Libertarians Can Have My Hat When They Pry It From My Cold Dead Head

My HatA year and a half ago, I wrote, Fedoras, Libertarians, and Russell Edson. It was about my love of hats of all kinds and how libertarians had ruined the fedora because it had become a “talisman of a certain strain of man-babyish libertarian white guy.” I figured that this had to do with Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon — a way of feeling hip, even as you are pushing a philosophy of the power elite. (Also: it’s a bit misogynistic given the femme fatale — dangerous woman — core of so many of those movies.)

But I wrote something at the time, “I’m not up for a pointless fight.” But I’m beginning to think that maybe I am now, “This will not stand, this aggression against hats and poetry and all that is good.” And a big part of it is that I no longer think the libertarians have grabbed the fedora because of Sam Spade. I think they’ve grabbed it because of Guy Fawkes. And that is actually kind of hilarious because, you know, Guy Fawkes didn’t wear a fedora. Based upon the pictures of the time, Guy Fawkes wore what we loosely call a pilgrim hat: wide brim, conical shaped, with a flat top.

I’ve decided to go back to my beaten up pork pie hat. And the libertarians can run around in their two hundred dollar Stetson fedoras.

It comes as no surprise that libertarians would get this wrong. They get most things wrongs. Libertarians are the quintessential subgeniuses. Just ask them about the minimum wage and you will see. They aren’t clueless. They understand some of the issues related to it. But they almost never take another step to understanding it more than in the most narrow, theoretical (cut off from reality) form. So it isn’t surprising at all that they would look at the ridiculously varied hat environment from the last several hundred years and pick one at random.

(As an aside: why do people glorify Guy Fawkes? I understand that England was not a good place for Catholics in the early 17th century. But the man was a terrorist. The Gunpowder Plot sought to kill the protestant king and House of Lords and replace it with a Catholic queen. Fawkes and his allies just wanted a change of ownership. And given what the previous Catholic queen had done to protestants, it wouldn’t have been pretty. So how is Guy Fawkes a symbol of freedom?!)

Now, if libertarians were more knowledgeable, I would be fine with them co-opting the fedora. In truth, it is far too flashy a hat. It began its life as a woman’s hat. And women do look great in them. It tends to make men look like dandies — and in a bad way. If libertarians had even half a clue, they might mistake the fedora for the Homburg — at least a more masculine hat, although one I really don’t like because it is hard to make fit correctly. The real problem comes with the pork pie hat or the trilby. But this is the world of hats to most libertarians:

Every Hat a Fedora

It doesn’t help that hat manufacturers have taken to calling any hat with a brim a fedora. But you know: I don’t much care. To me, what is annoying bout the libertarian obsession with the fedora is that it is all about style. For me, all hats are about temperature regulation. My favorite hat is a pork pie — but not a normal one — not the kind you see on The Brothers Bloom or Breaking Bad. It’s pointy. It’s kind of a cross between a pork pie and a trilby with a really thin brim. But for most people, it’s just a fedora because they don’t know any better.

For the last year, I’ve been wearing only baseball caps. But I’ve decided to go back to my beaten up pork pie hat. And the libertarians can run around in their two hundred dollar Stetson fedoras. Because here’s the thing: man-babyish libertarian white guys look particularly silly in fedoras, but they would still look (and act) like man-babyish libertarian white guys even without them.

Media Will Define GOP Candidate as Moderate

Ted CruzJonathan Chait wrote a great and thorough article earlier this week, Being Less Crazy Than Donald Trump Does Not Make Marco Rubio “Moderate.” In it, he went through all of Rubio’s positions to show that he is on the hard right of his party. Chait made a good point of the fact that Rubio goes around talking about his education reform idea. But he does it so he doesn’t have to talk about his extreme positions. In addition, his education program is tiny. It would be like Hitler going around campaigning on the idea of the Volkswagen. But our media would just report about the Volkswagen, just as they are reporting about Rubio’s “moderation.”

The truth is that the three Republican candidates for president — Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Rubio — are all extremists. They really don’t disagree about anything except how they ought to talk about their policies. In as much as they have policy differences, they all belong to Trump who looks liberal compared to the other two. So we have one candidate who the media currently has no problem calling an extremist, and he is the least extreme. Currently, of course, Ted Cruz is surging in the polls. And Brian Beutler thinks this is a good thing, Ted Cruz Is Exactly What the Political System Needs. It is subtitled, “Why Republicans and Democrats alike should welcome his nomination.” But for the second time in a week, I find myself very much in disagreement with him.

