Thursday, December 31, 2009

crazy heart


Rush Limbaugh is said to be resting comfortably this morning in a Honolulu hospital. He suffered an apparent heart attack yesterday while vacationing in Hawaii.

I suspect too much weight, excitement, rage, and viagra are to blame, and maybe a few too many Mai Tais. He can probably still live a long and comfortable life, but he'll have to make some major changes in his lifestyle, or lack of it.

I wonder if this is the end of his radio career. I would caution him against the emotional pumping up he habitually indulges himself in. Maybe he could work as a smooth jazz deejay.

He picked an appropriate time to experience a life-changing event. The moon is blue, the worst decade in living memory is over, and we could use some peace and quiet, the better to seriously contemplate where we're going from here. To do that, we need an atmosphere free of the hysterical static spewed out by the false and greedy prophets of the past decade.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

good old daze


On a discussion forum I sometimes frequent, a poster is outraged over Bill Clinton's continued popularity, and asks How can it be that President Bill Clinton (1992-2001) is still such a popular man not only in the United States but throughout the world?

I'd be popular too if I'd been president of the U.S. at a time when the illusions of permanent prosperity and effortless American domination of the world were riding high. Life was real easy then, and there was no reason to assume it would ever end.

During the Clinton 90's it seemed that everybody was working, there were no wars except a kind of a low-grade ongoing rumble with Iraq, plus a little, short war in the Balkans, in which the U.S. sustained no casualties. Those were for Clinton, a draft dodger, to establish his war cred, essential for any American prez. But military spending was way down in those days, and we all benefitted from that.

Gas was cheap and it looked like the party would go on forever. We worked, shopped at the mall, acquired houses full of useless junk, made love, drank, and sang. We saw the peace and prosperity on the surface and didn't think about how thin and fragile those things were, or about the structural instability and insecurity they rested on. It was a time when we could enjoy our illusions.

The worst thing we had to worry about was a gob of spooey that happened to end up on a blue dress that belonged to a pudgy bim.

Then George W. Bush stole an election, and the world went to shit. That was the overture for the double zeros, and it set the tone for the decade from hell.

And you ask why Clinton is popular? How could he not be?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

are we there yet?


Now that predator drone attacks have become Obama's murder weapon of choice, it's worth asking whether he's a reluctant or an enthusiastic terrorist. He's obviously a prisoner of his own military when it comes to deciding what wars to pursue and how, but naturally keeps his feelings about his servile status hidden from public view.

The predator drone aircraft firing hellfire missiles at people on the ground these days along the Pakistan-Afghan border and in Yemen is the perfect weapon for our timid president. It's a cowardly, ignoble, and anonymous sort of killing machine, supposedly aimed at al-Qaida higher-ups, but invariably it mostly wipes out civilians.

What would happen if Obama said "No" to these degrading drone sorties? What would happen if he said "No" to the war in Afghanistan, and our growing military involvement in other places in the Muslim world such as Yemen and Somalia? The historical example of the emperor Pertinax might help us answer that question.

Publius Helvius Pertinax was a virtuous but severe Roman soldier who acceded to the throne of the Empire in late 192, 200 years after the death of the Roman Republic. Humbly born but distinguished by superior merit and toughness, Pertinax rose through the ranks of the army, and served as governor of the far-flung provinces of Syria and Britain as well as two other lesser known places. His career was marked by his honest and incorruptible administration, informed by the personal qualities of discipline and humility, and though a product of the Empire he seems to have looked for his role models to the greatest and most illustrious leaders of the long-vanished republic. In the decade of the 180's he became one of the leaders of the Senate.

We learn from the Historia Augusta that Pertinax fell victim to political intrigue when the praetorian prefect (commander of the troops stationed in Rome, the Praetorian Guard) Sextus Tigidius Perennis forced him out of public life. He was recalled after three years to Britain, whose army at the time was in a state of mutiny. He tried to quell the unruly soldiers there but one legion mutinied and attacked his bodyguard, leaving Pertinax for dead. When he recovered, he punished the mutineers severely which led to his growing reputation as a disciplinarian. When he was forced to resign in 187, the reason given was that the legions had grown hostile to him because of his harsh rule. This series of events foreshadowed his end, but was forgotten when he returned to hold the highest offices in Rome once more, including the consulship, at the end of the 180's.

Upon the violent death of Commodus, the degenerate and corrupted son of Marcus Aurelius whose worthless life was snuffed out by a palace plot, Pertinax found himself named Emperor by the Praetorian Guard, who had long since usurped that prerogative from the Senate. The new emperor was expected to give a large "donative," or gift, or more bluntly, bribe to these "service" men, who from the end of the first century C.E. increasingly held the state hostage. But when he discovered the treasury was nearly empty thanks to the personal excesses of his predecessor, and being the sort of administrator who by natural inclination found corruption and bribery repugnant, Pertinax refused to come across with the cash. Edward Gibbon sums up the short reign of Pertinax with the well-balanced observation that "A hasty zeal to reform the corrupted state, accompanied with less prudence than might have been expected from the years and experience of Pertinax, proved fatal to himself and to his country." When the Praetorians realized they were not going to get their usual payoff from the tough old soldier, 300 of them rushed the palace gates and unceremoniously killed him. His reign had lasted 86 days.

Following the death of Pertinax, the Praetorians overestimated their power over the government and managed to insult what little pride that degenerated and dissipated generation of Romans had left, by selling the emperorship to the highest bidder. It was purchased by a rich businessman, Didius Julianus, whose short reign likewise ended violently, and set off a train of events generally referred to as the Year of Five Emperors.

Would Barack Obama meet a premature end if he refused to go along with the Pentagon's unstated policy of perpetual war? Would he have some sort of accident? We'll never know, for Obama possesses neither the spine nor the heart for such a confrontation. But someday before too long, someone will, and then we'll find out whether our own Praetorian Guard is still under the control of the civilian authorities, or whether, like the Romans on the eve of the third century C.E., our ass now belongs to them.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

christmas time is here


I don't want to go all negative by getting into a description of the dreadful occasions wrought by the ghost of Christmases past, so I'll just say that the holiday of all holidays was great this year, so much so that I felt like Christmas is finally what it's supposed to be.

The emphasis was on the family gathering and the shared meal. My sister Chris and I are now the matriarch and patriarch of the clan, which includes six nephews and nieces, one grand niece, and occasional attached boyfriends or girlfriends. Missing this year were my other sister Sue, recovering from knee replacement surgery, my nephew Trevor, working as a cook at a Colorado ski resort, and my daughter Rachel, snugged up with her boyfriend in their new Portland, Oregon home.

The gifting was short, limited, and more symbolic than lavish. That's as it should be. This holiday is not about stuff (not if I can help it).

It was so much fun I'm already looking forward to next year, and hoping everybody can be there, and there's no roster of the missing. This family, like so many others, has been fractured and divided so many times over the years that it's ready for an extended period of healing and growth.

God bless us every one.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

real journalism


Is there anyone left still doing real journalism in the U.S.?

What I'm asking is whether there's anybody doing the hard work, research, and fact checking necessary to get to the truth of complex and contentious issues. I'm asking if there's anyone left who's humble enough to do this work outside the glitzy, personality-driven, showbiz and celebrity atmosphere of the TV newsroom. I'm also asking if there's anyone who retains that most important journalistic trait, independence, which enables a reporter to examine and investigate the sometimes preposterous claims of government sources and people in authority, and then report on the truth or falsehood of those claims, as the reporter understands such truth.

