Archive for April, 2012

30
Apr
12

karma

What goes around comes around. It’s a law of the Universe that’s pretty easy to forget when you see so many people profiting handsomely from their selfish and evil ways.

It’s easy to think there’s no justice in the world.

A couple days ago I learned that a guy out here who has been a particular thorn in my side has been experiencing hard times. This is a poseur who presumes to speak for God, who judges others harshly, who acts in hateful ways while deluding himself into thinking that he’s modeling “tough love.”

Now his life is falling apart, he is drinking heavily, and who knows what else? There’s a part of me that wants to reach out and comfort him, but I’m not going to do it. It’s better to stand back and let Karma teach him what it will.

Plus, ever since I heard the news, I’ve been experiencing a feeling of… well, I don’t know exactly how to say this because I don’t want to sound like a person who delights in the pain and unhappiness of others… but I have been feeling a lightness of being, a bounce in my step, like all is right in the world. He doesn’t need to see me gloat.

Yet that doesn’t quite get to the heart of it. I’d have to say I’m feeling a sense of reassurance, peace, and confidence that there is indeed such a thing as cosmic order.

On a certain scale, everything makes perfect sense.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Big Star performing “You Get What You Deserve”

.

(postscript)

The story has entered a new and (for me) happy chapter. At the end of May my neighbors informed me that the poseur has moved away for good. His wife left him and, without her income to live off of, he was forced to move someplace else where he can find work.

He claims to have sold his property for more than he paid for it, but this is a dubious claim on two counts. First, we have seen no new people visiting there (as you might expect a new buyer to do). And second, I know for a fact that he paid four times the going rate for the property when he bought it in the first place. It is unlikely he would have found a “greater fool” so readily.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood again–every day!

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29
Apr
12

carolina in my mind

Last week I was on the phone with a Diary reader who had never noticed the menu bar just below the header on the main page. She’d just complained that there was no place that introduced visitors to my background, and I asked her if she’d ever clicked on “about” in the more than two years that she’d been following the blog.

“About? Where’s that?” she asked.

“Right under the picture of the mountains at the top,” I said. “A link to The Redemption Project is there, too.”

“I just clicked, but my computer is slow,” she said. We waited.

“Oh,” she said a little sheepishly.

This page was exactly what she’d complained didn’t exist. “I can’t believe I missed this,” she said.

“Have you ever been to the Redemption Project website?” I asked.

“No,” she said a little defensively. “I’m going there now.” We waited. There was a slight gasp on the other end of the line. This particular lady doesn’t like it when things get past her, and this was a biggie. I could tell she was a little embarrassed. Then she recovered with a jab: “No Blacks,” she accused.

“Yeah, that’s so,” I admitted. “All things in due time. We’re a new organization. The first Black kid just hasn’t come along yet.”

It’s not like we have race quotas or anything like that. We focus on parricides, and juvenile parricides are extremely rare, only about 30 a year. I’m not aware of a specific recent case in which a Black child has killed a parent, though I will allow that such a case may be out there that we haven’t heard about. (It wouldn’t be the first time a “black-on-black crime” has failed to show up on the mainstream media’s radar.)

The cases we’re supposed to be working on generally have a way of finding us. Our plate is full. Looking for a Black kid to serve just because he’s Black would be racist. Addressing race-based injustice is not a part of our mission.

Yet racial disparities in the criminal justice system are the elephant in the room that must be acknowledged here. Unlike politicians at all levels of government, the numbers don’t lie.

Whereas in 2005 the overall US incarceration rate was 738 per 100,000 population, for Blacks it was 4,848. If you look at the incarceration rates for males aged 25-29 by race, you can see the elephant even more clearly. In 2006 the incarceration rate for Whites was 1,685 per 100,000; for Hispanics it was 3,912; for Blacks it was 11,695 per 100,000.

Blacks account for just over 40% of the total prison and jail population, while at the same time census data shows that Blacks were only 13.6% of the US population. In absolute numbers, more than 846,000 Black men were incarcerated in 2008—and this does not include Black juveniles incarcerated in juvenile detention centers.

Apologists for America’s suppression of African Americans through mass incarceration claim that these numbers reflect a higher incidence of crimes among Blacks, but research has shown that higher crime rates among Blacks account for only 60% of the disparity. The remaining 40% results from racial prejudice that contaminates the law enforcement and judicial systems.

