Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Meeting T-Model Ford

Gritty distortion lingers in the speakers as James Louis Carter Ford politely nods at his cheering fans and briefly puts his guitar in his lap. He produces a flask from his jacket pocket and unscrews the lid.

"What time is it, T?" Asks someone in the audience.

The 89-year-old takes a swig and bares his teeth.

"It's Jack Daniels time!"

The audience laughs and cheers even louder.

T-Model Ford was one of the reasons I was so excited to move to Jackson, Mississippi. I was first introduced to his music while playing in a Blues band in Kentucky when I was in college. The first song of his I heard was called "I'm Insane," where he crows over a guttural guitar riff about how he's been to jail and how his wife, Stella, better not let him catch her messing around. The lyrics are hilarious, but also raw and gritty. We played the song over and over and laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Since then, I've been a huge T-Model fan and he's earned his place on my list of all-time favorite Blues musicians.

After I moved to Jackson, I fantasized about getting to meet T-Model one day. He's from Forest, and I'm a sucker for Delta Blues, so I had it in my mind that I'd track him down at a local Blues festival one day a few months down the road, or whenever he came around to the area.

That was until I casually opened an issue of the Jackson Free Press, and saw his name in bold letters. He was playing on Saturday the 17th at the Ridgeland festival, just a few days away! I wrote it down in my planner and made sure not to miss it.

Saturday was a cold day in Ridgeland; folks were clad in barn coats and hats, and hot chocolate was selling by the ladleful at a local storefront. I rushed around, asking passers by if they knew when T-Model was playing. Most of them shrugged and said they didn't know, but one pointed me in the direction of a festival organizer named Ron Blaylock, who owned a recording studio in town.

"Hey, T-Model hasn't played yet, has he?" I asked frantically.

"No, he doesn't play until 6:45. I don't imagine he'll be here until 5:30 or so. But he'll be by the stage, so just go on and grab him if you see him," Blaylock told me.

After polishing off a heaping pile of ribs from the Parker House people and an Oktoberfest-style beer tasting, I wandered back over to the stage and started up a conversation with the singer of the Common Ground Blues Band, who had just performed. After some conversation about the Jackson Blues scene, I asked him about T-Model.

"T-Model? He's over in that white car over there."

I looked over and saw an old, beat-up Buick idled by the stage. Curiously, I walked around to the passenger's side to get a look at who was in the car. An wizened old black man rolled down his window and flashed a hospitable smile.

"Hey boy, how do?" T-Model Ford extended his hand, and I shook it, unable to suppress a Cheshire Cat grin from spreading across my face.

I told T-Model who I was, that I was a big fan, and that he was the main reason I drove to Ridgeland that day. I asked his driver and bass player, Eric Deaton, if I could interview him after his set.

"Well, we're actually looking to get out of here real soon after the show. But we can do it now, if you like."

"Great! Is there a place we could go that's a little quieter?" I inquired. We were right next to the stage, and Gary Pfaff & the Heartwells were in the middle of their set.

"Actually, since its really cold out here, could we just do the thing in the car here so T can keep his hands warm?" I readily agreed, and helped Eric unload an amp and a mic stand from the back seat. I climbed inside and turned on my recorder to capture living Blues history.

Describing the octogenarian bluesman as a colorful character would be equivalent to describing the Gulf of Mexico as damp. He's living proof that anyone can learn a musical instrument, no matter their age or condition.

"I can't read, I can't write, I can't spell my real name." Ford said. "I didn't put my hand on a guitar until I was 58 years old."

Since that age, Ford said his biggest influences have always been Delta Blues greats Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, whom he had been listening to since his teenage years. T-Model still remembers the first song he ever played.

"It was 'How many more years baby you gonna dog me around.' (Howlin' Wolf) And that's what I come out playin' when I picked up a guitar and caught myself tryin' to play," Ford said.

Bassist Eric Deaton has known T-Model for several years. While they don't turn on the radio much on long road trips, he said Ford will always listen to old Delta Blues recordings.

"Anytime we get on the road, T always asks me to put in a Muddy Waters CD," Deaton said.

Before his days as a Blues guitarist, the Forest native lived a life that would make Ernest Hemingway blush. He was once sentenced to ten years on a chain gang for murder, although he only ended up serving two.

"I was the devil when I was a younger man," T-Model said. "I was the type of man who'd walk up to you, laugh at you, and knock the hell outta you."

Ford said his roughest days were more than 30 years ago, when he first started playing out. He recalled a story from playing a club in Greenville, Mississippi.

