Friday, December 09, 2016

Johnny Cash, the Poet in Black

By Ben Sisario
November 11, 2016

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Shortly before he died, Johnny Cash scrawled down eight short lines in a shaky hand, mortality clearly on his mind.

“You tell me that I must perish/Like the flowers that I cherish,” he wrote. He considered the hell of “nothing remaining of my name,” before concluding with an affirmation of his own legacy:

But the trees that I planted
Still are young
The songs I sang
Will still be sung

That poem, “Forever,” is part of a new collection, “Forever Words: The Unknown Poems” (Blue Rider Press), to be published next week. Edited by Paul Muldoon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Princeton professor, the book includes 41 works from throughout Cash’s life — the earliest piece, “The Things We’re Frightened At,” was done when he was 12 — that were among the papers left behind when Cash died in September 2003.

In some ways the poems mirror Cash’s songwriting, with terse ballads of outsiders in love, and parables drawn from the Bible; Cash’s version of Job is a wealthy cattleman who “cried out in agony/When he lost his children and his property.” And for Cash, who in his last years drew a new audience with a set of stark and fragile recordings, the poems present yet another look at a legend of American music.

“I want people to have a deeper understanding of my father than just the iconic, cool man in black,” said John Carter Cash, his son. “I think this book will help provide that.”

Some poems in “Forever Words” are unmistakably personal. “You Never Knew My Mind,” from 1967, captures Cash’s bitterness as he was going through his divorce from Vivian Liberto. (He married June Carter the next year.) “Don’t Make a Movie About Me” rejects the Hollywood machine but then slyly gives advice on a film treatment. “Going, Going, Gone,” from 1990, is a painfully detailed catalog of the ravages of drug abuse: “Liquid, tablet, capsule, powder/Fumes and smoke and vapor/The payoff is the same in the end.”

At other times, Cash seems to tinker with his own body of work. “Don’t Take Your Gun to Town,” dated to the 1980s, rewrites his classic 1958 song “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” in which a headstrong young cowboy dies when he ignores his mother’s advice. In the new version, a jaded man plans a “Taxi Driver”-like rampage against “people/Who need silencing,” but this time he listens.

“I believe he wanted to make a statement,” the younger Mr. Cash said. “He owned guns. But he definitely believed that you do not need to carry a gun in your pocket to town.”

Even so, Cash kept that version private, although, along with a handful of the poems in this collection, the manuscript for “Don’t Take Your Gun” was sold at auction.

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In his introduction, Mr. Muldoon places Cash in a poetic tradition that comes out of Scotch ballads, and also raises a point that was hotly debated after Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature last month: Are song lyrics really the same as poetry? Do lyrics lose something when removed from their musical context?

Like Cash’s lyrics, the poems in “Forever Words” are written in plain language, usually with a clear rhyming meter. There are strikingly evocative images (“The dogs are in the woods/And the huntin’s lookin’ good”), as well as some well-worn phrases about soaring eagles and hell’s fury that might pass unnoticed in a song but jump out on the page.

In an interview, Mr. Muldoon put Cash alongside Leonard Cohen, who died on Monday, and Paul Simon as examples of songwriters whose words hold up on their own. Even so, he added, the “pressure per square inch” on lyrics “can be a wee bit lower than in a conventional poem.”

“But that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he continued. There are occasions when the simple, direct phrase is the one that works.”

Taken together, Mr. Muldoon said, Cash’s poems have a broad sweep.

“You still see the same scenes — love, death, loss, joy, sadness,” Mr. Muldoon said. “The great themes of popular songs, and, indeed, poetry, which we welcome hearing about and making sense of as we go through our lives.”

The poems in “Forever Words” were chosen from about 200 pieces left by Cash in varying states of completion. Some may have been intended as lyrics, his son said, but it was not always clear. His father’s papers, Mr. Cash said, included biblical studies and even a dog-eared copy of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

“They weren’t hoarders,” Mr. Cash said of his parents, “but they really didn’t like to throw things away.”

The Cash estate has released a number of posthumous albums, including “Personal File,” in 2006, a collection of intimate home recordings. A couple of years ago, Mr. Cash said, he was considering new projects with Steve Berkowitz, a producer and record executive who has worked extensively with the estate, and they began sifting through the poems.

Looking to recruit Mr. Muldoon as editor, Mr. Berkowitz said he met him for an “all-Irish breakfast” at an Upper East Side diner and read him excerpts from the poems without revealing the author.

