Saturday, February 27, 2010

danger zone -- updated

The Danger Zone
Performed by Johnny Adams

Sad and lonely all the time,
That's because I've got a worried mind;
You see the world is in an uproar
The Danger Zone is everywhere.

Just read your paper, and you'll see
Just exactly what keeps worryin' me --
You see the world is an uproar
And the Danger Zone is everywhere.

My love for the world is like always,
And the world is a part of me;
That's why I'm so afraid
Of all the progress that's being made
To eternity...

Every morning and every night
Finds me hoping that everything is all right;
You see the world is in an uproar,
And the Danger Zone is everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.

I'd recommend giving this song a listen. You can download it off Aol Music, or I-Tunes, or wherever you get your MP3's from, for a buck. Or you can get the album, "Walking a Tightrope," from Amazon.

Update -- OK, for those of you who have never downloaded a song, or don't want to, or don't have a credit card, or don't have a dollar, you can hear (but not see a performance of) this song at YouTube.

You just gotta hear this thing if you haven't already. God, the guy absolutely nails that vocal. That, combined with the simplicity and directness of the lyrics, make this one to remember.

Update II -- Right. I got some of the information pertaining to this beautiful piece wrong. The author of it was Percy Mayfield, not Johnny Adams. Mayfield wrote it in 1968 (! Great year for music!) and Adams recorded this cover in 1989.

Friday, February 26, 2010

living in a violent world

All the great sages, the wise ones we respect the most, have strictly admonished us to lead non-violent lives, even to the point of never thinking violent thoughts. I wonder sometimes, is what they say we must do to fulfill ourselves possible? How can one live non-violently in a violent world, where the innocent and helpless are always the first to suffer?

The Buddha said, "All beings tremble before violence. All fear death. All love life.

"See yourself in others," he advises. "Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?"

But it's hard for me to see myself in the confused and enraged gangster on the street, or in the soldiers who invade other people's countries and blow up their houses. What have I in common with them? I suppose only the fact of our all being human.

In his Yoga Sutras, the ancient teacher Patanjali advises us to "cultivate"an attitude of "indifference toward error" (YS 1.33), and teaches that the first "principle of respect for others" is "nonviolence" (YS 2.30).

In keeping with his character, Yeshu insists on giving us the most demanding, perplexing, and impossible instructions of all.

If someone slaps you on the cheek, offer your other cheek as well. If anyone grabs your coat, let him have your shirt as well.

Give to anyone who asks, and if someone takes away your belongings, do not ask to have them back.

How could poor, suffering beings like ourselves ever rise to such a height of perfection as these wise men describe?

Illustration: photo montage by Quincy Alivio. Click on the image for a larger view.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

who was yeshu?

Who was this itinerant rabbi? We know he lived and traveled and taught in the area around of the Sea of Galilee region early in the first century C.E. We infer that he went to Jerusalem during the second or third year of his ministry and met a violent death there.

But what did he actually teach, and what did he actually believe? We can never really know for sure, but 20th-century studies which worked to identify and analyze the sources of the gospels have done a great deal to help answer those questions within a reasonable degree of certainty.

Among the books generated by these studies that are accessible to the lay person, I've found Burton Macks "The Lost Gospel Q: The Book of Q and Christian Origins," the most informative and historically rigorous among the ones I've read.

Scholars had already surmised for over 100 years that Matthew and Luke had one source in common (other than the much-earlier Gospel of Mark which they also shared), and that this source consisted solely of teachings, and contained no historical or biographical details. This is the "sayings gospel" Q, which 20th-century theologians, mounting a massive group effort, painstakingly abstracted and reconstructed from the Bible's first three gospels.

One thing I learned from Mack's history of Q is that there were no Pharisees active among the Jews of Galilee at the time of Yeshu, so all of Jesus's gospel diatribes against that sect must have been added long after his death, by followers of Yeshu whom the Pharisees considered apostates or deviants from orthodoxy. The contents of the original version of Q, those parts that everyone involved in the various studies was able to agree upon, are actually quite short.

Two themes predominate in this extremely condensed version of what we may with some confidence conclude was the actual message conveyed by the historical figure Yeshu Ben Yusuf. The first is the requirement that any who would follow the way lead lives of utter simplicity, which is represented as conferring freedom and joy on any who would practice it. The other is an uncompromising and radical plea for absolute non-violence.

Where did the emphasis on these ideals come from? They're nothing like what's put forward in most of the Hebrew Bible. But as Burton Mack points out, in the first century Galilee was a long way from Jersusalem, whose temple authorities had little influence there. It was a multi-ethnic society, heavily influenced by the thought of the Greeks who had recently ruled and built cities in much of the region in the wake of Alexander, as the Seleucid monarchs. Yeshu, in some ways, exhibits the character of a Greek cynic philosopher as much as he does that of a traditional rabbi,* which is what makes the Book of Q and its subsequent developments, including Christianity, such radical departures from the past.

