mardi, octobre 25, 2005

NASCAR and Country Music Exclude Me (and That's Okay, but It's not Okay)

For a few days (on and off silly, not non-stop), I’ve been working on this post about NASCAR and country music.

This morning, I was listening to NPR in my Subaru Outback while driving to work wearing a polar fleece LL Bean jacket (BUT I was NOT drinking a latte!...I was drinking a latte with a depth charge) when I heard this bit from a story on the Virginia governor’s race. To set the scene, this is a quote from Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry (or Gerry) Kilgore, speaking at a fundraiser he recently held at the Martinsville Speedway, the site of last week’s NASCAR race, or so I’m told:

“When you talk about NASCAR fans, you’re talking about true Virginians and true Americans, the most patriotic people that I’ve ever met are the NASCAR fans.”

And to my ears, this is incendiary, inflammatory and charged stuff. It’s in code certainly, but you don’t need a decoder ring to get the message: True Virginians? True Americans? What, pray tell is a false Virginian? What is a false American? And if NASCAR fans (from an extremely limited demographic, right?) are true, then non-NASCAR fans (everyone not part of that demographic) are false. I’m not a NASCAR fan, but I love America.

In other words, a candidate for state-wide office in the United States, taking a page from the Karl Rove playbook, is appealing to an extremely limited demographic. When you add that he’s doing it in a region know for a history of racial intolerance, you’ve got some pretty messed up stuff.

Anyway, here’s the post I wrote a few days ago:

For a while now, I’ve been trying to think of a way to articulate my feelings about “new country” music and NASCAR. My basic feeling is that both are exclusive and both are for sale to the highest bidder. But those feelings are difficult to articulate in a world where everything is for sale to the highest bidder. What distinguishes NASCAR and country music is that they tend to be for sale as an entire group. Instead of random participants supporting a cause, the entire concept can be rented to the right group.

Country music was such a critical part of the Republican convention. NASCAR dads were a 2004 election phenomenon (and, unlike soccer moms, there was never a question about how they would vote). Country music is prominently featured in Freedom Fests all over the country, and in general seems pointed toward – supporting patriotism/nationalism, Republicans and conservative values. Outside of the Dixie Chicks, and Willie Nelson, I’m not aware of a mainstream country artist whose lyrics promote values other than those just listed (although in the back of my mind there is a Garth Brooks song that was a bit open-minded in a subtle human-rights kind of way – but I credit the song with Garth’s downfall. I also feel I should note that Willie is more of a populist than he is a liberal. The Indigo Girls are not country artists, and Mary Chapin Carpenter is not mainstream). And the Dixie Chicks were boycotted for exercising her first amendment rights/breaking ranks with the concept.

One problem I have in talking about it is that I really don’t listen to new country. So I’ll admit that I’m ignorant on country music, but I won’t admit that I’m ignorant about how it makes me feel. I love most all music, but when I think of my favorite country artists, most are dead or out of favor. Folks like Hank Williams, Sr., Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, The Carter Family, Johnny Cash and Roy Rogers come to mind. As a youngster, I listened to more than my share of Kenny Rogers and Charlie Pride; I watched my more than my share of “Hee Haw.” I still think Buck Owens was a genius.

And what bothers me about country music (as well as NASCAR) is difficult to articulate.

But if I ever dwell on CMT, or see a live Faith Hill concert on NBC or catch lyrics to “I raq and Roll” or see a commercial for NASCAR or photos from a NASCAR event, it all seems very exclusive to me.

And there are two kinds of exclusivity, one where others are welcome and choose not to participate and one where others are not really all that welcome at all. There is something about country music and NASCAR that seems more like the latter than the former to me.

Quick test: I say picture a NASCAR fan, what images come to your mind? Now picture a baseball fan.

Similarly, NASCAR is associated with the Republican party and southern values and nationalism and conservatism. I’m persuaded by Kilgore’s appeal to patriotism in his rally at a NASCAR track. Some associations are more intentional than others, but the associations are certainly there, and they’re not terribly hard to see.