Hillary ClintonTo start with, Beutler makes the argument that it would teach the Republicans a lesson. The media have been making this argument for decades. The conservative base always claims that they lose because they don’t run a “real” conservative. But this is not an actual argument. It is axiomatic. If a Republican loses the presidency, it is because they were not conservative enough. What every conservative “knows” is that the only reason any Republican ever loses any race is because they aren’t conservative enough. It’s like the old line, “I don’t know how Romney lost; everyone at the club voted for him!”

But the really dangerous assumption is that Ted Cruz would lose the general election. I don’t see that as a given at all. He could be Hitler pushing a new kind of car and he would win if the economy falls into recession next year. But there is another thing that will go on. As soon as it becomes clear who the Republican nominee will be, the elites will rally around him. They will talk about him as though he were just a garden variety Republican. (And they’ll be right, but not in the way they imply.) And so the mainstream media will not cover any of these three as though they are freaks. It will be the usual “Republicans are equal and opposite to Democrats.” If anything, we will see articles about how extreme Clinton is and how moderate Ted Cruz is.

Lack of healthcare kills people. Ever wider access to guns kills people. Lack of food kills people. Pretty much everything the modern Republican Party stands for kills people.

The last thing that the American media ever want to do is admit that anything is wrong in the good ol’ USA. They act rather like a dysfunctional family at Christmas. “Don’t do anything to upset dad. Let’s just pretend that everything is okay.” But everything is not okay in America. We have a substantially better healthcare system today than we had seven years ago. Cost trends are down; access is up. It is the first step we’ve taken on the healthcare front to join the other advanced nations of the world. But every one of the GOP candidates wants to get rid of it on day one. They want to make life infinitely harder for the poor and middle class at the same time that they want to funnel huge amounts of money to the rich. This is a program that should appeal to at most 5% of the population. Yet it is a program that roughly 50% of the people will vote for.

There is something really wrong in America. And a big part of it is that upper class journalists keep insisting that nothing is wrong. It doesn’t matter if you vote for Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton. Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But in fact, the decision really does represent the difference between millions of people dying. I know that sounds hyperbolic. But lack of healthcare kills people. Ever wider access to guns kills people. Lack of food kills people. Pretty much everything the modern Republican Party stands for kills people.

But on the television media and in the mainstream press, about all you’ll hear is that Cruz is polling well in Texas and Clinton in New York. And otherwise, there is no real difference.

Morning Music: Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley

LV Elvie ThomasFor many years, I have been fascinated by the blue duo Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. They recorded four songs in 1930 and two the following, which are classics to people like me who love all that old blues music we associate with the Mississippi Delta. In addition to it being really unique in that here you have two great blues singers and guitar players working together, there was the fact that we didn’t know anything about them. And I did look into it. But unlike Robert Johnson who we at least have lots of legends about, there was nothing about these two. But then I found this amazing article by John Jeremiah Sullivan in The New York Times magazine, The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie. It was subtitled, “On the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace.”

If you are interested in this music or the period or just the work that ethnomusicologists do, stop reading right now and go read the article. It is fantastic. A great mystery is unraveled right before you. But I will warn you: at the end, you will want more. It is a very long article, however. I’ll give you the lowdown here. And the first thing I should probably do is introduce you to Geeshie and Elvie. Although most people who are into this kind of music would totally disagree, their most accessible tune is their version of Luke Jordan’s “Pick Poor Robin Clean.” I also think it is the best introduction to them:

One thing that is most interesting about this whole story is the centrality of Mack McCormick, an ethnomusicologist who knew more about this period than anyone else in the world. From the age of 16, he’s investigated 888 counties in the south. He is now 83 years old when the article appeared with tens of thousands of pages of interviews, photos, and much else documented. It was his life’s work, yet most of it has never been released because, having collected the data he found himself under the crushing burden of trying to make sense of it all.

