color photography is vulgar

You know whose birthday it is? Today, the 27th day of July–whose birthday? It’s okay if you don’t know, on account of I’m going to tell you.

It’s the birthday of William Joseph Eggleston. You know, the photographer? The guy who took black-and-white art photography by the neck, wrestled it to the ground, and rubbed its face in bright, bright color. Lurid color. William Eggleston. Bill. Born in that fine Southern city of Memphis, Tennessee. 1939. Seventy-five years old today.

Yeah, he’s still alive. His son, Winston, told The New Yorker magazine that Eggleston will likely spend the day “playing Bach sonatas on his recently installed Bösendorfer piano.” Yeah. Maybe. Or maybe that’s just the sort of thing a son would tell The New Yorker magazine, because he didn’t want to say his dad might just spend the day slowly sipping bourbon and looking out the window at Overton Park in Memphis, wondering how the hell he could possibly be seventy-five years old;

He pissed off a lot of important photography folks, Bill Eggleston. Folks like Walker Evans, who didn’t like color photography. Walker Evans, whose quest was to make photographs that were “literate, authoritative, transcendent” (which he did, by the way, nobody can say Evans was anything less than literate and authoritative). But the man just didn’t like color.

“There are four simple words on the matter, which must be whispered: Color photography is vulgar.”

He was authoritative on that, no mistake. Eggleston, though, liked vulgar color. And he didn’t give a rat’s ass about being authoritative or transcendent. He had–and probably still has–a subversive eye. “I am at war with the obvious,” Eggleston once said. Which, given the vivid color of his photography, sounds an awful lot like bullshit. But it’s not.

I wrote about Eggleston’s war with the obvious half a decade ago, and I’m just too lazy to spend the time trying to find a way to repeat it using different words. You can read it if you’re interested. Or just trust me–when Eggleston said he was at war with the obvious, he was straight up telling the truth.

Eggleston at a piano (photo by Juergen Teller)

Eggleston at a piano (photo by Juergen Teller)

I’m hoping Eggleston has himself a happy birthday. I’m hoping he really does play some Bach on his fancy piano. And sips some bourbon. And maybe spends some time outside. It would be cool if he shot some photos today, but if he doesn’t…well, he’s taken his share. It’s okay if he leaves the camera at home.

(By the way, that photo above–the one by Juergen Teller? It’s a damned fine photo. I like it a lot. But it’s pretty obvious. Teller does good work, but he’s no William Joseph Eggleston, is he.)

these fucking idjits

Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t credit the Open Carry Texas folks with an abundance of common sense. I mean, openly toting firearms in a store called ‘Target’ seems pretty stupid on a fundamental level. Sure, it could be interpreted as an ironic statement on the way the Second Goddamn Amendment is interpreted by some folks these days. Except the OCT folks are as lacking in irony as they are in common sense.

If openly walking around with a firearm in a big box store is stupid (it is really stupid), then approximately how stupid would it be to do the same thing in Dealey Plaza in Dallas? Here’s the answer: incredibly fucking stupid. We’re talking about Dealey Plaza, where President John F. Kennedy had a big chunk of his head explosively removed by a high-powered rifle.

Open Carry Texas promoting the Second Amendment in Dealey Plaza

Open Carry Texas promoting the Second Amendment in Dealey Plaza

Here’s one of the problems: these guys are fucking idjits. In Texas, they have the legal right to carry rifles and shotguns in public. I may not like it, but they absolutely have that right, just as they have the right to be fucking idjits. But here’s a true thing: being a fucking idjit in support of a cause isn’t the best way to promote that cause. People aren’t seeing these fucking idjits and thinking ‘Hey, cool, guns in Dealey Plaza, I want to get in on that.’ They’re thinking ‘Who are these fucking idjits toting guns in Dealey Plaza?’

Here’s another problem: The already blemished record of Texas in regard to powerful weaponry and U.S. presidents that are unpopular with conservatives is made even worse by Open Carry idjits. Like this one:

ArmedMom.png (550×614)

Where is an assasin [sic] when you need one? Oh, I don’t know…maybe in Texas. When people say shit like this, even in jest, it actually has the effect of increasing the climate of hate. A small effect, sure — but you put enough small effects together and you get a big effect. It increases the climate of hate and fear, and lowers the threshold for acting on that fear and hate.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that in 1963, a couple of hours before his motorcade took him to Dealey Plaza, President Kennedy told his wife, “We’re heading into nut country today.” He said that after seeing this poster:

kennedy wanted for treason

I’ve said this before: I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist. I may find this sort of shit hateful and offensive, but I support the right of hateful people to express their hate in this manner. I may abhor the law that allows Texans to carry their long weapons in public, but it’s the law. Even in Dealey Plaza.

