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A little rain, a whole lotta music

A little bit of rain wasn’t enough to scare away attendees who flocked to Watertown’s historic square for this year’s Jazz Fest.

Event Director John Jewell said as they watched the forecasts, “we were fearful of thunderstorms and wind,” but said that rain wouldn’t be a deal-breaker.

For Jewell, he didn’t want to see the beloved event miss another year, as it was canceled last year amid the pandemic.

“A lot of people are interested in Jazz Fest,” he said. “We felt like we ought to go ahead and do it.”

The decision to go forward with the event turned out just fine even if some people did get a little wet. For one couple from McMinnville, dancing in the rain while Music City Swing performed Nat King Cole’s “Love,” made it all the more fun.

Bonnie and Steve Davis have been to Jazz Fest several times. For them it’s a chance to dance, eat and shop. “It’s always a good time,” she said. Steve Davis said he particularly liked that this year’s line up seemed to have more big bands than usual.

The normally two-day event condensed into one this year, but hardly compromised on talent. The all-star lineup featured performances from some prominent names in the local jazz scene including the Vantrease Jazz Band and the Nashville Jazz Orchestra.

While those high-profile performers headlined the night list, the whole show kicked off in grand fashion with Music City Swing at 1 p.m. and the music never stopped.

With side-by-side stages erected on the square, it was possible for one band to set up while another band performed, which really helped keep the music flowing throughout the day.

Another facet of the event was the local vendors who set up shop around the square. Kaitlyn Stillwell owns Wild Pony Collection, a vintage and repurposed boutique that does a lot of sales online. However, the Watertown native said there’s nothing quite like getting out in her hometown.

“I’m glad to be back. As a kid this was always the biggest event of the year,” she said. “Both my grandmothers lived within walking distance of the square. We would make a whole day of it.”

For some the event had been what drew them to Watertown in the first place. Marlene Robinson said she had been in Watertown since 2007 after discovering the festival, she ended up buying a house there. “I like this, the jazz, and I love this little town,” she said.

Watertown’s charm is perfectly encapsulated in this event. It combines everything about the city that makes it a wonderful place to be, as Gabe Lamog of the Nightingale Big Band can attest. His group was debuting live at the festival and he said he couldn’t think of a better place to do it.

The Nightingale Big Band is an 18-piece group that played Latin jazz for the dancing spectators.

“We picked Latin jazz, because we love it and it’s unique in middle Tennessee. Unless you’re in a Latin community you don’t see a lot of Latin jazz,” said the Los Angeles native.

Lamog and his wife, Diane Hibbs-Lamog, moved to the Nashville area in 1994 and slowly but surely have formed this group composed of college graduates and students from several surrounding universities including Belmont, Cumberland, Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech., in addition to some college professors who are part of the mix.

Lamog formed a lot of these connections while attending Cumberland himself, graduating with a degree in music.

This commitment to music is what brought the band together, said Lamog.

“It’s all about continuing the tradition of jazz. A lot of them are involved in music education, while others aspire to be professional musicians,” he said. “The common theme is that they want music to be a part of their life.”

Of course, shows take a lot of work from the performers on stage. Hours upon hours of rehearsals make it all possible, but when those lights are shining and the music playing, it’s easy to overlook what goes on behind the scenes.

One volunteer, Dianne Werth, was shuttling band mates to and from their vehicles along with a host of other volunteers aiding in the effort. Werth has lived in Watertown for 10 years but this was her first Jazz Fest. The former volunteer firefighter from Ohio knows that it takes a team effort and was happy to pitch in.

Black History Committee honors Lebanon Clowns

History is easily forgotten unless those alive encourage its preservation. Such might be the case with the Lebanon Clowns, a Negro League baseball team that played right here in town, but for the actions of the Wilson County Black History Committee.

This weekend at Pickett-Rucker United Methodist Church in Lebanon, the WCBHC will celebrate the legacy of the baseball team that called this city home for so many years, and whose ballpark became a home away from home for fans every Sunday during the season. The tribute ceremony will start at 3 p.m.

Just over 20 years ago, the Lebanon Clowns gathered for the first time since the 1960s to reminisce about their youthful baseball exploits. The occasion was documented in the United States Senate Congressional Record Volume 145 (1999).

This congressional tribute paid homage to the Lebanon-based ball club that was a fan favorite and staple for so many in the Black community who lived during that time. But for those people, like Jerry McGowan of Lebanon, a page in the archives doesn’t do the Clowns enough justice.

