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 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


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


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


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


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.

Monday, November 02, 2009

the radicals

I decided not to post this on the Where do Moderates Belong? thread currently running, because that one is founded on the assumption that radicalism is a bad thing.

Sometimes that's true, and sometimes it's not. Sometimes radicalism is the only thing that makes sense.

I'm reading Fawn M. Brodie's biography of Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania Congressman who led the radical wing of the Republican Party during and after the Civil War, was single-handedly responsible for the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and was the force behind the impeachment of Johnson.

Brodie says he was "undoubtedly" a radical, and that "(R)adicalism is a state of mind which in the generic sense represents the desire to 'root out' or get to the root of a social problem, often by way of revolution rather than evolution. The compulsion to overthrow something is the important ingredient in the radical state of mind."

In Stevens's case, what he wanted to overthrow was slavery, and to follow up by punishing those who had practiced it for the crimes they had committed.

Where is moderation possible when it comes to an issue like slavery? On the one hand, before the Civil War there were the few people like Stevens who hated Slavery so much they became obsessed with wiping it out along with the people who perpetrated it. On the other hand were the slave-owners and slave-traders, criminals who had convinced themselves they were living in a world that contained no boundaries of human behavior or human decency. They even pretended that owning slaves was compatible with Christianity!

There were also a lot of moderates in the two parties of the time, Democratic and Whig, who just wished these problems would go away. Sort of like today's moderates.

The fact is, between slavery and anti-slavery there is no moderate position. Either we allow it or we don't. You can't have just a little bit and pretend that's OK. So if history shows us one thing, it's that Stevens, the radical leader of a tiny radical minority, was right. The rest of the country was wrong, so wrong in fact that they figured out a way to circumvent Stevens's race laws after they were added to the Constitution. It took the rest of the country 100 years to catch up to Thad Stevens. Except for the black part, of course.

I could draw parallels between the events and political configurations of that time and this one, but I'm not going to. I'll just say that the Republican Party was mostly a place for moderates until it got hijacked by Confederate pukes and primitive Christ cultists, leading to the question, Where can moderates go?

In this world, I'd suggest there's no place for you. Either you're on board with the overthrow and cremation of the tyranny of Goldman Sachs and the Pentagon, or you're not. And yes, Michael Moore is a radical. You say that like it was a bad thing.

The late Mrs. Brodie, incidentally, was something of a radical herself. Originally from Utah and with family connections at the very top of the Mormon Church, her first biography was an expose of the career of Mormon founder Joseph Smith for which she is reviled and considered a traitor in SLC to this day. She also wrote one of the earliest revelations of the sex life of T. Jefferson.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

race and politics

Nationwide and generally speaking, white men are not very progressive.

Here's a map that proves my point.

Take a good look at Alabama and Mississippi.

Now take a look at Oregon and Washington, which are geographically, economically, and ideologically as far away from Alabama and Mississippi as you can get and still be on the continental map.

See also the House of Representatives Progressive Caucus, which is disproportionately black, Hispanic, and female, containing few white men compared to their numbers in the population at large.

What does all this tell you about the future of this country? What does it tell you about the past?

I live in Washington State, by the way.

Dave B
Proud Progressive