Arithmetic

I suspect that everyone who considers himself an “informed voter” assumes that he is capable of doing simple arithmetic.  But do those same people figure on political commentators taking advantage of that assumption by posing seemingly simple metaphors that are designed to lead those voters to incorrect (and non-arithmetical) conclusions.  To wit, “You have to balance the family check book, shouldn’t the government have to balance its ‘check book’?”—as if those two things are so similar that you certainly understand what is involved in doing what’s required to accomplish both things since “surely” you understand what’s required to balance your own check book.

The problem, of course, lies in the difference between arithmetic and math.  It surprises many to find out that the disciplines of the first are just as remote to most of us as those of the second.

Here’s an example of a little trick that is often pulled on third and fourth grade students (and even works on many students who take the SATs):  Problem—If a train travels at 40 mph to cover the 200 miles between Nashville and Memphis, how fast will it have to travel on the way back to Nashville to make the round trip in five hours?  Far and away the answer most given is 80 mph.  I have no doubt that anyone who is reading this realizes that there is no speed that could make it possible, since at 40 mph the whole five hours would be used up just making the first leg of the trip.

Still some arithmetic is very straight forward.  For instance, if I ask almost anyone the following question, they will come up with the correct answer:  If I jog eight miles in two hours, what is my average speed?  (Take your time.)  That’s correct—4 mph.

But suppose I change the way I phrase a problem; does that change the way you think about it.  (In other words, can you still see what the significant information is that you need to know the correct answer?)  Problem:  Every day I jog eight miles.  I always start and finish at the same place.  Half the distance that I jog is uphill, and half the distance that I jog is downhill.  When I am jogging uphill, I jog at 3 mph.  When I jog downhill, I jog at 5 mph.  What is my average speed?  Again, take your time. *

That’s the way that folks who want you to believe that which is not true phrase their “obvious” arithmetical conclusions that they want you to believe.  They give you something which is incontrovertibly simple, and then they “seemingly” give you something just as simple and give you the conclusion that they want you to arrive at.  BTW, what answer did you give to the problem in the previous paragraph: 4 mph?  Many folks do.

But that’s not correct.  And anyone who is schooled in the kind of arithmetic that is necessary to immediately recognize the difference between balancing a personal check book and balancing a national budget would see that immediately.  For folks who aren’t familiar with integrals and differentials it takes a little longer.

There are those who give us the news and comment on it who do take the time to explain the complexities, and there are those who not only do not take that time, but that do not want you to know.  (This example also can serve as a small window into what integrals and differentials—as in calculus—actually are.)

*So for anyone who thought that the answer to the second problem above was also 4 mph, let’s walk through it.  The uphill half, being four miles, at 3 mph takes one hour and twenty minutes, since it takes 20 minute to travel one mile at three miles an hour (20 minutes being one third of an hour).  Since we already know from the first problem that for the average speed for the whole eight miles to be 4 mph, the entire eight miles must be jogged in two hours, we now know that the downhill part of the jog must be covered in 40 minutes because that’s all the time that’s left to get the trip done in two hours.  But to jog four miles at 5 mph takes 48 minutes.  Since 1/5 of an hour is 12 minutes, that means that it takes 12 minutes to go a mile when traveling at 5 mph.  (BTW, both runners and joggers know this; runners look down on that speed, and joggers shoot for it.)  So if you add the hour and twenty minutes that it took the jogger to do the four miles uphill to the 48 minutes that it took the jogger to do the four miles downhill, you now have two hours and eight minutes.  So since the entire trip took more than the requisite two hours that the trip took in the first problem, it is quite apparent that the average speed in the second problem is not 4 mph.  It has to be slower, since the jog took longer.  There are several easy ways to compute the correct answer, which is (to some) a surprising 3.75 mph.  Tragically there are many “educated” adults who have formulated an opinion about which presidential candidate to vote for based on the “economic” program that one or the other has put forward that cannot readily make that computation even with the answer given.  It’s certainly OK not to know how to do complex computations, but it’s not OK to base your judgments on numbers and computations which are beyond your comprehension abilities.  And big, really big numbers are difficult for all but budding Srinivasa Ramanujans.

So I am going to go ahead and do a little arithmetic for those who have not taken the time to do their own (or who cannot even if they took all the time in the world) just so you don’t have to do it yourself.  You can skip directly to the arithmetic for each of the Presidential  candidates “stated proposals” with respect to debt, deficits, and taxation; but first let me list a few of the statements that folks from either side of the political coin like to keep repeating, I suppose, because they think that they are true.  They are not.  They may be completely false, or they may represent some version of the way that falsehoods are frequently expressed; such as, (but not limited to) half-truths, gobbledygook, obfuscations, and the most popular one: things that we may want to believe so much that we simply don’t question them.

•  You can’t (shouldn’t, don’t) raise taxes in a recession.
• We have a spending problem, not a tax problem.
• Tax cuts create jobs.
• We shouldn’t raise taxes on the wealthy; they are the job creators.
• A great percentage (so many percentages have been offered up that you can simply pick a number) of Americans pay no taxes at all.
• Cutting taxes expands the economy.
• Cutting spending cuts deficits.
• Cutting spending creates jobs.
• Cutting taxes helps small businesses.
• You can balance the budget by closing “loopholes.”  (I use quotes here because the term loophole is just another word for either deduction or credit or both, and so, it seems that a “loophole” is something that someone else gets while a deduction or credit is something you get.)
• Our public debt is all owed to other countries.
• We can’t just keep printing money.
• We cannot tax our way out of a recession.
• We cannot spend our way out of a recession.
• Private sector jobs are preferable to government jobs.
• Government spending does not create jobs.
• The President added \$4 (or \$6 or pick a number, Shawn Hannity does) trillion to the public debt.
• Corporate tax rates are too high.

Enough.  You get the idea.  (Now I know there are those who can fabricate a credible argument for each one of these statements, just as I can offer up one against them; and to those I say, just as Justice Scalia has said to me and others like me in relationship to the “election” (actually, selection) of 2000, “Get over it.”

But there is one postulate that you can take to the bank:  It’s what you believe that’s wrong that makes you uninformed.  That’s why I’m going to do some arithmetic, as Ralph Stanley would say, “Right now, in a minute.”

And there are a few undeniable truths in the postulate sense that we all need to face, and the most important one is that we either have to have the courage to “face the arithmetic”, question it, try to understand it, and have the additional courage to change our minds once we do all this; or (and there is an inevitable alternative) simply deal with the fact that we are “uninformed” and thus not really shouldering the full responsibility of being a good citizen.  Here’s another:  If you choose to get your information from a single source or a source that “makes you feel good” or a source that you know lies to you; then you have actually chosen to be willfully ignorant, uninformed, and susceptible to propaganda.  This last postulate predicates my old axiom that if you get your news from FOX, then you know you are misinformed and that you have chosen to be, since everyone who gets their news from that source knows without a doubt that FOX is not “fair and balanced.”  That does not mean that you shouldn’t watch or listen to FOX; doing so actually keeps one informed as to what the propaganda for the so-called “conservatives” (what have they “conserved”?) is at any given time, and is as essential to being an informed citizen as being able to refute the Soviet propaganda of the past was to responsible (often abused) Soviet dissidents of that “union” until its demise.  Likewise, but not equally, one must be very suspicious of “news” that he gets from MSNBC, since that network is quite openly and admittedly biased in favor of what passes for “liberals” (what have they “liberated”?) nowadays.  The difference between the two and similarly biased (and hence not-quite-truthful) sources of information is that the first poses as something it is not, which is itself a lie, and the second puts its bias right out there for all to see and actually brags about it.

It’s this simple:  If what you’re hearing from your news source makes you feel good, especially in relationship to our economy and all the problems related to it; then it’s a bad source of information.

So….crack of the knuckles—let’s get to the numbers.  First the President’s:

President Obama has stated that his fiscal policy, if elected to a second term, will consist of the following:

• Tax rates will remain the same for all except the top two per cent of earners (those who make more than \$200,000-if single or \$250,000-if married).
• That there needs to be a balanced approach to spending cuts and tax increases.
• That there needs to be “continued” enforcement of banking and speculating regulations and expansion of those regulations.
• That American citizens and corporations should pay taxes on income that is earned abroad.
• That corporate taxes on profits should be lowered.
• That certain “loopholes” in the tax code should be eliminated.
• To continue monitoring both private equity and public banking systems that have enabled the American markets to get back to their pre-crash, pre-recession levels by actually doubling in value over the past four years.

We can only deal arithmetically with the first four.  The last one is not specific, and, therefore, has no numerical value.  No. 5 is a “straw man” in that it will not matter what the corporate tax rate is until the tax code itself is modified to make corporations actually pay taxes.  As it is now, corporations pay little or none because they simply “distribute” profits to shareholders, owners, executives, etc. and those people or partnerships or entities pay the taxes, and almost all of them have their own “loopholes” to crawl through.

The CBO estimates that No. 1 could produce an additional \$50 billion in revenues.

We cannot expect anything from No. 2.  It is a plain fact that almost all “cuts” in government spending, once “waste” is eliminated, manifests itself as cutting jobs.  And these are good jobs.  Many government jobs require special skills, advanced degrees, and experience; and people who lose these jobs are not particularly attractive as potential employees to a lot of small businesses.  (Keep in mind that, contrary to what commentators and most politicians want us to think, a small business for most tax purposes is one that employs less than 599 people.  About the only place where a “small” business is defined differently for government purposes is in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—“Obamacare”---where they are defined as ones with 15 employees or less.)  Since the government actually does not own or operate any construction crews, road builders, armament builders, etc. itself, whenever government spending is cut it results in jobs lost by people who work for private businesses and firms that contract government work.  But the government does employ many people who work directly for it; such as, military personnel, intelligence personnel, lawyers, doctors, diplomats, security personnel, engineers, inspectors, police, first-responders, researchers, teachers, social workers, tax collectors, etc.  Cuts in government spending also result in cuts in these jobs.  So in conclusion it is very nearly impossible to see how cuts in government spending can result in any savings since cuts in jobs also result in cuts in tax revenues--EXCEPT where the spending cuts refer to paying our debts; such as, Social Security payments, Medicare payments, interest on the public debt, actual principle payments on the public debt, bond payments, etc.  In other words the only sure way to actually save money from spending cuts is to default on our public debt.

There is a problem with this that seems to bother real Conservatives but not those who like to call themselves “conservatives.”  It violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  It is interesting that when this issue came up last year (and ended in the U.S. credit rating being degraded) that there was only one Republican in both the House and the Senate that did not violate the Constitution—Rand Paul.  All the other so-called “conservatives” blatantly violated it as did way too many Democrats.  So much for “conservatism.”  As a footnote to what Republicans as a party think of the Constitution (as it relates to government commitments to spending), the Party sent \$20 million to WI to support Governor Walker in his battle to avoid being recalled for violating Article 1, Section 10 of our Constitution which is the part of the document with which our forefathers protected the rights of us all to enter into good faith contracts.  (I don’t mean to scare Republicans, but if that is not a “trick” worthy of Halloween, what is?)

No. 3 in the President’s plan has some promise, though, again it is incalculable.  It could actually protect investments and help to avoid another housing “bubble.”  More than most bubbles, the bursting of the housing one affected citizens in a very direct way.  Most bubbles are speculative ones and in general confine their damage to the speculators.  (Of course, as these speculators have also become the very bankers and investment houses in which we entrust our saving and who often hold our mortgages, the number of Americans that are affected has risen precipitously.  This BTW could not have happened had not the Republican Congress and the Democrat President of the late ‘90s done away with the two Glass-Steagall Acts which had protected us from banks being able to speculate with our money since the 1930s.)  Think about all those who lost their retirement funds through the crooked manipulation of those funds by their employers; such as, Enron.)  Still being able to put your money in a bank and have it insured by the FDIC for up to \$250K is helpful to the economy.  But not many people who earn less than \$250K/yr. will be motivated to do so until interest rates are allowed to rise.

CONCLUSION:  There is almost no arithmetic to do with regards to the President’s plan.  He may collect \$50 billion more dollars than we are presently collecting.  He may also continue to accomplish the slow but steady economic growth of about 2% in the economy which he has been accomplishing.  Here we can do a little arithmetic.  The GNP is presently estimated at \$14 trillion.  Two per cent of that is \$280 billion.  Here’s where the arithmetic gets a little complicated, because if that growth is sustained then one gets to add \$280 billion to the first of the four years and “compound” it before the second year’s growth is computed.  And this process continues.  Hence, a two percent sustained growth in the GNP over four years would result in a GNP at the end of that time of a little over \$857 billion more than at present.  Such a growth could, if not offset by additional spending, result in a 6.1214% growth in revenues.  This is a significant increase in government revenues which would also be realized by state and local governments to some extent—though obviously not equally and totally dependent on the location of where the “growth” occurs.  The revenue produced from such a growth, though, is actually very significant: \$1.55 trillion.  (Simply multiply the above percentage times the CBO’s figure for “income” tax revenues for the same period of time.)  This figure indeed eclipses the \$50 billion that will be produced by the tax increase and could actually give the nation hope of someday “growing” out of its debt.  The main problem with the President’s plan is that he still has not asked anything of the majority of Americans (incredibly, even in time of war).  If he were able to take us back to the tax rates of the Clinton administration (which were lower than that of the Reagan and 1st Bush administrations) the growth in income to the government would be roughly equal to that provided by the modest growth of the economy specified above.  But that would take a Democratic Congress and a will similar to that which gave us a health care law that stopped the free-loaders and provided a path for Americans to eventually have access to health care that might be comparable with that of other developed nations of the world, and the pledges that Republicans must sign for Grover Norquist will never let that happen.

In simple terms, the President’ plan contains a modest tax increase for about 2% of Americans and a commitment to sustaining a modest growth (and hence a modest but steady decline in unemployment) as well as continuing the practices which have thus far caused nearly full recovery in the capital markets.

The President must assume part of the blame for this because it was his “compromise” with the Republicans (for which he got nothing in return in the end) of extending the Bush tax cuts (which I have always referred to as the “Bush tax scheme”—which in the end Bush himself got nothing for either except a redistribution of wealth to the most wealthy and a ruined economy) that continued the loss of revenue to the government and increased the public debt.

The President well knows that taxes on everyone need to be increased.  And he simply is not going to do it.  There is, however, a simple method that could accomplish a tax hike, and most of the public favors it.  It involves everyone’s favorite “cause”:  reforming the tax code.  Here are the steps that should be followed:

•  All earnings are considered income.  (This would accomplish the Republican goal of “doing away with the Capital Gains tax—though probably not in the way they envision it, and the Democrat goal of not allowing citizens to avoid taxes by “managing” their funds or exporting them to other countries.)
• Confine loopholes (deductions and credits) to those who need them; such as, individuals with incomes below, say, \$25K or less and businesses with less than, say, 15 employees.
• All earners pay Social Security (payroll) taxes with no limit, but at a lower rate which would be accomplished by requiring everyone to pay.  Exception:  Those who pay into privately administered retirement funds; such as, public employees, career military, but not elected officials.
• Establish the rates that gave us the best results; that is, the ones that resulted in deficit surpluses and actual real payments on the public debt—those of the Clinton years.  The marginal rates of the mid-20th were too high, and the Bush rates were clearly too low.
• Treat (for tax purposes) all businesses and corporations as individuals.  The supreme court and the Republican party has already said that that’s what they are; for goodness sakes, Democrats, compromise on this issue, agree with them, and we can all get down to a one-page tax document.  It does not mean that we have to consider businesses and corporations as individuals for purposes of citizenship; even the staunchest of “conservatives” surely would not suggest that these entities take on that much responsibility!!!!!

It’s good to get to the arithmetic of Governor Romney’s proposals for in the event that he is elected to the Presidency.  These will be easier to work with since Mr. Romney has given the actual numbers as to what he expects to accomplish, just as, I might add, Mr. Obama did four years ago—numbers which have been used against him ever since and taken out of context to give false impressions much as the first examples of arithmetic that I used in this essay were so easily made into something “tricky.”  No doubt Mr. Romney’s figures will likewise be used against him as political hammers, and this will be just as unfair.

Mr. Romney’s points have been stated both in the debates he held with other candidates for his party’s nomination and in debates with the President.  I will use the ones that he has used in his debates with the President and in his campaign speeches for the Presidency.  This will, no doubt, irritate Democrats since they continually seek to bludgeon Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper and/or as a person who has no moral compass since his positions have changed significantly since his nomination.  (This radical change actually confused the President during the first debate since the President had obviously prepared for the version of Mr. Romney who managed to position himself as far “right” or even farther than those who competed with him for the nomination; and, therefore, what many people perceived as being disengaged was actually the President’s amazement at debating a person who was just then at that moment presenting the person he intended to be as “leader of the Republicans” and not the one he had to be to secure the nomination.)

In my opinion the Democrat attacks on Mr. Romney for taking this stance are   completely unwarranted.  But then the Republican attacks on the President which have no basis in fact; such as (but not limited to), his citizenship, his religion, his “otherness”, manufacturing “failures” where successes have actually occurred, using his statements out of context, and showing blatant disrespect for the commander-in-chief are even worse in that they are rude, dissembling, and often border on sedition.  Neither is justified by the ever popular saw “the other party does it”, and that argument has about the same worth and maturity of the first-grader excuse, “he did it too, teacher.”  As citizens we should scream bloody murder our objections, and embrace any effort to elect leaders who refrain from such behavior and lead by example.  But such change begins with our personal selves.  We cannot expect that behavior to stop until we refuse to support politicians, commentators, and news organizations which foster it.

Having come to Mr. Romney’s defense, (and before I deal with the figures he has given us) I now need to give my disclaimer:  I truly don’t understand what has become of “Republicanism.”  I have been a conservative all my life, and most of that time I embraced many, though not all, of the precepts of the Republican Party.  But the GOP of the last couple of decades eludes my abilities to characterize it.  It seems to me that the Party itself has subscribed to massive hypocrisy, ultra-liberalism, a complete disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law, fiscal irresponsibility on an unimaginable scale (consider how it replaced “tax and spend” with “borrow and spend”), a distaste for fairness and justice, and has embraced the multiple rationalizations necessary to call these stances “conservative” on a scale that has only been equaled in history by the propaganda machines of Nazi Germany, Communist China, the Soviet Union, and FOX news.  The examples of these precepts are legion and would require volumes, so I will give but a few; and I will use ones that have been not only “personally” justified to me by friends and acquaintances but also by the GOP officially and by the elected representatives of the Party who are or have been actively governing.

First and foremost, the Constitution:  I used to think (during the last decade or so), that contrary to what they always said, Republicans simply hated the Constitution.  But so many seemed to sincerely express their reverence for it that I changed my mind and for a while thought that maybe they simply did not know what it said.  Then I realized that these two things are almost identical.  You cannot revere the document and stay ignorant of its contents.  Let’s put aside the Patriot Act which nullified our Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights (which were restored by executive order by President Obama as one of his first official acts), and move to a couple of the direct violations of the Constitution tolerated and even supported by Republicans.  Every single Republican in the House and Senate (with the exception of Rand Paul) violated by speech and/or vote the Fourteenth Amendment (Paragraph 4) during their handling of the last Presidential request for Congressional approval for raising the debt ceiling.  Former President Clinton suggested that President Obama should simply have raised the ceiling (the same way he gave us back our Constitutional rights).  But as an actual Conservative, I believe that was not the proper course; I think those Congressmen and women should have been arrested.  I have yet to meet or hear from a Republican who even disagreed with the actions of their representatives in this matter.  But this is not even the worst example of how the GOP has turned its back on the Constitution. In WI the governor sought to violate the very first Article, Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution.  And real Conservatives (in this case mostly Democrats) sought to recall that Governor, Scott Walker.  The Republican National Committee sent \$20 million to the Party in WI to help fight that recall, and in that effort they were successful thus taking a stand against the clause our founding fathers wrote to protect all Americans in entering into and executing good faith contracts.  This stance of the GOP actually defied one of the pillars of the Constitution which Americans had believed in so long that “possession is 9/10 of the law” had become as accepted as being as American as apple pie and Chevys.  Of course, there’s more.  Throughout our entire history we have accepted that what the Constitution gave us was “equal protection under the law.”  And yet, evidently no Republican finds it objectionable that the Party advocates that gay people should not have, in fact, do not have the same rights as non-gays in matters of marriage, personal relationships, legal matters of partnerships, and even in military service.  This is not conservatism; it is simply a disregard for the document which is the foundation on which our country was built.

I will only deal with one other, dissembling.  My precept has always been that dissembling is not a conservative value.  (As far as that goes, it is not a liberal one either.)  Yet we now have a Republican Party which builds a plank into its platform that calls for a government that must grow so large that it can actually monitor the uteruses of its citizens as well as their doctors’ offices and their bedrooms.  And this is the same GOP which represents itself as being for “less government.”  Arithmetically, those two things do not compute.  Neither does the willingness of Republicans to accept the propaganda arm of the party, FOX news.  It is such acceptance that allows a campaign manager of the party to actually say, “We can’t conduct our campaign according to fact checks.”  It is not my intention here to be critical of the willful ignorance needed to embrace these precepts, but it is my intention to state emphatically that such hypocrisies are not “conservative” and as such are nearly impossible to comprehend—at least for me.

These are, however, the bases on which I state emphatically that no one should be critical of Mr. Romney for changing his positions.  These are the values and the actions of the Party of which he is now the leader.  It is his responsibility and his burden to try to lead with these values.  I mention that it is his “burden” since his history actually represents that of a completely sensible and principled man.  As governor he did support the most stringent hand gun control law in the nation.  He gave his state of MA a law which provided them with the best health care system in the country at the least expensive cost because he saved his constituents the \$1,077 that the rest of us now pay for the freeloaders who could buy insurance but elect not to simply because as a nation we have not had the will to insist that medical facilities, doctors, and first responders have no obligation to treat those who refuse to pay.  (BTW this is what the mandate in the AC&PPA that the Republicans, to their credit, insisted on solved; and was also put in jeopardy by the fact that those same Republicans then filed suit in the Supreme Court as being un-Constitutional, which was fortunately found to be without merit.  What better represents the type of Party that Mr. Romney has to try to “lead”?)  His Party has made it impossible for him to run on these achievements.

I speak of the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and of its members and spokespeople.  Certainly I do not mean that all Republicans are hypocrites.  Many carry this burden, seemingly willingly though.  Obviously for some this is just a matter of racism.  Even FOX reported on a recent poll of Americans that showed that 56% of Americans consider themselves to be either racist or persons who are “influenced by race on some decisions.”  The former director of the GOP, Michael Steele, himself a Negro and somewhat moderate and clearly very rational in his political views, often finds himself unwilling to publicly make excuses for the Trumps, Mourdocks, Akins, and Walshes of the Party.  But then there are the individuals who for years have wanted to “get to the bottom of the President’s association with his former minister, Richard Wright, but never even think to question Mr. Romney’s “relationship” with folks like Warren Jeffs, John D. Lee, Brigham Young, or Joseph Smith—and, worse, don’t even care who those people were or are.

This is my disclaimer.  I truly don’t get it.  And so I’m sure that in all things connected to modern Republicanism arithmetic is about the only thing that I can understand and perceive with accuracy.  It is therefore, with relief that I come to the figures which Mr. Romney has given us to work with.  He has stated that he “would do” the following:

• Institute an across-the-board revenue neutral 20% tax cut “for everyone”—exception—the top two per cent of earners rates “would not change.”  And specifically he said that this would be paid for by closing loopholes and by the increase in the growth of the economy that it would create.
• Create 12 million “good, new jobs.”
• Do away with the AC&PPA (Obamacare).
• Increase defense spending by 20%.
• People under the age of 55 would not be eligible for Medicare, but would be entitled to a government payment towards buying private health insurance of up to \$4K.
• Social Security for eligible workers under age 55 would not see their benefits change, but those below the age of 55 would see changes in both amounts of the benefits and qualifying retirement ages.
• Either doing away with the Capital Gains tax or cutting it in half.  (He has proposed both.)

The first one is the BIG one.  Mr. Romney agrees that the cost in revenue to the government of his 20% tax cut would be \$5 trillion.  Since he has specified that it would be revenue neutral that means that the cost of the \$5 trillion has to come from either tax increases realized by “closing loopholes”-- that is, eliminating deductions--or from some other source.  That other source, of course, is the one that has yet to ever manifest itself as a result of cutting taxes—growth in the economy.  (So let’s put aside my greatest fear for our country, that being that another round of debt producing tax cuts will actually send us into a depression as deep as the one that ran from 1929 to the mid-40s—one that the Republicans like to represent as being with us even now in their “doubling” of what they like to call the “actual unemployment rate” which makes their number equal the unemployment rate of the Great Depression and which any reasoning soul can see is simply not true, and move on to the other source of revenue which could make this tax cut revenue neutral.)

Taxes.  And for this let’s use the “Republican figures” so that if there is any bias in the conclusion it will lean towards the “right”—pun intended.  They seem to agree that there are about 120 million (income) tax-payers in the U.S.  To this we could easily add another 12 million (goal #2 above) soon after a Romney administration would take office, so that gives us a total of 132 million (income) tax payers (and, incidentally, according to their figures an unemployment rate of on 3.6%, but if we use the real unemployment figures put out by the non-partisan government Dept. of Labor in charge of providing those figures, an even lower unemployment rate of only .85%.  Hallelujah!!!)  It is simple to see how much more in taxes the average taxpayer would have to pay in either lost deductions and/or credits or else some kind of tax increase to offset the cost of this tax cut.  We simply divide 132 million into \$5 trillion and come up with only \$37,879 per individual tax payer.  Now, of course, some will pay more and some will pay less.  For instance, Mr. Romney has already committed that the taxes of the top 2% will not change.  So that takes 2.64 million people out of helping with this bill (as it turns out, those most able to help) and brings the average tax increase for those of us who make less than a quarter of a million dollars a year to the new total of \$38,759.  Fortunately, letting the richest off the hook on this bill has only increased the burden on the rest of us by \$880.  But wait, there’s more.  Let’s not forget that pledge to either do away with the Capital Gains tax or cut it in half.

For most tax payers, Capital Gains does not figure largely or often in their tax computations.  Presently when it does the individual gets a “loophole” of \$38,500 per “gain” and a married couple gets \$77,000.  That is, they, like the very richest, don’t have to pay any tax on those Capital Gains.  For the rich Capital Gains represent a justification for having their wealth “managed” in order to pay only 15% tax on their income.  There are many ways this is done, and here’s a simple example.  Suppose you are a person in the top 2% of income, and a portion of your wealth is invested in simple “instruments”; such as, CDs.  Most people probably don’t get statements like those with managed portfolios do, but in those statements one of the things that is included is the value of each individual CD if it were sold before it matured.  Banks often buy and sell these as their “capital needs” prescribe.  As a CD moves towards the date when it will pay out interest (and/or maturity), that interest accumulates in the balance and the CD becomes (generally, though not always as in the case when it is committed to paying a larger interest rate than the one which is on the open market at any given time) more valuable.  Once the interest is paid, the income to the owner is considered to be earnings and is taxed at the rate of earnings.  But if the CD is sold for its value before the interest is paid, the income realized from the sale is considered to be a Capital Gain and is taxed at the much lower rate.  As even a casual observer can see, if Capital Gains taxes are eliminated people with enough money to do these kinds of financial gymnastics will not have to pay any income tax at all.  And guess who will have to make up that income to the government.  Anybody?  Anybody?

Again using their own figures which specifically state that the “top two per cent” pay 60% of the income tax, it takes just a simply equation to figure how much those of us in the other 40% will have to pay.  And that figure turns out to be only \$15 trillion.  We can easily figure our average individual share by dividing this new bill by the number of us who are left to pay, and the answer is only an additional \$116,229.  Now all we have to do is add up all our obligations for this \$5 trillion tax cut to see if we’ve got the money in the bank.  And the total is \$149,988 for the average (income) tax payer.

If you are an average tax payer you’d better hope that those 12 million new jobs are very, very good jobs and that you get one of them.  But wait, if they are that good you can have your income “managed” and avoid having your rates change at all—in fact, if things turn out as promised, they’ll go away entirely.

Mr. Romney has committed to accompanying this tax restructuring with cuts in government spending (trans: fewer government jobs), no Medicare for those under age 55 (even though those folks have paid in all their working lives) but a replacement government subsidy towards buying your own insurance, and a commitment that you will have (get) to work longer to collect your Social Security and possibly settle for a lower benefit when that time eventually arrives.

It is arithmetic which anyone can see doesn’t “balance” in any real sense unless the “average” tax payer in the lower 98% of earners can readily come up with his or her \$149,998, aw, heck, let’s just say \$150K.  All this only demonstrates what anyone who does have any sense of numbers has felt in his or her gut since they heard the figures.  That’s too good to be true.

Conclusion:  It may not seem like it, and we have sure endured a flood of messages to the contrary; but two good and decent men are running for the Presidency.  Both have done good jobs in everything they have ever worked at.  Both have exceeding handicaps towards accomplishing their respective goals of being elected.  The President is Black, and that matters to a lot of people.  He has also had some failures in addition to his many successes as President.  (For me, the greatest of these was signing the bill to renew the Bush Tax cuts.)  If he were elected and renewed those tax cuts again (which he has once again sworn not to do) the country would continue to fall further into debt.  The arithmetic does not lie.  Mr. Romney has a record of exceeding success as well in almost everything he’s ever done.  His failings are few but serious, in my opinion; and they include keeping his funds outside of the U.S. (indicating that he personally has little or no faith in our ability to ever recover), having promised to do away with the AC&PPA, having subscribed to the now proven false theory that cutting taxes can boost the economy, and having agreed to lead a Party that in truth he simply has shown himself not to be in step with.

I would choose slow reasonable growth, the tax rates of the Clinton years, and an adherence to the Constitution to the alternative of proposals to go back to policies which have never worked and never benefitted any citizens save those with the most wealth.  But I confess that I do not understand how the second choice ever got to where it would be seriously considered, and that causes me to feel great fear.  At least, I still feel part of the citizenry, because I know there are many people who fear the first choice too.  And many of them are very likely smarter than I.