National surveys conducted by the Department of Justice find disparate law enforcement practices contribute to this higher incarceration rate. For example, while Black drivers may be stopped by police at similar rates to Whites, they are three times as likely to be subject to a search after being stopped. Disparate police practices related to the “war on drugs” have been well documented in many jurisdictions, and in combination with sentencing policies, they are the most significant contributor to disproportionate rates of incarceration.

If a Black male drops out of high school he has a 32.4% chance of going to prison, while his White and Hispanic counterparts have a 6.7% and 6% chance respectively. The US Department of Justice projects that if current trends continue, one of every three Black males born today will go to prison in his lifetime.

According to Michelle Alexander, Ohio State University law professor, civil rights activist, and author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, there are more Black men in prison and jail, and on probation and parole, than there were slaves before the start of the Civil War.

In her book, Alexander writes that despite today’s belief in “colorblindness,” our criminal justice system effectively bars Black men from citizenship, treating them as a separate caste.

“Denying African Americans citizenship was deemed essential to the formation of the original union,” she wrote. “Hundreds of years later, America is still not an egalitarian democracy. The arguments and rationalizations that have been trotted out in support of racial exclusion and discrimination in its various forms have changed and evolved, but the outcome has remained largely the same.”

Although crime rates have dipped in recent years, the number of Black men who are incarcerated has surged, mainly due to a single law enforcement policy, Alexander contends. “Most of that increase is due to the War on Drugs, a war waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color,” she said.

There’s also a large disparity between races when it comes to sentencing convicts to Death Row. Looking just at the federal death penalty data released by the Department of Justice between 1995 and 2000, 682 defendants were charged with death-eligible crimes. Out of those 682 defendants, the defendant was Black in 48% of the cases, Hispanic in 29% of the cases, and White in only 20% of the cases.

It has always been this way, especially in the American South.

The youngest person ever executed in the US in the 20th century was an innocent 14-year-old Black boy named George J. Stinney, Jr., who was electrocuted in 1944 by the state of South Carolina. After a 2-hour trial conducted in a lynch-mob atmosphere in Clarendon County SC, in just 10 minutes Stinney was found guilty of the murder of two young White girls, by an all-White jury solely on the basis of a false confession that police had coerced from the boy, in a locked room with no witnesses, with inducements of ice cream.

Stinney’s court appointed lawyer was 31-year-old Charles Nelson Plowden, a tax commissioner unfamiliar with criminal law, who was preparing for a run at the state House that year. “His dilemma was how to provide enough defense so that he could not be accused of incompetence, but not be so passionate that he would anger the local whites who may one day vote for him,” wrote Mark Jones, author of South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion.

Plowden did not cross-examine any of the prosecution’s witnesses, nor did he call any witnesses for the defense. His entire argument was that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes, even though South Carolina law at the time regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. (A one-sentence notice of appeal would have automatically stayed the case for a year.) This guy was no Atticus Finch.

(Plowden is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Summerton SC. If you’re ever there, piss on his grave. His son, Charles N. Jr., is a retired lawyer in Columbia SC with the firm Richardson Plowden & Robinson, P.A..)

Just 83 days after first being accused of the crimes, George Stinney was put to death. Standing 5’1” and weighing just over 90 pounds, Stinney was so small he had to be seated on a stack of books in the electric chair so his head would reach the electrodes.

The horrible scene of his execution was recreated in the 1991 film Carolina Skeletons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIC-qBLDWUg&feature=youtu.be

Since Stinney’s death, it has become known that the real perpetrator, a member of a prominent White family in Alcolu SC, admitted to the murders in a deathbed confession. A member of the perpetrator’s family had served on the coroner’s inquest jury that had recommended Stinney be prosecuted. There’s plenty of guilt and shame to go around.

But none of that will bring back the innocent Black boy who was murdered by the state 68 years ago. Yet maybe it can bring urgent attention to the injustices being perpetrated everyday in America by racist cops, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges who are the children and grandchildren of Plowden’s generation, whose callous trafficking in human flesh continues even today.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to James Taylor performing “Carolina In My Mind”

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PS:

Teen exonerated 70 years after execution

by Catherine Garcia, The Week

December 17, 2014

In 1944, George Stinney Jr. was executed at the age of 14, so small that he had to sit on a phone book in the electric chair. On Wednesday, 70 years after he was found guilty of murder, Judge Carmen Mullins threw out the conviction.