McGowan is 70 now, but he remembers going to Shady Park on Bluebird Road every Sunday to watch the Clowns play. The park is no longer there, but the memories remain.

“At that time, people worked all week,” McGowan said. “Sunday was our day off. So we’d go down to the park to see the Clowns’ game.”

For a young McGowan, players’ with nicknames like Hammerhead, Redeye, Pondwater and Mutt were larger than life heroes, but they were also friends and family. McGowan had a brother who played for the team, and a couple cousins who did, too.

As a youngster, McGowan would always ask his dad to try and bring home a bat from the games. One day a player taking a swing cracked but didn’t fully break the bat. The coach obliged McGowan’s father’s request and gave the bat to him to give it to his son. McGowan said that the bat had significance because it “came from the Clowns.”

Now that McGowan is older, he is concerned that pieces of history could get lost if not properly preserved.

“I wish the city or state would put a historic marker there so that people know where the Clowns played,” he said. “Every day I drive to work, I look over where the park was, it takes me back to my childhood.”

The 70-year-old added, “I grew up in the time when there was a difference between blacks and whites. Things are different now and we should recognize our ancestors that have contributed to this town.”

McGowan is looking forward to the tribute ceremony on Sunday. “It’s a way to show our gratitude to those who played this game and whose memory is still etched in our minds.”

Biden: 'Killing people' remark was call for big tech to act
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tempered his assessment that social media giants are “killing people” by hosting misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines on their platforms, saying Monday that he hoped they would not take it “personally” and instead would act to save lives.

While companies like Facebook defend their practices and say they’re helping people around the world access verified information about the shots, the White House says they haven’t done enough to stop misinformation that has helped slow the pace of new vaccinations in the U.S. to a trickle. It comes as the U.S. sees a rise in virus cases and deaths among those who haven’t gotten a shot, in what officials call an emerging “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Speaking at the White House, Biden insisted he meant “precisely what I said” when he said Friday of the tech giants that “they’re killing people.” But he said the point of his rhetoric was to ramp up pressure on the companies to take action.

“My hope is that Facebook, instead of taking it personally that somehow I’m saying ‘Facebook is killing people,’ that they would do something about the misinformation,” Biden said.

Biden’s comments come as the White House has struggled to counteract resistance to getting a shot, particularly among younger and more Republican demographics. Fewer than 400,000 Americans are getting their first vaccine dose each day — down from a high of more than 2 million per day in April. More than 90 million eligible people have not received a dose.

The administration has increasingly seized on false or misleading information about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines as a driver of that hesitance. It has referenced a study by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a nonprofit that studies extremism, that linked a dozen accounts to spreading the majority of vaccine disinformation on Facebook.

“Facebook isn’t killing people. These 12 people are out there giving misinformation, anyone listening to it is getting hurt by it, it’s killing people,” Biden said. “It’s bad information.”

In the view of the administration, criticizing the social media companies — who have come under mounting scrutiny in Washington over not just disinformation, but also antitrust and privacy practices — is a proxy for criticizing the originators of disinformation themselves. The White House has generally sought to avoid engaging directly with those spreading misinformation to avoid amplifying falsehoods.

“I’m not trying to hold people accountable. I’m trying to make people look at themselves, look in the mirror,” Biden said, adding, “Think about that misinformation going to your son, your daughter, your relative.”

Last week U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared misinformation about the vaccines a deadly threat to public health.

“Misinformation poses an imminent and insidious threat to our nation’s health,” Murthy said during remarks Thursday at the White House. “We must confront misinformation as a nation. Lives are depending on it.”

Murthy said technology companies and social media platforms must make meaningful changes to their products and software to reduce the spread of false information while increasing access to authoritative, fact-based sources.

Too often, he said, the platforms are built in ways that encourage the spread of misinformation.

“We are asking them to step up,” Murthy said. “We can’t wait longer for them to take aggressive action.”

Facebook on Friday responded to Biden’s attack, with spokesperson Kevin McAlister saying, “The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”

The company also released a blog post saying its internal research showed it was not responsible for Biden’s missed vaccination goal. “The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19. President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki insisted Monday: “We’re not in a war or battle against Facebook — we’re in a battle with the virus.” But she ramped up pressure on the companies to share information on how many Americans are exposed to misinformation on their platforms and how their secretive and powerful algorithms promote false content to users.

“Do you have access to information from these platforms as to who is receiving misinformation?” she asked. “I don’t think that information has been released. Do you know how the algorithms are working at any of these platforms? I don’t think that information has been released.”