"I slapped a man, he was six foot tall, workin' for the city. He snatched a cigarette outta my mouth," Ford said. "I took my strap off, set my guitar down...he pulled a pistol out. When he pulled that pistol, I slapped him...Blood went everywhere. He bawled, I looked down, kicked him all upside the head. He didn't get up...I heard he had a stroke after that. I don't think he ever came back to Greenville...I didn't feel sorry for him."

T-Model Ford described his reputation as a "sure enough dangerous man."

"I didn't let nobody whoop me. I didn't argue with you. Like I tell you, me and you get in an argument...I'll done hit you before you know it. I didn't care how big you were...ain't nobody ever whooped me before. Even in the shape I'm in, I don't think anybody could whoop me now."

Nowadays, T-Model is a devout Christian. He said he turned his life around after he was nearly crushed inside of his car.

"A tree fell on me, and the good lord is takin' care of me, cause that tree laid on me thirty minutes before they got it off of me," Ford said. "It broke my arm, broke my hands. I believe it broke my legs, but the doctor said it didn't."

"The good lord kept me livin. So now, I ain't got no dirt in me. I like the white peoples now."

Ford says even in his late eighties, he feels just as spry as he did when he was twenty. He attributes that to his life as a traveling Bluesman.

"I feel just as good as I ever felt in my life right now," he said. "I don't be sick, neither. Anytime anybody calls me to go, I'm ready. I don't turn down nothin'."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way- A speech I'd like to deliver to Republicans in Congress

That's the only advice I can give to the conservative right at this point. Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Conservatives have proven for the last 8 years that they are incapable of leading the nation in the direction we need to go. Bull-headed unilateral war efforts on two fronts blew a hole in our budget, and neither nation has any real direction at this point, nor is there any clear way to progress. Republican leadership ensured that Afghanistan and Iraq will be war-torn, desperate nations for decades to come. And they have assured the rest of the Middle East that the United States isn't interested in bringing them peace and prosperity, but death and poverty.

Congressional leadership on the Republican side has shown where the right's priorities lie. They aren't interested in helping the president restore America to greatness, only heckling him during his address to the nation. They've shown their true feelings about domestic violence and bigotry against homosexuals. They have made it clear to us that they put the interests of multinational corporations before the interests of gang rape victims.

Their foreign policy, aside from the "shoot now and ask questions later, because they're probably all terrorists anyway" attitude has consisted of encouraging our allies not to trust us.

On education, they've shown that they prefer instilling our kids with religious dogma and blind nationalism instead of teaching them actual science, history and literature. Apparently they care little that American children of the future will have few skills to offer when it comes time for them to enter the career world.

They've shown that they still hold dear the backwards social traditionalism that we've worked so hard to move away from in the last century. Republicans have also been working so hard to please the Christian Right that they introduced legislation that would make the Bible the word of God for all Americans, despite that going completely against something our founding fathers held most dear.

House Republican leaders have shown Americans that they aim to bully women into accepting their elitist, jingoistic social agenda with fear and deception. They've made clear their feelings about equating anything they don't personally agree with to Socialism, even though the association of such concepts is nonsensical.

Instead of helping the elected leader of our nation work to fix the messes we're in, elected Republican officials have shown that they would rather spend their time insulting the President's wife. They've openly made statements to the press that reek of racism. They've been relying entirely on fear to force their regressive agenda upon us, and even focusing their fear tactics on veterans and parents of disabled children.

Congressional Republicans believe gay equality is allowing homosexuals to exist. They endorse attacks on everything humankind has achieved in science. Their attitude to helping the poor is to encourage them to stop breeding. They see hunger as a non-issue, instead telling us that it can be a great motivator.

Health reform has met Republican obstacle after obstacle since the FDR administration. While our president encourages bipartisanship, and while Democrats have repeatedly made costly compromises to get the support of the right, Republicans continue to offer a resounding "NO" to any measure put forth in fixing our broken health care system.

Neocon hero Rush Limbaugh epitomizes today's conservatives; rooting for our country's failure from his comfy seat and golden microphone. Likewise, conservatives have yet to offer any ideas of their own in solving any of the many crises--domestic and international-- we face today. As President Obama has said, this is equivalent to watching someone mop up a person's mess, and that person sitting on the sidelines instead of grabbing a mop and helping to clean up.

Congressional conservatives, I have only this to say to you now; if you can't lead and refuse to follow, then get out of the way. Let the people who actually care about helping America do their job.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Senate Republicans: Gang Rape is Okay, but Fake ACORN Prostitution Crosses the Line!

