Friday, May 31, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Public Image Ltd

Some Hippies vs. Punks housekeeping is in order. There was a hiatus last Friday due to holiday travel. The last post, which appeared on May 17 and had been intended to deal with 1969 and the Aquarian Family Festival in San Jose that year, was stillborn as a result of a jarring encounter at the supermarket with an old girlfriend. Tonight, fortunately, my grocery shopping was without incident.

The post prior to May 17 was devoted to the Sex Pistols' final show, the debacle at Winterland in January 1978. I'd like to pick up Hippies vs. Punks tonight with the appearance of Public Image Ltd's first album, Public Image: First Issue, a year later, in December 1978. Track No. 2 on the album is "Religion I." Track No. 3 is "Religion II." A back-to-back bravura display of temerity. Who else but Rotten/Lydon?

Stained glass windows keep the cold outside
While the hypocrites hide inside
With the lies of statues in their minds
Where the Christian religion made them blind
Where they hide
And prey to the God of a bitch spelled backwards is dog
Not for one race, one creed, one world
But for money

Do you pray to the Holy Ghost when you suck your host
Do you read whos dead in the Irish Post
Do you give away the cash you cant afford
On bended knees and pray to lord

Fat pig priest
Sanctimonious smiles
He takes the money
You take the lies
This is religion and Jesus Christ
This is religion cheaply priced
This is bibles full of libel
This is sin in eternal hymn
This is what theyve done
This is your religion
The apostles were eleven
Now theres a sod in Heaven

This is religion
Theres a liar on the altar
The sermon never falter
This is religion
Your religion

We know from the Friday night post of May 3 that at the time that Public Image: First Issue is released Bob Dylan is going through his conversion experience, accepting Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. As the bard of the Hippies is being Born Again, the poet of Punks is laying it out in audacious style. Religion is a lie. This encapsulates Hippies vs. Punks as well as anything: At the end of 1978 Dylan converts to Christian fundamentalism, and PiL's first album is released.

The retreat into religious fundamentalism is the very antithesis of the avant-garde. The rise of religious fundamentalism signals a retreat from intellectualism and rationality in public discourse. Scientific pursuit becomes yoked to profit-seeking as a generalized secular culture of exploration disappears. It is a truth-and-reconciliation process in reverse. Deceit and division are the hallmarks of fundamentalist religion. To deify one set of texts is nonsense. There is no one book. And let's assume there is just one book, whose interpretation of the book is correct?

My favorite sermon from Saved! The Gospel Speeches of Bob Dylan is one he gave on November 26, 1979 during his month-long run at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco's Tenderloin district:
Hmm. Pretty rude bunch tonight. You all know how to be real rude! You know about the spirit of the Anti-Christ? Does anyone here know about that? Ah, the spirit of the Anti-Christ is loose right now. Let me give you an example I got . . . somebody stopped by my house and gave me this tape cassette. There's many of them false deceivers running around these days. There is only one gospel. The Bible says, "Let anyone who preach anything other than the gospel, let him be accused." Anyway, a young fella stopped by my house one day and wanted to so-called "turn me on to" a -- I'm not going to mention his name -- he's a certain guru. I don't wanna mention his name right now, but he has a place out there in L.A. And he stopped by and he gave me this tape cassette to show me . . . (Audience: "Rock'n Roll!!") . . . If you want to rock'n roll, you go down and rock'n roll. You can go and see Kiss and you can rock'n roll all the way down to the pit! Anyway, let me give you an example: you wanna hear about this guru? (Positive response.) So. Anyway, this guru, he made a film of himself. He had one of these big conventions. He has himself a convention about once a month. Like, they go off to a big city. So, I took a look at this tape and sure enough he was having a big convention -- he must have had 5,000 people there, or 10,000 people there. 10,000 people. And what he was doing on stage was, he was sitting there with a load of flowers and things . . . He sure did look pretty though, kind of like on a throne, y'know? Listening to him talk on the tape, he said what life's about is life's to have fun, and I'm gonna show you how to have fun. And he had a big fire extinguisher and he would spray it out on the people, and they all laughed and had a good time. They took their clothes off. They were overjoyed to be sprayed by this man. And a little while after that, he's talking about his philosophy. And he said that he was God -- he did say that. He said that God is inside him and he is God. And they could think of him as God. I want to tell you this because they say there's many of these people walking around. They may not come out and say they're God, but they're just waiting for the opportunity. There is only one God. Let me hear you say who that is. Their God makes promises he doesn't keep. There are only two kinds of people like the preacher says -- only two kinds of people. Color don't separate them, neither does their clothes . . . (Rock'n Roll!) You still want rock'n roll? I'll tell you what the two kinds of people are. Don't matter how much money you got, there's only two kinds of people: there's saved people and there's lost people. Yeah. Remember that I told you that. You may never see me again. You may not see me but sometime down the line you remember you heard it here, that Jesus is Lord. Every knee shall bow!
Three days earlier, PiL had released Metal Box -- three 12-inch 45-rpm disks that blow apart not just the Hippies but the Punks too. With Metal Box we're on new terrain. But at least it's a way forward. Dylan, inviting those in his audience calling for "Rock'n Roll!!" to "go and see Kiss and you can rock'n roll all the way down to the pit!" had, like most Hippies, run out of ideas. He should have listened to "Poptones":

S-300 Missile Batteries Months Away

Yesterday's big story -- that Syria had accepted delivery of S-300 missile batteries from Mother Russia -- turned out to be Hezbollah TV puffery. This from an informative story this morning from Anne Barnard and Neil MacFarquhar, "Assad Warns Israel, Claiming a Stockpile of Russian Weapons":
Mr. Assad spoke in an interview broadcast on Al-Manar television, which is owned by his ally Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite militant group, further punctuating his message of growing confidence that he could prevail over an insurgency that is now more than two years old and has claimed more than 80,000 lives. 
Asked about Russian weapons deliveries, Mr. Assad said: “Russia is committed with Syria in implementing these contracts. What we agreed upon with Russia will be implemented, and part of it has been implemented over the recent period, and we are continuing to implement it.” 
He was vague on whether Russia’s deliveries had included a sophisticated S-300 air missile system — of particular concern to Israel because it could compromise its ability to strike Syria from the air and because those missiles can hit deep inside Israeli territory. The Israelis have said they would not abide a Syrian deployment of S-300s, suggesting they would use force to destroy them. 
Before the broadcast, Al-Manar sent out text messages that paraphrased Mr. Assad as saying Syria had already received a first shipment of the S-300 missiles. 
It was unclear why Al-Manar said before the broadcast that Mr. Assad had spoken about the missile system when it was not directly mentioned in the televised interview. Al-Manar later said it mischaracterized what Mr. Assad had said. But American and Israeli officials have been pressing Russia to defer the S-300 system delivery to Syria, and there were other indications that the paraphrased comments may have been a premature boast or bluff.
Reuters is reporting this morning that delivery of the missile batteries is months away.

