A Modest Proposal about Gun Carnage

We as a nation, have decided that tens of thousands of violent deaths and countless injuries every year is a reasonable price to pay to keep guns easily accessible to all. Each mass shooting brings out politicians to send thoughts and prayers to the bereaved and vow to work on preventing future slaughters. That maybe there’s too many guns that are too easy to get is not even considered.

The National Rifle Association’s newly installed president, Oliver North – the person who arranged arms sales to Iran and the subsequent money laundering – says it’s too many kids on Ritalin. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick say it’s too many doors on school buildings.

(Fun fact about wheelchair-bound Abbott: In 1984, while jogging – and with no health insurance – a large tree limb fell on him, resulting in waist-down paralysis and a $10 million-plus insurance settlement. In his later political career, he advocated and helped pass legislation to make sure no one else will ever receive a seven-figure judgment.)

It’s failure to deal with mental-health issues.

It’s not enough religion in schools.

It’s violent video games.

Way back when “The Tonight Show” was more commonly known as “The Johnny Carson Show,” best-selling author and former policeman Joseph Wambaugh made one of his occasional guest appearances. The subject of violence on television came into the conversation. Violence – in movies and TV – was having one of its periodic appearances in the headlines, stirring up outrage and controversy. Wambaugh said that if violence was to be shown, then it should be depicted as it really is, not sanitized as the media portrayed. “Wouldn’t people be offended?” Johnny asked. “They’d be offended as hell,” Wambaugh responded. “That’s the point.”

Since massacres by firearms are and will be integral to our national life, it’s time for the various media to show the public in explicit detail. The network news cameras should be allowed to graphically record the carnage and blood and damaged bodies and broadcast it to the world. We should see the bloodshed and decide if we’re really okay with it.

(If you want to stay up-to-date on gun violence in the U.S., www.gunviolencearchive.org/ gives you a daily update.)


Where Are You, Kenneth Starr?

Time for some perspective…

… at the one-year anniversary of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s messing with our 2016 election.

President Donald Trump sent out a Twitter message celebrating the milestone: “Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History…”

Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Fox News (sic) viewers, “It’s about time to get the darn thing over with. It’s about time to say, ‘Enough. We’ve tortured this president enough.’”

Vice-President Mike Pence said, “And in the interest of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up. I would very respectfully encourage the special counsel and his team to bring their work to completion.”

Continue reading Where Are You, Kenneth Starr?

The Stax Legacy

The active life of Stax Records was short, about a decade. The impact of Stax Records lives on. James Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton changed their small country-music-oriented Satellite Records to Stax (Stewart + Axton = STAX) and set up shop in an old Memphis movie theatre in 1961. The label became the sweaty, soul-drenched counterbalance to the slick, choreographed music coming out of Motown’s “Hitsville U.S.A.” Stax called its recording studio “Soulsville U.S.A.” Stax introduced the world to Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Albert King, Sam & Dave and many others. The house band, Booker T. & the MG’s, backed up most Stax artists and also produced hits of their own.

The label’s biggest star, Otis Redding, died in a plane crash in 1967, along with several Stax musicians. Disadvantageous distribution arrangements with Atlantic Records and later CBS brought Stax to the financial brink. By the mid-seventies, Stax was insolvent and ceased operations. Its headquarter building was eventually demolished. Fantasy Records acquired the bankrupt Stax and its post-1968 library – Atlantic owned most of the older recordings – and used the label for re-issues, no new music. Concord Records bought Fantasy in 2004 and reactivated the name. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Ben Harper are currently on the Stax label.

A rebuilt “Soulsville U.S.A.” is now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. On the same block is the Stax Music Academy. The Academy offers after-school and summer music programs for grades six through twelve. Their various ensembles – Jazz, rhythm & blues, funk, and contemporary jazz – perform around the area, and the country. They also operate the Soulsville Charter School offering a college-prep curriculum with a strong music program.

Postcards from JazzFest

New Orleans is a majority non-white city. At the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, most of the workers were African-American. The majority of the performers were black, although most of the closing main-stage artists were not: Sting, Rod Stewart (filling in for Aretha Franklin, who cancelled) and Jimmy Buffet the first weekend; Lionel Richie, Beck, Aerosmith & Trombone Shorty the second.) The crowd was almost exclusively white. I don’t get it.

The Batiste Family – Father and Sons

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams

Sunday church services

Can you find Rod Stewart in this photograph?

Just a few of the necessaries


The Other Beignet place

Rita Mae’s – better food and more attentive service than most of the fancy eating places. Hand-lettered sign: “DO NOT USE SUGAR PACKETS TO LEVEL THE TABLES”

Fifty Years Ago

That notorious decade, the Sixties, began January 20, 1961 with the inauguration of John F. Kennedy; or November 22, 1963, when he was shot to death in Dallas; or February 9, 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan’s Sunday show. (On Monday morning, February 10, millions of teenage boys combed their hair down over their foreheads, precipitating a major disciplinary crisis in the nation’s high schools. Before the week was over, thousands of them had started rock ‘n’ roll bands.) The British Invasion morphed into the Age of Aquarius and the sixties promised a youth revolution.

And then came 1968. From the New Yorker:

On December 6th, less than a month after [Trump’s] election, Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in New York to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award, for his decades of public service, used the occasion to urge Americans not to despair. “I remind people, ’68 was really a bad year,” he said, and “America didn’t break.” He added, “It’s as bad now, but I’m hopeful.” And bad it was. The man for whom Biden’s award was named was assassinated in 1968. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities, and violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. The year closed with the hairbreadth victory of a law-and-order Presidential nominee whose Southern strategy of racial politicking remade the electoral map. Whatever innocence had survived the tumult of the five years since the murder of John F. Kennedy was gone.

If 1968 hadn’t mortally wounded the sixties, the 1969 free concert at Altamont Raceway, southeast of Oakland, killed it for sure. Wanting to stay relevant with their fan base in changing times, the Rolling Stones decided a free concert would improve their “bad-boys” image. After all, the Grateful Dead were famous for, among other things, putting on free shows. Someone had the bright idea of hiring the Hell’s Angels for security. Payment was $500 worth of beer. After all, it had worked for the Grateful Dead. And since the publication of “Gonzo” journalist Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966, the Angels had become cool.

The Woodstock Music Festival earlier that year was already legendary because 400,000 people came together on a muddy field and nobody was killed. Proof that this generation’s peace and love was winning. Altamont matched Woodstock for traffic gridlock, but came up short in peace and love. The Hell’s Angels beat and stabbed to death an eighteen-year-old kid in front of the stage while the Stones performed.

The sixties were not just over, they were dead.

And today, I-580 over the Altamont Pass is as miserable piece of highway as one can travel.