Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #26

This letter, number 26 from a collection of letters written the first two years I lived in New York City, tells the story of the evening before Thanksgiving 1989 (the holiday described in number 23).  After posting these letters I've come to think that an appropriate label for them might be "The Colt 45 Chronicle," since the malt liquor is usually what I ended up writing about.

This epistle is to my friends Greg and Tresca back in the Bay Area. I must say the final paragraph -- coming home at night after work to an empty apartment and seeing my wife's red comb on the counter next to a sink full of dirty dishes -- is a perfect image of my marriage at the time.
Autumn 1989
Just stuck my head out the 30-degree window and took a few good puffs on a Cuban which was old and crumbling but once I got it lit and slobbered on a bit the crumbliness disappeared. The weather has been very cold the last two weeks; shit, we were even treated to several inches of snow on the eve of Thanksgiving; the papers said it was the first white Thanksgiving in 51 years, which was all right by me. Ashley and my buddy's wife were baking pies in the kitchen, and my buddy and I were in the living room drinking beers and smoking a joint and listening to a Leadbelly album. We, my Buddy and I, had gone down to Harlem earlier in the evening, had taken the 1 train down, to a wholesale beer warehouse and purchased a case of Harp specifically for the Thursday holiday. It turned out to be not such a great deal. We paid $23, which breaks down to a little under $6 a six pack. For New York, this is not bad, but no great bargain. Anyway, it was all worthwhile because it felt good hauling that case over my shoulder back home on the subway. When we got home and for the ladies already at work with flour sprinkles and melting butter we couldn't help but bust into the Harp, even if it was only Thanksgiving eve. The problem came at 10 o'clock when we realized that the case was already half gone. The wives told us that this wouldn't do, and that we must trudge back out and get some more beers and possibly a bottle of wine or two for tomorrow's turkey feast. We protested. We were happy and warm and stoned and it was damn cold out there. But they persisted. We resisted some more but then acquiesced and slung on coats.
When we got outside it was cold -- very cold -- but the air was moist, not dry and cutting. On the top of the hood of a Ford Ltd something stood thin, white and dirty. Right then something landed on the bridge of my nose. And just like that I figured out what was happening. -- Nothing hits your nose like that, not rain, not hail, not beer foam or pigeon feathers. -- It was snow!
It was snowing, and the snow was sticking. The black top of Haven Avenue was turning gray as the flakes stacked on each other. Gary and I were tickled pink. It was the first snow of the year -- the first snow after another grievous summer of subway sweat and air-conditioned beermares -- and we were out in it. We giggled up to a bodega on Broadway and bought two six-packs of Colt 45 talls and a bag of potato chips. The problem here was that at this bodega they didn't put price tags on anything; sometimes you'd go in and get it cheap, other times they'd tack on a dollar here and a dollar there. This time they added a few dollars. I gave the guy $20 and he gave me back $6 and change. I  knew something was up. I asked him about it. He had a shitty look on his face, a combination of fear, hate and boredom. He repeated the total. I asked how much for the Colt. He said a buck a can. Bullshit, I thought; but fuck it, it's only money, which must've been more important to him since he was taking the time to fuck me in the ass. I had known what I was getting myself into; it had happened to me before at this bodega; in fact, it had happened to me there one too many times. So I had stopped shopping there. But I'd started going again, after work, because it was close to where the subway spit me out, and I could get quarts of Colt for $1.50 -- a good price in Manhattan. Gary and I turned the other cheek and stepped out the doorway. We turned the corner and a group of Puerto Rican kids stood huddled on the sidewalk. As we passed, they radiated powerful prickles of hatred. And I radiated 'em right back.
I guess nobody likes whitey, even if the snow is falling for the first time. Even more troublesome than that realization was the realization that both times Gary and I had gone to get beer we'd ended up with less than what we could feel truly thankful for. I thought about that for a second or two as we walked home, and about stuff like whether the pilgrims drank beer with the Indians, or whether it was supposed to have snowed on that original Thursday, but nothing amounted to much. I went back to appreciating the fact that it was the first snow of the year. I tilted my head back and took a good pull at the snow flakes; they were falling through a street lamp's yellow light.
Anyway, enough of that. How's everything going folks? Tresca, thanks for writing; and Greg, I could feel your presence. I hope to see you guys in the not-too-distant future, maybe late spring. I've got to save some money, and I haven't been very good at that. I wanna fly out to Oregon and buy a car for cheap and spend some tine in Portland and Seattle. Anyway, it's pretty much a pipe dream at this point. I might be stuck here for several 49er seasons to come, which would be a crying shame. I'm working at a law firm on Wall Street; I'm a proofreader; they take my soul from me bit by bit; I hope I can make it. But the money's not bad, and I can work a lot of overtime. The subways are a bitch, but that goes without saying. Ashley said I had to reduce my drinking or she'd take a hike. I've cut back quite a bit; no more late night gin shots or Jack Daniels lunches. Physically, I feel a helluva lot better; but mentally, I think I'm operating at half capacity. The problem with most people is that they're so full of fear that they don't ever want to leave the cave. Taking a couple shots of whiskey is too risky for them. They don't know what they'll do once they're drunk or how they'll feel. So they stay in their crab cave huddled next to a small fire and they roast marshmallows on rabbit ears and whistle out into the dark. Fear. It eats people up from the inside and makes 'em go home and eat a lot and watch TV. Everybody thinks they're going to live forever -- that's the problem. And I think it's TV's fault. Nobody pukes and dies and is willing to leave it at that. There's always a tomorrow and a new music video to take a picture of a Lean Cuisine body. There's always that. I don't know if I'm making myself clear -- about television and fear I mean -- but it seems to me that it is an important and primal issue, namely, desire getting put out of the body, out of the trunk, and stuffed into the eyes (and brain), with no way of getting back into trunk. All we can do is think about it and watch some more, watch some more and eat some more.
I came home tonight. I walked in the door and turned left. The light was on in the kitchen, but Ashley wasn't home. I saw was her red comb sitting on the counter next to a sink full of dirty dishes. It hit me hard. I don't know why. A comb shouldn't be there -- in the same picture with a sink full of dirty dishes.

The Bourne Legacy

The studio apartment where I live has turned into a pizza oven. I am in a unit on the top floor of a 100-year-old building. For the most part it stays cool during the summer; only when the temperature reaches the mid-80s°F and above does it begin to bake.

It has been warm the past couple of days, warm and humid, and today it is forecast to be in the 80s°F again. Today the Gay Pride Parade takes place. Last night, the Saturday before the parade, I was expecting more noise -- the thudding base of dance music from the street party on Broadway -- but everything was surprisingly quiet. Festivities must be going on downtown.

Last night I finally got around to streaming The Bourne Legacy (2012), my first Hollywood blockbuster in several weeks. Recently there has been a marked reduction in new big Hollywood films available to stream from Amazon; that, and Amazon seems to be fiddling with their pricing. It used to be that pricing was very stable. All newly released big Hollywood movie rentals would be priced the same. Now it's all the over the map. Some, when first available, you cannot rent, only buy.

So I've grown tired with the process; hence, the three-week hiatus. But last night I was in the mood for a Saturday-night blockbuster, and I chose wisely.

The Bourne Legacy is directed and co-written by Tony Gilroy, who wrote and directed the refreshing thriller Michael Clayton (2007). Legacy is part of the high-quality Bourne franchise.