The particularly interesting part of the Barnard and MacFarquhar piece is its description of the implosion of the Syrian Coalition:
All week, the 63-member Syrian Coalition, the main rebel group, has been entangled anew in petty disputes over how many seats to add. Its leadership announced Thursday that it would boycott the peace conference. It attributed the boycott to Iranian and Hezbollah interference in Syria, but analysts saw it as a position born of weakness and the inability to forge a strong, united bargaining front. 
“This is a low point,” said Amr al-Azm, a Syrian-born history professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio who tracks the opposition. “Unlike earlier screaming matches, you have a bad military situation on the ground and Geneva is looming and the opposition has nothing to play. This is as bad as it gets.”
None of this should be surprising. The Syrian Coalition has always been an artificial, slapdash construct of the Gulf monarchies and the West with little organic connection to the people fighting day to day on the ground in Syria. As Barnard and MacFarquhar note,
For the United States and its allies, the first challenge is creating a united delegation from an opposition that has always been anything but united. 
The Syrian Coalition has been plagued by internal turmoil since its inception in late 2011. 
The group has failed to deliver on most of its promises, ranging from distributing humanitarian aid to areas outside government control, to creating a unified military command, to becoming a serious government-in-exile. 
Instead the uneasy, distrustful members — dominated by long-exiled members of the Muslim Brotherhood, academics living abroad for decades and political activists fleeing Syria — have spent most of their time in luxury hotels arguing over which faction should claim what responsibility. 
The coalition’s problems have not been lost on Mr. Assad, who spoke contemptuously of his political adversaries in the Al-Manar television interview, describing them as exiles and paid stooges of hostile foreign governments — another indication that prospects for the Geneva conference are dim. 
“We will attend this conference as the official delegation and legitimate representatives of the Syrian people,” he said. “But, whom do they represent? When this conference is over, we return to Syria, we return home to our people. But when the conference is over, whom do they return to — five-star hotels?”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

L7's "Stuck Here Again"

I listened to L7's "Stuck Here Again," a track off Hungry for Stink (1994), as I road the International Boulevard A-Line bus to the airport train station. I sat next to a slender woman fully encased in a burka. All you could see of her besides the feet were her eyes visible through the open slot in the head covering. A little red-haired girl sat next to her young working-class parents at the front of the bus and stared back at us gape-mouthed. Little red never moved her head or blinked her eyes. She was enraptured with the burka-clad woman. I transferred myself back to being a child and seeing something culturally unfamiliar. I can't remember exactly what. Maybe a skinny guy in a fedora getting a shoe shine from an old black man at a stand inside a doughnut shop. It is hypnotic for a small child to see something unfamiliar.

Across from  me and the burka lady was a white woman who had just put in a day at the office and a small Latino man -- a worker of some type, restaurant or garden, I know not which. At the rear of the bus where two more Latinos -- bigger -- both workers as well. At the front of the bus across from the young white family was a Native American woman and her teenage son. (He might not have been her son.)

I listen more to L7 now than I did back in the day. Back then I listened to them on the radio but didn't own any of their albums. When I had a subscription to Spin magazine in the early '90s I loved to read about L7's many escapades touring the burgeoning Grunge festivals. They had the reputation of being the band to party with.

Al-Assad Says Syria Has S-300 Missile Batteries

The big story this morning being reported by Anne Barnard from Beirut, "Assad Says Syria Has Received Advanced Missiles From Russia," was widely predicted to be the outcome of the European Union's decision to lift its arms embargo on Syria. -- Russia would respond by shipping the S-300 air defense missiles. And so it has come to pass, though Israel denies that any shipment has been made. Here's what "Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic and intelligence affairs, told an audience of reporters and diplomats in Jerusalem on Tuesday":
He said that the Russian S-300 systems were not just defensive weapons but could also be used offensively. With a range of around 125 to 185 miles, he said, they could threaten civilian and military aircraft deep inside Israeli territory.
The question now is whether Israel will make another bombing run, adding to the three it has made so far this year. Israel says it will. If so, how will Syria and Hezbollah respond?

These are the questions the West and the Gulf monarchies want us to be asking ourselves. They prefer people to be transfixed by the fear of force rather than making an accurate assessment of the situation. An accurate assessment would surely take note that news of equal weight to delivery of the S-300s is the shift in positions by the Syrian opposition meeting since last week in Istanbul. In Bernard's story she says that Assad's departure is now an opposition prerequisite for peace talks. Just yesterday Hala Droubi and Rick Gladstone reported in "Chances of U.N. Peace Talks on Syria Appear Dim as Both Sides Dig In" that
The Syrian Coalition, the main umbrella opposition group, said that it welcomed the idea of negotiations but that Mr. Assad and his security and military subordinates must “step down and be excluded from the political process.” 
While the Syrian Coalition statement did not call those demands preconditions to negotiations, it did not commit to attending an international conference under United Nations auspices in Geneva, which both the Americans and the Russians have been pressing to hold as early as next month.
The story by Droubi and Gladstone is worth reading to get a sense of the bloated gravy train that the Syrian Coalition is. It has many masters, many funders. The West is trying to garnish the group with moderates. At this point the opposition has less to do with the democratic aspirations of working people than an upscale brothel in Doha:
A bloc of four leading anti-Assad activist organizations issued a statement strongly criticizing the Syrian Coalition, asserting that it had “failed to fulfill its responsibility to represent the great Syrian people’s revolution at the organizational, political and humanitarian levels.” 
Samir Nachar, a member of the Syrian Coalition, said in a telephone interview that the opposition was under pressure by supportive foreign governments to add new liberal members “to bring internal balance to the group.” Others said that of 23 new names suggested, participants in the Istanbul meeting had agreed on only eight of them.
The resolution passed yesterday in Geneva by the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for an end to the fighting in Qusayr and criticizing the intervention of foreign fighters on behalf of the Assad government is an absurdity. Everyone knows that foreign fighters and arms are what makes the rebellion possible at this point. Without foreign fighters and arms the Syrian uprising would have gone the way of Bahrain long ago.

This is statecraft on full display. And what does one see? Not to be too Blakean here, but one sees the operation of dark Satanic Mills. Great Powers thrive on war. With peace talks scuttled by the demands of a farcical opposition -- an opposition fed and clothed by the West and its monarchical allies in the Persian Gulf -- it is clear the West desires more war.

Twelve years after 9/11 and with war winding down in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- or so Obama assured us last week -- great diplomatic effort is being spent ginning up the next war. The Arab Spring seems a distant memory.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"The Dark End of the Street"

All problems are easily remedied if one has plenty of energy. Energy is the key. When one is feeling ill, exhausted, compromised, low, angry problems are not so readily solved. Routines conserve energy. A variation -- a radical variation -- the introduction of an unknown -- produces stress. Stress is a sudden energy purge; it is the "fight or flight" response. If one could merely rest after undergoing a "fight or flight" response all would be fine. But the rat race, such as it is, does not allow rest; hence, the importance of a steady routine.

Waiting for the train this morning I saw my companion from last week's commute fiasco. I'm pretty sure he saw me as well. But while just recently we might have been good buddies talking and speed-walking past crime scene tape, we were dead to each other now. We said not a word and cast not another glance each other's way. We were back to the routine the rat race demands; it conserves energy. And energy solves problems.

Tonight upon arriving home I headed into the kitchen and turned on Greg Vandy's The Roadhouse, which appears on KEXP every Wednesday at 6 PM. He's doing a tribute to the "Muscle Shoals Sound." I heard a snippet of Dan Penn saying that the finest version of "The Dark End of the Street" is James Carr's, which reached #10 on the R&B charts in 1967. Vandy played it. I listened. Yes, it is good. But I'm partial to the Sufi Hippie version by Richard and Linda Thompson from 1975. You be the judge.