Ron Thomason, October 2012

Warren Hellman, news release in memoriam:

HELLMAN & FRIEDMAN LLC
News Release
SAN FRANCISCO, December 18, 2011
F. Warren Hellman, Beloved Founder, Passes Away at 77
Business innovator, private equity pioneer, dedicated philanthropist, civic
champion, keen sportsman, devoted husband, father and grandfather, San
Francisco icon, a true Renaissance man
The partners at Hellman & Friedman announce with great sadness today the passing of
our Founder Warren Hellman, 77, due to complications associated with leukemia.
“Warren was a great mentor, partner and friend, and above all, a great man,” said Brian
Powers, Chairman of Hellman & Friedman. “He will be deeply missed. His commitment
to civic and philanthropic activities and his extraordinary generosity to the many causes
he supported will have a lasting impact on our community.”
“We have been blessed with an amazing founder. Warren has been an inspiration to all
of us and set the standard by which we strive to live our personal and professional lives,”
said Philip Hammarskjold, Chief Executive Officer. “Warren taught us not only to be
better investors, but to be better people. He always set his own course and did things in
his own way. He wanted to build an investment firm dedicated to serving its limited
partners and the businesses in which we invest. We have all benefited greatly from his
Mick Hellman, one of Warren's four children said on behalf of his family, "Dad believed in
people and their power to accomplish incredible things. In that vein, he helped start
several really successful businesses over the years, and he considered Hellman &
Friedman his highest professional achievement. He was an incredible problem-solver,
and was great at bringing groups together that had naturally opposing interests and
nudging them to a solution. He was particularly passionate about the people of San
Francisco, and succeeded at projects that seemed like lost causes: fundraising for an
underground parking garage in Golden Gate Park and building a consensus for pension
reform in San Francisco. But he always pushed himself the hardest. His learning to
play the banjo is a great example of Dad's determination and ability to find joy in
confronting a challenge and overcoming it. He actually became a pretty good banjo
player, and it was always really cool to walk into a limited partners meeting at Hellman &
Friedman and hear his band performing."
Emmylou Harris, 12-time Grammy winner said, “I first met Warren through our mutual
love of bluegrass music and came to realize over the years what a special person he
was. He gave so much of himself to so many and we are all the richer for it. I’m blessed
to have known him and call him my friend.”
Mr. Hellman was a pioneer in the private equity business. After a distinguished career on
Wall Street, he co-founded Hellman & Friedman in 1984 with Tully Friedman, and built it
into one of the industry’s leading private equity firms. Since its inception, the firm has
raised over \$25 billion of committed capital and has generated some of the industry’s
most outstanding investment results. Mr. Hellman was critical in many of the firms
investments, including Levi Strauss & Company, VoiceStream Wireless, Young &
Rubicam, Eller Media and The NASDAQ Stock Market.
Mr. Hellman joined Lehman Brothers in 1959 after graduating from Harvard Business
School, and went on to become, at age 26, the youngest partner in the firm’s history.
From 1962 to 1977 he served in various capacities at the firm culminating in becoming
its President in 1973 at age 39. In 1977, he left Lehman and moved to Boston to cofound
one of the early firms in the venture capital industry which subsequently became
Matrix Partners and remains a leading venture firm today. During his tenure, Matrix was
an early investor in such notable start-ups as Apollo Computer, Stratus Computer,
Continental Cable (now Comcast), and Apple Computer. Also in Boston, Mr. Hellman
co-founded Hellman, Jordan Management Company, a specialty equity investment
manager.
Mr. Hellman was a noted philanthropist with strong roots in a wide variety of local
causes. He was an active participant within the community and gave generously of his
time and experience to make a difference. His extraordinary generosity touched the
lives of many. Mr. Hellman served as a past Chairman and Trustee Emeritus of The
San Francisco Foundation and was a well-known contributor to St. Anthony’s
Foundation, Golden Gate Park and the San Francisco Free Clinic, which was founded
by his daughter and son-in-law, Drs. Tricia and Richard Gibbs. He was an avid
proponent of public education and was a proud public school graduate himself. When
he was Chair of the San Francisco Foundation, he convened the San Francisco School
Alliance bringing the business community and funders to support and partner with the
San Francisco Unified School District. He served as a member of the Advisory Board of
the Walter A. Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and Trustee of the UC Berkeley
Foundation. Mr. Hellman was also a contributor to the UC Berkeley aquatics program
where he helped endow the Men’s Water Polo Program, and instituted the Hellman
Fellows Program at the University of California. In addition to serving the community at
large, Mr. Hellman was also a member of the Board of Directors & Executive Committee
for the Jewish Community Federation and Chair of the Jewish Community Endowment
Fund. He was Founder and Chairman of the Board of The Bay Citizen, a non-profit local
news organization, and a Trustee Emeritus of the Brookings Institution.
Mr. Hellman had a deep love of music, none more than bluegrass, the appreciation of
which he always said was "hard-wired". Later in his life, he became an accomplished 5-
string banjo player, and had an old-time band called The Wronglers with whom he
performed all over the U.S. The Wronglers collaborated with country singer Jimmie Dale
Gilmore this year and released the CD “Heirloom Music“; in June, they made a guest
appearance on A Prairie Home Companion. Mr. Hellman was the Founder and principal
sponsor of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco—an annual
three-day, free music festival which brings together over 90 leading and emerging music
groups and draws over 750,000 attendees each year. Speedway Meadow, the site of
the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival, was recently renamed “Hellman’s Hollow” in honor
of Mr. Hellman. In 2005, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and
Sciences. Mr. Hellman and his wife Chris, a former dancer, were generous supporters
of the arts, including the San Francisco Ballet, where Chris chaired the Board for many
years and helped make the San Francisco Ballet one of the leading ballet companies in
the world today. Mr. Hellman also supported San Francisco’s ODC contemporary dance
company and served as Chairman of Voice of Dance.
Mr. Hellman played an active role in civic affairs in San Francisco and California.
Dedicated to the well-being of San Francisco citizens, he served as a board member of
the Committee on JOBS, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Bay Area
Council. Most recently, he was a pivotal member in organizing support behind
Proposition C, legislation aimed at reforming San Francisco’s pension system. He
fostered collaborative efforts among the various constituencies to reach a joint solution.
He was not afraid of political controversy, however, and led and provided financial
leadership to the critical and successful effort to build an underground parking structure
in Golden Gate Park, helping to keep the California Academy of Sciences and the de
Young Museum in their historic locations.
Mr. Hellman was also an accomplished endurance athlete and skier. He twice
completed the Western States Endurance Run, a 100-mile foot race from Squaw Valley
to Auburn, CA, and five times completed the Tevis Cup, a 100-mile horse race over the
same course. He was also a five-time National Champion in Ride and Tie (combination
of cross-country running and endurance horseback riding) in his age group and a varsity
athlete in Water Polo at UC Berkeley. He was an avid skier throughout his life and was
an accomplished national caliber master ski racer. He co-founded the Stratton Mountain
School, a Vermont-based winter sports academy in 1972 and went on to serve as
president of the U.S. Ski Team in the late 1970’s. He was a board member of the Sugar
Bowl ski resort in Lake Tahoe, CA and is credited with helping to revitalize the resort and
support the building of its world class ski racing academy. An avid runner his whole life,
Mr. Hellman clocked several miles every day during his very early morning San
Francisco neighborhood runs.
Mr. Hellman was born in New York City in 1934 and grew up in Vacaville and San
Francisco, CA. He was the son of the late Marco and Ruth Hellman and the greatgrandson
of Isaias W. Hellman, the president of Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank. Mr.
Hellman was a graduate of Lowell High School in San Francisco, the University of
California at Berkeley (1955) and Harvard Business School (1959). He served in the
U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957. Mr. Hellman was a loving husband and a devoted family
man. He is survived by Chris, his wife of 56 years, his sister Nancy Bechtle, his four
children Frances, Tricia, Mick and Judith, 12 grandchildren and one great grandchild.
He was very proud of his children and all that they have accomplished. Frances
Hellman is Chair of the Physics Department at UC Berkeley, Tricia Gibbs, MD is cofounder
of The San Francisco Free Clinic, Mick Hellman is Founder and Managing
Partner of HMI Capital and a Senior Advisor of Hellman & Friedman, and Judith
Hellman, MD is an Associate Professor at UCSF.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the San Francisco Free
Clinic, The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco School Alliance. A memorial service will
be held on Wednesday at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Lyle Lovett’s rendition of our National Anthem

This is about happily being, quite by chance, at a truly remarkable performance.  The event was the National Cutting Horse Association’s “Celebrity Cutting Event” held at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Ft. Worth, TX, the purpose of which is to support a cancer care and research organization.

Cutting is a competitive horse sport which involves isolating a calf from a group of calves and keeping it away from the group for two and a half minutes or until the calf turns away from the group.  When the calf turns away, that’s called “a quit”, and in the event that there is still time left the rider can select another (and even another) calf until the time runs out.  Both horse and rider must work as a team, and a good team is not only beautiful to watch but can be quite amazing in their quickness, finesse, balance, and timing.

One might think that “celebrities” that volunteer for such a good cause might not be very competent at such a demanding sport, but that was certainly not the case with the celebrities that I saw.  The best were quite good, almost “professional” in their rides, and the most amateur still were dedicated to doing their best and were well-appreciated for their attempts.  There was, for instance, an outstanding ride by a member of the Wounded Warriors who had lost both legs in Iraq.  I will let you imagine the enthusiastic, heart-warming, standing ovation that that ride received.

But the highlight of the evening for me came at the beginning of the event.  It was Lyle Lovett’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”  I think that bluegrass fans will love what I am about to say and understand it in a way that, just maybe, members of the “general audience” would not:  Mr. Lovett sang the tune.

When was the last time you heard a celebrity do that?

And he sang it—there’s no other word—GREAT.  His performance represented pure class.  He was accompanied by only a cellist named John, whose last name, I regrettably have forgotten.  Before he started he said, “John and I would consider it an honor if you would sing along with us.”  And you knew he meant it.  And he sang the song in a way that we all could.  And many did start with him.  But the feeling, tone, sensitivity, and emotion that he put into the song soon had everyone listening.

No one can explain a sound in words.  I can only say that I hope that I have never heard a stronger performance in my life.  I hope that everyone gets to have musical moments like that in their lives.  In fact, I hope you get to hear Lyle Lovett sing “The Star Spangled Banner” some time.

I wish you all Happy Holidays.

RT, Dec. 2011

p.s.  By an hour after I had sent out the notice, several folks had asked about how Lyle did in the cutting.  In short he was phenomenal.

Many folks know that Lyle Lovett is an avid horseman.  He frequently is written about in "western" leaning publications with regard to his "cowboyness."  It is real.  He lives on the same ranch that has been in his family for almost a couple of centuries.  He is very much involved in the horse industry.  As he works with and is considered a peer of some of the finest musicians in the country, he likewise works with and is considered a pier of some of the finest horsemen in the country.

He is a fine athlete.  It showed in the gracious way that he interacted with the other riders (and with his horse).  All the other competitors were able to focus on the competition as soon as the introductions and opening ceremonies were completed.  Not so, Mr. Lovett.  The other competitors certainly respected his "space", but they also took turnabouts approaching him and enjoying a short interaction with the man.  He acknowledged each one in turn, took his time with each person, and concentrated on the competition as he could.  Eventually he had time to warm up his horse (and himself), and I can state emphatically that a smoother canter than the one he struck in the warm up area has never been struck.  I imagine it must have been such a canter that Robert E. Lee struck when he reviewed the troops at Gettysburg on Traveler with a ride that took the whole day.

What needs to be said is that Cutting is not Mr. Lovett's sport.  He is a Reiner, and acknowledged as a very good one.  He trains with the No. 1 Reiner in the world.  I can't think of a very good musical analogy, but even though Cutting and Reining employ some of the same skills, they are very different sports.  Mr. Lovett's respect for the sport and his athletic skill shone through when his time came to Cut. He skillfully isolated each cow in turn, and kept them where they were supposed to be for the entire time.  Not only that, he did it with the look and flare of the pros.  There was no doubt in my mind that he had prepared, and had come to the event to not only support the worthy cause but to do justice to the beauty and class of the sport of Cutting.

He had his horse dancing like the professional Bull Riders had, and they had come to show they could ride anything (which one might not think that an actual "bull rider" had to prove.)

The Thirteenth:

EDUCATION

I fondly remember when Education was paramount in the minds of Americans.  Although the U.S. has never been “number one” in Education, there were several decades when we always ranked in the Top 5 of the “developed” nations of the world, and did, in fact, rank No. 1 in several specific fields.

Those days have long since passed.  Now the U.S. ranks lazily near the bottom of all the developed (what have become known as the “industrialized” nations) and in many fields of endeavor does not even rank in the top five of the “undeveloped” nations of the world.  The evidence of this is ever-present, throwing pies in the faces of Americans at every turn.  Who can miss the fact that when Olympic champions for other countries win medals, they frequently do interviews not only in their native languages but also in English?  Who doesn’t have a friend or neighbor who likes to act like they are well educated when they act like being able to parrot the simplistic views of politicians and biased news commentators actually represents real knowledge about very difficult fields like, say, Economics?  I have met certified psychologists who deal daily with statistics, charts, graphs, and the interpretation of number curves who cannot do simply calculus, the very basis for the production of and interpretation of those instruments that they use.

Some 20 years ago when Dry Branch Fire Squad traveled to Morocco, the guide that had been assigned to us on our “cultural exchange” tour was an 11th grade girl.  She spoke fluent French, Spanish, English, and, of course, Arabic.  She was very disappointed that her career options might be limited to “tourism” since the field she enjoyed most and was most proficient in was Math.  She was proud of the fact that she had done quite well in Algebra and Analytic Geometry and had, therefore, been allowed to take both courses of Calculus that were being offered at her high school.  I was fortunate enough to get to visit one of those schools.  The principal explained to me that “almost everything we know about how to educate children comes from the U.S. and we are puzzled as to why those techniques which are most effective are never practiced in your country.”

And what were those “techniques” that she mentioned?  1) Respect for learning and knowledge.  2) Pride in critical, well-informed thinking.  And 3) that parents are responsible for their children.  Here’s what I noticed there:  Every child was well-behaved; discipline problems, I was told, were almost non-existent.  And every child was prepared for the daily tasks of learning with the right materials, homework completed, and as nicely dressed as one could expect in a Third World Country.  The “secret” to achieving those minimal advantages for the children was explained:  The children were never called to account for short-comings in discipline or preparedness; their parents were.  Parents who did not assure that their children were prepared for school and well-behaved while they were there could be and were prosecuted under the law.  They could be fined and in extreme cases sentenced to a multitude of other punishments.  The school could assume that all behavioral problems would be handled by parents—and they were!

We have allowed our education system to falter by willingly embracing ignorance.  As brutal as that statement is, the evidence is legion.

It is not unusual to hear people denigrate Nobel Prize Winners.  Yet it was not too many years ago when we took pride in seeing Americans win those awards.  The propaganda arm of the Republican Party, FOX News, frequently denigrates the intellectual accomplishments of those with whom they disagree politically while at the same time lauding the “forgivable” ignorance of those with whom they agree politically as being “more like us” or “having common sense.”  Further the very institutions of learning are frequently painted with comments which are meant to be derogatory like “liberal colleges” or “elitist professors” or “instructors who are not tolerant of opposing points of view”—almost none of which can be supported by evidence and are, in fact, contrary to what the evidence actually supports.  Political leaders; even the smart, well-educated ones say things like “you have to balance your household budget so why shouldn’t the government” as if being able to handle your checkbook was the same as understanding  Economic theories, when everyone who has ever attended college knows that second only to Astronomy, Economics is the most difficult field one can enter.

It may be that there is nothing we can do as a nation to counter what has become our cavalier attitude towards Education.  We have tolerated people running for the highest office in the land bragging about their ignorance and flaunting it for all to see.  Likewise we have succumbed to the idea that “common” sense is more laudable than extensive knowledge, expertise, experience, and high intelligence in a leader.  It is not unusual to find citizens who actually feel disrespect for people who are well-educated.  And our own ignorance about Education shows a lack of concern for the ability of our nation to keep up with the other nations of the world in being well-informed and having the ability to think critically.

For instance consider how many people think that most teachers are union members, are difficult to fire, get paid too much for doing too little, and on average are barely competent.

Let’s set a few of those misconceptions straight as a start.  It is true that 10% to 12% of America’s teachers are members of a union.  That union is the American Federation of Teachers and is a branch of the Teamsters Union.  None of the rest of the teachers belong to a union, although they have had that drilled into their brains so long that many of them actually think they do.  (This is not unlike the propaganda that has Republicans thinking they are “conservative” while Democrats accept that they are “liberal”, when, in fact, Republicans couldn’t even “conserve” a budget surplus and have supported many anti-Constitutional movements while Democrats were the last to balance the budget and very recently restored Constitutional rights which Republicans had circumvented.  (See why critical thinking is necessary to the survival of a democracy, and Education is the portal to being able to think critically.)  Of that nearly 90% of teachers who are not union members, a large portion (about 65%) are members of the NEA, the National Education Association.  The NEA is a professional association like the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association.  It is not a union.  It is an organization which supports teachers by providing information and help with training, working conditions, insurance, school finance, and a host of things that professionals must deal with in their work.

Here’s another:  People think that teachers are paid year round.  It is true that they receive their pay year round, but they earn their pay on the 180 to 183 days that they work.  That pay is divided up into (generally) bi-weekly pay periods and divvied out over an entire year.  In other words teachers don’t even get their pay when they earn it; rather much of it is held back and paid to them months after the actual work has been done.  It’s like waiting for someone to pay a bill that they owe you and is well past due.  And what other professional job can one mention where there are no paid holidays –not Christmas, not Easter, not any of the “Monday” holidays.  And for doing this job one is expected to have a college degree and to keep up with professional training throughout their career.

Which brings me to tenure.  There are few things in any workplace that have been used to brutally beat down the work force as tenure has been used against teachers.  Tenure was originally demanded (occasionally negotiated) by Boards of Education as a method for enticing teachers to stay with the profession and to continue with their educations.  It generally follows a formula of requiring a certain number of years of experience and a specified amount of continued education in order to be granted to a teacher.  Once tenure is granted it guarantees only one thing:  That a teacher cannot be fired or not offered a renewed contract without a suitable reason established through evaluation or through administrative observations of incompetence or unprofessional or illegal behavior.  That is, contrary to popular belief (and the rants of “fair and balanced” commentators), tenured teachers can be and are fired for good reasons that have to do with their job performances.  They simply cannot be fired for no reason at all—other than that their position has been eliminated by a local Board of Education.

It is no accident that back when the U.S. was ranked very high in the world in education teachers were well-respected, parents took responsibility for the behavior of their children, and neighborhoods wanted to have good schools and gladly paid higher taxes and approved school levies at the polls.  But even more important was the premium that citizens of this country put on knowledge, creativity, and the pride that we had in what we knew and how hard we had worked to get that knowledge.

Now we tolerate people who run for President by saying “the first thing I would do away with is the Department of Education” and in the same breath go on to explain how they might be the best candidate because they “didn’t get their education at some ivy league college.”  We are entertained by listening to people who denigrate the knowledge of those they disagree with as being “liberal” or “conservative” or “elitist.”  The language of criminals like former vice-President, Spiro Agnew became famous when he derided his accusers as “effete, intellectual snobs.”  Since when have we as public believed that one has to be an “effete, intellectual snob” to recognize criminal behavior.  But, worse, when did being “intellectual” become a bad thing.

I know where to use semi-colons and understand the precepts of higher math.  I have read small portions of the Bible in both Latin and Attic Greek.  I love poetry and live my life by the T.S. Eliot aphorism, “You have to bring knowledge to the poem” and revel in the fact that I can understand that poem is a metaphor in that quote.  But I cannot speak a language other than English.  I can no longer integrate a simple equation, though I once could.  I’m pretty weak in geography and in remembering the names of world leaders.  And I often say (and believe) that it would be easy to write an entire Encyclopedia about the stuff that I don’t know.  But I do not take pride in my ignorance; nor am I proud of what little I know.

The reason is because I know for certain, beyond a doubt, the following:  That I am lucky beyond belief that both my grandmothers taught me poetry and helped me enjoy it from the time I was three years old.  That one even bought me a book titled Einstein’s Essays in Science, which I still can’t comprehend but which I treasure for the fact that there is knowledge in there that I can’t quite get.  That I owe a debt of gratitude to more teachers than I can remember for instilling in me (in some of the poorest schools, and later some of the best) a love of and respect for learning.  That my parents were determined from the time I was in grade school that I would go to college, and they made it happen somehow even though the whole idea scared the daylights out of me.

I have often felt that one of the best lines I ever wrote was “It’s hard to believe that only half the people are dumber than average.”  Yet there’s no arguing with the line; it is, in fact, the very definition of what has become the Intelligence Curve.  But ignorance has little to do with intelligence.  Ignorance is a function of attitude to a large degree.  We Americans could, if we wanted to and if we quit listening to those who try to make us feel like “we’re OK” with our ignorance simply because we’re Americans, once again raise the levels of our educational systems and of our educational levels to those that are becoming “standard” in other countries by accepting for ourselves and instilling in our children a love and respect for knowledge, curiosity, and thinking.  That would mean expanding our school years (by about 1/3), seeing the value of good education and being enthusiastic about paying for it, and, by God, being insulted and willing to do something about it when leaders, commentators, politicians, and even entertainers talk down to us.

Here’s where I’d start.  In the past year four different states have made attempts to violate the Constitution; specifically Article One, Section 10 (read all the way to the last word) by trying to change through legislation that which was agreed to through bargaining and signing contracts to the effect of what was agreed to in those contracts.  In all four instances those circumventing the Constitution referred to themselves as conservatives, were backed by the Republican Party, and in three of the instances the actions were initiated by Governors who called themselves “Constitutionalists.”  And almost no one in the whole U.S. called them to task for this misrepresentation.  Even teachers who should have know what the Constitution says never even brought this gross violation of the document up.  We, the general public, need to know these things.  We cannot expect our government to survive willful ignorance of the actual document upon which our nation was founded.  Our founding fathers were smart enough to put protections in there, but we have let them down by not even being willing to read and understand the document which they took the time to create and put their lives on the line for.  But if we do that little amount of work, then maybe the next time that members of Congress violate the Fourteenth Amendment, as they did just this past year, the President may be overwhelmed by the calls for him to go down Pennsylvania Avenue and arrest everyone in violation.  You don’t have to look it up; here it is (from section four in the imperative as it is written):  “The validity of the public debt…… shall not be questioned.”

RT, November 2011

Ron Thomason's tribute to Hazel Dickens, which first appeared on IBMA-L:

Oh, Hazel…….

She never held back, even at the end.  Her voice above all others had the power to flay, and when combined with her words, did just that.

She was a writer more of phrases than of words.  She expressed herself in aphorisms you could live by.  The one I chose was, “Just playing bluegrass is political.”

We were from identical places, she and I; where the words “Old King Coal” did not evoke a nursery rhyme, John L. Lewis was the “greatest man that ever lived and the ‘goodest’”, and Edward Berwind was the “most powerful and the viliest.”  We had both experienced violence, physical and spiritual, and we spoke of it only once and then but briefly.  I never knew her to explain anything, and this was no exception.  She modeled; (isn’t that what every obituary about her really says?)  And with respect to the harsh life she had experienced, she lived in a way that taught us all that it is far better to have choices as to how that harshness forms you than to have no choice at all.

No epithets accurately describe her voice—even when used in tandem.  The best that can be said is that it projected the sounds of deep pit mining itself…at once shrill with the screech of steel, plaintive as an underground stream, enraged as a disenfranchished striker, and lonesome as a single pick against a poor seam.  But for those who were schooled and ready that voice and her words broke open pores and called the night wind in and made you live for a few precious moments deep in your core.  It was that voice which caused her to be known by just one name, Hazel; like, Dolly, Janis, Emmylou or Elvis, Ray, and Jones—all of whom she admired.

I suspect that she had many friends, but I’m not so sure that they knew each other very well.  They were a varied group, many of whom seemed to have little in common; folks like Ken Irwin, Lynn Morris, and Warren Hellman.  She let them in one at a time, kept them forever, and gave them…fidelity.  Her heart was filled with love and empathy, and she was loved by countless fans who surely sensed that.  She was rather shy, often isolated herself, and yet she when the call to perform arose, she never, never ever, held back.

It was impossible for her to sing the same song the same way twice.  Every time she sang, it poured forth as from a new dug, unlined well.  She always dug deep.  Her performances were at once filled with power and vulnerability, empathy and lecture, agnosticism and Baptist, but never restraint.  In her prime she gave her audiences strength and meaning, and in her later years she got that back from them.  I’m not aware of anyone who left the bargain dissatisfied.

Early on I mistakenly thought of her as a Feminist.  She was, in fact, a Humanist.  When once I brought up an incident where women were being degraded, she kindly pointed out to me that the men responsible were “degrading themselves as well.”  She enlisted her compatriots to play music at the Women Coal Mining College, and thus exposed some of “us ‘hillbilly’ men” to the experience of being in the minority amongst strong, capable, and indomitable women.  It was not lost on most of us that up till then we didn’t even know there was such a place.  Once I was “catching up” a Nashville lady friend of hers on Hazel’s most recent political activities, and I must have brandished a little too enthusiastically which prompted her to say, “Ron, she’s only a woman.”  And I remember well that was the one time in my life I had the appropriate response right when I needed it (the kind I usually only think of after it’s way too late):  “Oh, I know that; like a diamond is only a stone.”  I have a picture that a friend took of us sitting in conversation on the steps of the original Birchmere stage after a gig several decades ago which that friend inscribed:  “sitting with the world’s greatest woman.”

Hazel seemingly never forgot.  When I bought my good mandolin back in the late ‘70s, she had some advice:  “Don’t get that thing.  You’ll never take it out with you, because you’ll always worry about it too much.”  Over a quarter of a century later she pointed at the instrument and said, “You know, you never would have gotten any good out of that expensive thing if I hadn’t put the dare on you right from the start.”  In fact, she among all others expressed herself so memorably that her terse words unfailingly come back to me.  I particularly remember having to present what was to me a very important speech at IBMA for which I had bought the best suit I had ever owned.  Hazel surprised me just before the event with an elbow to the back and said, “You’re a long way from Honacre now, Boy.”

The last time I saw her was at the Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass “cast party.”  Warren Hellman, ever the watchful host, had made sure that Hazel and Beth Weil were at his table. The stage as always was alternately filled with the stars from the day’s show performing for their peers.  Hazel was frail and weak and, I believe, in some pain.  But she said, “Why don’t you and me get up there and sing these folks a song.”  Sure, of course, and it was no surprise to me that she out-sang everyone in the room.  Everyone.  And they knew it.  I hope she did, too.  But I’ll never know.  No one ever knew her mind.

Oh, Hazel, hard times come again.

No more.  RT

THE TWELFTH

As has become my habit, I must put in my disclaimer.  The opinions below are mine and mine alone.  They do not reflect the opinions of any other members of the Dry Branch Fire Squad.  I would, however, like to once again give credit to the members of the band for being well-informed and always ready to engage in thoughtful discussions which help me check facts, stay informed to the best of my ability, and to examine and re-examine my own philosophies and conclusions.

HEALTH CARE

One might think, given our unusually short attention spans, that “the” debate about Health Care in the U.S. took place mostly in the past year.  That debate has been going on all my life, and it started long before I was born 65 years ago.

It was last year, however, when my intention was to write a little satire for this series of satires the subject of which was to be “health care.”  For reasons I’ll mention at the end of this little piece I decided not to do that.

It would have gone like this (short version):  I’m for the Republican Plan.  I believe the commentators on Fox News when they say, “Americans have the best health care in the world.”  Therefore, why rock the boat.  Obviously those folks who say that our health care ranks 37th in the world just don’t have access to the facts that truth-sayers like Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly have.  Why anyone can see that if we were really 37th we wouldn’t even be in the Top Ten of the undeveloped nations of the world.  I rather choose to believe those who don’t ask me to accept such a difficult fact.  Furthermore, I myself have one of those “Cadillac” insurance policies which provide me with excellent service at an affordable cost (if it just weren’t for that pesky \$4,800.00/yr. I had to start paying for Medicare when I turned 65 lest my “Cadillac” insurance provider would cancel my coverage altogether).  In fact, under the Republican Plan my insurance coverage is second only to that of folks who elect not to have any coverage at all, including, but not limited to illegal immigrants.  They, of course, have the best coverage under the Republican Plan since theirs costs them nothing, and under their plan they don’t have to make appointments, wait in lobbies, fill in pesky forms, risk being denied coverage for certain medicines or procedures, or pay any co-pays and deductibles; rather they simply go to the Emergency Room of their choice at a time which is convenient to them and receive the most up-to-date care, the best brand name medicines, and the immediate attention of qualified hospital staff professionals whenever and as often as they deem necessary.  And the best part for them is that under the Republican Plan I get to pay my share of their costs without having any say-so in the matter.  It amazes me that the Democrats think they can improve on a plan like that!!!

The problem with an essay written from that outline is about the same as trying to write a satire about the “old” Elvis.  He himself was that satire.  Like so many icons he became a parody of himself.  And, folks, it takes more than what energy I’ve got left to fashion a satire of a parody.

It was a fact that this great nation had tried since before the turn of the last century to get “reform” for our health care system.  We had watched for a century as the rest of the world passed us up in that regard.  We had become a nation of sick folks, who, on average, died younger, lived more ill, and knew less about how to take care of ourselves than 36 other nations in this world.  So when the time came for us to face the music that living better, healthier lives might involve some effort on our “individual” parts, there arose a great political hew and cry against doing anything.  Fortunately, it was not quite a majority—but almost.

The lies we told ourselves were almost as bad as the lies that we were told.  In the end those who lied best actually managed to “gut” the reform which will have to happen through further refinements.  The worst of them were what came to be called “elements” of the Republican Plan:  things like, Tort Reform, Cost Cutting, “responsible” reform, etc.  There were folks who actually believed that stuff even though those who were telling them the lies had had no less than 12 years in control of Congress (eight of which were with a sympathetic President) and yet they had never even proposed or offered up as legislation any of those ideas or any of the others they rambled about.

