Saturday, May 28, 2011

Some Thoughts On Gil Scott-Heron

Late December of 1975, comedian Richard Pryor landed on television as host of the new show "Saturday Night Live" and producers wisely brought in musician Gil Scott-Heron to be the guest musician for that episode. Pryor and Scott-Heron were mighty dangerous men in the mid-70s for television, whether it was late night or not.

I learned many years afterwards that for the first time, NBC put a delay of seven seconds on their broadcast as the execs were just plain scared of what Pryor might say or do - but he was pretty well behaved. And as much as Pryor made me laugh, it was Gil Scott-Heron who really grabbed my attention that night. He died yesterday at the age of 62, but I've never forgotten his unique musical mix of jazz and funk and poetry. He was a true original, hailed in recent years as one of the artists who created hop-hop music.

Being a wee young white boy in middle Tennessee in that long-ago time of 1975, there just wasn't much exposure to non-white culture. I think it was that same December that I received as a Christmas gift the Richard Pryor comedy album "Was It Something I Said?" Naive wee white boy me, I slipped the record onto the family console stereo that Christmas morning and nearly broke the record and the record player a few seconds later trying to stop the record as fast as I could, since Pryor's 'f-bombs' pummeled the room like live artillery fire.

Much later that night, alone in my room, I laughed so hard listening to the record. But it was sometime during that month of December I bought Gil Scott-Heron's album "First Minute of A New Day". It had to be that month, as my normal music outlets in my small town would never, ever, ever have stocked that record - the music outlets available in that long-ago time were a few bins of records to be found in two grocery stores in town, which usually were stocking Jim Nabors and Johnny Cash as 'cutting edge' music. So it must have been on a Christmas shopping spree in nearby (well a 200 mile round trip for the family) Nashville. A new fancy thing called a "mall" had opened recently there and they had honest-to-pete stores which sold nothing but records.

I still own that copy of "First Minute of a New Day" although for much of my youth in Tennessee, it stayed one of those I played alone, in my room, when no one else was around, like Pryor's record. I'm pretty sure I was the only person with either a Scott-Heron or Pryor record in about a 50-mile radius. But his music left giant impressions on so many others for years to come. Kanye West and Eminem, among many others, have been holding him in high esteem for years.

Political, satiric, jazzy, funky, and very personal, his words and songs have stayed with me over the years too. The last 10 years saw many hard times - jail for drug possession and in and out of treatment programs, he seemed to be just emerging again with last year's release of his first studio album in 16 years, "I'm New Here". And reading of his life today, I learned he spend a few years as a kid living in Jackson, Tennessee. I'd bet there isn't much note of in Jackson, sadly.

But now he's gone and if you've never heard him, I hope you'll take a few minutes and listen to some of the songs from "First Minute of a New Day" offered below (maybe hit YouTube for another one from that album called "Pardon My Analysis (We Beg Your Pardon)" which is a spoken-word piece about Richard Nixon, some very funny stuff).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Exploding Watermelons and other Dangerous Food

Watermelons turning into explosive shrapnel is the kind of story that grabs your attention.

The report said the farmers sprayed the fruit too late in the season and during wet conditions, which caused the melons to explode like "landmines". After losing three hectares (eight acres), Liu said he was unable to sleep because he could not shake the image of the fruit bursting. "On 7 May, I came out and counted 80 [burst watermelons] but by the afternoon it was 100," he said. "Two days later I didn't bother to count any more." About 20 farmers and 45 hectares around Danyang were affected. The fruit could not be sold and was instead fed to fish and pigs."

Worse, far worse, is this section of the report on China's food production in the story:

It follows discoveries of the heavy metal cadmium in rice, toxic melamine in milk, arsenic in soy sauce, bleach in mushrooms, and the detergent borax in pork, added to make it resemble beef."

A Note On Blogging This Week

It has been difficult for me to post something since I last did one on Tuesday - that was/is such an ugly, brutal reality emerging as a commonplace reality across the South ... what can one say after such a grim and despondent tone which occurs when the bottom has been struck so completely?

I also left it at the top of my page as it seems to demand our attention - but it isn't a news story which has received much play in the state's media. Perhaps everyone else is mute as I am just because, really, what can you say about such a dire aspect of life in America in the 21st century?

Consider this post, then, as a sort of buffer, for readers and for myself. I'd like to think the TBI's report is being closely examined by state and local officials, that they are talking about how to approach this problem and cut it out of our society. I'd like to think such conversations are taking place. The lives of so many depend on those conversations and decisions to be made.

Also, I have numerous projects in the non-digital world right now up and running, which I want to write about some too, projects which I hope can counter the bad with some good. Time will tell.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sex Slavery In Nearly Every County In Tennessee, Says TBI

Sex Slavery By County in Tennessee, Minors and Adults

The above image is from last week's special report from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation on Human Sex Trafficking in the state and how it impacts children and adults, and how widespread this brutal practice has become.

The TBI Director Mark Gwyn says in his opening comments on this report (full online PDF here):

"The results of the study are shocking. Human trafficking and sex slavery in Tennessee is more common than previously believed possible. Focused specifically on victims between the ages of nine and seventeen, the study pulled together details that found children are moved from city to city in the state and sold as prostitutes. Tennessee, simply because of its geographical position to Atlanta and the large number of interstates that cross the state, is conducive to a traveling business.

Many times those promoting prostitution transport the child victims to large entertainment events or sporting venues where people are traveling through or visiting the state. These visitors, often referred to as ‘sex tourists’, quite often become the clients.

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children reports that one in four children who run away from home are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of running away. The average age of a sex trafficking victim is 13.