*See Mack, pages 114-115.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

hey, baby

Say hello to L114, the latest orca born to Puget Sound's San Juan pod.

The birth of this calf, the fifth for this group this year, brings the pod's population up to 89. Marine biologists worried when the San Juan pod's population dropped to 81 in 2001, down from their high of 98 in 1995. But now the whales are making something of a comeback.

The new calf and its mother, L77, were first spotted off Vancouver Island on Sunday afternoon. It weighed about 440 pounds at birth.

Female orcas become fertile at about age 15 and can give birth up until the time they're 40 or so. They gestate for 17 months, so births are not that frequent. A female might calf every four or five years.

The offspring stay with their mothers their entire lives. J1, a male of about 60, still stays very close to his mom, J2, who is nearly 100.

Source: Seattle Times

Monday, February 22, 2010


Ever had an infected tooth? If the infection comes in contact with a nerve, it will ring your bell.

I was enjoying this most beautiful day so far this morning, and walked from my house over to mom and dad's grave site about a mile and a half from here. The flowers and flowering trees are spectacular, and it was, as they say, just another day in paradise.

Back at home, sitting on the couch at about two in the afternoon, I felt of a sudden that a little devil was in my mouth and driving an icepick through one of my bicuspids and down into the jaw. Within an hour I was in the dentist's office, two doors away from where I'm living, as by coincidence this guy who is so very close to where I live came very highly recommended to me. And I lucked out -- they had a cancellation tomorow, which means in about 21 hours I'll be getting an emergency root canal, and believe me when I tell you I'm looking forward to it.

There's nothing like the sudden appearance of intense pain to completely, temporarily change the circumstances of life and the plans you may have made for the remainder of the day. Right now the plan is just to hang on until 3 p.m. tomorrow.

I had one heavy-duty pain pill left from December of '08, and I took it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

mistaken identity

Since today was warm and sunny, I wanted to spend at least a little time outdoors in deference to this skin condition I have, caused by vitamin D starvation. And so after my sisters left here to go home in the mid-afternoon (I took them to the movies to celebrate their birthdays -- "Avatar" again), I walked east a block and then five blocks north, to a corner where a prosperous church on one side of the street owns and operates a large school on the other side. There are also a couple of house-sized buildings that make up part of this impressive complex, a Catholic institution called Christ the King, subtitled "El Christo Rey," as it apparently serves an Hispanic community of worshipers.

Who is this Jesus Christ, the figure at the center of these peoples' devotions? According to the creed they recite at every meeting of the ritual sacrifice, he is "Jesus Christ, (God the Father's) only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;"

"He descended into hell. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead."

That, I think, is what today most critics would call an incoherent narrative, and seems to have come to us from another planet, which, of course, it did. The world of centuries past was not the same planet as the one we live on today. Knowing what we know of this world and it's deeply physical problems, of the various possible fates of both the planet and the human race, the persistence of this idea of a God who sent a son to redeem us by shedding sacrificial blood for the sake of our sins seems bizarre and out of place. It has nothing to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

This is not to say there was no such person as Jesus, or rather as Yeshu ben Yusuf, an itinerant rabbi who lived 21 centuries ago. My experience of this person -- and it's not hard to learn who he actually was and what we know of his teaching with a reasonable degree of certainty -- my experience of him is that he made the most rigorous demands on whomever might listen to him of any philosopher I've ever encountered, from any age or or any land.

"Im telling you," he said, "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even tax collectors love those who love them, do they not?"

Have you ever actually tried loving your enemies, or the people who have done you great harm? Even just trying to do so requires a tremendous act of will, and yields surprising results.

This Yeshu ben Yusuf, here and in other instances as well, was demanding of us that we overcome the base nature of our animal instincts. It's a tall order. And he told the temple authorities, who were always so careful about what they ate and what they ate it it from, "It's not what goes into your mouth that makes you unclean, but what comes out of it." No wonder they didn't like him and wanted to do him harm.

My belief is that Yeshu was a very unusual person, and very far removed from Christ the King.

All Jesus quotes are from Burton Mack, "The Lost Gospel Q," Harper San Francisco, 1993, pps. 73-74.

Friday, February 19, 2010

living large

Big Jim McDermott, Seattle's congressional rep, spoke to the Winter 2010 Community Meeting last night in West Seattle, at a place inexplicably called the Youngstown Cultural Center. It was, among other things, kind of a town hall meeting on health care, and was a very quiet affair, sparsely attended with only about 60 constituents there.

