Vesuvius at Myself

Trying to clip the creek to the bank with a clothes pin
Waterlogged system, rusty spring, faulty planning
Logic squeezed out like mustard at a corndog
Hypertension is not wisdom, chewing the leather straps
Trying to hold the sun still with a bobby pin
Burned fingers. excellent conductor of heat
Private fantasies are not public policy
Christian charity is a doily over my death boner
Busy work is not the Great Wall of China
Vanity bamboo hut out back behind the big house
Pretend is salve for whitey-boy guilt
Furiously slapping at the moon with a cane pole
Trying to prop up the heavens with a fresh flat pencil
Some folks are allergic to rubber
I am trying to stitch this one to all the rest of them
But the seams will split, collide and cleave
Neopolitan ice cream is never truly integrated until it’s too late
Trying to stop the bleeding with scotch tape
Platelets spoil adhesion, fire up the cauterizing iron
It’s a branding of necessity not scarification
Bliss was a pimple that I tried to pop
It erupted up and out on my countenance
Ugly eruption, Vesuvius, ugly eruption, Vesuvius
Ugly eruption, Vesuvius
Vesuvius at myself, Vesuvius at myself

I thought I would start out the Fourth of July by posting the lyrics to the great American songwriter Vic Chesnutt.   He is criminally overlooked.  One look at this or many of his lyrics and you can see why.  He was not one to wince from hard truths.  This is one of my favorite songs by him or anyone.  There are so many great lines in this song: Busy work is not the Great Wall of China.  Almost every line is a vivid image and thought in and of itself.  If not for the fact that his voice was an acquired taste, and possibly also the fact he was in a wheelchair,  he would be on the songwriters Mount Olympus with Dylan, Cohen, Mitchell, or any of the greats.  As far as I am concerned he is. 

John Oliver on Climate Change TV Coverage

The above clip is from the new John Oliver show Last Week Tonight.  He demonstrates how ridiculous the coverage of climate change is on TV news.  The only accurate way to report that one in four Americans are skeptical of global warming is to say that, “A poll finds out that one in four Americans are wrong about something.”  

Forging a New Reality

The other day, while traveling back to Texas from Pennsylvania, I met one of those people that you are thankful you ran across.  The man was a 72 year old man from Panama of partially Jamaican descent.  He exuded a positive energy and intelligence that I found rare on this foul day of travel. 

I had delays getting on and getting off of my first plane.  Right before the doors to my first plane opened a stewardess announced through the loudspeaker that all passengers that did not have immediate connecting flights should allow the passengers that did to get off first.  As soon as the door opened people were basically trampling each other to get off.  It was a prime example of the ugly American.  Having just been in Japan, where people value community above all else, I was thunderstruck by how selfish and greedy people were on the plane.  Most of them were white, middle aged, heavy set Americans.  Let’s just say that my faith in humanity was not at a high point!

On my second flight I began talking to the gentleman that I mentioned.  He had moved to Michigan, although he now lived in Houston because of his grandkids, and he taught foreign languages at the University of Michigan.  He spoke 8 different languages.  We talked about how to learn a foreign language, he swears, which is funny for someone that taught languages, that the computer programs like Rosetta Stone were actually the best way to learn a language aside from actually living in a foreign country.  This was because it was interactive and someone could learn at their own pace, much like in real life.

We also talked about Panama and the way that the U.S., even though he largely loved this country, has intervened harmfully in developing nations.  He was not blind to the bad things in the world. 

However, what was so amazing is that he possessed an unbelievable calm and thoughtfulness that was especially noticeable in the horrible traveling conditions that we were immersed in.  We got off the plane together and walked to baggage.  He thanked every single airport employee in a personal and kind manner for doing a good job and allowing him to travel that week.  You could see each and every person lighting up with a smile.   Who knows what he was really thinking, but his outward demeanor brought out kindness and warmth in others. 

