Tuesday, January 14, 2014


I must bid my readers adios, at least for a while, as I don't like a number of things that are happening about the internets at all.

Monday, January 13, 2014

afghan war rugs

Afghan war rugs are made in refugee camps in Pakistan, settled by Afghanis fleeing the war which has consumed their land for generations now. The rugs combine centuries-old techniques and materials with the reality of contemporary warfare Afghanis experienced in their daily lives. The image here could easily be a 21st-century tarot card.

A beautiful border with 28 hand-stitched hand grenades encloses more grenades, stinger missiles, and three tanks as well as three helicopters, an automatic pistol firing a round, and the inevitable Kalashnikov rifle.

This picture is also a document, an indictment of the powers that have made that war

First published on June 16, 2011, at Eschadianism.blogspot.com.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

tim the baptist

Timothy Francis Leary was born

In the 28th year of what today we call the current era (formerly known as AD, or Anno Domini, "the year of our Lord"), a strange figure appeared in Palestine. He came out of the desert wearing animal skins, eating only grasshoppers and wild honey -- no bread, and no wine -- and began preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan River.

John the Baptist's message was clear and simple: the end was near, and the people of Judea needed to cleanse themselves of the corruption and materialism of the times, and prepare to meet their maker in a state of purity and innocence.

The ministry of the Baptist had a political as well as a spiritual aspect, since the land of Palestine was occupied by the Romans, who, in the view of the Jewish subjects, had imported the corrupt practices and impious attitudes which infected heir daily lives and their holy temple in Jerusalem.

In the one-thousandth and sixty-fourth year CE, another bizarre preacher arose, this time in the United States, the seat of a mighty empire, and at the time the most powerful nation on earth, just as the Romans had been in their time. Abjuring the comfortable life of a tenured professor at a prestigious university, Timothy Leary baptized his fellow citizens not with water, but with a few hundred micrograms -- not milligrams but micro-grams -- of lysergic acid diethylamide. LSD, the baptismal substitute for water and sacramental meal combined, produced ecstatic visions and intense, frenzied states of mind in the converts to the new faith.

Both men sought to induce a new way of seeing the world in the converts who flocked to them. Both were revolutionaries whose disgust with and contempt for the established order of society was mitigated by the realization that overthrowing the system was impossible, due to its overwhelming strength and universal reach. And both sought to effect an undermining of the establishment through a program of individual liberation.

For both these singular men, the spiritual regimens they prescribed were vague, unfocused, and not completely worked out. Individuals were left to find their own definitions of the better life, free of the corruption and the shallow, childish materialism that characterized the cultures of both eras.

John had grown to manhood in a Judea where the highest priest of the Jewish cult performed daily sacrifices to the Roman Emperor, in the holy temple itself. Jews were required to pay tribute to this human being, who demanded of his subjects that they worship him as a god. Timothy's world was dominated by a war machine which even as he appeared was gearing up to invade a small country in southeast Asia, and this infernal machine's operators demanded the absolute allegiance and half the tax revenue of a cowed and baffled population.

Two prophets, coming of age in societies very different from one another, but experiencing similar manifestations of degeneracy, arrived at similar conclusions. Considering the overwhelming strength of the corrupted established orders they opposed, the only means of revolution open to people who saw things clearly had to be intensely personal.

"Already, the ax is laid at the root of the tree," John warned his listeners, "and every tree which does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." That part of the message was clear -- you'd better get right with God and bear good fruit, because God is coming, and boy, is he pissed!

"Turn on, tune in, drop out," Timothy advised, and the unspoken part of the message was that those failing to see things as they truly are would suffer grievously in the time to come.

Both prophets attracted many followers, but the huge majorities of the subjects of both Roman Palestine and the Pentagon either ignored them, or greeted the news of their coming with hostility, derision and contempt. For those of us who received the message, there is a certain satisfaction, imbued with a heavy dose of sang-froid , in watching the dissolution of those forces against which the prophets feebly arrayed themselves, only to triumph in the end.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

money money money money money

A recent conversation at my favorite political discussion board went like this:

Jan 6, 2014 -- 7:35AM, Bodean wrote:

You do know that Bill Gates is a HUGE Democrat, with ties to the UN, and is the primary funding source for implementing Common Core in the US, which is an education system designed to dumb down the US public so to gain acceptance of Liberal Ideology.
So much for the constant lie of "GOP.. party for the rich".  Of course, you guys already know that is B.S. ... you just say it because that is what you are told to say.


