Cooling | Ukiah Gathering | Film & Potluck | Quinn Tragedy | Ed Notes | Fairground Dousing | Budget Balancing | Noyo Turtle | Cafe Encounter | Art Show | Toad Hall | Eel River | Phone History | Wharf Fire | Yesterday's Catch | Morning Ritual | Joe Left | Kardashian Meritocracy | Early EV | Love Me | Lady Lightning | Paine Declaration | Attract Women | Freedom Good | Splash Guards | Cheesy Movies | Hard Work | Joe Bageant | Mamie/Marilyn
TEMPERATURES WILL TREND DOWNWARD through the weekend. Diurnal coastal stratus will and will persist through the end of the week with drizzle possible in the mornings, hereafter. Showers are possible over the mountains late Wednesday and Thursday, with a slight chance of thunderstorms Thursday afternoon. (NWS)
STEPHEN DUNLAP (Fort Bragg): Yep, a foggy 52F on the coast this Wednesday morning. Maybe less morning fog this weekend, we'll see. Otherwise the summer calm is upon us.
Today for the Fourth of July we had the best weather in a week - a warm day with afternoon breezes and now a soft, cool evening. Perfect for the annual Ukiah Valley gathering of the Johnson and Thomas families and their friends, a tradition rooted in the valley's history.
Thomas patriarch Alex (Tom) Thomas paraphrased the Gettysburg oratory by Abe Lincoln to remind celebrants how privileged they were to gather in Hopper's Grove to honor earlier generations of family, people who laid the groundwork for the great life many of us enjoy here at home and across America. Thanks for the reminder, Tom.
POTLUCK AND A FILM IN ELK NEXT WEEK
Monday, July 10th, 5:30 to 8:30 PM at the Greenwood Community Center
Potluck dinner and a film (at 6:30) with an intro by Nadya Williams (my mother), the one and only!
The film will be: ‘Harlan County, USA’, PG 1976, Documentary, 1h 43m.
More info and the trailer: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0074605/
— Anica Williams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
GOFUNDME SET UP FOR FAMILY WHO LOST THEIR 5-YEAR-OLD Child During 4th Of July Weekend
Quinn was one of the most pure, blissful, kind, fun-loving people we have ever known. This tragedy is heavy. The light she has brought to this world shines still. We pray for healing for all those who loved her and know things will never be the same.
Some of you have asked how you can support her parents. Any donations will go straight to them.
People wishing to donate to the family can do so via GoFundMe or to Jenna's Venmo @Jenna-Sebastian-2.
DUNNO WHY this has occurred to me on a hundred degree day in July, but a Fort Bragg guy called one rainy day in January with a unique strategy for directing all the drips from a nearly porous roof into one mini-Niagra to fall in one bucket. I tried it in my leaky kitchen and darned if string theory didn’t do as my informant promised, directing three separate leaks into one catchment bucket where there had been three. Ready? Thumbtack a piece of string to the drip and run the string where you want the water to go. It’ll travel along the string to the desired destination, at least it did for me.
I REMEMBER WHEN Mike Thompson, then a state senator, stopped in Ukiah for a photo op to shore up his mythical environmentalism. He posed with a locally-manufactured electric car at a time — middle 1990s — when Mexico City’s compressed-air-powered vehicles were being developed, and I’m wondering why I’ve never heard of compressed air vehicles in this country? I quote from the Brit Guardian: “Mexico City’s decision to replace its 87,000 taxis with compressed-air-powered vehicles is hopefully not only the beginning of the end for the internal-combustion engine in urban transport, but the end for that white elephant, the electric car. Batteries are heavy, inefficient and the most consistently unreliable component in any car. About half the energy put into a battery never comes out again. The car itself may be zero-pollutant, but upstream lies an appalling energy loss. Compressed air, by contrast, is a beautifully efficient and reliable means of storing and using energy.”
SAY IT ISN’T SO. Adam ‘Shifty’ Schiff is the frontrunner to replace Diane Feinstein in the U.S. Senate. Having spent almost two years claiming that Trump was a Russian agent, when it was established even to the satisfaction of Democrats that Trump wasn’t a Russian agent, Schiff hasn’t apologized for his wrong crusade, he’s simply gone silent on the subject. Of course Trump is still claiming Biden’s election was crooked, which hasn’t prevented him from being the odds-on fave for re-election among Republicans.
I’M out of my league on foreign affairs as soon as I get past the Boonville city limits, but I’m not exempting myself from comment on all the blitzes of the Middle East simply because I don’t know what I’m talking about. By gawd I’ll go one on one with Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper any time! But I’m still revolted by the sight of sunshine patriots, their oversized vehicles festooned with American flags, exulting in the remote control killings they enjoy on television. Lots of people were as disgusted with it all as I was, reminding me that this country isn’t lost quite yet.
JUDGES, MENDO BRANCH. There are too many of them and, in an opinion I share with many others, they’re lazy and weak, allowing trial delays just for the asking and permitting unprepared attorneys to get away with being unprepared. And they make way too much money for what amount to life sinecures. Remote from public pressure because they’re rarely opposed for re-election by the wuss-posse of County lawyers, and by the absence of a mostly disappeared media that allows them to work in the dark, our judges go un-evaluated by the public they allegedly serve.
NOW THE OVERPAID, under-worked 9 are foisting off a new County Courthouse on Mendocino County that no one but them wants, and which will house only them. And count on a major eyesore arising at the foot of West Perkins courtesy of the Superior Court of Mendocino County in an area replete with existing eyesores.
NOT A PEEP of concern about the new County Courthouse from our bumbling Board of Supervisors or the Ukiah City Council, a JV team of elected bumblers, although the new monstrosity will seriously disrupt County business and deal another serious blow to downtown Ukiah.
4TH DISTRICT SUPERVISORIAL CANDIDATE Bernie Norvell Gives His Take on Balancing Mendocino County’s Budget
Balancing a budget is a crucial task for any government, as it directly impacts the overall economic stability and long-term sustainability of the government, in this case, the county.
A balanced budget ensures that the county’s revenue matches its expenditure, instilling trust in its taxpayers and employees. Achieving and maintaining a balanced budget requires careful consideration, strategic planning, and a focus on fundamental principles.
Here I will explore the importance of balancing a budget and discuss some practical strategies.
The first step in balancing a budget is to evaluate the county’s current financial situation. The country’s current situation could be better. Potentially millions in the red and no offer of COLAs to the employees just for starters. This process has to involve analyzing revenue streams, expenditures, debt levels, and any existing budget deficit. A thorough understanding of the government’s financial position is essential in formulating effective strategies to achieve a balanced budget.
Increasing government revenue is also a necessary aspect of balancing a budget. This concept has been discussed ad nauseam at county meetings with little consensus on how to move forward. Aside from shoring up revenue-generating departments, the most glaring discussion is the county’s inability to keep up with property assessments and the significant loss of potential revenue. Some numbers I have heard are in the millions of dollars resulting in substantial revenue left uncollected. Such a sum could go a long way to balance the budget and the much-deserved colas. Granted, the money would only come in piecemeal, but if we get started today, then when?
Governments can explore various means to boost revenue, such as increasing taxes; “I’m only really a fan of this once and when the county can prove itself both solvent and prudent with expenses and revenue streams. However, it is crucial to strike a balance to avoid burdening individuals and businesses excessively.
Additionally, governments should focus on policies that stimulate economic growth, as increased economic activity indirectly leads to higher tax revenues. Encouraging investment, promoting entrepreneurship, and supporting innovation are effective ways to achieve this. One giant step is to focus on limiting bureaucratic red tape and, for lack of better terms, just getting the government out of the way.
To achieve a balanced budget, governments must prioritize spending based on the importance and impact of various government programs and services. There has been some discussion on this involving the social service departments and their efficiency. This idea requires evaluating and reevaluating existing programs and reallocating resources from less critical areas to more essential ones.
According to the state constitution, which we all swear to uphold, public safety ranks very high, and for good reason. People should feel safe and protected in their communities. When we look at the high cost of crime in our county, we can easily see the need for public safety. Suppose we add up the time the sheriff’s department dedicates to investigating ongoing crimes and the time it takes to arrest, transport, and jail someone. In that case, it can be in the thousands per incident. The costs pile up in the District attorney’s, the public defender and officers or a deputy’s time testifying. Keeping resources allocated to public safety is essential, and coordinating departments to help the Sheriff’s Department best utilize their time and effort is critical.
Governments can ensure that limited resources are used effectively and efficiently by making strategic decisions about resource allocation. Efficiency measures play a significant role in balancing a budget. These measures are where governments should seek ways to streamline processes, reduce bureaucracy, and implement cost-saving technologies. These ideas are not new but certainly could help cut down on unnecessary expenses and improve overall government operations and service delivery.