I'm happy to say somebody is doing just that. This morning I learned from Atrios that today's New York Times front-page article recounting the recent crimes of Goldman-Sachs drew heavily on information reported two months ago by the McClatchy News Service's Greg Gordon. McClatchy is the best, and as far as I can tell the only national news service still doing real journalism in this country today. They're a national newspaper chain -- 30 dailies mostly in medium-sized cities -- and their website is an invaluable source of independent and honest reporting. McClatchy is nothing less than a precious national resource.

The Goldman-Sachs article referenced above is a gem. It's long and detailed, but written so clearly and cleanly that the complex scams run by Goldman to defraud their investors become easily comprehensible to laypersons, and the arrogant criminality of the banksters is suddenly illuminated by the full light of day. How Henry Paulson, later Bush's Treasury Secretary, sold "securities" known as collateralized debt obligations, backed by subprime mortgage loans, to unwary investors, how he was able to tout them as "triple-A rated" after bribing the ratings agencies to become accessories to the scam, how he knew these "securities" were on the verge of tanking, and how he purchased billions worth of insurance bets known as credit default swaps against losses connected with those so-called securities with his left hand even as he was selling this garbage with his right hand, is all laid out in Gordon's expertly crafted piece, and I would highly recommend anyone remotely interested in these nefarious doings read the whole thing.

Those of us who respect and admire real journalism haven't forgotten that during the run-up to the Iraq War, when CNN's Wolf Blitzer was cheerleading for the administration and echoing their WMD claims, when Chris Matthews at MSNBC was echoing Cheney's and Rice's ridiculous assertions about "mushroom clouds," and when the holy New York Times was running front-page articles by Judith Miller, who was only too happy to act as the Bush administration's lead stenographer in spreading these lies, McClatchy was the only news outlet to question the administration's propaganda, and to debunk some of the more outrageous lies and obvious fabrications coming out of the White House. That kind of courageous independence and commitment to the truth is almost, but not quite vanished from the news business, but as long as we have McClatchy American journalism is still alive.

Here in Washington McClatchy owns four papers including Tacoma's News-Tribune, an excellent daily out the state's third-largest city, the Bellingham Herald, and the daily paper in Olympia, the state's capitol.

Also in the New York Times this morning was an editorial whose apparent purpose is to perpetuate the lie of the Iranian nuclear threat. Somebody call McClatchy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

bellyview bounce


I crossed the Lake Washington Floating Bridge today and went to beautiful, scenic Bellevue (sarcasm alert). Ordinarily, visiting Bellevue is not high on my list of priorities, since it's a) a suburb, b) ugly, c) like a transplanted slice of SoCal; even the name is redolent of places like Glendale, Newport Beach, and Vista Mierda; d) traffic is bad, and e) I usually get lost there, and become terrified that I'll spend the rest of my life driving around Bellevue, trying to find my way back to the bridge and having to pee.

But I really needed to go there today, because I felt it was mandatory for me to visit my dear sister, lying in a hospital in Bellevue recovering from yesterday's knee replacement surgery. But I dreaded going so much that I was nearly decided not to. I had been warned that traffic would be unusually bad, that the hospital itself was one of those huge, hopelessly spread out medical-industrial complex campuses, with an inscrutable archipelago of parking satellites, and so forth.

But in the end I was shamed into making the trip, by reflecting unfavorably on my own selfishness and by the firm conviction that it wouldn't be as bad as the time we went to see Rachel dance at the Gypsy Den in Santa Ana and spent five hours crawling through LA in stop-and-go traffic on a Friday evening, unable to get out of the car, taking turns crawling into the back seat and peeing in a bottle.

I wasn't about to take the bus, though, I can tell you that. Or I should say the three buses it takes to get there. I figured it would be hard enough even if I made it as easy as possible, and I hate challenges.

In the end the whole thing turned out to be as easy as a walk in the park. After consulting internet maps, I knew right where I was going; traffic was light, parking at the site was no problem, and finding my sister's room was a piece of cake. My sister seemed happy and is recovering comfortably from yesterday's surgery. We had a great visit, and I even enjoyed some of the scenery in Bellevue, although I must add that inevitably the only scenery worth looking at over there is bipedal.

It really helps to be a pessimist in these situations. When things are as bad as you expected, you're mentally prepared, and if instead all goes well you can allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

art imitates death, destruction, and dissolution


From what I'd read about it on line and in the papers, my first impression was that the new, "blockbuster" movie Avatar was just another special effects orgy to avoid. All I ran across was people raving about the film's numerous visual gizmos, whiz-bangs, and eyeball candy.

Yesterday I got my wake-up call from Kunstler -- this one's actually got real content, and what it says about who we are and where we're at will blow your socks off. Say no more, Jim: I'm there.

They say (and you know who "they" are) that art imitates life. In our own time, in this ruined world, in this confused and clueless society, living under this rotted hulk of a government, there ain't much life, so art is forced to imitate death and decay. A world, a society, and a government, all of which suck, is the hand today's artists have been dealt, and they have to change their approaches to match changing conditions.

Avatar is about humans (who are unmistakably Americans) invading a far-away planet (for "planet" read "country") called Pandora, on behalf of a giant, predatory, corrupt corporation back home, in order to steal that place's most valuable resource, a precious mineral bearing the wonderful name unobtanium. The invaders apparently need this stuff to be able to continue leading the lifestyle they've grown accustomed to back on the "homeland" planet, and will do anything to get it. That includes (of course) massacring all the nine-foot-tall, blue humanoid creatures who inhabit the place, called Na'vi, a simple and harmless race who for some reason are not kindly disposed to our intention of looting their planet.

Does any of this sound familiar? If it doesn't, you're not conscious.

I'll let Kunstler, who's actually seen the thing, post the review. After noting that the audience went wild with delight over what they'd just seen at the end of the movie, Jim says:

It seemed to me that they were applauding the sheer computerized dazzlement of the show -- but in the story itself they had just watched the US suffer a humiliating defeat on a distant planet. In the final frames, American soldiers and the corporate executives they had failed to protect were shown lined up as prisoners-of-war about to embark on a death march.

More to the point, the depiction of our national character through the whole course of the film was of a thuggish, cruel, cynical, stupid, detestable, and totally corrupt people bent on the complete destruction of nature. Nice. And the final irony was that
(director James) Cameron had used theatrical technology of the latest and greatest kind to depict America's broader techno-grandiosity -- as the army's brute robotic warriors fell to the spears and arrows of the simple blue space aliens. Altogether, it was a weird moment in entertainment history, and perhaps in the American experience per se. No doubt audiences overseas will go wild with delight, too, but perhaps with a clearer notion of what they are clapping for than the enthralled masses of zombie Americans.

Nothing surprises me any more, and I don't doubt that Americans are quite capable of uncorking a standing ovation after watching themselves metaphorically get ground into the dirt like a cigarette butt.

This sounds like fun, and I eagerly await seeing it at the first opportunity.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

sol renewed


Tomorrow is the winter solstice, or shortest day of the year. Here in Seattle, the heart of darkness, it was cloudy and rainy today, and dark by four.

The darkness is more complete in Alaska, but you don't notice it as much because everybody is indoors almost all the time up there from November on through to April.

December 21 is the day the sun dies and is still, but only for a day. He's reborn on December 22, and begins his new life, working toward full fruition on the other side of the year, 182 and 3/4 days up ahead. His death and rebirth were observed and anticipated by humans watching the skies even before history began, and holds the secret of the origin of our most important religious beliefs, rituals, and celebrations.

They've been telling two myths around the shores of the Mediterranean since time began. One is about the soldier hero who fights in an overseas war, then gets lost with his men and runs into a bunch of snags attempting to sail home, and wanders around the sea for years. The other is the story of a god who dies and then comes back to life, and that one originated in the winter solstice.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Resurrection


I'm not going to write a review of Allen Toussaint's "The Bright Mississippi," easily the most talked about record to come out this past year. Plenty of other people have already done that, and there are some pretty good reviews posted at Amazon.