When I was in Japan I noticed how polite everyone was.  Again, even if they were thinking the opposite, this politeness had a great effect on all those around them.  The way that they interacted became the reality. 

I am a long, long way from enlightened.  Someone even called me a malcontent once.  However, I hope to be able to treat people this way someday.  For regardless of our thoughts, it is our actions that can truly make life a better place.  Through compassion we can slowly form the reality that we wish to see. 

I Understand Why People Do Drugs

I can’t really blame anyone for using drugs.  If you watch advertisements, the TV news, anything to do with our political culture, reality TV, work a meaningless job, or pay attention to the million and one other absurd social and cultural things that go on in this country, you might need to get high.  If you aren’t good at compartmentalization or aren’t a Zen master, you might need to ingest some kind of chemical to numb your thoughts.  I’m not saying it is healthy or preferable, only that I understand.

We make criminals out of drug addicts, but hasn’t our society made drug addicts out of citizens?  I feel like the only way to exist in this country is to live with a divided mind.  For instance, you might realize that our economic system is unfair, but you have to earn a living and work within that system to pay your bills.  A mind divided will surly fall, or something like that.  If you look out at our country right now and think everything is as it should be, then you are either dumb, seriously deluded, or some kind of mutant sociopath.

I once remember reading or hearing something about Hunter Thompson’s drug use that talked about how he was just trying to cope with an insane world.  He was acutely aware of the injustice of the Vietnam War and long slow decline that followed.  He was highly intelligent and tuned in to what was going on around him.  It was his way of self medicating.  Sometimes I picture drug use as a way to even out the insane pressure from the outside world with insane pressure from the inside.  Maybe it’s just creating a state of equilibrium.

We should stop demonizing drug use.  We should help those that need it get better.  Better still would be to make society a place where insanity isn’t the norm.  It would be far better if drug users would spend all the time they used acquiring drugs to fight against societies ills, but too often those that don’t use drugs can’t even muster up such stickfuckingtoitness.

The Folly of Man, Vol 2.

The following is a passage from L. Fletcher Prouty’s JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy.  The jury is still out on if Prouty is a reliable source on many things.  However, I think he has great insight into why the Vietnam War was such a disaster.  I’ve seen enough things confirmed in other books.  The following is pretty long, but it is worth reading.  I do want to add that Prouty, in his book, admits that this story is an amalgamation of different things that he saw while in Vietnam. 

In an effort to try to cut this down a little bit I just want to add that the Rhade are a tribal group in Vietnam.  I also want to add that before this passage starts Prouty talks about how when Diem banished the French and the Chinese he also destroyed the local economy without instating something viable to take its place.  This story is another example of us invading a country without understanding the local culture.  Anyway, on with the show:

The padre, the young American, and the Vietnamese official returned many times.  After a while, the American was welcomed without the priest and often stayed for weeks.  He was interested in animal husbandry and agriculture.  He brought with him some poultry and a new breed of hog that he taught them to raise.  He carried with him new seeds and tried over and over to encourage the Rhade to plant them as he directed.  On countless occasions he would persuade the villagers to dig holes in the fields and to plant the seeds as he had learned to do at the university in Ames, Iowa. 

He never did understand the Rhade farmers and their primitive “slash and burn” farming.  And they never could explain to this young expert that the seeds could not grow in that heavy grassland of the open fields.  In any event, the American became a familiar figure, and his hard work and gifts of chickens, pigs, candy, and cigarettes were always welcome.  Then one day he came with the Magic Box. 

The padre, the American, and the Houng-ca sat in earnest discussion all that day.  The Magic Box rested on the hood of the jeep while several young men dug a hole in front of the patriarch’s hut.  They were unaccustomed to the American’s shovel, and work progressed slowly.  Meanwhile, the American felled a tree and cut out a section to be used on a post.  This post was put into the hole and the dirt replaced. 

