Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gardening in Seattle

By Dian Hassel

I started my garden this afternoon. I like getting my hands into the dirt, and feeling the leaves of petunias, marigolds, lavender, gerania and tomatoes, and noticing the different scent of each leaf. Marigold and tomato leaves are Nebraska in the summer, sand hill cranes, the Platte River and Fort Kearny State Park, my mother, her mother. Marigolds have never survived in my containers…yet. I trust them, and hope they will eventually trust their gardener.

When planting new seeds, I pull out the old root clumps and non-arable dirt. I put the new starts in, and add fresh soil. Before watering the new plants, it is important to sweep the deck and level surfaces. Otherwise, you will end up with a mud of the stuff that doesn’t serve the new growth any more. It will get on your bare feet and track all over your home place.

Just water them at first. You need to wait to feed them a few days or weeks until they can handle what you want to give them.

When I plant, I have my favorite for-sures. Then I try out a lot of new stuff. I do the same with dinner parties---if the new dishes don’t turn out, there’s always something else that can be done---it’s critical to try what might not work out.

I never follow the directions on the seed packets. Directions have rarely served me well. Unlike thoughtful direction. My garden used to be planned out in a very complete, symmetrical and Victorian way. When you do this, there is no room for the unexpected discovery that inevitably comes your way. I start small, and add as I go along, as time passes.

My little starts please me today. I know the additions to them will please me even more each week, not taking away from what I feel today.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Action McNews

Uh huh.

A reporter who's worked for MSNBC and ABC says that she and her colleagues were "under enormous pressure" from corporate executives to support Bush during the runup to the Iraq War and in the war's early days, during an interview on Anderson Cooper's "360" and conveyed by Jonathan Schwarz.

Television reporter Jessica Yellin said, When the lead-up to the war began, the press corps was under enormous pressure from corporate executives, frankly, to make sure that this was a war that was presented in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. And my own experience at the White House was that, the higher the president’s approval ratings, the more pressure I had from news executives — and I was not at this network at the time — but the more pressure I had from news executives to put on positive stories about the president.

Good old Action McNews. All bullshit, all the time. Except for the occasional mea culpa from a guilty conscience.

You've got company, Scotty.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Roots and Stems

Alex Haley's attempt to channel the lives of his African and African-American ancestors in his semi-historical novel "Roots," and especially the TV serialization of the book which followed its publication, spontaneously generated a mass movement among Americans of all races and ethnicities to connect with their forebears. Thirty years later, this trend, which rises almost to the level of a mania at times, shows no sign of abating.

The latest manifestation of it is the highly commercialized (and highly successful) series of concerts known as the "Celtic Woman" tour. Both the music and the production values in this show fit into the general category of what has come to be called "roots music."

I don't know about anybody else, but I have an extremely hard time relating to my Celtic, Anglo-Saxon, or Scandinavian ancestors. Their religion and ethical values seem as strange and devoid of charm to me as their rhythmically uninteresting music. Most of the disparate family branches among my forebears have been in the New World for so many generations now that it has become impossible for me to build a bridge to those distant inhabitants of the auld sod.

My spiritual ancestors are all Americans, and so far as I know none of them is a blood relative. These are the people in whom I find the roots of my being, or maybe more precisely, they are the stem from which I am sprouted:

*Mark Twain, who stripped back America's thick layer of self-righteousness and sentimentality to reveal a rotten hypocrisy embedded in a morass of provincial idiocy, using the voice of a semi-literate, adolescent truant and vagabond to accomplish his task. When you think about it, Huckleberry was way too smart and way too articulate for a 13-year-old, badly-schooled kid. But most readers never notice that on the first reading, as they are usually hypnotized by the perfection of the vocal tone Twain crafted for his protagonist, especially in the first 16 chapters.

*Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson, short-lived bluesmen, guitarists, and poets extraordinaire, who sang the sad soul of America in three-line rhymed couplets, repeating the first line each time:

I got ramblin', I got ramblin' on my mind;
I got ramblin', I got ramblin' all on my mind;
I hate to leave you here, babe, but you treat me so unkind.