I wouldn't call him a HUGE Democrat, but he is a Democrat with some liberal tendencies. So's his old man, the rich Seattle attorney.
Likewise, I seriously doubt that Common Core is "designed to dumb down the US public."

As for the rest of the bullshit here, a few months ago I consulted Forbes Magazine's list of the 400 richest Americans, then researched the political money each of them gave, and to what party. It took a lot of hours, and I published the results here.

I can see my work had a tremendous effect on the wingers who screech here about how most of the super rich are Democrats.
What I found was that a surprising number of the super rich ARE Democrats -- something like 45 percent. However, the political dollars donated in the US are overwhelmingly Republican, starting with the Brothers Koch (Charles, at left above, and David, right) whose contributions in support of fascist politics and corporate dictatorship dwarf everyone else's.

Facts don't mean much on this board, however, and for our winger platoon, if the facts conflict with the ideology, the ideology always wins.

I'll no longer spend hours collecting the facts to refute these egregious lies. I might spend five hours working to find the truth, post it here, and the next day the jackasses will be back braying the same party line.

It's positively enough to gag a maggot.

(Illustration by DonkeyHotey; schnorred from Charlie Pierce's politics blog at Esquire.com.)

Saturday, January 04, 2014

tj faulkner's all-white blues band

(Originally published here on October 6, 2007.)

We were a garage band without the garage.

The guitarist David Higginbotham e-mailed me earlier today and asked me to recall and write down everything I could about a bizarre chapter in our lives, a short-lived association with an improvised and seat-of-the-pants blues band we were part of in San Francisco forty years ago. Its official name was Mother Blue, but I always thought of it as T.J. Faulkner's All-White Blues Band.

In 1968 I was working the sandwich counter at a well-established, sleazy, and sometimes frightening dive on Upper Grant in North Beach, the Coffee Gallery. T.J. Faulkner was one of the local musicians who played there frequently for a chance to pass the hat. T.J. was tall and emaciated, with sandy blonde hair and huge John Lennon-style glasses which constantly slid down his nose. He played only slide guitar and always in the key of open D, usually the Roll and Tumble Blues, an old Delta standby, and often the first tune young kids in Mississippi learning that style try to imitate. His guitar sounded kind of like farm machinery, and his vocal style was that of a man whose feet hurt. It was definitely bluesy, and boozy.

I don't know how T.J. got wind of the fact that I knew how to play drums (although I hadn't played or owned a kit for six years). Probably my girlfriend, a plump, pretty, black-haired Jewish girl just arrived on the west coast from New York City, told him. She was always trying to promote me, even after we were married and she knew better.

T.J. introduced me to his partner, a harmonica player named Albert Ponzi who performed under the stage name Albert Rush. He had a fat wife whom he loved passionately, and was a mild and harmless person. I offered to rent a kit and show up for a rehearsal, and when I did I was surprised to discover that I could play as well as I had when I stopped drumming, six years earlier, as if I'd never missed a day.

We rehearsed, amazingly enough, in T.J.'s second-floor San Francisco apartment, and even more amazingly, never got any noise complaints, even though rehearsals were frequent and amplified. We'd show up at about ten in the morning to be greeted by T.J., trembling and shaking from heavy drinking the night before, trying to roll a cigarette and scattering Top tobacco all over the place. Then he'd give one of us fifty cents to go downstairs to the corner store to get him a quart of beer. It was the only way he could steady himself enough to play. I remember the ritual well -- a puff on the cigarette, simultaneously pushing his glasses up to the bridge of his nose, then a quick swig on the quart bottle.

T.J. lived with his wife, a pretty woman with a shriveled leg and a perpetually fear-stricken look on her face, as if catastrophe was about to strike at any moment. She seemed to consider it her lot in life to be living with an alcoholic street singer.