As I think about the major spectator sports in America – football, basketball, hockey, baseball, tennis, golf and auto racing/NASCAR (with the exception of one race, the Indy 500, auto racing is NASCAR in terms of major American spectator sports) – none of them comes across as racially exclusive in anywhere near the same way that NASCAR does. Not even hockey (which has a history of African-American stars as well as stars from other racial backgrounds and fans from many ethnic groups).

Similarly, when I look at music, no other major genre (not even classical music which is made world wide) seems as racially limited in its demographic as country music is. R&B, Rap and Hip Hop, Punk, Alternative, Electronic music, Opera, Jazz, even Adult Contemporary seem to have much more diverse followings than country music.

All major country stars are from one racial group – not true of other musical genres.

And let’s face it. The two are somewhat connected, no? NASCAR culture and country culture share similar geographic roots, similar fan bases, similar exclusivity, and similar willingness to be sold off as a group. I literally do not know one NASCAR fan who is not also a country music fan. And yes, that’s anecdotal, and yes, it would not hold up in the logic bowl, but let me say, that there is no other major sport/major music link that could even come close to the synergy established between country music and NASCAR (although the skaters and snowboarders love punk rock or whatever).

You can use NASCAR for politics or to promote films about Jesus. You can use country music for politics or festivals about freedom. Baseball has never been sold as a sport. R&B has not been used to advance a political cause.

And notice, Monday Night Football is trying hard (and has for some time) to connect itself to country music’s exportable charm. First came the Hank Williams, Jr. “are you ready for some football” bits. Now they have some feller sangin’ “I Like it I Love it” at every half time. The reason it has not worked so well – in my view – is that for every person you charm, you put off at least three. Because Country music seems so tied to limited demographics, it doesn’t play as well when your audience is not itself a limited demographic. The whole time the country guy is singing, I’m feeling excluded and wishing for a little Radiohead or some De La Soul.

But I’d welcome an argument that I’m way off base here. Am I?

lundi, octobre 24, 2005

Why the Valerie Plame Case Matters

Where “NOC” = non-officical cover.

“If Rove and Libby even mentioned the identity of Valerie Plame in the context of being a CIA employee -- NOC or not -- on an unsecured line to a person without a security clearance or need to know, while the nation was waging war, that is the end of the story. It really doesn't matter why or whether there was a plan or anything. The minimal story -- that they talked about Plame with a reporter -- is the end of the matter.”

-George Friedman

Every last patriot should take a moment to read the entire (and excellent) article by Friedman (CEO of a private intelligence company).

And I agree with every point except for one: the why matters to me. Libby and Rove (acting for Cheney and Bush) outed Valerie Plame as an act of revenge against her husband Joseph Wilson (who’s at it again, BTW). They didn’t like an editorial he wrote discrediting the case for war, and so they outed his wife. National Security, years of intelligence, long-standing policy, sworn oaths, the good of the nation, and the right thing to do can all take the hindmost. They’ve got a party agenda to advance.

Le Weekend

On Saturday, we went to an adoption party for our friends S and K who adopted B. Well, S did. B is K's daughter from a previous marriage. S and K are married and so S adopted B. For the longest time, it was mellow. We ate pizza and sat around and talked. The kids went to the park and played. Then, B's first cousins (who are in fourth grade and second grade) asked for our attention and sang (to the tune of "Happy Birthday")

Happy new name to B
Happy new name to B
You're so lucky you have S
Happy new name to B

And I just thought that was amazing, and I was touched by it, and so was S - which was more amazing, because S is the sort of sturdy and stoic fellow who is not given to such displays.

Then, on Sunday, T and S invited us over to meet their new son from Korea "t." He was amazing and beautiful, and T and S looked like new parents: happy, tired, different, the same, just grasping how much is changed, and complete in a way that they weren't before, even though they've always been complete. As we drove home in the dark, I kept thinking to myself, it's amazing how we all walk around and we are whole, and then we add people to our lives who somehow make us more whole. It occurred to me, that T and S are exactly the same, except that one of their wishes came true. And so it is...may it be true for everyone.

I left their home thinking about how small the world is. Where a family in Minnesota can go to South Korea and adopt a child. Where two dreams of a similar sort are granted in one metropolitan area. Where a nutball blogger can go to two adoption celebrations in one weekend.

mardi, octobre 18, 2005

A Series Idea, A Rough Draft

I’m thinking of spending next year exploring a theme in my poetry. Not that I would write only within the theme, but more that the theme would be a retreat for me – a talisman against writer’s block and droughts.

I'm interested in the real or imagined dichotomy between conformity-driven corporate life and the creativity and artful expression that are favored in poetry.

A recurring character within the theme would be an unnamed “middle manager.”

If the series yields fruit, I might consider a chapbook assembling the best pieces.

Here is a rough draft of a poem that could be included as part of this thematic exploration (emphasis on “rough," emphasis on "draft").

The Middle Manager as Candidate for Advancement

a yellow stripe is painted
down the middle, and
on every seventh run
the words: “walk”
(to the left) and (to the right)
“stand.” The middle
manager always stands
even though it’s called
the moving

To him,
standing seems candid.
You can choose your directive,
but you should obey. Or not.
You could run
or dance; you could crawl,
but only a dishonest lieutenant
waves the white flag without

the middle manager
likes surrender. To him
it's as familiar as
an airport.
And so
he stands
and is pulled forth.
He stands
amid the claptraps
and commotion.
He just stands,
and as he does,
he vibrates,
he floats...

a voice comes down –
it is the same woman
who voiced the tram
and maybe the light
rail train. She was
in the paper. She sings
with the local opera
and has a softened accent:
British or Australian –
saying “Caution.
you are reaching the end
of the moving

And only then
does he start
to walk.

lundi, octobre 10, 2005

Republicans are Dumber than Democrats

Before I get to today's very brief post, I just want to say that I'm devastated by the news of the earthquake. 30,800 dead. There are no words, and I am just a silly blogger. Still, I keep thinking about the scale of it, and I find it overwhelming.

It is also sad to me how natural disasters have a "scale for developed nations", and a "scale for developing nations." On the wake of the worst natural disaster in American history, this earthquake in India and Pakistan, and its devastation, stand as stark reminders of how privileged we are.

Anyway, Republicans are dumber than Democrats

On Saturday night, we were driving home from a bonfire at a local park (good times, good times) and ended up behind a car with the following bumper sticker:

"Remember to Vote on November 2nd - Lets all turn out to flush the John's"

And not to be Gus the Grammar Guru, but...come on people! If you're going to print something more than a few times, why not take a moment to review apostrophe usage? "Lets"? "John's"?

The John's what?

And don't get me started on the guy driving the car. But let me just say this - his economic interests are not being served by the Bush Cheney ticket.

vendredi, octobre 07, 2005

Why Not Me God? Why Not Me?

I feel like I'm a good person.

I try to lead a Christian life as I understand it.

I don't hate anyone, or any type of person.

I try very hard not to judge others; I don't even judge sins. I have my own, others have theirs. Cheers!

I try very hard to be honest and to be kind.

When I am wrong, I try to always say I am sorry (and when I say it, I try very hard to mean it).

When people tell me they are sorry, I forgive them (and forget about it).

I don't steal.

I try to tread lightly. I try not to leave work for others but instead to clean up my own "messes."

I don't hit people. I have never killed any one. I am not covetous, but sometimes I lust in my heart. Immediately after doing it, I feel really, really bad and really, really ashamed.

I love animals and all of God's creations: art, music, dance, theater, the sky, the water, the air, CBS Sunday Morning, Sigur Ros, literature, and wine (among others). I try to be a good steward of them all.

In my heart, in my deepest heart, I try to be a good person - I really do. And, if you'll permit me a boastful moment driven by self-serving ego, I think I succeed more often than I fail.

I try to be humble.

Sure, I don't go to church every Sunday, and sure, when I go, it is not to a Christian church, and...