By embracing innovation and leveraging technology, governments can achieve cost savings without compromising the quality or accessibility of public services. One example is online building permits. Streamlining processes to allow for every day, not uncommon tasks that require a building permit. For example, should it take 2-3 weeks to acquire a roofing permit that is not in the coastal zone? A permit for a job that takes 2-4 days from start to finish. State or California building codes and regulations aside, we can do better in permitting.
Another critical aspect of balancing a budget is reviewing grants and other forms of financial assistance provided by the government. The city has done a fantastic job utilizing grant opportunities to subsidize payroll by seeking grants that benefit the entire city population and not just certain groups. The county can and should take the same approach by being more aggressive with grants subsidizing employee payroll. Grants are not the end all to eliminating deficits but can and should play a more prominent role.
It is equally important to assess the effectiveness and eliminate ineffective programs. By targeting funding to areas with the most significant impact, governments can ensure that the allocated resources are utilized efficiently and that the desired outcomes are achieved. Addressing underlying structural issues is also vital to achieving a balanced budget. Governments must identify and tackle factors contributing to budget imbalances, such as high healthcare costs, pension obligations, or inefficient government structures.
Governments can create a solid foundation for sustainable budget management by addressing these underlying issues. We have seen this example in the recently published grand jury report referencing the county’s HR department. The ineffectiveness and instability in this department in evaluating current employees and recruiting new long-term employees. The report mentions that the existing staff should be commended for their effort, and rightly so. However, the department needs stable and long-term leadership.
Finally, regular monitoring and review are crucial to balance the budget. If you have followed the county meetings, you have heard about the need for monthly department reports. If not monthly, then bi-monthly, keeping everyone abreast of current finances and allowing adjustments as needed. Waiting until mid-year can be, at times, too late. Indeed, waiting until the end of the year will always be too late and will force cuts that may have been otherwise prevented.
The county must continually evaluate revenue and expenditure patterns and make necessary adjustments to the budgetary framework. This ongoing evaluation will allow the county to respond effectively to changing economic conditions, policy priorities, and unexpected events.
Balancing a budget is essential for the county’s overall economic stability and sustainability. Following the general steps and ideas above, the county can begin achieving and maintaining a balanced budget. To summarize some of my thoughts and plans, if elected, the county needs to continue evaluating the current financial situation, increasing revenue, prioritizing spending, implementing efficiency measures, reviewing grants, addressing structural issues, and regular monitoring and review are key strategies to reach budgetary balance. A balanced budget ensures financial stability and will allow the county to effectively allocate resources, stimulate economic growth, and provide essential public services.
Now none of this is to say it will be an easy task, but it must happen. I have no grand illusions that the job will be an easy one. There are many factors involved in producing a reasonable and balanced budget. These ideas are just a few that I have and by no means equate to “problem solved,” but all of these ideas can work if the leadership works together. I have proven myself to be such a leader. I am always willing to work with others and collaborate on ideas.
Understanding that compromise is always part of the equation. One must also have the clout to initiate change. It takes three votes to change and chart a new course. One voice cannot do it alone. Being willing to constantly hear the other side and consider those ideas is how things get done. I have been part of the positive change in the City of Fort Bragg for over six years. If elected, I will be part of the positive, forward-thinking change needed in this county.
Candidate for Fourth District Supervisor
CHRIS SKYHAWK: Yesterday, I was sitting in Starbucks [Fort Bragg] reflecting on my girls' birthday and all the sweetness in my life, and this guy starts angrily talking to the table next to me, how the baristas didn’t stir his coffee properly, lots of F bombs directed at the staff; then he literally turned to the people next to me (who i thought might be his comrades) and said ”$3.25 for a F-ing cup of coffee and then can’t even stir it, what’s this F-ing country coming to?” OMG, I could/couldn't believe my ears, and I inserted myself into the convo and calmly asked him to leave; he turned toward me with fire in his eyes, and tried to bait me. I just gently waved toward the door and kept gently asking him to go outside. I was completely emotionless. He then turned back to the original couple, but they had turned away, obviously relieved that I had distracted him. Seeing that he had no supply available he left, and everyone breathed a sigh of relief. I said loud enough to be heard, ”Think I need a shower” and everyone laughed. I am proud of myself; I stayed totally calm and emotionless; and got him out the door, and resumed being grateful for my life. Spiritual ninjahood, here I come!
REMEMBERING TOAD HALL (Coast Chat Line)
 Toad Hall was a wonderful dance hall where the great blues man Jimmy Reed as an old timer lit up the dance floor one night in the later 70s. He sat in his chair in a stylin' tan suit surrounded by young musicos playing all his past hits, “Big Boss Man,” “Got Me Running,” “Doin’ what you want me to do.” He passed on three weeks later. We were blessed in those early day “Boogies,” also at The Caspar Inn and Evelyn's Oasis in Elk, my three favorites. Just pure Rock n' Roll etc. Dance your tail off, the best, blessed for all time we were. Gary T — I remember the pond and the building. I thought it was where Larry Fuente lived.
 The building was bulldozed several years (a decade) ago. All that remains is a small cement slab and the redwood trees. The location, a little over 3 miles from Hwy 1 on Comptche-Ukiah Road, is on private property and is separated from the county road with a split redwood and wire fence and several locked gates.
 It was long before my time here on the Mendo coast (30 years), but it was a music venue operated by Lee Larsen for some years, and from what I've heard, it was a happening place for great live music and dancing. (Like the Caspar Inn was when I arrived here.) Toad Hall was demolished some years ago, and the site is on private property, so please don't go looking for it. But it was 3 to 4 miles up Comptche-Ukiah Road.
 Toad Hall was quite a happening place. Way out there in the redwoods like a speak easy during the wild 20s. Winding around redwood trees the dirt road ended at a dimly lit musical dance hall with tables and chairs and lots of music. The Caspar Inn was also a go-to place. Sometimes a van would show up and I believe Bear would cook wonderful food late at night after dancing and partaking in beer and drinks. Lots of dance opportunities in Mendocino too. Across from Seagull Cellar bar. Then Hannigan. The wild and wooly country western venue. Of course there were weekend music happenings in the Woods. Snug Harbor too. Down on north Harbor Drive. That was the 70s.
A HISTORY OF PHONE SERVICE IN ANDERSON VALLEY
by Jacqueline Potter Voll (1998)
How Now Modern-Day Money Cow?
Those few Valley residents remaining with first-hand memory of long ago lines were mostly unavailable or reluctant to be interviewed. And, as Pacific Bell retiree John Hulbert reminded me, there are few records preserved for posterity, partially due to the federal Secrecy in Communications Act. John tells me that Charmian Blattner has an old telephone record book from the days of privately owned farmer’s lines with the names and number of dots and dashes, the long and short rings it took to call each party on one line. You had to crank a handle to signal, hold the hearing tube on a cord to your ear and speak directly into the wooden box on the wall.
John has never seen Charmian’s phone book but would like to borrow it and make a copy for the AV Historical Society.
Another local, Evelyn Berry, worked at the Boonville exchange office in the late 1920s when she started high school. She was kind enough to speak briefly to me about her experiences then. Now in her 90s, Mrs. Berry says it’s difficult to remember much from so distant a past but she provided some amusing anecdotes.
She went to work at the switchboard, installed in a very small old house which was converted into an “office.”
Mrs. Berry stressed the fact that her wages were very small, her tone of voice belying more than a hint of everlasting disdain and disapproval of so picayune an amount, “maybe 20¢ an hour, more likely 15!” There were several other operators but only one worked at a time and most listened in on customer’s conversations.
There was a phone booth outside on the front porch and another public phone inside the office. I was curious, why one outside and one inside? The obvious answer, if you wanted privacy you opted for the front porch. Seems several fellows would leave the family domicile and walk down to the outside booth to phone their respective mistresses.
There was one line through town, Evelyn said, another out Philo way, and a third in Bell Valley. One person was designated to watch over each line. In case of trouble, such as a line downed by storms, everyone on the line got out and pitched in to help. Mrs. Berry recalled the antiquity of the bare bones system by saying, “There was no way to dial.”
One lifetime Valley resident who was also graciously forthcoming with information is the aforementioned John Hulbert. I had missed John’s talk at the Historical Society about AV phoneline history, so I gave him a call. We agreed to talk over breakfast at Janie’s Place in Philo. I next invited my brother, Scott, who, like John, is a Pac Bell retiree, to join us for breakfast. When Pac Bell alumni get together they are notorious for speaking fluent telephonese, the presence of our mother notwithstanding. Suffering from a case of Yorkville cabin-fever, their rain gage currently reading 96-plus inches for the season, and recognizing an amusing jaunt when she hears of one, Fran invited herself along.
The sun appeared that early morning, a fog drifted, barely noticeable, through the cold, crispy winter light as the three of us, packed in Scott’s pickup, met John Hulbert at Janie’s. After the usual how-de-doos, and some pleasant chatter about gardens, the elusive pink buckeye, canning, and this and that, John and Scott compared phone company histories.
