Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

July 30, 2012

Counterfeit Reality

No one has a perfectly clear, objective view of the world. People believe goofy things because their leaders tell them to, because their language has its limitations, or because the best explanation they can come up with is still kind of goofy and wrong. Our very senses are kind of dim, compared to the full range of possible colors and sounds and smells in the universe (ultraviolet, subsonics, smelling the oxygen. There are shrimp that can see more colors than us). Yet, as a whole, most societies keep their sense of reality in tune to such a degree that life can go on, people can plant and harvest, be born, make love and be buried.

Lately I feel like we are off the rails, like a sit-com in its sixth season. The world as presented on the news, or as many of my dear friends understand it, looks like a sham, a bunch of props. People aren’t just buying into false myths here; they’re buying into a whole worldview built of deception. The world they think they live in is a counterfeit, an intentionally-built virtual reality. <sigh> Yes, it’s like the Matrix or Plato’s Cave.

Or maybe I’m psychotic. The little fake me inside me lives in this fake world, which is firmly centered on the United States of America. This guy believes in some impossible things, because he watches the television, goes to classes, reads media published by the six big companies, and is otherwise exposed to more information about the fake world than he absorbs from his own experience. He thinks that:

The Earth will never run out of resources. (Economies can grow without limit.)
Civilizations don’t decline or collapse anymore.
The serious threats to America are China and Islam. Or liberals, or conservatives, or atheists, or religious people.
There is a political spectrum from left to right, which encompasses all significant political thought.
Science is on the verge of finding keys to all the locks.
Democracy is working. The financial and political elites are working for us.

The Earth will never run out of resources.

Of course, people hem and haw about oil running out, or the rainforest being leveled. Yet, they behave as if these things are trivial concerns, as they keep on driving cars and buying tropical fruit from ex-rainforest plantations. (Well, me too. This is an area where my habits haven’t caught up with my thinking mind.) Most everyone still wishes for the economy to grow, fantasizing that it will someday run on sunlight harvested from deep space, simply free energy which exerts no effect on Earth’s systems. In the meantime, it’s mainly all about burning fossil fuels.

“We have to stop cutting down each others’ trees or no one will be able to build a canoe ever again,” said the least popular man on Easter Island.

Civilizations don’t decline or collapse anymore. The USSR was the last one to fall and now history is over.

Um, we don’t seem to respond to crisis any better than any of the fine examples of past collapse (Mayans, Greenland Vikings, British Empire, Rome…). Obama responded to a partial economic collapse with a stimulus package that his own advisors said was too small to work, which Congress then proceeded to whittle down. Republicans only continued to insist that the government should stand out of the way of corporations and super-rich people. Also, we have no response to Colony Collapse Disorder, the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico, oceanic garbage patches, rising asthma and allergies, or climate change.

We’re like that teenager, the target of public service announcements, who thinks that “HIV can’t happen to me.” We think that plague and famine are things of the past, and that war will never, ever touch our American borders again. It’s pretty overconfident, given that our history doesn’t go back so very far.

The serious threats to America are China and Islam. Or liberals, or conservatives, or atheists, or religious people.

So you must fight that enemy like you’re Captain America.

Please do not notice the financial rip-off artists and multinational corporations who drive the race to suck Earth dry. Are Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert the only people alive who realize that the rules of the global economy are slanted to channel money, control and physical wealth to a tiny elite, fucking over all the nations, recklessly endangering our common resources?

People understand that money rules politics, but they see it as “the other party is controlling things through money!” No, the people with money are controlling things through the two parties. If someone is a threat to us, it’s not this side or that side, but it could possibly be the people at the center who wield indirect yet inviolable control over all the rest of us (rigging LIBOR, high frequency or algorithmic trading, lobbying Congress and officials with retirement packages).

An expert panel on CNBC recently admitted that “we all work for the bankers now,” although the clip is unavailable on copyright pretext.

