Saving Gospel Music

The accolades to Aretha Franklin in numerous obituaries and tributes made note of her early years singing in her father’s church. Ms. Franklin was possibly the most famous of many popular artists who learned their craft in church: Little Richard, The Staple Singers, Sam Cooke and hundreds – literally, hundreds – more. The conflict between the sacred and the secular, has been an undercurrent of many careers. Performers whose formative years were rooted in the black church carried the craft learned there to a wider audience but with a twinge of guilt for taking god’s music and making it profane.

Unfortunately, much of this roots music is lost forever, recorded on vinyl and tape and never digitized.

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Hmong Appreciation

Even if you weren’t around at the time, you probably know about the Vietnam War, or think you do. The secret war in Laos is remembered not so much. To counter North Vietnamese soldiers who had slipped across the border, the C.I.A. oversaw a fifteen-year covert war in Laos. (“Covert” meaning to keep news of it away from Americans who were already fed up with the Vietnam War.) U.S. aircraft dropped more bombs on Laos than they did on Japan in WWII.

The C.I.A. recruited thousands of Hmongs to fight on the ground against the communist forces so Americans wouldn’t have to. The Hmong ethnic group had a historically contentious relationship with the Laotian rulers. An estimated 100,000 Hmongs died – compared to 58,000 U.S. deaths in Vietnam. The C.I.A.’s official version makes only a single incidental mention of ethnic-Hmong participation. The U.S. left Laos and Vietnam in 1975, the communists took control and 250,000 Hmong refugees fled to Thailand. You would expect a grateful U.S. to welcome them into our country. Of course you would be wrong.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul area is home to a Hmong population of 40,000; nearly 25,000 reside in the Fresno area of California’s Central Valley. The current administration in Washington D.C. thinks that’s too many. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (U.S.C.I.S.) has begun efforts to denaturalize and deport naturalized citizens. The Laos government still holds a fifty-year grudge. Deporting a Hmong person to Laos puts that person into mortal danger. That would include the children and relatives of Hmong guerrillas who were recruited by the C.I.A. and fought on the U.S. side. As translators and interpreters in Iraq and the Middle East are learning, loyalty to the U.S. is a one-way path.

Rosie the Librarian

With all the news about #MeToo and Mr. Weinstein and a certain pussy grabber, let’s return to Depression-era Seattle. Drastic funding cuts to the Seattle Public Library in 1932 resulted in fewer hours and services and pay cuts for employees. Staff was also reduced. The Library Board of Trustees came up with an equitable way to implement employee terminations:

It shall be the policy of the Seattle Library Board not to employ a married woman whose husband is able to provide her a living. Any library employee marrying a husband able to provide a reasonable income will be required to tender her resignation.

Ten years later, World War II caused the Board to loosen its restrictions and allow the hiring of a married woman… if her husband was serving in the military.

Why We Vote As We Do

With the exception of two school years (Spokane) and one summer (Burns) spent in the Far West (“Settlement largely controlled by corporations or government via deployment of railroads, dams, irrigation mines; exploited as an internal colony, to the lasting resentment of its people.”), I have lived my entire life – Eugene, Portland, Eugene again, Seattle, Arch Cape, back to Portland, Santa Rosa, and again Portland – on the Left Coast. (“New Englanders [by ship] and farmers and fur traders from Appalachian Midwest [by wagon]. Yankee utopianism meets individual self-expression and exploration.”)

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Yountville Chronicles

The town of Yountville lays in the famous Napa Valley wine-producing region, halfway between St. Helena and the city of Napa. It’s home to many upscale eating places, including uber-celebrity chef Thomas Keller’s uber-expensive French Laundry, where the price of a meal is north of $300. (Don’t worry, you can’t get a reservation anyway.) Common folks still miss The Diner, a breakfast-lunch-dinner place with service at the counter or in booths. (The only place I’ve eaten – or even seen on a menu – spicy tapioca pudding.) The Diner closed in the early 2000s; another of Keller’s restaurants now occupies the building. Long before Yountville became a destination for disposing of disposable income, it was known for its Veterans Home.

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Where Is Richard Nixon Now That We Need Him?

Since resigning in disgrace from the Presidency in 1974, Richard Nixon has symbolized the evil in politics and the rancid Republican Party. The Current Occupant of the White House and the recent joint press conference with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin calls to mind Nixon’s early time in the spotlight.

Back in the good old Cold War days, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, aka Russia, took a small step in an attempt to warm diplomatic relations a bit. For a “cultural exchange,” the U.S. and U.S.S.R. each set up a national exhibition in the other’s country. Vice-President Richard Nixon traveled to Moscow for the opening of the US display in July 1959. As part of the ceremony, Richard Nixon took Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev on a tour.

Nixon proudly showed off American lifestyle features like color television and automatic laundry equipment. Khrushchev sneered at the American technology and boasted Russia would soon have those gadgets. Nixon retorted that the U.S.S.R. should not be afraid of ideas, “After all, you don’t know everything.” The arguing escalated as they moved to a U.S. model home presentation. Nixon complained about Khrushchev’s constant interruptions. With rising voices and finger pointing, the two accused each other of making threats that could lead to war. Leonid Brezhnev, who succeeded Khrushchev a few years later, watched over Nixon’s shoulder.

The “Kitchen Debate” was broadcast on all three U.S. television networks. (Only edited and abridged parts of the argument reached Soviet citizens.) The confrontation raised Nixon’s profile and helped him gain the Republican nomination for president the following year. Unlike the current Russian president, Khrushchev claimed to have done everything he could to bring about Nixon’s defeat in 1960.

Richard Nixon is remembered and reviled for the Watergate scandal and general corruption in politics. He is also responsible for cognitive dissonance in liberal heads with the other part of his legacy: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).