“I went from a lineman to a splicer to a maintenance splicer,” recalls John, “and from there went into all three at once, plus installing central office works. Only thing I didn’t do was work on central office electronic switching — a lot of little cards hooked up to computers. I wasn’t inclined to get into that stuff.
“At Pacific Bell, what little engineering I did, I did on my own. They’d ask you to do a job and when you’d done it and looked it over, then they’d send out my engineer to see if it was right!”
John laughed, “I worked from Tonopah, Nevada, clear up to Klamath Falls, Oregon with the microwave team.”
Scott started as a lineman and wound up an engineer, working San Francisco, the Peninsula, Santa Rosa, Napa, and Ft. Bragg.
John chuckled, “But it’s not the same company anymore. I feel like a dinosaur, you know?”
Scott commented that with the new tariffs, the public, i.e., the customer, is getting screwed.
“We used to be babied,” I recalled.
Both men responded in unison, “We’d do it for nuthin’!”
“When AT&T started divestiture, they made the customers responsible for their own telephones,” recalls John, regretfully. “Everything was for sale, at a price. It would break my heart to go into the home of some lady, 85 years old. She’s got phone problems and I had to tell her, Well, it’s your problem, lady. I couldn’t do it. I went in and fixed it and refiled it outside — trouble with the line.”
“As I said,” continued John, “I started in ‘56 but being raised here I can remember my grandfather, other relatives, ranchers and farmers all had their private lines, farmers lines, they called them. They’d get up to 15 to 20 people on one circuit. Everybody knew each other’s ring, and would listen in. The further away you were, the louder you’d holler on the phone. I think the biggest problem was the maintenance — just whoever was available to clear the lines or twist ’em together. If you were part of the farmer line, even if they didn’t ask you to help, you just joined right in. No Pac Bell then. Privately owned by the farmers, they’d actually go out and fix it. Ranchers themselves owned the wire; it was strung along fences, posts, trees, whatever was available. They had their own poles once in a while, except they were usually square poles. You could call long distance — Ukiah had a circuit coming over — Ukiah to Boonville. Then, when the office opened in Boonville, actually there were two circuits. Main lines were put in Boonville in the late 20s or early 30s. It was toll, strictly toll. When they got into Boonville, then they got the switchboard. If you wanted to call somebody, you had to go through that, wait until a line was free, wait your turn. A lot of people used to go clear to Cloverdale to make a long distance call. It was quicker because in Boonville you waited hours before the lines would go through.”
“And the roads were still gravel,” continued Hulbert. “I was born right there, south of Boonville. When I was a kid, playing in the road through town, I’d get all upset when a car would come through because then I would have to move my wooden blocks or whatever I was playing with to let ’em go by.”
On this weekend in 1939 the final blow was delivered to the old White/Goodyear lumber company. It seems a couple guys up from The City walked out to the end of the wharf to fish off the rocks there. As can be seen, there was a brisk onshore wind and they got cold. According to my mother, a witness to the event, alcohol may have been involved. Anyway, they built a fire right on the wooden planking of the old wharf with the result you see here.
The wind was blowing the fire straight up the wooden wharf toward the lumberyard and town. Local men hurried down to the shoreward end of the table rock and began tearing up the planking to create a fire break. They succeeded and the fire was restricted to the outer end of the wharf. But with the wire chute and apron chute went any hope of ever again using the wharf.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Tuesday, July 4, 2023
CHRISTOPHER HOYLE, Ukiah. DUI.
SANDRA MADRIGAL, Napa/Ukiah. DUI, suspended license for DUI, attempt to keep stolen property.
SHEA MARSAN, Cobb/Fort Bragg. DUI, suspended license for DUI, probation violation.
MICHAEL MCGEE, Ukiah. Controlled substance, probation revocation.
MICHAEL PIERCE, Willits. Disorderly conduct-under influence.
NICHOLAS VANHORN, Mendocino. Failure to appear.
WHY THAT MORNING JOLT FROM COFFEE IS NOT JUST THE CAFFEINE
by Emily Lefroy
That morning cup of joe may not be the only thing fueling your day.
Researchers in Portugal recently tested whether it was the effect of caffeine or simply the ritual of drinking coffee that puts a pep in the step of coffee consumers in the morning.
“If you listen to these individuals, they typically say that they need to have coffee in the morning to get ready,” said Nuno Sousa, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the University of Minho’s School of Medicine in Portugal.
“We wanted to understand the brain mechanisms and functional connectivity pattern that would justify this claim,” he added.
Researchers of the study, published last week in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, studied 83 people — all of whom drank at least one cup of coffee a day.
They then underwent MRI scans so they could observe the participants’ brain activity before and after drinking coffee.
The study found the ritual of drinking coffee is responsible for the feeling of alertness.
The sight, smell or taste of coffee may help people feel alert — regardless of the caffeine.
Asking all participants to refrain from eating or drinking caffeinated beverages for at least three hours before the study, 47 people in the group had MRIs before drinking coffee and then again 30 minutes after.
The remaining 36 were simply given caffeine diluted in hot water, also undergoing the same MRI scans before and after.
The scans suggested coffee — which research has shown is a psychostimulant and can make people feel more awake — was only responsible for certain changes in brain activity, while caffeine was responsible for other changes.
Researchers found that caffeine alone often isn’t enough to stimulate you in the morning; apparently, the ritual or experience of drinking a cup of coffee is needed.
However, the MRI scans showed that short-term memory, attention and focus had increased activity after drinking coffee — but not when ingesting caffeine on its own.
The study also suggested drinking coffee makes individuals more prepared to switch from rest to task mode by decreasing connectivity in the default mode network of the brain, which is the area more active during passive tasks, as opposed to ones from “external” forces.
Researchers suggested that caffeine alone often isn’t enough to stimulate you in the morning, and the specific experience of drinking a cup of coffee is needed.
“The pleasure that is given to an individual that likes coffee in the morning, that actually is part of almost a ritual that really is also important for that individual to feel that ‘I’m ready for the day,'” Sousa said.
THE 4TH OF JULY, AN EXCHANGE:
People will say I’m superficial, but to me the best part of the American Revolution were the gorgeous uniforms of the Hessians, and the exotic costumes of the British Indian Allies.
(The Indians had ALREADY learned that American talk of human rights was bullshit.)
The rest, and, granted, on both sides, was bullshit.
My favorite piece of propaganda in the whole bit was this part.
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
It’s gonna be a meritocracy now!
Never mind that at least two-thirds of all wealth is in some way, shape, or form, inherited, no less today than 500 years ago.
My favorite example of Meritocracy is the Kardashians.
Kim Kardashian’s great claim to fame is that, first, her late father was one of the richest and most successful lawyers in California.
Second, a shitty TV show.
Third, a not particularly good porno movie.
I’m guessing, because I have NOT read a biography of Bruce Jenner, but I would guess he was already rich before he won any gold medals.
What 12-to-25 year old can afford to devote ten hours a day to practicing for … a game?
Kesa, he lived in my little town. His father had a tree removal business. Jenners were a solid family, and Bruce was a good kid. I’d see him working out at the local HS athletic field most afternoons thru all seasons. They were a middle class family, not wealthy. Of course in those days you could buy a nice ranch style house with a few acres for about $35,000.
What went wrong in his head I can’t figure out.
LOVE ME I’M A LIBERAL
I cried on September 11th
Tears they ran down my spine
Like I cry for each murdered Iraqi
As though I've lost a neighbor of mine
But Afghanistan got what was coming
It was the right thing to do at the time
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
And I go to the anti-war rallies
Curse George and the whole G.O.P
And I can't get enough of Obama
Oh his message of change speaks to me
But sure Nader's right about most thing
But he cost Gore that election, you see
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
And I bristled with rage through Katrina
The response made me sick to my heart
I'm sure FEMA would've come running
Had it flooded rich whites in Cape Cod
But don't talk about revolution
Cause that's going just a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
Yes I vote for the Democratic Party
I figure soon enough they'll come along
And I attended those Vote For Change Concerts
And they sure got me singing those songs
And I'm bothered about corporate government
But I do want our brand to trade strong
So love me, love me, love me I'm a liberal
Yes I read the New Yorker and Nation
And I've learned to take every view
And I idolized Franken and Stewart
Hell I feel like I'm almost a Jew
But when it comes down to globalized markets
Well there's no one more red, white, and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
And sure once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to some socialist meetings
Yeah I learned all the old union hymns
But oh I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
— Kevin Devine
TOM PAINE WROTE the First Draft of the Declaration of Independence.
“When I made a study of Thomas Paine's association with the American Revolution, and reread his book Common Sense, I was forcibly impressed with the similarity of the writings of this pamphlet and the language of The Declaration of Independence. I worked for years in further research, and became convinced that Thomas Paine wrote the original draft of that immortal document. I wrote a book to prove my premise, And I am happy to say that this book is now used in the classrooms of many colleges in the United States and Europe.”