I don’t want to bash a banker. I just want them to stop strangling the world with debt. Maybe I’m wrong, and the center of power which projects the fake world onto our eyes is the miltary-industrial complex or something. I know it’s not Black people, or Republicans, or anyone who would live next door to little old me. This thing comes “from on high.”

There is a political spectrum from left to right, which encompasses all significant political thought.

Well, I identify as an anti-statist, someone who is against rulers, domination and exploitation. I can’t even exist according to the rules of counterfeit reality. Anarchists are neutralized in the newspaper with the label “self-proclaimed,” as if to be an anarchist is philosophically impossible. Anarchists are a notoriously unreliable voting bloc, too.

Both political parties mainly support pot prohibition, blowing off the Constitution, bailing out Wall Street, ignoring Wall Street’s crimes, growing the economy of global suicide, smashing alternative food and medicine, and engaging in endless war. Does that sound anything like your agenda?

Many people don’t line up behind the Democrats or Republicans, exactly. Some people, like Joe Lieberman, are are torn between towing the two party lines. Others support candidates from outside the two parties, such as Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Roseanne Barr or Vermin Supreme. Unfortunately, many who support third-party positions feel bullied into voting for Teams Red or Blue come election day. Most of those who see through the two parties would rather not engage with sham democracy, and do not exercise their power to vote.

The big story, for half of the years, is Democrat vs. Republican for President. As if the President is a Biblical patriarch who will lead us all to glory (or ruin,) depending on who wins the selection.

Science is on the verge of solving our problems.

We’ll use hemp and solar power. We’ll engineer an economy that can’t fail, and tweak the prison and education systems until they’re optimal. An NSA database will locate all the terrorists. Pheremone perfume will help me get laid.

Unfortunately, science is largely controlled by the monied powers that control other human institutions at this time. Establishment science gave us the Green Revolution, based on petrochemicals; a pack of Canadian Amish demonstrated that organic methods are superior over the decades (citation somewhere within Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver). A bunch of hippies contributed to the methods of urban homesteading and learned to apply permaculture principles in different climates; DDT and Agent Orange were products of well-funded corporate science. Science does not hands-down show us the right way to go about living.

My Dad used science to protect GM workers from chemical and biological hazards in the factory, so I have respect for the field. But how many false hopes do we put in to it, and how much has money twisted it up? Science can be used for progress, or its opposite. Science can hold up Mordor or build the Death Star, or help us get along and recycle more efficiently. It’s up to scientists and their patrons, including the public.

I suspect that Internet Q & A and DIY forums will eclipse science as a source of significant information about getting along in the world. I suspect that direct action will supplant representative democracy. But I may be a psychotic.

The financial and governmental elites are basically honest and concerned about us.

In Yemen, my eerily-similar Arab equivalent was recently blown away by a Hellfire missile. He had received no trial. He was visiting some new friends at a cottage when President Obama ordered a strike on the place, obliterating Yemeni Ethan in the blink of an eye. He was engulfed in flames before he knew what was coming.

The Obama Administration reports Yemeni Ethan as a combatant, based on the facts that 1) he is between the ages of 15 and 35, and 2) he was in an area targeted by a Hellfire missile. Score one for the team.

Yemeni Ethan debated the meaning of charity and Islam, whilst American Ethan debates the meaning of welfare and government. Yemeni Ethan chewed khat, American Ethan smokes pot. Am I supposed to believe that my government is going to treat me  with any more humanity than the guy in Yemen?

To speak to the financial side… corporations operating in America are basically sworn to serve their shareholders and only their shareholders, and they serve to limit liabilities and push costs on to others: their customers, workers and neighbors. They view killing me as a possible liability, if their team of lawyers should suck in court.

Screw the elite. Rant against them! If they can’t see reason, fuck ’em over! Don’t live a spectator to the news, but see: They don’t give a fuck about us!


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”




July 18, 2012

Food Stamps for Independence

Over 46 million Americans use food stamps (or SNAP or EBT, also called the Bridge Card in Michigan), or over 15% of us. I think that you could say that the program has grown beyond a “safety net” function and become “life support for the rest of the economy.”