It occurred to me that even if that is ridiculous beyond belief, it’s just too pathetic to be funny.  So I finked out, kept my tongue in my cheek, and even stopped writing altogether for a while.  I had reservations, but now I think it was the right thing to do.

There was a fine fellow in the band some years ago who said, “It’s no use trying to teach a pig to sing.  You can’t do it, and it only irritates the pig.”  I would only have irritated those who thought that “the Republican Plan” was actually something to get behind.  I saw that many of these folks were people who didn’t even have the gumption to get insulted when some merchant of fantasy like Glenn Beck would draw pictures for them on a blackboard as if that could prove the fantasies.  I could have done better satirizing Ozzy Osborne because, heavens knows, he hasn’t become a parody which manifested itself so severely as to embarrass the R ‘n’ R Hall of Fame anniversary concert.

CONSERVATIVES

Try to imagine something more Orwellian than the state of Conservatism in the U.S.

I have always considered myself conservative, and I hope there are some of us left in far-flung pods here and there, but I don’t see any evidence of it.  I have taken to delineating folks who call themselves conservative and yet do not seem to believe in anything which is conservative or to support any representatives who acts conservative or do not do anything conservative themselves as “conservative.”

As I write this it strikes me that for the past four months “conservatives” have busied themselves with the cause of denying Sixth Amendment rights to millions of New Yorkers.  Whenever I run into a “conservative” I have taken to asking them how they can live with themselves for stating that they “believe in the Constitution” and yet support the denial of that right.  I have yet to meet one who even knew what the Sixth Amendment addressed.  I have a theory that this little rant will be read by both conservatives and “conservatives”, and that the “conservatives” will have to “look up” the Sixth Amendment and having done so still fail to realize that when one seeks to deny the right of citizens to try those who commit crimes in their region that one is denying those citizens their Sixth Amendment rights.  And my theory postulates that those who actually know what the Sixth Amendment addresses will find that they were amongst those who applauded Attorney General Holder for attempting to try KSM in New York City.  In my theoretical world actual conservatives really do believe in the Bill of Rights.

I could exhaust myself before I scratched the surface of this disconnect, and I also don’t want to make anyone mad; so I’ll give just a couple of more examples that seem to border on the irrational to me.  A couple of days after the Health Care Reform Bill passed there appeared on the O’Reilly Factor a show of arrogance in the extreme as Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller in an attempt to make fun of certain provisions in the Bill went wild.  These two “conservatives” were having a conversation about how ridiculous it was to have a provision in the Bill that allowed children of a household to remain covered by the family’s insurance policy until age 26.  The following are quotes:  “If I had a child who still lived at home at age 26 he’d need insurance” and “I want my kid out there ‘humping’ when he’s that old.”  There was a time (and maybe there still is) when an actual conservative would be ashamed to hear such talk.  Remember when we conservatives believed in raising our children to serve their country in such endeavors as the armed services, the Peace Corp., through charitable work and/or in aiding with hardships in other nations.  Such children, of course, need to be covered by their family’s insurance until they have completed such work which could well last for three or four years.  Remember when conservatives, among others, hoped that their children might enter professions which require extensive schooling that could last eight years (or more) after high school; such as, doctoring, lawyering, ministering, and so forth.  Certainly a case can be made that arrogance is nothing new to being a conservative, but only “conservatives” seem to be able to carry it to such an extreme as the likes those two.

Then there’s “conservatives” like Newt Gingrich who has taken his “conservatism” to such an extreme that it can only be called liberalism.  Just last month he gave a speech that included the lines (relating to energy production) “Drill here.  Drill now.  Drill often.”  Whether that’s a good practice to subscribe to or not, it is certainly not conservative nor does it address itself to that mantra of the “conservatives” that always seems to be concerned about what we “are leaving” to our children and/or our grandchildren.  Any actual conservative knows without being told that if we mine what oil we have now, it is just oil.  But if we save it for our children, or waaaaay better, our grandchildren or their grandchildren to mine, then it’s diamonds, gold, platinum—priceless as MasterCard.  Now I know this will confuse “conservatives”; they don’t do metaphors.

“Conservatives” are easily spotted:  They decried the governance of Bill Clinton who shrunk the size of government, vetoed spending bills, balanced the budget, and left a budget surplus while fighting wars with exceedingly low loss of life, avenging attacks upon us, and grew the economy; and they supported the governance of George W. Bush who squandered the budget surplus, cut taxes on the wealthy and corporations, incurred tremendous loss of life in war (at least one of which was falsely represented), spent the country into bankruptcy and expanded the size of the Federal government.  In other words, “conservatives” do exactly the opposite of what they purport to do; they seem to believe exactly the opposite of what they represent themselves as believing, and they politically support those who represent themselves exactly the opposite of what they are.

I assume that these folks are good folks.  Therefore, I can only conclude that they are woefully misinformed or lacking in “critical thinking” skills—or both.

I would contrast them to liberals, but—well, I already have.  I tend to disagree with liberalism (with certain exceptions), but I hardly ever find liberals being unwilling to represent themselves accurately.  It could be the paucity of liberals available in these times (contrary to what we are continually told).

REPUBLICANS

I often wonder; sometimes in a cynical, humorous way but sometimes in a sympathetic, serious way; why are there still Republicans.  No one can deny that there still are some.  I admire their loyalty, although I do think it undeserved.  It would be hard to imagine a group so large which has been lied to, cheated, and betrayed more than in the past decade and a half than Republicans.  I, however, do not respect any of them for putting up with it.  Take away the ones which are legacies (and the ones who won’t understand what that means), the ones who are uninformed (either intentionally or through willful ignorance), the ones who have made a conscious decision to get their news from Fox even when anyone who is cognizant of their own basic existence can see that Fox is not going to report anything that they, as a corporate entity, cannot either give the proper spin to further their agenda or pass off as truth when it is a lie (or worse a half-truth—the most venal kind of lie), and there is still a large population of good, informed, intelligent, committed folks identify themselves as Republicans.

Those folks must fit into one of the following categories:  Either they like what their elected officials have done and/or are doing, or they have chosen and are continuing to choose to believe their elected officials in the face of unmitigated lies and broken commitments.  What follows is not exhaustive, but does touch on a few high points that should be addressed in meaningful, constructive ways by those remaining Republicans and definitely illustrate the need for them to absolutely stop defending the party until they change the state of it.

In 1996 the Republican Party under the guise of conservatism took over both houses of the U.S. Congress.  They did this with a promise to the people of the country and specifically to the members of their Party and those who elected them.  This promise they called “A Contract with America.”  I will not summarize here the entire “contract” but I will touch upon a few of the items in it as being representative of what the “contract” contained and also of what was done with regards to those items.  Those elected Republican representatives (not only in Congress but in governorships and state and local governmental branches) promised, among other things, to pass into law a “balanced budget amendment”, Social Security reform, a “right-to-life amendment”, to “reduce the size of ‘government in our lives’”, to “reform immigration laws and policies”, to “reform health care”,   and “to improve education.”

In the four years between the time those folks were elected and the elections of 2000 they did none of that.  In fact, and this is the compelling part for which I can see no reasonable defense, they never even proposed any of that.  That’s right; no law was ever drafted or debated or brought to the floor of either house of the Congress that they controlled to address any of the issues that are named above.  In fact, these folks who promised (at least by implication) to “get government out of our lives” squandered all of their political capital on the unsuccessful impeachment trial of the President.

Where was the rage?  Do folks who want government out of their lives think they can accomplish that by putting government in the bedroom (or the Oval Office) of the President?  Does anyone really think that if the President’s sex life is not his own business that those citizens who are not President can expect protections that he doesn’t have?  But let’s say that people who count themselves as Republicans really wanted the President to have to stand trial for having sex and lying about it.  OK.  Did that excuse those they elected from not at least trying to make good on some of the promises on which they got elected.

What if the only thing they had done was propose (and fantasy of fantasies) actually got a “balanced budget amendment” passed, think of how much agony, unemployment, the spending of the country into bankruptcy, unnecessary war(s), debt to China and other nations which mean us no good, and so on and so forth could have been avoided in the last nine years.  These were not Democrat ideas.  Yet they may well have been embraced by democrats if they had been proposed.  We’ll never know.  The Republicans betrayed their own Party, their electorate, all of us; and as far as could be seen, they were not chastised but rewarded for it.

The election of 2000 was over the same issues with a few new ones added on.  In addition to the BIG issue of Social Security reform, footnotes on the others, the idea of a tax cut was floated.  We were told point blank that it was a tax cut for the rich.  What we were not told by either Republicans or Democrats (could they not have known) that it also entailed cutting (or leaving) taxes on foreign profits which remained out of the country to 0%.  Let me repeat that: Zero—yes, 0%.  They got elected again and at long last controlled all three branches of the Federal Government.  And in the succeeding eight years that they had this power how many items in the “Contract with America” were signed into law.  Zero.  Worse, far worse, how many were proposed for action and/or debate by the Congress or pushed by the President.  Zero.

Here’s the explanation that we were given by (in my opinion the vilest man to ever hold a high national office—including Richard Nixon) former Vice-president Cheney:  “Well, 9/11 happened.”  And believe it or not that answer must have been accepted by reasonable people—by people who still call themselves Republicans.

I can see only two possible real reasons why those Republican leaders who had been entrusted to “honor” their contract by the citizens of this country did not even attempt to do that.  Either they lied or they never actually cared about the policies they espoused and only wanted the power that came from being elected.  Either way they categorically betrayed the American people and especially their Republican confederates.

I believe we (all American citizens) have to face that fact.  We cannot allow such a blatant lie or betrayal to go unaddressed.

Here’s what those Republicans that controlled all three branches of government for eight years did:  1) They entered into a war on false pretenses (whether through ignorance or malfeasance).  2) They drew down forces on a second war (a mistake?).  3) They squandered the biggest budget surplus ever by handing it to the top earners in the country in the form of massive tax cuts.  4) They enlarged the Federal Government both in size and scope.  5) They spent us into near bankruptcy from which it is doubtful that we can recover.  6) They not only violated our treaties, they violated our Constitution by first taking away our Fourth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendment rights through executive fiat and when that came under fire by passing and signing the Patriot Act (incredibly passed with bi-partisan support) which violated the same rights through legislation. 7) And they failed to enforce regulation laws with such dereliction of duty that the very economy of the country nearly collapsed.  This list is just a sample; it is not complete.

I’m sick of hearing people defend such policies.  And I have a lot of regret for the way that Republicans have been betrayed by their own and continue to be betrayed even today as if once the bad habits have been formed, they cannot be changed.

As I write this the Republican leaders of this country have spent the past five months in a concerted effort to deprive citizens of New York City of their Sixth Amendment Rights.  I do not know whether that or the fact that no Democrats have pointed out that that’s what they have been doing is worse.  Both are reprehensible.  But the worst part is that I personally know many Republicans who have defended that act.  And every time I have pointed out that what they have been doing is a violation of those citizens’ Sixth Amendment Rights, not one of those “defenders” has indicated that they had even a fleeting awareness of the Sixth Amendment.

This is ENOUGH!!!  If you know the Sixth Amendment, you will know what actions I am talking about.  If you don’t; well………  Either way, I wonder what the feeling of a conscientious American Republican will be to know that they were successful in that attempt.  How that makes you feel—no matter what party you are in, but especially if you still number yourself as a Republican—tells all there is to tell about the present state of the Party and of your relationship to it.

I admire those who call themselves Independents now.  I know that most of the growth in the ranks of those calling themselves Independents comes from the ranks of the Republicans.  It should.  Though pretty clumsy and inefficient in the way they get it done, the Democrats at the very least do propose and some times even pass laws that represent what they said they intended to do.  And no matter how one feels about the democrat President, one of his first acts was to give us back our Fourth, Sixth, and Eight Amendment rights by executive fiat.  How you feel about that probably tells everything about how you really feel about our Constitution.

DEMOCRATS

A good argument could be made that there’s not much difference in the two major parties; and I would not make argument against that point other than to say that I think it’s simplistic.  Democrats do pretty much try to accomplish what they say they’re going to attempt to do.  At least in that respect I can know where I stand with them.  As a conservative (and maybe just as a human being) I like that better than being lied to.

INDEPENDENTS

I’ve heard it reported that there are more independents these days than there are members of either of the two major political parties.  The reported percentages of folks who are willing to identify themselves politically runs (roughly and changing all the time) Independents 40%, Democrats 37%, Republicans 20%, Others 3%.  So the question is often asked, “Why don’t/can’t the Independents elect a bunch of folks to national and state offices”?  And the answer that’s always given is that “they don’t want to waste their votes.”

A well-known Independent, Jesse Ventura (former Governor of Minnesota), has come up with a pretty good idea that could possibly be enacted if all the folks calling themselves Independents could get together on it and put pressure on state legislatures to enact it.  The idea is to provide for ballots and voting techniques which allow for a two-tier voting format.  The way it would work is essentially this:  You could vote for your “first” choice and your “second” choice.  What you would be doing in effect is recording who or what issue should get your vote, but in the event that your “first” choice did not win, your vote would go to your second choice.  That way you could vote your conscience without feeling that you were wasting your vote.

Another idea that has been promoted by Mr. Ventura as well as legions of others is to put “None of the Above” on all ballots in all categories.  This often gets dismissed lightly and sometimes with cynical humor by members of the major parties, but Mr. Ventura has a rather compelling argument that is not easily dismissed.  He postulates that if someone were running for an office and they were beaten by None of the Above it might cause them to alter their position(s) on key issues.  If one thinks about this, it does present hope that the exceedingly extreme positions which have been offered up lately to appease the most radical few in either Party and pretty much muddy the waters on nearly every issue for what might be termed People-of-Good-Faith-and-Reasonableness would of necessity have to be moderated except when dealing with issues about which moderation is a cop-out.

I mention these things because I hate to see such an enormous segment of the population disenfranchised simply because they do not subscribe to the positions of either Party.

I don’t have a dog in this hunt.  So far I have always been able to pretty much identify with one party or the other.  As a conservative I used to pretty much support Republican positions back when the Republicans were generally conservative and before they became almost wholly “conservative.”  Ever since the exceeding liberalism of Ronald Reagan, however, I have pretty much associated myself with Democrat positions since at the same time the Republicans became “conservative” the Democrats seemed to have forsaken liberalism.

I don’t argue this position much since I find about the only people who disagree with it are the “conservatives” (read—radical liberals of a totalitarian type) whose arguments consist of purveying Fox News talking points and cannot be convinced to change their minds by actual facts.  But by way of example of the argument that I would defend this position with I would offer the following:  Mr. Reagan only became a Republican after finding as President of the Screen Actors Guild and as Governor of California that the Democrats were not liberal enough for him, and as a Republican President actually spent the entire Social Security Trust Fund and replaced it with T-bills (debt) in order to give tax cuts mostly to the wealthy.  I would admit that had this ploy to build the economy worked he would have become a conservative deity, but since it failed miserably, he rather became a “conservative” fantasy—proving for the “first” time that “borrow and spend” is much worse than “tax and spend.”  On the other hand the man labeled as “liberal” turned out to show just how conservative progressive can be:  Bill Clinton shrunk the Federal Government, won a war (and several subsidiary battles) with the loss of only one life, balanced the budget, provided the country with a budget surplus, actually shut down the government rather than overspend, and let people know that in the final analysis who he or anybody else had sex with wasn’t any of the government’s (or anybody else’s) business.

FOX

From the very time that we declared our independence as a nation we have “held” that certain “truths are self-evident.”  Here’s one:  Fox News is not “fair and balanced.”  This is a postulate which is proven by the fact that there are no people possessed of ordinary faculties that believe that Fox News is “fair and balanced”—not the people who refuse to watch or listen or give credence to it (that’s easy) and not the people who do watch and/or listen and/or give credence to it.

Since we’re dealing with a postulate here it follows as does the night the day and that A-square plus B-square equals C-square where A and B are sides of four right triangles that form a large square wherein the triangles are contained and where C is the length of each side of a square contained in that larger square and also inside the four triangles that those who say that Fox News is “fair and balanced” are liars.  This set of liars contains as does the aforementioned “larger square” among others the owner, all the programmers, all of the commentators, and all of the news reporters on Fox News.  Furthermore, the “no spin” zone is an “all spin” zone.  Drawing on a blackboard to convince people that a lie is something other than itself is not only a lie but very insulting to people who have the power to reason.  Saying that you’ll do something that you refuse to do for the sole purpose of winning a debate is not only a lie but an exceeding act of cowardice and in the instance where Shaun Hannity did it, it was also an act of cruelty to our men and women in uniform not to mention all people who believe in and support the Constitution.  When a person shouts at a “guest” things like “Oh, come on now” or “You don’t really believe that” or “That’s just foolish” it is not only rude and inconsiderate and a way to avoid having to actually argue with facts, but it is also arrogant beyond belief.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons to be aware of what the folks on Fox are saying and doing.  For one thing responsible citizens pretty much have to be aware of what the lies and half-truths told there are because for some reason there are people who otherwise are very sensible, who even though they know that what Fox broadcasts is as far from “fair and balanced” as to be polar and is filled with fantasies and lies and (maybe even worse—conjecture), they somehow manage to suppress that knowledge and try to enter into otherwise sensible arguments with repetition of the either the Fox talking points or the Fox “news” or both.  Not that it ever in any case ever known in this world has ever made the slightest difference in the thinking of those who get their information from Fox, but it does serve to keep those who get their news from a variety of sources that have to constantly prove their credibility since they don’t lie about it from having to look back and think that they did not at least present some non-fictional facts in the futile effort of laying bare some actual truth.

But, hey, let’s not be brutal here.  I would never deny the needy their therapy.  Many of us, certainly myself included, have delusions, beliefs which cannot be proven to be grounded in fact, suffer from irrational belief systems such as; racism, sexism, religion, vanities, and simple misconceptions.  Some of us try to recognize these and deal with them, and that is very difficult and sometimes impossible and when it is, we have to deal with our failures.  And some of us choose to deal with these failings by finding sources to validate them.  And for those folks there is, happily, Fox News.

Here’s how irrational the “fans” of Fox News are.  There are many amongst them who not too long ago used to pipe the clause:  “Buy American.”  They believed that in so doing that they were helping American businesses, American workers, the American economy, and maybe even doing just the opposite for those peoples, foreign businesses, other countries, other (than American) workers, and other economies.  Now everyone knows that Fox News (and now even the once well-respected Wall Street Journal) are foreign-owned and operated.  They know that this means that profits from the company go to another country—one that, while not a stated enemy of  the U.S.—may well not be distressed by the destructive actions that we have taken by politically following the course supported and promoted by Fox.  Which course, resulted among other things, in our election of a Vice-president that could not be trusted (“oil will pay for the war”, “we’ll be greeted as liberators”, “enhanced interrogation does not violate any treaty [or the Army Manual]), an unnecessary war, a tax scheme which rewarded businesses for becoming international corporations and shipping American jobs out of the country, disgraced a decorated American warrior with lies that required a Congressional hearing to reveal, and arguably provided the impetus for a great American war hero to disgrace himself.  I could go on until my keyboard ran out of commas, but suffice it to say that what belongs here is an ad infinitum.

So let’s pretend it’s Sunday morning.  Here’s what you can see on Fox every week to get you in a spirit befitting a Sunday.  Brit Hume, William Kristol, and Charles Krauthammer (three effete White guys who say whatever irrational thoughts come to their minds) are beating up on Juan Williams (who happens to be Black and—oh, get this—is “from public radio) and the moderator who has been billed by no less an authority than Bill O’Reilley as “the nicest guy in news” is playing his part as a professional wrestling referee.  Now let’s  assume (for no good reason that I can think of other than trying to be charitable) that there is no implied racism to this little scenario; that no one watches just to see the Black guy get beat up on, and that there’s actually nothing wrong with the three against one (if you don’t count the referee) format.  Even with all those generous suppositions, this format is indefensible for an even more insidious reason. Kistol and Krauthammer not only say whatever they want regardless of whether it has any basis in fact and make up stuff that cannot even be validated through exhaustive means, but evidently no one pays attention because even though almost every utterance which is speculative or predictive that they have ever made has turned out be false.

Only Fox would give a voice to folks who are always wrong.  This is not meant to excuse the arrogant Mr. Hume; it is often he who speaks first and speculates most and leaves the “clean-up” to Kristol and Krauthammer who don’t even have to think then of their own premise, but only the fantasies that might support the Hume point(s).  Then the kind Mr. Wallace gives Mr. Williams a chance to refute, and evidently the Fox audience never notices that Mr. Williams is in the same position by that time that Galileo was in when the “Church” insisted that the Earth was the center of the universe and simply declared it a sin to say otherwise.  And, heck, Galileo wasn’t even Black—only half the entertainment value.  That’s most appropriate, though, since a half-truth is the most one can ever expect from Fox.

It must be entertaining.  The Fox personalities keep saying that a lot of people watch and listen to them.  And I could not care less what folks do for entertainment if it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

But I believe that the “Fox line” has hurt other people.  Lies almost always do.  And; worse, I guess, in the minds of Fox defenders; I’m one of those “Buy American” folks who really does believe that we do our country, our workers, ourselves, our economy, and our entire citizenry harm when we choose to buy an inferior foreign product over a better American-made product—of which there are many in this particular product line.

Tea Baggers

I don’t want to water this down either.  This is the most motley crew of freeloaders to come down the pike since…..well, since ever; there’s never been any group to compare with these nimnals.

These are the same people who supported, campaigned for, voted for, and elected the government which spent us into bankruptcy.  They believed the lies that they were told, and through their misguided efforts ended up sticking the country with a massive, nearly unfathomable debt.  And what do they want now—their taxes lowered.  THEY DON’T WANT TO PAY.

Let me be clear.  The debt belongs to all of us.  The half of the voters who supported the TAX and spenders over the BORROW and spenders have to assume half the responsibility even though they lost.  Tough toenails; they should have tried harder.  I should have tried harder.  But we didn’t; we lost; and now we’ve got to pay the piper.

As a nation we did the best we could in the most recent election.  We voted into office not only those who (at least according to reputation and history would tax us) but the one Presidential candidate who actually promised to tax us.  I personally voted for him for that reason alone.  It was the most significant issue facing us, and he did not shy away from it.

I want to be up front about the fact that I was in the tax bracket that Candidate Obama promised to tax.  I have been disappointed by the fact that so far he has cut taxes on middle and lower income earners.  There was a time (before the Bush tax scheme and its accompanying expansion of the Federal government) when as a nation we might have been able to afford that.  But the massive debt that the scheme ran up combined with fighting two wars off budget (which, of course, was left to the Obama administration to bring onto the budget [and unbelievably be criticized for by—guess who—Fox]) and the unfunded legislation passed by the previous Congress has made tax cuts for anyone in the foreseeable future irrational and irresponsible.  The biggest battle facing the present administration as I write this is to withstand the Republican attacks on letting the “Bush tax scheme” expire.  Evidently Republican Congressmen intend to protect the wealthy from having to pay their share of the debt all the way to the extinction of the Republican Party.

But even those Republicans cannot appease Tea Baggers.   It was they who supported the borrowing and defended the raping of the Constitution by the previous administration, but now that the piper needs to be paid they have come out strongly for reduction of their taxes and supposedly a literal interpretation of the Constitution.  One might ask, “Where were they when we really needed them?” but we already know.  They were right there getting their news from Fox, supporting the wars, “thinking” that they were actually getting some of the “Bush tax cuts” (which must mean that they simply cannot even read and understand a Tax Table), ignoring the industries and jobs which were being shipped overseas, and supporting the Patriot Act which shredded the Constitution.

I would suggest that the most patriotic thing that an average citizen can do at this time in our history (and certainly the most conservative if we truly want to leave a palatable legacy to our children and grandchildren) is to demand to pay more taxes.  It is simply a matter of arithmetic that as our debt approaches the value of our entire economy that now is better than later.  We might still dig ourselves out if we could only find it within ourselves as a unified nation (not a bunch of lunatics who hate each other and constantly seek to place blame on the other guy and never ourselves) to demand to pay enough tax to pay our debt.  And part of this demand should be to demand an actual Constitutional Amendment which directs that this additional tax (call it a surcharge if you must) will be used only for our debt and that the same Amendment mandates that when and if the debt is ever paid that that the Federal Budget must always be balanced.  This might even be possible in a society which had learned (by that time) that debts must be paid and sacrifices made in order to do it.

Tea Baggers simply don’t want to pay.  They don’t accept responsibility for what they have wrought.

Now let’s suppose, for the sake of charity, that phrases like “take our country back”, “this gangster government”, “give us back our Constitution”, and acts like depicting the President as a Nazi and/or Communist and/or Muslim are not racist as the Tea Baggers say they are not.  Then what are they?  Simply ignorant and irresponsible.  Myself, I think they’re all three.  So Freeloader is about the kindest name I can give them.

Addendum:  Every single Party; be it Democrat, Republican, Independent, Tory, Teabag, or what-have-you; must claim its fringe.  That’s right.  We should all be tired of the excuses that pretty much all sound alike and are some version of “We are not responsible for what those people do or say.”  Well, then it is your responsibility, if you do not agree with “those people”, to speak out against them and flatly state the nature of your disagreement.  If there are people coming to your gatherings that misrepresent what you stand for, then say that.  Don’t “worm” out of the responsibility of clearly defining where you stand.  If there are people with signs and images which show disrespect for our country, our elected officials, their own exceeding ignorance and/or intolerance and/or a clear misunderstanding of an issue or issues, then give them direction and define that direction for the public.  If your Congressman says things like “I never said I was a maverick” or “I haven’t seen the birth certificate” or “I haven’t read the legislation” etc., etc., vote them out.  If you attend or support a Party that has fringe elements with which you do not agree, state that plainly.  That is the responsibility of being in a “big tent” party.  The corollary of this is that a big tent Party will have representatives for the fringe; hence, there’s room in a true representative democracy for folks like Michelle Bachman, Ron Paul, and Dennis Kucinich.

ABORTION

No issue has separated the conservatives from the “conservatives” more clearly than this one.  And no issue has adherents on the “conservative” side that try harder to confuse the two.

There are essentially three positions which folks take on the issue of abortion.  There are those who believe that an abortion it tantamount to murder.  There are those that believe that what one person does with her own body (and they consider a fetus to be part of a woman’s body) is none of anyone else’s business and is not the government’s business either.  And there are those who would like to see the number of abortions in this country (and maybe even the world) reduced through means that may be political.

The first group would like to change the law(s) of the U.S. so that having an abortion and/or performing an abortion would be illegal.  They may well wish to punish those who violate such a law by fining them or imprisoning them or worse.  These people erroneously call themselves conservatives.  This is simply not a conservative position; it is a liberal position in the extreme.  What this group promulgates is a belief that the government has a right to get between a doctor and a patient; that the government has a duty to determine the rights of a part of a woman’s body, that the government should intercede in the very business of a woman who seeks to make her own decisions concerning her own body and what grows in it, and that the government must needs set up machinery for doing all of this.  Hence these folks would expand the size of government, provide for government entities to arrest, hold trials, prosecute, and punish women who sought to determine what they want to do with their own bodies.  They do not want for half the population to have control even over that most personal possession that every individual has—his or her own person.  They want the government to have that authority.  They would deny a huge segment of our population two of the very premises that this country was founded on: the “liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In fairness to this group the “belief” that they hold makes the aforementioned the only acceptable actions for them to take.  They believe that the fetus is a separate entity from the mother.  They hold that to terminate the fetus is murder.  Some even make this a religious issue and, although there is no scripture in any religion that I’m aware of to base this on, they believe that a fetus has a “soul.”  In light of such beliefs it is clear that this group feels that abortion denies an individual (the fetus) another premise that this country was founded on: “among these are life……”

Since abortions are legal, this is simply not a conservative position.  It is exceedingly liberal.  There’s nothing wrong with that; liberals have done a lot for this country; like, bring it through two world wars and a great depression, educate it, build its infrastructure, and in general have a lot to proud of; but (as conservatives often point out) these things have come at the cost of having government have a larger role in our personal lives.  It would be hard to imagine a greater role for government than to determine what legal, medical procedures we can and cannot have.

The second and third positions named above are the conservative ones.  The first which honors the law of the land and the sovereignty of a person’s own body would be the most conservative.  The second; which allows for compromise on the issue that generally tends towards counseling, education, and guidance; strives to understand the position of the liberals and to help achieve their goal without exceeding government intervention.

RESPONSES

As always your responses are appreciated so long as they do not degenerate into personal attacks on me.  I have tried here to deal with issues only; please do the same.  There are many thousands on this list now, so I know that I cannot read lengthy responses and I will not read “talking points” or “click on links.”  I am interested in what individuals think for themselves.  I used to try to respond to everyone, but that is no longer possible since the number of folks who have “signed up” for this stuff has grown so large.  It helps when folks can be a little humorous or accepting of the right of folks to have opinions other than their own.

I will try to answer anyone who takes the time to do one of the following:  I have cobbled together two responses that I received a long time ago when I started these “rants.”  You can either correct the grammar or make a satirical comment.  Or you can give “a logical, philosophical conclusion for what is suggested.  But don’t do dwell on the “Freudian typing error” in the second sentence; it’s too easy.  Oh, heck, go ahead.

“Your a idiot!  I believe when they say Rush is rite. Anyway he has more money than you  so how could you’re opinion count like his with me.

FIRST INSTALLMENT:

My Favorite Bluegrass Sound Memories

#1

This will be the first installment in my lifetime obligation to write quarterly “Humorous Anecdotes.”  The idea to do this came about at a promotional/marketing meeting at Rounder Records, Inc., the first one such that I had ever attended.  The plan was for Dry Branch Fire Squad to develop an email list of folks that the band would want to communicate with—for some reason which was clear to me at the time, but escapes me now.  You can expect to receive as many as two or three of these per year.

This brings me to the words humorous anecdote.  The last sentence of the first paragraph is the funniest thing I’ve ever written.  I doubt that I’ll ever exceed it in pure humor.  I tell you this so you don’t get your hopes up.  Or mine.

In fact, I thought someone at the meeting had said, “Humorous Anticdote (and I think it was me, so I should know what I said—or, at least what I’m saying I said, since I wouldn’t have said anything if I’d have thought for a second that anyone of those professional marketers and promoters were going to take an idea of mine seriously).  Ah, yes, Humorous Anticdote!  Now that would have been something I could have gotten my teeth into.

