Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye Bonnie

Bonnie Owens died this week, about a month after the death of her first husband, Buck Owens.

There was a period of about five years when I was living in New York and going to see every Merle Haggard show at what was then Tramps. Some of the shows were a little perfunctory, but the best of them were among my favorite music memories ever. As far as I can remember, Bonnie opened and sang backup for every one of these shows.

I have always wondered about the oddness of Haggard's decision to have a three-wives-ago ex accompany him on tour. But the relationship endured for whatever reasons. When a friend of Bonnie's calls her "kind of the glue for both these guys" (meaning Haggard and Owens), it seems like more than the typical platitude.

The L.A. Times obituary mentions the outlines of an American life—sometimes glorious, sometimes hard-bitten. Bonnie Owens was born into a sharecropping family ... moved from Oklahoma to Arizona when 12 ... met Buck Owens at a roller-rink ... married to him at 18 ... waitress at the legendary Blackboard who wrote song lyrics on cocktail napkins ... meets Haggard at 21 ... marries Hag ... named the 1967 ACM best female vocalist ... divorce ... then the lifetime supporting role, singing backup and "washin' and ironin' and pickin' up"—always, it seemed, with consummate good cheer.

Laura Cantrell's song "Queen of the coast," is a respectful but sometimes sharp, and pretty heartbreaking look at Owens' life, especially her decision to "drop the torch of her own career to stoke mine," as Haggard describes it.
She was the Queen of the Coast back in nineteen sixty five,
Prettier 'n most, she could keep a room alive,
With the catch in her voice and the beehive on her head.
Do you remember anything she ever said.

Well, some stars fade faster than the rest,
And the promise wore off though she did her best.
She finally looked around for somethin' else to do.
What she found was a man who needed what she knew.

Have you forgotten? Have you forgiven?
Tell me are you livin' just a little in your past every day.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?

For the next ten years she rode around on the bus.
She did washin' and ironin' and pickin' up.
She had a place to stand at the back of the stage.
She was there every night, lookin' her age.

She lent her voice, but she gave her heart.
And, I guess, that must've been the hardest part.
She figured out exactly what was goin' on,
All the love she had given for a song.

Then things unravelled like they usually do.
She got her old heart busted up by husband, number two.

Have you forgotten? Have you forgiven?
Tell me are you livin' just a little in your past every day.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?

I'm not quite sure when she got back on the bus.
But she's still washin' and ironin' and pickin' up.
If you look all the way to the back of the stage,
She's standin' at her mic, lookin' her age.

In a roadstop in Reno at supper time,
The waitress comes over with a look in her eye.
Says: "I saw you in Modesto almost thirty years ago,
"An' I can still remember every song in your show."

"Please Help Me, I'm Falling." "Don't Come Home A-Drinking."
Well, there's a pair of swingin' doors for every cowboy sweetheart tonight.
Time sure has changed you; it's walked right on by you.
Does it satisfy you to have so little to say?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Brave Local Citizens 1, Police State 0

Let's hope that this is the beginning of more reports of local people organizing to fight the Patriot Act's most odious provisions—and winning. It's a small victory, I know. Library Connection simply won the right to declare that the FBI had come snooping. Apparently, they still have to submit to the snooping.

After fighting ferociously for months, federal prosecutors relented yesterday and agreed to allow a Connecticut library group to identify itself as the recipient of a secret F.B.I. demand for records in a counterterrorism investigation.

The decision ended a dispute over whether the broad provisions for secrecy in the USA Patriot Act, the antiterror law, trumped the free speech rights of library officials. The librarians had gone to federal court to gain permission to identify themselves as the recipients of the secret subpoena, known as a national security letter, ordering them to turn over patron records and e-mail messages.

Rummy: sweatin' the details of torture

I admit to suffering from what the Onion pegged, quite brilliantly, as outrage fatigue (in 2004, oh so many outrages ago).

Still, once in a while a piece of news comes along that says, "as bad as you thought things were, they're so much worse. You have NO idea."

So: Rumsfeld. Personally. Supervising. Torture.
Human Rights Watch says it believes U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for the torture of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 and 2003.

The universally respected international organization was commenting on an Army Inspector General's report which contains a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt that implicates Secretary Rumsfeld.

The report, obtained by, was based on an investigation that was carried out in early 2005, and included two interviews with Rumsfeld. In the report Gen. Schmidt describes the defense secretary as being "personally involved" in the interrogation of detainee Mohammad al-Qahtani....

"The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted," said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. "General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests that Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on al-Qahtani."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More upside-down Christianity

How can we be practice Christianity if we can't call gays faggots and tell 'em they're gonna burn in hell?

I could post a dozen stories a day on this theme. Usually, my sentiment is why bother? But I just had to share this one from the L.A. Times today:
Ruth Malhotra went to court last month for the right to be intolerant.

Malhotra says her Christian faith compels her to speak out against homosexuality. But the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she's a senior, bans speech that puts down others because of their sexual orientation.