Sure, I don't pray very much, but I think I worship all the time.

So my question is, why doesn't God ever talk to me?

Look, I know that Bush is denying reports in the BBC that God instructed him to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has said in the past that he talks to God, that he consults a higher power, and that God talks to him. I admire him for his candor on this subject (and would love it if that candor migrated to other subjects).

So, what am I doing wrong? Why doesn't God talk to me? I am completely open to it. And (I'm being totally serious too), there are times when I knew with a certainty that approached the divine, that there was going to be a certain outcome (when I was 12, I knew I was going to win bingo (it was $200) and I did; when I met my wife (while at a party with my girlfriend at the time) I knew (with a certainty I have never had about anything) that she would be my wife (and I don't like to talk about it because it's weird to me).

Maybe God was talking to me then, but...

God has never said anything to me like: quit your job, or buy that hybrid Lexus, or kill tens of thousands of unarmed citizens, or go with a seven iron here.

And forgive me, but it seems strange to me that God talks to a multi-millionaire President and tells him to start a war that will lead to tens of thousands of direct and indirect deaths...I find it odd that God talks to an heir to outrageous power and fortune, a man of privilege so robust it astounds, but has no words for a middle-class middle-manager from middle-America. Never. Never says anything to me, or to millions of other people. 'Sup God?

What am I doing wrong?

Why not me God?

Why not me?

Or is it this? Is it that it wasn't God talking to Bush, it was someone (or something) else?


mercredi, octobre 05, 2005

Crime and Punishment, ILIM Takes a Look Back at the Trial of the Century

Greetings from Minnesota where I'm quite tired of lightining thank you very much.

It was about ten years ago that the heroic men and women who served on the O.J. Simpson jury returned their just and appropriate verdict and acquited O.J. on the charges of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

You remember, right?

Remember Kato Kaelin?
Judge Ito?
What about one day of testimony on the rate at which ice cream melts? You remember that?
Bruno Magli?
Johnnie Cochran?

The defense moved the trial from Santa Monica (or one of the Santas) to L.A. - remember?
Remember "Time" magazine darkening O.J.'s skin on his cover photo?
Remember all the conversations about race in America?

If only I had a blog back then! or something like that; you know, something to grab attention.


Where were you when the Bronco drove around Los Angles at speeds approaching 30 miles per hour?

No kidding (I can't make this up) I was at a "90210" party.

Where were you when the verdict was announced?

I was at work. I was one of three African-Americans at a company of about 130, and, um...let's just say I was a double minority that day.

So, here are my conclusions on O.J.

First, if O.J. didn't kill them, he for sure knows who did.
Second, O.J. probably killed them.
Third, but (assuming that's true) he was not alone and did not act alone.
Fourth, if it wasn't O.J. the person who did it, did it at O.J.'s request.
Fifth, O.J. was there when it happened.

Sixth, the jury was right to acquit him.

I didn't see much of the trial, but what I did see in nightly recaps gave me plenty of grounds for reasonable doubt. The one exchange that most comes to my mind is this one:

Mark Fuhrman, the LAPD dectective who found the gloves (one at the crime scene, one at the Simpson compound) was recalled to the stand by the defense. F. Lee Bailey asked him -

"And sir, did you plant any physical evidence in this case?"

And Detective Fuhrman, with his own lawyer standing next to him, answered...

"I decline to answer on fifth amendment grounds."

I'm paraphrasing, but it was something like that.

And then, for me, the case was over. Once the lead detective refuses to answer a question about planting physical evidence in the case at trial, well then every piece of physical evidence he touched is dirty and you not only have reasonable doubt, but to me, you have grounds to end the trial right then and there.

The jury really had no choice but to acquit - in my opinion.

And man oh man, all the conversations about race in America. My barbershop was so electric with talk of the trial, that I was getting my haircut about once a week. Grown men shouting their opinions. Man, I would take some fierce heat for my belief that he did it. But I also believed that he would be acquited and that acquital was the proper result - and people were perplexed by that.

Now, ten years later, a question we might ask is: did O.J. get away with murder?