*Emma Goldman and Big Bill Haywood, who fought for the right of ordinary people to work for decent wages and live decent lives under the rule of a predatory and implacable "gilded age" capitalist plutocracy, which took everything from workers except the air they breathed. In the end both were framed, double-crossed, quarantined, and hounded out of the country. Remembering them today, at a time when justice has been banished from our shores, is especially appropriate and evocative of earlier times similar to our own.

These are my spiritual ancestors, and in them I discern my own roots, even though I share my own race and ethnicity with only two of the five.

I have intentionally not linked to any of the persons named here. Each of them has a complete and accurte biography at, and they're all worth knowing.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past

When I was a kid I learned drums pretty much on my own, and with a nudge from my dad, who had a bit of experience. Mostly, I learned by playing along to records. Strangely enough, even though I grew up in the fifties, the twenties recordings of Jelly Roll Morton's band were a big favorite of mine.

Occasionally Morton, a product of New Orleans, had his drummers throw in a "Spanish" flavored 4/4 pattern, usually executed on a woodblock, and following the rhythm he laid down on the keys with his left hand. When interviewed by Library of Congress folklorists, he explained that "the Spanish rhythm" was a legacy of his Creole heritage, which included French, African, and Spanish elements. One of the sections of his classic composition, "The Pearls," is set to that Spanish-style woodblock pattern, and I learned it, rather imperfectly, at about age 14.

Lately I've had occasion to revisit that rhythm, and used it yesterday playing with my friends Ellen and Billy (the group "Reallyshooo") at an outdoor concert in Yucca Valley. It fits perfectly with a lot of Cajun and Zydeco music, since that stuff comes out of the same Louisiana bayous that produced Jelly Roll Morton and his contemporaries.

In terms of difficulty, I'd call the "Spanish" pattern "intermediate." That's because the right hand has to play the heavily syncopated "Spanish" riff on the woodblock while the left hand and right foot maintain a "hard" 4/4 on the bass and snare drums. It's definitely a split-brain exercise.

I'm not good at musical notation, but this crude rendering might give you an idea of what the pattern sounds like on the Zydeco song "Iko-Iko":


"See that man all dressed in green"

I must admit to feeling a certain amount of pleasure in still being able to play a pattern I learned 50 years ago, possibly because it never hurts to have an extensive vocabulary; you never know when you might want to pull something out of the archives, dust it off, and put it to good use. Also, I can play that pattern considerably better now than I could at age 14.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Scary Day

Hexagram 62 is called "Thunder over the Mountain," and it means "preponderance of the small." It's not a time for big plans and enormous projects. It's more a time for the little things, like saying "please" and "thank you."

Pay attention to detail when there's thunder on the mountain.


Preponderance of the Small. Success.
Perseverance furthers.
Small things may be done; great things should not be done.
The flying bird brings the message:
It is not well to strive upward,
It is well to remain below.
Great good fortune

It helps to cultivate an attitude of acceptance at a time like this.


Thunder on the mountain:
The image of Preponderance of the Small
Thus in his conduct the superior man gives preponderance to reverence.
In bereavement he gives preponderance to grief.
In his expenditures he gives preponderance to thrift.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Mere Anarchy

I was gratified as I thumbed through my latest issue of the New Yorker to see Ruth Franklin's appreciation of the book which since the sixties has become established as the Great African Novel, Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart," ("After Empire," May 26). Drawing his title from a line in the W.B. Yeats's "The Second Coming," possibly both the greatest and most misunderstood of all twentieth century poems, the young Ibo author attempted to gain a personal understanding of the sorrows of contemporary African society through an analysis, gleaned from eyewitness testimony by older family members and friends, of the traditional West African society destroyed by colonial penetration.

It's been fifty years since western critics puzzled uncomprehendingly over this profound work, which is as brilliant a bit of social documentation as it is a masterpiece of storytelling. Writing in English (not his first language) because it is the only language Africans have in common, Achebe avoided the twin traps of portraying the vanished society as a lost paradise and casting the European colonialists as devils. The result is analytical and at the same time affectionate, but without sentimentality or romanticism. Above all, it's a work of astonishing honesty.

I taught this wonderful book for several years, and would highly recommend it to anyone who has not read it. Every European and North American who thinks of precolonial Africa as a patchwork of "primitive" societies could learn from it.

