Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A lesson in packing, like it or not

   In Texas, if you want to go to school, you have to have a gun. 
   Sure as shooting, that’s what it looks like, with a new law recently enacted in the Lone Star State. In fact, you may need to have a gun with you are at school. 
   When the so-called campus-carry law passed by the Republican-dominated state Legislature takes effect in August, public colleges will no longer be able to ban the concealed carrying of handguns on campus. Though the schools can impose some restrictions, they must generally honor a state-issued concealed handgun license on campus. 
   This means that, whether they like it or not, state universities and colleges have to buy into Texas’ wild, wild west packing culture.  Except in certain spaces, like a chemistry lab, there is no escape from firearms that can be used. 
   Lots of students and professors don’t like it, especially at the state university in Austin.  In a photograph accompanying a Los Angeles Times article, protesting students in the liberal community appear to be pleading, begging to be safe, to feel safe, in their classrooms, free of guns. That doesn’t matter. 
   It also doesn’t matter that professors don’t feel safe with the new arrangement and that some are leaving or turning down positions at Texas public colleges.  Never mind the concern that, as one professor noted, “a disgruntled student with a gun would ‘lose it,’ pull out the gun and shoot the instructor” or, as another mentioned, “Students get very angry if they feel they’re getting a grade they don’t deserve.  I have students who come in absolutely red-faced… ‘Why did I get this grade?’”
   There is concern that grading will be effected, most likely inflated.  Faculty have been warned to “Be careful discussing sensitive topics” and “Drop certain topics from your curriculum; not ‘go there’ if you sense anger; limit student access off hours…only meet ‘that student’ in controlled circumstances.”
   Never mind what this means about teaching and education.  Never mind about challenging ideas and opening minds.  Proponents say the new law will make colleges safer, with people able to take down a shooter.  (They also probably like it that ideas won’t be challenged and minds won’t be opened.)
   Never mind that education will be watered down to meaningless drivel.  What’s even sadder is that, in Texas, you’ll need to take a gun to school – to be safe.        

Friday, March 18, 2016

Just plain folk - and more

   Last Friday, I saw in the Claremont Courier that Marley’s Ghost was playing the next night at the Folk Music Center.  I was delighted, feeling that I was in luck.  Marley’s Ghost is one of my favorite bands, and I happened to not have plans for Saturday night.  Plus it would be a nice way to celebrate getting over a horrible cold that I had had for two and a half weeks.  I went by the store the next afternoon and snagged a ticket. Sweet! 
   The group put on a great show, as always.  I have seen this folk band – there are six guys – four or five times, and they are wonderful.  I like folk music, old-time music, and these guys play and sing with lots of soul.  The trick, for me, is that they infuse a lot of their stuff with reggae and also borrow a lot from the Grateful Dead.  So they are right up my alley. I once heard them play a song about love being like jelly in your belly that was just magic, deeply feel-good.  Also, as with many folk bands, they feature much humorous, corny banter, and it’s a kick to see these white guys my age – in their 50’s – jamming and singing so sweetly in harmony and doing it so superbly. 
   Also, seeing them at the Folk Music Center was a real treat.  The Folk Music Center is in Claremont and is practically a museum in addition to a store, with all kinds of acoustic guitars, violins, drums, xylophones and other folk instruments from all over the world lining the walls, literally from floor to ceiling, and visitors encouraged to try out some of them.  It was founded by Charles and Dorothy Chase, the grandparents of Ben Harper, and it is sort of legendary around here and probably at least in the wider folk world. 
   The store puts on in-store concerts usually about once or twice a month, and, over the years, I’ve seen a number of groups there, from the pretty traditional Wicher Brothers to the punk-folk I See Hawks in L.A, and this wasn’t the first time I saw Marley’s Ghost there.  The back half of the store, which is relatively small, is cleared, with folding chairs set up.  It is like going to a concert in someone’s living room, an intimate jam session with top-notch musicians surrounded by beloved instruments.  What’s more, tickets go for $10 or $15.
   Like I said, a real treat – and all the more so with Marley’s Ghost! 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Rioting at the polls

   “We’re voting with our middle finger.”
   It certainly looks like that’s what’s happening in the primary elections, with Donald Trump piling up win after win.  As the blowhard, bullying, ignorant billionaire, who everyone in polite company says they hate, appears to have nearly a insurmountable lead in the Republican presidential nomination race after this week’s Super Tuesday elections and caucuses, it looks like there’s a lot to this quote from a retired truck driver before voting in the South Carolina Republican primary last month. 
   No matter how much the Republican party itself says that this would be a disaster, with Mitt Romney joining in in a big way yesterday, Trump for president seems to be what folks want. The people voting for Trump have one thing in common: they’re angry, angry at how government operates, and they like it that Trump “tells it like it is” and expresses this anger. 
   The Trump voters, many but notably not all of whom are white, blue-collar, non-college-educated workers, don’t care about the usual conservative values.  They don’t want big military spending, and I read that many don’t mind large government programs, as long as they benefit (they don’t like others getting welfare). They want an outsider, someone angry like them, to go in and take charge. 
   Some commentators argue that this same anger fuels the same passion behind Bernie Sanders, with his anti-big money platform.  This may sound like an unfair and nonsensical comparison (after all, isn’t Trump big money?), but, in what is a truly alarming development, I have read about Sanders voters saying that, if he doesn’t get the nomination, they’ll vote for Trump if he’s on the November ballot rather than Hilary Clinton, who they see as slick politics as usual. 
   All this is fascinating, and it’s great theater.  It is fascinating to see what happens when people say what they want, when things are not going the usual way – so much for Jeb and for Hilary’s glide to the nomination (although that now be more likely) – and, for a Democrat, it’s fun to see the Republican party coming apart at the seams.  This is all quite heady stuff. 
   The trouble is that this is not theater.  This is our society, our life, and it may be how we live in this country, and how others see us in this country, for the next four years.  The people voting for Trump are certainly giving the finger – to themselves.  In voting with their middle finger, they are like rioters, burning and looting their own neighborhood.  Sticking it may feel good now, but it will cause great destruction and may well destroy their life. 
   It is not unlike poor people who agree that Obamacare is bad, even as it is making or can make their lives easier and better.  Except, in that case, it’s more rhetoric, and they are the only one getting hurt.