Having propagated this misconception to trick almost everyone who will be receiving this into signing up for our list, I feel it’s only right to set the record straight.  You may sometime in the future actually receive a humorous anecdote.  You may also be receiving some humorous anticdotes.  In addition I intend to try my hand at writing some serious anecdotes and even some serious anticdotes.  I have always thought that serious humor is the best kind, if for no other reason than I never feel compelled to explain it to those who don’t get it.  So just remember, if I write something in one of these quarterlies which you will only receive bi- or tri-annually, that’s the whole joke.  And if you feel let down you can also take comfort in remembering that it was Nietzsche who said that the explanation of a joke is the death of an idea.  (Can anyone even remember nowadays, with the possible exception of Eddie Stubbs, what band Nietzsche played in—and what instrument?)

Now I’m aware that I wrote something above which has already upset a few people.  Those are the people who did not sign up to be on the list of folks who will receive this.  They are probably wondering, “What did I ever do to………”

You see, the folks who signed up had some choice in the matter.  I know they did it out of sympathy, and the whole band appreciates it.  Rounder Records appreciates it.  Of course, by now the folks whose sympathy got the best of them are already thinking, “Why did I do it?”  “How do I get off of this list?”  “Oh, delete button, don’t fail me now.”  But the real joke is on Rounder Records, Inc.

Those poor folks expected this to be some sort of marketing tool.  They expected me to make announcements of where the band will be playing (so you can buy our records), how to find the link on website to Rounder Records (so you can buy our records), even where DBFS eats, sleeps, plays, hangs out, and so on (so you can buy our records).  I would have added practices to the list above, but who would have been fooled.

Now anyone who knows DBFS well enough to sign up for this thing, knows full well that we come down somewhere between Zen Marketing and Hardly At All Salesmanship.  Folks who see us at festivals know we only keep our little table open for the bare minimum of time to move products.  Some of you have even “hunted us down” to try to extract some records from us, while others have had to interrupt our high-pressure sales-talks with statements like, “Have you already put everything away?” and “Is it too late for me to get something, if I can tell you exactly what I want?”

So let me say right here and now that the folks at Rounder Records, Inc., have made some of the best recordings ever.  You should really get some of their records.  Many of the top artists in every “niche” field of music record for Rounder Records.  The discs are well-made and have been through much fine quality control.  The liner notes are the best in the world.  The pictures on the covers are very attractive—especially considering that many of the pictures are of the actual performers who make the music on their products.  Satisfaction is unavoidable.  If you’re only going to buy one record this year (or in your life), make sure it is a Rounder Record.  There.

And, if you can’t think of any particular Rounder Record right at the moment, but the above sales pitch has you sweating-at-the-jowls, frothing-at-the-mouth, and foaming-at-the-wallet to buy one, why, why not visit our website:  www.drybranchfiresquad.com and see the wonderful random selection of Rounder Records there—available for your immediate purchase.

But I was talking about those poor souls who did not sign up to get this.  Who are they?  A few were selected from my very short list (big surprise) of long-time, trusted good friends.  These are people I know will tell me where to “get off.”  They are, in fact, well-practiced.  A few others are people that I have been in the bluegrass business with.  They can also perform the where-to-get-off service.  Others still are people who are my friends and neighbors that I see frequently and that I would not wish to cause any discomfort or consternation, a few of which actually asked to be included on the list, and since I have so little space in which to carry information, I have been unable to remember which ones.  Therefore, I have selected many, hoping not to miss the ones who made the request, without regard to the feelings of the others.

One person was selected for particular punishment.  He is the person who gave me my first computer.  You know the old saying:  The first one’s free.

And one was selected because of what I like to think of as courage.  (See what you think.)  It is my erstwhile college professor of Satire from many years ago.  Knowing, or at least suspecting, what’s coming, as I do; I put this selection in the same realm as going down one of those recently identified Double Black Diamonds.  (Remember Nietzsche.)

However, before I quit, I’d like to say what I hope will happen here.

I would like for these “musings” (shall we say?) to be somewhat interactive.  I intend to write things for which it would be natural to have reactions, and I hope that if the spirit moves you, you will sign in with an opinion or a thought on our website Guest Book (see above).  Having said that, let me beg, at least initially, for you to be merciful.

The sixth most asked question that I’ve had over the years comes in different versions but can be boiled down to “What is your favorite bluegrass sound?”

I have always avoided answering because it takes a lot of thought, and the answer at any given time has not been the same.  But then it dawned on me; I know exactly what it is, and it is not musical.  It is spoken.  It is the memory of the spoken words that I’ve heard over the years from folks like Ralph Stanley, Lester Flatt, Don Reno, Howard Aldridge, Bill Monroe, Hazel Dickens, Jack Casey, Frank Wakefield, Mary Tyler Doub, Curly Ray Cline, Martha Scanlon, Warren Hellman, Alice Gerrard, George Shuffler, Ken Irwin, Suzanne Thomas, Alison Krauss, John Duffey and many others.  And if I’m able to stay “on task”, I intend to share some of my favorites with you in the next column.

One last thing:  They told me these things would write themselves.  I must have the wrong computer program.

Thanks for being a part of this.

Ron Thomason

SECOND INSTALLMENT:

Bluegrass Sound Memories:  Column #2  (Column #1 is attached for those who have requested it.  Both are equally deletable.)

As you can plainly see my goal of getting these things out quarterly is falling a little behind, but I think I can still catch up if I can just write one weekly for a while.  And weakly is my specialty—so I’m full of hope hopefully.

First I would like to thank all the folks on this list who responded so positively to my first attempt at such writing as this.  Your comments helped me do a lot of thinking; who would have thought?  Thanks too to those who provided me with some helpful critical comments.  The nature of those can pretty much be summed up with what one person said:  “If he has something to say, I wish he would just go ahead and say it.  That rambling style might work OK on stage, but it doesn’t work when he’s trying to write.”  So for this second attempt I have attached at the end of this second “antidote” an abbreviated version of everything it contains, and those folks who would like to read just the essence can skip to it now and not miss a thing.

LONG VERSION:

I’m not a good salesman, and that’s a failing.  Therefore, I would ask that you not treat what I am about to write as a pitch; it’s not.  I would just like to recommend our two festivals to you because I believe in them so strongly, and I would like to get a chance to share them with you.  We DBFSers are very proud of the two festivals we host.  Many of you on this list will already know about them.  If you don’t I would like to invite you to visit our website, www.drybranchfiresquad.com, and click on the links there to Grey Fox and High Mountain Hay Fever.

You might well ask:  What makes these festivals special.  To begin with there are many annual bluegrass and acoustic music festivals throughout the country scheduled at different times throughout the year which have their own special qualities.  In fact, DBFS plays at many such festivals.  In our dotage we have actually started limiting our performances to festivals and concerts which have qualities that we enjoy and support.

The two festivals which we host, Grey Fox (in Acramdale, NY) and High Mountain Hay Fever (in Westcliffe, CO) are two wonderful festivals, only moreso—the onliest that we can make them.  First off, let me assure you that you will never see more spectacular settings for any event.  Grey Fox has become famous for its site high in the Berkshires.  The spectacular sunsets (and sunrises when you happen to creak out early enough to catch them) get greater applause than even the best acts that we have been able to present—and all the great ones have been there.  And our new site for High Mountain Hay Fever on the bluff overlooking the Wet Mountain Valley at the foot of such 14,000 foot peaks as Humboldt, Mt. Kit Carson, and the Crestone Massif is every bit as spectacular (and about a mile higher) than the Grey Fox site.  That said, I will only add that we personally strive to provide you with the best entertainers and performers, the best workshops, and the best hospitality that we’re capable of.  Over the years we have come to think of our Grey Fox patrons as “family”, and I believe that many of those folks have come to feel the same about us.  High Mountain Hay Fever is much newer, but I believe it is assuming much the same character.  So this is your invitation; come be with us.  And if you’re really hardy and a true, diehard can’t-get-enough-of-that-great-bluegrass-music individual; do what we do, start with us in Colorado on July 7, and follow us to New York to continue right along with even more on July 14.  See what you’re really made of—and us too.

In my first installment I promised some quotes, and I think that statements such as these may appear in columns to follow.  But I would like to share some now.  I will attempt to put them in context to give them as accurate a character as I can.  These are things which have been said that I believe can and should be interpreted not only on the literal level but also on the metaphorical and symbolic level.  I think that certain ones of these may have a type of universal appeal (especially for fans of bluegrass music) as well as members of the “general public”, which we all know is considerably different.

My great friend Mary Doub (who was and is the heart and soul of Grey Fox as well as a leader in and a friend of the Bluegrass Music Industry) told me a while back a thing which “saved” my life and certainly buttressed my soul during a most difficult and trying time.  I would like to pass it along to folks who find themselves under attack, being lied about, falsely accused, or on the receiving end of disrespect, rudeness, or misrepresentation:  “Feeling unrelenting anger or hatred is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

This one from Bill Monroe:  A few weeks after I had written an article about “Professionalism in Bluegrass” DBFS and The Bluegrass Boys were on the same venue.  I had written at one point in the article that for a model of certain aspects of professionalism one need look no further than “the Father of Bluegrass Music.”  Both bands were sitting in the green room when I heard Wayne Lewis (Monroe’s lead singer at the time) furtively whisper to Bill, “That’s the guy who wrote the article.”  (Now keep in mind that Bill Monroe and I had known each other for a long time by this time; we had on occasion played twin mandolins together, and, in fact, he was one of the first people to not only higher DBFS but to offer us his support in the industry.)  Bill, who was sitting across the room fixed me with a stare for some time, and then when the comfort level reached the “red line” got up, walked across the room, and keeping me fixed in his most intimidating gaze said, “You believe that don’t you?”  Well, there it was; the bluegrass version of the famous Kierkegaard aphorism:  “Faith, not virtue, is the opposite of sin.”

Hazel Dickens had this advice which I think can apply to more than just singing:  “Don’t sing anything you don’t mean.  You won’t fool anybody but yourself.”

That statement is closely related to one written by Joe Wilson of the National Council for Traditional Arts which I think gets at the heart of the nature of the appeal of Bluegrass Music:  “The picking attracts, but the singing is what holds.”

I wish I could remember who first told me this, but all I can really do is think of all the folks I’ve known to whom it applies and for which fact makes them important people to me:  “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to be there.”

That one reminds me of one of (and there are many) of the wonderful things Ralph Stanley has told me over the years.  Now Ralph is a man of few words, and he has that “cowboy” characteristic of hardly ever wasting words and never saying (or singing for that matter) anything that he doesn’t really mean.  He shook my hand one day and said, “If you ever need me for anything, I’ll be there.”  Everyone needs to hear that at times.  I hope you all have.

I would also hope that everyone has gotten to hear this one at times in their lives (and even used for a Dolly Parton song title):  “I will always love you.”  Of course, it’s not always meant.  And while that’s not a happy thought, this is:  It is often meant by those who never (or never have to) say it.  What a treasure.

SHORT VERSION:

Come to the festivals we host, Grey Fox and/or High Mountain Hay Fever—if you can spare the time.

People say things which are important to us.  Remember them.  Or put them on your palm pilot.

Ron Thomason

May, 2005

THIRD INSTALLMENT:

It would appear that there are fans of the band, or insidious mercenary “plants” contracted by traditional bluegrass music terrorists, who have decided not to take me literally when I say that I thought “a quarterly installment” meant “one every four years.”  Anyways I’ve been reminded lately that I “owe you one.”

This one will be long, so get your finger on the DELETE button.  It will cover such things as GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS, ANGST, EXISTENTIAL ANGST, and NO, NO EXIT.  Now, save yourself, push the button.

And, oh yes, my EXCUSES (forgot to mention that one):  I’ve been typing in all the names for folks who have signed up for the DBFS email list while we’ve been out playing.  When the folks at Rounder first mentioned that I compile such a list I thought that maybe in several years I’d have about 400—500 folks who would sign up.  Now after just seven months, we’re approaching 2,000; and I type slower than I talk.  So—to the excuse—I didn’t want to write something till I got all the names on the computer.  Or I had typer’s block and won’t admit it.  (To myself—first chance to guess which category above this fits.)

GOOD NEWS:

The two festivals which DBFS hosts, High Mountain Hay Fever in CO and Grey Fox in NY, were both just wonderful.  There’s so much that can go wrong in the festival business and so much that may go right, that as my friend, Mary Doub (the Grey Fox engine), says, “It’s always a crap shoot.”  Well, the dice fell right.  HMHF changed its site to the stunning hill overlooking the Wet Mountain Valley and staring into the faces of the Sangre DeCristo mountains, and our crowd doubled.  The purpose of the festival is to help support the community clinic and within hours of the music stopping we had given over \$6K to the clinic and positioned ourselves to go on for another year.  Every single person who commented said that the performances were stellar, and they were correct.

Grey Fox, on the other hand, is an established festival and has a reputation to uphold.  Well, this past year, Grey Fox simply enhanced that rep.  There were things that happened there that have already entered the area of “bluegrass myth.”  Some of those things are related, as one would expect, to the dynamic, nearly impossibly good performances that the best artists in the world stretched themselves to do.  Some are the grist of timeless gossip by those who witnessed a few of the most interesting sights and sounds ever in the history of bluegrass events.  But I’m not telling; you had to be there.

For my own part I was thrilled that a bevy of my friends from CO made the trip east to see what all the excitement was about.

On another topic but still under this heading my friend, Joe Wolking, wrote a wonderful piece of music for the poem “Oh, Captain; My Captain” which was suggested to him by our mutual friend, Chris Derick, who must read.  Now you know I don’t recommend much in the way of trying to get you spend your money.  Occasionally I’ll say something like, “Get a recording by the Chestnut Grove Quartet if you want to hear how this stuff should sound” or “The way (this) really goes is the way Hazel Dickens does it”, but I’m telling you right now—if you want to hear powerful metaphor written about our greatest president but applicable to more folks and situations than you can count (I would suggest thinking Carter Stanley) and sung as well and played as powerfully as a metaphor can be, then get this recording:  Westgrass by the Sons and Brothers.  The “Captain” song should be required listening.

EXISTENTIAL ANGST:

It’s hard to listen to “Captain” (text by Walt Whitman) without thinking about the greatest conservative in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln.  Here was a man who “conserved” the nation itself, and some times had to employ rather foul means to do it.  Here was a man truly “up to the task.”  His honesty is the thing of myth, but it was that great Honesty—the Trustworthiness—which made him the man to be trusted with the power he literally grabbed for the task at hand and then returned after it was used.  He was a man of the people, and that final observation has led me (in these very troubled times of our nation to consider, although not postulate) that only a man of the people can be a great conservative; notice I avoided saying true conservative.

Here’s why this has bothered me:  I’ve always considered myself to be very conservative (see letter below).

I used to joke on stage that “I had spent my whole life looking for a Republican who didn’t consider himself ‘better than other people’ and so I finally had to move to CO where there were more Republicans to have any chance of success.”  (Come on, now; it’s a joke. I could make up just as many about “trying to find a Democrat who would consider it wrong to lie to his wife about his extracurricular sex-life, but that’s not the topic at hand here.)  But then I realized that in the sense of real satire, my above joke was missing the mark.  And that presented me with the opportunity to do some deep thinking (in so far as that is possible for a simple hillbilly road musician).  And I was able to come up with another joke, but it is so near the mark that my fingers tremble as I type it.  It’s only satire in the Swiftian sense—low on humor, high on invective.  And it is this:  “I’ve spent my whole life looking for a conservative Republican and……..well you know the rest.

This is important now because, for one thing, bluegrass music is political.  In fact, Hazel Dickens (that’s Dr. Hazel Dickens) says that just playing bluegrass music is a political act.  (see letter below)  That oughta give you cause for thought.

I, like I’m sure a lot of you, just hate the Blame Game.  Here’s who I think is at fault for the bad times (such as…fill in yourself) we are presently going through as a nation:  Us (grammatically—We).

As citizens we have allowed ourselves to let entertainers do our thinking and influence us. Entertainers like Bill O’Reilly, Shawn Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh who are rude, abrasive, interruptive, and sanctimonious.  If they were children (which they often act like) they would be (hopefully metaphorically) slapped.  They would never be wanted in a social gathering.  They entertain by showing us behavior as abominable as Jerry Springer’s, and hence as interesting—but, and here’s the tragedy—more influential.  And these folks call themselves conservative.

And entertainers like Al Franken, Jon Stewart,  and Al Sharpton who act nice and polite but who seethe with repressed anger that they use to attack with humor; namely, sarcasm and cynicism,  forces which seem in the long run to be just beyond their ken—with Stewart being the possible exception in that category just as Springer would be above.  (Now there’s some integral calculus-type thinking to try to follow.)

And entertainers like me.

I’ve come to the conclusion that now that we have let our news and our information and our impetus for thinking all come in the form of Entertainment that we have begun to “entertain” ourselves by playing roles in the big drama itself.  And, of course, like all drama we must overstate, overact, (and react), speak louder than normally, and project more than would be natural.  Could it be that what politics has become is a theater of the absurd where we allow people to assume and use power if, and only if, they satisfy us that they can play the part.

Why then would we even think or expect that when events of monumental proportions come up like terrorist attacks, floods and other natural disasters, economic turmoil, class struggles and disenfranchisement,  and other things which need the attention of a real statesman (like, say, Abraham Lincoln) that the people we have put into positions of responsibility would be any more capable of getting the necessary jobs done than we would expect a person who plays a doctor on a soap opera to be able to perform surgery and save a life?

I wish I knew the answer.  Heck I wish I knew the right question(s).  All I know for sure is this:  Humans like to think; that’s what they have big brains for, just as much as horses like to run and birds like to fly.  It’s what we’re equipped for.  If a horse (at least in the wild) quits running (and running well and fast and with sure feet), it will die.  It will be killed and eaten.  If we quit thinking for ourselves; if we fail to be swift and sure and well-informed in our thoughts; if we try to stifle free-thinking just because we disagree with the thoughts of our fellow citizens, then……………..

ANGST

As a citizen I am an entertainer.  As an entertainer I am a citizen.  I love my job.  But, what would the job be if I couldn’t be both?

I never thought that I would experience the feeling of being disenfranchised, the victim of arbitrary discrimination.  After all, I had the same trouble with relating to folks who are disenfranchised (and hence the victims of nearly constant arbitrary discrimination) that many of our political leaders have since their only contact with folks like us is to maybe run into one of us when we’re caddying or cleaning the pool.  That is; I am a white, college educated, professional male.

What I failed to consider is that we all may have something about us that makes us unsavory to those who would be “better than us.”  It could be something as simple as ugliness, an accent, or being a conservative Democrat who is progressive.

Here’s what happened:  I was arbitrarily restricted from a public place and not even given a reason for the action.

Here’s what happened after that:  I took legal action.  My attorney consulted with, among others, the ACLU.  I was glad that all the money I’d sent (not a great deal) over the years finally meant something personal to me and was not just the nebulous bleeding-heart affective identification that I had always felt that it was—and which, up until my rights were stepped on—thought was just plenty enough.  Action was taken.

Aside:  Here’s the surprise.  What kind of people discriminate anyhow?  Are they the guys we see on TV who are members of some fringe group like KKK?  Are they folks missing teeth and taking too many drugs who own more guns than the Michigan militia?  Are they the Idaho militia?  No.  (Well, at least, not always.)   They are those who have an inflated sense  of entitlement.  Yes, they feel like they’re better than us.  But it only works if we allow it.

GOOD NEWS

We didn’t.  It worked out.  Their lawyer sent mine a “recanting” and, get this (see if it sounds familiar) a denial that the action had been the doing of the person who took it.

ANGST

I am a Conservative in the sense that I think of Lincoln, Roosevelt,  (both of ‘em), and, let’s give some credit, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all being conservative.  I believe the following things:  Conservative and conservation have the same root word and have to go together.  You can only cut spending by cutting spending—not by cutting taxes.  You should not call for the Ten Commandments to be put in public places while you are refusing to live by them yourself.  I am not wedded to a political belief in a way that I have to suffer Cognitive Dissonance if some other school of thought is better; that is, quite frankly part of being a Conservative is to be Progressive—maybe the most important part.  Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Minority Rights and Tolerance are all Human Rights and are thusly guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to all citizens of the U.S., which is the main thing that makes being a citizen of the U.S. special and different than being a citizen of any other country.  I also believe that other sovereign nations have things which are special and worthwhile to their respective cultures and citizens and that many of those things are none of our business to meddle with unless (and then meddling becomes mandatory) those things threaten our things.  I believe that to change the Constitution or to write a law which abridges an individual’s personal, sovereign rights simply to cater to the religious, political, moral, or financial whims of others—no matter how numerous—is not only wrong; it demeans those in the majority and will eventually cause those who do such a thing to be destroyed by the avenue they have used to discriminate against others—just as our founding fathers caused it to happen here—either through justice, if possible, or eventual revolution, if all else fails.  I believe that this is the nature and heart of democracy.

But my most treasured belief is that I believe that I’m not necessarily right (in the sense of correct) about everything I think.  I despise sanctimony.  I love the free exchange of ideas.  Truth be told, I love arguing with open-minded people.  And patience.  Which is what I know you have if you’ve made it this far.

I have shared this because I think it’s important to singing and playing.  To me there’s a difference between listening to someone sing the blues who you can tell has had (has) the blues and a person who has to manufacture (like in acting) some sort of appreciation of “what the blues must be.”  I know you can see how this applies to Bluegrass Music without being told if you signed up for this stuff.

This may be of interest.  It is a letter which appeared in the CBA Newsletter:

Editor and BOD CBA,

The Father's Day Festival was yet another fabulous event including an impressive line-up of bands.  We especially enjoyed the Del McCoury Band, Rhonda Vincent and Country Current bands for both their musical talents and their showmanship on stage.  Thanks to the complimentary editions of the local paper at the gate to the stage area, we learned of the Growers Market held at the fairgrounds on Saturday mornings and enjoyed some fine produce from that market.  The Blue Sun Cafe provided excellent organic food and from A Natural Massage and Spa Therapy we received an outstanding massage. We vote for a return of each of these bands and services and plan to partake more fully of each next year.

On the flip side, we were surprised and appalled at the derogatory comments made by Ron Thomason during the first appearance of the Dry Branch Fire Squad when referring to Pat Robertson as "spewing hate" and President Bush in such a derogatory manner. Such comments, in our opinion, were inappropriate especially for this venue as is any rationalization that these were merely humorous. We elected to avoid subsequent appearances of Dry Branch Fire Squad at this festival.

Our thanks are extended to the CBA board, staff and volunteers for your good work in making this annual festival such an enjoyable experience overall and one which has become for us an annual event.

Sincerely,

BJ and Pat Farnung #6898

P.O. Box 9

Wilseyville, CA 95257

Dear Editor,

RE:  a letter from BJ and Pat Farnung, the relevant part which read:  On the flip side, we were surprised and appalled at the derogatory comments made by Ron Thomason during the first appearance of the Dry Branch Fire Squad when referring to Pat Robertson as "spewing hate" and President Bush in such a derogatory manner. Such comments, in our opinion, were inappropriate especially for this venue as is any rationalization that these were merely humorous. We elected to avoid subsequent appearances of Dry Branch Fire Squad at this festival.

Of course, this is not the first time that my highly conservative and very dear religious beliefs have gotten me into trouble.  I have never made my conservatism, religion, or politics a secret.  I believe that to do so would constitute being untrue to the music I play.  Bluegrass music (and its predecessor, now called Old-Time Music) has always been political.  Hazel Dickens has said it best:  “Just playing Bluegrass Music is a political act.”

And so it is from this perspective that I compliment the Farnung’s on making a political statement.  I am not only thankful to live in a country and a culture where one is free to do so, I believe it is an obligation that more folks should assume.

I also would like to compliment the CBA not only for printing the letter but even more for the fact that at no time has the CBA ever asked me to curtail, edit, regulate, or “downplay” comments which I might find appropriate for our show, or which I might “think” to be appropriate satire or commentary to introduce songs.  CBA is certainly not to blame for anything I may have said or for any offense I may have committed.  And in the event that I have actually offended an audience member, I do sincerely apologize; that was never my intent.  I do try to give folks (myself included) some things to think about, and I try to do that with satire; and I’m certain that I fail as often as I miss licks on the mandolin.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t try hard, and I wish I were better at it.

Unfortunately if I said anything about President Bush at the CBA concert, no one else can recall it, and it is not on the tapes.  I do know that I did a song for my son who signed up for the military on 9/12 (2001), and who after basic training and before being deployed “in harm’s way” asked me if I would do that particular song “for all the service people until they could return home safely”, and I will continue to do that honorable request even though my son has now returned from service, mercifully safe.  It’s not that I wouldn’t feel OK making a humorous comment about any leader, especially if it had a point that I thought was cogent.  That, I believe, is the prerogative and even the responsibility of good citizens, like the Farnungs.  I suppose they missed the song for our troops; it was on a later set.

In closing let me say that I have found it the habit of most folks who attend bluegrass festivals to “avoid” many of the sets.  I know that I myself avoid many of the sets even at the festivals which I help produce.  I just like some bands better than others, but often I could not tell you why.  I guess I should feel good about giving at least one couple an actual, specific reason for not liking DBFS.  But I don’t.  The Farnungs are just the kind of folks that I most wished liked us.  They are the ones with enough gumption to have an opinion, stand by it, and express it for everyone to see.  Kinda like me.

Very truly yours,

Ron Thomason

And finally, at last, in conclusion:

Two of my best friends lost their home in the Gulf Coast disaster.  We had a little get-together here in their absence and missed them mightily as they had gone back to the place where their home had been to do such things as one certainly must in such a situation.  The conversation veered frequently during the evening to our friends and their misfortune.  But what became more evident than ever before was the tremendous impact that these two wonderful (here great is really the right word) people had had on all of our lives.  Bad things happen to good people, and they don’t deserve it.  But good people happen to all of us.  May we strive to be worthy.

RT

FOURTH INSTALLMENT  #4,

ANOTHER INSTALLMENT

I must say that you readers really responded to my last little effort.  Much of the interchange on that one was most enjoyable for me.  The give and take of ideas was a lot of fun.  The only surprise came from one guy who decided, after I couldn’t be convinced to change my whole philosophy of life to be just like his, to call me a host of names.  Here’s a sample of how vicious they were:  Weenie.

Dry Branch hosts two big festivals every year.  This is the place where I should invite you all to come to one or both.  But the fact is that while invite sounds hospitable and polite it’s just so innocuous.  I love these festivals, and I’m very driven to want to share them with as many of you as possible.  I wish there were a host of folks who could make the trip we do—from one to the other; they are on succeeding weekends.

The first is High Mountain Hay Fever, which is held in Westcliffe, CO, on July 6 through the 9th.  The music is pure grits.  We plan it that way in order to offer something to Coloradans that they can’t get elsewhere in the area.  The festival is run entirely by volunteers for the purpose of supporting our community clinic.  Many of the entertainers give us nice breaks on their prices to show that they’re in the spirit of the event.  The site for the festival beholds the highest pile of rock in the lower 48 and is awe inspiring to the point of spiritualism.

The second is the great (here the word probably just ain’t enough) Grey Fox festival.  It has become such a wonderful and familiar part of my life that I have lost the ability to think of words to describe it.  Much of our site staff there is composed of volunteers as well.  It’s big.  There are many stages; one each for dance, kids, teens, and workshops.  And then there’s the main stage where for over a quarter of a century the greatest entertainers in the acoustic music field have played and sung as only such a place and such audiences can inspire ones to do—beyond their very best—not occasionally, but rather, frequently rising to levels never before or again obtained.  The festival has its own legends now and only the real celestial sun in its antics (which must be seen to be believed) can rival.

Consult www.highmountainhayfever.org and www.greyfoxbluegrass.com for more details.  And please, please come if you can.

This installment will contain parts of some stories which have circulated in the mountains near where I live.  These are fragments.  I’m going to give all the info I have on these fragments.  I think there are metaphors there, but I assure you that the parts I will relate are true.  I think there are some wonderful ballads that could be composed from these fragments.  I hope someone will do just that.  Of course, that will require “fictionalizing” a bit to bring the fragments together.  I’m pretty sure that most, if not all ballads come into being just like that.  Isn’t that why we learn from them, each in our own way, and yet why we would never treat them as “true facts” even though we know they contain “truth”?

All of the following events took place within hiking distance of my house, which is situated at an altitude of 7,650’ on the side of a mountain called Eagle Peak which soars to 13,805’.  I have calculated on a topo map that the first time I climbed the peak the walk was 27 miles round trip.  However, as the crow flies, if a crow ever wanted to go up there for anything, I expect the peak is only about 5 miles away.

Eagle is surrounded by a host of other high peaks named Cottonwood Peak, Wulston Baldy, Thirsty Peak, and Nipple Mountain.  (I took more than a dozen tries to get to the top of Nipple from my house, and once in the time I was making these attempts, the rancher down the road told me, “You know, Ron, when you get it up there it’s just a big pile of rocks.”  I told him I was gonna kiss it anyhow.)  All of the lakes, meadows, mines, streams, and high pastures in these events are in that small area of real estate, most of it above 10,000’ in altitude.

The first “character” that I heard about which is in this narrative after I moved to CO was the “wild mare of the mountains.”  I suppose the few who related this myth to me did so because I have horses, and anyone who has ever come around here can see that I love them as one loves soul mates—which to me they are.  I never believed that the mare really existed.  The few who had heard the story always prefaced any details about her with “….she hasn’t been seen for many years.”  I also thought that it would be unlikely that a horse would choose to live alone at altitude when about half the people who live here keep horses, and it would be the nature of such a mare to come down and hang around with others of her species.

(In balance it is a historical fact that when the Spanish first came here there were no horses in the Americas.  The horses that they brought chose to “walk away” from their owners [and the sustenance that they provided], and thrived so that only 75 years after the first horses had gone into the wilds there was a report from a Conquistador who had climbed a mountain in the Andes that he “had spotted several herds of horses in the plains below so large that at first he thought the very plains were moving.”)