It took a jury of 12 white men just 10 minutes to find the black teenager guilty of beating two white girls, ages 11 and 8, to death with a railroad spike. Officials in Alcolu, South Carolina, say that the 95-pound Stinney confessed to the murders, and his trial lasted just three hours. Civil rights leaders have long asked to get the case reopened, and in 2009, Stinney’s sister said in an affidavit that she was with her brother the day of the murders and he couldn’t have been involved.

Stinney was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century; in 1944, 14 was the legal age of criminal responsibility in South Carolina.

 

28
Apr
12

more visitor feedback

I’ve been having my fun each day playing D.J. with the “Grooves of the Day,” but frankly, I’ve wondered at times if anybody really cares. Even on days with very heavy traffic, only a small number of visitors listen to the day’s Groove.

At first my feelings were bruised that so many people were missing the mood, the poetry, the humor, the irony, the added dimension of meaning the Grooves bring to each post.

But then I just said, “Screw it.”

I’m doing the music piece because it’s my passion and my hobby. I learn more about music and music artists each day. Finding just the right soundtrack for each post pleases me, even if most visitors don’t notice.

If some people are content to look at the GIF animations I’ve been introducing lately, and doing so without sound, that’s okay. Some people prefer eating hamburgers and hot dogs without the buns. Some people just listen to television without watching. It’s all good.

I’m gratified there are still enough readers in our culture to be making a “readers’ blog” like this popular. A shocking proportion of people just don’t read anymore. I love it when people tell me their day isn’t complete without a visit to the Diary, that it’s become an important part of their routine.

Last night I did the first-ever real analysis of visitor clicks on the blog’s music selections. Even though listenership is only a fraction of visitorship, I was pleasantly surprised. With the exception of one song, those who do click on the music appear to be listening to selections I would designate as “musts” versus “optional.”

But here’s the thing that really thrills me. Last spring I had the idea that I should begin interviewing young music artists and doing in-depth stories about kids who are soaring in the pursuit of their dreams—as a counterbalance to the stories I write about kids who are living nightmares.

The first such young performer I profiled was British chorister Andrew Swait.

And who do you think emerged as the most listened-to artist in the analysis? Andrew Swait!

His performance of “Nunc Dimittis” was far and away in first place above all others, and he was tied with other artists (including the likes of George Harrison and Julian Lennon) for fourth, fifth, and seventh places out of ten. My experiment’s apparently working!

This realization has come to me just two days after I’ve gotten another young singer, songwriter, and musician to agree to do a similar interview. His indy rock band is going stratospheric right now and touring and performing to international acclaim. I’ll keep the details under wraps for now, but I feel a little like a prescient guy who has just gotten John Lennon to agree to an interview at the Cavern Club in 1961.

So, for what it’s worth, here are the results of the analysis of what you’ve been listening to on this blog. All of the song titles are live links in case you want to listen to the songs again (and further skew the totals your way).

You click, and I’ll count ’em.

 

۞ 

Grooves of the Day 

Visitors’ “Top Ten” Rankings 

(19 Artists, 23 Songs, Just 10 Places)

 

#1 Andrew Swait“Nunc Dimittis” (Burgon)

#2 Rab Noakes “Psycho Killer”

#3 Leon Redbone“Breeze”

#4 Andrew Swait & Sam Harris – “Mouth of the Dumb” (MacMillan); Patience & Prudence“Tonight You Belong to Me”

#5 Andrew Swait – “Pie Jesu” (Fauré) ; George Harrison“Marwa Blues”

#6 Fritz Wunderlich – “Ännchen von Tharau” ; Richard Wagner“O du Mein Holder Abendstern”

#7 Andrew Swait & the King’s Singers– “Even Such is Time” (Chilcott) ; Jehan Alain – “Le Jardin Suspendu” ; Julian Lennon – “Valotte” ; Page Foster – “Alive” ; Glenn Miller“Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead”

#8 MGMT – “Kids” ; Unknown Artist – “Heimat deine Sterne”

#9 Rina Ketty – “J’attendrai” ; Andreas Scholl“Agnus Dei” (Bach) ; Thelma Camacho“Surrender to Me”; Leningrad Cowboys & Red Army Chorus – “Gimme All Your Lovin’” ; Ben Folds & Regina Spektor“You Don’t Know Me”

#10 Trevor Reichman – “Bad, Bad, Bad” ; Trevor Reichman“Doomsday Sunday Sermon”

27
Apr
12

birthday msg

Today you’re now the age I was when we first met. It’s hard to believe we’ve been friends for so many years and “family” over all that time.