McDermott, one of the larger, more even-tempered, and honest people in Congress made a few predictions and expressed a few preferences. Among other things, McDermott, who is also a doctor, said he's confident a health care reform bill of some sort will pass, and that whatever form it takes won't be final. To illustrate what he's talking about, he cited the legislation establishing Medicare, first passed in 1965 and tinkered with ever year since.

He also said:

*He'd like to see the filibuster rule in the Senate abolished;

*He'd like to see the 1945 act establishing state insurance commissions repealed and a uniform set of regulatory guidelines administered nationally;

*He believes that legislation will be introduced in Congress within the next few months aimed at overturning the Supreme Court's recent ruling on corporate personhood.

McDermott established his bonafides in 2003, at the time the Bush administration shoehorned public opinion into approving of his invasion of Iraq. Rather than accept the administration's claims about Iraqi WMD at face value, McDermott went on a fact-finding trip to that country on the eve of the invasion, then came home and told his constituents and anybody else who wanted to listen that we weren't going to find any WMD there, that Saddam Hussein was not a threat to us, and that Bush and Cheney were blowing smoke up our butts. Needless to say, it took a lot of courage to defy the administration during a time they were working feverishly to build war lust and hysteria, a time when very few people were willing to stand up and be counted.

I'm not planning to vote for very many people next year, but I'm looking forward to voting for this guy. It's a rare pleasure to be able to vote enthusiastically for anyone.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

on a clear day

It's not the warmest day of the year so far, but it's definitely the clearest. It was one of those mornings when the Olympic Mountain range west of the city and on the other side of the sound, looks a lot closer than it really is.

So needless to say the sun is out, and I celebrated with an early walk around Green Lake commencing about 9:15. It was a chilly hike, even with long johns and the sunshine notwithstanding, so much so that I started off unsure whether to complete the circuit, or just walk a few minutes and then turn back.

But in the end I made it all the way around, three miles and change, in exactly an hour. That's moving pretty slowly, and I think the only person I passed during the whole circuit was an old lady with a cane. That's OK, I'm grateful just to still have the ability to walk with a firm and regular step, to easily lift my feet off the ground, and to amble along without any sign yet of compromised balance.

I couldn't see the Olympics from the lakeshore, because the lake is set down in its own little natural basin with trees all around, but I saw plenty of ducks, dogs, kids, and healthy young joggers of both genders. It's the kind of day that makes you hope for "more like this," so I checked the Farmers' Almanac, which forecasts normal temperatures for next month with drier than normal conditions, and then normal precipitation for April and May (which means "wet," especially in April) but warmer than usual conditions.

Sounds like spring is nearly here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

money talks

Sebastian Jones has an eye-opening piece at The Nation entitled "The Media-Lobbying Complex." We already know a lot about how lobbyists influence Congress, but did you know they're active in your living room?

Remember that nice man Tom Ridge? He's a former governor of Pennsylvania and was appointed by Dubya as the first director of the Department of "Homeland" Security. So what's he been doing since he left that job? One thing he's been doing quite a bit is appearing on TV in an "informational" capacity. He's one of those "former government official and expert" on this or that of the type we see on cable 24 hours a day.

Jones tells how on December 4, 2009, Ridge was on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on MSNBC touting the virtues of nuclear power as Obama's best option for insuring recovery from the recession. There were "modest things" the White House might try, like cutting taxes or opening up credit for small businesses, but the real answer was for the president to "take his green agenda and blow it out of the box." The first step, Ridge explained, was to "create nuclear power plants." Combined with some waste coal and natural gas extraction, you would have an "innovation setter" that would "create jobs, create exports."

Of course, Ridge did this without ever mentioning that he's on a retainer from the country's biggest nuclear power company, and Matthews was not so rude as to mention it either.

As Ridge counseled the administration to "put that package together," he sure seemed like an objective commentator. But what viewers weren't told was that since 2005, Ridge has pocketed $530,659 in executive compensation for serving on the board of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power company.

He also owns a quarter million dollars worth of Exelon stock.

Just a few minutes before Ridge was on his show flacking for nuclear power, Matthews had been talking to retired General Barry McCaffrey, who told viewers that the Afghanistan War would require an additional three to five years' commitment from the U.S. "and a lot of money." Just a disinterested estimation from an old military hand, right?

Unmentioned was the fact that DynCorp paid McCaffrey $182,309 in 2009 alone. The government had just granted DynCorp a five-year deal worth an estimated $5.9 billion to aid American forces in Afghanistan. The first year is locked in at $644 million, but the additional four options are subject to renewal, contingent on military needs and political realities.