Now a tall, sturdy, upright pedestal stood in the front of the chieftain’s hut.  To this, the American affixed a tin roof as shelter.  Then he removed the shiny jet-black Magic Box from the jeep and nailed it firmly to the post, about four feet above the ground, just the right height for the Houng-ca and above the prying hands of children. 

After the box was secured, the padre told the villagers all about the Magic Box and how it would work, about the wonders it would produce to save them from communism.  He told them that this box was a most miraculous radio and that it would speak to their brothers in Saigon.  It was, in their language, powerful medicine. 

At the same time, he warned that only the village patriarch could touch the box.  If anyone else did, the kindly government in Saigon would be most angry, and the village would be punished.  The padre told the villagers that whenever they were attacked, the patriarch should push the big red button on the box, and that was all. 

At this point in their Village Defense Orientation Program, the Viet soldier and the American interrupted the padre and ordered him to repeat that if the village was attacked by the Communist Vietcong from the forest – emphasizing the “Communist Vietcong” – the patriarch was to push the button.  To the Viet soldier and the American, the men in the forest were not starving and frightened refugees; they were the enemy. 

Because the elderly padre knew that these native people had never heard of the Vietcong, he explained that his friends called all bandits from the refugee camps in the forest “Vietcong” and that the Vietcong were to be greatly feared because they were the puppets of the National Liberation Front, who were the puppets of Hanoi, who were the puppets of the Chinese, who were the puppets of the Soviets, ad-infinitum. 

The padre explained that when the patriarch pushed that shiny red button on the Magic Box, the powerful gods of Saigon would unleash vengeful armies through the air, and the dreaded Vietcong would be blasted by bombs from airplanes and napalmed from helicopters.  And the village would be liberated and pacified.  He also told them that every village that had been selected by the Father of His Country in Saigon to receive the Magic Box would forever thereafter be furnished food, medicine, and special care. 

The Rhade would receive these “benefits” whether they wanted them or not.  For they knew only too well that the villages that had plenty of food and medicine and that were the special elect of Saigon were always the first targets for the starving bandits.  They knew enough to know that they would live in fear of the Magic Box and its munificence. 

Ever since the day when the padre had returned with the American, the village had received special medicine and food relief.  The “Extended Arms for Brotherhood” program of the new president in Saigon was the caring for these tribesmen.  Shortly after the first time this extra food had been delivered, the village had been visited by some young men from the camps in the woods.  They sat with the patriarch all day and quietly but firmly explained that they came from a refugee camp that was hidden in the hills and that was caring for thousands of homeless natives from the south who had been driven from their homes by the Diem backed police and hordes of northern invaders. 

These people had fled from their wasted homes.  They had been the enemies in every new region they came to, and now, terrorized and starving, sick and dying, they had had to turn to that last resort of mankind, banditry and pillage.  These countless refugees, in their own homeland, had fled the careless deprivations and brutal massacres of the benevolent forces of Saigon.  They wished to be peaceful, but they desperately needed food and medicine.  They demanded that the village share some of its plentiful goods with them.  This arrangement, although unappealing to the village, was accepted, and for a while it kept a fragile peace between the two worlds.  However, the refugee numbers swelled, and their demands became greater and greater.  It wasn’t long before the Saigon political observer and the padre reported to the American that they suspected that the patriarch was collaborating with the “enemy.”  This sharing of their meager goods with the refugees was called “the payment of tribute” by the Vietnamese.  The refugees had become the “enemy,” and the American’s word for “enemy” was Vietcong.  The political leader explained to the patriarch that collaboration with the Vietcong meant death for him and removal of the village people to the Citizens’ Retraining Camp or a “Strategic Hamlet,” as the Americans liked to call it.  No matter what their benefactors chose to call these displacement centers, they were prisons to the natives. 

The more or less peaceful demands of the refugees became adamant orders as their needs increased.  What had begun as a reluctant sharing of food became submission to force and banditry.  The ranks of the refugees swelled as the exodus from such areas as the no-man’s land of the once-prosperous and fertile Mekong Delta area of the Camau Peninsula turned into a vast and relentless human wave. 