You were the first person I’ve known who could fly through sheer force of imagination, will, and momentum. It has been my good fortune that you should have been willing to share so many experiences with an earth-bound friend such as me. It raised my sights, and continues to do so.

You’ve helped me see the world again through young eyes, and have encouraged the empathy, intuition, and understanding which are so essential to my work today.

Were it not for you, I’d be doing something completely different right now. My value to others would be much diminished, and my personal satisfaction with life would be much less.

I’m grateful you were born and the currents of fate brought us together.

.

I’m thankful we’ve walked so many miles together.

Here’s a song for you from the old days that always brings back fond memories for me.

Happy birthday, Paco!

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Joe Satriani performing “I Believe”

26
Apr
12

gershwin at the keyboard

George Gershwin (1898-1937) was a favorite guest of society hostesses if they could get him to accept their invitations. An old friend of his once said Gershwin would play his music at parties for hours on end “at the drop of a piano.”

The composer apparently had great admiration for himself and his music—and why not? At the time of his death from a brain tumor at the age of 38, he was reportedly the richest composer who’d ever lived. A great egotist but never obnoxious, Gershwin was always very nice with people. Good manners were intrinsic to the style of the age.

I’ve often wondered what it might have been like to have been a guest at one of those parties and stood by the piano listening to Gershwin play.

This morning I stumbled across a pianist named Kevin Cole, who is regarded as the foremost interpreter of George Gershwin compositions according to members of the Gershwin family, various music critics, and composers. Edward Jablonski, editor of the Encyclopedia of American Music, has said: “Kevin is the best Gershwin pianist since Gershwin himself—no one can touch him.” Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune said, “When Cole sits down at the piano, you would swear Gershwin himself was at work.” So maybe this long performance is what being at one of those parties must have been like:

Listen to Kevin Cole performing a medley at Viva Variety 38 

To hear Gershwin himself playing the piano, you have to rely on recordings of the time, which definitely have their limitations. This recording of the premiere with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra of “Rhapsody in Blue” has been cleaned up by sound engineers, but is definitely still not up to modern standards:

Listen to George Gershwin, with Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, performing “Rhapsody In Blue”

It’s a curious accident of history that the best recordings of Gershwin performing are recordings of piano rolls he made in the early part of his career. Today’s “Groove of the Day” is a piano roll Gershwin made in the ‘20s before he wrote some of his most famous pieces.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to George Gershwin performing “On My Mind the Whole Night Long”

25
Apr
12

round and round

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to Ratt performing “Round and Round”


24
Apr
12

oddness

As I witness the sun rising ever farther north on the eastern horizon, I am aware that the solar year is quickly approaching its midpoint, and that we are that much closer to the dreaded day of doom, the Winter Solstice of December 21, 2012… as some people believe, the end of time and civilization.

We are surrounded by people everywhere, some of them quite odd, who believe the world as we know it is coming to an end—or wish it to be so: survivalists, alarmists, pessimists, aimless drifters, religious fanatics, despondent Constitutionalists, fugitives, awol parolees, deadbeat debtors and parents, dumped lovers and lonely divorcees, unlucky speculators, habitual quitters, crazy people and cowards of many stripes.

There are so many frustrated and unhappy people today who, for their own particular reasons, seem to welcome the prospect of oblivion. They view the pagan Mayan Calendar as new proof that this is the year everything will end—even Christians.

There’s a guy in my neighborhood who makes money over the Internet trading on people’s fears and offering scripture-laced advice for the looming “end times.” He follows in the footsteps of a long line of prophets whose end-of-world predictions have all been false alarms.

Here is just a small sampling:

Doom Date                Prophet                              

May 21, 2011            Harold Camping, president of Family Radio (a Christian broadcaster)

Camping predicted that Christ would return to Earth, the righteous would fly up to heaven, and that there would follow five months of fire, brimstone and plagues on Earth, with millions of people dying each day, culminating on October 21, 2011 with the end of the world. He had previously predicted judgment days on May 21, 1988, and September 6, 1994. His prediction for May 21, 2011 was widely reported, in part because of a massive publicity campaign by Family Radio. After May 21 passed without the predicted incidents, Camping said he believed that a “spiritual” judgment had occurred on that date, and that the physical Rapture would occur on October 21, 2011, simultaneous with the destruction of the universe. Camping largely avoided press interviews afterwards and, after October 21, 2011 passed without the predicted apocalypse, he retired.