— Joseph Lewis, author of ‘Thomas Paine: Author of the Declaration of Independence,” (1947)
* * *
The Conclusion of ‘Common Sense’ (written in the fall of 1775):
To Conclude, however strange it may appear to some, or however unwilling they may be to think so, matters not, but many strong and striking reasons may be given, to shew, that nothing can settle our affairs so expeditiously as an open and determined declaration for independance. Some of which are,
First.—It is the custom of nations, when any two are at war, for some other powers, not engaged in the quarrel, to step in as mediators, and bring about the preliminaries of a peace: but while America calls herself the Subject of Great-Britain, no power, however well disposed she may be, can offer her mediation. Wherefore, in our present state we may quarrel on for ever.
Secondly.—It is unreasonable to suppose, that France or Spain will give us any kind of assistance, if we mean only, to make use of that assistance for the purpose of repairing the breach, and strengthening the connection between Britain and America; because, those powers would be sufferers by the consequences.
Thirdly.—While we profess ourselves the subjects of Britain, we must, in the eye of foreign nations, be considered as rebels. The precedent is somewhat dangerous to their peace, for men to be in arms under the name of subjects; we, on the spot, can solve the paradox: but to unite resistance and subjection, requires an idea much too refined for common understanding.
Fourthly.—Were a manifesto to be published, and despatched to foreign courts, setting forth the miseries we have endured, and the peaceable methods we have ineffectually used for redress; declaring, at the same time, that not being able, any longer, to live happily or safely under the cruel disposition of the British court, we had been driven to the necessity of breaking off all connections with her; at the same time, assuring all such courts of our peaceable disposition towards them, and of our desire of entering into trade with them: Such a memorial would produce more good effects to this Continent, than if a ship were freighted with petitions to Britain.
Under our present denomination of British subjects, we can neither be received nor heard abroad: The custom of all courts is against us, and will be so, until, by an independance, we take rank with other nations.
These proceedings may at first appear strange and difficult; but, like all other steps which we have already passed over, will in a little time become familiar and agreeable; and, until an independance is declared, the Continent will feel itself like a man who continues putting off some unpleasant business from day to day, yet knows it must be done, hates to set about it, wishes it over, and is continually haunted with the thoughts of its necessity.
THIS JULY 4TH, REMEMBER: FREEDOM IS GOOD
Things have gotten so weird, even the most uncontroversial parts of the American experience are becoming taboo
by Matt Taibbi
I was never much for Independence Day. In the eighties, patriotism was a pile of uninspiring steroid-addled symbols: Rambo, Top Gun, the invasion of Grenada… I eventually learned to love barbecue and a beer-drunk as much as the next person, but to this day I can’t think of the word freedomwithout laughing, because it makes me remember Mel Gibson’s hair extensions in Braveheart.
Now the Fourth of July sucks. The overcooked patriotism of old was at least campy. The country today is run by politicians who spend all their time telling us freedom is dangerous, and the press won’t go near the word unless it can wedge it into an act of self-flagellation, à la the Washington Postheadline today: “How an enslaved genius saved the Capitol dome’s ‘Freedom’ statue.” The one thing this country doesn’t need to be ashamed of is its unifying idea, and our cultural and political leaders have somehow managed to turn even that into a source of division.
People who grow up in freer societies can’t appreciate what they have until they get real experience of a place where freedom is absent. I loved my time as a student in the Soviet Union and later in Russia, but it was hard not to notice that most of the country was recovering from something like severe brain damage, having lived under a system whose only real ideological principle was a lack of autonomy: “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is also mine.” The forced collectivity of Soviet culture bred resentment at such soaring levels that for some, the only imaginable pleasure was screwing over another person. In a classic joke, a genie tells a Soviet citizen,“You can have anything, but your neighbor will have double.” The punchline: “Pluck out one of my eyes.”
In post-communist Russia human beings were so unused to freedom, even the temporary experience of it drove some crazy. The place was sardine-packed with busybodies. Sit next to an ex-Soviet person on a plane or train, and you could feel with each passing second how the prospect of enjoying the liberty to say nothing weighed on the traveler, like the cross on the shoulder of Christ. Every meeting of this type was a countdown until the moment when he or she pulled out that jar of dacha-made jam or pickles or whatever and insisted you try (“Mine is delicious, the best!”), or gave you advice you didn’t want, about problems you didn’t have. Russians made a joke of this, too, calling themselves the Strana Sovetov, “Nation of Soviets,” the word “Soviet” also meaning advice — “Nation of Advices.”
Once you reached the advice-getting stage, you were screwed. After the sixth or seventh time you declined a stranger’s recommendation to put mustard in your socks to cure your cough, the person would get offended, doubling the verbiage. Now it was hostility and arguments to the end. No problem, you’d sigh, it’s only 17 more hours to Irkutsk…This was a huge flaw in American propaganda about the Soviet system. We’d been taught growing up that Russian communists were unsmiling, monosyllabic automatons, like Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago. If only! Where the American revolutionary slogan was “Don’t Tread on Me,” the Bolshevik banner should have been, “Won’t Shut the Fuck Up.” If they’d told the truth about this aspect of Soviet life, Americans would have been much more rabidly anticommunist.
It was during some of those interminable train rides when I first found myself longing for America, where the default common-space joke was “Do you have the time, or should I just go f— myself?” and personal boundaries don’t — or didn’t, at least — inspire nervous breakdowns. I even found myself missing the Fourth, a time when Americans gathered on Main Street, ate corn-dogs, belched, and celebrated centuries of coexistence without often killing one another.
It’s true, and we don’t need to be ashamed to say it, that what united us was our shared love of freedom, for people of all stripes seek the freedom to do something: shoot guns, worship Satan, make movies about rats, get gloriously fat, start a genital-piercing business, make obscene ice sculpture, whatever. In the past Americans sometimes argued if they thought others pushed the freedom idea too far, but I don’t remember the concept of freedom itself ever inspiring anxiety, until recently.
For a while now, American-born citizens have been significantly less patriotic than immigrants, and after centuries of waving the flag too much, we suddenly have people who seem afraid to do it all. The ultimate example is probably Beto O’Rourke, who seemed so terrified someone might accuse him of enjoying the life America handed him as a cover-boy faux Kennedy, he told a crowd of immigrants: “This country was founded on white supremacy.” Was he trying to get them to turn around?
Since 9/11, when political freedoms started to be whittled back, Americans started to catch the Soviet disease of being terrified of other peoples’ free thoughts. Coming home in 2002, I was surprised to see something like that hyper-nervous Sovokpersonality developing. An iteration in the Bush years was the listener of Rush Limbaugh or Michael Savage who couldn’t have a conversation without quizzing you about your politics. Those were tough exchanges, but it wasn’t until after the 2008 crash, while researching a book called The Divide, that I saw the more serious strain.
Comparing the treatment of rich and poor fraud defendants, I saw welfare programs designed to help single mothers had been transformed by politicians from both parties into perpetual domestic surveillance programs. Welfare officers seemed to get off on forcing young women in a search of a few hundred bucks to pass (on penalty of jail time) a long series of moral tests. Are they off drugs? Shacking up with a boyfriend? Collecting off-books income? Feeding their kids too much Trix? Attending every mandated job training session? One woman I met faced prosecution, and demands for remuneration, for missing a single class.
At first I was confused, and spent a lot of time trying to work out whether this was a left or right phenomenon. Eventually I realized there’s just a universal personality type that enjoys getting up into other peoples’ business. The Soviets had their busybodies. Ours were now building up in number.
You could see it in the violent reaction to Andrew Yang’s “Freedom Dividend” proposal. I wasn’t sure if I was for or against the idea of “Universal Basic Income” — it was at least interesting — but the intensity of the outcry was mind-blowing. It was loudest from people like Robert Reich, who worried such programs would replace “targeted” assistance, i.e. the aid with the ten billion strings attached. As in: “How can we just give people money? Without armies of social engineers, who’ll be there to teach recipients to feel properly humiliated, guilty, and afraid? What’s the point of public assistance, if we don’t get to throw away their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and enter their homes for taking it?” And so on.
Others deployed heavier weaponry. The Nation wrote a piece that seriously argued Yang’s jokey demeanor and “use of absurdism in politics” might be cover for racist extremism, noting the role scholars said “appearing slightly ridiculous” played in “mainstreaming the KKK.” Yang sounded like a guy who liked to get baked and watch animal documentaries, the political version of Brad Pitt in True Romance, and his big stump idea was giving people free money. But a new, uptight species of American was already looking five hundred steps ahead and terrifying themselves with visions of lynchings.