Europe to End Arms Embargo on Syria + Wars Spreads in Lebanon

This morning Steven Erlanger has a good summary, "Europe Seeks to Press Russia and Syria on Arms," of the ongoing diplomatic struggles in the Syrian civil war. Earlier in the week, the EU, due to British and French insistence, lifted the arms embargo on Syria:
Britain and France were the prime movers in strong-arming other European Union countries to let the arms embargo on Syria lapse, while other of the union’s sanctions, aimed more specifically at the Assad government, were renewed. 
Part of the debate in a long meeting was to promise that neither Britain nor France would begin to deliver any arms, if they chose to do so, until the beginning of August, to allow the Geneva peace process to get traction, the officials explained.
The lifting of the arms embargo is widely interpreted as a Western ploy to gain leverage prior to the peace conference being planned to take place in Geneva in June. As Colum Lynch points out in his Turtle Bay blog that appears on Foreign Policy's web site:
But the decision to end the embargo in two months hasn't resulted in any immediate calls or plans for arming the opposition. Instead, Russia cited the decision today in defending its own move to deliver S-300 air defense missiles, claiming it would deter foreign intervention. "We consider that such steps will restrain some hotheads from the possibility of giving this conflict, or from considering a scenario that would give this conflict, an international character with the participation of external forces," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, according to Interfax news agency. 
Jean Marie Guéhenno, a former French official and under secretary-general for peacekeeping who served as a top advisor to former U.N.-Arab League Syria envoy Kofi Annan, said that the decision to block the maintenance of the European arms embargo has merely provided political cover to Russia and other regime supporters to continue its arms sales. Meanwhile, there's little fresh hope that Western powers will enter the conflict on behalf of the rebels. 
"I think it backfired and exposed the weakness of the West, in general," Guéhenno told Turtle Bay. "This issue of arming or not arming is more a bluff than anything else. It's more about doing something to show you're doing something than actually doing something. It will be seen by the Russians, who are not fools, as a sign of weakness rather than strength."
The Israelis are making thinly-veiled threats of additional bombing runs should Russia make delivery of the S-300s.

Meanwhile on the ground the war spreads. There were more rockets launched on Tuesday against the pro-Hezbollah village of Hermel on the Lebanese border. The source of the rockets was likely the Lebanese town of Arsal, which is mainly Sunni. Arsal was also the source of a border checkpoint attack that left three Lebanese soldiers dead. This from today's story, "Rocket and Gun Attacks Add to Fears That Syria’s Strife Is Reaching Lebanon," by Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada:
Arsal, which is near a porous border that has been used as a conduit for weapons, has in recent months become a hub for Syrian rebels and their supporters, as well as a temporary home for thousands of Syrian refugees. The clash Tuesday was the second in the area this year. In February, gunmen ambushed a Lebanese Army convoy near the town, killing a captain and a sergeant.
General Salim Idris, the head of the West's confected Free Syrian Army, threatened Lebanese president Michel Suleiman with more attacks inside his country if Hezbollah was not prevented from crossing into Syria. This wanton, profligate bellicosity -- you're either with us or against us -- is thoroughly Western. There should be no doubt, and I don't think there is among those who are paying attention, who is responsible for the increase in suffering as the war widens from a civil conflict to a regional conflagration.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Telegraph Eateries

Driving back from AT&T Park this past Sunday afternoon where we had just seen the Giants wallop the Rockies, my buddy Oliver and I got to talking about all the old eateries near the U.C. Berkeley campus that we used to frequent as undergraduates. On opposite corners of Telegraph and Haste used to be two cheap but excellent Mexican restaurants, Mario's La Fiesta and La Villa Hermosa. Both are gone, though a successor to Mario's is Remy's located a few paces east up Haste behind the old Villa Hermosa.

One block south on Dwight was a Bongo Burger that is still there. We reminisced about the days in the '80s when Bongo Burger offered two eggs, home fries and toast for a buck and a half. An amazing deal. Persian owned and operated, Bongo Burger was the gold standard for inexpensive campus-area food.

This morning Oliver sent the photo below with the subject line, "Still a deal":

Better than Nothing?

This morning Peter Baker has a story, "In Terror Shift, Obama Took a Long Path," that's worth reading. Obama's speech last week, where he claims to be ratcheting down the Global War on Terror, perfectly captures his presidency. He can articulate a problem but does nothing to actually solve it:
Mr. Obama’s eventual speech, at 59 minutes one of the longest of his presidency other than a State of the Union address, reflected the process that developed it. Even as he set new standards, a debate broke out about what they actually meant and what would actually change. For now, officials said, “signature strikes” targeting groups of unidentified armed men presumed to be extremists will continue in the Pakistani tribal areas.
Even as he talked about transparency, he never uttered the word “C.I.A.” or acknowledged he was redefining its role. He made no mention that a drone strike had killed an American teenager in error. While he pledged again to close the Guantánamo prison, he offered little reason to think he might be more successful this time.
The refrain heard from liberals is that it's better than nothing. And in the end this is the best that we have come to expect from politicians purportedly representing the progressive majority in this country. "Better than nothing."

Taylor Hackford's Parker

Still suffering the effects from weekend food poisoning, I settled in last night for a viewing of Taylor Hackford's Parker. I've never been a Taylor Hackford fan. I always think of his movies as dumbed down for a mass audience trapped at a junior-high level of comprehension. There is no better example of what I'm talking about here than Ray (2004).

But with Parker, Hackford is working with action, tough-guy star Jason Statham (who seems to make three pictures a year). No dumbing down is required.

I like Jason Statham. Safe (2012), a story written and directed by Boaz Yakin about a fighter and former cop (played by Statham) caught between the Russian mafia and the Chinese Triads, is thoroughly enjoyable. But Parker is not of that caliber.

Parker is a movie we've all seen before. A heist picture with a double-cross. The plots chugs along, and the the viewer's interest is maintained by the slimmest of margins. A great deal of credit for any success the film enjoys should go to Jennifer Lopez, who manages to take an unbelievable character and make her the most interesting part of the movie.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Life Spent Being Where You Don't Want to Be

Last week from Monday through Thursday the office manager was absent from the office. She was out of the state on business. It was pleasant when she was gone.

When she returned on Friday she was in a foul mood. She was so abrupt in her manner, I wondered if I done something wrong. Then after a little thought I realized that this is just the way it is. She obviously didn't want to be there; had probably thought she would have the day off. Instead, there she was on a Friday, no doubt fielding complaints and absorbing punishment. So naturally she passed it on down the line to us, the underlings.

She is actually a good office manager, and I consider myself loyal to her. Sadly, in the workplace it is by and large considered permissible behavior to subject one's staff to the tempests of one's moods. It is all part of being a competitor in the rat race.

"The Silent Death of the American Left"

Jeffrey St. Clair has an article from this past weekend on the Counterpunch web site that is worth reading if only to remind one how dire our circumstances currently are. Entitled "The Silent Death of the America Left," there is nothing in it that I can disagree with.

Just having returned from California, I found family and friends mindful of our woeful predicament but trusting that we would muddle through somehow. I no longer share that trust.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Silas Stingy"

Six-hours sleep each night is not cutting it. I try to grab ten minutes here and there: on the train in the morning; in the file room at lunch. Today, on my back in the file room at lunch, entombed in darkness, I enjoyed an exhausted moment of bliss. In a state not conscious but not fully asleep I floated along with "Silas Stingy" from The Who Sell Out (1967). It felt absolutely pure. A prayer.