A situation not unlike that of the Native American migrations westward took place.  Each tribe, displaced from its ancestral homeland by the white man, became marauders and attackers in the territory of the next Indian nation.  Thus it was tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of once-peaceful, docile, and reasonably well-to-do rice farmers became feared, terrorized bandits called the Vietcong. 

Good Times in Jail

A couple years ago on Cinco de Mayo I was arrested and put in jail for a DUI.  However, I was actually innocent, having passed my breathalyzer earlier in the night.  Because an idiotic cop had a “hunch” my family had to spend thousands of dollars and I am still dealing with the repercussions of this night now, about five years later.   I don’t usually tell personal stories on this blog.  However, I feel that this story highlights how corrupt our justice system is.  It made me realize how easy it is to get stuck inside the jaws of the system.  There are much worse scenarios that have played out over the years, one only has to watch Errol Morris’s Thin Blue Line, but this made me realize something else.  I realized that it’s not just the bigger life changing cases that are often wrong.  I can now see a whole justice system that, on a much smaller and more personal level, is ruining people’s lives.   I also had a family that had the resources to fight the system.  I was in jail that night with many people that didn’t have those resources.  They had to wait days and possibly even weeks to get out, even if they had done nothing wrong.  If you miss a couple days of work, innocent or not, you are probably going to lose your job. 

Earlier in the night my band had played in North Austin.  A couple of the people I was with decided to go down south to see if James McMurtry was playing.  I was the designated driver as I had only had two beers with dinner before my bands show, many hours before.  McMurtry was not playing, so we decided to just call it a night.  As we were leaving the Continental Club I was pulled over by two cops.  The cops asked if I had been drinking.  I made the first of many mistakes by telling the cops the truth that I had had two beers much earlier in the night.  I have now learned from my lawyer to always lie to cops.  You don’t get in any more trouble if you do.  The police do not value truth and will actually use it against you if you are honest.  That was my rookie mistake 101. 

The cops decided to give me a field sobriety test.  That night I was wearing cowboy boots, which I rarely do.  Although most of the field sobriety test was passed with ease, I wavered slightly on the test where you have to stand on one leg.  When I mean I wavered, I mean slightly enough that my lawyer laughed while watching the video recording as he could not believe that it was enough for the police to try to take this to the next level.  Again, I am not used to wearing cowboy boots, and it just took me a second to gain my balance.  Also, please keep in mind that this entire time I was speaking coherently and was completely polite to the police officers.  For the trouble that I was about to go through, I wish I had called them douche bags or something, but alas, I did not.  Although I thought I was going to be let go, I was next cuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. 

I was taken to a mobile unit where the job of the police there was to give you a breathalyzer.  I passed the breathalyzer as stated above.  However, the cop that detained me only seemed to get angrier at this.  Cops hate to look like the fools that they so often are.  Instead of letting me go he said that he thought I was on something and decided to take me tot the hospital for a blood test.  I went to the hospital, gave a blood test, as I had nothing to hide, and then was taken back to the mobile unit.  Instead of being taken back to my car, at this point I was booked and thrown in the back of a paddy wagon. 

If you think cops are dicks outside of jail, wait till you meet the ones inside jail!  After spending several hours in a general holding cell, which resembled a cell less than it resembled a bunch of church pews with no deity at the front, I was forced to strip nude in front of an officer and other people being held.  After several other minor steps I was then taken to a solitary cell with no windows.  Instead of being given any information as to what was going on, the cops in jail seemed to relish withholding any information from me.  They would actually get angry at me when I asked any questions about what was going on, when I could expect to get out, etc.  Remember, I was completely innocent.  So much for freedom in America! 