And for those who read it and persist in finding a chronicle of primitivism, I would not recommend, but prescribe Achebe's 1977 essay, "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." It's a dose of harsh medicine, but should cure anyone still laboring under the misapprehension that the history of subjugated people can be accurately rendered by the subjugators.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Crude -- $134

Welcome to the Brave, Cold, New World. It's been a long time coming.

Since the early part of the decade I've been reading Jim Kunstler. Back in 2001 he was one of the few commentators on matters having to do with energy and finance who saw clearly where things were going, and seven years ago he predicted with startling accuracy where we'd be today.

He was widely ridiculed for his trouble, and was almost a lone Jeremiah crying out in the wilderness. People told him he didn't have to worry, that biofuels, or hydrogen fuel cells, or this, or that, or the other thing, would solve all our problems. Others said that really, there was plenty of cheap oil left in the world. A few even put forth the ridiculous and uninformed notion that the U.S. could be energy (i.e., petroleum) independent again.

They all said we'd never see seven-buck-a-gallon gas.

In 2004 he laid out his comprehensive vision of the future in his book "The Long Emergency." I'd strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to know what comes next.

This week he wrote of the current energy-inflation-falling dollar-rising unemployment crisis, The important part of this is that the money is gone. What makes matters truly eerie is that the "bubble" in suburban houses has occurred at exactly the moment in history when the chief enabling resource for suburban life -- oil -- has entered its scarcity stage.

The logical conclusion of all this is not what the American public wants to hear: we have become a much poorer society and are now faced with the unavoidable task of making major changes in how we live. All the three-card-monte moves at the highest level of finance lately amount to an effort to avoid the unavoidable, acknowledging our losses. Certainly the political fallout of all this will be awesome. But it's not about politics, really. It's about the entire society's inability to form a workable new consensus of reality.

See Kunstler's weekly blog, Clusterfuck Nation.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Teddy Kennedy has a malignant brain tumor. His survival is in doubt, and his continued presence in the Senate is highly unlikely.

From his Senate seat, Teddy Kennedy presided over the last days of the late, great United States of America, speaking out against the war, the tax cuts, and the subversion of the Constitution that ended this country. He never looked to see how many were on his side.

Over the years he had problems with booze and women. He is human, after all, and given to human frailty.

His brother Robert was assassinated in 1968 while in the midst of a campaign for the White House. He had promised that if elected, he would put an end to the imperial war which was undermining the intergrity of the country at that time. Like the current struggle, it was based on lies, fantasies, and an incredible degree of fear and rage directed against anyone with the temerity to stand up to us.

Robert had personal failings too. He was extravagantly ambitious, and not always careful about honoring the deals he had made. And he was not above dealing with unscrupulous people.

There's no need to discuss the fate of the second-oldest brother (the oldest, Joe, Jr., was killed in World War II), nor his character defects, which were many and widely known today. John F. Kennedy, according to his speechwriter, advisor, biographer and amaneunses Ted Sorensen, was planning at the time of his death to end the Vietnam War before it really got started. I think it might be more the case that he was weighing that possibility, but Sorensen is an honorable man and I'll take his word for it.

This is the end of the presence in American government of the main stem of the descendents of Joe and Rose Kennedy. It occurs as the casket containing the remains of what used to be the U.S.A. is lowered into the ground.

My own lifetime has encompassed the latter stages of the tragic history of this country, from the prelude to the building of the first nuclear weapons in 1944 to the death of the constitutional republic under Bush II. The country signed its own death warrant when it became the pre-eminent superpower, an imperial presence dominating the globe with its military, and the world's primary source of WMD, death, and destruction. All this was paid for with the tax dollars of a well meaning, but deluded and brainwashed proletariat, which only now seems ready to resist the encroachments on its liberties and bank accounts as it is deliberately and systematically submerged into poverty and debt slavery.

This is a real heartbreaker, and with the death of the U.S.A., I find myself ready to taxi out to the runway for final takeoff myself.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Pie in the Sky

I was sick in the gut the past couple of days and not overly enthused about blogging. But now I'm back, and I'm sure the four or five people who read this space will be glad.