In a single hour, two men with blatant, undisclosed conflicts of interest had appeared on MSNBC. The question is, was this an isolated oversight or business as usual? Evidence points to the latter.

They own Congress. They own the airwaves. Is there any way to escape being smothered under the corporate blanket that is everywhere, that seems to cover everything?

You could start by turning off the TV and leaving it off forever, except for using it to watch videos. Some of those videos have commercials, so skip those. And never, ever watch cable news. It's all misinformation, disinformation, and corporate P.R.

I was steered toward this story by John Cole's blog Balloon Juice (dot-com).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

it is an ancient mariner...

When this 5000-year-old cosmetics palette, carved from stone to memorialize the Upper Egyptian King Narmer's conquest of Lower Egypt was discovered in 1897, its history told in pictures was quickly recognized as the earliest likely example of "writing" we know of, and it is certainly the earliest known written narrative. Before Narmer's Palette, there was no such thing as history. However there were myths and legends, gods and spirits, soldiers and sailors, and all the ingredients from which narrative history derives.

For example, the god Horus, son of the god Osiris who died and was brought back to life by Isis, had been around for centuries before he was depicted on Narmer's Palette as the victorious king's ally. Horus is the falcon on the obverse side of the object, holding a cord passing through the nostrils of the king of Lower Egypt's decapitated head, which lies in a papyrus swamp. Just below the bird and his gory trophy, we see the Lower Egyptian monarch again, receiving his death blow from his triumphant rival.

This artifact is very old, 50 centuries removed from the present, but recent archaeological discoveries on the island of Crete now indicate that sailors were navigating the waters of the Mediterranean 130,000 years ago, 125 millennia before Narmer's Palette. This establishes the certainty that humans possessed maritime skills before the earliest stirrings of civilization, and even raises the possibility that such skills may predate the human race as we know it.

We already knew that some of the probable real events our race has remembered imperfectly in the form of myths and legends, such as those transmitted to us by Homer as the memorized and sung epic poems Iliad and Odyssey, grew out of semi-forgotten history which must be almost inconceivably old.

Civilization is a relatively new development for our species, but it possessed culture and literature perhaps even before we evolved into our present forms. A discovery like this one naturally causes us to wonder how old the oldest stories are, especially the two stories that people living around the shores of the Mediterranean have been telling each other much longer than anyone can remember and that are told everywhere today. One is about the warrior-sailor who fights in a war across the sea, then gets lost returning home with his men and sails around the Mediterranean for years, bumping into islands and incredible, mythical adventures. The other concerns the god who died and came back to life.

Click on the photo of the obverse (l.) and reverse of Narmer's Palette for a larger view.

Monday, February 15, 2010

worse than sad

In this place where the clouds roll in and stay for months at a time, obscuring the sunlight and driving people indoors, you hear a lot about something called Seasonal Affective Disorder -- SAD. for short. It's really nothing more than weather-induced depression, accompanied like most any depression is with ennui and lethargy. I've never had it, and it doesn't sound like a lot of fun, but I think there are probably worse things that we don't hear a lot about. I'm thinking of skin problems caused by lack of sunlight.

I've had what I think is psoriasis for several months now, and I'm almost certain it's caused by vitamin D deficiency. Our bodies synthesize D, so essential to optimum health, from sunlight, so I imagine there are significant numbers of people living in this region who experience skin problems commonly associated with that particular deficiency.

I also think I'd rather have SAD than hot, itchy, flaky red spots all over my body, if I had to choose.

At first I was treating this crud with a topical remedy, but the affected areas just waned, then waxed again. So I've been taking a D supplement for the past week, and the eruptions are finally starting to fade away -- slowly.

Even better, the sun has been coming out a little more often lately, and today on my way home from the store I parked the car at Sandel Park, took off my jacket and pulled my long sleeves up to the elbows, and took a stroll around the margin of this lovely place which occupies about two city blocks. I walked past a young man who was walking a baby in a stroller. I saw a young couple shooting hoops on the basketball court, and paused to drink in a few rays at the empty wading pool. A cognitively incapacitated adult was having the time of his life going very high on one of the park swings, and an overweight lady was walking her overweight dog -- good for both of them.

Most importantly, I got a few minutes worth of sunshine on my face and arms. Spring is not too far off now, so I'm not itching to move out of this area -- yet. But I'm all but certain I'll be spending next winter in a warmer climate. I wonder what post-meltdown rents are like in Arizona.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

the coming of the dictator

A recent AP story at Yahoo! news informs us that private health insurance rates are now spiking 15 percent or more in four states, and that similar increases can be expected in a lot more places in the days to come. The gangsterish nature of our corporatocracy has become a lot more obvious in the new century.