In Legacy we have Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, instead of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne. The secret government program is also different. The one Cross is member of is Operation Outcome, not Treadstone and Blackbriar, which were the black ops programs in the first three Bourne movies.

Outcome is a supersoldier pilot project. Through a combination of drugs and viruses, Operation Outcome engineers genetic enhancements -- an increase in cellular efficiency -- making its operatives faster, stronger, smarter. Think an updated version of the Captain America origin tale. In this case instead of earnest scientists working to discover a supersoldier serum to combat the Axis powers, we have a sprawling, opaque national security state with overlapping secret programs spewing out beta versions of super-assassins. (The idea of a warrior made superior by increased energy production at the the cellular level can be found in another Marvel comic book character, the villain Zeke Stane from the pages of Matt Fraction's Invincible Iron Man.)

This movie has everything. It is a Call of the Wild with missile-firing drones. It is a timely expose of our nefarious corporate national security state (Big Pharma in bed with high-ranking government intelligence officials). And it has a stupendous motorcycle chase in Manila. You even get the James Bond final scene -- the stud ends up with a beautiful, devoted woman on a boat on some exotic body of water. Cue the Moby theme song. Roll credits.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Daredevil: Reborn #3

Last Sunday I enjoyed the four-issue Daredevil: Reborn, which acts as a bridge between the Shadowland blowout and the current Daredevil (3rd Series). Andy Diggle is the writer. The story of Reborn is a Western. Matt Murdock is the honest but conflicted drifter who finds himself in a small New Mexico town ruled by corrupt, murdering, gun-running, dope-peddling law officers. The battle commences.

Below you'll find three scans from Daredevil: Reborn #3. The art of Davide Gianfelice is dynamite. The truck-versus-car chase sequence is better than any movie:

The Poverty of Elections

Elections are proving not to be the answer. Look at Obama's solid, one might even argue historic, progressive repudiation of a troglodyte conservative Republican Party. Nothing has changed. The economy remains hobbled with too many unemployed; the national security state grows ever stronger. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Obama's one great promise -- that he'll wind down the wars in the Middle East -- has turned into a lie as we end up where we began 35 years ago -- arming the mujahideen.

Elections that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Egypt have done nothing to address the nation's ills. The Mubarak security forces remain ensconced in the Interior Ministry; the economy teeters on the brink; and the society is divided between followers of conservative Islam and everyone else. Violence spiked yesterday in the run up to Sunday's huge planned protest. There could be a full-blown civil war in a matter of days.

Iraq is suffering through daily multiple terror bombings.

Al Nusra Front jihadis are claiming to have taken the Binayat checkpoint from the Syrian Arab Army in the southern city of Dara'a. But even the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights doubts the veracity of the claim. According to the story by Hania Mourtada and Rick Gladstone in this morning's paper,
Video posted on the Internet showed what the rebels claimed to be the destruction of a high-rise building at the checkpoint, along with proclamations of victory by fighters of the Nusra Front “and the Islamic battalions who participated in the operation.” 
Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory, said the insurgents had not taken full control of Dara’a. But in remarks quoted by Reuters, he said the Syrian military’s position in Dara’a was under threat and “this could change the balance of power there.”
An anti-Assad activist from Dara’a who is currently in Jordan agreed in a telephone interview that the seizure of the Binayat checkpoint was a setback for Syrian forces in Dara’a, but cautioned that the rebel claims of victory could be overstated. “The Islamic groups are trying to make a big deal behind this operation, a boasting attempt,” said the activist, who identified himself only by his given name, Taysir, for security reasons.
In other words, an attack on a government checkpoint has, thanks to the power of jihadi magical thinking, turned into the capture of an entire city.

The Guardian is reporting stepped up government activity to retake the Khalidiyah district in Homs.

I woke up this morning thinking that what's happening here is that the Wahhabis are making their move to take control of the Middle East. It's hard to think that in this environment the Israelis are going to budge one inch towards a two-state solution. This is a war for survival.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: Bloodrock 1970

Tonight Hippies vs. Punks returns once again to the year 1970.

The Ohio National Guard shootings on the campus of Kent State University took place in early May of 1970 and so did the reaction -- student strikes and campus shutdowns at over 800 colleges across the country. There was also the famous counter-riot, known as the Hard Hat Riot, of pro-war construction workers who attacked students protesting Kent State in lower Manhattan. The initial protests at Kent State that led to the Guard being called out were about Nixon's invasion of Cambodia.

The nation was at war with itself in 1970: the country was on fire, and youth were willing to fight.

In June of 1970, the Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival was staged at the home of the Reds, Crosley Field. Daylong or multi-day rock 'n' roll festivals were a big draw, despite Altamont, and promoters were always eager to cash in. The Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival is remembered because of the television film that was shot that day and then broadcast nationally in August; it featured the famous performance of The Stooges doing "T.V. Eye" where Iggy Pop goes crowd surfing. Other bands that appeared on television were Traffic, Alice Cooper, Mountain and Grand Funk Railroad.

But there were plenty of other bands performing that day who didn't make it on the Midsummer Rock broadcast. Several of these bands I had never heard of, such as the Fort Worth hard rockers Bloodrock.

The experiment I want to engage in periodically on Friday nights is to take a band from the undercard of either the 1970 Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival or the 1969 Aquarian Family Festival in San Jose or the 1976 100 Club Punk Special and, having immersed myself in their music during the work week, see if I can, with a beginner's mind, divine the time-spirit of Hippie vs. Punk. I took a stab at this with Joy of Cooking (1971), but it was really more a feint.

All week at work I listened with my ear buds to Bloodrock's first album, Bloodrock (1970)and I never tired of it. On a track here the band might sound a little too much like Blood, Sweat & Tears, and a track there you can hear Steppenwolf; other times, such as "Fantastic Piece of Architecture," Vanilla Fudge. But all in all Bloodrock sounds fresh and forceful. I particularly like the lead vocals of Jim Rutledge.

How many bands like this -- how much great music -- lie buried in the past? (I searched in vain on Robert Christgau's web site for any indication that he ever reviewed a Bloodrock recording in his forty-plus years of criticism.) The guilelessness of Bloodrock is refreshing, even its poses and pretentiousness seem more honest than the pervading Punk "everything is shit" sentimentality.

True to the spirit of the time, the Cincinnati Summer Pop Festival ended with a midnight police riot rock and bottle melee. Seventy-four arrests were made and 12 concert-goers ended up in the hospital.

I remember the summer of 1970. I remember the black asphalt road that ran in front of our house throbbing in the sun. I remember my uncle's wood-paneled Hi-Fi that took up a length of the living room blasting "Back in the U.S.S.R." I remember my father sitting with me in front of said Hi-Fi and reverentially explaining how The Who's Pete Townshend swung his electric guitar over his head and then smashed it to pieces.