For rock-and-roll hall-of-famer and New Orleans native Toussaint, now 71, "Bright Mississippi" caps his 50-year career as a record producer, music arranger, composer, and studio musician in New York and New Orleans, during which most of his energies were directed to soul, funk, and R&B projects. "Bright Mississippi" is his first foray into the type of music I like to call American classical, and the 12 tracks on the disc are much more than just song titles. Each is a "signature" tune closely associated with a musician possessing significant historical cred, so that the track list is also a roster of this music's greatest names: Egyptian Fantasy (Bechet), Singin' the Blues (Beiderbecke), Winin' Boy (Morton), West End Blues (Armstrong), Blue Drag (Django Reinhardt) and Solitude (Ellington) are augmented by standards that everybody has played, such as St. James Infirmary and Just a Closer Walk with Thee.

It's all instrumental except for one vocal track, and although the instrumental attack is intense in places (Toussaint's piano playing especially), it goes down very easy.

However, the greatest importance of this carefully-chosen sampling of American classical pieces, which has generated such a surprising amount of buzz and excitement for an instrumental collection, is not just musical. Toussaint has made a a couple of emphatic statements with this record; one is "This music is still important;" the other is "We're still here."

Even as the American Empire totters toward its grave, American culture, as embodied in the musical heritage of New Orleans, has shown itself to be not just still alive, but vigorous, fresh, vital, and robust. Washington D.C., the national epicenter of corruption and the shell which houses a now nearly totally dysfunctional government, may have forgotten about New Orleans, but New Orleans refuses to go away, and in fact will be back on her feet and stronger than ever when Washington D.C. is a haunted ruin.

Our government, saddled with debt, crippled by Byzantine rules, protocols, and procedures, addled by war, overrun by lobbyists and rotten with payoffs and corruption, now seems a fragile and ephemeral thing. Who knows how much longer it can last before it declares bankruptcy and awaits the rush of creditors hoping to salvage something from the general ruin? But the music, literature, and language of America is made of much tougher stuff, and is in no danger of passing away.

We'll still have a country here, even if we might not always have a government. I'm not worried about America.

We're indebted to Allen Toussaint for celebrating the most classical and traditional music of our precious heritage in such an appropriately reverent and well-timed manner, and the titles on this record are like a strand of jewels.

And after this temporary, de facto, rotted, and dysfunctional government has passed away and Washingon D.C. is a ruin, we should locate the capitol of the new government that replaces it in New Orleans, where the heart of America's cultural heritage still beats.

Friday, December 18, 2009

the sun sets on the empire



It wasn't very long ago that American wars were fought by American soldiers and sailors, but not any more. A new book by Jeremy Scahill reveals the extent of involvement and details the specific activities of the Blackwater Corporation and its fascist warlord/Christian crusader honcho, Erik Prince in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It's a sobering story, and one that convinces me that the Evil Empire of the Pentagon is on its last legs.

Blackwater is far from being the only corporation providing mercenaries and hardware in the war-for-oil effort; it's just the most high-profile of the bunch. Even such mundane duties as KP and driving trucks are seldom done by armed services personnel any more; the petro wars are being fought on contract, and also by local auxiliaries, who take on an increasingly important role as these perpetual conflicts wind toward the end of their first decade.

Edward Gibbon, in his great and famous history of the decline and collapse of Rome, notes that "That public virtue" called "patriotism is derived from a strong sense of our own interest in the preservation and prosperity of the free government of which we are members." And as lately as the Desert Storm campaign of the early nineties, American military action was almost exclusively undertaken by just such citizen-soldiers as Gibbon describes. So Iraq, now largely a mercenary operation, and Afghanistan, where much of the burden of war is borne by either contractors or mercenary auxiliaries, are radical departures from our recent past.

Gibbon also adds that "Such a sentiment (patriotism), which had rendered the legions of the (Roman) republic almost invincible, could make but a very feeble impression on the mercenary servants of a despotic prince, and it becomes necessary to supply that defect by other motives..." Chief among these "other motives" of course is hard cash, and recently the American command in Afghanistan were shocked to discover that they were having serious difficulties with local recruiting because they were being outbid by the Taliban.

They're not only being outbid, but out-thought as well. Sometimes I think the current American policy in Afghanistan was thought up by Mullah Omar, and then planted inside the U.S. command structure by double agents before being conveyed to the White House. Omar seems quite confident that the easiest way to total victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan is to manipulate the American Emperor into sending 30,000 or so more troops, to get the Americans to pour billions more down a bottomless well and subsidize the opium trade in the process, and to turn a few psychotic Christ-cultists and professional Muslim haters like Erik Prince loose among the Afghan population.

"I've got this pitiful, helpless giant* right where I want him," gloats the sinister Talibanister.

And the saddest part is, Emperor Publius Assholius Obaminus doesn't even know he's been punked by the Mullah. Such is the fate of doomed empires.

*The phrase was first used by President Richard M. Nixon in the early 70's to describe the U.S. in Vietnam.

Pictured: portrait bust of Emperor Marcus Julius Philippus, better known as Philip the Arab, who seized power in 244 CE and was assassinated in 249 after falling victim to a military coup. I'm struck by his resemblance to Barack Obama.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

the divine turding


One sunny day in 1887, 12-year-old Carl Jung was tripping happily through the town plaza in Basel, Switzerland, and admiring the way the sun gleamed off the newly-restored and freshly-glazed tiles of the city's cathedral. Suddenly the lad felt the frightening approach of what his biographer and editor, Sonu Shamdasani, calls a "terrible, sinful thought."

The boy suppressed the evil thought for several days, but it continued to haunt him, lurking inside the deepest recesses of his innermost mind. Finally he decided that God wanted him to consciously think this thought, just (Jung reasoned) as He had actually wanted Adam and Eve to sin.

So the boy C.G. Jung stopped resisting the message emanating from the primal regions of his subconscious mind and allowed himself the vision of Almighty God, enthroned in heaven, unleashing an almighty turd on Basel which smashes the cathedral roof Jung had so recently been admiring and brings down the entire structure.

This was all a pretty elaborate way of expressing the idea that (as people usually say today), "I'm spiritual but not religious." And Jung himself later said of this vision that through it he had experienced "the direct living God, who stands omnipotent and free above the Bible and Church." He left out that his vision also graphically expressed resentment and contempt, as it was also a judgment on the uselessness of the Church, and its failure to serve its stated and intended purpose.

In our own time the mosque still rules in Muslim lands, but the Church (whichever church it may be) no longer holds a monopoly on spiritual allegiance here in the West as it did during Jung's 19th-century boyhood. For many Americans today, especially, our national symbols (the flag) and scriptures such as the Declaration of Independence are venerated by modern citizens with an intensity of devotion that is truly religious (or spiritual). Nationalism for many reasons is the natural religion of the modern-day citizen of advanced, industrialized countries.

I think it's time I took a trip to Washington, D.C., so I can admire the dome of the Capitol.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

suckered

I wish I could take back the post I put up here yesterday, but it's way too late for that. It's a matter of record now that I got suckered into buying a used scapegoat, focused all my rage on a fake villain, and completely missed the boat.

Barack Obama and his evil mentor, Rahm Emmanuel, as they constructed their industry-friendly health-care "reform" scenario, needed someone willing to play the bad guy, someone who doesn't mind being vilified, cursed, and spat upon. Joe Lieberman is always more than willing to take on that task; he's useful if a bit over-used for such purposes.

And having read Glenn Greenwald's Salon column this morning, and having now been disabused of my naive and easily-manipulated indignation, I'm angrier than I was before.