“‘This is pretty strong stuff,’” Mr. Berkowitz recalled Mr. Muldoon’s saying. “‘Who is it?’ I told him, ‘This is Johnny Cash.’” (In an email, Mr. Muldoon said he did not remember the meeting, “which is not to say it didn’t happen.”)

The Cash estate is already at work on an album of songs based on the poems, with musicians including Kris Kristofferson, Jewel, Chris Cornell and Jamey Johnson, in a project similar to Billy Bragg and Wilco’s work with Woody Guthrie lyrics. The album is planned for release next fall.

Over the last year, the Cash estate has brought on a new management and marketing team, and the album is one of many new projects. Also planned are a Broadway show and a Johnny Cash slot machine, and the trust recently registered trademarks for phrases like “What would Johnny Cash do?” to place on clothing memorabilia.

When asked about these plans, Mr. Cash said that he and the managers of the trust — of which he is a beneficiary — strove to avoid crass commercialization, and also wanted to follow his father’s wishes.

“We try to live by the moral guide that he laid down,” Mr. Cash said, which, among other things, means no alcohol or tobacco ads. “But he also did Taco Bell commercials.”

The goal of “Forever Words,” Mr. Cash said, was to establish his father as a major poet and a “cultural American literary figure.”

There is also a personal benefit.

“When I read these things, it puts me back in touch with the man,” he said. “It lets me communicate with my father again.”

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Majority Rule Equals Tyranny

Walter E. Williams
December 7, 2016

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It is alleged that Hillary Clinton won a popular vote majority. Therefore, if the nation were not burdened with the antiquated Electoral College, anguished and freaked-out Americans whine, she, instead of Donald Trump, would be the next president of the United States. You say, "Hold it. Before you go further, Williams, what do you mean it is alleged that Clinton received most of the popular vote? It's a fact." I say "alleged" because according to Gregg Phillips of True the Vote, an estimated 3 million noncitizens voted. Presumably, those votes went to Clinton.

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote just as Hillary Clinton allegedly did. Such outcomes have led to calls to abandon the Constitution's Article 2 provision for the state electors to select presidents. Despite the fact that the system has served us well for over 200 years, many Americans now call for its abandonment in favor of electing presidents by popular vote. Before we abandon the Electoral College, let's consider the function it performs.

According to 2013 census data, nine states -- California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia and Michigan -- have populations that total roughly 160 million, slightly more than half the U.S. population. It is conceivable that just nine states could determine the presidency in a popular vote. The Electoral College gives states with small populations a measure of protection against domination by states with large populations. It levels the political playing field a bit. For example, California is our most populous state, with about 39 million people. Wyoming is our least populated state, with about 600,000 people. California's population is about 66 times larger than Wyoming's. California has 55 electoral votes, and Wyoming has three. Thus, in terms of electoral votes, California's influence is only 18 times that of Wyoming. Even though our nine high-population states have a total of 241 electoral votes, a candidate needs 270 to win the presidency. That forces presidential candidates to campaign in thinly populated states and respect the wishes of the people there.

The Founding Fathers held a deep abhorrence for democracy and majority rule. In fact, the word democracy appears nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. In Federalist No. 10, James Madison wrote, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority." John Adams predicted, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." Edmund Randolph said, "That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy." Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

Throughout our Constitution are impediments to the tyranny of majority rule. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. Fifty-one senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators. The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto. To change the Constitution, an amendment must be proposed, which requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and enacted, which requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures. Finally, the Electoral College is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule.

Despite a public consensus on the issue -- resulting from miseducation -- there's nothing just or fair about majority rule. In fact, one of the primary dangers of majority rule is that it confers an aura of legitimacy and respectability to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyrannical. Think about it. How many decisions in your life would you like made through majority rule? What about what car we purchase, where we live and whether we should have ham or turkey for Thanksgiving dinner? I am sure you would deem it tyranny if these decisions were made by a majority vote.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Merkel’s About-Face

