July 24, 2017

A good word

Irish adage:  Níor bhris focal maith fiacail riamh.

Pronunciation:  Neer vrish fuhcul-mah fihcul-riff.

Translation:  A good word never broke a tooth.

Actual word order:  Did not break a word good a tooth ever.

July 22, 2017

Two excerpts from Deep South by Paul Theroux (2015)

Hot Springs — Pleasures and Miseries

My afternoon drive from Monticello to Hot Springs was a long panning shot of sad towns and beat-up villages, Warren to Edinburg, which was poor and small and lifeless, and Fordyce, which I’d heard about in Alabama as the birthplace of the beloved coach “Bear” Bryant, a town where every store was shut or abandoned or turned into a thrift shop. At the crossroads on Fordyce’s Main Street, the faded signs and empty premises were a testament that there was no call for Benton Hardware, Farm Implements, a dress shop, or a soda fountain in the Walmart era. Then tiny Tulip, and Malvern, which had some vitality that radiated from Hot Springs, farther along the road.

In a sudden, rocky, high-sided vale of the Ouachita Mountains, with two tall Soviet-looking buildings, one the VA hospital, the other the Arlington Hotel, Hot Springs was a surprise, a spa town with a claim to architectural splendor and the gamy smell of an old circus. The thermal-spa buildings that lined Bath Row were Art Deco marvels well restored, and narrow buildings lined steeply sloping streets on the cliffsides. Half the place was painted, decked out, yet with a residue of its vicious past existence; the other half was blandly residential. The town looked carved from rock in the mountain gap, one of the most dramatic physical settings in any Southern town.

Many signs on the main streets extolled its raffish atmosphere, its criminal history — allusions to the visits of gangsters, gloating mentions of crime, brothels, and sensational murders. “It’s hard to imagine the city as a hotbed for organized crime, such as gambling, prostitution and bootlegging,” said the Hot Springs promotional brochure, piling it on (it was subtitled “The Past Is Where the Fun Is”). “But from the late-1800s through the mid-1900s, especially in the 1930s, Hot Springs was a popular hangout for Al Capone, Frank Costello, Bugs Moran, Lucky Luciano, and other infamous mobsters. The safe, secluded scenic location of Hot Springs made it the ideal hideout.”

Of the many houses of prostitution, the busiest was “The Mansion,” owned by the celebrated Hot Springs madam Maxine Temple Jones, who catered to the rich and powerful, criminals and politicians. For decades resisting the mob, whom she ratted on in return for a pardon, she stayed in business into the mid-1960s and later wrote a book about her life and times.

“Honey, I like an old-fashioned whorehouse that has respect and dignity,” she told the Arkansas Times in 1982. “And my girls were always very proper. I always taught them what my daddy taught me: to walk tall and always remember that it’s not what you do, but how you do it.”

The gangster era came to an end in the late 1960s and is luridly depicted in the Gangster Museum of America on Central Avenue (“where you won’t be gambling on a good time, but betting on a sure thing!”). Because of its pleasant climate and sleaze, the town had been a destination for spring training for Northern baseball teams from the 1880s to 1940 — a wild era too, when players routinely binged and whored.

That was Hot Springs’s colorful past, but it was the recent past. No place to raise a child, is what you’d say — dangerous, wild, full of malign influences, opportunists, career criminals, tarts, cheats, trimmers, and schemers. Yet that’s what the newly married Virginia Clinton did, accompanying her second husband, Roger, there, her seven-year-old Billy in tow.

Bill Clinton was born in the small, sweetly named town of Hope, in southwestern Arkansas, in 1946, as the often-told story has it in the mythology of the man. But the banal truth is that he grew up — was formed, educated, became a man — in raw, reckless Hot Springs, a hundred miles north, amid its miseries and splendors. His father, William Blythe, was killed in a car crash before he was born. His mother studied nursing, so that she could provide for the boy. In 1950, his mother met and married Roger Clinton, and three years later they moved from Hope to Hot Springs, Roger’s hometown.

“While Bill Clinton’s writings about his boyhood in Hope in the late 1940s acknowledge the racial separation of the town of 7,500 people, his memories are mostly sepia-toned and nostalgic, like those of his Pawpaw’s grocery store,” the Arkansas writer Jay Jennings explains in Carry the Rock (2010). “But in the first two decades of the twentieth century, when cotton was king and Jim Crow was unwritten law, Hope was the site of enough racial murder that it was sometimes called the lynching capital of the South.”

In Hot Springs, Roger Clinton was known as a shiftless drunk. In a town of degenerates, being a boozer was no shame, but Roger proved to be a wife-beater as well as a demented alcoholic, and when young Bill was old enough (he says he was fifteen), he defied his stepfather’s wrath and defended his mother. The marriage ended. Virginia continued working as a nurse anesthetist, but in an expression of hope over experience, she remarried the same pathetic man a year later.

Meanwhile, young Bill studied, learned to play the tenor saxophone, excelled academically at Hot Springs High School, attended church at Park Place Baptist, bought chili cheeseburgers at the Polar Bar (now Baily’s Dairy Treat), ribs at McClard’s Bar-B-Q, apple pie at Club Café, and ice cream at Cook’s Dairy, and went to movies (Elvis movies, biblical epics) at the Paramount and Mako theaters. He tells us this in his autobiography, My Life, displaying great affection for the town and an extraordinary memory for detail.

But he does not say that the theaters’ balconies and back entrances were for blacks, that the motels and restaurants were segregated, and that the black part of Hot Springs was miserably poor and decrepit. Speaking of the time of Governor Orval Faubus’s racist intransigence and of the federal marshals forcing the integration of Little Rock’s Central High, all he says is “Most of my friends were either against integration or unconcerned. I didn’t say too much about it, probably because my family was not especially political, but I hated what Faubus did.” He is equally disengaged when describing segregation in Hot Springs: “It bothered me that Hot Springs’ schools weren’t integrated. The black kids still went to Langston High School.”