So how does everyone here feel about gang rape? Its bad, right? If you agree with me there, I think we'll probably see eye to eye. (And if not, 4chan is right over there.)

Well, apparently there are 30 republicans in the senate who don't see things the way we do. Yes, 30 people voted to support rapists. Yes, they were all republicans. And yes, all of them were men. Let me backtrack.

Four years ago, a Halliburton employee named Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged and gang raped by her coworkers. They locked her in a cell for 24 hours without food or water, and told her if she looked for help after the rape, she'd be fired. However, she wasn't allowed to sue her employer because fine print in her contract forbade her to take legal action against her company, even if she was raped.

Basically, if Halliburton employees under government contract rape someone on the job, they can't be prosecuted.

Halliburton is a defense contractor with a long history of dealing with the US government. So obviously, the government needs to stop doing business with companies who support rapists, yes? So, Al Franken, our newest senator, decided to write an amendment that would do just that. It passed 68-30. Amongst the 68 who supported anti-rape legislation were 10 republicans, each of whom deserve a pat on the back for true bipartisan progress. However, 30 white republican men didn't think the government should have any say in how a government-employed contractor does government business.

"The congress should not be involved in writing or re-writing private contracts. That's just not how we should handle matters in the United States Senate.
-Jeff Sessions, R-ALA

That's right! No government meddling in private organizations that receive government funding!

Well, unless its two people pretending to be a pimp and a prostitute in an ACORN office. Then its totally okay for the government to meddle! Just ask the man who voted for rape from Nebraska, who's behind shutting off ACORN funding-

"This is an organization that just continues to dig itself into a deeper and deeper hole. This group needs to be defunded and investigated."
-Mike Johanns, R-N

You tell 'em, Mike. Any organization that gives advice on tax evasion to a make-believe pimp needs to have all their money taken away, because that's lightyears worse than gang rape!

And Johanns knows what constitutes good business and bad business. That's why he voted to take the side of rapists by saying no to Franken's amendment, and then went and wrote the "Protect Taxpayers from ACORN" act. Taxpayers need to be protected from those community organizers!

Now if a taxpayer is raped by oil company employees? Well, she should've just read the contract before signing. We can't be telling rapists how to do their job or anything. They NEED that government money, right GOP?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

What Appalachia Can Learn from Afghanistan

I was prompted to write this after seeing the Kentucky premiere of the documentary "Coal Country" in Lexington last night. Even after covering Dave Cooper's Mountaintop Removal Road Show a few years back and doing several reports on energy and the economy, I was still privy to many touching stories and experiences I had yet to hear up to that point. I suggest seeing it whenever you can to learn more about this issue.

Coal Keeps the Lights On
We've all seen that bumper sticker around Kentucky, haven't we? Or West Virginia, or Alabama, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the rest of Appalachia? That's because Big Coal is on a very costly PR campaign to win back public opinion after those nasty "fact" things came back to bite them.

Next to wood, coal is the oldest source of energy humans have used. Since the mid-18th century, we've been burning coal to power our homes and workplaces across the globe. Even today, coal continues to be a staple of Earth's energy. Here in Kentucky, for example, 93% of our energy is coal-powered. The figures are higher in West Virginia and Indiana, but Kentucky ranks a solid #3. Coincidentally, these states are also the places where power is most affordable.

Likewise, looking at that same chart, we see that coal only keeps 14% of the lights on in New York. They also have power costs of up to 15 cents per kilowatt hour (KWH), compared to Kentucky's five cents per KWH. The facts don't lie; coal does keep the lights on, and its less of a burden on our wallet than any other source.

But there's a slight problem; coal is past its peak. Way past. Even with new developments in technology, and the inception of evil practices like Mountaintop Removal Mining that yield the most gain for the least work, we have yet to mine as much coal as we did in 1990. 20 years of advancement, but we're still well past the peak, try as we might to deny it. Coal is almost gone. So what are we to do?

The True Cost of Coal
While we have more advanced fossil fuel sources like oil, even that's close to peaking. And, like oil, the price we pay as consumers is not the true cost of using that fuel. The CBO released a 2006 study that stated the true cost of fuel is around $12 a gallon through taxes, not at gas stations. Basically, if we pay $2.50 a gallon at the pump, we still pay around $9.50 per gallon to fund diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, and to prop up dictatorships like the Saud family so OPEC can sell us cheap oil.