The next character seemed to be known of by almost everyone who lived in the area.  He was called by all Hermit Dave.  The more people found out that I spent a lot of time up in the mountains the more I was told about Dave.  I was frequently asked if I had seen or met him.  He was reputed to be a deaf mute who worked a claim (often specified to be a “gold” claim) which was “somewhere near the Cloverdale Basin” (which is place that has more than a half dozen lakes in a long meadow that sits at about 11,000’ between Eagle Peak and Wulston Baldy).  There is in fact a mine there called Cloverdale and a camp of people (families, it seems) who do the mining and maintain a very, very rough road in and out and live in cabins and have very, very few of what might be called the comforts of civilization.

It was, in fact, just below this camp where I first met Hermit Dave.  I was coming down from a climb when I encountered a man using a log as a lever to try to firm up a rough log constructed bridge over a rushing stream.  He was attempting to tow the oldest Dodge camper van I had ever seem up the mountain to (only God knows where) with an even older Dodge van.  The last log of the “bridge” had given way.

I knew immediately who he was.  As it turned out he was neither deal nor mute, but he did have a speech impediment which caused him to talk slow, and I mean slow.  He made my speech which always sounds like it’s on a turntable that won’t get up to speed like it was 78rpm and his was 16 and a third.  Straightway I figured, “Hey, I’m just the right guy to talk to this person.”

Also I could see he needed some help and I doubted that if the 7th Cavalry arrived it would be enough.  (But eventually he and I got the timber back in place, and he got the vans over the stream.)

It was at this time and in future encounters with Dave when I learned of the “true” story of the Wild Mare of the Mountains.

We have mountain men in our community.  My first encounter with two of them was in the local grocery in Westcliffe (20 miles away and the site of High Mountain Hay Fever).  The fact is that I smelled them long before I saw them.  ‘Nuff said.

But Dave was not of their ilk.  You could tell he bathed, was educated, and took care of himself in all ways.  (I found out recently that he has a family in Colorado Springs and only works his “claim” about eight months out of the year, and that he does that to keep the government from having some kind of priority right of reclaim if he should “abandon” the claim since [wherever it is—I haven’t found that out yet], it is on Wilderness land.)

So here’s where the two characters come together.  This is a summary, as near as I have been able to interpret Dave, of events which should be sung:

One year winter came early, and it announced itself with a big snow.  The high mountains turned cold overnight, and were covered by “several feet” of powder so light that it was nearly impossible to get through since it would not support snow shoes and required slogging where one would sink “to the chest.”  So Dave figured he had “better get out of here” and was trying to keep to the trees in order to have “purchase.”  However, there was an unavoidable “flat meadow” only “several hundred yards from” his “place” that he came to and had to transverse to get to “the road.”

He could see as he exited the woods a strange sight, which he soon discovered was where a battle had taken place.  There was “much blood on the snow” which trailed off all around.  And there were the tracks of horses (note the plural) and of a lion.  Not far away Dave saw what he discovered upon examination to be “the mare lying dead, partially disemboweled, with teeth and claw wounds all over.”

At this point Dave got a far-off look in his eyes—what we might call lonesome in bluegrass idiom.  “And quite close by lay the dead cat, trampled and broken.”

There were other horse tracks “which I decided to follow” , and Dave soon came upon a skittish, but rather exhausted foal with “two large gashes in its haunches” and seemingly no fear of the man who approached.

Here the story is filled with holes, most likely by my inability to fully understand Dave’s speech and the parts he tends to leave out (and tries to do with “signs”) when he gets excited.  However, this much is clear:  Dave decided immediately to try to help the foal which he judged to be “a little over half a year old” and “nearly three-fourths grown.”  He had a “well-stocked” pack with him and a rope from which he must have fashioned some sort of halter, for the two of them made it back to his “place.”  Dave tied up the horse, fed it “some vegetables”, and amazingly the horse let him “dress the wounds.”  Then he “confined” the horse in “his shed” while he went off to get some feed (assumedly from folks he knew high up that kept animals—which I have assumed must have been the folks at the Cloverdale mining camp.)

I have neither asked for nor been privy to more details about how Dave and the horse survived until the melt a few weeks later, but they did.  Then rather than abandon the horse, which by then he had named Sallie for “my salvation”; Dave collected “grasses” and drove to town for feed and a supply of hay.  The two wintered high up, came down together in the spring, and Dave dropped Sallie off in a corral that he “found” until he could get back with the things he would need to be able to “keep” him.

Someone, probably a local rancher, must have taken care of the horse for an unspecified period of time, because Dave came back at some point and he and Sallie went back up to his “place.”

They did this for three summers until Dave decided that Sallie would be “better off with other horses” and gave him to a rancher in the Wet Mountain Valley who “made excellent hay.”

The one thing that will ever be impressed upon me was the way Dave recalled the site where the mare was found and how he struggled so to say the words as plainly as he could:  “Such a battle; such love.”

Here are the fictions necessary to write the song and have it “resolve” as ballads seem to need to do:  Did the lion attack the foal and the mare defend it?  (I suspect so, since the foal was injured.  It would be unlikely that the mare was attacked first.)  From whence the stallion, the sire?  (I have not been able to run down any story [or myth] that gives the slightest inkling.)  Did Dave ever use (or ride) Sallie?  (I think it’s probable that he did, but I haven’t seen him for nearly two years to ask, which I will when next our paths cross.)  Why did a man of the mountains take in this injured horse, go back up at a time when his very life might have depended on getting down, and take on a task that any novice horseman would have known would have been impossible—and how did he succeed?)

All I know for sure is that there is no greater honor than to be the true friend of an individual of another species.

Ron Thomason, April ‘06

FIFTH INSTALLMENT:

Humorous Anecdotes:  Fifth Installment

It’s been a while.  I feel compelled by the fact that election day is exactly three weeks away.  And that ain’t funny!

I know humor is supposed to be one component of satire.  But lately I’ve been feeling bitter, which for a long time I mistakenly thought meant unfunny.

Then I thought of the great Greek satirist, Juvenal.  I never could see any humor in anything he wrote. I kept that fact a secret thinking that I was “missing the joke” somehow (and now my old Satire prof will most likely read this and see the true level of my ignorance). I couldn’t see how anyone could call Juvenal a satirist at all.  He just seemed bitter, ignorant, and wrong-headed to me.  He was the most dedicated of misogynists, cruelly and hatefully so.

But finally it hit me.  In his time that was funny.  How could it be otherwise in a  culture which was not only ruled by men, idolized the male form, and practically worshipped at the alter of warriors and (male) athletes.  Of course, deriding women was not spiteful, nor small minded, nor lacking in class and knowledge; it was simply funny.  I suppose that our modern version of that kind of humor would not be the kind that’s racist or sexist or culturist, it would be more like the kind that aims jokes at the handicapped, disenfranchised, hungry, lame, infected, or otherwise suffering—assuming that in this modern world we have an equivalent to Juvenal where the mere word woman could inspire laughter.

Well, I needed that.  First it helped me understand my anger and bitterness, because as sure as I believe anything in this world it is that women are just plain better than men.  And secondly because I have some words which I think are just plain funny in light of the world in which we live.

Contract with America.  The terror level is orange.  “I promise to uphold the Constitution of the United States…….”  You are safer now.  Moral majority.  Mission accomplished.  “They will greet us as liberators.”  Oil will pay for this war.  Fiscal conservative.  Liberal media.

All my life I have believed that good people run for office.  I thought that it took a “good” person to want to do public service.  I have said from the stage before every national election that in every case I believe that two (or more) good people are vying for (an) office.  That may still be true, but it is no longer enough.

I know that I write with a conservative bent.  I’m so conservative that I’ve often been called liberal.  I “liked” Ike.  I voted for Goldwater.  I almost voted for Bush, the first, but my gut told me that Clinton was even more conservative, and my gut turned out to be right.  Bearing in mind that I admit to this hard-core, patriotic, and religious leaning; here’s what I’ve got to say about the upcoming election:

THROW THE BUMS OUT!!!!!

Our government has become dysfunctional.  We are now governed entirely by people who call themselves conservative and in calling themselves that they lie.  What have they conserved?  I ask this not rhetorically; I ask because when I think of the question myself trying somehow to find some hope in the path our country is on, the answers always come to me in the negative.  What have “they” conserved--they being:    1. the Congress which came to power on the promise of a “contract with America”—you remember the “conservative details”,  2. the Supreme Court—supposedly appointed by “conservatives” with assumptions like maintaining states rights and preserving individual rights, and 3. the President, who among other things having been attacked on 9/11 by 17 Saudis decided to attack Iraq, pretty much like if the cat scratched me I would kick the dog.  Not the Fourth Amendment.  Not the Geneva Convention.  Not the budget surplus.  Not our lands.  Not the integrity of our borders.  Not the first Amendment.  Not the writ for which every American soldier in history has fought to defend, Habeas Corpus.  Not our infrastructure.  Not our long-time allies.  Not the moral high ground (as we are now among the world’s torturers).  Not our good credit.  Not our national treasury or our Social Security.  Not our even our less than admirable system of education.

We American citizens are not even permitted by our elected representatives to see on TV or in our newspapers or our magazines the flag-draped coffins of our dead service men and women.  We are not even permitted to honor them with that small recognition for their great sacrifices.  And that, more than anything, is our own fault.  What should we have expected from those who never served and yet called those who did like Max Cleland and John Kerry cowards!  How can we stand ourselves knowing that when our dead are brought back to our shores the parents, spouses, and loved ones of those fallen will see the flag-draped coffins alone?  How can we not share their pain in so far as our poor power to do so exists?  It is, I believe, intolerable.

Furthermore, I for one am sick and tired of being treated like a fool and a coward.  Our own government has now admitted that the machines in airports can’t detect if we have explosives in our shoes.  Yet every week when I fly out to jobs I dutifully walk bare footed through the “security” (oops, there’s another funny word) gate or else be denied access to the plane.  I listen to the announcement which tells what “color” indicates the nature of our guardedness.  But the most discouraging thing is that I watch on TV as countless, rude folks who call themselves conservative whine consistently about the “liberal media” and in the same breath report on the rape of our Bill of Rights, defend the fact that we finance tax cuts with loans from China, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and other countries as if we’re too cheap, or too poor, or too irresponsible to pay our own bills; and then they tell us that this is all for our own safety as if we’ve become a nation of cowards willing to sacrifice the principles and rights we have embraced and defended for over 200 years rather than accept the risks which go along with being “free” as we have always done before.

I blame no one but myself and others like me who have failed to CONSERVE our American beliefs, properties, rights, and tolerances.  And I don’t know if it’s humor or not, but that does thrust a little chuckle up in my chest.

But when I want a belly laugh I just conjure up an image of our dysfunctional government which seems to have sunk to lows on a plain with that of the Civil War re-construction era.  I try to think of them doing just one thing; that is, any one of the goobs doing just one thing—conducting one hearing, writing (or signing) one bill, rendering one decision that is not something that addresses a problem caused by their own incompetence, malfeasance, or criminality, and I can no longer envision that.

Try it.

The plain fact is, folks, that our military, our local constabulary, and a few of our state officials are the only government people getting us through right now.  And for their part the service men and women on the front lines are doing it with targets on their backs, having been given no “rules of engagement” or even a definition of what “winning” means.

Yes, I say, “Throw the bums out” because the very image of the maladroit, ne’er-do-well, under-clod, nimnals tumbling down the hallowed steps with shocked looks on their bloated faces is the only funny thought I can conjure up.

There was a time when it could be safely said that a majority of Americans deplored bullies, self-righteousness, arrogance, cowardice, dissembling, prejudice, sanctimony, and lawlessness.  Speaking of a good laugh, wouldn’t it be funny if someone years hence read that last sentence and thought that it was funny.

Ron Thomason

Oct. 17, ‘06

p.s.  I supposed there’s a couple of places above where I should have inserted an IMHO.  Copy this one—IMHO—and go wild.  I meant to do it myself but I’m working on my absentee ballot.

(Ron Thomason’s Humorous Anecdotes)

SIXTH INSTALLMENT:

The Donut Diet:  How to lose weight and get healthy by eating donuts and refusing to

show constraint with regards to “portion size” when ingesting comfort foods.

Recently there has been a lot of chat about “wellness programs” on a website which is only for a very select group of health nuts who have evidently banded together in an organization of like minded health extremists called IBMA.  While it’s not clear to me or any of the other folks who, like me, enjoy practicing aggressive eating what the letters IBMA stand for, it is quite clear from the tenor of the chat that the members of this group  are not only extremely dedicated to being health activists but that they also enjoy promoting bluegrass music through acts of patriotism and the subversion of representative democracy.

Much of the IBMA discussions have been directed toward substance abuse.  I have seen pictures of the members as they caucus to decide what next their Board of Directors might do to increase the health of their proletariat, and it is apparent that the main substance being abused by some of the members is food.  Since I am an expert on eating, have done it almost all of my life, and have raised the skill of eating (with much practice, dedication, and concentration) to something for which I believe I could win Olympic points; if not for form at least for prodigiousness, speed, power, and endurance; I feel compelled, even driven, to share some of the athletic secrets on eating that I have learned over the years so that folks who practice what I recommend will be able to eat without guilt or compunction to their heart’s content and still maintain their weight exactly where they prefer it.  (Note:  Faulkner has an 83 page sentence in The Bear.)

Let me mention as an aside that there have been many “diets”, “weight loss programs”, “medicines”, and (even worse) “exercise programs” presented to the public over the last few decades purportedly designed to “help” people who have what have been characterized as “eating problems.”  The first step toward having a happy, productive Eating Program is to understand that all of these are pure bunk.  They serve the same purpose that televangelism does and that is to get money out of your pocket and into the pockets of the people who are doing the preaching—whether the preaching is about your health or your soul.  My program is different in that you can believe me.  It is not different, however, in its financial goals.  I want your money as much as those other gurus do.  You may be suspicious at first since it will “seem” like what I am offering is the same as what those other “fakes” offer:  eternal happiness.  But notice, what I am offering is not that at all.  It is, in fact, quite different; therefore, I have even decided to call it something different:  Eternal Contentment.

The price is also different.  You are not obligated to pay me anything for what you reap in the way of contentment and/or health from my DIET.  Rather your contributions to me are voluntary.  Here’s what the program will cost you:  I would like for you to send me \$10.00 for every pound that you lose on my DIET.  In fact, I am so sure that my DIET works that I’ll even refund the cost of postage (if you request it to be refunded) when you send me your tenth payment of \$10.00 or when you save up and send me \$100.00 for the first ten pounds that you lose on my diet.  Furthermore, once the number of people sending me \$10.00 per pound lost on my DIET exceeds 5,000 I promise to invest a portion of the receipts into still further helpful research and to send out even more tips on how to maintain your weight loss and contentment for years to come—unless you start to backslide and listen to those other “fakes” who got you into the trouble you’re in now both with the devil and his compatriots, the Non-Donut-Eating angels of woe.

But before you get your money out and start sending it to the address on this website, let me digress from health issues for just a moment and explain another reason that has been overlooked in recent Fox News Broadcasts as to why America is the greatest country in the world.  Fact:  We have the best donuts.

Folks I have eaten donuts all over the world.  I have sought out donuts in places where they’re really hard to find; like, Dacca, Agadir, Frankfort, Columbo, Cancun, London, Calgary, and Mill Valley—to mention but a few.  But here’s a story that will warm your heart and give you hope no matter how desperate your donut quest may seem at first.  It’s a true story.  It takes place in a part of Kentucky called Cancun—a place mostly dedicated to taking tourists’ money not only for food that looks and tastes like it’s not even America but also for other things that no one would want; like, snorkeling in shark infested waters, looking at colorful birds, and lying on beaches where it’s nearly impossible to not get sand on yourself.  I’m sure you can imagine how being in such a place could geometrically increase one’s need for junk food in general and donuts in particular more and more with each passing day as the date when, according to your airline ticket, you’ll be able to fly back to Breathitt County.

It was just such a food craving that had me in a funk so deep that I went for a walk with head drooping, alone, in a place where no one spoke Hillbilly.  I walked and walked till I was far away from the beaches and the hotels and the hypocritical obsequious.  I was blue and, of course, therefore hungry.  (Ever wonder why fat women sing the blues?)  But I have always been lucky, and on that walk I found proof of my abiding luck.  Seemingly out of nowhere I saw a lighted neon sign that said simply, “Food Court” (in Ingles).  My pace quickened.  When I got to the establishment that was attached to the sign I found an arrow which pointed up a set of stairs.  Up I went.  And this should encourage everyone who ever finds themselves on a quest.  At the top of the stairs I entered a large room which had in a semi-circle the following eateries each one right next to the other so that with almost no effort I could pick and choose from each:  Burger King, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Long John Silver’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now this little story has a point:  America has the best donuts in world.  I have eaten them a lot of places.  I have even managed to get donuts delivered to me in the middle of the night by U.S. Marines in Calcutta.  But I can tell you this; if one is to go on the donut diet, there’s nowhere in the world better to do it than our great country.

There are, of course, many things to know about American donuts, and it is primarily that information along with how to use it for which you will be soon voluntarily sending me money.  However, before I get to that, let me share with you an inspiring anecdote which involves a well-known American banjo player by the name of Tony Trishka.

But first I must  tell you about Earl Scruggs.  For most of the first several decades of my life I thought that Earl Scruggs was the best banjo player I had ever heard or would ever hear.  I loved his timing, his organic approach to music, and I believed that no one ever had thought of or ever would think of more appropriate banjo licks and put them in better places than Earl Scruggs always seemed to do.  So you can imagine the thrill which filled my heart when I awoke one morning in a Hillsdale, N.Y., motel during one of the first Winterhawk (now Grey Fox) festivals to hear Earl Scruggs playing just outside my window.  He did all of his classics.  It was the most wonderful playing I had ever heard.  Every note was just as he had recorded it.  It had the same feel; the same soul; the incomparably powerful attack that he had put down on records in bygone days.  It was only missing the scratches from the records themselves—and he was unaccompanied.  I could tell from what I was hearing that this music was being played by a man who truly loved the banjo and who was doing the music for no one other than himself.  After almost an hour of selfishly indulging in such listening, I went outside to get an even closer listen to Earl’s playing.  And under a tree on the side of the hill just above the motel playing the music I had been listening to sat Tony Trishka.  Right then and there I decided that there sat the best banjo player I would ever get to hear and I have never changed my mind.  And I say that with grateful, unabashed respect to Earl and Ralph and Sonny and the so many other banjoists whose music I have cherished nearly all my life.

And so I wish that for the sake of your health and my wealth I did not have to report to you about the day that Tony Trishka challenged me to a donut eating contest (and in so doing pretty much made me the man I am today).  Please understand that I do not tell this story just because in my study of third grade literature I learned that every hero needs a “worthy opponent.”  What I mean is, would we have an Achilles without a Hector, a Superman without a Lex Luthor, or a Woodrow Call or Augustus McCray without the 19th century American West?  “Neigh” sayeth the great equine critic, Mr. Ed(ward).  So I must say that Tony Trishka is (or was) a formidable competitor.  I ‘m sure that he could beat almost any amateur and most pros.  And my admiration for him as a man and a musician prevents me from bragging and giving all the details of how we selected the donuts to be eaten and how we each procured more than a dozen of our own choice to begin the competition.  Let me just say that Tony had as much chance against me as I would against him in a banjo tuning contest or a punctuation meet with Kitsy Kuykendall.  I mention this only so all of you dieters will know that what I tell you about donuts and eating them is stuff you can take to the bank.

So, to the Donut Diet:

As one might suspect the most important part of the Donut Diet is knowing how to select the proper donuts.  As I have already posited, America has the best donuts, but that doesn’t mean that all the donuts in America are the best—or even “good” for that matter.  Tragically most American donuts are terrible.  The best general advice that I can give someone who is seriously interested in losing weight and toning up is to find a good, privately owned and operated (even if it’s part of a recognized chain) donut shop.  Still finding such a place does not guarantee good donuts, but it does increase the chance that the donuts will be good.  After finding such a shop one must sample the donuts to make sure they are of the highest quality.  In order to do this, you must, of course, have a palate well-trained and schooled in the knowledge of what makes a good donut.  There are two ways to go about this.

The easiest way is to go to an excellent donut shop, buy a couple of dozen donuts and eat them.  There are a few of these in the U.S., and you would be well-advised when in the area of one to stop in a do exactly as the last sentence instructs.  (Note:  It’s perfectly all right, even recommended, that you do this with some good coffee or brand name cola which is best used to cleanse your palate between donuts and absolutely necessary if you are consuming more than one type of donut at the same sitting.)

The best donut shop in the country is in Somerset, PA, just off the turnpike.  Ironically (because their consistency in quality is no longer assured as it was just a decade ago) this is a Dunkin’ Donuts.  The service is not great and can even be somewhat testy.  Don’t worry; that’s a strong indicator that the donuts are great.  And in this particular donut shop they are.  The first thing you’ll notice when sampling such high quality donuts is that they have not been allowed to “breathe” until after the cook has lavishly spent time allowing them to float in the cooking grease until they have not only been well cooked on the inside and become nicely crisp on the outside, but have also absorbed through the outer “skin” a generous portion of the tasty cooking grease into the what I like to call the endodermal layer of crust, which in such fine creations, lies a mere hair’s thickness below the nicely crisp epidermal, which performs the dual function of both holding in place the thick, uniformly applied glaze while at the same time forming a substantial exoskelatal structure for maintaining the constitution of the less desirable tripe (which some connoisseurs refer to as the bones or which might by “pedestrians”, the inards).  It is worth noting here that when one finds a great donut one must exercise the proper eating method to fully appreciate its quality; that is, simply gnaw away at the outside and the “tenderloin” at the extreme inside of the hole itself and avoid consuming all of the inner parts (the tripe) which have neither glaze nor crispness and whose function is no more important to a donut than to give it “guts” much in the same way that the working organs of any animal are not the best for consumption unless one is looking for nutritive value, which, of course, one should never do while eating donuts in preparation for weight loss.

For those who never drive past Somerset, PA, though; all is not lost.  People on both coasts have some opportunity to sample passably great donuts.  On the west coast you will need to go to Berkeley, CA, where the King Pin donut shop fries their donuts at night, and people wait in line outside the shop all night long to get the freshly fried and glazed chocolate encrusted masterpieces.  Here you will not only get to school your palate with very fine donuts but also hang out with hippies and liberals, intellectuals who pine for the days of Mario Savio as they drool with anticipation, and even the occasional, misplaced college athlete.  On the east coast you’ll have to trek to Newburyport, MA, ostensibly for a whale watch or to see really, really quaint stuff and intellectuals of the highest order who look they are fresh off the casting lot for On Golden Pond.  Stop one of them and ask for directions to “the donut shop in the back of the drug store.”  Go there.  Start with the chocolate, glazed twists (some times called bow ties).  Sit at the counter.  Pretend to read the newspaper which has been left there.  But don’t.  It will take your mind off your real reason for the trip:  donuts.

There’s not much help for folks in the fly-over states.  About the best you can do is go to your nearest Krispy Kreme factory or outlet.  If you find yourself at a factory, get the donut holes.  They will tell you if the owner is also the operator.  There will be pride fried into holes; that is, they will be crisp and well glazed and hence have the tiniest of “bones.”  If the holes are chewy; walk away.  Then try the Krispy Kremes at a nearby gas station.  At least these have usually had time to breathe, which means that the grease and the glaze have hardened.  It’s worth taking the trouble to only eat the very outsides.  The “bones” will be large; accept that with courage and good temperament; it is unavoidable.  The trick to doing this is simply to remind yourself that losing weight costs money, and it’s worth every penny.  If it were not, why would people who don’t even know about this wonderful diet go into the weight loss business?  (Here’s a hint:  For the same reason that people who don’t believe in God [or weight loss, for that matter, quite obviously] go into the TV preaching, moralizing, and judgment-of-others business.)

I have given away all of this information because it is very important on the Donut Diet to use the right donuts and to use them correctly.  Here’s why.  Even on this diet, donuts could cause the opposite of weight loss if they were used incorrectly or if they were not of the highest quality.  Therefore, for those who will not or cannot have an opportunity to sample the very best, let me list a few “rules” on what to avoid in the donut trade that can always be used as a guide that will assure that you are able to avoid “bad” donuts.

1. Never buy a donut from a place who spells the word doughnut.

2. Never buy a donut from a place that bakes them.

3. Never buy a donut from a “bakery section” as one might find in, say, a grocery store.

4. Never buy a “packaged” donut (for use on the diet); these are designed only for emergency “donut attacks.”

5. Never buy a donut that has “whole” wheat in it.

6. Never buy a donut that looks like a half dozen of which might be enough.

Now we come to the crux of the Diet:  How to properly use these donuts to lose weight.  First here’s everything you ever have to know about losing weight; everything else you’ve ever been told about weight loss has been to enrich somebody who has so little respect for you that they think you can’t handle the truth.  You will note that I do not feel that way.  As proof I would point out that I have even put you on the honor system for sending me money when this valuable information which I have given you starts to work the wonders of weight loss.  The key to weight loss is to use more energy than you consume.  There it is folks; everything else is bogus, bad for your health, and in the long run will make it nearly impossible to sustain weight loss even if through some miracle you are able to lose any weight to start with.

Now I realize that you have been given, up till now, information which has caused you to think that donuts will cause you to gain weight.  And under certain rare conditions (when use improperly or without attention to the entire program which I am describing) that could actually occur.  It is necessary to follow the program closely, and donuts will not only help, they are a key ingredient.

Accept this:  humans are not designed to get up off their duffs.  They are rather designed to sit on them as long as they can.  Given no outside interference a human might well not “want” to get up out of the lounger until it was time to move to the couch or bed to lie down from which that human would never move unless the refrigerator or toilet called.  Until very recently (in geological time) humans never needed to be self-motivated.  There was always something to do it for them.  In fact, until not long ago it made sense and was very healthy for a human to sit or lie and rest until one of the following occurred:  a lion or other hungry thing with big teeth and claws approached; a member of the tribe was threatened, hurt, lost, or mad; any of the following needed done: roots dug, prey killed, fire built, water found and/or carried, sex demanded or desired, shelter found, young cared for, weapons made, wolf walked, or sex just desired.  But we have developed in modern times drones which do all these things for us and, even better, film themselves doing it so that we can watch them on TV from the comfort of our duffs.  That’s where donuts come in.

Donuts have the wonderful attribute of providing humans whose organs are all working properly with a small window of time shortly after they are consumed of making the consuming human actually “want” even “need” to do something.  This opportunity must be grabbed with gusto.  In very short order it will be gone and the opposite will occur; the human will “crash” and want to rest or even sleep.  That is a dangerous time; never let it occur.  If the moment is not grabbed the donuts win.  They will make you put all your energy into storing fat instead of burning it.

Here’s all you need to know about the math involved:  On average moving your human body a mile burns about 135 calories and about 2,500 calories burned will result in a pound of fat lost.  Eventually fat will be your enemy.  But in the beginning of the Donut Diet fat is your friend.  If you are hauling around a lot of fat when you start to move your human form several miles at the insistence of the donuts you just consumed, you will burn calories faster and more easily.  However, as you start to lose weight two things will happen.  As a result of moving your lard many miles you will start to gain more muscle, and tragically muscle weighs more than fat.

This is not all bad, though.  For one thing you could start swimming when the donuts “hit” you.  This will offset the energy consumption equation somewhat by virtue of the fact that muscle sinks while fat floats.  (You may have noticed that world class swimmers are never “cut” like, say, sprinters—which is not to say that they look like Dennis Hastert, Ken Haggee, or Jabba, the Hut).  Still another inconvenience rears its ugly head.  On the Donut Diet there will come a time when the moving of your human form for many miles will finally have removed most of the fat from your body and only heavy muscle remains.  Do not get discouraged.  By that time a wonderful thing will have occurred.  You will find that you truly love how you feel.  You will be eating what you love—the best donuts you can find—and you will be habitually putting yourself first by being in the habit of moving your human form and find that you like the time you spend doing it better than the time you spend not doing it; like the time you spend at the computer or in front of the TV or searching for parking space closest to the McDonald’s entrance.

And brethren and sistern that’s when you’ll be so grateful and happy that you’ll be driven to send me money.

But don’t think me shallow or greedy in my sharing this information with you.  I have done this for moral and political purposes to prove to those doubters who wrote in response to my last installment and politely and with reasoned arguments questioned my Conservatism and in a couple of cases, even my patriotism.

You see I would have kept the Donut Diet a secret to be used only by myself and a few close friends.  But I realized that we are in a singular time in our history.  I prayed for and with some few others was granted a big change in the forces which govern our nation.  And so now I not only hope for success in our endeavors as I always have, I believe there may be a chance of having some. Let me explain.

I have long worried about our nation in my simple way for no better reason than we still give some credence to the biggest political liar of all times, Newt Gingrich.  I’m sure I feel so strongly about this because he was a politician that I put a lot of faith in, and it turned out to be a big mistake that is hard for me to deal with because it does make me at least partially responsible for all the destruction of our will, moral character, treasury, strength, and common sense which followed from his (mercifully short) term of “leadership.”  You see, I was one of those who believed in the Contract With America.  I wanted a balanced budget amendment, smaller government, a defense of our Constitution, tax and Social Security reform, controlled spending, no foreign debt, secure borders, and so on and so forth as was outlined in the contract.  And, as I have made no secret of the fact, I’m really mad and disappointed that not one item in the entire contract was ever manifested and few were ever even proposed by the very people that I helped elect to do just that.  What’s worse, those very people who promised on a platform of conservatism to do those things violated our trust and their own words and did just exactly the opposite.  They not only failed to do what they had promised, but they did exactly what they had promised not to do:  they raided the treasury, threw the country into debt, financed a war with loans from countries not even friendly to ours, opened wide our borders, stripped us of our moral standing and of our Fourth and Eight amendment rights, and even went so far as to write reciprocal government bonds to replace the actual funds in our Social Security Trust which they have spent.  And ol’ Newt led them in all of this.  But even that wasn’t disgusting enough for him.

He went from the hospital room of his cancer-ridden wife whom he had just served (oh, yes, in the hospital) with divorce papers to go on the radio and make a political speech against Max Cleeland , who had left two limbs in Viet Nam along with the use of the other two.  And in that speech Gingrich implied that Congressman Cleeland was not a patriot and was very possibly a coward.