One afternoon in Hot Springs, I made a point of driving over to Langston, the neighborhood on the opposite side of town from where Clinton lived. I found broken streets, run-down houses, a wholly black area around the school, Southern impoverishment, the other side of the tracks. Still a disgrace fifty years after Clinton lived in town, still poor and obviously neglected, Langston looked like a black “location” in South Africa, ripe for uplift from an NGO (though none was in sight), the very sort of place that should have been a target for improvement by the Clinton Global Initiative, but wasn’t.

While Clinton was a teenager (and from his account he roamed freely in Hot Springs), gambling was rife, murders were common, gangsters were part of the scene, Maxine Jones’s brothel and many others were thriving, and the town, run by a crooked political machine, was alight with roisterers, whores, and high rollers. You’re bound to wonder what effect that ingrained culture of vice might have had on an impressionable schoolboy.

Contemplating Hot Springs, it is difficult to imagine a more unpromising origin for a president, one so likely to warp a mind or corrupt a soul. Yet the defining characteristics of a president are worldliness and guile. The world in all its bizarre forms had come to Hot Springs, and Clinton was buoyant in it; the town was clearly the making of the man. In My Life, Clinton repeats the tedious Hot Springs boast of larger-than-life visitors — “outlaws, mobsters, military heroes, actors, and a host of baseball greats” — and describes his upbringing: the abusive stepfather, the hardworking and loving mother (who was also a drinker, gambler, chain smoker, and harmless flirt — an Auntie Mame type, adored by her son), his love of the tenor sax, his visits to relatives, his after-school job at the small grocery, his classes as a math whiz, his dabbling in student politics, his earnest posturing that successfully masked a troubled home life.

The pain of being hard-up and frugal in such a flashy, freewheeling place; the necessity to succeed, to achieve something and get out, to prove himself worthy of his mother, and to redeem her belief in him — these aspects formed him. It’s an American story, but in Hot Springs it is gaudier than most. Clinton was transformed by his upbringing, yet he was, like many white Southerners, a late convert to vocally demanding integration. In My Life he extols the diversity of the Hot Springs population — Jews, Greeks, Arabs, Italians — but the black side of town, the Langston neighborhood, is not mentioned; black life does not exist for him; he apparently has no black friends.

In his autobiography, Clinton continually makes the point that he was a keeper of secrets, leading a double life, never letting on in school of the turmoil at home. The succession of houses he grew up in (now all privately owned and unwelcoming) were in modest but respectable white neighborhoods. But a visit to Hot Springs is convincing proof that throughout his early life, as a young boy, as an older student, Clinton was performing a balancing act, keeping his head up while tiptoeing through a mud-puddle sludge of human weakness and greed, crookedness and carnality (the survival strategy of many politicians).

His relief at leaving Hot Springs is palpable in his telling. He had chosen Georgetown University because “I wanted to be in Washington.” Yet after Georgetown, a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, and Yale Law School, he did what many might regard as the unthinkable: he returned to Arkansas. It was a calculated move. He was still in his twenties, it was a state he knew well, and he was implausible anywhere else. Perhaps he had a long-term plan — he doesn’t say in his book, but you can see he is driven: the desperate, do-anything-to-win drive of the man from nowhere, who seems to be hiding something (wounds, fantasies, transgressions, family secrets). He taught law for a year at Fayetteville, then ran for Congress in 1974, and lost. He became state attorney general in 1976 and governor in 1978, at the age of thirty-two — “the boy governor,” as he was known.

To his supporters, Bill Clinton was a man of immense charm who improved health care and education in Arkansas, at the same time mastering the art of consensus building, while retaining his amorous disposition. To his enemies, he was the fiddler and liar who turned the governor’s mansion into a fornicarium. He served multiple terms, totaling almost twelve years, and, still only forty-six, became president.

It was a breathless run, and he kept on running, for a second term, and afterward — he has never lived away from the public eye, has an obvious, perhaps pathological aversion to solitude, has always sought attention — for the role of world statesman, global humanist, and reformer; but also plotter in the shadows, conniver in schemes, and double-talker, in a mold described by Thoreau in a skeptical essay, “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions ... if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.”

Hot Springs had two distinct sides, so did the Clinton household, so evidently does Clinton himself. This conflict could have made him a criminal, or disillusioned him, turned him cynical; instead it made him ambitious, adaptable, eager to please, charming, charismatic, sympathetic, and hardworking. But it also made him covert, adept at role-playing and posturing, with a hint of the huckster in everything he proposed, a teller of half-truths, and a master of secrets. Clinton’s drive to succeed was unstoppable, and it continues: his passion to lead, to be in charge, to relieve the planet’s ills, to be an explainer, a crowd pleaser, friend to the great and good (Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama), emotionally immature, and hungry for the world’s affection. “He seemed like the hungriest man I’d ever met,” a writer friend told me after accompanying the candidate on the campaign in 1992. In his autobiography, Clinton continually interrupts the narrative ·of his early life by flashing forward and describing how he learned a lesson or atoned for one lapse or another. America knows him as the great atoner, the fixer, the compromiser. The bird-dogger of chicks is also, inevitably, the most fervent sermonizer at the prayer breakfast.

Hot Springs has tried to reinvent itself as a family-friendly holiday town and destination for conventioneers. It has a look of solidity and criminal elegance, a big-city gloom and density, rare in a Southern town — the shadowy aura of a place in which many dramas have occurred, the rub of history, where a great deal of money has been spent to tempt the visitor to linger.

