Along the Tracks

Friday, July 26, 2002

Unemployed South Dakotan lumberjacks: Good News!

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat, of South Dakota slipped in a little amendment on a piece of legislation exempting his state from environmental regulations and court action so forest experts can thin out trees and avoid forest fires.
Two questions:
1) Won’t this interfere with the mule deer herd, just like drilling on 200 acres of multi-million-acre ANWAR would interfere with caribou breeding?
2) Does South Dakota have forests?

(0) comments
Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Weighing lives

It’s difficult not to feel at least discomfort at the huge civilian casualty toll in Israel’s successful attack on a Hamas leader. Everyone was quick to criticize in the media, of course, and even the Bush administration “deplored” the missile strike.

But we can only be honest in our moral indignation if we search our hearts and can say we would not have done the same thing. A comparable scenario might help.

Imagine the U.S. government has just received excellent intelligence on the exact location of Osama bin Laden. He is holed up with his family right under our noses in Afghanistan, inside a village near Kandahar. Unfortunately, the village is very pro-Taliban, it is located in a remote, mountainous area, and any sneak attack by ground is doomed to failure. Bombing is the only choice. The densely-packed stone houses in the village would require a rather powerful bomb to be certain of success. That, of course, would entail many civilian casualties - certainly dozens. Do we bomb?

Let’s carry it one step further, and say President Bush decides not to bomb, hoping to keep a close tab on the village and catch Osama escaping at some point. Another big terror attack hits our shores, killing hundreds, and low and behold, an Osama videotape is released shortly thereafter claiming he ordered the attack.

Now did we do the right thing?

It is true, we must make tough choices in any war, and at times that may mean putting ourselves at greater risk to protect civilians in enemy lands. But we also must never forget, terrorists and thugs who hide behind their families and other innocents are the ones putting those lives in jeopardy, not us. They are using those lives with no more regard for their value than the terrorists have for a bunker or cave. The fact we avoid attacking in situations where civilians will be killed says a lot about us; the fact the terrorists hide beneath the beds of their own children says a lot about them.

Total victory

The Israelis are also being accused of seeking to wage “total war” against the Palestinians and achieve “total victory.” What all these apologists refuse to face up to is the fact that the Palestinians have initiated “total war” by directly targeting civilians at a time (the beginning of the intifada) when violence was well in check and Palestinians were on the verge of getting the state they claim to seek.

I don’t buy the “total war” argument, but I find a dark humor in the fact that those who initiated such an engagement now want to make it appear the Israelis are somehow escalating the conflict.

(0) comments
Friday, July 19, 2002

Noonan’s Friday toe-tapper

Peggy Noonan’s perfect Friday column is a country song turned New York essay. It is self-indulgent without being self-important; it is creative in a most average way (”resaw”? You have to smile.); it’s title describes how it works on a mechanical level - unconsciously.

Just like a country song, you say to yourself as it begins, “This really isn’t my style.” The next thing you know, you’re three-quarters of the way through, nodding along and tapping your feet.

And it hits on all (okay, most, with apologies to David Allen Coe) the great country themes, with simple pleasures, travel, friendship, babies and yes, heartache. There is also honor, and hope.

Peggy Noonan is the Friday columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and this one proves she knows her craft.

(0) comments
Friday, July 12, 2002

Americans can come home to country

I've gotten lots of great comments from my Bryan Times piece last week about country music and patriotism. That column was actually an abbreviated version of the column. So, special for my on-line readers, here it is in full:

Country music wears patriotism on its sleeve

“Where were you when the world stopped turning,
On that September day?”

The question comes instinctively when a major crisis strikes America: “Where were you when ...?” For Baby Boomers, it was the JFK assassination; for Gen Xers, the shuttle Columbia disaster. Now we all share September 11.

While the question attempts to personalize reaction to tragedy, it is also fascinating to note where American culture at large was on September 11. Movie theater seats were packed by the action-comedy sequel Rush Hour 2. On television, Tony Soprano and family were all the talk. Sports was abuzz over the potential return of Michael Jordan to the basketball court.

In popular music, Destiny’s Child and Jennifer Lopez dominated Top 40 radio, Tool and Staind kept the head-bangers happy, and Ja Rule was ruling hip-hop. When the planes hit the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, musicians and radio programmers across formats jumped to patriotic mobilization through re-released anthems, new medleys and even a few originals. Songs of hearth and home, compassion and courage took on new meaning and new chart strength.

Meanwhile, over on the country side of the dial, the song already topping playlists when the crisis came was “Only in America.” Such is the deep relationship between country music and the country from which it grew.