Tomorrow I'm leaving town for the weekend. Next post will be Monday.

Rebels Losing Ground in Qusayr

The rebels must be getting their clocks cleaned in Qusayr. How else to explain the West's braying about Hezbollah in this morning's paper? Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting in Jordan with foreign ministers and their clients in the Syrian opposition, warned ominously about the destabilization of Lebanon due to Hezbollah fighting alongside the Assad government. Where were the ominous pronouncements from the State Department when month after month Sunni fighters streamed from Lebanon to wage jihad inside Syria? The Amman meeting was designed to get all the anti-Assad nations on the same page prior to next month's peace conference. This from "U.S. Fears the Fighting in Syria Might Spill Over Into Lebanon, Kerry Says," by Michael Gordon and Mark Landler:
The planning for the Geneva meeting also comes as the Assad government has been making gains on the battlefield and the leverage of the United States and its partners to induce Mr. Assad to vacate his post appears to have declined. 
“Yeah, he’s made a few gains in the last days,” Mr. Kerry said during his news conference, referring to Mr. Assad. “But this has gone up and down in a seesaw.” 
Mr. Kerry asserted that any progress the Syrian government had made in the war would prove to be ephemeral. He warned that the United States and its partners were prepared to increase support for the Syrian opposition if Mr. Assad refused to negotiate an end to his rule and agree to the establishment of a transitional government. 
If Mr. Assad is not prepared to negotiate in “good faith,” Mr. Kerry said, “we will also talk about our continued support and growing support for the opposition in order to permit them to continue to be able to fight for the freedom of their country.”
In other words, if Assad doesn't agree prior to the peace conference to give up power and accept a new government -- which is what the war is being fought for -- then the West along with the Gulf monarchies will continue to destabilize the region. This is not a tenable position. But it is consistent with what we've come to expect from the United States and Israel. So expect more war. Expect more instability in the Middle East. What began over two years ago as a legitimate democratic uprising has been crushed by militarized Great Power conflict.

More proof of Hezbollah's gains on the battlefield is found in Nicholas Kulish's "3 in Europe Now Oppose Hezbollah." Britain is being joined by Germany and France -- in a sudden about-face -- in an attempt to have the European Union brand the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization:
Neither the British nor the Germans mentioned the situation in Syria, but it clearly has affected attitudes toward Hezbollah. “Obviously they’re all sitting in Amman getting worried about Hezbollah,” said Sylke Tempel, editor in chief of Internationale Politik, the journal published by the German Council on Foreign Relations, referring to the foreign ministers gathered in the capital of Jordan. 
There was no official reaction from Jerusalem, but one Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had not been authorized to address the matter, called it “a half-baked move.” The official objected to the notion that only a “militant wing,” and not all of Hezbollah, would be deemed terrorist, saying it was akin to “trying to get in the pool and not get wet.”
Jodi Rudoren reporting from Jerusalem has a piece, "Israel Finding Itself Drawn Into Syria’s Turmoil," while being a little muddled is worth reading because it shows that Israel is not in a position to go to war with Syria. Israel is keeping its powder dry for Iran, and it does not want a Somalia rife with Al Nusra Front jihadists on it's northeast border.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


The Emerald City is living up to its name tonight. All the foliage is green and bushy and pollen fills the air. This morning was one of the coolest of the month with temperatures in the forties. There was rain during the day and dark clouds beckon now. But returning from a run moments ago I enjoyed the rays of the setting sun as steam rose off my back. A strange combination in late May. Here's to Georgia Anne Muldrow's Seeds (2012):

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Approves Military Support for Rebels

Of particular interest in "Iran and Hezbollah Support for Syria Complicates Peace-Talk Strategy," by Michael Gordon and Steven Lee Myers, is the news that Iranian and Iraqi paramilitaries are fighting alongside Hezbollah with the Syrian army:
According to American intelligence reports, there are some 200 Iranian paramilitary Quds Force personnel in Syria. Qassim Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, recently ordered Iranian artillery and armor officials to help Mr. Assad’s regime, American officials say.

And Mr. Suleimani has also requested that several hundreds fighters from Asaib al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, two Iraqi Shiite militias that have been trained by the Iranians, join the war effort in Syria, according to officials familiar with the intelligence assessments. Iran is heavily involved in training thousands of members of Mr. Assad’s militia, the Jaish al-Sha’bi, including in Iran.
Therefore it is likely that there are Western "advisers" on the ground with the rebels. Imagine U.S. Special Forces fighting alongside Al Nusra Front jihadists. Whence GWOT? The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted yesterday to supply weapons to the rebels:
In Washington, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Mr. Kerry was chairman before becoming secretary of state, voted on Tuesday to approve legislation that would authorize expanded assistance to the rebels in Syria, including weapons. 
“I think all of us understand the risks that come with this type of legislation,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. “But we also know that if we don’t shift the balance there and the moderate groups don’t have the opportunity to be successful the day after Assad, then I think all of us are going to regret we did not play a role in helping make that happen.” 
Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to comment on the proposed legislation but said the White House’s policy was clear. 
“We are working urgently to end the conflict in Syria and hasten a transition from Bashar al-Assad to a democratic Syria that is inclusive of all Syrians,” she said.
Working urgently to end the conflict by arming Al Qaeda and thereby creating an inclusive, democratic Syria. How does that smell to you?

Thomas Friedman, though still wedded to his personal fantasy of the magical healing powers of capitalism, sensibly cautions us to think twice before supplying weapons to the Free Syrian Army. In his column today, "Tell Me How This Ends," he lists the likely outcomes of the civil war. It's worth quoting at length:
We can only properly answer the question — should we be arming the Syrian rebels? — if we first answer what kind of Syria do we want to see emerge and what will it take, beyond arms, to get there? 
If we want Bashar al-Assad’s regime to be toppled and pluralistic democracy to emerge in Syria, then we not only need to arm the rebels but we need to organize an international peacekeeping force to enter Syria as soon as the regime falls to help manage the transition. Otherwise, when Assad is toppled, there will be at least two more wars in Syria. First will be a war between Sunnis and Alawites, the sect that Assad represents. The Alawites will fight to defend their perks and turf. After that, there will be a war within the opposition — between the Islamists and more secular fighting forces that have very different visions of a future Syria. Only an outside peacekeeping force could make up for the lack of trust and shared vision and try to forge a new Syria. And it would be a very, very long haul. 
If our goal is to arm the rebels just to serve our strategic interests — which are to topple the Assad regime and end the influence of Iran and Hezbollah in Damascus and not care what comes next — then we need to be ready for the likely fragmentation of Syria into three zones: one Sunni, one Alawite and one Kurdish. 
That might eventually solve the trust and civil war problems, as everyone would be living “with their own,” but I am not sure it would better enable Syrians to address their development challenges.