Horse racing and some low-level gaming persisted, as moronic pastimes rather than vices, but the present was simply seedy, college kids barhopping and late-summer tourists traipsing the streets, darting in and out of the gift shops and bars, shabbily dressed, pushing baby carriages, screaming at their children, hunting for fun in a place that seemed chilly and bleak. The barbecue joints and the occasional pageant or festival could not compete with the shootouts and the orgies of the past.

Now Hot Springs is a place wholly itself: the decaying abandoned buildings and vacant hotels on the main drag, funky motels, tacky shops, a whiff of damp motor courts on the outskirts — Southern neglect combined with Southern casualness and vulgarity, and redeemed by hospitality and self-parody. Part of the town’s good fortune is that it is just a gap in rocky cliffs, minutes from.the deep woods and lovely hills.

There is something joyless in a place advertising itself as joyful, a note of desperation in the hype. Faded glory, faded hope, faded hilarity, the weird junk shops, the air of desperation, the stink like an alcoholic’s breath or a carnival sideshow, the shallowness and obvious scheming that is part of every gambling town on earth. And, like every other boomtown, doomed to failure.

But Hot Springs had once been a vortex of energy, and it is a characteristic of the power of such libidinized places to make their residents morally blind — you could say the same about the White House. Hot Springs, destination of murderers, cheaters, and whores, produced a president, a peculiar one, morally blind on many occasions — as in 1992 when Governor Clinton rushed back to Arkansas to sign the death sentence of drooling, brain-damaged Ricky Ray Rector, sending him gaga to the electric chair, so that candidate Clinton would win votes as a crime fighter. Complex and contradictory, the public man seeking redemption, mock humble in manner but lusting for glory, perpetually enlisting big companies to help him expand his brand, Clinton is the quintessential Southern huckster who does not know when to stop, and Hot Springs, the corrupted town, which advertised its waywardness, was itself Clintonesque.

Farmers on a Rainy Day

On a wet day in Fargo, just north of Brinkley, I made my way under a gray sky along muddy fields — some of them silvery with puddles and others lightly flooded — past the turnoff to the derelict town of Cotton Plant, to meet Dr. Calvin King again. As he promised, Dr. King had invited some black farmers to meet me — early risers, they had arrived before me, and some had come many miles for this meeting. We gathered around a table in a room at Dr. King’s Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, a low brick building on a Fargo dirt road. Black Angus cattle grazed where the road abruptly ended at a fenced field; they were stock from the experimental ranch, chewing at bales of damp, darkened straw.

The farmers were men in overalls and feed caps, the oldest in his late seventies, the youngest twenty-three. A woman sat at a side table, appearing to take notes. Two other women, both of them farmers, had been invited, but at the last minute had other obligations. They were silent, watchful, patient men, somewhat ill at ease among the bare tables and many spare chairs in the conference room. Farmers are not a sedentary lot, and these men seemed restless and out of place.

“I’m a stranger,” I said, to introduce myself. “I’ve traveled and written about many foreign countries, but I realized I hadn’t spent much time in the Southern states, where many of the problems are the same as in the so-called Third World.”

I went on in this vein, explaining that I was traveling through the Deep South, trying to understand what I saw. I thanked Dr. King for arranging this session and said I was grateful to these workingmen for meeting me on a weekday morning, a helpful turnout.

“It’s the weather,” one of them said. “It’s too wet to do anything on the farm. If this had been a sunny day, you wouldn’t have seen any of us. Our fields is flooded.”

“And we already done our chores this morning,” another said, and laughed with the others.

They were resigned to the realities of Mother Nature and human nature, but they were anything but passive and fatalistic. As I was to find, their willingness to work, to plant, to harvest, to repay loans, made them self-sufficient and gave them dignity.

They laughed again and introduced themselves. The first man who had spoken was Andre Peer, who was forty-two and had been farming for twelve years. He now had four thousand acres under cultivation, near where he lived, about forty miles away, outside Lexa, in Phillips County. He was a stocky, well-built man of medium height, forthright in gesture and word, who looked me in the eye and spoke his mind. The best educated of this group, Andre had earned a degree in agriculture in 1995 from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. He grew wheat, corn, grain sorghum, and soybeans. I later learned that he had made such a success of his farm, he and his wife and son had been named Phillips County Young Farming Family of the Year in 2013, with a profile in the Helena World.

“But it’s always a struggle,” Andre said, and placed his muscular farmer’s hands against his head and squeezed hard. “You got to hear about the banking.”

“That’s a mighty big subject,” Ernest Cox said. He was a slender, mild-mannered, and sinewy man in his late sixties, weather-beaten from a life of farming — he’d worked in the fields since boyhood, on his father’s acres. He had an attractive and disarming habit of smiling and nodding even when he was speaking about something unpleasant, such as debt or financial obstacles or the hurdles at the loan office. He ran a large third-generation farming business with his brothers, Herschel and Earmer, on five thousand acres. This family farm — soybeans, wheat, and the grain sorghum known as milo — was just outside the small town of Marvell, also in Phillips County.

All these men — family farmers — lived and raised their crops in the Arkansas Delta, in communities ten miles or less from the Mississippi River, and near the river town of Helena, where their crops were loaded, to be barged downriver. Talking to them, I remembered Reverend Lyles in Alabama telling me how his father had been advised by a white man not to sell any of his land to a white person. “Sell to blacks,” he’d said, because that was the only way a black man could get a foothold in a rural area.

“I’ve got views on the banking,” Samuel Ross said. In his late seventies, he was the oldest of the group. “But I’m retired. I’ll let the others speak.” And that was all he said for an hour, though he was an attentive listener.

“Me, I’ve just started, sort of,” Roger Smith said. He was twenty-three, yet was in his fourth season farming. He’d begun as a smallholder at the age of nineteen, leased a few hundred more acres each succeeding year, and now had seven hundred acres in rice and milo. He was soft-spoken and shy, with a drawl so heavy and such a sideways reflex of talking that many times I had to ask him to repeat himself, and even then had to mentally translate what he said.