With her approval ratings dropping, the German chancellor suggests a burka ban.
By Bruce Bawer
December 7, 2016
Merkel - Women wearing burkas in Munich
Merkel - Women wearing burkas in Munich (Getty Images)
When she first ran for chancellor of Germany in 2005, Angela Merkel promised “zero tolerance” in matters of national security; five years afterward, she said that multiculturalism had “failed, and failed utterly.” But in January 2015, in what seemed a massive U-turn, she proclaimed Islam a “part of Germany”; and later that year, she welcomed a veritable army of Muslim “refugees” into the country, a foolhardy act that won her high praise from politically correct elites around the world. Hillary Clinton applauded Merkel’s “bravery in the face of the refugee crisis”; in December 2015, Time named Merkel Person of the Year. Just five days later, however, Merkel again slammed multiculturalism, warning that it “leads to parallel societies” and promising to cut immigration figures. Yet—maddeningly, menacingly—she kept the floodgates open, explaining that the “refugee crisis” represented a “historic test for Europe” and calling on other European leaders to follow her example.
Then came New Year’s Eve 2015-16. In a chilling illustration of the folly of Merkel’s policy, hundreds of migrants committed brutal sexual assaults—most famously in central Cologne, but also in the heart of nearly every other major German city. Since then, Merkel has had more and more to answer for: her country has experienced a rise in gang violence; it’s acquired more no-go zones; it’s undergone an epidemic of rapes in public swimming pools; and it’s seen the murder of German citizens by foreign-born Muslims become increasingly commonplace.
The most high-profile recent homicide victim—her body was found on a Freiburg riverbank in October—was 19-year-old Maria Ladenburger, a medical student and daughter of a top European Commission attorney. Ladenburger’s October 26 death notice in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asked for donations to Weitblick Freiburg, a student group under whose auspices she’d worked as a volunteer aiding refugees and migrants. On December 3 came news of a DNA report proving that the girl had been raped and killed by an Afghani asylum-seeker, identified by authorities only as Hussein K.
The murder sparked national outrage, as did the decision by ARD—the state-run, license-fee-funded broadcaster—to ignore it on its daily newscast, calling the story “too regional.” Rainer Wendt, chairman of the national police union, spoke for many Germans when he blamed Ladenburger’s slaughter on mass immigration and the so-called “welcome culture,” whose apostles, he charged, had responded to Hussein K.’s monstrous act with “not a word of compassion, no self-doubt, only arrogant insistence on [their] own noble disposition.” For Germans who’ve had enough of Merkel’s catastrophic immigration policy, the Ladenburger case has proved a lightning rod, contributing to her sinking approval ratings in the run-up to next year’s federal elections.
Which may explain why, in a December 6 speech to leaders of her party, the Central Democratic Union, the tough version of Merkel reappeared. Calling for a law against the burka, which is already forbidden in France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as in parts of Spain, Italy, and Switzerland, Merkel maintained that the “full veil” was “not appropriate here” and “should be banned wherever it’s legally possible.” She further insisted that sharia law should never take precedence over German law.
The Washington Post suggested that Merkel’s latest remarks might “signal a pragmatic shift to the right” in the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory. The Post might also have cited this week’s constitutional referendum in Italy (the results of which were viewed as a thumbs-down to the EU and euro), the continuing rise of Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands and of Marine Le Pen in France, and—most important—the blow dealt to Merkel in September when the Alternative for Germany party, which criticizes mass immigration, scored big in regional elections. But before one accepts the idea that Merkel has actually turned over a new leaf, it’s advisable to keep in mind that she’s been playing a double game throughout her tenure, talking tough (sometimes) about Muslim immigration and assimilation even as she’s stuck stubbornly to policies that have spelled disaster not only for Germany but also for much of Western Europe.
To be sure, in an attempt to lighten Germany’s load, Merkel has tried to force resistant EU members to take in some of the “refugees” she’s admitted; but to the extent that any of them do so, alas, the primary impact will be further to erode stability and order within those nations’ borders. Merkel also worked hard this year on what’s been called a “murky deal” with Turkey to try to stem the refugee tide, but so far, its main effect has been to embolden that country’s Islamofascist president, Recep Erdogan.
In any case, even if Merkel did come through with a burka ban, such a move—however positive—would mean little in the long run unless it was part of a broader, tougher approach designed to address effectively Germany’s, and Western Europe’s, ongoing Islamization. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of any such drastic policy shift.
Despite Merkel’s drop in popularity during the last few years, a November poll showed that a remarkable 59 percent of the German electorate still wanted to see her returned to office when federal elections are held sometime between August and November of next year. But already that figure has dropped dramatically: just this week, according to a Deutsche Welle survey, only 36 percent expressed that hope. Certainly, judging by the history of Merkel’s combination of tough talk and “compassionate” action on immigration, it seems likely that if German voters truly desire serious reform on this front, they should seek new leadership.