A third option would be to arm the rebels just to ensure a stalemate — in the hope that the parties might eventually get exhausted enough to strike a deal on their own. But, again, I find it hard to see how any deal that might set Syria on the long, difficult path to a decent, inclusive political system could be implemented without outside help on the ground to referee. 
So let’s do something new: think two steps ahead. Before we start sending guns to more people, let’s ask ourselves for what exact ends we want those guns used and what else would be required of them and us to realize those ends?
In "Syrian Forces and Hezbollah Fighters Press Assault on Key City," Hania Mourtada and Anne Barnard report on the fog of war. The Syrian state news agency, SANA, reports steady gains by government forces in taking control of Qusayr, which is denied via Skype by activists inside the city. Syria says it destroyed an Israeli jeep that had crossed into its territory in the Golan Heights. Israel claims that the jeep was only lightly damaged and it never left its side of the border.
SANA said the incursion was meant to raise the “collapsed morale” of the rebels after the blows they had suffered in Qusayr. It was the second time in two days that the Syrian state news media, aiming to bolster its case that Syria’s opposition was allied with Israel, claimed that it had evidence that Israel had aided the rebels. On Monday, the state news media showed pictures of what it said was an Israeli jeep found in Qusayr, but it appeared to be an old vehicle, and experts said it could have been supplied to Israeli-allied militias in southern Lebanon years ago.
There does seem to be a pattern emerging. Rebel losses on the ground are followed by an Israeli attack. At the beginning of this month government gains in Tartus Province were followed by the Sunday morning mega-bombing outside Damascus. Something to keep an eye on.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chaos on the Morning Rail Commute

The commute this morning was an exercise in chaos. The light-rail train out to SeaTac was not running in the tunnel. Riders were advised to board one of several bus lines and then disembark at the Stadium Station stop. We did as instructed. Then as a bus-load of us approached an empty train at Stadium Station a fluorescent-green-jacketed Metro employee told us that we had to go back across the street and get on a southbound bus to the next stop, SODO Station, where we should board the train on the northbound track because it would actually be heading south. Once again we did as instructed. And then we waited. And we waited. We waited for another bus to come along and take us the mile or so down the busway to SODO Station. Finally I and a guy who had worked a night shift and was trying to get home decided to hoof it. On our way we passed a light-rail train in the intersection at Holgate surrounded by police and cordoned off with caution tape. Here was the source of the morning commute chaos -- a train had struck a pedestrian.

The night worker and I kept hoofing at a good clip. Arriving at the SODO Station platform, we joined other commuters and travelers with their luggage bound for the airport. Soon after, our brothers and sisters whom we had left behind at Stadium Station arrived by bus. I borrowed an iPhone from a guy worried that he was going to miss his flight, and I called the office and said I was probably going to be thirty-minutes late. A southbound train arrived in ten to fifteen minutes. We all boarded, and off we went. I made it to work before 9:30 AM.

Link Light Rail passed at the polls as part of the 1996 Clinton landslide over the moribund Bob Dole. Being a monorail guy, I was skeptical at first. My trips to and from airport flights were not very pleasing. The train cars seemed cramped and the seating was uncomfortable. But since I've been taking the train to work the last couple of months I've got to say I'm now a big proponent. I've figured out where to sit. The cars are light and not crowded at all southbound to SeaTac on weekday mornings. I sleep a sleep of great peace from Mt. Baker Station to Rainier Beach Station. The only disruptions I've encountered -- two in number -- is when a train collides with a motorist or a pedestrian. Then all Hell breaks loose and chaos reigns.

The Battle for Qusayr

The battle for Qusayr is important for both sides. As Anne Barnard, reporting from Lebanon's Bekaa Valley explains,
Lebanon and the region have been electrified by the fierce fighting in Qusayr and the role of Hezbollah. Fighters on both sides said rebels continued to hold the north of the city against Hezbollah, the Syrian Army and pro-government militias. 
An official with the March 14 movement, Hezbollah’s main political rival, said that with Hezbollah’s help Mr. Assad could probably take Qusayr, a crucial area because it lies near the border and links Damascus with the rebel-held north and the government-held coast. But, the official said, it could cost Hezbollah hundreds of fighters.
Barnard's piece, "Hezbollah’s Role in Syria War Shakes the Lebanese," once again spotlights the sectarian destabilization underway in the Middle East. She focuses on what she says are unusually heavy losses for the Party of Allah, comparing its losses in Qusayr to the losses it suffered in the 2006 war with Israel. But the story, while not extremely unbalanced, is nonetheless slanted. Nowhere are rebel casualties discussed. Clearly Barnard has contacts with the Free Syrian Army. Why not get a quote about its losses at Qusayr?

No, it smacks of agitprop. Hezbollah losses seem large compared to the 2006 Israeli war because Israel mostly fought from the air, dropping bombs from above. There was no extended campaign to capture a city with ground troops. Hezbollah was successful in hit-and-run attacks on Israeli tanks, but there was no pitched battle stretching over days in urban rubble.

On its Op-Ed page the New York Times in an unsigned editorial asks the question. "Why Is Russia Still Arming Syria?" For the same reason the United States is still arming Bahrain. 

The Times continues to view the Syrian civil war through the lens of the Arab Spring (this is the agitprop) when all its reporting tells us otherwise, tells us that it is in fact a Great Power conflict, with the West and its rancid cronies in the Gulf monarchies on one side against Syria, Iran, Russia, China and the Party of God on the other.

The editorial does go on to say this week will determine if the U.S.-Russia peace conference actually takes place:
The week ahead is critical. Most of the major countries and groups with an interest in Syria are holding meetings that will determine whether the conference can even take place, much less make any progress. 
Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to explain the plans for the conference on Wednesday in Jordan to the anti-Assad alliance of Western and Arab countries. He will need to do a better job of clarifying the American vision, and organizing the allies, than Washington has done so far. The opposition forces are scheduled to meet in Istanbul on Thursday, followed by an Arab League meeting in Cairo. For the opposition to boycott the conference would hand a significant propaganda victory to Mr. Assad.

Monday, May 20, 2013

New Regular Feature of This Blog: "Remember! Work!"

I've decided to launch another regular post, a Monday evening contemplation of work. I got to thinking about it after posting yesterday's letter from the archive. I was complaining at the age of 24 about how worklife -- morning and evening preparations, the commute, the actual time at the job -- left no time to read. What has changed is that now I wake up really early; that, and I don't drink anymore -- and my exercise habits and diet are better. So I have more energy to read, but still not enough time.

But the topic here is work. Presently there is emotional turbulence at my job site. I work in an office and the majority of my coworkers are women. Two of the women, who up until last week were warm to each other, have suddenly turned ice cold. So today, Monday, the clerical bullpen, which is where we all sit, enjoyed a  full-tilt "silent treatment."

"Hell is other people" is the famous quote from Sartre's No Exit. I would slightly amend it to read, "Hell is other people with whom one is forced to work." A lot of people -- I don't want to say most, though at times I think otherwise -- cannot comport themselves in a basically decent way. They're selfish, aggressive, deceitful, constantly projecting their pitiful dramas onto others -- all things which despoil the shared environment necessitated by work. The best way to deal with this never-ending toxicity is just to try to work. Any work -- sweeping the floors, photocopying, hauling trash to the dumpster, data entry -- is better than gossip or subterfuge. Of course it is never so easy as to be able to work in an unimpeded fashion. But as an imperative -- "Remember! Work!" -- is helpful.