McCain's "Victory in Iraq" speech was the silliest speech I never heard (but I read synopses).

Hillary Clinton said of it, ""It sounded a lot like 'Mission Accomplished,' only postponed into 2013. From my perspective, it's just more of the same. It's a continuation of the Bush policies that have been failures."

The famous blogger and pundit Josh Marshall adds, "I must say I had a similar feeling about this ad and speech. Your promises about what you're going to accomplish in four years are implicit, and often explicit, in every presidential campaign. But taking a victory lap over your list of accomplishments that you haven't even accomplished yet does come off a little silly."

Just a couple days ago I quit a band in which the leader kept telling us about all the wonderful things that were happening. Unfortunately, they were all happening in the future tense.

During the Depression, the cynical unemployed had a song about empty promises: "You'll get pie in the sky when you die."

Asking people to participate in a fantasy about the wonderful outcomes that are sure to materialize if we just continue with the same discredited policies that got us lost in the woods is worse than wrong. It's pathetic. And one of the definitions of insantiy (this is A.A. gospel) is "continuing to do what didn't work previously in the hope that it will turn out differently this time."

McCain's sad, little speech is typical of the sad behavior of people unable to admit that they screwed up. It's deep remorse mixed with unbearable arrogance.

On the other hand, maybe I shouldn't be so tough on poor old John McC. He's probably just doing what nearly all politicians habitually do -- making extravagant promises he can't possible keep in order to try to get elected.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Spodie Odie, Mop Mop

I woke up this morning 'bout half past four,
Saw Big Mama, couldn't use her no more;
I know a .38 slug
I know a .38 slug
Hey, can't nobody use it,
Mama got a .38 slug.

Lookout now Mama, why should I die?
You made me follow you,
Now your train has come;
I know a .38 slug
I know a .38 slug
Hey, can't nobody use it,
Mama gots a .38 slug.

".38 Slug"
--The Jim Jam Band

Appease This!

Then I'll get down on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again.

--The Who

How about it folks? Are we ready to be Citizens? And stop being "Consumers"?

It looks to me like about seven out of ten of us are not willing to consume Bush's latest crude and clumsy attempt to use a Polish Threat to get us to take our eye off the ball. We're not going to forget that we're being economically oppressed in our own country.

A slowing economy combined with rapid inflation makes for a steep misery index. Waving Ahmedinejad in front of us the way a matador waves a red cape in front of a bull is not going to take our minds off our REAL troubles. We're not animals.

Iran is not threatening us. It is we who are threatening them. And we've seen this trick before.

You know, free citizens don't kiss butt, nor kick butt. That kind of deference to authority is for members of a militarized hierarchy, not a democracy where equality rules.

Citizens question authority. And when authorities lie to them, they're reminded who they're actually working for.

As George W. Bush himself once said, "Fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again."

Update: Since yesterday I've seen and heard several mouthpieces for the right-wing noise machine trying to frame this debate in terms of "Obama thinks the word 'appeasement' was an attack on him. How egotistical."

If it wasn't an attack on him, who was it directed against, exactly?

But that word, "appeasement." Is certainly what this debate is all about. How can we "appease" a country that is not threatening us?

Iran has no nuclear weapons. It has no plans to make nuclear weapons. Its military establishment, and especially its air force, compared to Israel's, is small, weak, and outmoded.

What Iran does have is a lot of oil and a history of standing up to U.S. imperialism. Hence the fear and rage of the oil-saturated Bush regime against these people.

The "Iranian threat" is an insult to the intelligence of free citizens everywhere.

Nobody believes that kind of nonsense except slaves, butt-kissers, mindless kowtowers to authority, public relations agents, and other unfree, but unfailingly obedient cogs in the increasingly militarized hierarchy this country has become.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Yah, Baby!

When mid-May arrives, and the temperature in the SoCal desert quickly climbs toward the one-teens, the cool breezes and embracing fogs of the Pacific Northwest -- that long coastal stretch running from San Francisco Bay to the Canadian border -- become awfully inviting.

And I'm glad to say that by the end of this month I'll be out of here, and only returning briefly at the end of June to pick up my car for the drive up to Puget Sound. I'll be either in San Francisco or the Seattle area for the next four months, and won't come back here till October.

