Music on Monday – Avett Brothers – I Never Knew You

Avett Brothers – “I Never Knew You”

I happened to catch this while shopping – it caught my ear as sounding somewhat similar to Oasis, but upon listening to it more closely at home, it actually reminds me a lot of Neil Innes.

In looking at some of their other stuff, I’m not sure what to think. They’re kind of folk, though it seems like, true to 1960s form, quite left-leaning politically. Of course, back then, a lot of the left-leaning politics were cloaked in the language of universal truth, things like freedom and justice, what have you; things that one didn’t have to be “lefty” to agree with. Politics these days are different, I guess. I still enjoy a lot of the “left” songs of bygone days, but I don’t necessarily appreciate supposedly “country” people claiming things, in song, such as there is no peace in the country on Sundays because, supposedly, country people are out shooting on Sundays to the extent that there is no peace from the sound of gunfire. Straight up activism to the point of slander. I’ve lived a lot of different places in my life, ranging from the country to huge cities… And it’s in the city – where this stuff is almost blanket illegal – that you have to be much more aware of gun violence.

However, when it comes to things like this song, it’s obvious that this is a talented group, and that they can come up with some catchy tunes that get caught playing in one’s head (over and over and over!)

Rahm’s really bad day

Rahm Emanuel, at the beginning of his mayoral tenure in Chicago, promised to be a force to be reckoned with. He had managed to come from being President Obama’s Chief of Staff, after winning a battle to legally prove residency in Chicago (exploiting a law enacted for military who were stationed outside of Illinois to still be eligible for Illinois public office). He was known as President Obama’s “enforcer”. He was legendary for his antics , including sending a dead fish to a pollster with whom he had worked, and with whom he was livid and picking a political fight with a Democrat member of Congress in a locker room and whilst completely naked. John Kass, pretty much the only reason to continue reading the Chicago Tribune, popularized the moniker “Rahmfather” in referring to Emanuel, and it was a persona which Emanuel himself enjoyed.

The election of Emanuel to mayor, like much of politics in Chicago, seemed preordained, that the silly little election was merely a formality, a show for the rest of the country. Sure, it gave Emanuel a chance to get some cash into his coffers, build alliances, and see who his first enemies (those supporting the other Democrats in the race) were, but everything about the campaign screamed “foregone conclusion”, from his campaign flyers “Chicago for Rahm” to his coziness with Chicago Democrat royalty – the Obamas.

The thing was, though, that even with all the inevitablity, it seemed like Emanuel had no great love for Chicago, that this position would merely serve Emanuel’s own political career, feeding his ego, and giving him a platform to launch his next political bid, something more national in nature.

And so Emanuel became mayor of Chicago. He came in with the swagger and the reputation of someone who was completely ruthless. In some cases, he was practical, such as trying to (finally) close many schools which had declining enrollment and were running at well under half-capacity. Of course, this upset the Chicago Teacher’s Union, which is incredibly powerful, and which holds a lot of sway with voters.

However, in the quest to make Chicago more progressive, Emanuel seems to have totally lost any sort of control over lawlessness in the city. With all the howling the progressives made about a proposed Chik-fil-A on Elston Avenue (not even the first one in the city), real crime was exploding. Yes, Chicago has been known for ages to be a very dangerous city, but that’s only half the story. Up until Emanuel’s tenure, most of the violent crime was limited to certain neighborhoods. The mayors Daley understood this. They understood that there was no real “fixing” of culture. Chicago is remarkable in that there are so many groups that are there, or who have come through and left their mark. Every neighborhood has a unique history, attested to, in large part, through architecture. Yet, at its heart, Chicago is a very American city, and also very Midwestern, and outside of downtown, generally very unassuming. Fifteen years ago, the neighborhoods that weren’t plagued by violence were generally as safe as most of Western Europe at the same time, and I remember revelling in the freedom that allowed me as a teenager in the city. Of course, we had to be careful, especially as I lived in a pretty sketchy neighborhood for some of that time, but I stayed away from the gangs and the drugs, and I was left alone. The Daleys understood the city, every corner, I’d guess, and for as corrupt as they were, I believe that they also loved the city, and did what they could to make it as livable as possible for the greatest number of people.