“And that’s Rickey Bone,” Dr. King said, introducing another older man. “He’s the only one here not planting row crops.”

“My wife and I are growing produce,” Rickey Bone said. “She’s really the one who should be here. Mary’s a ball of fire.”

“For these men the problem is access to capital,” Dr. King said. He was a farmer too, as he had told me before. And although he had an authoritative, almost scholarly way of speaking, he was fluent in enumerating the issues. He ran the Arkansas Land and Farm organization, so he was used to conferences and workshops and committees. “It’s imbalance,” he went on, “and it’s the problem of expanding impoverishment. Listen, I had a friend said she was going to South Africa. I asked why. She told me about the need. I said to her, ‘You don’t have to go to South Africa to find the need: She was from Little Rock. I said, ‘What about our need?’ She said, ‘I don’t think it’s the same. In South Africa it’s water quality issues: I said, ‘I can tell you about water quality issues right here!’”

I said, “I started traveling in the South for that very reason, because I saw so many outsiders committed to solving Africa’s problems. They were the same problems that exist here — poor housing, poor access to health care and education. Child hunger. Illiteracy.”

“And the banking,” Andre Peer said, tapping his thick fingers on the table. His tapping was insistent, but he also had a way of widening his eyes to express impatience.

“Banking is a white monopoly in Arkansas — it’s white controlled,” Dr. King said. “Traditional banks lend on the basis of a hundred and twenty percent credit security. Think of that. And there are serious problems of imbalance at the USDA.”

“We need operating loans,” Ernest Cox said. “Every year we have to go to the bank. We’re doing all right — I’m farming with my brothers. But we’re at the mercy of the merchants.”

“Thing you got to understand,” Andre said, and thought a moment before he proceeded. “Bankers give other farmers more.”

“What other farmers?” I asked.

Andre widened his eyes and blew out his cheeks but said nothing.

“You can speak plainly to Mr. Paul,” Dr. King said.

“By ‘other’ I mean white,” Andre said. He told a story about a loan he had sought.

It was then that I realized what these men were up against, because the loans — for machinery, for seed, for infrastructure — were considerable, in the many hundreds of thousands.

“She let me have $442,000,” Andre was saying. “It was a bad, disastrous year — 2006 into 2007 — drought and excessive heat. My harvest was poor. I asked her not to turn me in to the USDA to file a loss claim. I didn’t want to be in default. I knew I could make good on it. I know how to work. I wanted to pay what I owed. I needed time. And I did pay — every dollar.” He thought a moment, then said, “White folks say we lazy. All we want is opportunity. We willing to work.”

“These guys are surviving against the odds,” Dr. King said.

“If you’re in a bind, in serious default, white farmers want to buy your land,” Andre said. “They’re just waiting for you to fail. They’re on one side, bankers on the other. My bankers are all right, but I have to explain a lot to them to get them to understand my situation. There are no black loan officers. It’s not talked about, it’s not written about. There’s none.”

“Loan officers,” Ernest Cox said in a knowing voice, smiling, nodding, adjusting his cap.

“Another loan officer,” Andre said. “We just talking, talking about people. I said, ‘Would you give that man a loan?’ He says, ‘No.’ I say, ‘But you don’t know him.’ He says, ‘How can he buy all that equipment? Must be selling drugs.’ He thinking, ‘How he able to do that, ’cause black people don’t do that.’ The same ones talking like that are the ones sitting on the banking boards.”

“Arkansas is not like other places,” Roger Smith said in his drawl, and turned aside, as though he’d surprised himself by offering an opinion. He was shy and oblique, but he was not timid.

“The Klan don’t wear sheets,” Andre said, and looked around at his fellow farmers. “They sitting behind the desks in the banks. Uh-huh!”

“The South gives indications of being afraid of the Negro. I do not mean physical fear,” Frank Tannenbaum wrote ninety years ago in Darker Phases of the South. “It is not a matter of cowardice or bravery; it is something deeper and more fundamental. It is a fear of losing grip upon the world. It is an unconscious fear of changing status.”

Roger said, “Harrison. That town — it’s a Klan hotbed.”

It was not by chance that this remark was dropped into the conversation. Allusions to the Klan, to the past, to the insecurity that Southern blacks face especially in rural areas, I found to be common, for the Klan was the historical nightmare, the arch-destroyer, relentless and reckless, with connections in high places. Harrison is an Ozark community, the seat of Boone County, in the center of the northern edge of the state, where it lies flat against Missouri. Its decent citizens, of whom there were presumably many, hadn’t made any headlines, but its cranks were infamous.

Roger said, “Harrison has a big billboard advertising the Klan.”

“Oh, God, Harrison” was a murmur in the room.

The farmers talked generally about the miseries and abuses of Harrison, and then Ernest said, “You don’t have to go all the way to Harrison to find this business. Moro does not have a black family.”

Moro was a crossroads in nearby Lee County, with fewer than three hundred people.

“A black family moved in some years ago,” Andre said. “But they bought him out.”

“So many inequities here.” The speaker was the woman taking notes, Ramona Anderson, whom I had taken to be a recorder of the remarks in the meeting. But she was a staff member of the Arkansas Land and Farm Development Corporation, and up to now had been sitting quietly over her notebook.

She told a story about the strange history of Cotton Plant, a town just north of Brinkley. “A man came in the 1960s and saw a bird — not the ivory-bill woodpecker that everyone talks about, but another rare one. He was the only man who saw it. The result was that town authorities set aside many acres for that bird. They used eminent domain to get black farmers off the land around Cotton Plant.”