Talibanizing Sykes-Picot

A decent piece summarizing the positions of the great powers in relation to the Syrian civil war appears on Reuters this morning; written by Louis Charbonneau, "Analysis: Syria peace conference: Don't hold your breath," it predicts a long conflict:
There may be no swift end to the war. And even if the opposition were to prevail, it is unlikely to bring stability. 
"The Syrian civil war is likely to go on for years," said Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

"It is not just that it is proving harder and taking longer to oust the Assad regime than many expected," he told Reuters. "It is also that even if the regime were to be removed, what would follow would be a prolonged round of fighting among opposition forces who disagree on just about everything except their opposition to the current regime."
Haass, who in the past has not been shy about advocating the use of U.S. military force, recently had a opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times saying that the United States should not get involved militarily in Syria. Sadly, it appears too late for that. Kerry appears to be committed to air strikes. There are a lot of obstacles in the way, but the Franklin Lamb story, based on his discussions with congressional staffers, that the U.S. will be conducting an air war against Syria by the end of summer, is looking like a reliable prediction.

Hwaida Saad and Rick Gladstone's story, "Christian Quarter of Old City in Damascus Hit by Attacks," explains why the attacks on the Syrian pound have not phased the al-Assad government:
The conflict and the Western sanctions imposed on Syria have caused a near economic collapse in the country, and the official currency, the Syrian pound, has plummeted in value against the dollar and the euro. Last week Mr. Assad’s government ordered double-digit increases in salaries for public employees and retirees to help offset the pound’s diminished worth, which is almost certain to cause sharply higher inflation in Syria. 
But in a sign that the Syrian leadership does not seem overly concerned about a financial crisis, a senior economics official said in an interview with The Financial Times, published on its Web site Thursday, that Iran, Russia and China were helping to prop up the Syrian economy, delivering $500 million a month worth of oil and extending generous credit lines. 
The official, Qadri Jamil, deputy prime minister for the economy, was quoted as saying that the Syrian government was now doing all of its business in Iranian rials, Russian rubles and Chinese renminbi, and that the three economic allies would soon help with a “counteroffensive” against what he called a foreign plot to destroy the Syrian pound’s value. 
“It’s not that bad to have behind you the Russians, the Chinese and Iranians,” Mr. Jamil was quoted as saying.
As the terror bombings continue in Iraq, what we're witnessing, thanks to the Gulf Arab monarchies and their partners Uncle Sam and the old colonial powers Britain and France, is the Talibanizing of Sykes-Picot. In a jiffy, the Global War on Terror is tossed on the dung heap in favor of a Global War with Terror. No wonder Israel has pulled its head into its tortoise shell the last month.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

"Garbadge Man"

Each night I come home to an answering machine blinking its red message light. It is almost always a telemarketer; sometimes it is my mother. This is life lived without women, the life of a burdened bachelor.

I'm not complaining. It took me the better part of 45 years to figure out that this was the golden path to contentedness. Of course the libidinal need for "companionship" never disappears. But I find that it can be successfully engaged at a theoretical level; actualization or "consummation" is not required.

Tonight I thought I was setting a blistering pace on my four-mile run (what I call the "pig trot"). Looking at the chronometer on my wristwatch when I finished I was surprised to see that I was slower than usual.

As I took the backstretch I was treated to Hole's wailer, "Garbadge Man," off the first album, Pretty on the Inside (1991).

This album is not given the respect it deserves. It was recommended to me by a guy I was sitting with on a snowbound Amtrak train somewhere around Klamath Falls the winter of 1995. There were four of us sitting together, all young men. One guy was a legitimate rastafari. We were very respectful to one another. We must have been stuck on that track in the middle of nowhere surrounded by solid white walls of snow for over eight hours.

Need That Poison Gas

The UN team investigating allegations of the use of Syrian chemical weapons is in Turkey. According to a Reuters story,
They were sent to Turkey this week and its head, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, was meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Thursday, a senior Turkish official told Reuters. 
The Syrian government and rebels fighting it have accused each other of using lethal chemical agents, including sarin gas, in the two-year-old conflict. 
More than 100,000 people have been killed since fighting began in March 2011 in what is the longest and most violent of the recent Arab uprisings, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 
Western governments have grown frustrated that the U.N. mission has been unable to make progress on investigating the claims, a diplomat told Reuters. 
From Turkey, the team will be unable to gather soil samples or scientific evidence needed to prove chemical use, but could compile intelligence and interview or take blood samples from witnesses or victims of alleged attacks. 
"As he cannot travel to Syria, Sellstrom visits countries like Turkey, France and Britain that have some information about possible use of chemical weapons in Syria," said the Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sellstrom visited the Turkey-Syria border area and talked to officials who shared data on chemical weapons use, he said.
In order for the United States and the old colonial powers, Britain and France, to launch their Libya-style air attack on Syria they need the poison gas narrative front and center; it clouds the brazen illegality of their military adventurism. But the U.S. experience with another Swedish UN weapons inspector Hans Blix was not a happy one. In the run up to the invasion of Iraq Blix was right -- there was no conclusive evidence of WMDs -- and he held his ground despite the famous Colin Powell speech before the Security Council and its fantasies of mobile Iraqi biological weapons laboratories. Already secret intelligence agency analysis has been used as justification for the U.S. to arm the rebels. But a no-fly zone will require more. Thankfully, there is no reason to believe Ake Sellstrom will be any more compliant than Blix.

While there is no mention in the New York Times this morning of the government taking control of Tal Kalakh from the rebels, Sarah El Deeb reporting for The Associated Press has it:
On Wednesday, the [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights] said the regime drove rebels out of the town of Talkalakh, along the border with Lebanon. The town, which had a predominantly Sunni population of about 70,000 before the conflict, is surrounded by 12 Alawite villages located within walking distance of the Lebanon border. 
The government takeover will likely affect the rebels' ability to bring supplies, fighters and weapons from Lebanon. 
The town also lies on the highway that links the city of Homs to Tartus, in the coastal Alawite enclave that is home to one of Syria's two main seaports. 
Syrian state TV showed soldiers patrolling the streets of Talkalakh, inspecting underground tunnels and displaying weapons seized from the opposition. 
The governor of Homs, Ahmed Munir, told the private Lebanese broadcaster al-Mayadeen that some rebels in Talkalakh handed their weapons over to authorities. He said the town was a major area for infiltrators from Lebanon. 
"Talkalakh is clear of weapons," Munir said.
Southeast of Talkalakh, government forces also took control of the village of Quarayaten on a highway that links the rebels to another supply route from Iraq, according to an activist who spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear for his safety. 
The regime victories are likely to help it advance on rebel-held areas of the city of Homs, he said. The activist, who is connected to rebels in Homs, spoke by Skype.
Bill Roggio of The Long War Journal has a post this morning about the ongoing assault on the Minnigh airport in Aleppo. It's being led by the Muhajireen Army, a jihadi group comprised of fighters from the Russian Caucasus.

Going forward this appears to be the situation: Peace breaking out but jihadi mercenaries, paid and provisioned by the Saudis and Qataris, fight on Taliban-style with suicide bombings. It's Afghanistan. This time, in spite of the Global War On Terror, the United States is back to its Carter-Reagan era role -- supporting the mujahideen. It's a position that is so at odds with itself it will be very difficult to maintain.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Moon of Alabama, a Blog to Add to Favorites

An excellent blog to consult for information on the civil war in Syria is Moon of Alabama. Today's post is devoted to the Patrick Cockburn story about the Free Syrian Army (FSA) laying down their arms to the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) in the city of Tal Kalakh. The rebels are denying it. Al Jazeera, a reliable jihadi propaganda pipeline, was reporting a large column of smoke rising from the city. Cockburn said he was there at the time and saw no smoke.