Or I may never come back.

Goin' away, pretty mama,
Won't be back till fall;
If I don't get back then
I won't be back at all.

--Traditional (and ubiquitous) Blues Lyric

By October I'll have a much better idea where my life is going. I'll have a handle on what's possible (in terms of rents, living conditions, possibilities for work and/or employment) and what's practical, as opposed to wishful thinking. And I'll have a social network. I do have friends and family, thank God.

I might as well make plans for the future. My physical health is so ridiculously robust now (to use a fashionable word) that it's pretty certain I'll have a future, and I don't think it'll be here in this desert, where the winds blow night and day, the underbrush is always burning somewhere, and the coyotes howl and, with increasing and inexplicable frequency, attack people.

My ex-wife brought me here, then dumped me, and left me sitting alone on this patch of dry sand with nothing but my eyes to cry with. In matrimony and Social Security I trusted, and in Desert Hot Springs I busted. Now it's time to stop weeping, and to get back on those funny looking appendage endings called "feet," and get moving once more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come

It's nice to be vindicated by government experts who write reports, even though a government report doesn't necessarily change the world.

Check out my March 6 blog called "The Answer is Blowin' in the Wind." Then scope out this A.P. story from Yahoo! News this morning: "Use of Wind Energy Expected to Grow Dramatically." It describes how a recent report, "a collaboration between the Energy Department research labs and industry, concludes wind energy could generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity by 2030, about the same share now produced by nuclear reactors."

Because it's clean, safe, and increasingly cheap as time goes on, wind power is the unavoidable alternative, even for Republican administrations, who tend to avoid such solutions because the wind is free, and no giant corporation or billionaire can make money selling it.

The A.P. story adds that "Such growth would pose a number of major challenges, but is achievable without the need of major new technological breakthroughs..."

We've reached the point where our continuing dependence on petroleum is insupportable. We don't have enough oil to meet our needs, and dependency on the Middle East sabotages our national security because of the nature of our relationship with that region and recent history.

Petroleum is the problem. Electricity is the answer. You'd have to be unconscious not to see it, and even THIS administration recognizes it, proving once again that even a clock that's stopped is right twice a day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Econ 101

Paul Krugman's New York Times column this morning addresses the so-called "conservative" contingent, specifically that group's tendency to engage in fantasy and wishful thinking on the topic of oil prices and energy policy generally.

“The Oil Bubble: Set to Burst?” That was the headline of an October 2004 article in National Review, which argued that oil prices, then $50 a barrel, would soon collapse.

Ten months later, oil was selling for $70 a barrel. “It’s a huge bubble,” declared Steve Forbes, the publisher, who warned that the coming crash in oil prices would make the popping of the technology bubble “look like a picnic.”

And so on and so forth, right up until today, when somewhere in your local newspaper, on your local TV station, or on this board, you're going to see some conservative claiming that $125 oil is the result of "speculation."

(A)ll through the period of the alleged bubble, inventories have remained at more or less normal levels, Krugman explains. This tells us that the rise in oil prices isn’t the result of runaway speculation; it’s the result of fundamental factors, mainly the growing difficulty of finding oil and the rapid growth of emerging economies like China. The rise in oil prices these past few years had to happen to keep demand growth from exceeding supply growth.

This is Econ 101. If production is declining, and supplies are tight, but demand keeps growing, the price goes up. Supply. Demand. Price.

And that price isn't likely to go down any time soon because most of us are not really in a position where we can choose to burn less gas. It's going to take us a while to rearrange our lives so as to be in that position.

So if this situation is so fundamental, basic, and easy to understand, why are there so many Americans (especially conservatives) who just can't understand it?

Krugman has the answer to that question too. The explanation of this seeming paradox is that wishful thinking has trumped pro-market ideology, the teacher says, somewhat annoyed that he has to tell his audience of wide-eyed, mouth-breathing innocents things that should be obvious. After all, a realistic view of what’s happened over the past few years suggests that we’re heading into an era of increasingly scarce, costly oil.

Ah, yes. Increasingly scarce, costly oil. Charlie Brown faces life.

