frank,The fans of Palin aren’t feral racists.They’re the people “left behind” by the Democratic Party for well over a decade, going back to Clinton’s signing of NAFTA.

Earlier than that, they’re the people whose brothers couldn’t get college deferments out of Vietnam, and who, after that debacle, quite reasonably needed a more optimistic leader than they got some years later in Jimmy Carter.

(Let’s leave aside what our last Democratic President Clinton did to the overall middle class, or what’s left of it, with his repeal of Glass-Steagall, and his signing of the Commodities Futures Modernization Act, which was just icing on the cake.)

We on the coasts and in the cities long ago abandoned those lower to middle class white rural voters. Then we mocked them and their values, because we were shocked they weren’t Gandhi-esque.

And for years, Instead of addressing their economic concerns (manufacturing jobs, jobs, jobs being outsourced!), we came at them with gay marriage and abortion that had almost no relevance to their lives. It’s like sticking your finger in a stranger’s eye, and then pretending you’re shocked that they don’t want to buy you coffee! Doh!

Let’s please stop insulting Palin (who isn’t worth the ink!) and instead find a way to reach out to these lost Democrats.”

I don’t thing the Democratic Party will reach out to Palinites. Right now it has nothing to offer them.
Both parties have made deals with their devils over the last 30 years, and the Democrats are hamstrung by theirs.
In the late 1960s President Nixon (a Republican) created the “Southern strategy”.  The idea was that the party of the rich would reach out to poor and lower middle class Whites (traditionally mostly Democrats), who had been incensed by the support of President Lyndon Johnson for the movement for Black civil rights. The new Republican strategy worked great, and Nixon got elected! And then a few years later, during the Reagan  administration,  the militant fudamentalists joined up. The Republicans were riding high.
So high, in fact, that they had managed to greatly weaken unions, the traditional funding base of the Democratic party, by 1992, when Bill Clinton came along. So in the early 1990s  he began to move his party toward the center, and, most crucially, toward access to funding by wealthy individuals and PACs.
Decisions like those mentioned in the above comment by Eva then followed. The Democrats were free to act against the interests of the social class that had always been their party’s base because the Republicans had stolen much of that base away.
As a result, the working class, and particularly unions, have now been so weakened that lots of working class folks are constantly furious, and the unions of the working class can’t hope to be major players on the political stage again.
So as long as it takes multi-millions of dollars to run for office, Democrats will have to keep the owning class happy. They will do things like give billions of dollars to big banks; and the “Blue Dog” Democrats will impede creation of universal health care, etc.
Democrats can’t create any New Deal-type programs to make the workers’ lives better. And they can’t trade on the widespread resentment either. The Republicans have that strategy sowed up.
So Palin, or someone like her, in the White House is an absurd and frightening bad dream that just might come true.
Update: For analysis of how the “Blue Dog” democrats harmed the Democratic party last time it was in power see:


27 06 2009

(and I don’t even believe in Him)

Supreme Court Lets Stand a Central Provision of the Voting Rights Act:

As someone who lives in the South and was brought up here, I can assure you that without the Voting Rights Act, the states down here would be back to poll taxes (You had to pay a substantial tax just to vote!) and open harassment of Blacks at the polls so quickly  even fast-talking Yankees would be amazed.

I grew up in the South when segregation was the law in all Southern states. I know how routine, heartless, and nearly universal racism was in Southern Whites. You don’t change a whole culture in one generation.

Even if racism is in retreat in the minds of some white people in the South, our legislators routinely provide the “lowest common denominator” of  political representation. If they were freed of the restraints of the Voting Rights Acts, those legislators would not hesitate to play to the worst instincts of the yahoo element of our Southern White folk, as they did for 100 years before the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.


9 06 2009

You have to live in the place for a few years and watch our legislators in action to see what an ignorant and mean-spirited place it is:

10. Our governor’s ideology-driven indifference to working people doing its inevitable harm (but not, unfortunately, to his political career–yet):

9.  On the first page of the Internet version of my local paper 6/18/09. Note that Randy’s sports chat is first under “Today’s Headlines”. The picture speaks for itself.

Live, from Omaha, Advocate sportswriter Randy Rosetta is participating in an online chat about LSU baseball today at 1 p.m. The red-hot Tigers are one win away from the College World Series, championship series. To ask a question in advance, fill out the form on the chat page or check back at the scheduled chat time to join the conversation.

8. Anyone remember “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia?

Four former governors of Louisiana met yesterday with our current right-wing twerp ideologue governor to remind him that it would be unwise to ruin the state’s higher educational system in his zeal to cut the state budget.