So that's it for the first installment. At the end I will try to follow with an album in which I've immersed myself over the weekend. Music helps with the Hell Realm like nothing else. This past weekend it was Kenny Garrett's Beyond the Wall (2006). I've played it repeatedly and it keeps getting better. This is track three, "Qing Wen":

Sectarianism in Syria's Civil War

Qusayr, a rebel-held Syrian city on the border with Lebanon, is falling to government forces and Hezbollah fighters. This from today's story, "Hezbollah Aids Syrian Military in a Key Battle," by Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad:
The small city, about 100 miles north of the Syrian capital, Damascus, is crucial to supply routes for both sides. Qusayr is a conduit for rebel supplies and fighters from Lebanon, and it links Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, which is the heartland for Mr. Assad’s minority Alawite sect
The Syrian government appears to be trying to regain as much territory as possible, to strengthen its negotiating position while Russia and the United States try to organize peace talks for next month.
The regional, sectarian nature of the conflict is plainly visible for all to see. It's Sunnis backed by the rich Gulf States, Israel and the West against Shiites supported by Iran, Lebanon's Hezbollah and Russia. The Arab Spring is a fading memory. Bashar al-Assad in an interview with an Argentinian newspaper that appeared over the weekend cast doubt on peace talks that Russia and the United States are organizing; he said that the West doesn't want peace. Assad asserts that Israel is providing logistical support to the rebels.

At the end of last week Ben Hubbard had a story, "Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War," about the fractured Syria of the present and likely future. There is a Sunni jihadist state in the north, a Kurdish state in the northeast and a Shiite state in the center of the country. It's a story worth reading. Another noteworthy story from last week is the news that Russia has sent advanced antiship missile batteries to Syria.This will deter the United States from having a carrier group to sit in the Mediterranean to enforce a no-fly zone. Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada had a story last week about atrocities committed by pro-government militias against Sunni civilians who live in the coastal Tartus Province.

The West's position seems untenable. They want the folks at home to be outraged by atrocities and the horror of war, and at the same time they want us to support the widening of the war by supplying weapons to jihadist groups with whom we are supposedly engaged in a life-or-death struggle.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #21

My friend Shale -- to whom this epistle, number 21 taken from a string-tied folder dating back to the end of the '80s, is addressed -- was and is a prodigious reader. We used to scour the used-book stores together in Berkeley. Other than that our time in college was spent drinking coffee and reading in one of the city's many cafes; either that, or drinking beer at night and talking about books. Hence my description in the fourth paragraph of my current reading projects.

I had stopped exercising the summer of 1989, probably the only summer in my adult life I didn't run at least on the weekends; and, with the regular malt liquor habit I had developed, it was beginning to have an impact on my health. The complaint -- the time crunch -- of the rat race remains just as true today, twenty-five years later, as it was then.

The final paragraph picks up the story of the apartment pot farmer described in letter number 16.
Summer 1989 
I've just finished a couple of cups of coffee and am now heading on to the beers. A cold quart sits waiting and watching just off to the left. The day at work is four hours long gone and HUSKER DU sings to me from the turntable; the ever-present girth of blubber is battering and lapping against my belt buckle.
It was good to hear from you the other day. What was that, a couple Sundays ago? I had just polished off my ritualistic two quarts of Coors and one quart of Colt 45. I was glad you tried me again because three days earlier I had called using your old number and got some boring cunt's answering machine; and of course since I have the gene porcine somewhere in my morphology, I was too lazy to promptly dial information. So anyway, I had just finished my three quarts and the phone rang and I was too bemused in malt liquor reverie to pick it up, and what you know? It's the good old berating flabbergasting voice of my soul buddy Shale.
The little anecdote that I'm trying to work up to is the one that I'm going to tell ya right now. You know how we had been jawing for so long into our respective receivers? Well, my bladder eventually came down with a considerable ache, but the deal is I didn't want to excuse myself to the pisser and waste your time and money. So I grabbed the pitcher that Ashley uses to water the plants and I worked my cow's udder out through the fly, and I let her rip. The only reason I mention this is that I got a call at work from Ashley. It was a Tuesday. You had called on Sunday I think. She calls me up and asks, "Did you pee in anything of mine?" I drew an absolute blank. The question meant nothing. What the fuck was she talking about? It was like a meat cleaver swooshed down out of an enamel blue sky while I played solitaire on a picnic blanket in a green cow pasture. Shit. I had absolutely no idea. And then she said, "Because today I went to water the plants and the water in the bucket looked really yellow. I thought it was just old, but then I smelled it, and it smelled like piss!" Okay. Sure. Now I remember.
I'm still doing my reading. The only problem is that I don't have enough time to get any of it done. With eight hours spent at work and an hour commute tossed in each way, you aren't left with a lot of time for intellectual pursuits, especially after you include the obligatory shower, shit and shave in the morning, and dinner preparations at night. Same old sob story. The titles I'm working on right now are ON THE NATURE OF THE UNIVERSE by Lucretius, and PHILOSPHICAL LOGIC, a compilation edited by P.F. Strawson. There's a bunch of stuff I need to finish, like Ryle's essay, "Systematically Misleading Expressions" and that Leibniz collection put out by Scribner's Sons, and Baudrillard's SIMULATIONS. What a fucking pessimist (in the most malevolent sense) that guy is; in fact, of all those poststructuralists (it should be said that Baudrillard considers himself a post-poststructuralist) I like him the least, if at all; he seems (now remember, I haven't read that much, only a hundred pages or so, so take this with a grain of salt) to be lathering himself up a pretty good self-satisfied sweat by sneaking into a hall closet and whipping Rousseau's skeleton-dead pony with a fat leather belt studded with paperback copies of McLuhan books in French translation. SIMULATIONS boils down to a banal, seltzer-water-and-lemon aping of the ECONOMIC AND PHILOSOPHIC MANUSCRIPTS OF 1844, with a few fashionable points about the epistemology of the electronic media tacked on for a nice blow-job effect.
Fifteen minutes earlier a thought occurred to me, something that was certainly plenty true, and I was going to share it with you. But the sad thing is that I've already forgotten it. Blame it on the beer. I'm working on it though. As I write this very sentence, I'm trying to get it back. Dag nabbit, I can't do it just yet. It goes to show ya that that story about Hobbes is one true tale. Apparently Hobbes never went anywhere without pen or paper; this because he knew that no matter how powerful the idea, no matter how clear his construction, and no matter how hard he tried to remember what it was that he wanted to remember, there was no guaranty that he'd be able to keep it -- unless, of course, he wrote it down. Hobbes thought he did his best thinking on his long afternoon walks. So in the top of his walking staff he had a compartment that housed a tablet of paper and a little quill. Why the fucker didn't just carry them in his coat pocket, I don't know. But the overall idea is exactly right there and quite mature if you ask me, namely -- don't ever think you can beat or ignore the arbitrary crackle of the synapse, or, in better, more ethical words -- respect first, always, and ask questions later.
Jeff came up for the weekend a little while back. We ate a lot of pot. You see, Ashley is growing a bunch of plants in the living room and everyday they shed a substantial amount of leaf. So in the morning, Saturday morning, Jeff got up and circled the room with a Tupperware container and harvested the shake. Then he went into the kitchen, put a skillet on the stove, plopped in a touch of butter, added the leaves, cooked them for about ten minutes, and then served them up by forking them on top of a piece of rye toast covered with strawberry jam. After about a half hour we were completely wacked -- and we stayed that way for pretty much the rest of the day. We managed to stumble out of the apartment and make it down to a couple of hot dogs and Central Park. It was a good time. But going into work on Monday, on Tuesday, shit, all the way to Wednesday, I felt like my brain was a fat rump burbling on the back of an old Harley, like I was a black monkey fingering its turds in the pet shop window on Main Street.