It was then I started to reason that anyone who wants to call a person who practices dissent in this country where, at least, we still have our First Amendment in tact, especially warriors like Max Cleeland, or John McCain, or John Kerry, or Colin Powell, or John Murtha “cut and run cowards” had well better have secret service protection.  Because I believe that many Americans have awakened to the fact that such is simply wrong.  And I believe that the opportunity for our President to rise to greatness has now occurred with the election of the new Congress (and that he has started on his way, in fact) and that now the Congress itself must find a way to rise above the pathetic performance of the Contractors-With-America to help him, and especially us, to be great and to involve us in our fights and to allow us the privilege and the responsibility to pay for what we want and to demand of us and to give us the right to accept the dangers of living in freedom.  And mostly I personally am tired of being called a coward by my government.  And I am tired of my friends and people I admire and consider friends being called cowards.  And here’s where the Donut Diet comes in.

I have never been anti-war; I have always been anti-mendacity.

Therefore, I am stating here loudly and clearly that I am for creating a draft to increase the size and strength of our military.  But I am against drafting anyone under the age of 40.

I’ve been watching the war footage on TV, and I can’t see a darned thing that our wonderful military men and women are doing that couldn’t be done (possibly even better) by mature adults.  Certainly anyone who can carry a gun through a wet field on a cool, windy day with a bunch of “hunting gear” on his back and a few brewskis in his belly to shoot a friend and think so little of it that he doesn’t even snarl a report of the incident for a day or so could serve as more than just the poster curmudgeon for advocating that people who intend to carry weapons around innocent bystanders should have some training and be licensed to do so.  He could, for instance, carry that selfsame gun in the streets of Baghdad or the valleys of Afghanistan and save some young American from having to do so unless that young American were lucky enough to be given a stated objective in which case two guns would be better than one anyhow..

And what if he or any of the rest of us might not be up to the task right away.  Well, I would have the military procure an elegant sufficiency of donuts for our use and motivation when we offer ourselves, and not our children, up to exigencies of fighting the fights that we pick or that are picked with us.  Surely fighting would be more meaningful that putting a ribbon on our bumpers.  Even better, let us make sure that we aim our draft at those of us who are well off and comfortable.  That way the families of those who are serving will not be on food stamps as they are now.  That way when we are given leave, we can simply use our frequent flyer miles to come home.  And that way maybe we will finally be motivated to pay for what we want and demand of our government and refuse any attempts cut our government’s income in times of crisis.  That way we may take up arms and fight our own fights.  That way, we who are not disenfranchised can accept the responsibility and honor which goes along with the riches that we have exacted from our great nation—the home of the best donuts in the world.

If you love donuts like I do, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  Happy New Year.

RT, Dec. 06

SEVENTH  INSTALLMENT:

Corporal Punishment

I am in favor of corporal punishment over almost all other forms of punishment as long as it is never used on children or animals.  I am especially in favor of corporal punishment for those who use it on children or animals.

INSTALLMENT 8

No sooner had my lights fallen on the buck than he tried his best to challenge me.  His back was obviously broken, and he could only struggle to rise to a combat position with his chest and his spindly front legs, both designed to flee.  His rack was marvelous—easily a 12-pointer.  And he showed no fear.  With his most powerful means of survival denied him, he chose to offer a fight to the metal monster which approached initially at a speed he could not have matched even without the mortal injury he had sustained rather than to lay there and succumb without a battle.

Then a car came out of the night from the other direction and he turned to face it as well—at once dividing his attention between the two attackers with which he now had to contend without the use of half his body.  Still he did not shrink from the fight.

He struggled to rise.  He waved his wonderful weapons in defiance.

The other car drove by without a nod.  I wept.

The buck had “caught it” just to the west of where National Hwy 50 crosses the Arkansas—where the road drops deeply down from the heights of the ridge above the Royal Gorge and enters the Big Horn Sheep Canyon.  It’s a deep place between mountains of rock; I was without a firearm that I could have used to do for the buck what he couldn’t do for himself, and I couldn’t get a cell signal.

There was little to do but to race to a place where I could call for help.  I did.  I found that there “had been several calls before mine” and that “the problem had been taken care of.”

I cannot live long enough to forget that buck.  I would not want to.  His courage against all odds; his wonderful dignity; his will to fight to the finish, to continue the fight while he was clearly “down”; to not give up; to summon courage from a heart that was designed to flee was simply magnificent.  He had become in his final struggle, not a deer—the opposite of a deer—a warrior.

By now I’ve done enough of these installments for the proposed book to realize that I will get several types of responses to what I’ve written so far.  Some will thank me for sharing, and I sure do appreciate those.  After all, the whole “sign-up-for-the-pre-book-anecdotes” thing was strictly for DBFS supporters who had tolerated my ravings over the years and indicated that they could take a dose even when the band wasn’t around.  There will be some folks who will asked to be dropped from the list because this is not the kind of thing they “signed up for” or worse, “you sound like a Liberal/Conservative/Republican/Democrat (take your pick) and (I) don’t agree with you about anything because the only person(s) who are never wrong are (take your pick again) Jesus/President Bush/Al Gore/Bill O’Reilly/Keith Olbermann/James Dobson/Allah/David Duke/Hillary Cli……..oooohhh….fingers…..getting…..numb….can’t……go…….onnnnnnn.  Some folks who will have been “forwarded” this thing will say, “Sign me up.”  But the most likely majority will point out that for a “humorous anecdote”, so far this thing hasn’t been one damned bit funny.

So why write about the buck if all I really want to do is rant and rave and tick-off all the Americans who not only “firmly stand with one political party or the other and enjoy feeling disdain for all those who don’t agree with their particular myopic point of view”, which in point of fact is the least “American” stance I can think of, but yet fully understandable since it seems to be the one adopted by our present President and his administration and has even further (and worse) tended to become the “agenda” of many elected public officials, which is also understandable since they have been elected to represent the “cognitive dissonance” of their constituents.  How’s that for a compound/complex sentence Miss Brown and Mr. Faulkner?

Because the buck represents something which might offer a solution to this conundrum.  How’s that for a sentence fragment Mr. Wambaugh?

It’s not a great stretch to imagine that those spear-like headlights coming down the mountain from one side and out of the canyon from the other might have appeared to the buck to be Terrorists.  And the buck did a great thing.  He struggled with the last brave beats of his heart to raise his great rack and try to thrust at them.  He never gave up.  Not he nor anyone else ever should.  He could be a symbol for the courage that we need to summon whenever bullies of any kind try to take our freedom, our safety, our sovereignty, or threaten our way of life.  The buck felt attacked and fought back with what means he had.  It would be difficult not to admire him.

But what if the spear-like headlights had been on another road, one, say, 1000 yards away from where the buck lay?  What if they appeared to the buck to be “attacking” each other?  If the buck then tried to raise his wounded carcass, drag it through the woods and gullies and out onto the other road and put himself in further danger in order to thrust his rack at the “perceived” combatants, would we still think him noble and brave?  Or would we think him, maybe, dumb or disoriented or foolish or ill-advised or suicidal or meddling or even “just blocking the road and getting in the way of something which did not concern him”?

Those who are still with me, I know, are those who can get a metaphor at all the levels.  And what follows is just for those.

Let’s make up.  That’s right; forgive and forget.  Go back to being Americans first and political party affiliates last. (“Can’t we all just get along?”—as the great King (not Dr. Martin) quote goes.)  I would postulate (in the literal sense) that Americans who feel anger for those who do not agree with them are simply destructive.  That’s why it’s hard to find a real thinker who doesn’t celebrate the friendships between Geo. H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  It’s why I’ve always said that DBFS is proud to have been “introduced” by both Charlton Heston and James Brady and have happily reported that they are both “nice guys.”  It’s why we are truly entertained by a marriage between folks like Mary Matelin and James Carvelle.  And I base these things on my belief that in general Americans have an instinctive dislike of arrogance, hypocrisy, ignorance, and hateful behavior.

So how could any of the things in the previous paragraph be true if 35% of the American voting public still “supports the President”; that’s fully 75% of the Republican party and even 4% of the Democrat party.  How can those figures be true, assuming that “most” of these people are reasonable Americans and that the issues that all those folks ‘support’ the President on are very important, and we still not subscribe to an agenda of Hate, Disrespect, Disdain, and/or Anger at those who stand on the opposite side of that support from where we ourselves do?

The answer to that is what the books, newspapers, TV newscasts and commentaries do not tell us—because the answer is neither polarizing nor entertaining.  But it does circumscribe what is best about America and about being an American.

Please allow me to give an example:  For the last five years there has been a common, running theme in American politics that has been repeated so often that it has become part of an American mantra.  It has appeared in the President’s speeches and news conferences, in the Vice-President’s running commentaries, in Congressional speeches from members of both parties, in countless letters to the editors, in emails to TV shows and in conversations throughout our land.  The mantra goes like this, although the exact text changes:  If someone disagrees with the Commander-in-Chief (that is wants to cut funding for the “war”, wants to bring the troops home, wants to increase taxes so that we can support our troops through sacrifice, wants to “set a date”, etc., etc.) then that person is somehow giving aid or comfort or support or encouragement to “the terrorists.”  This mantra has essentially gone unchallenged, and I think the reason is that there’s not much money to be made on a hot issue like even this one once reason inserts itself into the argument.

(Let me put what I am about to say into this context:  I believe George W. Bush is a nice guy.  And I believe he does what he thinks is correct and that he has done the best he can.  And I don’t blame him for his failings.  I blame his failings on those who voted for him and on those who were not good enough to beat him in an election and did not fight hard enough to keep him from getting elected and then re-elected (or appointed—if you want to be mean, which I don’t), and I would further say that there is no one who could know that any other person could have done any better, even though there are many—and I am one of them—who believe that some could have.  Further let me say that I believe in many of the things that W ran on; such as, Social Security reform, reducing the size of government, balancing the budget, supporting our military, and (to quote him) “upholding the Constitution.  I also at one time agreed with an article which appeared a little over a year ago that said W “…was not only not the worse President that we’d ever had; he probably would not qualify for being in the bottom five.” But no longer.  I not only have changed my mind, but I believe he has redefined what “bad” means in a President and has defined a category for worst that he alone occupies and that, to me, it now seems that we will be lucky to survive his Presidency as a nation.  Still I do not think he is to blame, and, in fact, I blame myself and others like me.  His was only one vote, and so was mine.  And yours.)

So back to the mantra.  Why do we Americans buy that kind of stuff?  Why would any of us for even one minute think that to stifle our thoughts and opinions “helps” the terrorists?  Why wouldn’t we realize that once we do that, the terrorists have already won?

I believe that the battle has been given over to them by our President and his administration with the full support of the Republican Congress and (unless a whole bunch of Congressmen/women don’t hurry up and grow some backbones, especially Democrats) that the battle will be beyond redemption.  The President has assumed that we are cowards, and I’m sick of it.  He has assumed that we would rather lose our Fourth Amendment rights, our right to habeas corpus, and our adherence to the Geneva Convention rather than face the dangers that go along with having those things; namely, that we might come under attack from those who would take them from us.  So without attack, while we rest in the safety of our cowardice, the President through executive fiat with the compliance of the Congress has taken those things from us.

Where, for God’s sake, is the rage?

I’m not speaking now to Liberals.  I expect those kinds of “changes” from Liberals.  I’m speaking now to Conservatives like myself.

So here’s the test Conservatives:  If Al Gore or John Kerry had been elected (tax your imaginations), what would be your reaction if the families of troops were still on Food Stamps (as they are), if seventeen Veterans’ Hospitals had been shut down (as they have been), if the wounded were brought home to a failing Walter Reed Medical Center and housed in molded facilities with maltreatment and vermin (as they have been), if China had a trillion—that’s right a trillion—dollars in liquid assets of our money—enough to buy 5% of all U.S. industries and properties (as they do),  if the size of government had expanded (as it has), if the treasury had been raided and the surplus squandered (as it has), and—this is the big one—our Bill of Rights, which had been defended so bravely and long and stood for our commitment to individuals’ freedoms no matter how much in the minority they placed/found themselves, had been decimated by executive decision (as it has)?

No doubt there are some who can answer that question by saying their feelings would be the same as they are now.  That would be folks who are members of the far-right of the Republican party; i.e. the merchants of hate like the Christian Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, the Montana militia, and the atheistic sanctimonious folks like Limbaugh, Falwell, Tilton, Hannity, and Colter along with the extreme left of the Democrat party; like, the American Communist Party, the socialists, the touch-feely Nadarites and maybe, just maybe, the only famous minister that really seems to believe in God, Billy Graham, (whom I place there only because he seems to be a man who can forgive anyone—which, let me try to recall—should be what the religion spawned by the man who said, “Love your enemies” is about.)

But I don’t think that those fringe groups are enough to account for even a sprinkling of the 35% that still supports the President.  Further, I think, that even if you took away the number that suffer nearly debilitating cognitive dissonance you’d still have about 34% to account for.

And they are these:  Some people must actually think that the President is doing a good job.  These people are named Barbara Bush, James Imhoff, Bill O’Reilly, John McCain, Ann Colter, and maybe as many as half the members of Dry Branch Fire Squad, all but three country singers, some folks at the occasional NASCAR tailgate party, and the Michigan militia.

The other 33.99999% who support the President do so because he is the President.  That’s a great reason.  It shows a trust and a belief in the type of “Americanism” we learned in school years ago when people still supported schools (a liberal agenda) and voted for school levies (a liberal thing to do), and these things we learned back when America was as high as #2 in the world in education (a great time indeed).  And so to those 33.99999% I say the following: It’s time to stop letting the Republicans benefit from the ignorance they’ve created in us by continually cutting funding for education. We are now 27th out of the 28 “developed nations of the world” in education; we are, in fact, behind several “third world nations” in education; and we are unwilling to tax ourselves enough to give our wounded veterans the best care possible.  It’s fair to say we don’t want to be “smart.”  The President you are still supporting actually brags that he doesn’t read newspapers or watch TV newscasts but rather gets his news from folks that he has appointed to give him the news he wants (people he has shown a willingness to fire when the news isn’t what he wants to hear—remember Colin Powell).  And just remember that a year ago he bragged that he had a “reading list” that included Shakespeare, Nietzsche, and Freud.  Leaving aside that the last time you heard someone even have the temerity to say something that foolish was when you were in 8th grade and the class geek wanted to convince you that you could never be as smart as she, what does the fact that someone who repeatedly uses the phrase “…..serves at my pleasure” say about his understanding of Freud?

Well, there’s the question:  And so the answer becomes clear.  That man, the President, is incredibly jealous of the previous administration but for all the wrong reasons.  Someone actually did serve at Bill Clinton’s pleasure.

RT, March, 2007

The Ninth—finally:

First order of business:  Prophylactic postscripts

p.s. This turned out to be longer than I had hoped.  Like that gomer that M.C.s for DBFS—too many words for too few things to say.  There’s a short version at the end for folks who like to avoid the rhythm of words……or don’t have time…..or have rhythm enough of their own to go around.

p.p.s.  Some of you may not respond.  Some may.  To find out who is eligible and who is not consult the footnote for both explanation and criteria.  *

And now…………..

Thanks to all of you who have gotten on my case lately for missing several “quarterlies.”

I’ve been organizing some topics:  “We’re Broke”, “Where’s the Old ‘Outlaw’ Spirit?”, “The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave”, “Voting and Dissenting/Obligation and Right”, “Who Really Does Have the Loudest Banjo, er…..Guitar, er….Mandolin, er…..Jawbone?”, and so on.  Oh, and “Torture.”

But I never could get started.

Then last week something that I thought wasn’t related to Bluegrass Music or the state of “our union” happened that enraged me so that it not only occupies much of my thoughts, but that I can barely describe in polite terms.

But first I know that I am supposed to get everyone’s attention with a humorous anecdote.  Let’s consider Dick Cheney, the mighty hunter, since I suspect he had something to do with the incident that I mentioned above and in keeping with the spirit of the propaganda arm of the country’s present administration I want to be “fair and balanced.”  I have finally thought of a job the man could do in which he would not have to lie or be correct in his assessments of situations or violate The Constitution.  He not only could, but is by default whether he wants the job or not, the poster boy for the Gun Control Lobby.

Let’s face it; it’s a job he can do and at the same time not be an eternal reminder to real hunters and others who own and utilize firearms for recreational (and even protective) purposes of what an embarrassment he is to them.  I know and associate with a lot of real hunters.  Here’s something that all of them that I know have in common:  they hunt.  By hunting I mean that they go look for animals, take pride in their tracking skills and knowledge of prey, and generally do it for the purpose of utilizing the prey for accepted purposes, like, say, eating.  And they don’t do it at the zoo.  I also know a lot of shooters.  Here’s something they all have in common:  they don’t do it just to kill.  They, for instance, shoot at things like targets and clay pigeons.  Many shooters are also hunters, and being shooters makes them better hunters.  They think like shooters, and have the skills of shooters, and know the practices and principles of good shooting, and, therefore, always check before they shoot to see if there is an unintended target in their sights—like, say, a person dressed in bright orange which is accented with glaring, reflective tape.

Now, as I’ve said, I’m a conservative; and I don’t expect my unathletic, intellectual, weenie, liberal, left-wing, Democrat friends to understand the subtle nuances of what I’ve said above about hunting and shooting.  It’s the folks who, like me, call themselves conservative who have mightily disappointed me with respect to Dick Cheney’s hunting.  I accept the fact that there are people who like to play with guns and hang around clubhouses and have a few beers before they grab their guns and then go outside and walk through the trimmed grass over to some bushes where a plebian-like servant will roust up some birds to be shot.  And I can see how a few brewskis and a bunch of birds going every which way and some poor slob having to be out in front of these fine “club boys”  as “bird rouster” could disorient a man who can’t shoot and shouldn’t be shooting so much that he would not notice someone standing by the bushes dressed appropriately brightly and reflectively and holding a gun.  I just can’t understand how anyone who is an actual hunter could sympathize with someone who, having brought those conditions on himself, would go ahead and shoot the fuzzy, orange apparition.

Folks, this idea has something for everyone.  With VP Dick’s face sneering out of the poster, we placate the irrational lefties who think that it might be wise to require that people who are going to own and shoot guns know how to actually use them at least competently enough to be able to avoid shooting their friends.  It even gives them a smart-aleck line that they could run into the ground: “If your ‘friend’ looks like this, vote for Gun Control” which would, no doubt, always get a chuckle around college Language Labs.  For the folks in the higher income brackets who want to be big-time-hunters, it could give them just the excuse they needed to lobby to get a law passed that would allow them to hunt at The Zoo (lots of cities have them).  They could use as their by-line:  “We’re hunting safely here at the Zoo, just like our Dick did” or even “Let the Zoo be your killing fields”, or “Why hunt where the animals are hard to find?” one of which even has the great wit of being able to be interpreted in more than one way.  And the Michigan militia and the Idaho militia and the guys who think “they’re gonna come for our guns” could face up to the fact that poor shooting practices (like doing it when you’re lit) and hunting animals who are “provided” just for the kill is about as feeble and criminal as driving while you’re lit, which is at least a practice for which you’re supposed to have a license.  They could say things like, “Would you go hunting with this man?” and “Our survivalist training will enable you to miss the guy in bright orange?”

But I digress.

Still I tried to see the glass as half full—till last week.

Here’s where bluegrass music comes in as maybe the most important force in my life.  I will relate it here because I have had the great fortune to share stories and events with other bluegrass fans over the years who have also had the music itself be a most vital force in their lives.  To them I say, “May the force be (ever) with you.”

This has to do with the difference between fear and cowardice.

Pretty early in life FEAR must have excited me.  It’s a good thing that happened because I’ve been afraid of things and situations ever since I thought it was called being ascared.  In the mountainous woods of my youth in VA it was my grandfather’s tales of the Mountain Man (evidently sort of a cross between Grendal and Gollum)  that filled me with fear.  It was amazing to the pre-school me how a Terror with so much territory to cover and so many kids to threaten, some of whom I knew behaved even worse than I, could spend so much time around our little farm, especially at night.  But I remember that even then the fear would sometimes get to a level where some kind of excitement that made my “chemicals” run wild would fill my mouth with a dry taste similar to the smell of gasoline.  Next it was bullies.  Finally I stood up to one, got a few bruises, and moved onto sports.

When I was in my seventh year of the third grade (what I still like to call my sophomore year) I was on the fourth string of the High School Football team which ended up being the Parade Magazine No. 1 team in the nation.  Every Wednesday and Thursday we slopmores had to “scrimmage” with them.  It was brutal, but later I realized that those guys were so good that they pretty much “let us live.”  My position often ended up putting me across the line from Dick Evey who was All-state and later became a start of the TN Vols before moving onto being the first-string tackle for the Chicago Bears.  It wasn’t so bad; he was a class act then as he was to be throughout his career and never hit me harder than I could survive.  That team had many stars; like two half-backs that both broke the state scoring record and who were coached so well that they did it each with an identical number of points scored:  126, and two pulling guards who hit like horse kicks.  The hits have always seemed to me to have been worth getting to “be there.”

It was always the same:  Fear and Trembling coupled with Excitement and a type of Pride for getting through the things that cause the fear.

By a lucky happenstance I discovered a sport pretty early on that I was, by pretty near any standards of the time, fairly darned good at.  I actually set a state record that as of about 10 years ago when my son’s team competed against my alma mater in Track and Field was still posted on the old gym wall as “still standing.”  This rather silly skill enabled me to get enough assistance, coupled with, believe it or not, some academic scholarships to attend a state university.  And there the demands of sport at the college level really kicked the old adrenaline taste into gear.  And that in conjunction with the courses in philosophy, religion, and existentialism made me wonder if I was maybe a coward living here in the “Land of the Brave.”

Fortunately a significant “bluegrass” event worked that out for me so I never have to wonder again.  Shortly after I was out of college I managed to get a job playing mandolin as a Clinch Mountain Boy.  Talk about dreams coming true!  Every week I got to play music with the greatest singer I’d ever heard in company with the likes of three other wonderful gentlemen:  George Shuffler, Curly Ray Cline, and Roy Lee Centers.  What could be better?  What, in fact, could go wrong?

On our first break we went to a basement of the bar.  No sooner had the last man in closed the door than “CB” pulled a gun, stuck it to my head, flashed some kind of “deputy badge” in front of my eyes and said:  “This is just to show you that I have the right to use this (the pistol).  You, you, you’re the son-of-a-bitch that wrote the letter.  What do you have to say now, you #@##\$#%**+#?”

I have never gotten over fear.  I felt it all the years I trained horses.  I still feel it when I’m hanging on a rock high in the mountains or galloping devil-may-care down a wilderness trail or hear that one of my good friends is facing debilitating illness or heartbreaking loss.  But I know as certain as John Duffey must have known that his barber had no talent that I am no coward.

And that’s why I am really pissed off.

Last week the news channels broadcast the President of our nation, “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, in the act of explaining his defense for the use of TORTURE.  TORTURE, for God’s sake!!!  And that insulting, disrespectful SOB scrunched his face into that offensive, arrogant, pampered, self-righteous, sanctimonious, bullying smirk and actually defended the fact that as a national policy our nation, the United States of America, tortures people.  He explained, as if he had any credibility after all the other lies he has told us; like, “I’m going to reform Social Security”, “There is no doubt that Iraq has WMDs”, and “Warrantless wiretaps are legal”, (this list could go on till my fingers are sore) that such tortures had resulted in “gaining information that resulted in our ability to stop attacks on our nation before they happened.”  And then (assuming that this pronouncement would be believed when nearly all of his others have turned out to be false and without giving any specifics—under the guise of ‘national security’—so that his specious argument could not be checked for facts—as usual) went on with his most childish, disrespectful, and insulting line ever:  “Which of these attacks would you prefer that we had let happen?”  And from that we are supposed to be tricked into thinking that TORTURE is all right as a national policy.

Well, I won’t.  I was raised in this country when we were taught that it was the willingness and aptitude for TORTURE that made nations evil.  We were told of the gulags, the Bataan Death March, the Chinese Water Torture, the Fascist pogroms and so on; and we knew, yes knew with certainty, that nations who sponsored, encouraged, or practiced such acts whether on their own citizens or others were evil.  I believed they were evil then, and I believe that now.  The horrors of Vietnam brought the Evil of torture home.  The Viet Cong constructed tiny boxes that they put our captured soldiers in so that they could neither stand or sit and eventually the bones of their femurs broke their knee caps just as the bugs that gathered on their bodily wastes attacked every orifice as they were too confined to defend themselves from the vermin.  This was TORTURE.  And I believed then and I believe now that it is evil.  The state sponsored Hanoi Hilton (where Senator John McCain was a “guest”) chained our captured POWs to a pile of broken bricks and interrogated our POWs by handing them a grenade with the pin pulled and after they had held it for 24 hours or more began the questions from the safety of another room.  This was Evil—barbaric.  In fact, it is barbarism which has always been associated with TORTURE.

We are all familiar with the barbarism of crucifixion.  There are many good people who are not Christians who still recognize the Evil and the terribleness of that practice.  But it was by no means the cruelest of the Roman TORTURES.  There was practice called the Binding by Shells, which I will describe here, that was unimaginable in its torment unto death and was primarily saved for men of rank and honor that were “suspected” of treasonous behavior—which at that time was considered to be any behavior which was not sanctioned by the emperor—much like the present.

And now we are a nation that sanctions TORTURE.  Our President defends it by asking if we’d rather be attacked.

Hell yes.  What does it mean to be the “Land of the Brave” if we are not brave enough to face, endure, and oppose any force rather than to descend into the abyss of Evil?  Where is the “Christian right” when we really need them?  Where are the brave Conservatives that we have been told about?  Where is the rage?

It is not we the citizens that I feel pity for, though I do feel shame in a degree that can only be labeled by a googleplex.  It is the service men and women who we allow our President to show so much impiety and dishonor.  Now that we have tolerated his “privatization” of the military by hiring mercenaries who make as much as \$15,000.00/mo. while our overextended, embattled combat troops make only \$1,500.00/mo., how can we with conscience make the situation for our soldiers even worse and more degrading by allowing him and his cohorts to assign some poor, dutiful officer to go and TORTURE another human being.  Are there really people in this nation that believe that TORTURE is what any brave service man or woman signed up for?  Is there someone who believes that when his or her son, daughter, husband or wife goes to work at the CIA or the FBI that it is good and right for them to be called upon to do TORTURE.

How can it be, I would ask, that all other nations that TORTURE can be evil and not ours?

Let me be clear.  It does not bother me that there are citizens of this country who believe that TORTURE is a good and useful tool.  Heck, there must be a lot of them—maybe as many as 26%.  They must certainly be among the throng that elected this administration.  There is quite a difference between individual citizens who might themselves be willing to engage in TORTURE to help in the “war against terror.”  These would be folks who would knowingly break the law and be willing to suffer the consequences for their practices and beliefs.  And these are very likely people who have a strong outrage about what they believe (and have been led to believe) are attacks on our nation which must be stopped by any means.  And those beliefs might enable them to rationalize their illegal actions similar to how “religious” beliefs have often been used to rationalize hate.

That is much different that the cowardly bastards who assign the work to public servants, and though sworn to uphold the Constitution, do, in fact, usurp it and ask that others do so as well in their prosecution of TORTURE as a national policy.

And they do this because they assume that we citizens of America would rather forsake the principles that we have stood for, fought and died for, since our beginning rather than endure an attack.  Where the hell were they during the months leading up to 9/11?  Where the hell have they been in the years since then that they could not see that WE ARE NOT AFRAID?  Our principles are dear to us.  Our Bill of Rights is dear to us.  I believe that we are brave—indeed occupy the Land of the Brave, and like Merle Haggard (who recently came into the “bluegrass fold”), believe that we must somehow find a way to use this courage to “take our country back.”

“So did the banks,” Forbes said.

It is not conservatism which makes us TORTURE or even torment.  It is, it seems, the twisted form of what Republicanism has become under W.  But where is the rage?

Ron Thomason, October, 2007

• (footnote)  I have decided that W is no better than I and probably a damned sight worse.  Since he prides himself on not reading the paper or watching the news or listening to anything that he doesn’t already agree with, I’m going to extend the same privilege to myself.  If you would like to respond without being deleted, then you must fall into one of the following categories of “who is eligible”:  1) Any member of Dry Branch Fire Squad; it’s their sacred duty.  I have yet to have any point ever conceded to me in the band van.  I have surrounded myself with these wonderful, talented and principled men to keep me on my toes and make me sound good.  They are all three different and unique in their viewpoints and always, without fail, make me work at formulating issues that I feel strongly about.  I have conceded many points to each in turn, and still hope to someday win one of my own.  2) Any one who agrees with me and wants to pat me on the back.

You may not respond if you fall into one of the following categories:  1) You justify being a Republican with, “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative” because there hasn’t been one “fiscally conservative” thing put forth by any Republican since they bellied up to the public trough in 1996 and began binging.  President Clinton was able to control their profligate spending only by shutting down the entire government.  W. has been in cahoots with them from the start.  In just seven years we have gone from a \$300,000,000.00+ surplus to a nearly \$9,000,000,000,000.00 deficit which means that the interest alone on the debt is now double the surplus they inherited.  (Exception: you have left the party in disgust) 2)You call yourself a Conservative, but you agree with any of the lunatic administration defenders who do comedy on Fox News Network.  3) Your idea of an argument is “Rush Limbaugh has more money than you.”  This actually happened. (Exception:  Your argument has to do with which one of us is the biggest, gaping #**^\$+~+ , and is sufficiently terse.)  4) You are rude; that must be done in person and only if you buy a CD first.

SHORT VERSION:

We are not cowards.

Dick Cheney is a bully, a coward, a committer of treason in his outing of a covert agent, and a liar in his defiling of a President-appointed Ambassador; still he deserves to be the poster-boy for the Gun Control Lobby and his best points are that he is a model for how to avoid military service through multiple deferments as well as for showing why we’re not allowed to hunt at the zoo.

W. has degraded us all with his own cowardice.  By torturing people who have not even been afforded the rights extended by agreements that our nation has entered into and by torturing citizens who have not been extended the rights guaranteed by our Constitution, he has forsaken his oath.  But worse, for fear of having to face the consequences of his own behavior, he has by means of illegal executive fiat made TORTURE a national policy of the USA and defended its use by assuming that we are all cowards—too afraid to face the consequences of holding to our principles and would rather just give those principles up at his behest.