The emasculated, industry-friendly "reform" bill we're getting is what this administration really wanted all along, despite what the president was telling us, according to Greenwald. As always, he documents and backs up all his arguments capably and thoroughly.

Greenwald is easily the best political commentator anywhere on the web today. He's a former prosecutor with a steel-trap mind, never takes the bait, and unerringly knows just where to dig to uncover the real story.

See also Jane Hamsher's column today at Politico for more on a realistic appraisal of the respective roles played by Obama, Harry Reid, and Lieberman in this tremendous bait-and-switch scam on the American people (that's us, folks), now a fait accompli.

Far from being a Bolshevik, President Change-No-Change is a thoroughgoing butt boy for the corporatocracy, and has never been anything else. He needs to keep big pharma and the insurance companies happy, so the Democratic Party will continue to enjoy the lion's share of their largesse rather than the Republicans.

I keep having to constantly re-learn what I already knew: Obama is the biggest phony to ever sit in the Oval Office. He's an even bigger phony than Reagan was. Remember him? Mr. Balanced Budget?

And I forgive Joe Lieberman. He just wants to be a big shot, and in the process of trying to fulfill his ego-driven fantasy only shows himself to be a big whore and a big mess. You have to feel sorry for the guy.

What we really need to do to get this country back on track is forget about waiting for government or any part of it to do the right thing, and take matters into our own hands, as people in Copenhagen are doing at this very minute.

It's time to raise some hell.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

quotes of the day



Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass) to the House Democratic caucus: "You're screwed."

Howard Dean, in a pre-recorded interview to be broadcast this afternoon: “This is essentially the collapse of health care reform in the United States Senate. Honestly the best thing to do right now is kill the Senate bill, go back to the House, start the reconciliation process, where you only need 51 votes and it would be a much simpler bill.”

Finally, here's one from yours truly, so I don't need to set it off with quote marks: I've known Joe Lieberman is an evil motherfucker ever since 2000, when he was Gore's running mate, and I listened to the so-called Vice-Presidential debate on the radio. What was billed as a debate turned out to be Lieberman giving Dick Cheney a hand job. Unfortunately, it's taken a lot of people till now to figure out just who and what this guy is, and they still haven't kicked him out of the party.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

the red book


The Red Book, whose formal title is "Liber Novus" (New Book) was written and illustrated by the Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung beginning in 1914, after he'd been shaken by a series of apocalyptic visions. In one, he looked out a window and "saw blood, rivers of blood," foreshadowing the imminent world war which would soon prove to be the deadliest and most irrational conflict the world had seen up to that time.

Jung probably had no idea how long he would be at work on the project, which he finally abandoned unfinished in 1930, after 16 years. He was aware of its significance, however, and carefully laid the hybrid Latin-German calligraphy on 600 pages of parchment with India ink, embellished them with a multitude of startlingly bright images, and enclosed it all between folio-sized red leather covers.

By 1914 Jung had already parted ways with his early mentor Sigmund Freud, in whose limited conception both the subconscious and the human soul were dominated by sexual content. Jung overleapt Freud's limitations, and The Red Book partially chronicles the development of what one reviewer calls his "mythically suffused conception of the human psyche."

But even more importantly, Jung was driven to resolve the inevitable conflict between his methodical and systemically ordered scientific mind -- his rational self -- and the irrational and instinctive contents of his psyche, the great discovery of his scientific work. This is also the great psychic conflict of our secular, technological age, and our overemphasis on rationality and method can only prevail for so long before it is undermined by explosions of dream imagery and instinctive spirituality emanating from below, from the subconscious, or as some would have it, the soul. What else are all the various "New Age" movements but this?

Now as the end of my own trail of life comes in sight, I need to read this book and tie up all the remaining loose ends of the past 65 years. And, as if on cue, a facsimile of The Red Book has now been published, appearing in October of this year. I'm going to order my copy today, and I anticipate this will be the last book on the list, and the final volume among I don't know how many hundreds I've read in my lifetime, fully digesting maybe half of them.

Click on Jung's illustration for a larger view.

Friday, December 11, 2009

cream puff war


I went to my local Target Store the other day to get my daily dose ("Give us this day our daily dose") and they had "Merry Christmas" written on the doors with some kind of glittery stuff.

Not "Happy Holidays" or "Have a Mellow Yuletide" or some other veshch, but "Merry Christmas." So I guess Bill O'Reilly has won, and defeated the nefarious forces arrayed against him who were making war on Christmas. Yay, Bill. ("And lead us not into a Fox station.")

Then I went inside the store, and saw these flashin' lights, and heard these tweetin' things, and there was one type of escalator for humans and another one just for their shopping carts all loaded with swag.

It was pretty scary. "What's this world comin' to?" I asked, but nobody answered. I was just a lonely old man, talking to himself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

perpetual emotion


An old friend stopped by last night, and after a few moments of catching up on the doings of mutual acquaintances the conversation turned to politics, because my old friend is a political animal.

And since he's a lifelong Democrat and loyal trooper in the cause, my old bud felt obligated to stick up for Obama's version of the Afghan War, and for the excuses and rationalizations Barack used the other night to attempt to justify the so-called "surge," but my friend's heart wasn't really in it.

Earlier in my life I would have gotten angry, but now all I feel is sadness when confronted with the illogical contortions of liberal political orthodoxy. I tried to patiently explain that the Bush-Obama war "over there" has almost nothing to do with what's going on in Afghanistan, and everything to do with what's going on in this country, with what we've become.

The war has no purpose and no object other than itself. We're fighting a war in Afghanistan because we have to be having one somewhere.

Are educated and well-read Americans really unaware that we've fulfilled George Orwell's prophecy of perpetual war? And who is the "real enemy" in this conflict, other than ourselves? For the true purpose of the perpetual war and this country's $900-billion annual military expenditure, as Orwell observed, is to keep us frightened, poor, uneducated, and unable to act in our own self-interest.

Republicans and Democrats alike may move to cut programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which the more right-wing among them are inclined to call "entitlements," but the Pentagon's monopolization of our resources, resources which might be used for health care, education, and putting people to work rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, is sacrosanct. Nation building on the other side of the world hogs the front burners, the public is hypnotized, the politically orthodox memorize their talking points, and the war goes on with our "approval."

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

temporary reprieve


I woke up this morning and realized immediately that my right hand wasn't shaking. For a Parkinson's sufferer, that's a very good sign, and a great way to start the day.

And the good news kept coming. After kick-starting the organism with coffee, I had a tremor-free hour-and-a-quarter yoga practice for the first time in a long time.

This was the result of an acupuncture treatment I took last night at a north-end Seattle clinic, consisting of a few needles inserted in my scalp, arms, legs, and feet. And even though the tremor, somewhat moderated, had returned by early afternoon, the morning gave me a taste of what might be awaiting me as a result of long-term treatment, which consists of a twice-daily consumption of an herb tea that tastes like dead frogs in addition to weekly acupuncture.

The most important outcome of beginning this regimen is the sudden appearance of hope, which is something none of us can do without. There's no cure for the disease, but if there's any chance these symptoms can be relieved I'll have all I need to carry on, and seek the kind of life I want to create for myself.

I'll have more to say about this as it unfolds.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

the clown show


Every once in a while I'm reminded of why I mostly have chosen to avoid political subjects in this space any more.

It's not that U.S. politics is unimportant; it's simply too disgusting and depressing to ponder much. A passing glance at the New York Times front page and a cursory daily read of Atrios's blog is sufficient to remind me of why political topics are hazardous to my emotional health and sense of balance.

For example, the Times this morning reports that Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organization made public on Tuesday.

The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record, dating back 150 years, according to a provisional summary of climate conditions near the end of 2009, the organization said.


