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Friday, April 29, 2005

A Southern Lament

Sometimes you can drift far enough off the main highways of America to suddenly find yourself in a different time, confronting a different reality. This morning I was driving near enough to Mt. Airy, North Carolina (made famous by the Andy Griffith Show) that I was able to pick up a classic country music station on the radio.

Now in the big city, where country music is enjoying broad popularity, classic country - the old stuff - includes the likes of Garth Brooks and Charley Daniels. To most country music fans today, anyone older than Kenny Chesney is from the distant past.

But the past around these parts has a much longer memory. This particular radio station was playing rural music in its classical sense. Ballads. Gospel. Folk music. Classical bluegrass as only mountain musicians can perform it. The kind of music that takes your mind off of the day's trials and tribulations.

There was one recording in particular that captured my attention this morning. It was a ballad originally sung in the 1940's by someone whose name I didn't catch. It was a song about a young native southerner lost in a war fought many decades before. It was of interest to me because, even though the Civil War ended 140 years ago, the playing of this particular recording reminded me that the war's toll and aftermath are still being dealt with by the people in Carroll County, Patrick County, and Smyth County, Virginia, Goldsboro, High Point, and Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. And Mt. Airy.

The disappearance of so many young men from every town and village across the south is still a wound that hasn't completely healed.

People in the mountains, even today, take time out - a brief moment - to mourn the loss of a generation of kinfolk. Some think of grandfathers and great grandfathers they never knew. Others their great-uncles who went off to war and were last seen moving forward, face toward the enemy, weapon in hand, on the field of Shiloh, Tennessee on a beautiful Spring day in 1862 ... and were never heard from or seen again. Vanished, like so many thousands of other young southerners in the day. At Fredericksburg and Manassas. Gettysburg and Cold Harbor. Petersburg and Slaughter Mountain. Not a word ever made its way back to let relatives know of their fate. They simply, cruelly, vanished from the face of the earth. Forever.

Even today, tens of thousands of the south's finest and most promising young men who disappeared in the years 1861 to 1865 are unaccounted for. No gravestone marks their last resting place, save for plaques in cemeteries in such faraway places as Perryville, Kentucky and Pittsburgh Landing, Tennessee that read, "Here lie the mortal remains of 300 Confederate dead." Nothing more.

If there is the occasional feeling of remorse coming out of the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina after these many years, imagine what the all-consuming sense of loss must have been in those years when the war was still raging, as well as in the many years that followed. It didn't simply involve individual families who were touched by tragedy. Entire communities were devastated by the tragic losses. So many young men.

I was able to find the lyrics to the ballad I heard on the radio. Here they are, for your edification.

Rebel Soldier
In a dreary Yankee prison
Where a Rebel soldier lay
By his side there stood a preacher
Ere his soul should pass away
And he faintly whispered Parson
As he clutched him by the hand
Oh parson tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the southland?

Will my soul pass through the southland?
To my old Virginia Grand
Will I see the hills of Georgia?

And the green fields of Alabam'
Will I see that little church house
Where I placed my heart in hand?
Oh parson tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the southland?

Was for lovin' dear ol' Dixie
In this dreary cell I lie
Was for lovin' dear ol' Dixie
In this northern state I'll die
Will you see my little daughter?
Will you make her understand?
Oh parson tell me quickly
Will my soul pass through the southland?

Poor Fella

This little guy is about to go Hollywood. I'll bet the ivory-billed woodpecker can't wait for all the attention that's about to be showered upon it.

Deep in the Swamp, an 'Extinct' Woodpecker Lives
By JAMES GORMAN, New York Times

BRINKLEY, Ark., April 28 - The ivory-billed woodpecker, a magnificent bird long given up for extinct, has been sighted in the cypress and tupelo swamp of the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge here in Arkansas, scientists announced Thursday.

Bird experts, government agencies and conservation organizations involved kept the discovery secret for more than a year, while they worked to confirm the discovery and protect the bird's territory. Their announcement on Thursday brought rejoicing among birdwatchers, for whom the ivory bill has long been a holy grail - a creature that has been called the Lord God bird, apparently because that is what people exclaimed when they saw it.