The paralyzed national government is unable to help us. Our economy is dysfunctional because our political system is dysfunctional.

Bob Herbert's New York Times column this morning has the details of how China has now sprinted way ahead of everybody else in the world in the production of solar panels and wind turbines.

They're eating our lunch with technologies that WE developed, and moving full-throttle toward the inevitable future while our lumbering dinosaur of an economy is stuck on stupid.

But of course, we can't go that route because the boyz at Exxon wouldn't like it.

Instead, we're expending our resources playing so'jer in Afghanistan. I'm sure that's gonna help.

Our political system is now utterly incapable of addressing our problems, which is why, before too long, the U.S. government will have to devolve into a dictatorship.

I find it both amazing and fascinating to consider how closely political and economic developments here in the Empire of the Pentagon's "Homeland" are following the trajectory of the history of the ancient Roman Empire. Mark Twain said that "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." If that's the case, our own history is rhyming with that of the ancient Romans in tightly-disciplined couplets. Harry Reid, in his bumbling, fumbling, mumbling incompetence acts as if he's following a script.

As Rome evolved from an agrarian Republic into an empire, its traditional governmental functions were gradually overwhelmed by the enormity of the forces they sought to control. The republic dissolved in civil war in the first century BCE, fueled by the personality cults of the most accomplished and aggressive generals, and the old modes of law and order ceased having any effect. It became obvious that to survive, the state needed to become highly centralized and autocratic, otherwise the government would be unable to reassert its authority over the forces contending for control. The stage was set for Octavian Augustus's victory at Actium.

Personally, I'll welcome the advent of dictatorship. At least it will give us a government that functions, sometimes well and sometimes badly. But that will be better than what we've had the past nine years.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

hot pursuit

Shortly after midnight yesterday morning, a lone police officer patrolling Seattle's streets near North 90th Street and Aurora Ave spotted a late-model SUV being driven erratically. She attempted a to make routine traffic stop, but the driver refused to pull over and a high-speed hot pursuit followed.

It ended abruptly when the eastbound SUV crashed through the front wall and first-story window of a house at 90th and Meridian. When the perp ((I don't see any point to calling him "the suspect" or "the alleged perpetrator") exited his vehicle, the officer attempted to take him into custody, but he assaulted her and attempted to take her service revolver away from her. She managed to retain possession of the firearm, but the driver escaped on foot and as far as I've been able to determine has not yet been taken into custody.

Considering the details of this story, which came together piecemeal from accounts in the Seattle Times, the King-5 TV news site, and the blog, it's hard to avoid the obvious conclusion that allowing hot pursuit is a bad police policy. This incident could have easily ended much worse than it did, and the cops really dodged a bullet -- literally -- getting out of this scrape without any resulting deaths or serious injuries, the all-too-frequent tragic outcomes of this confrontational and unnecessary policy.

No one inside the house at 90th and Meridian was hurt, but one of the residents, who had been sitting on his living-room couch seconds before the SUV crashed into it, spent considerable time picking glass out of his hair afterward. The officer, needless to say, was very fortunate to keep possession of her weapon and avoid serious injury when she was jumped by the enraged and out-of-control perp. Wouldn't it have made more sense to simply record the license number of the suspect vehicle and then contact the driver the next day? In the cold light of day and sobered up, he would likely respond to the prospect of arrest a little more rationally.

Patrol cars today are equipped with video cameras, so there's no need for witnesses to a late-night DWI incident such as this one. At one in the morning on a weekday, with almost no traffic on the streets, the driver, though intoxicated, probably would have made it home without doing damage to himself or anyone else. It's past time to put an end to this macho and childish policy of allowing the police to foment car chases in a crowded city.

Photo by KING-5 News Department.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

the profit

I've been reading some of Jim Kunstler's old blog pieces from five years ago, to see if he really has the kind of prophetic mojo I credit him with. Seems he knew there was a "current crisis of capital" back in May of 2005, when the information sources most widely available to "the consumers" were celebrating the non-stop growth of real estate values, and crowing that the party would never end.

But those in the know, including a lot of high-finance types like Henry Paulson, understood exactly what was happening and where it was going (and were playing their strategy real close to their vests). Kunstler said at that time that the "crisis in capital" derives from the fact that the American economy produces fewer and fewer things of enduring value -- and more and more fluff in the form of Star Wars movies -- so any financial paper or instrument that pretends to represent the nation's longer-term prospects is in danger of not being taken seriously. The wealth accumulated in the US in the second half of the last century is actually shrinking now, since our industrial base is withering away, and whatever investment we are capable of making has been increasingly directed into the "hard assets" of houses. The catch is that the "investment" in houses is almost all credit -- mortgages, promises to pay most of the money later. The catch of the catch is that the cost of obtaining credit (interest rates) remains supernaturally low and the standards for creditworthiness have ceased to exist. The catch of the catch of the catch is that a lot of the mortgages are adjustable, meaning the cost of borrowing doesn't necessarily stay supernaturally low. It can float with rising interest rates.