And what is the nature of that food-stamp-dependent economy? It seeks to rip off the rest of the world à la the United Fruit company, and then redistribute some of the spoils according to a humane, human welfare model. How can we support multinational companies exploiting all of the people and resources of the world and yet stay comfortable and well fed at home? Equilibrium will be restored, by jobs leaving the country, immigrants sneaking in, or by the financial powers that be putting us in the austerity sights. An EBT that is basically helping its user buy into the corporate food chain is supporting not only fruit company plantation imperialism, but also Monsanto, and Monsanto’s biological weapons, beehive death, and the degradation of the world into sterile salt flats. On the other hand, an American family gets to eat for another month, which is no small thing.

Food stamps don’t have to support imperial trade practices or shitty farming. SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has a couple of neat wrinkles in it that promote independence, particularly independence from the abusive corporate food chain. Firstly, food stamps can be used to buy fruit and vegetable seeds wherever they are accepted (as at a grocery store with a rack of seeds). Secondly, Michigan residents can receive bonus tokens for spending their Bridge Card money at various local produce markets. It’s as if someone has been listening to Michelle Obama.

Food stamps could buy seeds since 1973, yet the fact has not been much publicized. Senator James Allen of Alabama explained at the time:

The recipients of food stamps would thus be able to use their own initiative to produce fruits and vegetables needed to provide variety and nutritional value for their diets.

While this amendment does broaden the definition of food items which may be purchased with food stamp coupons, I would expect that the food stamp recipients would be able to purchase the seeds and plants they need from grocery stores who are now participating in the food stamp program.

I would not expect the Department of Agriculture to undertake the administrative costs of certifying those thousands of additional stores to supply the seeds and plants that food stamp recipients might wish to purchase.

The amendment would allow the food stamp recipient to purchase with his food stamps seeds and plants for the purpose of growing food  for consumption by himself and his household.

It would allow a person to buy  $1 or $2 worth of seed or vegetable plants and possibly have available a plot of land and be able to raise $50 or $100 worth of food for himself and his family.

It would encourage industry on the part of the food stamp recipient and it would be at no cost to the Federal Government.

Now, Senator Allen left out the best part. If someone raises $100 worth of vegetables from $2 of seeds, they’ve just denied the corporate food chain $98. SNAP Gardens is an organization promoting food stamp gardens, and providing information to gardeners. I suggest SNAP non-recipients visit the page to absorb some of its enthusiasm.

The idea of being independent of the Ugliness Economy doesn’t mean everyone must become an atomized individual sewing their own clothes from thread they spun themselves from a sheep they fed from their own garden. Clearly people need to support each other, with gifts, barter, and fair, localized commerce.

In Michigan, some farmer’s markets have a Bridge Card tent where you swipe your card, and then the cashier tells you that the card won’t scan, so you stand there and ask them to manually punch your number in (well, that’s how my Bridge Card worked after a couple of months). Anyways, they give you tokens representing food stamp money to spend at the other booths. And the cool bit is, they double your money up to $20 per day. The program is called Double Up Food Bucks, and if you follow the link you’ll find a list of participating markets. (Thanks, Wilfrid Cyrus, for pointing this one out to me.) These markets are much nicer places to spend money in than, say, Walmart. Other states may have similar programs — for instance, in Rhode Island, you can spend WIC credits at farmer’s markets.

I would love to see a Homesteader Card program, which would give out money for soil, fertilizer, planters, fencing, homebrew gear and all of the other good stuff that allows people to take care of their own household needs. Since that would undermine growth of “the marketplace” — people would get used to getting $100 of vegetables for only $2 — the government would never do such a thing. Oh, well. In the meantime, SNAP gardens and Double Up Food Bucks can still be used to undermine the Ugliness Economy.

Garden for victory!