Today the fashion is not only to be pessimistic about the American conception of freedom, but to couple that pessimism with panic, media freakouts, and authoritarian solutions. Freedom of speech? Too dangerous, so we need digital censorship. Freedom to vote? Needs careful monitoring, lest we end up with more Donald Trumps. Freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures? Can’t be afforded, in the age of foreign and domestic terrorism, so electronic surveillance must be expanded. Racial equality? Can’t be achieved without huge bureaucracies of DEI minders, in every corporation and university. Meritocracy? The pursuit of happiness? Shams, or covers for privilege schemes, the “pursuit” denounced by wine-set icons like Ibram Kendi as a “fantasy” cooked up by racist tyrants.
These new busybodies are convinced nothing about America works, not even its sales pitch, and all the things that historically made it and still make it appealing to foreigners around the world are just lies, brimming with menace. When a horrified Taylor Lorenz reported that “unfettered conversations are taking place on Clubhouse,” she sounded like every Soviet neurotic ever who grew furious if neighbors had conversations they couldn’t hear through the wall. Or, as the Washington Examiner noted, she was echoing Mencken’s description of Puritanism: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
When did Americans become so miserable? When did the country once convinced there’s “nothing to fear but fear itself” become addicted to freaking out? Emma Lazarus didn’t write, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to know what their neighbors are up to…” If the word freedom makes you anxious, you really need to lighten up.
Happy Fourth of July, Racketreaders. Enjoy your families, and blow up something big, if you can.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
‘The Blob’ was released in 1958 as part of a drive-in double feature, appearing with ‘I Married a Monster from Outer Space.’ Before my time, but I wish I coulda been there. If nothing else, they had GREAT movie titles back then. I still remember the Iron Claw serials they’d show at the local matinees. “Oh no, it’s the craaaaaw!” Movies were still playful and absurdist. Everyone was in on the joke, which was played dead serious. Vincent Price’s “The Tingler” anyone? Mad scientist Vincent doses the local movie house’s owner’s wife with LSD to make her scream after setting up some stunts to scare the shit out of her and make her scream. All knowing full well that she can’t, because she’s a mute, which causes a laughable rubber lobster (complete with visually obvious puppet strings attached) to grow on her spine and kill her after he mercifully surgically removes it. Complete with electronic tingler devices installed under select theater seats and audience plants who would scream on cue. Simply masterful in all its cheesy glory!
THE HARD WORK I did as a youngster helped me to attain my aim when I grew older. As soon as I was old enough to wear boxing gloves, I was put to work. Years of it made a fighting man. No allowance was made for my youth. I hired out to do a man's job although I was only a boy, and I did it. That farm work was the best thing that ever happened to me. It helped me develop my arms, shoulders and back - physical growth that put me in trim for the arduous work I later encountered when I entered the ring.
The grimy, dirty work in the copper mines in my later period of development, performed many feet underground - hauling, lifting, swinging a pick - helped in the buildup. All that manual labor counted in my favor...
I had good arms and wonderful hands and I used them to advantage in my early bouts. Even in those fights, I carried a good wallop in either fist. That is what made me decide on a pro fighting career. I got the impression that in my punching power, I had special assets.
— Jack Dempsey
Joe Bageant drops out
by John Lingan (March 2015)
Shortly before the first election of the second President Bush, Joe Bageant convinced his third wife that they should move from Oregon to Virginia. At the time, Barbara was a bored Merrill Lynch middle manager, while Joe, a self-taught intellectual with stifled literary aspirations, was editing an agribusiness newsletter. They had money and lived well, but when Military History magazine offered him a job in Virginia, Joe saw it as an opportunity to return to his hometown of Winchester. He hadn’t been back in decades, and like many displaced Southern men on the far side of middle age, he felt the pull of home. The people were real there, he told his wife. They took care of each other. Without spending too much, Joe and Barbara could buy a colonial with a porch, right downtown, and say hello to a dozen friends every time they walked to the store.
So they moved. Bought the colonial, downtown as promised, and settled into the nominal capital of the Shenandoah Valley, a 250-year-old, tradition-bound town that had given George Washington his first political victory and Patsy Cline her first stable home. Before long, Joe shook off the cultivated air he’d acquired in his west-coast days. He started dressing in cheap work clothes and guzzling beer alongside the rednecks he’d grown up with. At karaoke nights and in the 7-Eleven parking lot, he listened to his people rail about their menial jobs, their healthcare debt, and their proud anti-liberalism.
Joe was familiar with the shitkicker ethos, but he was unprepared for the tone of panic and resentment that charged his old friends’ conversations. Increasingly despondent, he vented his frustrations in writing, first in chatrooms, and then in the galloping voice that he’d honed as a Hunter S. Thompson–obsessed newspaper columnist in his earlier life. “Something new and . . . ominous is afoot down here,” he wrote in 2004, in the first essay to appear on his website, joebageant.com:
Our girthsome, ill-educated polity hoots, cheers and guffaws at a Fox network made-for-the masses political movie called America, the Baddest Dog on the Block, as the power elite pick every pocket in the audience through regressive taxes, stopping only to loot the local treasury on their way out the back door to that money-insulated estate they bought for a song.
That essay, “Howling in the Belly of the Confederacy,” invoked a hellscape of blue-collar anger. Before long, similar tracts—about guns, real estate, alcohol, Pentecostalism, and other aspects of the Scots-Irish Southern trailer lifestyle—started appearing more frequently than most people exercise, and by the time Bush left the White House, Joe Bageant had detailed Winchester’s spiritual and economic devolution in dozens of elite-indicting online tirades, a book of which, Deer Hunting with Jesus, brought him a six-figure advance from Random House and blurbs from Studs Terkel and Howard Zinn.
His return home, as described in that book, had convinced Joe that American culture “is based on two things: television and petroleum.” We live “in an age of corporate dominion just as we once lived in an age of domination by royal families, kings, and warlords.” He reserved his greatest ferocity for the liberals who let it all happen, with their
thick-headed denial of what is obvious to nearly every thinking white person: A class conflict is being played out between the Scots-Irish culture and what James Webb rightly called America’s “paternalistic Ivy League-centered, media-connected, politically correct power centers.” Whether educated liberals believe this or not, it is true. Tens of millions of Scots Irish and thousands of Scots Irish–influenced communities believe it is true and vote as if it is true, and that makes it true.
Joe’s book prompted speaking invitations in England, Italy, and Australia. His ideas were quoted approvingly by the New York Times, NPR, and the BBC, particularly as the 2008 presidential election neared. His rage became his brand, a fishing vest and beer gut his uniform, and before Barack Obama began campaigning for a second term, Joe Bageant was dead, at age sixty-four. It was cancer, not suicide, but by the end he’d grown so angry about the root cruelty and unfairness of American-style capitalism that the only solace he allowed himself in his columns was a firm belief in the oncoming collapse. “It is seeing everything in material terms, just like our avaricious capitalist overlords, that holds us back,” he wrote just months before learning of the tumor that had clenched around his intestines like a fist. “We are in the sixth great species die-off here.”
Returning as he did to Winchester right as Bush took office, Joe Bageant stepped into a writer’s dream—a perfect confluence of subject, setting, and personal knowledge—and he responded with fury, writing essay after raging essay, a dazzling output that collectively foresaw the housing crisis and recession, Obamacare, and “the 1 percent” as a rhetorical tool. Yet four years after his death, he’s remembered for one book and a corresponding moment of semi-fame as “America’s Most Literate Redneck,” if he’s remembered at all.
From the outside, Joe Bageant’s career and image seemed to materialize spontaneously, but for all his bubba bona fides, Joe’s outlook was equally the product of LSD, Buddhism, American Indian activists, Timothy Leary, and the back-to-the-land movement. In fact, the twenty-first century’s foremost chronicler of red-state dispossession was more than just a literate redneck—he was an avenging angel of the forgotten rural hippie movement. If his work—particularly his vivid second book, Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir, which remains without a U.S. publisher—were more deeply and widely read and his life more fully understood, Joe’s most radical propositions might seem worth considering: he insisted that tree-huggers are the natural allies of trailer trash, and that the political disasters of the last few decades are a result of the mainstream left’s disavowal of them both.
Off the Farm
I first met Barbara, Joe’s widow, in a coffee shop in Winchester’s newly refurbished downtown walking mall. In a scathing 2007 essay about this quaint, yuppified historical district, Joe described this exact place as the town’s “obligatory Starbucks knockoff.” Even Barbara, who grew up in the Midwest and clearly has no moral objection to the yoga center or artisanal jewelry boutiques across the way, laughed at the impeccable leaf design in her latte foam. “Here’s how you can tell D.C. is creeping in,” she said. “We have baristas now.”