Microsoft hack caused by China, US and allies say

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and Western allies formally blamed China on Monday for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software and asserted that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations.

The announcements, though not accompanied by sanctions against the Chinese government, were intended as a forceful condemnation of activities a senior Biden administration official described as part of a “pattern of irresponsible behavior in cyberspace.” They highlighted the ongoing threat from Chinese hackers even as the administration remains consumed with trying to curb ransomware attacks from Russia-based syndicates that have targeted critical infrastructure.

The broad range of cyberthreats from Beijing disclosed on Monday included a ransomware attack from government-affiliated hackers that has targeted victims — including in the U.S. — with demands for millions of dollars. U.S officials also alleged that criminal contract hackers associated with China’s Ministry of State Security have engaged in cyber extortion schemes and theft for their own profit.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department on Monday announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were working with the MSS in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including companies, universities and government entities. The defendants are accused of stealing trade secrets and confidential business information.

Unlike in April, when public finger-pointing of Russian hacking was paired with a raft of sanctions against Moscow, the Biden administration did not announce any actions against Beijing. Nonetheless, a senior administration official who briefed reporters said that the U.S. has confronted senior Chinese officials and that the White House regards the multination shaming as sending an important message.

President Joe Biden told reporters “the investigation’s not finished,” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not rule out consequences for China, saying, “This is not the conclusion of our efforts as it relates to cyber activities with China or Russia.”

Even without fresh sanctions, Monday’s actions are likely to exacerbate tensions with China at a delicate time. Just last week, the U.S. issued separate stark warnings against transactions with entities that operate in China’s western Xinjiang region, where China is accused of repressing Uyghur Muslims and other minorities.

Then on Friday, the administration advised American firms of the deteriorating investment and commercial environment in Hong Kong, where China has been cracking down on democratic freedoms it had pledged to respect in the former British colony.

The European Union and Britain also called out China. The EU said malicious cyber activities with “significant effects” that targeted government institutions, political organizations and key industries in the bloc’s 27 member states could be linked to Chinese hacking groups. The U.K.’s National Cyber Security Centre said the groups targeted maritime industries and naval defense contractors in the U.S. and Europe and the Finnish parliament.

In a statement, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the hacking was “conducted from the territory of China for the purpose of intellectual property theft and espionage.”

The Microsoft Exchange cyberattack “by Chinese state-backed groups was a reckless but familiar pattern of behaviour,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

NATO, in its first public condemnation of China for hacking activities, called on Beijing to uphold its international commitments and obligations “and to act responsibly in the international system, including in cyberspace.” The alliance said it was determined to “actively deter, defend against and counter the full spectrum of cyber threats.”

That hackers affiliated with the Ministry of State Security were engaged in ransomware was surprising and concerning to the U.S. government, the senior administration official said. But the attack, in which an unidentified American company received a high-dollar ransom demand, also gave U.S. officials new insight into what the official said was “the kind of aggressive behavior that we’re seeing coming out of China.”

The majority of the most damaging and high-profile recent ransomware attacks have involved Russian criminal gangs. Though the U.S. has sometimes seen connections between Russian intelligence agencies and individual hackers, the use of criminal contract hackers by the Chinese government “to conduct unsanctioned cyber operations globally is distinct,” the official said.

Dmitri Alperovitch, the former chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike, said the announcement makes clear that MSS contractors who for years have worked for the government and conducted operations on their behalf have over time decided — either with the approval or the “blind eye of their bosses” — to “start moonlighting and engaging in other activities that could put money in their pockets.”

The Microsoft Exchange hack that months ago compromised tens of thousands of computers around the world was swiftly attributed to Chinese cyber spies by private sector groups. An administration official said the government’s attribution to hackers affiliated with the Ministry of State Security took until now in part because of the discovery of the ransomware and for-profit hacking operations and because the administration wanted to pair the announcement with guidance for businesses about tactics that the Chinese have been using.

Given the scope of the attack, Alperovitch said it was “puzzling” that the U.S. avoided sanctions.

“They certainly deserve it, and at this point, it’s becoming a glaring standout that we have not,” he said.

He added, in a reference to a large Russian cyberespionage operation discovered late last year, “There’s no question that the Exchange hacks have been more reckless, more dangerous and more disruptive than anything the Russians have done in SolarWinds.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return an email seeking comment Monday. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has previously deflected blame for the Microsoft Exchange hack, saying that China “firmly opposes and combats cyber attacks and cyber theft in all forms” and cautioning that attribution of cyberattacks should be based on evidence and not “groundless accusations.”