What’s interesting to me is that I know of McCormick because I went through a phase when I was crazy for Robert Johnson. I still am as far as his music goes; but I don’t especially care about his life story anymore. And the reason I don’t is because I read an interview with McCormick where he laid out the case that we probably don’t know anything about Johnson. Regionally, Johnson was such a star that there were a lot of Robert Johnson impersonators. Not in the sense we think of with Elvis Impersonators, but a lot of blues singers of that time just grabbed the name. So the story of Robert Johnson getting poisoned by a jealous husband? Maybe that was the guy who created those songs we love; and maybe not.

What I didn’t know was that this was just one small part of McCormick’s work. And in an interview with John Jeremiah Sullivan, McCormick revealed that he had interviewed a woman near Houston, TX in 1961 by the name of LV Thomas who used to be a professional blues musician. Through a lot of twists and turns, we learn that LV was in fact Elvie Thomas. She had always lived in Houston, so she wasn’t from Mississippi at all. Even though Geeshie is now the more famous one, Elvie was the veteran. Six years ago, I wrote a short article complaining that not only did Wikipedia not have a page on Elvie Thomas, when she was mentioned on the Geeshie Wiley page, it claimed she was a man! That should give you some idea of just how exciting this new information is.

Apparently, Wiley’s real name was Lillie Mae. It was LV who gave her the nickname Geeshie, which was slang for something like a country bumpkin. Geeshie seems to have come from Louisiana originally — or maybe even Mexico. She was in her early 20s when the recordings where made whereas Elvie was almost 40. So the power structure seems pretty clear. After those recordings, it seems they worked together for another four years when LV found God and decided that her music days were Satanic.

But the most interesting thing is that LV was a lesbian. I don’t know if that was why she was hiding in the church. Baptists have lots of funny ideas about the world. Regardless, one year after the recording was made, Geeshie murdered her husband — stabbed him in the neck. But we know she didn’t go to jail for it, because she and LV continued to perform together for three years after that. What’s more, in 1961, LV indicated that she knew where Geeshie was — west Texas, supposedly. It is speculated that Geeshie could have gotten off by claiming self-defense. She and her husband were black and the authorities didn’t much care regardless.

This raises all kinds of interesting questions. Could Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wileyhave been lovers? Did Geeshie kill her husband because he found out about their affair? Did LV find God after Geeshie dumped her? There are too many great novels that could be written with the fragmentary information that we have. But what’s most frustrating is that McCormick did another interview with LV during which she was apparently more forthcoming. And we don’t know at all what she said. (McCormick died last November and seems to have been a bit difficult.)

At least for now, we have the music. Here is a playlist of the six songs they recorded, more or less in the order they were released:

Anniversary Post: the Basel Massacre

Basel MassacreOn this day in 1349, the Basel Massacre occurred. It happened during the Black Death of 1346 through 1353. But in the years 1348 to 1350 there were a number of persecutions because of it. I mean: people were dying; somebody had to be blamed; and why not the Jews! This is a classic one: the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. That’s such a common conspiracy theory throughout history that it is a silly stereotype like Borat thinking that Jews have horns.

It’s perhaps appropriate to talk about this right now, given the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan. The thing about blaming the Jews is that they never had a motive, other than that the Christian majority thought they were evil. But Governor Snyder and his allies had very clear ideological and financial reasons to poison the people of Flint. Not that I’m saying they cared about poisoning the people; I’m just saying that they didn’t care — that the other concerns were greater.

Now it isn’t just that the Christians hated the Jews in Basel. It was also the case that the Jews weren’t dying as much. This was due to the fact that their dietary rituals kept their food cleaner. And they engaged in daily washing and periodic bathing. The Christians were the kind of filthy people so ably rendered in the film The Name of the Rose. (Yes, the book is thousand times better, but the filth is so clear in the film!)

One interesting thing about the Basel Massacre is that it occurred where France, Switzerland, and Germany meet. So the people there were a good cross-section of the people of Europe. Apparently, the town elders tried to stop the attack on the Jews. I do like that. As people get older, they do often get wiser. It’s interesting to watch it in our own country where conservatives are convinced the sober voices of knowledge are just wimps. Things haven’t changed much in 666 years.

So 600 local Jews were put inside a barn on an island in the Rhine, and it was set on fire. There were only a few survivors. And the Black Death continued on unabated for another four years.