But it’s important that we don’t ignore the toxic effect of this stuff. Especially when we start seeing this sort of shit:

Obama wanted for treason

Does that look at all familiar? Now keep that poster in mind while considering the jackass in the following video — the jackass who says crap like this:

“[Y]ou worry about foreigners coming over the border, we got a foreigner as president! We got a foreigner that was born in Kenya, that has an illegal birth certificate, as president — and you guys are worried about foreigners coming over the border!”

Where is an assassin when you need one? You’re growing them in Texas. And in Arizona, and Nevada, and New Hampshire, and yeah, we’re growing them right here in Iowa. We’re growing them everywhere these fucking idjits gather to talk about ‘Second Amendment remedies’ for dealing with politicians and policies they dislike.

The odds are none of these hateful fucking idjits in Open Carry Texas will ever shoot anybody. But they’re making it easier for other fucking idjits to do it.

chortling curtailed

You guys, today I totally sorta kinda feel bad for Republicans (okay, no, not really). I mean the day started out SO well for them. A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare, or the Kenyan Usurper’s Completely Socialist Plot to Destroy These United States by Giving Health Care to Poor People) was “a plate of absolute bullshit with special bullshit sauce, served with a side of bullshit salad” (actual quote from the ruling, as interpreted by me).

Basically, the court said the Federal gubmint can’t pay subsidies to help poor and working class folks get health insurance. Why? Because there was an editing error in the final draft. It said the subsidies would be paid through exchanges “established by the State”, which two of the three judges decided meant the individual state instead of the federal state. And no, I’m not making that up. That’s actually the basis of their decision. I think. Or something equally absurd.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Potterville) chortling

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Potterville) chortling

Republicans were all “Yay! Millions of poor folks will be denied health care! Democracy works!” House Speaker John Boehner (Hapless Orange-faced Republican Windbag from Ohio) celebrated the decision. He said: “Today’s ruling is also further proof that President Obama’s health care law is completely unworkable. It cannot be fixed.” Senator Ted Cruz (Batshit Crazy Republican from Where Else?) issued a mildly lunatic statement commending the appeals court.

“The D.C. Circuit’s decision today in Halbig v. Burwell is a repudiation of Obamacare and all the lawlessness that has come with it…. This is a significant victory for the American people and the rule of law.”

Completely unworkable, you guys! Lawlessness! A significant victory! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Boehner and Cruz chortled in their joy. For like maybe five minutes. Then…blammo! (Actual sound made by appeals court rulings.) The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously on the same issue, saying “Are you fucking kidding me? Jeebus, it’s pretty clear from every other goddam word in the Act that they’re talking about the Feds, you morons. Are you guys off your meds?” (Actual quote from the ruling, as interpreted by me.)

Senator Cruz, post-chortle

Senator Cruz, post-chortle

The Fourth Circuit ruling included an analogy:

If I ask for pizza from Pizza Hut for lunch but clarify that I would be fine with a pizza from Domino’s, and I then specify that I want ham and pepperoni on my pizza from Pizza Hut, my friend who returns from Domino’s with a ham and pepperoni pizza has still complied with a literal construction of my lunch order. That is this case.

Seriously, you guys. That’s actually from the decision. Not interpreted by me or any of my personalities. Honest, no shit, directly verbatim from the ruling. Boehner and Cruz did not chortle.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, chortle-free

Speaker of the House John Boehner, chortle-free

I really truly almost sorta kinda (not really) feel bad for those guys. The DC Circuit gave them a piece of candy and the Fourth Circuit took it away. Jill Greenberg could make a photo series out of these guys.

President Obama, on the other hand…

a small town in iowa

I can be a terribly annoying traveling companion. Unless I’m in a hurry — and I’m almost never in a hurry — I prefer to travel along secondary highways and county roads. That means driving more slowly on roads that are often poorly maintained; it means getting caught behind tractors for miles; it usually means no fast food for lunch; it means driving through small towns with absurdly conservative speed limits.