However, such evidence isn't good enough for the U.S. Senate, whose Republicans, along with a sizable contingent of Democrats, continue to view global warming as overestimated at best, and at worst a hoax. Sen. James Inhofe (Asshat-Oklahoma) says of the EPA's recent decision to regulate greenhouse gases if Congress fails to do so, that EPA's finding will have no impact on global warming because India and China, leading emitters of greenhouse gases, are left out. "So, our jobs and our emissions will move to countries that have few if any environmental requirements,'' he said.

Inhofe is one of the loudest and most ludicrous of the Senate cohort of global warming deniers.

No topic is serious enough to escape the ham-handed lies cooked up at the clown show. We're still getting daily doses of overheated, capital-fueled hysteria about how the country will go broke if we enact universal health care legislation. Meanwhile, more civilized nations have had comprehensive health insurance for all their citizens for over a hundred years, while the debate here has been raging intermittently since 1915.

To truly comprehend why anyone with heightened sensitivities might find himself or herself unable to contemplate political matters much longer than five minutes at a time, however, it's necessary to take a walk down memory lane, as Jonathan Schwarz does this morning in a post titled "How the Crock of Shit Gets to Your Breakfast Table."

Each morning Rupert Murdoch's media delivers a warm, steaming crock of shit to the world's people. How does it happen? To understand, let's take a look at one particular crock of shit, from September 24, 2002.

On that day, Murdoch's tabloid The Sun (readership eight million) ran a giant front page headline about Saddam Hussein's terrifying WMD:

HE'S GOT 'EM
LET'S GET HIM

Then on the inside of the paper, the headline was:

BRITS 45mins FROM DOOM

The Sun stories were based on a dossier released by the British government about Saddam Hussein's terrifying WMD. In it Tony Blair stated that "[Saddam's] military planning allows for some of the WMD to be ready within 45 minutes of an order to use them." This was so important the dossier repeated it three more times. That day Blair told parliament that the intelligence the dossier was based on was "extensive, detailed and authoritative."

So what was the ultimate source for this claim? The British media is reporting today it was AN IRAQI TAXI DRIVER. But not just any old Iraqi taxi driver—an Iraqi taxi driver BRITISH INTELLIGENCE OFFICIALS NEVER MET. Here's what happened:

1. MI6 was "squeezing their agents in Iraq for anything at all."

2. The Iraqi National Accord, an exile organization set up with money from the CIA, had hooked up MI6 with a senior Iraqi military officer. This officer claimed he spoke to the taxi driver, and said the taxi driver in turn claimed he'd heard this from OTHER Iraqi officers he'd driven somewhere. So this was completely uncorroborated, third-hand, with a taxi driver in the middle.

3. The Iraqi National Accord's spokesman later described the "45 minute" claim as a "crock of shit."

4. Breakfast time!


Murdoch, by the way, owns many newspapers, not just the Sun, as well as the Fox News Channel and websites such as BeliefNet.

Had enough yet? I certainly have.

Pictured: Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.

Monday, December 07, 2009

past present future

My daughter and her man have been haunting the antique shops and junque stores of their adopted city of Portland, Oregon, snapping up rusty, dusty objects and treating them as the Catholics do the relics of departed saints. A week or so ago they found an upright Victrola in working condition, an essential object of veneration for any serious devotee of antique music.

After a two-day trip to the Puget Sound region, they were able to wed this holy artifact with the thousand or so 78 r.p.m. phonograph discs my mother left behind when she departed this world a year ago today. The Victrola plays only 78's -- that's all there were in those days, and you have to wind it up with a crank on the side, and keep winding intermittently lest the thing wind down, transforming, let's say, Enrico Caruso from a bright tenor into a gurgling basso profundo. There's no electrical cord.

I got pictures of this combining of precious ingredients today via the internet, and I imagine they were up half the night listening to Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, Ukelele Ike, Tony Parenti's Ragtimers (with Wild Bill Davison on cornet and the never-surpassed Baby Dodds on drums), and the flapperish warblings of Ruth Etting, Annette Hanshaw, and Ethel Waters.

It's wonderful to be young, in love, and possessed of enough discrimination and aesthetic sense to know the difference between real music and ambient noise, between life and death.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

the unheeded warning


I've probably linked to the video of Eisenhower's farewell warning to his country and fellow citizens already, maybe more than once, but in this time of the Pentagon's latest "surge," this one in Afghanistan, it bears repeating.

See it here.

There's a short passage from Ike's speech I've seen quoted half a dozen times in half a dozen different places in recent days which is highly appropriate in these hard and troubled times : "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

This unheeded warning is going to come home to us very soon.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

moving day


Tomorrow is the big day. I'll be vacating the roomy old condo in Port Ludlow and moving into a small apartment on Greenwood Ave North in Seattle. It's going to be a tight squeeze, and it'll take some doing fitting all my belongings into the new digs. I may have to give a lot of stuff away.

That's the reason I haven't been writing much of late. Moving requires no small expenditure of time and energy, and I'll be preoccupied for the next few days.

However, I should be back to my regular blogging schedule by the weekend. Until then...

Monday, November 30, 2009

cars, guns, televisions, and red meat


"Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad," a proverb which comes to us from the television series "Star Trek," is probably appropriate here.

From Digby's blog yesterday:

From what I can gather, this climate change pseudo-scandal is going to be with us for a while so if you haven't delved into it in any detail, it's probably a good idea to do so. The number of Inhoffian cretins bellowing on TV about hoaxes is growing by the hour.

We're ruled by lunatics in suits who claim that global climate change is a con job.

Then there's Southern California, where the impact of destructive forms of human activity on a fragile environment are not just measurable, but unavoidably seen, and even tasted. What good is air if you can't chew it?

It's still possible to achieve the good life in this country, but only if you can imagine what it looks like. And what it looks like will never, ever be televised. We have to be able to imagine and create it ourselves, because we are utterly leaderless.

The good life doesn't include cars, guns, televisions, or red meat. You won't see it on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Vulgar." At this point, there is no aspect of the mainstream culture which lends itself to any semblance of a viable future.

We have to make our own damn future.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

judy, rev 1


Wants upon a tom (as one of John Lennon's books begins) the mighty King Egro-Eg Bushikanezzar, absolute monarch of the great empire called Acronym, decided he should rule the entire world.

"I will send out the most awesomest army the world has ever seen," King Egro-Eg Bushikanezzar said, "and anybody who refuses to bend the knee I will whack with such vigor that they will have no whackable parts left. Then they will know who is the HMFIC."

And he appointed his best general, the renowned Intestines McPowell to lead this horde, which was indeed mighty with men and equipped with innumerable fancy whiz-bangs. Out they marched, half a million strong, tramping along on their million feet, and laid siege to the first city they came to, West Little Euphrates, Kansastan.

And the leading men in that town all swallowed their gum, and wailed "We surrender, we surrender!" But among them was a respectable widow named Judy, who was also a hot mama. But you'd never know it, because she'd been drooping around in her widow's weeds for five years. Judy told the city fathers they were a bunch of wimps, and left.

This Judy also had more backbone than your average West Little Euphratian. So she went home and took a bath, and had her maid rub her down with oil and a seductive scent. Then she piled her hair up real high, and put on all her best jewelry and bracelets, poured herself into her homewrecker dress, and set out for the Acronymian camp. When she got there, she told them she had a date with General Intestines McPowell.

To cut a long story somewhat short, General Intestines drank more wine that night than he had ever drunk before in his life, and became silly putty in the hands of the wily Amazon, who in short order went to bed with him, waited for him to pass out, and then decapitated him with a standard issue trenching tool.