June 17, 2012

Alternatives to Crumb-Sharing

Filed under: Soapbox — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 11:27 pm

There is a horrifying wealth disparity in America, where a few hundred families dominate all of politics, business, and even “charitable” foundations. Meanwhile, other folks can’t find any way to make money, and they’re losing homes left and right. The basic, default left/Socialist solution to wealth disparity is to tax the rich more heavily and disperse their money with entitlement programs, or perhaps job-creating enterprises (how about a bullet train?).

That’s not a horrible solution. It’s not always politically feasible, Goddess knows, and there are a few problems it creates, such as resentment from those who don’t quite qualify for the program that would help them, or are too proud to take a “hand-out.”

I believe that much of our wealth disparity problem stems from operating our markets under the wrong rules, and not from some inherent tendency of markets to concentrate wealth. I want to suggest alternatives to sharing tax-crumbs around, just to stimulate some thought. Perhaps we could stop thinking of “redistributing the wealth” (which is fine) and start thinking of “economic justice” (which is better.)

* More forgiving bankruptcy laws. Bankruptcy is available as an escape from total debt entrapment. In 2005, Congress imposed a means test (that is to say, a poverty test) on Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Why? So that those who fail the means test can become resentful of those who are even worse off? At the same time, it required credit counseling before filing for bankruptcy. Hopefully, all of the credit counselors approved by the government are honest dealers. They also complicated the matter to the point where bankruptcy lawyers have to bill you more hours to get through the process.

Congress should have moved in the opposite direction — how about forgiving student loans through bankruptcy, instead of keeping people in debt chains for their entire lifetimes?

* Usury is a crime. Civilizations that have developed banking generally limit interest rates — indeed, neither Christians nor Muslims could loan at interest, period, for over a thousand years. Having no laws against usury is akin to legalizing theft or rape. Credit cards at 20% interest and payday loans at 200% interest are crimes that suck the middle and working classes.

* End debt-based money. A bank makes a loan, and creates the money for that loan out of thin air… however, they don’t create the money to repay interest on the loan at the same moment. The borrower must scramble to get that money from somewhere, which, as in a Ponzi scheme, works just fine as long as more suckers are buying into the system.

Did you know that the Earth is not an infinite space, but rather like a marble in space? All Ponzi schemes end, and debt-based money leads to times of repo activity, such as the Great Depression.

Money should be issued directly by way of the government printing the money it spends, or we could use silver, gold, or kilowatt-hours as money.

* Jubilee. The Old Testament describes the Israelites returning all land to its previous owners and freeing all indentured servants every 49 or 50 years. Lately, a world-wide forgiving of debts seems necessary if we aren’t all to become indentured to the banks, both individuals and nations. Current bank-oriented monetary policies put debt into the world faster than they put money into it. Clearly we need to wipe that debt, much of which is unpayable anyways. Some of this debt even comes tied to austerity measures (rolling back crumb-sharing programs), a strategy proven to make it harder  to pay back debt (because the economy doesn’t grow as well under austerity.)

* Prosecute fraud. Fraud is still a crime. Bankers who commit fraud shouldn’t get a fine for breaking a regulation, or be allowed to sign a “no wrongdoing” settlement. They should be prosecuted as fraudsters, and far fewer municipalities and pension funds would be going broke. Instead, our current government believes in bailing fraudsters out when their schemes go belly-up!

* Unionization. It allows people to effectively negotiate the terms of their employment — working as a unit, like the corporations we all have to deal with. ‘Nuff said.


Well, there are six ideas there for making “the free market” a fair market. They would hardly remove the need to sometimes give somebody a helping hand, but I believe that these kind of reforms would make the economy a lot more friendly to the 99%, and lessen poverty and the need for giant entitlement programs. These are just skeletons of ideas that demand a lot of development — of course, they’re not original and plenty of people are working on them.

Sharing crumbs around is not enough — demand JUSTICE!