But I like the small towns. Small towns can surprise you. There’s always a chance you’ll come across something odd and/or fascinating and/or emotionally moving. On my way toward the Mississippi River last week, I came across a water tower in the shape of a teapot. And a billboard commemorating a local boy who’d been killed in Iraq. And a diner owned and operated by a guy with a hook for a hand. And a town named after a 19th century Muslim religious and military leader.

Elkader, Iowa

Elkader, Iowa

Seriously. I am NOT making this up. I’m talking about Elkader, Iowa, located on the banks of the Turkey River in Pony Hollow. Yes, that’s right — there’s actually a real place called Pony Hollow, through which the Turkey River runs. Elkader’s current population is about 1275, which is only about 800 people more than when the town was founded in 1846. Back then, it was nothing but a gristmill, a sawmill, and a blacksmith shop.

When the local leaders decided to name their new town, they chose to name it after one of the most respected men of the era: Emir Abd-al-Qādir ibn Muhieddine al-Hasani el Djezairi. He was a Sufi scholar, the Commander of the Faithful, a jihadist, an Algerian resistance leader, a poet, and a military leader.


Abd-al-Qādir ibn Muhieddine al-Hasani el Djezairi

But you can’t name your town Abd-al-Qādir ibn Muhieddine al-Hasani el Djezairiville, no matter how much you respect the guy. Fortunately, he was usually just referred to as Abdelkader. So…Elkader. Which, let’s face it, is still a pretty odd name. So who was this guy? And why would Iowans name their town after him? I’m so glad you asked.

Abdelkader was born in Mascara, Algeria in 1808 (or somewhere around there — 19th century Algerian record-keeping left something to be desired). His father ran a religious school for Sufis, so it’s not surprising Abdelkader was a good student; he could read and write by age 5, and by 14 could recite the entire Qur’an by memory. When he was 17 he set out on the Hajj — the religious pilgrimage all Muslims are expected to make if possible. Afterwards he noodled around the Muslim religious and philosophical world for about five years. He was, it seems, something of a religious nerd.

elkader the dam

Elkader, dam on the Turkey River

In 1830, a few months after Abdelkader got home, France invaded Algeria. At that time, Algeria was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. France wanted to boot the Ottoman tyrants out of Algeria and replace them with…well, French tyrants. The people of Algeria weren’t particularly happy with Ottoman rule, but neither did they want to be ruled by the French. So Abdelkader found himself forced to shed his religious nerd role and start waging a guerrilla war against the infidel French. He became an Algerian nationalist.

And hey, he won. Sort of. For a while. He spanked the French, and at one point Abdelkader controlled a hefty chunk of Algeria. He established a benevolent theocracy; Jews and Christians were not only made welcome, they were given high government positions. He even earned the respect of the French soldiers who fought against him — not just as a warrior, but also as a kind and generous opponent. His treatment of French prisoners of war earned Abdelkader international praise. Although the French soldiers respected him, French leaders didn’t. They initiated a scorched-earth policy against the territories controlled by Abdelkader. The French destroyed the houses and farms of civilians, they burned the crops and slaughtered the livestock.

So after 17 years of fighting, Abdelkader surrendered. He was imprisoned in France for half a decade, then released on the condition that he never return to Algeria.

elkader stairs

Elkader, stairs to the river walkway

He settled in Damascus, Syria and lived there in relative peace. Then in 1860 a conflict between Muslims and Christians broke out in other parts of Syria. The fighting spread rapidly; almost 400 Christian communities were destroyed, and maybe 20,000 Christians were killed.

When the conflict reached Damascus, Abdelkader intervened. He and his children and his followers went into the streets and rescued local Christians at great personal risk. He brought as many as possible into his home and his gardens and his courtyard — nuns, merchants, laborers, artisans, any Christian who was in danger. And he kept them safe.

Abd-al-Qādir saving the Christians of Damascus

Abd-al-Qādir saving the Christians of Damascus

News of this spread, and Christians all over the world rushed to embrace Abdelkader. Greece bestowed on him the Grand Cross of the Redeemer (a poor grasp of irony, the Greeks). The Ottoman Empire issued him the Order of the Medjidie, First Class. The Vatican gave him the Order of Pius IX. The parliament of Great Britain sent Abdelkader a gold-inlaid shotgun. Not to be outdone, President Abraham Lincoln sent him a pair of inlaid pistols. Even France, which had imprisoned him and condemned him to exile, gave him the Grand Cross of the Légion d’honneur and offered him a pension (they didn’t let him return to Algeria, though — they’re French, not stupid).