“This was done maliciously,” Dr. King said. “No one wants to talk about inequities in race around here. Brinkley has a majority black population but has never had a black mayor. This is not talked about.”

“Cotton Plant was once an important town,” Ramona said. “It’s now small and poor.”

“The big landowners don’t want schools and hospitals,” Dr. King said. “Marianna Hospital closed in 1980. It has never reopened. DeWitt is just the same size, but it has a hospital. DeWitt is majority white. They don’t want educated blacks, they want blacks driving their tractors.”

This again put me in mind of the white farmer James Agee mentioned in his survey Cotton Tenants in 1937: “I don’t object to nigrah education, not up through foath a fift grade maybe, but not furdern dat.” Rural Lee County, where Dr. King lived and farmed, had one of the highest rates of illiteracy in Arkansas (and the nation).

“Public education continues to deteriorate,” Dr. King said.

“Economic development has no color,” Ramona Anderson said. “But they manipulated the minorities. Instead of a Delta-wide initiative, they control each portion by dividing them. A true community development plan would benefit the poor, and that’s not something they want.”

“Who’s ‘they’?” I asked.

“The powers that be,” she said. “Instead of a big hospital, they put in a clinic. You think that’s all right? But in a true community development plan it would be a big hospital rather than a clinic here and a clinic there.”

“People have forgotten about the farmer,” Andre said. “We are producing food for people to eat. We are creating exports. How about rice? Our rice is exported. It’s seven dollars a bushel — the price is up. Our production is increasing.” All true, I found. The National Farmers Union reported a massive increase in rice growing in the United States, and that exports were going to China, Africa, and the Middle East. Andre went on, “But all the while it’s a struggle. We’re fighting the good ole boy.” He clutched his head again and said, “Keep Pigford in mind and class action.”

“Pigford” was a word I heard from other black farmers. It was shorthand for a court case that related to some of what these men were telling me about the racial inequities in the farming business. Pigford vs. Glickman was a class action lawsuit brought in 1997 by Timothy Pigford, a black farmer from North Carolina, and four hundred others, against the Department of Agriculture (and its secretary, Dan Glickman), seeking redress for the routine denial of loans to black farmers, whom the USDA had discriminated against, thus leading to a sharp reduction in their numbers.

Although a settlement was approved in 1999, and more than a billion dollars had been paid so far by the government (under both the Bush and Obama administrations), serious allegations of fraudulent claims have been made, and there was proof of connivance by profiteering lawyers and politicians, scammers and “race hustlers.” If you look into the details of this tangled case, it is obvious that a trough was provided for the benefit of many worthy farmers (successful claimants got $50,000 apiece) as well as for the snouts of many opportunists. Yet black land loss was reversed, and after years of decline, the number of black farmers and black landowners had grown in the South and elsewhere.

“But we’re still struggling with the banks,” Andre said. “We’re still struggling with the good ole boys. After all these years we still have to prove ourselves.”

I said, “Bill Clinton spends a lot of time in Africa and India. Couldn’t he do something here to help?”

“If Clinton came here,” Andre said, “the good ole boys would say, ‘Why you coming here? Why you want to change things?’” He looked around the room for approval, and got the nods he expected. “That’s why he doesn’t do it.”

All this time, in all this talk, I could sense the men were restless. As farmers, habituated to digging, to fetching and carrying, loading trucks, repairing machines, tramping the margins of their fields, they were unused to sitting indoors for such a length of time. They were too polite to object but still seemed uncomfortable, hitching forward, clasping their hands, squirming on the plastic chair seats.

I went on asking them about their farming operations, until finally, one of them — probably Andre, because he was the most frank of the group — stood up and said, “You won’t learn much here from us talking. We have to show you, if you have the time.”

I said, “I have all the time in the world. I’d love to see your farms.”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Dr. King said, as he’d said to me before. Then he took me aside and said, “When you look at the Delta, do you see businesses owned by blacks, operated by blacks? In manufacturing? In retail?” He smiled, because the obvious answer was: very few. He went on, “Compare that to the black farmers here, who are part of a multibillion-dollar business.”

July 18, 2017

New York Times and alternate reality

On July 16, music critic Mikal Gilmore shared on Facebook an opinion piece from the New York Times, "No One Cares About Russia in the World Breitbart Made" by Joshua Green, pulling the following quote:

"Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: 'This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.' Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News."


Olaf Errwigge replied: This is classic projection, since it is the New York Times and other self-described "liberal" media that have been creating and tirelessly reinforcing an alternate (McCarthyite) reality since Trump was elected.

Ken Eisner: Yeah, maybe take another run at that incomprehensible assertion.

Ken Eisner: Well?

Olaf Errwigge:

From "The World Through Breitbart-Vision" [as the piece appeared in print] by Joshua Green:

"Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer promising information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton …" — Veselnitskaya is not "Kremlin-connected" and wanted the meeting only to lobby against the Magnitsky Act. The interesting part of the story is why Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting, wrote to Trump Junior, "The Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump …" and "Emin asked that I schedule a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney who is flying over from Moscow for this Thursday." Again Veselnitskaya is not a "Russian government attorney", had no dope on Clinton, and just wanted to lobby the Trump campaign about the Magnitsky Act.

"a metastasizing Russia scandal" — or a metastasizing attempt to manufacture a Russia scandal

"Another argument holds that Mr. Trump’s efforts to discredit mainstream outlets, echoed by the right-wing media, have stripped his followers of their ability to distinguish what’s real from what isn’t." — this in an effort by one mainstream outlet to discredit other mainstream outlets or the appearance of Trump-friendly voices on NYT-approved outlets

From editorial "Russia Isn't Delivering for Mr. Trump" [shared by Gilmore in the comments]:

"President Vladimir Putin has shown a ruthless commitment to self-preservation that relies heavily on returning Russia to a mythical place of power and glory, not in helping the West build a more stable world." — How dare Putin put Russian interests first! And what evidence supports the last clause (in either of its assumptions)?