Which leads me to my seventh conclusion: no, he didn't.

For me, the answer is no.

He got his punishment all right. He may not have gone to prison, but he got his punishment.

mardi, octobre 04, 2005

Stand Firm for the Right, or: Guess Where William Is Going

Somehow, I got on the email list for OKRA, the Oklahoma Republican Assembly (and I ain’t ate okra since). In spite of some humorous emails from me asking to be removed, my address continues to receive the vilest mailings from the strangest groups (where "vilest" = "most conservative" and “strangest” = “most republican”). Below is an article that I received as part of a mailing from the NFRA, the National Federation of Republican Assemblies.

As you read it, note a few things:

Apparently a hurricane Katriana caused a natural disaster approaching Biblical proportion. I haven’t even heard of hurricane Katriana, but I’ve always feared (and adored) eastern European women, so I would have really feared any storm named after one.

As it appears in the below:

“Katriana” = “Katrina”
“jeopardies” = “jeopardizes.”
“boarders” = “borders”
“consort” = “concert”

When you encounter it, forgive the clause “obligations of Americans is," the author is fond of subject and verb disagreement.

For fun, after the sixth “whereas” clause, try to guess what this life, liberty and pursuit of happiness resolution will resolve.

When you encounter it, forgive the construction where two singular nouns are combined as subjects for a plural verb, as in: “The President and the Congress takes action…”

The author, whom I assume claims English as his native language, is apparently delivering babies somewhere in the United States.

Be afraid.

My feelings regarding the lack of care show by the good doctor in crafting his resolution are transferable to my feelings regarding the subject of the resolution itself; they may also be transferred to concerns I have related to a lack of care he might show in all things, say, for example, the practice of his profession.

And now, without further ado, ILIM is proud to publish/ridicule…


WHEREAS: The United States of America has suffered a natural disaster approaching Biblical proportion in the form of hurricane Katriana.

WHEREAS: Hundreds of thousands of American citizens have been forced from their homes and from the cities wherein their lives were based, and lived.

WHEREAS: President Bush doesn’t like black people.

[okay, okay, I added that one]

WHEREAS: A great preponderance of those displaced Americans will not be able to return to their homes, or to the life they knew, within the foreseeable future, if at all.

WHEREAS: Many of these dislocated Americans will, of choice or necessity, take up residence and be forced to begin a new life in a strange environment, and location.

WHEREAS: It is a well established truism, that the darkest hour in an individuals life may in retrospect, if properly handled, be that glorious moment of new and estimable life. For, "All things work for the good for those who believe."

WHEREAS: Virtually all, if not all, of the Sovereign states which comprise the United States of America have opened their borders, their hearts, and their hospitality to these genuine victims of said catastrophic disaster.

[Okay, try to guess what the resolution is about!]

WHEREAS: Many said states including, but not limited to: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California are seriously impaired, or in an actual state of emergency secondary to the sizable number of illegal aliens residing within, as well as those myriad numbers continually entering said state.

WHEREAS: Many of the services seriously jeopardized by the sheer number of illegal aliens, within many of the Sovereign states within this great nation, which already jeopardies, the Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness of American citizens include but are not limited to; Health, Welfare, Education, Employment, and Protection.

WHEREAS: The vast majority of Americans sympathize with, and have compassion for, any people who desire to escape the financial and social hardship of their own country. However, said sympathy and compassion by no means justifies the condoning of illegal activity or illegal immigration which will, and does, deprive American citizens (native or foreign born) of essential services or job opportunities.

WHEREAS: Illegal immigrants, most notably from Mexico [sigh – this is so uncalled for. If we’re being attacked by hurricanes from Eastern Europe, shouldn’t we target Eastern Europeans for our xenophobia?], do create an undo drain upon the aforementioned services, as well as occupying job positions which will be needed by American citizens, particularly in view of the aforementioned disaster and displaced Americans.

WHEREAS: The obligations of Americans is to Americans first.