There were four of us. I never figured out how we secured the services of David Higginbotham, a young, blonde, neat and fastidious North Beach hippie who managed to give the group a fairly fat sound. He played a conventional guitar -- a Telecaster I think -- with a heavy emphasis on the bass strings, to compensate for our lack of a bass player.

Our first job (if you could call it that -- we mostly played for free beer, which was fine with T.J.) was at an all-black bar across the street from the Cow Palace. That was a nerve wracking night, but it actually came off pretty well. We had about 20 songs, about half of which were variations of the Roll and Tumble Blues. We also covered "No Expectations" by the Rolling Stones, and Robert Johnson's "Walking Blues," as well as an obscure twelve-bar goodie called "Duckin' and Dodgin'" by an obscure prison singer, Hog Man Maxie. The name was soon applied to David the guitarist, whom T.J. ever after referred to as Hog Man Higgins. Probably our best songs were covers of Savoy Brown's version of "Shake 'Em on Down" and Bo Diddley's "Don't Let it Go."

After the Cow Palace job we had another beer gig in Berkeley, and then a job that actually turned into something down in Palo Alto. By that time we had an ersatz manager named Jim Rose, and when he saw a film crew shooting in the Palo Alto bar while were playing, he cornered the guy in charge and shook him down. We got about 50 bucks apiece that night.

There were also a couple of bass players, but they didn't last. One guy showed up for rehearsal, sang and played well, and obviously felt like he was better than the group, which he was. He came along for a free-beer matinee Rose fixed up for us at a little bar in Bernal Heights, and sang about half the tunes. Afterward, T.J. accused him of "trying to take over," and that was the end of him.

About this time the three-month rental on my little three-drum, one-cymbal kit was up, and I'd had enough of T.J.'s delicate condition. Whenever we played, we'd always have to get enough alcohol into him so that he'd stop twitching and be able to play fluently, then work to keep him from downing so much that he ended up on his lips. He also fought with his poor wife a lot, and the drama was beginning to get on everyone's nerves. Plus I'd just been indicted for refusing the draft and I was expecting to go to jail soon for a fairly long stretch.

I never did go to prison (I was eventually acquitted), but I was glad to be done with T.J. Faulkner's All-White Blues Band just the same. I didn't lose contact with Higginbotham (we were practically neighbors) and later on he and I were together in even stranger adventures. But that's another story.

Friday, January 03, 2014


Originally published here on May 8, 2007. Although the start of the "Great Recession" is usually dated from 2008, those who were paying attention knew by early 2007 that the housing-and-derivatives orgy was over, and the economy headed for deep kim chee.

On Sunday evening I took a drive through  immense and  rapidly-expanding Nation of Slurbia (suburban ready-made slums), which threatens to engulf the entirety of Southern California and many other large parts of the country.

Driving CA-79 through the eastern margin of what used to be the tiny town of Hemet, and then coasting down through Murietta, the casual tourist passes miles upon miles of closely-packed housing developments crammed behind noise walls, two-story "homes" which are badly built, egregiously overpriced, and utterly devoid of any sort of soul or persona.

These are truly the cities of the damned.

I was genuinely surprised to see most of these oversized vinyl-clad shelters being lived in. Why Slurbia continues to metastisize I can't really say. One would think that in the face of collaspsing real estate prices, the exploding default rate on so-called "sub-prime" housing loans, and record-high prices for gasoline and other petroleum products, building contractors would see the laser printing on the vinyl wall and abscond with their ill-gotten gains, leaving the Slurbian masses to ponder their fate, stuck with huge monthly payments on property which is declining in value, in a wasteland of monotonous and affectless beige developments flanked by strip malls stocked with plastic-and-glass boxes housing the "standard brands" -- Burger King, Pet Smart, Midas Muffler, Bank of America, etc. etc.