About 16 hours later I was taken to a preliminary hearing with other “inmates” that had been brought in that night.  My brother was with me earlier in the night.  As a side note I should mention that instead of letting my brother move my car five feet into a parking space, the cops towed my car, thus adding several hundred dollars worth of costs to the proceeding.  Anyway, I knew that because my brother was there when this happened, that my family was aware of what was going on and was probably trying to contact a lawyer to get me out.  I remember looking around the room, many of the other people were poor African American males, and I remember thinking they were doomed as many of them probably didn’t have the resources to get a lawyer.  They would simply have to wait for the state to let them out on its own glacial pace.  Working in the moving industry for several years I had already seen how this bogus imprisonment robbed many people of their jobs.  You may think I am stereotyping, but I would bet any amount of money that my assessment of many of the people around me was not incorrect.  Although some of the people were surely guilty of the crimes they had been accused of, they were now caught in a system that was going to fuck them either way.  Also, I believe that unless the crime is violent or harms other in some way, the way that the system disrupts your life punishes people in an unfair way.  You are not only doing whatever time or paying whatever fine is deemed by society to be acceptable; you basically have something on your record that will make getting employed much harder.  And remember, many of these poor souls were probably going to lose whatever job they had when they got taken in, if they could not afford to get out in a timely manner.  My lawyer cost $5,000 dollars.  If not for my family I would have been sitting there for days or weeks too. 

I got out late the next afternoon.  I had spent 20 hours in jail, had been stripped naked and robbed of my dignity, and had been treated like a piece of shit by the cops in jail, and my family was out thousands of dollars.  Oh, and all just because I ran across the wrong dickhead cop on the way home.  I should be able to say this was all a horrible mistake that doesn’t happen very often.  But instead I just want to say, “Welcome to America!”  I simply had the ill fortune of experiencing what so many others go through on a nightly basis.  If you haven’t gone through something like this I say, “Lucky you!” 

This is something I am still dealing with.  I recently applied to an educational company for some side money, and I am having trouble getting hired because the “dismissed” DUI is still on my record.  And it was dismissed.  It was thrown out of court before ever going to trial because it was basically laughable in the eyes of my lawyer and the prosecutor.  Though after several visits to the courthouse for which I had to take off work, it didn’t feel very laughable.  I was told after my case was dismissed that it would take several years, and another couple hundred dollars, to have this completely expunged from my record.  Remember, this is despite it being dismissed outright in the court of law.  It never even went to trial. 

What kind of country do we live in when people can incur costs of thousands of dollars and be denied employment even when they are innocent?  Our justice system is a cruel joke.  It is a large dumb slow moving beast that tramples lives into dust.  I got out relatively easy because my family had the money to help me out.  So many others are not as lucky.  I’d like to say this has taught me to never trust the cops.  But, I felt that way before.  Anyone with any intelligence knows that the police are just organized muscle that often works on behalf of the moneyed interests in this country.  This whole experience just confirmed my suspicions.  I’m not saying that all cops are bad.  They are people just like everyone else, some good and some bad.  However, just like people they should be treated as individuals, and not with any kind of overreaching reverence.  Too often they are tasked with enforcing the laws of a ridiculous absurd system.  With all of the training they get, I wonder if they are taught empathy. 

We see an increasingly militarized police force in this country.  Innocent citizens being gunned down, people’s dogs shot, and young girls being arrested for crossing the street are now part of our daily headlines.  And that is just in Austin!  Those that have money can pay the fines and pay for good lawyers.  If you don’t have a lot of money, and cross the path of the wrong police officer, you are shit out of luck!  When you read of an arrest in the paper, you really need to ask yourself:  What really happened? 

Andrew Sullivan on Dick Cheney

An interesting post again by Andrew Sullivan.  This post is about Dick Cheney and immorality of things that were done while he was in power.  Remember that Sullivan supported the Bush administration when they first came to power.  I find it interesting to examine another human being and find a worldview so far away from you own.  Same country, same species, different universe.