Cockburn sees locally negotiated cease fires like the one in Tal Kalakh as a way forward. Syrians are sick of the fighting. Only the mercenaries and their monarchical Saudi and Qatari paymasters, along with a clueless Uncle Sam and the old colonial powers, want more bloodshed.

Another good post I saw on Moon of Alabama is The National Interest interview with Zbigniev Brzezinski. Brzezinski thinks that if Syria is cracked the United States and Israel will suffer beyond anything that either country is prepared for.


Tonight listening to the Roadhouse with Greg Vandy I heard a good cut off Booker T. Jones' 2011 album, The Road from Memphis. Here's "Representing Memphis" (Sharon Jones on vocals):

Peace Conference Impediments

United Nations special representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was trundled out to appear before the cameras in Geneva to announce that no peace talks are in the offing any time soon.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet next week with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to try to reach agreement on a peace conference. The rundown can be found in a story today by Nick Cumming-Bruce and Michael R. Gordon, "Hopes for Syria Talks Hinge on Kerry-Lavrov Meeting." A sticking point is the attendance of Iran. This sticking point is prior to the big sticking point, which is the role of Bashar al-Assad in any transitional government. So it doesn't look good.

Kerry was in Jedda meeting with Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal. Without anything to go on other than pure speculation, I'd say that the discussion revolved around Afghanistan -- getting the Saudis to pressure the Taliban to agree to a power-sharing agreement with the Karzai government -- and what a successful U.S.-led military campaign to bring Syria to the bargaining table minus al-Assad would look like -- obviously a lot of missile strikes. War not peace was definitely the main focus.

The shrillness of the rhetoric coming from the monarchy (al-Faisal accused the Syrian government of committing genocide) and the West (Susan Rice blasted the UN Security Council for failing to oust al-Assad) I interpret as evidence that rebel territorial acquisitions of the last two years are rapidly disintegrating. More evidence is the rash of terrorist attacks in neighboring Iraq and Lebanon, always a reliable indication of jihadi battlefield setbacks.

The Gulf Arab monarchies will not launch a direct military attack unless it is under the umbrella of a United States planned and coordinated and implemented air campaign a la Libya. This is what appears to be in the works. There are many obstacles -- very little if any domestic support in the U.S. among voters; international law; resistance in the U.S. military to being drawn in to the mother of all quagmires -- but nothing in the end that will prevent it from happening. Seeing this, the Russians are probably using Snowden as a chip.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Shoes, and subsequently feet, wet all day as the result of getting caught in a downpour on my walk to the train station this morning, I was beginning to feel a soreness in my throat and an overall existential gloom and early-week despair as I rode the train back home this evening. A young agitated man fidgeted in the seat in front of me. I read Alessandra Stanley's review of the Mad Men Season 6 finale. She is pretty much on the money, but I think she misses the core insight that creator Matthew Weiner is trying to impart: Familial rupture will fuck you up.

Speaking of rupture, I rallied from my slough of despond thanks to the sudden appearance on my iPod of DJ/rupture's Minesweeper Suite (2002). I even found the energy to make a rare Tuesday stop at the supermarket. Here's the cut that healed me -- Track B17, "Enemy/Up from the Underground":

Al-Assir vs. Lebanese Army + Qatar's New Absolute Ruler

Agence France-Presse is reporting this morning of heavy fighting in Damascus' surrounding suburbs as Syrian government forces attempt to clear rebels from approaches to the city; also, the rebels have apparently launched an "offensive" against government-held neighborhoods in western Aleppo; but it appears to be more a cosmetic display of force.

Reuters has a story this morning about a rift between Al Qaeda jihadis fighting in Syria. Al Nusra Front is at odds with Islamic State of Iraq over who is in control -- just another example of the hillbilly nature of the jihadi opposition.

Anne Barnard has a story, "Civilians Flee and Soldiers Die in Clashes in Lebanon," about the outcome of the battle in Sidon between the Lebanese Army and radical Sheik Ahmad al-Assir’s militia. Al-Assir is on the lamb, but the Daily Star of Lebanon reports that the Lebanese Army is mopping of his gunmen.

Barnard hints at a connection between al-Assir and the Saudi-backed mainstream Future Movement:
The mainstream Sunni party, the Future Movement, led by the powerful Sidon-based family of Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister assassinated in 2005, has often condemned the cleric’s sectarian rhetoric and use of arms, though Hezbollah supporters accuse the party of secretly backing him. 
But in Sidon on Monday, even Future supporters said they did not want to see him defeated, suggesting his support may run deeper. One Sunni man said he had been tempted many times to join Mr. Assir’s militia because it made him feel protected “as a Sunni.” 
A few blocks away, a Shiite resident and Hezbollah supporter, Inaya Haydar, said Mr. Assir should be arrested, even if it meant heavy fighting. 
“Let it take as much as it needs,” Ms. Haydar, a nurse, said after staying up all night to the sounds of gunfire, rocket-propelled grenades and shells and watching from her window as wounded people poured into Hamoud Hospital. 
The cleric, she said, had shown his hypocrisy by calling on Hezbollah to disarm its militia, a perennial issue in Lebanese politics. “What is he doing now?” she said. “He is armed too, and against the Lebanese Army.”
As Secretary of State John Kerry barters with Saudi monarchs over the future body count in Syria, Qatar's absolute ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, has announced his abdication. He is handing power to his 33-year-old son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Rob Norland has the story:
The Qataris have managed, as well, to have friends among hard-line Islamist groups — a State Department cable released through WikiLeaks criticized their timidity against terrorists — while at the same time serving as the longtime hosts of America’s biggest military base in the Middle East, the forward headquarters of the Pentagon’s Central Command, at Al Udeid Air Base. 
“The Qataris’ approach to things is very ambitious, punch above their weight, be involved in as many arenas as possible, but have that core American military relationship as their security backstop, and then have relationships with all sorts of groups and people,” said Mr. Gause, who is affiliated with the Doha office of Brookings
With so many irons in such a diversity of fires, the emir’s stand-down is something of a mystery. The biggest question is what will happen to Prime Minister Hamad. He has not only been foreign minister since 1992, before the emir seized power from his father, but is also widely viewed as the emir’s bagman in arranging that coup. 
“It is just inconceivable that H.B.J. could remain in office with a 33-year-old emir the age of his own sons,” said a longtime resident here, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, mindful of that clause in the Constitution that makes it a crime to criticize the emir.
A lot is in play these days. Russia, Snowden, the Taliban, Qatar, Lebanon -- the future of the Middle East.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Working While Asleep + Bob Desper's New Sounds

Today, rain in the morning and back to work. It was a scrumptious ride on the train out to SeaTac. Quiet and cool without being cold, I slept a sound sleep from the International District all the way to somewhere beyond Rainier Beach.

Monday evening is the time slot on this blog that I devote to a contemplation of work. What I want to mention tonight is the enchanting experience I had this afternoon of working while I slept. I kid you not.

Right before the noon hour I was asked by the office manager to accompany her to Seattle to run some errands. I readily complied. It's always nice to vacate the premises and get on the road for a spell. Basically she needed a passenger in the local's minivan so she could access the HOV lanes and also someone who would sit in the driver's seat -- the van parked in a loading zone -- while she dropped off a check at the main post office across from Benaroya Hall.