These yahoos are so bad that they have made vegetarian Liberals, like Dennis Kucinich, look wise and reasonable because he has had the gumption to postulate that they should be impeached.  This fact has also made Conservatives look like unprincipled idiots.  “Where”, Reason ponders, “is the conservative rage when arrogant officials usurp the Constitution?”

It’s possible to still be a good Conservative; one example is given in the long form.  But what Republicanism has become is indefensible until leaders in the party take it back.

Ninth and a halfth:  Table of Contents:  1) Warning; 2) Idea for action; 3) Quick summary of feedback.

1. This is a difficult issue; anyone who wants off the mailing list need only request to be removed.

2. Yesterday (Nov. 1, ’07) the President, who just days ago decided to make his stand for fiscal responsibility by denying healthcare to millions of children, chided Congress for making their stand on the issue of TORTURE with respect to how they will vote on his nominee for Attorney General.

That’s exactly where they should make their stand.  Not on Iraq, not on Iran, not on a domestic agenda, but right there on an issue without nuance.  And here’s what we and they should do and why.

This is in context of the following:  In his speech the President explained that Congress should not make such a stand because neither they nor his nominee, Mr. Mukasey, “have clearance to know the techniques that are used in Enhanced Interrogation.”  Further he said that these techniques are used by “highly trained professionals.”  That argument reminded me of the “highly trained professionals”, actual medical doctors, that Hitler used to conduct experiments to see if a mother faced with the choice of seeing her child endure electrical shock when she had a lever that would transfer the shock to herself would elect to do it and for how long.  It also makes me wonder who in Hell (and I mean that literally) signs up to become such an “expert.”

Here’s what we can and should do, and here’s what’s great about it.  This situation presents W. with a  chance to finally bring the country together and give us all something that we can agree on.  Since he has stated that these “procedures” are legal, reasonable, professional, and necessary for our well-being, and since our ignorance about them centers around the fact that we just aren’t privy to the specifics; he should have them broadcast on TV.  Let the law abiding “experts” show their faces and not hide in shame like their veiled Muslim counterparts do when they broadcast pictures of their captives.  There would be no need to compromise the interrogation; any valuable information gleaned could be bleeped with a three-second delay.

Let the American people in on what’s good for them.  Let us watch.  Imagine when the filth and agony of reality was presented in all its Presidential glory on HD-TV.  Think of the pride as Americans grew bored and went to bed only to rise the next morning and see the same “suspect” still being Enhancedly Interrogated.  (For a lightly detailed description of what we might expect to see, read the italicized text in the “feedback” section below.)  Let O’Reilly and Hannity do the color commentary.

Yes, this is exactly where Congress needs to make its stand.  That way every single politician running for national office in ’08 could and should be asked, “How did you vote on the Enhanced Interrogation issue?

Heck, I may be wrong as can be.  Maybe Americans would band together in support of Enhanced Interrogation.  But I don’t think so.  I truly believe that this in vital information and that seeing it done and facing what it has made us would unite us like never before—to get it stopped.

p.s.  Democrats can’t save us on this one, only Republicans.  If there are none brave enough to actually take up the cause—and I believe there are—then we are lost until a sane person can become President.  I believe that if John McCain wanted to become the front-runner, he need only propose and press for passage legislation that forbids “Enhanced Interrogation.”  I believe there are brave Republicans in the House as well, like Dave Hobson and certainly, at least, one or two more.  Won’t someone come forth?

3. There are only a couple of thousands on the DBFS list.  In my experience they all think deeply, conscientiously, and generally with humor. In the last two days I’ve gotten around a couple of hundred “pats on the back”, and, folks, I needed them.  After all, I’m a male.  I also received several “disagreements”, and each was well stated with respect and with the reasons for the disagreement.  I assume that there were many folks who disagreed and had the courtesy to honor my wishes not to hear from them.  I must say that each one who did disagree was very courteous and understanding and essentially one way or the other let me know that I was entitled to may point of view and they were entitled to theirs.  No argument.

I thought some of my readers might be interested that all of the arguments of dissent fell fairly neatly into one of two categories, and here I don’t mean to shortchange anyone.  The first was some version or other of the “administration’s” position that they know things we don’t and are “doing whatever is necessary to protect us.”  The second was essentially that what we do is not torture, especially when one considers what “the enemy” does to its prisoners—like kill them.  A couple of folks asked sincerely if I wouldn’t rather endure what our folks do than to have “my head chopped off.”

I can answer the last question easily:  I would much rather be killed swiftly than to endure what we put “suspects” through without end.  Let’s forget three of the “procedures” that both W. and Cheney have admitted to; slapping, sleep deprivation, and spritzing (the most painful of all); and take water boarding.  I cannot beat the many professional descriptions of what’s involved and how it’s done, so I won’t try.  The summary is that to live through it one must be able to choke up his own vomit.  His arms frequently will be torn from their sockets as he struggles with his fetters to survive.  His bonds will tear his flesh.  He will urinate and defecate all over himself.  A strong person may indeed burst his lungs or heart.  And the procedure is only effective if it just goes on and on until the “suspect” confesses.   The victim of this procedure loses his dignity.  He is expected to deny his cause which to him is the same as denying his God.  He may or may not have valuable information, but whether or not he does all of the other indignities will be visited upon him.  Unlike my God, Jesus, who knew that he only had to endure unto death, the “suspects” of our programs of Enhanced Interrogation cannot expect the end to be death; they can only endure or forsake all that they have believed in or, worse, give up their human dignity, cower before their “confessors” and confess—whether or not they have anything to confess to.  And “our experts” have no reason to stop until they have satisfied themselves that the victim, er—suspect, doesn’t know anything of value.  And how could they know this until they have satisfied themselves that they have tormented more than a human could endure.  Yes, I would choose death.

I guess I just answered the second objection as well.

I cannot argue further with the first group.  If there are people out there who still believe the President, I can offer no further arguments than his own lies, misinformation, and frauds.  I admire folks who respect the Presidency so much that they are willing to overlook W.’s failings.  You have more endurance than I.

The Tenth

The following are NOT family values:  anger, hate, rudeness, arrogance, bigotry, ignorance, selfishness, and sanctimony.

I never meant to make anyone angry.  I see the anger in our society, anger directed by some towards anyone and everyone who disagrees with them, and I deplore it.  There have been some few of our fans who tell me that I should keep politics out of bluegrass music.  I disagree.  That doesn’t make me angry with those folks; it should not.  I cannot think of anything more patriotic, American, and constructive than the right to and the act of disagreeing.  Conversely it would be difficult for me to think of things less patriotic, American, or constructive than to try to stifle disagreement by means of bullying, rudeness, or sanctimoniousness.

Still, out of respect for those who don’t want to read things they might disagree with and with regards to those who have “been after me” to get another installment out I hope that this method of writing the darned thing but not sending it out will suffice.

As a reminder I will repeat a couple of postulates:  1) I write for myself and not any other members of the Dry Branch Fire Squad.  Those other Dry Branchers are all fine men and great musicians who often disagree heartily with me, and hence give me great pause for thoughts and help me hone my own opinions.  I personally believe that it is through our philosophical disagreements and the airing of those disagreements, often with humor and in fun, that we have developed the comfortable and sizeable respect that we have for each other.  2) Bluegrass music is political.  (Remember Hazel Dickens’ wonderful quote:  “Just playing bluegrass music is political.”)  Even as I write this there are substantive conversations running through the IBMA chat rooms about the political ramifications affecting copyrights in regards to the two major Presidential tickets and the sundry Federal Congressional races which are soon to be decided.  (I have already mentioned in previous installments many other defenses for this postulate.)

There is nothing “conservative” about debt.

These first two aphorisms (in italics) were the impetus for me to develop a little theory about what has caused us Americans to let ourselves become so divided.  And this theory is built around four words which have come to represent that which they are not.  They are conservative, liberal, republican and democrat.  These words have become the very embodiment of Orwell’s 1984 metaphors.

(I doubt that this is relevant, but I will state it all the same, mostly for disclaimer purposes:  I have in my life been both a liberal and a conservative.  I used to be Liberal; now I’m Conservative.  I have voted Republican, but not often; and I have labeled myself Democrat but not aggressively so.  It has been rather convenient for me that as the Republicans have become more and more liberal over the last 30 years or so, I have found much comfort being a Democrat as the Democrats have, at least through their actions, taken up the banner of Conservatism.  I am the type of Conservative that felt true regret over the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. [who was sometimes absolutely wrong but always witty and respectful of those who disagreed with him] and who campaigned for Barry Goldwater.  I am also the type that never “embraced” Reagan and always thought of him as a man who only became Republican when he realized that the Screen Actors’ Guild [of which he was president] and the citizens of California weren’t liberal enough for him.

However, I was also the kind of Liberal who believed that the government should do for folks what they cannot do for themselves, and that the government was obligated and responsible for providing the citizenry with excellent education, safety, and health care and welfare for those who cannot provide for themselves.  I mention these things because it is the “conservatives” (note: not Conservatives—just as I shall be using “liberals” and not Liberals) that I am most upset with.  The “liberals”, who have had to take up the standard of Conservatism as the “conservatives” have become more concerned with power through divisiveness than competent governance, have not fared much better, though, due primarily to their collective, though certainly not all-inclusive, cowardice and lack of commitment that would seem extreme except when compared with that of the “conservatives”, which is boundless.

The classic metaphors of bluegrass music are ever meaningful to me:  “I’m on my way back to the old home”, “Come listen, good people”, “Everybody I met seemed to be a rank stranger”, “Oh, the water’s so deeeeeeeep”, “He jumped on his horse and throwed down the reins”, “I have no home no mother or dad”, even “Have someone play ‘Dixie’ for me” along with countless others.

I was born into poverty, though not the dire kind.  My father was a training Sergeant in the Army, my mother, a nurse.  My maternal grandmother never missed a day’s work during the Depression; she saved dimes.  My maternal grandfather sustained an industrial injury which disabled him.  My paternal grandparents owned (that is, actually owned—not paid on) a little 50 acre farm on top of a hill called River Mountain just above the Clinch River where it’s crossed by Route 80 in Russell County in SW VA.  That grandmother farmed by hand and milked by hand until about 10 days before she died.  (The only help I ever knew her to have was what little I gave her when I lived with them while I was playing with the Clinch Mountain Boys back in the late 60s and early 70s.)  Her husband mined until he couldn’t breathe anymore and then became a Chevrolet certified mechanic until his lungs confined him to bed where he lay for the last 15 years of his life while my grandmother cared for him as well as everything else in their lives.  After he died, she lived for only two and a half weeks.

My father and mother were very hard workers.  My father was also an alcoholic—generally the fun kind.  When I was between the ages of “too early to remember” and about six-ish, we moved back and forth from the VA farm to OH frequently as my father tried to find (and hold onto) work “up North.”  As I was entering my teens my dad found permanent employment through the good graces of a “sponsor.” For the next eight years we moved around a lot, generally as a result of not being able to pay bills, especially “the rent.”  I eventually got to go to college due in no small part to several partial scholarships and parents who very sincerely thought it would be nice to have someone in the family “get” a college degree.  I was able to “work my way through” by working in a factory and by hanging onto a couple of the scholarships and by participating in a sport at which I was kind of competitive.

I was not a particularly good student; but I still have a professor who stays in touch.  He taught Satire.  He must’ve seen something in me.  At any rate, here I am at this very moment writing satire (though he might not consider it such since to him—rightfully so—satire must first be art.)  Still I managed to graduate, and from that time until I turned 52, I never had fewer than three (and sometimes four) jobs at once.  My first year out of college I owed a little money that I had had to take in the form of a college loan, and that bugged me a lot.  I wanted to pay it back ASAP.  I taught public school during the day, worked in a factory on the second shift, and played music in bars on the weekends.  My first teaching job paid \$3,200.00/yr; the factory job paid \$62.00/wk., and the bar jobs paid like they still do—not much, but without the travel involved in making “not much” in a band on the road.  That schedule wore me down pretty fast, but I also got the college loan paid off in just a few months.

Eventually I became a farmer and a horse trainer, got involved in bluegrass promotions and event productions and kept on working every day for years.  When I was 52 I retired from teaching and wept. I loved that job, but I had held it through the time when the education system of the U.S. became untenable and shameful.  When I had started teaching in 1966 the U.S. education system ranked in the top five in the world.  We had never been No. 1, but we had always been right up there ever since the post-Depression era when ranking started to be computed.  By the time I left teaching, the U.S. had already dropped to 24th out of the 28 “developed” nations of the world.  We are now 42nd.  That is we are not even in the top five or ten of the “undeveloped” nations—or “third world countries.”

I can tell you why:  When I started teaching (in high school—I eventually did some teaching at all levels, including college and some administrative work) I had five classes a day (which gave me a total of about 110 students each day), a study hall which I monitored and in which I was able to “help” students with their studies, a planning period, and some monitoring duties in the lunchroom and the halls.  When I quit I had six classes a day (about 175 students per day), a shorter planning period—for waaaay more students, and optional hall duty.  By that time students had “monitors” in study halls who were not qualified nor expected to help them with their studies.  And things have gotten much worse in the dozen or so years since then.

This, friends, is not only disgraceful; it is dangerous; it is political; it threatens our national security, and it is particularly relevant to bluegrass music which not only represents in its texts the tribulations of a largely disenfranchised segment of the American population but calls for actions that can only be manifested through education in its texts to remedy the problems of being disenfranchised.  And I would postulate that it is this type of imperative relevance which makes bluegrass music so important to those who love it and relate to it deeply and with great commitment.

Here are some things which are false:

• The NEA (National Education Association) is a union; it is often referred to by pundants and politicians as "the teachers' union).  The NEA is not a union.  No politician would call the AMA or the ABA a union.  And those who call the NEA a union are simply liars and are trying to convince Americans through subterfuge that educators are not professionals; like the doctors of the AMA or the lawyers of the ABA.  They use such lies to heap disrespect on educators, and we let it work.  And we pay a price.  When DBFS played for the 25th anniversary of King Hassan of Morocco our guide was an 11th grade student who spoke not only English (for our benefit) but also French, Spanish, and, of course, Arabic.  Her “field”, however, was math.  She also knew Analytic Geometry, Differential and Integral Calculus, and confided to us that she was worried about “qualifying for a university” because she found Solid Geometry to be so difficult.
• You can’t solve the “education problem” by throwing money at it.  That’s exactly what it will take.  I have heard “conservatives” who buy into this myth complain because when they call for help with their computer they can’t understand the accent of the person they reach.  Well…….if you can’t finish this sentence yourself, then you deserve what you get.
• We are the greatest nation on Earth.  We are a good nation.  Our founders gave us the machinery we could use to be “the greatest.”  But we are just fooling ourselves if we think that 42nd in education, knowledge, literacy, and thinking skills either makes us the greatest or causes people in other nations to think of us that way.

(An aside:  While I was in Morocco I was intrigued by the order and effectiveness of their schools which seemed to be achieving success with so much less than we [in the U.S.] had to work with.  The king’s liaison officer arranged for me to visit a local school.  There the principal told me this:  “We learn what to do from American pedagogical programs.  We know from them that Testing and Lecturing do not work.  We have learned that modeling is the most effective teacher.  The students are responsible to us, but the parents are responsible for them.  If we have a student who does not behave or who does not complete his work we hold the parents responsible.  In the end our courts and our constables will fine and in extreme cases incarcerate parents who do not take responsibility for the actions of their children.)

And here’s an aphorism which is absolutely true:  Issues of education are not Lliberal or Conservative, but they have become “liberal” and “conservative"—to the exceeding detriment of our nation and our nation’s youth.

The fix will take time, effort, commitment, and a lot of money, which brings us to the issue of Taxes.

In order to support a tax system which is based on the precepts of “tax cuts for the rich” one must believe that just being rich is not enough incentive to get that way.

One of the most brilliant, devious, mean, and destructive things that the “republican” handlers have ever devised ( and everyone else has taken up the banner and used) is the term the Bush tax cuts.

What that term has done is make folks who don’t do their own taxes, don’t understand taxes, like to think of themselves as Conservatives but are really “conservatives”, are habitual Republicans which makes them “republicans”, don’t know much about or understand Economics, revere the Presidency in a traditional—sort of “blind”—way, and even a few “schooled” folks who actually believe that reduced revenue will lead to reduced spending even in light of the fact that for governments that has absolutely never, never, never worked; tend to believe that under what I would rather call “the Bush tax system” they got some kind of tax break even if they weren’t rich.

With the exception of the one time the “republicans” ran through the giveaway of the surplus that the Clinton administration turned over to them which manifested itself in the form of \$300.00 checks to the less well off (and even skipped a lot of the middle class with that); the assumption that the BTS (Bush tax system) reached a large portion of taxpayers is false.

Here’s something that everyone can do if he or she will just get out the tax tables from any of the past several years.  Look at them and notice the following which are based on respective figures for Adjusted Gross Income.  A person who made only \$5.00 (no matter if he or she were married or a head-of-household or an individual under the tax code) paid 20% in Federal Income Tax.  If that person were employed by another, he or she also paid an additional 7.65% in Social Security tax and his or her employer paid the same amount as their portion of the Social Security tax (which, of course, kept that employer from being able to pay the individual an additional 38 cents which would have increased that person’s annual wage by 7+%.  Bottom line:  The minimum tax rate for a person making only \$5.00 for the whole year was almost 28%.  And check it out; those rates hold steady up through approximately \$7,000.00 in annual income.

If, however, the individual above happened to be self-employed (as with many owners of small businesses and many, if not most professional bluegrass musicians) and made, say, \$405.00 for the year, then that person would pay the combined rates of 20% on income and 15.3% SE (Self-employment tax, which is actually Social Security tax) for a whopping total tax rate of 35.3% on that first \$5.00 (over \$400.00), which amounts to \$1.76 in Federal tax on the \$5.00.  And these rates actually go up until that person reaches an income level of \$99,000.00.  Let’s face it:  The majority of Americans who work at jobs fall into the level of income between \$5.00 and \$99,000.00.  Even most folks who own businesses and work as professional in jobs which range from machinists, laborers, teachers, nurses, social workers, government work, and so on fall into that range.

However, for those who manage to have incomes which exceed approximately \$100K, there is a big break; they don’t have to pay the additional Social Security tax on the amount that is in excess of \$99,000.00.

(Aside:  None of this was affected by the BTS.  It should have been because Bush himself and the “republicans” who ran on [remember this?] The Contract with America did promise “Social Security Reform.”  None of them ever even proposed it, though, once in office.  This is not meant as an indictment of “republicans” because the fact is that neither did any Democrats or any actual Republicans.  The taxes for the working classes remained high.)

So let’s skip to the really rich.  You can reference the same tax code and the same tax tables.  Let’s take a person who makes from his own labor either through employment by others or self-employment \$5,000,000.00/yr.  I chose this figure because this is the figure that Senator McCain says makes someone rich, but if you would like to use a lesser figure like, say, only \$1,000,000.00 or even a greater figure like, say, \$500,000,000.00 you will still find that the tax rates are the same.  The highest possible percentage that any of these people will pay on any of their income is 35%.  That means that no matter how much money you make, if you are rich even by “republican” or even “democrat” standards, you will pay less than the working person who makes less than \$1,000.00/yr.  But it gets much worse.

For a comprehensive look at the ways in which it gets worse you would actually have to look at some of the 1,000 other tax forms and instructions which generally don’t apply to and are not written for “middle class folk.”  You can find such forms and instructions on the IRS website.  Did you ever wonder why there are so many?  Here’s why.

Most (probably all) folks who make great amounts of money each year, let’s call them the rich and let’s be practical and put their incomes in excess of \$250,000.00/yr as the Democrat candidate for President has done, don’t make all their money from labor.  It’s true that those folks who are closer to the bottom of these figures make a higher percentage of it from labor than those who are at the top, but the general truth still holds.  These folks also have income from sources other than labor; such as, interest, rents, royalties, stock options, capital gains, international profits, and “pass throughs” such as handling and dispersing money for other folks; and they also enjoy a higher percentage of “write-offs”, which is another topic altogether and can get quite complicated (and profitable) indeed.  No matter what your income level you do not pay Social Security taxes on such things as interest, royalties, and rents.  So the more of that stuff you have, the more you do not pay that additional 15.3% tax up to \$99,000.00.

But here’s the best part for these folks for which the BTS was designed.  Many (probably most) make a high proportion of their money from things which are taxed at only 15%.  That’s right, folks; 15%; that is, 20.3% less than those making less than \$99,000.00/yr.  These types of income include but are not limited to (under the BTS; I better repeat the whole term: Bush tax system) capital gains, stock splits, stock options which are exercised (the ones which are just held and not exercised are not taxed at all) and many of the forms of income from money “handling”, leveraged buy-outs and the like.

But it gets still better.  The rich who have diversified into “international” wealth production and who elect to keep their income and profits left out of this country do not pay any Federal U.S. tax on that income at all.  As unbelievable as it may seem, the BTS rewards those who leave their profits and income off shore and out of the U.S.  One needs only visit Calgary in Canada to see the rewards to Canada and to those American citizens who have profited from BTS to see how this lopsided reward for the rich has manifested itself.  The rugged Rockies of the north have been dotted with camps, and plush cabins and compounds by the Americans who have profited from the oil exports from Canada to the U.S. and who, by leaving their wealth in that country, have managed to avoid U.S. taxes altogether.  Now let me be fair, any profits that the poor person who was making \$405.00/yr. and paying 35.3% in Federal taxes which turned out to be “international” and left out of the country would not be taxed either.  As far as I can tell there have been no Congressional studies on how many this applies to.

This is not meant to be a polemic against BTS, even though I know it sounds like it.  I simply am unable to write about this without a lot of rage, and I do apologize.

As a Conservative and not a “conservative”, I firmly believe that we must pay more taxes.  We need income to try to regain our position as a great nation in all regards.  We cannot continue to borrow without burdening the young and the unborn of this country with debilitating debt that they simply won’t be able to pay.  We should not continue to service a debt which now costs us almost \$500,000,000.00 (yes, that’s 500 billion) in interest per year, much of which now goes to folks beyond our shores like the Chinese who not only get a large portion of that interest but who, unlike the Arabs who we also owe who invest much of that debt in our own banks and money markets, hold onto nearly \$1,000,000,000.00 (yes, that’s a trillion) of our dollars in liquid capital and do not even invest it back into institutions where we can get the use of it even when we pay the interest!!!!!  This very tax code, I believe, will soon absolutely bring our once strong economy to a standstill and threaten our security.

Even the rich do not like this BTS which has ruined our economy.  Warren Buffet, for instance, in order to bring attention to this injustice has offered one million dollars in cash to any CEO of a Fortune 500 company who can show that he pays as high a tax rate as his secretary, and he has had no takers.  The rich do better when the economy thrives as it cannot do with burdensome debt caused by the Federal government not bringing in as much as it spends.

What this means is that these government officials who have foisted this tax system on us have done it for their own gains in power and influence.  It has given them the power to control us through misinformation and malfeasance and to empower them with those who would do us harm by directing debt into the coffers of their choice.

I happen to be in that income bracket for which the Democrat candidate promises to raise taxes.  I am for that.  I personally believe in a graduated income tax system.  However, I do not believe that it should be “graduated” in such a way that has the poor paying a higher percentage than those who are better off.  We must pay our bills.

There is no more certain way to destroy America than to make what has been called “the Bush tax cuts” permanent; they have made us “broke.”

The “Fair Tax”

In the last couple of years there has been a resurgence on the part of the “old Forbes’ flat tax” folks to advance something called the Fair Tax.  On the surface it looks good, and it has the old “flat tax” appeal to the wealthy that subscribe to the philosophy that everyone should pay the same tax rate, that a graduated tax rate is inherently unfair because those who prosper more pay a higher rate than those who do not prosper, and that it will raise more revenue than the present tax system because it is so simple that it will do away with the IRS and at the same time be unavoidable and not allow for individual differences and loopholes.

If it actually would (or could) do these things I would sure be for it.

In essence the Fair Tax is a sales tax.  Basically folks who buy new things would pay a certain tax rate (the one that’s been advanced by most adherents ranges between 12% and 17%).  Things which were not new would not be taxed.

There is one thing that is wrong with this system which could be easily fixed.  Tax all purchases.  The fact that only new things are taxed means that “used” things would increase in value as opposed to depreciate since someone could sell a home, car, yacht, or lawn mower for more than their actual “used” value since there would be no tax to consider.  This could certainly help all goods “hold their value.”  However, it would definitely bring down the “value”, but, of course not necessarily the price of new things.  New things would still require all the materials, labor, purchases of goods, and so forth that they do now.  Who would manufacture, retail, distribute, or even try to hold the quality of new things when the easy profits are in used goods due to the “tax breaks” which would accompany them?

However, there is facet to the Fair Tax which its proponents refuse to even consider fixing.  It taxes only goods.  Therefore, as anyone can see, it taxes exactly what poor and middle class folks have to or elect to buy—goods.  The Fair Tax could be made to work if it taxed all purchases:  That is, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, copyrights, patents, royalty income shares, mortgage and mortgage guarantees and all the other things which the wealthy use their money to acquire.  But it doesn’t.  The excuse given is that we can’t tax those things because those are the things that keep the economy going and encourage investment in the economy.  I hate to repeat myself but alas I’m back to an earlier axiom (aphorism):  In order to support a tax system which is based on the precepts of “tax cuts for the rich” one must believe that just being rich is not enough incentive to get that way.  I find it truly incredible that there are people who believe (or pretend to believe) that kind of B.S.

There is nothing Conservative about debt.

Expanding the scope and breadth of government is liberalism pure and simple.

Patriotism is neither Liberal or Conservative, but it certainly has become a “liberal” and “conservative” issue.

What in the world have the “conservatives” conserved?

One cannot “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” by violating it.

There is nothing Conservative about ignorance.

“Tax and spend” can be either good or bad.  If the taxes are just and expenditures are necessary, then that can work.  However, if the taxes are unfair or excessive or the expenditures are not necessary and beneficial, then “tax and spend” fails in direct proportion to the extent that the funds are procured wrongly or spent unwisely.

“Borrow and spend” simply reflects a government gone awry.  It is irresponsible, flawed, and is indicative of  failed policies and failed administrators who saddle those they have sworn to serve with debt, the costs of debt, and the inability to raise funds for the common good of the citizenry.  It is baaaaaaaad.

As I have said, it is not the Liberals that I am disappointed in.  I was (wrongly as it turned out) quite excited by the promise of a Democrat Congress and especially a female Speaker of the House.  These have turned out to be cowards.  They have watched while “conservatives” sworn to uphold the laws of our land have violated those laws; while “conservatives” sworn to protect and defend us have let us come under attack and blamed others for their own incompetence; while “conservatives” who swore to “balance the budget” and “…pass a balanced budget amendment” have raided our treasury, squandered our public funds, and left us broke; while “conservatives” who swore to “bring back the good moral standing of the U.S.” have lied to us, tortured others, broken our treaties, violated our international agreements, persecuted those who sought to bring us accurate intelligence and consequently rendered our formerly great intelligence gathering machinery inadequate; and while “conservatives” who passed themselves off as patriots have maligned decorated war veterans, closed 17 veterans hospitals, allowed as many as 200,000 veterans to live on the streets of our cities uncared for and neglected, treated the sick and wounded in maggot-filled facilities while the commandants lived right across the street from such facilities, cut the promised benefits to those who served their tours of duty, and failed to support or attempt to pass a GI bill which would return at least a part of these benefits to our veterans.

How in the world can “republicans” call themselves Conservative when it took the much-maligned Ted Kennedy to bring a bill to the floor of the Senate and fight to get it passed to provide body armor for the troops in Iraq?

How can “republicans” call themselves Conservative when under their watch the size of government has grown by 22%, the debt has quadrupled, the Fourth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution have been violated (by their own admission), and they have placed incompetents who cannot (or will not) “remember” key events into positions where their only talent seems to be to write memos which excuse the violations of those in positions of responsibility, and who address us, their employers and the ones whom they have sworn to serve, with arrogance, disrespect, sanctimony, and misrepresentations.

It amazes me that there are still any Liberal Democrats at all.  If Liberals are indeed, as they have been represented, those who want bigger government, then you could never out-Liberal the “republicans” of the last 12 years.  If Liberals are the big spenders that they’ve been characterized as, then they have no reason to remain Democrats, who have never seen the day that they could outspend the Republicans of either the Reagan years or the truly magnificent spending heights of the W years.  Why would Liberals even take a chance on getting their spending pinched like happened to them during the H.W. Bush years and the Clinton years. The only possible excuse for Liberals to remain Democrats is that the “republicans” are just too damned Liberal for them.

Furthermore, and this is the real surprise, why would any Conservative in America be a Republican?  What Conservative value do they represent?  Not fiscal restraint.  Not limited government.  Not ethical behavior.  Not humility.  Not manners and decency.  Not even a respect for accurate information or respect for our men and women in uniform.

In fact, I would postulate that there are less and less Liberal Democrats and less and less conservative Republicans than ever.  Oh, the Dems can still boast of Dennis Kucinich, Barney Frank, and Chuck Shumer and the Repubs of Chuck Hagel, Lindsey Graham, and Ron Paul; but other than those few the Dems have been taken over by a healthy dose of Conservatism, possibly as a reaction to the Republican’s free-spending ways and their illegal activities, while the Republicans have misrepresented and/or lied about every Conservative promise they made to be elected, and they have governed as ultra-Liberals the likes of which this country has never seen.

The real question is why has the Democrat House of Representatives of the last two years been too cowardly to hold the Republicans accountable for acts as gross as violating the Constitution.  This state of affairs is government at its worst—something so bad that even the founding fathers in all their wisdom could not anticipate.

There is a problem that Americans have that can only be solved by Conservatives.  Liberals cannot help.  Conservatives (as opposed to “conservatives”) must not only face up to the fact but broadcast the fact far and wide that the W Bush administration has been a total, abject, complete and embarrassing failure.  This is not easily done by people who have grown used to hearing the “conservative” propaganda arm of the W administration tell them over and over ad infinitum exactly what they want to hear until cognitive dissonance has become so entrenched in the collective “conservative” mind that we have been neutralized.  (This dangerous and mindless state begs the question of why folks who call themselves conservative would ever even give ear to a foreign-owned and controlled news organization or radio talk show hosts who represent everything that used to be considered “liberal”; namely, rudeness, ignorance, unfounded anger, bigotry, trickery, misrepresentation, and arrogance while allowing themselves to be insulted by being placed in pigeonholes like “dittohead” and others to be called (disrespectfully, of course) “secular progressives.”  What in the world happened to that age old Conservative ethic of being “individualistic”?