And a realistic view of what's happened over the past few years on the energy front also leads us to another, related, equally inescapable conclusion: that the earth's climate is changing rapidly and radically for the worse due to human activity, meaning the prodigal burning of non-renewable fossil fuels.

The solution is obvious. So also is the nature of the problem conservatives are having getting their little heads around the true state of affairs.

Because we can no longer afford happy motoring, and because happy motoring is destroying the planet in any case, we need to do things differently. We need new policies.

I'm not hoping for an unapologetically progressive Obama administration. I know he has to work a delicate balancing act between the corporate power structure and the needs of us little people. But at a minimum, we need to have someone in the White House and people in Congress who have passed Econ 101 with a "C" or better, rather than a bunch of anti-scholars whose economic principles are based on delusions, fantasies, and infantile desires for wish fulfillment.

Long story short: we can't go on this way.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Polish Threat Lives On

The administration and its mouthpieces in the military keep trying to sell us on the idea of deep Iranian involvement in Iraq. This deep involvement keeps turning out to be an artificially inflated scare tactic to try to mobilize public opinion behind the notion that we should militarily strike Iran, although God knows why this administration would want to do such a harebrained thing.

Tina Susman, writing at the LA Times blog Babylon and Beyond, reports what happened at a recent military news conference in Iraq where the army was planning to show a bunch of Iranian weapons captured in Iraq to reporters:

...A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.

When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.

This has been another chapter in the sad story of the Polish Threat, and the sad, sad dictator whose most cherished dreams and wishes would never be fulfilled unless he could strike with all his force, and put an end to the Polish Threat forever!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fresno Alley

40 Years ago I rolled off my half of the mattress I shared with my girlfriend, in a bedroom I was renting in a third-floor walkup apartment on Fresno Alley in San Francisco, and went out to get some coffee for the two of us. At the head of the alley, just a few feet north of where Broadway, Columbus, and Upper Grant come together, someone had spray painted "The World Is Coming" on the wall of the used record store. This, of course, was in 1968.

It's usually identified as the year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were both shot and killed. Typically, as he writes about it today, Noam Chomsky doesn't spend time on what everybody remembers, but instead recalls trends and occurrences which give both those who remember that year and those not yet born a greater understanding of the time.

One of the most interesting reactions to come out of 1968 was in the first publication of the Trilateral Commission, which believed there was a "crisis of democracy" from too much participation of the masses, Chomsky writes in the New Statesman's "1968" issue. In the late 1960s, the masses were supposed to be passive, not entering into the public arena and having their voices heard. When they did, it was called an "excess of democracy" and people feared it put too much pressure on the system. The only group that never expressed its opinions too much was the corporate group, because that was the group whose involvement in politics was acceptable.

The commission called for more moderation in democracy and a return to passivity. It said the "institutions of indoctrination" - schools, churches - were not doing their job, and these had to be harsher.

The time has come again. We need another "excess of democracy."

And please, nobody say "The Constitution is a plan of government for a republic, not a democracy." Sorry, but you're wrong! That's what it WAS, in 1787, before amdendments 13, 14, 15, 17, 19, 24, and 26 were added. Those, along with the elimination of state and local property qualification laws during the Jackson era, made the U.S. a democracy. We don't have the same Constitution and political culture as we did at the start of the country. We don't even have the same constitution and political culture as we did 40 years ago.

But we still have people like Dick Cheney, who think you can take this democracy stuff too far. That's why we need another "excess of democracy."

Actually, we need another 1968, only without the assassinations this time.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Those Crazy Time Travelers

Imagine yourself back on the evening of 9/11, 2001 or the next day, 9/12, watching the World Trade Center collapsing over and over again on your TV, as you were probably doing.

Then a time traveler steps out of a time machine conveniently located in your living room. He tells you that seven magical years from now, GW Bush will have messed things up so badly that the country will most likely elect to the presidency a black man whose middle name is Hussein, whose father was a Muslim, and who admitted to having used cocaine in his youth.

You'd have thought that was one insane and delusional time traveler, wouldn't you?

Or so says one of my fave thinkers, Jonathan Schwarz.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Gods Have Spoken

...and Hillary is finished.