September 6, 2011

Child of Decline

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paragardener @ 2:12 am

I was born near Detroit in 1979, the year U.S. manufacturing peaked. The Motor City and Flint in particular declined before my eyes, as the Big Three car companies were hurt by foreign competition and simultaneously outsourced their manufacturing to countries with crappy union rights. 1979 was also nine years after the first Earth Day, and seven years after “Limits to Growth” was published, warning that the physical resources allowing for economic growth were limited. So I have always lived with the story that human activity is threatening the planet’s systems, from the ozone layer to the local food web.

The old Packard Plant, shattered and graffitied.

Packard Plant by Яick Harris, share and share alike,

I’d like to rewind history to 1980 and change the things that went on in my lifetime. We needed to invest in studying and protecting the ecology. We needed to find some means of manufacturing and transportation that created less smoke and garbage. We especially needed new sources of energy. I have the feeling that, had we seriously invested then, by now we’d all have cheap solar panels powering our houses, and maybe charging the car up, to boot.

Instead, we acted like a smoker whose doctor tells them that cigarettes are bad for you. Hmm, quitting is hard. Maybe I could switch to ultra-lights?  Wrapping every object sold at the store in a plastic casket is an abuse of abundance — but it’s slightly difficult to imagine sales working in any other way. So we pushed recycling, which still comes at a whopping energy cost, and doesn’t really fix the problems, but which allowed everybody to keep on with minimal disruption to their lifestyle. We don’t like to hear that adjustments might have to be made — as when Jimmy Carter asked the nation to please turn the thermostat down, and the American people answered by making a one-term President of him.

Also during my lifetime, America exported almost all of its capacity to manufacture goods. Some of our rivers are now cleaner thanks to the shutdown of all the factories on them. It’s hard to find clothes, umbrellas, purses, shoes and so on that are made in this land (I miss you, patriotic Converse All-Stars!). Even our brain capacity is in doubt, with Americans falling behind in math and science. How much easier is it to just hire an Indian or Chinese engineer and work with them online?

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station standing there like a mighty, but dead, tree. By motionblur, share and share alike!

With no manufacturing, mediocre brainpower, a bunch of fakes running government, and depleted natural resources, how are we going to build a bigger and better future? Oil production, the lynchpin of our economy, has peaked. GDP peaked at about the same time, in late 2007. There is no “building our way out” of our economic troubles, because we have nothing to build with. It’s kind of irrelevant to discuss a liberal or conservative economic policy for the future, because politicians of all stripes have to smile and promise the impossible re-start of growth — working from the real situation is political suicide. We should’ve taken the physical reality of life and economics on this planet more seriously, while we had the chance. Now we’re fucked, as people have been warning about for my entire life. We’re too far down this path to ever get to the future where we all have a green home, an electric car and windmill-driven electricity. To put it in economic terms, there is not enough capital out there to transition to new, sustainable technologies before a rising cost of energy and resources causes an economic collapse and we auction the country off in an attempt to keep going and paying our debts. I might be beating a dead horse with my projections of doom, but I guess I just feel like I have to speak up when many folks always hear that growth and prosperity are just around the corner. The talking heads told the Soviets the same thing in their day, no? Be prepared for things to not get any better. Check out how people have survived, sometimes thrived, in the former Soviet Union, or Detroit, or Flint, or Gary, Indiana.

The Rust Belt I live in is named for decline, and decline makes me feel at home: I think a building is never more beautiful than when it is well into its death, waiting to be torn down. Paint peels off the walls and is replaced by tag art. Plaster crumbles and reveals, by pieces, the grace of a building’s long-hidden skeleton. I like to watch the succession of plants that colonizes an abandoned area. I like living in rotten old Detroit, with neighbors who’ve often given up on having a middle-class career and instead work in the neighborhood to get by with one hustle and another. There is a mile-long stretch of 8 Mile Road that is all pawn shops, used cars, junkyards, restored furniture shops and so on. And I like an object with history, you know?

No one can predict the future with certainty. Maybe cold fusion will come into commercial production sometime in the next couple of years and save us all. Maybe aliens will invade and enslave us all. Until then, look for used-good stores, scrappers and hustlers coming to a neighborhood near you! Detroit survives by recycling itself towards oblivion, without ever getting there: that’s a much more likely future for every American town, than abundant green jobs and a hydrogen-filling station by every freeway exit. The big call for optimism is that you can live in a place like Detroit and still have a decent life. Children of decline, for better or for worse, the future is ours!

