28 July 2010

Mike Fink and Other Less Interesting Folks

Darn Mike Fink

Yesterday I was driving through Calhoun County, West Virginia. This is a beautiful place, although quite different than the homes of many readers. It is a county of two-lane highways. I grew up in such places, and I know both feeling of isolation and insulation and indeed comfort of “home” and “neighborhood” that a place like Calhoun County engenders.

My mission yesterday was as a marauding Philistine, to find land for uses inconsistent with the quiet nature of Calhoun County. As I drove up Route 16, I passed through the unincorporated community of Chloe and was reminded of the comment of Gertrude Stein that “there is no there there,” and then I arrived at the community of Minnora and found that there wasn’t even any there. And, of course, I jest, these are simply tiny communities where neighbors nest in comfort and security and where in the deep snows of winter, neighbors check on each other.

Well, the land lies beautifully along Route 16. America is such a beautiful and varied place, and I love so much of it. But my home is, indeed, among the hills. Here, finally, was a place to share with people who have been deprived of the quiet joy of living in Mother West Virginia.

And then: Darn the luck! I ran across a historical marker alongside the highway. In West Virginia, the Department of Culture and History erects permanent markers at historical sites. This particular one marked the “Grave of Mike Fink.” The pleasing vapor of my pleasant (and financially advantageous) visions blew away. You see, this Mike Fink (not that Mike Fink, the other Mike Fink) was a seminal figure in central West Virginia history. To countenance development within shouting distance of his grave? Heresy! Besides, dealing with the Department of Culture and History would be nightmarishly expensive and the flood of tourists would make any sort of regional development just another tawdry collection of souvenir stands. And so, the grave of Mike Fink as well as the unnamed Indian who killed him (photograph above) remains unsullied, as does the Valley of the Elk, which is only right.

I Got It Wrong

I have been reflecting on the strange case of Shirley Sherrod, the Department of Agriculture official who was fired by Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack after Andrew Breitbart published edited videotape of a recent speech she gave. In that speech, she described an incident 25 years ago where she first sandbagged a white farmer and then, after her own reflection, undid the damage and helped the farmer out. In my post of 22 July 2010, I roundly criticized her as having made a pretty stupid speech.

I’ve followed the news, I’ve considered the comments of Friend Rosa, and now I think I just got it wrong. Taken as a whole, Ms. Sherrod’s speech was a self revealing story of learning. I can hardly object to it having been hokey, inasmuch as I do so love hokey. I’ve also been reading Child of the Appalachian Coalfields, by Robert C. Byrd, and particularly his discussion of his membership when he was in his 20s in the Ku Klux Klan. Although it followed him all his life, in West Virginia he became the most popular public servant of all time and pretty well got a pass on the Klan thing.

And then I considered if what disturbed me was Ms. Sherrod’s reaction to the uproar in the firing as victim-like and whining, and I still think it was. On the other hand, to expect her to have remained calm after she was sandbagged was probably asking too much. I do know that my own reaction would not have been effective at all. A selected few may differ, but I lay claim to a reasonable degree of mellowness. When I screw up, I think I say yes, I’ve screwed up. But in this situation, of both Brietbart’s and the Secretary’s big white horses would have figured in my reaction. So, perhaps a response such as Ms. Sherrod’s was the only way to change the status quo, I don’t know.

In the world of the sound bite, we have to be careful, for we don’t see a lot of accurate representations of people’s beliefs.

My hand to God: A Lawyer Ad

There is an old custom in Mother West Virginia when one is relating something that is not very credible but which is nonetheless true. You raise your right hand when someone expresses doubt and say, “My hand to God . . .,” and that imbues what you have said with the strength of a solemn oath.

I was cruising craigslist.com this week, looking for a printer. I saw that one can advertise legal services. Who (and how) would one advertise legal services on craigslist? So I looked, and My Hand To God, I found this ad: (I’ve changed only the name)


Mortimer Snerd

Now accepting divorce clients for hundreds off normal fee.

Mention this ad and get a divorce for $1200. Call me today.
304 555-5555

123 Snerd Lane
Snerdville, WV. 26101

Stunning, just stunning. The ad is either misleading or really indicative of not a lot of attention being paid to a case. One cannot predict in advance how much time and effort a divorce will take. The $1200 may be OK for a “no-fault” divorce with no children and not much property. But if you add ANYTHING else, the lawyer will be working for free or not doing stuff that should be done. Is this some sort of “get ‘em in the door” thing? Beats me, and I’m not going to ask Mort. You don’t always get what you pay for, but if you don’t pay, the chances of getting go down a bunch. And “mention this ad”? Tacky, tacky, tacky.

Pippa passes.


22 July 2010

Snookering, Ivory Handles and the Beloved Crown Vic

Mommy, I’ve Been Snookered!

The NAACP is lamenting that that they were “snookered” by Fox News regarding the USDA supervisor from Georgia who was fired by the Agriculture Department. A conservative sewer stirrer edited a tape of a recent speech where the woman described sandbagging a white farmer 25 years ago in some sort of mortgage foreclosure by, among other things, sending him to an incompetent white lawyer, one of “his own kind.” Later in the same speech, she talked about how she had changed her mind and had given that farmer appropriate assistance. The NAACP has been ragging the rag-tag “Tea Party” about its supposed racism, so the honey dipper was crying “hypocrites!,” and the NAACP hit the bait hook, line and sinker.