It was hard to imagine this quietly thoughtful, middle-aged woman—a genealogy and local history researcher in the town library two blocks away—sharing more than twenty years with a man who eventually lived abroad because he refused “to pay taxes to the empire to kill brown babies.” There was a semi-stunned quality to her voice as she discussed those last years, when Joe’s anger ambushed them both, replacing marital comfort with a nobler, less enjoyable purpose. But I was not the first acolyte to come to town asking for a sense of the man, and her pride, too, was obvious. Barbara pulled a crinkled brown shopping bag out from under her chair and started searching through her husband’s makeshift archive.
She chose a couple of photo albums from the bundle of manila folders and scribble-filled notebooks. Outside, beyond the window behind her, the walking mall stirred with the usual weekend crowd: Civil War tourists and parents visiting their kids at Shenandoah University on the other side of town. But the pictures on these stiff pages recalled an earlier, gruffer Winchester. Joe had put these albums together haphazardly, so snapshots of his mid-1960s beatnik phase sat next to pictures of his three kids, twenty-five years later. There were a few of his father, but only in old age, and nothing at all from Joe’s earliest years, because that life, the subject of Rainbow Pie, didn’t include cameras.
Joe Bageant was born in 1946 and grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains north of Winchester, just over the West Virginia line. Joe knew the family farm on Shanghai Road as “Over Home,” a place where generations of Bageants had grown, picked, and preserved their own vegetables and slaughtered their own hogs, all without modern machinery or vehicles. In his memoir he describes his childhood as “anachronistic even in the 1950s . . . vestigial, charged with folk beliefs, marked by an ignorance of the larger world, and lived unselfconsciously under the arc of Jeffersonian ideals, backed up by an archaic confidence in the efficacies of God’s word and grapeshot.”
The only currency in such a life was work, “calories burned.” Joe estimated his grandfather never made more than $1,000 a year, but the family lived well enough on only a few acres of vegetables, a small stock of animals, and deeply ingrained wisdom about the management of each. Shanghai Road was dotted with similarly rooted families. They patronized the same general store for staples and relied on each other for the rest of their worldly needs, like a truck to haul the yearly tomato harvest to the nearest cannery. It was “a system where everyone benefited through an economy of labor,” he wrote in Rainbow Pie, “with the small money of small farmers supplying the grease for the common-sense machinery of community sustenance.” And even before Joe was old enough to join hunting trips with his daddy and uncles, it was doomed.
The postwar boom made quick work of hill-country living like this. New highways and subsidies gave large-scale producers an advantage over family farms. It took barely a generation for rural Americans to succumb, and soon they were ensnared by corporations; whether on assembly lines or by “driving truck,” they started working for the same people who had put them out of business.
With a Teamsters salary coming in, Joe Sr. took his wife and children to the city and left Over Home to the grandparents. When the Bageants arrived in Winchester in the late 1950s (or rather, returned, since the family name had been there as early as 1755), it was still largely controlled by a small group of land-owning families. Chief among them were the Byrds, whose patriarch, Harry Flood Byrd, had been Virginia’s governor in the 1920s and its senator since the 1930s. He also owned the town’s only newspaper, the Winchester Star, and a couple other regional weeklies, as well as the largest orchard business in the apple-rich valley outside the city limits. Joe later claimed to have mowed Harry Byrd’s lawn as a teenager, though he had a lifelong fondness for suspiciously unverifiable stories, particularly regarding brushes with celebrity. (By various friends’ accounts, he was either babysat or given a toy or sung to by Patsy Cline, who was still living on South Kent Street when the Bageants came to town.)
Whether or not he actually cut the senator’s grass, Joe was immediately affected by the stark class division that Byrd and his ilk enforced. His father quit trucking and began working in an auto shop, but money remained tight. The Bageants moved whenever they fell behind on rent, which meant they moved constantly. Even as a teenager, Joe sensed that their relocation to the city had cost them much more than a place on their ancestral land. His mother was repeatedly hospitalized for depression, and his father, whose labor had once been enough to fill his three kids’ bellies, now struggled to keep their bedroom heated. Joe so pitied his father that he didn’t even hate the man for taking the shame out on him with a belt.
Bad at school, bad with girls, beaten at home, Joe found refuge at the Handley Regional Library. He would often skip school to follow what he later called a “marvelously undirected pursuit of the mind,” consisting of
Boy’s Life Magazine, the history of the Shenandoah Valley, Pericles’ orations, Jack London, Fur, Fish and Game magazine, countless books on painting and great painters, Civil War diaries, American Heritage magazine, and old hardbound editions of Lord of the Flies, Richard Wright’s Native Son, Dickens, Genet, Sartre, and Rimbaud.
He also painted well enough for a mail-order art school representative to visit one of the Bageants’ many addresses and offer a scholarship covering two-thirds of the course’s tuition. Joe, then thirteen, offered to pick up an extra paper route to cover half of the remainder, but his father still had to decline. That last $50 was too much for the family to bear on a car repairman’s wages.
This was how Joe learned about the shame of poverty. Not material lack—the subsistence life on Shanghai Road had certainly been dollar-poor—but the brutal reality of his dad’s sixty-hour work week for non-negotiable pay that barely covered life’s necessities, let alone his son’s blooming artistic dream. It was the unfair terms of the struggle that stuck with Joe, the fact that wealthier people had pushed his family off the farm, and then kept them in a chokehold when they landed in town.
And then, like a bomb: acid. He first took it in 1965,
thanks to my gay friend George, who was being “treated” for his homosexuality with lysergic acid and enjoying every minute of treatment. . . . After creating a small meditative space with plants, a Tibetan mandala, and classical music on the turntable, we took it. Five years later I was still taking it at least once a week, and to this day I consider LSD the Promethean spark of whatever awakening I have managed to accomplish in th[is] life. . . . For the first time in years, my life in that small town was very enjoyable.
By this point Joe had dropped out of school and married a curly-haired country girl named Cindy. He was also a veteran, having lied about his age to join the Navy at sixteen. He had served noncombat time aboard the USS America, but his military career was only just long enough to secure VA benefits, and when he returned home, he had found a
small psychedelic scene, one among thousands in heartland America at the time . . . an assortment of perhaps fifty artists, gays, hillbilly hipsters, academics from a nearby college of music, passing beatniks, and psychedelic enthusiasts . . . hanging out at a marvelous old “dinner and juke joint” in the poor section. . . . Finally, the good fundamentalist Christians and Republican business community just couldn’t take it any more.
Joe was the inaugural victim of the crackdown. He claimed for years to be Winchester’s first marijuana arrest, and also claimed to have lived while awaiting trial in Resurrection City, an encampment in Washington, D.C., set up by Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign. This dates the ordeal to the summer of 1968, meaning he was already a father; Cindy gave birth to Timothy, named for Leary, in 1967. Joe was acquitted, but the experience shook him enough that he knew he couldn’t keep his young family and newly expanded consciousness locked in Byrd country anymore. In 1969 he and Cindy escaped in a school bus, hayseed flower children set free.
A Fleeting Paradise
At the time, Boulder, Colorado, was referred to as the Buckle of the Granola Belt, and indeed there might as well have been a dog whistle blaring on Pearl Street, beckoning the nation’s dropouts and longhairs. The clean air and relative seclusion attracted everyone from the Weathermen to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Allen Ginsberg. The nearby Pygmy Farm, one of the many rural communes sprouting up at the time, hosted visitors like Chögyam Trungpa, a Buddhist scholar who loved the area so much he stayed, founding Naropa University and the Shambhala Meditation Center in the early 1970s.
Joe and Cindy pulled in after nearly a year of travel in their school bus. They were heading for San Francisco, that better-known hippie mecca, but the Rockies felt like kismet. Joe liked to say that they pulled into Boulder on the inaugural Earth Day: April 22, 1970. The atmosphere of Buddhism, banjos, and Beat poetry made San Francisco seem unnecessary.
Jerry Roberts, now an assessor for Boulder County, was a recent college graduate when he first met his neighbors Joe and Cindy in 1973. Jerry came from West Virginia, but his other connection to Joe was musical; they spent most of their early friendship playing guitar together. Joe had an encyclopedic knowledge of Appalachian and country music from Over Home. Jerry, a few years younger, was plainly in awe. “He was an incredibly creative person—it just oozed out of his pores,” he told me.
The mood in Boulder was high-minded in every sense, but Joe was the son of a laborer with a son of his own, and he wasn’t afraid to take on manual work. At one point, moving boxes at a grocery store, his back gave out. Laid up in the hospital, Joe began to write in earnest. He shared a poem when Jerry came to visit, a “Howl”-indebted portrait of Boulder’s nightlife scene. With a couple of friends, Jerry made copies of it and posted the poem around the city. His name was left off, but when he was discharged from the hospital, Joe was happy to see his work out in public for the first time.