Finance professionals know that these conditions are perverse and perilous. That's why they call it a "housing bubble." The moiling "consumer" masses only know that the dollar-value of their houses goes up ten percent or more every year, while stock and bond portfolios go sideways. So they ignore any supposed peril and keep flipping the houses. Finance professionals know that sooner or later grownups in other countries who buy our financial paper will decide that our long-term prospects are a joke, and that we will have to raise the interest rates a lot to keep them buying. When that happens, the tears begin to flow from the mortgage-holders.

Very few people other than JK were predicting that the bubble would end as badly as it did, or that it was the bubble to end all bubbles, not least because of the connection between easy credit and cheap oil, which in May of 2005 was becoming alarmingly high priced, sometimes nosing up over $50 a barrel!

Today it's a third again higher than that, and is flirting with $75 a barrel as I'm typing this. Nobody is expecting that price to back off much, even in times of very low demand for gasoline such as we're experiencing now. That and the fact that most of the eight million or so jobs we've lost over the last couple of years aren't ever coming back should tell you that the idea of "recovery" is silly and Pollyanna-ish, and that what we're looking at is the necessity of readjustment to fundamentally altered conditions of life.

What's the best way to deal with this? Well, you could buy a little patch of land somewhere and build a cob cottage on it, like the one in the picture. I swear these places look like Hobbit houses. Then you could learn to grow a tomato -- in a cooler climate that might require a greenhouse -- and then, since you've got the greenhouse up already, you could put in a high-octane marijuana plant to keep the tomato company. Pot is the number one cash crop in much of the country, and profits from it might subsidize a robust and ambitious food-growing operation.

Kunstler has been saying for years that the economic future of this country, if it has one, will see agriculture once again moving to the center of things, along with modes of transportation we usually think of as strictly historical, especially railroads. We may be disillusioned today, but don't forget that the actual meaning of that word, "dis-illusioned" has an up side.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

major league art news

Some of the most important work of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso, better known to us today as Picasso, is coming to the Seattle Art Museum.

Picasso's is the most famous name in 20th-century art, and whether one celebrates or bemoans his influence on modern painting, there's no denying either his importance as an innovator nor his universal influence.

He first visited Paris, appropriately enough, in 1900, and under the Parisian influence his painting began to take on the pictorial characteristics most associated with the name Picasso. The general public often didn't know what to make of him at first, but nobody familiar with his abilities questioned his right to make portraits in which both a woman's eyes and both her nostrils were on the same side of her face, for Picasso had already demonstrated a mastery of conventional representational painting, during his youthful "blue" and "rose" periods in the late 19th century.

This 1941 portrait enshrines of one of his many lovers and is entitled "Dora Maar au chat." The cat is on the back of the chair, by the way, not in her lap as you might get fooled into thinking at first. Picasso was like that.

This exhibit is a very big deal. It might be the most important one-man show since the ground-breaking Van Gogh traveling exhibit of forty years ago. That one set attendance records wherever it went, and this one might do the same.

The Seattle Times announced today that ""Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris," an exhibit of more than 150 works of art, from paintings and sculptures to prints, drawings and photographs, opens at SAM on Oct. 8 and will be on display through Jan. 9, 2011."

The works will be drawn from nearly every phase of the artist's long career, and are sampled from every decade of the 20th century up until the early 70's when Picasso died.

"SAM director Derrick Cartwright calls this 'a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a large public to view these important objects in Seattle.'"

The Musée National will close for renovations in August. It has room to show only a limited number of its 5,000 or so Picasso works at any one time. The show slated for Seattle in October is already circulating through European museums, and is currently in Helsinki. It will visit Moscow next, then, after leaving Seattle will probably visit two additional American cities.

Monday, February 08, 2010

earnest bulls

Joe Blough, age 43, lives in Virginia.

There is no Mr. Early Bulls, disappointingly. However there are a couple of Earnest Bulls, one in Pennsylvania and another in El Cajon, California.

Abraham Goo, age 77, lives in Kent, WA, and is somewhat famous around here. He graduated from a local high school and went on to become president of Boeing Advanced Systems. His career at the airplane manufacturer spanned 38 years.

Joseph Stalin, age unknown, lives in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Bolivar Shagnasty, now in his sixties, has lived in California, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Washington state. He gets around.