Leaving at sunrise, with her maid carrying the general's head in a burlap sack, Judy aroused no suspicion. But the Acronymian army soon discovered their leader's desecrated torso, and their consternation and confusion was so great that they were easily defeated by the suddenly-motivated West Little Euphrates Volunteer Fire Department, who scattered the Acronymians and sent them trudging back to their capitol city, Las Vegasdad.

That ill-fated mission was King Egro-Eg Bushikanezzar's last imperialistic thrust, and he was soon overthrown and replaced by a usurper from Kenya, a Muslim named Hussein Al-Ibn Alabama.

Friday, November 27, 2009

streetcar desire


Via Atrios, I found out that Chandra Brown of Oregon's United Streetcar Company will be a participant at Obama's jobs summit in D.C. on December 3, at the instigation of Portland's Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

The domestic streetcar manufacturer, a division of the Oregon Iron Works, will supply its first cars to Portland's metro system, then after that has a contract to build some for Tucson, Arizona.

A startup American heavy industry like this one accomplishes several things at once:

*It puts both skilled and unskilled people to work, in a modern, technologically up-to-date industry, using environmentally rational production methods, and working for decent wages. American production -- bringing the jobs home -- is the only feasible way to restore some semblance of economic sanity and stability;

*It stimulates further hiring and economic growth among subcontractors and parts suppliers;

*It places greater social as well as capital value on mass transit while simultaneously devaluing the automobile and its excess baggage, the utopian ideal of private transportation. The former concept results from a conservative view of energy; the latter is for energy spendthrifts.

*It addresses global warming and climate change.

If we've got a future, it will look something like this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

geography of seattle

I've had a couple people who have never been there ask me geography questions about Seattle -- "Where's this in relation to that?" sorts of things. But it's hard to explain anything about Seattle's geography without taking into account the big picture of the place and its unique qualities.

Seattle is defined by water. The salt water of Puget Sound to the west and the fresh water of enormous Lake Washington to the east are connected by the Lake Washington Ship Canal, which bisects the city and separates the top third from the rest. It's that top third that I'm most familiar with -- the Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods, and to the east of the two north-south arterials, dreadful I-5 and good Old 99, the U District and the area around Ravenna Park.

Between those two sets of neighborhoods, the Phinney-Greenwood and University-Ravenna, and midway between the two busiest roads in the state lies an urban gem, beautiful little Green Lake. Its three-mile perimeter is perfect for walking, jogging, or biking, and you'll see a lot of all three on any pleasant afternoon from February right on through the end of October. The property in the Green Lake neighborhood is some of the most desirable in the city.

I'm a little less familiar with the old Scandinavian fishing enclave of Ballard, once an independent city, but I've noticed that some of the oldest and best-preserved parts of town are there.

I know dear old semi-suburban West Seattle very well, too, separated from the rest of the city by the Duwamish Waterway and the bridge over Harbor Island, and stuck out into Elliot Bay on its own little square-headed peninsula. That's where my daughter spent her earliest years.

Similarly, the Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhoods are semi-isolated from the rest of town, on a peninsula defined by the Ship Canal to the north and the Sound on the south. My dad used to work on Queen Anne Hill and a friend lived there, but I don't know that part of town nearly as well as I do the north end.

The geographic semi-isolation of these various neighborhoods tends to foster a spirit of independence, separateness, and uniqueness. Whether they're out on a peninsula or cut off from other nearby enclaves by Interstate Five or the canal, the north-end neighborhoods as well as West Seattle are very different from one another, and their residents often point to those differences with pride.

Not much to say about downtown. It's intense, like any big city downtown, and its future at this point is uncertain because of the oncoming foreclosure crisis in commercial real estate.

The areas south and east of downtown -- Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Mount Baker, etc., are terra incognita to me: I know where they are but I never go there. Nearly anyplace outside the city limits, whether to the north, south, or east, is suburbs, and terra misericordia as far as I'm concerned.

Monday, November 23, 2009

move-in special


By now everybody knows we're living through hard times, and that this particular round of hard times is especially scary because there's no indication that things are going to get better any time soon.

However, for those who still have any kind of an income at all and aren't buried under mountains of debt, living through a depression isn't all bad. A depressed economy is a buyer's market, as well as a renter's opportunity.

"This market is really brutal," one ladlord said to me today as he arrived to show me a one-bedroom unit on Phinney Ridge. On the phone, he had already lowered his asking price from $950 to $800 without any prompting from me. I'd assumed the higher figure was non-negotiable, but when I told him I couldn't afford that he immediately backed it down. I was shocked, because that kind of flexibility in a property owner was something I'd never once experienced in all my years as a tenant.

Like I said, these is hard times, and it's a hard row for them as got as well as for them that don't.

As it turned out, the guy's place, though it was beautifully and tastefully decorated, was simply too small to live in, even for one person. No off-street parking, no storage space of any kind -- it was more of a cell than an apartment, albeit the kind of cell Martha Stewart might have arranged for herself if she'd had to stay in prison any longer than she did.

It was getting late, but I decided to put the dice back in the box for one more throw, and stop at the first place up the road I might happen upon with a sign out front and no overt evidence of slumlordism.

And that was all it took to hit the jackpot on my third throw of the day -- a fairly roomy standard-issue one bedroom apartment just north of the Phinny-Greenwood Neighborhood, for $650. Plus the security deposit -- waived. Plus the first month's rent -- also waived. Like the man said, it's a brutal market right now, which translates into a sweet market for renters.

So if you're looking, don't take the first place you see, and don't settle for anything less than that very sweet move-in special deal. You deserve that kind of a deal, because if you've got money to spend, and no excess baggage such as a couple of large, aggressive, fur-bearing quadrupedal carbon units, you're a hot commodity. Just remember, with all the inventory that's lying around going begging, you'd be crazy to pay retail.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

made for tv


The New York regional yoga championships?

Yes, I'm afraid it's true. Maybe you already saw this piece when it ran in the New York Times fashion and fitness section a few days back.

During the three-day workshop I took with Gary Kraftsow, the founder of American Viniyoga, in April of '08, I remember his saying several times that "this is not competitive, and it's not a performance art." But I guess there are some who would disagree.

Asana competitions, as they should be properly called*, are the brainchild of the Choudhurys, Mrs. Rajashree and Mr. Bikram, who are also the founders of a highly successful, trademarked and copyrighted sequence of 26 vigorous postures and two breath exercises, practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees and known as Bikram Yoga. They're originally from India, but have adapted extremely well to American cultural prerogatives and ways of doing business.

Considering the current and growing mass appeal of asana practice, I'm afraid that I and the Choudhurys both see where this is going: Think "American Idol" or "Dancing with the Stars."

And I suppose there's no real harm done, as long as there are those who are keeping the faith, and keeping it real. So even though my peers and I graduated from yoga school a couple nights ago, we have another assignment.

But I have to say, I always thought doing a vigorous asanas in a really hot room sounds like a weird idea.

This is one more example among many of the inherent corruption of contemporary American culture, for which I find the influence of television solely responsible. TV has established the template of public and private behavior in This Modern World, and demands that all activity be reduced to entertainment, even those activities traditionally defined as sacred or possessing inherent dignity. In this country today there is nothing so sacred that it can't be cheapened, and nothing so dignified that it can't be commoditized, in the manner of gymnastics competitions and beauty contests.

*Asana, or movement through a series of postures, is just one facet of yoga, which aims at the total integration of body, breath, mind, and spirit.

New York Times photo by James Estrin.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

weather beaten


I can usually find a better purpose for a blog than using it to gripe about the weather, but ours has been unusually dreadful these past few days, even for a locale famous for the volume and frequency of its rain.

At the moment we're experiencing the third of three major rain-and-wind events occurring over the past five days. The first of them brought down trees and knocked out the electrical power in my little community. And there's more to come; tomorrow's forecast predicts another half inch of precipitation, but thankfully with diminished winds. After that things are supposed to improve, but long-term weather predictions around here are always a crap shoot at best.