"Mr. Trump is making sound policy making even harder, though, with his admiration of Mr. Putin and his willingness to surrender the country’s international leadership …" — Again, on what evidence are these statements based?

"Mr. Trump is noticeably more comfortable with Mr. Putin than he is with most of America’s democratic allies, despite Mr. Putin’s record of crushing domestic opponents, invading Ukraine and bombing civilians in Syria." — Hmm, no mention of the US/EU-supported coup to overthrow a democratically elected government in Ukraine, no mention of US bombing civilians in Syria and several other countries. Not to mention that Russia is democratic, too.

"… But that does not mean it is wise to underestimate, as Mr. Trump seems to do, the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s efforts to weaken NATO and the trans-Atlantic alliance, subvert democratic procedures and institutions in Europe and America, wage cyberwarfare, destabilize Ukraine and secure influence in Syria." — Again, evidence? Again, the US/EU fomented the coup in Ukraine, and it is the US who is attempting to "secure influence in Syria"; Russia was always there.

"Last month, … the Senate approved legislation that would impose tough new sanctions on Russia for meddling in the 2016 election and allow Congress to block the president from lifting any sanctions in the future, including those relating to Ukraine. The bill has been stymied by partisan wrangling in the House, and the White House has tried to weaken it." — First, what meddling? That's the primary alternate reality (and projection) promoted by the Times and their ilk. Second, the editorial neglected to mention that the White House simply sent the bill back to the Senate as constitutionally invalid.

"His aides are also pressing Washington to return two diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized as part of the Obama administration’s response to the election meddling and were reportedly used for spying. But there is no reason to entertain these requests until Mr. Putin has pledged not to interfere in future American elections." — Again with the alleged "meddling", which seems to based on only 2 things: the existence of RT and the insistence that the DNC e-mails were hacked (by Russia!) rather than leaked.

"Russia is still occupying Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and is intensifying the war in the east against Ukrainian government forces, despite promising in the 2015 Minsk agreement to halt the fighting." — Crimea is part of Russia again, since it was clear that the US/EU overthrew the Yanukovych government to ensure that the lease on Sevastopol would not be renewed (that infernal self-preservation again!). And there is no evidence of Russian forces in Donbass but every evidence of NATO egging on Kyev, which has indeed been raining down more terror on Donetsk over the past year (which in the alternate reality/projection of mainstream US news is blamed on Putin).

"Nor has Mr. Trump persuaded Mr. Putin … to stop the dangerous face-offs with American warplanes over the Baltic Sea …" — Reality: The Baltic Sea borders Russia, not America; it is the US that needs "to stop the dangerous face-offs".

In another piece in today's Sunday Review, "A Playboy President and Women's Health", Michelle Goldberg wrote, "after nearly six months in office, Mr. Trump has already surpassed George W. Bush as the American president most hostile to reproductive rights and measures to promote sexual health." — In this alternate reality, Ronald Reagan is forgotten, as are the facts that more abortion clinics closed and more state restrictions were imposed during Barack Obama's tenure than under any other President's, that Obama tried to prevent over-the-counter access to the morning-after pill, and that Obama made such a cursory statement after the murder of Dr George Tiller that it was effectively a kiss-off.

Jerry Murrel:

Olaf Errwigge wrote: "Veselnitskaya is not "Kremlin-connected" and wanted the meeting only to lobby against the Magnitsky Act."

That's a ludicrous statement; in fact it's the precise talking point that the Kremlin is pushing in defense of the charges of election meddling. Although Veselnitskaya was heavily involved in lobbying efforts to try to have the Magnitsky act repealed, it's reported by Rolf Mowatt-Larssen that Russian operatives would only broach the subject of a meeting to discuss damaging information on HiIlary Clinton if there were a discussion about a secondary matter (Magnitsky Act) to provide cover in case the meeting was later scrutinized as inappropriate, or the offer of opposition research was rejected by the Trump campaign:

"But everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected."


Here's a truthful article by Julia Ioffe which explains more about Ms.Veselnitskaya:


Jerry Murrel:

Olaf Errwigge wrote: "more abortion clinics closed and more state restrictions were imposed during Barack Obama's tenure than any other President's."

What a disingenuous statement! A relationship doesn't prove causation; the fact that more abortion clinics were closed during Obama's tenure has nothing to do with Obama; these closures are the result of sweeping red-state legislation by Tea Party Republicans to attack women's rights. The implication that Obama had anything to do with these clinics closing is absurd; but it's typical Breitbart propaganda.

Olaf, you have a destructive and anti-democratic agenda, and I'm calling you out for your misinformation and deceit.

Olaf Errwigge:

Jerry Murrel — Trump Junior's receptivity to dirt on Clinton was already established. The meeting ended quickly when it was clear that Veselnitskaya was there for other reasons. The twisted piece in the Washington Post reads more like conspiracy theory than explanation. And again, it is more likely another example of projection: If there was an "operation" behind the meeting, the more plausible explanation is that it was a trap laid by the Clinton campaign. In his attempt to create an alternate reality, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen does not mention Fusion GPS, who was doing opposition research for Clinton and had also worked for Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya would have then gone public with her story to cover up the fact that Trump Junior did not compromise himself (perhaps on the coaching of Manafort and Kushner) as hoped for, to pretend that the meeting was innocent.

As for Obama and abortion restrictions, it is one example of his general domestic neglect, in stark contrast to Bill Clinton's Attorney General Janet Reno, who actually fought to protect access to abortion.