But the beginning of the end of Slurbia might not be far off. Writing on his once-weekly blog Clusterfuck Nation, Jim Kunstler noted a couple weeks ago that "The fiasco in real estate and mortgage lending seems finally to be breaking through the reality shield of the mainstream media. Last week, for example, NPR's nightly Marketplace show actually ran a segment saying that the production homebuilders were choking on unsold houses and that (as if NPR had just discovered this) the mortgage industry was rife with irregularities in lending standards!"

Kunstler has been the loudest, most pessemistic, most insistent, and most irrefutable Jeremiah of the apocalypse hidden in the modern American landscape, and he sees the carcinogenic growth of Slurbia as both the effect of a declining morality and regard for the future at the top of American society, and the cause of alienation and the fiscal disenfranchisement of the American public, or "the consumers" as we are sometimes insultingly designated by professional economists and the mainstream media.

I sometimes wonder if people stop to consider what they're actually getting for the typical $300,000 asking price they're asked pay back with varying rates of interest over a 35- or 40-year stretch. Not long ago these buyers assumed they were acquiring properties which could only appreciate in value, but that's certainly not true today.

Kunstler, who knows architecture, insists that they're chumps getting robbed. Commenting on current building practices, Kunstler says, "The design failures of (Slurbian housing) might be attributed to a loss of knowledge and a lack of attention to details, but I think a deeper explanation has to do with the diminishing returns of technology. We've never had more awesome power tools for workers in the building trades. We have compound miter saws, electric spline joiners, laser-guided tape measures, and many other nifty innovations, and we've never seen, in the aggregate, worse work done by so many carpenters. For most of them, apparently, getting a plain one-by-four door-surround to meet at a 45-degree miter without a quarter-inch gap is asking too much. In other words, we now have amazing tools and no skill. What you wonder is whether the latter is a function of the former. Is the work so bad because we expect the tools to have all the skill?

"Another issue is the choice of materials. As you march down the decades from the 1950s, the materials-of-choice for finishing the exterior are more and more materials not found in nature...After the 1980s, there is a distinct acceleration in the use of vinyl for practically everything. The vinyl clapboards, soffits, window-surrounds, et cetera, are often little more than stapled onto the house. And naturally they begin to sag and pull apart instantly. After twenty-odd years of that you end up with a house that looks like a birthday present wrapped by a five-year-old."

Current litigation is following the trajectory of rapid decline Kunstler chronicles. Currently, residents of a Desert Hot Springs slurb have formed a united front and brought a class-action suit against the builder of their project, because their "homes" are falling apart after two years of being lived in and subjected to the baking heat and gritty winds of a desert hilltop.

People tend to dismiss Kunstler because he's been predicting the decline and fall of Slurbia for years, during which time it has only continued to metastisize. But that decline and fall will come, and the rising costs of fuel will be the shot to the heart of this odious carcinogenic enterprise. Many residents of Hemet and Murietta commute to Los Angeles for work. As the price of gas reaches, then exceeds four dollars a gallon, the sustainability of more new suburbs, located further and further away from the center must certainly collapse, and the unfortunate residents of Slurbia will be forced to move to where the work is, and abandon the now nearly-worthless houses which they are still paying large mortgages for.

And what will be the ultimate fate of the beige subdivisions of Slurbia?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

sam berdino

First published on Catboxx August 27, 2007.

Its proper name is San Bernardino, and once upon a time it was an all-American city. But people who grew up there call it San Berdino, or Sam Berdino, or sometimes just Samberdino, and today it's an all-American mess.

What makes this sunny, smoggy city of 200,000 or so such a fascinating study is its prototypical decay. Sam Berdino has declined much in the same way as most of the rest of America has, at the same rate, and over the same period. Its illnesses -- pollution, a shrinking tax base, a dying downtown, the eclipse of agriculture and collapse of key industries, petroleum dependency, and a widening gap between a small, rich elite and the increasingly nonwhite and non-English-speaking mass of workers, their dependents, and other assorted hangers-on -- typify the malaise afflicting the U.S. as a whole.