A lot of this extended to people’s political sense. The Daleys WERE the political machine, in a city where Democrat is a default, and those who are outwardly not Democrat could be punished severely. At the same time, they very much represent an older Democrat party, a party who wanted to be seen as the champion of the “everyman”, the party who came to the rescue of those who did not have much. This is a powerful message to a city where a lot of the residents are recent immigrants, the Polish, the Koreans, the Mexicans, etc. Especially for the contingents from Eastern Europe, who often fled from persecution, political, religious, or otherwise, the promise that there was a political party who would “listen” to them, having nothing, knowing no one, etc., is hard to resist. And so the Daleys made sure that although the Democrat grip on the city was absolute, one didn’t necessarily feel threatened for occasionally uttering beliefs countering those of the Democrat party. They were also careful not to follow the lead of Detroit, and while race was certainly a Democrat “issue”, they made sure that it didn’t turn to an all-out war.

However, the new Democrat Party cannot abide by this; it is not enough to have absolute control of the city, but it is imperative that every citizen be inundated in progressive propaganda until each one understands that resistance is futile and full of repercussions. Emanuel is the full embodiment of that, from “little things” like Chik-fil-a to major endeavors such as introducing an “Afro-centric” curriculum to all public schools.

I believe this strategy has backfired for Emanuel, and as he leaves mayoral office, it is done with a whimper, the result of Chicago’s real issues coming back to bite him. With all the crying and screaming about “income inequality”, the bigger story is probably how Chicago’s middle class is disappearing. The middle class, in large part, is made up of families, in large part because they are stable, they pay taxes, they invest in the places where they live, they have children who often also stay and are deeply invested in the city of their birth. This loyalty is not absolute, though, and as taxes go up, crime goes up, the schools get worse and worse, eventually they leave. They leave the city, they leave the state.

The Jussie Smollett case has been a huge black eye to the city of Chicago, and in particular to Mayor Emanuel. No one who lives there believed that this happened. MAGA country? Chicago? You’ve got to be be kidding! The entire incident was completely preposterous from the beginning. 2am on one of the coldest nights in decades? Give me a break! I’m not saying something like this couldn’t have happened, but just like Steinmetz High School supposedly beating Whitney Young in Academic Decathlon,(the story upon which the HBO movie Cheaters was based) it was highly unlikely, to the point of being nigh on statistically impossible. And just like when the stories of the Steinmetz team members were examined, Smollett’s story fell apart under similar scrutiny.

How did this hurt Emanuel? Well, first of all, this didn’t get “fixed” in the early stages of the investigation. Stuff like this is supposed to disappear. Secondly, he was pretty much forced to take the side of law enforcement, if nothing else but for the reason that were he not to, his tenure as mayor would probably be ending in actual unrest in the city. This is not how you want things to end if you’re looking to bigger things.

However, Smollett just happens to be politically connected himself. His sisters have deep connections to Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, and one of them was even a personal guest of the Obamas at the White House. And so when push came to shove, phone calls were placed, the appropriate people were told what to do, and Jussie Smollett walks from 16 felony charges with nothing more than forfeiting $10,000 – nothing to someone making his kind of money.

Rahm, though, is left holding the bag. The decision, apparently, was made behind his back, and announced without his knowledge. Of course, this could all be theater, but I’m rather of the opinion that it was a big middle finger to Obama’s former Chief of Staff, signalling that when push comes to shove, the interests of the Obamas, with all their race-hustling and what have you, trump any loyalty that might have been shown to Emanuel, as Jewish males aren’t really considered a “victim class” in the Democrat party of today. Quite the opposite.

The thing that makes me believe that this may not be just theater on Emanuel’s part is the fact that Emanuel is now attempting to bill Smollett for the costs associated with the investigation. He may think that this move is a bold one, but rather than being noteworthy in the way that the dead fish was, it smacks of desperation, a last ditch effort to come out “even” after losing a game. This is not Rahm Emanuel acting from a position of power, but of someone who has been humiliated. I could even feel sorry for him after this – but figure my emotions are better spent elsewhere.

Everything in Chicago is politics. Where you live, the car you drive, the number of kids you have, where they go to school, the brand of tennis shoes you wear. It’s all politics. It’s a game of who can virtue-signal the best. When you have someone like the Obamas or Emanuel in charge, you never want to be the one to be the first to stop applauding them. Which is all part of the reason that I, as so many others, have left the city, and fight against this sort of corruption in the places we live now.

However, the Machine is merciless; if you’re not clamoring to its levers of power, you’re more than likely going to be eaten up by it. Look at Governor Blagojevich… He thought he played it to the top and could use his position for his own self-aggrandizement, but his corruption was allowed to be revealed for the sake of saving the rest of the corrupt appartus. Who benefits? Time will tell. It’s certainly not the people of Chicago.

President Trump’s First State of the Union/You Will Do It – Because You Can

With all of the bruhaha centered around President Trump’s State of the Union Address this year, and the political theater related to it, let me share with you some of my thoughts from last year’s State of the Union address, President Trump’s first. I generally don’t listen to the State of the Union Addresses, as I try to avoid listening to politicians in general, even the ones I like, because it seems the more I listen to them, the more I dislike them personally. I consider myself fairly interested in politics, though I find myself more and more ambivalent about detailed machinations, because it seem like a lot of it plays out like a soap opera. I managed to remember the State of the Union Address would be broadcast, and if nothing else, President Trump makes for interesting television.

I was really surprised at how much I really enjoyed the speech, and how much President Trump can be an engaging speaker. True, at times, it seemed like the GOP contingent was rising from their seats a few too many times, which irks me even at sporting events. If the baseball game is close, I hate having to stand to watch anything happen the last couple of innings! In any case, the theme of the speech was “America is Great because of Her People”. Of course, President Trump talked about things he has accomplished, and also about things he hopes to do in the future, however, the common thread and overarching theme throughout was the stories of amazing, “ordinary” people who live in this country, and his stated desire that this administration change things so as to better serve them.

One story, in particular, brought me to tears; that being the story of Albuquerque police officer Ryan Holets. I was already familiar with his story, as it “went viral” back in December, but it was touching to see that these people have not been forgotten by President Trump once the news cycle is over. (This was the case with many of his guests, such as the parents of Otto Warmbier.) In any case, a written report of the story involving Officer Holets can be found here,, but in short, Officer Holets was working one day when he found a couple of heroin addicts shooting up. However, he noticed the woman was very pregnant, and he scolded her about what she was doing to the baby. This woman knew what she was doing was wrong, but didn’t see any other way to live, and said she was hoping that someone could adopt the baby. Officer Holets said later he ” he felt he heard a message from God: ‘You will do it — because you can,’ and offered right there to adopt her baby, showing this woman pictures of his own family; his wife and their own four small children. And, miracle of miracles, this woman agreed, and three weeks later, baby Hope was born and was adopted into the Holets family.

But what to make of what Officer Holets heard in his heart, “You will do it – because you can.”? The more cynical among us would read this as license to do what we like because we have the power to do so, because we “feel” we have been given the permission to do so. However, for those who do believe that God does speak to us sometimes, it’s almost the opposite; on one hand, we have the things that we do out of routine, the things that work for us most of the time to get us through, the things we do because we are “supposed” to. However, there come to be times when we are called to attention by something, a situation perhaps, that God puts in front of us, and it is our choice, our free will, to decide just to go about in the same manner as before or to follow God on an unknown path; a risk, to be sure, and a hard road, to be sure, but a path that someday – and maybe not even in this life – will lead to something greater.

Certainly, this road will not be easy; baby Hope was born addicted to drugs, and had to go through withdrawal. Caring for small children is rewarding, but he’s obligated himself to care for this child until the point at which she is an adult. She is also not even a year younger than the next oldest child in their family. This will require years of sacrifice for the entire family. However, in this decision, he may have saved this baby’s life, and because of the generosity of strangers due to the story going “viral”, what he did may very well save the life of baby Hope’s biological parents as well.

One could see the Holets’ appearance at the State of the Union address as something partisan, you know the thinking, “Crazy, right-wing, fundamentalist Christians” or whatnot – we’ve heard all the insults. However, the point of the entire speech was that the United States is filled with people who do extraordinary things in their daily lives, and the government of the United States was created to allow people the freedom to do this, not burden them with the rules and regulations that make going beyond the bare minimum of effort a punishable offense. This is what happens in socialist societies. This isn’t to say that there aren’t good people and people who go well beyond what they need to do in socialist places, but fewer people do because it is harder to do so without running afoul of the law or societal norms.

President Trump certainly had example after example of Americans who have done extremely exceptional things in their little “corners” of this country. And, unlike in many speeches, where these people seem to be an afterthought to a point, in Trump’s speech, these people were the point and their stories helped stitch together the more cohesive whole.

I have read a couple of blogs that I enjoy, (Bookworm Room and Stately McDaniel Manor) who noted that they thought the speech was too long. At over an hour, with all the breaks for applause, it was a long speech, especially if you were sitting down and paying attention to it over the course of the entire broadcast. However, at my house, there were a couple of other things going on (kids’ bedtimes and the like) and being a long-ish speech which still stayed interesting and on point, it was something that I could be distracted from for a few minutes at a time and not feel like I missed something incredibly substantive. Trump is a master of media, and I suspect he understands that a lot of people were listening and doing something else at the same time (even using Twitter) and so for a lot of us, the length wasn’t a huge issue. The other thing is that with all the standing ovations, in some cases, it probably makes it easier to cut it up segment by segment for Youtube and the like, which makes me wonder if some of the “breaks” were done for that purpose.

Evangelicals, especially, get a lot of flack for their support of President Trump, as Trump’s critics can’t seem to stop shrieking that he’s not a moral or godly man. Of all of President Trump’s boasts, I don’t believe that he’s ever done so about being the paramount of holy living. In very old-school manner, he seems to be very closed about his own, personal faith. One might even call it humility. However, his actions in his Presidency, and the fact that he could humbly relay the stories of people of faith tells me a lot more than if he ran around with the fake piety of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker back in the 1980s.

As for the sentiment – “You will do it – because you can”. It touched me in particular because, in my own life, as I struggle to work on my salvation, it certainly is something I have encountered, and I daresay so have any number of people of faith. In leaving what is routine, what is comfortable, we abide by faith to make a different choice, sensing the Providence of being in a place, in a moment, and having the means to make a hard choice to be extraordinary. I wouldn’t even doubt that President Trump has experienced that as well.

A Girl in Iowa

Let me tell you a little bit the Iowa I remember. A large part of my family settled in the area between the 1850s and 1890, and a good number have stayed. Of course, you have those who wandered off to the big city of Chicago, and a few who have made their way up to Minnesota. A few even made it to Colorado, California, and Oregon. The grave of a distant relative buried in California sticks out for me, for upon it is the shape of the state of Iowa to be found, undoubtedly because even though he left it decades before he died, part of it stays with a person always.

The area was heavily settled by Germans and many of them still spoke German until the World Wars put an end to that in this country. A lot of farmers, people who took care of the land and the animals, also knowing hunger and hardship. I’ll wager that the area of Iowa Mollie Tibbetts came from was similar, being in the same “local media market” and all. You had hard work, you had your community, and you had your faith to get you through. Not all things were going to be solved in this life, but there was a steadfast hope in the next. It’s the type of place that produced “farm boy” Norman Borlaug, whose work quietly has probably saved a billion people from starvation.

Of course, there were problems even back in the good old days. There were people and families that people knew, more or less, to stay away from. My great-grandmother lived her entire 96 years of life bearing a shame over which she had no control. Sometimes that’s life, and sometimes life is very hard.

Iowa. A place rarely mentioned in the national news, save for that time every four years when politicians race to the state to try to make Iowans like them. In general, Iowans are dismissive of the New York-East Coast-Los Angeles lifestyle. On the flip side, Iowa is rarely portrayed as anything but dim-witted, hick farmers raising corn and pigs. Of course, agriculture is hugely important to Iowa, even as the number of family farms fade. However, I don’t know what it’s like now, but for years and years Iowa led the nation in educational standings; a result of both the local culture and well-trained teachers. My grandmother, already, graduated college in the 1940s and became one of them. (Her mother, too, had been a teacher, back in the day when a teacher’s certification could be had finishing a three-week training course! To the day she died, she could still recite off the 99 counties of Iowa!) Hardly dumb people, to be sure!

As a young teenager, I remember being out on my bicycle riding down the gravel roads and narrow highways out there. Apart from the people in the occasional passing car, there was nary a soul to be seen. Even those seeing me, a girl on a bicycle riding down the country roads probably thought nothing unusual about it. After all, it’s an area that is generally extraordinarily safe. If I were to have fallen off the bike and injured myself, it’s the type of place where the next person passing by probably would have either taken me home or to the hospital. I remember sunshine across the fields of corn and soybeans, interrupted here and there by a house and farm buildings; barns and sheds and silos, as often as not ramshackle and dilapidated, a silent indicator that the days of these homes being full of children and teenagers were long past. On my grandmother’s square mile, a little church and cemetery. The church has been kept up, but long ago has ceased to have regular services, but my youngest uncle, my grandparents, great-grandparents, and various other relatives were laid to rest here. I expect that my mom will be buried here too, though I don’t expect I will be.

As sheltered as the rural life may seem, it’s not like it’s untouched by larger issues. The opiod epidemic has hit hard, the small city of Oelwein became the poster child for the plight of small-town Midwestern America. Terrible as it is, it’s also a place where the stores that have parking lots have hitching-posts to accommodate the nearby Amish community when they come into town to shop.

Family farms have shuttered, with larger-scale farms have coming in. It’s an open secret that many of them employ illegal aliens, whether knowingly or unknowingly. In 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security together with other agencies, executed the largest single raid of a workplace in U.S. history until then at a kosher slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant. In my grandmother’s opinion, the reason that they had become a target when so many farms do pretty much the same thing was that a) the company was a Jewish enterprise and b) most of the illegal immigrants were not Mexican, muting any immigration raid outcry. Because even from Iowa, a lot of Washington D.C.’s political games are ridiculously clear.

Mollie Tibbets’ body was found in a cornfield, and an illegal alien Mexican national is under arrest for her murder. The pictures of Mollie show a beautiful young woman, vibrant and full of life. After disappearing, her parents have stopped at nothing to try to find her, undoubtedly hoping for the best, but fearing for the worst. They have found out that their daughter is dead, killed by somebody who wasn’t supposed to be in the United States, somebody who couldn’t leave a 20-year-old woman go jogging through the beauty that is Iowa without thoughtlessly and callously taking her life. Her needless death is a tragedy which will be felt keenly by her family and friends, to be sure. However, it also is indicative of a larger issues, illegal immigration, to be sure, but also the utter disdain that “Iowa folks” are held by this country’s elite. When asked by CNN about the turn of events, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA, elite +++) proclaimed that although this would be “hard” for her parents and her community, it was important to focus on “real” issues, such as separation of illegal immigrant minors from their parents at the border. She couldn’t have come off colder if she had tried. Seriously, she says she’s not running for President of the United States in 2020, and I guess she must mean it; Iowa caucuses are the earliest in the race, and… the attack ads write themselves here! She’s insulted the entire state, as if the love for our own children is inconsequential to her political goals.

Furthermore, on MSNBC, a guest or commentator brings up this case and dismisses it quickly, referring to Mollie as “girl in Iowa”, whose story doesn’t deserve the attention of the President. Mollie Tibbetts was the bearer of a soul, deserving of the attention of God, so certainly also the attention of the President. However, with so many people in the world, it is impossible for a person to know all of them. Even if she would have lived to be 90 and stayed in Iowa her whole life, that doesn’t make her life of any less value than the “elite” of NYC, LA, and DC. Ironically, it’s our President, the king of the New York elite and fast-talkers who seems to be the person who actually gets this, who understands that most of us do not aspire to be him in this life, but that we strive to live our lives in a way consistent with our values and laws. The disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts was a HUGE story in the media up until yesterday, when she was found, and it was discovered that she was a victim of the kind of problem President Trump has harped about since the beginning of the campaign. This is what affects real people in real ways. President Trump appears to ‘get it’, which is why he has earned the Presidency and the admiration and support of tens of millions of Americans. This is how Donald Trump got elected. The media would now like to make the story of Mollie Tibbetts disappear. What the ‘elite’ don’t understand, though, is that we normal people, sitting out here in flyover country, love our children more than a party’s ambition, and we do not forget. We mourn with the family, but understand that today, tomorrow, next week, it could be us or our children. Once upon a time, I was a “girl in Iowa” as well.