At the stroke of midnight last night -- that fateful hour that saw Cinderella's coach revert to pumpkinhood -- the professional pundit class on TV and the internet united behind their leading voice, Tim Russert (something of a pumpkin himself) and declared Hillary's candidacy dead as a smoked oyster.

“We now know who the Democratic nominee’s going to be, and no one’s going to dispute it,” Russert declared on MSNBC, a few minutes after the witching hour. “Those closest to her will give her a hard-headed analysis, and if they lay it all out, they’ll say: ‘What is the rationale? What do we say to the undeclared super delegates tomorrow? Why do we tell them you’re staying in the race?’ And tonight, there’s no good answer for that.” (NY Times coverage.)

Russert's verdict was soon echoed by commentators all across the political spectrum: Drudge, Fox News, Daily Kos, etc. It's unanimous. No matter what happens in West Virginia next week, this is the end of the line for the Clintons.

Thanks, Gods. Now Obama, the best political speaker to come along since Reagan, has all summer and the short fall season to take McCain apart as if he was Mr. Potato Head. And he will, with gusto. And we won't have to listen to any more of Hillary's raspy, file-voiced monologues about how great her qualifications are.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Life Gone Up in Smoke

Nicotine, especially when taken in the form of cigarettes, is one of the most viciously addictive drugs the human race has ever had the misfortune to discover. I find nothing to compare with it in the world of drugs excepting only crack cocaine, in terms of its ability to addict people thoroughly, quickly, and in many cases, hopelessly.

Millions of adolescents were deliberately innoculated with this addiction "back in the day" (as my students were wont to say), through the medium of television commercials, magazine ads, billboards, etc., which glamorized and romanticized the addiction. This is one of the truly horrifying chapters of predatory capitalism. How many have died slow and painful deaths because of these ad campaigns?

When I was a kid all the adults on both sides of my family smoked, except my grandmothers. I remember advertising slogans for cigarettes that no longer exist! Anybody remember Kentucky Kings, with the all-tobacco filter for that all-tobacco taste?

Then there were Kents, with the Micronite filter, "What's Viceroy got that other filter-tip cigarettes haven't got?" and Winston, which tasted "good like (sic) a cigarette should." Most of all, there was the Marlboro Man, who came riding in across Marlboro Country with his biceps rippling, the better to show off his tattoo. That's what made me decide to start smoking and get a manly habit of my own, at age 14.

And I smoked for 50 years, the last ten years not because I wanted to, but because I was certain I couldn't quit, so I ended up with emphysema. But this is not a sad story, because it has a happy ending. I quit seven months ago, and though I still struggle with the addiction daily, I'm certain I'm done with it, and I'm learning how to breathe again. Last time I was in San Francisco I walked up the steepest hills there without having to stop for breath.

So maybe the shooter in this story was just a flipped-out drug addict rather than a homicidal sociopath, 'cause hard-core smokers are no different from crackheads, and will turn into killers if we deny them their drug.

By the way, there's a great chronicle of the life of a smoker in this week's New Yorker.

Xanadu in Baghdad

BAGHDAD - Forget the rocket attacks, concrete blast walls and lack of a sewer system. Now try to imagine luxury hotels, a shopping center and even condos in the heart of Baghdad, says an AP story about real estate development in the Green Zone published yesterday.

If this sounds weird to you, it's because you lack the Imperial Vision. The story goes on to say That's all part of a five-year development "dream list" — or what some dub an improbable fantasy — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad's future.

But the $5 billion plan has the backing of the Pentagon and apparently the interest of some deep pockets in the world of international hotels and development, the lead military liaison for the project told The Associated Press.

Sure, the boyz over in Sadr City will be lobbing mortars into the windows of the new Marriott from time time, but why dwell on it? There's money to be made!

Puts me in mind of those immortal words penned by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1816:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

That sunny dome! Those caves of ice! And all in the Mesopotamian desert. We must be invincible!