2000                          Hal Lindsey, author of the 1970 book The Late Great Planet Earth

Lindsey has been predicting the end of the world for 40 years. In his 1996 book Planet Earth 2000 AD: Will Mankind Survive? he wrote that Christians should not make any plans after the year 2000. In a 2008 column for the conservative news site WorldNetDaily, he suggested that Barack Obama is setting the stage for the arrival of the Antichrist.

March 26, 1997          Marshall Applewhite, founder of Heaven’s Gate, a UFO religion

When amateur astronomer Chuck Shramek thought he observed a companion object following the comet Hale-Bopp and called a radio show to report his findings, Marshall Applewhite and his “Heaven’s Gate” cult members believed the companion object was a spaceship coming to pick them up. On March 26, 1997, San Diego police discovered the bodies of 39 members of the group who had committed suicide in order to reach the alien craft. Authorities found the dead lying neatly in their own bunk beds, faces and torsos covered by a square, purple cloth. All 39 were dressed in identical black shirts, sweat pants, and brand new black-and-white Nike sneakers.

November 1982        Pat Robertson, televangelist on The 700 Club

In a 1980 broadcast of The 700 Club Robertson said: “I guarantee you by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on the world.” The judgment never came. He has since said that God told him about other pending disasters, including a West Coast tsunami in 2006, and a terrorist attack in 2007. Neither of those occurred, either. “I have a relatively good track record,” he said; and then added: “Sometimes I miss.”

December 21, 1954  Dorothy Martin, a Chicago housewife and student of Dianetics

Through automatic writing, Martin came in contact with beings from the planet Clarion, who told her that the world would be destroyed by flood and that the faithful would be rescued at midnight by flying saucers. Her followers, many of whom had quit their jobs and given away their possessions, gathered in her home to await the aliens. (Martin’s husband, a nonbeliever, slept upstairs through the whole thing.) Midnight came and went and the group became increasingly agitated. Finally, at 4:45 am, Martin said that she received another message from the Clarions informing her that God was so impressed by her group’s actions that He changed His mind and decided to spare the earth.

1914                           Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses

The Jehovah’s Witnesses have made a number of predictions about the end of the world. The first was 1914, based on prophecies from the Book of Daniel. At the time of this first prediction, Russell sold “Miracle Wheat” at extremely inflated prices, promising benefits of miraculous proportions. After the end did not come, he changed the meaning of the prediction and stated that it was the date that Jesus would begin to rule “invisibly.” Some other years that the Witnesses predicted the end of the world would come are 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994. (The Witnesses believe that only 144,000 people will be allowed into heaven to spend eternity with God as spirit beings. But if this were to be so, why in the world do they keep going door-to-door, recruiting more aspirants to clamber at heaven’s gate? I don’t get it.)

October 22, 1844      Samuel Snow, a preacher in the Baptist Millerite movement 

Relying on a prophesy in the Book of Daniel stating “Unto two thousand and three hundred days, then shall the sanctuary be cleansed,” Snow converted days into years to come up with his date. Thousands of people gave away all their possessions, only to be surprised when the world did not come to an end, and the day came to be known as “The Great Disappointment.” The Millerites then splintered into several groups including the Seventh Day Adventists and, more recently, the Branch Davidians.

1806                          The “Prophet Hen”, a domesticated fowl in Leeds, England    

When this chicken began laying eggs that bore the message “Christ is coming,” throngs of people came to witness the wondrous phenomenon and prepare for the Last Judgment. However, it was soon ascertained that the eggs had been inscribed with ink, and cruelly forced up into the bird’s body before she laid them a second time.

۞

It seems to me that “Obsessive Dystopian Disorder” (ODD) should be listed in the DSM. In every historical age, people have succumbed to its ODDness.

Yet the study of history provides an effective cure. The wonderful thing about history is that it is so predictive of the future and it can suppress such mass delusions. Yes, the world as we know it is always changing, and with that change, the old world is constantly ending.

Yet human nature and our patterns of behavior remain the same. You can bank on them. The Mayan calendar notwithstanding, I’m looking forward to this year’s Winter Solstice and the rapture of witnessing the sun rise the next morning.

This is why, even though every day of change truly is “the end of the world as we know it,” I feel fine.

۞ 

Groove of the Day 

Listen to R.E.M. performing “It’s the End of the World (As We Know It)”