Hello? What is the message here from the NAACP? When we make a cynical political judgment and take a public position in someone’s favor and against someone else without asking enough questions or getting enough information and it blows up on us, it’s not our fault, we have been misled? This doesn’t get Fox News (or CNN or ABC or the Christian Science Monitor or MSNBC or the Pedophile Online Journal) off the hook for slanting stories. But in the big leagues, sometimes the pitchers throw curveballs or even spitballs. Crying about it just isn’t a big league kind of response.

In any event, for a government agency regional supervisor to give that speech was memorably stupid and evokes a “What the hell were you thinking?” response. People confuse the First Amendment with a blank check. The First Amendment gives you the right to say almost anything. The exceptions are few: The timeworn example of shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater; maliciously libeling someone with untrue allegations; and the like. The First Amendment does not mean you get a free pass when your speech conflicts with your job duties. The government will not pull a Peter Zenger on you and prosecute and the situations under which you may be sued successfully are few and far between. But there are still consequences. If a government official screws the pooch and creates havoc, there are consequences. If I cuss a judge, there are consequences. Sometimes, you’ll get fired. Sometimes, it’s simpler - people will just think that you’re an idiot.

So far, the fired USDA supervisor says that she is a victim and she does not acknowledge that she did something just a tad stupid. Oh, and as of today, she says that Pres. Obama needs to call her personally and apologize. Poor baby, maybe he can also give her a foot rub.

Not MY Mountains, But Good Mountains

God bless Juan Valdez. The guy bails me out of absolute torpor every morning without fail.

The Free Press

In the course of a couple of interesting cases before the Circuit Court of Gilmer County, West Virginia (County seat – Glenville), I’ve come in contact with a net-only news publication, the Gilmer Free Press ( www.GilmerFreePress.net ).

The Internet is the new printing press and everyone can be their own pamphleteer. The quality of the Free Press strikes me. (Before somebody gets all pissy on me, I’m talking about the layout, the quality of the writing, the timeliness, and other things that make for a successful news source. By that analysis, Pravda was a pretty damn good newspaper.) The Free Press has lots of the interesting stuff like national political opinion, horoscopes [stupid; silly; people still like them], an astronomy column and other things that some people find fascinating and some people find a great bloody boor. It is heaviest on local news, although it throws news and opinion into a blender rather obviously. When it comes to publishing letters and comments, the unknown editor must pray to the gods of New York Times vs. Sullivan every night, for absent the concept of actual malice in libeling public figures, the Free Press would be sued daily. (There would be a problem finding the defendant, because the Free Press is published anonymously.)

What fascinates me most of all is that someone is spending a lot of time gathering news, taking photographs, writing stories, retyping turgid information which comes to them in some non-electronic printed format, tracking down obits, and so forth. I can’t see how publishing the Free Press consumes less than one “full-time equivalent,” that is, the equivalent of one person working a full-time job. However, the Free Press is free on the Internet and doesn’t have any advertising. I haven’t figured out any identifiable economic interest which would justify this kind of effort. Now, Glenville has more axes to grind than your average lumberyard, so the motivation may be as simple as that, but I do find this thing a unique creature of the new age.


I have “discovered” the writing of H. L. Mencken. I’ve always heard of him, and just read a few lines of his writing which were presented as examples of curmudgeonliness, but I’ve never sat down and read his work at any length. He was an essayist, keen social observer, biting humorous humorist and is one of the most delightful writers I’ve read in a long, long time.

The Crown Vic

Admit it – when you’re driving down the highway, you keep your eyes on the rearview mirror looking for the familiar silhouette of a Ford Crown Victoria sedan. That is the automobile purchased very commonly by police departments to use as cruisers. Ford Motor Company had a special “police package” (power, handling, electrical) for that purpose, and about half of the Crown Vic’s produced went to police departments. Ford has discontinued production of the Crown Vic, and the competition is on among manufacturers to furnish the preferred future cruiser. Ford is touting a Taurus-based model, Chevy a Caprice and Chrysler a rear-wheel-drive Charger.

As you may imagine, police vehicles get pretty hard service. When they get too many miles on the clock, most departments auction them off fairly cheaply. and that’s when we see the Crown Vic Wannabe Syndrome at work. Old cruisers are not hard to spot. Most of them will have a 2 inch rubber stopper in one or both rear fenders closing the hole where a big whip antenna was removed. Some still have a spotlight installed through the A-post beside the windshield. Most are painted either white or black, with rims to match. And, because they are Crown Vic’s, drivers are still wary of them, and the young guys (and invariably, guys) who purchase one for $800 know it. Look around for a former police car and look at the driver. Imagine a little movie screen on his forehead. Watch the movie: it’s Broderick Crawford in Highway Patrol. It’s Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry. It’s Walter Mitty in whatever role, as the toughest, baddest ass in a neighborhood, with the music to Miami Vice playing the background.

It’s our fault, you know. We’re maintaining a society where it’s not OK just to be a person. You have to have your title, your badge, your merit badges, your uniform, your monogramed something, your metaphorical ivory handled revolvers (remember, pearl handles are for pimps) to have value. Titles before your name, letters after your name, the right chrome, the right emblems on your car, that’s what creates and validates you.

And so if a person can gain self-respect with an $800 car, more power to them.

The Matriarch

The family matriarch, LaG, continues to experience health problems, which is the priority of this wretched scribe. Publication schedule, therefore, is unpredictable.

Pippa passes.