The great inversion
The strangest city I ever lived in was Houston, Texas. By far. I moved there in 1980, prodded by a friend who went there before me. I had the idea of working in the construction trades, gaining enough experience to eventually return north and become a union member.
I had taken a class in electrical wiring, and had some wiring experience, so working as an electrician was my likeliest option for finding work. I was lucky. The first employer where I applied, Joe Swartz Electric, offered me a job immediately, for the lofty wage of $5.00 per hour. Joe Swartz was the largest residential electrical contractor in Houston, putting fifty trucks on the road daily, each with three man wiring crews aboard.
It was unbelievably hard work. I worked on "rough" wiring, running wire in stud frame walls before the drywall was installed. The three man crews I worked with wired four houses every day, working from one new house to the next on the same street.
Very few of the workers at Joe Swartz were licensed journeyman electricians - at the most about five, including the managers. The standards in Houston were so low that it didn't matter if you had no experience. As it turned out, the electrical wiring was probably the highest quality work done in the houses built at the time. The buildings were rush jobs, with corners being cut on inspections, materials, and code compliance. The wiring was done safely and according to accepted standards.
The crew of "electricians" at Joe Swartz were from diverse locations, mostly from southern states, but some from Colorado, Michigan, New York, California, and other northern and western states. They got along pretty well, but the native Houstonians were probably the least qualified, and from the most marginal backgrounds.
One day I was assigned to work with an "underground" crew. It was simple work. The crew leader used a "Ditch Witch" - a small bulldozer-like vehicle - to dig a narrow trench from the power source to the house under construction. Rubber coated electrical cable was placed in the trench, about six inches deep in the ground. My job was to lay the cable and do whatever hand digging with a shovel was necessary.
The crew leader was something of a hothead, and supposedly had spent some time in "Huntsville." This meant that he had been an inmate at the main state prison, which was located in Huntsville, Texas. Huntsville is notorious for its many executions, and the prison itself is much feared among men in Texas. When you go to Huntsville you do hard time.
I got along with the crew leader, in spite of his attempts to irritate me. He would say things he thought would bother me, but I just laughed. I remember one time he said to one of the other guys at lunchtime, "You know, Billy (or Jimbo, Red, Bobby, Shorty, etc.), I just about hate a God damn Mexican worse than I do a nigger." I laughed out loud, it sounded so stupid. The sentiment was one thing, but to just say something like that out of the blue seemed moronic. He didn't like my reaction, but I didn't laugh with malice or derision, so the conversation moved to other topics, like drinking, getting stoned, and driving fast.
A few weeks later I found myself in a more serious situation. The hothead guy wasn't a real criminal. He was a young kid with a wild streak who got in trouble with the law, for drug possession, if I remember right. Another guy showed up one day, someone who had worked there before, but who had just gotten out of Huntsville after serving a sentence of longer duration, over five years. His last name was Alexander. I never knew his first name. He was of a different sort. He had the predatory eyes and menacing grin of a career criminal, a sociopath. He was about six foot one, solid build, and was older than almost everyone at Joe Swartz, probably in his mid-forties.
I didn't give Alexander much notice. He wasn't on any of the crews I worked with. But for some strange reason I was sent out on a truck with him one day to do some cleanup work on a few unfinished houses. For various reasons some tasks got left incomplete, or had to be done over before a house is approved in a final inspection.
While traveling from one house to the next, Alexander turned to me and said, "Them niggers runnin' things up there in Michigan?" As a matter of brief explanation, you don't engage in a lecture about racial equality or proper language in a construction job in Houston, Texas, if you have any intuition at all. Meeting him half way, I told him the Laborers union in Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti was controlled by a "black" bargaining agent. I was hoping to explain that there was a certain justice to this circumstance, because "blacks" had a hard time getting into the skilled trades - carpenter, electrician, plumber, bricklayer, etc.
Before I could elaborate, Alexander eased out the response that "Down here we have the Nazis and Klan to take care of things like that." Without hesitation I replied "I don't go for that bullshit."
The quiet was palpable. Alexander said no more, but drove in a different direction from where we were going, turned down a side street, and stopped at a house that was older and occupied. It was in the area near the Astrodome, one of the worst parts of Houston. There was no work to be done there. He got out of the truck and told me he would be back in a few minutes. He went into the house, and I sat there waiting. After about an hour, he came back, and it was too late in the day to start any more work, so we returned to the company office.
Though I was uncomfortable working with Alexander, and a bit concerned about his side trip, it wasn't until much later that it occurred to me that I had been in great danger. Alexander probably knew about the Nazis and Klan because he was one of them. He was a genuinely worthless individual, menacing and foul-natured. By now he is likely dead or in prison, having continued in his criminal ways until the great balancing force finally caught up with him.
What got me thinking about Alexander were the recent murders of the abortion doctor and the Holocaust Museum guard. There's a bit of a trend going on, with one of the leaders of the "Minutemen Civil Defense Corps" anti-immigration group being arrested for murder and robbery in Arizona. With her partners in crime, the accused, Shawna Forde, apparently posed as a Federal agent, and robbed and killed a man of "Mexican" descent, and his young daughter as well.
The mainstream news media, and even the "alternative" media portray the people who commit these crimes as "racists," religious zealots, "white" supremacists, and "right-wingers." It always has to be couched in some kind of ideological terms, for the internal purposes of the news media. They have a narrative, a story line for everything that happens in the world, and what are known as "hate crimes" have to conform to the story line of ideology.
In truth, these perpetrators are criminal sociopaths, just like the zealots of the Bush criminal regime, and just like Alexander of Houston. They kill people because they want to kill people. Their righteous beliefs are mere excuses. The essence of what they do is murder. The woman from the "Minutemen" is suspected in other crimes, committed partly to finance her anti-immigrant activities.
These people are given cover by the news media. They also are egged-on by the news media, especially "Fox." Some may object to Fox News being referred to as a news organization, but it is only different from the others by degree. Minions from National Public Radio, including "senior news analyst" Juan Williams and "national political correspondent" Mara Liasson, appear regularly on Fox News.
I could go on and on. Fulminators like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity fuel the fires of hatred against perceived racial minorities, and hysterically rail against our perceived "black" president, Barack Obama, claiming that he is not even a citizen of this country. As a result, gun and ammunition sales since Obama's election have increased drastically.
These fulminators are criminals. They should be in jail, working at hard labor. For some reason, in the social and legal matrix that constitutes the "United States of America," these criminals are not only not in jail, but they are millionaires many times over.
This inversion of morality and ethics is holographic - the part revealing the whole, and that is why I can say with confidence that our failing system will not be revived, no matter what stimulus package, stop-gap measure, band-aid, or recovery plan is enacted. If we are institutionally incapable of prosecuting serious crime, then we are doomed. As long as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity are walking free, we have a fake legal system. With a fake legal system, and a corporate news media system that supports it and feeds off it, we are doomed.
And, needless to say, the Polar ice caps are melting.
This song is for Alexander.
Here's a tune from Woody Guthrie. It's a message for those among us who think they are "fascists."
This song just might open the doors of perception.
Don't forget what your good book says. Learn about it here.
Here's Willie Nelson with Ray Charles. And, for good measure, Waylon & Willie.
This Ernest Tubb song is worth a listen.
Here's some Freddy Fender. Here's some more.
The Texas Tornados. Before the Tornados, Doug Sahm fronted the Sir Douglas Quintet.
And, to finish up, Archie Bell and the Drells, from Houston, Texas.