With that out of the way we drove to the local's old location, the one we vacated at the end of March to move out to SeaTac, to inspect a break-in attempt and deal with some exposed bolts jutting out of the concrete at the building's entrance. Our chores completed, we stopped off for a luncheon special at a Chinatown restaurant.

And that's what created the condition necessary for me to be blanked out -- in a semi-comatose state -- while at the same time diligently sitting at my desk and performing my work; in this case, cleaning (pulling staples and post-it notes) and putting in chronological order correspondence and notes that make up the contents of old grievance files. It could have been the egg drop soup. Maybe it was the chow mein noodles. But what I do know is that I'm not used to eating very much food at lunch. Usually it's just a piece of fruit or two and a protein bar. So today the huge quantity of food delivered -- chow mein, soup, fried rice, fried shrimp, hot tea, several glasses of ice water -- most of which I consumed -- really threw me for a loop.

The only thing I can compare it to -- working while asleep -- is driving long distances not fully conscious. You're aware -- you're hurtling down the road at a fast speed -- but you're not really there. You're someplace else. And when you finally snap to, not only are you relieved that you didn't crash, but you feel pleasantly refreshed.

And the nice part of working while sleeping, at least if you're sitting at a desk shuffling papers and not operating any machinery, there is very little risk of injury. So my advice is don't fight it. Don't jump up and rush to get a cup of coffee. Go with it. And I think you'll find, if your job is anything like mine -- one that you've done over and over and over again -- that you can literally do it in your sleep.

The past weekend's musical immersion started out on Saturday with Bob Marley & The Wailers' Babylon by Bus (1978) and then ended up on Sunday with Bob Desper's only full-length album, New Sounds (1974). Dubbed proto-downer folk, I heard a cut a couple years back on KEXP and liked it. Spooky but soulful. I finally got around to downloading it yesterday. It's good. This is track eight, "Time is Almost Over":

Who is Fomenting Sectarian Hatred?

If there's any doubt who is attempting to broaden the Syrian civil war to engulf neighboring Lebanon, look no further than this morning's story, "Soldiers Clash With Sunni Sheik’s Followers in Southern Lebanon," by Ben Hubbard and Hania Mourtada. 

Sheik Ahmad al-Assir is a Sunni firebrand who has recently achieved notoriety thanks to several blistering speeches criticizing Hezbollah and attacking Hassan Nasrallah. Al-Assir's armed followers attacked Hezbollah offices earlier this month in the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. The Lebanese Army said it was attacked yesterday by al-Assir gunmen in Abra, east of Sidon. According to the Daily Star, seventeen soldiers have been killed, along with 35 gunmen. The Lebanese commandos seized the al-Assir complex in Sidon as fighting continued for a second day:
Army eavesdropping devices indicated that Assir was still in the vicinity of the complex, the sources said, adding that the fiery sheikh was heard as urging his gunmen not to surrender to the military and "fight to the death". 
The seizure of the complex at noon came after an attempt late Monday by a group of Salafi preachers to mediate a truce reached a dead end, with the Army determined to continue its operations until Assir was captured and his followers crushed, the sources said. 
In overnight fighting, the Army had tightened the noose around Assir and his some 250 gunmen barricaded in the Abra complex, 40 km south of Beirut, the sources said. 
Fighting erupted Sunday after armed supporters of Assir attacked a military checkpoint near the Abra complex, killing three soldiers and wounding several others.
Al-Assir is seen in Lebanon as performing deeds dictated by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, two monarchies who thus far seem to be willing to go to any length, no matter the lives lost or the chaos caused, to oust Bashar al-Assad. I interpret this attack by al-Assir's group as proof that things are not going well for the rebels in Syria. There is a tried and true pattern to the conflict so far: when the opposition is getting its clock cleaned, terrorist attacks spring up in other countries in the region. In all of this, to the extent that the United States is facilitating this Saudi- and Qatari-led destabilization, the Obama administration looks truly feckless.

For a snapshot of this hopelessly confused, conflicted and dithering mindset, read Thomas Friedman's column, "Syria Scorecard," from yesterday. It seems simple to me. If you're from the "realist" school of foreign policy you apply the same standard you applied in Bahrain -- regional stability over ideology. But apparently anti-Shiite/anti-Iranian blinders are securely fastened.

A balanced, sober, lengthy piece, "The Price of Loyalty in Syria," written by Robert Worth, appeared in the New York Times Magazine yesterday. It's worth reading. It provides some insight into what it's like being an Alawite in Syria; also, it makes a convincing argument that anti-Shiite sectarianism crept in quickly to the Syrian Arab Spring uprising. It is commonly stated in the Western media that sectarianism was first introduced by the al-Assad government to raise doubts about the democratic bona fides of the opposition.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Colt 45 Chronicle #25

This letter, number 25, highlights three great loves of mine from my early-20s youth: Thomas Hardy's final novel, Jude the Obscure (1895); the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s; and bar brawling/street fighting. After reading it -- it's deeply embarrassing -- I realize it's from an era long gone. Nowadays such a brawl often ends up with gunfire. I remember that the bar was across the street from the southeast corner of Tompkins Square Park. The evening described took place not too long after the Tompkins Square Park Riot. The letter is addressed to my college buddy Niall who was attending law school back in San Francisco.

Autumn 1988

God, if only we were one pint of the man that Jude was. -- From Arabella to Sue, he drove the length of the gridiron. Taking the ball off tackle, like Roger Craig, high knee action and three linebackers piggybacking, he strode to Marygreen, in the rain, for fucking paydirt. How about the second marriage in the butcher's shop? The blinds were drawn so the morning sun couldn't get in, the booze was still being hooched, and Arabella looked as pretty as a 12-week-old cadaver. Yeeouww! There's a wedding. I got into a fight on Friday with a big fat bouncer at an East Village bar. It all started when he wouldn't let Ashley back into the bar. We had all stepped outside to go to another bar; it was about 1:30 AM; but she had left one her fucking knitted hats, and she had to go back inside and search for it. To make a long story short, I told the guy to let me back in to get it because Ashley had started to freak out -- screaming obscenities and grabbing at the guy. I searched and searched and finally found it, but when I got back outside the situation had elevated into something even uglier than when I'd left. -- Ashley is totally drunk and screaming at the guy; he pushes her, and then Terri goes crazy -- because he pushes Ashley -- and starts hitting this big fat asshole. Okay, so now it's my turn. I see that Terri is going wild and that this guy might slug here. So I step in. We do the obligatory lip-to-lip macho smooch. He thinks he's got a poo-see on his hands. -- I was wearing an Art Quinn tweed and a knit sweater. He started in on the foreplay oration, you know, the "Watta ya gonna do? Are ya gonna party?" shtick. But he became suddenly surprised, eyes changing dilation, when he heard that I knew how to converse in the same tongue. I don't know exactly what my riposte was, but it was something I had said before, in a similar situation, with an equal amount of fuck-you fearlessness. Then, all of sudden, I was being hurled backward, diving and flipping into the rainy-wet sidewalk. Apparently Tweedledum -- big fat asshole #2 -- had grabbed me from behind and tore me down. But that was it; that was all I could take; that was the moment that I saw red; that was the moment that Peter Parker traded in his reporter's badge and his camera for the Spidey suit. -- I shot up -- Tweedledum was shouting, "Nobody fucks with my friend!" -- and I went for Tweedledee. I let out the Bosworth grunt, driving Dee hard, about ten feet, into a parked car. -- He felt like an old sofa bed, a lot of puff padding, and you could feel the thin sinews underneath, springs as thin as guitar string. And I knew my body felt hard to him. I was the road. And I took him off his feet and down to the pavement. And no fear filled my body. I knew he was scared. (Lucky for me, in hindsight, I had been following my eighty-push-up-a-day regimen for that week.) But then Dum ran up and started dropping fists on my head; and the little ladies, Terri and Ashley, came out the woods like screaming furies, long finger nails and crazy energy, making everything a pot of boiling Hollywood water. This gave me an opportunity to get on my feet, which I did, and I started driving into both Dee and Dum. And I knew that I had already won the battle; I knew that they couldn't beat me: I was stronger than they were, spiritually, physically, whatever; and they knew it. They could bloody me and rip at me and go for my eyes, but they knew it wouldn't beat me. My equilibrium was solid. I wasn't wild. I was determined and ready to keep going. So they backed off. There was a lot of shouting and cussing afterward, but they weren't ready to go again. I got a few bruises, on my neck and head, but I fancy that they're worth it.