There are several gentlemen named Charles Horse and they're spread all over the map.

Lovely Forest is in her forties and lives in Chicago.

There is no such person as Gregory Ass. I checked. However a young man named Gregory Van Ass resides in Belgium.

Last of all, there are 10 people living in the U.S. who share the name Fannie Sweat.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

god guts

I first saw this slogan or one very similar to it on a bumper sticker in the mid-70's. So it's got some staying power.

Assuming that the omission of punctuation is intentional (and it's always omitted), the assertion is that there are two things which made America great:

1) God guts, and

2) Guns.

The guns I can understand; the God guts, not so much. I didn't even know that God has guts, and if she does, whether they're similar to human guts -- you know, small intestine, large intestine, etc.

I generally leave these cosmic matters up to Dr. Jung.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


Hope is the Thing with Feathers
--Emily Dickinson

I know a young individual who has decided to spend the rest of his life building earthen houses -- cob houses as they're called. These beautiful, sculptural dwellings, which are outlets for artistic expression as much as places to live in, are remarkably energy efficient. When combined with an energy source such as solar panels, they can provide a self-sustaining and endlessly renewable mode of living.

The Uncompromising Ecological Architecture movement is a completely independent development, made from the ground up by committed individuals, and unaffiliated with any government program or large-scale private enterprise. Like the buildings they produce, this movement of independent and self-actualized individuals sprang from the earth itself.

I also know a person who owns a piece of land in one of the Southwestern states and has learned over the years how to produce prodigious amounts of organic food and herbs in raised beds, which are easier to keep free of weeds and pests than a ground-level garden plot. Her objective is to "get off the grid," and like the young architect she has acquired her skills without any help at all from "the system." What's most significant about both these individuals is that they have bypassed the larger political, economic, and cultural realities of American society, and now look for both sustenance and meaning through a return to the earth itself.

There is an inherent wisdom in this approach, for revolution, as one of these people recently said to me, "is within," and the emphasis here is on each individual. For with the collapse of any possibility of political remedies to address the country's problems, we have of late become an "every person for himself" type of society. Each of us must save himself or herself, since neither the political system, nor "the company," nor the union is able to help us. And maybe out of this movement of individuals to salvage their lives, a larger social movement may grow.

The moribund political system and how it got that way are analyzed masterfully today by Alexander Cockburn in a remarkably comprehensive post at his blog Counterpunch. Cockburn says:

(T)he Bush years saw near extinction of the left’s capacity for realistic political analysis. Hysteria about the consummate evil of Bush and Cheney led to a vehement insistence that any Democrat would be qualitatively better, whether it be Hillary Clinton, carrying all the neoliberal baggage of the Nineties, or Barack Obama, whose prime money source was Wall Street. Of course black America – historically the most radical of all the Democratic Party’s constituencies, was almost unanimously behind Obama and will remain loyal to the end. Having easily beguiled the left in the important primary campaigns of 2008, essentially by dint of skin tone and uplift, Obama stepped into the Oval Office confident that the left would present no danger as he methodically pursues roughly the same agenda as Bush, catering to the requirements of the banks, the arms companies and the national security establishment in Washington, most notably the Israel lobby.

As Obama ramps up troop presence in Afghanistan, there is still no anti war movement, such as there was in 2002-4 during Bush’s attack on Iraq. The labor unions have been shrinking relentlessly in numbers and clout. Labor’s last major victory was the UPS strike in 1997. Its footsoldiers and its money are still vital for Democratic candidates – but corporate America holds the decisive purse-strings, from which a U.S. Supreme Court decision on January 21 has now removed almost all restraints.

Almost needless to say, such an incompetently administered, corrupted, and corporatized system would be helpless to solve any of our real problems, even if any of its functionaries had an interest in doing so. And unless we forget what our real problems are, Bob Herbert's column in the New York Times this morning conveniently reminds us:

We’ve now lost 8.4 million jobs in this recession, and a vast majority of them are gone for good. The politicians are clambering aboard the jobs bandwagon, belatedly, but very few are telling the truth about the structural employment problems in the U.S. and the extremely heavy lift that is necessary to halt our declining living standards and get us back to an economy that is self-sustaining.

We don’t hear a lot that is serious about the sorry state of the nation’s infrastructure or the trade policies that crippled so many American industries or our inability (or unwillingness) to compete effectively with China when it comes to the new world of energy for the 21st century or our abject failure to provide a quality public education for the next generation of American workers, scientists, artists and entrepreneurs.

Speaking at a conference here on Wednesday, Gov. Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania said that if we don’t act quickly in developing long-term solutions to these and other problems, the United States will be a second-rate economic power by the end of this decade. A failure to act boldly, he said, will result in the U.S. becoming “a cooked goose.”