WHEREAS: The obligation of the Federal Government of the United States is not only to protect our boarders against invasion, but to provide an environment conducive to; Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness for Americans first.

WHEREAS: The aforementioned provides an opportunity for President George W. Bush to stand firm for the right, as well as to enhance his legacy as a great American President.

RESOLUTION: Be it resolved that: President George W. Bush, in consort with the Congress of the United States of America immediately:

A) Takes the necessary actions to close our boarders to illegal immigration. Said boarders to include, but not limited to, our southern boarder with Mexico.

B) Takes the necessary actions to repatriate all illegal immigrants presently residing in the United States of America to their country of origin.

Dr. Wm. Scott Magill F.A.C.O.G

Where F.A.C.O.G. = Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

lundi, octobre 03, 2005

misPLACED emPHAsis

Before I get to my main topic “Emphasizing the Wrong Things, a Case Study of Republicanism in 21st Century America,” I want to start by saying that as I type this, workers are adding insulation to my house. Mrs. Duf and I had an energy audit last year, and were planning to do this all summer (but wanted to wait until the patio was done). In August we called and got in line, and boy am I glad (whew). The lead insulation guy told me that anyone who calls now is getting scheduled for February. You see, natural gas prices are expected to rise 73% this winter. Curiously, even as consumption goes down, oil company profits are at historic highs.

Two former oilmen are the President and Vice-President:

Rich oilers are reaping record profits.
Middle class folks are queuing up for insulation.
The poor? Well, better buy (er…um…borrow?) a blanket.

I was reading about the Commission on Federal Election Reform today, and I threw up in my mouth a little bit. One of the primary recommendations of the commission is that we have national voter ID cards. So, in response to a need for election reform, the commission is recommending an initiative that serves Republicans in two ways:

First, Republicans are always going on and on about how Democrats are voting more than once (not really an issue); but never going on and on about how people who might vote Democratic are barred/undermined from voting at all. They must have rejected literacy tests as unconstitutional or else I’m sure they would have mentioned it.

Second, everybody knows that the result of adding more bureaucracy to the voting process is to reduce voting among those who are less likely to vote anyway: include among those: immigrants, minorities, and lower-income Americans. Not exactly GOP all stars.

So, when it comes to the Commission on Federal Election Reform, we are emphasizing the wrong thing. Instead of focusing on Florida and Ohio style theft/fraud, and instead of focusing on flat-out racist redistricting in Texas (spearheaded by the now indicted Tom DeLay), we are focusing on adding layers to an already bureaucratic process when we know those layers will have the effect of disenfranchising many underrepresented voters.

They are emphasizing the wrong things:

Just like they did/are doing in Iraq (while Osama runs wild, no WMDs, no imminent threat, no plan to win the peace, no transition plan, new military under-staffed and under-equipped, we’ll be greeted as liberators).

Just like they did/are doing with Supreme Court nominees (where the prevailing criterion seems to be “lack of identifiable record”). I won’t go so far as to say cronyism just yet. Miers seems more qualified than, say, Michael “Brownie” Brown.

Just like they did/are doing with the energy bill (which focused on preserving fossil fuels sources and foreign dependency and big profits for big oil, but did very little in the way of supporting clean/renewable energy).

Just like in the election when we were busy fighting an unjust war and our economy was going in the toilet, and all we could talk about was same-sex marriage.

Do you see the misplaced emphasis?

Just like when they were cutting taxes to Richie Rich while the defecit was reaching new heights.

Just like when they rallied Congress around the health care needs of one person (Terri Shiavo) while the healthcare needs of millions go unmet.

Just like the band of Kansans riding around the state trumpeting a constitutional amendment for tax reform like it's the most pressing need that state has.

Having an election commission recommend adding ID cards to voting, as a way of increasing confidence in voting is just like a having press conference in the wake of Katrina and suggesting that to pay to rebuild devastated areas, we should cut funding to the Medicare drug benefit, farm subsidies and food stamps but leave unscathed tax cuts to wealthiest Americans.

It’s called misplaced emphasis.

Just like when…

Please add your own to the comments section.