Secretary Gale A. Norton ... announced that her agency, along with the Department of Agriculture, had proposed to spend $10 million in federal money for research, habitat protection and law enforcement efforts to protect the bird. The Nature Conservancy and other conservation groups have bought land in the region of the refuge to help preserve a larger area. (link)
Can you imagine? $10 million for habitat protection ...bulldozers, earth movers, construction equipment, electricity, armed federal agents. If I had made the discovery, I'd have walked away with a smile, knowing that the bird was doing just fine without all the help. Now you'll see Barbara Walters, hip boots adorned, wading through the swamps of central Arkansas trying to locate the little creature for that up-close-and-personal interview.

Poor thing.

Click on image to enlarge
Photo courtesy of the New York Times Posted by Hello

Talk About a Tough Job

I hope law enforcement officers around here make lots of money. They certainly earn it.

Take a look at some of the indictments handed down in Wise County the other day.
-- Patricia Ann Thompson, 45, of 425 Second St., SW, and P.O. Box 2601, Coeburn, on one count of felony assault and battery against C.A. Sanders, II, knowing that person was a law enforcement officer.

-- Nathaniel McGee, 39, of Wallens Ridge State Prison, Big Stone Gap, on one count of felony assault and battery against Corrections Officer David Williams, knowing that person was a law enforcement officer.

-- Darlene Ford, 45, of 756 Shawnee Ave., Big Stone Gap, on one count of felony assault and battery against Anthony J. Carter, knowing that person was a law enforcement officer.

-- Reginald Mills, 26, of the Wise County jail, Wise, on one felony count of assault and battery against Sgt. Louna Lawson of the Wise County Sheriff's Office.

-- Patricia Ann Thompson, 45, of 425 Second St., SW, and P.O. Box 2601, Coeburn, on one felony count of assault and battery against Coeburn Police Department officer Jason E. Jackson, knowing that person was a law enforcement officer.
(emphases mine) (link)
It would appear, if the police pull someone over for some minor offense, they can expect to be attacked. I'll bet those officers just love getting up each morning knowing what their every day is going to be like.

Pay them. Well.

James Taranto Explains West Virginia

There are a whole bunch of "political strategists" who are perplexed over West Virginia's incongruous voting patterns. Its population is heavily Democratic in terms of party affiliation but is trending solidly Republican in recent years in its voting patterns.

James Taranto, writing in the Wall Street Journal, has the (obvious) explanation.
What's The Matter With The Charleston Gazette?

Today's edition of the ultraliberal Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette has one of the (unwittingly) funniest editorials ever:

Several times, we have posed this question for political experts: Why did West Virginia--long a Roosevelt-and-Kennedy Democratic "blue state"--become a Republican "red state" in the past two presidential elections, despite 2-to-1 Democratic registration?

Why did this low-income state vote for the party of the rich--a party openly slashing help for common Americans and giving huge rewards to the wealthy?

We never received an explanation from any of the state's political professors or other societal analysts. But an answer was offered by one of the world's premier journals, Le Monde of Paris. In a long report titled "What's the matter with West Virginia?" the French newspaper said the Mountain State has been pulled to the right by exaggerated patriotism, love of guns, Bible Belt fundamentalism, resentment of liberal intellectuals, and defense of the coal industry against environmentalism.
Maybe the reason West Virginia turned red is that its liberal elites, such as the editorialists at the Gazette, are so out of touch that they have to rely on Le Monde to explain the state's politics. (link requires subscription)
Except for the annoying "exaggerated" patriotism crack (only a French newspaper could misinterpret the level at which most of us revere the USA), every West Virginian I talk with believes in all the above. God, guns, and giving pointy-headed socialist utopian intellectuals - most of whom live in Paris and the upper west side of Manhattan - a one-way ticket to the land of their dreams.

I'll buy the ticket.

Governor Warner Loves Those Felons

Is there a kinship here? Is our governor "casing his ace," as we used to say, softening the stance the commonwealth of Virginia has traditionally taken toward law-breakers, knowing that he'll walk amongst them before too long? I don't know. But the latest news has both good and bad sides.

First the bad news.
Warner first in America in restoring felons' rights
By Christina Bellantoni, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, who has returned voting rights to more felons than any other governor in state history, also leads the nation in restoring felons' rights.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, has restored the rights to 2,157 felons since taking office in January 2002 and has denied the requests of 134 felons.

Among governors of the 14 states that deny voting rights to felons, Mr. Warner has restored more voting rights than any other chief executive, according a report from the Sentencing Project, a District-based criminal-justice advocacy group. (
The good news?

The massive tax increase that was forced on us by the governor leaves us little for all these newly-released felons to steal. Especially in times of great despair.

I try to always maintain a positive attitude.