June 13, 2011

Springtime Country Blues Explosion, Part Three

Filed under: music — Tags: , , — paragardener @ 5:19 pm

It’s the cusp of summer and the world is filled with possibility. Kick back on the front porch with a mint julep. Or take a moment to appreciate the local big box store standing proud in the sunlight, a stylishly molded brick bloc overflowing with brand-new “shiny” and surrounded by heat-hazed asphalt desert. Contemplate the scale of the Airbus-380 or the July 8th final launch of the Space Shuttle. This is the grandeur of a civilization just about peaking.

A big plane.

by Xeper, shared under a share & share alike license.

Our way of life is built on compounding interest, speculation, and the systematic exploitation of nature without regard for any physical limitations of our world. This system worked really well for about 400 years, helping Europe and her diaspora to dominate the globe, inflict the blues and achieve unheard-of levels of wealth. Poverty sucks, and poor people generally live with instability, harder jobs and more stress. Still, many poor folks in our civilization have multi-room dwellings, indoor plumbing, 4-burner stoves, a hypnotic flashing light box, and a chariot of cheetah-like speed. Lots of people, across the big human picture, have lived in huts or longhouses with grandparents and aunts and uncles all together in one room! No power tools, no frivolous plastic doodads…

Parts of that life look kind of nice to me, sort of like camping all the time. Still, it reminds me that I have a lot to lose.

world oil production -- leveling off?

Thanks to Their sources: 1950-1964 compiled by Worldwatch Institute from U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy data; 1965-2009 data from BP, "Statistical Review of World Energy June 2010." You're welcome to create your own projection of the future.

Obama was on TV the other day, assuring me that there will be no double-dip recession. Supposedly we have entered recovery and it’s onward and upwards, baby! Realists, such as army intelligence and combat coordinators, understand that world petroleum production is peaking. The curve of world oil production should resemble the curve of oil production from any given oil field, or from any oil-bearing region — it’s always a rough bell curve. Natural gas and quality coal are on the same track. Even copper and uranium are near their peak production (the point on top of the bell where production briefly “levels out”), and it takes more energy to extract the last of these depleted resources from feeble ores and “tar sands.” Meanwhile, populations keep increasing, interest keeps on compounding and the Federal Reserve keeps creating dollars at an ever-increasing rate… how can the masters of politics and finance hope to create the vast new growth it would require to pay off our debts and put value behind our currency? In this depleted world?

The economy is not going to get better. Not for long, and not in any big way. The physical resources to underpin exponential economic growth just aren’t there. Consider downsizing to a shotgun shack, trading your Cadillac for a black mare, and quitting your at-will employment for the stability of operating your own stillhouse. This is going to be a good century for the blues.

(NOTE: long post! feel free to flip through the videos)

Mississippi John Hurt

John Hurt was a sharecropper who played largely for his own enjoyment. In the 1920’s, he played for square dances in an integrated combo and laid down 12 tracks in two recording sessions. Then he returned to sharecropper anonymity for about 30 years, before blazing into glory once more during the 1960’s folk revival.

Ain’t No Tellin’ (aka Pallet on Your Floor)

Candy Man Blues

Charlie Patton

Patton made his name as a dance-hall performer in Mississippi, where he inspired musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker and generally was an early apostle of the blues. He recorded from 1929 to 1934, up to 41 tracks in a year. He then died of heart disease, which wasn’t even reported in the local newspaper.

Green River Blues

Screamin’ and Hollerin’ The Blues

Blind Willie Johnson

Willie Johnson was born sighted. According to legend, one night his father accused his stepmother of cheating and beat her badly. To get back, she grabbed a handful of lye and threw it in Willie’s face, blinding him! From a young age, Johnson wanted to be a preacher and guitar player. His music combines spirituals, blues, and some kind of early gospel. He lived and worked in Texas throughout his life.