And in Iowa, they named a town after him. It’s not what you’d call a great town. It’s a tad beat-up. A little worn with age. Not very well-maintained. But the river is nice, and the bluffs that surround the town are picturesque. And they have a very fine stone bridge. Elkader is very proud of its bridge, and they want visitors to know it’s the largest stone double-arch bridge west of the Mississippi. Being west of the Mississippi is pretty important to the good people of Elkader; they also want folks to know they have the oldest continuously operated grocery store west of the Mississippi (Wilke’s Grocery, if you’re really curious).

Elkader, houses along the Turkey River

Elkader, houses along the Turkey River

For the most part, Elkader is just another small Midwestern country town. But the guys who named it did a better job than they could have imagines. The town’s name draws a small but steady stream of Algerian visitors. Algerian immigrants, Algerians touring the U.S., second and third generation Algerian-Americans. They all come to see the Iowa town named for one of their national heroes. One Algerian-American came to visit, and decided to stay. He and his partner opened an Algerian restaurant — Schera’s. Did I mention this guy is not only Algerian by birth, but also a Sufi Muslim? And he’s gay.

Yes, there’s a gay-owned Algerian restaurant in a small Iowa town named after an Islamic insurgent. And the remarkable thing about that fact? It doesn’t seem to be that big a deal. Oh, sure, there are some local folks who dislike the name of the town, and tried to change it after the 9/11 attacks (Elkader, they complained, sounds too much like al-Qaeda). And yeah, there are some folks who dislike gay people. And yes, there are even some people who object to the ‘foreignness’ of the food served at Schera’s. But basically nobody pays much attention to the people who make a fuss. The town has always been called Elkader, gay folks have been legally getting married in Iowa for half a decade, and you either like Algerian food or you don’t. No big deal.

Elkader, bridge donation box

Elkader, bridge donation box

That’s just the way things are. They really are proud of their bridge, though, and with good reason. It really is a very fine bridge, east or west of the Mississippi. If you ever happen to find yourself in Elkader, they accept donations to maintain the bridge. Drop a buck or two in the box. It’s what Emir Abd-al-Qādir ibn Muhieddine al-Hasani el Djezairi would do.

heading into nut country

A couple of days ago I was asked to reflect upon — and possibly reconsider — my periodic denunciation of Republicans from Texas. It was suggested that categorizing Republicans as either being ‘from Texas’ or ‘not from Texas’ was, in effect, a way of claiming Texas Republicans were different from other Republicans — and different in a way that could be seen as demeaning and condescending.

Okay, it wasn’t actually put that way. What happened is I got an email from somebody who read a recent post here, and who wasn’t happy with my approach. He (I assume it’s a guy) wrote this:

Why do you say Republicans from Texas and Republicans not from Texas? It’s insulting. You act like Republicans from Texas are slobbering devils. What make you think your any better?!

Good question. What make me think I’m any better than Republicans from Texas? Nothing at all. I’m not better; I’m just not a lunatic. But in my defense, I’m pretty sure I’ve never said Republicans from Texas are devils. I may have suggested they drool and/or slobber; I can’t recall. But it sounds like something I might have said.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas and his demon-free Republican finger

Republicans from Texas, you elected this yahoo as your governor

Also in my defense, Republicans from Texas have proven themselves to be — let’s say ‘irrational.’ No, let’s not say that. Let’s say completely fucking insane. And homophobic and misogynistic and paranoid and angry and pretty much dismissive of anybody NOT white or male or Christian. Also, stupid. I forgot to include stupid. Republicans from Texas seem to have a mortal lock on stupid.

Also too Republicans from Texas, your relationship with guns is unseemly and more than a little creepy. Seriously, it borders on perversion. And not in a good way.

Republicans from Texas, this yahoo is your nominee for the next governor

Republicans from Texas, this yahoo is your nominee for the next governor

But for the moment, let’s ignore the firearm fetishism of Republicans from Texas. Let’s ignore their entire 2014 Party Platform, which includes some phenomenally stupid planks (such as the notion that Congress should deny the Supreme Court jurisdiction over “cases involving abortion, religious freedom, and the Bill of Rights”, or the idea that the U.S. is in danger of falling under Shari’a law). Let’s ignore the fact that every Republican in Texas seems to think draft-dodging pedophile Ted Nugent is the epitome of American patriotism. Let’s even ignore the fact that a LOT of Texas Republicans would like to secede from the United States.