He started picking up freelance bylines, writing features about local characters and touring musicians. His steadiest work came with a Boulder-based ersatz Rolling Stone called The Rocky Mountain Musical Express. Joe was its main editor by 1977, and also its most frequent contributor; he filled pages with his own writing under multiple pseudonyms. His freelance staff included Mark Bliesener, a studio musician who arrived in Boulder in 1976 while playing in a late incarnation of Question Mark and the Mysterians. Bliesener, who had never written seriously before the Musical Express, recalls visiting the Bageant trailer home to deliver a draft for the upcoming issue: “He gave me a copy of The Elements of Style, sold me a bag of speed, and said, ‘If you want to write, here’s what you need.’”
Joe started taking road trips with the Express’s distributor, Ward Churchill, who is now a prominent American Indian advocate (and a former college professor—he lost his job in 2007 after referring to World Trade Center workers as “little Eichmanns”). Churchill took Joe on numerous trips to reservations, and introduced him to activists like Russell Means and Vine Deloria Jr. Joe was still a voracious reader, and would almost certainly have read Deloria’s epochal Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto (1969), a wry and bitter essay collection about the historical exploitation of a rural minority—and a book that Joe may well have had in mind while writing Deer Hunting with Jesus.
It was an era of agitation for Indian rights. In the summer of 1979, a federal court awarded the Sioux tribe more than $100 million in damages for their forced removal from the state’s Black Hills region. The Sioux refused to take the money and began a prolonged, violent standoff in the Black Hills. Joe patrolled the occupation’s border with Ward Churchill and a group of John Birch Society members—imperfect but willing partners who had come on board out of shared contempt for the U.S. government.
But for all his broadening horizons and writing momentum, Joe hadn’t yet made a proper home for Tim and Cindy, so after a decade out west, they decided to move back to Winchester. There were few goodbyes, and this would prove to be a pattern. Joe could make friends with anybody, anywhere, but always had an eye on the exit. “I don’t know anyone in my life who was smarter than Joe,” recalls Jerry Roberts, “but that doesn’t give you self-esteem. He was always wanting to go somewhere else.” Later, Joe would look back on his time in Boulder as one of the happiest periods of his life: “All these years later I am beginning to understand the effect [that] living for a decade or so in a genuinely free time and place had on my life. . . . A weird electricity arched over everything, as blown-away rap sessions drove into the starry night while sanity cowered in the back seat. Yup, this was paradise all right.”
Back to the Land
Joe had left Winchester as a high school dropout, teen father, and purported drug casualty, but he returned as a seasoned journalist, and ended up working for the Byrd family once again, this time on the staff of the Star. Remnants of the Granola Belt still clung to him: he claimed a battered, thrown-away desk for his office, and lined up almost twenty containers of vitamins on its edge to advertise a strict regimen that he’d heard would give him total recall.
But Joe had few other outlets. He and Cindy separated in 1979, and Joe was devastated. He’d found his way into the Winchester middle class but didn’t get much comfort from it. The divorce, as he surely recognized, would disrupt Tim’s life right at the age when Joe’s had been shaken by the loss of Over Home. He retreated back to Boulder, a radical with no outlet and a romantic with a broken heart.
By then, Boulder’s conversion from hippie outpost to commoditized yuppie playground was well underway. The “People’s Republic” vibe was losing out to higher costs of living and real estate development. The Musical Express was no more, though Joe managed freelance features with other local and national magazines. He met a bright and idealistic woman named Nancy, who was writing a newsletter for the well-known Boulder Free School.
United in their disappointment over paradise lost, Joe and Nancy dropped out. Joe knew that Indian land was cheap, so they got married and set out for the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in the Idaho panhandle. Plenty of their peers had attempted a similar feat, but the heyday of Mother Earth News and The Modern Utopian had passed. And most of those middle-class homesteaders in the ’60s and ’70s had tried some kind of communal arrangement, whether sharing a house between several families or joining a collective. Joe and Nancy, by comparison, found a desolate, forest-adjacent plot about ten miles from the nearest town, St. Maries.
They bought the shack in 1982, with no electricity, running water, or address. It was on a dirt road about halfway up a mountain, which must have recalled Shanghai Road. Joe worked tirelessly, clearing forest and planting a garden behind the house. He built a barn for horses and livestock. Their first child, Patrick, was born in November 1982, and their second, Elizabeth, arrived in May 1984.
To the extent that any couple can remove themselves from the politics and culture of a country while still living there, Joe and Nancy managed it, living more or less self-sufficiently apart from rare trips to the St. Maries food co-op. But as a quest for personal happiness, it wasn’t as successful. The kids reached school age by 1988, and by that point the pressures of self-sufficiency were too much. Like his father before him, Joe took his kids from the country to the city, in this case Moscow, Idaho, on the border with Washington state. He and Nancy divorced soon after.
Joe was now forty-two years old, with three children, two failed marriages, and no definite home. He took up writing again, this time for a local paper, The Idahonian. From his easy but musical style you wouldn’t guess that he’d been chopping wood and tending to horses for the previous six years. He interviewed Woodstock attendees for the festival’s twentieth anniversary, and touched on politics by talking to locals like “Big Leroy” about everything from gas prices to Vietnam veterans.
Around this time he met Barbara, who was living in Pullman, Washington, right across the border. Both are small college towns, “so if you were over thirty, you just wanted to meet anybody,” Barbara told me. “Anything besides watching how drunk the twenty-year-olds could get on the weekends.” But it turned out that she and Joe had more in common than simply being stranded. The decade before, Barbara had been an antiwar protester and vocal feminist in Madison, Wisconsin, raising her son in a reflexively liberal community steeped in Gloria Steinem and Free to Be You and Me. From the first, she recognized a fellow traveler. “A lot of women my age were raised to accommodate men,” she says, “but that wasn’t a big thing with Joe.” Instead, they could talk about books and music. He cooked for her and reminisced about his own radical days.
On January 23, 1990, Joe wrote an Idahonian column about Mississippi, particularly its blues traditions and poverty: “Sometimes it seems to me like the Mississippi River washes all the unconscious repressions of the rest of America down to the Delta, where they lie in a volatile, dormant state until some new change comes along to touch them off.” After an evocative litany of southern scenery—kudzu, field hands, “bobbing white cotton”—he ended the essay on a personal, not political, note: “I miss it. I really do.”
Nevertheless, he went west next, not south. Eugene, Oregon, was a more liberal town than Moscow, but the move inaugurated the straightest, most middle-class period of Joe’s life. He first worked for a nonprofit that served foster children, writing their PR materials and mentoring kids. On one field trip, he took a group of young boys to see then-candidate Bill Clinton on the 1992 campaign trail. But soon he left that job for Crop Production Magazine, a glossy trade publication that had one patron: the gigantic food processor ConAgra, which sent issues to all its customers.
The arrangement was beyond lucrative, and as editor, Joe was obliged to live the same lavish lifestyle as his publisher: dinners out on the corporate card, sometimes in San Francisco, and expenses-paid trips to Las Vegas with the wives, where a $500 shopping allowance awaited them at check-in. Joe was suddenly a man for whom Scotch preceded dinner, and dinner preceded brandy. Which is to say, he had finally caught up to the business class that ran his hometown, and to the kind of company, ConAgra, that had driven his people into the cities.
And it made him miserable. The work was vapid and superficial. It was as bad as Joe had always assumed the world of the Byrds was, even while envious of its money. Now he had money of his own, more than he’d ever expected to have, and he came to the realization that it didn’t quiet his mind or offer any sense of meaning. And so he asked Barbara, what about Winchester?
A Colonial Home
Their house was on the west side of town, far from the train tracks and close to the unofficial royal mile, Washington Street, where the properties are more like castles. Nearby was Stonewall Jackson’s former headquarters, now a museum. Joe and Barbara’s place, with its pillars and porch, fit right in, even if they had to clean a little mold off the walls.
Winchester had become unrecognizable. For one, an influx of outside companies had brought a huge new labor force, many of whom were immigrants. More than 50 percent of Winchester residences were rentals, a fact Joe gleaned from conversations at working-class bars like the Royal Lunch and Coalie Harry’s. He further learned that the biggest property owners served on the local government, and had efficiently suppressed any regulations on rental properties. The old anger returned, as did the memory of watching his father tremble when the rent money ran out, and soon Joe founded the Winchester Tenant’s Board.
He interviewed renters and gave away his own money when they asked him. He wrote regular scathing letters to the Star detailing the exploitation. He killed rats in the unregulated apartments and brought them to city council meetings in a box—anything to call attention to the abuse. Soon Coalie Harry’s could no longer contain his exasperation, and he began writing in chat rooms under the screen name “ScreamingMan.” Then came “Howling in the Belly of the Confederacy,” and the deluge began.
As a private citizen, Joe despised Winchester’s cretinous Republican class, but once his writing grew more ambitious, he tapped into a deeper, more personal resentment of his self-satisfied liberal peers who could somehow never understand his feelings about working people. “Fifty years ago, men and women of goodwill agreed that every citizen had the right to health care and to a free and credible education,” he wrote in Deer Hunting.
