The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2010-03-12/977805/

Page Two: And So It Begins

International spectacles of darkness and light

By Louis Black, March 12, 2010, Columns

I: South by Southwest

South by Southwest 2010 kicks off Friday, March 12, the cover date of this issue. There are any number of ways of enjoying SXSW, ranging from those that charge no admission at all up to buying a SXSW badge. This year, in the former category, there's an exciting range of events that are free and open to the public.

Next week will also see the Chronicle's annual blowout Austin Music Awards and SXSW Music issue. The three SXSW daily issues of the Chronicle will be published at the end of the week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, March 18-20).

SXSW week goes into high gear immediately, with the SXSW Film Festival kicking it off with a night of premieres and special screenings. The Film Festival runs nine days of SXSW, beginning the evening of Friday, March 12, and ending Saturday night, March 20. Except for opening night, film programs begin at 11am and run all day and night; this year sees a significant increase in international films, as well as a number of great midnight shows co-sponsored by our great friends at Fantastic Fest. This year's Festival boasts the strongest programming of its 17-year history; there are literally hundreds of shows over its nine nights and days. Usually I pick out a few special films to highlight, but this year I wouldn't know where to begin. Film passes costing $70 (inclusive) are still available at Waterloo Records and at some SXSW Film Festival doors (the Austin Convention Center and the Alamo Drafthouse's South Lamar, Ritz, and Village locations).

Having now become one of the largest events of its type in the country, SXSW Interactive will not just virtually but also literally become the center of the new media universe for a few days. Interactive doesn't host a full-fledged public event, as Film and Music do, but ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade, at the Austin Convention Center, is open to the public with free admission. You are invited to attend and participate in the event, which features an array of the latest in video games as well as competitive tournaments. Ending each evening at 6pm, ScreenBurn opens at 2pm on Friday, March 12, and at noon on Saturday and Sunday, March 13 and 14.

Wednesday, March 17, is when SXSW Music explodes across Austin. This will be the first year in a long time that the Austin Music Awards won't be officially kicking things off. The show, which celebrates the winners of The Austin Chronicle Music Poll (as well as all Austin music), has been moved to Saturday night, March 20, at the Austin Music Hall.

Usually, among the highlights of the show are the announcements of the winners. This year, the results of the Music Poll will be in the Chronicle issue that comes out on Wednesday, March 17 (a day earlier than our usual distribution day). This means that the audience that comes to the Music Awards will already know those being honored. It will be an interesting change.

Personally I'm betting that the phenomenal show that Margaret Moser has put together will be as wild and entertaining as ever. The wonderful and richly varied lineup includes the Texas Sheiks with Geoff Muldaur, Jim Kweskin, Bruce Hughes, Cindy Cashdollar, and Johnny Nicholas; Will Sexton & Friends; Sarah Jarosz with special guest; the Explosives with Peter Lewis and Stu Cook; Mother Falcon; an All-Star Soul Jam starring Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears; and a number of very special guest presenters.

There will be 500 wristbands on sale for $165 each at Waterloo Records beginning Saturday, March 13: one per person, and they have to be put on at point of purchase. More will be available at various SXSW Music venues beginning Wednesday, March 17. See wristband.sxsw.com for more information.

There will be close to 2,000 bands on almost 90 stages, of which roughly 500 are international acts and more than 200 are from Austin.

ScreenBurn is not the only SXSW event free and open to the public.

There are three nights of music at Auditorium Shores on Lady Bird Lake. Acts playing include the Cool Kids, Bajofondo and Ozomatli on Thursday, March 18; Cracker, BoDeans, and Cheap Trick on Friday, March 19; and a day show featuring music for the whole family, with Lucero, Justin Townes Earle, and She & Him among the acts coming on later, on Saturday, March 20.

There are three major SXSW 2010 exhibits at the Austin Convention Center, open to the public with no admission charges, that take place Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20, 10am-6pm. The world-renowned Austin Record Convention, the Texas Guitar Show, and Flatstock 24 will all be under one roof. All are bigger this year than they've been in the past, so it is going to be an exciting wonderland of every aspect of music – from posters to old vinyl 45s, with any number of fabulous classic instruments thrown in to the mix.

The George Washington Carver Museum & Cultural Center, in conjunction with the Austin Parks and Recreation Department, will host a full schedule of free SXSW panels and films.

More information on all of SXSW is available in this issue and at austinchronicle.com.