God Moves on the Water

John the Revelator — like about half of Johnson’s songs, this one is a duet with his wife. Unfortunately, no one is sure which wife!

Blind Blake

Blind Blake epitomizes ragtime guitar. Although he recorded 80 tracks from 1926 to 1932, almost nothing is known about him — not even his real name!

Georgia Bound

Police Dog Blues

Willie Walker

Though he played with Rev. Gary Davis and had a strong reputation in the South Carolina of almost 100 years ago, Willie Walker only recorded two tracks! Sam Brook is on backing guitar.

South Carolina Rag, Take Two

Memphis Minnie

Minnie ran away and became an itinerant street singer at age 13. She started in the Delta, but meandered to Memphis where she made her permanent home. She recorded well over 100 tracks before and after The War, with failing health the ultimate killer of her 40+ year career. She’s the only old-time blues woman remembered as the type of guitar genius who makes other guitarists just sick.

Drunken Barrelhouse Blues

There is a Memphis Minnie collection of restored wax at

Blind Boy Fuller

The Old South must’ve been full of blind black men, just milling about blindly and playing instruments on every street corner. Fuller was already making a living playing on the street when Rev. Gary Davis (blind) tutored him, contributing to his rapid commercial success. He died in his 30’s. About a year after getting a stomata put into his bladder (related to drinking?), the hole in him attracted a fatal infection.

Meat Shakin’ Woman

Weeping Willow

Elmore James

James began making music at the age of twelve, with a one-string slide guitar aka diddley bow. He was a moonshiner, and various bandmates dropped dead from their heavy drinking routine. He created a signature guitar sound tinkering in his adoptive brother’s electronics workshop. By the time “Dust My Broom” made him a star, James already knew of the heart condition which would kill him…

Dust My Broom

Mance Lipscomb

That’s Mance as in “emancipation!” Lipscomb was a sharecropper playing for weekend parties, until the folk revival of the 1960’s swept him up. Here is his song Sugar Babe.

Jimmy Reed

Reed started out as a street singer, was drafted into the Navy through World War II, moved back to Mississippi and married, and moved to Gary, Indiana where he worked as a meatpacker. It was in Gary that Reed established himself as a great musician and landed a recording contract. Like Blind Willie Johnson’s wife, Mama Reed appears on many tracks as the uncredited backup singer.

Baby What You Want Me to Do

Skip James

After building roads and levees on “the lonesome road” of labor camp work, Skip James settled down to hold the distilling concession on a sharecropping plantation. He recorded an album’s worth of material in 1931, but then the Great Depression took full effect and no one could afford to buy cylinders down at the furniture store anymore. He lived on in obscurity, preaching and perhaps bootlegging. In 1964, folkie blues enthusiasts found James in a hospital and set him up touring in the folk revival. He was known for disdaining folkies and music lessons and guarding his playing techniques closely (hint: 3-finger picking, open D-minor tuning).

Devil Got My Woman

Hard Time Killing Floor Blues: bringing it all back around to the theme of the post.

BTW — the ongoing bottomless slide of the economy? It wasn’t caused by market over-regulation or high taxes. It wasn’t caused by a lack of health care or education or even the terrible Drug War. Liberals and conservatives stand united behind Wall Street-oriented policies for the fastest possible exploitation of Earth’s resources (including its people) and assume that magical new technologies will get us out of any corner. Their compromise in the 80’s and again in the 00’s has been to cut taxes and simultaneously spend more. When the media talks about the economy, they are sharing the Wall Street / Washington happy talk delusion (debt will never outrun growth) and causing most people to consider it as a sane worldview. In the face of this inane and suicidal optimism, somebody has to carry the negativity and talk/sing about what is happening.

The questions I’m asking myself are, how can I hold on to my quality of life? And: what can I do to shift the hurt onto the assholes who created it, instead of students, teachers, retirees, and (sometimes unemployed) workers?

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