Let's hope things get better though. Some Western Washington rivers have already flooded, more are about to, and if this keeps up much longer area roadways will begin washing out, in a region whose infrastructure is very well equipped to withstand the normal and considerable amounts of precipitation for which this part of the country is famous.

I don't know why I'm bothering to complain. The weather, as Mark Twain famously said, is something everybody talks about "but nobody ever does anything about it."

Monday, November 16, 2009

other voices, other rooms


What's the best way to combat the terrorism unleashed against us by Islamic fundamentalist jihadis? March in a very large, very well publicized anti-war protest, or maybe do some high-profile work with Amnesty International according to Glenn Greenwald.

Conversely, anyone wishing to encourage jihad and promote the spread of terrorism should do everything possible to assure that we escalate our hostilities in the Middle East, and that we send more armies and navies, drop more bombs, kill more civilians, and destroy their property and livestock. That policy has been working like a charm to grow terrorism ever since the days of Bill Clinton's intermittent bombing of Baghdad.

"At some point, a rational person has to wonder," Greenwald says, whether those who constantly yell for more violence and killing against one part or another of "the Muslim world aren't desirous of exactly that outcome." I've wondered that very thing myself, many times.

*************************************

Looming behind the topic of veganism, which I touched on recently on the other blog, is the realization that's been haunting conscious observers of the world scene for a long time now, like a huge nightmare hiding in the deepest layers of a subconscious mind. The stark fact of this earth's severe human overpopulation is well known, but up until now has hid below the radar, and is just now breaking into our collective awareness, conveying the shock of revelation.

Currently clocked at just under seven billion, there can no longer be any doubt that the numbers of humanity are now several times beyond any acceptable number suited for optimum "carrying capacity," and that our overrunning of the planet is responsible not only for global warming, but the Auschwitz-for-animals conditions on factory farms and in feedlots and slaughterhouses. In fact, the two concerns are closely related because the fecal contamination produced by such farms is one of the most significant factors accelerating climate change.

"Men," says the preacher Ecclesiastes, with God's help "might see that they themselves are beasts. For that which befalls the sons of men befalls beasts...as the one dies, so dies the other; yes, they all have one breath, so that a man has no pre-eminence over a beast; for all is vanity" (III: 18-19).

James Howard Kunstler touches on the ramifications of overpopulation and lots of other things besides this week in a typically intense and profound Monday morning essay. "We may still be driving around in Ford F-150s, but the Pale Rider is just over the horizon beating a path to our parking-lot-of-the-soul," Kunstler remarks with his trademark sang-froid exuberance.

********************************

Finally, it's a cliché among clichés, but click on the photograph accompanying this post for a large, spectacular, and always-inspiring view of the Golden Gate about an hour before sunset. The large picture also shows, at some distance but very clearly and nicely centered, San Francisco's weirdest, least-known, and least-loved landmark, Sutro Tower, which rises awkwardly from a hilltop just above Cole Valley.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

soup!



The vegan-style soup I made yesterday turned out so well I thought I should share it with everyone. You may or may not be a vegan, but even meat and dairy eaters are going to love this flavorful and filling winter soup. The recipe serves two, and does require some kind of food processor.

Wash two cups of black beans and stir them into six cups of boiling water. Lower heat and cover; simmer for an hour.

Core, seed, and dice two ripe red bell peppers. Drop the pieces into two tablespoons of olive oil in a shallow baking dish, and roast uncovered at about 325 degrees for an hour.

When the peppers are done, take a little of the liquid from the soup and put it in the food mill along with the cooked, diced peppers. Process until you get a puree-thickness sludgy liquid. Give the beans a quick once-over with some kind of masher -- a potato masher will do. Not all the beans need to be squashed, but you'll want to break them down enough so the soup thickens. Stir in the pepper sludge.

Add a teaspoon or more of salt (to taste), a quarter teaspoon of black pepper, a quarter teaspoon of Cayenne, either two teaspoons of garlic powder or two crushed garlic cloves. Cook for another half hour to an hour, or until beans are very tender and/or liquefied.

Serve hot with crackers.

Happy eating.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

stillness


It's a very still day here, pleasant enough outside because it's not raining, but very cold. The air is still, the water is still, and since the Saturday-morning errand rush ended there's been less-than-continuous traffic going by on the road, which lies about 100 yards distant.

It's all the quieter because there's nobody else around. This is a four-unit condominium building, but I'm the only living creature in it these past few days, save for whatever rodents and insects have got under the roof and behind the walls, sheltering against the frigid air outdoors.

I decided it's a good day to light a fire, since electric heating is expensive and the heater in this place is noisy and clanky. So now the heater is off, and I've got a nice bed of embers going in the otherwise-darkened room, which adds to the stillness. I sat for a time watching the flames and simply breathing -- something I no longer take for granted!

On YouTube I dialed up a 10-minute video of a shot of the ocean accompanied by an Indian Devanagari four-string drone, the tambura that accompanies nearly all Indian classical music, because it's one of those rare sounds that adds to the stillness.

My life will be noisy and active soon enough; this coming Thursday I graduate from teacher training, and right after that the process of moving to the city begins. Then it's setting up the Facebook page, making the calls, meeting the contacts, etc. I don't plan to let all that training go to waste.

I'm cooking a pot of black beans, and roasting a red bell pepper in olive oil, to put through the food processor and add to the soup. With a little salt, black pepper, and cayenne it should be, if not a meal, an appetizer fit for a king.

I'll miss the stillness of this place after I'm gone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

war news


In his column at Salon today, Glenn Greenwald, one of the country's premier political reporters, has a story culled from the New York Times which details the corruption and gross criminality at the heart of the American war machine. Read it a and weep.

***********************

However, the corruption of the war machine isn't really news, but this is: Obama is rethinking his tentative decision to cave in to the military's demands for 30 to 40,000 more troops to throw into the Afghani meatgrinder. This is the work of Obama's ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, who has lost faith in the Karzai government and publicly opposes any further escalation of the war.

I picked this up via Atrios, and the full story is here at FireDogLake.

If this is true, I may have to re-think my feelings about Obama, who may prove belatedly to have a spine after all. And if he decides to deny McChrystal and the other generals their latest demand for more human sacrifice, we might even finally get an answer to the most important question of all: Who's in charge here? Is the American government, including its military establishment, still under the control of the civilian authorities as the Constitution requires, or are we living under a military dictatorship?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

dulce et decorum est pro patria mori


Today is Memorial Day, or Armistice Day as it was originally called, to observe the armistice that ended the unprecedented carnage of the First World War.

Unprecedented as it was, and though it was thought to be the "War to end all war" at the time, it proved to be only the prelude to an even larger and more lethal convulsion 20 years later.

In our own time we don't have such enormous conflagrations. Instead we are faced with never-ending, meaningless, and pointless wars which have no objectives and no purpose, or at least none that can be clearly articulated. These are the product not of human agency, but of a war machine which lurches mindlessly toward an ever-receding horizon while sucking up men, money, and material and grinding out corpses, blood, and suffering.

These faraway conflicts sometimes seem unreal, as if they were nothing more than television productions. But they certainly are real to those who suffer and die in them.

I've chosen to mark this Memorial Day by re-reading the best-known poem of Wilfred Owen, an English combatant in World War I who was killed in combat during the war's final days. The Latin title and final lines translate approximately as, "It is proper and fitting to die for one's country."


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Pen and ink drawaing, "Fit for Active Service" by George Grosz, German, 1918.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

teevee


Madison Avenue's latest greatest thing ever is a new TV series called "V," which is about...actually, I don't really know what it's about because I haven't seen it. However, here's part of the review of the first episode from the New York Pile.