7.  Unemployment Compensation? We don’t  need no stinkin’ unemployment compensation!

From public radio show, “Marketplace”:

“Employers pay the taxes that fund unemployment insurance. States set the tax rates. And lawmakers are often under pressure from business to keep those taxes low.

And that’s just what happened here. [a Southern state. Are you surprised?] Remember the “ants and grasshoppers” fable? South Carolina’s a grasshopper; it failed to save for an economic winter. Back in 2000, its trust fund was more than $800 million in the black. Business leaders worried that money, money collected from employers would be diverted to pay for other state programs. So the legislature cut taxes, and the unemployment fund headed down, down, down.”


6.  Sock it to me, you big strong insurance industry, you!


5.  Think of the rich people (6/02/09)!

This one’s complex: Back in 2002 a Louisiana state representative named Stelly pushed through a change in the state income tax that made it more progressive. I was amazed. He must have been a closet liberal.

Now we’re back to the usual. Last year the Louisiana Legislature rolled back one of Stelly’s changes, making our tax law be kind to the rich again. In this newspaper story they reject any going back on that, though this year the state has an unprecedented budget emergency.

Louisiana, thy name is Guatemala!


4.   Amazingly, this one (pushed by the state dentists’
organization) failed (5/20/09)


3.   Extended unemployment benefits in a recession are actually
BAD for us (5/19/2009)


2.   Bill to allow guns on campus (5/18/09)

These Louisiana folks either think they’re living in the West in the 19th Century, in which case they’re fools, or want to, in which case they’re dangerous throwbacks.


1.   State tax holiday for guns proposed (5/19/09)


29 05 2009

(No, not that way!)

I grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in a family that always had minimal cash flow, and never had more than $1000 in the bank. My mom and dad owned a series of classic “ma and pa”  stores. (You know, the old precursors to 7-11 where the people who served you were the actual owners of the store?) Our living quarters were usually attached to the store. Both store and living area were usually poorly made. In fact, two of the places where we lived and worked had been constructed personally by the original owners — classic jackleg carpenters, I presume, judging from the strange floor plans and crazy walls. Needless to say, none of those places were pretty.

Jump ahead about 30 years.

It was 1997 and I had just turned 50 and actually had a bit of money in hand due to having practiced law for a while in a small way.  I was not married and didn’t expect to be, and it came to me that, to provide for my future, the best way to use my limited fund of capital, while I had it, was to find a way to live in it for life! So I went looking for a small house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I’ve lived since 1981.

I looked at some real dumps! Then one day I saw in the real estate section of the newspaper a dark little picture of a modest gingerbread-fronted house in downtown Baton Rouge. For other reasons too detailed to go into here, I had earlier studied downtown and come to love it, so I bought the house and fixed it up. It’s something you find a lot of in South Louisiana — a “shotgun house”. I.e., all the rooms are in a row, so if you stood in the front door you could fire a shotgun from the front of the house all the way to the back without hitting an intervening wall.  Such houses were where poor people often ended up. Nevertheless, this particular house was well-made and had a charm for me that even now I can’t define. As I later learned, it had been built in 1927.

I still live in that house 12 years later. My house is  tiny, only about 675 square feet. It’s a one-person house! I still love it as much as I ever did, and I still don’t know why.

Despite being rather cramped, it is my opinion that I have ended up in a very nice situation indeed. Essentially, I live in a unique downtown neighborhood that has the look of a traditional tree-canopied small southern town. The streets are narrow and have so little traffic that even the littleist neighborhood kids routinely ride their bikes  in the middle of them. The houses are clapboard, pier-and-beam construction — not a ranch-style house in the bunch! Instead there are lots of bungalows, and other wooden house styles* that you would instantly recognize if you saw them. Most are standard Southern styles from before 1950, so familiar from my early childhood that they are  like the faces of old friends to me. The neighborhood even has a name — Beauregard Town*. It was originally laid out back in the 1806, for goodness sake! Mine is the only shotgun house in it.

This pretty, small Southern town is in turn situated in the center of what I consider to be a howling wilderness of standard, traffic-ridden American urban sprawl. The Baton Rouge metropolitan area has a population of over 700,000. Yet this little town-within-a-city I inhabit is not much bigger than tiny Overton, Texas, where I was born and spent my early childhood.

This place is so restful, and so insulated from the surrounding car-dominated city, that it makes my lifelong dislike of driving bearable. It also, incidentally, makes me happy every morning when the weather’s nice and I sit on my front porch and listen to the birds singing and look out at the neat clapboard houses of my neighbors nestled among the trees.