The Thanos Quest + "Astral Travelling"

Saturday night for the last several months I have made it a habit to stream a recently-released-to-DVD Hollywood big-budget picture. The idea being that it is wise to keep abreast of what is one of America's top exports to the rest of the world as well as make an evaluation of the product that is being extruded by the "dream machine." Then come Sunday morning I post a brief recapitulation of my viewing experience.

The problem is that the last two Saturdays there has been nothing newly released on Amazon that justifies the expense. I debated watching the latest installment of the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard. But at $4.99 for a 24-hour rental, I couldn't bring myself to do it.

Instead I read The Thanos Quest, a 2012 Marvel one-shot reprint of the Jim Starlin and Ron Lim two-part comic from 1990. The story describes how Thanos collects the six Infinity Gems; it directly precedes The Infinity Gauntlet, Infinity War and Infinity Crusade. Marvel is most likely reprinting The Thanos Quest, as well as publishing the new title Thanos Rising, in preparation for the forthcoming blockbuster The Avengers (2012)  film sequel. As I read, I listened to Pharoah Sanders' "Astral Travelling" off Thembi (1971). A good combination:

Jim Starlin is an important figure, albeit unrecognized, in anti-establishment cultural trends in the United States. First, in crafting the cosmic consciousness story arc of a reborn Captain Mar-Vell and introducing Thanos in nine bi-monthly issues from March 1973 to January 1974 (the heyday of Watergate), he brought the Human Potential Movement to grade-school boys like me. Then in the early 1990s, coinciding with the brief youth counterculture recrudescence of Grunge, he treated an America burned out on Reagan-Bush Republicanism to the ambitious cosmic Infinity narratives.

Below are two scans from The Thanos Quest. Thanos has just bested the Grandmaster in a lethal game for the final Infinity Gem and he's feeling his oats.

Are U.S.-Taliban Talks Linked to Rebel Support?

The bomb killed at least 12 government loyalists and destroyed several buildings inside Minnigh Airport, which is partially under rebel control, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in an e-mail. Syrian government forces, backed by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon, launched an offensive earlier this month to try to retake the strategic city, Syria’s largest. 
The attack on the airport came a day after the U.S. and 10 other nations pledged to increase support for rebel forces in Syria, without saying what specific steps they would take or how much firepower may be needed.
Sarah El Deeb reporting for The Associated Press says that the government has begun shelling rebel-held suburbs north of Damascus:
Activists, meanwhile, reported heavy shelling of many districts north of Damascus, apparently an attempt to cut links between rebel-held districts that have served as launching pads for operations against the capital. Three children, including two from the same family, have been killed in shelling of the outlying district of Qaboun since Friday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an extensive network of activists in Syria. 
The Lebanese TV station Al-Mayadeen, which had a reporter embedded with Syrian government forces in the offensive, quoted a military official as saying that the operation aims to cut rebel supply lines, separate one group from another and secure the northern entrances to the capital. The regime's forces have struggled for months to regain control of these suburbs.
Jeffrey Fleishman has an informative piece, despite a misleading headline, for the Los Angeles Times; he describes how the Arab states are using the Sunni-Shiite divide to distract their restive populations from government corruption and the lack of jobs:
"Arab states see Syria as a place to exhaust Iran's capabilities and keep it distracted from other issues it might be concerned with in the Arab world," said Rabha Alam, a researcher at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "Hezbollah entering the equation has quickened the pace of sectarian rhetoric and turned it into a Sunni-Shiite conflict." 
Hezbollah embodies the fear that Sunni-led nations have of Iran, the preeminent Shiite voice, using the Syrian war to foment wider instability. Syria has become a struggle not just between Assad and the rebels, but for opposing Shiite and Sunni radical networks whose fighters come from as far away as Cairo and Tehran. 
"Hezbollah is part of the Iranian conspiracy which has a strategic objective in the region," said Mustafa Alani, a senior analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva. "It has really changed the rules of the game." 
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah argues a counter-narrative: Before his men arrived in Syria, gulf state-funded Sunni militants, some with ties to Al Qaeda, infiltrated and are now commanding rebel factions. This scenario, he says, endangers Hezbollah's benefactor, Assad, and also threatens neighboring Lebanon with a volatile brand of Sunni extremism.
Political manipulations of Shiite-Sunni enmity, which dates back centuries to a struggle over a successor to the prophet Muhammad, may also be at work. Arab states, according to some analysts, may find it tempting to play on religious suspicion to deflect public attention from economic and social problems. 
Saudi Arabia is contending with a huge population of disillusioned, unemployed young people. Egypt's economy is faltering and political unrest is deepening ahead of demonstrations planned for Morsi's one-year anniversary as president on June 30. Across the Arab world, the broken promises of the uprisings have triggered despair and rising anger. 
Hezbollah's entry into the Syrian civil war "has led preachers and leaders in gulf states to adopt the discourse of 'victory for [Sunnis],'" said researcher Alam. "This keeps populations distracted from internal issues. This provides an important service to the gulf."
"This is happening in Egypt now," she said, as leaders and clerics try to siphon attention away from the government's failings. But there are consequences of rallying the region's young men around the fractious Syrian war and its dangerous religious implications.
"If we are sending our children to Syria, then which banner will they fight under ... what will they be armed with?" Alam said. "Or will we just be sending them off to die."
I'm surprised that so far there have been no stories linking negotiations with the Taliban, a Wahhabi political construct of the Gulf Arab monarchies, and the increased role of the United States in organizing the Syrian opposition. It seems obvious to me that there is a quid pro quo here. The U.S. promises to lead the effort to oust al-Assad as long as Saudi Arabia and Qatar exert influence on the Taliban to bargain with the Western puppet Karzai. But as Javid Ahmad argues on the AfPak Channel, "Peace talks only benefit Taliban." So the U.S. gets wet on both ends of the stick while the Wahhabis laugh all the way to the bank.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Doubts About Sarin Gas + Nasrallah Tamping Down Discord

The rationale for flooding the Middle East with weapons is provided in a story this morning by Lesley Wroughton and Amena Bakr reporting for Reuters from Doha where officials from 11 nations met to plan more bloodshed for Syria:
Qatar's Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country has been one of the most open backers of the anti-Assad rebels, said that supplying them with weapons was the only way to resolve the conflict. 
"Force is necessary to achieve justice. And the provision of weapons is the only way to achieve peace in Syria's case," Sheikh Hamad told ministers at the start of the talks.
"We cannot wait due to disagreement among Security Council members over finding a solution to the problem," he said. He also called on Lebanon's government to halt intervention by Lebanese factions in the neighboring conflict.
When in doubt use force. The rationale is anti-rational. The rule of law is tossed out in favor of the law of the jungle. Might equals right. We all know how this ends. It's not going to be pretty. But leaders in the West and the Gulf Arab monarchies must feel they will be insulated from the catastrophic results of their decisions.