The conference was titled, “The Next American Economy: Transforming Energy and Infrastructure Investment.” It was put together by the Brookings Institution and Lazard, the investment banking advisory firm.

When Governor Rendell addressed the conference on Wednesday, he used words like “stunning” and “unbelievable” to describe what has happened to the nation’s infrastructure. His words echoed the warnings we’ve been hearing for years from the American Society of Civil Engineers, which tells us: “The broken water mains, gridlocked streets, crumbling dams and levees, and delayed flights that come from failing infrastructure have a negative impact on the checkbook and on the quality of life of each and every American.”

Herbert also mentions a remark by one of the conference's participants that the U.S. might have to get used to having an economy "that's not number one," and would be "More like Germany's." But I've been to Germany, and life there is pretty good, if somewhat overcrowded. I foresee the U.S. economy in just a short time becoming more like Mexico's.

I suppose that's not all bad. Some individuals in Mexico live very well, although most don't, and I'm convinced anyone can live well who lives within his or her means, learns to shepherd whatever resources come to hand, and relies on the earth as the source of all things of fundamental value. There is hope for some of us. For the rest there's CNN, Barack Obama, and frozen pizza.

Friday, February 05, 2010

time out

This blog is taking a time out until such time as there is at least a little bit of news that isn't depressing, or disgusting, or annoying, or baffling in its stupidity.

I've been looking all over for a topic, and I've got nothing.

We may be gone for a while.

On the other hand, we may be back tomorrow.

Who am I kidding? There's only one of me.


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

turtles of mass destruction from outer space

Iran has launched a rocket into space carrying a cargo of living creatures -- a rat, two turtles, and some worms.

The Iranian Aerospace Organization said live video transmission from the latest launching would “enable further studies on the biological capsule” that was carrying the rat, turtles and worms, Press TV reported.

The White House believes Ahmedinejad is out to provoke us with his space turtles.

"A launch like that is obviously a provocative act," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters.

"But the president believes that it is not too late for Iran to do the right thing -- come to the table with the international community and live up to its international obligations."

Iran has an international obligation not to threaten the U.S. and Israel with turtles of mass destruction (TMD).

In the meantime, some of the more colorfully insane American yahoos, such as Prof. Daniel Pipes of the Harvard University history dept., are pushing for us to start bombing Iran right now. James Wolcott reports:

In a desperate attempt to draw attention to himself and re-energize his enfeebled persona, Daniel Pipes, whose Mephistophelean beard burns with the zeal of a thousand evil suns, proposes that Obama perk up his presidency by bombing Iran (h/t wonkette). Sure, people would die and a military strike would set off convulsions in the region, but it would "make the netroots squeal...and conservatives swoon," and that's really what it's all about, from the beard's perspective.

No wonder Harvard's endowments have dropped off the past few years.

Space Turtle painting by Ali Spagnola.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

kickin' the gong around

This past October I had occasion to mention one of Cab Calloway's doper songs from the 30's on this space, and recently I ran across another one quite by accident, a totally off-the-hook virtuoso performance which showcases an omnivorously talented young man at the zenith of his creative powers.

Cab did a number of drug songs, and was doing them in the days before there was a Drug Enforcement Administration, and before most local police departments had separate narcotics divisions. The titles included "The Funny Reefer Man," "Viper's Drag," and this one, "Kickin' the Gong Around," during which Cab daintily pantomimes a cokehead sniffing a line off his wrist.

It's more or less what you'd expect from a guy who called his orchestra "The Harlemaniacs."

Besides being a very bad man, Calloway was enormously talented. He wrote the music, sang the songs, scatted and jived, danced, and did it all extremely well. He must have cut his performer's teeth during the vaudeville days, when musicians and hoofers learned to do as many different kinds of stage routines as they could, as a survival tactic. Blacks had their own, segregated version of vaudeville -- the "chitlin' circuit."

As a performer, I find that Calloway has no equal today. His singing is characterized by an unerring sense of intonation -- he hit every note squarely on its head -- combined with flawless enunciation, so the listener easily understands every word. He moved and danced like a rubbery acrobat, and combined all these elements in a casual and offhand way that makes his performance look easy and natural. In addition, there is a subversive element to this music which makes it attractively dangerous.

And it wasn't easy. Doing what he did has to have taken many hours of rehearsal and practice, and a lot of dedication.

My appreciation of antique music goes way beyond nostalgia; nearly all the greatest American performances originated in a time before I was born. Today's performers are not capable of such feats, not because they're less talented than their cultural ancestors, but because the culture itself has become impoverished.