At one time, all American popular music had similar patriotic roots. Blues, jazz, swing, folk, bluegrass and traditional country and western danced across a variety of sometimes conventional, sometimes provocative themes, but the floor was a basic belief in the morality and opportunity of America. In war and peace, popular artists crooned for the troops overseas and families at home, offering inspiration (“God Bless America” by Kate Smith), pride touched with humor (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrews Sisters) and populist patriotism (“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie). At first, rock and roll maintained this heritage from its forbearers (Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA” is but one example). But in the 1960s, revolution came.

The British Invasion changed the nature of popular music in a fundamental way: The performers were no longer all Americans. Our “special relationship” with the UK not withstanding, artists from Great Britain came from a different philosophical and cultural background. Their freedoms were different (and limited). Their relationship with authority was different (less populism, more antagonism). And the American dream - rising from poverty to wealth through hard work - was foreign to them. Yet the energy and experimentation of artists like the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones was exciting and compelling; their philosophies and methods were devoured by young Americans and imitated by young American artists. The disconnection of the music from its cultural moorings has resulted in rock (and its offspring of pop, dance and hip-hop) drifting into themes of humanistic utopianism, political extremism and personal depravity.

While rock was transformed by British influences, other American musical forms remained largely unshaken. Jazz was already a domain of instrumental and vocal virtuosos. Soul had taken flight from the coupling of the spiritual beauty of black gospel music and the grit of the blues. Folk was (and is) almost defined by its populism. In a similar way, the blues’ focus was, by definition, personal.

Country was the most conservative of genres. The “white man’s blues,” like its brother, was born in old wooden shacks and raised in fields under the hot sun. Its themes were always life’s little joys and personal hardships; for every bit of pleasure, a bit of pain. But from the tales of Marty Robbins to the misery of Hank Williams, there was no doubt these were scenes from America.

And regularly, then and now, that foundation became the focus. Country music, unlike rock, prominently features artists whose subjects and views fall across the political spectrum, but universally stand on pride in America.

“Outlaw country” superstar Waylon Jennings praised racial unity and political forgiveness in “America.” Charlie Daniels exuded righteous anger and machismo with “In America.” Alabama sang a hymn to labor in “40-Hour Week.” In his version of Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans,” Willie Nelson - no conservative - puts the uplifting spirit of the American landscape to music. More recently, Garth Brooks has invoked the language of Martin Luther King Jr. in his ode to economic justice, “We Shall Be Free.”

And of course, the universal, unswerving patriotism of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is an undying crossover success.

Post-‘60s rock and pop are not without their moments (National Review contributor Bruce Bartlett wrote on rock’s patriotic hits in his syndicated works last fall). Neil Diamond’s “America” extols the virtues which draw immigrants to our shores. The bouncy energy of “Philadelphia Freedom” looks upon those virtues from the other side of the fence - or pond, in the case of the British Elton John.

More commonly, the specter of America in rock and pop music is negative, even dangerous. Despite it’s powerful chorus, Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is no homage; like many of the Boss’s songs, this one looks at the darker side of our society, the refrain mocking the value of citizenship. U2’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” depicts America as a faceless, fearful force tearing through Third World neighborhoods. In rap, America is a blur of crooked cops, racist officials, dilapidated neighborhoods and street justice, exemplified by Public Enemy’s “F___ the Police.”

So, when the attacks came, country music was the genre which had maintained its historical ties to the virtues of America and could most smoothly and convincingly evoke those virtues once again. “Only in America,” the Brooks & Dunn romp mentioned above, was joined, in a matter of weeks, by patriotic numbers which slipped seamlessly into radio playlists and onto albums. Aaron Tippin thumped his chest with “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly.” In “Riding with Private Malone,” David Ball paid quiet respect to a fallen member of the armed forces. “American Child” by Phil Vassar wove a tale of struggle and growth to personalize the American experience. Blackhawk’s “Days of America” honored the determination of the American spirit. Toby Keith is providing bravado with “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”

But more than any artist - in country or any other format - Alan Jackson captured the complex cocktail of emotions all were feeling. “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning” provides vivid freeze-frames from life in America that day, certain to hit close to home for any listener. Perhaps most impressive, and most compelling, is the refrain, in which Jackson speaks for everyone who felt the sheer enormity of those events was too much to absorb:

“I’m just a singer of a simple song, I’m not a real political man,
I watch CNN, but I don’t think I could tell you,
The difference in Iraq and Iran.”