Trafficking victims rarely come forward to ask for help on their own because they are drugged, brainwashed, threatened and beaten into believing authorities will abuse them worse than their captors. Many times victims are arrested for crimes they are forced to commit. Inherently, cases against the traffickers are difficult for law enforcement to investigate and a challenge to prosecute."

85 percent of the counties in this state have had reports on this cruel sexual slavery. Just a few weeks ago, a large multi-state slavery ring, operating two brothels in Hamblen County, was busted by the TBI and local law enforcement.

WBIR has a report here, including information from Christi Wigel, president of the Community Coalition against Human Trafficking in Knoxville.

Last week, the state legislature attempted to toughen the penalties and consequences for those who promote or participate and are forced to participate in this slavery. Sadly, the Senate added some changes that simply fall short of what's needed:

"This amendment also replaces the provisions of this bill that would make a minor who is charged with prostitution subject to the protective custody of the department of children's services as a possible victim of child sexual abuse. This amendment instead requires that a law enforcement officer who takes a person under 18 years of age into custody on suspicion of having committed prostitution, upon determination that the person is a minor, provide the minor with the telephone number for the national human trafficking resource center hotline and release the minor to the custody of a parent or legal guardian."

Hopefully, in the weeks ahead, local and state law enforcement will convince the state and the rest of us living in Tennessee to give them the tools they need to stop and prosecute these vermin and to provide real help to the minors trapped in Hell.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thank The State Lawmakers For Ending Session Early

It's far too beautiful a day to talk too much politics, but I did want to share a few thoughts about the current session of the TN Legislature which has now ended. First, thank the Good Lord they stopped before they made things any worse than they already did.

Corporations got excellent representation and more rights, the average citizen ... meh, not so much. Not a surprise since the so-called Tea Party Conservative Republicans were highly funded corporate puppets who pretended to be 'jes folks to voters.

I was happy myself to see an issue I wrote about often here, a proposal to reduce public notices of foreclosure, died as it should have. In the end, the state did alter the law by declaring just what specific information must be included about the property to be foreclosed, which will reduce the costs of running such ads. But realize too, the banks and their attorneys were the ones who took the original foreclosure law designation - "a brief description" of the property - and ramped it up to a very long and detailed document which cost already struggling homeowners more money.

In truth, however, I don't think the state backed off their plans because of concern about struggling homeowners. I think that once it became very clear that this law would also apply to commercial property too, then businesses quietly voiced their total opposition to such a plan.

And the concept of public notice is not and was not designed to be a "revenue stream" for newspapers. Public notices remain the only accountability in the foreclosure process. As I noted before, the vast majority of mortgages for homes and businesses, already include specific details on the number of public notices required prior to a foreclosure process. Public notices in general remain under attack in the legislature - and it will now cost much much more for anyone to even request and receive public documents.

It's sad how the public has to pay and pay and pay for the duties elected and appointed officials are already supposed to do.

R. Neal at KnoxViews makes some great points today too about what this session of lawmakers have done:

Us commie liberal bloggers tried to warn you, but voters were fooled anyway by Republican talk of jobs and improving our state's economy. Instead, they got a fantasy smorgasbord of conservative social engineering:

• Tort "reform," taking away your right to seek just compensation for injury or death due to negligence. (They say this is a "jobs" bill. Do we really want employers lured to the state just so they can avoid responsibility for their actions?)

• Made it harder for employees to seek compensation for workplace injuries. Will also allow employers to present uncorroborated, made up evidence when denying unemployment claims.

• Attacks on public education and teachers. Your tax dollars will fund private schools run by drive-by dilettantes for wealthy families, while hard-working teachers and professional educators are shut out of the discussion and subjected to greater political pressure and special interest influence to keep their jobs.

• Authorized contractors to discriminate against gay people when doing business with local governments. Set the stage for banning education about homosexuality in schools.

• Invoked the 10th Amendment to opt out of federal health care programs and regulation.

• Passed a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to take away a woman's right to make her own decisions about reproductive health. Bonus: it will get even more conservative fundamentalist voters to the polls during the next election when it appears on the ballot for voter approval.

• Enacted a meaningless "anti-terrorism" law aimed at persecuting Muslims.

• Attacked free and fair elections by banning voter verifiable voting machines. They also made it harder for the elderly, disabled and economically disadvantaged to vote while at the same time allowing corporations to now make campaign contributions.

Still, Tom Humphrey at the KNS points out a few items which were at least a little bit helpful in their $30 billion dollar budget:

--$71 million for disaster relief from recent storms and flooding.

--$45 million in funding for Higher Education capital projects.

--$20 million to allow lottery scholarships to be used during summer school.

--$16.5 million to issue bonds for the potential expansion of the Hemlock Semiconductor plant in Clarksville.

--$16 million in nursing home funding.

--$8.5 million to restore previously scheduled rate reductions to TennCare mental health providers.

--$33 million for TennCare services like labs, X-rays, dental and transportation.

But legislation is never simple, easy or direct. Go read Southern Beale's post and you'll see what I mean.

All of this, of course, masks the true agenda, which is to transfer power from the people to corporations.

Along those lines, this legislative session allowed corporations to donate directly to political campaigns and operate “virtual schools” (whatever the hell that is). We’ve exempted insurance agents and brokers from the TN Consumer Protection Act, and yes we’ve passed “tort reform” ....

Keep in mind, of course, that all of this pro-corporate stuff comes straight from the industry-funded ALEC, which has identical legislation in state legislatures all across the country. But if you want to still believe the fairytale that Tennessee legislators are rugged individualists who don’t take their marching orders from anyone, least of all Washington, D.C., well here’s a glass of Kool-Aid for you."

As much overblown, overtalked nonsense which tumbles out of our state legislature as they invoke this or that part of the state's constitution, I wish they would keep in mind the very first section - Article One, Declaration of Rights:

"Section 1. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness ...