Surfer Insurrection

In the midst of the panic over Hurricane Rita, a little news item caught my interest: as the storm approached the coast of Texas, some defiant citizen went surfing.

Now, I will admit that this was probably not a particularly clever thing to do. It would have been far more clever of the man to hitch a ride on a school bus filled with old people and oxygen tanks and get the hell out of Texas altogether. But, hey, people drink and smoke and vote in favour of having the worst school system in the country, and there’s not too much you can do about it.

The police didn’t feel that way. They arrested him. And they handcuffed him and hauled him away.


That’s a good question. Did the police think he would cause billions of dollars of property damage? Or that he would be responsible for the deaths of innocent people? Or that he would make off with millions of dollars of illicit gains? That he would eat a French fry on a subway platform? No, that would have made him a tropical storm or a Republican.

I believe that the police arrested him because he refused to obey the most fundamental principle of the good order and peace: he wasn’t afraid.

It is not enough to obey the law. And it is not enough to leave people alone and mind your own business.

The act of surfing in the face of a tremendously fearsome storm headed your way is an act of defiance of a society that believes that order and civility can only be maintained if you and I are afraid of whatever it is the authorities deem to be fearsome, whether it is Arab terrorists, anthrax, taxes, or tropical storms. I believe the police intuitively understood that if this man’s attitude were to spread, the pillars of our exploitive, wasteful, consumerist society would begin to crumble and they, along with their establishment patrons, would all be in big trouble.

Reading too much into this? Maybe. But then, you explain to me why we are arresting people for eating French fries or surfing nowadays, and why the National Guard treated people fleeing Hurricane Katrina to the Superdome as potential criminals as they entered the building, and why the students at Columbine had to put their hands up as they evacuated the building long, long after the two killers had offed themselves?

Sundown with Assassin’s Eyes

I have been listening to a replay of “The 50 Essential Tracks” of Canadian popular music on the CBC lately.  This is a program from last spring which they are running again due to the lock-out.  Note about the link: the Canadian edition is further down the page. 

I disagree with a fair number of songs on the list, and especially “The Hockey Song” by Stompin’ Tom Conners, which is something like #13. Novelty songs do not belong on “Top 50” lists. They belong on juke-boxes in run-down restaurants in small northern Ontario towns.

I like “Four Strong Winds”– it’s a great song– but not quite enough to justify a listing in the top 15. It’s straining under the weight of that kind of honorific.

I liked seeing “Echo Beach” up there, along with “The Weight” (both of which should have been higher).

Yesterday, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” came in somewhere in the top 20. Here are some of the lyrics:

I can see her lying back in her satin dress
In a room where yah do what yah don’t confess
Sundown, you better take care
If I find you’ve been creeping ’round my back stairs


I can see her lookin’ fast in her faded jeans
She’s a hard-lovin’ woman got me feelin’ mean

And then he warns her again to stay away from his back stairs and his porch and his Juno awards.

Does this belong in anyone’s top 25? How exactly do you look “fast” in your faded jeans?

I think I understand what happens to the career of a singer-songwriter. You start out trying to write the best damn songs you can, about real people you know, and real experiences you had, and you strive to say something fresh and original. So Gordon Lightfoot writes five or six genuinely interesting outstanding songs (“Early Morning Rain”, “Sit Down, Young Stranger”, “Whispers of the North”, and “That’s What You Get for Lovin’ Me”) and a dozen or so pretty good songs. And then…

Then you become successful and famous. Everyone tells you you are great songwriter. And it’s time for some new material. And you’re strumming around on your guitar and you come up with a little riff and the word “Sundown” comes into your mind and you make it a chorus and then you add a few aimless verses and your producer adds some background instrumentation and vocals and presto, another hit.

Does Gordon Lightfoot actually know any “hard-lovin’ ” women who wear satin dresses and creep around his back stairs?  I’ll bet he doesn’t.  (Actually, he does– sort of: the song is allegedly about Cathy Smith, infamous for helping John Belushi leave this world.  Look it up.  I would offer that this does not remedy the use of cliché or the essential hypocrisy of the song: condemning a woman for her morals after sleeping with her. )

(I’ll bet he also had no intention of slipping away on that “endless highway” either.)

And what exactly does “hard-lovin'” mean? That she makes him pay up front?

This is the same woman The Guess Who ran into back in 1970:

Don’t you start coming around my door
Don’t want to see your shadow no more…

Come to think of it– this woman probably moved on to Malibu where she ended up at party with Bob Dylan:

There’s a woman on my lap, and she’s drinking champagne
She’s got white skin and assassin’s eyes

Yes Bob:  a “hard-lovin'” woman.

Bizarrely… Nana Mouskouri recorded a French language version of the song.

Update: 2014-08-19

Here’s what Gordy himself has
to say about the inspiration
for Sundown (>From Reddit, August 22, 2014:)

Well, I had this girlfriend one time, and I was at home working, at my
desk, working at my songwriting which I had been doing all week since I was on a roll, and my girlfriend was somewhere drinking, drinking somewhere. So I was hoping that no one else would get their hands on her, because she was pretty good lookin’! And that’s how I wrote the song “Sundown,” and as a matter of fact, it was written just *around* Sundown, just as the sun was setting, behind the farm I had rented to use as a place to write the album.

But that is not what the song is about at all.

Maybe John Roberts

I’ll admit, I was fooled at first.

John Roberts looks like a reasonable man. Oh, does he look reasonable. Read his opinions. He is the model of a modern enlightened logical jurist. Of course, his rulings always end up in favor of the corporations, the police, and the rich and powerful. But the lovely words he uses to get there!

He may be an intellectual giant compared to Clarence Thomas, but he will probably rule exactly the same way on every issue.

Roberts has stated to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he is “no ideologue”. That is about as close to perjury as you get. No– that is perjury. Roberts is either so seriously deluded that he cannot be considered fit for office, or a liar. I say, he is a liar.

[2022-05 Lawrence Tribe has done an excellent piece illustrating, among other things, how a Justice of the Supreme Court could earnestly believe that the mental framework and cultural affiliation of a justice could lead them to conclude that specific rulings on particular issues are “objective” because they congenial to that framework, when we know that the framework itself is the product of implicit bias.]

Mr. Roberts is an extremist, a radical, an authoritarian. Here is the best evidence, aside from all the rulings– I mean, all of his rulings– in favor of corporations and the police: Mr. Roberts was on a panel of judges that heard an appeal of the notorious french fry case from the city of Washington, Hedgepeth vs. Washington.

A 12-year-old girl entered a subway station with French fries. Contrary to the law, she ate a fry. A policeman saw her do this and arrested her. He made her put down the French fry and her backpack and lay down on her stomach. Then he hand-cuffed her.

We are talking about a 12-year-old girl here. Eating a French fry.  A big, burly, powerful policeman.   Handcuffs. I am not making this up.

We’re talking about an psycho adult police officer, who was supposedly trained in something or another. I mean that– psycho. Do you think it’s normal for an adult male to want to handcuff a 12-year-old girl for eating a French fry? Was he trained to assume that a 12-year-old girl could threaten him physically? Does a normal adult male make a strange 12-year-old girl lay face down on the floor while he handcuffs her so she won’t hurt him and flea from the charge of eating a french fry on a subway platform?

Just how many fugitive french fry eaters are there at any given time?

If you dare to defend Judge Roberts’ ruling in this case, it would be as hard for me to argue with you and it would be for me to argue against a Mormon or Scientologist or faith-healer or member of the NRA. You’ve lost your mind.

In detail: the ingenious Judge Roberts ruled that since the interests of the state are served by discouraging juvenile delinquency, the actions of the police were justified. The government may go around and force little girls to lay down on the pavement so they can be handcuffed for eating French fries on subway platforms. That might not seem nice, but that’s just too bad.

[That’s like saying that since the interests of the state are served by discouraging obesity the government may ban fast food outlets from serving French fries. You see, Roberts said that the state was interested in “discouraging juvenile delinquency”. He didn’t say that there was no constitutional requirement to arrest juvenile delinquents– unless it is is in the interests of the state, just as the constitution doesn’t require the government to fight obesity… unless…a state decides that can. March 2011]

There is no exception for common sense, sanity, reasonableness, humanity, compassion, or having a brain. It makes no difference that the girl was 12-years-old. It makes no difference that we live on a planet called Earth that is round and that revolves around the sun. Facts are facts.

That is the world Judge Roberts inhabits. That is a world that makes sense to him because the man, for all his cool, calm, detached manners, has no sensibility at all. He has absolutely no common sense, no humanity, and probably no human feeling. This is a man who grew up in a privileged, insulated environment, and who never in his entire life came face-to-face with the gritty reality of street crime and poverty. He clerked for rich white judges appointed by rich white politicians funded by rich white corporations. When he is confronted by a case of a poor black man who was beaten up by the police after he robbed someone because his family was starving– you never know, might happen–, he’s going to think, in the back of his tiny little brain, “why didn’t he just buy some food?”

You won’t find anything in his biography about military service, volunteerism, missionary activities, or travels to exotic locales. This is a guy who lives in Republican gingerbread houses with gingerbread nannies and gingerbread rules. Twelve-year old girls eating French fries bring disorder and confusion. But Roberts knows better than to say “we like locking up 12-year-old girls for eating French fries.” He can’t say that– it’s too bald and too real. So he says, twelve-year-old girls can become delinquents. Delinquents must be locked up.

Then he says, I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry. I’m really very, very sorry. But the 12-year-old girl must be locked up in a police car and taken downtown and fingerprinted and photographed and detained. That is the kind of thing that is necessary to sustain Judge Roberts’ gingerbread world.

And all they talk about is abortion and voting rights and gay marriage. Even the Democrats.

The Republicans have so skewed the political debate in the U.S. that nobody even questioned the fact that Bush overtly declared that he was going to load the court with conservative partisans, as if that is how appointments to the Supreme Court should be made.

The fact is, abortion (and gun rights) have always been a red herring for conservative politics which is only and ever concerned with preserving the status, wealth, and privilege of propertied white men.

It’s a wedge issue.  The most convincing evidence of this?  Compare the rulings of the same judges (anti-abortion, pro-gun, pro-patriotism) with their rulings on corporate law, workers rights, unions, pensions, investment funds, corporate liability, and so on.  They are absolutely uniform.  Those are the rulings that really matter to Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republican toadstools.

It’s too late. Roberts will be confirmed. He won’t be the worst justice on the Supreme Court, but that’s only because of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

Maybe Not John Roberts

I generally like Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court. John Roberts is smart, erudite, disciplined, fair, and witty. But I don’t think I’d vote for him. I’d vote for him in five years, after President Hillary Clinton has nominated a couple of moderates ahead of him. I think Roberts would be an excellent right wing justice. He is a heck of a lot smarter than Thomas, and he is not psychotic like Scalia, and he is not even quite as ideological as Rehnquist.

But he is still an ideologue. He just arrives at his ideology through poetry instead of jingoism.

Judge John Roberts is known to admire the views of Henry J. Friendly, who was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York, where Roberts served as a law clerk after he graduated from Harvard. And he admired Friendly’s views of the Warren Court, in particular, the way the Warren court made itself available to criminals who claimed that state courts had not treated them fairly. Friendly felt that this was wasting everyone’s time. Friendly– and Roberts–believed that the long delay between a sentence of death and the actual execution of the criminal diminished the effectiveness of capital punishment.

The play on this issue is incredibly instructive. If you read some of Roberts’ opinions on some of these issues, you might think he is reasonable, assured, wise and just. You might believe he weighs all the evidence and comes to a conclusion based only and purely on the merits. And in a just world, he really might be wise, reasonable, and just.

But you cannot extract Robert’s views on the law from the political realities of America in the 1970’s. We are talking about Wallace’s Alabama. We’re talking about Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi. We’re talking, for example, about a black woman named Lena Baker being sentenced to death and executed in 1945 for killing a white man after he repeatedly assaulted her. An all-white, all male jury sentenced her to death. Roberts isn’t troubled by it.

Roberts appears to hold the position that, since the woman is not innocent (nobody disagrees that she killed the man), the federal judiciary should not even look at the issue of whether or not she should be electrocuted for the crime because federal courts should not intrude on state jurisdictions. That’s the real-world application of Roberts judicial philosophy. In this case, we don’t “intrude” because…. well, figure it out.

So, Mr. Roberts, you would have permitted the execution of Ms. Baker, and, presumably, you would have rejected Brown vs. Board of Education. And, if I am not mistaken, Texas would still be able to arrest sodomites today.

If fact, Texas can. The Supreme Court may not be as powerful as you think. Texas can throw sodomites in jail, and if they have the money, and if they have good lawyers, and if they have 10 years, they could probably win an appeal.

There’s more…