C.J. Chivers, along with Eric Scmitt and Mark Mazzetti, has a frontpage story that outlines how the Libyan weapons pipeline to the rebels works. Arms once stockpiled by Qaddafi are transported from Libya by Qatari military cargo plane to Turkey where they cross the border into Syria. The Central Intelligence Agency provides logistical support. This has been the primary pipeline up until now. But since the United States announced last week its intention to begin providing military aid, the floodgates are already begin to crank open. Saudi Arabia promptly shipped antitank guns to rebels fighting in Aleppo.

Let's not forget that this deluge of weaponry into an unstable environment was justified by the Obama administration based on U.S. intelligence that Syrian government forces used sarin gas. Colum Lynch and Joby Warrick reported yesterday in the Washington Post that such claims are unsupportable:
Jean Pascal Zanders, who until recently was a research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, said he has scoured the Internet for photographs, video and news reports documenting alleged nerve agent attacks in Syria. What he has seen has made him a skeptic. 
Few of the photographs, Zanders said, have borne the trademark symptoms of a chemical weapons attack. In a paper he presented last week to the E.U. Non-Proliferation Consortium, he compared photographs documenting Iraq's 1998 chemical weapons attack against Kurds in the town of Halabja. 
The Halabja victims appeared to have died instantaneously from chemical agents, he said, and their bodies showed tell-tale signs of exposure to sarin: blue lips and fingertips caused by suffocation and a pink hue brought on by excessive sweating and high blood pressure. "No press reports from Syria refer to those descriptions, which is one of the reasons why I am skeptical about those reports," he said. 
Zanders said the problem with the U.S., British and French evidence is that it cannot be tested by independent scientists. Some of the published reports of chemical weapons use "make certain alarm bells ring," he said, but it is impossible to reach a definitive conclusion on the basis of what governments have put forward. "We don't have the barest of information. There is not even a fact sheet documenting the samples," he said. "This is an immensely political process, and there is no way of challenging the findings."
Anne Barnard has a good story today about Hermel, the Shiite Bekaa Valley town in Lebanon that has suffered since Hezbollah stepped up its defense of Syria. An interesting item that Barnard reveals is that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been working actively to tamp down sectarian strife. Keep that in mind the next time you read about a state-supported Sunni cleric issuing a fatwa for jihad against Syria.
On the other hand, some followers chafe when the party urges restraint and reconciliation and forbids them to attack rebels and their supporters in the Lebanese Sunni village of Arsal across the valley. In the past week, the son of a Sunni leader from Arsal was killed near Hermel, and four Shiites were killed near Arsal, including two from the powerful Jaafari tribe.
Mohammed Jaafar, a tribe member, said that the family was refraining from traditional revenge killings at Hezbollah’s request — for now. 
“We won’t stay silent over our sons’ blood,” he said. 
Even though Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, forbade celebratory gunfire in a recent speech, as the funeral procession passed on Wednesday, relatives of the dead fighter honored him with barrages of gunfire. Asked why, the Hezbollah supporter said it was impossible to contain people’s emotions — and, eventually their demands. 
“I told Sayyed Hassan myself, there is a point at which we can’t control the people,” he said. “If we could, then people from Arsal wouldn’t have been killed, nor the Jaafari people.” 
After the funeral, he awaited a meeting with a sheik from Arsal, part of a flurry of talks that aims to keep tensions low. Hezbollah, according to multiple Hermel residents and Sunnis visiting from Syria who do not support the uprising, has worked behind the scenes to keep Sunnis safe in Shiite-majority villages on both sides of the border, once even paying compensation to Shiites who wanted to take revenge on antigovernment Sunnis they said destroyed their homes. 
But the Hezbollah supporter said he believed the rebels had not reciprocated. “That’s what hurts,” he said.
The United States continues to foment discord. You reap what you sow. Isn't that what the Good Book says?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Hippies vs. Punks: The Vibrators' Pure Mania 1977

I gave away my copy of Pure Mania by The Vibrators, one of the seminal Punk recordings from 1977. Nineteen-seventy-seven was the year that Punk broke into popular consciousness and knocked the Hippie off his avant-garde pedestal.

My girlfriend Stacey expressed surprise that I owned Pure Mania. At that point, early 1988, copies were somewhat rare. One afternoon I had been browsing for used records in Rasputin's with my buddy and musical mentor Oliver when he came across the LP in one of the bins. Being a prodigious collector, he already owned a copy; but he suggested that I get it for myself, which I did, since I always deferred to Oliver's judgment on music.

I listened to Pure Mania quite a bit. You could say I made a study of it. I like its energy, its propulsion.

But I didn't bond with it; it didn't work for me. So when Stacey showed an interest in it, I was happy to give it to her.

Shortly before I met Stacey she had been in a garage band. All I remember about it was the name, Tons of Bugs, which I thought was a good one, and a song of hers (she drummed and shared vocals) that she included on a mix tape. She sang something like "Baby, I love you/Because you've got a tattoo/You wear my heart on your sleeve." Pretty horrible. But we both loved music.

Stacey had a nice apartment on the Oakland-Berkeley border near Alcatel Bottle Shop. It was a second-story walk-up, a railroad apartment. Her bedroom, which was the locomotive, was spacious. The windows opened to trees. The sun filtering through created a green light. I remember one Sunday we spent the afternoon in bed listening to Sonic Youth's Sister (1987), their last album with SST.

Stacey and I listened to a lot of music together in that apartment. For us, the Spirit of '77 was a reconstruction. The first wave English Punk bands burned rock 'n' roll back to its roots, incinerating the outer layers of Hippie pomposity. I never listened to a lot of the Ramones; their garage rock was never my cup of tea. But I don't think you can understand the UK Punk bands of 1977 without "Blitzkreig Bop."

This week at work, YouTube streaming Damned Damned Damned (1977), Pure Mania and The Clash (1977) (one of the two great monuments to Punk from 1977, the other being Never Mind the Bollocks), listening on my ear buds as I organized old grievance files, I realized that this is music not easily ingested. It demands a certain level of commitment from the listener. And the Hippies, no longer "forever young," were, for the most part, unwilling to provide this commitment.

I appreciate Pure Mania much more today than I did in 1988.

Spain Busts Up Al Qaeda Network, Highlighting Western Schizophrenia

The BBC is reporting this morning that Spain has raided an Al Qaeda recruiting network responsible for sending fighters to Syria. The network is based in the Spanish North African enclave of Ceuta and the Moroccan city of Fnideq.