And sometimes even say “Hi” to my neighbors as they walk by!

Beauregard Town was gentrified in the early 2000s, so all the decaying houses were fixed up, but it was not so gentrified as to drive out all the long-time Black residents, or to bring in snooty people who are actually rich. The houses are just too small for them. It remains a mixed area where the two races get along.

On top of all this, the place where I work is within walking distance!

I love this place. Everyone gets a few really lucky breaks in his life. Finding this house was one of mine.


*See Beauregard Town Wikipedia entry:

And here you can see some photos I took of downtown Baton Rouge:


16 04 2009

I’m a liberal, but, despite that, every once in a while, as an exercise in empathy, I try to imagine being a conservative. At those times I never know what to (imaginarily) think, especially as my first, fundamental conservative political principle:

Is it  “I hate taxes [and am one of, or simply love, the Rich]!”

Is it, “I love the Lord [and/or my gun]!”

Is it, “I am strong and don’t need government help. Stop giving all that stuff to the weak!”

Is it, “I want an empire, just like the empire that belonged to dear old Rome”?

or, finally, is it

“Damnit! I demand that things quit CHANGING all the time!”

Never having been rich, and certainly not loving those who are; not believing in the Lord, or owning a gun: being weak, not strong; and finally having read enough about the Roman empire not to like the idea of living in another one — I am forced to choose the last of the above sentences as my hypothetical conservative rallying cry.

And I think that last position is really what a lot of American conservatism comes down to in the end, especially as espoused by other oldsters like me. We grew up in a world that operated and thought in a certain way. We internalized that way as the “normal” way of the world, and when the world, many years later, now insists on deviating from that normalcy we get bewildered and angry.

I expect to have ever more occasions for such bewilderment and anger as I (hopefully) age further.

Meanwhile, there is a lot more to the various strains of conservatism, and those strains interact and conflict in many different and interesting ways. For a very good, brief description of the strains (In both senses!) of conservatism, please see the following article, which is a bit critical but in my opinion analytically accurate:


6 11 2008

Lovingly Lifted from David Trom on Digg:

“Dear McCain and Caribou Mom:

If you manage to steal this election too we’ve decided we’re leaving.
We intend to form our own country, and we’re taking the other Blue
States with us. In case you aren’t aware, that includes California,
Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois
and all the Northeast. We believe this split will be beneficial to the
nation, and especially to the people of the new country of New

To sum up briefly: You get Texas, Oklahoma and all the slave states.
We get stem cell research and the best beaches. We get the Statue of
Liberty. You get Dollywood. We get Intel and Microsoft. You get
WorldCom. We get Harvard. You get Ole’ Miss. We get 85% of America’s
venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama. We get two-thirds
of the tax revenue, you get to make the red states pay their fair

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22% lower than the Christian
Coalition’s, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of
single moms.

Please be aware that Nuevo California will be pro-choice and anti-war,
and we’re going to want all our citizens back from Iraq at once. If
you need people to fight, ask your evangelicals. They have kids
they’re apparently willing to send to their deaths for no purpose, and
they don’t care if you don’t show pictures of their children’s caskets
coming home. We do wish you success in Iraq, and hope that the WMDs
turn up, but we’re not willing to spend our resources in Bush’s

With the Blue States in hand, we will have firm control of 80% of the
country’s fresh water, more than 90% of the pineapple and lettuce, 92%
of the nation’s fresh fruit, 95% of America’s quality wines, 90% of
all cheese, 90% of the high tech industry, 95% of the corn and
soybeans (thanks Iowa!), most of the U.S. low-sulfur coal, all living
redwoods, sequoias and condors, all the Ivy and Seven Sister schools
plus Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT.

With the Red States, on the other hand, you will have to cope with 88%
of all obese Americans (and their projected health care costs), 92% of
all U.S. mosquitoes, nearly 100% of the tornadoes, 90% of the
hurricanes, 99% of all Southern Baptists, virtually 100% of all
televangelists, Rush Limbaugh, Bob Jones University, Clemson and the
University of Georgia. We get Hollywood and Yosemite, thank you.

Additionally, 38% of those in the Red states believe Jonah was
actually swallowed by a whale, 62% believe life is sacred unless we’re
discussing the war, the death penalty or gun laws, 44% say that
evolution is only a theory, 53% that Saddam was involved in 9/11 and
61% of you crazy bastards believe you are people with higher morals
then we lefties.

Finally, we’re taking the good pot, too. You can have that dirt weed
they grow in Mexico.”