Malhotra sees that as an unacceptable infringement on her right to religious expression. So she's demanding that Georgia Tech revoke its tolerance policy.

With her lawsuit, the 22-year-old student joins a growing campaign to force public schools, state colleges and private workplaces to eliminate policies protecting gays and lesbians from harassment. The religious right aims to overturn a broad range of common tolerance programs: diversity training that promotes acceptance of gays and lesbians, speech codes that ban harsh words against homosexuality, anti-discrimination policies that require college clubs to open their membership to all.

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical, frames the movement as the civil rights struggle of the 21st century. "Christians," he said, "are going to have to take a stand for the right to be Christian.
See also The Abominable Shellfish: Why some Christians hate gays but love bacon.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

That pinko rag the Times

I just don't get what makes wingnuts see red when they read The New York Times. Or do they even read it? A left-wing publication? Now where do they get that shit?

The Pentagon Papers. OK. Yeah. But that was a long time ago.

These days, how does one tell the difference between where the Times and Bush stand when it comes to countries Dubya wants to lean on?

Not a day goes by without some bizarrely, decontextualized slanted news article or editorial warning of ominous Iranian aggression, Syrian "crackdowns," or a recent favorite—Venezuela's nefarious, gasp, spreading of money around to poor people in other countries.

I'm trying mentally to recreate the process of writing a Times article on Mr. Chavez. (Even he is entitled to the honorific in the Times. Nice, genteel archaiac touch. Very NYT.) The editor and writer consult. They ponder. Hmm. Story on Venezuela.... Well, we need some perspective. Let's call up The Heritage Foundation for a quote! (Gee, wonder what they'll say.) Or how about Mr. Death Squads himself, John Negroponte, who whines that "Mr. Chávez is 'spending considerable sums involving himself in the political and economic life of other countries in Latin America and elsewhere, this despite the very real economic development and social needs of his own country.'"

As an observant letter writer noted today, Negroponte's "exact words could be used to describe the Bush approach.... Perhaps if we spent our foreign aid on popular programs that aided the poor rather than military invasions, we would be received with the enthusiasm that Mr. Chávez is enjoying." (And that may be an understatement: Hugo's approval numbers are at nearly 83 per cent).

Meanwhile, as the indefatigable Mr. Chomsky points out elsewhere, when it comes to the crimes of its own country's politicians and military leaders, The Times casts a blind, even approving eye on such things as clear violations of Geneva Protocols:

After several weeks of bombing, the United States began its ground attack in Falluja. It opened with the conquest of the Falluja General Hospital. The front-page story in the New York Times reported that "patients and hospital employees were rushed out of rooms by armed soldiers and ordered to sit or lie on the floor while troops tied their hands behind their backs." An accompanying photograph depicted the scene. It was presented as a meritorious achievement. "The offensive also shut down what officers said was a propaganda weapon for the militants: Falluja General Hospital, with its stream of reports of civilian casualties." Plainly such a propaganda weapon is a legitimate target, particularly when "inflated civilian casualty figures" -- inflated because our leader so declared -- had "inflamed opinion throughout the country, driving up the political costs of the conflict...."

Some relevant documents passed unmentioned, perhaps because they too are considered quaint and obsolete: for example, the provision of the Geneva Conventions stating that "fixed establishments and mobile medical units of the Medical Service may in no circumstances be attacked, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict." Thus the front page of the world's leading newspaper was cheerfully depicting war crimes for which the political leadership could be sentenced to severe penalties under U.S. law, the death penalty if patients ripped from their beds and manacled on the floor happened to die as a result. The questions did not merit detectable inquiry or reflection. The same mainstream sources told us that the U.S. military "achieved nearly all their objectives well ahead of schedule," as "much of the city lay in smoking ruins."

As if...

Chomsky at his biting best, in an excerpt from his new book, Failed States, The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy. This excerpt examines the atrocity of the Fallujah assault, media complicity and silence in the face of a systemic pattern of war crimes, and public ignorance and/or apathy in the face of the facts (past and present).

The Lancet study estimating 100,000 probable deaths by October 2004 elicited enough comment in England that the government had to issue an embarrassing denial, but in the United States virtual silence prevailed. The occasional oblique reference usually describes it as the "controversial" report that "as many as 100,000" Iraqis died as a result of the invasion. The figure of 100,000 was the most probable estimate, on conservative assumptions; it would be at least as accurate to describe it as the report that "as few as 100,000" died. Though the report was released at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, it appears that neither of the leading candidates was ever publicly questioned about it.

The reaction follows the general pattern when massive atrocities are perpetrated by the wrong agent. A striking example is the Indochina wars. In the only poll (to my knowledge) in which people were asked to estimate the number of Vietnamese deaths, the mean estimate was 100,000, about 5% of the official figure; the actual toll is unknown, and of no more interest than the also unknown toll of casualties of U.S. chemical warfare. The authors of the study comment that it is as if college students in Germany estimated Holocaust deaths at 300,000, in which case we might conclude that there are some problems in Germany -- and if Germany ruled the world, some rather more serious problems.