Jack Reacher: It's Worth Watching

Last night I struggled to find a newly-released-to-DVD Hollywood blockbuster to stream. I considered Cloud Atlas but was scared away by its three-hour length. I would have gone with Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects, but it was only available to purchase on Amazon, not for rent. Taylor Hackford's Parker, starring Jason Statham, won't release for streaming until Tuesday. I mulled over the idea of Stand Up Guys, starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken and Alan Arkin, but judging from a few of the Amazon customer reviews I decided against it.

Then I noticed that Amazon is starting to offer "Watch While It's In Theaters" streaming for select movies. You pay more -- in this case, $2-$3 more than what it costs to stream a newly-released-to-DVD film. I almost pulled the trigger on Terrence Malick's To the Wonder, but I held off. I'm a big Terrence Malick fan. I think The Thin Red Line (1998) is a masterpiece. But I found The Tree of Life (2011), believe it or not, too esoteric and self-indulgent; and judging from a cursory glance at the customer reviews, To the Wonder is more of the same. I'll watch it at some point; it's just that last night I was not in the mood.

After about a half hour of this, I finally chose the Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher. I hesitated because I've never been a huge Tom Cruise fan. I thought he was super as Frank T.J. Mackey in Magnolia (1999) and as the hitman in Collateral (2004). And come to think of it, he was incredible in Tropic Thunder (2008) -- really the best part of that movie by far. But my feelings about Tom Cruise are conflicted. He's of my generation. He comes on the scene at the same time as the country begins its full retreat Rightward with Ronald Reagan. The two films that rocketed Cruise into the Pantheon of Hollywood stars -- Risky Business (1983) and Top Gun (1986) -- are synonymous with the "Reagan Revolution" -- a mythologizing of American business and the military.

Here we are, three decades on, and Tom Cruise, a half century in age, is playing an ex-MP superman named Jack Reacher in a film adaptation of Lee Child's 2005 novel, One Shot. Christopher McQuarrie, of The Usual Suspects (1995) fame, writes the screenplay and directs. What cinched my decision to stream Jack Reacher was seeing that MacQuarrie was the guy who had written and directed Way of the Gun (2000), an excellent and too-little-appreciated movie starring Benicio del Toro and Ryan Phillippe.

The film opens with shots of PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates play, and the Allegheny River. The movie looks good. Pittsburgh looks like a nice city. Then you're looking through the scope of the killer's rifle deciding which passersby to snuff. Right away you know you're in for a treat.

This is a topnotch movie. And while it plays to a Red State, gun-toting, pro-military audience, it doesn't do it in an offensive manner. This is a testament both to McQuarrie's direction and Tom Cruise's performance. Supporting roles that stand out are Jai Courtney as the handsome heavy (Spartacus: Blood and Sand junkies will recognize him as Varro); David Oyelowo as the homicide detective; and the legendary Bob Duvall as the crusty gun-range owner and last-second O.K. Corral recruit. There is a tremendous car chase a little after the film's halfway point that is reminiscent of Bullitt (1968). Any movie that puts one in mind of Bullitt is worth watching!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dark Avengers #189

The new Dark Avengers title, written by Jeff Parker with pencils by Neil Edwards and inks by Terry Pallot, is, I'm sad to say, weak. It is unfortunate because I like Jeff Parker's writing; his run on Red Hulk was exceptional, as was his work on Thunderbolts with artists Kev Walker and Declan Shalvey. The storyline in the current Dark Avengers is a time-travel narrative set in a future where warring superheroes have divided New York City into various turfs. It is convoluted and feels exhausted. It is also unfortunate because the original Dark Avengers title, written by Brian Bendis with art by Mike Deodato, was the premiere Marvel comic book for the first year and a half of the Obama administration; it corresponds with the Dark Reign and Siege Marvel crossover events and Congressional Affordable Care Act battles and the rise of the Tea Party.

Below are five scans from Dark Avengers #189. The cover art is by Joe Quinones, a play on the famous Alfred Eisenstaedt photo of a sailor kissing a woman in Times Square on V-J Day. In Quinones' subversive cover, Toxic Doxie is the one doing the kissing, bending the sailor's back and cradling his head. The four interior pages by Neil Edwards showcase Skaar, Son of Hulk, pounding an alternate universe Mr. Fantastic into rubble:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Aquarian Family Festival 1969

Nineteen-sixty-nine. The year that Nixon assumes the throne. Johnson jets back to the LBJ Ranch with a load of White House toilet paper ( -- that nugget is from Ronald Kessler's Inside the White House: The Hidden Lives of the Modern Presidents and the Secrets of the World’s Most Powerful Institution). It's also the year of the Hippie's zenith. The summer of '69 sees the release of Easy Rider, the staging of Woodstock and the Tate-LaBianca murders. The year draws to a close with Altamont.

But what I'm interested in is the story of the Aquarian Family Festival -- the non-stop, three-day free rock concert held at the end of May, 1969 on the San Jose State football practice field across from Kelley Park. It was a masterwork of Hippie ingenuity and pluck and served as a model for Woodstock (though Woodstock's promoters sought to get rich and were forced after the fact to accept circumstances and open their "Aquarian Exposition" to all-comers free of charge).

Today I worked through lunch. It was a busy day. But on the train home I managed to jot down a few notes for tonight's Hippies vs. Punks post. As is my wont, I stopped off at the supermarket to get my grocery shopping done and out of the way for next week. When I was piling steak and chicken into my basket I saw a big tall  -- over six foot -- classy blonde woman. I looked her in the face. She looked back at me. I knew her. She was different. But I knew her. "Shelley!" It came up my throat and out of my mouth unbidden.

She replied with my name. And suddenly we were thrust into the maelstrom of an encounter with a former lover who has not been seen for almost a decade.

She looked good. She has a prestigious job. I was stuporous. I had just finished drinking a strawberry protein drink that I had grabbed out of the juice cooler. I probably had red foam in my mustache. We both wanted to escape, quickly. I felt ashamed, diminished. She seemed to tower over me. "Have I shrunk?"

"No, I'm wearing heels."

After a few more pleasantries, she said, "I have to run." I shook her hand and said goodbye and walked away to get yogurt. I felt old, completely absent of any mojo, a graybeard, a juiceless cypher. It's shocking when one looks himself full in the face and sees nothing attractive. And more shocking still is the acceptance and familiarity of this shock. I've dealt with it so many times over the last three-and-a-half years of burdened bachelorhood that I can't feel pity anymore for my pitifulness.

But the encounter did zap my will power for tonight's Hippies vs. Punks post on 1969 and the Aquarian Family Festival. I did, in preparation, immerse myself in the first album by Joy Of Cooking, the eponymous Joy Of Cooking (1971). Joy of Cooking was one of the bands that performed at the Aquarian Family Festival. They were a Berkeley fern bar boogie band, unusual in that they were led by two women -- piano player Toni Brown and guitarist Terry Garthwaite. There are a few tracks at the beginning of the album that haven't aged well. They remind one of the "Far out!" fatuousness of Hippies cavorting in the grass and getting freaky. But all in all it is a smooth, well-made, easy-to-listen-to recording. This is a live version, not the version on the first album, of "Brownsville/Mockingbird," which can be found on "Back to Your Heart": previously unreleased live and studio recordings 1968-1972 (available for order on the band's web site). It is a good example of Bay Area folk rock from the late '60s/early '70s. The video contains footage of People's Park 1969:

I'll be out of town next Friday night. We'll pick up Hippies vs. Punks on May 31.