This highlights the schizophrenia of the West regarding Syria. On the one hand there is an extensive anti-terrorism infrastructure built up over the last decade-plus to combat Al Qaeda and its affiliates, while on the other we are actively working to enhance terrorist networks in a catastrophic quest to collapse the sovereign nation of Syria. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Qatar today to huddle with the Gulf Arab monarchies at the forefront of the effort to export jihad to Syria. (An interesting story on the Syrian Arab News Agency from yesterday alleges, based on documentary evidence, that Saudi Arabia is offering a general amnesty for criminals to fight in Syria.)

Last weekend on the Counterpunch web site, Franklin Lamb published a story taking the temperature on Capitol Hill. He interviewed his Congressional-staffer contacts and the opinion was that a no-fly zone was an inevitability, and with a no-fly zone comes all-out war. So the prevailing wisdom was that shortly, possibly a matter of months, the United States would be in a full-scale military conflict with Syria.

Fox is reporting this morning that a bipartisan group of senators led by Kentucky's Rand Paul is trying to block Obama from sending military aid to the rebels.

Rick Gladstone has a story in the New York Times this morning about the Philippines threatening to withdraw its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights unless they are supplied with heavy weapons, antitank and antiaircraft guns, by the United Nations. The Times over the last several days has reduced its coverage of the Syrian civil war.

Patrick Cockburn has a story in The Independent from a couple days back that is worth checking out. He says that Damascus is more peaceful today than it was six months ago. "Assad's forces have a tight grip on 13 out of 14 provincial capitals and increasingly hold the main roads between them." The population is tired of war and have no sympathy for the rebels who shoot children and eat the hearts of fallen soldiers. Cockburn says the government's strategy seems to be a slow encirclement of the rebels. It seems to be working.

I think it's already obvious to anyone paying attention that the West is engaging in an obscenity by supporting the fatwas of Wahhabi clerics. Soon, when the only rebel military strategy left will be suicide attacks, this obscenity will be even more glaring.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Top of the Pops"

Let's not forget The Rezillos. Here's "Top of the Pops" (1978):

Saudis Send Big Guns to Jihadis in Aleppo

Looking for information on the military campaign in and around Aleppo, I notice that there is little in the Western media. The best available reporting of late has been from The Telegraph's Richard Spencer. His story, "Syrian rebels get first heavy weapons on the front line of Aleppo," though reported from the rebel point of view, at least provides a sense of the contours of the struggle. The government, according to Spencer, seeks to cut the rebel held north in two and then pacify the rural areas:
After the fall of Qusayr on June 5, the regime promised an all-out attack on Aleppo, but it has not yet materialised.
Ahmed Hafash, the leader of Free Men of Syria, the non-Islamist brigade leading the defence of Kafra Hamra, said he expected the assault to drive north away from the city. 
Five kilometres north-east lie two loyalist Shia towns, Nobbul and Zahra, where a regime general has raised a local militia several thousand-strong and flown in reinforcements from the Labenese militia Hizbollah. 
Walky-talky intercepts suggest the regime hopes to link up with these towns and press on to relieve the Minegh air base, under rebel siege for 10 months, and then head to the Turkish border nearby. Having cut the north in two, the regime could squeeze out the rebels in their rural strongholds and surround Aleppo.
Most of Spencer' story deals with the arrival of antitank guns thanks to Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera has a similar story.

Rick Gladstone's story for the New York Times has a headline that mentions government battlefield gains but the copy talks only of the loss in value of the Syrian pound since the Obama administration announced at the end of last week that it would supply weapons to the rebels. Much if not all of Gladstone's reporting feels as if it has been crafted at Langley or Foggy Bottom.

This dearth of balanced information has led me to bookmark on my web browser both the Robert Fisk and Patrick Cockburn pages on The Independent, as well as the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). Yes, SANA is a Syrian government web site. But I'm not convinced it is significantly more biased than the Western prestige press. Al-Assad's labeling the rebels "terrorists" was derisively dismissed in the U.S. media. Now we know that to be accurate. After all, the post-9/11 law authorizing the U.S. to wage war on Al Qaeda and its affiliates could easily be used by Obama to bomb the Syrian rebels.

As for the military campaign to expunge the rebels from Aleppo, if it goes at all like Qusayr, the government will move slowly and methodically; and after several weeks, if not a month or two, it will fall to the government.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Generation X

One of the first wave English Punk bands that I listened to as an undergraduate which I forgot to mention in last night's post was Generation X, the Billy Idol Bubblegum-Punk quartet. I owned the eponymous Generation X (1978) and played it often, particularly when writing papers. It's a good one.

Islamists Dominate Rebels

Reuters has a story, "Syria's Islamists seize control as moderates dither," this morning which confirms the impression one gets from reading the daily news coming out of Syria. The rebels on the battlefield no longer include significant groupings of secularists fighting for political rights. Sunni fundamentalists fighting for a religious state dominate:
It's a pattern repeated elsewhere in the country. During a 10-day journey through rebel-held territory in Syria, Reuters journalists found that radical Islamist units are sidelining more moderate groups that do not share the Islamists' goal of establishing a supreme religious leadership in the country. 
The moderates, often underfunded, fragmented and chaotic, appear no match for Islamist units, which include fighters from organizations designated "terrorist" by the United States. 
The Islamist ascendancy has amplified the sectarian nature of the war between Sunni Muslim rebels and the Shi'ite supporters of Assad. It also presents a barrier to the original democratic aims of the revolt and calls into question whether the United States, which announced practical support for the rebels last week, can ensure supplies of weapons go only to groups friendly to the West.
World powers fear weapons could reach hardline Islamist groups that wish to create an Islamic mini-state within a crescent of rebel-held territory from the Mediterranean in the west to the desert border with Iraq.
That prospect is also alarming for many in Syria, from minority Christians, Alawites and Shi'ites to tolerant Sunni Muslims, who are concerned that this alliance would try to impose Taliban-style rule.
And speaking of the Taliban, though it was not addressed in this morning's substantial story, "Taliban Step Toward Afghan Peace Talks Is Hailed by U.S.," by Matthew Rosenberg and Alissa Rubin, my sense is this was a quid pro quo for the U.S. agreeing to arm the Syrian rebels. Qatar, where the Taliban reopened their political office yesterday, has been the Gulf Arab nation most active in its support of al-Assad's ouster.

The Obama administration knows that once Western military forces depart next year the Afghan government will collapse soon after. So some sort of agreement with the Taliban is essential not only to salvage a silver lining from the decade-plus occupation but also to maintain future viability of NATO out-of-area adventurism. To facilitate these negotiations, Obama is willing to provision the rebels with light arms.

It could be that Obama, cornered by his "red line" statement about the use of chemical weapons and hawks in his State Department, tried to make the most out of an atrocious situation by getting Qatar to muscle the Taliban to the table. Rosenberg and Rubin don't see much coming out of new talks. The Taliban are merely increasing their international profile as they prepare to take power.

Rounding out other Syria news, Russia got the best of the other G-8 nations. The final statement called for peaceful negotiations to begin as soon as possible, making no mention of al-Assad stepping down nor the alleged use of poison gas by the Syrian government. The Lebanese Army was sent to the port city of Sidon to quell gun battles between loyalists to Sunni cleric Sheik Ahmad al-Assir, who has called for jihad against al-Assad, and Hezbollah.