The Republican NOT from Texas that Republicans from Texas most admire

The yahoo that Republicans from Texas most admire

Let’s just look at one classic example of how Republicans from Texas perceive effective governance. Let’s take very brief look at how Greg Abbott, the current Texas Attorney General and the front-runner in the Texas gubernatorial race, would run his state.

You may recall that just under a year ago a fertilizer plant in the small Texas town of West exploded, killing 15 people (many of whom were firefighters and first responders), injuring more than 300 others, destroying around 150 buildings (including an elementary school and an apartment complex for senior citizens). We don’t know the direct cause of the explosion, but we DO know the indirect causes: nearly non-existent regulation of the industry compounded by over-regulation of health and safety agencies.

What's left of the West, Texas fertilizer plant

West, Texas fertilizer plant after the explosion

Seriously, think about this. There is NO statewide fire code. Some counties have a fire code, but it’s actually (and no, I’m not making this up) illegal for more than half of the counties in Texas to create their own fire code. That’s right, they’re forbidden by law from establishing a county fire code. If that’s not bad enough, the Texas Fire Marshal isn’t allowed to inspect fertilizer plants without permission from the plant to be inspected. That’s completely fucking nuts. The West, Texas plant hadn’t been inspected since 1985. Almost 30 years, without an inspection.

Without inspections, there was no way anybody could have known the plant was storing about 110,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia — twice the amount it was permitted to store. There was no way anybody could have known the plant was storing more than half a million pounds of ammonium nitrate (domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh needed only 4000 pounds of ammonium nitrate to blow up the Murragh Building in Oklahoma City). We’re talking about 1350 times the amount that would trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In other words, without inspections there was no way anybody could know the plant was, in effect, an undetonated bomb. At least not until it actually detonated.

Republican candidate for Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott

Republican candidate for Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott

But almost a year has gone by since the explosion. Surely by now the State of Texas has done something to protect its citizens.

Nope. No fucking way. We’re talking about a government of Republicans from Texas, remember. There are exactly zero changes in the way fertilizer plants are regulated or inspected.

I take that back. There’s at least one change. Attorney General Greg Abbott decided the Department of State Health Services, which maintains a list of facilities that store deadly chemicals, could deny the people of Texas access to that list. Why? Who the hell knows? Republicans from Texas, boyo.

Senior citizen apartment complex, West, Texas

Senior citizen apartment complex, West, Texas

So how would an ordinary citizen — let’s say, for example, somebody whose elderly parent had lived in the senior citizen apartment complex destroyed by last year’s chemical explosion — how would that person find out if their parent’s new apartment building was also at risk?

Simple! According to Abbott in a recent interview, all the nervous person would have to do is “drive around” and look at the facilities near the apartment house (or home, or school, or church, or gun shop).

“You can ask every facility whether or not they have chemicals or not. You can ask them if they do, and they can tell you, well, we do have chemicals or we don’t have chemicals, and if they do, they tell which ones they have.”

Just ask, that’s all you’d have to do. Surely the facility managers wouldn’t lie to you. Just drive around until you spot a suspicious-looking facility, park your car, walk up to the front door and…oh, wait. What if the privately-owned facility is on private property? What then? Happily, Abbott has an answer for that question:

“[Y]ou may not be able to walk on private property. But you can send an email or letter or notice to anyone who owns any kind of private property or facility, saying that under the community right to know law, you need to tell me within 10 days what chemicals you have.”

And he’s right. The law does say that. Sort of. Alternatively, if the facility didn’t want to send the list of deadly chemicals to a private person (who could, after all, be a terrorist intent on destroying America by taking our guns and making us gay marry our cousins), they have the option of sending the information to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Which, according to Abbott, can then deny the public access to that list.

West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion

That’s governing Texas Republican style. Back in 1963, when President John Kennedy was visiting Texas, a couple of hours before his motorcade took him to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Kennedy told his wife, “We’re heading into nut country today.”

Little has changed, I’m sorry to say. That’s why I single out Republicans from Texas for special attention. Because those bastards deserve it. It’s Chinatown Nut Country, Jake. Chinatown Nut Country.