I sincerely hope everybody will read this amazing story. The Marriott Hotel is not a joke, and the lunacy of these people is astounding. Their veins are running money, and the Americans' Imperial Palace in the heart of Baghdad is a done deal.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hot Links

I finally got past the difficulties of dealing with the "new, improved" version of E-Blogger's layout feature and posted some links to other, lesser-known blogs of interest. Scroll down to beneath the blog archive at left. I'll add a few more as time goes by, and see no need to link to the heavy hitters like Atrios. He has enough traffic without any help from me.

"Green Asheville" is the work of a friend I met on an internet discussion group. It exposes the dangers and reveals the atrocities of real estate development as it is practiced in most of our fair country these days, by concentrating on the effedcts short-sighted developent policies have had, and are having on Ocean's beloved home city of Asheville, North Carolina. (For an overview of development in SoCal, see this blog's entry called "The Nation of Slurbia.")

Grace Nearing's "Scriptoids" blog is always carefully written, and her points logically argued, and she has little patience with sloppy work. I don't know Nearing, but was steered in her direction by Atrios, liked what I saw, and have been a regular reader since then.

"Winter Sailor" is a new blog by a former student of mine, currently serving in the U.S. Navy and expecting to receive his orders for ground duty in Iraq at any moment.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Dealing with Rocketing Food Prices

As a practical, therapeutic, and spiritual matter, my yoga teacher's admonition to "eat less, eat fresh, and eat clean" makes sense at every level. The practical aspect is especially serendipitous and well timed; eating a predominantly vegetable, fruits, legume, and whole grain diet is the easiest way to deal with the current wave of inflation at supermarkets, in addition to providing optimum nourishment for the body and the soul.

With that in mind, I resolved yesterday that I needed to devote more of myself to cooking, for the best cooking is always labor intensive, but to bend my efforts to the humblest sorts of ingredients. I decided to make lentil soup, and made it like this:

I heated one tablespoon of olive oil in a three-quart saucepan, then filled up a one-cup measuring cup with half a cup of finely diced onion and a quarter cup each of finely diced carrot and celery, and added to them to the hot oil, sauteeing lightly until the onion was transparent. Then I added half a pound of carefully-washed lentils, and a quart, more or less, of chicken broth. Homemade broth is best, of course, but canned stuff will work. And if you've got a little less than a quart you can cut it with water.

Cover that up and let it simmer for half an hour or so. Add a 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes, a teaspoon of sea salt, and a quarter teaspoon each of curry and cumin. Let it simmer for 15 minutes more, and after that it'll be ready when you are.

It tasted fantastic. In fact, I almost couldn't believe that such unremarkable ingredients could be combined to produce something that good. But the physiological effect was even more dramatic.

I don't wish to go into detail concerning the vicissitudes of intestinal negotiation, so I'll just tell you that after an uncomfortable night, during which my 63-year-old body generated enormous (even for me) clouds of gas and experienced major cramping, the morning saw an end result of the kind that people spend thousands of dollars to get at the We Care Spa in Desert Hot Springs, where they subject themselves to juice fasts for one or two weeks in hopes of leaving the place with immaculate new plumbing and a load off their minds.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Our Intolerably Stupid Political Conversations

I've been posting on the subject of politics less often lately, because American political discourse is increasingly idiotized. For example, with violence in Iraq ramping up again as the war enters its sixth year, and our economy going into the tank, we've been yammering and hollering for weeks now about Obama's relationship with his former pastor, who has turned out to be a headline chaser and a ridiculous person.

However, the best commentators document the depths of the stupidity into which our political conversation has descended rather than avoiding the subject, and Tom Tomorrow is consistently among the best. See his cartoon for this week on the stupid and phony topic of "elitism." You'll probably have to click past an ad to get to the page.

Besides documenting the moronified nature of what we're talking about, T.T. both writes and gives space on his excellent daily blog to friends like Bob Harris to document what we're not talking about: As pointed out by Media Matters and many others, the networks have managed total silence — total — on the New York Times disclosure that many of their military “experts” have actually been financially-interested Pentagon flacks, although there’s plenty of time to report on Miley Cyrus showing her naked back.

The TV news networks are obviously the biggest problem. There's galloping stupification in the print media too, but there's also intelligent and non-hysterical analysis and information available in print. TV, from whence most folks get most of their information, is devoid of any viable info outside of Moyers and Jim Lehrer.