The multitude of failures by the W administration has been well-documented, and I will not even try to list them again.  It would be easier to list the successes, but I cannot think of one.  The die-hards usually will regard the fact that “we haven’t been attacked since 9/11” as one.  I strongly disagree.  First of all, why start at 9/11.  Let’s start at, say, 9/10 and see what kind of a success that yard stick is.  Secondly as the father of a college man who left his last semester in the middle to “join up”, I believe that we have been continually under attack since 9/11.  What is happening to our soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan even as I write this?  Don’t they count?

So I will point out an abject failure of the W administration that is not often, if ever, mentioned.  They are the worse cowards imaginable.  Let me count the ways.  Though they had been in power for nine months, they blamed the Clinton administration for the attack on 9/11.  Since when do we Americans tolerate leaders who will not even accept the responsibility for what happens during their watch?  They tortured.  Look at the difference between a great warrior and obviously brave man like John McCain (or for that matter other warriors like Al Gore and John Kerry and Chuck Hagel and Jim Webb) who abhor torture and fight to get it stopped and these cowards like W and Cheney and Gonzales who not only order torture but defend it.  I call them cowards because in violation of international law and agreements that the U.S. has subscribed to they do a much more cruel and disrespectful thing than the torture itself; they order fine young men and women who have volunteered to serve our country and fight for its precepts to commit the torture.  And then they get their appointees in the Justice Department to write “opinions” that excuse them from the responsibility for these acts should Congress ever try to conduct investigations into them.  I have no way of knowing how many other Presidents have broken our laws in the interest of “national security”, but I do know that if and when that happened those other Presidents did not try to compromise the principles of their own appointees to get excuses for their actions.  This, to me, represents cowardice and lack of any moral compass at its most despicable.

Three good men are running for President.

I mention the failures of the W administration in order to make the case for the chance to take America in a better direction, since even a country as great as ours could not long endure complete and total failure, utter ignorance (for instance, try to think of either a W or a Cheney statement that has proven correct or even a W “election promise” that has been proposed, let alone enacted), complete failure to accept or acknowledge responsibility, and (this last one has taken me a long time to face up to) a regrettable lack of intelligence.  (That is, W is just pretty much dumb in the second standard deviation to the left sense of the word.)  I do not mean for “dumb” to be an insult in this context.  There are folks of all “average” intelligence levels who can succeed and have done so.  It’s usually much more difficult for folks with moderate to low intelligence to compete with those who have more mental facility.  The hard work necessary can often manifest in the worker better work habits and higher motivation.  Such might well be the case with someone like John McCain who graduated at the bottom of his class but was determined nonetheless to at least get through the very difficult program at Annapolis.  It is obviously not the case with the “Gentlemen’s Cs” scholastic record of W who got through school as a “legacy” student and was treated to a “respectable completion” as any son of a well-connected oil millionaire with very limited abilities would be.  None of this is any reason, however, to regard the scholastic record of someone like Barack Obama with anything short of admiration since he not only managed to go to the very best schools on his own merits but succeeded with honors graduating Magna Cum Laude—the highest level of excellence-- from one of the most prestigious universities in our land.  For all anyone could know, both McCain and Obama had to work equally hard to achieve their respective levels in their separate classes.

With W having set the standard so low we cannot help but improve.  Bob Barr, John McCain, and Barack Obama are all smarter, more courageous, more principled, and far more Conservative and less “conservative” than W.  They have all changed their minds in significant ways when they have made mistakes.  (Of course, in popular parlance this amounts to “flip-flopping”, but if W has shown us anything it is that changing one’s mind is far better than staying a flawed course.)

The other great aspect to the opportunities afforded us in the upcoming election is that there are clear, significant differences between the candidates which are not likely to be obscured as they have in past elections because all three have shown themselves to be men of good character and have accordingly managed to keep the mud-slinging to a minimum.

One thing that I’m sick and tired of is the politics of Karl Rove, which in hindsight looks to me to be the idea that one should say anything to get elected and then do whatever he or she can to make those who voted for that person be angry with those who did not.  It will be difficult to get away from that kind of “slash and burn” politics; and the candidates, who all seem willing and who have taken courageous steps in that direction cannot do it alone.  We voters have a responsibility to ignore the rhetoric (and the feelings which come with it) of anger, hate, divisiveness, and vitriol and concentrate on the positions and issues which we favor.  I use favor intentionally because I think that the biggest obstacle facing us in the upcoming election is the temptation to vote against one candidate as opposed to voting for one.  I have my own cross to bear in this regard, for instance, in that I don’t think the world has ever produced a man who can out-whine Joe Lieberman.  He irritates me so that I pretty much have to do sort of a “Zen” erase maneuver in order to look at John McCain with a clean palate.  Old Joe seemed pretty harmless when I could just “type” him as the remains of the whiney-liberal left that occupied a cubby hole somewhere that real Democrats just didn’t go.  But once he did the “old Ronald Reagan” and switched to the even more liberal “republican” side, he just couldn’t muster up the presence of a Reagan; he just sounded like a spoiled child.

I’ve learned some tricks, though.  I refuse to follow up on any comments which start with “John McCain is the same as George W. Bush” or likewise any that lead with Barack Hussein Obama.  It is true that some of McCain’s positions are the same as W’s (especially his tax program and his position on the war in Iraq) and that Obama’s middle name is the same as the former dictator of Iraq and of at least two former kings of middle Eastern countries—one for us and one against us.  But as a man McCain has nothing in common with W; he, for instance, is no coward.  The use of Obama’s middle name in order to try by subterfuge to imply that he is a Muslim is reprehensible, rude, and outright despicable.

And so I will have to deal with Religion before I go on.

There is nothing either Conservative or Liberal nor Republican or Democrat about Religion.  Taken as the Constitution addresses the issue Religion is not political.  Therefore, there is clearly nothing “patriotic” about being religious.  Therefore, those who would put a “political” value on religion, especially with respect to one’s particular religion are not only unpatriotic, they are actually un-American.

One need look no further than the issues of religion which have been raised in the present races for the Presidency to see how far this un-Americanism can go in its extremes.  In spite of the fact that one candidate, Barack Obama, has proclaimed himself a Christian, has attended Christian churches throughout his life, has even been “tarred” with criticism regarding the content of sermons that one of his past ministers gave, there are still some cowardly, unpatriotic, and un-American commentators (and supposedly folks who believe that commentary) who seem determined through innuendo to portray him as or associate him with the Muslim faith.  (Such is the case with un-American heretic devil-spawn like, say, Ann Coulter who will only refer to him by using his middle name, Hussein, with the purpose of implying that he not only has a “Muslim” middle name but also the name of a former dictator who [after being a U.S. ally in the war with Iran] then became a U.S. “enemy” both in Desert Storm and with the neo-cons of the W administration.)

It can be difficult for average Americans to see through such “glasses darkly.”  However, if the First Amendment to the Constitution means anything, then is certainly means that in the eyes of our law all religions are equally viable—even as is no religion.  The Ann Coulters of our land either miss the point of the Constitution or they hate Americanism so much that they cannot accept it.  If either Obama or McCain or any other politician were Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist or Ambidextrous it would make them no less qualified to lead our nation.  It might well be that individual citizens find themselves preferring that they be lead by a person of faith.  Even to specify that faith might be an individual preference.  But to denigrate another’s faith because it is not one’s own is clearly unpatriotic (in the sense that the very First Amendment which guarantees that right has been paid for by the blood of American warriors) and un-American (in that that guarantee is the primary/first guarantee of our Constitution.)

As a bluegrass musician who loves the gospel music best and enjoys performing it the most, I have been asked many times over the years about my own beliefs.  For years I refused to answer.  (I actually had one rather famous bluegrass gospel singer refer to me as a “heretic” for this refusal and let it be known that the gospel music that DBFS does doesn’t “mean anything because of my personal “heresy.”)  I used to rationalize my refusal by telling myself that what I really wanted was for the music to stand by itself and, hence, to mean as much (as music) to those who held to some religion other that Christianity or even those who had no religion at all.

This past winter, though, I had an experience which changed all that for me.  I was asked in the most non-threatening way by on old friend from my early school years “if I was a Christian.”  Suddenly I had to face the “real” reasons that I never wanted to answer.  And I was able to do it with ease because I could see immediately that this dear, old friend was not being judgmental and would not be.  He had no anger or hate in his heart.  He was simply a true, long-time friend with my best interests in his heart.

And so in that instance I let go of the reasons that I had never professed to anyone except those closest to me—never anyone in the “band’s public.”  And now I can share those reason with anyone who is interested or even cares.  It is a sad fact that Christianity which, to me, is a faith founded on love and forgiveness has been the stated religion of (among others) the Nazis (of WWII Europe as well as the ones of today), the Fascists (of WWII Europe), the Ku Klux Klan, the Conquistadors (who killed native Americans in the 15th and 16th centuries “to save them from hell”) the churches of the Inquisition (let us remember that Machiavelli was a Christian), and such hate-filled, bigoted folk as Robert Tilton, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and even famous bluegrass gospel singers, one of whom once defended his own anti-Semitism to me with the line, “The Jews killed Jesus” as if that referred to all Jews and as if Jesus’ last words of forgiveness for those had meant nothing.

I just do not want to be associated with those kinds of Christians, and I do not want folks to think of me in that way.  I am indeed a sinner.  I am filled with anger that I know is wrong.  I have thought to myself that maybe even Hell wouldn’t be so bad if I got a chance there to punch out guys like Jerry Falwell who (let’s not forget) actually blamed the attacks of 9/11 on his grocery list of those he hated in his self-righteous, anti-Christian way.  I detest that kind of un-Americanism.  Every generation of my family since before the Civil War (including my own son) has fought to defend a Constitution which should “protect” us from that kind of bigotry and hatred.

I want to be the kind of Christian that I believe Billy Graham to be.  I loved it when Larry King (trying to stir up some controversy) asked Rev. Graham, “Have your forgiven Bill Clinton?” and Graham replied simply, “Yes.”  King seemed surprised and asked Graham “How could you do that; didn’t he betray a trust?” and Graham said simply, “He asked me to forgive him, and I did.”  I believe in the Christianity of “Do unto others……..”, “Turn the other cheek.”, “Render unto Caesar…….”, “Love your enemies.”, “Judge not that ye be not judged.”, “He who is without sin……..” and so forth.  I can find nothing in the teachings of Christ that support of defend bigotry, hatred, sanctimony, cowardice, prejudice, or any other traits of character other than Love, Charity, Forgiveness, Tolerance, Kindness, Understanding, Sufferance, and abiding Faith.  I don’t believe such things are there to be found.

And to me that faith is very personal.  While I may choose to share it—as I have—it is still personal and nobody’s business but my own.  And as an American I feel exactly the same about every other person’s faith—or lack of faith.  Such, I believe, is an inalienable right.

So that I do not misrepresent a major philosophy of life, I need to give a codicil.  I have a fervent prayer which is indeed my only one.  I have asked God to not give me eternal life.  I have no doubt that he understands the nature of my request and the reason for it.  And I hope that he will honor my wish unless my sins are so great that he needs to punish me with eternal life in which case I am ready to accept the consequences of my earthly life.  This prayer has come about as a result of the blessings that God has bestowed upon me.  I spend more and more time in the wilderness and high up in the mountains the older I get.  I feel that God has blessed me to be able to do this.  But it does create a problem.  I often put myself in grave and sometimes exceeding danger in order to do this.  I have been severely lost, face-to-face with dangerous animals, and often dangerously dehydrated and far from either help or sustenance.  The joy of such conditions is largely derived from being entirely dependent on my own resources to get to safety.  Such an adventure makes no sense to me if all I am in the position of doing is avoiding some far better life on the other side.  I pray that the Lord will understand my hope that he will grant me this special wish to know that he hears my plea to him to give this to me so that I can fully have the full blessings of the earthly life he has given me and the meaning and purpose that I gain from adventure.  I do not mean this in any ungrateful way or to be any disparagement of the “promise” of Christianity.  I believe that he knows this.

I give this example of a “troubling” issue that faces me in my own life and to express how I have tried to resolve it.  I would deeply resent any government interference in my solution as I do, in fact, resent to the utmost the government’s interference in what I believe should be my own right to take my own life or to ask someone to do it for me should my quality of life become unbearable for me.  The fact that government has done this is indicative of the way elected officials will do things to favor the actuary tables of large companies (as in this case those providing life insurance) while using “religion” as their “cover.”  For a Conservative like me, such government interference in such personal life choices is reprehensible.

The issues of folks who would call themselves pro-choice or pro-life are likewise personal, philosophical, religion-related, and complex to the max.  No issue could be more definitive with regards to whether one is Conservative or Liberal.  Nor could any issue show the differences between Conservative and Traditional or Liberal and Non-traditional.  I will not rehash the sundry un-provable beliefs which revolve around the issues of abortion; such as, when a soul enters the body of a human.  What I will address here is the philosophical dichotomy which surrounds the issue.  Certainly one could not find a more Liberal point of view than to want to have a government so big and intrusive as to interfere in what a woman does with respect to decisions for her own body.  Yet such exactly defines “conservatives” as opposed to Conservatives by advocating that very thing.

Would that such an observation could solve the issue, but it actually tends to “avoid” a solution.  The issues raised by advocates of either side of the issue are very difficult to solve, require much examination, and demand reasonableness on both sides.  Regrettably those things never happen when secular solutions are sought from a religious point-of-view.  They cannot be.  It is just such an issue which tries Americans with respect to their Americanism.  If the First Amendment means anything, then it logically follows that Americans of good faith must accept that there is a difference between putting aside one’s personal beliefs and respecting the personal beliefs of others.  Both can exist in people of honor with respect to finding solutions that absolutely require some compromise in the secular sense without demanding any in the personal sense.  It is difficult to see how any other reading of the Constitution makes sense at all.

I believe that we are at a true crossroads in America—one that will provide either for the survival of our country in a form and sense that it has come to be thought of as or will lead to its demise.  We are literally drowning in debt—that very force that brought down the Soviet Union, once thought of as “the world’s other super power.”  We have brought ourselves to this precipice by our own selfishness and unwillingness to sacrifice for the general well-being of America.  Historically there has never been a generation of Americans so oriented.

We have turned our country over to “governors” who raided our treasury, squandered our treasure, and mortgaged 80% of our total worth as a nation under the guise of “conservatism.”  They have fooled us.  We have truly “fiddled while Rome burned.”

We now face an election in which almost no one who is running for office is willing to tell us the truth.  We have folks coming out of the bushes to tell us how they “will cut our taxes” and find ways to keep our standard of living from changing, and they do this as our markets continue to unravel, our citizens lose their homes, our industries crumble, and our middle class shrinks, our veterans live on the streets, our poor become hopeless, our children get less education with each passing year, and our infrastructure crumbles.  And in the face of these things we let them lie to us, treat us like cowards, and accept their incompetence at simple regulation of our institutions and enforcement of our laws.

It’s time to CONSERVE our nation.

Obviously I have candidates which I favor in the upcoming election.  I also believe that we’re not out of the ball game yet.  And I’m not going to avoid the issue by failing to tell who I support for President (but I’ll avoid mentioning local and state candidates for the very reason that they’re local).  But that is not my purpose.

What I would hope to accomplish is to make folks put forth the effort to familiarize themselves with all the issues which we face.  I would hope that there are still people in our society who will vote according to what they believe and what they know.  I would hope that people would take the time to address the lies and the misrepresentations of those running for office, which is easily enough done once “facts” are known and aggressively checked.  But mostly I would hope that there are enough Americans who are strong enough to deal with the cognitive dissonance which affects us all—including myself (on both counts.)  I’m not optimistic, but I am hopeful.

As I write this the W administration has taken a steps to “nationalize” the banking industry which has failed completely due entirely to their own irresponsibility in failing to enforce the regulatory laws which should have been governing the industry and to propose other laws which were needed in order to keep the industry from collapsing while trying to exist in the debt-ridden financial infra-structure created by the regressive Bush Tax System.

Clearly the Economy is the thing which will either improve to insure the survival of the United States of America or will flounder to assure its inevitable demise.

The citizens of this nation have become the owners of much of the banking industry as should have been foreseen by a citizenry who chose to elect such exceeding Liberals.  Our banking industry has been socialized by those who represented themselves as Conservatives.  The emperor not only has no clothes; the socializing by the emperor is nearly complete; that is, there has been a national, unprecedented “social” transfer of the nation’s wealth from the poor and middle classes to the rich.  This has been done through subterfuge.  That is, that rather than honestly tax the less-well-off and use the funds directly to “supply” the rich with more wealth, these ne’er-do-wells have lied to the public that they were “beneficiaries” of tax benefits and used the power vested in them through such lies to borrow against the future of the actual “working” tax payers to fund the ascendance of the new “wealthy.”

And yet, with just a few months of assured power left, they have decided to try to do even more damage.  They have sought to have Congress turn over all the remaining leverage in the American economic system to one man, Henry Paulson, to do with as he wishes; namely to provide liquidity for badly managed banks and mortgage guarantors so that before they crumble (or are forced to actually make amends for their bad management and take responsibility for it and maybe lose their jobs), they can pay themselves massive amounts of money to “walk out the door.”  And Congress is buying it.

SCREAM BLOODY MURDER!!!!!  This is not only Socialism (which is a type of theft) this is Theft, pure and simple.

We, the taxpayers, are now the owners of some darned big companies.  We have rights.  We should demand transparency, reciprocity, regulation, and conservancy; we are entitled to those things just like any stock holders would be.  We should fire the SOBs who brought us to this juncture, and we should absolutely not reward them for their failure.

We won’t do that, of course.  We have been convinced that we are cowards.  To do so would require impeachments or those who have sold us out (not only of administrative officials but also of some Congress members.)

But we can vote responsibly.  That will require a lot of courage.  Most people won’t have it.  No matter how bad things get, some folks just won’t jump ship.

For me it is easier because I always have music and humor to sustain me.  I like knowing that there’s a guy out there like Merle Haggard who months ago began to tell us the kind of “patriot” that he is.  He began telling us that our present government is “broke”—in both senses of the word.  I personally like that kind of patriotism.  I personally don’t get much out of the “Charlie Daniels-specious-flag-waving-afraid-to-face-the-facts kind.”

I really liked the old John McCain who voted against the “republicans” on the Iraq war and the Bush Tax System in favor of actual Conservative values.  The one running for President; while still a wonderful example of patriotism at its finest, heroism in the extreme, and a good model for public service; has shown himself to be not equal to the task of being the next President.  He cannot even read the “economic” speeches correctly from the teleprompter.  He will not accept that we must tax ourselves.  He has in the final analysis refused to refute the “republican” trick of trying to ascend to power by means of dividing the American public rather than trying to unite us.

I love the idea of Libertarianism, and would love to see Bob Barr be President.  But, as almost all Conservatives acknowledge, there are “no Libertarians in times of crisis.”  We need constructive governance; that is, the enforcement of our laws, the creation of Conservative regulations, and the UNITING of the American people.

One need only look to where the last vestiges of Conservatism came from to see the only way out of our present mess which has been caused by the ultra-Liberalism of the “republicans” (and absolutely not the Republicans) and the Bush administration.  That Conservatism came from, alas, Democrats (and absolutely not “democrats”).  It was the exceeding Conservatism of the Clinton administration which shrank the size of the Federal government, reduced the deficit, paid down some of the national debt, balanced the budget, and not only allowed but encouraged businesses, the working classes, and individuals to prosper.  And they taxed us to do it.  (And they did all this while holding the terrorists at bay, deposing a dictator, and building up a military which was used to great advantage by the W folks in starting—and winning, before losing—a war.)

I have decided to vote for, work for, and support Barack Obama for President for four main reasons:  1) He is the only candidate who has promised to tax us (and though I wish he would not only focus on folks in my income bracket and above, I’ll take that over even more “borrow and spend”); 2) I believe he will try to bring us together and that the very election of a person with a brown face might go a long way in doing just that; 3) He is smart and these times demand someone who can actually think deeply; and 4) He is Lincolnesque; that is, he was born to humble beginnings, worked his way through school with great success, chose to do public service when he could have prospered far more through private offers, and can speak so that I can understand him and see that he understands the situation.

However, most importantly I positively refuse to be angry with citizens of this country who disagree with me, for to do so would be the least patriot, the most un-American, the least Conservative, and the most non-Christian thing I could do.

RT (Sept. ’08)

The Eleventh

Re:  Man of Constant Sorrow—My Life and Times by Dr. Ralph Stanley with Eddie Dean, publisher: Gotham Books

This book has a small, ready-made audience that may well consider it mandatory reading.  That audience consists of folks who consider themselves “fans of Ralph Stanley and/or the ‘now historic’ Stanley Brothers.”  There will also be a large portion of folks who consider themselves fans or proponents of bluegrass music and, to a lesser extent, fans or proponents of old-time music and even other niche forms of music that would find this book very informative and even entertaining.  I suspect that many of those types of readers will enjoy the conversational style of the prose which is all written in “dialect” form that captures the flavor of Dr. Stanley’s rural southwest Virginia speech patterns along with his habit of repeating the points of his narrative which are most important to him.

It only takes a few pages for the reader to realize that this book has taken form as a result of one of the authors, Eddie Dean, having recorded his conversations over a period of time and a multitude of topics with Dr. Stanley.  Mr. Dean has then simply put the sundry topics into a manageable “order” and transcribed them.  Every word in the book, therefore, reads as if you are listening to Dr. Stanley “talk.”  The use of “dialect” for the entire text actually works to give the many stories the flavor that one gets from an venerable, “hillbilly” (Dr. Stanley’s own word for himself) story teller.  Since Dr. Stanley is quite well-known among his public as a very reticent person, this alone will make the book a good read for not only those who number themselves his fans but also those who count themselves as his personal friends and close acquaintances.  I have worked for him and known him for 40 years and visited with him on numerous occasions and had him as a guest in my home and still I learned things from this book that I had never suspected.

As a “history” of the Stanley Brothers this book provides incomparable insight into every aspect of that act from its formation to the death of Carter Stanley in 1967.  Fully two-thirds of the book focuses on the lives and careers of the two brothers, Carter and Ralph.  There are precious insights and heretofore untold stories not only of the things that influenced their music but also of the many musicians that worked for them and with them.  The striking differences that made the Stanleys the most successful and very likely the most influential of all the brother duet acts that evolved in the periods just before and just after World War II are made clearly manifest in Man of Constant Sorrow.  Dr. Ralph (as he has come to be affectionately called by fans all over the world) does his best “relating” when focused on his much loved (and much missed) brother, Carter.  He tackles his own foibles, fears, and insecurities with courage and honesty; and he does the same with respect to his brother although, he handles Carter’s issues with more gentleness than he saves for himself.  There are heart-warming, humorous, and poignant stories of many of the Clinch Mountain Boys (the name of the Stanley Brothers’ band and the name that Dr. Ralph kept for his own band after Carter’s death).  And there are adventurous tales of the trials, tribulations, thrills, disappointments and rewards of being in a traveling band.

In my opinion the first two-thirds of the book should have been called Part I, and the rest of the book, Part II.  The last “part” of the book deals with Ralph Stanley’s life, his music, and his career after Carter’s death.  This part has a different “tenor” (a word I’ll use here for the “enthusiasts”) than the first part.  It is at once personal and yet a little “distant” as Dr. Ralph takes a close look at himself and his career in a way that at times appears to have him looking on as a casual observer.  This part gets a little repetitive on at least one issue which is of the utmost importance to Dr. Ralph, but with those few exceptions the narrative picks up speed, contains more drama, and unfortunately relates at least one (but I tend to think two) accounts which depart from Dr. Ralph’s previous (in the book) practice of not naming individuals where his story could cause them some embarrassment.

I have little doubt that this “slip” in judgment will be forgiven by anyone who is steeped in Dr. Stanley’s music. I also think that these kinds of specifics can help to sell books.  And I know enough of “Clinch Mountain ethics”, being from a mountain just like the one that Dr. Ralph comes from and just one county over from his, that Dr. Ralph meant more to be totally “honest” in his revelations than to be hurtful and that Honest (in its personification) stands for nearly everything that makes a man in those mountains.

But…and here’s the critical point…this book is not meant just for the small niche that I mentioned above.  This book was reviewed by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and has been promoted on National Public Radio and even the David Letterman Show.  And I believe that there are people in the “general audience” who will (and should) read this book.  I worry that many of those may well see an inconsistency between the way that Dr. Ralph treats one notable bluegrass music performer and even one Clinch Mountain Boy and the way he treats all other “players” in the narrative. And those “general” readers could interpret that “inconsistency” as a failing of character.

I am very disappointed that Eddie Dean (whom I do not know) allowed that to happen.  As I see it there were only two responsibilities that fell to Mr. Dean.  One was to accurately render the text and the other was to advise Dr. Ralph of such an inconsistency and how it might be interpreted by a “general” reader as opposed to a reader who was familiar with Dr. Ralph and his career.  With regards to his first responsibility he did an adequate job, but there are places where words have obviously been left out, and there are inaccuracies in his transcription that should have been caught; to wit, things like form for from and I and is for if.  However, with regards to his second, he should have assumed some responsibility for protecting Dr. Ralph from being misunderstood.

Here’s where the inconsistency lies.  Throughout the book there are many tales of folks who acted disgracefully in various ways.  One instance deals with a case where someone came to the site of Dr. Ralph’s festival to perform a vile act on a grave.  Yet Dr. Ralph does not identify that person beyond saying that he was “a famous entertainer.”  There is only one case in which Dr. Ralph specifies the name of a person who does something that he disapproves of.  This person is a much-honored and much-loved and respected performer in the same genre as Dr. Ralph. To make matters worse this person is reported in the book to have performed with Dr. Ralph and to have been the butt of one of his pranks—all fair game if it had been handled “anonymously” as all other similar situations in the book were handled.

But there are two aspects to this part of the narrative that may well be lost on a “general” reader.  One has to do with the nature of the pranks that the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys liked to play.  Many of them revolved around slipping a laxative to an unsuspecting person and watching the result.  This is a classic and long-practiced hillbilly prank which I know from my personal life was thought to contain a lot of humor for us “poor” hill folk.  I know almost everyone in my own family played it from time to time.  But in our modern society where IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) afflicts, it’s said, over 60% of the working population not to mention its connection to the military as part of Combat Stress Syndrome, humor derived from pranks of that type may require some “tolerance” from the general public.  And indeed most readers would willingly give it were it not for the inconsistency that Dr. Ralph expresses his exceeding dislike for the above referenced performer for pulling a prank that Dr. Ralph says is “stupid” but may, in fact, seem a lot more considerate and humane to folks who view things differently than he.  This inconsistency could have simply been avoided by keeping with Dr. Ralph’s practice throughout the book of simply not giving the name of the “culprit.”

There is another instance which relates how members of the band made fun of another member and excused it because that member “also laughed” at the “jokes.”  This happens all the time in bands and could have been put into that context.  But it was not, and again, this is the only other instance where the “victim” is named along with the specific reason for his being the butt of the jokes.  Mr. Dean should simply have advised against the form of these inclusions in the book.

These instances are compelling for their tragic aspect.  Dr. Ralph himself relates that both these men respected him and his music and that both considered it an honor to get to play with him.  I personally knew one of these men very well.  I heard him tell me once that “Carter Stanley was the only person who ever ‘helped’ me in bluegrass music.”  This person once recorded with my band (as a very much appreciated favor), and as it happened we recorded a song made famous by the Stanley Brothers.  After we had done the recording he actually  said, “Boy, I wish I could have done that part better [it was excellent beyond belief, by the way], but that part can only be done the way it should be when Ralph Stanley is there to sing his part.  He defined that harmony line.”  To make matters even worse, this man died over a decade ago and cannot defend himself.

It will remain to be seen if even hard-core fans can avoid feeling the awkwardness of this account in the book since in another place Dr. Ralph expresses his own admiration for a well-known bluegrass performer and band leader who was quite famous not only for the disrespect that he often showed his audiences but also the abuse that he gave to his own band members right on stage in front of the public.  That inconsistency alone should have been constructively addressed by Eddie Dean.

I cannot help feeling protective towards Dr. Ralph in these instances.  He has done a great job and a wonderful service in “talking” for this book.  I know him to be a good man of honorable character.  He is decent, and quite uncharacteristic of folks from his background, he has never had any bigotry.  He is open-minded.  And he is a friend with a true heart.  The things he related were no doubt truly felt and certainly he is entitled to those feelings.  However, he has been greatly disserved in how they have been related.

I have put off writing this for several weeks after reading (and enjoying) Man of Constant Sorrow, because I have wondered if there is a possible solution for this problem with the book.  Obviously once something is in print, it is difficult to take back.  However, I believe there is a way to ameliorate the damage that has been done.

I believe there will be further printings and even eventual paperback editions.  I think that the best thing that could happen would be for something like the following to be inserted in future editions and/or printings either just before or just after the telling of the story of the “stupid” prank, and I would recommend that it be done in “dialect” just as if Dr. Ralph were speaking directly to the reader:  (Folks, I sincerely regret that identifying (this person) may have caused some damage to his reputation or his memory.  I am deeply sorry for having given his name, and I realize now that I could have told this story without personally identifying him.  He was a great performer and a devoted fan of mine and of the Stanley Brothers.  For some reason I just didn’t like him, but that was no reason for me to relate stories about our professional interactions which ended up sounding degrading to him.  I know that there are many in our business who loved him and his music and who still honor his memory.  I hope you will forgive this lack of judgment on my part.)

A statement like this would also go a long way in providing a buffer for the many pranks, including the ones directed at the “uniqueness” of one Clinch Mountain Boy, which are the typical fare of traveling musicians and show an understanding on the part of Dr. Ralph that what may seem harmless pranks to one person might seem to be a bit beyond the reasonable to another.

Ron Thomason:  December, 2009