I.R.S. Inquiries Begin This Morning in House Way and Means

The circus is set to begin in less than one half hour when hearings kick off in the House Ways and Means Committee. According to C-SPAN, where video of the hearings can be streamed live, "Acting IRS Commissioner Steve Miller who resigned on Wednesday and the Treasury Department’s Inspector General Russell George for Tax Administration" will testify.

A good overview of what's going on with the myriad investigations underway in Washington D.C. can be found in today's lead unsigned editorial, "Scandal Machine," on the New York Times Opinion page:
The Internal Revenue Service, according to an inspector general’s report, was not reacting to political pressure or ideology when it singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny in evaluating requests for tax exemptions. It acted inappropriately because employees couldn’t understand inadequate guidelines. The tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, never a scandal to begin with, has devolved into a turf-protection spat between government agencies, and the e-mail messages Republicans long demanded made clear that there was no White House cover-up.
The only example of true government overreach was the seizure of The Associated Press’s telephone records, the latest episode in the Obama administration’s Javert-like obsession with leakers in its midst.
Many of the Republicans who have added this action to their metaphor blender were also the ones clamoring the loudest for vigorous investigations of national security leaks. But reality simply isn’t solid enough to hold back the vast Republican opportunism on display this week. Whatever cranky point Republicans had been making against President Obama for the last five years — dishonesty, socialism, jackbooted tyranny — they somehow found that these incidents were exactly the proof they had been seeking, no matter how inflated or distorted.
Jonathan Weisman reports from the frontpage today in "G.O.P., Energized, Weighs How Far to Take Inquiries," about a Republican Party giddy with excitement over its good fortune. But the gist of Weisman's story is a recent history of Congressional overreach by the GOP. Following the 1994 "Contract with America" election victory, all the penny-ante investigations Republicans launched against the Clinton administration whittled away at the GOP majority.

Nationwide the Tea Party remains unpopular. If low-level IRS employees are called as witnesses they might prove embarrassing to conservative ideologues. No doubt a cogent explanation exists as to why "Tea Party" and "Patriot" were used as search terms. Democrats will be foolish if they don't use these hearings to illuminate the coordinated nature and top-down funding of these Tea Party groups.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


The end of another work week approaches, and I am barely able to form a thought. Fried. Baked. Burnt. Undone. The rat race takes its toll. The Hippies tried to stop the clock. The Punks tried to beat the clock. Neither worked. We're all players in a conceptual scheme -- time -- more monetized now than ever. It cannot end well.

Here are three tracks -- numbers four, five and six -- from Undun (2011) by The Roots, an album that provides some will power to carry on the struggle:

Congressional Hearings on IRS to Begin Tomorrow

Get ready for non-stop hearings on the IRS using selective search criteria to single out Tea Party groups applying for 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status. It starts tomorrow when the House Ways and Means Committee hears testimony from freshly-ousted acting commissioner Steven Miller. Then on Tuesday the Senate Finance Committee will hold its first hearing. The next day, according to Jonathan Weisman's story, "I.R.S. Chief Out After Protest Over Scrutiny of Groups," 
the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will hear the testimony of Lois Lerner, who heads the I.R.S.'s division on tax-exempt organizations and was aware of the issue nearly from the beginning, in 2010, yet told reporters on Friday that she had learned of it from news reports in 2012. 
“Lois Lerner lied to me,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, who helped initiate the Congressional investigation of the I.R.S.
Republicans are going to turn this into a search for false statements; they'll construct timelines and talk of smoking guns and grand conspiracies. Democrats, if they're smart, will bring it back to the elephant in the room -- abuse of the tax code. The 501(c)(4) classification is sought after because it doesn't require disclosure of donors. Many well-heeled political money-men like to remain in the shadows. The whole thing could be cleared up by Congress requiring any organization engaged in political spending (which would have to be defined legislatively) to file as a 527 group; 527 status is tax exempt but it requires disclosure of contributions.

And possibly, the hope here is with the Senate since this is where Democrats maintain control, the role of the nefarious Koch brothers can be revealed. Check out the last paragraph from Weisman's story:
The I.R.S. released a list of 176 groups that have been granted tax-exempt status through the review process, which centralized operations in Cincinnati in order to deal with a crush of applications that began in 2010 with the Tea Party movement. That list included organizations with names like American Patriots Against Government Excess; Rebellious Truths; the Coalition for a Conservative Majority; and Friends of the Constitution; as well as dozens of Tea Party chapters.
I know from having been a treasurer for a local chapter of a political party in a state and a city with strict disclosure laws that IRS filings can be the trickiest and most confusing. For there to have been a sudden "crush" of groups applying for social welfare tax exemptions as opposed to exemptions as political organizations tells me that some sort of central counsel was being provided. Who was supplying that counsel? This is where Democrats should push back.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Payback

Today lying on my back in a dark file room at lunch I once again realized that "The Payback," the lead track off James Brown's double album of the same name from 1973, is one of the greatest songs of all time. And if it's not the greatest, it's certainly one of the truest, at least when it comes to man-woman relations. It's a beautiful slow burn: the bass leading the way; the high-treble guitar riff; JB's righteous indignation. A man ain't a man until he has been made a cuckold. "I don't know karate, but I know KA-RAZY!!!!"

Hey! Gotta gotta pay back!! (The big payback)
Revenge!! I'm mad (the big payback)
Got to get back! Need some get back!! Pay Back! (the big payback)
That's it!! Payback!!! Revenge!!!
I'm mad!!

Get down with my girlfriend, That ain't right!!
Hollarin' cussin', you wanna fight
Payback is a thing you gotta see
Brother do any damn thing to me

Sold me out, for chump change (yes you did!!)
Told me that they, they had it all arranged
You handed me down, and thats a fact
Now you're pumped, You gotta get ready For the big payback!! (the big payback!!)
That's where I am, the big payback (the big payback!!)

I can do wheelin', I can do dealin' (yes you can!!) But I don't do no damn
I can dig rappin', I'm ready!! I can dig scrappin'
But I can't dig that backstabbin' (Oh No!!)

The brother get ready!! Thats a fact!!
Get ready you Mother, for the big payback (The big Payback!!)
Let me hit 'em hit'em!! Hey Hey!! WOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Took my money, you got my honey
Don't want me to see what you doing to me
I got to get back I gotta deal with you!! [x4]
Hey let me tell ya!!
Get down with my woman, that ain't right! You hollarin' and cussin', you wanna
Don't do me no darn favor,
I don't know karate, but I know KA-RAZY!!!! (yes we do!!)

Get ready thats a fact, Get ready you Mother for the big payback (the big payback!)
Hey!! I'm a man! I'm a man! I'm a son of a man, but don't they tell ya then
  hop again
Get ready for the big payback (the big payback!!) Hit 'em again!!
Get ready I need it, I need a hit again!! Say it once [x3] Hit 'em again!!
(the big payback!!) Sold me out for chump change
Said my woman had it all arranged
Tryin' to make a deal, she wants to squeal But I had my boys on her heals
Saw me comin', told a lie Went down like you wanted to cry
I don't care what she does, she'll be doin' just like she was
Take your kids and raise them up, Somebody think I have a right to be tough
Take her, take that woman, it's one place she found
Just run that mother out of town!!
Got to get up!! Got to get up, get out!! [x2]
I'm mad!! I want revenge, I want revenge (the big payback!!) I want revenge [x3]
(the big payback!!) Give me those hits!! I want some hits!! I need those hits, hit me!!