Olaf Errwigge: Here's another example of the New York Times's selective (Memory Hole) reality in the July 12 "Fact Check", "Stories of Foreign Election Influence, Separate and Not Equal" by Linda Qiu: The second part dismisses DNC consultant Alexandra Chalupa's working with the Ukrainian embassy to expose Trump's then–campaign manager Paul Manafort's work with the pre-coup government. The dismissal is fair enough, but what is not mentioned at all is that the original story in Politico was by the very well respected Ken Vogel, who since June 26 was now working for the New York Times.

Ken Eisner: Mikal, ya got a "live one" here.

Olaf Errwigge: "Uppity" seems to be the word you want.

July 10, 2017

VPIRG and its sham of a carbon tax

It gives 90% of it back, so what was the point? And it doesn't tax cows.

The carbon tax is part of VPIRG's summer campaign focus, so here's a short piece about it from 2014:

Comments on the Vermont campaign for a carbon tax

In short, it's a merely symbolic gesture primarily designed for fundraising.

June 22, 2017

Liberals in the desert they made for themselves

Emmett Rensin writes at the Los Angeles Review of Books (excerpts):

Liberalism is not working. Something deep within the mechanism has cracked. All our wonk managers, our expert stewards of the world, have lost their way. They wander desert highways in a daze, wondering why the brakes locked up, why the steering wheel came off, how the engine caught on fire. Their charts lie abandoned by the roadside. It was all going so well just a moment ago. History was over. The technocratic order was globalizing the world; people were becoming accustomed to the permanent triumph of a slightly kinder exploitation. What happened? All they can recall is a loud thump in the undercarriage, an abrupt loss of control. Was it Brexit? Trump? Suddenly the tires were bursting and smoke was pouring into the vehicle, then a flash. The next thing they could remember, our liberals were standing beside a smoldering ruin, blinking in the hot sun, their power stolen, their world collapsing, their predictions all proven wrong. …

The most significant development in the past 30 years of liberal self-conception was the replacement of politics understood as an ideological conflict with politics understood as a struggle against idiots unwilling to recognize liberalism’s monopoly on empirical reason. The trouble with liberalism’s enemies was no longer that they were evil, although they might be that too. The problem, reinforced by Daily Kos essays in your Facebook feed and retweeted Daily Show clips, was that liberalism’s enemies were factually wrong about the world. Just take a look at this chart …

This shift was a necessary accommodation to the fact that, beginning with Bill Clinton, the slim ideological differences that existed between the Democrats and the GOP were replaced with differences of style. Clinton’s “Third Way” promised to be every bit the dupe-servant of war and profit its rivals were, but to do it with the measured confidence of an expert. The New Democrats would destroy the labor movement, but sigh about it. They would frown while they voted to authorize the next war. They would make only the concessions necessary to bolster the flailing engine of finance capital, but they would do it with the latest research in the world. …

The notion that knowledge asymmetries lay at the root of all political conflict was quickly transmuted into the basis of policy itself. …

The result was an American political movement whose center was a moral void. …

The 2016 presidential election was meant to be the final victory of the wonk-managers, the triumph of a West Wing fantasy wherein the leadership class didn’t quite do anything beyond displaying the sublime confidence of cerebral people hurrying down the hallways of power with matters well in hand. Donald Trump was a perfect foe: the forces of stupidity and reaction, starkly manifested, were about to be dispatched. By this point, the knowledge-asymmetry theory of politics had become a commitment so pervasive that its champions could articulate it explicitly: Hillary Clinton was the most qualified candidate in history, full stop. The Clinton campaign was technocratic liberalism incarnate. Its surrogates might have been empty or evil, but they were smart. Its ideas might have been inert, but they were backed up by the latest charts. The campaign’s messaging apparatus was a digital marvel, cooked up by the best computers Robby Mook could buy. The Clinton campaign believed that it would win because it predicted that it would win, and because the capacity to predict and manage was precisely the competence Clinton’s team was selling. But then Clinton lost. The car crashed in the desert instead. …

Politics, in its classic incarnation, is the art of deriving an is from an ought; the point, as Marx famously said, is not to describe the world but to change it. But if the world is as it ought to be already and the essential task is to maintain it — that is, to police the circumscribed boundaries of permissible behavior and ideas — then those tasked with that maintenance must conceive of themselves as acting above politics itself. They become a superego, beyond the libidinal whims of any faction and dedicated not to some alternative vision of the world but to resisting all impulse toward alternatives. Possibility goes in, correction comes out. The End of History suggests a perfectly healthy mind; thus, any attempt to alter this situation is dangerous. But the trouble with superegos is that, once they have taken on this role, they cannot cease to perform it. When the id can be kept in control, all is well. But when it can’t, then the result is not the superego’s surrender — it is repetitious, manic dysfunction. …

If liberalism has ceased to function as a political faction so much as a censorious regency for capital, then there is little difference, in its view, between left and right — both are id-ish impulses that must be suppressed. The language of irresponsibility and childishness is not just a messaging contrivance but an explicit statement of core values: the trouble with all of these radical politics is that they want to pull society up by the root — and the root, as any adult knows, must be kept firmly in place. The fact that the right receives a larger share of liberalism’s disdain is not a reflection of a larger distaste but simply of the fact that the right happens to be winning. That it might be winning because managerial liberalism has hamstrung progressive impulses is an unthinkable idea, dutifully suppressed.

Like any superego, managerial liberalism is concerned first and foremost with appearances. This explains why, in the face of so much bad policy, liberals are incessantly talking about decorum. …

For 60 years, liberal managers believed that their political authority was derived from their intellectual authority. When their political authority was suddenly and violently ripped away, they tried to reestablish it by reminding the world that they still knew better than the rest of us. But they got the order of their power backward: without political power, there is no power to assert the boundaries of the normal. … The truth is that intellectual authority does not cause political authority, and political authority does not cause intellectual superiority. Both are derived from class power. …

May 31, 2017

Rare earths and wind turbines: Yes, it’s a problem

Despite wind industry lobbyists and apologists asserting otherwise, rare earth metals, particularly neodymium, are indeed extensively used in wind turbine magnets.