Jackson then does something which, frankly, one would never hear in a modern pop or rock song. He places it all at the feet of his Maker, and declares it is his faith in God which will carry him - and all of us - through:

“But I know Jesus, and I talk to God,
And I remember this from when I was young,
‘Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us,
But the greatest is love.’”

The statement, a direct quote from Paul’s epistle to the Romans, offers comfort and assurance through religion - a most American theme, although little noted in 21st century pop culture. Jackson’s Everyman persona - like country music’s larger setting - comes to the fore in his simple tributes to ideals with which Americans in “flyover country” can readily identify: Hard work, family and faith.
It is no coincidence country was ready with music to soothe and strengthen American souls when the attacks came. In future moments of triumph or loss, Americans can rest assure their country will be ready for them.

(0) comments

‘Deserving cause’ isn’t the cause

The Jerusalem Post has an interesting debate between its editorial columnist Bret Stephens and The Economist foreign editor Peter David. Last week, Stephens blasted The Economist for what he and many others see as anti-Israel and borderline anti-Semitic slants in Middle East coverage. David responds today with a defense. The Economist does seem callous in some of its statements, but what really caught my attention, both in Friday’s original Stephens piece and today’s defense by David, was the statement that Palestinian suicide bombers put their terror “to a deserving cause.” Setting aside whether you believe any cause ever justifies or even complicates the moral equation in terrorism, I’d like to consider what this “deserving cause” really is. The Economist - and indeed most in the media - make the assumption, with no explanation or argument, that the terror’s goal is the creation of a Palestinian state, or at a minimum, an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Yet, while this may be the goal (and even a worthy goal) of many of the Palestinian people, is clearly not the “cause” which energizes the terrorists. Their activity prolongs and intensifies the occupation, pushing statehood ever farther into the future. No their real cause is the elimination of Israel. That is why the creation of a state of Palestine without first eliminating the terrorist groups will do nothing to stop the violence against Israel, and may very well increase it.

The terrorists want to destroy Israel. That is their “cause.” They quite plainly admit it, in their own words. Why does the media continue to propagate this bald-faced lie that the terrorists’ “cause” is a deserving one?

(0) comments
Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Suggestions for the Fourth of July

Pardners, you get to a certain point where all the whinin’ and whimperin’, the snide comments and snooty looks, overfill the hopper. First we got the body blow of the terrorist attacks, and all the “you asked for it”s and “told you so”s that followed from the wacky liberals and media geniuses. But as the months piled up, it didn’t get any better. It’s gotten worse: Supposedly American students chanting “Death to the Jews!” at pro-Israel rallies; cavity-searched grannies to avoid the appearance of profiling; European indignation at American opposition to treaties with the express purpose of damaging America and its institutions; scolding by Arab dictators and their mouthpieces over our lack of compassion for their suicide bombers. It’s enough to kill the spirit of the average person.

Fortunately, Americans aren’t average.

That’s why our country is the only one outside of Israel that has large pro-Israel rallies that include Christians, Jews and even Moslems. That’s why our grannies take the searches in stride, and still sneak by the occasional knitting needle so they can show any would-be terrorist back to his seat. That’s why our economy is so dominant the greedy try to chain it. That’s why our country is the only one out keeping the peace by putting our own boys on the line. That’s why we don’t give in to “moral equivalence” between a democracy defending itself and killers blowing up babies.

Osama bin Laden may put out another video, Europe may condemn our objection to the International Criminal Court, some California nutcase may convince a court the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional and Peter Jennings may even keep Toby Keith out of a Fourth of July celebration. But America is still America, and Americans are still Americans. So let me suggest these fine American ways to celebrate Independence Day:

1. Drive your SUV around the block, then leave it running in your driveway for five minutes - just because you can.

2. Make little paper cutout figures named “Osama,” “Saddam” and “Yasser,” tape firecrackers to their backs, then light ‘em up.

3. Leave your TV off during the Canuck Jennings’ ABC special. Instead, turn your stereo speakers to the back windows and blast “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” at least five times.

4. Find some KKK goon and tell him his slip is showing.

5. Cook a pack of Hebrew National hotdogs. Eat two when one would have sufficed.

6. Use extra lighter fluid on your charcoal to get the Arabs a little closer to the end of their oil.

7. Find a group of leftist college students, point at them and start screaming “HATE CRIME! HATE CRIME! HATE CRIME!”

8. Seek out a veteran and thank him.

9. Go to your room alone, close your door, kneel before your God and pray for your country.


(0) comments