It was to liberal Americans and their party that these humanist ideals were entrusted. . . . Nobody kidded themselves that Republicans—the party of business—would look out for the education of the working class, or for the health of working-class children and oldsters. . . . That’s what Democrats and liberalism stood for: working people and collective progress. Between 1932 and 1980, Democrats held comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress in all but four years (1947–1949 and 1953–1955). You’d think that sometime during those forty-eight years the party of Roosevelt would have done the right thing about health care and education for everyone. Especially during the fat nineties. But the stock market was booming, and middle-class professional and semiprofessional liberals had their diplomas in hand and their student loans paid off. They had jobs and those newly established 401(k)s that begged to be fattened, and airfare to France was cheap and . . . well . . . you know how it is. I cannot point fingers here. I was certainly among them at the time.
This vein of anger, guilt, and sadness proved surprisingly relatable. By January 2005 Joe was receiving so many fan emails that Ken Smith, a fan himself who had offered to create and manage joebageant.com, started running them on the site. The emails came from all over: Fair Oaks, CA, and Auburn, WA; DuQuoin, IL, and Davenport, IA; Chatsworth Island, Australia; Leeds, Vancouver, Beijing. The writers tended to be Joe’s age, with a similar perspective on America’s despoliation. “My roots are in the Texas dirt, but I made a journey through the student radical acid communal left,” said one. “Your articles remind me so much of my family. They are the same pissed off, ignorant white trash that fought their way from Virginia, through the Appalachians, to East Texas,” said another.
He signed his book deal in May 2005; the working title was DRINK, PRAY, FIGHT, FUCK: Dispatches from America’s Class Wars, though late in the editorial process it was changed, in part because of commercial considerations, but also because its metrical thunder had been stolen by Eat, Pray, Love.
Joe used his advance to move to Belize, a country he hadn’t seen in thirty years, and then only as a tourist. As he told it, he arrived there and soon met a young family from the town of Hopkins Village, a coastal outpost founded by the survivors of a slave ship crash. He agreed to pay for and help build a guest house that the family could rent for extra income. As payment, he could stay in it for free whenever he came to Hopkins. Three thousand miles from Shanghai Road, Joe felt he’d found one last bastion of the communal, sustainable life that American consumerism had long since made impossible. “What I get out of it is a feeling of direct accomplishment that a man can never have in this country,” he wrote on his site.
Being a working man in America means that, no matter how much you earn or how hard you work, it is never enough and the job is never done. Never do you feel the immediate satisfaction, much less security, from your labors as a citizen of the empire. Pay and work and grind and pay some more as everything drags on forever extracting ever-increasing sums of money just to hang onto what you’ve already paid for. And always there is the specter of retirement and all the geet that is supposed to require. . . . I have no doubt that I could easily live in Hopkins for about $400 a month . . . and manage to have some left over for rum, guitar strings and a little ganja.
It wasn’t the romanticized toil of rural labor that Joe missed, nor the uneducated culture of mountain people. Rather, it was a sense of wide-eyed exploration and a genuine affection for the soil. This is what the Colorado Buddhists espoused, what the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and the other “newgrass” acts of the era conveyed. That attitude was short-lived in America, though Joe lived through its zenith, and Deer Hunting with Jesus, which only glances at this aspect of his life, is shot through with its influence. In one chapter, Joe describes his “sideways kin” Tom, another country transplant. They’d met back in 1957 in Winchester, and bonded over Dylan and drugs. “Given this shared background,” he wrote,
you can imagine my slack-jawed incomprehension when all these years later we meet again and I see that he has become a conservative hard-liner and, at least for a while, a born-again Christian. . . . Tom is intensely antiunion, which amazes me since I can remember when he had a Che Guevara poster on his apartment wall. You’d think after twenty years in a southern factory a guy would be begging union organizers to sweep through this town like Grant took Richmond. But Tom and most other plant workers here have bought the rightist mantra that goes: “Maybe unions were once valuable, but they have priced American labor completely out of the market.” . . . Tom, like me, has heard this line from birth.
Joe blamed Tom’s transformation in part on liberals, who, in their noble rush to disown the racist southern elements of their party during the civil rights era, pulled away from the region entirely, leaving an information vacuum that Fox News and GOP operatives would later exploit. “There is no good reason,” Joe continued,
why for the past thirty years the uncertainty and dissatisfaction of people like Tom . . . was automatically snubbed as unenlightened by so many on the left. If the left had identified and dealt with this dissatisfaction early on, if they had counteracted the fallacies the Republicans used to explain that dissatisfaction, if they had listened instead of stereotyping blue-collar angst as “Archie Bunkerism” . . . we might have witnessed something better than the Republican syndicate’s lying and looting of the past six years.
There was a time, Joe contended, when “Americans were concerned with actualizing individual potential,” and that time was the 1960s. He cited the desegregation of schools and colleges, the commitment to social change, and of course the cultural-pharmaceutical innovations.
There was such vigorous electricity in the air, so many possibilities in ourselves and in America, that this working-class boy grabbed his wife one day and said: “Let’s grab the baby and head west, and grow our brains and hearts, read Rilke and Chief Joseph and Rimbaud and Lao-Tzu and burn meat on open fires with cowboys! Maybe even meet Allen Ginsberg!” And we did it too.
Joe Bageant was hardly the only one to view the sixties this way. The sons and daughters of mainstreamed baby boomers have heard it all our lives. But Joe recognized that the era’s passing meant more than just a dropoff in the quality of pop radio. It signaled victory for the money-grubbers. The most prominent liberals of Joe’s generation, people like the Clintons and John Kerry, were corporate types just like their purported foes: “They ‘support the troops.’ . . . They play the imperial game, maintain their credit ratings, and plan to keep the beach house and the retirement investments” no matter how dismal life may grow for the rural residents of West Virginia, New Mexico, or Mississippi. Joe argued that Americans’ turn away from the earth—and with it, our marginalization of people who live for it, red or blue—constituted a denial of “the one truth held in common by every enlightened civilization: we are our brother’s keepers.” This new, profits-first society driven by fear, debt, TV, and petroleum is a Republican-designed dream, so they always win, even when they lose. And Democrats were willing to forsake their old base of Southerners and environmentalists just to enjoy their own small version of that victorious feeling.
Joe lived much of his final years in Ajijic, an expat-filled town near Guadalajara, Mexico, at the invitation of his webmaster Ken Smith. Joe needed the international airport in order to honor his frequent speaking invitations abroad, and though he still lived half the year with Barbara in Winchester, he wanted to avoid paying American taxes. Barbara says he used to joke that his months away were his gift to her; he knew that he’d grown intolerably bleak, and he was so terrified of a third divorce that it seemed better to just stay away and avoid fights. Joe’s ethical view had grown toxically pure, with no room for the normal compromises most people must make in order to buy affordable clothes or occasionally enjoy themselves in the First World. “He had the moral high ground in every argument we had,” Barbara claims. She didn’t discuss her own life because she didn’t feel like getting a lecture or being made to feel petty. Compared to the Belizean poor, she had nothing to complain about, after all.
A few days before Christmas 2010, less than a week after Joe had gone into the Mexican mountains on horseback to drop acid with a group of gauchos, Ken took him to a doctor to have his stomach pains checked out. An X-ray revealed a gastrointestinal stromal tumor, bigger in mass than his liver. “I don’t want to die in the America I see emerging,” he had written four years earlier, justifying his move to Belize. He would not get his wish. After three months in and out of VA hospitals and in a prescription painkiller haze, Joe died with his three kids, Barbara, and Cindy by his side. In lieu of a funeral, they drove up to Shanghai Road and scattered his ashes in private.
The outpouring of grief came on his website, where Ken rounded up tributes by bloggers and writers from around the globe. It is the final irony of Joe’s life that he found his largest audience by writing about the dissolution of his community. Raised on the eastern frontier, reborn in the acid-drenched West, and lost all over again in the corporate hinterlands, Joe Bageant returned to Winchester to bury the shame of childhood poverty at last. Instead, he found a battlefield on which he could finally use the full force of his drop-out beliefs on behalf of the people who had taught him to love the land in the first place. These people, of course, didn’t read his book; they barely read anything.
Where was home for this terminally displaced, community-obsessed man? He gave a hint in one of his essays that appeared online after Deer Hunting. “Often at my speaking engagements or readings, I see one or more of them in the audience,” he wrote, “long gray hair, loose-fitting, sensible, well-worn clothing, soft eyes, and perhaps an herbal amulet around the neck or in the hair. . . . Immediately after the reading or talk or whatever, I seek them out if at all possible (press agents sometimes screw this up). Always there is the big smile and the hug.
“And we are again brothers and sisters, as we used to sincerely address each other on the street. And again I have been granted the gift, that brief spark of unquestioned mutual love and goodwill in a darkening time.”