If citizens of our country once considered the U.S.A. paradise on earth, then Sam Berdino was big "P" Sam Paradiso. When local merchants the Harris family opened their massive, palatial department store at Third and "E" Streets in 1927, the springtime air in Sam Berdino was heavy with the syrupy fragrance of orange blossoms wafting from the thousands of acres of groves surrounding this gorgeous town of 35,000. The white, heavily-ornamented Harris Building, as beautiful as it was prosperous, was a source of pride to the community as well as one of its primary economic mainstays, much as similar independent, family-owned community department stores all over the country were during the half century between 1925 and 1975.

Twenty years after the opening of Harris's masterpiece, another local Sam Berdino business took a great leap forward, one which carried with it extraordinary cultural, gastronomic, and nutritional significance for the entire country. In 1948 the brothers Maurice and Richard McDonald decided their barbecue restaurant at 16th and "E" needed something to set it apart from the other cheap eateries downtown and hatched an original idea. They called it the "Speedee Service System," and their new McDonald's Restaurant was an overnight sensation. The birth of fast food did not go unremarked by other entrepreneurs, one of whom, Glen Bell, began opening taco stands featuring the McDonald brothers' instant service system. His fast-food mini-empire culminated with the appearance of the first Taco Bell in Downey in 1962.

Another So-Cal entrepreneur attracted by the McDonalds' success was milkshake machine salesman Ray Kroc, who at first partnered with the brothers, then bought them out in 1961 for $2.7 million, and proceeded to carpet the earth with McDonald's restaurants.

By the time the McDonald brothers' new marketing idea was up and running, Sam Berdino's population had ballooned to almost 75,000 as the city was transformed once again during World War II, when it found itself with an air force installation and a major steel mill. Thanks to Congressman Harry Shepard, the city's WWII air depot was preserved, expanded, and christened Norton Air Force Base. Kaiser Steel, looking for inland plant locations during the war, built the steel factory, which was actually next door to Sam Berdino in the Hispalachian town of Fontana, sometimes called Fontucky due to its hillbilly/Mexican ambience. But the extension of the Sam Berdino freeway, also accomplished during the war, made the Kaiser mill an easy commute for the many Sam Berdinoans who found work there.

To the discerning eye, the seeds of destruction are found in the glow of success, and as Sam Berdino's orange groves and sleepy, two-lane streets gave way to steelmaking, aerospace activity, and freeways, the quality of life in Paradise insensibly declined. Plus, Sam Berdino's relationship with the great city to the west, Los Angeles, usually called "Allay" by its residents, had always been uneasy. Less prosperous Angelinos seeking cheaper rents had gravitated toward the eastern side of the basin for decades, and the increasingly dangerous clouds of toxic smog generated by Allay's auto traffic tended to drift eastward also, carried by the prevailing westerlies, only to lurch to a sudden stop against the wall of the converging San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges which stand on the city's eastern margins.

By the time Sam Berdino was designated an All-American City by the National Civic League in 1976-77 it was on its way down. Business was off at the Harris store, although it would limp along another 20-plus years, finally closing its doors for good in January of 1999. By that time Kaiser Steel was already long gone. During the 1980's production at the plant gradually slowed, and it had already gone cold by the time Norton Air Force Base was deactivated in 1994.

Today the empty, still-imposing shell of the Harris Department Store broods over the bleak vista of Sam Berdino's nighttime nightmare downtown streets, now peopled mostly by winos and crackheads. What commerce is left in the city has migrated miles to the south, to a smoggy, treeless, paved-over expanse called Hospitality Lane, a five-mile-long strip mall bordering the freeway, whose interminable vistas of fast-food joints, gas stations, muffler shops, and standard chain retail outlets are a microcosm of the complex of diseases killing the United States.

For as it turns out, the McDonald brothers' Speedee Service System, which so delighted customers and restauranteurs alike in its salad days, is now seen to be the pestilent agent responsible for the twin plagues of obesity and diabetes from which America suffers so grieviously. As for Hospitality Lane itself, like any other petroleum-dependent nexus of commerce built at the very end of the age of cheap oil, it will be a ruin by 2027, just as downtown Sam Berdino is today.

Does Sam Berdino have a future? It might. It was Paradise once, and it could be again. But if Paradise lost is to be regained, Sam Berdino has to correct it's past mistakes and do one thing differently.