‘Permanent magnet machines feature higher efficiencies than machines with excitation windings (absence of field winding losses), less weight and the advantage of having no slip-rings and brushes. Machines above kilowatt range (and most below) employ high-specific energy density PM material, preferably of neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B).’ —Wind Energy Systems for Electric Power Generation, by Manfred Stiebler, Springer, 2008

‘The data suggest that, with the possible exception of rare-earth elements, there should not be a shortage of the principal materials required for electricity generation from wind energy. ... Sintered ceramic magnets and rare-earth magnets are the two types of permanent magnets used in wind turbines. Sintered ceramic magnets, comprising iron oxide (ferrite) and barium or strontium carbonate, have a lower cost but generate a lower energy product than do rare-earth permanent magnets comprising neodymium, iron, and boron (Nd-Fe-B). The energy-conversion efficiency of sintered Nd-Fe-B is roughly 10 times that of sintered ferrite ... As global requirements for rare-earth elements continue to grow, any sustained increase in demand for neodymium oxide from the wind resource sector would have to be met by increased supply through expansion of existing production or the development of new mines. ... An assessment of available data suggests that wind turbines that use rare earth permanent magnets comprising neodymium, iron, and boron require about 216 kg [476 lb] of neodymium per megawatt of capacity, or about 251 kg [553 lb] of neodymium oxide (Nd₂O₃) per megawatt of capacity.’ —Wind Energy in the United States and Materials Required for the Land-Based Wind Turbine Industry From 2010 Through 2030, by U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the Interior, Scientific Investigations Report 2011–5036

‘Five rare earth elements (REEs)—dysprosium, terbium, europium, neodymium and yttrium—were found to be critical in the short term (present–2015). These five REEs are used in magnets for wind turbines and electric vehicles or phosphors in energy-efficient lighting. ... Permanent magnets (PMs) containing neodymium and dysprosium are used in wind turbine generators and electric vehicle (EV) motors. These REEs have highly valued magnetic and thermal properties. Manufacturers of both technologies are currently making decisions on future system design, trading off the performance benefits of neodymium and dysprosium against vulnerability to potential supply shortages. For example, wind turbine manufacturers are deciding among gear-driven, hybrid and direct-drive systems, with varying levels of rare earth content. ... Neodymium-iron-boron rare earth PMs are used in wind turbines and traction (i.e., propulsion) motors for EVs. ... the use of rare earth PMs in these applications is growing due to the significant performance benefits PMs provide ... Larger turbines are more likely to use rare earth PMs, which can dramatically reduce the size and weight of the generator compared to non-PM designs such as induction or synchronous generators. ... Despite their advantages, slow-speed turbines require larger PMs for a given power rating, translating into greater rare earth content. Arnold Magnetics estimates that direct-drive turbines require 600 kg [1,323 lb] of PM material per megawatt, which translates to several hundred kilograms of rare earth content per megawatt.’ — Critical Materials Strategy, by U.S. Department of Energy, December 2011

‘In the broader literature ..., concerns have been raised about future shortage of supply of neodymium, a metal belonging to the group of rare-earth elements that is increasingly employed in permanent magnets in wind turbine generators.’ —Assessing the life cycle environmental impacts of wind power: a review of present knowledge and research needs, by Anders Arvesen and Edgar G. Hertwich, 2012, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16(8): 5994-6006.

‘A single 3MW [direct-drive] wind turbine needs ... 2 tons of rare earth elements.’ —Northwest Mining Association

Also see:


May 28, 2017

Brief summary of CBD (cannabidiol) effects

Endocannabinoids are naturally produced in the body. The endocannaboid system operates through the nervous system with roles in several regulatory, physiological, and metabolic processes. They are produced in response to calcium levels in the cells to help stabilize nerve transmissions. The main endocannabinoids are called anandamide (N-arachidonoylethanolamine, AEA) and 2-arachidonyl glycerol (2-AG). The endocannabinoids act as activators (“agonists”) of the cannabinoid receptors which are also naturally present in the body.

There are two types of cannabinoid receptors:
CB1R is most prominent centrally as well as in the gastrointestinal tract. It modulates several inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters, and its activation inhibits the anxiety response. AEA is a partial agonist and 2-AG a full agonist of CB1R.
CB2R is most prominent peripherally with roles in the immune and hematopoietic systems, and its activation causes an inflammatory response. AEA is a weak agonist and 2-AG a full agonist of CB2R.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the main phytocannabinoid in Cannabis besides tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the intoxicating cannabinoid, which mimics AEA but at higher concentrations can increase anxiety; CBD can reduce the side-effects of THC). In “hemp”, which has negligible THC, CBD is the main cannabinoid.

CBD has strong analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Its half-life is ~9 hours. Unlike THC, it works mostly by preventing the breakdown of the endocannabinoids AEA and 2-AG, which serves to reduce anxiety and depression, respectively. Instead of activating the endocannabinoid receptors, it binds with the proteins that carry AEA and 2-AG to the enzymes that break them down.

CBD has other actions and consequent effects as well:

  • CBD binds with CB2R as an inverse agonist (deactivator), reducing inflammatory response.
  • CBD binds with 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin) 1A receptor, reducing depression.
  • CBD binds with transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1 (TrpV1, vanilloid receptor 1, capsaicin receptor) as an antagonist (blocker), reducing pain response.
  • CBD binds with peroxisome proliferator–activated receptor (PPAR) gamma, reducing inflammation.
  • CBD has direct antioxidant effects.

In addition, the terpenes in Cannabis have anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties.

Cannabidiol in Pubmed-indexed science publications