Like Obama, Anna (the "fictional" nation's leader and the protagonist) offers an exciting mixture of the new (she's not a white male; how bad could she be?), the young (her hipster minions promote the new era of hope, with a nod to Shepard Fairey, by tagging the streets with spraypainted "V" logos) and the post-patriotically groovy.

"We don't divide ourselves into countries. We're one united people," Anna says of her civilization. Of his, the self-described "citizen of the world" Obama has said, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism."


So the reviewer, Kyle Smith, concludes that this is all a satire on Obama, Obamamania, and Obamaism. I'd say he's about right, from the sound of it; bottom-line message -- "liberals" are "weird," silly, and sinister. Put 'em in power and they become a dangerous bunch of self-righteous little dictators.

In his final graph, Smith says, to conservatives, this is the perfect cigar to savor after a sumptuous meal -- because it says that no matter who is nominally in charge, snaky, disingenuous liberalism is the ever-lurking villain.

OK, good review, but mine's better. Here's mine:

If it's on television, it sucks.

By definition.

There are a few things on TV that don't suck, but if they don't have their own web site (e.g., like Bill Moyers' Journal does) you have to go through the tortures of sucky medialand to get them.

This is a culture of death, and the cyclops in the living room is its primary delivery vehicle. It's an indoctrination machine through which the forces of evil, unbeknowst to the victims, nightly give most everyone in the country a sedative-induced prefrontal lobotomy.

However, it's a temporary lobotomy, and has to be renewed on a daily basis. And that means there IS hope for recovery.

I know this sounds a little like Howard Beale, but I want you to go home tonight and unplug your televisions. Then open a window and throw them out. Your life will begin to improve immediately, provided you haven't had such a massive dose that you're already permanently totally lobotomized.

Then while you're at it, since you've already got the window open, stick your head out and yell at the top of your lungs, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more."

P.S. -- I forgot to add, if it's on TV and on any cable news channel, it double sucks and also blows large mucousy chunks.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thursday, November 05, 2009

teabaggers triumph in new york's 23rd district


Bill Owens is the first Democrat to win NY-23 since the first term of Ulysses S. Grant. I looked it up.

But it was a great triumph for the Jefferson Davis Cell of the Glenn Beck Brigade of the conservative wing of the Red-White-and-Blue branch of the Republican Party. For a candidate they apparently were forced to call on the kid who always ate lunch by himself, and also lost the district for the first time since Reconstruction, but at least in doing so they stuck their finger in Newt Gingrich's eye and sent a message to any other ideologically impure, unorthodox infidels who pissed them off this week.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

political viagra


The lead commentary piece by Louis Menand in this week's New Yorker (Nov. 2) is about the White House's recent little kerfluffle with Fox News. From it I learned that Fox has the oldest demographic in the cable news business (half of its viewers are over 63), and that the majority of viewers for the big-shrill Fox offerings such as Beck, Hannity, and Bill-O, are men.

Menand also gets into the importance of niche marketing in today's news business. Watching the programming that comes sandwiched in between the commercials for denture adhesive, Centrum Silver, and topical hemorrhoid remedies you get a pretty good idea of the exact nature of the niche Fox has carved out for itself -- the delusional one-quarter.

It also gives me a better idea of why I generally don't get along with people my own age, particularly men. No wonder. Fox News is where all those pot-bellied old farts go to get their daily anti-Obama erection. Of course, it's not the real Obama they hate; that one's a timid, vacillating, unprincipled and somewhat ignorant opportunist who so far has been almost completely ineffective in his discharge of his duties. Rather, the Obama they hate is the one who lives inside their heads, a tyrranical and corrupt Marxist dictator who plans to install universal government-run health care in YOUR community, then set up death panels to kill us senior citizens so the government doesn't have to pay for our care.

I think about these things, and I wonder how it feels to be such a freak.

I keep telling these guys on the rare occasions I talk to them that it's not Obama and the Democrats they need to worry about, it's people like me. Of course, they have no clue what that means, which is probably just as well.

Now, today on Fox they're probably (I'm speculating here 'cause I don't have TV), probably gloating about the two big victories last night, one where a state involved in the recent rebellion reverted to Republicanism, and the other where an overweight drunk driver beat a corrupt and widely unpopular Democratic hack. But the more important race was the Republican loss in NY-23 where teabagger-anointed Doug Hoffman had shouldered out the GOP establishment candidate in order to run and lose. What's important about it is that it's the wave of the future The teabaggers are planning primary challenges against more than a dozen establishment GOP regulars next year. So that already-weak party is splitting in two.

But even with that, they've got not much to fear from their old enemy the Democrats, who are splitting into fragments themselves. Between the Blue Dogs and so-called moderates is a motley collection of party hacks, corporate whores, and slick operators like Emmanuel and Steny Hoyer, led by an ineffectual and inexperienced amateur who at this point seems paralyzed with fright.

There's a new party coming. It's gathering like the lava dome that formed in the St. Helen's crater 30 years ago. It's coming just like the Republican Party showed up on cue, right before the Civil War. And it's going to be fueled by the continued criminal behavior in the financial sector, who committed the frauds currently causing millions to be out of work and hundreds of thousands to lose their homes. Also it will be in response to the endless war which lurches on without purpose, demanded of us by the war state. And people are going to rise up and say, "No more of this." Look to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to produce the seed of the new party. That's the party the Fox newsies need to worry about.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

sincerity


By now everyone knows the story of how rock 'n' roll grabbed the spotlight away from the pabulum-like "product" that passed for popular music during the fifties, eventually putting a merciful end to it altogether. What's less talked about is the fact that at the same time rock 'n' roll was capturing the hearts of teenagers and scandalizing adults all over the country, the modern form of country-western music was also taking shape, and providing another from-the-heart, sincerely felt and honestly-delivered alternative to the plastic nonsense cluttering the airwaves and television variety shows of the period.

The most celebrated of these early C&W pioneers, of course, is Hank Williams, who retains the aura of stardom in the public imagination even today, as much because of his romantic and tragic self-destruction at age 29 as for his musical contribution. In his short life Williams fathered an extensive repertoire of memorable songs, but for my money the best country-western tune of the era was performed by Ray Price and his band, the Cherokee Cowboys. This was a high-powered group of the mid-to-late fifties and very early sixties that at one time or another included Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Paycheck.

The Cowboys released Crazy Arms in 1956 and it went straight to the top of the country charts. To my ear, it seems the perfect country-western song: it's short, simple, direct, straight from the heart, and very cleanly executed. The instrumental accompaniment (pedal steel guitar, fiddle, and piano) is spare but inspired, and the tune is given its driving force by the incredibly tight two-part harmony on the chorus. I don't know who the second voice belongs to, but it sounds like Roger Miller to me.

Price later moved on from his roots, and by 1970 with the release of his biggest hit, For the Good Times, had transformed himself into a lounge act with country origins. And like rock 'n' roll, country-western has pretty much passed from the current scene, leaving a residue of Las-Vegasfied Nashville acts that might best be described as rock 'n' roll for old people. The golden age of the genre was early on, and featured such outstanding performers as Williams, Price, and Patsy Cline, with Willie Nelson presiding over the later manifestation of the form.

It's time for country to take its rightful place alongside rock 'n' roll as an expression of artistic democracy. And lest we forget, there were performers in that long-ago time who incorporated elements of both forms, "rockabillies" such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. Together, rock and country were embraced by a public which, however willing to swallow junk politics it may be, was unwilling to accept the dreadful and odious cacaphony of ugly sounds Madison Avenue tried to palm off on them as music. The American public may not know much, but it knows what it likes.