Coal is the same way. When we take into account the destruction and havoc wreaked upon the landscape, reclamation efforts and the surrounding communities' tainted water supplies and depreciation of homes, the true cost of using coal is really much higher than 5 cents per KWH.

So at this point, you might be wondering why I brought Afghanistan into this?

In Afghanistan, Opium Keeps the Lights On
70% of the world's Opium is grown in Afghanistan. For those of you unaware, Opium, extracted from the poppy plant, is the main ingredient in heroin, one of the world's most deadly and addictive narcotics. While it would be nice to torch all of the poppy fields in Afghanistan, that would effectively destroy Afghanistan's economy. As horrible of a drug as Opium is, people in Afghanistan must grow it and sell it, or they can't put food on the table. Their kids will starve without Opium.

Opium is to Afghanistan what Coal is to Appalachia. The consequences of using it are monstrous and destructive, but ceasing production altogether would also render most of the population unemployed. Coal poisons water supplies, covers homes in coal dust and has negative long-term health effects to those exposed to it, but that doesn't stop it from being the only job in the area other than fast food. Would you rather make money and have cancer, or be broke and healthy? That's the conundrum.

The Coal Side of the Economic Crisis
What is a conundrum for everyday Appalachians is a blessing for the coal industry. Coal mining companies like Massey Energy like it that way; when people depend on them for their livelihood, they can treat the environment and their workers however they see fit. Just as the Taliban keep their poppy fields healthy; when the people depend on you for paychecks that pay for food and shelter, they are powerless to fight.

This is why coal is such a touchy and divisive issue for Appalachians; the wedge is created when environmentalists and families with traditions of coal mining dating back several generations clash. When the environmental topic has been discussed, both sides usually stalemate when it comes to jobs. Sure, maybe coal is bad for the environment, but it keeps people working. However, this talking point is void when we take into account the practice of Mountaintop Removal Mining.

MTR mining is when the tops of mountains are blasted off, and coal deposits are scooped up while the waste is dumped into nearby streams and rivers. Because mining has peaked long ago, and underground mining is far too dangerous and costly, most companies find this practice yields the most coal with the least work. Coal companies can make more money this way while simultaneously hiring less workers.

This is why there are considerably less coal miners today than there were several years ago. People are losing jobs in coal mining, but it has much more to do with greedy profiteering and wolfish capitalism than with environmental concern.

So, we're still at an impasse. What's the solution to all of this? Is it simply breathe coal dust and work while coal rapes the planet or work in fast food? Or is there another solution?

Land Ownership: The Real Solution
Right now, coal mining is allowed to go on full speed ahead, because the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) can stake out any land they deem to be potentially productive for coal extraction. There are still dozens upon dozens of permits for the ACE, allowing them thousands of acres of land to reserve for future coal mining endeavors. So, the solution is land development.

Think about it logically; if there are only jobs in coal mining or fast food, and if coal mining is destructive and fast food not profitable, then why not use all of that undeveloped land to bring in new industries and jobs? Maybe some of those acres reserved for the ACE can be instead reserved to build a university. There'd be numerous construction jobs, teaching jobs and other staff jobs for people to just pick up and start earning money. Or maybe a hospital, to bring proper medical care to the people who have had their health jeopardized by years of exposure to coal dust and slurry.

The same solution for Appalachia can be the same solution for Afghanistan. The fight there can be won by using all of the land cultivated for poppies to grow something else that's useful and beneficial for the people growing it. Instead of harvesting heroin, people could grow soybeans or wheat for food. Or they could grow industrial hemp for fabrics and paper. And as the Taliban would lose the money they make from Opium sales, Afghanistan's people would gain back their health and livelihoods. Just as Massey would be denied permits from the ACE because of clean water regulation, that land could be developed for things like education, health care and other non-extractive industries.

Instead of agonizing over symptoms, its time we shift our focus to the problem, and all get to work on making this world a better, safer, healthier place to live.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ice, Mud and Blood- Climatologist Chris Turney

Hey readers! Just wanted to pass along a heads up that The Faux Radio Show will be addressing the climate change issue on Thursday night. Its a segment recorded from the IdeaFestival in late September, and I'm speaking with Chris Turney, a professor from the University of Exeter in the UK. He draws upon centuries-old research about carbon capture and how it affects the environment and the atmosphere in the long term. He also has a book, "Ice, Mud and Blood," that discusses the issues in-depth.

If global warming/climate change is a big issue for you, make sure you tune in or check out the archive afterward! The show airs at 10:30 PM EST/9:30 PM CST.