II: Political Ranting and Raving

One of the more hard-to-fathom developments in modern politics is that partisan loyalty has come to outweigh ideology. I'm always willing to sign on to the view that statements like the one above arise from a combination of dire doomsday acceptance and a tendency to look at the past through rose-colored, kaleidoscope glasses. But I'll defend this one as general and conclusive. It is important to remember that until LBJ forced Congress to pass civil rights legislation, the South had been solidly conservative Democratic since the Civil War. Not only had Lincoln been a Republican, but it was also a Republican government that imposed harsh measures on the South during Reconstruction. Given the South's fanatical loyalty to the Democrats, even when they disagreed with some of its leanings, it would be easy to argue that this was another case where partisan politics trumped ideology. In the wake of the civil rights legislation that President Johnson got Congress to pass, Southern politicians followed ideology and not party. Not immediately, but within three decades, Southern states that had voted straight Democratic tickets for a century began electing more and more Republicans. The parties changed, but the politics didn't.

Recently, a conservative group began an ad campaign questioning the loyalty of government and private lawyers who defended Gitmo prisoners. The group seems especially shocked that some even actually worked pro bono. The ads baldly state that those lawyers must be sympathetic to jihad and in the service of foreign ideologies. The campaign goes on to argue that consequently there should be serious questions, exposure, and an Inquisition-type investigation of these lawyers and about their politics.

This demonstrates either a complete lack of understanding of the American legal system or the most corrupt and exploitative public campaign of recent times. Given its claims to noble and patriotic motivations, if it is the former, then it is so far beyond sad and pathetic as to almost warrant some sympathy for those mounting it. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, however, this strategy – which is inherently both stunningly sleazy and antithetical to American ideals – is simply a quite knowing and cynical, partisan campaign to work up and excite the most dependable and extreme core of support: the hard-right core.

Whether it is as blatantly dishonest and harmful as Sen. McCarthy's brutal campaign of the 1950s or actually even more destructive than that is open to debate. (The very hard right and Alex Jones, among others, are offering up a bogus revisionist history in an attempt to redeem and ennoble the late senator from Wisconsin; they claim that his efforts to drive Communists and their sympathizers out of the government, though eventually denounced, were simply patriotic forethought. This ignores the real McCarthy – his waving of blank sheets of paper, baseless vindictive charges, and overt political bullying.)

Given the modern state of politics, nothing should be surprising, but this assault on the American legal system for the purpose of arousing true believers and raising money is so mendacious that it is.

I'm pretty sure* I once read an essay by Norman Mailer during the 1964 presidential campaign on how easy it would be for him to support Barry Goldwater if only he was a true conservative. His argument was that Goldwater would pick and chose his conservative beliefs and subsequent legislative support. As an example. Mailer asked why Goldwater didn't passionately champion civil rights as mandated by the Declaration of Independence. In the conflict between states' rights and core values, the latter should triumph. (*I say "pretty sure" because I've never been able to find a copy of it.)

If only capital-"C" Conservatives were actually conservative, rather than Republican shock troops, it would be a different story. According to the intrinsic logic of the Declaration specifically, and the reasoning of American jurisprudence in general, lawyers should not be passionate advocates but rather hired guns. As every citizen has a right to the best legal representation he or she can get, the last reason a lawyer should take a case should be to advance an advocacy position. On both the left and the right, there are attorneys more in thrall to their personal ideologies than to the law. Some are motivated by the most noble reasons, some by the most pedestrian ideologies. Although some of them are regarded as among the greatest of American barristers, advocacy should diminish this regard.

Blaming a lawyer for the politics and/or actions of those he/she defends is representing is a vicious attack on the very basis of the American legal system and some of the most significant principles on which the country is based.

Certainly, this isn't the first time I recall this happening. Although it is always easier to scold those with ideology in direct opposition to one's own, the sad truth is that too many times in the political arena, principles are slaughtered for the most partisan reasons. The certainty of some folks' politics leads them to believe that they are so above the law that the ends can justify the means.

In our very own sweet hamlet of Austin, Texas, this has been the case more than once when there was a candidate the environmental community didn't like. Despite the absolute sanctity of the right to legal representation, certain candidates for offices who weren't perceived as friendly by that single-issue, special-interest community were damned because their law firms or they themselves had defended developers.

Now, there are some who would take issue with this assertion, pointing out that if lawyers had once worked for development interests, they were tainted by being indebted to them. On the other hand, lawyers who had represented environmental issues bore no stains because they were part of a holy crusade. There is the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There are principles that should transcend partisan ideology, because when that stops being the case, we all lose.

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